Cycling Weekly Malvern Madhatter, Epic Course, plus 3.5 extra miles to get over 100 miles in total.

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Today was the Cycling Weekly Malvern Madhatter, a 100 mile ride round the Malvern hills in Worcestershire, dipping into Herefordshire twice. The route looked pretty hilly and a great warm up to the very hilly Box Hill Original next weekend in the Surrey Hills.

I drove down the night before and stayed overnight in Malvern. By co-incidence I noticed the UK Cycling Events van’s in the corner of the hotel car park, so knew the event organisers were staying there too.

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After a reasonable night’s sleep, I was up at 6:15am for the 25 minute drive to the event HQ in a country estate just outside Ledbury. It took a while to get in and get parked as it was a narrow lane in.

Once I’d registered I opted to not hang around and get to the start line as soon as I could. I was soon off and on my way.

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Unusually the Epic route split off the Short and Standard routes after less than half a mile and then looped round the south Hereforshire area to the far side of the M50 for 50 or so miles before joining up with the other routes at the top of a very sharp climb up the side of the Malvern Hills – ouch!

On the way I was caught up with by a guy who said he was from Market Drayton, had passed me going the other way on our Wednesday ride to Jodrell Bank and could he join me on the ride. I’m always happy for company on rides and was thinking the Epic course was a bit sparse with other riders so happily agreed. It turned out he was also a member of the Audlem Cycling Club and had ridden with the Newport club a few days ago too. Nice to meet you Chris!

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After a short section along the side of the Malvern Hills, we headed down the hill towards Worcester and the flat(ish) area to the north of Malvern. On the way we passed Blackmore Caravan Park, a place I remembered enjoying when I was about 6 and went on my last caravan holiday with my Mum before she sadly died. Great memories though :). I’ve got a lovely video of it at home that my Dad did on his Super 8 camera.

The second feed stop was nearly missed as it was down this tiny track behind houses and had it not been for a friendly marshall ushering riders in there we’d have probably totally missed it and ridden right past.

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After the second feed stop the terrain kicked up considerably towards Bromyard with many undulations and longer climbs. Really lovely countryside though, with hop houses and fields of hops, for which this area of Herefordshire is known.

After the hills relented we arrived at the third and final food stop and were delighted to see they were serving tea and coffee. Very much welcome as it had been a cold and pretty wet ride so far.

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From there it was an easy ride back towards the Malvern Hills before the killer climb of the day – a long and steep ascent back up the Malvern Hills. This came at 88 miles and was a bit of a test, but very satisfying to crest out having done it.

From here it was an easy ride along the side of the hills (with fab views back to where we had just ridden) and then down onto the undulating area to the south and the event HQ finish line.

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We arrived back 3.5 miles short of the 100 so carried on past the finish line turning for 1.7 miles and then turn round and returned to finish on 100.5 miles (we did the extra just in case Strava rounded down the total to less than 100).

A great day out on the bike again. Wet, tough but very scenic and a lovely area to ride in.

Route: click here

Jodrell Bank from Newport

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I’d been meaning to get out on a ride with Mick for ages and he messaged saying he was off this Wednesday and did I fancy a ride out. Silly question … of course I did! I’ve done my Jodrell Bank route with him a few months ago and suggested we ride it again. It’s 82 miles there and back from Newport and involves a decent amount of climbing, plus lovely scenery along the way.

Decision made, we met up outside Nova Cycles in Newport at 9am for the ride. The weather looked good with a bit of low cloud but it should burn off to reveal the sun at some point. Rain was forecast from 5pm but we should be back before then.

We set off out of Newport and up through Cheswardine, onwards to Woore, Wybunbury, Sandbach,  Holmes Chapel and arrived at Jodrell Bank about the earliest I’ve ever done: 11:30am. They had just finished serving breakfast but thankfully the nice lunch menu had just started.

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After a cyclists dream lunch (well, I loved it anyway!), including pasta salad, pizza, leaf salad, followed by a piece of cake and a coffee we decided it was time for the return journey.

For the first part of the return journey we were headed towards Congleton and it felt like we going straight into the wind. To be fair, it felt like this on quite a few other parts of the return journey too! Does the wind really follow you round as you cycle? It certainly feels like it sometimes!

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The journey out to Jodrell is pretty flat but the return journey is hilly and about halfway back we stopped at the lovely Swan With Two Necks on the A53 for a quick pint and to top up with water. Had a lovely pint brewed in Yorkshire but using American hops. Very refreshing it was too!

Suitably fortified we headed off out for the remainder of the hills and then the fast section down Shay Lane towards Newport. Needless to say, we had a blast zooming down Shay Lane trying to make up a bit of time that had been lost on the hilly section of the ride.

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The last part of the ride is where the promised rain started and it did not stop so we got a bit wet. Not a problem though as I’m well used to it by now with the weather around here.

Back in Newport, we retired to the New Inn for a quick post-ride refreshment before saying goodbye and riding home our respective ways. Just over 90 miles on the clock by the time I arrived home.

A really good ride out and great to catch up with each other.

Route: click here

Wiggle Le Tricolore Sportive, Epic Course. First time riding in France and a new county: Kent

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Last year some friends rode one of the Wiggle events that starts in Dover, takes the ferry to Calais, does a long ride around northern France and then takes the ferry back to Dover. I really fancied doing it too as it looked amazing and knew it would be full of great memories to look back on. I knew I had to do it!

I was booked to do Velo Birmingham this weekend but much preferred the look of this one and so sold my Velo ticket and booked on the Le Tricolore instead. I was so excited for the event and could not wait for the day to arrive!

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I did the 4 hour drive to Dover on the Saturday afternoon and stopped overnight literally just around the corner from the event HQ at Broadlees Farm. It was to be a very early start as you had to register at event HQ between 4:30 and 5:30am to get everyone to the ferry in time for sailing at 7:35am!

Never been up quite this early for a ride and it was a bit of a struggle as I was in the middle of a very deep sleep (helped by the 3 pints of Guinness I’d had the night before no doubt!).

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It was obviously still dark when I arrived to register so was thankful I’d remembered my bike lights. A nice ride down the hill to the port was next and I joined the queue to have our passports checked and get a pass onto the ferry.

As I was waiting I met up with my friend Andy, who I’d ridden with last week on the New Forest 100. We had arranged to ride together today.

By this time I was starting to get hungry and saw a few people with Costa Coffee cups so wondered where they had got this from. I looked around and there was a Costa at the ferry terminal not 100 metres away – doh! How the heck had I not spotted this sooner! I blame the early morning!

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Suitably fortified, it was time to board and we were all ushered onto the lower car deck, where we left our bikes against the side of the ship. I locked mine to Andy’s just in case the crossing was choppy and the bikes fell over.

I need not have worried as the crossing was super-smooth and we were soon docking in Calais. On the ship, we’d got our rider numbers and so attached this to my bike and off we set onto French soil.

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A short ride from the port and we were at the starting line, which was in a port car park area not too far from the ship. Off we set, remembering to ride on the right and not the left!

The first part of the route took us along the coast to Sangatte. I’m pretty sure this is where “The Jungle”, the migrant camp, was but there is absolutely no sign of it now. Just outside Sangatte, we rode past the Fench side of the tunnel entrance with its HUGE metal fences everywhere and some armed Gendarmerie watching for intruders.

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The flattish part of the ride over, it was time to head up into some lumpier terrain inland. Great fun and the scenery was absolutely beautiful.

Soon we were at the first feed stop at a very modern looking French school. They had baguettes with butter and jam, brioche and various other things in addition to the normal UK Cycling Events feed stop fare. Loved the baguettes especially and always good to have something savoury, and obviously totally appropriate on a Sportive in France!

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The route split shortly afterwards and we headed off on the Epic section, which was basically a 9 mile addition to the Standard route, but with 2 longer climbs thrown in. Loved it!

We re-joined the Standard route and were soon at the second and final feed stop. This was at a layby area and with more excellent food and baguettes, which was very welcome.

Quite a bit more undulating roads later and we re-joined the flatter part of the route for the 10 mile run in to the finish line.

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At the finish line, we collected our medals and goodies and quickly headed over to the ferry as we had 5 minutes to get in line for the next ferry to leave.

Back in Dover we had to get off the ship last as all the cars left first, then were escorted out of the port. It was then a short ride back up the White Cliffs of Dover to the event HQ and my Jeep.

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I was debating whether to stay overnight as it was 6pm by now and I’d been up at 3:45am but thought I’d get a strong coffee and press on with the 4 hour drive home, stopping if I felt I was getting too tired.

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I arrived home at 11:45pm after an amazing day out and with lots of great memories that will last a lifetime.

What a day and it was perfectly organised and ran like clockwork. Full kudos to UK Cycling Events for putting it on as it must have been a logistical nightmare to do.

Route: click here (plus Registration to Dover port and Dover port back to event HQ)

Dearnford Lake via Nantwich and Peckforton Castle in Cheshire, with Eccles Cake stop at the excellent Tilly’s in Bunbury.

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I really wanted to do a ride out to Macclesfield and then up the Cat n Fiddle climb in the Top 100 UK Climbs book, but I’m looking after our poorly dog this week while my wife is away on a course so can’t afford that much time out.

Instead, I opted for a ride out to Dearnford Lake for a late lunch, but with a twist … the reverse of the usual Dearnford route but extending the ride up into Cheshire by quite a bit!

I set off on very familiar roads to Market Drayton and then up through Calverhall to Whitchurch. In Whitchurch, I headed off out on the Marbury / Wrenbury road and then up through Ravensmoor towards Bunbury. Nice cycling on pretty familiar roads and great weather too.

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In Bunbury, I could not resist a quick stop for a coffee and delicious Eccles Cake at the excellent Tilly’s cafe. Lovely!

I then headed off up past Beeston Castle and the entrance to Peckforton Castle. As I was going past the latter I was reading the signs saying something like “Don’t be shy, come on up and check us out”, so I did exactly that! Despite living in Cheshire most of my life, I’ve never been here and always wanted to. I’m so glad I did!

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It’s a bit of a steep climb up the castle driveway as it’s obviously built on top of the highest hill in the area, but well worth it. I had a quick explore and got lots of photos while chatting to some castle staff about the history of it.

I then headed down through the Peckforton Hills and onwards to Malpas, then into the edge of Wales, Tilstock and finally Dearnford Lake.

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It was getting on for 3pm by the time I arrived at Dearnford, but they still had some tart of the day left so I opted for a nice homemade tart and some extra coleslaw. I was looking forward to this and it did not disappoint.

From Dearnford it was a quick and easy ride home, via Marchamley Hill.

Route: click here

Wiggle New Forest 100 Sportive, Epic Course. A fab day in the saddle with stunning scenery and a sublimely organised event.

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This weekend was the New Forest 100 and a ride I’d had booked ever since I first rode in the New Forest in the Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive a few months ago and fell in love with the place.

This one shared the fabulous event HQ at Somerley House, an old country estate just north of Ringwood and with a HUGE event village as the event runs twice in the weekend: on Saturday and then again on Sunday. Both days are a sell-out, with TONS of cyclists everywhere.

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I’d driven down to the area on Saturday morning and went out for what now seems to be my tradition of a good curry the night before a long sportive. My favourite food and it seems to work fuelling wise so who am I to argue?

On Sunday morning, I was up at 4:45am for the 40 minute drive to the venue. This time the entrance to the estate was on the opposite side to last time I was here but it was easy to find and I enjoyed the drive up the tracks in the beautiful estate, with the big old stately home on it’s elevated position coming into view as I approached.

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After parking up, I got everything sorted for the ride and rode over to the event village, which was right in front of the big stately home. A perfect setting!

I registered and popped over to the BOMO Expresso Bar that is at all these southern Wiggle events. I’ve been to so many now that I know the couple who own it and chatted to both of them about my adventures over a coffee.

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Now it was time to head to the start line as the first riders were off at 7:20am. I managed to get in the second group of departures and was soon heading out into the New Forest for a fab day of cycling.

The route headed south over familiar roads  (from other Sportives in the area) towards Hurn and Bournemouth Airport before turning eastwards and into the stunningly beautiful New Forest.

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I stopped at the first feed stop at Bashley to top up with water and tuck into a couple of the delicious cheese and marmite savoury pastry rolls my lovely wife had made to fuel my ride.

Next, we headed up the totally gorgeous Ornamental Drive, through deep forests that I imagine the whole of the New Forest must have been like years ago when it was a Royal hunting ground. Most of the New Forest is more open and more like moorland these days but this bit remains.

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We exited the New Forest up near Romsey and headed into Wiltshire with more gorgeous countryside and the second feed stop was soon upon us at 54 miles into the ride. I stopped for the usual but did not hang around too much. I was aware that the next feed stop was at 91 miles and only 9 miles from the finishing line so planned to miss this one out.

At 75 miles into the ride, I saw a nice bench on a village green and decided to stop for my own feed stop as I already had enough food and water with me for the ride. Suitably fuelled up and a lot quicker than using an official feed stop, I was soon on my way.

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All too soon I started to recognise the roads from previous sportives and realised we could not be too far from Fordingbridge, which in turn is not far from the end of the ride, back at Somerley House.

I got chatting with another rider who lives in Kent and found out he was also doing the Le Tricolore next Sunday in Calais, so we agreed to look out for each other then. We chatted all the way to the last feed stop, where he stopped and I rode past.

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On the last part of the ride I realised I had tons of gas left in the tank and I knew what to expect from the roads from here on in, so stepped things up somewhat and spent the rest of the ride zooming past everyone I came across. Absolutely loved it and the feeling of satisfaction of being able to take on any rider I saw as they all looked tired by now, but I was anything but tired!

Back at the event village, I finished with 99.7 miles on the clock. It’s the New Forest 100 and not the New Forest 99.7 so I had to ride up and down an estate service road to get the extra bit in so I was comfortably over 100 miles. I smiled to myself when I saw  few others doing it and was happy I was not the only midly OCD rider around ;).

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Then it was off for a recovery pint and a massage. I discovered there was a 40 minute wait for a massage and to be honest my legs felt absolutely fine, so I gave it a miss and headed off to the Jeep and the drive home instead.

An amazing weekend away and another great sense of satisfaction in how my cycling is coming along. Absolutely loving it!

Route: click here

Solo ride out to Tilly’s in Bunbury and then extended the ride home via Winsford and Middlewich. Hard going with that wind but a fab ride nonetheless.

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After the Cycling Weekly 125 on Sunday, my legs were not quite totally recovered but I knew I needed to get a ride in today as it’s the New Forest 100 on Sunday and I did not want to do a longer ride any closer to Sunday. Nothing worse than starting a Sportive on unfamiliar roads with legs that are not 100%!

I opted for a 75 mile ride out to Tilly’s in Bunbury for lunch. Outbound I’d head virtually up to Dearnford Lake before heading into Wales and then onwards via Malpas and the Peckforton Hills. On the way back I’d head via Nantwich, Audlem and Market Drayton.

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As soon as I started off I could tell my legs were not 100%, but not too bad either. The main issue was a REALLY strong wind from the west. It does not seem like we’ve had that many days over the summer without a strong wind to contend with. Can’t remember previous years like this but maybe they were?

The ride out was straightforward enough and I stopped for a coffee at the Fire Station in Malpas as I went past. Next was one of my favourite bits of the ride – up through the Peckforton Hills. A really lovely road that I’d last ridden the other way round on the Cheshire Cheetah Sportive a few months ago. Loved it!

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At Tilly’s I saw they had smashed avocado on rye bread as a special so could not resist. I added a couple of poached eggs and a coffee and orange juice to make an unexpected (very) late breakfast. My very favourite breakfast too! A group of cyclists were in from Stockport (same town, but different people to my last time here) so I had a nice chat with them.

After Tilly’s my plan was to head up to Alpraham and the Wettenhall before turning southbound to Nantwich. At Wettenhall I saw a sign that said Winsford was only 5 miles away (in the other direction!) and could not resist as I’ve not yet cycled round Winsford.

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In Winsford I got a bit lost and had to resort to the maps on my phone but was soon heading off towards Middlewich, to pick up the reverse of my normal route to Altrincham, heading south towards Nantwich. This took me past my usual Hopton House Farm Cafe stop so I dropped in for a quick coffee and chat.

In Nantwich, I’m told my son’s girlfriend spotted me riding through the town. Needless to say, my mind was on cycling and I totally missed her!

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Back in Market Drayton, I stopped at the sponsor’s brewery for a cheeky Blonde before carrying on to home.

A great ride out but tough going in the strong wind in places. All good training though and better than sitting around at home doing other things.

Route: click here

Cycling Weekly 125 Sportive, Epic Course plus 2 laps of the Oulton Park race circuit. A windy day but a cracking ride and lots of good company on the way round.

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Today was the Cycling Weekly 125 Sportive. A 125 mile ride round the beautiful Cheshire countryside, including the ascent of Mow Cop and as many circuits of the Oulton Park race track as you wanted. It’s one of my target rides this year as it will be the longest I’ve ever ridden and at the time I booked it, quite a daunting challenge!

I was up bright and early and at Oulton Park for just after 6:30am as with the longer mileage today I wanted to get off in the very first group of riders at 7:15am as you had to be back at 5:30pm at the latest and I did not want to rush at feed stops etc etc as I like the social aspect of the ride and meeting cyclists from all over.

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Once registered, I had a quick cup of coffee by blagging at the cafe as it was not yet officially open. Then it was off to the start line with the first group of riders. The start was on the start grid for the motor racing that normally goes on here. A very nice touch!

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We started with a lap of the 2.7 mile circuit to warm our legs up before heading out onto the lanes of Cheshire.

The terrain started almost straight away as the route headed for the Helsby hills. This was a feature that persisted throughout the day with the organisers taking full advantage of every little bit of elevation Cheshire has to offer (it’s definitely not flat everywhere!).

I was in a big group of strong riders along this section and we made really good progress.

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After zig-zagging our way up the back of the Helsby hills we arrived at the first feed station at Duddon, near Chester. I was not going to stop here as it was only about 25 miles into the ride but needed to top up on water so made a quick stop. I did get chatting to the lovely lady in charge and spent a bit too long chatting!

I’d bought some new Aftershokz Trekz Titatnium bone conducting headphones during the week so I could listen to music and podcasts on long rides whilst also being able to hear traffic etc etc. A bit of a weird sensation at first but you soon get used to it. I thought I’d try them out after the feed stop and had a great time riding down to the next feed stop at Farndon on the Welsh border, listening to some metal and some modern country – Kane Brown and Stone Sour to be exact!. With I’d bought these sooner – they are really good!

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Heading back towards the Peckforton Hills, we were soon passing the Cholmondeley Estate, where the Tough Mudder race was being held today. Not quite sure on the details of what is involved but I do know a lot of mud crawling is part of it and where the route crossed the lane I was on, I saw tons of runners covered literally head to toe in thick mud. Each to their own, but I think I’ll stick with cycling thank you very much!

At the third feed stop at Wrenbury (weird feeling as this is often somewhere I ride past on rides from home) I got chatting with some guys from Liverpool and some from the Peak District and so we all set off in convoy for Mow Cop, via Audlem, Wybunbury and Alsager.

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As we approached Mow Cop we all slowed down, preparing ourselves for the killer mile. We arrived at the start of Mow Cop on 97 miles – this is going to be interesting!

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After the climb, we were rewarded with amazing views from the road along the top of the hill. You could see all over Cheshire, most of the places we’d just ridden and even Liverpool and Manchester city centres in the distance. Almost makes the climb worthwhile ;-).

The fourth and final feed stop was at the side of Congleton at the foot of the hill and I stopped to top up with water and have some more of the yummy cheese and marmite pastries my lovely wife had made for my ride today. Perfect fuel and ensured my legs were feeling fabulous for the whole ride.

The ride back to Oulton Park was uneventful apart from a brief torrential rain shower in, of all places, Wettenhall. It certainly lived up to its name – we were soaked!

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Back at Outlon Park most people were going straight to their cars and home but I could not resist the timed lap of the circuit as I’d enjoyed riding it so much earlier this morning. I’m not going to break any records and certainly not get KOM but I’ll enjoy it. As it turned out, I had the whole track to myself and stopped to get some photos of my bike with the circuit in the background part way round. Not often you get to do that!

In summary, an amazing day out on the bike once again. Gorgeous route, great organisation, pretty decent weather (apart from the strong wind) and a fabulous venue. Loved it!

Route: click here