We had our second club sportive last Sunday and, like last year, my morning got off to a similar routine – strong black coffee, a large bowl of porridge and a sleepy grunt goodbye from my wife. At HQ the first riders were arriving and an early queue had formed while Alistair readied the sign-on team. The big difference to last year was the weather. In 2012 we were setting riders off in chilly fog, not much above freezing, although it did lift later on for a pleasant autumn day. This year, the weather was kind, skipping the cold, foggy bit and dawning with blue skies and mild temperatures. We were being treated to a glorious day for autumn riding!
By about ten to eight, with all the volunteers briefed or on their way to feed stations and marshaling points, Wayne, Steve and I started to send the riders off, and in half an hour nearly all of the 177 who had turned up were on their way. Once the last riders were off, we cleared away the start line gazebo, got our bikes ready, and along with Gareth, hit the road. As with last year, the intention, or excuse if you prefer, was to sweep up and assist any struggling riders. However, as all but the very last rider off had nearly an hour head start on us we were hopeful, and I mean that in a positive sense, not to see too many stragglers.
We made good progress, averaging a steady 20mph to Barham where we caught up with a a couple riding the short course. They seemed quite happy, and reassured, we pressed on to Winwick, where the routes split. Club member Chris had ridden out early to marshal the split, although judging for the volume of signage, technically he was probably surplus to requirements, however, I’m sure the riders welcomed a friendly face, I know we did, even if it wasn’t accompanied by a camping stove cooking up some fresh bacon – something to improve on for next year…
We didn’t see any more event riders on the way to the Nassington feed station, so just enjoyed the ride, soaking up the October sun. Our paths did keep crossing with a guy from Northampton way riding part of the route (he’d sacrificed his entry fee for British Cycling membership, so I wasn’t going to complain). Chatting to him, it turned out he’s a member of the 100 Marathon Club, although with only 53 runs under his belt, he still has another 47 to go before he be granted full membership. Insane.
After only 40miles, the Nassington feed station came as a relief. Andy and Mandy were there to welcome us with a still lavish display of food. There were a few riders at Nassington, including some from NiceTri, the local triathlon club. One of them was, with Tony from the Cycling Club, attempting a Heath Robinson fix on a ripped tyre.
Having eaten out fill, we followed a few minutes after the last riders to depart, but we soon caught up with the NiceTri group outside the village. The ripped tyre had failed again, and unfortunately the rider was forced to abandon, making the short walk back to the feed station for collection by the broom wagon. We continued riding with the rest of the NiceTri group, leaving them just before Southwick. Here our small group suffered its first and, fortunately, only incident of the day. I was quite prepared to go head to head with Wayne and Gareth up the Southwick climb, we had all last been through here a couple of weeks previously in the final NCRA race of the season (Rowland, if you’ve got this far, I haven’t got my point yet!) – it feels wrong not to go flat out up this particular hill. However, right at the bottom, Wayne stopped stating “I’ve been stung”. Sure enough right between his eyes, there was a throbbing bee’s stinger. I removed the stinger and we took the climb at a relaxed pace.
Steve had pressed on, while Gareth and I chaperoned Wayne. As we hit the climbs after Brigstock, he was clearly starting to suffer from the sting. We saw the broom wagon and debated whether or not to sling him in the back, but he decided to press on to the Hargrave feed station, another 10 miles away. I left them to it to take a call from Alistair – or dad as we were now referring to him – he’d started collecting signs and we’d been having regular catch-ups throughout the day. It must have been a longer call than I had thought though, as it took several miles of fairly hard riding before I caught up with Gareth and Wayne in Thrapston.
By the time we reached Hargrave, Wayne was fatigued and in a bit of pain, he’d had enough and so unfortunately had to abandon. Steve, to our surprise, was already there. We had assumed he must have stopped for a natural break behind a hedge and we’d missed him, there was always the outside possibility he’d run off with a horse rider too, but no, he’d just been having a good ride. Mark and Ann had things under control at the feed station, and there was enough food for us to fuel up once more before continuing on the final 25 mile leg of the ride.
We headed south into the gentle rolls of North Bedfordshire where a slight headwind and quiet roads awaited us. The only real challenge in this final section was Mill Hill, which climbs up through Keysoe, and the following drag into Keysoe Row. The climb eases you in with a 3% gradient, rising to 5%. The road winds through the village with hedges and houses either side obscuring the summit, although the village church, sat atop the ridgeline provides evidence that there really is a climb. Around the last left bend and the gradient briefly slackens, then kicks to nearly 10% up to the summit. Then it’s down the other side for the Keysoe Row drag. On the normal scale of climbs it rates an easy 2.5/10 (the final kick stops it being a mere 1/10), however, with nearly 90 miles in the legs it can take its toll, and of the 3 of us, it was Gareth who started to pay the price.
With Keysoe behind us, aside from a couple of little dips, there were no more climbs. We rode by the Bushmead road, one of the traditional runs back for St Neots club runs, and continued on to Colmworth. From there it was a fast run back into town along smooth gradually descending roads.
Back at HQ and most of the riders were already back, with just a handful behind us. We freshened up then headed to the One Leisure cafe for egg and beans on toast, however, despite being notified earlier in the week on numbers to expect, we learned they’d run out of eggs and beans more than an hour earlier. So instead, I got back from the showers to find a plate of cheese on toast waiting for me. But, this was no croque monsieur, oh no. This was a slab, of very generous Ploughman’s proportions, dumped on a slice of toast. No awards for presentation, but it was at least very satisfying. Needless to say, the cheese ran out shortly after.
Alistair, Steve and I stopped off at the Horsehsoes on the way home for a swift pint and agreed, it had been a very good day.
Finally thanks to all the St Neots Cycling Club members and partners who helped out on the day or provided food for the feed stations and, to all the riders who together made it such a great day.