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The Lincoln Santini Grand Prix Sportive

Saturday 10 May 2014 saw several members of the RAF Waddington Cycle Club battle the cobbled climb up Michaelgate to the cathedral as they took part in the annual Lincoln Grand Prix Sportive.

As the local sportive, the RAF Waddington Cycling Club had high expectations for a good turnout at the event and certainly didn’t disappoint as 15 members of the club joined the 1500 riders who took part.

Sportives are non-competitive races that cater for everyone from dedicated road cyclists to novice cyclists who just want a challenge. Most people fall into two categories: those out to complete the course as fast as they can and those who just want to get around the course! We were no different and naturally fell into two groups: the racing snakes who had entered the 100-mile course and the weekend warriors who had entered the 60-mile  route.

The build-up to the event had been indifferent for most of us; not enough training had been done by most and due to the differing shift patterns it had been hard work trying to get the team together. To make things even more interesting a couple of the guys had barely ridden a road bike before; it was proving to be an experience before we had even begun and the weather forecast looked like it was going to add to the challenge. Most of us had the same experience that Friday night; there was a last minute check of the weather just to confirm what we all feared and then we started sorting out what clothing to take; most of us opting to take everything we owned.

Saturday morning was the usual excitement and apprehension getting ready for the race; it was throwing it down and those of us who had decided to cycle to the event were expecting to be drenched before we even got to the start line (never mind, skin is waterproof). C/T Bob Hoskin had decided to sample two bowls of porridge before realising his stomach was in knots and couldn’t take any food; he would like to offer his apologies to the cars following him down Canwick Hill, as what porridge he had eaten departed. Everyone was getting kitted to the max expecting the worst. I set off to meet Sgt Jim Allen; it had stopped raining and all we needed to  decide was which hill to climb. Stupidly we decided to go straight through the centre of town and up Michaelgate; one wrong turn and we found ourselves going up Steep Hill! Not the best idea before a cycling race, an even worse idea with the cobbles wet through; after a few side slips it was decided a quick walk was required. What a start to the day!

We arrived at the Start in plenty of time only to find that the 100-mile cyclists were all formed up ready to go. FS BJ Doherty, SAC(T) Alex Knowles and SAC(T) Neil Wilson were all primed ready to go whilst Bob was busy chatting away oblivious to the fact that the other cyclists he was talking to were all doing the 60-mile course. The rest of us were trying to group together ready to set off whilst the 100-mile riders had all disappeared on their epic journeys. BJ had battled his way through the Lincoln traffic and was sitting pretty in a group of 20–30 cyclists storming along at 25mph; the real race had started – it was a matter of how many would hang on with the group and how many were willing to do the work at the front. Back in the queue for the 60-mile race things were a little more relaxed; everyone was busy taking clothes off and putting them back on for the  ever-changing weather, until just before we set off and the sun came out. I instantly regretted wearing my rain jacket but it was too late; we had had our last nervous wees and were ready to go. The first problem was they would only let so many go at one time and, as our numbers had swelled with other RAF cyclists, we were split in two groups before we had even started.

I set off with the first group thinking the second group would catch us up, which they did about 20 miles later. I set off with Jim A, Sqn Ldr Jim Sheldon, C/T Thackray, Cpl Mark Tetchner, SAC Paul Enright and his brother. We had quite varied cycling experience; Jim Sheldon had literally ridden a road bike five times before and had only been on a couple of training rides before we convinced him it would be a good idea to borrow a bike and some kit from the gym. I was a little concerned how everyone would hold up over 60 miles as we set off at almost 20mph – way above what I was expecting to average. The first 20 miles were awesome; the sun was out, the wind was behind us, the team was working well – the stronger cyclist leading and helping the others. We had overtaken quite a few and only a couple had come past; things were going well but we were due to hit the hills shortly.

In the 100-mile race, after dropping half the contents of his jacket, Bob had managed to find a group going at a similar pace and, apart from the constantly changing weather, was feeling good going into the first refuel station; he felt even better as we all did with the array of flapjack, cake, Jaffa Cakes, crisps and anything else you can think of that you shouldn’t normally be eating on offer. The problem is knowing how much to eat to recharge your batteries, or in Alex Knowles’ case, how many Jaffa Cakes to make you sick at the next hill! BJ was feeling in fine form and had decided on a short stop to tighten his water bottle cage and grab an energy drink and a slab of fruit cake before setting off in a group of just three to get away from the larger pack, hopeful of catching some faster cyclist to spread the workload. Alex had lost Neil and was working hard cycling when he punctured; after a quick pump issue a helpful cyclist got him back on the road and he was underway.

Back in the 60-mile group, Flt Lt Leach and Flt Lt Bishop had managed to get their group back to us just as we hit the hills; we were pretty settled by then so when they went past us it was a bit devastating to see a purely mountain biker in Leachy go past me; but at the same time it was clear that my group needed a few stronger cyclists at the front, whilst upping the pace was not an option. We had already lost John Thackray earlier and the hills were really starting to bite for Jim Sheldon; I was glad we were near the first stop so we could regroup and the guys could get some more fuel onboard. We all knew too well that once we stopped we would be turning into the wind and the challenge would begin in earnest. Just as we were nearing the food station we were overtaken – it was Leachy and Bish again; seems some people had been out playing with signs! Everyone was in good spirits at the stop and the short, sharp shower was not going to dampen our spirits.

BJ and co. had managed to form a new group and hit the 70-mile mark to be faced by Nettleton Hill. Legs burning, he managed to lead up the hill to find once again the group had broken on the climb. Quickly getting his cycling partner back, the break was on, just over 25 miles to go, all the climbs behind them now they were on for a good time; it was time to grit teeth and head for the finish. Bob had spent the last few miles listening to  people go on about Nettleton Hill and it did not disappoint; accepting the challenge, he managed to overtake several people but the legs were starting to know about it. Never mind; homeward bound and with the aid of his trusty GPS no missing signs were going to stop him from completing his first 100-mile sportive.

Everyone recharged after the food station; it was time to set off again and despite the hills we had managed to average just under 19mph. I was concerned we had only averaged 16mph when myself and Jim A had been out with Jim Sheldon and it was clear that he was starting to feel the pace, as were Paul’s brother and Mark. Leachy, Bish and co. naturally moved away from our group – as good luck wishes were exchanged they set off ahead of us for the finish. The wind started to really hit so we formed up to do some chain gang cycling (taking a quick lead at the front before dropping to the back of the group). All was going well; with the stronger cyclists taking a slightly longer lead it felt like being part of a pro team (just a little slower). As we cycled on, a car, unable to wait the 500 metres to the turning, decided to go on the verge and try to pass us at speed; unfortunately Mark couldn’t hear the car and pulled out to move to the back. Luckily the car was able to do a bit of off-roading. People were starting to get tired and we were going to have to pull together to get back in a half-decent time; less than 20 miles to go it was time for everyone to start to dig in. The headwind was relentless and I was glad to be in a group as we swiftly moved past lone cyclists who were struggling. I hoped everyone else from Waddington was in the same position; Leachy and Bish later told of a similar story working together in their group. Some were not quite so lucky. Alex said it would have been good for us all to do the same route and work together, although he still ploughed on relentless. As we neared Scampton I was feeling pretty good and it was hurting to see some of the 100-milers start to fly past us; I really wanted to up the pace and get involved in the race to the finish but Mark and Jim S were running on energy gels and sheer determination and Paul’s crank arms had started to come loose and he was forced to stop. I told him I would keep the others going if he could  catch up; the next time I saw him was at the finish, slightly disgruntled but soon smiling as the sense of achievement kicked in.

The finish was getting near and everyone was starting to turn their thoughts to the last challenge – a 12% cobbled climb up Michaelgate. Well I was starting to think about that until BJ went whizzing past me shouting to get a move on; fair dos to him – he had his goal and I had mine. Taking turns leading the group, myself and Jim A entered Lincoln and the end was in sight; it was just a matter of going downhill a bit before the turn up Michaelgate. Just to try and spice things up I tried my best to crash into the girl in front of me who stopped unexpectedly; this caused a barrage of screeching tyres behind me but luckily no-one came off. My legs still feeling pretty fresh, I quickly sped up the hill before the last drop down to the Michaelgate climb. I had left the group for the first time; I was determined for us to finish together so I waited for us to regroup before we turned onto the cobbles. What an atmosphere; there were crowds lining the streets, cheering the cyclists up the steep, cobbled hill. I could hold back no longer. I raised out of my seat and went for it; adrenaline flowing I made short work of the hill, passing five or six riders en route, nearly burning out at the top as I could see the finish. It was great to hear the commentator giving a shout-out to RAF Waddington Cycle Club as I finished.

The finish had to be the highlight of an excellent experience for everyone. No matter how much your legs hurt on that hill, the support as you were climbing was phenomenal; you couldn’t help but smile and just give   whatever was left in your legs. BJ had a good sprint up the hill to finish in 5hrs 19mins to take 5th place, which is a huge achievement. Bob and Alex and Neil completed the 100-mile route a bit further back with a climb
up the then slippery cobbles to the finish using all their skills to negotiate their way to the top. Leachy and Bish had just finished ahead of our group and as we got to the finish in 4 hrs it was great to see everyone had made it. Everyone there, whether mountain biker, seasoned road cyclists or complete novices, was smiling from ear to ear and congratulating each other; the sun was shining and it had been challenging but a truly rewarding event.

Extra snippet

SAC(T) Ben Hubbard & SAC(T) Tom Copeland had no road cycling experience so decided to take part in the 30-mile route; both managed to finish in the top 10, had an excellent experience and hope to compete again in the future.

Quotes

Flt Lt Howard Leach – Had great fun on Saturday, can’t believe it stayed dry, first time in a sportive. Great teamwork after the feed station to beat the wind.

Sgt Jim Allen – It was a great experience, the thought of the hill at the end was much worse than in reality. The cheering crowd was immense!

Sgt Matt Cocking – Sportives are great experiences for cyclists of all standards; it was great to see everyone help each other, fabulous experience.

SAC(T) Alex Knowles – Really happy to finish my first sportive in under 6 hours, great fun up Michaelgate.

Flt Lt Steven Bishop – Grand day out, great to meet and chat with other cyclists.

Club Info

The club will be taking part in a number of sportives throughout the year and we would welcome cyclists of all abilities to take part. Road rides take place 1100 every Tuesday from the gym and road bikes are available to  borrow; so if you want to challenge yourself, get in shape, do a charity event or just fancy trying something different then get involved; we will cater for all standards and it’s always good to see some new faces! For  information on road cycling at RAF Waddington contact Sgt Matt Cocking on Ext 6497.

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