Riding Le Tour stage 3 from Cambridge to The Mall seemed a great idea but we would not have the luxury afforded to Froome, Contador etc, of a traffic free route through East and Central London. Instead, we chose to ride from Cambridge to the car park of the Castle pub in Woodford in our very own Redbridge, a distance of 75 miles.
The date was set for Saturday 5th
July and transport to Cambridge was provided by Abellio Greater Anglia Railways, who for £8.00 would whisk us up to Cambridge on the 6.28am service from Liverpool Street.
Within minutes of getting off the train we were stocking up on Carbs in the Black Cat Café and by 9.30 am all twenty club riders plus some welcome guests from the Crest Cycling Club were on Parkers Piece, a large green space near the centre of Cambridge adjacent to the official stage start and ready to go. Nazia drove her car as support vehicle ably assisted by Robin providing much appreciated and used mechanical assistance.
Despite the drizzly rain putting a bit of a dampener on things, Silver Riders went off first led by Roger Vale and then Bronze riders led by yours truly and Maggie on tandem. Unlike our heroes two days hence, we would have to thread our way through the busy streets of Cambridge. Soon, however, the clogged streets and the narrow thoroughfares surrounding the colleges gave way to the open road. It headed for Saffron Walden and the flat wide A1301 matched the broad expanse of the Cambridgeshire countryside until after Stumps Cross when the undulations of the B184 took us
uphill into the ancient town of Saffron Walden. Here imaginations ran wild thinking what it would look like in two days’ time with flag waving crowds cheering on the peleton as they made the left turn onto the B1053 into deepest Essex. We had to stop at the traffic lights to make the left turn but it gave us time to look at all the ‘Le Tour’ displays in shop windows and house fronts, something we would see all along the route. Quintessential English villages dressed in yellow, green and white with red spots, bikes of all sorts and shapes below the eaves of thatched roofs, the tricolour hanging from pargetted walls and, in the village of Howe Street, a blow-up bike rider and bike, disappearing head first into a hedge.
Stage three was described as a ‘pan flat’. There were no points on offer for the KOM. But for us it was mildly challenging with the small hills enough to make our legs burn a little and lungs open up more than usual. The longest drag was the two mile stretch out of Saffron Walden to Sewards End and the steepest was the ramp out of the chocolate box village of Finchingfield.
At Shalford, the route took to unclassified roads. We were now in Sunday club-ride territory, passing farms, hidden mansions and secret hamlets with names like Duck End Green, Shellow Bowells (featured in Bill Brysons book ‘Notes from a Small Island’) and Birds Green.
Unlike the tour riders who would be handed out bags, more accurately ‘musettes’, of grub near Chelmsford, we had two official refreshment stops. The first, after thirty five miles, was in the village of Rayne at the old railway station, now a café. Le Tour was being celebrated to the full here and with two days before the peleton would pass by, a rock band was striking up in the marquee alongside the platform. So you can appreciate it was very hard to prise ourselves away back onto our saddles but it had to be done and it wasn’t long before we were threading our way through more villages all eagerly awaiting Le Tour’s arrival. The second stop, after 65 miles, was at the White Hart in Moreton where the landlord supplied us with very welcome baguettes and refreshment.
All too soon the lanes gave way to the busy roundabout by the Talbot pub and the main road into North Weald. Here, club members George and Margaret had covered their house in Le Tour bunting with the addition of the words ‘Go Cav’ emblazoned on their front wall. Little did we know as we were reading those words that our hero had just crashed out during the sprint for stage 1 up in Yorkshire. Soon we were one long line of riders on the main road through Epping Forest getting ever nearer to Redbridge. It was 5.30 pm when the bronze riders rode into the car park of the Castle, about two hours adrift of the first silver riders but at least we had paved the way for the professionals even if they would take three hours for the same distance.
Words and Pictures, Paul O’Kelly