Want a way to test your fitness and bag an epic adventure in the process? Then prepare to tackle one of these classic cycling routes chosen by Peter Cossins, author of Ultimate Etapes
Route York to Sheffield, England Distance 201km
If you’d asked almost any European professional racer about England’s landscape before the 2014 Tour de France Grand Départ in Yorkshire, they would probably have referred to William Blake’s description of a “green and pleasant land” – no mountains, essentially flat roads and lots of rain. The Tour’s visit changed this perspective completely, particularly with the epic ride through North, West and South Yorkshire.
The route of the 2014 Tour’s two stages through Yorkshire is marked by brown signs, starting at York Racecourse where they point west towards the Dales. This opening section is benign, as long as the prevailing westerly wind isn’t gusting too briskly. The main road, the A59, arrows towards the affluent spa town of Harrogate and then, just beyond it, the going gets a little tougher as the road climbs onto open moorland for the first time, heading past the American listening station at Menwith Hill.
Soon after sweeping down past the turn towards Fewston Reservoir and the unforgettably named village of Blubberhouses, the road begins to ascend the first of no fewer than nine categorised climbs – those with an official difficulty rating from one to five – when the Tour riders tackled this route. Described then as the Côte de Blubberhouses, the hill is known by local riders as Kex Gill after the farm at its summit. Make the most of the long, steady descent down into Wharfedale, for once the route begins to climb away from the river – with its waters the colour of stewed tea or strong beer – the climbs keep on coming.
When he was advising Welcome To Yorkshire and the Tour de France organisation on this stage, Yorkshire pro Russell Downing said of it, “There are so many ups and downs to deaden your legs, and most of them are not even categorised”. It’s at this point that this realisation begins to dawn. The first of many significant climbs that weren’t categorised when the Tour passed through is a long drag out of Addingham over Cringles and into Airedale at the small town of Silsden. The next is a widely photographed cobbled hill that climbs up through Haworth, with its renowned parsonage that was home to the Brontë sisters at the crest. Beyond Haworth, the route reaches the second of those nine Tour climbs as the road rises onto the windswept openness of Oxenhope Moor.
The B6113 speeds down into Calderdale and Hebden Bridge. This valley is narrower than Wharfedale and Airedale, with hills looming over the River Calder and the old mill towns along its banks. Inevitably, there’s another big climb just ahead, although the rise from Cragg Vale is steady rather than steep. Surprisingly, this is another “bonus” climb rather than one of the categorised ascents – even though, at 9km, it’s the longest continuous road climb in England. Yet because it rarely ramps up beyond 5% incline, the pros flew up it.
Topping Cragg Vale (and crossing into Lancashire for a few hundred metres), you’re now well past halfway. However, most of the climbing still lies ahead. This begins at Ripponden Bank, which rears up intimidatingly as the road passes the whitewashed façade of the Old Bridge Inn, home to the National Pork Pie Festival in March. The next section is the busiest and most unattractive of what is otherwise a stunning route, taking in the hill at Greetland, bypassing Elland, crossing the neverending flow of traffic on the trans-Pennine
M62 and dropping into Huddersfield.
This is Brian Robinson’s former stomping ground. The first Briton to finish the Tour de France and also the first to win a stage, the Mirfield rider is now well into his eighties, but still gets out on these roads on an electric bike, although he now avoids the area’s notorious climb. Rising out of Holmfirth, Holme Moss extends to 5km and reaches 521m of elevation, the
highest point on this ride. Averaging 7%, it’s not especially tough, but the weather – particularly the wind – can make it devilishly difficult, especially on its exposed upper slopes. A word of warning, too, about the descent off it towards the Woodhead Pass: it is steep with long straights and, consequently, is very fast. Unlike the pros, you won’t be tackling it on closed roads, so err towards on the side of caution.
The route follows the main Manchester Sheffield road for a few kilometres before dipping south into the heart of the Dark Peak on the northern edge of the Peak District. Comparisons have been made between this stage and the route of the hilly Liège-Bastogne-Liège Classic, arguably the toughest one-day race on the pro calendar, and this section between Holmfirth and Sheffield is the principal reason. Known locally as the Strines, the terrain between Midhopestones and Oughtibridge dips and rises consistently and savagely. Once it has been negotiated, Sheffield finally comes into view.
Taking the rise
The original plan for the Tour’s 2014 finish in the Steel City was straightforward: the final 10km would be flat. However, Tour route director Thierry Gouvenou went exploring the hills to the north of the city centre and discovered what has become a legendary piece of cycling real estate in the shape of Jenkin Road, a residential street that rears up so precipitously that there is a handrail on the pavement. For a good distance the gradient reaches an astonishing 33%, so ridiculously steep that it’s almost laughable. It is, though, the very last time you’ll need to engage your smallest gear.
The route finishes adjacent to the English Institute of Sport and its indoor athletics arena. The surrounding landscape is industrial and functional, and hardly in keeping with the spectacular rollercoaster route negotiated to get there. But fatigue and relief will be so complete that most will be happy to reach this point, the end of one of the most exciting (and best-attended) Tour de France stages in recent history.
It may not have soaring Alpine peaks but the Yorkshire Rollercoaster route takes in some tough climbs and magnificent scenery on the way from York to Sheffield