The Cotswold Corker

Cotswold Corker audax, 12 February 2011 - climbing Sudeley Hill. Credit: Andrew Cornwell

Ride review published 16 February 2011

By Andrew Cornwell

Many cycling events don't quite measure up to the marketing hype, but this ride was more than worthy of its name.

Winter weather has played havoc with this event a couple of times in recent years, however under bright blue skies the early season beauty of the Cotswolds could be properly appreciated around a stunning course.

There was just a little February chill in the air as more than 150 starters assembled in the car park of Zurich Financial Services in Bishop's Cleeve, just outside Cheltenham. It was a good field for an audax so early in the year, and it made a nice change to be part of a 'mass' start (below).

Cotswold Corker audax, 12 February 2011. Riders start from Bishops Cleeve. Credit: Andrew Cornwell

No-one was hammering away through the streets of town, though, for all knew that within a couple of miles we would hit the notorious Bushcombe Lane, a wall-like ascent of the side of Cleeve Hill with gradients of up to 25 per cent. Most tried to keep pedalling for as long as possible, but by two thirds of the way up, where I took the photo below, nine out of ten had been forced to dismount. Not since the scenes at Ditchling Beacon on the London to Brighton had I seen so many wordless cyclists walking their machines uphill.

Cotswold Corker audax, 12 February 2011. Cyclists walk up Bushcombe Lane. Credit: Andrew Cornwell

Once at the top, there was a brief interlude of enjoyable descent on the smooth, wide road into the historic town of Winchcombe below. Then it was time to pass the gates of Sudeley Castle and take on the grinding climb out of the valley. Behind were far-reaching views over Winchcombe and beyond to the Vale of Evesham, although most of those grunting up the hill were oblivious to them. The toughness of this climb fragmented the field completely, and the rolling roads onwards to the first control at 32 km were taken in small groups of no more than half a dozen.

This section passed through well-heeled picture book villages such as Guiting Power and Turkdean, with plush stone manor houses tucked into the valleys. I joined a group of six riders and we worked together for a while, until one suffered a mechanical and we split up.

The control and feed station was situated in a community centre at the far end of the old town of Northleach, giving two chances to appreciate the long rows of Tudor buildings. Reunited at the control, my partner Rachel and I picked our way out through the market square and inevitably we began climbing again.

For the next few kilometres the wind became a minor issue for the first time as we headed south-west on exposed higher ground. After a well-graded ascent it was time to dip down into the pretty village of Chedworth, a descent made hairy by close encounters with vehicles on the narrow twisting lane. A brutal and unexpected ramp out of the village next to the ancient Seven Tuns pub left a couple of riders behind me walking again.

Our second feed station was in the village hall at Sapperton at 60 km, with cards stamped and a pasta lunch served with great efficiency by army cadets.

The refuel was needed because we were about to hit another short but tough climb. After a plunging descent from Frampton Mansell, I again found myself swerving around walking riders on the rutted lane up to Oakridge. At the top others rested on a handy bench.

Rachel Cooke on the Cotswold Corker audax, 12 February 2011. Credit: Andrew Cornwell
Rachel nears the top of Sudeley Castle hill.

There was now a period of respite through Bisley, but after Caudle Green the route became 'interesting' for all the wrong reasons. Reduced to almost a track as it passed directly through a couple of farmyards, there was more mud and gravel than tarmac in places. Gradually the climbing became tougher as my mudguards began to fill up with gunge and traction was hard to find. On a seemingly innocuous bend I nearly took a tumble as the road surface completely broke up.

Reaching the control at Andoversford was a relief, and I set to work to try and scrape some of the mud away. At the finish we met a veteran of the event who had come out on a mountain bike - perhaps a wise choice for this section.

With just 15 km to go, the end to this epic was nearing. The rolling road back to Winchcombe offered fantastic afternoon views over the town and towards the Vale of Evesham. We caught glimpses of Sudeley Castle below through a wooded section before the descent began.

Cleeve Hill via the main road felt well-graded by comparison with some of the sharp lane climbs we had covered, but it was still a slog after a day in the saddle. Then it was time for the final treacherous descent of the day, Stockwell Lane with poor sightlines and an oncoming 4x4 to contend with.

This brought us to the door of the Old Woodmancote Village Hall (picture below) and a well-earned tea stop at the finish.

Cotswold Corker audax, 12 February 2011. At the finish at Woodmancote Village Hall. Credit: Andrew Cornwell

Although only 106 km long, the Cotswold Corker is certainly a challenging ride, with 1900 metres of ascent, and sections of the course probably more suitable for cyclocross than road bikes.

But if the weather is good, it makes for a superb day out. Organisation - including at the three feed stations - was excellent. The number of riders who come back year after year for the Corker speaks for itself.


12 February 2011
Distance: 106 km (66 miles)
Climbing: 1900 metres (2  Audax climbing points available)
Time allowances: Minimum 5 hrs 18 mins, maximum 10 hrs 36 mins (10-20 kph speeds)
Start/finish: Bishops Cleeve, near Cheltenham
Organiser: Sean Graff / CTC West, under Audax UK regulations.
Entry fee: £4.50