Event Review

Malvern Mad Hatter REVIEW

by Jennifer Trotman

Malvern Mad Hatter 

Date: Sunday 1st September 
Distance:  Epic (104m), Standard (74m), Short (46m) 
Entry fee: £24 Adult, £16 Under 16s (must be accompanied by an adult).
Start: The Three counties Showground, Malvern, Worcestershire, WR13 6NW 
Participants: c.1000
Timing: Timing chip stuck on helmet  
Signs: White text on red background. Warning signs. Orange aerosol markings on road too - for potholes, repeaters, etc.
Photos: www.sportivephoto.com
Goody bag: One at start (Gatorade goodies), finishers' bag with various giveaways and medal.

Don't you just love waking up at 5:00am. Especially following a weekend of not a lot of sleep, not a lot of food, and quite a lot of white wine. I think it's safe to say my pre-ride preparation was somewhat lacking. Add that to my post-holiday lack of form and so on...and this was never likely to be a good day at the office. But that wasn't going to stop me at least trying to do it, as I hate bailing. Besides, all I had to do was sit in a car, ride around in the sunshine, and sit in the car again. When you put it like that, it doesn't sound too bad does it? 

My friend (and chauffeur) Guy was prompt as ever and we were off up the M5, in very chilly sunshine, with the usual "service stations we have known and loved" stop on the way. HQ was at the Three Counties Showground in Malvern, which is conveniently signposted from quite a long way out, making it easy to find. We joined the inevitable queue of people doing exactly the same as us, and were slowly marshalled into the venue, where we all parked up in organised but self-policed fashion. Turns out we were right next to the toilet block - very handy! 

We walked over to the main block to register, and lined up in our respective alphabet organised queues, once again proving that T surnames trump B surnames when it comes to waiting around. There was my name, in black and white, just waiting for my signature, and its corresponding timing strip to be peeled off and stuck on my helmet. My bike number, tags, and pre-ride goody bag (Gatorade pre-ride, recovery and bottle) were handed to me, and I went back the car to get ready and wait for the other queue to die down. Other than removing my leg warmers there was surprisingly little pre-ride faffing to be done. In no time at all we were off to the start line, where group by group, riders were being briefed and sent on their way. Since this ride is associated with Cycling Weekly, and a certain Mr Chris Boardman, there was a large TV style camera being pointed at the front row of our group as I chatted to Martin (the one with the big sign) pre-briefing. 

Waiting for the off...

The rider briefing outlined signage and safety

Time to set off. Out of the showground, left at the lights, and out into the countryside. There are three routes on this event, petal like loops out from the central point. The original plan had been to do the Epic 104 miles. I already knew that was seriously unlikely, and that we were probably talking the Standard 74 miles instead. It's not actually a massively lumpy course - flat, undulating, then the big lumpy Malvern Hill bit, and then more of the flat stuff. Still, however flat and rolling, it just wasn't doing it for me. I tried, but to be honest I was suffering. It took me an hour or so to start to even feel semi-human, and also to start to pay attention to really very beautiful scenery, appreciate the sunshine, and come anywhere close to enjoying the ride.  

I was kinda cheered up by the Boardman peloton saying good morning as it/he went past. Closely followed by a group of riders clearly very keen to test their mettle against the best. There were quite a few pelotons today. That one was very well behaved, not to mention polite obviously. The same can't be said for some of the others. I nearly got knocked off by a guy in one of them, and actually had to swear at another rider which I'm not sure I've ever done before. The last thing I needed was to be knocked off on top of everything else! 

Oast house and riders

My inability to go up hills is almost legendary now, but Guy wasn't just having to wait for me at the top of anything with a gradient, but also frequently in between times too, as it wasn't hard to get separated and spread out on the quiet, yet sometimes narrow country lanes.  

It was very pretty out there though. Green, blue, pretty houses, oast houses, rolling fields, you get the chocolate box picture right? The first food stop came around 25 miles in, and also came as somewhat of a relief as it gave me a legitimate reason to stop for a while! Having been dehydrated before we even started out, I was playing catch up and the bottles needed topping up. I ate half a banana, and walked past all the queuing Gents to use the practically empty Ladies, which always makes me giggle. Incidentally, there seemed to be quite a few ladies on the ride today, which made a nice change.

Feed stations were well stocked

The event had fantastic support crew

We had a good look at the route map and evaluated my options. It turned out there was also a Short 46 mile route, which might sound like a cop out, but does include the big climbs that make up the loop of the Malvern Hill. I figured as long as I'd done the climbing it wouldn't have been a complete waste of time. We didn't make any decisions there and then, but it was good to know what the options were. Standing around in the shade was getting a little chilly, so it was time to head for the Hill that had never been far from view all morning...

Heading for the Malvern hills

We set off again, but I still hadn't really perked up, and was starting to feel a tad sorry for the long suffering Guy. Still, when it comes to hills, he does them his way, and then waits for me at the top. Well, it took a long time to get to the top of the Malvern Hill. There are two long climbs, both of which suited me. The first, after some steeper hairpin bends at the bottom, settles down into my usual plod along style long slog. On the corner at the left hand turn that marks the top sits a bench, which looked ever so tempting... There was however, some beautiful flowing downhill sections to reward me afterwards; though since there was a lot of parked cars around lining the roads, I was a little paranoid about someone opening a car door without looking. At some point, I think between the two climbs, the route went through the very genteel town of Malvern. Or is it Great Malvern? Not sure. Very nice indeed though. 

And then there was the second climb. I think it was in that order anyway. It's all the usual blur, but overall I remember lots of up. I remember spectators, clapping, a cowbell, and lots of truly awesome views, which, according to the website, stretch to the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains.  

The long climb up...

On top of Old Malvern

By the time I'd finished going up, and up, and down, and up, and up, and then not down enough, I finally discovered Guy patiently waiting for me near the first route split. We stood and talked a bit, debating what to do, while I contemplated the very real possibility that I might faint. I was nearly up for heading for the middle route though, especially what with all the climbing having been done and now presumably behind us. But considering how I was still feeling, and the fact that riding the bike is supposed to be fun, we decided to take the left turn for HQ rather than the right turn to carry on, and go find some lunch afterwards instead.

The finish line

Chris Boardman handing out the medals

So we did. We hurtled down the very enjoyable descent, had a daft but very enjoyable sprint down the long ensuing straight, and in no time at all we were back into the showground, rolling over the finishing line, and being handed our finishers' medal by that same Mr Chris Boardman. Well if he only did the short route, I didn't feel so bad about bailing! We even had a bit of a chat before I got a photo of him doing his job. Then we grabbed our finishers' goodie bags - which varied in contents from free locks, to Cycling Plus socks, to Cavendish DVDs and made our way back to the car. We packed up, cleaned up, and then we went to Tewkesbury, where the Abbey looked gorgeous, and a bowl of chips with a pint of lager at the unusually untouched pub on the high street went down a treat. 

All things considered, it's a miracle I managed to ride. Even more so that I even enjoyed some of it! And on top of all that I had a brush with greatness. I'll cheerfully go back next year and try and do it properly, if they'll have me. Lovely event, just lousy me!

Tewkesbury Abbey

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 9 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 10 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 10 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 10 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 9 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 8 out of 10
7. Website - ease of use (Online and postal entry, clear concise) 9 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 10 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 10 out of 10
Overall Rating 94.4%

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