The Cheshire Cat 100 – Sunday 23rd March 2014

The Cheshire Cat 100 – Sunday 23rd March 2014

The alarm went off at the usual Sportive-O’clock and from the comfort of the duvet it was apparent that it was either hard rain or hail going on outside. Snoozing the alarm more than once – it was now more than time to get up, and out, and over to Crewe. This was to be my first sportive of the year, and peeling back a curtain to dare to see what manner of meteorological delights were occurring outside… it was going to be a long day… my first 100.

The start for the 2014 Cheshire Cat was the football ground, not too far from the station or a tonne of places to be dropped off with clear signposted routes to the Stadium. Dropping off, train, or long term parking all pretty much dealt with – there is not really that much demand on a Sunday at quarter-to-early – and as such there didnt seem to be a lot of complaining going on.

Gillet, arm warmers, winter longs, overshoes, full finger gloves and a neck warmer… somehow this was not the Century I was looking for.

Number on me, on bike, seat post, tag on helmet – no need to check in, hung bike on ample rails, just toilet stop (no queue!) and good to go. I am not sure who was less impressed the people living across from the stadium, or the cyclists waiting (in the well organised holding pens for the ride to start) – as an overly enthused chipper voice (given the weather and the time of day) boomed over the PA system. The attempts to rally the crowds was mainly met with silence, comments on the weather and the odd murmoured ‘you missed your QR mate’.

Sure, the sun was out, but it was not feeling it. Stewards not used to clip clopping riders a little bemused, stood around in large cosy jackets commenting on the fact people had been waiting for 30 mins to start. The nod was given and we were off. Out in the third group from the first pen.

The groups were clearly very mixed, even given the start time and distance. The almost fluid motion of people moving forwards and backwards, and holding position in the streams of riders leaving the stadium, passing through the all but empty Sunday morning town and on the way out.

The big fuss was the first climb of the day – Mow Cop. I am a heavy rider – hills rarely fill me with joy – however – living in North Wales and having seen / ridden some expletive worthy stretches of tarmac in my time – I was wondering how bad exactly could it be. In short, its a silly place to build a road. What were they thinking – PUT A BEND IN IT. Having had it pointed out to me as we approached off to our side – like a glimmering wet sliver of metal on the side of a hillside, straight – Roman style, just up. It kicks up a little to a gradual climb to start with , then a left, and there it is infront of you, like a ramp, and the worst of it being you can see it, there, taunting you, and you have to really look up to see the top. There is no subtle blade here – this is the blunt instrument… there is no hidden pain its all on display.

A local said on the way in to it that there are no faster parts, just sit in from the get go and do not try to rush any of it – it continues to climb at the top after the stupid steep section. Seemed rude not to heed the advice really… although I didnt really have a choice in the matter – getting up was more important than doing so quickly. Overly warm, and with an uncomfortable amount of leaning over the front of the bars – I ascended. It continues after the “OUF!” to make up the mile of ascent (the timed ‘killer mile’ as they put it – but beyond that flat, open, plenty of space for people to cheer you on 25% section but nothing of a comment worthy nature. I overheard an older woman by the side of the road ask “What is the name of this road?” to another member of her party. “Purgatory” I said back… as the photographer snapped her chuckling and me grimacing.

Now the route profile suggested that the big climbs came early in the ride, and that they did. That all sounds great in a ‘get them out the way early’ kind of way… I would urge any of you to reconsider that – as basically you are now ‘done’. Any further climbing beyond a hillock comes as an unwelcome surprise, and you are carrying them around in your legs all day. Dismissing that as a great idea would be foolhardy. I, am that fool.

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Fantastic views running along the ridge lines, trying to figure out what and where you are going to and over next. Overcast and moments of sunshine, and wondering whether you really needed the longs and the gloves proper. Trying to stay cool.

The roads are mostly dry with standing water, and few muddy sections thankfully. Surface questionable at time – but nothing you wouldnt want to take a winter bike over. It is afterall spring.

Then came the first feed station – between hills three and four, right at the bottom, down a muddy bumpy/gravel/potholled lane to a wonderful view of a lake. The temptation to just spend the rest of the day here was large. The sun was out, the clouds were skudding along the sky, and the water looked serene – if a little damned cold. Food was sufficient but there was no variety – functional – and plentiful, bannanas, gels (yo uhad better like apple), high5 and plain water barrels… oh and the curiosity of iced cupcakes…. really? Having loitered far too long – back on the bike and a spot of CX back up to the route.

Alas maths has never been my strong point.In my head there were three climbs and a feed station. There were four. So up, up, up we went again – that solace you get from continued climbing – the fact that despite you are going so slowly and people are passing you – that you are, in fact, making progress, not walking (as some were by this point), and to be fair its not all that bad – at least the weather is holding off.

The now familiar passing game ensues. Where they will overtake you uphill, you on the flat, down – to the point neither of you can be bothered, and you end up chatting for a bit.

As we got over the last lump – high enough to be passing an ever-so-bleak concrete based transmitter mast – the clouds enveloped us and the wing whipped through horizonal hail.

There was much yelpying, screetching and general vocalistations as peoples descents were reduced to a slow crawl or stop – not even half way. Generally looking where you were going was a painful business. A collection of riders gathered at a junction like penguins weathering out a storm waiting for more to arrive at the back to shield them. Then on again.

The next feeding station – more of the same. Made good progress with a fast moving train, potholes everywhere, loads of spray. Chain starting to make a noice like it no longer loves me.

Lost that group – most disappointed. The ride now turned into the wind for what seemed like the rest of the ride. Humour, and etiquette appears to have been in short supply for this as groups got larger, and finding yourself at the front of a group often meant just that… they would drop back if you tried to drop off the front. The wind was merciless, but the sun was out between clouds, and the hail was gone – of that I was thankful.

Last feeding station – confused marshals as we rode by – I just wanted to push on, as did the group I was with.

Its apparent that between 75 and 100 is the hard part. It could have been pan flat with a tailwind and I think that would still be the point the wheels started to come off – just time in the saddle, and earlier day now starting to tell.

A tiny more spirited group formed, and we just plodded onwards hoping for a finish line as we watched the miles tick away. Pace prozaic, seated, and as-long-as-we-get-there.

A smile raised amongst our small group to see an event photographer who had either intended to look sodden and dug in like a sniper, or – more likely had sunk into the side of the road and despite all the layers was looking decidedly moist and fed up in the fine rain…. I know which of us I would rather have been! Not far now.

As we passed 100 miles on all of our computers with what was that moment of not mentioning it… and then… …apparent to even the least local that “this was not Crewe” as we are surrounded in green… there was a dip in spirits… but soon enough we rolled into the outskirts, and then through lights towards the stadium – now busy with afternoon traffic. Someone who had not been out in the hail and headwind probably thought this was a great idea at the time – one word for you “thanks”.

2KM to go, then 1KM to go, some lights, a junction, and then – finally waiting foot down to turn right across weekend traffic and under a finish line…. it kinda spoils the moment… – and pretty much putting pay to a rather late in the day effort to pick up the pace with the finish in sight…. but the first sportive of the year in the bag.

Less elation – more thank-god-thats-over. Hang up bike, formally get results while collecting Mow Cop medal from the people at the desk who gave you your time for that sector. Yay.

Here is a question for you – why does no one ever have a feed at the finish station? Ever? Just me think that would be welcome? Maybe.

A well organised event all in all – on our doorstep – and weather / time of year aside – worth taking in.

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The good bits:
– Lack of faffing around on arrival – read the pack sent to you – sticker up and go;
– Generally no grief from traffic or locals;
– Signage was good, never really had any moments when I was beginning to wonder if I had veered of course;
– Good mix of riders doing the longer distance;
– Well supported event despite the elemtns;
– Well thought through use of space, bike park, starting pens, group starts;
– Sticker based RFID timing chip;
– Support from complete strangers who turned up to see a thousand pain faces on Mow Cop.

The not so good bits:
– Route meant that having got the climbing out of the way the remainder of the route was more open, and what felt like consistently into wind;
– Food – Banana, Gel, Cupcakes. Sure the High5 and water were on tap but sometimes variety really helps;
– Location location location – it would have felt better to have the feeding stops I did stop at more accessible / closer to the route;
– Miscommunication – Mow Cop “stay right if you can make it, stay left if you are in doubt” – “those riding go left, those struggling keep right” …. erm?

Would you do it again?
Yes why not – would have been a lot better given two things – neither of which in the organisers control:
– A group of mates / club to ride with;
– Weather – less hail and wind would have gone down a treat.
… otherwise seems rude not to – its on our doorstep, and is a great way to kick round of March and start the Sportive season.

Organiser:
– Kilo To Go
– Wiggle

— Words – Anthony Hogbin