This was the weekend when the Olympic Torch came to Cambridge, and the Cambridge News organized a pair of ‘Big Bike Rides’. They got a bit carried away with the symbolism, I think, because the two rides were 20.12 km (too short for most people), and 201.2 km (too long for most people), with nothing for the bulk of cyclists in the middle. They could have been more creative: for example, this year is the 116th anniversary of the first modern Olympic Games, so 116 km would have been a good distance.
Anyway, I signed up for the longer of the two rides. In the rain at 07:45 this morning it looked as if there were about 100 cyclists, or maybe 120, which is an excellent turnout for a ride of this distance. (Cambridge News claimed ‘600’, but I presume that’s for both rides.) I handed out lots of publicity cards for the CTC audaxes, so maybe I’ll see some of these riders again in September.
The organizers were sending people off in groups of about 30, and I got into the first group. There was the usual mad dash for the first control at St Ives (25 km), which we reached in well under the hour, and the madness continued to the second control at Doddington (55 km) which we reached at about 10:00. The weather was really foul for this section of the ride, with heavy rain and poor visibility. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that some riders had crashed here. Cambridge MP Julian Huppert was part of this group, and got to Doddington about five minutes after me. I didn’t see him after that, though—maybe he realized it was a bad idea to cane it on your first 200!
The route then turned southwest to Huntingdon through the flat landscape of the fens, and from here I was on my own for most of the rest of the ride. After a quick stop at Huntingdon (88 km) we turned north through the Stukeleys, crossing the A1 at Alconbury and getting some hills at last. It was tough here because of the northerly wind. There was a pair of red kites at Hamerton: I got a fantastic view of them as they drifted low over the road, but I was too slow at getting my camera out and the best photo I got was the distant silhouette shown below.
After the fourth control at Stilton (118 km) things were a bit easier as we were travelling south again, with the wind behind. The weather started to improve, and the rain slackened to a gentle drizzle. I was getting tired as we approach St Neots, and starting to be passed by groups of faster riders.
At 15:30 or so the sun came out, and it was very pleasant cycling along the familiar roads through Longstowe and Bourn. The ‘challenging’ rides have clearly been paying off, because I was back at Parker’s Piece at 16:40 for my fastest ever 200 km in 8 hours and 40 minutes. (Also, I recorded my fastest 100 km in 3:55 and my fastest 100 miles in 6:40.)
So, what did I get for my £30 entry fee? Well, there was a very nicely printed map, though it didn’t survive the weather. The route was very dull and had some silly detours: for example, coming in to Cambridge from Barton, we were instructed to detour via Grantchester, Trumpington, Long Road and Hills Road. I understand the need to make up the distance, but make it up somewhere nice! I never had to queue to get my card stamped at a control, but I was well ahead of the ‘bulge’ and things might have seemed less well organized further back. There was free food and drink at all the controls, though it became a bit monotonous since all the controls had the same things: bananas, flapjacks, water and sports drink.