Doncaster Army cyclist tackles Tour de France Grand Depart route

Major Dave Walker
Major Dave Walker

As cycling fever grips Yorkshire with Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France, an Army cyclist from Doncaster has cycled the 390 kilometre route in the county to assist in preparations.

Major Dave Walker, 35, from Thorne was one of a 70-strong Armed Forces “peloton” that pedalled the two day route from historic Harewood House of on the outskirts of Leeds to the centre of Sheffield.

Exercise “Maillot Jaune” or translated Exercise “Yellow Jersey” was one of a series of test exercises being run in preparation for the world-famous cycling race.

“Preparations for Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France 2014 have been underway for many months now and we are grateful to the military cyclists for their assistance with our final planned tests to prepare for the race. We are on track to create a memorable weekend of cycling which will be seen across the world,” said Nicky Roche, Chief Executive of the Tour de France Hub.

Dave has completed 14 years service in the Army and is the Officer Commanding a 100-strong squadron in 29 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps based in South Cerney, Cirencester.. He has served on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and on exercises in Germany, Cyprus and Australia.

He is a member of the Army Cycling Development Squad and held the Army Road Cycling Champion title for 2009 and 2010. In 2011 he was the Inter Services Road Cycling Champion and the Inter Services 10 and 25 mile Time Trial Team winner and won the Banbury Star Road Race in 2012.

“I started cycling through triathlon, and then I found I wasn’t a great swimmer and didn’t really enjoy the swimming training. I was stronger on the bike rather than the other disciplines, so I thought I’d concentrate on cycling and give that a go in its own right,” said Dave, a former pupil of Thorne Grammar School.

“With cycling you can get to see so much of the countryside. It gives me, personally, a real sense of freedom when I’m out on the road – it’s a time where you can just be out with yourself or with a group of friends, just relaxing. Any worries that you might have, you can just put them behind you and just relax for a couple of hours. And it’s great exercise.”

The arduous route weaves its way past some of the most beautiful landscape, historic places and industrial heritage in the region. The first day saw Dave cycle the 190 kilometres (118 miles) through Skipton and the Yorkshire Dales past Aysgarth Falls and climbing the famous Buttertubs – an iconic 250m high ascent expected to challenge the Tour de France riders.But time for training has been hard to find.

“I used to do around 12-14 hours per week a few years ago, whereas now I’ve got a young 22 month-old son and therefore I’m limited to six or seven hours a week. So hopefully my experience will get me through.

“I think it’s going to be the only opportunity in my life to get to ride a couple of the stages of the Tour de France in my own county, so it’s a fantastic opportunity – one I wouldn’t miss for the world.”

Unlike the sprint finish expected in Harrogate at the end of the first day of the Tour de France, the military “peloton” finished at an unusually leisurely pace.

“We are not here to race, we are here to do an important job for the organisers, the Yorkshire Tour de France hub and to savour just what the professional racing cyclists will endure,” explained Colonel Stuart Williams, Chairman of Army Cycling.

“For the military cyclists this is a unique opportunity to cycle this challenging route. For some it has been an eye opener and something to aspire to achieve. For others it has been a personal test of their ability and their fitness.

“Fitness is essential to all members of the Armed Forces to enable them to do their job which can be physically demanding. Talented sportsmen and women in the Armed Forces are given time away from duties to train and participate in their sport and fulfil their potential. Amongst the military “peloton” we have cyclists who are members of not only the national Armed Forces teams but who cycle for their country as well.”

Nursing a few muscle aches, the second day saw the cyclists cycle out of York across Ilkley Moor not “Baht ‘at” as in the words of the traditional song but with their cycle helmets on, up the cobbled main street of Haworth made famous by the Bronte family through Todmorden into Huddersfield and ascend the long steep climb to Holme Moss. They passed Langsett reservoir and completed the day’s 200 kilometre (125 mile) ride in the famous steel city of Sheffield.

The military will take part in the Leeds Festival of Cycling on Saturday and Sunday 5 -6 July at Harewood House in Leeds. Visitors will be able to enjoy a range of military style activities, see the famous Red Arrows aerial display team and find out more about life in the Armed Forces. Harewood will be visited by the Tour de France peloton before it leaves Leeds.