Saturday, 21 October 2017

21 Oct: Cambridge Autumnal audaxes

Alex writes: Today was the second running of the Cambridge Autumnal audaxes. These are Audax UK calendar events organized by Nick Wilkinson under the banner of Cambridge Audax. Despite dire warnings of bad weather from the forecasters (typically overblown as is the way these days), 160 riders took part: 100 on the 200km ride, and 60 on the 100km.

The route for the 200 was slightly tweaked from last year, but the idea is simple: ride to Framlingham (approx. 100km) and then back via the Maglia Rosso café near Hawstead.

Beside me, 6 other CTC Cambridge regulars were out this year: Bill P (on the 100), John P, Nigel, Seb, Simon and Tom. Their accounts follow ...

Anciens – Nigel wears a LEL gilet; Nick a PBP one

Gareth manning the desk

Tom's audax

This was my second attempt at a 200km audax. The first resulted in me almost collapsing in a pub to rehydrate and a grand finishing time of about 15 hours ± 15 minutes (who would keep timing at this point?).

The aim of this audax was solely to see some improvement on my earlier performance.

This time I was better prepared with a hub dynamo, map holder, helmet lights and some idea of the pace that would suit me best. The aim was to keep a steady pace with shorter breaks to refuel on food.

This seemed to be working well on the outbound trip and I found myself shadowing Simon G most of the way. Simon has done several audaxes this year and that gave me the confidence to stick at the pace he was setting. Simon and I rode with Seb on and off for many miles too, although Seb had a slightly different riding style, his cycling pace varying depending upon his energy (cake) levels at the time! It was good to have their company on the way.

16km done – with Simon G

After Maglio Rosso the miles and the headwind on the return leg were taking their toll. Simon had accommodated my slower pace and had helped me to pull through this difficult leg of the trip (Thanks Simon!). However, I was exhausted at Balsham and had to stop. I asked Simon to go on as time was pressing.

After a good drink of water, an energy bar and a caramel shortbread I was ready to go again. I now knew my way back. I arrived back at Girton at 9.15pm, just 20 minutes before the allotted time.

Tom celebrates his new randonneur status with some soup at the arrivée

Seb's audax

On my way to the start, I met Alex, who was cycling the other way, surely to position himself for some photos ahead? I arrived with just 10min to spare, enough to get my brevet and to enjoy 2 crumpets with a cup of coffee, I soon was on the Start line, and into a peloton through Cambridge.

I went on my own pace to Newmarket, where there was horses about. Whilst I stopped for a banana and a biscuit before Bury St Edmunds, riders went past me, including Simon and Tom.

Leaving Bury, I went past Tom & Simon who'd stopped on a bench and after another banana stop past Bury, they had caught up, and I joined them. So far the day had proven only a bit windy and rather sunny.

As we progressed, we started to see cyclists heading the other way, many familiar faces went by. We stopped at the café in Framlingham and I had a sausage roll, pizza bread, cream cake, soda and a coffee.. a bit too much so I had to leave Simon and Tom to pace ahead once back on the bike.

I noticed the old rescue vehicle in Earl Soham and stopped to take a picture, eventually I caught up with Tom & Simon. The weather had changed, there was a few drops of rain, nothing requiring a waterproof, it was windier but still okay compared to what was forecast.

We arrived in Maglia Rosso with 10/15min to closure for cakes and coffee, after a quick stamp and chat with Alex -manning the control- , banana, cake&coffee, all 3 of us headed off with our lights on. I was going a bit fast for Tom and I moved ahead, eventually riding more with Steven as I we were heading toward Balsham.

Seb at the Maglia Rosso

Increasingly the wind was a problem, due to being more exposed and higher up in the land. Past Balsham I lost Steven ahead as I was keeping a low speed in order to control the bike, past Balsham I didn't get much advantage from the downhills, surely not bombing down in the drops! Only when reaching Cherry Hinton did I feel more safe. I reached the arrivée by around 20:50, half an hour after I expected.

I was well looked after and got some cake, tea, bread/cheese, got some soup too! Cheers! Simon had got here before me I think and Tom wasn't long to follow.

Many thanks to Nick, Ewa, Gareth, Alex and all involved in making it such an event.

Simon's audax

The lead up to this Audax met me with a degree of anxiety that registered as lethargy and the frequent need to sleep for the last two days.

I guess part of this was the inevitable aspect of having to navigate in the dark, from a route sheet by the feint glimmer of a head torch, possibly in wind and rain whilst fatigued.

News of Storm Brian only added slightly to this apprehension An email airing concern to Nick prompted his response describing weather forecasters as scare mongers and an assertion that Audax riders were made of stiffer stuff strengthened my resolve to attempt it come what may.

The grapevine at Girton headquarters also detailed that John R and David T had fallen prey to the less than realistic reports of wind conditions. This prompted a revised Cambridge CTC group compliment of Tom, Seb, Nigel and me, although it was given that Nigel would probably do his own thing at heady paces we can only dream of.

Seb is a vibrant and amusing character whose fitness to overtake us or dwell behind appeared dependant on how long it was since his injection of cake at the last coffee stop and so it was that Tom was my main ride partner for today, and very well we did too.

Alex stamped our Brevet cards at Maglia Rosa whilst taking some more photos for the blog. We had made good time from the Café at Framlingham and managed to be the last ones to get served at Maglia Rosa before they wound down for the day.

Simon at the Maglia Rosso

Daylight left us somewhere before Highpoint prison on the A143. At Audax speeds I strained to see the road ahead properly even with my 80 lux B&M headlight, where by comparison Tom’s 100 Lux IQX carved acres of light in front of us…. Must get one

Several of Nick’s Audax routes share a common route home from Lt Thurlow onwards and having done the delightful Shipping Lanes twice recently meant that once across the A143 I didn’t need to see my route sheet again for the rest of the ride.

On the approach to Balsham Tom said he needed to stop, eat, rest and insisted that I carry on not to risk DNF by missing the deadline.

When I have a lonely half hour to kill by myself I will often recite Tony Hancock’s “The Missing Page”. Funny then that it should take ¾ of an hour between Balsham and Cambridge Castle Hill given that Hancock’s 1960s radio programmes were billed as “HHHHHH Hancock’s Half Hour”. Must have been all the huffing and puffing, cursing at arrogant drivers and apathetic pedestrians!

To my relief it wasn’t long after controlling at Girton headquarters that Tom caught up, and still with 25 minutes to spare.

It might not have been my fastest 200km so far but the comfortable pace left me feeling decidedly fresh, high spirited and full of beans.

Ewa’s bean soup was just right for the end of the ride and her carrot cake is nothing short of perfection on a plate!

Our thanks go to Nick and Ewa for being the life and driving force behing these events.

And the side slightly tail wind … was really refreshing and hardly a drag at all.

John P's audax

Too close to put my cycle in the car. So I was up and out on the road well before it was light to be in time for the Girton start of the Cambridge Autumnal. This was a beautiful morning for a ride other than a stiff headwind all the way to the start. After a cup of coffee and the briefing we headed east across Cambridge. The traffic lights split us into groups and by the time we had reached the far side of Newmarket I found myself with a group of four from St Ives. Together, we made excellent progress in stunning scenery and made Baker’s Café in Framlingham in good time. After the stop I took up with Jan from Little Baddow. It turns out that he has done a whole lot of audaxes. Again, good progress was made with a bit of effort, needed to overcome the headwind, in some glorious countryside. The better for the autumn sunshine. We got to our second stop, Maglia Rosso Café just south of Bury St Edmunds, where we found Alex officiating as controller. More coffee and cake!

John P at the Maglia Rosso

After meeting up with Alex, I took off towards Cambridge and met up again with the St Ives contingent. The landscape becomes flatter at this point and the headwind became more of an issue. We plugged away and with our slower progress, as we got near Cambridge, the light faded so on went our lights.

After a round trip of 132 miles, we got back to base. This was a very welcome sight! It was made all the better by the wonderful food laid on by Ewa, Nick’s wife. After this brief rest, I was on my cycle to find the wind at my back, thank goodness, for the ride home. A wonderful day and the longest cycle ride of my life. I have a target of 100 rides of 100 miles or more. This is my 18th, including my 3rd audax of 200 km, so only 82 to go!

Nigel's audax

One of the things I like about Audax calendar events is that they give you the freedom to choose whether to ride on your own or with others. That's different from Audax perms, when you're usually riding with a group of friends (or indeed with club rides, where cycling with others is the whole purpose of the ride). With a calendar event you can have the best of both worlds: you can combine riding on your own when you want to push yourself, or take it easy, or just spend time with your own thoughts, with riding with others when you want to catch a passing train, when you find yourself going at the same pace as someone else, or when you feel like some company.

With my usual Audax wheelmates either not taking part or helping run the event, I knew that today's ride would be mostly solo, which gave me the opportunity to try something new. My plan today was to see how quickly I could get round the course, partly by riding quickly, and partly by keeping the stops as short as possible.

Nigel charging along the A1303 towards Newmarket

The dominant feature of today's ride was of course the wind, which was mostly from the south-west and so gave me a decent tailwind for the run out to Newmarket, Bury St Edmunds and Framlingham. But it was also a gorgeous sunny day; the quiet wooded sections beyond Bury were particularly pretty in the sunshine with plenty of fine October leaf colour.

With the help of the tailwind I enjoyed a fast, non-stop run to Framlingham, taking exactly four hours to cover the 102km. I called in at the co-op to control before sitting down in a sunny corner to eat my sandwiches.

I was back on the road within twenty minutes. I wanted to find out how short a stop I could handle, but was also mindful of the weather forecast. I knew I'd have a headwind for most of the way back, but with the forecast predicting that the wind would get worse I decided I should try to get as far as I could before that happened.

Some people say that riding into a headwind is a technical challenge, solved by riding in a group and taking turns at the front. But for me the challenge is mainly psychological. You have to come to terms with the fact that you can't ride as quickly as you would want to. There's no point in getting frustrated, or turning it into a struggle. You need to relax, drop down a gear or two, and take it easy. (I think that approach served me well on "Windy Thursday" on LEL).

However as I made my way back west I felt I was more tired than usual, even after taking account of the headwind, and began to wonder whether taking such a brief stop in Framlingham had been false economy. In particular I hadn't been drinking very much, so I stopped at a petrol station in Stowmarket for a can of pop and a coffee, which I enjoyed in the classic Audax way, sitting on the ground next to the sacks of barbecue charcoal.

That break seemed to do the trick, and when I reached the control at Maglia Rosso I didn't feel the need to do more than get my card stamped and chat to Alex for ten minutes before carrying on. The wind, despite giving me a 20mph headwind every time I turned south, never reached the intensity that was predicted. I was certainly going slowly, but I never had any problems with being blown around.

The return journey took me nearly two hours longer than the ride out, and I arrived back at Girton at about 6.20pm, giving me a total time of 10h 20 mins. That's 50 minutes slower than last year without the wind . Today's ride had been an experiment: how few stops can I get away with on a 200? Today I had confirmed that I can ride 100km easily non-stop. But then I really do need to stop and rest.

Alex's audax

Since I had volunteered to help with the the event, I was not riding it. But Audax UK regulations allow “helpers” to ride the course just before or after the day itself and have it validated alongside the main field – so I rode the course the weekend before, checking Nick’s routesheet (flawless as always) and the roads for any hazards.

I enjoy cycling into the dawn and so opted for an early start, setting off from Girton at 05:30. Past Newmarket the sun began to rise: a vivid orange dawn presaged a lovely day ahead.

Barrow sunrise

In Bury St Edmunds I paused momentarily by the McDonald’s – the only thing open so early – and looked through the window at the glum customers tucking into their plastic meals. The mood didn’t encourage me to eat, so I decided to press on to Framlingham for breakfast.

It was a glorious autumn morning with the soft morning light streaming through the trees, and then as the day ripened the clear blue sky made a striking backdrop for the autumn leaves at their most colourful.

Beyond Bury

At Framlingham I stopped at the bakery for breakfast – the place was busy with cyclists but none I think had that smug “I’ve just cycled 100 km to get my breakfast” aura that I was radiating.

Framlingham breakfast

On the return leg I noticed there was a bit of a wind. On the exposed sections heading West it was bothersome, and I wondered what the weather would be like on the day: a strong westerly would make this hard work!

After a slice of cake at the Maglia Rosso I plodded on home, encountering near Cowlinge a cyclist with whom I got chatting – turned out he was signed up for the audax and was doing a recce of part of the route. Then at Fulbourne I bumped into Seb, out for a spin on his snazzy new bike.

Back at Girton I reflected on a great ride – the riders on the day would have a treat in store if the weather held.

Come the day, I was up early again to get to Girton before 07:00. My duties were card stamping for both the 100km and 200km rides, and I had decided to fit some photograph-taking opportunities in too, so I set off twenty minutes before the start to get in position. I had picked a spot on the A1303 where the road rises to cross the A14/A11 and turns into the morning light. I got set up and shortly thereafter the head of the field steamed past. With a slight tailwind, fresh legs and bright sunny weather everyone looked pleased to be out on the bike!

From here it was 16km up to Great Thurlow to stamp the cards of the 100km riders. The wind was quite buffeting, but not too bad.

The need to stamp cards had introduced me to an exciting niche within the audax world: some people often take a special pride in having their own distinctive stamps, and so in this spirit I had designed my own which I hoped was echt-audax.

At the control it was good to see many familiar faces, including that of Bill! Everything went smoothly except for an irate driver who identified me as being “in charge” (I wasn’t) and complained that riders were riding two-abreast. “Oh, that’s good!” I replied cheerfully. This didn’t seem to mollify him.

From Great Thurlow I rode the 24km to the Maglia Rosso to man the control for the 200km ride. This would need to be open between 13:00 and 18:00 – a long stint, but with the delights of the café and a constant stream of cyclists to chat to was in fact very enjoyable – and I was enjoying developing what I hoped was a certain amount of pomp and gravity in using The Stamp. The secret is in the little pause before the press I think.

Between the first rider at around 13:30 and closure, 93 riders passed through the control (there were a few abandons and one late rider), and then it was time to ride back to Girton. I opted to take the official route reckoning, on fresh-ish legs, to be passing riders at the back of the field. This was working well and I had reeled-in a few when, at Denston, I heard the tell-tale latex whooshing sound that told of a puncture. It was a nasty one, and by now the wind had really picked up and there was rain in the air. I opted to fit a new tyre and an inner tube, waving on other riders who kindly offered to assist (“go ahead – save yourselves”). Job done I started working my way up the field again. By now Storm Brian was blowing a proper gale and the exposed stretches nearing Balsham were very hard work – I felt for those on tired legs dicing with the time limit.

Back at Girton rec. I could now savour the highlight of the day: Ewa’s cakes. I could not stop myself from sampling all three. An exemplary carrot cake, a chocolate and banana cake with amazing depth of flavour, and then the lightest and airiest of lemon cakes. Yumsk.

More photos from the event can be seen here.

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