Essentials
Distances:       72km / 107km / 161km
Participants:    3000 (Sold out approx 1 month before)
Start:               Crewe Alexandra Football Club
Cost:                £32
Transport:        Ample parking at the stadium and nearby
Crewe station 1km with good links across the country
Feedstops:      Long (45km, 76km, 125km),  Medium (45km, 76km), Fun (16km)
Timed:             Yes (Wireless sticker chip system posted out to riders)
Signs:              Clear Black Arrows on Pink background, some smaller junctions not marked which occasionally sowed seeds of doubt but nothing major and stayed on track throughout.
Road:              Surfaces were a little rough on the whole with some shocking potholes on sections.
My Ride:         http://bit.ly/ec5xbY

Summary

A great ride route to celebrate the start of British summertime. The route really mixed it up starting with the infamous Mow Cop climb, which is great for spectators and pretty tough on riders, followed by some fairly serious but very pretty rolling green hills. The second half of the ride flattened off as it crossed the Cheshire plain and leant itself to fast hard riding for those that still had the legs. The experience was marred for some by queuing at the start and finish caused by the logistics of the 3000 rider timing system.

The ride

It’s billed as the first big Sportive of the season and though there are a number of earlier events with 3000 riders its certainly large. I’d stayed at a nearby hotel after catching the train the night before so despite the clocks changing I was at Crewe Alexandra Stadium, ride HQ, well before start time. Approaching the stand it was clear this was a completely different proposition to any of my previous rides. The entrance was bridged by a huge inflatable start and finish line, banners lined the barriered approach. A Mavic tent was on hand for mechanical support ThisIsTheCat radio station were setting up shop and Wiggle were showing their bikes.

Kilotogo, the ride organisers had distributed their timing chips and bike numbers in the post prior to event day, theoretically this was a clever system and there was little for me to do but drop my bag off inside the stadium and take my place at the start. As I was so early I was in the first group at the line. This proved to be very prudent as talking to people after the ride huge queues built up and people were waiting up to an hour on a quite cold morning to start. The system wasn’t fully automated and rather than just pedalling through the bank of antennae, each rider had to be logged and their number checked manually, one at a time. With 3000 riders to deal with it’s easy to see why there were delays. I was oblivious to this unfolding behind me as I made my start.


Photo by SportivePhoto.com

The opening section of the ride criss-crossed some fairly major roads, with everyone fresh we stayed together in a pretty tight group. The initial roads seemed of little importance though as having signed up to the Kilotogo e-mails and tweets – foremost in our thoughts was what a big part of this the ride had been promoted on – the ascent of Mow Cop.

It was difficult to garner a reliable idea of this climb ahead of the event as the internet’s opinions seemed severely split between something akin to Mont Ventoux in one corner to bravado on cycling forums in the other where they dismissed it is a mere bump they regularly pedal up on a fixie, in flip-flops, while smoking Hamlets. Unsurprisingly the truth fell somewhere in-between.

It was clear how big this climb loomed in everyone’s minds as the group I rode with slowed to a snail’s pace at the mere hint of a hill before realising they’d had a reprieve and pushing on again. But soon enough it was upon us, I recognised the level crossing from one of the YouTube clips I’d watched so knew it had begun.

Knowing that the sting was in the tail I dropped the gears a little and tried to spin from my seat for as long as possible, saving some lower gears as a ‘special treat’ for later. The opening section was fairly gentle first curving to the right but then quickly lifted as it bent back to the left through the trees, then followed a steep section where the road opened up. I was out of my seat already at this point. It then levelled off a little allowing a couple of higher gears and a brief respite before the main event loomed into sight.


Photo by SportivePhoto.com

The section in front of the Cheshire View pub where it kicks up to 25% is what it’s all about and sure enough people and photographers lined the street in anticipation of your every grimace. The shallower approach proved a bit hazardous as a rider in front had already adopted the cross road slalom approach and I had to time my forward move to miss his teetering leftward swing. I’ve no idea how his technique faired, there was no looking back as my legs began their slow scream and the hill kept lifting higher. There was a moment where I thought, no I’ve not got enough, my eyes popped and I tasted breakfast but then quickly it was over – well almost.

So definitely not the hardest climb out there, steep, but short enough to butch your way through but what it does create is a rare thing in Sportives, an excellent piece of spectator action and I think if I’d had 60 miles in my legs this might be a different story.

I pushed on higher with the crowd noise fading into the background. As well as the relief of getting through it, Mow Cop also seemed to mark the start of the ride proper as at the top we were afforded beautiful views out to the Peak District and entered some really gorgeous countryside. But with views comes more hills and following a sudden decent the road again bucked up out of Congleton and continued to climb and drop for the next 25km. The first real respite was the feed stop at 45km, cake and bananas, SiS and water were on offer eager to get away I filled my bottle from my saddle and pushed off downhill. This section descended very steeply on a terrible piece of road pock marked with potholes, I was fortunate to have slowed off but when climbing out the other side I saw someone come off at the bottom fortunately un-hurt other than pride.

Another long climb then a fast descent. I got caught at a canal crossing whilst a narrow-boat navigated through. I think the dedicated would have carried their bike over the footbridge but I thought it qualified as a valid stop and my legs were truly grateful after all those climbs.

Nearly in Macclesfield we left the hills behind and the course flattened off for almost the duration. At one point I tagged on a train of riders who were coming by. They pushed my average by about 8kmh and for a short time I had that feeling of ‘proper’ cycling, all tight moves and back wheels, scenery hurtling by. I just can’t keep that pace yet so it didn’t last, maybe next week I told myself as I fell off the back. I inadvertently missed the second feed stop so met them again, always a slow learner I got much the same result.

At the last feed station we were issued with a handful of gels and bars which at this point I was really needing as I was beginning to tire. I shouted back as I left if they knew how far we had to go and they replied 23.For some reason I’d concluded that this was 23 miles so it came as a real shock when the stadium eventually came into view and I made a vain attempt of some last minute speed. So I’d made it and not quite as dead on my feet as my last 100 so perhaps this was progress of sorts.

Just after the line another large queue had formed and in one of my favourite examples of Englishness I’ve witnessed in recent times I asked three separate groups what they were queuing for and none of them knew but were equally peeved about it. So I did the patriotic thing and stoically joined the back. Standing in the sunshine was no real hardship though and forty minutes later it turned out I was queuing for a medal for conquering Mow Cop and a certificate with my ride time. It probably would have been worth making this clear as I think a lot of people would have made do with getting their time online, though with a train to catch that evening I had nowhere else to be. I picked up the free pasta dish and roll and took my place in the sunshine to watch the remaining riders roll in.

Learning

Participating in a full season of Sportives is a steep learning curve for me, at each event I hope to write a little about what I’ve picked up, or more likely still need to pick up. Perhaps I’ll help someone avoid the same mistakes or at least give a good opportunity to point and laugh.

  • Bottle: I need to get some. A number of times with my skinny frame I made a pretty decent hash of climbing only to be passed by everyone on the decent on the other side. I’m not sure how you go about learning this other than just putting all thoughts of self preservation aside and letting go. Answers on a postcard please?
  • Bunch riding: there was a lot of it in this ride and though masses of fun at speed I really need to get more practice in as dodging back wheels and reacting to moves and holes really kept me on edge.

Kit

Jamis Xenith Pro with Continental GrandPrix 4 seasons tyres

Topeak Aero Wedge pack, Topeak TriBag, Camelbak Podium waterbottles

Blackburn Air Stick III pump, Cateye Strada double wireless, Topeak Mini18+, Bontrager Air Rush regulator

Specialized BG Comp Road shoes, 2XU compression tights, Cyclosport Endura shorts and jersey, Gore Bike Wear Phantom II jacket, Gore Bike Wear Oxygen Gore-tex shell, Specialized Propero helmet, Gore bike wear Power mitts