A good number of us from the North Cheshire Clarion resplendent in our distinctive garb graced the start line/queue on a cool but dry morning. The aim of today was to treat the ride as a glorified club run complete with club peloton, signaling, the full club run thing, we rode at a steady pace, we wanted to complete not compete...
Start time was 8.30 but by the time we crossed the timing mat it was 9.10 and we were itching to go.
A fast start with the majority of us all together set a good pace riding out of Crewe heading south and then east towards Mow Cop 16 miles in. The roads were fairly uneventful leading to Mow Cop, a few small hills to get everything warmed up and then we hit the level crossing of Mow Cop and with a quick stop for a gel and a wee (needless weight) it was on with the climb. I adopted my usual slow pace climbing for the first 3/4 of the climb and I've got to say I found it definitely not as difficult as previously, my breathing was fine and I wasn't panting like a dog, I passed a few slower riders and some that walked it (just like I did last year) and just kept on with the slow grind upwards. On the way up and directly behind me I heard a loud shout and a crash as two or more riders smacked the tarmac but I didn't look behind to see what had happened as I needed to concentrate on my own pathway as I navigated between slower riders and the walkers - the crash did sound nasty though...
My plan which I now regret was to not even attempt the 25% - I didn't think it was worth the risk of damaging my new bike in the event of a crash which was possible with the shear number of people on the climb and endorsed with seeing or hearing riders crashing or coming to a stop and falling over, so I coasted to a stop a yard up the 25% and walked. Now, right now I'm kicking myself, I had the strength and my breathing was fine in fact my highest heart rate reading anywhere on the ride was 180, nowhere near my max of 191, WHY DIDN'T I HAVE A GO!!!!
After Mow Cop came the long descent where I reached 42 mph, good going considering the numptyness of some riders who weave all over the place in front of you or those that zip passed you head down arse up barely missing your elbow. It was here some where on this descent I believe someone was hurt as reported on one of the bike forums I browse...
After the descent and approx 5 miles on came two more hills, Blacky Bank and The Bridestones and having ridden them on the Mow Cop recce ride we did a couple of weeks ago I knew what to expect so again a slow plodding got me up fairly easily...
After the hills and approx 24 miles in came the first feed stop with well stocked supplies of foodstuff - bananananas, Viennese whirls and pastry's and also about 20 portaloos which is a big improvement on zilch from last year. It's here awaiting the loo that we lost most of the NCC, they took off before us so myself and two others rode the next 25 miles until the next feed stop apart from the NCC peloton...
The next challenge that came quite soon after the food stop was the climbing of Barlow hill (called 'steep gradient' on the route profile) and Wincle. A downhill section and then you were immediately on the first climb as you navigated a tight left hand 90' bend - lots of crunching noises as panicked riders quickly crunched their way down through gears. I had previously ridden these two climbs on last years Cat so knew it was coming and as soon as I saw the hairpin I changed down in readiness. Again a nice steady pace got me to the top and I'm glad to say without too much effort, I went past a few riders who were out of the seat giving it loads but barely moving and panting oooh yes panting just like I was last year (what a difference a year makes) however I developed a slight problem; my seat decided to tilt backwards on Barlow hill and that pointy bit aint half painful when it's poking you in places it shouldn't, didn't help that as well as riding up hill I was slowly sliding backwards off the saddle!!!
After Barlow and a saddle fix came Wincle (again not too bad) and it's here at the top that we came across club member Willy Van Der Jon (is that his real name?) sat in his car taking photo's so we pulled over for a quick chat and a regroup. You can see Jons photo's here
After the hills came a headwind as we headed south west that punished us all but stoically we plodded on. Not much to remember on this stretch except approx 40 miles in I had shooting cramps in my thighs as I rose out of my seat to get past a slower rider on a hill - what was all that about!!! 40 miles and cramps? That's never happened before, 70 miles yes, 40 miles never... Needless to say my buttocks stayed firmly clamped to my saddle until the next food stop which was just a few miles down the road and it's here we caught up with our brethren. A quick water bottle fill, a bite to eat and off we set again into the headwind but this time travelling in a large group however it was still tough going, I remember at around the 60 mile mark I was feeling really tired and was suffering but that didn't last long as I seemed to get my 2nd wind and was now really enjoying myself except for a pain in the base of my neck that had slowly crept up on me.
Our speed at this point travelling into the headwind was only averaging 15 mph but my heart rate was down from 150-160 to 130-140 bpm travelling within the NCC peloton. Soon we were heading south towards Malpas and the last feed stop at 75 miles. A bite to eat, a bottle refill and a couple of paracetamol's that took the edge off the pain and we were off again for the last leg and it's here as we swung north east that our speed rose seeing 20+ mph on the flat on numerous occasions, there was even a few shouts of' 'PACE' to be heard from the back!!!
90 miles in and our spirits visibly rose realising that it was nearly done, those last few miles again saw our speed rise and I'm sure there was a few spurts going on with the finish line in our minds - we all wanted to come in first but seeing as we rode as a group, we came in over the mats as a group. So that was that all over and time to go home, I didn't get my medal but I did ride all the hills bar that 50 yards of Mow Cop so I am mostly pleased with myself, in hindsight I should have done all of Mow Cop but there's no point in whining about it now.... maybe next year....
What I liked
- Great route
- Well organised
- Good stocks of food and drink
- Plenty of Portaloos
- Good start/end location, easy to travel to off the M6
- Plenty of parking in and around the stadium
- Great company
What I didn't like
- Lots of pushing towards the starting mats, didn't help having three queues merging down to one - queueing could have been better organised.
- Far too many riders converging on Mow Cop at any one time.
103.27 miles, 7 hrs 10 min, Av speed 14.4 mph, 4403 ft climbing (Bikehike)