I've just ridden the route of stage one and I can't believe it was initially touted as a sprint stage!
I’m in Yorkshire with Wiggle to ‘Ride the Route’ of the Tour de France‘s first two stages in this beautiful British county.
Yes it’s stunning. Yes it’s going to look incredible from the helicopter TV shots. Yes the watching world is going to be very, very impressed with what they see.
But none of that mattered to me as I was chewing on my stem, grovelling up the Cote de Buttertubs that comes 103.5km in to stage one, wondering if I was actually going to make it. This Brutal climb – a measily cat. 3 for the Tour riders – starts in the town of Hawes from where it gains 261 metres of vertical height. From there it’s a 4.6km climb, and the average gradient on the Tour’s profile reads as a rather pathetic 6.8 per cent average.
What a load of rubbish.
There are sections of this climb that reach 20 per cent. If the riders had cruised up to the base of it they would ride up with little problem, but the majority of the kilometres before it are twisty, narrow, up and down, making it harder to sit in a bunch and get whisked along by the momentum of the pack.
The GC riders will barely notice it, but the sprinters will not enjoy it one little bit.
Having said all this, I’ve driven and ridden many roads ahead of a race and sucked air in through my teeth like a cowboy builder before he gives you a quote, thinking ‘that’s a toughie!’ only to then watch the bunch cruise along chatting and improving their tans.
If it’s sunny next week, and there’s an established break up the road, there is a chance that could happen, but I wouldn’t count on it. Today it was overcast and there was a stiff wind in places. This is what could make the difference next Saturday.
Once the steepest sections of buttertubs have been tackled the road drags on for a kilometre-and-a-half, and this is where it could get interesting. We rode this today into a strong headwind. If the Tour peloton get the same, splits will occur and all hell could break loose, especially if a GC contender is caught the wrong side of a split. And that’s not out of the question considering the narrow roads before the climb that make it hard to move up the bunch.
26km after the top of Buttertubs comes the Cote de Grinton Moor. A testing climb but not the hardest. However, once again it is extremely exposed over the top.
The saving grace for anyone hoping to see a sprint finish is the very fast final 50km, most of which is on fast, wide roads. The chances are the bunch will regroup on the run in if splits have opened up.
But there’s a sting in the tail. Harrogate sits on a hill, and there are two little climbs in the final three kilometres. Not enough to drop the sprinters, but enough to take the sting out of their sprint.
Not that they’ll have much of a sting left after the previous 190km.
My time for the full climb of Buttertubs from Hawes was 18:20 minutes, putting me almost eight minutes behind the everpresent JP (who may or may not be setting all his Strava times behind a mate on a scooter).
My main concern is that after 120 very tough miles today, I have due to tackle stage two tomorrow, which is meant to be a legbreaker to today’s easier(!) route.