Event Review

REVIEW: Cotswold Spring Classic 2016

by Jennifer Trotman

GB Flag

REVIEW: Cotswold Spring Classic 2016

Date: Monday 28th March 
Distances: 160km, 100km, 55km
Participants: c.1000
Cost: £28
Start: Cirencester Deer Park School, Stroud Road, Cirencester, GL7 1XB
Feedstops: 2 on 160km, 1 on 100km and 55 km
Timing: timing chip for frame/headset
Signs: white arrows/text on red background
Roads: quiet, mostly country roads.
Photos: sportivephoto.com
Goody bag: medal, high 5 gels, bottle, Zefal Shield Lite, bar, leaflets, Easter Egg

View from wet car

Easter Monday dawned with a 5:00am alarm call.  I'd managed to get a reasonable night's sleep but that didn't stop it feeling early.  And I woke up to the kind of weather that I wouldn't usually leave the house in, let alone drive my slightly high-sided car anywhere in.  However my normally rational brain fails dismally when it comes to sportives for some reason.  Even with Storm Katie battering down the door!  It's something to do with having said I'd do it, and that I'd review it, and having a conscience and being stubborn I guess...

Regardless of the weather, I'd left by 6:00am, in the dark, since the clocks sprang forward yesterday.  I spent 1.5 hours driving in the wet, windy, slowly lightening dark, through rain, standing water, clouds of spray, and roads covered in debris, flinching every time the wind relocated the car on the road. All this, just for a sportive?! Madness...

Route map

HQ for today's Cotswold Spring Classic Sportive was Cirencester Deer Park School.  Registration opened at 7:00am and I was there sometime around 7:20 ish.  Well wrapped up and luminous marshals guided the small peloton of cars that I'd become part of into the car park.  Having a smaller car than them I was pointed to a different aisle, marginally nearer to HQ - result!  I was half tempted, having done this one before, to sort everything out and then go register when all ready to go, as it is a bit of a walk and it would be a walk in the cold, wind, and rain.  So why do it twice?  But if I did that I'd be far too early for the 8:00am start time, and hanging out, even inside, killing time whilst wet, cold & damp didn't really appeal either. 


So I didn't.  I grabbed my camera, wrapped up as best I could, and made my way across campus to register in the hall.  I was far from the first there, and there were plenty of people milling around, using the facilities, drinking coffee, and checking out the various stands in the halls.  I bet any waterproofs for sale disappeared pdq! 

The registration desks were still pretty empty though, and having looked at the list of entries to get my rider number, I headed for 'my' desk.  It's possible that that look-up stage was unnecessary, as my pre-ride event pack never reached me but, since the website had had all the requisite event information on it, it didn't matter.

Timing chip

The nice lady behind the desk instructed me to fill in the usual details on the list and sign all liabilities away, whilst she dug out a plethora of things for me.  One bike number, two cable ties, one map, two High5 gels, and one large foam backed velcro wrap around timing tag thing to be affixed to the headset, handlebars or top tube.  Which was a new one on me - apparently it's a triathlon thing...   Time to head back to the car, get the bike assembled and outside the car, and to crawl into the boot to get sorted, so as to keep out of the inclement weather for as long as possible. 

Not a selfie!

It was pretty miserable out there, and not much better in here.  As I faffed I realised I was losing feeling in my fingers.  But I still didn't know what to wear. The forecast was for improvement.  And recently when things have been drier and brighter they've also been considerably warmer. I don't like to overheat.  I don't like to freeze either.  Oh dear...  After much mental mulling over of things, I decided it'd be best to dress for the weather that there was now rather than the weather that there might be later on the basis that I would at least be right for some of the time rather than risk being wrong all of the time. So I did, with the odd nod to options and flexibility - lots of layers, including the waterproof, and all the usual stuff in all the usual pockets.  I emerged from the car, and once all assembled and riding across the campus to the start, it now being a little past 8:00am, I was glad of all of it. I get cold easily! 

I think a lot of people had probably bailed today.  Certainly there was no massive queue to start, and when I joined the latest small group of riders gathering to be briefed, there clearly wasn't going to be too much hanging around.  The briefing guy, Andy Kirk I think, actually thanked us all for turning out!  Thanks to the weather the roads were clearly going to be horrible, and we were admonished to be extra careful out there.  The cut-off time for the long route had also been brought forward an hour to make sure that everyone could get around and back safely and properly, and we were warned not to do that long route, which involves a lot of steep climbing, unless we were proper on one.  Having done the long route last year, and having no real intention of doing it today for various reasons, especially in weather like this, this didn't bother me too much.

Time to set off, out on to currently quiet wet main roads, heading into Cirencester. And then my chain promptly came off.  I changed the cassette and chain on this bike yesterday.  And although the indexing had seemed ok then, it turns out that it wasn't now.  This was by no means the only time the chain came off today.  And changing gear was sometimes ok and sometimes...well...not!  I was tempted to fiddle with it, but forbore, as I stood as much chance of making it worse as better. Anyway, the motorcycle support rider happened to be on the roundabout ahead, and had seen me putting the chain back on - and he rode with me for a little bit to check I was ok, which was nice of him.

It's hard to take photos when the weather is like this.  The wind was mental, the roads were soaked, frequently flooded and covered in debris, mud and gravel. Riding was more of a case of gingerly picking your way through an obstacle course than looking at the scenery while making decent progress. Like you could make decent progress into the storm force wind!  At least it stopped constantly raining - soon there was more water coming up from the road than coming down on to it, which was an improvement.

After warming up a bit, there were soon ups to be done, but I was doing ok up them.  In fact I was preferring the ups to the rest of it.  Up kept me warm!  I just kept plodding along as ever, admiring whatever views there were, dodging potholes and crappy road surface, and walking riders, and generally getting up the ups fairly happily.  

Although I'd been grateful of the waterproof for a long time, enough of those ups and I was feeling a bit 'boil in the bag'.  After a down that would have been a lot of fun in other circumstances, and the rude interruption of crossing a main road at its bottom, I took a quick break about an hour in, in some pretty Cotswold stone village, to stash the waterproof, eat some flapjack, and take the odd photo.  Just as well I ate then, as just down the road was what turned out to be the first timed stage - up a hill of course.  Although timed stages are wasted on me, at least I knew I was in for a decent climb.  It was long, slow, with the odd almost hairpin, and kept going on when you went around the next corner...  So my kind of hill. I have no idea which one it was - Strava suggests it might be Lime Kiln or Hyde Hill...?  But I enjoyed it whatever one it was.

Hill climb

My next break came around two hours in.  Something was making a noise, and it wasn't me, and it wasn't my temperamental gears.  As it turns out it was the front mudguard, something else that had been sort of repaired yesterday, and with all the bumps it had gotten itself misaligned. I stopped to fix it, grab some food whilst stationary, and I also swapped my winter gloves for my summer ones, because I was that bit warmer still, and because it's easier to take photos with those on. 

Fighting that wind had been hard work, which is an understatement.  But now for a stage in the middle of the route, it would be more behind us than anything else.  I wasn't complaining!  This middle section was also mostly flat, the roads were drying out, the sun was shining if not warming, and I was pretty much in my zone.  

It might have been brighter, and it was that bit warmer, but the wind was still really chilly.  I unzipped a bit occasionally, and when I did get a bit warm I just pushed up my sleeves so that my wrists/pulse points could meet that cold air, which pretty much had me covered.  Onwards past the Cotswold Water Park, across the top, long straight and (blasphemous I know) just a little bit boring...! 

Food stop

Luckily this tedium would be broken up by the first food stop, which is also the only food stop on the medium route, at Performance Cycles in Poulton.  It wasn't yet as busy as the staff were busy worrying it was going to be, but the bike stands were still full (extra were being added) so I parked mine up against a wall, and headed into the courtyard with an empty bottle to top up.  There were a few portable toilets with no queues - result!  And then also a variety of food and drink on offer, so I could fill up the bottle with water (I figured I'd add a tablet to it later if I needed to), and grab a few jelly babies. I didn't hang around long, and headed back out for some more flat fun. 


All good things must come to an end...  Which in this case would mean saying goodbye to that helping hand, and turning to face it and be slapped in the face by it again instead.  Oh man!!!  Not only was it hard work, but it also so noisy!  Every hedge, fence, coppice, or obstacle was a blessing.  Was it better to be pushing into it head on, or to be being pushed sideways unexpectedly, and crabbing your way along?  Tough call...!  Still, even with that all going on, I didn't really mind, because it was just so pretty out there   Wide open skies, blue cloud strewn skies, pretty villages...  Actually the whole route was mostly pretty rather than stunning, but that's The Cotswolds for you, and that's more than ok . 

Timed section

Of course there was more up to come, and the next section of ups included a second timed hill climb.  Still wasted on me...   Having slogged up things I'd really earned the downs...and it was galling to have to be so careful today.  Just as well though as at the bottom of a couple of them were nasty cross road trenches that if you'd hit them at speed would have definitely pinch punctured you.  As various riders by the side of the road were sadly demonstrating...  Luckily at that point there had been other riders around me and I'd been forewarned by them.  A couple of those trenches could definitely have used CAUTION signs - which the worst descents and junctions all had - as they really were unavoidable.  

Blue skies up ahead

Time for more ups, more pretty towns, more chilly sunshine.  I reached the route split, around 60 miles in, 10 minutes before cut off time and a little bit of me was actually tempted to do it, since I really was having a pretty good day.  But I decided not to push it.  Going right would have meant an extra three hilly hours or so before I'd finished after all...  So very soon I was back negotiating a much busier Cirencester, without my chain falling off this time.  I'd go so far as to say that the worst part of today's ride, by far, was the last mile of so up the dual carriage way back to the school. Man it was busy! The traffic flying past, very fast and very close, had me seriously worried.  It was properly actively scary, as was trying to get into the right hand lane across it to go right at the final roundabout.  Luckily a few other riders were coming up behind me by then and they did the hard work, thank goodness for safety in numbers!

Goody Bag

It was quite a relief to get back to the school, back through campus and over the Finish line.  My timing chip was reclaimed and I was presented with my goody bag containing a medal, various bits and bobs and, more importantly a Cadbury's Creme Easter Egg.  

Post ride food

I pootled my way over to HQ again where lots of people were taking advantage of the free hot food (mostly pasta as far as I could tell) and hot drinks - courtesy of the arm bands that entitled them to such.  I walked around the hall a bit, and discovered I could print out my time, which was kind of cool, even if the data recorded wasn't.  I decided I didn't feel like pasta, and instead I opted for a cup of tea to take to drink outside in the sunshine.  I wasn't in any rush so, tea drunk, I happily ambled me and my bike back to the car to reverse the process started around 5 hours before.  Back into the boot to get changed, chill out/warm up, load up, and head home again. Cotswold Spring Classic done.  

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 10 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 10 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 7 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 10 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 10 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) 10 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?) 9 out of 10
Overall Rating 93.3%