The Mistress’s 300km randonnee
Take the AUK time travel capsule back to sometime in the 1990s. You’ve landed in Majorca on a bicycle training camp. It is the end of the evening and Rocco Richardson is loitering, chatting up one of the older lady cyclists. Suddenly this voice booms across the room, ‘Rocco, bed!’ It is Liz Creese and Rocco obediently does as he is bid. There is a quiet aside, ‘The mistress that is too wifely.’ ‘The Mistress’ is born.
Forward to 1998: in his usual to-the-point gravelly tones, Rocco Richardson (Willesden CC club elder, hardrider and then UK chairman) instructed me that I had to ride Liz’s 300km brevet. Audax UK brevets in those days were small, so the start and finish were at her house in Ruislip. Apparently, if I was to ride PBP the following year, this was essential. So, I did as I was told and rode. It turned out to be a superfast route. Somewhere along the line, despite still being relatively new to this randonneuring lark, I became ‘ride minder’ to a chap we called ‘Black Socks’. His real name I never discovered (black socks weren’t fashionable then; they were frowned upon when worn with cycling shorts). The reading of the route sheet was an art you either learnt or didn’t and I did. Black Socks fell into the latter category, so part of this minding remit was being his human GPS. Also, back then, it was literally the dark ages as we didn’t have Mag Lights or head torches, let alone GPSs. The use of GPSs (in the form of the Garmin Etrex) was a long way down the road. The driver for its adoption was the increasing number of European brevets, beginning with the 2008 Mille Miglia, where the route sheet guaranteed many hours off-route.
On the run into the finish Rocco made an attack, predictably on a big decent. With Liz as ever glued to his back wheel, they escaped less than 50km from the finish. Giving chase did occur to me but the training from the club elders made ensuring Black Socks got to the finish was my priority. It also saved me from risking life and limb where the M40 becomes the A40. Rocco’s preferred route to the arrivee was to take this to the Polish War Memorial, given it was the fastest road available. First 300km brevet in the bag.
Forward a year to 1999. Again, following the no-quibble instructions from Rocco, I had entered two of each qualifying distance. The Ruislip Mistresses’ Randonnee was one as it started just a few kilometres from my home. Plus I had thoroughly enjoyed the ride the previous year. Enter stage left Jon Jennings (JJ) from the Norwood Paragon. A world master of winging it and the use of lastminute.com. After a 4-year sabbatical from cycling, JJ had decided that the best way back to riding was to ride PBP. I mean who needs miles in their legs to qualify and ride a 1200km grande randonnee? So, using his best little boy lost look, he blagged his way into the 300 so we could ride together. Another superfast spin around the course and our qualifying 300 was done. The only blot on the landscape that day was when an exhausted JJ decided the quickest route to recovery was a lay down on Liz’s pearly white fluffy hearth rug. It seemed reasonable to me, having just done a 12 hour 300. But for some reason, Liz didn’t appreciate a grubby JJ lying on it. Who would have thought? The next time we would see Liz that year would be at the Fougeres control on PBP as part of the Baxter Sporting Tours support crew.
Fast forward to 2020 and the life and times of uncle COVID who, amongst other things, had rather interrupted the AUK calendar. My Jennings training hadn’t been lost. I was still completely comfortable with winging it and lastminute.com. It therefore didn’t seem unreasonable to finish off an SR in October. Doesn’t everyone? I had done this before stoking our tandem. However, last time I was racing fit and wasn’t being savaged with vasculitis attacking my left leg and adding peripheral nerve pain. But hey, these are just small details.
Using the old brevet cards (the last edition of the Mistress’ 300 was in 1999), I plotted the route in KOMOOT. It came out at 289km shortest route, rather than the 307km actually ridden. Not a surprise as back in the 1990s we were trusted to ride the route we were given. All the soft mapping, route planning and GPSs that we take for granted didn’t exist then, so people couldn’t check routes that way. Routes were planned on a paper map using a map measurer to get a rough distance. Then checked by riding the ride with a Cateye cycle computer to get the actual distance as the route were mandatory. Against getting lost, we simply packed the relevant pages torn from a road atlas. Sadly, these pages never came with a blinking blue you-are-here dot.
It turns out that my memories of the route were, shall we say, a little hazy. With KOMOOT’s assistance, a route that would do the job was created. It looked OK and met AUK’s current requirements. It would have been fine had the weather gods not unleashed biblical rain (8 hours worth) and the headwind from hell for a shade under 200km. Luckily, Dave was riding with me so sharing the work plus Dave deploying the power of swear, we made it around the course but not in 12 hours! Riding this remastered route made me realise what an excellent route planner Liz was. Something I don’t think we realised back in the day. The original route was quick, not too hilly but not too flat. I can now see where the route should go, so will be revising it in case I should require another trip down memory lane.
Sadly, three of the people in this rando tale are no longer alive: JJ, Rocco and Liz. JJ’s teenage cancer caught up with him just before his 39th birthday. Rocco and Liz both died of cancer too, with Liz the most recent in 2019. All three were AUK hardriders. Liz comes from the pre-digital age of AUK and cycling in general, therefore a lot of AUK members will be unaware of this cycling granny. Liz as well as being The Mistress, was also known at the Marmite Queen, Granny Creese and Aunty Liz. She had her peloton of very capable young fit lads who she often rode with, including Paul Whitehead, Robert Fry and Stephen Underwood. This little peloton would be deployed on long ones such at the Three Capitals perm, as you can never have too many back wheels to sit on! She was also part of the 1995 ‘Rocco’s rocket’ on PBP when a group of about 6 AUK riders started and finished together. Racing out to Brest, then using hotels on the return. Most often though, she would be seen riding with Rocco. If anyone had the temerity to hop onto his back wheel, the squawk would go up from the Mistress ‘Get off, that’s my back wheel!’
And from Robert Fry, former member of the Willesden CC, PBP ancien who now lives in the USA:
My biggest memory of riding with Liz, without a doubt, is the 3 Capitals (London-Cardiff-Edinburgh-London) 1500km permanent we rode together in the Summer of 1992. We spent five long days (as well as the first night) in the saddle, and Liz happily kept pace with me everywhere, except for a few of the climbs. Later in the ride, I picked up her bike and was shocked by just how much gear she was carrying. As everyone knows, successfully completing an event of such distance is almost all mental, and Liz made an ideal riding companion, keeping the mood upbeat and the motivation level high the whole way. You could never feel down for very long when riding with Auntie Lizzie!
Liz rode lots of events, year after year, and we all knew how capable she was, but I was nonetheless highly impressed when she took down my old Audax UK points record, completing an amazing 22,200km of events in 1995. I still remember vividly just how tough all that riding was for me over a full year, even at a very youthful 26. It never ceased to amaze me how she was able to maintain such high levels of energy and athleticism in her 50s, somehow recovering after each ride to do it all again a few days later.
Liz’s AUK palmares is long and impressive; you can find it all in on the AUK’s Hall of Fame and Awards web pages. Here are what I think are the highlights;
|PBP – 1995 and 1991||First rider to 300,000km of randonneuring|
|Three Capitals Permanent||7 x 100 points or more in a season|
|Great Eastern 1,000km||10 x Super Randonnee years|
|Brevet 5,000 and 25,000 awards|
The Brevet Bird
Enjoyed reading your memories of Liz. Those days seem so far away, what we would have given for a decent light. How we rode at speed reading a route sheet I don’t know
Hope you are okay
You won’t remember me, but we met on a number of occasions over the years.
I knew Rocco very well, from the late 1950’s, and latterly Liz. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your last blog and seeing the accompanying photos. Is that Sean Bannister sitting at the table?
I rode a few of Rocco’s and Liz’s events and a few starting at Boulters Lock, but was not really into Audax. I now realise I missed a trick in not riding a few more than I did. I remained in touch with Rocco through the Pedal Club and knew of his passing, but am sorry to learn that Liz also succumbed to cancer in 1919.
Now based in Mallorca, I ride a bit with Mervyn Wilson who you may have come across as he rode many AUK events with Rocco and Liz. Mervyn has just managed to get out here, somehow dodging the COVID restrictions so will mention your blog when I see him.
Keep them coming.
Best wishes, Dave
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