It was a long hard slog but I got there in the end.
After three and a half months on slaving away on a static bike midweek and going on lone bike rides every weekend, I’ve gone from novice to cycling the 190km Leeds to Harrogate stage one of the Tour de France in under eight hours.
It all started as a naive journey into the unknown. I admire top cyclists for their endurance feats but never really knew what it might take to complete just one part of the gruelling 21-stage Tour.
I’d never ridden a road bike and hadn’t cycled in a decade but the Tour came along, I’ve wanted to do something for charity for a little while, so I stuck my hand up and said ‘how hard can it be?’.
I chose to support the long-running Half and Half Appeal that benefits both Leeds’ St Gemma’s and Wheatfields hospices, after my mum was cared for by a hospice charity before her death last year, and figured I’d manage somehow.
The training was draining, time consuming and often mind-numbing outside of going out on rides but I felt I’d done all I could to be ready on Sunday. I feel as physically fit as I’ve ever been.
With a bike loaned from Cyclesense, in Tadcaster, equipment from Wheelbase and a training plan and guidance from Tom Barras of training-pro.co.uk in hand, I met Welcome to Yorkshire project manager and keen endurance cyclist Chris Cockerill outside the Harewood Estate – where the timed July 5 stage one route officially begins – on Sunday at 6.30am.
Nervous, having never tackled a full Tour climb before, I rolled through the Wharf Valley pretty smoothly, then Addingham, through picturesque Skipton and then had a cafe stop at the Kilnsey Park Estate.
From that first 60km alone, the infectious spirit and themes of the roadshow that is the Tour de France were immediately evident. From the yellow bikes in Pool, Otley and Ilkley, to the giant yellow jersey draped over Skipton Castle, Yorkshire is truly engrossed in Tour fever.
After a hearty sausage sandwich and feeling reasonably comfortable we cycled on through Kettlewell and Buckden before hitting the first climb – Kidstones Pass.
The gradual incline was manageable at first but a steep last section took all I had to keep going. Once I’d conquered it, the glorious descent off the tops was breathtaking and well worth the effort.
A few hours of churning the pedals led us to the next stop in Hawes, and despite the constant refuelling with energy bars, gels and water I was starting to feel it.
We detoured along the Tour-tinged Hawes cobbles for an early lunch at Cafe Curva and turned around to rejoin the route and start the climb up Buttertubs.
As the highest point on both Yorkshire Tour routes, it took a while to reach the summit – it was at times unbearable. Thankfully though, I managed it, and on reaching the top witnessed breathtaking views over Swaledale.
Another hour or so of undulating roads led us to another cafe stop at the Dales Bike Centre in Reeth but it wasn’t long before we hit the last climb, Grinton Moor. Another tough slog, it felt like a mountain for a novice on tired legs.
After what seemed an endless return journey, with my left leg gradually cramping and body caving in, we hit Harrogate. I’d finished. What a journey.
When the soreness had softened and the adrenaline had worn off the feelings that remain surround the fact that excitement for the Tour is tangible in Yorkshire.
With days to go, I know more than ever that the county is in for an unbelievable weekend. Businesses and communities across the county are sure to feel the effect of an event that has already engaged the county.
My 15-week journey has raised the Half and Half Appeal over £800 and counting, and there’s still time to donate. To help me reach £1,000 visit www.justgiving.com/letourtrial.