Ghostface Killah

Club Run and Hill Climb, Saturday 3rd October, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    89 km/55 miles with 924 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             3 hours 46 minutes

Group size:                                           No more than 20 –2 FNG’s

Weather in a word or two:               Extremely chilly

Main topic of conversation at the start: Crazy Legs gives voice to what I suspect all the regulars are thinking – how much we hate this day. No matter how good you’re feeling, I’m not sure anyone actually looks forward to the hill climb and its attendant hurt.

He then suggested we have a whip around to hire a Portaloo for the start of the hill climb. I countered by saying what we really need is a patio heater. The general consensus was we were both wrong and what we actually need is both a Portaloo and a patio heater.

A couple of FNG’s, or more accurately an FNG couple, exiled from Sarf Larnden, spotted Reg and we had a good chat about the original Holdsworth shop in Putney, which was their LBS and they remember as being loaded with a cornucopia of memorabilia from the mighty Holdsworth-Campagnolo pro team.

The store closed in October 2013 after 86 years, according to my interlocutor’s because it was located in some prime real estate that the owner’s family sadly wanted to cash in on. Although Reg’s carbon frame was probably mass produced by a faceless squad of minions in an ultra-high-tech, utterly sterile, Far East factory, I like to think it has some spiritual connection and shares just a little bit of heritage with this illustrious and successful British bike brand.

Fallout from last week’s plethora of punctures saw Crazy Legs check the pressure in his repaired tyre on returning home – to reveal a massive 20psi. This was despite his and Red Max’s efforts with both the molto piccolo and Max’s uber-pump. Some discussion was had about Szell’s spectacular blowout and whether it was caused by the inner tube trying to squeeze out between tyre casing and dangerously worn rims.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: Hill Climb day is the only time we use this particular café, and then we all turn up coughing and spluttering with climbers cough1., like a consumptive poet dying of TB. We often wonder what the staff make of us and whether they think we’re the most unfit cycling club in existence, or are perhaps sponsored by Rothmans and contractually obliged to smoke 40 a day.

Zardoz told me he was out again on Wednesday with the Retired Gentleman’s Combative Cycling Club, when the conversation rolled around to Il Lombardia, and someone asked where the race was and received the very obvious and undoubtedly correct answer: Lombardy. Then there were blank stares and silence all around as everyone realised they didn’t quite know where Lombardy actually was.

Apparently the Cyclone Sportive and associated events which OGL organises may be without a headline sponsor this year, as negotiations with Virgin Money to renew seem to have reached something of an impasse. I must admit OGL seemed remarkably sanguine about the whole thing.

Coffee, and the supposition that Britain has the worst tasting coffee, with the highest caffeine content. Discuss.

Ride Profile (Hill Climb highlighted)
Ride Profile (Hill Climb highlighted)

The Waffle:

Hope you’re sitting comfortably, this could be a long one …

We’re into October and all the portents are pointing assuredly toward this being the start of winter. Il Lombardia or to use this classics most poetic title, la classica delle foglie morte, closed out the pro season on Sunday2., and as if on cue all the leaves at home are suddenly turning golden and starting to sift down.

Darkness is beginning to slowly steal away precious minutes of daylight at both ends of the day and the weather is developing a distinctive chilly bite to it. And if all this wasn’t enough, the final indicator that we’re at the back end of the cycling year is that the traditional British hill climb season is now in full swing.

Fabulous Lombardy poster from the Handmade Cyclist
Fabulous Lombardy poster from the Handmade Cyclist

Not to be outdone, this weekend was our turn to pander to our worst masochistic, self-harming instincts, with a tilt at the club hill climb. The chosen arena for our self-flagellation is Prospect Hill, near Corbridge in the Tyne Valley. The climb is about 1.5km long at a 7% incline, with a maximum of 15.5% and runs through 9 bends, several of which are almost tight enough to be classed as hairpins.

Prospect Hill
Prospect Hill and our TT course

The forecast for the day was an early mist that would eventually burn off, but with temperatures subsequently depressed and unlikely to claw their way up into double figures. My breakfast and ride preparations are interrupted by about half a dozen trips to the toilet. Nerves? Possibly.

Knowing it’s going to be chilly out, compounded by the lengthy wait hanging around for a start slot, I choose a base layer, club jersey, arm and knee warmers, long gloves and a windproof jacket over the top of everything. I’m attempting to walk the razor-fine line between not overheating on the ride to the hill and trying to stay reasonably warm once I get there. I’m somewhat shocked to find how surprisingly capacious my club jersey has become.

After last week’s mega turn out, the numbers at the meeting point are disappointingly low, even though they’re bolstered by a few of the racing snakes, who don’t usually deign to ride with us mere mortals, but have been lured out by the thrill of competition.

Several notable absentees can be explained by conflicting events, G-Dawg and the Prof are doing the Kielder Run-Bike-Run, while Red Max and the Monkey Butler Boy are tackling the Autumn Wooler Wheel Sportive, but where’s everyone else?

The original Holdsworth store
The original Holdsworth store

Even with the juniors making their own way to the climb, numbers are significantly down on previous years, and several of those at the meeting point are just out for a normal ride and have no interest in seeing if they can cough out their own lungs by riding as fast as possible up a hill, just to turn around and come back down again. Oh well, at least it should help get things over with fairly quickly.

The temperature dropped even further as we swept down into the bottom of the Tyne Valley to follow the road upstream, and as we approached the start we could see the hillside above us shrouded in a dense grey blanket of wetly-dripping mist.

A rival club was holding their own “chrono escalada” up the other side of the hill, but thankfully they’re early starters (and probably punctual too!) They were just about done and dusted by the time we rolled up, avoiding the potentially catastrophic (if comic) opportunity for two, charging, heads-down and rapidly converging riders lunging for the same line and colliding in an explosion of flailing limbs and carbon fragments.

As we milled around, horribly messing up the signing on process and allocation of numbers in the disorganised chaos that only cyclists seem capable of achieving, the cold really started to bite. We stood around shivering, with fumbling fingers occasionally bypassing jersey material to pin numbers directly through benumbed, frozen flesh, but at least they were well secured and not likely to flap in the wind.

Rab Dee offered me some of his home made energy bar, which is reportedly so dense it absorbs light. It didn’t seem to be the sort of extra weight I should be taking on board before hauling ass up a steep hill, so I politely declined.

Then, in a break with tradition, instead of being snooty and snotty and whingeing at us for having the temerity to use the public road outside their homes, one of the local households decided to embrace the annual invasion of slightly mad cyclists, and sent out a sacrificial daughter with a tray of freshly baked brownies. Not only did they taste great, they were actually still hot, and several groups of cyclists formed a huddle around them trying to warm their hands.

I discussed tactics for the climb with a horrendously hung over Son of G-Dawg, who  blasphemously suggested starting on the inner ring. Luckily his Pa wasn’t around to hear, but it seemed the sensible decision anyway, as there’s less to go wrong if you’re not dropping from the big to smaller chainring under pressure.

A bit of riding around to … I was going to say warm up, but I think “not feel quite so cold” is closer to reality, and then it’s time to strip both myself and bike as I jettisoned water bottle and tool tub, sunglasses, gloves and finally, and with great reluctance, my jacket.

It was good to see one of our semi-FNG’s, Avatar: The Last Air Bender lining up directly in front of me, ready to hurl himself recklessly at the hill in his first ever club competition. I’m not sure he realised when he rocked up this morning that we would be doing the hill climb, so he gets extra kudos for not backing out. Chapeau!

I only have time to note that one of the young kids is set to follow me, then I’m on the line ready to start, not really concentrating and feeling quite disassociated from the entire process. The timekeeper tells me 30 seconds, and I lift my foot, clip in and settle. 15 seconds. Breathe deep. The 10 second countdown starts, I tense, the hand comes down and I’m off.

I quickly roll up a decent cadence, reach a bend and sweep around it to attack the first ramp, cresting it and pushing on toward the second bend and probably the steepest part of the course. The first slopes however have sapped just a little too much speed, the gear is too big and I’m now losing momentum and dying dismally.

The next section is a real struggle as impetus drops sharply and I’m forced out of the saddle to grind away to the accompaniment of my cleat creaking horribly on the pedal. Or at least I think it’s my cleat, it could just as easily be one of my ancient, fragile knees humming discordantly as it vibrates under the pressure in an audible warning that it’s about to explode.

An awful moment appears to attenuate into long, torturous minutes, and I can’t help gratefully thinking that unless the kid behind me is one of our outrageously talented youngsters, I should at least manage not to be caught by him. Gradually the slope eases, and I’m able to flop down heavily in the saddle and roll the chain up a couple of gears.

I try to find a rhythm now, and maintain the pace, but can’t go any faster without jumping out of the saddle and stamping hard on the pedals, and this burns up oxygen quicker than I can suck it down.

As if still influenced by last week’s blood moon, I’m in full Laurens Ten Dam “werewolf” mode now, mouth agape and thrashing like a basking shark stranded on a beach and with great strings of snot and slobber, spit and drool pouring from my mouth and nose and eyes. My chest is heaving like over-worked, over-extended bellows, sucking in huge lungful’s of the freezing, burning, damp and clammy air. And it’s not enough.

Full Ten Dam mode
Full Ten Dam werewolf mode

I round another bend. All I can hear now is my rasping, too-quick panting that seems to be in wild syncopation with my thudding, banging heart. Is it natural to try and breathe so damn fast? As the bend straightens I almost plough into the back of a couple of ramblers walking blithely up the middle of the road, studiously and very deliberately ignoring each one of the gasping, labouring cyclists who have had to haul themselves around this unexpected impediment.

I swerve wide to the right to pass them, and almost immediately have to dive to the left as a huge 4 x 4 sweeps past, heading downhill with headlights blazing in the gloom. Everything is hurting now and I can’t distinguish individual areas of pain as I try to raise my speed.

Ahead of me in the mist and murk, almost always just disappearing around the next bend, I keep catching the occasional glimpse of another rider, my minute man, who’s craftily chosen a fog coloured jersey to blend in and not give me a distinct target to chase. Not fair.

I recognise I’m approaching the final section, and against all reason and the silent screaming of my body I click down one, then two gears and just push and hope. I think I’m still accelerating as I shoot over the line, then freewheel and finally remember I have to brake. Some 100 yards past the finish line I finally stop, but the pain doesn’t, and I slump over the crossbar, trying to control what feels like supernaturally fast panting.

To be read in your most hysterical Phil Liggett voice:
To be read in your most hysterical Phil Liggett voice: “Just who is that rider coming up behind in the mist – because that looks like La Jante! That looks like Sur La Jante… it is, it’s Sur La Jante!”

After a few minutes I manage to get turned around and slouch my way to the finish, where Zardoz cheerfully informs me I look like a ghost and wonders aloud how I managed to so successfully drain all the blood from my face. I might have laughed, but was instantly consumed with my first bout of climbers cough.

Another year, another hill climb. So how did I do? I was 17th out of 33 riders and 4th out of the vets. Much more importantly, I posted a personal best time of 6 minutes and 16 seconds, 11 seconds better than the previous year.

My Hill Climb Times
My Hill Climb Times

In fact it’s pleasing to see the steady, if unspectacular progression I’ve made year on year. At 53 however I’m not looking forward to the inevitable day when age conspires to erode any improvements I can make through increased training, better equipment or smarter preparation, but at least for today I can feel I’m still winning the battle with time.

In the café I hang back to stand guard on the wallets, phones and helmets that get abandoned as a few go off to pay, and the first of our group splits and disappears up the road. I decide to take the more direct route home along the valley floor, rather than climbing out to the north and then dropping down again and strike out on my own.

I make good time on the flat, but every little incline hurts. At the bottom of the Heinous Hill I decide to postpone the inevitable a little longer and drop into the Pedalling Squares café to arrange a much overdue service for my ratbag mountain bike. Suitably fortified with one of their excellent espresso’s, the clamber up the hill and home turns out to be not quite as bad as I imagined it would be.

Footnote 1.

During a hill climb, cyclists are breathing as hard as their lungs will allow, so hard in fact, that their airway gets eroded from the air passing through it. This erosion causes irritation in the airway which leads to the dreaded climbers cough (or in running parlance, “track hack”).

This irritation can cause the membranes to produce mucous for protection and lubrication, which can lead to phlegm in the cough, and may even break little capillaries in the airways causing the taste of blood, or a metallic taste in the mouth. Hmm, nice.

Footnote 2.

The inaugural Abu Dhabi Tour doesn’t count – I’m willing to be proven wrong, but this just looks like a shameful, money-grubbing exercise by RCS and/or the UCI, and likely to be as dull, tedious and anodyne as all the other interminable Gulf Tours. I think a certain Mr. Cavendish is the only person who feels mass sprint finishes are the acme of cycle racing.

YTD Totals: 4,975 km/ 3,091 miles with 56,247 metres of climbing.


Deflationary Pressures and Tales of the Tape

Club Run, 22nd August, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                     110km/68 miles with 954 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 15 minutes

Group size:                                           27 riders, a smattering of FNG’s.

Weather in a word or two:             Grey

Main topic of conversation at the start: Everyone did a swift double-take as OGL rolled up to the meeting point at precisely 9.01, only one minute behind the advertised start-time and, as regular readers know by now, fully 19 minutes ahead of our traditionally belated “grand depart”. He rather sheepishly admitted his premature arrival didn’t mark the start of some kind of personal, time-keeping epiphany, but was simply a consequence of Mrs. OGL being away on a family visit.

I was delighted to learn the Great North Road Cycle Maze has now sprouted a second “Cyclists Dismount” sign and continues to mutate in ever more convoluted, dangerous and unexpected ways.

I was called out for sporting a bottle in the exact red, yellow and black as my bike frame. Shucks, guilty as charged.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: The disastrous and neutralised Vuelta TTT, which apparently ran across seven different surfaces: marble, stone, wood, dirt/sand, asphalt, tile and plastic in its short 7km. We naturally wondered if anyone would stop to change to bikes more suited to each particular surface. Probably not, but might have added a frisson of excitement which the actual (non) event sorely lacked.

I caught Grover wandering around outside like a stereotypical NCO martinet, inspecting everyone’s bike, perhaps checking for chain wear or unacceptable levels of grime and taking notes to report back to OGL. He confided that his girlfriend had offered to buy him anything he wanted for his birthday, but all that he could think of was some new handlebar tape! I guess that’s the consequence of already owning a blinged to the hilt Pinarello.

Speaking of bar tape, I managed to catch up with Moose Bumps and ask if his bare handlebars were a clever way of saving weight. Apparently it’s more of a consequence of just being forgetful and lazy.

Someone complimented me on Reg, proving once and for all that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

ride profile 22 aug
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

With the early forecasts all predicting heavy rain throughout the day there were heightened levels of pre-ride procrastination about not only what to wear, but what to ride. The morning brought no clarity with leaden skies pregnant with potential rain, but an uncomfortably warm, humid atmosphere. While this would eventually translate into heavy, air clearing thunderstorms later that night, the chances of avoiding rain on the ride remained distinctly uncertain. Taking a chance on good fortune for a change, I decided to keep the winter bike in mothballs, but made sure I packed a waterproof as a bit of insurance.

As if matching my indecision, there was a mixed collection of winter and best bikes on show at the RV point, and an even wider assortment of wardrobe choices , including as many in just shorts and jerseys as in waterproofs, overshoes, arm and leg warmers. Red Max compromised, turning up on his winter bike, but kitted out with summer wheelset.  G-Dawg, obviously fearing the worst, came out on his winter bike and wearing a heavy Gore-Tex rain jacket that didn’t look as if it could be easily packed down and stowed away if things stayed dry.

After a brief “pep talk” when we all repented our sins for the previous week’s bad riding, 27 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and set out.

I drifted until I was at the very back of the group as we hit the country lanes, and was riding along, quietly content in my own company when an intermittent hiss, like a damp and misfiring Catherine wheel, announced The Cow Ranger had a rear wheel flat. The cries of “Puncture!” didn’t reach the front group, who sailed blithely on, oblivious to the problems at the back.

With only me and a couple of friendly Grogs left for company The Cow Ranger was duly inducted the Club Hall of Shame, as a misfiring CO2 cylinder left him at the side of the road with a common, easily fixable mechanical, and no means of putting it right. I lent him my pump and we were soon underway again, chasing the main group, but with no idea which route they’d taken.

At each junction we’d slow looking for tyre tracks on the rapidly drying roads, and at one point I was tempted to press my ear to the tarmac Tonto- style to see if I could pick up the subtle whirr of carbon and soft clunk of shifting chains. The two Grogs gave up at this point and turned off for their own ride. I pushed on with The Cow Ranger, lining it out as we started a mad pursuit which netted a host of personal best times on a handful of Strava segments, but brought us no closer to catching the main group.

“Hmm, still no trace of them, Ke-mo sah-bee.”

Our crazed chase ended prematurely as The Cow Ranger punctured again. For fear of a disintegrating tyre and running out of both spare tubes and the benevolence and patience of fellow riders, he borrowed my pump one last time before calling it a day and heading homeward in shame. It was while fixing this latest puncture I noted that, rather bizarrely one side of his handlebars was covered in red tape, the other in white. Odd.

The Cow Ranger can't hide his disappointment at being inducted into the Club Hall of Shame.
The Cow Ranger can’t hide his disappointment at being inducted into the Club Hall of Shame.

Left to ride solo, I now began a complex guessing game of trying to decide where the main group was, where they might be going and how I could intercept them. I set off following some of our more common routes, and at one point passed the two Grogs who were now heading in completely the opposite direction! Although I passed other solo riders and groups there was no sign of the club run. It later transpired that today was the day for something a little different and they’d taken one of our much less travelled routes down the Ryals.

I'm pretty certain it wasn't me going the wrong way...
I’m pretty certain it wasn’t me going the wrong way…

I finally decided to turn for the café, winning the personal sprint with myself along the way, and arriving nicely timed between the amblers and the Faster! Harder! Longer! group.

I was able to catch up with a few fellers on the ride home and still have time to mock Taffy Steve for his worryingly, girly advocacy of fruit cider shandy (I always took him for a Stout or Bitter man). Even better, for once the widely predicted rain decided not to spoil the day, and I made it home long before the impending storms.

YTD Totals: 4,253km / 2,642 miles with 48,627 metres of climbing.

Puttin’ on the Ritz…

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

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

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

Ride Time:                                            5 hours 19 minutes

Cyclone Time:                                       3 hours 41 minutes

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

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

Ride Profile
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puttin' on the Ritz
Puttin’ on the Ritz

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

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

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

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

I trust normal service may be resumed next week…

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

Bitchin’ Climbs#1


Whenever I get the opportunity I like to take in one of the behemoth’s featured in the book “100 Greatest Climbs” to see how much strain I can put my on ancient knees before they explode in a welter of bone, sinew and blood, like a feral alien bursting out John Hurt’s chest cavity.

A recent holiday in Keldy Forest, North Yorkshire saw me travelling with Reg to tackle the fearsome Rosedale Chimney – the climb the recent Tour de of Yorkshire wimped out of.

The books author Simon Warren, who just happens to have competed in National Hill Climbs, helpfully explains his rating system in the book is an amalgamation of gradient, length and the likely hostility of the riding conditions. He concludes, “all the climbs are tough, therefore 1/10 is hard and 10/10 is it’s almost all you can do to keep your bike moving.”

Rosedale Chimney is a 1.4km climb rated 10/10 with gradients reaching 1-in-3, and Simon cheerfully goes on to recount how he snapped his chain “not once, but twice while trying to conquer this vicious stretch of tarmac.” Oh my.

Oh, well…

The top and bottom of Rosedale Chimney.
The top and bottom of Rosedale Chimney. That’s not Reg by the way.

My allotted day arrives and I kiss goodbye to an anxious wife, say a final farewell to the kids, and we’re off. The weather is pleasantly mild and quite bright, but there’s a noticeably stiff breeze whenever the road is exposed.

A 25 kilometre or so loop gets me warmed up, and as I ride along the valley approaching the climb I can look over to the left and see a daunting picture of the road snaking its way up to the top of the North York Moors.

I slow down deliberately, gathering myself and coasting pass the big sign at the bottom of the hill. The road twists and turns a few times then spits me out past the last building and now we’re going resolutely uphill. Out and exposed, with the road clinging precariously to the side of the moors, and the “noticeably stiff breeze” has turned into a capricious, gusting blast that seems to come from all directions at once.

I hit the 33% hairpins and suddenly I’ve run out of gears and my legs are barely moving. I now have an image from a Ted Hughes poem lodged firmly in my brain, and I’ve become a “black-back gull bent like an iron bar slowly.” My mind keeps repeating the line over and over, to the rhythm of my straining, shuddering, agonisingly slow pedal strokes.

The gusting wind has me going from almost a standstill, to skeetering nervously across the road and swerving wildly to avoid running out of tarmac. And upwards, always upwards. A protracted crawling and dragging upwards.

I’m fighting the bike and the incline now, legs and lungs burning, zig-zagging back and forth across the surface and praying there’s no traffic coming the other way. I want to sit on the saddle, but when I try the road is so steep that the front wheel keeps lifting and I’m barely keeping control.

And then slowly, agonisingly I’m past the hard bit, the road straightens out and the climb goes from suicidal to just plain hard. I reach the top and crawl into a gravel strewn lay-by to unclip, breath again and admire the majestic, but rather bleak and threatening views. A quick photo and I turn around for the descent.

It’s only now that I realise my ordeal on the hill isn’t over yet. The sign usefully suggests that “cyclists dismount” and the road seems to drop away into emptiness. I creep down slowly, gingerly, brakes almost full on, knowing if I gather any momentum it’s going to be difficult to reach a controlled stop, uncertain on an unfamiliar road and sketchy surface.

Twice on the way down I have to pull over to the side of the road to shake out and flex my aching fingers back into some semblance of life. Then the incline eases and I can sit back and wheel merrily the rest of the way, off the climb without looking back.

rosedale chimney
That big, isolated bump at around 30km, like the topography flipping you the finger, is Rosedale Chimney. It laughs in the face of aged cyclists.

Well that’s that one ticked off. It was one hell of an experience, but I can honestly say I don’t ever see myself going back for another attempt.