Cheshire Cat Sportive

Well first race of the year over with. Fortunately I was able to grab two entries for the Cheshire Cat thanks to Stuart Pritt and Fran Doyle. My original plan of doing the 66 miles was put to bed after doing a drive round the course on Saturday afternoon before sign up. My thinking was handle Mow Cop and then get back down onto the flat for the remaining 30. Unfortunately for me the course was pretty relentless. Much is said about the Mow Cop climb but in my opinion there are several others afterwards which are just as bad, as well as going into the wilderness of the Peak District, with the Cat and Fiddle pub just down the road to give you an idea of the climbing involved.

You have to be very, very fit to do the 66 miles, and with less than 100 miles under my belt on the road and simply 5 months of turbo work I couldn't do it. I would also have to loose a couple of stone, as you would have to be lean to handle the amount of climbing. Those that enter the 102 mile course (and do 60 miles of riding before even getting to Mow Cop) must be machines that are completely off their rocker!!

So, 37 miles it was and following a trip to Dave Hinde for a service and a set of new Mavic Aksium rims I was ready. Sign on was pretty straight forward, I would recommend going the Saturday afternoon. That way you can simply roll up and get going on Sunday morning. The queues were massive on Sunday.

I felt a bit lazy just doing the 37 miles, the late forties on the flat would have been more of a challenge. The task that lay ahead was simple, use the ride as getting leg mileage in and test to see if the interval training had worked. My target was 3 hours.

The ride started briskly. The new Mavic's were fantastic, super light which did wonders for speed and acceleration, I would really recommend upgrading your rims if your considering improvements. To begin with I struggled to find a group to hook on to and up to Peover I had powering along at good speed.

In the distance was a good sized group, I powered ahead to get onboard as I struggling with the headwind on my own. Unfortunately as I clambered on to the back, I found that a small group of 5 had decided to slow up with the main bunch keeping up the pace. I overtook the small group but it was too late, I was shattered and was left on my own. I tried grabbing on to the back of passers by but had lost my legs. I grabbed a bite of a cereal bar and a good swig of drink. As we got to Byley I got onto the back of 2 lads who were going at a good pace and managed to keep with them to Middlewich roundabout where they went right on the 100 mile route.

I was yet again on my own and struggling to get going, I could see a couple of riders a mile ahead but not the energy to catch up with them. I took another bite of cereal bar and on the way to Congleton via Holmes Chapel I got my strength back. Seeing a group of 10 riders a few miles ahead along the winding country lanes, I got my head down and got a pace going, I managed to get on to the back and sat in the middle of the group. At a road junction we were joined by another group of 20 and got a peloton going.

This is the first time I had been part of such a large group, reading in magazines there are articles warning you of the dangers, and the skill involved, keeping your distance and the signals to use when riding together. I was apprehensive, but it's a piece of cake. Infact I loved it. There isn't a better feeling in riding a group, the banter and simply the power it has storming down the road, reeling in the miles. I easily sat in the front 5 and looking back it was great to see 30 people rolling along.

Unfortunately the whole group was off on the 66 mile, so we parted company at the feedpoint. I grabbed a free banana and waited for Brad to come along, unfortunately he didn't stop so 5 minutes later I set off to chase. As I was leaving I left with 3 guys, and they seemed to be set off to go at a nice pace. As we rounded a corner I saw Brad up ahead, put the power down and caught up with him to see if he was ok before they caught up and I could hop back on. He needed his bike sorting and by the time we had it sorted the others had overtaken and were gone for 5 minutes. Once Brad was ok I shot off to catch them up. This was where my interval training came into play, it took 15 minutes of pure speed, down on the bars to hook on to the back again.

From there we cycled back to Knutsford together at a good place, with a mile sprint on the run and I eventually crossed the line in the offical time of 2 hours 28 minutes, taking off the stops would make it 2 hours 16 minutes. I was delighted. The mileage may have been short but the work rate had been high, very high, especially in the second half catching up to the group. The time I was blown away with, in fact I got back so early that Becky hadn't even turned up to meet me at the finish!

For those looking for good fitness and road miles I would definately recommend the 37 mile. Very flat, great for speed and 1 hill to test you. Gorgeous, quiet country lanes, which wind effortlessly along.

The Cheshire Cat, you think with a UCI status, would be quite spectacular. In fact out of all the events I've done, it was one of the worst run. No marshalls at busy roads and small signs which could be easily missed if you're head down. However it dead have posh timing gear, free food at feedstations and free massages at the end.

The ride was a great experience and I loved every minute. Onward to the Ron Sant Reliability on the 13th April.

Cycling Progress

Not long till the first rides of the season. I can't wait, I feel in really good form. The hours spent on the turbo at the gym have worked really well, I'm doing a good half an hour at 90 RPM and the interval sessions have been excellent.

I've had opportunity to go out on a couple of rides. The first was a 25 mile loop which I did pretty easily and most importantly felt really good at the end. The next couple of rides were simple 15 mile loops which I did under 45 minutes with a strong headwind. The most pleasing thing is that I'm dealing with hills a lot better.

I am struggling with keeping the energy levels up. I need some education on sorting out the best foods for before and during rides. Cycling Weekly has a mammoth 183 page edition this week which will sort them I'm sure.

On other bad news, unfortunately I won't be doing the planned Cheshire Cat sportive as it has sold out, I'm looking for a replacement for later on in the season now. My first ride will be the Ron Sant Reliabilty on April 13th.

Before that I'll be booking the bike into Dave Hinde for a service, while it's there I'll probably get a 105 chainset and some new Mavic rims. I'm currently on Tiagra and the gears are everywhere!

It's really bad news to hear 3 UK Premier Calendar races being cancelled including the Halfords sponsored Bikeline last weekend. I thought cycling was going through a fantastic spell, with loads of money coming through from British Cycling and yet we can't even had a days racing on public roads. If an event with even the backing of the mighty Halfords gets cancelled there is no hope at all.

It really winds me up. All were cancelled due to lack of council and police support. It's very sad.

On better news, a great start to the Pro calendar. The Cervelo Test Team has been outstanding, Roger Hammond especially. Mark Cavendish has won a fair few races, the Tour Of California win being one of my favourites with the double lead out train.

One of the most memorable moments so far for me was in Paris - Nice. Contador having been under huge pressure from competitors all the way through the competition was in a chasing group. With lack of support from his group, he was force to battle on his own at the front, so much so that he blows up near the end of the penultimate stage and finishing at the back, loosing his yellow jersey. Crazy stuff.

Can't wait for the Tour and Giro!

Bells Of Peover

The Bells Of Peover has a rich heritage and with it a large amount of hype. Hidden away down a cobbled road, in the middle of quiet, beautiful Cheshire countryside, it is situated next door to the local church which dates back to the early 1200s.

Claims of gorgeous food, award winning hospitality and fine beverages has been poured over the local press and hearsay. I ventured down tonight to see what all the fuss was about. All I'll say is don't believe the hype and don't bother wasting your money.

Pulling up in the car park there is an array of Mercedes, BMWs and Audi's. Walking inside it seems buzzy, yet suspiciously no-one seems to be eating. Those there, and I'm thinking local regulars, seem to be gathered drinking bitter, chewing the fat over how good they were at recent race at the weekend, how good they were in business last week or having a competition to see how good their loud fake laugh was.

There didn't seem to be any staff around so we sat ourselves down, once we found a table that had been cleaned, and had a look through a menu which in fairness had a good deal of choice. Unfortunately we couldn't have anything we wanted. All 3 of our main choices were out of stock due to "being very busy today" which was ridiculous. Moroccan minted lamb, mozzarella chicken with bacon and all steak burgers were gone. Even Becky's mushroom starter had to have cheddar instead of stilton, because that too was out of stock.

No staff seemed to want to come to the table and take an order so I took the matter in my own hands at the bar. In fact it looked like the place was being run by just 3 kids. I don't mind young staff by any means, but for an affluent pub with such a reputation it needs a mature pair of hands behind the bar and front of house to take orders and guide the youngsters.

The starter was miserable, for £5 a starter you'd expect more than a mouthful of average Pate, thrown together with some unfresh green leaves and one mushroom with a speckle of cheddar on it.

A waiter walked past a couple of times, peaking past the door before realising we finished our mouthful and cleared our plates. It was then nearly 25 minutes, and a prompt at the bar, in which our main course turned up. In fairness the gammon and egg was well cooked and it wasn't chewy, Becky's fish was well portioned and fell off the fork nicely. Apart from that both meals were terribly disappointing, the gammon tasted greasy, Becky's mushy peas had about 3 peas in them and the chips were poor; not homemade nor crispy, infact the fish and chip shop on Friday night did a lot better.

Nobody seemed to want to clear our plates so we went to the bar and paid either. Needless to say we weren't staying for coffee or pudding.

I am so fed up of poor service and crap food. The Dukes Of Portland in Lach Dennis is another pub in Cheshire, which is also over hyped, over priced and serves poor food, fortunately the service is a lot better. But how hard can it be? Their one and only job is to serve food and drink with a friendly, punctual service. Nothing else. Food and drink. Serve people nicely and make sure they are happy. Clean the tables. It really annoys me.

And one thing I've learnt tonight, don't believe the hype. When the regulars roll up with their Audi R8s and BMWs outside and they aren't eating in the place; simply turn round and walk away.