is event is one of Audax UK’s most popular rides. It attracts around 350 entrants for the 100km event who range across the spectrum of strong club riders with local knowledge, to novice audaxers for whom 100kms in new surroundings is a real challenge.
The forecast had been grim. Cold and wet with a biting headwind on the return journey. However, the forecast was wrong. It certainly was chilly at the start, but the sun attempted to brighten up proceedings. Not a drop of rain fell whilst I was riding, and even the headwind was manageable.
In the absence of my wife, who was due to partner me on the tandem, I was free to ride the fast bike. The route is well suited to a leisurely tour, or alternatively, one can imagine putting it to the sword. (‘Imagine‘ being the definitive word). Therefore I was committed to a swift ride, all the time monitoring heart rate and power output, so that if it ended up being a slow ride, I could at least claim that it was a ‘training‘ session.
The field is broken down into about five or six groups with ten minute intervals between start times. I was in group A, (perhaps because I had entered in good time) which meant a position at the front of the field. We set off slowly, but the Giant TCR Advanced SL does not ‘do’ slow. Within a few miles I had caught the Early Bird group of starters and was hightailing it through the familiar villages of Benington, Whempstead, Dane End and Great Munden. They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but not in the case of these marvellous lanes which have been ridden on countless occasions.
Alas, just outside the village of Nasty, my back wheel succumbed to a sharp piece of flint. In the process of replacing the tube I was passed by several riders, many of whom kindly shouted out offers of assistance. Having put everything back together, the chase was on to catch up with the group.
The climb out of Buntingford presented an opportunity to join up, but the group was in reality a mix of ones and twos. I pressed on to the first card control in the pub at Hare Street. What a gorgeous setting, complete with duckpond, tent with home-made sausage rolls, and doughnuts. Normally I would have stuffed myself to the brim with the fare on offer, and, in no particular culinary order. However I’m on the fast bike…remember? On a mission.. right? Oh My! Strava has a lot to answer for. This is not in the true spirit of audax.
Nevertheless, the aging athlete in me said ‘GO‘. So I turned my back on all the goodies and sped off.
The section of road from Hare Street to Newport is about 20kms, and generally downhill, although there are plenty of little drags on the way. It is crying out to be ridden at a strong tempo, and would be great in a group. Unfortunately I was alone, but gave it a fair crack.
How can I express the feeling of being simultaneously at one with the bike, the road, your surroundings, all the while experiencing the exhilaration of speed? Perhaps it is life affirming. Anyway, I caught a threesome at Newport and cracked on to Saffron Walden, the approach to which has a couple of lumpy bumps. Arrived at the half way point a minute too early, the control was not yet open. Having also dealt with a puncture, this signified a swift ride.
Departed alone into the inevitable headwind and made steady progress through Wendons Ambo to Great Chishill, where the route turns left to Shaftenhoe End and Barkway. Love typing this stuff! May Street, which is the name of the left turn, preceeds a rollercoaster section of road which, I think, would be thrilling with a tailwind. I have yet to experience this.
On the climb up from Barkway to the ridge near Reed, I was caught by another rider who reckoned that we were the leaders on the road. The company made a big difference, as I was getting lazy on my own. If I were a racehorse, they would fit me with blinkers to aid concentration.
We learned that we had a lot of mutual friends in common, and so we formed a two man team over the remaining fifteen or sixteen miles of the ride. Jonathan punctured about five miles from the finish and so we were caught by a group of four. However, J did a huge turn on the front, which allowed all six of us to arrive at the finish together. It’s not a race, but…..
Huge thanks to Jim Brown of Stevenage CC and all his helpers who put on this great event.