So, in June 2018 a friend had persuaded me to enter a road race in Peterborough, a completely closed road 80 Mile route through the Fenns, It’s pretty flat with only 500metres of climbing to tackle. The Tour of Cambridge is the UK leg of the UCI Gran Fondo world series, the incentive for finishing in the top 20% being a place at the GF Amateur World Championships in Varese, Italy.
We booked into a travelodge near the arena at Peterborough, being a 12:20pm start time would allow for a more relaxed morning come raceday. As well as Sundays’ Road Race, there was also a Sportive with the TT being held on the Saturday from the main arena, We surrendered our Race Licence’s and got our start pack with our time chips and numbers in. It had a sportive feel to it to begin with, more of a cycle show with lots of stalls selling clothing and equipment, burger vans and free samples. The TT was in full swing, with a sea of turbo trainers and a proper start ramp, being a timetrialler I found the different styles and positions fascinating to watch. A pre-race bike check, pasta and beer followed that evening, with chat turning to the course and the prospect of qualifying.
Raceday came, and the atmosphere soon became pretty serious. As it turns out Gran Fondo racing is huge in europe, with the Belgians, Germans and the Dutch having dedicated GF teams that tour the world racing the full series. I was in the 19-34 age bracket, a field that had over 250 starters! Once the flag dropped the pace sky rocketed, I was placed near the front and got swept along nicely for the most part. It was the biggest bunch I’d raced it and I was pretty nervous, gripping the bars as hard as I could and trying not to let anyone in between me and the wheel infront. My fellow Cornishman Simon and I knew that if we could survive the first hour then we’d be fine.
We narrowly avoided a nasty crash early on, causing a large split in the peloton. Sure enough, almost exactly on the hour the pace slowed from 28 mph to 20, with a collective nod, everyone started eating and drinking, another collective nod and the pace went back up to 28+. A few more crashes saw the group whittled down to about 150, and more dropping off with the teams at the front; the Belgian Gran Fondo team and the Bottrill-Vanguard guys ramping the pace up to 32mph+. A few tried breakaways, much to the dismay of the tiring peloton, they never gained much before being reeled back in and met with a lot of swearing.
We flashed along the flat roads, surging at the bends and over the bridges that follow the canals. I pushed to the front, determined to do my part and not qualify due to th efforts of others. I did a couple of turns, holding the 32mph, then slipped back in behind the comfort of other wheels.The chase car behind was a constant reminder that those who couldnt handle the pace and slipped behind would be out of contention. As we neared the finish at the showground, the pace lifted to counter the last ditch efforts at a breakaway. I couldn’t beleive how quickly we’d covered the distance, 3 miles to go, how did that happen? I can’t tell you much about the route, or any landmarks. I can, however tell you about my Garmin and the wheel infront, that’s pretty much all I saw.
Unfortunately for Simon, cramp got the better of him in the last few miles, but he ploughed on solo and still finished with a more than respectful time. Hitting the last roundabout the making the sharp turn into the grounds of the arena was carnage, a few over cooked the corner and crashed out, others started their sprints too early and were gobbled up. I put in a reasonably solid sprint and managed to finish in 30th place out of 250, a fraction over 3 hours. I told myself (as usual) I could’ve done better, but on reflection I’m quite happy, 30th was a good enough finish and along with a UCI medal, I had my Qualification for The Amateur World Championships. Italia, here I come.
Being the World Champs also meant that, in keeping with the professional race, you would have to race in your Countries’national colours. Now, I’m under no illusion that I was all of a sudden a Team GB rider, I hadn’t been hand selected by Sir Dave and I sure wasn’t rubbing shoulders with Wiggins’, Thomas’ or Froome, but it felt pretty damn cool ordering up some GB kit, I even went for the aero socks! I thought that wearing the actual Team GB kit wouldn’t be right, in the same way that wearing a World Champs jersey, or the Yellow Tour de france leaders’ isn’t right. I opted for the sleek looking Varese 2018 kit by NoPinz. (www.nopinz.com)
The second part of my European Adventure is coming soon.. !
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