Event Review

REVIEW: Telford Toothpaste - The Hell of the Wrekin 2014

by Sean Lacey

Telford Toothpaste - The Hell of the Wrekin 2014 

Date: Sunday 13th April 
Distances: 92km (as advertised, 98km ridden) 
Entry fee: £25.00 (£5 to Air Ambulance) 
Participants: 60+ 
Start: Malt House, Ironbridge Shropshire. Parking readily available in the surrounding area. 
Feed stops: 1 (Good, according to those who found it)
Catering: Hot/cold drinks and food available before and after the ride 
Timed: No 
Signs: Way-marked route with original signage (black Lion of Flanders on yellow background) along with motorcycle marshal 
Roads:  Fun challenging route on quiet lanes and various off road surfaces, with some climbing. Professional photographer from RDP Photography out around the route - www.rdp-photography.co.uk 
Goody Bag: Event wristband and included beer and frites for all riders at the HQ on their return 

Paris-Roubaix. 'The Hell of the North', as it is also known, is an inspirational race that's considered the toughest of the Spring Classics - demanding in the extreme, with only the strongest making it to the iconic velodrome at Roubaix. 

Shropshire local Steve Anslow (aka Teddy Smerckx) took inspiration from the great race to create a unique event, the Telford Toothpaste - Hell of the Wrekin - a ride taking in some of Shropshire's less travelled roads and hidden miles of unpaved lanes and farm tracks as a tribute to the Queen of the classics. 

This year was the third running, and the first on a commercial level. I rode the inaugural event, with around 25 local riders meeting in the early morning mist for what was essentially an unusual club run. How things have changed: Online booking, fully signed, a feed station half way round and refreshments provided at the HQ for the day - the Malt House on the wharfage at World Heritage site, Ironbridge.

With the date deliberately coinciding with Paris-Roubaix, the intention was that we get to watch the race on the screens at the Malt House. Therefore an early start was needed to get everyone round in time, and herein lay my major advantage - I live three miles away. Riding to and from an event was something of a novelty, and even at that time of day was pleasant. 

Pre-ride espresso

The sun was already shining at 07:30 when I set off, and stayed with us all day. Fellow Newport CC club member Jim Morrison had kindly offered pre-meet espresso's at his Ironbridge restaurant, D'Arcy's, and it seemed rude not to take him up on the offer - let's face it, who doesn't need a strong coffee in the morning?  A handful were already there, and I tied up with my ride partner for the day, Kev Sprules - another advantage to a local event, company. 

With caffeine coursing through our systems we headed along the wharfage to the Malt House and sign on where we were met with the bustle of keen fellow riders. Signing on was simple enough, with a rubber event wristband issued before the off at 08:30. Now, Paris-Roubaix is a fairly flat affair, but this is Shropshire not Northern France, and we don't really do flat here. Besides, with the HQ tucked in the Ironbridge Gorge, the only way out was up... 

Busy HQ

Ready for the off

There was effectively one big climb on the route (630ft over 3.5 miles), and depending how you looked at it, this was either a good or bad thing - no time to choose though, as it was within two minutes of leaving the HQ! Starting gently on the lower slopes of Jiggers Bank, we turned off under the vast viaduct before heading off onto the first of the rough sections and climbing until we reached the small village of Little Wenlock. 

There was some relief then as the descent that followed was two miles long, which allowed the legs to recover a little before heading out north then east in a loop around Telford. The mix of lanes and off-road changed frequently, from back lane to gravel track, B-road to rutted track, and even a sandy farmer's field. This one was especially fun for two reasons: one, I had decided this type of ride was perfect for my long term test  - a Boardman CX Team cyclocross bike; and two, it was amusing to watch the guys on road bikes, even with 25mm and up rubber, flailing about trying to keep it in a straight line. 

One guy's language was particularly choice as he struggled his way through. Another climb, unpaved although fairly gentle this time, took us up to Lilleshall, and this turned out to be my favourite. Picturesque - with the spring greenness all around - it even had really old cobbles in parts. Not like the continental kinderkoppen, which is revered and well looked after, these were unkempt and unloved, sticking out at all angles and somewhat irregular. But hey, we were riding on cobbles on Paris-Roubaix day! 

Sand trap

Great signs and trails

The signage Steve had made up for the event was fantastic to look at, with a Lion of Flanders on a yellow background with the direction arrows in Belgian colours; however, unfortunately it wasn't particularly rigid, and with the stiff breeze we had on the day they tended to fold over on themselves, and in some cases, break free and disappear down the road completely. 

Unfortunately this led to a few riders getting lost (despite being issued with paper route maps); Kev and I followed the GPS track that was supplied the day before. It didn't however, (and neither did the signage), point to the feed station at the halfway point at Sherrifhales. Once we were a few miles past the village we assumed we must have missed it, and talking to others we weren't the only ones. Never mind, I was riding self-supported and Kev had enough to feed a peloton so all was OK. 

With the weather at its best we pushed on after filling our faces at Shifnal, and then headed out to tackle the next lot of lanes and tracks. It had been mentioned last minute that a section of the course had to be changed, and we weren't sure if the GPS track allowed for this or not. We did decide though that if we followed it faithfully, we would at least make it back to the HQ. What we found out afterwards is that it would seem the lengthy, super rutted, half flooded lane was part of the cut section, as when we did return the three of us that rode it were filthy, and no-one else was quite so dirty! 

Muddy fun

Just plain fun! (Image: RDP)

Belgian road

As we pressed south to the old market town of Bridgnorth, we tackled the last of the climbing for the day. Whether it was the 10 mile TT the day before, or just the extra skill and concentration required for off road riding, I was feeling pretty beat. Kev had unfortunately had a recurring knee issue raise its ugly head, so between us progress was... steady.  Riding up from Low Town to High Town meant that we could now ride on in the knowledge that the route followed NCN45 along the river Severn back to Ironbridge, which was pan flat. 

Now was the wrong time to mention that of all the miles I've covered on the Team CX, I've only ever had punctures on this section of track. Yep, after 55 miles of all sorts of terrain, pop, the front tyre went. Much mirth from Kev as I fixed it was short lived however, as less than a mile further down, he caught a pothole wrong and had his five minutes at the side of the track too. 


Flat Blast

Teddy Smerckx (Image: RDP)

When we did make it back to the Malt House, it was heaving with riders and chat of the day's escapades, with just under 100km to go, the professionals on the TV weren't really getting a look in. The pub did a sterling job of keeping the supply of free frites and mayo along with bottles of French beer going for the afternoon, a just reward for the rider's efforts. 

With a social two hours whiled away watching the race and Niki Terpstra taking a great victory, it was time to go home. After such a fun day out, it was hard to get up and go (the cramp in my hamstrings perhaps having something to do with it), and one final ascent of Jiggers Bank to get me home. 

There was some racing

Job done

From small beginnings, this has become a unique event which I hope will be on the calendar for years to come. With such great surroundings for the HQ, and a very inventive and challenging route, it deserves to prosper as word spreads. 

As a first go at a commercial venture it went OK, but there is work to be done. The signage, although fantastic to look at, didn't work too well. More of it was required, it needs to be better positioned at junctions, and most importantly, more rigid. A separate sign indicating the feed would have been useful, as we had no real idea where it was. The event website itself didn't quite get finished in time, which made communicating the latest information a bit hap-hazard. 

Lastly, at £25 the entry wasn't cheap - £5 went directly to the Air Ambulance but it needs a bit more value adding to justify the expense.  However, on this day, with the fantastic weather really highlighting the beauty of Shropshire, and the fact it was just so much fun, it would be hard to complain too much. Hopefully Steve will take the experience and provide a cracking event next time round. 

Route: http://app.strava.com/activities/129913135

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 5 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) n/a
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 5 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 8 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 6 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) 5 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 9 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 8 out of 10
Overall Rating 71.1%