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We tried the last 18.5 miles of The Women's Tour into Bury St Edmunds via Lavenham alongside CAMS Basso professionals Beth Morrell and Katie Scott



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Driving towards Bildeston nursing a sore back and watching the clouds begin darken by the minute, I did wonder if accepting my first invitation to The Women’s Tour Media Ride was a good idea after all.

Back in 2014 I enjoyed covering the inaugural women’s professional international race in the UK in Bury St Edmunds as Dutch rider Marianne Vos flew to victory.

That was a year before I got my own road bike and saw a 150-mile London to Amsterdam ride for Prostate Cancer UK and the Ipswich Town FC Academy – as part of former player Simon Milton’s team – spark my interest in endurance rides.

The Women’s Tour, which has had six editions since, has visited Bury on two more occasions and had starts in Newmarket and Haverhill as well as a finish in Stowmarket.

The Women's Tour Media Ride participants, including sports editor Russell Claydon (red helmet), departing from Bildeston Crown with a Suffolk Police escort Picture: Mark Witter (56832338)
The Women's Tour Media Ride participants, including sports editor Russell Claydon (red helmet), departing from Bildeston Crown with a Suffolk Police escort Picture: Mark Witter (56832338)

Each time there has been a media ride invitation drop into my inbox, but previously it always fell early in the week when the time away from putting the sports pages together for our five titles could not be justified.

This time was different though, with an 18.5-mile route tracing the last push on Monday June 6’s opening stage to the finish line on Angel Hill falling on a Friday.

There was no excuse this time. And as they say, it was definitely something that was ‘my bag’ having done a 415-mile traverse from Land’s End to Bury last summer for Sophie’s Stars, a cancer support charity in my sister’s memory.

The Women's Tour Media Ride participants, including sports editor Russell Claydon, and stakeholders at the finish line on Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds Picture: Mark Witter
The Women's Tour Media Ride participants, including sports editor Russell Claydon, and stakeholders at the finish line on Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds Picture: Mark Witter

My work colleague Kevin Hurst had seen the pain I had been in during the week with sciatica and was pretty sure I would never make it to the start line, or rather, shouldn’t.

But I tend to be one of those people that does push the boundaries, especially when I want to do something or feel I would be letting anyone down. So as the rain began to spit down I carefully lifted my bike out of the boot with a heat patch providing my insurance policy.

Fast forward to the finish line, that saw me come in ahead of our two accompanying pros from the CAMS Basso team in Beth Morrell and Katie Scott, and I was so glad I did.

Okay, so this wasn’t a race – as Colin Grogan from Suffolk County Council at our pre-ride briefing had stressed – but being happy up near the front was a pleasant surprise.

A BBC Radio Suffolk journalist interviews professional CAMS Basso team riders Beth Morrow (left) and Katie Scott, who took part in The Women's Tour Media Ride Picture: Mark Witter (56832342)
A BBC Radio Suffolk journalist interviews professional CAMS Basso team riders Beth Morrow (left) and Katie Scott, who took part in The Women's Tour Media Ride Picture: Mark Witter (56832342)

And when you’re swinging round past Greene King’s Westgate Brewery and Theatre Royal with a downhill passage across the iconic cobbles into Angel Hill, it was a bit hard not to pick up your pace and imagine it was the real thing!

Sadly the rain meant there were not more than a few hardy souls about to cheer us in but it had given us a flavour of what riding in a peloton through the picturesque windy Suffolk countryside was like. And hopefully they won’t be wringing out their soaked socks in The Angel’s toilets like I was!

Speaking to the pro riders as we went along was a unique experience and insight as well as having a Suffolk Police escort which meant we didn’t have to stop at certain junctions. We even got the delightful experience of not having to stop at temporary traffic lights for roadworks!

The Women's Tour Media Ride, including Russell Claydon (red helmet), coming into the finish line on Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds with CAMS Basso professional riders Beth Morrow (white top) and Katie Scott (dark top) Picture: Mark Witter
The Women's Tour Media Ride, including Russell Claydon (red helmet), coming into the finish line on Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds with CAMS Basso professional riders Beth Morrow (white top) and Katie Scott (dark top) Picture: Mark Witter

The rain itself was persistent but not enough to be uncomfortable – though windscreen wipers on my glasses would have been handy.

The briefing had told us to keep to a pace of 12-13mph to ensure we left no one behind. I’m usually comfortable at around 15-16 so I was happy the other riders also voted with their feet to push on above that speed to avoid muscles not staying warm.

My biggest takeaway from the day though was the camaraderie you get when you put a bunch of cyclists together and also the way it makes you feel – it really is, for me, the best way to a natural high.

I chatted to a number of interesting people I had never come across before, all whom had different cycle and life stories that I got a flavour of.

Anthony Ashford was one. The Babergh and Mid Suffolk council worker had tried a number of sports as well as gym memberships before finding cycling was his answer. He is now enjoying the social and fitness benefits of being a member with the West Suffolk Wheelers.

Four of the Tour of Suffolk Ipswich Town Football Club cyclists, led by Simon Milton (far left), took part in The Women's Tour Media Ride from Bildeston to Bury St Edmunds Picture: Mark Witter
Four of the Tour of Suffolk Ipswich Town Football Club cyclists, led by Simon Milton (far left), took part in The Women's Tour Media Ride from Bildeston to Bury St Edmunds Picture: Mark Witter

There was also the Breeze co-ordinator for the Newmarket area, Jo Bouttell, who found the British Cycling initiative to get women out cycling changed her life. And now it’s her turn to give back.

It’s fitness but great for the mind and body – putting little stress on any injuries or weak spots that have developed with other things – and can be a great social experience.

And anyone I spoke to, the pro riders included after this experience, agreed Suffolk provides a perfect backdrop to get the maximum out of the sport.

“It was pretty villages and nice lanes, it will be good,” said CAMS Basso’s Wiltshire-raised Scott.

Loughborough University student Morrow, who hails from Edinburgh, said: “It was a nice rolling route.”

Their rolls are our hills, of course. But as someone once told me ‘everything that goes up has to come down’.

It’s not long to wait now until we hopefully see both Katie and Beth among those hurtling through that route that goes up through Lavenham.

They both said they love to hear and see the support on the route. I’m sure west Suffolk will oblige again.

* Anyone interested in joining a ride in Suffolk can find out about groups local to where they live or clubs by clicking here.