It’s a genuinely vital fund-raising event for Cynthia Spencer Hospice but Cycle 4 Cynthia has also become a seasonal turning point in my cycling calendar.
In its 19th year, the event started from Althorp House on Sunday with parties of riders heading out on 50, 25, 10 and five mile rides through the rolling countryside of West Northamptonshire.
The damp grass underfoot at the start and the fresh nip in the air confirmed my personal view of the ride as a closer to all those lovely long afternoons I’ve been enjoying rolling along in the sun during summer. There may well be autumnal sunshine after Cynthia but it will be a bonus not a right.
However the atmosphere is very much about celebrating rather than mourning and the ride which attracts some seriously good cyclists to the long route also features plenty of courageous souls in fancy dress or on novelty machines.
My personal favourite was the Penny Farthing bicycle of Team Baba. Following him on the 25 mile route it was quite something to see him taking on descents that were pushing my speed up to around 30mph.
I took the 25 mile route because at my level of cycling fitness it only used up a couple of hours of the day, leaving plenty of time and energy for guilt-free recovery refreshments afterwards.
Essentially we cycled to Cold Ashby via Ravensthorpe (as featured in the Viking iteration of the Assassin’s Creed video game franchise) and Guilsborough, and then back to Althorp via Yelvertoft, West Haddon and Long Buckby.
It might not be the most aerodynamic riding position but if you do this ride keep your head up as you go and remember to drink in all those posh houses and gardens you are cycling past. Sometimes it’s the history. Sometimes it’s the wealth. Sometimes it’s wealth and history.
In between it’s the dips and rises and woods and meadows of Northamptonshire that seem to know the trick of always being a little bit more beautiful than you were expecting. A funny little place, the east of the middle, the west of the east.
There were two pit-stops on the 25 miler providing free drinks and snacks for riders and this level of support, plus the introduction of a ten mile route this year, showed the organisers were committed to looking after cyclists at every level of participation.
At the higher end, the lean mean athletes doing the 50 miler looked like they were enjoying their suffering as they swished past me, going faster uphill than I go on the flat. I feel total respect but no envy. That will never be me.
Covid was a big disruption to this event and in terms of numbers taking part it has been picking itself up since then. However there is a pretty solid hardcore of people who come in memory of someone who was supported by the hospice.
If you do the ride it is a fun and friendly experience traditionally topped off with the reward of a medal for every rider – it sounds silly but it never fails to put a big grin on my sweaty face when I finally cross the finish line.