Now in its second year, I’m in the car navigating the Manchester outer ring road heading to The Racing Collective’s Pennduro18 in Huddersfield. Again, it’s raining and feels cold. Clouds are being thrown across Saddleworth Moor and onto the carriageway in front of me. It looks grim.
The usual feelings of excitement are replaced by the inevitable thoughts of, ‘why I am doing this again?’. Memories flicking back through that brutal day last year tackling this unyielding course.
I remind myself of the complete satisfaction I felt after finishing its inaugural edition. To bag a second would surely be as good. After all, this isn’t a ride that should be taken lightly and a good number were likely to fail for various reasons.
After paying my parking and getting everything set I sat on the boot of the car and enjoyed a warm brew while waiting for Mally and Peter to arrive. Once together we rolled down to St George’s Square and met with the other riders. Some familiar faces and big smiles, handshakes and a few tales to tell while the clock ticked ever closer to 8am. The weather looked to be lifting and was taking my spirits with it. Damn this was going to be a good day.
Ed gave the nod and we were off. A few city streets before taking the canal towpath heading out of Huddersfield and toward the desolate heavy looking moors. The first couple of puddles dodged in an ineffective attempt at staying clean. Absurd idea indeed.
The protracted line of riders was beginning to stretch out and thin as we approached the first of the timed sections. Cheery chat replaced only by heavy panting as the initial ramps bewitched leg muscles still waiting to warm up.
The ‘cobbled’ (laughs) sections were as brutal as I remember. As I carried my bike up the second of three of these Anthony masterfully guided his MTB up and past me making it look easy, I cheered him while secretly cursing him under my breath.
We regrouped and adjusted our kit before heading off into the mist once more. The direction of Holme Moss and the second of the timed segments. The descent shook my bones and quaked my knees. My concentration fixed on the path ahead as I bounced over rocks and through gates. Riders holding gates for one another as a togetherness began to form. We’re all mates here.
Beginning the ascent of Holme Moss and its summit wasn’t even visible. The only clue of its height comes in the form of flashing cycle lights vanishing into the low lying cloud cover.
It’s a slow ascent and I only have the low buzzing sound of my Gravel Kings to keep me company. I pass by the transmitting station and begin the winding decent toward Woodhead Pass. My grin widens and my whoops echo around the valley below.
Riders are becoming more isolated as the terrain punishes everyone in different ways. Mally, Peter and I stick together as best we can. Steep bridleway climbs and rocky single tracks punctuate tyres and flow as we steadily find our way to the third timed segment. Chew Reservoir.
I’d forgotten how tough a climb it was but not the beauty of it. Pedal strokes were slow and I battled to keep Mally’s wheel, kick after kick we pushed as the roads pitch again and again tried to beat our weary legs. The final corner arrived with the Reservoir now in sight and Mally took off. A final sprint for the top, I respond with nothing...only the relief that a rest was approaching and some much needed food with it.
The conditions were notably better than last year. The trails were far more ridable and there wasn’t as much standing water. I’d remembered finding it difficult guiding my front wheel through some of the more technical tracks due to a lack of not being able to see half the obstacles beneath disturbed murky waters. Good to see we’re still reaping the benefits of an excellent summer.
We found a small supermarket and replenished our stocks to see us through the rest of the ride. It was now afternoon and continued punctures were hampering our progress. Only Mally would be using 23c lightweight tubes on a ride like this. We laughed and rode and crashed and rode some more. We ate and drank and climbed and punctured and continued on our merry way. The sun dropped rapidly as a deer danced across our path. Pennduro delivering adventure aplenty.
It was dark when we hit the forth timed segment. Cragg Vale, the start of arguably the longest continuous gradient in England. We rode together in the darkness enjoying the star filled sky allowing the road to warm our chilled bones.
It was no longer a race (if it had ever been one) and was now just about finishing and completing the course as a whole. The dark bringing a new challenge as the bridleways and rocky paths continued to punish our front wheels and battered palms.
We didn’t give much thought to the fifth and final timed segment. The race had been won hours earlier. There couldn’t be any more off-road sections now, as another and another and then another came and went. Finally, the Pub came into view. It was late. I’d missed the post ride pint.....AGAIN. Next year Ed!! I popped my head in to see some weary eyed riders sitting there. We exchanged handshakes and smiles and I heard that word ‘BRUTAL’ more than once.
Huge thanks and respect to Mostyn and Ed and The Racing Collective for bringing us together again for what now feels like a permanent fixture on my cycling calendar.
Also big thanks to @steph3nsmith for the brilliant photos!
Check out Toby's rides on Instagram