With the UK on track for the wettest May on record, Saturday looked intent on adding to total rainfall with a wet and windy start, despite the BBC weather app assuring me it would be overcast, but largely dry. So rain jacket on, overshoes on, I surfed down the Heinous Hill, just going with the flow of surface water.
The highlight of my journey came just a few miles in, when I spotted a huge of pile of silver balloons discarded by the side of the road in Blaydon, like a bunch of giant metallic grapes, or the droppings of monstrous android sheep. (Do cyclists dream of electric sheep?) I thought this sighting was quite remarkable, that is until I passed a similar pile of balloons, but this time golden ones (Gosforth being, you know, posher than Blaydon) near the end of my journey in Ashburton. Odd.
The only other incident of note was a driver undertaking a car waiting to turn right by barging into a designated bike lane, regardless of the fact it was clearly occupied by a bike and rider. I don’t know, drivers complain when we ignore the bike lanes, then they too ignore them as soon as it suits their purpose and means avoiding being held up for a nano-second. Personally, I think you’re generally better off ignoring that cycling lanes are there and riding as defensively as you would on any normal road.
At the meeting point and ducking under the shelter of the multi-storey car park, I found the JPF gathering before heading out on a long and hilly route planned by Plumose Pappus. Their route-designer himself was already there, peering up at the uncertain weather, before hopefully declaring, “There’s light there!”
“Yes,” I pointed out, “But you’re heading in the other direction.”
“To be fair, there’s light everywhere,” the Hammer interjected, “But, if there’s light everywhere, it also means there’s darkness everywhere too.” Then, such are the major, pressing concerns of club cyclists the world over, we started a philosophical debate following the Hammer’s assertion that if everything is blue, then nothing is blue. We were saved from disappearing into this conjectural rabbit-hole by the sudden appearance of the BFG, who had an urgent need to graphically readjust his genitalia, while warning such incidents were absolutely notsuitable for inclusion in random blerg meanderings.
The deficiencies of the BBC Weather app were discussed, with Richard Rex providing the definitive statement, that it was “Crap, because it was outsourced to the lowest bidder, a French company with no connection whatsoever to the Met Office.”
We imagined some disinterested Frenchman, sitting in the Vendée, or somewhere, occasionally glancing out the window before updating the app for North East England: “Il ne pleut pas.” It would explain a lot.
Once the JPF were clear, we set about forming our own sub-groups and I joined the first of these as we pushed out with just 3 others, Caracol, TripleD-Be and Richard Rex. Luckily, the rain seemed to have eased, so I was able to shuck the jacket before departure.
With just the 4 of us it there wasn’t much of a reprieve a rather pesky and persistent headwind, even once you’d slipped off the front. As if just four riders wasn’t bad enough, it was actually more like 3½, as Richard Rex noted ruefully that riding behind TripleD-Be didn’t provide a whole lot of shelter anyway. Nevertheless we seemed to be travelling at a consistently fast pace – one that would get me home early, which was great for watching the Giro take on the might Monte Zoncolan, but would take me two days to recover from.
With TripleD-El having ventured out with the JPF, TripleD-Be explained that after months in lockdown, it was occasionally refreshing not to have to ride together, before turning his attention to Strava segments and excoriating whoever named the stretch through Dinnington as “Terrific Tarmac.” This, he felt was disgracefully false advertising, as the road surface was just as crappy, cracked and pot-holed as most of the roads in Northumberland. I though could remember how bad the road was previously and the completely spontaneous cheer that erupted from our group the first time our tyres kissed the new surface. It might not be Terrific Tarmac now, but compared to the past? Chalk and cheese, mate. Silk and sandpaper. Pebbledash and plaster. You get the picture.
At one stage in our ride I was momentarily distracted from the distress of having to ride uphill at a high cadence, by the racket of two cackling crows ganging up to strafe and harass a much larger, bird of prey, possibly a buzzard, as they chased it out of their territory. Feisty little buggers.
The route up to Rothley crossroads is one that Caracol and I recalled as being a regular fixture on our routes pre-pandemic. Good to learn that it’s still just as horrible now as it was back then, a slow grinding drag over a heavy, broken surface. Even worse for Richard Rex who said it had formed part of his most recent time-trial. That had to hurt.
Then we were through Cambo heading downhill fast past Wallington before hauling on the anchors to try and negotiate the badly worn, but still vicious rumble-strips on the approach to the single lane bridge over the River Wansbeck.
We counted the cars coming down the hill before they dipped out of sight and when four came down, but only three re-appeared, we pulled over to the side of the bridge to let the last one through. We then had a blind, Mexican stand-off as the driver had pulled over to let us cross first, but we couldn’t see him. After an awkward pause, I allowed Caracol to tentatively approach the crest of the bridges humped-back to see what was going on (reasoning he was the most expendable) and only followed once he’d made sure it was safe.
It wasn’t long before we were climbing again, back out the valley and then a few miles further on rattling over a badly broken surface down to the café at Capheaton.
Another foursome composed of Rab D, Aether, Zardoz and a Chinese FNG had already beaten us there, having taken a slightly different route and they were encamped in the garden with, almost by instinct, Zardoz tucked into a corner of the building and in the space most sheltered from the wind.
I have to say the cakes at Capheaton are the best of all the cafés we frequent and this weeks dark, dusted and dense, chocolate and espresso torte didn’t disappoint.
The others pulled on jackets and gilets, while we sat around, discussing the eternal problem of getting layering just right, with all the options, long or short sleeved jerseys and base layers, full length or three-quarter bibtights, overshoes, arm, leg and knee warmers, jackets and gilets. TripleD-Be expounded the universal truth of cycling: that instead of making things easier when you have different combinations for different weather conditions, the more clothing options you have, the harder the choice of what to wear actually becomes. Amen to that.
As other groups started to come in we started packing to leave, clearing space for the others to grab a seat, but more importantly because we were getting chilled sitting out in the wind and needed to get moving again. Then we were off again, still at the same fast-pace, as we drove all the way through to Ponteland and I swung right over the river while the others pressed on, glad to be able to take the last few miles home at a more sedate pace.
111km/69 miles with 1,127m of climbing
4 hours 34 minutes
Weather in a word or two:
Year to date:
1,660km/1,031 miles with 17,908 metres of climbing
Well the weather forecast predicted wall-to-wall heavy rain and a gusting winds that would gradually get worse throughout the day, but Saturday morning was just a bit grey and damp and I was starting to hope the meteorologists had got this one badly wrong. Nevertheless, I was riding out with my most waterproof rain jacket and a spare pair of gloves in my back pocket, cap and overshoes to top and tail my preparations and (the indignity of) clip on mudguards strapped to the Holdsworth.
Despite the less than ideal conditions I must have been keen as I found myself closing in on the meeting point 20 minutes too early, so took a detour around the houses to fill in some time. Arriving back at the meeting point (still ridiculously early) I shuffled into the gloom of the underground car park to wait. Hmm, no JPF riders this week, they’ll get a reputation as fair weather cyclists if they keep this up.
Numbers started to build as the rain became just a little bit more insistent and I pulled on my jacket in preparation for heading out again. Aether had planned the route and it was time to go down by the riverside (I expect a clapped response!)
We knew OGL wouldn’t follow, but there was still enough willing to use the planned route for 3 or 4 separate groups. We formed a quick, first six and pushed out before the usual 9:15 start, leaving even as others were still trickling in and I found myself on the front alongside Caracol and in a group also containing Jimmy Mac, Biden Fecht, Spoons and James III.
As well as our annual, “guess the most improbable winner of the Giro d’Italia competition” (I swear no one would have picked either Tao Geoghegan Hart or Jai Hindley last year), Caracol was pondering that other Gordian Knot of a question – when we’d be able to travel abroad safely. He said the girls in his office had been getting excited at all the talk of traffic lights indicating safe travel areas, but had been hugely disappointed when none of Ibiza, Zante, Torremolinos, or Benidorm featured.
We tried to work through some of the available options for cycling trips, but aside from Portugal, these seemed limited. Iceland? Possibly even colder and wetter than North East England. Ascension Island? The temperature doesn’t drop below 20ºC and it seldom rains, but it’s not renowned for good roads (they have place names like Breakneck Valley f.f.s.) and access is a bit of an issue, being nothing more than a tiny speck in the middle of the Atlantic over a thousand miles from the coast of Africa one way, and South America the other.
That only seemed to leave the Falkland Islands, a little more developed than Ascension, if a slightly off-putting 8,000 miles distant. We determined we could probably get a group of 5 or 6 cyclists interested, which would quadruple annual tourism to the islands in one fell swoop, but then the average daily temperature of the warmest months, January and February (which have already past), is only about 10 °C and it’s rainy and windy as well. Yeah, perhaps we’d best wait a little while longer …
Some seat of the pants navigating took us out past the airport and through Darras Hall. On the climb up to Stamfordham Road, the rain got a little heavier and Caracol stopped to don a jacket. When we got moving again, Jimmy Mac and Biden Fecht took over on the front and I dropped to the back with Caracol, who was already planning to ship and stow his jacket “as soon as this rain eases a little.” He’s nothing if not optimistic.
We dropped down into the Tyne Valley via Wylam and I found myself on the front again, this time alongside Jimmy Mac as we followed the river westward. It had taken a while, but the rain had finally breached my overshoes, my socks were becoming cold, wet and heavy and feeling was fleeing my toes. Just past the bridge at Stocksfield, we struck out north climbing out of the valley, the rest romping ahead while I took the climb at a more leisurely pace. The group had safely threaded their way across the A69 and 4-lanes of fast traffic when I reached the top and they’d pulled up on the other side to regroup and recover. I darted across the road at the first gap in the traffic, rather rudely rolled past them and got to work on the next set of climbs, figuring it was too miserable to hang about and they’d soon catch up.
Over the top I was joined on the front by Jimmy Mac again, as we rattled briefly downhill, then started climbing toward the reservoir. The temperature had dipped beyond chill, the rain was lashing in and the wind had started to seriously gust. It was horrible. It was miserable and even Biden Fecht could only summon up the odd desultory, half-hearted song to keep our spirits up.
I scanned the banks of the reservoir as we battered headlong into the wind and the rain.
“Hmm, no anglers out today? The wimps.”
Through the gloom Jimmy Mac did manage to spot a couple, huddled miserably under flimsy looking rain shelters.
“They must be the hard core,” I suggested, “They probably don’t even use rods.”
“Just a bit of fish tickling before wrangling and wrestling them up onto the bank,” he suggested. I wouldn’t be surprised.
“Are you thinking of a café stop?” he queried some time later.
“Probably not,” I replied.
What on earth was I saying? Of course I wasn’t thinking of a café stop, it was madness, what pleasure would we possibly get standing huddled out in a garden, cold and soaked to the skin, drinking tepid coffee and watching cake slowly dissolve in the pouring rain. No, I wasn’t stopping.
Nor was any one else, either and we sped through Stamfordham, past the turn-off for the café without a second glance, now heading straight home. We took a right up through Cheeseburn Grange and I swung off the front with Jimmy Mac, but found an understandable reluctance for anyone to come through. Jimmy Mac took to the front again, but I was done and drifted back through the group.
From here I had the perfect view of James III frothing at the seat pad, like one of Pavlov’s dogs that had unfortunately caught rabies and a bad case of tinnitus at the same time. This rather unsavoury spectacle a salutary lesson in why you should fit mudguards, or at the very least an ass-saver when planning to ride in the rain.
I hung onto the group in grim, stoic silence (which probably isn’t all that distinguishable from my usual anti-social silence) as we crested one last rise, before the road dipped again down Penny Hill. Most of the group swung left, while I kept going, trailing in the wake of James III, but at some distance because I was getting seriously cold on the descent, so kept braking to slow down and ease the wind chill. This had the secondary advantage of taking me out range of any errant flying ass-foam too.
I caught up to James III as the road started to climb again, then, just past the golf course, I turned right as he kept straight on. Usually when I’m tired on a ride I look at red lights as a welcome respite, but conditions were so grim I really hated stopping, so became a bit of an “amber-gambler” and may even have sneaked through a couple of lights that were technically already on stop. Oh well, I’m sure it pleased a few motorists to have their worst perceptions of cyclists confirmed.
Half way down the drop to the river, I stopped for the luxury of changing into my spare pair of blissfully dry gloves. This proved harder than I anticipated. It was a full minute before I could straighten my arms enough to strip off and wring out the wet gloves and then go fishing into my back pockets for their replacements. Then the damp skin and shivering conspired to make pulling them on a Herculean task in its own right. Still, once done the effort seemed worth it, as a little bit of warmth and feeling started to return to my fingers, at least until these gloves too became wet and water-logged.
The ordeal wasn’t quite as bad as descending the Galibier in a full-on thunderstorm but it was close. Finally home, the pile of sodden clothing I discarded on the kitchen floor looked like the dissolved remains of the Wicked Witch of the West and it took an age before I could tell if the shower was cold, a reasonable temperature, or so boiling hot it was in danger of scalding my skin off. Feeling finally returned, along with a bright red blush to all the areas that had been most exposed to the wind, the tops of my thighs in particular adopting a warm radioactive glow.
Perhaps the Falkland Islands isn’t such a bad idea after all?
A year that’s already been grim and dark and difficult took an even blacker turn last weekend when my Dad died. Dad, Grandad, husband, brother, son, uncle, rugby player, ballroom dancer, draughtsman, engineering designer … all that and much more.
His death leaves an unfillable void, his life an indelible mark.
These sad circumstances kept me off the bike just when I could have done with the therapeutic, head-clearing relief of a long ride, so I was particularly determined to get out this weekend.
The weather was an issue with a rainy midweek only starting to clear as the weekend approached, but Saturday, the forecasts assured everyone, with a sly wink and a smile would be ok. Only an 11% chance of short, swiftly passing showers the BBC weather app proclaimed. Reasonable odds. I’ll take those.
Except Friday night was unexpectedly wet and there was plenty of surface water still around when I woke on Saturday morning. I decided I needed mudguards, but with Peugeot temporarily hors de combat, laid up with a seized rear-derailleur, I was left with a (Hobson’s) choice of my commuting single-speed, or a wet backside.
I’m not sure I’d enjoy a normal club ride on the mongrel single-speed, which is suitably tatty, odd-looking and mismatched enough that it can be left safely, chained up on campus in the full knowledge it will attract absolutely no interest whatsoever from even the most desperate of blind bicycle thieves.
Mechanically it’s sound and its simplicity makes it a joy to ride, but its designed to give me a fighting chance of making it up the big hills at either end of my commute. This means it’s got a 34 x 14 gear ratio, so my legs spin out at about 23 mph – which would be pretty hopeless for any mad dash to the café. As I’d be riding solo, however and maintaining strict social-distancing at all times, I decided I could get away with it, as long as I found a route with no particularly steep, sharp climbs.
As an afterthought, just before I set off I crammed a light jacket in my back pocket, just in case, against all odds, I did actually encounter some rain on my travels.
It was a stop-start sort of beginning, rolling down the Heinous Hill I found I couldn’t clip in and had to stop to dislodge a sliver of dried mud from under my cleat. I still can’t work out how it got there.
Then, once over the river, I glanced down at my Garmin and found I’d already covered over 70 kilometres! Oops, looked like some idiot forgot to reset their bike computer. I stopped to correct my lapse, then pushed on, climbing out of the valley to route through Denton Burn, Kingston Park and out into the countryside.
At that point a third stop was called for as a dank, cold, rain started sifting down until the air was sodden and everything, which most definitely included me, was quickly soaked through. And that’s how it stayed for the rest of the morning, wet and chilly, with my afterthought jacket providing some relief, until it too became water-logged.
Still, the climb up Berwick Hill was about the perfect steepness for me, taken at a brisk pace that soon had me warmed up. I routed through Kirkley, past the café and out toward the Gubeon. Just past the café I passed two cyclists going the other way and it wasn’t until I was level that I realised it was Taffy Steve and Sneaky Pete. Sneaky Pete would later apologise for not acknowledging me, being cold, wet and huddled within his own private bubble of misery. I told him he should just use my favourite excuse, that he’d been travelling at such speed he’d never had a chance to recognise who he passed.
A few miles further up the road, a group of about half a dozen riders, dragged themselves past, clustered together and obviously feeling no need for social distancing. I don’t agree, but it’s their call. An even bigger breach of etiquette in my books was the complete lack of mudguards on what seemed to be their very best, shiny plastic bikes and they kicked up rooster tails of dirty spray behind them as they ground by.
As the road started to develop a few testing bumps and lumps, I made an effort to catch and overtake them, just nudging ahead before having to take evasive action to avoid another cyclist who’d lurched into the road having seemingly emerged out of the hedgerow.
“Oh, hello,” said the erratic cyclist, as I scurried past. I immediately recognising the Prof under all his layers of protective wear.
“Bonjour Monsieur,” I greeted him.
“You’re not who I was expecting to see,” the Prof exclaimed, then, “Ah, there they are!” Apparently I’d just been overtaken, and then overtaken in turn, a gaggle of Backstreet Boys (and at least one Backstreet Gal.) They all reformed behind me, but luckily were going right at the next junction, while I was heading left.
I pressed on through Whalton, passing the Colossus who, somewhat disappointingly (but understandably) was not on on his Time-Trial bike today. Routing through Belsay, I took the lane to Ogle, passing a couple of tractors hacking back the hedges on either side of the road and yet again escaping without finding an errant thorn embedded in my tyre. This luck can’t last.
I pulled into the café at Kirkley chilled and soaked through, but generally in good spirits, wandering into the barn just as the Backstreet Boys exited, to find G-Dawg and the Colossus huddled around one of the tables they’d set up inside.
It wasn’t going to be the cosiest of café stops, but it was dry, out of the wind and, if G-Dawg was to be believed noticeably warmer than standing outside in the rain. I’m not wholly convinced, but it was shelter of a kind.
I complained bitterly that the forecast had predicted only the smallest chance of brief, passing showers and demanded to know where this prolonged, incessant downpour had sprung from. No one could help me.
One benefit of bad weather was the lack of a queue and I was quickly served and on my way back to the barn when a flatus-powered (by his own admission) Crazy Legs arrived to join us.
G-Dawg bemoaned the on-going Covid restrictions and the 3-tier system recently introduced by a Government seemingly flailing to find something that might just about work and more concerned with finding a catchy (i.e. banal) slogan in lieu of a way of reducing infections. As evidence I give you the nonsensical “Stay Alert” a wannabe-nursery rhyme “Hands, Face, Space” and the Arthur Conan Doyle “Rule of Six.”
The latest is a 3-tier, truncated DefCon scale, which saw Front Wheel Neil beating all the tabloid press to the punch, when he announced that he’d told us it would all end in tiers, almost as soon as the initiative was launched.
We quickly summarised the three tiers as:
Tier#1 – you’re up shit creek
Tier#2 – you’re still up shit creek, but now you’ve lost your paddle
Tier#3 – you’re up shit creek without a paddle, your boat is taking in water and there’s a tsunami brewing on the horizon.
G-Dawg was particularly perplexed that the guidelines for moving between tiers were unknown and totally depressed by the thought that there was no safe tier – Tier#0 for example, where life was normal. Surely, we surmised, there must be a small village in the Cotswolds, or a remote island off the coast of Scotland, that was safe enough to be free of any restrictions?
As we discussed such weighty matters, Buster emerged from the gloom outside, cold, wet and complaining about the weather forecast and how he’d been duped into believing the chance for rain was miniscule.
He’d been so taken in that he’d ventured out on his brand new “good bike” – a Cervelo he’d earmarked for only riding in perfect conditions. Maybe this also explains the Backstreet Boys lack of mudguards and perhaps they’re deserving the benefit of doubt?
When Busters food order hadn’t arrived tout de suite, Crazy Legs persuaded him to go check on it, suggesting the café had an unfortunate habit of misplacing orders, especially, rather bizarrely, when it wasn’t too busy.
“Don’t worry though,” he assured Buster as he got up, “If they have forgotten, they tend to slip a fried egg on top as compensation.”
“Hmm, I’m not sure I’d like a fried egg plonked on top of my Victoria sponge,” I offered.
We decided this probably would be an unwelcome gift on Victoria sponge, but perhaps a worthy addition to a fruit scone, as long as, Crazy Legs determined, it was an especially runny egg. Who knows, one day we might even try it.
The rest of the conversation was taken up with discussing the current state of professional cycling. The Giro, was seen as high entertainment, but with a bizarre list of contenders. “You know things aren’t normal when Pozzovivo is up there challenging for the lead, ” Crazy Legs asserted, although pleased as punch for one of his favourite riders.
The bizarreness of the Giro was in direct contrast to an absolutely enthralling Classics seasons, with Alaphillipe, van der Poel, van Aert and assorted others providing spills and thrills in equal measure and the faintest glimmer of normality.
By the time we were ready to leave the rain had passed, it was warming up and dangerously close to pleasant. I was almost dry by the time I made it to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, the bike had served me well and I won’t hesitate to use it again for longer rides, but I must admit there are times when an additional gear or two wouldn’t go amiss and this was one of them.
Among My Swan – still continuing an extremely tenuous avian theme.
When even the so-called “world’s most powerful man” (not for much longer if we’re lucky) isn’t safe from the Covid-19 pandemic, then who is?
Then again, most of us have changed our behaviour to try and mitigate the risk, both to ourselves, but even more importantly, to those we may come into contact with who are potentially more vulnerable. I would never rush to wish ill-health on anyone, but there’s a certain Karmic retribution at play whenever a Covid-denier and especially the world’s most powerful Covid-enabler, the Obfuscator-in-General himself, gets hoist by their own petard.
I have to admit, it also provided a few moments of real levity. Trump’s tweet about testing positive was met with an immediate response that this was probably the only positive thing he’d ever tweeted (twet? twatted?) – while it was noted that his test was probably the only one where he hadn’t felt compelled to cheat.
Someone else revealed they’d tested positively as wholly unsympathetic, while another reminded us an underlying symptom of Covid-19 was a complete lack of taste … and wondered what excuse Trump had for all the other blighted lifestyle choices he’d made before falling ill.
Anyway, back to more important stuff. Saturday, 3rd October, summer is officially over and the day is a complete washout.
It started raining late Friday night and hadn’t stopped and didn’t look like stopping anytime on Saturday. If there been a club run I would have been out sharing the misery, but there wasn’t. So I didn’t.
Sunday then, and there may have been water, water everywhere (nor any drop to drink) but there were patches of blue in the sky and a much better day beckoned for a little bikling.
Heading out for a jaunt up the Tyne Valley, I dropped toward Wylam to cross the river. It might have been a Sunday, not a Saturday, and I might have been arriving at an unusual time, but my timing was still impeccable synchronised to coincide with a long freight train of gravel-filled hopper cars, that trundled slowly by while I was caught at the level-crossing.
I crossed the river, high, roiling brown with soil and debris and buckled into angry white-capped waves, pressing on on out of the village, only to have to turn back as the road along the river to Ovingham was completely closed for repair.
Ooph. Plans already scuppered, I climbed out of Wylam up the same hill we usually come screaming down and ended up on the Military Road, heading for Whittledene Reservoir for the third week in a row. I’m getting predictable.
The reservoir looked high and bloated with rainfall, which seemed to have attracted a ballet, a bevy, a drift, a herd, a regatta, or a whiteness of swans, depending on your collective noun preference. Well, possibly not a whiteness, as a couple of these were youngsters and still a soft, fuzzy brown rather than pristine white.
From the reservoir, I took my usual route toward Stagshaw and through to Matfen. Climbing out the village and looking to change things up a little, I then took the first turn I came to and ended up on the Reivers Cycleway for a spell. This dropped me off at Ryal village and it seemed churlish at that point not to take advantage and drop down the Ryals.
Fun over, I turned to climb up through Hallington.
Just past the village the road was flooded and I picked my way carefully through, knowing just how rutted this road was and fearing submerged potholes or worse.
I then took the road toward Capheaton and eenie-meenie-miney-mo’d whether to call in to the café there, or press on to Kirkley. Kirkley won (just) and I routed through Belsay and straight down the main road until I’d by-passed Ogle, before turning onto quieter lanes.
I found our Dutch tag-team, TripleD-El and TripleD-Be, comfortably ensconced in the café, having smartly eschewed riding yesterday in the deluge.
Shortly after they left I was joined by Ahlambra and, in wide ranging and hugely entertaining discussion covering Covid-19, local lockdowns, the CIA, light-bulb inventors, US Presidents, the Clinton Foundation, false flag operations, Benghazi and a race of intergalactic, shape-shifting, immortal reptilian overlords (ok, I may have made that last one up) I realised I was in the presence of the clubs premier conspiracy theorist – and not everything is as it seems.
Sadly though, even hardened conspiracy theorists aren’t immune to the cold and while Ahlambra was warming to his topic, he was also beginning to feel the chill. Enough was enough, so we packed up and went our different ways – mine leading to a comfy seat in front of a double screened computer to simultaneously watch Stage 2 of the Giro and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
I wasn’t out last week, because, well … World Cup, baby! My work colleague, the bloke formerly known as Fat Dave, eruditely swayed my internal dilemma by arguing it had been 12 long years since the England rugby team last made a final, so I wasn’t likely to have this opportunity again until 2031, when I’d be … ulp … fast bearing down on my 70th birthday.
Apparently, in joining 12.8 million other disappointed TV-viewers, I’d missed a decent day for a bicycle ride, with an assortment of around 20 Celts, Continentals and hardened rugby-deniers out and about. It had obviously been a complete contrast to today, where, with temperatures hovering around freezing and the potential for ice on the roads, social media was already active with “should I ride?” queries.
Ride leader for the day, Benedict, had already peered outside and determined the conditions were marginal, at best. Meanwhile Aether was lobbying (apparently unsuccessfully) for a later start to give the sun a fighting chance, just time enough to eke out a little bit of warmth and reduce the likelihood of ice.
I’d stepped outside to pull the bike from the shed and immediately hustled back in, to change my thick base layer for the thickest I had. I pulled an old Castelli, long-sleeved, thermal jersey over this, topped it off with a winter jacket and stuffed a light rain jacket in my back pocket for god measure. I wasn’t expecting rain, but felt an extra windproof layer might be useful.
Shorts under winter tights, disco headband, buff, glove liners, thick gloves, trusty Thermolite socks, shoes and shoe covers and I felt I was just about good to go.
So I did.
I rolled slowly down the hill, looking for any signs of ice creeping out from the gutters, while carefully avoiding the wet and slippery mass of yellow leaves that lined the road.
Halfway down and the world suddenly turned white, as I passed into a thick, still and smothering shroud of freezing fog, that appeared to have been poured into the valley bottom. I checked my lights were on and blinking away furiously, as I slipped silently into this dim and clinging mist.
The windscreens of all the cars parked up on the side of the road were opaque with thick feathers of ice, while the grass was frozen stiff, white and curled up protectively. The cold struck at my fingers and toes and any area of exposed flesh on my face and I began to wonder if perhaps I needed further layers on top of my layers. It was chilly.
I don’t know if the stillness of the air played a part, but the Blaydon roundabout stank of spilled diesel. I couldn’t help channelling my inner Colonel Kilgore, but luckily no one was around to overhear my mad mutterings:
“Smell that? You smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. The smell, you know, that gasoline smell? It smells like … victory. Someday this war’s gonna end…”
2℃ the readout on the factory unit told me, as I crossed the train lines, before taking to the empty pavement to defy the traffic lights and cross the river without waiting. The bridge seemed to be floating in mid-air and if any rowers had been out I wouldn’t have spotted them through the opaque, milky whiteness that obscured the river surface.
Climbing out the other side of the valley, the transition was just as sudden, misty-fog giving way to clear, bright air between one pedal stroke and the next.
A cold but brilliant sun now bounced off the wet road, turning intermittent spots of diesel into shining, metallic-rainbow coloured blooms. I was obviously following a badly wounded bus and, with a little better knowledge of routes, I could probably have identified it from the tell-tale trail it had left in its wake and tracked it all the way back to its lair.
Distractions aside, I arrived at the meeting place at the usual time to find a solitary G-Dawg standing and waiting astride his fixie. We agreed we were likely to have a very small group defying the bitter cold to ride today.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:
While we waited to see who else was stupid brave enough to be out, we compared notes on the rugby. Neither of us had been remotely surprised by the result and we agreed the most deserving team had won on the day.
And, moving swiftly on …
We were eventually joined by Alhambra, OGL and two relatively new guys, lets call them Cowboys and Bison for now … just, because.
Alhambra won the prize for having the filthiest, mud-spattered bike and was immediately taken to task by OGL.
He did a quick, comedy double-take and tried on an astonished expression. “I swear it was clean when I left the house.”
No one was buying and he finally admitted he’d been so busy decorating at home, he’d never gotten around to the part of his to-do list that included cleaning his bike.
OGL was leant on for an extended discourse on the different through-axle options for disc wheels, as Bison is in the process of buying a new bike. At least he didn’t physically have to do anything, although it remains quite a popular option for someone to turn up with this, that, or the other wrong with their bike and needing some expert tinkering with.
G-Dawg expected that sooner or later someone would take this to the ultimate extreme and walk to the meeting place carrying an unrideable bike, before demanding OGL laid healing hands on it, to make everything work again.
Zardoz was the last to join us, making up a slightly less than magnificent seven. That looked like being it for the day.
A couple of minutes past our usual departure time, with no more joiners likely, we discussed ride options and decided to stick to main roads and bus routes that we hoped would be gritted and ice free, then off we went.
I pushed out onto the front with G-Dawg. It was a largely still day, so I held position for most of the ride. One benefit of this, I found when I got home, was a pristine, completely clean jacket, lacking the usual spots and dots of road grime picked up from the filthy, wet roads when riding amongst wheels with variable mudguard coverage.
Speaking of which, OGL wondered if anyone else had seen the “10 best winter bikes” feature on one of the inter-webby sites that cyclists are supposed to follow. Much to his amusement every other “winter” bike recommended had a carbon fibre frame and, more astonishingly, not a single one was shown with mudguards. Evidently these were designed for the South of France, not the harsh realities of a North East winter.
It was still decidedly chilly once we’d left the exotic micro-climate of the transport interchange centre bus station behind us, but, try as we might, we couldn’t find any ice and, all in all, if you got the protection right, it was a pleasant day for a ride.
G-Dawg was happy just to be able to wear his quilted and heavily insulated bike jacket again, something so warm, he reckons conditions only warrant its use just once or twice a year.
There were no Flat White adherents out with us and it wasn’t cold enough to impose UCI/Flat White extreme weather protocols, so we passed by the cafe at Kirkley Cycles with nothing more than a wistful glance and kept going.
At Whalton about 30km into the ride we called a halt to ponder our route options. This gave Bison a chance to spot the defibrillator inside an old-fashioned red phonebox and idly wonder if it could transmit a shock powerful enough to restore feeling to his toes.
OGL set course straight to the cafe, while the rest of us took on a loop to Bolam Lake, with Cowboys darting off the front as we took the hill out of the village.
“That’s a very early break for the cafe,” G-Dawg mused.
I assured him it was more likely just a desperate attempt to warm up, before I pushed up alongside Cowboys on the front.
At the lake, Zardoz decided it was still too early for us to head to the cafe, so we tacked on another few miles, before heading off for some much deserved coffee and cake.
Main topics of conversation at the Coffee stop:
Zardoz had been watching video of King Ted winning the Giro in 1974 and marvelled at the sheer grind and superhuman effort of climbing mountains with massive gears back in the day.
“Ah,” G-Dawg interjected, putting himself in the shoes of one of those prototypical hard-men racers, “Only 5 miles to the top of this mountain, so only another hour of this and then I can sit down again!”
OGL remembered the first time the cycling community were introduced to the compact, 34-tooth chainring that would allow almost anyone to spin up hills, rather than grunt, gurn and grind their way painfully upwards. The general consensus in the North East was that it would never catch on and it was really only for the most effete of poseurs.
“It didn’t help that they couldn’t work out whether it was supposed to go on the front, or the back of the bike.” G-Dawg quipped.
Talk of transgender cyclists, by way of Caster Semenya, led to G-Dawg realising he’d heard Pippa York on racing commentary, but had never actually seen her.
“You can still tell wee Bobby’s in there,” OGL said.
“Woah, that’s a bit personal,” Bison decided, “Anyway, you do know that size doesn’t matter, don’t you.”
Apparently it does though, as this led OGL and G-Dawg to recollect attending one of the Braveheart, Scottish Cycling dinners, alongside German track sprinter, the rather disproportionately shaped Robert Forstermann.
The 5’7″ tall Fostermann is renowned for having astonishing 34 inch thighs.
The chafing must be something awful and I argued he was the only person who could start a fire just by running down the street.
G-Dawg recalled the bizarre sight of stumbling into the Gents toilets only to find Robert Forsterman and a bunch of other pro-cyclists, lined up with their kecks around their ankles, comparing thigh girth.
OGL said that Forstermann had then appeared in a kilt, perhaps to more easily flash his famous thighs, possibly as a tribute to his hosts, or maybe because a visit to Scotland proved a eureka moment for a man for whom finding trousers that fit must be a real headache.
Talk of men in skirts and dresses reminded Zardoz of a Grayson Perry talk he’d recently heard. As well as being a ceramic artist of some repute, TV personality and cross-dresser, Perry is a keen mountain-biker who lauded the development of dropper seat posts, so he could choose to ride his bike in either cycling shoes, or wedges.
Zardoz reported that Perry has developed a whole routine about different cycling tribes, in which he suggests the term MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) is a bit of a misnomer and he thinks PUFFIN is far more accurate, or in Perry’s words, Piss Ugly Fat Feckers in Nylon.
82-year old Russ Mantle got a name check for becoming the first person in the UK to cycle one million miles – the equivalent of completing this year’s Tour de France route over 470 times. On average, the redoubtable Mr, Mantle reports riding around 15,000 miles every year and is looking forward to his next million miles.
With that as inspiration, we set out to pad our own, much more modest mileage totals and make our way home, deciding to stick to our usual route, although we suspected the lane through to Ogle would be flooded.
The good news was the lane was dry, the bad news was that Cowboys picked up a puncture. While OGL conducted an FNG Masterclass in puncture repair, we stood around and did what we do best, providing a running commentary, talked a load of bolleaux and mercilessly taking the piss.
On the repair front, things were going well, until OGL went to retrieve his pump from his bike and couldn’t detach it from the bottle cage.
“It’s not going to budge, do you think the hose is long enough to stretch from there?” I queried.
“If not, he’s going to have to bench-press the entire bike over his head 50 or 60 times to work the pump and get some air into the tyre,” G-Dawg suggested.
Luckily, the pump was finally released and could be applied in the more traditional manner. Bison watched on intently, admitting he wouldn’t have a clue how to change a tube, but then again, it didn’t matter anyway, because he never carried any spares!
I look forward to the certainty of his future induction into our Hall of Shame, reserved for those cyclists who find themselves stranded by the side of the road without the means and wherewithal to repair a simple mechanical problem.
Back up and running, on we went and it wasn’t long before G-Dawg was towing me through the Mad Mile and I could strike out for home. The fog had burned off by the time I was dropping back into the valley. Unfortunately, so had any reserves of energy I had left, I was running on fumes and starting to seriously bonk. I know this, because my mind became obsessively fixated on Mars bars, confectionery I would never even consider buying under normal circumstances.
Fighting the urge to succumb to sugary-sweetness almost as much as I fought dwindling energy resources and the gradient, I crawled with glacial slowness up the Heinous Hill and finally home, somehow without any detours to the local shops for sustenance. A victory of sorts.
YTD Totals: 6825 km / 4,240 miles with 89,241 metres of climbing
On with the rain jacket again, in the face of a chilly start and the forecast foretelling of persistent rain that never quite materialised.
The weather wasn’t dire enough to make a Flat White Ride a necessity instead of a luxury, but Taffy Steve had one organised regardless. He even pre-publicised it on the inter-web thingie, much to the confusion of our Dutch contingent, who read it and instantly became nostalgic for a club run, back in “Het Oude Land” – one totally devoid of any hills. They seemed horribly disappointed to learn a Flat White Ride had more to do with consuming hot beverages, than the topography of the route actually covered.
(Things were further confused by the Hammer misreading the post as promoting a Far Right Ride, leading to expectations that the run might end at the coast, where all “ferriners” would be forcibly ejected from the country.)
I suffered the first needless close pass of the day as I topped the final rise before a gradual descent down to the meeting place. Sadly, it wasn’t to be the last, which left me wondering if these things come in batches?
Despite this, I arrived safely and only a few minutes late, having been held up at a level crossing and then seemingly every single traffic light on my run in.
I joined the growing assembly of slightly damp cyclists under the dank eaves of the multi-storey car park.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Jimmy Mac was at pains to ensure everyone knew the great sacrifices he had made in order to plan and lead today’s run. He told us that had he known it would coincide with England’s Rugby World Cup semi-final, he would never have volunteered and he pleaded for sworn secrecy in the event that anyone was following the score live. I think he even considered confiscating everyone’s mobiles, before the practicality of riding around with jersey pockets stuffed with 20 odd phones struck home.
G-Dawg seemed unfazed by the prospect of hearing the result and confessed that he didn’t like the tension of watching games live. He preferred knowing the result before he sat down to watch a recording, rationalising he could then decide not to watch, if the team he was supporting had lost.
I wondered how this sat with his great love for the Sunderland football team and he ruefully admitted that, if he took this policy to its ultimate limit – and only watched when they won, he might never get to see them play ever again.
“I have a friend who’s a bit of an expert on rugby and he reckons 60/40 in favour of the All Blacks,” Crazy Legs proclaimed.
“He’s predicting a high scoring game then?” Biden Fecht apparently quipped cleverly, or so I found out when I tried out the exact same crack moments later. Sheesh, late to the party again. I was derided, ridiculed and sent to the back of the class.
Crazy Legs then spent some time wrestling with what I took to be a new Garmin device, which apparently had “gone dark” all of its own accord. I wondered, if perhaps it had been the threat of being confiscated by Jimmy Mac that had pushed it into going off grid.
Crazy Legs found that even peering at the dull display through his super-happy, sunny-yellow, sun specs didn’t help, even though said specs usually make him so happy he’ll spontaneously burst out singing his ultimate happy-smiley-song: “Best Day Ever” by a certain Mr. Spongebob Squarepants.
He wondered where our Garmin wizard, the Red Max was, reasoning he would be able to fix the display by pressing some arcane, ambidextrous combination of different buttons. I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the time the Red Max set my Garmin up and managed to sync it to his own heart rate monitor. Or what an eye-popping revelation that had been …
Meanwhile, Crazy Legs became distracted by a great universal imponderable…
“What is on the upper floors of this car park, anyway?” he wondered.
None of us had ever had reason to venture up, so we couldn’t help, but he determined he would route his next ride up and down the car park ramps on a brave voyage of discovery. I can’t help thinking there might even be a Strava KOM in it.
Despite the weather and competing attentions of a certain game of rugby, we were twenty-strong by the time we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, with two late arrivals, Buster and Spoons, bolstering our numbers with perfectly timed late arrivals.
I had a chat with TripleD-Bee, resigned to a hilly ride after all, but not appreciating the threat of rain. He confessed he’d rather be in bed, but TripleD-El had shamed him into coming out.
As a bit of a novelty, our route out traced the same roads we travel over on our return leg, which gave us a double-dip into the dangerous overtaking of drivers on Berwick Hill. It also put the cafe at Kirkley Cycles in striking distance of the Flat White Club, who were soon breaking away for their caffeine and cake fix.
We pushed along and, as we started to climb up to Dyke Neuk, I slipped off the front and drifted to the back, determined to take an extremely relaxed approach and safe in the knowledge we’d be stopping at the top.
As we briefly paused, we learned that Mini Miss had taken her new Liv for a bike fit, but hadn’t used it since and now it was safely tucked away for the winter.
Goose recounted how the only thing he got out of his £180 bike fit was a solitary 1mm plastic shim, to place between one shoe and cleat. G-Dawg reasoned it probably served no earthly purpose, but was simply a token gesture by the bike-fitter to justify his high-prices.
A brief discussion about the lottery of being excluded from the clubs official Facebook page could shed no light on the seemingly random and arbitrary bans issued to various, long-standing club members, so we pushed on, just as perplexed as ever.
We dropped down Curlicue Hill and then started the climb back through the Trench. Behind G-Dawg was discussing his fixie and being asked about the gearing he used.
“38-14.” G-Dawg affirmed.
“38-14,” Biden Fecht repeated, in a voice loud enough to carry to the front, where Jimmy Mac was toiling away relentlessly. He paused masterfully, before adding, “Was that the final score, then?”
Ooph! Cruel …
By the time we topped the Trench I was feeling as tired as I had last week. I don’t know why, but I’m just not “feeling it” at the moment and everything seems to be harder than it should.
Things aren’t being helped by my saddle, a relatively new Fabric Line, which I just can’t get away with and seems to be becoming increasingly uncomfortable the more I use it. After years of using the ever-reliable Charge Spoon saddle for a comfortable, budget friendly seat, the (revamped and re-named) company’s replacement, the Line is a sore disappointment (both literally and metaphorically) and likely to be discarded soon.
I was just gathering myself for a hurtful assault of Middleton Bank, when Mini Miss called out that she had a puncture. About half a dozen of us dropped back and got the tube changed without too much fuss. I did most of the heavy lifting, but left G-Dawg to the tricky cryogenics of freezing his fingers to the valve stem, as he deployed Mini Miss’ CO2 canister to quickly inflate the tyre.
With all impetus gone for our assault on Middleton Bank, we rode up it at a relatively comfortable pace and I was able to sit in the wheels until the final drag, where I eased back and let the cafe sprint unfold, participating purely as a spectator.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
There was a lot of adult talk at the table about skiing and different types of snow and chalet’s and resorts and … err, prostitutes, if I was following the conversation correctly. (To be fair, I probably wasn’t.)
Skiing sounds like great fun, but, you know, old dog/new tricks and all that. A combination of age, brittle bones, rickety knees and penury, combined with the opportunity cost of going on holiday somewhere cold instead of somewhere warm, means I’m very unlikely to ever give it a go.
New kid Sid brought me the news that Peter Sagan had agreed to ride the 2020 Giro d’Italia. He then entertained me with a series of photos of Sagan possessively cuddling the Trofeo Senza Fine, while Richard Carapaz looked on, wearing the kind of expression you’d find on a possessive and insecure husband watching a charismatic stranger pawing at his younger wife.
On the way home I dropped in alongside Carlton, who had recently joined a running club, but found the experience rather disconcerting, as no one there shouts at him and everyone seems to rub along without too much hysteria or fuss.
He suggested we were all mature, smart and phlegmatic, Brits (or Dutch), who didn’t need to over-dramatise the most innocuous of incidents and make mountains out of molehills.
As we set of along the lane to Berwick Hill a silver 4×4 swept past in the opposite direction, pointedly too fast and both deliberately and dangerously much too close. That’s what I would typically call a punishment pass, although punishment for what exactly I really don’t know.
He came within millimetres of Goose, whose taken to his steel touring behemoth for the winter, with all the antlers, prongs, pannier racks and cages. Luckily for Goose he was deeply engaged in conversation and the danger he was in didn’t really register until the car screamed past, at which point his eyebrows shot away to cower under his helmet.
Luckily for the driver, he didn’t come closer and tangle with the steel behemoth – it might have been an uneven challenge that he couldn’t possibly lose, but the steel behemoth was likely to inflict considerable damage on his shiny vehicle as it went down fighting.
A bit further along and we had another close call, as the driver of a small hatchback tried to squeeze past in too little space.
“Bloody hell, he’s a cyclist too – he has a bike in the back!” Biden Fecht complained, in a mixture of incomprehension and indignation .
“That’s probably from the last cyclist he hit,” I countered, “Like a serial-killer, he’s collecting trophies.”
Outlandish as this claim was, it was actually a more palatable explanation than “one of our own” going rogue and driving like an arse-hat, with no consideration for fellow cyclists and other road users.
A bit further on and young Sid took a sudden and unsignalled dart into a lay-by, causing a mass application of brakes and a dozen voices crying out “Whoa!” in perfect unison, before pressure was applied to pedals once more and on we whirred.
A fairly phlegmatic and undramatic response to a dodgy manoeuvre. I hoped Carlton didn’t feel too discomfited by our lack of hysteria and hyperbole-inflected ranting…
YTD Totals: 6,644 km / 4,128 miles with 87,130 metres of climbing
Scattered light showers. That’s what the forecast predicted, clearing from 11.00 clock onward, before returning later in the evening. This was an improvement on the previous day’s forecast, which basically suggested wall-to-wall rain from dawn ’til dusk. As I looked out, first thing Saturday morning, the rain indeed, seemed to have cleared, the roads were wet, but there wasn’t much surface water lying around. I’d fully-prepped the Peugeot the night before, but now it didn’t look like its full mudguards would be needed. A bit of a gamble, but if you gamble enough, sooner or later you have to win … don’t you?
On the valley floor, I tracked and then caught up with a fellow cyclist as he stopped at the traffic lights just before Blaydon. If I’d accidentally misplaced caution, he must have given it a right good kicking, before recklessly abandoning it, shocked and bleeding, by the side of the road. Yes, I was on the good bike with no mudguards, but I had on knee warmers, overshoes, a winter jacket under a waterproof, a cap and gloves. My fellow rider was wearing a white, short-sleeved BMC jersey with world championship bands, track mitts, shorts and little else.
I told him I admired his optimism, while wondering if he knew something about the weather that I’d missed.
All was going well and I was beginning to think I was a mite overdressed when, within a mile of the meeting place, the rain started. It would then stay with us pretty much as a constant for the rest of the day, with only the briefest of interludes (ironically, when we were all sitting warm and dry in the cafe).
Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:
I pulled into the meeting place, which had shuffled off the pavement and over into the bottom of the dim, dank, dreary, dismal (but dry) multi-storey car park to wait and see who else thought this was the perfect weather for a club run.
Taffy Steve, having ridden in from the coast, confirmed we were facing wall-to-wall rain, with no possibility of a break in the weather. He’d had the foresight to not only prep his winter bike, but actually use it too, although I think in part this was due to having a new toy to play with. Gone, banished without hope of redemption, is the thrice-cursed winter bike and in its place is a bright and shiny and neat, Blessèd Beneficent Boardman.
OGL was heading off to watch Round 4 of The Tour Series, in Durham later in the day and offered a lift to anyone who wanted to tag along. We all agreed that a fast, city centre circuit on the tight, cobbled and steep inclines of Durham would be lethal enough, without multiplying the danger with a sprinkling rain to turn the surfaces greasy.
G-Dawg knew of one particular corner, where he felt certain everyone would congregate in anticipation of a crash-fest and thought you’d have to be there ridiculously early to grab such a good perch.
OGL wondered if our ex-clubmate, young tyro beZ would be riding for the Ribble Pro Cycling Team and, given the potential dangers of the course, actually hoped he wasn’t. I was momentarily left speechless by this uncharacteristic show of concern and empathy for another human being.
As our numbers slowly built up, The Silence appeared out of the gloom to lour over us, with no acknowledgement, or word of greeting.
Oh, hi there…
OGL suggested banishing anyone without mudguards to the back, before realising that would mean an extra long, hard day on the front for just him and Taffy Steve.
“Don’t worry, it’s dry rain,” G-Dawg assured us.
There was only time for the Garrulous Kid’s highly considered and informed opinion that “Caleb Ewan is not a sprinter” and then we could delay no longer and pushed out and into the rain.
For the first part I found myself riding alongside Taffy Steve and discussing (I know not why) “the parmo” a culinary delicacy on Teesside. It was described, by no less an authority than the Guardian, as the “‘delinquent nephew of veal Parmigiana.” I can only assume they meant off-the-rails raging delinquent, wild and feral and unpleasant.
My extensive research reveals that the typical parmo, consists of flattened chicken breast, covered in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried until crisp. It’s finished off with thick layers of béchamel sauce and melted Cheddar, before the option of topping with pepperoni, bacon, more cheese, and ladles of creamy garlic sauce. Traditionally served with a bucket of chips, the typical parmo is said to contain over 2,000 calories and has been branded as “monstrous” by an anti-obesity campaigner.
While wondering about the etymology of the word “parmo” I told Taffy Steve about my youngest daughter, Thing#2 being out with friends in a restaurant and one of them reading a menu in puzzlement, before asking:
“What’s ‘man get out?'”
“Eh, what’s that? Let me see … oh, yeah, man get out. No idea.”
Luckily one of her more erudite friends turned up before they made fools of themselves asking the staff. “It’s mangetout, you blithering idiots!”
This led Taffy Steve to recall the launch of a Susan Boyle album promoted under the hashtag #Susanalbumparty. We couldn’t decide if this was the work of pure, unalloyed, evil genius or just lucky happenstance, but we both agreed neither of us were remotely interested in Su’s anal bum party.
I spent most of the day trying to ride slightly offset from the wheel in front to avoid as much spray as possible – it didn’t seem to make much difference whether the wheel ahead was covered by a mudguard or not. Water, water flying everywhere, there was no avoiding it. I was soon soaked through.
I had a chat with one of our new(ish) Irish guys, Wilf – the Irish seem to be forming as strong a cabal in the club as the Dutch at the moment. I wondered if the conditions were making him homesick.
“At least it’s warm rain,” he suggested, a nice positive spin on things. Notice how he didn’t try to convince me it was dry rain, like the dastardly G-Dawg.
I took a turn on the front alongside Biden Fecht, through Stamfordham, where we split into different groups for different routes, before pushing across the Military Road, past the reservoir and calling a brief halt for further splits. There were quite a few fishermen out today, but they looked thoroughly miserable.
On we went again, climbing up through the plantations and making our way to Matfen and from there to the Quarry. At the top of the Quarry I pushed onto the front alongside Wilf and we made a run at the cafe.
I helped drag the group up and through the crossroads, ceding the lead through the hairpins, before hitting the front again for the final drag to the road that leads down toward the Snake Bends. Once through the junction, I straightened up and tried to keep the pace high as a launchpad for anyone wanting to sprint.
Taffy Steve burned through, testing out his Blessèd Beneficent Boardman, but a rocket-fuelled Biden Fecht followed in his slipstream and was able to slingshot around the outside and romp clear.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
It was bin bags all around at the cafe, to protect the chairs from some very wet cyclists’ posteriors. Well, all round apart from the Monkey Butler Boy who confessed he hadn’t bothered asking for one.
“That’s because you’re uncouth,” I told him, “whereas I’m the opposite and totally couth.” He looked quizzically at me, but said nothing.
Speaking of uncouth, Szell sat down, grasped his scone and flexed his fingers around it, as if preparing to rip it in two.
“Ooph, you’re an animal, ” I told him, “Are you really going to tear that poor, defenceless scone apart with just your bare hands?”
He paused reflectively, remembering he was a cyclist with all the upper body strength of a wet moth. “Nah, better not, I’ll probably end up with De Quervain tendinitis.”
Outside the rain had temporarily stopped and I even noticed a group of brave cyclists taking a rare opportunity to sit out in the garden.It wouldn’t last.
The Monkey Butler Boy complained that he’d been on a college trip to Middlesborough and been charged £5 for a croissant. We would have sympathised, but what did he expect, croissants and other delicate pastries are probably seen as rather effete and exotic on Teesside, beside, who’d want a feeble, foreign bread roll with a stupid name, when you could get a mighty parmo for far less?
Taffy Steve commended the Monkey Butler Boy for his perfectly framed and composed family mugshot on Facebook, taken from their recent holiday in Italy. He said the whole group looked happy, tranquil and relaxed, but he wished he’d been there for the five minutes before the picture was taken so he could enjoy all the bickering, slapstick mayhem and disgruntlement that he was certain preceded it.
The Monkey Butler Boy admitted it had been a somewhat fraught and fractious affair, before launching off into a tirade about the angle of the sun in the shots being all wrong. Evidently, it still rankled even now.
We then got an unfettered glimpse into life in the Red Max household, learning the Monkey Butler Boy had accepted the challenge of washing the family car for £5 and then been charged £1 for the shampoo, £1.50 for the water and £2.50 for the loan of a bucket.
After that , he’d been enlisted to help out as the Red Max drilled through a thick slab of hardwood during some insane DIY project. Loosening the drill bit and letting it slide out and drop to the ground, the Red Max had picked it up by the non-business end and lobbed it nonchalantly toward the Monkey Butler Boy …
“Hold that for a minute.”
Deftly catching the drill bit, the Monkey Butler Boy had instantly felt the burn of hot metal on skin, swore loudly and instinctively hurled the offending object away from him, only to get a rebuke for disrespecting his dad’s tools.
In contrast, the Garrulous Kids confession of, “I once hit my fum with a hammer” seemed rather tame and uninteresting.
By the time we left the cafe, the rain had returned and looked like it had settled in for the long term, while the temperature seemed to keep bumping its way incrementally downwards. I decided to cut my losses and bailed from the group early, to loop around the other side of the airport and shave a few miles off my journey.
Even with this short-cut I still racked up 70 miles, most of them in a wet and pretty miserable conditions. Perversely though, it was a good ride.
I got home in time to watch Caleb Ewan handily winning Stage 8 of the Giro d’Italia, in what looked to be a sprint finish where he easily beat lots of top sprinters.
Yeah, not a sprinter.
YTD Totals: 3,244 km / 2,018 miles with 42,066 metres of climbing
No surprises certainly, as yet again we are treated to an unseasonably chill, generally dull and cloudy day, with an increasing threat of rain showers the longer we stay out.
Still, there was no delay, drama or diversion on the first leg of my journey and I found myself rolling into the meeting point in good time and in good order.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I found G-Dawg alone once more, without the Colossus, who seems to have fallen out of love with his road bike following one too many altercations with psychotic drivers. Or, as G-Dawg phlegmatically determined, “He’s gone and done a Kittel.” Now the Colossus was heading out for peaceful, quiet and, most importantly, car-free trails on his mountainbike instead.
Not only was one part of our well-established dynamic duo missing, but one part of our latest dynamic duo was missing too, with Distaff Double Dutch away in Canada, so Double Dutch Dude was out on his own.
Speaking of dynamic duo’s, Crazy Legs had dared to venture out on his much-cossetted Ribble, defying both tradition and the auguries that suggested that, sooner or later, we were bound to encounter some rain today. This was a real sign of increasing desperation and frustration, with Crazy Legs acknowledging he’d never made it into May before without having at least one opportunity to ride his best bike.
Sneaky Pete had been listening to an interview with poet, Simon Armitage, (I can’t say I’m familiar with any of his work, but any who would describe Tom McRae as “one of our greatest living songwriters” can’t be all that bad). Apparently, part of the remuneration Armitage will receive for being the new poet laureate is a “butt of Canary wine” which, as an aside, apparently translates to 720 bottles of sherry.
Sneaky Pete wondered what would be adequate remuneration for our in-house, club blergger in general, Sur La Jante.
“A beaker of battery acid?” I suggested. It seemed appropriate.
Benedict briefed in the route which included the Mur de Mitford and then a slightly less-travelled route to the Trench, avoiding Pigdon. Numbers were bolstered by an unexpected group of Ee-Em-Cee riders; ex-club members, or those who had second-claim membership status with us, so we split into two, and away we went.
I started the day on the front with the Garrulous Kid, chatting about the sad loss to the peloton of Marcel Kittel (and, far more importantly, the sad loss to the peloton of Marcel Kittel’s hair) the Giro and the various sprinters who were likely to dominate the next week or so. The race is so loaded with mountains in the third week, I can’t help thinking not many of these gentlemen will make it all the way to the finish in Verona.
We held the front for the first 15km or so, passing apparent, occasional club member, The Silence (he blanked us) as we rode the Cheese Farm and up Bell’s Hill, before peeling away and inviting the next pair through. I dropped back through the group and was still there sometime later, as we scrambled up the Mur de Mitford. I was then in pole position to watch as a very animated Goose, deeply engaged in conversation, led us straight past the turn we were supposed to take to loop around Pigdon. (Not that I would have realised, if G-Dawg hadn’t pointed it out.)
Oh well, we weren’t going to be using that particular wrinkle to our route today.
Someone called a rest break and we pulled into the junction that led up to Curlicue Hill. Once again the Garrulous Kid was disappointed with the toilet facilities, even when Caracol invited him to step into the field of head-high, painfully yellow, almost buzzing, rapeseed. I encouraged him to adopt a Theresa May persona and go skipping through the fields with gay abandon. He wasn’t interested.
Off we went again, working our way to the bottom of the Trench which we seemed to ascend effortlessly, en masse and as one compact group. We took the dip and swoop through Hartburn and then the turn to Angerton, avoiding Middleton Bank.
Around Bolam Lake the pace picked up, increasing all the way until we hit Milestone Woods, where there seemed to be a slight lull and a bit of hesitation – relatively speaking of course, we were still thundering along at over 25 mph. I was on the outside, surfing a few wheels back from the front, there was space to pass and we were approaching the foot of the rollers. It looked like an open door … how could I possibly resist kicking at it?
I accelerated down the outside and off the front as the first slope bit. I’ve no idea if I had a gap, provoked a response, or caused anyone to be shelled out the back, I just kept going, over the second and third bump without looking back. Unfortunately, there was no tractor waiting to pace me this week, as I tipped down the other side and pushed on.
As the road started to climb again, a tight knot of riders burned past, followed by a long tail in one’s and two’s, as I slipped form first to last place, trying to recover. As the road kicked around the bend and onto the final drag, I managed to accelerate and then it was just a case of seeing how many back-markers I could catch and pass before I ran out of road.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Somewhat surprisingly, it was just about warm enough to tempt us to sit out in the garden. We just had to get there. This proved a breeze for G-Dawg and me, but we were followed out by the Garrulous Kid, who seemed to be really struggling to walk and balance a tray at the same time.Luckily, he didn’t have any gum to chew.
He emerged from the doorway and took his first, tiny, tentative baby step toward us, tray in a white-knuckled, double-handed death grip as he tried, largely unsuccessfully, not to spill coffee over everything. G-Dawg looked down at his plate, speared a chunk of his ham and egg pie on his fork and started chewing thoughtfully. He looked up again …
The Garrulous kid was creeping toward us with all the speed of an approaching Ice Age.
“Have you actually moved?” G-Dawg asked, before returning for another bite of pie.
“Actually, is he not going backwards?” he asked when once again he checked on the Garrulous Kid’s progress.
Finally, after a tortuous, extended period of tottering, stiff-legged steps, that made him resemble a stilt-walker who’d crapped their pants, the Garrulous Kid made it to the table and plonked down a tray awash with coffee.
In direct contrast and moments later Goose swept through the cafe door, tray balanced expertly on the splayed fingertips of one extended hand as he sashayed nimbly around a group of departing cyclists, stepped around a pile of abandoned bikes and strode quickly and purposefully to the table. There, he spun the tray fully through 180 degrees and deposited it, with a flourish on the table.
I commended him on his very stylish, professional busboy technique.
“Yeah, but I spilled coffee everywhere…”
Despite having promised to set the world to rights, deride the current running of the club and speak out as a representative for all the poor, oppressed yoofs, the Garrulous Kid had remained meekly silent and quiescent during a recent club meeting.
We determined that he was either an “all mouth and trousers,” blustering, braggart, or an agent provocateur, working directly for OGL and tasked with sowing discord, while encouraging dissidents to implicate themselves.
“Hold up,” Caracol challenged, “Are you wearing a wire?”
This, we decided was probably why the Garrulous Kid was so particular in finding a pee place where he couldn’t be overlooked and his duplicitous double-dealing discovered. And here I was thinking it was just because of some hideous deformity he was trying to hide.
We learned that the morning’s influx of Ee-Em-Cee riders was prompted by large portions of their club being away on holiday/training camp in Majorca, leaving only a smattering of riders behind. These had been either too few, or otherwise disinclined to form their own club run, so we had been a welcome refuge.
Goose was interested in how far and how fast their typical club runs were (it goes without saying that they were obviously much longer, faster and much, much harder than ours). One of them gave Goose typical distances and average speeds in miles per hour.
“These, what is it … Imperial measurements you call them?” he continued, “We always refer to them as retard units.“
He then started to ask a number of very awkward questions – how many ounces are there in a pound? How many pounds in a stone? How many inches in a foot? Feet in a yard? Yards in a mile? How many pints in a quart? How many quarts in a gallon?*
(Unfortunately, he didn’t ask how many bottles of sherry there were in a butt, I knew that one.)
We knew some, we guessed others, we argued over a few more. It was enough to prove his point. Imperial measurements are now wholly devoid of ryhme, reason, or logic, they are arcane, unguessable and unusable.
[* 16, 14, 12, 3, 1760, 2, 4 and 72, respectively. I think]
“Every child in Holland knows there’s 100 centimetres in a metre and 1,000 grams in a kilogram,” The implication was clear: Imperial = retarded. QED.
The Monkey Butler Boy distracted us, talking about a hand-built set of carbon wheels made by the Walker Brothers.
“The Walker Brothers?” I queried, immediately thinking to myself that the sun ain’t gonna shine anymore and regretting that Crazy Legs was absent, otherwise we might have had a little sing-along.
“Yeah, the Walker Brothers,” the Monkey Butler Boy replied, completely oblivious to what I was hinting at, or why I found the name so amusing.
“He doesn’t get the reference,” G-Dawg let me down gently. Oh well, I don’t know why I was surprised, after all this was the same Monkey Butler Boy who excused his ignorance of Oscar Wilde (“never heard of the feller”) by reminding me he was “only young, so wasn’t around in the 1980’s.”
There was some gentle ribbing of the Monkey Butler Boy for wearing Velotoze time-trial socks on a club run. Apparently, they can save him up to 3 seconds on a 10-mile time trial, but take him 15 minutes of sweating and straining effort to pull on.
Life’s too short.
Then, there was just time for the Garrulous Kid to badly fail the most basic, Bike Knowledge 101, (being unable to identify where his jockey wheels were located) and we were packing up to go.
I was chatting with Goose as we approached the bottom of Berwick Hill, when the Monkey Butler Boy surged off the front. I immediately dropped onto his wheel and was sitting there trying to look calm and composed when he looked around to see how big a gap he’d opened up. He swung away and I took over the pace-making on the front, dragging everyone up and over the crest.
The rain had obviously swept through here moments before and the road ahead was soaking wet and still sheeted in water. In seconds my socks were soaked and had gone from pristine white, to grimy grey.
“Ha! bet you wish you had Velotoze on now,” the Monkey Butler Boy crowed.
“Still,” he continued, “It could be a lot worse, at least we’re on the front.”
He was right, we were safely out of the spray being kicked up by everyone’s wheels, we just had to stay there. We did, by keeping the pace high enough to discourage anyone else from coming through, as we drove to the bottom of the hill, up through Dinnington, past the airport and finally down into the Mad Mile.
It could also have been worse if we’d been in the second group on the road, who said they took a real battering from rain and hail as they passed through Ogle. This was a rain storm we were happy to have missed. I’ve yet to find out if Crazy Legs’ much cossetted Ribble will ever forgive him for this ultimate of betrayals.
At the end of the Mad Mile, I swung off and away for home, with the sun occasionally breaking through and the roads starting to dry out. My clothes followed suit, so I was bone dry by the time I hauled ass up the Heinous Hill, though my socks remained a grainy, grungy, grimy grey and may have to be abandoned. Do you think I need Velotoze?
YTD Totals: 3,075 km / 1,911 miles with 40,367 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 110 km / 69 miles with 1,139 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 11 minute
Average Speed: 26.4 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Passable
I passed a small cluster of cyclists who were meeting up at the traffic lights leading down to the river, less than three miles or so into my journey. It did make me ponder why I was riding a further 7-8 miles to meet up with the usual gang of reprobates, when there were obviously perfectly pleasant, companionable cyclists and clubs much closer to home.
Still at least there are possibilities if we ever attempt a palace coup that fails…
Once again I found myself arriving at the meeting point early, despite leaving at more or less the same time and following the same route. I seem to be getting faster, but it’s probably not worth making adjustments, the switch to the winter bike will soon fettle that.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:
Forget about the melting polar ice caps, receding glaciers and spiralling average temperatures. Forget about the increasing incidence of extreme and violent weather, rising sea levels and the carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere. If you want incontrovertible proof that global warming is an actual, real phenomenon, then that evidence was proudly on display this Saturday morning – we’re well into September and yet the first cyclist to join me at our meeting place was Szell, someone who we’d expect to be deep into his hibernation cycle at this time of the year.
And yet, here he was, blinking in the milky autumn light and questioning whether he had made the right clothing choices to cope with the variable temperatures.
I told him that this conundrum was all too common and no one had the right answer – even the most hardened, experienced, all-weather, all-year round, veteran cyclists wasted long minutes every day pondering what clothing layers and accessories to wear and deciding what could be easily pulled on and taken off at a moment’s notice. And, I assured him, they still, invariably got it wrong.
The Garrulous Kid was back and announced he’d had a great holiday in Florida.
“Florida is horrider, than Whitley Bay,” Szell intoned.
“There’s no McEwan’s Best Scotch in the USA,” I followed up with the next line in a creaky TV ad campaign from the distant, hazy annals of our youth.
Florida? Nice Place, Shame about the Beer.
We had a laugh at the conceit behind labelling McEwan’s Best Scotch, a mass-produced, fizzy, bland and utterly un-noteworthy, generic beer as the “one you had to come back for.”
Szell seemed to remember a whole series of these ads, but the only other one that I could recall was the Russian one:
“Red Square’s dead square, we know that for a fact,
No McEwans’s Best Scotch in the Warsaw Pact
They’ve just got propaganda, not proper Geordie brew,
They asked about Marx? Well …one out of ten for you.”
I had to admit, I much preferred the much simpler, smarter Newcastle Brown Ale posters in (probably) indecipherable Geordie, the only one of which I still recall said simply:
G-Dawg outlined the route for the day, including a raid down into the Tyne Valley and, with another good turnout of 28 riders, we split into two groups that, somewhat surprisingly, turned out to be more or less equal.
Well … ish.
I rolled onto the front of the first group alongside Caracol and we pushed out, safely traversed the deadly and treacherous Broadway West and then we were away.
I spent the first few miles chatting about the Vuelta and, in particular, Simon Yates distinct lack of media training and polish. This, I felt was a refreshing change from the corporate blandness of Sky, even if it did leave to some rather terse and uncomfortable interviews.
Caracol was fully sympathetic and wondered how any normal person would cope with being asked the same inane questions, over and over, in French, English and Spanish and maybe half a dozen other languages beside.
Interviewer: “What went wrong at the Giro.”
Simon Yates: “I don’t know what went wrong at the Giro.”
Interviewer: “Will what happened at the Giro happen here to?”
Simon Yates: “I don’t know if what happened at the Giro will happen here to.”
G-Dawg’s route included a new wrinkle that took us up Birney Hill, a narrow country lane, seemingly frequented by only the most considerate and polite of drivers. As the third of these in quick succession pulled over to the side and stopped to let us through, the Red Max somewhat ruined my impression of the denizens of the area by nodding at all the parked-up cars and muttering cynically, “It’s a bit early for dogging, isn’t it?”
Back onto more familiar roads, we had a third incident with a biker in as many weeks. Does this mark a new departure in the conflict between motorist and cyclist? Have all bikers now been seduced by the dark side and the four-wheeled forces of oppression? Or, is it perhaps the same biker who has a very particular grudge against this club and has been stalking us for the past 3 weeks, just so he can vent?
This particular biker slowed, mid-overtake, to ride alongside Crazy Legs and loudly declare, “Mare allah bunda munts!”
“Pardon me?” Crazy Legs, enquired politely.
“Mare allah bunda munts!” the biker repeated, but just as unintelligibly as the first time.
“What?” Crazy Legs shook his head, acting perplexed.
“Mare. Allah. Bunda. Munts!” the biker shouted, trying to enunciate each word carefully through the constricting confines of his helmet.
“Eh?” Crazy Legs responded, smiling at the biker in a manner he hoped would encourage further elucidation.
By now it was obvious that the biker wasn’t trying to convey a friendly greeting, but this comedic interchange had robbed his intended invective of any sting.
Even better, having paused mid-overtake to berate us for holding up the traffic, he was now getting serious grief from the cars behind that couldn’t get past him. Perhaps it finally dawned on him just how foolish he looked, and our new biker friend gave up and roared off. Maybe he’s planning to give it another go next week?
I found myself riding alongside the Monkey Butler Boy, who’d finally determined the osymetric chain-ring he’d invested all his hard earned currency in was, to quote the Red Max’s expert opinion, “utter crap.”
He’d since bitten the bullet and reverted back to more traditional style chain ring, but was bemoaning the fact that he’d having also switched from a 36 to a 39, the ratios were all wrong and he was struggling to get used to the change. It was also a ready-made excuse if he started to struggle on the hills. (Just saying).
Down into the Tyne valley we went, skirting the river for a while and rolling straight through our usual re-grouping point at Bywell Bridge, determining in conversation with the Red Max that our pace probably meant the second group were well adrift and it would be an overly prolonged wait.
So, we kept going and almost immediately started the scrabble to climb back out the valley. We were soon splintered and strung up and own down the road, but stopped to regroup after threading our way across the 4-thundering lanes of A69 traffic. This was safely achieved with a lot of patience, a couple of sharp kamikaze dashes and the use of a handily placed median strip, where we could temporarily kneel in prayer and claim sanctuary.
Once across the dual carriageway, there was yet more climbing to be done before the road would level and lead us on toward Matfen. On the climb the Garrulous Kid became detached, allegedly distracted while trying to inhale a Snickers bar whole. Then the Monkey Butler Boy lost contact, still trying to come to grips with his new and completely alien gear-ratios.
The other stragglers may have had their excuses too, but if they did they were more stoical and refused to acknowledge them.
We regrouped once again and then pushed on toward Matfen and from there to the Quarry. The pace started to pick up and a handful went off the front as we made the turn for the climb.
I rounded the corner and dropped back to make sure we collected any stragglers before pushing on. As I rolled back up to speed I encountered a happy, freewheeling Crazy Legs engaged in a bit of Rick Rolling, booling along and merrily engaged in an energetic rendition of Never Gonna Give You Up…
The front runners had long disappeared when our group made it to the top of the Quarry, to the accompaniment of Mr. Astley’s finest only moment. Here we swung right and started our final run to the café.
As the road straightened, the Monkey Butler Boy was the first to attack surging off the front and opening a short-lived lead, before the inevitable response reeled him in.
Richard of Flanders and the Red Max tried next, each attacking in turn, but on the long drag up toward the crossroads their speed and advantage quickly bled away. Caracol caught and drove past them, I dropped onto his wheel and as we darted through the crossroads, he looked back and saw we’d opened up a sizeable gap.
“Looks like it’s just me and you,” he declared … and so it was, as we hammered down through the curves, swept through the junction and ground our way up the last few ramps.
As we swung onto the road down toward the Snake Bends, Caracol was questioning the wisdom of the Monkey Butler Boy’s premature attack that had lit the blue touch-paper and set everything off.
He was, I suggested, simply a hostage to genetic imperative and couldn’t help uphold the family traditions of attacking early and quite forlornly.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
At the café, the Red Max played us all expertly, suggesting it was still warm enough to sit outside and then, after we had all dutifully trooped out to the garden, taking his pick of chairs inside.
Despite the deception he wasn’t wrong, it was perfectly pleasant outside and the bothersome wasps were fewer in number and not quite as aggressive as they had been last week.
We settled down for a “3-mugger” and a classic spot of blather and bullshit …
It started when the Garrulous Kid wandered past, digging in his back pockets and dislodging an empty Snickers wrapper that spiralled slowly down to the ground.
“I do like a Snickers,” Zardoz commented, “It’s been shown to have the perfect, irresistible ratio between sugar and fat content”
“Ah, a sort of golden ratio. I thought that was the ring donut?” I countered, obviously having heard somewhere that the perfect ratio between sugar and fat was to be found in ring donuts.
“Those as well.” Zardoz affirmed, “But for your 70p, a Snickers bar will give you the highest calorific content and the perfect ratio. It’s the peanuts.”
“What? Wait, 70p! I remember when they used to be only 20p. And a lot bigger too.”
“Yeah, yeah and they used to be called a Marathon.” Zardoz was only slightly sympathetic.
“Exactly, it was named after the most recent tussle between them Persians and Greeks.”
“It’s all ancient history now, old boy.” Zardoz observed dryly.
We were joined by G-Dawg, the Colossus and Taffy Steve, having just led the second group in, and talk turned to various cycling commentators. We wondered how Sean Kelly and his indecipherable accent had ever been seen as a prime candidate to be the expert voice of Eurosport.
Although thankfully he’s grown into this role, Richard of Flanders still recalled a memorable, early radio interview with Kelly when he had to be constantly reminded that listeners couldn’t actually see him nodding away or shaking his head, no matter how vigorously he did this.
From there it was just a hop, step and jump (luckily bypassing the even more puzzling choice of Jonathan Edwards as a cycling presenter) en route to talk about how the rather odious sounding Brian Clough had publicly humiliated Peter Shilton on national TV for a standard, run-of-the-mill, goal-keeping blunder.
Speaking of inappropriate job choices, Richard of Flanders recalled Peter Shilton had then moved into management with Plymouth Argyle, or some other remote (well, to us, anyway) team, where he didn’t seem to have a clue and constantly demanded his players do push-ups as punishment for minor infractions.
This, I suggested was exactly the kind of thing our club was missing and I moved that push-ups for any kind of infraction be immediately added to the club rule book.
Ah, the club rule book. Did such a mythical creation even exist?
We imagined it as a massive tome, bound in ancient, flayed skin of indeterminate origin, covered in arcane motifs and sigils and sealed with a massive, black iron hasp and padlock.
If allowed access to its hallowed content, the yellowed parchment pages would crackle dryly as you opened it up, each section headed with massive illuminated letters and consisting solely of a series of dire instructions: “Though shalt” and “Though shalt not’s.”
G-Dawg felt the tome would be hidden within a secret chamber, the fuhrer bunker, buried deep beneath OGL’s house.
“Guarded by traps, trip-wires and a giant boulder,” Taffy Steve imagined.
“Poison darts and snakes,” I added.
“And even if you find it, you’ll still have to fight the ghost of Pat Roach for it, somewhere along the line,” Taffy Steve concluded, while Richard of Flanders looked on in bewildered incomprehension.
Talk of old football legends, brought up talk of old football stadiums, with Richard of Flanders, on safer ground now, wondering if anyone could recall going to the toilets at old Ayresome Park.
As I remember the stadium itself was like one big toilet, so my imagination failed when it came to picturing what the actual toilets within it could be like.
“Just a long, blank wall with a gutter at the bottom,” according to Richard of Flanders.
“And no drains,” G-Dawg stated.
“Apparently, you’ve never experienced Liverpool until you’ve felt the Kop warm leg welcome.” Sneaky Pete relayed and then there were numerous stories about football spectating in the good old days, terraces awash with urine, pitches showing more mud than grass and leather case balls that would dislocate your neck if you tried to head them when they got sodden and heavy.
Oh, and the ever present threat of violence.
Back talking about a slightly more civilized sport, everyone wanted to know why Szell was still riding, even though it was already September. We wondered if he’d even keep going right up until the Club Hill Climb and if he might perhaps participate?
Szell revealed he’d ridden it once before in the dim and distant past and had no desire to revisit that particular form of intense self-flagellation, a view much supported by Taffy Steve.
“You could always come along and push people off,” a well-meaning, Richard of Flanders suggested, but off course we took his suggestion the wrong way.
“Like, hide in the bushes half way up and leap out at unsuspecting riders?” the Colossus wondered, imagining a Takeshi’s Castle style contest, with a ninja-style, anti-cyclist who would suddenly appear and push each rider over as they strained upwards.
As if a hill climb isn’t already hard enough.
The Colossus suggested he was facing a near impossible task with the hill climb and couldn’t better his first ever time, just back from uni, when he was younger, fitter and most importantly, much lighter. Now, getting older and heavier, his chances of a new personal best time were receding, despite the vagaries and inconsistencies in OGL’s official time-keeping.
Someone countered that weight followed a typical bell-curve through age and there would be a point where you could expect to start getting lighter again.
“Great,” I suggested, “Another 17 years and I might be at my optimum for the hill climb.”
Of course at that age, all dry sinew and skeleton, there’s a good chance that you would simply snap attempting a hill climb.
We speculated about our assailant, potty-mouthed motorbiker and G-Dawg concluded he must surely know us as he had correctly identified that we were a bunda munts. Perhaps, he suggested, it was a disgruntled, ex-club member – although that would be casting the net ridiculously wide and would in no way help us narrow down the biker’s identity.
I then learned that Canyon were a German bike brand (I didn’t know, but can’t say I’d given it much thought) and could also be considered when the Garrulous Kid looks to replace his Focus and insists that only precision and world-renowned Teutonic engineering will suffice. So, from our count he can choose, Canyon, Focus, Rose, Cube or Stork. Not a bad line up.
Speaking of German bikes, we learned that the Garrulous Kid was on his winter bike because he “broke his tyres.” (The tyres were obviously not engineered in Germany.)
He seemed rather nonplussed when Taffy Steve suggested he could have just swapped over the wheels.
“They’re too heavy.”
“But they’d still be better on your Focus than on your winter bike.”
“I hate my winter bike,” the Garrulous Kid declared.
“Yes,” Taffy Steve affirmed, “That’s the point.”
Off we went and I found myself riding alongside the BFG. He’s taking his newly achieved granddad status very, very seriously and has been regularly riding out with the new grand kid perched on a seat fixed to the front of his bike.
Unfortunately, all he can see when he’s riding is the back of the kid’s head, so it’s always a shock when he gets home and sees the snot-encrusted mask that the wind and speed has dragged out and dried like cement across the kids face.
Even worse, he got home one time to find the kid had somehow eviscerated his helmet, the hollow shell sitting on the back of his head, while the disengaged padding was wrapped tightly around his face.
I suggested this was probably a defence mechanism and the kid was so terrified he had pulled the helmet lining down to cover his eyes, like a condemned man before a firing squad.
The BFG was having none of this though, insisting he knew the kid had been smiling all the way around because of the flies stuck to his teeth.
A turn on the front, through Dinnington to the turn-off, was my last major effort of the day, then the main body swung left and I dropped behind Caracol and G-Dawg to surf through the Mad Mile and away.
The rain blew in as I plugged my way across the river toward home and I stopped to pull on a jacket. The poor weather seemed to have the effect of boosting the appeal of the shopping centre and the traffic was starting to back up. I had to queue patiently on the approach to the roundabout at the bottom of the Heinous Hill, slowly getting soaked ad cold.
Finally across and through the traffic lights, I spun my way up and home to end another ride, at least on a high point, if not an actual high.
YTD Totals: 5,239 km / 3,255 miles with 64,597 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