6-8 September 2019
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 315km with nearly 6,000m of climbing, the Tour of the Roses will be a proper test for any amateur cyclist.
distance: 115km • ELEVATION GAIN: 1962m
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 descending into the pretty village of Hawes for afternoon tea (and butties). If you’re feeling strong, there’s the option of spinning up Buttertubs Pass, the first classified climb of the day.
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, up the spectacular Coal Road. Thankfully after that it’s almost all downhill, over the cobbles of Dent, through 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 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: 126km • Climbing: 2855M
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.
Over the next 25km we should be able to pick up the pace. We’ll take a break overlooking the majestic Lake Coniston, before tackling three punchy climbs: Hummer Lane, Kiln Bank Cross and Woodside. Lunch in Eskdale Green will be bountiful and leisurely.
There’s 10km of flat to warm up before we reach Hardknott Pass, the steepest road in England, swiftly followed by Wrynose Pass, where we’ll have refreshments and take in the views before descending to Ambleside.
Then it’s Kirkstone Pass. Those who can’t face ‘the struggle’ can skirt Lake Windemere and rendezvous in Bowness. Them that struggle to the summit will be richly rewarded with 10km of descending before we regroup and return 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: 71km • climbing: 1289m
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 for you, we embark from the Cumbria University in Lancaster sports centre. 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 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.