Tour Of The Cotswolds REVIEW
Date: Sunday 22nd July
Distances: Epic – 80 miles/1328m climbing, Challenge – 50 miles/809m climbing. Entry fee: £24 via the online entry or £30 on the day (but it was sold out in advance).
Start: Shipston on Stour Rugby Club, Mayo Road, Shipston on Stour, CV36 4BH.
Catering: catering will be available at the HQ prior to the start and at the finish.
Feed stops: at Temple Guiting Village Hall, 45 miles in (Epic) or 25 miles in (Challenge)
Timing: helmet mounted chip by http://www.racetimingsystems.com/
Signs: black arrows on yellow backgrounds at each junction, and reminder signs afterwards. Caution signs where necessary.
Roads: very quiet country roads with better than average road surfaces.
Support: Mechanical support at HQ and a broom wagon.
Sportives start early in the morning. Even though it was daylight 5:50am, when Guy collected me from home, definitely qualifies as early. Ride HQ was at Shipston on Stour Rugby Club, only a couple of nice easy hours drive way up blissfully quiet motorways. When we arrived the official car park was already full and the marshal was advising everyone to find a spot on the local housing estate roads as best you could. Not ideal, but actually we did so easily, no distance away, though the same may not have been true for those who came after us. Since at that point we weren't entirely sure how far away we were, we did our faffing at the car, got ourselves ready, and rode the bikes to the start, to save on return trips.
Faffing Outside The HQ
The rugby club was easily large enough to cater for a 300 rider sportive, with outside space, inside toilets, and catering facilities. I signed on inside and went back outside to put the number on the bike, stick the timing label on the LHS of the helmet as instructed, stash the map in the bag, and get even readier. Guy was complaining of gear issues so had the free mechanic service have a look at his bike before we joined the queue for the start.
Mechanics At Work
Queue For Start
We were hanging around for longer than I expected, as the riders were let go in small well spaced batches. Long enough, in fact, for the third of our party, Gary, to turn up and join us. Wearing bright orange again, but hey, at least you can see him! Actually there was someone else wearing the same kit - who knew bright orange was so popular? We were given our safety briefing and then let go forward to have our numbers taken down manually, before riding past the timing scanners and out into the Cotswolds, at 8:23am.
Early Morning Sun
Smiling Riders Behind
It was already sunny though being early it felt a bit chilly. I had decided to wear arm warmers and my gilet, all of which I was grateful for, for about ten minutes before the sun got higher and brighter and I started wishing I wasn't wearing them at all. The first climbing started about 6 miles in, so even if I hadn't been feeling warm, that would have done it! It also set the scene for the day ahead – being a gradual climb in the sun, through wheat fields with poppies and expanding views. Very pretty.
I left it a while but there comes a time when various needs become pressing, the need to be cooler being but one of them, so I took a break, sorted myself out, the plan being to catch up with Guy and Gary as soon as I could. Catching up with Guy actually took me 20 minutes or so, what with hills and headwinds, and he hadn't seen Gary for dust. Given a choice between chasing Gary to try and catch him or waiting and letting me catch up he'd chosen the latter for which I was very grateful.
It was gorgeous out there in the Cotswolds. Sunny. Scenic. Typical yellow stone houses. Or maybe mansions would be a better word for some of them. They build ‘em big around there!
As there were only 300 riders doing the entire event and, as it transpires, only 163 on the long route, there was a much more laid back feel to the event than some. No pelotons, no groups racing, no rider traffic to negotiate. In short, it was quite relaxing, although possibly slower than it is when there are more wheels to lead/suck. We were in a mini-group here though, albeit only briefly.
Let me introduce you to David, who introduced himself to me, because he reads my articles. It’s so lovely when that happens – thank you! If you ever spot me out there, please say do say hello. He was the second person of the day to tell me off for taking photos when on the move though. Which, clearly, didn't stop me!
After chatting for a while he joined the rest of our little group, which had drawn away from us by now, and headed off into the distance, never to be seen again. By now we were just having a Sunday ride in the country. It just felt like that. I honestly forgot I was doing a sportive as I was just having such a nice time. It was a bit like a holiday on the bike, aided and abetted by the number of actual tourists visiting the Cotswolds sights that we rode through, which made me feel a bit like one of them, especially with my ever present camera capturing the same sights they were.
Cotswold Tourist Attraction
All that honeyed yellow stone had them swarming around like bees. But, mysteriously enough, not on the roads, so I have no idea how they were getting from A to B! The route was pretty much all on quiet country roads, with fairly good surfaces, apart from the inevitable weather induced gravel piles. There was also a ford at the bottom of one descent which could have used more warning signs or possible a marshal as several riders found it quite slippery – when we went through one of them was sitting by the side, with his mate, holding his arm and shoulder in that distinctive broken collar bone fashion.
Having engaged pootle around the Cotswolds mode, we chatted our way around the course, following the black arrows, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. There are some great place names around and about, not least of all "The Slaughters". Actually the signs were really good. Occasionally you couldn’t see a sign until you reached the T-junction, which made road positioning trickier so a couple more advance signs would have been nice. However with the well positioned yellow signs showing up nicely and an accurate gpx file, it was hard to actually get lost. We did overshoot one sign, but then we were going downhill past a pub and trying not to hit a car at the time and I spotted it even if Guy didn’t.
So apparently there's money to be made in slaughtering. Have you seen the size of Upper Slaughter Manor? And this is but a fraction of it!
Upper Slaughter Manor
We did think about killing it up the next hill, in honour, but it just wasn't happening.
Look how colourful and summery it was out there. A great day for colours like this. Actually most of the kit out there was colourful - and there was a distinct lack of black white and red all over - novel indeed. Must be something to do with the sunshine.
As it would turn out, today was the perfect day for such patriotism, but if I was to explain that here, then I'd be getting ahead of myself and we can't have that, now can we?
There were climbs along the way but by this point, nothing that had seemed too challenging. Just ups and downs. And there were some lovely downs. As it happens I've done quite a bit of this route - on various other sportives - though mostly in reverse. I think it was prettier this way around, you got more of the views somehow. Although on a day like this everything was inevitably prettier.
The food stop was at Temple Guiting village hall which, though a lovely venue, meant a mile or so detour to get there and a mile or so retracing to get back on track. It also came 45 miles into the 80 mile route which was, for me, a bit later than I'd have liked. However it was a great venue, very laid back, lots of food, hot and cold drinks, and tables to sit at outside in the sunshine. Our stop was definitely more leisurely than is sometimes the case. And why not?
Kicking Back At The Food Stop
Can't hang around in the sunshine all day though, right? Time to get going again. Through fields of gold.
Fields Of Gold
Rider, Hill and House
I think it's safe to say we may have been lulled into a slightly false sense of security as the "worst" hills were all in the last section of the ride! No fair! Most of the time I didn't know the name of what I was riding up. I think there was Campden Lane, Stanway, Dovers Hill amongst others. Long slow and frequently quite steep slogs. Two of them were so close together as to be a tad annoying as no sooner had we descended from one we were going straight up the next! I'm not going to pretend they weren't hard work, and they were enough to reduce some to walking but not me, not quite. I listened to my breathing, paced myself from one spot on the road to the next, and tried to ignore how far there still was to go until I got to the top of whichever climb it was. Which worked. Up to awesome views, and then down well-earned descents to start all over again.
The last 5 miles or so were pretty flat, but it wasn't really sprint finish territory, and it didn't feel like the time or the place either. It was nice just to get back in, over the finish line, to the beeping of chips passing the sensors, and to have had a great day out.
That wasn't the end of our cycling day though. Oh no. Today was a good day to be a cyclist. After our lovely ride in the sun it was time get changed, to kick back in the bar, drink lager because I wasn't driving, and watch other British cyclists make us proud.
I had a chat to Simon Proctor, one of the organisers, who was pleased with how things had gone, having had some great feedback. I was going to interview a couple of riders about the event, but with the last day of the Tour de France up there on the big screen, and a pint of cold lager in front of me, it just wasn't going to happen!
Tour de France
The rest of the management team found their way into the bar to join the growing audience, unsurprisingly. I don't usually do spectating, but the Tour de France is one of my rare exceptions. Boy has it ever been worth it this year.
It was so close. Fingernail biting stuff. A lead away group seemed almost uncatchable but with mere laps to go the peloton reeled them back in, Wiggo led them all out, and Cav sprinted from way further back than usual to take his fourth Champs Elysée stage win. He seemed quite pleased about it. As were all of us.
There was cheering and clapping and everything. Just awesome. Wiggo looked quite pleased too. Just amazing all 'round. Historic. What a great way to round off a cycling day!
It turns out that they're not the only ones who won today. We may have had a fairly laid back ride in the sun but get this of the 163 riders on the long route, there were 8 women - the usual 5% or so. And who was the first woman in? Me.
Tour of Cotswolds
- 22/07/2012 - Shipston on Stour
Rating: 88.5% based on 3 reviews - See Previous Ratings
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