Le Petit Depart is an event launched by Craven District Council and Skipton Cycling Club in 2014; designed to celebrate the very best cycling the Dales has to offer, it follows much of the Tour de France Stage 1 route.
There are two routes to choose from; the Challenge Sportive, which is 80 miles long, with three climbs, along six dales. From the head of Wharfedale the route goes over Kidstones, along the Tour de France route to Hawes, returning to Skipton via the Ribblehead viaduct, Settle and Malhamdale.
The second option is the Scenic Sportive; relatively flat, this 38 mile route follows the 2014 Grand Depart route up and back down the magnificent Upper Wharfedale valley; riders then return via the stunning Bolton Abbey.
Being an ambitious sort, I decided to take on the Challenge Sportive – I knew I’d be pushing the bike up some of those hills, but with plenty of pie stops on the way round, it would be a grand day out.
Setting off early in the morning from Skipton Auction Mart, some speed merchants went hurtling off into the hills, while others of us ‘paced ourselves’ along the Upper Wharfedale Valley. The sun was already shining and this was North Yorkshire at its very best – shimmering rivers, warm green rolling hills and dazzling blue skies.
The route passes under Kilnsey Crag, where you can see climbers dangling off the cliffs like giant spiders, up to the beautiful village of Kettlewell and on through Buckden to the start of the Kidstones Climb.
Kidstones can take you by surprise, but there were the volunteers from Skipton Cycling Club, standing by the road, cheering us on to greater efforts as though we were wearing the Tour de France green jersey. And with race photographers snapping away, there’s an incentive not to collapse in a puddle of sweat.
Reach the top of Kidstones and it feels like you’re on top of the world. Even better, there’s a lovely swoop down into Bishopdale and Wensleydale to savour, while you start dreaming of the feed station waiting for you in Aysgarth. Here you can stock up on Farmhouse Fare pork pies, energy bars, drinks and flapjacks. Le Petit Depart is known as being one of the best sportives for grub around and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s an indisputable fact that sport would be far more popular in the UK if pork pies were provided at every event.
The next stage of the ride follows the road to Hawes, before heading up through Widdale towards the iconic Ribblehead Viaduct. It’s a spectacular view which takes your mind off your legs as you pass through the middle of the famous Yorkshire Three Peaks, with Whernside towering above the railway line.
Turning left at Ribblehead, the ride follows the B6479 all the way down through Horton in Ribblesdale that nestles under Penyghent. Here there is another feed station and many cyclists were taking the option of a fairly leisurely lunch while gearing themselves up for the final leg of the ride.
Back in the saddle, I headed down into Settle, where the world-class Tour de Yorkshire cyclists had raced through the streets a couple of months earlier.
The third, and last major climb of the day, is the appropriately named High Hill Lane. Only seriously fit cyclists will make it up here without getting off and walking. The lane ramps up into the sky out of Settle at 24.5%, and carries on climbing for the next 4.4km. There really is no shame in pushing.
The 2013 National Hill Climbing Champion managed to take this climb in under 12 minutes. Which is just silly, when you can walk up slowly and enjoy the views. And what views. The Highland cattle looming in the fields, the light gleaming off the hills as you head up, and up, and up. And then finally down, with one of the best descents in the Dales, a fast swooping road into Airton in Malhamdale. From Airton you follow the Pennine Cycleway and Way of Roses route over to Hetton, on to Rylstone, and finally back into Skipton. It really was a grand day out and well worth the effort. Back in Skipton there was a fine feast laid on for the weary cyclists as they passed the finish line.
If all that sounds like a little bit too much, the Scenic Sportive is also spectacular without being quite so lung-busting. Shirley Carter took on this route with a friend for the first time last year. “We didn’t know what to expect but we were not disappointed,” she said. “The entire event was extremely well organised and marshalled. All the organisers and volunteers made it a really memorable day. Everyone did a fantastic job in the heat. We enjoyed it so much we are looking forward to next year!”
Finishing the Challenge Sportive in under seven hours, a ‘silver’ classification for women cyclists, I was feeling quite pleased with myself until I discovered that the winner, Lisa Dickinson, had completed the event in four hours and 18 minutes. It wouldn’t be much quicker to go round in a car. She’s only had a road bike since April 2016. Must have been beginners’ luck…
However, she says all cyclists will get something out of Le Petit Depart.
“It’s an exceptionally well organised event - route marked the whole way round - taking in the spectacular views of the Yorkshire Dales,” she said. “Challenging, exhilarating and breath-taking - the Le Petit Depart Sportive is a must for all cyclists to tick off their bucket list. It is a real gem!’
Alistair Humphreys, a round-the-world cyclist and adventurer, born and bred in the Yorkshire Dales, agrees. “Riding your bike in the Yorkshire Dales is a truly wonderful and joyous thing,” he said.
Bruce Dinsmore, Sports Development Officer at Craven District Council, said: “We set this event up with Skipton Cycling Club as a cycle legacy project for the 2014 Tour de France. It’s been hugely popular, which is partly due to the stunning local cycling, but we’ve also worked closely with the club to put on a great event.”
Le Petit Depart 2017 takes place on Sunday, June 4. The Challenge Sportive costs £25 and the Scenic Sportive costs £15. For more details go to www.lepetitdepart.co.uk
For more details on Skipton Cycling Club go to www.skiptoncyclingclub.org.uk