Even if you weren’t one of the 3.5 million spectators lining the route of the Tour de France in 2014, there’s a good chance you tuned in with amazement to the race highlights and their sweeping helicopter shots of our beautiful county. The Yorkshire stages surpassed everyone’s expectations, putting the county, its people and the sport of cycling on the world stage.
That summer weekend is now a hazy memory. But if you want to revisit that memory (and get a good workout at the same time) in advance of the Tour de Yorkshire roaring into Sheffield this weekend, there's no better way than by hitting part of the Tour’s Stage Two route yourself – specifically, its King of the Mountain climbs.
King of the Mountains (KoM) is the title is given to the Tour de France rider who achieves the highest position over several designated climbs throughout the race. The KoM leader wears the maillot à pois rouge: the distinctive red polka-dot jersey. Of the nine KoM climbs in Stage Two of the 2014 Tour, four were over its last 20 miles or so, following the ups and downs of Sheffield’s hilly terrain. They took in all features of Sheffield’s landscape – from the dramatic scenery of the Peak District and its quintessential rural villages, through suburban and then urban areas, to the post-industrial mix of the Don Valley.
The climbs, like the Tour's routes, are now officially sign-posted, providing a lasting reminder of the landmark event in the city’s sporting history, as well as allowing cyclists to recreate the ride – whether in one go, or one at a time. Look out for fan graffiiti on the roads as part of a project to mark the legacy of the Tour de France.
The Tour's route first comes into the city from the north west along the A616 past Langsett Reservoir. This part of the route can be reached by riding out from the city centre, passing through Hillsborough, Oughtibridge, Stocksbridge and past Underbank Reservoir (alternatively, catch the train to Penistone and ride over the hill). At Midhopestones, take the left turn onto Mortimer Road for the first Sheffield KoM.
Côte de Midhopestones
Length 2.4km / height gain 158m / average gradient 6.5%
The climb begins relatively gradually, passing Ye Olde Mustard Pot Inn and up out of Midhopestones, before kinking to the right and steepening. Keep your head down as the road continues to steepen. The route takes a slight right, a bend to the left, and pushes over the brow of the hill onto Barnside Moor. Get your breath back before another, steadier climb drags on towards Ewden Heights, with its views over Broomhead Reservoir and the surrounding moors. Here you’ll meet the 25% road sign, which marks the start of an exhilarating downhill section to Ewden Beck, with two steep and sharp turns – make sure you cover the brakes.
The route takes another steep climb up out of the valley, heads over towards Bradfield's moors and takes a left along Penistone Road, before a steep drop into High Bradfield.
Côte de Bradfield
Length 0.94km / height gain 93m / average gradient 9.2%
If at this point you’re in need of refreshment, stop by the Old Horns Inn (we have it on good authority that the pub does some awesome pies) and take in the views across the reservoirs, to Strines Moor and the back of Derwent Edge. Once refuelled, continue along the route out and take a left up onto Kirk Edge Road: the start of the Côte de Bradfield. It’s an immediate steep climb out of the village, with a sharp left and right keeping you guessing about just how tough it’s going to get. As you continue around to the right, the climb becomes steadier before straightening out, to slowly steepen to a final kick and topping out onto Kirk Edge. Here you can catch your breath. Take a seat at the Bradfield Cross, enjoy the views, and have a banana.
Kirk Edge provides a welcome break of relative flatness, before a long downhill into Worrall, a steep descent into Oughtibridge, and a moment of flat once you've crossed the River Don – all of which allows plenty of preparation for the third KoM.
Côte d' Oughtibridge (aka Jawbone Hill)
Length 2km / height gain 159m / average gradient 8%
Having passed the beautiful Peak District, this climb starts with truly suburban scenery: speed bumps. After an easy start the road steadily climbs to the left, over more speed bumps, and narrows as you head out of Oughtibridge. It really starts to kick in as you pass over the railway line and up what is known as Jawbone Hill (a pair of whale jaws are said to have once acted as a gateway on the road between Oughtibridge and Grenoside). A tough and long climb continues uphill and between stone walls, as deceptive turns promise some relief – only to then reveal another stretch of climbing. A sharp left takes you to the final assault; you may expect to be tormented with yet another sharp rise, but you can now thankfully take to your seat and recover, as you feel the lactic acid coarse through your legs.
From here the route heads downhill through Grenoside and onto the A61 all the way down to Hillsborough, takes a left up Leppings Lane, passes between Shirecliffe and Longley, down to Burngreave and along the Don Valley.
Côte de Jenkin Road
Length 830m / height gained 95m / average gradient 11.4%
If you've still got it in you, you can now attempt Jenkin Road and the climb up to Wincobank. This hill became famous before the Tour passed through Sheffield; with its 33% section, it was widely reported as the steepest climb of the whole race. And it deserves its reputation: even my car struggles to make it up the hill.
Pace yourself, as the first straight is tough enough. At the steepest sections, the gradient is so high that there's a handrail to help pedestrians on the pavement. If at any point you fancy a break, put a foot down and look behind you, at the brutally beautiful vista of the Don Valley. The climb takes a last left past Wincobank Common and a last right as it slowly eases off to the brow. Recover from your KoM experience by exploring Wincobank Hill – an Iron Age fort and the site of an anti-aircraft gun emplacement during the World Wars – or by just taking in the commanding view across Sheffield, nestling in the foot of the Peak District.
Finally, head downhill and visit the finish line of the original 2014 race outside Sheffield Arena to admire the yellow jersey sculpture now installed there to forever remember the first summer the Tour came to town and its winner, Vincenzo Nibali. Allez allez!