Club Run, Saturday 2nd March, 2019
My Ride (according to Strava)
|Total Distance:||109 km/68 miles with 1,205 m of climbing|
|Riding Time:||4 hours 12 minutes|
|Group Size:||23 riders, no FNG’s|
|Weather in a word or two:||The calm before?|
The freakishly mild weather has added a new and unwelcome dimension to my personal prevarications, I now not only have to wrestle with critical clothing choices, but even the most basic, fundamental issue of which bike to ride.
I can’t remember ever riding the summer bike in February, but I did last week and once the genie is out of the bottle, it becomes much harder to entice it back in again. Friday night then saw me prepping both the Holdsworth and Peugeot for potential deployment on Saturday, depending on what the morning brought.
10 minutes before leaving I still hadn’t settled on a bike, which was bad news as I didn’t know which shoes to pull on. The ground looked dry and the sky was clear, but it may have rained elsewhere along our route and the forecast highlighted the potential for infrequent light showers.
Aagh! The Master of Prevarication strikes again.
No, come on, you’re a grown man, make a decision and live with the consequences. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen, Reg might get a bid muddy and wet, but he’s not some effete, cossetted Ribble. Beside, if you’re going to flaunt Flandrian colours, you should expect to enjoy a bit of mud and rain occasionally. So two weeks in a row I get an early Easter present and the chance to ride “the good bike.”
While it still seems too early for good bikes, perhaps it really is that time of year already. Alternatively, maybe the flowers too are confused by the freakishly mild weather. Whatever the reason, the verges are already studded with bright yellow, purple and white crocuses and, here and there, a few premature daffodils have raised their frilly periscopes to check out the conditions.
I swooped down toward the river just as the barriers of the level crossing raised their arms in salute, catching and passing a fellow cyclist who somehow seemed offended by my cheery good morning as I slipped past.
He accelerated to sit huffing and puffing away on my rear wheel all the way to the bridge. I stopped as the lights turned red, but he simply accelerated down the span. Each to his own, but I couldn’t help feeling it was more luck than good judgement that he didn’t meet an impatient driver coming the other way, though.
From there it was all plain sailing and it wasn’t long before I was rolling up to the meeting point.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Taffy Steve immediately took me to task for not describing in minute detail the magical epiphany that accompanies the change from winter bike to summer bike – even if I had to repeat everything I said the year before … and the year before that (and potentially even the year before that.)
Even though he knows it’s coming, like me he’s still amazed by the difference in feel and heft when he swaps his thrice-cursed winter bike of pig iron (pig aluminium?) for the lightweight titanium love-child. Such an important stage in the natural, evolution of the cyclists year, he argues, requires the ritual description of the clouds parting, pillars of golden light blazing down and the angelic singing of the heavenly hosts.
Almost as good as swapping winter bike for summer version, the Garrulous Kid has finally had his Focus Cayo serviced and new cassette, chain, bottom bracket, cables and brake blocks fitted. He insisted everyone admire his newly restored bike and, to be fair, given his past record we might as well imprint it on our memories now, because it won’t look this good until after its next service.
G-Dawg wondered why he hadn’t gone for a black chain with red highlights, like Jimmy Mac’s, but why pay for it, in a week or two his chain will be suitably black, once it had the chance to build up that sticky, oily, coating of protective black grunge again.
By way of contrast, the similarly aged Monkey Butler Boy and Archie Miedes spent the first 5 minutes cleaning and polishing off the mud and crud that had accumulated on their bikes just on their way across to the meeting point.
Szell was out (for the first time this year?) prompting Crazy Legs to enquire if the chrysalis had broken and then checking to ensure that Middleton Bank was definitely planned on our itinerary, with instructions to put it in if it wasn’t there already.
Jimmy Mac outlined the route for the day and had us split into two groups, somehow conspiring to get G-Dawg to take the second group so he could have fun at the front.
As this first group rode out, I tagged onto the back and was joined by Benedict. After the first couple of miles he declared it was a much more civilised and relaxing way to start the ride, rather than giving them a head-start and then hammering away, trying to catch up as we’d done last week.
The boys were feisty today though and we set off at such an infernal pace, I’m not sure we’d have managed bridge across if we had delayed. I netted 14 Strava PR’s in the first 30km alone, as Jimmy Mac, Kermit, Andeven, Rainman and others conspired to propel the group along at breakneck speed.
At one point, as we started to lose riders out the back on a climb, I told Jimmy Mac I didn’t think the pace was sustainable … but we sustained it anyway. In this way the first handful of miles passed under our wheels in a blur, without pause or let-up and no lack of pain.
Just past Mitford, the Garrulous Kid engineered a solo break and, as we started to close in on our traditional stop point at Dyke Neuk, Biden Fecht decided to close him down and piled more speed on top of speed. All this over a road that most definitely resides amongst my least favourites
Still, the catch was made and then we hammered up to the Dyke Neuk Inn to stop, catch our breath and patch our splintered group back together. There we settled in to wait for our second group to join us – given our pace, I suspected it would take much longer than usual.
We were disappointed to find the banana plantations we were secretly cultivating in the area had failed to take root. Still, there’s time yet.
As we waited, we were entertained by the Monkey Butler Boy describing being chased by “the Bizzies.”
“The Bizzies?” we wondered.
The obvious question wasn’t why the Monkey Butler Boy and his associates might find themselves attracting the interest of the boys in blue, but when and how Wallsend had been transported from Tyneside to Merseyside?
The first false alarm in our wait was the appearance of a group of cyclists, who turned out to be an NTR splinter cell. They reported no sign of our second group, despite travelling up the same roads we expected them to use on their approach.
The second false-alarm was the appearance of Big Dunc, who we thought might be the vanguard of the second group, until he admitted he’d left them for a sneaky short-cut.
Finally the second group arrived and I learned I’d missed a round of Leo Sayer ear-worms that Crazy Legs, the Ticker and Taffy Steve had inflicted on each other – You Make me Feel Like Dancing, One Man Band and The Show Must Go On.
Crazy Legs had only managed to banish this insane indignity by recalling the Breakaway song – apparently not the Art Garfunkel/Gallagher and Lyle number, but the advertising jingle for Breakaway Biscuits.
I couldn’t remember that particular ad and my Sutherland’s Spread recollection (Sutherland’s, Sutherland’s scrumptious Sutherland’s, spread on sumptuous Sutherland’s spread …) fell on deaf ears, so I pulled the pin on a “When I Need You” labelled, Leo Sayer grenade, rolled it into the middle of the group and rode off.
Away we went again, almost instinctively falling into the original two groups, causing Crazy Legs to bark with laughter and wonder why the first group had even bothered to wait. Can’t say he didn’t have a point, although we did manage to steal G-Dawg away from the second group.
Around the next corner though, we ran into a surprisingly strong headwind and Carlton, on the front of the second group, put in a huge effort dragging everyone across the gap so they could find a bit of shelter.
We stayed together through the swoop and clamber through Hartburn, before some took a left, while the rest pushed on to Scots Gap and coalesced into two distinct groups.
Archie Miedes then hit the front and seemed intent on shredding the legs of all us old blokes, driving us on towards Scots Gap. “It’s been this mad all morning,” I managed to gasp at G-Dawg as we ripped along.
Archie Miedes ceded the front as we pushed through Scot’s Gap, but as we took the wide, right turn toward Middleton Bank, the speed obviously wasn’t fast enough for his liking, so he pushed onto the front and ramped up the pace again.
Everyone seemed to be going at full gas on the descent to the climb and I tucked in and hunkered down, trying to surf the slipstreams and freewheel enough to recover a little. As we approached the climb itself, I couldn’t help thinking that this was going to hurt and I’d struggle to hang on. Then Archie Miedes pulled up lame … or with a puncture anyway … and suddenly the pace and urgency evaporated.
With enough people back-tracking to help out the puncture victim, I decided to push on to the top of the hill at a more leisurely pace, thinking I’d get it over with before stopping to regroup.
I picked up Biden Fecht on the way and he decided it was a reasonable plan, kicking away up the hill while I took it at a much more considered and relaxed pootle.
Rainman obviously had the same idea and passed me on the way up.
“That’s the most pleasant ride I’ve ever had up here,” I declared as I joined the pair now waiting at the entrance to the farm at the top of the hill.
Without the blood-pounding, tunnel-vision and screaming legs of a full on assault of the slope, it was quite a gentle, easy ascent and a completely different experience.
“I could actually hear birds singing all the way up,” Biden Fecht revealed cheerfully.
“And I didn’t even know there was a farm here,” Rainman added.
As we waited, chatting, Kermit clambered past, intent on pushing straight onto the cafe. With repairs well in hand at the bottom of the hill and nothing we could add to proceedings, we decided to follow and joined him.
We pushed on with a slightly ragged through-and-off, building up our speed until once again my legs were screaming, my lungs burning and I was just about hanging on. I was, in the Ticker’s profound words, proper paggered as we hit the bottom of the Rollers …
… so I attacked.
Tradition. It’s not to be taken lightly, so I felt I had no choice in the matter.
I almost had a gap, but couldn’t sustain it over the third and fourth humps, succeeding only in distancing Kermit, battling bravely, but severely handicapped riding his winter bike.
Rainman shot past and away and I tagged onto Biden Fecht’s wheel as he set off in pursuit, hanging there until the final climb, when he put in a big dig to bring back Rainman. It fell just short of its target, but left me trailing.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee shop:
Once again we determined that we could probably get away with sitting outside, proof if ever it’s needed that you can’t accurately judge ambient temperature following a mile long uphill sprint.
It was a bit chilly, but after some prevarication we stuck it out. Following our example we were joined by most of the later arrivals until we had two bench tables filled on either side. It was a comradely, misery loves company type of collective suffering and I’m not convinced there was any benefit from shared body heat.
Crazy Legs arrived sat down and then shot up again with cramp in his foot. He kicked off a boot and clambered onto the bench, bouncing on his toes to try and ease the pain. As he towered over me I was waiting for a “O Captain, my Captain” moment, but he wasn’t in the mood for channelling Walt Whitman and all I got was a minuscule, cramp-inspired whimper instead of a mighty, barbaric yawp.
The last group to arrive escorted Archie Miedes home and we learned his tyres belonged amongst the ranks of those that seem almost impossibly hard to remove and replace.
We also learned that Archie Miedes had earned himself an everlasting place in the Hall of Shame, reserved for those who go out for a ride without the means and wherewithal to repair a simple puncture. It’s not a good place to be, but he’s in there with some surprisingly illustrious and esteemed company.
To prove his new found maturity, the Garrulous Kid proudly announced he, at least, was now carrying both a spare tube and tyre levers. No pump though, or CO2 canister, so I’m not exactly sure if that actually makes him more, or less foolhardy.
Crazy Legs recalled the day one of our former riders, Arnold, became inducted into the Hall of Shame. He’d punctured the week before and broken his pump, which was fortuitous timing as it was coming up to his birthday and he was struggling to think of anything he wanted as a present.
The following Saturday he punctured again and, shamefacedly had to admit he didn’t have the means and wherewithal to repair a simple puncture, flagging down Crazy Legs to ask for a pump to borrow.
“I thought you were getting a new pump for your birthday?” a perplexed Crazy Legs had asked.
“I am. My wife’s already bought it, but I’m not allowed to use it because my actual birthday’s not until tomorrow,” Arnold had ruefully replied.
This reminded me of (surely an urban myth) the story of a new season-ticket holder at Newcastle, who’d been surprised the seat beside him remained empty, game, after game, after game. With a reportedly long waiting list for tickets he’d enquired if perhaps the seat was available to purchase only to be told it definitely had an owner.
When said owner finally turned up, he’d informed his new neighbour not to enquire why he’d missed so many games, but finally relented to reveal he’d his wife had bought the season ticket for a Christmas present …
Just about everything we discussed then paled into insignificance by the highlight of the day, or maybe month, or perhaps even the year. This was the rather startling declaration from the Garrulous Kid – and I quote him exactly here so there’s no misunderstanding –
“I share a bath with my sister.”
Yes, well, hmmm. Moving swiftly on …
After such a blockbuster revelation, everyone was ready to go, with some riders turning left from the cafe for a slightly longer return ride. I took the usual right, keen to get home and catch the start of the Classics and the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Proper bike racing has finally started again.
I dropped in alongside Jimmy Mac as we turned off the main road onto the lanes.
My Garmin has just told me it’s battery is low,” he started, “and suggested I switch it to Power-Saving Mode. So I did and it just turned itself off completely!”
Well, we had to admit, that was the ultimate power-saving mode and his Garmin would probably retain its limited charge for days now, if not weeks.
“Let’s keep it together up the climb,” OGL called as we approached the bottom of Berwick Hill. As if on cue, G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid immediately surged off the front and chased each other up the hill.
I accelerated to track them, pulling those with the legs left to follow upwards. As I caught up with a grinning G-Dawg on the reverse slope, he predicted a Facebook rant about group riding etiquette sometime that night.
He wasn’t to be disappointed.
We pushed on into the Mad Mile side by side, both commenting on the sudden, stiff headwind that appeared to have been lying in wait until just that very moment. So, it’s back to that is it? Great.
Let’s see what next week brings.
YTD Totals: 1,353 km / 841 miles with 18,447 metres of climbing