Now in it’s 23rd year, the Challenge raises money in aid of the 1st Holme Valley Scouts and offers 3 different lengths of route: short (17.94 miles), medium (22.6 miles) and long (33.01 miles).
Anyone who knows the terrain around the Holme Valley will know that there are some killer hills in the area. They are generally short, but definitely sharp and steep, so all 3 routes are a challenge in their own right.
I chose the short route, which incidentally came in at 19 miles, tut tut organisers 😉
Having trained to increase the mileage on my bike in the weeks leading up to the Challenge and completed the short circuit once during those training rides (checking my time against last year’s entrants), it looked like I would be one of the slowest. I therefore decided to start towards the back of the bunch on the narrow uphill starting lane.
It was a good decision as even near the back and with the speed of the bunch ahead dictating our progress, guys were still muscling their way past. I was happy to stick to the side and stay out of their way!
The first technical section was across some moorland on a section which I’d enjoyed riding in the past. Despite the overnight rain catching a few people out on the slippy mud, it was a fun section and a good laugh with those around.
Coming onto the road we dropped onto the Trans Pennine Trail for a long section on the disused railway track. Whilst it was technically easy and smooth enough to push a high speed, I knew it ended with a steep uphill and paced myself. With the odd person flying past me and most of this section cycled with no sign of another cyclist, I feared that I was the lantern rouge at the back and fought to suppress my guilt at making the Marshals wait for me to come through.
With trepidation, I dropped off the Trans Pennine Trail and readied myself. Climbing up out of Thurlstone, this was not one of those short steep hills. With a steep start on tarmac, it then climbs steadily on a track….for an eternity! During my training rides, I had lovingly named it Knacker Hill in recognition of how it always drained my reserves to the last drop.
Going up Knacker Hill (confirming that the name was definitely deserved), I realised I still had other entrants around me. It was at that point, on my nemesis of a hill, that I started to enjoy the perverse hardship of the Challenge (actually it was probably near the top when I knew it was nearly over).
A little more road section to recover and then it was back off road through some fields on a section which I have ridden more times than I can remember – and absolutely love. So it was that I sped off down the track, only to hit a rock through a gate and come flying off. Later, I realised that I had forgotten to unlock my front forks [aherm, hangs head in shame].
Another long climb uphill (this time on tarmac) and I arrived at the feed station located at the top of the only gnarly downhill on the short Challenge. A quick snack and a cautionary piece of advice from the person who had seen me fall earlier and I was onto Cheese Gate Nab. With Mountain Rescue stationed all the way down and the cautionary words ringing in my ears, I took it slowly and made it down with no mishaps (front suspension working perfectly).
All that was left now was to climb steeply back uphill to get back to Hade Edge.
Luckily, the 2 lung busting hills were on tarmac. By the second one, I’d had enough but the elation at overtaking someone while cycling uphill saw me through (I’m normally the one being passed on a hill and it’s rare, very rare, for the opposite to happen).
Arriving in Scholes, I knew it was just some gentle uphill lanes to get back to the finish line in Hade Edge. It was on these lanes where the short Challenge left the medium and long routes. I cycled back to Hade Edge alone, convinced that I was the last one in but feeling proud that I’d completed the Challenge.
With a respectable time of 2 hours 22 minutes, I shuffled off to the refreshment tent and was offered a bacon butty for my efforts. I’ve not eaten bacon in years (probably 30) but the temptation was too much and I devoured it along with my cup of soup. Vegetarians beware, this is what the Holme Valley Mountain Bike Challenge can lead you to!
In summary, the Holme Valley Mountain Bike Challenge is a superbly organised event. The Marshals were helpful and encouraging. The sweepers at the back good fun. The refreshments great and the people staffing it worked tirelessly to keep all the finishers fed and hydrated.
However, the suggested mileages for each route are a little incorrect. The short route is definitely nearer 19 miles and I heard people on the long route saying it was more like 35/36 miles.
I was also surprised to see so few female riders on the day (looking at the results pages, I counted approximately 20 women out of the 270 entrants). I know that the Sheffield Steel City Downhill event made a concerted effort to attract more women to their event in May, so maybe it’s something that the organisers for the Holme Valley Mountain Bike Challenge could look towards. As a female mountain biker, I know it can feel intimidating to enter something which is seen as a predominantly male terrain.
Overall, I can see why the Holme Valley Mountain Bike Challenge has been a firm fixture on the calendar for 23 years. Long may it continue.
On a final note, a special mention must go to all the organisers, volunteers and helpers.