Hell Among the Yearlings

Club Run, Saturday 6th February, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                102 km/63 miles with 813 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 28 minutes

Average Speed:                                   23.0 km/h

Group size:                                           34 riders, no FNG’s

Temperature:                                      6°C

Weather in a word or two:              Filthy

Main topic of conversation at the start:

Taffy Steve was the first to bring up “motorised doping” with his wry comments that just when athletics was being seen as the bad boy of international sports, cycling somehow found a way to shoot itself in the foot and re-claim the low ground. Again.

OGL rightly pointed out that the worst fallout from Femke Van den Driessche “borrowing a friends bike” (complete with in-built motor) for only the single most important race of her season, was it detracted from a very worthy winner.

So, in my own small and meaningless way to try and redress the balance, congratulations to Britain’s new Women’s U23 World Cyclo-cross Champion, Evie Richards who won with style and panache by riding away from all the older, more established competitors in dreadful conditions on a wind blasted, rain lashed course. And she’s only 18. And it was her first ever continental race. Impressive.

Crazy Legs decided that Taffy Steve deserved the acronym MIR following his Most Improved Rider award. He also made it clear that any likeness to a large, obsolete piece of Russian space junk, prone to a decaying orbit and likely to burn up in the atmosphere was purely intentional.

Somewhat predictably, this set him off on a tribute to Billy Bragg and a quick rendition of New England. It’s wrong to wish on space hardware, but I think Taffy Steve somewhat wished he’d never become embroiled in the conversation.

Apparently the Cycling Weekly reporter never made it to the café and his rendezvous with OGL last week, but will be returning at a later date for a full-on feature on the club.

We’ve been warned that only those in official club jersey’s will be allowed to partake in the accompanying photo-shoot. What effect massed ranks of our lurid, club jersey might have is hard to tell, but I’m predicting a sudden outbreak of subconjunctival haemorrhaging amongst the unsuspecting readership of Cycling Weekly.

Captain Black suggested the photo-shoot might provoke a Songs of Praise phenomena, when usually draughty, empty churches suddenly see congregations swell alarmingly as soon as the TV cameras show up to a service. There was even some speculation about a black market in illicit club jersey’s developing, perhaps signalling the first time this venerable piece of club kit has ever been even remotely desirable.


Not content with motor doping (allegedly) we have since learned that Van den Driessche’s father and brother (already a convicted bike doper) are facing criminal charges for trying to steal parakeets from a pet store.

In any sense of the word you want to take, I suggest it’s now fair to refer to the entire Van den Driessche family as “budgie smugglers” and treat them with all the opprobium and revulsion you would typically reserve for being confronted by a pale, wobbling, moob-endowed, hirsute man in too-tight Speedo’s. You know the sort, we’ve all seen them.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

OGL stopped by to inform us that new club skinsuits were now available for our Racing Snakes. I don’t want to prejudge, but I hope they’re a more sympathetic design than the current club jerseys, or I might be getting that “budgie smuggler” nausea all over again.

He also told us to be careful on the way back as a local Tri-Club were running a time trial down Berwick Hill. We convinced ourselves that the only way we would do this in weather like todays would be to have a hot tub at the finish. We reasoned that getting into the tub could even be used for transition practice, but then realised the idea would probably fail as once in the tub no one would be coming out in a hurry.

Again motorised doping reared its ugly head and Son of G-Dawg had perhaps the best idea, fitting pullback motors to cyclo-cross bikes, specifically for their “cavalry charge” starts. I can see it now, a long line of 50 or so riders dragging their bikes backward to wind up the spring, before being unleashed to race toward the nearest course bottle-neck. High speed carnage almost guaranteed.

Crazy Legs revealed a life-long ambition to be bundled into a mail pouch and snatched up by a speeding express train, apparently just for the buzz of that initial retina-threatening acceleration.

Perhaps this dare-devilry is purely genetic as he then told us of accompanying his 75 year old mother to an avant-garde installation in the BALTIC, where following a series of screens led them to the brink of a 12 foot high, stainless steel slide. Not only was his mother thoroughly undaunted by the slide, but demanded another go.


Ride 6 Feb
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

A dry if chill start to the day promised good riding and I dropped into the valley to find that the winds weren’t anywhere as bad as the storm-whipped, westerly gales of the past few weeks and had swung completely around to blow upriver just for a change.


Cycling style budgie smuggling


Without a debilitating wind to battle, I was early and the only one at the meeting point when OGL swung by in civvies, loaded down with a very large, shiny club trophy, which had apparently been donated by David Millar. I started to politely and modestly decline it, as I couldn’t see how I could possibly ride while burdened with a large piece of what footballers always, unimaginatively and predictably refer to as “silverware.”

OGL patiently explained that the trophy wasn’t for me and he was taking it to the Club’s Go-Ride event to present to Daniel Dixon, our best young rider. Well done Daniel, I didn’t touch it. Honest.

OGL also explained he wasn’t riding this week as he was full of cold. While Our Glorious Leader was crying off, this was the first Saturday in the month, so all our more advanced youngsters were out in force.

Their number included the Monkey Butler Boy, accompanied by the Red Max who was suffering from a particularly vicious bout of the lurgy, but had somehow managed to drag himself out despite being “as sick as a parrot” – another hoary old football cliché that seemingly fits alongside (dare I say dove-tails with?) a worryingly recurring avian theme this week.

With OGL being absent G-Dawg and Crazy Legs put their heads together, intent on devising a route that would be somewhat different from the usual. After a few minutes they offered a couple of alternatives, but were immediately shouted down – nobody wanted to think and have to make a choice. We didn’t want options, we just wanted to ride!

Point made they set out and 32 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and followed, not really sure of where we were going and not really caring too much either.

Loitering at the back I caught up with Andeven, recently returned from summer at the bottom of the world and finding acclimatising back to British winter a trifle depressing. I also discovered Rab Dee lurking here, out on a new winter bike for his first ride of the year and also finding the cold less than agreeable.

For a short while, on one of our less frequented routes, we sped down a narrow path bordering the A1: a cracked surface, rucked with tree roots and strewn with debris, but infinitely preferable to jousting with the thundering HGV’s on the main road.

Somewhat surprisingly, we survived without puncture or mishap, exiting onto a private road, where still in single-file a long line of us streamed through a quiet village.


The cycling gods weren’t happy and punished us with rain


I watched in amusement as a woman on the far side of the road picked up one of her small, yappy and obviously semiprecious, dog and clutched it to her chest protectively. She rather warily watched us go by with fear filled eyes that might, perhaps, be a suitable reaction to a horde of wild Cossacks intent on pillage, but seemed misplaced for a meandering line of mild-mannered, grinning and gurning cyclists. Maybe they don’t get many visitors from “the outside”

Freezing rain had started to liberally pepper us and we were losing order along with riders as they stopped to pull on waterproof jackets. Well, all apart from Shoeless who with seeming insouciance retrieved his rain jacket from a back pocket, shook it out, slipped it on and deftly managed to zip it up despite the massive winter gloves limiting his dexterity – all the while driving the pace at the front of the bunch.

We decided to stop under a road bridge to regroup and let everyone get sorted, before pushing out into what had now become a steady, icy downpour. I later learned that Keel had bizarrely decided the forecast was good enough to break his good bike out of hibernation and had obviously offended the cycling gods, who now punished us with earlier and heavier than forecast rain.


A general regrouping and chance to pull on rain jackets


I was braced for the steep climb of the Mur de Mitford, always a challenge and especially when the road is slick, but we by-passed this particular nasty and dragged ourselves up through the village of Mitford itself. From there we worked our way to Dyke Neuk and another quick stop for the Racing Snakes and braver amongst us split for the longer, harder, faster, Self-flagellation Ride™.

Our reduced group pressed on with thoughts of coffee and cake fuelling our pace, though we prudently scrubbed off the speed for the increasingly sketchy drop down the dip and then sharp clamber up to Hartburn.

Again we regrouped to allow stragglers to catch on, before sweeping down through Milestone Woods, and hitting the first rollers. Taffy Steve led the charge for home with a hopeless attack dedicated to the absent Red Max, but faded as the road ramped up.

I swung past on the back of a long line, but couldn’t hold the pace and the gap widened. A few riders nipped past, including Kipper, but he started to slow as the next gradient bit. I swung to the outside and started to ease past him, just as he swung right to avoid several potholes in the road and our bars became entangled like two ancient, rutting stags locking horns.

With a frantic bit of wrestling and a whole heap of wobbling, we finally managed to pull apart, but the momentum directed me laterally over the white line, right across the road and into the thick mud in the opposite gutter. Needless to say the driver of the fast approaching, sharply braking car was mightily unimpressed as I was swept across the road in front of him.

With wheels churning and spinning in thick mud, I clung to the very edge of the road to let the car slip past, waving sheepishly in embarrassed apology to the driver. Kipper apologised for not having seen me, but it was just one of those things that can happen and no harm was done, although the adrenaline spike to the heart wasn’t particularly pleasant.


Maybe it’s the camera lens, the adrenaline spike or pure terror, but I recollect the approaching car as being much closer as I skeetered uncontrollably across the road and into its path.


Clearing the café, the Prof took some of the others back by a longer route, but the weather wasn’t conducive to an extended ride, so most of us took the usual way home.

Somewhere along the way, I have a vague recollection of the Red Max drifting off the back in a case of illness induced enfeeblement. I’m guessing he should really have been home recuperating, instead of battering himself to try and contain our more enthusiastic youngsters and suffering through his own private hell among the yearlings.

Still, not all bad as I’m guessing the Monkey Butler Boy revelled in dropping his Pa – hey, a victory is a victory and you can only beat the competition that turns up on the day.

On splitting from the group I was relieved to find that, for once I wasn’t faced with punishing headwinds on my push for home and the miles were duly ticked off with no great trials or traumas.

YTD Totals: 533 km /331 miles with 5,207 metres of climbing



3 thoughts on “Hell Among the Yearlings

    1. I now have a serial need to apologise – not only for the budgie smuggler photo (it wasn’t nice was it) but also for the thought of making you ride with us …even if it’s only in your imagination.

      I’m afraid this week it gets even darker though and features the “filet fignon” an image that may become permanently seared on your brain and should carry a health warning. Your discretion is advised!

      Liked by 1 person

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