DISTANCE 50, 80 or 100 miles
MAIN CLIMB The Stang, Fleet Moss, Park Rash
ACHTUNG! Steep climbs and wayward sheep
It was just one of those weekends. I’d pranged my girlfriend’s car, slept for all of three hours, and was suffering surprisingly severe side-effects to the inoculative dose of yellow fever swilling round my veins.
As a result of my careless mishap, I had a hefty repair bill, no vehicle to get about in, and an extra 20-mile round bike trip between my digs and the start. Then, just after I’d climbed to the top of the hill above where I was staying, I realised I’d forgotten my hay-fever tablet.
In all, things were not going well and it seemed too much of an ask to expect the Richmond Meet Cyclo-Sportive to turn things around. In fact, given my apparent curse, 100 miles of riding over the Yorkshire Dales seemed like nothing but an invite for disaster. Paranoia had set in — surely something else would go wrong.
But at least the weather was OK. The sun was shining on this North Yorkshire town and the HQ car park was bustling with life. At the sign-in, organiser Sven Wardle sympathised with my sorry tale and informed me that the three various distances of the event followed the same outward leg, turning back towards the finish at various points.
As well as the 100-miler, there were also shorter routes of 80 and 50 miles. “Everyone can make their minds up at the turn-offs,” he explained. So at least I had an opt-out clause.
This flexibility is just one advantage of the Richmond CC’s relatively low-maintenance approach to a sportive. With a Premier Calendar road race and a grass-track meeting also to promote over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, the two-year-old club has subscribed to an ethos of keep it simple.
No, there wasn’t any t-shirts, fancy gantries or service vehicles, but each rider was individually timed in and out, there were ample facilities at HQ, and there was a good spread of biscuits and cakes at the end of the ride. Coming with a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, you couldn’t really ask for much more from a mere £5 entry fee.
Unfortunately for me, the start of the event itself didn’t go much better than that of the weekend as a whole. I made the mistake of rolling out with riders who — I realised upon seeing their jerseys — hailed from the same far-off corner of the country as myself.
Sure, we had lot of common ground to chat about but none of us had the slightest inkling of which way to go. Despite the course later proving to be very well signposted, we managed to turn off course at the very first opportunity, resulting in a stop-start detour that added an extra three and a half miles and a couple more climbs to the route.
Not that Jim and Charles particularly minded. While I kept an eye on the sky for lightning bolts coming my way, Jim explained that they were former runners who’d caught the Etape bug and were in the Dales to get in some preparatory climbing miles. With 3,260 metres of altitude gain detailed on the route profile of the 100-mile, they’d certainly come to the right place.
Once back on track, the early miles actually proved quite steady, wiggling along lanes with only the odd short, sharp dip here and there. The first big climb of the day didn’t come until the Stang, with around 15 miles covered. First of all, it traipses up across bleak moorland, before rearing up through a cut in the forest culminating in a couple of hairpins towards the top. From an aesthetic point of view, it’s a pretty climb. From my legs’ point of view, the Stang stank.
A Yorkshire Tan
Over the summit of the climb, we crossed the boundary into the windswept Yorkshire Dales National Park. A sharp descent then took us down between drystone walls to spew us out at the foot of Tan Hill.
In contrast to the decisive gradient of the Stang, Tan Hill from this direction teases like no other climb I can think of. Dragging, dropping, dragging a bit more, you continually think you’re approaching the top, only to be repeatedly disappointed. The nagging headwind only added to the struggle.
“This is a good day,” one local told me when I caught him. “Last time I came up here it was all you could do to keep moving forward.”
The lonely exposed inn on top of Tan Hill is the highest public house in England. Outside on benches, defeated looking riders tucked into refreshments while loose chickens clucked around their bikes. With two hard climbs already in their legs, a number of them admitted to be reconsidering their options.
The descent from Tan Hill drops to the village of Keld and I tagged onto the back of a small group on the way down. After three sharp bends the route split two ways. The fittest riders turned right in order to embark on up to four more major climbs, including the notoriously hard Fleet Moss and Park Rash.
I, on the other hand, joined Shaun from the promoting club for the relatively tame 20-odd miles back to Richmond. Given what he told me about the severity of the rest of the route, I congratulated myself on the right choice.
With the extra miles I would be doing on top of it, 50 miles on this course was quite tough enough thank you very much.
Starting from Richmond, the route heads out northwest through Kirby Hill, Newsham and Scarhill. It then turns south to climb the Stang and Tan Hill before descending into Keld where the 50-mile route turns off to return to Richmond along Swaledale.
For those going further, the climbs of Birkdale Common and Mallerstang are next on the agenda, the route going via Kirkby Stephen to Hawes. This is where the 80-mile route turns off to follow Wensleydale to Leyburn and then the A6108 back to the finish.
This leaves the two hardest climbs of the day for the hardcore 100-milers. The highest, Fleet Moss, rears up straight out of Hawes and the savagely steep Park Rash follows at Kettlewell. The route then follows Coverdale towards Middleham where it picks up the A6108 back to Richmond.
WANT TO RIDE IT?
This year’s event took place over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend to coincide with the Richmond Meet festival.
Keep an eye on www.richmondcyclingclub.co.uk for details of next year’s event.