It’s not every year you get the chance to see a race travel round the World Championships circuit, but that’s what this year’s Tour de Yorkshire offered on stage 2 when it went through Harrogate, and it seemed a good chance to take a quick spin round the route as well. I don’t normally 'do' e-bikes, but it was probably as well I took up the offer of one on loan from Chevin Cycles, as this circuit is surprisingly tough, tricky and technical, with one steep little climb after another in the 14 kilometres.
The Harrogate circuit is the key element of the Yorkshire Worlds, but it’s not the only thing to deal with, as most of the races start outside town and hit the circuit after run-ins of varying length. The under-23 men and the elite women will both tackle it three times, while the elite men have seven laps.
By the time they’ve finished, they will probably think that’s quite enough, although given how spectacular the circuit looks for the spectators, anyone by the roadside will probably be left wanting more.
From the line outside the Yorkshire Hotel, it’s a fairly innocuous start, with West Park on the right. After the right turn, Otley Road is a long straight drag, with a simple landmark at the top in the form of the Shepherd’s Dog pub, the first of several good viewing points. There’s a little pull up to the pub, followed by a whizz down and up again past Harlow Carr RHS garden. It’s all a little bit exposed as the route leaves town, something which could prove tricky if the wind is coming from the north.
Kicker on the Otley road before the right turn towards Pot Bank
There’s a right turn onto the B6161 at Beckwithshaw onto what used to be part of the celebrated Penny Pot Lane circuit, which was used constantly in the years that Harrogate used to host the Festival of Cycling during the 1970s and 1980s. The cricket club at Beckwithshaw will be a good vantage point; they were charging £3 parking for the Tour de Yorkshire so I’d expect it to be rather more come September.
Pot Bank is the first key point, a stiff little downhill past the Hardale Estate with a tight pair of hairpins left and right - not very kindly cambered - before a sweeping left-hander over the bridge at the bottom. Apparently, in the days of amateur races on the circuit, it would be normal to see at least one rider going through the gate at the first bend every time the bunch went down here, but you’d expect the pros at least to handle it with aplomb.
Off-camber left that could catch a few out on Pot Bank
The riders will hit the uphill with a bit of momentum to carry them up the first rise, after which it drags up to the Jubilee roundabout where the route then goes right down Penny Pot Lane to head back into Harrogate. You whizz down a straight, and then pick up signs for a sharp right, at which point it gets interesting.
Another 100 yards or so, you go down a steep drop, and then it’s a more acute right turn down to a tight left as the road narrows over another bridge - it’s narrow enough to be controlled by a traffic light under normal circumstances - followed by another pull straight up the other side of the valley.
It’s technical, it’s tight, and you wouldn’t want to be stuck behind a crash here. Again, Peter Sagan and his ilk will zip through here in their usual acrobatic style, but it could be very exciting in the under-23 race, as those guys are slightly less inhibited. Viewers of a nervous disposition might want to go and put the kettle on at this point.
After the initial kick up Cornwall Road, it drags up past Brackenfield school to the top of Harlow Moor road, then it’s a left for a very fast descent which takes them into the centre of Harrogate, with another park on the left. A striking feature of this circuit is the amount of green space along the way, which will look great from the helicopter and will give spectators plenty of overflow room.
Sedate villas on the fast descent of Valley Drive
The five kilometres to go point is on the descent, and it’s followed by a fast sweeping left into probably the trickiest point on the circuit: the hairpin round to the left off Valley Drive into Cornwall Road. The problem here is that the riders will want to carry as much momentum as possible into the stiff little pull up Cornwall Road, so they will fight for position down Valley Drive and into that turn. Interesting if the roads are wet.
Cornwall Road is where the riders who aren’t so fast in the sprint will look to make a late move, particularly if they have the technical skill to take full advantage of what follows: a rapid whizz down Hereford Road, the right into Kent Road, with its little chicane just before the turn right out onto Ripon Road. There’s a little kicker uphill here, a right-left-right into Swan Road and out onto Parliament Street for the final rush to the line.
Swan Road could be a good spectator point, as if you pick your spot right you can see them as they come into the bottom of the Valley Drive descent as well. That final right takes you into Parliament Street with 500m to go, up that one last kicker to Betty’s tearooms before the dragging uphill to the line.
The final corner up the last kicker into Parliament St at 500m to go
Quick thoughts: one, the circuit this reminds me of is Oslo in 1993, with its mix of urban and rural, technical and hilly. Two, there isn’t a lot of space for a team to get to work, because between Jubilee Roundabout and the finish, there is constant up and down and what the French call 'relance', where a rider loses impetus and has to pick it up again. It’s not like Copenhagen in 2011 when you would see a team drilling it on the front for miles.
Who does it favour? Peter Sagan, obviously, but most courses do. It’s not so much a climber’s course but one for a rider who is good technically and can handle a whole series of changes of pace and intensity, a real Classics rider. Greg Van Avermaet, for one, and also - whisper it - Mathieu van der Poel.