Tour de Haystacks

Over the months the landscape of the rural end of my commute has gradually cycled through a rustic colour wheel, from brown to gold via shades of green. In August this slow paced transition flips into a couple of weeks of urgent transformation; the harvest is coming in. Soon the fields will be ploughed back to brown earth but for now the landscape is dominanted by the towering bulks of temporary haystacks. Perhaps it’s down to find memories of a childhood summer in Thorney, but I love a good haystack. 

As for my bike, the bumpkin will be left in the station racks, chewing straw between its jockey wheels, while the town bikes, with their sloppy and squeaky chains look on with envy.

Raw materials

Building blocks

A fine construction

Distant stacks by a faraway wood

Last year’s leftovers

Posted in Commuting, Countryside, Cycling | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Tour of Cambridgeshire Gran Fondo 2016

The Tour of Cambridgeshire Gran Fondo was back in Peterborough for its second year, certainly bigger and hopefully better. This year’s format was slightly different with race, sport, challenge and leisure categories. Unlike last year, where the race pen riders all started together, this year the starts were staggered according to age group.

Hanging around in the morning there were plenty of fellow club riders to catch up with, but all to soon it was time to wish each other luck and depart for our allocated pens. I had gone for a race entry and though still only a (very late) thirtysomething, this is my fortieth year and so was placed in the 40-44 age group. With me from SNCC were Dan, Glyn, Simon and Theresa. I recognised a few other local riders, but not so many as last year. I guess most would have been in the junior age group pens rather than with the cohort of Veterans who could still boast some muscle tone and original colour in their hair.

Age group race pens and toilets, two of the 2016 improvements

Age group race pens and toilets, two of the 2016 improvements

At 11am the gates opened and we filed forward. Only another hour to wait with nothing to do but chat and, after hydrating all morning, make regular trips to through the obstacle course of bikes and riders to the portable urinals (arguably the biggest single improvement over last year).

Shortly before midday the next set of gates opened and we were kettled a little closer to the start line. The countdown for the reception age group (19-34) started at 10seconds to go. It got as far as nine before the flag went down and they were off. The 35-39 juniors followed a few minutes later and then it was our turn.

Getting ready for the start...

Getting ready for the start…

I was near the front on the right hand side. Hindsight showed this to be a minor mistake since I had to take the long way around the roundabout just beyond the start, but once on the wide open road I was quickly overtaking riders and moving up the bunch; I wanted to be well placed to avoid trouble for the tight left off the A605 onto Bullock road. I passed Dan and that was the last time I saw anyone else from the club for some 80 miles.

My legs weren’t bothered by the rolling west Cambridgeshire countryside, this was my home turf and roads I love to ride. I kept pace, I was being stretched, but I was enjoying every minute. I passed the spot where I had lost contact with the leaders the year before, but this time I stayed with them. All the while our group was becoming smaller and smaller.

We reached Alconbury Weston where my wife and youngest daughter had turned out to support with a freshly made banner. They were at the foot of Vinegar Hill, I waved then carried on up. I made it to the top and began to entertain thoughts of staying in the group. Then we hit Alconbury airfield.

The airfield was hard. It was exposed, windy and with a surface that varied from slippery smooth concrete, to gravel then rough, potholed and broken tarmac. On the mile long runway, once home to USAF Phantoms, the lead riders veered over to the gutter, optimistically seeking shelter from grass and weeds. We all followed, stretched into a line and I felt under pressure.

A shout went up followed by the clatter of carbon on tarmac as a rider near the front went down. I can only guess he was head down so didn’t see the traffic cone placed over a pothole. I think he took one other rider out, but the rest of us got by safely. When I passed him he was sitting up with the back of his jersey ripped clean off; I hope he was OK. The return to proper roads, lined with sheltering hedges, was a necessary tonic my legs were needing; the Fens were coming up next.

The last hill (by Fenman standards) before the Fens was at Wood Walton. I got over easily enough, but had my one hairy moment at the bottom. The road bends to the right here and a rider on my outside lost his line and cut across me.

At Bury, just outside of Ramsey, we caught another large group of riders from the junior groups. We had passed a lot already, but this one seemed to cause more confusion than most. We could all identify our groups from the colours of our numbers, we were green while the juniors were pink or white. I stuck assiduously to the green numbers and kept moving forwards, but still worried we might be split by a Fenland crosswind. I was only happy when I was back near the front, surrounded by green numbers again.

From the first climb on Bullock road we were overtaking groups from the other races. Ideally they should have been warned to keep out of the way and let the sharp end of the senior race bearing down on them pass. We had been briefed in the race book to do this, but I’m not sure it was happening on the road. Fortunately the majority of riders did move aside and let us pass, but whenever we encountered a larger group there was a fair bit of intermingling as riders tried to jump into our bunch. More often than not it didn’t matter; if they couldn’t hang in with their own race leaders they were unlikely to do so with us either and were soon spat out, but I still had to physically nudge a few out of my way. Some did hang on though and as the race progressed our group became peppered with a small number of juniors.

Back to the race and the Fens were windy, I would expect nothing less. We got to Pondersbridge and I saw my Mum watching on the turn on to Oilmills road. Sprinting out of the corner I got out of the sadly and cramped across both quads above the knee. I flushed the cramp out as best I could, but that set a theme for exiting many a corner for the rest of the race. Fortunately Fen roads tend to be straight and long, though that might have been part of the problem.

Soon after the cramp I started to lose the wheel ahead. We were stretching out and right then I was a weak link mid bunch, but it was my mid bunch positioning that saved me. Enough riders behind had the strength to chase back on and drag me with them. I was thankful for that and later on would repay the tow to at least a couple of them when the group threatened to fracture again.

After Benwick I was wondering how I was still in this leading bunch, but also confident that I could finish with them. The strong men at the front were clearly getting agitated and had other ideas. Concerted attacks began and soon a select breakaway of 8 riders had established. Our remainder organised and we chased them across the Fen roads with half of us working through and off. We pursued them up to Whittlesey, along Glassmoor Bank, back to Pondersbridge – this time I saw my Dad and brother too – but the wind was blowing the wind out of me and I retreated into the bunch for shelter.

At Norman Cross things got political. Instead of the usual Allez, Allez chalked on the tarmac were vote leave slogans. Even in a race you can’t escape the bloody referendum. Rather than read them I chatted bikes with another Bianchi owner.

At Haddon the road narrowed and I cramped again, slipped backwards a bit but pressed on and kept with the leaders. On the descent down to Bullock road and the final few kilometres I saw a St Neots Jersey. It was Ed. He spotted me and called out. I later learned he was in a three man break with a good half minute lead over the chasers, and with the distance left to run quite possibly good enough to stay away to the finish. If they had it would have been a second podium place for him after finishing third in Saturdays Chrono, but an indifferent flint took it away. It was a cruel end to his weekend, but he’s got talent and I know his win will come soon.

We turned onto the A605, quieter now than three hours earlier. We had nothing between us and finish other than a mad, adrenalin fueled, chaotic scramble for position. We weren’t a big bunch and as we turned onto the show ground and passed the 500m to go sign the sprint was most definitely on. A handful of riders sat up early on the rest of us carried on and raced in aspic, neither gaining nor loosing position against our rivals.

I crossed the line, stopped pedalling and this time cramp hit me with full crippling force. Recovered, I moved away from the finish and waited for the some other SNCC riders. Gary, competing in the 45-49 age group, and Dan were next across. They were followed a few minutes later by Wayne, in the 19-35 group – I must have overtaken him, but I’ve no idea when!

I finished in 3:21:13 and I think somewhere in the top 20. To say I was delighted with my performance would be an understatement.

Overall the organising team had once again delivered an excellent afternoon of road racing. The HQ organisation was much improved and toilets by the pens a definite winner. Starting by age group also worked, though I think more forceful instructions to riders not to interfere with the races starting behind would help. I felt the staggered age group starts made for a fairer race. The timing and qualifying texts were very welcome, it is just such a shame there were issues with the timing which meant many got their texts late. Equally, signage for where to collect the qualifier medals could be improved, though that really was a minor thing. I know there were many other more hidden improvements too.

As for the course, it generally felt safer early on and that was entirely down to the staggered age group starts. I’m in two minds about Alconbury airfield. Personally I don’t mind riding across rough stuff, it adds some flavour, but navigation across some of the expansive tracts of tarmac was at times confusing and the cones aren’t always easy to follow or see. I would happily see it dropped for a gnarly Fenland drove.

The biggest issue though has transpired after the race: the results and difficulty getting accurate placings. It seems some riders, whether by accident or on purpose I wouldn’t like to say, entered the wrong pens, while others entered for the longer route but rode the shorter Leisure route. Looking at the timings from my age group there are 7 riders who placed ahead of the 8 man break. Unless there was an error with the chip timings, I cannot see how they could have been part of our race. If they started ahead then they will have had an advantage, and if that proves to be the case I do think they should be scratched from the results; quite simply they don’t appear to have been a part of our race.

Finally a big thank you to the organisers, especially Tom Caldwell and Malcolm Smith, the police and ambulance services, the NEG and the commissaires, but most of all to the supporters, the volunteers and all the local residents. The Tour of Cambridgeshire is a truly unique event, long may it continue and make Peterborough more than just a stop on the London to Edinburgh line!

Gary, Dan and Me at the finish - Dan did get a medal too

Gary, Dan and Me at the finish – Dan did get a medal too

Posted in Cambridgeshire, Cycling, Fenland, Peterborough, racing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What happens if we stay?

Like everybody else I have no idea which way the referendum vote will go and what will happen after. Still, plenty of politicians, campaigners and vested interests want to predict that socioeconomic armageddon or WWIII is just around the corner if their side doesn’t win and perhaps after all the recounts have been settled they may be right. One thing we probably can be sure of is that if we remain in the EU then immigration will remain a hot topic for Mail readers everywhere….and now I have a boring Friday train commute and time to kill.

On the 24th June the referendum vote is declared; Britain will remain in Europe. Immediately the trains, planes and ferries are full of wave after wave of unrestricted EU citizens moving to the UK. The tabloids screech invasion and Prime Minister Cameron resigns with a shrug at the bitter infighting which consumes the tories. Over the summer daily net immigration averages one hundred thousand and the Conservative government churns through Prime Ministers Johnson, Gove and Osborne. In the end the Queen, dissatisfied with her elected government and unaware she has an opposition bench, dissolves parliament and constitutes a plutocracy to be lead by a triumvirate of Johnson, Gove and Osborne. Most people don’t know what this means but seem quite happy to be governed by a wealthy elite, just like in the Downtown period of the early 20th century when folk knew their place.

By Christmas 2016 the UK population has reached 100 million. Living space and housing are now critical political issues for the ruling plutocracy. Radical new ideologies that intellectuals name communism and fascism threaten to take root. Having no innate imagination with which to find a solution the triumvirate turn to the private sector. A number of crackpot ideas are proposed such as building houses and a big moat to keep migrants out, however the final PPI contract is awarded to Richard Branson’s British Virgin Island One project.

British Virgin Island One is an ambitious engineering project to detach and elevate the British mainland from its current horizontal position to a vertical position perpendicular to the Earth’s crust. This would effectively turn Britain into a 600 mile high reinforced geological tower block and double the nations surface area, albeit on a vertical axis. Nicola Sturgeon campaigns for a new independence referendum to float Scotland into space.

The project provides a massive boost to the UK steel industry and economy in general. To feed the demand for jobs the second Great EU migration begins. By 2020, with the project well underway the UK’s economic growth is in triple digits and outstripping that of the rest of the world. By 2030 half of all EU citizens have moved to Britain and, to take advantage of generous in work benefits available only to UK citizens, nearly all have taken British Citizenship.

The project is successfully completed on time and under budget in 2040, the first time ever for a PPI. The ruling plutocracy, now governed by ministers Johnson Jnr, Gove II and Osborn are quick to realise that with fully 50% of Britain outside the Earth’s atmosphere the nation has become both a convenient space elevator and platform for cheap and accessible exploitation of the solar system. The UK soon becomes the global leader in the commercialisation of space. The demand for jobs this stimulates creates the third great EU migration.

By 2050 almost the entire European population is living in British Virgin Island One and, as in the thirties, most have taken British Citizenship in order to access generous in work benefits. The British population is now just shy of one billion, the population of the rest of the EU is exactly one thousand. The European Parliament unanimously votes to leave the EU and become British.

Over the next hundred years Europe, free of human influence, reverts to wilderness. The majority of the rest of the world has moved to the UK and taken British citizenship. Following the recently completed Queen Elizabeth II Dyson Ring, the population is put to work building a Ring World. With a 3million kilometre diameter, a billion square kilometres of living area and access to effectively unlimited solar power, immigration has long since ceased to be an issue for the forty billion British citizens who make up 99.99% of the human race.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wellingborough Road Race (National Jeffin B)

I was chatting to Jake before the start of the Wellingborough race. Jake started racing with SNCC last year as a fresh young 4th cat and finished as a 1st cat racing for Spirit Bikes. He’s had a pretty good 2016 season so far; the other week he topped a string of strong showings by finishing 13th, and highest placed U23, at the Lincoln GP.

I had thought I was done with racing against Jake when he gained his 1st cat licence by ripping the legs off almost the entire field at an Alconbury circuit race last August. Apparently not.

Along with me, Ed and Wayne were the only two other SNCC riders brave/foolish enough to enter this race, the hardest of the NCRA summer series…and the only reason I even contemplated entering in the first place.

We rode out of Middleton into the picturesque Welland valley, normally a great place for a leisurely ride in bucolic English countryside. The race was neutralised on the climb through Bringhurst, then we turned right onto the circuit and 15 minutes of oxygen debt began.

The run down to Great Easton was predictably fast, the left turn on to Stockerston Lane, more affectionately known as the Devil’s Staircase, was… predictably fast. At one point on the climb I had a Spirit rider to the left of me, an NFTO rider to my right and a Richardson’s-Trek rider in front and I thought; this isn’t going to last.

On the climb’s final steep grind I passed Wayne going backwards. I stayed in the bunch, at the back, but still in the bunch and got to the next bend after the climb, but they weren’t slowing down. The climb had only warmed them up. I was on the wheel of a Corley rider, but a gap was opening between the next two riders in front of him. He jumped around and I followed. It was only a small gap, but he couldn’t close it. I went passed for a pull but that wasn’t helping so he came through again.

Earlier Jake had told me how he could now ride faster than the average speed in these races, so if he missed a break, he could ride across to it. Simple really. Corley and I weren’t missing a break, just the whole bunch. We chased down the B664 but the gap kept on growing. I figured our speed was probably hitting just below the bunch average.

Corley gave up at Medbourne. 23 minutes or 10 miles since I had first gone climbed the Devil’s Staircase I was back at the top. I waited for Wayne. He came up a minute later with a Peterborough rider. We rode a couple more laps and then I watched the race.

For the final two laps Spirit were in control with one lad, Antony Moye, up the road and the rest of the team regulating the bunch. He stayed away for a well deserved win. Ed stayed with the bunch, a tremendous effort given the final field, and finished 30th. At this rate, a 1st cat licence should beckon for Ed. I on the other hand will be a little more selective about my NCRA series race entries…

Anthony Moye on the final climb looks back with the bunch in pursuit, but the win is his.

Anthony Moye on the final climb looks back with the bunch in pursuit, but the win is his.


Jake Hales and Jake Hennessey round off a 1,2,3 for Spirit Bikes

Jake Hales and Jake Hennessey round off a 1,2,3 for Spirit Bikes

Posted in Cycling, racing | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Rocko 3/4 scratch, saving the legs for Sunday

My first race at Rockingham speedway this year was a 2/3 scratch. The circuit was short, and took in the biggest of the infield’s little bumps, just before the start/finish line. To get to the lump there was a stretch of block headwind and before that a fast sweeping bend, then you were pretty much back to the start, at the top of the little bump.

Racing were Dave H, Ed, Simon R, Wayne and me; Tom and Adrian were over in the 4th cats.

From the start Ed was off the front, first following a wheel and then going solo. The rest of us either just sat in or sandbagged at the front while Ed’s gap grew. We let the other riders do the work and watched for any moves.

20 minutes in and there was a crash. 4 or 5 riders went down and the bunch threatened to split. It came back but a small group of 5 was pulling away, Simon among them. Dave, Wayne and I moved to the front, lined-up in a row, slowed down and controlled the bunch with an easy pace. I was starting to enjoy this race. We couldn’t get away with our rolling blockade for long, it lasted for little more than a lap, but it gave Simon’s group and Ed some breathing space.

Simon’s group eventually split with two lads managing to bridge to Ed and the rest, Simon included, being swallowed back into the group. I spent the rest of the race near the front, but not helping at the front; we were actually racing a bit like a team and had no interest in jeopardising Ed’s advantage. The one long pull I did do was a pedestrian spell while Ed’s group to lapped us.

Ed finished 3rd. In the sprint for the minor placings I found myself leading into the block headwind. It wasn’t a good place to be and I was swamped in the charge for the line. Simon placed best for 10th. Over in the 4th cats, Tom came 4th and earned his 3rd cat promotion.

I enjoyed the race and, rarely for these days, felt in control rather than being put under pressure by it; I was mostly near the front, but I wasn’t riding aggressively – with Ed up the road we were trying to ride like a team and help his lead. It’s reassuring for the next Rocko trip, but this relatively easy 2/3 circuit race has given me no false sense of confidence ahead of Sunday’s E/1/2/3. My inside information is the big boys, young lads really, will smash it for the first couple of laps then it will settle down. So, only 20 furiously fast miles and the first two ascents of the Devil’s staircase climb to survive before I can sit like a grape in the bunch….yet…I have a nagging doubt that a 19 year old 1st cats’ notion of “settle down” isn’t the same as mine.

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

NCRA Greenwheel 2/3/4 Race 

Some start sheets are more ominous than others. Looking at the names and some of the clubs for this race, a cat 2/3/4, it was definitely at the more ominous end. The NCRA clubs were all pretty well represented, but to make up the numbers there were a good bunch of riders wearing the jerseys of Planet X, Corley, NFTO and Spirit. On the start line a lot of them looked frighteningly slim and young and no doubt quick. Still it was the warmest day of the year so the weather was nice.

From the club there was just me, David P and Simon M. We started from the Southwick HQ and took a right for a neutralised first ascent of the courses long drag of a climb up to the water tower. Over the top of the hill and the race was on. Not surprisingly it was fast. In fact too fast for some. Simon was among the first casualties getting dropped as we climbed for the second time. I kept trying to move mid bunch, but every time I looked behind the cushion of riders which had been there before were gone. The next climb wasn’t any easier, plus the heat was getting to me – the previous weekend I had been walking in Peak District snow, now I was racing in 25 degree heat with only a slight breeze to buffer the humidity.

I got round for a couple more climbs and then my legs decided to overrule my brain. Over the course of the next lap I joined up with a couple more riders. One of them, I never did get his name, gave us a commentary on how hard the start was and how did the leaders manage to go so damned fast. A quick anecdotal analysis of the situation suggested it was because we had children, fairly demanding jobs and our training was only a half-hearted effort squeezed in between everything else. Oh, and we’re probably old enough now to be their fathers. At the time it was reassuring, but on reflection it doesn’t account for some of my team mates with similar afflictions but considerably better performances, though I don’t think the substituting cats or home improvements for children is entirely fair.

We dropped one of our three. The other rider with me was from Peterborough. We pushed each other as hard as we could, but with a couple of laps to go we were lapped by the lad from Spirit and another from Corley. For me that was my cue to call it a day.

I rode up to the finish line and met up with Simon. The race was in pieces, the two lads off the front had nearly two minutes over the small chasing bunch. There was a third bunch of a suffering dozen and behind these were the remaining stragglers.

The Spirit rider made the final climb look easy and took a convincing win.

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

NCRA Spring series Race 1: Hail over Naseby

Last Tuesday’s chain gang had been a good night ride. I had joined the route between groups. By the time the fast group caught me I had caught one dropped rider from the first group and the rest of them were in my sights. I slipped into the fast group easily and it soon became apparent the work was being done by just three of the riders, and now me. After the Raunds roundabout the four of us dropped the rest then went on to catch and pass the first group on the Chelveston climb. A few jumped on but only Wayne lasted. Simon and I peeled off for our homes and enjoyed the warm down in the mild evening air. It was a confidence booster of a ride ahead of the first road race of the season.

Skip forward to the weekend and the weather had turned Arctic; a cold north wind was bringing icy rain and battered cubes of hail to the Northamptonshire roads. Joe, Harry, Tim, Wayne and I had turned out for SNCC, although we were almost down to four men when Tim punctured during our warm up ride; fortunately we had the means to fix it before the start.

Wayne and I were in the fourth group with Tim and Harry ahead and Joe behind in scratch. Ours was a large group, but despite that we worked fairly well on the first lap and for so early in the season. I was feeling pretty good, but after half a lap a few cracks were beginning to show in the bunch. The first climb went well. Then an attack came. I had been expecting something, just a little later on. I had been at the front, wondering when the next man was coming through. The one that finally did was a young lad from Bourne Wheelers and he just kept on going. A handful of other riders bridged across but not me; I didn’t look like it would sticking so was happy for our main bunch to reel them back in. They caught the leading groups and sure enough they started fracturing.

My group passed Harry on the finish line drag. Tim was a bit further ahead and joined up. We caught the remains of the attackers on the gnarly stretch of road leading away from Naseby.

Onto the airfield road the wind was against us. My glasses were really quite filthy and I was spending most of my time wiping them clean, or at least trying to, so I didn’t immediately notice the growing gap in front of the rider ahead of me. I still had some one on my left so thought we were all right and working together, but no. Through and off had brought me to the back of the bunch and we were now being strung out. Realising the danger, I accelerated forward, riding to get back in, but after a couple of hundred metres my legs weren’t having it. I could see a couple more riders in between me and the bunch and started developing a hopeful plan to leap-frog back in.

At the start of the climb, the scratch group caught me. The main group were about halfway up. I tried to jump on the scratch group wheels but again my legs protested leaving still off the back.

Over the climb, I wasn’t the only one dropped. I could still see single riders to aim for. The first was an easy catch and I rode straight by. Next up was Arbis’ Karl, a tougher catch than I had expected, but I got him. Next up was a 45 RC rider to become my third catch of the day. We were a group of three although for the final lap I was doing the lion’s share of the work and we would collect no more riders.

On the final drag our little trio was still together and we were all well aware of that unwritten rule: we may have been well out of the points, but it was a race, we were a group and some one had to cross the line first. Tom, the 45 rider, and I rode side by side. His breathing seemed more laboured than mine, so passing the start line I applied some pressure and soon put in some distance when no response came. Karl still had something and he passed me on my right. I ramped up again, drew level then accelerated away for 24th.

Joe and Wayne had fared much better taking third and tenth, while Tim and Harry had dnf’d. A mixed day for the club with some good success, but I was disappointed. At the start of the day I thought for once perhaps I might finally finish the first race without being dropped. Next year…

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