Beauty and Pain served in equal measure with brilliant sunshine in the Yorkshire Dales
The Tour De Yorkshire was born from the success of the Grand Depart of the Tour De France in 2014. In its inaugural year in 2015, an estimated 2.6 million people lined the route of the professional race. The Sportive offers the chance for amateurs to ride much of the final stage as the pros before they do, including the last 50 km, final 2 climbs, the intermediate sprint and the pro finish line. Distances range from 49 km, 84 km and 129 km and combine the Tour De France delivery with Yorkshire hospitality, amazing crowds and the stunning beauty (and cycling pain) of the Yorkshire Dales. The event copies the format of the Tour De France's 'Etape du Tour' by varying the route every year. In 2015, the route left Leeds, in 2016 it was Scarborough, in 2017 Sheffield and in 2018 it returned to Leeds.
Belgium, Greg van Avermaet was crowned the overall winner of the 4 day stage race after a thrilling sprint finish on the final day, which was memorable for a heroic solo attack from Frenchman, Stephane Rossetto, who held on for the stage 4 win after attacking with 120 km of the brutally tough route still to go. Rossetto later said, "I did it in a race that is growing in stature all the time, has more history now, and an amazing crowd. It's been like riding the Tour de France over the last four days.
Before the above scenario was to play out, it would be the turn of the amateur fraternity to take on a 129 km route which contained five category 4 and two category 3 climbs and over 2000 metres of climbing. Shortly after 6.30 am, the Maserati riders, who were part of the event's headline sponsors, were released from the starting pen and then, my group, representing the first wave of a total of 5,000 riders. The pace was fast from the start and it wasn't long before we had caught most of the riders ahead. A group of about 10 riders formed and we were working well together, perpetually rolling over at the front and sharing the workload. After 30 km we had passed Harrogate and the first two, longer climbs of Rigton Hill and Hartwith Bank had reduced this group to just 4 riders. Following the next kilometres of undulations and fast descents, the group swelled to around 10 riders, many who were now just hanging on.
Most were, not surprisingly, keen to stop at the second feed station at Pateley Bridge, and now there were three of us climbing the Cote de Greenhow Hill, the first of the Pro Course climbs. As one of author, Simon Warren's, 100 Greatest Climbs, Greenhow is no easy ascent. Four sections of climbing of up to 18% deliver the rider to the top of the moor. At this point, I looked round to spy my colleagues but they had been dropped and so I was alone. I rode on for the next 30 km, passing more and more tiring riders, I presume from the Maserati first wave.
Now, over 100 km in, a small group of riders hit the climb of Otley Chevin. Crowds were now making their way up to the top of the hill and offered their support or, perhaps, commiserations. At 1.4 km in length and an average gradient of 10.3%, this is another tough climb but I was rolling well and, once again, I was alone up front during the ascent. But suddenly, as I was about to crest the climb, a rider I recognised from the group I had been in before Pateley Bridge came flying past me. It was Bryan Steel, dressed in the colours of his coaching organisation, a former British Olympian and track team pursuitor from four successive Olympic games. I immediately jumped on his wheel and we powered through the rest of the course, including an evil intermediate sprint zone, located on Black Hill Road at an average gradient of 7.2%. As we entered the finish section, a swelling crowd started to bang voraciously on the barriers and I could not resist sprinting against a younger rider across the finish line.
Although I grew up in Leeds, I was not yet a serious cyclist and I was unaware of the beauty that surrounds the city. Yorkshire is truly 'God's own country' and it was in fine fettle, serving up the hottest May Bank Holiday on record, the heat of the day avoided after clocking up a satisfying 4:30:35 and an average speed of 27.9 km/h. If anyone is searching for an event in the UK which is both tough and stunningly beautiful at the same time and allows you to soak in the atmosphere of a professional race then look no further than the next edition of the Tour De Yorkshire.
I have an honours degree in PE & Sports Science & a Postgraduate Teaching degree from Loughborough University.
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