Cheshire Cat Sportive 2015

Cheshire Cat Sportive 2015

There was much hesitation as the Wiggle / Kilo To Go – Cheshire Cat 2015 approached. The weather was not looking “the best”. Early week predictions had it down as downpour the day before, then gale force winds throughout the day. So the gathering on the VC Melyd Facebook group started, and with a noticeable exception of the worlds-longest-to-fix bottom bracket – there was a consensus amongst those that were not finely tuned racing machines – that “Hell – if you are are in, I am in – see you at the start line”. Call it peer pressure, or just plain stupidity – but as the days passed, and the weather forecast shifted from gale force to wet, very wet, then strong winds… the plan remained the same – 0830 start. “See you there”. So it was written, and so it was done.

Start time of 0830 meant leaving our corner of the world for 7am to get over to Crewe – time to find the start (moved from the football ground to the park (more on this venue later – grass and mud thing – hard to miss)), brave ‘Sportive Toilet’ – and get what seemed to make sense of the box / bag you packed the night before into some sort of order, with hopefully all the parts you are going to need for the day.

Due to the wonder that is UK time zones – the shift from GMT to BST meant that in old money this was now effectively a 6am departure… and respectively the blow to the system that is 5am alarm clock. This was just all giving today.

Location? Check. Time? Check. People – hmmm. Right – we are in a car park outside a community centre… as they appear to be parking cars on a field – in this rain – and there are hundreds of them. What could POSSIBLY go wrong? We are missing our peoples. Good to go and finding Alex and Stef – great – company – time to find a start. Start looks to be to our left – but everyone is riding right. O…Kay. As we watch people already wheel spinning across a field – it is apparent that the smart money was not crossing the 100m of mud, and taking the path around the park. Lets look at it as a warm up – after all we will most likely be stood in holding groups for release shortly. …or so we thought.

On arrival at the start proper there was a sizeable group of spectators and riders huddled under the pavilion looking less than warm, and a wide, open, barrierd route to the timing gate and the large inflatable start. This did not bode well… as the rain fell, the tarmac glistened, and we realised for an 0830 agreed start we were particularly 0840.

Assuming that the others were gone, and seeing Alex and Stef quite happy where they were – Lord Gary and I set off to sample the delights of what the day had to offer. Almost apologetically and certainly confused as to whether we were doing the right thing with an almost complete lack of riders … ‘riding’ – we rolled out under the inflatable (for an inanimate object it looked like it had been an early start, and equally sorry and tired of the rain). Glancing back – it was apparent that there were not going to be the number of starters they were expecting.

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Lights were a great call. It was a dark day, and rain was on and off. In our ‘excitement’ we probably set off at a bit of a higher pace than ideal – but hemmed that in before too long. Coat off for me – the human torch – happy braving the drizzle.

The first obstacle of the day fell at 20-25 miles РMow Cop. A bit of up and down preceded this  Рnothing you would want to give a name Рpossibly to warn others by Рor embody its existence with something you could target with gritted teeth displeasure. Mow cop Рwhere to start. It is silly, and realistically there are probably very good engineering reasons why roads do not often go straight up hills such as this.

It starts with a number of turning ascents, then a left turn, and some more wiggly-ness before you see it in front of you – a rather inexcusable gradient.

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As I slowly make progress on people on foot – it becomes apparent that there are going to be three main issues here:

1. The engine

2. The grip

3. Other people.

I had failed to factor in the odd frog as well – but it would appear that grip was holding out okay despite the rain running down the hill visibly, and the engine was struggling but delivering. The random factor of annoyance and comedy of watching one poor chap veer wildly across the road (in slow motion) to be shouted at LOUDLY by everyone he was getting in the way of, and then back again to more shouts, before ploughing into a curb and coming off. Once you knew they were down (thankfully again a slow motion event) you knew it was okay…. as was the hill. Slope proper gone, and onto the continuing hill (a comparative dream) – and the junction – where I found Lord Gary cursing and digging food out of his pockets. “‘You make it?”, “Yes.”, “good stuff – can we go home now?”

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Rain closed in – maybe cloud – maybe both. A lot of people had gathered at the top – I can only assume to take in the view, exchange pleasantries – and also wonder if we were indeed, “Nearly there yet?”

This rapidly came a line for the day – with the occasional mentioning of “Epic”. A word that, as it turns out, is all too easily pointy, accusatory, and venomous. Who knew?

The cold was here now. It was generally decided that even with coats on it was unlikely that there was any of us that was actually dry at this point. My coat had long since gone back on, and was zipped fully up, neck warmer wedged in place to keep out the draft. Gary upgrading his to head warmer duties and to stop the incessant rain hammering directly on his head through his helmet.

Feed stations: The plan was stop in at the second, refill bottles, stuff pockets and go. Its funny what a little rain can do. First stop, fill bottles and hide in a porta-loo. Rain hammering on the roof – but sweet sweet chemical scented respite from the elements. Bliss.

Timed ascent was on us next. The timing gate cheerfully blip’d as we passed through. Cables snaked away to a steamed up car, a coat, and a hat visible through the window. I was jealous. So – about this “Up”. I had no idea how long or how far this ascent was – just a passing familiarity with the fact there was a timed section. Heading up the climb it seemed to plateau a few times. People crossing into what was cloud as the false peaks presented. There was no view to speak of – off into the fields – the only real clue to hight was the cycle computer, the sustained gradient and the fact the rain seemed to be getting more solid.

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HELLO! Out of the blue.. or grey as it where – the irrepressible Matt appeared. He and Vic were behind us, and apparently I would hear all about Paul at the top. This would have to be the case, as there was no time for discussion as he continued past, on and up, to repeat the same with Gary ahead. My mind wandered – and I reached for my camera to try and capture this cloud filled world of discomfort. A few snaps in and a random shot backwards and I hear another HELLO! In a kind of “what are the chances” in line with the time I was hit by a flying hare earlier in the year – the person behind me recognised me from picture taking. It was Vic. It is truly surprising how much seeing a familiar – if sodden face can lift your spirits. Even more so when he explains that Paul arrived, without gloves, and decided that this was not for him and he was off. You know what Paul – that is the kind of solid and wise call that made you the legend you are today. Bravo.

Top of the hill came and went. It was colder. Descents were to the tune of hissing and grumbling rims and brake shoes rubbing themselves away.

Rain. I learnt a lot about myself while riding on Sunday. I learnt even more about rain. We had the fine stuff, we had the super cold, the big heavy drops, and what Alex so accurately described as ‘stabby’.

SO MANY PEOPLE WITHOUT MUDGUARDS. *SO* MANY. While it really was a matter of ‘tears in the rain’ – the occasional brown shower from the bike in front added insult to injury as much as tidal waves from cars coming the other way.

Flooded roads, streams, and in one case very clearly a river across the road. Mud. Hidden potholes and gravel. Bottom bracket immersion, and cars coming the other day. All faced with a quiet acceptance – it is not that we could really get any wetter… it was more a matter of how much it was sapping away our warmth, our energy.

One sweeping descent, some gravel and a flooded section of road and the familiar rumbling of rim on road. The first flat tyre of the year. Hands cold, wet, slow, brilliant. It’s immediately apparent that there is a slash in the sidewall. Patched with some duct tape, and inflated as much as I dare….. and good to go again. This was going to be a limp back now – although in all fairness with my feet asleep, Gary without use of hands, both of us with sore backs from the cold – this was really just underlining matters. The decision was now made to bail at the 80 mile route turning as opposed to the 104 full route we were signed in for. The difference now is that the hand was forced and guilt free.

The bright pink signs for the medium route came up, and we took them without hesitation – another 20 miles to go – with the rain backing off – suggestions of sunshine – all too quickly gone – replaced with wind. Nothing like a little headwind and gusting to improve upon your day after a five hour cold bath : )

Routes all join, and the scenery turns more urban, so the miles pass quicker – and back to Crewe.

Passing back through the gates now with a stream of riders of various abilities – and back through the timing gates.

The ordeal was over …. as we are corralled towards bike parking on grass, and a tent….¬† a days worth of rain rendered this a mud fest… but nothing compared to the car park for those who had been directed onto the grass where tractors were being employed to pull cars back onto the road. After some warm food, and a return of sensation to our extremities we headed back to change and head home – heater full on, and bags of sopping kit in back.

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Possibly the worst day I have had in the saddle. PURELY down to the weather, and things around that. Paul had the right idea – turning up and heading home. In fact, rescheduling would have probably been a better idea all together. The route is good, the views are good,

Alex and Stef took the same route as us, Vic and Mat went on to do the full 104. I cannot stress enough what an absolutely feat of bloody-mindedness and determination this would have been – that – or incredible stupidity. Either way – bravo gentlemen.

Extra medals for Myself, Gary, Vic and Mat for avoiding others, frogs, and finding enough traction to get up Mow Cop. In fact, as it transpires, a PB on that wondrous stretch of tarmac – despite the traction and winter bike this year. Go me. Silver linings and all that.

A truly horrible day that left us all tired, not wanting to go out AT ALL in the wet and windy days that followed – but I think for those that were there will be widely accepted as challenging (now we are all cosy warm and dry).

A victorious adventure for VC Melyd.

THOUGHTS ON THE EVENT:

Not such a shining moment for Kilo To Go / Cheshire Cat. I enjoyed it last year – despite the cold and hail. This year – sure it was the weather to blame – but one of my darkest days on a bike.

Sign-age – great. L shaped flourescent pink sign-age. In the right places, and clear, repeated…. even on straight roads – usually just as you start to wonder if you have missed a turn

Road closures where necessary / Marshalling / feed stations – all great. Top work.

Photographers – oh I felt for you all – out in the elements. I would rather be riding than stationary. Kudos.

Mud – “What shall we do if it rains as much as it is meant to?” – Apparently nothing. Yes, while hiring a tractor was inspired, directing people who had just taken a 6 hour ice bath into a field shoe deep in mud… really? How about trying to keep things on the tarmac? Better provision for warm food and shelter. Even event cancellation – between wet roads, wind, traffic, sheer number of bikes on the road?

Pre ride organisation – great communication – everything you needed to start in the post to you – brilliant.

Course – surprisingly hilly for a flat place and a course without an insane amount of climbing. Most of which is out of the way in the first half of the ride – then it is down to battling the wind on the exposed flat land. It is more about steep than climbing – however so early on you carry that around for the day.

Would I do again? Yes – probably. Although I will think twice before heading out in the rain for quite a while now : /

Did I mention how miserable and wet we were?

Most thanks to Lord Gary – who got me there, and supported me through it – sorry I reduced the options to a turn back for the 80 mile event. Maybe next year.

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*As far as I know the unamed rider is yet to fix their bottom bracket…. you know who you are.