The hardest climb not in the world championships

The 49th UCI Road World Championships took place in 1982 around Goodwood Motor Circuit in Sussex. First to complete the 275 km men’s elite road race was Giuseppe Saronni in a time of 6 hours 44 minutes and 22 seconds. Coincidentally, this was almost exactly the time it took Breakaway Digital to make the journey north from our HQ in Sussex to Yorkshire for the 2019 World Champs. Have a read to see what happened when Breakaway’s very own Domestique was let loose with both words and the camera.

Not content with following the races on the telly, we had to be there. Back on the road and back in the opposite end of the country. We had been out on the obligatory ‘world champs reconnaissance ride’, savouring the delights of the Yorkshire Dales and all it has to offer to a two wheeled pedalling enthusiast. As we heaved our bikes and bodies up the ‘less’ steep side of Park Rash I’d be lying if I said we weren’t questioning our decision. Nevertheless once we had made the descent to our HQ in Kettlewell, slurped down a cracking brew and had the warmest shower in the North of England we started to appreciate the ride, and why we were here. 

Struck by the beauty of the hills, the serenity of the valleys and the countless stone bridges arching over endless babbling brooks, at one point on our ride we almost forgot that we had both come down with a beastly cold and were also majorly under-fuelled for almost the entire ride. 

Acting as aspirational directeur sportif’s from the moment we pressed ‘start ride’ on our trusty Wahoo’s we began an intense scrutiny of each and every corner, hidden dip and rise and fall out on the course. Playing through endless scenarios each starting with either ‘imagine if so and so went here’ or ‘if that team drilled it up here the race would blow apart’.  

Starting in Kettlewell we soon found ourselves at the foot of the first major climb of the day. Kidstones pass. At 1.6 km’s long with an average gradient of 8% it isn’t the longest nor the steepest climb the pro’s will ever face. And at its position in the race with 216 km’s remaining the likelihood of one of the favourites attacking here is probably less than the chances of a rain free race. 

Nevertheless it is the first of three tests that will do exactly that. Test the legs. I expect these climbs to echo the well-known saying ‘you can’t win the Tour de France in the first week but you can lose it’. The eventual winner should be tucked deep in the bunch and out of sight. 

As we crested the summit in emerging sunshine and calm winds we knew the weather was on our side. With the forecast looking fairly soggy for the week and storms rolling into the UK the exposed moorlands could be a very different place for all of the upcoming races. Crosswinds could mean echelons and wet roads could mean dangerous descents.  

Down the steep descent and along the valley at quite a lick courtesy of a luscious tailwind we encountered a flood in the road. We pointed this out as a potential danger spot, amused by the image of hundreds of cyclists unclipping as they fly through a foot deep puddle we also added it to our directeur sportif checklist for a pre race debriefing. 

Before too long we had turned right onto the second and definitely best named climb of the race. Buttertubs. Billed as just under 4 km’s at 6.5% it didn’t take long for us to realise that in essence the mercilessly steep lower ramps flatten out and give the climb its average. A hill that will see the end of many of the riders hopes at glory as they find themselves out the back with a hellish chase back on. 

It was the descent that really got us talking, off camber, blind turns, and steep drops off the side of the road. We imagine that were it to be foggy or pouring with rain up there, which it might well be, then there could be some pretty hairy moments. 

Having once again remarked at Yorkshires beauty and acknowledged another splendid bridge we wound up right outside Mary Shaw’s Café. Feeling the pinch and halfway done a toasted tea cake was on the cards. The tea cakes landed on the table with a thud, mostly because of the extreme quantity of strawberry jam that accompanied them. Our moods buoyed by butter, sultanas, jam and coffee we set off in hot pursuit of our third delight of the day. Grinton Moor.

Made famous by recent photos of a bridge collapsed on its upper flanks this climb is as punchy as the torrent that washed the road away in August. Ever changing gradients mimicked the first two climbs as we had come to realise so too did all the roads in the area. As we passed Chris Boardman and a film crew near the top we both decided this had the potential to be a pivotal moment for the elite men. 

No sooner had we stopped at the top but a young, fresh from the Vuelta, slovenian rider in UAE Team Emirates kit gently spun past. A nod of the head from rider and support vehicle driver at least reassured us we were on the right path. 

Soon after Leyburn we turned off the race route. Climbing up Park Rash from the Wensleydale side was long, like a rollercoaster and into a block headwind. Upon realising the task ahead and in desperate need to delay the dreaded bonk I came up with a game. Well, not really a game but rather some mid ride maths. I won’t bore you with details as I did to Dan, but it involved devising a nasty test of riding an accumulative number of km’s for each day of a month. Writing this now with food in my belly and a calculator within arms reach I still haven’t worked it out. One day, maybe. 

Our biggest take home of the day had to be the beauty of Yorkshire. It would be wrong not to salute the county playing host to this festival of lycra, legs and lung busting efforts. For without the dales, bridges, sheep, streams and of course people at the side of the road this wouldn’t be nearly as memorable, enjoyable, inspiring or indeed entertaining as it is and promises to be. 

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