Forgetting your cycling shoes isn’t a great way to prepare for the opening cycle sportive of the 2016 season for me. It led to a frantic dash home followed by a mad dash down the M61 to Poynton and event HQ at Poynton High School. Luckily, Team Torelli had the fastest ever event registration system sorted and I even had time for the compulsory pre-event loo visit before taking my place on the start line.
I have done both the 50 and 80 mile versions of the Jodrell Bank Classic Sportive. I did the 50 back in 2010 in ?a really decent 2:43:25 (3rd rider home), and the 80 in 4:37 a year later. The route is pretty much flat for the first?? of the ride with a few smallish hills thrown in at the end. The key to success, therefore, is to pace yourself as hard as you can for the opening, but leaving enough in the tank to get over the climbs at the end. Easier said than done. My plan was to find a decent group to work with on the flat, especially as the forecast was for quite a strong wind, ?and go as hard as I could leaving the hills to destiny. To that end, I set off early hoping that a big group might catch me up. 5 miles in that is exactly what happened and I slotted in at the back as a dozen guys wearing Haute Rouleurs colours eased past encouraging me to jump on. I needed no second bidding: just what I wanted, an armchair ride. Unfortunately, a few hundred metres later, one of their number dropped off the back with a flat. To my dismay, the Haute Rouleurs did the decent thing and pulled over to wait for their unfortunate compatriot. This left me and a guy from?Marford & Gresford Velo on the Welsh borders to forge a partnership.
MGV was the ideal breakaway companion: he was big and powerful “Classics rider” and punched a substantial hole in the air giving me much needed respite when it came to my turn to rest. The wind was against us pretty for pretty much the whole of the first half of the ride with a short but glorious stretch up towards Ashley as a most welcome respite. As we turned towards Knutsford we picked up a third member of our gang and we took turn and turn about all the way to the first feed. The pace was relentless, and once or twice I got shelled as MGV accelarated hard at every road junction. However, by not panicking, getting on the tri bars and clicking up a gear, I got back on each time. I was finding my aero bike perfect for the conditions, despite the twists and turns and changes in wind direction. At the feed (around 75km in) our 3rd companion stopped to stock up. We pressed on: MGV wanted to get a sub 4:30 time. I felt this was overly optimistic for me and found the next 15km or so really difficult. There were one or two dips into valleys with steep little climbs out that sapped the legs even further.?And a couple of really exposed sections into the wind tested both of us. Nevertheless, 90km came up with only 3 hours on the clock leaving just under 40 to go.
Up to this point we had only been overtaken by a solitary rider on a Cervelo, and even he was having difficulty putting too much distance between us as we rode through Swettenham and turned back north towards Macclesfield. A second rider passed us on a narrow lane and by now I knew the inevitable was coming. The long and gentle climb towards Macc was going to be too much for me so I encouraged MGV to strike out while I eased off a touch and took on some gels. The rain that had been forecast along with the wind now started to appear, but only in the form of light drizzle and easing off a touch had helped me keep up a reasonable pace as I dropped into Prestbury. A missing sign meant that I added about a mile onto the ride and met up again briefly with MGV who was unsure of the route. Having put him back on course, he set off rapidly and I paced myself more sedately through Bollington and over the climb to Pott Shrigley. Here I was overtaken by half a dozen of the Haute Rouleurs and another couple of riders, but as I crested the hill I knew I was still within a shout of a sub 4:30 time, which for this time of year would have been incredible for me. As it was, I missed out by about a minute and a half, beating my previous time by over 5 minutes. I was delighted with this and sought out MGV to shake his hand and thank him for his wheel for so much of the route.
The organisers, Team Torelli, have developed the Jodrell Bank Classic into a really good early season sportive. The flat parcours encourages hard riding, or indeed, beginners, with the hilly finale not being too tough to deter people from entering so early in the year. They course was excellently signed, which is an absolute necessity on a route that twists and turns down many narrow Cheshire lanes. The one missing sign caught out a few, but I’m guessing that was down to vandalism rather than the organisers. Free food and hot drinks were more than welcome at the finish and parking in the school grounds was well marshaled. I would highly recommend this sportive to beginners and experienced riders alike (the 50 mile version is very similar in character): my one word of advice would be do it in a group as 90km of flat riding can be pretty demanding if you’re on your own on a windy day! If I have one slight criticism it is that, as I write this on a Bank Holiday Monday lunchtime, they still haven’t published a set of results, which is a shame as I’m keen to see how I did.
Update: Wednesday 30th March
The results have finally been published and after a quick cut and paste to a spreadsheet I find my official time was 4:34:17, about 3 minutes slower than I timed myself. Good enough for 17th quickest out of 79 finishers for the 80 mile ride. A sub 4:30 would have been good enough for the top 10. Sadly the results aren’t categorised by age group or gender which I think is a real shame and really takes very little extra effort on the part of the organisers.
I’m pretty happy with that effort especially as I didn’t expect to go quite that well so early in the year.