The British Cycling registered Polocini Winter Sprinter sportive is an early season hidden gem in the heart of Cheshire, which prides itself on good times, good food and a human-sized, community feel.
“Have fun, stay safe, eat lots of food and talk cycling” was the central message in organiser Allen Bridge’s pre-ride briefing, conducted, ‘Braveheart style’ from the gateway of Woodford Community Centre, the HQ for the Winter Sprinter, ideally situated on the edge of the Cheshire plain and the foothills of the Peak District.
With temperatures hovering just above freezing, riders were wrapped up warm in hats, gloves, tights and winter jackets. However, the welcome was warm and personal, with Allen welcoming each and every rider into the sign-on area; it was clear that for many, it was their second or third time at the event.
Polocini is the brand-name of a number of cycling related businesses run by the affable Mr Bridge and his partner, introduced to me as ‘Mrs Polocini’. Allen runs a thriving new coffee shop in Romiley near Stockport, catering the cycling fraternity’s unquenchable desire for good coffee and good cake. Allen also founded the Polocini Test Team, an online ‘collective’ of riders who arrange their cycling through social media – a virtual cycling club with all the heart and soul of the old school clubroom.
This sense of camaraderie was clear throughout the ride, which left Woodford and headed east through the swanky commuter towns of Alderley Edge and Knutsford before looping around Tatton Park on quiet, narrow, typically ‘Cheshire’ roads.
The route then turned back towards Alderley Edge to tackle Swiss Hill, a famous local cobbled ramp straight out of Flanders – around a mile of steep, slippery, uneven Kapelmuur-like pave that was the pre-ride nemesis of everyone I spoke to along the way.
With Swiss Hill dispatched, the ride made another loop on the idyllic single-track lanes around Chelford, with the feed stop in a quaint black and white village hall; Staffed by friends and family of the Bridges, and two helpers from local club Glossop Kinder Velo, there was a bounty of bananas, cakes, flapjacks and savouries to replenish the energy reserves, washed down with Torq energy drink. Suitably topped up, riders tackled the final loop east towards Macclesfield and Bollington, skirting the western edge of the Peaks through Pott Shrigley before swinging west and heading back to Woodford for the finish.
Just like at the start, there was a warm welcome from Allen Bridge, who personally congratulated every rider who returned, before they helped themselves to a warming, spicy biryani, cooked up by Masterchef finalist cooks The Hungry Gecko.
A further clue to the friendly nature engendered by Allen and his team was the post ride atmosphere. There was none of the ‘get your goody bag and go impersonality’ here, riders stayed on and chatted, drank coffee and helped polish off the mountain of cake that Polocini had ordered in, ‘just in case.’
VERDICT – a winter warmer to kick start your sportive season, with a pitch perfect route and great rider support. If you’re looking for a North West sportive to ease you into the next sportive season, look no further.
|WHAT YOU THOUGHT
“I do the majority of the Polocini sportives ‘cos I think they’re really good. Well organised and the food in amazing! It’s what you need. It’s always a good start to the year because it’s not too hilly. It’s good just to get your legs spinning.”
James from Manchester
“I did the Horwich 50 last year and really enjoyed it and I like what Allen’s doing with the clothing and the internet based club. The cake thing appeals to me as well. I do enjoy the social side. I got all the way up Swiss Hill so well chuffed about that.”
Mick from Ormskirk
“Since my heart surgery this has been a goal. This was my milestone; I had to complete this today. It’s such a good atmosphere – it’s one of the best. It’s a small sportive, you’re not queuing up for an hour and as a paying customer that’s what you want. This is what cycling’s all about.”
John from Hadfield
“I’m in the Polocini Test Team. It’s a virtual club and that’s how it got me into cycling. They’re great guys, the encouragement you get from them, the banter you get on Twitter. It’s a great experience. To do 60 miles at the end of February for me is quite an achievement. It’s about riding with like minded people and having a great time.”
Dave from Wilmslow