Planning the Cambridge 200


Last September, I had a good time riding the Cambridge 200 km audax, despite the wind and rain. I was hoping that Simon Proven would organize more such rides, but he’s moving on to better things elsewhere. And that leaves a gap in the calendar: for many years, there’s been an audax run from Cambridge in September. These were originally run by Mike Stapleton, and the first audax I ever rode was his 100 km event in 2006. It’s much too late to fill the gap for this year, but I volunteered to organize something for next year.

And that means… well, a surprising amount of paperwork to start with… but also route planning! Planning for an audax is an interesting challenge, because you’re trying to satisfy several constraints:

And to make things a bit more complex, the distance must be computed along the shortest route between the control points, which is not necessarily the route that anyone is actually going to follow. For example, you may plan a nice 50 km leg that winds from A to B on beautiful country lanes, but if there’s a nearby trunk road that joins the same two points in only 40 km, then 40 km is all you’re allowed to count, and the riders don’t get credit for that extra 10 km. So you have to stick an extra “info” control somewhere along those lanes (some piece of information which riders have to discover and write down). But info controls are not easy to come by: most of the plausible things you might try, like names of pubs, or distances on signposts, are easily spotted on Google Street View…

Still, it’s only the organizer who has to go to all this trouble: the riders just follow the route sheet and, with luck, enjoy the ride.

Since it’s September now, it seemed like a good idea to try out the route under similar conditions to those under which I’ll be running it in a year’s time. A lot can be done with maps and Street View, but there’s no substitute for actually riding the route. For example, I had the idea of using the bridleway shown on the right, from Castlethorpe along the River Tove and across the Midland Main Line to Higham Cross. But the bridleway doesn’t go all the way to Higham Cross: there’s half a kilometre or so of track between Lincoln Lodge and Hungate End that’s marked “Private—No Access—Dogs Loose” while the bridleway continues across a ploughed field. Suitable only for off-road bikes, and then only when the weather’s dry.

On Sunday I trespassed along the track (the sign was lying about the dogs, and obviously so, since if you actually had dogs running about you’d need a fence to keep them from bothering the cows, not just a cattle grid), but I can’t ask my riders to do the same. Luckily the alternative route is about the same distance, if not quite so pretty.

The weather was good: a strong westerly wind, powered by the tail end of Hurricane Katia, retarded my progress towards Northamptonshire, but sped me back to Cambridge. I met the Hitchin Nomads Late Summer Road Race a couple of times, south of Bedford near Old Warden (they were doing laps of a circuit in the opposite direction to me). There seemed to be lots of threatening rain clouds about, but they were small and I mostly dodged them, except for one five-minute soaking near Newport Pagnell that made it almost impossible to see where I was going for water being blown into my eyes faster than I could blink it out. But I rode out from under it and soon dried off in the sun.

It’s going to be a fast audax: I got round in eleven hours despite the wind, and despite stopping at every junction (and there are about 120) to take a photo. A selection of junctions appear below, to give you a taste of the route. And I hope to see you on this ride (or one of its shorter cousins—I’ll be running a 50 km and a 100 km too) in September 2012!