Editor-in-chief saddles up for Yorkshire stage of Tour de France
IT was when my ears popped at the top of what the other riders said was one of the easier climbs of the day that I realised I might be in trouble.
That and the fact that after a gut-wrenching ascent up a ribbon of hot tarmac called Kidstones one of them chirped: “That’s 26 miles done, just 90 miles and the hard climbs to go.”
High altitude and long distance - a worrying mix for a very ordinary 47-year-old club rider who should really have known better than to attempt to tackle Stage One of the 2014 Tour de France in Yorkshire.
It had all started so innocently. A short email from a colleague on the Yorkshire Post, a journalist was invited to ride stage one, experience what the professional riders would, an overnight stay before the ride at the Rendezvous Hotel in Skipton. Would I like to ride?
I agreed without thinking too hard about it - and found myself the night before our adventure sitting beside a legendary Yorkshireman who had won eight stages of the Tour de France. The food was great, a special Tour de France pasta starter was a highlight, but I was more distracted, star struck even, by my fellow diner Barry Hoban, a bona-fide Wakefield-born professional cycling superstar who won his stages of the Tour between 1967 and 1975.
To a fan of the sport such as myself it was an incredible treat, and I also met Barry’s wife Helen, of Askern, first married to Harworth cycling superstar Tom Simpson, who tragically died on Mont Ventoux in the 1967 Tour.
Barry and British Cycling president Brian Cookson were the guests of honour at the dinner and led out the ride the next morning.
It was a beautiful day, shorts and short sleeves at 8am, as we set of from Skipton Castle along the exact route of the tour stage, accompanied reassuringly by the ride organisers’ two cars and two outrider motorbikes. I am an experienced rider, and have raced for more than 20 years, so I wasn’t overly worried about the course - I hadn’t even looked at it on the map. Schoolboy error.
I knew it was 116 miles and I knew were joining the route of the stage at Skipton, missing out the stage start in central Leeds, and we were cutting back across to Skipton from Ripon, whereas the actual stage finish will be in Harrogate.
What I didn’t know, because I had never ridden in the Yorkshire Dales National Park was how very, very hard the roads are. And it’s not just hilly up there, it’s mountainous.
To anyone who hasn’t ridden a bike seriously, here’s what it feels like to ride up very big hills. Stand at the bottom of your stairs with your bike, pick it up, run up and down the stairs.
Do this for about 30 minutes to an hour without stopping. You will be shattered. Your heart will be hammering. You might feel sick. I know the tour riders make it look so easy - but I suspect that even they will be strained by what lies ahead of them on the stage.
Out of Skipton we headed north on the busy B6265 through Rylston, Threshfield, Kilnsey and Kettlewell towards our first climb at Kidstones.
That was just the warm up. We had Buttertubs Pass to contend with next - I was blissfully unaware of the danger it represented to my wellbeing and tried to keep up with two of the stronger riders in our group, Paul Dixon and Guy Kesteven, on its lower slopes. I quickly got into trouble and they flew up the road. In fact once they got the top, they rode back down a mile and rode to the summit again for better photographs. I had gone too hard too early and felt ill just watching them.
I contemplated the idea of food, and the three huge climbs to come, as we rode into the excellent Dales Bike Centre in Fremington for a lunch stop.
There were less of us after lunch, two or three riders drifted away and a core of six headed uphill again into the second half of the ride, having already covered more than 60 miles. The ride south on rolling roads to Ripon on the A6108 took us through Leyburn, East Witton and Masham.
After a pitstop at Ripon, where our two charity riders on heavy bikes climbed off after an impressive 86 miles, we were off to tackle the last 30 miles - including the truly vicious climb out of Pateley Bridge to Greenhow. After 90 miles and in the heat of the day it was a huge struggle and our little group of four blew apart. Over the top, with a dizzy head, lurching stomach and sore legs I and David Ferguson who owns a bike shop in Skipton, clubbed together to head for the finish - but not before another huge climb after Appletreewick. We were both on our knees, and the top of the climb and the descent into Skipton was a massive relief. We rolled into the Rendezvous car park at 5.30pm to be met and applauded home by Barry and Helen. All in all, it was one of the longest days I have had on a bike - and in some of the most stunning countryside I’ve seen outside of the Pyrenees. I’ve been in races that were faster, harder and left me feeling worse but this was a very big day out and a very hard, serious bike ride in all respects - a route for champions.
How to have a go
The ride was set up by Malcolm Weaver proprieter of the Rendezvous who has come up with a great offer for cyclists to experience the tour’s stages in Yorkshire.
All riders are supported en route by two support cars and two motorcycle outriders courtesy of CyCol Tours, specialists in cycling tours in Europe and the UK.
Cycol’s main men, Ian Johnston and Bob Hodgson, are both former police officers with experience of both long distance cycle touring and motorcycle marshalling at major races. In addition there is mechanical support available at the hotel HQ from David Ferguson.
The Rendezvous has put together a series of packages to suit all types of rider. More details on Rendezvous or telephone 01756 700100.
Lee Hawksworth, Welcome to Yorkshire (DNF)
Sean McKibben, chair of Skipton Cycling Club (stopped half distance)
Guy Kesteven, Cycling Plus magazine (stopped at half distance)
David Ferguson, Ferguson Cycles Skipton (Finisher)
Stuart Slorach, BQ magazine, (Finisher)
Paul Dixon, freelance ride guide (First finisher)
Roy Bullock, charity rider (stopped at 86 miles)
Mark Place, charity rider (stopped at 86 miles)
Barry Hoban (Legend)
Graeme Huston, editor in chief South Yorkshire Newspapers (Finisher)
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