Friday, 6 July 2012

A wheely good time

This June, I was lucky enough to spend a week cycling from coast to coast in France through the Pyrenees – from Biarritz on the Atlantic to Argeles-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean. 

Not surprisingly, this wasn’t a flat ride as it takes in many of the cols* made famous by the Tour de France - taking place right now over the Channel. 

Although I am not new to climbing big hills, dragging yourself out of bed at 7.30 for breakfast to do it the next day, and the one after, and the one after … did become distinctly distressing! It was certainly a massive relief to crest the final col and know it was all downhill and flat to the sea.

Mark and partner Bex are no strangers to the hills -
here they tackle the Way of the Roses
We were a group of 21 cyclists from all over the UK, as well as a smattering of Australians, and one thing was clear - how lucky I am to have the Dales to do my training rides in.

The mountains here may not be on the same scale as the Alps or Pyrenees and the climbs not as long, but they are a great place to prepare, often having steeper gradients and still with those great views on reaching the top.

The scenery in the National Park just inspires you to get on your bike, and I love the climbs between the dales as each valley is so different as you cross between them.

We are also fortunate to have plenty of pubs and cafés to stop at in the area, and most towns and villages have a shop so you can keep stocked up on bananas and Eccles cakes – they sell plenty of other things but that’s what I go for!

The Dales has so many great climbs to chose from as a cyclist – Buttertubs Pass between Wensleydale and Swaledale, Fleets Moss between Langstrothdale and Hawes, Park Rash from Kettlewell to Coverdale, the climb to Tan Hill Inn (the highest pub in England), or the brutal Coal Road between Garsdale and Dent. And there are many more. 

It would be great to see the professional cyclists take some of these in if Yorkshire is successful in its bid to get the start of the Tour de France in 2016.

If you are new to the area and want to pick up some ideas of routes to do, then have a look on – you may be glad to know that not all the routes are hilly. There are great routes to start with that follow the valleys, such as the Wharfe up from Ilkley or peddling along Swaledale from Reeth, and then there is the more rolling countryside in the east of the Yorkshire Dales.

The other thing to think about is going on one of the many cyclosportives - rides with signed routes and feed stops - that take place in the area.

The most famous is the 112 mile and wonderfully named ‘Etape du Dales’ held every May. The president Brian Robinson was actually the first British rider to complete the Tour de France in 1955 and to win a stage (1958).

There are normally 10 to 15 similar rides throughout the year that come into the Dales, many of which are less fearsome whilst still a challenge.

As with any cycle challenge you need to prepare body and bike. Make sure your brakes are in good fettle and you have some low gears to get you over the hills. There are some great local bike shops if you want help to get your kit into shape - preparing your body might take more time but will probably cost you less in the end!

*col: a pass between two mountain peaks or a gap in a ridge

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