www.dadswell.co.uk  Mostly cycling records, mostly on three wheels

North & West Home Counties RRA, Oxford to Cambridge & back, tandem tricycle with Dave Johnson  Back to 2006-2007

Onward, into the Vortex of Muddy Spray                                                                Ralph May 2007

Perhaps I was asking for trouble when I selected a Bank Holiday Monday for the first record attempt of the year.  On the plus side, we had clear runs in to the terminal points of our chosen place-to-place …. but on the minus side, it was wet, cold and windy.

As part of a strategy to prepare us for bigger things later in the summer, Dave Johnson and I declared intentions to ride the tandem-tricycle over the Oxford to Cambridge & back route.  This 160 mile journey didn’t have an established record in our category, but we were aware that Ian Dow had ridden his bike over the route in 6h 51m 15s, with this being the fastest ride that we could find.  Guessing a time that we might be able to achieve, I devised a schedule for 6h 45m.

As the day approached, the weather forecast presented a picture of quite strong winds, and a bit of rain.   As it turned out, the winds were in the main not a problem.  However, the first few hours were certainly very wet and unpleasant.

We set off from our start point near Buckingham at 8am, with Oxford our first destination.  Frank Cubis despatched us, and then hurriedly jumped into the following car driven by Greg Lewis, our soigneur.

Actually, things were okay to begin with, but after we passed Bicester, the rain was there.  And once onto the A34, there was a lot of spray.   It’s true that we were moving well, but there was a look more of grim satisfaction than juvenile excitement on our faces.

Then suddenly there was a Police car beside us, with the blue flashing light on.  Oh, what?  Do we have to stop?   So we stopped.  What’s up then?  We’ve even got a back light flashing away.   But luckily there was no trouble, as all he wanted was for us to keep in a bit.  Irritating to lose a minute to be told that, but it could easily have been a whole load more awkward if we’d had to go through and explain exactly what we were up to (which was essentially Cycling Along The Road).  But anyway, we were soon off again.

We seemed to be riding the floods as we neared the Oxford turn.  Just as I started to get nervous, I saw Will Meers waving his hands in the air, telling us that we were at St John’s College entrance, and so we turned in the road, to make our way to Cambridge.   I only saw Will at the turn, but unbeknown to us all, there was another figure hiding in the shadows, watching, waiting.

It is fairly standard practice for ‘record verifying bodies’ to send out representatives to covertly witness proceedings on record attempts – just to be sure that all parties are following the rules.  The figure in the shadows was none other than John Woodburn, the President of the organisation concerned with the Oxford-Cambridge record.  He had set out from his home at 0635 that morning, and ridden the 30 miles to Oxford.  He was soaking wet and very cold, and when he reached Oxford, he didn’t recognise anyone as being ‘obviously the turn checker’.   So he waited, just in case he was the only person to witness us.  He was cold, very cold.  And wet.  And not comfortable at all.

Suddenly, we were there, and Will jumped out from the roadside.  Then we were gone.  A few seconds after that, John rode along to Will and introduced himself.   Shortly after that, Dean Robson turned up, hoping that he hadn’t missed us …..

It took just less than an hour for the first 25 miles, and we were soon back on the A34.  At Bicester we were 7 minutes ahead of schedule, and still being soaked.  At 40 miles we made an unscheduled (but necessary) stop, because we’d been drinking lots more fluid than we’d been losing by perspiration.  We were 5 minutes ahead of schedule when we passed our start/finish point.

I was beginning to be troubled by the cold.  This is not normally anything that bothers me, but I was struggling to hold the handlebars, and picking my drink bottle from its cage was a real effort.  I decided that, with 100 miles remaining, I had to take some action to sort this out.  So we stopped near Milton Keynes, and I demanded extra clothing.  I’m told that the back-up team thought I was (and hence ‘we were’) going to abandon.  Apparently my general appearance resembled a Thunderbirds puppet. 

Luckily, the extra layer on my upper body was a good simulation of body-fat, and I was soon revitalised.  I was even able to contribute to the job of propelling the tandem along, which was a bonus.  We were a bit behind schedule at the next check, but were ahead again as we approached Bedford.

We used the new Great Barford bypass; while we marvelled at its smoothness, I was delighted to see that the halfway point had been passed.  The sun was cautiously making its presence felt as well, which was encouraging.

We were a couple of minutes ahead of schedule as we used the A1 to get us onto the Cambridge road from near St Neots.  By the way, the schedule was nothing scientific – it just assumed 23.8 mph throughout.  This was obviously going to be more and more difficult to sustain, but it was only a guide (with an arbitrary target time).

We were moving fairly well, but progress was hampered by roadworks.  In a few months there will be an impressive section of dual carriageway from Caxton Gibbet all along to the Cambridge turning.  However, we had to deal with the inconvenient phase of ‘nearly ready - please follow the diversion signs’.

I tried hard to take us off course at Madingley, but in the end we took the correct exit, despite a lack of signposts.  So we zoomed down into Cambridge, where Alan Turner picked us up, flipped us around, and sent us on our heels.  We were two minutes up, and wondering what the weather would be for the final 55 miles.

After another comfort stop, we settled into the task of ignoring a nagging cross-to-head wind.  Surprisingly, we held onto a deficit of about 1 minute all the way to Bedford, where we had 25 miles to go.

We were about to receive our final food/drink hand-up from Frank and Greg, and then suddenly we were in a situation of backed-up traffic.  It’s arguable that we could have immediately stopped and taken on the supplies in the traffic jam.  But we didn’t.  I was hoping that the delays would disappear after we’d crossed the two roundabouts immediately ahead of us.

However, the slow traffic persisted for some distance, and indeed was probably ultimately generated by the traffic lights at the M1 junction several miles ahead.  So we were riding past the cars, and wondering when we would see the chaps again.  Before the finish, hopefully, as Frank was the one with the stopwatch !

It’s probably best practice in these circumstances to continue drinking and eating as normal.  However, there’s also an instinctive reaction to conserve your resources in case you have to wait a long time before stocks are replenished.  We were both getting concerned.  And then, just to kep our spirits up, I noticed that we had a punctured front tyre.

If it been a rear tyre, we could’ve ridden on without bother.  But the front is a different thing.  Once the air has all gone, you lose the ability to steer or brake in any reliable way.  We made our way to the next layby, and phoned for help.  Curses.

As luck would have it, we only had to wait a few minutes before the service vehicle arrived.  We were quickly sorted out and on our way again.  However, when we reached the next checkpoint, we were 10 minutes down  In seven miles, the combined effect of increasing tiredness, negotiation of slow traffic, and the puncture, had cost us 9 minutes.

As mentioned earlier, we didn’t actually have a record to chase, and so this ride was really just a very hard piece of training.  The original objective of 6h 45m was obviously out of the question, as we had just 18 miles to go.  We were now starting to notice a fairly stiff headwind, and revised our target to that of beating 7 hours.  We had 50 minutes left.

At the final checkpoint, we had 30 minutes for 10.9 miles.  Surely that was achievable?

We were okay as we passed 10, 9 and 8 miles to go.   But then there’s a fairly tough (in the circumstances) climb at Whaddon Chase.  7 miles to go took a long time coming.  At 5 to go, we had 12.5 minutes, and were riding well.  But at 2 to go, suddenly there was a particularly windy section.   We did the best we could.

Seven hours and 38 seconds was the final result as we rolled across the line.

Upon reflection, we were probably less troubled by the wind that I’d expected, although obviously I hadn’t anticipated the effect of the rain on me.  Ultimately, though, it was a tough day out for the two of us, and it was the training that was the true objective. 

Many thanks to all those who helped us on our way.   Now to think about the next one ….

 Back to 2006-2007

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