Saturday, 27 September 2014

Tour de Leicestershire....

So, our last big ride of the year, Gary was at my house by 7.00am and after a few final checks we set off to ride to the start point at Desford - around 5 miles, just right to get warmed up. The weather was mild and the forecast for the day indicated perfect conditions - not too hot and no rain to hinder us.

This is the inaugural 'Tour de Leicestershire' ride - organised to raise funds for the 'Open Hands' charity. It's a 100km circular route around Leicestershire avoiding main roads and ending back in Desford with a celebratory cream tea.

We arrived at the start point by about 7.30am - we were due to set off at 8.00am so plenty of time to register and pick up the route map and our official badges to tie onto our bikes. There were already plenty of riders around, rows of parked cars with bikes leaning against them and people in various stages of undress as they prepared themselves for the off. Gary and I were riding with two others from the London to Paris ride we did last year - Dave and Mike - they both arrived in good time and soon we were ready and itching to set off. There's always a slight apprehension with these events, a nervousness that manifests itself in an urgent need for toilet facilities - the wooded area next to the car park offered a suitable solution.

We set off amongst the first group and contented ourselves with following everyone else, alleviating the need to pay much attention to the route map. Pretty soon though we were in the front, our pace being slightly higher than the rest meant that attention to the lampost direction indicators needed to be a little more focussed.

The first 10 miles or so were comfortable riding, mostly flat, smooth roads through quiet lanes with fields of stubble and a few pheasants along the woodsides. The trees are thinning slightly and the light is coming through; there is a casual soundless spinning down of the first leaves as we make our way through villages I've never seen or heard of: Croft, Cosby, Willoughby, Peatling Magna, Arnesby, Saddington, Smeeton Westerby - each beautiful, welcoming and shocking in the sense that, for me at least, their existence has until now been unknown. I decide there and then to make a trip out and investigate further, visit some of the inviting hostelries and wander around the empty lanes and churchyards.

We are moving at a decent pace and, for the time being at least, have left everyone else behind. Our first scheduled stop is Kibworth Church, we stop for a free flapjack and the chance to top up our bottles. Pretty soon other riders start to arrive - some stop but only briefly, others continue on with just a hand wave. We're in no particular rush, we take our time before setting off again at a gentle pace heading now for Tur Langton and on to Stonton Wyville, Cranoe and Hallaton. I'm amazed further by these village outposts, somehow timeless and unspoilt - thatched cottages, village greens, small pubs and post offices - awaking from a coma I would suspect I had been dropped into the heart of the Cotswolds.

Through Allexton, Belton in Rutland, Loddington and then our lunch stop at Launde Abbey - a National Trust like setting with gazebos erected and sandwiches and cakes for the riders. It's a welcome stop - the last few miles have been decidedly lumpy - some severe but  thankfully short inclines have tested us. Dave decides he's not feeling too good and struggling a little with the hills - he tells us to carry on and he'll see us at the end. Off we go again - about 35 miles left to ride - but the hardest climbs are all to come. More quintessential villages come and pass; Owston, Somerby, Pickwell, Little Dalby, Great Dalby, Frisby, Hoby, Thrussington, Cossington.... each a blissful and elegant collection of picture-postcard rural cottages, surrounded by a vale of gentle farmland.

We make a final stop at Rothley - more town than village. We gather at the church for more flapjacks and a rest from our saddles. There is a wedding taking place, and a collection of 1960s scooters seems to make up a vague guard of honour for the bride and groom who, we assume, have some sort of 'mod' connection. There is a gimpy collection of characters hanging round dressed in shiny suits and italian loafers, the wedding car is a 60s Jag - take off the white bunting from the bonnet and it would have been ready for an episode of The Sweeney.

The last few miles are the toughest - some long, steep climbs around Bradgate Park and through Markfield - we're tired now but manage to stay on the bikes and claw our way round - there are quite a few walkers by now, but also plenty who are overtaking us. As we roll across the finish line we are greeted with a round of applause from others who have finished ahead. We join the crowd to greet those finishing behind us - Dave arrives after about 20 minutes - he looks shattered but he's made it.

It was a great route - tough in parts - but made memorable by the gentle weather, the varied scenery and outstanding organisation. He's hoping we can do it again next year!.

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