Cobbles and cycling. Belgium right? The Classics of the early season calendar. Moules et frites. Passionate fans, grim weather, steep climbs. Not Halifax, England. Pie and chips, bleak post-industrial landscapes and well, cobbles, steep climbs and the desolate moorland.
This is the scene for the Ronde Van Calderdale route, a tribute to the Spring Classic races in Belgium but most definitely British. The route climbs a whopping 3,000 metres over 75 miles, many of which are up very, very steep cobbled climbs.
The notorious nasties waiting to be climbed (or walked!) are Shibden Wall (900m at 15%), Trooper Lane (800m at 19%) and the short but devilishly steep Old Lane (200m at 22%). It is not about getting up these clubs quickly, it is only about getting up them. In total there are 13 cobbled climbs over 8km.
With rain forecast I reluctantly chose to ride my winter bike, a good 3 kgs heavier than my fancy pants bike and equipped with a standard 53-39 chainset. Deep breath, be strong.
The ride begins with an unassuming jaunt along flat, smooth and busy roads that serve only to warm your legs a little and fray your nerves thanks to the traffic. The local area is gritty, urban and edgy as an estate agent might try to pitch it. You could easily start this ride at mile 10 and miss nothing of note.
Soon enough the modern world is behind you, ahead only the bleak and austere moorland and the uninviting prospect of what appears to be a vertical cobbled climb snaking over the distant moor.
The scene is set. Yet don’t get expecting cobbled overload just yet. The first half of the route explores moorland to the south of the Yorkshire Dales, long steady drags to the skies, usually with a headwind, your legs already softening.
The real fun begins around mile 25 when you hit 12 of the cobbled climbs in the just under 40 miles. I tackled each climb slowly, with one purpose, to get up ’em. I had more big rides to follow, including over a 100 miles and 3,000m of climbing in the Yorkshire Moors the following day.
Shibden Wall is the first of the big hitters to challenge your legs. A long drawn out climb recently tackled by the pros in the Tour de Yorkshire. The sight of pros zigzagging up this climb tells you all you need to know, just watch this video as the motorbike following the riders topples over! It’s a monster.
How to climb the cobbles
There’s an art to successfully climbing steep cobbled climbs. You have the usual challenge of raw power and stamina just like any other climb. Combine this feat with picking a safe line through the well worn cobbles to ensure your front wheel doesn’t get swallowed by the monumental gaps.
There’s also the tricky business of putting down power as you bounce over the uneven road, for which I find a lower cadence is easier if you have the strength.
Focussing on the road surface has one advantage: you look up at the intimidating climb a lot less. Which is just as well given the Shibden Wall never seems to end.
Before long you approach Old Lane. Unsuitable for motor vehicles says the sign, conveniently not mentioning cyclists too. Short, at only 200m in length, this brute peaks out at 35.5% according to Strava. Ouch. I once held the KOM on this climb, not today though, my legs needed saving for another day.
The best way to tackle Old Lane is simply to sprint all the way up. It’s short enough that you should just make it over, so long as you save a little something extra for the last ten metres when the cobbles go vertical!
The big finish is over Trooper Lane, 800 very long meters at 19%, i.e. a real bugger when your legs are empty.
This is a fun route to ride. You must be sharp physically and mentally riding cobbles. I certainly wouldn’t fancy this in the wet. The course winds and twists every which way in order to fit in as many cobbles as possible, definitely a route to download rather than print. Finish your ride with a proper feast of fish and chips, more protein than moules et frites, tastier too!
Ronde Van Calderdale GPX and Route on Strava | 78 miles, 3,000 metres of climbing