Monumental Impediments


Club Run, Saturday 12th March, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   112 km/70 miles with 1,000 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 17 minutes

Average Speed:                                   26.0 km/h

Group size:                                           33 riders, 5 FNG’s

Temperature:                                      13°C

Weather in a word or two:              Splendid


 

pa NOTICE


 

Main topic of conversation at the start:

I arrived at the meeting point to find a glowering BFG being warily circled by a couple of FNG’s who were keeping their distance and not daring to approach until I arrived to show them he was actually quite harmless.

Just to be contrary the BFG has resorted to type and was once again out on something venerable and vintage and made of steel. He’d even thought about adding a fake nut to the top of his stem just to see if he could inspire OGL to once again tell us the tale of how he ripped his scrotum open on one during a track meet. It’s a tale that never grows old in the telling…

Crazy Legs’s 39 days must have been up as he appeared sporting his new, faithfully and painstakingly reproduced Oakley Jawbreakers. Very smart. Attracted by the spectacle(s) the Prof then emerged through a milling crowd of cyclists to give him a hug – seemingly one of many that would take place throughout the day.

The Prof then stopped by to acknowledge how much he looks forward to his mentions in this humble blog. He is of course one of the more frequently featured characters, though trailing a somewhat distant second to his tiny, leaky bladder.

OGL arrived and dipped his head to fully reveal his new helmet, emblazoned with the club name across the top. What next, custom mudguards in club colours? Where will it end?

He then proceeded to have a bizarre conversation with one of the FNG’s when she stepped forward to introduce herself:

“You phoned me last Wednesday?”

“Err, no I e-mailed you last week”

“But you texted me yesterday?”

“Err, no I emailed last week”

“So was it you who messaged me on Facebook?”

“Err, no …”

Oh well, she passed the first test – showing patience and empathy for the infirm and senile.

One of the other FNG’s was having trouble with his bike, which was laid supine as he did something indescribable to the seat post. For one dread moment I thought we were going to be accompanied all the way around by someone else insisting that you don’t need a saddle, but thankfully he finally had it sorted.

His girlfriend cheerfully informed us they’d ridden across the Alps together, but that was two years ago and they hadn’t done a lot since. I assured her we wouldn’t be tackling any Alps today, but had a bad feeling this wasn’t going to end well.

The boyfriend had a decent enough bike and seemed to know his way around an Allen key, but rather oddly was wearing white football shorts over his bibshorts and had his helmet on at a rather odd, rakish angle. Maybe it’s incipient OCD or something, but I have to admit the latter is something I just can’t abide – I often have to adjust Crazy Legs’s helmet at the café so it sits just right before I’ll let him be seen out in public with us.

We were doing that usual cyclist trick of spilling aimlessly across the entire pavement, engrossed in waves of endless, nonsensical banter and completely oblivious to the fact that bikes and bodies had formed a rather formidable and impenetrable maze.

One old biddy was having trouble threading her way amongst us with her wheeled shopping bag until Richard of Flanders emitted an ear-drum shattering bellow that shocked us into silence and had us parting like the Red Sea.

Unfortunately, his aural assault caused the old biddy to almost leap out of her skin with fright and when she clutched at her chest and wavered I thought she was going to have a heart attack and topple head first into the shopping trolley. Luckily she recovered and casting fearful looks at us all scuttled away as quickly as she could manage.

Crazy Legs was left to ponder if the shock had been fatal whether we would have sprayed her shopping trolley white and chained it to a nearby lamppost like one of those Ghost Bikes left as a memorial to killed and injured cyclists.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Taffy Steve was out on his titanium love-child and declared the thrice-cursed winter bike had been put into deep storage for the rest of the year, having first removed the pedals in case they seized up. He then suggested he hadn’t loosened the seat clamp because he didn’t really care if the seat tube seized in the frame, reasoning that he’d stopped growing, so couldn’t foresee a need to alter his riding position.

G-Dawg wondered if a seized seat tube meant you could totally remove the clamp and save few crucial micrograms, then remembered a recent run where a malfunctioning clamp saw a saddle slowly sink lower and lower until the rider was pedalling with his knees around his ears. Not a good idea then.

Thoughts turned to the round-ball game as notable local events were somewhat dominated by the conviction of Adam Johnson and the appointment of Rafael Benitez. No one quite knew which one had drawn the worst sentence.

Someone even suggested that Mr. Johnson was likely to be the happier of the two as he would now be referred to as Adam Johnson the paedophile rather than Adam Johnson the Sunderland player. Ouch.

Everyone was baffled by Rafa citing being close to his family as a reason for venturing back to “Northern England” and surprisingly it wasn’t the fact that we actually consider Liverpool be in the South that caused the confusion. What was troubling was that Rafael Benitez, well-travelled, urbane and international football manager at the likes of Madrid, Tenerife, Valencia, Naples and Milan, chose to leave his family in Liverpool. We wondered if he’d consider Wallsend or possibly Byker as a suitable place for future re-location.

Thoughts turned to much more engaging and worthwhile sporting endeavours with the Classics just around the corner and both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico in full swing. Thinking of the latter, Shoeless demanded to know what the “big, fuck-off pointy pitchfork thing” was all about.

Spry, something of an expert on esoteric cycling trophies as highlighted by a page of his blog (The Weird and Wonderful World of Cycling Trophies funnily enough) patiently explained that it was representative of Neptune’s trident as the Tirreno-Adriatico was a race run between the two seas. We then speculated on how the race could be improved if the leading rider was made to carry the trident along with them.

It was a short step from there to imagining a handicap system where riders were obliged to carry the trophies of their previous conquests, something that would be particularly debilitating for Fabian Cancellara and we imagined him bent almost double and shuffling awkwardly to the Paris-Roubaix sign-on, burdened down with the three huge cobble-stones stuffed in his back pockets.


 

ta pr trophy
The Weird and Wonderful World of Cycling Trophies

 

Next up on our agenda for searing insight and erudite comment was Paris-Nice and the chances of Geraint Thomas taking an historic first win, always recognising of course his penchant for falling off his bike at the most inopportune time. Someone mentioned he’d crashed once already, apparently while trying to dislodge a stone caught between his saddle and frame. Fanciful I know, but it was a short step from there to imagining a smug and smiling Fabian Cancellara riding behind him and winking at the camera, happy to have used his astonishing sleight of hand to palm one of his cobblestones off on an unwitting dupe.

The Prof stopped by our table on his way to the toilet, pausing long enough for a quick hug with Crazy Legs. Taffy Steve suggested their homo-erotic displays were becoming a bit much and suggested they might want to think about getting a room. He then ventured to suggest a bit of prostate milking might actually help with the Prof’s constant urge to wee.

At this point OGL approached, snapping on a pair of latex surgical gloves and we all recoiled in horror at what we thought was about to unfold. Much to our relief he neatly side-stepped our table and began to work fixing a puncture on Laurelan’s bike.

Needless to say the Prof claimed the discarded inner tube to add to his growing treasure trove of cast-off bits and pieces and road-kill. OGL recounted visiting the Prof’s secret laboratory/workshop/lair and finding rows and rows of used inner tubes all bizarrely hanging out to dry on the washing line.


 

ride 12 march
Ride Profile

 

The Waffle:

So, who the fuck is Zakaria Amirouch?

Actually that’s a bit of a rhetorical question, I know that Zakaria Amairouch is a cyclist in Tetouan, Morocco. I guess what I really want to know is why does he feel the need to post his rides on our club Strava group? As far as I know Zakaria Amarouch has no connection with the club, has never been to the North East, doesn’t ride the same routes as the rest of us and doesn’t choose to interact with us in any way shape or form, either through Strava or any other channel.

So what exactly does he get out of it? Are we meant to be impressed by his mileage totals, huge rides, stupid photos, KoM’s or his single-minded, some would say borderline psychotic dedication to hunt down and join every single Strava group that exists? Do me a favour Zakaria and fuck off.

Sorry, rant over.

So the much anticipated day arrived, Spring is upon us and the promise of fine dry weather has riders across the region rubbing their hands with unfettered glee as they stow away winter bikes and carefully awaken carbon beasts from deep slumber.

As I gently lift Reg out from his nest between my single-speed and rat-bag mountain bike I can only marvel at how light it is. Don’t get me wrong this is no super-lightweight, fully carbon-outfitted, uber-machine with all the most exotic components. Nor is it anywhere close to troubling the UCI and their preposterous 6.8kg weight limit, but at bang on 9 kilos fully loaded it’s considerably and very noticeably lighter than the Peugeot.

I’d checked the bike over the night before, inflated the tyres with a new, super-slick BBB track pump, and fitted a mount for my knock-off GoPro onto the saddle rails. I was good to go and eager to start.

I’d forgotten how much fun it is to ride on a twitchy, responsive carbon blade and as I dropped down to the valley floor I found I was clipping along two miles an hour faster than usual, stretched out by the different geometry and grinning like an idiot. I don’t think the bike is actually worth an extra 2 miles an hour, I was simply riding on a wave of pure exuberance and joie d’ vivre.

Even the lights on the bridge were in my favour and I skipped over the river without stopping and began spinning up the other side of the valley, looking forward to a good ride out. I wasn’t alone at the meeting place, finding just about everyone had abandoned mudguards and heavy winter bikes in favour of their “Saturday best”.

G-Dawg even turned up wearing shorts, resolutely declaring it was Spring and there was no turning back now.

The relatively mild and dry conditions had undoubtedly been a big draw and around 33 riders and a smattering of FNG’s pushed off, clipped in and rode out. At this point the BFG rolled past me and declared he thought he’d seen everything, but this was the first time we’d had a bike with a kickstand out on the club run.


 

NOVATEK CAMERA
Riding Out

 

I fell in with the Prof who informed me the Frankenbike, my old crashed and trashed Focus that he had repaired and restored to life in his secret laboratory/lair/workshop, was being honourably retired from service now that he’d found a frame that was a better fit for Mrs. Prof.

He then revealed his dirtiest, darkest secret, admitting he would consider buying a bike with normal sized wheels if he could only find one that increased in value rather than depreciated. Despite my uncertainty he seemed convinced such bikes exist, although even if they do I’m not sure that appreciating value would be one of my major (or even very, very minor) considerations when buying a new bike.

Somewhere around this point I hit a pot and with a loud clatter my pretend GoPro launched from under my saddle and bounced alarmingly across the road. The FNG in football shorts retrieved it for me and handed it across. A quick check seemed to suggest that it was as shockproof as claimed, but the retaining bolt that kept it fixed to the bracket had worked loose and disappeared.  There was no quick way of fixing the camera back in position, so I tucked it away into a back pocket and pressed on. It’s a shame, because I was quite impressed with some of the backward facing shots I had managed to gather in the short time it was working.


 

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An extreme close up of the road surface – the last image my camera recorded

 

I then began what would become the first of many chases to catch back onto our group. Having accomplished this, I found myself slotting in right at the back, where Pierre Rolland look-alike, Spry (not facially, but I can see a definite similarity in style and form on the bike), was cruising along with his dad, Andeven.

As we hit the bottom of Berwick Hill, the FNG accompanying the one in football shorts began to slide swiftly backwards and I watched as a gap between the front and back of our group yawned quickly open.

Andeven skipped around her and gave chase, while I waited a little longer. When it became obvious that even if she made it back up to our group she’d never complete the ride, I pulled out and started my own chase back.


 

NOVATEK CAMERA
Until it self-destructed I was quite happy with what the camera managed to capture

 

As I closed over the top of the hill I passed a faltering Arnold who said he was doing ok and then found Laurelan who was somewhat detached from our group and drifting backwards. She said she was ok too, but was worried about Arnold who, despite his assertions wasn’t ok and wasn’t feeling all that good.

I noticed OGL dropping back off the front group to see what was happening, so relayed across to him to let him know the FNG’s were well adrift and Arnold was suffering. He went back to investigate further and lend assistance while I gave chase again.

Catching up with the group, I found myself riding alongside Zardoz who was fighting to stave off the incipient onset of serious man flu and reported that someone had broken into his shed and nicked his winter bike. Both perhaps valid reasons for Crazy Legs to declare that Zardoz was the angriest man riding that day, especially after an altercation with a RIM who refused to slow down as he drove toward us down a narrow country lane

This encounter had Zardoz’s moustaches brisling like a face-off between angry tomcats and had him swearing through them with an admirable degree of fluidity and imagination. Gone was the mask of twinkle-eyed, avuncular, bon homie he usually adopts – here was the real cold-hearted cycling assassin revealed in all his dark majesty.


 

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At some point OGL hauled ass past me, breathing hard, but able to gasp out that there’d been no sight of the FNG’s when he went back to look for them and that they must have abandoned the ride. At the rather inevitable pee stop I found that both Laurelan and Arnold had managed to re-join however and did indeed seem ok.

After this short break I found myself riding with Crazy Legs, who like Zardoz was also suffering from incipient man-flu and blaming his infection on sitting next to a 6’4” Irish Elvis impersonator during a business meeting. From my understanding the Elvis impersonator was an all-round good bloke who had been skilled enough at his craft to get a paying gig in Las Vegas. I never did work out what an IT firm needed an Elvis impersonator for though.

As we started up a steep hill behind the BFG, there was an audible hiss of escaping air and Crazy Legs called out, “Puncture!” The BFG dutifully relayed the call up the line, then turned to ask who’d punctured. I could see Crazy Legs giving himself a mental face-palm as he pointed to the BFG’s rear tyre and replied with a sparse, “You have…”

We all gathered together at the top of the hill to wait for repairs to be made. OGL decided that we should split the group and that depending on which group the BFG wanted to ride with the others could press on while the rest waited.

Crazy Legs trailed down the hill to ask the question and then dragged himself back up to inform us the BFG had said he would decide when he re-joined!

Finally underway again, we began travelling down a road where all the potholes had been marked with big yellow brackets spay-painted around them. I assume this means that they’re eventually going to repair the road, but even if they don’t the paint did a great job of showing us which bits to avoid.

The Red Max went off on what, even by his own crazed standards, was an impressively long and very ambitious lone break. At one point Spry said he was thinking of bridging across so the pair could work together, then realised we were bearing down on Middleton Bank and Red Max would soon be engulfed in an unequal duel with gravity and unlikely to be in position to offer much assistance.

Despite the daunting obstacle of the climb to come, Carlton and Cowin’ Bovril seemed determined to bring Max to heel sooner rather than later and whipped up the pace of the pursuit.

We turned right at a junction that dumped us directly onto the bottom of the climb, which was good as there was no time to even think about finding the right gear and less chance of making a mess of things like I did the week before.

Andeven attacked from the very bottom of the climb and quickly pulled away, while I slotted in behind Shoeless as the slope began to bite. As we hit the steepest section I levered myself out of the saddle and swung across the white line, accelerating upwards. Bit by bit I overhauled Shoeless and started to creep past G-Dawg. There was a shout of “car!” from someone at the back and I looked behind to find I’d opened up a big enough gap to slot into, so I swung back across the road and out of danger.

It was now just a case of keeping going, as I slumped back in the saddle, hugging the left hand gutter so there was plenty of room for anyone to pass me. I had no idea what was going on behind, or where the others were and couldn’t hear a thing beyond my rasping, panting breath.  I was gasping like an asthmatic chain-smoker with emphysema being forced to run wind sprints up a mountain and it would took another 2 or 3 miles before my breathing returned to normal.

I was however slowly closing on Andeven and might have caught his back wheel if the slope had continued another 200 metres or so. It’s also just as likely I would have collapsed in a jelly-legged heap if the slope had continued another 200 metres or so, as it was the road levelled and Andeven pulled away again.

At this point I just kept going, recognising I was breaking club protocol by not waiting to regroup at the top of the climb, but reasoning that I was so winded and slow that everyone would overhaul me eventually. Then Shoeless cruised past, I jumped onto his wheel and all thoughts of regrouping were conveniently forgotten as he accelerated away – when confronted by my misdeeds age, enfeeblement and senility have been my excuse in the past and I was sure they would serve me again now.

We picked up Andeven and from what I recall G-Dawg, Plank and Captain Black made it across as we drove for home in front of what I gather was a rather frenzied chase behind. Everyone in the front group swept past me on the final climb, but after blowing last week’s assault on Middleton Bank I was just pleased not to have messed up again and as an added bonus managed to net a new Strava PR for my efforts.

It was pleasant enough for us to encamp in the café garden, with everyone (well, maybe all apart from Zardoz) in high spirits, on top form and full of the usual unfettered, unrelenting torrent of irreverent banter to keep us royally entertained.

A pleasant return leg, mainly spent chatting with Zardoz (he didn’t really seem all that angry) and a good solo run for home capped the best ride of the year.

So far.


YTD Totals: 1,326 km /824 miles with 13,346 metres of climbing

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.