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World Championship Loop Review, a circuit fit for a champion

World Championship Loop Review, a circuit fit for a champion

From 22-29th of September this year the best road cyclists from all over the globe will be vying to cross the finish line on West Park first (or fastest) for the honour of wearing the rainbow striped jersey of World Champion.

The 14km finishing lap around the mansions, landmarks, parks and rolling countryside of central and western Harrogate is a proper test of skill and fitness too. But what is it actually like to ride? Our new UCI Road World Championships correspondent and local bike expert Guy Kesteven took advantage of the closed roads of the Tour De Yorkshire’s recent visit to get an exclusive legal lap in on a course you can never normally ride.

The reason why it’s such an exclusive course is clear as soon as you cross the start finish line on West Park heading towards the pointy end of the one way arrows. Cutting the corner on Prince of Wales roundabout, multi lap racers (varying from 2 to 7 depending on their category and how far through the Dales they’ve already ridden) will find the feed zone. On race week you’ll also find the Fan Park connected to town with a temporary footbridge and a free shuttle service to Cycle Expo Yorkshire, the official show of the UCI Road World Championships at the Yorkshire Event Centre

From here the gradually rising ramp of Otley road brings the legs to simmering point as it tops out over Harlow Hill. Then it’s a power dive to the flat out straight towards Beckwithshaw trying to defend position or work to the front of the pack before things get really tasty.

Pot Bank is the first technical challenge with a combination of increasingly steepening slope (max 18%) and off camber switchback that are real test of nerve, handling skill and tyre traction.  

Maintaining speed through this section is crucial as a short kick climb turns into a steady pull all the way to Pennypot roundabout. Then its another potentially treacherous descent towards Oak Beck, with an increasing gradient, a hump into an off camber turn and then a switchback turn over the bridge that needs to be taken as fast as possible to slingshot you up the hill and back into town.

After the grunt back up to the edge of Harrogate it’s another drawn out drag back up to the top of the course at Pine Woods before diving left and plunging all the way down the side of Valley Gardens to the Pump Room Museum.

It’ll be the whiff of burning brakes not sulphur water in the air in September though as riders anchor hard before cranking it over into the off camber hairpin that fires you back up Cornwall Road. If it’s damp it doesn’t take much to overstep grip here and all the white paint on the road poses an extra slippery challenge in wet weather as I found out when I span the rear wheel accelerating hard uphill on my Tour De Yorkshire sortie.

The climb out of this dip will likely be fast enough to fry legs on the first lap, let alone the 7th. Thankfully the wide boulevards of Duchy and Kent Road offer some respite and a last chance to shuffle race positions things get serious again.

This World Championships course doesn’t simply drop straight down into the Parliament Street climb like the Tour De France did in 2014. Instead riders will have to bank hard right to funnel into the narrow Swan Road, curving left under the ‘red kite’ one km to go banner before trying to carry as much speed as possible through the corner past Hayles Bar. If you’re not on the front at this point you’ve got a real fight on your hands to get into contention for a win, as there’s only a couple of hundred metres past the Royal Baths before the hard right onto Parliament Street. There’s just enough gradient to make the last 500m significantly harder than a flat sprint but that won’t stop the winners coming past Betty’s and the Cenotaph at 50kph before a final 60kph plus charge to the line and the chance of  rainbow glory.

With ‘only’ 245m of rise and fall per lap it’s certainly not as brutal as the previous two Worlds courses at Bergen in Norway and Innsbruck in Austria but offers the chance for all rounders who enjoy the European classics to prevail.

It’s going to be a hell of a set or races to watch, if you want a virtual taste of what the world’s best riders will face, then check out my on bike video of the lap at www.visitharrogate.co.uk/loop-review

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