The Cotswold Cross sportive was a race I was supposed to do back in 2020, in fact was the reason I bought my ribble gravel bike! Covid unfortunately put an end to that grand plan but a couple of weeks ago I saw it advertised again and, after a quick ‘fancy this’ to our Club Chair and freshly converted “Sick” mountain biker “The Murgatroyd”, we signed up for the 75k route there and then.

I have a history of signing up for events after a beverage or two, and to be honest I didn’t look much further than ‘yeah looks alright’. I certainly wasn’t expecting quite the scale of event that waited at Chedworth ‘airport’ on a cold Sunday morning. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but the sheer number of cars cemented that if it ever was, it certainly isn’t a ramshackle little local event! After unloading the bikes and stuffing a fleece into my rucksack, we set off on our adventure.

The course is billed as 75km with a seemingly modest amount of ascent (yeah right), and about 31km off road. The first 20km or so to the first feed station took a while but was very pleasant, with no really tough technical parts albeit with a couple of spicy climbs requiring my first dismount and push! The sun had fortunately come out and it was starting to warm up a good chunk. We arrived at the first feed station about an hour and 50 into the ride.

The station was excellently equipped, with a selection of savoury and sweet snacks (excellent cinnamon rolls), with Tea and coffee available for a charity donation. The next 20k or so the difficulty ramped up with some technical (for me at least) rutted single track and Jon went steaming off ahead along with a very pleasant 75 year old chap who we bumped into a few times across the day (and who frankly put us to shame). Some really tough climbs (more walking) and some distinctly ropey decents, by the time we arrived at Sheepscombe the boss made a decision to forfeit the remainder of the 75km route and turn right and follow remnants of the 55km. Although, it would have been rude not to stop off for a cheeky and well deserved pint of ‘apple juice’ at the rather lovely Butchers Arms. A few serious looking athletes passed us looking a bit jealous of our refreshment as they steamed on to Coopers Hill.

We cracked on with the event through ‘Workman’s Wood’ both slightly worse for wear, Jon suffering with some cramp and I suffering with a rather sore bottom (ooo err). Workman’s wood was a stunning section of forestry road which I’ve had the pleasure of running through a couple of times, right up until the hill where I graciously swore, dismounted and pushed again. Second feed station down with a banana and a brew and with every saddle shift causing my voice to become higher pitched, we carried on, acutely aware that we were steadily falling apart and that Jon’s decision to shorten was absolutely the right one, we had a lovely section of well deserved decent (and some dubious barbed wire fence) all the way down into Cockleford. We then had the joyous experience of ‘Tom Tits Bottom’ which is described on the route map as ‘Steep climb at start with a gradual climb on farm track’. What I can tell you is it was grim, luckily for me Jon had cramp again so I had a well deserved breather and some emergency jelly babies.

Fortunately most of the uphills are followed by a decent, unfortunately, being the Cotswolds there’s invariably another ascent lurking round the corner and Hillcot’s ‘Lyons Lodge’ climb has been horrific both of the times I’ve done it in the past and hadn’t improved. It claimed another victim in Jon but I somehow made it up to the top albeit more lactate than man. One final climb awaited us through Withington Woods with legs burning I misread a sign ‘Ash Dieback Risk of Failing Limbs’ (falling limbs), a tiny detour on the last off-road segment resulted in a slow motion fall on my part, hitting a twig and having the bike slide out under me, all ok but glad it happened with a couple of km to go! We rolled over the line at 65km in six hours and 38 minutes with a dizzying fast average speed of 13.7kmph. An exceptionally tough day all round, but hilarious fun.

The event was exceptionally well organised and suitable for mountain, gravel and cx bikes and although on the day I don’t think there was any ‘right’ answer on the bike front, I was glad to be on the relative comfort of the mountain bike. All in all a highly recommended event, and they are hosting an ‘autumn cross’ in September from Over Farm for any who might fancy having a laugh in hopefully slightly less muddy conditions!