Event Review

Great Manchester Cycle REVIEW

by Sarah Lewis

It's not often you get to take part in a closed road event, and even less likely for said event to include a section of motorway! I had signed up for the 52-mile Great Manchester Cycle route with a good amount of intrigue, but was encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive feedback from the 2012 event and fairly spectacular photos of the city centre course.

Riding from the centre of Manchester to Etihad Campus bright and early on the Sunday morning was like joining a well-spaced conga line of cyclists, steadily being added to with each junction. With many kitted out in the official jersey and event numbers dutifully attached to handlebars, we made our way to the concourse around the impressive Manchester City stadium to find a bustling village of tents.

GMC Etihad
Entrance to the event village

With around an hour to go until the start there was plenty going on, with all you needed to know being boomed out over the PA. Those who had driven were unloading from the expansive (and free) parking area, while the information tent had a steady stream of riders passing through to pick up entry packs and grab a handful of safety pins.

There was a sizable café area with plenty of tables and chairs to accommodate the 8,000-ish people attending, along with stands from the likes of Soreen, Watt Bike and mechanical support from Halfords. The toilets were those inside the stadium so any Manchester City fans got a good glimpse of the pitch and there was secure bike and baggage storage, keeping things straightforward.

GMC start tent
Can't comment on the quality of coffee, but great tea and short queues

The ride was in its second year and again offered British Cycling members an exclusive start zone ahead of other participants. On arrival, this meant side-stepping the growing throng of riders queuing up to start and chatting to BC staff and other riders before heading to the front.

Joanna Rowsell started things off, before slotting in alongside a team of Emmerdale actors who rode the 52-mile route too. After a bit of a slow trickle across the line, we started off in a group of around 2,800 to the reassuring and almost continuous beep of our many timing chips being recognised.

Once we'd navigated the first couple of corners, it was off onto the main roads where the field started to thin out. There was quite a variety of bikes - and speeds - but generally everyone kept to overtaking on the right and after a bit of a frenzied start, we were soon into a rhythm.

At the two-mile mark, we headed up and onto Mancunian Way: a pretty surreal experience, especially as main roads started criss-crossing underneath. With wide roads and great conditions, the next few miles passed quickly and everyone settled into the ride.

GMC Mancunian Way
Heading onto Mancunian Way

Heading into the district of Old Trafford between four and five miles, the course became a little more technical but there were plenty of marshals and clear signage giving good notice of the u-turn and tight corners. The feed station popped up at five miles, with water, bananas, Soreen and High5 gels, as well as plenty of toilets and a Halfords service tent for those who had encountered issues on the way around.

GMC Feed station
Feed Station

Just past Old Trafford, the route doubled back for the return journey. There was one more u-turn between seven and eight miles to navigate, before rolling back up onto Mancunian Way and heading east to complete the first circuit. Special mention goes to one of the marshals at the end of Mancunian Way who was beyond enthusiastic with his support and impossible to pass without grinning or giving a thumbs up.

Heading back to the Etihad Campus to end the 13-mile loop we were directed right, away from the finish lane (see you in 39 miles!) and back past the Etihad Campus to rejoin the beginning of the circuit. There was a hydration point here with more toilets, providing a welcome stop for anyone fancying a break - especially useful a couple of laps in.

The next two laps were great to really get to know the course, chat to other riders and take in the view. Every now and again you would see someone manhandling an inner tube at the side of the road as the result of a puncture, but the camaraderie was great around the course with riders stopping to help and mobile mechanics lending a hand.

By the final lap, the sun had come out but the wind had also picked up, making the westerly trip over Mancunian Way a bit of a struggle with tired legs. On the other side of the motorway was a mix of the fastest riders completing their final miles after riding as a group all day, along with those coming to the end of their third loop, taking things a little easier.

GMC Mancunian
GMC Mancunian Way (Credit Barry Coombs)

From club cyclists through to riders in fancy dress raising money for charity, there was huge variety in those taking part and this was one of the best elements of the day. With ridiculously expensive time trial bikes sharing the same stretch of road as hybrids that didn't look to have made it out of the shed too often, the event has a really friendly feel and the emphasis was on having fun.

Crossing the line, I got a personal shout-out from the guy on the PA and there were lively crowds lining the finish straight. After picking up a finisher's pack it was back to the event village which was absolutely bustling with finishers, but also those preparing to start the 26-mile route. With the sun out and a well-deserved tea in hand, it was very easy to stop and take it all in while enjoying the entertainment.

GMC Etihad
GMC Etihad Riders - 52 Mile Finishers

With a medal, rapidly stiffening legs and a time of 2:35:26 I headed for home, riding the couple of miles into the city centre. As I left, riders were lining up for the 26-mile route and later in the afternoon, the 13-mile event got underway with lots of families taking to the roads (as I heard from a friend who rode with her two kids).

GMC Banner
All done with the 26-mile riders just arriving

Rather temptingly, the organisers announced on the day that entries for 2014 opened. After such a fantastic event and the luxury of closed roads, it's pretty safe to say I'll be back for the 52 miles again in 12 months.

More information on their website if you fancy joining: http://greatcycle.org/

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 9 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 10 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 9 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 10 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 9 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 10 out of 10
7. Website - ease of use (Online and postal entry, clear concise) 10 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 6 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 10 out of 10
Overall Rating 92.2%

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