Yesterday Jez and I did the medium route of the Cheshire Cat road sportive. It was billed as 67 miles but turned out at 68.8 on my Garmin, the 1.8 miles mattered a lot to a certain person! I have to say I really enjoyed every single minute of it, this enjoyment was shared by my riding partner right up until, oh about just after Mow Cop, 16ish miles in.
An easy drive down to Crewe, straightforward parking and a little queue to pick up numbers and chips and we were ready to go. Unfortunately the queue to get started was massive and I think we were there for an hour before finally starting at 9:29. It was pretty cold and there was a fair wind blowing but the forecasted heavy rain wasn't there, I was glad to get moving and be able to try to generate some heat.
The first 16 miles were pretty flat and we were moving well, averaging about 16.8 which was faster than our 15mph plan but it was really easy riding. We got stopped at the level crossing at the bottom (of what I hadn't quite realised) was the climb to Mow Cop. We set off in a big bunch and the road soon headed up, I hadn't realised where I was and thought the road would soon level out so stayed in my middle ring but it just got steeper, a lot steeper.
My new Garmin said the gradient was 20%, whether that's entirely true or not it was too steep to be trying to grind up it in the gear I was in, there was no way the front derallieur was going to move due to being stood up and it was so crowded I couldn't do anything but keep moving, slowly forward. Once it eased off significantly my legs were toasted but I did think to myself "if I can get up that in that gear then there is a good chance of getting up Mow Cop". Then I looked up and there it was up ahead, oops. It looked like carnage at the top.
Lowest gear engaged, slow spinning to regain some sort of control over myself. As I got closer to the pub the steep bit started looking shorter and shorter (because it is very short) and I decided "I'm having that"...and I did. It did hurt, quite a bit and toasting my legs further down didn't help but I got up. The only slight eek moment was when someone bailed next to me and nearly dropped his bike on me, I squeaked and he pulled it away (thanks). I saw Jez stomp up it as well but he put a foot down somewhere apparently before the pub I think.
I continued on, unlike a lot of other people, until the road totally stopped going up. I waited for Jez then we set off down the descent and on towards the next climb. My memory of exactly what hills were what is pretty hazy (no change there then) but on the next one Jez stopped as he was knackered. Hmmm.
I stopped part way up the hill for a bit which was a bit of a mistake. We continued on, Jez walking bits if he needed to and me waiting at the top. None of the remaining climbs were as brutal as Mow Cop.
For a bit of balance, there was some excellent descents, particularly around Bridestones (I think). Jez pretty much managed to blast past everyone when the road headed down, very confident descending. I managed to hit 41.2mph on a descent around there, god knows what Jez was at as he was way faster than me.
We finally made it to the first feed station at 27 miles and it is clear he is not a happy camper! I make a suggestion that perhaps we could find out if there is a way of getting back to the start but I was informed that he was "not giving up, mutter, mutter, grr, bloody road bikes" (or something to that effect). Okay then....get round mode engaged and I stopped worrying about riding time taken - which was probably a good thing as I had forgotten to set autopause on the Garmin. I remembered to pause it manually sometimes but it was irrelevant really.
Fed, bottles refilled we set off again, next target feed station 2 at about 48 miles. The next 10 miles or so seemed to take absolutely ages, a few more hills to contend with though I found them fine and again waited at the top. Jez was in that special personal hell that you only visit when your knackered with miles and miles to go.
I've been there lots of times myself and I know there is nothing I could say to make it better (except perhaps "Taxi for Jez!"). I did what he has done for me loads of times before, ignore the grumbling and keep thing moving on..."you can't stop here".."why not?".."Road bikes are crap"..."It's not the bikes fault"..Only x miles to go..that was the last climb..and on and on.
I think the hills were pretty much done by 36 miles, a few more fast descents which were fun but it really seemed to take ages to get to the feed station.
We finally rolled into it, I decided to have my butty and Jez wandered in and came back with a sausage roll which seemed to start perking him up a bit - that and the fact there were only about 20 miles left. Next target, get to the finish.
Setting off from there we tagged onto the back of a large group, that meant tootling along at 15mph with very little effort. My legs were feeling pretty strong but we stayed with the group for a while until I started to worry about the route split as the miles were stacking up above 50. I didn't want to end up on the 100 by mistake (and had forgot to start the course I had loaded into the Garmin). I saw a signpost showing we were heading for Church Minshull, a quick squint at the route card on the back of the number and saw Church Minshull was on the long route and then looked at the wrong part of the card for the medium, saw it wasn't there and panicked.
We pulled over and lost the group, a proper look at the card showed that in fact we were supposed to come though it. I thought he was going to murder me, seriously if looks could kill.....We got going again and just round a bend, not more than 100 metres further was the bloody route split sign.
My penance for that little bit of stupidity was to ride on the front all the way back. I think it was at least 10 miles with a good chunk into a headwind. My legs were feeling pretty good, however both Jez's legs were now threatening to cramp so keeping a pace he could ride at wasn't that easy. However, eventually I realised that he was starting to get quicker and quicker. The last 5 miles were at 16.7 average, which I was really pleased about because it was my legs setting that pace and they could have gone faster.
As the stadium got really close a buch of fast lads came zooming past and Jez jumped on the back of them, blew past me with a big grin on his face and took off for the sprint finish!!!!!!!! I gave chase but didn't quite manage to catch him, the sod. He crossed the line a few seconds faster than me some semblance of male pride restored hopefully. It was a bit of a miserable experience for him but he toughed it out.
We queued up again to hand chips in and I got my medal for clearing Mow Cop. I can't remember the overall time, it was something like 5:25. My Garmin had 4:55 for ride time and an average of 14mph but it was really all about getting Jez round.
Overall, I loved it and whilst I knew my legs had done something by the end they were still going well. I had a bit of numb bum as I didn't stand enough and my gloves were starting to annoy my hands. I think I could have made the 100 but if I tried it yesterday would have probably suffered due to not eating enough early in the ride. It was fine for the 68 miles but wouldn't have been for longer I don't think.
The jury is out on whether Jez does the Etape Caledonia, I can't wait.