Tour de France 2014: Yorkshire Grand Départ Diary Pt. 2

On day three we woke with tired legs and some figurative, as well as literal, black clouds hanging over us. If yesterday was tough, today was going to be tough and wet.

But we had a plan, and a reason for the plan. My dad was setting up a satellite communications system on the top of Buttertubs Pass - aka Cote de Buttertubs, a major climb on stage one of the Tour - and would be there all day. I knew that he was sharing a compound with a local mountain rescue team, and that he would be parked just over the top of the climb (if heading South-North, as the racers would be less than 24 hours after us). Buttertubs Pass would be the longest climb we'd attempt all week, but with a clear objective in mind and the prospect of some father-son bonding on the horizon, not even the prospect of heading back along the desolate Ribblehead road was enough to dampen our spirits. With a sense of purpose we headed out into the decidedly inclement weather.

Eventually we rolled through Hawes, and with lots of decorations hung, souvenir stands set up and cyclists milling about, things were looking seriously festive. Nerves about weather we could manage Buttertubs were beginning to form watching the carbon frames and shaved legs glide by, so before too much doubt crept in we made a start.

The little road out to the start of the climb was busy. There was a sportive happening, on top of all the individual and club cyclists who'd come out to ride this part of the route just a day before the pros. George and I agreed to look out for each other at the top, and with nerves really kicking in we pushed on. On my big gearing I was quickly away from G, despite the killer ramps at the bottom of the climb. after a couple of minutes it levelled off before getting even steeper - like front-wheel-lifting-off-tarmac, falling-off-the-back-of-your-bike type of steep. Grinding away in my 42-26 I just about made it through this section, after which it immediately levelled off to more like 2-3%, and a chap from Brighton pulled alongside for a chat. It seemed like easy going for a while and we were just about to congratulate ourselves when another ramp loomed. We dug in and pretty soon it was back to a gentle gradient which would continue for the next couple of kms to the top.

The weather was really coming in by this point and as I got my bearings I managed to spot the fabled satellite system, it turned out that my dad had already been and moved on to another site. We'd missed him by a good few hours; in fact he'd left before we even set off.

Sheepishly I relayed this to George and there was nothing to it than to head back, gingerly descending on mist-slick tarmac, against the flow of ascending riders. By the time we made it back to Hawes, though, we'd dropped out of the clouds and managed to find a sunny spot to enjoy some well deserved ale and chips. There was no rush to head back to Settle (via the infamous Ribblehead road) but finally we got a bottle refill and rolled out. the ride back was a tough, filthy, 25kph horizontal-rain type of affair and by the time we got back I couldn't even open the screw cap on my hip flask. We had an early night in preparation for the main event the next day.

This was it; the central focus of the whole trip. Neither of us being early risers we grudgingly got out of bed and forced some breakfast down. We packed a bag with real food and some extra lycra layers and headed over the top, looking for a similar route to the one we'd taken on our day two reccy. It was great to see plenty of other heading to watch the Tour; in cars; on foot; and on bikes of all flavours. By the time we made it to our chosen little hill at Cray, it was already looking busy, and as we ascended to scattered claps and cheers, we could tell that the atmosphere was already starting to build.

Leaning our bikes against a dry-stone wall, we settled down on the grass verge and awaited the caravan - still two hours away - while our usually lonely hill got busier and busier with spectators.

There was plenty of anticipation and when the circus that is the Tour de France finally did arrive, it didn't disappoint. A carnival of promotional floats punctuated with press cars, official cars, police cars and countless motorcycle outriders came high-fiving their way through Yorkshire.

The appearance of helicopters streaming out of the valley below announced the imminent arrival of the peloton, which of course came and went with breathtaking speed, even on the kind of gradient that had forced dozens of mortals to unclip and walk up a couple of hours before, and before we knew it, our Tour was over. With a calm contentment, the hundreds of accumulated spectators gathered their bikes and their promotional KOM hats and shuffled back down the hill.

The ride back to Settle was steady, interrupted only by a quick pub stop. Coming into Settle, G put the hammer down on me and I let him go.

Take a look at Part 1 too...

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