So with just one week since we saw crowds around the route of Le Grand Depart in Yorkshire, I had the chance to ride the route with friend Debs, who I met on last years Ride Across Britain, and a bunch of her colleagues in an organized event. One hundred and twenty miles. Lot’s of hills. It would be the biggest ride I’ve done this year, and (so Debs said) essential training for my own Ride Across Britain later this year. Enough said, I booked up, and sure enough, the big day rolled around and I found myself in Ilkley.
The weather forecast for the day was for rain and showers through to mid-morning, and then general sunshine and warmth of the rest of the day. The downside was the strong westerly wind forecast throughout the day.
Ilkley to Skipton
The route differed a little from the Grand Depart, in that we didn’t have a neutralized start from Leeds, but had to kick off straight on the main roads between Ilkley to Skipton (albeit early on a Sunday morning)
From Skipton (Gateway to The Dales) we follow the route through Wharfedale. This is one of my favourite parts of the world, and it’s a shame to have no time to stop off in Kettlewell, Starbotton and Buckden. As we near the head of the valley, the heavens open and we get a thorough soaking. Buckden marks the start of the climbing and we start the ascent of the Cote de Kidstones. The real hard part comes after the White Lion pub, then we’re on the top. The descent is typical of these parts, being steep and with bends.
From Kidstones we head along Bishopdale in postcard scenery and enter Wensleydale. Our route takes us through Aysgarth and on to Hawes. All the villages are still proudly displaying their Tour de France bunting, flags, and yellow bikes. At Hawes there is a right turn and the road heads upwards. The Cote de Buttertubs takes us from Hawes into Swaledale. There are three distinct steep sections in the first third of the climb, after which it becomes more manageable (and the top is in sight). We have a good chat amongst the cyclists along the top section, mostly in admiration of the professionals, before committing to the descent.
After a brake-burning descent, we are now rewarded with a gradual downhill along Swaledale, with the odd uphill kicker just to stop it all being free-wheeling. There’s a feed station at Gunnerside, and one guy has managed to destroy his rear tyre skidding it down the Buttertubs descent. The organisers are looking for a spare for him. After Reeth it’s time for the final major climb of the day, the Cote de Grinton Moor (where just one short week ago, we were watching the race). At this point, we’ve covered all the King of the Mountains Stages, but are just over half-way round the route.
Leyburn to Harrogate
We follow more gentle countryside from Leyburn to Masham to Ripon. The lack of major climbs is welcome, but the legs are certainly feeling it now, and the route is best described as “undulating”.
From Ripon we join the A61 from Ripon to Harrogate, which is busy on a Sunday afternoon. Sure, it’s part of the route of the Tour de France, but personally I’d rather have been cycling on country back roads to get us to Ilkley.
Back over the hills to Ilkley
One thing the pro’s weren’t constrained by was finishing where they started. We are, and this means a cross-country route back to Ilkley which includes a lot of climbing, especially so late in a long and hilly day. Skirting past Harrogate is a very long climb, with a descent to Leathley in Wharfedale, then a climb up and down to Otley (also in Wharfedale), with a planned further climb and descent to Ilkley (you’ve guessed it, in Wharfedale). This leads me to check the GPS for an “along the valley” route, but it seems to involve dual carriageway and busy roads, so I commit to the last (?) climb of the day. The final few miles to the finish are into the most terrible headwind, so it’s down onto the drops to make it as efficient as possible.
At the end I don’t feel too bad, and the organisers have laid on access to massages, beer and food.
I didn’t manage to cycle all the way back up the hill to the hotel, which is a shame, as it would have pushed me over 200km in a day. That’s a target for the future!