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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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?
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.
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)