I rode last year’s inaugural Tour of Cambridgeshire with out any real idea of what a Gran Fondo was. It was my first closed road event and there was a chance to qualify for a UCI world championship, there was so much going on, but wasn’t it just a glorified sportive? Well, if you’re thinking of entering the 2016 Tour of Cambridgeshire in the race category, then you’re in for a great day out!
The 2016 Tour of Cambridgeshire is part of the UCI Gran Fondo World Series, this is a series of fifteen events that take place all round the world. Finishing in the top 25% of your age category gets you an invite to the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships, this year being hosted by Perth in Western Australia. All events consist of a Chrono – time trial – and a Gran Fondo, all on closed roads.
Now what may you ask is a Gran Fondo? Well in this case it’s a cycle event that takes place on closed roads. At the front is a road race, riders are split into five year age bands and by sex, with each category racing against themselves for the win. Behind this race group is a sportive, riding the same course and enjoying the same benefits of a closed road route.
If you haven’t ridden a closed road event before – I hadn’t – then I’ve got to say that while it is expensive, it’s definitely worth it. Being able to use the whole road, safe in the knowledge that you and your fellow cyclists are the only thing on the road is a fantastic feeling. How often do you get to enjoy a ride without that little nagging thought of “what’s around this corner?” You can take that corner using the full width of the road, or even form an echelon to deal with cross winds; a real possibility on the 2016 Tour of Cambridgeshire with the route passing through the Fens.
For many riders, last year’s Tour of Cambridgeshire was their first experience of riding a road race, talking about jumping in at the deep end! For most of us, that first race was probably on a circuit and maybe lasted an hour. Those poor souls had to deal with a huge bunch, bigger than anything I’ve been in before and longer than the usual ‘hour plus five laps’. So while they may lack some bunch skills, you can’t fault them for having a go. And if you are one of those first timers, hopefully you’ve been working on those bunch riding skills?
This year’s event has had a few tweaks to the route and, as mentioned, the race is now split into age categories. Riders will be gathered into pens depending on age, which open one hour before the start. This should make the start less frantic. Last year the whole race bunch of 2500 riders started at once, which looked spectacular, but nobody knew who they were racing against! With the gates opening an hour before it should also mean less hanging around.
The whole weekend actually kicks off on the Friday night with the Tour of Colour, this is a 5K fun run, with families encouraged to take part; runners will be wearing white t-shirts, which are then covered in paint as they run around the course. It all finishes off with music, light effects and a bar – so maybe one for your supporters rather than anyone hoping to turn in a fast time!
Saturday will see over 800 riders tackle the 16.5 mile (26.55km) closed road Chrono. The start will be from inside the Peterborough Arena, with riders being set off down the kind of ramp you normally only see on the telly! As with the following days Gran Fondo, riders will be competing in five year age bands and will have the chance to qualify for the World Championship Chrono final in Perth.
The final event of the weekend is the Gran Fondo, as well as the race group battling up front for places at the World Championships, riders can take part in three other “communities of rider”. These are Sport, Challenge and Leisure. The Sport community is for those riders who want to ride hard with a chance to qualify for the World Championships, but don’t currently have a racing license. Challenge is more like your standard sportive rider. The Leisure group is for riders who want to enjoy the closed roads at a more relaxed pace; they will ride a shorter route and will still need to avoid being picked up by the broom wagon or finding themselves on roads that have bee re-opened to the public!
The base for the 2016 Tour of Cambridgeshire is the Peterborough Arena Showground, this huge venue has plenty of parking, but as an incentive for participants to arrive early and avoid the traffic queues on the A21 of last year; something that could have caused the Tour of Cambridgeshire to be cancelled, parking will be £10 from 0800 to 1000 and £20 thereafter. Also on-site at the Showground will be a trade show, with exhibitors more than happy to show you their wares and lighten your pocket.
If you can’t make the 2016 Tour of Cambridgeshire, then maybe the Marmotte Ecosse might interest you? Run by the organisers of the Tour of Cambridgeshire, this new event follows a similar format to it’s older sibling, only further north. I really enjoyed last year’s event, the closed roads made for some great riding and the locals were vocal in their support, cheering everyone all the way round. Families had turned out to cheer us on, I even recall four rotund gentlemen, who had hauled a kitchen table out on to the side of the road and were enjoying a liquid lunch while offering up support as we whirred past! If you think the parcours a little flat and uninspiring, remember this is a race and that just means you’ll be going a lot faster and a lot harder!