The Gloves Come Off

The Gloves Come Off

Club Run, Saturday 24th February, 2018                

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  100 km / 62 miles with 1,013 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 13 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.6 km/h

Group size:                                         28 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:           Bright with brass monkeys

2018 1
Ride Profile

As the country braces itself for the imminent arrival of a disruptive winter weather front from Siberia, colourfully labelled the “Beast from the East” – we were served up another cracker for our club run. Almost identical to last week. It was a blend of bitterly cold, beautifully bright and (most importantly) crisp and bone-dry.

Double base layers, lobster mitts with liners and a buff pulled up to cover as much of my face as possible were deployed early on, as the wind had a distinctively chilly, razor-edge to it and any exposed skin rapidly became numb. Nevertheless, it already looked like being a great day as a coppery new sun lent the sky a putty-coloured, green tinge before brightening to form a burnished vault of clear, limitless blue.

I trailed a nervous learner driver down the Heinous Hill, at a speed so slow that it made even my cautious, controlled, half-an-eye-out-for-ice approach, seem positively reckless in comparison. Luckily, they turned right before the bottom, while I swung away left, finally able to release my rictus hold on the brakes and get my legs working to generate a bit of much needed warmth.

The river itself seemed to act as a heat sink, sucking a couple more degrees from already chilled air. Stopped at the lights, my breath plumed out visibly in the air, like a deranged and louche Soup Dragon on the Clangers moon, toking madly on an e-cigarette.  It would definitely be chilly for the rowing crews who were starting to gather on the water for yet another busy day of competition.

Pushing on, for once I was glad to start climbing out of the valley and frigid air that seemed to have pooled in its bottom.

Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Making decent time, I arrived early enough to watch the Monkey Butler Boy engage in some cosmetic bike tinkering par excellence. First, he reached into a back pocket, extracted a multi-tool kit and carefully assembled a small torque wrench. He then applied this to his seat pin and then, painstakingly eased the seat post up 0.75mm, tightened everything up, disassembled the tool and packed it away.

He eye-balled his work briefly, then took the tool out again, re-assembled it, applied it to his bike and this time, carefully lowered the saddle by 0.5mm, while I looked on with Crazy Legs, both of us totally perplexed.  Apparently, those micro-adjustments hit the sweet spot though and give the optimum riding position – although I’m not sure how you could tell without testing.

“Is that thing on?” the Garrulous Kid asked, bending down to grin and gurn madly into the lens of my sports-cam, “How can you tell if it’s on?” he demanded, prodding at the case with an extended digit. I was reminded of nothing so much as the monkey-selfie, with the Garrulous Kid taking the part of a Celebes crested macaque. They have the same hairstyle and the likeness was striking. Somehow, I doubt that if his grinning, gurning selfie ever sees the light of day, that he’ll have a crowd of people who really should know better, causing a ridiculous stink and defending his claim to receive royalties.

Well, the first hints of spring were definitely in the air, the hedgerows were alive with chattering birds, scattered tulips were poking tentative buds out of the frozen soil and, even at the outset of my ride, the sun was up and well established on its low trajectory across the sky.

Even more telling for any budding amateur climatologist, or observant weather watcher, was the first, elusive sightings of carbon, as conditions were finally deemed good enough to lure out a smattering of good, “summer bikes” – even if it was just for one week. G-Dawg, the Colossus and Jimmy Mac among others, had seized on the opportunity, while, a contrarian to the last, Crazy Legs had swapped last week’s spring/autumn Bianchi back to his winter fixie.

Taffy Steve stayed with the thrice-cursed winter bike, I kept faith with the Pug and the Goose persisted on his experiment with the steel behemoth. Everyone seemed happy enough with their individual choices, all except the Garrulous Kid, who pined for carbon, whinged about his winter bike and, after spending all day avoiding the front of the group, blamed his loss in the café sprint on his “heavy” aluminium Trek.

Leading the ride for the day, Crazy Legs did a swift head count and determined we should split into two. The route was revised slightly to take into account better than predicted conditions, a rendezvous point was agreed for a final coalescing before we split and got ready to roll.

There was just time for a quick double-take at the appearance of a Carlton doppelgänger (it was just a cunningly disguised Two Trousers, but for a moment he had both Crazy Legs and me utterly confused and convinced we were suffering double vision.)

Spirits were high, chatter was on full-bore and the only rude interruption to our contentment came from Taffy Steve’s brakes, which squealed like a badly stuck pig. He confessed he’d tried some WD-40 Motorcyle Dry Lube on his chain, anticipating it to be suitably protective and heavy duty, but discovering in truth that it was horribly thick, gunky, all together messy and capable of getting everywhere it shouldn’t.

He’d spent an age cleaning the gunk off his drive chain, frame and wheel rims, but had missed the brake blocks which whenever applied emitted a protesting, high-pitched warbling banshee scream that directly assaulted the eardrums. The Garrulous Kid in particular seemed directly affected by the “horrible” sound – perhaps the rest of us were insulated from its extreme harshness by our innate presbycusis?

We spent a good while trying to come up with a suitable analogy for the noise – an irate R2-D2 when plugging himself into a power outlet instead of the Death Star security-systems? A rabid, indignant and starving dolphin, demanding fish? The antique, unsettling warble of a computer program loading into a ZX Spectrum from audio-tape?

We finally settled on a juvenile seagull being caught up in the spokes of his front wheel. This segued into Taffy Steve describing his son’s invention of a Geordie seagull, lost on the Isle of Man, starving, unable to find the sanctuary of a Greggs and all the while wondering what all the skinny seagulls were doing, out on the water trying to catch fish. Comic genius and a perfect Viz character just waiting for visualisation.

As we were chatting, Slow Drinker cruised down the outside of the group, resplendent in his black and pink Rapha kit, which Taffy Steve suggested made him look like a Liquorice Allsort. We soon had a marketing campaign licked into shape, complete with epic voice-over, all ready to promote “Bertie Bassets Paris-Roubaix Collection™. (Also available in blue).”

Through Dinnington, we carefully wove our way through the most heavily pock-marked, pot-holed, bombed-out surface that the RAF haven’t tested JP233 runway denial munitions on. Or, maybe they have?

We were briefly heartened by assembled construction equipment, temporary traffic lights and road re-surfacing signs, but should have known better. Hopes for a smooth, new riding surface were immediately dashed when we encountered the solitary, lone workman, patching the road armed with just a single bucket of sticky, rapidly cooling tar.

We also seemed to have stumbled onto National Hedge Trimming Day and found ourselves continually picking our way past massive, yellow tractors, laying waste to the local hedgerows. There’s nothing subtle about the process, they don’t so much trim the hedge as thrash it into submission, liberally scattering a trail of pulverised leaves and twigs and thorns across the road. By some minor miracle, no one punctured.

REC024 (3)

As such, our ride progressed without incident until we reached the Gubeon and hauled ourselves into a lay-by to wait for the second group to put in an appearance. The over/under on the second groups arrival was 5 minutes, but they were well inside this, even though Crazy Legs insisted they’d stopped at a café en route for the now traditional and civilising, mid-ride, flat white.

Those seeking a shorter ride then took a left, while the rest of us swung to the right on a route that would pass through Dyke Neuk, then Hartburn and on to Middleton Bank. At Dyke Neuk we paused again to set a longer-harder-faster group on their way, at which point Sneaky Pete and Sneaky Taffy Steve, sneaked off for a bit of a head start on the final run in.

I was beginning to feel the pace and the legs were already heavy as we approached Middleton Bank and I had dropped right to the back of the group as we began to climb. I managed to catch and pass the Goose, manfully wrestling with the steel behemoth, then Cowin’ Bovril struggling with a lack of road miles, before hauling in and passing Mini Miss and Princess Fiona.

I was closing on Rick the Gigolo as we passed over the top of the climb, with the main group still a further 200 or 300 metres up the road. I set about closing the gap, only to discover that a vicious headwind seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere and I was working hard just to maintain the distance to the front group.

I plugged away resolutely, finally catching Rick the Gigolo, but up ahead the others had started to ride through and off, increased their pace and soon disappeared from sight.

I was now battering away, pulling a small group through a punishing headwind, thankfully with some help from Mini Miss. She led us through Milestone Woods and up the first of the rollers. Here Rick the Gigolo pulled out of line and into the wind, rolled up alongside me, grimaced, swore fluently, grasped his chest and slipped away again. Bloody hell, did he just have a heart attack?

Down the dip and onto the final climb, I passed Mini Miss. She later said she’d tried to respond, but her legs refused in several different languages. Non, No, Nyet, Nein, Nay, Nope.

I then thought I was clear and away on the last drag, until Rick the Gigolo came whirring smoothly past – for the first time I’ve been fooled by someone faking a mild cardiac infarction.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The Garrulous Kid kicked the madness off, leaning across the table and confronting Jimmy Mac.

“You’re German aren’t you?”

“Err … no,” a nonplussed Jimmy Mac replied.

“But you were born in Germany, right?” the Garrulous Kid persisted.

“No. No, I wasn’t.”

“Well, someone was born in Germany.” The Garrulous Kid boldly asserted.

“Quite a few people, I’d imagine,” I reasoned, “There’s that Adolph Hitl …oh, hold on, he was born in Austria.”

G-Dawg came to my rescue with the name of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was definitely born in Germany. This recognisable name seemed to satisfy the Garrulous Kid and we spent a few moments marvelling at Herr Schweinsteiger’s impressively Teutonic moniker.

G-Dawg and the Colossus managed to secure themselves a helping of ham and egg pie, this week without the unnecessary distraction of salad. I congratulated them on ticking off two of the cyclists 5 essential food groups in one meal – pastry and meat. (The others, of course are caffeine, cake and confectionery.)

We reflected on the less than surprising news from the Winter Olympics and the rather inevitable discovery that the Russians, though competing as non-Russian’s, were still doing deeply Russian things and heavily engaged in pharmaceutical skulduggery. It was mentioned that the cross-country skiing biathletes were regularly tested for alcohol, which we felt was a shame – what sport wouldn’t be improved as a spectacle by arming drunkards with guns?

Talk of alcohol, beta-blockers and the like led to discussions about “Big Bill” Webeniuk, the Canadian snooker player who averaged 30 pints of lager a day while competing. Whether it’s true or not, the man became a legend for claims he had a doctor’s prescription to serve as a sort of TUE for his excessive alcohol intake, which was supposedly necessary to control a hereditary nerve condition. Yeah, right. Still better, there were rumours that he even tried to claim tax relief on his “medicinal” lager consumption.

Sneaky Pete expressed huge displeasure with the current state of the scrum in rugby union, which he sees as largely de-fanged, sissified and dull, a travesty of its former glory and in danger of becoming as ridiculous a spectacle as that used by the rugby league lot.

“Why bother,” I agreed, “They should just hold hands.”

“Sing ring-o-rose’s and dance around in a circle,” G-Dawg suggested.

“Cover their eyes and count to 10?” Jimmy Mac, opined, “… No peeking!”

But, the Colossus had the best idea, suggesting they should put their foreheads onto an imaginary pole, quickly spin around it a dozen times until everyone was really, really dizzy, then hoof the ball into the air and see who could catch it and run in the right direction.

From this, the Colossus (quite rightly) concluded, that there wasn’t a sport we couldn’t improve upon and make an even bigger, better spectacle, if we were just given 5 minutes to sort it out.

The manner of Mark Cavendish’s, premature crashing out of the Tour of Abu Dhabi-Doo, within 5 kilometres of starting, astonished G-Dawg. His purely rhetorical question seemed to sum up our thoughts that some kind of organisational idiocy had taken place: “Hmm, I need a car for the commissioner to drive around in extreme close proximity to bunch of tightly packed, speeding cyclists. Ah, here’s one with an automatic braking system, that’ll do. After all, what could possibly go wrong?”

Aside from the nagging headwind, the right home was straightforward and pleasant. The sky remained an unblemished, distant blue, the sun shone brightly, if lacking any warmth and the roads were dry and clear. I even found myself stopping at one point to pull off and pack away the lobster mitts that were simply too effective.

It was perhaps a little too chill to be riding completely without gloves, but I was home before second thoughts and numb fingers changed my mind.

YTD Totals: 1,145 km / 711 miles with 13,007 metres of climbing


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