Tour of Cambridgeshire Road Race


Yesterday (3rd June 2018), I rode the Tour of Cambridgeshire Gran Fondo Race. A distance of about 130 km with about 600 m of climbing (so it was relatively flat). It was run on closed roads (I've only ever done closed road, road races in continental Europe) and this was one of the most appealing parts of the event for me. The other part was that if you qualified you could ride the age related UCI World Championship in Italy (and if you win that you'd get a coveted rainbow jersey).  

Saturday, myself, and my partner Claire, drove down to the event and registered for it. It was about a 3 hour drive, and by the time we got there we were starting to get excited. We registered, had a look around the bike exhibition, went to the place we were staying at and then went out for a meal. Once we got back, we had a last check about race details, watched some TV and went to bed!

Up early on Sunday morning we set about making a pre-event meal. Claire was doing the sportive and hoping for a time, while I was keen to qualify for Italy. We then pinned our race numbers on, got into part of our kit and drove to the event (we were staying about 15 miles/25 km away). Once there, I'd never seen so many people for a bike event before. I believe there were 8000 people riding the event. In my age category there were almost 400 people racing for a qualifying spot. I went off for a warm up, as I knew the race would go from the gun, and needed some high intensity efforts to prime me, prior to the start. By the time I got to line up for my pen, I was quite far back (which was a dire mistake) and was probably starting about 3/4 of the way down. The wait for the start was quite long, so I chatted with a few others, checked and rechecked my SRM offset, brakes, tyres, sunglasses, and anything else I could think of :-). 

After a while, the young pups went off, as the start order was youngsters followed by older people. Once the group in front went off, I made a last check on my brakes, and tyres (!), and clipped in. I took up position on the left, as straight out of the starting gate, were two roundabouts we had to go left at. We got a countdown from 5, and then I clipped in as fast as I could and started riding as hard as possible to try and move up through the peloton. This failed miserably (or perhaps I was just so far back that it didn't seem to make any difference). Anyway, we were now moving at a fair old speed, and within a couple of minutes my SRM shows me at 54 km/hr. As we approached a left hander where we needed to scrub off speed, there were familiar shouts of "easy" and we started to slow down. However, it soon became apparent that not everyone understood, or had faced such commands before, and as I slowed down to match the rider in front, I found myself with someone's brake lever ramming into my behind, and then the rather large rider found himself leaning heavily on me desperately trying to stay upright. We both had to slow to a stop (which was better than crashing) and then I was sprinting away to rejoin (in reality all I'd done was move further down the field, but hadn't lost contact). 

It was a large peloton, and this coupled with the narrowness of the roads made it hard for me (a smallish rider) to move up. I was too far back and not where I wanted to be, wishing I'd been closer to the front in the starting pen. 

After 10-minutes or so, we hit a drag and I desperately tried to make up ground at this point and get closer to the front. At over 6 W/kg for a minute I was at my limit to move up. Plenty of others had the same idea, while at the same time there appeared to be others going backwards at a rapid rate. 

Once over the drag we seemed to be in a long line trying to hold it together. The front of the peloton was out of reach, and we were soon riding at warp speed (60 km/hr). By now I was just happy to be riding so fast and seeing what would develop. 

The kilometres started ticking by, and after about 20 km, one of the riders I coach came past me and managed a "hi". We rode on through the route and at some point, and to be honest I can't really recall, the lead group split and I found a group to ride with. There was no let up and the first hour we averaged over 41 km/hr. 

By now we were catching lots of riders who had been dropped from the younger groups. Some we passed, and others joined us and shared the workload with the group. The heat had now ratcheted up, and it was now 28oC (which is pretty hot for the UK! Highest temp of the day was 30oC). 

I did as much work in my group as I felt comfortable with, and we rotated 'through and off'. I had the occasional gel, and drank from my bidons. Then, sometime around 2 hours and having been averaging around 41 km/hr the strangest thing happened.

I'd just done a turn on the front, we'd turned left (I think, it's a little hazy at this point) and I rotated through to the back of the group. I thought there may have been one rider behind me, but wasn't certain. Looking forward I could see the road, and the rider in front of me. All pretty normal. When, the shit hit the fan, almost literally. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a brownish horse galloping towards me. I couldn't at first take in the surreal event. The horse changed course (to the same direction as the riders), but it's head/nose (I'm not sure) just brushed my arm and back. I tried to move away from it at an odd angle to get away from it as rapidly as possible. I was now at full panic stations, and then I heard the noise that all racers hate -- the sound of metal and carbon scraping on the road. I presumed the rider behind me had been taken down. In the same moment, as the horse was still running alongside of me, I seemed to lose complete control of my bike. It was a bit like a speed shimmy, and I thought I was going to deck it. This was not good in any way. Luckily however, I managed to stop the bike as I skidded to a halt with the horse running off. I was like, "WTF?!".

Momentarily, I was completely stunned by the whole issue, and presumed, as I'd lost control that something serious was up with my bike. At first I couldn't see anything wrong (too say I was confused at this point was some sort of serious underestimation of things!). Then after a few seconds I realised that there was barbed wire wrapped around my frame, and drivetrain. Presumably, the horse had run through a barbed wire fence and I now had the wire around my bike (hence the loss of control). I tried to untangle it as quickly as possible, but was stopped for a couple of minutes. I wasn't sure what to do, and as I tried to think, and the adrenaline dissipated, I realised I was in a lot of pain in my back and side. My back had gone into some sort of spasm, either from being hit, or from trying to rotate away from the horse. Any other race, I'd have just packed, but this was the qualifier for the Worlds, so I pressed on, and rode like a lunatic in the hope of catching my group up.

A motorcycle marshall came up to me, and he'd seen what had happened. I tried chasing hard, and at some point a car came past me, which was nothing to do with the race. I had some sort of feeling that it was the owners of the horse, and at one point we (that's me and the car) seemed to get in front of the horse. The car driver then tried reversing (to go after the horse?) and almost reversed into me. It was now farcical chaos. If it wasn't bad enough that I got taken out by a horse, I almost had a car do it as well...

The next part of the race was a bit of a blur. I chased hard, and did rejoin some (maybe all?) of my group but I was by now a little confused/shocked. Once on the back, the pain set in, and my back and side became excruciating. I rode through the pain and gritted my teeth. But at some point maybe by about 2hours50, I was in terrible pain with my back, which by now was spasming out of control, and I was seriously wondering if I could finish. I had to slow up dramatically, I could no longer stand or put the power down, it wasn't like I'd blown, this was different. I wanted to stop. 

I soldiered on (slowly by this point) and finished. I still managed to average more than 39 km/hr. At first, I'd been told that I'd qualified, and I was very happy (although I was confused, due to the fact that in the last 5 to 10 km I was riding at the speed of a snail!). The referees and marshals had all seen the incident, and apparently it had affected other riders. 

Then just prior to the moment that they gave out UCI medals to the qualifiers, they told me I hadn't qualified. Moments later they decided I had qualified and gave me a medal. 

A few days later, I was then told again, I hadn't qualified (I was now annoyed!) and then a week later or so, after thinking about it I was told I'd qualified and the UCI sent me a letter saying I'd qualified! Phew! 

So, what had happened? I was hit by a horse (very surreal, and makes a change from cars getting too close!), which caused a mechanical and an injury. I chased like a lunatic to get back on, managed it, then the pain became too much, I slowed, and missed qualification by a couple of minutes. 

However, given the nature of the incident, the referees and UCI decided that I should have qualified as the people who I had been racing with, until the horse incident, all qualified. 

And, yes, I've booked my stay in Varese, Italy for the Worlds.

For the record, Claire, managed her fastest ever bike ride over any distance (~19.5 mph/~31.5 km/hr for the 130 km). 

Lastly, I have to say, irrespective of Horse-Gate etc, this was probably one of the best organised races I've ever done. It felt very similar, and very different (!) to a normal road race. It was much more like a continental road race (due to the closed roads, and lots of people completely unconnected with the event cheering us on). My only complaint (other than the horse) was that as we zoomed past the crowds the smell of bar-b-q foods made me feel sick while I was working my socks off! Oh! And, we're both riding it again next year!

Want to know more about how the Tour of Cambridgeshire compared to a road race? Read more here.

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