GRAND TOURS

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

Men's Fitness - - Features | Formula One Fitness -

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.

Cobbled to­gether

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.

Up­hill bat­tle

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

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