Event Review

REVIEW: Wiggle Cheshire Cat 2014

by Sean Lacey

Essentials:

Date: Sunday 23rd March 
Distances: 40 miles, 75 miles and 100 miles
Entry fee: £25.00, £32.00, £35.00
Participants: 3,500
Start: Brittania Stadium, Crewe. Parking readily available in the surrounding area (none on site). Event village with trade stands, food and drink and major facilities inside the stadium
Feedstops: 1 on the short route, 2 on the 75 mile route, 3 on the 100 mile route 
Catering: Hot/cold drinks and food available before and after the ride (at own cost) 
Timed: Helmet timing chip - sent out in advance with rider number, map and ride manual
Signs: A clearly way-marked route with highly visible signage (black arrows on flouro pink background)
Roads: Good routes on quiet lanes for the most part, a few short sections on main roads with most of the climbs early on. NEG riders, medical and broom wagon on route to provide assistance if needed and professional photographers from Sportivephoto out around the route 
Goody bag: High5 bidon and taster pack, Kilo To Go buff, can of WD40, product samples and finishers medal (plus a Mow Cop medal if you made it up the climb without stopping) 

Ah, the first century ride of the season - always a good test of whether your winter miles have paid off, and an indicator of the season to come. Now, I'll be honest - after a really busy season last year, I sort of didn't make a lot of effort over the colder months. Total turbo time? None. I even had the use of a Wattbike, which was criminally underused. I had managed to get out into the real world a lot more than previous winters though due to the milder weather, but distances were never really over 50 miles, so I was feeling pretty underprepared for this one. 

I've ridden the Cat twice before, a few years back the (then) 50 miler was my first ever sportive. I also rode the 100 mile route in 2012. This did give me the advantage of knowing the procedure and layout of the HQ at Brittania Stadium, and a heads up on where to park as no cars are allowed at the stadium on the day (the car park is used as holding pens for different start waves). 

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Busy at the start

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Full racks

There were a couple of club mates riding today too, so it seemed prudent to try and ride with one of them in case I started to struggle, which was somewhat inevitable. Luckily I caught Malcolm as he rolled in; with the sheer amount of people here it was good fortune I reckon. As with the last couple of years, a coloured seat pin sticker was issued with the rider pack that is posted out, which gave you a start time window and a zone to wait in. This worked smoothly, but with such large pens letting riders out 30 or so at a time meant there was a small amount of queuing to get out, but at least the sun was on us by now. 

The stadium is on the edge of Crewe town centre so getting out to more rural lanes is easy enough, and it's not long before the scenery becomes more pleasant. A new route for this year headed out to the (in)famous first challenge of the day, the climb up Mow Cop, before taking us through quiet lanes with constant views of the hill - with the castle on top to remind you of what was coming up. 

At one point the sun shone on the road up to the top in the distance which made a really nice scene, betraying the suffering to come. This new route skirted around the hill before turning back and crossing the railway from the opposite direction to previous years, which threw me slightly. This didn't however make the climb known as the Killer Mile any easier, but what made it far more pleasant was the introduction of closed roads for the entire length. It's not a wide road, with houses either side for a good portion of it, so being safe in the knowledge that you could use the whole of it was great. Anyway, long story short, I made it up once more with no drama, much to my relief. My legs weren't completely out of sorts then. A short roll back down for the picture below, then onwards to the climbs to follow. 

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It's pretty steep

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Sean on Mow Cop (Image: SportivePhoto)

Now we were in the 'lumpy' section of the ride, and the gradients didn't let up for another 40 miles or so. There was a good mix of longer, shallower efforts and steeper climbs, through woodland and moorland scenes which took the sting out. Until the hailstorm part way through that is, which although not too bad whilst climbing the hill we were on, made for an interesting 30mph descent with what felt like tiny bullets trying to take your skin off. It didn't last long though, and the sun shone for most of the day as a bonus. 

The first feed came around 30 miles in at Tittesworth reservoir. Being the first, and catering for all three routes, it was busy to say the least. Even with a bank of loos there was a lengthy queue, and the same for the food and drinks top-ups. To speak of the food, this was a bit disappointing. The usual decent variety was replaced with either bananas (reported to have run out shortly after we got there), plain cupcakes and High5 gels - which were almost out of date, lumpy in texture and sticky and hard to separate. Even the staff manning the tables were looking a bit frustrated trying to get the things apart. Drinks were better organised though, with plenty of familiar High5 barrels keeping the wait short. 

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Picturesque stop

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Changeable weather forced choices

Knowledge of this part of the route served me well, as I knew the feed would lead straight into Gun Hill - not as testing as Mow Cop, but with a fair bit of climbing in your legs (not to mention fighting the wind) it was another tough few miles before the climbs eased off into more rolling terrain over the Staffordshire moorlands. Here we were heading back towards the Cheshire plains, past Jodrell Bank and onto Holmes Chapel. 

The second feed, situated in a sports hall at Holmes Chapel itself was much like the first although the gels were separated and didn't stick to everything they touched. However, there was no more variety of food on offer. The drinks setup was the same as before too, and again, there were ample toilets with much smaller queues this time round. 

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Basketball for the truly keen

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Sean and Malcolm (Image: SportivePhoto

The medium route headed south shortly after the feed, but for the long route riders there was a bit of confusion after passing through Church Minshull, as a large group had pulled up, and my Garmin beeped to tell me we were off course. After a brief discussion with the confused group I decided to trust the Garmin route, downloaded from Kilo To Go's website, and turned back to the missed junction. It seems someone had removed the left turn sign, which was reported and later replaced. 

The final feed at Bunbury village hall had two things going for it when we arrived - it was far quieter than the other stops, and stocked with a much better variety of food. Energy bars, mini apple pies and scotch eggs alongside the regular goods; this was more like it. It was a shame the other two didn't have these as well, at least in some quantity. From here, history took over for a short time as we rode through Beeston, flanked either side by the hill top ruins of Beeston castle and Peckforton castle, before we headed south then east, with the wind finally behind us. 

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Beeston Castle

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Flanked by history

As we were no longer battling nature, the pace picked up and we breezed through the Cholmondeley estate, Nantwich town centre (unavoidable I guess) and a final push back into Crewe and the welcome sight of the finish gantry.  

The stadium had a number of facilities inside with showers, massage, ride time / Mow Cop medal collection point and a bar/ food area. I was really quite hungry when we got in so tried the chilli and rice, one of a few options, which was pretty good and filled a hole. 

And, after all the bluster of thinking it might kill me - with Malcolm's help - I did alright, especially on the hilly first half, so I feel better about looking ahead to the large number of events I'll be reviewing later in the year. Result! 

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Glad to see the gantry

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Tired but smiling

As with all Kilo To Go events, they are run to a high standard and there is usually little to criticise. However, I do feel that the feeds (bar the third) were below par, and I wasn't the only one echoing these sentiments. Queues at the finish for times and medals were lengthy, but access to food and other facilities was fine. This was however, in my opinion, offset by a cracking route - the reason you are here in reality. The changes from previous years are for the better, and the closed Mow Cop climb was much more fun with the knowledge that it could be attacked without distraction. 

As an early season big event, it's one I would definitely recommend. 

Route info: http://app.strava.com/activities/123350282


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) 8 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 8 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 9 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 9 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 9 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?) 8 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 8 out of 10
Overall Rating 81.1%