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Cheddar Cyclosportive REVIEW

by Jennifer Trotman

Essentials:
Date: Sunday 16th September
Distances: 100 km or 100 miles
Entry fee: £23
Start: Sharpham Playing Fields, Sharpham Road, Cheddar, BS27 3DB
Catering: free drink + pasta post event
Feed stops: 3 - 30, 50, and 70 miles.
Participants: 350
Timing: electronic chip on back of bike rider number
Signs: small yellow signs with black text/arrows
Photos: www.sportivephoto.com
Goody bag:  route map, bar, gels.
Web: www.cheddarcyclosportive.co.uk

The Ride:
One of the best things about local sportives is that I get to get up at a reasonable hour, which in this case was just before 7:00am.  Having signed in the night before, and done all my faffing then too, there wasn't a lot to do once awake. Coffee, muesli, layers, load the bike up with what would be needed, and job done.  My Dad arrived, did similar, and we rode to the Square where we met up with some other members of the Axbridge Cycling group - Guy and Martin.  As it's the local sportive, there's usually quite a few of us that do it.  

Off we went, along a stretch of road that is already extremely familiar, and would become more so as the day went on, since by the end of the sportive we'd ridden down it, in the same direction, three times. It's a nice long straight bit, which is usually lovely, but is currently less so because there are temporary traffic lights half way down it. Annoying.   

registration
Registration

event village
Event Village

HQ was at Sharpham Road playing fields in Cheddar, next to the reservoir, and we followed a small stream of cars into the entrance where the marshals directed them to parking, and us to the start.  It being a sports facility, there were changing rooms and toilets, and a little event village with a mechanic, massage tent, and a vintage bike display. We were joined by two more riders - Gaz and Steve - so there were 6 of us in all, which made for quite a nice little group at the start line.  I reckoned Dad and Gaz would be fairly well matched, along with possibly Steve, leaving Guy, Martyn and I to make up a second group.  We lined up in fairly haphazard fashion near the start line, and waited for the 8:30am start.

posse
ACG Posse

The event is run by the Cheddar Cyclestore, which is owned by Paul Baker.  I had a brief chat to him when I arrived, and apparently there were 350 riders signed up, and the event was full.  It's not a very big venue and he reckoned you'd be hard pushed to cater for many more there though, so he was happy with that.  It was also Paul who gave us a brief safety briefing before letting us go in batches of 50 or so from 8:30am onwards.  As ever we were pretty near the front, and away with the first batch.

rider breifing
Rider Briefing

As we set off, it was chilly but tolerable. I had the usual Cyclosport kit on - with gilet and armwarmers, but legwarmers weren't necessary. The pack didn't stay together for long. The first section out to Wedmore is fast, and flat. It's not easy to take it easy when it's like that, and no-one was. Well - we tried. The little climb over Mudgeley Hill from Wedmore came as a shock to some, being quite steep for a little while, and split the pack up a bit. As we headed off towards Glastonbury groups formed, and split. There was quite a lot of APS (acquired peloton syndrome, aka stealth drafting) going on too! Various faster groups, clearly intent on record breaking times, passed by, often complete with a cheery hello since I know quite a few cyclists these days.

apsAPS

galsto
On The Way To Glastonbury

Now, to backtrack a little. There were two routes available. 100km and 100miles.  The route changes a bit each year but essentially the first 100km, which forms the first route, is mostly flat, with a couple of hills, but nothing too dramatic (though not everyone may agree with that). The next 40 miles, after passing tantalisingly close to the start/finish contains the Mendips, and the majority of the climbing.  In previous years I've always done the shorter route but since I had signed up for the long route, I hate bailing, and I didn't want to wimp out again, the intention was to do the longer route for the first time. Of course the route being designed this way meant that I would have plenty of time to consider my options, see how I was feeling, how we were going and so on, so there was no rush to make a decision.

somerton
Arriving At Somerton

The route took us through Glastonbury, where it was way too early for the locals to be up, and out the other side, through Butleigh and beyond, to Somerton.  In previous years there was a nasty climb in Glastonbury which I didn't enjoy much, but I'd been looking forward to seeing how it felt this year and was almost disappointed to discover we weren't using it.  Still, we got to climb High Ham in the same way, which I distinctly remember suffering badly on last time and didn't hate half so much this time around.  I'm still missing that very bottom gear though..  And pushing the gear I have got may be why my knee started twingeing.  I've got recurrent issues with that knee, but as I was already on the little white pills, there wasn't a lot to do about it other than to keep an eye on it.

high ham
Climbing High Ham

first food stop
First Food Stop

The first food stop was at High Ham village hall. Facilities inside, drinks and goodies outside. I made a point of eating half a banana, as it's quite easy not to remember to eat when you're riding roads you know so well, you kind of forget you're on a sportive and need to! Then it was time to go down High Ham hill, where the road surface was oddly lumpy and made braking at speed feel really out of control - ick!  Not long until the next hill either - Pedwell - which is a nice reasonable slog up and, in case you're ever going the other way, much fun going down. By now it was just Guy and I. Martyn had hurtled off with one of the fast groups, and our slightly slower group were well behind us somewhere. We chatted our way through the country lanes and ate up the miles between there and Highbridge without much difficulty.

somerset
Scenic Somerset

gb
GB

For no doubt sensible reasons, though I'd question them, the route took us along the shared cycle path by the coast to Burnham on Sea. The locals were very good at getting their dogs out of the way for us but I think having to do it so many times was causing the novelty to wear off a little.

boats
Boats

The traffic in Burnham is always a tad trying and the road surface on the way out is atrocious so it was quite a relief to get off the main road and head back across towards Brent Knoll and the second food stop at East Brent.  Again - a town hall venue, with associated benefits and a wide range of cakes.  Time to top up the bottles again.  

second
Second Food Stop

cakes
Cakes

We were making seriously good time, by my standards, and we reckoned that at the pace we were going if we only did the short route we'd have ridden for well under 4 hours. My knee was only being minorly irritating, I'd taken the next dose of pills, and let's face it, it was always going to be the long route.  Well, unless serious wind and rain had been involved which, though it was chilly, they were not.  Still, not quite there yet. First we got to do the nice wiggly bit around Loxton and Christon to get to Banwell Castle which is a stretch of road I really like, as is the fast main road descent from the castle to Winscombe. I'm just a big kid - I just can't resist hurtling off and being fast when I can. Which I duly did again all the way down the Axbridge bypass, mentally waving at home, and back down to the traffic lights where Guy caught up with me.

banwell
Banwell Castle

castle riders
Castle Rider

Right. Or left. Because right would have meant bailing, and left meant climbing.  The route this year had changed some of the hills and also the direction up or down them, so it wasn't quite as scarey as before - well, I didn't think so anyway. It being the Cheddar Cyclosportive, there really is only one way to climb up the Mendips isn't there? Yep, time for the infamous Cheddar Gorge. There were rather a lot of tourists and motorists, both being more or less deliberately obstructive. After some interesting and varied interaction with a particular silver Mercedes driver, we were able to get properly on our way and climb the Gorge, which was much as it ever is.  Steep at the bottom until that final very steep left hand bend where it's best to be in the middle of the road - with a thank you to the tolerant car driver behind me - and then it settles down and gets gradually easier the nearer the top you get.  We weren't generally proving very popular with the traffic though, which was constantly having to leap frog cyclists only to get stuck behind more marginally further on.  Even I overtook a couple of cyclists - get me! 

touristic
Tourist Galore in the Gorge

gorge
Bottom Of The Gorge

climbing
Climbing Up

gorge
Gorge Better Behind

Up to the top of the Mendips for the first time.  It was chilly up there though and the food stop on the green at Priddy was friendly, but had no toilets, so I had to go climb over a gate, easier said than done in cleats! I was feeling pretty good. Two more climbs to go, both of which I know I can do, which is pretty good for the mental attitude. I should have put my gilet back on there and then, as it was only getting colder, and I ended up stopping not much further along before the descent of Old Bristol Hill to do so instead. It's a nice descent, but a bit bendy for me, and I don't know it quite well enough, so I took it a little easier than I sometimes do.  Besides which, I knew what was coming and was in no rush to be going back up hill again!

priddy
Priddy Food Stop

There was no avoiding it though, no sooner had we finished going down, we were going back up, up the main Bristol Road to climb all the way out of Wells to the aerial on top of the Mendips. This is a long steady climb. It's marginally steeper at the bottom and I knew we were in for the long haul, so I took it easy and Guy drew away for a while. I caught him, and overtook some others who seemed less than cheerful about that fact, as we neared the top. My knee was definitely getting less happy though. It was probably as pleased as I was to reach the top and enjoy one of my favourite bits of downhill to Chewton Mendip. OK, it's not all downhill but if you get it right, you're most of the way up the next bit of up before you realise.  Much fun again, especially as the miles were counting down and there was only the one really big climb left to do. I really do love downhill!

bristol
Bristol Hill Climb

views
Views Behind

After a nice flying stretch through Litton and the like, the route goes along the edge of the valley through Ubley and Blagdon.  It's long, draggy, and not that nice. The views of the assorted lakes - Chew Valley and Blagdon - are nice, if you have time to be looking at them, but mostly I was too busy trying to get where I was going carefully. I could feel my left knee swelling up. Given constant careful pedalling it was ok, but asked to do anything more dramatic and it gave the weirdest squishy twinge. I reckoned if I was careful there was probably enough in it to get me 'round and crossed my fingers.Time for the last climb of the day - Burrington Combe.  I may have ridden up this once or twice before. Today it came with wind and drizzle, which was much the same as usual.  Guy set a constant pace somewhat ahead of me and I just followed his wheel all the way up.  

burrington
Burrington Combe Begins

The Come widens
The Combe Widens Out

As we took a brief break at the top, I was in high spirits. I was going to make it round!  I know, it sounds daft, but having avoided doing the long route for so many years, it had mentally become a bit of an issue, and it was about to become a demon beaten.  Even the stretch across via Charterhouse, which is again draggy, didn't depress me much, although the annoying top dressing of the last section to Shipham seriously tried my patience. That bit used to be lovely! Still, I got my favourite descent of Shipham Hill to make up for it, and, as we flew down the final straight for the third and final time, we got the traffic lights just right, and went flying past the other waiting cyclist and were sprinting for the finish in no time at all.  

cafe
Cafe

massage tent
Massage Tent

By the time we got in, those doing the shorter route were all long finished and had departed, leaving only the hardy 100 milers sitting around the café and on the grass, drinking coffee, eating their free pasta, and getting a massage.  It was getting chilly standing around, even though I was buzzing, so we didn't hang around long, before heading for home.  

It's hard to be objective about a local ride.  Personally I'd like it if you had the option to do the hilly loop first and then finish with the flatter loop.  I also feel that the best of the local scenery is to be found in, or up, the Mendips and I'm not sure you see the best of Somerset if you only do the shorter route.

Unfortunately the event clashed with the bi-annual Somerset Arts Week, which used very similar signage to the Sportive - yellow back group, black text, with arrows, and it was easy to get them confused. To be fair a few more signs would have been useful too, as not everyone knows this area as well as I do. There were however handy Caution signs in the couple of places where there needed to be, the food stations were well spaced and had what was required, with smiley faces to boot, and the roads were mostly nice and quiet. To sum it up - it's a small friendly local sportive, which, with its two routes, caters for those who like hills and those that don't. 





1 Comment

ajbrough
19th September 2012 12:20pm ajbrough wrote:

Interesting comments. I fancied entering this event, but living several hours drive away I wanted to do the 100k version. The flat profile and specifically the lack of a climb up Cheddar gorge stopped me entering, as that climb is such an iconic draw. Maybe a rethink next year on the route would help, although if they already get the numbers they want perhaps the organisers are already happy as things are!