Tour of Cambridgeshire

That was eventful to say the least!  Bloody hard, but bloody good!  The Tour of Cambrideshire, Gran Fondo…

First of all, a massive thank you to the organisers, marshalls and the people on the route.  The cheering and support made a huge difference, although the smell of BBQs on the way was a bit cruel 🙂

Also a massive thanks to Tom Craggs, my coach from Running With Us, he did a great job at getting me ready for the event and fitting in with lots of other events I keep throwing in, running, cycling & duathlons!

So that was the first road race done and I cannot imagine it is the easiest one to do!

I arrived on Saturday to pick up my race pack, nice and smooth process and had a bit of time to take in the atmosphere and some of the Chrono  It was great to see Angela giving it full gas at the end to claim 4th place in her category and secure qualification for the worlds.

The nerves were starting to build now, but I had been out on the bike for a leg lossener earlier and reminding myself of Peterborough and the surrounding areas, definitely brought back memories from when I lived there and helped with the mind and making sure I knew what to expect.

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So an early night at the hotel after chatting to a few others doing the ride, then up and get ready.  Midday is a very late start for me, normally all my rides are done first thing, so this was a new experience from a fuelling point of view.

I got to the site nice and early and I was as ready as I could ever be.  The legs were still fatigued from the training but luckily not too bad today.

The race gates opened at 11am, but when I looked at 10:45 there was already a massive queue.  I was hoping there would not be as standing around for over an hour in the sun is not what I wanted, but I joined the queue as I did not want to be too far back.

We got let in and went to our age gates, I was probably just over half way down the gate, which was OK, but you could tell there was some nervous excitement amongst the riders.

This was the Race gate and full of riders that in theory would be pretty good as they wanted to race, a new experience for me, but the crit racing from earlier in the year helped with the preperations.

After the wait groups were starting to go, the youngest first and then it was us, the biggest Race gate, the MAMILs, Middle Aged Men in Lycra!  Peterborough will never have seend so much lycra!

The last few minutes passed and I reminded myself of the target, ride hard enough to qualify for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships in Albi!  This would then give me the decision whether to go or not, but that would be a great decision to have to make!

I knew it would be quick from the off so mentally I was ready for it, then bang (well go), but it was definiely go on the B of the bang and the front guys were off like scolded cats.

As we all got out on to the main road the peloton (about 400 or so in our group so a big peloton) was strung out but all still together and I was riding well, but at about 5km there was a crash that split the field.  Sadly I was just behind it and got stopped, but the group I was with was still big and we settled in to riding.

I was at my threshold power (FTP) or well above for most of the first hour and averaged, which includes all the pauses for riding in a group, turns, crashes, etc, about 234 watts (240 FTP), covering just under 40km!  It was quick!

Riding in a big group is a real challenge in the wind, lots of concentration required and when you think you are doing 40 or 50 kph just a few inches from the rider in front, the sides and behind it is a surprise there were not more crashes.

I have done a few sportives before and there are some serious (and good) riders in them, but this is a different level.

I was holding my own though, even with the constant accelerations out of corners, one causing a 1004w power spike, my highest ever on open road!

The key is not loosing the wheel!  For the first 70km I was racing, and I do mean racing, well.  Playing things tactically, staying in the bunch, moving up when it was my strong points such as the few down hills and allowing myself to drift backwards on the weaker points the few drags up. This kept me perfectly placed.

At about 50km or so, the fast group from the 50 to 54 cat caught us (they will have started eother a minute or 2 behind us).  I knew exactly what to do, latch on and stick with them.  No problems at all and I was happily sitting in the group, but looking round I could only see a couple of others from my age group (the others seemed to have dropped back in to their own group).  This was a real boost and means that I can definitely live with the front guys (if things do not go wrong!).

However, talking of things going wrong it then happened.  About 70km in to the race the cross winds were strong and I got squeezed between 2 riders with nowhere to go.  I caught the rear wheel of the rider in front, doing well over 40 kph, and I thought disaster!  I was flicked out to the side but somehow I got my foot unclipped, down on the ground and stabilised myself, all at that speed!.  Save of the century for me!  I even heard one rider saying well saved.

It would not have been good if I had gone down at that speed.  We had already ridden past a couple of crashes and I am glad I did not join them (hopefully all were OK in the crashes and it looked like the medical support was well organised from the ones I saw)

The heart rate certainly went up, but the problem being was that I got spat out so much I lost the bunch while trying to get sorted out and clipped in again.  It was not a massive gap but enough, when the wheel is gone it is very hard to get it back.

Decision time, chase back or wait for the next group?

Looking behind the next group was nowhere to be seen so it was head down and try to get back.  The problem being was that this is in the fens with lots of wind and it was 1 against about 50.

I tried (really hard) and I was picking off riders that got spat out the back of the group, but I was desperately in need of a tail wind to catch them.  Sadly I knew what was about to come.  Forty Foot bank (perils of a bit of local knowledge) and I had a bad feeling that it was going to be in to the wind, I was right.  Dead straight, open, flat and horrible!  It was at this point I had to give up the chase.  I had been full bore for several KM and that was it, the legs and engine could not bridge the gap.  It is as bad as climbing riding in to a heasd wind in the fens, I know from when I lived there as I trained for a ride in the Andes by riding in to head winds in the fens!

The group disappeared and there was no sign of a big group behind, so I kept going but trying to save a bit of energy.  There was a small group of 4 riders that got back on to me but they just sat on until I decided to get tactical and but them in a position they had to go past and start working.  I may not be experienced in road races, but I know my tactics from watching year after year of the professional races.

It gave a bit of relief but they were not able to go quick enough so I did more turns on the front as I was determined to get a good time and qualify for the worlds.

Even this small group was starting to thin and eventually I left them all.

I was blowing now though and could see a big group approaching from behind, which turned out to be the rest of my age cat that I had dropped a long while before.  I was going to try and grab the wheels and sit in, but the effort I had put in chasing back meant I couldn’t manage that for long and dropped off the back.  At this point I thought it could be a long a lonely ride to the finish.

Another gel down, more fluids and more riding alone I was starting to recover.  I could see another quick group approaching and I was determined not to lose them.  This was the fastest group from the 55 to 59 riders, but they were flying.  The good news was that I had managed to recover enough and was happily sitting with them again, that was a big relief!

It had been a real slog on my own in to the wind, slow and painful, but now I was back in a group and we were flying along again.  We were catching other riders and going straight past them and then the group I could not live with, straight past!

This was all going well but eventually the efforts I had put in took there toll and I dropped off that group.  I had been fighting really hard to stick with them but the elastic eventually went, partly me and partly other riders I was caught behind.

The good news was that we were in the last 10km by this point and I settled in with a group of 5 from my category.  I could not really contribute as I was done by that point but I could easily sit with them.

It was then suddenly the last km and I was definitely not going to the front.  It was interesting as we all knew that we wanted the best time but also wanted to try and get a sprint in, nopt too much cat and mouse but definite preperation to give it one last effort.

Coming back in to the showground I knew what the finish was like and I was hoping to come from behind with 100m or so to go, but the way it panned out was that a massive gap appeared on the inside of the turn as the one that had been leading us faded, I had to take it.  This was about 200m though, I pushed hard and I knew the others would be doing the same.  Pipped on the line by about a wheel by one of them, but I am pleased with the sprint, even if it was seated (not enough energy for out of the saddle).

Great camaraderie with the riders I finished with as we all had a chat, shock hands and basically caught breath.

So that was it, all over.  128km in gusty winds in the fens (as tough as steep climbs in places and I know that after the Tour de Yorkshire a few weeks back, very different but equally tough).  Yes, some good tail winds but some nasty cross winds and block head winds.

What was the time?  I knew it was quick, but boy was I surprised.

I had set out to do sub 4 hours, but was hoping for around 3:45 (my intiial estimate of what I thought would qualify), but I looked down and I had stopped the Garmin at 3:24:30!  37.4 kph (23.2mph).  I also set my fastest 40km at under 58 minutes and set my max bike heart rate of 174, plus the best ever road power!

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Having finished it was time to wait and see if I had qualified for the worlds or not.  The top 25% from each category qualify.  This includes those from the Race gates, but also from the Gran Fondo.  I hoped I would make it.  If it had not been for that near crash I would have been 5 minutes or so quicker I think.

I had to wait 3 hours for the results to come through, peril of being in the biggest category.  At least I had been sensible and had a quick massage while I was there.

Listening to some of the other categories being announced added to the tension but it was great to see the joy on peoples faces when their names were read out, cheres going up and couples hugging each other in congratulations.

Then the results went up, after a scrum I could see them, I was in!  Target achieved, definitely a mini fist pump done walking over to get the medal!  It turns out that the last qualify was through in 3:28:10, much faster than I guessed!

What a day!  186th male in the 45-49 age group out of 840, just about the top 22%, that will do!

Author: The Mr Smith

Photographer, Gourmet, Cook, Oenophile, Traveller, International Athlete, Investor, bit of a Geek and observer of life

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