Event Review

REVIEW: Tour of Cambridgeshire

by Caven O'Hara

REVIEW: Tour of Cambridgeshire

Distances: 83 miles on closed roads
Participants: up to 8000 riders for the Gran Fondo
Start: Peterborough Arena
Transport: Train station nearby but parking for thousands with camping available
Feedstops: 3
Timed: Yes
Signs: black arrows on yellow backgrounds and plenty of stewards to assist.
Road: Riding on closed roads is an awesome experience, more so when the locals pack the roads to cheer you on. If you think because the elevation is low this is simply a fast ride, think again. It is fast but what the course lacks in elevation it makes up for in wind! There is no-where to hide, you'd often find yourself on long straight roads with no trees or hedge-rows to give some respite. 

Last year's inaugural Tour of Cambridgeshire was a big success. So how do you come back and make it better? The organisers made it bigger without sacrificing quality. Some events go for numbers rather than the experience and the rider has a slightly sun-standard time of it. Don't get me wrong, these mass events are going to be busy, part of the day is the thrill of riding with hundreds or thousands of other riders. What sets the top events apart is the sum of the parts that make up the day.

As a rider you want to be able to turn-up, get parked and registered with the minimum of fuss. This leaves more time for faff before you get to the start line. Then once you cross the proverbial whitewash its game time. All you want to concentrate on is the riding, turning the legs and getting to the finish. If you need refreshments these are taken care of en-route. Once across the line, you want to know what your time was and then get refreshed, re-fuelled. The ToC took care of just about all of this without sacrificing the enjoyment factor.

The parking was just as ample as last year. The registration was swift, this just left the pre-ride faff. With numbers attached to the bike it just left the matter of meeting up with ride companions. Having travelled up with Gilly, he was going to ride with Ian in the sportive and I had decided to try my hand at the race end with Rupert. The ToC works simply in terms of route, if you want to race you can, if you want to challenge yourself against friend and colleagues you can and if you just want to enjoy the thrill of riding on closed roads but not the full distance, you can do this to.

The race categories are divided into age categories as defined by the UCI whose umbrella the race falls under. Each category is a mix of male and female competitors who will battle it out to earn qualification for the Amateur World Championships but also the chance to stand on the podium as a top three finisher in their age category. Needless to say competition is fierce. The criteria for qualifying for the World Champs, taking place this year in Perth, Australia, is to finish in the top 20 per cent of your age category. It just so happens that our age category, 45-49 is the most competitive in terms of numbers entered! Each category has its own pen and at the allotted time are ushered to the start line. With an introduction from ex Eurosport and cycling commentator, David Harmon, the groups were set off individually with a lead out car heading the mini peloton. The first 10Km or so were particularly stressful as riders jostled for position and there were a few near misses. As the pace settled and riders found their place, it did calm down. The main difference I noticed was there were riders to work with, last year in the sportive this wasn't the case and you ended up riding more on your own.

As matters calmed it did make for a better experience. The whole closed road setup is great. The villages you pass through turn out en-masse to support and encourage and if you've never tried one of the bigger events, then it is a great experience. It gives you a buzz and certainly helps keep you riding hard. 
Finding groups or other riders to work with is important given the predominantly flat nature of the course and some of the exposed roads. There are some long, straight and very exposed roads. No cover at all, just buffeted by the wind and with no significant landmarks to break up the view you have to put your head down and grind through it. 

The feed stops are evenly spaced with three of them. The section round the airfield is a toughie, there really is no place to hide and it was a relief to head out of there. Despite the fast roads, it was still a relief to finally see the last hump back bridge which denotes the approach to the finish. From here it was a short burst or in my case trying to keep ahead of the small group behind, round the last roundabout and back into the Peterborough Arena for the sprint finish. 

Without doubt this is one of the top events in the UK calendar. The organisation is top notch with the only gripe surrounding the timing/results. You get a text, if you signed up for it, after you cross the line giving you your finish time. Then if you are lucky enough to achieve a qualifying time for the UCI Amateur World Championships, you get a second text telling you this and that you can collect your qualifying medal. This is a great buzz. The difficulty arose when the organisers couldn't determine the final podium spots due to riders not starting in the right race pens. All very strange and a little disappointing but the only blemish on a great day out.

To read Jennifer Trotman's review of the same event, click here

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 6 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 10 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 10 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 10 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 7 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 9 out of 10
7. Website - ease of use (Online and postal entry, clear concise) 9 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 10 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 8 out of 10
Overall Rating 87.8%

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