Hello and welcome to the first of a regular column leading up to one of the most exciting things to happen in my life, the start of the 2014 Tour de France here in Yorkshire.
As such, I thought a good place to start would be with a write up of my experience taking on the 2014 Tour de France Grand Depart from Leeds to Harrogate.
In the months leading up to Le Tour, I will try to provide a view of cycling from the perspective of a regular club rider, looking at the history, culture and workings of my sport, hobby and over-riding (pardon the pun) passion.
I hope this column will provide a useful introduction to the sport for newcomers, while being interesting to more experienced riders.
I will aim to cover a range of topics surrounding cycling, leading up to a guide on Tour terminology, nuances and riders and teams to watch out for. Most of all I hope that you will have as much fun reading it as I will writing it.
I am a qualified Sky Ride leader and can be followed on Twitter @yorkvelo
Name: Christopher Gargett Age: 35 – should be old enough to know better than to wear all over Lycra and shave my legs!
Hometown: Halifax – went to York St John from 1996 to 1999 to study History and York has felt like home ever since (despite a ten-year stint in London).
Passions: Cycling, York and the Yorkshire countryside, film, food and drink
I decided to hold a double celebration last July… one year to go until the greatest show on two wheels hits York and 35 years since I came kicking and screaming into the world.
So it was that I emailed the man responsible for my cycling addiction, my brother Martin, and my uncle who is still churning out the miles well into his 60s. “Hi. Do you both fancy doing the Tour de France Yorkshire Grand Depart?” ran my nonchalant opening line.
“200-odd miles in two days. It’ll be fun. Plus it’s my birthday, so you can’t say no,” I continued, shamelessly emotionally blackmailing my relatives.
I should point out at this stage that I’m prone to this kind of overly ambitious thinking. I’ve seen the Tour de France on TV for years, I’ve ridden all around York, North Yorkshire, Helmsley and the Moors. How hard can it be?
I laughed off my brother’s questions about “training” and “willingness to suffer” with what I’d like to think was the kind of savoir faire displayed by the French cycling pros of the 60s and 70s.
So it came to pass that at 8am on July 13, four brave souls set off from Millennium Square in Leeds and headed north with spirits high and the sun shining in a clear blue sky.
It was a great day to be going out for a spin. Avoiding morning traffic we soon hit Harewood and moved on through Ilkley towards the Yorkshire Dales. Words (well, my words anyway) cannot come close to describing the sheer Lord Of The Rings, picture postcard, dramatic beauty of this part of the world. I mean, it’s seriously good looking – the George Clooney of natural eco/geological development.
That afternoon in the Dales provided the proudest moment in my cycling life to date, as I “danced on the pedals” to the top of Buttertubs Pass, the highest part of the 2014 Tour de France in the UK, almost floating past the “25 per cent incline” sign with a wry grin on my sweat crusted face.
Ten minutes later it also provided the most terrifying moment as a major, properly soaked to the skin in five seconds, rainstorm hit just as we approached the “25 per cent descent” sign.
As my view of the world was reduced to the narrow gap between my sunglasses and helmet, I started to gather an alarming amount of speed. My heart skipped a few beats as brake pads were reduced to slushy useless rubber on red-hot wheel rims while I desperately tried to slow down, avoid sheep (can’t wait to see Chris Froome and the rest of the peleton negotiating that obstacle next year) and generally stay upright.
We eventually all got down safely at varying speeds according to our ability (I was last), having narrowly avoided livestock, and began the long journey towards York.
The rest of the ride took us tantalisingly close to the Black Sheep Brewery at Masham, available in pretty much every good bar in York and well worth a pint or three, and on past the favourite spot of that most famous Son of York, Richard III, at Middleham Castle.
Back to York and home after a total of 148 miles and thoroughly deserving of the greatest pie ever made. Not by my fair hand, but purchased the day before from that outstanding York bar, The House of the Trembling Madness in Stonegate.
If it’s one thing a hungry Yorkie likes, it’s a pie. And the Steak and York Brewery Centurion Ale Pie from THOTTM is a PIE.
“You could feed a family of four with the contents of that and then move them into the crust,” declared Martin. Even Uncle John, veteran of many a pie, looked impressed. Four giant pies, mushy peas and some beers (isotonic, electrolyte and protein replacing beers, of course) at the Tap & Spile in Monkgate later and we were ready to turn in, happy, possibly delirious and feeling that satisfying variety of knackered all at the same time.
Only another 80 miles to go to Halifax tomorrow.
Le Tour de France will come to Yorkshire on July 5 and 6. It will enter Harrogate with what promises to be a dramatic sprint finish on day one and then set off from York city centre on the next morning.
The biggest mass live participation sporting event in the world will be on our very own doorstep and will truly be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
If you love cycling, then you will be counting the days.
If you are curious, then I implore you to dust off that bike in the garage or head down to one of York’s bike shops (I can’t recommend Cycle Heaven in Bishopthorpe Road highly enough) and give it a go.
Check out www.goskyride.com for family friendly organised rides.
But you are warned… you might just get hooked and maybe even start shaving your legs.