Any cyclist familiar with the terrain of the Huddersfield area will be able to see that the route of the Brian Robinson Challenge hits quite a few noticeable bumps on the way round. At 75 miles with 2,500 metres of climbing the 2013 route is about the hardest road ride I’ve attempted since I was a teenager. Add to that a hefty buffeting from a lively sou’wester that really picked up speed over the tops, and last Sunday’s loop was quite a proposition. The previous year’s outing was rerouted away from the biggest hills due to adverse weather conditions, and I was told by one rider that this year’s wind was just as bad (it lacked the torrential rain of 2012, so the organisers kept the route unchanged).
After being officially started by Brian Robinson himself (and some bloke in a ceremonial chain), several hundred riders rolled the couple of miles to the bottom of the first climb, Wessenden Head Road. It was a pleasant change to ride most of this hill in the shelter of a bunch, normally it’s just me on my own battling it out on a local loop. The sharp left at the top put the wind firmly behind us and the blast down into Holmfirth was excitingly rapid. Holme Moss was as difficult as you’d expect under the conditions. It was hard going all the way up until a tiny respite from the blustery gale below the crest of the hill, before we were almost blown backwards out of Derbyshire at the top. Here I am in an official event photo – I look like I’m throwing the bike about a little bit, but I’m actually just leaning into the wind to avoid falling off:
I barely noticed Woodhead Pass after the last two little numbers, particularly with the gale behind us, and the roads down to Clayton West shot by in another tailwind-propelled blur. The next section of the ride over the undulating grimness of Emley and Grange Moor pointed us back towards the elements and weaved its way in fits and starts around the top of Huddersfield, towards the main spine of the Pennines and the relentless slog over the A640, head on into the wind. Here I befriended a big chap who looked like he knew what he was doing, but made the mistake of trying to share pulls on the front up past Nont Sarah’s. My legs weren’t as good as I had thought, and I clung on for as long as I could, but blew up shortly before the summit, and had to make my solitary way up and over at a much slower rate. After descending to Delph tagged onto the back of another group, I twiddled back over Standedge at a snail’s pace. Dragging myself past home was a bit of a wrench, but I felt a bit better up the last climb out of Marsden and I almost sprinted the last few kilometres to the finish. Clocking in at 5 hours 40 minutes officially (5h37 on the GPS, there was a queue) I was knackered, but pleased at getting back well inside the six hour target I had set myself. Apparently the fastest guy got round in four hours, solo. Incredible.
This was the first ‘sportive’ type ride I’ve ever done on the road; it was fun to ride out in a really big group for the first time in a couple of decades (I’m not in a club or anything like that). The marshalling was good, the course is certainly challenging, and the atmosphere was friendly. Very enjoyable, I’ll probably be back next year (but I hope it’s a bit less blowy).