The Push Hog Legacy: Stage 11 – The Heart of York Bike Ride

Finally I have managed to finish my blog ‘Stage 11 The Heart of York Bike Ride’. I’ve attempted numerous times to write down the final instalment of the ‘Push Hog Legacy’, without much success, but here it is… better late than never!

On Sunday 9th September 2012 I took part in The Heart of York Bike Ride, a cyclosportive organised by The British Heart Foundation. If you’ve been following ‘The Push Hog Legacy’ over the last couple of months you will know this is the event I’ve trained for *sort of* and is my second sportive of the year.

I woke on Sunday morning to bright sunshine, although when I went to grab my bike from the garage it soon dawned how cold it was, a shock to the system after a run of mild weather, however I ‘manned up’ and got my kit together. Before long, Marvin had arrived with his bike rack for the 30 mile drive towards the start in York, so off we set.

The Heart of York Bike Ride can only be tackled over two distances, 30km and 60km, both routes begin in New Earswick in the north of York and take in the beautiful Howardian Hills, an area of outstanding natural beauty in and around Castle Howard. For myself, and my trusted ‘super domestique’ Marvin, it was a no brainer as we decided to tackle the 60km route.

Pre-Event Organisation

Even though we only entered the event two weeks before the actual start date, I wasn’t at all impressed with the initial level of organisation, which included a severe lack of online information at point of entry and a sparse welcome pack, with a paper number I had to laminate myself, so I was not expecting too much, but any excuse for a bike ride…

Preparation

Anybody who has read ‘The Push Hog Legacy’ will know that this is only my second cyclosportive and until recently I didn’t even know that I was training for it! I have managed 197 miles in training, added to the almost 300 miles earlier in the year, I felt well prepared for the ride.

On the day I wore bib shorts with padding and a cycling jersey with three pockets for easy to reach essentials. I also had a decent pair of sports socks and cycling shoes with mountain bike cleats, finished off with cycling gloves, a helmet and sun glasses. Not forgetting a couple of drinks bottles, a flapjack, wine gums and of course some ‘Cumbrian EPO’.

Event Headquaters

We arrived at the University of York campus in New Earswick, the starting point of The Heart of York Bike Ride, aptly parking in the neighbouring Kit-Kat factory car park! The weather was still a bit sharp, so we quickly got ourselves together and rode the short distance from the car to the start line.

At the main entrance gate The British Heart Foundation had set up their start and finish post, however no official timing for the event was supplied, after all this was a ‘bike ride’ not a race, therefore no accurate times could be given to the participant on completing their chosen event, but with my GPS this wasn’t such a problem.

Behind the start point some stalls and tables had been set out to allow the participants to register and also buy some refreshments if required. The welcome pack had alluded to the fact that refreshments would be available to buy, but after a brief chat with one of the organisers it became clear that free water would be available at the feed stations along the route. We also found out that the event had been hastily arranged, hence the lack of detail in the welcome pack, but assured that the course was fully marshalled we headed off to the start line.

New Earswick to Haxby

As we roll over the start line, somewhat tentatively as the track is full of pot holes, our cyclosportive begins and at the main gates we turn left and head along Haxby Road. The beginning of the bike ride is a gentle affair and myself and Marvin are joined by a few other cyclists as we negotiate the suburban streets of New Earswick.

I lead the way and set off at a good pace, the roads are pan flat and the asphalte is smooth, so a steady 20mph soon warms the body and if I’m honest I wanted to find out the quality of our peloton, as I prefer to be amongst the stronger riders so I can mange my own effort instead of some young ‘racing snake’ forcing the pace!

Before long we reach the outskirts of the village and our first sight of a Marshal, who expertly motions us towards a subway under the busy A1037, asking us to keep left to avoid any pedestrians. We take the narrow underpass steadily and emerge onto York Road, which leads us into the village of Haxby.

Haxby to Strensall

Continuing our journey at a fair old lick, I am riding blind as I haven’t a clue where I’m going, luckily a well placed arrow points me to turn right onto Station Road. I have to say that now that we are a couple of miles into the ride I am not too impressed that we are still cycling through busy narrow suburban streets, which is something I tend to avoid for a variety of reasons, not least because there really isn’t any need for it when York is surrounded with beautiful open countryside, something I have yet to see.

Feeling a bit tired I indicate to the cyclist behind me to come past, luckily it’s Marvin who breezes past giving me the chance to catch my breath as I coast in his slipstream. Now cycling along Towthorpe Road it also becomes apparent that we are now a peloton of just three, having shed a couple of our group riding through Haxby. It is also clear that the bloke at the back has no intention of helping out, I gesture for him to pass without reply… obviously we have ourselves a wheel sucker!

Now before you start moaning at me for being uncharitable, I should point out that group riding only works effectively if everybody does their fair share. This is three fold:

1. It speeds up the riding as the pain and gain of slipstreaming is shared.

2. Having somebody on your wheel is dangerous, they rely on you picking the right course and that takes a lot of concentration, which should be shared.

3. It is polite, wheel suckers are expending up to 60% less energy if they ride efficiently.

I digress, eventually Towthorpe Road leads us into open countryside, taking a winding route on flat roads before we reach the junction with Strensall Road, which leads us to the outskirts of Towthorpe and eventually towards Strensall itself.

Strensall to Flaxton

On approaching the outskirts of Strensall I take over the lead from Marvin and do my best to keep the pace high, we are still averaging about 18mph as the terrain continues to be flat and sheltered. Now cycling along Flaxton Road, passing York Golf Club, we encounter the scourge of all cyclists, Farmers cutting hawthorne hedges! Luckily all three of our peloton pass the thorny road without puncture and soon we reach York Lane, which bears right towards the village of Flaxton.

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The roads continue to be flat, however the condition of the surface is poor in places and we all keep a look out for pot holes, something the organisers had warned us about before we set off. The weather is also improving, now the early morning chill has disappeared and the sun is now beating down on our backs as we push hard. Before long we reach the outskirts of Flaxton where I once again move aside to allow Marvin some time at the front.

Flaxton to Thornton-le-Clay

As we ride past Flaxton we turn left onto Rice Lane and Marvin puts down the hammer, it’s a tough pace but I know he’s taking advantage of the flat roads before we hit the hills in and around Castle Howard. As we approach the train crossing we catch sight of another Marshal who directs those on the 60km route to turn left onto Moor Lane, so as we make the turn our anonymous companion at last finds his voice…

“Thanks for the tow lads, good luck with your ride!”

Now free of any responsibility for our fellow rider we take a breather to have a chunter and a giggle about his wheel sucking, but as we glance to one side we see a ‘Jimmy Savile’ esq looking old timer cycle along, in hindsight this seems quite an unfair comparison, but after seeing the old chap we didn’t feel so aggrieved by his antics, I only hope I’m that fit when I get to that age.

As our journey continued, we cycle at a more leisurely pace along Moor Lane which then leads into Low Street as the country lane takes us into the village of Thornton-le-Clay, a picture perfect village.

Thornton-le-Clay to Bulmer

As we cycle into the village the first feed station is in sight and although the sun is now pounding down on our backs, so far we haven’t expended enough energy or liquids to warrant a stop, so we ride past offering our thanks to the cheery marshals and continue our journey.

Cycling out of the village I comment to Marvin that the roads have been surprisingly flat, alas this is a case of ‘famous last words’ as we take a right hand turn onto Skegmer Lane, where we take a slight incline to a ridge, pretty tough on the legs having only ridden flat roads so far. Once we crest the road, passing a sign to welcome us to the ‘Howardian Hills’, the landscape completely changes, the views are wonderful as the whole road dips down below our feet and we travel at over 40mph towards the junction with Stittenham, breathtaking in more ways than one!

At the junction we again take a right hand turn and taking time to settle our nerves, we look up to what I can only describe as Yorkshire’s version of an Italian mountain pass, Bulmer Hill, a spectacular climb with an almost hairpin turn two thirds the way up – I had no idea this even existed, now I had to ride up it. Steeling ourselves we aim our bikes down Stittenham Hill, a very steep descent and one not for the feint hearted. Marvin was the first to set off, I swear he has nerves of steel when he descends, never once feathering his breaks, not me, I start off on my breaks, not that it makes a blind bit of difference, the hill is so steep I risked going over a**e over, so I release and *metaphorically speaking* close my eyes hoping for the best!

Half way down the hill I’m almost touching 40mph, Marvin is 100 yards in front, but we both have to pull our breaks when a car travelling in the opposite direction doesn’t leave much room, so safety first, we cruise to the bottom of the hill, this turns out to be unfortunate, as looming before us is Bulmer Hill, so we begin out ascent without any momentum. We cycle the lower section together, but the road is narrow and busy, so Marvin goes in front and I desperately try to take a tow, towards the steeper higher section.

The hill soon begins to wear me down, but I am absolutely determined to get to the top, so I use every amount of effort to eventually reach the apex with the hairpin bend. Once at the left hand turn I move as wide to the right as I dare, after all that is the wrong side of the road, unfortunately a car is coming in the opposite direction so I swiftly return and have to stand on my pedals at the steepest possible point, but I manage the corner only for my foot to slip out of my clip! This has never happened before and I panic, my bike actually moves backwards as I comically fall off into a grass verge, grazing my calf in a vain attempt to keep upright.

Regular readers of my cycling blog will be well versed with my struggles and numerous failures on climbs, Bulmer Hill is the latest in this long list, but in my defence, I had just rounded an extremely steep left hander and was about to sit back in my saddle to finish the climb, so I’m claiming mechanical failure this time rather than the usual lack of determination!

Brushing myself down and seeing not only Marvin cycle out of sight, but also a couple of young lads we had past in the first couple of miles of the ride, I climb back on my bike and put all my effort into finishing what I’d started, eventually reaching the top of the climb and cycling into Bulmer for a well earned rest and comfort break.

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Bulmer to Castle Howard

Now finally off my bike, I am completely knackered, my legs are like jelly and I feel sick with the effort, not helped by the unrelenting late summer sunshine beating down on my head, unsurprisingly it takes fifteen minutes before I even think about getting back onto my bike.

As we set off on the next leg of our journey, we have covered roughly a third of the distance, with the tough roads around Castle Howard still to come. Riding out of Bulmer, a very pretty village, we soon find ourselves on more familiar flat roads and follow the road toward the village of Welburn. Before long we reach a cross roads where we turn left and our first glimpse of the gates to Castle Howard can be had.

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The road running past Castle Howard, going by the name of The Stray, is long straight and contours up and down between a number of gates, as we cycle through the first gate we soon begin our climb toward another more grand gate with a pyramid shaped roof. The climb is hard on my tired legs and I’m relieved to get through the gate for a bit of rest bite.

Our next target is to reach a huge obelisk centred on a roundabout, this section of the road is bizarre, I can only imagine what the locals thought when the Howard family first moved in and began building these monuments, this landscape really is spectacular on a grande scale and its a real pleasure to cycle this route. Deciding to inject a bit of impetus into my ride, I sprint up the next hill and soon reach the roundabout, where we continue straight on past Castle Howard to our right.

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Castle Howard to Hoveringham

The straight road continues to rise up and down, making progress erratic, our pace is slowed even further by the poor state of the tarmac surface, coupled with the now searing heat of the late morning, luckily we soon reach the final climb which takes us on to more level roads and a chance to catch our breath along Slingsby Bank, which offers great views of the surrounding area.

Cycling toward the village of Slingsby, we take a left turn on to the B1257 Malton Road, which is a busy rural road that gently rolls towards the village of Hoveringham and on riding into the village we are relieved to see another feed station, this time we stop for a well earned rest.

The feed station is well stocked with liquids and we are offered an energy drink and water, along with homemade flapjack, smashing, just what the doctor ordered and although I usually don’t have much of an appetite during exercise, my sweet tooth cannot resist!

Hoveringham to Terrington

After resting for ten to fifteen minutes we wait for a larger group of riders to set off before following them out of the village and up Potticar Bank, a long hill with a nasty constant gradient and not an ideal section of road to tackle with cold legs and a belly full of flapjack!

We are soon out of our seats, both of us doing our best to get some momentum going. Luckily the climb isn’t too steep, nothing like Bulmer Hill earlier in the day, so we slowly ease ourselves up the hill using a couple of cyclists further ahead as targets. Even though the sun is now ridiculously hot, with no shade to be found, we soon reach and pass our target riders and before long the worst of the hill is out of the way as the road levels out.

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The ride continues along the narrow country lane, entering a small copse which offers excellent shade and a chance to sit up and take on more of those all important liquids. Before long we approach the edge of Terrington, taking a left turn on to Terrington Bank where we are greater by more enthusiastic marshals, only this time instead of offering gooey flapjack, the offer a warning about the next section of road, a steep decent on a pot hole infested road…

Terrington to Sheriff Hutton

Thanking the Marshal’s for their warnings, we tentatively cycle along Terrington Bank South, emerging from a small wooded area to see the decent in front of us. I’m not a brilliant descender, I fell off on a similar stretch of road in training, so I’m in no mood to break any land speed records, therefore I feather my breaks and let my bike do the work.

The hill is only half a mile long and the road isn’t as bad as I had feared, but I am still glad that I took it easy as I reach the bottom having only averaged a speed of 24mph, pitiful considering the fastest average on Strava is 47mph!

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The ride continues over the rolling countryside, I am really enjoying the second third of this route, the views are great and although the roads are ropey in places, they are quiet and challenging. The next section of the route is the hill into Sheriff Hutton, a half mile drag up Daskett Hill. I’m quickly feeling my legs, I’m thinking that they are now shot, so quite quickly I put the push hog on the bottom gear to drag me to the top, I get their eventually but not without a bit of effort.

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Sheriff Hutton to Wigginton

Leaving Sheriff Hutton I knew that the worst part of the ride was now over, and so it proved to be with a relatively uneventful cycle towards Wigginton, with the roads becoming flatter and the average speed once again moving towards 16mph.

Cycling out of the village via Finkle Street, then joining Main Street, we take time to rest after the difficult and long climb. It’s not long before we reach Sheriff Hutton Road, which steadily takes us towards the junction with Link Road, where another friendly Marshal greets us with offers of drinks and biscuits, so we decide its time to stop for a rest.

It’s not long before we set off again and before long we reach the junction with Thorne Lane, bearing left and getting closer towards the end of the sportive. Once onto Blackwater Lane any interest in the ride is quickly disappearing, with the roads becoming pan flat, so it’s head down and race home time as we reach the junction with Carr Lane, leading onto Goose Lane and finally the busy B1363 York Road.

Wigginton to New Earswick

The B-Road which leads towards Haxby is busy, I particularly dislike cycling in traffic, it’s pointless is such a rural area and my mood darkens after we are buzzed by a couple of drivers who refuse to offer us room. Along the way we pass what appears to be a fellow cyclist in distress, but she assures us that all is well, I’m not convinced but she waves us on and we soon pick up some speed before reaching Sutton Road which takes us into the suburban village of Haxby.

Making a left hand turn on to Mill Lane we find ourselves in a traffic jam, so mounting the pavement we do our best to manoeuvre around the shoppers eager to get into the city centre. Making a right onto York Road, we are now retracing our tracks from earlier in the day as we once again take a subway underpass to join Haxby Road, which eventually brings us back to the finish point as we complete our second sportive of the year.

The Result

According to Strava we have covered 39.7 miles (64km) with a total moving time of 2hrs 50mins 23secs, however the total time including our feed station stops was 3hrs 14mins 7secs, not a bad effort covering the distance at an average speed of 14mph.

Post Ride

Once we manage to peel ourselves off our bikes, we are greeted by a couple of cheery Marshal’s who offer some more water and their congratulations. We then pick up our goodie bag and t-shirt before sitting on a grass verge to get some liquids back into our bodies, although the ride was flat in places, the Howardian Hills have taken their toll and its a relief to have finished. Having a quick look over my bike I realise that the rear tyre is quite soft and on further inspection I have a thorn in the fat of the tyre, how it didn’t deflate I will never know, but as much as I’d like to say it affected my performance, it didn’t!

Verdict

I have to be honest with myself and admit that once again I am disappointed to have not completed a sportive without getting off my bike, it’s becoming a nasty habit, something I certainly need to address next season.

This is my second sportive of the year and although not as well organised as the Big G in East Yorkshire, the enthusiasm of the brilliant Marshal’s will bring me back again next year if the ride is run again.

I should also note that we were especially grateful for the numerous drinks stops and the homemade flapjack at the bottom of Potticar Bank, not to mention the terrific weather and it was all in aid of The British Heart Foundation.

The route itself didn’t start or end that well, that’s the difficulty in a ride which begins and ends in a busy city. Also, the North Yorkshire roads are in extremely poor condition in comparison with roads in my local East Yorkshire, so vigilance was the order of the day.

The highlight of the ride was in and around Castle Howard, the route was not only challenging but also interesting. I would suggest a 20 mile loop starting and ending in Sheriff Hutton would be a fantastic training ride for most abilities and I challenge anybody to find better views in the whole of the country.

Total Distance Covered: 237 miles
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