100 miles of the Wiggle Spring Saddle Sportive


I've just spent the majority of March cycle training, building up the miles, in order to compete in the Wiggle Spring Saddle Sportive. This organised bike ride comes in three flavours, Short being 38 miles, Standard being 73 mile and Epic a stupid 100 miles. Well, you'll have guessed from the title that we'd signed up for the Epic route. 

I say we signed up. David and myself signed up and then got Gwyn's permission to book him in. Working away at sea meant he wasn't around to sign up himself. Shortly before we started training David announced he' d forgotten he was on holiday and so he wouldn't be joining us. That came as a bit of a blow as David is the cyclist amongst us and I secretly was hoping just to slot onto his back wheel and follow in his slipstream for 100 miles, job done. Without David we were going to have to put in way more effort.


Gwyn arrived back from sea towards the end of February and so the training had to start. I can't say either of us were that keen with the freezing temperatures and consistently strong winds. Then something happened that was going to make this a whole load easier, I left work and we now had 6 weeks where mid week cycling was now an option for me, perfect. 


Our first ride actually took place on a Tuesday morning. I was still working but was in my period of thinking about what I wanted to do, so where better to do that than on a bike. That Tuesday was sunny but still only just above freezing level. I'd planned us a nice 30 mile route to get the legs in. We cruised the first 10 or 12 miles to Hilton where we took a much earned drink stop on their village green in the sun. Very nice too. We'd been lulled into a false sense of security though in terms of the temperature as shortly after setting off we approached the ford I'd forgotten about. One of us recognised there was a footbridge to the right, the other was about to cycle through the ford. Let's just say that the one who saw the bridge pulled on the brakes to make the turn for the footbridge and came crashing down on their side right in the middle of the road. We'd found out the hard way that a ford in winter leads to sheet ice on the road either side, ice that is impossible to stay upright on when braking and turning simultaneously. This experience pretty much summed up the weather we would get for the majority of our training. 


We built up with several rides until eventually we caught the train to Norwich and cycled back. The point of this was to force us to cycle 80 miles rather than cutting a planned route short as we had done on a previous ride. The Norwich ride was again a cold day with an Easterly wind, but at least that would help us, not that it ever rally blew in earnest. We'd planned a route via Bury St Edmonds which turned out to be a good idea as it was just over half was and had a great cafe serving hot tomato soup and bacon sandwiches. That helped up over the next 25 miles which were hilly in comparison to anything else we'd seen. The roads were mainly tiny country roads which were nice and peaceful but weren't to be underestimated. One of us found that out the hard way on a fast corner after crossing the loose central gravely bit. They ended up ploughing the bordering field with their head but survived to tell another tale. 

The Epic

After a week of gale force winds and cold temperatures, Sunday 7th April finally arrived with sunshine and a very light southerly wind. The forecasters were even expecting temperature that would reach double figures, possible for the first time this year it seemed. Gwyn and I arrived at Newmarket Racecourse to a car park full of carbon fibre bike and lycra clad riders. Check-in was very swift and organised and so within minutes we were ready to leave on our 8am schedule. We'd even found Rumbles with whom we'd ridden the previous week for the first time (and given him a rude awakening I'd say, he did struggle that day). 

All three of us had agreed we would like to complete the course in a silver medal time, basically faster than 14mph average over the course. If that seems slow it does include any time you're stopped. We'd calculated we could probably stop for about 30 mins if we rode at our normal pace. So with this in mind we started out slowly, trying not to over do it to early. The route was good, well marked and on quite roads. Marshals were out to make sure you were aware of any hazards, particularly one hill where the left hand side of the road was sheet ice (yep it was cold). The ditches to the left of the roads in places were still full of the snow that had fallen over 2 weeks earlier. 


After the Short course split from ours we came to the first feed stop. Laid on were sport's drinks, flapjack, bananas and a host of other stuff to keep you going. Very good it was too. We spent about 7 or 8 minutes stopped, enough to get some food, refill the water bottles and use the loo if you needed it. 

The second stint was into the light winds. Rumbles dropped off the back to have a pee and then spent the next 20 miles trying to catch us back up. The route took us under the flight path to Stansted but through some lovely rolling countryside. Coming from Cambridge I would say it was hilly but Wiggle describe it as fairly flat. By now we were seeing riders from another organised sportive going in the opposite direction. They seemed to be using exactly the same route. Motorists were no doubt overjoyed.

At 48 miles we reached the second stop. More flapjack and topping up of water bottles took place before the three of use headed off. By this point Rumbles was back with us but Gwyn was starting to suffer. I kept trying to calculate how much time we had in hand and had worked out we would be very close to the Silver cut off time. Gwyn was really suffering and our pace slowed, especially on the hills where he is normally so good. I had a word with Rumbles and agreed since he was feeling so good he should leave us while Gwyn and I would work together to get this thing finished. Shortly after this I realised I'd been using an average of 14.5mph and not 14mph so we actually had a little more time in the bag than I'd thought.

After 15 miles or so more, Gwyn and I spotted Rumbles just a couple of hundred yards ahead. He'd stopped for a pee and we'd almost caught him. We then followed him for about the next 10 miles, slowing easing up on him but never catching him. At 19 miles to go it was the last feed stop. All three routes came past this one but there was still loads of lovely stuff to eat and plenty of energy drink to refill the bottles. 


We set off together for the last stint knowing we were on schedule to beat the time needed of 7 hours 8mins in order to average more than 14mph. I'd started finding it tough but Gwyn was back in the game. At 10 miles to go there was a sign saying 10km to go, the only bad piece of signing I'd seen. At 2 miles to go there was a huge hill, oh well. We pushed on and there was Newmarket over the top of the hill.

As we entered the racecourse Rumbles cycled ahead. Gwyn and I though were going to cross the line together. As we approached there was cheering from Helena, Mel and the boys. Gwyn and I linked hands and hit the line together. Medals and goodie bags were handed out before we got a finish line photo. We'd done it, Gwyn recorded 6 hours 59 mins and 59 seconds, we were inside the silver medal time. Our official times were 25 seconds faster than this.

Overall this was an excellent ride through some stunning countryside. It was a great challenge, one that Gwyn and I had prepared for and completed together. It hadn't been easy but we did it. 

And before you ask, I didn't have a sore bum. I did however have a really stiff neck for almost a week. 

© Nic Williams 2014