The Chronicles, Confessions and Idle Musings of a Club Cyclist
Sur La Jante is the alter ego of Paul Dobbie, a 50-something, remarkably undistinguished club cyclist, occasional blogger, all-round curmudgeon and sometime smart-arse.
Sur La Jante’s sole ambition in life is to win the club sprint to the café. He’s old enough to know better, but remains (just barely) young enough not to care.
Sur La Jante loves words, lots of them, and is at his happiest disgorging 50 word long sentences with poor grammar and little or no punctuation. If you can cope with that, then read on.
The blog itself is a paean, an homage, a eulogy if you like, to club cyclists and the traditional club run, in all its eccentric, idiosyncratic, bizarre, compelling, colourful and hugely entertaining glory.
Total Distance: 74 km / 46 miles with 550 metres of climbing
Group size:16+ riders and 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two:Bright and breezy
The Ride …
… as it (maybe) happened and with invaluable input from Taffy Steve:
While the Gang of 4 were away, wallowing in pie at the hugely enjoyable Wooler Wheel, the typical Saturday morning club run naturally continued in our absence. And so it should – it is of course (and rightly so) – much, much bigger than one individual, or group of individuals.
The recently established, best-practice of actually pre-publishing a route beforehand, so everyone knew where we were heading, what to expect, how far and hard it would be and when and where they could join up if they were delayed, seemed to be working smoothly and the overwhelming majority appear bought into the concept.
The pre-ride planning has also ensured we are being more creative in our route plotting, trying out different things and establishing options to avoid a very stale, same-old, same-old routine that has noticeably plagued our rides in the past.
Being an equitable, egalitarian, sort of guy, I especially like rotating the ride leader, so we could share the burden around, publish routes beforehand and allow anyone to step up and have a go if they wanted to.
This Saturday’s volunteer was Taffy Steve and even though I was away, I knew the route planned and it looked like being a good one, with a descent down the Ryals and one of my favourite clambers, back up through Hallington.
Taffy Steve had even given consideration to where the group could split to allow a slightly shorter, slightly easier path to the café for those less inclined toward self-flagellation and it even seemed to have received the royal seal of approval from OGL.
What could possibly go wrong …
Shouldering the additional burden of not only being ride leader, but providing the highly essential, ultra-important, some would say indispensable role of blerg scribe (oh, ok, it’s none of those things then) Taffy Steve sent through notes from the front-lines, allowing me to piece together my own, highly romanticised and wholly fictional account of what actually took place … or, in other words, pretty much the same thing I do every week.
Still, too badly paraphrase Winston Churchill, the writer writes the history … so, this is what actually happened, taken directly from Taffy Steve’s notes …
Early signs were promising, with a route published and agreed and a shortcut for OGL. Astonishingly he even endorsed it with a favourable comment and the job seemed like a “good un.” How was Taffy Steve to know it was going to unravel faster than an obese bungee jumpers cord, as he stood outlining the intended plan for the day.
He’d just reached a point of explaining that, at the roundabout the group were heading right, up Broadway, when OGL, obviously not a George Benson fan, unexpectedly piped up with a “No. We’re not going that way.”
With the same remarkable obduracy shown by his forebears facing impossible odds at Rourke’s Drift, our plucky Welshman stood his ground, “It’s my ride this morning, we’re following the agreed route.”
OGL spat the dummy and stormed off with much fugging and rugging and rumba-rarring, suddenly finding himself riding away, alone and in (not so splendid) isolation.
The rest of the group hastily apologised to Arriva for the large dummy mark left in the side of the 508 bus to Blyth and the ride pressed on, OGL-less.
An outbound ride into the wind then followed without further incident, apart from those on the front noting that the Goose’s booming voice was so dominating you always knew exactly where he was in the group. G-Dawg suggested if Goose ever managed to even casually mention the word “stop” somewhere in his general discourse, everyone would likely interpret it as a shouted, emergency command and instinctively slam on the anchors.
At least one FNG was out with the group, a girl riding with flat pedals and she did remarkably well, holding her own all the way to the turn for the quarry. Here Sneaky Pete led a small group off toward the café, while the rest set sail for the Ryals – for the third week in a row.
This time though we were swooping down and not struggling upwards, topping out at 40 mph, even into a steady headwind. Great fun for all, but especially G-Dawg on his fixie. Who knew legs could spin that fast without spontaneously combusting?
The Garrulous Kid clamoured to turn around at the bottom and ride straight back up and started badgering and pestering all and sundry to go with him, but lips curled disdainfully and heads shook in negation – not again!
Seemingly undaunted, the Kid set out alone, up the Ryals for the third week in a row, which must be some kind of record even among the most masochistic of hair-shirted, flagellants.
There is a feeling the Garrulous Kid is turning into an OGL mini-me, complete with the incurable logorrhoea, highly embellished tales on infinite loop and an inclination to stomp off alone when the collective will diverges from his own.
Still, Taffy Steve reports his prep for the hill climb has reached a truly remarkable zenith – not that there’s any pressure on him to actually deliver …
For the rest, Hallington awaited and, after all the climbing, a pause to regroup. A remarkably ordered (for us, anyway) bit of through and off followed, everyone forming neat lines and rotating like pros on a team time trial, as the speed slowly built. Things were going smoothly until Jimmy Mac’s twitching nostrils picked up just the faintest whiff of coffee and, spurred on by the irresistible promise of cake, he shot down the outside of the line and powered away.
Rab Dee, riding in the livery of Mario Cipollini then put in a burst that Super Mario himself would have been proud of and latched onto the speeding Jimmy Mac, the pair using the tailwind to their advantage, quickly accelerating to warp speed and opening a telling gap.
Taffy Steve Captain Black, G-Dawg, Caracol and someone Taffy Steve enigmatically describes as “the Cockerney,” quickly organised the chase, but even combined, their efforts were too ragged and not enough to catch the speeding pair up front, who were able to hold the gap all the way to the café.
A brief respite from the effort of the chase was apparently spotting the Monkey Butler Boy, thrashing away in the opposite direction, all the while being royally castigated, impugned and bellowed at by a mad Italian coach driving close behind in a trail-car. Looks like he’s found the perfect father-surrogate as a coach.
Meanwhile, there was no sign of the Red Max himself who had apparently been laid low with a mystery illness. Taffy Steve reasoned this had to be the hardest man-flu ever, as we’ve all seen Max defying doctors (and Mrs. Max orders) to rise from his sick-bed and grind out the club run, reduced to a snail’s pace and all the while obviously suffering from the effects of some dire malady.
At the café, OGL apparently displayed selective amnesia and general bonhomie was the order of the day, with no apparent left-over rancour, or mention of his earlier hissy-fit. I doubt we’ve heard the last of it though.
Conversation briefly turned to the malingerers enjoying themselves up in Wooler and then to the more pressing demands of next week’s hill climb. Taffy Steve was relieved to learn that, the Red Max is already planning a fly-by that will allow anyone with a modicum of sense to avoid the actual timed ascent of Prospect Hill. Perfect he suggests “for those of us that don’t want to sound like a broken vacuum cleaner for 36 hours afterwards.”
Homeward bound, the accompanying south west wind made rolling back a real joy and another grand club run was ticked off in good order.
The Wooler Wheel Classic, Saturday 7th October, 2017
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 104 km / 65 miles with 1,451 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 10 minutes
Average Speed:24.9 km/h
Group size:4 riders and 521 others
Weather in a word or two:Bright and breezy
A Saturday morning with a difference found me up before the sun, wolfing down a quick breakfast and heading out into the still-dark for an hour long drive into north Northumberland to start the Wooler Wheel Classic sportive.
This was to be my third participation in the event, which this time around was confined to a 100km ride, rather than the early season Borderlands ride of over 170km or 107 miles. The Wooler Wheel events are usually low-key affairs, characterised by good routes and incredibly helpful, friendly and supremely well organised marshals. Combine this with what promised to be bright and dry, if chilly weather and the fantastic scenery of the Cheviots and it had all the promise of a great day out.
All of this, before I even mention the piece de resistance, the real kicker that makes the event almost unmissable – never mind the free T-shirt, but every rider is rewarded with a hot drink and lavish helping of pie and peas on completion. Pure, unalloyed genius.
A Gang of Four planned to meet up to tackle the ride together, Crazy Legs, Ovis, Richard of Flanders and me. As a consequence, the first order of the day was likely to prove the most onerous, locating my ride partners and getting everyone organised to set off at the same time.
As luck would have it, I joined up with a long stream of bike-carrying traffic on the way to the ride headquarters and was fairly certain I’d spotted a celeste Bianchi and a blue Orbea on a car upfront – Crazy Legs and Richard of Flanders travelling up together?
Instinct was correct and directed into a field to park, I found myself pulling up only one car removed from two-thirds of my group. Good start.
We went to sign on, trudging through the livestock pens of the cattle market, where numerous carbon steeds waited placidly to be auctioned for their riders to set them free. Crazy Legs looked around the bleak, basic shed, concrete ramps and gated pens. “It’s depressing, isn’t it?”
I agreed, it was far too easy to see them using it as a set from Sophie’s Choice or Schindler’s List (or Ark for the bibliophiles amongst us.)
We all signed on, collected our bikes, attached the event numbers and made our way toward the start, eagerly scanning the crowd for the distinctive blue and yellow of Ovis’s Rochdale Tri top as we went.
A quick stop at the port-a-potties and then we stationed Richard of Flanders outside the main hall, Crazy Legs ducked inside to search for Ovis, while I rode around toward the start gate to see if he was loitering there. Our searches proved fruitless, so Crazy Legs dialled up Ovis on his mobile and we learned he was currently deeply engaged … in the crapper.
“Ah,” Richard of Flanders said, “I thought I heard someone thrashing around in the stall next to mine.”
We all turned our attention to the long line of port-a-potties and watched and waited, as each one disgorged at least one relieved cyclist, all apart from the one slap bang in the middle. Finally, the door swung open and a fellow that looked like Ovis staggered out into the fresh air, breathed deeply, saw our welcome committee and ambled across.
He was difficult to miss in a new, very bright high-viz waterproof, but it wasn’t the electric blue and acid yellow kit we were expecting. Much to Crazy Legs’ relief, he did unzip his jacket to reveal the stalwart Rochdale Tri kit lurking safely beneath.
Bikes were recovered and we made our way through the pens toward the start gate. I swung my leg over the bike, put my left foot on the pedal and pushed off. My foot slipped instantly off the pedal, I stumbled, the crank whirred around and cracked me in the right shin. Ouch.
I tried again. Same result and then again. I now had a large dint and corresponding bruise in my shin. It still smarts and I’ve been wearing one sock at half mast all week now.
Taking note of the slippery state of my cleats, a hangover of the damp grass, mud and assorted animal effluvia, I concentrated hard and very carefully tried again. With a satisfyingly loud click, pedal embraced cleat and we were off, riding through the timing gate to a cacophony of beeps like a short-circuiting answerphone.
Richard of Flanders kicked the conversation off in style, by suggesting that for the Christmas Jumper ride this year we should all wear smoking jackets, or smirking jackets if we are to continue to pay homage to Ashingternean speak in this blog blerg.
Crazy Legs however is nothing if not bang-up-to-date and countered that the more modern, discerning smoker would demand we wear vaping jackets, not smoking jackets. I’ve no idea what a vaping jacket looks like, but it sounds intriguing.
The first hill bit and Richard of Flanders, naturally in full Belgian team kit, slipped slowly off the back to tackle its incline at his own pace. The rest of us waited to regroup at the top, where Crazy Legs waved through other cyclists, declaring we were “waiting for our classics rider” – not all that happy on the hills, but essential later on in the ride for when the echelons formed in the crosswinds.
Indeed, the wind was to be our constant, nagging and awkward companion for much of the ride, although we were anticipating the last few kilometres at least to gift us with a tailwind – the only issue was getting to this point. Luckily Ovis was on a 3-Shredded Wheat day, or in his own understated words, “going quite well at the moment.”
On we went and I started counting the roadkill, but soon ran out of fingers and toes. I wonder what the death toll is for small furry critters on the roads of Northumberland? At one point, passing the seemingly unmarked, unsullied corpse of a grey squirrel, we debated the relative appeal of a Dead Squirrel Club and whether it would sound more interesting than Chris Boardman’s Secret Squirrel Club.
Another, “ah, poor furry animal” quickly turned to a “yeach” moment as a potential, fluffy squirrel-corpse turned out to be a rather large and fearsome dead rat. Then the highlight of the day as Crazy Legs spotted a dead frog, although it wasn’t quite up to the standards of the splattered, flattened and sun-blasted toad we’d seen on the road up the Col du Glandon.
Richard of Flanders kept himself distracted and us entertained with a series of Viz jokes and recollections and suggested we’d know when he was struggling as the constant flow of verbiage would slowly dry up.
As he started singing “Howay the Lads” in a non-regulation Geordie accent, Crazy Legs mused on what a strange group he found himself riding with – a Lancastrian, a Yorkshireman and someone who lives so far south of the river he’s practically a Mackem…
Another hill and climbing past a group of girls, one of them looked across at Crazy Legs and squealed, “Eee! That’s my bike.” For one moment I thought there was going to be a bit of a tussle over the provenance of a certain celeste Bianchi, but it soon became apparent she merely meant she had the same make and model and an unseemly catfight was avoided. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and we pressed on – I’m not sure it was a fight we could have won.
Yet another hill and a marshal guided us down a left turn and told us not to miss the lady with the jelly babies. Sure enough a couple of hundred yards further on and we found the lady with the jelly babies, holding out a large bowl that she proffered to each passing cyclist.
Like a pro in a feedzone, Crazy Legs swept passed, extended a long arm and grabbed up a few treats without stopping. I pulled up long enough to grab an ample fistful and thanked the Jelly Baby Lady for providing “the best part of the ride” – even though I knew it was a lie – jelly babies are good but pie is better.
I set off in pursuit of my comrades, somewhat hindered as I chewed my way through mouthfuls of jellied sweetness that made breathing just a little bit awkward.
Another turn and up onto Branxton Moor and we were climbing up past Flodden Field, the scene of a bloody skirmish in 1513 when a band of belligerent Scots accused an Englishman of stealing one of their classic Italian velocipedes … or some other, equally as heinous transgression.
Ovis suggested a contingent of archers had travelled all the way up from Rochdale for the bash, but confessed he didn’t know how they’d got there. I naturally suggested the Trans-Pennine Express, which was all that was necessary to set Crazy Legs away on a Kraftwerk inspired song cycle.
Luckily I heard him singing “we are the robots” just before he became engaged in some exaggerated, robotic-style arm-waving, otherwise I would have been swerving across the road trying to avoid some imaginary potholes I thought he was trying to point out in a really eccentric style.
More climbing, just for a change and we stopped at a road junction to regroup once again. Here a couple of riders from the Berwick Wheelers swept past, giving Ovis a long appraising look. Crazy Legs suggesting they were just checking out his Rochdale Tri jersey which bore a remarkable resemblance to their own livery.
Back together again, we caught and passed the two Berwick Wheelers, who sat on for a while, before deciding we were going too slow. One of them pulled out, overtook us and suddenly realised just how strong the headwind was, as his pace immediately dropped down to match ours. We naturally had no intention of looking a gift horse in the mouth and piled onto the shelter of his back wheel, happy to have someone to share the workload with.
The other Berwick Wheeler then joined his compadre on the front for a long stint, before ceding the front to Crazy Legs and Ovis again, as we continued in a long arc that would draw us back toward Wooler.
The cohesiveness of our impromptu group was ruptured on the next climb and then lost for good as I punctured on the descent. An audible Phztt…Phztt…Phztt announced a rapidly deflating front tyre, while sounding like a cartoon bomb rolling over and over on its fuse. We stopped and pulled over to make repairs.
Underway again, a long descent deposited us onto the Milfield Plain, where scores of ominous black carrion crows circled us cawing loudly and watching eagerly for any faltering cyclist to provide a quick meal. The seemed to particularly gather around Richard of Flanders, who’d gone ominously silent and was looking perhaps the most likely to give them what they were waiting for.
We were starting to close rapidly on the finish now though and Ovis was happy to announce only two more climbs. I could only remember one of these, where our route took us up onto a narrow track the curved past a farm, a short sharp and very brutal ramp that formed a real, late sting in the tail of the route.
I remembered the climb from the 107 mile Borderlands run as it had almost brought me to a grinding halt. This time the approach seemed different as we swung left onto the climb, whereas I’m sure we approached from the other direction on the longer route.
While the approach was different, the severity of the climb was the same and I chased my chain up the cassette and hauled myself out of the saddle to follow Ovis. The pitted road surface was invisible under a thick blanket of mud, which at least evened out some of the bumps. Luckily it was bone-dry, or traction would have been a real issue.
Nevertheless, the slope claimed its sacrificial victims, one being the rider just in front of us who came grinding to a halt with cramp in both legs and lamenting the fact that this hill always seems to defeat him. As we eased over the first of two ramps another rider approached from behind muttering to himself and swearing like a trooper with Tourette’s – “rugga-fumba-rumba-bashta-gronk!”
“Does it help?” I enquired.
“Yes, I think so,” he politely replied.
He then swung round the corner to the bottom of the next rise and with a full-blooded roar of “Baaastard!” attacked the slope full on. As he winched his way around the corner and out of sight, his voice trailed faintly back down to us, “It definitely helps …”
Ovis was right and there was one more hill of note, but it wasn’t as bad as anything that had gone before and we were now pushing on and eager to finish. A few more miles saw us all through the “Welcome to Wooler” sign and then we were swinging right into the Cattle Market and back over the timing gate to finish.
T-shirt collected (and almost instantly snaffled by Daughter#1 when I got home) and more importantly with “pie vouchers” clasped in sweaty hands, we made our way to the event canteen for our much anticipated reward.
The steak pie was great, the paper plates and pliable plastic forks not so good – perhaps we’ll carry our own cutlery next time? Crazy Legs even went with the healthy option and had mushy peas with his (one of his five a day) and everyone seemed to agree the meal really hit the spot.
There was then just time for a Gang of Four, group picture and we were packing up to head home. As ever the event remains one of my favourites and I’ve no doubt we’ll be back next year for one, or both of the Wooler Wheel rides.
Oh, did I mention the pie?
YTD Totals: 5,888 km / 3,658 miles with 67,189 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 118 km / 73 miles with 1,120 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 36 minutes
Average Speed:25.6 km/h
Group size:22 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Bright and breezy
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I arrived at the meeting point five minutes before 9.00, surprised to find OGL uncharacteristically early and already there, waiting. Apparently, he’d had young pro James Knox (currently of Team Wiggins, but soon to be seen in the colours of Quick Step) visit his shop the day before and had extended an open invitation for the rider to join us on the club run.
Despite turning up ultra-early, keen, bright eyed and bushy-tailed, OGL had seemingly been abandoned, cruelly jilted at the altar and his pro-VIP never showed.
There were however enough riders wearing shorts to at least give him a moments distraction and the opportunity to declare them all crazy for exposing their knees in such weather.
The Garrulous Kid was uncharacteristically quiet, seemingly pre-occupied fiddling surreptitiously with his bike in a corner. Someone finally wondered what he was actually doing and we discovered he was futilely trying to force more air into a soft rear tyre.
The trouble was his every effort and fumble seemed to deflate the tyre just a little more. Finally, Grover took pity on him, looked things over and quickly came to the conclusion he wasn’t suffering from a slightly leaky tyre, but a terminal puncture requiring a tube change. He stopped the Garrulous Kid from any further flogging of this, by now quite dead, horse and set about helping him make repairs.
The Red Max was delighted to recount how the Monkey Butler Boy had been tasked by his coaches to undertake a fitness test and provide some performance numbers. Anticipating a grand show, Max had settled into his favourite comfy chair with a nice cup of tea and ready supply of biscuits to watch the Monkey Butler Boy turning himself inside out on a turbo in order to provide the necessary evaluation data.
Max seemed to particularly enjoy the pain and suffering, while obviously providing moral support and motivation in the form of a running commentary disparaging the Monkey Butler Boy’s efforts, cycling prowess and general manhood.
The Monkey Butler Boy himself was quietly content with his test results, which suggested only 16% body fat, but freakishly fat knees. This manifested as a huge roll of loose skin he could pick up and actually fold over the joint, a bit like a stretchable seat cover or pliable knee warmers.
“Is it like the equivalent of a granny’s bingo wings?” I enquired, somewhat repelled by the thought.
“Much, much worse,” the Red Max revealed.
Crazy Legs was intrigued by the possibility of producing the Geordie version of the Zero-Fat Diet, which he proposed was appropriately titled the “Nee-Fat” Diet, guaranteed to solve the rather disturbing phenomena of the Monkey Butler Boys fat knees.
Meanwhile, I wondered if pulling down on the knee flap would have a similar effect as giving the Monkey Butler Boy a bit of a face and neck-lift. The Red Max suggested the fat could even be rolled all the way down the legs to the ankles, removing any hint of a double chin and giving the Monkey Butler Boy a sharp profile and prominent cheekbones.
The downside however, was all the excess skin would pool around the Monkey Butler Boys ankles, making it look like he was wearing a pair of sloppy, flesh-coloured wellies or, worse a pair of the Garrulous Kids baggy socks.
The Garrulous Kid himself, now had both Grover and OGL working to fix his puncture. In what may have been a miradjee, or in the light of the numerous witnesses, perhaps a mass hallucination, several people attested to seeing OGL resorting to tyre levers to reseat the tyre on the rim.
As ride leader, the Red Max outlined the planned route for the day, having us split into two groups that would then re-form at a pre-determined rendezvous. At this point those masochistic souls who wanted yet another crack at the Ryals could tackle them again, while those, of a more sound-mind, would take a slightly less challenging route to the café.
Responding to the Red Max’s route as it was posted up on Facebook, a shocked Taffy Steve declared, “Not been to the Ryals for two years and now twice in a week. You, sir, are a very naughty boy.” The Red Max however was unrepentant and insisted the Ryals were merely “an option” that only the clinically insane would want to tackle. Like a self-serving Tory MP proposing private schools to expand the options of those who can’t afford them anyway, it was according to the Red Max, all about “providing choices.”
Quarter past and with the first group already on the road and the second group stacking up to go, the Garrulous Kid was still fiddling with his bike. Crazy Legs called it as it was – the longest tyre change in club history.
Meanwhile, the Monkey Butler Boy was enjoying pointing out at all the things the Garrulous Kid had been doing wrong and especially the fact that he was resting the weight of his bike fully on its rear derailleur once he removed the wheel. Then, when the Kid tried to put the wheel back in with his cassette on the opposite side to the chainset, I actually thought the Monkey Butler Boy was going to wet himself laughing.
Accidents narrowly averted, the second group finally meandered slowly out onto the roads, leaving the Garrulous Kid to pick up and pack up his gear, before racing out to catch us up.
For the first part of the ride I dropped in beside Slow Drinker and heard all about his recent experiences completing the epic Rapha Manchester to London Challenge – setting out at dawn to ride a rather lumpy 220 miles down through the Peak District, Midlands and Chilterns. Despite the distance and difficulty, he enjoyed the event so much that he’s planning on repeating it next year. That he managed to raise a ton of money for charity too, was just the icing on the cake.
Having been berated as one of the “you must be mad riders” who’d dared to wear shorts, Crazy Legs enjoyed a delighted, schadenfreude moment when he heard OGL bitterly complaining that his hands were freezing in their track mitts. Crazy Legs waved his full-fingered gloves around and suggested that not only were his fingers toasty, but his bare legs were nice and warm too, before disparaging those “amateurs” who don’t dress appropriately for the conditions.
Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve finished their stint on the front and I moved up along with Slow Drinker to lead us down and away from Dinnington. We split the group on the ascent of Bell’s Hill, but planned to wait at the top to regroup. Here though a handful of cyclists, including a couple of recognisable club members, stood clustered around an upended and obviously ailing machine.
We asked if they needed any help, but were waved away and told everything was fully under control. We believed them and they weren’t part of our original ride, so we pressed on. We later learned our first group, passing through the same spot a minute earlier, had also offered to help and been told all was in hand and there was no need to interrupt their ride.
Other people though, seemingly have an uncontrollable, compelling need to interfere, stick their nose in and prove their mechanical mastery of any situation. So, while the front part of our group rolled past and away from the scene, the second became embroiled in “Chaingate” – stopping to lend what I personally took to be totally unnecessary and unasked for assistance to fix a snapped chain.
Five us, Crazy Legs, Taffy Steve, Slow Drinker, the Garrulous Kid and me, freewheeled on, constantly looking over our shoulders and waiting for everyone else to catch up. At the next junction we concluded it wasn’t going to happen and the rest of the group had obviously stopped at the top of the hill.
Torn between pressing on and waiting, we decided on the latter. Ten to fifteen minutes later, we began to regret our decision and the Garrulous Kid was starting to get tetchy and kept urging us to leave. Still we waited.
To pass the time, Crazy Legs decided to declare a Be Nice to the Garrulous Kid Day. “What are you after?” the Garrulous Kid immediately demanded to know … and as quickly as the idea had been born, it died.
Finally, the rest of the group appeared, we waved them through and latched onto the back.
At the next junction, Pavlovian instinct took hold and we had to fight the urge to file straight across the road and instead take an ultra-rare and hugely uncharacteristic left-turn instead. Being slightly less confused than the others, I found myself back in the lead once again, this time alongside Radman, who blinked once or twice, looked round bewildered and demanded to know, “How did I end up on the front?”
I suggested we needed to fake a puncture or a slight mechanical to slip back again, but we pressed on regardless.
A long descent had us topping out at over 40 km/h, but it wasn’t until we were down that I realised it had been our old adversary and Szell’s bete noire, Middleton Bank in reverse. Characteristically, I didn’t recognise it at all and had no real idea where we were.
Crazy Legs spelled me on the front and I dropped back alongside Taffy Steve, where we tried and failed to decipher the name emblazoned on Radman’s shorts and jersey.
I know my memory is clearly fallible, but from what I can recollect it seemed to read, “Phtktpkoyuo,” or something similar.
I tried several times to try and pronounce the strange word, but gave up, deciding it had too many consonants, all crowded together like Dan Martin’s teeth.
I then wondered if it was an anagram, but couldn’t make anything resembling an English word from the weird amalgam of seemingly random letters. Taffy Steve thought it was perhaps just telling us in a strange phonetic way to eff off …
“Yeah? Well phtktpko yuo, too!”
Meanwhile, somewhere behind me I kept catching very odd snippets of conversation, as Aether and the Garrulous Kid became embroiled in a convoluted and involved conversation about space-time curvature. You hear the oddest things on club rides.
On a straight section of road, we had an insane motorcyclist hurtling toward us, as he swerved into our lane, trying to overtake a car where there was no space to do so. He waved his hands frantically at us, demanding we get out of his way. He received very short-shrift and a few of our own patented and very emphatic hand gestures back in return.
He shot past, much too fast and far too close, before disappearing up the road trailing the bellow of a screaming, over-revved engine behind him. Arse hat.
“Phtktpko yuo!” I would have shouted, if I’d just been quick enough and had ever managed to master that complex, alien phrase.
We reached the assigned rendezvous point to find the first group waiting for us. Despite our travails and delays, the Red Max reported they hadn’t been there too long. He then reiterated our choices: “That a-way for the Ryals … and this a-way to avoid them.”
Red Max, Taffy Steve, G-Dawg, Zardoz, Sneaky Pete and the Colossus all made toward “this a-way” leaving only Crazy Legs, Aether and me to accompany an equal number of scarily eager young-uns “that a-way” for the climb. Oh no, what am I doing?
Even Carlton, the original Dormanator, couldn’t be persuaded to join us to alternatively chaperone and then be humiliated by his own kid. With a huge sense of relief, he gratefully entrusted us with proxy-parenting responsibilities, before he too slipped away with the main group.
So, off we went – Mr. Boom, the Dormanator Mk2, a.k.a. Jake the Snake and the Garrulous Kid, an average age just barely into teen years, alongside three superannuated grouches with an average age well past fifty. Sounds like the perfectly balanced group.
I trailed along at the back, keeping an eye on everyone as Crazy Legs led us up through Hallington and then down to the bottom of the Ryals. There, the Garrulous Kid attacked the climb savagely, flailing away all pointy knees and elbows, like Fabio Aru with Saint Vitus’ dance. Mr. Boom and the Dormanator gave chase, while I eased out of the saddle to climb alongside Crazy Legs as we tackled the steepest, first ramp at a more restrained pace, which was actually pretty much all I could manage.
As we started up the second ramp we had a grandstand view of the battle up ahead, with Jake the Snake topping the climb first, followed by Mr. Boom, with the Garrulous Kid trailing.
“This seems harder than last week,” Crazy Legs suggested. “Perhaps the run-in was harder?” he grasped for plausible excuses.
“Could be,” I managed to gasp, “Don’t think there’ll be any new PR’s this time.” (I had more or less the same conversation with Sneaky Pete later at the café, so have to admit to total surprise when Strava informed me I had actually set new PR’s on 3 of the 4 climb segments.)
We regrouped over the top and pushed on the Quarry, where Crazy Legs drove up the slope at top speed, swinging right as he crested the climb. As we later agreed, after the Ryals, the Quarry Climb just seems like a mere, irritating, little pimple. I chased onto his back wheel, finally managing to claw my way up alongside him, as we accelerated and set a high pace, leading the rest in the run to the café.
With such a small select group and having spent all day pushing into a headwind, we weren’t expecting any kind of sprint as we approached the Snake Bends, but the Garrulous Kid attacked anyway and we just let him go. Apparently he likes to “test himself.”
As the Garrulous Kid flitted across the main road ahead of us and ducked down the parallel lane, Crazy Legs decided, as we were running fairly late, to take the more direct route to the café and stick to the main road. He had Jake the Snake tuck in tight on his rear wheel and I dropped in behind, trying to form a protective pocket around him, as we pushed to the café and a reunion with the Ryal-deniers.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
During a discussion about passports and nationalities, Aether suggested that, given the choice he would rather carry a Scottish passport than a UK one. The Garrulous Kid insisted he was American and had an American passport as he’d been born in Sowf Carolina (or was it Norf Carolina?)
Crazy Legs surmised holding an American passport was actually about the only thing worse than a British one, should you fall into the hands of fundamentalist terrorists.
The Garrulous Kid went to extreme lengths to convince us that there was a world of difference between Sowf Carolina and Norf Carolina and even between those from Carolina and those from Texas. “They’re all different heights and sizes and hair colours” he explained breathlessly – which is quite revelation in Garrulous Kid world, where all Italians are small of stature, have black hair and dark eyes and everyone in France and Germany is a tall, blonde-haired and blue-eyed Aryan.
He went then on to tell Mr. Boom that he would have no problems travelling on his Nigerian passport, because he seemed “such a nice bloke.” Crazy Legs thought that was a brilliant test to foil international terrorism, all we have to do is determine if someone is a nice bloke and if they’re not bar them from entering the country. What could possibly go wrong?
The conversation turned to air travel and the increased security Jake the Snake had encountered travelling through Heathrow. The Garrulous Kid then told us how he’d set the alarms off in one airport when his braces registered on the metal detector.
“Did you have to take your braces off?” Crazy Legs enquired.
“And did your pants fall down?” Zardoz deadpanned, easily stealing the quip of the day prize.
Sneaky Pete sneaked up to tell us he was sneaking away early, just before he sneaked away. He then had to explain to Crazy Legs that he’d been missing the past couple of weeks as he’d been away on holiday in Cannes.
Crazy Legs gestured at Sneaky Pete’s rather reddened nose and wondered if he’d caught the sun too much. Pete revealed it was actually a jellyfish sting, inflicted when he swam face first through one of the critters trailing tentacles while posing with a bit of stylish freestyle.
“Oh, I would have pissed on your face if I’d been there.” Crazy Legs affirmed. I can’t think of a more warming and touching declaration of friendship, it almost brought a tear to my eye.
A slightly rushed, second cup of coffee and we began stacking up ready to head home after a longer than normal ride and Chaingate delays.
I spent the first part of the ride back chatting with the Prof, mainly in forensic detail about obscure, Belgian-TV, detective shows. Heading down Berwick Hill, we began closing on another bunch of cyclists and caught them at the foot of the sharp climb into Dinnington. As we closed I suggested to Zardoz that chaos would likely ensue.
I identified the other group as Ee-Em-Cee riders, once a splinter group from our own august club and titularly named after their penchant for leaving on rides long before everyone else is awake.
“They’re not riding very well,” Zardoz suggested.
“Well, they are the Early Morning Crew – it’s now after 1 o’clock,” I reasoned.
“I think it must be way past their bed-times, then,” Zardoz declared.
Naturally, being cyclists, they didn’t respond particularly well to being caught by another group of cyclists – and as G-Dawg moved out to go around them on the climb there was a general quickening of the pace all around.
The two groups were now racing through the village, almost in three lines and directly toward a large, blunt and immoveable double-decker bus, that had stopped to pick up passengers and was blocking the entire lane. OGL screamed there were cars coming the other way and the back of the group slowed.
At the front though, competitive juices were flowing and the two groups went almost sprinting into the narrow gap between bus and the oncoming traffic, as they quickly disappeared around it.
I approached the back of the bus and peered cautiously around its bulk. Luckily the driver of the car travelling in the opposite direction had seen the swarm of approaching cyclists and stopped.
I cautiously pulled out and led the rest around the side of the bus, waving my thanks and trying to convey a measure of contrition to the driver. He waved and gave me a wry smile, seemingly understanding exactly what had been going on and being totally relaxed about it. A rare gem amongst motorists then, a patient, forgiving and considerate driver.
I rode past and gave a quick double-take – he was sitting in a low-slung, rumbling and sleek black Audi. It’s an age of miracles, I tell you.
Luckily the EMC group took the next left turn and a degree of order was restored, although as a leftover we still maintained the same high-speed our sparring with them had injected into the ride. We barrelled past the main turn-off, where most of the group split away and burned through the Mad Mile, before I swung off, eased and started to pick my way home, solo and at a much more sustainable pace.
YTD Totals: 5,775 km / 3,588 miles with 65,619 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 109 km / 68 miles with 1,133 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 22 minutes
Average Speed:25.4 km/h
Group size:21 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two:Bright and breezy
Following on from the original Watergate scandal we’ve all had to endure a ton of utterly dumb, lazy, banal and wholly unoriginal journalistic misappropriations of the -gate suffix, you know, Contragate, Deflategate, Pizzagate, Squidgygate, et al, etc. etc. ad nauseam. So, ladies and gentleman, proving I can be just as dumb, lazy, banal and as frighteningly unoriginal as a paid, professional journalist – (was there ever any doubt?) – I hereby give you the scandal that is … Gategate.
Who’d have thought we’d be heading for such controversy on an innocuous Saturday morning that was warmer than last week and by all accounts would be a lot drier too. As I dropped downhill, the sky over the valley was striated like a layer cake, dark landscape, a band of clear air and a high altitude cap of cloudy grey, seemingly providing a layer of insulation to keep the temperature high.
It was warm enough to make me think the combination of long-sleeved base layer and windproof jacket was overkill – and it wasn’t long before the gloves came off, literally and metaphorically.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
For the past couple of weeks, we’ve organised and promoted a faster, longer “training ride” which leaves the meeting point early to avoid confusion with the regular club run. This week’s run had been planned and was being led by Benedict and I was at the meeting point early enough to see the group gradually coalesce before they set off.
“Remember”, Benedict told me, tapping the side of his nose with a long digit “You didn’t see us and we weren’t here.”
“I am Spartacus,” the Prof offered, “You can be Spartacus too,” he told the Red Max, inviting him to join the training ride revolution.
“Err, no thanks,” Red Max explained, “It doesn’t end well for Spartacus. I’ve read the book …”
“Seen the film …” I added
“And got the T-shirt,” the Prof concluded.
Then, with the pistol shot report of cleats clicking into pedals, the whirr of high-speed wheels and a mighty, “Hi-ho, Silver!” (ok, I may have made that last bit up) they were gone. Almost as if they’d never been there…
As one group leader departed, another emerged: Crazy Legs sporting one of the sleekest, most luxurious and magnificent Van Dyke beards anyone could hope to grow in just seven days, ably fulfilling last week’s directive that the ride leader needed to be be-whiskered to signal his status to the rest of the group.
After studying Crazy Legs carefully for a minute or two, the ever-astute Garrulous Kid made a shock revelation. “That’s not a real beard,” he declared, somewhat hesitantly and we all stepped back in amazement, wondering how we’d been so easily duped.
Crazy Legs coughed up and spat out a fake hairball, before outlining our route for the day, which as a novelty and in preparation for the club hill climb, would see us reverse a familiar route in order to ride up the Ryals.
He got the tacit agreement that OGL would lead a shorter ride, avoiding the Ryals altogether, something OGL seemed more than keen to do as he appeared to be suffering from an immense hangover.
The Garrulous Kid himself keeps threatening to devise, post-up and lead a ride, if only he can overcome the twin barriers of growing facial hair and over-coming his disdain for Facebook, which “is rubbish” that “nobody ever uses.”
Knowing his aversion to cornering, G-Dawg wondered what sort of route the Garrulous Kid would devise, suggesting perhaps, “25 miles, straight up the A1 and then back again.”
I felt that he favoured right turns more than left, so perhaps just a big loop heading out east, then turning north, then swinging to the west before turning south and heading back to the start. We await actual further development with interest.
At the appointed time, Crazy Legs carefully peeled-off and pocketed his beard before he ingested anymore, or it became basted in sweat and spit, blew off his face and slapped some unfortunate rider behind like a wet kipper.
By removing his beard he at least earned the approval of ex old-school pro Walter Planckaert, the boss of professional cycling team Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, who has taken the unusual step of banning beards – and not just in the men’s team.
He defended his decision in the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad by insisting the ban was in order to maintain “the elegance of cycling”. I have to admit, I’m kind of sympathetic to his views – must be an age thing.
Anyhoo, the Planckaert-approved, now clean-shaven Crazy Legs then clipped in, pushed off and led us all out. A quick wave to Richard of Flanders heading in the opposite direction to coach the Go-Ride youngsters and we were soon out and onto the open roads.
Things seemed to be going smoothly until we passed through Ponteland and took a left onto country lanes. It wasn’t long before a fusillade of censorious shouting erupted from the back of the pack, the upshot apparently being that we needed to ease up on the pace.
More over-the-top shouting, screaming and swearing followed, as apparently we were still going too fast. Hmm, someone wasn’t happy back there. One minute Ovis was commenting on what an unusually good road surface we were riding over, the next, instead of enjoying it, we were soft-pedalling, and freewheeling along while being aurally lambasted for who knows what.
Yet more totally incoherent and unnecessary shouting had Taffy Steve demanding to know “what the fuck all the shouting was about?” and could he please have a simple, understandable and legible instruction about what we were doing.
Calls from behind seemed to suggest there was a dire need to stop and not knowing what was happening, if we’d had a puncture, a mechanical or some other issue, I called for the halt. At a convenient entrance to a field, the front of the group pulled to the side of the road and tried to find out what was happening behind.
It transpired the frantic, over-the-top ear-bashing was because OGL wanted a pee stop, but now apparently we’d stopped at “the wrong fuggen’ gate” that wasn’t our “usual fuggen’ pee stop”. He rode past us and off down the lane in a fit of pique.
Those who needed to pee had a pee – at the wrong fuggen’ gate – and we then re-assembled the group and pressed on. A bit further on we passed the right fuggen’ gate that was our “usual” fuggen pee stop. Here all the die-hard traditionalists and ultra-conservatives amongst us had the opportunity to uphold the moral order and do things properly and with great dignity … despite the fact that a large white Range Rover was parked up in this field and they had an audience of perhaps less than delighted onlookers.
No matter what, Crazy Legs was determined to keep the whole group together, so he had us slow and soft-pedal until everyone was finally back on.
We pushed on and I found myself in conversation with Cowin’ Bovril, missing for the past month or so because he’d been off working in France. We were chatting unconcernedly away, slowing as we approached a junction, when with a loud bang I put my front wheel through a large pothole in the road that I didn’t notice until I’d ridden through it.
We pulled around the corner and Cowin’ Bovril cast a critical eye over my tyre and suggested a pinch puncture. We stopped and I prodded the offending rubber with a thumb, just to confirm it was definitely going squishy.
The tube was repaired in short order, with OGL lending his super-strong hands and pincer like grip to rolling the tyre back onto the rim. A quick workout with my pump soon had the tyre inflated enough to get me around (as usual a rather paltry 50 psi when I checked with the track pump at home) and then we were off again.
I drifted slowly toward the back of the group just to keep an eye on any strugglers or stragglers and had a grandstand view as a car sped toward us, the driver rather deliberately ignoring Zardoz’s frantic signals for it to slow down. As the car zipped past, much too fast and much too close, Zardoz reached out and deftly twanged his wing mirror in rebuke. A mixture of shock, disbelief and outrage warred for dominance on the drivers face, as he finally slowed to try and work out what had just happened and if his precious car had been damaged. Arse hat.
The group split with OGL leading a splinter cell of on a wander, I guess just about anywhere as long as it avoided the Ryals, while the rest of us took to roads which were familiar, but we were now doing in reverse order.
We picked our way up through Hallington on the narrow, tree-shaded lane, carefully slaloming around pots and gravel and tussocks of grass, ruts and leaves and twigs, rattling down the final incline to the junction. From here we swung left, straight onto the heavy, grippy and draggy rises that presage the Ryals proper, draining any speed you want to carry onto the climb and draining your legs of any zip.
I think part of the reason the Ryals are seen as such a difficult climb is how they look as you approach, seeming to rise up like a wall and lour over you from a distance. Still, they’re relatively short, about 1.5km with an average gradient of about 5%. Get over the first and hardest ramp, where the gradient maxes out at about 19% and then there’s a short, flattish respite before you tackle the longer, but easier second ramp.
I did my best to roll up to the base of the climb, starting to pass a few flaggers, before the slope bit and I eased out of the saddle and worked my way upwards. Not surprisingly the climb is a lot easier without the 70 odd miles or so that precede them on the Cyclone route. I managed a personal best that might be difficult to better the next time I tackle the climb, which will invariably be during the next Cyclone.
We partially regrouped over the top and rolled down toward the Quarry Climb, giving the back markers a chance to re-join. I stomped up the Quarry and swung right, everyone following except the Garrulous Kid who went left, probably so he could try and beat himself in the sprint.
I slowed to wait, but a group of Jimmy Mac, Ovis and the Red Max darted away and began the race to the café, G-Dawg accelerated to reel them in and I dropped onto his wheel. The Colussus shot past us onto the front group, while G-Dawg closed the gap in a more measured fashion.
Crazy Legs caught the group as we swept through junctions and around sweeping bends, slowly building the speed. On the approach to the Snake Bends, G-Dawg, The Colossus and Jimmy Mac burned off the front, while I sparred with Ovis for the minor placings.
We regrouped for the final run to the café and arrived with perfect timing that rewarded us with no queues.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
In a discussion of dogs and beaches, Taffy Steve said his vet felt they were a hazard to any good pet’s health, apparently as they’re a breeding ground for all sorts of canine nasties. The Red Max certainly knew about beach hazards and recounted how his daughter’s hybrid-pedigree was washed out to sea and appeared to be struggling. He’d flatly refused to even contemplate going in to try and rescue the pooch, but reassured her there was at least a 50-50 chance it would survive.
Luckily for him a large wave picked it up and flung it onto the sand and the dog lived to fight another day. I think he said it was a sprocker spaniel, but I don’t really do pedigree dogs, so may be mistaken. Taffy Steve though did suggest the double-dose of loopy you get from inter-breeding between two pedigrees, probably produced the perfect dog for Red Max’s household – a highly-strung, schizoid, hyperactive and excitable animal that will chase anything that moves.
Meanwhile, G-Dawg confided the problem with taking his dogs onto the beach was they seemed to delight in crapping in the sea, making recovery and bagging operations somewhat problematic.
OGL has suggested that despite club membership growing, ride numbers are falling. This isn’t the impression I have, so I offered to count back on the numbers I’ve recorded in this blerg for the past 3 years or so and see if this was actually the case.
Taffy Steve was disgusted when Crazy Legs and I enthusiastically conjured up as much management speak as possible in an ensuing discussion about the spreadsheets and interactive charts we could adopt to present back empirical evidence, that would give a holistic and overarching picture of performance thresholds and the intrinsic peripatetic synergies of ride numbers and allow us to drill-down to a much more granular level of detail. Or something …
Discussion of Crazy Legs’ universally appreciated route for the day led to a discussion about the route through Hallington, which is used by the pros during the Beaumont Trophy. We wondered how they coped with pots and gravel and tussocks of grass, ruts and leaves and twigs, while going at full bore – especially when G-Dawg confirmed he’d marshalled at that point before and the riders were often massed and charging, six deep across the road rather than picking their way carefully and in single-file. Scary stuff.
The Garrulous Kid showed he’s beginning to morph into a twisted OGL mini-me and has started to parrot some of Our Glorious Leaders more lurid tales. This is dispiriting not only because they’re second hand, but because we’ve all heard them countless times already and from the original source. Still, perhaps this is how tribal myths and legends develop and in 10,000 years our ancestors will be regaling themselves with tales of this bright OGL demi-god, his epic odyssey around the wildlands of Albion and his fearless feats of prowess. Perhaps not, though.
The Monkey Butler Boy turned up to ride back with us having been with his club for a photoshoot. What?
He engaged in rather desultory conversation with us while he waited, occasionally stroking and caressing his saddle. Luckily we left before things could develop any further.
The ride back was swift and largely uneventful, the most interesting thing that happened was being assaulted by a boom-box, disco-car – blacked out windows, fancy alloy wheels, bulbous body-kit and fat exhaust – the full works. Too loud man, it’s shrill … piercing!
I’m on record as stating that whenever you notice one of these monstrously loud, music-pounding cars you can never recognise what song they’re actually playing. Today however was the exception, blasting loud, proud and unafraid from this car was Rod Stewart’s Baby Jane. Now that’s what I call street cred.
YTD Totals: 5,633 km / 3,432 miles with 64,066 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 111 km / 69 miles with 1,199 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 22 minutes
Average Speed:25.4 km/h
Group size:20 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Chilly with showers
The weather has definitely taken what feels like a big and irreversible step toward the autumnal now, so I wasn’t feeling remotely overdressed in a long-sleeved jersey and knee warmers. I wore gloves, but carried a mitts to swap out in the forlorn hope that things might warm up. They never did and the mitts stayed firmly in my pocket throughout the ride.
The ground was soaked by recent rain, but above the sky was only lightly smeared with high clouds, hopefully it would at least be bright and dry, even if on the cold side.
Main topics of conversation at the start
There was a mixture of optimists and pessimists at the meeting point. G-Dawg was firmly invested in the former camp, in shorts and a short-sleeved jersey and insisting there was still time to work on his tan lines. I don’t know about tan lines, but today would eventually prove to be hugely effective for anyone wanting to work on grime-lines.
Others had joined me in wrapping up, even Taffy Steve who rolled up wearing a gilet and arm-warmers, but to be fair he was already sweating like a glass-blowers arse and would start stripping off layers as soon as he stopped. Meanwhile, a clearly undecided Colossus went with the catch-all of a short-sleeved jersey paired with a pair of bib knickers that were …well … I guess, err … interesting in their near translucence.
We saluted the arrival of Richard of Flanders, our route architect and designated ride leader for the week. Crazy Legs was even prompted to climb onto the wall for an inspiring, Dead Poet’s, “Captain! My Captain!” moment.
With Richard of Flanders sporting a cycling-hardman/rouleur beard and following on from the example of a similarly grizzle-jawed G-Dawg, we determined that all ride leaders should henceforth invest in facial hair to add gravitas and identify their authority to the rest of the group. Now next weeks designated leader, Crazy Legs faces a real challenge trying to grow a suitably impressive beard in time.
Fresh from a credible performance at the National Junior Time-trial Championship the Monkey Butler Boy was out with us again as, according to his own words, all his regular Wrecking Crew team-mates “are pussies, who won’t ride if the weather’s bad.”
He’d switched to a winter bike which he’d only had the morning to prep, having been lured out the previous night by the lure of women and wild wassailing. This could, perhaps in polite company, form an adequate excuse for his lamentable attempt at trying to strangle, wrangle and entangle his bars in a mess of new tape, but wasn’t going to wash with us.
On the plus side, the Colossus approved of the choice of tape, gleaming white, with deep perforations that showed a bright red background, but the less than precise winding had produced an irregular hotchpotch of pockets, knots, bulges, bubbles and blisters that made the bars look like they’d been organically grown from seriously malformed coral.
To add insult to injury, the lumpy, white bar tape was held in place by at least three thick and unequal bands of what looked like an entire roll of red electricians tape,strategically placed at various different points to try and hold everything in place.
It was almost impossible to believe, but Red Max confided that this was actually an improvement on the first attempt at bar wrapping that he had been summarily dismissed out of hand.
Route outlined and with two FNG’s to shepherd around, we decided on a single group and twenty lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
Richard of Flanders, Red Leader for the day, took to the front alongside Crazy Legs as we set out, leaving the suntrap of the Transport Interchange Centre (aka: a bus station) to find it was actually quite chilly out on the roads. The wind had picked up and was carrying a cold edge, while grey cloud stole across the sky and quickly filled in all the blue bits. It started to look more and more like we were going to have to endure at least one shower, somewhere along the way.
Climbing up through Tranwell and honking away in a massive, knee destroying gear, OGL could only complain bitterly that he used to win races on this road, as he was slowly distanced with a few other strugglers.
Just outside of Mitford a quick stop was called – an opportunity for OGL to question the Colossus’s semi-risqué choice of leg wear.
“You love them, really,” the Colossus replied an opinion that seemed to comprehensively win the argument and, temporarily at least, reduce OGL to silence.
The group split a little further on, OGL leading a few off on a shorter route, while we pressed on to Dyke Neuk, sadly arriving much too early for the annual Leek Show.
We decided this was probably how middle-aged blokes spent their free time before the invention of the bicycle – just a different excuse to meet up and talk a load of old bolleaux, with the topic du jour perhaps being the best proportions of ingredients for a good mulch, rather than gear ratios.
Taffy Steve was pressed to take one of the display leeks and proudly wear his national emblem for the rest of the ride, but politely declined and we pushed on.
I was on the front with G-Dawg as we approached another cut-off point with the option to take a left for the shorter route through Hartburn, or head straight up to Rothley Crossroads.
“Straight on, or left?” I asked G-Dawg.
“Dunno. Straight on, or left?” G-Dawg called out to the group behind.
Hmm, this wasn’t helping.
Luckily though the Red Leader was to hand. Richard of Flanders cruised up, emphatically declared we were going straight on and led from the front onto the first of the dragging climbs up to the crossroads.
I don’t think anyone likes this route which grinds upwards, never really a full bore, out of the saddle climb, more a long chugging drive that slowly saps your strength. Horrible. It’s perhaps why we use this route so infrequently.
The Red Leader caught up with me on the descent and started to draw parallels between the Colossus’s semi-risqué attire and Kim Kardasian trying much too hard to project a lovable, sexy and playful minx. Luckily none of the images were making it through my inappropriate material filter.
On to Middleton Bank and I was climbing in formation with G-Dawg and Crazy Legs. We got about halfway up the climb when Crazy Legs observed it had all gone quiet behind. He looked back and realised it had indeed gone quiet, simply because there was no one following in the wheels behind. We rolled over the top and slowed to let everyone regroup.
Pressing onto the cafe we ran directly into a sharp and intense shower that soon had the roads awash and wheels spraying out an arc of cold water. Taffy Steve swooped to the front and put in a big dig and the pace suddenly shot up.
I was riding behind one of the FNG’s and he let the wheel in front go, perhaps not appreciating just how quickly the speed would build, perhaps not realising the gravitas of the cafe sprint, perhaps because it’s madness riding 5cm’s behind a stranger in a downpour, or perhaps simply to escape the pressure jet of water kicked up by G-Dawgs wheels that kept slapping him in the eyes.
Whatever the reason, a gap yawned open between him and the front trio of Taffy Steve, G-Dawg and Crazy Legs. The Colussus recognised the danger and darted across, while I hesitated a bit too long, finally came around the FNG and tried to close the gap more slowly and steadily.
Big mistake. 5 metres soon became 15 metres … and then 50 metres … and then 50 metres rapidly became simply impossible.
I plugged away, chasse patate in no-mans-land, managing to close and almost get within striking distance as we went up and over the rollers … but then the road tilted down and the front group were gone, away and out of sight.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Empowered by his status as Red Leader, Richard of Flanders mused about where all the club fees went and what they were being used for. The truth is, nobody knows.
G-Dawg revealed the club used to have a treasurer, apparently our expat who’s stuck out in Las Vegas. As G-Dawg dryly concluded, “A club treasurer, with access to all our funds, bored and stuck in Las Vegas, the gambling capitol of the world. What could possibly go wrong?”
Before an intriguing and highly colourful tale had a chance to unfold however, G-Dawg also recalled our erstwhile treasurer had been asked to hand over the club books to Mrs. OGL quite some time ago … and they’ve never been seen since.
Taffy Steve wanted any money the club might have sloshing around to be spent on developing the kids – coaching, equipment, facilities – whatever they need. This seemed reasonable and I suggested even increasing the fees beyond the paltry £10 per year and everyone seemed happy to do this, if it was being used effectively and transparently. Hey, if you’re gonna dream, dream big!
Then the Garrulous Kid wandered past, miming sealed lips after the table opposite had promised him £1 if he could keep silent for 10 minutes. Suddenly, we all realised there was something much more compelling we could spend the club fees on, and where any increase would be worth every penny.
Discussion turned to Szell’s disappearing act last week and the idea that I couldn’t conceive of him being in the front group after all the climbing. Taffy Steve however has a theory that its because Szell has decided he doesn’t need to ape and appease OGL and has dared change his bike set-up. He’s now switched from a “classic” 53-chain-ring to a compact, and is actually climbing much better and on a par with everyone else.
Changing fashions and technologies led to a discussion about e-bikes, with many looking forward to extending their club riding careers with a little motorised assistance. G-Dawg was the only one with first-hand experience of an e-bike and was all for them.
Somewhat predictably, OGL had declared if anyone ever saw him on an e-bike, they should just put a pellet in his ear. I assume he was inviting people to administer the coup de grace by capping him in the head, but perhaps it was also a veiled reference to Hamlet and he meant a pellet of poison? Well, if we can reference Walt Whitman, why not a bit of Shakespeare too?
Anyway, now all he has to do is determine if the pellet with the poison is in the flagon with the dragon, or the chalice from the palace, all the while remembering that the vessel with the pestle holds the brew that is true. Oops, hold on, that’s NOT Shakespeare is it?
We set off for home and had only just left the main road for the country lanes, when the Prof came bustling and barging past, declaring it was too cold for riding at a pace that everyone could manage. All hell broke loose as he shot off the front, the speed was kicked up and people tried to close him down. Everything was a bit frantic until the ascent of Berwick Hill restored some natural measure of order, although by then we could have lost a fair few, floundering off the back.
Up through Dinnington and on we went until, up ahead through the misting rain, we saw flashing lights and slowed to find a cluster of cyclists at the side of the road. There’d been a touch of wheels in one of the groups that had left the cafe early and Kipper and Laurelan had gone down hard. The flashing lights were from a paramedics car that had just happened to be passing and stopped to lend assistance.
Laurelan seemed mostly intact, but she’d taken a bad bang to the head, while Kipper had a deep gash on his knee that gaped horribly wide, leering insanely whenever he bent the limb. Both luckless riders were carted off to A&E, while Red Max made arrangements to take their bikes home.
X-rays would later reveal that Kipper had the worst of it, a broken kneecap that required surgery and will unfortunately keep him off the bike for a good while. Hope he recovers swiftly. The Red Max later confirmed that Kipper’s bike was safe, largely intact and behaving itself in his shed.
We pressed on as the rain finally began to ease and I was hopeful if it stopped I might be able to dry out before I reached home. We flew through the Mad Mile and then I was swinging off and away on my own.
On the final leg down toward the river, a small hatchback pulled away from the right-hand kerb and swung across in front of me. I braked, swerved out of its path and then slipped behind it, making sure I was right in the centre of the back bumper and hopefully looming large in the rear-view mirror, an attempt to give the obviously myopic driver at least an even chance to see my exaggerated, censorious headshake.
For once it even seemed to work, perhaps too well, as the car slowed and came to a halt several yards away from the next junction, forcing me to stop too. Oops. The driver’s door opened and a beefy leg was planted on the ground. This was then followed by another, equally as beefy leg, as a seriously large, bull-necked, shaven-headed bloke levered himself out of the driver’s seat. Oh-oh.
I was now expecting the worst – a foul-mouthed tirade? The threat of physical violence? One of those swivel-eyed, lunatic, “cyclists don’t pay road tax so deserve to be run off the road” pronouncements?
“Sorry mate, I didn’t see you there …” the bloke announced, almost meekly.
I was utterly shocked and just about managed to blurt out, “Oh! Ok, no harm done.”
Don’t get me wrong, I think SMIDSY (sorry mate, I didn’t see you) is horrible, far too common attempted mitigation for bad driving that excuses nothing and has probably been used as justification in some shocking circumstances. Even so, it was kind of refreshing to find a driver who’s willing to own up to his mistakes and apologise for them. I’ll take that any day as an alternative to ignoring mistakes and bad driving, or pretending it never happened, that someone else is in the wrong and sailing blithely on.
As I crossed the river, a rain squall settled overhead, but I was almost home so didn’t stop to pull on a jacket, arriving back at my front door again, somewhat damp around the edges.
The knee had more or less behaved itself all day, although I was hobbling a little on Sunday. I think its getting better – just in time for the club hill climb. Hmm, perhaps I need to injure it again…
YTD Totals: 5,523 km / 3,432 miles with 62,933 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 122 km / 76 miles with 1,142 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 47 minutes
Average Speed:25.5 km/h
Group size:24 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Tom Verlaine (Warm and Cool)
A dry looking Saturday, but grey and dull with light rain showers forecast, but not until around midday. I’d managed to survive a semi-debauched work leaving do involving “jalee-peeno” chilli peppers and “crotch mints” on Friday night (I couldn’t tell you, even if I knew…) and was looking forward to blowing the fuzz away with a bracing gentleman’s excursion by velocipede.
The dodgy knee was well-strapped up in an attempt to try and keep everything in place and I’d dug out some knee warmers to disguise the shocking pink bandage. I even remembered my long-fingered gloves, so was well wrapped up and warm dropping down the hill to start my ride.
The leaden, uniform cloud cover was fractured by only a single band of pale, glittering blue-sky, far away across the other side of the valley. It was exactly where I was heading and seemed like a good omen.
We were set for one of G-Dawg’s carefully prepared, somewhat alternative rides and he’d obviously been scouring ordnance survey maps, ancient parish records, local archives and the latest military-grade, topographical satellite imagery to find us a route somewhat less-travelled. The ride had been posted up on Facebook and looked like being not only novel, but slightly longer than usual. It was going to be a good one.
It seemed to be a day for fellow cyclists to be out on the roads in force – perhaps the forecast for rain later in the day had encouraged them to leave home early, or maybe they too needed to work off the previous night’s excesses.
I passed one group clustered just outside Pedalling Squares cycle café and hoped they didn’t need an espresso to kick-start their ride – the place was still an hour away from opening. I waved past another couple heading east and a third group tracked me along the valley floor for a while, but either turned off, or got caught behind some lights, so never caught up for a chat.
After last week’s flotilla of single sculls, there was only a solitary eight out on the river, leading me to idly speculate that rowing isn’t really as popular as it seems. Perhaps this eight was manned by the exact same rowers as last week’s sculls and they just changed boats occasionally to spice things up. If next week they’re back to 8-singles, or possibly 4-doubles, I think I might be onto something.
The knee got its first test as I climbed out the other side of the valley, but the strapping seemed to be doing its work, it wasn’t exactly 100% but I could live with a few small twinges. Interestingly it seemed less sore when climbing standing up and out of the saddle.
The first test passed, I was soon homing in on the meeting point, arriving in good time and in good order.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:
G-Dawg had bedecked himself in the brightest, most luminous, acid-orange socks I’d ever seen, perhaps so he was especially prominent as ride leader and to ensure no one got lost – the cycling equivalent of Rudolph’s red-nose? Taffy Steve later remarked he thought G-Dawg had installed a special two-tone gold chain with orange highlights, until he realised he was just seeing the glow of the glaringly orange socks reflected in the chains highly burnished plates.
The Garrulous Kid declared OGL had promised to show him the “secret way.” Yes, well … ahem … hmmm … moving swiftly on.
Crazy Legs was wearing a jersey I donated to him as it was too long in the body for me and I felt it was the perfect complement to his much cossetted Ribble. The colours were not only the exact shade of red, black and white to match the Ribble’s frame, but featured in almost identical proportions too. So, naturally he’d decided to wear it while riding his celeste Bianchi …
(He did actually explain that he fully intended to ride the much cossetted Ribble today, but it had refused, point-blank to leave the warm, dry sanctuary of its hyperbaric chamber, asserting there was just the faintest trace of moisture in the air and a more than 2.5% chance of rain.)
Jimmy Mac returned from participating in the UCI Gran Fondo event, where he’d lined up in Albi with 2,939 other riders from 56 different nations, including at least one Dutchman, our own de Uitheems Bloem. The latter has now left this royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden, demi-paradise, in order to return to his homeland of polders and dykes. Veel success, Thomas, we’ll miss you.
Jimmy Mac had survived the Gran Fondo which, in his estimation had not only been blisteringly fast, but blisteringly hot too. Once again and much like the Etape du Tour, the event organisation seemed to have thoroughly let the riders down though and he reported the en route feed stations had run out of water long before he got to them.
G-Dawg outlined the route, OGL emphasised there was only one cut-off point for anyone wanting a shorter ride and we split more or less (we’re learning) into two equal groups with Crazy Legs leading the first and G-Dawg the second.
We pushed off, clipped in and rode out…
On the road with the first group, I started chatting with Taffy Steve and was taken to task for not acknowledging his most invaluable contributions in the engine room of last week’s gimp express, as we tried unsuccessfully to rein in the rampaging Zardoz and the only slightly-less rampaging Big Dunc.
Suitably chastened, talk turned to the “classic” bloke-films that Taffy Steve is ensuring his son has an encyclopaedic and deep, empathic understanding of, before the boy is cast, adrift and defenceless, into a world full of rom-cons, chick-flicks, historical dramas, much-too earnest bio-pics, classical literature screen-adaptations and other such horrors.
Point Break, the original 1960’s Batman and the Matrix films had already been covered off, while we discussed the relative merits of Die Hard, Predator and the Lethal Weapon series, with a special nod to Clint Eastwood, a few spaghetti-westerns and of course Where Eagles Dare.
Never mind the implausibility, the occasionally ropey special effects, the scripts full of anachronisms and “more holes than a horse trader’s mule” – just sit back and enjoy the visceral excitement. How good must it be to discover these films for the first time?
Once Crazy Legs had rotated off the front we had a remarkably rare sighting of a couple of Grogs leading us and their efforts dragged us to the top of the valley before the plunge down into Wylam.
It was here that OGL would lead off a splinter group for those seeking a slightly shorter ride, seemingly taking most of the Grogs with him along with the Garrulous Kid, who continues to take the easy option and might need to be renamed the Wimpy Kid.
It was also at this point that OGL’s “secret route” was revealed … apparently a different, safer way we could take down into the Tyne Valley. The only trouble was it was only accessible if we travelled a mile or two in the wrong direction down the Military Road.
I must admit I don’t quite understand his concern – the descent into Wylam is fast, but the road’s wide, the bends are all gently sweeping and the traffic relatively light. We usually get strung out going down, but soon regroup at the bottom for the ride along the river side.
Anyway, as Crazy Legs reasoned, it would still be far better to deal with the descent, even if it was gnarly, rather than spend any more time than absolutely necessary dicing with the reckless, impatient, and frequently speeding drivers on the Military Road “race-track.”
So, down we went and I tucked up and dropped in behind Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs, letting gravity do the work as we hit over 40 mph. As always, great fun.
Along the valley floor and a black cat darted across the road in front of us, the bell on its collar jingling lightly, but clearly loud enough for Crazy Legs to suggest it was nearly as good as cow bells on an Alpine climb. Once safely on the pavement the cat stopped to eye us up suspiciously, making sure we kept right on going.
At the Bywell Bridge, now fully open to anyone brave enough to venture into the dark and brooding lands south of the river, we stopped to merge with the following group led by G-Dawg. All together we then swung away to the right and starting the long climb back out of the valley.
I topped the hill before the A69 dual carriageway just off the front group and with perfect timing, as a gap miraculously appeared in the rushing traffic. I picked my way across to the other side without stopping and pulled up to ensure everyone was across before continuing to climb upwards.
We were now traversing the side of the hill, travelling slightly eastwards, rather than heading straight up and as the road continued to climb I started working my way through the back markers. Szell, Sneaky Pete, Aether and Brink in particular didn’t seem to be enjoying the uphill segments and I slipped past them as the road continued upwards.
We stopped to regroup and pressed on through more climbing – and then hit the rinse and repeat button, more climbing and more regrouping. Somewhere along the way I lost track of Szell and was convinced he was tailed-off and riding behind the group.
I communicated my concern to Rab Dee, our backmarker, sweeper-up and self-appointed guardian of waifs and strays and we spent an age soft-pedalling and peering backwards, hoping to see a struggling Szell finally haul himself into view. There was nothing.
We stopped and waited, finally surmising Szell may have taken a different route, before reluctantly pushing on again. At the junction Aether and Radman had waited for us, but the rest of the group had kept going.
We then had a mile or so chasing into the wind, before catching up to the rest of the group who were waiting at the next junction and insisted Szell was in a group up ahead! They still had trouble convincing me he wasn’t lost, alone and palely loitering, though.
At this point it became apparent we’d now lost Rab Dee too and Aether back-tracked to find he was having problems with his front shifter. Rab finally re-joined, but only long enough to let us know he was stuck in the inner ring and cutting short his ride to head homeward.
We now took one of G-Dawg’s “paths less-travelled” – turning off the main roads onto a rutted and pitted farm track that narrowed to the point where I was becoming concerned it was going to peter out altogether and abandon us in the middle of a field.
There were a few pots to avoid, lumps to slalom round and gravel to surf through, but we kept going and G-Dawg’s plan didn’t fail us.
With a noise like a Winchester ricochet in a cheesy Western, a wheel ahead spat up a small boulder which flew with unerring accuracy to rap Taffy Steve across the knuckles.
“Ouch!” he exclaimed, before quickly realising he had to translate his hurt into the local Geordie vernacular, or nobody would have a clue about what had happened…
“Ai-ya, that knaacks!” he quickly corrected himself.
Finally, we emerged from the wilderness onto more civilised roads, with everyone seeming to instantly recognise where they were. Well, everyone except me.
“This is part of the route the Cyclone takes,” Taffy Steve informed me.
“Maybe, but at this stage, after the Ryals, I’m usually reduced to an exhausted wreck with tunnel-vision and can only ride with my head bowed down. I don’t recognise anything.”
“How long have you lived in Newcastle?” Taffy Steve asked in disbelief.
“I don’t live in Newcastle,” I protested.
“Hmm, must just be because you work there that you’ve developed that thin veneer of civility.”
“Kee-argh!” Zardoz announced, at the sound of a motor-vehicle approaching from behind.
His exaggerated Scouse bleat still sounded like my cat retching up a fur-ball.
I tried to copy this most extraordinary noise, but succeeded only in sounding like a mildly startled crow. Embarrassingly, it was as pitiful as Ed Miliband’s death metal scream as he tried to imitate Napalm Death frontman, Barney Greenway.
“You need lessons,” Zardoz declared phlegmatically.
He wasn’t wrong.
Radman and Crazy Legs took to the front for the last push through Stamfordham and I finally recognised where we were. They swung us left and up the hill, as we started a last push on to the café.
Above us massive wind-turbines whirred freely and we quickly came to understand just why they’d been placed where they were, as out of nowhere, the stretch of road suddenly became a perfect, natural wind-tunnel, funnelling a vicious headwind straight into our faces.
Radman and Crazy Legs drove us through this gale and onto the junction leading down to the Snake Bends where, as suddenly as the wind had sprang up, it died away again.
There was no full-blooded sprint, just a general quickening of the pace and I was able to stay comfortably in line despite discovering I’d been riding on the inner ring.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I was somewhat relieved to discover Szell comfortably ensconced in the café when we arrived, supping his tea and devouring a warm scone. I guess he was in the group up the road after all, but I’m still confused as to when and where (and how?) he passed me on the climb.
We sat outside into the garden after being served, where the owner-proprietor of Azione bikes passed by and stopped for a brief chat. Azione must be the only people producing custom-made, bespoke carbon bikes in Newcastle (Azione.cc).
A couple of our crew are “Azionista’s” – one is very, very enthusiastic about the project, the other a little more circumspect. Very nice designs, but a bit too rich for my blood – which I guess is just another way of admitting I’m a cheapskate – or, as tight as a wallaby’s sphincter, as some of my more erudite friends might suggest.
I think Jimmy Mac got the full sales pitch, but refreshingly, unlike a similar encounter with the MD of the Storck UK, at least the Azione guy wasn’t trying to spin us a tale about his frames being anything other than high-end and unashamedly expensive, premium bikes.
The Garrulous Kid unwisely started guessing peoples ages, straddling the line between fawning sycophantism and uncomfortable, derogatory and disparaging disrespect. Luckily Taffy Steve cut him short before he really insulted someone.
Radman stated how much he’d enjoyed the ride and how it made a change from the shorter route he usually takes with the Grogs and we all agreed it had been a great one today. He wasn’t a fan of the coffee at the café though and we couldn’t persuade him to have a second cup, even after Crazy Legs had press-ganged the Garrulous Kid into collecting our refills – more for a moments respite than any laziness on our part.
Radman revealed the Grogs always met up early for a pre-ride espresso, which sounds very civilised and means they can time their arrival for after any OGL proselytizing – so not only civilised, but sensible too.
In the car park as we were leaving, I was approached by a couple enquiring which club we were from. Despite wondering if they were going to report us to the Police for unknown misdemeanours, I answered truthfully – the garish club jerseys were well represented anyway and they’re all emblazoned with the club name, so there wasn’t much wriggle-room.
Apparently though, the couple were cyclists from Lincoln (Lincoln Wheelers, I think) who were just returning from a walking event in Peebles and were admiring all the bikes. They seemed rather jealous that we had such a glorious day for a ride, while they still had a couple of hours drive ahead of them.
As we set off for home I dropped in behind Sneaky Pete and heard all about his potential 15 minutes of fame, as he’d been filmed for the new BBC One series, How to Stay Young, due to air on Wednesday, 13th September at 21.00.
Answering the call for retired gentlemen of a certain vintage, Sneaky Pete had to endure a battery of tests at the hands of no less than the fearsome Angela Ripon, before our mountain climbing and cycling superhero was declared an uber-healthy pensioner, with less than 6% body-fat and the physique of a 35-year-old Adonis.
We’ve yet to see if Sneaky Pete’s segment survives the cut, or is expunged for making the rest of us feel old, unworthy and inadequate.
Sneaky Pete, however is apparently not everyone’s flavour of the month. While I was away on holiday he’d found his picture appearing unsolicited on a social-media site, where he was accused, in terms that would make a sailor blush, of being a reckless cyclist who casually and disdainfully flouts the rules of the road.
Apparently Sneaky Pete and colleagues had been out on the usual Saturday club run and had somehow – and he has genuinely no idea how, or why – incurred the wrath of the driver of a black Mercedes. This woman had photographed him on her mobile and posted up the picture along with the derogatory remarks and had, apparently without the slightest hint of self-awareness or irony, accused him of breaking the law.
Just to be absolutely clear: The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No 4) Regulations 2003, prohibits a person from driving a motor vehicle on a road if the driver is using a held-hand mobile telephone or a hand-held device. Regulation 110 (6)(c) provides a non-exhaustive list of “interactive communication functions” which are subject to this restriction, including: sending or receiving oral or written messages, sending or receiving facsimile documents, sending or receiving still or moving images, and providing access to the internet.
Contrary to what many drivers seem to think, the law still applies even if you’re stopped, or queuing in traffic – as the RAC conclude, “if your engine is running, your phone should be nowhere near your hands or eye line.”
Still, it’s good to know so many drivers have such a vested interest in ensuring people strictly adhere to the rules of the road …
It wasn’t long before I was swinging off and heading for home, enduring the lightest and briefest of rain showers that did nothing to dampen the mood or ruin the day. The knee held up quite well and only really hurt a couple of miles from home, when I needed to sprint through a small gap in the traffic at a busy roundabout.
Hopefully all on the road to recovery then.
YTD Totals: 5,409 km / 3,360 miles with 61,650 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 108 km/67 miles with 1,105 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Average Speed: 24.0 km/h
Group size: 31 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Pleasant
You can’t say I hadn’t been warned and I should have known what to expect, after all I’d already managed two bike commutes into work during the week. On both occasions the cold had made me grateful for the light, long fingered gloves (my favourite and highly recommended, Galibier Roubaix Vision 4’s) that I’d used both mornings, before switching to mitts for the considerably warmer return journey.
But, Saturday morning looked bright and breezy and I was setting off an hour later than I do when travelling into work – surely it wouldn’t be so cold that I’d need to supplement arm-warmers with gloves? It was though, and dropping down the Hill at high speed didn’t help. The cold attacked my hands, especially through the chilled metal of the brake levers I had covered throughout the descent.
Along the valley floor I tried to find some relief and to break the wind chill – hands positioned on the very tops of the bars, just before the warm tape gave way to icy metal, fingers curled up tight and bundled together like cold kittens, with only the runts of the litter, my two thumbs, still exposed to the air flow and slowly turning numb.
Despite the frigid, early morning conditions, it looked like being a great day once the air warmed up a little, the pale blue above only lightly smudged with milky ripples and whorls of cloud, like a giant had left his fingerprints across the sky. It was simply a case of surviving until the suns warming influence could be felt, perhaps one of the last, fine days before the dark, cold, winds and rain of late autumn descend and so, not to be missed.
The promise of decent weather was a real incentive to get out for the Saturday Club Run, overcoming the twin challenges of illness and a sore knee. I’d missed time at work on the Tuesday, feeling sick – high temperature, nausea, stomach cramps and a headache. I still wasn’t fully 100% but had determined to try and ride through it.
Then on Thursday I’d noticed my right knee was sore, especially when climbing. I’d shared the first half of my evening commute with Mr. T (aka The Man with the Van and the Plan) on Friday. He’s trying to reach his annual mileage target, so wanted a longer route home. During the ride he wondered if I’d done anything to actually injure the knee, but nothing came to mind.
It wasn’t until later, when climbing the Heinous Hill with little stabs of pain sparking in the offending joint, that I remembered slipping on the office stairs on Wednesday morning. Perhaps that was the source of the injury? I hope so, as it beats the alternative, that my aged and decrepit knee joints are just worn out, crumbling and terminally failing.
Still, as I crossed the river, admiring a small flotilla of single-sculls arrowing downstream, I felt fine, any knee pain was at least temporarily quiescent and the bike was whirring along smoothly and quietly. All seemed well with the world.
I reached the meeting point in good time and in good order and drew up to wait for everyone else alongside the early arrivals, Crazy Legs and the Garrulous Kid.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The Garrulous Kid reported great success with his GCSE exams, especially Chemistry, Physics and Maffs. Apparently he’d passed his English too and with flying colours, causing me to enquire if there was an oral element to his testing and how well he’d fared at that part. (There wasn’t).
Crazy Legs thanked Zardoz for his moral and very vocal support during last week’s 4-Up Team Time Trial. Apparently Zardoz’s bellowing of, “you’ve almost caught your minute-men!” halfway around the course had been invigorating and motivating, even as Crazy Legs immediately realised it was a complete and utter lie.
Aether rolled up and we awarded him a full ceremonial fanfare as this week ride leader. We all genuflected in his august presence and I’m sure, out of the corner of my eye I even saw the Garrulous Kid attempt an awkward curtsy.
With another good turnout spilling across the pavement, Aether recognised the need to split us into two, but we still haven’t quite got the hang of this and we ended up with a pair of very lopsided groups, one of about twenty-strong, the other of no more than a dozen. Sadly this was just an excuse for those who don’t agree with splitting into groups to complain that it doesn’t work. And they did. A lot.
A small few of us hung back to form the core of the second group, even rolling up to the lights on green and refusing to go through them in order to allow the bunch out front plenty of time to get clear.
The lights finally cycled round to green again and we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve took to the front for the first part, while I slotted in behind them, alongside the Garrulous Kid, with Big Dunc and Zardoz following in turn and in our wheels. On past Dinnington, the front two peeled off, I pushed through with the Garrulous Kid and Zardoz, realising he was getting perilously close to the front immediately called for a pee stop, so he could slip quietly back down the order. We naturally ignored him and pressed on.
We drove the pace on, up past the Cheese Farm, trying to see how many “ease up!” cries we could generate on the climb, but they were disappointingly scarce. Passing under the A1 just outside of Morpeth, we ceded the front to Zardoz and Big Dunc. A large contingent of Grogs slipped away off the back to head straight to the café and when Moscas turned early for home shortly afterwards, there was just the front group and OGL left – a Malignant Seven – average age about 50, or if you exclude the Garrulous Kid, about 56.
We swung round a sharp corner onto the bottom of the Mur de Mitford, I changed down and attacked the slope. Ouch, big mistake, as someone introduced my knee to a little needle of niggling, sharp pain. Ah! So that injuries still there, then …
I tried to spin up, putting as little force as possible through my right leg, which felt a bit odd. It wasn’t hugely painful, but uncomfortable and the joint felt weak and somewhat femmer – definitely not something I wanted to put too much strain through.
We regrouped and pressed on. The weather had started to warm up, the sun was high and bright and I was able to abandon the arm warmers. It was, finally, a glorious day. All around us the countryside was blooming richly and riotously. Glossy blackberries dotted all the hedgerows and while a few fields had already been shaved back to a dry stubble, in the Font valley the maize was already reaching over head-height.
We swung left, onto the Coldlaw Wood Climb running parallel to the Trench and took the opportunity for a pee stop, while OGL shipped and stowed his gilet. The Garrulous Kid complained there was nowhere to pee. Crazy Legs raised a quizzical eyebrow and looked around the shady, secluded country lane, lined with a wall and hedge to one side and tall trees to the other?
“What more do you want,” he asked, somewhat exasperated, “A Dyson air-blower to dry your hands?”
“We’ve got one of them.” I added nodding back down the lane, where OGL was shoving a gilet into his back pocket.
“Nah,” Crazy Legs concluded, “Dyson’s need to be able to produce at least 100 watts.” Oh, dear … average age of 50 and we’re still such shockingly childish, immature and caustic bitches.
As the climb levelled off we swung left, while OGL, looking for a shorter, easier route went right. Rolling round a bend we passed our first group, all clustered at the side of the road while the Red Max worked feverishly to fix a rear wheel puncture.
We had no intention of stopping and rolled past, now forming the clubs advance party, or tête de la course, if you prefer, travelling down toward Dyke Neuk on a road we more typically travel up. Slow-witted as usual, it took me an absolute age to realise I actually knew where we were!
Just before dropping down the dip toward Hartburn, OGL was spat out of a side road ahead of us – now our virtual leader on the road. Once again though he didn’t press his advantage, taking a different, shorter route at the top of the climb, while we followed the less well-travelled ride plan, up to Scots Gap, before starting to close on Middleton Bank.
I drifted off the back of the group as we rolled toward the climb, happy to ride at my own pace and nurse my sore knee along, only to find I’d acquired a pilot fish, as Crazy Legs dropped back to check on me.
The group splintered apart, Zardoz and Big Dunc riding off the front, with the Garrulous Kid in hot pursuit, while I spun up the climb alongside Crazy Legs, slowly closing the gap to Taffy Steve.
Over the top, Zardoz and Big Dunc were pressing on for home without regrouping. Crazy Legs took over on the front, checked I was happy with the pace and set off for home. “All aboard the gimp express!”
We caught Taffy Steve in short order. “All aboard!” I called, easing back to open a space behind Crazy Legs’ back wheel. Taffy Steve slotted in, Crazy Legs blew an imaginary train whistle … and then we started to eat into the gap up to the Garrulous Kid.
The Garrulous Kid appeared to be lost in a daydream and seemed a bit startled as we thundered past, but managed to respond to the call, “All aboard!” tagging onto the back of our line.
We never did catch the rampaging Zardoz, or the only slightly-less rampaging Big Dunc, but then again, despite all expectation, our erstwhile front group of runners and chasers never caught us either.
We managed to keep our small group all together until the rollers just after the Milestone Woods, when Taffy Steve drifted off the back. I hung on down the descent and around the corner to the final climb, before Crazy Legs and the Garrulous Kid romped away to contest the minor placings in the sprint.
Ahead of me, OGL emerged yet again from another side road and I swooped around him and then eased to roll up to the café.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
The café has new coffee mugs, which are, apparently easier to carry, so I think the staff quite like them. Or at least they did – until they had to contend with a bunch of awkward, obstreperous cyclists insisting – beyond all reason and even after practical demonstration – that they were smaller than the previous version and we were all being short-changed.
We took advantage of the good weather to sit outside in the garden, reasoning there can’t be many more opportunities to do that this year.
Perhaps though, we should be more thankful we live in such a temperate climate, it is after all just a matter of perspective. OGL related how one of our club members was currently living in Las Vegas and didn’t seem too happy about it – perhaps because he can’t walk the dogs in the afternoon as the pavement (sorry, sidewalk) is so hot their paws blister.
Not that he can even get out himself either, as his steel gates expand so much in the heat they jam closed. Apparently the strict grid-like layout of American urban areas and the surrounding blank, flatness of Nevada ensure that all his Strava routes could be easily replicated by a child on an Etch-A-Sketch.
Crazy Legs recalled riding with the guy on one club run, in mid-autumn when it was typically wet, blustery and cold and everyone was complaining about the weather, apart from our ex-pat, who positively revelled in it and couldn’t have been happier. You see, perspectives.
Gazing into a nearby field, the Garrulous Kid seemed excited to see a black lamb amongst all its snow-white brothers. (He doesn’t get out much.) OGL revealed this was the field he was planning to use if he’d won the charity auction for Sean Kelly’s donkey at one of the Braveheart dinners. Luckily he was outbid at the last.
(I’ve yet to discover what possessed him to even think about bidding to win Sean Kelly’s donkey, or perhaps more accurately how much alcohol you have to consume before bidding for Sean Kelly’s donkey seems (even remotely) like a good idea.)
I felt duty bound to ask if OGL hadn’t felt a bit of an ass, while Crazy Legs wanted to know if the donkey had later wandered up to his room and “brayed on the door.” Well, it kept us vaguely amused anyway.
Coming out of the café and setting off home, the Garrulous Kid and Monkey Butler Boy got into a bitch-boy slap-fight, which the Monkey Butler Boy seemed to win, simply by virtue of his well-honed, rapier-sharp wit, as evidenced by his final retort – “Blah-blah, bler-bler-bler.”
“Blah-blah, bler-bler-bler?” I enquired.
“Your scintillating wit, bon-mots and clever word-play really would put Oscar Wilde to shame.”
“Never heard of the feller.”
I cocked an imaginary pistol, Contador-style, pointed it at the Monkey Butler Boy’s head and (figuratively) shot him dead.
“You’ve never even heard of Oscar Wilde?”
“Well, you’ve got to remember, I’m only young … I wasn’t around in the ‘80’s.”
The Monkey Butler Boy rode away to continue his fractious discussions with the Garrulous Kid, leaving me in splendid isolation, where I found I was continuously yawning. I mention this because it seemed so utterly incongruous – I can’t remember ever needing to yawn while cycling before – and now I couldn’t seem to stop.
I also began to feel nauseous and strangely displaced. This wasn’t good. At the next junction, I baled, swinging right to track through Ponteland for a shorter route home, while the bunch sped left. I started to feel chilled, even though I was sweating, but it was the clammy cold sweat of not being well, rather than the good, honest sweat of a hard workout and my speed began to drop away.
I stopped to throw up and pull on my arm-warmers – completely separate actions I’m afraid, I’m not that good at multi-tasking – before pushing grimly on.
At one point I suffered a too-close pass by a learner driver and started to wonder what exactly they were teaching them these days – but more or less forgave the driving-instructor when the car then bounced off the verge in a puff of dust and I saw him wrestling with both the wheel and the driver, trying to centre the car back into the middle of the road.
I finally made it to that Hill and crawled up it using gears I haven’t troubled since L’Alpe d’Huez, managing to make it home before an unfortunate attack of the Dumoulin’s. Well, that scuppered any chance of riding out Monday to catch the Tour of Britain – not that it was heading anywhere particularly scenic mind …
Actually, now that I think about it, the familiar scenery is about the only thing the OVO Tour of Britain has going for it – what an incredibly dull … I was going to say race, but “series of unconnected sprints” would be a better description – they’ve managed to make it almost as uninspiring as the women’s version.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for both races as an opportunity to see professional cycling on British roads. I want them to succeed and spread the appeal of the sport and I’d rather watch even this level of racing ahead of just about any other sport you care to mention … but … what remarkable lack of ingenuity was employed in designing this race and does anyone want to see a GC largely decided among sprinters on bonus seconds?
How come the Tour de of Yorkshire (despite its sad, naming pretensions) can come up with an interesting parcours and compelling competition based on a couple of days of racing in just a single county, yet our National Tour, which should be the showcase event for cycling, has the whole, infinitely variable landscape of the British Isles to choose from (and a super-strong start-list), yet is so completely lifeless? Got to hope for better next year.
Right, time to rest up the knee and hopefully get better before next weekend.
YTD Totals: 5,253 km / 3,264 miles with 60,111 metres of climbing