by Sean Lacey
Date: Sunday 8th July
Distances: 90 miles, 50 miles and 25 miles
Entry fee: £25.00, £21.00, £18.00
Participants: 2800+ entrants
Start: Mersey Tunnel entrance, Liverpool / Countess of Chester Health Park. Parking available in the Liverpool city centre car parks and plenty at Chester. Event villages with various stands, cold food and drink and portable toilets in both locations
Feedstops: A number of stops were included on all routes, free water, food available for purchase
Catering: Cold drinks and food available before and after the ride at the event villages
Signs: Green background with black arrows for the main 50 mile route, changing to blue with black arrows for the additional 40 mile loop
Roads: A mix of main roads, country lanes, farm tracks and NCN routes
Goody bag: Event T-Shirt with registration pack, post event goody bag contained a bottle of orange drink, certificate, Purple Harry ‘pipe cleaner’, cereal bar
The Liverpool-Chester-Liverpool ride is one of the longest established charity based rides, and attracts a huge number of participants every year, from seasoned club riders to those who only ride a bike once a year just for the event. A couple of years back they introduced the 90 mile variant, aimed at the sportive rider and those wanting more of a challenge than the standard 50 mile ride. The main attraction is the opportunity to ride 3 miles underground, as the Mersey tunnel is closed to traffic for the day to become a cyclist only zone.
Luckily I have family in Higher Bebington, just four miles from the Mersey tunnel which made an excellent base for the event, and as the start for the 90 mile ride was 07:30 it would still mean an early rise but nothing like the one I would have done if I’d travelled. Tip-toeing around the house I was out for 06:45, into warm sunshine already. The forecast leading up to the day was for heavy showers, then light showers, until finally on Saturday night, dry and warm. Chancing my arm I ditched the waterproof jacket and overshoes, reckoning that arm-warmers and my Cyclosport gilet would be sufficient.
An easy run through Birkenhead got me to the slightly surreal and deserted entrance to the tunnel. After negotiating my way through the closure barriers I managed to spot a lone tunnel worker to check it was OK to go through (the ride organisers suggested it would be, but weren’t definite), it turned out it was. Dropping into the gloom was an odd experience; absolute silence and isolation with just the sound of my tyres and the rush of air for company. The tunnel is quite long at nearly 1.5 miles in length and the dip down and back up again are surprisingly steep. Climbing toward the light on the other side there were three others ahead who had been through too, so I wasn’t completely alone it would seem.
Once out and in Liverpool the HQ directly outside the tunnel entrance was already busy as other 90 mile riders were getting sorted. Cyclosport’s editor Adam Tranter was there bright and early too, filming some promo material for Pennine Events who run the show. Milling around I also found a couple of friends who were riding the 90 miler, Ashley and Niall. Although large numbers were signed up in advance, there were entries available on the day and the registration booth was busy all morning, the sun making an appearance to thank no doubt.
On The Day Entries Were Busy
Friends Ashley And Niall Ready For The Off
At 07:30 we were lined up at the start, and after a short delay the first group were out. I was in the second batch of around 30, and a minute later we were let out too. Straight into the tunnel and the steeper of the drop on either side was a good opportunity to get some speed up ready for the climb out into daylight and through the urban area of Birkenhead. The route took us out to Bebington, the location of the headline charity, Claire House Children’s Hospice (and pretty much where I had set off from!), then heading west onto more rural lanes. The pace here was high as I had managed to tag onto a quick group of local club riders, which worked well until we hit an island by the Wirral Rugby Club – there was confusion as to which way to go as the route crosses over itself a few times, looking a bit like a DNA strand!
We needed to turn right but the lead riders went straight on and I followed. By the time I had stopped and turned, the main bunch were off down the road, so a solo few miles followed. The next surprise cam in the form of a left turn, as directed by one of the many marshals on route into a muddy, rutted farm track. After the recent rain, it was filthy and slippery too. Dodging the large holes and worst of the mud trenches put your bike handling skills to the test, then when it evened out a little and the speed picked up a bit we went straight through a dairy farm. The track here was really poor, and as I stopped to grab a couple of pictures the air was blue from riders on expensive machinery – this section was definitely not suitable for road bikes.
The Rutted Farm Track
The Farm Residents Were Unimpressed With The Interruption
Thankfully this section wasn’t too long and we were back onto the tarmac, but looking at the state of my bike I wasn’t too thrilled at the experience. The road didn’t last long though before we were again directed off the road, this time onto part of an NCN route. Although this was tarmacked, it was just about wide enough for one bike in places, lined with brambles and nettles and further along had a series of self-closing gates. It caused a bit of a jam with us in smaller numbers passing through, it must have been chaos when the majority of entrants passed through later on. I did ask the chap behind me if this was a normal part of the route as he had done it before or whether it was a last minute route change, but no, he confirmed it always used this section.
Narrow NCN Section Was…. Unusual
The good news though was that once back onto the roads we were there to stay for the rest of the ride. A few more miles on the lanes and you knew we were close to Chester as the roads got a bit busier, and it wasn’t long before we reached the first stop at the Countess of Chester. As all distances would pass through here it was a big set up with an event village and other activities set out on the field. Here I grabbed a large slice of cake to fuel up and refilled my bottle before heading out again.
Countess Of Chester Start Line
Leaving the hospital there was a bit of confusion again with the signage as to which way to exit onto the extra loop out, but with a fellow rider (who was riding the long route in flip-flops!) we worked it out and set off. But, within a couple of miles and riding on our own I was sure we had missed a turn, which we had – neither of us had spotted the sign so backtracked a mile or so and took a turning we thought would get us back on track. Here we bumped into Ash and Niall again who where coming at us in the opposite direction; it turns out that we had chosen correctly and another turn together had us heading for Delamere forest. Heading out through the forest along the rolling roads we were brought out to a crossroads, where a temporary water station had been set up. Handily placed it meant somewhere to take a break and fill your water bottle before heading out and when heading back in if needs be, although it seemed to replace the Delamere Café stop which wasn’t communicated.
Makeshift Water Station
I did need to fill my bottle again as it was really warm now, the gilet and arm-warmers had been stashed long ago, I’m glad now I hadn’t taken up space in my jersey with the waterproof. The field had thinned out a lot by now so the loop around the Delamere area was a pleasant solo ride in the sunshine. Heading back through some lovely countryside on a different route to the ride out it didn’t seem to take long to get back to Chester.
Feeling good I decided not to stop at the hospital this time and press on following the DNA swirl, which as it was now back on the main route was much better signed. As we were back onto the main return route it did mean that it was no longer a lonely affair as the bulk of the entries were out on the roads. It was good to see such a mix of people out on bikes, from toddlers in tow-along buggies, to young children on their own bikes, to elderly riders putting in the miles. It also meant you had to keep your wits about you as some of these riders could be unpredictable and the speed difference was marked at times, but it wasn’t any cause for concern.
I did have an amusing few miles nearing Birkenhead as we had to stop at a right turn filter lane which refused to change without a car over the trigger. The group got bigger until the lights did eventually change. I had got to the front to make a quick getaway, but picking up speed I noticed a couple of lads on my wheel on tank like mountain bikes, ducked down and keeping up! Riding along at 25mph they were still there and I pulled them along for a couple of miles until a bit of a climb separated us. As I backed off they rode up and in thick scouse accents remarked “that was brilliant mate, thanks mate” before dropping back to find their friend. It has been said by a colleague today that maybe it was a scouse trait to have a good turn of speed when needed, but I think they were joking…? Either way it made me smile and fair play to them!
Once again through Bebington and another different route into Birkenhead and the tunnel, this time full of people on the return leg of the shorter routes. It was nice to get underground in the cool air for a short time as it really was warm by now. Once more out into the light and the finish line, where large crowds were waiting to cheer in the riders. A goody bag was handed over as you crossed and the village was in full swing.My ride wasn’t quite over however as I needed to get back to the Wirral, but as I had made it back long before the tunnel was due to reopen to traffic I was allowed to go back though, making it four times through in the day.
Riders At The Finish
Busy Event Village
Out Of The Dark And Into The Light
To sum up, it was an enjoyable day out with a great atmosphere but there were a few niggles. As a charity fun ride it works well, and has done for years. The 90 mile challenge route though is aimed at the club / sportive rider and here it does fall short and would benefit from improvements. The route, although mostly fine needs changing for the more serious riders, those off-road sections just weren’t suitable for the type of bikes and speeds of the riders. Also, the signage was confusing in places and didn’t exactly stand out and some of the marshals didn’t seem too sure in their roles.
Lastly, other than free water the feed stations didn’t carry any food or energy products as such included in the entry fee, it might be an idea to at least supply some at the station that only serves the longer route and also have the option of hot food at the finish. It wouldn’t take much to implement the changes and would make the experience far better for the market this longer route seems to be aimed at. If Pennine Events take notice and maybe make some changes I would definitely want to ride again next year.
Strava ride info: http://app.strava.com/rides/12843775
Liverpool-Chester-Liverpool Bike Ride
- 08/07/2012 - Old Haymarket, Liverpool
Rating: 72.2% based on 3 reviews - See Previous Ratings
- Liverpool-Chester-Liverpool Bike Ride - 07/07/2013 - Old Haymarket, Liverpool
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