Ever since it was announced that Shibden Wall was featuring on the 2017 Tour de Yorkshire route I’d been itching to give it a try and this week I finally got around to it. I also managed to tick Cragg Vale off my cycling bucket list in the process.
Cragg Vale was on my list as it is the longest continuous gradient in England, rising 970ft over five and a half miles – just as the sign tells you as you reach its base on the outskirts of Mytholmroyd. Perhaps because it came at the very start of my ride, it wasn’t as hard as I’d anticipated though, and I was able to get into a nice rhythm from the off. The steepest slopes came when I entered Cragg Vale itself, but once I’d got those out of the way it was a steady drag to the summit followed by a really fun descent into Ripponden.
Once I’d passed through the traffic lights at the foot of the hill I took a right turn on to Elland Road and was immediately met with my second climb of the day – the Cote de Ripponden. This featured on the 2014 Tour de France route (just as Cragg Vale did) and it certainly packed a punch. I was already out of my saddle and breathing heavily as the road kinked left halfway up it, and by the time the gradient finally levelled out my legs were also feeling the burn. The Tour organisers ranked this a category three climb and with an average gradient of 8.6% over 1.6km it’s easy to see why.
I was rewarded for my efforts with some great views over Kirklees and Calderdale before I descended into Elland and crossed the River Calder before continuing alongside the Calder and Hebble Navigation. Entering Brighouse, I took the first exit at the roundabout and headed on to Halifax Road before turning down Mill Hill Lane and continuing along the back road to Hipperholme. From this point on it was all about conserving my energy for the hurt that was to come…
I approached Shibden Wall via Leeds Road and Kell Lane, taking a left turn down Blake Hill and then trying to hold as much speed as I could as I approached the ascent. The road ramped up as soon as I’d crossed a small bridge though and a section at 25% meant I was immediately on my smallest gear. A second blow came a few hundred metres later when the road switched from concrete to cobbles, and by the time I’d hit the dreaded ‘s-bend’ section I was on my limit. Once I’d reached the top I was spent, but there was a sense of satisfaction.
As tired as I was I needed to keep my wits about me on the technical descent into Lee Mount, and the subsequent climb to Mount Tabor seemed relatively tame by comparison even though it had its own steep gradients. The drop down to Luddenden was another fast one, and anybody that takes this ride on needs to be aware of a very tight chicane midway down.
I don’t know why but a sense of bravado gripped me at the bottom, and instead of taking the valley road back into Mytholmroyd, I opted to tackle one last climb up Solomon Hill. I regretted it almost immediately as this is another brute. When I reached my car I’d clocked up over 1,200m of climbing.