After an early 3:20am alarm call and drive over, at the village hall Tomsk (the organiser) introduced me to an Italian chap (decked out in Liquigas/Cannondale gear and riding an amazing-looking top-end Cannondale with deep-section wheels – reminded me of “Deep” from PBP2011!) who was looking for some fast wheels to follow. He stuck to me like glue when I was faffing about. I only just had time to get my Etrex HCx up and running before Tomsk let the “fast group” go, a few minutes early.
There was a bit of route confusion just south of Stoke-by-Clare when a guy in a white gilet with tribars said we ought to turn down a lane when my Garmin said straight on. I followed him, but Nick Jackson (“Flatlander”, of Cambridge CC) and Chris Asher (of VC167) went straight on. Somewhere in the confusion we lost the Italian but I wasn’t too worried for him – we were bound to meet up again at Red Lodge – but that was the last I saw of him! At Red Lodge (61km) “FlatEarthBob” Johnson (also a VC167 rider) and another rider were already tucking into a second breakfast. Nick Wilkins, our new controller, held us all for a few minutes until the control opened at 08:02 and then we were off again.
The groups split up around here into ones and twos. White gilet was ahead, tucked into his tribars, but I had him in sight and eventually he stopped to faff with something and I was on my own until Nick J bumped into me at the garage on the north side of Whittlesey (130km). After that we had a stiff breeze to cope with on the run up to Boston. I worked quite hard here, figuring it’d be easier after we turned inland towards Goole later, and I’d get a bit of rest.
Boston (187km) was busy, but I found the cut off from the market square OK. Got a flypast from a DC3 around RAF Coningsby. In Kirton-in-Lindsey (277km) I had the “where have you been today… I’ve just bought a bike too” conversation from a middle-aged man as I chugged my chocolate milk and pasty. I’m not sure what he made of the length of the ride we were undertaking!
In and out of Goole, the wind really seemed to catch some of those roads. I was wondering how everyone was getting on and figured I’d probably see a few riders (maybe the VC167 crew?) as we crossed on this section. It was nice to get to Glews Garage (319km) and have a bit of a wash and brush up in the loos before more grub, a quick pose for a selfie for Jules, and a top up of the bottles. I was starting to get a bit of Hot Foot, but sitting about eating relieved it. On the way back I saw Nick and there was another rider coming up to the T in Eastoft as I rode past.
Just a bit south of here in Crowle I saw another VC167 rider, clearly on a day out but the bright LED lights and rackpack were a giveaway of someone on a bit of a ride. I didn’t notice too much traffic into Gainsborough (377km) although the road is wide and fast, maybe I got lucky here, but was starting to wonder how I’d manage for food through the night – Gainsborough was the last 24-hour garage en route and I bought plenty of bonk rations here. In many respects, a fast rider is better off starting in Sleaford and then hitting the 24-hour garages later at the end of the night. On the other hand, I was starting to get a bit of indigestion and my drinking rate would fall off as it got colder. Somewhere along here I used the small chainring for the first time since before Red Lodge. Most of this 300km section had been done in 50×17 and 50×16! If flatness is your thing, this is the ride.
The run into Lincoln on the A1500 wasn’t too pleasant on the other hand – plenty of fast moving saloons eager to squeeze past in the dark, and like Nick later on I struggled with the maze of cobbled streets around the cathedral – the Garmin autorouting was confused and I was trying to read the route off the screen map (I might pick a more straightforward route here if there’s a next time). There were a few “lads out on the town” to wiggle though, but not too bad. At the top of the long climb out of Lincoln my gilet went on and that just about kept me warm enough for the rest of the night. At Sleaford (434km) I found a Chinese takeaway to buy a coke and some water and picked up an ATM receipt for a Proof-of-Passage, although I found myself at the wrong end of the one-way system and had to do a bit of pavement hopping/drunkard dodging to get back on the right road.
Spalding was more of the same – the batteries on my Garmin Etrex died here, more faffing for AA spares in my pocket, and the BP garage at the end of town was closing up and wouldn’t sell me the chocolate milk I craved to calm my stomach. The atmosphere seemed a bit lairy with drunk lads and I was glad to escape. Just after Spalding there were warning signs of a road closure due to a failed level crossing but I pushed on, hoping that this wasn’t on the route we were following – it turned out to be OK. The lanes south of here seemed harder and bumpier than on the way up in daylight, and I was glad to get to Whittlesey for a second time. On to Chatteris (524km) and the first garage off the roundabout was still open and the chap on the counter was only too happy to chat and fetch me the things I wanted through the hatch, even providing me with a selection of sandwiches/slices to suit my fancy! My Hot Foot was getting bad again so it was nice to have 5 minutes standing about. This was my last top-up before the run back to Great Dunmow (although there’s also a 24-hour garage just after the left turn onto Huntington road into Cambridge if you need it).
Through Cambridge at nearly 3am I just went straight across town on the cobbles – I had bit of a weekend break here a couple of years ago so I sort-of knew which way to go. And then we just had the last section to negotiate. After the previous unrelenting flatness, the hills of Saffron Walden came as a shock. The old rear wheel I’d selected for this ride which I usually pair with the homebuilt front dynohub wheel, was playing up – the Mavic freehub has developed quite a bit of play recently which +500km had done nothing to improve. It was OK in the big ring with tension in the chain, but in the inner ring I only had a few smaller sprockets or the bottom 25T so all these climbs involved me climbing out of the saddle in the big ring and changing down with a clunk and twiddling uphill in bottom gear once I’d run out of momentum (checking back home today there’s a good 2mm lateral play – time for the bin).
I got my last ATM receipt in Great Dunmow (612km) and realised that my feet were now too sore from Hot Foot for me to drive (which shows that it’s all about footwear/pedals, not temperature – I was wearing my fancy Sidis, not my comfy 15-y-old Nike Poggio), even if I was capable so I tootled back to the car, parked in a cul-de-sac nearby, for an hour or so’s shuteye until the sun came up and I was more ready to drive home, via another service station for more rest and coffee after an hour.
Many, many thanks to Tomsk for organising and being so accommodating with late entries and to Bugloss (of YACF) for the GPX tracks. I was out of the office all week before so didn’t have a chance to print off a routesheet and was totally reliant on my Garmin. I added just over 100 waypoints to Bugloss’s GPX to give my Etrex HCx an autorouting option which only fell apart at the pedestrianized centres of Boston/Lincoln/Cambridge. For power/HR measurement I used a separate Garmin Edge 500 running without GPS but using a speed sensor for time/distance – it’ll run for +33 hours in that mode.
It’s a good route although those long straight roads can get to your brain a bit. I never rode Bernie’s “Long Flat One” but I can imagine this is a similar ride. Nice flat roads in the main, although very exposed – tribars would be useful on a less benign day than we had, it must blow a bit up there! Fastest ever 600 for me, 10 minutes quicker than the considerably hillier Epsom-Lincoln-Epsom perm I rode in 2006 when I was younger and fitter. Good to get another Super Randonneur series under my wheels, and a pre-qualifier for next year’s Paris-Brest-Paris.
Route map HERE. Check out the profile!