Tour de France 2014 (Yorkshire) – official First Stage route preview

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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).

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Swaledale, North Yorkshire – 80 miles in, 40 to go..

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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?

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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.

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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

Leeds Town Hall (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) – venue du Grand Dรฉpart 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.

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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.

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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)..

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9 comments on “Tour de France 2014 (Yorkshire) – official First Stage route preview”

  1. Hilary wrote:

    Well done Dan, an excellent write up of a cracking ride. You may not have been quite as swift as the 3 students but 13 mph average over such terrain is pretty impressive.
    As you say the Tour will be a fantastic show case for northern England, I've already reserved my accommodation with my friend in York!

    inclinophile

    That's a new one ! :)

  2. Kern wrote:

    Good ride, good writeup, and goodness gracious, a small bit of jealousy over here. That looks like a great route.

    it's a headwind that saps your morale

    Amen to that one.

  3. Chris wrote:

    Nice work, Dan.

    Dan wrote: I'd avoid the smoothest major routes and take a few detours on other roads I've found more interesting โ€“ the other side of the Wharfe, and the Fleet Moss climb to Hawes, for example.

    I agree. There may well be compelling reasons for the route staying on the B6160 instead of turning left at Buckden (maybe the peloton wouldn't be stretched out enough for the narrow roads on the ascent of Fleet Moss from the south). But it would have provided a chance for spectators to get their money's worth as the riders climbed past much slower than they will flash through Aysgarth and Bainbridge, for instance. Anyway, I hope someone puts dayglo padding on the house that sticks out in to the road at Starbotton ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

    I'm going to ring my favourite B & B tomorrow morning. Fingers crossed for the First weekend next July... :smile:

  4. Patrick wrote:

    Hmmm... Muker Tea Shop. I still owe them for something but I've forgotten what (cheese on toast was it?) LOL

    Well done Dan. Grand photos. Buttertubs looks lovely. I intend to be there, just not sure where exactly.

  5. Chris wrote:

    Dan wrote: Patrick, you will be relieved to hear your name is no longer mud in Muker. ๐Ÿ˜‰ A good turn deserves another

    I took that to mean that Dan had settled your tab, Patrick.

    The places at my fave B&B had all gone, BTW. Still looking...

  6. Patrick wrote:

    Chris wrote: I took that to mean that Dan had settled your tab

    In that case, thanks Dan ๐Ÿ˜€

    I would imagine B&Bs are now being booked up quickly. Campervan hire? Parked up Buttertubs a few days in advance could be the dream family holiday. Road closures and other info on Yorkshire Dales National Park website (PDF).

  7. Dan wrote:

    Cheers everyone! Yes, it was a fun route to do, and good fun (if hard work) to write up – I managed it just before setting off from a choral singing course in Surrey which took up the whole of last week! (And yes, I took my bike – they have some cracking little roads down there!) I hope enough people google 'Tour De France 2014 preview' to find this report and be inspired.. looking at Patrick's link to the FAQ at the Yorkshire Dales National Park page also looks useful and should be updated closer to the time. It also gives a link to another site, http://www.cyclethedales.org.uk, a general Yorkshire cycling site with more details on Le Tour, and with a 'spirit of Le Tour' ride of 75 miles covering the 'best bits' of the ride, and accompanying blog, that may appeal to those who like the idea of the ride but don't fancy the main road/distance involved. It looks like a great little (!) route and I'd recommend it to anyone who fancies a more manageable challenge.

    Patrick – whoops, I paid for your tea but forgot your toastie ๐Ÿ˜ณ guess that means I've gotta go back! Cheers for your flickr help!

    Good luck to everyone who wants to come and watch! Looks like being a spectacle, wherever you view it from – and if anyone can think of a more apt title for a lover of hills than my 'inclinophile' suggestion – please be my guest! ๐Ÿ˜€

  8. Mary wrote:

    Brilliant write up Dan. Loved reading this. We only just missed one another! I was staying at Hawes with Beth on the 1st August on our way home from Thirsk.

    At the dairy at Hawes (Wallace and Gromit) you can buy special commemorative soaps and other souvies with the Tour of Yorkshire on them.

    Im sure it will be an event to remember. :)

  9. David Dickinson wrote:

    The thing that's always struck me about bike racing is that you go to an event, wait hours then it all goes by in a flash and that's it. Or a criterium.. round and round and round.. Why not race on a grand prix track and watch the race unfold enjoying a beer and Barby and practicing some bunny hopping with the kids. 40 laps first past the post with other sub competitions based on race length to suite different types of rider producing different champions with an annual "grand prix" to establish the all-round champ. Tandem event would be good. Safer, less noisy and smelly than F1 and easier to organize

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