Monday 26 June 2017

Back in the Saddle (LGD -321 Days)
Monday 26 June 2017, 111 Miles

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Hello readers! Yes, I’m still here and apologies for the silence. I can see that it has been over three weeks since I last communicated with you. Sorry! I’ve actually been really busy on a number of fronts. But in case you think I’ve been neglecting the bike I’ve actually ridden just under 500 miles since my last post – excluding today’s century, of which more about in a minute.

Well, what have I been up to? Earlier this month I was away in the south west, in Devon and Dorset for another instalment of walking on the South West Coast Path. This year we walked from Budleigh Salterton to Portland Bill along more of the wonderful coastline. I have come home with over 600 photos from the week’s walking. Each year I collate a selection of the photos into an animation on DVD with some music and commentary as a sort of personal diary. Unlike my cycling which goes at a rather faster pace, our SW Coast Path adventure is very much a case of “A Long Walk, Done Very Slowly”. What started out in 2005 as gentle stroll round the Land’s End Peninsula has evolved into something rather more ambitious. I have now walked all the way from Minehead, in Somerset to the tip of Portland Bill (570 miles) with just 60 miles left to reach Poole. Rumours of carrying on along the south coast to Kent and the Thames Estuary may not be unfounded!  But anyway it’s time to return from the dark side.

Most of my recent rides have been unremarkable local outings. Unremarkable yes, but all very enjoyable, especially in the recent hot sunshine. I absolutely love riding in hot sunshine it must stem from my childhood in the West Indies. There are some who say that I come alive above 25˚C and I’m not going to argue with that. Yesterday’s ride was a big success for two reasons.

iRide Cafe Stop
In a couple of Sunday’s time we are hosting a gathering of the Bianchi cousins for an iRide in South West Norfolk. The “we” here are Daren (Nairo) Morgan and me. So yesterday we went to check out the planned route and most importantly sample the fare on offer at the proposed cafĂ© stop – our Bianchi cousins are rather partial to cake! Well, I can report that the route (54 miles) showcases almost everything to be seen in Norfolk, apart from the Broads and the seaside. Quiet, almost traffic-free roads, beautiful, gently rolling countryside and some quaint villages will make this a ride to be savoured. And not forgetting those long straights which are a defining characteristic of this part of East Anglia. What’s that? I haven’t mentioned the cakes? Well, you’ll just have to come and find out – I don’t think “disappointing” is a word that will be heard on the day.

The other reason for yesterday’s success was related to my ongoing top-secret, hush-hush project which I last tantalised you with on 25 May. The publicity machine for the project has recently changed up a few gears and is now moving at a decent cadence. So today was the photoshoot – a chance to get some head and shoulders shots of meee! Yes, meee! Let’s keep our feet in the pedals though folks. I’m not talking David Bailey or Annie Leibovitz. The budget doesn’t run that far. In addition to being a good rider, a highly skilled magician and an all-round top bloke, Nairo is also a great photographer so he was able to oblige me. The results are now winging their way to Emily, the secret project’s PR guru for her consideration. And the most exciting thing about the secret project? A launch date in mid-October is now being whispered about. So, watch this space.

On the sea front, Holland-On-Sea
Well what about today’s ride? I’ve been feeling a bit century starved so I decided to get one in today. With the return of the sun, though (sadly) not the heat of last week I decided to ride to Holland. “Holland”, I hear you say; “the Captain’s lost it.” Well not quite, because even I wouldn’t attempt to ride from Suffolk to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. My Holland, was Holland-on-Sea on The Naze by Clacton. And a great ride it was too. I especially enjoyed the couple of miles riding along the seafront on the cliffs above the sandy beaches around the pier at Clacton. I was amazed how quiet the sea front was with very few people around. Even the wind turbines offshore seemed to be having a day off as none of them were spinning. Post ride research on the Interweb revealed that there are 48 turbines in a farm called Gunfleet Sands. And many, many more to be seen further away. For none of them to be spinning did seem rather strange though.

The rest of the ride, once I had escaped the traffic heading up a busy B-road to Colchester was a delight. My route along Dedham Vale through some lovely chocolate-box villages, eventually reaching Lavenham was pure bliss. A quick pause enroute for a cold drink in Boxford was all that was needed to sustain this happy rider on the final leg of the outing. I can’t wait for my next century.

Sunday 4 June 2017

The Tour of Cambridgeshire Gran Fondo (LGD - 343 Days)
Sunday 4 June 2017, 80 Miles

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The organisers of most sportives are at pains to emphasise that they are personal challenges and not races. I have even seen one or two organisers giving some riders a telling off when they are seen to be behaving like racers. Of course it’s pretty difficult to strike the balance when riders have been given a timing chip and are riding against the clock and also trying to achieve a high place in the overall standings. The official line is that sportives take place on open roads being used by other people. And I have a vague recollection that somewhere in the Highway Code it says that racing on public roads is not permitted.

The Tour of Cambridgeshire is rather different though. First and foremost, it is billed as a race – a Gran Fondo (Big Ride). There is a special category for riders holding licences to race against each other. The ‘Sport’ category is open to those who want to have a stab at riding fast (i.e. racing) in a bunch with other cyclists. Unlike a sportive when riders are set off in small groups, Gran Fondo riders all start together rather like a marathon. It’s still a ride against the clock but with everybody setting off at the same time it has a race feel to it.

The first Gran Fondo was held in 1979 in Italy and they have since grown in number and spread across the world. The Tour of Cambridgeshire, which was first held in 2015 (I rode it) is also one of the qualifying events for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships which will be held in Albi, France in September. The first 25% of finishers in each age category are eligible to ride for their country at the Worlds.

Two other things set the Tour of Cambridgeshire apart from sportives. First the size of the field is much bigger with up to 8,000 riders taking part. The second point is that it takes place on fully closed roads. With the number of riders taking part, closed roads are the only way the event could run. All this means that the organisation and rider experience is rather unique.

We gathered together in the starting pens at Peterborough Arena at 11:00am. Then it was a long wait until the actual start – I rolled out at just after 12:30. Fortunately it was dry and warm so the wait was mostly a case of being bored and trying to think up better ways to organise the start and avoid the waiting around. Standing around there was certainly a real buzz in the air. 8,000 riders packed tightly together are unlikely to be quiet! Slowly, ever so slowly we eased towards the start line and eventually rolled out of the Showground on to the main road. Ahead, behind and all around me were masses of tightly packed cyclists. From above we must have looked like a swarm of bees like to see in cartoons. The pack split up into smaller groups of 100-200 riders fairly quickly as people found their natural rhythm.

The early stages of a mass start like this are quite risky. A combination of riders not used to being in a large group; riders moving forwards and backwards through the peloton; and the road conditions – some quite narrow and undulating roads early on mean that speeds oscillate significantly. Close concentration is absolutely required to avoid collisions and crashes. I was fortunate to escape unscathed; for others sitting or lying at the roadside their event was already over. After about 20 miles it had settled down and most people had coalesced into groups of similar ability. Heightened road awareness was still critical though as groups still caught or were caught by each other. When groups are passing through each other the inevitable change of rhythm risks further collisions.

One of the great things about the Tour of Cambridgeshire is the public support it receives. In every village local people were at the roadside cheering us on. Heading up a short rise at Alconbury there was quite a large and vocal crowd which always gives me a boost and I try to respond by turning up the style, or at least my unique version of style!

Today was also pretty windy so as we headed gradually east into the Fens speeds picked up significantly. And the benefit of riding in a group meant that the effort involved was significantly less than riding solo. Going so fast I eschewed the feed stations and decided to ride the whole event non-stop. My only real mistake was on the long straight towards Pondersbridge where a few seconds loss of concentration meant that I was quickly off the back of the group I had been riding with. No matter how hard I tried, riding into the headwind, I just couldn’t latch back on. I got within about 30 yards but simply couldn’t close the door so I tried to limit my losses until we turned out of the wind. Wise decision because as the group slowed for the turn I closed up and was able to tuck myself back into the bunch.

One of the real highlights of the event is riding through Yaxley. By this stage the riders have largely thinned out as the distance takes its toll on less fit riders. The crowds in Yaxley are usually the largest and having spent most of the day at the pub, are pretty vocal. Again good for a mental boost. The final few miles retraces the first part of the route in reverse before sweeping across a couple of roundabouts. Then it's into the finishing straight where I even managed to get the jump on the group I had been riding with.

Having collected a (non-alcoholic) beer it was then a long wait to see if I had qualified for the Worlds. I reckon that I actually spent more time standing around before and after the event than did riding! I completed the ride in 3:45 at an average speed of 21.2mph – my fastest time ever in the event. And for the record I missed the cut by 10 places; I was just over 2 minutes too slow! Oh well, maybe next time ……..