The excitement of going on a bike ride (or even a meeting) with Sir Chris Hoy was too good to miss so without a moment of thought I signed up for the Evans Hoy 100 at Arley Hall Estate. How he powered his way around a track at 55km/ph is mind blowing not to mention how he made his legs this big!
Being London based, a (too quick) look at the map led me to booking into the best hotel in Shrewsbury, The Albright Hussey Manor Hotel.
However, several weeks later it became clear that a sense of direction and geography are very different things. Arley Hall Estate is an hours’ drive away from the hotel and the first train arrived three hours after the start of the ride. Luckily some very kind friends presented the offer of a lift and everything was back on track.
Travelling to Shrewsbury, Virgin Trains excelled themselves. Top customer service, bike storage at the station-end of the train so no galloping along the platform wondering if the train is going to leave without me and to top the lot two seats specifically reserved for cyclists. What a start to the weekend! (All we need now is bike storage at both ends of the train…!)
Enjoying the views of the countryside at one point we were parallel with the motorway. The easier it becomes to put bikes on trains, the less traffic there will surely be on the road.
A day in Shrewsbury presented the opportunity to ride the NCN81 towards Welshpool. Beautiful lanes, relatively flat under dry skies. As far as Halfway House, 20 miles was a little warm up for the next day followed by an early night.
The next day, as the morning sunlight pushed through the curtains, the alarm on the iPad woke me up to the sound of my voice saying, literally “what’s that noise?”! Job done at least.
Meanwhile the night porter in this very special hotel where nothing seems to be too much trouble was busy in the kitchen heating up my Daylesford Quinoa porridge accompanied by gluten free toast and a pot of tea for an 05.45hrs breakfast. The level of service in this hotel is truly outstanding and shows it is possible to avoid sugar.
At 06.15hrs two of us set off to Arley Hall Estate in what I now know to be is in Cheshire not Shropshire. It wasn’t just miles away, it was over 50 miles away.
Over an hour later we rolled into the driveway. The car park allocated field was filling up, Evans tents were attracting what looked like a swarm of hundreds-and-thousands as many cyclists gathered around the start like bees and a honeypot.
The blue sky and greenness of the land, reinforced by heavy rain the night before was the perfect start to the day – with Chris giving a welcome speech. The Commissaire encouraged us to speak to him but hold back from taking selfies mid-ride which would inevitably be shots of hedges, gravel and possibly grazed knees rather than the world champion!
It was somewhat ironic that the queue for the Gents was very long and there was no queue at all for the Ladies. Whilst it was great not to have to queue and a complete novelty to see men queuing it can only be hoped that there will soon be more and more women cycling even if it means more of a status quo at the ablutions. The inclusive attitude of Evans, Voxwomen, Go Sky Ride Breeze is definitely helping redress the balance, not forgetting womens brands Velovixen, Queen of the Mountains along with shops like Stan’s Cycles and Sigma Sport who are really focusing on womens’ cycling.
At the start gate, the 100 milers were already on their way whilst the rest of us moved through the time chip logging system and we were off. The Audax approach to cycle at the speed at which you are most comfortable was agreed rather than trying to keep up or be held back.
5km into the ride a map and £40 on the road were collected and placed in a pocket followed by a call to the ride leader. Apparently a driving license had already been found and it wasn’t even 9am!
With each push of the pedal I couldn’t quite understand how beautiful the surroundings were. There were moments that reminded me of Scotland, cycling around the edges of fields you felt you were practically in them.
The smell of cow dung as we passed farms that took me straight back to my childhood, the enormous rolls of mud in fields that had just been ploughed and the honey brown and black cows in bright green fields had me smiling like a Cheshire Cat. How I laughed when I realized how much my father would have loved that joke! “Because you see…” I could hear him say as his jokes always needed explaining on account of the fact they were so rubbish!
The scenery was absolutely stunning, particularly with the hills of the Peak District in the distance and I began to take some photos. Cadence just wasn’t important – perhaps not the ideal attitude to a Sportive.
Such was the organisation of the Ride all we had to do was look out for fluorescent pink notices at junctions that pointed us in the right direction. The bluebells were out in force, lambs were skipping about in the fields and from time to time horses looked up from their grazing to check us out.
Along beautiful country lanes, over busier roads but not for long before being pink-signed onto another little lane. Going around one corner, two dogs in a garden were cheering us on as though they were supporting the Tour de France.
Every so often the sound of an engine could be heard and only as it went passed was it clear it was a line of cyclists all working in a chain gang together. Whoooosh! Clearly I need to start pedalling a bit faster.
40 kilometres in, a food stop presented itself. A selection of bananas, gels and drink were being served. Behind the van an Evans mechanic was busy fixing a bike.
Reaching midday more and more cyclists appeared. Not all participants of the Hoy 100 but just locals out and about on their bicycles. Some with their children and others on their club ride. Hellos and waves were derigeur.
Five and a half hours later I found myself back at the start with bicycles and burgers basking in sunshine. Sir Chris Hoy was both absolutely charming and patient as we all queued up for a selfie – little did he know that the previous 25 minutes had been spent saying shall we/shan’t we ask for a selfie – like kids meeting our hero. Although that’s probably exactly who we were…..
The organization by Evans was so meticulous that at 1.30pm one of their team was heading out to start removing all the signage from the route.
It was an absolutely glorious day. To think back 20 years this would only have involved the hardened few. Evans and its Ride It team are pushing boundaries in making cycling accessible, achievable and fun. We may not cycle as fast as Chris Hoy but in our heads we are definitely on his tail!
The rest of the pics are here: