Sometimes, you sign up for events that you don’t really think much of and you figure they’re a long way off and you’ll deal with the consequences nearer the time.
On Saturday 13th June 2015, my team and I took part in Rapha Prestige: a 154km self-navigated, semi-supported event through the Peak District. A 6am alarm on a Saturday morning is a rarity for me but the anticipation and excitement of the day ahead made me spring out of bed and throw on my kit. I drew the blinds and what presented was less than ideal. Dreary, wet, drizzly and grey yet calm, relatively warm and quiet. This was Prestige and this was our challenge.
I arrived at the Club to a half full room of guys and girls laughing, chatting, sipping coffee, packing their back pockets with extra fuel, taking advantage of the fig rolls and croissants asking to be eaten. There was banter, friends, strangers meeting for the first time agreeing on the day’s plan.
The idea of Prestige is to forge your own route ensuring you stamp your brevet card at each checkpoint in the correct order. Ruth uploaded the route to her Garmin and she adopted the role of Chief Navigator. We assembled outside in the drizzle, each person awaiting the delivery of their steed to the previously packed out stable that was the ground floor of the Club. Rule: first in, last out. Eventually, each of us had our bikes and we set off for the hills.
Out of Manchester and out to Chapel-en-le-Frith was straight forward, or perhaps not. At around the 40km mark I began to question where Pedro was waiting. Checkpoint one should’ve been and gone by now, yet somehow we were heading further into the hills. We ended up bumping into the other Rapha ladies’ team: Your Pace or Mine (it was Nicole’s bright green overshoes that gave them away!) who informed us that we’d missed it by about 15km! Frustrated, we decided to continue without the stamp for CP1. Had the weather have been more pleasant, we would’ve perhaps turned around to find it.
Face says it all!
Photo credit: Cat Forrest
The next checkpoint was situated in Bakewell. I knew from a few hours of studying the route that we’d need to find the Monsal Trail and follow it all the way to Bakewell. The Rapha Ambassadors weekend took us along this way so I knew roughly where to go. The pan flat, packed gravel road of the Trail was a welcome sight after what seemed like an eternity of undulating hills and bleak weather. The Trail offers respite through tunnels and in the direction we were going, it was even slightly downhill. We (and by “we” I actually mean I) decided to sing Bohemian Rhapsody along the path. What’s usually considered the best driving song can also be an amazing cycling song, especially with our voices!
A sweeping descent from the trail and we found ourselves at CP2! The relief of finally getting to a checkpoint at over the halfway point was amazing. The Trail had left scars of mud on our legs, faces, backs and helmets but this just added to the charm of every cyclist rolling in. Flemish tanlines were in full force. Many teams took this opportunity to put dry clothes on, eat Bakewell tarts, grab a cup of tea or simply stand and take it all in like me. I was, however caught with a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer!
Checkpoint 2: Monsal Madness
Photo credit: Cat Forrest
After a while, we hit the frog and toad heading for the last checkpoint at the top of the last epic climb of the day: Mamnick. The views were absolutely stunning despite the monolithic presence of Mam Tor up ahead. I always arrive at the Peak District and consider just how lucky I am to have something so naturally beautiful less than 30km from home. **pinch**
Camaraderie was at an all-time high, especially since we’d only ever ridden together once before back in April. We had decided early on that this would just be a nice bike ride, with friends, no QOMs in it, no racing, just straight up good vibes. The rolling, somewhat downhill towards Mamnick was great, even if we could sense the climb was near (see picture). And then, we were there. The sign at the bottom warning potential victims of a harsh 16% gradient was less than welcome after 100km in the saddle.
Exhibit A: evidence.
In the lead up to this ride, I had made it my mission to do hills. I completed the Strava climbing challenge for May (6,000m in one month) which set me up just right for the onslaught of Prestige. Mamnick has been done before by my predecessors and it’ll be done again many times after I’ve tried. This was it. RAMP. It was relentless until it wasn’t: flattening just before kicking again to the finish. I unclipped at the flat section, realised I could do it and jumped back on. Ruth waved me around the corner to where Marta and some photographers awaited our arrival. I’ve never been so happy to see someone before!
Photo credit: Cat Forrest
We rested at the top, Beth refreshing herself with whiskey and Marta handing us some easy peelers: a running joke we have with the other ambassadors. We happily sat up there for some time just taking in the incredible views and taking in some much needed oxygen!
We’d done it – in a round about way, anyway. We crept over the summit of Mam Tor and enjoyed the long descent into Chapel, probably one of my favourite descents to date. By this point, the sun had decided to shine and I was sweating up a storm in my rain jacket so it had to come off. Annoyingly, the place we took our jackets off was also the ghost of CP1!
We had around 30km until we got back to the club where I knew beer, food and friends awaited. It was there that we also had our only mechanical for the day and unfortunately it was a game changing. Beth’s chain had come off her biggest sprocket and wedged itself between the spokes and cassette. We needed a chain whip to fix it but nobody I know carries a chain whip on an everyday bike ride. A few passersby stopped to chat/make sure we were ok, most notably an older man with his wife in the car who initially drove straight past, came up the hill again to double check we were ok, then came past again saying he couldn’t leave ladies by the side of the road stranded! Unfortunately, his help was redundant and we had to call the broomwagon
Casualty. Beth’s game was over 🙁
Thomas required emergency CPR (chain potential replacement)
Cat and I left Ruth and Beth at a pub at the bottom of a hill on the assurance that John was en route and they both had charged phones, were safe and otherwise ok. With only 30km to go, it would take us just as long to cycle as it would for John to arrive, pick them up and drive back to the club. I only vaguely know the areas around where we were stranded so when I saw Mellor Road, I thought that would lead us in the direction we needed to go. It did but it was also incredibly uphill, which was an unwelcome surprise. Crompstall was another unpleasant time where my mind wondered what on earth I was doing. It was quite a dark time but one I knew that was coming to an end with each pedal stroke.
By the time we got into the vicinity of Manchester, I began to turn around mentally. It was over. This was the home straight and we had done it!
Photo credit: Cat Forrest
We arrived at the club and I had such a sense of relief to be there. A grand total of 9:41 in the saddle is a long day by anyone’s reckoning. I went straight in for a celebratory hug and Peroni from Marta and slumped myself against the wall, evaluating the mere thought of having to ride 7km back home to shower.
Dear diary, today was a good day. It has, to date, been one of my favourite adventures on the bike. It’s given me confidence to meander the Peak District on my own knowing that I couldn’t possibly get lost. It’s events like this that you realise it’s not the winning that counts but just the taking part of something so brilliant that makes it all worth while.
Thank you to all who made it happen: Jess, Marta, Ham, Rapha UK, the photographers, the club and wonderful staff, the RCC and finally, my ladies – you rocked my socks that day!
The next day, I boarded the first train to London to see my sister, who I hadn’t seen since I moved to the UK in October last year.