Hope Pre Peaks

The weather is very much back to normal now, and last Sunday’s Hope Pre Peaks ride gave me and several hundred other lunatics chance to remind ourselves what riding in the Great British summer is really supposed to be like. We had five hours of that good, old-fashioned drizzly rain that thoroughly soaks everything without making a fuss about it, along with a classic logic-defying circular headwind, and plenty of low cloud to obscure the scenery.The Pre Peaks, as the name suggests, is supposed to be a warm-up event for the Three Peaks Cyclocross race, which I am apparently taking part in at the end of next month. Given that the summer holidays have had their usual deleterious effect on my riding mileage, getting a decent sized loop in was definitely a good idea, and having paid money to secure my place ensured that I showed up in spite of the dreadful forecast. The wind and rain were sufficiently bracing for the organisers to close off the longer 85km route option altogether, so we were all restricted to just 70km of slippy mud and limestone, and whilst I think I could have managed an extra hill or so I will admit that I was not altogether dismayed by having the decision made for me at the start.The first hill both warmed us up nicely and served as an introduction to the type of riding that makes up most of the course: wide bridleways with unmade surfaces rocky enough to be a challenge on a cross bike, but not so difficult as to really make you wish for anything with suspension, because as soon as you’d dispatched a few kilometres of rattly stuff you were on quiet lanes where skinnier tyres and drop bars really helped. We settled into a nice rhythm and ticked off the first third of the course to Long Preston in about an hour and a half. The feed station here was remarkably fancy, with a huge spread of cakes and biscuits, proper coffee, and even a mechanic. Rik took advantage of this last to have the horrible grating noise coming from his back brake dealt with, but we were able to get on the way before cooling off too much, and started out on the biggest climb of the day, creeping gradually up to over 500m on the way to Malham Tarn.The weather up here was towards the character-building end of the spectrum, but we kept moving and just touched the cloud ceiling a couple of times, before dropping down to the second feed station at about three and a half hours time elapsed. One last punchy climb after this chance to refuel, and we embarked on the long descent off the high hills. The singletrack down Calton Moor was remarkably good fun on a cross bike, a snaking ribbon of smooth trail, fast and entertaining, leading into a rocky farm track that took us back down to the lower levels of the Aire Gap. We traversed this over the course of the next hour or so, following quiet lanes, bridleways and towpaths, back to Barnoldswick to collect our finishers’ goody bags (with some pretty decent swag in them for once: a CNCed Hope bottle opener, some bike cleaner, stickers and whatnot, nice). We grabbed a sausage butty, chatted with a few mates, and then made a dash for the van in between rain showers, agreeing that the event had been well organised and executed, a smashing day out even with the fairly horrible weather.