Nick Livermore, battered silly by ex-hurricane Bertha, takes to the hills around the Cotswolds, aided by a support car in a wet weather mashup of race, led ride and sportive.
Where? The Cotswolds (near Bristol)
Terrain: Hilly (3 main climbs)
Event Size: Small
New for 2014, Le Sportif’s ‘Epic Rides’ are a cross between sportive, road race and led ride; a perfect blend for those of you who’d like to explore the open road unencumbered by food, saddle bags, rain jackets and all the other items necessary for an enjoyable ride. The aim? To deliver ‘the best riding experience possible.’
Supported by a car, doctor – happily, not needed – and qualified mechanic, the ride certainly delivered on its promise of unencumbered riding. Simply register, pop your necessaries in your assigned basket and head out on the road. You needn’t even bring water bottles, food, gels, energy drink or towels; all is provided – you even get to keep the bottles.
It was perhaps unfortunate that Le Sportif’s final Epic Ride of 2014 – a tricky hill seeking route through the Cotswolds – coincided with the same day ex-Hurricane Bertha burst over the South West, making for a slower ride through wet and windy conditions.
However, once you got over the fact that even your rain jacket wouldn’t protect you from the deluge, the ride became incredibly enjoyable; at times cathartic, at others exhilarating. In fact, the only real negative the weather pressed upon us was a route change, excluding the final climb and descent; a difficult, but ultimately sensible decision.
Come face to face with a mechanical, fall foul to a puncture and the mechanic was on hand to repair and advise. It being a biblically wet day, our group encountered three punctures in total, all of which were patched up quickly and without issue – tubes supplied, of course. So thorough was the mechanic that when the brake pads of one of our number became dangerously worn, they were replaced almost immediately.
Beginning in Thornbury and heading north east into the Cotswolds the route, though shortened, was hilly enough to be challenging, with climbs of between 10 and 12% out of Wotton-under-Edge, Uley and Nailsworth, with a few lesser ascents thrown in for good measure.
In the midst of all this climbing was a short roadside coffee, cake and sandwich stop – all homemade and delicious, of course – under a pop-up gazebo. A chance to refill, natter and reflect on our sodden feet and soggy bottoms. Back on the road, though there was still one main climb to tackle and 20 miles of wet to negotiate our minds became focused on the coffee shop awaiting our arrival; the fruits of a 10-mile rolling descent into Tetbury.
Having taken our orders earlier in the day, hot drinks – mine a delicious flat white – were ready for us upon arrival at the coffee stop, Veloton. Included in the price, the coffee and cake – rocky road, lemon drizzle or flapjack – were a welcome distraction, fortifying us against the rain that was still to come. A quick glance around the adjacent bike shop and a largely pointless dry with the towel later and we were back on the road.
Part steady climb, part descent and part flat “race” to the finish line, the remaining 20 miles of the Epic made for enjoyable cycling, through picturesque countryside and along quiet back lanes. Le Sportif’s Epic Rides are nothing if not well planned and a lot of attention is given to getting off the beaten track and exploring the more rural roads and paths.
Ultimately, Le Sportif’s third and final Epic of 2014 was a well organised, well considered and well executed amalgamation of race, led ride and sportive. And it speaks volumes that despite the atrocious weather brought upon us by an ex-Hurricane, our spirits remained undampened throughout.
Dates haven’t yet been set for Le Sportif’s 2015 events, but you can expect more Epic Rides – with plans for something a bit further afield – in the near future and if you’re in the area I urge you to consider undertaking their challenge.