News: Cycling Weekly Recon of Struggle Dales Sportive Route

"If you’ve ever had the pleasure of riding in North Yorkshire, it’s highly likely you’ve tackled the roads used for the Tour de Yorkshire. But according to The Struggle Dales organiser, Matt Mannakee, you’ve been missing out on some of the region’s most spectacular and untouched scenery," says Cycling Weekly. read their recon review here...

Struggle Dales sportive review

Image: The Stunning Scenery on surrounding Malham Cove Climb 

Why Ride Struggle Dales

Taking in seven of North Yorkshire’s killer climbs, the Struggle certainly lives up to its name. 108 miles in this neck of the woods is a serious day out and something to aspire to. You also get a free action photo (don’t hold back on the gurning) to boot.

The Struggle starts and finishes just outside the beautiful World Heritage Site of Harrogate, Yorkshire, just 15 miles north of Leeds. The large loop takes in both the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Struggle Dales is only in its second year but it has already gained a cult following. This is thanks to its tortuous climbs and breathtaking scenery. It is swiftly becoming one of the sportive season’s classic hardman (or woman) rides.

Park Rash on Struggle Dales sportive

Image: The notorious hairpin that awaits you on Park Rash

Cycling Weekly Attempts Struggle Dales

“We do take in a couple of the iconic Tour climbs, such as Greenhow Hill, but Malham Cove (the huge natural limestone amphitheatre) is the real gem in these Yorkshire hills,” explains Mannakee. “No matter how hard you’re pushing, you’ve got to look up and take it in”

At just over one-mile long with an average gradient of nine per cent, it would be easy to think that you could just cruise the climb, but coming at mile 38 with the tough climbs of Bedlam, Harthwith Bank and Greenhow behind you, your legs will be feeling it. The heavy-going tarmac and pitches of up to 17 per cent, do nothing to ease the pain. Mannakee warned us that: “Park Rash is the one to watch for”. It arrives at the halfway point and will test you physically and mentally. 

Mannakee was right — it’s no exaggeration to say that it is brutal. You’ll want a clear run to zig-zag your way up the bottom section and you’ll probably be yearning for a compact chainset. At 1.2-miles long it’s not a climb to be rushed. After this, the rises of Trapping Hill and Two Stoops, although not exactly a breeze, are definitely achievable, and once over the latter, it feels positively downhill to the finish.

There are moments of respite in the ride, such as the sweet buttery-smooth ribbon of tarmac that rolls you through the exposed Malham Tarn moorland plateau. But even this delivers you to the Alpine-esque switchback climb known on Strava as Painful Hill. With gradients of between 15 and 17 per cent, its name is rather apt.

Once over the top of Painful Hill, it’s worth taking on board any extra nutrition as, although it’s not as technical as the descent off Greenhow’s, there’s still little chance you’ll be able to wrestle your hands off the bars due to its twisting nature, cattle grids and being only just a car’s width wide — and being flanked by the omnipresent drystone walls, which, although very pretty, leave little room for error.

Park rash on Struggle Dales sportive

Image: The steep gradients of Park Rash on Struggle Dales sportive

Battling the Elements

It’s worth mentioning here that the entire route of The Struggle is exposed, with little more than the aforementioned walls for protection against the elements. With a late May ride date, the chances of getting sunburn or soaked are very much in the lap of the weather gods. It’s worth taking plenty of kit to the start.

As you’ve probably guessed, The Struggle isn’t to be ridden on a whim — it more than lives up to its moniker. The team behind it has tagged it as Yorkshire’s hardest sportive and at 108 miles long with and 2,877 metres of climbing, it certainly gives the Fred Whitton and Etapes du Dales a run for their money.

Although technically not a fundraising event, if you do decide to ride for charity, let the team know and they will help to publicise your challenge. Whatever your reasons for taking on The Struggle, you certainly won’t be disappointed.

Malham Cove on struggle dales sportive

Image: A snow-covered Malham Cove summit

The Challenges 

Greenhow Hill: At 2.5 miles it’s the longest climb of the day. The first two ramps are very steep (pushing 20 per cent) then it’s a long, steady drag to the top.

Malham Cove: A spectacular two mile climb averaging nine per cent. Relish the flatter sections, gifting moments of respite, as you’ll be pushing some 15 per cent sections in places.

Two Stoops: Once over the 1.4-mile climb you’re nearly home and dry. The twisty section is the steepest (our Garmin flashed over 20 per cent), then it’s a grind over the top.

Park Rash:  The pièce de résistance of The Struggle. The alarm bells start ringing on the lead-in from the village of Kettlewell, at approximately 51 miles, with sharp twists and turns in the road that will have you reaching for the emergency granny gear. A flat section along the river allows you to catch your breath, before the road rudely points up to over 30 per cent. Yes, you did read that correctly. This is a ‘by any means necessary’ climb. Once over the lung-exploding lower slopes it calms down at bit and its average 10 per cent gradient will feel like a dream. But be prepared — it rears up again before reaching the top.

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