Friday, 16 October 2009

2009 Sportives Sportive No1 March - The Cheshire Cat

In 2008 when I first took up cycling, sportives were not on any agenda of mine. Sportives are for the good cyclists not newbies such as myself - it took me absolutely ages to build up my mileage to any sort of level I would call half decent, but you know what they say about tiny acorns and all that. From a few laps around the block to my first ever 10 miles then 20 eventually hitting 50 miles!!. I have a picture somewhere where I am sat on a bench in Walton Gardens half way around my first 25 miler where I have a wry happy smile on my face because these gardens had been a goal for a long time and you know how happy you are when you do eventually reach a target (and then get home).

In December 2008 on a whim I signed up for the Cheshire Cat medium length 66 miler and persuaded riding pal and hill climbing beast in the making Phil to sign up also, so over the next few months we put in a lot of miles and sought out the hills in our area in preparation.

Come the end of March this is what I wrote on the Bike Radar forums after we had completed the Cheshire Cat :

Did the 66 miller, at some points, many points if I was to be honest, all I was thinking was NEVER AGAIN!!!, I was disappointed with myself - walked up Mow Cop and Macclesfield Forest and a couple of other places ..... My ride time was 4:40 according to my bike computer but overall was 6:17 - an hour and 40 min stoppage time, something to improve on the next time - even though I vowed I would never ever put myself through that torture again....

The best part for me was the 20 mile run in home after Swiss Hill, 20 miles in a small group with speeds between 20-25 mph. The route signs were mostly OK except for the first right hand turn off the first main road we came to - didn't see it... No water at the first feed station but apart from that it was well organised. Disappointed there was no certificate of completion at the end...

All in all it was an enjoyable event, the weather was great, the descents were scary at times especially the one at Lamaload (sp) where I was on the brakes all the way down (NapoleonD's broken leg was constantly on my mind).

What have I learned from my first sportive? I'm not as fit as I need to be for an event such as this and I took far too much food with me, my pockets were bulging with the stuff.

Looking forward to next year

In hindsight it's obvious that I came over prepared - I had 4 Go-bars, 6 gels, a packet of jelly babies, 3 sachets of electrolyte powder as well as also being very overdressed. Phil & I drove to Knutsford nice and early hoping for an early quick start, we figured we would be spat out of the back of every group we latched onto and didn’t want be amongst the stragglers that come in really late hence the desire for an early kick off.

We did manage to be on the start line nice and early, the only downer for being so was nearly freezing to death waiting the 20 minutes for the off in the coldness of an early spring morning with the sun beaming. We were amongst the second group to start and set off within a nice big group. Inevitably we all splintered into smaller groups after a few miles but we were able to keep up with one group or another for much of the ride with some great speeds of between 18 to 25 mph all the way for the first 20 miles until the first food station - those miles flew by so quickly it was actually a shock to have to screech to a halt for food and water!!

After food n stuff - bannana's, sausage rolls and jam doughnuts, we set off for Mow Cop. It didn’t take long to arrive but what a shocker Mow Cop is if you haven't seen it before. After the level crossing on Station Rd before you hit the 25% bit, the road quickly ramps up and varies from around 10% to 15% for the first three quarters of a mile, however it didn't take long for me to click click out of my pedals and walk - what I beheld so early into the ride really disheartened me - to see the steepness of Mow Cop and realise there was another 4 or 5 big hills to come after it - Biddulph Moor, Barlow Hill, Macc Forest and Lamaload Reservoir - I lost all my willpower and determination, I was Samson and my hair had just been chopped. If there had been a broomwagon handy to take me home I would have jumped on it right there and then.

So I walked and walked - yes that's me in the shot walking up Mow Cop - and rounding that last bend - yikes, that 25% bit near the Pub looked like a giant chalkboard protruding out of the road!!! I walked it with calves screaming in pain. Mow Cop cost me £20 – the price for a new pair of cleats!!!

This photo taken by Phil (who was also walking at this point) does not do Mow Cop justice, the run up to the 25% bit looks pretty flat in this shot but it isn't believe me. You can see the 25%er in the distance by the pub on the left - looks like a jump jet take off ramp on HMS Invincible!!!

So was the completion of Mow Cop the end of the suffering? Was it buggery!!! More hills just around the corner than a little bit of a reprieve then hills hills and more hills and I had the pleasure of walking most of them. Even though there were obviously more hills besides Mow Cop on this ride you would have thought that Mow Cop was THE hill - after all it’s the hill the organisers choose to constantly highlight but NO the real killer hill came in Macclesfield Forest. Just like Mow Cop there is a gradual rise that kept on getting steeper to around 17% and then half way up to make matters harder than they need be there was a narrow band of ice across the road that caught some people out including me (who at point had been walking for a few hundred yards), I slipped on it as did others, then after the ice came the finishing blow - the road ramped up for about 50 yards to somewhere near 25%, it did near kill me pushing my bike up never mind riding it….

After Macc Forest came more hills whose names I have forgotten, some I managed, most I walked. The last hill of the day is a short but technically challenging hill called Swiss Hill in Alderley Edge, steepish and cobbled that would have called for a lot of bike handling skill if I had ridden it but I didn't - it was optional and I had had enough of walking that day. After Swiss hill it was the flat run in home and now I actually started to enjoy myself realising the suffering was over and all I had to do is see out the remaining miles. I finally finished tired, calves and cleat battered but had gotten myself a personal best of 66 miles and 5490 ft climbing for the bargain.

How did I feel after? Tired - very tired and drained but also filled with the elation that comes with the sense of achievement that comes after an event like this - sure, I didn't manage the hills but I had completed the distance and participated in my first ever proper Sportive and we each got an official Kilotogo pink Buff for our efforts. No medal though, that's for 2010 when I do manage to ride Mow Cop... (ps I love taking on hills now)

More on Mow Cop in a newer post....


  1. Mark... great reading and great effort. Ive also signed up for the Cheshire Cat this year and was browsing trying to find peoples previous experiences.

    I've just completed the Hell of the Ashdown on Sunday in preparation for the Cheshire Cat this year. First ever sportive and also have similar "walking" experiences. Definitely a low point as had to call it a day on the last hill of the race, and almost in front of photographer. Although i did managed to get on the bike for the photographer but it was grim.

    Nice to hear you conquered it again back in August and that you've signed up again. Interested to know what your thoughts are the 2nd time around. I noticed they have taken Macc forest out of it this year, so must be a good thing?

    Anyway, thought id leave a comment as it was a good read and i know how you feel. Like i said would be interested to know how you prepared for the Cat this year.



  2. Stu thanks for the comments and congrats on the Hell of Ashdown, sounds a really tough ride and what a hard sportive intro you chose. I think if you've completed that ride you will pobably find the Cheshire Cat to be a lot easier, I hear the hell of Ashdown is really hellish :)

    I don't really know what this years Cat has in stall for us, I do know Mow Cop and several of the other hills and they are all toughies but there are also a few new ones thrown in this year which I am told are 'a bit hard' lol, I'm glad Macc Forrest is out but I'm speaking from my own low power perspective, if I had the power I just may be a little annoyed, I just may have enjoyed sailing past all the 'walkers'lol however I'm sure there will be other new stinkers Kilo To Go have included.

    My main aim before the cat is increase my power so aside from hitting the hills on weekend rides, during the week I'm concentrating on following Chris Carmichaels 'The Time Crunched Cyclist' training plan in the hope that following an intelligent training strategy will give me what I need for the Cat and beyond.

    Nice talking to you you Stu ;)