Conrad writes: Today, being the day before the Tour de France visits Cambridge, we had an all day ride that followed the first 40 miles of the Tour de France route. Thanks to some trouble with my contact lenses, I was at risk of pulling a Pedro Delgado (who turned up 2 minutes and 40 seconds late for the prologue in the 1989 Tour) but thankfully the roads were clear and I made it to Brookside with 10 seconds to spare (or so my Garmin tells me).
Gareth, Neil, Cheryl, Rupert and newcomer Houjiang were waiting for me. I thought I was being clever by suggesting that we make our own Grand Depart from Gonville Place where we could have a group photo taken.
As it turned out, there was a queue of groups of cyclists there who all had the same idea. After the photo-taking, we headed off in the unusual route of Regents Street, the Round Church, pass King's and then onto Trumpington. Somewhere along the way we lost Neil who had stayed behind to take photos for other cyclists.
Instead of the usual turnoff at Porson Road, we continued on the main road and turned left towards the Shelfords. Again, in a departure from the norm, we did not turn right to Great Shelford but continued cycliing on the main road past Stapleford and the Sawston bypass onto the A1301. This is not the most pleasant of roads but that is the TdF route and it had the added advantage of being the most direct way to our coffee stop at Saffron Walden, hence minimising the amount of time we would spend cycling in the light persistent drizzle. The cycle path at Hinxton offered some momentary respite from the A1301 and conditions became more pleasant once we reached the B184. By this time, there were more cyclists on the road as there was a sportive being held that day.
We reached The Temeraire at Saffron Walden at the ungodly early hour of 10:30 am where we found Joseph waiting for us. Later, Mike C, Ed and Adrian arrived but only Joseph was joining us for the ride to lunch. We left Saffron Walden at 11 and got back on the TdF route, just as the rain finally stopped. This section was more familiar and more pleasant. Leading this part of the ride was also effortless from a navigational point of view because I only had to follow the yellow arrow signs that had been laid out to mark the TdF route.
Unfortunately, we had to stop just after Great Sampford. Gareth, who had gone ahead, informed us that the road had been closed by the police because of a serious accident. After a brief discussion, we backtracked slightly and made a detour so that we approached Finchingfield from the west. This was another pleasant road and one that I would use the next day to catch the Tour itself.
At Finchingfield, we saw a marquee being erected and it felt to me that there was more preparation for the Tour in Essex rather than Cambridgeshire. There was more bunting and in one village, someone was even erecting a temporary viewing platform. There was also evidence that more work had been done to the roads in Essex (the stretch leading to the A1301 and parts of the A1301 itself were in embarrassingly poor condition).
Just after Shalford we made a turn for Rayne. This was now less familiar club territory and so I suggested making a very quick stop at the country cafe in Rayne. This is in the building that used to be the train station and is also the start of the Flitch Trail (more on that later). Three years of lobbying finally paid off when Rupert agreed to include this as a future summer lunch stop (we might have to minute this at the next AGM to ensure follow-through).
We made our way to Felsted where we finally left the Tdf route. We cycled a short distance to Little Dunmow where we turned onto a very, how shall I put this, subtly signposted track to the Flitch Trail that led us to Great Dunmow. I am a fan of the Flitch Trail and over the course of three summer rides, we have covered the Trail from Rayne to Hatfield Forest. However, there is a short, muddy stretch just before Great Dunmow that rather ruins the entire experience.
We reached our lunch stop Deb's Diner at the unseemingly late time of 1:40 pm. Deb's Diner and its previous incarnation has been a popular lunch stop on summer rides for the club but unfortunately, the operators of the Diner want to move on and are now looking for new management.
We left Deb's at 2:30 pm and went to the tea stop at Hare Street via the direct route of Little Easton, Elsenham, Stansted Mountfitchet, Manuden and Furneax Pelham. Cheryl left us at lunch and Rupert left us just before Elsenham to return to Cambridge. We arrived at the Old Swan to find Jacob and the four afternoon riders (Ray, John, Mike CC and Angela).
For the last leg, I decided to join the afternoon riders while Gareth, Houjiang and Joseph went on a different route. Ray led us back through the Pelhams, Clavering, Langley, Duddenhoe End, Elmdon and then back to Cambridge. It was just before 7pm when Ray, Mike CC and I arrived at Parker's Piece to find what I can only describe as the beginnings of a French Occupation. Huge trucks were being driven onto the green and a well-oiled operation was well underway. I had covered 155 km (96 miles) and I am guessing Gareth and Houjiang would have covered a similar distance if not more. By coincidence that is the length of Stage 3 of the Tour so I think we can say Chapeau to the Club for, in our own way, contributing to the Tour atmosphere. Conrad Chua
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