Nevermore

Nevermore

Club Run, Saturday 1st June, 2019

My ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:114 km/71 miles with 1,223 m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 20 minutes
Average Speed:26.4km/h
Group Size:35 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature: 17℃
Weather in a word or two:Cool and cloudy

Ride Profile

The weather was about the same as last week, grey overcast, relatively chilly, but dry. An arm warmer kind of day. I hoped somewhere along the line I would be tempted to get rid of them, but it never happened.

I tracked and caught a fellow rider on my way to cross the river, resplendent in a bright red jersey with a big Isle of Man triskelion blazoned across the back.

“Are you lost?” I enquired when I caught up and passed him.

He looked at me blankly.

“You’re a long way from home,” I explained.

“Aah, the jersey. Hah, no,” his answer was delivered in pure Geordie, convincing me I was talking to a native and not some poor lost Manxman who needed directions.

The river was high, wide, flat, grey and fairly featureless, with not a boat in sight. Looked like the rowing clubs were off competing for the day and the crossing was quiet.

I clambered out the valley on the other side of the river and pushed through to the meeting point to join the slowly assembling crowd of chancer’s, wastrel’s and ne’er-do-well’s. (Or in other words, all the usual suspects.)


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I pulled up, clambered off and found a perch on the wall alongside the Monkey Butler Boy. He was smugly pleased with his brand new Kask helmet, bought to replace the one he’d used as an emergency brake during a recent crash. I was then in prime place when his acolyte, the Money Priest, rolled in and approached.

There was no excited jabbering this week, just a silent, rather uncomfortable and over-long pause as the Monkey Priest stood face to face with the Monkey Butler Boy, faces scant inches apart, as they stared deeply and lovingly into each other’s eyes.

I didn’t want to break this beautiful moment, this rare meeting of minds and young hearts, but this was quite uncomfortable and I found myself coughing apologetically…

I was just about to suggest they “get a room,” when the Monkey Priest broke the spell.

“New sunglasses then?”

“Oh, aye.”

“Let’s have a look …”

There was then a discussion about their new club jersey. Apparently, the Monkey Priest was wearing one and the Monkey Butler Boy wasn’t. I’m pleased they told me this, otherwise I would never have known.

They both agreed the new jersey was much, much better than the old one. I did a double-take.

And then another.

And again, slower and more considered.

Nope, they both looked absolutely identical to me. I had to ask.

“What’s different?”

“What’s different?” the Monkey Butler Boy shook his head in despair at my distinct lack of acuity.

He pointed to one out of half a dozen sponsor names encapsulated in half inch squares that ran in a line across his chest.

“Le Col have replaced this sponsor,” he said, and then, as if this alone wasn’t a momentous, earth-shattering change in its own right, he pointed to another tiny sponsor name on his sleeve. “And they’ve changed too…”

Ah, so the kind of blatantly obvious difference you would expect in a fiendishly difficult “spot the difference” picture quiz. Now I get it.

While the Monkey Priest’s near identical jersey was “clearly superior,” his shorts were an entirely different matter. He too seems to have conspired to crash recently and had ripped a hole in the front of his shorts. (The front?)

He had a cunning plan though, they would be meeting up with their coach a little later and he’d be bringing a new pair of shorts for the Monkey Priest to change into.

“On the fly?” the Hammer asked.

“Well, I bet Alberto Contador could do that,” I reasoned, having once watched him change shoes mid-race, without stopping, or even slowing.

We then wondered if the coach would just hold the shorts up for the Monkey Priest to snatch as he rode past, “like a musette in the feed-zone” the Hammer suggested.

Sadly, the actual plan was much more prosaic, but probably a lot safer. The Monkey Priest had earmarked some bushes he could retire to in order to protect his modesty while performing his costume change.

Crazy Legs rolled up on his much cossetted Ribble, which we all took to be a sign from the gods that we would have no rain on the ride. He said he’d read two forecasts, one promising a dry day with sunny intervals, the other overcast with intermittent showers. He’d only dared to share the first of these with his recalcitrant Ribble.

Just like last week, we were graced with a load of old hands and intermittent irregulars, including what I think might have been a first outing of the year for Grover and Famous Sean’s. Our numbers slowly built up to top 30 again.

There was an enlightened discussion about cable rub, but no one could answer how brake cables managed to move, seemingly of their own volition, to so deftly avoid the protective patch you’ve carefully applied to the frame, even though it’s exactly where the paint was first abraded.

I was messing about with my camera, so missed the front group leaving, but was more than happy to tag onto the always slightly less frenetic second group, as we clipped in, pushed off and rode out.


I dropped in alongside Sneaky Pete, just behind Crazy Legs and Ovis, as they led us out of the ‘burbs and into the countryside. I took over on the front with Sneaky Pete for the push through Ponteland and down to Limestone Lane, before swinging over for Taffy Steve and Carlton to pull through. All seemed to be going smoothly and everyone seemed content.

The front pair then ceded to OGL and whoever’s ear he was intent on bending at the time and we started to push up a slight incline. Almost immediately Grover was struggling and became detached. Crazy Legs drifted back to check on him and reported that Grover was more than happy to ride in his own company and at his own pace and didn’t want to hold anyone up.

Crazy Legs admired the, quiet dignity, stoicism and the self-awareness necessary to realise when your own lack of ability or fitness was an impediment to the rest of the group. Rather uncharitably, I suggested Grover was like an old bull-elephant, quietly slipping away from the rest of the herd to seek out the elephant’s graveyard.

We pressed on, until another change in the front saw Radman and Mini Miss taking over. Almost immediately OGL was blustering and growling about the pace. “I’m breathing out me arse, here!” was, I believe, the precise aphorism deployed – a term I’ve never quite understood, I mean, I get the general sentiment, but … eh? … what?

(Taffy Steve would later, rather naughtily, contend that OGL spends so much time talking out his arse, that breathing out of it should be second nature by now. Ouch.)

The grumbling continued.

“But you’re the only one whose been dropping people,” Crazy Legs innocently informed OGL, while I rode behind them, snorting with suppressed laughter.

We reached the top of the Quarry (yes, I know, the top!) and paused to regroup. OGL claimed infirmity from a bad chest infection and made straight for the cafe, while the rest of us dropped down (yes, I know, down!) the Quarry Climb.

We passed another club grinding up the Quarry and looking miserable, as we harnessed gravity to its full effect and zipped down past them. I know which direction is the easiest.

At the junction at the bottom of the Quarry we paused again, while Crazy Legs outlined route options.

“Left is the shorter ride, which is shorter and right is … err, a longer ride that’s … err … longer,” Crazy Legs concluded lamely, before adding, “Oh and right goes down the Ryals.”

“Which way are you going? I don’t want to be left on my own,” Mini Miss asked me.

“Rye-urhls!” I groaned in my best guttural, Neanderthal-zombie-meets-Frankenstein-monster voice.

“Rye-urhls!”

“Rye-urhls! ”

Double-Dutch Distaff eyed me warily, no doubt wondering what had set the lunatic off and what kind of gibberish he was bellowing. It didn’t put her off though. The Red Max lead a contingent left for a shorter loop to the cafe, while the rest of us swung right for a gleeful swoop down the Ryals.

Reaching the crest, I kicked onto the front, tucked in and plunged, four minutes of unbridled fun as I recorded my fastest time yet for the descent, hitting over 74 kph, or 20 meters per second, on the double-dip down. (That’s 46 mph if you want it in retard units.) Crazy Legs, Double Dutch and Taffy Steve followed in close attendance and we seemed to open up a gap on the rest of the group.

As we slowed to reassemble at the bottom, Crazy Legs suggested we were in danger of being early at the cafe, so we could amend the route and put more miles in by looping around the reservoir, rather than taking the scramble up through Hallington. This got the immediate support of Taffy Steve, who likes this loop almost as much as he detests climbing through Hallington, so our course was set.



I pushed out onto the front alongside Ovis as we swung in a wide arc around the (always hidden from view) reservoir and up to where we would have emerged if we’d taken the planned route. Around the corner, I drove us up a segment known on Strava as Humiliation Hill (I know not why). This had everyone stretched out into a long line and we paused at the next junction to re-assemble.

As our last riders pulled through I looked back down the road and saw the flashing of florescent green cycling socks.

“Is that one of us?” I asked Taffy Steve.

“Nope, we’re all here.”

I hung back a little just to make sure, confirmed I didn’t know the lone rider and then hustled to catch up with the rest.

The unknown, rider in the florescent green socks passed us as we dawdled along, then Big Dunc put in a Big Dig. Everyone responded and we all bustled past Green Socks, until Big Duncs attack was foiled by temporary traffic lights and we all slowed and stopped.

Green Socks took the opportunity to nip in front of us as the lights changed. Crazy Legs caught him and sat on his wheel for a while, before dropping back, while I accelerated to take his place and started winding up the pace.

I passed Green Socks as the road began to climb and pushed on with Ovis, increasing the pace as we raced toward the end of the road, reaching the junction and then stopping to let everyone regroup. Green Socks passed us while we waited and disappeared down the road, probably glad to see the back of us.

We regrouped again and started the final push to the cafe, with Crazy Legs and Double Dutch on the front. As we approached the short, steep, Brandy Well Bank, Crazy Legs started to explain that, in about 3-4 kilometres, it would all kick-off toward a final sprint before the cafe. In normal circumstances he would have been dead right, but I didn’t fancy my chances in a straight-up sprint, so decided not to hang around and attacked.

I accelerated toward the climb and tried to keep my legs spinning as the gradient bit. It wasn’t like last week though, when I’d done hardly any work before hitting the same climb, I had tired legs and momentum dropped quickly, until I had to haul myself out of the saddle to keep going.

I paused at the top, part hesitation, wondering if the attack was premature, part from the needing to drag some air into tortured lungs and let the pain in my legs subside. Then I pushed on …

I was just starting to flag, when Ovis nudged past and I dropped onto his wheel. Now, slowly, but surely we started to reel in the lone rider in the florescent green socks and Ovis pulled us around him. Yet again. He must have been sick of the sight of us.

As the road started to drag upwards, I bustled back onto the front, trying to find a good line across the battered and lumpy road surface. Down toward the Snake Bends, we passed a lone Grover, seemingly still happy in his own company and I briefly stopped the frenetic pedalling to greet him in passing.

The road levelled out and I pushed on, until Ovis roared past me with an astonishing burst of speed. I had no response. Seconds later a hard-charging Crazy Legs and Mini Miss zipped past, but they were too late and Ovis was long gone, while Taffy Steve caught me just before the Bends.

As ever, great fun.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Carlton wondered if anyone had been watching the Chernobyl TV-series, which one of my work colleagues, Big Dave, described as unremittingly bleak. He reported that in the first 5 minutes alone, some bloke fed his cat, then hung himself and it the just got darker from that point on. (I guess it could have been worse and he could have left the cat to starve.)

I prefer my end-of-the-world, Armagideon Time to have a dash more humour, so was more interested in the recently released, TV adaptation of the Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett book, Good Omens.

“Are you a Terry Pratchett fan, then?” Crazy Legs enquired.

“No, not really, but I like Neil Gaiman. Then again,” I added, “I do have to acknowledge the particular genius of inventing a character called Quoth the Raven. That’s very clever.”

Crazy Legs looked at me blankly, “Eh? What?”

“Quoth. The Raven.”

“Nah, don’t get it?”

Everyone else around the table looked suitably blank too.

“You know, from the Edgar Allan Poe poem, The Raven.”

Nope, nothing…

“Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore.'”

Across from me, Famous Sean’s suddenly giggled.

“See, he gets it …

But no, he didn’t, it was more a nervous laugh, the kind you might emit if you were embarrassed on someone else’s behalf.

“Oh, I give up, you’re all a bunch of bleedin’ Philistines.”

“You’re on a table full of scientists, mathematicians and engineers,” Crazy Legs consoled me, “What do you expect?”

Pah!

I left to get some coffee refills and to see if I could find some more erudite cycling companions. The first bit was relatively easy, the second though … well, the jury’s still out.

Still, at least it gave me an opportunity to briefly ear-wig on an delightful conversation between two old biddies in the queue, carried out almost entirely in question form.

“Do you know Annie?” the first pondered.

“Ooh, Canny Annie?”

“Hmm?”

“Paula’s friend?”

“Taller Paula?”

“No, no, smaller Paula.”

I would like to have hung around to hear more, but was conscious of Philistine cyclists requiring further injections of caffeine.

When I returned Double Dutch Dude who’d been in the first group, was dragging Double Dutch Distaff away, to get some more miles in. Meanwhile, conversation had returned to less culturally divisive subjects … or maybe not … as Taffy Steve expressed his love for Gogglebox, a TV programme about people watching TV programmes. We wondered where it would end – was there, for example, an opportunity for a TV programme about people who watched TV programmes in which people watched TV programmes?

G-Dawg briefly joined us, having sneaked out from the cafe for a bit of peace and to try and quell a strange, incessant clamouring in his ears. Sadly though, the strange incessant clamouring followed him out.

I noticed he seemed to be a riot of colours today; green shoes, yellow socks, blue shorts and a red jersey. Still, I’m sure last week’s civilian, who complained about cyclists dressed all in black, would have found some other reason to disparage him.

Famous Sean, being one of those weird triathlete-types, started undertaking a series of stretches in preparation for us leaving. He’d left the fat velcro straps of his triathlon shoes unfastened and they flopped over to lie flat on the grass, making him look like Big Bird, all skinny legs and big feet.

Crazy Legs had to ask if the velcro actually worked on grass and if that was why Famous Sean’s could touch his toes without toppling over.


We lined up and rode out, for what would prove to be a remarkably unremarkable trip back, the only thing of note I recall was being subjected to a short, sharp shower half way up the Heinous Hill,

Our first June club run complete then and still we wait for some good better weather. Come on, make it happen…


YTD Totals: 3,604 km / 2,240 miles with 46,106 metres of climbing

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Chevauchée Pyrenees – Day #4: Time for Business

Chevauchée Pyrenees – Day #4: Time for Business

 

Ride 3, Sunday 24th June, 2018

Hautacam and Col de Tramassel

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                       40 km / 25 miles with 1,286 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                               2 hours 17 minutes

Average Speed:                      17.5 km/h

Temperature:                         27°C

Weather in a word or two:    Hot


Hautacam
Ride Profile


Sunday morning and we meet up at the campsite entrance ready for our last day of riding. “Time for business,” Caracol mutters, setting Crazy Legs off on a Flight of the Conchords song:

It’s business
It’s business time…

Hmm, business time indeed, but first we had to wait for the Mid-Life Motorcyle Mob to clear the campsite entrance with their farting, spluttering machines. Once they’d buzzed off, trailing a cloud of exhaust fumes and waves of pungent aftershave, we mount up and ride out.

It promised to be another hot, hot day, with traffic surprisingly busy for a sleepy Sunday morning, so we had quite a delay getting out the campsite. Not that we were in any great hurry, we only had one goal today, the Hautacam and back by the most direct route and preferably in time so the boys could watch the England vs. Panama kickball game.

We snaked our way through the village, crossed a bridge over the turbulent and swift-flowing, Gave de Pau and almost immediately found ourselves heading uphill. We were planning on passing through the summit of the Hautacam and its traditional Tour de France finish and pressing on, right up to the top of the Col de Tramassel. I would understand why when we got there.

So on the menu today was a hors catégorie climb of around 16km and up to a height of 1,190 metres, running at an average gradient of 7.5%. Kermit told me it no lesser a rider than Alberto Contador had described it as one of the hardest climbs he’d ever faced, although I couldn’t find any source to support this. Anyway, I would question Contador’s judgement, after he allegedly claimed OGL was one of the greatest descenders ever to ride a bike (that’s according to OGL anyway.)

Through the village of Ayros, the gradient stiffens and the signs warn the next kilometre is at an average of 10%. We’re already slightly strung out along the road, but at this point the gaps start to seriously attenuate. Caracol and Kermit skip lightly upwards, while I lumber in pursuit of the Hammer, closing in on the steeper sections, but falling back again when the road levels – (“levels” being a purely relative term, I mean of course where the slope eases ever so slightly). The rest of our group are strung out at various points behind.

Just after the village of Arbouix, Captain Black bridges across to join me and I share his company for the next few kilometres. The gradient hits 13% through some hairpins, as we catch and pass another couple of Brits. I beg them to tell me it gets easier, even if it’s a lie.

Following the road around the perimeter of a narrow field, a couple of bare-chested farm labourers are struggling to clear out some bushes. It looks like dry, dusty and hard work. Meanwhile, just by the side of the road, their small dog lies dozing comfortably in the shade of a leafy, green tree, seemingly intent on proving that it retains all of its mental faculties and feels no need to join the Englishman out in the (near) midday sun.

Thanks Nappy

I read somewhere that the Alps are more uniform than the Pyrennees because Napoleon (once an artilleryman, always an artilleryman) had their roads engineered with regular gradients. This was to ease towing gun carriages up and down the mountains, thus enabling his need to invade sundry other countries and kill lots of their citizens.

I’ve no idea if this is true, but even by Pyrenean standards the Hautacam seems to have a point to prove. It goes out of its way to be as irregular and erratic as possible, with ramps of various pitches all jumbled together within its kilometre sections, making the average gradients all but useless when judging how hard the next section will be.

At one point, a sign declaring a 7.5% average became somewhat more foreboding when it is immediately followed by a sustained and prolonged downhill section. We knew we would be paying for this brief respite just a little further on.

“In the granny ring yet?” Captain Black enquired as we topped another steep ramp. I assured him I was and had been for a long, long time. Despite this I seemed to be climbing out of the saddle with more power and without spinning my legs quite so futilely. I attributed to the extreme steepness of the slope. Hmm…

We hit sections of 15% and 16% and the Captain slowly started to pull away. I found myself alone, again. Naturally.

As a distraction, I start counting pedal strokes between the kilometre markers and reckon there was about 750 of them, although if I’d miscounted, or even double-counted I wouldn’t have been remotely surprised.

On one, aggressively steep section, I pushed the right hand lever hard left. It was already against the stops and I knew it, but I had to try anyway, just in case a new gear had miraculously manifested.

I then glanced down and found I was still in the middle ring. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but immediately dropped onto the granny ring, although the worst of the climb seems to be behind me. I was now out beyond the tree line, rattling over another Passage Canadien and could see the road twisting and turning across the open pastureland ahead and a long trail of riders clambering up behind me.

(In)Sole of the Mountain

Off to the right I saw the totally incongruous sight of a solitary, discarded insole by the side of the road Who? What? Why? When and how? Answers on a postcard, please.

The gradient has eased back to an 8% average and, as I pass the summit sign, the road yawns wide open. It feels like I’m riding across the deck of an aircraft carrier, a flat sea of empty, rather dusty, black and featureless tarmac, capped by nothing but a blank, blue sky overhead.

When the Tour de France finishes up here, this area will be transformed into a busy finish hub, with cars and caravans, coaches, tents, barriers, crowds and the works. Right here and now though, it’s all a bit disorientating, just a big empty car park. I feel as if I’m suffering a mild attack of agoraphobia and I stop pedalling and coast, looking around for where to go next.

The two Brits I had passed further down the slope work their way up and past me and I wait to tag onto their wheels and tentatively follow, trying not to make it too obvious that I’m not quite sure where I’m going.

They find a road out of the car park and we’re back on track and set to climbing again. Another 1.5 kilometres or so up the road from the Hautacam is the summit of the Col du Tramassal, and a café promising cake and coffee. What further incentive does a man need?

I’m still feeling pretty good, so roll the chain down the cassette and attack the last few slopes, rising out of the saddle and bursting past the two Brits, who must have wondered what the hell I’d been snorting back there in the car park.

Around a final shoulder of the mountain, the road zigs and zags upwards toward the cafe, a natural amphitheatre, where our front-runners are now sitting along the crest of the slope, enjoying the sun while they look down and cheering everyone through the final few hundred metres.

I join them to encourage the others in, take a few photos and to admire the fantastic views of the Col d’Aubisque and the other snow-capped peaks across the wide-open valley. It is utterly stunning up here and it only takes a thoroughly enjoyable ride to experience it.


IMG_0294


4 Days of Bullshit

We retire to the café terrace where the question du jour is why the bear in the TV series, BJ and the Bear, was played by a monkey? We decided that the pilot probably cast a proper Grizzly in the lead role, but it proved too hard to control and savagely mauled its co-star. We then imagined the Hollywood producer-types trying to determine how best to replace the Grizzly and save their series?

“I know guys, what about an alligator? Mountain lion? Ok, ok … how about a camel?”

I have a chat with Crazy Legs who asks if I’ve enjoyed the trip. “What, four days of unadulterated bullshit? What’s not to like?”

“Ah,” he suggests, “You’ve got a blog title already.”

Briefly Airborne & Then Done

For some reason, I’m the first off on the descent and lead the way for the first three-quarters or so, until the Hammer edges in front.  As we sweep through one of the villages, I hit a speed bump and become briefly airborne.

As the road straightens, Caracol surges past, pedalling furiously and we drop onto his wheel. The three of us ride full-bore all the way back to the campsite, opening up a big gap on everyone else.

And we’re done. I can’t help thinking I’ve got another mountain or two left in my legs, but I’m pretty sure that’s just bravado.

Lost in Translation

We retire to the bar to watch the football, where England record a handsome victory, albeit built on a rather homely looking performance.

We also get the short-end of a cultural exchange with the barman. We helpfully tell him Crème Anglaise is custard in English, but he fails to reciprocate in like fashion when Crazy Legs enquires after the French equivalent of the term “built like a brick shithouse.” I guess somethings get lost in translation.

We stayed long enough to watch the start of a Grand Prix, typically the only interesting bit of these races. Sure enough, there was the usual carnage and crashes off the grid. We left shortly afterwards to ponder why they had soft, super-soft and ultra-soft tyres (I guess hard, medium and soft doesn’t sound dramatic enough, but what they’ve chosen sounds like different grades of toilet paper?)

The campsite bar is closed Sunday evenings, so we need to head into town for ravitaillement. Goose wanders off as our advance party to scout out food and drink options, while the rest disperse to start packing up our bikes.

Reg breaks down and packs away handily and with surprising ease and I wander around the campsite just to fill in some time. Here I find Caracol, struggling to fit everything into his bike box, and looking gaunt and washed-out again. He cries off from the evening’s excursion and retires to his bed, still seemingly suffering the after effects of heat stroke and his exertions across the three days.

The rest of us congregate on a chalet porch to finish off any remaining supplies and then take a two mile or so walk into the town to find Goose.

Goose Gets Paella

He’s discovered in a bar with a friendly waiter who Goose insists is Spanish, despite the lack of any kind of supporting evidence. He’s now communicating with his “new best friend” in pidgin-Spanish, even though the waiter speaks perfect English (and probably Spanish too.)

The bar is good, beer is good, company is good and the menu looks good . The only downside seems to be a bunch of English cyclists, all uniformly dressed in tuxedo-printed cycling kit (hilarious and original) and straw Panama hats. Rightly or wrongly (and I’m still leaning heavily toward rightly) we take an instant dislike to them, but luckily they’re just there to pour a few beers into their faces and soon wander away.

After days of wanting a paella, talking about paella and how best to prepare and cook paella, Goose finally gets to eat paella, which he declares is very good, very big and suitably filling.

Along with Crazy Legs, I choose the cassoulet, which is also tasty and big enough for hungry cyclists. The rest have various pasta dishes, all of which are deemed at least adequate, except for Steadfast’s lasagne, which is about the size of a choc ice and soon disappears without touching the sides. We wonder if he hasn’t accidently ordered from the children’s menu.

Goose Invents Ebola

With a big clean-up of the chalets scheduled for tomorrow, Goose describes an advert, that seemingly only he has ever seen, of someone cleaning a kitchen work top with a chicken breast. He also revealed a dark and distant past part-time job as a “professional” cleaner. Apparently, he was somewhat less than diligent and claims to have inadvertently invented MRSA and maybe Ebola too.

Carry On Regardless, Part 1.

For some reason talk turns to Carry On films, which, through the power of Google, Kermit reveals number an astonishing 31 titles!

Unfortunately, he then starts listing each one individually:

“Carry On Sergeant, Carry On Nurse, Carry On Teacher, Carry On Constable …”

“Ok, we get the picture.”

He “carries on” undaunted.

“Carry On – Follow That Camel, Carry On Doctor, Carry On Up the Khyber, Carry On Camping….

“No really, stop now.”

“But, I’m almost finished. That’s Carry On! Carry On Emmannuelle and … [dramatic pause] … Carry On Columbus.”

He takes a deep breath, “Several other films were planned and scripted, but unmade…”

“No!”

We discuss options for a trip next year, perhaps somewhere we can fly direct to from Newcastle and doesn’t include a long car transfer. Perhaps that way I won’t suffer that first night travel-sickness-thing again? (Or whatever it is.)

We have lots of ideas, but nothing is decided, well, other than to cross off Goose’s suggestion of Chernobyl as a destination. I’m sure the roads are lovely and quiet, but there are sadly no direct flights to Boryspil Airport in Kiev and even if there were, it’s still a 3 hour drive from there to Pripyat.

We wander back to the campsite. Ably assisted by good food, red wine, beer and the cumulative efforts of several days riding, sleep comes easily.

In the morning, we clean out the cabins and handover the keys. Unlike last year, there’s no forensic inspection and no accusatory interrogations and we’re free to go without even a cursory glance at our, nonetheless spotless accommodation.

We plan and execute a quick detour to take in crepes atop the Col de Peyresourde. It looks like a fantastic climb from the west and it would make it onto my bucket list if I had such a thing. The crepes were good too. I’ll be looking forward to the Tour’s super short, Stage 17 this year, which starts at Bagnères-de-Luchon and immediately tackles this route.

Then it’s the long drive to the airport, arriving in plenty of time for check-in.

Carry-on Regardless, Part 2.

As we wait to check-in Kermit starts to get antsy about his big, red, oversized carry-on bag again, convinced he’s going to be stopped and charged for exceeding his baggage allowance. He starts eyeing up the ground crew, trying to determine which one looks the most benevolent and identifying the stern, stone-faced ones he hopes to avoid – a sort of baggage Russian Roulette.

Before we make it that far, an announcement informs us that the flight will be busy, so passengers are invited to check hand baggage into the hold for free. Kermit breathes a sigh of relief. Nonetheless, he gets a ticking off from the ground crew for having such a ridiculously large carry-on bag and somehow manages to feign both innocence and remorse, as he’s relieved of his big, red burden.

I’m the last to check-in and everyone else has disappeared by the time I make my way to the over-sized baggage drop off. Five minutes on intense, unfriendly scrutiny and unnecessarily prescriptive instructions from a taciturn, French baggage handler and the bike bag goes one way and I go the other.

Plain Sailing

I catch up with the others, just before boarding and notice we’re sharing the flight with some Panama hat wearing, English cyclists that may just have tuxedo-printed cycling kit tucked somewhere in their luggage. Crazy Legs even gets to sit in the same row of seats as one of them, but is luckily buffered from direct contact by another innocent passenger playing piggy-in-the-middle. As such, his curled-lip disdain goes unremarked.

Leaving the plane, I can’t help but notice all the HSBC adverts plastering the air bridge, welcoming us to Heathrow and extolling our “United Kingdom.” I can’t help wondering if this is supposed to be ironic, or is just very badly misinformed.

De-planed (as they insist on saying in the business) we all congregate at the other end, minus Steadfast, who has already taken a flyer into the seething morass that is a hugely overcrowded, glacially slow Heathrow passport control.

We’re about to plunge into this very maelstrom ourselves, when Captain Black spots signage directing us elsewhere for our connecting flight. We find ourselves in some kind of placid, quiet backchannel, quickly passing through a fully-automated passport control system and then smoothly released into the general departure lounge.

We stop in the Wetherspoons for some food and then we’re on the last leg and being hustled on to the plane for the short hop back up to Newcastle. Well almost, Goose gets stopped at the gate and we pause to laugh at his startled, rabbit in the headlights act as he screws up the facial recognition sensors and then desperately tries to get them to recognise him.

At the other end, our baggage arrives in dribs and drabs and we depart piecemeal. As such I’m well on my way home before Kermit realises his bright green bike box isn’t going to put in an appearance.

“It’s Big & Green and Nowhere to be Seen” : Kermit

Kermit’s bike box is eventually tracked down to Zurich and is finally returned to him a few days later. Before this, however, it seems to have been fed through a threshing machine and both box and bike are badly damaged. An insurance claim is on-going, while in the meantime, Kermit has to resort to his winter-bike, at a time when we’re enjoying the longest spell of fair weather we’ve had for years.

I have a feeling though that even this isn’t going to put any of us off signing up for similar adventures if offered next year.


Chevauchée Pyrenees Totals: 228 km / 142 miles with 5,570 metres of climbing

 YTD Totals: 3,741 km / 2,324 miles with 47,054 metres of climbing

Chevauchée Pyrenees #2 – Survival Mode

Chevauchée Pyrenees #2 – Survival Mode

Ride 1, Friday 2nd June 2018

Col du Soulour from Argeles Gazot/Col d’Aubisque east side from Soulour

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                         63 km / 39 miles with 1,577 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                 3 hours 15 minutes

Average Speed:                         19.5 km/h

Temperature:                            25°C

Weather in a word or two:    Hot and humid


day 1
Route & Ride Profile


Purge

It’s maybe two o’clock in the morning and I’ve been sleeping fitfully for the past couple of hours. It’s stiflingly hot and uncomfortable in the chalet and now I’m awake with a brutal, killer headache, as if someone’s wrapped a band of steel around my skull and is slowly ratcheting it tighter and tighter.

The pain intensifies horribly and flashing lights explode behind my eyes if I try to lie down, so I’m sitting up in bed, back against the wall, trying to forcibly scrub, or pull, or push the waves of pain away and out of my head. It’s not working.

I turn the light on, fumble through my rucksack, find some Paracetamol and choke a couple down, bone dry, chalky and hard to swallow.

At some point, I fall asleep, only to wake suddenly, drenched in sweat and stagger to the bathroom to throw up. I rinse and repeat the process a few times and every time my stomach heaves out its contents, the pain explodes behind my eyes. I choke down more pills and somewhere, somehow, as the sky starts to grey with dawn, I manage to grab a couple of hours of disturbed sleep.

Clanking and clunking from the living room wakes me. Surprisingly it’s not the ghost of Jacob Marley, but Kermit, in an up-and-at-‘em mood and starting to drag his bike outside to start building it back up.

I get up slowly, check the time and make to follow. We’d agreed a 10.00 o’clock depart for the first ride, so I had a couple of hours to try and pull both myself and the bike back together. One thing was certain, I wasn’t going to be making the breakfast we’d hastily arranged with the campsite the night before.

The bike had survived its transit without mark, or mar and slotted together without too many issues, although at one point I did have to abandon my post and hurdle over Kermit and bits of his scattered bike in a crazed dash to the toilet. After this, I was thinking I couldn’t possibly have anything left to throw up. But, I was wrong.

I finished the bike and checked it over. All seemed good, so I got changed into my cycling kit and slapped on some sunscreen. The day looked grey and dull, with plenty of cloud cover, but it was relentlessly hot and humid. Nevertheless, as I sat on the chalet porch and just tried to recover, I was chilled and shivering and pulled on some arm warmers and my fleece while I waited for things to settle down.

A few chalets along, the Breakfast Club had returned from their sumptuous feast and were preparing to ride. (I got good reports of the breakfast extravaganza, but wouldn’t get to sample it even once in the next few days.)

Extreme Weather Protocol

Crazy Legs swung by to inform us that in light of my bad case of malingering and, as a more gentle acclimatisation for everyone else, Extreme Weather Protocol had been invoked and agreement reached to swap around Day#1 and Day#2.

The revised agenda for the day was now the Col du Soulour, followed straight up by the Col d’Aubisque. The washed out roads of the latter meaning we’d need to trace our way to it directly from the Soulour, rather than looping around to climb up from the other side as originally planned. In this way, we just about halved the distance and the amount of climbing.

At 10.00, or thereabouts, we slowly gathered, clipped in and rode out, following the road through Argelès Gazost before swinging away left, up the valley of le Gave d’ Azun, to start the approach to the Col du Soulour.

As we passed through the villages, gaps appeared in the clouds overhead and the sun poured down. This gave a bright, oily sheen to the new and smooth tarmac that glistened under our tyres, an indication that the Tour will be following these very same roads in just a few weeks’ time and preparations are in full-swing. I often wonder if, a bit like the Queen visiting the provinces, the Tour peloton get a ridiculously rose-tinted view of the state of the nation’s byways and highways.

At one point we passed a group of workmen busy branding stark, white, markings into the new road surface. The intense chemical smell of the epoxy they were using almost made me throw up and I was glad to quickly leave them behind.

I’d adopted a survival mode, bunkered down amongst the wheels, taking occasional small sips of plain water and hoping to keep it down.

We had to negotiate our way around a shirtless, deeply-tanned, golden-maned native, riding one massive, barrel chested, bay horse while leading two others behind and looking like the lone survivor from a failed raid of warrior Gaul’s. He was certainly far too cool to acknowledge Crazy Legs’ cheerful greeting. (I suspect he secretly covets the role of Xenophobix in the local Asterix the Gaul Re-enactment Society and is actually really friendly and welcoming, but he’s a method actor and has to stay aloof to remain in character.)

I also think I’d just discovered my own Asterix alter-ego for the day, too – Monosyllabix.

And You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Snot

Our group slowly attenuated and then broke apart, everyone finding a pace they were comfortable with. I dropped off the back, riding for a while with Crazy Legs, who was still suffering from a ridiculously long-standing chest infection that he can’t seem to shift. He was really struggling with this, his asthma and the oppressively hot and humid conditions.

I followed in the wake of his coughing, hawking and spluttering expectorations, quietly giggling at the cloud of flies he’d acquired, like a dark halo circling his head, while realising I probably had a corresponding, buzzing accompaniment orbiting my own helmet.

At Arrans-Marsous, the road jinked to the right and the real climbing began through a series of tight, steep hairpins. I was travelling too slowly even for an ailing, lung-shot Crazy Legs now, so he checked I was ok and pressed on ahead. I found myself singing that old Gilbert O’Sullivan chestnut, “Alone Again, Naturally” as I ground my way upwards, although, in my defence I don’t actually recall anything but the title-line, which I found myself repeating, ad nauseam.

I wasn’t quite alone, however. A quick lizard snaked up the road in front of me, like a miniature Alberto Contador on the attack and a little further on, it was the turn of an intensely bright, iridescent beetle. It taunted me with both its flashiness and climbing speed, and when, with a bit of effort, I just about managed to catch it, it disappeared into the undergrowth.

I felt more empathy with a large fat bee I found, dressed much like me in black and yellow, seemingly shell-shocked, hunkered, head down, arse up and unmoving in the middle of the road. I was tempted to join him, but kept going.

A farmyard cat then watched me pass, wary and wide-eyed, it’s pupils reduced to vertical black hairlines by the bright sunlight.

Off to the left a sign seemed to point toward Bun. Or, maybe that was just a wilful hallucination…

Toil and Trouble

As I climbed and away from the settlements, the meadows became dotted with cows and the constant jangle of their bells accompanied my harsh breathing. Meanwhile, high overhead massive buzzards effortlessly circled in the thermals, marking my crawling progress and perhaps wondering if I’d provide them with easy pickings before the day was done.

I was starting to get a feel for the characteristics of Pyrenean climbs, wide sweeping bends that lacked the tight hairpins of the Alps and a gradient that seemed to annoyingly change around every corner and jarred you out of any rhythm you’d managed to establish.

The roads were also much quieter, both of cars and other cyclists and there was little evidence of the usual, faded fan graffiti on the climbs that we’d seen last year in the Alps. Perhaps the weather here is so much harsher that the road surface only lasts a season or two?

I suspect the roadside signs were designed to help struggling cyclists, counting down the distance to the summit every kilometre, with each one helpfully spelling out the average gradient across the next stretch of road too.

Occasionally this proved a little dispiriting, especially when you knew you faced an 8% average gradient for the next thousand metres and then the road eased, or heaven forbid, dipped downwards. This was an indication that a bit further along you’d be paying for the moments brief respite.


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Depending on the gradient, my speed was like a Geiger counter in Chernobyl, wavering wildly between 6.5mph and 3.7mph. I was going nowhere fast, but I was still going. I have to admit I don’t remember all that much about the latter stages of the climb, I was in a sort of fugue state, not feeling particularly bad, just washed out, weak and powerless.

I finally made the top, saw a café by the side of the road and rolled through its car park. None of the parked-up bikes looked remotely familiar, so I re-joined the road and plugged away a bit more until I found the patiently waiting, motley crew outside a second café.

The Best Omelette in the Pyrenees … Allegedly

We trouped inside for lunch and were greeted by a jocular and friendly proprietor, who assumed we were Dutch. Crazy Legs surmised this because we looked far too happy and cheerful to be English and maybe he was right.

We were promised the best omelettes in the Pyrenees, which just about everyone plumped for, and a much needed round of drinks. I wish I could attest to the omelettes excellence, but I only managed to pick my way carefully through a few mouthfuls and I was done. Still, it stayed where I put it, so progress of sorts. Crazy Legs also struggled with the sheer volume of food, but made a better go of it, while the rest seemed to demolish their meals in short order.

Syncing Strava and the Bovine Menace

Outside, we set our sights on the Col d’ Aubisque, leaving Kermit behind as he fiddled with his Garmin which had annoyingly decided to play peek-a-boo with the satellites. The first part of the road was a descent down from the very summit of the Col du Soulour, with an unbarriered steep drop off to the right.

This was made slightly treacherous by the gravel strewn across the road surface and several large cows that seemed intent on meandering aimlessly across our path. Safely negotiating this moving, bovine chicane, we were soon rolling toward the gaping black maw of a tunnel cut straight through the side of the mountain.

Crazy Legs had forewarned us about the tunnel and suggested we take a leaf out of Sean Kelly’s book and close one eye as we approached, so it, at least, was adjusted to the dark by the time we got inside. I went one better and decided to close both eyes …

Ha-ha – only joking. The tunnel was as short and slimy as advertised and had a horrible ridged road surface that we all rattled uncomfortably across. I wasn’t looking forward to repeating that when we returned.

I managed to keep up with everyone on the descent, but soon the road began to climb again and I slipped off the back. Goose and Captain Black forged past and reported that Kermit was still missing.

I kept looking back to see if I could spot his red jersey, working its way up the ribbon of road that seemed to cling precariously to the steep mountain side, but nothing was moving behind me.

We were so high up that at one point I found myself riding along almost at eye level with a majestic, soaring buzzard. It seemed close enough for me to reach across to brush its wingtips, well, if I felt like leaning over the precipitous drop to my right. Then it tipped over on one wing and slipped silently away. Incredible.

As we climbed higher the clouds rolled in above and below, restricting what must have been spectacular views and I was soon climbing through a cool, muffling grey mist and wondering if it was worth turning my lights on.

Before I reached a decision, the air cleared again and then, somewhere along the way and much later than I expected, Kermit caught and passed me. He would later find his Garmin had failed to record his ascent of the Col Du Soulour and he even considered climbing it again, especially after we all convinced him that if it wasn’t on Strava ….

As the road entered a series of switchbacks, I was able to track my route by the progress of Kermit’s bobbing red jersey up ahead and judge just how far I had left and what was awaiting me around the next corner.

The climb wasn’t that hard and I don’t remember it being all that long either. At some point, I rattled across a Barrière Canadienne and wondered what it was the French had against Canuck’s that made them want to bar their access to the mountains.

Then we were at the top, hanging the bikes up in the rusting, creaking racks outside another café. A brief stop and then we gathered outside, pulling on jackets and gilets for the descent and stepping up for the obligatory group photo at the summit marker.


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The Dutchman and the Brits

As we collected our bikes, Crazy Legs found himself bonding with a couple of fellow Ribble Rousers from the UK. They suggested we took time out to cheer on their colleague, a big Dutchman who was powering up the climb behind them in T-shirt and sandals, grinning from ear to ear while cheerfully piloting a massive steel, sit-up-and-beg town-bike up the col.

A few scattered, desultory signs appeared to suggest the road ahead was, as we suspected still closed and no one had any interest in finding out if it the route was still passable by bike, so we turned around and headed back the way we’d come.

I had no trouble keeping up with the others as we made our way downhill, catching and whipping past a tentative motorist just before rattling and shaking our way back through the slimy tunnel.

We regrouped at the top of the Soulour, before tipping down again, then were full bore all the way from the bottom of the descent back to the campsite.

Living to Fight Another Day

I retired to the shower block, intent on draining the campsites hot water supply. I didn’t quite manage, but feel I gave it my best shot, emerging slightly more wrinkled than usual, but starting to feel a whole lot better.

We congregated in the bar again for dinner and I managed to slide down about three-quarters of a pizza. I left the crew watching a World Cup match and trying to decide what ice creams they wanted for dessert. Making my excuses, I made my way to the chalet for an early night, crawled into bed and was gone. I don’t know if I slept, or just fell into a coma, but I wasn’t to stir for the next 12 hours.

Tomorrow would be a whole other day.


 

Ozzie Rules

Ozzie Rules

Club Run, Saturday 2nd September, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Temperature:                                      19°C

Weather in a word or two:              Pleasant


 

2 sep
Ride Profile


The Ride:

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.


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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.

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Your scintillating wit, bon-mots and clever word-play really would put Oscar Wilde to shame.”

“Who?”

“Oscar Wilde?”

“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.”

Sigh.

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 …


 

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In a picture stolen from the OVO Tour of Britain website, the peloton rides past Bamburgh Castle, en route through one of my favourite places, the remarkably beautiful, Northumberland coast.


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

Jumping Someone Else’s Train

Jumping Someone Else’s Train

Club Run, Saturday 1st July, 2017          

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 105 km / 65 miles with 960 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 1 minute

Average Speed:                                26.1 km/h

Group size:                                         28 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    22°C

Weather in a word or two:          Warm and bright


 

i july
Ride Profile


I set out first thing Saturday morning still in the dark as to whether climbing in the Alps is a help or hindrance to cycling form. I got an early indication of which way the coin would fall though, when I turned up at the meeting point some 20 minutes early and had to take a long, impromptu peregrination around Fawdon to fill in some time. I’ve nothing personally against Fawdon, but I’m sure even its most ardent resident would agree it’s not the best place in the world to kill some time on a bike.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

In honour of the Tour de France start, Crazy Legs had donned an ancient Ariostea pro-team top, a riot of zig-zagging diagonal lines in bright red and yellow – it’s perhaps offensive enough to even match my bike. I lamented the lack of truly standout, hideous jersey’s in the pro peloton today – although I find Cannondale’s green and red combination a little unsettling, it’s tame compared to the glories of the past such as Ariostea, Mapei and Teka.

In contrast, another rider was wearing a white version of the La Vie Claire jersey, which still remains a timeless classic.

Crazy Legs mentioned it was the Queen Stage for Mini Miss, currently away enjoying sun and smooth roads in Majorca, and (probably) looking forward to Sa Colabra today.

“Psycha-what?” The Prof enquired.

“Sa Colabra,” I explained, “It’s a style of folk dance, popular in the Balearic Islands.”

“No, no, it’s a spirit-based drink, infused with Mediterranean herbs.” The BFG piped up, further confusticating the issue and leaving the Prof suitably bewildered.

The Garrulous Kid wanted to know how probable it was that one of his riding colleagues had seen a raccoon while out on a bike. (Just to be clear, the Garrulous Kid’s riding colleague was out on the bike, not the masked, furry North American mammal.) I suggested what he actually might have seen was a polecat, which are ever so slightly more prevalent than raccoons in rural Northumberland.

“A polka?”

“No, pole – cat.”

“Bobcat!”

“P-O-L-E-C … oh, I give up.”

Crazy Legs wanted to know if the Garrulous Kid remembered the time he’s been afraid of his own tyres. Meanwhile, testing his brakes, the Prof found that, despite all the benefits afforded from its hand-built construction in the most advanced bike factory in the world, by the planet’s greatest race of precision engineers and bike designers, the Kid’s Focus had a loose headset.

“Bring that bike here, boy” he demanded in a voice that brooked no argument, “And fetch me an Allen key.”

“Ooh, I’ve got one of those!” the Garrulous Kid squealed, digging frantically through his saddle bag, scattering tubes, tyre levers and repair patches everywhere, but singularly failing to turn up his famed Allen key. This was a shame as I was particularly interested to see which one size he had decided to carry from all the myriad choices available.

The Prof whipped out his own multi-tool, slackened off the stem, gave the cap bolt half a dozen full turns and then tightened the stem back up again.

“That was really loose.” The Colossus of Roads observed as he gazed down benevolently from on high (well, the top of the wall where he’d perched his butt) and noted the spacers spinning as freely as a roulette wheel.

“Was it dangerous?” the Garrulous Kid wondered.

“No, but you probably felt your whole bike shudder when you were braking.” The Colossus replied.

“And now you’ll know exactly what to do when it happens again.” The Prof observed at his pedagogic best.

“Yep,” The Garrulous Kid replied dutifully, “Take it straight back to the bike shop.”

The Prof outlined the planned route for the day and had us split into two, with an ultimate destination of Bellingham for the long distance randonneurs, but with plenty of options for groups to step off at various points to tailor the ride to their preference.


I dropped into the second group and we waited a couple of minutes for the first bunch to clear, before we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.

With a build-up of cars trailing us into Ponteland, we singled out to encourage them pass, but no matter how much frantic waving Crazy Legs engaged in, the driver of the first car refused to overtake – perhaps blinded, mesmerised or simply intimidated by the aggressive and unsettling design of his Ariostea jersey.

I spent some time behind the Colossus and got my first good look at his custom-painted cassette spacers, in the same colours and sequence as the World Champion Rainbow bands. He too had made the pilgrimage to the local model shop to baffle them with enquiries about what paints worked best on Shimano cassette’s.

He told me everything had worked perfectly, except for the bright fluorescent green, which initially looked black when applied, so he’d had to switch to a white undercoat. (I include this information simply as a public service, in case you’re ever tempted to paint your own cassette spacers.)

At the first stop, I noticed slightly different micturition practices, as one of the group pulled up a shorts leg to pee – while I always pull down the waistband. Perhaps this could be a bone of contention and spark a Lilliputian vs. Blefuscan conflict of Brobdignagian proportions. Or, maybe not.

It was during this stop that Crazy Legs overheard a conversation in which one of our esteemed members claimed to have been informed he was a peerless descender by no lesser authority than “world champion (sic) Alberto Contador.”

Options were outlined and decision were made on different route choices, with the first splinter group happily turning to head up the Quarry, while the rest of us went tearing down the Ryals.

I tucked in, freewheeling all the way and quickly picked up speed, hitting the front until the Red Max and the Plank, swept past pedalling furiously. As soon as they eased I closed them down again, all the while pulling Crazy Legs along behind me as he surfed in my slipstream.

At the bottom and while everyone flashed past and on to loop around Hallington Reservoir, I turned right and pulled over to wait for Sneaky Pete, having previously agreed to take the shorter, but much hillier option up past Hallington Hall, Sol Campbells stately pile. This narrow, partly shady, tree-lined route, climbs and twists through a series of relatively sharp ramps and is one of my favourite roads, if only because we don’t use it all that often.


NOVATEK CAMERA


I was climbing well and felt good as we crested the hill and started to drop back down to the junction with the main road. This spat us out directly in front of a bunch of cyclists that I thought were the group we’d just left, but actually turned out to be our first group. As we closed on the testing drag, up Humiliation Hill, beZ and Andeven whirred past, followed a split second later by Shoeless and the rider in the old La Vie Clair jersey and I dropped in behind them.

beZ and Andeven started to pull away on the climb, so I threaded the needle between Shoeless and La Vie Claire (or perhaps from their perspective, simply barged them out of the way) and gave chase. Tagging onto the back of the front two, I camped there comfortably as they swept uphill, quickly pulling away from everyone else, before we swung east and powered toward Capheaton.

At the last, steep clamber up to road that leads to the Snake Bends, I floated up beside beZ and we rolled the rest of the way, chatting about his experiences of mixing it with the big boys during the Beaumont Trophy and where he needs to improve his bike handling skills and confidence, seemingly the only thing limiting his brilliant performances from being bloody brilliant performances.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

At the café, I joined Captain Black and Princess Fiona at one of the tables outside. She’d just returned from a cycling-motorbiking trip to the Pyrenees. First reassuring myself that she hadn’t been on a Harley, I was interested to know what it was like as Crazy Legs is eyeing up this area for our next foreign expedition.

Talk of the Pyrenees and the Tour, had me extolling the Cycling Anthology series of books and in particular Volume 5 which includes a chapter on Superbagnères by Edward Pickering. This described Stage 15 of the 1971 Tour de France, which was a balls-to-the-wall, short stage of just 19.6km straight up from Bagnères-de-Luchon to the summit. The author described the action as being like a mass start time-trial, with every man for himself. The stage was won by Jose Manuel-Fuente, but all 99 riders in the field were separated by just 10 minutes and the biggest group across line was only 4 strong.

Apart from reminding me of Fuente, a rider whose name I was particularly fond of chanting to encourage struggling riders up hills when I was a kid … Foo-entay! … Foo-entay! … I thought the idea of a super-short, chaotic and uncontrollable stage, straight up a mountain was well worth revisiting – a real mano a mano contest among the climbers and GC riders, stripping away all the team support and tactical “footsie” that usually takes place before a decisive summit finish.

Recognising the stage would be perhaps too short to make good TV, it could then be combined with the sort of downhill time-trial Sean Kelly seems to advocate. I’d watch anyway.

With the first cup of coffee consumed, Princess Fiona somehow manouvered Captain Black into attending to her refill needs, before presenting him with her dainty, little cup.

Captain Black looked quizzically at it:

“What’s that?”

“It’s because she’s a lay-dee.” I explained.

Captain Black listened carefully to the very precise specification required for Princess Fiona’s coffee refill, tugged his forelock, bowed and backed away from the table.

“Yus, m’lady.”

He then wandered into the café, determined to get it wrong so he’d never be asked again.

Princess Fiona and Captain Black decided to take the long route back via Stamfordham and started to gather their things together to leave.

“Is there anything you need him to carry for you?” I joked, but could see Princess Fiona giving the question very serious consideration, before she demurred.

As they left, I moved across to the next table, where the Colossus was handing out free advice on how to go about painting cassette spacers. Given the fact he’d bought 3 different paint colours (green, red and blue) to go with G-Dawg’s yellow to recreate the World Champion bands and used only a tiny amount of each, there was talk of establishing a set of “club paints” that could be handed to those most in need. It was decided however that these would probably go the way of the semi-mythical “club rollers” that we know exist, we just don’t know where they are and who has them.

Appreciation of the La Vie Clare jersey brought a slightly too enthusiastic, near orgasmic, “Oh, yes,” from Taffy Steve, in a voice that was an unfortunate cross between the Churchill dog, a Kenneth Williams, “ooh matron” and a Terry Thomas-style, “ring-a-ding-ding.” Not that we drew any attention to it, of course.

Talk turned to upcoming movie releases, with the majority expressing their boredom with super-hero movies, for which the best antidote was deemed to be Lego Batman.

The Garrulous Kid though wasn’t done with super-heroes.

“I’m really looking forward to Four. Will you go and see that?” he asked me.

“Well, no, I haven’t seen One, Two or Three, so there doesn’t seem much point.” I replied, struggling to keep a straight face.

“No, I mean Four:Free.”

“Huh?” I feigned incomprehension.

“You know, the one with Four, the Norse God of Funder…”

As we were leaving the Garrulous Kid announced that now he’s finished school for the summer he was free to ride at any time. He asked if there were any mid-week groups he could join up with.

“Don’t you regularly go out on a Wednesday?” I innocently asked Sneaky Pete, earning a very sneaky kick in the shin for my efforts as he shushed me. Ouch!


We set off for home and I found myself climbing Berwick Hill with Crazy Legs.

“How you doing?” he asked and I had to admit I was floating and feeling good. Bet that’s not going to last.

As I turned off for home and left the others behind, Princess Fiona sailed past in the opposite direction having completed the longer route back through Stamfordham. Then, the obligatory 5 paces behind, Captain Black followed, undoubtedly slowed-down by all the baggage he was carrying for her.

Dropping down toward the river I had one last challenge as a racing trap sped past at a full speed gallop on the road below. I swung through the junction onto the road behind and gave chase. At about 25 mph I think I was beginning to close it down, but the driver was already easing the horse back to a trot. Those things are fast.

Across the river I found myself in the middle of a massive traffic jam and took to a bit of pavement surfing and threading between the cars, which earned me at least one “dick-head” comment from a very frustrated driver. A small price to pay to avoid being stuck for half an hour or more, sucking up exhaust fumes and going nowhere fast.

After that it was a relief to break out onto quieter roads, even if they did lead straight up the Heinous Hill to home.


YTD Totals: 4,140 km / 2,572 miles with 48,613 metres of climbing

There and Back Again

There and Back Again

Day#3  L’Alpe d’Huez

Total Distance:                                25 km / 16 miles with 1,033 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         1 hours 50 minutes

Average Speed:                                13.6 km/h

Group size:                                         3

Temperature:                                    31°C

Weather in a word or two:           Hotter


 

taba

The Ride


I awoke rather groggily to find someone had broken in during the night and filled my legs full of concrete and it took me a while to get moving. When I did, I found Crazy Legs busily flitting around and dressed to ride.

“Whassup?”

“I’m going to ride up the Alpe.”

I needed to ride to try and rediscover where my legs were.

“Wait, I’m coming.”

“How long do you need?”

“15 minutes.”

“Ok.”

As we reached agreement, Captain Black emerged, blinking and yawning. Rest had obviously done him good and Twatty MacTwat Face had reverted back to being Old Faithful. I told him the plan and he hauled his ass into gear too – 3 for the Alpe!

It wasn’t much longer than 15 minutes later and we turned right out of the campsite, pushed the pedals around half a dozen times and found ourselves once again on the first ramp up the mountain to L’Alpe d’Huez.

I took the first couple of hairpins out of the saddle and turning a modestly large gear, until feeling returned to my lower extremities and the stiffness stated to dissipate. I then dropped onto the granny ring, and plonked myself down to spin slowly upwards.

Behind me Captain Black got half way round the first hairpin and was shocked to find just how hard it was. Just before he turned round to head back, thinking he obviously hadn’t recovered from the day before, he finally looked down and realised he was still on the big ring. There was a sudden, resounding, clunking, wince-inducing clang of stressed and tortured metal that reverberated around the mountains, as he changed down under intense pressure and finally found instant relief and his climbing form.

The three of us worked our way slowly up the mountain, pausing frequently at various shady vista’s and viewpoints, picking out the past winners signs on the corners, taking photos and chatting with other cyclists.

The signs were a roll-call, highlighting some of cycling’s great and good (and occasionally villainous) – both past and present, ranging from the imperious, il campionissimo, Fausto Coppi in 1952, right up to Thibaut Pinot in 2015.

I found signs commemorating wins by Bernard Hinaut, Gianni Bugno, Stephen Rooks, Frank Schleck, Pierre Rolland, Carlos Sastre, Andy Hampsten and Hennie Kuiper among the more famous and celebrated of the winners.

Lance Armstrong’s name is still up there (twice) despite having his Tour victories annulled, along with two for the equally dubious and questionable Marco Pantani, who still holds the record for the fastest ascent of the mountain in an astonishing – no doubt rocket-fuelled, but still astonishing time of under 38 minutes.

I have to admit though, that even taking time to hunt them out and read the signs, I still missed one or two, including Joop Zoetemelk’s 1976 sign which I’d vowed to desecrate in honour of Lucien Van Impe. (Only kidding, nice Dutch folk!)

As previously mentioned, I found the signs totally underwhelming – so much so that I didn’t even bother photographing any of them – but here’s one I prepared earlier (or pinched from the Internet anyway).


huezs


As we were making our way around one hairpin, our bête noire from Saturday made a reappearance, as a bumbling Harley Davidson blatted loudly up the road and awkwardly around the bend, leaving a trail of greasy exhaust fumes in its wake.

“Your bike’s shit!” an indignant Crazy Legs shouted after the motorcycle, unfortunately just as another rider pulled up alongside him. This rider gave him a long, quizzical look before deciding he was in the presence of a sun-touched Englishman and he didn’t need to defend the honour of his Cannondale SuperSix. Just to be sure, he accelerated smartly away to avoid further insult to his bike and Crazy Legs can at least take a little credit for spurring one rider on to set a good time.

At the village of La Grade we stopped in a welcome patch of shade, where an elderly rider and his support-vehicle-driving wife were sitting enjoying the views. Our talk turned to decomposition rates as Captain Black enjoyed a belated breakfast banana and Crazy Legs described in intimate detail how the discarded skins turned black, slimy and wizened along the way. “Speaking of black, slimy and wizened,” he declared, starting to reach down the front of his shorts, “My knackers could do with a bit of relief.”

“Hey, nice day, isn’t it?” the support-vehicle-driving wife drawled, stepping in with a nice bit of deflection.

“Oh, hello,” Crazy Legs responded, quickly withdrawing his probing digits and thinking fast, “I thought you were Dutch …”

It turned out they were American, from California, on holiday so the husband could enjoy a second-crack at riding the Alps. We then had a brief chat which concluded rather awkwardly when the wife offered sympathy over the “terrible, tragic things” in the UK and we had to ask whether she meant the terror attacks, the Grenfell Tower fire, or being lumbered with lame-duck, Prime Minister who would sell her own mother cling to power.

She meant the tower fire, which is obviously a cataclysmic tragedy, but not something we were ever likely to be personally invested in and it seemed an odd, discordant thing to bring up with total strangers on a bright sunny day, half-way up a mountain in France.

We kept going and stopped again at what we think was Dutch Corner, afforded the opportunity to look down and appreciate how far we’d climbed, the vista opening out to show the road below, twisting and turning sinuously through multiple hairpins as it snaked up the mountain. Crazy Legs recalled watching the Dauphine from this vantage point in 2010 as a rampant Alberto Contador made multiple impressive attacks before breaking clear to win the stage.


alpe
Reg in repose © Clive Rae


As we pushed on the other two slowly drew ahead and I was happy to trundle along at my own pace, slowing down and swinging right across the road to peer myopically at the signs on the hairpins and try to pick out past Tour stage winners.

More snaps from the photographers, the long drag upwards, a sarcastic slow-hand clap from the inflatable King of the Mountains and I was across the finish line and taking a seat next to Crazy Legs and Captain Black in the same café we’d stopped at the first time up the Alpe. Captain Black won the race to first beer of the day.


me
© Griffe Photos


And then we spaced ourselves well out for the fun of the descent. It was to be this, more than anything, which gave me an appreciation of just how big a task cycling up a mountain actually is – it took almost 15 minutes to whirr down to the bottom and every hairpin I thought was the last one was followed by another and then another. Looking back around the corners was also the first time I appreciated just how steep some of the ramps actually were, it’s not something you get a good impression of while struggling up them.


alpdown
Captain Black assures me that tiny speck in the road is me descending the Alpe © Anthony Jackson


And then, sadly it was over, we were done and back at the campsite and climbing off for the last time.

By this time my legs no longer felt like concrete, maybe more like hard cheese – a Cheshire or a Red Leicester perhaps. Either way an improvement of sorts. We broke the bikes down and packed them up, then picked up Steadfast and wondered into town for a few drinks and a late lunch.

The patron of the bar was apparently quite upset she couldn’t offer us any food, “Je suis desole!” but we were happy with baguettes and cornets des frites to accompany the beer. The Hammer joined us, fresh from a ride up to Allemont and then finally Goose appeared after a day alternatively spent walking and lazing by the pool. A few beers and we wandered up to the Dutch restaurant for the last supper.

All this time we talked an unending stream of nonsense (as usual): how Pierre Latour somehow acquired the name Roger, the immorality of any sport that needs judges to decide a winner, Tyneside legend Dave the Dwarf, once spotted drinking in the incongruous company of towering Scottish lock forward Doddie Weir. This led to an attempt to calculate how many dwarves you could reasonably expect in China’s 1.4 billion population and serious concerns about where all the Chinese dwarves are hiding.

We learned that Goose had been inspired by tales of a granny who was arrested for pointing a hairdryer at speeding cars in her village during a (seemingly hugely successful) attempt to get them to slow down. He revealed he had then taken this as inspiration for his own brand of traffic vigilantism, patrolling the streets around his home and leaping unexpectedly out at any motorist he suspects of speeding, arm raised, hand out while intoning a very simple, authoritative and stentorian: “No!”

We managed to calculate bills and work out a way where no one (hopefully) felt out of pocket and discussed doing something similar next year, or the following, although Crazy Legs declared he’s more or less done with the Alps, so we thought up a few alternatives such as Spain – the Pyrenees or Basque region, Tuscany, or perhaps, radically even somewhere flat like the Netherlands.

And then we wandered back, packed and slept, woke and showered, loaded the van, endured an unfriendly chalet inspection, settled our bills, waved off the Hammer and set out for home.

Swiss custom officials were strangely no happier to see us go than they had been to see us arrive and Heathrow customs officials managed to outdo them in terms of inertia, apathy and glowering disaffection.

We bade “bon voyage” to Steadfast, returning to his home along the south coast and the Goose wandered off in search of the best deals he could find on Toblerone. While we waited for our connecting flight, Captain Black stood us a round of coffee’s and had to double-check the price several times before he realised he wasn’t in Geneva airport and didn’t need to take out a second mortgage to pay for them.

The “barista” asked for his name and he momentarily confused me by saying Ant rather than Captain Black, or just the Captain. He obviously confused the barista even more as the coffee’s arrived with “Hans” carefully scribed on every cup.


hans
©Anthony Jackson


“Oh no,” I suggested to Crazy Legs, “That makes you Knees and me Boomps-a-Daisy.”

We then sat around discussing the worlds woes and how to correct them, until Crazy Legs looked at the flight board and realised our gate was closing in 10 minutes and we were in real danger of being left behind!

A quick, power-walk through the terminal had us tagging onto the very back of the queue, before clambering aboard our connecting flight to Newcastle and home.

At the other end we kept an intent and anxious watch on the baggage carousel, waiting for the arrival of bike bags and boxes and getting a little concerned as time dragged on, the crowd started to thin and the conveyor belt slowly emptied. Then Goose took a step backwards and fell over our bikes which the ninja baggage handlers had delivered by hand and stealthily dropped off right behind us.

Home, safe and sound and largely intact.

So, two days of travelling, Thursday 15th June and Monday 19th June bookended 3 days of riding, the Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Over the three days we were out on the bikes for 22½ hours, rode 251 kilometres or 156 miles in around 14 hours with almost 6,900 metres of climbing including, L’Alpe d’Huez (twice), the Sarenne, Lauterat, Glandon, Croix de Fer, Télégraph and mighty Galibier.

BA Flights form Newcastle to Geneva via Heathrow cost £160 each.

Budget Car van hire, plus fuel was £478.24, or £95.65 per person (5 people)

Two chalets at the Cascades Campsite, Bourg d’Oisans, cost £698.41, or £116.40 per person (6 people)

The total cost for my trip was around £372, plus meals, food and drinks.

Having been back a couple of weeks now, I can honestly say if someone offered me the exact same trip, with the exact same rides (even including all the pain and misery of the Circle of Death) I wouldn’t hesitate and I’d sign up immediately.


YTD Totals: 3,844 km / 2,304 miles with 46,068 metres of climbing

 

Freak Wallaby

Freak Wallaby

Club Run, Saturday 27th August, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  102 km/63 miles with 700 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                        4 hours 4 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.0 km/h

Group size:                                       20 riders, 3 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   16°C

Weather in a word or two:           A game of two halves


The Ride:

3 september
Ride Profile

By heck, isn’t the Vuelta entertaining this year, in a way the Tour singularly failed to be. Not that I’m one of those people who would say the Tour was boring. Predictable? Yeah… maybe, in that the final result was widely known half way in, but boring? Then again I’m a person who sees a certain savage grandeur in the way Team Sky ratchet up the pressure on climbs until the rest of the field get gradually worked loose and slowly whittled down. Or “strangled” as the critics would unkindly insist.

Anyway, at least old Stone Face has actually decided to fight for the Vuelta, he’s climbing fantastically well and the Ungainly One is just about hanging on by his fingernails. We could yet see someone giving the Sky behemoth a right kicking*.

One minor gripe though – is it just me, or has Sean Kelly decided that Simon Yates rides for Ulrika Bike Exchange?

[*After Sunday’s stage it looks like only a catastrophe will derail Stone Face as the Sky behemoth and the Ungainly One were well and truly outfought and outthought in a classic Contador ambush that Quintana profited from. El Pistolero might not have the legs anymore, but there’s no one to match him tactically – he’s what my old boss would call a “wiry old fox”]

Meanwhile, somewhere in the North of England, Saturday’s weather was promising heavy rain showers on just about every forecast I checked – the only real question was just when they were going to hit, although mid-ride at 11.00 seemed to be the general consensus.

The promise of perhaps-maybe half a ride in dry conditions was enough to tip the balance in favour of Reg, despite the newly serviced and primed Peugeot, complete with mudguards, sitting there looking hopeful. Not yet, mon ami, but your time will come.

Of course I may have made the wrong decision as the slight grating noise of a couple of weeks ago seems to have returned. As I levelled out along the valley floor and the noise of traffic fell away I heard a strange, chirping from the drive-train which was grumbling away and seemed to be calling out to me: freak, freak, freak – wallaby … pause … freak, freak, freak – wallaby.

The noise disappeared when I freewheeled, or quietened to a whisper when I jumped out of the saddle, but always came back annoyingly, freak, freak, freak – wallaby. I pressed on, knowing the problem wasn’t going to get any better, but hoping it wasn’t going to get worse and plotting how I could get the bike to Patrick at Brassworks Bicycle Company to let him try and figure out what the problem is.

As I made my way across to the meeting point I passed a group of half a dozen riders, all decked out for extreme weather in rain jackets, tights and overshoes. In just a jersey and shorts, they made me feel rather under-dressed and perhaps wildly unprepared for what was to come. Did they know something I didn’t?

At the meeting point though, I was re-assured to find very few of us had our winter bikes out and even fewer were wearing much beyond shorts and jerseys – if we were going to get soaked – we’d be doing it all together.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

Rab D arrived astride his old winter hack, with the BMC Time Machine left safely at home, not because he worried about riding it in the rain, but because he felt if things turned really mucky he’d have to disassemble half the bike just to clean it properly.

If he was waiting for ideal atmospheric conditions to ride his new toy, we determined there was probably only 3 days a year when he could safely use it – and we’d had 2 of those already.

Crazy Legs turned up with tales of the Bank Holiday club run last Monday, which he described as the worst ride. Ever. I had been tempted to ride too, but had missed out and in the process perhaps dodged a bullet.

The day had started auspiciously enough with a plan to ride to the coast, but the group had somehow ended up travelling along the Spine Road, one of the most heavily trafficked routes in the County, on a Bank Holiday, in decent weather and with the Tall Ships departure from Blyth enticing an inordinate amount of cars onto the road.

Unable to find a misplaced, mis-remembered crossing point and desperate to escape the deadly rush of traffic, Crazy Legs had utilised Google Earth to identify an old track they could use to by-pass the road and led them down it.

The track however narrowed, turned boggy and then marooned them in the middle of wildly, overgrown and nettle-riddled field as it completely disappeared. At this point there was some discussion about whether they should turn back and face death by road traffic accident, or press on and face drowning in quicksand. Crazy Legs though was convinced nothing could be worse than riding down a dual carriageway in that traffic.

At one point, he said he was riding through the wilderness so carefully and so precariously that horseflies were feasting on his legs, but he didn’t dare let go of the handlebars to swat at them.

Finally shouldering their bikes, the group fought and clambered their way out onto a farm track, muddied, bloodied, bitten, stung, lost, tired and utterly miserable – emerging like a defeated army from the jungle and right under the nose of a local famer, who must have seen nothing quite like it in all his days, but didn’t bat an eyelid and completely ignored them!

They’d then found themselves traversing back along the Spine Road battling the terrifying, Tall Ships and Bank Holiday swollen traffic. Crazy Legs rode the entire way home behind Plumose Pappus to try and shelter him a little, convinced the youngster was going to be sucked under the wheels as he fluttered like a moth caught on a windscreen every time a lorry thundered past.

Red Max showed up without the Monkey Butler Boy, the allure of riding his new bike apparently having worn off, allowing him to once again reconnect with his teenage genes and demand to be left in bed.

Max had warned him there would be dire consequences and sure enough, as he left the Monkey Butler Boy was being presented with a list of domestic chores to complete since he wasn’t out riding. Now that’s the kind of motivation that can make an Olympic champion.

Mini Miss was out on her brand new Focus, having had her old bike completely replaced by the company after it had developed a crack along the top tube. She said she’d received a particularly terse and uncommunicative text from her daughter the previous night that simply read, “I’m not coming home.” We were assuming this was just a one off arrangement and not a long term declaration of intent.

Even Mini Miss however had to admit that Red Max trumped her, when he described a similar text from his daughter, “Dad, I’m moving out and I’m pregnant.”  Kids, eh?


I dropped into place, 3rd in line alongside Son of G-Dawg as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, chuckling as the Red Max proved he’d chase down just about anything, swerving across the road in vain pursuit of a crow while shouting Ca-Caw, Ca-Caw and receiving a remarkably similar squawk of complaint in return.

We did wonder what might have happened if the bird had been so panicked it had flown off into his front wheel and it reminded us of the time we were ambushed by a pheasant that had clattered into flight from the roadside, right under the nose of our lead rider as we lined it out downhill for the café sprint. That had been a close enough call for us to treat our avian friends with a degree of caution.


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Red Max and Crazy Legs rotated off the front as we crested the hill past the Cheese Farm and Taffy Steve and Ovis took up the pace as we rattled and bumped along a series of badly cracked and cratered rode surfaces that are becoming pretty much the norm in these parts.

Further on and I rolled through onto the front with Son of G-Dawg, starting to pick our own route as we came to junctions with no instruction from further back and guessing we were making the right choices when there were no barking complaints from behind. It was a bit like playing Russian Roulette with a route map, or reading one of those adventure game-books. I hoped we didn’t take a wrong turn and end up in a den full of rabid trolls and kobolds.

At one junction we went left simply because they’d been trimming hedges on the right and we had visions of mass punctures. Yes, it’s autumn already so they’re starting to strew the clippings from thorn bushes across the road to deter cyclists.

Caught in a slightly too large gear with an immediate climb after the turn, I rose out of the saddle and stamped hard on the pedals and we flew upwards dragging everyone out in a long line behind.

Bursting round a sharp right hand turn at the top of the climb, our sudden appearance surprised a BMW approaching at too high a speed and already starting to swing wide across the road. Luckily the driver had time to brake and correct their line and the group behind managed to squeeze past.

A bit further on and travelling down a narrow country lane, Son of G-Dawg called out, “Car up!” and accelerated sharply so I could tuck in behind him. Even singled out and hugging the gutter, the bright red Toyota Yaris passed frighteningly close and frighteningly fast – and behind us the almost inevitable happened.

I’m still not quite sure if the car actually clipped Mini Miss, or came so close she took desperate and evasive action, but she ended up tangling wheels with Buster and coming down, while he bailed out for the safety of a roadside ditch.

I was astounded that the driver even stopped, but apparently this was just so she could tell us that we shouldn’t be riding on the road, while we, being the nicest, most polite cycling club known to man tried to reason with her in a rational manner. Perhaps this was the time when some incoherent swearing and outright anger might actually have served us better and made more of an impression.  Then again, maybe not.

As it was, satisfied she hadn’t quite managed to seriously injure anyone, completely unrepentant, utterly convinced she’d done nothing wrong and wasn’t in any way responsible, the driver climbed back into her car, slammed the door and roared away to endanger other weird people who mistakenly feel they have the right to use the roads, leaving us to assess the damage.

Mini Miss has somehow snapped the end completely off her brake lever and Buster was particularly chagrined to find his rear mudguard had been smashed to pieces, just after he’d finally managed to get it to stop rubbing. Luckily all the damage seemed to be to bikes rather than people, although on the ride back Buster complained his hip was causing some discomfort.

We regrouped slowly before pressing on and since we were close to a usual split point decided we wouldn’t stop again, but drop into different groups on the fly. Unfortunately, not everyone got the message and as the amblers split off for the café, Happy Cat missed the turn and uncharacteristically found herself tagging along with the faster, longer, harder group.


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She’d also taken the weather forecasts to heart and was wearing a baggy and billowing waterproof jacket that not only acted like a drogue parachute, but slowly began to boil her as the pace increased and she fought to hang on.

We finally called a halt to split the group again, carefully steering Happy Cat away from the longer, harder, faster self-flagellation ride, but Taffy Steve failed to convince another struggler who was lured away by the siren song of the racing snakes, perhaps never to be seen again.

Happy Cat managed to ditch the jacket, stuffing it roughly into two of the pockets of her jersey and then it was just a case of hanging on as we wound our way back to the café.

I suggested that now she’d ridden and survived with the longer, harder, faster group she’d struggle to ever go back to the amblers. She was still smiling, but I don’t think I convinced her.

Down through Milestone Woods and over the rollers, I ran up the outside of the group and was sitting perched on the shoulder of the lead man as we dropped down and then began the long drag up to the café. A quick glance behind showed me Son of G-Dawg and G-Dawg stacked on my wheel, so I buried myself in an impromptu lead out until they swept around me and I could sit up.

A few others passed me as well, but faded as the slope ground on and I managed to claw back and overhaul them. Then just as I approached the white finish line, Taffy Steve charged up on my outside, screaming incoherently and threw his bike over the line in a fair imitation of Chris Hoy, stealing the sprint by a tyre’s tread.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

A deeply traumatised Crazy Legs couldn’t let it go and circulated photos of their epic trek into the Northumberland Badlands during the Bank Holiday Club Run from Hell, including one shot of OGL leading his bike while he tip-toed gingerly along a very narrow, very muddy trail perched precariously above a marshy and incredibly boggy rivulet.

Another photo showed cyclists adrift in an overgrown field that had deliberately been left fallow … for a decade or three perhaps, while the most damning was left until last – a picture of the much cosseted Ribble, befouled, begrimed and mud-spattered to such a degree that the brakes would no longer function because of the build-up of mud, grit and crap caught up in them.

The conversation turned to the Planet X outlet where Crazy Legs suggested he’d been lucky to escape without treating himself to a new TT bike on a recent visit. I happened to mention the Vittoria Anniversary, limited edition shoes they were currently selling, RRP £220, but reduced to £34 and made from very glossy, very shiny “gold medal microfibre.”

Sadly, they didn’t have my size, nevertheless I think I managed to horrify everyone by suggesting that I would even consider wearing bright gold shoes and they all agreed it was a step too far and I would need to dominate every sprint to be able to carry something like that off.


SHVIUNQ30_P2
Check out these bad boys


The conversation then turned to Reg, my Holdsworth frame which had also come to me via Planet-X. Being a somewhat, err, distinctive design in an eye-bleeding combination of vile red, poisonous black and acid yellow, with the group wondering if I’d been instantly attracted to it.

I had to confess to loathing the frame on first sight, but it had been an absolute bargain and I thought it would serve as a stopgap until I got something better. Then I’d slowly grown to appreciate it’s somewhat esoteric and divisive looks – to such an extent that it now influences what I wear.

Taffy Steve suggested it was somewhat akin to going to the puppy pound for a pedigree dog and being chosen by the ugliest, rattiest, scrattiest, flea- ridden pug in the entire place, that wouldn’t let you leave without it.


Tour des Flandres 2010
We might be the ugliest, rattiest, scrattiest, flea-ridden combo going, but in my minds-eye at least we (almost) look this cool!


Crazy Legs had been out with G-Dawg the night before, sampling the wares at a local brewery, where the pair of them wrestled myopically with a long, poorly printed beer menu in bad light. Crazy Legs had resorted to his Nooz reading glasses, slipping them out of his wallet and slapping them on long enough to determine that Beer#1 was a lager and #2 was a bitter.

Of course G-Dawg was utterly delighted by the slightly unusual style of the Nooz specs and had ripped the piss mercilessly out of Crazy Legs for the rest of the night, until leaning conspiratorially across and quietly asking – “What do you call them specs and where can I get some?”

Taffy Steve was questioned about the NTR Club Runs which take place every Tuesday and Thursday evening, involving upwards of 80 riders at a time and all impeccably organised into different groups and abilities via Facebook. In the realms of club run organisation they are multi-spectral and satellite earth-imaging compared to our water dousing with bent willow twigs.

I was interested to learn if they continued the rides throughout the year, even when the nights became dark and cold and Taffy Steve reminded us he’d first started riding with them just before Christmas last year. We decided he was perhaps unique in British Cycling as the only person to ever join a club in the middle of December.


I left Crazy Legs and the G-Dawg collective camped out in the café declaring it was too early to leave and if they went home now they’d be expected back at the same time every week, but everyone else was pressing to see if they could beat the rain home, so I joined the general exodus.

It wasn’t to be, however and the much-forecast rain finally arrived as we grouped up before setting off, delaying slightly while everyone dug out their rain jackets. Once started the rain didn’t ease and everything and everyone were soon soaked through, but at least it wasn’t cold and the rain had had the good grace to hold off until after we exited the café.

The Prof introduced me to one of the FNG’s who also lives south of the river, so as I exited the Mad Mile I had company for a change as we worked our way down to the bridge.

Crossing the river, he then turned right, while I swung left and I was soon alone again with just my thoughts, the rain drumming on my helmet and back and that insistent, persistent murmur of protest from the bike under me; freak, freak, freak – wallaby…


YTD Totals: 4,938 km / 3,068 miles with 48,766 metres of climbing