Saturday, 13 August 2016

13 Aug: Cambridge Suffolk Eye-full 200 Perm Audax

Nigel writes: This was the second time I'd ridden this route (my first time was in May). For Alex it was the fourth time he'd started it - though only the third time he completed it. For the others in our little group it was their first opportunity to enjoy a ride that seems to be emerging as the favourite amongst Nick Wilkinson's fine series of permanent Audax routes from Cambridge.

For Ray it was also his first ever 200km Audax. He'd ridden a similar distance a few times in the past, but not as an official Audax Brevet Randonneur, with its requirements to obtain proof-of-passage at control points and complete the ride within defined time limits, and the promise of glory with a mention on the official results page. In fact it was with newcomers to Audax in mind that Gareth had arranged today's group ride, though in the event everybody apart from Ray had done Audaxes before: Alex (who's already gained the official designation of Super Randonneur), Daniel, me, Gareth and Joseph (who didn't join us until the first control).

If you've got this far and are wondering what an Audax (and particular a "perm") is, it's worth reading the first few paragraphs of my report on a similar ride I completed in April.

Passing Cambridge Airport on our way east out of the city

There's a beautiful description of the route on the Cambridge Audax website, so I won't describe it in any detail in this report. The main thing to know is that it's a loop into deepest Suffolk, starting and ending in Cambridge City Centre and with its furthest point the little town of Eye. Almost the entire route is on quiet country lanes, which is probably one of the main reasons it's become a favourite.

There were five of us at the start in Cambridge: Gareth, Alex, Ray, Daniel and me. We met at the Nat West Bank in St Andrew's Street and after obtaining balance slips from the ATM we set off, heading east out of Cambridge along Newmarket Road to Quy where we turned south-east onto the long (and very familar) road that leads to Little Wilbraham, Six Mile Bottom and up the hill to Brinkley.

The climb from Six Mile Bottom to Brinkley

We had all agreed before the ride that the pace today would be moderate (i.e. not fast), with Gareth proposing a plan that would get us back to Cambridge at about 7.45pm. That would give a total time of 12 hours 45 minutes, still well under the time limit of 14 hours. That sounded about right to me since it would be slightly more than an hour longer than Camille and I had taken on a brisk ride around this route on 22nd May.

Our pace was indeed moderate for the first few hours, with all five of us generally staying together and riding at a pace similar to a CTC Cambridge Sunday ride, a speed that allowed me to occasionally sprint ahead of the group to get in position to take photos.

On the B1061 approaching Great Bradley

As we entered Suffolk the lanes became quieter and more intimate and, just like the last time I cycled this route, I found myself relaxing and really enjoying the ride.

A nervous horse at Farley Green near Stradishall

We reached the first control in Glemsford (47km) at 9.10am. This involved visiting one of the village shops to make a token purchase to obtain a receipt. As on my last visit, the shopkeeper understood why we were all asking for receipts without us having to explain. "You've come from Cambridge, have you?" she asked.

First control in Glemsford

We didn't stay long in Glemsford as we had plans to stop for breakfast about half an hour further on, so we turned north-east (controls almost always represent changes of direction) and rode on through Boxted and Hartest towards Hawstead.

The weather today was warm and dry, but it was quite cloudy and we didn't see much sun until later in the day. The dull weather was not unwelcome, since on a long and tiring ride you don't really want to be toiling in hot sunshine. There was also a noticeable south-westerly breeze, which at this stage in the ride was helping us along, but which we knew would pose a challenge later.

Between Boxted and Hartest

After about half an hour we reached Hawstead and stopped for breakfast at Maglia Rosso, the cycle shop and cafe. This wasn't a control, but it's such a great place to visit that we couldn't pass it by. Already at the cafe was Joseph, who joined us for the remainder of the ride as far as Balsham.

Breakfast at Maglia Rosso, Hawstead

Afterwards we continued on our way, still riding north-east towards our next control in Eye. Half an hour further on Alex heard the bleep of his phone and stopped to read a text message: it was Nick Wilkinson, designer of this very route. Nick was close by, testing his route for the Cambridge Autumnal 200 calendar event on 8th October. Nick was waiting for us just north of the A14 near Tostock and rode with us for a few minutes before turning off to the east.

Approaching Tostock, escorted by the designer of our route, Nick Wilkinson (left)

As the morning progressed we became a bit less disciplined at staying together and for the last few kilometres to Eye we allowed ourselves to become divided into two separate groups, with Alex, Joseph and me riding a few minutes ahead of Gareth, Daniel and Ray. We reached Eye (104km) at 12.10pm, visited an ATM to "control" and then crossed the road to have lunch.

The Bank Community Arts Centre is essentially just a cafe in a former bank building, with various artworks displayed on the wall. It seems to be the only cafe in Eye. With a menu of light meals and cakes it should in theory be the kind of place we like to visit, and the food, when it arrived, was fine. However our visit was rather spoiled by inept staff and slow service - despite us being the only customers. I remember having to wait a long time for food on my last visit, and on a future visit it might be worth searching out an alternative place to have lunch.

Lunch at The Bank Community Arts Centre, Eye

We departed from Eye a little after 1pm, retracing our earlier route for a couple of kilometres before turning off towards the south-west.

Heading back from Eye

We were now riding directly into the wind, and we would have a headwind in our faces almost all the way back to Cambridge. Accordingly our pace dropped, and for me, with my legs starting to get tired, the ride became a bit of a slog; after a brief turn at the front I was grateful to be able to shelter behind the others. Despite slowing down we still managed to drop Daniel off the back, and although he was never far behind us he rode most of the second half of the ride on his own.

Harvesting in progress near Buxhall

Our next control was in Great Yeldham, 65km away, but we knew we'd be passing through Lavenham after 40km and agreed we would stop there for a "sit-down" food stop. When we got there we turned off the route and stopped in the market place. Alex, Joseph and Ray went into the Guildhall Tea Rooms for a cream tea whilst I sat outside with Gareth and ate some sandwiches I had made earlier.

Approaching Belchamp Walter

25km further on we reached Great Yeldham (169km) and stopped at the village stores to "control". However since we'd had an extended stop in Lavenham we didn't stay long.

Controlling at Great Yeldham

We were still riding directly into the wind, and after 169km our legs were naturally getting rather tired, but in my limited experience of 200's things actually begin to get better at this stage in the ride. Somehow my legs get used to being tired and just get on with it, no doubt encouraged by the knowledge that the ride will end soon. However Alex was keen to remind us that we were meant to be taking it easy on today's ride, and suggested we make one final stop, this time at a pub for drinks.

We agreed that the perfect place to stop was Balsham, about 16km before the finish in Cambridge. However despite it being downhill all the way from here I resisted the temptation to order a beer - or even join Alex and Ray in a shandy - and stuck to my usual cycling formula of orange juice and soda.

An extra stop for drinks in Balsham with just 16km to go

One benefit of stopping in Balsham was that it gave our legs a rest before the long descent down to Fulbourn, and as a result we were able to take it at an enjoyably-fast pace. For the final 8km from Fulbourn into Cambridge we decided not to follow the routesheet as this would take us along Fulbourn Road and Cherry Hinton Road. Instead we agreed to exploit our local knowledge and follow the shorter and much quieter route via Fulbourn Old Drift, The Tins and Mill Road.

Final control back in Cambridge City Centre

We arrived back in St Andrew's Street in Cambridge City Centre just after 7.30pm and went immediately to NatWest to obtain ATM receipts. We had completed the 215km (133 miles) in 12 hours 30 minutes. That's a relatively leisurely time for this distance, an hour longer than when Camille and I did the same ride in May, but still within the time limit of 14 hours. However it didn't feel particularly leisurely (apart, perhaps, from that stop for drinks in Balsham), with that headwind making us work quite hard all afternoon.

Congratulations, then, to Ray on completing his first 200km Audax. And thanks to Gareth, Alex, Joseph and Daniel on joining me on an excellent day's ride. Nigel Deakin

This is Nigel's GPS track. GPS and TCX files for this route can be downloaded from the CamAudax site here

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