This week was all about building up to the big training ride for the BXV Fred Whitton quartet.
As the reported injury has prevented me from running, I pretty much kept the week to swimming and turbo training (thanks once again to the good old British Spring time weather).
By Saturday the trusty steed was all primed ready for the big day after removing and cleaning the drivetrain and treating it to a nice new chain.
A few months ago 4 of the BXV faithful had applied for and successfully entered the hardest sportive in the UK, the Fred Whitton Challenge (http://www.fredwhittonchallenge.co.uk). Soon afterwards we started planning a training ride that would get them “Fred” ready.
Being fairly close to us, and with climbs similar to the Lake District, we hit upon the Peak District as the perfect destination for this EPIC training ride. The route was penned in using Strava routes, with the aim to hit as many of the top 200 UK climbs as possible within the day. This led us to an 80 mile ride with 8000 feet of climbing. Anything with 100ft of climbing per 1 mile is hard. Very bloody hard!
On our radar was Burbage Moor (no. 128), Peaslows (no. 37), Curbar Edge (no. 35), Rowley Bar (no. 34), and the daddy of them all Winnats Pass (no. 33). (https://www.100climbs.co.uk/)
Sunday morning I had a 5.00am early rise – which thanks to the clocks going forward meant my body clock was telling me it was 4.00am. And thanks in no small part to the change in the clocks I did not sleep much during the night. That fear that the alarm won’t go off and mainly down to the fact I was so excited – like a kid at Xmas!
I picked up the Captain and the Youngster at 6.00am and we hit the road. We got to Matlock about 8.00am and after spending a bit too much time chewing the cud with the magnificent seven – Simon, Marc, Paul, Jez, Steve, Stephen, and I (Big G) – we departed the Arc Leisure Centre at about 8.45am. But not before meeting the Terrible BXV Three – Andy, Paul and Sarah – who were heading out on a shorter but still hilly 30 miler. Oh and not before Rowley offered out some pre ride snacks in the shape of hard boiled eggs. Best stay in front of Rowley on the ride today 🙂
Within 3 miles we were already hitting our first climb of the day Lees Road Climb! And this was the perfect introduction into the punishment our legs and body were going to experience throughout the day. The gradient hitting 24%+ in places, and thanks to some tree cover it was also a damp 24%+ in places!!
We all made it to the top, and everyone was grinning from ear to ear. Although this first climb was hard compared to the rolling hills of Northamptonshire we were all loving it – with the views alone making the climb worth while. This was going to be a tough ride, but a rewarding one at that.
We hit the descent, which seemed even steeper than the ascent, and wound our way down and along to the first out of the top 200 climbs – Rowsley Bar.
This was another steep climb, this time topping out at nearly 29% – and didn’t we feel it! At 29% it feels like you are not making any progress. The power is being put through the pedals at such a slow cadence and every part of your body is telling you to stop. But I wouldn’t let it. I had the Captain ahead of me setting a pace and keeping me spinning, and kindly showing me the lines to avoid when he found himself hitting a wet patch on one of the steepest sections. He did well to avoid the inevitable loss of traction which would have led to the painful realisation that you had to stop – good riding Captain, good riding.
We then had some lovely rolling roads taking us through stunning Chatsworth and on up through Eyam and once again another climb – not part of the top 200, but don’t be fooled as this is no easy climb.
After cresting the climb we had a nice 10 miles of mainly downhill and flats leading us onto the second of the “main” climbs – Burbage Moor – and in Clems words “we are hitting number 128 of the top 100 climbs in the UK” 😉 love it.
Burbage Moor was an out and back affair – literally throwing this climb into the route just to say we did it. Out of all the climbs we ended up doing today I have to say this was my favourite. The gradient averaging ONLY 7% and peaking at about 14% it was not too challenging on the steepness, but it went on for a lovely challenging 2 miles. And the views. Oh boy those views were stunning. See for yourself, although a camera phone picture really doesn’t do this justice.
We turned back on ourselves to hit the familiar road and start descending what we had just ascended. The descent saw Rowley power away from the group. I was hitting 48mph at one point and I was not catching him. He must have been close to 50mph. Fair play. However, at this speed bends do come up on you very quickly and we both had a bit of a sketchy moment on one the tight turns as we went in a little too hot. But in the end we both controlled it comfortably and carried on powering down this beautiful road – still lined in places with snow!
The Captain dropped a chain right at the top and then half way down, isolated and away from the group, he had a panic when he came to a fork in the road. With the pain in the legs on the climb he had taken no notice of which way up we had come, and he almost ended up in a different village. Luckily he followed his nose and soon found us waiting for him back in Hathersage, where we had a quick stop for a top up on the water bottles.
Back on the road we headed through Castleton and onto the climb we were all waiting for. Waiting for, but also dreading at the same time!
As we pulled up to the bottom of Winnats Pass we looked up to see nothing but a natural cut out in the mountain. You couldn’t see where the road led – you could just see it leading into the abyss of the mountain. The smell of burning car brakes and clutches hit our nostrils as we prepared ourselves for the torture that lay ahead.
We already had 43 miles and 4300ft of climbing in our legs at this point and they were tired, but this was why we were here. We emptied and refueled and set off.
The climb eases you in gently, but with 11-28 cassette on the back I was already in my lowest gear within a minute. It’s amazing how many times I went to drop down a gear to realise I was already in the lowest gear – I even said to myself “stop trying to find another gear it isn’t there” to then try again 30 seconds later!
This climb is BRUTAL – no hiding from this. It’s just over a mile long and with an average gradient of 12%!!!! The official 100 climbs app reports a max gradient of 20%, but looking at Strava we were hitting 26%, and after riding it I have to agree with Strava on this one.
The steepest point comes as you are flanked either side by towering Limestone rock faces. You want to look up and admire the sheer stunning beauty that surrounds you, but instead you are head down grinding through the rotation of the cranks just so you can stay upright. The core temperature rockets through the roof as you struggle to pedal and unzip the jersey at the same time. The eyes start stinging from the sweat that works it way down the forehead. This climb is out to beat you to a pulp – but we didn’t let it.
Every single one of us made it to the top without having to walk. No walking today guys. This is some achievement from every single one of us. This is a climb that has beaten the best of cyclists in the past, but it wasn’t going to succeed today.
Lasting image of the day for me was seeing Clem get to the top of the climb and having to have a helping hand to get off the bike. Every muscle in his legs were screaming at him to stop and have a rest, but this image showed how he didn’t let it beat him. He put everything he had into conquering this climb. The most impressive thing for me is that Clem and Jez are both relatively new to cycling. Joining the game less than a year ago when a 10 mile ride was a challenge. And now both of them, along with the rest of the 7 had conquered one of the hardest and best climbs in the UK.
From here we had a bit of respite as we worked our way around Mam Tor and onto Chapel-en-el-Frith. The respite was short-lived as we came back on ourselves to hit no. 37 – Peaslows. With the wind on our backs this one was going to be a breeze!
It started off steep before settling into a steady 10% gradient. By the time we hit the top we had done 50 miles. Only an easy 30 miles left with 2000ft of climbing ahead of us now.
The road back towards Eyam took in the A463. Which was a quick rolling road. But in hindsight probably a bit too busy with cars to be used again. However with the wind behind us and the road wide and flowing we increased the average pretty easily. And then boom!! Curbar Edge.
The final climb from the top 200 we were visiting today, but not the final climb of the route. The count down to how many climbs we had left started about 20 miles earlier.
By the time we got to the top of Curbar Edge all the food supplies had been consumed and the fatigue had definitely set in. The earlier banter had been replaced with silence as we left the Curbar Edge behind and hit the final 15 miles back to Matlock.
What I had forgotten was that we were now fast approaching the same road we went out on. Which meant that we had one final climb to contend with. Remember the first ascent where I mentioned the descent seemed steeper. Well I was right. It was over 25%, which we soon found out when we had to climb back up it after 75 miles in the legs!
To say that was a struggle is an understatement. But at least there was a red phone box at the top of Peakton Lane that we could use if we needed to phone for help!
All that was left now was to hit the final downhill stretch and the flat road back to the Leisure Centre. Surprisingly we all kept up a great pace. It’s amazing what the thought of a hot shower and a hot meal can do for weary limbs.
We had done it – 80+ miles with 8000+ft of climbing. We set out to give the “Fred” crew a taster of what to expect come May. And after experiencing the Fred last year I am happy to say that this route was as tough as anything they will face in the Lakes. All they have to do is pedal for another 32 miles 🙂 On this showing every single one of them is going to take on the Fred and conquer it.
Considering the Peaks is fairly close to home I have never ridden a bike there before. Something which I am glad I changed on Sunday. What a beautiful part of the UK and a great cycling destination.
Will we be back? Damn right. Will it be as tough? Hell yeah. Will we enjoy it as much? That I have no doubt about.
This is what cycling is about for me. Being out on the open road, with awesome scenery, amazing company, great laughs, and the ever-changing challenge that lies ahead around every bend and up every climb. Oh and then there are always the descents……
Get out and ride. Make memories. You will not be disappointed.