Sunday 1st June 2014
The worst thing you can have in the build up to a sportive, apart from an injury, is endless rain. With our climate, it's a sure sign that a miserable day on the bike is in store. So, when the one window of sunshine in the week of the event fell on the Sunday itself I was more than relieved. The drive to Romiley, south east of Manchester over the Woodhead Pass, was a beautiful trip that made the 6.00am start worthwhile and left me itching to get out there.
The event organisers, Polocini, have been on the sportive scene for some time now and have a reputation for providing excellent food on their events, most of which are based around the Peak District and the Cheshire area. The Polocini website lists seven events for 2014 but The B*stard, with two routes of 59 and 70 miles, is the only one I've previously sampled so I knew what I was in for today. Hills. And lots of them.
The start point was Polocini's own café, and parked in the side street nearby it was obvious that today was going to be warm and I ditched my arm warmers, gillet and waterproof. Sadly I forgot to stick on enough sun cream and paid for that later on.
As it was a fairly small scale event it was simply a matter of signing on and getting out on the road. So, it was just after 9.00 that I was following a group of three others as the route took us north towards Huddersfield.
As billed, the route took us over plenty of hills, but for most of the ride I was holding on for Holme Moss and the newly resurfaced descent down to Woodhead. So, when heading down into Holmfirth I was surprised to see the arrows diverting me out of the other side of the town and east, away from the main event. I should have known there was a good reason for it though, when the road took me up two very short and sharp climbs and eventually deposited me back at the foot of the ride's high point, just where the road starts to ramp up towards Holme Moss.
The conditions were perfect - virtually no wind and gorgeous sunshine. I could make out the line of the road clearly as it wound its way around the hills ahead. If ever you hear anyone expressing cynicism about the Tour coming to England (and I've heard a few moans in my office already) then you'll certainly struggle to hear such sentiments in Holmfirth. It's clearly going to be a huge payday for the whole place and all along the road up to the climb proper were banners advertising Tour de France parking, camping, barbeques, places to watch the riders from and so on. Even once the big banners were out of the way there were still smaller placards every fifty yards planted in the verge.
As always with the climb up here, the hard part starts with the road markings at 1¼ miles that count down to the summit. Trying to take pictures as I struggled to keep up a pace of 6 or 7mph was tricky. I stayed at this pitifully slow rate all the way up and tried not to think how fast the pros will be next month.
At last the summit of the "Col de Holme Moss" was reached and the descent started. The worst of the bumpy bits have been smoothed out and this gives you much greater confidence in letting the bike run on and to stay off the brakes. The sensation of speed was immense and I revelled in my reward for the previous efforts.
Half a mile later I was at the junction with the Woodhead Pass and here too the road workers have been busy as for once I wasn't dodging pot holes and gravel. Briefly we were on the Woodhead road and then we were directed off again towards Glossop on an undulating road I've ridden on a ton of sportives by now. While the majority of the route to here was relatively new to me (clearly either my memory has declined or the route has changed a fair bit since 2012) we were now back on familiar territory and the A624 out of Glossop for a naggingly long climb up out of the valley. I had around 65 miles in my legs by now and precious little left to drink.
The next few miles after the climb levelled out were merely preparation for the final test I knew was waiting for me. Gorsey Brow. A short and very nasty bit of tarmac, with an average gradient of 15% and a maximum of 31%. The last stretch is murder and you really have to fight to keep the pedals turning - I seemed to pulling on the bars as hard as I was pushing with my feet. Right near the summit with an agonising 30 yards or so left to go I passed a stationary couple having a ferocious row about whether she could make it up or not (his idea of "motivating" her seemed to be to yell at her quite a lot!). As distracted as I was by the effort, it did cross my mind that this was the sort of nonsense I really didn't need at that moment in time.
The relief of feeling the gradient ease was huge and there seemed little left to do now but spin through the last few miles back to the café. Sadly, Al the organiser had other ideas. I was a little puzzled as the yellow and black arrows diverted me off the road we'd come out on down what looked like a farm track. This eventually turned into something so steep it was a concrete rather than tarmac surface and ridges had been cut in it to give some grip. It was very narrow and when a Land Rover came round the corner I had no option but to unclip along with the guy riding next to me. With no chance of getting going again we walked up instead and at this stage even that was a tough ask.
Rolling in to the finish my legs were leaden and my bottles bone dry after a day in what was pretty strong sun. Polocini's reputation for good post race food was upheld with a fantastic hot pork sandwich followed by a big slice of cake and a proper coffee. Sitting in the sun brushing the encrusted salt from my top and chatting to the other riders was a lovely way to spend an hour or so before heading home. It had certainly been a bastard of a ride!