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The Tour of Cambs Gran Fondo might be fading in many memories, but there is still plenty to talk about

The Enervit Tour of Cambridgeshire is still being discussed long after the Peterborough Arena has been left deserted and the click clack of cycling shoes no longer echoes around the hall.

For me it was a pretty chaotic experience. The weeks leading up to the event were punctuated with plenty of office and social discussion from friends, family and colleagues who were angry at the road closures and planning protests against the “lyrca louts”.

I was pretty close to knocking the whole thing on the head and not riding in the midweek preceding, I have to say. There is only so many times you can say that “I am just riding the event, not organising it” before it wears thin. Plus people can be pretty abusive at the thought of not getting out of their driveways.

After one particularly aggressive social media posting threatening direct action I took the bait and replied…

“I would just like to say how grateful I am to the people of my home village for putting themselves out on Sunday to indulge the passion of myself and numerous others… I am disappointed that your weekend will be interrupted but hope that you will see fit to support the many riders looking to promote our home and put it on the map”.

The response was positive. I choose not to carry on and add about how if the Tour wasn’t coming we wouldn’t have had numerous pot holes repaired. Choosing your battles is key!

I was keen to ride both events with the Chrono representing my best chance of getting in the relevant cut and making the GB Masters team. I have heard and read a lot about the qualification criteria for both events and how easy it was to get in. Facebook in particular seems to have threads and threads on this subject.  I have also read much about how if you didn’t queue early enough you had no chance of getting in, ying and yang I suppose.

Of course there are different sides to every story and each and every competitor has their own view. Mine is that the rules were pretty clear beforehand and that the riders who rode to them and were rewarded deserved it. You cannot imagine a rider in the Tour de France losing the race because he hadn’t read up to understand the final stage started at a certain time. “I turned up when I thought it started so can’t you take my Garmin/Strava time?”

So the Saturday dawned and I rode the deserted streets from my home to the Peterborough Arena for the time trial…

It was decent warm up and I was early enough to have a brief spin around the site. Once I had been chipped and was queueing in the pen there was a fair amount of bike envy. My road bike with clip on tri-bars was quite a way behind some of the other serious looking equipment and the sound of the commentator saying no-one had fallen from the start ramp as I arrived in the hut wasn’t cool.

However I got down from the start hut and across the slippery hall floor before heading out along the windswept straight and away from the Showground.

My local knowledge helped me and I knew every metre of the course, not that it helped as I struggled to keep my 30 second man in sight. Once I took the left turn along Bullock Road past the golf course I found a decent rhythm and was keeping above 25mph.

Seeing the Wife and kids at the roadside was enough to get me to the base of Morborne where I knew I needed a decent ride up the short but steep climb to the transmitter. My 9th place on Strava for this hill would be long gone by the end of the day and despite the howling tailwind I was slower up there than in training… a sign?

 I was pleased the villagers had all turned friendly but the site of a couple of mates just through Folksworth gave me a chance to shake my head as I turned into the teeth of the wind “not today.”

I was picking my way through a couple of the low pro bikes and riders and had kept all but one behind.

The next couple of KMs though were the hardest of all. Stiff wind and false flats made getting through Washingley nigh on impossible with any degree of speed or style.

Once I was back along Bullock Road the speed recovered and the last stretch into Alwalton was amazingly fast. However when the times went up on the screen there was no “Q” next to my name.

I pondered that on the ride home before necking some pasta and taking an early night. Tomorrow was the Fondo and I have never been very good at bunch racing. However this was a chance to race in front of friends and family.

Regular readers of the blog will know my Mum has been battling cancer so for this event to go past the end of her road was a massive deal for me.

Throw in going past my current house, and the family home from when I was first born in Yaxley, and I knew there would be tears in my eyes for a large distance of the race.

There was plenty of drama before I got that far though. I queued for ages with a friend before the second pen was open and we found ourselves only a few hundred back from the front. Not perfect but a good enough place to consider moving up if my legs had anything left from the previous day.

The nervous quiet of the start line was punctuated with the hiss of a deflating tyre. “Some poor bugger is unlucky, I thought” before looking down and seeing it was me. Cue a mad dash to change the tube (with the only spare I had) and re-inflating (with the only Co2 I had). I called home with the news “If I puncture today you might have to come and pick me up, I am all out of spares”.

There is a certain amount of pressure you feel changing a flat with thousands of other cyclist’s eyes on you. I hope I managed to pull it off with the minimum amount of panic, although another guy near us suffered the same fate and ended up filthy.

When the gun went at mid-day and the racers set off we all edged nervously forward before our group set off.

The pace once round the first roundabout and on the wide open space of the Oundle Road was brisk. I moved up on the outside before getting in a decent position as it narrowed to get onto the Bullock Road (as with the previous days TT).

We shot along there before flying up Washingley Hill and on towards Great Gidding. Groups were forming and re-forming all the time. It was proper bike racing this as everyone jostled for position and tried to keep out of the wind.

The Atmosphere in Alconbury Weston was amazing and the crowds at the bottom of the climb out of the village were Tour de France sized. There was plenty of cheering and to hear me picked out for wearing the colours of a local club will stay with me for a long time.

I used the climb to move up before sitting in and getting onto the airfield. We had 24 miles under our belts in the first hour. I knew I wasn’t good enough to keep that up and was eating and drinking whilst trying to shelter when I could.

The threat of a puncture meaning my day would be done meant I rode every minute as if it could have been the last. Not the way to handle over 100km of racing.

By the long straight road through the Ramsey’s I was lurking at the back of my group despite the encouragement of friends and club mates along the route. When that group split at the entry to the feed station thanks to some confusion, I was off the back with little energy left to chase back on.

The next hour was among the darkest, hardest times I have had on a bike, and I include the Koppenberg in the rain in that. I was out of food and running out of water. I knew the long straight 8km road ahead would be lashed with wind and the heat was building too.

A couple of groups picked me up and despite my best efforts dropped me.

I was suddenly along and riding slower than the group vanishing up the road. Somehow I got myself together for the semi pave’d section back to Benwick but was soon back down to a group of three as we approached the point Mum and Dad were standing.

Three of us in that wind and heat were no match despite me desperately trying to propel forward rather than taking the sensible option of looking back and waiting for a bigger posse.

I just about managed to wave to my parents before finding that I had a second wind and was able to get up to another group and sit in. My home village was visible now on the horizon and suddenly the wind seemed less strong and the heat a bit less intense.

As we climbed through Farcet, with friends and club mates yelling from the road side, I took the pro approach asking the group I was in for the chance to lead us through Yaxley.

They obliged and the next 5km were the most amazing I have ever had.

There must have been 1000s of times since I was a boy I had dreamt of racing my bike through my home. To do it under blazing sunshine with my family and friends cheering me on was a dream come true. There were banners with my name on and people I hadn’t seen since school (24 years ago!) who were stood at the side of the road shouting encouragement at the people they recognised.

In my mind now I was focused on getting through the village and then rolling back the last 12km to the finish. A guy rode up to me and asked about my history with Yaxley. I pointed out my house, the school I went to as a 5 year old and the house my Grandparents lived in. I was sobbing pretty hard. It was a really emotional moment and one that boosted my morale.  He said to me that I should enjoy it, take it all in and never forget it. I don’t know his name but it was a brilliant piece of advice.

I got myself back together in time to scale Church Street and it was then onto the wide A15 and out towards the finish. After the support and encouragement I had received from the crowds I couldn’t ease off, however much pain I was in.

So I dug deeper than I ever thought possible and soon found myself at the 1km flag. I was aware of an increased amount of jostling for position as we rounded the corner off the road and into the site.

 

“When in Rome” I thought and sprinted for all I was worth to come in the 760s overall and 170s in my age category.

The hall was really busy so I didn’t hang around once I’d supped the free water and queued for the ice cream man. I rode home feeling much better about my Sunday performance and satisfied even if I had no idea about the qualification time and position.

With that in mind it was a shock to start receiving messages of congratulations on the Monday morning. I duly checked online and there was my name with the “Q” against it. I was made up… totally.

Of course I had collected the wrong sort of medal now and needed to do some research on Copenhagen but I had qualified and going back to the start of this piece, regardless of how easy to make it or meaningless some people felt that was, I didn’t care. This was for my Mum and my kids.

The fact that a few weeks on my family holiday and the eldest Daughters first day at school means I will be nowhere near Denmark when the race is going on in September isn’t really relevant.

I toyed with the idea of going, but having indulged me for Flanders this year, it would be too much to ask the family to lose time off their summer holiday. I have come to terms with it quickly as there is nothing that would come above my girls, and certainly not a bike race.

I am still getting the kit as an indulgence! But that is more as a memento of the weekend and of my experiences than a kit to wear.

So how was it for you all then?

 

 

 

 

James has been blogging for road.cc for 5 years and racing bicycles (averagely) for 20 years. 

9 comments

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MuddyGoose [53 posts] 4 years ago
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Awesome. I was further back in the same pen for the Gran Fondo. The experience was much the same though; I had no intention of qualifying but got swept up in the addictive pace! Rode with friends until Raveley and then lost them and dug in from there on in.

Made up loads of places by ignoring the final 2 feed stops and over the 'pave' section near Benwick. Then pushed as hard as I could from Elton Furze golf club to the arena to save seconds at the end.

Support was fantastic; especially through Alconbury Weston, Farcet and Yaxley!

My full report on my blog - https://spokerevolutions.wordpress.com/

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Jem PT [222 posts] 4 years ago
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I don't have any local connection like you, but I can relate to the feeling of being dropped off the back of a group (usually at a bend) and the feeling of seeing the group disappear into the distance. I managed to stick with a group on the long straight after Alconbury, and it made such a difference!

My start was about 3 mins after the official start (my Garmin time was 3 mins less than my official time), and although I didn't worry the qualification process, a friend qualified (but can't make Denmark!). I did however record the highest max speed in our group (40.5 mph) which I thought was pretty good given the limited downhill action!

The spectators really did make it a great day, and have already signed up for next year

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Sniffer [673 posts] 4 years ago
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Go. Just go.

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Jimbomitch [172 posts] 4 years ago
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Chapeau to the Cuckoo

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44dove [3 posts] 4 years ago
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You should go. Out Friday, back Monday. You don't have to worry about finishing at the back as I have booked that spot. Masters men start almost last. So, we get going, then watch all the fast women scream past us, and then hobble to the finish, hopefully before everyone has gone home. The schedule says 10:00 start and 15:30 prize giving. So, that's 30kph at least average. Clearly they aren't planning to wait for me.  4

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notfastenough [3734 posts] 4 years ago
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I'm usually the one to have family duties take priority over cycling, but the chance to race in the worlds in your GB Masters jersey? Just get it done.

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Jacq Iveski [12 posts] 4 years ago
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Nice. to see the Ives kit too.

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macrophotofly [333 posts] 4 years ago
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Great article. Great feeling behind your writing. Reminds me what cycling should be about

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James Warrener [1086 posts] 4 years ago
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Thank you  1