DISTANCE 46 miles (74km)
MAIN CLIMB Peak Tor
TOTAL CLIMB 1,350m
ACHTUNG! Some A road crossings
Not many riders have beaten Russell Downing in a race this year, and even fewer have done it in the Premier Calendar, but 19-year-old Tom Last nearly did it. It was in a stage of the Chas Messenger Two-Day, and the finish was so close that Last thought he’d won and threw his arms up in the air.
Looking at the pictures you’d be forgiven for thinking that Last is a sprinter, but when you see him it’s obvious he’s not. He’s tall, very slim and when he rides uphill he’s all elbows and knees. He looks like Bambi on ice, but he’s very fast.
“It wasn’t a sprint,” he smiles at the suggestion. “We were coming out of the last bend with a long straight to go and I just did one. Russ was the only one to catch me. I really thought I’d got it, though. Hence the arms.”
Last smiles a lot. He’s not even slightly bothered by the thought of what might have been if he hadn’t celebrated too early. “If you had said I’d get second in a stage of a Premier Calendar race before this season I’d have settled for that,” he explains.
“I don’t take things as seriously as some,” he continues.
He’s no less ambitious though. “I want to do something in cycling,
but I know I’ll have to go abroad to do it,” he says, although he won’t reveal exactly what that something is.
Last’s ride starts near his home in Great Longstone. His parents brought up Tom and his sister Annie, two years younger and a top mountain biker, with a taste for sport and the outdoors. “I played football a bit and ran, but I liked cycling best,” he says.
He tried everything, but had a real flair for cyclo-cross and it’s something he still loves.
“It would be great to be a cyclo-cross pro in Belgium, but a British cyclo-cross pro is never going to happen. You would have to be the elite world champion. The cross teams are always going to take Belgians first. Look at Jonathan Page from America — he hasn’t had a fun time in a Belgian cross team. I’ll have to concentrate on the road to make progress.”
He’s in a good place to do it. The roads of this ride are on the training routes of a sackful of
good local racers. “I’m always meeting up with them. In fact, when Cycling Weekly did one of these rides with Malcolm Elliott, one of the pictures in the story was him riding past the gates where I live. And you can get right off the beaten track around here. There are some brilliant back roads that I discovered when I was mountain biking,” Last says.
The ride goes north at first, to Castleton, where the White and the Dark Peak districts meet. The road east to Hathersage is the border. Pretty, white limestone with sheep-cropped emerald green fields to the south; dark, brooding gritstone country to the north.
Last dances up the climb out of Hathersage. He’s a natural climber who has just had his first experience of racing in the big mountains at the Tour of Serbia.
“It was good, I was in the lead group on the mountains days. They were long climbs with bits of gravel roads between the tarmac ones,” he says.
“The whole race in Serbia was an experience. There were some really good Italian Continental-level teams riding; some of them with guys who had ridden the Tour. I didn’t know how I was going to go at that level, but I ended up being miles above my expectations.
“Visiting Serbia was an eye-opener, too. Just before we went, I met Mark Lovatt at some traffic lights while I was out training. After, he’d told me that he didn’t realise we were allowed out on the road on our own yet. Mark is always making jokes about how young our team are.
“He told me about when he rode in Serbia. He said they were in one hotel and there were bullet holes in the lifts and walls.
“Well, one of the hotels we went to had bloodstains on the towels. The food was incredible; in every place it was roadkill and Smash. That’s what we called it. It was just meat and you couldn’t tell what it was. We thought it was what the cook had run over on his way to work, and powdered mashed potatoes. I’ll never complain about another Travelodge in my life,” he says.
Last’s bouncy style is perfect for this area. As he makes good progress south past Chatsworth House and over the A6, the road is rarely flat and he climbs in and out of the saddle, pointing out the various features and giving a constant running commentary.
He’s had a good year so far, especially considering his lack of road race experience. Up until this year he was a mountain biker in the summer and cyclo-cross rider in the winter.
“When the Evans mountain bike team folded last November I was left high and dry, so I phoned Chris Truett and he gave me a place in Kinesis,” he says.
Last missed the National Championships through illness, but is looking forward to a three-week racing trip to Canada. After that he’s not certain what’s in store for him in the British season, but is certain he’s got a future in road racing.
“I’ve learnt a lot with Kinesis. Chris is a great manager and there is a good atmosphere in the team. It’s been a really positive experience. We always try to put on a good show as a team,” he says.
YOUR GUIDE: TOM LAST
* Age 19, single, lives with parents in Great Longstone
* A full-time cyclist with the Kinesis team
* Sister Annie finished ninth in the 2008 junior mountain bike World Championships
Head north from Great Longstone on the unclassified road and skirt High Rake then turn left (TL) on unclassified and cross the B6465. Turn right (TR) on unclassified to Cressbrook and Litton. TL and 1st TR on unclassified, crossing the A623 to Castleton. TR on A6187. TL in Hathersage on unclassified up Dale Bottom. TR on unclassified and TL on A6187. At Fox House go straight on the A625.
TL on the unclassified through Curbar and TL on A623. In Baslow TR on A619 and TL on B6012. TR on A6 and 1st TL on unclassified to climb Peak Tor. TR in Stanton in Peak. TR on B5056 and 1st TL to Alport and Youlgrave. TR in Youlgrave on unclassified to Bakewell. TR on B5055, cross the A6 and follow A619. TL on B6001. TL on A6020. TR on unclassified back to Great Longstone.
DISTANCE 46 miles (74km)