CTC Anna at Bike Blenheim Palace 2012
CTC Anna at Bike Blenheim Palace 2012

CTC show off at the Bike Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace is home to the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and his family, and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. This year, it was home to a festival of cycling, and what a display it was!

The field in front of the palace was lined with stalls showcasing bicycles of all varieties and accessories of many purposes. Animal Bike tour offered a feast for the eyes performing tricks, stunts and somersaults on their bikes throughout the Saturday and a vintage bike carnival toured through the grounds on the Sunday. A favourite London and Bristol-based cycling café Look Mum No Hands supplied bacon baguettes and sumptuous cakes amongst tables of cycle-related posters, prints, caps and collectables. Our stall was nicely nestled between local Wheels for All project and local cycling club, Oxonian CC.

I kicked off my weekend by getting involved with the 20km Time Trial. My fist 20km, and only the second time trial that I and my poor five year old Specialized Allez have ever embarked on. Rolling in at just over 39 minutes and over-taking two paralympians on the lumpy “sporting” course around the Palace left me feeling pretty pleased with myself, but by the time I’d finished, temperatures were starting to reach 25 degrees already and the air seemed to be too thick for my panting lungs to suck in, but a quick undignified lay down on the grass and one bottle of water later and I was back on the CTC stall wondering how female competitor Julie Shaw managed to win the event in just under 24 minutes!

The event was obviously multi-cultural, bringing in riders for all over the world. French, German and even Japanese cycle enthusiasts came to try out their English on our stall, putting me and my volunteer to shame with our knowledge of foreign languages. Many had travelled half way across the globe just to witness or take part in the Brompton World Championships on the Sunday, and it didn’t disappoint. Riders were dressed up in mandatory collars, tie and jacket ready to roll on to a 13 mile double loop around the Palace. Witnessing the outfits and brightly coloured folding bikes with their tiny wheels could lead you to believe this was a silly event, but oh no, don’t let the top-hats and baggy shorts fool you; this is a race!

UK Time Trial Champion, Michael Hutchinson, led the field in hope of retaining his title as Brompton World Champion, and many followed in full-on drop-down time trial position in the centre of their tiny unstable handlebars in hope of getting onto the podium with him. Hutchinson took the win. Despite the gentlemanly appearances of these suited cyclists, an insider informed me that shoulder-to-shoulder racing was expected and something very primal came over everyone as a crowd of 750 riders hurdled Bromptons to unfold their own and blast out on to the course. Suddenly, I’m glad I didn’t take part, although I am tempted to don some tweed and ride next year! Just for the experience, you know…

That morning, a further 1600 cyclists lined up outside the palace to embark on either the 60 or 100 mile sportive route through the Cotswolds. Bike Blenheim organisers have vowed to extend the capacity next year, proving that mass road cycling events are alive and well. And if you think that sportives are for fit existing cyclists only, think again. 124 riders, many of which were non-lycra clad families on mountain bikes and hybrids, took to the 26.5 mile Pink Ribbon Ride to raise money for Breast Cancer. Whether the Olympics and Tour de France had created a ‘Wimbledon effect’ on cyclists of our nation or not is unclear, but I for one hope the enthusiasm is retained, and I can’t wait to attend the event again, with or without a stall!

All in all, this is a must-attend event, either to browse the stalls and cheer on  suit-wearing riders; or to challenge yourself to try as many cycling events and races as you can possibly fit in and jangle back to your onsite tent laden with Bike Blenheim’s exceptional participation medals and goody bags, knowing in your heart you’ve been part of an event that will surely only get bigger and go down in history as one of the best cycle festivals in the UK.

For more information visit www.bikeblenheimpalace.com