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My focus for March had been training specifically for the Velo29 Cheshire Cat Sportive in which Primal are the series kit sponsors. I had been training for the event on my heavier winter bike taking me over hilly terrain in preparation for the course I would be cycling on the day. With wider tyres on my Ribble CGR I wasn’t expecting to break any records on my day or night rides, but weather wise it was a safe bet. It’s fair to say with each ride that took me over 40 lumpy miles had been getting easier with practice. I like taking on varied terrain and as I have said before getting out of my comfort zone. There have been moments when approaching an incline, I have thought back to the Primal Ambassador meet last April where I had poorly tackled the hills in Plympton. Having experienced riding the hill from Dewerstone up to Shaugh Prior actually helped me overcome my mental apprehension of them and with a better technique, I can now look forward to the challenge in front of me.
Prior to driving to Crewe the day before the Cheshire Cat sportive I had as usual packed enough kit to cover all weather conditions, whichever would occur on the day. I was wishing for warm weather so that I could wear my new custom “Brand Ambassador” Kit, but after stepping out of the car at the Crewe Hall Hotel where I was staying for a few nights, it was apparent I would be needing my winter kit.
It was bitterly cold. After checking in at the hotel and offloading my bag full of cycling gear, I had to layer up and with the help of my Primal HTA Stella Down Jacket, my Clast tights and iconic Primal T-shirt after Fatboy and myself decided to do a recce of the route before registering ourselves at the Event Village. Setting off in the car about a mile from the start line we followed the well-placed signs indicating short/medium/long routes which were set out every quarter of a mile. Driving along the undulating landscape of Crewe into Alsager and Middlewich we followed part of the 83.3km short route before curiosity got the better of me and we diverted along the medium and long route to the infamous Mow Cop Mile and its 25% incline. Seeing the approach in reality was amazing. There was a walker puffing and panting his way up the climb and it was easy to see how intimidating it was but also how it dared to be challenged when standing at the bottom of the toughest section next to the 25% signpost. I decided to try and to get a run up the hill to take a few photos of the view while the car sat idle at the bottom straining on the automatic handbrake. I didn’t get far up it before walking down and almost unintentionally running and nearly taking off as I made my way to the car. The hill start at the base of the 25% climb was an effort just driving to the top and then turning in to the Mow Cop National Trust car park but looking down at the views as the sun was peering out of the clouds over the Cheshire landscape below this was the reward you got for making it up there. We spotted a cyclist who was carrying his bike around the view point and I got thinking about how tough it would be to climb it on my bike too. I had been tempted to go for the medium route of 130km which would have been a good base for my 105-mile ride in May but considered it for next time and with that drove to the very chilly event village to register and pop my head in and say hello to James and Ben at the Primal stand just as James was finishing a live Instagram post. Talking about the weather for Sunday’s ride, James advised it was probably a good idea to wear the Onyx Thermal tights and to start out as fast as we could and really push ourselves up the hills in order to get warm so with that advice on board and freezing feet we headed back to the hotel, attached the ride numbers to the bikes and helmet and went through my kit. I was out for the count by 8.30pm….ZZzzz
Sunday morning and the clocks had sprung forward but on the plus side at 6.am the sun was out even if it was still freezing, there was frost on the ground and a sunny mist was clearing. The Onyx Thermal Knickers and black Icon socks were a good choice along with the Neon Heavyweight Jersey. I decided on wearing my La Reina arm warmers under the jersey so if I got too hot I could easily take them off and put them in the pocket of my Onyx Wind Vest. Stuffing my mobile and a few gels in my back pocket despite never using them I had a final check of everything we needed and peddled off on the 4-mile journey from Crewe Hall to the Start Line at Queens Park. Arriving at the start line it was time to catch up with James, Ben and Zak the mannequin and do a quick live video on Facebook before heading to the start line. I was really looking forward to the ride and we set off quickly to get warmed up. Within a few miles we had naturally formed into a group of 8 other guys, taking it in turns to sit on the front of the pack, not really saying much if only to point out the many potholes and drains or to call back to check every one was still together when passing by other cyclists. It was only until around mile 10 when we stopped on a hill due to road work traffic lights, we did quickly introduce ourselves and where we were from, sharing a quick joke and reforming as a group when the lights went green.
There were a few hills that were short and sharp or long and gradual, but I felt relaxed and was enjoying every minute. Having done the recce, the route had seemed more severe and longer in the car than being on the bike but the views were even better when riding and each challenge was a feeling of accomplishment. Just before we reached the feed station half way around the course we came to a sharp winding treelined hill. By now there were only 3 of us in the group as others had dropped back or taken the medium or long route. Laughing as we tried to pedal as fast as we could I could hear a guy behind me doing a lot of ‘woahing’ as we all ran out of gears on the granny ring. My Garmin was recording my speed at 4mph and kept pausing. The harder the climbing got the more I tried to push myself. As we hit a corner with a steeper incline near the top of the hill I almost stopped pedalling completely zig zagging slightly into the verge almost like Zoe Ball had done during her 300-mile cycling challenge for Sport Relief so kept pushing hard on the pedals. Arriving at the top and a quick gear change to get myself back to speed to join up with Fatboy and a guy I kept calling Phil or Bill but was actually called Neil. I could hear the guy behind me approaching, muttering and laughing at the effort of the incline so acknowledging his effort to get going again I rode along with him briefly chatting and encouraging him but his legs had gone so we said cheerio and for about a mile or so I had to play catch up with the other two who I could see in the distance. Arriving at the feed station we didn’t want to stop for too long and get cold so a quick top up of the water bottle and grabbing a sausage roll we set off again along the rural back roads, just myself, Fatboy and Neil before joining on to the back of a group of 10 riders having a chat about their day, talking about our challenges for the year. The group had split by the time we had crossed a busy roundabout and once again found I had to quicken up the pace to catch them finally reaching the guys on another short sharp incline at Coal Pit Lane that made the quads let out a little yelp. Reaching the top and recovering on the flat we all split for the final time at the next busy junction, so the last 10-mile stretch was a solo effort to the finish line at the event village with a small crowd of spectators cheering everyone coming in to the announcement of our names on the screen above. As I stopped pedalling and unclipped, my left quad cramped just for a few seconds with the man on the microphone telling me head to the massage tent but after pummelling my quad it stopped and then I was distracted by my shiny new medal of the Cheshire Cat and one of the nicest medals I had seen to add to my collection of running and riding achievements. After an official finishers photo, I headed back to see James and Ben at the Primal stand and could see lots of riders sporting their new Primal Cheshire Cat Jerseys. Everyone was buzzing, chatting and patting each other on the back. I spotted a few of the guys we had ridden with and we all congratulated each other and wished good luck for the next challenge. Leaving the event village, cycled the 4 miles back to Crewe Hall for a well-earned bite to eat and a drink and was out for the count before 9pm.
One thing I have to be grateful for where I live in the flatlands of Cambridgeshire is (here I go again) the headwinds. Where its flat, it lacks in hills, we have the wide-open landscape without hedgerows to protect us and the winds blow heavy in all directions always, sometimes we can be riding flat out at 10mph for miles because it is like cycling in a wind tunnel. So, to use them to an advantage as well as training on a heavier bike in a hillier terrain has helped hugely, although I’m certain this is why my arms, shoulders and leg muscles are building up. But also, why I think I enjoyed this event. It was challenging no doubt about it, but it was so nice to not battle with the constant wind and the training had paid off.
Looking at the results from the Cheshire Cat there were just short of 2000 riders overall riding in the short, medium and long route. 492 were short route entries. My Garmin time was 3 hours 14 and my official time was 3 hours 22. In the Short distance results, I was 43rd rider overall to cross the finish line and the 4th female. I had such a brilliant weekend, I loved every minute of the ride and felt proud to ride under this as part of my ambassador role. If you rode in this event well done. This was a great sportive, the routes were clearly sign posted and the course fantastic. I would definitely recommend it. To anyone who looks at a hill with dread, the hill wants to challenge you, don’t let it win.
My next training focus is for Bills 105-mile ride in May and the Triathlon in June. Until next time remember … “every adventure requires a first step”. Cheshire Cat.