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The Story of 2023

Our debut happened to coincide with the very worst weather we've had in August for years. But, the brave riders togged up and hit the road. This is the story of that event. 

"If I hadn't organised it, I wouldn't have taken part"

The forecast looked bad from a week out. Luckily, from a week out you can convince yourself they've got it wrong. It'll be a reverse Michael Fish, which is less painful than it sounds. Except it wasn't. Saturday 5th August proved to be as horrendous as it looked. I woke to rain battering against my windows and a slew of emails, understandably, explaining why people couldn't make it. If I hadn't organised it, I wouldn't have rolled out of bad at 8am either. 

There were six of us in the same house, all either riding or volunteering. We stuffed down a morning porridge, a coffee, and a strong sense of gallows humour. This was not going to be fun - how wrong we were. We had already made the decision to remove the two off-road sections from the route and there were some last minute shuffling of volunteers to make sure everyone knew where to go. After that, we headed down to the start as the rain intensified.

We were greeted with a great site, people had already gathered and were actually enthused. Once you make the decision to get out of bed and get to the start, the day takes on a different feel. You're no longer worried about the weather, you're just excited to get a story out of it. We started back up the hill we'd just ridden down and then onwards to Cragg. We weren't doing the off-road section of the Murro del Hinchliffe and the easier start began thinning the group. Some were excited about the prospect ahead and pushed on. Some, including me, were over-excited and burnt matches that I would need later on.

The first feed zone came after 20km. Earlier than we needed, but the day was going to be a long one and eating was crucial whenever you could. I wolfed down some panforte and Haribo and then descended to the foot of the big early challenge; the double ascent of Danny Lane and Stocks Lane. It was here that I found one of the biggest challenges of Hilly Valley. 

In most sportives, you get the benefit of easier sections. Sportives in big mountain ranges; like the Marmotte in the Alps or the Maratona in the Dolomites have long winding descents where you can eat at the top and then digest that food on the way down. Leaving you fuelled but not full for the next ascent. Hilly Valley doesn't have that. You need to eat but you don't have time to digest before the next challenge. I've almost got the phrase 'little and often' tattooed on my left forearm.

I was feeling pretty good though. It was tough and the climbing was stacking up, but I hadn't yet hit a section that was unmanageable. The next major challenge was the haul up to the top of Cock Hill. This is the only climb that has reasonable gradients, but the weather was running wild here. The wind was whipping up and the rain had started in earnest again. The real challenge though was the Aerial Climb, immediately after Cock Hill. It's brutally steep but also dead straight. It felt like the top would never come and I was overjoyed to see my brother, and a healthy supply of sweets and cake, as we crested the summit. This was the halfway point and though I felt good, the drizzle and climbing was beginning to take its toll.

We enjoyed the long descent to Luddenden Foot and the very steep, but mercifully short, haul up Jerry Fields. This was the start of the killer finale. A descent and flat pull would take us to Hebden Bridge and the trio of Sandy Gate, Mytholm Steeps, and Top of Crosstone. Sandy Gate was manageable if very hard and I was by now beginning to feel warm. The rain had eased, the sun hadn't come out, but the constant climbing was making it feel warmer than it was.

Mytholm Steeps was a different challenge. We'd been joined by Gary, a former marine turned cyclist and hill climber. I give away about 30kg to Gary and he was motivated for this climb. He'd never done it before and had deliberately held off doing it so that his debut could be on Hilly Valley. I hit my lowest gear earlier than I had hoped. The other challenge was that the surface was wet. Wet and 25% in places. Grip was minimal and getting out the saddle was a luxury. I was struggling and beginning to weave. Gary was loving it though. As the steepest section hit, he eased to the front and upped the pace. I now had someone to follow and was peaking at his back wheel through the top of my glasses as I just tried to keep my leg's moving. I'd never noticed before that the hardest part of Mytholm Steeps isn't the steep wall, though that is brutal, but the endless crawl at the top at a gradient which is just too tough to relax completely.

The Top of Crosstone was a blessing. We were close enough to the finish now to know that we'd do it. There was a feeling that we'd conquered the route, despite everything that had been thrown at us. The final sections were great and the lure of a beer even hauled us up Horsehold and it's 30% ramps. 

Most events like this are classic type two fun. You finish and immediately claim you'll never do it again. Hilly Valley wasn't like that. The genuine communal feel at the finish, with guys who had done the short route, medium route, and the monster route all coming together. Everyone had conquered something. It was brilliant and we immediately knew we'd have another crack at it. Just, in 2024, we hope the weather gods might be kinder.

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