By Owen Rogers
Meets: Sunday club runs meet at Addenbrookes Hospital, Hills Road, Cambridge at 8.45am. Wednesday runs meet at Newnham Corner at 8am.
The faster riders have stopped and are waiting for the slower ones to regroup at the top of a rare steep hill on the Cambridge CC club run.
As they arrive, the moment they unclip everyone is chatting and pretty soon, once lungs are rested and breath caught, a smattering of laughter echoes beneath a canopy of leafless trees.
Ours is a mixed group, not the normal order of the club’s Sunday ride, where the large membership attracts varying abilities who usually ride separate routes each week.
“As the season progresses, I evolve through the groups,” explains Suzane Leser when we stop to fix a puncture.
“I like to challenge myself in the mountains. I’ve been doing the Haute Route for three years in a row now and I finished fifth woman last year, so you can live in the flatlands and still do well in these events — it seems to work for me.”
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Of the group of 25 or so who meet outside the city’s Addenbrookes Hospital, there are young and old, fast and slow. Louis Rolfe MBE, a Paralympic gold medallist who joined after being inspired by London 2012, still rides most weeks.
The area surrounding Cambridge is notoriously flat but within a mile we are climbing over what is known as Gog Magog Hill. The quiet road is scene of the club’s annual hill-climb and — for a few metres at least — the gradient kicks up to an impressive-for-Cambridge 10 per cent. The event is one of a number of time trials the club holds throughout the season.
“There’s a time trial series that runs from when the clocks change,” says David McGow, one of the club’s strongest testers. “Most of them are 10s, but there’s a couple of 25s and some sporting courses and everyone takes turns putting out signs and marshalling.
The 10 best results count for the series — we also have a 10 and 25 championships as well as the hill-climb.”
Sprinting for signs
With the club for nearly 10 years, McGow is now club coach and sees part of his role as encouraging new riders. “When I started riding, people helped me and developed me into someone who went on to race,” he explains. “I want to make myself available to anyone thinking about joining or thinking about racing; maybe a buddy system for people on their first club run.”
With the climb behind us we wind over flat roads, crossing into Suffolk where the terrain undulates more and, as we near Newmarket, racehorses graze green roadside paddocks behind stern fences.
The run into Newmarket, where we are due to stop for coffee, is brilliant; the group staying in perfect formation as we climb out of a village, then shattering under the pressure of a sprint for the town sign.
“There’s always a sprint for the sign,” says Mark Tickner who has been racing road and cyclo-cross for three years and has been with the club for two of those. “You can do anything from a steady Sunday ride right up to the chaingang on a Tuesday which is quite the event over the summer. The loop is about 60km and you can start with 20 or 30 riders and end up with three. I find it harder than any race I’ve done.”
After coffee we’re back on our bikes for the ride back to Cambridge. From the front of the group, you can hear the chatter behind, though that soon tails off as the faster riders gradually up the pace over the final miles.
Despite the club’s long racing pedigree, our group proves Cambridge is a club for all. Its diverse but intimate membership reflects perfectly the small but cosmopolitan city and is perhaps why they are so welcoming.
Until the beginning of the 20th century, the cyclists of Cambridge were part of the East Chesterton Motorcycle Club, which would meet in The Spring, one of the city suburb’s local pubs. However, the popularity of cycling caused a split from their powered colleagues, and Cambridge Town and County Cycling Club was formed in 1901.
The Cole Cup, for the winner of the one-mile challenge in 1904, was the club’s first trophy and is still awarded to the women’s time trial league winner. The 11 club members killed in World War One are still commemorated by the Memorial Bowl awarded at the annual dinner to the club’s track champion.
Club rumour has it that some early members competed in various World Championships, though much of the club’s history is long forgotten and not even the likes of current President Mick Draper, who joined in 1954, remembers those.
Though the 1960s were the club’s nadir, with membership down to between six and 10, the following decade saw it blossom, and it has been growing ever since. Despite the city’s transient population and the establishment of a university club, membership of Cambridge Cycling Club, as it is known, remains a steady 300.
Paralympian Louis Rolfe MBE has made a big impact on para-cycling since joining the club four years ago. Only 19 years old, in September Rolfe added gold and bronze Paralympic medals to an identical tally at the World Championships.
Ken Platts is a multiple winner of the now defunct but notoriously tough Tour of The Fens and holds many age group time trial records, as well as being the first man over 60 years of age to beat 50 minutes for a 25.
Since joining the club, David McGaw has won multiple Eastern Counties Cycle Association time trial championships, including their hill-climb.
Cambridge CC club run
Ride highlights: 50 miles
1 Gazeley Road
Halfway up this short, sharp climb the gradient kicks up into double figures, unusual for this part of the country. It’s short, so get out of the saddle to maintain the momentum.
2 Moulton Road
The short climb from the village of Moulton precedes a fast, smooth descent into Newmarket. Riding between the gallops where racehorses are exercised, this is perfect for a sprint.
3 Shelford Road
Over a mile long, the climb from Fulbourn is steady but kicks up before a false flat. From the top there’s a great view of Cambridge and a fast descent into town.
The Tack Room Restaurant. Right in the centre of Newmarket, and part of the National Horse Racing Museum, is quite formal but the friendly table service is quick and the coffee is excellent. Palace House, Palace Street, Newmarket, CB8 8EP, 01638 667314.
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