Chris Sidwells is joined on the route of our new-for-2014 sportive on the England-Wales border Welsh Raider Sportive by reigning world team time trial champion Katie Colclough.
I’m joined by a world champion, although she’s not racing anymore. Katie Colclough is the events manager for SiS, Science in Sport, but until September she is also part of the reigning world team time trial champion squad. She won in Florence last year with Team Specialized-Lululemon, so why change careers when she was at the top of her sport?
“I had the chance to do what is a very interesting job, and I’d known nothing but cycling since I was 14,” Colclough explains. “I went through all the stages of the British Cycling performance programme then turned pro, and I’d done nothing else but ride my bike, so it’s great to experience new things now.
“Also, the deciding question was, do I take a job like this when it’s offered now, or do I base my future on women’s pro racing, which has up-and-down prospects to say the least?,” she continues. “So I chose the job. Also, I’ve always wanted to live in London, which I’m really enjoying. The only downside is I don’t get as much time to ride my bike, but I’m OK with that at the moment.”
Rolling out from Ludlow Racecourse the Standard route goes left and gets 10 kilometres of flat riding up Corvedale, but the Epic and Short route turn right, for a tough climb after five kilometres. However, the views from the top and on the long descent to Middleton are worth it. There’s a flat bit, then a steady climb to 333 metres and a saddle of land between the twin peaks of Brown Clee Hill and Titterstone Clee Hill. Both hills are well over 500 metres high, and the two peaks help give the Short route a real mountain feel. The Epic gets a dose of real mountains later.
Once over the top there’s a long descent then an undulating run down Corvedale, where the road dips up and down along the bottom of the Wenlock Edge, before the Short route heads back towards Ludlow and the Epic joins the Standard route.
“It’s a great place to ride, really quiet roads, and even that first climb is worth it for the view at the top,” is Colclough’s judgement so far. “Once you are at the top the rest of the route is rolling really.”
A quick transitional section through Craven Arms, which is the gateway to the Welsh Marches, the ancient name for the strip of land that stood between the Welsh and English kingdoms. It was ruled by Marcher Lords and acted as a buffer zone to contain and subdue the Welsh.
The route meanders to Bishop’s Castle, a lovely unspoiled market town with a stiff climb up the main street that eases out of town and over the Kerry Ridgeway. It’s all been quite delightful so far, rolling roads and green fields; but get ready for the next bit because the views are spectacular.
The road sweeps down and round to the left, so you can see right across a wide valley to the Shropshire Hills. From the ridgeline top of the Long Mynd in the east, through sprawling Stiperstones in the middle, to the conical neatness of Corndon Hill in the west, all the peaks are well over 500 metres, and there are lots of little round hills in-between.
It’s impressive, but when you look ahead you catch a glimpse of the mountains of Wales, and that’s even better. The next five kilometres have an identity crisis as we cross into Wales, back into England then into Wales again just before Montgomery. But we’re in Wales now for a while.
Montgomery is another splendid place, with a lovely square and lots of history. This is where the term Robber’s Grave comes from. In 1821 John Davies was hanged here for highway robbery. He protested his innocence and at the moment of his execution he prayed that grass would not grow on his grave to show he was innocent. Legend has it his grave, grassed now, lay bare for 100 years.
Turning left after Montgomery the route joins a young River Severn and goes to Abermule, where a famous local hill-climb starts. It’s called the Anchor and it’s 11 kilometres mostly uphill. The first five to the A489 and Glanmule undulate but go generally upwards. Then once you cross the main road, the climb really starts, and when it does it’s real Tour de France stuff. After a short and very steep straight section, the road wriggles upwards through bare hillside and patches of pine forest. Squint and you could be in the Pyrenees. Look west from the summit and you’ll believe it when you see the blue-grey bulks of Plynlimon and Cadair Idris in the distance.
“This is really impressive,” Colclough says while we take a break at the summit car park. “I’ve not ridden here before but I definitely will do again. It’s such a change from where I come from in the flat wilds of Lincolnshire, and from the busy roads in and around London where I ride now.
“It’s got me wanting to ride more, and even though there are mountains and hills all around, even that long climb isn’t so hard,” And this is all before she’s ridden the descent to Clun.
The Anchor climb gets its name from the pub and hamlet at the summit, which is 500 metres back over the English border. “That’s more my kind of stop on a ride now. I’m not doing cafes, only pubs — I’ve discovered cider,” Colclough says.
There’s a glorious downhill run into Clun next. You ride for 14 kilometres along the Clun Valley, and it only flattens out in the last quarter of the distance. Then there’s a bit of not-very-taxing uphill before the town itself. The town of Clun is right in the middle of the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and derives its name from the river, which in ancient English was called the Colun. The River Colne in northern England shares the same linguistic root.
We cross the river on an old and narrow stone bridge, which you need to be aware of if you come flying down off the Anchor climb. When I say narrow I mean narrow, and it’s as solid today as it was when it was built in 1450. The route then continues alongside the River Clun, which heads south before a short up and down to Craven Arms. We are retracing the outward leg we took earlier, which the Standard and Epic routes use to get back to Ludlow Racecourse.
“That was really good,” Colclough says when we return to Ludlow. “It’s a challenge without being too much of one. Even the longest route is a ride that most cyclists could do if they take their time. SiS are doing a promotion in August to encourage people to try a 100-mile ride, and I’ll definitely be pushing the Welsh Raider as a good place to do it.”
- Most of the roads are good although there were some rough bits and bits of gravel. Look out for them, and point them out so anyone following knows where they are.
- None of the climbs are too steep, although the constant up and downs deserve respect. So does the long climb in Wales, which has a quite steep bit just after the main road. It goes on for a long way after the steep bit, so be aware of that and don’t go flat-out up the steepest section.
- Don’t skimp on meals the night before and on the morning of a sportive. I recommend taking 60 to 80 grams of carbohydrate and 500 to 1,000ml of liquid per hour during an event.
- Check the weather for the day of the event. If it’s cold you won’t drink so much, so will have to rely on energy bars and gels rather than drinks to supply the carbs you need.
- You can eat a gel almost any time while you ride, and SiS isotonic ones don’t require water to help digest them, but eat energy at the top of longer hills so you get time to chew going downhill. Don’t eat going down steeper twisting descents, only straight ones.