Last Friday’s day off was booked in my diary months ago, after I spotted that the Tour of Britain was due to roll through the Peak District not far from one of my favourite rides. Even if the weather had been rubbish I would still have headed out no matter what, as a combination of work-bother and an impending house-move had raised stress to almost intolerable levels, and I badly needed to clear my head and blast away the scurf of lawyerly intransigence and managerial incompetence.
Luck smiled, though, and Friday was not just a dry, sunny day, but one following a whole week of dry, sunny days. Rik and I set off from Hayfield into cloud and wind but by the time we reached Edale Cross the sun was burning through nicely. We noted the sobering fact that out of the five other guys we’d been here with last, two and a half years ago, one was dead, and one was currently barely able to ride a bike following massive cardiac surgery and associated complications – for all I’d had a bit of a bad week I still had infinite blessings to count. After a bit of a pause to reflect we realised that the others who’d been out that day had much less watertight excuses, and we resolved to get the lazy buggers out again as soon as possible.
The descent down Jacob’s Ladder was fast and loose and rocky, hard-earned fun; hold on tight and see how quick you dare go, look out for the new drop halfway down the top section where the repairs have all washed out, clatter down the crazy washed out chute to the gate and remember you’re alive and how. We arrived at the bottom arm-pumped and grinning, notwithstanding a bleeding leg where a rock had flipped up and smacked into Rik’s shin.
Next came the long winch up Chapel Gate, which nowadays is just a matter of keeping pedalling, and your lungs inside your chest, as the road-planings dumped here by Derbyshire County Council have removed any real technical challenge from the climb. I slogged my way to the top, oblivious to anything but the few feet of track in front of me, deliberately pushing as hard as possible to see what I could do. There are times when you need to get off and push your bike and admire the view, and there are times when you need to smash yourself to bits on a hill. This was the latter; taking it all out kicking the pedals around did me a great deal of good. I crested the hill, slumped on to the grass, and after a few minutes gasping noticed that the sun was well and truly out, and the buzzing anger at solicitors and other idiots had subsided significantly. We dropped down the Sunken Road, still fun at the top but brutally ruined lower down by DCC, and then left the trails for a detour down tarmac to Perryfoot to lie in wait for the break and the peloton of the Tour of Britain 2015 Stage Six.
The break came through, eight riders off the front, then a gap of about twenty seconds, and a second large bunch of riders including all the jerseys and a few key domestiques. There followed a huge gap of 12-13 minutes before the main peloton followed at a more sedate pace, settled in for an easy ride home, with Ed Clancy and Sir Bradley Wiggins chatting away at the back. The bunch had clearly taken a look at the spiky route profile and the headwind and decided as one man to bin the entire day as a bad job. The gap at the end of the race was over 45 minutes.
We packed up after watching the team cars roll through, and climbed back to our chosen route with a couple of roadies looking for a café. Riding back over the Roych was much more pleasant than the last time I passed this way, when I ended up in A&E having my face glued back together after an idiotic over-the-bars crash. The trail has been repaired since then, and excellently so, by people who actually care about what they are doing. It is now brilliant, a steppy, slabby joyride down to the stream, which feels challenging enough to be interesting, but harbours none of the lethal wheel-eating holes that caught me out previously.
The final climb up to South Head was passed pleasantly in sunshine with a tailwind and chatter about suspension technology or something like that. Dropping down to Hayfield was as brilliant as ever, each section of the descent has its own distinct character, broken up by small sections of gentle uphill or farm track allowing you to catch your breath. A line of rocky steps leads into a path covered in miniature kickers where you can boot yourself into the air, then a small climb after a gate delivers you to the top of a multi-option moorland downhill where at this time of year you must second-guess the best line-choice hidden in the long grass. A lane and a brief climb back to the ridge lead you to the top of the campsite descent, which starts fast and open before rucking up alarmingly with water erosion and large drainage gullies. I surprised myself here, somehow making decisions that carried me clear over all sorts of hideous rocks and holes, skipping across horrible boulder-strewn fields of death like some sort of high-speed, two-wheeled mountain goat. That’s what it felt like anyway, although I doubt I was particularly fast in reality. When my brain finally caught up with me at the bottom it gave me a proper bollocking for being silly and pointed out that it had been my turn to take a massive rock to the shin, just look at that bump, that’s going to hurt in the morning you daft git.
I thanked my brain for its input but told it in no uncertain terms to shut up because we still had the last bit of descending to do, the entertaining little singletrack drop along the edge of the woods back into the village. A few minutes later we rolled into the Royal Hotel for pints of coke and then beer, feeling like we’d thoroughly squeezed the last bit of goodness out of summer.