DISTANCE 24 miles (36km)
MAIN CLIMB Through Gamlingay
TOTAL CLIMB 100m
ACHTUNG! Crossing the A1
He’s ‘just a tester’. That’s what they say about Ian Cammish, dismissing the lifetime achievements of a legend with one derogatory word. Time triallists are the lost tribe of bike sport in the UK; for a decade or more they have been overshadowed by pro road racing, our Olympic track team and the phenomenal growth of sportives.
Cammish, 52, a reigning national champion, who can still rip along a dual carriageway at well over 30mph, is not minded to apologise for his status as one of the elders of the TT tribe. He answers the critics in the best way possible, by carrying on with a level of enthusiasm and commitment that makes you want to jump on the nearest lo-pro and welly it along the local bypass in the 11 sprocket.
What thrills Cammish is going as fast as he can over a set distance, loving the feeling of speed, while pushing his body to the limit. If you are a keen sportive rider, training hard and striving to get your times down on your favourite events, you’ve got more in common than you think.
How, for instance, would your best time for 100 miles compare to Cammish’s? Set in 1983 his record of 3-31-53 was met with disbelief back then, and is still an astonishingly fast time, even by today’s standards. Riding on flat roads but without tri-bars, it represents 10 21-minute 10-mile time trials, at an average speed of over 28mph.
Only a seriously talented athlete can pull out a ride like that, and after 40 years of non-stop competition, Cammish’s love for speed is as pure and addictive as ever. He’s the high priest of the dragstrip, and there’s a conviction there that you just have to admire.
“As long as people want to keep charging up and down dual carriageways, time trialling will stick around,” he says as we set off from the village of Waresley, 20 miles west of Cambridge. “I don’t think there’s anything better than charging along a dual carriageway over a set distance, holding it
on the threshold. It’s such a buzz. I’ll grow out of it. It’s just a phase I’m going through!”
The roads in this area are those that Cammish has ridden all his life. Apart from a short spell in Shrewsbury, he has always lived around here and he and wife Jane and son Jack, 14, live 12 miles from Ian’s parents, with his brother and sister also up the road.
He has worked in the civil service for 33 years, initially making maps for the Property Services Agency, but now in land management for the MoD – mostly disposing of RAF and army land. Ian can’t wait to retire, at 55, he hopes. And it won’t be to spend more time in the garden.
Cammish’s ride to work is mostly eastwards along the B1046 to Cambridge, a daily base mileage of 42 miles, which results in an annual total of 19,000 miles. He has never had a coach, and if he could Cammish would ride his bike 24/7, he loves it so much.
“I used to ride into work on my hack bike and keep a racing bike in the basement. At lunchtime I would go out with Ken Platts and we would do a 19-minute two-up ‘10′ on the bypass. In those days, if someone had said you needed to do 800 miles to win the BBAR I would have done it. If they said 900 miles I would have done it. Everything was full on.”
Cammish won the BBAR nine times from 1980 to 1989, missing out only once, to Glenn Longland, in 1986. After that, he rode time trials professionally for Raleigh, winning 57 TTs in his final year with the Nottingham outfit.
We head south through the lanes to Sandy, Bedfordshire, on the A1. Cammish has an almost pagan relationship with the Great North Road. He worships the mythically fast highway and has won countless events on ‘F’ courses in this area. We stop at Girtford Bridge, in a tiny walled plot off the A1 on the south-west corner of Sandy. It’s here where the Bidlake Memorial stands, in remembrance of F. T. Bidlake, 1867-1933, who was a record-breaking trike rider, timekeeper and a forefather of time trialling. On the sundial post is the inscription: ‘He measured time’.
With traffic roaring by on the nearby A1 and a dusty lay-by the only place to stop on the A1 slip road, the memorial is barely visible, but worth a visit if you get the chance. Many lifelong time triallists have their ashes spread here – it’s a curious spot, halfway between memorial and folly (www.bidlakememorial.org.uk).
Staying on minor roads we go through Upper Caldecote and stop for a photo op in Holme Mill, off the A6001 near Biggleswade, where the Jordans family has been milling cereal products for 150 years.
Why are we here? It’s on the finishing circuit of a 12-hour course, and there’s a patch of grass with daffs on it where Cammish once flopped onto after a ‘12′. Riders of 12-hour events fixate on details like this, and it’s possible that Cammish, in his 12th hour of need, got his Jordans confused with the buxom one without the ‘s’, standing over him tantalisingly with a selection of Jordans cereal bars.
Need for speed
How can you not want to ride as fast as you can over a set distance, and compare your time to your mates? This is why Cammish and Dave Loughran from Planet X have come up with the Old Skool TT series, which kicks off on Good Friday. “We were in the cafe at Asda stuffing profiteroles in our mouths,” explains Cammish, “and Dave asked if I thought my comp records would still stand if there had been no tri-bars.
“If you do the calculations of tri-bars versus drop bars, my 1-39-51 ‘50′ [set in 1983] is now a 1-35-27 [Hutchinson, last year], so it could be close. We also wondered if anyone could beat Colin Sturgess’s 18-48 ‘10′ record on a normal bike in 1988, and Alf Engers’s 49-24 ‘25′ in 1978?
“We’ve come up with a dozen open events, not on crap courses, on fast ones where you can ride the Old Skool series on a normal racing bike. We’ve put up £500 to beat the records for the ‘10′ and ‘25′, and Dave will give £5,000 if anyone beats the ‘10′, ‘25′, ‘50′ and ‘100′ (3-31-53) in one season.”
Cammish goes on to explain: “The bike has to have drop handlebars, no disc or deep dish wheels, no tri-bars and no aero helmet. The idea is to enter into the spirit of things.
“It’s a chance for all those old boys on a pension who can’t afford fancy disc wheels and lo-pros to put one over their mate who used to own his own business and has got all the kit.”
Cammish is plugging the series on the Planet X website, where he has launched an irreverent time-trial web magazine called Testing Times. One of his columnists, top tester Ben Instone, has threatened to have a go, but TT royalty, aka the Hutch, has failed to commit, as he hasn’t got the right bike.
“Hutch did a short 50-minute ‘25′ on a fixed wheel bike with drop bars and a disc wheel when he was training for the hour record,” says Cammish. “A week later he was on a better time but punctured. Come on then Hutch, let’s see what you can do.”
The string-back track mitt has been thrown down to Cammish’s near neighbour, as we enjoy the quiet midweek lanes heading back through Dunton, Potton and Gamlingay. There’s blossom on the trees and the sound of tractors in the fields heralds the start of spring, and the promise of a float morning on the Great North Road.
Your guide: Ian Cammish
Aged 52, married to Jane, and has a son Jack, aged 14
Nine times BBAR winner
National champion 14 times at ‘50′ (4), ‘100′ (9) and ‘12hrs’ (1)
Old Skool TT series and Testing Times at www.planet-x-bikes.com
First Old Skool TT City RC Hull ‘10′, Good Friday, April 10
Start in Waresley and head south-west on minor road to Everton where you turn left (TL) to Sandy. Turn right (TR) onto B1042 in Sandy, crossing the A1 on roundabout, then heading south on minor road to Hatch.
Continue south to Upper Caldecote and after village TL on B658, then TR back onto minor road to Broom, where TL to Holme. Turn left onto A6001 into Biggleswade and in town bear right on same road before picking up minor road towards Dunton. Before Dunton TL and head north on minor road via Sutton and Potton, where you join B1040 to Gamlingay and retrace to Waresley.