Running in the hillier parts of Rotherham and Sheffield is not part of my normal routine, but this weekend was a little different to normal ones – a visit to ‘up North’ for le Grand Départ of the 2014 Tour de France. I took in both the Yorkshire stages, seeing the finish in Harrogate on Saturday and on a steep hillside about 5 km from the finish, saw the closing stages of the second stage into Sheffield.
Saturday’s opening stage went from Leeds to Harrogate and saw me perched with 300 metres to go next to a couple of attention seeking Breton cockerels.
The crowd was 8 or 9 deep by the time the riders came past – Fabien Cancellara was in a slightly blurred lead as the riders past with Mark Cavendish’s ‘train’ looking set to deliver the Manx sprinter (4th in the photo) to the line.
300 metres is a long way in cycling though, and there was a crash 200 metres before the finish line caused by a combination of some shoulder contact between ‘Cav’ and Simon Gerrans and a narrow road – they both came down and the world’s best sprinter, Marcel Kittel, came through to win and take the leader’s maillot jaune.
Sunday’s stage took the riders from York to Sheffield with several climbs at the lower end of the Pennines. My target for the day was the final climb, the one with the steepest gradient of the entire Tour, 33%, on a suburban street in Sheffield. Not matter where they are, the Tour organisers refer to climbs by either ‘Col du..’ or ‘Côte du…’ so Jenkin Road was now ‘Côte du Jenkin Road’ – not quite as odd as the first climb of the day Côte du Blubberhouses though!
As I wasn’t sure how close I would get with my car, my plan was to run to and up the climb. My route took me up the riders final jaw dropping descent of Newman Road, a straight kilometre of around 20% incline, and then turning the corner into Jenkin Road jogging down to the bottom and making the same 700 metre climb as the riders whilst deciding the best spot to watch from; it was hard, really hard but there was no way I was stopping.
There was pre-race entertainment of amateur cyclists attempting the same the climb, with the biggest cheers going to the more implausible successes and the near failures.
The leading cyclists were led by Alberto Contador, with the eventual stage winner, Vincenzo Nibali, tucked just behind; the pace was incredible, they made the climb look so easy. The noise and atmosphere was amazing, more reminiscent of the stages of the races in the Alps. The previous day’s maillot jaune, had been distanced well before Sheffield but could be easily seen in the middle of the autobus
As the race organisers have said, it was the grandest of Grand Départs.