Sunday saw my return to the Peak District to tackle the re branded and rescheduled Peak District ‘Punisher’ sportive. I did this previously with my mate Tom back in September last year and it turned out to be a cracking route, both in terms of scenery and long climbs and literally in the sense of our legs after yet another 15%+ grade.
This time I went a bit better than before despite a windy day with strong headwinds and a spell of cold rain and hail sapping my energy in the first half of the day. Tom was carrying a niggling hip injury and sensibly (though probably not in the opinion of his physio) decided ‘only’ to do the standard route (still 70+ miles, 7,000+ft climbing). Unfortunately the route split was quite early at 38 miles in (of 98) and I spent the rest of the ride pretty much riding solo.
On this route it doesn’t take long until the Major Suffering ™ begins. The first 6 miles were a little lumpier than we remembered, not helped by a few numpties who clearly had no concept of riding in a group. At the 6 mile mark you hit Sir William Hill and the pain begins. I found a good space ahead of the aforementioned numpties as I could envisage a fair few getting off and walking. The climb averages 10% for 1.3 miles but hits 18% early on. It is a difficult one to pace as it is pretty much one speed only. I bettered last year’s time by 24 seconds. After this punch in the gut follows a fairly sketchy descent followed by a longer downhill where you can recover as much as possible before arriving at the foot of Winnat’s pass (mile 18). By this point a real headwind was blowing through the pass, just to make things even more fun. Winnat’s pass averages 9% over 1.4 miles but hits 22% in the process and is therefore REALLY HARD. This was a real slog but I managed to lop nearly 2 minutes off last year. This was probably the only part of the ride where I would have liked a 32 tooth cassette.
Ticking off 2 of the 3 super steep climbs of the ride felt good and we pressed on to the first of the longer, shallower (read more enjoyable) climbs, Long Hill. At 3% average over 4.6 miles and fairly pleasant views this was a climb that most cyclists could enjoy and push on. Again I went faster, 3:20 minutes quicker than last year ( 22 v 25) riding around threshold the whole way with my legs feeling good.
After the descent into Buxton, Tom and I went our separate ways as I turned right onto the Cat & Fiddle road. This is a really exposed section and the wind was terrible. I reached the inn at the top and took shelter in the car park at the back with a pork pie, enjoying the views. The following section is one of the best of the ride with a long flowing descent and extremely quiet farm roads. The weather had other ideas though and light run quickly turned heavy and then into a full on hailstorm. I’d not brought a rain jacket, gambling that my Gabba would cope with anything thrown at it on the day. With hail bouncing painfully off my arms I decided sensibly to take shelter under a large oak tree. I was joined here by a bloke who was part way round a 25 mile walk / run through the peaks with some pretty serious running gear/backpack set up. After a quick bit of English humour, the hail abated and I decided to push on. I was then rewarded with sun finally breaking through the clouds, warming me up as I’d started to shiver and I quite quickly dried off.
Horrid climb number 3 came next. The ascent up Thorncliffe bank up onto the open moorland. The first mile and a half or so is fairly steady and I plodded along, starting to feel a little sluggish and down on power. Then suddenly you take a sharp left up and face 500ft of climbing over less than a mile (10% average). For the first time in the day I was slightly slower on a climb than last year as I weaved my way up the many 15% torturous ramps.
Across the moorland and ‘all downhill from here’ .. yeh right! An up and down section followed with a bit of a tailwind (at last) and then onto the Leek Road climb which at an average of 3% over 3.1 miles (with a bit of descent in the middle) should have been perfect for me. However a combination of the unrelenting headwind and bonky feeling legs made this a real drag (I averaged less than 160 watts..).
A long descent to the final feed zone allowed for a bit of recovery. I filled my bidons and finally opened a much needed caffeine gel. This made a massive difference and I found I was able to get back up to more respectable power numbers.
A few more draining up and downs, through the Long Dale drag which is pretty and unlike anything near me in the South East and then the final descent into Bakewell. I probably pushed a bit too hard through the final 10 miles, feeling the back tyre slip once or twice into the technical turns but it is fun reeling in bigger riders who are taking it steady downhill.
I came in at just over 8 hours, a little slower than I’d hoped for but around half an hour better than last time. Considering the time spent riding solo and the impact of the weather this was still satisfying.
Key lessons learnt are firstly I need to find a more effective fuelling strategy on this type of ride (more savoury and less dry stuff), secondly look at how to get a bit more caffeine in earlier in the ride (I’m a 4 cups of coffee a day person) and thirdly on long, exposed and windy rides I cannot ride solo for 3-4 hours.
Definitely a good, challenging day out and nice to see an improvement from 8 months ago. Here are the stats, apologies for the imperial measures throughout..
Photo credit: Tom Lennon