Having been a user of Wilkyboy’s GPX files over the last few years and seen how well presented and looked after his kit always is I was expecting his first calendar event to be very well organised and planned.
I was not wrong.
From Nick himself waving cars into the carpark in Girton (just NW of Cambridge) to the availability of Gluten Free Toast at the start all was looking good before we even hit the road.
There were lots of riders there considering it was a first-off event. Wilkyboy is generally pretty well known amongst the East Anglian Audax community and was audacious enough to do PBP on his Brompton last year. This year he is riding just about everything fixed. This is a man who, not satisfied with the challenge of riding his bike a very long way, needs a further artificial constraint to be happy. And why not? Audax is crazy – you’re in good company if you want to do something even more different (just ask Idai!).
At the start I saw two riders who I knew would be there – my Kiwi/swiss cobber Nik (yes, another Nik!) and Jonathan from Swaffam, both excellent company for a long ride.
I hadn’t seen Johnathan since we both dismally failed PBP, so I set off with him. Nik was trying a new strategy of starting a few minutes behind the main bunch so he could avoid going out too hard. Nik is a ‘good diesel’ rider and can keep a good speed going for a very long time, this ride was a ‘easy’ ride between a 300 the week before and a 400 Easter Arrow.
After signing up for the ride I had realised I had made a dangerous mistake – because the ride started in Cambridgeshire I thought that it basically be flat and had it pegged to be my first 200 fixed of the year. Luckily I had been reading Tomsk’s account of riding it on 64″ fixed and he had said it had:
The potential to be a tough early-season classic.
Now Tomsk is an epic rider. He did PBP fixed and generally makes no bother about long rides at all.
I decided I would do it on my Tripster and use all 30 gears!
The ride has 1900m of climbing in it. But as the ride is half in Cambridgeshire and half in whatever-that-other-bit-is-called-shire that means that 100km is dead flat and that 1900m is in the other 100km. Not huge numbers, but this is still early season for me and I could do with (cough cough) less snacks in my life. Chiltern Grit was 1760m of climbing so I knew I could manage it.
So, Jonathan and I set off with the main bunch along the ‘Guided bus way’ with many other riders – a novel start to the ride.
And we had our first visitation not that far in. We got passed by plenty of people we knew, offering help and/or mocking J for his puncture skills (this all relates to trying to deal with some tubeless Ultegra rims on a ride a few years ago where it took 1.5 hours to change a tyre!)
At that point Nik passed us and I realised we were pretty much last on the road. Oh well! A guy who had crashed due to inattention and had smashed his Garmin mount asked if he could tag along with us so we did a deal – he would pull us relentlessly along into a mild headwind if we would tell him when to turn. To be clear he didn’t know about this deal, but did his part admirably. In our defence he was much younger than us.
This was probably the least interesting part of the ride. A little bit of B-roading before we switched over to some nicer C-roads where we caught up with Nik and Phil W (out for a 300 ECE). Nik gave me a piece of Columbian Super Energy Food that a mate of his was importing – not at all dodgy – and he knew it was GF so had bought one along specially for me – thanks Nik!
Reaching Oundle I had an average of close to 25kph on the speedo, good going into a head wind. Apparently Oundle has a very flash Public school in it, which would explain why there where lots of young women wearing the most bizarre school uniform I think I have ever seen – and yes I realise that that statement coming from a grown man who wears lycra is deeply ironic…
Yeah, it sucks! And why do just the women have to look like they are about to do Aikido in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan? Is it some special humiliation thing?
The weather wasn’t bad really, but there was a very inviting cafe on the corner which we just HAD to stop at. And stop we did, and got chatting. And took probably a little too long – but what the hell, it was a nice time we were having.
EVENTUALLY we got out onto the road again, wondering quite how hilly the hills were going to be…
And they were fine. The countryside was lovely if still not yet in early spring mode. We rode through some nice villages and took in the something-or-other viaduct (sorry, I am not a train spotter) all on C-roads with only the occasional crossing of a B-road to contend with. It was great riding country and I thought this would make a great route for a warm summer’s day.
And I got to see this…
J is good company and I learnt a lot about the heroin trade in Norfolk (!) and how social deprivation works in semi-rural England. Not that J is a drug dealer – he works in the charity and social sector.
As we got to the turning point at Melton Mowbray we passed Nik riding on the way out. Somehow he had gotten way ahead of us. He obviously wasn’t stopping much and had stolen a good march on us by not taking tea at Oundle. He was getting in some practice before his Easter Arrow the following week.
In MM J and I found a good old-school cafe that could do me a Jacket Potato. And we sat in that for quite some time, just chatting and not getting too worried about anything, swapping life stories and ride yarns and the different profiles of our PBP failures. I recommend getting him to tell you his story sometime, it’s quite something!
EVENTUALLY we get out onto the road again, and this is meant to be the really hilly 50km so we get ready for the worst. There was a strange diversion over a bridleway (luckily surfaced) which had a few walkers turning up their noses at us and which had a distinctly agricultural air (ie smelt like shit) but the reason for it was soon clear – a nice short cut to take us off the main roads and on towards the high point of the day.
About this point I was glad of my triple. J had a 11sp Ultegra setup and was having trouble getting his lowest gear. I would have had trouble finding my lowest gear but I was still ‘mid pack’ on the small ring, so could pretend that my gears were adjusted properly.
We were doing a lot of that Audax thing where we over take someone ‘slower’ up hill and then stop for a pee break only to get overtaken etc. We played this game a couple of times with John (who runs some Suffolk events, so the hills must have seemed indecent to him!).
I felt the hills were steep but not evil and generally we were chipping away at a decent rate on the road. Despite not being a great hill climber I do enjoy climbing and tend to ride them like I used to ride the long off-road hills around Wellington as a youth – sit and spin.
We ended up back in Oundle quite late, about 5:30pm and called into that very comfortable cafe again for a good solid warming up session before setting off into the gathering dark for the final flat 50k.
I was struggling a bit now and was more often than not slipping behind J instead of riding beside him and was wondering if I would be able to hang on. He had been getting in a number of rides around the 100mile mark so had better finishing power than me.
I managed to hang on, just. I reached for the Columbian Super Food – it was excellent and required no snorting.
The homeward leg took us on a different route, back via Huntingdon and another interesting bridleway excursion – down one of those very unlikely looking side roads to nowhere that cleverly ended up in another cute village – before rejoining the busway again.
I was pretty much done out by now. I knew I would make it without totally dying or grovelling, but I still had to concentrate on keeping the legs turning now. And at this end of the day the busway seemed endless!
Finally we got back to Girton at 9:30 for a very leisurely overall time of 12:30 to be stamped in. J had to catch a train so I waved him off then settled back into a second or third or was that forth cup of sweet tea and two slices of gluten free cake that had been made specially for me!!! Thanks Eva (Ewa?) for that, a rare treat indeed!
Nik ended up arriving 1:30 before us despite having been 15 minutes slower on the road than us – shows you how not-naffing about can make you faster. But then, hey, I had decided early to have a ‘social’ and, as all Audax finishers are counted equal I’d say… who cares!
The fast people did it around 9:30 all up including stops – but then my riding time was 9:44 so if I’d been a hard man and just done short stops I would have been… bored and utterly knackered.
So a tough early-season classic? Yes, totally agree. A ride that won’t let you hide but is not stupidly hard, and a very worthy addition to the early season – this ride will be stacked in PBP and LEL years. So chapeau Nick!
Later in the year I suspect I will want to do a ‘fast’ ride, but I was happy to get over the hills without killing myself. I am prepping for another inaugural ride ‘The Shark’ which takes in all the gratuitous hills from Greenwich to Eastbourne and back… so basically DOUBLE the climbing and 12:30 will be good going even doing minimal stops. I expect this one to really hurt…