Now into its second year, this Skipton-based event treats participants to a lumpy route through the Pennines with some pretty spectacular views. It’s also managed to keep an intimate, small-scale feel, which is surprising given the big name (and equally big legs) it’s attached to.
Speaking to some of the team running the proceedings, I got the impression this is all down to the family feel (however cheesy that sounds) created by Evans Cycles staff from across the country meeting at this North Yorkshire school to run a great event. If I understood correctly, staff have a number of events they are required to help out at each year which therefore leads to what could almost be an away day – but with some associated things to do.
So there is a nugget of information for you: it’s one of Evans Cycles’ portfolio of Ride It events which is essentially their sportive offering. This is the second Evans event I’ve ridden and so far, so good.
Rather fortunately, I’d managed to get a place on the HOY Experience which was actually a two-dayer up at the event HQ. For the decidedly not bad price of £70, fans of Sir Chris Hoy and those who wanted to do more than just the 100 miles could attend a Q&A with the man himself on the Saturday night while ingesting just about as much pasta as they could manage.
At 6pm the school hall hosted around 100 cyclists who were sat around dinner tables. Up on the stage was a big marketing spread with a sizeable photo of Chris, a HOY bike prototype and a vacant table and chairs. Following an introduction, Chris and his interviewer took those seats and were soon into deep conversation covering topics as broad as the Olympics, writing fiction, racing cars, supporting young riders – and red wine. At some point Graeme Obree arrived and was given a nod, ready to ride the 100 miler with Chris the following day as something of an established sportive buddy.
Following questions from the floor, the interrogation ended and the room was soon busy with people completing registration and carrying plates of carbohydrate to and fro. The spread put on was pretty impressive and, arriving late, I was actively encouraged to have multiple puddings to get rid of them. Not a problem!
While there was an impressive mix of mobile habitation in the shape of camper vans, I opted for a camping spot – except I’d pitched my tent in the day and therefore didn’t realise it was underneath a floodlight. Oops! Everyone was pretty early to bed and apart from some yappy dogs who yapped for a short while and a faraway power ballad disco (that I found out Graeme Obree had briefly attended), it was a good under canvas experience.
On the morning of the event I got up with enough time to enjoy the free breakfast which was in the same hall as the Q&A the night before. This time however, the number of riders had spiralled as those just riding the event (and not on the HOY Experience) were getting signed on and ready to go.
Being part of the HOY Experience meant I started in an advance group with Chris, Graeme – and the 100 or so other riders from the evening before. Crossing the start line however meant going through a bit of a thin funnel, meaning that the advance party had stretched out somewhat. This meant a bit of a frenetic chase back on and probably the hardest start I’ve ever made to a sportive – definitely against the advice that Chris had given at the Q&A to pace yourself and not go out too fast!
After about ten minutes of going seriously into the red, we caught up with what I’ll refer to as the Hoy group, even though there were two former world champions in there. While I perhaps only lasted another 15 minutes or so, riding with Sir Chris Hoy and holding Graeme Obree’s wheel was a pretty fantastic experience as we swung through beautifully quiet lanes.
Slowing down a bit, I soon fell into a steady rhythm and there were always a couple of people within sight to chat to. With a few really punchy climbs the conversation sometimes had to take a back seat, but it was an immensely interesting route and really quiet in terms of other road users.
I ended up only riding the 50 mile route due to having to scurry back for other commitments in the afternoon, though this matched the first and last 25 miles of the longer route. While I definitely missed a good chunk of climbing and some wonderful landscape, the mixture of riding with a couple of cycling heroes and exploring new places made for an absolutely brilliant day out.
To give those with an idea of the area an idea for the route, we headed north west out of Skipton and through Rylstone, before an immediate dog leg back on ourselves (where the chase onto the Hoy group became particularly painful!). From here, the arrows pointed directly north up to Rylstone begfore heading out west through Hetton and Malham via a southerly loop.
Still heading northwards, the first of the marked climbs was Malham Cove, a two-mile climb averaging 6%, but with a sizable 0.4m section of 12%. Looking up from the tarmac, the view out to the east is absolutely glorious – made all the more magical by the early morning sun.
A few miles on and we found ourselves at another climb: this time Nab End (but from the Brootes Lane side). This one was again a bit of an energy-sapper, with an average gradient of 9% over one kilometre – at times ramping up to 21%. From the looks of Strava however, it was the crazily fast and technical descent on the other side that most people actually climb. I’d say that either way requires some serious effort and concentration!
With a roll along the valley carved out by the River Skirfare, we soon arrived at the SiS feed station and grabbed a few sweet and savoury bits to nibble. By this point all those doing the 100 miles had tuned off, but would be back later to fuel their final fifth. The route planners had also been kind and not set anything too challenging at this point so riders had time to digest.
Following the River Wharfe’s meandering path south east, our small group quickly covered the miles past Linton and Burnsall, before heading south west towards the final marked climb, Halton Moor. With a couple of short, steep climbs dominating the start of the sportive, this one felt pretty different as we watched it stretch up and off into the distance.
At 2.1km with an average gradient, the climb actually starts off really gently to give you a good view of what’s ahead. Curving up the side of the rise, the road then constantly gets up to double figures and really doesn’t offer much respite until you plateau out at the top. Getting your breath back however, you could start to see Skipton peeking into view and it was a lovely, smooth descent back down into the town.
After what seemed like only a few minutes, we were rolling back into the school grounds to be handed a congratulatory HOY musette packed full of goodies. There was also plenty of food on offer to help with initial recovery and it was a beautiful day to be sat outside.
With 50 and 100 mile routes on offer, riders were constantly arriving back to the HQ to hang up their bikes and grab a plate of pasta. Out on the playing field, there was also a British Cycling Go-Ride session for young people which had appeared in the event emails in the run up to the event. This was a great touch, with local children and the sons and daughters of those who had taken part tackling obstacles on a technical little circuit under the expert guidance of a British Cycling Coach.
All in all, this really was a brilliantly organised event and definitely one of the friendliest I’ve been to. It helped that the weather was completely on our side, but I can’t help but wish I’d been out there with the majority of riders for those extra 50 miles. One of the best things about Evans Cycles’ Ride It events however is that they give you a printed copy of the route map, meaning you can go back for a repeat attempt or even use it to make up your own alternatives. Talk about leaving a legacy!