Friday, 31 March 2017

31 Mar/1 Apr: Cambridge East Anglian Tour Perm 300km Audax

Alex writes: It was an idea first floated on the Facebook London-Edinburgh-London page by Stevenage-based randonneur Phil W: to ride through the night on Camaudax’s Cambridge East Anglian Tour, a 300 km permanent ride designed by Nick Wilkinson. From the comfort of my keyboard it was easy to reply “I’m in”, and Nigel too followed suit: this would be a good chance for training for London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) in July.

The original plan was for us all to start from Girton at 22:00 on Friday but as the chosen date neared the plans refined. Phil got the afternoon off work and started shortly after lunch at 14:23; Nigel and I stuck to the night-time start but wanted to ride the course in reverse. We guessed somehow we might all cross paths en route.

Phil W newly in Suffolk, on Trotting Horse Lane

As the day of the ride neared I dutifully did the things one is meant to do in preparation: drank a lot of water so I was properly hydrated, laid off the booze, and had a very good solid night’s sleep on Thursday. For supper on Friday I ate an enormous curry (with extra rice) – remembering from last year that I found curry and rice to be good fuel for such rides. And then I had some cake and tea for good measure.

At 21:45 Nigel and I met at the cashpoints in central Cambridge, got advice slips as Proofs of Presence, and set off into the night. We cycled through Girton, took the busway to Longstanton, and then turned north, heading for the first control of March.

The wind was from the South West and providing good assistance, and so with only moderate effort we were able to speed along. It was already quite cool though, making me wonder if my choice of open-toed sandals – even with thick wool socks – was a wise one.

Nigel and I are both fans of night-time music, so for a while we enjoyed his collection of mellow disco-centric 80s-ish tracks until his Bluetooth connection faltered. Since I was wearing long fingered gloves which don’t work on touch screens, I used my nose to operate my own phone to bring my music online. But nasal imprecision led me to select the wrong folder and so we found ourselves listening to Philip Glass as we sped along, which was more than usually surreal.

We reached March (@ 49 km) at 23:39 – a good start; after only a brief pause we re-mounted our bikes and set off towards Swaffham (@ 105 km), which we had earmarked as our first sit down stop. We now rode into the Fens proper, and although the wind was mostly still in our favour, on the few occasions when we changed direction against it we felt glad to be riding the course in reverse: heading back toward Cambridge this way would be a grind. Nevertheless we pressed on to keep the pace high.

A familiar audax scene: March, but it could be anywhere

The temperature as reported by my Garmin fluctuated between 3 and 6 ° Celsius, confirming that my footwear choice was sub-optimal: my feet were numb with cold.

As Swaffham we controlled at the town cashpoints, and then deviated from the official course slightly to visit the Swaffham McDonalds (now open 24-hours). It was deserted, leading Nigel to worry momentarily that it might be closed. But no, we had it to ourselves. As we ordered food Phil W turned up: by happy chance we had coincided our rides almost perfectly.

Alex at McDonald's, Swaffham, 02:30

I ordered a cheeseburger and coffee but found the burger quite hard to force down: it clagged on my gullet like East Anglian clay sticking to a plough blade. Nigel and Phil had gone more … supersized, with a Big Mac and fries each. After a good long rest and a pleasant chat we set off our separate ways into the night. Phil seemed fairly sanguine about the headwind, knowing he’d scythe through it on his low racer recumbent. I wondered what Nigel and I would be facing tomorrow when we turned for home on our upright bikes.

Nigel and Phil at McDonald's, Swaffham

Along mostly very quiet lanes, the world belonged to us alone. Occasionally our lights illuminated the eyes of unknown creatures reflecting back from the verges; badgers, hares and rabbits hopped in the road in front of us; an owl flew majestically alongside for a few moments.

We discerned the sky gradually lightening ahead and cocks started crowing as a prelude to the dawn chorus. It was still quite dark as we reached Norwich (@ 154 km) and climbed the hill to the castle (a shock to the legs after so much flat riding). We got ATM receipts from the centre of the city and then headed south for another McDonald’s stop on the outskirts.

Knowing I am prone to a “dawn dip” I opted for a large coffee and a sugar donut in an attempt to stave it off. Nigel said he wasn’t sure if he was hungry but nevertheless chose a large chocolate cookie to accompany his coffee. We had cycled through the night and covered 156 km – not even half way on our 323 km route.

As we left, it was getting light. A good day was in prospect and we would soon have the advantage of riding in the sunshine. But we also faced a triple hazard: tiredness from riding through the night, the slightly more undulating terrain ahead, and that firm south-westerly wind which was now distinctly unhelpful.

As it brightened, Nigel called for a break to rest on a bench in Fritton (@ 173 km): it was evidently he was who has having a dawn dip, I thought, mirroring last year’s Asparagus & Strawberries 400 km when I suffered from sleep deprivation while Nigel remained relatively fresh. I was carrying an emergency can of Red Bull in case I needed a caffeine dose, but knew now I wouldn’t need it. I offered it to Nigel and watched him drink it, wondering if it would work for him.


Nigel contemplates a can of Red Bull

We pressed on and at last the warming sunshine came. I reached down and switched my lights off to reduce dynamo drag (every Watt counts!) and unzipped my gilet a few cm in celebration (thereby increasing drag, d’oh). There is always something special about riding through the night into a new day and this was a glorious one, despite the chilly headwind.

Nigel rides into the new day (photo: Alex)


Alex rides into the new day (photo: Nigel)

We reached the next control, Framlingham (@ 210 km) at 08:37 and installed ourselves in the 221B “Artisan bakery and bistro”. I ordered bacon and scrambled eggs; Nigel smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. I tucked in with gusto, I was really hungry – but as I glanced up I saw Nigel pecking rather forlornly at his food: he had lost his appetite.

We’d been in Framlingham for around an hour when we set off, and the temperature had climbed into double digits. After another 8 km Nigel said he’d like to try and sleep on the grass. We still had plenty of time in hand so this seemed like a wise tactic to see if he could get his mojo back. So on a green triangle between Hoo and Monewden Nigel lay down for a nap; I found a nearby barn wall and sat against it in the sun immersed in the internet (phone coverage yay!)

Nigel resting on a green triangle

After half an hour or so Nigel stirred and said he hadn’t slept but hoped the rest would do him good. We set off again; Nigel was evidently well down on power and so making slow progress, especially uphill. I felt it was unfair to ride behind and let him take the brunt of the wind, yet when I took the lead despite a steady pace I’d glance in my mirror to see him dropping back. Thus we yo-yoed to Ipswich (@ 236 km), where, on the outskirts, Nigel’s bar tape started unravelling, so he stopped to make a temporary repair. I looked in my tri-bag and found some dried apricots and nuts left over from some former ride. I ate some – they were yummy! My body was telling me it liked food, so I ate some more and made a mental note I’d need to eat properly again before the ride was done.

After ATM receipts in Ipswich we turned west for Cambridge and climbed out of town into the ever-blowing wind. Shortly after Burstall (@ 246 km) Nigel announced that he was now feeling really lousy and would try and find somewhere to have a proper sleep to see if he could recover. He bade me go on alone. I said I intended to stop for a while in Lavenham, so might see him there, and continued solo …

Nigel continues: I had been struggling for the last few hours: with the wind, with sleepiness (which I think was the least of my problems) and with a growing nausea whose root cause may or may not have been eating too much at McDonalds in Swaffham. That half-hour lie down after Framlingham had alleviated the sleepiness but I was still feeling sick and weak, and I found my speed becoming slower and slower. Alex patiently adjusted his pace to stay with me, but about 10km west of Ipswich I decided I was spoiling his ride and invited him to ride on without me. I said I would carry on at my own pace. We had about 80km to go, but with the 7pm cut-off time still six hours away I was still hopeful of making it in time.

I limped on slowly for another hour, but despite another half-hour lie in the warm afternoon sunshine I found myself getting slower and slower. I reached Lavenham (@ 266km) at about 14:30. With 55km to go, and over four hours left, I would normally have had no difficulty in getting back to Cambridge in time. However the last 29km from Ipswich to Lavenham had taken me two and a half hours and so I decided that rather than face a miserable final four hours to Cambridge I would order a taxi to take me home instead. As I sped home along the A1141 and A14, whatever was ailing me evaporated, and I arrived home suffering from little more than a bit of jetlag.

Alex resumes: Wondering what would happen to Nigel, I continued on at only a slightly faster pace: the wind and tiredness were taking a toll on me too. Still, it was a glorious day and I was soon in the familiar countryside around Kersey: I felt I had the ride in the bag.

At Lavenham I stopped and made straight for the National Trust tea room where I ordered a cream tea, which was delicious in the way food only can be when you’re really hungry. Gratifyingly I was asked if I’d cycled far, which allowed me to do my audax humblebrag thing: a randonée is not complete without this!

55 km to go, on familiar roads. By now I’d got into the zone, all initial aches and pains had settled and pedalling had devolved to an autonomous activity even on the (grind-grind-grind) hills, of which Nick had managed to find a good sampling through Hartest, Hawkedon and so on. The landscape was spring-fresh and pretty, and life was good – apart perhaps from the wind: in addition to the resistance it was also noisy, and I was conscious that for hours I was listening to nothing but the wind buffeting my head.

No matter how long a ride is, it is often the last few kms which seem hardest, and today the Wilbraham Road – never a favourite – seemed especially bad with its rutted knobbled surface jigglier and more speed-sapping than ever. But then, Cambridge! and aware I was tired I made a conscious effort to raise my alertness to stay safe in the traffic. I arrived back in the centre and got an ATM receipt at 17:12. I had ridden 323 km (200 miles) making this my third-longest ride ever; it had taken 19:27 hours, by some measure my slowest 300. A link to my Strava record of the ride is here.

As I rode home I heard a familiar voice behind me compliment my saddle bag. It was Nick! We stopped for a de-brief and he cheerfully reminded me that as members of his “Cambridge Express” team Nigel and I would be repeating the experience (“with an extra 100 km”) in two weeks’ time for the Easter Arrow to York. Great ☺

Lessons learned

For me this was an audax done by the book, and so I think the principal lesson is “do this again” (apart from wearing sandals through a cold night). In particular
  • Be well rested
  • Be well hydrated
  • Be well fed
  • Take regular stops through the ride, and keep eating and drinking.
I also kept my effort regulated, which I think definitely helped. When I have to make more intense efforts I start struggling. Of course hilly terrain and/or stronger headwinds mean intense efforts are necessary to keep time in hand, which is why hilly audaxes are much harder. That’s a challenge to work out later in the year …

A study in moderation

Nigel adds: This was the third time I had attempted this ride, but the first time I had failed to complete it. It's still a mystery to me why I ran into trouble on this occasion. I don't think it was the distance, nor the overnight riding. I'm more inclined to blame some freak digestive or dietary issue which disappeared after few hours' rest. For me the lessons learned are:
  • occasionally things don't work out
  • be careful what you eat
  • a good rest may be all that you need (which is worth remembering for LEL).

For a map of the official route see Nigel’s report of his ride from last year. For more details of local audax rides visit the Camaudax site.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

30 Mar: Thursday ride to Ickleton and Thaxted

Edward writes: The only similarity between this week and last week's ride in the Fens was a persistent breeze. Even that was not the quite the problem we had last week of battling against a stiff easterly; this week it was south south westerly. This had the added satisfaction of face wind out to lunch but mostly on our backs for the journey home. When twelve riders (including a surprise appearance from Cheryl) assembled in Haslingfield it was mild, overnight temperatures only had a low of eleven degrees, and although a little overcast, this was soon to change to bright blue skies. Spring at last! In town Averil was the leader and she had eight riders while out at Hauxton twelve riders, with Sheila as our leader, and this week we would be taking in Ickleton for coffee and Thaxted for lunch.

We set off with a climb up Chapel Hill, not everyone's favourite start, but it was soon over as we descended into Barrington and then Shepreth. This gave us our first glimpse this spring of oil-seed rape almost in full familiar yellow colour. We went over the A10 to Fowlmere and out to the A505 before heading to Chrishall Grange and here many of us expected to turn right so that we would reach Ickleton via Ickleton Grange. Sheila had other ideas and we turned left and went instead into Duxford via Duxford Grange. We went through the Duxford factory area and over the ford into Hinxton and then Ickleton to arrive at the Riverside Barns just before 11 am. With those who rode out independently there were in excess of twenty-five members there (including Greta), all sitting outside enjoying the warm sunshine.

Coffee at Ickleton

When we left Ickleton there were two different routes on offer, Sheila's going via Elmdon and Arkesden and Averil's via Coploe Hill and Wendens Ambo. Either way in this weather would be good. We climbed Coploe Hill, pausing briefly at the summit before heading on to Catmere End.

Coploe Hill

A brief stop at the top of Telegraph Hill and then downhill into Wendens Ambo which is a pretty village, the more so because of all the blossoms on the trees and still plenty of daffodils to admire.

Telegraph Hill

Telegraph Hill

We waited for a train to pass through at the level crossing and then joined the B1383 into Newport. Now we had the climb away from Newport and briefly the wind helped us as we came to the junction for Debden. Another climb up to Debden and then we were on our way for the last four miles to Thaxted, arriving shortly after 1 pm and 30 miles on the clock.

Wendens Ambo

In Thaxted about ten took lunch at the Swan Hotel and by all accounts they were well looked after. Those with sandwiches ate them on the steps of the old guildhall before heading to Parishes restaurant for a cup of tea which we were able to enjoy outside on the pavement and in the sunshine.

Enjoying the sunshine in Thaxted

At about 2.15pm two groups started out for home going first to Great Sampford, but leaving Adrian to make his own way back probably so that he could enjoy some off-road work which he loves. Now we had the benefit for most of the way of a following wind and we made quick progress to Radwinter and soon after into Ashdon. The serious climbing was over now as Bartlow and Linton came next. It was nice to observe that trees have been planted along Back Road, Linton, all the way to Hildersham. This has always been an exposed road and the trees will eventually make it a much better ride, but on the flip side there is a planning application for a housing estate to be built along this road. We finished the ride through Hildersham, Great Abington, Babraham and Sawston. For those going back to Haslingfield this would have been a ride of 58 miles. It was really lovely being out in the warm sunshine and our thanks to Sheila and Averil for helping to make it such a successful day out. Edward Elmer

Thaxted (Photo: Adrian Lee)

Thaxted (Photo: Adrian Lee)

Thaxted (Photo: Adrian Lee)

Thaxted (Photo: Adrian Lee)



Download GPS track (GPX).

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

29 Mar: Evening ride to Hemingford Abbots

Nigel writes: Spring, at last, has arrived, and with the clocks having gone forward last weekend our evening rides have now become weekly. To celebrate our first evening ride of the year for which a significant part of the ride would be held in daylight, I was joined at Brookside by Alex, John R, John S and Dimitris.

Our destination this evening was Hemingford Abbots. We left Cambridge along Huntingdon Road and joined the busway just beyond Girton. With a gentle tailwind we made smooth and rapid progress to St Ives, arriving there just as the sun was setting at about 7.30pm.

On the busway

We continued along the Thicket Path to Houghton in declining light and arrived at The Axe and Compass in Hemingford Abbots just as it was beginning to get dark. It was a very mild evening, and we briefly contemplated sitting outside the pub, before deciding that it would be better to eat inside.

After a pleasant meal we returned via Hemingford Grey to St Ives and then rejoined the busway for the journey back to Cambridge. I arrived home at about 10pm, having cycled 58km (36 miles). Nigel Deakin



Download GPS track (GPX).

Sunday, 26 March 2017

26 Mar: Sunday afternoon ride to Saffron Walden

David S writes: Four riders (Cheryl, John, Neil and I) set off from Brookside at 1pm BST for the first ride aft the clock change. I hope that there were not many who turned up at 2pm (1pm GMT)! Beautiful sunny weather, but easterly wind. To avoid Hills Road road works and traffic lights, we went through Great Kneighton and past the new secondary school, before heading east and going round Addenbrookes's to pick up the Babraham cycleway.

At the Babraham roundabout we joined the new Institute path. Lovely surface and views - and welcome peace after the noise from the main road.

After one final off-road section to Abington over the A11 footbridge we took the minor road to Linton and Bartlow, before heading to Saffron Walden via Ashdon. As we were only making 11 mph average, we abandoned the Shudy Camps detour and arrived at Bicicletta Coffee on time (20 miles). We were joined there by Mike S, Simon and Ray for the ride back via Audley End, Strethall, Royston Lane, Fowlmere, Hauxton and through Trumpington Meadows and along the busway. A quieter return than the way out of Cambridge earlier in the afternoon! David Secher




Friday, 24 March 2017

23 Mar: Thursday ride to Lode and Isleham

Edward writes: This Thursday we had a planned trip out into the Fens to Isleham via Anglesey Abbey in Lode. Out in Hauxton, where Mike was leading, there were eleven riders. The weather promised to be dry but the wind had switched right round and now came in from the North East. This, of course, meant that the entire morning to lunch would be a battle against the stiff breeze; not an ideal day for a trip into the Fens.

Hauxton

Amongst those riding out to lunch was the welcome sight of Les making a return after a bit of an absence. Full day next time, Les? With all the formalities completed, we set off through the Shelfords and onto the DNA path where we were able to see yet another area of Addenbrooke's fenced off for more building, and this was right beside the DNA path.

On the DNA path near Great Shelford

On the DNA path near Addenbrooke's

The DNA path brought us to Red Cross Lane, all ready for the climb over the Gogs and down into Fulbourn. The ride out to Anglesey Abbey is pretty straightforward and we made good progress through the Wilbrahams and Bottisham, which just left the last mile or so into Lode for our first break of the day, arriving at 11am.

Between Little Wilbraham and Bottisham

With more than twenty miles to Isleham and a lively breeze to contend with there would be no time to linger over coffee. I didn't get the numbers from the City start, where Rupert was leading, but there were certainly in excess of twenty members at the Abbey.

We managed to leave the Abbey by 11.20 am with Rupert's group going first followed a few minutes later by Mike's group. We went through Swaffham Bulbeck and when we got to Swaffham Prior we turned onto the Lodes way which we followed to Upware and, of course, now that we were in the Fens, the wind made every effort to make it difficult for us.

On the Lodes Way

From Upware we went through Padney and past G's Hostel at Barway before joining the road known as The Cotes for a very windy ride into Soham. When in Soham we witnessed the unique occurrence of Adrian taking a wrong turning and we had to retrace our steps back to the main street through the town. So, he is fallible!

From Soham to Isleham is probably somewhere between three and four miles but what a slog. The wind had picked up and it was head-on all the way to the Isleham to Prickwillow road and it was such a relief to reach it as spirits were flagging a little. This left just a short distance into the village and the Griffin pub.

The Griffin, Isleham

This is a new lunch stop for the Thursday group and, as two weeks ago in Stansted, we can put this down as a success, a tribute to our Runs Committee who have worked hard to find new venues. We rang the pub from coffee to expect about a dozen for lunch and they were well prepared for us. Although we arrived later than our estimate of 1 pm (that wind again) all fifteen who had lunch were quickly served such that we were able to leave by 2.20pm. Their 'light bites' menu was just right for a group of cyclists and all reasonably priced and, just as importantly, friendly, welcoming staff.

Preparing to leave Isleham

We left Isleham in two groups and this time we had the pleasure of the wind behind us which meant we made rapid progress down to Fordham where we joined the busy A142, luckily only for a short while, until we reached the turning for Exning. We left Exning on the heath road, past the solar farm and adjacent to the very noisy A14. This brought us to Burwell and then Reach before coming back to Swaffham Prior for the second time today.

Our ride was nearly over as we visited Swaffham Bulbeck again and Bottisham where we joined the cycle path along side the A1303 all the way to the airport turning. Some went back into the city with Mike leading the last few back through Cherry Hinton to Great Shelford. Rides out into the Fens are not always the most popular especially with a stiff wind but Mike devised a good route and we discovered a good lunch stop, so all in all a good day out. Anyone going back to Hauxton would have cycled 64 miles. Edward Elmer



Download GPS track (GPX).

Saturday, 18 March 2017

18 Mar: The Cambridge Pork Pie 200km Audax

Today was the second running of the Cambridge Pork Pie. This was an Audax calendar event, the third to be organised by Nick Wilkinson under the banner of Cambridge Audax.

Around 150 riders rode this 200km event, including many regulars from CTC Cambridge: John R, Mike P, Nigel, Alex, French Seb, Sven, John S, David T and Edmund: special mention must go to Tom N, attempting his longest ride ever after only having been cycling in earnest, after a long break, for 6 weeks!

The start and finish of the ride was in Girton, at the recreation pavilion, and the single control was Melton Mowbray. There was a suggested “classic” route of 215km and an option to take an “extra slice” at 225 km. There were 13h 30m to complete the course (with no extra time granted for taking the longer option).

Gareth was managing the desk with his customary efficiency (photo: Nick W)

For the classic route see the report of last year's Pork Pie event. For more information about this and other local Audax rides see the Cambridge Audax website.

CTC types getting ready for the off (photo: Nigel)

Mike’s story

Mike P writes: Having enjoyed my slice of pie last year I was looking forward to this year’s event and hoping to improve on my earlier time for the run.

Last year my older brother, Mark, came down from the North West to ride the event and I persuaded him to join me again. He’s an experienced rider and lives under Pendle Fell just outside Clitheroe and well used to the hilly stuff, and certainly fitter than me.

We also teamed up with our John R thereby forming a “sub team” of three to ride the route together. The plan was to help each other particularly heading out into the stiff Westerly wind which prevailed throughout the day.

As it turned out we were pulled along the busway to St Ives and beyond within a peloton of 15 riders or thereabouts and it wasn’t until we were through Sawtry that we were largely left to our own devices.

We arrived at Oundle just after 10.00 am. It was too early for a coffee stop so we headed on to Oakham by which time I was in serious need of a break and a shot of caffeine supplemented by a large lump of chocolate brownie. Sitting outside I texted a short update note to Jayne to report progress and to say how nice it was in the sunshine.

How the British weather can deceive! No more than 30 mins later we were heading towards Melton under an ever-darkening sky. Sure enough, the rain came through and the wind picked up as forecast. Fortunately, it’s a relatively short hop from Oakham so we were able to get to our lunchtime stop in town by 1.15 pm where we could dry out and refuel. The café is called cafe@thecentre, on the left just as you enter the one-way system. Omelettes were the order of the day which were excellent. It’s the second time Mark and I have stopped here. A varied wholesome menu, great value and served by a group of youngsters who are very welcoming.

We departed for the return trip at 2.00 pm sharp and ran through the entire route stopping only in Oundle to pick up some drinks on the way through. We routed back to St Ives via Sawtry, replicating the outward journey. This is both quicker and more enjoyable than the alternative via Alconbury and Huntingdon.

We arrived back at Girton at 19.22 hrs beating our 2016 time by about 16 minutes. Mission accomplished, although we were all very tired from what had been a long day in challenging conditions. Mark’s son calls it “Type 2 fun”. It’s hell doing it but the feeling is great afterwards….

Fortunately, we had no gear problems throughout the day although Mark had a puncture less than 200m from the finish. As usual John navigated magnificently throughout. My only disappointment is my continued inability to keep up with either Mark or John when the serious climbing starts. Both have better technique and fitness. The challenge for next year is to catch up somehow!

John’s story

John R writes: The weather forecast was not looking great but then most audax rides are a challenge, be it distance, terrain, weather or a combination of the afore-mentioned. So I had agreed with Mike P that we would give it a go. Mike's brother Mark was also joining us and with Mark living in Clitheroe (up North!) he was not at all concerned by rain, wind and a hilly terrain.

The three of us arrived at the start in Girton at 7.30am and were greeted by Nick and his family who provided cups of tea and flapjack prior to departure.

Along with over one hundred other riders (including four tandems and two recumbents) we were set off at 8am heading straight into a strong headwind which would essentially persist all the way to Melton Mowbray. As usual before not too long several groups had formed and most riders found one or more groups that were riding at a pace which they found comfortable. The trick is not to go off too quickly as we had a long way to go. Me, Mike and Mark slowly found ourselves in our own little group heading out along (to us) familiar roads all the way to Oundle. Here a number of riders were stopping for a break but after only 30miles and two and a half hours we were feeling good so decided to ride through. As we approached Oakham I started to realise that Mike was not at his usual best and so we stopped for a coffee and cake.

Not long after leaving Oakham we could see dark clouds into the distance and shortly after the blustery rain hit us and we stopped to don waterproofs.

We rode into Melton Mowbray at 1.15pm feeling very wet and in need of sustenance. Our cafe was excellent and we all had cheese and tomato omelette and a pot of tea. Shortly afterwards Sven and his friend came in having been delayed by a bike 'incident'.

Suitably warmed, fed and watered we set off around 2pm saying bye to Seb who had just arrived.

We quickly appreciated the wind which was now, and for the remainder of the ride, behind us - such a good feeling after having battled into it for five hours. We were into what i think is the prettier part of the ride albeit slightly lumpier than the inward leg. At least the rain had subsided and with the wind at our backs we flew over the hills and by 4.30pm rolled into Oundle. Mike was now really starting to feel the efforts of the day and so we set off on the homeward run at a slower pace. As we headed toward St Ives the drizzle returned along with the darkening gloom of night. Fortunately we know the busway really well and so tried to enjoy the final kilometres back to Girton where at 7.15pm we were greeted with fantastic soup, bread rolls, tea and cakes. Mark had unfortunately picked up our only puncture of the day literally as we arrived at the finish so he had to change an inner tube and pick out the offending shard of glass.

Nick Wilkinson's audax rides are excellent and it was great to have a good number of Cambridge CTC riders out for the challenges of the day.

Nigel’s story

Nigel writes: I normally do Audax rides on my own or in small groups, so setting off with a hundred other riders is for me still an exhilarating novelty. For the first hour or two I find that my own excitement and the opportunity to draft behind faster riders result in me riding much more quickly than normal. The first stage of today's ride, the 50km from Girton to Oundle, was no exception to this, and despite a strong westerly headwind I enjoyed a brisk and sociable ride.

After two hours and ten minutes I arrived in Oundle. On previous rides I would stop here for breakfast but today I simply sat down on a bench for about ten minutes and ate some food before setting off again. I was now riding on my own, and after a couple of km turned left to follow Nick's new, "extra slice" route to Melton Mowbray rather than the "classic" route that most people would be following. The extra slice is about 10km longer than the classic, and significantly hillier, but since this year I am (for the first time ever) "training" it seemed like the obvious thing to do. I had already cycled the "extra slice" route twice before so I knew what to expect, including that it was also quieter and prettier than the classic route.

The first 20km or so of the extra slice is deceptively easy, and the real hills don't really start until after Lyddington. I paused here briefly to prepare for the challenge ahead. Alex arrived, and we rode together as far as the first climb. None of the climbs are very long, so I stood up and pushed hard to get to the top, whilst Alex took advantage of the extra-low gears on his new superbike to reach the top at a more comfortable pace.

There were far fewer riders along this section of the ride, and apart from a gaggle of Gregarios who overtook me at speed near the beginning I saw few other audaxers. However it was nice to be able to ride solo at my own pace, though much more slowly than before due to the hills and the continuing westerly wind. The temperature was very mild, almost warm, and for a time I felt distinctly over-dressed. However after a while it began to rain and the temperature fell slightly, making me feel more comfortable.

Eventually I reached Melton Mowbray and stopped for lunch at McDonalds, where after a quarter of an hour I was joined by Alex. We ate together for a while before I set off on my own for the next stage back to Oundle. I was now back on the classic route and along the way I encountered numerous other audaxers. The stage between Melton and Oundle is lovely and quiet, but notoriously hilly with a number of short, steep climbs. This had come as a shock the first time I rode this route, but now that I was more familiar with the route, and after the hills of the extra slice route earlier, they didn't seem particularly difficult, especially with the wind behind me at last.

I reached Oundle and stopped once again for ten minutes to spoon down a pot of rice pudding and eat a sandwich. For the final 50km or so from here back to Cambridge I decided to ignore the suggested route back via Huntingdon and instead follow the reverse of the route via Sawtry that we had taken in the morning. Although this is essentially south-east there were long sections heading directly east, and with the wind directly behind me I soon found myself flying along.

A few kilometres beyond Sawtry the sun set and, as is now my custom after dark, switched on the bluetooth speaker that is mounted on my down tube so that I could cruise down the B1090 to St Ives to a playlist of 1980's pop hits.

After passing through St Ives I reached the start of the busway, and settled down to ride the final 45 minutes or so to Girton at a comfortable pace. The tailwind had made this an easy ride back so far. Somewhere near Fen Drayton I was interrupted by the clang of a bell and a small fast-moving paceline came up alongside, including two tandems, with a shouted invitation to tag along. I'm never one to waste the opportunity to draft a tandem so I slipped into line, checked my companions were OK with my music, and joined the convoy. The final half hour back to Girton was exhilarating, very fast indeed, and exhausting as I struggled to cling on to the others.

I arrived back at Girton Pavilion at 7.30pm exactly, shattered by that final sprint, and with a face covered with filth thrown up by the wheel in front, and an overall time of 11h 30.

Alex’s story

Alex writes: As we set off from start the tandem crew of Alice & John took the lead. I couldn’t resist drafting a tandem so latched on to its rear wheel for a very fast transit through Girton. Then we turned onto the busway and the speed increased to 40 km/h. This was way too hot for me so I eased off and cruised until I could hitch on to a more moderately-paced group.

This first leg to Oundle was characterized by a bothersome headwind, nevertheless progress was reasonably easy so long as one kept to the groups. Shortly after Oundle I turned left to take the “Extra Slice” route option which adds around 10km of distance and 300m of climbing to the course. Immediately things got tougher because there was no advantage from group riding, I battled on, trying to maintain a decent pace and wondering what toll the consequent intensity would take later.

Despite the wind, it was mild and my long-fingered gloves too hot. I took them off and rode bare-handed for the rest of the ride. At Lyddington I came across Nigel, who had stopped to de-layer too. He informed me that the serious climbing started here and duly shot off up a fierce slope. I preferred to take it a bit more steadily.

This ride was my new bike’s first audax and proved a good opportunity to test some of its features: I clicked down to the 36T rear sprocket on the steep sections of the Extra Slice, and had a chance to warm the brake rotors on the steep descents, touching 73.8 km/h (a new personal record) on the drop down to Launde Abbey.

At McDonald’s in Melton Mowbray I found Nigel already happily installed and well into his Meal Deal. Like me, Nigel was using the ride partly as preparation for London-Edinburgh-London and we were both riding with a one-stop strategy to approximate to the LEL stage lengths. As I set off, a few minutes after Nigel, I found the rain we’d had just before lunch had stopped the wind now behind us: the return leg to Cambridge looked an easier prospect than the ride out.

After a while I saw a familiar figure ahead of me: Seb! He was going well and we rode together for a while, winching up the hills and zooming down, until Seb punctured. I left him to fix it while I pressed on to Oundle where I paused to don an extra layer and check my lights. Glancing in the Beans Café I noticed Sven having a break and we chatted for a while. But I wasn’t stopping oh no. I set out opting to return through Sawtry rather than horrid Huntingdon.

Maybe not stopping wasn’t so wise as I found my energy down, and that if I didn’t pay attention my speed would drop to 18 km/h. I ate the few remaining nuts and raisins in my tri bag but without much help. I felt I was running on fumes.

At the start I had set myself an informal target of getting round in 12 hours, so decided to use this to set my pace and keep me busy with mental arithmetic. The distance rolled by uneventfully and I arrived back at Girton with several minutes in hand. The welcome as usual was excellent, and Ewa’s cakes were proudly on display in their own cabinet.

I enjoyed some carrot cake, and then an extra slice: chocolate & banana cake. Both were superlative.

For good reason this event is getting a reputation as an early-season classic – and I can thoroughly recommend the Extra Slice which makes for an even prettier run to Melton Mowbray than the classic route.

DM'ing the wife afterwards: message reads "all done.that was tough" (photo: Nick W)

Sven’s story

Sven writes: This was an early start to my audaxing this year, with only my second ever 200. Having survived and even enjoyed, last years Cambridge Autumnal 200 to Framlingham, I was in excellent spirits for this ride, heading northwest up to Melton Mowbray and back.

I had convinced a good friend of mine to ride as well, and after attending some minor brake-related issues at the start, we headed off to the busway a good fifteen minutes after the ‘peloton’ had left the Girton Pavilion. We made good headway and before Oundle started catching up with other riders. I was slightly worried about our high pace, which we maintained up until Melton Mowbray. We settled into the first Cafe where we met John R and others from the CTC. Another regular from the Cambridge Cycling Club, Terry, shared our table. It transpired that he had serious plans for the summer, with the London-Edinburgh-London ride on his calendar. We were duly impressed.

The ride back went more briskly, now with the wind behind us. We gathered the company of Dean from Harlow when Daniel suffered a puncture. The three of us later teamed up with another lad who joined us as it got properly dark. Just within the gates of Hemingford-Abbots it was Dean’s turn to need a new front inner tube, so we stopped to tend to his puncture. I used the last 16 km of guided busway back into Cambridge to expend any residual energy I may have had and we covered them in high tempo. We made it to the arrivée at around 8:50pm and were warmly greeted by Nick and Ewa and their astonishing assortment of treats. A day well spent, well organised and to be well remembered.

Seb’s story

Seb writes: Really enjoyed every hill and every piece of cake. Best organisation from Nick and all involved. I look forward to next year's already!

Edmund’s story

Edmund writes: This was my second 200k event so I approached it with a little more confidence than the first. The first stretch to Oundle wasn't too bad and we four of John S, David T, Tom N and self - otherwise known as the Wayward Laggards - managed what I though was a quite respectable speed, although we were towards the tail end if not at it. But it was going to be a fun day out, wasn't it and we weren't overly bothered about time.

Then the going got tough for me and I was forever hanging on. We reached Melton Mowbray around 2.15pm and after a quick snack chez Nigel's Cafe we tackled the return.

By now I was feeling the strain and despite some exhilarating descents from some strenuous ascents I was puffing by the time we took a break at Oundle. And at 9.20 when we finally crept into Girton I was pretty exhausted but a couple of mugs of delicious soup soon restored the spirits.

I found this a very challenging day, hampered by adverse weather but all in all highly satisfactory in that I completed it. It is rewarding to succeed outside one's usual zone of comfort.

Thanks to John S for superb leading and navigation and to all for support and encouragement.

At the start (photo: Nick W)

David’s story

David T writes: First, thanks once again to Nick and his team for organizing another successful event.

Apart from the fun of riding into the wind, rain and hill after hill. Where did he find so many hills ? ! My overriding feeling was that I need to take responsibility for navigation, and not rely on others to lead the entire route. Must do better! (Sorry John).

Tom’s story

Tom N writes: I couldn’t sleep well the night before. The wind whistled around the house and trees were creaking in the distance.

Am I really going to do this as my first Audax? Are just 9 rides with the club sufficient training after 2 years off the bike, particularly having never done 100miles before??

Dawn broke. The wind had eased marginally. A blanket of grey cloud covered the morning sky. I checked the weather forecast. A 15 knot headwind to Melton Mowbray and rain in the afternoon.

That means the wind should push me home I thought. Let's go for it!

It was great to see some familiar faces at the start. I immediately joined up with those in the team looking to do the slower ride. Edmund, David and myself set off up the guided busway to St Ives and then beyond to Oundle, joining John S and Seb along the way . The wind, though less than the night before, was still punishing us for our endeavours.

10.45 am Oundle:- time for coffee and cake. Let's not rush this chaps (I had this premonition that I might not keep up with the "slow group" once the hills started so I made sure Edmund knew it was fine for everyone else to go ahead if I elected for the "leisurely pace"). And so it was. Time to get the paper route instructions out, drop a gear (or 2 or 3) and enjoy the ride.

I meandered over the hills and far away. Slow on the uphill, quick on the descent. Beautiful towns, lovely countryside, fantastic wildlife. I had the time to see it all.

Funnily enough, not many cyclists though! Where had they all gone? I didn’t have to wait long. Some were now heading back. I checked my watch. Time to pick up the pace, perhaps.

A short stop at Melton Mowbray and by 3.15pm the wind was behind me. No stopping me now. Having paced myself slow and leisurely against the wind I knew the finish line was achievable - but by when? Somehow I did a little "extra slice" of my own by misreading the route guide. Another charming hill and a few extra miles near Harringworth Viaduct (just to try and compete with some of the fitter riders who took a planned "extra slice") and, having seen enough of the viaduct (amazing though it is) it was good to get back on track.

I rolled down the hill into Oundle at about 6.45pm. Not too bad for a freshman (to these events) in his 50's, I thought. But after Oundle it all went wrong. A loose fitting front light to fix, missing signposts (hard enough to deal with in daylight hours) and poor navigation added an "extra extra slice" for good measure. As I came into St Ives I appreciated, for the first time, how much better it looked in darkness than in daylight. 9.45pm: Time to grab a pint and give Nick a call from the local pub to tell him I am running a little late.

After a pint (lemonade and lime if you believe me) I glided down the busway to Girton. Nick and his wife were still at Girton, having had a full-on day organising this event.

It was great to get some calls the next day from the club to check I had survived! I thoroughly enjoyed it and will be back next year.

Ewa and her amazing cakes (photo: Nigel)

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

15 Mar: Evening ride to Thriplow

Nigel writes: Tonight was our final evening ride of the winter season. These rides have been once a month, on the Wednesday evening closest to the full moon, and have taken place entirely in the dark. In a few weeks time the clocks will go forward and we will once again be able to ride in daylight, so this was our last opportunity to enjoy the special charm of a night ride.

Joining me at Brookside for this special occasion were Yasmin, Seb, Sven, Alex and Dimitris. It was a dry, mild and still evening, and the combination of excellent weather conditions and a well-matched group made this a fast and highly-enjoyable ride.

We followed the usual club route south to Ickleton and climbed Coploe Hill, reaching the summit at 7.30pm and leaving ample time to continue to Catmere End and complete the full loop via Littlebury Green and Ickleton before descending back down to Chrishall Grange and Fowlmere.

One interesting feature of the ride was the temperature: although it was quite mild for most of the time, every now and then we would pass through a bank of still, cold, air and feel a sudden chill as we did so.

We stopped for food and drink at The Green Man in Thriplow. This pub is one of my favourites, and tonight it did not disappoint, with our food orders handled efficiently and served remarkably quickly.

Food and drink at The Green Man, Thriplow

After a pleasant meal we set off back to Cambridge via Newton and The Shelfords. I arrived home at about 9.50pm, having cycled 55km (34 miles). Nigel Deakin



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Sunday, 12 March 2017

12 Mar: Sunday ride to Stradishall and Chippenham

Nigel writes: I arrived at Brookside to find seven riders waiting to start: Mike P, John R, Alex, Tom, David W, Rupert and Eva, with Sarah and Andy arriving a few moments later. Alex was proudly showing off his smart new bike: and very nice it looked too. With light rain forecast for later in the day, today would be a useful opportunity to give it a gentle baptism.

Brookside

Our coffee stop today was the cafe at Stradishall. To get there we set off down Hills Road to Addenbrooke's and then turned left onto Wort's causeway for the climb over The Gogs to Fulbourn.

Hills Road, Cambridge

Although we do this climb regularly on our evening rides, this was the first time for some time that I had ridden it in daylight. Today was a dull day, with light winds, but probably the mildest Sunday we have had so far this year: after the climb had warmed me up further I began to feel a little over-dressed.

Wort's Causeway

We dropped down to Fulbourn and continued through The Wilbrahams to Six Mile Bottom.

Great Wilbraham

Our second climb of the morning - and probably the main climb of the day - was from Six Mile Bottom to Brinkley. I was keen to have a bit of hill-climbing practice so along this section I found myself riding ahead of the group through Great Bradley and Little Thurlow, arriving at Cafe 33 (formerly Adam's cafe) in Stradishall at about 11.10am.

Cafe 33, Stradishall

Already in the cafe were Keith, Adrian and Geoff. When I arrived the cafe was quiet, and my beans on toast was served quickly. However when the main group arrived - at the same time as a contingent of motorcyclists - the queue soon built up and there some of us had to wait for quite a while. Nevertheless I think this cafe is improved by its new management: it's essentially the same place, with the same menu and the same very reasonable prices, but it's definitely a bit smarter. I'm not sorry I no longer have to stir my tea with a communal teaspoon.

Hawson Hills, approaching Gazeley

After coffee we re-grouped for the next stage of the ride, to lunch at La Hogue near Chippenham. This was probably the nicest part of today's ride, along less familiar lanes through Wickhambrook and Dalham and then north to Kentford and across the flatlands to Chippenham. Apart from a short climb through the woods between Dalham and Gazeley, this part of the ride was mostly downhill.

Keith enjoying lunch in Chippenham

As usual, the cafe at La Hogue was very busy, with no space for us indoors beyond the six places we had booked. However it was mild enough for half the group to sit outside, and as always this was a very pleasant visit.

Heading home after lunch in Chippenham

After lunch we returned home to Cambridge via Snailwell, Exning and Burwell. Along the way it started to rain, but it never got very heavy and I didn't need to put on my rain jacket. I arrived home just before 4pm, having cycled 103km (64 miles). Nigel Deakin



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Thursday, 9 March 2017

9 Mar: Thursday ride to Reed and Stansted Mountfitchet

Edward writes: For a long time now we have been waiting for a day like this and at last it duly arrived. Sunny, warm, no overnight frosts, not raining, all good ingredients for a day’s cycling. There was, however, a stiff north-westerly breeze to contend with and during the day it helped as much as it hindered. In the city, with John R leading, there were eight riders including Victor who was making his debut with us and to whom we extend a warm welcome. Out in the country at Hauxton ten cyclist met, namely Adrian, Averil, Mike C, Phil, Greg, Ian W, Eddie, Sheila, Sue H and Simon and as we came into Little Shelford we were joined by Susan and Yasmin. Now twelve strong we set out for our excursion into north Essex to Stansted for lunch via Reed for coffee.

Fowlmere

As we cycled through Newton into Thriplow where the daffodil weekend will take place on the 18th and 19th of March we could see that their timing this year looks to be spot on. Already there are plenty of great displays and many more in bud so if the weather does its stuff they should be in for a successful weekend.

Flint Cross

Sadly though the snowdrops are dying back now but what a bumper year it has been for them as well. From Fowlmere to Flint Cross it was hard work with the side wind making it particularly difficult, but afterwards with the climb up to Barley the wind helped us as now we were heading more or less due south. We stopped in Barley for a breather before pressing on to Barkway only to be passed at speed by John R and Alex leaving their group to tag along with us. The last stretch into Reed gives the advantage of height to overlook Royston down below. When we arrived at the Silver Ball we were joined by Mike S, Jerry and David M.

Reed

CTC plaque on wall, plus a rather nice Honda

Leaving Reed

After coffee we had to go back to Barkway so that we could head south easterly to Anstey and Meesden. Now with the assistance of the wind, the countryside coming to life under the blue skies, riding was once again becoming a pleasure. We soon reached Clavering and joined the slightly busier road down to Manuden. As we approached Manuden there were constant signs warning of a road closure and we wondered if we would be affected. As it turned out we reached the turning for Stansted-Bentfield just before where the road works were to start, so that was a bit of luck. We entered Stansted and arrived at the Bean House at exactly 1 pm after twenty-nine miles.

The Bean House, which in the immediate post-war era saw life as a dairy but is now a beautiful airy restaurant. They had a wonderful selection of snacks in addition to more substantial meals and all at very reasonable prices. The staff were incredibly friendly and welcoming and also very efficient, so much so that by 2pm we were ready to start the afternoon session. We owe this find to Andy and Sarah and we all agreed that this was "the find of the century". A bit of an exaggeration maybe but a lovely place to visit and the staff made it clear that we would be welcomed back anytime. Memo to the Runs Committee.

Waiting for lunch at Stansted

We began the afternoon session through Elsenham and out onto the B1383 which took us through Newport. Now we were heading north the wind made it quite hard work. Rupert took a group which included the climb up Telegraph Hill whilst our group stayed on the B1383 as far as Chestnut Avenue where we turned so that we could get to Coploe Hill. As we went through Catmere End we could see Rupert's group behind us near the Littlebury Green turning and soon they were going past us on Coploe Hill - must have had a younger average age than our group. Our ride finished through Duxford and Whittlesford and Great Shelford at 4pm having travelled 55 miles. Thanks to all those involved in the decision making process. Days such as this don’t come along too often at this time of the year but when they do they are most welcome. Edward Elmer



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Tuesday, 7 March 2017

5 Mar: Sunday afternoon ride to Ickleton

Ray writes:It can be difficult to motivate yourself to go out for a ride at this time of year. The wind, grey skies, and threat of rain all conspire to turn you into a couch potato. I counter this by volunteering to lead rides - that way I'm forced to put on my cycling gear and get to Brookside, and once I've got that far I may as well go for at least a short ride. Today was one of those days, with wind and heavy rain forecast for the whole afternoon. But I donned my wet weather gear and headed for Brookside. I hadn't accounted for road closures for the Cambridge Half Marathon so arrived a couple of minutes late to find regulars Simon and David waiting for me, along with newcomers Lali and Mark who were trying their first afternoon ride.

We set off down Trumpington Road then turned towards Grantchester, leaving Cambridge via the cycle path across Grantchester Meadows. Our route would take us through Hauxton, Newton, Thriplow, Fowlmere, and Chrishall Grange, then Royston Lane to the top of Coploe Hill. We battled a headwind all the way out, but apart from a couple of short showers the threatened rain never materialised. I stopped in Chrishall Grange to take off my waterproof trousers before the climb, and was pleasantly surprised at how much more comfortable it was to ride without this encumbrance.




(Photographs: Simon Gallaway)

There are several options for extending this route, but it was almost 2.45pm when we arrived at the Littlebury Green/Catmere End crossroads, so I decided to take the most direct route to tea. We stopped to admire the view from the top of Coploe Hill then descended rapidly to Ickleton and made our way to Riverside Barns for welcome hot drinks and cake. We arrived almost dead on time and were joined a few minutes later by Mick C, who had made his own way there.

Our bikes could have found the way home from Ickleton on their own: we must have ridden the route through Hinxton, Duxford, Whittlesford and Shelford dozens of times. We now had a tailwind, so the ride home was quick and pleasant. I arrived home at 5pm having covered 37 miles. Despite the poor forecast, the sunny spells dominated the afternoon and we all enjoyed the ride - definitely better than spending the afternoon on the couch.