A view from the other side: helping on The Flatlands

I had been down to ride the Flatlands this year, but family duties on Sunday got in the way.  Since Tomsk had successfully marketed the ride as a last-chance-before-PBP pre-qualifier, 140+ riders had entered, although it was expected that a good proportion would DNS (myself included).  Still, 100+ riders was realistic and for such a large field the first control (by last year's experience) would have been bedlam, because they aren't set up for giving out receipts, and as I was at a loose end I offered to run a proper control for Tom to help get riders through quicker.

Note: this report is a mild rewrite of my submission to yacf, here.  Codified names are the nicknames of people on the forum, sorry about that.  The post date has been changed to the date of the ride. 

I set off from my home in Cambridge at the same time as the main start in GD for the 40km ride to Red Lodge, knowing that I would be well ahead of the first riders, but giving me time to set up the control and get some breakfast myself.  It also gave me a chance to chat to the staff and give them an idea of what to expect: they were much better prepared this year, and my breakfast arrived in about 60 seconds.

This was my first time as a controller and I didn't really know what to expect, but running the numbers I could see that I would need to sign-and-stamp quickly at times, as riders tend to come through in groups.  Practice makes perfect, and this is a classic time-and-motion exercise: when I first practised at home I was turning them around in about 30 seconds each, but gradually got this down to the 10-12 secs mark, 5-a-minute, 100 through in 20 minutes.  Given that the point of running the control on what is supposed to be an X-rated event was to reduce the queues, it would have been ironical indeed if the queue merely moved from inside the café to outside!!

The control was due to open at 8.02, and although I knew that Tom was setting a quick group off early, I'd taken from what he'd said that this was so they could get through the breakfast queue early, not so that they could control early, so I ended up holding a couple of riders for a few minutes.  It didn't really matter, as most of them left their brevets with me and went off to grab some breakfast before the main body came through, since the café had opened 10 minutes early for us.

The control had been open about 15 minutes before the flood started and a couple of times I had a short queue, but many riders handed their brevets over and went off to get breakfast while others buddied-up and I validated three or four at a time.

It was great to see everyone energised about the ride: it has gained a reputation for being both flat and yet hard and I was able to share some insights from last year's ride.  It was particularly nice to get to see everyone on the ride — normally I end up in a quiet bubble between the quick and the slow riders.  It was particularly good to see Veloman (who got me through Flatlands last year), MemSec, Alotronic, HK and LWaB, Lars, Oscar's Dad, 3peaker, [edit:] Teethgrinder, and everyone else I met but don't have names for — at times I didn't have time to look up to see whose passage I was proving!  Edit: and it was good to chat to many of you too, in between signing and stamping! grin

Before the first hour was up, the numbers started to dwindle and the Alpe d'Huez organiser's group rolled in, having set off 30 minutes later than the main bunch in order to clear up the hall at the start.  Since they were the last to leave (although at least one very late starter to follow) then they made up the tail-enders, except for the few they'd passed along the way … Sometime around 9.30 the Elliptigoes arrived — I had ridden with them briefly on LEL last year and it was good to see them out in force, particularly Idai and Alan.

After this I validated one more rider, who'd missed a turn and lost time, and then tumbleweed for the final 20 minutes.  As he left, Tomsk suggested I don't wait for the tail-enders, because they could validate with receipts now the café was quiet again, but I kept the control open until 10.04 anyway and I was still there with a coffee until 10.20 for any remaining of the 6.15 group to roll in, but nobody did.

To get home from Red Lodge I followed the Flatlands northbound route to Earith Bridge and then turned left and followed the southbound route through Swavesey Willingham, along the busway and finally to home in Girton (a couple of hundred yards before Tomsk's final resting place).  I only rode 90km on the day, but I got a sense of the fog in the morning and the rising crosswinds across the fens later in spite of the forecast.  After being off the bike for summer holidays it felt good to put some distance in my legs again, however short it was.

Looking back I think having a proper control at Red Lodge worked well.  There were only a couple of times I noticed the queue almost to the door of the café (last year it was out into the yard most of the time), and only when groups of riders came through and tried to validate at the same time did I have a small queue at the control.  Speaking to the riders during and the staff afterwards everyone seemed happy with how it had gone.

In the few days leading up to the event I knocked up a simple phone app so that I could easily track the times when riders came through — I figured the data would take almost no effort to collect and the results may be interesting (or not).  The spread data indicated that after the quickest riders, the busiest period was around 20-30 minutes after control opening and tailed off very steadily afterwards.  Also, from the cumulative data I thought it was interesting that 90% of riders of all start times passed through within the first hour of the official control time.  Which meant that the quick riders had nearly two hours in hand already, and almost all other riders had at least one hour in hand after just 61km.  Given that those with a later start time also had a later finish time then for many riders it was significantly better than one hour.

This was my first experience from the other side and I really enjoyed itthumbs up

It's great reading all the write-ups from the event — it's rapidly turning into a classic ride with plenty of war stories to go around — well done Tomsk for creating and organising this original ride, and congrats to everyone for finishingthumbs up

I now have a Flatliner perm brevet to ride before the end of September for my RRTY and Essex SR — it's going to be a long and lonely ride, but in many ways that will be an even bigger challenge than last year, methinks, and I am quite looking forward to it.  At least, as some have mentioned in their reports, the GPS course has been well tested and I shouldn't get lost in the night wink

Nick Wilkinson

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