Hitting those Peaks
Multiple Haute Route and Gran Fondo winner; Ruari Grant, shares with us how he's coping amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
Having now spent an unexpectedly long time (six weeks and counting) staying with the in-laws, in the hills just west of the Peak District, the area just keeps proving itself as one of the very best places to ride a bicycle in the UK. Hannah and I come here several times a year, but this extended sojourn has afforded me the luxury of getting to know the delights of the area that much more intimately.
The Peak District; nestled conveniently between Manchester, the National Cycling Centre, and Sheffield – long a hotbed for UK cycling, has always been a popular training ground for the UK’s pro riders, who you’ll often see.
It’s easy to see why. Beyond the location, the range of terrain on offer has to be about as good as you get in this country. From the little known town where we are based (Biddulph), there are more climbs to the east than you could wish for, while to the west are the pan flat Cheshire plains. No idea why you’d want those, but I hear some people like that sort of thing.
As for the climbs themselves, they’re all different too. From the long and steady grades of the Cat & Fiddle and Snakes pass, to the relative walls that are Winnats Pass and Riber, you’ve got them all here. The current circumstances, and the lack of traffic, also makes main roads like ‘The Cat’, that much more pleasant.
Along with those better-known hills above – and numerous more of the ‘100 Greatest’ and ‘Another 100’ UK climbs, within riding distance, there are obviously loads of slightly more obscure challenges. There’s a cracking climb out of a little village called Ilam; in fact, there’s barely a metre of road at under 10% in the southern part of the national park. While the bigger and better known hills and more spectacular scenery does tend to be found in the northern part, I actually think the riding is a lot harder down south. You’re incessantly in the ‘granny gear’, and the descents provide zero recovery as you plummet down vertical slopes wishing you’d replaced your brake pads that morning.
With COVID and the change of plans racing-wise, Liam and I have set a few alternative goals to keep the training interesting and motivating. The 100 Greatest Climbs book has really helped, and we’re hoping to bag the ‘Stravas’, on a couple more of the big ones including; Holme Moss, one of my favourites. These are shorter efforts than the mountainous marathons I usually prepare for, so it means doing more high intensity, over-threshold training, than I’m used to. More painful, but variety is the spice of life as they say…
Anyhow, I’m about ready for some sun, and perhaps a westerly wind with it. Our most local hill is one of the ‘top 100’: Mow Cop, but it’s far too steep to attempt without a helping hand from nature, so I’ve not ventured up it recently. No rush though… things don’t look like going back to normal any time soon, so we may be here for a bit longer. Not quite the Alps or Dolomites, but very enjoyable nevertheless.