Nigel writes: My alarm went off at 6.30am. An early start for what I had planned would be my longest ride ever. I looked out of the window: the day was overcast and windy, and the forecast was even worse, with heavy rain predicted. So it felt a bit strange to think that this might be one of my most memorable cycling days ever.
Today was the Cambridge 200km Randonee, an event organised by Simon Proven on behalf of CTC Cambridge and in conjunction with Audax UK. I had ridden a couple of 100km Audax rides in recent years (a 100km ride would leave from Hauxton a few hours later), but this was to be my first “200K”. At 124 miles (I always think in miles) this would be my longest ride ever, and only my third ride to exceed 100 miles.
I loaded a pannier with wet weather clothes and enough food for a picnic. I filled a small flask with coffee - I thought it might prove comforting whilst sheltering in a bus stop somewhere – and then set off for the 25 minute ride down to Hauxton Village Hall from where the ride was due to depart at 8am.
When I arrived at the start I found about twenty people preparing to depart. Quite a few people had registered but didn't turn up. Most people were from other cycling clubs, but I spotted Gareth, Chris and newcomer (but experienced Audaxer) Tony from CTC Cambridge. There was just time for me to collect my brevet card and drink a cup of tea. Then we assembled outside. Simon gave us a short briefing (an awkward turn here, a patch of loose gravel there) and then we were off.
A Randonnee (or Audax - the terms are often used interchangeably though they have distinct meanings) isn't a race. It's more of an endurance event. Participants are given a detailed route sheet with turn-by-turn directions. Spaced at intervals along the route are “control points”, where you either get your “brevet card” stamped by someone sitting outside a cafe or collect a sticker from the people inside. There are also “information controls”, which are simply places where you have to stop and answer a question such as the words on a sign. There's a photo of my completed brevet card near the bottom of this report.
Simon had divided the route into four “stages”, with a cafe stop at the end of each stage. The first stage was 30 miles. We first headed south to Fowlmere and Melbourn before turning north-west through Bassingbourn, up Croydon Hill and on through Gamlingay to St Neots. This was familiar countryside and I was able to follow the route without needing to use the route sheet.
After setting off from Hauxton I found myself riding in quite a large group at what seemed a moderate and restrained pace. Although a couple of people had soon disappeared into the distance it was clear that most people were starting cautiously, fully aware that they had a very long ride ahead of them. But with the northerly wind behind us the pace soon increased. I knew I would not be able to keep up with these other, more experienced, riders for long but I was keen to hang on for as long as possible and so soon found myself riding along at an alarmingly fast speed.
At Melbourn we turned north-west and into the wind, which made me even more determined to stick with the group and shelter behind them. And this I managed to do, as did Gareth, and we arrived in St Neots in a large group for the end of the first stage and a coffee stop in the Market Place. We had done 30 miles – a quarter of the way.
George and Peter were sitting outside Cafe Nero stamping brevet cards. After getting our cards stamped, Gareth and I went into the rather more basic Market Cafe next door; I ordered tea and a toasted sandwich.
Both Gareth and I were keen to stick with our group, so when the others prepared to move on, we did the same and after a 30 minute stop we were back on our way. We saw Chris arriving just as we left.
The second stage of the ride was a further 30 miles. As before, Gareth and I adopted a group of faster riders and tried to cling on, which we managed to do for most of the way. Our route took us west from St Neots, across the A1 and into Bedfordshire. After a series of small villages we reached Sharnbrook, where the use of a warm-coloured stone as the predominant building material shows how far we have travelled from Cambridge. But I didn't have time to admire the scenery (or take photos); I was concentrating on not getting left behind. After a while my legs began to protest, with occasional twinges of cramp – something I very rarely experience in normal club cycling. The sensible thing would be to stop and take on some calories, but it wasn't long before lunch and I decided I would stick with the group.
Just beyond Sharnbrook we turned south and crossed the River Great Ouse. We then followed the river west for a few miles before turning north towards Olney, crossing the river once again just before we entered this pretty stone-built town. This was the end of our second stage. It was 12.30pm and we had now completed 60 miles; just under half way. My moving average speed from the start was 14.8mph, despite the wind, making this by a long way the fastest 60 miles I had ever ridden.
We all had lunch in Beans Cafe in Olney. We queued up to order our food (and collect little coloured stickers for our brevet cards) and, expecting to be starving, ordered both soup and a jacket potato with beans. However this was when I experienced the second physiological novelty of the ride: I had absolutely no appetite. The soup was delicious but I couldn't face the potato. Gareth patiently explained that this was to be expected: digesting food takes energy, and my body didn't have any to spare.
After 30 minutes Gareth was keen to get moving again, so the two of us set off together leaving the others to enjoy a more leisurely lunch. Our third stage was the longest of the ride: this would take us 48 miles north-east to Sawtry - directly into the wind. Even without the wind, this was the time to slow right down and take it easy, switching to the lowest gears at even the slightest incline. The change of pace was a big relief and it was pleasant to be able to relax and chat to Gareth as we rode along. We had plenty of time in hand now.
At Swineshead, 20 miles from Olney, I stopped to replace the batteries in my GPS gadget. Gareth carried on, leaving me to follow on my own. As a result my pace slowed even further, and I was overtaken by a series of other riders who taken longer for lunch. But it was nice to ride at my own pace for a while.
I crossed over the A14 at Spaldwick and continued north, through a landscape that became steadily flatter and duller, towards Sawtry where I stopped for an information control near a line of recycling bins.
This marked the most northerly point in the ride. I had ridden 30 miles since lunch in Olney, so I paused for a few minutes to eat a banana and chew a sandwich. Several other riders arrived, including Tony who stopped to eat a tin of rice pudding and then stayed with me for the remainder of the stage to St Ives.
The 20 miles from Sawtry to St Ives took us south-east, giving us a tailwind for most of the way and in consequence our speed rose significantly. It also started to rain. We had had a bit of drizzle earlier, but this was proper rain, which became quite heavy at times and was to continue for the rest of the ride.
We arrived in St Ives at 5.25pm. The control point was at the “Local Cafe” in the main street, where I collected another coloured sticker, drank a mug of hot chocolate and ate a bowl of apple pie and custard (nothing much else on the menu tempted).
After a short break I was ready to set off for the final stage: 22 miles from St Ives to Hauxton via Fenstanton, Knapwell, Bourn and Kingston. Tony left ahead of me so I was riding on my own. I know this route from memory, so I put my route sheet away. It was still raining and the sky was quite dark; I turned on my lights.
With a tailwind all the way I made rapid progress; I seemed to be spending about half the time freewheeling. It was probably just as well that the final stage was so easy since I was beginning to suffer from the third unfamiliar physiological novelty of the ride: chafing, something I thought my leather saddle had made me immune to. Perhaps it was those new shorts. More probably it was simply the length of time I had been in the saddle – 10 or 11 hours.
I arrived at Hauxton Village Hall just before 7.30pm. Tony had arrived a few minutes before me, whilst Gareth was leaving for home just as I arrived. (Chris arrived about an hour later).
After handing my brevet card to Simon and drinking a cup of tea I headed back home to Cambridge. It was now quite dark but the rain had stopped. I arrived home just before 8.45pm. The Randonee had been 130 miles (210km). Including the ride from home and back, I had cycled 141 miles.
View this GPS track on a larger map
Thanks are due to Simon Proven for organising this event, and to the other helpers who assisted at the first control point and in Hauxton Village Hall. In addition to spending a long day running the event itself (plus the 100km randonee), Simon also researched the route, arranged the control points and rode the whole distance last week just to double-check everything. Thanks Simon! Nigel Deakin