Mildly Tyre Sum

Mildly Tyre Sum

Club Run 26th January, 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance: 100 km/62 miles & 1,006m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 8 minutes
Average Speed:24.1 km/h
Group Size:30 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature: 10°C
Weather in a word or two:Disturbingly mild

Ride Profile

The weather continues to confound, swinging from a frigid -4°C on Wednesday’s early morning commute, to disturbingly mild, double-figures for the weekend.

With no ice to worry about and the morning’s starting to get lighter too, the big concern first thing Saturday was perfecting the balancing act and getting the layering just right – we were looking for the Goldilocks ideal – not too hot and not too cold.

So, a single base layer, Galibier jacket (in case the threatened rain or sleet materialised early than forecast), thin gloves with liners, no buff, no hat or headband. It was a reasonably, solid effort, a self-scoring 7, or an 8 out of 10 and I only feeling chilly the few times we were forced to stopped.

The roads were strangely quiet of fellow cyclists as I made my way across to the meeting place, but it seemed to be a day for solitary runners, who were out in force, in all sizes, shapes and styles.

There were so many, I wondered if there was an upcoming event they were all training for, or perhaps we now had a National Running Day to go along with National Hugging Day, National Pie Eating Day, National Rubik’s Cube Day, or whatever new nonsense they’ve come up with. (Apparently National Running Day does actually exist, but it’s in June.)

On the final approach to the meeting point I was caught behind a vaping driver, billowing plumes of sickly, sweet-smelling smoke out of his car window. It took me a while, but I finally recognised that he seemed to be indulging in a blackcurrant vape, possibly Ribena, or perhaps Vimto? A new one to add to Taffy Steve’s list of improbable and nauseating vape flavours.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:

G-Dawg pointed to the cheap, emergency, strap-on LED light on my handlebars and recounted how he’d attached one to his dog, after its purpose built LED collar failed. He said it worked as a great substitute, until the dog went plunging headlong into the river, at which point he mentally wrote it off.

He was then hugely surprised when the dog had emerged, with the light still blinking away furiously. At this point he decided that for a cheap light, he’d found something that was surprisingly sturdy, waterproof and wholly reliable … until he tried to turn it off to save the batteries for another day and found he couldn’t.

I imagined the disgruntled dog sitting at home, still blinking away like a stray satellite and unable to sleep for the disturbing bursts of light searing through its eyelids every time it tried.

Crazy Legs revealed he’d finished last weeks ride, taken off his gilet and hung it over the handlebars of his bike in the garage. It had still been there waiting for him this morning, but he’d only managed to half pull it on before its rank stink had dissuaded him and he’d been forced to consign it directly to the washing basket.

OGL commented on someone suggesting that he could wear a base layer ten times in a row between washes – or was it ten years in a row? Anyway, this is entirely possible because it was made with miraculous non-stink, Merino wool. I think it’s probably fine – but only if you can pedal fast enough to outpace your own odour …

Still, G-Dawg thought you could get at least 4 “good” wears out of a pair of Y-fronts, worn normally, back to front and then repeating the process but inside out. He was joking. (Right?) The disturbing level of detail he added, such as saving the right side out and the right way around “for best” did make me wonder …

OGL then mentioned some all-day British Cycling, regional meeting in February and wondered if anyone wanted to accompany him to represent the club, a sort of sharing of the pain. He didn’t seem to find any irony in the fact that nobody else has any kind of official status in the club (other than being a paid-up, or even non-paying member.)

In other news, he suggested that the city’s £11 million development plan for two sporting hubs could see a cycling track and possibly clubhouse, built at the Bullocksteads site near the rugby stadium. This, he offered, could be a better meeting point for club rides. This vision was enthusiastically embraced by G-Dawg who lives right on the doorstep of the proposed development. I’ve no doubt he could see his future-self rolling out of bed at 8:55 and still being the first one to arrive at the meeting point.

Taffy Steve nodded over to where Princess Fiona and Mini Miss had gathered and were chatting away.

“The red car and the blue car had a race…” he intoned, drawing attention to the fact that they were dressed almost identically, except one was wearing a red jacket and the other a blue one.

“Do you remember that Milky Way advert?” he asked, “I hated it.”

I wondered what it was provoked such hatred, could it have been the art style and direction? The patent absurdity of it’s storyboard? The jaunty, jangling soundtrack? The ear-worm effectiveness of its jingle? Perhaps it was the product itself, the rather effete, light-weight Milky Way that made him curl his lip in disdain?

“It’s the lyric’s he explained, starting to sing away, “The red car and the blue car had a race, but all Red wants to do is stuff his face, he eats everything he see’s, from trucks to prickly trees, but smart old Blue he took the Milky Way.” He paused, but not for long …

“So, what’s wrong with that? Prickly trees? Prickly trees! Pah! They obviously meant cactuses, but were too lazy to find anything that would rhyme with cactuses, cacti or whatever. Even as a kid I knew it was just a lazy cop-out. Grrr!”

It’s amazing what superficial ephemera we carry from our yoof and how much it can still trouble and annoy us …

Our route architect for the day, Crazy Legs asked if anyone was interested in the full details of his grand plan. Apparently not, so without further ado, he invited G-Dawg to lead out those who wanted a faster ride, adding that there’d be no waiting to regroup.

The first group started to coalesce around G-Dawg, with the majority of riders joining. I hung back to try and even out the numbers, but it was still a two-thirds to one-third split – apparently no one wants any kind of association with a “slow” group.

Crazy Legs did have a little rueful chuckle to himself, as the (always game) Goose bumped his steel behemoth down off the kerb and went to join the fast group.

We agreed he’d be fine, he likes a challenge and the route wasn’t too hilly.


The second group followed, but we hadn’t gone more than a couple of hundred yards before the Red Max’s front tyre gave out with a sound like a sputtering Catherine Wheel – fzzzzit-fzzzzit-fzzzzit-fzzzzit.

We all pulled to a stop and clustered around and I moved up in unison with Crazy Legs to see how we could help.

“Don’t worry,” he declared, “We’ll soon have it fixed, the Dream Team’s here!” as he referred to the time we’d fruitlessly spent half an hour struggling with Big Dunc’s unholy alliance of Continental Grand Prix tyres and Shimano rims (Trial of Tyre’s.)

We’d failed in that instance, only to later learn that Big Dunc had saved himself through the simple expedience of flipping the wheel around and inserting the inner tube into the other side. Why that made a difference, I really don’t know, but it obviously did and it might be worth trying if you’re ever stuck with seriously recalcitrant tyres.

Despite the close attention and best ministrations of the Dream Team, the tyre change went pretty smoothly and we were soon back on the road again.

I was on the front with the Ticker, (Ticker-less, now he’s on his winter bike) and we spent much of the time calling back, trying to determine what the route was – I really should have paid attention, or at least encouraged Crazy Legs to give us an actual and foolproof briefing.

Occasional incoherent shouting punctured our ride, apparently caused by a RIM in a Volvo taking exception to our right of way, but I was well insulated from any altercations as we plugged away on the front, up through High Callerton and toward Medburn.



Here, we were drawn to a halt when the Red Max’s tyre gave out again. While he cursed his shoddy and useless Continental summer tyres, that seemed shot after “a mere 5,000 miles” of extraordinary wear and tear, I double-checked the rim and carcass for offending objects – glass, thorns, shards of metal, flints, rough edges, caltrops, thumb tacks, whatever. There was nothing.

Meanwhile, the Red Max realised he’d used a Vittoria inner tube, so he had a little rant about “Italian crap” while he was on. Even as a proud Vittorian I wasn’t going to stand in front of that particular runaway express.

“Badd-bing-badda-fzzzzit,” Taffy Steve added helpfully.

Meanwhile, Crazy Legs took the flaccid, holed tube off the Red Max, ostensibly to locate where the puncture was, but really just to hold it up to his nose and inhale deeply.

“Ah, I love the smell of rubber,” he declared, evidently quite content with the world. Apparently it smelled considerably better than his gilet.

There then followed a very deep, lengthy and philosophical discussion about how inner tubes can smell so good, when the air inside them is so rank.

“Like stale kippers,” I suggested and nobody disagreed.

We got going again and pressed on to the crossroads at Heugh, where a bronchitis-suffering OGL made a bee-line for the cafe. The Red Max decided to cut his ride short too, hoping to lessen the chances for further punctures and departed to provide escort duties.

Somewhere along the way I found myself directly behind Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs as they rode along, for some reason arguing about similarities between OGL and, somewhat randomly, football manager Neil Warnock.

Things turned a shade darker when Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe and Saddam Hussein were somehow added to the equation Still, the only conclusion they could agree on was that, if Idi Amin was a club member, they were pretty sure he hadn’t paid his subs in a good long while. Bizarre.

Having been delayed by recurrent punctures, we took a slight short cut toward the Quarry and, as the road started to climb, I nudged onto the front alongside Crazy Legs.

As we pulled the group along I complained about how I seemed to have become a dirt magnet for the day, liberally spotted and besplattered with mud from head to toe. My boots had turned a deeply unpleasant shade of brown and I was peering out at the world through seriously spotted glasses.

It was bad enough to start me singing “Teenage Dirtbag” – a selection that was at least tolerated by Crazy Legs as a “not-too-bad” earworm.

“Left, or right?” Crazy Legs pondered as we dragged the group toward the top of the Quarry.

“Left,” I declared, “We haven’t been that way for a long time.” So long in fact that I’d forgotten bits of the road had actually been patched and was (in places) almost decent.

So, left we went, slowing to allow everyone to regroup after the climb. As we rolled on, Crazy Legs bent right over to point, his finger hovering scant inches from the road surface as he bellowed out a lung-shredding “POT!” – a warning that was probably heard in the Scottish Borders.

“Sometimes, I really think I need to become a little more mature,” Crazy Legs considered.

“No, don’t go changin’ – we love you just the way you are.” I assured him.

He rode on in silence for a good dozen or so pedal strokes while he digested this …

“You bastard! You utter, utter bastard!” he complained, “First you give me Wheatus and then snatch it away for … for bloody Billy Joel!”

“Oh, is that a Billy Joel song?” I enquired innocently.

He then swore me to silence as he had a huge confession to make, needed advice, but demanded the ultimate in discretion. (This blerg doesn’t count, as no one reads it.) He looked around cautiously to make sure no one could eavesdrop. The group was still reforming behind us after the climb and we had a brief exclusion zone.

“I’ve been thinking about my set-up for the mountains and … Well… I don’t think I can get what I want with Campag.”

I was deeply shocked, almost speechless, as he hurriedly and in hushed tones, talked about Shimano, or even SRAM groupset options. Oh and the sky is falling down and meanwhile, in deepest, darkest hell, the thermostat’s been nudged up just a little …

Further discrete discussions around this bombshell were abandoned as we started a slow burn for the cafe, gradually picking up the pace.

“Do you want to go for this sprint?” Crazy legs wondered.

“Nah, I’m happy to just roll through.”

We built up the speed until all the talking behind stopped and we were lined out, clipping along, bouncing and juddering across the rough road surface.

I nodded up ahead where the road rose, before starting to drop down toward the Snake Bends.

“Take it to the top and then unleash the hounds?” I suggested.

So we did, peeling off neatly to either side and ushering the rest through for the final charge.

Cowin’ Bovril was the first to try his hand, surging off the front as we drifted toward the back.

He briefly had a good gap, but was slowly reeled in. Then, just before the road started to level, Taffy Steve attacked from the back, an astute masterclass in timing.

The gap quickly yawned upon, Cowin’ Bovril was washed away and only Carlton seemed able to give chase. I nudged onto his wheel and followed, but the move proved decisive. Carlton closed, but couldn’t come to terms with a flying Taffy Steve.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:

In the cafe, Carlton apologised for our slightly ramshackle and disorganised riding at the start of our grand adventure, but explained that, when you’re on the front with your nose in the wind, it’s really difficult to hear what’s being shouted up from behind.

We agreed we needed a better system and Crazy Legs’ idea of passing messages forward always seemed to stall half way up the line.

“Perhaps we need a dog whistle?” Crazy Legs pondered.

Visions of One Man and His Dog sprang to mind. Cum ba Shep, cum ba. No, don’t think that’s going to work.

Changing tack, Carlton wondered what was going on with the weather. “It’s at least three degrees warmer today,” he remarked.

“Did you say three degrees?” I queried.

We paused…

I looked at Crazy Legs, Crazy Legs looked at me and we both shook our heads. Luckily, neither of us could remember any Three Degrees songs. A narrow escape.

We reminisced about our old representative from the Hollow Lands,
De Uitheems Bloem, who we have traded in for a younger, newer model in Rainman. (It’s my understanding that Dutch riders are held in in such high regard, that UCI rules limit them to one per club. As such I can’t recall if our two ever actually rode together, but I do know we weren’t allowed to keep both.)

Crazy Legs remembered planning a winter break to Amsterdam and asking
De Uitheems Bloem for some recommendations. He later received a 5-page email, detailing a full itinerary of all the things to see and do on his trip. This was appended with a long range weather forecast for the weekend; sunrise and sunset times, temperature, wind speed and direction, chance of precipitation, air pressure, cloud cover and pollen count. It concluded that it looked like being a particularly mild weekend, “so don’t bother taking your skates.”

On returning, Crazy Legs had sought out De Uitheems Bloem, “Thanks for all the recommendations, that was brilliant. By the way, English people don’t own skates.”

“They don’t?”

We shared tales of riding in the Alps with Carlton, who seemed surprised that the Col de la Croix de Fer was Crazy Legs’ favourite climb. He couldn’t recall seeing the (admittedly modest) iron cross, perhaps because his overriding memory of the climb was being paced up it by a wild horse. This beast, rather worryingly, refused to leave the road and didn’t seem all that bothered by the gaggle of cyclists lined out behind it.

“It was obviously a draught horse,” I offered. I thought it was funny, Crazy Legs was simply dismayed. Secretly, I just think he was upset because the only wildlife we saw on the climb was a sun-blasted, completely flattened, giant toad-in-the-road. (The Circle of Death).

Talk of climbing mountains led Carlton to talk about Jimmy Mac’s 900 gram, special climbing wheelset. First, Crazy Legs thanked Carlton profusely for introducing the subject of wheels into the conversation, something he felt we hadn’t discussed for … oh, at least 3 or 4 weeks. Then things got serious as we fired off a range of questions to try and frame the fearful symmetry of Jimmy Mac’s climbing wheelset …

“What type of spokes, how many and how are they laced?” Crazy Legs demanded.

“When you say 900 grams, is that with, or without rim tape?” I pondered.

“Quick release skewers?” Crazy Legs added.

“The cassette?”

“The freehub?”

A rather overwhelmed Carlton could provide none of the answers and was now probably regretting mentioning wheels in the first place.

Now Crazy Legs wanted Jimmy Mac to ride out on his fabled wheels and then strip them down completely, so he could fully weigh them and see if their claimed mass could be independently verified.

Luckily, Carlton spotted Jimmy Mac entering the cafe at just that moment and was able to deflect Crazy Legs onto the actual wheel owner. Crazy Legs immediately got up to pursue the issue, before coming back and reporting it was a dead-end, as Jimmy Mac had trashed the wheels during his International Grand Fondo horror smash.

I thought this would deflate Crazy Legs somewhat, but it actually cheered him up. He now felt fully vindicated in his view that such wheels aren’t robust enough to stand up to the wear and tear of actually riding on them.


All good things come to an end and were soon lining up to head for home. Here I noticed the Monkey Butler Boy visibly shivering.

“Feeling the cold?” I asked him, proving yet again just how startlingly perceptive I am.

“Yes,” he replied tightly, “And it’s all his fault” he pointed at the Red Max.

“But that’s unfair, surely your dad didn’t tell you what to wear this morning?”

“No, but I inherited a stupid gene from him.”

Ha!

As we set off I found myself chatting to the Red Max as we trailed the Monkey Butler Boy. He despaired at his progeny’s lack of common sense and choice of attire, short sleeve jersey and arm warmers, shorts and knee warmers, already despoiled white socks and once pristine (now poisonous ivory) shoes. Looking at Max bundled up in a winter jacket, gloves, boots, and hat, I determined that genetics isn’t always the answer.

I also noticed that of the four teens out today, at least three of them were riding bikes without mudguards, whereas just about all the older set had at least some semblance of protection for themselves, their bikes and most importantly, their fellow riders.

I wondered if that says something about generational differences – perhaps the youngsters are more concerned with style, or maybe they’re more willing to put up with discomfort? More daring? More stoical? Harder? Less cossetted?

Then again, perhaps I’m over-thinking it and they are what they seem to be when I’m at my grumpiest – at best thoughtless, or just plain inconsiderate.

The Red Max told me he’d taken the Monkey Butler Boy along to see a professional coach, who told all the youngsters that they were training too hard and in the wrong way. He’d described the ideal training programme as a pyramid, a base of solid, core, low intensity miles, capped with fewer, high intensity efforts only once this base had been established.

The concept resonated with the Red Max:

“That was interesting wasn’t it?” he’d asked.

“Yes, it was good.”

Something to think about?”

“Nah, it obviously doesn’t apply to me.”

A “3-2-1-Go” countdown signalled an impromptu sprint up the final few metres to the crest of Berwick Hill, fiercely contested by G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid.

What can I say, the Garrulous Kid, in the full prime of youth and with all the advantages of modern technology, astride his ultra-light, uber-Teutonic, precision engineered, carbon Focus, was up against the grizzled veteran, three times his age and hauling an all steel fixie. It seemed a very unequal contest …

And so it proved. The Garrulous Kid was chewed up, worked over and unceremoniously spat out the back. Score one for the wrinklies.

I slotted in alongside Jimmy Mac as we started down the other side of Berwick Hill, where we were passed by a lone Derwent C.C. cyclist, all elbows and a busy style.

“He’s a bit far from home. I wonder what he’s doing on the boring roads over here, when he has the choice of all those good hilly routes south of the river?” Jimmy Mac mused.

This prompted a discussion about possible rides and the challenging terrain “over there” in the south of the Tyne badlands, (or Mordor, as my clubmates will refer to it.)

We hit the climb up to Dinnington and, in just a few metres, the gap between us and the Derwent C.C. rider almost entirely evaporated.

“Ah,” I suggested, “He doesn’t like hills.”

“Which is why he’s riding over here!” we both decided in unison.

As we entered the Mad Mile, I was completely and wholly unsurprised when a sudden headwind seemed to rise up out of nowhere. I’m getting used to this now.

I sheltered behind Caracol and G-Dawg for as long as I could, then I was on my own and plugging my way home. I got back suitably tired – I might not have been running with the “fast group” but I felt I’d had a good workout nonetheless.


YTD Totals: 648 km / 403 miles with 8,825 metres of climbing.

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Chevauchée Pyrenees – Day #3 Do They Know Something We Don’t?

Chevauchée Pyrenees – Day #3 Do They Know Something We Don’t?

Ride 2, Saturday, 23rd June 2018

Col d’Aspin (west side) Col du Tourmalet via La Mongie

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                        125 km / 78 miles with 2,707 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                6 hours 4 minutes

Average Speed:                        20.6 km/h

Temperature:                           31°C

Weather in a word or two:   Baking


Day 2
Ride Profile


Early morning, feeling better for a good night’s rest – or at least a sustained period of unconsciousness – I still can’t face a proper breakfast, but cram down a cereal bar and as much water as I think I can hold.

Today is going to be our “Big One” – although not quite on a par to last year’s Circle of Death, it is going to be a long day in the saddle and promises to be red hot too. Hopefully I’ll fare batter. Kermit is up and fuelling on multiple bowls of cereal and the Breakfast Club are just returning from their sumptuous petit dejeuner.

We congregate at the entrance to the campsite and wend our way through a sleepy Argelès Gazost, crossing the bridge over the permanently tumultuous, Gave d’Azun. Its spray gives a pleasant, brief interlude of comfort cooling, then we’re through the town and out onto open roads under a hot sun.

The Hammer seems to be on a mission, or perhaps chasing a personal Strava segment, either way he’s winding up the pace on the front. It’s too much too soon, so in tacit, unspoken agreement with Crazy Leg’s, we give up the chase and back off to let a gap grow. Finally, the Hammer realises he’s ploughing a lone furrow and we slowly coalesce into a single group again, a cycling embolism … a slow moving clot.

Heading east, we pick our way through the anonymous commercial outskirts of a quite unremarkable Lourdes, well, at least the portion of it we traverse, well away from any of the religious razzamatazz and what we’ve been led to believe is a vast array of astonishingly nasty and tacky religious tat.

Then we swing south along a valley, following the course of the river L’Adour which Google tells me actually rises from our ultimate destination, on the slopes of the Col du Tourmalet.

We’re about 35km into the ride and the road is already starting to rise as we hit the town of Bagnères-de-Bigorre and get caught behind traffic filtering into the town centre.

Ribble Rousers Meet Again

While queuing behind the cars, a group of cyclists’ weave through the traffic and pass us. It’s the two Ribble Rousers and the cheery Dutchman on his town-bike we’d met on the Col d’Aubisque yesterday.

We find a café by the side of the road and settle in for perfectly polite elevenses. Here we have a brief chat with the Ribble Rousers, one of whom couldn’t have been half bad as he was a fellow Vittorian.

They were on their last day, just winding down and pottering around before leaving for a 14-hour, 1,500km drive home (eek!) to the Midlands. This had to include a detour via a local bike hire shop, after one of them somehow managed to destroy his gear hanger on a descent, luckily quite close to where they were staying. Naturally, whatever gear hangers the local bikes stocked, none of them had anything that would fit a Ribble

Hold on there, Bald Eagle…

We settled down for a relaxed coffee or two, each one served with a slice of the local delicacy, nougat.

“Ah, nugget!” the Hammer proclaimed, adopting the full Geordie-kid pronunciation of “noo-garr.” Brilliant. In a small corner of my heart, it will forever be nugget. Toblerone? That’s nugget, mate. Snickers? That’s nugget too. And who could forget the short-lived Texan bar in the eighties, it sure was a mighty chew.

Goose was found once again rhapsodising over cycling caps, for him the revelation of last year’s trip. They are now an essential part of his kit, worn under his helmet to protect his bare noggin from the sun.

Crazy Legs queried if Goose would turn back the clock, given the choice and return to having a full head of hair.

“I’ll have to mullet over,” Goose quipped. Ba-boom. (A front-runner in the Bad Dad Joke of the Day competition, but not the winner.)

He then revealed he never did have a mullet (“business at the front, party at the back”) – but had been known to sport an outrageously enormous flat-top. Now there’s a photo I’d like to see – if only because I can’t imagine it.

By way of the Hammer complimenting Captain Black on his baby-smooth skin and obviously first class moisturising regimen, talk turned to Steadfast’s Arse-Butter™ – which he revealed came in two varieties – Standard or European. The difference, apparently was the European version gave you a bit of tingle …

“Ooph! Have you tired that Tea Tree Oil shower gel,” Goose exclaimed. “I can’t use it, it’s too nice!”

Did he really just say that out loud?

With enough nonsense talked to keep us going for a while longer, we paid our dues and got back to the serious business of the day. We were already climbing on grades of around 5% as we reached the small village of Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, where the group decided to split.

Still suffering horribly from his chest-infection and problems breathing, Crazy Legs decided to skip the Col d’Aspin and just ride the Tourmalet. The Hammer decided this was a good plan and having himself already conquered the Aspin, decided he’d tag along too.

As a vital prelude, they decided a stop in the bar on the corner of the village square for further ravitaillement was in order, before attempting the climb. Meanwhile, the remaining six Aspin virgins set off for the lesser of the two peaks.

Six Virgins of the Aspin and the Kenny Clone

As the road climbed out of the village of Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, we passed an old bloke in a bright orange jersey, riding a touring bike, his reflection glowering at us in his mirrors as he ground his way uphill. The road dropped down and while we saved energy and free-wheeled he pedalled furiously past, only to get caught and left behind as the road ramped up yet again.

He repeated this performance a few times, until the climb stiffened and there were no more downhill interludes for him to attack. We dubbed him “Kenny” in honour of our own Szell back home, whose particularly fond of charging to the front on downhills, before fading horribly on the subsequent climb and just getting in the way. I had a feeling we’d see “Kenny” again, before the day was out.

Up we went, with nothing too testing to start with and it was a very pleasant climb, even chugging along well off the back of the group.

The ascent from Sainte-Marie-de-Campan is about 13km long and adds another 650 or so metres to the height we’d already gained, at an average gradient of 5%. The Aspin tops out at 1,489 meters, the climbing stiffens at the top with the final 5km averaging about 7.5%.

It really is a pleasant climb to begin with, up through a lush, coniferous forest that provides lots of welcome shade. In many ways it reminded me of the Col du Telegraph, although minus the thoroughly annoying Harley bikers we’d encountered on that climb last year.

Passing through the ski station at Payolle, with about 6km to go, you are out of the trees into open pastureland, with the ubiquitous Alpine cattle clanging away on all sides. At the ski station the road briefly levels out to a false flat, before kicking up appreciably and then it starts to wind all about the mountain looking for the path of least resistance.

Despite these desperate manoeuvres, it still averages over 10% in places and a kilometre or so from the top there’s a final ramp approaching 20% just to test already tired legs.

Cow Lickin’ Good

There’s nothing really at the top, besides fantastic views down both sides of the mountain. Oh, and the cows, lining up to lick any, apparently delicious, salty-sweaty cyclist who gets too close.


aspin
View from the top – Col d’Aspin


We dropped into the grass at the side of the road, resting up and taking our fill of the scenery. It was at this point that someone voiced what we’d all been thinking, “Did Crazy Legs and the Hammer know something we didn’t and should we be concerned that the only veterans of these mountains had decided to skip their chance to climb the undeniably pretty Col d’Aspin?”

We finally pulled ourselves away from the views, donned jackets for the descent and started to retrace our way back down the mountain to Sainte-Marie-de-Campan and the route up the Col du Tourmalet.

As we tipped over the crest and started to gather speed, up huffed “Kenny” – he’d made it. Chapeau to that man.

At the village, we followed the example of Crazy Legs and the Hammer, stopping for a few drinks and a quick baguette in the bar just off the village square, before filling our bottles at the water fountain, where all the local cyclists were congregating.

With a Mighty High-Ho, Silver!

Then, with a mighty, High-Ho, Silver, or maybe just a tiny whimper, depending on what you want to believe, we started our ascent of the Col du Tourmalet.

If the Aspin reminded me of the Telegraph, then the Tourmalet was the crazed, bastard half-brother of the ferocious Galibier. Likewise, it was still marred by banks of dirty snow lurking in the hollows on its upper slopes, as sure a sign of thuggishness as the wispy moustache on the over-sized, over-developed, pre-teen classroom bully.

“The Col du Tourmalet is a legendary place for cycling, steeped in history and steep in slope” read one of the many descriptions of this beast that I found.  It was the first climb above 2,000 metres ever used in a race and is the most used col of the Tour de France. By the time the peloton crests its summit this year, they’ll have been up it on 86 separate occasions.

You’d have thought they’d have learned by now.

Bad Trip

Apparently, the name “Col du Tourmalet” is often wrongly translated into English as “Bad Trip” – it might be factually incorrect, but nevertheless seems entirely fitting. At an elevation of 2,115m it is often referred to as the highest paved mountain pass in the French Pyrenees.

Starting from Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, the eastern climb is 17.2 km gaining 1,268 m at an average of 7.4%, while my Strava recorded a maximum of more than 18% on one of its many, variable slopes.

So, upwards we went and downwards we started counting the kilometre markers to the summit, again my speed seemed to vary wildly depending on the slope, or the thankfully light, but still noticeable wind.

We were soon split up and scattered over the road, and even though there was generally only a couple of hundred metres between everyone, this represented massive gaps in terms of time.

I remember passing the sign for 10km to the summit, glancing down and noticing I was riding at about 5mph and running through some quick and very rough calculations … 5 miles an hour … that’s about 8 kilometres an hour … that means it’s only going to take … another hour and a quarter.

Only going to take another hour and a quarter? Only? An hour and a quarter? Climbing all the way?

We must be mad.

At 7km from the summit, there is, apparently a memorial to Eugene Christophe at the spot where his forks broke in 1913. Nope, I can’t say I noticed.

At 6km to go, I passed through the first avalanche shelter. I didn’t trust myself to reach down and grab a drink, while keeping the bike moving in a relatively straight line, so I pulled over to the side of the road for a drink and a rest.

At this point Steadfast rode past me and I was last man, tail-end Charlie again. I remounted and rode on.

Riding with the Ghost of Gerard Manley Hopkins

At 5km to go I was passing through the ski town of La Mongie, on what I thought was one of the hardest parts of the climb. The streets were wide and open and steep and, try as I might, I couldn’t go fast enough to put the spectacularly ugly ski apartments behind me and out of sight.

Like a random collection of brown Lego bricks, dropped from a great height, this monstrous collection of jutting angles was an affront to the eyes and horribly marred the otherwise spectacular scenery. “When we hew or delve: After-comers cannot guess the beauty been,” as I like to think a suitably apoplectic Gerard Manley Hopkins might have commented as he rode past.

At 4km to go I notice an Italian tricolori off by the side of the road. A bit closer and it resolved itself into an abandoned pizza box and badly gnawed pizza. Even in my oxygen deprived, single-minded focus on keeping the pedals turning, this distracted me and raised some serious questions: Who would want a pizza out here? How did the Deliveroo rider react when told he had to make a delivery three quarters of the way up the Tourmalet? And who the hell is moronic enough to litter this astonishing landscape with fast food cartons. Arse hat.

Hot Foot to the Top

At 3kms to go, my right foot became almost unbearably hot and I developed a shooting, stabbing pain through the big toe. I stopped and let the pain slowly ebb away.

At 2kms to go, I can look up and see the summit and it’s lined with the dark shapes of a troupe of llamas, like an army of rapacious Zulus looking down on Rourke’s Drift. My wildly floating thoughts had become detached from their moorings, perhaps in a futile attempt to ignore the pain signals my body has been incessantly firing at it.  I remember hoping they weren’t an, as yet unheard of breed of feral, carnivorous llamas, then wondering if a dalai of llamas was a suitable collective noun. I know, I know. Sorry.

With less than 1 km to go, I pass a young ingénue with pigtails, looking suitably cool in a long-sleeved white jersey and pushing (?) her bike down (?) the mountain. I theatrically puff out my cheeks and slowly draw a finger across my throat. I’m cooked.

“Well done, keep going, you’re almost there,” she calls out in perfect, but slightly accented English.

She’s not lying just to encourage me, either. Round one last corner and I’ve suddenly reached the summit and the unprepossessing silver-grey sculpture of the Géant au Col du Tourmalet. It’s done.


tourmalet


I find the rest of the crew relaxing on the terrace the picturesque café at the top and wander inside to confront the horribly unfriendly staff and buy some food and drink. Even as a fully-paying customer, they refuse to fill my bidon for me, though they will sell me a bottle of water so I can do it myself. Pah!

I learn that Caracol had suffered on the climb even more than I had. Bordering on serious heat stroke, he’d been forced to take refuge in the shade of one of the avalanche shelters to try and recover. He still looked pale and raw-boned, but seemed over the worst of it.

Captain Black reported encountering the pizza-eating poltroon at a point that coincided with him unleashing a majestic and nostril-burning guff, a gaseous discharge of such epic proportions and expanding so rapidly from ground zero, that he then struggled to outpace it up the slope.

We decided the pizza-poltroon had caught a whiff of this unpleasant miasma, determined his pizza was suddenly on the turn and abandoned it in its half-eaten state. The Captain was immensely pleased to know that I though I could still detect a lingering, unpleasant smell as I passed the same spot, some minutes behind him.

As the slowest descender, Kermit begged the indulgence of being first off on the descent, reasoning we would catch him before the bottom anyway, so it would reduce our waiting time. Captain Black followed, then Goose and Caracol.

Still soaked from my efforts on the climb, I pulled on my light, windproof jacket, zipped up, counted to ten and set off in pursuit.

Down Side of Me

Well ,this bit was certainly fun, with the wind snapping at the sleeves of my jacket so they fluttered with a noise like ripping silk, I was quickly up to speed and leaning sharply round the corners.


tourmalet2


Ahead of me and still a couple of bends away, Goose and Captain Black were slowed by catching Kermit and, braking late, I rapidly closed the gap and followed them around him. I dropped into their wheels until I had a chance to slide past further down the mountain, just before the characteristics of the road started to change. Gone were the tight hairpins in favour of sweeping bends and long straights, where you could just let the bike run and quickly build up speed.

I tucked in tight and as low as I could get and started pulling back the flying Caracol, hitting 74.9km/h at one point and slowly closing the gap, churning away on the big ring whenever the pace threatened to drop. I was on terms before the descent ran out and then we were both braking hard as we swept into a built up area, before stopping to allow everyone to regroup.

Luckily, there was very little climbing left to do and the run back to the campsite was mainly flat or slightly downhill. We made good time and were very soon home and hosed.

After showering, we congregated on a porch for pre-prandial drinks and nibbles, learning that Crazy Legs had been bonding with his new chalet neighbours, a contingent of exuberantly raucous, French motor bikers, of the mid-life crisis variety. Eeh, the devils.

Around, 30 or 40 strong, the bad news was we’d be sharing the bar and our evening meal with them. The good news? The campsite was finally going to fire up the truly enormous paella pan that had proved so intriguing to Goose.

Wok-i-wok

We learned he was the proud owner of his own, oversized outdoor cooking apparatus. This he claimed was called a wok-i-wok, a cast iron behemoth complete with metre wide wok or paella pan, incorporating a giant pizza stone and barbecue grill, with the whole assembly easily convertible to a patio heater, potters wheel, garden waste incinerator or portable forge for some crude iron working.

All, shipped direct from China for a mere £150, although Goose reported that sadly, they no longer seem available. (I guess it would have been churlish of me to suggest I wasn’t surprised, as I could actually only think of one, single person who might be interested in buying such a monstrosity.)

But the revelations were by no means complete, as we then had a masterclass in the cooking the perfect giant paella in a wok-i-wok, giant paella pan. The secret apparently is all down to layering – all ingredients have to be prepared in advance and then layered into a extra large Lakeland, Tupperware pail (I think this was a grandiose way of saying a bucket) – but, and here’s the trick, they have to be added in the reverse order to which they’ll be used.

Talk turned to the local cattle, complete with their clanging bells, which Goose presumed were only put on the Alpha Males of the herd. It was time to strike for Bad Dad Joke of the Day and with no shame I accepted the challenge – “I don’t know why they need bells, they’ve all got horns.” (I don’t think I’ll be invited back next year.)

A suitable point to retire for dinner…

In the bar the giant paella pan had been fired up for the Mid-Life Motorcycle Mob, piquing the interest of Goose, who naturally had to get involved and share tips and secrets with the taciturn cook. He was especially intrigued by one ingredient a huge quantity of a bright red elixir, which he guessed was some super-exotic, local speciality, that would give the paella a unique flavour and character.

“Non,” he was told,”Ee’s just food colouring.”

Oh well …

The paella was just for the Gallic Mid-Life Motorcyle Mob, not for the British Mid-Life Crisis Cyclists, we had to choose from the standard menu, but had some consolation in prime seats to follow the Germany vs. Sweden World Cup game.

Crazy Legs seemed to have found a new hero in Polish footballer, Łukasz Piszczek, whose name he thought was brilliant. I felt it was a name that was likely to give Chris “Puff Daddy” Froome sleepless nights.

Meanwhile, Crazy Legs fell into conversation with a Dutch couple, who kindly queried after my health, having seen me looking like a zombie extra from the Walking Dead at dinner last night.

Match ended and paella despatched, the Mid-Life Motorcyle Mob broke out a guitar for an impromptu sing-along. Perhaps expecting some French culture, things got off to a bad start with a raucous rendition of Volare and then the Gypsy Kings Bamboléo.

“Well, it’s not Jacques Tatti,” Crazy Legs observed dryly (or Jackie the Spud as he’s known on Tyneside.)

Sing-along degenerated into massed chanting. A couple of “oggie, oggie, oggies” which then gave way to something that sounded disconcertingly like “Sieg Hiel.”

As the guitar was picked up again and the mob launched into an off-key, off kilter version of La Bamba, we suddenly remembered we had to be up early tomorrow to ride up a mountain and quietly slipped away.


 

An Amicable, Amiable Amble

An Amicable, Amiable Amble

Club Run, Saturday 18th November, 2017             

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  94 km / 58 miles with 980 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 51 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.5 km/h

Group size:                                         22 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    8°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright but raw


 

18 nov
Ride Profile


The Ride:

A band of heavy rain passed over in the night, but by morning the skies were clear, it was bright, but cold and the wind had a raw edge to it. I’d misplaced my Galibier “disco-headband” and suspected my ears were going to suffer unless I found them some cover.

Rather handily, there were a couple of girly hairbands that either Thing#1, or Thing#2 had carelessly abandoned on the sideboard. The red, sparkly one was a bit garish, but the black one would just about do. I slid it up into my hairline, pulled it down low at the sides to cover my ears and plonked my helmet on top. Perfect – almost as if they’d been made for this very purpose…

I was a little late leaving, so went with the quicker route option and the closer bridge over the river, looping west to approach from the east and minimising the amount of dual-carriageway surfing I needed to do. Swinging left onto the span I was somewhat surprised to find an Ee-Em-Cee rider approaching directly from the south, a route I’ve never attempted, suspecting the traffic’s a bit too busy and wild. He’s a braver man than me, or maybe just more confident.

Anyway, I was glad of the company as he dropped in behind me on the bridge, figuring two riders were a little easier for motorists to spot than just the one. Unfortunately, we never got to chat as once across, he followed the river west, while I took a sharp right and started my climb out of the valley, arriving at the meeting point in good order.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

G-Dawg was once again out on his best bike, this time using the excuse of a new pair of shoes that he needed to road test, before packing them away for the summer. His new Sidi kicks, a very welcome birthday present, were super-classy, super-stiff, super-light and super-bling – I did however question their inherent thermal properties and suspected G-Dawg might have to suffer a little for his sartorial splendour – but he obviously couldn’t have desecrated the Sidi’s by hiding them under overshoes or Belgian booties. Just for the record, I was wearing winter boots and my trusty Prendas Thermolite socks and my toes were only just ok throughout the ride.

It turned out G-Dawg was not the only one with shiny new toys, the Colossus having acquired a new turbo trainer. Crazy Legs suggested it wasn’t the one voted “Best Buy” in Cycling Weekly, but the Colossus was unmoved as his turbo had red and blue light’s!

Crazy Legs persisted, this time with the suggestion you could tell how hardcore and pro a rider was by the fans they deployed with the turbo. He said there should be a minimum of two, slightly off-set at a 18° angle to maximise bodily surface exposure to the airflow and at least 60% of their construction had to be in carbon-fibre.

The Colossus countered that the only specialist equipment he felt needed was one of those triangular sweat nets. Someone suggested that a sweat net would be relatively easy to make from an old pair of tights, while I felt the answer was fisherman’s waders, with regular waddles to the bathroom to empty them out during the turbo-session.

An FNG rolled up and greeted us with what I took to be a pronounced Antipodean twang. “I’m guessing you’re not from around these parts?” I suggested.

“Aw, I’ve bean heer twinny yeehz,” he assured us. He turned out to be an Ironman triathlete, who’d seen us ride past his home on many a Saturday morning and he’d finally decided to come over to the dark side.

Crazy Legs tried to explain to the FNG an unseemly, on-going social-media spat between the absent Prof and OGL, by drawing parallels between Kin Jong Un and Donald Trump’s slightly less fraught and contentious relationship.

G-Dawg also explained Our Glorious Leader wouldn’t be riding today as he was off to a British Cycling meeting which, according to some rather self-serving Facebook posts, OGL claimed he was looking forward to, as a chance to relax without having to wear a stab-proof vest to protect his back. Huh?

Taffy Steve simply welcomed the opportunity for a good ride, as we were absent at least three potential sources of friction that he could think of. Ultimately, he had the right of it.

Aether was set to lead the ride and had picked a route that Crazy Legs had posted in the summer, emphasising we didn’t need a new and novel plan every week and there was no harm in repeating things. He hoped this would encourage others to set and lead future rides and briefed the opportunity in, along with outlining the planned route for the day.

Another decent turnout of 22 riders, all seemingly in a relaxed and rather amenable mood, pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


As we turned off toward towards Great Park and the filthy, muddy, potholed and often thorn-strewn Brunton Lane, G-Dawg took his regular detour, aimed at keeping his good bike and fancy new shoes in pristine condition at the expense of a slightly longer and busier route out of the city.

As we emerged from the end of the lane and scurried uphill, an injection of pace had us all spread out. Mini Miss eased alongside me and asked, “Is it just me, or is the speed really high this morning?”

I peered up to the front where the Colossus and Caracol were driving us on, with Rainman waiting in the wheels to take over if either faltered and let the speed drop.

“Nope,” I replied, “It’s fast,” before kicking to close a gap that was threatening to yaw open.

The pace was evidently too fast for G-Dawg, whose detour usually spits him out well ahead of the group, just before we hit Dinnington. This time he wasn’t there waiting for us and when I looked down the road he would emerge from, it was completely empty.

Having missed us and then waited at the junction thinking we may have been held up by a mechanical, G-Dawg spent the rest of the morning trying to find the right time and place to intersect with our ride.


18 non


We continued for some distance at a pace I felt was just the tiniest increment above comfortable and it would be some time before I was able to infiltrate the front alongside Crazy Legs and drop the speed by a good 2mph or more. No one seemed to be struggling particularly, but I needed a bit of a breather, even if everyone else was ok.

We then found that Aether’s cunning plan of using one of Crazy Legs’s summer routes was not without its flaws, the small lane we took before Meldon being wet, slippery and thick with mud kicked up by farm traffic. At this point the FNG punctured and, while we were stopped for repairs, the Colossus discovered G-Dawg was still missing and set off to find him.

As we waited, Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs kept me entertained with tales of the labyrinthine, convoluted and quite frankly bizarre local government rules and regulations relating to business expenses. I think my soul is still scarred from this nonsense.

We then pushed through to Dyke Neuk, where we unleashed the now twitchy racing snakes and shooed them away for a faster, longer, harder ride before they became too irritable. The rest of us pushed on, down the dip through Hartburn and toward Middleton Bank at a more considered pace. As we approached the hill, we met G-Dawg flying down the other way and he was able to swing round and rejoin us, reunited at last.

Reaching the steepest part of Middleton Bank and, just for the hell of it, I bounced off the front and opened up a gap before sitting back down and easing over the top. We slowed to regroup and Crazy Legs, who had no intention on mixing it in the café sprint on his fixie, offered to provide a lead out. I dropped onto his back wheel as he slowly began to wind up the pace and lined us out. Perfect it was like having my own personal derny moped.

Crazy Legs pulled us past Bolam Lake and then, with a professional flick of the elbow, peeled away and I took over at the front and tried to hold the pace he’d set, as we rattled through Milestone Woods. I attacked up the first of the Rollers and as my pace slackened G-Dawg rode off my wheel and away, the others only slowly coming around me in pursuit, as we tipped down the other side. As we began the last drag no one was committing to bringing back G-Dawg’s lead, so I dug in and accelerated to the front again.

I pulled everyone to within maybe 5 metres of G-Dawg’s back wheel, just before he nipped around the last corner, but that was it, I was done and cooked and sat up. The others zipped past, but I suspected it was too late and G-Dawg was long gone.


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

The main topic of conversation at the café was the dark, dangerous and twisted plotting within the Byzantine world of cycling club politics, but this is a family friendly blerg … so let’s move swiftly on…

Somehow the conversation eventually morphed into a discourse on political leaders, with Taffy Steve’s assertion that all you needed to succeed was a good haircut, sharp suit and a pithy slogan, “You know,” he outlined, “Make Uh-murica Great, or Strong and Stable Leadership, Things Can Only Get Better, that kind of thing”

“Ah, like Strength Through Joy?” I suggested helpfully.

We then had a chuckle that Bradley Wiggins felt he had in somehow been exonerated from the “living hell” of his “malicious witch hunt” by the conclusions of the UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) investigation into the contents of the now infamous Jiffy bag. Under the circumstances, UKAD appear to have done as good a job as possible and their conclusion of “no definitive evidence” was logical. As far as I can tell, this is a very neutral statement that exonerates no one.

It’s laughable that Wiggins and Team Sky claim there was no wrongdoing on their part and both think the verdict backs this up. The assertion by Shane Sutton that they would “game the system” and use TUE’s for marginal gains sounds much closer to the truth and more adequately explains the injections (injections, Bradley?) of triamcinolone Wiggins received before several races. As for what was actually in the Jiffy bag – the truth is, we’ll never know.

A group of  cyclists from the University made their way, wide eyed and blinking into the café and Sneaky Pete and I rolled our eyes at the folly of youth and the fact they chose to ride out in weather like today only wearing shorts and short-sleeved jerseys. The fact there flesh looked raw and marbled like corned beef seemed to suggest we well-wrapped, old curmudgeons had the greater sense.


Outside and I had a quick look at the FNG’s Trek Madone Aero bike with fairings over the front brakes that opened and closed like aircraft ailerons whenever he turned the bars – it seemed like an awful lot of engineering for a very minimal gain.

The FNG himself said he’d enjoyed his first ride out with the club and it made a companiable change from all the solitary Ironman training on his TT bike.

A blast up Berwick Hill tracking Biden Fecht got the blood flowing and it wasn’t long after that I was swinging away for my ride back home, reflecting on what had been a perfectly amiable, amenable, run, with no objectionable shouting or swearing and no encounters with dangerously crazed motorists.

Things weren’t quite so peaceful at home though, where Thing#1 and Thing#2 were engaged in a spat over Thing#2’s missing black hairband. I ‘fessed up to being the guilty party, pulling the offending article out from under my helmet and proffering it back to Thing#2 on the end of my index finger, where it hung, limp, damp and shapelessly unappealing.

“Ugh! It’s all sweaty.”

Oh. Sorry.


YTD Totals: 6,819 km / 4,237 miles with 78,229 metres of climbing

The Circle of Death

The Circle of Death

Day#2 Saturday, 17th June, 2017

Col du Glandon | Col del la Croix de Fer | Col du Télégraph | Col du Galibier | Col du Lautaret

Total Distance:                                  168 km / 104 miles with 4,246 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          9 hours 8 minutes

Average Speed:                                18.4 km/h

Group size:                                         6

Temperature:                                    26°C

Weather in a word or two:          Still Hot


CoD

The Ride

Relive the Ride


Part One. Reservoir Dogs

Day#2 of our grand adventure was all about the Crazy Legs master-plan, a long, looping clockwise ride around the area, taking in 5 major cols, including the fearsome Galibier. We were expecting a long day and had accordingly planned an early start, rolling out at just after 8 o’clock when the air was still relatively cool and pleasant.

The first few pedal strokes were absolute agony on my back, which I think I must have damaged lugging the bike box around in supremely ugly and inappropriate ways. The pain was so intense I wondered if I’d even make it out of the town, but luckily it settled down to a dull throb and occasional sharp twinge once I got a bit warmed up. Later Captain Black would set himself up as our “main man” and started dealing from his precious stash of Nurofen. He had many takers and became the most popular person in our group that day. I’m sure the two were in no way related.

We slipped out of the campsite and took the road north from Bourg d’Oisans, following the course of the wild flowing La Romanche all the way to Allemont. The roads were wide with a plush (by British standards) cycle path, shaded by trees and relatively traffic free so early on a Saturday morning. It was a very agreeable start to the day and we made good time, with Crazy Legs in particular driving hard on the front and seemingly eager to get going.

Reaching Allemont, the Hammer and Goose stopped off to look for an ATM, while the rest of us started the zig-zagging ride up the face of the barrage. At the top we paused to look down and heckle our returning companions, before regrouping and rolling across the top of the dam and turning up into the wooded hills that skirt the reservoir.


NOVATEK CAMERA


This was the start of a long, shaded and pleasant climb up to the village of Le Rivier d’Allemont, where we stopped for a leisurely coffee and to allow Crazy Legs to endear himself to the café patron with his valiant attempts to ask for a strawberry ice cream in French. He was quite proud when his language skills were judged to be “not the worst” that had ever been heard in the village.

As we were leaving we spotted a public drinking fountain and stopped to fill our bottles, only to back away from a hastily scribbled notice that warned tests were underway and that we roughly translated as meaning: “drink this and you’ll probably die a horrible death.”

We actually had no shortage of intestinal distress already and needed to take no further risks in this area. Just past the water fountain, Crazy Legs spotted a public toilet and ducked inside. We thought he’d just gone for a quick pee and rode slowly on, not realising we were witnessing a Dumoulin moment and our own defegate, until the French equivalent of a NEST team turned up in hazmat suits and quarantined the whole area.

Our whole round trip can then probably be traced by all the now radioactive toilets we desecrated and devastated at each stop, in what the French authorities would later declare as a major act of eco-terrorism so horrendous that even ISIS wouldn’t dare claim responsibility. They’re still hunting the perpetrators, who somehow managed to slip the police cordon. Truth be told, I think we were all suffering from a combination of the heat, hard work, foreign food and far too many gels, energy bars and isotonic drinks.

 


Part Two. Toad in the Road

We were now on the Route Des Cols and a quick descent hustled us across the river and onto a short, sharp ramp to begin our climb toward the Col du Glandon and Col de la Croix de Fer.

We became spread out and I was climbing on my own, as the road rose to top another barrage and then continued, up and up until the surface of the Lac de Grand Maison was a glittering, blue-grey mirror far below. Another rider caught me up and started chatting away immediately in English. I’d wondered how he knew my nationality, but Crazy Legs and Steadfast had already been laughing at the less than subtle branding that had the quintessentially English name, Holdsworth stamped across Reg’s small frame in at least 14 different places. Alternatively, maybe he just guessed?

Anyway, I learned he was riding following surgery for a prolapsed disc (which put my own back pain into perspective) and was the rabbit being chased by a couple of friends down the road. He pushed on not wanting to be caught (I only remember one other rider, who was obviously a local passing me, so presume he managed to stay out in front.)  He pressed on the pedals and accelerated away in that strange mountain climbing time perspective, which meant that after 10 minutes of hard effort he’d gained about 50 yards on me.

The road topped out and I began a long, fast drop through a valley pass. I couldn’t help hating this descent, which frittered away a load of hard won altitude I’d sweated to accumulate. At the same time it shattered any climbing rhythm I had managed to find. By the time the road started to rise again toward the summit of the Glandon I felt like I was starting from scratch and a nagging headwind added to the difficulty.

I negotiated a photographer in the middle of the road who snapped away despite my distressed countenance and then pressed his card into my hand.  Not sure those pictures are worth buying, mate. I soon found myself skirting a massive flock of brown, alpine sheep whose bells tinkled away merrily and then the climb stiffened under my wheels and up we went again.

After a bit more climbing the road split in two and I guessed wrong, following a rider down the right hand route toward the Croix de Fer summit, only to be called back by Crazy Legs behind me. I back-tracked and joined him, Steadfast and Goose on a short detour and quick haul up to the top of the Col du Glandon, in what apparently was the ultimate BOGOF (buy one get one free) offer on French summit finishes.

At the Glandon, we press-ganged some friendly Dutch cyclists into taking a commemorative picture of us next to the summit marker and heard all about Crazy Leg’s highlight of the ride, a massive, crisp and limbless toad he’d spotted baked black and pressed flat into the tarmac.


glandon
© Angus McMillan, 2017


We dropped down again and picked up the hairpins heading up to the Croix de Fer, where we waited for the Hammer and Captain Black, who’d beaten us up the Glandon, but had stopped off in the café there. Reunited again, we coerced an English cyclist into taking the obligatory commemorative photo with the summit marker and there, at the point of no return, discussed our options.


croix de fer


We agreed by a vote of 4 to 2 to press on toward the Télégraph and Galibier, rather than turn back to re-trace our steps. I was one of the two voting to turn back, figuring we could run the Galibier the next day. Damn, don’t you hate democracy!

We then began a fun, high speed drop down from the Croix de Fer, while keeping our eyes open for a suitable lunch venue. We finally spotted a suitable candidate, a crêperie with decking that extended out over the mountain and ducked inside. Here we had a pleasant and relaxed lunch while watching the buzzards riding the thermals around the peaks on the opposite side of the valley.

Back on the bikes, the descent continued, but was more gradual now as we followed the course of swift flowing, turbulent L’Arvan  for a few miles, before scrambling up a short climb, whipping past a group of very tentative descenders and rolling down toward Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.


NOVATEK CAMERA


Just before joining the main A43 carriageway to head south east, we were stopped by a gendarme to allow a pro race to pass through. This was the Tour de Savoie-Mont Blanc, which would be won by the latest Colombian climbing sensation Egan Bernal, allegedly on his way to Team Sky for next season, where he can be carefully neutered, roboticized and stripped of all attacking intent.

This stop also marked the first sighting of what would soon became our arch enemy; hugely fat, sweating, middle-aged, pretend biker gangs on Harley Davidsons. A suitably unimpressed motorcycle gendarme disdainfully escorted a swarm of their ridiculously noisy, filthy, rumbling, farting and belching, noxious machines off the road to let the cyclists through.

The front of the race whipped quickly past, spearheaded by a break of half a dozen, with an AG2R rider in desperate pursuit. Then the main peloton followed, already a couple of minutes back, a gleaming, multi-coloured cavalcade that whirred cleanly away at high speed and in a blare of horns and sirens.

We were released onto the road and followed the perimeter cycle-lane, dodging the occasional discarded bidon or musette left behind by the rampaging peloton.

 


Part Three. Hog Hell

At Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne we found the town centre swarmed with more fat, hairy, utterly boorish, pretend- bikers, hooting and hollering and revving their stinking, too-loud engines to screaming excess, chaotically slaloming down the road and generally being as noisy and anti-social as they could possibly be.

In direct stark contrast was a woman in cool looking cream leathers, riding a gleaming white and chrome motorbike that emitted a rumble like a purring snow leopard. She glided serenely through the chaos, like a swan parting a crowd of squabbling and squawking ducklings and then was gone.

We dropped into a café for a quick drink and to see these huge, bloated bikers close-up, red-faced and sweating in their dusty leathers, shovelling food and swilling beers into gaping maws, while swaggering around like the hard-asses they undoubtedly weren’t. Attila the Stockbroker, anyone?

Having had enough of the aural assault, we rode on, swung south, crossed the river and were immediately of the climb of the Col du Télégraph. Even here though we couldn’t escape the stupid bikes and bikers that reminded me of nothing more than being stuck in a room with a swarm of fat bumbling, annoying bluebottles that continually buzz around your ears.

They were intent on roaring up and down the mountainside, often passing deliberately and intimidatingly close, racing each other around blind bends and occasionally grounding and grinding away bits of the road as they tried to guide their own monstrous, ungainly, fume spewing machines around the tight corners.

 


Part 4. Ingénue Ascending

We were now on a steady climb of 12 kms at around 8%, winding up to the top of the Col and the Fort du Télégraph.  On reviewing the ride, I think we were all surprised at just how much this route twisted and turned as it climbed, but the views are generally closed in with trees and you never get the open vista revealing the line of the road you’re following.

As we started up a slender, dark-skinned, French ingénue in Liv pro-team livery rode up alongside Crazy Legs.

“Ça va?” she enquired.

“No, I’m English … and it’s too bliddy hot!” Crazy Legs replied smoothly.

She laughed, turned the pedals over lightly and started to pull ahead and the Hammer followed like a puppy on a lead. He later revealed that up ahead he’d almost had to do a track-stand as her team car forced its way in alongside her, blocking the road, before handing over a bottle, which she took a tiny, delicate sip from, before handing it back. What was the point in that?

Approaching the top of the Télégraph my Garmin beeped loudly to announce low power and eventually shut down just before the summit. I had to ask Crazy Legs to share his file for the ride and he would later compare our two efforts side-by-side and concluded we were remarkably similar riders!


telegrapge
© Angus McMillan, 2017


The café at the top provided more liquid refreshment, before we found someone willing to take on the most risky of photo-assignments yet, capturing our collective clustered around the summit sign, while simultaneously dodging the stupid Harley’s that still buzzed and bumbled loudly up and down the road.

 


 Part Five. It’s Like You’re Riding Into the Sky*

And then we went on, heading toward the famed Galibier, a climb 20km longer than l’Alpe d’Huez and rising twice as many vertical metres to 2,645 above sea level, where the oxygen starts to get thin. It’s just 100 metres shy of being 35km in length and there is 17km of climbing at over seven per cent, with a real sting in the tail – the steepest ramps are in the final 2 kilometres.

Dropping down off the Télégraph and once again lamenting the loss of hard won height, we first had to thread our way through Valloire, which proved to be the source of the infestation of stupid Harley bikers. The town was holding the Punta Bagna Festival, advertised with the words: “bike show, run wild, custom culture.” Huh? There were thousands of big, ugly bikes crowded into just about every space available, and plenty of big, ugly bikers too.


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Off the bike and having to rely on their own locomotion, they appeared particularly inept, unable to cope with traffic unaided and we had to weave our way around several rotund, stationary forms, seemingly frozen into indecisiveness in the middle of the road.

Finally out of town we climbed up the long straight valley following the tumult of La Valloirette river for about 10km, a long, boring uphill grind. At one point we passed a field with signs advertising helicopter rides up the col for €50 and I have to admit to giving it very serious consideration.

A few scattered wooden structures at Plan Lachat marked the end of the valley. A bridge was thrown across the river and from there the road twisted and turned, climbing with serious intent now, as it soared up the mountain. The Hammer had gone on ahead, but the rest of us agreed to stick together as all the initial skirmishes were put behind us as  and we began our battle royalé with the beast of the Galibier.

Round the corner, with the snow mantled peaks above us, we passed the rather incongruous sight of a couple sunbathing on a picnic blanket by the side of the river. Then we swept over the bridge and started climbing, trying to stay away from the right hand verge, where the land fell away precipitously.

The seemingly indefatigable Steadfast led and I got the impression he could continue riding this way for hour upon hour yet. Goose and Crazy Legs followed his lead, while I dragged along at the back with Captain Black who was beginning to cramp up and almost looked to be suffering as much as I was.

Up and up we dragged ourselves, but accumulated fatigue was soon making itself felt, breathing becoming more demanding and I think we were all struggling. We took to pausing at every kilometre marker for a brief respite, which not only let us rest for a moment, but also let us appreciate the spectacular views, both up to the snow-capped summit and back down along the twisting, torturous route we’d followed to get to this point. It was absolutely wild, beautiful and stunning and gave us a real sense of accomplishment.


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Col du Galibier © Jeff Wilson, 2017


At one of our stops we spotted a fat marmot, happily frolicking in the grass at the side of the road. At another, agonisingly, the kilometre marker was missing and our exhausted brains couldn’t make the decision to stop without a visual reminder. Crazy Legs was insistent we then rode three whole kilometres without a rest stop, Goose and Steadfast were adamant it was only two. I wasn’t bothered as long as it got us closer to the end.

Finally, we reached the point where the odd patches of snow thickened and all merged together to give the landscape a thick, uniform and glittering white coating. The snow exuded a welcome chill, piled high in crusty hummocks either side of the black, glistening road and providing a constant stream of runoff that trickled away, happy to succumb to gravity rather than fight it like an idiot cyclist.

Someone said only two kilometres now and I looked up … and then up some more, to see the summit was really close, almost in touching distance. Then my heart sank, as I realised it only looked so close because the last stretches of road raked up at a completely hellish angle.

Still, nearly there. I let the others ride on ahead, took one last, deep breath and pushed on, struggling with even basic tasks like clipping in. I remember nothing about that last 2,000 metres, no pain, no elation, no wonder, no big sense of accomplishment. One moment I was below the summit, the next I was at the top, grinning and lining up for the obligatory photo, before pulling on arm warmers and a rain jacket for the descent.


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© Clive Rae, 2017


I looked around, content and enjoying the view, trying to imprint it on my mind – “Look Ma, top o’ the world!” – but it was too cold to hang around long and I followed Crazy Legs as the road tipped down and we began the long, screaming descent.

* “It’s like you’re riding into the sky.” Andy Schleck’s description of climbing the Galibier.

 


Part Six. Christ on a Bike

I let the bike run and was soon picking up speed, the rain jacket fluttering, flapping and snapping in the wind and the freewheel whirring crazily as I followed the winding road down and around all the bends.

At one point we passed more Harley bikers spluttering up in the opposite direction and seeming to want all of the road surface to play with. Several where sticking their inside legs out stiffly into the middle of the road as if dribbling a football alongside their bikes. What the hell was that all about – are the Harley’s so unbalanced and ungainly they need a counterweight, or is it just to take up more room and intimidate passing cyclists? I pressed a bit closer toward the cliff face on my right hand side, but ahead of me a thoroughly disgruntled Crazy Legs decided enough was enough and planted his bike firmly in the middle of the road in a game of chicken.

The bikers flinched first and gave ground. Crazy Legs flashed past them, then I did too and we were around another bend and far away before their indignation filtered through to their dullard brains and one of them finally leant on his horn in futile rebuke.

Following behind us, the Hammer reported one of the idiots had then stood bolt upright, arms stretched out to either side, like Christ on a bike, all the while trundling along inches from the edge of the road with a long, long drop to his right. Ass hat.

At the top of the Col du Lautaret, we stopped to regroup and the Hammer disappeared into the Hôtel des Glaciers and returned with a round of ice cold Coke’s for everyone. Top man. Off we went again, racing the oncoming darkness with the sun already starting to dip behind the mountains and throw out long shadows.

The descent down from the Col du Lautaret was utterly brilliant, on wide empty roads, with long sweeping bends that encouraged you push on ever faster and dare not to brake. Despite the fatigue I hit the big ring and hammered downwards as fast as I could go, sweeping through tunnels and villages, crouched low over the bike and whooping with joy.

All good things must come to an end though and we were soon back in the valley of La Romanche and pushing toward home. With the Tunnel Du Chambon closed following damage in 2015, we crossed the river and took to a (remarkably decent) temporary road, which skirted the southern edge of the lake.

A few, slight inclines reminded us of our accumulated fatigue and stung the legs and Captain Black fought a series of debilitating cramps as we plugged on. There was a distinct feeling of twilight encroaching on us as we hit the last stretch of road and here Goose accelerated off the front with a startling injection of pace. At first I thought he was responding to an emergency call of nature and dashing back to the campsite as quickly as possible, but Crazy Legs reassured me it was just his way of riding on the front and shepherding us all home. We finally closed on him, sat on his back wheel and he brought us, at long last back to camp.

We’d been out for over 12 hours, ridden for at least 9 of these, covered over 100 miles and encompassed over 4,000 metres of climbing. In that period, we’d gone through every single emotion on our “cycle of acceptance” and then some.

An exhausted Captain Black was perhaps in the worst state, declaring his bike had let him down bigtime, he never wanted to see it again and he was changing its name from “Old Faithful” to “Twatty-Mac Twat-Face.”

 


Part Seven. Ice Cold in Bourg d’Oisans

We showered and changed and headed into town for some much needed food, aiming for the first restaurant we stumbled across. Someone mentioned spaghetti bolognese and once the thought took hold it spread like a forest fire, becoming an instant fixation and the only thing that would satisfy our needs.

The walk seemed incredibly long and impossibly hard on our exhausted bodies, but we finally found a likely-looking restaurant and circled the seating area like a starving pack of skinny, feral dogs. A waitress with blue hair approached and Crazy Legs cut straight to the quick.

“Do you do spaghetti bolognaise?”

“Yes,” she smiled, looking somewhat bemused.

“Ah, good. Table for six, please.” It was a demand, not a request.

She wondered away to sort out a table and I scored some menu’s and handed them around ,while we quickly confirmed what already knew we wanted.

The waitress got us seated and returned with menus, which we waved away and made our order, not wanting any further delay. Six grand biere’s arrived for the conquering heroes and Crazy Legs spotted and claimed the only tankard with a handle, so he could indulge in some proper wassailing.

“Salut!” the glasses clinked together and in a real “Ice Cold in Alex” moment the beer slid very, very easily, down 6 parched throats. Perfect.

The spaghetti bolognaise filled the craving and was good, but surprisingly no one seemed to have a massive appetite and we were all quickly replete, ready for the long walk back and a collapse into bed.

Vague plans were made for our last day, with a relax by the pool, or a short ride out for coffee all mooted. Captain Black was all for sawing his bike into pieces and introducing it to the river, while I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I knew I’d be out riding. Again.


YTD Totals: 3,651 km / 2,269 miles with 44,466 metres of climbing

Can’t Bring Me Down

Can’t Bring Me Down

Club Run, Saturday 11th March, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  103 km / 64 miles with 986 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 12 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.5 km/h

Group size:                                         28 riders, 2 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    12°C

Weather in a word or two:          Pleasantly cool with late showers


ride profile 11 March
Ride Profile


The Ride:

An extended period of warmer, dry weather saw a shuffling of the hierarchy in the Sur La Jante stable … or to be more accurate and less prosaic … the dingy, old bike shed. As a result, the ratbag mountain bike was relegated to the very darkest recesses, where it will sit and moulder until I can work up some enthusiasm for spending time and money on its sorry old carcase, or until the return of winter weather sees it dragged once more, limping and disabled into reluctant use.

To be honest it needs some real TLC as its slowly disintegrating round me. It’s already lost 70% of its functionality now, with only 8 of the original 27 gears in working order. The headset rattles like a bag of drop-forged spanners, while the 1½ functioning brakes have been possessed by a shrill and malevolent banshee. This evil spirit emits occasional and erratic blood-curdling screeches, like a rabid, feral cat being slowly dipped in boiling water.

Tucked in beside the MTB, the Pug got a good clean, wax and oil, before being prescribed bed-rest and set on reserve for emergency purposes only. Hopefully I won’t have to think about it again until at least October, when I have plans to upgrade most of the groupset from an awkward blend of Tiagra and Sora, to a more refined Shimano 105.

Out from its hiding place, the single-speed Trek has been shod with a new set of (Vittoria, naturally) tyres and last week it once again became the commuting bike of choice. And … from the other side of the shed … from its specially reserved space of splendid isolation, rising like lions after slumber, the Holdsworth has once again been unchained and unleashed.

The decision has been made and will not be retracted, best bikes are being broken out up and down the country and there is to be no turning back. Even the threat of rain showers later on Saturday wasn’t going to change anything.

Friday night saw me then, prepping my old friend Reg for Saturday’s ride, his first outing of the year. I’ve some new tyres (with added graphene!) to slap on at some point, but to be honest last years Corsa’s still looked to have plenty of life left in them, so that particular change can wait a while.

Saturday morning saw me dropping down the Heinous Hill faster and more assured than I had at any other time this year, revelling in pure speed, how the bike felt solidly planted and the turbo-charged tick-tick-ticking of the freewheel. I’d forgotten just how much fun this cycling lark could be.

Everything just seemed tighter and more refined, the brakes bit immediately and effectively, while gear changes were crisp and flowed smoothly. The transition was relatively smooth too, as I only once found myself reaching for a non-existent thumb-shifter.

Pushing out onto along the valley floor, the verges were scattered with the bright orange,yellow, purple and white studs of budding young tulips. It certainly feels like spring is just around the corner and it was beginning to look that way too.

A brief halt at the traffic lights on the bridge gave me the chance to watch the rowing club warming up with a serious of half-hearted shuttle-runs. There were at least 40 of them, several crews were already out on the water and there’s yet another club on the far bank. When did rowing get so popular?

Back underway, I found myself once again negotiating a serious of roadworks and temporary traffic lights, but seeming to catch my urgent need to maintain forward motion, this time I seemed to hit every one at just the right time and blew through them without delay, arriving at our meeting point in good time and in good order.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

As I pulled up in a bright blaze of vile red, poisonous black and bilious yellow, G-Dawg solemnly informed us that OGL had already issued a doom-laden proclamation. Apparently we  would be engulfed by rain of biblical proportions should we dare to spurn the will of the weather gods and try riding anything but winter bikes today.

We all naturally assumed the worst and that Horner’s Theorem™ would apply anyway. This rule irrefutably proves a direct relationship between the number of shiny, posh and clean carbon bikes out on a spring or autumn morning and the number of crap-covered farm tracks, pothole and gravel strewn roads, gates and cattle grids OGL will “accidently” try to include in our route.

Jimmy Mac looked to be the only one still out on his winter bike – apparently, his good wheels had been mysteriously detained in OGL’s workshop where they’d only gone for a quick service and tune up. I suspected this was just a ruse to ensure OGL wasn’t the only one out on his winter bike. Of course he announced they were now ready to pick up, but … oops … not in time for today’s ride.

We had an FNG in the shape of a new arrival to the North East, recently transplanted from his native Devon and looking for a good club to join. I’m not sure how he wound up with us…

An ex-racer, he would later find a kindred spirit in beZ and the pair would eventually leave us tootling, old guys and gals, to go try and rip each other’s legs off. In the meantime, he took the time to introduce himself to everyone, complete with a firm, manly handshake. A good first impression, though I’ll be hugely impressed if he can attach more than a handful of names to an array of too similar, anonymous looking, helmet encased, sunglasses wearing bike jockey’s.

Grover wheeled up for his first ride of the year, much like the budding tulips, a truly profound indication that spring is just around the corner. Recovering from our mild surprise and rubbing our eyes to make sure it wasn’t just a miradjee, someone wondered if Szell might be next up, although it was quickly agreed we’d have to wait another month or two before the emergence of this particularly exotic butterfly from its winter chrysalis.

There was a long and involved discussion about Jess Varnish and the state of our national cycling federation, apparently beleaguered amidst a sea of troubles. An expectedly myopic OGL wouldn’t have a word said against British Cycling, while Taffy Steve reasoned that if you employed a straight-talking, foul-mouthed, Australian bully for a coach, you should know exactly what you’re going to get. Meanwhile, Tom-Tom suggested bullying and sexism had no place within any professional institution, least of all the highly public, elite end of sport.

I didn’t have anything sensible to add to the discussion, but felt compelled to mention Jess Varnish was an obvious talent and she had a real good finish on her.

“Yes, satin semi-gloss.” Taffy Steve agreed, while the Prof just looked on befuddled and wondered what the hell we could possibly be talking about.

Our 9:15 Garmin Time start was somewhat delayed by OGL collecting club membership fees, which prompted the Prof to ponder what actually happened to the princely payments our president procured.

“You might as well take a big stick and go and stir up a hornets nest.” G-Dawg suggested in the shocked silence that followed the question.


A bumper pack of 28 lads and lasses were soon pushing off, clipping in and riding out in two long snaking lines.

I spent time sitting toward the back of the pack with Sneaky Pete as we rolled out, Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs shouldering the burden of the work on the front as we clambered out into the countryside via Berwick Hill.

Rotations off the front and a brief stop for a mechanical and then for the Prof to pee, saw the order change and I spent some time chatting with Grover (who was definitely not enjoying his first ride since November) and then the BFG.

At some point OGL led us out briefly out onto the A696, two lanes of screaming death metal, notorious for speeding and dodgy over-taking manouvres. We all got stacked up at a junction waiting to cross against the fast moving, high volume traffic heading north on what is, after all a major route up to Scotland. We stood there far too long, all crowded together and feeling vulnerable to anything travelling south with too much pace or not enough attention, before managing to effect an exit.

“Great,” Taffy Steve quipped, “Looks like Punishment Ride Number 8.”

That’s what you get for riding your best bike without permission, but the weather had been so fine for the past week that we failed to find any dodgy, dirty roads. Still, you can’t say we/he didn’t try.

At one point, I caught up with Keel, who is enduring life in a call-centre while he waits for his chosen industry to pick itself out of a slump to get his career back on track. He’s still plumbing the depths to try and find the lowest base level of human benevolence, empathy, compassion and understanding. This week’s candidate for Caller of the Year had excused their ignorance and rudeness by suggesting, “I can’t help it that I’m upper class and you’re working class.”


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Next up was Cowin’ Bovril who revealed he’s planning a trip to the Alps with Carlton in June. Funny he should say that …

The road finally spat us out at the bottom of Middleton Bank, with Crazy Legs turning left, away from the climb for a slightly longer run to the café, simply because it’s a direction he’d never taken before. Just as he swung away, Sneaky Pete sneaked off after him, while I hesitated, before deciding not to follow.

Hitting the steepest ramps of the climb, I then found myself at the back and boxed in as the BFG drove a small group off the front. In giving chase, Tom-Tom opened up a small gap which I nipped through and I dropped onto his wheel as he passed a struggling Taffy Steve, caught in an unequal fight with both the slope and a rubbing tyre.

As the road straightened, I swung past Tom-Tom and dragged him across the gap to the front runners. Over the top, there was to be no regrouping after the climb this week,  both the BFG and Keel working hard to push the pace up on the front as we closed on the café. I drifted to the back of the group and followed the wheels as we swooped down through Milestone Woods and up the first and steepest of the rollers.

Here the BFG popped, swung over and was swept away. Half-way up the final climb, Keel also blew, G-Dawg, Jimmy Mac and Biden Fecht romped away to contest the sprint, while I tusselled wheel to wheel with the Prof for the minor places.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

G-Dawg and Crazy Legs have organised an off-road , mountain bike excursion around Kielder next Saturday. Sounds like fun, but I suspect any kind of route more challenging than a riverside path is likely to shake my mountain bike to destruction. Besides this, it’s much too soon after re-discovering the joy of riding the Holdsworth again, so I had to pass.

Completely independent of Carlton and Cowin’ Bovril, Crazy Legs has also arranged a trip to France,  where he’ll re-enact Hannibal’s epic journey across the Alps. Captain Black, Goose and me have all volunteered for the role of the elephants, reasoning we probably climb like enormous, lumpen pachyderms anyway.

We fly to Geneva on the weekend of the Cyclone, with the idea of driving to France and setting up a base camp within striking distance of Alpe d’Huez, the Galibier, Col de la Bonette, Col d’Izoard and all those other legendary climbs that cyclists can usually only dream of. That should keep us well occupied for 3 or 4 days.

We represent then … drum roll please … “The 4 Riders of the Alps Bucket-List”  – although my carefully pre-prepared blerg title, has been somewhat ruined as Crazy Legs’ brother-in-law, or aunties, uncles, nephew’s son, or some such distant relative  will also join us.

The BFG too, might venture out, if the timings coincide with his human phases of the moon and even the elusive, semi-legendary recluse, Hammer has threatened to join us, although I understand he’ll be flying out by private jet and will probably take up residence on his super-yacht in Monaco for the duration.

While there’s no contest in a choice between the Alps and the Cyclone, the trip does mean I’ll miss the annual slug fest around Northumberland for the first time since 2010.   This not only breaks a 6 year tradition, but means there’s a sportive-sized hole in my annual schedule, which the talk at Saturday suggested could be filled by a return to the Wooler Wheel. There seems to be a lot of club interest in the ride, which I haven’t done for a couple of years, so it’s definitely-maybe a possibility.

Captain Black also helpfully reminded me of the post-ride grub the organisers provide, which is, I have to admit a real incentive and could yet sway my decision.

Crazy Legs wandered up in his role of Hannibal to discuss trip arrangements, picked up Princess Fiona’s Oakley’s by mistake and made to wander away. Called to account, he did have the excuse that her prize, expensive Oakley’s were identical in absolutely every way to his knock-off, uber-cheap Fauxley’s. He placed both pairs side by side to prove his point, but luckily didn’t shuffle them around and ask us to pick out the genuine article.

The Prof exulted in his original Ray Ban X-Rays, which he felt were old enough to be seen as not only a true classic, but apparently wholly original and positively vintage.

“And you’ve only ever had to replace the lenses 13 times and the frames 6 times.” Captain Black quipped.

With OGL dithering over another coffee, most of us were done and dusted and so we split the group and left.


On the way back I was chatting to Taffy Steve about local sports “heroes” – inevitably ours are cerebrally-challenged ex-footballers of dubious abilities, who manage to get continuous media work despite relying on the most mundane prognostications, unedifying insight and some truly banal cliché’s.

I told him how one famous son of Tyneside had rang the University demanding a place for his daughter and, on being told her qualifications simply weren’t good enough, had actually resorted to the cheesy old, “Do you not know who I am?”

(Of course, I always enjoyed the (probably) apocryphal story of the outraged airline passenger who used the same, “Do you have any idea who I am?” line, only for the ticket agent to fire up the public address and loudly announce, “We have a passenger here who can’t remember who he is. If anyone can help him, please come to gate 17.”)

I also had a laugh at Chris Waddle who it seems has singularly failed to master the word “penalty.”

“That’s a stone-wall pelanty!” he’ll shout excitedly down the radio, while I shake my head and sigh. No Chris, it’s not.

“That is good though,” Taffy Steve mused, “He can’t pronounce penalties and he can’t take them either.” Ooph!

As we made our way down Berwick Hill, the driver of a large white panel van we’d obviously delayed on his massively important journey for the briefest of nano-seconds, decided we didn’t have any right to be on the road. To make his point he decided it would be a good idea to overtake, pull sharply in front of us and then execute an exemplary emergency stop, in the hope that we would all pile into the back of his van and die in a horrible, mangled heap.

Sadly for him, our brakes and reflexes were more than adequate to cope with this utterly ridiculous and dangerous stunt and we all stopped admirably and without incident, albeit there was a fair bit of shouting.

Taffy Steve pulled up alongside the open window of the still rocking van to calmly inform the moronic driver that he’d been a very naughty man indeed and suggested we had 20 witnesses to a very clear case of dangerous driving, before riding nonchalantly away. These pronouncements seemed to leave the loon gibbering, spluttering and chittering incoherently in outraged apoplexy, while we all filed past and continued our ride. Complete and utter arse hat.

Exiting the Mad Mile, I latched onto the BFG’s wheel as his new lair lies a little way along my route home and so I enjoyed a bit of company for the first quarter of a mile or so. Then I was off, riding solo and still thoroughly enjoying myself.

Crossing the river, I was approaching a supermarket entrance, and noticed a car with Probationary driver plates waiting to pull out onto the road, piloted by a young, female. Feeling sure she’d noticed the vulnerable cyclist, or at least the line of cars stacked closely on my rear wheel, I gave it no further thought, until she pulled out directly in front of me.

I had no choice but to swerve into the opposite lane, which was thankfully empty, while wildly gesticulating with a universal “WTF” waving of my arms, which she studiously ignored. I passed down the left-hand side of the car as she slowed to turn immediately right, banging on the side-panel to try and get her attention and at least have her acknowledge I existed. Eyes fixed very firmly straight-ahead, there wasn’t even a flicker that she’d done something irrefutably stupid and wrong, before she turned the wheel and drove blithely away.

Y’gads, they’re everywhere! But, despite it all, malicious, ignorant or simply inattentive, asinine drivers failed to puncture my good mood. I can’t wait for next weekend and the chance to do it all again.


YTD Totals: 1,228 km / 763 miles with 13,060 metres of climbing

Galibier Mistral Foul Weather Jacket Review


To be totally transparent from the off, I really like, own and very regularly use lots of Galibier kit including; shorts, tights, leg warmers, gloves, overshoes, a headband/bandana and a rain jacket. In fact they are responsible for my favourite lightweight gloves and their winter ones are pretty damn good too.

I find their products to be of good quality and durability at very affordable prices, although I feel they are sometimes let down by some strange aesthetic designs and decisions.

When I was looking for something a bit better at coping with the rain than the usual lightweight, waterproof but unbreathable rain jacket, they were my natural first choice.

From their website I discovered the Mistral being marketed as a foul weather jacket. This seemed to tick all the boxes in terms of breathability and triple-layer wet weather protection. Most comparable jackets were 2 or 3 times the £72 price, and the design of the Mistral promised “the wind, rain and cold protection of a jacket, but with the comfort of a jersey.”


 

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The Galibier Mistral Foul Weather Jacket


Galibier state that the specially sourced fabric of their jacket was designed for use by the German military, and given the traditional quality of German Army materiel, (think MG42 or Panzerkampwagen V), this sounded like a ringing endorsement to me.

With their usual efficient delivery service the jacket was soon in my hands. The first thing I noticed was the packaging – the Mistral came very neatly and impressively folded into its own, perfectly serviceable Galibier musette and one of their buffs was included free for good measure.

Perhaps this latter addition was Galibier’s way of addressing one of my own slight gripes with the jacket, but more of that later.


 

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Classy packaging


 

The product itself looks very well made, double-stitched throughout and with the Galibier name prominently embroidered on the left hand breast – a big quality step up from the usual short-lived, less than durable transfers they typically use to brand their gear.

In minimalist black with a contrasting red cuffs, collar and zip and a matching red “skunk stripe” down the back, the design is neat, serviceable and looks the part, although it’s not especially distinctive in either cut or colour and is never going to engender any “I want one of those” product lust.

The material of the jacket is the interesting stuff, it does feel akin to pulling on a jersey, but the fabric is thicker, somewhat stiffly elastic and quite smooth and slick to the touch.


 

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The triple membrane construction


 

There are 3 very deep pockets with reflective trim and mesh bottoms, presumably because the fabric is so waterproof water would pool in the pockets if they didn’t have an outlet.

These pockets are excellent – one of the best features of the jacket because although deep and wonderfully capacious, the taut elasticity of the fabric means they don’t lose their shape and hold everything safely and securely with very little bulging or movement. Ideal for winter rides where I tend to carry a few more tools, kit and spares.


 

rear-pocket
The pockets are just fabulous


 

Pulling on the jacket feels very much akin to pulling on a winter weight, race-fit jersey, and you do have to actively pull it on – it’s close cut, with no excess material to flap around in the wind. Once on it feels very warm, supportive and enfolding.

The jacket has what Galibier refer to as a diaphragm cut, quite short on the torso, so there’s no uncomfortable bunching up of loose material once you’re tucked into a riding position.

This had me somewhat self-consciously tugging the front down when I first tried the jacket on, but it comes into its own once you swing a leg over your bike. In contrast the tail is slightly dropped to give additional protection for your lower back.


 

IMG_1965
The cut comes into its own once you’re on the bike


 

The sleeves appear long enough to cope with even my gibbon-like limbs with material to spare, so there’s no excuse for having any annoying gap between cuff and glove. As with the body the sleeves are quite close fitting and supportive – you will inevitably have to pull them inside out as you take the jacket off.

The inner cuff, in the contrasting red fleecy material, seals the sleeves effectively from the wind, but experience has taught me these cuffs are not made of the same water resistant material as the shell, and, if accidently exposed, will soak up and retain water like a sponge.

The zipper appears to be of good, robust quality and sits in front of a windproof “storm flap” of protective material. There’s also a neat “zip garage” built into the top of the collar, which would perhaps be a good idea, except I don’t think I’ll ever use it. This is because, (my one criticism of the cut of the jacket), I find the collar too tall, restrictive and uncomfortable so never zip it fully closed. I’ve often wondered if this is a recognised shortcoming and the reason Galibier supply a free buff with the jacket!

First impressions are overwhelmingly positive, so how does the jacket actually perform?

My first few rides in the Mistral are short commutes to work where I paired the jacket with just a thin base layer. To wear, the garment is supremely comfortable, so much so that you forget that you’re actually wearing it and I can’t think of a better endorsement than that.

It’s also impressively windproof and warm – almost too warm in any temperature over 11°c to 12°c especially, though not surprisingly, when climbing hills. It also pleasingly shrugged off any showers or light rain, and when caught in a sudden downpour I could see the water beading on the surface and running away without soaking through the fabric.

I’ve since comfortably worn the jacket with a double base layer in temperatures (taking the wind chill into account) of -1°c to -2°c, and feel it will cope with just about anything the British winter can throw at me just by regulating what I wear under it.

The jacket is also highly breathable, so even if I’ve worked up a sweat I’m confident this will eventually dissipate through the material so you’re not left with a cold, clammy and chilled feeling for the rest of the ride.

My one disappointment has been with how the Mistral performed when faced with heavy and persistent rain. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect the jacket to keep me totally dry throughout the ride, but I wasn’t expecting for it to surrender quite so meekly and quickly.

To be fair I think you’d struggle to find more testing conditions than the very heavy, very persistent rain we faced on our club run of 7th November. A list of the Strava titles my companions used to label their rides may give some indication of what we faced; “Biblical Rainfall,” “Ou Est Mon Bateau?” “The Life Aquatic” and “Yo, Noah, Where Art Thou?” being just a few selections.

By the time I reached our meeting point after about an hour of riding into the downpour I could already feel cold water slowly creeping through the jacket, especially down the arms and back.

Now Galibier are perfectly honest and don’t claim that the Mistral is 100% waterproof, in fact there website clearly states that “The softshell is highly water resistant, but due to the superior body stretch of the material, the seams cannot be internally taped, so in a downpour, the rain will eventually get through.”

This being the case it makes me wonder why they then inserted the contrasting red skunk stripe down the back of the jacket, effectively adding two full length, unprotected seams to one of the most exposed areas and sacrificing functionality for aesthetics.

After another couple of hours of prolonged, unrelenting driving rain and high pressure road spray, the Mistral was pretty much soaked through and everything under it was decidedly damp. The jacket was surprisingly heavy when I took it off in the café to try and let my inner layers dry out a little, and not particularly comfortable to pull on again when it was time to leave. Despite this however it did serve its primary function – keeping me warm throughout the ride.

In conclusion then, the Galibier Mistral is a well-made, very competitively priced and supremely comfortable winter jacket. Although it isn’t going to keep you dry in the most demanding of conditions it should be able to cope with all but the heaviest rainfall and, no matter what, will remain windproof and keep you reasonably warm.


 

IMG_1994
The Mistral jacket, not quite as waterproof as I would have liked, but fast becoming an essential piece of winter kit


 

I’m happy enough with its water-resistant properties enough to forgo carrying a separate waterproof, although I would probably look for a different solution or additional protection if I’m likely to face prolonged and very heavy rain throughout a ride.

Its versatility has meant that I’ve pretty much abandoned all other winter jackets in favour of my Mistral and I guess that means I’ll soon find out how durable it is too.


Mistral foul weather jacket – £72.00 from Galibier (www.galibier.cc)

<<Click Here>>

All photos from galibier.cc


Hell and High Water


Club Run, Saturday 7th November, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    87 km/54 miles with 558 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             3 hours 35 minutes

Group size:                                           20 riders including 6 kids, no FNG’s

Weather in a word or two:             A deluge.

Main topic of conversation at the start: I stood in the sheltered but dank and gloomy bowels of the multi-storey car park trying to identify the other riders as they surfed their way into the meeting point through the gloom and heavy rain. “Ah, and here come the Dawson twins,” I announced to no one in particular, as G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg rolled up. “They aren’t twins are they?” one of the befuddled youngsters tentatively suggested, “One looks so much older than the other.” Oh dear.

OGL castigated us for fielding and replying to queries about club run start times on Faecesbook, as apparently his revised timings from last week were perfectly clear and understandable and caused no confusion whatsoever (although I understand several people did miss the start last Sunday). Apparently our use of social media shouldn’t be so … well … social.

He even suggested that the Faecesbook stuff wasn’t necessary as all our start times are clearly listed on the club website. (The club website sees even less traffic than this benighted blog and I personally don’t visit it much – the wide empty spaces bring on my monophobia and besides, I’m allergic to tumbleweed.)

We were then treated to the Prof’s execrable Geordie accent as he tried to chivvy us along, in the process doing for the Geordie nation what Dick van Dyke managed to do for Cockneys the world over. Encore!

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

I had a chat with Tri-Boy’s Dad and commiserated with his struggles to keep the youngster in check. Apparently the boy likes to dangle in front of his Pa, wait for the catch to almost be made, then accelerate away again. Ah, good to see the much beloved and traditional Szell game is still alive and appreciated by the younger generation. Across the table I could see the Monkey Butler Boy listening avidly, taking it all in and eyeing up his Pa, already looking forward to trying this.

Looking out at the rain still hammering down outside, we talked about whether on days like this we would be better off not stopping at all, even if it meant (Shock! Horror!) abstinence from cake and coffee. (Ok, I realise this is a radical step too far.)

We also couldn’t help but reminisce about the Damn Yankee who used to come out with us, and who just about collapsed from mild to moderate hyperthermia on arriving at the café during one of our harsher winter rides.

I think everyone was surprised he succumbed to the cold as he was a big, big unit, built like a gridiron fullback and, as Taffy Steve appropriately suggested, with massive calves the size of American footballs.

We’ve no idea where this once club run regular disappeared to – originally from San Franscisco, he apparently went to college in the Deep South, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas or some such. He was quite happy to confirm all our worst prejudices about such places being awash with Antebellum grand dames, in-bred, jug-eared and twanging banjo-duellists, sheet wearing Grand Wizards with burning crosses and constant demands to squeal like a pig.

I often think we sometimes miss that rational, reasoned international perspective


profile 7 nov
A sign that perhaps my Garmin didn’t like the weather too much – perhaps the weirdest ride profile ever.


The Waffle:

If last week was all about generating a Gallic vibe to encourage the Peugeot, this week was all about the rain, so perhaps I should have been watching Eddie Vedders “Water on the Road” and listening to Talk Talk, “After the Flood” and Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall”.

A list of the Strava titles my companions used to label their rides may gave you some indication of what we faced; “Biblical Rainfall,” “Ou Est Mon Bateau?” “The Life Aquatic” and “Yo, Noah, Where Art Thou?” being just a few selections.

Yes it rained, and rained heavily, and no it didn’t let up, although it did ease slightly once I was on the last climb for home. Still, we couldn’t say we hadn’t been warned, for once all the forecasts got it right and were spot on with their predictions of unremitting bleakness.

Between a slight cold and family commitments I’d only managed a single, solitary ride into work on the bike all week, so I was going out on Saturday, come hell or high water – and someone certainly didn’t stint on the latter.


Lesson#1 - Repeat after me ...
Lesson#1 – Repeat after me …


Actually I awoke Saturday morning to find very little rain in the air, despite a prolonged deluge that had lasted all night. I now realise we were just passing through the eye of the storm and that the rain was holding back only until I actually got outside.

Oh well, at least I got to field-test the new jacket in the most extreme conditions – and learn a lot about its limitations in the process.

With rain starting to bounce violently off the tarmac, I swung a leg over the Peugeot and struck out, noting the distinctive tang of wet leaves and damp ash mixed with the burned smell of spent fireworks. Remember, remember the 6th of November?

Tipping down the bank the combination of heavy rain and road spray almost instantly soaked through my shorts, leg warmers and gloves, and I could feel cold tendrils of water creeping through my overshoes into my socks by the time I hit the bottom. Still my upper half initially remained warm and dry as I hit the valley floor and started to work my way westward while becoming increasingly frustrated with the traffic.

What is it about the rain that so completely befuddles drivers – I’ve noticed when driving in and out of work that even a slight, innocuous shower will add at least 10 minutes to the journey. It’s as if they their brains get tied-up trying to process more than one hazard at a time and it retards their thinking so they no longer act and drive instinctively. I wonder if there’s a little inner monologue that goes something like, “Oh, rain, uh-uh…better be careful” and then, “Oh, rain, AND A BIKE! Aargh! Panic! What do I do?”

I was subject to more iffy, too close passes that morning than I’ve had in three months of commuting by bike and (my own personal bugbear) several drivers who overtook, before immediately braking and cutting sharp left just in front of me.

Extra special appreciation this morning though was reserved for a van driver who gave me a long fusillade on his horn because I did something he obviously thought was wrong. Well, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here and assuming he genuinely thought I’d done something wrong and he wasn’t just being a RIM.

This worries me more than the thoughtless close passes, because it not only suggests a self-righteous ignorance of the law and a distinct lack of empathy and consideration, but also the inability to anticipate and safely react to the behaviour of other road users.

I was riding uphill, heading towards a set of traffic lights and needing to turn right, across the lane of oncoming traffic. As I approached the lights I looked behind and noticed the van, safely some distance behind. 2 or 3 more pedal strokes and I looked behind again and saw that the van wasn’t gaining on me, and had in fact dropped further back as it slowed for a number of speed bumps (this is a 20mph, School Zone.) I stuck my hand out, looked back once more and then rode into the centre of the lane as I reached the lights.

I slowed at this point to pass behind an oncoming black Range Rover, before making the turn, accompanied by the loud wail from van man leaning aggressively on his horn as he swept past. I naturally took a leaf out of Mr. Cavendish’s book and kindly reminded him of Agincourt, 1415 and all that, but this one really did rankle and I’m still trying to fathom what I did wrong or what else he expected me to do.


Mark-Cavendish-006
1415 and All That


Half an hour later and continuing through the unrelenting rain, I could begin to feel the cold, damp creep of water slowly leeching through the arms of my jacket and into my base-layer. The material had, I assume, became so saturated that the rain was no longer beading and rolling off the surface, but started to slowly worm its way inward. By the time I’d reached the meeting point everything was pretty much soaked through, cold, damp and heavy.

Surprisingly there was a sizeable turn out, including a handful of the kids who, as it was the first Saturday of the month, were going to ride out with us before heading off on a different route. 20 brave lads, lasses and kids then, pushed off, clipped in and went to collectively see just how much cold water we could sponge up, a latter day band of brothers, united by our battle with the elements.

I started drifting through the group trying to find a wheel to follow that had at least some semblance of a mudguard, but even these were throwing off an arc of spray, so I slotted into the gap between the two riders in front.

We’d just made it out of the ‘burbs when one of OGL’s lights shook loose and went bouncing down the road. As he turned to retrieve it I pulled over to field a phone call from home. My eCrumb had stopped in the rain and they were wondering what was going on.

I couldn’t work the phone through my gloves, so stripped them off and then found they were so wet I couldn’t pull them back on again. I had a dry pair in my pocket (a trick learned from the Red Max) but decided to keep them until after the café, so I wrung as much water as I could out of the original pair and stowed them away.


A spare pair of gloves - a real boon when the first get soaked through.
A spare pair of gloves – a real boon when the first get soaked through.


Not only was my eCrumb struggling with the conditions, but Red Max declared his Garmin was waterlogged and fritzed, and at the end of the ride my Strava threw up the weirdest of ride profiles. I’ve no idea what it was recording in the middle of my ride.

Phone and gloves safely tucked away, I got moving again and found Crazy Legs waiting a bit further up the road as OGL hadn’t made it back to the group yet. We hung back until he cruised up and then set the pace to escort him back to where everyone else was waiting.

At the next roundabout all the kids split off, apart from Tri-Boy and the Monkey Butler Boy. A little further on and all well soaked, the majority of us decided to cut the ride short and head directly for the café. We still had time to engender some truly apoplectic rage from OGL for pushing the pace too high, before we were storming toward the Snake Bends and the café sprint.

OGL might as well have tried to stop the rain falling as to halt our momentum at this point, but while his efforts were fruitless a little bit of air managed to do for me. Not any old air in general of course, just the minuscule portion of it I had borrowed and cruelly entrapped in my inner tube. The tunnel was completed, the gates swinging wide, the sirens wailing and an all or nothing break-out was most definitely on the cards for this poor repressed portion of the atmosphere. Another week, another puncture.


Again? Really?
Again? Really?


With heavy steering, a slowly sinking feeling and the road vibrating increasingly through a rattling and no longer cushioned rim, I slipped silently backward and out of the group to fix things without the attendant critical audience.

I still haven’t found the source for this rash of punctures, but the Gatorskins have been consigned to the bin, they’ve either ran out of durability, or ran out of luck and neither is acceptable. Time to see if the Schwalbe Durano’s perform any better.

Sadly I missed the final “dive” to the café, which ripped through a massive, edge-to-verge, road-spanning lake of dirty collected rain water at full tilt, our speeding bunch producing a bow wave reminiscent of a newly launched super-tanker crashing down the slipway.

This in turn gave birth to a minor inland tsunami so high that it washed over the top of The Red Max’s waterproof winter boots and once inside and with no way for the water to drain out, he was left sloshing his wiggling toes around and hoping to avoid developing a bad case of trenchfoot.

Somewhat behind everyone else I limped into the café, sur la jante, to find Max comfortably perched on a black bin bag, feet up and boots off. Every so often the Monkey Butler Boy would be tasked with stepping out into the rain and emptying the water from the boots, but no matter how many times he did this the insides were obviously super-saturated and more water inevitably collected and pooled in the dark confines of the boot.

We managed to prise ourselves out of the café and into heavy, wet clothes, gloves, helmets et al and I took to the front with Taffy Steve, intent on setting a brisk pace to try and warm up a little. Approaching the penultimate climb we were so engaged in a deep philosophical discussion of the Lego Movie that I failed to notice we were riding into a flooded section of the road. While everyone did their best to edge around the perimeter of this lake where the water was the shallowest, I plunged straight through the middle and quickly found myself up to the wheel hubs in water.

I was considering freewheeling through the rest, but the water only deepened further and sucked away my momentum. In real danger of toppling spectacularly I recovered and thrashed my way through, with the water lapping up to my knees.


Surfs Up!
Surfs Up!


Somehow, despite guffawing uproariously at my antics the BFG still had enough puff left to attack the hill, and as Laurelan jumped to give chase I swung onto to her wheel and followed. Over the top the BFG, Cow Ranger, and Tri-Boy kept pushing the pace, while I switched from wheel to wheel, occasionally drifting back to clear my eyes from the constant pressure hose wash of road spray being flung off the tyres.

We made good time and I was soon turning off for home, leaving the BFG chuckling to himself, this time as much amused by the Cow Ranger’s mad thrashing to try and drop everyone as my aborted attempt at water skiing.

I arrived home in good time, stopping on my way to a hot shower only long enough to deposit a sodden heap of slowly leaking clothing in a big puddle on the kitchen floor. Bizarrely, masochistically a good run out.


“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”


I did discover one bad consequence of riding in a group in weather like this as, for a couple of days afterwards, my eyeballs felt like they’d been taken out, lightly sand-papered, rolled in salt and then squeezed back in.

I also realised my Galibier jacket, while perfectly adequate for showers and occasional rain, isn’t going to keep me dry through exposure to a heavy and sustained downpour like we endured today.

And one final thought – to be fully compliant, I really do need to paint a Plimsoll line on the winter bike…


YTD Totals: 5,429 km/ 3,260 miles with 60,918 metres of climbing.