Cambridge Diss'd Clare — a DIY 200

It's a lonely job, but someone's gotta do it: I am setting up multiple new audax "perm" or "permanent event" rides starting from Cambridge, because nobody else is doing it and there seem to be quite a few audax riders in the area.  Designing a new route is a combination of local knowledge, advice from others, and judicious use of Google Street View.  But every route must be ridden at least once before it can be "certified" by Audax UK and added to the list and that usually means going out on my own to check it out.

This particular ride I designed to head from Cambridge to Diss and then southwards to Debenham.  From there, a dog-leg to Clare.  And finally a straightforward and fairly obvious run back to Cambridge via the long descent to Fulbourn from Balsham (there are only so many ways into and out of Cambridge).


Obligatory selfie — I was there!

I set off early — before 6am on Saturday — with the aim of being back in Cambridge in time for the naked bike ride starting at 3pm:  9 hours for a 200 is tough, but just about achievable.  I had also arranged to meet one of my perm riders for brunch in Debenham.  However, I hadn't ridden my bike since meeting up with Rog for his 100th consecutive monthly 200km ride nearly three weeks previously, and since then I had also been to a Polish wedding (in Poland) where I'd put on nearly 3kg in weight (that's half a stone in old money).

The initial run to Newmarket was reasonably quick — it's a fast-but-quiet A-road with only one small rise.  And my average didn't dip too far on the climbs up out of there.  After Barrow, the route crossed back north over the A14 and the terrain becomes very flat with huge, open vistas and the occasional deciduous woodland — I haven't ridden this way for some time and so I wasn't really expecting this. Flat to Diss, my average was pretty okay, my HR was steady and I was able to whistle while riding -- always a good sign that my fitness is okay.

Huge open spaces as I rolled down towards the A14

The turn southwards entered busy roads, after an almost totally lanes section from Barrow to Diss, but soon dodged back into the lanes.  However, I could begin to feel the 100+km in my legs now.

I met David for brunch exactly as planned having ridden at an average speed of 23.9kph — for audax that's a very acceptable pace.  A pleasant hour off the bike chatting, a particularly delicious cup of coffee, and an egg-and-bacon bap.  And then the wheels fell off my wagon …

Old, if not quite ancient, beautiful broadleaf woodlands

David joined me a for a while on my return leg and was a bit surprised at my pace on the little climb out of Debenham.  In fact so was I: I probably over-cooked it for a couple of minutes and suffered for the next six hours!  After David departed to head back home, my pace dropped off as I felt I had little left in my legs.  Later on I also got stomach cramps — possibly something about trying to digest bacon on the bike?  Or just hydration issues?

Anyway, the first part of the return uses the same route, more-or-less, as my Cambridge Market 200 route, before heading southwards to Clare, a very pretty Essex town.  This was a very slow leg at 18kph average!

The route passes through pretty Suffolk villages

I rode with a young tennis player for a short while, cycling out to a local tournament.  "Is it going to rain?", he asked; "no, just a bit of spitting", I responded … 20 minutes later it started to pour down!  I hope he played well and didn't get soaked!

Just to add insult to injury, I caught a twig just wrong in the road and it tore a hole in the sidewall of my front Kojak and an instant flat, in the rain, away from any convenient bus shelters, yugh!  It was only gentle drizzle at this point, really, so I ducked under a tree along the lane and swapped out the front tube.  It was only when I'd reassembled the wheel to the bike and reinflated it that I noticed the tube poking out of the sidewall.  By now it was pouring with rain and I had changed to waterproofs and I had no desire to go through the whole process again to change the tyre: on the Brompton it's a 15-minute exercise.  I had one more good tube in my Carradice, I decided to take the risk.

The weather was inclement at times

10km later, in Glemsford, I passed a sign for a cycle workshop place and dived in out of the rain to get a supplemental spare tube, just in case that split tyre flatted again.  I relieved them of their very last narrow 16" tube (non-BMX).  If I hadn't got the tube then you could just bet I would've flatted again; having got it, but with the new tube in my Carradice then it was absolutely fine all the way home, Sod's Law circumvented wink

I passed what seemed like dozens of historic churches; this one in West Wickham

Out from Clare for the home-bound run to Cambridge, at 40km it's roughly two hours at the end of 200km.  The long climb up to Balsham — actually a series of short climbs and descents — seemed to take forever, but once at the crest in Balsham, it's a long downhill to Cambridge — actually two with a small climb in the middle.  If I was near the edge then this is where I would look to make back time, as it's an easy road to TT, as demonstrated by a Cambridge Cycling Club rider who caught and passed me into Fulbourn.

I rode to the endpoint in the centre of Cambridge and then limped home to Girton from there.  210km in 12h44m — some 3+ hours beyond where I had hoped.  However, I managed to ride the route in 9h37m in spite of my unwellness in the second half, which isn't a bad time at all! cheesy  The three hours stoppage can be attributed to 1h20m for brunch, 25m chatting with David before we parted ways, 20m for a puncture with a further 10m chatting in the bike shop, and then various additional 5-10m here and there dressing and undressing, taking photos, using the bushes, etc.  Even with the very slow sections, my overall speed was 21.8kph, more than good enough.

That's also my final ride for my third Randonneur Round The Year awardthumbs up

As I am writing this on the Sunday, my legs feel more sore than usual after a 200, so I do think I've lost some fitness in the previous three weeks.  I now have seven weeks to get bike-fit for Paris!  UPDATE: Still sore on Mondayfacepalm

Nick Wilkinson

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