Total Distance: 111 km / 69 miles with 1,142 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 5 minutes
Average Speed: 27.3 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Ok
I’m due to fly off on a family holiday sans velo, so this is necessarily going to be quick and dirty. Who knows, maybe I’ll realise a shorter, more concise and condensed style of writing suits SLJ and that terse is the new verbose …
Nah, maybe not.
The Red Max had volunteered to plan and lead the club ride on Saturday and had helpfully outlined the route as we stood chatting after the club time-trial on Thursday evening. We would, he said, be heading down into the Tyne Valley, dangerously flirting with the very borders of Mordor, but not actually daring to cross the river at any point.
He then rather cryptically concluded, that we would then work our way back to the café by running the Zig-Zags Backwards. I nodded along sagely, but had absolutely no idea what he meant, where he was referring to and still don’t know if we did indeed end up running the Zig-Zag’s backwards on the day.
I was late getting started first thing, so risked surfing the early morning traffic to cross the river at Scotswood, rather than my usual, quieter route further upstream. This saved me a few miles and a hatful of time. It didn’t save me a climb out of the other side of the valley, where I quickly found I was still suffering from the depredations of Thursday night. My legs were heavy and hurt.
A decent sized group were out, so we split into two, with the Red Max bravely volunteering to lead the second group and submit himself to any cavils and carping from the Grognard’s. Unlikely, though that such carping might be, you just never know …
We could usually rely on walking Sat-Nav and Route Master, G-Dawg to keep the front group on song, but he was busy elsewhere this morning, riding a Team Time Trial with Crazy Legs, Captain Black and the Hammer. Between Aether, Richard of Flanders and me, we felt we had an almost workable grasp of the planned route, but decided to regroup at Stocksfield bridge where we could get further guidance.
All went according to plan and, barring a thoroughly tuneless rendition of “Gordon is a Moron,” we had a wholly uneventful ride out. The front group was soon camped out in the sun, indulging in a game of Word Association Football with the Garrulous Kid, while we waited for the second group to put in an appearance.
This game was initiated when the Garrulous Kid spun some tale about the Monkey Butler Boy confronting a black (?) cougar (?) in his back yard (apparently quite a common occurrence in Wallsend).
Then we simply added fuel to the fire, in a conversation that would suddenly ricochet from cougars, to cat food … to the reintroduction of extinct native species … from bears, to lynxes the size of pit ponies … to cheap, adolescent deodorants, to MILF’s and ginger-haired sirens … to haircuts and first dates, before wildly veering into genetics and biology, through citizenship, to killer red squirrels, James Burke and the end of the world as we know it.
Each, daring, darting leap the Garrulous Kid made from one unrelated subject to the next was, if not logical, at least traceable to a particular trigger, but none of it made any kind of sense in retrospect and keeping up was as wild and exhausting as hanging onto the back of the bunch during a café sprint.
Eventually the groups coalesced, shuffled around a little and faster and slower groups formed and set off again, all following the same route, but at variable speeds.
We climbed, then climbed some more, until we were splintered and spread all up and down the road. I was up with the front-runners, but my legs were dead and I was struggling to hold on. I dropped off the back to where Benedict was leading a chase group, hung with them a bit and then we managed to bridge across to the front.
This larger group then kept together until we finally hit Matfen and the run in to the Quarry Climb, when I became detached again and found myself hanging at the back of another, small chase group, alongside Buster, Zardoz and Gunny (a Guy With No Name Yet).
We were on the team time trial course, but our squad of G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, Captain Black and the Hammer, had been one of the first out of the gate, so hoepfully (in the nicest possible way) we wouldn’t see them. We did witness a whole slew of different teams though – some superbly drilled, tight and organised, others looking like they were out for a normal club run and simply ambling along, one or two already reduced to 3 men (or women) and likely to struggle.
I had recovered enough to drag the group up to the Quarry climb, but hills were definitely a problem for me today and it was hard work. We pushed on toward the café and, as my speed dropped, I ceded the front to Buster. Again, with a bit or rest and recovery in the wheels, I hit the front again on the slow drag up to and through the crossroads.
Zardoz spelled me next, on the run down to the Snake Bends and then we were through and onto the final run to the café.
At the café, Den Haag went for a sandwich option, with all the trimmings. Somewhat surprisingly, “all the trimmings” turned out to be a small crescent of watermelon and a pineapple rhomboid, artfully speared on a cocktail stick. Seeing someone buy a sandwich instead of cake was novelty enough for us, even before taking into account the somewhat … err … exotic and eclectic garnish.
Caracol surmised that the café probably now had one largely intact watermelon, with just one tiny segment carefully incised from its side and, unless there was a sudden run on sandwiches “with all the trimmings” they’d be throwing away 99.9% of the melon tonight and buying a new one for tomorrow.
This discussion led Biden Fecht to recall a holiday in Greece, when the drinking water ran out and the only source of safe rehydration was locally produced watermelon – a refreshing change for a day or two, but he reported that the novelty soon wore thin.
Den Haag wondered what the options would have been for anyone on a cycling holiday, reasoning it wasn’t entirely practical to lug around a couple of watermelons in your jersey pockets and they probably wouldn’t fit into a standard bottle cage.
I wondered about drilling a hole in a couple of watermelon and sliding them onto the bar ends, for easy transport and an additional safety feature too. Den Haag though suggested carving one into a functional and potentially cooling helmet, that you could then easily transport by wearing it on your head.
Our sporting entertainment options for the weekend appeared to be limited to the European Road Race Championship in Glasgow. Andeven was wondering what the course was like and I suggested it was the one used for the Commonwealth Games. This, we recalled was won in a solo break by a young Welsh tyro, called Geraint Thomas, despite an untimely puncture in the final kilometres.
We concluded that Mr. Thomas was no slouch when it came to this bicycle racing malarkey and we felt that, sooner or later, he was bound to come good and win something of significance…
There was only time for the Garrulous Kid to wander past and protest that he didn’t have a thing for red-haired girls.
“Ah, it’s red-haired boys, is it?” OGL countered, to much spluttering and denial.
The run home was fast and furious and, not for the first time and, no doubt not for the last either, I was actually pleased to swing away from the group and start a solo perambulation back at a more relaxed pace.
Man, I was tired. I think I need a holiday.
YTD Totals: 4,869 km / 3,025 miles with 60,085 metres of climbing
Club Individual Time-Trial, Thursday 9th August, 2018
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 19 km / 12 miles with 146 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 35 minutes 12 seconds
Average Speed: 31.8 km/h
Group size: Well, 1 (duh!)
Weather in a word or two: That gentle summer breeze? That was actually a hurricane.
I think I should be commended for surviving over 50 years as a sentient human, without feeling the compulsion to inflict wholly unnecessary and prolonged pain and suffering on my weak and frail body.
… Or at least that’s the line I always trotted out when some kind soul or other invited me to undertake cycling’s race of truth – an individual time-trial.
There were always other excuses too, anything other than a short blast would feel too big a step up and, when we did occasionally and intermittently hold a club competition, we tended to just piggy-back on another clubs event, holding an unofficial race-within-a-race, so to speak.
As well as this feeling unconscionably rude, as a pure novice, mixing it up with overly-serious, po-faced and glowering strangers and potentially getting in the way of their PB’s always seemed a bit intimidating.
I also never felt I had the right build to make even a passable attempt at a time-trial. I don’t have the concentrated mass and power to continuously turn over a massive gear -in body-type terms, I have more of a weedy Romain Bardet style physique, rather than that of a strapping, powerful TT specimen like Tom Dumoulin or Tony Martin. I also suspect I would be even more ineffectual in a time-trial as Bardet has proven amongst his peers.
Then, Crazy Legs took it upon himself to organise an official, club-based, standalone and (most importantly) short individual time-trial and put the call out for self-flagellating, masochists everywhere to sign up.
When canvassed beforehand, I did foolishly tentatively agree to participate, even while lobbying unsuccessfully for a much shorter event – maybe 10km instead of 10 miles, or perhaps even just 5km?
Oh, and preferably downhill, too…
But, 10-mile it was to be, a course was duly selected and a date was picked. There was no turning back and I felt it was important to support Crazy Legs’ enterprise, dedication and hard work in organising the whole damn thing.
A 10-mile ITT is a set and recognised, British tradition – a rite of passage for many a club cyclist – and suitable courses have already been set up and verified all over the country, hidden behind innocuous codenames and only discussed in hushed tones during shadowy meetings by those deemed to be “in the know.”
Our selected crucible of pain was imaginatively and poetically titled the M105 TT course and, for its outward leg, it traversed backroads made familiar from just about every club run we do, albeit we would be travelling north toward further pain, rather than south from the comfort of coffee and cake.
The return leg would be straight down the A696, a main arterial route from Scotland and shunned on our club runs as being too busy and too dangerous for group rides. It did however promise a fast run in to the finish, with the prospect of (hopefully) only minimal traffic on an early, weekday evening.
Once committed, it was just a case of making the best of a bad job. I came up with a simple strategy, figuring I should be able to ride at an average of 20mph across the whole course and, from this I set myself a target time of 30 minutes.
If I could somehow dip under this mythical barrier, it would be (in my mind at least) akin to Roger Bannister doing a 4-minute mile … and I’d probably celebrate it as if I’d achieved something of equal significance.
I tested how easy it was to reach and maintain 20mph, trundling along the bottom of the Tyne valley, both before and after our weekly club runs. I also tested myself a couple of times riding to and from work, although my single-speed commuter bike is geared to get me up the Heinous Hill every day, so sadly my legs spin-out at anything approaching 22mph.
Although not sustained over a long enough time, or distance to be conclusive, these tests all seemed to indicate my goal was at least achievable.
To give myself every advantage, I picked up some tri-bars from Amazon for less than £20. I realised I would be forgoing my classification in the standard, unmodified road bike category of the competition, but I was more interested in achieving the best personal time, than where I placed in any club hierarchy.
Despite the bargain price, the tri-bars proved to be solid, well made and more than adequate for the task at hand. I clapped them on Reg and actually started to feel sorry for him. My bike now looked unbalanced and with all the horns, pads and brake levers jutting out from the front, he resembled nothing so much as a primary coloured, rather anorexic-looking stag beetle.
I had a brief trial around the mean streets of Whickham. Control wasn’t especially precise, I didn’t feel overly confident, but the position certainly seemed to help aerodynamically, or at least psychologically – which was as good as.
I hemmed and hawed about using the tri-bars, right up until the last minute, before finally deciding to go with them – in for a penny in for a pound, I might as well be hanged for a lamb as a sheep, or any other cliché you feel is appropriate to insert at this juncture.
The day arrived and I packed up early, put everything into the car and drove out to where I thought the start line was. I had an hour or so in which to recce the course, something I’d planned to do, much, much earlier, but of course never got around to.
Getting a better feel for the tri-bars, I began to work out where I should be using them and where to back off and go for the greater control I could get riding on the hoods. I started to notice all the little lumps along the route, things you would just roll over in the normal course of events, but when you were pushing hard, really bite into your legs and drag down your speed.
Swinging left at Kirkley Hall, not only brought you onto the bumpiest, hilliest section of the course, with the roughest road surface, but pitched you straight into a headwind. As my pace dwindled horribly again I realised this long, outbound leg, was going to be the most difficult section, I would struggle to keep up to my target speed and I’d need to make time up elsewhere.
Hard left at the end and then left again spat you out onto the A696 and then it was just a case of pinning your ears back and driving for the finish. Or, that was the theory at least.
In practice my test run was thwarted by a car, trying to recreate a complex Spyrograph pattern and embarking on a convoluted, thirteen-point turn in the narrow entrance to the junction, something I could only hope didn’t happen during my timed run.
Once I’d swung south, the road surface was better, wide, smooth and fast and even with a few rolling hummocks to contend with, it seemed far less taxing. Plus, we would have the benefit of putting the wind behind us for the run-in.
I picked up a few visual markers I could tie-in to the distance left to run and rolled past the end of Limestone Lane, looking for anything that would give a clue to where the actual finish was. I could see nothing, but someone told me it was just past the junction, so that’s what I would work to.
I then rolled through to the start line, expecting to find Crazy Legs, but no one was around. I rode up and down the lane a few times, futilely looking for clues, until I bumped into Caracol … and then we both rode up and down the lane a few times, futilely looking for clues.
Richard of Flanders powered past on a warm up and we asked him where we were supposed to sign on.
“Down the road, first right” he shouted as he rode away.
We tried down the road and first right … and then second right … and then third right and kept coming up blank. Back onto the lane and in desperation, Caracol stopped to phone Crazy Legs for further instruction, while I spotted the Red Max and the Big Yin, numbers on their back and rolling toward us.
Max volunteered to help and led us to the shopping centre car park, where Crazy Legs had set up Race HQ, was taking entry money, dolling out numbers and teasing everyone with tantalising glimpses of Haribo and Energy Drinks for the finishers.
Oh, for those keeping count, it was actually the third right we had tried, we just hadn’t gone far enough.
So it was that, despite being one of the first ones to arrive, I was the last to sign on. That suited me well enough, at least I wasn’t going to be demoralised when someone roared effortlessly past.
With time running out, we rode down to the start, where I enlisted Buster’s help to pin on my number. I would be the last rider off, number 19 – so almost twice as many entrants as Crazy Legs had hoped would turn out.
The we stood round talking the usual blether as the early runners got underway.
The Monkey Butler Boy had gone for the full aero set-up, skinsuit, aero-helmet and visor, aero-socks (under aero-overshoes!) and aero-gloves. He was set to ride Crazy Legs’ aeroTT-bike (the one that always gives its owner a bad back) which looked like a matt-black, angular stiletto and as far from comfortable as I could possibly imagine. In fact just looking at it, I felt my spine twinge in sympathy.
The Monkey Butler Boy had even gone as far us using little-brass coloured magnets to hold his number on instead of safety pins for some truly infinitesimal weight or drag saving. They also seemed very fiddly and largely ineffective at their primary task.
“I reckon they’re actually fridge magnets,” I said.
“Well, that one does say, I ♥ Marbella,” Caracol pointed out.
Meanwhile, someone asked if there was any Salbutamol going free. The Red Max simply scoffed, declaring that anything you could get on prescription just wasn’t going to cut it and wouldn’t be strong enough to help tonight’s efforts.
He claimed his own strategy for the ride involved starting with a full bladder and working his way steadily through a new bottle, hoping the desperate imperative of needing to pee would spur him on to the finish.
When we’d chuntered on for long enough, our numbers slowly dwindling as we were called to the start-line, one-by-one, I rolled off for a quick post-warm up, warm-up. Returning in time to see a Tour de France green jersey with a number 17 on the back disappearing up the road.
“A sprinter,” Caracol observed. “Do you think he’s one of those ones like Michael Matthews or Sagan that are really handy at prologues and short time-trials?” he mused. Then he was rolling up to the start line and I was shuffling into his spot.
Off he sped and I took my place, alongside our starter-gate for the evening, Big Dunc and the official starter and timekeeper, G-Dawg.
“30 seconds,” G-Dawg intoned.
“I want my Mummy,” I whimpered, but no one cared and I surrendered myself to Big Dunc’s iron grip. Held rock steady, I clipped in and waited.
“If I’m not back by the time it gets dark, will you send someone out to look for me?” I wondered.
“10 seconds!” G-Dawg replied.
I raised myself off the saddle a little.
“5-4-3-2-1 – Go.”
A good clean start. The pedals whirred around building momentum. I dropped back into the saddle, took the first, long curving turn and settled onto the tri-bars, forearms well cushioned on their foam pads.
I glanced down. Bloody hell, I was doing 26mph already.
The first of many small rises came and I watched my speed trickle down, down, down, but it still held above the magic 20mph mark. Had I gone off too fast?
I tried to settle in to the task at hand, keeping the speed up and picking the straightest lines through the curves.
Around 2 miles in, and in the lane ahead I thought I caught a glimpse of green jersey disappearing around a bend. Then I was easing, hands on the hoods and freewheeling to sweep through the first junction at Kirkley Hall, briefly noticing a crouching OGL, serving as official club photographer for the day.
Back into position, my legs were starting to burn with the effort and my breathing was a rasping, staccato panting, much too loud, too harsh and seemingly too close to my own ears, as if my lungs had escaped my chest and were making their way up to squeeze out of my gaping mouth.
The first serious ramps appeared on the road up to the village of Ogle and, at the bottom of the first of these, I caught and passed the green jersey. I probably sounded like a deranged, asthmatic and over-excited sex pest as I lumbered past. Still, despite a lack of grace, I was somewhat comforted by the fact that, unless things went disastrously wrong, I probably wouldn’t be the slowest competitor.
As the slope bit and my cadence dropped, the pedalling became less fluid and the speed dipped below 18mph. Then I was over the hump, picking up the pace and back on track.
Four miles in and I was waved through Ogle by our marshal, Dabman. The route swung due west at this point and into a headwind, a barely noticeable, pleasant, summer-evening breeze … well, as long as you’re not trying to turn yourself inside out with some wanton and furious pedalling.
Even worse the road started to buck up and down and the surface was rough, cracked and heavy, liberally strewn with gravel and other debris to avoid.
I now had a strange stitch to contend with too, a dull, throbbing pain that seemed to encompass my entire right-side, running from my collar-bone, down to my hip. Even worse, the effort had turned snot and saliva to a sticky, viscous and strangely elastic substance that seemed compelled to cling to me, no matter what.
I had trouble expelling it forcefully enough to ride clear and it kept pivoting around to slap me across the side of the face like a cold, wet haddock, or failing that spatter horribly across my shoulder.
I was certain I had strings of spit hanging, dangling from my gaping, gasping mouth – like a dishevelled, dribbling, drooling lunatic on a bike, it wasn’t pretty.
Still, constant speed checks were for the most part on the positive side of 20mph and I was starting to eat into the miles.
Through a sharp 90° bend, ably marshalled by Captain Black, I tired shouting that there was one more rider behind me, but I’m not sure if he heard, or could even decipher my garbled and incoherent rantings.
I didn’t recognise the last marshal, there was just a flash of blonde hair as she ushered me through the last 90° bend. I took it at a fast freewheel, yawing horribly wide, before pulling the bike straight and powering up the legs for one, last effort, a straight run of maybe 4 miles, down the A696 to the finish.
The first lump in the road was negotiated without losing too much speed and I changed gear for the first time, the chain clunking noisily down a couple of cogs. I stretched out and settled in to push hard. My breathing was fully under control now, there was no more breathless panting and the pain in my side had cleared completely.
The bike felt solid under me and I was astonishingly comfortable on the tri bars, my fingers curled right around the very ends, locked in place, head up and surprisingly static apart from the churning legs.
I briefly topped 30mph and while the rolling terrain made this high-end speed impossible to maintain, I don’t recall any point along this last leg where it fell below my 20mph target.
I now seemed to have stumbled into a zone, or maybe in sporting mythology the zone. Everything was flowing, it was comfortable and it felt strangely good. Beyond my wildest expectations, I was actually enjoying myself.
I didn’t really notice the traffic either. I was aware of a couple of cars considerately shifting right over to the far lane to overtake and there were no close passes. A massive HGV, thundering in the other direction, did kick up a storm of dust and turbulence in its wake, but I was quickly through this and pushing on.
The route markers I’d picked out flowed past, the pub with the speed camera, the long sweeping bend, the interesting looking fish restaurant, the large, dead bird, brutally eviscerated at the side of the road …
Hang on, back up! I don’t remember that particularly bloody, avian corpse from my first run through?
I saw a small knot of cyclists on the other side of the road and just behind them, but on my side, a small cluster of figures. The end was in sight. I glanced down and checked my speed for one last time and it was solidly in the twenties.
I didn’t sprint, try to bury myself, or “empty the tank” – I just tried to maintain the same smooth, rhythm and cadence as the road rose up and took me through the line.
Then I was done and pulling off the road, first left, to stop and try to restore breathing back to normal again. I looped back to where the other riders were waiting.
“Well, how did you do?” the Red Max asked.
“Oh, I don’t know.” I looked down at my Garmin. I hadn’t thought to stop it at the line, it was still running and now read 29:13.
“I guess I hit my target.”
Caracol had not only set a blisteringly fast time, he’d seemingly done so with a rapidly deflating front tyre and he set to work to replace the tube, while I explained there was still a rider out there.
“Who is it?” the Red Max wondered.
“The guy in the green jersey?” He looked blank.
“Reg? Is he called Reg?” I pondered, uncertainly.
The Red Max still looked blank.
“Sorry,” I admitted, “I only know him as Two Trousers.”
Slowly the Red Max folded over, emitting strange, distressed wheezing, squealing and gargling sounds.
He finally recovered and straightened up again.
“Don’t make me laugh, it hurts too much.”
There was only time for the Big Yin to imagine OGL turning up to berate us for riding too fast and declaring, “If you want to ride like that, you should put a number … oh …oh, hello.”
Then we cheered our last man home, hung around long enough for Caracol to re-inflate his tyre and rolled back to the Race HQ/Shopping Centre car park.
There I received my official time of 27:45, or two minutes and 15 seconds inside my target – an achievement that means absolutely nothing to anyone else, but I was massively pleased with.
(Crazy Legs said he could tell I must have put a good effort in, as my face was almost as grey as it is when I finish the hill climb.)
I then slung the bike in the car and joined the rest in the nearby pub for a celebratory and much deserved pint of Guinness – purely for medicinal and recovery purposes, you understand. (Note: Other celebratory drinks are available.)
So, in the footsteps of many an embarrassing, verbose and much too lachrymose Oscar winner …
Many thanks to Crazy Legs for initiating, preparing, organising and running a fantastic event.
Many thanks to my rock solid starting gate, Big Dunc and official starter G-Dawg.
Thanks to the marshals, Dabman, Captain Black and the Mysterious Blonde, who gave up their free time to hang around country lanes trying not to look too suspicious.
And thanks to the various ladies of the Timing Association – even though I couldn’t manage to work in a full-blown nod to Jan and Dean and the Anaheim, Azusa, & Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review, & Timing Association.
Or, could I …
And finally, thanks to all my fellow competitors, there would obviously have been no event without them.
That was a blast, I really look forward to the next one.
YTD Totals: 4,739 km / 2,899 miles with 58,645 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 117 km / 72 miles with 1,216 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 20 minute
Average Speed: 26.9 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Not bad.
It looked like being a disappointing day, with plenty of cloud cover, little wind and the temperature struggling to top out around 17°C first thing. What am I saying … at any other time I would suggest this was perfect cycling weather … if we not been utterly spoiled by weeks and weeks of clear blue skies and ever-present sun.
Nonetheless, I was feeling pretty good, so decided to thrash my way westwards, cross the river and then thrash my way east again. It probably looked really ugly, but the pace was decent and it was fun, until I had to climb out of the valley and found out just how tired my legs now were. Still, I managed to just about recover and made the meeting point in good time.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The Monkey Butler Boy was joining us for the start of the run, before meeting up with his delinquent Wrecking Crew for some rough, adolescent bonding and mutually appreciative denigration. His latest wage packet had been spent on some (surely too-tall to be stylish) glaringly white and super-expensive aerosocks.
He complained they were ridiculously tight and uncomfortable and I wondered if their main benefit was in cutting off blood supply to the feet, so toes turn gangrenous and drop off – a marginal, if somewhat extreme, weight saving.
But no, apparently the socks were engineered to manage air flow and, ahem, “reduce the low pressure behind the leg that sucks you backwards.” (Manufacturers hyperbole, but my emphasis.)
“Each sock can save me up to 3 watts!” the Kool-Aid imbibing Monkey Butler Boy declared.
“I’ve tried to persuade him that if he wears 5 pairs he can save 30 watts,” the Red Max concluded dryly.
At this point, the Monkey Butler Boy discovered he’d been sitting in a freshly-laid patch of finest seagull guano, that he’d then smeared all over his hands and shorts.
“Just wipe it off on your socks,” someone suggested.
“Or your shoes,” I added. (They’re still obscenely white.)
The Monkey Butler Boy decided it was best to wipe the guano off with grass, so, as the Red Max looked on it dismay, he proceeded to pull out tiny little tufts of grass and rub them ineffectively over his fingers.
Kids today, eh? They don’t even know how to wipe off shit.
I blame the parents.
As our numbers grew, I looked up and spotted what at first I thought must be a miradjee. But no, when I rubbed my eyes and looked again, the mysterious figure was still there. It was, in all reality, the unfailingly cheerful Dabman, returned to us after an absence of at least a year. In fact, the last time I recalled seeing him, he was sat on a wet road, being unfailingly cheerful while carefully holding onto his snapped collarbone.
I could tell he hadn’t been out on the bike for a long, long time as he was wearing long bibtights and obviously hadn’t received the memo stating that, temporarily at least, global warming had become an established fact in the North East of England.
Or, maybe he needed the bibtights to hold in place all the armour he’s taken to wearing, just in case he suffers another unfortunate “chute.”
Crazy Legs put in a promotional broadcast for self-flagellating masochists to take part in the club 10-mile TT that he’s kindly arranged for us next week, then G-Dawg outlined the days route in microscopic detail. We split into two packs with a re-formation planned at Dyke Neuk to decide options and away we went.
I joined the, this time smaller, front group. It was still a bit chillier than I would have liked, but the temperature was starting to creep slowly upwards and I’d reluctantly persuaded myself to part with my arm warmers.
As we took the road toward the Cheese Farm, those at the back announced the second group was closing rapidly and was in danger of catching us. I could only surmise the Red Max was on the front of the second group, his seeker-head was pinging with active targets to chase down and he was in full-pursuit mode. I didn’t dare think about the number of complaints his pace was likely to be generating from those hanging on his wheel behind.
We decided we would be safe if we could reach the sanctuary of Bell’s Hill, reasoning we could then open up a bigger gap on the climb, and so it proved.
A sharp left-hand turn at Dobbie’s Debacle, reminded Crazy Legs that he’s intent on naming and mapping all the places where we’ve donated skin, blood, expensive lycra and sprinklings of aluminium and carbon-fibre to enhance the road surface.
Dobbie’s Debacle is the place where I’d slid out at low speed, taking down Taffy Steve on his brand, spanking-new Titanium love-child and putting a terminal hairline fracture into the top-tube of my Focus Cayo. Well, terminal for me anyway – the Prof had taken away the frame, self-repaired it and so birthed the Frankenbike.
There’s a whole host of other landmarks that deserve commemoration too, such as Horner’s Corner, which sadly isn’t a corner (why let the facts get in the way of a good name) but the straight stretch of road where the Plank and Red Max touched wheels during a café sprint, with disastrous, but quite predictable consequences.
Crazy Legs remembered our Icecapades, beautifully choreographed, all-fall-off-in-sequence efforts to rival any Dancing on Ice number. We have both common and a posh varieties of these (based on average house prices in the locale of the accident).
Then, of course, how could we forget the time OGL inexplicably and for no apparent reason, simply fell over while riding in a straight line …
My own notable occasions might include the roundabout, where a Polish girl (who for some reason no longer rides with us) hurled herself to the ground, in what seemed to be a desperate attempt to escape from Cowin’ Bovril.
Or, maybe the numerous places where the Dabman has perfected the fine art of, in his own words, “hitting the ground like a sack of spuds”.
But, without doubt the most memorable was on one freezing, poorly attended winter ride, when half a dozen of us turned down a lane we didn’t know was a single, smooth sheet of ice … or, at least we didn’t know until G-Dawg went sailing past everyone … on his arse … followed two seconds later by his supine bike. Somehow, Aether managed to stay upright, steer into the grass verge and stop, while the rest of us all came clattering down, one by one, like dominoes in a row. Good times!
As planned, we reached Dyke Neuk and paused there to allow the second group to join us. I then followed a smaller, break-away section for a route that would see us descending down the Trench and then dragging our way out again via, Ritton Bank, the Rothley Lakes climb and Middleton Bank.
As we worked our way along the valley floor as prelude to this series of climbs, Crazy Legs and Biden Fecht started dancing with much exaggerated, synchronised finger waggling and then Biden Fecht took to bobbing up and down in the saddle.
“Is that your Dan Martin, on the attack, or a pecking chicken impersonation?” I asked, before realising I’d just described two almost identical things. My ignorance was met with great disdain from Biden Fecht, as apparently I’d witnessed, but failed to recognize his sexy, Beyonce-style dance routine.
We stayed in compact group until the top of Ritton Bank, when everyone swung left before the summit, apart from Crazy Legs who pushed on for some added miles. At the next junction, we swept downhill, before starting the long slog up to Rothley Crossroads. Caracol, Andeven and Rab Dee had pinged off the front and we became split-up and strung out as we started about 4 kilometres of climbing, with one or two spicy sections of over 16%.
Ahead of me, Caracaol and Andeven pressed on at pace, while Rab Dee dropped back to check on the backmarkers. A creaking Rainman (he claimed it was his cleats, but I suspect it was his protesting knees) caught and passed me on the drag up and we started a strange little ritual, where I would claw my way slowly up to him and then he’d dig a little deeper and pull away again. Nonetheless, I was able to keep him just about within striking distance, until the road finally relented and started to tip down again.
Rainman pulled over just past the Rothley Crossroads, seemingly intent on regrouping with the rest, but I was on a charge and swept straight by. He finally abandoned all pretence of gallantry and gave chase, latching on to my wheel and recovering from his efforts, before we started to work together.
I say work together, but this was implicit, rather than a well-formulated and agreed plan. I think we were both simply going as hard as we could, for as long as we could, just to see where we would end up, or if we could actually kill each other.
I thought we were all alone on the road, well apart from the vole that darted under our wheels at one point. Just behind though, Biden Fecht was chasing furiously and behind him, Rab Dee was also trying to close us down, having first checked the backmarkers were being shepherded safely home by G-Dawg and the Colossus.
A leg-burning ascent of Middleton Bank put us on the path for the café and we started to share turns a bit more fluently, even if my stints on the front were necessarily shorter. They were enough anyway to keep the pursuers at bay. I buried myself over the rollers and took us down to the final, cruel drag up to the café, rounded the corner and I was done, cooked and flailing as Rainman pulled away at the last.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
We learned Princess Fiona had booked the wrong return flight for an upcoming trip to Geneva. Apparently, the return was booked for not just the wrong time, the wrong day and the wrong date, but the wrong month.
We tried to rationalise how easy the mistake could be. Was it the right day, but the wrong month and she’d just clicked too far on the calendar?
Was it one of those scrolling menus, where you might inadvertently cause the date to roll over if you accidentally brushed the screen in the wrong way?
Had the flights been changed at short notice by the operator, causing confusion and a bit of last-minute panic?
“Well,” I had to conclude, “Looks like you just fucked up.”
Others confessed to their own flight fuck-ups, probably just to make her feel better. Biden Fecht won this particular contest by bizarrely suggesting he turned up at Heathrow Airport, very, very early one morning, to catch a flight from Aberdeen to London.
Post-Toady France, pre-Premiership, Richard of Flanders bemoaned the lack of sporting distraction available once he got home this afternoon. I tried to sell everyone on the Clásica San Sebastián, which looked to have a strong field, including some potential winners I highlighted, such as Egan Bernal, Mikel Landa and Pierre Latour.
I don’t know what sort of strange-voodoo hex I put on these unfortunates with my casual name-dropping, but all three of them crashed out the race with serious injuries that’ll keep them off the bike for weeks.
I’m just pleased I didn’t mention deserved winner, Julian Alaphillipe, who took the honours with a searing uphill acceleration to bridge across to Bauke Mollema, who was then easily dispatched in a final sprint. I’m struggling to understand how the classy Alaphillipe can climb with such grace, power and speed, but never seems to trouble the GC, even in week long stage races (with the exception of his 2016 Tour of California win).
The sun began to break through the cloud cover as we gathered to head home, leaving one table including G-Dawg, the Colossus and the late arriving Crazy Legs, behind to enjoy some extended blathering.
As we started up Berwick Hill, the Red Max surged to the front, blinked in surprise and looked around somewhat bewildered.
“Agh! What am I doing up here?” he plaintively asked.
“You’ll get a nose-bleed, if you’re not careful,” I advised.
“I’ll just get me coat,” he replied and slipped back again.
According to Princess Fiona, Caracol then called out an admonition of “Steady!” before he surged away off the front while everyone else hesitated. I worked to slowly close the gap, pulling the rest along behind me, although not without causing a few fissures in the group.
We pushed over the top and regrouped as we sped down the other side and up through Dinnington. Caracol then threw me another curveball, swinging left with the rest of the group, leaving me on the front as we entered the Mad Mile, although at a more sedate pace than usual in the absence of G-Dawg and the Colossus.
I split away from the rest and made my way steadily upwards and then down again to the river. Crossing the bridge and climbing up to the traffic lights, a group of riders flashed through the junction ahead, so naturally I felt compelled to give chase.
The group split at the next roundabout, but I tracked a couple through Blaydon and caught and passed them just before Shibdon pond, only to be stopped short by some temporary traffic lights. As we waited, another, larger group of cyclists joined us and I found myself uncomfortably at the head of a large peloton. No pressure then.
The light changed and I led everyone off, through the roadworks, across the last roundabout and up to the traffic lights at the bottom of the Heinous Hill. I waited for a break in the traffic and then started the climb.
One of the riders surged past, but I didn’t respond, which was just as well as he turned off for the Pedalling Squares café, while I still had the rest of the hill to scale. I assumed the rest also followed him, drawn away by the promise of good cake and coffee, so once again I found myself alone, tacking steadily upwards and home.
YTD Totals: 4,665 km / 2,899 miles with 57,923 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 114 km / 71 miles with 1,237 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 20 minute
Average Speed: 26.3 km/h
Group size: 19 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Hot and cold
Some blog posts flow easily and just seem to write themselves. I don’t quite understand how or why, but this was one of them and consequently way ahead of schedule, even by my incredibly lax standards.
The run across to the meeting point this week was wholly uneventful and unsurpassingly dull, both physically and metaphorically. It was all carried out under grey and cloudy skies and the ever-present threat of a shower.
I did notice the wind picking up as I slipped back down the other side of the river and began to clamber up and out of the valley, but for the time being it was more a cooling help, than a hindrance.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
At the meeting point, the Garrulous Kid proclaimed complete mental and physical exhaustion, having been away all week at some kind of school camp in the darkest wilds of Pickering, North Yorkshire. Here he had been thoroughly dissolute and debauched, staying up until after 10pm almost every night – and even drinking a beer.
He said it had been a terrible ordeal, buried in a deep, dark, valley where a thready and intermittent, phone signal could only occasionally be found and even then you had to venture out beyond the chicken coop. As a consequence, he’d felt strangely dislocated, cut off from the real world and removed from all important news.
I wondered what he felt he had particularly missed out on, the spreading canker of unconscionable, Trump venality? The tangled, Gordian knot of the infinite-seeming Brexit negotiations? The growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen? Perhaps, the delicately balanced and fraught elections in Zimbabwe?
Nope, his actual concern seemed to be that Demi Lovato had apparently OD’d and he’d not known about it for 2 whole days …
He then began telling us something about Chris Hemsworth.
“Who?” I enquired, looking at G-Dawg for help, but he seemed equally as unenlightened.
“The actor who played for,” the Garrulous Kid offered.
“The actor who played for what?”
“No, no, the actor who played For. Tee-Haitch-Oh-Arr, as in For: Ragnarok,”the Garrulous Kid persisted.
“Oh. Sorry, no idea…”
(I was going to complain about his use of “haitch” instead of “aitch” but practical experience slapped me hard in the face and I realised it would be a hiding to nothing.)
Apparently, the people who ran the school camp had given the Garrulous Kid a brand new nickname, to go along with the 13 or so bestowed upon him by this here, humble blerg and his cycling companions.
Rather worryingly, he didn’t like this new one, either…
Crazy Legs has found watching the ITV coverage of the Toady France a bit of an ordeal, principally because of the constant, ire-inducing, Watchfinders sponsorship: corporate strapline (hah!) “There’s always someone stupid enough to squander a princely sum so they can have a big, ugly, garish and gaudy lump of bling strapped to their wrist, even when it’s not new.”
His complaint was not only with the ad showing someone changing a front wheel while committing the cardinal sin of laying the bike upside down, but why someone who could obviously afford a super-nice bike, along with a big, ugly, garish and gaudy lump of bling strapped to their wrist, should have to ride so painfully slowly.
Perhaps the watch is so heavy it weighs them down, or maybe it’s so expensive they daren’t ride any faster in case they fall off and smash it to smithereens? Or, perhaps they ride slowly so people can see the watch and admire their exquisite, understated style and exemplary taste?
Finishing his mini-rant, our planner and ride leader for the day, Crazy Legs, outlined the route and decided that, with a relatively compact 19 riders, we would roll out as one.
Somewhere along the way we’d be picking up the Colossus, but Richard of Flanders declared he was only out for the first hour, so numbers seemed manageable.
Apparently though, we were still a major and inconvenient impediment to rightful and righteous road-users and, while skirting the airport, we had to suffer a punishment pass from an arse-hat in a horn-blaring, black Range-Rover, sweeping by inches from my elbow as he overtook us around a blind bend. Dick.
One of our guys was wearing shoe covers and revealed he’d checked the BBC hour-by-hour forecast and, for each hour for the rest of the day, there was a 40-60% chance of rain. By his reckoning this was as good as a guarantee that, sooner or later, we were in for a right soaking.
Still suffering from a long-term, persistent chest-infection, Crazy Legs sounded like a consumptive raddled with tuberculosis, hacking away before spectacularly ejecting a bolus of vivid green mucous that would hit the road with a wet splat, like a fully-loaded pizza dropped face down from a great height.
After we’d swapped out the Colossus for Richard of Flanders, Crazy Legs set about organising an autobus for any riders not at 100%, finding the pace too high, or wanting a shorter, more relaxed run to the café. After a bit of horse-trading and negotiation, this groupetto formed at the back of our group and then they eased to allow smooth separation.
With reduced numbers, we pushed on, until force of habit had us swinging right at Matfen for our usual run to the Quarry. We were called back by G-Dawg, as this wasn’t today’s official route and everyone bar the Garrulous Kid turned around to get back to the plan. The Garrulous Kid wandered away for one of his solo romps that always make G-Dawg wonder why he bothers riding with us in the first place. The rest of us re-grouped and pressed on.
Pushing on the front alongside G-Dawg, we took the newly re-laid, back road up the village of Ryal. It seems to have lost most of the loose chippings from its surface, not that it mattered anyway, as Taffy Steve and his unique combination of frame geometry and sticky tyres were absent today and our passage was wholly without incident.
From the village we regathered, before pitching down the Ryals, hitting speeds over 65kph. Planning ahead, G-Dawg had swapped out his deep section carbon rims especially for this descent as, on at least two, previous occasions he’s battled terrifying speed wobbles, tearing down this road.
At the bottom, we swung first right for the sharp clamber up through Hallington and one of my favourite sections of road. As we reached the junction at the other end, we were peppered with a stinging, sudden shower and rain jackets were quickly pulled out and deployed.
At this point, we lost two more, as Rab Dee set off for home and Andeven went for a longer ride.
Ten minutes later and hot from yet more climbing, the sun broke out and jackets were quickly discarded again. We reportedly had it much better than our other group, as although separated by just a few odd miles, they were caught in a sustained hailstorm, while we only got a bit damp around the edges.
Swinging right just before Capheaton, we followed the dogleg route to the short, steep and painful Brandywell Bank climb, which spat us out onto the road down to the Snake Bends.
The speed ratcheted up and we were dragged from two abreast into one single file, riding hell-for-leather down the white lines in the middle of the road to try and avoid all the pots and cracks in the tarmac, which seem to be multiplying on a weekly basis.
I hung grimly onto the back of this compact, ultra-fast group, as Caracol, Rainman and the Colossus tried to outdo each other in a flat out sprint. Then we were sitting up and easing through the bends and onto the main road.
G-Dawg, hit the front and drove the pace up a notch and then I followed, before ceding to Caracol and then, G-Dawg again, as we closed rapidly on café and a much deserved break for coffee and cake.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
It was black bin bags all round, to sit on at the café as we were rather water-logged and, as I mentioned to the Colossus, each a couple of pounds heavier than when we set out.
G-Dawg revealed that, despite changing his wheels, he still had a heart-stopping speed wobble on the descent of the Ryals, so his deep-section, carbon rims weren’t the cause.
He’s now at a loss to explain the reason and not sure how to fix it, other than changing a few things and constantly hurling himself downhill to see if it makes a difference. As this would involve deliberately trying to induce a speed wobble, I can understand his reticence to investigate further.
The Colossus showed us video from up the coast of the impressive thunderstorms that had washed over us during the night. G-Dawg reported these had been so intense, the pre-season game between Sunderland and Middlesbrough – (I almost made the mistake of calling it a “friendly”) – had been abandoned, for fear of lightning strikes.
“Sunderland can’t really afford to lose any players,” G-Dawg concluded.
“Sunderland can’t really afford to lose any fans, either,” I suggested and G-Dawg wearily agreed.
Talk turned to more edifying sporting spectacles, in particular the Toady France, where I found unlikely sources of sympathy for two of the pelotons more maligned riders. Carlton suggested he was close to tears, when he realised Chris “Puff Daddy” Froome wasn’t going to win for a fifth time, while the Rainman was rooting for “Old Stoneface” Quintana, well, if a certain big Dutchman wasn’t going to take the title.
Caracol seemed most impressed with Primoz Roglic, but was worried that, sooner or later, he was going to do that ski-jump landing celebration on the podium, one foot forward, arms flung wide, and smack both podium girls in the face at once.
Personally, I don’t think anyone is ever going to top Sondre Hols Enger’s podium dance as a celebration…
… and, no matter how dangerous Roglic’s manouver, anything has to be an improvement on Nibali wiggling his fingers on top of his helmet in an extremely cheesy approximation of a shark fin.
Someone mentioned the women’s team kit with flesh coloured panels that made them look as if they were half-naked. The Rainman thought there was a new male variant, based apparently on a lime coloured mankini … and I sensed possibilities for a new club jersey…
Everyone had their own version of the worst jersey ever, Castorama dungarees got a mention, along with Carrera fake-denim, though somewhat surprisingly no one mentioned the brown shorts of AG2R.
Carlton disliked the super-bright, super-colourful Mapei kit, but conversely this was one of G-Dawg’s favourites and a serious contender for his next jersey purchase.
As we were tidying up as a prelude to leaving, the Garrulous Kid swung by and informed us he’d met up with the Crazy Leg’s grupetto just before the café, but had ridden right past them. We expressed some disapproval that he hadn’t lent his efforts to helping them out, but he insisted Crazy Legs himself had told him to ride on.
The Colossus nodded in understanding, then proceeded to give what we felt was probably a highly accurate re-enactment of what Crazy Legs had actually said, while shooing the Garrulous Kid up the road.
“Oh, go away … No, further … Further … Further still. Look, keep riding until you can’t hear my voice…”
We continued gathering our things, plonking wet helmets onto heads and squeezing fingers into sodden gloves. Quite unpleasant.
I started collecting the black bags to hand in. “Hey, “ the Colossus called, “You know you could almost use those to put rubbish in, as well.”
Good shout, I should probably mention that to the staff next time…
Outside and for the first time in about six or seven weeks, it actually felt cold, we were shivering and impatient to get away to warm up. We now found the wind had strengthened considerably and it was a real struggle on the front. It wasn’t all bad though, having blown up from the south and torn the clouds apart, so at least we had some bright and warm patches too.
Crazy Legs and Caracol drove us up and over Berwick Hill, before G-Dawg and Andeven took over, battling head on into the wind as we worked our way around the perimeter of the airport. Crowds lined either side of the road, perhaps drawn there, I thought, to witness the edifying, unequal battle of man against the elements.
But no, they were actually there for some plane spotting, as the airport was being used as a staging post for the Sunderland Airshow.
I was painfully reminded of this by the sustained, ear-shattering shriek of military jet engines, which someone said belonged to the Red Arrows, screaming down the nearby runway to take off in formation. I’ve no reason to doubt them, but I looked all around the sky and totally failed to spot any of the tell-tale, bright red, BAE Hawk’s, or anything else for that matter.
With G-Dawg visibly flagging in his unequal battle with the wind, Crazy Legs and Caracol took over on the front again and drove us down to the Mad Mile. There, I hung on the wheels until the last minute, before swinging away at the roundabout and turning right past the rugby ground.
I was soon battling solo with the wind and then, a few turns later, trying to climb uphill with it blasting full force into my face. Finally, cresting the valley and dropping down toward the river, I found even here I had to pedal to keep my momentum up and it was hard work.
Out onto the bridge and all the signs and barriers were blown flat, laid low by the gusting wind. I clung to the guardrail to let a MTB’er ease past. He could take the expediency of just riding over all the mesh fence panels, fallen road signs and plastic barriers, trusting to his fat, tractor tyres to negotiate the obstacles safely, while I hung back to give myself space to pick my way carefully through all the windblown debris.
“Bit blowy!” he confirmed, riding smartly past. I wasn’t about to disagree.
There was just one final obstacle to overcome, a clamber up the Heinous Hill into the unrelenting headwind. Not the best way to end a ride, but we made it, finally.
YTD Totals: 4,530 km / 2,814 miles with 56,420 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 108 km / 70 miles with 1,122 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 1 minute
Average Speed: 27.0 km/h
Group size: 26 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Sticky hot
There was plenty of cloud cover around on Saturday to provide a bit of welcome shade from direct sunlight, but it would still be a hot and sticky day. Nonetheless, I’d reverted to type and gone back to wearing a base layer. I also got laughed at for turning up at the meeting point in arm warmers. I explained it was still a bit chilly first thing, especially when your first act on climbing aboard your bike was to drop down the Heinous Hill at 35 mph, but the excuses weren’t washing.
I’ve seen many odd things discarded on the roads while riding a bike, but today was the first time I’ve ever encountered a saw. A saw? How did that end up there? I swept carefully around it, giving myself plenty of room to avoid the pointy side.
The bridge over the river now has new kerbs to go with its all new shiny tarmac – still a bit fur coat and no knickers though, as there remains a gaping hole at one end.
I was feeling relatively sprightly when I hit the other side, so wound things up and carried my speed up the climb out of the valley, netting a string of new Strava PR’s and arriving at the meeting point much earlier than expected.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point
Wednesdays Circus Maximus hit-outs were a hot topic, with participants convinced their collective efforts are closing in on netting someone a Strava KOM … or a myocardial infarction… I guess whichever comes first. There’s only a few more weeks planned to get there too.
There was some discussion about BMC Racing being saved by its amalgamation with CCC Sprandi Polkowice. I liked pro-rider, Michael “Rusty” Woods’ comment that no matter who the main sponsor would be, he’d be referring to them as BMCCCC from now on. I guess when you ride for EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale you know a thing or two about snappy team names. Nevermind BMCCCC, I think I’ll be referring to them as B1400.
News from Kermit was that the insurance company couldn’t find a suitable, child’s size TCR Giant 2 anywhere in the UK, so they’d offered him a £2,800 TCR Giant 1 instead. Score.
Not all good news though, as both our designated drivers, Kermit and Goose had been hit with speeding tickets from our Pyrenean adventures.
Goose was anxious to compare notes to try and determine if they both fell foul of the same speed trap. Being true cynics, we both felt this was probably located just outside the car hire compound in the airport, ideally placed to catch those struggling with unfamiliar cars, left hand drives and finding an unknown destination on foreign roads, all the while trying to remember which side of the road to drive on.
Jimmy Mac outlined the route for the day, amid the usual grumbling from the usual quarters and we split into two. Once again the bulk of riders went with the first group, so I hung back to even out the numbers.
OGL started complaining about routes that involved backtracking, or, even more bizarrely, riding into a headwind. Other than circumnavigating the entire planet, we couldn’t think of anyway to avoid a headwind at some point along the way and, as the Red Max explained, all routes must necessarily involve a degree of backtracking, otherwise we’d never get home.
Sneaky Pete sneakily suggested an AGM would be a great opportunity to air out any differences, discuss options and make the runs better for everyone. Once again though we were told it was pointless doing something different, or even discussing it, as nothing ever changes.
Saturday irregular Another Engine seemed confused by the split, initially went with the first group, but was soon detached and ended up chasse-patate in the no-mans-land between the two groups. We finally picked him up and as he dropped back, admitting he was totally confused by the new arrangements – a confusion that will no doubt be seized upon as grist to a certain mill.
Our route took us pretty much along the same route as last week’ but without the there-and-back loop through Twizzel. At one point Sneaky Pete took a sneaky short-cut to Walton, arriving there in time to wave through our first group, before hunkering down to wait to rejoin everyone in the second group.
Somewhere along the way we lost OGL and the headwind deniers and the ride became much faster and smoother as a result.
We then reached Dyke Neuk and called a halt to reassess our several options. “The published route, goes left here down toward the bottom of the Trench, which we then have to climb up,” The Red Max relayed.
“I must admit, I looked at it and could only thing of two words,” he continued, “Fuck. That.”
“Ok, what’s your considered opinion, now?”
That seemed clear enough and succinctly put, so we decided to forego the dubious pleasures of the Trench and route through Hartburn and on to Middleton Bank instead.
Avoiding a ravaged road leading down to Middleton Bank, I dropped back through the group, just before the climb. This seems to be my (un)usual modus operandi for this climb, a strange habit I’ve apparently adopted, although I’ve no idea why.
Captain Black led the charge up the steepest ramps and I accelerated onto his wheel as we went over the top. We pushed on toward the cafe at a steady pace, with everyone latching on behind as best they could.
Captain Black then injected some pace and did a big pull at the front, I did a turn and then Taffy Steve took over, droving us through Milestone Woods and up to the foot of the rollers. I took over again and ripped over the ramps, down the other side and onto the final climb to the cafe.
Rounding the last corner I pulled over and sat up at the exact moment Captain Black put in a massive, perfectly timed, out-of-the-saddle attack, quickly opening up a big gap which I had no chance of closing.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Much of the discussion around the table was focused on the Toady France, with Taffy Steve sympathising with Richie Porte, sitting all alone, embittered and unloved somewhere in Tasmania, snarling at images of Geraint Thomas and telling anyone who’ll listen that he, Richie Porte, used to be that erstwhile, hapless and crash-prone second lieutenant who had great potential but always faded, or had un jour sans in the third week of a Grand Tour.
The phenomena that is Peter Sagan received some attention, including his YouTube clips of his core workout and Sagan Parking. So used to seeing him in green, or yellow, or his national jersey, or World Champion bands, we tried to remember if we’d ever seen him in standard Bora-Hansgrohe kit.
(A quick Google suggests that, astonishingly, the last time Sagan raced in a standard team jersey (other than in a time trial) was in the Tour de Suisse in 2011!!!)
Caracol bemoaned that Sagan had suffered such misfortune in the Olympic mountain-bike event – he would have liked Sagan to unzip the maillot jaune to reveal the maillot vert … which he’d then unzip to reveal the Slovak champions jersey … which he’d then unzip to reveal the rainbow bands … which he’d finally unzip to reveal an Olympic medal, nestled in a luxurious nest of chest hair à la Mark Spitz.
I did suggest that Sagan might struggle to win the World Championships this year which looks hugely mountainous. The table were universally horrified at my lack of faith.
While Sagan was living up to expectations in the Tour, Nairo Quintana has looked a spent force, much to Caracol’s disgust as he reasoned Old Stoneface had the best poker-face in the entire peloton, never looking like he was suffering, never smiling, never looking surprised, or angry, or happy, or upset.
In fact, I was surprised no one else had seen the Quintana sex-tapes – where he wore the exact same expression throughout, even when reaching the …err, apogee of pleasure.
OK, I made that bit up.
I told them that Just Pro Cycling blogger, Mike Franchetti, once previewed Stage 9 of this year’s Giro by suggesting it would be won by Vasil Kiryienka riding away from Dayer Quintana in the final kilometre. Kiryienka would then be met at the finish by Nairo Quintana and challenged to a staring contest in order to avenge his brother’s defeat. Mr. Franchetti concludes that: “After three and a half hours, Kiryienka blinks.”
I felt that Quintana wasn’t particularly loved or appreciated within Movistar who would always favour Spaniards such as Landa or Valverde over the enigmatic Colombian – hence the ridiculous and unworkable three-leader trident at the Tour.
“I just don’t think he’s very happy at Movistar,” I suggested.
“But, obviously no one can tell!” Caracol concluded, before suggesting that behind the blank mask, Quintana was probably crying out for help and possibly even passing around notes in the peloton that simply read, “Help! Sign me. Save me.”
Sneaky Peter returned from the café, rather perturbed by the posters he’d found in there that declaimed Beware the Grey. We wondered what it was they had against us, until we realised the message was aimed at grey squirrels displacing the indigenous reds and not auld git cyclists.
The return home was punctuated by another burn up Berwick Hill and, as we we swung onto the road toward Dinnington, I took over at the front alongside The Ticker, owner of the loudest freehub in the club since Shouty left for pastures new. We slowed long enough to allow everyone to regroup, then smashed it up through Dinnington and around the back of the airport, netting another PR along the way.
I set off for my solo ride home and arrived still feeling good enough to have actually ridden, rather than grovelled up the Heinous Hill.
YTD Totals: 4,416 km / 2,744 miles with 55,183 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 109 km / 68 miles with 1,089 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 10 minutes
Average Speed: 26.1 km/h
Group size: 30 riders, 3 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Hot, hot, hot
Let’s skip a week shall we? The 7th July was another good club run in exceptional and hot weather, but with our Pyrenean misadventures taking up all my inane-wittering bandwidth, it kind of took a backseat.
Who knows, perhaps some day,some completion-obsessed, archivist will uncover this inchoate, hidden gem, tentatively titled “They Swarm” and it will be revealed to the world with huge fanfare* as an unfinished masterpiece to rank alongside Byron’s Don Juan, The Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg, or The Other Side of the Wind.
*I’m thinking maybe “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” played on a lone kazoo.
But for now, let’s put it to bed, US TV style…
Previously on Sur La Jante…
The hottest day we’ve had for years, but we didn’t have to worry as the Red Max had a cunning plan – all we had to do was ride harder and faster, he said and it would generate a beneficial cooling breeze…
It was a good route that picked out a section of newly surfaced road to let us ascend to the village of Ryal without having to tackle the infamous Ryal’s themselves. We didn’t realise that the road had actually been resurfaced with loose gravel, which was the perfect size, weight and composition to constantly get jammed under Taffy Steve’s fork crown, so the ascent became an irregular, stop-start sort of affair.
Not all was lost though, as Aether took the opportunity presented by all the mechanicals to successfully forage in the hedgerows for early blackberries. Luckily the Prof wasn’t with us, or we might still be there, taking advantage of all the free stuff.
Then, in the café garden a thousand and one, tiny black beetles fell in love with G-Dawg’s Molteni jersey (well the orange panels on it anyway) and descended upon him like a biblical plague. It was so bad, he ended up stripping down to his bibshorts, just for a bit of relief.
Stripping off all our tops for the ride home in show of mutual support and solidarity, was mooted, but quickly shot down, perhaps by Princess Fiona, although I couldn’t be sure who objected first.
A fully-clothed, return was then completed without incident and I made my way home having covered 113 km with 1,100 metres of climbing.
So, back to the present. Another fine, hot and sunny day was promised and didn’t disappoint. It was so hot in fact that for the first time in living memory I rode without a base layer of any kind and selected my lightest and theoretically coolest of jerseys.
The bridge at Newburn was still closed to cars, and they’ve taken the chance to resurface it. There is still a gaping hole at the north end where it was washed away though, so hopefully it’ll be a bit longer before it’s fully open again.
Despite the heat, the wind was up, keeping things cool, but also providing noticeable resistance whenever I found myself tackling it head on. Nevertheless, I made decent time across and arrived at the meeting place bang on schedule.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The Garrulous Kid had been traumatised by having to use the Metro during the week, pressed uncomfortably cheek by jowl with the hoi poloi, amidst what he claims was a sustained and unprovoked attack by savage, M&M wielding chavs. They had apparently bombarded his train with the colourful, candy-coated confectionery so ferociously that grown men cowered in their seats and refused to leave the carriages at the station.
Taffy Steve was intrigued and posed the highly critical question we all wanted the answer to, were they hardcore gang-bangers, using peanut M&M’s, or just play-acting kids, wannabe-gangstas, restricting their attack to run-of-the-mill, plain M&M’s?
I think he was positing some kind of escalation in the seriousness of the assault depending upon the type of confectionery being used as ammunition.
This led to an exotic re-imaging of The Untouchables, with Kevin Costner’s Eliott Ness taking instructions from Sean Connery’s old-hand, Jimmy Malone:
“He pullsh a KitKat, you pull a Shnickers bar. He puts one of yoursh in the tuck shop, you put one of hish in the pic ’n’ mix aisle. That’s the Shouth Gosforth way!”
My dad-joke of the week also came from this unlikeliest of sources:
“What time did Sean Connery get to Wimbledon?”
It was so hot, the Garrulous Kid had frozen his bottle overnight, but by the time he reached the meeting point the ice seemed long gone. He picked the bottle up, peered myopically at its contents and gave it a prod with a bony finger.
“All the ice is gone,” he lamented, then, noticing a strange, opaquely white, foreign substance swirling around in the bottom of the bottle … “No, hold on there’s some left at the bottom.”
Goodness knows what he was seeing, but we pointed out that if it was ice, it would be floating – you know, icebergs never drag their feet along the seafloor.
The arrival of long-term absentee, Grover was greeted with a, “Bloody hell, is it that time of the year again?” from Crazy Legs.
“You said that last time,” Grover muttered drolly. Probably true, but it was still funny nonetheless.
It was indeed a day when many of our lesser-spotted luminaries would be tempted out, including the Antipodean Ironman, back from serious injury, the aforementioned Grover and even the Prof, given the day off from his role in a Back Street Boys tribute band, or perhaps lured out by the promise of free fruit just waiting to be picked along all the hedgerows.
Anyway, he would stay with us for, oh, I don’t know, maybe a whole, half an hour, before the collective responsibility of riding in a group began to chafe … and he buggered off without a backward glance.
Add in a smattering of FNG’s and there was about thirty of us altogether and we split into two groups before pushing out. A quick headcount saw the front group outnumbering the second, so I dropped back to the latter and away we went.
The Red Max and Taffy Steve led us from the start and we picked our way through Brunton Lane, where the good weather had encouraged the bushes and hedges into super-abundant, verdant and bucolic over-growth.
“Another couple of weeks of this and there’ll just be a cyclist-shaped hole in a wall of green,” Crazy Legs mused.
We took over on the front as we took the road up past the Cheese Farm, determined to set a perfectly reasonable pace and make it to the top of the hill without any complaints from behind.
Did we make it?
Well, what do you think?
We then stopped before taking a long loop that would see us heading south and generally slightly downhill to Twizzel, before stomping back up into a headwind. This engendered the first group split, with OGL and Grover deciding the loop was generally pointless.
Crazy Legs admitted the detour didn’t do anyone any favours, but I was happy to add a few more miles along previously uncharted roads and anyway, who could possibly resist a visit to a place called Twizzel at least once in a lifetime? Once is probably enough, though.
As we approached Dyke Neuk, I finally recognised the road and, from there it was a straightforward push through Whalton, then Hartburn and on to Middleton Bank. We stopped regularly to check everyone was ok and see if anyone needed a shorter route to the café, but everyone seemed to be holding up.
As we started to climb Middleton Bank, Andeven whirred rapidly and effortlessly away, showing us mere plodders and amateurs how it should be done. Meanwhile I got stuck twiddling too small a gear, too soon and it took me an age to get on top of it. As the ramps slowly steepened and the gears finally bit, I managed to work my way past the rest of the group and follow Crazy Legs catching onto his rear wheel as we went up and over the top.
Crazy Legs looked back, determined no one else was in sight and indicated he was going to drop back to wait. I decided to press on alone, coaxed the chain onto the big ring and started to pick up the pace.
Around the first corner and into some welcome shade from the trees around Bolam Lake, Benedict stormed up behind, called out, “hop on” and went surging past. I accelerated onto his wheel and we were off.
He took a big, long turn and then I spelled him until I could no longer keep the pace high enough and he accelerated onto the front again, leading us through the dip and curves as we arced through Milestone Woods.
As we hit the bottom of the rollers, I noticed a new set of temporary traffic lights half way up the slope had just turned green. Determined not to be caught by an inopportune red light, I came around Benedict and surged upwards. Benedict said he guessed what I was trying to do, but hesitated a micro-second and just missed latching onto my wheel as I hammered up through the lights and over the first couple of crests.
As I jumped out of the saddle to keep the momentum up to tackle the third and final ramp, I looked back, expecting Benedict to be camped on my six, or thereabouts, but there was a sizeable gap between us. I decided just to press on, expecting he would catch up on final scramble up to the café, but suspect he eased once we made the main road and I rolled in imperiously and surprisingly alone.
“Did you ride the full route?” the Garrulous Kid asked, obviously slightly taken aback by the fact that there was clear air between me and everyone else from the second group. Such a disturbing lack of faith…
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
A Woodland Burial site has opened just down the road from the café and OGL has apparently already been eyeing up a plot for the future, thinking it’ll be an ideal spot from which to come back to haunt us every Saturday.
Crazy Legs revealed he still has his Mum’s ashes under the sink and his Dad’s in the garage and doesn’t quite know what to do with them. I unconscionably suggested the latter might be useful if he ever has an icy drive to contend with one winter. The whole topic cued up a number of stories of people trying to dispose of ashes, only to have them blow back in their faces.
On a slightly less morbid note, initial discussions were made about travelling to take in the Tour of Britain in September, in particular stages 5 and 6. The first is an unusual Team Time Trial up Whinlatter Pass from the easier, western side (five kilometres averaging 4%), followed by the following days stage which tackles the climb twice more, but from the eastern side with averages nearer to 7%.
Taffy Steve sat down opposite me and the creaking bench tilted alarmingly and tipped me into his shoulder. I’m not sure this rickety garden furniture is going to last another season.
We applied some Archimedean physics to our problem, Taffy Steve shuffling closer to the pivot point, while I slid along toward the very end of the bench. That worked better, well, at least until one of us decided to stand up suddenly. It didn’t stop Benedict laughing at us and suggesting it was like watching two mismatched kids trying to work a see-saw.
Meanwhile, Crazy Legs expounded on his new Novichok conspiracy theory, by pointing out the two incident locations, Salisbury and Amesbury were, strangely and coincidentally, almost equidistant from the British Chemical and Bacteriological warfare laboratory at Porton Down. The Novichok poisoning was then, either a leak from the government’s own facility, or its proximity was being used by the Russians to cover up their own nefarious “wet-work.”
Taffy Steve determined we deserved a sneaky third coffee and I readily agreed – after all, it was hot and we needed to stay hydrated.
We then had a chuckle at the Colossus who was sitting at the next table alongside the Garrulous Kid and looking extremely glum and fed up with life. We wondered what could possibly be upsetting him so much …
As we made our way home I caught up with Kermit, who thought he had a new bike sorted, a like-for-like replacement offer from his insurance company, after his Focus Cayo didn’t survive its trip back from the Pyrenees. (Or, to be more accurate, its whirlwind tour around Zurich and sundry other European airports.)
He’d been offered a Giant TCR Advanced which seemed like a great deal to me – then again, I’m not the one who has to ride it.
As we started up Berwick Hill our line attenuated and then fragmented and I had great fun slicing and sliding through the wheels, as I climbed from near the back to the front, dropping in behind leaders Crazy Legs and the Colossus as we crested the top.
On the reverse slope, the pair waved us through and I hit the front with Caracol, keeping the pace high all the way through Dinnington and onto the Mad Mile. The Colossus took over again, for this final stretch, before the remains of our group swept left and I peeled off to start my solo ride home.
I could get used to this fine weather.
YTD Totals: 4,251 km / 2,641 miles with 53,264 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 118 km / 73 miles with 1,242 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Average Speed: 26.2 km/h
Group size: 7 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Hot
I couldn’t summon up even a single jot of enthusiasm for doing the Cyclone this year, so while the majority discussed their 106-mile, 90-mile and 64-mile ride options, I cast about for other, like-minded club members to see if we could have a normal-ish Saturday club run.
The Red Max and Taffy Steve seemed up for doing something “not-different” – so we put it out there as an alternative to see who else we might entice along.
Saturday morning was grey and overcast, seeming to promise a brief interlude to all the hot, sunny weather we’d been experiencing all week. It was still indecently warm and a dry day seemed guaranteed, so I gave the weather no more thought as I clipped in and pitched down the Heinous Hill.
After two week absence, I was pleased to find the bridge at Newburn still closed to cars, although less pleased that the ramp over the washed out section of road had collapsed somewhat. I grounded my chain coming off it and decided it was probably best if I no longer used it as an impromptu time-trial start gate.
Main topics of conversation at the start
I arrived at the meeting point just in time to spot the backside of Richard of Flanders disappearing out of sight as he attacked the ramps leading up to the top of the multi-storey car park. I wondered if he had a secret Strava KOM up there. He suggested he’d just never been up before, so wanted to see what it was like. Hmm.
Slowly a small knot started to coalesce and by the time we’d rolled out, we were 7 strong – the Anticyclone Seven, as Taffy Steve would dub us.
The Red Max has been organising regular Wednesday evening runs, a leg-shredding, set 30-mile loop run at full-bore, on-the-rivet, balls-to-the-wall, maximum speed. This Darwinian, survival of the fittest has already reduced grown men to tears, including the likes of Carlton (who vowed never to do it again, before promptly turning up for another go a few weeks later).
I’ve started referring to the rides as the Circus Maximus and suspect it’s only a matter of time before the Red Max turns up with scythes attached to his wheels.
Richard of Flanders has thrown himself wholeheartedly into this madness, apparently shouting “Have it!” as he continually attacks off the front, is caught and immediately attacks again.
I suggested what he was probably shouting was actually “Havoc!” as a prelude to letting slip the dogs of war…
Now Max suggested that Taffy Steve might enjoy the Circus Maximus experience too.
“What ride 10 mile in from the coast after work, red-line my heart, shred my legs, burn out my lungs for an hour and then ride 10 mile back to the coast?” Taffy Steve enquired.
“Yes!” a gleeful Red Max insisted, his evident enthusiasm over-riding any perceived negatives in this plan.
“Err .. No, thanks.”
Richard of Flanders described downloading an Irish narrator/navigator to his Sat-Nav, hoping for some soft, lyrical, lilting and calm directions. I was only at the start of a very long road trip that he belatedly discovered what he’d actually selected was a rampant, rabid, Ian Paisley/Nationalist Ulsterman.
“I think yeell find ye don’t want to go dine thar!” it shouted, before declaiming loudly, “Ye should just go dine sighff!”
Luckily, we had no need of a Sat-Nav today as the Red Max had something in mind, which thoughtfully included several stops for coffees.
As we started the countdown toward Garmin Muppet Time, the sun broke through the clouds and I was able to shed and stow the arm warmers. This was the start of what would be a long and sustained bout of unexpected sun, which would see me getting home with bright red, burned kneecaps. Where’s the cloud when you need it?
The ride was progressing well as we traversed the Mitford Steads. I was on the front with Richard of Flanders when we rounded a corner and startled a young roe deer casually ambling across the road. The deer’s flight instincts kicked in so hard that it lost all traction on the tarmac and I could hear its claws skittering and skeetering across the top of the slick road as it did a quick Bambi on ice impersonation, before finding its feet and crashing away into the woods.
We paused at Dyke Neuk, which was a mistake as we were now on the route of the Cyclone and had to wait for a break in the stream of passing cyclists before we could get going again. When we did, the Red Max switched to full-on, loopy-Labrador mode and started chasing down anything that moved, gradually working his way up the stream of riders by jumping from wheel to wheel.
Luckily, the Cyclone was routed up the next right hand turn and we were able to regroup before howling down the Hartburn dip and up the other side. We started plugging our way toward Scot’s Gap, catching and passing a lone cyclist. Rab Dee glanced round, saw the Cyclone number on the rider’s bars and told him he had missed a turn and was off course. The Cyclonist turned around to retrace his steps and hopefully, find the right route.
In the distance, Rab spotted another lone cyclist and took off to see if they too were riding the Cyclone and had gone astray. Accelerating to catch her, we found that she too had missed the turn and was heading in the wrong direction. She had apparently started out in a group of friends, but had been dropped and left to her own devices. The Red Max provided instructions for her to re-join the course without having to backtrack and we pressed on.
Through Scot’s Gap and on to Cambo, the Red Max sniffed the air and decisively declared, “Coffee!” We swung left off the road and into one of the Cyclone feed stations, where the welcoming local residents had opened up the Church Hall to sell cakes and coffees.
We grabbed coffee and cake and wondered outside to sit on the grass and enjoy the sun. Here we discussed unequal wear of pedals and cleats, which was largely dependent on which foot you tended to release when you clipped out. Most of us were left-footers, but Rab Dee was a right footer. With his right pedal worn out from over-use, but the left almost as good as new, he wondered if there was the potential for a pedal-exchange programme with a suitably discomfited left-footer.
As we preparing to leave, one our earlier strays turned up, having failed to follow the Red Max’s explicit instructions. She’d done about 26 miles of the 64-mile route and had less than 20 still to do. Still, on the positive side, she was well ahead of the people she’d been riding with and had a chance to either beat them home, or wait around to join them, fresh for the last leg.
We were back on the Cyclone route for the bad descent down through Wallington (high speed, vicious rumble strips and a narrow bridge make this a bit tricky for the unwary) but we were ahead of most cyclists at this point.
We then left the route as it headed for the Ryals and had a fast run toward Capheaton. At the junction, Richard of Flanders and Slow Drinker set off for home and Rab Dee went off for a longer ride out. I pushed on with the Red Max, Taffy Steve and Zardoz toward more coffee at the Capheaton Tea Rooms.
“The problem with multiple coffee stops,” the Red Max explained, “Is multiple coffee stop sprints.”
We got coffee and cake and found a table on the tearoom balcony. Here we heard all about the Monkey Butler Boy, lavishing all the money from his new Call Centre job on bike bits – much to the disgust of an old timer sitting next to us, who couldn’t work why anyone needed a power-meter. (I had a lot of sympathy for his view).
The Red Max outlined a plan to take Coffee Interlude#3 at Stamfordham and then pick up the tail-end of the Cyclone route, once all the riders had an ascent of the Ryals in their legs, at which point he conjectured they’d be easy pickings!
We left our shady sanctuary and took to the sunny roads again, stopping to try to work out what the odd machine perched in the bed of a truck was. After careful examination, Zardoz and the Red Max concluded it was a vintage, steam powered, electrical generator. I bowed to their superior engineering expertise, quite frankly I didn’t have a clue.
For a refreshing change, we went down the Quarry climb, joined the Cyclone route just after the Ryals and pushed on for Stamfordham.
The Red Max and Zardoz stopped for coffee and ice cream, but I decided it was getting late and it was time to head for home. Taffy Steve agreed and we set off at a decent clip, working our way around a steady stream of tired Cyclonists as we pushed on.
Just before Callerton, I split from Taffy Steve and the Cyclone route and started my drop down toward the river and home.
I was back just a couple of minutes later than usual, having had a thoroughly relaxed and enjoyable alternative Cyclone.
YTD Totals: 3,914 km / 2,4,32 miles with 49,186 metres of climbing