Nigel writes: Today the club organised no fewer than four separate rides: three Audax rides of 200km, 100km and 50km as well as a normal afternoon-only ride. I decided to do the 200km (124 mile) Audax.
Today's Audax rides were organised on behalf of CTC Cambridge by club member Gareth Rees. Audax is a form of cycle touring where riders aim to visit a sequence of controls by following a sheet of directions. It's not a race, although there is a time limit for completing the ride which places riders under certain amount of pressure.
Today's 200km ride was due to start at 8am at the Orchard Community Centre in Orchard Park in the north of Cambridge. About forty riders turned up to check in, collect a route sheet and a brevet card and enjoy a cup of tea and a slice or two of toast before the grand departure.
Cambridge: Orchard community centre: breakfast before departure
Despite CTC Cambridge organising the ride, only three riders were regulars with the club: Neil, Daniel and me, which was rather disappointing.
As 8am approached we went outside and got on our bikes, waiting for Gareth to check the time and give us the go-ahead to set off.
Cambridge: Orchard community centre: about to depart
Our route today took us far to the west of Cambridge, across the whole of Bedfordshire and into Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire. It was composed of seven distinct stages of varying lengths, with a "control" of some kind at the end of each stage.
The first stage was 25 miles from Orchard Park to Thoncote Green just west of Sandy. I'm always excited by mass departures such as this and set off at a relatively fast pace near the front of a large peloton of racing cyclists from Cambridge Cycling Club. King's Hedges Road, Histon Road and Mount Pleasant took us quickly to Madingley Road where we set off west out of the city. I was able to keep up easily until we reached the start of Madingley Hill. Knowing I would not be able to keep up with the others I waved them on and plodded up the hill at my normal pace. On the flat at the top of the hill a second peloton caught up with me and overtook at speed. I accelerated to catch them up and clung on to the back. Riding behind a group is much easier than riding on your own and I was able to stay with them for the entire stage.
With the peloton west of Hardwick
Our route took us along familar roads through Hardwick, Bourn, Caxton, Great Gransden, Waresley and, after crossing the boundary into Bedfordshire, on to Everton to Sandy. The weather was overcast but warm, with a slight headwind which I didn't really notice from my sheltered position near the rear of the group.
On the approach to Sandy our route sheet directed us to turn right onto a narrow lane through some woods. This is a route familar to anyone who has been here on a CTC ride. However the group was going so fast that I knew we were going to overshoot the turn. Fortunately I was at the back, so when everyone else sailed right past it, I was able to turn right onto the correct route safely and probably without anyone noticing.
I knew that the others would not get lost: both our routes ended up in Sandy and we would meet up again in about a mile. However the route I was taking was about a quarter of a mile shorter which I realised would allow me to beat the group to the first control point. I rode through Sandy, crossed the A1 and continued for about a mile further to Thoncote Green, where I found the first staffed control of the day, operated by John S and Brian B.
Control at Thornton Green near Sandy
John and Brian took my details, recorded the time and placed a sticker on my brevet card. I helped myself to a banana from a huge pile and had a brief rest. It was 9.24am, so my average speed for the past 25 miles had been 18mph. Exceptionally fast for me, and demonstrating the power of the peloton.
The second stage was 14 miles from Thornton Green to Milbrook. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up with the fast riders much further so when I set off once more I rode on my own. This felt much nicer: although I was riding more slowly I was able to enjoy the ride and see where I was going. I also had time to properly follow the route sheet. This took us south-west along a series of less familar lanes to Millbrook, which is about 6 miles south-west of Bedford.
The control at Millbrook was an "information control", where we had to answer a question on the brevet card. This required me to find a number on a lamppost. As I stopped to look for it a couple of others caught up with me. It only took a minute or two to obtain the required information (see photo below) and we were soon on our way once more.
Info control at Millbrook. See number on lamppost circled in red.
The third stage was 11 miles from Millbrook to Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire. We were now on completely unfamilar roads which took us through Marson Moretaine, Cranfield and North Crawley to Newport Pagnell, which is a pleasant-looking small town on the edge of Milton Keynes. The control here was a "free control". This meant all we needed to do was to buy something in a shop or cafe and get a receipt (preferably with the date and time on) to prove we had been here. I stopped outside Costa Coffee and went in to get a very welcome cup of coffee - and a receipt.
Newport Pagnell: Getting a coffee and receipt at Costa Coffee
The fourth stage of the ride was 13 miles from Newport Pagnell to Roade. Roade is a little village in Northamptonshire, which meant we had to continue even further west to get there. The control point in Roade was another "information control": this time the question we had to answer was about the wording on a sign by a railway bridge (see below). Gareth told me later that he had carefully checked that the words in question could not be seen on Google StreetView,
Info control near Roade. Answer circled in red.
Roade marked the half-way point: 63 miles (102km), and it was time to turn back east towards Cambridgeshire. The fifth stage was 12 miles from Roade to Olney in Buckinghamshire. With 60 miles behind me I was beginning to become tired, so was glad that the control point at Olney was at Beans Cafe, which I had previously visited on a 200km Audax in 2010. I arrived at Olney at 1.25pm, parked my bike and went into Beans cafe for a lunch of baked potato and beans and to collect a sticker for my brevet card.
Olney control and lunch stop
The sixth stage of the ride was the longest of all: 34 miles from Olney to Eastside Common, Hemingford Abbots. Fortunately this took us back across Bedfordshire and into Cambridgeshire, and as the miles passed the scenery became flatter and flatter. The first few miles were through attractive stone-built villages such as Harrold, Odell and Sharnbrook but soon I was riding across the duller Cambridgeshire countryside towards Grafham Water. Somewhere near Perry I was caught up by a couple of cyclists out on a sportive who I followed for a couple of miles, nearly doubling my speed in the process.
I crossed the A1 to Buckden and, whilst I waited for four trains to go past at the level crossing at Offord Cluny, was caught up by another Audax rider. He was still riding strongly so gave me a tow for the final miles to Godmanchester and on to the cycle path across Eastside Common. Here we encountered our final control before the end: another staffed control where I found Ian D, Rob, Simon P and Nick waiting to issue stickers and feed me with chelsea buns.
Control (and chelsea buns) at Eastside Common, Hemingford Abbots
I didn't need the route sheet for the seventh and final stage: 15 miles from Eastside Common to Orchard Park as I have cycled it many times. I rode through the Hemingfords to St Ives where I joined the busway cycleway for an effortless final 10 miles back to Orchard Park.
I arrived back at the start at 5.45pm with exactly 200km (124 miles) on the clock. Gareth collected my route card and I sat down for a cup of tea and a cake. With the evening sun still shining outside I was in no hurry to rush home so stayed and chatted with the other riders and the various helpers. After a while club member Daniel arrived and, a little time later, so did Neil.
Gareth at the final control
I'd like to thanks Gareth for preparing an excellent route and organising not only this ride but also the parallel 100km and 50km Audax rides which also took place today. This required a great deal of work, not only on the day but in the months beforehand. Gareth's route took us through some very pleasant countryside and through some handsome towns and villages, and which took us a very satisfyingly long way from Cambridge. Gareth rode all three routes twice: several months ago when first planning the route and again a couple of weeks ago to double-check, and as a result the route sheet was clear and accurate - and no-one got lost.
Thanks are also due to everyone else who helped out on the day: At the Orchard Park headquarters were Tony G, Fiona G, Mike S, Tina F and Chris E, as well as Gareth. At the various staffed controls were John S, Brian B, Graham H, Lucy H, Simon P, Rob C and Nick B.
My brevet card
My final mileage, including the short ride from home to Orchard Park and back, was 129 miles - my longest ride for a couple of years.
View this GPS track on a a larger map