Event Review

REVIEW: The Mad March Hare Sportive 2014

by Jennifer Trotman

REVIEW: The Mad March Hare Sportive 2014 

I always start my sportive season with the Mad March Hare. It's just the way it is. Having had an op six weeks ago, riding it this time was probably pushing it, but it gave me something to aim for and focus on. Besides traditions are important. I think I've done every single Mad March Hare - this year would make it my sixth! Earlier this week, after some pre-event Twitter banter, Mark (my ride partner for the day), asked me if, in all seriousness, I was sure I was ok to be riding it. I replied that I was doing it whatever! 

So here goes; the first 5:00am alarm call of the season. I even got an early night beforehand. Time to get up. Turn coffee machine on. Get dressed. Eat porridge, drink coffee, finish packing, load final bits into car, program satnav, and leave. 45 minutes from asleep to en route. 

Car park faffing

HQ for the Mad March Hare is at Cult Racing Cycles, Solihull. Parking however, is not. In fact, due to weather and various organisational shenanigans, none of us knew where parking was until about a week beforehand. Turns out it was at The Phoenix Group, in Birmingham - about three miles away - costs an extra £2, and is a nightmare to leave by bike as the marshals insist on you negotiating some bizarre footpath route to exit rather than the perfectly good road! Yes, it's a nice car park, and there's plenty of it, but that's about all that it has going for it really. 

I barely faffed, unlike all the other riders who seemed to have a great deal to debate and decide upon. It's just possible I've got the hang of this by now. I headed off, toute seule, to find HQ. This was a route that had also changed over the last couple of days, thanks to road closures, and was marked by those same standard sportive signs. To add to the confusion there only seemed to be the odd one or two, which on a cold windy morning left me worrying I was lost already, and I wasn't the only one! 

Anyway... HQ is not a big site. Registration was in the shop, ordered by first name not surname, which was novel. I signed my name, was given my timing chip (another first for the event this year), reusable cable ties and found a fence to lean the bike on. Free hot drinks were on offer, serve yourself, but I didn't fancy it. 


Setting off

There was no sign of my fellow Cyclosport writer Sean, and Mark was running late, so I loitered with intent, and went to the loo, because two of the five that were available (+ one urinal bit) were for ladies only. Mark finally arrived, faffed more than I had, and then with no ceremony at all, we left, presuming Sean was ahead of us somewhere. 

We were riding out into a nasty headwind which, as all cyclists will tell you, is the way to have it if there has to be wind, and apparently there always has to be wind.  It was a cold, strong and blustery wind today, and I was grateful of my layers, winter collar and buff. Once past the initial too warm patch early on, when the body breaks into a sweat at the thought of being made to exercise, I settled down into feeling relatively comfortable as these things go. Hey, it was cold, and it was windy, but at least it was dry. For a while at least... 

The first half of the ride was into a dry cold wind. The second half was brought to us by a tail wind and plenty of rain. In the middle there was a big hill and a food stop. That's the brief version. Since my op, I've only done a few short rides. Enough to assure me that the first half would be ok, if slow, but also to leave me worrying somewhat about how I'd cope with the second half. Luckily for me the route is overall fairly flat, just the odd lump here and there. There's a general trend for down on the way out, and up on the way back though, which is NOT the right way round, in case you were wondering. You weren't? Ah well... 


Route & Profile

I'm very glad Mark was with me. He made sure I ate. I wasn't feeling that perky full stop, and although I sort of warmed up after about an hour, that was about as good as it got. I never really did get going. Company was good. Essential. As was a wheel to suck from time to time!  After the first couple of hours, thanks to a particularly nasty slog into the wind past the little airfield, I really started to feel tired. 

I'd eaten bits of bars, and also had a couple of gels, and I knew the big hill was coming. Compared to the big hills of previous MMHs, it was a bit uneventful. Dare I even say disappointing? I sat, and I plodded, and it just sort of went by. It was fine, as hills go, and once over the top I was more than ready for what we had agreed would be a leisurely food stop. 

It wasn't to be. One village hall, lots of cyclists, and a queue stretching a long way out of the building and into the waiting hordes. Even standing around briefly debating our options had me getting chilly, and I really couldn't face more of that.  There were a couple of portable toilets outside, so I availed myself of one of them, and we were about to head off when we spotted Sean and his mate in the queue - apparently they'd actually been running late and had been behind us after all, just! We chatted briefly but nonetheless left them to it, to add some extra "when will they catch us" speculation to the rest of our ride. Shame, I'd have loved a coffee, and it would probably have perked me up too. 

It's a good thing we left when we did though, because the weather started to seriously deteriorate. Mind you I'll trade headwind for rain any day - it's amazing how much difference it made - so it could have been worse. Although I knew we were over halfway done now, which is always very good mentally, I also knew how I was feeling and that this kind of distance was a new thing this season. I got more and more tired, but sort of in waves. I'd ride along just fine for a bit, and then have to pootle for a while to get it together again. 


Food stop queue

Facilities at the food stop

Having said that, thanks to the weather and the time of year, no-one seemed to be pushing it. Other than a couple of pelotons early on, it was mostly just small numbers of riders kinda slogging it around, so we were by no means unusual.  Out of the 800 or so registered, it looks like 662 actually rode though, which is pretty impressive for this time of year. 69 of them were woman, which, percentage wise, is about twice as many than usual - also pretty impressive! 

Even if we had been going for gold today, the route was not conducive. The return leg was sort of gradually uphill with a few of the real things. There was also traffic, and lots of right turns across it. Good thing there wasn't even more traffic though - later in the season I think this route would have serious problems, not least with people failing to stop in time at the bottom of numerous hill junctions. 

A few of the junction signs weren't that well sited, and if it hadn't been for other riders yelling, we'd have missed them and got lost. There weren't really enough signs - one per junction and that seemed to be it. No repeaters or reminders that we saw. Other than mud and stuff, the roads themselves were actually in pretty good nick, and better than expected after the recent deluges, though I still wouldn't have wanted to be one of the ones riding expensive deep rim carbon wheels over them! 

Wiggles and riders

Had it been a sunny day, I'm sure this ride/review would have been a different story, what with cute villages, pretty cottages, churches and country estates. But today, even the big hill wasn't all that exciting. I'm sure the MMH has used bigger, more impressive and more scenic ways up there before? Today, the whole ride just felt oddly unremarkable and generally a bit of a slog. Something even Mark agrees with, so it's not just me being pathetic, honest. Just as well the wind went the way it did, because riding back into it on top of all that would have totally wiped me out. 

Neither of us were entirely sure how long the route was. Crossing the motorway was a positive sign as it meant we were nearly there, and as it turns out, we were back over the finish line about five miles earlier than we were expecting. Not that we were complaining... Besides, if it had been five miles longer, Sean and his mate might actually have caught us...as it was, while we were standing there figuring out what to do next, they arrived. 

Man it was chilly by now though. Although the free bacon roll or soup being dished out appealed, standing in what was by now a predictably long queue to get to it really didn't. The weather was getting worse, and I didn't want to get any colder, so Mark and I headed back to the car park. 

Bacon rolls at the finish

This was not fun. The return route was different. Were they sportive signs or car park signs? And where were they anyway? Where were we? We were once more fighting a headwind, into cold driving rain, and my sense of humour was rapidly failing as we negotiated the 'burbs, nearly convinced we were lost... Luckily we weren't, but I bet quite a few ended up giving up, turning back and returning to HQ to try again. It's a good thing I'm stubborn, as carrying on was the right call, and we finally found the car park. I was very pleased to get back to my car and start the reverse faffing that got me warm and dry, and on my way back home. 

Right. Mad March Hare Sporitve done! Should I have done it? Probably not. Did I enjoy it? Well, that might be pushing it. Am I glad I did it? I most certainly am.  Looking at the stats, I actually didn't do it much worse than I usually do, and out of those 69 women, I came 17th, which is none too shabby I reckon. I did it. I did. 'Rah! Welcome back me!

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) 10 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 6 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 7 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 5 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?) 7 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 6 out of 10
Overall Rating 73.3%

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