Event Review

REVIEW: Evans Cycles RideIt! Cheshire 2014

by Sarah Lewis

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Evans Cycles RideIt! Cheshire - Sunday 27th April 2014 

Distances: 14, 35, 58 and 82 miles 
Entry fee: £7.50 (shortest route only) / All others £17.50 
Start: Egerton Youth Club, Mereheath Lane, Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 6SL 
Feed-stops: Three  
Catering: BBQ at the end  
Timed: Yes - manual by organisers 
Signs: Black arrows on a pink background 
Roads: Some rough patches, cobbles(!) and gravel, but overall very good 

I'll very honestly hold my hands up and admit that this was my first sportive of the year. Although I think I can officially say that we're still pretty early in the season, the fact that the Classics started a good few weeks back means that I should probably have gotten myself in gear little earlier in the year and stuck my name down on a start list. Having said that, the Cheshire RideIt! event looked on paper to be the perfect opener after a winter of snatched rides, crashes and spin sessions - and it didn't disappoint. 

The relevant part of the Evans website states (with a few edits to save space): 

"The RideIt! series are sportives that take place all over Britain. With over 40 events per year, RideIt! is a fantastic way to meet likeminded cyclists and get out and ride in stunning surroundings. Our philosophy is to design great rides that are affordable and enjoyable. Whether you are new to cycling or an experienced rider, RideIt! offers a ride to suit you." 

Working in marketing I'm acutely aware that good website copy is pretty key for capturing the imagination of a customer (or something that sounds equally as though it's been copied and pasted from a textbook), but those responsible for these descriptions had it bang on. Taking the second sentence first, the event was an absolute steal at £17.50 and there were distances to cater for absolutely any level of rider, with 14, 35, 58 and 82 mile routes on offer. The shortest was priced at an even lower £7.50 and children under 16 went free, meaning that a pretty impressive number of family groups and parent/offspring combinations lined up alongside the usual rabble.

While waiting for the route to load on my borrowed Garmin, I looked down to see that the tape on the floor matched the coloured lines on a velodrome

To dissect the first sentence, I'm going to dive into the nuts and bolts of the event a little more as there were a great many things that the organisers did very well indeed. 

In terms of geography, the event HQ was in a youth club's sports hall and its surrounding fields just on the outskirts of Knutsford in Cheshire. This formed a pretty central point for the short, medium and long routes, meaning that each was a varied adventure through East Cheshire. Parking was ample and free, and signing up on the day was no problem at all (but carried a small surcharge of £2.50). Within the hall, rows of tables were met with short queues of riders waiting to pick up their packs from the friendly Evans staff, and there was a pretty steady stream of people visiting the (good quality) loos before making their way to the start line just outside. 

Seeing as I'm just teetering on the edge of investing in a Garmin, I opted to take advantage of the option to hire a unit for the day. Picking up the 510 from event HQ I received a quick lesson, then popped it onto my stem, poised to press start and set the pre-programmed route going. While it was an improvement on my current cycle computer provider and useful for watching the miles clock up, the navigation feature was pretty redundant as the Evans team did an absolutely stellar job of signposting the route: it seemed there were little pink arrows on all available signs, trees and even leaves! 

I had little pink arrows floating in front of my eyes for hours after the event

We were set off pretty steadily so there was only a little bit of waiting around and shuffling forward before we were rolling, then it was a quick nip across a busy roundabout in the heart of Knutsford and a short distance down an A-road, before turning left onto the sort of beautifully quiet lane that would be a common feature of the day. With a modest 600 or so riders taking part in the event as a whole, the field split out quickly but there were always another few bikes in sight at this stage. 

With the exception of the fun route participants who had turned off in Knutsford, we continued South and ran parallel to the M6 before dog-legging out and back to cross the motorway (above, thankfully), just to the west of Goostrey. Apart from a couple of junctions to manoeuvre, the great road surfaces and lack of traffic continued and, when paired with glorious sunshine (though the wind could have done with being a little lower), it was a very pleasant morning! 

Sun's out! Legs out! 

One of the things to highlight from that description on the website is the bit about meeting likeminded cyclists. I'm a big fan of peppering good chats throughout an event - especially when you start getting a bit grimacey so communication is a welcome distraction - and there were definitely lots of faces up for a word. I'd also say that the riders on this event had some pretty polished etiquette, with junction shouts of 'clear', pothole points and 'car back' hollers a lot more populous than I can recall from anything other than club rides. Because of this, I think I could pin some sort of 'Most Friendly Event' rosette on the Cheshire RideIt! 

Sweet AND savoury: always a good combo 

At about the 23 mile mark, the first feed station appeared with an arrangement of cake, jelly babies, peanuts and big water troughs for bottles that were running low. After a few bites of cake, a handful of salted peanuts and a leg stretch, I pushed on towards Alderley Edge which was just around the corner. Here, those on the medium and long routes (those on the short had deviated just after the feed station) were given the option of including a quick dash up Swiss Hill. 

For anyone not familiar, Swiss Hill appears in the 100 Greatest Climbs book and has a pretty niche specification. With sizeable cobbles, an average gradient of 9% (peaking at 16%) and total length of around 400m it's not particularly steep or long, but it's definitely a bit of a shock to the legs! Surprisingly, only a small handful of the 30 or so riders stretched out in front decided to give it a go while the rest headed on out of Alderley. On the climb itself, there was one guy up ahead who looked pretty strong, as well as a couple of people pushing their bikes while treading gingerly in treacherous cleats. The latter offered words of encouragement that I faintly recall acknowledging with a breathless comment of thanks, but at that point I was focusing solely on the matter at hand. 

I wasn't about to stop for a Kodak moment, so this one is pinched from Google

Swiss hill starts off being pretty straight, then swings around to the left for what is definitely the harder stretch. I'd done a little bit of homework and watched two videos of the climb, plus taken careful note of one of the video's comments to ride in the slightly smoother and less debris-filled tyre marks. With my eyes darting between the terrain in front and the aforementioned strong man now a considerable way ahead, I heaved my way up the slope with my back wheel slipping on almost every push. Finally, and with nobody else around to hear my ridiculously heavy breathing (thank goodness!), I reached the small rise of concrete that seemed almost flat after what came before, then turned left to grind the final hundred metres up to Alderley Edge and onto the oh-so rewarding descent. 

After having literally pushed myself... to the edge 

Out of Alderley, we brave few rejoined the main route and headed South and then West in a big loop, eventually joining the A536 (one of the only busy sections of road) for great views of the impressive dish radio telescope at Jodrell Bank. From here, the loop met back at the same feed station from mile 23 which was looking nicely replenished. The only problem (and perhaps the only thing I would have put into a suggestion box) was that there were no toilets. For the gents it was no problem to stop at the side of the road (even though it wasn't exactly encouraged), but for the considerable number of ladies it had the potential of causing a bit of a situation. Luckily, the pub next door to the feed station let us use their facilities, but this was the only place within the entire 82 miles that wouldn't involve some sort of hiding behind bushes. 

Alan's big plate is good and everything, but Lovell's big dish is a little more impressive!

From the feed station, the route headed north through the outskirts of Altrincham for about 12 miles and around the retaining walls of Dunham Massey: a lovely National Trust place full of deer. It was during this segment I bumped into another friendly face called Jim (Hi Jim!) and had a nice chat for a good few miles, before the third and final feed station popped up. 

I think somewhere just past the village of Lymm and over the M6 we hit a particularly nice bit of road which was extremely quiet and great riding, but for a couple of miles you had to be very careful about how and when you decided to breathe due to the huge numbers of insects in the air. When they weren't bouncing off of your helmet or buzzing into your clothing, they did a pretty good job of aiming for ears, eyes and tracheas. No comment on the organisational ability of Evans, but a funny few minutes. 

Bug alley

At this point in the ride there were very few people around, which was probably due to the relatively low number who had decided to go for the long route. As such, 15 minutes could pass before you saw a fellow rider and as everyone was settling into the last few miles, there wasn't a lot of overtaking going on. Eventually, signs for Knutsford and Tatton Park started appearing and my hired Garmin 510 reported that we were in the late seventies. Plus, there suddenly seemed to be more people around. 

For the last couple of miles, I found myself clinging on to a group of guys who were motoring to the finish and had decided to go for a bit of a death or glory final mile. Digging in for the straight run down to the finish, I then took the right turn back into the youth centre and was welcomed not just by the Evans guys in the tunnel, but also by the pretty spectacular fanfare played by el Garmin. That'll be something to get used to! 

No BBQ for you!

After handing my Garmin back to the team in the hall, I stopped for a quick bite from the BBQ all washed down with an SiS REGO Rapid Recovery, then jumped in the car for the relatively short journey home (compared to previous sportive exploits). I had also gained a pretty good swag from event sponsors, High5, so now there's no excuse not to start signing up for events left, right and centre. Having never before ridden a RideIt!, I will definitely be back for more! 

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 8 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 7 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 10 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 7 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) 8 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 8 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 10 out of 10
Overall Rating 85.6%