In 2020 the Band of Climbers team headed down to Sheffield to ride one of the winning routes from our 100km Challenge. In case you missed it, we ran a lockdown challenge which was to plot a route with the most amount elevation you could find from your home. However, the challenge had rules:
1. The route had to start and finish at the same place
2. The route could not criss-cross or double back on itself
3. The route must not use any part of the same road twice
4. The route must be on-road at all times (no gravel)
There were 5 winners of the challenge, and as per our rules, we promised one UK winner that we would come and ride the route with them, and kit them out in full Band of Climbers kit for the ride.
That winner was Mark from Sheffield. His route was 99.4km with 3066m of elevation. That's 61.7 miles and 10,059ft for the imperial folk.
To put that route into some perspective, the Fred Whitton Challenge - often regarded as the toughest sportive in the UK, has 3900m of elevation - but is also not far off twice the distance - at 112 miles. Packing such a large amount of climbing into such a short route meant we had a very tough day ahead, with almost zero flat riding.
Thankfully as dawn broke on the day of the ride, the sun was shining. The forecast was set to be warm and sunny, with not too much wind. Perfect conditions you might say.
The BoC team headed down to Sheffield, where we would meet Mark, and two of his friends from his local cycling club - the aptly named 7hills CC. We would meet them at the Lovely Pear Cafe, a couple of miles west of Sheffield City Centre.
After a quick coffee for all 6 of us (keeping in line with guidelines for cycling groups) we turned on our Wahoos and reminded ourselves of the day ahead.
One look at the profile and it was clear what we had in store. 21 climbs of note, including some of the most famous climbs in the area, Pea Royd Lane, Cote de Bradfield and Burbage Moor, the latter being the highest point of the day at 435m.
We clip in and ride out from the cafe, immediately into a +10% climb. No warm up, no gentle spin to prepare the legs, just straight up a 1.4km climb with a good spell of that being over 10%. Suddenly we realised what we were in for.
We crest the top as a group, and take on the first descent of the day. One of the BoC crew nearly got caught out by a sharp, gravel-covered corner and did well to keep upright. Another climb, and another descent later and BoC rider John gets a double puncture. A sign that maybe this route has a few tricks in store for us?
While John fixed his punctures, we chatted to Mark who explained that even he was a little nervous about the ride, having never actually ridden the whole route in full. Mark said he'd ridden sections of route many times, but not this exact 100km. Our level of trepidation growing ever stronger.
Punctures quickly fixed we ride on, and manage at least another 3km without issue, before we crest the 7% climb of Parkside Lane and onto another narrow climb. Suddenly the unmistakable sound of a snapped chain echos amongst the trees. The group grinds to a halt. Yet another warning sign of how tough this route was to be.
Chain repaired we ride on as a group over another couple of short, sharp climbs before we come to one of the days first 'long' climbs - the 2.6km of Wheel Lane and Lumb Lane - collectively averaging 9%, but hitting over 15% in the early sections.
It's almost impossible to ride to any sort of rhythm on this route. The gradients change faster than a Di2 shifter and the climbs are far too steep to do any real pacing. It's all about doing what you can to get over them while conserving energy for the next steep ride ahead.
Next up we have the brutally steep New Mill Bank - almost 1km at 13%, before another sharp descent as we find ourselves on the Tour de France Route when Yorkshire hosted the Grand Depart. That can only mean one thing, Pea Royd Lane was next.
For those unfamiliar with Pea Royd Lane, it's been the scene of multiple hill climb competitions including the British National Championships on a few occasions. It's just over 1.1km, with an average gradient of almost 12%, with a max gradient of 20%. The Strava segment has former UK Hill Climb Champion Dan Evans as the KOM, with an astonishing time of 3.40. None of us would get close to that time on our ride.
It's a beautiful climb which takes us towards the most northern point of the route, out of Stocksbridge and onto several short, sharp climbs before the first of the days reservoirs come into view - Underbank, not so closely followed by Broomhead Reservoir as we neared the mid way point of the ride.
A quick gel stop on the moors above another reservoir and suddenly the Great Britain Cycling team sweep past us on a training ride, their team car in close support. It's obvious to us why they're training on these roads. As brutal as they are, they are also absolutely beautiful. As tough as the route is, there is lots of enjoy, with many perfect road surfaces too.
Another few KM's later and déjà vu starts to set in as we ride alongside another reservoir. Being unfamiliar with the area we're convinced we've already ridden this road - which would be breaking the rules of the challenge. But no, this is a new reservoir.
Mark tells us that perhaps our only chance of a coffee stop on the ride comes midway up the next climb - the Cote de Bradfield. It's a slog of climb - almost 2km at 10%. Our bidons are empty and the legs are already tiring, and we're just over halfway in. We decide to have lunch rather than just a coffee, the views from the pub's beer garden are as good as we've ever seen in England. Any excuse for a rest at this point.
After eating too much (one more excuse for the lower than expected average speed) we ride on. Once again, immediately up the 2nd half of the Cote de Bradfield. The rest was over.
Where the first half of the route was packed with many short, sharp climbs, the 2nd half was filled with longer, shallower climbs, with some of them even managing to stay under 10% on the whole.
Moscar Top was the first of the longer climbs - over 5km at a somewhat misleading 3% average. The views on the 2nd half of the route really begin to open up, with amazing vistas towards the Peak District coming into view time and time again.
The high point of the day was now nearing as we rode through the lovely town of Hathersage, which was filled with walkers, families, road cyclists and mountain bikers all enjoying the sunny weather.
Our biggest climb of the day was just ahead of us. 'The Dale' or Burbage Moor to give it it's full name. 3.6km at 7%, it started gradually enough before once again we saw gradients of over 10% staring at us on Wahoo Climb Screens. Out of the trees and around a gentle left hander, the views opened up. For a moment we thought we were in the Alps or Pyrenees, with wide-open views above and below us taking our attention away from the pain in our legs and lungs.
Over the top and a fast, flowing descent awaited us. We're told by Mark that it was mostly downhill from here back to Sheffield. 'Just' another 5 climbs seperated us from here and the cafe where we started the day.
By now our legs are tiring. We're already thinking of excuses as to why we're in so much pain from 'just' 100km of riding. Before long we ride back to familiar roads, and the Lovely Pair Cafe comes back into view. We hit finish on the Wahoos. 99.4km, 3066m of elevation. Less than 2km of flat.
Over a beer at the finish, we all agree that the route was simply incredible. The views, the landscapes, the scenery were all stunning. It was UK riding at its very best, and also its very toughest. We all agree, that this could be the hardest 100km route of its kind in the UK.
A huge thank you goes to Mark and 7hills Cycling Club for riding with us, for entering the BoC 100km challenge, and for producing such an incredible route.