Wooler-Wooler-Huh, Tell Me More, Tell Me More…

Wooler-Wooler-Huh, Tell Me More, Tell Me More…

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

Temperature:                                    15°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and breezy


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The Route
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Ride Profile

The Ride:

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.


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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

 

 

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The Inaugural Sneaky Pete Memorial Ride

The Inaugural Sneaky Pete Memorial Ride

Cyclone Sportive: Ride C, Saturday 18th June, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  179 km / 111 miles with 2,477 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          7 hours 59 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.9 km/h

Cyclone Distance:                            90 miles

Cyclone Time:                                   6 hours 7 minutes

Group size:                                         10 riders and 5,200 others

Temperature:                                    15°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cool, grey and dry.


Cyclone C Route
The 90 Mile Cyclone C Ride

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Ride Profile

The Waffle:

So for the 10th year running the Cyclone Festival of Cycling has rolled around again and for this anniversary edition it features a brand new, 90-mile “challenge ride” encompassing a handful of well-known local climbs including the Gibbet and the Ryals. Having participated in the event for the past 6 years this seemed like the ideal time to step up from my usual 64-mile route and try something new – what could possibly go wrong?

I had everything planned, laid out and prepared the night before. I’d pre-selected my kit based on the expected weather forecast, filled a bottle with drink and collected a small hoard of energy bars and gels to fuel the ride. The bike was thoroughly checked, fully lubed, waxed and polished, with the tyres inflated to optimum pressures. It had even spent the night cosseted indoors in the spare room, ready for a quick and effortless departure in the morning.

The timing chip was fixed to my helmet and the event number firmly secured to my handlebars in a suitable, appropriate, visual and aesthetically pleasing manner. I wouldn’t usually mention such a small thing but, from the evidence of other riders it seems that attaching the number in the right way and in the right place is a bit of a dark art and slightly more challenging than rocket science. People reported seeing them on seat-stays and seat posts, under saddles, hanging from the top tubes like sleeping bats and sticking up from handlebars like some kind of improvised motorcycle windshield.

G-Dawg had his number tightly wrapped around his head tube, but he claimed this was simply to negate aerodynamic drag. He’d also scrupulously prepared for the event by making sure his inner ring was actually in proper working order and by fitting a single bottle cage to the seat tube. As a measure of just how intensive and careful his preparations had been he’d actually test-ridden last week’s club run with the bottle cage on, although without a corresponding bottle. For this ride he would actually be going “the full Monty” and carrying a bottle too, which I can only assume had some form of G-Dawg liquid refreshment inside – kryptonite, concentrated bat blood, red diesel or something similar.


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The weather Saturday morning wasn’t good, but would do, unremittingly grey and surprisingly chilly, though thankfully the wind was fairly light. I tipped down the hill to start my nine-hour round trip and began making my way to the start point, Kingston Park, the exposed and windswept home of the Newcastle Falcons rugby team.

I picked up another rider just after crossing the river and had a brief chat about our respective planned rides. Hearing I was off to  ride the Cyclone, he asked if I was turning left somewhere up ahead and I answered with a vague yes, without giving his question too much thought.

What he’d actually meant was would I be turning immediate next left. He did. I didn’t and as he pushed across my line I bounced off him and went down. Hard. Or, in the immortal words of Dabman, “I came down like a sack of spuds.” (Where are you Dabman? I miss your unfailing cheerfulness in the face of catastrophic injury and broken bones.)

I took the brunt of the impact on all the sticky-out bits down the right side – shoulder, elbow, hand, hip, knee and ankle. Ooph! The elbow and knuckles of my pinkie showed the most damage with dramatic splotches of blood, but the hip was the sorest. Luckily though the bike seemed totally unscathed other than a little scuffing of the bar tape. A lucky escape.


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My fellow cyclist helped me up, retrieved my bottle and apologised, even though it wasn’t his fault. We parted, as he finally got to turn left unimpeded and I pressed on vowing to pay more attention to what people were asking me when riding alongside. Everything was a bit sore, but I guessed since I’d be constantly riding, there’d be absolutely no chance of anything stiffening up for the next few hours or so.

We had a fairly reasonable (and by our standards remarkably organised) group meet at the start, where we also picked up Szell, the Red Max, the Monkey Butler Boy and one of the Monkey Butler Boy’s contemporaries, who seemed to be wearing a hijab under his Kask helmet. They were all off to do the 65 mile ride, but would tag along with us until the routes split.

There were then around a dozen or so of us lined up for the 90-mile ride including G-Dawg, Sneaky Pete, Captain Black, Cushty, Mini Miss, Big Dunc, Guido and Caracol.

We pushed off to start our great adventure and I immediately found myself leading out with Sneaky Pete, who was a bit worried to be on the front so early. I suggested we only had to do a couple of miles in the lead to earn  wheel-sucking rights for the rest of the ride, but I don’t think he was too convinced and he soon slipped back to be replaced by the Red Max.


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Max suggested the entire event was a sore trial to him as the roads were packed with other cyclists, or “chase bait” that would in normal circumstances trip his proximity sensor and like a loopy Labrador chasing cars, see the engagement of an all-out-pursuit mode.  Paternal responsibilities and a growing maturity may perhaps have tempered once rabid inclinations, but even as I write this I can hear and exact facsimile of his voice in my head and it’s saying “Never!”

He needn’t have worried too much though, as the Monkey Butler Boy was intent on proving that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, bounding onwards in an explosion of youthful enthusiasm with his hajib wearing side-kick and ruthlessly hunting down anything that moved on the road ahead.

Keeping an eye on the errant weavers we were forced to over-take every few metres, Max noted how they seemed to ride like fish, flexing his hand left and right, in a perfect imitation of a trout trying to swim upstream. I’d already had a too-close, dumb encounter with another experienced cyclist though – so wasn’t really in a position to take the moral high ground.

As we passed through the first feed-station I was chatting to Szell and knew he was doing the 65-mile ride. I told him that Red Max and the kids were likely to stop, thinking he might appreciate a bit of company on his route, but this seemed only to upset him.

“What are you implying?” he demanded to know, spluttering in what I took to be mock outrage, although I couldn’t be too certain and would learn a little later how just thin-skinned and easily offended some male cyclists can be. I grinned and rode on.


 

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The first serious climb, up Ritton Bank presaged a filling-rattling crossing of the ford at Forestburn Gate. I’d been warned of how bad the surface was by Sneaky Pete and scrubbed off enough speed to negotiate the passage safely.   A couple of of unsuspecting riders in front of me weren’t so lucky – one pulled up with a pinch puncture, while the other stood ruefully spinning his front wheel and trying to decide how much damage he’d unwittingly inflicted on his shiny carbon clincher.

We were now out onto the moors and struggling to find any section of road that was horizontal. We re-grouped and then splintered again and a small bunch of us pushed on while the others waited for a back marker.

The constant rising and falling finally led us to the Bilsmoor Climb, 2kms at a 7% average gradient, maxing out at 15% , every metre of it loathed and very roundly cursed by G-Dawg for its relentlessness. I actually enjoyed the climb, finding a decent rhythm from the start and spinning up with G-Dawg in tow, as we rode in pursuit of Caracol and Captain Black who’d forged on ahead.

Half way up the climb we found Another Engine chugging steadily upwards and we exchanged a few words wherein he claimed the C-Ride was his idea. I don’t know if Sneaky Pete was aware of this and now I’m wondering if we shouldn’t be naming this the Another Engine Memorial Ride. Not that any of it matters of course, as OGL is always going to claim it was his idea all along.

There was then an exhilarating and fast drop into Elsdon where I hit my maximum speed for the day – a heady 43 mph. A quick stop at the feed-station to replenish supplies and we started the Gibbet climb which would lead to the route’s highest elevation at 258 metres.

This is a 3.3km climb at an average of 5% but with an initial ramp of almost 20%. It features in the first 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs book where, somewhat surprisingly the steepest section is only listed as 10%. Either the book, or my Strava is plain wrong. Either way, it’s hard.

I started from the back and gradually hauled myself up to G-Dawg and Captain Black as we crested the climb. Stopping only to note that the eponymous gibbet has now been restored to its rightful place, Captain Black engaged his turbo and lined us out as he smashed it down a rolling but incessantly downward pointing road toward Wallington, while G-Dawg and I clung to his rear wheel.


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More climbing followed as we crested a series of rolling roads, drawing inexorably toward the final challenge of the Ryals looming some way ahead. At some point a weasel chased a young rabbit across the road in front of us, fully intent on its prey and not even seeming to notice or care about the whirring wheels it had to dart around in pursuit of its dinner. Then G-Dawg was emptying his bottle to lighten the load and I knew the final climb was coming.

I had a quick word with Captain Black and dropped off the back of the group, content on taking the climb at my own pace and needing to engage in my own version of weight reduction behind a nearby hedge. Relieved and somewhat lightened I pressed onwards and just like everyone else, seem to slow almost to a standstill as we crept toward where the first ramp of the Ryals was louring over us.

The Ryal’s are 1.7km long at an average gradient of 6% topping out at 15% on the first ramp and featured in Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs. With 80 plus miles in the legs and plenty of climbing already completed, this was just a case of getting to the top, while trying to pick my way around the wobblers, weaver and walkers. It wasn’t smooth and it wasn’t elegant, but it got me up and I was soon pressing on toward the last feed station at Stamfordham.

Just as I entered the village I recognised the blur of Ovis riding past in his ever-present blue and yellow kit and he slowed for a brief chat. He’d apparently being doing the 100-mile route for the umpteenth time, but had somehow become lost. Now he didn’t know if he’d ridden a longer or shorter way around and at that stage was probably past caring and just happy to be back on track. As one cruel commentator jibed, he was perhaps unique in being the only person who could possibly get lost while following hundreds of other cyclists along a route with big black directional arrows at every junction.

I was reunited with Caracol, G-Dawg and Captain Black at the Stamfordham feed station and set out to ride the rest of the way with them, when my plans were curtailed by my mobile ringing and vibrating incessantly in my back pocket. I stopped to take the call and found myself on my own again, but being somewhat leg weary I wasn’t too disappointed as I entered the last 10 miles at my own pace.


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I was making good progress when I found myself blocked behind a quartet of riders from another local club, two massively powerful-looking big blokes towing along two female companions and in the process taking up most of the road. The trouble was that they couldn’t climb and at every rise the pace dropped away horribly.

I had a chat with one of the girls and she asked if I wanted to be past, even relaying the fact that people were queuing up behind them forward, but failing to elicit any movement from the front pair. I told her I was happy just to sit in a while and asked if she’d enjoyed the ride. She said she hadn’t really and I wondered if it was perhaps because of the company she was keeping…

At the next small hill, I skipped up the outside and smartly away before dropping down the other side, freewheeling and easing toward the sharp left hand turn that I knew was coming up. At this point the quartet powered past me in madcap pursuit, before braking sharply and sweeping dangerously wide around the bend. Another hill and I was able to slide past them again, only to find the two blokes had seemingly taken this as an affront to their manhood and were so intent on getting ahead of me that they’d abandoned their companions and seemingly all sense of self-preservation too.

I let them pass and stalked them for a while as we entered the last few mile. They then pulled a truly stupid stunt, forcing their way down the outside of a queue of traffic stopped by a red light at some roadworks, before cutting into the line and making an instant enemy of every driver there – a truly sterling job of fostering driver-cyclist relations and mutual respect. I eased back at that point and let them get well clear, entering a state of almost zen-like inner calm as I made the last turn, heard the electronic chirrup of the timing gate and crossed the line to a smattering of applause and “Well done’s!”

Re-emerging from picking up my goody back I found the sun had finally broken through and I was going to have the best part of the day to ride home in. Oh well, better late than never. I quite enjoyed my extended day in the saddle despite everything, but have to admit I’m really looking forward to getting back to a “normal” club run next week.


YTD Totals: 3,460 km / 2,150 miles with 34,137 metres of climbing

Puttin’ on the Ritz…


Virgin Money Cyclone Challenge – Ride B, 20th June, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                     137km/85 miles with 1,590 metres of climbing

Cyclone Ride:                                      103km/64 miles with 1,217 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                            5 hours 19 minutes

Cyclone Time:                                       3 hours 41 minutes

Group size:                                           7 of us enjoying ourselves amidst 1,600 happy cyclists.

Weather in a word or two:               Cool. Light rain.


Ride Profile
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

The Cyclone Weekend (or to give it its full name the Virgin Money Cyclone Festival of Cycling) marks about the only time of the year when we take a break from our regular weekend club runs. Most of our riders participate in one or other of the Saturday rides, and the club organise and marshal the elite riders the following day when the women’s Curlew Cup and men’s Beaumont Trophy serve the pro teams as a warm up for next week’s National Championship.

This was my 6th Cyclone in succession; although slightly different as for the first time as I decided to ride to and from the event.

It was distinctly cool at the start where we hung around shooting the breeze and hoping everyone was going to show on time. Just as a matter of principle we managed to see and then lose around half a dozen club mates, including a few who disappeared into the darkened bowels of the rugby stadium to sign on, never to emerge.

By a minor miracle eight of us managed to stick together long enough to reach the start line as a group. I was surprised to see one of our up and coming, super-fast and immeasurably strong youngsters Bez hanging around at the start as only the 100 mile route could in any way be deemed remotely a challenge for him. He explained that he wasn’t allowed to ride the longer route as he wasn’t old enough. I assume this is either some stipulation in the event’s insurance, or a more plausible explanation is that it’s something his dad, The Prof, fabricated so he didn’t have to ride with his son and get his ass royally kicked. Again.

Bez did have the consolation of hearing one wide-eyed youngster declare that he had “the coolest bike ever seen” before we rolled over the start line and he roared off into the drizzle, presumably to complete the circuit twice over, lap everyone and prove a point.

We were then left as a compact group of G-Dawg, The Red Max and his Monkey Butler son, Sneaky Pete, Taffy Steve and Tri-Boy, another super strong, super-talented youngster.
At the first, completely innocuous corner we watched one rider in front skid out and slide helplessly across the road. He sat up immediately with seemingly nothing damaged except his pride, but it was a decent reminder we were amongst some fairly sketchy riders and road weavers, with all the reflexes and co-ordination of narcoleptic sloths on diazepam.


I'm constantly amazed by what you can find on the Internet, but who would have though "sloths on bikes" would return so many hits!
I’m constantly amazed by what you can find on the Internet, but who would have thought “sloths on bikes” would return so many hits. What’s wrong with you people?

Having started relatively late there was already a constant stream of amblers and gamblers to negotiate, of all ages, shapes and sizes and on all sorts of bikes; fantastically niche super-expensive, all singing, all dancing, all carbon stealth machines painstakingly crafted by blind Italian artisans, steel vintage road bikes, mountain bikes, city bikes, hybrid bikes, a Raleigh Chopper (a Raleigh Chopper!), tandems and everything in-between. Special mention has to go to the guy on the hand-bike, a truly impressive feat and an utterly brutal exercise to haul himself over all the hills.

The first ramps leading to the climb to the feed station at Nunnykirk saw the Monkey Butler Boy, pushing hard to try and hang onto the wheels. This was his first step up to the bigger league of the B Ride having graduated from the 33 mile ride with flying colours. Having completed the Coast-to-Coast I didn’t think the distance was going to be a problem but the pace was likely to see him blow. Sense prevailed (presumably a first for The Red Max?) and they dropped back to continue in what I assume was a slightly less frenetic manner.

It was on the climb proper up to the Nunnykirk feed-station that we saw the first of the Walking Dead, stumbling and sliding as the gradient got the better of them and clambered off to push their bike uphill. This is never a good sign as the route climbs rather unremittingly upwards from this point on. For G-Dawg this hill was also something of a personal epiphany as he remembered his bike did actually come supplied with an inner ring, and luckily it hadn’t atrophied, withered and dropped-off from lack of use. Truth be told I would have been amazed hadn’t worked as its pretty much still in newly-forged, factory fresh and pristine condition, having had little to no use.


G-Dawg demonstrating his gearing choices.
G-Dawg demonstrating his usual gearing choices.

We stopped for a while to re-fill bottles and catch up with a few familiar faces at the feed station, although Sneaky Pete took a flyer with an airy wave of his hand and a promise to “regroup” further down the road.

I quite enjoy the next section climbing up to Rothley Lakes and beyond, it’s a series of long, drags and sharp descents, but the gradient is never too challenging and if you can get the right rhythm you can pretty much sit and spin away. Feeling good I stalked G-Dawg all the way up the climbs, running just on the inside of the white line on the road as we slid past a long line of strugglers and stragglers.

We were down to two at this point, but finally caught up with Sneaky Pete ambling along and whistling nonchalantly, and we put in another good few miles as a group before I dropped off with a pressing need to irrigate the landscape. Greatly relieved and at least half a kilo lighter I set of in pursuit of the other two.

We hit the rollers before the signature climb of the Ryals, and like a raft bobbing along, lost on the ocean, every time the road reared up ahead of me I caught a tantalising glimpse G-Dawg and Sneaky Pete dropping over the next crest as I tried to close on them.

I took the opportunity add some fuel to the furnace and tried cramming down an energy bar – deviously composed of two parts cardboard to one part silica gel. This immediately sucked all the moisture out of my body and left me with a bad case of cotton wool mouth. I was still struggling to chew and swallow this miraculously expanding, jagged mass of chemically enhanced, artificial protein as I approached the climb.

The Ryals appear like a vertical wall rearing straight upward. Although they feature in Simon Warrens Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, they look much harder than they actually are, and I suspect their fearsome reputation is built around elite races which hurtle up them multiple times to shred legs and cause the maximum amount of pain.

Despite this they will always hurt after the preceding miles of climbing have effectively softened you up and sapped your strength like a flurry of well-placed body blows. The road briefly hits around 20% before levelling and then climbing again, and while the first ramp is quite short, it’s undeniably steep.

I passed a guy with improbable orange-brown legs (##cough## fake tan) at the foot of the Ryals, and started the grind up. He passed inside me wheezing like a train with a broken boiler. As the road levelled I caught and passed Sneaky Pete and we exchanged a few perfunctory words about the dubious parentage of the climb. I then hit the second ramp and cranked it up. Out of the saddle with my front wheel skipping and snaking wildly like the death throes of a decapitated sidewinder, I zipped past Tan Legs and burst through a bunch of startled photographers carefully positioned to catch the agonising grind and toil and suffering of cyclists on the hill.

It will be interesting to see if any of them managed to catch my surprise at suddenly finding myself at the top, or the moment when the pain signals finally reached my brain and convinced it my shin bones had been swapped out for red-hot pokers.

[I so wanted to say I danced, or waltzed up the climb, and that was certainly the image in my mind. In reality it was probably more like the plodding, uncoordinated dance number of Young Frankenstein’s monster. “Burttin’ pondah Wrutzz!!!”]


Puttin' on the Ritz
Puttin’ on the Ritz

Pushing over the top I rolled it onto the big ring and clicked down until I could click no more. Hands on the drops, head down I set off in pursuit of G-Dawg, finally catching up a few miles beyond the climb. A few miles further Sneaky Pete sneaked up on us, sacrificing himself to ride on the front for a short while before finally dropping away.

On the final run in and as we skirted a roundabout alongside another bunch of riders we were almost ploughed into by a texting driver who received a full verbal and graphically suggestive broadside– how she managed to look indignant instead of sheepishly embarrassed I’ll never know. “Typical,” drawled G-Dawg laconically, “60 miles without incident, and we’re nearly killed a few mile from the finish” – before clicking up a gear and lighting the afterburners for home.

With a decent time tucked into my goody bag I set out for home, passing a fellow rider who was struggling with a modest incline, obviously heavily weighed down by his Cyclone swag. I remarked his legs looked tired but he just quipped he was on a pre-programmed warm down. I like it, and yes, I will be using it as an excuse in future.

By the time I past the slowly decaying hedgehog on Heinous Hill for the 4th time that week I knew I was almost home and hosed, and another ride ticked off.

I trust normal service may be resumed next week…


YTD Totals: 3,023km/ 1,878 miles with 33,599 metres of climbing.