Ron Grey looks forward to a hard day in the saddle
Phil Liggett puts a friendly hammer down
Carlton Reid nurses the Harmonator through another bad patch
Phil, Carlton and David enjoy the sunshine
Now in its 7th year, the ‘Phil and Friends’, which took place on Sunday 12th August over either 150km or 100km routes, bridges that gap between old style audax ride and new age sportive, weaving a beautiful and tough course through the Derbyshire countryside from the outskirts of Sheffield to the outskirts of Macclesfield, up through Derbyshire’s Dark Peak and dropping back down into the Hope valley and the White Peak, before returning to the start and finish village of Stannington.
This was a classic hardrider’s course, routed by legendary TV commentator Phil Liggett through what he considers the most beautiful cycling countryside in the UK, and it attracted a whole range of rider ages and abilities.
‘Phil and Friends’ just about sums the atmosphere up, with the ex-President of the CTC utterly approachable and happy to share his great passion for riding with all comers. Not that the man doesn’t have a hard side. When I suggested during the Giro back in May that I had never been able to ride the Phil and Friends as it clashed with the Vuelta, I received an e-mail the next day saying that it didn’t and that my presence was expected.
My intention was to complete the 150km route. I had ridden several hilly sportives of over 200km before the Tour de France including the Polka Dot Challenge over much of the same type of terrain, but all hope of the long route went crashing to the deck within the first 4km of the day.
Descending out of Stannington down Stacey Bank my bike skated over some very treacherous damp surface and, having saved one huge tail end slide, I found that the front wheel neatly tucked itself up. Down I went with a bone jarring crunch on my right hip and shoulder.
You have two options in such situations and, preferring not to take the one that says pack it in and go home, I remounted and told myself that another 20 kilometres would tell if I had damaged something.
The route for both short and long rides heads north towards Holmfirth and it takes very little distance indeed to work out why this is a true Challenge ride. As I swung past the Damflask reservoir the steep climb from Lower to Upper Bradfield left me reeling and clawing for breath.
The views are magnificent all the way around and the swing over Bradfield and Howden moors is no exception, despite the occasional very heavy and blustery squall.
The second absolute killer of a climb came at Ewden, just as I was starting to get some sort of rhythm. Swing right across Ewden Beck and into the steep first section that curves around a left hand hairpin and jumps upwards in one of those typically short sharp Peak District ascents. I had felt fairly confident that by largest sprocket of 25 teeth would be enough but after a heavy fall I almost ground to a halt just 20kms from the start point.
But that would have been such a waste and on the run up to Langsett along the A616 and the following long descent into Holmfirth things began to loosen up a little.
Refreshments were ably churned out at reasonable prices at the Victoria Inn after 32km. Here Tour legend Brian Robinson joined us for the long grinding ascent of Holme Moss, where Carlton Reid, bicycle rider extraordinaire and Editor of Bike Biz, very kindly nursed my aching bones to the top.
The great advantage of the audax format is that, unlike the feed stations of sportives, audax continues to support café culture with its bacon and sausage sandwiches and mugs of tea. There will be a whole generation of ‘new’ sportive riders who find the thought of such artery-clogging fare utterly appalling, but for those of use brought up before the advent of the isotonic solution and the energy gel, it’s manna. With 40km between posted café stops it also provides a perfect refuge from the sort of lashing rain that was now sweeping across the Manchester side of the Peaks.
After Holme Moss there was little let up winding through Glossop on the B6105, through Little Hayfield, Hayfield and up Chinley Head on the A624 to Chapel en le Frith. With no personal best time to chase, there is always time to sneak in an unscheduled tea stop in Chapel. I was glad to take advantage of this as the rain had begun to sheet in again and I was truly sore from the crash, and then onwards then to Rushup Edge.
As is so often the case in the Peaks, the rain that beset the Manchester side of the hills blew away to reveal blue skies as we slid over the shoulder of Mam Tor and for the first time in the day could enjoy a fast technical descent all the way to Edale.
Just after the second listed tea stop at Edale the route splits where the longer of the two rides swings off through Hope to Castleton and thence up Winnats Pass, looping around Peak Forest, Millers Dale, Monsal Head and Hathersage before rejoining the 100km route at Bamford. This is not a route to be undertaken lightly, but take it at the right pace and with the right gearing and you can see while Phil thinks this is the most beautiful area in the UK to cycle.
We however opted for shorter run back along the A6013 and onto the A57 up the long drag from the Rivelin Dam and back into Stannington.
I couldn’t have been more pleased to get back, not because my heavy fall had finally taken its toll but entirely due to the magnificent array of home made cakes available with the customary cuppa.
There is a still a huge amount going for the traditional audax type challenge ride and the Phil and Friends is the perfect example of how old and new can be mixed. It’s a pity that this year entries were down to only 200 and it really deserves so many more riders, especially in the light of the money raised by the CTC by its challenge rides for the Cyclist’s Defence Fund.
Possibly it’s because the CTC just doesn’t cross the radar of many sportive riders. If that is the case, it should do, for this ride deserves a wider audience. There are certainly few rides that provide such a hard day out, yet welcome and encourage the whole family.
I’ll certainly be back next year, when I might even manage to stay upright.