If it involves pedalling then I'm probably into it…
The ‘Spud Riley’ Polka Dot Challenge
If you’re not from the North West of England then you might not be familiar with this sportive. Originally started as a memorial to local rider Spud Riley, it’s one of this classic sportives of around 100 miles/10,000 ft of climbing, in this case, around a big loop of the Peak District. It might not have the notoriety of the Fred Whitton with it’s signature climbs of Hard Knott Pass, or even the crowds of supporters, but don’t be mistaken for thinking this ride is easy. It’s also one of the events that aren’t run by money grabbing companies. Local cycling shop/club Wills Wheels took over the organisation from Spud’s brother Dave last year, with 0ver £80,000 raised for charity by the event so far. The organisation is slick and the marshalling is well done, complete with big red flags on the dangerous descents.
I’ve done the event every year since 2009, with the long time (but never achieved) goal of completing within 6h 30m. However, with the new organisers deciding to completely change the route and me not having chance to do a recce, I decided that there was no point in setting a target and going all out to achieve it, but rather to check out the new course and set a marker to beat next year.
This had quite a big effect on my preparation. I didn’t prepare at all. After the mellow 10 mile pedal down to event HQ, I signed on and got stuck into the suffering straight away. Even the climbs that I knew really well were hurting and I was starting to curse the lack of a good nights sleep and the after effects of a decent night out on Friday. I was enjoying the change of route though – even doing roads that I’d only ever done the other way round gave fresh and revealing views and previous hill climbs became fast downhills. Once I got onto roads that were totally new to me I had no choice but to take each hill as it came – no pacing my efforts over well-known gradients, just get stuck in and hope for the summit to come soon. I shared these thoughts with a rider from Leeds for 25 miles, who was also a repeat customer in at the deep end on the new route, though he’d only found out the night before! I know I criticised road cyclists for being anti-social on here before, but his tales of club runs and foreign training camps got me thinking about joining a local club.
So how does this new route compare against the old one? Well it’s certainly not any easier! It still features a relentless amount of climbing in a way that I think is so much tougher than continental roads. The gradient never stays constant, so just as you get into a decent climbing rhythm the road will ramp up to 16% or worse. And the roads are always in need of repair, unlike the well cared for cols of southern Europe. The scenery of the new route is also just as stunning as the old one, which was enjoyed in good weather for a change. It was the original Spud Riley that taught me some of my favourite Peak District roads and I’m sure today will further broaden my repertoire. Some of the roads were incredible: narrow single track lanes that had views so stunning that you had to remind yourself to keep an eye on the road ahead.
So that’s it really. No major revelations or epiphanies this time, just a good honest hard days riding in the Peak District. If you like these big-day-out kind of events run by decent people then I’d heartily recommend this one. There’s also 30 and 60 mile options if you’ve not quite progressed to full scale suffering yet.
So anyway, what time did I finish in? A respectable but not ground breaking 7h 17m., which should set me up nicely for bettering it next year!