The inaugural Tour of the Cornfields was held on September 2 and attracted
131 riders, causing organiser Mark Wyer to close entry early.
Thatched cottages and flat open
countryside (Tons of road kill though, why is that?) – more
OK, where have you been? – more
Great views, dodgy picture – more
Still vibrating after the ride –
The 56 mile circular route followed quiet roads, farm tracks and bridleways
starting at Whaddon in south Cambridgeshire.
After a gentle road section warm up, the route hit the first section of off
road at Cracknow Hill and the steepest climb of the day. Few had problems tackling
this before we quickly plunged down over the ‘ Mare Way’.
This was where my hands began to feel the pain; thank goodness that my cross
bike has ‘Marsas’ fitted under the bar tape (made for transporting hand grenades
– 01909 721188 for more info), but despite this I still suffered, as the dry
weather and harvest traffic had turned many sections into a corrugated form
that vibrated the hands and body almost to the point of insensibility.
It was to become a feature of the day and to be honest I could have done with
about 15 miles less of it. Nonetheless it was a challenge and it did add to
the heroic nature of it all (thinking on the positive side). At times I really
wanted to pack it in, but I continued, huddled over the bars and trying not to hold
them too tight.
In future editions of the Tour of the Cornfields, the ‘Brick Road’ will be talked
of in hushed tones. This section was mean and we wondered; how did so many old
bits of buildings find their way into such a pretty spot? Matters were not helped
by the wind that blew into our faces for almost two thirds of the ride.
Thankfully there were some great ‘cross happy’ sections that allowed you to
pedal at speed and build a flow that chewed up the miles. In particular the
last sections of offroad were great, and the Ashwell section was a treat. (Next
year, how about cutting some of the farm tracks and letting us do this section twice?)
The road sections were almost too much of a joy to ride, simply because they offered
respite. The views across the flat Cambridgeshire countryside were magnificent
and offered a reward for our pain, especially when we passed by the deserted
medieval village of Clopton via the Clopton Way.
We had set off at a conservative pace and paid special attention to directions,
but others went fast, didn’t pay attention and went off course. This we discovered
at the halfway feed station when many of the ‘fast’ groups came in as we thought
about moving on. The most spectacular was the Ciclos Uno Team, which lost huge
chunks of time, and nor should we forget the many who ended up visiting a chicken
farm which they described as smelling atrocious. We chuckled, we had played
it right and playing tortoise was paying dividends for us. (All
finishers ride times)
Tougher than Paris Roubaix?
After the ride and back in Whaddon, we talked to a number of Paris Roubaix Sportif
veterans who agreed that the Tour of the Cornfields had been harder. Madness,
you may think, but on P-R, the pave is well known and steeped in cycling folklore,
thus adding to your motivation (close your eyes and think Boonen), and, with a few notable exceptions, most sections
are no more than a kilometre or so in length.
In contrast, the Tour of the Cornfields offroad sections were very long and
relentless at times. It was for many the hardest ride they had undertaken for
The route of P-R, despite being tortuous, does allow you to build a rhythm,
whereas the Cornfields was at times a grind. Ride partner Emma loved it; she
said it reminded her of the Three Peaks, but without the Peaks. (She is a past
With some amendments, the 2008 Tour of the Cornfields will become a ‘must-do’
sportif; one major factor in its favour is the good people who made it happen.