Sunday saw my friend Nick and I take on the Velo29 Cheshire Cat. This early season sportive has previously been very popular with Cheshire based cyclists as it’s a great way to stretch the winter legs over 3 decent routes and get some base miles in. Unfortunately last years edition was cancelled when previous organisers KiloToGo went ‘pop’ (my very technical term for ‘administration’) however Velo29 have saved the day and stepped in to take over the running of the ride.
So at 8am on an unseasonably mild and sunny Sunday, around 2,000 cyclists set out on the course which took in some famous local climbs including Mow Cop, Gun Hill and Biddulph Moor.
I knew that the climb of Mow Cop was going to be tough having already seen videos on YouTube of the last 300 metres which peak out at 25% so our plan was to conserve as much energy as possible in the first 18 miles and then crawl up the first test of the day.
As with all sportives you try and get into a group where you’re all going at a comfortable, manageable pace in an attempt to conserve some energy and keep your nose out of the wind as much as possible. After a couple of false starts with groups forming a fracturing on the flat sections we finally settled into a group about 8 miles before the climb. At the front were a group from the same cycling club who were more than happy to keep the pace just the right side of ‘lively’.
Even though I’ve lost 10kgs since January I’m still nowhere near being a decent climber so I knew to let Nick ride Mow Cop at his own pace and I’d meet him at the top. We hit the first part of the climb and Nick, being the mountain goat climber he is, pulled away. I found a steady rhythm and cadence I was happy with and just turned the cranks. As I came to the flat section before the final ramp I looked up and saw people walking and zig-zagging up the final ramp. I then looked down at my Garmin and saw my HR at 187.
This was not good!
Right, don’t look at them and definitely don’t look at your HR – I gritted my teeth and just hoped gravity wouldn’t win.
There were people at the side of the road cheering us on and the last thing I wanted to do was put a foot down and admit defeat so i dug as deep as I could and just focussed on my front wheel and looking at the finish of the climb.
Once I’d got over the top there was a slight rest bite before climbing to the junction and then heading to the final spike before the descent. Nick had waited patiently at the top and we regrouped before tackling the last kicker. Nick took the lead and started the descent first, however he’d opened up too much of a lead and I lost sight of him as we gathered speed. There were a few riders in front of me and then suddenly we were on top of a right turn. I slowed and watched as 4 riders went straight on oblivious to the turn they had missed. Had Nick done the same thing? I turned and kept descending hoping I’d see Nick in front of me as I made my way to the first feed station.
I made it to the first stop and there was no sign of Nick. I got off my bike my legs still stinging from Mow Cop and suddenly heard laughter behind me. Within 30 seconds of coming to a halt Nick arrived explaining that the sudden right turn had caught out a number of other riders. We took a few moments to recover and refuel and head off again.
We headed off to tackle the next few climbs knowing that after 40 miles the worst of the hills would be done. Gun Hill, Biddulph Moor and Fourways all came and went and we finally hit the Cheshire Plain where we could start to get the average speed up and gain back some time.
I’d been surprised at how much better I had been climbing during the day and although I’m still no Contador, I think once the rest of the weight comes off over the coming months I’m in with a fair chance of at least getting better at hills. On this day though the flat stuff was my friend and we made good time with a tailwind pushing us towards the next feed stop and onto Delamere Forest.
From the second to the third fees stations Nick and I had been riding as a two up TT with him pulling some massive turns on the front as we pushed on through the Cheshire countryside. I think Nick weighs about 76kgs which means he flies up climbs, but on the flat he’s also a complete machine. He just taps out a relentless tempo and I find myself being dragged along by his consistent pacing.
After the third stop we were caught by a larger group of riders as the tailwind we’d surfed for 40 miles suddenly turned into a headwind. We jumped onto the back of the group, but this soon split and we had a decision to make. With 20 miles to go do we bridge the gap to the stronger riders or stay with the 2 who had not been able to stay with them. As I was starting to struggle with the pace and distance we decided to join forces with the 2 riders who had fallen out of the back of the larger group. One of the two was a lady who I’d spoken to earlier as we climbed away from Delamere. She was incredibly strong, but was obviously staying with her friend who, like me, was just on the cusp of going backwards.
As a four we pushed on taking turns on the front to drag ourselves back to Crewe and we ate up the last 10 to 15 miles in no time (although the last 5 miles seemed to go on forever!) Finally we made it back to Queens Park where we had started some nine and a half hours earlier.
It had been a superbly organised sportive and although the course was challenging it was great as an early season training ride.
For me, the 112 miles were great base miles to build upon during Spring. I only have 5 months to go until the Rapha ride and it’s days in the saddle like this which will mean I can complete the 220 miles I need to in order to get from Manchester to London. It all feels like baby steps at the moment, but every turn of the crank will make things easier come September.