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Sportive Preview: Tour of the Roaches

Sportive Preview: Tour of the Roaches

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Cheshire, the Peak District and the Staffordshire Moorlands arguably offer some of England’s finest road cycling, so when we heard that the upcoming Tour of the Roaches sportive managed to incorporate all three, we were keen to take a closer look.

Above: Scaling the steep climb around the Roaches

Taking place on 20 May and organised by experienced events company Xtra Mile Events, The Tour of the Roaches offers three routes; a 35 mile ‘Baby Roach’ route on Cheshire’s rolling roads, a 75 mile ‘Big Roach’ venturing into the Peaks and the Staffordshire moors and an epic ‘Giant Roach’ 100 miler which winds its way out to Bakewell in the heart of the Peak District. We chose an uncannily sunny day in late March to sample the medium sized 75 mile variant and came away hugely impressed.

The ride begins on the southern edge of Manchester at Bowdon Rugby Club near Altrincham, heading south across the M56 towards Mobberley before turning east on typically rolling Cheshire roads towards the swanky town of Alderley Edge. You might be tempted to stop for coffee at one of the multitude of pavement cafes along the main street but we took a rain check and continued out of the town, climbing the first ascent of the day, known as The Wizard, out through the affluent residential area and onto the top of ‘The Edge’. Alderley Edge, the town, takes its name from the dramatic wooded escarpment that it nestles beneath. The route climbs the back of the Edge and follows the ridge through woods and farmland before taking a right onto unclassified roads, heading south towards Broken Cross.

In uncommonly warm spring sunshine (arms and legs out in March!) we headed further south towards Gawsworth on quiet lanes, before briefly joining the A536 south, quitting the A-road onto Shellow Lane, which took us to the smooth and sweeping A54 Buxton Road. At this point, the scenery begins to change from rolling farmland to dramatic uplands, as we climbed the steep pass on the A54 road known as ‘Dumbers’, passing the communications mast before descending to the right turn at Barlow’s Hill.

Barlow’s Hill is a notorious climb, featuring recently on the Cheshire Cat route. However, the Roaches route chooses to drop down Barlow’s towards Wincle on a superb stretch of rollercoaster road. The following section, through Wincle and Danebridge is particularly pleasant with a combination of moorland views, dappled woodlands and river crossings. We rode on through Wincle, sorely tempted to stop in at the delightful Ship Inn for a shandy, pressing on over Gun Hill and down towards the tranquil Tittlesworth Reservoir, where the feedstation will be located on the day. We chose to eat here too, scoffing some flapjacks by the lakeside, in preparation for some stiff climbing ahead.

Above: One of the Roaches looms in the background as we climbed from the A53 after Tittlesworth Reservoir.

From the reservoir the route enters another distinct phase – here is where the real upland riding begins. The next section is where the ride derives its name, looping around the ‘Roaches’ – rocky, dramatic, Dartmoor-esque outcrops that watch silently over the moorland landscape. The route takes you on a loop away from the A53 road, up a long, stiff climb on narrow, singletrack lanes, with only heather, gorse, and free roaming sheep for company. It’s a little patch of wilderness with stunning views down to the reservoir and onto the imposing upland areas further north.

Following the Roaches loop, the route rejoins the A53 headed for the spa town of Buxton on a long, draggy climb that will test the legs after the steep climbing that’s already behind you. After dropping into genteel Buxton you’ll head out on Long Hill, which, if you hadn’t already guessed, does exactly what it says on the tin.

Above: Climbing away from the dam at Goyt Valley

However, our efforts were rewarded, both in terms of scenery and descending, as we turned off Long Hill and enjoyed the rip-roaring descent to the Goyt Valley reservoirs. The Errwood and Fernlee reservoirs shimmered in the afternoon sun as we crossed the dam and climbed ‘The Street’ out through conifers and onto the moors overlooking Windgather Rocks.

Above: The Street, with Errwood reservoir in the background.

Then came the most technical descent of the day on Bank Lane, twisting and turning down the hillside, before crossing the stream at the foot of the hill and climbing once more. A brief climb on Pike Lane took us to our final big descent – Blaze Hill, which whipped us down into Bollington on the edge of the Cheshire Plain. The final 30km through the rolling roads around Prestbury, Alderley Edge and Mobberley were the perfect end to the ride, allowing us to warm down our tired, cramping muscles as the shadows lengthened.

Above: On Bank Lane heading for Blaze Hill.

All in all a great route with a number of distinct phases and a definite ‘narrative’, the Tour of the Roaches isn’t an attempt to string together all the killer climbs in a 50 mile radius, something that event organiser Simon Hill alluded to when we called him up a few days after our preview ride. “We like to do things a little differently”, said Hill, whose company Xtra Mile events, coming from a background in triathlon, runs the Tour of the Roaches for the second year. “What we didn’t try to do is find as many hills as we could and draw a line between them to make it into a crazy ride. The aim is to make it a nice ride. Obviously it’s got a few challenges in it but ultimately it’s something that people will enjoy. We wanted it to flow.”

With around 1100 metres of climbing over its 75 miles, with a number of steep ramps thrown in, the Big Roach was a challenge with spectacular rewards. We’re looking forward to riding the real thing on 20 May. And on the day it won’t be just the route that should satisfy your appetite. Xtra Mile Events have got plenty of rider support and some nice finishing touches that should really make it a special day out:

“We don’t just put cakes on – we put on cakes and savouries. Last year we teamed up with Joe Hall’s bakery in Chorley and we’ll be looking to do something similar again. So there’ll be savoury foods, pastries, pies, sausage rolls, things like that. People say that the quality of a sportive is directly related to the quality of food on offer at the feedstation!

“We’ve worked out that a steak pie has the perfect ratio of protein and carbohydrate for a recovery food”, claimed Simon. “Joe Hall from Hall’s Bakery in Chorley is a keen cyclist and he’s had some work done on his steak pies at Liverpool John Moores University who found that his steak pies had the perfect ratio of protein and carbohydrate for a recovery food!”

Finishers will be treated to a good old fashioned pie and a cup of tea when they return to Bowdon Rugby club after their ride. In 2011 riders hung around to watch the conclusion of the Giro stage on the rugby club’s big screen, something the Xtra Mile plan to repeat this year.

So feed station fodder is looking good but Simon is also keen on getting the basics right too. “We have bike mechanics on the route roaming around, National Escort Group riders circulating the course all the way through, with spare inner tubes to help riders get back on the move.”

Simon continued: “We’ve also got professional medical provision on standby too as well as the broom wagon of course! We just want to make sure that people have a good ride and look after them”.

The Tour of the Roaches takes place on 20 May 2012 with three routes; 35, 75 and 100 miles. To find out more and enter click here.