Thanks to Paul Gripton of Velo Club Chevaliers Bleus, the newly formed cycling club of Cambridgeshire Constabulary, closed circuit racing is coming to the old Alconbury Airbase this summer. Two evenings of racing are planned for 28th July and 18th August, but a bit of preparation work is needed first.
Alconbury grew from one of the many World War Two bases in to one of the big American cold war bases which once dotted East Anglia. Today the Phantoms and A10 Thunderbolts, which used to pair up and practice dummy attack runs on my school bus as it crossed the Fens, are long gone. The elegant F-5 Tiger fighter, gate guardian for the main entrance, still I think points to the sky.
I first visited the base as a teenager. We went bowling. We went to an overseas territory of the US of A slap bang in the middle of the Cambridgeshire countryside. We showed our passports and exchanged our pounds for dollars. We bought Hershey bars because they were an exotic novelty, not for the taste. The second time I went was over twenty years later racing in the Tour of Cambridgeshire; I only remember the wind and sleeping policemen. On Tuesday I went for the third time to help prepare the race circuit. Behind the new entrances I saw Alconbury airbase is still a peculiar and alien world. The great length of the runway is lined by giant walls of steel shipping containers. Ranks of brand new cars, regimented by make and model sit on the concrete, but the great whale backed humps of the hangers are still there, nestling like small, bomb hardened hills between high rise pallet towers. Other cold war relics are still there too; control towers, water towers, a derelict bus stop and miles and miles of barbed wire fencing. There’s always a reminder of what this site was.
Anyway the circuit. Much of the hardwork had already been done, but there was still enough to fill the evening. Tom, from the club, two Chevaliers and I teamed up to clear a section on the back of the course. It was part of the old perimeter road and we were tasked with unearthing the kerbs and clearing any other debris. It was satisfying work and bit by bit we cleared away two decades of accumulated neglect and muck. Hopefully we’ll get some heavy rain before Tuesday to wash the rest of the muck into the drains we uncovered. Overall the surface of the perimeter road is pretty good. The perimeter road ends abruptly with a tight 90 degree bend leaning back to the runway through a pallet canyon. From there the course is traced by cones through the cars. Then it is back to the perimeter via a fairly rough section, but probably no worse than many open roads. It should make for an interesting race, I’m looking forward to it.