We’ve ridden the roads ourselves and polled popular opinion to find the most brutal climbs, exhilarating descents and instagram-able views. Covering a total of 300km with nearly 6,000m of climbing, the Tour of the Roses will be a proper test of endurance for any amateur cyclist.
distance: 120km • ELEVATION GAIN: 2000m
The first day takes us deep into the Yorkshire Dales, through green rolling hills and villages that fondly recall the Grand Depart of the 2014 Tour de France.
We’ll roll out from Kendal in small, staggered groups and head South West on fast roads through Kirkby Lonsdale and on to Ingleton, where we take a sharp left between two of the three peaks: Whernside and Ingleborough.
Our first stop of the day overlooks the Ribblehead Viaduct, then we push on up the draggy Newby Head before dropping through the pretty village of Hawes to take a spin Buttertubs Pass, the first classified climb of the day. For those that make it up (and down again) a lavish lunch awaits.
Leaving Hawes you have about 10km to get the blood flowing through the legs before the day’s second big climb: the gruesome Garsdale Head via the spectacular Coal Road. Thankfully after that it’s almost all downhill, over the cobbles of Dent, through picturesque Sedbergh and back to Kendal.
The climb ramps to its steepest not long after you pass the last building out of Hawes. The gradient peaks at 17% before flattening out so you can savour the views for the last couple of kilometres.
Distance: 4.4km • GAIN: 287m • GRADE: 6.5%
The Coal Road
The first kilometre after you pass under the railway bridge is the toughest, maxing out at 20%. After that the gradient eases off, but it’s still a thankless slog to the top. Good thing the views are fab.
Distance: 2.8km • GAIN: 223m • GRADE: 8.0%
An incredible feat of Victorian engineering, the Grade II listed viaduct was built to carry the Settle–Carlisle Railway across Batty Moss.
The ‘côte de Buttertubs’ featured in the Grand Depart of the 2014 Tour de France. Simon Yates lays claim to the third fastest time on Strava.
Traditionally made with oatmeal, black sticky treacle, ginger and lime, it goes down a treat with a mug of hot tea and will fuel you to the finish.
DIStance: 127km • Climbing: 2775M
In the queen stage of the Tour of the Roses, you’ll conquer some of the country’s toughest climbs. Just as well the views in the Lake District are wonderfully distracting.
Departing Kendal, we’re climbing almost immediately up Beast Banks then over Underbarrow before descending to Bowland Bridge. From there we have the first classified climb to contend with: Gummers How.
The next 40km are lumpy and occasionally punchy. We’ll take a break overlooking the majestic Lake Coniston, then head towards Duddon Bridge. Bank End is a brutal bump, but nothing compared to the formidable but stunning Birker Fell. Lunch in Eskdale Green will be bountiful and leisurely.
From Eskdale we follow the route of the Fred Whitton, with 8km of flat to warm up before we reach Hardknott Pass, the steepest paved road in England, swiftly followed by Wrynose Pass, where we’ll take in the views (and catch breath) before descending to Ambleside for a final pit stop.
Finally, it’s the monstrous Kirkstone Pass. Those that manage ‘the struggle’ are richly rewarded with an exhilarating descent through Troutbeck before we spin back through Staveley to Kendal.
The climb starts pretty much straight after we cross Bowland Bridge. The gradient is steady, with even an alpine switchback thrown in. When you hit the woods on either side it’s very nearly over.
Distance: 2.7km • GAIN: 210m • GRADE: 7.0%
We’re doing it from the harder Eskdale side, natch. It’s a brute of a climb, with a poor surface, tight turns and a pitch of 30% that’s guaranteed to have you out of the saddle - and possibly walking.
Distance: 2.6km • GAIN: 353m • GRADE: 12.0%
Coming soon after Hardknott, Wrynose is ‘easier’ but it’s going to hurt like hell, with a peak gradient over 25%. The views on the descent towards Ambleside are breathtaking, just stay on the brakes.
Distance: 1.8km • GAIN: 146m • GRADE: 8.0%
There are three ways up Kirkstone and we’re doing the shortest, but steepest. Coming out of Ambleside there’s a grim first kilometre. It then eases before a killer last stretch to the summit.
Distance: 4.5km • GAIN: 439m • GRADE: 8.0%
The third largest lake in the district, setting for Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, and Donald Campbell’s doomed water speed record.
Yes, you too will be able to say you’ve ridden England’s steepest paved road. Don’t tap down and don’t stop Strava mid-segment, whatever you do.
Kendal Mint Cake
It got Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing up Mount Everest in 1953, so it’ll probably dispense sufficient energy to see you up The Struggle.
DISTANCE: 70km • climbing: 1261m
Relax, this one’s shorter (but still tough). We set out from our home town, Lancaster, to explore the bleak beauty of the Forest of Bowland, AONB and training ground of Sir Bradley.
With bikes transported down from Kendal, we embark from Lancaster Leisure Park. It’s uphill almost straightaway on the long grind to Jubilee Tower, the local hill climb challenge.
From there it’s downhill towards Abbeystead, before the relatively gentle ascent of the beautiful Trough of Bowland. There’s some rolling hillocks before we arrive in Slaidburn for lunch.
Then we’re climbing again, first the Skaithe and then a skoot downhill before the Alpine-style climb of Lythe Fell to the Cross of Greet, one of Simon Warren’s official 100 Climbs. The next 25km are almost entirely downhill, passing through Wray and Caton before arriving back in Lancaster. Home.
Jubilee Tower Hill Climb
You know those climbs where you feel like you’ve got a flat? It starts at Bay Horse Road, rising to 17%, and then it’s relentlessly sapping for the next two kilometres. 6:36 is the time to beat.
Distance: 3.0km • GAIN: 182m • GRADE: 6.0%
The Cross of Greet
This one’s long and steady with the punchiest bit at the top. The traffic’s usually light, so you should be able to take a good crack at it. The top of the moor (and the climb) is marked by a donut shaped stone.
Distance: 2.9km • GAIN: 185m • GRADE: 6.0%
The roads in the Trough of Bowland will be quiet compared to the tourist hotspots we visit on the first two days. Savour the peace and quiet.
Sir Bradley Spotting
A permanent Lancashire resident, Sir Bradley trains on these here roads, so there’s a chance you’ll see him out and about. Remember to wave.
The Ashton Memorial
Britain’s grandest folly, the "Taj Mahal of the North" overlooks Lancaster. When you see it for the second time, you’ll know you’re close to home.