The sun has got its balaclava on

Velocity takes on the Willmott Dixon Classic (and peanut butter rice cakes)

The sun has got its balaclava on

"A dry start followed by intermittent sunshine," said the radio weather forecaster, as we flipped the windscreen wipers onto their highest setting, driving north on the M40 into Northamptonshire. The rain was getting heavier the closer we got to the starting point for this year's Willmott Dixon Classic.

It was an ill-starred ride, having been postponed in September 2018, when Storm Someone-or-other tore across the country. "The sun has got its hat on," our joining instructions email bravely proclaimed. But yes, the sun did come out, albeit very briefly, and the rain didn't return. The last half-hour of driving was headed directly towards a gorgeous rainbow.

When we got on the bikes an hour later, the wind was a little too fresh for all but a few hardy riders to take on the 80 mile "champion" route (chapeau, Legal and General Investment Management senior development manager Chris Adams), but the 60 mile "classic" loop led us through some lovely lanes north of Milton Keynes, between Silverstone and Banbury.

It was a bit windy, agreed Rick Willmott, group chief executive of our host Willmott Dixon, and keen cyclist. "But it's great to get everyone outdoors and help them keep fit. And it's in a really great cause."

That cause was Action Medical Research for Children, with its rallying cry "ride for a reason". Senior partnerships development manager Sarah Stevenson was on-hand to brief riders on the "sticky hands" research programme to create learning aids for prematurely born babies. "Over the last couple of years the Willmott Dixon Classic has basically funded that whole project. Think about that while you're riding."

We did. But we were distracted by thoughts of peanut-butter-and-crisps-rice-cake-sandwiches, offered at each feed station. The perfect cycling snack? A new contender, at least. Pre-ride instructions, hospitality, food and signage were impeccable throughout. The volunteer feed station helpers were notably helpful and welcoming.

Snacks were vital as the rolling course and headwind gradually wore riders down. Only 1,000m of climbing over 95km but, despite the lack of big hills, the constant undulations were energy-sapping. Andrew Lavery, head of creative and bid services at Paragon Studios, described the last 10km or so of A-road as particularly tough, solo into the wind having lost the group he was with. "Great fun though."

Wind was always on the cards: the start and finish point were at an airfield, selected for its central position nationally, which meant the 100-plus riders came from across the country.