Le Petit Départ

One day I will do a decent ride in the Yorkshire Dales. Earlier this year I had hoped to follow much of the route of stage one of the Tour de France 2014. It was not to be.

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Kilnsey Crag, on the route of stage one of le Tour 2014, albeit in the other direction

It had all started so promisingly. I received an email from Dave (a somewhat obsessive cyclist) asking if I fancied riding the full route. I didn't. I had seen the main roads from Leeds to Skipton and they're not my idea of fun. I suggested meeting at Skipton Travelodge before picking up the route as far as Reeth or Leyburn where I would peel off and avoid the 'A' roads on to Harrogate.

I had been overly optimistic. Even with Dave off-form and on a 'cross bike with knobbly tyres I knew I was going to struggle to keep up riding over such lumpy terrain. Having learnt a humbling lesson last time I attempted a ride of over hundred miles in the Yorkshire Dales I abstained from alcohol on the Saturday night, but woke up in the spare bed at 3.30am with a banging headache and a sudden reality check. I wouldn't have fancied a club run to a favourite coffee house that day. After a breakfast of toast, Weetabix and Paracetamol I hastily devised a plan B.

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The route starts go uphill, here just after Buckden

What had I been thinking? Unfit and attempting a century ride in the Yorkshire Dales; a (correct) forecast of heavy showers and snow; a strong northwesterly wind and a KoM ride buddy around three stone lighter than my present 'walking around weight'. However, I was determined to salvage something out of the day. I asked Mrs B if I could borrow her digital SLR camera. My touring bike and bits of cycling paraphernalia were bundled in to the car. Dave had a commission to write about stage one; I was to go along as Mr "local knowledge" (his words) and he would take photographs of the Dales with me getting in the frame as the "eye candy" (okay, my words). Instead plan B was to meet briefly at Skipton and I would drive ahead, stop at strategic points and try not to make a hash of snapping a bloke cycling through some of the most dramatic scenery in Yorkshire. I could maybe get in about 40 miles or more, cycling some of the best bits on quieter roads.

So I wimped out and decided to start my ride in Bainbridge. (We would ride together as far as Leyburn when I would return to the car and Dave to the Metro in Harrogate.) We spoke briefly at Cracoe before chatting over hot drinks and sandwiches in the marvellous village of Kettlewell. I would later wish my ride had started in Kettlewell – more on that later – instead of Bainbridge, even though I knew I would have slowed Dave down, felt guilty about the pace, or got dropped and limped round on my own. Just as well that I didn't then.

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Kidstones. A good place to watch le Tour?

I took my last photograph with the DSLR and set off for Bainbridge. I had driven to the Dales in my civvies so popped in to the pub to get changed. I also needed a comfort break and, as always feeling guilty about using the facilities without paying, looked for a member of staff to order a small fizzy drink. I didn't see him – I could barely see anyone as the little room was filled with smoke reminiscent of the days before the ban. The chalk board outside advertised Sunday lunch in front of a log fire. Unfortunately, the chimney wasn't drawing and, perhaps more unfortunately, the smouldering contents of the grate were in fact fragments of veneered chipboard. Not quite as romantic as a log fire. After slipping about on a just-washed floor in the toilets I returned to the bar in my soggy socks, ordered that lemonade and drank most of it before dashing back to the car.

Despite promising some time ago to get ruthless and go all lightweight with my kit, I still managed to fill a rackbag for the (half) day ride. Unfortunately, my Altura rackbag uses the 'landing strip' to fasten the bag to the pannier rack. I had left it back in East Yorkshire. By now Dave had arrived and I tried to fasten the bag with the belt from my jeans. He went off somewhere to keep moving and I ended up shoving the essentials in to a plastic bag and buckling it on to the top of the rack. Heath Robinson would have been proud – or more probably just as embarrassed as Dave no doubt was.

I needn't have worried about how much traffic there would be on the main roads. West from Bainbridge I tucked in behind Dave and cycled in to a head wind along the A684. Granted this was the middle of March, but the roads weren't as busy as I had imagined. At Hawes we turned right (I almost turned in to the road alongside the ropeworks – it's been a while) towards my first hilly bit. Now, depending on how you look at it Dave should either have been shattered after riding 70 lumpy miles in to a predominantly headwind, or nicely warmed up and ready for Buttertubs Pass. I prefer to think that he was nicely warmed up – unlike me – as he effortlessly pulled away. Dave stopped to take a few photographs after all and to eat something else. I had eaten a three egg omelette in Skipton before that sandwich in Kettlewell, so plodded on to the top.

Buttertubs Pass from the south

Me on the way up Buttertubs Pass from the south side (image Dave Barter)

I got in the way of someone else's photograph. A couple had parked up and the chap was pointing his camera back down the hill.

"Tour de France?"

"I'm the advance party"

"You're not going quick enough"

"****"

Just as I felt I was getting too warm the temperature seemed to drop as it started to snow. Nothing too heavy, but at the top I put on my 'race cape'. Since I started cycling again in 2009 I've never had a waterproof jacket – or at least one sold as 'waterproof' – so I bought one on the Saturday after checking the forecast. The snow was heavier when Dave go to the top and although my new bit of kit wasn't tested by the snow and rain I was grateful of the warmth dropping down towards Thwaite. I do hope there are no crashes here, but parts of the steep descent are very twisty. The road surface is, of course, much better than was the case recently, but two sizeable holes in the top of the dry stone wall on one bend were a pointer to the likeliest place for unfortunate riders to come unstuck.

The descent of Buttertubs gave me the rare opportunity of being in front of Dave. After that we enjoyed the narrow and twisting, mainly flat, route to Reeth before the third categorised climb of stage one – Grinton Moor. Dave went off at his own pace as I did my best to keep up. I caught him on the descent and we said farewell in Leyburn. Dave wasn't at his best and I reminded him of the offer to pick him up from the roadside if he felt he'd had enough. An exchange of text messages after I'd ridden the 12 miles back to Bainbridge revealed that Dave had already reached Harrogate and was on the Metro to Leeds. Well, I did have that head wind.

Opinion is divided over whether this route is hilly enough to split the professional riders and give an advantage to the natural climbers among them. And there are 30 miles of flat riding after Leyburn to pull back any breakaway group that might have formed. I just hope that any jostling amongst the peloton – either up hill or down – doesn't lead to any crashes on these relatively narrow roads that would spoil the enjoyment of the day.

However, I don't think I will be in North Yorkshire in the first weekend of July. You see I like cycling and I like Rugby League. Rugby League in the flesh is a spectator sport – certainly at my age. But I can participate in cycling. So if I take the time to go to the Yorkshire Dales I would like to ride my bike – or have a pleasant time with my family. I'm not sure I want to be there when the carnival passes through. No, I think I will watch le Tour on television.

A suggested alternative to stage 1 of the Tour de France 2014

An article appeared in the Guardian after I'd ridden part of the route. It suggested that the tour organisers had somehow wimped out and chosen an easier route. I had originally thought this too. Thinking about it later I have to accept that they have simply routed the course through areas of (admittedly slight) population. The Guardian's take on this is that the organisers have bottled it. I reckon they've simply avoided the bottlenecks.

The thought of cycling the full route is not appealing at all. Skipton is a better starting point than Leeds. Better still are Threshfield/Grassington or Kettlewell. If you go as far as Grassington try to go north along the B6160 to see Kilnsey Crag from its best side.

The route I will do some day is shown below. It's a loop that could start anywhere really, but Grassington gives you a lovely quiet road back to base along the narrow road to the east of the B6160. If you're starting elsewhere and need to miss out Grassington just get to Kettlewell and head north-east.

A 69-mile route broadly taking in the three climbs of stage 1

Do this ride in an anti-clockwise direction and you will also tick off three of Simon Warren's 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs from his first little book – and in the right direction: Park Rash, Buttertubs Pass and Fleet Moss.

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Remember to give space to vulnerable road users

Cyclist friendly accommodation in the Yorkshire Dales

CTC Winged Wheel outside the Green Dragon in Hardraw You can't really go far wrong in the Yorkshire Dales, but I particularly like Wensleydale. I know of three quite different places to stay that are cyclist friendly. They also have the advantage of being close to the official, and to my suggested route on a flatter section of road to allow for a bit of a warm up before taking on the hills, especially if you take the suggested route in an anti-clockwise direction. I've stayed at Sykes's House in Askrigg and (much more often) Stone House Hotel in Sedbusk. Although I haven't stayed in the Green Dragon, Hardraw I have on occasion been reluctant to leave, especially after relieving that pub of some of its liquid stock. Sykes's House and the Green Dragon proudly wear their heritage as a place for cyclists to stay by displaying their particular CTC plate out front. The proprietors and some of the staff at Stone House are cyclists and they have made quite an effort to attract cylists (and motor cyclists) to stay. Needless to say, all these places were booked up months ago for the weekend of le Tour.

Sykes's House, Askrigg

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Sykes's House, Askrigg – complete with hail – on the day I rode a bit of the route

This B & B has changed hands since I last stayed there in 2011 (Lisa and Keith have bought the nearby 'Skeldale House'). There is a small, enclosed courtyard where bikes can be stored.

Green Dragon, Hardraw

Accommodation within the pub as well as a room for camping at the back. Several cyclists turned up whilst we visited last Easter, including one who had ridden every one of Simon Warren's 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs. He was there with a rather less experienced cyclist; they were looking to take in a few more miles – and hills – the next day.

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Green Dragon Hardraw (not on the day I rode a bit of the route)

Stone House Hotel, Sedbusk

Stone House Hotel is not a place for the thrifty cyclist to stay. However, it ticks a great deal of boxes for my family, and has recently added another box – actually, a 'barn' – to tempt you to visit. The barn seems secure and there are plans to buy GPS devices to loan out to cyclist guests.

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Stone House Hotel, overlooking Hawes, on a visit last Easter

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The Bike Barn at Stone House Hotel, Sedbusk

A postscript

My copy of the magazine Dave wrote for arrived on Wednesday. Two of my pictures were used. The landscape orientated photographs were cropped into portrait and appeared in the smallest format possible – each covered a column width – although not quite small enough to hide the fact that one of the cyclists I'd captured (see top) was out of focus.

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Not everyone is looking forward to stage one it seems


Related post: Dan's preview of stage one

4 comments on “Le Petit Départ”

  1. Hilary wrote:

    Excellent post Chris, though you do seem a bit jinxed when it comes to riding in the Dales! I enjoyed Dave's piece in 'Cycle' – I must go back to it and have a closer look at those photos.
    I have happy memories of CycleSeven's trip to Yorkshire although I didn't manage the full ride either. It seems a long time ago now.
    We shall be in Yorkshire for the Grand Depart visiting our old friend in York but I don't think I'll get to see much of the race as we are going up on the train and I won't have my bike. I should manage to see the finish in Harrogate and the start in York.

  2. Chris wrote:

    Hilary wrote: you do seem a bit jinxed when it comes to riding in the Dales!

    You haven't read about my little tour in October/November 2009 yet!

    What I was trying to say when comparing Rugby League and le Tour is that with rugby all the action unfolds in front of you over a period of 80 minutes. With cycle racing it just whizzes past and that's it. Hardly a profound statement, I know, but I am only ever a spectator of rugby, whereas I can actually ride a bike – and on (some of) the same roads as the pros. Anyway, that's just my thoughts...

    My two photos were the diddiest ones used in the article. Not enough light, maybe :smile:

  3. Patrick wrote:

    Yes, good Post Chris. You sure know the Yorkshire Dales. I've stood on the roadside twice to watch the race go by (both times in France) and I'm not sure I fancy it again. It's a lot of waiting for what you see and the live TV coverage is top notch. So I'm not sure what we'll do. Either way, well done Yorkshire and I hope it stays dry (and the hills are big enough).

  4. Kern wrote:

    I'm jealous. I'll never get to be in the advance party for the Tour. Good ride, and good information on accommodations. That's the sort of "local knowledge" we always try to find before a tour.

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