Today it was to be the Cambridge Suffolk Eye-full, another of Nick W’s creations. Like last month’s ride, we were to venture east of Cambridge, but this time to the town of Eye in Suffolk, then back home via Lavenham and Great Yeldham.
After getting cashpoint receipts, at 06:30 we headed out of Cambridge along the Newmarket Road, but our progress was soon hampered by some mechanical and biological issues which needed urgent attention, so the group became split and as it ended up Seb, John and me were riding ahead with Daniel some minutes behind.
Riding into danger?
The temperature was well below freezing and there were patches of ice on the crunchy roads, requiring constant care. Nevertheless we made good progress, riding within ourselves, working steadily over the undulating route Nick had designed, and exclaiming over the succession of picture postcard scenes of Suffolk that unfolded before us.
After 45km we arrived in the first control in Glemsford, and bought the obligatory superfluous items in the local convenience store to get receipts. “You’re brave, out riding in this” said the till girl, gratifyingly.
As we left Glemsford the sun was fully out and the sky bright blue. The temperature started rising above freezing and we stopped a few times to adjust layers accordingly. Before long we arrived at for our breakfast at the Maglia Rosso cycle café, a well-liked club stop. There we re-fueled on cake and baked beans on toast, and relaxed for a while watching the Tour of Dubai on TV.
After breakfast we swung east to begin working our way along the lanes towards Eye, still marvelling at the glorious views and weather, and congratulating ourselves on having selected the best day of the year so far for cycling.
Then, 80 km into the ride my front wheel suddenly sweeps from under me and I and my bike skid along the ground. I feel the impact of John’s bike behind and watch as, in slow motion, he lands in front of me with a helmet-crunching thud.
Quick self-assessment: nothing broken. I get up and see John is lying on the ground in a worse way, being badly shaken from the heavy fall. Various motorists stop and proffer assistance and then a chap (Simon) emerges from the nearby house. He and his wife take John inside to fix him up while Seb and I collect the bikes and inspect the road. The offending patch of road looks normal and ice-free, but as we tread on it we nearly slip over ourselves: black ice.
Inside, John regathers his composure with the help of sweet tea. It seems the ride is over for us, not only because of cuts and bruises (luckily nothing worse) but because of bike damage: broken handlebars and a dented frame (me), and a wonky wheel and cracked frame (John). Seb however is good to go: contacting Nick at mission control we establish Daniel is very close, so Seb heads off to rendezvous with him in Eye and continue the audax.
Meanwhile Simon very kindly drives John and me to Bury to catch the train back to Cambridge. For both of us it is a first audax DNF (“Did Not Finish”). We sit grumpily on the train as it speeds through the splendidly sunny countryside that seems to mock us, cross not just because of the crash but more especially because of the 130 km of fine cycling we are now missing …
Seb continues: And so with John and Alex in good hands I left the lovely people that provided us with a cuppa after the accident, and continued on my own.
I soon stopped again to contact Daniel and get an idea of where he was; maybe I could catch him up and we could ride along together …
Approaching Eye just over an hour later, I saw Daniel coming towards me. He said that 2nd control at Eye wasn't far. I rushed to get a receipt from an ATM and headed back out of town the way I came. Eventually I caught up again with Daniel and we rode together for about an hour, but I left him again in Haughley at 15:30 where he packed from exhaustion.
Continuing alone, I saw a lot of pretty countryside, went past "Tandem House" and had a break in Lavenham where I took some pictures and ate energy bars. It seemed a lovely town in the late afternoon sunshine. I set off again, heading for the next control in Great Yeldham. The night fell and I was very reliant on my GPS with its batteries running down. I was also getting hungry and thirsty again.
I arrived in the Great Yeldham and my Garmin declared I'd reached the control right opposite a Fish/Chip/Kebab/Pizza shop. Thank you Nick!
I absolutely love pizza, furthermore there was a buy one get one free offer on – so I spent a bit too much time restoring myself, but I left in better spirits.
After leaving Great Yeldam, I got lost. This is because I was trying not to use the backlight nor the navigation page on my Garmin to save battery, relying on the device to alert me when I'm going off course, except it hadn't locked onto it properly when I restarted, so I had to head back to Great Yeldham the way I came. It soon found the course again.
Onwards still, the desperate navigation tactic without helmet light and low battery on the GPS was to pick a sensible road at junctions, sometime turning back when the gizmo told me I was "off course".
I came back into known territory where Dean Road crosses the A1307, and looked forward to the downhill after Balsham going towards Fulbourn: it was nice to feel the pull from gravity.
After Cherry Hinton I was soon on Hills Road and then at the Arrivée where I got my receipt straight away. I particularly wanted a celebration pint, so decided to head to my local pub. When I got there I had cycled 230 km (143 miles). (Strava)
Second outing, 25 Feb
Alex writes: It was déjà vu all over again as I arrived at the cashpoints in central Cambridge ready to begin a second attempt at this course. John R was still recovering from last week’s crash so my sole companion for today was to be Mike P, on his first audax.
New handlebars, and ready for the off – again
We had decided to wait until 09:00 to start to give the ice a chance to melt, and so it was already light as we headed out of Cambridge. Still, it was wintry and there were thin layers of ice on the roadside puddles. As we reached the (ahem) summit at Brinkley a few snowflakes danced in the air. Soon though the early morning cloud cleared and sun came out, making once again for a very attractive landscape through which to cycle – not quite so pretty as last week’s frosty spectacular but, in compensation, probably rather safer.
We made good progress to the control at Glemsford and then to the Maglia Rosso, where we took brunch watching the Tour of Oman on TV. Everything was slightly different from last time. And so it proved at 80 km where, instead of crashing, we would continue on dry roads to the control at Eye at 103 km.
The wind was light and from the north, so did not trouble us much throughout the day. However when we arrived at Eye it was blowing a foul stench over the town from a poultry processing plant. Luckily this did not permeate the Bank café, where we drank tea and watched a potter at work on his wheel. We were ahead of schedule and feeling good, although conscious we were barely half-way round and already well into the afternoon.
From Eye, we started heading back west on a succession of pretty lanes and through gently rolling countryside. By the time we reached Lavenham (145 km) it was 16:45 and starting to get dark. As the tearooms and cafés were shut (which we had anticipated), we bought some snacks at the Co-op, had a quick stretch and got our heads down heading for the final control at Great Yeldham, still 25 km away. We were beginning to feel tired: this winter riding takes its toll.
By the time we reached Great Yeldham it was properly dark. One consequence of starting later was that we would have to do more riding in the dark at the end of the ride (or be very fast – which wasn't going to happen). On the credit side however, pub stops come into their own and so we pushed on another 10 km to Steeple Bumpstead and the Fox and Hounds. We had originally intended for this to be a brisk and efficient stop but the scene inside was a convivial one and once we discovered it was Steak Night ... well, everything went a bit ... full value.
Refueling in Steeple Bumpstead
And so, suitably replete with steak, chips and shandy we set out on the final 35 km to home. The pub stop had pushed our magic reset buttons, and we were both now pedalling easily and cheerfully. Before long we were at Balsham (“as good as home”) and we sped down into Fulbourn and along the Tins cycle path.
Just as we reached Mill Road a cyclist appeared. It was Nick! At the start of the ride I had sent him a link to my Garmin's LiveTrack. He had been able to follow our progress all day via the web and so knew where we were to intercept us. Nick rode with us into town (taking care to stay behind us so as not to render assistance, which is against the rules), and witnessed out triumphant arrivée at 21:35. The ride had taken 12 hrs 50 mins and I had ridden 217 km (135 miles) (Strava). Special kudos for Mike for also tackling the extra 40 km round trip to Over!
This is a great course: it has attractive countryside, quiet lanes, enough undulation to keep things interesting and a good selection of shops and food stops along the way. Thoroughly recommended!