The Cycletta series of women-only bike rides now boasts six events from Scotland down to the New Forest and a few locations in between. With Victoria Pendleton at the wheel of the marketing and PR push, the calendar of events (organised by the very experienced Human Race) seems to grow in popularity every year in parallel with a continual upward trend in the number of women taking up – and continuing – cycling. The series has many supporters and partners, but the most important of these is perhaps the Breeze cycling network which is part of British Cycling. While I’m not sure of the most up-to-date figures, the campaign encouraging women to feel more confident to go out for a ride is still riding a wave of momentum that has been building since the London Olympics and it’s pretty exciting to be part of this legacy and see it first-hand on a Sunday morning in late September, taking over the grounds of a grand old estate.
Riding to the event HQ through Tatton Park was a lovely way to start the day, where the only life around included fellow participants, some keen-o joggers and little clusters of pretty sizeable deer right up at the edge of the road. Then rolling into the HQ itself there was already a fair bit going on, with small children running and cycling up and down what would later be our starting straight, taking part in the Scootathlon. This is a sort of mini triathlon for kids, where they scoot, bike and then run the very short course, all under the watchful eye of parents and organisers in hi-vis.
Within the HQ ‘paddock’ there was a good jumble of tents including the all-important registration/info gazebo, as well as a couple of food trucks for a last cup of tea or hot bap, a couple of sponsor tents and a green Macmillan area, hosting the charity for which the majority of riders were raising money for. While fundraising was by no means required, it was a really nice addition to the event where some participants clearly had a reason to ride that went beyond the physical challenge and enjoyment of cycling.
Once the wee ones were all done, attention turned to the start of the Challenge route (80km) which I was down to ride. The only issue here was that I was only about half way through a fairly lengthy toilet queue when the call was put out to make your way to the start. Luckily, we were given quite a bit of time to assemble and were set off in small groups of about ten riders apiece every five minutes, making for a relaxed start. Everyone on the start line was really chatty and while there was definitely a leaning towards groups of friends rather than individuals (perhaps more so than other sportives I’ve ridden), it was definitely welcoming.
A couple of corners and a cattle grid away from event HQ, the route tracked back via my original journey into the park where there were definitely more people about – as well as the deer and some sheep thrown in there for good measure. Out through the main gates however, we took a sharp right and headed pretty much north up alongside the perimeter wall of the park. Starting at 8am, it was really quiet on the roads so not much in the way of traffic to worry about. This first section of the route headed up via Ashley, before bending south towards Mobberley. At a split in the road just before Mobberley station however, we were directed left to start out on what would be the first of two loops of an 18-mile circuit. At this stage, there were a large number of riders spread out down the road and it was great to just roll along through the slightly chilly morning on some lovely Cheshire lanes.
With a total of elevation gain of just 275 metres across the 80km (according to el Garmin), it was a pretty flat course with nothing more than a few rolling sections and the odd stretch that felt a bit sharper. Because of this, Cycletta Cheshire would be a pretty ideal first sportive to sign up to: provided you’re female. There were also three distances available to choose from, with 20km (Novice), 40km (Classic) and 80km (Challenge) routes on offer. The profile along with the three options also meant that the range of bikes opted for was huge! At some point, participants from all three distances were out on the road with a bit of overlap and I spotted Dutch-style sit-up-and-beg bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids and even a Brompton in amongst the more populous road bikes.
Crossing the train line just North of Mobberley, the clear signposting and friendly junction marshals (apart from the one that was asleep in the sun – but he was probably friendly when awake) directed us south of the airport, then south again, running parallel to Wilmslow. Apart from crossing the odd A-road, we were treated to quiet country lanes almost exclusively and as the day started to warm up it was finally time to shed the arm warmers and gilet to embrace the end of the Summer.
Around 20 miles in, the first feed station popped up. With a first aid tent (only containing volunteers, thankfully), some loos and a table full of goodies, it was a good chance to nibble on a few bits after a bit of a rushed breakfast on the way out. Having ridden the Wiggle Etape Cymru last year (another event organised by Human Race), I had high hopes for the feed station as the Welsh event featured a bit of a revelation in terms of energy sources in the shape of cold buttered and salted new potatoes and Welsh rarebit. While the latter may have been out of place in Cheshire, they had definitely gotten it right with some savoury food which was unfortunately missing at Cycletta. While there was a fair bit of choice, it was all of the sweet variety.
The remaining half of the loop featured a short section on the A50 before heading East through Ollerton and back up to Mobberley before meeting back up with the junction that meant the start of the second lap. With a much clearer idea of what to expect (I have to admit to not studying the route too closely in advance), the second loop passed relatively quickly with a bit of a chat from someone who had come from West Wales (a good 4 hour drive!). I didn’t ask, but she made no comment about the lack of rarebit. I got the impression though that Cycletta events really do have a special something as this sort of commute didn’t seem that odd. For example, I was talking to someone on the start line who had driven up from just South of Birmingham as this was the closest event. Certainly potential for the Cycletta series to expand!
Carrying on past the feed station on the second lap (which was the same as the first), I retraced the original route North of Mobberley and back around the perimeter wall of Tatton Park. Here, the road tilted up very slightly resulting in a nice bit of leg burn to finish off. Soon enough though, we were turning back into the park to cross the line amid an impressive amount of applause! With some of the Scootathlon participants still hanging around along with a fair number of partners and supporters, the event HQ was pretty thriving and the stalls all saw a lot of visitors.
At this point after your average sportive, you might just wander over to the car and pack up for the journey home. The experience after Cycletta is a bit different however (if you want it to be) as there is a whole tent of pampering on offer. After being handed a pretty considerable goody bag, a carton of Vita Coco and a bottle of water, my hands were pretty full, but I was also directed towards the big white tent to have a massage or stretch out in the next session. I had a bit of a nose around but due to having a 16 mile ride home still to come, decided against letting myself drop into complete relaxation mode. Perhaps at this point I wished I’d driven to the event to enjoy a massage, but I also had no need to take advantage of the cans of dry shampoo and sizeable mirrors as had fully committed to helmet hair for the day. Due to heading off pretty quickly to keep warm and avoid seizing up I didn’t quite see the pampering zone in full flow, but it definitely looked a pleasant way to end a ride.
Overall, Cycletta Cheshire was a great event that was incredibly well organised. With some pretty spectacular weather for this late in the year and friendly co-participants it was a Sunday morning very well spent, however I think I would be looking for a slightly different route if I were going to ride the event again next year. While there was certainly nothing wrong with it, there is so much more of Cheshire to explore without doubling up on the laps and I think that would give the event a breath of fresh air for anyone already thinking of 2015.
Originally covered for cyclosport.org.