British Cycling staffer Eddie Allen is on a mission to hit the sportive season hard in 2012. He began his season in March with the Cheshire Cat, followed by the West Riding Classic in April. May’s challenge was the Wild Edric in the forgotten Shropshire Hills, where Eddie found new respect for the area’s ‘Long’ hills.
The 5:30am alarm clock would normally have been an insult to the senses on a Sunday morning but this particular Sunday I’d been awake since 5am in anticipation of the 2012 Wild Edric sportive. Perhaps it was that evocative name; the stuff of legend and fantasy fiction. Perhaps it was the lure of the Long Mynd, most famous of the Shropshire Hills, surrounded by a landscape that’s steeped in history, perched on the border of England and Wales.
I chose the 60 mile route, which, in common with the 100, started at the rather nice village of Bishop’s Castle. The route flirts with the border of England and Wales, dipping in and out of Shropshire and Powys, a netherworld locally known as ‘The Welsh Marches’.
I arrived in good time, the journey from my home in Liverpool almost completely without traffic, reaching Shropshire as early morning mist shrouded the dramatic ridge of Long Mountain, which, along with its cousin, Long Mynd are the emphatic punctuation marks of the Wild Edric. Long Mountain is a long ridge punctuated with turret-like beacon hills, rising from the patchwork farmland and looked a little too imposing for my liking as I approached the HQ in the car, the heater on, the outside temperature a chilly 7 degrees.
Soon I pulled into Bishop’s Castle and was quickly prepared and over to the HQ at the SPARC centre, where Geoff Saxon and Simon Thomson, co-directors of Kilo To Go were setting waves of over-excited riders off, with a thorough safety brief for each wave.
Once on the road, Long Mynd would be our first adversary. After a few pleasant rolling miles on B roads out of Bishop’s Castle, the route dived for the cover of narrow singletrack lanes before its first dalliance with the Mynd, climbing gently on its flanks before dropping away in the valley around Wentor. “That was easy”, I thought, having been warned by fellow riders of the Mynd’s precipitous perils; in the weeks leading up the event, the merest mention of Long Mynd meant furrowed brows, shaking heads and more teeth sucking than a back street mechanic. However, my smugness was short lived as at Bridges the route tackled the Mynd’s northern ramparts – a stiff climb culminating in a breathtaking, expansive ride across the high fell, 1500ft above sea level and with miles of Dartmoor-like moorland stretching out into the morning haze.
I was feeling surprisingly good, after a spell off the bike due to a cold, I was worried that the legs wouldn’t perform on the day but so far so good. The weather was warming up and staying dry as I enjoyed the payback from my earlier climb, the narrow, twisting, screamer of a descent off the Mynd to Woolstaston, after which the route crossed the A49 and headed north, rejoining the A49 for a brief spell.
Mercifully the A road stint was short-lived as we headed north west on a delightful road, complete with cobbled fords and high hedges. I was still humming along nicely, passing riders in ones and twos, before stopping for photos and then having to do it all again! Pretty soon the route hit the B road to Westbury – an open, rolling piece of tarmac that was just as testing as Long Mynd in its own way. At this point I fell-in with a makeshift gruppetto on the road, which made the last few miles to the feedstation all the more manageable.
Two Jaffa Cake bars, one banana and a bottle fill later, I was back out on the route, heading west to our second major date with gradient and gravity – Long Mountain. A workmanlike name for a piece of upland scenery, I grant you, and a name which belies its beauty. Almost straight out of the feedstation the climbing began, making me rue the decision to have a second Jaffa Cake. Also, after emerging from the feed stop, a niggling pain behind the knee began to make its presence felt. I put it to the back of my mind and got into a nice rhythm on the high hedged, ever ascending road. Eventually I reached the top; passing through the conifer clad Leighton Estate before what was undoubtedly the highlight of the day, the mega fast descent off the Mountain, followed by the still-descending, open road blast across the valley floor to Montgomery, with its dramatic clifftop castle. Here the route divided, the lucky hundred milers head west and south, exploring what one fellow rider described as the ‘back of beyond’.
I headed up the steep hill through Montgomery and was somewhat bemused that normal Sunday life was continuing as it ever did. People mowed lawns, washed cars, painted fences, pausing to watch the ‘crazy cyclists’ pass by. It’s funny the effect of fatigue and energy gel overdose has on one’s perspective... Later, on the mercilessly rolling road back to Bishop’s Castle, as knee pain, joined by its partners in crime, back pain and neck pain, began to bite in earnest, I passed a sign saying, ‘Beware, Toads Crossing, By Night’. I double checked the ingredients on the back of my energy gel for any known hallucinogens. Thankfully, I was clean and I soldiered on, my zingy disposition of earlier on now replaced with the dogged resolution of the walking wounded. I could now only push hard with my left leg, so push I did, winching my way across the glorious oilseed rape fields back to the HQ. I was looking for a sign, a marker to tell me how much longer I had to go, when an old cast iron milepost, almost hidden in the long grass, announced 'Bishop’s Castle, 1 Mile'. I passed another cyclist, in a similarly sorry state to me and we yoyo-ed with each other the remaining mile until we reached the lazy town in bright afternoon sunshine, negotiated the deserted high street before rolling into the SPARC centre to a warm round of applause from organiser Simon Thomson. I’d made it in 4hrs 53 min, better than I thought I’d do, with a newfound respect for the topography of the Shropshire Hills, and an unquenchable hunger for anything remotely food shaped.
As I drove home, in search of the first shop that I could loot for ‘recovery food’ I looked back on how easy event organisers Kilo To Go make the whole experience (apart from the riding bit – that’s meant to be hard). The sign-on process is the slickest in the business and the route signage is second to none. Not once did I need to consult the route map, which Kilo To Go had emailed to me shortly after entry. There are a lot of riders out there who, somedays just like to get on their bikes and explore. However other days you just want to discover a new part of the country without fear of getting lost or missing out on the best bits. For this reason, the plug and play experience of a well run sportive like Wild Edric is hard to beat.