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Staffordshire Cycling Festival Sportive Preview

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Staffordshire Cycling Festival
Event: 10 August 2013

This August sees the inaugural Stafford Goes Pedaling sportives as part of the Staffordshire Cycling Festival.

Riders can chose from two distances: the 35 mile INTO Staffordshire route aimed at those inspired by our (inter)national cycling heroes and taking their first steps into sportives, and the 70 mile route for those stepping up in distance and importantly more experienced riders who want something different - and faster - from a sportive. On a hot and sunny July day I went out to check the routes and what they have to offer.

Both rides start in the grounds of Shugborough Hall, home of the late Lord Patrick Lichfield, and after a gentle climb away from the Hall, riders will be pleased to hear that the next mile is largely downhill along the tree lined drive of the estate. At the gates the two rides separate for the first time: the 70 mile Stafford Goes Pedaling heads to Milford Common while the 35 mile INTO Staffordshire route turns toward Tixall (more of which later).

Over the Chase and Far Away
For riders on the long route the road rises as soon as you leave Milford taking the road to Brocton before climbing onto the Chase Road towards Glacial Boulder. This climb featured on last year’s Tour of Britain - you can still make out the odd “Wiggo” painted on the road - and whilst the gradient is initially challenging, it gets easier as you get higher to be rewarded with a panorama of Cannock Chase and in the distance the Peak District and Shropshire hills.  The route across Cannock Chase is characterised by fast straight descents and long uphills during which you pass the highest point of the day at Pye Green and the landmark BT Tower and tackle the long straight Stile Cop. The effort is well worth it and views across the Staffordshire countryside pen up periodically through gaps in the forest.

By the time you reach Longdon, most of the day’s climbing is behind you and the flater roads of east Staffordshire beckon. Having come out of the Ardennes like roads of Cannock Chase, this is Staffordshire’s version of Flanders and this next part of the route will appeal to all: for faster riders there is the opportunity to push on across the flatter roads around Lichfield, for those tackling this longer ride for the first time there is some welcome respite and the chance to take in the surroundings. And don’t tell anyone but the route takes a small detour into neighbouring Derbyshire riding along the east bank of the River Trent before arriving in Barton under Needwood. Barton is home to former Tour de France rider Adrian Timmis and across the road from his shop Cadence Sport is a cafe for those needing a caffeine based boost.

Barton is the point where the road rises again and it continues to roll for the remainder of the route. At Yoxall the long and short routes briefly reunite along the tree lined road to Hoar Cross before splitting again. The Long route takes in a loop through Newborough (Another coffee opportunity on the aptly named (David?) Duffield Lane) and Marchington, the northern most point on this circuit. The route now heads west again back towards Abbots Bromley and picks up the INTO Staffordshire route just before Blithfield Reservior. 

Gentle Undulations
Riders on the INTO Staffordshire 35 mile route weave goodbye to their long-distance friends at the gates of Shugborough and head on an eastward loop to the Haywoods. This is a gentle introduction to the day as the road rises gently across the railway, river and canal and on to the winding road through Tixall. The only real challenge is the climb between Great and Little Haywood but with 5 miles of gentle riding done your legs should be ready for this and the descent gives plenty of chance to catch your breath.

Whilst the profile provided for this route might look daunting, in reality this route is gently undulating and does not feature the climbs of the longer distance.  Quiet lanes take you towards Rugeley then on towards Yoxall. Here the route joins its longer counterpart and a chance perhaps to meet more experienced friends. However the two routes only join briefly and where the longer route heads north at Hoar Cross, the INTO Staffordshire route heads directly west towards the village of Abbots Bromley. Abbots Bromley is the home to a traditional event known as the Horn Dance which takes place every year on Wakes Monday in early September. Whilst your ride doesn’t coincide with this there are opportunities to refuel if you deviate a short way from the official route before the final challenge of the day.

Homeward Bound
From Abbots Bromley both routes share the same course, heading across Blithfield reservoir. The views here are stunning and the breeze often welcome. At the time of writing the reservoir was already looking low so don’t expect to fill your water bottle here but do be prepared for the short climb beyond. It might not look big or long but by this point riders from both distances may be feeling the challenge. However once you’ve crested the top and taken in the view towards Cannock Chase, A right turn half way down the gentle decent the other side takes you gently around to Hixon and from here back to the Haywoods.

The final leg will be familiar to riders from the shorter INTO Staffordshire sportive having ridden it in the opposite direction earlier in the day. Passing through the Haywoods there is a quicker route back to Shugborough but this event cannot take the Essex Bridge, a 16th Century packhorse bridge and scheduled ancient monument. So don’t think about taking a short cut now. Instead, once back through Tixal it’s back to Shugborough and along the drive upon which your ride began. Whilst this last climb is sure to hurt a little you will be rewarded with a final swoop across the parkland to the finish line and welcome refreshment.

Where many a sportive seeks out the hardest, toughest climbs they possibly can find, the Stafford Goes Pedaling sportives have struck a rare balance in offering something for everybody. Whether you are an experienced rider wanting that something different or a total beginner this event offers something unique and is a perfect way to see what the county of Staffordshire has to offer.

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