Emitremmus 2013

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The “Emitremmus” is a 100 km audax, run by Stevenage CTC each autumn for the last 19 years, on the Sunday that the clocks go back. The route starts at Fairlands Valley Park in Stevenage and heads east via Great Munden and Hare Street to Saffron Walden, returning via Great Chishill and Therfield. The start of the ride is almost exactly 50 km (by the shortest route) from my house, so by riding to the start and back from the end I can make up a 200 km “Extended Calendar Event”.

I woke up at 06:00 to the sound of rain battering on the roof. I fumbled for my phone and looked up the BBC weather forecast: heavy rain all day and 40 mph winds. I didn’t really want to cycle all day in those conditions. But wait, I had selected the wrong menu item and got the forecast for Cambridge, Gloucestershire, instead! For Cambridgeshire the rain was forecast to stop by about 07:00 and the winds not quite so bad: around 20 mph from the south-west. I was getting a bit anxious as my start time approached and the downpour showed no signs of slacking, but at about 06:50 the worst of it was gone, and lighter skies were visible away to the south-west.

It wasn’t an easy ride to the start, though. I took the A10 to Royston, into the teeth of the wind, and struggled at times to make decent progress, crawling along at 10 or 11 mph and occasionally being brought almost to a standstill by a sudden gust. But once I had climbed Therfield Heath and got into the Hertfordshire lanes there was a bit more shelter, and I made it to Fairlands Valley Sailing Centre at about 09:30, with time for a coffee before the start. There were 323 names on the entry list, but it didn’t look as though there were nearly that many people around. Maybe the weather had frightened some people off?

By the time we started the sun had come out and it was a beautiful autumn day. For the first two legs of the ride we had the wind behind us and it was gloriously easy cycling, except for the pools and piles of debris left behind by Saturday night’s storm.

It was all good fun until we hit the turn at Saffron Walden, and then the wind was in our faces, and it was pretty grim, creeping pedal-stroke by pedal-stroke up the massif du Great Chishill. A couple of faster cyclists came past and I sucked their wheels for a few miles, but they got away from me and I suffered on my own. I was bonking at the top of the climb from Shaftenhoe End, so I had to stop to eat. I pretended that I had stopped because I wanted to take photos, and not because my legs were no longer working, oh no.

The control at the church hall in Therfield (at 75 km) is always a highlight of this ride, with volunteers selling tea and sandwiches and an amazing spread of cakes. But then it was time to head back into the wind for the final tough 25 km to Stevenage (stopping only to reattach a pedal to a child’s bike), arriving about 15:10.

As I set out back to Cambridge, it began to rain, but it was a small shower and was soon blown away to the north. I retraced the latter part of the route through Cromer, Sandon and Kelshall, and then down the hill by Therfield Heath, through Royston to Bassingbourn, before turning right towards Shepreth, Barrington, Barton and Cambridge. The wind had slackened a bit during the evening so it was not as much of a help going home as it had been a hindrance in the morning, but I was home at about 18:20, having ridden 210 km (130 miles).