Following a night of gusts and heavy showers, the day of the White Rose Classic was greeted by blue skies and sunshine. Despite a damp start and light drizzle early morning, the event, starting and finishing in the picturesque town of Ilkley, West Yorkshire, hit the most epic of routes as it passed by the classic Yorkshire ‘three peaks’. British Cycling's Ian Phillips, and friends, tackled the 115 mile long route.
Thankfully, by the time my comrades and I jumped in the van for a short trip down the road to our local cycling superhighway, the winds of the previous evening and drumming rain had stopped, leaving a damp road and a mild to cool start for the morning. The four of us arrived bang on time and luckily, rider five, who travelled solo, was running a little late. It fairness, this gave us a far better perspective on the weather, as we slowly added more items of clothing to ourselves and our pockets in preparation for the 115 miles that lay ahead.
Sign-on was swift and easy and we hit the road around at 08.30. The pace was steady and social as ever as we wound around our familiar roads towards Otley and the first challenge of the day. Locally known as ‘Norrid’ or correctly spelt as Norwood, climb winds its way up and around to the omnipotent radio mast and towards the ‘Golf Balls’ just past the A65. We swiftly turned off the main road after cresting the ‘Norrid’ Peak, which at this stage was steep, but seemingly not too painful. It certainly is steep at the best of times and it starts by sucking all speed from you on the approach, but it’s a sure sign and good warm up for things to come.
We dropped across the picturesque valley and up through the leafy winding lanes of West End heading across the A65 and quickly back in to the middle of the uninterrupted landscape as we gained some reasonable height up towards the top of the infamous Greenhow Hill. The route passed over the Stumpcross Caverns and wound its way across the moor heading towards Grassington. By this time, riders were strung out on the road taking shelter from the persistent headwind. The group conversation had somewhat eased at this point as we headed up and down dale to reach the first feed station.
An impressive team of ‘dibbers’ were on hand to ensure times were clocked, where we loaded up on sandwiches, water and fruit loaf, which all went down rather well. We then pooped in to a local coffee shop were the team were clearly divided on their best plans and tastes. Two opted for the classic and swift option of espresso, which was most sensible given we were at the approximate 30 mile stage of 110 mile journey. Two ordered their regular tall coffee thinking they were here for the long run; and surprisingly our number five chose an espresso, which was puzzling followed by “I don’t like coffee”. Naturally, this caused some amusement for all in the small shop, however, we were all very impressed with his team effort.
Moving on, we heard the tales of woe as we headed up the valley and wound our way towards Fleet Moss. Something I had heard of in cycling folklore, but nothing more. The weather was now consistently brighter, but still not the breaking sunshine we had hoped for. Saying that, given our increasingly remote position, we were quite happy that the wind and driving rain from the night before was no longer anywhere in sight.
We followed the peat rich river that flowed and tumbled through the bottom of the valley for a good five miles before we could see the road that climbed and rolled before us. Before too long we too were looking into the distance to see the long and winding road that would take us up to the summit. It was steady, it was rolling, but some of the steep ‘steps’ that took us up to the summit kicked on for quite some time. Eventually we reached the top with some jubilation before we regrouped again for the descent. This certainly doesn’t disappoint as following a couple of tight twists the road plummets directly off the tops in to the stunning valley towards Hawes. Some mile or two later around the 60 mile mark, we stopped again at feed station two where we refuelled and shared our stories of the journey so far.
Above photographs by www.cyclesportphotos.com
From here the rolled directly west heading towards the distant and visible hills of the Lake District. After approximately another five miles, we sharply turned left for what appeared to be a short sharp climb. This however was long, rather than short lived, as it continued to head up and up across some seriously challenging terrain as we rapidly climbed the steep hillside. The views were incredible and the road beneath was a far and distant memory. Again following a roller coaster traverse of the upper slopes we hit the well sign posted descent. This is tight, windy and steep. Oh it’s steep and we were just glad we didn’t have to come up it. This ran across country where we saw a first glimpse of the impressive viaducts that were built in the area during the industrial revolution. Following a stunning, winding road we hit the trunk road down to the iconic Ribblehead viaduct. That’s some structure and easily as impressive in the flesh as has been seen in many films and pictures.
Our pace quickened again as we took the road due south having passed the midway point and what decisively felt like a hightail for home. The road pitched and rolled once more, with the miles pleasantly ticking past as we headed to the town of Settle. Somewhere I had never been, had often seen and heard about, but also somewhere we were not destined to go on this occasion. With about 1 mile to go the talk between companions mentioned the recollection of a penultimate haul up prior to the much needed feed station at 90 miles.
We swung off our favoured rolling descent passing swiftly onto a winding lane passing a series of period stone cottages, over cobbles and winding around a dense network of homes. Here we swung up; up and away as the ascent unravelled itself in an incredibly steep and unforgiving climb where at mile 85 it was a definite lung buster. Camaraderie however was high and remaining riders pushed on, spinning or grinding away. On top the views again crossed many miles of uninterrupted rolling hills. Some 15 minutes later following a glorious hedgerow lined descent we arrived at the quaint village hall in Airton. More sandwiches, bananas and fruit loaf would now surely get us home. 30 miles to go and the hills rolled on through Hetton, Appletreewick and back to the super cycle highway towards Bolton Abbey; at last, familiar territory and finally we are on the way home.
By now, the sun was out and the damp drizzle of the morning was a distant memory. For the visitors, the repeated question of “so how long is this final climb Langbar?” Met our reply “Oh, well, not as bad as the others covered already today” This however was insufficient and did little to settle their minds, however good will and abnormally high levels of sugar kept spirits high. Rolling out, the climb jumps up amidst the bracken, before opening up, hitting a well placed cattle grid and passing on to the bottom of the true climb. It rears up and stings like the best of the rest already passed and continues to roll well on to the top some several hundred metres later. It has to be longer and steeper than I care to recall, but that said, last time I hadn’t covered 100 plus miles earlier. From here, a final gasp at the view across Ilkley before dropping down to a warm reception at the Ilkley HQ.
What a day, what an event, when can I register to do it again next year?