Sunday, 22 June 2014

Yorkshire Tour de France Stages

Can you remember your hardest day in the saddle?  For sure mine was the Fred Whitton sportive back in 2011, you can read the story of that day here. Day two of the Yorkshire Tour de France stages came very close to that day, read on for details.

The Stunning Yorkshire Scenery
Raising funds for the Steve Prescott Foundation, I was one of around  50 riders who set out to do the Etape de Yorkshire earlier this month, taking in the bulk of the planned route for the Tour de France stages later this month.

Day One

Day One Ascent Profile
As we headed out from Leeds, conditions for the first day spirits were high.  The group quickly split into three and settled into a rhythm. It was fascinating to see how Yorkshire was preparing for the upcoming Tour de France with loads of yellow sprayed bikes alongside the road and in the Villages as you rolled through.

Weather conditions were OK to begin with but the day deteriorated quickly with heavy rain and wind with strong gusts which made the going much tougher than it might normally be – at times the crosswinds were simply brutal.  

The day was pretty rolling with three key climbs of note, most of which come in the mid section of the day.  The big climb of the day was Buttertubs, a long 2.5 mile steep climb with a 1 in 8 ramp at the end which came at the 72 mile mark. 

As we stopped  in a café for lunch, wet through, muscles began to cool and a few stiff looking legs could be seen.  Copious amounts of food was put away, particularly by many of the former rugby players riding the event, washed down with tea and coffee. 

Walking back out into the pouring rain and wind, the back 50 miles were hard work.  As we clicked over the 100 mile mark, mentally your brain and body starts to think ‘finish line’ given most long distance sportives stop at this point.  The run into Harrogate was rolling and we were all pretty pleased to be greeted by some superb catering with real cooked food, not an energy bar in sight. 

Day One Summary

Distance:             125 miles
Ascent:                 7,690 ft
Avg Heart Rate:  146bpm
Avg Speed:         14.3mph
RAR:                     61 (Medium/Undulating)

Day Two

Day Two Ascent Profile
What a tough day, effectively a Fred Whitton in distance and ascent profile.  Having done a ten hour day in the saddle previously, a lot of tired legs rolled out of Tadcaster, in trepidation of a big day ahead and it didn’t disappoint.

Thankfully the weather was nice, it would have been really miserable in the wet and wind, particularly with the climbing profile.  The route looped West then swung back South into a headwind for most of the day.

The day had seven major climbs including the longest climb in the Country – Cragg Vale – an 8km long drag with a brilliant descent which then took you straight back into steep ramps.  One of things I do love about hard days are the descents where you can hit some terrific speeds, Steve Prescotts brother – Neil – recorded just over 60 mph on that descent.  Not for the faint hearted!

In between that was a combination of some killer steep ramps and long climbs including Holme Moss which saw your heart rate soar.  At one point, the neutral service car pulled alongside me and I quite happily grabbed the rear window for a natter for about 200m, sticky bottle city.

Finishing Up

As we rolled off of Holme Moss down towards  and over Woodhead Pass heading towards Sheffield, mentally you’re thinking “I’m on the backstraight”.   How wrong  you could be.  The sting in the tail was a right turn off into a killer of a last 25 miles with around 3,000 feet of climbing, thankfully on freshly layed tarmac, some of the best I’ve ever ridden on. 

Ramp after ramp seemed to arrive, with every corner bringing a new surprise.  With over 220 miles in the legs, it took a big effort to get up and over everything.   I was on my own on this section having opted to miss the last stop and push on so a real mental and physical test.

You often watch the Pro’s on TV and wonder how the legs might feel having done the big mountain stages whilst racing.  As an amateur crawling up some of the steep ramps at 3mph and needing about four days for my legs to recover from the soreness and fatigue, you have to marvel at the levels of fitness and recovery required to be a pro.

Rolling into Sheffield, my tank was pretty empty after the final effort.  Rolling through those big efforts I had the words of Steve Prescott in my head.  When alive and struggling with his battle against a terminal illness he undertook a series of physical fundraising challenges and was attributed with this saying - “What the mind believes, the body achieves.”

Day Two Summary

Distance:             121 miles
Ascent:                12,316 ft
Avg Heart Rate:  135bpm
Avg Speed:         12mph

RAR:                     101 (Very Hard)

Yorkshire is Ready

Visit Yorkshire have done a good job of getting everyone in the region behind the Tour.  Building, villages and hillsides are decorated, roads re-layed, cafes adorned with cycling memorabilia.  The views and landscapes are simply stunning, hard to ride but beautiful to be amongst.

I’d recommend anyone to ride the two days, however you  will need to train hard for it.  I’ve previously written about something I describe as ‘Ride Ascent Ratio’.  Day one I would describe as ‘rolling’ and day two ‘hard’ for the average cyclist, albeit they are described as pretty ‘flat’ stages on the Tour.  You’ll need to be able to climb relentlessly on day two, requiring strength and conditioning plus a big dose of attitude.

A superb experience which will test riders of all ability.  I'm pleased to tick it off the bucket list.

Overall Ride Summary

Distance:             245 miles
Ascent:                20,007 ft
Avg Heart Rate:  140 bpm
Avg Speed:         12.9 mph

RAR:                     81 (Hard)

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