Event: 24 March 2013
When Simon Thomson and business partner Geoff Saxon waited for entrants to the first Cheshire Cat in 2007, they had no idea the event would grow to become the essential and iconic start to the British sportive calendar.
From humble beginnings at Knutsford leisure centre, to present-day event HQ Crewe Alexandra Football Club, according to Thompson the only thing that hasn’t changed in seven editions is the uncertainty over how many people will enter the event.
“There’s still that unknown, as you put entries live on the website” says Thomson, days after the 3600th and final entry was received.
“Getting the numbers, it’s a worry every year. You wonder, when does it stop? When do people stop liking the event?
“I think most organisers start out with a plan of creating some big sportives – that was us in 2007. We had 14 across the country and wanted to generate big rider numbers because that’s what makes it different to everything else. The Cheshire Cat has turned out to be one of those, but you’re never sure what the formula is.
“You’re always trying to put your finger on it, especially when all of our sportives have the same support crew, the same technologies. I suppose it’s just the way you present things, and the Cat has just got bigger and bigger every year.”
That presentation starts with the calendar date; hosted on the first day of British Summer Time and in 2012 having weather worthy of that status, while the route has changed over the years, one key challenge has remained.
Mow Cop, a short but steep section of road, has become synonymous with the event and most recently accessible on all routes, placed 16 miles rather than 60 into the loop.
The now historic challenge and stop at the top as those who rode regain their breath, waiting for those that walked, is repeated annually by the pilgrims who come from across the country.
The popularity of the sellout event and change in the profile of the sportiver prompts the biggest question yet; what will the Cheshire Cat look like in seven years from now?
“I can safely say we don’t look seven years ahead” Thomson laughs.
“We think about moving the HQ or move the route. But the levels we’re at it’s more about maintaining numbers rather than doubling them.
“It would be lovely to be having more on the road, but you start impacting the roads, blocking them and for safety so you have to think about doing it a different way.
“I have a feeling it wouldn’t be on the same day. Who rides has also changed. Today, the average age of the sportive rider is 42. We want it to be an enjoyable day with challenges but not too tough.
“Right now we’ve got 12 events so we focus on building those up. We’re highly focussed on this year, looking at the small changes that will make a big difference to the riders.”