YOUR GUIDE: Nick Craig
DISTANCE: 56 miles (90km)
MAIN CLIMBS: Long Hill, Goyt Valley, Miller?s Dale, Snake Pass
TOTAL CLIMB: 2,284m
ACHTUNG!: Climbs of A5004 Long Hill and A57 Snake Pass can be busy

Mist hangs heavy over the hilltops surrounding the home of off-road man Nick Craig as we meet up with him in Hayfield, just south-east of Manchester. In fact Hayfield and the surrounding area is a who?s who of the British cycling world, and as Nick heads towards New Mills at the start of his ride, he is acknowledged by Rob Hayles, back home from his medal-winning exploits at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia.

A sharp right onto Marsh Lane in New Mills takes Nick parallel to the railway lines that run along the valley bottom, and he rumbles over the crossing at Furness Vale before heading towards Whaley Bridge. Nick says: ?As I go out to Whaley Bridge it?s a warm-up, so when you get to Long Hill, through the traffic lights at the bottom, it?s the first effort you do.?

From the lights it is around five miles of good tempo, rhythm climbing as the road rises along the hillside towards Buxton. It?s on the climb we see Continental pro David Millar, another local, doing intervals up the gradient.

He briefly joins Nick on the climb before heading off. It?s a bit of a Scott team bike affair with Saunier Duval having them as their team issue. In fact, Nick?s day job is with Scott bikes as technical training manager. He spends on average three days a week going round bike shops making sure the staff are up on all the technical detail to do with Scott mtb suspension set-up, and how Scott makes its carbon mtb and road frames and why they are different from other manufacturers. The rest of the week is about riding the bike.

Scott frames are made out in Hong Kong and the Team Issue CR1 carbon road frame Nick is on today weighs in at 1,240g with the fork; the frame alone is a mere 880g ? a market leader in weight-to-stiffness ratio. He spins his mtb pedals on 172.5 cranks and 53×19 or 17 or 39×15 are about the right gears for the rhythm on the climbs. ?Choose whatever feels right without overgearing,? Nick advises.

SINGLETRACK FUN
The right turn from Long Hill?s summit into the Goyt Valley offers great views and you are soon on a rapid descent down to the Errwood reservoir below. Then it?s across the dam wall and turn left for the second climbing effort of the day up the one-way road out of the Goyt Valley to the top car park just before the Cat and Fiddle road.

?I love the bit up through the Goyt Valley because it?s one way,? Nick enthuses. ?It?s a singletrack road and you can rail it round the corners on whichever side of the road you want. You can go up there like you?re racing.? It?s a beautiful, quiet valley and reminds Nick of Scotland ? and, with the weather as it was, it?s ?just like a Scottish summer? he grins.

A fast, sweeping descent off the Cat and Fiddle and you drop into Buxton. Here is your chance to fill the bottles with the famous spa water from St Ann?s Well opposite the Crescent. Built in
the 1700s, the Crescent is a legacy of the fifth Duke of Devonshire and a very impressive building, as is much of the architecture in Buxton.

The route out of Buxton takes you through the market place before following the valley bottom with the river Wye to your left. It?s all very pleasant until the short drag up Topley Pike, where Nick says: ?It?s just a drag, a big-ringer almost. It was my worst experience of the 1998 PruTour going up that drag. It was because I was on the wrong side of the road being lined out by Hincapie or someone like that, drilling it on the front.?

The action had kicked off earlier in the day: ?I?ll never forget the stage because Julian Winn and Kevin Dawson had clipped off the front near Knutsford, and they went off the front when we were doing about 40mph! The main people in the race had called for a toilet stop just after Knutsford and let them get five minutes. They?d never realised who they?d let get five minutes, so we spent all day chasing them up the Cat and Fiddle. When I got to Topley Pike my legs were screaming.?

SNAKE BACK
Drop down into Miller?s Dale, a super descent from this approach and the climb up towards Tideswell, which Nick describes as ?draggy?. Nick finds the back lanes once again and takes us into the back of Bradwell, down a steep descent and it?s on to Brough. A left at the lights and a right and you are in the lanes to Thornhill and along to the climb from Yorkshire Bridge.

Nick describes this as a power climb. ?It?s the only bit of power climbing here. In mountain biking you do power climbing and rhythm climbing and you often have to switch between the two,? he explains. Left at the top and along to Ladybower reservoir where it?s left up the Snake Pass. ?Big ring all the way up the Snake, even the last bit. That?s probably where you start to lose your tempo, just that last push.

?I like the back of the Snake actually, coming up the Snake?s good. The hard bit of the Snake is getting to the pub, the Snake Inn, and really the climb starts and goes to the top from there. But for me, that?s the easy bit, the hard bit is the more rolling roadman stuff before. If I ride alongside Dave Millar on the rolling, hilly stuff I find it really difficult, but when it kicks up I become more comfortable. I find that in any racing, but that?s because I like climbing. Power to weight kicks in as I?m quite small.?

The summit of the Snake is the highest point of the ride and, as Nick says: ?The good bit is when you get to the top because you know you are nearly home.? It?s a fast descent down into Glossop. As you come to the 30mph limit it?s left opposite the Royal Oak pub and the back lane to Chunal with a cautionary note from Nick: ?If anyone has ever ridden up the Chunal, they will know it?s not easy ? you only really relax when you get to the Grouse pub and then you can virtually roll home from there.?

WHICH WAY?
Hayfield to New Mills on A6015. Turn Left (TL) in New Mills on to Marsh Lane to Furness Vale. TL onto A6 to roundabout. Turn right (TR) to Whaley Bridge on A5004 and continue to summit of Long Hill. TR down Goyt?s Lane to Errwood Reservoir. TL up Goyt Valley. After sharp right at car park take first left to A537/A54. TL to Buxton. TL on to A53 to Buxton centre. TR down The Square and TL into the Crescent. TR up hill to traffic lights. TL on to B5059. At roundabout TR onto A6 direction Bakewell. TL on to B6049 to Tideswell and continue to A623. TR and then TL and immediately TL again at Anchor Inn to take lanes into Bradwell. TL in Bradwell to rejoin B6049 to Brough. At lights TL and then TR up lane to T-junction. TR to Thornhill. TL to Yorkshire Bridge and up to A6013. TL to Ladybower reservoir. TL at lights on to A57 Snake Pass to Glossop. First left in Glossop to take lane to A624. TL to Chunal and continue on A624 back to Hayfield.

NICK CRAIG: THE FACTS
* Three-time national mtb champion 1997, 2000 & 2003
* Three-time national cyclo-cross champion 1996, 1998, 2005
* Three Peaks Cyclo-Cross winner 1991
* Rode the Sydney Olympic Games Road Race with his mountain bike shoes and pedals and trademark peaked helmet
* 37 years old living in Hayfield with wife Sarah and sons Thomas (8) and Charlie (4)
* Rides for Scott UK mountain bike team
* Die-hard winter training partner Mark Burton, aka Mr ?B?

(The original version of this article appeared in CW April 13, 2006)