The area surrounding Hope and Castleton in the Peak District is one I know fairly well, from both previous Dark and White events and countless New Years celebrations in Castleton as a student. Oh, and I had my stag do there, but the less said about that the better (I did, however, notice that the trough outside a pub that I ended up in now contains flowers, not water and goldfish!).
The day was cold and crisp and the ground fairly dry with no recent rain, so it looked likely that conditions would be fast. I duly pumped up my tyres as hard as I dared and set off.
I always prefer a downhill finish so headed off up the Edale valley on to tracks I knew fairly well, whilst sorting out the rest of the route as I went.
The rocky descent down into number 10 had me wishing I hadn’t put quite so much air in my tyres as I bounced around, trying to keep a smooth line, but luckily a sheep track alongside the main path made the re-ascent a little easier. I always love riding the bridleway that goes via today’s number 8 as I seem to come across lots of recreation bikers, mostly on very expensive full-suspension machines, either slowly picking their way down the steep rocky descents or off and pushing on the ups. It’s a nice feeling to blast past them, up or down, on an XC race bike and watch their faces.
The planning was very good and I was struggling to see a good route to hoover up the controls to the Ssouth. There seemed no way to circumnavigate the course without some vicious climbs.
The one up to Chapel Gate was cruel, the only plus being it could have been so much worse if not frozen, but my poor overshoes took a pounding, as, like everyone else, I was off and pushing/carrying at times up to the top of the 250 metre ascent.
Moving south I had a decision to make: to leave number 7 in Bradwell or not. I knew things were going to be tight and in the end, although only 750 metres off my route, I decided not to descend and get it. Given I was 4 mins late this was the right decision, but winner Mark McPhillips, who took the same route as me did get it.
The views out over Castleton and the Dark Peak to the north were stunning as I climbed over towards Mam Tor before dropping down into Castleton. I have never ridden the bridleway down from Hollins Cross before, and I will probably avoid it next time. It was slippery, steep and un-rideable in places, making me slower than planned hence being a little late back.
After getting the last control, it was a 2.5km blast back along the road to the finish in Hope punching in 5 minutes late. There were lots of big names about today and I felt sure, although I’d had a good ride, that I’d be down the leader board; but download showed me equal second with Killian, another great result and showing that my continued concentration on strength this winter is starting to pay off.
Thanks Dark and White for another great event, and also great to see Steve Heading back on a mountain bike after his shoulder injury last year (and yes he did ride from Matlock, do the event and ride home again – legend)
Stats: 52.8km, 1200m climb
Results available here : http://www.darkandwhite.co.uk/results-cross-country-fell-races.asp