The Shropshire Hills Cogal Ride Report
With the Cogals slowly starting to take shape and the days getting longer, @936adl did a good job in the timing, organization, and the promotion of his Cogal. Buckle in for the fruits of his labor as from all accounts, this was a fantastic ride and great time; I’m only sad I couldn’t be there myself.
Fair warning: He’s already talking about getting another set up in July. Should be a doozy.
Yours in Cycling,
What started as a speculative exchange of e-mails with Frank at the back end of 2011 was finally upon us. Over the last few weeks I’d been working hard to refine the route, and to publicise the ride. I like to think that I climb well for my weight, so the plan was a simple one, hills, hills, and some more hills. It was imperative that we were true to the ‘Cogal’ spirit.
The article announcing the Cogal on the website had generated a fair bit of traffic, and as we got closer, confirmations were coming in. Shifnal Cycling Society stalwart @Double Esspresso was a given. @Acciaio confirmed 2 were coming up from London, and @Unica was bringing along ‘Team Strada’ from Bristol. More followed. @Mike P was also planning on coming up from London, and @Muck Muck was a local lad who was also threw his casquette in the ring. @Boanerges and @mrhalloran finished things off. People really were going to turn up! No pressure then….
As I rolled away from home towards the Café I’d designated as the start point I still had no idea what to expect, and if I’m honest I was more than a little nervous. Pulling up, I was amazed. The turn out was way beyond what I’d hoped for and goes to show the power of Velominati.
Introductions took a few minutes, and this gave Johnny the chance to take some pre-ride shots. At the clock hit 093V it was time for the off, and we were rolling out of Shifnal into the Shropshire countryside.
I’ll leave it to the other contributors(a big thanks to @Mike P, @Rob1112, & @Unica) to give their take on the route itself, but suffice to say it was savage. Everything a Cogal should be, and whilst many rules may have been broken, Rules #5, #10, and 9 (hailstones on top of the Long Mynd) had been strictly adhered to throughout.
A Cogal is so much more than the ride, and on our return to Shifnal it was then time for payback. After a quick shower we headed to Odfellows(how apt!) for a session of Malted Recovery Beverage Consumption, and in the finest English tradition, a curry. 165km and over 2300m of climbing had certainly generated a thirst, and the first pint didn’t touch the sides. In fact I’m not sure beer has ever tasted so good.
The day’s exploits had given us all plenty to talk about and friendships had been forged on the hills of Shropshire. It’s amazing how the shared experience of riding a bike can bring people together. The wine and beer flowed freely, and the spirits of the group were high. Heavy legs were soon forgotten, and the talk inevitably turned to when we could all do it again. A fantastic evening to finish off a truly memorable day.
As we parted company and we said our goodbyes, talk was of the next ride, and I’m sure another Cogal in the UK is sure to follow in the not too distant future. One thing’s for sure, the bar has been set high!
Thanks again to everyone who played a part in making this such a success; it was a real pleasure to show so many fellow Velominati our great county.
I asked a few of the Cogal attendees to give their ‘view’ on the day, and they’re below.
The ‘View’ from London (courtesy of @Mike P).
The alarm went off at 05:10. An appropriate time to answer the summons of the Velominati. I was about to meet with a bunch of shadowy figures whose true identities I did not know. All I knew was that we were being promised an epic ride.
Many people use the word epic, few use it appropriately. But this promise was being made by a man from a part of the world where generations of heavy industry have bred them tough. My day-to-day London acquaintances use it to describe the most trivial of occurrences. But then some of them are the kind of people who own Cervelos that appear to have a special set of reverse gears for use on hills. Excited, and a little nervous, I set off on the journey to Shifnal.
09:05. I arrive at the start point of the Cogal, and I am the only person there. I have been stood up by so-called cyclists before, but they were not individuals who had meditated on The V. I had no cause to worry, and over the next 30 minutes a dozen of us assembled. There were polite introductions, slightly nervous bouts of laughter, and discreet inspections of attire, bikes and guns. I began to get the feeling that this was going to be a very good day.
And so it proved to be. We quickly settled into a steady pace, early bouts of machismo were dispensed with as we realised we would be going a long way in unfamiliar territory. Andy described Shropshire as a county of two halves. We used the hilly parts to survey the flat bits. We flew along river valleys, ground up ascents where the choice was having the front wheel lift in the air or the back wheel slip, and over the course of the day took in some of the biggest lumps Shropshire had to offer.
112kms in we were on the top of the Long Mynd. 500m up and the highest point of the ride, we were greeted with a bout of hail. But it was good, it was all good. By that time we’d reached the point where you know the legs will keep turning, and the pain just becomes a strangely pleasant numbing background to your journey. It was my moment of communication with The V. The view over the plains of Cheshire to the north revealed how high we’d climbed, for some of the guys on the ride perhaps both metaphorically and literally.
From then it was a bit of a blur as we headed back to Shifnal. Fords, arrow-straight Roman roads and farm after farm slipped by. We went past the Iron Bridge, and some of the oldest blast furnaces in the world. This part of the world contains the ancestors of the technologies that carried us home.
It was dusk by the time we returned to the start, an all-day ride that was everything I’d hoped for from a Cogal. Great scenery, a significant challenge and the good company of others who love riding bikes.
Beer, curry and bed. Then back to London, hoping that I get the chance to ride on the next English, or perhaps Welsh or Scottish, Cogal. Thanks to everyone who rode, and especially to Andy for making it happen. Chapeau!
The ‘View’ from Bristol (courtesy of @Rob1112)
The alarm went off at 5.30 am, I dragged myself out of bed and threw my kit and bike in the car, drove to Gareth’s and put my bike on the back of his van. We picked up Mike in fairly short order and were on the motorway heading north just after 7am. We needed waking up and needed it badly, fortunately help was at hand. Mike unveiled his Hand Presso Wild ( http://www.handpresso.co.uk/wild_domepod.htm ) and we were soon sipping espresso at 110kph. Suddenly the conversation picked up, we avoided talk of the weather and blathered on about the good things in life – mainly cycling and coffee.
The miles flew by and soon we we’re pulling up at Andy’s place, He greeted us in black shorts and a short sleeve La Vie Claire top – hard as nails in that temperature, although the leg hair may have helped keep him warm. (In cowardly fashion I kept my clean shaven guns underneath my tights, not sure there’s a winner out of the two of us on the leg front).
We pootled round the corner and found several thousand pounds worth of carbon and steel outside the cafe. A quick photo shoot and we set off.
Soon we reached the first big hill of the day, a longish steepish ramp that made the first selection. A few things to note before I go on: Gareth is one seriously good climber, I’m not quite so good but somewhat stubborn and finally I’d come on very definitely the wrong bike.
My Colnago Master has a Campagnolo 8 speed gruppo that’s about 20 years old hanging from it. It’s in perfect working order and to my delight performed faultlessly all day but my lowest gear is 42:23. Gareth on the other hand was on a lovely sliver of Titanium boasting 11 speed Super Record and a somewhat more favourable gearing. I got my stubborn head on and did my darndest to follow Gareth up the hill, I reached the summit second but I was blowing very very hard considering how early it was in the ride. Just before the climb Dave, a local Velominatus, dressed head to toe in his team kit had mentioned Shropshire as “the land of the 25% hill”…I made a decision to back off there and then and climb slowly so I’d be able to manage the full distance, I’m rather glad I did as the ride turned out to have barely any flat bits at all, rolling on and on between some killer climbs that just kept on coming.
67km in and we reached the pub stop. Fine food and further espresso certainly helped ease my apprehension about the next 96km. I do wish the woman behind the bar hadn’t continually used the word “expresso” though, it grated against my inner snob.
We pressed on and the hills kept coming. Beautiful countryside all around surprised me greatly – I’d thought that the Midlands was just one big conurbation. Very quiet lanes and very muddy tarmac that occasionally made you sit up and take notice. The company was excellent and conversation was easy, I think I had at least a quick chat with everyone who rode. A high point for me was a long fast section of road that was mainly downhill with the occasional switchback, I put the hammer down along this section and found the road and the bike to be very rewarding (The Master is fairly new and so much fun). The climb preceding that was probably the hardest though, I ran out of gears right at the bottom and climbed for about two miles out of the saddle and honking like mad. Still I made it to the top without my knees exploding so that’s a bonus.
Eventually though we realised that time constraints were really starting to kick in, we had a two plus hour drive ahead of us and still about 40km to go. A quick briefing on the route and the three Strada lads and a chap named Phil who needed to get back set off ahead of the rest. First thing we had to do was the Bridges Climb, another big, big climb but thankfully one that gets easier as you go up. Across the top we then found an incredible (and somewhat scary) descent with a massively steep valley to our left, it was beautiful, stunning and quite frankly downright scary. All four of us using the right hand side of the road to keep away from the vertiginous slope to our left.
The rest of the ride turned into a team time trial as we pushed on to get back, taking main roads and pushing pushing pushing. We were running out of food, gels drink and daylight. To top it off we rode through a hail storm at about this point, bullets of ice hurting like hell. We got back to the van, did a 100 point turn to get the van out and loaded the bikes on the back, got changed and set off for home, arriving back at late o’clock, exhausted but happy, we truly had done nothing but the ride that day.
Bristol Take 2 (courtesy of @Unica)
I was awake before the alarm such was the anticipation of the inaugural English Cogal. Breakfast consumed, and last items packed, @robb1112 texted me as he and Indy passed under Brunel’s little suspension bridge and I was out of the door on the way to the pick up point.
Once safely ensconced in the team bus the 2 hour drive passed quickly and (thankfully) without incident – save for a heavy rain shower – helped by the must have Velominati travel accessory of a HandPresso* and servings of pre-ride carbo loading gateaux courtesy of my VMH. @robb1112 and Indy had made the decision to travel in kit, whereas I had civvies on. As we neared Shifnal, the temperature remained stubbornly at 6.5C and I was still undecided as to exactly what kit to wear, but the beauty of traveling in the team bus meant that I could make the decision as late as possible.
*A HandPresso Reverence article will follow as it’s now an essential non-bike bike related item.
After finding @936ADL’s house, the bike bikes unloaded, bidons filled and a quick hello to @936ADL’s VMH it was off to the meeting point. @936ADL was a little apprehensive as to how many would be attending as we wheeled the kilometer from his house but was visibly awed when it became apparent that there were another 8 like-minded souls who were up for the challenge.
Greetings and pleasantries exchanged we posed (casually deliberate) for some photos and then we were off! Now, as is the way often when I ride, I remember clearly rolling away and chatting with others as we rolled out but my memories of the ride become sporadic. Is this where I become one with the bike? Is it the high of the endorphins? I have no idea. The first descent I clearly remember – yes, Delta brakes do work – and I remember the following first climb of the day, but the next thing we were stopped at a level crossing with the lunch stop pub the other side.
Lunch time conversation turned to Roubaix and lamenting the lack of rain for the last decade or so, n+1, current projects, manufacturing locations and a myriad of other subjects that cyclists talk about when left in a room together. All to soon, however, it was time to push on.
Cruelly, there was a false flat that turned into a gentle uphill immediately after the lunch stop. With no time for digestion I had a couple of stomach in mouth moments, but not due to fright! Again, my recollections of the rest of the ride are only in patches. After a while at a stop to re-group, Indy pointed out that time was against us as we still had the drive home to contend with when we finished.
We kept going, but the seed had been planted. After 100kms or so Indy, @Robb1112, myself and John decided that we had to push on back to the finish, so with a heavy heart we bid farewell to our new found friends and headed back to Shifnal.
The next section of the ride yielded perhaps the most spectacular scenery of the entire day, and completely unexpected. The descent into Church Sutton was amazing and could have been in the Pyrenees. The wind had picked up by now so we were riding in to a headwind, and I was beginning to suffer.
And then the hail came. Not much, but enough and it stung. Totally Rule #9. My mind was playing tricks on me now, and my legs were screaming every time the road tilted upwards. I had no idea of how far was left, so I couldn’t gauge my effort. My low point came on the climb out of Ironbridge where the man with the hammer came and repeatedly hit me hard, but Shifnal was on the road signs and there was still carbo-loading gateaux in the team bus, the thought of which kept me going.
Soon, Shifnal loomed large and I spotted the town sign. I had the thought of going for the sprint but as soon as it entered my head, I somehow got boxed in. Apparently @robb1122 had the same idea at the same time, which given the lack of work I’d done in the last section was probably fair enough.
A fantastic day. I think with hindsight I slightly underestimated the amount of climbing, but I’ll happily return to ride those roads at the drop of a hat.
A massive thank you to @936ADL for pulling it together and for such a beautiful route. The planning of the Bristol Cogal started in the team bus on the way home…
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