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. Today's event was organised by Nick Wilkinson, in conjunction with Audax UK.
Today's ride started in Girton, at the recreation pavilion, and I woke up early and cycled across Cambridge in light drizzle to get there in good time for the 8am start. Nick was there, of course, welcoming people at the entrance, with several helpers inside including Nick's wife Ewa, who was serving tea, coffee and toast, and Gareth, who issued me with my "brevet" card and stamped it with an image of a pork pie.
Girton: Breakfast at the Départ
I recognised five other CTC Cambridge regulars: John R, Alex, Daniel, Seb C and Mike P, who had brought along his brother Mark. As 8am approached we all went outside to receive a short address by Nick, mainly to tell us about flooding on the busway and warn non-locals about the dangerous bollards found along it.
Organiser Nick Wilkinson (back to camera) warns riders about the hazards of the busway before departure
The start time arrived and a hundred cyclists set off through Girton and onto the busway. Everyone was a no doubt a strong rider but it was interesting to see different approaches to speed at the start, with the fast, racing cyclists quickly moving towards the front and the slower, experienced Audaxers pacing themselves carefully behind. As the field began to spread out, I began to move towards the front so that I could catch a tow from the faster riders for the first few exhilarating miles before dropping back when I had had enough.
For many of my fellow riders this was their first time on the busway, but they were clearly experienced in a peloton and called out warning of walkers, oncoming bikes, and of course bollards whenever needed. A section of path was flooded near Fen Drayton but we singled out and carefully splashed through.
Soon we were in St Ives, back on the road, and I settled down to ride at a more moderate pace for the rest of the first stage to Oundle. This involved a long and rather dull run along the B1090 to Sawtry followed by a series of pleasant country roads for the final leg into Oundle.
For the first hour or two of the ride the drizzle came and went; it wasn't enough to to get us wet, but it was enough to create patches of water on the roads which the riders in front splashed up into my face and onto my lovely white jacket. Once again I found myself mentally dividing other riders into two: the racing cyclists on road bikes without proper mudguards, where drafting meant a faceful of dirty water, and the old-school audaxers with their full mudguards.
Soon we reached Oundle and our first control. The nominated cafe stop was at Beans Cafe, but I thought it might be rather crowded so I stopped at The Coffee Tavern instead. Over a breakfast of coffee and scrambled eggs on toast I had a pleasant conversation with Sarah and Colin from St Ives CC. Stopping for food was clearly a novelty for them: Sarah explained that on a typical 180 km race she would simply slow down at a feeding station to catch a few gels before accelerating on her way again.
After Oundle I set off on my own. The countryside was now rather more rolling, with a series of descents into valleys immediately followed by climbs out again.
Southwick, three miles north of Oundle
The first descent took us down into Harringworth, where the long brick railway viaduct is an unmissable landmark.
The climb from Harringworth to Seaton, with the railway viaduct behind
A few miles later I found Seb, John, Mike and Mark, who had overtaken me whilst I had been drinking coffee in Oundle. This was a good point in the ride to join up with them, and the five of us rode on together to Oakham and then to Melton Mowbray.
Mike and Mark (Photo: Alex Brown)
We reached Melton Mowbray at 1.15pm and we split up to find lunch. John and I went into Costa Coffee, Seb went into Subway, and Mike and Mark found another cafe close by.
Nigel, John, Mark and Mike in Melton Mowbray
After a brief photo-stop outside the famous pork pie shop it was time to head back towards Oundle for the long ride home to Cambridge, and John, Mike, Mark and I set off together leaving Seb to linger just a bit longer in Melton Mowbray.
I knew from my ride last year that the afternoon stage from Melton Mowbray to Oundle was easily the prettiest and quietest of the whole ride, but also the hilliest, and I was soon using my small chainwheel for the first time for many months. John was on fine form today, and set a brisk pace. Mike and Mark seemed comfortable with the speed but it was a bit faster than I would have preferred and I frequently found myself plodding along at the back.
In due course we arrived back in Oundle and stopped once more for food and drink, this time at Beans Cafe. It was about 4.45pm. As we arrived, Alex - who we hadn't seen since the busway - was getting ready to set off but he decided to stay and have a second coffee with the four of us.
Some brief blue sky (Photo: Alex Brown)
It was about 5.15pm when the five of us left the cafe and started the final leg back to Cambridge. The landscape began to flatten out and John's pace probably increased slightly. Unfortunately the food stop had been less rejuvenating than I had hoped and once again I found myself struggling at the back. I was perfectly capable of keeping going, but at 14mph rather than 17mph.
The gap between John, Mike and Mark at the front, and Alex and I behind, began to grow and eventually - and rather to my relief - we lost sight of them. I settled down to a more comfortable pace, assisted by Alex who generously provided me with extended periods of drafting to allow me to recover as we continued along pleasant quiet roads to Alconbury. Along the way the sun set and it soon became dark.
Alex had previously expressed his dislike of the next section of the route, from Alconbury, through the Stukleys and around the Huntingdon Ring Road to Godmanchester. It's dull, urban and with a lot of traffic in Huntingdon. He had gone as far as to suggest returning from Oundle by the reverse of the morning route rather than by this more southerly route through Huntingdon. I agree it's dull and busy, but it's only a few miles and it wasn't long before we were in Godmanchester for the familiar final twenty miles through the Hemingfords to St Ives and back down the busway.
We hadn't seen very many other riders along the route from Oundle, but once we were back on the busway everyone suddenly appeared again, and we found ourselves part of a long convoy of tired audaxers plodding our way through the darkness back to Girton. After a brief pause at Longstanton to allow me to rest we arrived back at Girton recreation pavilion at 8pm exactly. That's 12 hours start to end.
Girton again: Relaxing at the arrivée
John's group were leaving just as we arrived, but Alex and I were content to linger at the "arrivée", enjoying the solicitious attention of Ewa who plied us with soup, drinks and cakes whilst we waited for Seb and Daniel to arrive.
Seb arrived about half an hour after us, at about 8.30pm, but it was another hour before Daniel turned up, heroically sprinting into the hall to hand over his brevet card moments before the official deadline of 9.30pm.
Including the ride out from central Cambridge, my total distance today was 142 miles (228 km). In addition to being my first Audax ride since joining Audax UK, this is also my 80th ride of more than 80 miles in length. Since I have not yet done 81 rides of more than 81 miles in length this means that my Eddington Number is now 80.
For more information about this and other local Audax rides see the Cambridge Audax website.
This is Nigel's GPS track (starting from Cambridge). GPS and TCX files for this route can be downloaded from the CamAudax site here