Darren Hepworth being chased by a Beast! The Yorkshire Beast Sportive– 27 May 2018

Being a reluctant cyclist, attempting anything like doing 200 miles in 1 day was unthinkable 12 months ago. This time last year I was nervously training for the Coast to Coast in a day, and this time 2 years ago I hadn’t even done 100 miles in a day – Flat n Fast 2016 was my first ton, and it was a struggle.

Not being the best trainer, I realised that the C2C was a bit of a challenge, so I pulled my socks up and got some miles (and hills) in. Riding into Whitby on that sunny afternoon last June felt good, but I felt comfortable and had plenty left in the legs. I enjoyed it, but didn’t fancy doing it again the following year, and around this time we started seeing adverts saying “Can you tackle the Yorkshire Beast?” At first I thought it was a night out in Donny, but on closer inspection it was a 200 mile single day sportive, but I fancied it either way. Before I changed my mind I was all paid up, the challenge was on.

As 2017 came to an end and 2018 started, I kept ticking over on the turbo trainer and also went to the Lincsquad spinning sessions for this years C2C crew. These were great sessions to keep me motivated over the winter. In between the snow in February and March I got a few road sessions in which got me ready for the Lincsquad Paul Kirk sportive 100m, then it was off to Tri Camp in Mallorca in mid April. A steady 100 miles on our first full day (after an alleged wrong turn) broke us in gently, and this was followed by Big Wednesdays Crucifix ride with 12,000 feet of climbing which was like a mini Beast. Finishing this (although in tatters and unable to enjoy an ice cream and a beer like everyone else) was good for the confidence. After 5 days sat on a bike seat I bailed out on the last 100 of the week and had Friday afternoon in the sun while the hardcore went out again.

A quick spin around the Ancholme Sprint Tri the week after I got back, followed by a ride to my old stomping ground at Howden to watch the Tour de Yorkshire go through in early May, quickly followed by the King Edward Sportive from Newark which went really well, got me ready to tackle the Tour of the Peaks on 13 May, 2 weeks before the big day.

In my mind this was very similar to Big Wednesday in Mallorca, so I felt comfortable that I could do the 115 mile route. It was a tough day in the Peaks, taking on Winnats Pass, Holme Moss and the Cat and Fiddle climbs and was a bit of a wake-up call as sticking another 85 on top of that didn’t fill me with much joy. Interesting fact: the Cat and Fiddle pub at the top is the 2nd highest pub in England and more than 200 years old.

Fast forward 2 weeks and we arrive at the campsite the day before, I’ve got scabs on both hands and both knees due to not being able to put one foot in front of the other while out running. I hate the day before a big event, check kit, register, pasta party, blah blah blah, I just want to get on with it and rarely have any decent sleep.

Sunday 27 May was here. This event was booked in October the previous year and it sounded a good idea at the time, but I was content that I couldn’t have done much more preparation. Too late now anyway. Alarm sounded at 3:15 am, up and off for breakfast supplied by the organisers of porridge and honey. We get in the first group off at 5am as this gives us an extra 20 minutes to the final cut off time of 9:20 pm. I’ve got a cracking headache and feel sick for the first 30 miles, probably due to eating too much and getting up at a daft time so it was a struggle to the first feed stop at about 36 miles but I started feeling better around that time. The weather was beautiful and the roads were quiet as it was still early. Some of the route was the latter part of the Coast to Coast route before we turned south and headed towards Caper Hill and Rosedale Chimney, two big climbs in the North Yorkshire Moors within 5 miles of each other. You can see them from miles away, vertical looking slivers of tarmac in amongst the green hills and they just intimidate you straight away. They were long and steep in places, and although Caper Hill, or Glaisdale Horror as it’s known is less iconic than Rosedale chimney, it’s definitely the tougher climb as the road surface is quite loose with gravel and is too narrow to do anything other than go straight up.

Rosedale (or Chimney Bank) needed a bit of luck avoiding oncoming traffic to zig zag a bit to reduce the elevation which maxes out at 30%, but with both safely negotiated it was downhill to the 2nd feed station at 82 miles and the start of a relatively flat bit north of York and Harrogate before we hit the Yorkshire Dales later in the day. At each feed station there’s a clock ticking down to say how far in the front of The Beast you are. If we get overtaken by it, it’s game over, simple as that. At this point I’m about 40 minutes in front, but the pressure is on all the time, unless you’re one of the elite racing snakes (which I’m not) you can’t relax and have a good rest or look around at the scenery, all I was thinking about was that clock ! !

At the end of the ‘flat bit’ (which is probably lumpier than a ride in the Lincolnshire Wolds) the route took us into Pately Bridge, which was really nice until we had to start riding out of it. It seemed like uphill forever, some of it quite sharp as well, this was the 2.5 mile Greenhow Hill and the start of the hard bit, but I didn’t realise how hard. The feed stations were now basically flap jacks, gels and energy bars as we hit the hills near Kettlewell and up to Aysgarth Falls. The climb up Park Rash (there’s got to be a joke in there somewhere) was too steep for most of us stragglers with 150 miles already in the legs, so a bit of bike pushing was in order. After a good effort at the bottom, a controlled dismount seemed a better option than hanging on until inevitably falling off anyway. The next climb was the same story and I was starting to lose my sense of humour at this point, it wasn’t funny anymore and doubt was starting to set in.

We had to be at the last feed station at the Dales Bike Centre at Reeth by 7:35pm and after the unexpected up-hill bike pushing, this was starting to be a worry. This led to a bit of a panic descending which is probably not a good idea, but we rode into the last feed station a bit late to find out that 15 minutes had been added due to a burst water main on the route earlier, so the Beast was delayed. So long as we left the last stop before the clock ticked down to zero we were ok, so I popped some more flapjack in my pocket and got a wriggle on and straight up Grinton Moor, part of the 2014 TdF Grand Depart. We were now heading back East as the sun started setting directly behind us. It started to get a bit cold at the top of the moor, and the descent was a bit nippy, but 185 miles were now in the bank and it was downhill or flat most of the way back to Bedale. With the climbs out of the way my legs came back to life and 9:30pm ticked by as 200 miles ticked over on my Garmin. The last bits of daylight accompanied me into the finishing funnel where a lot of the earlier finishers and spectators gave us a very decent round of applause as we crossed the line. A few more finishers came in after me around the 10pm mark so they allowed us a bit of slack. It would have been harsh to not complete it after so many miles and I made sure I had front and back lights just in case, but not everyone did.

A few riders have been a bit disgruntled about being taken out of the event for missing cut off times but we were well warned in advance and organisers and volunteers of these Sportives start long before we do and finish well after we do and I think it’s only fair that riders are prepared for the distance, but fair play to those who gave it their best.

Leading up to the event I had visions of celebrating into the early hours afterwards, but I felt so drained it was literally medal, photo, quick chit chat, shower, tent, and sleep quickly followed. The bar was open but at £4.50 a pint that was steeper than some of the hills. You could spot the non Yorkshiremen as they had the bars plastic pint pots, the proper Yorkies had brought their tinnies !!

I always knew it was going to be a one off event for me. You only get one chance to do the first Yorkshire Beast, and this could become an iconic ride over the next few years. Never say never but this has to be the toughest single day sportive in the UK and it nearly broke me. Approximately 470 people paid entry, 125 of those never turned up and another 100 started but didn’t make the finish.

If anyone fancies it next year give it a go, but don’t take it lightly. Stronger riders will manage it, but if you’re an average Joe like me, put the miles in or The Beast will get you.