Cheltenham tri club were out in force on 7th March, as 24 members clad in numerous layers of stretchy material took part in the first cycling Sportive of the season up in Bromsgrove; the Mad March Hare.
All those layers were needed as the temperature at 8.30 in the morning (when many of us started) was still below freezing. But the sun was out and there was a promise of spring in the air, so a general air of excitement and jollity surged like a wave through the hardy participants.
The first twenty miles or so of this event are quite forgiving, with a net negative climb. Average speeds were compared and it was generally thought that we were going too fast. However, hills then start to come into play. The first major hill, from Mickleton to Chipping Campden, is just a taster of what is to come later. For those of us who didn't miss the turning into Sheep Street in Chipping Campden there is then the long "Conduit Hill", followed by lots of uppy-downy bits through the Cotswolds to Snowshill, where the phrase "what goes up must come down" was invented, and we whizzed down Snowshill to Broadway at breathtaking speed.
But then there's a really nasty hill. The organisers decided that rather than go along a nice flat road from Broadway to Honeybourne they'd arrange for everyone to take a detour to Saintbury - a lovely village, well worth a detour, but up too much of a ridiculously steep hill for my liking. I hear that a few of us managed to get up the hill without resorting to Shanks's pony, but only by "tacking" up the hill. Well done to those who did (mostly the women with a combined weight of a sugarplum fairy and age on their side!).
After a truly boring flat bit against a slight wind (which reminded me of driving across the windswept plains of Hungary - miles and miles of nothing much) there was the welcome sight of the refreshment stop at 76km. Lemon drizzle cake, fruit loaf, drinks and a hedge to pee behind were too much of a temptation to bypass, so at least 10 minutes were wasted there before setting off again.
That was effectively the end of the flat bit. After that distance any incline seems greater than it was before anyway, but once off the Evesham plain there are actually quite a few hills around Bromsgrove. And don't we know it. We were warned by the organisers that there was one final hill. Unfortunately they didn't mention the other 5 or 6 beasts.
Truly beautiful countryside unfolded around us (although many of us wouldn't have noticed it as our eyes were glued to our milometres, wishing they'd change quicker) and some competitors at this point started to go rather slowly, having pushed too hard early on (although CTC members appeared to have taken all the advice on board and kept a reasonable pace right up to the end). Villages and hills (and some frighteningly skittish horses) flew by, and before long we were amongst the eversoposh houses of the South Birmingham commuter belt and the end was in sight.
This is a truly memorable event, and many of us have already expressed a strong desire to do it again next year... we must be mad. Then again we did get three top 10 finishers in Olly in the men's and Sally and Sue in the lady's with excellent performances right across the crew.