Monday 25 November 2013

Cheshire Classic

27.04.2014 Official Site
England, 77km (+2.41km neutral zone) Road Race
Women's National Series

Due to sponsorship issues and host of other problems faced by the people that run them, races in women's cycling tend not to last as long as in men's cycling - the fact that the Cheshire Classic has been in operation since 1980, and has been held every year with the exception of 2001 (when it had to be cancelled due to the BSE crisis) and has gone from strength to strength is therefore testament to the dedication of the organisers, Weaver Valley CC, and to their love for the sport - which is proved further on the official website by the presence of an excellent advice section for women taking up cycling.

Partly because it's so well organised, it's always been a very popular race among the riders and a list of winners reads like a list of the best British female riders of the last 33 years: a pair of Swinnertons (Catherine and Margaret), Mandy Jones, Judith Painter, Lisa Brambini, Maria Blower, Marie Purvis, Megan Hughes, Nicole Cooke, Rachel Heal, Lizzie Armitstead, Sharon Laws, Lucy Garner, Sarah Storey  and, last year, Karla Boddy,who told me afterwards that she liked my write-up of the race because it made her "sound better than I really am" - delightfully modest, considering she'd just won a race won in the past by some of the greatest cyclists Britain ever produced!

In addition to its official website, the Cheshire Classic has a Twitter that is active throughout the year, providing and forwarding women's cycling information, as well as supplying up-to-date details when the race in in progress. If you only follow one account today, make it theirs.

The Parcours

View Cheshire Classic 2014 in a larger map

The parcours begins at the race headquarters located at Grange School Sports Pavillion on Northwich Road (B5153), Hartfordbeach; the riders set out into a 2.41km neutralised zone runniong north-west along Northwich Road and through Weaverham to a junction, there they'll turn right onto Sandy Lane (B5142). Wide, fast and non-technical, it descends 30m in 1.19km at an average gradient of -2.5%, which is just sufficient to encourage high speeds as it curves gently west to arrive at a junction with the A49. Once there, the riders will turn left; since there is limited space immediately after the apex of the turn due to a central reservation and riders will enter the turn at speed, there is a chance of crashes here - especially in early laps before the field has been split.

Altitude profile. Following the neutralised zone, riders enter the circuit and head
towards the finish line at the top of Acton Lane Hill where they begin a new lap. Ten laps,
each 7.7km in length, will be completed.
Straight and 3.85km in length, the A49 Weaverham bypass section of the race is lightning-fast and can be used by time trial specialists to grab serious advantages - or in the case of a team that had spent a lot of time practicing team time trial tactics, a winning advantage (imagine what a team like Specialized-Lululemon would do here). It was on this section in 2012 that Natalie Cresswick tried to attack Sarah Storey and Molly Weaver, but was matched and overcome by both; Storey, the eventual victor, said after seeing the data downloaded from her computer "I had averaged somewhere not far off what I would expect to do in a time trial when there are no sudden changes of pace." It does, however, feature a climb - starting within 0.1km from the B5142/A49 junction, it gains 22m in 0.75km at an average gradient of only 2% but reaches 7.5% after around 200m.

If the ten separate climbs came together, they'd look
like this: 340m in 3.5km, with ten 12.5% sections along
the way. Brutal!
Passing by the B5142, the route continues for another 0.89km along a gentle descent with an average gradient of no more than -1% before coming to a left turn just tight enough to causes clashes if the entire peloton tries to get around it en masse. It leads onto Acton Lane and, 0.23km from the turn, the Acton Lane hill, which may decide the outcome of the race. The hill isn't very high and gains only around 34m but it does so in 0.337km, creating an average gradient of nearly 9.2%. That's steep, but on a hill this small not steep enough to bother a cyclist who is good enough to compete in a race such as this one. The thing is, a significant percentage of that gain comes in a short section halfway up, where the gradient rises to in excess of 12.5% - which is really steep, by anyone's standards. What counts for even more, of course, is that there are ten laps, and each one includes the climb. Multiply the effort and effect by ten, the number of laps, and the answer is "brutal" - expect to see riders in real pain as they force themselves up for the final time en route to the finish line.

At the top, the riders follow the road as it bends first right and then left to become Hill Top Road, beginning a straightforward and gentle 0.91km descent to a junction where they'll turn left to join Cliff Road, which runs straight and wide for the next 1.26km over rolling terrain (with two small rises) to a junction by the Hanging Gate pub. Here they turn left, arriving moments later at the point where they first left the neutralised zone and joined the circuit, thus beginning a second lap. The tenth and final lap finishes at the top of the Acton Lane hill, which is also the location of the intermediate sprint to be held at the end of the fifth lap.

Please note: there is very little space along the roadsides at the Hill Top Road/Station Road, StationRoad/Sandy Lane and Sandy Lane/A49 junctions and at the roundabout at the southernmost end of the A49 section. This means that race marshals may not be able to monitor the race or respond to accidents if spectators gather there; organisers would like to request therefore that spectators choose other points from which to watch the race.

Start List
Not yet available

Getting There
Weaverham lies only a short distance from Chester, Runcorn, Liverpool, Crewe and Macclesfield and as such is easily reached by motorway from anywhere in the United Kingdom. A much better way to get there is, of course, by bike - Google Maps' Get Directions function will work out routes suited to your abilities. If you can't cycle to the race, the train is the best option - Acton Bridge station lies just a few metres from the parcours and a pub, the Hazel Pear Inn, so fans arriving before the race begins can have a refreshing pint before heading out onto the parcours to find a vantage point. Finally, Liverpool John Lennon Airport receives flights from all over the world, making it possible to reach the race from Europe and elsewhere with ease.

There is one hotel, the Oaklands in Weaverham itself (some might be a little put off by the horrific abuse of apostrophes on the website), while Northwich has a Premier Inn. Due to the popularity of the race, rooms are likely to be limited - fortunately, the larger towns nearby have much more and are close enough to make getting to the race easy. There are several campsites in the area, including Woodbine Cottage right on the parcours. It has a small number of pitches but accepts caravans, campervans and tents (static caravans can be hired) and would also be a good place from which to watch the race, as well as being easy walking distance to anywhere on the parcours.

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