Tour de France's second day in Yorkshire set to produce thrilling day's racing
Cycling reporter Matt Westby analyses part of the 2014 route
Last Updated: 25/02/13 4:56pm
Holme Moss will provide a stern test on the Tour de France's second day in Yorkshire. Picture: www.yorkshire.com
On a murky Friday in February there is just myself and a spritely teenager with a swift turn of speed on the climb.
I hold his wheel for a while, but when the gradient crests 10 per cent, he rises out of the saddle, lights the afterburners and within minutes is little more than a dot in the pain-filled distance.
This is Holme Moss near Huddersfield: playground of the pretenders turned amphitheatre of the pros.
Next year people like myself and the kid in his club jersey will make way for Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and the rest of the best riders in the world when the Tour de France passes through on the second of two days in Yorkshire.
The roadside that is now lifeless and withered by winter will spring into bustling life as tens of thousands of people converge on what is likely to be one of the best vantage points in Britain to view the largest free-to-watch sporting spectacle on Earth.
It is the first time I have ridden this road and while it lacks the punishing length of the climbs of the Pyrenees and Alps, the feel is quintessentially Tour.
All the elements are there: sweeping curves, sobering ramps, asphalt stretching to the horizon, natural galleries, blissful views and even markings on the road encouraging riders upwards.
Let's not overplay it. Holme Moss is no Col du Tourmalet, Mont Ventoux or Alpe d'Huez. It is only 5km long, depending what you class as the start point, and will probably be swatted aside in less than 15 minutes by the pros.
But add to it a final 50km to the finish line in Sheffield that former Vuelta a Espana points classification winner Malcolm Elliott has described as "brutal", and you are left with a 200km day that is far less in keeping with the average second stage of the Tour de France.
England's 2014 Tour de France stages
- Saturday, July 5: Leeds to Harrogate, 190km
- Sunday, July 6: York to Sheffield, 200km
- Monday, July 7: Cambridge to London, 170km
The tests start straight off the other side of Holme Moss with a lightning-fast downhill that is 10 per cent in gradient and will provide a stern examination for the even the finest descenders in the peloton.
At the bottom of the hill, the riders will have to pull hard on the brakes for a sharp, off-camber left-hand turn as the road doubles impatiently back on itself. Thomas Voeckler has ended up in homeowners' driveways before now, but if he gets this one wrong, he will find himself vaulted over a dry stone wall and into Woodhead Reservoir.
A steady climb up the Woodhead Pass takes the riders to the edge of Barnsley, before the road sweeps west and back up into the Peak District for a 20km section that tests bike skills and leg power in equal measure.
There are five short but savagely sharp climbs waiting here, each offering scope for attacks and ensuring there will be virtually no chance of the peloton still being together when the stage reaches its climax in Sheffield.
They are not necessarily long - never more than a couple of kilometres - but they are testing and numerous enough to split the pack and open up some potentially crucial early gaps in the general classification.
"They are not massive climbs in themselves, but at the end of 200km and after going over Holme Moss, they will create gaps. Some people's GC hopes will be ended there." Click here to read Malcolm's full route analysis
For every ascent, there is also a descent, and these are likely to prove just as difficult. Winding, steep and devilishly technical, even the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, one of the best descenders in the sport, will find his nerve tested to its limit.
The nature of the roads on this eastern flank of the Peak District will also exacerbate the challenge. Although many of them have been relaid in the last three months to a standard fit for Formula One, they are enclosed, narrow and riddled with hairpin turns - more easily likened to the tight hill roads of Italy than those seen in France.
They finally open out as the route climbs into Sheffield via the appropriately named Jawbone Hill - a rapid descent down one side of the Don Valley followed by a punishing climb up the opposite side - after which the road rolls more gently towards a pan-flat finish beside the English Institute for Sport and Don Valley Stadium.
By then there are likely to be only handful of riders at the front of the field after a day that Tour race director Christian Prudhomme proudly described as "worthy of Liege-Bastogne-Liege".
It won't be a stage on which the Tour is won, but for those riders not prepared for a battle or whose teams have failed to carry out ample reconnaissance, it could be the day it is lost.
What is for certain is that British fans can look forward to some thrilling racing.