HUNDREDS of cyclists and spectators are gearing up to descend on the County Durham countryside for a 60-mile cycle challenge.
The Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Pennines event takes place on Sunday, July 20, with cyclists departing and finishing in Barnard Castle, after following a challenging route with tough uphill climbs and speedy descents through rural Teesdale and Weardale.
Several road closures will be in place during the event, including the roads between Barnard Castle and Middleton-in-Teesdale and from Barnard Castle to Eggleston.
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Organisers IMG International, and Durham County Council, which supports the event, have placed road notices around the route and on some feeder roads with details of the closure times.
While the event attracts thousands of visitors to the Barnard Castle area, many residents living in villages such as Eggleston, Mickleton and Middleton-in-Teesdale, are unhappy that they are being cut off by road closures on one of the busiest tourism weekends of the year.
Ted Henderson, chairman of Eggleston Parish Council, said: “There’s a lot of confusion because of the way the roads are going to close.
“The event was originally designed to extend tourism trade in the dale by taking place in October.
“The fact that it was moved to the first weekend in the school’s summer holidays is what has really upset people.
“It should take place in May or June.
“We have said from day one we are not against the cycle ride, but we are against the road closures and the date change.”
Nigel Dodds, Durham County Council’s strategic manager for culture and sport, said the decision to change the date was a matter for the organiser and said the council had advised against dates that clashed with agricultural events.
He said the council had been working closely with IMG to minimise disruption and ensure emergency access remains open.
“Feedback from local residents and businesses has been taken on board and appropriate diversion routes have been put in place along with an additional crossing point at Folly Top, near Middleton-in-Teesdale,” said Mr Dodds.
“Roads will also re-open at the earliest opportunity on the day.
“However, we still believe that whenever the Etape takes place, it is of significant value to the Dales’ economy.”
It is thought the 2012 event boosted the local economy by £235,000.
For information about the road closures, call IMG on 0208-233-5900, Monday to Thursday, between noon and 2pm, or visit etapepennines.co.uk/Event-Info.