Thursday, March 27, 2014
In preparation for The Hunts Post’s Two Wheels for Woodlands charity ride in June, reporter HYWEL BARRETT is in training, ready to show that anyone can go from a sofa surfer to cycling star. On Sunday he took on his first ‘proper ride’, cycling 30 miles in the Richardsons Rumble.
I was a little apprehensive when I awoke at 7.30am on Sunday.
It was not only an early start – especially for a Sunday – but there was also the small matter of the 30 miles I was due to cycle ... non-stop.
Thirty miles! The number stuck in my head as I ate my porridge. On the drive to the start in St Ives, I questioned my thinking on entering this event. The good weather of the previous two weekends had disappeared and had been replaced with dark clouds and rain.
The decision to put on a thermal top under my jersey was, I would say, one of my best for this race as the rain was unrelenting and I started to dread my decision to take part even more. By the time I reached the registration point at the Burgess Hall, I was full of nervous energy.
Fortunately I had arrived early and had a bit of time to compose myself. The time also proved helpful as the rain stopped and the sun popped out.
I made my way to the start on the Broadway where four other cyclists were waiting to learn how to ride a ‘sportive’– the name for an organised ride – under the tutelage of ride captain Simon Hime.
I had intended to visit Richardson cycle shop to buy some spares and some tools, but as soon as I arrived I was sent on my way – the organisers needed to get 260 people out on the road and safely back before dark. And some were cycling 100 miles.
Together with five other riders, I headed along Somersham Road and I soon again had the feeling of being out of my depth when we hit the first hill. Whoever said East Anglia is flat obviously hasn’t cycled around Huntingdonshire.
But I successfully reached the summit and (after a quick rest) I headed towards Pidley. At this point the group had dissipated with just one cyclist – Caroline – riding alongside.
Faced with another hill on Pidley Sheep Lane – which is given the rather beautiful nickname ‘Heartburn Hill’ – Simon was back with us and providing essential advice about using gears to get up a hill and avoiding the need to stand up. He also advised us to make sure we drink regularly and eat a flapjack or cereal bar, every hour – just another thing I had not planned.
After we reached the top of the hill, we regrouped outside the Mad Cat pub. Unfortunately, not for a drink. All together again, we started off towards Warboys and again the group naturally split as Caroline and I kept up a decent pace (for us!)
Compared with me Caroline was a cycling pro, regularly speed cycling 20 miles. Two weeks previous I had managed, only just, about 32 miles but that involved a picnic stop, a pub visit and lots of time convincing my legs to get back pedalling.
This time, the weather was against us. It kept changing – there was sunshine and then howling winds as we travelled through Wistow. But even the weather could not spoil the joy of discovering beautiful areas of Huntingdonshire countryside and those single-track roads, perfect for riders.
But the joy was short-lived. An hour in and I had suffered my worst nightmare – my back tyre had a puncture.
Thankfully Caroline stopped and asked if I had a spare inner tube. I hadn’t, so she offered me hers. She then asked me if I had changed an inner tube before. Again my novice status was glaringly evident as I sheepishly looked at my bike and wondered how to get the back wheel off.
Caroline also stared at it. She also had never needed to change a puncture on a back wheel and, if the need arose, said she’d planned to play the damsel in distress. Little did she know, I intended to take on that role too.
As I struggled with a tyre lever, another of our group pulled up behind and offered help.
Experienced mountain biker, Andrea set about removing the damaged tube as I stood helplessly at the road side.
Simon joined in the rescue mission, adding some useful tips – including one of the most important: check for the offending debris inside the tyre to ensure you don’t immediately get another puncture.
Back on our way again, Andrea joined Caroline and I. After we cycled past the bottom of Walton Hill – a challenge that awaits cyclists on the Two Wheels routes – Simon caught up to us and taught us the skill of riding in a group, close together, to work as a team. It saves energy with the rider in front peeling back and the next in line taking their turn to lead the pack.
As we started to get more miles under our belts, I wished I had studied the course. I had no idea where I was or, more importantly, how far it was to the finish.
But as winds had died down and the sun came out, for the first time I thought I was enjoying myself ... a feeling that was mostly undone by any road sign that included the word ‘hill’.
The feeling quickly came back when I recognised my surroundings – I could see the A1(M) – and knew I was on the home stretch. Buoyed by the realisation I was nearly back, it seemed to spur me on.
From Alconbury Hill along the twisting turns around Monks Wood and at the top of Walton Hill, we soon passed through Abbots Ripton and I caught a glimpse of the landmark that I was waiting for – the white water tower at RAF Wyton.
It was a downhill ride to St Ives from this landmark ... at least that’s what I thought. Sadly I was wrong. There were still hills to climb and, the weather had turned again, hail storms to face but I made it back to St Ives.
There was even enough energy left for a sprint finish against Andrea and Caroline... and, without boasting, I crossed the finish line just ahead of my two companions. A small victory, massively overshadowed by the accomplishment that the three of us had in successfully reaching the end of what turned out to be 34.42 miles and two hours and 43 minutes of cycling.
It’s easy to get addicted to cycling apparently, but it’s just as easy to just get on your bikes and enjoy the area.
In January, I barely managed to ride from Huntingdon to St Ives and back. Barely two months later I am probably the fittest I have ever been and I’m raring to take on the next challenge.
Having done the 30 miles, I want to go further and faster. The next step up is 40 miles. This time I’ll be armed with spares and tools – I may not have two helpful women to rescue me again.