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Rapha #Festive500

Reminiscing on the Ride

In the end it was just John and I that completed the whole Tour de Yorkshire #TDY500 Challenge, completing a combined 1,484km over the full Festive 500 challenge; some of these miles being completed solo over the Christmas period, but the majority being ridden over the three days of the Tour. In the three days of the #TDY500 we covered 1,127km meaning we had both met the required 500km that we needed to finish the challenge.  The idea  had first captured our imagination when we attended the unveiling of the route but grew in strength when we committed ourselves to the task in front of a sizeable live TV audience and now it's complete it's something we'll certainly look back on in the future and a challenging but rewarding experience. It's now just over two weeks since we completed the #TDY500 and looking back on those three days over tea and cake, it's quite easy to see just how crazy we were to ride in the weather that faced us that week. Over the course of the Festive 500, in our rides preceding the #TDY500 and throughout, we were faced with two of the worst storms this decade The first, Storm Eva that lead to devastating flooding across Yorkshire on boxing day, cutting off roads and turning rivers into lakes and then Storm Frank which closed in around us throughout stage two; the strong winds and driving rain making it almost impossible to move in places as we were thrown across the road or forced to take lengthy diversions due to deep floodwater.

Would we still have ridden had we known what the weather had in store for us? Probably - we are from Yorkshire after all!

John's Reflection

The three day's riding has deepened my knowledge and fondness for 'God's Own County', its expansiveness and the variety of its landscape; from rolling Wolds chalk hills, to waterlogged Vale of York sump, to the bleak, tough splendour of Dales and Moors.

A highlight for me was the sections of night riding, with the heightened awareness of route-finding road space and wheel line that this brings. Also the sense of moving in close unity with fellow riders; a quietly swooping convoy of red and white LEDs.

Although in the end it was just two of us who completed the #Festive500 #TDY500 challenge, an additional nine riders completed parts of the route, thereby satisfying our aspiration to engage with a wider group and encourage a team effort.

Mission accomplished ...and now the spectacle of what promises to be an amazing Tour de Yorkshire 2016 to enjoy and a new year of cycling challenges to look forward to!

James's Reflection

The three days were certainly some of the most challenging conditions I have ever ridden in. On a normal day I would pack my bike away and wait until the sun came out to shine. However getting outside and giving the challenge our best shot, despite everything the weather could throw at us was particularly rewarding. Not only is their the sense of self-acheivement when completing the challenge but also the gathered knowledge of riding in a group and working to the strengths and weaknesses of those you are riding with. In hindsight I was probably a bit too stern with John on the last part of our ride to make sure we got home for New Year but this neatly demonstrates how sometimes the key object in the team might change - just as it would in the race, and so added another dynamic to our ride.

It will be great to revisit some sections of the route in spring and watch the riders come past and show us how things are really done.

Our Thanks and Thoughts

Many thanks to the other riders that joined us throughout our three days; without their motivation and wind stopping capabilities the challenge would have been considerably harder. Team morale is essential in such challenging conditions. These riders were: Nick Palmer, Rob Mawer, Stuart Marshall, Jon Hicken, Adam Graves, Lee Smith, John Turner, David Robson and Richard Gate.

One special mention has to go to our friend Simon, who has had to endure our chatter throughout the planning and completion of the challenge without being able to join us due to family commitments. Simon took the time to pull together a fantastic Storify of our three days on the road, even though he was undoubtably envious of the riding. We're certainly grateful to Simon for pulling this together and hope that next year he might be able to sneak out to the shops for some milk and accidentally find himself in the middle of another whirlwind challenge.

#TDY500 - Stage Three

James's Account

The first two days of the Tour De Yorkshire 2016 are relatively flat stages in the race that should keep the riders reasonably well together. So far we had covered 230 miles and about 10,000ft of climbing over two days. To the racing peleton these days should be pretty easy going and the tempo fairly high, especially in good weather. Unfortunately we hadn't faced that much good weather so far on our journey across Yorkshire; whilst day one was dry it was far from calm and the floods from the previous days heavy rain had meant detours had to be made. The second day was exceptionally wet and windy with even longer flood related diversions but bitterly cold meaning slow progress and cold legs hindered our progress.

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All of the above meant that on day three, the final day of the Tour, we were already pretty tired and potentially more than we had anticipated. Unfortunately Nick had caught what appeared to be the flu as a result of the previous days weather so it looked as though just myself and John would be riding day three. However, our friend Richard decided to join us for the day to soak up some of the climbing.

The first thirty miles of the third stage are an undulating set of miles that allow you to roll reasonably quickly towards Northallerton and Thirsk. On fresh legs it would be quicker but we settled for a steady pace set by Richard who would kindly tow us across the flatlands all the way to Thirsk. This initial section of the route was only 'punctuated' by a brief stop to change John's inner tube but on the whole smooth and consistent.

30 miles done and time for a cafe stop. We had all agreed when planning the route that despite Thirsk being very early into the ride we would stop at Yorks Tea Cafe; a cafe we know for it's cycling friendly attitude and plethora of cycling memorabilia on the walls. In all honesty this was the perfect time to fuel up for another 90 miles of hills. Scrambled eggs on toast it turns out are pretty perfect for this. Once we'd paid up and were preparing to leave we were given an espresso and mini mince pie to get us onto the road again. Caffeine is known to reduce pain slightly and the espresso is a firm favourite amongst the die-hard cyclist. Perfect!

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Once we left Thirsk the first major climb of the day would be upon us within five miles - Sutton Bank. A gruelling 0.8 miles at 12% average with a lead up warning of 25% sections of climb and large numbers of vehicle blockages in the last year as a result of cars grinding to a halt. I was feeling pretty rough by this point but apparently my legs felt otherwise as I powered my way up in 7 minutes exactly and 14th overall on Strava. I waited a short while for Richard and John before we powered downhill into the picturesque Helmsley.

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a short stint along the A170 ensued before we turned left and along what is shown as a 10 miles climb of 1,000ft; not steep but certainly more of a long and steady drag up onto the North Yorkshire Moors - this is Blakey Ridge. Given the climb was quite gentle we took the opportunity to grab a  three way selfie on the road as we moved along. John was suffering a little bit more by this point on the inclines but was still making strong work of the flat sections in-between.

The 40mph descent from Blakey dropped us down to some familiar territory that we had covered on a ride once before and it snaked along the valley to Limber Hill in Glaisdale; this 0.2 mile climb starts on a 33% hairpin and continues to rise at over 20% all the way to the top. Surely it had to be the only 33% climb of the day?

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The answer was no, and after some more meandering along the valleys we arrived in Grosmont on the back of a nice but technical descent. Once you reach Grosmont you're confronted by what I would argue is the toughest climb of the three days. Crossing the railway you're confronted by what looks like a wall of smooth tarmac but unfortunately turns out to be the road you're riding to the top of the moor. The first section is 25% and drains the legs. The second section 33% according to the road signs - legs are drained now. Finally, you get a bit of respite as the climb levels out slightly and continues upwards towards the main road to Whitby. I expect this climb to shatter the peleton entirely and possibly decide the race. I waited at the top again for John to catch back up; his legs might be battered but the perseverance within certainly wasn't.

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We rolled down to Whitby and had a quick stop for food and drink before pressing on. It was now that things took a turn for the worse as the weather closed in. Heavy rain and strong winds began to batter us once again as we passed the famous abbey. The pace slowed significantly at this point and feeling stronger than the other two I pulled us to one side. It was New Year's Eve and we had only a few hours to make the train but 30 miles to go. I knew John was struggling with his legs now and time would be tight, so I suggested either admitting defeat or pressing on faster and harder than we were. It's never easy to be excessively firm with someone so headstrong and John was adamant we would finish but Richard gave a compromise and we would miss the last few climbs to meet the train. In all honesty it was too dangerous to do the full route now anyway in the complete darkness with visibility for cars drastically reduced due to the heavy rain.

The next hour was tough. I felt strong and was attacking the wind in a bid to keep warm on the way into Scarborough but John and Richard were keeping a tight pair and a steadier pace. We kept yo-yoing along the road as I tried to keep warm and the two of them rode slightly steadier. Frustrating for both parties concerned in the end.

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After an exceptionally soggy and cold hour we arrived in Scarborough and made a bee-line for the local pizza shop to soak up some carbs. 106 miles complete wasn't quite the full route but it was enough and the sensible option. An anti-climax to the three days but the extent of the weather meant the elation of finishing was still strong in-between the strong shivers from stopping to get the train.

The toughest day by far and a true reflection of the beauty and brutality of Yorkshire.

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John's Account:

My day started with a 19km ride from home to Leeds to catch the 06.43 train for Middlesbrough. Tired legs, headwinds and an unfortunate sequence of red lights meant that I missed the train by a whisker… damn! Onto the next train north and picked up by Richard, who was joining us for the day’s ride and James (Nick, who was feeling weary and under the weather, having decided not to ride today).

The first 50km of the route crossed flat and gently rolling farmland, interspersed with villages and market towns; Richard setting an even effort (200 Watts on his power meter) into a stiff South Westerly headwind. With progress just briefly interrupted by a puncture, we were fairly soon at the wonderful Yorks Cafe in Thirsk, where a warm welcome and complimentary espresso shots and mince pies awaited. Following the short stop we turned east and towards the first big climb of the day.

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The escarpment of the North Yorkshire Moors rears up from the flat expanse of the Vale of York. Gliders soaring in the blue skies above, but there were no thermal updrafts to carry cyclists up the ‘Côte de Sutton Bank’ (1.4km at 12%). The A170 ramps up gradually at first before 25% sections are reached as the road takes a hairpin line up the bank. James and Richard soon disappeared into the distance as I began to labour; legs leaden, heart thumping and head spinning. After the second steep section of road I took advantage of the crash barrier, leaning stationary against its handrail for a minute or so, to allow my breathing and heart-beat to settle. Onwards to the top where Richard and James were waiting and soon I was feeling recovered enough for a brisk tap across the moorland plateau and to enjoy an exhilarating descent with long-distance views across the Vale of Picking to the East. Through the pretty market town of Helmsley with its bustle of tourists and shoppers (and the very tempting aroma of frying bacon…) and briefly East on flatter roads.

The theme of empty legs and distressed breathing on any sort of incline steeper than a few degrees would become a recurring theme for me throughout the day – the cumulative effects of the previous two days no doubt, and perhaps a shortage of sleep and quality recovery time …and there was no shortage of significant inclines ahead.

The long steady climb North back onto the moors via the ‘Côte de Blakey Ridge’ (4.8km at 4.5%) was one of the highlights of the route, superb moorland scenery with open views to both East and West, as we ascended the ridge and then took the free-falling descent to the village of Castleton (at 108km).

An undulating 20 mile leg Eastwards towards the coastal town of Whitby followed; the short, but very sharp, ‘Limber Hill’ near Glaisdale, I remembered form the ‘Coast to Coast in a Day’ sportive earlier in the year. Ouch! But the real climb of note on this section is the ‘Côte de Grosmont’ (2.2km at 10.8%), which is the larger part of Climb No. 147 ‘Sleights Moor’, in ‘Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs.’ In that book, Simon Warren expresses doubt that its two steepest sections quite reach the 33% claim of the roadside signs, but it felt desperate to me. So much so that I had to stop to allow my breathing to settle and my head to stop spinning. As the road reaches open moorland and almost completely levels out, instead of relief I was met by an icy blast of wind from the South West. I’m reminded of a quote from Barry McCarthy, ‘wind is just a hill in gaseous form’; so here I was riding seamlessly from the resistance of a solid hill to the equal discomfort of one in its gaseous form!

A quick ‘smash and grab’ style raid on the Co-Op store in Whitby (Richard had eaten his pasta salad before he reached the checkout, but we did pay!), and into the failing light , cold headwinds and rain, for the final 50km section to the resort of Scarborough, further down the North Sea coast. This final part of the #TDY500 challenge was always likely to be the biggest test to team working, morale and collective decision-making. I was moving a lot slower on the hills than James and Richard and suffering quite a bit.

A couple of miles after Whitby it became apparent that progress was going to be slow, especially into strong headwinds and driving rain and a brief conversation about options arose. Do we press on to Scarborough or take the only viable escape route, to retreat to Whitby to catch a train from there? Well, I knew that I was the slower rider, but (being fairly determined or quietly stubborn …call it what you will) I was going to Scarborough regardless. We pressed on and just a little further South, at the village of High Hawsker, Richard (Our Super-Domestique pace-maker and level-headed moderator), suggested a compromise.. It was 27km to Scarborough if we kept to the A171 main road. Knowing that I would increasingly struggle on the remaining climbs of the Tour de Yorkshire stage (the Côtes de Robin Hood’s Bay, Harwood dale and Oliver’s Mount), this was good enough for me. A sense of disappointment in not completing the full route was offset by the knowledge that the flood-detours and additional riding of the three days would mean that we would have exceeded the 518km total distance of the 2016 Tour de Yorkshire route, during our three-day challenge. Also, at the back of my mind, were the family and social responsibilities of getting back home in time for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Tiredness, cold winds, driving rain and differences in rider’s physical shape can begin to expose tensions, frustrations and even resentfulness. James, a more slightly built rider and faster climber than me, who probably suffers more from the cold, expressed some frustration that I couldn’t climb more quickly and always stay attached to our three-man train. I felt an equal and reciprocal creeping frustration towards James for riding off the front, as I think he did for me dropping off the back. As cyclists, most of us have experienced one (or both) of these aspects of collective group riding.

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The above factors and arriving into Scarborough in the dark, cold, rain and traffic of the main road, to head for the refuge of the railway station, gave a small sense of anti-climax to the end of our #Festive500 #TDY500 challenge. No sprinting for the finish banner on Scarborough’s promenade to the accolade of crowds of spectators for us.

Sat in a take-away pizza place after getting off my bike; the floor still seeming to be moving under me like the last 172km of tarmac; my head dizzy and floating; attacks of the shivers coming on; it was too soon to fully reflect on the experience or the sense of achievement.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/460176389/segments/11069902573

#TDY500 - Stage Two

John's Account

The settled and drier weather of the first day of our #Festive500 #TDY500 challenge looked likely to be only a brief interlude: “Widespread flood warnings as UK braces for Storm Frank” wrote ‘The Guardian’ on 29th December. We could expect our southerly progress over today’s 135km stage to be affected by strong south westerly winds and rain, associated with ‘Frank.’

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Setting out from my home town of Otley were Nick, James and I (who had completed the previous day’s stage), Adam and Dave, who planned to escort us for a small part of the route.

After heading east for 20km and ascending the two early classified climbs of ‘Côtes de Harewood’ (1.2km at 5%) and ‘East Rigton’ (0.4km at 8.2%) we turned into a more southerly direction and felt the full blast of the wind. The route works its way around the eastern fringes of Leeds and over undulating country that is a mixture of agricultural fields, woodland and land scarred by past industry and mining. The many wind-exposed sections called for sharing the work on the front of our file or, in some places, a listing echelon across the width of the road.

By the time we reached the small village of Birkin, about 1km north of the River Aire, near Knottingley, we were again reduced to a threesome of Nick, James and I; Adam having decided to take a short-cut back to Leeds a few kilometres earlier. At this point, signs on the minor road south, immediately before a small rise declared ‘Floods’ & ‘Road Closed’. Riding past the signs and onto what transpired to be a flood-defence levee, we were confronted by a lake, a kilometre wide and clearly of quite some depth: a road sign (ironically indicating that national speed limits applied) just a little way ahead was immersed up to half its height.

After surveying the scene, taking photographs and reviewing our plans, we decided on an alternative route to bypass the flooding to the west. Again with the aid of a trusty ‘Sustrans’ Cycle Routes Map, we were able to retrace our route north for a couple of kilometres, before swinging around to cross the River Aire via the elevated main road bridge that carries the A162 at Ferrybridge. Nick was now suffering an attack of the ‘bonks’, which was successfully staved off with gel, energy bar and fluid. So onward past Ferrybridge Power Station’s eight giant cooling towers to Pontefract, where Garmins indicated that we had re-joined the route. We pressed on to our planned stopping point at the (former) coal-mining town of South Elmsall, where we were well looked-after at the busy Adam’s Cafe . Their extensive menu, I noticed, included a nod to the region’s heritage and post-industrial decline with a box-office smashing mega-breakfast called ‘The Full Monty’!

Suitably refuelled we set off, with ‘Frank’ now adding some rain to his storm-force winds. Shortly we climbed into Hooton Pagnell, a pretty limestone-built village perched on a ridge and described by Sir Gary Verity during his unveiling of the race route on 9th December as ‘One of the most beautiful villages you will see, anywhere in the world’.

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As we are about to cross the River Don at Spotbrough, Nick punctures; his third rear wheel puncture of our riding so, not taking any chances, we assist him in changing both tube and tyre as quickly as we can in the cold, rain and darkness. Next an anti-clockwise short climb and descent around the ramparts of the twelfth-century Conisbrough Castle (‘Côte de Conisbrough Castle’ – 0.5km at 6.5%) at 112km into our ride.

From here the route takes a loop of about 40km south and then back north to the finish in Doncaster. Though now cycling in full darkness and persistent rain, the wind has eased and is partly in our favour so we make good progress with James driving on the front on the final run-in to the finish. With our flood detour we had covered 151km, some 15km more than the race stage. The three of us jumped on the train back home, well satisfied. Two days down and I was still feeling strong. One day of our #Festive500 #TDY500 challenge remaining …however, this was the longest and toughest leg across the steep edges of the North Yorkshire Moors!

James's Account

The Tour De Yorkshire 2016 edition was announced a few weeks before Christmas and gave us an idea. We wanted to tackle the Rapha #Festive500 by riding each of the three days consecutively between Christmas and New Year.

Day two of the Tour De Yorkshire is a flat stage from Otley to Doncaster with three categorised climbs and two sprints over 135km; a nice easy day compared to stage one. At least thats what we expected. Given the second stage of the Tour was so flat we had hoped for a nice easy day to recover ahead of the tough third stage.

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Unfortunately the day was far from restful due to the weather. We left Otley at 9:30am head first into a 45mph headwind courtesy of storm Frank which meant we were riding pretty hard but not very fast, although at least we were dry for a little while. A headwind is fine on a normal day, but when it's as powerful as 45mph you're working twice as hard just to keep moving. This would prove to be the story of the day in many ways - the struggle to move forward.

In the first ten miles of the ride we tackled both of the early categorised climbs for the day on Harewood Bank and Rigton Bank; there are two vastly different climbs with the first being wide and exposed and the latter a narrow lane boxed in by houses that give it a lot of shelter. It's fair to say that we didn't set any records up either climb as we forced our way into wind.

Once the two climbs are out of the way you being to track your way south and around Leeds. On a good day this will be a great, fast flowing route through the country roads swapping from wide to narrow in the blink of an eye to keep the riders on their toes. Unfortunately for us the story was quite the opposite - yet more of the 45mph headwind, only this time the rain had started to fall and was being driven straight into our face. A three man peleton pushing their way south, faces battered by the wind and the rain.

The only positive I can take away from the wind was that on some of the crosswind sections in the flat expanses near Monk Fryston we were able to practice some echelon riding in style - not that I could capture it on camera for fear of falling off sideways. We had just perfected the echelon when suddenly the ride was abruptly halted by what looked like a scene from the end of the world. The road which we were following turned into a murky lake as far as the eye could see, lapping over 6ft high. This was the flooding from the last storm to sweep the UK and looks terrible. It was clear that this would be a no go so we opened up the OS map and plotted a route back to Pontefract where we could pick up the route once again.

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The wind had certainly taken its toll on the group by this point, and with some riders running low on energy we needed to stop, fuel up and assess our options for lunch. After a little debate we settled on South Emsall and pushed on as fast as we could - something around 14mph into the headwind.

After lunch things took a turn for the worse - the light rain from earlier was now a biblical deluge, and coupled with the ever present headwind, it made things grim. I really mean horrific. There was nothing we could do but simply push further south and look forward to the turn in the wind when we would head north into Doncaster.

Things went well up until the point Nick decided to have another puncture that resulted in a complete tyre change and a shredded inner tube that halted progress for a little while. This took a little while to fix in the cold without a team car but did somehow mean that the wind had died down a little when we were done.

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The rest of the ride was finished in the darkness as the rain continued to fall. We made quick work of the final climb of the day around Conisbrough Castle before finally finding ourselves in the tailwind to Doncaster. This is where our day was made all that bit better.

Head down, eyes on the output and out of the stinging rain. 25mph on the Garmin, legs turning smoothly as we lined out and pushed towards the finish. The final five miles went by in a breeze as we kept the tempo high and fast, finding that last bit of power that somehow hadn't been sapped by the wind so far.

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Day two complete - 87 miles in the bag, soaking wet through and drained by the headwind. Another great route that will most likely end in a bunch sprint at the end. The sudden changes from wide open roads to narrowed country lanes could be interesting as the day goes on and the bunch strings out but otherwise it should be pretty fast. If the wind picks up expect to see some crosswind related mishaps.

Just one stage to go!

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/459479700

#TDY500 - Stage One

James's Account 

It's been a tough week in Yorkshire with the unprecedented levels of flooding across the county which made us extremely apprehensive about starting the ride at all as we didn't wish to put ourselves or any others in danger. After some careful weather watching and last minute planning though we felt it was safe enough to ride and had a plan in place incase we encountered any flooding.

The first stage of next year's Tour De Yorkshire starts in Beverley and makes it's way west towards Settle; a flat ride in the first half before you climb 5,000ft later in the day.

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We set off from Beverley at about 9:30am - Myself, Nick, John, Stuart, Rob and Jon. The first few miles of the route are relatively flat away from Beverley and meant that we started the day pretty quickly as we soft tapped our way along the quiet roads further east. This gave us plenty of chances to document our ride early on and discuss the challenges lying ahead later in the day. As I mentioned a moment ago the first few miles of the day are easy - that is until you get to Middleton on the Wold. In this little village lies the first true test of the day in the form of some seriously twisty and muddy corners through the village which many of the riders many not expect - potential for a few crashes here!

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The next 25 miles are flat, wide, open roads and drift by pretty quickly however due to the exposed roads the headwind, or crosswind as it sometimes was made it difficult to keep our group together on the road as we were buffered around - potential to see some gaps here in the Tour?

We eventually arrived in Selby and and encountered our first problem of the day caused by flooding. The actual route goes through Cawood but we forced to go around Selby and add an additional five miles to our day cruising around the country lanes. After some funny map reading by John on the move (Full Sustrans' sheet map!!) we found our way back onto the route and into Tadcaster.

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Starting to get a little peckish we pushed on and into the rolling roads on the way to Knaresborough for lunch. We stopped at the Riverside Cafe down by the river and had a great and inexpensive lunch! Would fully recommend this for people riding the route - but maybe not the pro's - cake might weigh them down!

Post lunch the anticipation began to set in. We were 80 miles into the ride and now the hills were looming. We had only climbed 1,000ft so far and had 5,000ft left to go. Very quickly we found ourselves in Ripley village, over the roundabout and heading up the long drag through Bedlam to test the legs. This isn't something that will hurt the pro's but might get them working.

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Over the top of Brimham Rocks there is a very twisty, semi-technical descent down to the main road into Pateley Bridge that was pretty slippery. Unfortunately Nick punctured here and despite rolling his tyre on the corner stayed upright. Changing a puncture in the twilight is tough but job done with a little CO2 help and we were on our way.

Now the biggest and only real climb of the day - Greenhow Hill; a 2.5 miles at an average of 7% climbing 946ft. The average is deceiving as the climb is effectively a host of 16% ramps with some false flats to break them up. I see this as the only real place for a breakaway on day one... So I did. The climb itself took 15 minutes at a reasonably tempo pace but will takes the pro's about 10 minutes.

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Climb done then the route rolls through to Grassington and on towards Gargrave for a sprint along the famous Yorkshire "cafe racing" before linking up with the A65 to Settle. This last section we did in entire darkness with over 100 miles in our legs but a soothing tailwind helped aid the day and pushed us into Settle after Nick's second puncture of the day in total darkness.

Day one done. In short - flat and fast to start, punching and tough to the finish. A ride of two halves but a thumbs up from all.

John's Account

The drowning of the North of England declared the front page headline of ‘The Independent’ on Monday 28 December, the day before we planned to begin our #Festive500 #TDY500 challenge. The UK ‘Environment Agency’ had posted nine severe flood warnings and the news media was dominated by alarming and sorry images and stories of the devastating effects of flooding. The scenes gave a new perspective to our cycling challenge. Firstly, any hardship and suffering we were to endure on our bikes would seem trivial compared to those of the communities directly affected by the flood waters and secondly, with many Yorkshire towns and cities (most notably for us, the area around York and Selby on the River Ouse) partly submerged or threatened, it did raise doubts about our #Festive500 challenge actually going ahead.

With train services to the Stage 1 starting point in Beverley disrupted, my day began with a 20km ride from home to rendezvous with Rob, who had kindly offered a lift. Rob and I were able to assess some of the day’s route on our car journey to Beverley, and this confirmed that a section around the River Ouse at Cawood would be impassable. Undeterred, we met up with team mates for the day, Jon, Nick, Stuart and James, at the attractive East Yorkshire town of Beverley, with the plan to take a slightly modified route to avoid the flooding in the Vale of York.

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After a quick halt for a team photograph at the race start-proper beside Beverley Race Course, the six of us set a steady rhythm in bright sunny weather (a welcome change from preceding days!) across the gentle uplands of the Yorkshire Wolds. The rolling chalk hills and valleys of the Wolds is a landscape made familiar to me through the paintings and drawings of Yorkshire-born and internationally acclaimed artist, David Hockney.

Next, sharing turns into the wind, a straight westerly leg of nearly 30km across the flat expanse of the Vale of York. Then, at a point around 60km from our starting point, we took a detour to bypass the flooding at Cawood; instead, crossing the swollen River Ouse on the substantial Swing Bridge that carries the A63 bypass around the flood-threatened town of Selby.

Linking minor roads to re-join the route, it was time to get the invaluable ‘Sustrans’ Cycle Routes Map from my back pocket for some old-school navigation. I ride ahead of the others, checking the map. Does my tempo quicken with the task of finding the way or does the confidence and assurance of ‘Garmin-dependent’ companions falter when we stray from the pre-programmed satellite trail?

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Three club-mates, Richard, Lee and John, had planned to meet up with our group after cycling out from Leeds but, by the time of our delayed arrival in Tadcaster, they had long since set off along the route towards the finish destination at Settle. Incidentally, the main road crossing the River Wharfe in the centre of Tadcaster was closed due to flooding, and the historic bridge partially collapsed into the river that same evening. Of our group, Jon, feeling tired (and also the lure of an ‘all-day breakfast’) decided to head back to Leeds from here, so it was a group of five who rode on to our scheduled stopping place at Knaresborough.

Not long after our café stop, beneath Knaresborough’s elegant stone railway viaduct, the character of country and roads changes as we follow the River Nidd into the eastern fringes of the Yorkshire Dales. After crossing the river at Pateley Bridge, and now riding in darkness, we encounter the one classified climb of the stage, the ‘Côte de Greenhow Hill’ (2.8km at 8.6%). James and Rob climb strongly and soon become distant red rear-lights on the long drag (actually 5km in total, to the watershed that divides the Nidd from the Wharfe), while I ride close to Nick. I enjoy the atmosphere of riding high up in the dark, with just our LED beams and the scattered lights of houses and farms to punctuate the blackness. Stuart trails us to the re-grouping point at the top of the hill and concedes that he’s not riding as his usual kilometre-consuming self and may have to cut the route short.

Now, with a night-time chill in the air, I don my wind-proof gilet for the mainly downhill 13km to Grassington, where we refuel at a Spar store. Here Rob peels off to complete an alternative nocturnal route home through the Dales, while Stuart decides to head for Skipton where he can catch a train home.

The remaining trio of Nick, James and I continue South West on winding lanes that undulate across the grain of the countryside. For me this section is one of the highlights. I love riding at night and the concentration required, the sensation of speed, and the feeling of proximity and unity with accompanying riders is always exciting.

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The final 30km of Stage 1 follows the busy A65 in a north-westerly direction to Settle, and includes an 11km loop before arriving in the town for a second time and the finish. We arrived in Settle having completed 193km on our redirected route from Beverley and, having already exceeded the distance of the Tour de Yorkshire stage, we elect not to complete the final loop.

Nick and James headed for their car, while I had time to enjoy a pint of ‘Black Sheep’ before my train home. One day done and feeling strong!

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/458908683 (With detour due to flood)

Festive 500 - The Idea is Born

Tomorrow morning four riders including myself will embark on our Rapha #Festive500 challenge by riding the three stages of the 2016 Tour De Yorkshire on consecutive days in the middle of winter. The initial idea was conceived by my fellow commuter and friend John Baston who has written a few words about how he came up with the idea... "A Festive Challenge Conceived; On 9 October 2015 the ‘Tour de Yorkshire’ announced the 6 host towns for the starts/finishes of the 2016 edition of the race as: Beverley; Doncaster; Middlesbrough, Otley, Scarborough and Settle.

I was particularly excited that my home-town, Otley, was again to be honoured by a visit from a major professional cycling race! The West Yorkshire Market Town is already something of a cycling hub as a cross-roads for recreational and club cyclists heading for the open roads of the Yorkshire Dales, the host town for an important annual series of criterium races and the home-town of the current World Road Race Champion, Lizzie Armitstead.

Otley has been hugely fortunate in recent times to have been on the routes of the 2014 Tour de France’s Yorkshire Grand Depart and 2015's inaugural Tour de Yorkshire. The announcement of the start/finish towns set me thinking about a possible idea for the annual Rapha #Festive500 and a quick bit of research showed that the 2015 Tour de Yorkshire route had totalled 515km. Perfect …the 2016 race route might just provide the ideal challenge for the 2015 #Festive500 …that is apart from the notoriously tough nature of Yorkshire’s terrain and roads, and the unpredictably and harsh conditions likely to be encountered in December!

Further details of the 2016 Tour de Yorkshire race, including the full route, were set to be made public on 9 December; which would fit in with an early reconnoitre of the course for the #Festive500 at the end of that month.

With imagination captured by the idea, I thought, rather than ride this as a solo challenge, why not float the idea with club-mates at albaRosa Cycling Club to see if there were any takers for a club team attempt on an early and wintery #Festive500 attempt to complete the route. I was interested in making the club/team dimensions important aspects of this year’s #Festive500, having completed the challenge solo in 2014.

A ‘peloton’ racing against the elements and short winter hours of daylight; ‘a peloton, but not made of individuals seeking to bathe themselves in glory, not driving ever forwards towards the winning line. A peloton beyond competition, a group where the one becomes all, where the beauty of the mass endeavour, the collective aspiration…’ (Angus Farquhar/NVA ‘Ghost Peloton’, a public artwork 2014) …and the Yorkshire cycling grit and road-craft creates an unbreakable bond and esprit de corps."

You can follow our progress using #TDY500 so keep an eye out for our updates as we suffer our way across Yorkshire.

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#Festive 500 - The First Three Days

We are now three days into the Rapha #Festive500 and there are already some people that have completed the full 500km challenge but mostly people in the Southern Hemisphere. Here it has been extremely difficult just to get a ride in due to the heavy rain and subsequent flooding across the north of the UK. Therefore any miles are a bonus and the Festive 500 an even bigger challenge. I am involved in a three day challenge this year from the 29th to 31st December where we will ride all three stages of the 2016 Tour De Yorkshire so my miles so far have all been to keep my legs turning. You can follow that challenge using the #TDY500 and keeping an eye out for the photo below.

Credit: http://afloralcrown.blogspot.co.uk/

Credit: http://afloralcrown.blogspot.co.uk/

Day One - Christmas Eve

As I am going to be riding 515km after Christmas I decided that the first few days of the challenge this year would be used to keep my legs ticking over and recover a little from the miles already done this month. This year I am in Lancashire and an area which is exceptionally flat which has made this all the easier and so on day one I covered a gently 25 miles on a calm but overcast day winding my way around the small country lanes around Lancashire, tapping out a nice steady rhythm along a familiar loop I knew.

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It's great that the roads are flat but the problem is you're exposed to the wind blowing in from the west coast so whilst I had a tailwind for a quarter of my ride the rest was spent either battling a furious headwind home, or leaning sideways to avoid being blown into a head by the crosswinds.

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No big ride today; just recovery for the week ahead.

 

Day Two - Christmas Day

Again, with the challenge ahead playing on my mind and the fact it is Christmas Day I decided to take a very short but aggressive approach to the days riding. In previous years I have ridden up to 60 miles on Christmas Day but this year I wanted to spend time with Sarah and her family as I was guest for Christmas and after-all it should be spent with family rather than your bike. So I decided on a 16 mile TT as the faster way to get out, get the miles in and then get home for copious amounts of pigs in blankets.

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The only snag with this was the weather; the wind had picked up even more over night and the rain was coming down in what looked like bucket sized droplets. My enthusiasm for any kind of riding was waning slightly. Even so, I pulled on my lycra and waterproof jacket before heading out into the wet.

My target was now simple. I had about 45 minutes to complete 16 miles on twisty, slippery roads without landing in a field and ruining Christmas. The first mile was certainly the hardest whilst I got up to temperature and fought the desire to head back inside but after that I settled into rhythm once again and began to bring my heart rate up and ignore the rain, focusing only on keeping both wheels firmly on the ground and me upright.

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Fortunately I managed to do just this and after 45 minutes was pulling back into the driveway ready to demolish my pigs in blankets. Admittedly I needed to dry out first.

Turkey TT complete; 16 more miles in the bag.

Day 3 - Boxing Day 

The almost impossible day. We woke up to the sound of heavy rain pounding the windows around the house and the dyke running alongside filling up at an alarming rate. Turning on the TV we were greeted with pictures of flooding across Lancashire and a danger to life warnings issued by the Met Office. Today would probably not be the day for riding.

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We waited indoors for what felt like an eternity until in the early afternoon there came a break in the rain and being the crazy fool I am I decided now is the only opportunity to get in the miles. So once again it was full winter gear and waterproof jacket to the rescue and off I went.

It didn't take long to realize that the roads really were a mess when I had to change course after just a mile due to flooding. Maybe I should turn home I was thinking. So instead of turning home I headed for the main road and started heading north. Thankfully the main roads were pretty much all clear but all around me there were flooded fields and rivers which were over head height, but held back by the wall alongside the road.

Eventually I needed to head south again and decided on a loop heading down the country lanes once more. Unfortunately by this point the roads were cut off and I couldn't take the roads I knew. Following the diversion signs was problematic too; I was heading further from home and it was getting darker with the ever present threat that the roads that were once clear might not be anymore.

So once again I darted down the country lanes and thankfully had chosen the only one that appeared clear and began to push home. This is when the rain set in and things got painful. I was riding into a 40mph headwind with rain lashing directly into my face cutting my speed and visibility back to a minimum. The light was still fading.

The next 30 minutes was pretty grim as I simply put my head down and pushed the best gear I could to move as fast as I could. This wasn't very fast I might add. I have never been so wet.

Eventually I arrived home with 32 miles on the Garmin, an exceptionally soggy jacket, and several people questioning my sanity. This wasn't a day for riding.

It's been a tough couple of days on the road, but not as tough as it must be for those people that have been flooded. Spare a thought for everyone affected whilst you're out riding.

#TDY500 - The Kit for the Challenge

So it's now just over 10 days until we ride the 515km of the Tour De Yorkshire and given it's mid-December there are a few small problems to consider; the biggest of these being the weather we'll likely encounter. Currently it's pretty mild outside and i'm back in shorts but it's quite possible that when we start the ride it 10 days time it could freezing, raining, foggy or even snowing in places.

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This kind of weather presents a small problem for any rider. We all know how much food it takes to keep us fuelled over a 100 mile ride in summer when it's warm outside already, but when your riding 100 miles in winter you need so much more fuel to power you around the ride and to cover the energy lost just to keeping warm. This makes it more and more likely that as a rider you'll hit the wall or 'bonk' as most riders refer to it.

So we want to keep as warm and dry as possible on the ride to limit the energy lost to the cold that will drain our pedal stroke and make it harder to get back on the bike each day. Therefore Madison.cc have kindly provided me the same kit used by the pro team Madison-Genesis to get me around the ride. I've been testing the kit out for a few weeks now but the true test will be seeing how pro kit performs over a pro-cycling route in the toughest conditions of the year.

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So over the three days of the ride i'll be hoping that the pro's have really raced in the toughest conditions and given the insight into the kit that will help keep an amateur like me pedalling around the route.

One particular stand-out item from the kit i've ridden in so far is the Road Race Apex Men's waterproof jacket which Madison-Genesis use in the wet races through-out the year. This fairly compact and slim jacket is pretty discreet with it's all black design and reflective strips that with it's race cut is a nice snug fit. At first glance it might seem like any other waterproof jacket but once you wear it in the rain it's certainly stand-out. I wore the jacket for a 70 mile ride in the storms over the last few weeks and the jersey underneath stayed completely dry for the duration of the rain - absolutely perfect for avoiding getting wet and cold on a ride or as a pro in a big race. Even better, it has some neatly hidden vents to keep the sweat away too.

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Obviously we'll be hoping it doesn't rain over the three days but given it's Yorkshire we won't hold our breath!

The second item i've been wearing is the Road Race men's bib-tight which is the thermal bib-tight the pro's use to train in the cold during winter. They are made of a thermal material with some reflective strips to keep you seen and again are black. It's really important to keep your legs warm on a ride as without them warm they won't be turning the pedals at any pace so it's important the tights keep you warm. Again, the tights perform well and keep your legs warm in the wet and cold having survived the same storm and keeping me warm through-out. You'll never find a pair of waterproof bibs but you can find a set that keep you warm when wet.

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Fingers crossed the pro kit keeps me warm over the route and takes us one step closer to replicating the ride that pro's will do next spring.

So with 10 days to go it's time to go get training and prepare for the challenge. Don't forget to follow us at #TDY500 and #Festive500

**I will add that Madison did provide the kit for free so you might think i'm a little bias but if I don't like something i'd be sure to say! 

The Festive 500 Goes to Yorkshire

Today was a pretty big day for cycling in Yorkshire. Following the success of last year's Tour de Yorkshire, the three day race will run again in 2016, and cover just over 500km and 17,000ft of climbing in just three days of racing. It also includes a full one day stage race for the ladies, a big step up in the women's racing from last year's crit in both parity and coverage compared to the men's race.

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However all of this racing is next April but myself and a few friends have decided we really can't wait this long to give the routes ago and test ourselves against the pros. So instead of waiting until it's nice and warm in the spring of 2016 we've decided to make already tough three days into an even tougher time by tackling all three stages of the tour in December.

That's right... December. The coldest month of the year with some of the worst weather in the UK; probably more of a challenge than the route itself. We didn't just pick December to make things tough, but because it falls perfectly into the Rapha Festive 500 challenge.

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The Festive 500 challenge encourages you to complete 500km between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve and end the year on a high whilst documenting your challenge every step of the way. So we decided there is no better way to do this than testing the 3 stages of the Tour and capturing the pain along the way whilst visiting a few of our favourite cycling cafe's along the route.

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Across the three days we hope to tweet, photograph and paint our way across Yorkshire and give an insight into what the pros will face in April.

If anyone wants to join us for one day or even all three then please get in touch or follow us on Strava.

https://www.strava.com/athletes/1816413