Tour de France route analysis: Stage two in Yorkshire set to produce thrilling day's racing
Matt Westby takes a close look at the what's in store for the riders
Last Updated: 28/06/14 10:17am
On a warm and clear Monday morning there is just myself and a spritely teenager with a swift turn of speed on the climb.
I hold his wheel for a while, but when the gradient crests ten per cent, he rises out of the saddle, lights the afterburners and within minutes is little more than a dot in the distance.
This is Holme Moss near Huddersfield; playground of the pretenders turned amphitheatre of the pros.
Next weekend people like myself and the kid in his club jersey will make way for Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and the rest of the best riders in the world when the Tour de France passes through on the second of two days in Yorkshire.
The roadside that is now quiet and lifeless will erupt with activity as tens of thousands of people converge on what is likely to be one of the best vantage points in Britain to view the largest free-to-watch sporting spectacle on Earth.
While the road lacks the punishing length of the climbs of the Pyrenees and Alps, the feel is quintessentially Tour.
All the elements are there: sweeping curves, sobering ramps, asphalt stretching to the horizon, natural galleries, blissful views and even markings on the road encouraging riders upwards.
Let's not overplay it. Holme Moss is no Col du Tourmalet, Mont Ventoux or Alpe d'Huez. It is only 4.7km long and will probably be swatted aside in less than 15 minutes by the pros.
But add to it a truly brutal final 60km to the finish line in Sheffield and you are left with a 201km day that is far less in keeping with the average second stage of the Tour de France.
The tests start straight off the other side of Holme Moss, with a lightning-fast downhill that is well over ten per cent in gradient and will provide a stern examination for the even the finest descenders in the peloton.
At the bottom, the riders will have to pull hard on the brakes for a sharp, off-camber left-hand turn as the road doubles impatiently back on itself. Thomas Voeckler has ended up in homeowners' driveways before now, but if he gets this one wrong, he will find himself vaulted over a dry-stone wall and on to the grass banks of Woodhead Reservoir.
A steady climb up the Woodhead Pass takes the riders to the edge of Barnsley, before the road sweeps west up on to Strines Moor for a 12km section that tests bike skills and leg power in equal measure.
There are three short but savagely sharp climbs waiting here - two of them categorised - each offering scope for splits in the pack and ensuring hordes of riders will have been dropped out of the peloton well before the stage reaches its climax in Sheffield.
The real challenge in this stretch, however, could well be a descent just after the Cote de Midhopestones climb, known as Ewden Beck. Winding, steep and devilishly technical, even expert descenders such Nibali and Peter Sagan will find their nerve tested to the limit.
Local cyclists prefer to refer to it as "The Deliverance", primarily due to one frightening right-hand hairpin that road signs suggest is 25 per cent in gradient, but the steepness is not the only hazard. A stream crosses over the road on the same bend and trees cover the road completely, meaning it is never dry, even on a hot summer's day. It is a permanent skid pad and any Tour rider who underestimates it could well see their race come to an abrupt end.
The narrow and twisting road finally begins to open out as the route drops down off Strines Moor and enters Sheffield, but the riders will get no respite, because it is now that stage two reaches its crux.
After leaving the quaint village of Bradfield behind, the race will descend through Worrall (pronounced “Wurrel”) and then down into Oughtibridge (pronounced “Ooterbridge”) to the foot of the climb officially listed on the Tour de France website as the Cote d’Oughtibridge, but which is known locally as “The Jawbone”.
Connecting Oughtibridge in the bottom of the Don Valley and Grenoside (pronounced “Grennerside”) at the top, it averages 9.1 per cent over its 1.5km distance and, arriving 16km from the finish line, appears to be the perfect launchpad for attacks.
The climbers will probably make their moves at the bottom, where the road reaches a maximum of 15 per cent over a railway bridge, and once clear of the summit they will have just under 14km of rolling terrain on which to try to consolidate any lead they may have eked out.
After passing Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium and then making their way over to the Meadowhall shopping centre, the riders will be met by the ultimate sting in the tail.
Jenkin Road is an innocuous and unremarkable road through urban Sheffield, but for one day only, it is set to earn worldwide notoriety thanks to an eye-watering 33 per cent ramp.
Although the climb is only 800m long, more attacks will come on this brute of a hill, whittling down the front group even further and potentially setting up a reduced-bunch finish in front of the Motorpoint Arena 5km later.
This wonderfully challenging and pulsating stage will not be the day on which the Tour is won, but for those riders not prepared for a battle or whose teams have failed to carry out ample reconnaissance, it could be the day it is lost.
What is for certain is that British fans can look forward to some thrilling racing.