Designed to be a taste of what is to come in the season ahead, the Epic Spring Challenge has all the elements of a tough sportive packed in to a shorter distance.
Epic cycles events had a year of disastrous conditions in 2008, if the weather at this years Spring Challenge was anything to go by, 2009 will be fantastic. Bright sunshine and a good spring breeze greeted the sell out ride, capped at 200, in Kyre Park, Worcestershire.
Based several miles out of Tedbury Wells, in one of the last of Capability Brown’s gardens the spacious Epic cycles shop and café catered for all riders and supporters. Marketed as a warm up ride for the sportive season, a shorter distance to test the legs and non-supported. Not to be disguised as an easy route, cyclists were taken on the reverse of one of the oldest and toughest time trials in the UK – Little Mountain Time Trial.
Keeping the organisation simplistic meant that the entry of £10 was a bargain with all proceeds going to Epic Cycles chosen charity, County Air Ambulance Service, which was a crowd pleaser.
Starting in 2 minute waves at a leisurely 10 am meant for a relaxed start and clear roads ahead. Rolling out of Kyre, a clockwise loop took riders through the three counties of Worcestershire, Shropshire, Herefordshire. The first test was
preceded with a teasing clear straight drop out to Stanford Bridge propelling most riders up the steep hill to Pensax and the 15 mile marker.
Continuing on a roller coaster course, the next challenge and most feared was Clee Hill. Being the highest through road in the three counties. Returning riders to the challenge knew that a compact or triple was ideal. Passing the permanent, temporary traffic lights was the land mark to get in to a small gear and grind to the top. Unlike other years the wind on the exposed road wasn’t howling and many stopped at the water station to rehydrate before continuing.
After such a struggle to get up Clee Hill riders were truly rewarded with a fantastic long lasting descent, reviving tired legs. With the majority of the climbing completed, the second half was more rolling as the course twisted riders through the countryside. It wouldn’t have been a true sportive without a few short, nasty, leg zapping, climbs right at the end to ensure all had earned the finish line cake and sandwich spread.
The Organiser – Phil Weaver
‘Things went extremely well on the day, of 200 entries final attendance was 173, the good weather clearly encouraged people to come out. The level of difficulty of the event is designed to make it manageable but still challenging and rewarding after a winter of questionable weather. It looks like we raised £1000 for the County Air Ambulance Service.’
Sportive Sound Bites
Time 4 hours
It was a very hard day and felt like I was climbing all the time, especially the first half. I rode with my club, Beacon Road Cycling Club; we stopped for a bacon sandwich at the café on top of Clee Hill to keep us going. Organisation was fantastic, with the course being well sign posted, no chance of getting lost with repeater signs.
‘It was very tough; I wasn’t expecting it to be that difficult for only 50 miles. It was a grind up Clee Hill; I had to keep to my own pace and was left by the bunch, which made it pretty tough. The conditions were easier than last year with less wind over the top and the sun was great. I can’t fault the fantastic organisation, with splitting the start groups, good signage and excellent food after.
‘It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was from all the hype. I thought the hills would be steeper than they were. Stunning scenery and views made the climbs worth it. The cyclist interaction on the course was fantastic with a lot of good hearted banter. All the food laid on at the end was fantastic and gave me time to wander the shop and chat with others.’
The first cycle sportive of the year is always a bit nerve wrecking. Have I held enough fitness over winter? How steep is the described ‘hilly route’? Will I last the distance? All this, I thought, would be erased with a nice relaxed 50 miler early in spring. Now either my fitness didn’t hold well after eating many mince pies over Christmas or the hills are particularly steep in this part of the Midlands because this was a challenging 50 miles. Luckily being set off in waves to start meant there was some time for nervous chatter and the four hour mark seemed to be an obtainable goal for the non-racing fit rider.
True to the race name, rolling countryside in the sunshine, spotted with daffodil patches and lambs skipping in the paddocks, this wasn’t shaping up to be too bad. As we changed counties and the rolling continued it felt more like a roller coaster going from the smallest gear to the largest to keep even momentum. This was getting harder.
Being warned of the infamous Clee Hill and gaining inside knowledge of the landmark traffic lights meant that the climb was about to start. Determined to get around with out using my triple was thrown out the window as the gradient was vertical in front of me. Spinning in my tiniest gear to the top was a lot faster than I thought and by the time I got to the water stop there was a line of cyclist trailing me.
Being a shorter distance the only aid on the course was a water stop just after half way at the top of Clee Hill. Stopping in the blustering wind briefly to top up, I navigated the cattle grids and then hammered down one of the best descents I have done in the UK.
Pushing the last 20 miles with fewer hills in the afternoon sun made the time whiz by until the sportive obligatory little nasty hills at the end, just to make sure my legs were truly fried.
Cakes, sandwiches and hot coffee were a welcome sight in side the shop and it was great to be able to have general banter with fellow riders in the sun. Relaxing in The Hills Farm BnB afterwards with a satisfying glow, even if it was only 50 miles, I deserved a big sleep. Note to self, sportives are not to be taken lightly, even the short ones.