For the last month or so I’ve been trying to make sure that my weekly mileage is hitting the 400km mark and that usually means getting at least one 200km ride in every week. I like to go on varied routes in order to try and avoid the boredom of repetition but planning rides, especially long ones, can take up a lot of time and sometimes the last thing I want to do when I’ve been at work all day is sit down in front of the computer plotting out more routes. So when the opportunity to ride a mid-week audax comes along it’s definitely one worth taking.
Such an opportunity presented itself this week with the ‘Ice Cream Wensdae’ 107km audax from Marple so I decided to book a day’s annual leave to do it. All I had to do was figure out the route over to Marple from Sheffield and the rest of it would be mapped out for me. To bring the distance up to 200km I decided to do the event as an official extended ‘ECE‘ ride which means that I’d need to plot a route to the start of the event that was at least an extra 100km and send it off to Audax UK to be verified before riding it.
I needed to make sure that the route out and back was at least 50km in each direction and I decided that I’d just ride the same route and and back so that I’d only have to plot the one route. I also wanted to avoid busy roads like the A57 and A623 as much as possible as the audax started at 10am so I’d most likely be travelling there and back during rush hour periods.
The audax itself was a pretty flat route out over the Cheshire plains so I figured that plotting a reasonably hilly route to get to and from Marple would be ok and my U-shaped route took in Eyam, Tideswell, Wormhill over to Chapel-en-le-Frith, New Mills and finally Marple, clocking up at 61km each way, giving me a total mileage of 230km.
I’d planned to set off from Sheffield at 6am for the 10am start, leaving lots of time for any en-route mechanicals. My other-half, Ken, was coming along for the ride and we’d arranged to meet my Transcon partner, Julie, and two other regular riding buddies, David and Peter, along the route at Windmill as they didn’t fancy riding the full 230km with us. This was to be Peter’s first major solo ride since recovering from a broken collar bone earlier this year but as he is hoping to ride LEL in 12 weeks time he is trying to build up his mileage fast.
Now, anyone that rides regularly with me will know that I like a nice hill but in order to make sure that my friends keep riding with me, occasionally, I have to tone my routes down a bit. Trouble is, I’m not too good at checking hill gradients when I’m route planning and this can sometimes get me into trouble. Let’s just say that my route over to Marple was a wee bit hillier than expected (1200m of climbing) and by the time we’d arrived at the start of the audax everyone apart from Ken had already decided that they weren’t going to be riding the same route back with me.
Despite the hills we arrived with plenty of time to grab a cup of coffee to warm us all up before the event started as it was a chilly five degrees. The audax route headed out through the villages of Poynton, Wilmslow and Knutsford and before long we were deep in the heart of WAGland, cycling past huge houses with Bentleys sat on the drive. Coming up to the halfway mark I wondered why I was finding it such hard work keeping with the group until I realised that I’d got a slow puncture so we took time out for me to sort it out before pressing on to lunch.
The turnaround control point and cafe stop was at the Great Budworth Real Ice Cream Farm, that gives the audax its name. Being Easter-week the cafe was pretty busy and although I’m sure they were glad of the extra custom, having another 47 cyclists turn up all at roughly the same time meant that the kitchen staff were struggling to keep up with demand. This meant that we had a slightly longer-than-planned lunch stop and were all ready to gnaw the waiter’s hand off when the food finally arrived. The temperature had now warmed up to a balmy eight degrees – just the right temperature for ice cream and it was well worth it. The rum and raisin was super-yummy and Peter tells me that his blackberry was pretty delicious too.
Fed and watered, we were ready for the return leg, through the villages of Lower and Over Peover where we stopped to take photos of an amazing little tree house that had been carved into an old tree stump and on through Prestbury to our last control at Bollington. We were all a bit knackered by the time we arrived back in Marple just after 4pm and were glad of the sandwiches that had been laid on for us by the Ring O’Bells pub.
After a bit of a rest we still had that minor issue of the return leg to Sheffield to deal with. Unfortunately I’d not managed to convince anyone to change their mind and join Ken and me on the hill-fest home. Instead Julie, Peter and David came with us as far as Chapel (which was still pretty hilly) and then went home via Rushup Edge. David and Peter opted for a descent down Winnats Pass while Julie got some extra miles in down Mam Nick and through Edale.
I think I’d blanked out just how hilly some of those hills were, especially the climb out of Chapel and the pull up out of Monk Dale which is 20%, just what you need after cycling 190km. Ken is a much stronger rider than me and by the time I’d got half way up Grindleford he was just a speck in the distance.
I made it home for 8pm, around 15 minutes after Ken, but just long enough for him to get the tea on.