Ed Clancy can ride a bike round in circles very fast. We know this because he has an Olympic gold medal in team pursuit in the corner cupboard and a bunch of track world titles to his name. What’s more surprising is that he’s good at popping wheelies, doing a bit of unscheduled cyclocross, and descending like a nutter.
We’re in the Peak District with Ed, 9Bar – one of his sponsors – and a group of road.cc competition winners. There are maybe 12 or 13 of us out for a 30-odd mile ride in the hills. It’s a sunny day at the start of May but, geez, has someone left the door open? There’s a hell of a draught round these parts.
It’s a pretty well behaved ride, all things considered. Adam Tranter, the man with a plan who set all this up, tells us in the Castleton car park before we start that we have to behave ourselves. It’s not a race. We’re going to ride sensibly, aren’t we? Safely. No messing about. And, for once, everyone does. More or less.
To be honest, the only one who didn’t do as he was told was yer man Clancy. Despite protesting that he can’t climb, he rode the first hill on his rear wheel. I guess it’s all relative. We didn’t do the Peak District’s toughest climbs but our ride was hardly flat. My faithful Garmin made it 1,115m in 35 miles. That’s pretty lumpy. Actually, I missed a couple of miles off the start, so it was a bit more than that.
At the top of the climb Ed decides to off-road it for a bit on the verges while we take in the view. For a bloke who spends most of his time on the smooth boards of a velodrome, he has some serious handling skills.
You can see for miles up here. If you’ve never ridden in the Peak District, go. If you ride in the Peak District a lot, you’re lucky. The scenery is stunning and the climbs are great, as long as you like a challenge. The constant changes of gradient make it difficult to get into a steady rhythm but, on the plus side, I can’t imagine anyone staying unfit for long around here. Mind you, it must be tough when the weather’s bad. I base that on the fact that it was pretty tough when the weather was good.
There are loads of cyclists around here too. I’ve never seen so many people on bikes in the UK, except on organised rides. Every couple of minutes we’re waving at a bunch of riders passing in the opposite direction: little groups, club runs, families, all sorts.
At one point – it might have been in Foolow or, equally likely, it might not have been – we went around a corner to find a policeman and volunteer pointing a radar speed gun at us. They’re kidding, but it’s too good an opportunity to miss so we stop for some snaps: “Olympic champion cyclist busted for speeding” type thing. They’re pleased to join in. It makes a change from having motorists shout abuse at you.
We ride some more hills, miss a turning or two and find ourselves on a steep descent with stuff growing down the middle. That’s a bad sign. Roads with stuff growing down the middle have a habit of ending up at farmyards. Luckily for us, another turning gets us out of jail, and we eventually snake out of here and even find a few roads that are flat enough to ride in a group – which is just as well because if anything the wind has got even stronger.
We get the miles in, chatting away, nice and relaxed until a couple of miles from home. Then comes the most fun bit of the day; a long descent down into Castleton with enough bends to make it interesting, enough gradient to make it fast, and enough wind to make it dicey. I didn’t see him, but the word on the street is that Ed chucked himself down here like a loon, haring down the straights and not slowing much for the corners. Not being an especially fast climber in pro terms, he reckons he has to rag it downhill like that in road races to catch the bunch.
Back in Castleton, it’s time for lunch. Well, it was time for lunch about two hours ago, but luckily we’d had 9Bars to keep us going. That’s one of the advantages of going for a ride with a nutrition company; you’ll not get hungry. In one of the local pubs, Ed chats with everyone, signs stuff, poses for pics and answers all our questions that he must have answered a thousand times before. Model professional.
What did you think?
Steve Jefferies, Warwick
“The scenery was lovely and Ed turned out to be a nice bloke. It was the final descent into Castleton that I found the most interesting bit of the ride because of the combination of the twisty, winding roads and the wind. I had my left knee down so far I was right on the limit.”
Andy Ward, Leicester
“It was good to ride with a professional cyclist like Ed, especially seeing his track stands, off-road riding and wheelie up the hill. The thing that stood out was going down a fast descent, potholes everywhere, completely in the shade of some trees – it was quite scary – and then Ed whooshed past and disappeared into the distance.”
Tim Norman, Stroud
“I thought it was excellent. The scenery is absolutely stunning and I was amazed by the number of other cyclists we saw on the route. There were hundreds. There was the usual cycling camaraderie; everyone got on well and had stories to tell. I did get slightly scared going down the last hill… and then Ed came past me doing about 70mph.”
Ed's fact file
Lives Out of a suitcase
Team Rapha Condor Sharp
Rides Team pursuit and omnium on track, plus road racing
Major achievements Gold medal, 2008 Olympics, Beijing, team pursuit, four-time world champion (team pursuit and omnium), MBE
We speak to Ed
How was the ride today?
It was pretty good. The weather was nice. It was windy and a bit hilly for my liking, but I managed to keep up. I was a little bit worried about that!
What was it like riding with the guys?
I think everyone here is a keen cyclist so it was a good ride. It was a little bit hilly in places but we all got around pretty much together, so happy days!
Are these some of your training roads? We’re not too far from your neck of the woods.
Yeah, I do a lot of training around here. I ended up staying a lot in Sheffield over the last two or three years so I know these roads pretty well. It’s great to be able to get out of Manchester and Sheffield and into the Peak District pretty quickly. It’s mega around here whether you’re on a road bike, mountain bike, motorbike or cruising around in the car. I love it.
How have you been getting on with 9Bars?
I’ve been using them on pretty much every sort of ride, including racing. They go down well, especially the pumpkin one without the chocolate coating on it – it doesn’t melt in the hot weather.
Some mornings when I can’t stomach porridge a couple of 9Bars and a banana or two is a good way to start the day. I do that more often than not – that’s my little breakfast tip.
What are you aiming at for the rest of the season?
The Tour Series is a big deal for Rapha Condor Sharp. I love the crit scene in the UK. And I want to improve my stage racing a bit more. I had a good race in the Tour of Korea and took home a stage win so I want to keep working on the road. And the London Olympics are looming now. It really is the talk of the town. I want to keep an eye on the track so I’ll be in and out of the velodrome every week until London.
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over the past 20 years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for seven years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a youthful 45-year-old Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.