Etape du Dales: Yorkshire Dales May 20

I’d ridden the climbs in the Etape du Dales individually but I’d never tackled them all together, in one day, and couldn’t wait. When I showed the route to my sister who lives in Leeds she replied, I’d think twice about driving that in a day, never mind cycling it, and this goes to show what a serious challenge the route is.

I’d done very little riding this year due to a new house, new job and new baby combo so I was more than a little apprehensive of the task ahead. I knew I’d be OK for the first three hours but the rest, I was just relying on the body to remember what to do.

I rolled up to the start line at 8am, after an experimental breakfast of cold pasta, bread and a banana, then hit the road with a small group of riders who looked like good comrades for the day. However, the carbon wheels and top of the range groupsets were a smokescreen and after just two miles I dropped them and was ploughing a lone furrow looking for more riders to share the workload. It wasn’t too long though before I caught another group and after a short selection process there were five our us riding well together to the base of the first challenge of the day, the mighty Fleet Moss.

Lovely lanes in between the killer climbs

I was trying to ride well within myself but it’s hard not to get excited when you reach such a fantastic road, still, I kept a lid on things, pottered up the climb, but seemingly too fast for our group and I was alone again. Through the checkpoint in Hawes I managed to scan my timing chip without unclipping which I was very pleased about then headed straight up the next beast, Buttertubs. Up ahead there was an organized looking bunch tapping out a nice rhythm. I dug in to bridge across to them, then in proper pro style went straight past, what was I thinking! I kept glancing back and when I realized they were pegging me I eased off to join them and it turned out that they would be my companions for the rest of the day.

I was in excellent company, they were a group of Dave Rayners old mates including the ex GB international Richard Thackary. Our group swelled and thinned over Buttertubs, down to Low Row and up over Turf Moor. Then it was time for Tan Hill. This is the road I was looking forward to the most, an undulating climb in utter isolation from the world. There’s something about the emptiness that makes me want to get off the bike and walk off towards the horizon, it’s just so beautifully epic, especially when the sun is out.

Simon Warren (900): still got it despite lifestyle changes

We refueled at the Famous Tan Hill Inn, and then set off on the punishing leg to Nateby. On the way we picked up more riders, or in this case they picked us up, a group from Harrogate Nova CC who stretched us out into a line and made it hard work for a number of miles. We sped down to the Moorcock Inn where we stopped again for supplies then began the toughest climb of the day, Garsdale Head. The Harrogate boys had gone straight through the feed and were someway ahead, feeling strong I went to the front of our group to test my legs up the fearsome gradient and by the top I was alone. I was climbing well, I waited for the two riders who were closest behind, then tried to follow them as they gave me a master class in descending, fearlessly rocketing down the other side. Thankfully they waited for me and the three of us set about making our way to Stainforth.
As my legs were lacking miles, five intense hours had started to take their toll and the first signs of cramp were appearing. There were to be no heroics on the final climb of the day as I nursed the legs over the endless undulations of Silverdale. From here on though, once on the valley road we hit the 10 mile to go sign and with a few more riders hoovered up the tempo was raised. This was the fasted 10 miles I’ve done for a while as we rode ‘through and off’ touching 30mph all the way to the finish to contest a sprint into the headquarters. I’d surprised myself with my fitness; ridden some of my favorite roads and to top it off there hadn’t been a single drop of rain.   

Sportive sound bites
Name: Phil Atkinson
Time: 8 hours 5 mins.
Age: 51
From: Ilkley
“Very hard but thoroughly enjoyable course through without doubt, the best countryside that you’ll see in all of England. I’ve always been fit and run marathons before but I’m relatively new to cycling and I love it. I’d like to add that the people at the feed stops couldn’t do enough to help; they filled my bottles, fetched food, but alas couldn’t ride up the hills for me.”

Name: Phil Mason
Time: 7 hours 21 mins
Age: 52
From: Otley
“Well, I set off with my mates but they dropped me on Fleet Moss, I then bumped into more mates from another club on Buttertubs. They road up to me, said hello then dropped me like the first lot, nice! I just loved the fast finish, it made me think of the Tour stages when they have ridden across loads of mountains but still have it in their legs to finish at 30mph, which is exactly what I did.”

Entrants who want to raise sponsorship money whilst riding the Etape du Dales are encouraged to donate it to the Dave Rayner Fund. Dave was one of Britain’s best professional cyclists back in the late 80’s and early 90’s until his career was cut tragically short following his death outside a nightclub in Bradford. Aged just 27 it was a terrible waste of his talent, talent that had seen him race at both home and abroad for a number of professional teams. The fund was set up in 1995 to provide financial assistance to talented young riders who want to follow in Dave’s footsteps and become full time cyclists on the continent. The first beneficiary was none other than Dave Millar and since then scores of riders have been given the essential leg up necessary to make the first step towards realizing their dreams. Every year young riders send their CV’s in hoping to be selected but only a few are chosen, all of them longing to be professional riders like Dave.
Dave Rayner Fund

Be prepared
The Yorkshire Dales can be as hostile as they are beautiful to ride around. The weather can change in an instant and with very little shelter across the tops of the moors, if you find yourself exposed in the wrong clothing then you may be in serious trouble, so be warned. At roughly the halfway mark of the route you’ll find yourself at the famous Tan Inn, England’s highest, and possibly most Isolated Pub. Often snowed in during the winter for weeks on end it’s held some of the longest lock-ins of all time with patrons having to camp down and survive on what the Pub has in stock for days on end.

Quickest time 5.50, that’s an average speed of 18.8mph!
There’s a ford on Turf Moor, try and ride it, but beware!

For further details check: Etape du Dales