It’s unclear whether the decision to launch the first NSPCC Tour of Yorkshire in the same month as the Tour de France visited the county was made more by luck or judgement. Either way, it’s hard to imagine a better time and place to launch a sportive.
And while it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd in a continually saturated UK sportive market, what made the Tour of Yorkshire unique was being a two stage event, taking in some of the best roads the North York Moors had to offer.
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With its sister event, the Tour of the South East taking place earlier in the year, the NSPCC’s fundraising sportive ‘Tour of England’ series was aimed at bringing a pro experience to amateur riders, with support cars and motorbikes, feed stations and ride leaders – known as domestiques – to guide groups at various speeds around the two consecutive 90-mile days.
A starting venue of the York Sport Village was ideal to get each group rolling, with semi-purpose-built facilities to serve the large number of staff and riders, while a lap of their recently built closed 1km road race circuit proved fine way to start and finish each stage, making the end feel particularly race-like as groups sped into the finishing circuit.
Day one began poorly. I awoke at my accommodation at the University of Yorkshire student halls – where many of the other riders were staying for the weekend – to a dark and miserably soggy day. After consuming the packed breakfast provided by the organisers, I collected my bike from the secure storage and rode the short distance to the Yorkshire Sport Village for the start. Before long, and after a quick rider briefing, I was heading out with my chosen group three (averaging 16-17mph) into what looked to be a long, wet day in the saddle.
A mechanical in the initial 2km gave me first-hand experience of the quality of support we’d receive on the ride, and after a quick fix by mechanic, I found myself being paced back to the group by the support car and a domestique. Not the start I was hoping for, but things could only get better.
Stage one had nearly 1800m of climbing to be tackled, but the first real undulations of the day weren’t felt until around the first feed-stop at about 20 miles in. The major climb of the stage was due to come in the form of Hanging Grimston at about 70 miles in: a 1.6km climb with 20 -25% sections, it would be our timed King of the Mountains climb of stage one, for which the fastest riders in each group would receive a special polka-dot jersey.
Both this climb and stage two’s Boltby Bank feature in Simon Warren’s 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, and while the gradients on Grimston were tough, it was the broken up, wet, potholed road surface that caused the most difficulty in its ascent. The third feed-stop of the day, at the 77-mile mark, was very welcome after a tricky 55-mile section of climbs.
Though there had been bright spells during the first stage, it was hard to not feel aggrieved by the fact the weather had severely detracted from what was a challenging course, with what would have been superb scenery on winding roads. So it was pleasing to finally get back to the Sport Village and prepare for a hopefully sunnier day on stage two.
Before we all took some well-earned rest prior to the second day of riding, the organisers put on what they called the ‘Yellow Jersey Dinner’ at the University for everyone involved. British cycling legend Barry Hoban in attendance as a guest speaker for the three-course dinner, and it was an impressive way to wind down the first day and for the organisers to promote a worthy cause, the NSPCC.
Day two came around quicker than most of us and our legs would have liked. Fortunately the parcours for this stage, aside from the huge climb of Boltby Bank about 35 miles in, looked rolling, if not flat. But unfortunately this presented its own problems.
While it’s great to be led on a ride in a bunch and not have to think about where you’re going, the pace was set quite high over the flatter sections, and though this suited many of us, there was a constant splintering of the group which meant stopping every few miles to let riders catch on. I found this frustrating, and would have preferred to ride slower, but consistently to let everyone stay together. Nevertheless, we flew through the opening miles of the stage, through the first feed stop until we reached the KOM climb, our nightmare for today – Boltby Bank.
It felt like a wall. Relentless 25% gradients and no traction from the slippery tarmac meant a lot of people found themselves walking, and the fatigue from day one really started to show. No wonder Simon Warren described it as “the hardest route up onto the North Yorkshire Moors.” Thankfully, whoever designed the course seemed to know this and, save for one or two lesser climbs, the rest of the course was more forgiving.
Our reward at the finish was the obligatory sportive goodie bag, medal and glass of champagne, plus showers to use at the Sport Village and a massage for those who wanted them.
Overall, I really enjoyed the Tour of Yorkshire and the format they’d gone for. The routes were challenging but manageable for everyone and the group separation worked well. The lunch stops were excellent while the feed stops were fine for their bars and gels, though some variety may have been nice over the two days.
This first-time event wasn’t quite flawless, but it was very enjoyable overall; I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who was looking for a difficult but feasible cycling challenge – all for a commendable cause as well.
Find out more about the 2015 Tour of Yorkshire at www.tourofengland.co.uk