With a choice of two challenging routes taking in some of the most beautiful scenery in the U.K and the opportunity to watch the final 2012 Tour De France stage on the big screen with like-minded people, the Tour of the Cotswolds offers a great day’s riding for both the experienced and less experienced sportive rider.
Starting at Shipston on Stour Rugby club, riders have a choice of either the 50 mile challenge route or the more demanding 80 mile epic. Both routes follow rolling roads before hitting the first climb of the day at Blockley Hill, with an average gradient of 6.3% the small ring will be summoned for all but the strongest riders. However, the big climbs of the day come towards the end of the ride, which is where I rolled up on a hot sunny day to take a look at what’s in store for riders on 22 July.
Above: The quaint village of Snowshill.
I chose to start the route at Snowshill, a quaint little village just north of the Temple Guiting feed-station and well known for its manor house (now owned by the National Trust) and the lavender fields, which stretch out across the top of the village and according to ride organiser Duncan Rolley, will be in full bloom come July.
The quiet country lanes leading away from Snowshill, like the majority of the route, are peaceful and not too taxing on the legs, allowing one to really absorb the surrounding countryside and the fabulous views before rolling into the chocolate box village of Broadway; arguably one of the most recognised villages in the U.K.
Above: Broadway's Lygon Arms.
Broadway is a tourist hotspot and so there are plenty of tearooms, cafes and pubs all serving good quality food and drink – perhaps a good place to park up for bite to eat and drink before tackling the more challenging climbs of the ride. For the music fans, The Lygon Arms in the centre of the village is where Madonna and Guy Ritchie held their Wedding reception and serves excellent food and drink.
Leaving Broadway, the ride heads on to the first real big challenge of the day, Campden Lane, part of the epic route, there is an option for the riders who've opted to take the shorter route to test their climbing legs if they are feeling strong. With an 11.3% average gradient the bends rise to 15% and although the climb is not 'brick wall' steep it will certainly get the riders out of the saddle. It may be a good idea to use a compact or a triple for these hills, or if not drop a 27/28 tooth cassette on the back.
Above: Cotswolds vistas from Campden Lane.
Again the views are worth the ride up and because of the tree cover on parts of the climb, on a scorching hot day it does give some respite from the heat. There are always a few twists when riding a sportive and this one is no exception, just when you thought the hard work was done another hill pops up, this time it’s the turn of Dovers Hill to test the legs, used for the 2010 National Hill Climb Championships, the climb lasts for 1 ¼ miles and again will have riders reaching for the small gears and the drinks bottle but there is always a plus side to a hard climb and that is the view from the top.
Above: The view from the top of Dovers Hill - well worth the effort!
I took time out to pull in to the car park at the top and take a look around. It really is worth 10 minutes out of your ride. The hill sits at the northern end of the Cotswolds escarpment and on a bright sunny day the view you’ll see Stratford on Avon and the Vale of Evesham. The welcome descent from Dovers sees the route take riders to Chipping Camden, another picture postcard village and popular tourist destination - one of the highlights of the day. There are plenty of places to refuel here and although not too far from the end of the day it will allow you to ride to the HQ for the final sprint to the line and the chance to talk about the ups and downs of the ride with your fellow sportive riders (which I find is always the best part!).
Above: Beautiful Chipping Campden.
This year the ride has been arranged to coincide with the final stage of the Tour de France and the rugby club will be showing the stage throughout the afternoon; a great way to end the day; with a long cold drink and maybe a Mark Cavendish stage victory in Paris (or Wiggins in yellow!)
After previewing the route I spoke to organiser Duncan Rolley to find out more about what riders can expect on the day; "Myself and co-organiser Simon Proctor have been involved with cycling for many years and have ridden many sportives between us, so we hope we have learned from our experiences and will bring the best bits to our,” said Duncan.
Organisers have ensured that riders are well fed for their 50 or 80 mile challenge. Bacon rolls are available before the start at the rugby club for a small charge, food and refreshments at the Temple Guiting feed station are included in the entry price and the rugby club will be providing refreshments at the finish.
Above: Pretty though it is, we'd suggest something a little lighter to tackle the Tour of the Cotswold's challenging hills.
Bikes too will be well looked after - there will be a mechanic at the ride HQ before the start who will be able to offer basic tweaks to the bikes and there will be tubes, tyres and spares to purchase if required.
Speaking to Duncan it was clear that his objective was to put the riders first - “We have kept the entry numbers down to 300 but with an option to increase to 400 if we need to,” he continued. “Entries are going really well and we are getting close to our first number very quickly.”
Duncan and Simon are obviously keen to get the important details nailed; ensuring riders get a great ride, get well fed and most importantly of all, don’t get lost. “We have taken our time getting signage right,” explained Duncan. “Apart from the large direction arrow we have an 'after turn' sign which confirms you are on the right route. Every rider will be given a route card with emergency contact numbers and we also have a downloadable GPS route which is available on the website".
For more information and to enter, go to http://www.velosportives.co.uk/