Saturday, 5 April 2014

5 Apr: DIY 200km Audax ride to Wendover

Nigel writes: Today I joined Gareth on a 200km "DIY Audax" ride from Cambridge to Wendover in the Chilterns. On a bright, dry, spring day it offered me an opportunity for a long and relatively fast ride to explore an area of countryside that I had never visited by bike. As expected we both had an excellent day's cycling.

Audax is a form of cycle touring where riders aim to visit a sequence of controls by following a set route. It's not a race, although there is a time limit for completing the ride which places riders under a certain amount of pressure. Although there are numerous organised Audax rides all over the country, the rules of Audax UK also allow for "DIY" events, fully-accredited but following a route devised by the rider. On DIY rides it is the responsibility of the rider to prove their visit to the control points by collecting receipts. Gareth was the Audax rider today; I came along simply to have a great day on the bike.

For Audax purposes Gareth's ride started at a cash machine near his home in north Cambridge, where he withdrew money in order to obtain a timed receipt from the ATM. Then he rode across the city to meet me at Brookside at 8am. Our rendezvous completed, we set off together.

The first stage of our route was on familiar roads: Barton, Chapel Hill, Barrington, and on through Shepreth and Meldreth to Kneesworth, where we crossed the A1198. Our pace for the first hour or so was fast, with Gareth and I constantly exchanging positions at the front of a two-man peloton to gain the most efficient defence from the south-westerly headwind. We continued on through Litlington and Steeple Morden before reaching Ashwell at about 09.15am. Here, with our first 20 miles behind us, we stopped at Day's Bakers (a regular club stop) for coffee and pastries which we ate whilst sitting on a bench nearby.

First coffee stop: Day's Bakers, Ashwell

The key to a long ride is to have plenty of coffee stops but not to dwell too long at any of them, so we were soon back on our way. We continued south-west over the chalk ridge and down towards Baldock.

Between Ashwell and Baldock

Once through Baldock our route took us around the edge of Letchworth before taking us into the rolling, leafy countryside west of Stevenage.

On the B651 to St Paul’s Warden, with jet heading for Luton
(photo: Gareth Rees)

A little over an hour after leaving Ashwell we stopped once more, at Emily's Cafe in Whitwell. This was Gareth's first Audax control point so when ordered his second coffee and cake of the day he asked for a receipt, which the staff member patiently wrote out by hand. I'm sure they are used to Audax riders passing through, because at 10.30am on a Saturday morning, every one of the dozen or so customers at this charming rural cafe was a cyclist.

More coffee and cake at Emily's Cafe, Whitwell

I had been to Emily's Cafe for lunch on a club ride a couple of years ago. However on that occasion we had turned back for home afterwards. Today, however, we could continue west along pleasantly-unfamiliar lanes for a further thirty miles. This took us into the Chiltern Hills, which although never particularly high meant that we were doing a lot of climbing and descending.

Gareth climbing out of the Lea (or Lee) Valley, near Harpenden

Nigel climbing out of the Lea (or Lee) Valley, near Harpenden
(photo: Gareth Rees)

After riding through Berkhamstead (our first town centre since Baldock) we were into the prettiest and hilliest part of the Chilterns. At one point Gareth spotted a farm road on the OS map which enticingly offered a short-cut. However our "short-cut" took us straight over a very steep hill, and  what had started as a fine smooth road quickly degenerated into a muddy track. Fortunately it didn't take long before we were back on tarmac roads and on our way again.

Muddy lane near Cholesbury
(photo: Gareth Rees)

Descending into Wendover

We reached Wendover at about 1.30pm, in time for a light lunch at a nice cafe that Gareth had identified in the town centre. This was Gareth's second Audax control and so once more he asked for a receipt for his food. We had cycled about 65 miles.

Lunch in Wendover

After lunch we set off again for the long ride back to Cambridge. By now, of course, we were getting rather tired but we were now riding north with the wind behind us, and we made surprisingly rapid progress. This took us almost to Bletchley, but before we reached it we turned north-east to Woburn.

Soulbury Three Locks on the Grand Union Canal

Narrowboat on the Grand Union Canal
(photo: Gareth Rees)

We stopped for our final coffee stop at The Forest Centre in Marston Moretaine. It was 4.15pm and we stayed there for about half an hour, gathering our strength for the final 30 miles back to Cambridge.

Final coffee stop at The Forest Centre, Marston Moretaine

The final leg of the ride was on familiar roads to Biggleswade and from there to Potton. The flat, wide-open prairies of east Bedfordshire were a not-unwelcome contrast from the hillier scenery we had been riding through earlier. When we reached Gamlingay, with 16 miles to go, we made our final stop, eating sandwiches whilst sitting on a bench outside a pub, before continuing on through Longstowe and Toft to Cambridge. We were both very tired, but the tailwind helped us maintain a reasonable speed and I arrived home at 7.45pm, having cycled 133 miles.

View this GPS track on a larger map. Download GPS track (GPX).

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