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The Cheshire Cat REVIEW

by Sean Lacey


Date: Sunday 25th March
Distances: 47 miles, 76 miles and 102 miles
Entry fee: £22.50, £30.00, £33.00
Participants: 3000 entrants (event sold out)
Start: Alexandra Stadium, Gresty Road, Crewe. Parking available around the area. Event village with trade stands, food and drink and major facilities inside the stadium
Feedstops: 1 on the short route, 2 on the medium route and 3 on the 102 mile route
Catering: Hot/cold drinks and food available before and after the ride
Timed: Helmet timing chip - sent out in advance with rider number, map and full instructions  
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, serious climbing on the medium and long routes in the first 40 miles, all routes return through Nantwich town centre which requires care.
NEG riders on route to provide assistance if needed, professional photographers out around the route, marshals at key junctions
Goody bag: High5 bidon filled with drink mix and gels, Cheshire Cat buff, Purple Harry sanitizer spray, Mow Cop medal (if you made it up without stopping!)

The first day after the clocks went forward saw an early start in the cold morning mist for my first sportive and century ride of the year. The weather forecast was for clear skies, sunshine and an almost unbelievable temperature of 19 degrees, but the cold dark air made me think twice over my clothing. Plumping for 3/4 bibs, base layer, short sleeve jersey, arm warmers and a gilet I reckon I had it covered. Literally. Parking up about a mile away from the venue, the Alexandra Stadium in Crewe, at one of my company's offices I was glad of the layers as I rode out to the start...

Billed as the first mass participation event of the season, the Cheshire Cat has quite a reputation to live up to. Having ridden the event last year, albeit the short route, I was all too familiar with the issues they have previously had especially the awful queuing at the start. I waited in the line for well over an hour in the cold due to there being no separation of riders by route length and with a full car park it made for chaos.

This year however Kilo To Go had made promises that they had learnt from the previous events and would have it all ship shape this year. It got off to a promising start with plenty of communication from the organisers and when the excellent rider pack arrived, a coloured seat pin flag which indicated your start group and time suggested things were going to be better organised. Also welcome was the news that the main stadium car park would be closed, making things safer and a larger area for the riders to gather.

Seat pin flag to identify start time

As with all Kilo To Go events, a lot goes into the rider experience and today was no exception. I arrived early and already the event village was fully up and running and the place was buzzing with a good number of fellow riders turning up.

Catering had been set up outside the stadium and were providing breakfasts and a welcome cup of coffee for a small fee, and bike mechanics to fix those last minute niggles. The check in desk inside was pretty quiet, indicating that most people got their rider packs without issue.

A quiet check in

At 07:40 fellow magenta group riders had started filling up the holding area so I saddled up and took my place in the line. I spotted a fellow car club member a few rows back and after a quick conversation the start line opened for business. After a short safety briefing we were set off in groups of 20 or so and I got out in the second group just minutes after 8am, proving a major improvement on last year. Others I have spoken to today who rode in different coloured start groups all mentioned that it worked really well and ensured no lengthy queuing to get out.

Waiting for the off

Out of the stadium it is only a short distance before you are onto the lanes and although chilly, the sun was out and it was starting to warm up nicely. Getting into the first time slot was ideal, but did mean I was in with the keen boys and girls, and holding a wheel in the bunches that quickly formed proved difficult - my early year illness has curtailed most of my planned training and although confident of the distance, I haven't got my legs back fully and was soon out the back and pretty much on my own.

Talking of my legs, they really weren't feeling too good if I'm honest, and the thought of Mow Cop, that Cat's signature climb looming only 15 miles in wasn't helping. Fortunately the roads leading up to the climb are fairly flat, so it did give everyone time to get warmed up. You could certainly tell when we approached the base of the climb though as I'd caught up with a number of riders who were evidently apprehensive and had slowed a fair bit. If you have seen videos of the climb before, they don't really show the elevation too well. It looks from the videos that it is fairly shallow with just the infamous 25% section at the top, but it is far from it. It's quite steep through the wooded section early on, easing off a little then ramping back for the really steep bit which is mercifully short, but then continues on some way further to the castle at the very top. I'm pleased to say that I made it up without stopping and even rode back down a bit for the picture!

Riders giving it some gas on Mow Cop

The descent was one of the points mentioned in the briefing, in that there were some pretty bad potholes on the way down and to take care - what they failed to mention was the state of the roads full stop, the broken surfaces and numerous holes would be a feature throughout the ride. Then followed a lovely section over the top of the moor with spectacular views of Staffordshire and the Peaks in the distance.

View from the top of the moor

The climbs over Blacky Bank and Bridestones were up next, which are longer but shallower grinds with fast swooping descents that brought us to the first feed stop at Rudyard, hosted by Horton Lodge School. Extremely well stocked (as were all of the stations) with cakes, bananas and various Soreen and High5 products and drinks, it was good to see a vast bank of portaloo's which due to the volume of riders was a good thing when I passed through early, maybe not so good later! Here was also where I wasn't too glad of the layers. The temperature was rising fast and the arm warmers and inner gloves were dispatched to the jersey pockets.

Horton Lodge feed station

Well stocked with goodies

Off again and some rolling countryside before dropping down to Tittesworth reservoir and immediately on to Gun Hill. This features prominently in the Tour of Britain Stoke based stages, but having climbed it a few times and compared to the mighty Cop, it's not too much trouble and again has a lovely if bumpy descent off the back. I have heard since that a rider crashed near the bottom and required medical assistance; I hope they are doing OK. Only a few short miles on saw the last two big climbs of the day, over Barlow and Wincle.

These were the only two bigger climbs I hadn't ridden before, and were a bit tougher than I had previously thought, but manageable, especially as there is no rest between the two - you drop into the valley then climb straight out again before leaving the hills behind and heading on to the Cheshire plains. The countryside here is fantastic and the exceptional weather made it more of a summer's day than we usually get in July. Although fairly flat, there was always something to catch your eye, such as the observatory at Jodrell Bank just a couple of fields away on the approach to the second feed stop at Goostrey.

Jodrell Bank in the distance

The Goostrey village hall stop is visited by all routes so was the busiest of the day. Even with the large numbers here it was still well stocked with more than enough to go around and for the many more yet to stop. Again, the portaloo's made for an impressive sight(!) and as with all stops a mechanic was present and kept busy. Before setting off the gilet was stuffed into an already bulging pocket.

The feed stop approach

Riders refuelling and enjoying the sunshine

A vast array of toilets - no queuing!

Suitably refuelled it was back out on the road in the now very warm sunshine along another rolling section through more stunning spring countryside. It was around now that I really regretted the base layer as the temperature was at its peak. As mentioned I had stuffed most of my extra gear into my jersey pockets but along with tools and bars / gels there was no way I could get anything else in!More groups of riders came and went but by this time I had given up on a fast ride and just kicked back to enjoy the scenery and weather. One of the really impressive sights was passing Beeston castle sat high on the hillside, with another ruin on the opposite hill. This is the kind of thing I like to look around, and as I passed the impressive stone entrance I was very tempted, but sense got the better of me and I rode past. 

Another group rolls through

Beeston Castle in the distance

More rolling miles and my legs were starting to feel it a bit now, so it was a relief to see the final feed stop, only visited by the long route riders at Tattenhall, hosted by Globalbike who also provided the mechanical assistance here. No surprises on the food and drink side, all to the previous high standard but there was an added surprise in a brass band playing. Here I decided to have a quick rest and a sit down while eating a final top up in the shade to the sounds of the band. Although it was tempting to stay longer, with only a short distance left it was time to get going.

Globalbike feed station

The Farndon District Brass Band kept us entertained

Onto the last push and the final climb at Barnhill, a gentle rise which fortunately wasn't too taxing with those miles in the legs. A trip through the scenic Cholmondeley estate provided some shade through the woods (who would have thought shade would be welcome in March?) and then the only urban section - necessary to get you back I guess - through the centre of Nantwich. Care is required here as with any town centre as traffic is always busy and there are numerous sets of lights to get through. It was good to see all riders I saw take note of the red lights and stop, unlike a group last year who had no intention of stopping at one set and nearly got wiped out by a truck. The last few miles get us back into Crewe and back to the stadium finish. The finish straight was lined with family, friends and other riders which is always a nice way to finish, and we were efficiently directed  to the expansive bike park, offered a goody bag and directed to the facilities inside.

The finish straight, a welcome sight for many

The massive security controlled Bike Park

Once inside there was food and drink available and licenced bars if you were that way inclined, along with the facility to print off your ride time. The table to collect your Mow Cop medal should you have successfully climbed the steepest part had a rather long queue - a good sign of many of the rider's abilities! And, for those suffering or just wanting the pro treatment there was a free massage service available.

Post ride massage was appealing

Kilo To Go pulled out all the stops to ensure this year's event was a good one, and I can't fault it. The seat pin zoning and using the car park as a holding area completely relieved the queuing problems of last year, and the facilities, feed stops and communication were excellent. I spoke to a number of other riders who all agreed that it was a cracking event. The only complaint I heard that was some groups and clubs entered at the same time but received different colour flags which broke up the group, I'm sure however that this could be fixed for next year. One request from me though - can we have the same weather in 2013 please?

The strava data from the ride can be found here: 

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27th March 2012 9:28pm unknown wrote:

Real dedication cycling back down Mow Cop to take a photo!
Couldn't agree with your review more. Excellent organization even got away early from the start, great route and unbelievable weather. See you all next year.

29th March 2012 11:54am Sean.Lacey wrote:

Thanks for the kind comments! Great vid of the climb too DeadHead :)