Bestselling author of the 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs and Sports Tours International Cycling Ambassador, Simon Warren, has developed many years of experience in riding and reviewing some of the world’s best climbs, routes and races. In this blog we tap into Simon’s knowledge about the UCI Cycling Road World Championships Sportive and you can learn what to expect in Harrogate this forthcoming September. So, over to Simon….
For the first time since 1982 the Road World Cycling Championships are returning to Britain, to Yorkshire the unofficial home of British cycling. Back in 1982 the World’s best were treated, or punished with, a rather uninspiring loop centered around the Goodwood Motor circuit in West Sussex, which was hardly a glowing advert for Britain’s countryside. This time round though things are a whole lot different and the county of Yorkshire has pulled out all the stops to showcase its natural wonders and create a series of demanding and beautiful parcours. This year, and for the first time ever there will also be an official sportive run over three distances that takes in many of the best parts of the championship courses from the climbs of the Yorkshire Dales to the demanding finishing circuit in Harrogate.
Although all the race courses start from different towns and cities in the county they all finish in on the tight and twisting loop in the North Yorkshire market town and it’s on this technical loop that the medals will be decided. On the map the finishing circuit appears quite tame, but as I was to find out when I first rode it, it is anything but. It is a relentless bombardment of climbs, descents, tight corners and pinch points that requires total concentration at all times. With twisting off camber descents, abrupt changes of direction and pace, those not totally focused will be left behind, that is for certain.
Unlike the races, the sportive routes all use the circuit as their start point as they guide you round the first two thirds of the loop, and although riders will not be concerned with falling off the pace, with so many competitors hitting the narrow demanding roads from the gun you must take extra care. There are three points where full of adrenaline and eager to get a good start, caution is essential. Firstly the snaking and rapid descent on Pot Bank, secondly the narrowing over the bridge in the gully on Penny Pot Lane and thirdly at the turn in front of the Royal Pump Room, so be alert, enjoy the thrill of riding this technical course but keen an eye on the road and watch out for those around you.
After this frenetic start, and with two thirds of the finishing circuit ridden the three sportive routes leave Harrogate and head north. Settling down, they undulate slightly and after peeling off the main road they arrive at the first significant climb of the day, the two kilometre long Whipley Bank. This will offer those with climbing legs a chance to flex their muscles slightly and those adverse to gradient to acquaint their chains with the larger sprockets on their cassettes. With a maximum incline of 10 percent it will hurt a little bit but fear not, it won’t do too much damage to your reserves and if anything it will warm you up nicely for more serious challenges ahead.
As all three routes arrive in Pateley Bridge they split and each then faces its own demanding test. Starting with the short loop, which in fact does not quite reach the town, it veers right from the B6165 to take on the three kilometre climb to the top of Pateley Moor. Boasting some very tough 17% gradient, and a long strength sapping straight, this is a significant bump to overcome and it forms the highpoint of that route.
Those taking on the medium loop do venture into Pateley Bridge before turning right to follow the shore of the Gouthwaite Reservoir to tackle, what is in my opinion the best climb on any of the routes, Trapping Hill. After the 10 kilometre, pan flat approach the abrupt gradient change once you turn right out of Lofthouse is enough to make your eyes water. The beautiful, twisting, rugged road rises rapidly upwards out of the tranquility of Nidderdale on 20% slopes that require maximum effort. Bending left the road then cuts between high grassy banks topped with crumbling stone walls and pushes on towards the barren summit. Trapping Hill is a truly wonderful challenge, a real gem of a road and it’s just a shame it can’t feature on the long route too, but its destiny lies down a different path.
With the two shorter courses having peeled off, the long route heads straight on through Pateley Bridge and straight up the mighty Greenhow Hill. The toughest part of the course by some distance, this four kilometre climb is a formidable foe with maximum gradients of over 18%. Like a giant flight of stairs the tough climbing comes in four distinct sections, broken up by periods of calm to allow partial recovery. Each steep stretch is slightly easier than the one before, and each rest slightly shorter until you leave the trees and face up to the block headwind which ALWAYS greets riders at the top. This may not be true, but I have never experienced anything else, and even though the slope is shallower over the last kilometre it has the tendency to feel just as hard.
Once Greenhow is conquered, it’s time to enjoy the most beautiful part of the course as you cross the empty landscape on the predominantly downhill run along the B6265 to Grassington and Threshfield. Boasting uninterrupted views out over the Yorkshire Dales in all directions it is simply a pleasure to be on these roads, but be warned, the weather is rarely kind up there, so be ready to grovel. Turning right in Threshfield it’s time to snake north through Wharfedale, through the picturesque village of Kettlewell to face the next foe, Kidstones Pass. Believe it or not this is the easiest way north through this part of the Dales, but it won’t feel like that when you are fighting the 20% gradient around the final corner before the summit. The pain is only temporary though and soon enough you’ll be rolling along the tops and preparing for the wonderful descent the other side.
All the way to the A684 first down the rapid drop then along the flat you can pick up some real speed on this section of the ride. In fact after turning right again there is little in the way of obstruction all the way to Leyburn. This is a wonderful part of the course, free flowing, predominantly downhill, fast and furious so make the most of it because when it ends the real hard work begins.
Heading south from Leyburn 48 kilometres lie between you and the finish line and although there are no giant climbs it is constantly undulating, with some peaks packing a hefty punch. Meeting the medium route in Masham, home to the Theakstons brewery, both routes continue south to the longest of these peaks, Hackfall Hill. Although never too steep the 1.7 kilometre rise will start to hurt weary legs, especially those with 120km in them. Following this obstacle the next point of call is the sleep village of Kirkby Malzeard where the short route joins and now as one the three complete their loops on the relentless undulations back into Harrogate.
There are at least seven noticeable lumps yet to conquer and each one will rob the legs of power, each one sap the body of energy but the end is in sight. Of this succession of diminutive ridges that include Risplith Bank and Midyear Bank, it is Hebden Bank that’s the real Killer. As you plunge into the little gully at its base, crossing Hebden Beck, you just know it will rear up with a similar urgency, and that it does. Be ready to feel the burn good and proper here as you fight to escape the small dark valley up this nasty climb that will have you cursing all the way to the summit. That’s the worst of it though, now it’s time to empty the tanks and although there are still minor challenges left, the euphoria of nearing the finish will power you over them as you navigate the return through Harrogate. The UCI Road World Champs Sportive course may not be packed with big famous climbs but the combination of the many little ascents on top of a few big beasts is plenty to challenge any legs and more importantly will give you a feeling of being a real part of this wonderful festival of cycling.
My favourite of all the climbs on the three 2019 UCI Road World Champs routes is Trapping Hill, or the Côte de Lofthouse as the organisers ASO named it following the 2017 Tour de Yorkshire. Hidden away at the far end of Nidderdale, past the calm of Gouthwaite Reservoir lies a beast just waiting to devour weary legs. Heading north from Pateley Bridge into the heart of the dale there’s no other way out the other end other than to climb the vicious slopes, and this will be on your mind for the entirety of the gentle 10 kilometre approach. The climbs is not to be feared though, it is to be embraced as it ramps up from the valley floor to exposed moorland, its twists and turns hitting 20% in places. Once through the lower slopes, bending left at a lone tree you enter a canyon of high grassy banks topped with tall stone walls to weave through the toughest part of the accent before the savage gradient evaporates and you arrive on Lofthouse Moor. The climb is not over, the sharp inclines are simply replaced by shallow ones and it’s still some two kilometres to the eventual summit of a fantastic road.
I’ve ridden Greenhow many times and it never gets any easier. Sure the passing of time between ascents adds a slight rose tint to the experience but each time I arrive back at the base and catch sight of the opening ramp the bad memories come flooding back. It is split into four distinct chunks of climbing with three breaks between them, which, in its favour do allow you to recover somewhat along the way. The first of the ramps is the hardest at 18% but with fresh legs you can power up it and afterwards you are rewarded with a lengthy respite. This significant cessation of hostilities has to end though and passing a 16% gradient sign you hit the next wall which is again followed by a hiatus, a little briefer this time before the third stretch of nastiness. By now you legs, and more than likely arms will be approaching the consistency of jelly but you are still far from the top. After the last temporary break you begin the final sector, which free of the protection of the trees lower down will more than likely expose you to a howling headwind. Ask anyone and they will tell you there is always a headwind on Greenhow, and although the slope recedes this added hindrance makes it feel just as steep as it is down at the base. On the plus side, and if you’re feeling like you want to climb off and curl up, just look around you, you are now riding into the true Yorkshire Dales and the scenery in all directions is simply stunning and more than enough reward for your substantial effort.
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