The West Riding Classic is destined to become just that – a classic event and a must-do on the sportive calendar, exploiting the Yorkshire Dales’ finest cycling roads and offering a unique, friendly, authentic experience.
I arrived at the event start in Clapham at 8:30am and right from the off, the friendly nature of the event was clear – a warm welcome from Brendan McSherry, the event organiser and, inside the HQ, a hot cup of tea and the feel of an old skool clubroom; riders chatting about the challenges of the day ahead.
After a cuppa and a briefing from Brendan we got underway and right out of the box, the climbing began, with a 14 percent gradient out the back of Clapham village and into the hills above the A65.
The route continued the climb, circling the western flank of the massive, imposing Ingleborough Hill, its brooding peak shrouded in dark cloud. There followed a drop into Ingleton, through the town and beneath the viaduct before another, steeper ascent took riders to Kingsdale – a forgotten, enchanting valley with a singletrack road running through it. The road climbed and descended for a few miles along the valley side until a screamer of a descent into Dent, a picture-perfect village of whitewashed stone cottages with a cobbled main street.
From Dent we dropped into Dentdale, a beautiful valley with the fledgling River Dee babbling over the rocks to the right and the viaducts of the Settle to Carlisle Railway spanning the peaks to the left. The road reared up at the end of the valley beneath a viaduct and up a wicked ramp of tarmac, eventually meeting the B road to Gayle Moor.
The wide, straight downhill past Blea Moor and Far Gearstones was welcome relief and I’d gone from bottom gear to top in a matter of minutes, tucked low over the bars, barrelling down the road towards Ribblehead, the majestic viaduct suddenly appearing, framed by the hulking mass of Whernside and Ingleborough, two of the famous Three Peaks.
We turned left at the T junction onto the Horton road and dead ahead lay the third ‘Peak’ Pen y Ghent, with wisps of cloud spilling off its flattened summit. The rolling Ribblesdale road took us through Selside to Horton, where a treat awaited in the tiny village hall.
Now, feedstation food can vary greatly from ride to ride, but the West Riding Classic played its ace at Horton – homemade Yorkshire Parkin, made, so I’m told, by Mrs McSherry and spicy pumpkin seed soup served with butter and crusty rolls, washed down with industrial quantities of tea and coffee, with bananas for the jersey pocket. If, like me, you’ve ever craved real food at a sportive, then the West Riding Classic is most definitely the ride for you.
With a heavy heart and an even heavier belly, I checked out of the feedstation with the day’s first rain beading off my helmet as I got back up to temperature on the road toward Settle. Soon, we turned off the valley road at the pretty village of Stainforth and up a brutal climb onto the bleak but beautiful Malham Moor. Here, the Long and Extra Long routes divided – the ultra hardy entrants ranging a further 15 miles towards Littondale. I’d chosen the 60 mile option and headed past Malham Tarn and the stunning precipice of Malham Cove before tackling the hair-raising descent into Malham village.
From here, the relentless climbing continued with a savage 1 in 6 climb out of nearby Kirkby Malham the highlight. From here the route plunged down past an imposing crag before a brief rise, after which the road plummeted off the high plateau down into the market town of Settle, before a final few miles on leg sapping rolling roads on the fringe of the Trough of Bowland, avoiding the A65 and passing through Eldroth before arriving back at Clapham, where another hot cup of tea and a warm welcome awaited.
Over a cuppa, I chatted with Brendan, congratulating him on a winning route and winning formula and of course, great Parkin and soup. “I’ll email you the recipe”, said Brendan, before going on to explain the rationale behind his event; a challenging but beautiful sportive with a proper, civilised sit down lunch and real food. The 150 riders who entered this year were up 50 percent on last year’s entry, with Brendan seeing a lot of familiar faces from the 2011 edition – a cast-iron recommendation and a sign that the organisers are onto a winner. We hope that the event continues to grow in 2013, whilst retaining its authentic, nostalgic feel (and the parkin).