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.’
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’.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!