On Saturday, at about 7am, I set out to route check the Ralph Cross 200km Audax, what I probably shouldn't have done was give blood at 5pm the evening before. I think this is the opposite of 'blood doping'. This route check was also being ridden as a 200km DIY event under Audax rules, I had my Brevet card and I needed to stop at commercial controls at each point to collect a receipt. On the day some of these control points will simply be 'Info Controls' with a simple question to answer to prove that riders have passed through the location.
The whole route is fairly simple to navigate and the control points are:
- Start, Ingleby Barwick, All Saints Academy
- Lion Inn, Blakey Ridge
- Chop Gate
- Finish, Ingleby Barwick, All Saints Academy
The route sheet I have put together is elegant because it takes both the most beautiful and the most direct route between each of these controls. My ride was to check that I had the distances and instructions correct - I actually found a few mistakes and I've updated the route sheet appropriately.
The Ralph Cross is definitely a tough ride, but not impossible. I managed to complete the distance of 205km in about 10hrs 30mins including plenty of stops. Here are my thoughts on the route.
The first section is from the start in Ingleby Barwick to Osmotherly
The ride is fairly gentle from Ingleby and although there is a short steep climb in Hutton Rudby across the Leven, it is a nice warm up ride out to Swainby and looking to the left you can clearly see Roseberry Topping, Captain Cook Monument and the escarpment of the Cleveland hills. Riders will know that they are going to head into these hills, over them, through them and out the other side. Then back again. Then tackle them a third time. Over to the far east, the ride will drop to Saltburn and come back underneath the shadow of Roseberry topping. First, however, is the climb of Scarth Nick to Osmotherly. This is a technical climb. There is usually a little water on the road, there are sharp bends and the surface is steep. It can be difficult to keep the front wheel on the road while seated - and even more difficult not to wheel-spin the rear when standing up.
As you can see from the profile, there is one major climb before the first control point of the day.
The second section is from Osmotherly to Malton
The route then continues through Osmotherly to the left turn for Hawnby. There is very little navigation needed and the route follows the same road all the way to Hawnby village. There are a couple of short descents and climbs and usually quite a bit of gravel on the road. I have known there to be sheep wandering free and because this is working farmland there can be tractors filling the tarmac from side to side, so riders will be warned to take care. The route goes through Hawnby village and out the other side, crosses a small bridge and then, in front of the riders, there is a 25% gradient. Thankfully the route takes a left turn to Helmsley just before the road kicks up.
This then joins the B1257 to Helmsley which is a really fast descent where it is easy to gain enough speed to be in excess of the speed limit as you enter the town. It should be early enough for the town to be quiet - later on the market square will be full of cars and motorcycles with people visiting this "gateway to the moors", the castle ruins, and the tearooms.
A short turn along the A170 towards Thirsk links up to the B1257 again and a 21km (13 mile) ride to Malton. I had a westerly tailwind and covered the distance in 30 minutes, in lovely sunshine! I hope that riders in September get the same weather I enjoyed.
I stopped at the supermarket in Malton, it is a familiar location for many Audaxers. I thought about some of the coffee shops, but the queues looked too long and there wasn't anywhere convenient to lock up my bike. Morrisons had bicycle racks, toilets, and an accessible cafe, so I treated myself to a chocolate eclair and coffee. It was about 10:30am and I had covered about 75km.
The third section is from Malton to the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge
Leaving Malton on the B1257 back the way I came, to the village of Amotherby, the route takes a turn north signposted Kirkbymoorside. This is another long section of very easy navigation, with just one left turn well signposted. The road is pan flat, genuinely flat, not make-believe flat - just... flat. It is sections like this that keep the AAA points down to just 2.5 for this event.
At the A170 the route takes the staggered junction and joins the main moors road through Hutton-le-Hole onto Blakey Ridge and up to the 'info control' at the Lion Inn. It is a long and gentle climb, about 14km which I rode at about 14kph. There are pubs in Hutton-le-Hole, but I knew I was heading for the Lion Inn and planned to have some lunch there. The road climbs and climbs, at first there isn't much to see, but eventually the dales either side open up and you get a great view into Farndale to the west and Rosedale to the east. However, the most stunning view is back the way I came. I hope riders remember to look over their shoulder and see where they have climbed from, the vista is massive.
One of the things I know about Blakey Road is that the brow of the hill ahead is not the actual brow of the hill; as you crest each brow your heart sinks as the road keeps climbing ahead. With about 4km remaining to reach the Lion Inn, the pub appears in the distance and I knew I was going to need a decent rest. It takes a long time to cover these last 4km and on one slightly steeper section when the pub was hidden from view, I looked down at my cycle computer to realise that I only had 500m to go to reach the rest point.
20km of pan-flat road and then 15km climb to the Lion Inn
I stopped at the Lion Inn, arriving here at 12:50. The beer and food here are excellent but from an Audax point of view the service is too slow - the pub is a victim of its success. If riders have made good time to get here then they will appreciate the refreshments on offer. I have planned the audax events so that the Ralph Cross riders should be here between 10:34 and 14:08, although I strongly doubt anyone will have averaged 30kph to reach the Lion Inn by 10:34! I have also planned for the "Keep to the Roads" audax riders to be arriving here between 11:56 and 13:30. A good friend of mine has agreed to spend his time sat in the Lion Inn stamping Brevet cards for those who don't want to waste time waiting for food and drinks in a busy pub.
The fourth section is from the Lion Inn to Lealholm
Leaving the Lion Inn, I continued north to the first right hand junction. This junction is just before the "Ralph Cross" itself, which can be seen a bit further up the road on the left hand side. The right turn takes riders along to a first left which is signposted "Fryup" - an amusing sign which gets photographed a lot. The descent from here is absolutely brilliant, but hazardous as well. The road surface is quite bumpy, there is gravel, there can be sheep wandering around, if a motorist is coming towards you there is little room to pass... and the road itself drags you faster and faster downhill with too much ease. I have put a note on the route sheet to take care down here, I'd be sad to learn anyone had gone too fast and lost control. The view from the top is worth enjoying, on a clear day like Saturday I could see from Hartlepool down to Staithes and the broad blue North Sea coastline. It is nice to know that riders of both the "Keep to the Roads 100km" and "Ralph Cross 200km" will be visiting the coast later in the day at Saltburn.
There is some room for confusion at the bottom of the descent. 100km riders will turn left for Castleton, whereas 200km riders will need to turn right and go to Lealholm first. There is an information control in Lealholm, but also a couple of nice little shops. I picked up a sausage roll in one of them and collected the receipt as proof of passage.
This is one of the fastest sections, but care should be taken on the Fryup descent.
From Lealholm, the route then follows the railway line back to Castleton, but this isn't very flat. The westerly wind was blowing directly into my face which slowed me down, I found myself grinding up what should have been easy little hills.
The fifth section is from Lealholm to Saltburn-by-the-Sea
Navigation is easy for me, as I know the roads well. However, there are a couple of unsignposted junctions and I've tried to make sure the distances are perfect to help riders find them correctly. The most notable is a little unmarked turn to cross a ford (or use the bridge next to it) and then turn right to Castleton. This is the shortest route and is quieter. By now it will be the middle of the day and there will be a few motorists touring the North Yorkshire Moors.
In Castleton there is a climb along the high street to the turning by the toilets and tearooms, this turn takes the riders downhill and under the railway bridge but then hits a really mean climb which starts off steeply but eases and continues to climb past a cattlegrid and up onto the top of the moors. From the top the view of the sea opens up again and I'm riding on a fast section now which speeds me down to Saltburn. There is a horrible section of the A171 next to Lockwood Beck Reservoir which is about 700m long before a right turn to get off the main road. The A171 is the main road from Teesside to Whitby and the "Whitby Shuffle" starts somewhere along this road.
More easy navigation takes me, the route, and the riders in September, down to Saltburn seafront and the Cat Nab Cafe. I stop here for a coffee in the sunshine, relaxing outside. There are numerous cafes along the seafront by the pier, but they will all be exceptionally busy with sunseekers, and there is a cafe which offers illy coffee but take far too long for anyone on an audax. I have spoken to the owners of the Cat Nab cafe and they are expecting tired cyclists to be arriving. There is plenty of space to leave a bicycle and there are toilets on the opposite side of the road. If the weather is nice enough the cafe front will be open so riders don't have to go inside and can grab a quick coffee.
Some lumpiness - but the main climb is the long one from Castleton to the top of the moors
So far my ride has been really wonderful, but I'm conscious that the westerly wind will now be in my face as I head on the next section through Guisborough and Great Ayton.
The sixth section is from Saltburn to Chop Gate
Leaving the cafe, I ride over the bridge towards the pier and follow the road up the steep zig, then zag, the final zig to the top of the cliffs. The last "zig" is the hardest and the longest, but once over the top I follow the road past Chocolinis and past the church and underneath the railway bridge, where I turn left in front of the Tennis Club. The route climbs now away from the town and past the Golf Club up to a junction with Upleatham. There is a set of traffic lights which seem to take forever to change and I wonder if they are sensing my presence. Thankfully a car pulls to a stop behind me, tripping the sensor and the lights change to green.
On the next bit of the route of very quiet back lane we drop down a lovely sweeping bendy road to cross a small narrow bridge, but immediately after the bridge is a T-junction with the busy A173. I'm going to put a warning on the route sheet because anyone coming down here too fast might not stop in time. I do hope riders are taking it carefully on the day, afterall an audax is not a race, it is just a long distance ride on open roads.
Following the busy A173 into Guisborough, I go right into Guisborough itself and past the front of BikeScene - so I stop to buy a gel and energy bar because I know that I have got some climbing still ahead of me. The headwind hasn't proved to be as bad as I was worried about so far.
Leaving Guisborough and riding towards Great Ayton I'm now right in the shadow of Roseberry Topping, the hill I had been able to see when I was just starting earlier in the day. I can also see Captain Cook Monument and the line of Cleveland hill stretching away beside me. Of all these hills there is nothing higher than I have ridden today and it makes me proud to reflect on how far I have traveled today and how many sights I've seen.
As I arrive in Great Ayton, I take the back road through town and turn left toward Little Ayton and wiggle my way past Easby and into Ingleby Greenhow. In Ingelby Greenhow I have plotted the route on the shortest distance which nips down an unmarked side road between some houses and farmbuildings. I have made a clear note on the routesheet so I hope everyone finds this okay. The final steep climb of the day is ahead, the ascent of Ingleby Bank. To my right I can see the car park at the top of Clay Bank and that is where I'm heading. It is funny, the climb is certainly tough and I use every little gear I have, but it is also over a lot quicker than I expected. I pop out onto the B1257 again and turn left for Chop Gate and Helmsley. This is a fast descent and undulates quickly to Chop Gate in no time. Chop Gate is pronounced locally as "Chop Yat" and I find it odd when I hear people call it "Chop Gate". The turning to Raisdale is the 'info control' point but some swine has nicked the signpost. The turning is right by the war memorial just before the road reaches the Buck Inn. The owner of the Buck Inn is a cyclist and I've stopped there several times to chat with him. Today I stop, and although he isn't there I have a pint of local beer anyway.
Note the last little steep climb is Ingleby Bank
The final section is from Chop Gate to Ingleby Barwick
There are a couple of ways back from Chop Gate to Ingleby Barwick. The route I've plotted is the shortest going up Raisdale gently, however I think there is a faster route to just turn round and go back along the B1257 to Great Broughton, Stokesley and through there to Seamer and Ingleby Barwick. However, I didn't design this route to be dull, Raisdale is one last beautiful look into the North Yorkshire Moors and it climbs along a quiet farm road to the top of Carlton Bank. This is a hill climb location and has featured on the national circuit. I did a hillclimb TT here a few years ago and managed 9mins and 1sec, and took another 9mins and 1sec to recover my breathing properly. The reason the route takes this last section, not just because it is the nicest way home, but because of the view from the top of Carlton Bank out over the Tees valley. The "Ralph Cross" audax really showcases the whole of the North Yorkshire Moors and Tees Valley.
Dropping, literally, off the top of the bank the descent is hair raising. There is a cattle grid and there could be cars and motorcycles using the road too. At the bottom is the Blackwell Ox pub, and I stop for a pint of Blackwell Mule, delicious it is too. Then the route heads back through Hutton Rudby to Ingleby Barwick and the finish.
"Dropping off" Carlton Bank
I get home having spent about 9hrs in the saddle, covered 205km and climbed 2500m. I am very happy with the route, I feel a bit like God designed it and I just uncovered it. I'm praying that the weather on the 14th September is as great for the riders of all three audaxes, (Ralph Cross 200, KttR 100 and Tees & Cake 50) as it has been for me. I feel really strong, like I could do the whole route again, so I'm confident that the route is do-able. As I write up this account I have finished making modifications to the route sheet to make it easier to understand, I've sent off my DIY Brevet card and I'm looking forward to having it validated as the first rider of the *brand new* Ralph Cross 200km Audax.
Labels: 200km Audax, AAA points, ralph cross