Why cycling is the greatest way to see Britain – and 10 routes you must tackle – Telegraph.co.uk
As I dragged my tired body up the last climb, each limb straining and aching with every turn of the pedals, the distant rattle of cowbells drew slowly closer. I (slowly) rounded the corner at the crest of the hill, and the source of the rattling appeared. Crowds cheered my arrival, rang their bells, and plastered a smile across my otherwise drained face, while raising my mood – and speed – for the final descent to the finish.
I had just tackled 100km (62 miles) of Yorkshire’s finest roads, totting up 6,500 feet of elevation in the process, and I was a broken man. But for the 30 seconds of that final straight, the whistles, shouts and whoops as deafening as they were uplifting, I felt as light and spritely as I had five hours earlier. Several hours later, the noise from the increasingly fanatic locals would grow yet louder and more enthused as the pro race of the 2017 Tour de Yorkshire retraced my tracks.
Finishing on the same tarmac as professional riders is certainly a buzz, and no doubt one of the sells of the Maserati Tour de Yorkshire sportive, a creation inspired by the county’s hosting of the Tour de France’s Grand Départ in 2014, but it is no more appealing than the ruggedly beautiful country the route winds its way through from start to finish.
Setting off from Fox Valley just outside of Sheffield, cyclists, within metres, found themselves on Pea Royd Lane (Côte de Pea Royd Lane for the purposes of this ride – France has really rubbed off on Yorkshire). The climb is counted among the UK’s 100 best in Simon Warren’s cycling bible and clocks up 476 feet of elevation in just over a kilometre, with an average gradient of 12 per cent. This early in the race (and morning) it was just a case of putting one foot in front of the other and staying upright.
Once at the top there was some respite to settle into the saddle, locate friends and family lost behind on the steep opening slope, and enjoy the rolling hills of the Yorkshire countryside.
At this point the day was too young for the crowds to assemble fully, but the ones that did, strolling to the end of their driveway in their dressing gowns, stifling yawns, cup of tea in hand, were all remarkably supportive. “You’re mad you are,” was a common refrain. I still had enough energy to smile back.
But then the climbs came thick and fast – the Côte de Flint Lane, Côte de Netherthong and the Côte de Emley Moor, rising up to and passing the Emley Moor transmitting station, the 24th tallest tower in the world. While the climbs attracted spectators to spur on the riders, the lulls in between were all about enjoying views that stretched out for miles, of dry walls dividing lush, green fields, of Yorkshire woods and reservoirs, of God’s Own Country. The flags, bunting and yellow spray-painted bikes that punctuated the roads (a nod to the yellow jersey worn by the leader of the Tour de France) were yet more encouragement.
It was at 75km, however, that the climb that would render me less a cyclist and more a man sat helplessly upon a bike should appear. Côte de Onesmoor Bottom rises steeply through the trees on lanes only just narrow enough to accommodate both the riders stomping on their pedals and those walking their bikes up the hill. Once you near the top the more gentle gradient teases your muscles, as if to say, this might never end.
It was all downhill from there. Sadly, not literally. Two climbs remained before I slouched round that corner to the finish, exhausted but ecstatic. There, back in Fox Valley, the four of us who lugged ourselves from London the day earlier to sample Yorkshire’s cycling fare, swapped stories of the crowds and wellwishers, regaled tales of the ups and downs and remarked how the best way to see a place was to cycle through it.
Hugh Morris took part in the Maserati Tour de Yorkshire sportive (letour.yorkshire.com/sportive) organised by Human Race. Book now for 2018’s event. He travelled to Yorkshire courtesy of Vauxhall (vauxhall.co.uk) in a Mokka X with a roof rack capable of carrying three bikes.
Nine more of the best sportives around the UK
Etape du Dales (May 14)
A 110-mile ride that takes in all the Yorkshire Dales’ major climbs, including Buttertubs Pass, a brutal ascent and the site of one of the most famous photos of the Tour de France’s Grand Depart stage in 2014, where the coloured jerseys and helmets of the riders blend into the crowd.
Tour of Caledonia (May 21)
A painfully good-looking bike ride that explores the realms of Perthshire. The closed-road 81-mile event raises money for Marie Curie and encounters climbs such as Schiehallion but also takes in the lakes of Loch Tummel and Loch Rannochs.
The Monster (June 24)
Just 100 riders take part in this epic, annual one-day sportive, which takes in 200 kilometres (or for the truly sadistic, 300km) of tough Welsh roads. “Finishers” are only those who complete the distance in less than 10 and a half hours.
The White Roads Classic (July 9)
A sportive with a difference, this ride is inspired by the Tuscan Strade Bianche professional race and features 18 sections of the Oxfordshire Ridgeway’s gravel roads. The climb of White Horse Hill (beneath the famous Uffington White Horse) is a highlight.
Tour of Cotswolds (July 23)
Explore the honeystone villages of the Cotswolds on this sportive, covering 56 or 72 miles. It kicks off in Chipping Norton and features Saintbury Hill, twice the venue of the National Hill Climb Championships.
Great Fun Dell Cycle Sportive (July 30)
Britain’s highest road leads to the 848-metre peak of Great Dun Fell and provides the final test on this 64-mile ride, which takes in the beautiful Eden Valley on its way to the Pennines.
Ride London (July 30)
The capital’s closed-roads summer ride finishes on the Mall after an exploration of the Surrey Hills, including Box Hill and Leith Hill. Entry is by ballot, with places for 2017 already announced, although riders raising money for charity can secure a spot at shorter notice.
Peak District Epic (August 20)
One of the numerous sportives organised by Evans, this route features the twisting climb of Snake’s Pass, the tough ascent of Mam Tor and the impossibly picturesque Edale Valley.
Fred Whitton Challenge (2018 TBA)
Held in the Lake District in the memory of the Lakes Road Club, Fred Whitton, who died of cancer in 1998. Since its inception in 1999, the one-day ride has raised more than a million pounds for Macmillan. Participants must tackle a 112-mile course that encounters the unforgiving Hardknott Pass as well as the inimitable beauty of Buttermere. As with Ride London, it is heavily oversubscribed and entry is by ballot.