Helping on the Horsepower 200 (2015)

I rode Tom's Horsepower 200 last Saturday (28 February) in a stiff breeze — 15-18mph south-westerly — which gave a very fast run to the halfway point, and a difficult solo-slog back to arrivée.  As it turns out, today the riders have very similar wind conditions, although it's also much warmer and sunnier than we had last weekend.  It should be a blast!

This season I am using Tom Deakins’ Essex SR BRM series as my qualifiers for Paris-Brest-Paris.  As this is my third season, it's time to give something back, so I am helping Tom on some of his rides — perhaps all of them.

I left home in Cambridge at about 5.15am and arrived in Great Dunmow before 6am.  I was on car park duty, so I headed straight over there: it's not a difficult task, just wave your arms, point to where you want drivers to park, tell them to get brevet and breakfast before getting their bikes unpacked and move on to the next one.  It's a cold, relatively lonely task, but important mostly because 90 riders were booked onto the ride and the car park capacity is for only about 50 vehicles.

Many well-known faces arrived by car for the ride, in particular Rog, Chris and Lindsay, Dave, Brian, Tim, a Cambridge rider whose name I can't remember (actually there were quite a few Cambridge riders out — I need to make contact with a few of you for local rides), [update] Ian, Nik, Oscar's Dad, etc. [memory's a fickle thing].  Tom popped over, but nothing much happening apart from cars parking, so he headed back to the hall at the other end of the lane.

Chatting to the riders as they arrived, there were several vehicles from Norwich, several from Cambridge, at least one from London, another from Southampton (!).  Tom's rides draw a wide following.

Near the setting-off time, I headed off to the other end of the lane to close the lane to allow the riders to pass out en-masse.

Since I wasn't riding and had come down by car, I had brought my big cameras with me: on the bike I use lightweight, waterproof cameras; they're also cheap to replace.  But this time I brought out my Canon 5D (unfortunately the L 24-105 f4 IS good lens is off for repair, so I had to make do with the standard-spec 28-200 f3.5-5.6; no stabilisation on this one), plus a handy Sony NEX-7 on a tripod to capture video.  I set the video camera up pointing back to where the riders would come out: I wanted video only so that it would capture absolutely every rider, even if I didn't manage to capture them on the 5D.

Standing out in the road in my cleanest hi-viz (I got comments that it was a bit too bright — I bought it just as I stopped commuting, so this is an almost-new jacket) meant I could grab photos of anyone who passed, and that included most of the starters.

In the end I didn't have to actually close the lane, but I did stop one car to let the group out onto the main road safely.

Tom set the groups off in tranches: a lead group, which included Steve Abrahams, One Year Time Triallist; two smaller subsequent groups a minute or so later; and finally a late-starters group.  Two Elliptigo riders started in the third group — good luck to them, they were going to be facing a difficult return leg, as they are right in the wind, standing up like that.

Once my job was done, I popped into the hall (my first visit all morning) to say hello and then headed straight back to the car to try to — safely — get in front of as many riders as possible and set up the video camera on the exit of the bridge in the beautiful Essex village of Finchingfield. 

A couple of miles out of Dunmow I came across a group of riders at the side of the road.  I checked mirrors and stopped to check they were okay: the first visitation of the ride!

I left them to it and headed carefully on to Finchingfield. Parked down a side street, and with the video camera running, I stood slightly up the hill and took action shots of all the riders coming through.  I didn't manage to get in front of all the riders, but I did get many.

I quickly packed up and again tried to pass as many riders as possible, this time setting up on the hill climb out of Castle Hedingham.  Again the video camera on a very low tripod and me shooting action shots on the 5D from low-down positions: this is a stiff climb and it was good to see riders putting a lot of effort inthumbs up

Finally, when everyone was through (as I was jogging back to the car, more riders came around the corner and I had to keep putting the video camera back down to grab more shots), I jumped back in the car and now the aim was to get to Lavenham.  In the end I managed to get to within 100m of the front of the ride — a position occupied by none other than Steve Abrahams — but there was no way to pass at all, let alone safely, so I stayed well back. 

I ditched the car in the first parking space I could find in Lavenham, well out of the way, and ran down the hill into the town centre.  Andrew Cornwell was running a manned control, as the cafés can often be slow, and many don't open early enough in these early months.  He was running it in the main bus shelter in the centre of town, and the place was jammed with riders.

Having captured a few shots of riders who had already arrived in the time it took me to run down the hill, I ran partway back up the hill to bag everyone arriving afterwards, backdropped against a traditional Suffolk timber-framed building.  This was fun, because I was positioned in the gap between two parked cars, so the riders came past relatively unaware I was there and so the positions and expressions were natural.  They came past at a variety of speeds, with some dawdling down the hill, and others leaning right over around the bend.

As the numbers dwindled, I headed back down to the control and ended up chatting to Andrew for 20 minutes until the he eventually closed the control, having just validated the other tandem (the name of which I can't recall, but it would've made a good name for an audax in itselfwink)

After Lavenham, the route enters Suffolk lanes and I felt it would be unwise to try to pass groups of cyclists through this section: I would have had to have taken a round-about route to leap-frog the groups using main roads; combined with the fact that some riders bounced Lavenham and others stopped for coffee, then the riders would be much more spread out.  I decided to call it a day and head back to Cambridge.

Looking back at the photos, there are things I would like to have done differently: I don't often shoot sports using my big gear (I use a cheap, crappy, waterproof point'n'shoot when on the bike), so I am not that experienced with good and bad locations and camera settings.  Out of 1050 shots, nearly half were unusable (out of focus, poorly composed).  Of the remaining 700 or so shots, many are repeat shots of the same rider, since the camera was set to rapid-fire, and once the best of each set has been selected then the number will probably fall to 100-200 representative shots of most of the riders, some singles, some group, at the start, Finchingfield, Castle Hedingham and Lavenham.  Plus video at the first three locations. 

So all-in-all that wasn't a bad day out, I think: I helped Tom on another of his rides (I also helped him with routesheet-checking and with the GPS files), and I managed to get many half-good photos of the riders in action.

Well done to all the riders who braved that headwind for the second 100km!  I hope you enjoyed yourselves thumbs up

Note: I took over a thousand photos and the shortlist will come down to 100 or so.  Tom may be running some of these in Arrivée, so I don't want to post a full set until I know more, but if you'd like ones of yourself then email me (nick-at-16inchwheels.uk).

Nick Wilkinson

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