This was to be my last sportive of the season and my second foray into the Wiggle Super Series after Mat and I tackled the Yorkshire Tour earlier this year. I’d signed up for the epic 83-mile route, but had plans to divert onto the 64-mile route given that storm Brian hadn’t quite passed over. The route started in Uttoxeter and took in parts of Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire, winding its way through the National Forest. It promised an undulating first section followed by a flattish middle and the biggest climb at the end.
On the start-line
It was the usual start to a sportive; ridiculously long walk to registration and parking on an unsuitable surface. Instead of the usual freshly mown clods of grass this time it was a mushy white chalk car park which meant I was splattered with white ‘mud’ before I’d even got on the bike. No problem, that wasn’t going to put me off!
I noticed straight away that the numbers were low for a sportive. After arriving later than planned (I had driven almost all the way to the venue before I realised I’d forgotten my bidons and had to drive back to get them) the car park was still nowhere near full. Only small groups of riders were lining up for the safety briefing – people had definitely been put off by the cold temperatures and blustery winds that go with an October sportive.
I lined up with a group of about 6 other riders for the briefing and we were sent on our way. The riders at the front of the group clearly didn’t want to lead the way as they pulled over before we had left the car park. I sped past wanting to get started and found myself immediately out on my own and straight onto the first long and quite testing climb. I spotted a rider already pushing their bike near the top of the climb, less than 10 minutes into the ride!
The First Feed Stop
My solo effort continued almost until the first feed stop at around 21 miles. I passed some small groups and scattered solo riders but everyone was struggling against the strong winds. There were sections where I was riding at a constant lean to the left just to stay upright. Passing over Blithfield reservoir – an exposed section of road at the best of times – was a real battle. Headwinds turned into crosswinds and it took me over a minute longer than usual to make the crossing and start the climb the other side. That said, we did pass through some scenic countryside and forested areas as promised so at least there was something nice to look at.
The first feed stop was a pub in Yoxall and it was pretty well stocked with cakes, flapjacks and energy gels. I was pleased to see they had Powerbar energy wafers so they went straight in my pockets. Free tea and coffee was a welcome sight as the chilly 9 degree start had stuck with us. A lot of riders (me included) were disappointed that there wasn’t anywhere warm to sit down and only a few chairs outside. That made for a quick feed stop!
I tried to save my legs by leaving the feed stop with a small group and managed to tag onto the back of a couple of riders being dragged along by the strongest rider at the front. They were going a little bit too slowly, but it made sense to stick with them to save energy. Soon enough we were joined by another small group who tagged onto the back of our slipstream. Our small peloton stuck together for about another 5 miles until the route split at Haunton. I was once again out on my own with the wind.
The Second Feed Stop
The second feed stop at Rosliston at the 43-mile mark came around surprisingly quickly. I didn’t feel too bad so obviously the number of sportives done this season has paid off. Again, I grabbed a cup of tea, some lemon drizzle cake and a wafer and looked around disappointedly for somewhere to sit – no chairs whatsoever. We obviously weren’t meant to hang around at these feed stops! I eventually found a spot to park myself on a low wall with some other riders. It was the consensus that those of us who had chosen to do the standard route instead of the epic were definitely the wiser ones on the day.
I set back off on my own – there weren’t enough riders at this stop to find myself a group for the final stretch – thinking I was about 90 minutes away from the end. Unfortunately the route turned fully into the wind on the way back and it was a battle; at some points I was only managing to average 9 miles per hour. I caught up with two men who were obviously not very experienced riders, but did the classic “speed up and look like we’re better than we are” which a lot of guys do when they realise a female rider has caught them. We switched places back and forth for about 5 miles until we reached a climb and I sped past. Once I properly overtook them, they didn’t manage to catch me again. I quite enjoy having a last-minute challenger on sportives to play a bit of cat and mouse; Mat and I had fun on Le Ronde Picarde doing a similar thing.
The final miles of the ride were unfortunately on busier, more exposed roads which are often the case with Wiggle rides as the routes obviously aren’t planned by locals. I crossed a main road and saw the bottom of Hanbury Hill at around the 55-mile mark. I noticed on the approach that not a single rider was still on the bike! Everyone had abandoned and was walking up the hill. The 8% average gradient felt like too much for many in the headwinds. I battled onwards to about half way before I was defeated and took a short rest break before getting back on to finish the climb. Not my best work, but it wasn’t the day for hill climb PBs.
I was looking forward to the descent back into Uttoxeter, but the wind made sure it wasn’t an easy section – I even had to pedal the downhill to get any good speed up. I rounded the corner and the racecourse was in sight. I crossed the line to claim my medal and free gifts (a snood and a pair of socks; always welcome) before meeting my mom who had very kindly brought food!
It was never going to be a 100 km PB, but I finished in 5 hours 14 minutes.