Now in its fifth year, for 2012 Bike Blenheim Palace Festival of Cycling moved up from a single-day show to a weekend spectacular. The two-day format allowed the festival to really come of age, with loads of cycling activities to take part in, or simply watch, while the famous stately home’s landscaped grounds provided an excellent venue. Add to that last weekend’s glorious weather and the formula for success was complete, with crowds topping 15,000 over both days.
The opening event was Saturday morning’s the off-road sportive – an entertaining 40km jaunt around the palace estate and surrounding Cotswold lanes and bridleways.
Next up, and firmly on smooth tarmac, was the time trial. The 20km route stayed inside the palace estate and so was traffic free – a rare pleasure for the field of almost 300 entrants. Fastest male rider was Joe Perrett (European Junior Tme Trial Champion) with 25.59, beating UK national time trial champion Michael Hutchinson into second with 26.05. Fastest female rider was Paralympic champion Sarah Storey with 28.30.
Five other members of the Team GB Paralympic cycling squad also rode the time trial, and that much-touted 'Ashes' rivalry we saw at the London velodrome was maintained with six Australian Paralympic cyclists taking part as well.
After the racing, those same traffic-free roads around the estate were then open to everyone in the afternoon for the ‘family rides’, allowing mums and dads with kids to tootle along happily – with many stopping for picnics along the way. The only downside was wishing the beautiful roads were open to cyclists for the rest of the year.
Meanwhile, the main showground was getting busy. On one side was a line of cycle trade exhibitors – everything from top-end bikes and high-tech components to energy products and plywood framesets – and on the other side was a line of food and drink stalls. In between were arenas where the crowds were entertained by bike polo and stunt riders, while the kids enjoyed taking part in the obstacle course and mini north shore track.
Sunday started with the sportive. We’ve reviewed a previous edition of this event here on road.cc and this year’s version was up to the usual high standards, with excellent signing and marshalling, and very well-stocked feed stations - although there were a few disappointed faces at the first stop when one of last year’s options, bacon sandwiches, wasn’t repeated.
Other rides available on Sunday morning were the 26-mile Pink Ribbon Ride in support of Breast Cancer Care, and a Brompton Marathon for fans of the famous folding bikes.
The Bromptons starred again for the highlight of the Sunday programme: the Brompton World Championship, a 13km race which started with around 700 competitors running to their folded-up machines and unfolding them before dashing onto the racecourse. The rules also dictated business attire from the waist up (a reference to Brompton’s iconic commuter status) and there was a very fine selection of bow ties, pin-striped blazers and frilly blouses on display – not to mention bowlers, deer-stalkers and Ascot-style hats.
The winner of the men’s event was that man again: Michael Hutchinson with 20.17 - beating the course record by almost a minute. Fastest woman was Julia Shaw with 23.39. There were also awards for the fastest juniors, veterans and teams, plus – of course – for the best-dressed rider. Also taking part was Anna Glowinski, covering the race for ITV4s Cycle Show (scheduled to go out on Monday 27 August).
For the rest of the afternoon, the estate roads were opened up again for family rides, while anyone not Bromptoned out could then ride or watch the Brompton Sprint, or take part in the competition to unfold a Brompton in the quickest possible time.
Meanwhile, the huge crowds watched stunt-riders jump down off van roofs and up over high bars, the kids went round and round the Go-Ride course, the stalls selling discount gear did a roaring trade (as did the beer tent), and everyone got sunburnt.
All in all, it was an excellent weekend. Bike Blenheim Palace goes from strength to strength, and it’s well worth noting the date for next year’s festival - scheduled for 17 & 18 August 2013 - whether you come to race the time trial, ride the sportive, snap up cheap kit, salivate at fancy bikes on display, enjoy a day out with the family, or just sit in the sun and admire those crazy folk who can hit 25mph on a folding bike in fancy dress.