Plague Diaries – Week#21

Plague Diaries – Week#21

A quick one. In all senses of the word.

Once again the North East missed out on the raging heatwave and produced perfect cycling weather for the Saturday run, dry, bright and sunny, but not too hot and with a noticeable, cooling wind.

It was one of those very, very rare occasions when I even felt brave enough to dispense with a base layer. I’m such a risk taker.

I had a good run across town and arrived at the meeting point with plenty of time to spare, perching on the wall and enjoying the warm sunshine until others started to arrive.

First in was Double-Decker who I hadn’t seen for a long, long time and had a litany of complaints: allergic rhinitis, bursitis, arthritis and possibly several other itis’s too.

It was duly noted that no sooner had we sent the Garrulous Kid packing, back to University in Aberdeen, than that whole city was placed in lock-down. A coincidence? I don’t think so.

A couple of us spent time pondering Jimmy Mac’s exotic looking (in the sense of exotic being a euphemism for pug-ugly) and undoubtedly expensive brake calipers, singularly failing to identify the make which seemed to be branded with, err … what are they? Two coffee beans? I think they may have been Cane Creek eeCycleworks creations and the coffee beans may have been artistically rendered “ee’s” – but who knows?

Then Crazy Legs told me to immediately go away and eat a pork pie because I was looking too thin. I protested that I was about as heavy as I’ve ever been, a rather enhanced, lockdown fighting weight of 67 kilograms, or 10 st and 8 lbs for those of us who still use retard units. He was having none of it, the old cynic and all round disbeliever.

Something does seem to have changed though. I used to kid myself I was a slightly above average grimpeur (by our club standards, anyway and making generous allowances for my advanced age and general decrepitude) while being a below average rouleur, but in recent weeks I seem to have suffered a role reversal, seemingly more capable of “booling” along at a high pace than clambering upward.

At the same time I seemed to have found some extra speed on the descents, but can’t understand why, or where it might have come from. Today’s run was going to illustrate all these points and has me thinking about consciously trying to lose some weight to see if it makes much difference on the climbs. Still, that’s more than enough self-reflection to last me two or three months at least.

G-Dawg outlined the “open route” for the day, the option being to follow as required, or modify to suit as, once again we planned to set off in socially-distanced groups of six, with a planned rendezvous late on at the cafe at Kirkley.

The run would be taking us down the Ryals and G-Dawg kindly asked whoever he was riding with to wait for him at the bottom, as he would be “bricking it” on the descent, where he’s had several terrifyingly scary, speed wobbles. Despite swapping his Boardman for a brand new Canyon, it’s still not a descent he feels at all comfortable with.

With over two-dozen of us, we started to form into groups of six and I gravitated to the second group, nominally led by Rainman, as a “faster” front group was called for and started to coalesce around Jimmy Mac.

This front group pushed off, we gave them a while to get clear then made to follow, only to find Jimmy Mac doubling back to pick up more people as the his group was light on bodies. I nudged forward into this group, expecting one or two others to join and even things up a bit. The traffic lights turned green, we pushed off out onto the open road, I glanced back and found I’d been abandoned. thrown to the wolves without mercy.

Even worse, there was only three others in the front group with me: Jimmy Mac, Fourth Down and Spry, all of them considerably younger, leaner, meaner, fitter and faster. This was going to be a little bit testing and it was a case of when, not if I got dropped and just how long I could hang on.

I took things up at the front alongside Spry and then, when he dropped back, alongside Jimmy Mac. He wondered if I was going to ride on the front all day. I didn’t have any breath to spare to confirm or deny it.

I was trying to keep the pace high enough to dissuade anyone from getting fidgety, or pushing onto the front and injecting more speed than I could cope with. I managed to hold my own for about 25km, until we turned for the run through Stamfordham, when Spry and Fourth Down swept past and we all accelerated. The fuse to the powder keg in my legs was duly lit and began sputtering away, burning merrily. Now it was just a case of hanging onto the wheels until it exploded.

We dipped in and out of Matfen, I picked up a handful of Strava PR’s and then we started closing on the village of Ryal.

I was just about still in contact, a few metres off the back, as we crested the infamous Ryals climb and started the steep descent. As a last hurrah, I tucked in tight and slid past everyone to lead the way down, netting 3 more Strava PR’s along the way.

We then turned toward Hallington and started to climb and I knew I was done. I shouted up to Forth Down not to wait and for them to keep going. They did and were soon disappearing uphill as I rolled the chain up the cassette and began climbing at a more sustainable pace.

By the time I was on the top road running toward Capheaton the group was long gone and I considered calling into the cafe there, where I’d be guaranteed good cake. I decided to press on to Kirkley for a regroupement, at the risk of slightly dodgy scones.

On the road past Belsay, I saw a rider in the distance turning off toward Ogle and gave chase, thinking the surprisingly visible dark jersey with the bold white stripe down the back could actually be a clubmate.

Through Ogle I gained ground, until I recognised Aether’s Bianchi and I caught up on the climb and slotted in alongside him as we made our way to the cafe, once again arriving pretty much bang on the scheduled 11.30 meet up time.

As usual the place was heaving, the queue long and the service slow, not helped by the cashiers strapped up arm, which along with a grazed chin, showed her injuries from flying over the handlebars of her bike.

I risked a scone, declining one fresh from the oven, but that was enough to pique Aether’s interest. My scone was mostly disappointing, flat and crumbly, those fresh from the oven were no better.

Our disappointment prompted a question and answer session with the Big Yin, interested in mastering the making of his own scones as part of his rehabilitation as a new Renaissance Man.

Aether provided most of the answers, explaining the base recipe and process was the same, whether you were making sweet or savoury scones and then it was just a choice of choosing from hundreds of potential flavours, cherry, cheese, almond, currant, blueberry, raspberry …

“Pilchard,” I added, trying to be helpful as Aether’s list seemed to be floundering a little. Surprisingly, the Big Yin seemed totally engaged in the discussion and all-in for mastering the fine art of the “sconier” (okay, I just made that up) – well, certainly more engaged than the the cafe seems to be. He even pondered where scone making might sit on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and if indeed it was the very pinnacle of self-actualisation.

Rainman wandered up and flopped into a chair beside us. “I was really surprised when you went off with that first group,” he deadpanned.

Yeah, you and me both, mate …

He then had a barked, quickfire, chat with 3D-L in their mother tongue, which was probably along the lines of can you believe this idiot went off with the fast group, or maybe just one gripe about the English measuring everything in retard units.

I checked in with G-Dawg to see how his descent of the Ryals had gone, different bike, different wheels, same rider, same result. Somehow the speed-wobble that had manifest on the Boardman had managed to make the unlikely jump to the Canyon. He was beginning to wonder if perhaps he was the problem and recognised it could all just in his head now. I’m pretty sure he wont be taking us on that route again anytime soon.

Everyone else went left exiting the cafe, while I swung right, pulling out just in front of Spry who’d scampered away from the rest of our front group somewhere on the climbs where I’d been distanced. He’d then stopped at the Belsay cafe before adding on a few more miles around Whalton and was now heading home.

We rode together as far as Ponteland chatting about life under lockdown and Fabio Jakobsen’s horror crash in the Tour of Poland, before we split.

Solo again and just to underscore I’m not imagining this odd influx of downhill speed, I picked up top 4 and top 10 all-time placings on a couple of Strava segments down to the river. I’ve never managed anything like that before and I was almost as pleased as I was surprised.

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

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

The Wooler Wheel Classic, Saturday 7th October, 2017  

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  104 km / 65 miles with 1,451 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 10 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.9 km/h

Group size:                                         4 riders and 521 others

Temperature:                                    15°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and breezy


wooler
The Route

wwheel
Ride Profile


The Ride:

A Saturday morning with a difference found me up before the sun, wolfing down a quick breakfast and heading out into the still-dark for an hour long drive into north Northumberland to start the Wooler Wheel Classic sportive.

This was to be my third participation in the event, which this time around was confined to a 100km ride, rather than the early season Borderlands ride of over 170km or 107 miles. The Wooler Wheel events are usually low-key affairs, characterised by good routes and incredibly helpful, friendly and supremely well organised marshals. Combine this with what promised to be bright and dry, if chilly weather and the fantastic scenery of the Cheviots and it had all the promise of a great day out.

All of this, before I even mention the piece de resistance, the real kicker that makes the event almost unmissable – never mind the free T-shirt, but every rider is rewarded with a hot drink and lavish helping of pie and peas on completion. Pure, unalloyed genius.

A Gang of Four planned to meet up to tackle the ride together, Crazy Legs, Ovis, Richard of Flanders and me. As a consequence, the first order of the day was likely to prove the most onerous, locating my ride partners and getting everyone organised to set off at the same time.

As luck would have it, I joined up with a long stream of bike-carrying traffic on the way to the ride headquarters and was fairly certain I’d spotted a celeste Bianchi and a blue Orbea on a car upfront – Crazy Legs and Richard of Flanders travelling up together?

Instinct was correct and directed into a field to park, I found myself pulling up only one car removed from two-thirds of my group. Good start.

We went to sign on, trudging through the livestock pens of the cattle market, where numerous carbon steeds waited placidly to be auctioned for their riders to set them free. Crazy Legs looked around the bleak, basic shed, concrete ramps and gated pens. “It’s depressing, isn’t it?”

I agreed, it was far too easy to see them using it as a set from Sophie’s Choice or Schindler’s List (or Ark for the bibliophiles amongst us.)

We all signed on, collected our bikes, attached the event numbers and made our way toward the start, eagerly scanning the crowd for the distinctive blue and yellow of Ovis’s Rochdale Tri top as we went.


weewee


A quick stop at the port-a-potties and then we stationed Richard of Flanders outside the main hall, Crazy Legs ducked inside to search for Ovis, while I rode around toward the start gate to see if he was loitering there. Our searches proved fruitless, so Crazy Legs dialled up Ovis on his mobile and we learned he was currently deeply engaged … in the crapper.

“Ah,” Richard of Flanders said, “I thought I heard someone thrashing around in the stall next to mine.”

We all turned our attention to the long line of port-a-potties and watched and waited, as each one disgorged at least one relieved cyclist, all apart from the one slap bang in the middle. Finally, the door swung open and a fellow that looked like Ovis staggered out into the fresh air, breathed deeply, saw our welcome committee and ambled across.

He was difficult to miss in a new, very bright high-viz waterproof, but it wasn’t the electric blue and acid yellow kit we were expecting. Much to Crazy Legs’ relief, he did unzip his jacket to reveal the stalwart Rochdale Tri kit lurking safely beneath.

Bikes were recovered and we made our way through the pens toward the start gate. I swung my leg over the bike, put my left foot on the pedal and pushed off. My foot slipped instantly off the pedal, I stumbled, the crank whirred around and cracked me in the right shin. Ouch.

I tried again. Same result and then again. I now had a large dint and corresponding bruise in my shin. It still smarts and I’ve been wearing one sock at half mast all week now.

Taking note of the slippery state of my cleats, a hangover of the damp grass, mud and assorted animal effluvia, I concentrated hard and very carefully tried again. With a satisfyingly loud click, pedal embraced cleat and we were off, riding through the timing gate to a cacophony of beeps like a short-circuiting answerphone.

Richard of Flanders kicked the conversation off in style, by suggesting that for the Christmas Jumper ride this year we should all wear smoking jackets, or smirking jackets if we are to continue to pay homage to Ashingternean speak in this blog blerg.

Crazy Legs however is nothing if not bang-up-to-date and countered that the more modern, discerning smoker would demand we wear vaping jackets, not smoking jackets. I’ve no idea what a vaping jacket looks like, but it sounds intriguing.

The first hill bit and Richard of Flanders, naturally in full Belgian team kit, slipped slowly off the back to tackle its incline at his own pace. The rest of us waited to regroup at the top, where Crazy Legs waved through other cyclists, declaring we were “waiting for our classics rider” – not all that happy on the hills, but essential later on in the ride for when the echelons formed in the crosswinds.

Indeed, the wind was to be our constant, nagging and awkward companion for much of the ride, although we were anticipating the last few kilometres at least to gift us with a tailwind – the only issue was getting to this point. Luckily Ovis was on a 3-Shredded Wheat day, or in his own understated words, “going quite well at the moment.”

On we went and I started counting the roadkill, but soon ran out of fingers and toes. I wonder what the death toll is for small furry critters on the roads of Northumberland? At one point, passing the seemingly unmarked, unsullied corpse of a grey squirrel, we debated the relative appeal of a Dead Squirrel Club and whether it would sound more interesting than Chris Boardman’s Secret Squirrel Club.

Another, “ah, poor furry animal” quickly turned to a “yeach” moment as a potential, fluffy squirrel-corpse turned out to be a rather large and fearsome dead rat. Then the highlight of the day as Crazy Legs spotted a dead frog, although it wasn’t quite up to the standards of the splattered, flattened and sun-blasted toad we’d seen on the road up the Col du Glandon.

Richard of Flanders kept himself distracted and us entertained with a series of Viz jokes and recollections and suggested we’d know when he was struggling as the constant flow of verbiage would slowly dry up.

As he started singing “Howay the Lads” in a non-regulation Geordie accent, Crazy Legs mused on what a strange group he found himself riding with – a Lancastrian, a Yorkshireman and someone who lives so far south of the river he’s practically a Mackem…

Another hill and climbing past a group of girls, one of them looked across at Crazy Legs and squealed, “Eee! That’s my bike.” For one moment I thought there was going to be a bit of a tussle over the provenance of a certain celeste Bianchi, but it soon became apparent she merely meant she had the same make and model and an unseemly catfight was avoided. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and we pressed on – I’m not sure it was a fight we could have won.

Yet another hill and a marshal guided us down a left turn and told us not to miss the lady with the jelly babies. Sure enough a couple of hundred yards further on and we found the lady with the jelly babies, holding out a large bowl that she proffered to each passing cyclist.

Like a pro in a feedzone, Crazy Legs swept passed, extended a long arm and grabbed up a few treats without stopping. I pulled up long enough to grab an ample fistful and thanked the Jelly Baby Lady for providing “the best part of the ride” – even though I knew it was a lie – jelly babies are good but pie is better.

I set off in pursuit of my comrades, somewhat hindered as I chewed my way through mouthfuls of jellied sweetness that made breathing just a little bit awkward.

Another turn and up onto Branxton Moor and we were climbing up past Flodden Field, the scene of a bloody skirmish in 1513 when a band of belligerent Scots accused an Englishman of stealing one of their classic Italian velocipedes … or some other, equally as heinous transgression.

Ovis suggested a contingent of archers had travelled all the way up from Rochdale for the bash, but confessed he didn’t know how they’d got there. I naturally suggested the Trans-Pennine Express, which was all that was necessary to set Crazy Legs away on a Kraftwerk inspired song cycle.

Luckily I heard him singing “we are the robots” just before he became engaged in some exaggerated, robotic-style arm-waving, otherwise I would have been swerving across the road trying to avoid some imaginary potholes I thought he was trying to point out in a really eccentric style.

More climbing, just for a change and we stopped at a road junction to regroup once again. Here a couple of riders from the Berwick Wheelers swept past, giving Ovis a long appraising look. Crazy Legs suggesting they were just checking out his Rochdale Tri jersey which bore a remarkable resemblance to their own livery.

Back together again, we caught and passed the two Berwick Wheelers, who sat on for a while, before deciding we were going too slow. One of them pulled out, overtook us and suddenly realised just how strong the headwind was, as his pace immediately dropped down to match ours. We naturally had no intention of looking a gift horse in the mouth and piled onto the shelter of his back wheel, happy to have someone to share the workload with.

The other Berwick Wheeler then joined his compadre on the front for a long stint, before ceding the front to Crazy Legs and Ovis again, as we continued in a long arc that would draw us back toward Wooler.

The cohesiveness of our impromptu group was ruptured on the next climb and then lost for good as I punctured on the descent. An audible Phztt…Phztt…Phztt announced a rapidly deflating front tyre, while sounding like a cartoon bomb rolling over and over on its fuse. We stopped and pulled over to make repairs.

Underway again, a long descent deposited us onto the Milfield Plain, where scores of ominous black carrion crows circled us cawing loudly and watching eagerly for any faltering cyclist to provide a quick meal. The seemed to particularly gather around Richard of Flanders, who’d gone ominously silent and was looking perhaps the most likely to give them what they were waiting for.

We were starting to close rapidly on the finish now though and Ovis was happy to announce only two more climbs. I could only remember one of these, where our route took us up onto a narrow track the curved past a farm, a short sharp and very brutal ramp that formed a real, late sting in the tail of the route.

I remembered the climb from the 107 mile Borderlands run as it had almost brought me to a grinding halt. This time the approach seemed different as we swung left onto the climb, whereas I’m sure we approached from the other direction on the longer route.

While the approach was different, the severity of the climb was the same and I chased my chain up the cassette and hauled myself out of the saddle to follow Ovis. The pitted road surface was invisible under a thick blanket of mud, which at least evened out some of the bumps. Luckily it was bone-dry, or traction would have been a real issue.

Nevertheless, the slope claimed its sacrificial victims, one being the rider just in front of us who came grinding to a halt with cramp in both legs and lamenting the fact that this hill always seems to defeat him. As we eased over the first of two ramps another rider approached from behind muttering to himself and swearing like a trooper with Tourette’s – “rugga-fumba-rumba-bashta-gronk!”

“Does it help?” I enquired.

“Yes, I think so,” he politely replied.

He then swung round the corner to the bottom of the next rise and with a full-blooded roar of “Baaastard!” attacked the slope full on. As he winched his way around the corner and out of sight, his voice trailed faintly back down to us, “It definitely helps …”

Ovis was right and there was one more hill of note, but it wasn’t as bad as anything that had gone before and we were now pushing on and eager to finish. A few more miles saw us all through the “Welcome to Wooler” sign and then we were swinging right into the Cattle Market and back over the timing gate to finish.

T-shirt collected (and almost instantly snaffled by Daughter#1 when I got home) and more importantly with “pie vouchers” clasped in sweaty hands, we made our way to the event canteen for our much anticipated reward.

The steak pie was great, the paper plates and pliable plastic forks not so good – perhaps we’ll carry our own cutlery next time? Crazy Legs even went with the healthy option and had mushy peas with his (one of his five a day) and everyone seemed to agree the meal really hit the spot.

There was then just time for a Gang of Four, group picture and we were packing up to head home. As ever the event remains one of my favourites and I’ve no doubt we’ll be back next year for one, or both of the Wooler Wheel rides.

Oh, did I mention the pie?


YTD Totals: 5,888 km / 3,658 miles with 67,189 metres of climbing