Sunday, 24 September 2017

24 Sep: Sunday ride to Finchingfield, Terling and Thaxted

Rupert writes: There are some people who seem to like early starts - let's call them the smarm-mites - and some who struggle to get to Brookside by 8.30am. I fall into the latter category. It doesn't matter how early I get up, my cycling legs are not ready to go until 9.15am due to years of Thursday ride conditioning.

Fortunately, the smarm-mites were in the majority today so that six riders were ready and raring to go at the start and a seventh was at least ready. We set off along Hills Road enjoying the new section of cycleway outside Addenbrookes before being dumped back into the road for the Addenbookes roundabout - which is about to be remodelled to handle increased volumes of motor vehicles as part of the not-very-joined-up road planning by Cambridge traffic engineers.

Happy riders at the end of the ride

From there we took the nice ascent of the Gogs with unhappy legs still protesting but eyes enjoying the open view of sunny uplands as we whoosh down into Fulbourn. Then we have the grim drag from Fulbourn to Balsham as we are forced to share the road with the Sunday drag racers. From Balsham we can start to relax and enjoy the back roads to head via Horseheath and Steeple Bumpstead before taking the long straight road past Spains Hall to arrive at Finchingfield even earlier than planned.

And there our first taste of cycling cafe disaster strikes. The cafe is heaving with a recently arrived group of motor-bikers and a coach party of older ladies. Of course I could be guilty of stereotyping here - maybe the Harleys belonged to the ladies and the lads in leather had arrived by coach - but somehow I doubt it. The cafe staff were working hard, but the big groups meant that we had a long wait for our drinks and our early start advantage was rather lost.

But while sitting in the cafe we were entertained by multiple groups of cyclists speeding through Finchingfield with steely determination. It turns out they were taking part in the L'Etape London". Our back road route kept us clear of these riders for the first few miles but at Shalford we rejoined their speeding flow and were soon being overtaken by hundreds of cyclists. On occasions, we felt more at risk from a cycle-cycle collision than the cars but all was well despite a near miss on one of the junctions.

In a few villages there were groups of spectators cheering the riders on - possibly confused by the cycle route markers which seemed to have been "borrowed" from the Tour de France (the Tour followed the same route through Essex a few years ago). Our group was evenly divided in opinion (in proper CTC style) with half acknowledging the cheers and others protesting "we're not with them!". Our slower pace than the Etapers was softened by a brief moment of success when our leader took us along the Flitch Way shortcut into Rayne to emrge ahead of a speeding group that had passed us just moments earlier. But eventually (and with some relief) our routes diverged as we turned to head across to Terling arriving just a few minutes behind schedule.

After a nice lunch in the sunshine it was time to head back, once again sharing another route that mixed with the Etape cycle race but by this time their numbers were reduced and anyway we were now going in opposite directions. After the obligatory wriggles to cross those pesky A131 and A120 main roads we emerged at Andrewsfield airfield in Great Saling - a club favourite but not a stop for today - before pressing on along the bridleway and more nice roads to arrive at Thaxted for our tea stop. Another potential cafe disaster loomed when they ran out of lemon drizzle cake, but we had toughened up now and shrugged it off.

As we left the tea stop, real disaster struck. Rupert managed to break the valve in Alex's rear tyre by offering to pump it up and snapping off the valve with his pump head when the bike moved. Bit like Brexit I thought, where the offer of free air corresponds to the promised nirvana of new trade deals and the broken valve and unrideable flat tyre is the reality. Apologies somehow don't seem enough in this situation, but a brave Alex offered to repair it himself while the rest of us could set off, in part because the late hour highlighted (not!) that a few folk had forgotten to bring lights.

From Thaxted it was the direct ride home via Debden and Saffron Walden, then opting for the B-road to Ickleton to avoid Coploe Hill in recognition of tired legs. By now my legs had finally woken up and I seemed to riding well as others were started to fade. But it was still a welcome shortcut, and we arrived back at Shelford just before 6pm. Best of all, after pausing for the end-of-ride group photo (thanks to a timely encounter with John S) we were joined by our lost leader Alex who had managed a speedy repair of his tyre, slightly assuaging my guilt. This blog was my agreed penance.

So thankyou to Alex for planning and leading one of our longest rides of the year at 91 miles, taking in lots of nice roads and dealing graciously with my valve bending "brexit" disaster. Rupert Goodings



Download this route (GPX).

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