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Missed me?

Nah, thought not. Anyway since my last load of wild, incoherent blerg ramblings I’ve packed in a family holiday, sans velo, and then last Saturday didn’t participate in the club run as I’d rather foolishly decided to enter the clubs one and only organised time-trial the following day.

Of course there’ll be those purists and naysayers who would suggest that over-indulging in pastéis de nata and vinho verde is probably not good preparation for a high-level aerobic work-out. Well, I have news for them – on the balance of the evidence, they’re probably right.

So what were we looking at here?

Our Club Open TT was to run on the M12S course starting and ending at opposite ends of the village of Stamfordham. The route is a slightly odd 12 miles, or a 20km loop (if you don’t like retard units) which is an entire 2 miles longer than the only other time-trial I’ve ever ridden and, oh, about 11½ miles more than the distance I’m actually comfortable with.

The first half looked (and proved to be) extremely lumpy, a constant, gradual rise all the way to the top of the Quarry, which was frequently interrupted by sharper, more sudden ramps and bumpy-lumps. The descent of the Quarry then gave way to a theoretically fast, flat(ish) run for home.

The morning of the ride turned out to be a rather bleak, chill and rain sodden affair, but the rain had thankfully more or less passed by the time I’d pulled the bike out of the car, got changed and rolled out along the wet roads for a warm-up and a first look at the course. If a training regime of pastéis de nata and vinho verde is not conducive to good performance, and preparation is the key to success, then I’d doubly failed. Hey ho.

I started to trace the course out of the village, past the start-point and up. And up. And up. And up some more. Of course I’ve ridden these roads many times before, but mainly in a group, usually in the other direction and never in a race situation. I’d never realised just how much climbing was involved. This looked much harder than I’d anticipated, which was rather worrying for someone who’s quite good at imagining the worst … and there were long, long sections when I’d have to thrash my way upwards out of the saddle, in order to try and maintain any semblance of speed.

To make matter worse, my front wheel had started to cheerfully emit a bright, chiming tinkle-tinkle-tinkle as it rolled round, the noise of something loose and rattling freely around in the rim, which I could only think was the snapped off end of a spoke nipple. The wheel itself was now swaying like a slightly drunk, lovelorn sidewinder, coquettishly rearing back before summoning up the courage to rush in to plant a light kiss on my left-hand brake block. It was love. Apparently. The wheel was (relatively speaking) still true and rideable as long as the spoke remained embedded in the rim, so I decided to keep going, but have no idea if it was a sensible decision.

My half-arsed recce ride got as far as a crossroads where Andeven was marshalling and I stopped for a chat, assuming that at this point the climbing on the route was more or less done. By then it was getting close to my start-time anyway, so I turned around and rolled back down to the village.

Big Dunc was our official starter and Captain Black the volunteer holder.

“Do you want me to hold the front and back, or just hold the back?” he asked as my start time drew nigh and I nudged my way up to the line.

“Yes, definitely, just hold me back,” I deliberatly misheard him, “I’ve made a big mistake, I shouldn’t be doing this.”

He refused.

The man has no heart.

The clock wound down and I was released, set free into the wild. I accelerated away and tried to find the right balance between riding fast uphill into a cross headwind and not blowing up in the first mile or so. I was struggling to keep my pace anywhere near the target 20mph pace I’d set myself and my lungs were already labouring like over-worked, very leaky and wholly ineffectual bellows. The fire in the forge was pretty feeble and this was just painful – painfully slow and yes, physically painful too.

It seemed like I was only a mile or two into the ride when my minute-man bustled past, a mixed metaphor of a bullet in black, going like a train. As he disappeared up the road, I was convinced he would mark the start of a steady procession of riders catching me and streaming by, so I was quite surprised to reach the finish without being passed by anyone else, although I suspect the rider who started two minutes back was hot on my heels, but ran out of road before he could make the catch.

Back out on the course I had taken the first turn, cheered on by the Big Yin out on marshalling duties, and ground my way slowly and painfully up to where Andeven was stationed for more, much needed encouragement. Here I learned that my assumption the road would start to flatten and even descend from this point proved laughably false and there was more interminable grinding uphill, past Crazy Legs working in his capacity as unofficial videographer and one-man cheerleader team.

“Only a couple of hundred metres to go!” he called out enthusiastically as I churned past. He later said he knew it was me as he recognised my usual sardonic expression, even underneath all the extreme gurning. (I’ve no idea what he’s on about.)

Anyway, I was momentarily spurred onwards by his words, but never did find out exactly what unfolded after “a couple of hundred metres to go” had gone? There seemed to be no noticeable change in my circumstances, I was still grinding slowly upwards and the road continued to rise ahead of me before disappearing around a long bend in the far distance.

Of course I knew exactly where I was and could probably have quite accurately guessed the exact distance to the top of the Quarry. Well, maybe if I’d been thinking straight and my brain hadn’t been suffering from mild hypoxia at this point.

Around that bend, then another, up another drag and I finally spotted the gilet jaune of the next set of marshals directing me down, down, down the Quarry climb. Relief. Surely that was the worst behind me now?

A small respite for tortured lungs, then the opportunity to drop down the cassette and settle into a (hopefully) slightly more aero form for the second half of the run.

©Dub Devlin – Dub D Cycling Photography

My next marker was Cowboys, marshalling at the bottom of the Quarry and then it was on to Matfen, a sharp left turn patrolled by Mini Miss and her invited guest. From here I was on the last leg – perhaps metaphorically as well as in reality.

It was meant to be a straight, fast run for home, typically (so I’m told) aided by a beneficial tailwind. Trouble was, the wind hadn’t received the memo and it was just more of the rather annoying and unhelpful crosswinds to contend with.

No one had warned me about the monster hill that had suddenly sprung up just outside of Matfen either, and I almost came to a grinding halt on its savage slopes. (You’ll be pleased to know I’ve since ridden back over it and it has returned to its normal, innocuous and not at all imposing speed bump proportions.)

Further along and I was finally pleased to see the Stamfordham church spire poking out amongst the tree tops ahead, and even more pleased to roll over the finish line and slump over the bike at the side of the road where G-Dawg and Captain Black were waiting.

“How did you find that?” Captain Black enquired.

“Well, the first half fucks your lungs and then the second half fucks your legs,” I suggested. What wasn’t there to like?

“Oh well, at least you’ll never have to ride another race this side of 60,” Captain Black re-assured me.

Hah!

We waited for the Hammer to finish his run and then were lured back to the Race HQ for rightous rewards of coffee and cake. Before dropping the bike back in the car I brushed my fingers over my wobbly frontwheel and the errant spoke came away in my hand. Hmm, that’ll need fixing, then.

So, how did I do? Well, I didn’t trouble the leaderboard, but that’s no surprise. I got round in a time of 36:59, which I’m told is an average speed of 19.468 mph – so well below my target of 20 mph. I finished 28th out of 31 riders but only 8 secs off the guy in front of me, so something to aim at. Also, as this was by default the clubs de facto timetrial championship, I came either 5th or last, depending on how you want to look at it. Finally, perversely, I rather enjoyed myself and signed up for a Barnesbury CC 10 mile TT in a couple of weeks too.

Help! I think I’m infected.

Big thanks to Richard Rex for organising on the event so expertly and all the marshalls and helpers from inside and outside the club for their time and effort. Much appreciated. Special thanks to Dub Devlin too, who seems to provide a superb photo record for all of these events with, as far as I can tell, no other incentive than serving the local cycling community. What a star.

My first port of call on returning was to pop down to see Patrick at the Brassworks, my LBS and have him lace up the errant spoke and true my front wheel as good as new. He even joked he’d thrown in a free nipple, prompting the only occassion I’ve ever been able to associate a bearded, flat-capped, guitar-slinging, bike mechanic with Florence Pugh …

Six days later and a more normal weekend, found me rolling out first thing Saturday morning for a regular club run in reasonably decent weather. It wasn’t until I’d swooped down the Heinous Hill and started working along the valley floor that I became aware of an awful rythmic, high-pitched creaking and clicking that I thought was coming from the front wheel. (Different bike, different front wheel)

I stopped to check that nothing was catching and everything was done up tight, gave the wheel a spin and it seemed fine. I even checked the spokes in case lightning does strike twice. I could find nothing wrong. I tried riding again. If anything the noise now seemed even worse, but I still couldn’t locate the source. A few more stops and starts and adjustments and futile bashing and I gave up. I couldn’t ride with that noise, it would drive me even further into madness, so I turned around and headed back home.

Climbing back up the Heinous Hill and stepping out of the saddle to stamp on the pedals, the noise wonderously stopped. Weight back on the saddle, back came the irritant clicking. At home again, and now concentrating on the rear of the bike, I found the seat clamp had worked loose and my seat post was imperceptibly moving and rubbing on the unextractable, seized remains of a snapped carbon post still buried deep within the frame. (Long story, don’t ask). I tightened up the seat clamp and order and tranquility was restored to my world.

Ok, time to try again. I left home and dropped down the hill for the second time, trying to remember the route for the day and calculate if it was worth trying to intercept one of our groups. Crossing the river I eschewed my usual meandering route and headed up Hospital Lane, a harder, but hopefully faster run. As I reached the top it was just approaching 09.00. I wasn’t certain I could get to the meeting point in 15 minutes, but I thought I could definitely make Dinnington by then and hopefully pick up a group or two there.

I was there just before 09:15, saved my ride to date and re-started my computer because it had lost the GPS signal somewhere along the way and I wasn’t sure it was recording anything, which is why I ended up with two ride files.

I found a park bench and settled down to wait in the warm sunshine.

Just before half past I heard the babble of a bunch of happy cyclists approaching, but this proved to be a gaggle of Tyneside Vags riders who passed with cheery greetings.

It was well beyong half past when our fairly sizeable front group finally showed and I let them pass. They were being somewhat futilely chased by Liam the Chinese rockstar, who saw me, realised I was sensibly waiting for the second group and hung a U-turn to wait with me.

The second group finally appeared and I swung onto the back of what seemed a slightly too large bunch. I realised I was adding to the imbalance, but was uncertain if we had a third group and, if so, how much longer I’d have to wait for them.

On a few of the descents I worked my way through the group, having a brief chat with James III, who is one half of a number of club teams who have entered the upcoming NTR 2-up timetrial. He claimed he was actually enjoying the training he’d been doing with partner Caracol, but may have preferred a less aeordynamic partner to shelter behind!

I then found myself riding along with a relative newcomer who turned out to be Turkish, adding another country to our League of Nations membership.

Somwhere along the way we passed group 1, sidelined with a puncture. They re-took the lead just before the dip into Hartburn and I didn’t expect to see them again, until half of them took a wrong turn and we closed as they scrambled to sort out the confusion.

As it was we were close behind them as we made the final climb to the cafe at Capheaton and, with our 3rd group having taken a shorter route to arrive ahead of everyone else and plenty of other clubs and cyclists out too, the place was mobbed.

It was standing room only out in the sun, so we went for an inside table where I heard James III had been really confused when he received confirmation of his entry into the 2-up TT and found he’d been partnered with a vet, because he thought Caracol worked in Financial Services.

Still, they seemd the most advanced in their training, having actually ridden together, while Jimmy Mac was recuperating from a minor operation so hadn’t been out with the Hammer, Crazy Legs had only curated a training run with G-Dawg in his imagination and Goose and Captain Black hadn’t even entered and now their participation was doubtful, as Goose had learned that the pub on the course would be closed.

While convalescing Jimmy Mac had been watching the Commonwealth Games and been particularly engrossed in the Crown Green Bowling, although a little concerned when one participant kept bending down to caress the mat. It wasn’t until halfway through the contest that he realised he was watching the Para Bowls and the contestants were blind.

We tried to conceive of the level of trust it would take to run full speed and blind with a guide alongside you, or even worse, take part in a triathlon swim, tethered to someone acting as your eyes, but I guess none of us had the necessary imagination. Impressive stuff.

There seemed to be less enthusiasm for tomorrow’s road races, although we felt things could be enlivened if a “Jamaican bobsleigh” style team took part. There’s precious little cycling on the other channels anyway, so I will probably tune in at some point, if only to enjoy some Chris Boardman bon mots.

We only just managed to avoid Biden Fecht inflicting a Cliff Richard, “Wired for Sound” earworm on us and evacuated the cafe before it could take hold. Amassing into two large clumps we set out and I was nearly home, feeling quite safe and smug when Biden Fecht fired a shot across my bows. “Fancy doing this 2-up TT then?”

Damn! My first reaction (and undoubtedly the right one) was just to say no, but then he looked like the kid who’d lost a “one-potato, two-potato” contest in the playground and had been forced to pick his team last, with only the gangly, weak and weedy, uncoordinated and unpopular nerds at the very bottom of the school hierarchy to choose from.

I relented and agreed, although I did stress I’d likely be more of a burden than an asset and he’d need to temper any expectations accordingly. Dear Lord, what have I done?

So, what have we learned from this whole sorry episode. Well, we now know that not only does Captain Black have no heart, but his prognositications are wildly inaccurate too, as it looks like I’ll now be competing in two more events before I turn 60.

And of course the main takeway is just to reaffirm that there really is no fool like an old fool.

Upwards and onwards.


Day & Date:Club run Saturday 6th August 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 8 minutes
Riding Distance:110km/68 miles with 1,226m of climbing
Average Speed:27.2km/h
Group Size:I’m guessing, pretty big?
Temperature:14℃
Weather in a word or two:Bright and breezy
Year to date:3,379km/2,100 miles with 39,285m of climbing


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