So a couple of weeks back I got a chance to take part in the 2017 UCI Tour of Cambridge. An annual pan flat, closed road race and sportive that winds it’s way through the Cambridgeshire countryside.
This event had been planned in as part of my training for September however, coming just 7 days after getting back from Seville (which consisted of gorging on tapas and Cava) and 4 weeks of relative inactivity on the bike meant that what should have been a fairly run of the mill ride suddenly seemed like a mountain to climb.
Luckily I was riding the event with my friends Nick and Steve. Steve’s mate had planned to join us, but had to pull out last minute and so it was left to ‘The 3 Amigos’ to scramble our way around the route.
The distance at 80 miles wasn’t really my main concern in the run up to the ride. What played on my mind was how I would cope with trying to maintain the potential ‘race pace’ which inevitably comes with closed road sportives. Everybody goes off like they have a much more important place to be and so there’s always the temptation to jump onto a group which collectively have a higher ‘talent’ level meaning you expend too much energy at the start.
Could I stay with a group? Would I burn all my matches too early and end up limping back to HQ? What will happen if we all got split up? These were all questions that kept going through my head in the days leading up to the ride and even on the day itself. Not the best preparation I’m sure you’ll agree and something I don’t want to repeat in September in Manchester. In reality I should have only been thinking about the ride and how I was going to execute my plan not worrying about stupid little details.
JUST RIDE YOUR BIKE MATT!
(also, for full disclosure, the 6 pints I had the night before watching the Champions League final probably didn’t help!)
Unfortunately as we were sat in our pen for over an hour and a half these little niggles kept coming back into my head. Finally at 12:45pm we were on the move.
Straight out of the gate we were clipping along at 20mph surfing groups and trying to stay together. We’d decided that the best course of action was to try and get into a group and if it looked like the group was about to split jump across and keep ‘leap frogging’ as much as we could. If the pace was too hot for any of us we weren’t to stick around, but we didn’t think this would be the case as we weren’t going to go pedal to the metal.
Unfortunately this grand plan did not last for very long long.
Steve fell behind as the pace picked up and Nick and I found ourselves in a group which was teetering on splitting. Nick must have been 4 or 5 bike lengths in front of me when the riders between us suddenly decided that the pace was too much and the ‘elastic’ started to stretch out. I had nowhere to go as the group was spread across the whole road so I just had to sit tight as Nick’s group pulled away and the elastic finally snapped.
The issue was and I’m not going to moan too much on this subject as I’m sure it happens in every sportive, but people weren’t totally honest about their own ability. Our start pen was 18/20mph, but it became clear pretty quickly that some people just joined that group so that they could get off early/first. As soon as the road pitched up all you could hear was people scrambling for gears and then as they checked where they were on the cassette not looking where they were going (case in point being the gentleman who rode straight into the back of a rider just to my right).
As you can see from the elevation below the ride didn’t get above 200ft at any point in the 80 miles so really there was no excuse for sudden decreases in speed.
Right I’m going to get off my soapbox now and return you to the day! 😉
So now I was ahead of Steve, but falling behind Nick.
Right, time for a change of plan.
I was now in no mans land between groups so I decided to just get my head down and crack on hoping to either catch a group and get a breather or jump on the tail of a group that was flying past. About 5 miles from the first food station I was able to join a group which was steadily riding at approx 24mph which provided me with a break and some much needed drafting.
I needed food and water as it was around 2:00pm and due to the late start I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Suitably fed and watered I cracked on (the food options were great with sausage rolls and cookies being a welcome change from the gels you usually get on these events). Again jumping from group to group or sliding back to a group if the pace was to speedy was now the order of the day and the next 18 miles flew by.
At food stop 2 I bumped into Steve who, unknown to me, had not stopped at feed stop 1 and so had been ahead of me on the road (whilst I crammed as much food into my mouth and pockets as possible). We decided to ride the last 40 miles together as we were both suffering a bit and it made sense to complete the ride together at this point.
And so on we went. Joining groups, getting a bit of rest, eating, getting spat out of groups as the pace went up. This wasn’t helped by the springing up of a headwind which curtailed our speed as we rode the exposed fens between feed stops 2 and 3.
JUMP – REST – EAT – DROP – REPEAT
One thing that surprised me was the number of spectators we had on the course cheering us on. Villagers having BBQs at the roadside encouraging us with cheers and the ringing of cow bells. It made the event a bit more special knowing that the local public were supporting the day and having a bit of a ‘do’ as we toiled in the saddle for 5 hours.
Another thing that surprised me were the number of accidents on the road. I lost count of the times we rode past ambulances or first responders attending to stricken cyclists at the side of the rode. Some of the incidents appeared to happen on really innocuous stretches of road which was confusing. Straight, flat, open road seemed to catch people out the most and I can only speculate that perhaps riders passing slower groups were caught out by crosswinds or other riders not checking over their shoulders and pulling out expectedly in front of them. Whatever the cause it’s never nice to see fellow cyclists going down on what is supposed to be a sportive. One guy the last mile and a half was stood at the side of the road with his frame in 2 pieces. My mind is still boggled over how that could have happened on a straight wide open piece of tarmac!
The 3rd food stop brought welcome relief from an increasingly sore back and numb hands as well as a familiar face in Chloe Fairbairns, a fellow ARCC member, who was talking part with her husband Alexander. Chloe is returning from a serious back injury and it was great to see her back on the bike although I had to apologise later that I wasn’t able to jump onto the back of her ‘Alba Train’ as she went choo chooing past!
The last 16 miles were pretty much into a block headwind, but all I could think about was getting to the finish and as the clouds drew in and the rain started (which was a welcome relief) my main aim was to just kept the pedals going over.
Just as the heavens opened I completed the ride in a moving time of 4hr 24mins and an average speed of 18.1mph which was slower than I had hoped for, but all things considered given my terrible preparation I’m proud that I got it done on the day.
I enjoyed the event so much that I’ve already signed up for the race edition next year to see if I can get within the UCI qualifying time. The way it works is that the top 25% in each age classification of the combined starters in RACE and SPORTIVE will be invited to compete in the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships.
All I’ve got to do is get my average speed up from 18mph to circa 25mph in the next 12 months and I’ll be golden!
Looks like I have my 2018 challenge already lined up!