Fabulous views await those ready to take on some of the most challenging cycling country in the UK. Meanwhile Sarah Marsden is working out why the phrase “Yorkshire Flat” is so apt. Here are her 5 best local climbs.
Since moving to Yorkshire and becoming a cyclist, I’ve been left with one overwhelming impression: it is not flat. Races, both cycling and running, have tricked me before with their course descriptions as ‘Yorkshire flat’, which I now realise is a euphemism for ‘you’d better bring some climbing legs; you’ll need them’. To the new cyclist, this makes those first club rides a torturous experience, but with a little persistence and perhaps a change of cassette, conquering these climbs brings an enormous sense of reward. These are a mix of my personal favourites and iconic Yorkshire climbs, nestled what many argue to be the home of British cycling.
1. Cow and Calf, Ilkley. After Yorkshire’s hugely successful hosting of last year’s Tour de France Grand Depart, the county had been buzzing with excitement about the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire, a three day stage race ending in Leeds and taking in some of the county’s most scenic cycling country. Both the pro peloton and the amateur sportive riders on the final day faced some tough climbs on the way into Leeds, but none attracted a crowd larger or gave more scenic views from the top than the climb up to the top of Ilkley Moor, to the Cow and Calf rocks. There are three different climbs to take you to the top of Ilkley Moor for a stunning view of the surrounding countryside, but the organisers chose this devilish climb for the riders to face; near the end of day three, they rolled over some cattle grids, and as they saw the crowds ahead, they also saw the road start to rise steeply in front of them. The climb is 1.2 miles long, and has an average gradient of 8%; tough enough, one might say, at the end of a long day of climbing, but it was the 17% section near the top that saw the peloton and the amateurs alike show their best pain faces to the assembled Yorkshire masses. Personally, whilst this climb is beautiful, I take the rather less steep South Side route up, and enjoy the marvellous descent to those cattle grids…
2. Otley Chevin, Leeds. Ask any Leeds-based cyclist to name a climb they love to hate, and it will invariably be this one. Compared to the Cow and Calf it is a breeze; 1.7 miles long and only 3% average. It’s a satisfying climb, in that the gradient is gentle and remains fairly constant all the way up, so can be tackled all in the same (not too small) gear. Why so unpleasant then? Well, if you’re Leeds based, this climb is the final kick in the teeth at the end of many social rides back from the Ilkley and Otley areas, and if you participate in one of Leeds’ many chaingangs, it’s the last part to sort the men from the boys, where it’s every man for himself to the top, and some staggeringly fast times have been recorded up there.
3. Buttertubs Pass, Richmond North Yorkshire. One day last July this barren, beautiful Cat 3 climb was transformed into the biggest demonstration of Yorkshire’s love for cycling. Anybody who watched Stage 1 of the Tour de France last year will have seen this road ten deep with fans, parting like the red sea for Moses as the peloton wound its way up this punishing 1.3 mile climb; it averages 9% overall, but with a steep, punishing middle section and a long false flat drag to the top, it was one of the first stage’s defining climbs. Since that day last July, this achingly beautiful climb has been a destination for many of the county’s keen cyclists to test their climbing legs, and is featured in the list of Top 100 British Climbs, as well as in sportives such as the Etape du Dales.
4. Creskeld Lane, Leeds. If the group on a ride votes a resounding no to the drag up Otley Chevin back into Leeds at the end, this is the alternative; after the flat sprint through Pool taken by the Tour de Yorkshire peloton, instead of facing the ominously named Black Hill that they did, Creskeld Lane is the climb of choice. At just one mile long and 5% average gradient, it does not sound like much of a challenge, but the twisting mix of steep sections and false flats, with a final kick in the teeth at the end, makes it a satisfying climb. It’s one of the first Cat 4 climbs I tackled as a new cyclist, and one of the rare hills I return to frequently by choice to tackle, both because I love it, and because it’s a great measure of strength and improvement to see my speed improve up there.
5. Norwood Edge, Leeds. Another one of the Top 100 Climbs and an old-school favourite of many Yorkshire hill climbs, there is no doubt this one is tough. Just north of Otley and heading towards Pateley Bridge, this climb offers stunning views over the Wharfedale Valley, but not before a quad-burning 1.2 mile climb, hitting a maximum gradient of 16% near the bottom, before it levels out to a more manageable gradient for the long haul to the top. The average is still a steep 9%, making it a fiendishly difficult, intimidating climb for new cyclists, one that’s spoken of in hushed whispers at the start of a ride, and often the decision is made to take the ‘cheat’s route’ up, missing the steep start of the climb, and riding up the second half. With the right gearing and an espresso or two though, I can’t wait to tackle it for the first time!