Having written a story post on this route last year, we once again handed the pen and paper over to BoC rider, Great Dun Fell Everester, model and fell runner (yes, he's still trying to destroy his knees) Joe Stringer, to bring us his unique take on a day when nothing was flat, and everything was either up or down.
Well, my knees survived the North York Moors (and a weekend of fell running in the lakes – I’m sorry I’m not sorry 😉) therefore I duly came back for more suffering in hills at the third instalment of the Band of Climbers Toughest UK Group Rides series.
I missed the Yorkshire Dales ride the weekend before, which, by all accounts was a walk in the park compared to what today had in store for us – The winning route of last year’s hardest 100km route competition - 3000m of vert packed in to 100km, and an elevation profile resembling a sharks gnashers.
Firstly, I just have to say that the route was incredible, and I tip my hat to Mark from Sheffield based, 7 Hills Cycling Club, who has played an absolute blinder in devising it. It had just about everything I could want – a bit of urban chaos round the houses at the start to make things exciting. Plenty of twists, turns, and opportunities to get lost – adding further excitement / jeopardy.
Quiet lanes that weaved through woods, round lakes, and up and down short sharp banks. There were long drags, sweeping descents, and big views over open moors, valleys, and rugged crags. Just about the best of everything you can get in the UK, I think. Just zero flat whatsoever.
On the outskirts of the steel city 50 riders assembled, ready to test their mettle on the hills of the Peak District. The BoC crew and I were well prepared after a nice restful evening trying to sleep in child sized bunk beds at a local haunted youth hostel, preceded by a kebab which we wolfed down on the village green at Eyam, right next to a seemingly fully operational, set of medieval stocks. Something told me I would be in for a flogging tomorrow.
In the morning, the skies were heavy with some low mist hanging over the hills, and the temperature seemed only barely in double figures, but it was dry, and the wind wasn’t too bad. Hopefully, the sun would burn through the fog and things would improve later on, but for now we were all keen to crack on and get warmed up.
We set off in 3 groups, a few moments apart, and predictably the groups blew apart almost immediately as we were straight into twisty decent, followed by twisty climb. The start of the ride took us through some of the western suburbs of Sheffield, which resulted in the further fragmenting of the groups at the various junctions and traffic lights - all of which were nice and quiet at 8am on a Sunday morning.
As we headed North and away from the city, I found myself with a small group, which I then lost on a descent when I bunny hopped a puddle and dropped my chain (worth it to avoid excess splatter on the bike).
Fortunately, it wasn’t long until another little group caught up with me and I tagged along with them. The ride was a bit like a party in that respect – floating about having lots of little conversations with different people, all the time knowing that at a certain point I will start flagging and must deploy an emergency OTE gel. (Yes, I have used a gel at a wedding before – they can be long days, especially if the vol-au-vents have been clattered by everyone before they get round to you).
Most of the route was unfamiliar to me but one part I was looking forward to returning to was Pea Royd Lane which arrived at around the 35km mark (1.16km long, 12.5% average gradient).
I raced Pea Royd Lane at the 2018 national hill climb championships – the most savage 3 minutes I’ve had on a bike, I remember it took about a day before the taste of blood left my mouth. This time however there were no catchers required at the top of the hill to lift me off my bike and deposit me at the side of the road in shaking mess.
In fact, I had quite a pleasant time spinning up and chatting with fellow BoC rider Dean about some of the more bizarre conspiracy theories we have heard recently. We’re really spoiled for choice these days I think – back when I was a kid you just had the classic moon landing stuff, maybe a bit of JFK, and some of the standard Area 51 alien abduction type craic, but now there’s all sorts of wacky stuff you can get deep into and worry your friends and family by constantly talking about.
With wild conspiracy theories about Covid, vaccines and 5G put to bed not long after Pea Royd Lane, we arrived at the pop-up OTE feed zone where bottles were refilled, and jersey pockets were stuffed with bars and gels before setting off for the second half of the ride. Shout out to OTEwho had once again laid on the nutrition. Essential for anyone who, like the BoC crew, may not have factored breakfast into the morning’s logistics.
One thing to note was the fantastic condition of the roads – a legacy of the 2014 Tour De France. I thought it would be great if we could have Grand Depart in Northumberland so they could give our lanes up there some much needed TLC. I chatted to a couple of guys from Surrey on the ride who shared similar feelings about their local roads. What a difference lovely tarmac makes. Really makes you forget about your troubles.
The next significant climb, which was also a feature of the 2014 tour was the ‘Cote de Bradfield’ (1.9km long, average gradient 10.1%). Again, I kept things sensible and spun (grinded) up, chatting (in laboured grunts) with some of the other people in my little group.
I heard that things hadn’t been so civilized with the front group on the ride, where a bit of good-natured competitive spirit had resulted in things getting a touch spicy. A bit of Strava stalking, and comparing segment times, in the van on the way home confirmed that the watts had indeed been pumped out, and shenanigans were had on the climbs. By all accounts there were some impressive performances, but had any of those fast guys in the front group reached a consensus on whether aliens had built the pyramids or not though?
I’m aware this write up has taken you round the houses even more than the start of the ride did, in my mind now the whole thing is just a blur of up and down! We’re nearly finished though I promise.
There were around 21 separate climbs on this ride, and they just came one after another. Most of them were short and sharp, and not necessarily anything you would have heard of, which says a lot about the region and the proliferation of hills it holds.
One of the longer climbs came towards the end of the ride – Burbage Moor (4.6km long average gradient 5.1%) which rose past and round an impressive craggy escarpment. Probably one of the more memorable climbs on the loop for me, thanks to the scenery. What I wasn’t thankful for was the head wind that we had turned into and that would be a feature for the rest of the ride.
Fortunately, there wasn’t much of the ride left, and soon we were at the finish, reunited with the BoC support van, and swapping tales of the ride with people from the different groups. The feeling was unanimous from everyone I spoke to - that had been the toughest 100km loop they had ever ridden in the UK, and I would certainly agree.
Next up the double header weekend of Wales and Exmoor. See you there. Together we Climb.