Event Review

Stafford Goes Pedalling Sportive REVIEW

by Sean Lacey

Stafford Goes Pedalling Sportive

"Overall, the organisation, event village and activities plus a great route made for a really good event."

Date: Saturday 10th August 
Distances: 35 miles, 70 miles
Entry fee: £20.00 (35 miles), £24.00 (70 miles)
Start: Shugborough Estate - parking £3, HQ and event village, facilities and food / drink available
Feedstops: 1 on the short route, 2 on the long route
Catering: Hot/cold drinks and food available before and after the ride
Timed: Timing chip attached to bike number
Signs: Way-marked route with signage (orange arrows on a black background) 
Roads: Good routes on quiet lanes and minor B roads with a couple of bigger climbs in Cannock Chase. Photographers out around the route 
Goody bag: Stafford GP musette filled with goodies and a free roll 

This sportive was to be the filling in the sandwich that is the Staffordshire Cycling festival, which kicked off with the established Stafford GP professional race in the city centre on Friday night, the sportive on Saturday morning, followed by a Kermesse race in the evening, both based in and around the picturesque Shugborough Estate a few miles out of Stafford.

My first official sportive since the Ride Across Britain found me a little rusty in my preparation; miles in my legs wasn't the issue, but the usual military precision and routine on the morning of an event was somewhat lacking, in the fact my Garmin remained on the shelf at home. Also adding to the confusion was that with the promise of plenty for non-riders to do, I took my wife and daughter along too.

Having parked up and leaving them to explore, it was a short ride to the HQ and event village near the stately home. Registration was easy enough (you could have registered on the Friday night if you went to the GP), with just a bike number/chip to attach and a free puncture repair kit.

The start was nicely done, using the 'proper' gantry for the pro race and allowing people to have their picture taken on the winner's podium if they wished.  A fellow Newport CC club member, Malcolm, was also riding so we agreed to stick together for the company.

Stafford GP 1
Riders assembled at the start waiting for the off 

Stafford GP 2
The impressive Shugborough Estate hosted the depart

Rolling out through the estate was pleasant, I hadn't been before despite it being local but must go back to explore. From here it was into Cannock Chase and the only climbing of note on the ride, routing around the Chase to find the better climbs of Glacial Boulder and Stile Cop. Once out onto the flatter east Staffordshire lanes our pace picked up, heading out to Lichfield and briefly into Derbyshire, past the impressive looking Bloodstock heavy metal festival site and onto Barton-under-Needwood, where the first feed was sited at ex-pro Adrian Timmis' shop, Cadence Sport. It's a nice shop, and certainly different to his spare room at home when I first met him in 2011!

Bananas, flapjack and CNP gels / bars were available along with bottled water to top up on.

Stafford GP 3
Cadence Sport - the shop belonging to ex-pro Adrian Timmis

A quick hello to Adrian and a CNP bar later we were off again. Within a couple of miles, my left pedal felt loose, as though it had lost tension, and a mile or so later, with my whole foot able to move in all directions I was forced to stop and take a look. It turned out that all three screws on my cleat had worked loose - not your usual mechanical.

The route moved away from the flatter roads to become more rolling in profile as we headed through Hanbury and Kingstone before getting back to roads I'm a little more familiar with at Abbot's Bromley. Our two had become three earlier as we picked up another rider, Phil. It turned out he has been a Twitter follower of mine for a while, but we didn't realise until after the event! Phil had struggled on one of the longer drags and had dropped back a bit, it was just as well in this case as Malcolm and I missed a turn but Phil's loud shout just about reached me and we turned back. Sadly, this hadn't been the first time we had missed a turn. The signage was such a colour that it blended in to the background, and frankly there just weren't enough; some were even after the junction which meant stopping to look for which way to go. The organisers did promote the availability of GPS routes before hand, but as mentioned I forgot my Garmin, and many people still don't use them so signage needs to be good. In this case it needs to improve a lot. Comments from others at the finish echoed the issues we had. 

With around 15 miles to go the long route riders had the option of dropping into the shorter route's feed stop at Blithfield reservoir. I wouldn't normally have stopped so close to the finish, but my cleat wasn't positioned quite right after coming loose so we pulled in to fix it. Again, bottled water, flapjack, bananas and CNP products were on offer along with great views of the reservoir. Phil was here too as he was ahead at the missed turn which allowed us to regroup for the final miles. 

Stafford GP 4
Nearly 500 people spent six years building the Blithfield reservoir  

Stafford GP 6
Stopping for some well deserved cake 

The sun was out as we headed back to Shugborough and the finish, crossing the line in good time.The goody bag was excellent, a nice musette with drinks bottle, water, CNP product, hi-viz vest, nitrile gloves, wristband and muscle product samples. Also you got a free roll with a choice of fillings, just what's needed to re-fuel.

As promised, there were numerous activities for those not riding, mostly cycling based as you would expect. INTO Cycling had seemingly provided most of these, including a portable BMX track which I had to drag Abby off - she had spent hours on here apparently, along with trying out lots of different types of bikes from folders to recumbents and spinning away on the smoothie-maker bike. Both she and my wife had a great time; more events could take a lead from this one in terms of non-cyclist activities.

The day ended with a good chat with some friends of mine I didn't know were riding, Kev and Crystal. Kev had ridded the 70 miler while Crystal had ridded the 35 mile. Her comments were as positive of the shorter route too. 

Stafford GP 7
Riders relax at the finish 

Stafford GP 8
Fun for all the family - there was plenty for those not taking part to do as well 

Overall, the organisation, event village and activities plus a great route made for a really good event. The feeds were well stocked and although bottled water isn't ideal for the rider and creates a lot of waste, it is understandably easier for the organiser. The routes were fun and not too hard for those maybe looking to step up their distances, with the climbing early on with fresher legs.

The only real criticism as already touched on was the signage. It really was a lottery as to whether you would spot it in time, and eventually in my case took some attention away from concentrating on your riding to scanning every side road and junction for a sign. The dark colours really didn't help matters, there is a reason most other events use bright colours.

Would I recommend the event? Yes, definitely. One minor issue couldn't spoil what was a well organised and run event. More of the same (with better signs!) please.

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 7 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 9 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 5 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 8 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 6 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 7 out of 10
7. Website - ease of use (Online and postal entry, clear concise) 8 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 9 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 8 out of 10
Overall Rating 74.4%

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