Cycling Winnets Pass

The ride over Winnets Pass, was from Hathersage and went along the busy Hope Valley road. I had a light lunch, filled the water bottle, did about ten minutes of stretching and then set off. The first few kilometres were a gentle warm up keeping the pace steady and easing the muscles in to a fluid rhythm. I ate a Mars Bar and began drinking fluid, keen to prepare my hydration and boost my energy so that it was on tap when I hit the hill.

There was a slight headwind, but the road was fast and only about 10km to Castleton, the start of the climb. I raced in to the village swung through the right angle bends, dropped down over a mini roundabout and then started a gentle climb up to the left turn on to the hill proper. The gradient was shallow and I stuck in the middle ring. Steepening slightly, my pace slowed a little before rattling over the cattle grid and past the car park. I dropped to the bottom chain ring but stayed in the saddle.

It was now a “proper” gradient; not steep but enough to pump the legs and strain the lungs. I kept the pace steady and continued in to the deep gouge that is Winnets Pass. The route became more ravine like, casting a deep shadow over the road, the steep sides rock strewn, clinging on almost ready to implode in. I was entering the guts of the ride and with it came at gnawing, cloying, feeling. I clung on, keeping a steady rhythm going. Ahead I could see the road bend sharply to the right, steepening yet more. As I reached the turn I stood on the pedals for the first time, giving a little boost as the slope steepened. The view ahead was an implausibly steep section of tarmac that passed from view around a distant bend. I knew I had to grind it out so kept pushing, turning the cranks. The change in gradient rapidly began taking its toll and I realised that the road was too steep and the gearing too high (30-23), to stay in the saddle. I’d need to stand on the pedals and power through the section; I shifted my weight forward, leaning in to the climb and stood up. This increased the force on to the pedal on the downstroke which enabled me to slow the cadence. More strain was transferred to the arms as I ground my way up, one pedal stroke at a time. After a few metres the pain in the calves and strain on the forearms became too much and I shifted to sitting in the saddle to relax and recover a little.

My pulse had rocketed, my heart pumping and throbbing riotously in my chest. The cranks slowed and I had to switch back to standing on the pedals. I slowly tracked my way up the slope, alternating between standing and sitting, with each change my calves and arms becoming more and more painful. My chest was now heaving, my breathing rapid and deep. I slowed again. The pain in the arms was becoming unbearable; I couldn’t stand on the pedals, yet I couldn’t sit in the saddle and maintain the climb. I looked ahead and the bend seemed painfully close yet unattainably distant at the same time. Could I make it? How much further was the climb beyond the bend? My chest heaved, my arms and shoulders screamed in agony, the calves throbbed in pain. I unclipped my left foot and stopped, slumped over the handlebars, gasping for breath. I couldn’t move, frozen in the moment, with my muscles in painful constriction and unable to think or see straight.

I focused on deep, rapid, lungfulls and after about a minute my pulse came down. I looked up, readied myself, then pushed forward. The bike briefly teetered before I clipped in and started pedaling. The arms were tired but partially recovered. I alternated between standing and sitting; it was bearably painful as I continued up to the bend and around. Up ahead was another cattle grid after which the gradient significantly eased and about a hundred metres further on the climb ended. I was exhausted but set myself on auto-pilot and continued grinding the legs around and around before reaching the top. I ‘d done it. With one stop. Next timeā€¦