Love at First Bike

Love at First Bike

A guest blog by Tony Clay

Some people remember and like to reminisce about their first love, the smallest details recalled with pinpoint accuracy, burned and burnished in vivid, Kodachrome memory. Some people constantly hearken back to their school days, sometimes seen as the zenith of their life, the time when they were at their happiest.  For others, their powerful, memorable moments came attending the birth of their children (personally, although indelibly burned on my cerebral cortex, it was an experience I’d rather forget – I’ve never felt more useless and powerless, but that’s just me).

For others though … well, apparently, they can recall their first proper bike in glorious, intimate and scarily forensic detail.

Hmm, I remember my first proper bike. It was blue … or was it red? I know it had two wheels and a saddle and … handlebars? It did, didn’t it?

Luckily then, you don’t have to rely on my ever-fallible memory to fill a blerg post reminiscing about the dim and distant detail and provenance of my first bike, we’ve brought in an outside obsessive to do all that for us.

You may recall leaving this particular obsessive on the road to Hexham, astride a borrowed bike, but startled by the revelation of briefly riding a real racing bike.  This was an experience that lit a fire that burns to this day.

We pick up the story shortly after this transformative event.

SLJ 28.05.2020

So, I had survived my first real bike ride, our 50-mile trip to Hexham in the summer of 1974.

Aye, I was hooked. I hung onto Dick Taylor’s Raleigh Clunker™ for as long as possible, but I only managed to eke out about 3 weeks before he started getting impatient. And he was a very Big Lad!

A search for my own bike began.

The first and most obvious step was to go to our (very) Local “Bike” Shop, Tommy Braunds. Well, I say bike shop, but it just happened to sell bikes alongside toys, model kits, dolls, prams and other assorted odds and ends. We used to pass it most days on the way home from school.

There was a lovely purple and chrome 5-speed Carlton Corsa in the window, £55. But my Dad wasn’t prepared to shell out that much for something that he thought might just turn out to be a short-lived fad. [SLJ: by the magic power invested in me via Google, I can tell you that £55 then is equivalent to £576.99 today. Well, sort of, approximately.]  

Continuing my search, I found a bike that I fancied in our ‘Littlewoods Catalogue’, I can’t remember the make, but it was 10-speed, bright green and was £2 a week for 39 weeks. As my pocket money was only £2.50 a week, and most of that already earmarked for Airfix model kits and the latest singles and LP’s, it was out of my reach.

Continue searching…

Word came that a lad at our school, Dave Curry, had ‘some’ bikes that he might sell for a couple of quid. He lived not far from me, so I wandered down to his one evening and found him in his backyard, completely surrounded by frames, wheels and components. It transpired that he was probably one of the first ‘re-cyclers’ as most of his stuff had been gathered from derelict houses (we lived on the edge of a slum clearance area), skips and, in the case of my eventual frame, the local (heavily polluted) river Team.

I knew it had come out of the river because of the stinky black mud still lurking inside the bottom bracket, seat tube and fork steerer. Still, I had a frame, and it only cost me £1.50. I’m not sure of the make, possibly a Raleigh, Sun or BSA, but it was sound and had half chrome front forks. Class!

Dave dug out some additional parts from his “bike store” (a.k.a. the coal shed) and I was set. Over the next couple of weeks, I cleaned up the frame, gave it a coat of ‘rattle-can’ paint, and polished up the rusty bits. They were all chromed steel, so just needed a few hours with the wire wool and Autosol. Some parts I had to buy new including a rear mech, a Huret Svelto at a whole £2.50, the cheapest you could get, but very simple and reliable.

When complete, my bike had mismatched front and rear brakes, a saggy leather saddle and an alloy stem with steel handlebars. I found out later that this combination of steel and alloy was actually quite dangerous as the alloy stem doesn’t hold the steel bars securely and they can slip, often prompting an unscheduled trip to the dentist. Fortunately, this never happened to me.

Still, it was my bike and rode it as often I could.

Gradually, bit by bit (quite literally) I managed to improve it by finding good second -hand kit, or occasionally a new part, after I’d saved up a bit and I started swapping the old stuff out.

Fiddling about with my bike so much, often breaking it down to ball-bearing level and rebuilding it, had made me quite handy at fixing them and I could make a fair job of truing a wheel. I ended up working on most of my mate’s bikes too.

I’m not quite sure of how it came about but, one day I got a phone call from my Aunty who had gone to school with Mrs. Braund, Tommy’s wife. Tommy, the eponymous owner of my LBS, had died in his shop of a heart attack. His wife had heard I was handy with bikes and she needed a Saturday mechanic, £4 a day and 10% discount on all bike stuff, (although sadly not Airfix Models!) [SLJ: Once again, Google suggests about £41.96 in today’s money].

I had a wage! I could now start thinking about getting some real kit and started saving.

The first significant upgrade was when I bought a pair of ‘sprint wheels’, Mavic rims and Campagnolo Nuovo Tipo hubs, £35 [SLJ: that’s £367.18 today, you bloody spendthrift!]

Even though the ‘tubs’, Hutchinson Aguiras at £2.50 each, were the worst I ever, ever had, like tractor tyres and a nightmare to repair, riding on the light wheels, even with the dodgy tubs, was great.

A really key moment was when I spotted a real bargain in a local second-hand shop. I’m sure he didn’t know what he had, when I bagged a fully chromed Reynolds 531 Condor with a Campagnolo Nuovo Record groupset, Universal Brakes, Cinelli bars and stem with sprints and tubs, all for the princely sum of just £30. To put that into perspective, a brand-new Raleigh Chopper back then was about £65 [SLJ: £681.90! No wonder I could never afford one].

The seat tube on the Condor was 22 ½ inches and way too big for me, but I had a ‘pukka gen’ racing bike and did a fair amount of miles on it.

Denton’s Cycles (227/9 Westgate Road, Newcastle) [SLJ: Once, but sadly no more] was always the place to go for quality kit and we’d spend hours drooling over the unaffordable bikes and all the shiny components on display.

It was there that in February 1976 my Dad bought me a beautiful sky-blue Denton frame for my 16th Birthday, and it was the correct size too – 21 inches. Full Reynolds 531, double butted tubing with Campagnolo forged ends and fitted with a Stronglight headset for £65… SIXTY FIVE QUID just for the frame?! My Dad nearly had a bloody seizure! [SLJ: well, I’m not surprised, he could have bought a new Raleigh Chopper for that!]

1975 Denton

So, I stripped all the kit off the Condor, thoroughly cleaned, polished and lubed it all and transplanted it onto the Denton. It made a really nice bike. A very dear friend of mine, sadly no longer with us, had started racing in the early 50’s when kit was in extremely short supply after the war. He once told me, ‘Nivvor hoy owt away!’ and, over the years I’ve pretty much stuck to that maxim.

Never throwing anything away was brilliant in one way, as I’m now using some of that exact same kit from the Condor/Denton to renovate a 1976 Team Raleigh, meaning I don’t have to pay extortionate ‘Eroica’ inflated eBay prices for second-hand 70’s kit.

But on the flip side, my flat is full of box after box of components and bits and pieces that, realistically, may never get used [SLJ: Ahem … may never get used???] But there is another plus side. Last year a guy posted on a vintage bike Facebook page that he was desperate for a lock nut for a 1970’s Campagnolo Record rear hub to complete a renovation. Of course, I had one. I let him have it for the cost of postage. Where did I have to send it? Victoria, Australia!

I had no idea about structured training and just enjoyed being out on ‘me bike’. Alone or in a small group, sometimes with SLJ, I’d ride to the coast or down to the lovely city of Durham. At Durham we would sit on the banks of the River Wear, not the River Tyne, as “whistling genius” Roger Whittaker would have you believe in ‘Durham Town (The Leavin’)’.

We’d also go up into the Silver Hills that rose up from the Team Valley in Gateshead and in our young, teen imaginations we were in the Alps and Pyrenees, battling it out ‘mano a mano’ with Merckx and Gimondi up the Iseran and Tourmalet. The rides were usually a good couple of hours long and I gradually got fitter and more skilled at bike handling.

Then one weekend, near what is now ‘Beamish Open Air Museum’, we happened upon an actual bike race. It whizzed past us all bronzed limbs, rainbow coloured peloton and sparkling spokes and looked so exciting.

Now, I could really fancy having a go at that …  


This afternoon I’ve just sorted out a guy with a 1980’s Campagnolo Super Record seat pin clamp bolt, and he’s in Pennsylvania!


The Plague Diaries Week#3 (Monday Supplement)

A Guest Post by Tony Clay

Another guest blogger has kindly stepped up to the mark in our time of need! This contribution is from my old (old, old, old!) mate, Tony Clay, who describes himself as a long-distance member of our cycling club, before explaining that by this he means he lives a long way from Newcastle and not that he rides long distances anymore!

Currently residing in the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire, Tony still has dual nationality and a Geordie passport and recalls his formative years “happily riding around Northumberland and Durham with some great people.”

This is a faithful telling of how he (and then, by association, yours truly) came to be cyclists, rather than … I don’t know … golfers? … lard-arsed sofa surfers? … sane and mellow normal people without a Lycra fetish? Maybe all, or none of these.

A Revelation on the Road to Damascus Hexham by Tony Clay

For the record, my other clubs – Tyne Road Club (at the same time as Joe Waugh(1)), Whitley Bay Road Club (at the same time as Mick Bradshaw(2)) Tyne Velo, Sheffield Phoenix, Sharrow CC, Meersbrook CC, Rutland CC (at the same time as Malcolm Elliott(3)), Thurcroft CC and my current local Club – Rotherham Wheelers (100 years old this Summer).

I’ve a couple of years on SLJ and have known him since I was 14. One of my fond memories is when he and I went on a YHA cycling tour around Devon and Cornwall in 1978. We had some laughs. I think it was £2 per night in the Youth Hostels back then and I booked and paid in advance by Postal Order, do they even exist today? (Mr. Google suggests that indeed, they still do, but I’ve never heard any one use, or even talk about them for decades!)

But anyway, let’s go back to my childhood… I had to visit a Psychotherapist some years ago and, though it sounds cliched, that was actually about the first thing he said to me, ‘Tell me about your childhood.’

Well, there was a small gang of us 14/15 year olds at school, a mixture of lads and lasses who ‘knocked about’ together, all very innocent. We all went to the after-school clubs, the youth club, the ‘movies’, walking, camping and canoeing together. Simpler times.

The summer holidays in 1974 saw some lovely weather.  We all got the train to South Shields now and again for a day at the beach with Frisbees, burgers, coke and ice cream.

I can’t remember who suggested it but someone said, ‘let’s go for a bike ride’.

YEAH! Brilliant!

But I didn’t have a bike…

But, asking around I managed to borrow Dick Taylor’s bike. The bike was a Sturmey Archer, 3-speed ‘all steel’ Raleigh. I’m not sure what happened to the bike, but Dick Taylor went on to a place in the GB Olympic Kayak Team and, even at 16, he was quite an impressive physical specimen, tall, blonde and ‘fit as the proverbial butcher’s dog’. Perhaps he got that way riding his beast of a bike?

So, beastly bike sorted, where would we go? 

The obvious choice was South Shields, only a 20-mile round trip and we could go on the beach with Frisbees, burgers, coke and ice cream.  Perfect!

But no.

We decided to go to Hexham.

Initially not a bad idea as we knew Hexham quite well as we had been there many times at ‘Dukeshouse Wood’ School Camp, very happy times.

What we didn’t factor in was the distance… we didn’t even think about what is essentially a 50-mile round trip.

50 miles! I’d never ridden further than the local shops on my tricycle as a bairn!

So the ‘Liste de Engagements’ was:-

‘Rowesy’ riding his brother’s Holdsworth.

‘Fat Rowesy’, – no relation and earned the epithet “fat” principally to differentiate the two Rowesy’s. Fat Rowesy was on his brother’s Carlton Kermesse (a lovely bike which I later bought off him.)

‘Fat John’ on a BSA Tour of Britain.

‘Erra’ on a flat handlebar Raleigh Roadster.

‘Gutha’ on his brother’s Carlton, horribly hand painted with Hammerite.

‘Doddsy’ on his very own (he was posh) Carlton Ten. A really sound touring bike, in mint condition. They sell for around £250 to the ‘Eroica’ enthusiasts today.

‘Maundy’ on his PUCH (PUKE!) International, really cheap and horrible, horrible, horrible; (I could never determine if it was meant to be pronounced puke, or if this was some subtle kind of Austrian humour and should perhaps be pronounced poosh. You know, like a poosh bike? Ah, forget it.)


‘Bryan’ so utterly nondescript he didn’t even earn a nickname… and I can’t remember his bike either!

(It’s brilliant to realise that teenage kids are every bit as accomplished at coming up with pithy, creative nicknames as some of our, err, “mature” professional sportsmen. I’m looking at you Wrighty, Gazza, Giggsy, Waughy, Cookie, Floody et al. Simple rules – if the surname is too long, truncate it a bit, then all you have to do is stick an “ee” or “ah” on the end. Why didn’t I think of that, could have save myself a huge amount of time and soul-searching!)

Having no idea what we were letting ourselves in for, nobody had any food or drink and a couple of us didn’t even take any money, so we all had to chip in to get them their ‘burgers, coke and ice cream’ when we got there.

The journey and return is perhaps a story for another day, but the key moment in that ride was when I swopped bikes with Fat Rowesy for a few miles as we passed through Corbridge.

Going from a 3-speed steel ‘clunker’ to a real racing bike was amazing. A real revelation. His Carlton Kermesse had 10 gears, tubular tyres and lots of alloy kit. It zinged. It seemed to smoothly glide along and was utterly effortless to ride.

That is the precise moment, 46 years ago, when I got hooked on cycling.

To be continued?

(1) Joseph Alexander Waugh.
Twice National Hill Climb Champion
King of the Mountains,1975 Milk Race
2nd, at 5 Seconds, 1976 Milk Race, riding in support of the winner Bill Nickson
2nd to Robert Millar (Pippa York) National Road Race Championships 1979
Gold Medallist 100km TTT 1982 Commonwealth Games, with Malcolm Elliott

(SLJ: Also occasionally known as Joey Wah-oogah to eagle-eyed readers of this blerg.)

(2) Mick Bradshaw.

Gold, Silver and Bronze Medallist in National Time Trial Championships at 25, 50 and 100 miles.

And, after a heart transplant he came back to win medals in the World Transplant Games, coincidentally held in Newcastle, one tough cookie.

(3) Malcolm Elliott.
What needs to be said?
National Hill Climb Champion, National Road Race, National Criterium Champion, Milk Race Winner (and holds the record for the number of stage wins), Tour de France rider (read ‘Wide Eyed And Legless’), Vuelta a Espana Points Classification Winner, Gold Medallist 100km TTT 1982 Commonwealth Games AND the Road Race… and was still racing, very successfully, as a pro aged 49! And a lovely friendly guy!

The Plague Diaries – Week#2 (Sunday Supplement)

Fechten Talk by Biden Fecht.

So the gauntlet, or Great Cycling Mitt of the Very Reverend SLJ was thrown down, and having partially provoked the challenge, I had no choice put pick it up off the ground, wipe it, wash my hands to the sound of [insert inane nursery rhyme of choice] and get typing. 

First please understand that the following has been translated from the original Cockney-Gaelic, which accounts for all errors and seeming cold-as-ice-slanders.

Any road up, so I thought back over two-wheeled adventures in the dim-distant past and those more recent. What would be worthy of SLJ?

Perhaps I could fill in some history from the murky past of two-wheeldom? You might for instance be interested to know that the feared mountain range, last seen bordering France and Spain, and home of the infamous Col du Tourmalet, takes its very name from the sport of cycling.

According to local legend, it was in fact an early member of a certain Northumbrian cycling club (founded shortly after the Roman invasion of Britain led by General Chorus Campagnolo in 53 BC according to historical Super Record. (That’s 73 BGRC in local parlance.)

This storied club, we have been repeatedly told, was down to -16 members, during the Black Death, as many of those buried in the Club Chapel had not paid their subscriptions and were hence denied an official gravestone and there names struck from the records. Yet despite these travails, somehow it still survives to this day.

Anyway, as I was saying, it appears that the naming rights of this particular mountain range were bagged by one of these strange Novocastrian psychlers (as they were known, back in the day), struggling up one or other godforsaken 15% incline in the vicinity.

Armed with a manly 21 rear sprocket, and bristling a 39 tooth (why would you even need that?) inner ring in hope of grinding the mountain to dust, it seems the ill-fated psychler came a cropper, split apart his mid-leg and cried out in pain, “’Paar a knees! I need a new paar a knees!”’

And so, dearly beloved, our mountainous range came, to be called the Pyrenees (since les Francais cannot spell proper). And surely, it has sounded the death knell to many jangling cartilage containers ever since.

But, turning aside from this bad turn up the Tourmalet, let me turn back over my own cyclepath of history, and pluck out a ride – not quite at random – and chase it along the keyboard. 

It’s never quite clear, what makes a ride a great ride. Often those ones with ‘epic’ written all over the packaging can shine a bit brighter in advance, or in the re-telling, than in the doing.  Sometimes the best rides aren’t so easy to recount – which to my mind makes the achievements of the Rev SLJ all the greater.  But sometimes those rides are the ones we return to and relive even if there’s no 2,000m climb or breakneck descent, and that’s the case with this one.

A couple of years back the S.O. in my life (the Fechtette w whom I bide?) was taking part in the Loch Ness Marathon, a frankly incomprehensible (to me) affair, where they transport poor souls into the middle of nowhere – literally to a place where there are no roads and so no spectators may follow them –  and then make them run the 26 miles back to the civilisation of Inverness. (No jokes please, I happen to love Inverness, but that’s another story).

So, wanting to fully support this first marathon adventure, I headed north, bike in tow, and finding the runners would depart at 5.30 for the bus out to the Loch, I made quick plans to put my two wheels to use, aiming to return in time to dutifully cheer on my S.O. at the finish line. 

Some of you might perhaps know of the Black Isle? – but if you’re thinking of the Tintin story I’m afraid that doesn’t cut much ice, Snowy notwithstanding.  The real Black Isle is no more of an island than the Isle of Dogs (Translators note: no known equivalent for this Cockney-Gaelic term). It is in fact a peninsula that isn’t really on the road to anywhere. The A9, the main highland artery, cuts across its mainland shoulder, but otherwise it’s largely a footnote.  I set off for it, cheerfully hapless and mapless, with a sense of the shape of the ride I needed to follow more than an actual route.

Distance: 126Km Time: 4 hours 50 minutes Elevation: 995 meters

Out of Inverness it was gloomy with rain falling as the dawn was sluggish in materialising, while the heavy road hugged the bay of Beauly Firth westward, against the wind. Finally turning inland there was a long slog to Beauly itself where the road crosses the cunningly named River Beauly (anyone else thinking that Beauly has a bit of an ego issue?) 

It’s here that the ride really started as the road turned north east, and I headed back out towards the sea. A series of climbs, or maybe rather just endless undulations, up via Muir of Ord and all its many family members – in that way, where when you’re riding a road you don’t know, and can’t see far ahead, you never know how many more lie over that ridge. 

Starting to flag, I dragged myself up the slope at Mulbuie, where one of those weird monuments to nothing very obvious was sitting waiting for me – think, modest Presbyterian version of the Kirkley obelisk without the cows. 

Just about then the sun got its act together and the landscape opened out and I got a view across the Cromarty Firth.  And for the next 30 odd miles I was flying along one of those roads that rewards every pedal stroke tenfold, carrying more speed than it seemed like I was earning, and luckily with not a car in sight, since my eyes kept drifting across to the deep blue of the firth, and the sun on the hills beyond.

It was one of those roads you want to go on forever, where you’re torn between giving it everything to the max, and slowing up cause you want to sustain the enjoyment. The road rose up gently, along the spine of the Black Isle, then ducked down to trace the northern shore into the deserted ferry stop at Cromaty.  I stopped there to refuel and skim a few stones in the hope of concussing a haddock or two, but on that front, no joy.  

Cromarty is the tip of the Isle, and from there much of the road back works its way through forests, and by this time what passes for traffic in these parts was starting to close pass. I worked my way back, stopping at a fork in the road to debate with myself whether to chance my legs on the mighty A9 suspension bridge, and save a good 25 miles.

But what am I actually saving here? I figured to myself and plowed on. Some few miles down the track, as I was about to leave the isle and re-join the Inverness road, I noted a hawk or falcon type thing, hovering some 20 foot above my right shoulder, just in the near blind spot.  Perhaps coincidentally I picked up my pace a little at that point for the run into Beauly where I stopped for the espresso I needed to power me on back to Inverness. 

Once back in town it was a quick shower and I headed off to the marathon finishing line to find I’d missed a certain talented debutante coming in well ahead of target time, some 10 mins earlier.


Can’t say I regret it though.  

Not sure why, but this ride is one I find myself going back to in my head and reliving. And if someone were to ask me why the f*** does a 50 year old guy like me continue to ride around on a bike, I might not bother to answer, but this right here would be one of the reasons why.

Buzzin’ – Tales of a 4-Up TTT

Buzzin’ – Tales of a 4-Up TTT

A guest blog by Crazy Legs

Tired of being misrepresented as the cheery, chirpy, care-free, ever-chuntering, all-singing and all-dancing, cycling comedian in this humble blog, one of Sur La Jante’s regular animators-in-chief, Crazy Legs has decided to take matters into his own hands and re-invent himself as an erudite, thoughtful weighty and perspicacious philosopher of cycling commentary.  

What was the impetus and inspiration behind this renaissance, I hear you ask, somewhat dumbfounded?  Well, it was discovering the joys of a 4-Up Team Time Trial that seems to have re-ignited his passion for all things cycling and, as he explains, gave him a real buzz and impetus to improve.

This unexpected catalyst was the Blaydon CC, 4-Up Time Trial, held on the 27th August on a rather secretive and mysterious course referred to by those in-the-know, simply as M18.

Here then, in our heroes own words, is the tail of his travails, trials and tribulations…

Sunday, August 27th, 2017 and ever since the Hammer had suggested this event, I’d been fretting about the day.

It had all started innocently enough …

“Hey, how about we do a 4-Up Team Time Trial, on the circuit in Northumberland?” was his rather innocuous question.

“Hmm, how long is it?”  I pondered, though not too deeply.

“18 miles.”

That seemed do-able…

“Sure, as long as we are all fairly evenly matched as a team, no problem.”

So, the initial groundwork was completed, and the proposed team was the Hammer, the BFG, G-Dawg and me.  As G-Dawg correctly and proudly pointed out, a team with a combined age of over 200!  With all that knowledge and experience what could possibly go wrong?

Well, first and foremost, was the change in the route from an eminently do-able, one lap of the Secret Squirrel like, M18 time-trial course, to 2 laps and subsequent shift to more than double the distance – from 18 to 40 miles!

Ok. Breathe deeply, reset the clocks, and re-calibrate for (hopefully) slightly less than 2 hours of pain. We can still do this.

Then, the BFG had to withdraw with a recurring bad back.  Luckily the Cow Ranger stepped up to fill the not inconsiderable void left by the BFG, but this presented its own problems. Previously, I’d looked at my companions and thought we were all fairly similar in outlook and ability. The Cow Ranger though was in a different league, a proven triathlete, experienced time-trialler and possessing some of the best kit and equipment money could buy – even, believe it or not, a solid disc wheel. I don’t know about you, but that’s nigh on professional in my book.

He would undoubtedly be stronger and faster than the rest of us, which rather unnervingly suggested he’d be dishing out real pain through every one of his turns on the front. Still, we were all committed now and determined to make it work.

Training sessions started about 8 weeks before the main event, but fitting it around work and holidays usually meant the turnout was just 3 out of the 4 riders.  In fact, it wasn’t until the last training session that all 4 of us actually rode together as a team.

Undaunted, we sorted out an order, trying to logically decide who went where in the line-up and why, along with some rough roles and rules. In all honesty though, no matter what the formation, pain was going to be the order of the day.  We aimed high and agreed on a simple but important motivational target: “Don’t come last!”

It was really easy objective to sum up, and we all bought into it as a team. If I cared about my bosses, I’m sure they would have been proud: we had an objective that was specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic (hopefully) and definitely time-based.  Welcome to the world of corporate time-trialling.

Two weeks before the event, perhaps not so good for the organisers, but a godsend to us, was the news that the course of 2 laps had failed a health and safety assessment and was consequently back down to 1 lap, as originally planned. I promise I’ll never, ever mock overzealous Health and Safety legislation and I too now fully support the wearing of protective goggles when playing conkers.

The M18 Time Trial Course

Quite how we were expected to ride through a popular, Northumberland village on a Bank Holiday weekend, with busy roads, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, roundabouts, rampant flocks of kids and a plethora of busy pubs and car parks was baffling, to be honest.  Then again a bit of chaos might have played into the hands of the teams who weren’t expected to be at the top of the finish list.  Nothing like a pensioner on a zebra crossing to stop a team in full flight.  They don’t have that sort of obstacle in the Vuelta I tell you.

So training sessions had been good, we’d studied and rode the course and had it divided into thirds, with an agreed strategy for each segment:

First third (the hilliest part):  Keep it steady, especially up the 3–4 km climb.

Second third:  Due west and normally into a headwind, keep tucked in, shorter turns on the front and for the last climb take it E-A-S-Y!

Final third:  Flat out, leave nothing in the tank, and head for home – and just in case you hadn’t been listening, I said FLAT OUT!

Much of the training sessions involved getting the Cow Ranger to hold back on the climbs when he was itching to power on.  A couple of time he had ignited the after-burners and destroyed the rest of us to varying degrees, so controlling his competitive impulses was going to be key to a smooth, fast ride for all.

He managed this superbly for our final training session, we were flying and had smashed our previous best times.  Brilliant, we we’re set to go.

One of the great things about riding with the other three was that I utterly trusted them and their decisions, so was comfortable sitting very close to the back wheel of the Hammer.  We’d decided to go with road bikes instead of TT bikes, as riding 5 cm behind another rider without having your hands anywhere near the brakes is best left for the professionals, especially on a slightly hilly course.  All but the Hammer had clip on TT bars, and we agreed to use these only when on the front.

So the day dawned, I’d contracted a minor ailment which had me worrying about whether I’d be able to take part, but in the end some helpful tablets from the doc had me running as close to my normal as possible, without the need for a TUE.

Preparation went well, a relaxing morning before our 2:27pm start, early lunch and a 1pm meet, so we could register, then put a few miles into our legs as warm up.  The weather was great, apart from a slightly stronger than predicted westerly wind, but sunny, warm and dry.  You can’t have everything.

Unfortunately, as countless coffees were being consumed amidst general chatting to some of the other 70 odd riders, the news filtered through that the course had been closed temporarily.  This was due to a poor soul on a motorbike being unseated in a collision with a tractor and needing the air ambulance to lift him out.

An hour’s delay was announced, which was not ideal preparation, but our team took it in our stride and saw it as the perfect opportunity for more coffee and extra cake.  We found the cycling cafés version of a flapjack with chocolate might even be denser than Rab Dee’s infamous, home-made, portable black-hole version.

By this time the air ambulance had appeared and disappeared, rushing the injured motorcyclist to A&E, and news went up that 3pm was the deadline for the race start. If the course wasn’t clear by then the event would have to be cancelled.  I hate to say it, but a part of me would have seen that as an honourable score-draw.  I mean we had committed, we had trained and we had turned up on the day, it wouldn’t be our fault if the whole thing was called off, would it?

2:59 and not a moment to spare, the road is proclaimed open.  Bugger.

Lots of police cars and transporter lorry carrying a motorbike bedecked in foliage and bits of grass verge went past and the road was officially declared open.  The team headed out for a quick warm up and, at the allotted time plus one hour, we rolled our way up to the start line.

Final preparations © Jeff Wilson

Nerves jangling, a strange sense of excitement and foreboding washed over me, but then again, that’s why we do these things I suppose.  OGL turned up at the line, and gives us advice, encouragement and just general support.  Cheers.

Our time is nigh, and the four of us line up.  My holder is a happy go lucky guy, who has 60 seconds of general, distracting chit-chat, before I clip in and he’s ready to push me off.  One problem though, the Hammer wants to clip-in himself, so if my guy pushes me off, I’ll plough straight into the back of him while he twiddles with his pedals.  We quickly agree that rather than me lose a few metres, I’ll angle slightly out, so the Hammer can clip in unimpeded and I’ll still be able to get going with a push.  As a supermarket might say, “every little helps”.

“10… 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!”

I get my push, the Hammer has clipped in smoothly and … we’re off.  Great.

Hang on.  No.

The Cow Ranger has set off like a Saturn 5 rocket leaving the launchpad.  G-Dawg is struggling to hold his wheel, and the Hammer is trying desperately to close on them.

Houston we have a problem!

Within 500 metres, the gap between G-Dawg and the Cow Ranger has yawned open and I don’t know about the Hammer, but I’m already in the red.  Bloody hell, we’ve only just started and my heart rate monitor is already yammering at me to slow down.

Now, we realise that the Cow Ranger’ has worn his space-age aero helmet for the first time out with us and is in full Buzz Lightyear, “To Infinity and Beyond” mode. With his head totally encased, the full visor down and the wind blowing past his ears, he can barely hear a thing.  He certainly can’t hear the shouts from the three of us, which get more and more frantic and use up all the essential oxygen we so desperately need.

Poor G-Dawg, who is second in line and should be getting sheltered, is exposed, and effectively on the front of a three-man team and temporarily taking all the wind.

The Cow Ranger eventually looks back, sees the problem and eases up, leading us through the rest of his turn in fairly good order.  He then pulls out and the three of us fluidly move through, while he slots onto the back.  Like the Hammer and me, G-Dawg, is already suffering from our all-out sprint start, but it’s his turn on the front now.  Sensibly he does the right thing, and pulls a shorter stint, before the Hammer moves through to relieve him.

After 4km, we’ve all done a turn, got our rhythm back and we’re approaching the 3–4 km ramp.  This can’t be described as a hill, more a series of rises, only adding 60m height over approximately 4km.  Nothing, eh?  Average 1.5% maximum, a pimple, a speed-bump a very gentle swelling?

Well, no. This becomes an entirely different proposition when you’re already going flat out.  Every metre of ascent is just more unnecessary pain, and every metre of descent only lifts your average speed to where you hoped it would be anyway.

We rotate through, shouting at the Cow Ranger to keep it steady and not burn everyone out.  I glance at my heart rate monitor and I’m on the limit and a strange sequence evolves where I’m actually looking forward to my stint on the front, so I can regulate my speed to match where my body wants it to be.

Still though, in the back of my mind, I can’t help thinking that I’m letting the team down, so I dig even deeper.  Is that the right thing to do? Who knows?  But it’s harder riding in a group than by yourself.  Pull a rubbish time by yourself and there’s no one else to blame.  Rubbish in a group and you’re it, the crap one, the useless one, the weakest link, the one they’d be better off without.  So I go further into the red, and try and push as hard as I can.

The Cow Ranger comes through after me, and after a few seconds respite, as I drift backwards and onto the rear of our line, he’s ramping up the speed again.  One thing which had escaped my notice until now, is that good time-triallers pedal hard downhill too.  Me, I normally take it easy downhill and give myself a break.  Not today, no way matey, no chance.  I’m spinning my legs off down the hills as well today.

The great thing about riding at a higher pace than normal (notice I didn’t say “fast”) is that the distance counter spins round much quicker as well.  I glance down and can’t believe we’re nearly a third of the way there!

We hit the sharp corner where a friendly marshal waves us onto a bigger road just in front of a car, but there’s no stopping, slowing or second-guessing now.  This road is a westerly section of about 11km long and it’s straight into the teeth of a headwind.  Not a massive headwind mind, but definitely there – and I refer you to my views on 1.5% climbs.

More Pain.

Throw in a couple of nasty rises, and it’s tough.

The Cow Ranger hits the front for one of these rises, and rides it perfectly.  Not too fast, not too slow for us, lovely.  It’s almost as if we’d practiced beforehand! Chapeau Cow Ranger.  I even have time to idly wonder if he’s getting a bit bored hanging around, soft-pedalling and trying to match his pace to ours?

This section of road hurts, but not as bad as the first part.  I end up on the last rise, and I’m on my limit.  G-Dawg and the Hammer are shouting encouragement at me to get to the brow, as my turn is nearly up.

“50 metres, come on” I hear clearly, through the pounding of blood and rasping of my breathing.

We’re nearly at the top and I peel off, my thinking being that if I get over the lip of the rise and someone else increases the speed, I’m gone.  They take over and luckily hold the pace more or less steady and I’m hanging on.

We drop into the village of our normal Saturday café haunt, but there’s no time for fruit scones today as we blast past, head down and legs whirring.

Now we’re on the home stretch, and it’s the time to empty the tank.  The Hammer, G-Dawg and I take our turns and I’m thinking this is as fast as I can physically go, when the Cow Ranger swings through.  The finish is less than 7km away, he can smell a good time and now really digs in. Whenever he puts the power down he tends to swing a little on the bike, but now he’s rocking and swaying like a drunken sailing rolling down the gangplank for 2-weeks shore leave.  I’m on his wheel, watching his entire body contort and our speed is starting to creep up.

Oh-oh, trouble here.  I’m clinging on for dear life as we hit a long, shallow rise, trying to make it, shouting at him to ease off, but he can’t hear.  I hang there, nearly, nearly at the crest, but then suddenly it’s reached the point where I have nothing left.  Nothing. Nadir. Empty. I’m gone.

I can’t hold the wheel for a second longer and I pull out of the line, tell them not to ease.  Go, Go GO!

I reckon I need 30 seconds recovery and we can’t take that long, not with only a few kilometres left.  I take a few deep breaths, look up, and they are only 50 metres away.  I hit the tri bars, and try and re-join, but 50 metres becomes 60, then 75, then they’ve gone.

I’m a solo TT-survival mode now.  I know I have to go flat out by myself in case anything happens to one of the remaining team mates, as it’s the time of the 3rd rider that stops the clock.  But now I’m riding on my limits and not someone else’s.  I can still give it everything, but if I need a fraction of a second rest, or don’t hit a rise full gas, then that’s it.  I can’t see any of any team mates, and bury myself coming up to the line.  Stop the clock! Stop the clock!

I see the rest of the team huddled in a group just past the line and finally recover enough to make my way across.  Everyone is happy with the time, much, much better than anything we’ve done in training.  They did stick together, and put roughly a minute into me over the last few kilometres.  Chapeau guys, well done.

It’s strange, but I’m slightly euphoric.  We think we achieved the aim of not coming last at this stage.  It all seemed worth it.  The harmony of 4 people riding close together has bonded us.  The Hammer reckons that people will have gone faster, but maybe none will have been as tight as us.  I can’t disagree.

(This is probably true – a watching OGL suggested a lot of the teams were very ragged and undrilled. He thought one team rode in the same formation, line astern, with no rotating on the front for the entire course and another even rode two abreast, as if they were on a club run. SLJ)

Pressing on at speed 5cm from someone else’s back wheel requires you to have a fair amount of trust in the rider in front.  I’d never given it a seconds thought as my fellow teammates are skilful riders and totally unselfish.

G-Dawg was slightly disappointed that we didn’t finish together, but I told him not to worry.  I simply couldn’t have given anymore.  We had a celebratory drink, packed up and left for home, very content.

Post-race, the results are in and show that we came 12th out of 18 teams.  Even by my poor reckoning, that’s nowhere near last.

I looked up my heart rate on Strava, and saw that the average was 177bpm for the ride.  That’s more than I can normally sustain, so all in all, not too shabby an effort.

I’ve been riding a few years now, and had begun to drift into the club run routine, and a kind of numbness.  I still loved the rides, but was looking for something to really excite me.  I’d tried individual time trials, great for solo suffering, but they only seem to scratch a deep masochistic streak.  I don’t really want to race against some pimply youths and I’m too old for that, but the team time trial was an electric jolt to my system.

I loved it.  The training was great, the planning was great, and it gave the summer meaning.  When you worry about an event for days, you know it matters.  This did.  I owe special thanks to the Hammer, he was the one who noticed it, and asked around and organised things, so without him, summer would have drifted by.

Next year, I’ll be back for more.  The actors might be different (hopefully not) but I’ll be fitter. I’ll be with the team at the finish line next time.  I reckon that our clubs infamously garish shirt might be represented even more, as I can think of at least half a dozen people who would take part given the chance.  The Red Max has already expressed an interest.

Thanks to the Hammer, we’ve all sat up and started looking for other Team Time Trial opportunities now.  So finally, to the team; G-Dawg, the Hammer and the Cow Ranger.  Brilliant one guys, loved every minute of it, and if I’m not mistaken, I think you did too.