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CTC Cambridge

8 Oct: The Cambridge Autumnal 200km Audax

Saturday, 08 October 2016 

Nigel writes: Today was the Cambridge Autumnal 200. This was an Audax calendar event, the second to be organised by Nick Wilkinson under the banner of Cambridge Audax (the first was the Cambridge Pork Pie 200 in March).

Nearly 130 riders took part, including ten regulars from CTC Cambridge: Bill, Nigel, Alex, French Seb, Daniel, Sven, John S, Susan, David T and Edmund, easily the best club turnout on a local Audax I can remember. Of this group of ten, five were attempting their first ever 200, and all completed the ride successfully.

As with "The Pork Pie", the start and finish of the ride was in Girton, at the recreation pavilion. However on this occasion the goal was not pork pies but sausages, since our destination was the town of Framlingham in Suffolk which today, by happy coincidence, would be celebrating a sausage festival.

As I've described before, Audax is a form of cycle touring where riders aim to visit a sequence of controls by following a set route. It's not a race, although there is a time limit for completing the ride which places riders under a certain amount of pressure. Today there were just two intermediate controls.

The route out from Girton followed a fairly direct line eastwards, passing through Cambridge, Newmarket and Bury St Edmunds and on to Framlingham which was the first control (101km). The route then returned by a slightly more southerly route, visiting the Maglia Rosso cycle cafe near Bury for the second control (153km) before continuing back to Cambridge and finally Girton (214km).

With a total distance of 214km and a minimum speed of 15km/h, riders had to complete the ride within 13 hours 29 minutes. With a start time of 8am that meant everyone had to be back by 9.29pm.

Bill's story

Bill P writes: This was my first 200km Audax ride, though I had done a few 100km rides some years ago. I recognized a few faces from Cambridge CTC at the start, but I have not been that regular at CTC rides in the last year so I was a bit rusty on names!
Nigel sorted a frozen Garmin for me at the start; I was very grateful as the route was easily followed after that.

After chatting to Alex on the way to Newmarket I rode with a guy from London who was completely deaf, so it was hand signals and lip reading while we rode. After a brief stop at Debenham I arrived in Framingham to have a delicious hot sausage roll at the little cafe by the mini roundabout.

I saw a few familiar faces on the return including John S. I stopped briefly a few times for food bars, rode with a guy from Warwick, and then joined and finished with a young guy from Southend.

I enjoyed this challenge. But what I really want to emphasize is that I was so impressed with the selfless organization and especially the efforts of Ewa (Nick's wife) at the finish. It was incredible to be able to recover at the end whilst chatting to others and enjoying unlimited tea, chilli con carne soup and cake. A massive thank you to Nick, Ewa and other helpers.

Oh, and I was happy to dip under 9 hours for my first 200km Audax, arriving back before 5pm. Bill Perry

Organiser Nick Wilkinson gives a short briefing before the start

Nigel's story

Nigel writes: After many years riding with CTC Cambridge, this has definitely been the year of Audax for me, and since completing a rather tiring Pork Pie back in March (when I had to stop for a lie-down on the grass only 8km before the end) I have done a 200 or longer every month since then. My usual time for a 200 has been between 11h30 and 12h and although that's well within the time limit for a 200, if I am to do some multi-day rides next year I really need to ride a bit faster than that in order to save up time for sleep stops. So my goal today was to take the ride at a faster pace than usual, whilst trying not to completely wear myself out.

I think Alex had also set himself a similar goal, but in the event I found myself riding not with Alex but with another rider, Rob from Portsmouth, who I had met on the Three Coasts 600km Audax in July and who had generously helped me keep my pace up for long sections of that ride.

But today wasn't just about training, it was a great ride. It was a distinctly dull day, with some heavy drizzle for a few hours in the morning, but the ride out to Framlingham with dozens of other riders, at a pace well above that of a typical CTC Cambridge ride, was exhilarating. A highpoint for me was the climb out of Newmarket, past the Moulton Road gallops, which today were busy with dozens of parading racehorses. I don't know how often this takes place but I'd never seen it before.

I was charmed by Framlingham when I visited it on a sunny day last month. Today the weather was less charming, and the market place was packed with people for the sausage festival. With long queues everywhere, I just bought some food at the Co-op (saving my receipt with my brevet) and ate my lunch whilst sitting on a wall, chatting to Rob and Alex.

After lunch my legs were singing and telling me to slow down a bit, so after a few fast miles with Rob I took my leave and dropped back to ride at a more moderate pace and allow my legs to have a rest. I'm not sure whether I'd been over-doing it or whether this was simply because I had been stopped for a while. Fortunately I didn't have to slow down very much to feel much more comfortable and after a while I caught up with Rob who had also slowed down a bit.

When I arrived at Maglia Rosso I didn't actually feel I needed to stop for very long and didn't order any food, but I ended staying longer than planned, chatting both to Rob and to Alex who arrived about fifteen minutes after me.

The weather brightened up for the final leg back to Cambridge. My legs were tired and my pace had dropped but I was still fairly comfortable and arrived back in Girton at 6.30pm exactly, just after sunset and with an overall time of 10h30, including three stops totalling 90 minutes. Nigel Deakin

50km: A quick coffee stop for Nigel in Bury St Edmunds

Alex's story

Alex writes: Unwittingly I found myself leading the pack out through Girton, but before long the faster riders started streaming by, among them Nigel who was riding in a pair with Rob from Portsmouth – a rider we'd met on a few previous audaxes.

The early stages were pretty frantic and I had a chance to chat to Sven and Bill as we sped along the A1303 closing in on Newmarket. From there we took the familiar route past the gallops and through Moulton and Gazeley heading east. The weather was definitely autumnal as advertised, with mizzle in the air, a cool light wind from the north east and fallen leaves and other detritus on the roads. The puncture faerie was evidently hard at work today.

I didn't stop at Bury St Edmunds (50km) as I wanted to press on to lunch and improve my tolerance for riding 100km stages non-stop. As the distance ticked by this became quite hard work and I looked wistfully at a couple of tempting-looking bakeries en route. Then the mizzle intensified into outright rain and I passed several riders huddled for shelter under trees. I kept going: while I didn't quite achieve Nick W's goal of "Framlingham without putting a foot down" (traffic lights put paid to that) I was also intent on making steady progress without pausing unnecessarily.

As I closed in on Framlingham the riders at the head of the field started passing me, as the route doubles back on itself for some distance. I arrived in the buzzing market square at 12.30pm and chatted to Rob and Nigel while eating a hog roast bap and spiced apple cake from the market stalls.

I got away at 1pm and while leaving Framlingham passed many CTC friends who were just arriving. The wind was now lending some assistance and I opted for some high-gear low-cadence cruising (probably a bad habit) to make for a very relaxing ride for this stage, in line with the smooth and unruffled mode of audaxing I aspire to. The weather had dried up now, and an occasional patch of blue sky and shaft of sunshine cheered the scenery as I closed in on the Maglia Rosso cycle cafe.

The final stage was on largely familiar roads through Hawkedon and Stradishall, and then up unto the Newmarket ridge for a final descent from Balsham. After about 180km my heart rate began dropping and my body started its familiar switch into endurance mode: I felt comfy and efficient as I neared Cambridge: it was a shame the ride was nearly over.

I made the arrivée at 6.48pm making this my fastest 200km to date. Not a bad start to the season, but I'm going to need to get a lot faster to face the rides that lie ahead next year...

After the ride I waited at the arrivée to take advantage of the soup and excellent cakes on offer from Mrs W, and to watch the other riders return – chapeau! especially to the five Cambridge CTC riders for whom this was a first 200! Alex Brown

Waiting for the lights on Newmarket Road, Cambridge, with Alex and Rob at the front

Seb's story

Seb C writes: I found myself at the back when we left Girton, but passed many people who were already fixing punctures even before we had left Cambridge...

This being my third 200km Audax, I fell well-prepared and carried out a "solo strategy" which involving not pushing hard (using the granny gears on hills most of the time) and staying in charge of my own pace. I was able to eat on the bike and that helped me keep the control stops short: I went straight to Framlingham, arriving there in five hours and staying there for 45 minutes (there was no time for sausage).

With no mechanical problems whatsoever, I found the ride easy and much enjoyed the scenery, particularly the return leg and especially when the sun was setting after the control at Maglia Rosso. Before I knew it I was in Balsham! I made to the arrivée a little after 8pm, in little more than 12 hours and feeling not that tired.

I really want to thank Nick W for organizing such great events, and everyone involved (including Gareth and Ewa). Cambridge CTC has proven to be an excellent training club for such adventures, and I think joining last year was one of the best things I ever did! Sebastien Cosnefroy

Sven's story

Sven writes: I approached my first Audax, and my first 200, with a mixture of excitement, nerves, and a lot of preparation. The weekend before the ride, I properly cleaned my bike, including the chain and the cassette (a procedure that involved a heated ultrasonic water bath), mounted a pair of new Graphene clad Vittoria Rubino’s, and had my things packed on the Thursday evening.

Come Saturday, I had managed to slightly pull a muscle in my back the previous evening, but thought that all this preparation should not go to waste and swiftly made my way to Girton, leaving the house at 7.15am.

It was reassuring to see the faces of fellow CTC Cambridge riders at the start, along with a growing crowd of other riders who, as I found out at the two controls, had come from afar as London and Kent, and probably even further, to join us for this Audax. Still, a number of things were new to me. Riding from a route sheet, for starters. It would take me quite a while to become familiar with the language of abbreviations and symbols. I wanted to accustom myself to it, even while relying mostly on my Garmin during the first kilometres. In the beginning, of course, neither was necessary, as the group I was in sped with unhindered speed out of Cambridge and into Newmarket. These were speeds I was used to on short group rides, but maintaining anything like this for upwards of 100km seemed like lunacy to me. Caught up in the moment as I was, it wasn’t until Bury St Edmonds that I slowed down, leaving Alex to intend to push on without a stop, as he mentioned to me. Props to him, I thought, but I needed to settle at a different tempo. Also my rear derailleur had been making strange sounds, so I attempted some adjustments at a cafe in Bury.

After this brief stop I carried on, finding myself in a group of four which quickly split up, two faster riders ahead, and a slower one behind. This is the second big change from all the group rides I am usually on. There the operative word is "group", where we aim to stay together most of the ride. Of course, audaxing is not like that, with everyone intent on riding their own tempo. I needed to make that mental adjustment to not look for a wheel ahead of me, and to not worry about wheels being left behind.

Roughly halfway between Bury and Framlingham rain started to come down more heavily. Also my derailleur worsened. I needed to stop, found a dry place under a large tree and took out the small satchel of chain lube that I carry. Roughly half the size of a standard ketchup packet, I emptied this amount of oil onto both jockey wheels. My intense cleaning efforts a week before might have left them with not enough lubrication. It helped, as from now on things seemed smoother.

I soon realised that the combination of my fairly intense first 50km, paired with the rain, had left me drenched from the outside and wet with sweat underneath. Perfect to draw all warmth out of me. The cafe in Framlingham was a welcome sight, and I stayed longer than intended to warm up properly, before heading back out.

I rode to the second control, the Cafe Maglia Rosso, at a steady and more Audax-appropriate tempo, and had finally found the "zen" of my own rhythm. The weather was much friendlier, and I regained enough core temperature to thoroughly enjoy every kilometre. It had only taken me 100km to get to this point.
I made my stop at Maglia Rosso a short one, as I was by now in the last 20 to make it to the control. Daylight would soon fade.

Just beyond Denston I was answering a call of nature when a group of four other riders appeared. With darkness now approaching rapidly, I was glad to see them and proposed joining their small group for the last 35 km into Cambridge. Whereas on my regular rides groups regularly disperse closer to home, with everyone rushing into town at full tilt, here we were all happy to ride together, making our way through the fading light and oncoming darkness in our own grupetto. The lights of Cambridge were greeted with a cry of joy by one of my fellow riders.

We arrived at the arrivée at 8.45pm, and the supplied goodies of soup, bread and cake were eagerly consumed. The other CTC Cambridge riders had stayed at the arrivée to welcome the remaining clubs members back. Apparently some had been hit by far greater woes than a clattery derailleur. Suffice to say, they arrived well and in time to tell the tale.

It was a journey of firsts: my first 200, my first ride longer than 10 hours, and my first with more than 1500m of ascending. I am certain there will be more to follow. Sven Sewitz

Daniel's story

Daniel writes: After doing my first 200 last August I seem to have caught the bug as Saturday was my 13th successful 200. Nick had provided another great route and I had the reverse of the weather from last week when, on an Audax from Great Dunmow the faster riders missed the rain and folks like me got totally soaked. This time I had only a couple of light showers and it sounds as if faster riders got more.

After riding unexpectedly with the "CTC Cambridge four" (John S, Edmund, Susan and David T) from the start through Cambridge I joined up with another regular full-value rider, Raymond from Sudbury, on the way to Newmarket. Then we joined another, John T from Lowestoft whilst climbing the rise by the gallops, getting encouragement from the horseriders and strange looks from the punters. John had helped me a lot on the final 60km of last week's ride, getting me back in time after spending most of the first 150km on my own, so it was good to see him again. (A "full-value rider" is one who aims to reach the end of the ride close, but not too close, to the time limit for the event, and uses the time to make the most of the day). Raymond and I stopped in Bury for a tasty savoury crepe and coffee at a market stall and said farewell to John until later.

The final 20km or so to Framlingham was repeated on the way back so it was encouraging to see and greet a fair number of those ahead of us who were on their way back. Framlingham was very busy and the cafés looked full by the time we arrived at about 1.30pm so we went to a local store for the required receipt and got a hog roast from a stall. We had a short rest enjoying the festivities.

After setting off for home it became our turn to be greeted by the CTC Cambridge four as they approached Framlingham. On this third 50km leg of the ride I started to struggle mentally to keep going, but I knew, from experience, that if I kept going I'd get through that. We picked up another rider, Mike, at Stowmarket and rode steadily to the Maglia Rosso cafe, where we met up with John again.

We had a welcome stop for food and cake, and our brevet card stickered by a friendly Kiwi (Nik Brunner). The four of us were tempted to take a short cut back but in the end we stuck to the official route. Just as we were leaving we saw the CTC Cambridge four arriving.

As Sven mentioned in his story we bumped into him on the final leg to make five of us heading into the dark. From previous experience I know that I slow down a lot, on my own, in the dark, even with lights, so it was very helpful to be in a group. There were joyful noises as we saw the signs for Balsham and Cambridge, and sighs as we passed near Sven's home and John T's B&B. Then it was back to Girton to enjoy Ewa's welcome and excellent hospitality, meet those waiting for us and wait for the CTC Cambridge four and others to arrive. It was an enjoyable day out. Daniel Glassey

Nik Brunner (seated) stamps brevet cards at the second control at Maglia Rosso

John's (and Edmund's, David's and Susan's) story

John S writes: For me this was a great day’s ride through a mix of familiar and less familiar countryside. The route had clearly been carefully designed and took in some lovely roads with fantastic views. The route files for Garmin devices worked well, and the route sheets were exemplary, right down to instructions on how to fold them.

Our group of four CTC Cambridge riders – Edmund, David, Susan and me - set off at a sustainable "CTC ride" pace. There were then a couple of punctures, and the last of these was effectively doubled as a time loss when a new inner tube exploded when inflated.

A feature of most Audax rides is that the overall average speed including all stops needs to be above 15km/h. This is normally not hard to do, and allows plenty of time for ad hoc stops and meeting other riders at control points. You naturally build up a bit of a time buffer early on so you can stop when you feel like it, and generally enjoy the day without watching the clock.

Our group had been unlucky with multiple punctures early on, and by Little Saxham, just before Bury, we were almost 40 minutes behind a 15km/h schedule. The good news was that there were no intermediate controls between there and Framlingham, so we had around 60km, and 3 hours, before the first time check. We needed to arrive in Framlingham before 2.40pm, and did this by riding pretty much non-stop (apart from a rushed but much-needed jelly baby, quiche and coffee pit-stop at an "award-winning" bakers in Haughley) and got to Framlingham by 2.10pm. I think we did really well to make up the time arrears, and then gain enough of a buffer to have a coffee and snack in Framlingham and leave by around 2.55pm, just 15 minutes behind schedule.

The same pattern was repeated riding from Framlingham to Maglia Rosa café at Hawstead – we arrived in time to have some tea and a cake, with about 40 minutes in hand. We left at 6pm, just about on time for our schedule, which gave us well over 3 hours to cover the final 60km back to Girton. The route took in the lovely countryside between Hawstead and Balsham, but as the sun set, we were soon navigating narrow twisty lanes and searching for unmarked turns in the dark, which reduced the average speed we could maintain. We rode to Girton non-stop, apart from a quick break in the chalet-style wooden bus shelter in Carlton to gobble down another packet of jelly babies. We finished with around 20 minutes to spare, and found welcome hot drinks and hot soup, and a warm welcome from other CTC Cambridge riders.

The day was a bit frustrating, as Edmund, David and Susan's first experience of riding a 200km Audax event was one where we had to spend much of the day trying to make up time rather than enjoying the ride. It would be more fun to be taking in the scenery, and the delights of the Framlingham Sausage Fair, rather than clock-watching. The timing is honestly not normally so "down to the wire" as it felt on this ride, so I really hope people won't be put off having another go by the various "acts of God" that set us back at the start of the ride.

Well done to Edmund, Susan and David for successfully completing their first 200km ride. It’s great that we all kept going rather than abandoning the ride after the early multiple punctures and delays, and stayed together and then completed the ride within the time limit.

I'd also like to give a special thank-you to Susan, who on several occasions highlighted places where I had been at the front of the group and took a wrong turn, either by not reading the routesheet carefully enough, or in one case, not looking at it at all. By spotting those mistakes Susan saved us all from going off down completely the wrong road for miles and miles...

This all sounds like a day spent fighting against the clock – but it wasn't. It was a great group to ride with, and sights like watching dozens of horses on the gallops in the early mist and drizzle at Newmarket, the wonderful meandering quiet lane from Earl Soham to Framlingham, and seeing the far-away orange glow, and then eventually the bright lights of Cambridge, from the hills near Balsham were all very special. John Seton

The quartet: David, Susan, John S and Edmund

Edmund's story

Edmund adds: As a newbie to 200km Audaxes, I approached this with some trepidation, especially when I discovered it was actually rather more than 200km.

As John explained, I rode as part of a quartet consisting of three first-timers: me, David T and Susan together with John who is a seasoned Audaxer. We started off well enough, steady not fast but soon we had a run of bad luck - or to be more precise David did. Two punctures in a short time cost us an hour as we provided moral and technical support.

We moved steadily on with no more incidents and managed to fit in two pasty breaks before returning to Girton last but happy around 9.15pm.

I found the whole day a tiring but rewarding experience and, in hindsight, enjoyable. I was surprised I managed it in the time and at the speed we did and I put it down to all those day rides over a period of months.

I'd like to thank John for leading and navigating more or less all day, as well as providing a taxi service before and after and to all for mutual support to make a success of the day. Edmund Rose

David's story

David T adds: It was me who nearly blew it for the famous four, John, Susan, Ed and myself. I had two punctures, one blown tube and a damaged tyre, with John saving the day by providing a spare tyre!

David and Edmund


Gareth's story

Gareth "ran the desk" at Girton Recreation Centre, issuing brevet cards at the start and taking them back at the end of both the 200km ride and the 100km ride that took place the same day. Here's his perspective on the day:

Gareth writes:
06:25 Set out for Girton. 
06:40 Arrive Girton. Nick just arrived, opens up the village hall. 
06:41 Start setting out tables and chairs, help unpack catering supplies. 
06:55 Set up desk, get out the master entry list, stickers, and brevet cards for the 200. 
07:00 First riders pick up their brevet cards. 
07:15 Steady trickle of riders picking up brevet cards and a few entries on the line. 
07:30 Ewa is working hard to get everyone served with tea, coffee, toast, flapjacks. 
07:45 Struggling to keep up with the flood of riders, entries on line have to wait a bit. 
08:00 Nick sends off the 200 riders. 
08:05 Still processing late-comers for the 200. 
08:10 Make initial count of riders on the 200. 
08:15 Get out the master entry list, stickers, and brevet cards for the 100. 
08:20 First few riders arrive for the 100. 
08:25 Last few riders for the 200 — faulty alarms, missed trains etc. 
08:45 Plenty of 100 riders now, but nothing like so busy as on the 200. 
09:00 Nick sends off the 100 riders. 
09:05 Make final counts of riders — 127 riders on the 200 (including 11 on the line); 38 on the 100 (including 3 on the line). 
09:15 The room has to be cleared for a judo class, so tidy desk, clear away the tables and chairs, sweep floor. 
09:30 Set out for home. 
09:45 Arrive home, change into running gear. 
09:47 Set out for a run to Grantchester. 
11:23 Arrive home (17.3 km at 5:23 minutes/km). Shower, change. Put laundry on. 
13:10 Hang out laundry. 
13:25 Set out for Girton. Busway closed at Histon! Take detour. 
13:40 Arrive Girton. First rider from the 100 is already back! Nick wasn't expecting that and the hall isn’t open yet. Oops. 
13:45 Nick arrives to open up the hall. Start setting out tables and chairs again. 
14:00 Quick cup of soup before the riders start turning up. 
14:05 Riders from the 100 start appearing. Everyone says they had a good time. Some were surprised by the hills around Saffron Walden! 
15:00 Lots of riders from the 100 now. Each one should have a control stamp, two receipts, and the answer to the info question. One or two riders have neglected to pick up one of the receipts — I refer them to Nick for adjudication. 
16:30 Last riders are back on the 100. All 38 riders who started finished the route. Well done everyone! 
17:00 Half a dozen riders on the 200 have come in under nine hours. Impressive! 
17:05 Grab a sandwich before the rush begins. 
18:00 Lots of riders now. Ewa is working very hard in the kitchen to keep them fed and watered. 
19:00 Rush in full swing, sometimes there are more riders than I can keep up with and a small queue builds up. Luckily there is only one receipt to check and nearly everyone remembered it. It’s important for me to be systematic otherwise I might lose track of who's returned their brevet card and who’s still out there on the road. That would require a laborious time-consuming recount. 
20:00 Rush is over, but there are still about 30 riders unaccounted for. There are a lot of first-timers on this ride. 
20:10 Time for a piece of cake. Ewa says she feels like she ran a marathon. 
20:30 Counting them down one by one now, just 17 riders left. 
21:00 Just 6 riders left. It’s been dark for a couple of hours now, hope they are OK. 
21:05 Hanging around the door now, looking for bike lights in the distance. 
21:07 Group of 5 riders come in! They tell an epic tale involving many punctures. 
21:12 There’s just one rider unaccounted for. Nick attempts telephone contact. 
21:15 Nick receives text. Rider completed the route but forgot to hand in brevet card. So that's everyone! 
21:25 Start clearing the room: washing up, packing catering supplies, clear tables and chairs, sweep floor. 
21:45 Set out for home. 
Gareth Rees

Gareth (seated) processes returning riders. Organiser Nick (left) observes proceedings

Download GPS track (GPX). Note that this is the route Nigel took, with a modified route back into Cambridge via Fulbourn Old Drift.

Organiser Nick Wilkinson has written a report on YACF and published an album of photos on Facebook.

Ride report index