Club Run, Saturday 28th April, 2018
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 112 km / 69 miles with 1,151 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 16 minutes
Average Speed: 25.7 km/h
Group size: 24 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: “Chilly as damn”*
* North East regional news reporter Gerry Jackson.
By heck, it was cold first thing Saturday morning – cold enough that the long sleeve windproof jacket, knee warmers and long-fingered gloves didn’t feel quite enough. I was hoping that things were going to warm up and the sun break out a little later, but it didn’t look promising. Overhead the sky wore a dour, flat cap of grey, unbroken and seemingly immoveable cloud.
I made it to the meeting point in good time, in good order and with no encounters of any note – a very boring (which is also to say very welcome) ride across.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Almost everyone who piled up mentioned how cold it was, including a late arriving OGL who’d turned back for his thermal gilet and Crazy Legs who declared he was pleased he’d worn his hybrid gloves (part electric/part petrol, I assume). Even the usually stoic G-Dawg, who had declared several weeks ago that it was now shorts weather and there could be no going back, was feeling the cold and cursing the fact he was a prisoner of his own convictions.
Still, if proof were needed that winter was behind us, Goose arrived having traded-in the steel behemoth for something a little more sprightly in carbon. “Where’s the butcher’s bike?” a somewhat disappointed Crazy Legs wanted to know.
Goose had not only switched to his good bike, but assured us that he’d thoroughly cleaned it in preparation. He actually meant he’d run a wet-wipe around the frame just this morning, before venturing out on it. OGL ran his finger under the front brake caliper and, to much censorious head shaking, it came back all black and grungy.
And then, the final nail was banged into winters coffin, as Szell rolled up for his first ride of the year to massive applause and cheering. His timing was utterly impeccable, as the route planned by Crazy Legs naturally included his bête noire, an ascent of Middleton Bank, the first time we’d been up it in a few weeks.
“I’ll be flying by August,” Szell assured me. Hmm, so only 4 months of griping, bitching and whining to put up with then?
Crazy Legs talked us through the planned route and, as our numbers built up and passed beyond twenty, he determined we’d split into two groups for the first part of the ride, with different route options planned following a Dyke Neuk rendezvous.
G-Dawg was co-opted to lead the first group, with Crazy Legs dropping to the second, where he could legitimately “potter around” while looking after a couple of FNG’s. Although there was absolutely no debate, Crazy Legs felt the need to defend his statement that you could potter around in cycling terms, an intense argument he seemed to be having mainly with himself.
9:15 Garmin Muppet Time and I dropped off the kerb and made to ride off with the front group. A look back and quick headcount showed we really are useless at dividing into two equal sized bunches. A brief chat and, with the tacit agreement of Taffy Steve we pulled over and waited to join the second group and even the numbers out a little.
Group one left and, after a couple of minutes we tucked onto the front of a (still) smaller, group two and led them out.
“Did you drop back because you realised you’d find much more refined company in this group?” Sneaky Pete enquired, and we assured him this had indeed been our prime, no, in fact our only motivation in waiting back.
Meanwhile, I started chatting with Taffy Steve about a myriad of different things, but including: the film we will both now always refer to as Four: Ragnarok, how all the tri-athletes we know are just a little bit, well, different and his genocidal intent for Cockneys.
As we pressed on, we tried, somewhat in vain, to decipher the odd calls that kept floating up from behind us. “Karrup” was quite obviously a bastardised form of “car up” but, badly translated through my ears and then filtered through Crazy Legs, it became “carrot.” I’ve no idea yet of the origins of the “haiku” command, or the instruction to “coupé” – but I acknowledged each one earnestly.
After 5 miles on the front Taffy Steve decided that we’d done our fair share, which had in fact been 5 miles more than he’d ever intended. We swung away and Sneaky Pete and Crazy Legs pushed through to lead, which gave me a grandstand view of Sneaky Pete’s unequal battle with his leg warmers. These kept sneaking down his legs, so he continuously had to adjust and tug them back into place.
I’m pretty sure he didn’t particularly mind looking like Nora Batty, wrinkled stockings and all, or even begrudge us the daring, tantalising glimpses of bare flesh he kept flashing, but I’m pretty sure he was bothered by the intense cold that attacked any sliver of bare flesh that you dared leave exposed.
Having (barely) survived my tuneless rendition of “Anything Goes,” we hit a short patch of smooth, new tarmac through Tranwell Woods. This was such a shock that it actually elicited a spontaneous cheer, which predictably turned to boos and hisses when it gave out a short 30 or 40 metres later and dumped us back onto the usual rough, broken up and grotty road surface.
Still, moves are obviously afoot to provide some small degree of road maintenance, even if that chiefly involves spray painting “illuminous” rings around the worst potholes. At least it makes them a little easier to spot.
As we pushed on toward Dyke Neuk, a sign warned us of the danger of floods up ahead. Rounding the corner we found the barest trickle of water, barely moistening the tarmac as it threaded its way across the road. Still, it was enough for Crazy Legs to seize upon and declare this as proof positive that conditions were still much too extreme and he’d been right not to expose the much-cosseted Ribble to them.
As promised we found the first group encamped and waiting for us at Dyke Neuk, where alternative routes and splits were discussed and agreed on. Crazy Legs volunteered to continue his pottering in the company of the newbies, while I found myself tagging onto the main group on the long, much hated drag up to Rothley Crossroads.
As the climb stiffened, Kermit, Caracol and the Cow Ranger darted away off the front and, as they left, the speed of the rest of us dropped to a reluctant dawdle. As we began to bunch up, with no one keen on leading, I pushed through onto the front. Goose swung in beside me and we began to pick the pace up again, although with no real hope, or intent of pulling back the front-runners.
Climbing comfortably on the front, Goose declared his carbon fibre steed was certainly lighter and climbed faster than the steel behemoth, but he really missed the all-round comfort of the butcher’s bike. Still, he recognised he would need to get used to carbon again in time for June. Last year Crazy Legs had staged a re-enactment of Hannibal crossing the Alps, in which, along with Captain Black and Goose, we served as passable stand-ins for a troupe of heavy and slow-witted pachyderm.
This June, the Crazy Legs Expeditionary Force is heading into the French Pyrenees and last year’s successful chevauchée has encouraged others to sign up too. Rather worryingly, this includes two of the current attackers, Kermit, a sub-60 kilo bundle of nervous energy who is built to float up hills and Caracol, whose name is the complete antithesis of his riding style. “They’ll just have to wait for us at the top of the mountains,” Goose concluded phlegmatically.
At the crossroads, we paused to regroup before heading straight over for a less-travelled route to Middleton Bank. I found myself following Benedict and Andeven and when I looked behind found that only Zardoz was with us and we’d opened up a sizeable gap on everyone else.
Andeven, or the King of the Haute Route, as the Cow Ranger calls him, led uphill at a pace he thought was comfortable, but was in fact right on the limit for everyone else. I realised I was now in for a red-lined, extended “sprint” to the café covering 20 kilometres instead of the usual 5!
At one point Zardoz rode up alongside me, puffed out his cheeks dramatically and gave me one of those patented, WTF-stares he reserves for moments when he’s seriously wondering if the entire world has gone utterly insane. He paused slightly to consider whether we should wait for everyone else to regroup and … bang … he was gone … he lost 20 or 30 metres and we had a gap that he couldn’t close with any amount of chasing.
Andeven increased the pressure and simply rode away from us – and I now found myself chasing Benedict and repeatedly yo-yoing off and then back onto his wheel. Bizarrely and counter-intuitively, I seemed best able to hang on when the road was climbing. I looked up at the distant Andeven and declared to Benedict that he’d gone, even as we managed to close slightly up the next hill.
With desperate times calling for desperate measures, Benedict calculated that we might make up a sneaky 30 seconds or so, if we dropped down to Wallington, instead routing through Scots Gap on the approach to Middleton Bank. We took the teeth-rattling descent to Paine’s Bridge as fast as we dared, before a hard left and a dash along the banks of the River Wansbeck. I swapped turns on the front with Benedict, pushing as hard as I could, but, as we reached the junction I had to declare I was pretty much cooked.
We were spat out at the bottom of Middleton Bank, with the road empty in all directions, leading Benedict to declare his ruse had either worked perfectly … or failed miserably. Half way up the climb he had his answer, as Andeven caught us from behind and pushed past. Benedict tagged on and I struggled after them both.
They eased over the top and I caught up, sitting at the back as they pulled for the café and trying to recover as much as possible. Over the rollers we went, down to one last descent before the final drag up to the café. Here, I nudged onto the front and led us in en masse.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I found the Prof’s better half in the café queue, where we were both intrigued by the sudden arrival of what looked like fresh-from-the-oven, sizzling and aromatic, savoury muffins or soufflés. Through careful questioning of the staff, we learned these were in fact mini-quiche’s, but as I concluded before we both ordered up the lemon and almond slice, “they look great, but they’re not cake!”
At the table, I declared that I felt I’d fully earned my cake this week, but was somewhat surprised to find Benedict with nothing more than a cup of coffee as a reward for all his hard chasing. He explained that he found exercise actually suppressed his appetite. I confessed to being the complete opposite and find when I get home from a ride I’m like a Grizzly emerging from a long and hard hibernation and nothing in the kitchen cupboards is safe as I try and eat my own weight in food.
Andeven decried the impossibility of finding Campagnolo replacement parts and mused that it was no wonder even Italian bikes come with Shimano equipment as standard these days. He did report finding some Campagnolo replacement brake blocks, somewhat oddly from German online retailer Rose. Not only were these horribly expensive at just shy of £30, but they’d apparently arrived royally nestled in a mountain of packaging, within something the size of a shoe box.
Someone explained the standardisation of packaging leads to economies of scale and ease of transport, but even so, receiving a pair of earrings from Amazon in an over-sized box, big enough for a homeless person to sleep in, still seems utterly bizarre and wasteful to me.
G-Dawg did an unlikely recreation of Biden Fecht and Captain Blacks coffee tsunami, spilling his mug across the table, while I dived out of the way. “You didn’t get it on your new shoes, did you,” G-Dawg enquired whilst apologising and mopping up. We considered what might have happened if it had been the Monkey Butler Boy sitting in my place, with his bright-white, new sneaks threatened under a deluge of coffee. By consensus, we agreed this probably would have made his head explode.
G-Dawg was eyeing up a mid-week trip to take in the Tour de of Yorkshire and had identified one or two opportunities where he’d be able to watch the race briefly whizz past, but wasn’t particularly impressed by a route that kept it much further south than previous editions.
“Is it not on the telly?” Zardoz enquired.
“Yeah, ITV4 will show the whole thing live. It’s probably a better way to see it, really,” G-Dawg replied. “Are you going to watch?”
“Oh, I’ll probably turn the TV on, watch them whizz past and turn it off again,” Zardoz replied innocently.
Talk turned to marathon runners and how even the best of them converted to “steady-away” cyclists, but couldn’t seem to cope with the rapid increases in effort caused by a steep hill or sudden change of pace. This led to a discussion about Scot marathon runner Callum Hawkins at the Commonwealth Games, who had just over a mile left to run and a lead of two minutes when he started to wobble, run in big, looping arcs and bounce off the road furniture like a pinball … before dramatically collapsing.
I wondered if he’d been so delirious and out of it if he’d demanded “put me back on my bike” while we concluded that although he didn’t officially finish the marathon, he’d probably ran further than anyone else in his zig-zagging distress.
We left Taffy Steve, Crazy legs and Sneaky Pete in the café, somewhat behind following their pottering ride and enjoying a break before the attendant potter home. Still, it was a large group that turned out onto the road and started the return.
I hung around at the back until we hit Berwick Hill. “Let’s keep it together,” OGL shouted, but he should have saved his breath as the front of the group, almost on cue, accelerated smoothly away. I knocked it down a gear and spun up the outside in pursuit, dragging Caracol, Captain Black and a few others with me as we bridged across.
We kept the pace high the rest of the way, surprisingly netting me a new best time up the climb to Dinnington. As we entered the Mad Mile, I was sat behind the Colossus, who was slightly adrift of the lead group containing G-Dawg and at serious risk of losing the race for home and first use of the shower. Even worse, a car had inveigled its way into the gap between us and the leaders.
Undeterred, the Colossus accelerated up behind the car and I hung on to his wheel while he used its slipstream to pace his pursuit across to where the others were being driven along by the Cow Ranger. The car overtook everyone and shot away and I dropped back, too far away to see if the Colossus managed to take the sprint, but at least his traffic surfing had brought him back into contention.
I swung off for home fairly happy with my fitness and form on the ride, but as I reached the bottom of the Heinous Hill I found my legs now completely and utterly empty. Oh well, the sun had finally broken through and it was actually a quite pleasant, if still cool day. I dropped the chain onto the granny ring and slowly started to spin my way upwards, proving beyond any doubt that Crazy Legs was right and it is eminently possible to potter while on a bike.
YTD Totals: 2,352 km / 1,461 miles with 27,098 metres of climbing