The Etape Mercia Report (sponsored by Vaseline!!)

So here I am back at Liverpool docks waiting to head off to the Manx again. After a few days there last week and a cancelled first practice I got a plane to Manchester on Saturday night to prepare for the Etape Mercia cycle ride the following morning.

The Manx has been good so far; working with Infront Motorcycles I’ve predominantly been giving suspension and set up advice alongside fitting tyres/chains/giving circuit tours and doing pretty much anything else that I can to help. We are also booking some one-to-one on-track tuition for the weeks following our return from the Isle of Man as the season marches on and all too soon the weather will turn again!!!

So Sunday morning dawns, 5.10am and I’m up and getting ready. Jo seemed unimpressed by my choice of location to apply Vaseline to my “saddle sensitive area”. I reckoned that the bedroom was best as with one foot on the floor and one on the bed I could get right around to areas other creams can’t reach!! With my bib shorts on I looked ready to be fired from a cannon –  putting my cycling jersey on over the top completed the look.  A bowl of porridge later and the bike loaded I headed off to the start point, Oulton Park, for my start time of 7.04am.

The traffic was remarkably easy getting into the circuit considering that all 1500 riders were starting within a 30 minute window. I parked up, got my cycling shoes on and headed across the track, at the Avenue for those that know the circuit, with my bike. I opted to push the bike to the start this year; regular readers of this blog may remember my ‘feet clipped into pedals face plant’ before the start of my first ever cycle ride last year. Keen not to repeat one of the most embarrassing moments of my (very short as I am just 34) life pushing the bike seemed the best way to do so.  I was starting in wave C so headed into the garage with this above the door, soon hundreds were joining in and we all lined up facing pitlane of our respective garage ready for the door to be lifted. Looking around there was every type of rider around me from a lady on a hybrid bike to the majority which were Lycra clad guys on road bikes. The guy next to me had shaved his legs which is something that, however seriously I take cycling, I won’t be doing!!

With this thought flashing through my mind the door raised and we all followed a Marshal carrying a board, with our start group emblazoned upon it, around to the start line. I kept one foot unclipped and scooted myself along, again remembering my incident last year. Sat waiting for the first wave to start, I’d ended up at the front of my group so was looking at the rear of wave B. A group in front were having a chuckle and a bit of banter waving at their GoPro camera. With that, one of the ladies of the group “did a Mackers” and failed to unclip her foot from the pedal in time and sprawled out on the Oulton Park grid! It was a good job she was on the end of the row otherwise the domino effect could’ve taken place! She jumped up and laughed it off, I sympathised but was so glad that it wasn’t me again!

A 7.18am Wave C got underway to cheers from the ‘crowd’ or ‘twenty people stood on pit wall’ as they could also be known. I settled in for the lap of the circuit before heading out of the track to Tarporley, Beeston, Tattenhall and around to Kingsley. There were loads of bikes with punctures in the early stages, one guy only got to the exit of Island Bend! The back roads were covered in tiny stones washed out by the recent rain which was causing punctures I reckon. I just tried to stay out of trouble and seemed to be holding my own especially up the few hills in the early part of the course. It was great to be riding on closed roads in a group and there was a real ‘one goal’ sort of feeling around.

I met up with Jo and Ann after about 2 hours for a water bottle top up and I borrowed Ted’s potty, all this hydration takes effect, I guess what goes in must come out!! A few minutes later I was back on route feeling good. I’d run at an average speed of nearly 20mph so far, which is a decent pace for me, so I decided that I needed to calm down a bit. I knew that most of the climbs were in the latter part of the route so I’d need to keep something in the tank for them!

Seeing Jo again at Manley I didn’t need to stop again just kept going. The hills started just before Kingsley, up to Norley, through Delamere Forest, across Kelsall and back around to Tarporley for a reverse lap of Oulton park to finish. At around 50 miles I was climbing a hill with my legs starting to tire so I got up out of the seat to get over the top of the crest. As soon as I stood up both my knees virtually locked with cramp, I sat straight back down and span to the top seated! This bothered me, I knew that there were some decent hills coming up, I wondered if the tops of my knees were going to be up for it. My overall fitness was good and I wasn’t ready to collapse but this was certainly an issue! I stopped for a drink with Jo just before the climb up to Kelsall, at the time I’d been chatting with ‘shaved legs guy’ who had done several cycle events this season. I took from this that I must be doing ok.

Leaving Jo behind I headed on up the King of the Mountain climb, I wasn’t going to try for victory today! I worked out that my leg muscles wouldn’t tighten up if I pulled the pedal up in its rotation and avoided hard pushing down so decided that I’d get to the top of all the hills in this manner. Cursing myself for going too hard early on I still held my own on the hills. Up out of one village near Kelsall I swore that I passed Chris Froome who was off and pushing, it could’ve just been someone in replica team Sky clothing but this is as yet unconfirmed! I finished the ride at Oulton Park, where the undulations on the circuit seemed to have gotten larger since I’d left there in the morning.

I crossed the line to the cheers of a capacity crowd, well Jo,Ted, Ann and nephew Liam anyway. Total time 4hrs 3 minutes – I had an idea that under 4hrs would be possible so I was pleased with my time. Getting home I checked the results, as every rider had a timing chip on, I’d finished 171st of nearly 900 finishers and 18th in my group (30 – 34 year old men) I reckon some of those sprightly 30 year olds must’ve done me!!

Having a gentle walk and giving Ted a run out on his Oset once home gave me a chance to stretch my legs. Leaping off the sofa with cramp at various points throughout the evening didn’t put me off from entering the Manchester 100 for the second year running. I’m going big time though and trying the 100 mile route this year!! The event is only in two weeks time so hopefully I’ll manage to get some training rides in beforehand.

I’ll keep you informed.


Posted: August 19, 2013

Ian Mackman