Bad Timing

Bad Timing

Club Run, Saturday 27th April 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:107 km/67 miles with 1,140 m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 3 minutes
Average Speed:26.5 km/h
Group Size:28 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature: 12℃
Weather in a word or two:Showery

Ride Profile

It was a bit showery as I set out and the forecast suggested more of the same throughout the day, so back to winter jacket and overshoes and, for the ride across at least, the extra protection of my Galibier rain jacket with the off-centre zip. Even if it wasn’t strictly needed to keep me warm and dry, it would at least give Crazy Legs a laugh.

I once again got caught at the level crossing for long minutes, until the slowest train in existence squealed past, belching a trail of filthy black smoke. Bad timing. It’s such a rare delay, but that’s the second time this year already. Still, at least it gave me a Dylanesque ear-worm for the rest of my ride across.

There’s slow, slow train coming up around the bend…

I think I must still have been channelling the slow train as I rolled in to the meeting point in an apparently desultory fashion, bleeding off speed and letting momentum dwindle, as I bumped up and over the kerb and finally coasted to a stop.

“That,” Crazy Legs opined, “Was the most unenthusiastic arrival I’ve ever seen.”


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

If my arrival was subdued, the Garrulous Kids, in direct contrast, was full of exuberance, swooping down the pavement at high speed, before swerving around us and skidding to a stop. He started visibly bouncing up and down, and immediately began to jabber away breathlessly .

“Whoa! Easy, easy! Down boy, down … down,” G-Dawg instructed, leaning on all his hard-earned skills and experience controlling a hyper-active pair of loopy Labradors. It seemed to work.

We were introduced to an FNG, who we then introduced to Szell, who had shaken off his torpid slumbers to return to us from an extended period of deep, deep hibernation.

Crazy Legs suggested that even if the new guy struggled, he would probably find himself in safe, steady company with Szell.

“What you’re saying is, I’m the slowest of the slow?” Szell offered in mock indignation.

“I was trying to compliment you!” Crazy Legs protested.

“Well, I’m not used to being complimented in this group, so naturally it didn’t register.”

Ride leader for the day, G-Dawg, outlined the route, which included another descent into the Tyne Valley, this time via a new, “hidden” road that many of us probably hadn’t used before. I was hoping this wouldn’t turn out like the Brigadoon mystery road Crazy Legs had included a few weeks back (Leeful Weapon). Perhaps this time we’d actually be able to find the turn off?Especially as G-Dawg promised it would bypass the ogre-molar speed-bumps on the Wylam road, that had so forcefully ejected my bottle from its cage on our last passage across them.

There was enough of us gathered to warrant splitting into two groups, but our numbers included a healthy contingent of Grogs, whose inevitable departure for their own, highly-secretive ride, was likely to leave the second group light on numbers. With this in mind we agreed a rendezvous point and general regrouping before the drop down to the river.

OGL meanwhile insisted on reconnoitring the route of the Sloan Trophy, before tomorrows race. “To see if anyone’s moved a junction?” I wondered aloud. Head of Marshals for the event, G-Dawg was planning on driving the route the following morning anyway, so didn’t think it was all that necessary, but it gave us an option for a slower, shorter ride.

I bumped off the kerb and joined the front group, the lights turned green and we were released into the flow of traffic.


I spent the first half of the ride alongside the FNG, a mountain-biker who’d found he quite enjoyed road-riding too. He seemed fairly comfortable with the pace and the novelty of riding in close formation.

We swung away past the airport and it wasn’t long before we found what looked like a narrow, farm track and started to head up it. This apparently was the mystery road. We’d found it. We pulled over and settled in to let the second group catch up, being entertained while we waited by a mad March April hare, belting from one side of the adjacent field to the other.

The second group weren’t all that far behind and we heard them coming long before they hove into sight, a growing buzz of laughter and chatter. They split at the junction and the smaller part rode up to join us.

As the two groups coalesced, Carlton was disappointed to find Szell had chosen to ride the shorter route with OGL. Carlton was doing that thing all cyclists do, assessing the group, noting who was strong and, much more importantly, tagging those who you think might be slower than you. The worst and most deflating experience is when you realise you are the weakest link and it’s going to be a long, hard day. I think in Szell’s absence, Carlton felt he’d lost an important safety blanket.

We pushed on climbing up the track toward the crest, where we were caught behind 3 short, plump horses with 3 short, plump riders, a sort of rolling, roly-poly, road block. The ladies found a place to pull over and cheerfully waved us through. Bad timing …

Suddenly, as we started down, the narrow lane became over crowded, two cars travelling in opposite directions, squeezed into the hedgerows to try and inch past each other, while ahead of them a stream of traffic was building up at the junction from the main road, waiting for the track to clear. Behind us, the horse riders resumed their stately progress as the plug in the bottle, while in between, a long ribbon of freewheeling cyclists, pulled into single-file and tried to thread their way through the chaos.

“It’s complete anarchy,” the Colossus announced gleefully. Who’d have thought a few bikes and riders could cause such confusion.

We finally extricated ourselves and dropped down into the Tyne Valley. True to his word, G-Dawg had found a route that avoided the ogre-molars and it was smooth sailing.



Just before we took the riverside path we stopped for a pee break. The Garrulous Kid declared both he and his bike were perfectly and fully coordinated in shades of black, grey and white, before pulling back his sleeve to ostentatiously wave a sleek, black smartwatch in everyone’s face.

“Even my watch matches,” he proclaimed happily.

“So, a new watch then?” G-Dawg enquired casually. How on earth did he guess?

The Garrulous Kid then wandered happily away into a field to commune with nature and irrigate the landscape, before managing to return with a wad of indeterminate, green-grey crap wrapped around one shoe. It definitely wasn’t colour co-ordinated. As we watched, half in horror, half in amusement, he tried prising it off with a twig and succeeded only in flicking it all over his bike.

“You know, I often think think a club run could never provide enough material to sustain a weekly blerg, but I’m constantly being proved wrong.” Taffy Steve observed dryly.

On we went, starting the long climb out of the valley, where I found myself riding alongside Crazy Legs, who seems to be on the road to recovery. The A69 proved wildly busy and we had to hustle and bustle across in ones and twos. Mini Miss and Princess Fiona, scuttling close behind me, earned the ire of one particular arse-hat RIM who lean’t on his horn overlong and probably unnecessarily. I found myself visually asking him to complete a very short countdown with me, from two to one.

We decided to split into faster and slower groups for the run in to the cafe, with Crazy Legs encouraging the FNG to at least try the faster group, knowing he had the safety net of the second group to drop back too if things proved too hard. After a bit of prevarication, I nudged through the crowd and dropped onto Goose’s backwheel as he started to follow the leaders too.

Ahead of us Den Haag, Caracol, Benedict, Andeven and the Garrulous Kid had a sizeable gap and formed a tight knot as they pushed on without pausing, or looking back. For some reason, I thought the climb was going to be much longer and harder than it was and we’d have plenty of time to bridge across before the road levelled.

I was wrong though and we didn’t. Much sooner than anticipated the lead group crossed the crest of the slope and accelerated away. I gave chase alongside Goose, passing the slowing FNG who dropped back to be re-absorbed into the second group.

Uh-oh, I’d just lost the only potential safety blanket I had and now I was that weakest link. Or, at least I would be if we ever made it across to the others – that wasn’t a given as they weren’t hanging round.

I traded long pulls on the front with Goose, as we took turns spearheading a mad chase that was just one long, hard grind across exposed, rolling and heavy roads. 5 kilometres later, just as the front group slowed slightly to swing off the Military Road, we finally caught up.

I thought I would have a chance to rest and recover in the wheels, but the pressure immediately went on again and a gap started to open between the front three and the rest. I pushed through and worked hard to close the move down, but that was me more or less done and from that point I was just waiting for the inevitable coup de grâce.

I managed to hang on as we swept through and climbed out of Matfen, but then the group started to splinter apart under pressure from the front. Caracol and Den Haag rode away, towing the Garrulous Kid behind them, Goose and Benedict formed a chase pair that I vainly tried to follow, while Andeven dropped off the back, probably to give himself a challenge before reeling everyone back in on the hills.

I plugged away on my own, trying to keep Goose and Benedict in sight, but it was a losing battle. I managed to close the gap whenever the road ramped up, but then it almost immediately stretched out again when it levelled. I was tired and running on fumes now, still working hard, but conscious of losing any shape or form, with my shoulders starting to roll more than Bauke Mollema on an Alpine climb.

Andeven zipped past on the Quarry climb and then he too became only a fleeting figure, to be occasionally glimpsed as a prelude to disappearing completely.

By dint of being completely alone, I once more found myself leading the drive up to the crossroads in my group of one, so at least I kept that streak going. Then I was onto the last leg, skating through the Snake Bends and happy to find the main-road traffic free for my final push to the cafe.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I joined a table with Goose and the Garrulous Kid, where we were later joined by Buster and the FNG. University accommodation became a topic du jour, with horror stories of harvesting mushrooms in bathrooms, or waking to find your sheets latticed with silvery slug trails.

As well as the standard agglomeration of empty bottles, Goose recalled the kitchen in his university flat was frequently characterised by a towering, unstable, ziggurat of dirty bowls, plates, cups and mugs, as nothing was ever washed until there was absolutely no alternative.

Meanwhile, Buster remembered settling into his halls, adding the piece de resistance, his beloved Jim Morrison poster to the wall and, job done, relaxing to read the NME guide to student living, where point #1 was never trust anyone with a Jim Morrison poster.

(My own mantra, which I hold to be true to this very day, is never trust anyone in baggy jeans.)

With the Garrulous Kid once more flashing his smartwatch, Goose mentioned how a recent study had found many were horribly inaccurate. Researchers had tested 118 devices using a treadmill to simulate running a marathon and relying on the trackers to measure out the requisite 26.2 miles.

It found that the least reliable was the Garmin Vivosmart 4, which had the poor researcher running 37 miles before it finally declared he’d completed his marathon distance. The Samsung Gear S2 wasn’t a whole lot better (36 miles) while the Xiaomi Amazfit Bip demanded 32 miles out of its tester.

Based on these test results, my fitness tracker of choice would be the Huawei Watch 2 Sport, The best, if you will of all bad timings. This demanded its tester run only 18.9 miles before declaring they had successfully completed a marathon distance – and in record time too!


A busy road on leaving the cafe saw me nipping out between our front group and another approaching bunch of cyclists. As we turned off the main road and all the groups appeared to coalesce behind me, I found myself riding alongside the Colossus.

“Looks like we may have some interlopers ….” I observed, conscious that a group had now closed on my back wheel and knowing the next bunch on the road had been another club.

I briefly tuned in to the babble of conversation behind me, “… although, that one sounds almost exactly like Crazy Legs.” I glanced back. It was indeed the man himself and not some long lost twin or strangely twisted impersonator.

I never saw the other group of cyclists again and have still no idea if they took a different road, stopped so we could regroup, or if we just barged them unceremoniously out of the way.

As we cut through Ogle the Garrulous Kid could no longer contain his rampant enthusiasm and flailed away off the front, to cries from Taffy Steve of “Ride Forrest, Ride!”

I seemed to have recovered from being the whipping boy of the fast group so pushed onto the front alongside Caracol as we started climbing Berwick Hill, picking up and subsuming the Garrulous Kid into our numbers as we sped over the top and started down the other side. We were still on the front through Dinnington, as we powered towards some temporary traffic lights, just as they started to change.

“Stop!” I said .

“Go!” Caracol called at the same instant.

He slowed.

I accelerated.

I slowed.

He accelerated.

Ah, fuck it! Go … go…

We ducked through the lights, pulling G-Dawg and Crazy Legs with us, but stranding everyone else on the other side.

“That,” Crazy Legs sarcastically complimented me, “Was the most decisive bit of ride leadership I’ve seen in a long time.”

What can I say. It was just bad timing.

“They’ll be waiting there a long while,” G-Dawg affirmed, “And they’ll never catch back on.”

“Well, look on the bright side, Crazy Legs told him,” At least you won’t have to race to have first use of the shower today.”


YTD Totals: 2,746 km / 1,706 miles with 36,410 metres of climbing

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Socks and Watts

Socks and Watts

Club Run, Saturday 4th August, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 117 km / 72 miles with 1,216 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 20 minute

Average Speed:                                26.9 km/h

Group size:                                        28 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   22°C

Weather in a word or two:          Not bad.


 

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Ride Profile


It looked like being a disappointing day, with plenty of cloud cover, little wind and the temperature struggling to top out around 17°C first thing. What am I saying … at any other time I would suggest this was perfect cycling weather … if we not been utterly spoiled by weeks and weeks of clear blue skies and ever-present sun.

Nonetheless, I was feeling pretty good, so decided to thrash my way westwards, cross the river and then thrash my way east again. It probably looked really ugly, but the pace was decent and it was fun, until I had to climb out of the valley and found out just how tired my legs now were. Still, I managed to just about recover and made the meeting point in good time.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Monkey Butler Boy was joining us for the start of the run, before meeting up with his delinquent Wrecking Crew for some rough, adolescent bonding and mutually appreciative denigration. His latest wage packet had been spent on some (surely too-tall to be stylish) glaringly white and super-expensive aerosocks.

He complained they were ridiculously tight and uncomfortable and I wondered if their main benefit was in cutting off blood supply to the feet, so toes turn gangrenous and drop off – a marginal, if somewhat extreme, weight saving.

But no, apparently the socks were engineered to manage air flow and, ahem, “reduce the low pressure behind the leg that sucks you backwards.” (Manufacturers hyperbole, but my emphasis.)

“Each sock can save me up to 3 watts!” the Kool-Aid imbibing Monkey Butler Boy declared.

“I’ve tried to persuade him that if he wears 5 pairs he can save 30 watts,” the Red Max concluded dryly.

At this point, the Monkey Butler Boy discovered he’d been sitting in a freshly-laid patch of finest seagull guano, that he’d then smeared all over his hands and shorts.

“Just wipe it off on your socks,” someone suggested.

“Or your shoes,” I added. (They’re still obscenely white.)

The Monkey Butler Boy decided it was best to wipe the guano off with grass, so, as the Red Max looked on it dismay, he proceeded to pull out tiny little tufts of grass and rub them ineffectively over his fingers.

Kids today, eh? They don’t even know how to wipe off shit.

I blame the parents.

As our numbers grew, I looked up and spotted what at first I thought must be a miradjee. But no, when I rubbed my eyes and looked again, the mysterious figure was still there. It was, in all reality, the unfailingly cheerful Dabman, returned to us after an absence of at least a year. In fact, the last time I recalled seeing him, he was sat on a wet road, being unfailingly cheerful while carefully holding onto his snapped collarbone.

I could tell he hadn’t been out on the bike for a long, long time as he was wearing long bibtights and obviously hadn’t received the memo stating that, temporarily at least, global warming had become an established fact in the North East of England.

Or, maybe he needed the bibtights to hold in place all the armour he’s taken to wearing, just in case he suffers another unfortunate “chute.”

Crazy Legs put in a promotional broadcast for self-flagellating masochists to take part in the club 10-mile TT that he’s kindly arranged for us next week, then G-Dawg outlined the days route in microscopic detail. We split into two packs with a re-formation planned at Dyke Neuk to decide options and away we went.


I joined the, this time smaller, front group. It was still a bit chillier than I would have liked, but the temperature was starting to creep slowly upwards and I’d reluctantly persuaded myself to part with my arm warmers.

As we took the road toward the Cheese Farm, those at the back announced the second group was closing rapidly and was in danger of catching us. I could only surmise the Red Max was on the front of the second group, his seeker-head was pinging with active targets to chase down and he was in full-pursuit mode. I didn’t dare think about the number of complaints his pace was likely to be generating from those hanging on his wheel behind.

We decided we would be safe if we could reach the sanctuary of Bell’s Hill, reasoning we could then open up a bigger gap on the climb, and so it proved.


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A sharp left-hand turn at Dobbie’s Debacle, reminded Crazy Legs that he’s intent on naming and mapping all the places where we’ve donated skin, blood, expensive lycra and sprinklings of aluminium and carbon-fibre to enhance the road surface.

Dobbie’s Debacle is the place where I’d slid out at low speed, taking down Taffy Steve on his brand, spanking-new Titanium love-child and putting a terminal hairline fracture into the top-tube of my Focus Cayo. Well, terminal for me anyway – the Prof had taken away the frame, self-repaired it and so birthed the Frankenbike.

There’s a whole host of other landmarks that deserve commemoration too, such as Horner’s Corner, which sadly isn’t a corner (why let the facts get in the way of a good name) but the straight stretch of road where the Plank and Red Max touched wheels during a café sprint, with disastrous, but quite predictable consequences.

Crazy Legs remembered our Icecapades, beautifully choreographed, all-fall-off-in-sequence efforts to rival any Dancing on Ice number. We have both common and a posh varieties of these (based on average house prices in the locale of the accident).

Then, of course, how could we forget the time OGL inexplicably and for no apparent reason, simply fell over while riding in a straight line …

My own notable occasions might include the roundabout, where a Polish girl (who for some reason no longer rides with us) hurled herself to the ground, in what seemed to be a desperate attempt to escape from Cowin’ Bovril.

Or, perhaps the time Princess Fiona was ambushed by a sheep in a Ghillie suit (Righty-Tighty-Lefty-Loosey and the Ovine Menace).

Or, maybe the numerous places where the Dabman has perfected the fine art of, in his own words, “hitting the ground like a sack of spuds”.

But, without doubt the most memorable was on one freezing, poorly attended winter ride, when half a dozen of us turned down a lane we didn’t know was a single, smooth sheet of ice … or, at least we didn’t know until G-Dawg went sailing past everyone … on his arse … followed two seconds later by his supine bike. Somehow, Aether managed to stay upright, steer into the grass verge and stop, while the rest of us all came clattering down, one by one, like dominoes in a row. Good times!

As planned, we reached Dyke Neuk and paused there to allow the second group to join us. I then followed a smaller, break-away section for a route that would see us descending down the Trench and then dragging our way out again via, Ritton Bank, the Rothley Lakes climb and Middleton Bank.

As we worked our way along the valley floor as prelude to this series of climbs, Crazy Legs and Biden Fecht started dancing with much exaggerated, synchronised finger waggling and then Biden Fecht took to bobbing up and down in the saddle.

“Is that your Dan Martin, on the attack, or a pecking chicken impersonation?” I asked, before realising I’d just described two almost identical things. My ignorance was met with great disdain from Biden Fecht, as apparently I’d witnessed, but failed to recognize his sexy, Beyonce-style dance routine.

Rrriiiiiggghhht …

We stayed in compact group until the top of Ritton Bank, when everyone swung left before the summit, apart from Crazy Legs who pushed on for some added miles. At the next junction, we swept downhill, before starting the long slog up to Rothley Crossroads. Caracol, Andeven and Rab Dee had pinged off the front and we became split-up and strung out as we started about 4 kilometres of climbing, with one or two spicy sections of over 16%.

Ahead of me, Caracaol and Andeven pressed on at pace, while Rab Dee dropped back to check on the backmarkers. A creaking Rainman (he claimed it was his cleats, but I suspect it was his protesting knees) caught and passed me on the drag up and we started a strange little ritual, where I would claw my way slowly up to him and then he’d dig a little deeper and pull away again. Nonetheless, I was able to keep him just about within striking distance, until the road finally relented and started to tip down again.

Rainman pulled over just past the Rothley Crossroads, seemingly intent on regrouping with the rest, but I was on a charge and swept straight by. He finally abandoned all pretence of gallantry and gave chase, latching on to my wheel and recovering from his efforts, before we started to work together.

I say work together, but this was implicit, rather than a well-formulated and agreed plan. I think we were both simply going as hard as we could, for as long as we could, just to see where we would end up, or if we could actually kill each other.

I thought we were all alone on the road, well apart from the vole that darted under our wheels at one point. Just behind though, Biden Fecht was chasing furiously and behind him, Rab Dee was also trying to close us down, having first checked the backmarkers were being shepherded safely home by G-Dawg and the Colossus.

A leg-burning ascent of Middleton Bank put us on the path for the café and we started to share turns a bit more fluently, even if my stints on the front were necessarily shorter. They were enough anyway to keep the pursuers at bay. I buried myself over the rollers and took us down to the final, cruel drag up to the café, rounded the corner and I was done, cooked and flailing as Rainman pulled away at the last.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We learned Princess Fiona had booked the wrong return flight for an upcoming trip to Geneva. Apparently, the return was booked for not just the wrong time, the wrong day and the wrong date, but the wrong month.

We tried to rationalise how easy the mistake could be. Was it the right day, but the wrong month and she’d just clicked too far on the calendar?

No.

Was it one of those scrolling menus, where you might inadvertently cause the date to roll over if you accidentally brushed the screen in the wrong way?

No.

Had the flights been changed at short notice by the operator, causing confusion and a bit of last-minute panic?

No.

“Well,” I had to conclude, “Looks like you just fucked up.”

Others confessed to their own flight fuck-ups, probably just to make her feel better. Biden Fecht won this particular contest by bizarrely suggesting he turned up at Heathrow Airport, very, very early one morning, to catch a flight from Aberdeen to London.

Post-Toady France, pre-Premiership, Richard of Flanders bemoaned the lack of sporting distraction available once he got home this afternoon. I tried to sell everyone on the Clásica San Sebastián, which looked to have a strong field, including some potential winners I highlighted, such as Egan Bernal, Mikel Landa and Pierre Latour.

I don’t know what sort of strange-voodoo hex I put on these unfortunates with my casual name-dropping, but all three of them crashed out the race with serious injuries that’ll keep them off the bike for weeks.

I’m just pleased I didn’t mention deserved winner, Julian Alaphillipe, who took the honours with a searing uphill acceleration to bridge across to Bauke Mollema, who was then easily dispatched in a final sprint. I’m struggling to understand how the classy Alaphillipe can climb with such grace, power and speed, but never seems to trouble the GC, even in week long stage races (with the exception of his 2016 Tour of California win).

The sun began to break through the cloud cover as we gathered to head home, leaving one table including G-Dawg, the Colossus and the late arriving Crazy Legs, behind to enjoy some extended blathering.  


As we started up Berwick Hill, the Red Max surged to the front, blinked in surprise and looked around somewhat bewildered.

“Agh! What am I doing up here?” he plaintively asked.

“You’ll get a nose-bleed, if you’re not careful,” I advised.

“I’ll just get me coat,” he replied and slipped back again.

According to Princess Fiona, Caracol then called out an admonition of “Steady!” before he surged away off the front while everyone else hesitated. I worked to slowly close the gap, pulling the rest along behind me, although not without causing a few fissures in the group.

We pushed over the top and regrouped as we sped down the other side and up through Dinnington. Caracol then threw me another curveball, swinging left with the rest of the group, leaving me on the front as we entered the Mad Mile, although at a more sedate pace than usual in the absence of G-Dawg and the Colossus.

I split away from the rest and made my way steadily upwards and then down again to the river. Crossing the bridge and climbing up to the traffic lights, a group of riders flashed through the junction ahead, so naturally I felt compelled to give chase.

The group split at the next roundabout, but I tracked a couple through Blaydon and caught and passed them just before Shibdon pond, only to be stopped short by some temporary traffic lights. As we waited, another, larger group of cyclists joined us and I found myself uncomfortably at the head of a large peloton. No pressure then.

The light changed and I led everyone off, through the roadworks, across the last roundabout and up to the traffic lights at the bottom of the Heinous Hill. I waited for a break in the traffic and then started the climb.

One of the riders surged past, but I didn’t respond, which was just as well as he turned off for the Pedalling Squares café, while I still had the rest of the hill to scale. I assumed the rest also followed him, drawn away by the promise of good cake and coffee, so once again I found myself alone, tacking steadily upwards and home.


YTD Totals: 4,665 km / 2,899 miles with 57,923 metres of climbing

The Devil’s in the Detail

The Devil’s in the Detail

Club Run, Saturday 20th May, 2017       

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  112 km / 70 miles with 879 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 14 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.3 km/h

Group size:                                         24 riders, 2 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    16°C

Weather in a word or two:          Showery


 

May 20th
Ride Profile


The Ride:

I awoke from a disturbed night of chasing multiple wet cats and their multiple mice “house guests” through multiple rooms, feeling generally unrested and mildly nauseous and with thundering headache pounding dully in the back of my skull.

Unusually, I also hadn’t prepared anything the night before, so wasted a whole heap of time dithering about what to wear and trying to second-guess the weather.

Heavy rain showers had rolled over during the night, but now seemed to be clearing. The roads though were still awash and there was every chance we’d be hit by further rain throughout the day. So jersey, shorts and arm warmers were the starting point, but overshoes or not? Knee or leg warmers? Jacket or gilet? I even (very) briefly considered breaking the Peugeot out of mothballs for the added protection of mudguards.

Unpreparedness translated into dithering and then dithering into delay.  As a consequence, it was 15 minutes later than usual when I finally saddled up and pushed off from the kerb. The showers seemed to have cleared for the time being, but the roads were still wet and I dropped down the hill taking extra care to avoid the slickly shining manhole covers and white lines.

In the valley a mental inventory of my back pockets revealed I’d left my spare inner tube as an ugly, useless and impromptu centrepiece in the middle of the dining room table. Having bragged about how pleased I was with my tyres last week, I couldn’t help feel this was tempting fate and the spare was something I might be needing later. Too late now, I just hoped the other two tubes I carried on the bike would be enough if the cycling gods wanted to punish me for my Vittorian-inspired hubris.

Still feeling generally washed-out and a bit “meh” (funnily enough, a word whose precise meaning I’d recently been debating with the Prof) – I took the dual-carriageway-surfing, short-cut across the river and out of the valley.

Somehow, someway I managed to make up lost time and found myself arriving at the meeting point a good ten minutes earlier than usual, my only company a huge, scavenging Herring Gull that seemed intent on giving me the evil eye.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

Today the Prof had volunteered to lead us and had posted up a suitably eccentric route that included precisely 666 metres of climbing and a fun trip, straight down the A69. Trying to share the road with a hurtling mass of death-dealing traffic wasn’t in anyone’s best interests, so various suggestions and amendments had been made, until the proposed route had been knocked into a shape that everyone seemed happy with.

(I quite liked the initial, satanically-inspired 666 metres of climbing, but suspect it didn’t survive the final cut. Maybe that’s just as well though as we have had one rider in the past who refused to wear a club jersey simply because it was made by (the totally respectable) Imp Sport and (allegedly) actively encouraged devil worship. Luckily this rider never learned about my unhealthy Van Impe obsession, or I might have been declared unclean, excommunicated and cast out.)

I was chatting with Taffy Steve and De Uitheems Bloem, when the Prof rolled to a stop behind us.

“Hmm, where is your helmet?” De Uitheems Bloem asked, glancing over at the Prof.

In a moment of surprised befuddlement, the Prof raised both of his hands to comically pat all around his naked head, as if indeed trying to discern exactly where his helmet might have gone. When this failed to reveal the errant headgear hiding somewhere in the fairly limited space between his ears, he finally had to concede he’d simply forgotten to pick it up on the way out of the door.

With the clock ticking down toward official Garmin Muppet Time, a compromise solution was reached and the Prof disappeared around a nearby corner to borrow a helmet from De Uitheems Bloem’s family stock.

By this time G-Dawg had arrived on his winter fixie, apparently in an attempt to preserve the true blue tyres of his best bike in their still pristine condition. Realising that the impending weather was simply too much for “Cloudchaser” to cope with, Crazy Legs had also swapped the cossetted Ribble for his Bianchi, while OGL pulled up and declared, “W.R.W.B.”

I looked at him quizzically, “Huh?”

“Wet roads, winter bike.” He explained.

“Ah.”

Son of G-Dawg had no such qualms about subjecting his all-carbon, aero-stealth bike to a little variable weather and looking it over I noticed his short, stubby stem had no cap on. I wondered if it whistled in the wind and would fill up with water if it rained. Jimmy Mac suggested sticking a straw in it for a handy mid-ride drink, while I finally decided it most resembled an ink well and needed a quill pen to complete the look.

The Red Max was more concerned with the aerodynamic effects and turbulence the hole might cause. Son of G-Dawg indicated his own size compared to the small void in his stem and suggested it really wasn’t going to make that much difference.

The Red Max insisted though that now the issue had been raised it would prey on Son of G-Dawg’s mind. Son of G-Dawg finally conceded the truth of this and promised by next week he’d have carefully fashioned a diaphragm from cling film to smooth out any troublesome airflow.

The Prof returned having not only scored a borrowed helmet, but some specs as well and we were good to go.

With only 24 riders out a single-group with a pre-planned split was agreed and we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


I spent the first part of the ride chatting with the Prof about the intricacies of the Dutch education system and the benefits of a meritocracy. I then had some time with Laurelan discussing festivals and holidays and, more bizarrely, silent jazz disco’s.

From here I rotated through Richard of Flanders, Ovis and the Plank, before ending up back with Laurelan.

“It’s a bit like a barn dance, with ever changing partners,” she suggested as I slotted in beside her again.

“Yep, do-si-do,” I agreed.

“The next thing you know, we’ll all be chucking keys into a bowl,” she added.

“Hmm, that’s not going to work for cyclists,” I countered, “What about multi-tools instead?”

Before we could finalise the correct etiquette to follow for cycling-partner swaps, we were calling a pee stop and I found Crazy Legs ferreting around in his back pocket. Half-expecting him to whip out a multi-tool to throw into a bowl, I was more than a little relieved when he simply brandished a cereal bar in my face, declaring with seemingly great enthusiasm that these were the best, because they were so dry they instantly sucked all the moisture out of your body

“Try some,” he urged.

I cautiously nibbled off a corner which instantly sucked in my cheeks, made my teeth so dry they stuck to my lips, and caused my tongue to curl up and shrivel like a slug basted in salt.

Bloody hell, I can only assume these bars were forged in the heat of the Gobi Desert from a mix of oven-baked sawdust, desiccated coconut, wood ash and silica gel. How on earth do you swallow that? Five minutes later I was still speechless, coughing out dust like a broken vacuum cleaner and I’d gone through half a bottle trying to wash the dustbowl out of my chalky, mummified mouth.


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As we dropped into the Tyne Valley, I slipped to the back of the group and watched the sky turn ominously dark as a light shower transformed itself into lashing rain. Caracol sensibly called a halt and we ducked into a convenient parking space at the side of the road to pull on jackets.

The shower continued to increase in intensity and soon the rain was stotting off the road and cold tendrils of water started sliding their way slowly and unpleasantly into my shoes and shorts.

Cold, wet and feeling decidedly queasy, I was concentrating on ignoring the unpleasant water-ingress while trying to avoid doing a “Mollema” as we pressed on.

I think it’s fair to say that no one was surprised to find the Prof and De Uitheems Bloem riding off the front and away from everyone else in another attempt at Dutch independence, or a Hexit. We chased them down, catching up sometime later as they stopped at a junction, dithering about which way to go next.

“Your planned and published route had us turning off this road long before now.” G-Dawg informed the Prof. Oh dear.

We were now faced with either back-tracking or finding another way to climb out of the valley, using a route that G-Dawg stood at least a fighting chance of managing on his fixie. I recalled Zardoz telling me of one ride with the Wednesday Wrecking Crew of Venerable Gentlemen Cyclists™ when he’d seen G-Dawg and fixie defeated by one particularly steep hill and he’d simply clambered off, shouldered his bike cyclo-cross style and ran up the hill faster than anyone could ride up it.

Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that today.

A few options were discussed, before we settled on a likely route up to the A69, across and then onto the 4th category climb up through Newton. It would be bloody hard going on a fixie, but should be doable for G-Dawg if he got a clear run at it.

Yet more games of Frogger with the A69 gave us a new High Score and Bonus and we managed to escape with all lives intact to start the climb upwards.

I sat and spun away behind G-Dawg, trying to give him as much room as possible and marvelling at the raw power, as he ground the hill slowly down into submission. As we approached the village of Newton a car turned down into the narrow lane, and the riders all slowed and bunched. For an instant it looked like G-Dawg was going to lose all momentum and be forced to stop, but the driver saw us, pulled over to the side and we were able to squeeze past to complete the climb.

More climbing followed and the group started to splinter apart, while I slipped to the back to find Szell struggling on the inclines.

Apparently, up ahead open-season had been declared and all informed that now it was “everyone for themselves” – or as Ovis commented to Crazy Legs, “Ah, a Margaret Thatcher ride!”

I joined a small group that slowly coalesced at the back with G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, Taffy Steve, Red Max, Crazy Legs and Laurelan and we eased to allow Szell to re-join, before picking up speed to follow the rest.

Passing through Matfen, we decided on the fly to miss out the Quarry Climb and route through Stamfordham instead, where we kept the group together and at a civilised pace right up to the road down to the Snake Bends.

At the last, Son of G-Dawg, Taffy Steve and the Red Max popped out to play, skipping off the front to contest a rather subdued sprint, while I was content to sit in amongst the wheels. We regrouped to dart down the lane parallel to the main road and rolled our way to the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

In the café queue, Crazy Legs likened OGL to South Park’s Cartman, patrolling the roads on his “Big Wheel” and demanding everyone: “respect my authoritah!”

“Did you ever watch South Park?” he asked Laurelan.

“Only when I was allowed to,” she replied innocently.

Ouch. Burn.

Meanwhile, on Taffy Steve’s advice, Szell passed up on his usual scone and went for an exotic Mars-Snickers-Malteser-Twix sort of chocolate combination tray bake, only to take a bite and recoil in horror because it was chilled.

We then learned that Szell was the only one around the table who has never had cold chocolate and it was a revelation to him that we all thought it perfectly natural to keep our Dairy Milk and Galaxy in the refrigerator

He was quite astounded that this seemed such a common trait and he eyed up everyone around the table and demanded, “So what else does everyone do that I don’t?”

“Err… ride our bikes from September to April?” Taffy Steve dead-panned.

Ouch. And. Burn.

Dissecting today’s ride, everyone decided that it had gone exactly as they had expected and if they’d prepared a check list in advance the Prof would have managed to tick every box:

Riding away from everyone off the front. Check.

Missing the right route and going off piste. Check.

Leading us onto a dangerous road. Check.

Instigating a hell for leather, chaotic free for all finale. Check.

Taffy Steve was the only one who demurred, insisting at least one thing had been different … because the Prof had borrowed a different pair of specs from his usual pitch-black, Ray-Ban welders goggles, he hadn’t felt the need to tilt his head back and peer myopically out from underneath them when addressing us. Vive le difference.

I then asked if it had been a good ride and if we’d trust the Prof to lead us again and received a resounding yes to both questions. Cyclists, eh?

Thoughts turned to succession planning within the club and we tried to establish if OGL’s son had ever had any interest in cycling. Crazy Legs suspected he’d probably have feigned interest in anything but cycling, even synchronised swimming, in order to avoid riding with his dad.

Despite this lack of cycling interest, we still suspected he might turn up at the meeting point one morning in a carefully staged, super-smooth succession coup, that would make the power transfer of Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un look as complex as a Kudzu plot.


With a bit of food inside, I began to feel better and abandoning my cap, which had served its primary purpose and kept rain and spray out of my eyes, let some air through my helmet vents to my noggin which seemed to help ease the headache.

A heavy hail shower had come and gone as we sat sheltered in the café and now the day slowly started to brighten as we set off. I rode back for the most part alongside Biden Fecht, chatting about books and authors, both cycling and in general, until it was time to split for home.

An uneventful trip back followed and sometime later, sitting in front of my computer, a message popped up from Taffy Steve declaring Strava was “on glue” because he’d been comparing our estimated power outputs on one of the climbs and determined that in order for him to match me he’d need to put out a frankly impossible 750 watts for several minutes.

I have to admit I never pay a great deal of attention to cycling’s more esoteric stats such as power outputs, VAM, heart rates and all the rest. I’d even given up on measuring my heart rate because I kept forgetting to wear the monitor and never looked at the data anyway.

Still, I was mildly intrigued by Taffy Steve’s assertion. I thought I might find some answers by checking my personal details on Strava, reasoning that I’d set the account up a couple of years ago and had shed a few pounds since then and this might be throwing things off.

I was however completely unprepared for what I found – apparently in the box for Weight: I’d entered 170 kgs or 375 pounds – I’d tricked Strava into believing I resembled a starting calibre, NFL defensive lineman who could climb like a gazelle!

I had to shamefacedly admit to Taffy Steve that Strava wasn’t on glue, but I obviously had been when setting up my account. I’ve still no idea where the 170 figure came from and what it refers to – perhaps I’d simply tried to enter my weight in “old money” – troys, cloves or maybe scruples?

I’ve corrected it now, so my Strava stats will no longer look stratospheric and might start to more accurately reflect the travails of a mediocre to startlingly average, strictly amateur, middle-aged cyclist, rather than a freak of nature.


YTD Totals: 3,054 km / 1,898 miles with 33,505 metres of climbing

Questions of the day


The 15th Stage of the Giro from Valdengo to Bergamo, featured a select group of the top GC riders in a flat out, straight-up, drag-race sprint for glory and the win.

Quick-Step’s Bob Jungels finally prevailed, powering to the line just ahead of the surprisingly fast, quickly closing, pint-sized Nairo Quintana. In claiming a surprise second place Quintana handily beat “heavyweight contenders” such as Vincenzo Nibali, Thibaut Pinot, Bauke Mollema, Tom Dumoulin and Steven Kruijswijk.


Capture
Getty Images Sport


This for me then raises some serious questions: If Jungels had been beaten in a sprint by Quintana, would he ever have been allowed back onto the Quick-Step bus? Would his career have recovered from such a disgrace? Surely this Giro’s peerless sprinter, Fernando Gaviria could legitimately have refused to share a room with such a loser?

And, just how much do the other GC riders owe Jungels for actually pulling off the win and deflecting attention from the fact they all had their backsides whupped in a sprint by the feather-weight climber from Columbia?


 

What’s in a Name?


Sitting in the café and discussing cycling heroes, Crazy Legs said his all-time favourite sprinter was the Tashkent Terror himself, one Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. While I’m sure a lot of the appeal had to do with Abdou’s blazing speed, his ferocious, erratic and kamikaze bike handling and spectacular crashes, I couldn’t help thinking that his name probably played a part too.

Would Djamolidine Abdoujaprov have been quite so popular had he been simply Igor Petrov?

Djamolidine Abdoujaparov.  DJAH-MOLLA-DEEN AB-DOO-JAP-AROFF. You could tell just by the way Crazy Legs savoured each and every syllable and let the name roll off his tongue that he found the sound pleasing. He was even more delighted when Richard of Flanders asked what was his full name was again and he had one more excuse to deeply intone:

“Abdoujaparov, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov”

Oh, come on, admit it, it’s so much better than stale, old clichéd: Bond, James Bond

We then had a chat about the rather more unfortunate Bauke Mollema – who we agreed also had a great name, but for all the wrong reasons. In Scotland and throughout the North East to bowk has an unpleasant meaning and association – defined by Urban Dictionary as – bowk: To puke, hurl, or chunder, especially after excessive intake of alcohol, curry, chocolate cake or all three.

So, Puker Mollema then. Oh dear.

This set me to thinking how much of my own, initial allure to cycling’s was tied into the exotic, unusual sounding names of the riders of the day, Joop Zoetemelk, Giovanni Battaglin, Francesco Moser …

And we can’t of course forget Lucien Van Impe – literally Lucien from the village of Impe, a small and otherwise boring and unremarkable town in East Flanders. This sounded not only exotic to me, but also seemed especially fitting for the mercurial, puckish grimpeur who would “bedevil” some of his great rivals in the mountains during Grand Tours.

The fact that writers could craft Sun-style, headline-worthy puns to match, was just an added bonus – the most memorable from the era being, of course: Van Impudence.

While the foreign and exotic sounding names of the continental riders had an attraction for cycling waifs and strays on Tyneside, we also used to wonder what the continental fans would make of our seemingly mundane, Anglicised monickers.

For example, the local hero around this time was Joe Waugh – multiple National Hill Climb Champion, winner of the Mountains Classification and 2nd overall in the Milk Race, two time Olympian and a National Time-Trial Champion to boot.

Toshi San and I would often amuse ourselves trying to imagine the conniptions his name might give to Eastern Bloc announcers when he lined up to start in the Peace Race:

“Lay-dees and jentleman, from Great Britaniya … Jowee Waah-ooghah!”

We could perhaps forgive those in continental Europe struggling with the pronunciation of Waugh, but what about the rest of the English speaking world?

As a native of the North East, Joe Waugh was, fiercely and rightly, Joe Woff to us, not Joe Worr as the softy southerners would have it. Still it wasn’t until I started trying to figure out Australian Batsmen Steve Waugh’s nickname that I realised something was truly amiss. Tugga? Tugga Woff? What’s all that about then?

At this point I realised most of the rest of the world were simply incapable of properly pronouncing the name Waugh.

Still, even though perhaps we should have known better, we held the BBC to higher standards. It was unforgiveable then when Joe had a very brief 30 seconds of fame and was interviewed by regular Grandstand sports presenter Frank Bough.

Confusingly, Frank Bough’s name was always, religiously pronounced as Boff, which was kind of ridiculous in its own right and sets him right up there with Puker Bauke Mollema in my mind

(Again, from the Urban Dictionary – boff:  A term to describe quick sexual intercourse which includes the man not taking off his pants and a lot of dry humping.)

To have him refer to Joe as Joe Worr then, was, to us youngsters back in Tyneside an insult and an outrage and we were all willing Joe to answer, “Well, Mr Bore, the race was…”

Sadly, Joe was far too much of a gentleman to correct Mr. Bore. Or, maybe he accepted his name being mangled in this way as preferable to being known as Jowee Waa-ooghah?

Even today the tradition continues and there are riders that have an extra cachet simply because their name sounds interesting, weird, exotic or strangely melodious, for example I give you:

Gatis Smukalis

Wilco Kelderman

Sasha Modolo

Fabio Felline

Thibout Pinot

You’ll note I don’t include Tejay Van Garderen in this, although he has a suitably Flemish “hard-man” surname … but Tejay? T.J.? Really?

Anyway, I was reminded of my delight in unusual names during Stage 7 of the Giro, from Castroviillari to Alberobello. The highlight of the stage? An early break which featured both Giuseppe Fonzi and Simone Ponsi.

Fonzi and Ponsi working seamlessly together. It made my day. Well, to be fair it was an otherwise uneventful stage.