I'm so proud of Jill. Not only did she get her first proper road bike last week, but she decided to christen it with a 40 mile ride around the Norfolk Broads (having never even covered that distance before). This is what happened ...
Looking at both the route and the weather forecast on the evening beforehand, it seemed that what the 40 mile route lacked in hills would be made up for by the 17mph+ westerly winds that were due to hit the region on Sunday. Cycling is never as fun when you feel like you're being pushed backwards all the time - but the forecast also said the sun would be shining and the temperature looked like it would sit in the low 20's. We packed up our cycling gear and planned to get to RAF Coltishall by 9am where the Tour de Broads was starting.
Our arrival was a little delayed, mostly due to the lack of signage to the venue. Although the joining instructions gave an address for the satnav, it seemed that the postcode was a little off-kilter and as a result we ended up on small country roads getting a bit lost. We weren't the only ones mind - lots of other drivers with bikes on their roof were stopping at the sides of the road gazing into the sky, wondering where on earth they were. A short time later, and only after looking at Google Maps for a sense of direction, we finally found ourselves at the RAF Coltishall entrance where you were directed to various hard-standing areas to unload and make your way to the start.
Once parked, collecting our rider number was quick and easy. There were also plenty of toilets available and various stalls including a Pedal Revolution stall (the organisers) selling the usual last-minute cycling items and food products.
After attaching our numbers to our bikes and pumping our tyres up, we set off for the start where you were funneled into a small starting pen with 50 or so other riders at a time. The organisers did a great job of letting small groups set off at regular intervals and no sooner were we at the start, we were off!
The Tour de Broads route(s)
The Tour de Broads had a choice of 5 routes:
- Family lap - riding round the airfield as many times as you wanted
- Family ride - 9.5 miles with as many laps of the airfield as you wanted
- 40 miles, 75 miles and 100 miles
Having so many routes available was great to see, giving a whole range of riders the chance to experience a sportive in their own way. We knew that we were heading out on the 40 mile route which would be more than enough for a first sportive, let alone a first sportive on a completely new bike!
Our 40 miler
After a windy half-lap of the airfield we were directed onto what was at times, a very gravely and muddy road. The organisers had mentioned to be careful on this road at the start, but for so many first timers I'm sure it was quite daunting and had to be taken with extra care. I don't know what made them use this particular road but it may have been better to have an alternative or clean it up a little bit.
Once we passed the Girlguiding Anglia headquarters at Hautbois (somewhere we are both very familar with) the 40 mile route wound through Hoveton, Horning, Ludham, skirted Potter Heigham, then headed up to Stalham before making its way back to Coltishall. There were two drinks stops along this route, but they weren't completely obvious from the road - so maybe there is something to learn there for the organisers.
The ride ended with a full lap of the airfield, half of which was directly into the wind and you could see people visibly slow down as they battled those last few miles to the finish. After just over 3 hours we both crossed the line and received our medals and two bottles of water to celebrate!
Jill had done it - 40 miles on a new bike in not-perfect windy conditions. The post-ride analysis revealed that she'd found the small hills and strong wind (her usual nemesis) easier on a road bike, so she was really glad that I'd convinced her to use the new bike and not her usual hybrid, despite some reservations at the start.
At the finish there were plenty of catering outlets selling various bits of food, a stall from Woodfordes Brewery selling local tipples 'Wherry' and 'Beer de Broads', plus a stage where various bands performed - including Chico of "It's Chico Time" fame. Soaking up the atmosphere we grabbed some food and drink before heading back to the car, really pleased with how the day had progressed.
It was a great route - mostly flat with small undulations - but plenty of wind to contend with. Totally doable for a first sportive. The roads used were mostly very quiet, some exposed and some sheltered, with a few intersections that involved crossing or riding on major local roads, but there were plenty of quiet country lanes to enjoy. Bear in mind this is not a closed road sportive, so you have to be ready to share the route with other road users. We did encounter the odd close call and tooting horn with cars trying to pass the lines of cyclists, but nothing more than you'd usually expect in this day and age.
As I said - a great event, and with a few minor improvements could end up being even better. Looking at the stats showing how this event has grown over the last few years it will only go from strength to strength. We're already looking forward to doing the 75 (or 100, eh Jill?) next year!