Where to begin with the Tour of Cambridgeshire Gran Fondo! Saturday afternoon I picked up my numbers. The TT was in Full swing and I bumped into a few club mates heading off for the start line. I think that’s the point when it sunk in just how big an event this weekend was going to be. Back home I readied the bike and tried to relax.
Sunday morning I was awake at 5am. I really could not get back to sleep, so I got up, got ready and hit the A1 to Peterborough. I joined what little traffic there was and most of that seemed to be ferrying bikes north.
I arrived about 8am, went for a potter around the stalls set up in the Peterborough arena, and chatted with some familiar faces. Other club members started arriving soon after and a meeting point was agreed. I think in total there were around 35 of us riding from the club and of that six of us were heading for the race gate – me, Joe, Michael, David’s P and H and Adrian. Having got his entry after the race deadline, Jake was going to chase us from the second gate.
We arrived at our gate mid morning to find it filling up rapidly. With the race was due to start at midday, a long hour and a half wait lay ahead.
Two minutes before noon a bang and a hiss silenced the riders around me. Someones tubs had popped in the heat. He lifted his bike out of the gate and then we were off. The first few metres were a shuffle, but once we on the main road out the pace quickened. It really quickened. Although the road was wide I was surprised at how uncongested we were. Passing slower riders was easy, so our group charged forward. If we wanted to remain in contact we had to.
We left Peterborough for the gently rolling countryside west of the A1. The climb up Bullock road passed by easily, but the pace remained relentless. The drags became harder and harder. Some where the pressure being applied at the front split the bunch. It was a big bunch and to be frank on the narrow roads and as far back as I was there wasn’t a fat lot I could do about it. Joe, David P and Michael were the right side of the split, the rest of us were not.
We charged through the Giddings, but at the bottom of the hill a rider on my outside overcooked the left bend. He hit the Tarmac and sent half a dozen riders on his right into a ditch. We were now down to a smaller group of around 30riders. David H was still with me but Adrian had been dropped. Incredibly we managed to get some organisation going, yes a few riders insisted on putting the hammer down when they hit the front, but mostly it worked and running into Alconbury it looked like we might even regain contact, but we never did.
At this point I need to say something about the support. Some support came from families holding up banners urging their Dad/Mum/Son/Daughter on, but mostly it was from the locals whose homes and villages lay on the route. Some sat on their front lawns, others crowded around the local pub or held out hands to high-5 a rider; everywhere we were cheered, clapped and encouraged onwards. In Alconbury Weston, David and I were at the front. I used to live here and the pub were I used to drink had put tent up outside. It was crowded with spectators. What the hell I thought and I waved my arm around urging them to cheer louder, and you know what, they damn well did! I could get used to that kind of show boating! The crowds on the route really were great and their support deserves a very big thank you from all of us riders.
Alconbury airfield was hardwork and best forgotten. We powered down Walton Hill, then up the next small climb out of Wood Walton Village. It was the last climb before the Fens, from there the next notable gradient would be a bridge over a Fenland drain.
With a strong crosswind I knew the long slog up to Pondersbridge on the Whittlesey road would be a battle. Unfortunately our group didn’t echelon quite so well as the group behind and as we turned onto Oilmills road they caught us. I think we must have swelled our ranks to over 100 riders.
With a tailwind we tore across the Fens. The was going was fast and easy; I snacked and chatted with some familiar faces, but the wind and road were taking us east, Peterborough lay off to the west. There were some hard miles still to come.
To ease the shock of the headwind, the first road taking us west was Dykemoor Drove; a gnarly tessellation of concrete slabs with grass between the cracks. From Benwick we followed the Circuit of the Fens route to Whittlesey, the bridge over Whittlesey Dike the first gradient in many many miles.
In Farcet and Yaxley the crowds urged us on, and I at least was glad of their encouragement. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one as by now there were a lot of tired legs in the group.
We were almost home, but probably we were running towards one of the trickiest part of the course. I think a lot of us local riders knew it too and started moving forward. At Haddon, the road would narrow drastically to a tight single carriageway. It came as a surprise to the lad in front of me who pulled an endo. We all stayed upright but I was mid bunch and this section would be too narrow to easily pass on. Still the chance to move forward would come soon enough.
We turned onto the A605 for the run in to Peterborough. The road was wide, the wind was back in our favour and we were moving fast. It was a thrilling ride and probably about as close I’ll ever get to a Grand Tour bunch sprint. I kept on the right with room to move. A line of riders started moving forward and I followed them, like a tentative shoot we extended away from the bunch, running parallel to a line on the left. We became the leading tip of the peloton. I was right up at the front leading over 100 riders. We swung on to the showground, a couple of tight bends helped me keep my position onto the finishing straight. My legs were going to jelly, but I was out of any potential trouble, or so I thought. I hadn’t noticed a sleeping policemen used for the timing chips across the road. It gave me a bit of a wobble and lost me a couple of places. I rolled across the line just outside of the top 10 of my group. 3hours 22minutes, 177th overall and 31st for my age group. David came in not far behind for 218th.
Over the finish line I almost collapsed to a standstill. A kind helper thrust some water on me and tried to usher me out of the way but a sudden cramp had rendered me briefly incoherent.
We joined back up with the rest of our racing group. Joe, Jake and Wayne had all had minor scrapes, but no major harm done was done.
From my perspective it had been a unique and superb days racing. No short circuit repeated over and over but an entire route on closed roads with all the variety that brings. Sure there were teething problems, but for the first event, for such a huge undertaking I thought the organising team did a truly excellent job and I know they’ll learn from the feedback to make next year even better. I can’t wait.
And now? It looks like I’ve qualified for the UWCT amateur world championships in Denmark. Right now I think it would be rude not to go…