Cheshire Cat 2011 Review

Last Sunday I took part in the Cheshire Cat. Seen by many as the season opener to the Sportive season. I had a good time. Me and several other members of the club took part. I did the 67 miles. I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous beforehand. I didn't sleep a wink, and as ridiculous as it sounds I even had a nightmare over conquering Mow Cop.

I had only attempted Mow Cop once before, and that was driving to the bottom with my mate Brad about 2 years previous. Now I was here for real. I had to get over the top and onward to the climbs around Wincle. My goal was to get to the bottom of the pub on Mow Cop. I wanted to reach the 25% without stopping as before I didn't even get halfway up.

I conquered all the hills without putting a foot down, and where in the past I would be running low after the effort of the hills, I found I was now setting the pace on the flat for the 40 miles back to Crewe. I still had energy in the legs without any cramping as I rolled in. It was such a great feeling and thanks to James Risk and his Dad Andy from Weaver Valley Cycling Club for the company.

The start was a bit dodgy, I think the 3000 taking part all turned up for 8.30am. This caused queues around the car park and we didn't start for a good 45 minutes. The finish wasn't much better either with hour queues should you have wanted to get a certificate and medal.

The pace heading out was brisk and within 15 miles we were knocking on Mow Cop's door. There is a strange silence as everyone approaches the climb (think of the scene in Band of Brothers when they are sat quietly in the Belgium trenches), then you turn the corner, get over the railway and it is total chaos. Riders everywhere, slowly grinding their way up the climb.

The thing with Mow Cop is that yes there is the 25% 100 metre incline at the top to contend with, but you need take it easy in the first half. The first incline is incredibly steep, you need to be in the small ring after going over the railway. You just need to keep control, keep the breathing steady, the heart rate down and keep at your own pace.

I got to the bottom of the pub (the start of the 25%), and the surge of addrenallin pushed me forward onto the steep part. After 6 strokes I had to stop but I was delighted.

The Cheshire Cat spends a good 20 miles up in the hills. After Mow Cop, you travel on to the edge of the Peak district through Congleton up an 18% climb, onward to the main road to Leek which is lumpy. Two climbs in particular really test the legs, the first is before you reach the first feed stop, a long drag of climb which you've just got to sit and churn out.

The second climb is in Wincle. For me this was the worst, it was horrendous. You bomb down a steep decent after the feed stop and infront of you is a steep brick wall of road. The road reels you in, you know you've got this long steep section ahead, and before you know it you're grinding up this hill. And you are grinding too! Out of the saddle, back in the saddle. Barely moving, slowly turning the pedals.

Once you've tackled Wincle you're out down through Withington, touching Swettenham and on to Holmes Chapel. Then churning out the miles in the big ring back to Crewe via Nantwich.

I had no issues with the Cheshire Cat. Ok the queues were a bit tedious but some of the feedback I've read, especially on the Facebook page, has been quite incredible. Quite frankly embarrassing. I find it absurd that there are people getting wound up over a bit of a queue and a piece of paper with their name on!

Don't be put off by the comments, this is definitely a sportive to add to your list. I'll be there again next year, that's for sure!

Cheshire Cat Sportive 2011

This Sunday is the Cheshire Cat Sportive!

I'm quite excited, I've not taken part in a sportive since the disaster that was the Manchester 100. I feel as though I'm ready. I've had a good Winter with hardly a weekend off the bike. There is about 20 of us from Weaver Valley CC taking part too.

Starting once again from Crewe Alexandra's stadium there will be 100, 67 and 45 mile options available.

This will be my third year of entering. The sportive is always very well organised, the feedstations are always well stocked (last year they were supported by Chatwin's, a big local bakery, and the range of foods was incredible).

The 100 and 67 mile routes take in the landmark of the sportive, the Mow Cop climb. Although relatively short in length it is the brutal steepness of the sections which are a killer. You'll find various videos on Mow Cop on You Tube however a lot of attention in the videos are aimed at final third of the climb and the 1 in 4 section going past the pub. Yes that is super steep and you'll need to push hard however the first third of the climb from the bottom is also pretty steep so take it easy here and rest in the middle of the climb.

After Mow Cop it isn't easy going either, you'll head into Wincle where there are couple of testing short, sharp climbs before a long drag up to Holmes Chapel. The run into Holmes Chapel is quite exposed and if the wind is up across the open fields it'll be tough going.

After the feed stop at Holmes Chapel, it is all flat but a couple of the runs are on long, tenuous main roads so get in a group if you can to share the effort. Last year there was a headwind all the way home which sapped any energy you had left.

Shortly after Holmes Chapel the 67 and 100 mile routes split up, 67 have about 20 miles to home at this point. Word of warning: you'll be going down past Crewe to Nantwich before heading back up home again so keep that in mind when you see the tempting 2 mile signposts for Crewe!!

For the 45 mile riders, you won't be doing Mow Cop but you'll be with everyone until near the bottom before making your way to Holmes Chapel and re-joining everyone, and the 67 mile riders home. There is one little sharp climb to contend with around Smallwood before the Holmes Chapel feed but apart from that it is all flat. The 45 mile route is ideal for those new to sportives as it's a good distance and also ideal for time trialists wanting to get some fitness. I've done it twice. Be prepared to ride alone, not a lot of people do the 45 so it is a good test for handling that distance quickly without working with a group.

That's about it really. Watch it for the first 10-20 miles as the roads can be very busy with cyclists. Many can be over enthusiastic and inexperienced so don't worry about sprinting off trying to keep up. Take your time, watch the wheels and keep some space in front.

Llanberis 2011

I'm a weekend behind here but I need to blog about the Weaver Valley Cycling Club Training Weekend to Llanberis, Wales last weekend.

It is an annual event for the club, renowned being a tough weekend as it punches in 200 hilly miles into the legs before the start of the season. Such is the quality of the weekend that the club sees a handful of riders from other clubs getting involved too.

Now I'm nowhere near the talent of the riders who signed up (we had around 50 riders at the top end of the club taking part) so I decided to ride half way (to Ruthin) on each day, which would add up to around 90 miles, and then help out where I could in the support vans.

We set off from a grey, drizzly Moss Farm in Northwich at 8am and arrived at Ruthin at 11am. Well I arrived at 11.30 as me and 6 others got lost on the way, taking a 10 mile detour over a number of sharp hills into Ruthin which tested the legs. Everyone set off from Ruthin and arrived in Llanberis for around 3pm-4pm.

The scenery was incredible. Climbing over Denbigh moors into Betws-y-Coed and finishing at Llanberis. It was just totally, totally beautiful. I watched as a good friend of mine Kris Zentek climbed up the pass, and although I knew it was tough going, his eyes and smile told another story. He was loving every minute.

I felt upset not to be riding amongst the bunch, I knew I couldn't have done it and kept up. I wished I had lost more weight and fit enough to ride at the pace being set to enjoy the ride. However I was determind to get involved the next day. I needed to ride this route and be amongst the scenery.

We stayed at The Legacy Royal Victoria Hotel, at the bottom of Mount Snowdon, which for the £40 paid which included a 3 course meal and breakfast was a bargain. (By the way, thanks to Kris, Jules, Elaine, Eleanor and Kev really enjoyed the company at the meal on Saturday).

The following day we set off from Llanberis at 9am. Taking in the Llanberis Pass within the first 10 miles. For me I've never climbed such a long steep climb before, thankfully I made it to the top without stopping.

After the decent we climbed out of Betws-y-Coed, this again, although not a steep climb was another good 30-40 minutes of climbing and I lost touch with the group. Although I was riding on my own I found myself, for the first time, enjoying climbing. Sitting comfortably on the saddle and spinning my way up. I battled on afterwards along the A5 but the long, straight road on my own took it's toll and fearing I was too far behind jumped into the van for the last 5 miles through the forest.

It was a great weekend. It has given me something big to aim for next year. One thing is for sure I have nothing but respect for the riders that did both days back to back (which was all but 3 of us). The pace that they tackled the distance and the climbs was incredible. You wouldn't be wrong in thinking that on the way back, that perhaps the pace would be kinder on the legs but I won't forget the moment sitting in the van, a 150 miles in near to Chester, and a group of 10 riders in front of us were racing with each other doing 30-40 miles an hour. Awesome.

You can see the route taken here. Eleanor from the club has also written a blog here.