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.

Helmet-head and riding the thin line between the cycle paths and the psychopaths …

Club Run – Weekend of 13th to 14th of June, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                     112.7km/70.0 miles with 1,015 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 14 minutes

Group size:                                           32 cyclists at the start. 1 (returning!) FNG.

 Weather in a word or two:               Surprising.

Main topic of conversation at the start: The emerging new sport of eBay style sniping Cyclone Sportive entries to see just how close to the deadline we can get – perhaps an evil, but seemingly uncoordinated plan to give OGL conniptions that no one from the club is going to ride? Queries, (and I’m not sure if these were related), about how long it takes to wear out East European wives and whatever happened to the Tuxedo Princess. The Tuxedo Princess was a seedy nightclub entombed in the rusting bowels of a ship that even the most heartless Libyan people-smuggler would think twice about using. Much like Mos Eisley spaceport, or even my old school you would be hard-pressed to “find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”

Note: I was once roundly castigated for comparing my old school to Mos Eisley spaceport, and strangely enough not by those upstanding, fictional inter-stellar denizens. I will apologise in advance therefore for any offence caused.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: Whether Sir Bradley Wiggins (OBE) will follow through on his threat promise to marshal one of the corners at the Beaumont Trophy road race next week. OGL’s continuing search for a pillion rider brave enough to serve as official timekeeper on the back of a motorbike. (If you want to apply you must provide your own helmet and chalkboard, we however should be able to find some chalk). We discussed if a pub blackboard would be an adequate substitute and possible consequences of inadvertently revealing this week’s dessert specials instead of the time back to the chasing bunch. This was followed by the horrible and shameful confession from The Red Max that he ordered the monkey-butler, slave-boy to “ease up” last week, and in the process destroyed many patient years of relentless parental programming. Finally, is helmet-head better or worse than helmet-hair?

Ride Profile
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

When does a FNG become a full blood-brother of the club cycling fraternity? We obviously haven’t been making the new guys unwelcome enough, as one brave soul actually returned two weeks in a row. Our Ex-Ex-Pat, The Last Air Bender, reappeared having fully recovered from grinding in the wind, bonking and baptising himself in lukewarm coffee. If he keeps this up he may even earn a nickname. (Oh!)

Rather worryingly he was wearing a jersey from his previous club in New Yawk, sponsored by what I assume was their LBS, the “Montclair Bikery.” Bikery? Hmm, isn’t that where our Australian cousins buy their pastries? Begad sir! When will those uppity colonists stop mangling the Queen’s English, eh what?

helmet hair
Helmet-head or helmet hair – you decide which is worse

33 brave lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and set out into the maw of the brand, spanking-new Great North Road cycle path. This is a very narrow ribbon of tarmac designed solely to protect all the other rightful and righteous road-users from us pesky cyclists. To achieve this, the roadside edge is studded with a series of hefty rubberised tank traps the like of which haven’t been seen since Hitler’s panzers threatened these shores. Deviating even slightly from a straight line and clipping one of these protruberences is likely to catapult the unfortunate cyclist over the kerb and onto the pavement, where, lying dazed and bruised, he’ll be easy prey to packs of vengeful, marauding pedestrians. As if these obstacles weren’t enough, and in keeping with the WW2 theme, every so often along the perimeter someone has thoughtfully dotted some “Rommelspargel” cheerful, candy striped poles at just the right height to catch on your handlebars.

I’m all for providing sensible segregation for cyclists where it’s not substandard, but this narrow, fenced in canyon leaving no room for manoeuvre and nowhere to go if the path is blocked feels more dangerous than the open road.

Anyhow, out onto the actual open roads we sped, the weather proving to be much kinder than the forecast had suggested, with only the slightest hint of rain, sunny interludes between high broken cloud cover and the barest breath of wind. Absolutely perfect.

Things went smoothly until we split onto one of my least favourite routes, the draggy climb up to Rothley Crossroads, where I resolutely camped behind G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg’s wheels. I grimly hung there through the white-knuckle descent and scamper along to Middleton Bank, and was still there at the top of the climb. I’ve got no idea who else was with us at that point, I couldn’t hear because of the asthmatic death-rattle in my lungs and the blood pounding in my ears – and had absolutely zero interest in looking back to find out.

After a general regrouping I stayed on Son of G-Dawg’s wheel as The Red Max’s predictable “Forlorn Hope” attack went briefly clear, pulling a few other riders along. As the road climbed along with the pace, Son of G-Dawg started picking off the back-markers one by one. I refused to budge from his wheel, making sure any late attacks would have to come around us both, and if I’d had any breath to spare I might have been tempted to cackle maniacally in glee. Then Plumose Papuss put in a searing uphill attack, Son of G-Dawg accelerated in response and I was slowly disengaged and cast adrift to fall back to Earth like the spent, burned out stage of a Saturn V rocket. Still, I was far enough ahead of most of the group to roll in 6th (but who’s counting!)

Road rage (male)
Beware RIM encounters

The post-café run for home came replete with two Random Indignant Motorist (RIM) encounters. The first barrelling toward us down a narrow country lane in an over-sized pick-up truck, hogging fully two-thirds of the road and with absolutely no intention of stopping or even slowing. Given no time to single out I bumped up hard against the FNG and luckily we both stayed upright as the truck wing mirror whistled inches past my skull. Yikes! Incident number two came when a dozy bimbo overtook me, only to pull in sharply and then turn immediately left into a shopping centre car park causing me to haul hard on the brakes. Aargh! What was the point of that? I have to say, that although these are the incidents that stick in my mind there were many more motorists who pulled over and stopped, gave us plenty of room or waved us cheerfully through. One bad apple, and all that.

Until next week…

YTD Totals: 2,827km/ 1,757 miles with 31,088 metres of climbing.