The Rapha Peak Prestige is part of a series of ‘Prestige’ events that Rapha organise, they are somewhat like sportives. However, the concept is that the rides are unsupported; they are not races; and the glory of cycling is the pillar of importance on these rides.
Each Prestige event is completed in an Audax format whereby you have your Brevet card stamped at numerous checkpoints to prove that you have completed the necessary distances – but the route choice is up to you, much like the Trans-Continental Race.
This particular Prestige event was based in the Peak District and looped from the Rapha Cycle Club in Manchester. It was here that you received your brevet cards, suggested route instructions, and met other riders.
As soon as we got word of the event, the Bristol Dropouts crew assembled. Myself, Matt, Lucy, and Luke were all super keen to ride in the Peaks, and better yet as a shop crew.
It was great to see everyone taking their pre-ride nutrition seriously, and sticking with their honed rituals. I had a light carb-based salad, Luke sucked on some Cherries, and Matt and Lucy got ready for winter with BK’s.
We arrived in Manchester in the dead of night, although the city centre was anything but. Trudging through the crowds of pissed-up tourists, students on pub-crawls, and freshly placed puke in the huge city felt almost dreamlike – probably because we were fucking shattered. Bleary eyed we eventually found a car park – literally a fractured concrete square levelled in the middle of Manchester. Austere.
Checking in at the hostel seemed to take an eternity, but upon getting the keys and settling down into the room we brought in much of the chaos from outside into the hostel. Apologies to the guy who was trying to sleep amongst the street cacophony and our racket. Commence bad sleep.
Waking up from a hot, noisy and largely sleepless slumber, we rode to the Rapha Cycle Club. Expecting to be rushed and disowned by the fancy folks there, we were immensely happy to be received with the warmest welcome and were still treated to a decent breakfast and complimentary coffee.
Porridge and bananas, coffee and patisserie, and plenty of additional energy available for us if we wanted to take it on the ride.
In acknowledgment of the awfully wet-weather conditions, Rapha allowed us to leave dry clothes in a bag to be changed at Checkpoint 2.
With brevet cards ready, bikes primed, pre-ride picture taken, and Garmin’s set to direct, we set off from the cycle club and began the Prestige.
The city centre roads in Manchester are rubbish for cycling as they are littered with potholes and tramlines, but the drivers are respectful, even buses and lorries gave plenty of room.
Not much to say about this part of the ride other than we were hugely relieved to see the climbs and rolling terrain of the peaks once we had got through the suburbs – even if it was through heavy rain. It was a picture-perfect miserable day; a monotonous grey sky as far as you could see through misty, dirty sunglasses.
Hard-hitting rain, cold winds, and road scum filled the air. Luke was starting to regret his choice of bibs, jersey, and gillet – he felt as though something more substantial was necessary. Myself and Matt however, were in great spirits despite this. Partly due to the superb Rapha Race Cape, but probably more due to the team spirit. Being on your bike in any weather with friends is always a laugh.
Mechanical troubles were limited to a rattling bottle cage and faulty tool rolls. Both issues were solved immediately; the bottle cage bolt tightened to the recommended ‘FT’, and the toll roll disposed of accordingly.
The first test for our legs came from the ‘Peep O Day’ main road climb that takes you out of Manchester suburbs and up into the first parts of the Peak District, Chinley Head. It’s a steady climb, 6% for 2.1km and at our leisurely pace it was easy going; we soaked up the staggering views across the valley to the right.
As we summited the Peep O Day climb, a group of sodden Rapha clad riders could be seen crowding around an old Citroën H Van – unmistakeable as the Rapha Cycle Club (Pedro), and moreover the first checkpoint. The Dropouts quartet devoured bananas, savoured espresso, and fuelled up on some of my homemade flapjack. Navigation was left in the capable hands of the Garmin 800.
Without a doubt, riding the Monsal Trail was a highlight of this route, if not a highlight of the Peak District. The Monsal Trail follows a former section of the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway, built in 1863 to link Manchester with London.
None of us had ridden on gravel for any extended period before, and the fact that it was wet, slippery, mud spraying everywhere just topped it all off. We had to keep moving quickly as it was particularly cold in this low-lying part of the Peaks. There is something incredible about riding a racing bike, fast over gravel. You feel every single pebble, hear every stone hitting the frames, and the sensation of speed is massively heightened. It’s a type of riding that everyone has to explore and spend time doing it. I’m left longing for the extended gravel rides possible in US and Australia.
Checkpoint 2 was based at the end of the trail, and perfectly placed it was. Luke was totally drenched, cold, and feeling pretty awful now. John Ruskin’s words are as fitting for cycling the trail as they were for the building of a railway through the valleys;
‘The valley is gone – and now every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half an hour and every fool at Bakewell in Buxton.’
The fact that Luke had to change both gears with his right hand and couldn’t hold his bidon signalled that a change of clothes was absolutely necessary. Rapha provided such items, and in addition there was hot pie and local Bakewell delicacies.
It wasn’t a race, but Penny spent 45 mins changing his bib shorts. That cost us a lazy third place Penny.
The weather turned for the better as we traversed through the Peak District. Checkpoint number 3 sat like the head of a monstrous snake at the summit of Mam Tor, 10.6% for just over 3Km. The final hairpins are not quite as iconic as Sa Calobra, but with burning legs you crank up into the jaw-like summit and realise your Grand Tour dreams on the other side.
Mam Tor was a brilliant climb, hard at the top, but the sense of accomplishment of the whole ride was phenomenal. Rapha waited with whisky, which Matt hoovered up in between lungfuls of humid air.
After the congregation of riders at Mam Tor, all excited about the final 50Km ‘downhill’ back to the cycle club, the descents and flatter terrain were a welcome sight. The snaking roads and lumps made for fun riding, and feelings of accomplishment began to set it.
Whaley lane came as a surprise to us, but the good weather and sniff of the finish pulled us up and over the steep climb.
The second memory that I will hold from this ride was a sketchy descent of Buxton Old Road, 2.2km of speed bumps, hopping every single one of them. Luke’s bike handling skills nearly cost me my life, nearly.