We delve into the rapidly-developing world of off-road ultras, as Steve Shrubsall takes on the inaugural Cotswolds 200
The Cotswolds conjures an image of outdated English perfection. An expanse of gently rolling countryside by means of which small nation lanes carve an insignificant furrow. A sprinkling of quaint cities and villages boasting atmospherics and structure plucked straight from a Jane Austen novel.
And the place names… Little Sodbury, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bibury et al. A extra twee choice of titles you most likely received’t discover.
However beneath this exterior beats the guts of a significantly sinister panorama – notably to those that’ve been courageous sufficient to deal with the area’s newest extremely mountain biking route.
Off-road ultras started gaining exponential recognition after the 2020 pandemic lockdown. Being unable to trip with buddies or certainly race, lone riders would embark on mammoth outings on self-plotted or already-established routes to both break or set an FKT (Quickest Recognized Time). These programs differ wildly in distance, terrain and technical options: from the GB Divide which takes in some 1,200 miles with 90,000ft of vertical ascent, to the 104-mile and 10,000 ft’s value of Trans Cambrian manner.
Did somebody say cake?
The Cotswold’s 200 sits on the decrease finish of the gap spectrum however with 20,000ft of elevation, a lot of which is descended on technical singletrack, you’d name it simple (by comparability) at your peril. 2 hundred miles may sound like a cakewalk to the seasoned extremely bicycle owner, however the double century pieced collectively by MTBEPICS – taking in Somerset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire – kicks tougher than Cheltenham racecourse.
That is no common out and again, extra of a collection of snakes, ladders and singletrack
Straight out of the gate a lung buster up and out of Bathtub – the trip’s begin and ending level – units a turbulent tone. The next few kilometres then add to the cliffs notes for the remainder of the trip; rocky downhills (coupled with flowing rainwater throughout the inaugural occasion) make you rue your alternative of a hardtail – if, like me, you introduced the equal of a Dairylea triangle to a chilli-flecked Double arduous Gloucester of a trip. Though there’s no good bike for this occasion; whichever manner you slice it, it’s gonna be a bumpy trip…
However with gentle beginning to fade – the race having began at Noon – the brilliant lights of Cheltenham hove into view, and, buoyed by the considered a slap-up feed amid the unrivalled ambiance of a petroleum station forecourt, you start to make peace with the brutality of the terrain and at last open your eyes to the gorgeous surroundings by means of which you’re traversing.
As Matt Jones from MTBEPICS says, “the Cotswolds are a lesser-known gem for off-road using within the UK. The entire escarpment covers a bunch of assorted terrain treats for riders from basic British bridleways to man-made singletrack.”
Having skirted Cheltenham and brought within the sundown and sweeping views of town from Cleeve Hill, helmet and bar lights are turned on and the night time using part begins. And it’s darkish in additional methods than one.
Though atmospherics are at an all-time excessive – with barn owls utilizing your gentle for looking and badgers quickly dispersing, disturbed from their crepuscular foraging by the rasp of disc brakes – the night time gives no let-up and the climbing continues as do the descents, all in gradual movement.
Though lights nowadays can spray a 7,000-lumen floodlight over trails and singletrack, the psychological and bodily fatigue accrued over the prior hours of using make each ascent an Everest and each descent a Mariana Trench. Certainly, it’s gradual going at night time and plenty of riders determine to mattress down for an hour or two to recharge thoughts and muscle fibres, and maybe ask themselves what the Chipping Sodbury they’ve entered in to.
Rocking around the clock
Reaching the midway level at Chipping Campden, which is totally closed for enterprise at one o’clock within the morning, the trip begins to go again to Bathtub. Bridleways, the occasional size of tarmac, and custom-built mountain biking trails present the technique of meandering to the end line, intertwining with the outbound route because it goes.
That is no common out and again, extra of a collection of snakes, ladders and singletrack.
The Cotswolds, you’ll come to grasp within the wee hours of the morning, isn’t precisely suffering from 24-hour petrol stations and comfort marts, and church buildings and city halls within the area don’t seem like provisioned with exterior plumbing services.
Which is why, if this rider’s disorganised cues are adopted, chances are you’ll properly end up crawling by means of residential enclaves within the hope that an early-morning canine walker may enable you entry to their outdoors faucet. This ultimately got here to move at round 6am within the little village of Higher Dowdeswell the place an unsuspecting water faucet turned the topic of some fairly fervent gulping; the home occupants wide-eyed on the window as a feral, sleep-deprived bicycle owner received intimately acquainted with their backyard hose.
With the night time having been efficiently negotiated, the solar begins to shine, the outlets begin to open, and the facility slowly begins to extend. Again degree with Cheltenham and the route snakes ever southward, taking in small villages like Brockhampton and Higher Coberley, as desires of the end line begin to tease their manner into your mind.
However this deep into the race, heads – and stomachs – want to remain robust, as the brand new FKT holder Andy Deacon tells of his run into the end.
Quickest within the Cotswolds
“The hardest bit was the final 35 miles as I’d been so sick within the morning on the second half, I couldn’t eat something in any respect,” shares Deacon. “It turned out the remainder of my household had the identical illness bug! Deploying a ‘maintain shifting’ angle, I started feeling slightly higher in the direction of the end at bathtub, the solar was out, and all my moist package from the night earlier than had dried.”
And so lastly to the end which is fortunately positioned at The Boathouse Pub and Resort, offering the holy trinity of beds, beer, and beef and onion crisps.
A smattering of finishers amid a bunch of DNFs counsel that this can be a route that would develop into a preferred fixture on the off-road extremely biking calendar. There’s little level in taking up a problem if it’s simple to finish, which is why the Cotswolds 200 needs to be in your listing for those who’re the kind of creature that likes thoughts, physique and soul stripped right down to the naked steel.
Some name it sort 2 enjoyable, others name it soul looking out. Extremely riders name it ‘the weekend’.