Burnham & Baddo Cyclo Sportive

That’s what it says on the flier – Cyclo Sportive – two words.

I talked Mrs. Wow into doing this ride – actually, she didn’t need a lot of persuading – as part of our preparation for LEJoG. East Hanningfield is a pleasant village with a pub which sells Britain’s best-ever beer (official) and with a lot of pleasant countryside around it. We drove off there this morning with the tandem perched on the back of the car.

It was a very daunting experience for both of us. There were some seriously athletic looking people there, with very serious bikes and very serious cycling apparel, and we had somehow got mixed up in this. However, we did our best not to be daunted and queued to pay our £4 each to take part, and added our name to a list marked “Tourists”. All the other groups were age-related and we didn’t want anyone to know how old we were. If there had been a list entitled “Grockles” then that would have been us.

The official starting time was 9 a.m. and, not unreasonably, the fastest (i.e. youngest) groups set off first. At about 9.25 it was our turn, so off we trundled. The route sheet was pretty clear, but no distances were given. That didn’t matter, because someone had been round the course previously and posted attractive blue and red arrows at all the junctions, red for the 40k ride, blue for the 100k. We were doing the latter.

I’ll put up a gmap of the ride later, but suffice it to say that I had ridden every road previously, with the exception of Marsh Lane, which goes so far to the east that you almost expect to meet camels. It was a pleasant ride, mostly pretty flat but with one or two hills which had to be ground out or, if we were going the other way, elicited squeaks of excitement from Piglet sitting behind me as we reached dizzy speeds in excess of 35 mph. We went into Burnham where we partook of Cake of an exceptionally chocolatey variety, and when we arrived in Tillingham, the Cap and Feathers, run by an Australian couple, seemed to be offering a good lunch, so we had some of that. I went for the Spag Bol, my dear wife for a chicken penne with pesto. Mine was washed down with a couple of pints of Adnams, and then I helped Janet eat the rest of hers.

That was at the 36 mile mark and we left the pub at 2 p.m. It was a little frustrating the way the route persistently doubled back on itself and it gave the ride an aimless quality. Had we wished to do so, we could quite easily have cheated, but we didn’t because we wanted to get the miles in. After a slowish resumption after lunch, we began to pick up speed and were fairly bowling along up to about the 50 mile mark. Then it seemed that fatigue set in rather, and as the light began to fade, so did we. We crossed the Chelmer at the famous Paper Mill Lock, and then climbed the formidable North Hill towards Little Baddow and Danbury. We prepared bottom gear in plenty of time for the gradient, and up we went, slowly, relentlessly, breathlessly, past the Rodney, past the General’s Arms until the road flattened out more near Spring Elms Lane. Here we decided to stop for a breather and a drink of water, and as we did so a gentleman on a mountain bike pulled up alongside us. We nattered briefly about hill-climbing and tandems, and then we were on our way again. Once at the top of the hill, it was plain sailing all the way back to the East Hanningfield Village Hall, where we arrived at a little after 5 p.m.

I knew that we would be amongst the last, if not the very last, to finish, so I didn’t expect to see many bicycles at the hall. However, I did at least expect to see some organisers. We walked in to be met by a large woman riding a broom. “Can I help you?” she asked. I explained that we had finished our bike ride and that we had come to report back to the organisers. There was something about her facial expression which told me that the organisers had departed long ago, and this was confirmed verbally. “Oh, they went hours ago – they handed the keys back at 3 o’clock!”

Now in my book, riding 67 miles (that’s what our computer made it) at tourist speed, with the necessary stops that tourists make, is going to take a good deal longer than 5½ hours. Indeed, since our average riding speed was just short of 12 mph, it would have taken us 6 hours without any stops. There was nothing on any of the advertising material that I saw which said that the organisers would leave us all to our own devices fom mid-afternoon onwards. However, there was a statement which said “Certificate for finishers.” What it didn’t add was that you have to design and print the bloody thing yourself!

I must finish on a positive note. Mrs Wow completed her first metric century and, between us, we got up the dreaded North Hill without having to get off and walk. And – guess what – when we got to the top we found that we had never been in bottom gear at all, but bottom gear but one. No wonder I felt so knackered!

The route. 107 kms of it. The little dog-leg in Burnham is down to us – we were searching for a coffee shop.

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