Sunday, 8 July 2012

8 Jul: Big Bike Ride

Gareth writes: This was the weekend when the Olympic Torch came to Cambridge, and the Cambridge News organized a pair of ‘Big Bike Rides’. They got a bit carried away with the symbolism, I think, because the two rides were 20.12 km (too short for most people), and 201.2 km (too long for most people), with nothing for the bulk of cyclists in the middle. They could have been more creative: for example, this year is the 116th anniversary of the first modern Olympic Games, so 116 km would have been a good distance.

Anyway, I signed up for the longer of the two rides. In the rain at 07:45 this morning it looked as if there were about 100 cyclists, or maybe 120, which is an excellent turnout for a ride of this distance. (Cambridge News says 600, but I presume that’s for both rides.) I handed out lots of publicity cards for the CTC audaxes, so maybe I’ll see some of these riders again in September.

The start at Jesus Green.

The other side of the inflatable arch said ‘START’.

The organizers were sending people off in groups of about 30, and I got into the first group. There was the usual mad dash for the first control at St Ives (25 km), which we reached in well under the hour, and the madness continued to the second control at Doddington (55 km) which we reached at about 10:00. The weather was really foul for this section of the ride, with heavy rain and poor visibility. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that some riders had crashed here. Cambridge MP Julian Huppert was part of this group, and got to Doddington about five minutes after me. I didn’t see him after that, though—maybe he realized it was a bad idea to cane it on your first 200!

Going to St Ives in the rain.

Cambridge MP Julian Huppert at the control at Chatteris (about 50 km). Best photo I got of him, sorry! The Cambridge News has a properly posed photo of him with the Mayor at the start.

At Ramsey Forty Foot.

The route then turned southwest to Huntingdon through the flat landscape of the fens, and from here I was on my own for most of the rest of the ride. After a quick stop at Huntingdon (88 km) we turned north through the Stukeleys, crossing the A1 at Alconbury and getting some hills at last. It was tough here because of the northerly wind. There was a pair of red kites at Hamerton: I got a fantastic view of them as they drifted low over the road, but I was too slow at getting my camera out and the best photo I got was this distant silhouette.

Red kite at Hamerton.

Approaching the fourth control at Stilton. Sadly, there was no cheese at the control.

After the fourth control at Stilton (118 km) things were a bit easier as we were travelling south again, with the wind behind. The weather started to improve, and the rain slackened to a gentle drizzle. I was getting tired as we approach St Neots, and starting to be passed by groups of faster riders.

The fifth control at St Neots (160 km), with the Eaton May Queen and Princess stamping our cards.

At 15:30 or so the sun came out, and it was very pleasant cycling along the familiar roads through Longstowe and Bourn. The ‘challenging’ rides have clearly been paying off, because I was back at Parker’s Piece at 16:40 for my fastest ever 200 km in 8 hours and 40 minutes. (Also, I recorded my fastest 100 km in 3:55 and my fastest 100 miles in 6:40.)

So, what did I get for my £30 entry fee? Well, there was a very nicely printed map, though it didn’t survive the weather. The route was very dull and had some silly detours: for example, coming in to Cambridge from Barton, we were instructed to detour via Grantchester, Trumpington, Long Road and Hills Road. I understand the need to make up the distance, but make it up somewhere nice! I never had to queue to get my card stamped at a control, but I was well ahead of the ‘bulge’ and things might have seemed less well organized further back. There was free food and drink at all the controls, though it became a bit monotonous since all the controls had the same things: bananas, flapjacks, water and sports drink.

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  1. So that's what the riders with numbertags at Huntingdon were doing. We passed several groups on our way to coffee at Hinchingbrooke Country Park. I was the only one who turned back after coffee and got completely drenched in a torrential downpour near Hartford.

  2. The cyclists you saw must have been the really fast guys—I didn't get to Huntingdon until 11:20 or so.

  3. I thought it was a really good event (it was the first time I had attempted this distance) the starting marshalls give just the right amount of information. Nice to be offered various stuff at the start. The weather was appalling but guess no one can do anything about that. Lots of banter along the way and the guy who mended my puncture was very helpful and skilfull. If there is another one next year, will definitely do it, especially as the registration money all goes to local charities. Well done organisers, I say!!

  4. Oh and I kept my map inside my waterproof pocket which meant that it stayed dry and had no problems at any of the check points, despite being in the 'bulge' for most of the event!

  5. I thought the dichotomy of ride length (201.2km or 20.12km) was a great feature, not a problem at all. What would be the point of yet another 100km ride, competing with London-to-Cambridge a couple of weeks after? There are loads of 100km-long rides, yawn.

    The choice here was between facing a worthwhile challenge at 200k, or having a 20km fun ride around Cambridge, wearing fancy dress on a unicycle -- marvellous! No fence-sitting possible -- excellent.

    I, and several other riders I spoke to, reached their first 100 miles and their first 200km on this day, in the relative safety of a well-supported "bike event" -- and now I have the confidence to be thinking about moving onto the more independent, self-sufficient world of 200km audaces.

    Oh, and you forgot to mention that you also got mechincal support, and a rescue service, for your entry money. you may not have needed it, but it certainly helped some people, particularly with the high incidence of punctures thnkas to the rain washing detritus onto the roads.

    As an audax organized, I'm really surprised you're not more positive about this event. It has increased the potential local ridership for the events you're currently promoting in a useful way.

  6. Hi, Anonymous! Glad to hear you had a good time on the ride.

    I seem to have given you the impression that I didn't like this event, but that's not the case: I paid my cash, I rode it, I had a good time, I took lots of photos, and I wrote a whole piece about it on this blog! How much more positive should I have been?

    Some of the piece (especially the last paragraph) is me thinking out loud about which aspects I liked and didn't like, with an eye on the audaxes that I'm organizing. The Big Bike Ride was the first sportive-style ride I've done so it's interesting to compare with the less well supported (but more self-reliant) audax-style ride that I'm used to.