Massif: 100km (62 miles) with 46.3km of the route off-road
Mini Massif: A shorter 71km (44 miles) with 30km off-road
Best bit: Descending the miner’s track through a perfect rainbow
Worst bit: Climbing up to the highest point of the course near the end of the route when at your most exhausted
Cycling Weekly’s inaugural adventure cross sportive was a challenging mix of road and off-road terrain designed for cyclo-cross bikes and hardtail mountain bikes.
However, being the Lake District, it wasn’t just the rocks and mud that made it interesting. Steep gradients and relentless climbing with a bit of typical Lakeland weather thrown in made it a tough but satisfying day out.
The route for both the Massif 100km ride and the Mini Massif 71km ride started from Fitz Park in Keswick – allegedly the wettest town in England – and followed the same route until the cut-off shortly after Cockermouth, with the Mini Massif missing out a section around Loweswater and the final and highest climb of the day in Whinlatter Forest.
Starting out on a tree-covered disused railway line, the first off-road ‘sector’ was a great warm-up for what was to come; the rock-filled river below and occasional glimpses of distant hills a taste of the spectacular views to greet us later in the day.
Meandering up a quiet lane, riders were treated to some of the beautiful light play the lakes are famous for, as spears of autumnal sunlight pierced the grey clouds, spotlighting the bracken-covered hillsides below.
One of the highlights was the miner’s track. Rocky, steep and long, riders also had to contend with tricky crosswinds and pick their lines wisely to safely get to the top.
Once the summit was reached, a double reward was in store – the fast, grassy descent was an exhilarating test of bravery as you picked your line through boggy ground and willed yourself to stay off the brakes, but it was the addition of a magnificent rainbow forming an arch over the course that had many riders stopping and reaching for their camera.
Labelled ‘adventure cross’, this is a new discipline responding to the increased interest in cyclo-cross that goes beyond traditional grass field, short-track racing.
These highly versatile bikes are quicker than mountain bikes on the road, but have the capabilities to handle some fairly technical off-road terrain. With a cross bike, you can go anywhere and do anything – they make great commuter bikes, touring bikes and, of course, adventure cross bikes for those wanting an all-day, on-road and off-road challenge.
Both cross bikes and hardtail mountain bikes were out on the course for the event, and on some sections, cross bikes were definitely quicker, where in other places mountain bikes had the upper hand. Mountain bike gearing certainly helped on some of the steeper hills, and a tip to anyone riding a cross bike next year would be to fit a mountain bike cassette and a 34-tooth inner ring for those leg-burning ascents.
The atmosphere at the finish was fantastically supportive and an added bonus was the bike wash provided by the local Scouts and BMX club. Finishing times varied from four-and-a-half hours up to nearly nine hours, but crossing the line, most riders’ massive smiles at completing the course dominated their muddiness and obvious exhaustion.
It’s not an event to take lightly if you plan on tackling the full 100km, but with preparation and determination it makes a fantastic day out with really spectacular views, challenging climbs and whoop-inducing descents. Everyone who conquered the Monster Miles left feeling they had achieved something special, and even before the mud had dried many were talking about how to improve for next year’s event.
This article was first published in the October 31 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!