The 15th Stage of the Giro from Valdengo to Bergamo, featured a select group of the top GC riders in a flat out, straight-up, drag-race sprint for glory and the win.
Quick-Step’s Bob Jungels finally prevailed, powering to the line just ahead of the surprisingly fast, quickly closing, pint-sized Nairo Quintana. In claiming a surprise second place Quintana handily beat “heavyweight contenders” such as Vincenzo Nibali, Thibaut Pinot, Bauke Mollema, Tom Dumoulin and Steven Kruijswijk.
This for me then raises some serious questions: If Jungels had been beaten in a sprint by Quintana, would he ever have been allowed back onto the Quick-Step bus? Would his career have recovered from such a disgrace? Surely this Giro’s peerless sprinter, Fernando Gaviria could legitimately have refused to share a room with such a loser?
And, just how much do the other GC riders owe Jungels for actually pulling off the win and deflecting attention from the fact they all had their backsides whupped in a sprint by the feather-weight climber from Columbia?
Sitting in the café and discussing cycling heroes, Crazy Legs said his all-time favourite sprinter was the Tashkent Terror himself, one Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. While I’m sure a lot of the appeal had to do with Abdou’s blazing speed, his ferocious, erratic and kamikaze bike handling and spectacular crashes, I couldn’t help thinking that his name probably played a part too.
Would Djamolidine Abdoujaprov have been quite so popular had he been simply Igor Petrov?
Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. DJAH-MOLLA-DEEN AB-DOO-JAP-AROFF. You could tell just by the way Crazy Legs savoured each and every syllable and let the name roll off his tongue that he found the sound pleasing. He was even more delighted when Richard of Flanders asked what was his full name was again and he had one more excuse to deeply intone:
“Abdoujaparov, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov”
Oh, come on, admit it, it’s so much better than stale, old clichéd: Bond, James Bond
We then had a chat about the rather more unfortunate Bauke Mollema – who we agreed also had a great name, but for all the wrong reasons. In Scotland and throughout the North East to bowk has an unpleasant meaning and association – defined by Urban Dictionary as – bowk:To puke, hurl, or chunder, especially after excessive intake of alcohol, curry, chocolate cake or all three.
So, Puker Mollema then. Oh dear.
This set me to thinking how much of my own, initial allure to cycling’s was tied into the exotic, unusual sounding names of the riders of the day, Joop Zoetemelk, Giovanni Battaglin, Francesco Moser …
And we can’t of course forget Lucien Van Impe – literally Lucien from the village of Impe, a small and otherwise boring and unremarkable town in East Flanders. This sounded not only exotic to me, but also seemed especially fitting for the mercurial, puckish grimpeur who would “bedevil” some of his great rivals in the mountains during Grand Tours.
The fact that writers could craft Sun-style, headline-worthy puns to match, was just an added bonus – the most memorable from the era being, of course: Van Impudence.
While the foreign and exotic sounding names of the continental riders had an attraction for cycling waifs and strays on Tyneside, we also used to wonder what the continental fans would make of our seemingly mundane, Anglicised monickers.
For example, the local hero around this time was Joe Waugh – multiple National Hill Climb Champion, winner of the Mountains Classification and 2nd overall in the Milk Race, two time Olympian and a National Time-Trial Champion to boot.
Toshi San and I would often amuse ourselves trying to imagine the conniptions his name might give to Eastern Bloc announcers when he lined up to start in the Peace Race:
“Lay-dees and jentleman, from Great Britaniya … Jowee Waah-ooghah!”
We could perhaps forgive those in continental Europe struggling with the pronunciation of Waugh, but what about the rest of the English speaking world?
As a native of the North East, Joe Waugh was, fiercely and rightly, Joe Woff to us, not Joe Worr as the softy southerners would have it. Still it wasn’t until I started trying to figure out Australian Batsmen Steve Waugh’s nickname that I realised something was truly amiss. Tugga? Tugga Woff? What’s all that about then?
At this point I realised most of the rest of the world were simply incapable of properly pronouncing the name Waugh.
Still, even though perhaps we should have known better, we held the BBC to higher standards. It was unforgiveable then when Joe had a very brief 30 seconds of fame and was interviewed by regular Grandstand sports presenter Frank Bough.
Confusingly, Frank Bough’s name was always, religiously pronounced as Boff, which was kind of ridiculous in its own right and sets him right up there with Puker Bauke Mollema in my mind
(Again, from the Urban Dictionary – boff:A term to describe quick sexual intercourse which includes the man not taking off his pants and a lot of dry humping.)
To have him refer to Joe as Joe Worr then, was, to us youngsters back in Tyneside an insult and an outrage and we were all willing Joe to answer, “Well, Mr Bore, the race was…”
Sadly, Joe was far too much of a gentleman to correct Mr. Bore. Or, maybe he accepted his name being mangled in this way as preferable to being known as Jowee Waa-ooghah?
Even today the tradition continues and there are riders that have an extra cachet simply because their name sounds interesting, weird, exotic or strangely melodious, for example I give you:
You’ll note I don’t include Tejay Van Garderen in this, although he has a suitably Flemish “hard-man” surname … but Tejay? T.J.? Really?
Anyway, I was reminded of my delight in unusual names during Stage 7 of the Giro, from Castroviillari to Alberobello. The highlight of the stage? An early break which featured both Giuseppe Fonzi and Simone Ponsi.
Fonzi and Ponsi working seamlessly together. It made my day. Well, to be fair it was an otherwise uneventful stage.
Total Distance: 112 km / 70 miles with 991 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 22 minutes
Average Speed: 25.6 km/h
Group size: 20 riders
Weather in a word or two: Cold and breezy
A grey cool and cloudy morning, the roads were bone dry and empty of traffic as I ripped down the hill, able to use the full width of the lane and just let the bike run with gravity.
I’m pretty content with my setup at the moment and the new tyres in particular have massively exceeded expectations. I don’t make a habit of recommending things, as I’m aware everyone has their own preferences and needs, and how they use something will probably be different from how I would, but I will say that when it comes to replacing my tyres I can’t see me looking much beyond these Vittoria Pro G+ Rubino’s. Then again, I am a committed Vittorian, so there’s probably a huge amount of confirmation bias in my assessment.
I’ve been running the Rubino’s since early April, so probably around 1,000 km and despite the horrible state of the roads around here, there’s not a mark on them – usually after a few runs I would expect at least a few nicks and cuts in the tread, but there’s nothing, nada, zip, zilch.
I’ve no idea if the graphene component actually makes any difference whatsoever and I suspect it’s all just marketing hyperbole, but the tyres undoubtedly roll well and grip seems very good. I was also expecting some loss of performance switching down from the more expensive, lighter and more supple, Corsa Evo’s, but if it’s happened it’s not remotely discernible to a plodder like me.
They also seem more comfortable and able to iron out at least some of the imperfections in the road, but I’m largely putting this down to switching from 23mm to 25mm width and the extra bit of cushioning that provides. Anyway, it all helps and I need all the help I can get – I’ve dropped around 4-5 pounds since Christmas and find it increasingly difficult to keep a high pace on broken and rough road surfaces.
There was no exotic birdlife to distract me on this week’s journey to our start point, although the Canada Geese had over spilled from Shibdon Pond and were lining the side of the road honking at the traffic like some avian picket line. The flying pickets? Hmm, maybe not.
For the first section, I had a brisk wind at my back, but that would change as soon as I crossed the river. Cloud cover overhead was fairly dark and uniform and the flags at a car dealership snapped away in the wind, lanyards clanging furiously on their poles – it was warm, but some distance from being a calm and settled day and rain looked a distinct possibility.
As I passed the power station on the run up to the bridge, the overhead lines hummed and buzzed relentlessly, suggesting the air was already full of moisture and lending credence to some of the forecasts that determined there was even a chance of a few isolated thunderstorms.
Over the river and yet more temporary lights delayed progress where it looked like they were busy extending the cobblestone runway. Oh well, more bits of road to avoid. This new obstacle finally negotiated, I slogged my way out of the valley, up and on to the meeting point.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
G-Dawg was already waiting, eager to show off his new blue Michelin tyres, carefully colour coordinated to match his frame and very, very blue. Did I mention they were blue? When questioned he made the valid point that he didn’t know how good the tyres were performance-wise– but that wasn’t the point was it? They were blue!
He did however suggest blue tyres probably weren’t that big a seller and the dealer reportedly had hundreds in stock, so he too looks well set for tyre choice from now on.
Crazy Legs complained that the gold chain was beginning to look just a little out of place. Whether or not G-Dawg can source a more aesthetically pleasing, matching blue one remains to be seen.
Szell rolled up, leapt off his “fat lad’s bike” and immediately started fiddling with his seatpost clamp. We immediately asked if he’d seen OGL’s new bike, wondered how it would fit Szell for size and if he actually liked the custom colour scheme he’d soon be inheriting.
He admitted he’d thought of taking his bike to OGL to have the seatclamp fettled, but was worried the whole thing would be condemned outright and he’d be told nothing was salvageable, except maybe the bottle cages. Then it would be revealed, that it just so happened there was one of OGL’s old bikes he could have that would be a perfect fit…
Zardoz sidled up and began playing possum, feigning weakness, decrepitude and general infirmity before we’d even started out … but managing to fool no one.
“Hey, you were limping on the other leg just before.” Taffy Steve, noted dryly.
Zardoz finally admitted that even among the infamous Wednesday Wrecking Crew of Venerable Gentlemen Cyclists™ (WWCVGC) it had been his turn to dish out the pain this week and try to rip everyone’s legs off. It’s duly noted, he’s flying.
Considering we have a bevy of people in Majorca, some off doing the Wooler Wheel and even one or two apparently tracing one of the Prof’s eccentric routes up and down the north east coast to Seahouses for, err… fun, the turnout wasn’t too bad for the ride that had been pre-planned and publicised by Crazy Legs. It was worth noting however that shorn of “chick-magnet” Benedict, none of the girls were present.
With a reasonable group size of just twenty riders and no need to split at the start, a turn-off for a shorter route up past the Quarry was planned, while the rest would head down the Ryals before looping back round to the café.
Off we set and I dropped in alongside Richard of Flanders for the first section. The Plank, newly returned from a posting overseas and a bad racing crash, proved that the competition for the clubs smallest, leakiest bladder was still very much alive, highlighted by his constant forays off the front to ensure maximum exposure for his micturition ministrations.
The Prof is due to set a route and lead us out next week, so we’ll probably have more pee stops than a Saga coach trip around British micro-breweries – and an opportunity to assess pee performance head-to-head. This should go some way to identifying which of the two is in the running as a role model for TENA.
I found myself riding alongside Keel for the next section and discovered we both share a mutual fascination with the odious, venal, perfidious, paranoid, incompetent, infantile, thin-skinned and (what I find most surprising and disturbing) dumb as a stump Trump. There’s reportedly an old Chinese saying – “may you live in interesting times” and America’s presidential selection (as Crazy Legs rightly predicted) has delivered in droves.
We then called timeout for an official pee-stop, much to the Plank’s relief and I observed several of my fellow cyclists huddled among bushes – not I hasten to add actually “in the bushes” – just so that’s clear.
We passed through the village of Ryal and pinned back our ears to hurtle down its attendant slopes, hitting almost 70 kph, before by-passing our usual route and the sharp climbs through Hallington, for a wider sweep to the west before back-tracking toward the café.
This new, longer, but less severe route met with Taffy Steve’s approval, but I couldn’t help missing the stiffer climbing test through Hallington, if only as a means of injecting a little pain, and tiredness into the legs of the rouleurs among us before the final run in.
Now we only had the ascent of what Strava identifies as “Humiliation Hill” to soften up the big boys and it wasn’t going to be enough. I found myself climbing next to Szell, who was going full bore and interspersed deep and heavy panting with an unseemly series of grunts, groans and moans, like the soundtrack to a bad 80’s porn film.
At the climax, so to speak and as we crested the top, Zardoz breezed past, puffed out his cheeks and issued an explosive per-te-cusht. Bloody hell, I didn’t know I was riding with Ivor the Engine!
A scooter gang in a long, spluttering and farting line then buzzed past in the opposite direction. They seemed disappointingly dowdy and unkempt bunch, with to none of the vintage, well-maintained Vespa’s, bright shining chrome and mirrors, or the sharp clothes I would associate with a proper scooter club.
In their wake, they trailed the smell of 2-stroke exhaust fumes, something I always find strangely redolent of ice-cream vans parked by a beach in summer – an odd juxtaposition with a grey, gloomy and chill day in the wilds of Northumberland.
Now on a long, straight, rolling stretch of road and still miles short of the café, Crazy Legs decided to shake things up and attacked off the front and soon a small knot of four or five had opened up a sizeable gap. I started to work my way forward to try and jump across, flitting from wheel to wheel as riders were spat out the back.
I jumped from Taffy Steve’s wheel to the Big Yin’s and from there into the no-mans-land between the two groups, slowly starting to close before progress stalled and I hung chasse patate for a while. Luckily, I’d either dragged G-Dawg with me, or he’d bridged onto my back wheel, as he then came pounding past and I dropped in behind and we started to home in on the front group again.
With the gap down to about 20 metres, it was G-Dawg’s turn to stall and hang in space, but I was finally able to pull us across and we latched onto the back of the train, just as it barrelled down and around a series of long sweeping curves.
We then hit the last, short, sharp rise to the junction of the road leading down to the Snake Bends. Boxed in between Crazy Legs and G-Dawg I attacked the slope too hard and in danger of running into the wheels in front and with nowhere to go either side, I eased, touched the brakes and bang – a gap instantly opened up.
I gave chase, but the group was in full cry and there was no getting back this time, as I bounced and battered away down the heavily pitted and cratered surface. Trying to find a slightly smoother ride away from the road buzz, I swung out across the lane, surfing along the white lines, which helped, but just a little.
Crazy Legs was the next to lose contact, eased out of the back of the hurtling front group and I slowly started to claw my way across to him. A rattling, banging and clunking behind announced another rider had tracked me down and, as the road dipped and straightened, the Big Yin whirred past. I knew he was coming and tried to follow but had nothing left and couldn’t hold his wheel. Meanwhile up ahead he passed Crazy Legs, who was able to latch on and they pulled away from me.
Through the Snake Bends, across the main road and onto the parallel lane, I resumed the chase and finally caught up with everyone at the last junction, just in time to see a black and yellow blur flash past as Taffy Steve barrelled down the main drag and past us all. “Never mind first in the sprint, it’s first in the café queue that really counts,” he later proclaimed.
As ever that was fast, fun and furious, although I’m beginning to develop a bit of an aversion for that particular run in and its horrible road surface. Still, even if glass smooth I don’t think I’ll be up contesting the final sprint anytime soon.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
G-Dawg sat down with his usual ham and egg pie, then had a bacon buttie delivered to the table and when a waitress turned up with a toastie, we all thought that was his as well. Taffy Steve concluded that it didn’t matter if G-Dawg was alone, or with Son of G-Dawg, he always bought and consumed exactly the same amount of food.
With another successful, pre-determined, pre-publicised, non-OGL dictated ride under our belts, we were all looking forward to next week, when the Prof has volunteered to boldly lead us onward.
This could prove interesting, or challenging – or maybe both. The Prof does not enjoy a reputation for having an infallible, unerring sense of direction and has been known to lead us merrily down one hill, only to realise his mistake, turn us sharply around at the bottom and make us climb straight back up again. He also has a curious affinity for long, long rides along unknown roads with unknown destinations.
Eon seem somewhat wistful that he would be away next week and would miss our adventures on the Prof’s route, declaring that he was off visiting family and would be riding around Blackpool.
“Don’t worry,” I told him, “We’ll probably see you there.”
With rain starting to batter the café windows, Richard of Flanders wondered if it was “cape weather” on the way back and I wondered if he thought he was Batman.
This led to us re-visiting the concept of actual cycling capes and whether the World Champion wasn’t deserving of a rainbow, striped cape. Everyone imagined that Peter Sagan, the ultimate showman, would be well up for this, although Taffy Steve thought he’d probably demand his cape have an ermine collar and be lined in leopard skin.
Well-educated through multiple screenings of The Incredibles, Richard of Flanders was concerned that any cape was likely to be a liability that could catch in the back wheel. We explained that as a World Champion, the wearer was expected to be able to pedal fast enough to keep the cape always streaming out behind them, except in the neutralised zones of course, where their domestiques would be required to form a procession either side of the champion and hold up his train.
In a sudden flash of insight, Taffy Steve declared that Peter Sagan was the Chris Eubank of the cycling world. Things took a turn for the truly bizarre when he next mentioned his idea of a great reality programme involved getting Peter Sagan, Chris Eubank and Jean-Claude Van Damme all off on a bike ride together. Shudder.
Talk of Rab Dee’s super-dense brownies, so dense in fact that that they’ve been credited with having their own gravitational pull, led to the suggestion that he was deserving of an award for being the most gentlemanly of our riders.
Trying to think of someone who could challenge Rab in this category, Richard of Flanders suggested Grover and was somewhat shocked to learn of his (probably) undeserved reputation as OGL’s enforcer in absentia. That’s the secret police for you – insidious and innocuous, until they’re kicking in doors and taking down the names of anyone who hasn’t paid their subs, or dares to ride without mudguards.
Taffy Steve and I then had a brief chuckle when he cast OGL in the role of Raffles, the Gentleman Thug from Viz.
With no Garrulous Kid to provide a suitable injection of fresh ridiculousness, we were heartened by recalling the time he asked G-Dawg if he knew Son of G-Dawg. This it was suggested was the most asinine question since Donna Air asked The Corrs how they first met, although personally I didn’t think it was as funny as when Shouty finally realised the pair were father and son and all the food G-Dawg bought Son of G-Dawg at the café wasn’t some sinister form of grooming.
Meanwhile, Crazy Legs recalled his days spent working government contracts and pondering such deep, philosophical questions as the difference between a midget and a dwarf and the apparently popular conundrum (amongst the IT Crowd) – if you had the chance to sleep with all of the Corrs, but only if you did actually sleep with all of the Corrs, in what order would you do it? I wonder if Jim Corr would be happy that he’s the cause of so much inefficiency within the public sector?
We set out for the trip back in a fairly depressing, quite heavy and chill shower and I immediately kicked off onto the front with Richard of Flanders to try an warm up. As we passed Kirkley Hall and turned along the narrow lane up to Berwick Hill I pondered how many lunatics we’d likely meet, driving too fast in the opposite direction. Richard suggested three and asked for the over-under – I was feeling strangely optimistic, so went with under.
As we hit the bottom of the climb, Richard of Flanders slipped back and was replaced on the front by Crazy Legs and as we started to climb side by side, I pressed on the pedals just a little bit harder to try and keep us at an even pace.
We passed under an electric pylon with the cables audibly buzzing and spitting in the damp air – as sure a sign as any, according to Crazy Legs that there was a lot of rain about and that Cloudchaser had failed in his primary task.
As we approached the crest of the hill, I remarked that, “It’s very quiet back there.” Turning around we found we’d managed to drop everyone but G-Dawg and were climbing in splendid isolation. Oops. We slowed to regroup and we pushed along through Dinnington, before ceding the front to G-Dawg and Eon.
I dropped in alongside Taffy Steve, who looked at the dark band of clouds boiling up over Mordor and suggested it was going to be a long, wet ride back into the wind. Still feeling optimistic, I told him I was sure the rain was going to stop and I’d at least get the chance to dry off before I got home. He laughed at me and suggested I might as well wish that Theresa May wouldn’t win the General Election in a landslide.
I told him if you were going to dream, you might as well dream big, something I’d seen on a poster a long time ago, so knew it must be profoundly true. Then the rest of the group were turning off and I followed Eon and G-Dawg through the Mad Mile before spinning away, directly into the headwind to pick my way home.
The wind made absolutely sure that there’d be no chance of any Strava PR’s on the trip back, but just as I started the climb of Heinous Hill, I swear the sun poked a hole in the clouds and briefly threw my shadow up alongside me for company. It wasn’t quite enough to dry me out, but at least provided a more pleasant finale to another good ride.
YTD Totals: 2,887 km / 1,794 miles with 31,684 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 114 km / 71 miles with 1,131 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 23 minutes
Average Speed: 25.9 km/h
Group size: 34 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Cold and breezy
Another chilly Saturday. I don’t think I can recall getting into May and only having had one ride warm enough for shorts. Today certainly wasn’t going to be the exception and it felt like my knee and arm warmers combined with long-fingered gloves were just the bare minimum.
Shock! Horror! Could Donald J. Trump actually be right and is climate change a complete fallacy. Well, no children – don’t be ridiculous, of course not.
Crossing the bridge I was distracted by a strange, piping, peep-peep-peep call as a pair of unusual looking white gulls with grey-chevrons on their wings and long, curved beaks skimmed low over the parapet and carried on downriver. Avocet’s perhaps, if I read the RSPB bird-identification website correctly, but really, really don’t trust me on that.
As I approached the Cobblestone Runway I was held up by a new set of temporary traffic lights. At first I thought perhaps they’d recognised how horrible the new road surface was and had set about rectifying the problem. But no, of course not, they were actually digging up the other side of the road no doubt in preparation for the installation of another anti-cycling, stealth-rumble strip on the opposite carriageway.
(Chatting with work colleague Mr T. he’s encountered something similar and is blaming Northumbrian Water and whatever contractors they employ. You have been warned.)
Main topics of conversation at the start:
Despite the depredations of the wind and occasional discomfiting road surface, I made it to the meeting point in good time, but I still wasn’t the first to arrive. That honour went to Facebook-postin’ carbon-stress-loadin’ Guiness-slurpin’ pie-chompin’ platter-spinnin’ real-ale-swilling curry-gobblin’ all-azione Thom-Thom – who had arrived from the opposite direction and been blown in from the coast in record time.
Either that or, by his own admission, he was having a spectacularly glorious good day.
We had a brief chat about Holdsworth and Holdsworthy bikes and wondered if there was any link between the two – I’d seen the Holdsworth business “empire” referred to as Holdsworthy before, but didn’t honestly know the answer to that one.
Benedict had planned and posted the ride for today and I think everyone must have underestimated his magnetic appeal and winning personality, as the pavement was soon crowded with well over 30 riders, which included an unusually high proportion of lasses too.
Crazy Legs looked on in mildly irritated disbelief at the massive turnout, which you couldn’t even attribute to the weather as it wasn’t sunny and was still decidedly chilly.
As he’s due to set the route and lead the ride next week, he vowed that if the turnout for his ride isn’t at least half as popular as Benedict’s he’ll stamp his foot loudly and quit in a fit of pique. This almost had the feel of a self-fulfilling prophecy though, as a load of us are due to be missing next week, either off for a training camp in sunny Majorca, or grinding their way through the Cheviot Hills in this year’s edition of the Wooler Wheel.
The Red Max suggested his hallowed bike shed was uncharacteristically unkempt at present, as he admitted defeat in his search to locate a spare crankset he was generously donating to the Crazy Legs Time-trial Bike Build Project. (CLTTBBP – JustGiving reference #OG7783682). I wondered what could possibly have caused such a disruption to the natural order of things and Red Max blamed a badly misunderstood, natural phenomenon known as “Monkey Butler Boy.”
I just hoped the sacred ziggurat of used bottom brackets escaped unsullied and still sacrosanct.
There was only time to salute the plucky winner of the first stage of the Giro – even though no one could remember his name (isn’t it fun when the sprinters teams screw up?) – and we were off.
(Chapeau of course to relatively unknown, Lukas Postlberger and the deeply unfancied (without Peter Sagan) Bora-Hansgroe team for winning Stage 1 of the Giro in such an impressive and surprising way. If he’d listened to Crazy Legs he would have immediately retired, as it just wont get any better than this.)
As we streamed out onto the road I dropped in beside Zardoz as we chatted about our cycling experiences “back in the day” – rock hard chamois inserts, wooden brake blocks, tweed plus-fours and having to be preceded everywhere by a walking man waving a red flag. The days before Shimano existed and when you either had expensive, market leading Campagnolo kit, or something markedly inferior. And most people chose Campagnolo.
We hadn’t gone far before we spotted a bulging black bin bag by the side of the road. Imagining something as horrific as last weeks “bag o’ bloody birds” we gave it a wide berth, only to find it appeared to be filled with nothing more sinister than grass clippings. Why?
Spinning along at a decent pace, despite the increasingly problematic headwind, we were soon skirting Whittledene Reservoir, calling a quick pee stop and giving Zardoz the chance to slide backwards and well away from the front of the group. Here we discovered that Crazy Leg’s chain was slipping every time he applied too much pressure through the pedals.
He attributed this to perhaps mixing up his spacers when re-assembling the cassette after cleaning. He now toured round our group, looking for someone else with Campagnolo gears so he could compare cassettes, only to realise he was the only one who wasn’t riding a Shimano equipped bike, as even Andeven astride his fabulous, pure-bred, Italian Colnago had an Ultegra groupset.
Off we went again, with Crazy Legs trying to contain his problems by riding off the front and easing gently up the hills, or hanging off the back. The usual, short-sharp climbing brought us to a T-Junction, where we usually swing right and then sharp left, but today our route took us directly left and we began a long straight descent into the Tyne Valley.
We then hit the A69, four crazy-ass lanes of speeding traffic we’ve engaged with in a few breathless games of Frogger before. This time the junction spat us out at an actual crossing point, with a safe-haven of space half way across, where we could gather ourselves before a final dash to safety.
It wasn’t long before we were all stacked up behind Crazy Legs, crowded onto this small, tarmac meridian, in a weird game of cyclist sardines.
“Just watch,” Caracol suggested, “Crazy Legs will spot a gap, try darting across, then his chain will slip and we’ll all pile into the back of him and be killed in a massive accident.”
Luckily it wasn’t to be, and in bits and pieces, dribs and drabs we managed to scuttle across to safety, regroup and press on down, down into the Tyne Valley.
The valley floor led through a massive gymkhana, row upon row of shiny 4×4’s and horseboxes parked on one side of the road and lots of fat, little girls jiggling on fat, little ponies and bobbing along on the other side. For a brief moment I thought we might lose G-Dawg to the lure of the attendant chip, waffle and do-nut vans, as he turned his big, puppy-dog eyes in their direction and his nose started twitching at all the attendant fast-food smells, but he somehow managed to restrain himself.
A bit of climbing, a bit of regrouping and we were heading for Aydon, then more climbing across the bridge that soared back over the A69 and yet more climbing to escape the valley. From here we picked out a course for Matfen and the Quarry Climb and then the mad, helter-skelter dash to the café.
The indefatigable G-Dawg was once again on the front of things, with Andeven alongside as we turned off for the Quarry and straight into a buffeting and chilling gale.
Our two leaders were both equally effective, despite a massive contrast in styles. G-Dawg pushed a huge gear in stately, slow motion, while a languid Andeven spun unfussily up the inside. Both did fantastic work driving us straight into the vicious block headwind and keeping the pace high.
Near the very crest of the Quarry Climb, Zardoz shimmied and shook and hurled himself clear of the pack, darting to the top before everyone else, then we regrouped and G-Dawg once more found himself on the front.
He then turned his puppy dog eyes on me, a look he’d obviously been perfecting ever since we’d passed the takeaway trucks at the gymkhana. Against all better judgement, I felt duty bound to reward his herculean efforts and take over on the front to give him a breather before everyone started battling it out for the sprint finish.
Pushing ahead, I took us round the last junction and onto the road down to the Snake Bends, at least having the benefit of being able to pick my own line down the horribly pitted and broken road surface.
I was joined on the front by Benedict and I tried to push the pace on, tucking in low to help minimise wind drag and even attempting to accelerate over the small humps and dips along the road, each one of which soon began to feel like a major climb to me.
I battered away for as long as I could, which probably wasn’t all that long, desperately trying to remember how much further we had to go and then, suddenly I was done. I looked back to check the road was clear, then swung wide, sat up and let the pack off the leash, as they howled past and away.
At the back I found Crazy Legs still glass cranking to try and avoid his chain slipping. He offered up the shelter of his back wheel, but even that was too much and too fast for me and he was soon rolling away.
As we crossed the main road and skipped down the adjoining lane I’d just about recovered enough to catch Crazy Legs and we had a chat about how today’s route was on the limits of how far we could go and hope to be back at a reasonable time. We’d have really been pushing it if we’d had a mechanical or a puncture and as it was we’d still likely be late leaving the café and getting back home.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
We managed to dart into the café just in front of a bunch of burly mountain-bikers and joined a very long queue, which seemed to be moving with glacial slowness. I caught Sneaky Pete just as he was sneaking off home and he warned us about dark mutterings of discontent among the other group, who apparently weren’t quite bought into the new world order.
As we waited to be served, Crazy Legs admitted he’d quite enjoyed his enforced, glass-cranking “recovery ride” – which made a pleasant, very occasional change from a lung-bursting sprint. He said it was particularly welcome after riding last Saturday, Monday and then Tuesday night at our newly inaugurated chain-gang session.
I mentioned I myself had ridden Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday … only to learn that “commutes don’t count.”
Crazy Legs revealed that Taffy Steve is a bit of a Strava Nazi and once, when he’d inadvertently recorded a turbo session on Strava, Taffy Steve had heaped opprobrium on him from the first to the last pedal stroke of following weeks club run. By the same token he reasoned commuter rides shouldn’t count.
Well, bollocks to that. If you can say it didn’t happen because it wasn’t on Strava, then by default, if it is on Strava then it must have happened. Anyway, I’m quite proud of my single-speed commutes up and down the Heinous Hill, even if the front chainring is admittedly the size of an asprin and the rear sprocket bigger than a dinner plate.
At the table, Crazy Legs imparted how his son has become a connoisseur of dad jokes, which he’d realised when a simple query of, “All right, son?” was met with the hoary old, “No, I’m half left.”
We then had a round-robin of crap dad jokes:
“What do you call a blind elk? No idea.”
“What do you call a dead, blind elk? Still no idea.”
“What do you call a fly with no wings? A walk.”
Our collection was then topped, tailed and signed off in unbeatable style when Son of G-Dawg wondered, “If you pour root beer into a square glass, does it become just beer?”
Meanwhile, Crazy Legs’ issue with his cassette led to a discussion about cassette spacers and how G-Dawg was desperate to find someone who could make him coloured ones. He wanted some in yellow to add just a little more co-ordination to his bike and have yet one more excuse to keep his cassette spotlessly clean.
Crazy Legs suggested that for anyone with an 8-speed, a rainbow coloured series of spacers would always ensure you assembled your cassette correctly and avoid any embarrassment caused by slipping chains.
I could just imagine him, beavering away in his garage and muttering to himself, “Now, how does it go again? Richard of York gave battle …”
Meanwhile, the BFG revealed he has no such issues as he keeps all the instructions he’s ever got with any bike components handily pinned to his fridge door with magnets. He (and his family) now enjoy easy access to instructions on assembling a cassette in 17 different languages, complete with multiple exploded diagrams.
Suddenly, Zardoz started chuckling away and when we looked at him quizzically chortled, “Root beer in a square glass. That’s funny.”
He then revealed he’d once been working in New York and learned that the natives would always suggest the best way to keep an Englishman happy in his old age was to tell him lots of jokes when he was young…
I had a chat with Famous Sean’s as we queued for the loo. He hadn’t been out with us for a good long time, but gave the new, split group option a big thumbs up and said how much he’d enjoyed the ride.
Meanwhile Crazy Legs had a chat with Rad-Man who’d been with the second group and he to said the ride had been great and he was more than happy with how things had gone.
Later, Facebook-postin’ carbon-stress-loadin’ Guiness-slurpin’ pie-chompin’ platter-spinnin’ real-ale-swilling curry-gobblin’ all-azione Thom-Thom, also riding with the second group would, true to his name, take to Facebook to declare that it had been an “excellent ride.”
None of this stopped OGL collaring Bendict and suggesting some of the older club members were unhappy with the arrangements, felt the club was descending into chaos and complain how the second group had been left with no strong riders to sit on the front all day and shelter them from the wind!
He then came by our table to reiterate the same points.
I personally haven’t spoken to anyone who doesn’t think the changes we are trying to implement aren’t for the better, but would suggest everyone is open to discussing how we could sensibly improve things and the best way forward.
Hmm, well, maybe not everyone…
We set off for home and I rode alongside the BFG as we tried to guess what the square box prominent in G-Dawg’s rear pocket could possibly be. We finally decided it was a pack of 20 Rothman’s King Size cigarettes that he (probably) carried only for show.
With us running fairly late, I took early leave of the group, skipping the dubious pleasures of Berwick Hill and Dinnington to swing right and cut a big corner off by looping back through Ponteland.
From here I decided to try and trace a different route home – crossing the River Pont and then turning immediately right. I thought I had swung too far to the west and I was back tracking, but checking the route on Strava afterwards it was pretty direct and threw up lots of other alternative ways I could take for a bit of welcome variety.
I was even more delighted to see I’d secured the 4th best time ever on a short, Strava segment called Hillhead Barps, which I only mention as it gave me bragging rights over ex-club mate, work colleague and the much younger, super-strong racer Nick Spencer. By a whole second.
I made it home just shy of 6 hours after leaving, having completed over 70 miles and feeling suitably tired. Still, I guess the “officially recognised” Strava riding’s over for another week so I can rest up. Well, unless I’m tempted out by our newly instigated Tuesday night chain-gang, although to be honest, I can’t think of any other style of cycling that I’m less suited to.
YTD Totals: 2,727 km / 1,694 miles with 29,968 metres of climbing
When we left Mr.T – who is also known as the Man with the Van and the Plan (well … sort of) – he had already invested far too much time and expectation into his dream of owning a vintage Citroën H van. The fact it had confirmed links to the Tour de France was simply the cherry on top of the icing on the cake. In anticipation of a successful van purchase he’d even even started wearing a beret and attempting (unsuccessfully) to cultivate both a pencil moustache and an air of insouciant indifference.
Then he’d had his dreams cruelly shattered by an American who plaintively didn’t understand the basic tenants of the Anglo-US “special relationship.”
As we pick up the story, the Damn Yankee, Stretch Armstrong has just outbid our plucky Brit and the dream is in danger of dying …
That Damn Yankee, Stretch Armstrong evidently had far more money than sense and a reach that might just have exceeded his capabilities. To be fair though, he had managed to extend his long, rubber arms out across a very large Pond and snatch away an historic H van right from under our noses. A van that lay so tantalising close, it was almost taunting me and sitting virtually on our doorstep.
Perhaps I should have left it there, resigned to my plucky, loser Brit role? Still I messaged the BMX Bandit to say that should the sale fall through, for whatever reason … well, you know…
And it did!
The fleaBay ad had clearly stated collection only and for Stretch over in the US of A that seemed … well … a stretch. Now he was pestering the BMX Bandit for shipping costs.
“Uh-uh… no … no way” was my polite interpretation of Bandit’s slightly more salty retort, which, even across 2,000 miles and entirely different cultural barriers seemed a quite emphatic response and one that was decidedly not open to interpretation or negotiation.
So the van was ours?
Well no, not quite.
Even though we’d been in constant contact with the Bandit throughout this, he only went and relisted it on fleaBay!
After a good deal of to-ing and fro-ing, effing and jeffing, cajoling and coercion, he finally agreed to end the listing early.
Yes! The van was ours.
But now, after many months of the van providing both exotic garden ornamentation and weed suppression, the Bandit and his Moll wanted it shifted. Like yesterday.
Bolleaux! As the French might say.
An emergency call out to the Club Facebook group for vehicle moving solutions rejected the idea of harnessing two score or more riders to tow ropes, for a more credible response from Dragster, who had a mate, Zander, who just so happened to have a recovery truck.
Bike commute day had rolled round again but was shelved for a lunchtime appointment with the BMX Bandit which meant I’d have to take the car instead. (Just the latest in a very long line of pitiful excuses: SLJ)
Zander, replete with his girlfriend (eh?) “in tow” was already on station when I arrived and sizing up the job. Things were tight. Zander had to pull up on the drive of the neighbour opposite, close enough so he was almost touching the brickwork and his winch controls inadvertently interfered with their electrics, flipping their TV channel over and setting the washing machine off on a spin cycle.
Finally though, winch and ramps did their thing and the van was hauled inch by inch up onto his truck. Good job it wasn’t a busy street as we made a great, if slightly exotic road block.
With the van on the back of the truck and Herman vee Dub’s postcode tapped into his Sat Nav, Zander and his girl set sail. As I watched van and truck disappear out of sight I idly mused about Zander’s companion and what possible reasons she had for tagging along on a routine pick up. Perhaps she was just a van fan, or perhaps they were going to make a day of it. Maybe have a picnic en route? The weather was good and Herman’s place was suitably rural and buccolic.
Some hours later in the office and still waiting for confirmation of safe van delivery, I was beginning to put even more credence in my picnic supposition. Surely it wasn’t that far to Herman’s?
A sense of foreboding was starting to build. What if the van had come loose? Would it be on the local news? An impromptu road block in a country lane. How damaging would it be to Anglo-French détente? Would I be liable? And, just how quickly could I round up two score or more riders with tow ropes to perform an unlikely rescue mission?
And then a text came through. It was from Herman and simply said “The eagle has landed.”
Panic over. Or perhaps picnic over. One of the two. Either way, our Historic H was now in safe hands.
So, spotted, bid for, lost, foreign bidder seen off, re-listed, negotiated, bought and transported in just over a week. That was one hell of a ride.
But what now? Well MGL hadn’t yet seen the eagle that we’d landed, so a road trip to Herman’s was in order. We were off to York that weekend and Herman’s place wasn’t that big a diversion … honest.
Arriving at Herman’s lock up, the French van stood out proudly against its German cousins, seeming to curl its lip in disdain at its muscular, Teutonic company. After some introductions (all communication had been by text or phone up until that point) MGL and I inspected our van.
I think MGL was beginning to wonder what exactly it was we’d “won” – Bandit had started and then stopped a camper conversion on the van that hadn’t gone that far – just some half finished bench seats and shelving above the windows.
Other than that the van was just bits and pieces – engine cover, cab seats and petrol tank cover all detached and lying round, as if we’d bought a random pile of bits from a scrap yard and they’d thrown in an old, rusted and useless van carcass just to store the bits in.
Up until now Herman and his crew had only seen the van on fleaBay. Having inspected it in the flesh so to speak, they declared the job a “good un”. That was reassuring at least. The H van would stay in the yard until there was space in the workshop and then work could commence.
At least Bandit had made the van water tight through the ingenious use of a pint glass, the perspex front of a washing machine door and copious amounts of silicone. Even with my less than expert eye I recognised that these weren’t original features, although I don’t know what it was that gave the game away- perhaps the fact that the glass was in Imperial measures, or maybe it was the word Zanussi stencilled on the washing-machine door.
We had a quick chat with Herman and impressed on him the three golden rules he needed to understand:
We were working on a very tight budget
We had a tight budget, and
The budget for the project was extremely tight.
We thought we had an understanding and the basis for a good relationship. Time would tell.
The first task was for the van to be stripped back and then for it to be bead blasted so we could see what work really needed to be done. By the time this was complete we’d need to have an idea of how we wanted to proceed with Historic H and we still only had half a plan.
After taking some more photos we bade Herman a hearty “auf wiedersehen, pet” and continued on to York. When we got back we’d need to firm up our plans and find the money to support them. Good job nothing was going to happen straight away as we had a pre-booked holiday which was looming in 3 short weeks.
So, no pressure then, what could possibly go wrong?
To be continued …
Spare 2 minutes and help Mr.T shape the future of his van by completing thisshort surveyhe’d be very grateful.
Total Distance: 76 km / 47 miles with 1,243 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 18 minutes
Average Speed: 23.1 km/h
Weather in a word or two: Cool
And now for something a bit different …
All the chatter about the south of the river being like Mordor and covered in dark, impenetrable clouds that my club mates fear to penetrate, had only served to remind me just how much I enjoy the challenge of riding there and so I decided to scratch the itch.
May Day, Bank Holiday Monday seemed to provide the perfect opportunity. There was of course a club run available, but since these tend to consume pretty much a full day and the family were struggling to remember what I looked like, an early start and early return from a solo ride under Sauron’s baleful eye seemed like a good compromise.
It also meant I didn’t feel the need to provide any blerg commentary and reportage but would give me something else to write about should I unexpectedly and inexplicably feel the urge. I guess I did.
I was up early and on the road by 8:15, dropping down the Heinous Hill and then swinging around to put the River Derwent on my left as I began to head south-west, directly up its valley.
I was off into the Land of the Prince Bishops (which sounds slightly more appealing than Mordor) and beginning what Strava notes as my longest ever climb – around 25km in length with an altitude gain of 440 metres.
Although it rises fairly relentlessly all the way, the first part of the route is very much about gentle, almost unnoticeable climbing with only a few relatively gentle humps and bumps to warm up the legs and get the blood flowing.
A sharp right at Shotley Bridge soon changes all that and here the serious stuff begins. A short, swoop over the hump-backed bridge provides a little momentum for the start of the long climb of Burnmill Bank.
It’s not enough.
Momentum quickly evaporates around the first corner and the road starts to rise and just goes on and on, up through the delightfully named hamlet of Snod’s Edge.
This is about the halfway point of the climb, which totals around 4.5km in length at a 5% average gradient. Strava has it flagged as a 3rd category climb.
I had no idea how Strava categorise their climbs – so I looked it up. Apparently it’s based on the official UCI system, but whereas the UCI may take into account the severity of the preceding route when classifying climbs for races, the Strava categorisation is wholly objective and is based on multiplying the length of the climb (in metres) with the grade of the climb in percent. If the resulting number is greater than 8,000 and the grade is 3% or higher, then the climb is categorised. The categories are then:
Cat 1 >64,000
Cat 2 >32,000
Cat 3 >16,000
Cat 4 > 8,000
This would imply a Cat 3 climb is twice as hard as a Cat 4, but of course it doesn’t always work like this.
The road surface on Burnmill Bank is reasonable and most of the way it cuts through woods which provides shelter as well as a bit of colour and variety. It wasn’t long before I was encouraged to stop and strip off gloves and arm warmers.
Traffic was fairly light this early in the morning (to be fair, it usually is up here) and the verges were the playground for lots of very young and excitable rabbits, many of whom seemingly hadn’t seen a cyclist before and tended to sit up and watch me ride by, rather than bolting for cover.
Cresting the top, the trees fall away to either side and you’re presented with the first look at Weardale and the North Pennines in all their beautifully bleak and exposed glory.
Scuttling across the busy main road, leads you onto an exhilarating and fast descent down toward the source of the Derwent river and its namesake reservoir – often speckled with the bright sails of dinghy’s but looking flat, grey and empty today.
The road drags and climbs a little past the reservoir, before you reach Edmunbyers, then if you follow the road around to the left a swooping descent leads you across a jarring, juddering cattle grid. This is the gateway to moors where you can look up and up … and up some more, along the route you’re about to take.
I pass and greet a group of mountain-bikers as I rattle and thrum across the cattle-grid. They’re all well wrapped up against the weather, rain jackets and tights and boots and I feel slightly under-dressed.
I start climbing, round a few hairpins and then the wide road stretches out, relatively straight and upwards, lined by snow poles running up either side, like an extreme minimalist’s idea of a grand boulevard.
The air seems still and quiet out here, the silence only occasionally disturbed by a few bleating lambs and the haunting whoop-whoop-whorree of some long-beaked, moorland birds. Curlews perhaps? I’m no ornithologist, so it’s just a guess.
The incline is constant, but fairly steady and I settle down to spinning my way upwards. Distinctive features slowly emerge ahead and reaching and then passing them at least gives me some measure of progress.
In this way a road sign, the entrance to a dirt track, a passing place, an up-rooted cats-eye and a strangely shaped heathery hummock all gain significance as they’re encountered and put behind me.
One undistinguishable lump by the side of the road coalesces into the bloated body of a dead sheep, flat on its back, legs sticking stiffly up in the air like a massive dead fly, then this too is passed by.
Ahead the road appears to disappear over a low crest, but reaching this point reveals it continues still, upwards and onwards, but now clinging to the wide bowl of the fell as it sweeps gently around the landscape. Off to the left somewhere, the Waskerley Reservoir apparently lies in a hidden dip. I’ve not seen it yet.
As the road straightens, it also flattens slightly and I start to pass other cyclists heading in the opposite direction. A sign announces I’m 5½ mile from Stanhope and within striking distance of the stiff climb of Crawleyside. This is featured in Simon Warren’s 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, 6,190m long with average 4% and max of 20% in sections and he rates it 7/10.
I’ve ridden it a couple of times, but don’t find it especially challenging or particularly engaging, so it’s not on the menu today. Instead, I’m taking a right hand junction Google Maps has revealed to loop around and then descend down Meadow’s Edge, to Bale Hill and on to Blanchland.
As I take the right hand turn, the previously unnoticeable wind suddenly makes itself felt, it’s fairly strong and gusty and carries a distinctively chill edge. I stop briefly to reclaim arm warmers and gloves from my back pocket and then press on.
The road reaches its peak, topping out at about 545 metres above sea level, and then starts to slowly descend as I press on through a somewhat destabilising cross-headwind. Sweeping round, I’m heading more or less due north now, the descent steepens and I pick up speed.
Ahead, the road surface looks newly laid, unblemished and feels as smooth as glass. I can clearly see there are no cars and I find myself whooping and swooping round the curves, tucked in tight and able to safely use the full width of the road.
I notice signs proclaiming 15% and 20% ramps as I whip past downhill, passing another lone cyclist going in the opposite direction and attempting what looks like a shorter but harder way up to the top. Then I’m through another, much gentler cattle grid and descending on suddenly much rougher roads through Baybridge and on to Blanchland.
I stop in Blanchland for a much deserved cereal bar and guzzle from my bottle, saluting several small groups of cyclists as they swing past, while I begin plotting a route home. Either way I need to climb out of the village, going left and up a 20% plus climb out toward Slaley and along the top of the fells, or right, to a clamber out and trace the edge of the reservoir, followed by a longer, but less sharp climb out of the valley again.
The right hand route is more scenic and less exposed, so that’s the way I head, passing through Edmunbyers again, before climbing back up to Burnmill Bank.
I’m soon racing through Snod’s Edge again and trying to build up enough speed to carry me down a sudden dip and up the stinging climb on the other side. Naturally I don’t make it and there’s a bout of undignified out of the saddle grunting and gurning as I try to keep the big ring turning over.
Back into the Derwent Valley, I retrace my route, but this time in the opposite direction and it’s all encouragingly, slightly downhill. I tuck in, ramp things up and I’m soon clipping along at a fairly respectable 20 mph plus.
At Hamsterly I sweep left and then right and I’m onto the final climb of the day, the 4th category hill up to Burnopfield. From the top, it’s a short skip down Fellside Road and I’m home – only around 47 miles covered, but packed with over 1,200 metres of climbing. I can’t help feeling there’s plenty more good roads to ride and climbs to find out here in the Mordor badlands.
Seeing my ride posted on Strava, the BFG wondered how much my legs were burning and I truthfully told him I was fine. Well, that was until Mrs SLJ pressed me into fulfilling my familial commitments with a walk down to my parents house and back again. I can honestly say this proved a much more taxing exercise than my morning ride.
YTD Totals: 2,557 km / 1,589 miles with 27,868 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 111 km / 69 miles with 1,200 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 22 minutes
Average Speed: 25.4 km/h
Group size: 22 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Cool
Last week the nice people at WordPress, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say their politely programmed bots, sent me best wishes on Sur La Jante’s 3rd birthday.
So three years in and still churning out this lowly ‘column’ (as one reader rather grandiosely labelled it) or my ‘diary’ as another refers to it. (I thought diaries were meant to be honestly truthful, whereas I’m very liberal with the truth and have been known to outrageously embellish – in fact anything for a cheap laugh).
Anyway, it remains to me, nothing more than a humble blog or, as we decided a couple of weeks ago after adopting the Ashington idiom, blerg.
I think blerg seems an especially appropriate name as it sounds onomatopoeically redolent of vomiting; the disgorging of the wordy effluvia that passes as wit and wisdom around here, but I digress.
Saturday morning found me working up to another blerg entry as I pulled up at the meeting point after a wholly remarkable ride to get there, where nothing much happened at all. After the travails of the last few weeks, I’ll take that kind of boredom any day.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
I found Taffy Steve in mid-spiel talking about Uh-murca, Uh-murcan politicians and how to make Uh-murca great again, all the while pondering why the ruling elite always referred to their country as Uh-murca and never America.
This provided the perfect cue for my entry into the dad-joke of the week competition – which, by the way I feel I won hands down: “I hear the Trump Administration are trying to ban shredded cheese. They’re trying to make Uh-murca grate again.”
I swear you could actually hear the wind soughing softly through the tumbleweeds as I dropped the punchline.
Taffy Steve then tried to put the Garrulous Kid’s Uh-murcan upbringing to the test, by having him re-enact the pledge of allegiance that all school kids are supposed to start the day with. It was a decidedly disappointing, lame, half-hearted performance though, carried out with about as much conviction as (I like to hope) any real American kid with half a brain would adopt.
The Prof rolled up on the Frankenbike that he’s adorned with some deep section, carbon rimmed Zipp wheels – something akin to slapping lipstick on a pig. He still struggles getting on and off a “proper” bike without a mounting block, even after a couple of years of trying. I blame far too long riding his glorified-Meccano built, folding-shopping trolley of a small-wheeled velocipede, with its girlie step-over styling.
Yet again I instructed him to try tilting the frame away from the vertical before swinging a leg over it. Yet again, I’m not sure he quite grasped the concept.
Crazy Legs was chatting with OGL about new cars and comparing notes on the Citroen Picasso. Crazy Legs himself has somewhat reluctantly just swapped his own Picasso for a Cactus and the memories of his old car brought a sad tear of reminiscence to his eye. He professed that he really, really missed the ability of opening up the Picasso’s hatchback so he could sit sheltered under the tailgate whenever it rained. It was left to a clearly perplexed Taffy Steve to ask the painfully obvious and perfectly logical question, “Err, couldn’t you just sit inside the car when it rains?”
Princess Fiona reported that she had successfully led her “fish out of water” expedition of cyclists on a walk into the Cheviots last weekend, but the pleasant stroll had unintentionally turned into a 6-hour forced death march. Caracol was conspicuous by his absence today and while Princess Fiona was quick to re-assure me he was actually at a music festival in Leeds, I have my suspicions that she may somehow have broken him.
Crazy Legs outlined the planned and pre-publicised route for the day, which was heavy on climbing with perennial favourites, the Mur de Mitford, the Trench and Middleton Bank all thrown into the mix.
Zardoz shuffled up, already enacting another charade to highlight his (entirely feigned) dreadful enfeeblement and pitiful inability to propel a bike with any great vim or vigour. In a perfectly judged, slightly quavering voice he pleaded, “You won’t abandon me in the Trench, will you?” a line I’m fairly certain he lifted in its entirety out of some patriotic, creaky old movie about the Great War.
With only 22 lads and lasses out, we decided not to split the group until the Mur de Mitford, when those looking for less hilly alternatives could follow OGL for an alternative, slightly gentler ride.
Off we set and I was soon shuttling between OGL and the Garrulous Kid, trying to follow two random conversations at once. We passed the eye-brow raising sight of what appeared to be a runner in cyling shorts and jersey. “Hmm, I think he’s forgot his bike,” someone quipped, even as the runner seemed to wave and acknowledge us as being in the same “tribe” as him.
I was discussing the Badlands of Dinnington, with the Garrulous Kid and talking about what a strange place it and its (possibly) unjustifiably denigrated citizens were. Then, as we swept down from the village, frantic hand signals upfront sent us swerving around a major obstacle in our path. This turned out to be a black bin bag, stuffed to overflowing with the countless, bloody corpses of dead pigeons and dumped on the side of the road. Too weird for words.
Unfortunately, this prompted a bizarre and rather random conversation with the Garrulous Kid, which started when he ask if I’d ever been to the Royal Fee-ayter in Newcastle (I have) for the pantomime (yes, to that too) which he insists always, always, always, traditionally includes a sketch about dead pigeons. (Err, no.)
Naturally, once I’d doubted the veracity of his claim, he then had to work back through the entire group, trying to find someone who’d been to the Royal Fee-ayter and seen the pantomime that involved dead pigeons. I think he’s still looking for some sort of positive corroboration.
A quick pee stop found two of the oldest members of our group immediately reaching for their mobile phones, like social-media obsessed, needy teenagers, or perhaps sex pest’s let loose on Tinder.
Then a sharp scramble upwards, followed by a sharp dip down, found us approaching the Mur de Mitford around a tight, momentum sapping left-hand turn, horrible for anyone who didn’t realise what was coming and found themselves caught in the wrong gear. Up we went in a rush, before regrouping over the top and assessing the damage and who was left.
Surprisingly only a couple had taken the opportunity of a less demanding route to the café and followed OGL and I was somewhat surprised to find Szell still with us, but reasoned the lure of tackling his bete noir of Middleton Bank had been too tempting to refuse, no matter how hard he had to work to get there.
With Biden Fecht and Ovis driving on the front, we were soon scaling the Trench and strung out in a long line. I eased approaching the top, recognising there were still plenty more hills to come and heard the unmistakable “swash-swash-swash” of G-Dawg turning a massive gear and climbing out of the saddle as he bridged across to me.
Another general regrouping and then we were climbing the long, hard drag up to Rothley Crossroads. At the top, an obviously fatigued Garrulous Kid was asking how much further we had to go. I told him it wasn’t too far, but heard a distinct groan when I mentioned we still had Middleton Bank to scale.
A rolling road led us onto the approach to this hill and hoping to take maximum advantage of any help he could get from gravity, Szell pulled out wide and began hurtling down the outside, pulling just about everyone else along with him, while Crazy Legs cried out in disgust at being swamped by hurtling bodies and chaos on either side.
We then hit the bottom of the bank and the natural order was quickly restored, with G-Dawg and Biden Fecht pulling away at the front, while those less enamoured of gravity began slipping backwards.
I found myself amongst the wheels as we reached the steepest ramp and, as the incline bit, the Garrulous Kid did a bit of ill-conceived fishing for another gear. With the change down, his legs started whirring round ineffectually and as he lost momentum, I pushed around him, rose out of the saddle and began to lead the chase to the front pair.
I ran out of hill before making it across, but the pace slowed briefly so we could reform and then we slowly started to wind it back up again. As we swept around Bolam Lake I manoeuvred to the back of the pack, waiting to see if anyone attacked up the rollers, but holding station as nothing happened up front. Where was the Red Max when we needed him?
Down the dip and onto the final climb and, as we rounded the last corner, Ovis attacked from the back and I slid onto his wheel. He dragged me up toward the front of the group and he sparked a reaction from G-Dawg before slowly fading and drifting to the side. Crazy Legs followed G-Dawg’s acceleration and I switched across onto his wheel, as we slowly wound in and passed Keel, hitting the front just as we crested the last rise and all finishing line-astern.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
As we stood at the counter being served, Crazy Legs unconsciously prepped my coffee with milk, while I handed him a knife for his scone. “We’re like an old, married couple,” he remarked.
“Well, except we don’t hate each other,” I replied.
“Speak for yourself,” he countered.
For some reason, completely unknown to me, Crazy Legs then became fixated on describing pictures he’d seen of the Chuckle Brothers sharing a bath with a young female model, an image he encouraged everyone to Google – before concluding it would scar you for life. If that’s incentive enough for you, then feel free, I have to admit I’m not brave enough.
Under poor and imprecise instructions, we had G-Dawg chasing a speck of errant butter all around his face and I wondered if there’d be any aerodynamic benefits gained from greasing your head. This, quite naturally led to discussions about Spanish footballers, whose de rigueur, hairstyle of choice appears to be anything long, slicked back and very, very greasy.
Talk then progressed to Ronaldo’s unfortunate bronze bust, with its uncanny resemblance to ex-Sunderland plodderstriker, Niall Quinn. We thought perhaps that only the Garrulous Kid and the artist would be able to see a resemblance between these two remarkably different footballers.
As if on cue, the Garrulous Kid then showed up, hovering over the table to ask everyone if they’d ever been to a pantomime at the Royal Fee-ayter, while I sat with my head in my hands.
Deciding to put him to more practical use, I asked him to go get some coffee and learned he wasn’t allowed coffee. I have to admit that far more than anything else he’d ever said to me, this made the most sense – he’s hyper enough that I just can’t imagine what he’d be like wired on caffeine.
I explained that what I actually wanted him to do was get refills for our coffees and off he went and dutifully delivered.
As he returned and finally pulled a chair up to the table, talk uncharacteristically turned political and serious, with Crazy Legs revealing he’d actually been paid a visit by his incumbent Labour MP. In person!
He’d discovered she was quite human, honest and had a decent sense of humour and he’d actually quite liked her. I’m not sure my MP ever leaves his party office, other than to shuffle down to Westminster periodically and draw his cheque and the only time we ever hear anything is when he wants our vote.
The Garrulous Kid then derided Jeremy Corbyn as a communist and I couldn’t help wondering why he thought this was necessarily such a bad thing. Apart from the preposterous notion that he was a traitor working for the (now defunct) Soviet Union, the big reason the Garrulous Kid gave for disliking Corbyn was he would … dan – dan – dan … raise taxes!
I find the common, prevailing meta-narrative that always portrays taxes as wholly evil and some how wrong to be incredibly facile and tiresome. Just to be bad, I found myself asking why he felt those with higher incomes and incredibly comfortable lives shouldn’t be asked to pay a little more to help support a crumbling health care system, or our shockingly under-provisioned schools.
The ensuing conversation had Zardoz wondering what school the Garrulous Kid went to and what they were actually teaching them, but Crazy Legs felt the answer for his views could probably be attributed closer to home than school.
Lending an ear to the fast evolving conversation the Garrulous Kid was now having with G-Dawg about PSHE and Citizenship lessons, Zardoz nudged me and muttered, “It’s alright, we’re back on safe ground now, he’s off talking about chlamydia again.”
Turning the tables on the Garrulous Kid, who always seems to find at least one obscure and unlikely resemblances between a club member and some obscure celebrity, Crazy Legs suggested the Kid reminded him of no one quite as much as Jar Jar Binks. I think this was quite a blow to his ego, as he sees himself more as a bad-ass, Kylo Ren.
It was far too early for G-Dawg to leave for home as he’s conscious getting back before 1.00pm would set a very bad and unhealthy precedent. So, while Taffy Steve joined up with the rest for the return back and then his epic solo journey on to the coast, we settled in to waste a little more time with idle and inane chatter.
Finally judging it was safe to leave, we left Zardoz in the café to meet up with his venerable wrecking crew of veteran cyclists, while G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, the Garrulous Kid and me set off for home.
Crazy Legs and G-Dawg took up station on the front for the first part of the ride, while I rode alongside the Garrulous Kid and asked him the burning, million-dollar question – had he ever tried riding and talking to OGL?
In my own mind I was already imagining with horror the tsunami of verbal diarrhoea that might be unleashed if the two spent any time together. Disappointingly though, the Garrulous Kid reported riding with OGL is boring, as “all he ever talks about is bikes.”
At the top of Berwick Hill we pushed through and took over pace-making duties from the front two. By his standards, the Garrulous Kid seemed quiet and a little subdued over the last few miles. Perhaps he ran out of words, or was feeling tired after our rather lumpy ride?
Perhaps he was just savouring his last club run for a while as he’s been condemned to more Saturday schooling to try and improve his maffs. Either way it was a quite peaceable end to the ride.
With the sun finally breaking through I declared it was probably the best part of the day. Crazy Legs then rather astonishingly claimed credit and declared that from now on we should refer to his bike, the much-cossetted Ribble, as “Cloudchaser.” Hmm.
The Garrulous Kid and Crazy Legs then turned off and I entered the Mad Mile with G-Dawg at a quite sedate pace. With Son of G-Dawg absent, I guess there was no competition for first use of the shower so we had a more relaxed run in.
I waved G-Dawg off and then set course for home, which, like the trip out that morning, was unremarkable and incident free. I unclipped at the front gate having ridden bang on 69 miles with exactly 1,200 metres of climbing. Hard but fun.
YTD Totals: 2,480 km / 1,541 miles with 26,625 metres of climbing