Wellie Tops and Collie Wobbles

Wellie Tops and Collie Wobbles

Club Run, Saturday 23rd April, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  113 km / 70 miles with 1,063 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 24 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.6 km/h

Group size:                                         34 riders, 3 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    13°C

Weather in a word or two:          Beautifully bright, bitterly cold

Main topic of conversation at the start:

With a degree of mild, but surely misplaced approbation, OGL called out several riders he’d spotted out riding mid-week, as if they’d been caught doing something they shouldn’t have and were standing accused of getting in “unauthorised” secret miles.

The Prof once again rolled up on the Frankenbike, eliciting gasps of disbelief from those who hadn’t seen his progression from small-wheeled velocipede to a grown up bike last week. He gave me a special hug, ostensibly because I was well dressed and co-ordinated (Bertie Bassett rides again) -although I suspect the real reason was that Crazy Legs was late arriving and I was simply the nearest target for his latent, but still patently simmering homo-eroticism.

Crazy Legs did finally turn up and commended the group for a fine showing of club jerseys. A sotto voce commentary from Son of G-Dawg suggested that the 6 on show were about 75% of the total number who would wear the club jersey with any kind of regularity. I’m not sure whether or not he was double-counting G-Dawg who was actually wearing two – an official club gilet over a Grogs unofficial one.

OGL then took several of youngsters and no few elder statesmen to task for wearing shorts, declaring it was still much too cold for exposed knee joints. Many suggested they had packed away winter clothing for the year in boxes, in under bed stores, the loft or in old steamer trunks and it was too much hassle to revert now. It was also suggested that not everyone had the luxury of living in OGL manse, where entire rooms, if not complete wings are devoted to his vast collection of readily accessible and seasonally themed bicycling apparel.

OGL mentioned Shane Sutton’s dismissal of Jess Varnish (and I think I’m only paraphrasing slightly here) as having a fat ass and needing to go away and produce babies. G-Dawg was unimpressed, but reasoned you shouldn’t expect much else if you’re foolish enough to promote an Australian to a position of power and authority.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

At the counter I happened to hear an FNG asking the girls whether he should be getting a mug or a cup of coffee and had to intervene for the sake of decency. We are men, we drink from manly mugs.

As he’d defected from another club and embraced his dark side I was curious to find out how we compared us to his previous band of brothers. As expected his former club took the novel approach of splitting into many different rides according to ability and publishing all the routes well before the day.

This had the advantage of allowing people to plan things in advance, but at the obvious expense of surprise and novelty, or as Andeven explained, the joy of looking up to find you’re suddenly in Rothbury, 40 miles from home and expected back for an important family engagement in the next half an hour.

I asked the Pinarello riding FNG, Dogmatix what bike he had before, interested to know just how much of an upgrade the uber-bike was and how it actually compared to a more affordable option. He said he’d ridden a Carrera previously. Well, that was a conversational dead-end then.

Dogmatix then revealed that when he’d stopped to tighten his seat post last week someone had pointed out a washer on the ground that he’d reasoned wasn’t from his bike, but had picked up and slipped into his pocket just in case.

This morning he’d found that it was an essential part for holding together his multi-tool. He’s now gone from being the proud owner of a convenient, quality multi-tool to having two bits of steel case and a loose collection of jangling allen keys and screwdriver bits in his pockets.


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Ride Profile

The Waffle:

A dry day, bright and sunny – if bitterly cold and infinitely preferable to the past few Saturdays dreich and bleak showing (they rhyme by the way, if you’re wondering how to pronounce dreich :))

A rare confluence of decent weather, work load and family commitments had allowed me to commute into work 4 times during the week.  These journeys had warned that the mornings were still very chilly, but there was at least a possibility that things would warm up enough to be pleasant later.

My commutes had been good rides, other than a strong headwind all the way home on Monday and the fact that on Thursday morning I’d wrapped my bike lock around my frame, but completely missed the bike rack.

Luckily Campus Security spotted my dunderheaded idiocy and slapped on one of their own locks to secure the bike. I’d then been somewhat taken aback to hear the ratbag mountain bike described as “expensive” when I went to get the lock removed. Then again, maybe it just looks good in comparison to some of the bikes our students use.

There was a big group of us at the meeting point on Saturday, including a few faces I’d not seen for months including Famous Sean’s an irregular will-o-the-wisp who occasionally graces us with his presence. This was perhaps the first indication that the long months of cycling hibernation is at last coming to an end, although one swallow doesn’t make a decent drink as the parched sailor said. As a counterbalance there were a few noticeable absences amongst the regulars, with The Red Max away on holiday and Taffy Steve strangely and silently AWOL.


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As we started out I found myself riding alongside the Prof who enquired if I’d ever had any issues with the Frankenbike’s bottom bracket. The loud and disturbing creaking from “down there” persuaded me not to hang around in case it ultimately disintegrated and a quick rotation brought me up alongside Richard of Flanders.

He was celebrating as he’d inadvertently found and secured a rare Strava KOM while riding a tatty hybrid to school to pick up the kids. This gave me the idea of hauling my bike over next doors front gate and riding up their drive to see if I can secure an unassailable Strava KOM of my own. I think it could even earn me a Charly Gaul-like nickname, how about “L’Ange de Allées” or “The Angel of the Driveways.”

Yet another rotation found me alongside Son of G-Dawg and I complimented him on a perfectly aero bike, deep section carbon wheels, and skin-tight jersey, but had to ask what had gone wrong with the sloppy, baggy socks that negated all his marginal aero-gains and resembled saggy welly tops that had been set to flutter in the wind like twin drogue parachutes.


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Apparently he’d forgotten to do the weekly laundry and scratting around in the back of his drawers to try and find anything suitable to wear, the socks were the best he could come up with. He admitted he’d also tried in extremis to dry his jersey by hanging it in the back of the car on the drive over, but it was still unpleasantly damp around the edges. He was obviously hoping it didn’t rain otherwise he’d start foaming and secreting a trail of soap suds behind him.

Not to be outdone, one of the youngsters in front was wearing hideous, putrid green socks decorated with big bloodshot eyeballs that seemed to be staring right at me. I guess the good old days when the only socks you could wear would be white and you’d be pulled from the start line of a race for any wardrobe transgressions are sadly no more.

I overheard Crazy Legs discussing Captain Scarlet and suggesting he drove an SPV or “Special Patrol Vehicle” and had to jump in to correct him – as we all know Captain Scarlet actually drove a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle (c’mon kids, keep up). I think this exchange just convinced Richard of Flanders that all cyclists are at heart deeply weird nerds.


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At one point OGL drifted aimlessly back through the group, seemingly just to disrupt everyone. A few minutes later he was sprinting back up to the front, going round a blind corner on the wrong side of the road. Son of G-Dawg called out that there was a fast approaching car, but OGL blithely waved off the warning before swooping inside. Son of G-Dawg growled that he didn’t care if OGL tried to ride over the onrushing car – but he was worried by the sudden swoop back across the road that had everyone scrabbling for brakes.

With the club organised Sloan Trophy set for Sunday, OGL was intent on reconnoitring the route as a final check that everything was in good shape for the next day’s racing. This led us down the Quarry Climb, where a whimpering, vacillating BFG was so eager to escape the longer, harder, faster group that he felt compelled to dive recklessly away in pursuit of the amblers, brushing incredibly close to G-Dawg, if not in fact physically jostling him as he passed.

This would have been the perfect opportunity for Crazy Legs to prove his maturity by shouting, “Feck off you big feck” or something equally as erudite and witty, but sadly he’d already turned off for the café with a bad case of un jour sans.

Ahead, at the junction we saw the amblers turning left while our longer, harder, faster group went right. I joined G-Dawg on the front pushing into a vicious headwind as we ground our way toward the top of the Ryals – this was perhaps going to be the only day when riding down them was almost as hard as climbing up.

Just before the top Mad Colin called a halt as, for the second time in as many outings, Dogmatix found his seatpost slipping. Bloody cheap Pinarello’s. We waited, but people began to get impatient and started to slip away in ones and twos to stream down the descent.

I held back a little longer, then as things seemed sorted pushed over the brow and began to accelerate downward. I moved onto the drops and tucked in, quickly building up speed as gravity sucked us down and hitting a max of 67.7kmph according to my Garmin, despite the headwind.


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Halfway down I saw G-Dawg wrestling manfully with his bike, his whole body rigid and shaking and his wheels oscillating savagely as he tried to ship speed and remain in control. I couldn’t tell if his deep-section wheels had caught a sudden crosswind or he’d developed an uncontrollable speed wobble – either way I gave him as much room as possible, sweeping right across the roadway to slide past.

Somehow an ashen G-Dawg managed to complete the descent, but couldn’t be persuaded to climb back up and try again. We regrouped as we swung right onto a narrow farm track and started to climb up again, where we caught and merged with the riders who’d slipped off the front. More climbing and then a bit more followed, before the road finally levelled and we pushed on at high speed for the run in to the café.


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I was sitting behind Laurelan as the pace increased and saw she was slowly starting to detach from the riders in front. I cut inside and clung onto G-Dawgs rear wheel as he and Moscas wound the pace up further. With the road starting to dip down a small group managed to open up a gap and we pulled slowly away.

Son of G-Dawg jumped, but I was at terminal velocity and couldn’t have come around G-Dawg to chase if I’d wanted to. Moscas then slowly faded and dropped away and just when it looked like Son of G-Dawg’s break was decisive, Captain Black thundered past to challenge and they raced each other down and into the Snake Bends.

Crossing the main road, we dropped into single file to slalom around the potholes that made the lane look like a recently bombed lunar surface. There was then just the chance for one last burst up the sharp rise to the junction and we were done and rolling through to the café.


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On the way home I dropped in beside Captain Black for a chat and to try to discover the secret of his hugely rampaging form; was it drugs, clean living, motor doping, or perhaps three Shredded Wheat for breakfast?

He said it was nothing exotic, just hard work in the gym and, as his temporary gym membership is due to run out soon, he suggested he’ll soon be returning to join me amongst the ranks of the also-rans. Damn, I was hoping for an easy to follow short-cut to good form, but there’s no chance in hell you’ll get me into a gym.

I completed my trip home in good time and without incident to find anniversary greetings from WordPress in my email. I was somewhat surprised to learn I’ve been plugging away at this blog thing for a full year. Tempus fugit?

So, I guess now’s a good time to thank anyone who’s managed to stumble upon this benighted backwater of the Internet, has put up with my verbose, inane ramblings, actually “liked” the odd post or two, added erudite comments, or even bravely signed up as a follower.

One year, 64 posts, 4,711 hits, 1,943 visitors and counting. It’s all quite humbling. Thank you.


YTD Totals: 2,250 km / 1,398 miles with 21,081 metres of climbing

Van Impudence!


An ode to grace …

So, there I was, awkwardly adrift in the cultural hellhole that was the early ‘70’s on Tyneside and entranced by an exotic sport held mainly in distant countries and with no media support to fuel a burgeoning fascination. In a time long before even World of Sport began their token showing of less than 1% of the world’s greatest, most gruelling, sporting extravaganza, the Tour de France, options for following races were as limited as your chances of buying a white Model T Ford.

The only Tour updates in those days were an occasional list of stage winners and, if we were very lucky, an updated top 10 GC, all hidden within the dreaded “Other Results” buried in the back pages of the Sports section of daily newspapers and usually secreted under all the football stuff that had already been reported elsewhere.

The cycling results were so small and so barely legible that they would have given actual small-print a bad name, and corporate lawyers a hard-on that could last for weeks.

Beyond these barest, most perfunctory of details, we restlessly devoured stage reports in Cycling (this was so long ago that it was even before the profound and dynamic name change to “Cycling Weekly”) to try and get a feel for the drama and the ebb and flow of the ongoing battle, but what came through was a generally disjointed and less than the sum of its parts.

For the young cycling neophyte the biggest treasures were a series of books published by the Kennedy Brothers following the narrative of each Grand Tour, imaginatively titled “Tour ’77” or “Giro ‘73” (you get the picture).

Although published weeks after the publicity caravans had packed away their tat and as the gladiatorial names garishly graffiti’d on the roads slowly began to fade, these books told a compelling narrative of the race, from the first to last pedal stroke, replete with some stunning high quality photos.

Opening the crackling white pages you could inhale deeply and almost catch a faint whiff of the sunflowers, Orangina and embrocation, as you were instantly transported to the side of the road to watch the peloton whirring by.


 

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It’s in one of these Tour books that I first stumbled across a full-page photo of a boyish, fresh-faced young man, posed with some faceless fat functionary to receive a completely bizarre gazelle-head plaque. This may have been a prize for winning a stage, or the mountains classification, having the most doe –like eyes in the peloton, successfully passing through puberty, or something like that.


 

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What struck me most though was that this hardened, elite, professional athlete didn’t look all that different from me – he wasn’t all that tall, very slight of build and looked so young – creating the impression of an instant underdog.

I would also later learned that under the jauntily perched cap was a head that would be subjected to some criminally bad hair moments too – instant empathy, although I never sank quite as low as having a perm.

It was hard to believe this rider was capable of comfortably mixing it up with the big, surly men of the peloton, with their hulking frames, chiselled legs, granite faces and full effusions of facial hair. Not only that, but when the road bent upwards he would fly and leave everyone grovelling helplessly in his wake.

The young man is Lucien Van Impe and the accompanying chapter of the book is titled Van Impudence, and relates in detail how he defied the hulking brutes of the peloton and their supreme leader King Ted, to wreak his own brand of cycling havoc in the mountains.

It was here that began my long-standing love affair with the grimpeurs, the pure climbers of the cycling world, those who want to defy gravity and try to prove Newton was a dunce.


 

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An Astaire-like glide

Watch any YouTube videos of the time and you’ll see the big men of the Tour grinding horribly uphill, their whole bodies contorted as they attempt to turn over massive gears and physically wrestle the slopes into submission.

Merckx, indisputably the greatest cyclist of all time is probably the worst offender, and looks like he’s trying to re-align his top tube by brute strength alone,  while simultaneously starring in a slow-motion film of someone enduring a course of severe electro-shock therapy.

Then look at Van Impe, at the cadence he’s riding at, the effortless style and how he flows up the gradients. Woah.

His one-time Directeur Sportif, and by no means his greatest fan, Cyrille Guimard would say, “You had to see him on a bike when the road started to rise. It was marvellous to see, he was royally efficient. He had everything: the physique, fluidity, an easy and powerful pedalling style.”


 

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A decent time trialist on his day, this is Van Impe during the 1976 Tour ITT – in yellow and on his way to overall victory

In his book, Alpe d’Huez: The Story of Pro Cycling’s Greatest Climb, Peter Cossins writes that, “Van Impe’s style is effortless and majestic. Watching him, one can’t help but think that riding up mountains is the easiest thing in the world. His is no heavy-footed stomp, but an Astaire-like glide.”

Many cycling fans prefer the rouleurs and barradeurs, the big framed, hard-men, the grinders who churn massive gears with their endless, merciless attacks, dare-devil descending and never-say-die attitudes.


 

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Van Impe wears the green jersey of the Giro’s best climber with much more aplomb than the highly suspect perm

Others seem to like the controllers who grind their way to victory, eating up and spitting out mile after mile of road at a relentless, contained pace, regardless of whether they’re riding a time-trial, a mountain stage or across a pan flat parcours.

For me though pure poetry lies in those slight, mercurial riders, who would suddenly be transformed – given wings and the ability to dance away from the opposition when the road tilts unremittingly skyward.

Even more appealing, they’re all just a little skewed and a bit flaky, wired a little bit differently to everyone else or, as one of my friends would say, “as daft as a ship’s cat”. The best can even be a little bit useless and almost a liability when the roads are flat, or heaven forbid dip down through long, technical descents.

The power of the Internet and YouTube in particular has even let me rediscover some of the great climbers from before my time, the idols who inspired Van Impe, such as Charly Gaul and Federico Bahamontes.


 

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Gaul and Bahamontes

This pair, the “Angel of the Mountains” and “Eagle of Toldeo” respectively, both had that little bit of extra “climber flakiness” to set them apart. Bahamontes was terrified of descending on his own and was known to sit and eat ice-cream at the top of mountains while waiting for other riders so he had company on the way down.

Gaul’s demons were a little darker, once threatening to knife Bobet for a perceived slight and for a long period in his later life he became a recluse, living in a shack in the woods and wearing the same clothes day after day.

As Jacques Goddet, the Tour de France director observed, Van Impe also had “a touch of devilry that contained a strong dose of tactical intelligence” and was referred to as “l’ouistiti des cimes” – the oddball of the summits in certain sections of the French press.

Goddet went on to describe the climber as possessing “angelic features, always smiling, always amiable,” and yet Van Impe was known to be notoriously stubborn and difficult to manage, requiring careful handling, constant reassurance and a close coterie of attendants who would cater to his every whim away from the bike.

Cyrille Guimard, who coached, cajoled, goaded and drove Van Impe to his greatest achievement, Tour de France victory in 1976, described him as “every directeur sportif’s nightmare.”


 

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Van Impe doing what he does best

While I’ve enjoyed watching and following many good and some great riders, it’s always the climbers who’ve captivated me the most, although just being a good climber doesn’t seem to be enough. In fact it’s quite difficult to define the exact qualities that I appreciate – Marco Pantani and Claudio Chiapucci never “had it” and nor does current fan favourite and, ahem, “world’s best climber” the stone-faced Nairo Quintana.

There has to be a little something else, some quirk or spark of humanity that I can identify with and that sets the rider apart and makes them a joy to watch and follow. Of today’s climbers I’m most hopeful for Romain Bardet – he seems to have character, style and a rare intelligence, but only time will tell if he blossoms into a truly great grimpeur.


 

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“Always smiling, always amiable”

From the past, our very own Robert Millar of course was up there with the best (although my esteem may be coloured by intense nationalism). Andy Hampsten, on a good day, was another I liked to watch and, for a time the young Contador, when he seemed fresh and different and believable.

Still, none have come close to supplanting Van Impe in my estimation and esteem. He would go on to win the Tour in 1976 and perhaps “coulda/shoulda” won the following year, if not for being knocked off his bike by a car while attacking alone on L’Alpe D’Huez. See, that sort of shit happened even back in the “good, old days.”

By the time Van Impe’s career was finally over (including a retirement and comeback) he’d claimed the Tour de France King of the Mountains jersey on a record 6 separate occasions (matching his hero Bahamontes) and a feat that has never been bettered. (Fuck you Richard Virenque and your performance enhanced KoM sniping, I refuse to acknowledge your drug enabled “achievements”).


 

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On the attack, in the jersey he became synonymous with

In contrast, both during and after his professional career, Van Impe never tested positive, never refused a doping test and has never been implicated in any form of doping controversy – he’s either incredibly, astonishingly lucky, clever and cunning, or the closest thing you’ll ever get to the definition of a clean rider.

So, if you follow the Kitty Kelley premise that “a hero is someone we can admire without apology,” then Van Impe resolutely ticks all the boxes for me.

During his career he also managed to pick up awards for the most likeable person in the peloton and the Internet is replete with video and images of him as a good-natured and willing participant in some weirdly bizarre stunts, such as his spoof hour record attempt – proof he was an all-round good guy who never seemed to take himself too seriously.


 

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In this bizarre and apparently hilarious (if you speak Flemish) YouTube clip, Van Impe is seen challenging Moser’s Hour record

In all Van Impe completed an incredible 15 Tour’s, never abandoning and was an active participant and presence in all of them.

He won the race in 1976 and was 2nd once and 3rd on three separate occasions, finishing in the Top 5 eight times. Along the way he won 9 individual stages and achieved all this while riding for a succession of chronically weak teams and competing when two dominant giants of the sport, Merckx and Hinault, were in their pomp.

Van Impe was also 2nd overall in the Giro, winning one stage and two mountains classifications on a couple of rare forays into Italy.

Not just a one-trick pony though, he could  ride a decent time-trial and won a 40km ITT in the 1975 Tour, when he handily beat the likes of Merckx, Thévenet, Poulidor and Zoetemelk.

Even more surprisingly for a pure climber he even somehow managed to win the Belgian National Road Race Championship in 1983 after coming out of retirement.

I’m not sure if this represents Van Impe’s skills and talent, a particularly favourable parcours, or simply the nadir of Belgian cycling. Maybe all three?


 

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Belgian National Champion

In October this year Van Impe turned 70 and until recently was still actively engaged in cycling through the Wanty-Groupe Gobert Pro-Continental Team. He lives with his wife, Rita in a house named Alpe D’Huez, a reminder of the mountain where he set the foundations for his greatest triumph and perhaps suffered his most heartbreaking defeat.


 

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An elder Van Impe – still active in cycling

Not bad for the one time newspaper delivery boy and apprentice coffin-maker from the flatlands of Belgium.

Vive Van Impe!