Gareth writes: After a warm and sunny Saturday, Sunday dawned bitterly cold. Did I really want to be setting out at 06:30, shivering and teeth chattering? I felt stale and unfit, not having done much in the way of cycling since the ride I led back in January. But thoughts like this are usual, so I did my best to ignore them.
The “End of Hibernation” 200 km audax was previously run by John Juckes of Cambridge Cycling Club, but this year Terry Dickerson had taken over as organizer.
There seemed to be fewer starters than last year, maybe thirty or so, but last year the weather was much warmer, and anyway I’m not such a good estimator of numbers (last year I thought there were about forty riders, but the list of finishers showed more than sixty). From CTC Cambridge there were Tony, Simon Proven, and me.
There was a strong south-westerly breeze, and for the first leg we had behind us and rolled along at quite a pace. A group of about six got away from the bunch as we sped down Hinton Way, but I managed to tag onto the back of the second group, led by Chris Adams of Cambridge Cycling Club. Halfway up Worts Causeway we met Simon Proven, who had snuck out a couple of minutes early and was taking photos. With wind behind us and fresh legs, we fairly rattled through Six Mile Bottom, Dullingham, and Saxon Street. At Cowlinge the group put on a spurt and dropped me, but I was only half a minute behind when we pulled into Tubby T’s café at Stradishall, having ridden the first 47 km in the (for me) very fast time of 1:50.
I am getting better at eating quickly on audaxes, and I wolfed down a banana, a danish pastry and a mug of coffee, and was out of the door and on the road again in about fifteen minutes. I really like the next section of route, on narrow lanes through Denston and Hawkedon to Hartest. After Hartest came the steepest section of the route, Hartest Hill, which is over 10% for a short section, but it’s Suffolk and the top is only 97 m above sea level, so it was soon over.
I wasn’t surprised when just before Cockfield I was caught by the group I had been riding with on the first leg, and I managed to tag on to the back again, and they dragged me at high speed all the way to the control at Riverside Lakes Café near Onehouse. 87 km ridden, and still only 11:45!
The café here is under new management since last year, and coped pretty well. Cyclists were arriving in a constant stream, and a constant stream of beans on toast emerged from the kitchen in response.
As I was leaving, some kind of vintage tractor rally was arriving, with tractors old and new queueing up to enter the Riverside Lakes. It seems that people drive vintage tractors around the country for charity. I would have said, “what an absurd activity,” except that I was on a 200 km bike ride myself.
After lunch, the route turned back towards Cambridge, into the teeth of the westerly wind. The B1115 crosses some gentle Suffolk downs over which the wind blows without headge or windbreak, and it was tough going. I find it psychologically very hard cycling into a headwind: with a hill you eventually get to the top, but a headwind never lets up: the only thing to do is to grit my teeth and keep pedalling.
Around Bildeston I was caught again by Chris Adams and group, and managed to tag on for about five kilometres before they dropped me going up the hill toward Monks Eleigh. And then at Sudbury I was caught by Michael (I think) from Birmingham, and we chatted for a bit before I mismanaged a gearchange and dropped my chain on the climb up the A131. I found an abandoned water bottle in the gutter, though, so it wasn’t all bad.
Finchingfield seemed to take forever to appear. I found this section pretty dispiriting last year, and so it was again this year. For quite a while I had my head down feeling very sorry for myself, but eventually (about 14:30) I was collapsed into a chair in Boswell’s Café with tea and scone. (This café may be under new management too—last year it was ‘Jemima's Tea Room’.) Simon Proven soon arrived—after taking photos of everyone back on Worts Causeway he had got stuck at the back of queues in the cafés and had been last, or nearly last, to leave Onehouse. “Don’t sit there, you’ll be stuck,” he said, and I wearily acquiesced.
Unlike last year, the wind didn’t let up after Finchingfield, and the next leg west through Thaxted, Newport, and Clavering was a bit of a drag. It’s beautiful countryside, but I just couldn’t spare the energy to appreciate it as my brain had turned to mush. Time seemed to stand still, with Brent Pelham just three miles away but seemingly not getting any closer. But all journeys come to an end, and at eventually I reached the turn at Great Hormead, where I sat outside the pub for ten minutes to massage my legs and eat a banana and a flapjack.
The last section was great. The wind was at my back, and the new route is a big improvement over last year’s: instead of going to Hare Street and taking the long and dull B1368, it winds through the back lanes of Anstey and Nuthampstead, over the hill to Shaftenhoe End and down to Barley. I took a wrong turn in Anstey (when the route sheet says “second left”, you have to know that the first left doesn’t count because it’s a dead end) and ended up going via Barkway Park Golf Club. At the junction I caught up with Michael, who had made the same mistake as me, so I told him to follow me for a bit, since I knew the way home from Nuthampstead.
With a tailwind and downhill, and home not far away, I had a resurgence of energy, and managed to get back onto the top chainring, which had seen no use since lunchtime. The sun set over Royston vale in a spectacular blaze of orange, and the daffodils nodded in the evening breeze. The last of the twilight was just dying as we pulled into Hauxton Village Hall at 18:40.
So a best-ever 10:40 for me, despite the long drag from Onehouse to Great Hormead. What with riding to the start and home again, I had 230 km (143 miles) for the day.
Thanks to Terry for organizing a good ride, and for providing so many delicious cakes at the end.