Northern Grit: The Prestige Peak District

“And tho’ they appear so close, the steepness down and up takes up your time. It’s very difficult to find the way here for you see only tops of hills and so many roads-by reason of the best ways up and down – it’s impossible for coach or waggon to pass some of them. You might go 10 miles near London as soon as you are going half so many here.”
– Celia Fiennes on the Peak District, while travelling on horseback in 1697. Taken from ‘Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary.’

When Celia Fiennes passed through here in the late 1600s, this region will have seemed almost impenetrable. Unmade roads didn’t reach far into the Peaks, and the rolling hills’ only interruption would have been the natural gritstone escarpments that dot the landscape.

Industry has since carved its way through the land, taming the valleys with both tarmac and rail lines, which in some cases, cut straight through the once-impassable Peaks. The rolling hills that greeted Celia still remain however, and as riders on the Rapha Prestige Peak District discovered, continue to pose a challenge for those that seek them out.

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Sign on in Manchester, Peaks just out of view. Sixty riders in teams of four prepared as best they could before heading into the wet morning. The 160km long Rapha Prestige Peak District was starting, as heavy skies drained colour from everything but the red bricks of the city. Spirits were high, with just a hint of trepidation.
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A constant rain dominated the morning’s riding. The forecast had predicted it – but no one expected the wall of water that fell in the first 50km. As quiet residential streets became quieter country lanes, the climb up Sitch Lane arched out of the village of Thornsett. Its summit brought a glimpse of the Peaks, and marked the approach to checkpoint one.
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After the first checkpoint the weather eased. Rain turned to drizzle, then to mist. The temperature rose, and soaked clothes began to dry. The unforgiving conditions had already claimed half of one team by this point, with a mechanical forcing them to abandon. For everyone else, more than 115km of hard riding remained.
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The Peak District became England’s first national park in 1951, but the area has been attracting visitors for centuries. Its beautiful open country and wild moorland also provided a vital escape for the inhabitants of Manchester and Sheffield during the Industrial Revolution. Today, 15 teams of cyclists plotted their way through its valleys and dales.
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Once part of Midland Railway’s main line between Manchester and London, the Monsal Trail now serves as a traffic-free route through some of the Peak District’s limestone dales. The Prestige check points demanded riders cover at least part of the 8.5 mile packed gravel path, passing through the paved tunnels that run beneath the hills. Spirits remained high, even in the mud.
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The Rapha Prestige is not a race; it’s an unsupported, unsanctioned, and unmarshalled adventure across stunning terrain. Designed to bring out the camaraderie and suffering of road riding, the rules are simple, and the course is tough. Team members must ride – and finish – together. Often, when the tank is close to empty and you feel like quitting, knowing that you’re part of a team can be fuel enough to keep the legs turning.
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With an average gradient of 10.6%, and more than 3km in length, the climb up Mam Tor delivered a punishing blow at the 100km mark. The final checkpoint sat just below the summit. Stamp the brevet cards. Close the gaps. Ride as one. The final push back to the Cycle Club.
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Each of the teams that completed the Prestige Peak District may have taken different routes – creativity was encouraged – but all those taking part were treated to a lesson in northern grit.

Team results – Time elapsed
9:18 – (2 DNF) Les Quatre Musettes
7:35 – Your Pace or Mine
7:22 – Cycle like a (Northern) Girl
6:25 – Hell Bent for Lycra
DNF – Quattro Formage
8:04 – Café Ride cc
8:44 – The Leek District
5:41 – Fist Full of Hammers
7:16 – Wear the Fox Hat
9:36 – The Lune
7:16 – Peaks and Troughs
8:34 – La Vie a l’Arriere
8:55 – Jaja Brewers
7:47 – Bristol Dropouts
8:19 – Ronald Ringpiece & Co

Prizes
Fastest team: Fist Full of Hammers
Lanterne Route: The Lune
Kings of Pain award: Hell Bent for Lycra
#raphaprestige prize: La Quatre Musettes
Most stylish team: Jaja Brewers