Am I heading in the right direction? Where is everyone?
These were the thoughts buzzing through my brain as I cycled along a relatively straight and unusually quiet stretch of road. I hadn’t seen a soul for the past five miles and I was beginning to wonder if I might have taken a wrong turn.
I was about a third of the way through the Crafted Classsique, a 100km non-competitive sportive through the Suffolk countryside, and the road ahead was completely empty. Ditto for the road behind.
But no sooner had I stopped to take a photograph (see above) and to check Google maps on my iPhone, than six cyclists whizzed by. It seemed I was on the right route after all.
Taking the plunge
Taking part in the event was something I’d been looking forward to for about six weeks. In July I’d been approached by Crafted, the event organisers, to ask if I’d like to take advantage of free registration, and after mulling it over for a week or two — Was I fit enough? Could I get a new road bike in time? Would I be able to get to the start line by public transport? — I decided to take the plunge.
I had the option of two routes: a 100mile or 100km (64mile) route beginning and ending in Ipswich and taking in Woodbridge, Wickham Market and Orford. I opted for the shorter ride knowing I’d successfully completed the same distance during London Nightrider in June, so I knew I could go the distance. The big question was, could I do it on a ride bike with relatively little time to get used to a new riding position?
As it turned out, I could. Despite my thigh muscles seizing up at about mile 45 and my back beginning to ache a few miles after that, and the fact I was doing the cycle alone, not in a team taking it in turns to ride into the wind as many others seemed to be doing, I was surprised by how quickly I completed the event. According to my bike computer, which only records the time my wheels are going around — in other words, not the times I stopped at traffic lights or got off my bike to stretch my legs, have a drink and a bite to eat — I completed it in 4 hours 42 minutes.
This was far below my “guestimated” time of around 6 hours. And far, far, far below the time it took me to do London Nightrider, which was bang on 8 hours. It’s amazing the difference a road bike makes!
There’s no doubt that the best thing about the Crafted Classique was the scenery — a real mix of scenic towns and villages, pig farms, potato fields, rolling green hills, ferny glades, woodland, heathland and lanes lined with 10-foot high hedges and deciduous trees in full leaf.
And the roads were a good mix, too, though sometimes I felt a bit exposed cycling along busy B and A roads alone while Saturday traffic whizzed by at ferocious speed. And there was quite a lot of sand in places, too, a hazard I’ve never had to deal with before. I am grateful to the male cyclist travelling behind me who told me to “pick a line and stick to it” as I approached a huge drift at the bottom of a hill. It proved excellent advice and it held me in good stead for the duration of the event.
What I really loved was cycling along Suffolk’s Quiet Lanes, as they’re called. Not only were they truly beautiful, leafy, green and very quiet — the only traffic I saw was the odd dog walker or pedestrian — but they also provided some respite from the wind, which seemed to worsen as the day went on.
Another challenge was tackling a few steep hills, but the gears on my bike worked a treat and I never felt the barest urge to get off and walk. Of course, there was the odd time I couldn’t have been cycling more than 5mph, but I made it to the top every time and felt a little surge of pride that I hadn’t even needed to stand up on the pedals. Honestly, it’s the little things.
A final push
Admittedly, I hit a metaphorical wall at about the 45 mile mark. I’d been cycling incredibly fast (for me) and at one stage I was on track to complete the event in four hours — I’d made the second official rest stop at the 30 mile mark in just two hours — but the wind and the new riding position was beginning to take its toll. I was becoming increasingly tired.
But with about five miles to go, my heart lifted, knowing I was near the end. It helped that I tagged onto a group of male cyclists (who were on the much longer 100mile route) and challenged myself to keep up with them all the way back to the finishing line. By this time it was mid-afternoon and the traffic in Ipswich was quite heavy. This meant lots of stopping at traffic lights, so if I fell back a bit I would always catch up with the blokes at the lights a minute or so later. I’m sure they had absolutely no idea that I was cycling along with them, but I just want to say thanks for the encouragement!
Thanks, too, to Crafted for organising such a wonderful event. I loved (almost) every moment of it, including the free (and delicious) espresso at the start and the free (and much deserved) beer at the end. The route was well sign posted and took in some beautiful countryside. Perhaps the only real fault was the fact that the second official rest stop had run out of snacks and water by the time I got there — not that it mattered, I’d brought along my own.
It was definitely worth the hassle of taking my bike on the tube and the train, walking 1.5miles through the dodgy back streets of Ipswich and staying in a hotel the night before. Next year, I might just be brave enough to tackle the longer route — but only if I start training now!
Total distance: 64.1miles | Ride time: 4hr 42min and 55sec | Average speed: 13.5mph
Thanks again to Crafted for providing my registration free of charge.