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Rapha Prestige: Cobbles, mud and nearly a swim in a canal

25 Aug 2018

Words Jack Elton-Walters Photography Alex Wright - Ten Eight / Joseph Delves

Ahead of the Rapha Prestige, I wouldn't have believed that you'd be able to find enough muddy trails and old cobbled roads in the Greater Manchester area to construct an 80km route, but this event managed it with a well thought out and challenging sportive parcours.

Starting and finishing at the Rapha Clubhouse in St Anne's Passage in the centre of Manchester, the ride takes in a short few kilometres on tarmac before veering on to the first gravel paths.

The ride is a mix of traditional reliability trial and team event, where riders are encouraged to find their own way. Or, in our case, chase other groups who seemed to have a better idea of which way was forward.

Navigation woes

On the morning of the Prestige and for the first time ever, I fell out with my Wahoo Elemnt bike computer. In truth, I was as much to blame as the unit but that was of no comfort when we were already supposed to have left the Clubhouse and I was still messing about trying to connect to wifi.

I gave up trying to get the route to sync and instead the four of us rolled out clueless as to where we were supposed to be going. Upon reaching a red light on the far side of the square we sat tight and waited for the next team to catch us up.

The wait went on longer than I would have expected but was worth it as this other team, like competent adults, knew where they were supposed to be going.

Not only did they know where to go, but they seemed to want to get there immediately, and so our quartet latched on the back of a fast moving train, legs turning faster and hearts pumping quicker than might have been ideal this early into a sportive.

Stay out of the canal

A couple of days of consistent rain in the lead-up ensured it was a slippery day out on the bike, and at times those slips and slides almost saw our group heading off the very narrow canal-side paths and into the dank looking water.

One hairy moment on the homeward leg saw my rear wheel slide on a exposed tree root and begin to make its way, seemingly inevitably, over the edge and into the unwelcoming water beside me.

Thanks perhaps more to luck than judgement, a strong push on the pedals saw the bike correct and I continued on my way, just in time as one of my teammates was hard on my wheel and could have launched me into the canal had we collided.

Back to earlier in the day, and the first venture off road is a gentle introduction as later there will be mud, cobbles, muddy cobbles and very narrow canal-side paths. This is where our impromptu guides put the hammer down yet harder and one by one our team was shelled.

Surprised to find myself now the fifth member of the wrong team, I slowed up and my teammates - Joe, Joe and Dan - soon got back in touch.

Welcome checkpoint

The first checkpoint, which came at the top of a sharp muddy incline that followed the first trip along the canal, was very welcome. Blaring out music and supplying well needed snacks and drinks, we were happy to have a rest before the next part of the route.

Refuelled by sausage rolls and with smiles still intact throughout the team we pushed on through the varied terrain and across the mixed road surfaces.

News to us southerners was the proliferation of preserved cobbled roads in this area of Northern England; credit to the Rapha route planners for getting so many included.

Checkpoint one was also checkpoint three, but that was a way off yet and even before that, some testing parts of the route stood between us and the second brevet card stamp.

The toughest climb of the day was entirely on tarmac but felt like it was no less tough as a result. Exposed to the wind that was cutting across the moorland, I was glad to have gone for deep winter kit by way of a Rapha Core winter jacket, Pro Team thermal bib shorts and GripGrab AquaRepel leg warmers.

By this time, Dan had found a second wind - or was pushing on towards the hope of a warm drink at the second checkpoint - and so the rest of us were strung out on his wheel over the ever rising road.

In sight came the espresso wagon and next to that the Canyon van. Canyon, with its relationship with Rapha, was was out on the route to provide neutral service, which was good as my headset had worked itself loose over the more testing secteurs of the day so far.

Refuelled and with my bike sorted, we made a judgement call on the route that didn't, at the time, sit too well with one of our number.

The set route was to take us off the tarmac and down a gnarly descent of jagged rocks. Behind the schedule we'd started on and in need of a bit of respite from off-road riding we decided to stay on the main road and make our way round to where the latest off-road stretch re-emerged.

This was voted for by 75% to 25%, and much smaller majorities have caused far worse outcomes in recent years, so we went with it.

The tarmac descent was fast and helped us get back on track for a finish before sunset. Finding some troubled looking riders who had just completed the off-road part we'd bypassed, their stories of rocks, crashes and multiple punctures ended any wondering as to whether we'd made the right call.

Back onto the muddy woodland trails and we were soon at checkpoint three, with the music still coming from a small speaker keeping everyone cheery.

This wasn't before a quick ride across a farm, where the owner told us we must have taken a wrong turn. The occupants' complaints centred around some earlier riders busting through and leaving their gates open, probably the same kind of people who throw gel wrappers on the road to save two seconds on their sportive time.

We apologised on behalf of the other riders to try and appease the justifiably annoyed residents and were sure to close any and all gates we went near.

This way home

Again suffering the outcome of not having the route between us, I brought up my Wahoo's map screen which showed a black line to indicate where we'd already been.

We latched back onto that and made our way into Manchester the way we'd left it. I've still no idea if this was the correct route but it got us back to the Clubhouse, beers and some warm food.

There was also a pressure washer to get the layers of mud and grit off the bikes, or to clean Joe's legs.

All done and despite almost definitely not following the full route it was a great day out on a fantastically well organised event. Chapeau to Rapha.

For more photos of the day from Alex Wright, see:

Rapha Prestige events 2018

For full information about Rapha's 2018 Prestige events, see:


5th: Prestige Alishan, Taiwan  
6th: Women's Prestige Cheongyang, South Korea  
12: Women's Prestige Hirado, Japan  
12th: Prestige Ozark Plateau and Ozark Gravel Fondon, Bentonville, Arizona  
13th: Prestige London, UK  
27th: Women's Prestige Sydney, Australia  
27th: Women's Prestige Melbourne, Australia  


3rd: Prestige Eifel, German, Netherlands and Belgium  
16th: Prestige Seoul, South Korea  


15th: Prestige Tokachi, Japan  


4th: Prestige Cotswolds, UK  
25th: Women's Prestige, Thailand  


8th: Prestige Bohemia, Germany and Czech Republic  
16th: Prestige Shinshiro, Japan  
29th: Prestige London, UK  


20th: Prestige Mallorca, Spain  


4th: Cross Prestige Manchester, UK  


15th: Prestige Onomichi, Japan