Five ride out to Cheshire

icecreamwensdae

For the last month or so I’ve been trying to make sure that my weekly mileage is hitting the 400km mark and that usually means getting at least one 200km ride in every week. I like to go on varied routes in order to try and avoid the boredom of repetition but planning rides, especially long ones, can take up a lot of time and sometimes the last thing I want to do when I’ve been at work all day is sit down in front of the computer plotting out more routes. So when the opportunity to ride a mid-week audax comes along it’s definitely one worth taking.

Such an opportunity presented itself this week with the ‘Ice Cream Wensdae’ 107km audax from Marple so I decided to book a day’s annual leave to do it. All I had to do was figure out the route over to Marple from Sheffield and the rest of it would be mapped out for me. To bring the distance up to 200km I decided to do the event as an official extended ‘ECE‘ ride which means that I’d need to plot a route to the start of the event that was at least an extra 100km and send it off to Audax UK to be verified before riding it.

I needed to make sure that the route out and back was at least 50km in each direction and I decided that I’d just ride the same route and and back so that I’d only have to plot the one route. I also wanted to avoid busy roads like the A57 and A623 as much as possible as the audax started at 10am so I’d most likely be travelling there and back during rush hour periods.

The audax itself was a pretty flat route out over the Cheshire plains so I figured that plotting a reasonably hilly route to get to and from Marple would be ok and my U-shaped route took in Eyam, Tideswell, Wormhill over to Chapel-en-le-Frith, New Mills and finally Marple, clocking up at 61km each way, giving me a total mileage of 230km.

I’d planned to set off from Sheffield at 6am for the 10am start, leaving lots of time for any en-route mechanicals. My other-half, Ken, was coming along for the ride and we’d arranged to meet my Transcon partner, Julie, and two other regular riding buddies, David and Peter, along the route at Windmill as they didn’t fancy riding the full 230km with us. This was to be Peter’s first major solo ride since recovering from a broken collar bone earlier this year but as he is hoping to ride LEL in 12 weeks time he is trying to build up his mileage fast.

Now, anyone that rides regularly with me will know that I like a nice hill but in order to make sure that my friends keep riding with me, occasionally, I have to tone my routes down a bit. Trouble is, I’m not too good at checking hill gradients when I’m route planning and this can sometimes get me into trouble.  Let’s just say that my route over to Marple was a wee bit hillier than expected (1200m of climbing) and by the time we’d arrived at the start of the audax everyone apart from Ken had already decided that they weren’t going to be riding the same route back with me.

Despite the hills we arrived with plenty of time to grab a cup of coffee to warm us all up before the event started as it was a chilly five degrees. The audax route headed out through the villages of Poynton, Wilmslow and Knutsford and before long we were deep in the heart of WAGland, cycling past huge houses with Bentleys sat on the drive. Coming up to the halfway mark I wondered why I was finding it such hard work keeping with the group until I realised that I’d got a slow puncture so we took time out for me to sort it out before pressing on to lunch.

The turnaround control point and cafe stop was at the Great Budworth Real Ice Cream Farm, that gives the audax its name. Being Easter-week the cafe was pretty busy and although I’m sure they were glad of the extra custom, having another 47 cyclists turn up all at roughly the same time meant that the kitchen staff were struggling to keep up with demand. This meant that we had a slightly longer-than-planned lunch stop and were all ready to gnaw the waiter’s hand off when the food finally arrived. The temperature had now warmed up to a balmy eight degrees – just the right temperature for ice cream and it was well worth it. The rum and raisin was super-yummy and Peter tells me that his blackberry was pretty delicious too.

Fed and watered, we were ready for the return leg, through the villages of Lower and Over Peover where we stopped to take photos of an amazing little tree house that had been carved into an old tree stump and on through Prestbury to our last control at Bollington. We were all a bit knackered by the time we arrived back in Marple just after 4pm and were glad of the sandwiches that had been laid on for us by the Ring O’Bells pub.

After a bit of a rest we still had that minor issue of the return leg to Sheffield to deal with. Unfortunately I’d not managed to convince anyone to change their mind and join Ken and me on the hill-fest home. Instead Julie, Peter and David came with us as far as Chapel (which was still pretty hilly) and then went home via Rushup Edge. David and Peter opted for a descent down Winnats Pass while Julie got some extra miles in down Mam Nick and through Edale.

I think I’d blanked out just how hilly some of those hills were, especially the climb out of Chapel and the pull up out of Monk Dale which is 20%, just what you need after cycling 190km. Ken is a much stronger rider than me and by the time I’d got half way up Grindleford he was just a speck in the distance.

I made it home for 8pm, around 15 minutes after Ken, but just long enough for him to get the tea on.

Easter Trail Adventures to York

Following on from Team Sheffield CTC’s resounding success in the Audax Easter Trail last year, I was keen to get another team together to defend our title this Easter weekend.

I should probably point out that the reason we won last year’s Trail was mostly down to us being the only team that entered, but not to be deterred by that minor detail, I planned a 255km route to York and roped in three other teammates to join me.

For those of you wondering what on earth I’m on about, the Easter Trail is a team event organised by Audax UK and last year was the first time that the event took place. It’s the lightweight cousin of the well-established, and much more hardcore, Easter Arrow event where teams set off from 6am on Good Friday and ride 400+ kms through the night from anywhere in the UK to arrive in York by the following morning between 8am and 11am. The team that clocks up the most miles ridden wins.

In comparison, teams taking part in the Easter trail event only have to ride between 201 and 360km but must factor in a stop for a minimum of eight hours overnight on the Friday evening. The team still needs to arrive in York between 8am and 11am the next morning and again the team that clocks up the most miles ridden wins.

Where a team starts from and the route it takes to York is entirely up to the team captain who plots the route in advance and sends it off to be verified by Audax UK a few weeks before the start of the event. There are a few more rules that teams need to adhere to but basically that’s the gist of it.

I’d plotted a route from Sheffield of 255km taking in control stops at Howden, Easingwold, Horsforth (in Leeds) to our overnight eight-hour stop in the village of Cullingworth near Bradford. Cullingworth just happens to be around a mile away from my dad’s house in Denholme where we were guaranteed a good feed and free bed for the night (thanks Dad). The only downside to this otherwise perfect overnight location is that my dad lives at the top of a very big hill. Like ‘all the way from the Aire Valley to the almost the highest point in Bradford’ big.

I’d tried my best to plot a decent route with some nice, cafe-based, control stops that avoided cycling on busy main roads like the A19 and A59. The main thing to take into consideration when plotting DIY Audax routes is that you can only claim distance for the most direct route between any two locations. Taking direct routes usually means travelling on busy roads so if you want to try to keep off main roads then you have to add extra control stops, or you can (within reason) just suck up the few extra kilometres to take diversions on to quieter roads. However, because you’re limited by time constraints, adding too many extra kilometres in this way can really slow you down as those extra kms add nothing to your final distance tally.

This meant that our team’s official distance of 255km would actually be more like 290km but I reckoned that wouldn’t be too much of a problem as a good chunk of our route would be ridden in the flatlands to the east of Sheffield and around York.

Our team, consisting of me, my Transcon teammate Julie, my other-half Ken, and Julie’s other-half Simon, met at Sheffield train station at 7am on a rather chilly and overcast Good Friday morning to collect our first receipts of the day for our brevet cards. Every rider has to collect a receipt (either from a shop or a cash machine) from each control in order to document what time the team arrives.

The route we took out of Sheffield to our first control at Howden is a familiar route out east for us and once we’d climbed the few little lumps out over Wentworth and around the back of Barnsley, after Hooton Pagnell the route flattened out.

We had a quick cafe stop at the Lakeside Cafe at Askern which is a regular haunt for many of the cycling clubs around South Yorkshire, especially those fond of a bargain as the price of a mug of tea and a toasted teacake is just £1.60.

With a tailwind to help us along we made good time to Howden, arriving at 11am. That Tea Room in Howden is another one of our fave cafes and with another 50km before our next stop at Easingwold we decided to call an early lunch. If you’ve not been here I can definitely recommend it as the food is lovely and the staff are always very welcoming. They also have a big room upstairs that you can book in advance if you need to book a big group in.

After lunch, the next leg of our journey took us north, skirting around the edge of York along the B1228 up to the village of Easingwold. Even though it’s a B-road it was pretty busy, probably due to  bank holiday traffic heading into York, and as it’s quite a straight road it means that the cars can pick up quite a speed so we had a few unpleasant moments with impatient drivers having to slow down (or not, in some cases) to overtake us. We were all pretty glad to get back on to quieter country lanes north of Stamford Bridge.

As none of us had been to Easingwold before we were happy to take a stop here and explore the village a bit. We had a decent, strong coffee and cake at the Olive Branch, a quirky little shop with lots of adjoining rooms that sells all kinds of interesting stuff with a cafe at the rear. After a quick pedal around the village, which definitely deserves a future visit, we pressed on west for our penultimate control of the day in Horsforth.

The day started to get a little tougher as we were now traveling directly into the westerly wind that had been helping us out so much in the earlier part of the day. We decide to start taking turns on the front to give each other a bit of respite across the vale of York to Wetherby but we were still going strong and making good time.

After Wetherby the landscape became a little more rolling with a few punchy little climbs, dropping us down into the Wharfe Valley north of Leeds. These are all familiar roads to me as I grew up in the area between Leeds and Bradford so I knew what to expect. Our first tough little hill of the day, Weardley Bank, climbs out of the Wharfe Valley into North Leeds. At the top of Weardley is green wooden bench placed there by Leeds St. Christopher’s Cycling Club to honour the memory of club member Peter Gannon. LSCCC was also my dad’s cycling club and Peter was my dad’s riding buddy back in the 1960’s so I always stop and take a moment to have a rest on Pete’s bench and today was no different. After pedalling 70 km into a headwind for the past couple of hours it was a pretty welcome rest.

We dropped down into Horsforth at around 6pm and grabbed some supplies and a receipt from the local Tesco. From there it was only around 30 km to my dad’s but anticipating the climb ahead I tried to convince the rest of the team to take on some sugar for a bit of an energy boost as we were all feeling the effects of the headwind. Convincing Ken to eat is never really a problem but Julie struggles to find the right kind of food to keep her fuelled up and by this point was a bit fed up with all of the over-processed, sugary crap that we’d been piling in to keep the speed up.

I swapped the water in my bottle for Lucozade for the final 30km and I’d still got a few lumps of flapjack in my little top tube bag in reserve just in case. The final leg of the day took us through the north Leeds suburbs that drop down into the Aire Valley at Apperley Bridge and on to the main road through Shipley and Bingley. It was pretty busy and we encountered a few more inconsiderate drivers – they’re always a bit harder to negotiate when you’re tired.

The final big pull of the day started in Bingley with a steep, twisty 10% climb out of town up to the village of Harden. At this point it started to rain pretty heavily but climbing was hot work and with only a few uphill miles left to ride it didn’t seem worth stopping to put on a waterproof. We pushed on through Harden to the final control of the day at Cullingworth Co-op, arriving by 7.15pm. Our official milage between the four controls was 190km but the actual distance we’d covered was 220km.

We were done for the day in terms of recording distance but to get up to dad’s we had one final climb, Manywells Brow. It’s less than 100m long with an average gradient of 8% but it gets steeper as you climb, topping out at 15% around two-thirds of the way up so it’s a bit of a killer even on fresh legs, never mind ones that had 200km of cycling in them, but the Lucozade in my water bottle worked a treat and gave me enough energy for that final push.

Manywells conquered, we piled into dad’s for a hot shower, plenty of pasta and a good night’s kip, albeit a short one as we needed to be up around 5am to finish off the last leg to York.

We awoke on Day two to be greeted by a pretty impressive sunrise and after a huge bowl of porridge we were back out on the road for 6.15am. After heading back down to the Co-op in Cullingworth to pick up our only receipt of the day, Saturday’s route retraced our steps as far as Adel in north Leeds before heading east around the north of the city, through the village of Thorner, over the A1 to Boston Spa, Wighill and finally to York. Our official ‘shortest route’ distance from Cullingworth to York was 64km but we were actually going to ride 75km.

The first few climbs of the day were pretty tough on tired legs but we soon got into our stride. Retracing our steps meant that most of the climbs were done with in the first 15 miles and with the help of a fierce tailwind we were soon flying along the flattish roads through north Leeds. We’d planned a quick cafe stop at another fave cafe, Moo in Boston Spa and got there in good time just before 9am for warm scones and strong coffee.

From Boston Spa, we only had 25km to go and we pushed on through at a blistering pace (well, blistering for me). The end was in sight now and still aided by that tailwind we managed to cover the final 25 in 50 minutes, arriving in York just after 10am with an hour to spare and feeling pretty pleased with ourselves.

Another Easter Trail in the bag for Team Sheffield CTC, we headed over to Your Bike Shed cycling cafe for a celebratory bacon sarnie and our final receipt to prove we’d made it. As there was no formal finish control this year we don’t know how any other teams took part or whether our distance of 255km will be enough to retain our Easter Trail winners title, but no matter what the result we had a brilliant time taking part and are looking forward to doing it all again next Easter. What better way to justify stuffing your face with Easter Eggs all day on Easter Sunday?