Challenging climbs and top quality food make for a challenging but rewarding trip to Yorkshire
Words: Trevor Ward Photography: Henry Iddon
A subtle warning is served with my steamed turbot, tempura zucchini and smoked pike roe at the Michelin Star Angel in Hetton on the eve of my bike ride in the Yorkshire Dales. “The chef is quick on these hills,” said the masked waitress, before filling my glass with Macabeo-Verdejo Spanish white.
By the time the next dish arrives – Nidderdale lamb with caramelized onion, shitake, broad bean, and local pak choi – the warnings are more blunt.
Waiter Tom, whose tall, lean physique betrays his membership in nearby Skipton CC, where an accident at a criterium reduced his career as a pilot, tells me: “The chef has a footwork on him. You will have a hard time following it on the climbs.
Pouring me a glass of Italian Negroamaro red, he adds, “But you’ll enjoy Halton Gill’s descent. It’s long and gradual with great views.
As I finish my dessert – date honey cookie, compressed frozen peach with peach stone whipped cream – I see another masked staff member approach and half expect him to dramatically pass a finger to his throat and tell me I’m not standing a chance against ‘boss’. But instead, they just want to know what time I would like my bike to be ready in the morning.
The “chef” is Michael Wignall, who as a teenager was persuaded by his parents to give up his dream of becoming a professional BMX racer and go to a catering school instead. He has since paved the way for Michelin stars and AA Rosettes at restaurants across England before arriving in the village of Hetton in Yorkshire three years ago, but has never given up on his love of cycling. .
Before our meal, he showed me around his new million-pound kitchen and outlined his plans for an “Alpine-style bike book and tool station” for all guests to use. showing up with their £ 12,000 Pinarellos.
I have to join him for a ride tomorrow and he assures me that he will ride at a “social pace”. Its rigid and compact frame – along with conspiratorial warnings from its staff – put me on alert, however.
My apprehension is heightened the next morning with the arrival of Michael’s neighbor, Ian Weatherill, co-founder and CEO of nearby Hope Technology – supplier of the 40 bike frames that Jason and Laura Kenny and the rest of the UK team have. cycling team will be at the Tokyo Olympics this summer – and his son, Will.
Both are accomplished runners in various cycling disciplines. Both are aboard machines resembling weapons of war, all in sculpted carbon and polished titanium.
Between them, my three fellow cyclists have an assortment of Michelin stars, an MBE and a Cambridge diploma. Conversations will not be lacking during our journey. It’s just a shame that most of it is on one out of four slopes, I have a hard time holding the wheel in front.
There is time for brief little discussions before the first ascent of the day to Malham Cove. Ian’s business – like the rest of the bicycle industry – exploded during the pandemic to such an extent that he had to hire additional staff at his factory in the town of Barnoldswick, Lancashire.
“We have 19,000 sets of disc brakes out of stock,” he says. “It’s a 16 week wait for the dealers we supply. The situation in the global supply chain is so bad that I have seen used chains for sale on eBay! ‘
The conversation is temporarily suspended as the road passes the natural curved limestone amphitheater on our right. The narrow road winds upward between drystone walls before reaching a plateau next to Malham Tarn.
Ian does a lot of clipping in and out of his pedals. “I’m testing a set of prototype pedals and cleats that we’ve designed,” he says. “They’re titanium and meant for gravel and mountain bikes, but we think more riders are buying them these days because the shoes are so much easier to put on. Our factory CX team have them. tested all year round and think they have much better mud clearance than that of a certain rival.
We can see the next climb zigzagging steeply up the side of a hill, but a closed gate denies us a decent run. It’s a little over a kilometer at a constant 7% incline. Once above the cattle grid at the top you get an endless view of the deep valley to our right. A group of paragliders – a herd, a fleet, a flight? – hangs in the clear sky above dramatic limestone escarpments.
Crossing the line
At the bottom of the descent is the pretty village of Arncliffe where Ian shows a continuous white line painted on the road next to the river.
“It’s one of the ‘finish lines’ that we have here,” he says. “There are a lot of unofficial weekend races that attract local racers like the Brownlee brothers and Tom Pidcock.”
The road now begins a long trail along the valley floor until we turn left over a stone bridge and the climb to Halton Gill begins. True to the warnings I received from his staff last night, the “boss” takes no prisoners during these climbs.
He still wears his form of a training block for this year’s Maratona dles Dolomites gran fondo, where he had to cover the full distance – 138 km with 4000 meters of vertical drop – two days after preparing a gala dinner for VIP guests.
Although the plan was sabotaged by coronavirus-related travel restrictions, Michael has retained his physical form and is making short work of the hills today.
The hilly plateau at the top offers stunning views of the flat-topped mass of Pen-y-Ghent, one of the peaks climbed in the dreaded Three Peaks cyclocross race. From there it’s a thrilling descent into the market town of Settle and lunch at the Ye Olde Naked Man Café.
I’m about to choose a burger and fries when Ian, pointing to the bustling town square, warns me that the toughest climb of the day begins immediately around this corner. So it’s a tuna and mayo sandwich.
As leaders in their respective fields, I ask Michael and Ian if there are any parallels between the worlds of haute cuisine and high tech.
“Definitely,” says Michael. “Cooking is above all about experimenting. You have to be brave enough to try something different, that’s what sets a good chef apart from others.
“Cooking is a science and you have to understand this science: how heat changes the structure of food, how chemically influenced equipment can be used to separate liquids more efficiently. Thanks to technology, I can now revisit recipes from 20 years ago and make them better. ‘
Food for thought
Referring to one of the eight courses on last night’s tasting menu – described as “Winslade, pickled Thai shallots, minus 8 vinegar and oats” – Michael said his goal had been to “condense the flavor of the lunch in ‘a plowman in two spoonfuls’. I assured him he was successful and then wondered if this form of science could be used by the chefs of professional cycling teams to make their mid-race snacks more interesting for riders.
“It is certainly doable,” he says.
For Hope Technology, however, the science is limited by UCI regulations. At least for road bikes.
“It’s different for track bikes, where we’ve done all kinds of aerodynamics experiments. We are also planning to enter the triathlon market, where there are not so many rules, ”says Ian, who received an MBE in 2019 for his services“ to business, innovation and the local community. “.
His son Will, who just graduated from Cambridge University with an engineering degree, puts it more bluntly: “I’m bored with road bikes, they just don’t move fast enough. The only big news in recent years have been disc brakes, and we’ve been making them for mountain bikes since the 90s.
It’s time to go back and complete our loop of this rugged and beautiful corner of Yorkshire. We cross the square and are faced with a gentle, paved slope that gradually pushes aside the last of Settle’s buildings. The cobblestones soon give way to the tarmac but any sense of relief is canceled out by the road tilting sharply upward and a sign indicating 20%.
With almost four kilometers long, and with just a brief section of false dish halfway, I can taste my tuna sandwich all the way to the top. If only Michael’s scientific and culinary expertise could whip up a hearty lunch of just two bites, post-prandial bike rides would be a lot more fun, I wish I had the breath to tell him.
The descent takes us to another postcard village of stone cottages and manicured greens before starting the last hilly stretch to the Angel.
Despite over 60 km and 1,400 meters of vertical drop in my legs, I manage to follow Michael in this last section and learn how he developed his passion for food.
“My parents were travelers, they took us all over Europe and the world from our home in Preston,” he says. “When I was four years old, we traveled by motorhome to Istanbul. This is where I took my first espresso. This is where it all started.
But it almost stopped there too. “I had blond hair and blue eyes. When my parents took me to the souk, a lot of Turks wanted to buy me. Fortunately for lovers of great food and great cycling, their offers were turned down.
For more details on dining and accommodation packages at the Michelin-starred Angel in Hetton, visit angelhetton.fr
To download this itinerary: strava.com/activities/5474218567
Thanks to Pinarello UK for providing the bike