New for 2016

We’ve updated the 100km route for 2016, removing Holme Moss, which although popular with riders, was actually quite limiting to us as organisers, forcing an awkward out-and-back route up the climb and limited options leading away from the climb. Add to that the fact that in both the 2014 and 2015 Skylarks, most riders didn’t make the summit due to high winds and you can perhaps see why we decided to drop it for 2016.

We were determined that the removal of Holme Moss would only come if we could actually improve the 100km ride as a result. And we think we’ve done that. We’ve replaced it with a cracking loop through the Upper Calder Valley. This is an outstanding area for cyclists and gives us several major new features to share with riders. Here a few images that capture the area’s rugged landscape and stunning roads.

 

 

New For 2016 – Highlights of the New Route

We’ve updated the Skylark Sportive for 2016, with a new loop around the upper Calder Valley above the towns of Todmorden and Hebden Bridge. The moorland landscapes of this area are unique and inspiring, with some amazing roads giving the road cyclist access to some remote and atmospheric uplands. We popped out on a very wet day and have shot four new videos highlighting some of the key sections of this new loop.

Blackstone Edge – a fast, sweeping and hugely enjoyable descent from the Pennine Escarpment, giving access to the upper Calder Valley. The views and long sight-lines of this descent make it an exceptional experience on a bike:

Tower Causeway – a contrastingly narrow and twisting descent with a mild start, but with a major sting in the tail in the form of a series of tightening corners with very average road surfaces – one to treat with respect. Wonderful views again!

Shore New Road – a remarkable climb. Not exceptionally long, but narrow and with most of the steepest sections coming on the tight corners. A ridge section near the bottom is a highlight, with views on all sides.

Mytholm Steeps – we ride down one of the areas most famous climbs. Going down, it’s still a challenge with ever-changing gradient, sharp hairpins and a narrow, switch-back lower half. Again, this road needs handling with care.

The Skylark Sportive – A Poetic Journey

When we asked for riders to send us their accounts of their day in the saddle at the 2015 Skylark Sportive, we never expected anyone to turn to poetry to express their feelings about the day. But Becky Hamer did just that and we think it’s a wonderful expression of exactly why these experiences, which appear so unpleasant, can actually be inspirational. The poem neatly sums up why we cycle and why we push ourselves to do things that take us outside our normal lives. Over to Becky –

My journey began December ’14
When off went my entry to the Skylark Sportive

100k up hill and down dale
Including the tour climbs Holme Moss and Cragg Vale

Training was hard through the cold winter months
Spurred on by my pals, the Cycle Holme bunch

We clocked up the miles in frost, wind and rain
Fixing and mending tubes, gears and chains.

But something was bothering me
Something didn’t feel quite right
My bike was too heavy and small for my height

A new bike was the answer, full carbon, nice spec
So I took myself off to the shop Planet X

With my shiny new bike the rides became longer
My fitness increased and my legs grew much stronger

As event day approached I studied the weather
My hopes of sun faded, it did not look too clever

With gusts up to gale force and rain still expected
I tried to stay up-beat and not get dejected

When the day arrived finally, I was prepared as could be
There was just time for breakfast and one last cup if tea.

The day started well breezy but dry,
Legs felt tip top for the first of the climbs

Lancashire was lovely, not windy at all
This was, as they say, the calm before storm.

Cragg Vale quickly loomed and out of the blue
The wind became sideways; unforgiving, it grew

I pedalled like mad, but went no-where fast
I fought to stay upright with every new blast

The up hills were tough, but the downs just plain scary
A couple of moments were definitely hairy

Then came the point where a choice could be made
Do a hundred as planned or bail at 75k

Determined to finish what I’d set out to achieve
I fought the temptation of early pie and peas

The weather was, by no means, done with me yet
Rain came in torrents, I was soon soaking wet.

Only Holme Moss stood between the finish and me
But relief! A diversion, for safety you see

Onwards and upwards, 4 climbs left to go
The weather relentless, might it yet snow?

The final descent into Marsden was horrid
This journey of mine had been nothing but torrid

With the wind at it’s worst, the cold gripping tight
I finally knew the end was in sight

With my husband beside me, we fought the last hill
No energy now, it was all down to will

And so ‘cross the line, 7 hours on the clock
Filled with emotion and time to take stock

Proud of myself for taking on Mother Nature
A test of my strength that could not have been greater

But my journey, which had started not 5 months before
Had ended, let’s face it, with severe saddle sore!

Becky Hamer,
April 2015

Organisers’ Report – 2015 Skylark Sportive

Monday 13 April – 15.00 – We’ve just got back from collecting in the 200 plus route markers spread over 100km of roads and lanes around the South Pennines and, with them, probably 500 cable ties. We’ll be sifting through that lot in the next few days trying to recycle as many ties as possible and then putting everything into storage.

We think it’s really important to bring back event markers, so if anyone manages to find one of our markers (they all say Skylark on them), we’re offering a £10 bounty on each one. We don’t fancy your chances!

Traveling along the deserted lanes, a gentle Spring sunshine filtering through the clouds and an equally gentle breeze ruffling the bud-laden branches of the trees, it was hard to imagine that just 24 hours before the scene had been very different, with a gusting gale lashing across the moors and, eventually, bringing with it a torrential downpour that turned roads into rivers.

The first Skylark Sportive, last year, was blessed with brilliant sunshine, but a strong, cold wind really notched up the difficulty of a ride that has long stretches of exposed roads along the edges and, at times, across the tops of high moorland.

But the 2015 edition took things to a whole new level. We don’t actually think the winds were much stronger, but many riders mentioned that they seemed more gusty this time. It was also overcast for much of the day, with a threatening blackness gathering in the clouds as they scudded in from the West, adding a sense of foreboding that was eventually justified. When the storm finally broke, mid afternoon, the winds seemed to drop a little, but the rain that replaced them more than made up for it.

Of course, being cyclists, almost everyone, ourselves included, knew what was coming thanks to a pretty accurate weather forecast. They got the timing of the wind’s arrival spot on, but mercifully the rain was perhaps two hours behind schedule.

When we set up the course on Saturday, we encountered temperatures ranging from four degrees, on top of Holme Moss, to the mid-teens in mid-afternoon Ripponden. Hail, sleet and warm sunshine rotated about each other. It was breezy too, but it would have been a fine day for a long bike ride.

So, with a tricky weather forecast in mind, we sent out an email to all riders reminding them of the need to bring suitable clothing and also re-assuring them that the 50km and 75km routes were great short-cuts back to event HQ if they found the conditions too trying.

We did a final drive round of the entire course at 4.30am on the day of the event, with a steady breeze blowing and occasional drizzle wetting the windscreen as the first lightening of the skies heralded the new day.

Riders began to assemble at 7am and we were soon signing them on and reminding them again of the clothing needed to handle the weather and of the “short cuts” back to the start. Everyone seemed in pretty good spirits, though a few of the less experienced riders did look a little apprehensive.

Mindful of the weather, we got riders moving as soon as possible and, with a significant percentage opting not to turn up at all (we don’t blame you a bit – hopefully we’ll see you next time!), we were able to get almost everyone on the road inside the first hour.

It’s at this point as an organiser that things are well and truly out of your hands. You hope that everyone stays safe. You hope that all the route markers survive the weather and any potential vandalism. And you hope that everyone has done their bike maintenance. And then you wait for the phone to ring!

By 10am the wind was really strengthening. We also had our first mechanical issues, with a rider requiring her jockey wheels sorting at the start, another snapping his chain on the first climb and a third losing a seat bolt and with it his saddle. All three were attended to and sent on their way.

With the weather worsening all the time, we took the same decision as we had in 2014 and advised riders not to attempt to reach the summit of Holme Moss. The feed station staff at the foot of the climb were briefed to speak to all riders and fill them in on the decision. We also put out an extra sign at Holme village, the last shelter before the exposed top half of the climb, advising riders to take the short cut back to event HQ.

Our course design also reflected our experiences in 2014 in that we moved the shorter routes so that they shared significant portions of the early kilometres of the 100km route. This meant that tired and cold riders could decide as late as 25km into their route to ride the 50km option and at 70km to ride the 75km option. Cyclists are a tough bunch, but they also tend to know their own limits and when given the option to cut short their rides, many wisely chose to do so.

Indeed the majority of 100k riders opted for the 75km route and of those who stuck to the full 100km route only around a dozen took the decision to attempt to ride up Holme Moss. Of them several turned back when they encountered the stronger winds on the upper slopes, but a brave handful did successfully make the summit. Someone joked that more people had probably reached the summit of Everest than ridden Holme Moss during Sunday and they may well have been right.

So, with many of the 75km riders also opting to go down to the 50km distance, we began to receive a lot of riders back at event HQ well ahead of schedule. Simon, Kelly and Carole, our catering and bar staff back at the gold club soon had the pie and peas production line up and running.

With rain falling we were able to sweep the course up to the double feed at Baitings dam well ahead of schedule. One rider had simply run out of energy on Cragg Vale and had to be “rescued” from the Robin Hood pub half way up the climb. Another crashed and damaged his bike on the descent into Slaithwaite and also had to be ferried back to the start. We were with both riders inside 20 minutes and they were fine once they were able to warm up and get changed back at the event HQ.

We then swept the final 25km of the course and found just 8 riders left on the roads, all within a few kilometres of the finish and all going well. We offered a couple a lift, but they declined and we simply kept an eye on these “stragglers” until they were all back safe and sound.

In the golf club, the air was humid, the smell of pie and peas was almost overpowering and, amazingly, everyone seemed to have a grin on their faces. Cold riders thawed visibly with the injection of hot food and the banter began to flow as they swapped stories and shared experiences. Many were of the opinion that it was the hardest cycle ride they’d ever done.

Ironically, the fittest and fastest seemed to have dodged the rain and were safely back before the deluge. So, many of the wettest riders were the less experienced. They had endured a lot, but most will look back on a day when their cycling horizons were stretched a little and perhaps they learnt something new about their abilities. As organisers, we could only look on with admiration at the depths of determination and spirit displayed on a day truly not intended for outdoor activity.

From our point of view, the feedback from participants was largely very positive. Only a very few riders got lost, generally letting themselves go on the downhill after the Scammonden reservoir road and missing the right turn towards Slaithwaite in their understandable glee at having a tailwind to enjoy.

The changes to the route were generally welcomed, though the brutish Dyson Lane, which we introduced at about 20km, was not especially popular. It’s a horrible little climb with a liberal sprinkling of potholes to add to the steepness. We had intended to take riders across the newly refurbished Baitings bridge, but it wasn’t expected to be ready and so we had to do a last minute re-route. Typically, the bridge actually opened a couple of days before the event, but by then were committed to Dyson Lane. Hopefully it’ll not be necessary to re-visit it next year.

A small number of riders retired mid event, including the two we picked up, and a couple of locals who found the temptation of their warm, dry homes too much to bear. But by 4pm everyone was accounted for and safely back home or at the event HQ. At that point we could relax. Job done!

We’d love to hear your stories about the event and your personal experiences. Either email them to us at skylarksportive@hotmail.com or share them with us on Facebook. We’d also appreciate any support you might want to give us on the cyclosport.org website, where riders are invited to rate events.

In conclusion, we’d like to thank the small but incredibly hard-working band of volunteers who helped make the day go smoothly, including Kati, Sinead, Helen, Lone, Olivia, Julie, Chris and Wane’s mum and dad. “Kudos” too, to Rick who did a great job mending broken bikes and recovering riders and Simon, Kelly and Carole who looked after everyone so well at Marsden Golf Club. And above all else, our thanks go to the incredible, inspirational riders who come along and tackle everything that the Skylark Sportive and the forces of nature can throw at them and charm and humble us with their kind words at the finish. See you next year, hopefully.

Phil & Wane

Skylark Newsletter

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The Golf Club, where signing on will take place

Skylark Newsletter – March 2015: The latest newsletter emailed to participants in the Skylark Sportive. Let us know at the email at the foot of the page if you’re not receiving yours!

The Skylark Sportive takes place in the South Pennines, on Sunday 12 April 2015. Full details including route maps can be found on the event website http://www.skylarksportive.com

In this newsletter we are starting to cover some of the on-the-day practicalities.

COMMUNICATIONS: We’ve always favoured running the event as paper free as possible. That’s one of the reasons we’ve provided lots of videos and regular newsletters. We will not be mailing out rider packs as we don’t believe this is a good use of resources – you will however receive links to a downloadable rider pack in the last few days before the event.

FINDING THE EVENT: As you should already know, we’re starting the event from Marsden Golf Club, close to the small town of Marsden some 6km to the West of Huddersfield. The Golf Club is located on Mount Road. When travelling to the event, don’t use the golf club’s address for sat nav as it will take you onto the wrong road. Use HD7 6HP, which will get you onto Mount Road in central Marsden, about 500m from the club – simply follow Mount Road up (it’s a climb!) till you see the event signs on your left.

CAR PARKING: The event HQ is Marsden Golf Club, with car parking shared between the golf club and the adjacent broad, quiet country road. There will be plenty of parking for all riders, all of it just a very short walk from the event HQ, the golf clubhouse, where we will be hosting signing on and start, and where facilities such as toilets will be located. When you arrive at the venue, please follow signs and instructions of the parking marshals. The sign-on area is actually inside the main golf club.

View of the surrounding high moorland from the Holme Moss climb

View of the surrounding high moorland from the Holme Moss climb

AT THE START: Signing on will be as streamlined as possible. Simply come into the event HQ, right next to the main car park, sign on and receive your event number. You must show that number to the starter, who will record your departure time.

The start itself involves you leaving the event HQ and turning left onto a quiet, wide country road. The first half mile or so is a climb, so you should be well warmed up and mentally switched on before you encounter descents, navigation points and traffic of any kind. The climb should also split you all up nicely! The event HQ has male and female changing rooms, plenty of toilets plus showers. There is also a bar.

START TIMES: We will be starting riders between 8am and 10.00am on the morning of the event, Sunday 12 April 2015.  The main issue with starting a large number of riders is avoiding lengthy queues at the start. With this in mind, we are allocating every rider a 30 minute window in which we would prefer them to start:

  • 08.00 to 08.30 – riders on 100km route with surnames beginning with a letter between A and I
  • 08.31 to 09.00 – riders on 100km route with surnames beginning with a letter between J and Q
  • 09.01 to 09.30 – riders on 100km route with surnames beginning with a letter between R and Z
  • 09.31 to 10.00 – all riders on 75 and 50km routes.

However, we also understand that many riders will want to ride with friends, who may be in other time slots. In this case, we’d ask that you leave in the earliest slot of your group. We also understand that due to travel times to and from the event, you may wish to start earlier or later than your allocated time slot. Again we are happy to be flexible. However, if at all possible, please stick to your allotted time slot – if everyone tries to start in the first half hour, you will encounter a lot of queuing! When you have signed on and are ready to start, simply report to the official starter and follow their instructions. We will get you on the road as soon as possible.

SUMMONING HELP: At the start you will be given a phone number to call should you run into trouble. We will have a mobile first aider available and we will also be able to rescue riders stranded by a major mechanical issue or tiredness. Don’t forget to bring your mobile phone!

CLOTHING: The weather in the South Pennines can be variable all year round, so in early April we’re asking you to check weather forecasts very carefully. Even if it looks like being a fine day, a fully waterproof jacket has to be a sensible precaution to take with you.

EQUIPMENT: Please carry a form of ID in case an incident is to occur, emergency food, money, mobile phone, basic tool kit, spare clothing, working pump, and spare inner tubes. Your bike should be in tip-top condition, particularly the brakes and tyres.

VISIBILITY: The upland stretches of the event might just be mist-shrouded on the day. Weather forecasts might not cover this – so we’d suggest you have a rear light on your bike, just in case you find yourself “up in the clouds!”

HELMETS: Wearing a helmet is compulsory in the Skylark Sportive.

TIPS & TECHNIQUES – we’ve built a central home for all the recent articles on cycling that we’ve published on the Skylark website. Recently added articles include a fascinating piece on cornering, an oft-ignored technique that can actually win you many minutes of time over a long day in the saddle. Also in there are tips on training, clothing, nutrition and climbing: https://skylarksportive.com/home/skylark-tips/

There will be more from us in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, we wish you safe cycling!

The Skylark Team
email: skylarksportive@hotmail.com

PS don’t forget our Autumn Skylark Sportive, taking place on 27 Sept – autumnskylark.com

Skylark Sportive – Some Tips on Tyre Choice

The lower slopes of the Holme Moss climb and a typical Skylark road surface

The lower slopes of the Holme Moss climb and a typical Skylark road surface

We’re often asked about the Skylark Sportive roads and what tyres to use. Well, based on our own experience, the main issues are concussion bursts – i.e. flat tyres as a result of hitting either a pot-hole, the edge of a drainage channel or a stone in the road.

You can combat this in several ways – firstly by looking where you are going and avoiding the obstacle/learning to bunny-hop; secondly by keeping you tyres well inflated; thirdly by using a slightly fatter tyre (a 25mm rather than 23mm, for example).

You should also carry a couple of spare tubes and the means to inflate them. Tape or a tyre patch gives you even more security. And remember to practice changing a tube if you haven’t done it for a few months!

What you probably don’t need to worry about are thorns, as there are relatively few hedges; glass as the route passes through few urban areas; and moss and slime as most of the rad surfaces are, at least, pretty clean and grippy. Do make sure your brake pads have plenty of wear left in them, too!

Cornering – Tips & Techniques

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Round the bend – one of the joys of cycling is “nailing” a corner like this!

The Skylark Sportive will take you through a great journey encompassing high hills, steep climbs and descents, narrow roads, tight bends and testing road surfaces. We believe that a Sportive should be both challenging and engaging for riders, which is why we have included so many minor roads.

However, this does mean that as a cyclist you need to treat the route with respect and it will test you cycling skills and techniques along the way. One skill that will be particularly important to you is cornering and with Spring just around the corner, it’s a great time to give your cycling technique a little thought and perhaps brush up on the basics as well as getting in those training miles.

We love the British Cycling website’s “Insight Zone” and there are a range of tips on technique, including this excellent video on cornering.

Our Tips & Technique Guide to Cornering

Speed Entering The Corner: when approaching a corner, you need to adjust your speed to enable you to safely get round it. If you can’t see all the way around a corner, you need to adjust your speed so that you can stop within the limits of the roadway that is visible. That means braking. It’s always best to brake in a straight line where it is most efficient and least likely to cause one or other tyres to lose traction. Get all your braking done before the corner.

Line Through The Corner: The ideal line through a corner starts wide, cuts into the apex (the inside at the mid point of the corner) and then goes wide again on the exit. Obviously, although this is the best line, in reality it is not often that you can use the full width of the road to achieve it. Traffic, both oncoming and behind you might dictate a more conservative speed and line through the corner. Similarly, the road surface itself might influence the line, with pot-holes and gravel just two of the hazards you can encounter. If you are riding with a group of other cyclists, your line will also have to reflect their needs: you will be going wider if there are riders on your inside, or staying tighter if there are riders outside you.

Speed Exiting the Corner: The whole point of the ideal line through the corner is to help you hang on to speed and exit the corner as quickly as possible. Over a long ride, you can save a lot of energy by skilful cornering. Allied to this, you should always try to anticipate your speed out of a corner and change gears just before the corner so that you are in the ideal gear as you exit it. Usually a couple of clicks down on the rear derailleur is sufficient, but on a steep climb in bend, you may make a bigger move or perhaps change to a smaller chainring.

Your Body Through The Corner – Relax: with practice, you’ll become adept at relaxing through corners, allowing the bike to move beneath you and that will make your cornering quicker, safer and smoother. Maintain a firm grip on the bars, but allow your arms and legs to flex and absorb the shocks transmitted through the bike from the road surface. Some riders even rise a couple of centimetres out of the saddle, allowing their legs to soak up more of the bike’s movement and damping the rippling feedback from the road surface.

Your Body Through The Corner – Eyeline: At the same time, keep your eyes level with the horizon as this will aid balance and perspective through the corner, aiding precision and co-ordination.

Your Body Through The Corner – Weight Distribution: it’s generally best to raise the inner pedal and lower the outer pedal through a corner. Most importantly, this prevents the inner pedal from grounding and potentially causing you to crash. It also allows you to channel more of your body weight through the outer pedal. This aids balance and moves your centre of gravity closer to the line of your tyres on the road. At the same time, many elite riders lower their upper body through corners, thus lowering their centre of gravity, again aiding balance. Both these techniques greatly reduce the chance of a skid or momentary loss of grip bringing you down.

Drills to Improve Cornering: We try these with the younger riders at the local club and they work equally well with adults. Always make sure you carry out these drills somewhere away from traffic and where the surface is both grippy and smooth.

1/ Set up a straight line of six cones (water bottles will do fine) 3 to 4 metres apart and practice slaloming through them. Adjust your speed and riding position to see how they affect cornering. Try it standing up and sitting down, pedalling and not pedalling.

2/ Set up a mini velodrome – two lines of parallel cones perhaps 3 metres apart and each 10 metres in length. Ride around this rectangle of cones practicing cornering technique at each end. This is particularly good for allowing riders to explore the limits of grip, lean and develop their pedal position in corners, all at a relatively low and safe speed. Again, try different techniques, standing and sitting and also different gears. Remember to do this in both directions! If you have another riders to work with, you can even do mini pursuit races, which introduce a competitive element and help you to identify which techniques aid speed.