Tour de France 2014 (Yorkshire) – official First Stage route preview
Le Grand Depart 2014 – Le Tour visits Yorkshire! A preview of the first day's route, from Leeds to Harrogate via the Yorkshire Dales. Saturday 5th July 2014. 190km (119 miles).
Swaledale, North Yorkshire – 80 miles in, 40 to go..
STAGE 1, Saturday 5th July 2014
So, at long last, the outside world is set to realise what great scenery and cycling roads we have in Yorkshire. The publicity is already out, the route is marked, accommodation is already getting booked up, even fresh tarmac laid. I suspect that much of Yorkshire won't know what hit it. The world's biggest cycle race, and the associated caravan of support crews, organisers, caterers, logistics, police, and – oh yes – spectators, descending on roads I would have to breathe in on when a car passes my bike on the other side of the road.. whereas we were all mesmerised by the spectacle of the 2012 Olympics, albeit from a disassociating distance, this will bring the world's biggest annual sporting event suddenly very close.
What's the route? Well, it's a good'un, and well-chosen, in my opinion – it covers a lot of ground, some cracking roads and scenery, a good mix of fast flatter tarmac, rolling twisties and proper, serious climbing – and yet has enough space (in most places) for a Grand Tour and its physical footprint on the landscape. Starting at the stately Town Hall, the route climbs out of Leeds to drop down to Harewood House, dipping through the wooded grounds before shadowing the Wharfe along its floodplain, past Pool, Otley and Ilkley – charming Yorkshire towns with vast cycling heritage of their own – to Skipton, mostly on major roads with good surfaces and gentle gradients, and taking traffic off the main routes through all of them. I can't remember the last time I saw roads being closed to anything like the same extent in the UK..
From Skipton the route becomes more rolling and intimate, with less space for convoy nor for unsighted plunges to tightening corners. The scenery matches the road however, and after Kilnsey and Kettlewell – and a flatter section on narrow roads beside the Wharfe again until Buckden – the route kicks up decisively into its first proper climb, fifty miles in. Over the top we go, in smaller groups now and focusing on the unforgiving twists on the run down to Aysgarth, before a shorter but stern climb up to the rolling main road to Hawes. We're now in Wensleydale (yes, that one), but not for long as the even sterner climb up to the Buttertubs Pass and the most intimate dale of all, Swaledale. These roads really are small, though delightful, and we can but hope that the peloton is spread out as it gains height only to lose it plunging through dark swoops of woodland on the way down to Reeth. 90 miles in, and a final big climb past Bellerby Ranges over to Leyburn (Wensleydale again), and then – finally – the roads are wider and more level for a fast-paced thirty miles past Masham and Ripon, with a couple of gentler climbs before the finish in Harrogate.
– Harrogate! Now – I wonder...
These roads are not new to me – in fact, much of the route will also be familiar both to Wheeleasy members and to students of this very online organ after the inaugural Cycleseven group ride of 2011, when eight of Cycleseven's staff set out on a wonderful century ride which would take us from Skipton to Swaledale and back, on a route which compares favourably with the official Le Tour route. I'd already done most of this route in a day before now with both Wheeleasy and Cycleseven, in fact – out of the 120 or so miles of the route, I'd cycled 100 of them, and knew where the other 25 went. I'd done a handful of hundred-mile rides, and wondered whether I was up to tackling an actual, real-life stage of the Tour de France.. well, wouldn't you?
Chelker Reservoir, between Addingham and Skipton – 220m a.s.l. and 30 miles in
So a date was picked – Saturday 3 August, eleven months before the Tour descended on Yorkshire, which would give me a day of recuperation should I need it before my next day in work. I stripped off kit from my bike and tuned it up, I spent much of the summer out on my bike in preparation, climbing anything I could in England and Scotland, getting accustomed to the sun, even a bit of stamina work at high latitudes in Sweden.. in fact, for this time of year I was probably as fit as I'd ever been, though the longest ride I'd done since 2011 was a piffling 80 miles, rather than the 130 or so I would be attempting. With bike and route planned, the weather this summer helped out too – glorious for three weeks or more, then cooling us down with a drenching or several before cheering up for Saturday 3rd with just a couple of showers forecast. Suits me.
Open roads, open skies – heading for Hawes in the Great British Summer
Still, any hundred-plus ride is a challenge in any conditions, and for the first time in my life I actually made myself a route planner to pace myself round the course, plan suitable meal breaks, and prepare myself mentally for the task. I didn't want to get eighty miles under my belt and realise I'd not got anything in reserve for a leg both longer and hillier than I'd imagined. It takes both stamina, fitness and discipline to do a ride of this length in a day – unless you are of athlete calibre and can churn out 120 miles in six hours, you'll need a steady pace that makes progress but does not use your reserves up too early (as in, not within two miles of the end of the ride), you'll need breaks, but the resolve to get back on the bike again after no more than twenty, thirty minutes or so, and you'll need to keep taking on water and taking in fuel while riding, as you're going to need enough to keep going for – in my case – ten hours or more on the bike.
A long day? You bet. I finished my route planner at 1am, and my alarm was set for 4.50.. I had my kit sorted, but didn't get to eat breakfast before 5.20. At 5.55, fed, showered and packed, I set off for the station, and was on the first train to Leeds at 6.05. Where I slept.
Leeds Town Hall (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) – venue du Grand Départ 2014
Suncreamed and with rucksack now attached to the bike rather than to me, I left Leeds station at 6.45am. Though I'd considered taking a later train, it didn't look like I'd get back in daylight if I left Leeds any later, so a dawn-chorus departure it was. The good news was that it meant I would be past the busiest roads by the time the morning rush started. The bad news was that having slept on the train, I now needed to stop, and neither felt like leaving the bike unattended anywhere near an official convenience, nor (in central Leeds) having the facility to just duck out of sight somewhere. Fortunately the third petrol station I stopped at could help, and fully awake at 7.20 and with the long, long climb out of Leeds now behind me, I set off for Harewood on empty roads, refreshingly cool but with sunlight on my face.
Ten minutes behind schedule already! Even with a pragmatic schedule allowing around an hour for every ten miles, I was expecting to arrive at around 9pm and had taken lights in case of a thirty-mile energyless trudge back home in darkness.. but down Harewood Bank and a smooth, gentle scoot through the beautiful roads of Arthington, Pool and Otley saw me arriving in Ilkley on schedule at 8.45 for a scone and tea as my first stop. 25 miles down, a charming off-main-road bakery with tables outside called Terry's did me proud for a far lower outlay than the premium-priced posh nosheries which sit as comfortably in Ilkley's genteel Tourist-town image as the thrifty Yorkshire Caff or Chippy does. Just gone 9, and I was back on the road, heading over a few hills on the main route to Skipton. These roads (after Otley, at least) were by now the wider, radiused and civic-planned affairs which spoke of 1990s major routes, and I was glad not to be sharing them with any heavy or blinkered 9-5-destined commuter traffic, but less fond of the south-westerly wind which gave me no respite until Skipton. I arrived at 10am in Market Day, and 'mongst more traffic on older roads, but at least no-one was in a hurry. It had clouded over too, but the first shower of the day had done me no harm.
Skipton, pretty and Northern, and bustling on market day
Good news! Clear of the major routes and heading north meant I could enjoy the scenery and the road with neither traffic nor wind in my face. I'd not cycled west from Ilkley, nor north from Skipton before, so these were new roads to me, at least by bike. But I'd far sooner choose these charmers over the efficient two- or more-lane blacktop routes linking the post-industrial suburban spread of Wharfedale with the M6. I'd been on the A65 and A59; I was now on the B6265. Go figure.
The mineral line to Cracoe, and the true start to the Dales
Carry on to read more about the next forty wonderful miles in the Dales (next page)..