The Tour of Cambridgeshire

The “UK’s first Gran Fondo” took place on Sunday under the guise of the Tour of Cambridgeshire which started and finished at the Peterborough Arena.

As soon as you think about the description and location of the event you’ll know some key facts about it:

  • There’s loads of riders – around 6000 people entered and they had capacity for 4000 more!
  • Closed roads would offer a completely different riding experience
  • It’s flat – Cambridgeshire isn’t exactly known for it’s climbing
  • So, it’s fast. Very, very, fast
  • There’s a fair few crashes

As soon as I saw it advertised as the first of its kind in the UK, I knew I wanted to have a go and I really enjoyed the event.

A subtle look

A subtle look

At a modest 85 miles, it’s not as intimidating as some rides so you can go in to the event any condition you want, knowing that you’ll get around.  As it turns out, I was feeling pretty good after a week of hard training rides so was looking forward to cranking up the pace around the flat fenlands of Cambridgeshire.

The weather was good to us with clear skies all day and the wind didn’t seem too bad until you faced it head on as it whipped across the pan-flat countryside, but most of the time you were surrounded by riders right across the road so getting some shelter was usually possible.

The course took in a few moderate lumps and bumps in the first third and the final 10 miles, but other than that it was flat all the way around.  The only rises in the road that caused any concern was the odd speed hump that was difficult to spot whilst snuggled in with another 50 lycra clad companions flying along the road!  As we thundered along, the first feed stop came and went at the exit of some airfield-cum-enterprise centre in Alconbury.  I’d picked up a good little group being marshalled by some handy club riders so stuck with them on the exit of the airfield and cruised along together for another 30 miles.

The Lads

The Lads

The sensation of cycling in a big group is both petrifying and exhilarating.  Watching riders two or three places in front of you makes your brain ache after a while, but the benefits in the drag they create is awesome.  I was gently turning the pedals and maintaining an average of 22mph before thinking that I had plenty left in the tank.  As I zoomed to (and then off) the front of the group I soon appreciated the benefits of being in a pack and after 10 minutes of battling the wind on my own, the same group eased past me so I jumped back on the tail and stayed put!

The group was so good that I stayed involved as we passed the second feed station and just about managed on my 2 bottles until the final stop at about 68 miles.  It got harder work for a bit as I cycled solo with my nose in to the wind for a few miles but, sure enough a little group was formed with a few others at about 72 miles.  We worked well together for a few miles, passing a miserable and bloodied (but kind of OK) guy sitting in a bus stop as we enjoyed the freedom of a main road all to ourselves.

One or two people at the start

One or two people at the start

I’d seen the remnants of a few crashes along the way but had been surprised at how few there’d been.  The etiquette of passing on the right had been observed throughout and that discipline had preserved the order of cyclists while it was most fraught in the first 30 miles.  By the time my little “elite” group rolled in to the last 10 miles, the roads felt safe and my focus had changed to how I’d approach the last 5 miles in order to preserve the 22mph average I’d built up.

And then the girl in my elite group clipped the wheel in front of her and she went in to the kind of extreme speed wobble that usually results in a kid coming off down a grassy hill.  But this was more serious and we were doing about 25mph at the time.  She parted company with her bike and landed face down on to the curb, suffering what I’ve since heard described as “facial injuries and a broken collar bone”.  At the time those injuries looked awful and there was a lot of blood, a lot of panic about her condition and a fair degree of confusion – mostly on my behalf when one of the nurses (who’d been riding in a group behind us) shouted at me to clear her airways …. how do you do that????

I’d hit her bike, gone over the handlebars and laid in the road screaming before the initial all-over body pain became more focussed on the impact areas.  Once I saw the state of the girl any concern over my own injuries disappeared and adrenaline took over.  It as only when there was an ambulance on the way and a few medically qualified people were tending to her that I felt people were crowding her, so I hopped back on my bike to finish the ride.  The next 3 miles were OK but when the adrenaline wore off, the pain in my back and ribs slowed me down and the final 5 miles were miserable.

My damaged top

My damaged top

As I half climbed, half fell of my bike at the end, St Johns volunteers in attendance sorted out the bloody bits and led me to an ambulance for a few checks on my breathing.  I cannot speak highly enough of these guys – calm, friendly and professional despite an endless stream of sweaty lycra clad fools like me keeping them busy all day long!!

It was the first event of it kind so there were a few things to improve upon.  The car park closed at 10 so that meant you had to hang around for 2 hours before starting.  The start was inevitably congested so the when the race began at 12, it was 30 minutes before we started pedalling and longer for thousands of others behind us. I’ve already mentioned the speed humps but the main issues with the course was that the long-route was closed earlier than planned. This was justified by the need for emergency services to gain access but received with some disdain by the riders affected by the changes. At the end there was a little confusion about queuing up for goody bags back in the expo hall but no ham done there.

But, putting those little gripes to one side, it was a terrific event.  After 75 miles I was so exhilarated that I started laughing to myself and even the crash can’t quell the excitement I felt at cycling so fast for so long…. I guess the best testament is that I’ve signed up to next years event already.

Family Cycling at Mallory Park

What better way to spend the Bank Holiday afternoon than razzing around Mallory Park race circuit with the kids?

The attraction of traffic free cycling for my girls and their cousins was too good to miss, so we loaded up the bikes and headed off to a special family session put on by Cycling Mallory.  The girls travelled by car while myself and my newly converted brother -in-law took a scenic route on our bikes through a blustery Leicestershire countryside.

Family Cycling

Some of the family bikes

As always, the smooth circuit is a real treat to cycle on, and with the guidance of “going steady” we rolled down the hill towards the start and finish straight.  My eldest has just mastered how to change gear while moving on her outstanding Frog bike and it was great to see how exhilarating she found the high speed descent (we forgot about “going steady”).

Just as predictable as the smooth circuit is the wind as you turn around Gerards Bend.  As we turned in to the wind, my nephew asked how there can be another Gerard because there is “only one Steven Gerrard” but soon finished with the questions when he was puffing and panting in to the wind.  Both the 7 year olds found it a slog around the bend but soon picked up each time we hit Stebbe Straight.

mallory park race circuit

The Circuit

The first time round we cut out the hill going up to Shaws hairpin bend, making the circuit in to an oval shape.  Pretty quickly we caught up my wife and my youngest who were on their first lap and chatting away about the things they could see on the lake in the middle of the track.  The downhill start had been a bit intimidating for my 4 year old who has been cycling her bike for a couple of months so they’d walked down before starting.  But the thought of bombing down the hill again was too good to resist so the older cousins both headed up to the hairpin at the end of their next lap so that they could race down from the Bus Stop to Devils Corner and along the Kirkby Straight.

Devils Elbow

Bombing down hill

All in all, the older ones did 5 or 6 laps each, my youngest did a couple of laps and her other cousin who is 5 did 3 or 4 laps at a good pace.  Plenty of families turned up with budding young Froomes and Contadors, whilst others were there to enjoy a safe environment for their kids to ride until their legs ached.

We certainly got our monies worth around the 1.2 mile track – it was £5 per adult and one child – and all our little ones (and some of the big ones) could feel that satisfying ache in their legs as we loaded the bikes in to the cars and headed home for pulled pork cobs!

(P.S. I happened to get a 3rd place in the KOM along Burbage Common Road on the way home so I was well happy too)

The Fred Whitton Challenge

If you’re a cyclist and haven’t heard about it, stop reading now and forget you ever saw the name of The Fred Whitton Challenge.

Good. So now you’re either a non-cyclist or a rider who has heard about The Fred and decided it’s not for you.  If you are one of the latter, keep it that way!!

The Start

The Start

After last years RAID Pyrenees I fancied a more manageable, marquee, domestic challenge this year so in the winter I got the lads together and entered the “UK’s hardest sportive” in the Lake District. How hard could it be?

Well, I wish I’d really got my head around the answer to that question earlier. How hard? Very.

In a nutshell it is:

112 miles starting at Grasmere in the Lake District
Just under 4000m of climbing (more than any day in the RAID)
Gradient averages of up to 30% and small sections as high as 60%
In the changeable conditions typical of the region

We registered on Saturday so spent the afternoon and evening trying not to enjoy too many local beers  in Hawkshead where we stayed over night.  Planning to start as early as possible we headed back in to Grasmere at 5.30am on Sunday only to find that everyone else had the same idea – so it was nearly 7am before we’d reached the start and finally got away.

The Route and The Profile

The Route and The Profile

The first climbs start after a mile or two and it’s relentless from there on in! The first “foot down” section came at Newland Pass after about 35 miles.  Pushing through on the pedals, my front wheel lifted off the ground, landed at an angle and I headed off the road on to the grass verge. The steepness of the road made it impossible to get going again so I had no choice but to walk until the gradient softened up a bit.

With riders all over the road, some walking, some passing “on the right”, you have to have your wits about you at all times. Especially on the way down: these brutal climbs give you none of the descending rewards you get on bigger mountains.  They’re sharp, steep, winding, narrow roads that were damp and covered with gravel.  Mountain Rescue marshals constantly tell you to slow down and if it was your legs that were hurting on the way up, it’s your hands, shoulders and forearms that ache on the way down as you strive to find the sweetspot on the brakes to keep moving slowly down the hill.

By the time I’d reached the first feed stop I was cold, tired, cramping up and ready to go home.  After getting colder and more miserable we headed off to a climb starting a out 100 yards after the feed station and plodded on in to head winds, cross winds and hills.

Cold Fell is one of the lesser spoken about points of the ride but up the top of the moor (?) the crosswinds were a constant challenge.  On the rare occasions that we were on the flat, the wind would try to whip way the wheels as an ongoing reminder that, no matter how fatigued you felt in body and mind, you have to keep your guard up!

The Finish

The Finis

After some views of Sellafield and the Irish Sea you arrive at the next stop is at 81(ish) miles.   Only after several cups of coffee, a couple of sandwiches and mouthfuls of malt loaf did I feel ready to head off to the toughest section of the ride. We had a good group for 10 miles or so until everything got broken apart by Hardnott Pass.  It really is the beast of the ride over a mile long, averaging 30% gradient and popping up after 94 gruelling miles only the strongest can pedal all the way to the top.

I cramped up after about 300 yards, a woman in front just fell off when her pedals stopped turning and everyone around me was walking – apart from my mate Robbie.  He got halfway up before his back wheel spun out and he had to unclip. Another crappy descent leads straight on to Wrynose Pass which is  25% average for about a mile.  Robbie got up that one, I cramped and walked (as you can tell, there was a pattern going on here).

After those two climbs the countdown to the finish begins and the roads become a little more humane.

The Proof

The Proof

Soon enough the route finds its way back down to Ambleside, along the lakeside and eventually, over 10 hours after starting, back to Grasmere and the finish.

I greeted the finish with a certain numbness.  Pleased it was over, disappointed at how I’d coped with the ride and the conditions and unable to feel any sense of achievement after walking on 3 occasions.  I’m writing this over 48 hours after finishing and I still ache, I’m still tired and I still know that it was the first and last time I’ll be taking on that ridiculous challenge!

Spot the truth….

Whilst sitting eating fajitas with the kids tonight I asked my youngest (she’s 4) what she’d been up to.  Here is what she told me:

“Well, when I was little I forgot my lunchbox so I made myself a sandwich. Out of onion. My teacher cut it for me and I had an onion sandwich”

The Key Ingredient in an Onion Onion Sandwich

The Key Ingredient in an Onion Onion Sandwich

“What, onion in onion?”

“Yes. And then I went to my friends field and got some daffodils and put them in a wine bottle”

“That’s nice, did you pick them yourself?”

“No, I chopped them and put them in a bin with the wine bottle. Then it made wine and I drank the wine. It tasted like onions.”

“Errr, OK….”

“And then I put the bin on my head and walked around banging in to everything. So my teacher bought me home in her car. But we didn’t have any of these tortilla things so I ran to the CoOp and saw the Book Man. Then I opened them with a knife. A childrens knife.”


“And I rushed home and got in my teachers car and zoomed to play school”

The Size of the Dead Monkey

The Size of the Dead Monkey

“What happened to the Book Man?”

“He jumped in his van and drove from the Post Office to my school”

“How does this story end, darling”

“Well, I went to Twycross Zoo on a school trip and we saw a baby monkey”


“And it got killed because a big monkey stamped on it and punched it and then the big one stuck its tongue out


“It was this big. I’m full up”

And that was that.

I’m not sure if that was fabrication, premonition, nightmare or hallucination but she seemed very convinced when she told me the story and was very particular about the details when she was repeating it to my wife 5 minutes later.

Mrs G then pointed out that she had been making the story up whist looking at things around her: fajita’s, daffodils, books, stuffed monkeys… a lot like master criminal Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects.

If you managed to spot any bits of truth in there, well done!


Fun at School Cross Country

If you’ve got kids and they have the chance to get involved in cross country at an early age… do it!

My daughter is in year 3 – a junior – and her primary school holds weekly training sessions on a Monday with monthly events with other schools.  She loves cross country running and enjoys it even more because she has a good group of friends who also take part.  OK, most events are carnage with sharp elbows and lots of pushing and shoving followed by a few tears, a bit of chatting and a lot of walking, and that’s what the kids love!

Organised Chaos

Organised Chaos

But this weeks race was different because my little girl ACTUALLY DID WHAT WE TALKED ABOUT!!

She took it steady at the start.  So steady that I thought she was gassing with her mate when they were about 6 people ahead of last place.  And then she picked up the pace.

In the final two-thirds of the race she overtook half of the field by getting faster and faster.  She used her fast hands (imagine Linford Christie’s sprinting hands) and was taking deep breaths (after my pep talk of “I don’t want to hear you chatting, I want to hear your deep breathing”).

It’s fair to say that this competitive Dad is proud of his daughter.  Not for the place that she finished in the race, but because I know she tried her best.  Kids, eh?

Cross Country Fun

Last term my daughter began taking part in the school cross country races.  An over-subscribed after school club allowed her to train with her friends once a fortnight and monthly races at Prestwold Hall came along just often enough to keep her interested.

She loves running and I know that’s got a lot to do with her seeing me do different races over the years and now we’ve found something that we can enjoy together.

When I get home after a weekend run my little lady will come out for a mile or so with me. (OK, if you’ve read my last post, you’ll know that I’m recovering from apathy so it’s not happened EVERY weekend – but it has happened every weekend that I HAVE been for a run).

The mile is not only a great way for me to cool down, but a brilliant time for us to chat and laugh doing something we both love.

This weekend I talked to her about taking deep breaths while running.  We practiced this well for a while until the thrill/shock of running through an icy ankle deep puddle caused her to squeal!  She seemed to target the puddles after that and had a beaming smile the whole way around our little run. I’m sure the puddle-tainment contributed to her determination to run the whole way without stopping and giving me a run for my money (ha-ha) in the sprint finish down our road.

Running for a few minutes is a fantastic way of involving my daughter in one of my hobbies and is a great way of creating special moments across the weekend.


Setting Goals and Getting Going

After ending 2014 with no motivation, targets or incentives, 2015 has begun in a spritely fashion!

On returning from my epic Pyrenees ride I did virtually no activity for 3 months. Ok, so I did start running again but a calf strain scuppered that in October and wrote off pretty much everything throughout November apart from a 50 mile sportive. Then of course it was Christmas which bought the annual binge drinking and dietary meltdown.

In the two weeks running up to Christmas, my work clothes had become uncomfortable and I began to look forward to January with a never-before-experienced sense of anticipation. In fact it was this trouser shrinkage issue that motivated me to get on the turbo trainer a few times before Christmas and then again a couple of times over the break.

I faced a harsh reality when heading out with the lads after New Year and realised the gulf in capability that had emerged between me (idle, unfit and fat) and them (keen, trained and fit). I was left behind on the very first hill and became the weakest link after just a few miles. For the first time in a while I was the one that people had to slow down for after a climb. And I didn’t like that.

So I’ve led the charge with the lads to set some goals for the year.

Hardknott Pass looks nice

Hardknott Pass looks nice

The Fred Whitton Challenge is probably the biggest thing we’ll do this year. It’s labelled as “the UK’s toughest sportive” at over 110 miles long with the infamous 30% Hardknott Pass cropping up at 94 miles so the motivation to get on my bike is screaming out at me! Of course there is also the annual Skeggy ride the following week and I’m also in the Tour of Cambridgeshire. So there is plenty to shoot for.

I’m also looking at monthly Strava challenges, some more local sportives and maybe another challenge after the summer. Oh, hang on, did I mention summer? That reminds me of a well located campsite I’ll be staying at for 2 weeks in August that is surprisingly close to some famous Alpine climbs (Madelaine, Telegraphe, Galibier, Croix de Fer and Alpe d’Huez).

Anyway, that’s half a year, 5 kilo’s, a lot of riding and 800 miles away.

For now it’s time to enjoy the winter: get out on the bike when the weather allows, get used to training on the turbo in the garage, and embrace the mud for some off-road running.