Up and Down in Lekfada, Greece


Ascent

We’ve been to the Ionian island of Lefkada a few times now – one of my wife’s sisters lives there – and each time we’ve been I’ve looked at the islands mountains with a single-minded thought – they look good for riding up. The island may be a fraction of the size of the UK but its main peaks are as bigger than more or less anything the British Isles can offer. Suffice to say they are impressive, and when you’re standing at sea level, they look a little formidable too. So when my sister-in-law said, oh we’ve got some friends who do bike trips (http://www.getactivelefkas.com), well what’s a man to do but make arrangements for a ride.

My guide for the day was Simon, an ex-skier with a vast local knowledge of the islands roads, trails and anything else which might conceivably pass as rideable goat track. We met in the small coastal resort of Nidri. Out of season and missing the tourists, it seems a sleepy little place, but behind the scenes the locals were gearing up for the first arrivals – (shameless plug for family) my brother-in-law Stelios was hard at working preparing his cruise boat, the MS Christina. We headed north along the coast road, on new Saracen hardtail mountain bikes, our destination the isolated chapel of Profitis Ilias, sitting atop one of the higher peaks, 1000m above sea level. We took a left turn off the main road and then we were climbing. For the rest of the morning.

Profitis Ilias, our destination is the furthest peak on right

Profitis Ilias, our destination is the furthest peak on right

The roads were quiet and mostly well surfaced. The bikes rode well and felt nimble and light going uphill. We maintained a steady rhythm – apart from my frequent stops to snap pictures and admire the views. Simon, I was finding was not just an excellent guide but a good riding companion too. Thanks to the easy conversation, I soon lost count of the hairpins, although I do remember there were a lot of them and each rewarded with yet another view across the coastal islands to the mainland mountains, disappearing into the haze of a warm Mediterranean spring. The higher we rose the more we could see; small round Madouri; Sparti and Skorpidi; the former Onassis island of Skorpios, now set to become a Russian billionaire’s playground and finally Meganisi, its long thin arm of rock ending in a stubby hand trailing green fingers into the sea.

In the foothills, but getting closer

In the foothills near Platistoma

On the way to Platistoma, we took a short off-road detour though the forests. It made for a nice bit of variety and started to put the bikes through their paces, but the mountain road was a joy to ride. Everywhere was thickly covered in lush vegetation, the roads were lined with yellow flowering broom bushes, and the woods tinted pink by Almond tree blossoms. The verges were speckled with more pink as well as red, yellow and white from a lush variety of wildflowers. With the effort of the climb I was working hard, but every deep breath infused my lungs with a sweet smelling blend of pine, mint and citrus. The scented mountain air was a sustaining elixir that kept my legs pedaling on – who needs gels with that? (OK I may have had one or two).

Looking back to Lefkada

Looking back to Lefkada

About a third of the way up we reached Eglouvi. We stopped off in the small village square for a welcome coffee and apple. Simon had mentioned the old men who spend their day’s sitting by the square - he said he usually gets a friendly greeting followed by complete puzzlement, “what are you doing riding up this mountain? You’re crazy!” Perhaps they just don’t understand what they’ve missed, although we did have a prime day for riding. The sun had warmed the mountains to a pleasant temperature, but in high season, when the mercury is passing forty and the pale tarmac and white rocks are making a furnace of the roads, then perhaps they have a point.

The Eglouvi Cafe. Profitis Ilias is poking up behind the roof, to the left are a pair of abandoned radar dishes

The Eglouvi Cafe. Profitis Ilias is poking up behind the roof, to the left are a pair of abandoned radar dishes

We had our drinks. Behind cafe the mountain peak rose some 300m above us. From Egklouvi we gained height rapidly, following a series of hairpin bends. The road briefly leveled off around a high altitude quarry and the forests of the lower slopes had given way to patchy scrub and barren rock. To our right, perched precipitously on the mountainside, was an old radar station and derelict barracks, while ahead the church was clearly visible, topped by a small azure dome.

Looking down to Eglouvi

Looking down to Eglouvi

We turned right off the road on to a rough track for the final 100m ascent, averaging a little under 10%. The track started off OK although it was littered with small rocks loosened by winter freeze thaws and some recent earth tremors. Then gradient ramped steeply up, my legs protested, but not for long – the gradient eased. The church was just visible around the next bend, unlike the loose gravel and rutted mess that the track had become, so the last few metres were a painful shock to the legs. For a moment I thought the mountain’s gradient and gravel would force me to walk, but it hadn’t reckoned with my granny gear. I rode on, to the top.

Looking north to Lefkas town then Prevaza on the mainland

Looking north east to Lefkas Town

I waited for Simon and savoured the view. Travelling by car Lefkada feels like a large island, an artefact of its mountainous terrain, but when you’re stood on one of its highest peaks, the island was compresses to a manageable scale. Looking north-east is Lefkas town, further north, across the causeway to the mainland are Prevaza town and airport. Looking south-east is Nidri and the islands, further in the distance, rising above the haze, the mainland’s massive peaks. West, on the other side of the island, the Mediterranean merged into the sky, a toy ferry marked a fuzzy distinction between the two blues. Looking directly down I could see Eglouvi and the road twisting up through the forest. The tip Stavrota, Lefkada’s highest peak, was hidden by low cloud. There was a definite coolness in the air.

Looking back to Eglouvi

Looking back to Nidri. Meganisi is the large island furthest back, then Skorpios and Skorpidi the appear almost to touch with Madouri closest to the town.

Top of the world, almost

Top of the world, almost

Profitis Ilias and Icons of a new religion

Profitis Ilias and Icons of a new religion

Descent

Simon came up shortly after and shared out some homemade cake. I had been out pacing him on the climb, but the descent would be a different matter. I’m not a great mountain biker, and I’ve never off-roaded down a real mountain before, but now I was about to follow a confident mountain biker down some frightening trigonometry. So yes, I was a little nervous. As we prepared to go Simon already had look of childish joy in his eyes, just in anticipation. Oh well, time to be boys again… Simon lead and immediately bolted down the church road. I followed, but cautiously – I don’t think I’ve ever been more thankful of disc brakes, a sentiment which would only grow stronger!

Then we were on the road proper, flying down the mountainside, accelerating along the straight sections, then braking hard, in Simon’s case to sweep into the hairpins and in mine to make a tentative sharp turn. Thrilling all the same. Too soon we we’re into Egklouvi, Simon pulled up by a battered old truck (all Greek trucks are battered and old) and with a look of the devil said to follow him. He turned down a crazily paved back alley, lifted out of the saddle then bounced down some steps. Mostly I was just reacting, but I do remember thinking “what the fuck!?”. I followed anyway, just managing to keep a glimpse of his rear wheel as I pursued him through the houses. If James Bond did bicycle chases…

Off the beaten track in Eglouvi

Off the beaten track in Eglouvi

I was enjoying this. The rest of the way we would be sticking mostly off-road, using gravel roads and single track goat paths. The gravel was fun. This time the straights and hairpins meant trying not to be shaken off the bike then sliding on the turn.

Off-road hairpins!

Off-road hairpins!

We did have a short climb along a tarmac road which was being slowly reclaimed by the mountain’s vegetation. The leaf litter strewn across it testified to the few travelers it must see. At the end of the road there were yet more glorious views across the island to the islands. Admiring the view we could hear the pastoral ringing of goat bells from the valley below.

Looking

Another view looking down to Lefkada

Back off-road and Simon warned me about a hole dug across the track. You’ll be fine he said, it’s an easy jump. Sure enough a little way down the track the surface broke up into a series of deep ruts. It was tricky, but I got through fine. Simon was way ahead, powering into the hairpins, slipping a foot off the pedals to slide his back wheel round in a spray of stones. I didn’t even try to imitate. And then, oh @#$$$^$$ crap, that’s the hole he meant. I was rapidly approaching a trench across the track, but mercifully it looked worse than it was and I easily jumped it. I just wish I had the skill to finesse the next bend with a skid! Before we went onto the single track Simon checked I knew about the heels down technique – it’s a way to transfer your weight over the back of the bike for greater stability. It wasn’t a term I had come across, but as soon as he explained I realised it was something I had been doing instinctively.

Single (goat) track through the Olive groves

Single (goat) track through the Olive groves

The single track, riding along old goat paths was some of the best on the ride. The tracks were hard and fast, twisting beneath richly scented Olive groves and speeding through vibrantly coloured meadows, lush with wild flowers. Perhaps then it was the disappointment of leaving the groves, knowing the ride was coming to an end, that resulted in a moments inattention on the very last, and easiest of gravel bends. I stumbled my front wheel and slid to the ground. It was a bit embarrassing. I got back on, the ground leveled off and we followed a recently laid rode into town.

NSFW (Not suitable for wives/girlfriends/whatever)

NSFW (Not suitable for wives/girlfriends/whatever)

The ride was over and I had loved every minute of it. The roads are impossibly quiet and generally well surfaced, but more importantly there are an abundance of stunning climbs and heart thumping descents. I can highly recommend it.

And the ride…http://www.strava.com/activities/128063119

Posted in Cycling, Cycling routes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Psychosmogmatic?


Grey and hazy, the folds of the land, the trees and the hedgerows fade, step wise into the smoggy gloom. It is Friday and today, so the weather forecasters say, the smog should clear, but this morning it is still bad, and it has a sulphurous dampness not smelt/felt before. Got to ride to work though.

Inhaling who knows what atmospheric junk, I’m riding up one of the gradients when I feel a shortness of breath, but perhaps it’s unrelated, just symptomatic of the news reports, like the slight stinging around my eyes.

We had best get used to these conditions. Yes, they’ll clear but they will come back. The climate is changing and only someone as thick, or vested in interests, as Lord Lawson would deny that. We are likely to be in for longer periods of high pressure, sucking pollution from the continent and storing up our own emissions, directly into the air we breath. It would be good if governments could act to bring cleaner air, but I fear they are too timid to upset the financial clout of Big Energy and Big Business and associated shareholder dividends (after all, it’s no good upsetting your future employers). I fear also they are too timid to confront our own frenzied love affair with cars and consumerism. So, they won’t rock the boat for meaningful change and so, like the mercury, the WHO statistics for air pollution related deaths will keep on rising.

Somewhere in Cambdong Province?

Somewhere in Cambdong Province?

Posted in Commuting, Cycling, Environment | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

NCRA Spring Series Race 4 Old: Hail Hath no Mercy


Articulation has returned to my finger joints, my knuckles can flex and my thumbs oppose; they have thawed after the 4th, and final, race in the early NCRA spring series. I can type again.

Saturday morning started off pleasant enough for the time of year, but by race time the skies had clouded over in a menacing mood. Nothing unexpected about that, after all the forecast had been for showers. Under the clouds the temperature had dropped, but the sun was still around somewhere, so while we waited for Alan, Tim, Wayne and I discussed what to wear; how much to layer up, leg warmers or not, waterproof top? You didn’t want to be too hot or too cold, but in the end we opted for our personal preferences.

There were only 5 groups on the start line, Tim was in the 2nd, I was in the 3rd while Wayne and Alan were in the 4th. Tim’s group was large, as was mine, starting with about 20 riders.

Once off, it took us about a mile, but we did get organised. However, the group wasn’t quite so smooth as last week and it wasn’t long before a couple of riders were dropped. The wind had shifted from the previous week too, last weeks Lamport crosswind was now more of a headwind, but on the first lap it was the descent and climb to Old which again did more damage. Two of the stronger looking riders drove a fast pace and dislodged a few off the back. After Old we were down to ten men, the stronger ten men and so the pace, if anything got a little higher.

On the Mawsley road we picked up a few strays from group 2, but we soon dropped them. Then it was the Lamport road. We were down to eight men now, but after a good start I was struggling and was dropped.

It started to spot with rain. Not much, but they were cold drops. I looked behind and saw group 4 a way down the road, so, I decided to wait, rest and jump on their wheel. At the lumpier end of Lamport road I heard a shout “Come on Richard! jump on!”. I looked right and Alan was leading the group passed me. I accelerated and jumped on as ordered. Wayne was also there and the rest of the riders were still working well. I slipped into place to take my turns. Yet again there was a rate of attrition and after we left Old, the group wasn’t as large as it had been. The rain was falling a little harder now, although it was nothing exceptional.

The group got smaller again when Wayne, a 45 RC rider and I started to fall off the back. Onto the Mawsley road we were soon picked up by a small scratch group, only 5 riders I think and together we rode into Hell.

Without warning the rain switched to a hail storm of Biblical strength. It pelted into our faces, blinding our eyes and stinging our checks. I pulled down my cycle cap but it was a poor defence against the barrage. My arms and hands were being sheathed in crystalline guantlets and vambraces as the hail settled and compacted. What was, 30 minutes earlier, a dry road was now a chill river and, without overshoes, my feet were quickly soaked. My hands, protected only by mitts, were flame red, burning with the cold. I could hardly hold the brakes or shift the gears. Worse I could barely make out the riders ahead of me. Sometimes, being a specs wearer can be a disadvantage, and this was one of those occasions. On the outside the melt water streaked across the lenses, on the inside they fogged up, reducing everything around me to blurred shapes. I was terribly cold, but for all that I finally felt good, riding with this group was fine, but I feared a crash, and this time I deliberately eased off.

Barely 30 seconds later the first aid car emerged from the tempest ahead. I could see a bike down. I rode by and looked at the opposite verge, to the rider splayed on his back like a demented ice-bather. The blood on Wayne’s temple testified against that. I couldn’t leave a team-mate like that, so I pulled over to see how he was, hoping for nothing broken. He was shaken and soon on his feet, though not on his bike.

I opted to finish the race, not that I had much choice. By the Lamport road the hail storm had abated to mere cold rain. I caught a couple of riders and rode back, frozen and wet. I wasn’t going fast and at the bottom of the Old climb three unexpected riders overtook me, racing for the finish line. Naturally I wasn’t having that. I had some distance to make up, so I accelerated and was soon back on terms then passing all three, but one of them had enough to answer my response and beat me by a wheel.

Back at HQ, towels were out, someone was wrapped in a space blanket and hot tea was being necked as fast as it could be poured. The small skinny riders were shaking like blue lipped shrews, nor were the bigger riders immune from shivers, huddled in groups, dissecting the race between chattering teeth.

Alan had survived in his group, they had evaded the scratch group, but most had failed to make the leading elements of the groups. Tim’s group had been caught by what was left of my original bunch. They had split, but Tim had stayed with them to take 6th place. A good result on an atrocious day that even the hard men would struggle to enjoy. Wayne was a bit bloodied, but otherwise OK.

Finally, thanks to Jason, Bourne Wheelers, for the loan of a tyre (before the race, my front tyre had acquired a gash exposing a couple of millimetres of inner tube), but an even bigger thank you to the marshals who had to endure some truly horrendous weather.

Posted in Cycling, NCRA, racing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Lunch Ride – route recce and sinister signs


After Sunday’s Hell of St Neots route recce with Tim, there were still a couple of sectors I wanted to check out, so over lunchtime I took a break and went out for a ride.

First on the list was the sector linking Shelton to Yelden via Chelston wind farm. I had a hellish cross wind riding out of Shelton, but it was a good road, climbing at a steady and gentle gradient to Lodge Farm. The road eventually gave way to a rough, but rideable track, then reverted back to tarmac. Here you can either carry straight on to join up to the B645, or turn left, opening the gate onto the road through Chelston wind farm. I went left and immediately regretted it. I was riding into 25mph headwind, howling through the wire fences bordering the track. Several times opaque dust clouds blotted the view ahead as they rolled towards me then left an earthy taste in their wake. I didn’t enjoy the sector and the wind made it worse. I’m not instinctively opposed to wind farms, as a landscape feature I quite like them and when I see NIMBY campaign posters stating their opposition, I find I’m getting an increasingly strong urge to add “we want a waste incinerator instead”, or perhaps, given the current policy of what promised to be the greenest government ever, “frack me, quick!” may be more appropriate. But, up close, beneath these turbines, this was an ugly landscape and the road was just a bit, well, boring. Yes it was rough in places, but it was flat and straight and just not that interesting. I think I’ll revise the route to take the longer route round to Yelden, via Chelveston; it’s lumpier and with the state of the Caldecot road, it may as well be an off-road sector.

Next I wanted to take a closer look at Melchbourne and the back route into Riseley. We did a part of this on Sunday, but the OS map held the promise of a more interesting and longer route. I turned right on to a concrete road, opposite the Upper Dean turn, and head toward Melchbourne Park. Melchbourne Park looks to be a superb route, but I’m not clear on the status of the track through it. The Stately House to which the Park once belonged is now split up into luxury flats and, I’ve yet to discover who owns the land to ask for access permission. However, there is a bridleway skirting the edge of the Park and Coppice Wood, so I gave that a go. From satellite imagery it looked promising and the ground truthing revealed it was mostly good firm grass, although there were some difficult areas where horses have dug divots into the path. So, rideable on my Langster, I never needed to walk, but tough in places, especially the climb.

While I had been trying to find out more information about the Park’s ownership, I learned that between 1943-45 it had been home to the US 2003rd Ordnance Maintenance Co. 8th Air Force Service Command. When I got up to the top of Coppice Wood, I noticed lots of private property/keep out signs. Most were old and faded, hanging on trees at the junctions of crumbling concrete pavements which seem to be laced through the wood. But around one corner the signs held a more sinister warning. Behind a barbed wire fence was an old Ministry of Defence sign, with the warning “Keep Out Poison Gas”. Newer signs had been attached to the fence. The wood is still in MOD hands and it makes me wonder, just what type of WW2 ordnance the Americans had there and how much of that legacy is still present? I think I’ll keep this bit in, but, don’t go getting lost, it might not be healthy…

If you go down to Coppice Wood to day, you had better go in disguise...

If you go down to Coppice Wood to day, you had better go in disguise…

Smuggled this one out on a microfiche disguised as a splash of mud on my frame

Taken with Korean tech, I smuggled this one out on a microfiche disguised as a splash of mud on my frame

The one public access track through Coppice Wood. Just don't stray...

The one public access track through Coppice Wood. Just don’t stray…

Posted in Bedfordshire, Cycling, Cycling routes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Sunday ride in the Bedfordshire Wolds…with a difference


It wasn’t the time between worlds, it was 8am, the sun was up and shinning, and I was waiting at the crossroads, Dillington crossroads to be exact. Not for Mephistopheles was I awaiting either, ready to trade my soul for race superiority, just Tim. We were going to recce the route for the Paris-Roubaix homage ride he’s organising for the 13th April (and yes it is inspired by the Rapha Hell of the North ride).

Dillington crossroads

Dillington crossroads

Regular readers (Ok my Mum) may remember I did a similar recce back in December, however, the route is more or less finalised now, and this ride was to make the final checks and adjustments.

On Saturday I had advised Tim to remove his mudguards from his winter bike – there would be mud and they would just be a nuisance. Still, the point of the ride is to be more or less rideable on a road bike, so anything which proved too muddy would be out. So, as ever what could be a better arbiter than my single speed Langster, prepped with 25mm continental four season tyres. Tim decided to leave his winter bike at home and opted for his mtb instead. By the time he got to Dillington, 7 miles riding on the road with a heavy frame, knobbly tyres and suspension, I think he was already regretting it. Well at least he only had another 43 miles to go.

The route first skirts around the back of Grafham Water then heads south for a meandering journey through the Bedfordshire Wolds. I only recently discovered Bedfordshire has wolds. We had gone for a day out at Thurleigh Farm, a local children’s adventure play centre, and while my girls and their cousins were busy exhausting themselves in a soft play area I picked up and flicked through a local walking leaflet. It seems this part of Bedfordshire is being branded the Bedfordshire Wolds. I must admit I had always assumed wold landscapes were meant to be hilly, but evidently a bit lumpy also counts, and I suppose it does set a geographic context for the route, which is always nice.

The first off road sector took us around the back of Grafham Water and onto the Easton road. It started off as a worn tarmac and gravel track before turning fully to grass. Despite the year’s wet start and after just two weeks mild and dry weather the grass was surprisingly dry and mud free.

Tim on the Spaldwick to Molly Rose Lodge Sector. Too much walking through mud here, so for this year the sector doesn't make the cut

Tim on the Spaldwick to Molly Rose Lodge Sector. Too much walking through mud here, so for this year the sector doesn’t make the cut

The next off-road sector connected Spaldwick to Molly Rose Lodge on the B660. It is mostly grass and is usually Ok, but heavy machinery had badly churned up significant parts, so for this year the sector is ruled out. Unfortunately it also cuts out a significant chunk of the route, so there will need to be a few adjustments back at home. Shortly after I got the one and only puncture of the day.

The starting climb on Sandye Lane

The starting climb on Sandye Lane

The next sector is the longest; Sandye lane, the beautiful byway linking Tilbrook to Swineshead. It is a mix of good conditioned grass and hard surface. It also has the most technical piece of the ride, a fairly steep and rutted downhill going away from the delightfully Pooh-bearish Honeyhill Wood. You need to pick a careful line on the descent otherwise, like Tim, you’ll be off for a scratchy landing in the brambled verges.

The lush Sandye Lane greensward heading to Swineshead wood

The lush Sandye Lane greensward heading to Swineshead wood

From Swineshead there is a long road sector going to Upper Dean and Shelton. At Shelton the route does three sides of a gravelly square, with a couple of grassy muddy bits thrown in, to Yelden, via Chelston wind farm.

Chelston Windfarm

Chelston Windfarm

The original route plan took us to Newton Bromswold and the byway across Yelden Wold. But I couldn’t get traction on the mud and grass slope and walked for most of its mile length. Tim spent more time riding, but still struggled across the uneven grass. It looked good on paper, but not so on the bike. Still at least by walking I didn’t fall into the mud…

Tim down on Yelden Wold byway

Tim down on Yelden Wold byway

We rode down to Melchbourne then took a pretty off-road back route into Risely. There is a stream crossing on this sector, easily jumped and once over, after a brief section of grass you are onto a pleasant ride, on an old concrete surface, through Coppice Wood.

The backway to Riseley

The backway to Riseley

From Riseley we took to some gravel tracks around Thurleigh airfield and into Bolnhurst and then onto the Bushmead crossroads. At the crossroads, rather than continuing straight over for the traditional club run dash back into St Neots we turned left, riding passed Bushmead Priory to a parallel bridleway taking us through Staughton Moor and on to Duloe. The Moor is a strange area. Is it unreasonable to think the mutant progeny of secret wartime experiments live on here? Perhaps, but only if you’ve never ridden by the derelict barns, rusting barbed wire and high steel fences along well surface single track roads which go…well, that is a question. Riding back into St Neots, the graffiti on the A1 underpass, is something close to a civilisational relief!

The new St Neots CC Bushmead Sprint?

The new St Neots CC Bushmead Sprint?

It was a good ride, good route and good company. You can do it on a road bike, indeed for most of the off-road sectors I seemed more comfortable on my light single speed bike than Tim did on his heavy mtb. But if you do go for a road bike, be sure to leave the deep section carbon rims and lightweight race tyres at home.

Posted in Bedfordshire, Cycling, Cycling routes, Route planning | Tagged | Leave a comment

NCRA Spring Series 3 – 50% road race, 50% TT


I had been lowering my expectations for Saturday afternoon all week. Much of the morning seemed to be spent mentally composing the excuses for what, I felt, would be an inevitably dismal race. Arriving at the Walgrave HQ I bumped into Jordan, one of the St Ives riders, and he asked how I was. “Alright”, I answered, “got a bit of a cold though”. The girls have had running noses and barking coughs since the last race and by mid-week they had passed their bugs over to me. He sympathised and articulated my earlier thoughts – children are biological weapons. To ease the tensions in Ukraine and Crimea, you don’t need the limp threat of EU sanctions or John Kerry daftly rattling America’s brittle Cold War sabre, the UN should just parachute in a few children, contagious with the common cold, and they’ll soon confine whole armies to the infirmary; a few coughs and sneezes over Kerry, Hague, Ashton and Putin wouldn’t go amiss either.

Anyway, back to the race. I was in the 4th group along with Tim and eight others, Gareth and Lewis were in a very large 3rd group, while Joe was in a very small 5th group, just ahead of scratch (that’s what happens if you win races). My group was 9.30 minutes behind the lead group and 2.30 minutes ahead of scratch.

From the outset one rider was dropped, but the rest of us soon settled into a steady workmanlike ride, working well together and keeping a high pace. Turning left onto Mawsley road we were riding into a brutish headwind, but we continued to work together. Onto the Lamport road and thuggish crosswinds battered our exposed flanks, but we continued to work well and even down the fast descent to old (touching speeds into the mid-40mph) we kept it together. With a tailwind on the climb through Old we made good progress, and I was pleased to be leading the way, I wasn’t feeling too bad. A couple of riders came through and I expected the cooperation to continue, but it didn’t. I looked around and saw our group had been halved; Tim was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps the first lap had pushed some of the riders a little too hard.

The five of us left continued where we had left off, working well, and as we approached the left turn in to the Mawsley headwind we started to collect riders from a badly fragmented 3rd group. Not long after the scratch group, Joe among them, caught us. We jumped on their wheels and continued passing by small groups of 3rd group riders. It was good to see Gareth and Lewis up in what was left of a small leading fragment, but none of them managed to latch onto our increasingly select bunch.

I had started out with Jordan and he was still with me in that. I said to him, perhaps if we can hang on with these we might be in for some points. Well, that was a mistake. Up ahead was the Lamport road’s merciless crosswind and it dawned on me, this was a small group being pushed hard. The 2nds are going to use that wind against us and the way my lungs were starting to feel, there probably wasn’t much I could answer with.

Sure enough, the front of our group accelerated. A gap opened in front of a Rockingham rider but I bridged across. Joe had fallen back and I came alongside him. Again a gap started to open. Joe pushed across it, but he wasn’t looking comfortable (at the end of the race, Tim reported that when he’d gone passed he’d just had time to say “they’re killing me”). Still Joe had the legs to make it, but I didn’t and the gap widened.

I fell back and briefly had company from Jordan and a young Fenland Clarion lad, but on the way to Old I dropped them.

Onto the final lap and the lead riders were nearly 4 minutes ahead. I didn’t know how many there were, but I was passing a few and each one meant a better placing. More importantly, no one was catching me. So, I time trialed around the last lap, unsure exactly where I was, but, considering the impact of children on my immune system, pleasantly happy with my race. Right now I’m telling myself, had I been bug free I could have stayed with the scratch group, for a while at least. Well, we’re back there next week and I should be in better health, so I’ll find the proof of that theory. Or not.

Back at HQ I found I was 28th. I was a little disappointed with that. Nearly two thirds of those ahead of me had always been ahead of me in this race. The 3rd group had imploded, our group had split, then the scratch group had further fragmented us before chasing down the lead groups. Perhaps, had the 3rd group been more cohesive, the scratch riders wouldn’t have found it quite so easy to shrug off the odd riders, picked up from the other groups. Maybe the result would have been different, but it didn’t happen like, the wind was never going to let it.

Joe was the best placed St Neots rider finishing 9th, 1 minute 25 seconds behind the winner! Lewis and Gareth finished as thirtysomethings and Tim DNF’d.

Posted in Cycling, NCRA, racing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

NCRA Spring Series Race 2 – Keysoe Virgins


Our cycling club, St Neots CC, is, by cycling’s standard, an old club. We can trace our roots back to the late 19th century, and the club has the history to match its long life. During its existence the club membership has known some lean times, and few have been leaner than the start of the 21st century. I joined in 2006 and accounted for 100% of that year’s new intake. Our membership languished in single figures and the very idea of promoting a race was a fantasy. Half a dozen riders out for our summer evening club TT was our benchmark for success. We were close to folding and donning the red kit of our nearest neighbours, but we didn’t and, thanks in no small part to cycling’s rapid growth over the last few years, we have recovered and expanded. These days we’re a fairly large club, we finished last year with well over 100 members, and most of them active in the club too.

So why the potted club history for an NCRA road race review? Well, Saturday 8th March has loomed large in my calendar for some months, and in the last couple of weeks leading up to it, it swelled to an enormous balloon of anxiety and excitement. You see, the date was our club’s turn to host an event in the NCRA spring series; it was when the club realised that fantasy to promote a race. It’s been a big milestone in the club’s recent history and fortunately we have been well supported by the NCRA framework; Rowland Summerlin and Andrew Weatherby were both a big help, organising permits and commissaires, as were St Ives Cycling Club who provided a lot of the equipment our club currently lacks. Even so, it has been a steep learning curve.

True enough we’ve got a couple of sportive events under our saddles and, even through the bad times, the club TTs never stopped (although 2 riders are much easier to cater for than 25 plus), but a road race is something else. More than anything it needs man power. The club is lucky to have an enthusiastic membership although most of our members haven’t grown up in the old cycling club culture – our demographic does have a MAMILish bias. Getting people to volunteer, to help with signing on, marshaling the course and even driving lead cars wasn’t a problem, but it was the first time anyone had done it, so we needed that enthusiasm to cover for our collective ignorance!

To the race then. Five of us lined up from St Neots: Gareth, Wayne, Joe, Alan (first race) and me. I had originally planned to sit this one out, but bowed a little bit to peer pressure (and more to my own desire to race it) and so relented.

The race got under way under clear skies, but against a strong southerly headwind. The first stretch of the course, heading south along the B660 was an exposed hard slog, then it was up and over the Mill Hill, a deceptive climb where the road weaves just enough that you can’t ever quite see what’s up ahead, until the last moment when it delivers you on to an almost 10% gradient to the summit. There was some respite on the descent, but then you’re back into more headwind on the long drag into Keysoe. After Keysoe the terrain was flat and at Bolnhurst we took a left turn out of the wind. The pace picked up considerably. At the Bushmead crossroads we took another left turn for Little Staughton.

The marshals were doing an excellent job guiding the riders through, and going round I was proud of them, especially given it was their first time marshaling – I know I’m biased, but they are all a credit to the club.

Little Staughton was one of two parts of the course I had a few reservations about. The course descended Spring Hill, an average 6% drop through a residential area, and with a left turn at the bottom (by the foot of the climb we were riding at around 30mph); however, the road was clear of parked cars and the left turn didn’t prove too fearsome for the riders.

From Staughton we headed to a crossroads (this was my other reservation). We should have gone across, but instead the lead car turned left, shaving just under a mile off the course. I gather a bit of confusion ensued. Still, it didn’t cause any serious problems and, like the marshals, the lead cars did an otherwise great job, guiding the riders safely around the circuit.

The next turn took us back on to the B660 and into the wind for the climbs.

A reduced scratch group caught our group early on. Wayne wasn’t with them and as they came through I was struggling to stay on. Joe, on the other hand, looked fine. We picked up a few dropped riders from the lead groups only to spit them out the back. I know this because that is where I was hanging on. I was hoping for some respite when we caught the lead groups, but that didn’t happen. I looked for Alan and Gareth, but only Alan was still there – Gareth had gone across the crossroads, following the correct course. Joe was looking increasingly strong while my legs had the motive power of unset jelly.

After the Bushmead crossroads, along with a Kettering rider, I was finally dislodged. A few miles down the road we caught Peterborough CC’s Nick Smith and another rider. The latter was dropped and it wasn’t much longer before Peterborough and Kettering dropped me. My legs just were not in it. With hindsight I think I had burned away my adrenalin with last minute organisation in the morning’s lead up to the race. I finished 30th. Still I’ll get to find out whether my theory is correct on Saturday, at the next race. I hope so, I don’t want Naseby to be a fluke!

For the rest of the club racers, fortunes were mixed. Despite the extra mileage, Gareth didn’t finish last, while Wayne DNF’d following a cramp. Alan had a good race, being the 2nd 4th cat to finish and 12th overall, an excellent result for a first race on a testing course. Joe was not only 1st 4th cat, but also took the win, and on only his second race too!

So, overall it was a good day for the club, true we had some teething problems, but we’ll learn from them and we kick-started our new race-promoting era with a home win. I’m already looking forward to the 2015 races; only next year, I’ll leave the bike at home…

Posted in Cycling, NCRA, racing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment