Fruitcake and Fromage: Riding the Tour de France (in Yorkshire)
“We gotta do that!” These were the words I used over dinner in Mallorca earlier this year.
I’d been wanting to ride the Yorkshire route of the 2014 Tour de France since it was announced that the first two stages would take place in God’s own country – but I needed to drum up some company. These words set me on a six month journey that ended in Sheffield last weekend.
Why did I want to ride it? Simple: so that when I watch it on the tele next year I can say “I’ve done that”, and can marvel at the athleticism of the pro-peloton as they race on a route I was just attempting to complete.
So there we were, three intrepid souls having dinner the Friday night before the ride. The conversation inevitably flitted from the reverse bragging around our lack of recent training to the, at best, iffy weather forecast. However, it was when we were still debating which of the two stages (and the direction) we’d ride that it occurred to me that we probably hadn’t spent enough time on the planning.
Then it happened. After dinner all of the plans came together. From the two potential routes we’d chosen to ride, we’d do the second of the two routes first as the forecast for Sunday was very wet. “Would you like some fruitcake and cheese? It’s a Yorkshire tradition,” asked our host. That set the tone for a very Yorkshire weekend.
Having scrounged a lift from Sheffield we set off from Harrogate at 10am the following morning. Yes, ok, we missed the stretch from York to Harrogate but, in the circumstances, we thought that 125 miles was rather a lot to cover and we wanted to finish in Sheffield to give our driver relaxation time in the pub whilst we beasted ourselves.
The route wasn’t one you’d choose for a Sunday jaunt. It took in miles of dual carriageway and A roads. I’m sure they will be great for Wiggins and Froome to ride; the police close the road after all. For us mere mortals though the traffic in the busy parts of the route is, shall we say, character building. In among those horrors, however, it also took in some spectacular parts of god’s county.
If I were to do it again I’d stick to the section between Beamsley and Ripponden. It offers some lovely climbs and associated views. For me, the two most memorable are the sections from Oxenhope to Hebden Bridge and the descent from Blackstone Edge Reservoir into Ripponden.
I’d choose better weather too. We rode on by far the wettest day in October so far. Climbing a hill on a bike is a peculiar pleasure that is usually rewarded by both a sense of achievement and a nice view. This day we were rewarded with visibility of 50 metres and water everywhere. When one of my travelling companions looked over to me in the gloom and huffed “Is this what it’s like to live in a cloud?” I knew we’d overcooked it.
The conditions, a lunch stop, and ‘navigational issues’ meant that we may not have stuck to every inch of the currently published route (it has yet to be finalised). We did however cover 96 miles, take in the big climbs (over 8,000 ft) of the route and really enjoyed the challenge, once we’d dried out.
Did we do the other stage? No way – we’d need better weather!
Would I recommend it? Yes, but just the nice bits.
Best bit? Being able to say “I did that” when it’s on the tele box next year.
By Andy Groves
In his next piece Andy will explore the weird and wonderful world of Audax riding. You can follow Andy via twitter and instagram @riding_north.
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