Well, I guess we had to pay for the fine, fine weather last week. And we did. The altitudinous uplands of Whickham received more than a smattering of snow on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as winter bit back with a vengeance. Luckily the snow had all cleared by Saturday morning, though the temperature was still hovering around zero as I set out and the north side of the river was completely hidden behind an opaque veil of freezing fog.
Crazy Legs had devised a route taking in ascents of the Mur de Mitford and the Trench and with the ground likely to be wet and slick, especially for the former, it was time to dust down the Pug and lean on having a selection of gears to aid my crawl upwards with my weight plonked firmly over the back wheel.
The almost universal adoption of shorts last week had been temporarily abandoned and everyone was more or less wrapped up from head to toe, with the exception of G-Dawg who, striving to retain his Geordie-ness, had compromised with three-quarter length tights. It was cold, but the consensus was it wasn’t cold enough for lobster mitts – which I suspect for those in the know, may be a better and more accurate indication of the temperature without the need to resort to purely scientific measures.
Before the group assembled we had a brief chat with an FNG on a smart, white Orbea bike he’d recently bought, having given up waiting on Ribble who’d quoted no new bike availability until late September at the earliest!
Speaking of Ribble, one of the first to arrive was the Cow Ranger astride his Ribble, which once would have been recognised as a twin to Crazy Legs’ much cosseted and pampered velocipede, but had been press-ganged into service as a winter bike and was starting to show signs of neglect. Unfortunately, the RSPCR (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Ribble’s) has yet to be formed, so Crazy Legs had no outlet for his evident distress other than to keen loudly while covering up his eyes.
Sliding to a halt, the Cow Ranger lept off his bike and started fiddling with the rear mech, furiously spinning the cable stop barrel this way and that.
“Uh-oh! Adjusting your gears moments before a club ride never turns out well,” Crazy Legs remarked with incredible prescience.
“I just need a couple of gears to get me through the ride,” the Cow Ranger muttered.
“Well, you already have that, you can choose the big ring or the inner ring,” I suggested. Apparently unhelpfully.
The Cow Ranger jumped back onto his bike and took a test spin through the car park trailing a long litany of clanks and clunks, clangs and naughty swear words behind him. Skidding to a halt in front of us, he attacked the rear mech again.
“Can you remember what you did last time?” Crazy Legs asked out of curiosity.
“I think it was about 7 full turns clockwise then 6 anti-clockwise,” I volunteered. Again apparently unhelpfully – even though I swear it was a fairly accurate assessment.
Another test spin. Another test failure. The Cow Ranger stopped again, running a critical eye over his drive-train and muttering something about a “kinky chain” before admitting he was using an oddball and mongrel mix of Shimano and Campagnolo components that quite obviously really, really didn’t like each other.
Ever the Campagnolo champion (Campagnolo Campione, or maybe even Campagnolo Campionissimo?) Crazy Legs channelled his inner Joe Dolce and gave voice to the Italian components.
“Hey goombah! You gotta no respect? Whatta you think you do? You ‘spect me to work wit dees?” (Or something along these lines…)
Still, help was on the horizon as OGL appeared and predictably couldn’t resist his natural urge to become embroiled in any and all mechanical issues. Even his accumulated years of mechanical bike tinkering however didn’t seem to do the trick. The Cow Ranger took one last tour of the car park before riding off into the sunsetrise and home.
Well, that was entertaining.
Crazy Legs briefed in our route for the day, we split into two groups and the first bunch disappeared up the road.
“Let’s get rrrrready toooooo … err … trundle!” Taffy Steve announced in his best Wrestlemania voice and then we were away too.
I found myself riding along with Brassneck, who reported an ominous conversation with his daughter and Mrs. Brassneck, who’d both separately informed him that, life insurance being what it is, he was worth considerably more to them dead than alive. This had understandably seen a little bit of paranoia creeping into the unguarded recesses of his mind. He was beginning to wonder if all the encouragement he was getting to ride his bike wasn’t because it gave him pleasure, but simply because it was the most dangerous activity he indulged in (unless vinyl poisoning is a thing?)
It occurred to us that a club cyclist was probably the easiest of targets for an assassination attempt – our route and timings were published well beforehand and, let’s face it, no one would think twice about yet another road traffic accident where a cyclist is killed by a careless motorist who, even if caught red-handed, is unlikely to face much more than a cursory slap on the wrist.
His paranoia started to infect me too and I wondered if I shouldn’t find someone else to ride alongside in case I became collateral damage.
Other than this, things were going smoothly and we pushed onto the front as we turned up toward the Cheese Farm. We made it to Tranwell Woods before the bolt holding Brassneck’s front mudguard in place mysteriously worked loose and dropped out and he found himself riding with the constant tsk-tsk of tyre rubbing on guard.
We discussed if this was intentional sabotage, how far he was willing to ride with the constant irritating accompaniment of tyre rub and whether it was better to ride to destruction or stop and embroil everyone in more mechanical shenanigans. We eventually decided to stop and secure the mudguard in place with a cable tie. OGL would later realise we could have used a bolt from a bottle cage as a replacement – a good idea and handy tip should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, but with just our temporary fix to go on Brassneck turned for home.
“This all might be part of the plot against me,” he confided as he turned to go.
“Yes,” I agreed, “You’re vulnerable, alone and separated from the herd now. Good luck.”
He nodded once, stoically and was gone …
Crazy Legs determined we were well behind schedule having actively trundled our way up to this point and then spent so much time trying to get Brassneck up and running again, so decided we’d skip the Mur de Mitford and Trench to claw back some time. Maybe I hadn’t needed to ride the Peugeot after all – although we still had a reasonably sharp climb out of Mitford and then up Middleton Bank to contend with. Anyway, at least I’d given TripleD-El the opportunity to suggest I should turn my tricolour bar end plugs through 90° to celebrate my Dutch colleagues rather than the Pug’s French heritage. It seemed a reasonable request, but not one I was willing to attempt while riding along.
Down through Hartburn, it was the turn of Sneaky Pete’s mudguard to work loose, but luckily his had clip-in mounts and he was able to pop them back in and we got going again.
TripleD-El dropped her chain on the approach to Middleton Bank and our group got seriously split on the climb. I followed Zardoz over the crest and we joined up with Crazy Legs, Liam and the FNG as we decided not to wait but push on to the cafe. I followed in the wheels until the final hill and then tried to keep the pace high as I hit the front, but it didn’t seem all that effective and everyone zipped past to contest the sprint. If I’m not mistaken, Zardoz then snatched a hard-fought victory to commemorate his text-book lessons in canny riding, following the wheels and assiduously avoiding being in the wind on the front.
We were back to interminable queuing and glacial service at the cafe, but despite the congestion we caused, I was told we’d apparently been missed! (Or, for the cynical amongst you, our reckless spending on cakes and coffee had been missed.)
At the table, Crazy Legs was enthusing about the discovery of Shackleton’s ship, eerily preserved in almost perfect condition 3,000 metres down in the depths of the Weddell Sea after being caught and crushed in the pack ice. He also recommended the book about the expedition, South which describes the extreme cold and relentless hardships endured by the survivors – suffice to say that if any had been riding today, they’d almost certainly have turned up wearing shorts.
He could not, on the other hand, recommend the Geraint Thomas book, The World of Cycling According to G, which is apparently unbefitting of its subject, extremely bland and boring, with its most startling revelation being that (apparently) it tends to rain a lot in Wales. I’m not sure how you can make such a seemingly engaging person so grey and dull, so that’s certainly an achievement, if in no way commendable.
Speaking of grey, we learned that Goose is still toying with the idea of a new paint job for his beloved Boardman and thinks primer grey would be the ideal colour choice. Given his earlier plans to re-brand it as a Volvo that somehow seems fitting, if a little underwhelming.
The return ride proved uneventful and, despite a gathering of dark clouds, completed without getting rained on. That’ll do nicely and hopefully next week things will be a little bit warmer.
Last week social media on Tyneside blew up with multiple posts detailing random, unexpected encounters with cycling Hollywood actor and fully-fledged “sleb” Harrison Ford. Mr Ford, up in the area to shoot the new Indiana Jones movie at Bamburgh Castle, was spotted on a number of occasions enjoying our fine weather (a rarity) to travel around Northumberland au velo, clad in Pedal Mafia cycling gear and trusting his smart red and black (allegedly £17,000) Colnago to the depredations of our local roads.
I wonder what sort of abuse he got from our local drivers … and how much of it got lost in translation?
Maybe its just me, but I’d prefer to meet his co-star, the whip-smart (see what I did there?) Phoebe Waller-Bridge, still I took his brief cameo to try and convince Thing#1 that no less a person than Indiana Jones had agreed to join us on our Saturday Club Ride. She almost bought it.
Saturday wasn’t quite as good as the previous couple of weeks, it was fairly chill to start with, a cutting westerly slicing a good three or four degrees off the temperature, and arm warmers and gilets were the order of the day, at least until things warmed up a little.
I was out and across to the meeting place in good time, but still behind an ultra-enthusiastic G-Dawg, returning for his first official club run in 7 weeks and quite obviously chomping at the bit. Even Szell turned up for the second week in succession, even as we patiently explained Middleton Bank wasn’t on the route today and he might as well just go home. I must say he took this blow with a surprising degree of aplomb and decided to accompany us anyway, perhaps he too was hoping to ride with a certain Hollywood A-lister?
What route-architect Buster had originally planned was a drop down into the Tyne Valley and a trip westward to Corbridge. Apparently road works now meant we’d be turning before entering the confusing maze of one-way streets that form that particular burg, but there’d still be a long portion of the ride heading due west and directly into the full force of the wind.
G-Dawg determined he wouldn’t be heading into the valley as he wasn’t sure he’d make it out on his still gimpy leg. While he said pedalling was easier than walking, he revealed that one of his hardest tasks was unclipping and sometimes he’d found it easier to just pull his foot out of the shoe and leave it dangling from the pedal, while he hopped around barefoot under the quizzical gaze of bemused onlookers.
With the route briefed in, OGL stepped up to deliver a purely inspirational, empathetic speech, ostensibly addressing last weeks unfortunate accident that had grounded Zardoz for the foreseeable future.
Unrelated as they were, he somehow managed to squeeze in all the old tropes we’ve come to expect: how he’d single-handedly saved the club from dissolution, how there was a time when he was the only member, how we never look back when we ride, look out for each other and are always leaving people behind, that it’s a club run not a race, a social event where we should never push, or test ourselves in any way, shape or form, that if you want to ride fast you should put a number on your back and anyway, he’s the only genuine, experienced and accomplished bike racer amongst us and we are all just feckless dilettante’s who’d never amount to anything.
Perhaps he then finally remembered what it was he was meant to be talking about, as he hurriedly concluded that he wasn’t there when the accident occurred last week, but it didn’t matter because he’d checked and Zardoz hadn’t payed his subs, so wasn’t a club member anyway.
With those bright and inspiring words of encouragement ringing in our ears, the first group formed up and I set off with them, only mildly disappointed at the no-show of Mr. Harrison Ford.
I found myself riding alongside young Jake the Snake, the Dormanator, back from university in the far south-west looking older (not surprisingly) but also much bigger. Arrayed around us were the Cow Ranger, Goose, Crazy Legs, Andeven, Spry, Buster, Biden Fecht, the Big Yin and yet another FNG (YAFNG). A decent sized group which felt manageable, yet large enough so the workload of wind-taming could be shared out enough to keep people fresh.
I had a good natter with Jake the Snake about university life and Tour de France predictions (neither of us being able to see past a Slovenian winner, or at all certain that two of Ineos’s main challengers, Geraint Thomas and Ritchie Porte, would make it to Paris without falling over.) We did our stint on the front, battling the headwind, before the route took a southbound turn and we dropped into the Tyne Valley at Wylam.
There I caught up with Biden Fecht, astride his heavy winter-bike after he’d tired to replace the bar tape on his good bike and found a “penny sized hole” through the top of his handlebars. His LBS determined this was most likely caused by excessively long turbo sessions and Biden Fecht’s sweat eating through his alloy bars like Alien blood.
Worse news was to follow though, as checking the bike over had revealed a much less fixable issue, a crack in the carbon fibre of one of the seatstays. Repair or replace, either option sounds like an expensive remedy.
A little further along and the Big Yin rode alongside me and glanced down.
“Hey, did you design the club kit solely to match your shoes?” he demanded. I didn’t, but, truth be damned, I told him I had. Actually the (strictly unofficial) club kit came first and I just happened to find a pair of shoes on sale that were a remarkably good match (as well as being £100 below list price.)
At this point in proceedings the serious climbing began, as we turned to escape the valley, using the bridge at Aydon to vault over the 4 lanes of rushing traffic on the A69.
I found myself climbing alongside Crazy Legs who’d been chatting with the FNG and reported back that he was a Rupert in the British Army.
“That explains why he’s built like a shit-brickhouse,” I gasped, before realising I’d slightly mangled my words (I blame my legs, they were demanding all my blood in order to to climb and depriving my brain of sufficient oxygen to function normally.)
We paused at the top, mainly we could all share in the Big Yin’s complaints …
“There was a hill and at the top there was another hill and then when we got up there, just for a change, there was yet another hill,” he lamented, while Crazy Legs decided Shit-Brickhouse was an apt nickname for the FNG.
Through Matfen and on to Stamfordham, I took to the front again, alongside Buster, while Crazy Legs negotiated a change of route to take in his favourite bit of fast road, through Heugh down to Limestone Lane. The change was agreed on the fly and we burned down this dragstrip at high pace.
A couple of riders attacked off the front and I toiled away for a while to try and close the gap without much success. My legs and lungs were shot by the time a second group charged past in pursuit and I couldn’t latch on, eventually joining a few other stragglers as we pushed our way out to the café at Kirkley.
I joined the winter ride “nutters” (I prefer stalwarts, but each to their own) Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, the Red Max and Taffy Steve at a table in the bright sunshine.
“Did you watch the football last night?” Crazy Legs enquired.
“A bit of the second half,” G-Dawg conceded.
“I saw the highlights,” the Red Max replied.
“Was there football on?” I wondered.
“Italee vorsus Torkee,” Crazy Legs confirmed.
“Italy versus Torquay?” I pondered, “An entire sovereign state against a small town on the south coast of Devon? That doesn’t sound fair.”
Taffy Steve started chuckling, having had a similar conversation with a broad-Geordie work colleague on first moving to the region:
“Where’ve you been on holiday?”
“Ah great, did you visit Babbacombe model village?”
“Nah man, Tawkee. Tawkee, ye’ knaa, Effasiss an aal that.”
This got us started on indecipherable accents with, naturally the dialect of Eshington (Ashington) being a particular favourite, celebrated in this very blerg (blog) and allowing Crazy Legs to tell one of his favourite Eshingtonian (Ashingtonian) jokes.
“Just failed me driving test. I hit a kerb.”
“Aye. And I didn’t even kner it was berb a jerb week.”
We pondered if paying club subs could somehow magically protect you from serious accident, but then remembered OGL’s speed-wobble crash several years ago which had put him out for several months, so that couldn’t be true. To be fair though, in the re-telling, this been constantly embellished, moving from a 30kph accident to one that took place at terrifying speeds approaching 100kph, so perhaps “club immunity” only works if your travelling within the legal speed limit?
We thought that it was probably worth mentioning to non-club members (officially it seems club members are very, very strictly defined as only those who pay their subs, even if they never, ever ride with us, ever) to carry a spare tenner in their back pocket and if they are mortally injured, whip it out, present it to OGL. Then there’ll (probably) be a blinding flash of light, a chorus of heavenly angels will descend and bike and rider will be miraculously restored to pristine condition. Unless of course the accident happened because you were travelling in speeds in excess of 100kph. (Please check the small print. Terms and conditions apply.)
I mentioned my disappointment that Harrison Ford hadn’t tagged along on our ride today.
“Nah, that was never going to happen,” the Red Max informed me, “Not a club member.”
Meanwhile, Taffy Steve imagined the bragging and points scoring that a Han Solo appearance on a club run might invoke, adopting his best caricature of OGL’s voice and his penchant for exaggeration to declare,
“So what, I made the Kessel run in only 10 parsecs.”
Time to go and we rolled out and formed up in a sizable group. Dropping down the other side of Berwick Hill, Cowin’ Bovril pulled up alongside me and looked down.
“Did you deliberately buy shoes to match your jersey?” he wondered.
I looked at him in astonishment.
“Wait! What? Doesn’t everyone?”
Passing through the Mad Mile, while G-Dawg and Spoons disappeared to the left I swung right, almost immediately finding myself backed up into a long, long line of barely moving traffic outside the rugby stadium. My rambling peregrinations through the housing estates of Kingston Park to try and avoid this backed-up traffic would eventually reveal that the main road was closed (apparently for repair work on the Metro).
I ended up backtracking almost all the way to our meeting point, reversing the route in that I usually take in the morning and, while I didn’t feel the diversion added too much to my trip, I was approaching 80 miles by the time I made it home.
Still, I have plenty of time to recover as I’m not out next Saturday, so roll on July.
I wake hale and hearty after a reasonable night’s sleep, much to everyone’s consternation as, based on past experience, they were expecting a shambling, pallid, hollowed out, shell of a man to emerge after a night of intense sickness.
I cram down a cereal bar and set to work re-assembling the bike. It seems to have survived its passage through three airports unscathed. The same can’t be said of the bike bag, which bears a large rip across the bottom. It’s more cosmetic than crucial, but annoying nonetheless.
It takes half an hour or so to build the bike up and then I’m good to go. (Lying to the British Airways baggage handler and assuring him my tyres were deflated helped. Contrary to popular myth, they didn’t explode in the hold and I’d read that keeping them inflated could help protect your rims, so that’s what I did. )
My cabin companions are not so lucky. Kermit finds his headset cap is missing, or more precisely, he suspects it isn’t missing, it just hasn’t travelled with him and is sitting proudly on display, in the middle of his kitchen table at home.
Even worse, he then discovers he’s forgotten to pack his pedals.
Meanwhile, Biden Fecht has assembled his bike, but his rear derailleur seems askew and is making his chain rattle like a rusty anchor dropping through a ships scupper.
An urgent trip is scheduled to the bike shops in Bourg d’Oisans, to be there as soon as they open. The van is loaded up with the bikes and away they go.
While we wait, after about seven years of riding with me, Crazy Legs finally notices how stupidly long my stem is. I explain it’s a consequence of having gibbon-like arms and I immediately become Mr. Tickle to Crazy Legs. Oh well, it keeps him tickled while we wait.
Then, Buster determines his derailleur is playing up. Shifting up the cassette is a decidedly hit-and-miss affair and then, after a bit of (supposedly) remedial fiddling, just a miss affair. Climbing the Alpe under the best of circumstances is a daunting prospect, doing it without leg-friendly, climbing gears sounds like utter madness, so Buster too departs for the local bike shops.
The rest of us are ready to go by the time Biden Fecht and Kermit return. Their trip has been a success, but they’ve still got a degree of fettling, preparation, essential male grooming and breakfasting to do. Crazy Legs suggest the rest of us make a start, while he hangs back to wait for Buster, Kermit and Biden Fecht and then they’ll follow in a second group.
It seems like a reasonable plan, so the rest of us saddle up, clip in and ride out.
At the entrance to the campsite we’re passed by a camper van trailing the unmistakable odour of burning clutch. Ah, the traditional smell I’ve learned to associate with l’Alpe d’Huez. I’m confused when we turn left onto the main road though, heading away from the climb and out into the town.
This diversion, it turns out is our warm up, a quick blast through town, an equally quick turnaround and then we’re heading for the Alpe. Ah OK, guess that makes sense, but I’m not sure it was all that effective as a warm up. We pass the entrance to the campsite and almost immediately begin to climb.
The first few ramps are by far the hardest and a shock to the system. It’s no surprise to hear a chorus of clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-fuck! as everyone quickly finds they’ve run out of gears. The Hammer starts to open up a lead and I follow at a more relaxed pace, with Ovis and Steadfast in close attendance. The Big Yin and, more surprisingly, Caracol are hanging back.
Approaching the third hairpin and our way is blocked by a cyclist and what appears to be his support car. Neither of them are travelling all that fast, as the cyclist takes the longest sticky bottle hand-off I have ever seen. I’m talking minutes here. If the riders already struggling this much, I’m not sure how he’ll cope with the remaining hour plus he’ll need to climb the mountain.
We finally forge a way past the cyclist and support car and settle into a steady rhythm. It’s cool, the roads are wet and the air damp. I seemed to have found a pace that’s comfortable for Ovis and Steadfast and the three of us form a tight knot as we push upwards, occasionally swapping turns on the front.
At some point in the early stages of the climb Caracol glides past and slowly disappears up the road, en route to a sub-hour ascent.
I remember to occasionally rise out of the saddle, just so I don’t get locked in to one posture, and I count down the hairpins, once again squinting at the tiny signs to try read the TdF stage winners. I find a sign commemorating Joop Zoetemelk’s win, but its for his 1979 triumph on the mountain, not the ’76 version, where he had the temerity to beat Van Impe.
Armstrong’s still up there (#boohiss) but then again, so is Pantani (#boohisstoo). I quite easily spot those for the most recent winners (perhaps they’re a bit shinier?) – Turbo Peanut (as a website has fabulously nicknamed one of the two, great French hope’s for the Tour) and Geraint Thomas, the very first Brit (or Welshman if you prefer) to win a TdF stage on the Alpe. Still, I miss more of the signs and their associated names than I actually see.
It’s cold, overcast and a little rainy, but there’s never a point when I actually feel cool and the backwash of chilled air from the few streams that tumble down the hillside before ducking under the road, provides brief, welcome relief.
Names and messages of encouragement disappear under my wheels at regular intervals, scrawled across the road surface in spidery, mostly white lines. The majority seem to be aimed at everyday club riders, rather than the pro’s. None of them make much of an impression.
We’re too early in the morning for the first of the photographers, but the second one gets a few shots of our compact trio and I get complaints as I’m on the front and supposedly hogging the limelight. I don’t know … what do these people expect to happen when they choose to ride alongside someone so obviously charismatic and photogenic?
Meanwhile, back in reality, we’re onto the last, long and straight drag up to the village of Huez itself. We turn the corner and drive across the unofficial-official finish line, opposite the bars already busy with cyclists. Then of course we keep going, because, despite the finish line and the flags and bunting and the photo-podium, we know this isn’t actually the finish of the climb.
We head through the underpass, made famous by all those TV broadcasts of the Tour and continue to climb upwards. I took a wrong turn the last time and ended up completing a circuit of an immense empty coach park, right next to where the last few ski chalets petered out. I then had to drop downhill until I met Crazy Legs climbing up the other way, turn around again and follow him to the official finish.
This time I’m glad to have Steadfast in tow, assured he knows the right route. I’m also forearmed with instructions from Crazy Legs to turn right at the big boulders … except the boulders appear to have been removed and even Steadfast seems unsure of the way.
We zig and we zag our way across the mountainside, until we find what we think is the right road. In our defence, all of them, including the “right” one, look remarkably bland, characterless, municipal and indistinguishable from each other. We spot Caracol and the Hammer waiting, know we’re on the right track, so I kick hard and jump away from my two companions to finish with a bit of a flourish.
I needn’t have bothered, for whatever reason, but most probably operator error, my Garmin covered an entire 1 second of my ride from the campsite to the summit, so Steadfast had to “tag” me onto his Strava file and I shared the same time as him.
The actual finish is marked by the smallest, most easily overlooked, tattiest and most unprepossessing of signs. Perhaps it’s no wonder most people stop in the village, it’s certainly not worth the extra effort to get up here and see.
Inadequate signage seems to be a recurring theme in France-land. They’re not big on signs and what signs they do have are not big. I mean, I’m not asking for some of the visual graffiti you find in other urban landscapes, but there’s a fine line between discrete and invisible. A case in point, it’s not until we actually start to head back down to the village that I see a few “Route de Tour” signs directing you to the official finish. They’re small and blend so seamlessly into their surroundings that no one else in our group even seems to notice them.
I complained last time about the signs naming the hairpins on the Alpe being paltry and utterly underwhelming – they’re really difficult to read when riding up (and obviously impossible to read when swooping down). I still feel the same way – and personally think these near mythic rides and riders deserve celebrating with a grand gesture, not an afterthought.
Once we ‘ve all arrived safely, we press gang an innocent bystander into taking the obligatory group photo …
And then we head back to Huez to join the other cyclists in the cafe for some well-earned refreshments and to wait for the rest of our crew to appear.
The first through is Kermit, looking mildly startled by the sudden burst of cheering and applause that erupts from the side of the rode as he scoots past, failing to spot us. He’s followed in close order by Biden Fecht, Buster and Crazy Legs, all crossing the “finish line” in a burst of wild cheering and applause, before disappearing through the underpass and away.
It isn’t too long before they’re back and we’re a united group again. We order lunch and another round of drinks, the sun breaks out and we can sit back and relax for a while, watching all the coming and going’s and admiring some of the glossy, sleek bikes lined up in the racks at the side of the road.
We learn that all the local bike shops in Bourg d’Oisans are good, helpful and friendly. They’d fixed all our bikes and happily sold Kermit a brand new pair of pedals, that perfectly match the over-looked pair from home that he finally rediscovers in his bag later that day.
Buster’s problems were caused by a badly frayed gear cable, which could have snapped at any time, including halfway up a mountain. The mechanic also insists on changing out his worn brake blocks, which seems sensible as, I think even Biden Fecht might blanch at descending l’Alpe D’Huez without brakes, despite his past experience with such things.
As we’re sitting there, some sprightly, older feller, with a strong Central European accent, asks if he can borrow the posh, shiny and expensive-looking Cannondale hanging on the rack in front of us, apparently so he can be photographed with it. It seems like a harmless, but strange request. We explain it’s not our bike and he wanders off, before returning again, with the same odd enquiry.
“I’m sponsored by Cannondale,” he explains, “but I’m riding my Pinerello today.”
What? Yeah, right. Get-away …
We reiterate that it’s not our bike. He takes it anyway. Too weird.
We start to discuss our options, with no one in favour of a direct return to the campsite. We could continue on to the Col de Sarenne, which we did last time, or, the Hammer suggests we could descend almost to the bottom of the Alpe, to the village of La Garde and then take the road that clings to the side of the mountain, the Balcon d’Auris.
A Road By Any Other Name
The quartet who did the Sarenne last time all feel it wasn’t that great a route, so we agree on the balcony ride. It became a route whose name seemed to change every time we talked about it, until it became a bit of a running joke and was referred to variously as the balcony ride, the ledge ride, the mantelpiece ride, the pelmet ride, the shelf ride, the terrace ride and even, at one point, the skirting board ride.
It would add another 25km, or so to our total, heading along the “Route de la Roche” as we climbed from just over 700 to almost 1,600 metres, with a maximum gradient of 13%.
This road clings precariously to the side of the mountain, with a low, stone parapet the only thing shielding you from a long, vertical drop and doing nothing to restrict brilliant views right across the valley floor. In places the road narrows to about a cars width, but thankfully, on the day we rode it, is mostly traffic free. I think we only encountered one car on our great traverse, although even this produced a modicum of uncomfortable tension as it squeezed past.
Things were going well until just before the village of Le Cert, where we ran into a roadblock and route barrée signs. For once these signs were quite prominent and unmissable. Here we paused for a rest and to assess our options.
Should we ignore the signs and press-on, hoping that whatever disruption there was we could get through, or walk around, or should we follow the suggested diversion that could take us well out of our way and potentially lead back up the mountain.
One option discussed was to send Kermit on ahead, to see if he could get through, “our canary in a mine” as Crazy Legs put it. In the end we just bit the bullet and followed the diversion. Looking at the map afterwards, it seemed to add a kilometre or so to our journey and just a touch more climbing, before we were back on track and on the long snaking descent down to Le Frency d’Oisans.
Here, we took a wrong turn, up toward Lac de Chambon, but quickly realised our mistake and we turned back again, eventually rolling down into the valley of La Romanche, from where it was a straightforward run, following the river to the camp.
Back to “that Dutch bar” that evening, we spread across a couple of tables, while the owner desperately tried to persuade us to sit inside, where he had a criminally underused table that would actually seat ten together. We explained that we were British, so never got a chance to sit out at home and wouldn’t give up the option now.
As we ate, other packs of feral-looking Englishmen with lean looks, hungry eyes and odd tan lines circulated, or shuffled into the seats around us. It wasn’t as busy as a couple of years ago, but there were still plenty of cyclists in town.
We spent a good few minutes counting the hairpins on the Alpe, handily depicted on the restaurant place mats, concluding there were more than 21, before conversation turned to plans for tomorrow.
Along with the Hammer and Steadfast, I was happy to accompany any of the others brave (or foolish enough) to attempt the Circle of Death, a monster loop which is basically the Marmotte route minus the final ascent of l’Alpe D’Huez, yet still ran over 100 miles and with 4,000 metres of climbing.
From past experience this was going to be 9 hours of riding, plus re-fuelling and rest stops and first time we’d done it had been a struggle to get home before daylight ran out. We determined to have a little more discipline in planning and executing the stops and I pushed for as early a start as possible. We agreed to meet and ride out at 7.30. Ulp!
Crazy Legs and Buster decided to go on a shorter ride, to the Croix de Fer and back, with a few additional bits tagged on. They only mentioned a dozen or so times that they were looking forward to a long lie-in and much more relaxed start. Bastards… did they think they were on holiday or something?
Saturday morning kicked off as it was forecast to continue, an indeterminate, ever-changing mix of snow, sleet and rain, bitter cold and, to top it all, increasingly gusting winds. It was going to be constantly wet. It was going to be freezing cold. It was going to be utterly filthy. It was going to be bleak and miserable, brutal and uncomfortable.
It was going to be great.
Club runs in such extreme, adverse conditions tend to attract the minimum number of die-hard riders, but the maximum amount of quality banter, or much talking of complete and utter bolleaux, if you prefer.
Now, perhaps this might be banal and boring to the huge majority of the population, but the gallows-humour and collective discomfort of a small group of cyclists prepared to laugh in the face of adversity is, for me, entertainment of the highest order.
But, first I have to get there.
I dress as best as I can, my thickest base-layer, winter jacket with heavy duty waterproof on top, headband to keep my ears warm, under a cap to keep the spray out of my eyes, trusty thermolite socks, winter boots and mighty lobster mitts.
Following Red Max Edict#37, I even remember to stuff a spare pair of gloves in my back pocket, so I have a dry set to pull on after the cafe stop.
[I confess, I sadly failed to follow Red Max Edict#38, which states that you should make a great show of producing said dry gloves and conspicuously place them in plain view on the table in the cafe, before sitting down with a smug look on your face. This is the prescribed method to transmit your superior level of preparedness to all those futilely trying to dry out their wet gloves by melting them on the stove, or anticipating the horror of trying to jam fingers back into cold, clammy and sodden garments.]
I leave it as late as possible, letting the latest squall clear, before scurrying out the door. I’m 20 minutes behind my usual time for setting off, but I’ve followed bike paths and trails to the nearest bridge before and plan on doing the same again.
I surf, slide and skate down the Heinous Hill, trying to stay in the tyre tracks of the cars and avoid the long, curving moraines of icy, dark slush. The rain is bouncing off my helmet and jacket and, worse, the spray kicked up by my speed downhill has me soaked from the knees down in an instant. No matter whether my foot is at the top of a pedal stroke, or at the bottom, I can’t seem to find a way of reducing the amount of water being flung at my legs.
Down the hill and a sharp right, I roll over a small humped-back bridge and hit the bike trails and cycle paths. Unlike last time I took this route, it’s a bit lighter and I can actually see where I’m supposed to be going. I pick up the pace, bumping over tree roots that appear to have taken on the role of natural speed bumps, slicing through mud, muddy puddles and gravel and swerving around the chicanes provided by scattered park benches and random dog walkers.
I eventually reach the gate that leads across the railway tracks, dismount and make my way across. I’ve survived the icy downhill sweep, the slippery mud, gravel, tree roots and potholes of the bike trail, but now, as I walk my bike across the railway lines, I lose my footing on a super-slick timber walkway and almost go my length, clinging desperately onto the bike in support.
I manage to stay (barely) upright and remount to follow the river toward the bridge. Rowers pass downstream, fully into their strokes and travelling much faster than they usually appear when I see them, bobbing around just outside their club house.
Across the river, I decide against the dark, debris strewn underpass and cross the four lanes of the Scotswood Road on the footbridge, a sort of mini-Alpe d’Huez with half a dozen sharp hairpins. One wrong turn at the other side, followed by a bit of back-tracking and then I’m travelling familiar roads and climbing out of the valley.
Detours and a bit of off-roading all worked out well and I was the first rider to arrive at the meeting point, rolling into the gloom of the multi-storey car park to shelter and wait to see which other idiots felt like riding out…
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
… where I was met by OGL, climbing out from the warm cocoon of his car. Deciding not to ride himself, he was there to see for himself the idiots who would brave the horrible weather and, as an aside, issue numerous dire warnings about flooded roads, blizzards engulfing Stamfordham and the imminent threat of glaciers to the rural communities around Rothbury.
The Garrulous Kid was next in, thankfully wearing new, stolen, or recently rediscovered tights. (We couldn’t quite follow the exact, jumbled explanation of their provenance.)
Then the Colossus and G-Dawg arrived and for a while, that looked to be it, a fabulous, fearsome foursome.
G-Dawg was counting on the usual suspects, so expected one or two more, although he realised a still ailing Crazy Legs was unlikely to be out.
Just as we thought that was it, Taffy Steve rolled in from the coast, lit up like a Christmas tree in Vegas. Unbelievably, he told us he’d nearly been broadsided by a motorist who somehow failed to spot him, despite being adorned by more blinking warning lights than the dashboard of a 747 experiencing total systems failure. SMIDSY.
He was followed in by Aether and suddenly numbers were about what we expected.
Story Number 5, please …
“Did I ever tell you about the time we were racing on the North York Moors and had to follow behind a snow plough up one of the hills?” OGL mused.
“Yes. Last week,” G-Dawg replied flatly.
“What about …”
“Yes, that too. Last week.”
OGL then did a quick double-take, “You’re all on winter bikes with mudguards!” he exclaimed, stepping back in apparent disbelief.
“Well, yes,” I told him, “We might all be mad, but we’re not insane.”
He took one last opportunity to warn us that it was, raining, it was cold and the roads were wet out, before climbing back in his car and scuttling off to a warm gym.
We watched him leave. Looked out at the weather. You know, he was right, it was raining and the roads were wet …
Not for the first time, the Garrulous Kid declared that Facebook is shit and Instagram and Snapchat far, far superior. The Colossus argued that they were ultimately all the same and no one was better than any other. He did concede however that Snapchat is probably a better platform for OGL to use, as his drunken rants would be automatically deleted by the time he sobered up.
Someone suggested that what we probably needed was an app that began a 2 hour countdown as soon as he was detected leaving an off-licence and locked him out of all social media until the following morning.
The Prof had threatened to ride with us today, as the Back Street Boys tribute act don’t ride in the rain (perhaps it interferes with the timing of their carefully choreographed dance routines?) There was no sign of him though, so we assumed he’d wimped out too. (The white feather’s in the post.)
At an unfeasibly early 9:14 then, one full minute before official GMT (Garmin Muppet Time) we decided no one else was going to bolster our meagre numbers, the weather wasn’t going to miraculously (or even marginally improve) and it was time to get moving.
I spent the first few miles riding alongside the Colossus, following G-Dawg and trying to determine how the arc of spray off his rear wheel managed to completely by-pass his mudguard. I’m still none the wiser.
At Dinnington, we picked up the Big Yin waiting for us and concluded it was just as well we’d left a minute early, otherwise the Big Yin might have looked more like the Big Ycicle by the time we got to him.
So, we then became The Magnificent Seven, I earned a Clash earworm (no bad thing) and on we pressed.
The Big Yin was the only one whose bike wasn’t equipped with mudguards, so he took great pains to ride at the back and not shower us with whatever his wheels kicked up off the road surface. It was a noble effort to try and keep us dry, but somewhat akin to opening an umbrella when you’re up to your neck in a river.
“We’ve made it through Dinnington,” the Colossus announced, “We can turn back at any time now and not have the ignominy of completing the world’s shortest club run. Ever.” he said, looking pointedly at the Garrulous Kid.
Bolstered by this relative success, we pressed on.
We took the turn off to the Cheese Farm and hit our first flooded section, an expanse of dirty cold water stretching from verge to verge. Everyone crowded toward the highest point of the roads camber, right down the middle, but the water was bottom bracket deep nonetheless. Even worse for G-Dawg, the Garrulous Kid cut through in front and kicked up a bow wave that engulfed him and blew through his overshoes to soak his feet.
Not that I think anyone fared much better – the water was deep enough to overtop my boots and water started to leak in.
I actually enjoyed the climb of Bell’s Hill as chance to stretch the legs and the increase in pace added a little body heat to proceedings.
The ride progressed for some way in this manner, enjoying the hills when the extra effort created a bit of warmth and dreading the descents where just a few extra kph in speed exponentially and noticeably increased the wind chill.
At one point we passed the spot where G-Dawg was marshalling during the National Time Trials and Geraint Thomas almost came to grief, misjudging the corner, running wide across the verge and barely missing the fence.
As he approached the corner, G-Dawg remembered the DS in the car behind bellowing “Put the power down! power down!” when G-Dawg was thinking more along the lines of “Woah!” and “Slow Down!” Still “G” made it through (barely) and won, perhaps thanks to the risks he took at that very corner.
Citing adverse weather protocols, we petitioned the only official member of the Flat White Club, Taffy Steve, for special dispensation to call a mid-ride coffee( and thawing-out) stop. Permission granted, we then detoured from the official route and plotted a course direct to Kirkley Cycles.
As we approached the Garrulous Kid and Colossus seemed to kick up the pace on the front.
“Is there an intermediate cafe sprint?” I asked G-Dawg. Apparently not, they were just eager to find shelter, but G-Dawg wondered if we shouldn’t programme all the potential cafe stops into Strava and have a sprint for each one.
I don’t know why, but Kirkley Cycles was strangely quiet, with only one other cyclist to be seen, a kid riding around in the yard brandishing a pick axe handle as a makeshift sabre. We wondered if this was the type of implement we too should consider carrying on club runs …
Main topics of conversation at coffee stop #1:
Inside we found that Aether had turned a shocking shade of grey – probably something akin to the deathly pallor Crazy Leg sees in my face after a hill climb. He was a bit wobbly and light-headed, so at G-Dawg’s suggestion, lay out, full length across one the benches, like a corpse in the morgue.
Having felt we’d showed sufficient concern for our ailing comrade, we naturally returned to our endless blather.
Taffy Steve turned to the Colossus.
“You need a Raw flap,” he said.
He was, of course suggesting a simple and sensible extension to the Colossus’ mudguards, but we all sniggered and snorted like naughty schoolboys anyway.
We admired the selection of cycling spares and wares, concluding our other cafe stops could learn a thing or to about catering to their cycling clientele. They had at least one of almost anything you could possibly need – as well as one or two things you definitely wouldn’t.
We wondered if the miniature, but perfectly formed road-bike shaped earrings would appeal to the Colossus’ partner – perhaps as a sop after she discovered an odd charge for raw flaps on their bank statement.
He determined that, if he did buy them, he’d better have a legitimate, desirable and preferably expensive, alternative present to hand across immediately afterwards, or he’d be in big trouble.
At some point other cyclists hustled indoors, out of the cold, followed by some remarkably under-dressed gym goers, who looked someone askance at the stretched-out cadaver formally known as Aether.
And then, the stretched-out cadaver formally known as Aether sat up and slowly began to rise from his slab.
He lurched across to us and dropped heavily into a chair. Colour was slowly returning to his face and he was beginning to look less corpse-like.
“I’ll have a cup of tea,” he announced and stood up abruptly.
The next time I looked, he’d gone.
“Did he just say he was just going outside and may be some time?” I asked.
Luckily, we didn’t have to send out a search party, as our wannabe Captain Oates soon returned and then secured a cup of restorative tea.
We had a laugh at the British trait of treating any malady or ailment with a cup of tea, before deciding if more drastic action was needed. I’ve cut my arm off and the stump won’t stop bleeding. I know, I’ll have a cup of tea and then maybe go to A&E if that doesn’t help, etc.
For a reason I can’t remember, I had a conversation with Taffy Steve where we cast the Garrulous Kid as Steve McQueen’s “Cooler King” from the Great Escape. Perhaps it was something to do with his penchant for riding into fences?
We pictured him slumped on the floor in solitary, repeatedly bouncing a baseball off the floor, the wall and back again. Ba-Bump-Dap … Ba-Bump-Dap … Ba-Bump-Dap…
“You know, of course that he’d never, ever tire of doing it,” Taffy Steve concluded. Ba-Bump-Dap… “No matter how much it annoyed everyone else.”
“Well,” the Colossus announced, We’d better get going if we’re to make it to the other cafe on time!”
So, off we shuffled, once more into the breach and all that. Although seemingly fully recovered, Aether decided a little caution was called for and set off to return home, while the rest of us pushed on.
As we rejoined the main road, the Colossus applied his brakes, barely slowed and winced at the grating noise of corrosive, grit-embedded brake blocks grinding away his rims. “All that noise and no discernible effect on your speed,” Taffy Steve noted, “Don’t you love it?”
Ah yes, I thought, as the Bard himself might once have said, on a particularly bad February club-run with the Avon Jacobean V.C. – winter braking, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
I dropped in beside Taffy Steve and confessed how, perversely, I quite enjoyed these extreme rides in miserable conditions. He mentioned he’d been listening to a podcast about the Great War when the Germans and Turks at Gallipoli began to fear the ANZACS and Tommy’s were mad, because, as conditions got worse and worse, the laughter from the enemy lines just got louder and more frequent. Perhaps what I was experiencing was (at a much more modest scale) something similar, though quite different?
We pushed along for a good while, at one point trailing a low-flying duck that was spoiled for choice and couldn’t seem to decide which newly formed body of water to try next. Finally we reached a junction and paused to discuss various options for extending the ride, before deciding to just head straight for the cafe. Who could blame us?
As we closed on Whalton, G-Dawg revealed that they were contemplating a 20 mph speed-limit through the village, something that would almost certainly kill the long established and much used time-trial route that passes through it. I felt it was ironic that traffic calming measures could have such a profoundly negative effect on cycling.
Approaching the cafe, I dropped back to ride with Taffy Steve, ritually cursing his already thrice-cursed winter bike and taking on the hills at a more refined pace. From here I was well-distanced from the sprint, but close enough to hear the strangled shouts and see the Colossus veer violently across the road and into the opposite lane. Something had gone wrong up front, but disaster had been averted and we all made it to the cafe safely.
Main topics of conversation at coffee stop #2:
The sprint had apparently been rudely disrupted when a flailing Garrulous Kid had ended up swerving violently as he kicked his own frame, causing everyone near by to take immediate and drastic avoiding action.
The Garrulous Kid insisted he was a safe rider and good in a sprint. Taffy Steve suggested this was only because everyone knew his reputation and so always allowed a 2-metre exclusion zone around him, a moving bubble of protection. For our sake, not his.
The Garrulous Kid bit into his Dime bar tray bake and then picked bits of indeterminate material out of his teeth and dropped them on his plate, prodding at them uncertainly with a bony finger.
“There’s plastic in my cake,” he declared.
“I think you’ll find they’re just bits of chilled caramel,” the Colossus offered, “It’s a Dime cake, what do you expect?”
“No, it’s plastic.” He picked up a bit and chewed it experimentally, before dropping it back onto his plate and re-asserting, “Plastic.”
“Are you sure?”
Once again the Garrulous Kid picked up the offending morsel and nibbled away.
“Stop trying to eat it then.”
Oddly though, the Garrulous Kid stopped whining about his cake and had soon devoured it, more or less in its entirety.
G-Dawg suggested if he’d wanted to complain, he couldn’t really take an empty plate, decorated with just one or two half-chewed, spit-covered (allegedly) plastic crumbs back to the counter and demand a refund or replacement.
The Big Yin told us his son had been on TV quiz show Eggheads and as a true Geordie, received what he described as the equivalent of a gaping open net, when asked to name the Premierships top goalscorer. (For the record, I would have failed miserably).
In turn, G-Dawg recalled a tale about Alan Shearer’s dad taking him to meet local footballing legend, Hughie Gallacher’s son and then telling him, “no matter how good you are, you’ll never be as good as Hughie Gallacher”. This, I celebrated, is as good an example as you could get of the Red Max school of parental encouragement.
Speaking of sporting legends, I related my own favourite tale of the week, reading about the peerless Beryl Burton, doing a 12 hour time-trial and going like a train as she passed the bloke who was on course to set a new men’s record! According to legend she’d slowed just long enough to ask if he might like a liquorice drop, before powering away and disappearing up the road.
We tried to determine if the Garrulous Kid had any topics of conversation outside of football, school/university and a seemingly unhealthy obsession with the Monkey Butler Boy. (Is it unrequited love?)
We were told he liked boxing and he liked rugby, because his dad liked rugby and used to play fly-half and he watches the rugby with his dad – (although obviously not close enough to know a fly-half wears the number 10 shirt.)
He added that he hated badminton though, which I assume is another of his dad’s sports, although it could just have been a product of his butterfly mind flitting gently from subject to subject.
I felt the need to defend badminton, good to play, if less then gripping to watch and to my mind a much better sport than tennis. He seemed surprised I didn’t like tennis and wondered why.
Uh-oh, dangerous. I could have given him chapter and verse about it’s exclusively middle-class strictures, the huge resources of time and money the BBC pours into what is essentially a minority sport, the ridiculous, stuffed shirt, stuck-up nature of the Lawn Tennis Association, the fact that you need up to 11 officials to determine a simple game between two players, those particular fans who have no interest in any sport, even tennis, other than for two weeks of the year, when they slavishly adopt a heightened, jingoistic nationalism, the elevation of the most mediocre of British talent into world-beaters, who after modest and moderate success can have the sinecure of a job, along with a whole raft of other ex-pro’s, sucking at the corporate teat of the (publicly funded) BBC, or the distinct lack of drug-testing (cough# Operación Puerto) … (Oh ok, I’m biased, I’ll admit it.)
Instead, I simply cited the fist shake – the awful, embarrassing, gesture that seems to be the staple of every tennis player, whenever they feel the need to snarl aggressively at their opponent because they’ve managed to pat a ball back over a net. I then picked out certain Mr. Andrew Barron Murray as the worst exemplar of this all to pervasive, inelegant, over-used and inappropriate gesture. In my mind, that’s enough to condemn the entire sport? Hey, I never claimed to be rational, or balanced.
For his part, Taffy Steve wondered how the seemingly brittle and shrill Judy Murray had somehow managed to parlay her sons’ successes into a kind of C-list celebrity. Where, he wondered was Mrs. Brownlee and Mrs. Yates and weren’t they deserving of some attention too?
Normal conversation resumed and the Colossus recalled a university night out, when TV Gladiators, Jet and Wolf, were paid to turn up and bash numerous drunk students with pugil sticks for fun.
As entertaining as that sounded, G-Dawg felt it probably wasn’t quite as good as watching the YouTube video of a 72-year old Buzz Aldrin sucker punching some ridiculous conspiracy-theorist who kept taunting him about the moon landings being a lie.
Then our allotted time ran out and we wrapped up, figuratively and literally and prepared to leave.
We were a little delayed as the Big Yin flipped his frying gloves over on the stove top, trying to ensure they were crisp and well browned on both sides before he pulled them on again.
Then it was out and into the weather. It had stopped raining and the sky was nudging toward brightness, so the only water we had to worry about now were the few flooded sections of road we encountered.
By the time I was dropped at the end of the Mad Mile the sun was actually out and the temperature was starting to creep up. The rest of the day and remainder of my ride would prove quite pleasant and those lucky enough to be out for a ride Sunday would enjoy cold, but bright and dry conditions.
It’s hard to think of a greater contrast from one day to the next, still, you don’t always need good weather to have a good time.
YTD Totals: 1,693 km / 1,052 miles with 22,962 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 111 km / 69 miles with 1,142 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 5 minutes
Average Speed: 27.3 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Ok
I’m due to fly off on a family holiday sans velo, so this is necessarily going to be quick and dirty. Who knows, maybe I’ll realise a shorter, more concise and condensed style of writing suits SLJ and that terse is the new verbose …
Nah, maybe not.
The Red Max had volunteered to plan and lead the club ride on Saturday and had helpfully outlined the route as we stood chatting after the club time-trial on Thursday evening. We would, he said, be heading down into the Tyne Valley, dangerously flirting with the very borders of Mordor, but not actually daring to cross the river at any point.
He then rather cryptically concluded, that we would then work our way back to the café by running the Zig-Zags Backwards. I nodded along sagely, but had absolutely no idea what he meant, where he was referring to and still don’t know if we did indeed end up running the Zig-Zag’s backwards on the day.
I was late getting started first thing, so risked surfing the early morning traffic to cross the river at Scotswood, rather than my usual, quieter route further upstream. This saved me a few miles and a hatful of time. It didn’t save me a climb out of the other side of the valley, where I quickly found I was still suffering from the depredations of Thursday night. My legs were heavy and hurt.
A decent sized group were out, so we split into two, with the Red Max bravely volunteering to lead the second group and submit himself to any cavils and carping from the Grognard’s. Unlikely, though that such carping might be, you just never know …
We could usually rely on walking Sat-Nav and Route Master, G-Dawg to keep the front group on song, but he was busy elsewhere this morning, riding a Team Time Trial with Crazy Legs, Captain Black and the Hammer. Between Aether, Richard of Flanders and me, we felt we had an almost workable grasp of the planned route, but decided to regroup at Stocksfield bridge where we could get further guidance.
All went according to plan and, barring a thoroughly tuneless rendition of “Gordon is a Moron,” we had a wholly uneventful ride out. The front group was soon camped out in the sun, indulging in a game of Word Association Football with the Garrulous Kid, while we waited for the second group to put in an appearance.
This game was initiated when the Garrulous Kid spun some tale about the Monkey Butler Boy confronting a black (?) cougar (?) in his back yard (apparently quite a common occurrence in Wallsend).
Then we simply added fuel to the fire, in a conversation that would suddenly ricochet from cougars, to cat food … to the reintroduction of extinct native species … from bears, to lynxes the size of pit ponies … to cheap, adolescent deodorants, to MILF’s and ginger-haired sirens … to haircuts and first dates, before wildly veering into genetics and biology, through citizenship, to killer red squirrels, James Burke and the end of the world as we know it.
Each, daring, darting leap the Garrulous Kid made from one unrelated subject to the next was, if not logical, at least traceable to a particular trigger, but none of it made any kind of sense in retrospect and keeping up was as wild and exhausting as hanging onto the back of the bunch during a café sprint.
Eventually the groups coalesced, shuffled around a little and faster and slower groups formed and set off again, all following the same route, but at variable speeds.
We climbed, then climbed some more, until we were splintered and spread all up and down the road. I was up with the front-runners, but my legs were dead and I was struggling to hold on. I dropped off the back to where Benedict was leading a chase group, hung with them a bit and then we managed to bridge across to the front.
This larger group then kept together until we finally hit Matfen and the run in to the Quarry Climb, when I became detached again and found myself hanging at the back of another, small chase group, alongside Buster, Zardoz and Gunny (a Guy With No Name Yet).
We were on the team time trial course, but our squad of G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, Captain Black and the Hammer, had been one of the first out of the gate, so hoepfully (in the nicest possible way) we wouldn’t see them. We did witness a whole slew of different teams though – some superbly drilled, tight and organised, others looking like they were out for a normal club run and simply ambling along, one or two already reduced to 3 men (or women) and likely to struggle.
I had recovered enough to drag the group up to the Quarry climb, but hills were definitely a problem for me today and it was hard work. We pushed on toward the café and, as my speed dropped, I ceded the front to Buster. Again, with a bit or rest and recovery in the wheels, I hit the front again on the slow drag up to and through the crossroads.
Zardoz spelled me next, on the run down to the Snake Bends and then we were through and onto the final run to the café.
At the café, Den Haag went for a sandwich option, with all the trimmings. Somewhat surprisingly, “all the trimmings” turned out to be a small crescent of watermelon and a pineapple rhomboid, artfully speared on a cocktail stick. Seeing someone buy a sandwich instead of cake was novelty enough for us, even before taking into account the somewhat … err … exotic and eclectic garnish.
Caracol surmised that the café probably now had one largely intact watermelon, with just one tiny segment carefully incised from its side and, unless there was a sudden run on sandwiches “with all the trimmings” they’d be throwing away 99.9% of the melon tonight and buying a new one for tomorrow.
This discussion led Biden Fecht to recall a holiday in Greece, when the drinking water ran out and the only source of safe rehydration was locally produced watermelon – a refreshing change for a day or two, but he reported that the novelty soon wore thin.
Den Haag wondered what the options would have been for anyone on a cycling holiday, reasoning it wasn’t entirely practical to lug around a couple of watermelons in your jersey pockets and they probably wouldn’t fit into a standard bottle cage.
I wondered about drilling a hole in a couple of watermelon and sliding them onto the bar ends, for easy transport and an additional safety feature too. Den Haag though suggested carving one into a functional and potentially cooling helmet, that you could then easily transport by wearing it on your head.
Our sporting entertainment options for the weekend appeared to be limited to the European Road Race Championship in Glasgow. Andeven was wondering what the course was like and I suggested it was the one used for the Commonwealth Games. This, we recalled was won in a solo break by a young Welsh tyro, called Geraint Thomas, despite an untimely puncture in the final kilometres.
We concluded that Mr. Thomas was no slouch when it came to this bicycle racing malarkey and we felt that, sooner or later, he was bound to come good and win something of significance…
There was only time for the Garrulous Kid to wander past and protest that he didn’t have a thing for red-haired girls.
“Ah, it’s red-haired boys, is it?” OGL countered, to much spluttering and denial.
The run home was fast and furious and, not for the first time and, no doubt not for the last either, I was actually pleased to swing away from the group and start a solo perambulation back at a more relaxed pace.
Man, I was tired. I think I need a holiday.
YTD Totals: 4,869 km / 3,025 miles with 60,085 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 108 km / 70 miles with 1,122 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 1 minute
Average Speed: 27.0 km/h
Group size: 26 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Sticky hot
There was plenty of cloud cover around on Saturday to provide a bit of welcome shade from direct sunlight, but it would still be a hot and sticky day. Nonetheless, I’d reverted to type and gone back to wearing a base layer. I also got laughed at for turning up at the meeting point in arm warmers. I explained it was still a bit chilly first thing, especially when your first act on climbing aboard your bike was to drop down the Heinous Hill at 35 mph, but the excuses weren’t washing.
I’ve seen many odd things discarded on the roads while riding a bike, but today was the first time I’ve ever encountered a saw. A saw? How did that end up there? I swept carefully around it, giving myself plenty of room to avoid the pointy side.
The bridge over the river now has new kerbs to go with its all new shiny tarmac – still a bit fur coat and no knickers though, as there remains a gaping hole at one end.
I was feeling relatively sprightly when I hit the other side, so wound things up and carried my speed up the climb out of the valley, netting a string of new Strava PR’s and arriving at the meeting point much earlier than expected.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point
Wednesdays Circus Maximus hit-outs were a hot topic, with participants convinced their collective efforts are closing in on netting someone a Strava KOM … or a myocardial infarction… I guess whichever comes first. There’s only a few more weeks planned to get there too.
There was some discussion about BMC Racing being saved by its amalgamation with CCC Sprandi Polkowice. I liked pro-rider, Michael “Rusty” Woods’ comment that no matter who the main sponsor would be, he’d be referring to them as BMCCCC from now on. I guess when you ride for EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale you know a thing or two about snappy team names. Nevermind BMCCCC, I think I’ll be referring to them as B1400.
News from Kermit was that the insurance company couldn’t find a suitable, child’s size TCR Giant 2 anywhere in the UK, so they’d offered him a £2,800 TCR Giant 1 instead. Score.
Not all good news though, as both our designated drivers, Kermit and Goose had been hit with speeding tickets from our Pyrenean adventures.
Goose was anxious to compare notes to try and determine if they both fell foul of the same speed trap. Being true cynics, we both felt this was probably located just outside the car hire compound in the airport, ideally placed to catch those struggling with unfamiliar cars, left hand drives and finding an unknown destination on foreign roads, all the while trying to remember which side of the road to drive on.
Jimmy Mac outlined the route for the day, amid the usual grumbling from the usual quarters and we split into two. Once again the bulk of riders went with the first group, so I hung back to even out the numbers.
OGL started complaining about routes that involved backtracking, or, even more bizarrely, riding into a headwind. Other than circumnavigating the entire planet, we couldn’t think of anyway to avoid a headwind at some point along the way and, as the Red Max explained, all routes must necessarily involve a degree of backtracking, otherwise we’d never get home.
Sneaky Pete sneakily suggested an AGM would be a great opportunity to air out any differences, discuss options and make the runs better for everyone. Once again though we were told it was pointless doing something different, or even discussing it, as nothing ever changes.
Saturday irregular Another Engine seemed confused by the split, initially went with the first group, but was soon detached and ended up chasse-patate in the no-mans-land between the two groups. We finally picked him up and as he dropped back, admitting he was totally confused by the new arrangements – a confusion that will no doubt be seized upon as grist to a certain mill.
Our route took us pretty much along the same route as last week’ but without the there-and-back loop through Twizzel. At one point Sneaky Pete took a sneaky short-cut to Walton, arriving there in time to wave through our first group, before hunkering down to wait to rejoin everyone in the second group.
Somewhere along the way we lost OGL and the headwind deniers and the ride became much faster and smoother as a result.
We then reached Dyke Neuk and called a halt to reassess our several options. “The published route, goes left here down toward the bottom of the Trench, which we then have to climb up,” The Red Max relayed.
“I must admit, I looked at it and could only thing of two words,” he continued, “Fuck. That.”
“Ok, what’s your considered opinion, now?”
That seemed clear enough and succinctly put, so we decided to forego the dubious pleasures of the Trench and route through Hartburn and on to Middleton Bank instead.
Avoiding a ravaged road leading down to Middleton Bank, I dropped back through the group, just before the climb. This seems to be my (un)usual modus operandi for this climb, a strange habit I’ve apparently adopted, although I’ve no idea why.
Captain Black led the charge up the steepest ramps and I accelerated onto his wheel as we went over the top. We pushed on toward the cafe at a steady pace, with everyone latching on behind as best they could.
Captain Black then injected some pace and did a big pull at the front, I did a turn and then Taffy Steve took over, droving us through Milestone Woods and up to the foot of the rollers. I took over again and ripped over the ramps, down the other side and onto the final climb to the cafe.
Rounding the last corner I pulled over and sat up at the exact moment Captain Black put in a massive, perfectly timed, out-of-the-saddle attack, quickly opening up a big gap which I had no chance of closing.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Much of the discussion around the table was focused on the Toady France, with Taffy Steve sympathising with Richie Porte, sitting all alone, embittered and unloved somewhere in Tasmania, snarling at images of Geraint Thomas and telling anyone who’ll listen that he, Richie Porte, used to be that erstwhile, hapless and crash-prone second lieutenant who had great potential but always faded, or had un jour sans in the third week of a Grand Tour.
The phenomena that is Peter Sagan received some attention, including his YouTube clips of his core workout and Sagan Parking. So used to seeing him in green, or yellow, or his national jersey, or World Champion bands, we tried to remember if we’d ever seen him in standard Bora-Hansgrohe kit.
(A quick Google suggests that, astonishingly, the last time Sagan raced in a standard team jersey (other than in a time trial) was in the Tour de Suisse in 2011!!!)
Caracol bemoaned that Sagan had suffered such misfortune in the Olympic mountain-bike event – he would have liked Sagan to unzip the maillot jaune to reveal the maillot vert … which he’d then unzip to reveal the Slovak champions jersey … which he’d then unzip to reveal the rainbow bands … which he’d finally unzip to reveal an Olympic medal, nestled in a luxurious nest of chest hair à la Mark Spitz.
I did suggest that Sagan might struggle to win the World Championships this year which looks hugely mountainous. The table were universally horrified at my lack of faith.
While Sagan was living up to expectations in the Tour, Nairo Quintana has looked a spent force, much to Caracol’s disgust as he reasoned Old Stoneface had the best poker-face in the entire peloton, never looking like he was suffering, never smiling, never looking surprised, or angry, or happy, or upset.
In fact, I was surprised no one else had seen the Quintana sex-tapes – where he wore the exact same expression throughout, even when reaching the …err, apogee of pleasure.
OK, I made that bit up.
I told them that Just Pro Cycling blogger, Mike Franchetti, once previewed Stage 9 of this year’s Giro by suggesting it would be won by Vasil Kiryienka riding away from Dayer Quintana in the final kilometre. Kiryienka would then be met at the finish by Nairo Quintana and challenged to a staring contest in order to avenge his brother’s defeat. Mr. Franchetti concludes that: “After three and a half hours, Kiryienka blinks.”
I felt that Quintana wasn’t particularly loved or appreciated within Movistar who would always favour Spaniards such as Landa or Valverde over the enigmatic Colombian – hence the ridiculous and unworkable three-leader trident at the Tour.
“I just don’t think he’s very happy at Movistar,” I suggested.
“But, obviously no one can tell!” Caracol concluded, before suggesting that behind the blank mask, Quintana was probably crying out for help and possibly even passing around notes in the peloton that simply read, “Help! Sign me. Save me.”
Sneaky Peter returned from the café, rather perturbed by the posters he’d found in there that declaimed Beware the Grey. We wondered what it was they had against us, until we realised the message was aimed at grey squirrels displacing the indigenous reds and not auld git cyclists.
The return home was punctuated by another burn up Berwick Hill and, as we we swung onto the road toward Dinnington, I took over at the front alongside The Ticker, owner of the loudest freehub in the club since Shouty left for pastures new. We slowed long enough to allow everyone to regroup, then smashed it up through Dinnington and around the back of the airport, netting another PR along the way.
I set off for my solo ride home and arrived still feeling good enough to have actually ridden, rather than grovelled up the Heinous Hill.
YTD Totals: 4,416 km / 2,744 miles with 55,183 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 118 km / 73 miles with 1,023 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 18 minutes
Average Speed: 27.3 km/h
Group size: 30 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Warm and cool
Here we go again, tipping down the Heinous Hill under dull skies. It was warm, muggy and sticky, with the incipient potential for a heavy, clearing downpour at any time. If we were lucky, we’d avoid it, if not, I suspected we’d be getting very, very wet. As it was a light shower was already an intermittent companion, fading in and out as I turned off down toward the river.
I couldn’t help feeling unprepared, strangely listless throughout three days of commuting, I think I was suffering not so much un jour sans as une semaine sans. I’d also accidently left my Garmin on overnight so, like me, it was in danger of running low on power.
Briefly delayed at the level crossing by the passage of a squealing, clackety and rackety local train lumbering slowly eastwards down the Tyne Valley, I found the bridge still closed to vehicles and once more threaded my way across on the footpath. Suits me – from a purely selfish perspective, I hope they take an absolute age to repair it.
Swinging right, the sun was now directly in front of me as I pushed on, only discernible as a small fuzzy patch of slightly brighter, white-gold in a blanket of grey. Although nearly every traffic light seemed against me, I was making decent time and was soon at the meeting point. Even better, the light, misting showers seemed to have run their course.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Much to the delight of all, but especially the Monkey Butler Boy, the Garrulous Kid inadvertently referred to his quick release skewers as tyre levers. We then wondered if perhaps there was an opportunity for quick release skewers to double up as actual tyre levers, although Crazy Legs idea of somehow using the levers on some kind of retractable wire, while they stayed in situ, through the hub, seemed a little too clever.
Crazy Legs meanwhile tried to convince the Garrulous Kid that, despite all evidence to the contrary, his new 25mm tyres meant he could balance his Bianchi so perfectly it would stand upright, without support. His first attempt, with the bars leaning lightly against my hand, was quickly spotted, as was the next attempt where he poised a supportive foot expertly under the pedals.
Crazy Legs nodded at the Garrulous Kid, before acknowledging, “He’s not as daft as he looks.”
“I’m not fick, you know,” the Garrulous Kid affirmed, before perching himself awkwardly on the wall, folded over like a gut-shot spider and barely supporting his bike with fully out-stretched fingertips. When questioned, he was adamant that it was a perfectly natural and fantastically comfortable pose and not at all as odd and graceless as it looked to everyone else. It would have been much cooler if he’d somehow managed to casually balance his bike upright and been able to push back and relax in his seat without having to hold it in position.
Meanwhile, OGL had arrived and hinted mysteriously at “big, big names” signing up for the National Time –Trial. I immediately wondered if Eritrean, Dimension-Data rider, Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier Werkilul had perhaps applied for British Citizenship. Surely one of the biggest names in pro-cycling at the moment …
I never did find out though, as surprisingly and for once, OGL was actually keeping his own counsel, so we’ll just have to wait for the inevitable, predictable unveiling of Alex Dowsett, Steve Cummings, Geraint Thomas and … and … well, that’s about it in terms of the big, big name, British TT’ers I can think of. I’m taking it as a given that Chris Froome, not seen on British Shores since a brief cameo at the 2016 Ride London Classic, will continue to shun his own national championships.
G-Dawg stepped up to outline the ride for the day, which would see us trail down through Corbridge, before climbing back out via Aydon Road, a Strava 4th Category climb and a relatively new route for us. We were ready for the off, but OGL declared we were still two minutes away from official Garmin Muppet Time. (When did he become so time-conscious?)
We took this as an opportunity to organise our 30, or so into two separate groups. Once again, I hung back a little before divining that, yet again, the first group was outnumbered, before I dropped off the kerb and joined the back of their line. For once we achieved an almost, but not quite 50/50 split as we pushed off, clipped in and rode away.
The Colossus and Garrulous Kid punched out on the front and the speed started to build almost from the off. I suggested to G-Dawg that simple self-preservation was driving the Colossus to push the pace, perhaps desperate to quickly reach the velocity where wind noise would cancel out the idle chatter of his riding companion.
Once the first pair had done their stint and swung off the front, Kermit, Rainman, Biden Fecht and Caracol all lined up to take over and together they conspired to keep the pace high as we pushed on. I’ve no idea what particular demons were driving their frenetic pace, but in a 20km stretch of 11 Strava segments, I netted nine PR’s and a pair of 2nd fastest times, over fairly well-travelled roads.
We made it to Whittledene Reservoir in what must have been a remarkably fast time and hunkered down to wait for the second group. Some took the opportunity to refuel, while others doffed helmets and removed base layers in an attempt to cool off. Although the sun was still well shrouded, the day was muggy and uncomfortably sticky and humid.
The second group reached us after maybe five or so minutes waiting and G-Dawg indicated this was the first opportunity to turn off for a shorter ride. Only OGL, needing to be back in his shop early, took the more direct route to the café, everyone else seeming game for the hills to come and leaving a huge bunch to swarm into Corbridge and terrorise the locals.
Off we went, soon spread out by some sharp climbing and then descending the narrow lanes through Newton and into the Tyne Valley, a steep hill we more usually find ourselves grovelling up.
We were confined to a narrow strip either side of a thick line of dusty, yellow grit and gravel running down the centre of the lane and occasionally prey to snagging jerseys, or skin on the hedges, thorns and thistles that encroached from the banks on either side. Still, after countless cries of “pots!” throughout most of our ride, it was somewhat refreshing to hear Biden Fecht’s warning shout of “flowers!” instead.
A nostalgic Rainman suggested the tracks reminded him of lanes back home in Holland – I’m not sure he heard when I asked if they were all shit, too.
Hemmed in by gravel on one side and the rampant foliage on the others, a few of the riders were trying to pick their way down carefully and much too slowly for the Red Max. He let his wheels run and started sweeping past people, so I dropped into his wake and followed, weaving our way around the slower descenders and occasionally having to surf across the gravel centreline in a crunch of gravel and puff of dust.
We ducked through Brockbushes farm shop and café – home to several uncomfortable encounters with surly staff who seem to have an inherent dislike of cyclists, or maybe just customers in general. After being made to feel about as welcome as a hedgehog in a sleeping bag, we’ve taken our post-Hill Climb patronage (and money) elsewhere in recent times, so there was no chance we’d be stopping today.
We cut through the road tunnel (for once heading in the right direction and with the flow of traffic) to much whooping and hollering in its echo chamber confines, before being spat out on the road leading down into Corbridge.
Our best-laid plans were nearly led astray by a closed road sign in the town centre, but G-Dawg wasn’t to be denied and resolutely drove us through the traffic cones and almost immediately onto the climb.
We’d be heading uphill for the next 6 kilometres or so, but the testing, climb proper was a 1.6 km stretch at a 6% average and a maximum of 13%.
Caracol charged away and Kermit gave chase. I nudged onto the front with Goose and tried to set a steady and comfortable pace, even as others kept jumping past and into the gap, Benedict, Biden Fecht, Rainman and Spry all individually racing by, stretching out their legs in pursuit.
There were maybe half a dozen of us, forging upwards in a small knot behind the frontrunners and then everyone else strung out and scattered down the road in a long, long tail behind. G-Dawg called for a stop to regroup at the top and I whirred away toward this still distant point as the slope began to ease.
The riders out front weren’t stopping and had long gone by the time we’d gathered everyone together and set out again, sweeping through Matfen and up the Quarry. The group splintered apart again at this point and I took to the front as we approached the crossroads and tried to drive the pace as high as I could, through the last few bumps and up to the junction that put us on the road down to the Snake Bends.
A small group burst away to contest the sprint and I latched onto the wheels again as we rolled through the Snake Bends, onto the main road and up to the café.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
We’d only just gathered coffees and cakes and taken our seats in the garden, when a quite remarkable scene unfolded – a big bloke rolled through the car park, down onto the grass, braked sharply, stepped off his bike and … in a royal hissy-fit … hurled it petulantly to the ground and stomped away.
Recognising the rider as a fellow Ribble Rouser™ – Crazy Legs visibly blanched at the treatment being meted out to the twin brother of his own, highly pampered velocipede. Suffice to say, if it had been there, Crazy Legs’ much-cossetted Ribble would probably have needed crisis counselling after witnessing such an abhorrent behaviour. Luckily, today he was out on the street-brawling Bianchi and it just shrugged in a nonchalant, Italian, seen-it-all-before kind of way.
The stroppy bike throw had been performed with such vigour that the rider’s sun specs flew from his helmet as he stalked off. The Colossus retrieved them and followed to hand them back, reporting he barley received a grunt of acknowledgement, let alone any thanks. Someone, apparently, was in a really, really, bad mood.
Meanwhile, we learned that Mini Miss had found herself having to cope with the shitty hand dealt her in the second group.
It was so bad Crazy Legs felt compelled to enquire if she’d inadvertently “done a LeMond?” – while we all sombrely acknowledged the dangerous stuff that our fellow riders tyres could pick off the roads and flick our way.
Crazy Legs gave us a reprise of the debate he’d started with the Hammer on what sounded like a fun-filled Bank Holiday Monday amble, when they’d tried to determine who was better, the Beatles, or the Human League. This had seemingly ended prematurely when Old Grey Whistle Test presenter, “Whispering” Bob Harris got confused with first Rolf Harris and then, even more improbably, Arthur “Bomber” Harris.
Still, the debate was not wholly without merit as it lead to the rather dubious invention of a new, fun-filled game for all the family – “Paedo, or Predator?” This is a sort of variant of Snog, Marry, Avoid (or FMK, if you will) – but only involving celebrities accused of sexual deviances…
Yes, well … Moving swiftly on.
As we were packing to leave, Zardoz excused himself, saying he was going to stay back to chat with some of his Venerable Wrecking Crew of Gentlemen Cyclists, who’d arrived in our wake. He admitted he couldn’t miss the opportunity for more lively banter, along the lines of: “For over 40 years you’ve been wheel-sucking back there and you haven’t come around me yet.”
We set out for home and were pounding up Berwick Hill, when my Garmin let out an apologetic little beep and the screen flashed up the dread words: Battery Low.
This last happened to me half way up the Col du Télégraphe, but this time I wouldn’t have a fellow rider to loan me their files. I was now engaged in a race against the clock to see how much of my ride I could record before it was prematurely cut short and stopped being committed to Strava (and we all know if it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen).
A larger group than usual entered the Mad Mile as the others turned off and G-Dawg was so engrossed chatting with Carlton that he didn’t respond when the Colossus jumped away to claim first shower. Sensing a lack of competition, the Colossus sat up, just as I decided he was having it far too easy. So, I attacked, carried the speed I’d built through the roundabout as I swept away from the others and launched myself away to start my solo drive for home.
After one brief hold up at a Metro crossing, the lights were with me the rest of the way, although I was travelling faster than the cars as I dropped down to the river and had to slow a little. I then started to time-trial along the valley floor. A thudding up and over the ramp on the bridge, a drop off the kerb, slalom through the traffic cones and I was now heading east again and closing on home.
Just before the short, but unforgivably steep ramp up from the river, my Garmin flickered and died. I had about 2 or 3 miles left to go and was on track for the longest ride of the year, but it wasn’t to be. This was where my ride officially ended.
I eased off and rolled the rest of the way home.
YTD Totals: 3,297 km / 2,049 miles with 38,651 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 112 km/70 miles with 1,000 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 17 minutes
Average Speed: 26.0 km/h
Group size: 33 riders, 5 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Splendid
Main topic of conversation at the start:
I arrived at the meeting point to find a glowering BFG being warily circled by a couple of FNG’s who were keeping their distance and not daring to approach until I arrived to show them he was actually quite harmless.
Just to be contrary the BFG has resorted to type and was once again out on something venerable and vintage and made of steel. He’d even thought about adding a fake nut to the top of his stem just to see if he could inspire OGL to once again tell us the tale of how he ripped his scrotum open on one during a track meet. It’s a tale that never grows old in the telling…
Crazy Legs’s 39 days must have been up as he appeared sporting his new, faithfully and painstakingly reproduced Oakley Jawbreakers. Very smart. Attracted by the spectacle(s) the Prof then emerged through a milling crowd of cyclists to give him a hug – seemingly one of many that would take place throughout the day.
The Prof then stopped by to acknowledge how much he looks forward to his mentions in this humble blog. He is of course one of the more frequently featured characters, though trailing a somewhat distant second to his tiny, leaky bladder.
OGL arrived and dipped his head to fully reveal his new helmet, emblazoned with the club name across the top. What next, custom mudguards in club colours? Where will it end?
He then proceeded to have a bizarre conversation with one of the FNG’s when she stepped forward to introduce herself:
“You phoned me last Wednesday?”
“Err, no I e-mailed you last week”
“But you texted me yesterday?”
“Err, no I emailed last week”
“So was it you who messaged me on Facebook?”
“Err, no …”
Oh well, she passed the first test – showing patience and empathy for the infirm and senile.
One of the other FNG’s was having trouble with his bike, which was laid supine as he did something indescribable to the seat post. For one dread moment I thought we were going to be accompanied all the way around by someone else insisting that you don’t need a saddle, but thankfully he finally had it sorted.
His girlfriend cheerfully informed us they’d ridden across the Alps together, but that was two years ago and they hadn’t done a lot since. I assured her we wouldn’t be tackling any Alps today, but had a bad feeling this wasn’t going to end well.
The boyfriend had a decent enough bike and seemed to know his way around an Allen key, but rather oddly was wearing white football shorts over his bibshorts and had his helmet on at a rather odd, rakish angle. Maybe it’s incipient OCD or something, but I have to admit the latter is something I just can’t abide – I often have to adjust Crazy Legs’s helmet at the café so it sits just right before I’ll let him be seen out in public with us.
We were doing that usual cyclist trick of spilling aimlessly across the entire pavement, engrossed in waves of endless, nonsensical banter and completely oblivious to the fact that bikes and bodies had formed a rather formidable and impenetrable maze.
One old biddy was having trouble threading her way amongst us with her wheeled shopping bag until Richard of Flanders emitted an ear-drum shattering bellow that shocked us into silence and had us parting like the Red Sea.
Unfortunately, his aural assault caused the old biddy to almost leap out of her skin with fright and when she clutched at her chest and wavered I thought she was going to have a heart attack and topple head first into the shopping trolley. Luckily she recovered and casting fearful looks at us all scuttled away as quickly as she could manage.
Crazy Legs was left to ponder if the shock had been fatal whether we would have sprayed her shopping trolley white and chained it to a nearby lamppost like one of those Ghost Bikes left as a memorial to killed and injured cyclists.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
Taffy Steve was out on his titanium love-child and declared the thrice-cursed winter bike had been put into deep storage for the rest of the year, having first removed the pedals in case they seized up. He then suggested he hadn’t loosened the seat clamp because he didn’t really care if the seat tube seized in the frame, reasoning that he’d stopped growing, so couldn’t foresee a need to alter his riding position.
G-Dawg wondered if a seized seat tube meant you could totally remove the clamp and save few crucial micrograms, then remembered a recent run where a malfunctioning clamp saw a saddle slowly sink lower and lower until the rider was pedalling with his knees around his ears. Not a good idea then.
Thoughts turned to the round-ball game as notable local events were somewhat dominated by the conviction of Adam Johnson and the appointment of Rafael Benitez. No one quite knew which one had drawn the worst sentence.
Someone even suggested that Mr. Johnson was likely to be the happier of the two as he would now be referred to as Adam Johnson the paedophile rather than Adam Johnson the Sunderland player. Ouch.
Everyone was baffled by Rafa citing being close to his family as a reason for venturing back to “Northern England” and surprisingly it wasn’t the fact that we actually consider Liverpool be in the South that caused the confusion. What was troubling was that Rafael Benitez, well-travelled, urbane and international football manager at the likes of Madrid, Tenerife, Valencia, Naples and Milan, chose to leave his family in Liverpool. We wondered if he’d consider Wallsend or possibly Byker as a suitable place for future re-location.
Thoughts turned to much more engaging and worthwhile sporting endeavours with the Classics just around the corner and both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico in full swing. Thinking of the latter, Shoeless demanded to know what the “big, fuck-off pointy pitchfork thing” was all about.
Spry, something of an expert on esoteric cycling trophies as highlighted by a page of his blog (The Weird and Wonderful World of Cycling Trophies funnily enough) patiently explained that it was representative of Neptune’s trident as the Tirreno-Adriatico was a race run between the two seas. We then speculated on how the race could be improved if the leading rider was made to carry the trident along with them.
It was a short step from there to imagining a handicap system where riders were obliged to carry the trophies of their previous conquests, something that would be particularly debilitating for Fabian Cancellara and we imagined him bent almost double and shuffling awkwardly to the Paris-Roubaix sign-on, burdened down with the three huge cobble-stones stuffed in his back pockets.
Next up on our agenda for searing insight and erudite comment was Paris-Nice and the chances of Geraint Thomas taking an historic first win, always recognising of course his penchant for falling off his bike at the most inopportune time. Someone mentioned he’d crashed once already, apparently while trying to dislodge a stone caught between his saddle and frame. Fanciful I know, but it was a short step from there to imagining a smug and smiling Fabian Cancellara riding behind him and winking at the camera, happy to have used his astonishing sleight of hand to palm one of his cobblestones off on an unwitting dupe.
The Prof stopped by our table on his way to the toilet, pausing long enough for a quick hug with Crazy Legs. Taffy Steve suggested their homo-erotic displays were becoming a bit much and suggested they might want to think about getting a room. He then ventured to suggest a bit of prostate milking might actually help with the Prof’s constant urge to wee.
At this point OGL approached, snapping on a pair of latex surgical gloves and we all recoiled in horror at what we thought was about to unfold. Much to our relief he neatly side-stepped our table and began to work fixing a puncture on Laurelan’s bike.
Needless to say the Prof claimed the discarded inner tube to add to his growing treasure trove of cast-off bits and pieces and road-kill. OGL recounted visiting the Prof’s secret laboratory/workshop/lair and finding rows and rows of used inner tubes all bizarrely hanging out to dry on the washing line.
So, who the fuck is Zakaria Amirouch?
Actually that’s a bit of a rhetorical question, I know that Zakaria Amairouch is a cyclist in Tetouan, Morocco. I guess what I really want to know is why does he feel the need to post his rides on our club Strava group? As far as I know Zakaria Amarouch has no connection with the club, has never been to the North East, doesn’t ride the same routes as the rest of us and doesn’t choose to interact with us in any way shape or form, either through Strava or any other channel.
So what exactly does he get out of it? Are we meant to be impressed by his mileage totals, huge rides, stupid photos, KoM’s or his single-minded, some would say borderline psychotic dedication to hunt down and join every single Strava group that exists? Do me a favour Zakaria and fuck off.
Sorry, rant over.
So the much anticipated day arrived, Spring is upon us and the promise of fine dry weather has riders across the region rubbing their hands with unfettered glee as they stow away winter bikes and carefully awaken carbon beasts from deep slumber.
As I gently lift Reg out from his nest between my single-speed and rat-bag mountain bike I can only marvel at how light it is. Don’t get me wrong this is no super-lightweight, fully carbon-outfitted, uber-machine with all the most exotic components. Nor is it anywhere close to troubling the UCI and their preposterous 6.8kg weight limit, but at bang on 9 kilos fully loaded it’s considerably and very noticeably lighter than the Peugeot.
I’d checked the bike over the night before, inflated the tyres with a new, super-slick BBB track pump, and fitted a mount for my knock-off GoPro onto the saddle rails. I was good to go and eager to start.
I’d forgotten how much fun it is to ride on a twitchy, responsive carbon blade and as I dropped down to the valley floor I found I was clipping along two miles an hour faster than usual, stretched out by the different geometry and grinning like an idiot. I don’t think the bike is actually worth an extra 2 miles an hour, I was simply riding on a wave of pure exuberance and joie d’ vivre.
Even the lights on the bridge were in my favour and I skipped over the river without stopping and began spinning up the other side of the valley, looking forward to a good ride out. I wasn’t alone at the meeting place, finding just about everyone had abandoned mudguards and heavy winter bikes in favour of their “Saturday best”.
G-Dawg even turned up wearing shorts, resolutely declaring it was Spring and there was no turning back now.
The relatively mild and dry conditions had undoubtedly been a big draw and around 33 riders and a smattering of FNG’s pushed off, clipped in and rode out. At this point the BFG rolled past me and declared he thought he’d seen everything, but this was the first time we’d had a bike with a kickstand out on the club run.
I fell in with the Prof who informed me the Frankenbike, my old crashed and trashed Focus that he had repaired and restored to life in his secret laboratory/lair/workshop, was being honourably retired from service now that he’d found a frame that was a better fit for Mrs. Prof.
He then revealed his dirtiest, darkest secret, admitting he would consider buying a bike with normal sized wheels if he could only find one that increased in value rather than depreciated. Despite my uncertainty he seemed convinced such bikes exist, although even if they do I’m not sure that appreciating value would be one of my major (or even very, very minor) considerations when buying a new bike.
Somewhere around this point I hit a pot and with a loud clatter my pretend GoPro launched from under my saddle and bounced alarmingly across the road. The FNG in football shorts retrieved it for me and handed it across. A quick check seemed to suggest that it was as shockproof as claimed, but the retaining bolt that kept it fixed to the bracket had worked loose and disappeared. There was no quick way of fixing the camera back in position, so I tucked it away into a back pocket and pressed on. It’s a shame, because I was quite impressed with some of the backward facing shots I had managed to gather in the short time it was working.
I then began what would become the first of many chases to catch back onto our group. Having accomplished this, I found myself slotting in right at the back, where Pierre Rolland look-alike, Spry (not facially, but I can see a definite similarity in style and form on the bike), was cruising along with his dad, Andeven.
As we hit the bottom of Berwick Hill, the FNG accompanying the one in football shorts began to slide swiftly backwards and I watched as a gap between the front and back of our group yawned quickly open.
Andeven skipped around her and gave chase, while I waited a little longer. When it became obvious that even if she made it back up to our group she’d never complete the ride, I pulled out and started my own chase back.
As I closed over the top of the hill I passed a faltering Arnold who said he was doing ok and then found Laurelan who was somewhat detached from our group and drifting backwards. She said she was ok too, but was worried about Arnold who, despite his assertions wasn’t ok and wasn’t feeling all that good.
I noticed OGL dropping back off the front group to see what was happening, so relayed across to him to let him know the FNG’s were well adrift and Arnold was suffering. He went back to investigate further and lend assistance while I gave chase again.
Catching up with the group, I found myself riding alongside Zardoz who was fighting to stave off the incipient onset of serious man flu and reported that someone had broken into his shed and nicked his winter bike. Both perhaps valid reasons for Crazy Legs to declare that Zardoz was the angriest man riding that day, especially after an altercation with a RIM who refused to slow down as he drove toward us down a narrow country lane
This encounter had Zardoz’s moustaches brisling like a face-off between angry tomcats and had him swearing through them with an admirable degree of fluidity and imagination. Gone was the mask of twinkle-eyed, avuncular, bon homie he usually adopts – here was the real cold-hearted cycling assassin revealed in all his dark majesty.
At some point OGL hauled ass past me, breathing hard, but able to gasp out that there’d been no sight of the FNG’s when he went back to look for them and that they must have abandoned the ride. At the rather inevitable pee stop I found that both Laurelan and Arnold had managed to re-join however and did indeed seem ok.
After this short break I found myself riding with Crazy Legs, who like Zardoz was also suffering from incipient man-flu and blaming his infection on sitting next to a 6’4” Irish Elvis impersonator during a business meeting. From my understanding the Elvis impersonator was an all-round good bloke who had been skilled enough at his craft to get a paying gig in Las Vegas. I never did work out what an IT firm needed an Elvis impersonator for though.
As we started up a steep hill behind the BFG, there was an audible hiss of escaping air and Crazy Legs called out, “Puncture!” The BFG dutifully relayed the call up the line, then turned to ask who’d punctured. I could see Crazy Legs giving himself a mental face-palm as he pointed to the BFG’s rear tyre and replied with a sparse, “You have…”
We all gathered together at the top of the hill to wait for repairs to be made. OGL decided that we should split the group and that depending on which group the BFG wanted to ride with the others could press on while the rest waited.
Crazy Legs trailed down the hill to ask the question and then dragged himself back up to inform us the BFG had said he would decide when he re-joined!
Finally underway again, we began travelling down a road where all the potholes had been marked with big yellow brackets spay-painted around them. I assume this means that they’re eventually going to repair the road, but even if they don’t the paint did a great job of showing us which bits to avoid.
The Red Max went off on what, even by his own crazed standards, was an impressively long and very ambitious lone break. At one point Spry said he was thinking of bridging across so the pair could work together, then realised we were bearing down on Middleton Bank and Red Max would soon be engulfed in an unequal duel with gravity and unlikely to be in position to offer much assistance.
Despite the daunting obstacle of the climb to come, Carlton and Cowin’ Bovril seemed determined to bring Max to heel sooner rather than later and whipped up the pace of the pursuit.
We turned right at a junction that dumped us directly onto the bottom of the climb, which was good as there was no time to even think about finding the right gear and less chance of making a mess of things like I did the week before.
Andeven attacked from the very bottom of the climb and quickly pulled away, while I slotted in behind Shoeless as the slope began to bite. As we hit the steepest section I levered myself out of the saddle and swung across the white line, accelerating upwards. Bit by bit I overhauled Shoeless and started to creep past G-Dawg. There was a shout of “car!” from someone at the back and I looked behind to find I’d opened up a big enough gap to slot into, so I swung back across the road and out of danger.
It was now just a case of keeping going, as I slumped back in the saddle, hugging the left hand gutter so there was plenty of room for anyone to pass me. I had no idea what was going on behind, or where the others were and couldn’t hear a thing beyond my rasping, panting breath. I was gasping like an asthmatic chain-smoker with emphysema being forced to run wind sprints up a mountain and it would took another 2 or 3 miles before my breathing returned to normal.
I was however slowly closing on Andeven and might have caught his back wheel if the slope had continued another 200 metres or so. It’s also just as likely I would have collapsed in a jelly-legged heap if the slope had continued another 200 metres or so, as it was the road levelled and Andeven pulled away again.
At this point I just kept going, recognising I was breaking club protocol by not waiting to regroup at the top of the climb, but reasoning that I was so winded and slow that everyone would overhaul me eventually. Then Shoeless cruised past, I jumped onto his wheel and all thoughts of regrouping were conveniently forgotten as he accelerated away – when confronted by my misdeeds age, enfeeblement and senility have been my excuse in the past and I was sure they would serve me again now.
We picked up Andeven and from what I recall G-Dawg, Plank and Captain Black made it across as we drove for home in front of what I gather was a rather frenzied chase behind. Everyone in the front group swept past me on the final climb, but after blowing last week’s assault on Middleton Bank I was just pleased not to have messed up again and as an added bonus managed to net a new Strava PR for my efforts.
It was pleasant enough for us to encamp in the café garden, with everyone (well, maybe all apart from Zardoz) in high spirits, on top form and full of the usual unfettered, unrelenting torrent of irreverent banter to keep us royally entertained.
A pleasant return leg, mainly spent chatting with Zardoz (he didn’t really seem all that angry) and a good solo run for home capped the best ride of the year.
YTD Totals: 1,326 km /824 miles with 13,346 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 99 km/64 miles with 1,033 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 38 minutes
Average Speed: 23 km/h
Group size: An unknown number of riders. No SLJ!
Weather in a word or two: Well, it was nice indoors…
The return of some dread viral chest infection had me feeling fuzzy round the edges, aching in every limb and confined indoors, missing the club run and wondering if I could get away with another gaping hole in my blog publishing schedule.
I was considering writing about the conundrum of different crank lengths, although that’s far too technical for me, so perhaps something about be the relative aesthetic merits of Castelli vs. Santini gear was more in order, or something else equally as useless, earth-shattering and revelatory …
…and then, crawling bravely through the shattered wire, mud, shell holes, blood and trenches, an after-action report brought words from the front: Saturday’s Club Run seen through the eyes of Taffy Steve and complete with a metaphorical white feather for those caught malingering indoors.
With the odd (and I do mean odd) addition from Crazy Legs, Taffy Steve gamely took up my heavy and less than subtle cudgel of irreverent and sardonic commentary to beat everyone about the head and shoulders with, outlining what sounds like an absolute classic club run.
So without further ado, and only a touch of paraphrasing and one or two embellishments, take it away Taffy Steve… (corny, I know – but I’ve always wanted to say that)
“So Sur la Jante had an unauthorised absence this week, and typically it was a vintage week for nonsense.
At the arrival at the meeting place a small leather strap was found on the floor and we quickly decided that the it must have come from the steed of the BFG which is bedecked solely in cow products.(As you may have noticed from our past encounters with him, the BFG is truly devoted to vintage bicycles featuring the use of all natural materials, even though the more modern equivalents are cheaper, lighter, better engineered and far more effective. Hence he likes to ride on wooden rims that warp after a few miles, while using cork brake shoes that don’t work very well and are scientifically proven to actually speed up wheel rotation when applied to rims in the wet.)
We drifted slowly westward – pushed onward by Crazy Legs until he ran out of steam. During this journey OGL declared that he had been riding a bike “seriously” since 1959 – so not as old as Sputnik but predating the Apollo program.(I often think one of the problems is too much serious bike riding, but then I have been accused of being flippant on more than a few occasions)
He told me that a certain house had actually been there since he had been riding – apparently my reply of “Excellent” made Crazy Legs forget that we were flat out at 22 kph.(Although we all recognise he’s old, I was unaware up to this point that OGL regards himself as a modern day Methuselah – a man who has outlived entire buildings, if not civilsations).
After a couple of splits, four of us were joined by an interloper – dressed all in blue with white stars – Captain America had arrived in Stamfordham!
We caught up with Crazy Legs and Ovis struggling with a punctured Conti 4 seasons which didn’t want to be re-homed and was hanging desperately to the rim like a Calais Jungle refugee clinging to the Eurostar.
Red Max tried to take control, but succeeded only in managing to fire an errant tyre lever off into some brambles and boldly went in after it.(Rumours that he’s still in there and waiting for some kind hearted Daniel to remove a thorn from his paw are I believe exaggerated.)
Unfortunately, Captain America showed no interest in helping with any repairs and any hopes that he was Bicycle Repair Man in disguise were cruelly dashed. He wasn’t a real superhero after all!
Reading between the lines, it would appear that somehow the collective might and manpower of the club (sadly absent any superhero assistance) finally managed to fix the flat, only for Ovis to cunningly, “it was an accident, honest” insert his flip-flop hub the wrong way round so he could do a bit of freewheelin’ with the 40 mph tailwind pushing at his back.
Setting off again Captain America revealed to Crazy Legs that he not only had an amazing outfit, but a cornering style reminiscent of Warren Barguil at his worst. Crazy Legs and Ovis managed to avoid this rather more intimate than expected encounter better than Geraint Thomas, somewhat discomfited, but none the worse for wear.
Captain America then made the fatal mistake of responding to one of the Red Max’s Forlorn Hope attacks and fatally dragged both Max and Taffy Steve to the line, learning as Taffy Steve succinctly puts it “that you shouldn’t tow the fatties,” as he was then mercilessly mugged in the sprint.
In the café recently anointed Grandpa, the Red Max proclaimed to a thoroughly stunned and silenced table that he’d gone through all the computations and worked out that terry nappies were cheaper than Pampers and the pay-back time on the initial investment was only 8 weeks.
This was taking into account the relative material, distribution, transportation and disposal costs, environmental and societal impacts, local taxation rates, power, water and detergent usage, plus the additional benefits of providing the safety pin industry with a new source of users beyond just cyclists pinning numbers to their backs.
I understand that the whole 48-page Excel workbook containing the finer details of his calculations has been submitted for consideration to the Nobel Committee.
We shouldn’t be surprised by such deep and provocative thinking, after all the Red Max is the eccentric genius who developed Horner’s Theorem which 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” include in our route for the day.
Despite his impressive cognitive abilities however, it was revealed when it comes to devices for expressing milk, then even the Red Max has met his match – or his kryptonite, if you will.
Anyway, Taffy Steve happily concludes that Max’s Grandad switch has now been irreversibly thrown, he just needs to adopt a constantly confused demeanor and selective deafness. He’s actually half-way there with the latter, having successfully been ignoring OGL’s diktats for several years now.
Congratulations Pops, I’ll hopefully see you next week.
Total Distance: 95 km/59 miles with 930 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 12 minutes
Group size: 7 riders, no FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Storm chasing…
Main topic of conversation at the start: Crazy Legs rolled up lacking his usual ebullience and by-passing all form of normal greeting, to darkly intone one dread word: “Hangover.”
He did however manage to rouse himself briefly for a spirited round of “wheel wars” – loosely based on the successful “thumb wars” model, but this week pitting his Continental Gatorskin shod Campagnolo wheels against my Fulcrum’s with Schwalbe Durano tyres. “One, two, three, four, I declare a wheel war!” was accompanied by him bashing repeatedly at my front wheel until our bikes became locked together in rampant combat like two rutting stags. Sadly, this was to be his only meaningful action on the day.
OGL pulled up in his automobile with much head-shaking, to check which idiots were intent on heading out into the storm, before he himself sought safety in the gym. In his best, “We’re all doomed” voice, he went on to outline a litany of cancelled events, postponed sporting fixtures and general catastrophes, as Storm Desmond, 80 mph winds and torrential rain continued to batter the North.
A quick conference concluded that we’d be pretty much heading straight to the café and home again, it certainly wasn’t the day for longer rides or routes unknown.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: It was black bin bags all round as we made it to the café completely soaked through and dripping relentlessly. Sitting on the bags kept the chairs nice and dry, but couldn’t stop the flow of water, which pooled and seeped and ran until we were all seated in the midst of a big puddle of water that expanded slowly but remorselessly across the tile floor. I have to admit the surprising amount of water I was able to wring out of my waterproof logged gloves didn’t help matters.
Still, as necessity (or, perhaps adversity in this case) is the mother of invention, at least it led to us designing a cyclist mangle – you feed wet riders in one end, turn the (Kranken) handle and pull slightly creased and flattened, but much drier cyclists out the other end. We’re convinced there’s a market for this one…
Never mind the aerodynamic benefits of a hard, clip on helmet shell, beZ declared a far better, much under-appreciated quality was that it kept your hair dry and neatly in place. The various manufacturers are obviously missing a huge marketing opportunity by not pushing this particular feature.
Another club was also in the café, en route to their Christmas get together and they helpfully added their own offerings to the expanding pool on the floor. In a vain attempt to dry out various bits of kit they also took up much of the space around the wood-burning stove with steaming piles of gloves, hats, helmets, scarfs and other bits and pieces.
The Prof resorted to trying to dry his gloves directly on the black iron top of the stove, where they started to steam and then smoke alarmingly, and were rescued by beZ before they completely melted and we were all overcome with noxious fumes.
True to form, the ever absent-minded Shoeless bemoaned forgetting his protective specs, as he blinked furiously, each time exfoliating his stinging eyeballs of one more layer of cells. The collected grit and road crap that had been washed into his eyes formed a rich abrasive paste which beauty companies would pay a small fortune for, if they could only bottle and sell it as an exotic facial scrub.
Midway through a normal series of SMS exchanges, the Prof received one that was displayed entirely in Chinese characters. In an attempt to decode it, beZ took control of his old man’s phone with the intent on running the text through Google translate or something similar, but he had to give up when the signal was too weak to get a connection.
Unfortunately while playing with the phone he unwittingly opened up the Emoji menu. “Hey” the Prof declared in surprised delight, “What are all these hieroglyphics?”
Realising his mistake and at our urging beZ quickly wrestled the phone away again and turned the keyboard back to display just normal characters – we have trouble interpreting the Prof’s text messages, social media interactions and forum postings as it is, without letting him loose with a whole new wave of characters and icons.
Our Faecesbook page was surprisingly active first thing on Saturday morning, as Shoeless checked out the storm damage and weather forecast and posted up an interrogative, “Who’s riding today?” There were lots of negative responses, but seemingly enough affirmatives from the crazies to reassure him it was worth heading out.
I made my way to the meeting point through the collected debris of the night’s storm, fences, road signs, trees, bins and traffic cones all dragged down and scattered by the wind, while the roads were an obstacle course of broken branches and massive pools of standing water.
True to his word, Shoeless was there, waiting at the meeting point early, having decided even battling the elements in potentially dangerous conditions was better than the painful grind of another turbo-session.
A small nucleus of seven of us eventually pushed off, clipped in and headed out, the foreshortened roll of honour comprising: Shoeless, G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, The Prof, Crazy Legs, beZ and me.
The much hungover Crazy Legs – usually one of the first to ride on the front, drifted right to the back early on and made it to the first set of lights, maybe a mile up the road, before calling it a day and turning back for home, conquered either by the weather or last night’s alcoholic excesses. Everyone seemed surprised and not a little disappointed that he hadn’t at least drilled it a couple of mile on the front for us before abandoning.
We pressed on regardless, swapping the front riders frequently as we battered our way out into the wilds of Northumberland. Conditions weren’t too bad, the day was at least fairly mild and it would have been pleasant if it hadn’t been for the gales.
Pointing out obstacles to following riders became a bit of a gamble and an exercise in how quickly you could reach out, stab a finger down at the ground and then regain your death grip of the bars.
Turning left or right now came with the luxury of power-steering, sticking an arm out to signal gave the wind something to push against and almost automatically dragged the wheel in that direction.
We managed to eke out a little shelter from hedges, embankments and buildings as we trundled along, but we seemed to spend a lot of time riding inclined and leaning over at about a 10° angle.
Every gap in the hedges brought a sudden gust of capricious wind that would push or pull us sideways and every time this generated a chorus of maniacal and very nervous cackling. Just for a change of pace it also decided to rain and we were soon thoroughly doused and soaked through.
At some point we passed and exchanged a few words with a shooting party, who looked particularly miserable, perhaps because as soon as their beaters flushed a bird it rose up and was immediately snatched away at supersonic speed by the wind, making targeting it almost impossible.
Either side of the road leading to the Quarry climb was a desolate, water-logged landscape, and in one dip we hit a huge lake of surface water that stretched right across the road and the Prof swore he could see wind-whipped whitecaps ruffling its surface.
As beZ seemed to be the tallest , I suggested sending him through first to see if he could make the other side, which was just about visible through the driving rain. Throwing caution to the wind though, we barely slowed, ploughing on regardless and through water that easily topped our wheel hubs, and as a consequence, everyone’s overshoes.
We pushed on to the top of the Quarry climb, now with soaking feet, shoes and socks to add to our other woes. After some deliberation and a bit of confusion we turned left at the top, the highest and most exposed point of our ride, and straight into a punishing headwind that had everyone bent over their bikes and grinding slowly just to keep some sort of momentum.
Dropping down to the final junction, and keeping a wary eye out for the Prof torpedoing everyone as he “came in hot” with barely functioning brakes, we hit the final run to the café and the Tally Ho! cry went up.
The youngsters, Shoeless, beZ and Son of G-Dawg started the long burn for home, leaving us “elder statesmen” struggling behind. Sitting camped on G-Dawgs wheel, I was too late in realising he’d reached terminal velocity and his blurring legs just couldn’t whirr around any faster to drive his fixie across the gap.
I jumped around him, but couldn’t make it across either, as the front three slowly pulled away. Not wanting to languish in no-mans-land I cut my losses and sat up to try and recover a little. G-Dawg and the Prof passed me, and I upped the pace a little just to stay in touch.
As we hit the long, shallow descent down to the Snake Bends I pushed hard again, swept past the Prof, ducked down the inside of G-Dawg and piled it on, ripping through another flooded section of the road, before hauling on the anchors for the bends.
Safely negotiating these, G-Dawg re-joined and we pushed on together for a very welcome stop, replete with copious amounts of reviving hot coffee and, of course, a much anticipated date with some cake.
Warming up a little and drying out just the tiniest bit, we watched out the window as the other club gathered themselves and all their slightly less chill, but still soaking gear to venture back out into the wild weather. We all knew stepping out across the threshold was going to be a real challenge after the comfortable and cosy sanctuary of the café and the brief respite it offered from the howling wind and driving rain.
Bizarrely the other group were heading off for a Christmas lunch and get-together somewhere in Whalton, which is only a further 4 miles up the road. This meant that not only did they get semi-dry and warm in the café before plunging outside again, but would have to repeat the process when they left their lunch venue. We couldn’t work out why they hadn’t pushed on and gone straight to Whalton, but perhaps it proves we weren’t the only crazy ones out on the day.
Even worse, one of their riders had a puncture and they seemed to spend an age milling about outside the café, getting cold and wet all over again while this was fixed.
Finally steeling ourselves to leave, we plodged through the puddle of our own making to hand the black, slightly damp bin bags back in at the counter. We then stacked up at the door like a well-drilled SWAT team about to breach and clear a hostile room, gathering together before we struck out to ensure we wouldn’t be hanging around waiting for anyone.
We dashed out to our bikes, only for beZ to discover that both of his tyres were suspiciously soft and squidgy. He was reluctant to stop for repairs though and decided to risk running with them, hoping to get home before all the air ran out.
If we were hoping for a helpful tailwind back we were sadly disappointed and found the same mix of gusting headwinds and vicious cross-winds along most of our route. On one corner in particular we were hit with a sudden buffeting and howling blast that had everyone crabbing sideways across the road and blew Son of G-Dawg out of his pedals and dangerously close to running into a field before he somehow recovered.
We stopped once for beZ to force some emergency air back into his tyres before pressing on. I split from the group at the earliest opportunity, cutting off a large corner by battling the vicious winds around the airport, before turning west directly into a gale and the long, exposed drag past the golf course. This section of my route home is fast becoming a bête noire to rival the Heinous Hill.
A weak, wintry sun briefly broke through, and combined with the constant tugging wind acting like a massive hair drier, I began to feel a little less wet and a bit more comfortable. The storm also seemed to have kept people in doors and suppressed the volume of traffic on the road, so I had a decent run for home and an immediate appointment with a hot shower.
YTD Totals: 5,996 km/ 3,726 miles with 67,064 metres of climbing.