Wednesday 16 August 2017

Some Random Thoughts On The Road To Shotley Gate (and Back) (LGD -270 Days)
Wednesday 16 August 2017, 103 Miles

Click here for Route Flyby

Today I had a hankering to ride over to Shotley Gate on the coast between Felixstowe and Harwich so that’s where I went! Why? Well, I’ve no idea it just seemed like a good place to go! To add a bit of variety I decided to ride the route the other way around to my last outing and I also snuck in a couple of small diversions to knock off a couple of ‘new roads’. Why? Because I can!

I was underway just after 8.00 am. Carol Kirkwood, the BBC weather lady, had promised me blue skies, sunshine and heat so that seemed like a good omen. As I rode along I was thinking about the last of this year’s Grand Tours, the Tour of Spain (La Vuelta a EspaƱa) which starts on Saturday. Slightly confusingly, but following a recent trend by the Grand Tours (read on) the Vuelta will actually start in France - from Nimes! It has all the makings of tough event. The defending champion, Nairo Quintana, won’t be riding as I suspect that he’s rather overdone it this year having ridden both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. He looked a shadow of himself in this year’s Tour. Bertie/La Pistolero (Alberto Contador) has recently announced his retirement so this being his home event I am sure he will want to leave on a high note. And then there’s the Froomedog. Whilst he's best known for his four victories in the Tour de France we shouldn’t forget that he has also finished as runner up in three past editions of the Vuelta so there is an element of unfinished business here. He has made it clear that he will be riding to win. If he does win he will become only the third rider to complete the Tour-Vuelta double in the same year. I’m going to be glued to the nightly highlights on the box for the next 3 weeks. Sorted!

Heading towards Hadleigh I started to think about which of the three Grand Tours I liked the best. And I didn’t reach any conclusions on that score. They are all very different in scope and spirit. The Giro d’Italia, which in 2014 started in Northern Ireland with a time trial round the streets of Belfast (see, I told you to read on), tends to be a loud, raucous and flamboyant event. This year it celebrated its centenary and has had a very colourful history, including years when the pre-race favourite has been paid not to take part and allegations of result fixing and mafia involvement. The Tour de France (La Grande Boucle), which this year started in Germany with a time trial in Dusseldorf, is the ‘senior’ Grand Tour; it was first held in 1903. The Tour has become heavily commercialised and the pre-race caravan is probably now at least as much a spectator attraction as the race itself! By contrast, the Vuelta has a rather lower profile and to me feels more like a rider’s event rather than a public spectacle. But that doesn’t mean that the spectators don’t vent their feelings with passion. Lots of Latin passion! In a way, I think it’s great that the three Grand Tours are each quite different. It makes for much more interesting racing and much more interesting spectating.

The only regret I have is that over the years pro-riders have become much more specialised in their approach. Some like the Froomedog only target one or two Grand Tours in a season. Everything else is preparation for the Grand Tour. Technology and team tactics also play a greater role today than hitherto. I recently watched a couple of films of Eddy Merckx. One featured him climbing Mont Ventoux on a stage of the Tour; the other was of Paris-Roubaix. I was left feeling that pro-cycling has lost quite a lot of its special character – riders and bikes racing each other, battling the roads and weather with fairly basic technology. Then it was more about strength and talent and less about specialisation and team tactics. But that’s progressI suppose.

These random thoughts occupied me until I reached the ‘new’ part of the route – a little diversion after passing through East Bergholt so I could ride around part of Alton Water. This is a reservoir which was opened in 1987 to provide water for Ipswich and Felixstowe. It extends over 400 acres to a depth of over 60 feet and can provide up to 10 million gallons of treated water daily. Apart from the road crossing at the top end of the reservoir I didn’t see much of it. There is an 8-mile circular cycle route but some of it is unsurfaced so I didn’t want to risk any punctures.

One of the great delights of riding a route ‘the other way around’ is that occasionally I get a surprise and spot something I haven’t noticed before. Well today’s surprise was Erwarton Hall with its spectacular gatehouse. This dates from c1549 and is a rather spectacular brick structure. The Hall is also pretty impressive. The other claim to fame, or perhaps notoriety, is that Anne Boleyn’s heart was apparently buried in the village church, St Mary’s. There’s a copy of a Hans Holbein painting of her attached to the organ - to be clear that's the church's pipe organ!

The remainder of the ride which took me down to the shore at Shotley Gate before turning back inland to head for home via Ipswich was all very enjoyable. The only disappointment was that the blue skies and sunshine that Carol Kirkwood had promised me didn’t materialise until a couple of hours after I had finished. I am going to have to have word with her about leading me on with false hopes!

By way of a postscript I realised after uploading my ride data to Strava today I had now crossed the 10,000-mile threshold for the year to date – the equivalent of riding from home to Fiji apparently. And I have also just about climbed Mt Everest 8 times. Wow! But to keep my feet firmly in my pedals, Mark Beaumont who is trying to ride around the world in 80 days, is in New Zealand. He has completed over 10,000 miles in 46 days. All apparently with a suspected hairline fracture to his elbow/arm sustained in a fall early on in the challenge. Go, Mark, Go!

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