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Sodbury Sportive REVIEW

by Jennifer Trotman

Essentials:
Date: Sunday 19th August
Organised by the Rotary Club of Chipping Sodbury, this was a Fundraising event with all profits being given to charity
Distances: 100 miles (1973m ascent), 60 miles (1203m ascent) or 30 miles (435m ascent)
Entry fee: £25, £25, £12. You could also enter the Sodbury Sportive routes as a fundraiser and raise money for the good causes supported by Rotary International. Fundraiser Entry places were offered for the 60 mile and 100 mile routes at the reduced rate of £10 and the entrant then commited to raising a minimum of £20 in sponsorship for Rotary.Entry on the day subject to availability, £5 extra
Start: Chipping Sodbury RFC, Wickwar Road, Chipping, Sodbury, BS37 6GA
Catering: Warm and cold food & drinks will be available at the Start and Finish. Free tea/coffee and hot food at the end.
Feed stops: Every 25 miles making 2 on the 60 mile route and 3 Stations on the 100 mile route. 1 stop on the 30 mile route at about 15 miles into the route.
Signs: red on white background.  Arrows, warning, mileage.
Roads: exceptionally quiet country roads.

The Ride:
The Sodbury Sportive started from Chipping Sodbury which is only an hours drive away, which meant the alarm was set for 5:15am. Not as hideous as sometimes!  Up with the alarm, packed and sorted in no time at all, and I was away.  The forecast for the day was for warm and clouds/sun, but there was no way of telling what it was actually like out there, as my motorway world was covered in a blanket of fog.

motorway
Foggy Motorway

By the time I arrived at Chipping Sodbury RFC, after a small argument with the satnav, the sun had come out.  Registration opened at 7:00am, which is more or less when I got there.  If I'd followed the written instructions I'd probably have been even earlier!

The event was being run by the Chipping Sodbury Rotary Club who had clearly turned out en masse to do everything.  I was marshalled into the rapidly filling car park, and as HQ was just next door, I went over to register before coming back to the car to do the usual faffing.  Being early my queuing time was minimal, but the queue did grow later as you can see.  I think there were quite a few signing up on the day, encouraged by the positive weather forecast, and having to be properly processed.

quue
Queue For Registration

HQ had hot drinks and bacon rolls etc available to purchase, as well as having toilets, showers, and the like available.  All the facilities you could need basically.

mechanical support
Mechanical Support

There was plenty of bike parking, and lots of seating, respectively full of bikes and riders getting ready, enjoying the early morning sunshine.  There was also mechanical support available if you needed it.

parked
Bikes Parked and Ready To Go

HQ
HQ

That sunshine was already pretty warm, and I was worried it might turn out to be a scorcher, which is not my favourite kind of riding conditions.  I made a mental note to keep my bottles topped up and to drink whenever I felt like it.  I'd run out of things to do by now and since the weather was nice I didn't even have to faff about layers of clothing.  Time to go and line up at the start then.
Rider numbers were marked with a coloured dot indicating which distance they were doing - 100, 60, or 30 miles.  The idea was that all the 100 milers get away in the first few pens, followed by the rest, although this wasn't being strictly adhered to.  As you can see I was right near the front.

lining up
Lining Up To Go

There were no timing chips - just your number marked with the number of the pen you joined.   Presumably they gave the whole pen the same start time, and then recorded your individual end time when you crossed the line.  When the time to go finally came, they moved the pen up to the front for a delightfully unpolished, yet comprehensive, rider briefing.

start
Start Line Breifing

It's not a race, this is what the signs look like, there are some potholes, play nice with the traffic, and have a good ride.  That essentially covers it.  With a "Gentlemen, be on your way", we were off  "and Ladies", chimed in the rider behind me - which was nice.  I wasn't the only one, so the plural is appropriate too. Time to cautiously filter through the slight bottleneck of an exit, through the gate, and out on to the open moor land in the early morning sunshine.

early
Early Morning Sun

The riders spread out fairly quickly.  This was clearly not going to be a day of groups and pelotons, I just don't think there were enough riders for that, but maybe if I'd started a bit later on I'd have had more luck? As ever, the first half and hour or so felt horrible as both I and the day warmed up. At least the first five miles were flat.

As we approached the hills I could see a tower on top.  There is no way, given a tower on a hill, that any sportive organiser, let alone a novice one, or maybe especially a novice one, is going to resist the opportunity to make you ride up to it, now is there? Well I'm pleased to say that the Hawkesbury Howler could have been worse, though it was stil quite hard work that early on in a ride.  There was a little sign at the bottom of this, and every "proper" hill, with a picture of the hill profile, average gradient, max gradient, and length of the climb etc, completed by a sign at the top to tell you that the misery was over - a very nice touch, even if I didn't usually have time to read all the details.

hawkesbury
Hawkesbury Tower

The descent from here was one of the best I've done in a long time.  Long, wide, not too wiggly and with a nice long straight run out at the end.  The next two big hills came in quick succesion, at Alderley and Tresham.  Is this what we're in for I wondered? 3 climbs in 5 miles. To be fair, though they were hard work, and clearly very hard work for some, they weren't very long as these things go, which made me feel a bit better about what the rest of the ride might be like.  So I was thinking it might be hard, but then things settled down to what was essentially fairly flat, for miles.

drive
Country Drive

The Cotswolds can be quite lumpy, and I kept expecting hills and not getting them. It had clouded over a bit by now which was actually a good thing for me as I don't like to be too hot riding.  Warm but not too warm, breezy but not annoyingly so.  Perfect riding conditions really.In addition to the lovely hill signs, we got these mileage signs too.

milemarkers
Mile Marker Signs

One every 10 miles, as well as signs giving the distance to the next food stop, the usual marker signs, caution signs, pot hole signs. Then my personal favourite, the 15, 10, 5 mile to go signs. There were a few stretches where, riding on my own as I was, the odd repeater sign would have been nice and in Yate where the roads were busier a few more signs would have been good as it's easy to miss one if you're busy trying to negotiate traffic on a roundabout or at a busy junction.  But essentially the signage was great, as long as you were vigilant and paying attention.  As I was pushing along on my own I had to be quite careful not to zone out, because if I had I could easily have missed one, and I hadn't downloaded the route beforehand. Actually I'm not sure you could. It was on a website I'm not registered for and I'm signed up to enough such sites without joining another one just to get this route.

signage
Signage

Back to the ride, and the first foodstop 25 miles in, which came 3/4 of the way down a hill, so the turning was being marshalled.  In fact quite a few junctions were marshalled, those where you might get lost, or that were that bit busier.   25 miles in may seem early for the first stop, as they said in the briefing, but on a hot day it's important to keep topped up, right?  There was food, drink, and toilets.

feed
Riders At The First Feed Stop

I ate and stretched a little. My left calf twinged on and off all day and I was worrying about cramp - yet another good reason to keep drinking.  After the food stop there was a long climb out of Nailsworthy which I'd heard talk about as I waited around first thing so I knew it was steep at the bottom and then just a grind, so I was prepared, and it was just as described.  

The roads were unbelievably quiet all day. On a sunny Sunday in the Summer holidays in the Cotswolds I was expecting way more traffic. I don't know where everyone was, but apart from in Yate, they weren't out there!  There was one road that was an exception to the rule. It's a narrow road with so many passing places that it's clearly always like that, but I don't think we were adding to the general sense of well being of those drivers being forced to negotiate past us as well as each other the little men in their little tin boxes were looking distinctly grumpy, and judging from what little lip reading I can do they had some choice words to share.

busy road
The Only Busy Road

Even those few occasions when the route crossed the A46 or A420 were easy.  I don't think I've ever done such a quiet sportive. The next 30ish miles were pretty flat. Riding on your own makes it easier to stop and take photos, but it doesn't make the ride any easier.  I'd have cheerfully sucked wheel, or worked with someone but I didn't get the chance.  Basically there just weren't enough riders around for me. As ever the fast hurtle past and off, the slow are behind you, and you end up with a little group of similar speed riders who you play leapfrog with, depending on food stops, calls of nature etc. Faces and kit that become familiar, with the odd cheery "hello again" as you pass each other. Quite friendly really.  Which is a good word for the ride. Those riders I did see were friendly, there was even the odd chat here and there. The staff, all Rotary Club members and friends I presume, were without exception friendly, and cheerful, which gave the whole ride a lovely atmosphere.

cotswold church
Cotswold Church

The Cotswolds was full of the usual picture postcard villages.  Churches.  Massive stately piles just glimpsed through hedgerows, with never a clear view at the right time to grab that all important photo.  Berkeley has a castle, which I didn't see, as I expect I was looking the wrong way at the right time, but I did see this.

berkeley
Berkeley

The next food stop came along shortly, being a couple of trestle tables set up on a village green.  No toilets - as the rider manual had pre-warned us - but liquid and food and yet more happy shiny people.  Only 10 miles to go from here to the route split., which was practically back at the start.  I was feeling a little low, and considered bailing and calling it a day, but having negotiated a slightly busier and less pleasant Yate, it was time to man up.  

As I approached the split it a whole heap of dayglo marshalls were making sure we all went where we wanted to, and I went right.  If I thought I was on my own before, man was it ever quiet now.  There was a hill shortly afterwards - the Dodington Drag I believe - which another volunteer photographing half way up. She reassured me that I wasn't the only one out there, which was good to know. Having made it up that hill, it was back to the undulating again. No-one in front of me. No-one behind me. For miles and miles. I hit a bit of a flat spot, and struggled to keep motivated for while, but slowly the miles ticked by and the end got closer. I stopped to take a photo of this, just before a junction.

sights
Sights

As I was standing there, five riders went past me. I followed them for a bit, just to enjoy the novelty value. Besides they made a change from green and blue and yellow.

other riders
There Were Other Riders Out There

Then it was just me again, though I had perked up a bit now.  One of the slight downsides to the very quiet country roads was that sometimes they were a little more like tracks than roads.  Shaded sheltered damp tracks which, with the brightening skies above, were like tunnels and the transition into them meant pushing your sunglasses down your nose to try and see which bits of the road surface to avoid.  One of these turned out to be a climb; cue more slow plodding for me.

hill
Another Hill Behind Me

The final foodstop came at 77 miles in, where I was pleasantly surprised to see a few other riders. It'll be interesting to see how many riders did the 100 miles - I'm thinking not many!

third
Third Food Stop

The pub next door was providing toilet facilities, as well as serious temptation.  Well the sun was coming out, there were people sitting at the tables outside, with long tall cold drinks. Time for another mental note - I was definitely having one of those later!

pub stop
Pub Stop

I topped up my bottles as by now I'd definitely been drinking more.  It may have been blessedly cloudy up until now, but that doesn't mean it wasn't warm and I was very conscious of the fact that I needed more fluid than usual, so I wanted to make sure I didn't run out. Judging by the comments from those able to eat them, the homemade goodies were fabulous. Being me, it was half a banana time, but they did look nice.  

Ok, 25 odd miles to go.   I was the first woman to the foodstop, which I hasten to add doesn't make me fastest, just first.  I did feel a little urge not to be overtaken before there and the end as a result though. Having set off again, and flying along the flat for a while at 22 miles an hour made that it look like a little over an hour to go, but that was never going to be sustainable on my own, and who knew how hilly it was going to be?  I reckoned on it being more like 1 1/2 hrs, or thereabouts instead.  It turned out to be fairly flat, with not much by way of hills to my mind, but then the metres climbed kept slowly racking up somehow.

cloud
Clouds

It kept not really being hilly, and I kept pushing.  Barrelling along on the flat I can do, though the wind had inevitably become a headwind by now.

last rider
Last Rider

I chatted to, and then passed, this one last rider, before hitting the country park roads that indicated that I was nearly back at HQ. Doesn't this look like the perfect place for a sprint finish to you?

finishing
Finishing Straight

I crossed the finish line a little while later, where a little welcoming committee was patiently waiting to clap each rider in. I bet they had a very long day!

finishers
Waiting For Finishers

The goody bag, one High5 bottle and some Zero tablets, included a food voucher.  I grabbed it, parked the bike up, and headed back to HQ.  The bar was proving unsurprisingly popular, but with a car to drive home that wasn't an option.  The lovely canteen ladies were handing out pasties and beans to those that wanted them, and there was gorgeous looking cake to buy if you hadn't eaten enough sweet stuff already. I stuck to a coffee and a glass of lovely cold Cotswold Spring water while sitting in the sun watching everyone else relaxing though.

sun
Post Ride In The Sun

Being all on my own meant there was little else to do than drink up and head for home.  It took me just under an hour to drive home and staying awake was a struggle so it's just as well I avoided the bar or I'd never have made it.  I made up for it later though *grin*.

Doing an inaugural sportive could easily give you cause to worry as to how well it would be organised. With Andy Cook involved as Race Director. I guess it's no surprise that it all went swimmingly, as he definitely knows what he's doing. The roads were amazingly quiet and the scenery was pretty. It wasn't as hilly as I expected and the billed 1973m climbing turned out to be more like 1500m, so the route could suit all sorts of riders. Those with less sportive experience would find it a challenge, and those with more could aim to do it at speed.

Personally I think it was the Chipping Sodbury Rotary Club who made the event. They were all so lovely and friendly, warm and welcoming, and helpful. A large part of the success of any sportive is the manpower you can mobilise, and did they ever mobilise. Thank you for making it a great event. I gather they're planning on running it again next year and if this year's is anything to go by, you should definitely sign up.  





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2 Comments

KevinGatward
24th August 2012 10:32am KevinGatward wrote:

An excellent review. I wanted to rate as 5 stars but for some reason 4 came up and I cant seem to change it. You were obviously unlucky not to get in a group. I managed to link up with about 5 other riders and we took it in turns to take the wind which made it easier. They also pushed me along a little faster than I would normally ride when on my own. Having said that there were long periods when I was on my own particularly on the early parts of the ride. As you say the friendly and helpful organisers made the ride what it was.

ChrisPorter
29th October 2012 1:49pm ChrisPorter wrote:

a great review, informative and with nice photos.
You have provided a good advert for this event, and I look forward to taking part next year.


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