Tour of the Cornfields, Cyclo-cross “Sportive”, Wimpole Estate, 6 September 2015 by Jen

image001I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to participate in this one. It was only by chance I even found out about it. Some gung-ho girlfriends spotted it on a web-site and then egged some others on (including me) – claiming that it would be a “fun day out with the girls”. Coming hard on the heels of the school holidays, it was difficult to find time to prepare. But that doesn’t really excuse the level of complacency with which I approached the thing. This 100km cyclo-cross event around Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire deserved far more respect than I gave it to start with. But I have learned my lesson (well, several lessons actually – see further below).

Because of my son’s birthday party the previous day, I foolishly left the organising until the morning of the event. But it had been so long since my MTB had seen any muddy action, I had trouble finding the stuff I needed (thanks for the last minute inner-tube, Chris). First hitch of the day was realising that I had lost the key to my bike lock which was attached to my bike. I knew my husband had a spare key somewhere which created a dilemma. Which would be worse? Waking my husband up to get him to locate the spare key to the bike lock? Or carrying 1kg of ballast around the course? I decided that carrying an extra 1kg of ballast around the course would be the best option, all things considered.

We met in Orwell and rode through Victoria Woods to the meeting point at the Wimpole Estate, near the Stable Block. Registration was quick and easy. After a bit of a wait and a minimal briefing, we went off in waves. You self select which wave, based on where your mates are and your perception of your own talents at mountain-biking (which turned out to be fairly delusional perceptions in my case).

It was an absolutely gorgeous day. The weather could not have been kinder. The sun shone and everything was looking good as we headed up the hill towards Old Wimpole. We quickly realised there were differences of speed and ability in our group of five ladies, so two of us went ahead and three stayed behind – though still going at what I thought was a pretty respectable speed. The course, narrow and technical at times, took us on a cross country path to Kingston and then around Comberton and picked up the Wimpole Way back towards Bourn. Then it’s off-road pretty much all the way to Croydon, some brief respite from the bumps through Croydon and then off-road, via the Clopton Way, towards Wrestlingworth and thence onwards to Potton for a lunch stop.

You have to know the route though. Although road arrows and marshals were much in evidence for the first 10kms or so, they quickly start to peter out and you have to rely on tiny circular signs, which are not always pointing in the right direction and not immediately obvious when you are focussing on rocks, potholes, tree roots and not crashing into your friends. There were a few times that we had to stop and scratch our heads, look at the map, and then scratch our heads some more. We got passed a few times by the same groups of people, who had become repeatedly lost. They would pass us, disappear, and then reappear and pass us again – each time looking more and more flummoxed. Our worst navigational mistake came at the gate that takes you into the “lost village” of Clopton. There was no sign on the gate at all. We applied the (flawed) logic that if there was one place where a sign was needed this was it, and therefore a closed gate with no sign could only mean one thing – that we had lost the trail (again)! We then embarked on a short but very painful and exhausting offroad ascent of Hatley Hill instead, only to realise that we had executed a pointless loop of a field and that carrying on that way would only take us back to Croydon. It was here that we encountered the sweepers, providing us with the unwelcome confirmation (as if there was ever any doubt!) that we were indeed coming well and truly last – but also the very welcome confirmation that we were not too far off course.

Lunch was a pretty minimal affair – at least for the latecomers. I had carried my own lunch with me (more ballast!) but my friends had to rely on the few remaining bananas and Mr Kipling’s Apple Pies. Realising that I had been running on empty for some time by then, I availed myself of pretty much every chemical, caffeinated and performance enhancing substance on offer. The water was ditched in favour of SIS drinks that had an almost immediate effect which I thought was very positive at the time but I realise now that I was actually quite high by the time we got to Ashwell. I was told later that by the time we reached Bassingbourn my conversation was becoming increasingly bizarre.

It was at this point that we had to make a decision – either slog on through Orwell and then offroad to Harlton and Eversden to the finish (by which time the organisers would almost certainly have left and the event would have ended and there would be no-one to witness our glorious return) or cut our losses and just return to Wimpole. We decided to abandon the heroics and do the organisers the courtesy of at least letting them know that we had returned safely. We followed the 50km course (by and large) back to Arrington and then headed back through the park. We think we did about 80kms of the 100km course but, as no-one had a working cycle computer, we can’t prove it! The organisers were full of praise and congratulations – pointing out that there were still plenty of people out on the course. Naturally, we came clean about the fact that we had not actually finished. But they were really sweet about it and we got our prize anyway (more bananas).


It’s a brilliant race – oops, sorry … “non-competitive sportive” …

 This is a beautiful, fun course, through fields, along wooded paths and farm lanes, and you get some great views of the countryside. There are only one or two proper hills (one of which, we missed out!) but this is compensated for by the rapid changes in surface and terrain – which keep you on your toes. I didn’t realise there were so many opportunities for off-road cycling in our area. Finding out that it is possible to ride off-road virtually all the way from Bourn to Potton was a revelation. This new local knowledge is going to make my winter training rides a lot more interesting.

It is billed as a “non-competitive” event but it looked pretty competitive to me. There were lycra-clad teams from clubs far and wide and I would say that the standard was very high. The star riders finished in about 4 hours (forgoing “lunch”), with most of the rest of the field coming in at anything between 5-7 hours. If you don’t live and breathe MTBing then finishing the whole course by the 4.30pm cut off is quite a big ask. You have to step on it. But that shouldn’t put relative novices off from entering. There are two courses on offer. A 100km course and a 50km course. Both are great. I reckon that if it were to rain a lot before the race there are some parts that would be quite tricky and challenging (the Clopton Way is tricky enough in the dry). But, as I said, we couldn’t have had better conditions for our Tour of the Cornfields debut.

This is a great race to do if you have been training hard for triathlons all spring and summer and you want to do something a bit different. The organisation is low key but very friendly. You are expected to take responsibility for yourself though – there is little assistance available out there on the course.

More details and course map here.

When I arrived at the start someone asked me about my strategy and goals for the day. I said that my strategy was to not get lost and my goal was to finish!

Well I failed on both counts! But I am going to do this again next year (if at all possible) and I think a better bike set up could help make the difference. This year, in my haste, I just slung everything into a rucksack (including all my liquids). However, as more expert and experienced MTB-ers than me have explained, this not only affects one’s balance and aerodynamics, it also causes there to be too much weight on the seat! It’s true – I had a VERY sore backside by the end of this.

Pete Crossley kindly sent me this photo of what a good MTB set up looks like which I am including for future reference.


And, as I was saying to Pete, I also have another idea for reducing the amount of weight on the seat and that is to break a habit of a lifetime and not treat the period from October-April as a holiday from training. As Alice Barnes has made clear, winter is a time to be putting in the miles (not sitting on the sofa eating cake!) and I plan to take this advice.

Well, that’s all I wanted to say. A big thank you to my Orwell buddies for inviting me to join them on this day out. It was a pleasure to ride with you ladies. And massive congratulations to the two of our number who actually finished the full 100km with more than an hour to spare before closing time.

My verdict

Course: 10/10

Organisation: 6/10. (Pretty good though some marks deducted because of dodgy signage in places and because Mr Kipling’s apple pies do not, in my view, constitute “lunch”)

PB potential: Zero! But that’s not the point!

Fun potential: 10/10 (provided the weather is good!)

I would urge Meridian Tri Club members who fancy a bit of off-road action to consider this one for next year (assuming you are not busy with something else). It’s fun AND challenging AND interesting AND local. What’s not to love?


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