Sunday 21 May 2017

Old Acquaintances at the Boudicca Sportive (LGD - 357 Days)
Sunday 21 May 2017, 102 Miles

Click here for Route Flyby

Today was one of the favourites in my cycling calendar. I always look forward to the middle of May because normally by that time winter is a distant memory, spring has fully blossomed and summer is fast approaching. This (usually) heralds lots of sunshine with cooling breezes, not winds and loads of opportunities to do what I most enjoy – spend long days in the saddle. For me the middle of May is a sort of seasonal threshold and the Boudicca is the signpost for this.

I first rode the event in 2013 and I have ridden it every year since. Over the years the event has gently evolved with minor tweaks to the route, the locations of the feed stations and the range of ‘goodies’ on offer. This year’s addition was a finishers medal. The one thing that hasn’t really changed is the atmosphere or the chemistry of the day. It’s a bit like a birthday or a public holiday – an opportunity to celebrate and enjoy time with kindred spirits who share a common purpose. What brings us together is the chance to ride our bikes in some great countryside, largely devoid other traffic. The social aspect of the day is perhaps its defining quality. That doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities for testing and pushing. But unlike some other sportives, achieving a fast time isn’t the only goal, and for some it isn’t even a goal. Just having fun is paramount.

The route card for the 100-mile circuit provides a few clues as to what to expect. It tells riders that they will cross two unbridged fords (one’s at Bradenham; I’m not sure where the other one is), see the sea once, pass three World War II airfields, fifteen churches and fifteen pubs, ride one section on a concrete road (I always think Paris-Roubaix here) and one Roman Road. Apart from the sights, the other lovely feature of the event is the strong sense of community involvement, particularly at the feed stations.

With the recent changeable weather I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Fortunately, the weather gods had been reminded of their proper place by the Queen of the Iceni and the prospect of a warm sunny day greeted us at the start line at World Horse Welfare’s sanctuary at Snetterton. The pre-ride formalities were efficiently dispensed with and while waiting to sign on I heard lots of riders of greeting each other having not met for the intervening twelve months. Old acquaintances being renewed and refreshed.

I lined up at the start line with my Daren (Nairo) Morgan who was riding his first Boudicca and his first century of 2017. After a safety briefing from Sara we were underway and heading for the first feed station at West Acre, thirty miles away. As in the early stages of many sportives small groups formed, then split and reformed as riders coalesced into groups of similar abilities. We tried to hang on to one group as we headed towards Rockland but they were just a tad too swift for me. Nairo, who’s is a fast starter, would have been able to stay with them but graciously hung back to ride with me. As it turned out this was a wise move on his part!

We crossed over the A47 just beyond Swaffham and then entered what I always feel is true north-west Norfolk countryside with its long, straight undulating roads and great expansive views all around us. In seemingly no time we arrived at West Acre and the feed station at the theatre there. Folk from the Sandringham and West Norfolk CC were on hand to refresh us. Nairo’s eyes lit up at the fig rolls on offer. I’m more of a malt loaf person and I certainly didn’t leave disappointed.

From West Acre we headed upwards to Great Massingham. This section was probably the ‘hilliest’ of the day. As this is Norfolk, the ‘hills’ are more in the nature of long drags and not gradients measured in percentages. Nevertheless, they are good for stretching the legs. Crossing the King’s Lynn-Fakenham road we entered what, to me, feels like very remote countryside. We passed, and were passed, by several small groups of riders and in true Boudicca fashion everyone said hello to each other. We were able to tick off the sighting of the sea and then the Norfolk cobbles (concrete road) before turning for South Creake and the second feed station.

Someone must have ‘phoned ahead to warn them that Nairo was approaching because those fig rolls were out and ready to be grasped. I revived myself with a tasty lump of banana malt loaf. The feed station was run by local people led by Len Fletcher who was using the opportunity to raise funds for local good causes. The car park was full of riders chatting away, mostly happily. It was a delight to eavesdrop on the chatter of old acquaintances as they caught up with each other. Resisting the temptation to linger in the sunshine we headed off southwards through the rolling countryside with a slightly gusty headwind which added to the riding challenge. With largely sheltered lanes we were rarely fully exposed to the wind. But it was just enough to reflect in our falling average speed.

After Weasenham we rode along what was probably the roughest section of the day. concrete road included. I’m guessing that the route options hereabouts are limited. That said, as soon as we turned south east towards Litcham we were onto one of my favourite stretches of road in these parts – smooth and sheltered with some magnificent Scots Pines on our left. In no time at all we were back over the A47 and after crossing the (dry) ford we arrived at Bradenham and the third feed station.

Temporarily eschewing the fig rolls Nairo opted to eat a bacon roll freshly made by folk from Bradenham Cricket Club who were providing the support. (I did spot Nairo snaffling a cheeky couple of fig rolls for his dessert!) I opted for a banana and some brain comfort food – a mini bag of Haribou, which I thought was an inspired option.

Once we were refueled we headed of for the final leg back to the finish. As this was Nairo’s first century ride of the year, the road, and maybe even that bacon roll, began to take its toll and I led most of the way to Snetterton. In the interests of balanced reporting Nairo would be quick to tell you that he had led for most of the way so far! We crossed the line, received our finishers medals and a protein drink and chatted to a few other riders as we relaxed in the sun.

Once again Sara, Tim and their army of helpers had delivered an outstanding day. I had a brief chat to Sara and I was impressed that despite the undoubtedly hard work involved in planning and delivering an excellent day she seemed to be really enjoying herself watching folk roll in. Boudicca had delivered everything that her army have come to expect. So, huge thanks to everyone involved, organisers and riders, who together made this a great day out in the saddle. My only regret that I won’t be able to ride next year’s Boudicca. All being well, I expect to be in Flagstaff, Arizona on my Trans USA tour. I will certainly spend a few minutes thinking about old acquaintances on the road in Norfolk.

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