We look back at memorable day on the hills with 300 wonderfully enthusiastic riders!
When we designed the route for the Skylark Sportive, our aim was to give everyone a great riding experience on the soon to be famous Tour de France climbs of Cragg Vale and Holme Moss, linking them together with a network of “forgotten” country lanes.
We chose an early season date to give the event some distance from the Tour and to ensure that the roads would be as quiet as possible. With the weather and the early season date in mind, we were also very happy to restrict the distance to 100km.
With some very tough Sportives, like the Ronde van Calderdale and the Scorton 100 as close neighbours, we were also mindful that we didn’t want to make our event overtly technically challenging, so there would be (virtually) no cobbles and (virtually) no 1 in 4 “walls” to climb.
Throughout the build-up, the weather was probably our chief concern. A few days out, it looked like it would be dry, so our foremost concern was eliminated. Indeed, mid-week, the weather for Sunday looked very benign. It just shows that you can’t control everything!
By Saturday evening, the forecast showed a breezy morning, with strengthening winds through the afternoon and that, pretty much, was what we got. We also, mercifully, got a lot more sunshine than we had expected.
From event HQ, the day unfolded pretty much as planned. We were out at 4am doing a final check of the course markers and adding a few last minute extra ones. When you are putting the signs out you are never sure you’ve got it 100% right and driving the course in the dark on the morning of the event is a probably a good test of how well you have marked it out.
Riders were arriving from before 7am and from just after 8am we were able to start a steady stream of participants up the testing first hill. A few imprudent gear selections led to a little chain and sprocket abuse, but most got going OK.
Our race mechanic attended a couple of riders with issues at the foot of the first descent into Delph, but otherwise there were few mechanical issues early on. Indeed, aside from a couple of slashed tyres on the descent away from the top of Cragg Vale, there were very bike few issues all day. A couple of riders phoned in with problems near Holmfirth, only to call back to let us know that other riders had stopped to help and go them going again.
Returning to earlier in the day, we began to hear that a few riders were going off course at the village of Denshaw, where a five road junction had provided us with our toughest course marking challenge. We re-directed the riders who called us and managed to get a car on the scene within about 15 minutes. Extra signs and big spray-painted arrow on the road seemed to clarify things. We even met a couple of the “missing” riders as they regained the route and they seemed unfazed by the whole thing.
We believe a couple of other riders re-routed themselves via Hollingworth Lake and Blackstone Edge, which is a pretty nice alternative to the planned route!
From then on, the event seemed to settle down well, but it was becoming increasingly apparent that the wind was making the ride significantly harder than expected. We spend a little time watching the action at the first/second feed at Baitings Dam and there were some surprisingly tired riders rolling through. We also began to hear reports from the top of Holme Moss that conditions up at 1900 feet were pretty testing.
With this in mind, we headed off to the Holmebridge feed station to monitor the situation. By the time we arrived, our marshal at the top of Holme Moss had seen several riders blown over in the wind and had “bussed” down a couple of other riders who were too spooked by the gusting winds to make the trip back down the hill on their bikes.
The Holme Moss summit marshal was our friend Andy from the local Wheelspin bike shop and his experience and judgement were crucial in making the decision to remove the upper half of the climb from the event at this point.
For those of you who (still) haven’t ridden it, the Holme Moss climb has a very exposed final section alongside a metal barrier. The prevailing Westerly winds whip over the summit and batter you from your right hand side as you try to make your way alongside this barrier, over which there is a considerable drop onto open moorland.
It was obvious that the only sensible option was to change the route and cut out the second half of the Holme Moss climb. We quickly re-signed the route in the village of Holme and our marshals at the Holmbridge feed, at the foot of the climb, made sure that all riders were informed of the route change and the reasons behind it.
We expected a lot of disappointment from riders, but the winds had already taken their toll on many and the news was generally greeted with surprising warmth. Our female marshal even earned a couple of kisses from relieved riders.
A small number of riders remained determined to reach the top. We don’t blame them at all and once we’d advised them that we didn’t recommend it, they knew that they were making the decision for themselves. We salute each and every rider who made the summit on the day – it was a truly heroic effort. And for those who went with our advice, one rider summed it up neatly by saying “it [Holme Moss] isn’t going anywhere – I can come back next year and ride it then!”
As the afternoon drew on, the winds dropped a little, but by the time the last riders were tackling the shortened version of the climb in the late afternoon, clouds had rolled in and the wind was once again rising.
A couple of late mechanical issues were quickly sorted and one exhausted rider was given a lift back from Honley. But, otherwise the final couple of hours passed quietly out on the roads. Meanwhile, back in the warmth and comfort of the golf-club HQ the pies and peas/beans were going down well and riders were happily sharing tales of their adventures out on the roads.
We said goodbye to the last couple of riders sometime after 6pm and began the big pack-up. Somehow, pulling down over 100km of course markers is not as much fun as putting them up. The excitement has evaporated. But, there is a pleasant sense of relief when all traces of the event have been eradicated from the landscape and you can finally put the event to bed. We’re writing this at 9.30pm on Monday evening and the last maker came down about 20mins ago. We’ll box them up and return them to our very supportive and helpful friends at British Cycling later this week.
It just remains to pass on thanks to various parties – firstly we’d like to thank each and every rider who supported our event. You made the day for us! Thanks go too to the many volunteers who helped us look after the riders and Marsden Golf Club for hosting us for the day, Audra Banks for her wonderful medical team, who pitched in so enthusiastically at our feed stations, and Rick Crabtree for his calm work putting broken bikes back together and running riders about the countryside.
That was the Skylark Sportive.