The Effin’ Ibex Ride

The Effin’ Ibex Ride

Club Run, Saturday 26th May, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                       114 km / 71 miles with 1,229 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                               4 hours 21 minutes

Average Speed:                      26.1 km/h

Group size:                              25 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                         20°C

Weather in a word or two:    Warm and cool


 

ibex
Ride Profile

WARNING: Parental Advisory: Explicit Content

A cool start to the day made arm warmers very much de rigueur as I dropped down the hill and started to push along the valley floor toward an uncertain river crossing. I don’t know if my encounters with burst pipes last week were a precursor to a systematic collapse of the entire system, but a major water main at Newburn had burst spectacularly, flooded the roads, inundated several cars and washed out much of the bridge surface.

The bridge over the Tyne was closed to cars for the foreseeable future, but the Internet informed me it was still open to pedestrians. I was hoping this was the case and a man and a bike might be able to squeeze over, otherwise I face a long backtrack and would probably have to race to make the meeting point on time.

All the Road Closed signs down to the bridge weren’t especially promising, but at least it kept the cars away, which was an added bonus. The second bonus was that the traffic lights on the approach to the bridge had been turned off, so at least I didn’t have to wait before attempting to make it across.

I threaded through a gap in the traffic cones and out onto the span itself. The road surface didn’t look damaged, but the far end was completely sealed off and I guessed this was where the water main had burst. There was however a wooden ramp built atop the footpath, so I stopped, unclipped and lifted my bike over the kerb and clopped my way up and down the ramp.

Another cyclist had followed my lead and I turned to him to suggest the lack of cars on the bridge actually made this one of the more pleasant crossings, despite having to stop and haul the bike on and off the footpath.

The north bank successfully reached, the rest of my ride to the meeting point was plain sailing.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Conversation at the meeting point was dominated by Chris Froome’s Lazarus act on Stage 19 of the Giro, where his long-range break on the Colle delle Finestre combined with the implosion of Simon Yates turned both the GC and formbook completely on its head.

The overwhelming reaction seemed to be one of incredulity and doubt verging on downright disbelief, or occasionally completely by-passing the doubt and heading straight to disbelief.  

I have to admit I’m no fan of Chris Froome, largely because I’m far too shallow to overlook his execrable, wholly ungainly style on a bike. I’ve no idea if he’s a clean rider and even though I don’t like the idea of him riding while under investigation I recognise his right to do so. I will say this though, his “miracle” ride in the Giro was utterly, utterly brilliant … for sending the Internet trolls into complete, frothing-at-the-mouth, unhinged, melt-down frenzy. For this alone, I salute him.

It also produced some memorable quotes from Kiwi George Bennett, who, when informed of Froome’s exploits, offered up “Bullshit!” and then proclaimed, “He did a Landis. Jesus!”

He would later row back his comments a little by suggesting, “I didn’t say that Froomey went out and railed a load of gear and came back and won the stage … I’m just saying he made a bigger comeback than Easter Sunday!”

Our other main reaction from this whole questionable affair was that Mitchelton-Scott had badly fumbled their game plan. They should have called up Adam Yates to body swap for his brother as soon as his charge started to falter on the upper slopes to Praternevoso.

The Red Max brought news of the Monkey Butler Boy’s latest racing exploits from a local criterium, where he’d apparently been, in contention until disappearing from the spectators view into the last corner. There had then be an elongated,  interminable wait during which the race was won and everyone else crossed the finish line, before the Monkey Butler Boy had finally emerged wearing the biggest, shit-eating grin known to man and declaring “I’ve still got a bike!”

Barged aside by another hard-charging rider, the Monkey Butler Boy had lost control and careered off the course and over a grass verge, where, much to his relief, he’d managed to recover without crashing and trashing his brand new bike.

The Colossus wanted to know if the Monkey Butler Boy had learned the fine art of twisting and contorting his body to put it in harm’s way between bike and road, sacrificing skin and bone to protect vulnerable carbon.

News from OGL was that he’d completed an epic 90-mile solo ride along the proposed Cyclone route last Sunday, into a fantastically strong block headwind that strangely, defied meteorological science and dogged him both out and back again. No news yet on whether he managed to successfully grapple with that instrument of Satan that people call Strava, or when conditions will be challenging enough for him to attempt the 106-mile version.

Meanwhile, the Garrulous Kid was in full, inquisitive mode, eyes darting left and right, in and around the bikes gathered around him, as his brain clicked and whirred and his mouth spat a series of largely unrelated questions.

“Have you found a use for that recess in your stem, yet?” he enquired of the Colossus.

“Perhaps you could keep pound coins stacked in it?” he decided.

“And then carry a small plunger to pull them out with?” the Colossus asked, but he needn’t have bothered, the Garrulous Kid had already turned his attention to the BFG.

“Why have you got a tyre in your bottle cage?”

The BFG patiently explained it was a tub.

“Will it not fit in your back pocket?”

The BFG handed him the tub, explained what it was and how it was too big to fit comfortably in his pocket.

He then started to explain about having to glue them onto the rims, when luckily we were saved from 1,001 other questions as Crazy Legs stepped up to outline the route for the day.

Yet again, numbers were sufficient to split into two groups and, yet again, the first group off was the smaller of the two. I weighed the options and joined the front group, along with 10 others as we set out.


Hooting and cheering from across the road highlighted Richard of Flanders, booted and suited and waving wildly as he headed in the opposite direction on a Mobike. Hmm, must have an interview with his bank manager to seek a loan for a new bike, or perhaps they’ve finally caught him and he’s due in court?

We set off at what seemed a high pace and maintained this by constant rotation of the front two. Alongside Ovis, I was doing my turn at the pointy end as we pushed through Mitford. Crossing the narrow stone bridge, we had just started to climb up toward the junction, when the BFG came roaring past in a sudden burst of energy.

He slowed and hesitated at the junction ahead of us.

“Right, right, go right,” we shouted.

“What?”

“Right!”

“Right?” the BFG questioned uncertainly.

“Yes, right,” we confirmed.

“Oh.”

As we started heading downhill, I think it finally dawned on the BFG where we were heading. A sharp, momentum-killing, left hand turn dropped us at the bottom of the Mur de Mitford and up we went.

Still recovering from his earlier burst, The BFG disappeared backwards, while I fought with a slipping rear tyre on the damp and greasy surface.

“I think I’ve just wasted a couple of good pedal strokes,” G-Dawg confirmed, acknowledging the same issue. I eased the pressure on the pedals, got the skipping, slipping tyre under control and began to pick my way upwards at a more careful pace.

Regrouping over the top, we took a seldom travelled route up Harelaw Hill, which was to provide our highest point of the day. As we crested the top, Biden Fecht glanced across to his left.

“Is that a fucking ibex?” he wondered aloud. I think the altitude may have been getting to him.

We determined it was just a goat with a bad haircut and overgrown horns and tried to reassure him.

“Hmm, there could have been a zebra there, too,” Biden Fecht concluded somewhat enigmatically.

After this moment of madness, we carelessly frittered away all our hard-earned altitude for a swooping, whooping descent down the other side, before our road started heading upwards again, through the Coldlaw climb, which runs parallel and provides an alternative to the Trench.


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At the top G-Dawg wondered if that was better or worse than the Trench and I think the consensus it was no harder, no easier and both were hateful.

I was at the back, chatting with Zardoz as we approached Middleton Bank and as the first slopes bit I dropped the chain off the big ring. There was a loud crack, a crash and the gentle tinkle of discarded metal bouncing along the ground.

I stopped pedalling immediately, convinced the back end of my bike had suddenly disintegrated. I looked back and could see nothing amiss and nothing left lying in the road. As my freewheeling speed began to die, I tentatively pushed the pedals around once. The chain bit and propelled me forward a little. I tried again. Still no problem. Odd. I picked up the pace and gave chase up the hill. Everything seemed to be working as it should.

I closed on the group ahead, but was still well detached as we crested the top. The front group pressed on without easing and I was cast adrift, outnumbered and battling into a headwind. I gave chase, but it was futile and the gap only grew the closer we got to the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Zardoz enquired about my gear-changing travails on Middleton Bank. He too had heard the distinctive sound of metal striking tarmac, but reassured me he often carried a pocketful of bolts and random bits of metal, which he discarded behind other riders to make them hesitate while he attacked.

I believed him.

The Garrulous Kid bounced up.

“We had two punctures!” he announced.

“So what, we saw a fucking ibex!” I countered.

“Well, to be fair, there was only one of them,” Biden Fecht quipped.

The Garrulous Kid looked from me to Biden Fecht and back again, understandably bemused and wondering what the hell we were on about.

Crazy Legs wandered by to declare he hated “that Chris fucking Froome” even before the rider’s implausible resurrection, which now looked set to scupper the lead Crazy Legs had carefully built up in the clubs Velogames Fantasy Cycling League (Giro edition).  

He was somewhat cheered when I told him his league position was safe, as not one of our number had actually bothered to pick Froome.  Crazy Legs felt this wasn’t a reflection on the Froomes chances of winning the Giro, but rather confirmation that everyone else shared his view and they’d rather lose than have any association, no matter how indirect, with the Sky rider.

I thought I might have sneaked an improbable, come from behind league win at the last, but Thibaut Pinot’s sudden implosion on the penultimate stage scuppered that. Rather surprisingly then, Crazy Legs held on for a win built largely on the performance of the indomitable, but somewhat comical, Domenico Pozzovivo.

The Garrulous Kid was in distress because his unrequited love interest (according to Taffy Steve and the Red Max – and who could doubt their veracity) – an older, ginger-haired, upper sixth former, was now finished her A-levels and had left school.

“Well, you know, you’re kind of ginger, too,” the Garrulous Kid mused, nodding at the Colossus.

“Woah, are you coming onto me, now?” the Colossus demanded, not quite knowing where this conversation was going and keen to head it off anyway.

Zardoz then declared the girl behind the counter secretly loved him. A love so secret apparently, that even she doesn’t realise yet.  He determined he could prove this by securing everyone at the table one of the samples of rhubarb and ginger scone currently being offered.

“Anyway, if I had a tray I’d get everyone a refill too …” he declared, rising and then quickly stepping back as half a dozen trays instantly appeared and were wordlessly brandished in his direction.

True to his word, Zardoz returned with both coffee refills and enough scone samples to go around. The verdict? Well the verdict was that there wasn’t enough ginger in the scone … oh, that? Well, I think we decided Zardoz probably bought the samples for cold, hard cash, rather than relying on his innate charm and puppy-dog eyes to schmooze them out of the café staff. In our eyes, their deep, abiding devotion to him still appears unproven.


We had a fast run back, forced a breakaway selection on Berwick Hill, hammered through Dinnington, and caught and passed OGL through the potholes again. I clung to the wheels through the Mad Mile and was catapulted through the roundabout to start my ride for home.

I caught another cyclist/TT’er at the lights down Union Hall  and we both dropped into the left-hand lane and started to pass inside all the cars queued in the middle lane to turn right.

Without signalling, obviously without looking, one of the driver’s suddenly decided he was in the wrong lane, or the traffic was moving too slowly for him and swung wildly out into our lane. He missed the TT’er by a hairs breadth, while I swerved away. I caught the other rider on the downhill run to the river.

“I thought he had you there,” I confessed.

“Yeah, you get used to that,” he replied, seemingly unperturbed. I’m not sure he realised just how close he’d been to being collected on the cars bumper, my reaction would have been slightly less phlegmatic.

Through the defunct lights out onto the bridge, I took to the footpath, saw that it was completely empty and rode up the ramp. It then served as a sort of impromptu time-trial start gate, I rolled off the end to an imaginary “3-2-1, Go” and struck out for home.


YTD Totals: 3,122 km / 1,939 miles with 36,814 metres of climbing

 

Farcical – The Movie

Farcical – The Movie

Club Run, Saturday 5th May, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 113 km / 70 miles with 1,077 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 21 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.0 km/h

Group size:                                        21 riders, 2 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   18°C

Weather in a word or two:          Chilly


farcicl
Ride Profile

Farcical … or Far Cycle – A Very British Farce*

(A script in development and purely speculative fiction)

*Farcenoun – a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterisation and ludicrously improbable situations.


Cast:

The Subject: Sur La Jante

The Lone Dissenting Voice: Captain Kamikaze

The Fly: A fly

Jolly Man: A random passing civilian

Captain Kamikaze: The Lone Dissenting Voice

The Gang: Various riders from the largest cycling club in the region. (Allegedly.)


A black screen.

The silence is broken by the slow beeping of an electronic alarm and an image slowly coalesces of a flailing arm that bashes wildly at a bedside table, 2-3-4 times, until it finally manages to hit the off-button and silence the horribly intrusive noise.

The camera pulls back and, accompanied by much moaning, groaning and muttering, The Subject slowly peels back the covers and stumbles out of bed. Blinking in the still dim light, The Subject runs a hand through ridiculously unkempt, dishevelled hair that’s standing straight up at attention. He rubs at gritty eyes and yawns loudly.

Cut.


In a narrow kitchen, The Subject prepares an uninspiring but hopefully fortifying breakfast of porridge and a muddy espresso, while trying to ignore the two hungry felines giving him the evil eye and demanding he drop everything to placate them with a sacrificial offering of food.

Finally, their evil cat gazes start to shrivel his soul and The Subject succumbs to the pressure, opening a pouch of some foul smelling cat food at arm’s length and trying not to gag as he disgorges the contents into two bowls that he quickly lays at the feet of his masters.

Cut.


The Subject is now wrestling with a fantastical costume that could (perhaps justifiably) be characterised as being a couple of sizes too small for comfort. A t-shirt, with more holes than substance, goes under a pair of long, form fitting shorts with bizarre straps that go over the shoulders. It looks like the kind of lederhosen a cheesy, 60’s TV-superhero might have worn. Alpenhorn Man, anyone?

The subject pulls on a pair of socks that he hopes are neither too long, nor too short. They are unashamedly bright and white.

Strange black, sausage-skin type tubes are then stretched up and over spindly, pipe-cleaner arms, like opera gloves without any fingers, before another, possibly even tighter, t-shirt is pulled over The Subjects head and inched and tugged and twisted down and around his torso.

This latest t-shirt has 3 odd pockets sewn into the back and The Subject starts loading these up. In the left hand pocket goes a wallet, a phone and some kind of cereal bar. In the middle pocket goes a small camera and a bundled-up, incredibly creased, bright orange jacket is stuffed on top of this. In the right hand pocket goes a small bike pump, two plastic tyre levers and a compact multi-tool.

Once completed, The Subject decides he needs to visit the toilet. Out of the left hand pocket, he retrieves a wallet, a phone and some kind of cereal bar and sets them aside. Out of the right hand pocket, he pulls a small bike pump, two plastic tyre levers and a compact multi-tool and sets them aside. He decides the camera in the middle pocket is probably safe, plugged in place by the orange jacket.

He inches, tugs and twists the top t-shirt up and pulls it over his head and is already slipping the strange lederhosen straps down, off his shoulders as he opens the toilet door.

Flashback: an earlier time and an earlier natural urge, The Subject is dressed in a similar manner as he enters the toilet, but the rear pockets are still bulging with “stuff”. He grasps the collar of his top at the back and tugs and twists and pulls it over his head. As it starts to slide down his arms, his mobile phone flies out of his left hand pocket and describes a slow, lazy arc through the air, a trajectory so perfect that Tom Daly would have spontaneously cheered … Plop! Straight down the toilet bowl without touching the sides.

Cut.


The Subject emerges from the toilet and goes through the ritual of wrestling on his top t-shirt and loading up the individual pockets once again. In the left hand pocket goes a wallet, a phone and some kind of cereal bar. In the right hand pocket goes a small bike pump, two plastic tyre levers and a compact multi-tool…

He sighs.

He goes outside, still in his stockinged feet and pulls a bike from the shed. It’s an alarming, eye-watering riot of vile red, poisonous black and bilious yellow. The bike is loaded up with a tool tub, water bottle and computer and our subject returns inside.

“It’s a bit chilly out there,” he tells one of the cats. The cat stares back with mute indifference.

“I know you care really,” he suggests unconvincingly.

The cat yawns and wanders off.

The Subject pulls a pair of ruby red slippers from a cupboard, drags them on and twists a clicking dial on each, until the cheese-wires that serve as laces tighten enough to cut off blood supply to his toes. He backs them off a little. He fishes the orange jacket from his back pocket and slips this on for good measure, adding an extra layer of insulation. Good to go.

Cut.


The Scene: A little while later at a grandly named Transport Interchange Centre, that actually resembles a very ordinary, run-of-the-mill bus station. A low wall at the back of a wide pavement separates the bus concourse from a multi-storey car park. Seated on this wall waiting, is the tall, gangly figure of the Garrulous Kid dressed all in black.

G-Dawg and the Colossus roll up on their bikes. The latter is wearing a Le Col jersey in a bright shade of orange, while the former sports a Molteni retro jersey that, through time, evolved from an unloved navy blue and brown to orange and black. G-Dawg’s is the more modern, much more tasteful orange and black version.

Trailing behind, our Subject arrives and pulls up alongside the pair.

“Huh, you’re all in orange?” (There’s really no fooling the Garrulous Kid, or his keen observational skills.)

“It’s Orange Day, didn’t you get the message?” G-Dawg asks.

“Yes, orange is the new black,” The Subject attests.

Even the Garrulous Kid doesn’t fall for this one though, especially as other riders start turning up and there’s no further incidence of orange.

The Subject determines things have probably warmed up just about enough, so ships and stows the orange jacket.

Slowly, more cyclists arrive and form up around the group, until the pavement is all but blocked by skinny blokes with plastic bikes.

“I thought there would have been more out today,” G-Dawg surmises, even as the headcount tops 20.

The Subject reminds him there’s a few up doing the Wooler Wheel and one or two facing the brutal Fred Whitton Challenge tomorrow too.

The Subject then falls into conversation with the newly arrived Big Friendly Giant.

The Subject: “So you survived last week and now you’re back for more?”

BFG: “Yeah, and I might make it all the way around, this time. But I’ll not be stopping at the café …”

The Subject steps back, aghast.

The Subject: [tremulously] “What … no cake?”

BFG: “I have to be back to do some gardening. Feed and tend the lawns and all that.”

The Subject: “Ah, is this the new obsession?”

BFG: [unashamedly] “Yes!”

The Subject: “So, it’s replaced your earlier obsession for building bikes from rare, exotic and wholly unsuitable materials?”

BFG: “Yes. The trouble is though, Nature is always changing and evolving and nothing ever stays perfect for very long.”

The Subject: “Very true, that’s life – things are always changing.”

BFG: “Yeah, but it can actually become a bit of an issue for someone with acute OCD and a need for perfection …”

Cut.


The Scene: Out on the road. The weather is bright, but cold and a group of 20+ riders are travelling 2 abreast down rough country roads in a very rural landscape.

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Above all the general chatter and good humour, a disassociated voice can be heard complaining long and bitterly about the speed the group is travelling. Everyone else seems happy and comfortable, talking away, enjoying the ride and not breathing too heavily – even Szell, just recently awoken from winter hibernation seems at ease.

“It’s not a bloody race,” the Lone Dissenting Voice proclaims.

“If you want to race, put a number on your back,” the Lone Dissenting Voice continues.

“Is this the bloody toady France or something?” the Lone Dissenting Voice queries, to everyone and no one. Well, to be fair, actually no one – they’ve all stopped listening.

Slow fade …


The Scene: The group has stopped at a junction with a choice of turning right for a shorter route to the café , or left for a longer harder route. G-Dawg is busy outlining the different options that everyone can take.

Lone Dissenting Voice: “Well, I’m going this way, the speed today has been just bloody farcical. Farcical!”

The Lone Dissenting Voice takes the right hand turn in protest – a protest somewhat spoiled by the fact that it’s the route the Lone Dissenting Voice always takes…no matter what.

Lone Dissenting Voice: [a final parting shot] “If you want to race, put a bloody number on your back.”

“That’s it, we’re all wearing numbers next week,” someone announces.

Cut.


The Scene: Out on the road, the groups numbers are somewhat diminished, all the climbing is done and they’re riding at a high speed, pulling everyone out into a single long line.

Someone attacks off the front. The Subject follows a wheel through as another rider moves to respond.

The attacker is brought back.

The Subject attacks.

The Subject is caught.

The road rises a little.

The Subject attacks again.

The Subject is caught.

Cut to an aerial shot, showing a long straight road. Head-on and still a little distant a group of riders can be seen, approaching fast and in single file. Having been caught again, The Subject is now sitting second wheel.

The camera pulls back slightly revealing this view is actually one being contemplated by a large, black fly of an indeterminate species. The fly performs a lazy barrel roll, drops down and heads buzzing toward the approaching riders.

The road rises, ever so slightly.

The Subject pulls out from the wheels.

The Subject attacks again.

Briefly, the view shifts to the fly’s perspective and CGI special effects are applied. The view becomes heavily stylised, a multi-faceted picture of bikes and riders through the eyes of the fly.

It focuses on the group approaching.

And zooms in… to focus on the attacking lead rider.

And zooms in…to focus on the face of the attacking lead rider

And zooms in… to focus on that riders gaping mouth, through which he’s trying to draw enough oxygen to fuel his thrashing legs, pounding heart and gasping lungs.

The black maw of the fully open mouth looms and draws the fly in …

Blackness engulfs the fly.

The camera pulls back to focus on The Subject again. He’s coughing, spluttering and trying not to gag on a sudden obstruction that’s rattling and vibrating in his throat.

The Subject’s done, he’s caught and blinking away the tears in his eyes, he drops back. Back past Jimmy Mac, past the Big Yin, past Keel, past G-Dawg, before finding a space and slotting in on the wheel of the Colossus.

He follows. Hanging on. Still at high speed.

There are two very distinct, very loud cracks as G-Dawg smashes through a pothole no one had the wit to point out.

G-Dawg: “Ooph!”

Centimetres from his rear wheel, the Colossus twitches to one side and bangs across the shallower edges of the hole, avoiding the worst. The Subject quickly yaws away to one side and manages to miss the hole completely.

It all happens in an instant. The group presses on, seemingly having sustained no damage, until G-Dawg realises he’s blown out both tyres and they’re rapidly deflating. He comes to a rumbling stop.

The Colossus continues, charges across the gap, past a slow riding, Lone Dissenting Voice (who has just emerged from a side-road) and to the front of the group. The Colossus contests the sprint, then calmly turns around and goes back to help G-Dawg with his double puncture.

Meanwhile, The Subject rolls through on the back of the group and makes his way to the café.

Cut.


Scene: In the café. The Subject is standing in the queue loading his tray up with coffee and cake. The Lone Dissenting Voice stands behind him, waiting to be served. A rather jolly, corpulent civilian approaches and addresses the Lone Dissenting Voice.

Jolly Man: “Well, well, well it’s Captain Kamikaze.”

The Subject tries to suppress his grin, the Lone Dissenting Voice studiously tries to ignore the Jolly Man.

Jolly Man: [unperturbed by the silent treatment and in no way deterred, continues] “Hello Captain Kamikaze, thrown yourself under any 40-ton artics recently?”

The Subject scurries off, before he bursts into laughter…

Cut.


Scene: In the garden at the café. Two of the benches have been pulled together in a line and are overrun with cyclists. The Subject is sitting at one end, talking with Jimmy Mac and Rab Dee about the Giro d’Italia. At the other end sits the Big Yin and the Garrulous Kid.

Rab Dee: “I’m looking forward to a lazy afternoon watching the Giro and listening to Sean Kelly’s commentary about turds and trees.”

Jimmy Mac: “Reminds me of the story of how Billy Twelvetrees was always called 36 by his Irish team mates.”

The Subject was just about to add that Yates’ commentary has never been the same since Ulrika Greenedge became Mitchelton Scott, when the Lone Dissenting Voice a.k.a. Captain Kamikaze, plonks himself down opposite the Big Yin.

Lone Dissenting Voice: “The speed today was shocking.”

The Big Yin: [feigning innocence] “Yeah, It was a bit slow wasn’t it?”

Lone Dissenting Voice: [utterly devoid of humour] “It’s ridiculous, the Saturday runs were set up 50 years ago as a social ride.”

The Big Yin: [reasonably] “Well, yeah, that was then. It’s different now and things change naturally over time, they evolve and …”

Lone Dissenting Voice: “No! No they bloody don’t! Not over time!”

The Subject: “Err … eh?”

Lone Dissenting Voice: “The pace of the Saturday rides is stupid. It’s why we’ve had a 50% drop in club membership. It’s why some of the old stalwarts don’t ride with us anymore. It’s why numbers on Saturday rides are falling.”

The Subject: [sotto voce, shaking his head] “No. No. No and no.”

Luckily, the group are distracted, when the Garrulous Kid spots Rab Dee’s espresso cup.

Garrulous Kid: “Hey, that’s a tiny cup!”

Garrulous Kid: [bending down to look under the table] “Is there a midget here?”

Slow fade.


The Scene: Still the café garden. The cyclists are packing up to leave, minus the Lone Dissenting Voice who left early in order to “ride home at a sensible speed.”

Szell weighs up an order card left lying on one of the tables so the servers can identify who has ordered what.

Szell: “Isn’t this the kind of number we could put on our backs?”

He proposes sticking it to the back of the Lone Dissenting Voice’s jersey and starts looking for some glue, or tape.

Szell: “I know, jam. That’ll work.”

Luckily, the group makes to leave before Szell can put his plan into practice.

Cut.


The Scene: Returning home in high spirits, the group are powering along with the Garrulous Kid and The Subject on the front, chattering away and laughing. As they approach the final climb, up to Dinnington, Taffy Steve accelerates up behind the Garrulous Kid.

Taffy Steve: [chanting] “Old fat bloke coming for you, Old fat bloke gonna catch you…”

With a girly-shriek, the Garrulous Kid accelerates away.

Over the top, he sees the Lone Dissenting Voice, labouring along on his own.

He sweeps past.

Seconds later, everyone else sweeps past too.

Lone Dissenting Voice: [grumpily, as he disappears out the back] “I could hear you lot coming a bloody mile away.”

G-Dawg: “We’ll all have our names entered into the little black book now.”

The Subject: “Yep, it’s a club run, it’s not an excuse for us to be out enjoying ourselves.”

Fade to credits.

The End.

All options available[Still!]


YTD Totals: 2,780 km / 1,571 miles with 32,346 metres of climbing

Go Long, Bullseye

Go Long, Bullseye

Club Run, Saturday 3rd June, 2017          

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  116 km / 72 miles with 1,183 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 24 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.3 km/h

Group size:                                         40+ riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    23°C

Weather in a word or two:          Warm and bright


 

3 june
Ride Profile

The Ride:

A quick look out of the window, early Saturday morning showed bright blue skies and the trees utterly motionless in the still air. It looked like being a good one.

Outside it was still surprisingly chilly, but I was convinced it was going to warm up and my “just in case” arm warmers stayed firmly in my jersey pocket as I made my way to the meeting point.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

Shoeless was one of the first to arrive for a very rare outing with the club. He explained it needed a precise alignment of weather, shift patterns, family commitments, lack of other “triathlony” type sporting events along with his own personal inclination and motivation for him to make a ride these days.

It was so hot that … oh, sorry, I’ve done that one haven’t I. Nevertheless, it was warm enough once again to encourage Szell in another general disrobing and the removal of unwarranted base layers. I think perhaps he’s developing an exhibitionist’s streak – he certainly seems incapable of finding a reliable weather forecast.

OGL turned up with a new seat clamp for Szell’s “fat lad’s bike” and fitted it while we waited. Now that’s service for you. Meanwhile Crazy Legs urged Szell to make a careful examination of OGL’s new, custom-painted Orbea as this is what he’s likely be inheriting in the near future.

The Orbea is supposed to be highlighted in club colours, but both shades of tangerine and green look a touch off to my untrained eye. To compound the issues, OGL was wearing a sample pair of customised shorts a new potential supplier had sent him to review. These too were meant to be in club colours, but they had been matched from nothing more than a photo on a web page and were also quite subtly, wrong. the colours yet again different from both the club jersey and the bike.

The overall effect was like a kids drawing  where they’d been forced to change pens halfway through and got bored with too precise colouring in.

Sneaky Peter sneaked up, back on his beloved, impeccably fixed and restored De Rosa. Where OGL showed us the perils of mismatching colours, the repair work on the De Rosa was so accomplished that not even G-Dawg’s hyper-critical eye (able to spot the difference between a 3mm and 2.5mm spoke at 30 paces) could find fault or discern where the cracked chainstay had been repaired.

Taffy Steve likened this to his own patch job on his favourite sunglasses, having snapped an arm off these while polishing the lenses the previous week, these too had been restored to fully functioning order by the liberal application of superglue.

He suggested there was little difference between the job done on his glasses and the De Rosa, while I suspected he’d used probably twenty times the amount of superglue for his small repair, which seemed functional and robust, but was perhaps lacking a little in artisanship.

Talk turned to football, with the Garrulous Kid announcing Germany would win the next World Cup and he was so confident he’d put money on it. If anyone wants to take him up on the offer, let me know and I’ll forward his details.

Ridiculed for suggesting Phillip Lham would be a driving force (he’s apparently retired) – Crazy Legs was unfazed and unbothered by the criticism and declared he’d be happy and content as long as Joachim Löw was still in charge of Germany, so he could once again entertain with his nose-picking, testicle-cupping, anus-fingering and hand-sniffing exploits.

This week’s route had been conceived, pre-published and would be led by Aether and with over 40 cyclists crowding the pavement, it’s never been so obvious we needed to split into at least two groups on the road. Aether outlined his plans for the ride and led the first group off.

Perhaps simply to sow a bit of confusion and discord, OGL wondered aloud who would lead the second group, but whatever point he was trying to make was lost when the Red Max instantly stepped up to the mark and volunteered.

As the first riders pulled away, Crazy Legs suggested a few of us hang back, so there were no complaints about the two groups being unbalanced or all the stronger riders disappearing up the road. He certainly needn’t have worried on the latter count as super-strong riders, Benedict and Den Haag were still behind and they set off at the head of the second group.


Three of us were delayed at the first set of lights and we were joined by a few latecomers as we started to slowly converge on the back of the second group. By the time we were negotiating Brunton Lane several groups of riders had all merged and our small group became a peloton in its own right.

One moment Szell had been riding with half a dozen others and the next he’d been surrounded by over 20 riders swooping around to form up behind him. “Bloody hell,”  he declared, “It’s just like Taras Bulba!” Cossacks Hourra! Hourra!

As we cleared the city traffic, Benedict and OGL became involved in a very intense conversation about the structure of the club runs and how best to organise them so no one felt left out, disadvantaged or held back.

This left Den Haag ploughing a lone furrow on the front of the group, so I moved up to slot in alongside him for a chat about the Giro, Dumoulin’s Dump (or defecategate as one Internet wag dubbed it) the Hammer series, time-trialling, cyclo-cross and other such things, all the while trying to keep half an ear on the increasingly animated conversation behind.

Through Dinnington and up past the Cheese Farm, OGL and Benedict kept at it, until the clamber up Bell’s Hill splintered the group apart and offered some respite for both parties. I’m still not sure anything was resolved.

I called a halt at the top of Bell’s Hill so we could regroup and also because we’d started to close in on the first group and needed to give them a bit more space.

“Is that the fast group, up ahead?” Facebook-postin’ carbon-stress-loadin’ Guiness-slurpin’ pie-chompin’ platter-spinnin’ real-ale-swilling curry-gobblin’ all-azione Thom-Thom suggested, tongue lodged firmly in his cheek and blatantly fishing with an apparently irresistable lump of bait.

“There is no fast group.” OGL snapped.

“Are you sure?” Thom-Thom asked, deliberately misunderstanding, “That looks like the fast group…”

Oh, dear. Moving swiftly on, we set off again and I had a chuckle with Taffy Steve as we first determined that if Bugs Bunny rode with the club he’d doubtless refer to the Kia Sportage as a Spore-tadjee and then compared OGL to Foghorn Leghorn.

The strangest sight of the day had to be a dog owner taking their small, very young puppy for “a walk” by dragging it on a lead behind his mountain bike. I couldn’t help thinking if he went too slow the excitable pup was going to wrap the lead around his forks, get caught under the knobbly tyres and bring him down, but if he went too fast he probably end up dragging the luckless pup behind him and wear its legs down to stubs. I’m not utterly convinced the kennel club or Canine Defence League would have approved of his training methods.


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A long looping descent dropped us off at the bottom of the Mur de Mitford and up we went, with Taffy Steve messing up his gear change and storming up it in the big ring, while I messed up in the opposite direction and ended up in the granny ring and twiddling my way to the top.

Again we regrouped and pressed on with Benedict and Den Haag re-united on the front and keeping the pace decidedly brisk as we closed in on Netherwhitton. We stopped here for some respite and to split the group, with half taking the left turn to track their way up the Trench, while the rest of us pressed on to Ritton Bank, still at speed.

Ritton Bank is one of the first real tests on the Cyclone route, but today we would take a sharp left just before its rather gnarly summit. Nonetheless it was a decent leg stretcher and strung us out into a long line.

Regrouping at the top we followed a twisting rolling road just below the top of the fells, flanked by dry stone walls that were lined with thoroughly disinterested and somnolent shaggy black cows. Crazy Legs gave them a rather desultory “Moo” while, riding up behind him, I unleashed my own imitation of a bovine greeting, which was apparently so realistic he visibly flinched and looked back in panic like a sweating fat lad tripping over his own feet on the Pamplona Bull Run.

Crazy Legs was so taken with my “cow call” he had me repeat it several times and then again to a visibly unimpressed Taffy Steve, who I think only responds to sheep. Luckily there were no locals around to wonder about the strange, randomly mooing cyclist riding down their road.

A long, screaming descent down into the Font Valley saw Benedict and Den Haag open up a gap at the front and then we were onto the Category 4 Rothley Lakes climb, 3kms at an average of 3% with the sharpest ramps of almost 13% at the bottom.

Working out of the saddle, I overhauled Taffy Steve and then Crazy Legs and as the slope eased, I plonked myself down, found a good rhythm and started to work my way upwards, managing to hold the distance on the front two and opening up a gap to those behind.

Topping out the Rothley Lakes climb led to 5km of mixed climbing and descending on rolling roads and the front pair started to pull ahead. Nonetheless I pressed on in solo pursuit, indulging in a rather grand bout of chasse patate and thoroughly enjoying myself. Twists and turns on the route conspired to keep my quarry out of sight through Scots Gap, but as they took the sharp turn for Middleton Bank I saw a flash of red that was Benedict’s jersey.

As I approached the climb I could see a long stream of riders disappearing over the crest, which included the notable, shocking-pink jersey beZ was wearing that morning. I reasoned Benedict and Den Haag must have caught and joined up with our first group and found I had something else to chase now.

Up Middleton Bank, I passed a labouring Richard of Flanders, detached from the front group and pushing on alone. I tried to give him some encouragement and thought he might be able to hold onto my wheel, but I’m not even certain he tried and I was off solo once again.

With the front group winding up for the final sprint, there was no way I was going to catch them now and reasoned the gap was going to grow. Sure enough, I caught only one or two further glimpses of the pack and it wasn’t long until they were well out of sight and my ride to the café was completed in splendid isolation.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

As I parked up the bike and made my away indoors, the BFG called me across. “Where did we drop you and how far off the back must you have been?” he asked, glancing at his watch.

Ha ha, everyone’s a comedian.

I tagged onto the back of the queue inside and was soon joined by Taffy Steve, Crazy Legs and the others as they arrived in in ones and twos.

The Garrulous Kid appeared to buy a can of Coke and to tell us of another epic failure of his cornering skills. This had seen him engaging, not for the first time, in a little cyclo-cross riding, off the road and up an embankment. He said that it had looked so dangerous someone had apparently called him a stunt rider.

I naturally suggested he may have misheard the actual comment, while Taffy Steve wanted to know if they might perhaps have included the word cunning in their appreciation of his off-piste skills.

Collecting his coffee and cake, Taffy Steve carefully made his way to the table outside on jelly legs, or what he perceptively described as baby giraffe legs, the special feeling you get after a hard, intensive effort on what had proven to be a fairly demanding route.

Later, Szell would make his way to the table, wobbly and stumbling like the town drunk.

“You see,” Taffy Steve declared, “Baby giraffe legs.” Couldn’t argue there.

Enjoying our relaxation and recovery in the sun and against all accepted protocol, we sneaked two refills of coffee, which caused the Garrulous Kid to declare, “I’m not allowed coffee.” while he bounced around the table like a chipmunk on speed.

“I’m not surprised, I can’t begin to imagine you loaded on caffeine,” I offered, looking pointedly at his Coke.

“Yeah,” he giggled madly, “I’m not supposed to have Coke either.”

Amped up like a toddler overdosing on E-numbers and a blood-boiling sugar rush, the Garrulous Kid returned to a recurring complaint, the fact he doesn’t like the particular moniker I’ve bestowed on him.

As before I listened patiently and then told him he had been given numerous name suggestions he could choose from, Crap Gob, Fresh Trim, Jar-Jar Binks, Zoolander or the Garrulous Kid. In fact, I’m not sure anyone in the club can claim more potential names, which I think is quite an achievement in so short a space of time.

Receiving very little sympathy and with his attention span stretched way beyond capacity, he bounded away to another table to repeat his complaint and in the process apparently admitted to hating his middle name too.

“What’s that then?” was the obvious question.

From all accounts – and I’ve gathered these from numerous independent witnesses and reliable sources – the answer that came back most closely sounded like “Helen.”

So, one more choice to add to his options, Crap Gob, Fresh Trim, Jar-Jar Binks, Zoolander, the Garrulous Kid or … Helen.

All good things must come to an end, so three coffees’ later and with our brief sojourn in the sunny garden coming to a close, we gathered together, formed up and rode out.


Riding along beside Zardoz, he nodded his head at the Red Max’s back pack and whispered conspiratorially, “Do you think there’s actually anything in there?”

I assured him it was like Felix the Cat’s magical bag of tricks and the Red Max would reach into it whenever he was in a fix. I could only begin to speculate to its precise contents, but had seen him pull tools such as pliers, spanners and screwdrivers from the bag, complete sets of clothing, rain jackets, spare bike components, chains, assorted nuts, bolts, screws and brake blocks, food, drink, snacks, gels, sun creams, spare specs, hats, socks, gloves, bike spares and repairs, inner tubes, tyre shoes, patches, gaffer tape, zip ties, chain links – the list was almost endless.

In fact, I suggested the only time Red Max’s bag of tricks had let him down was when someone snapped their gear hanger. Red Max didn’t have one and to his everlasting shame was mortified when OGL produced one out of his back-pocket. I’m fairly confident his bag also includes a spare gear hanger now.

Descending Berwick Hill and perhaps in appreciation of last weeks splenetic, Mr. Angry the cyclist, we had Mr. Angry, the splenetic RIM, over-taking at high speed and bellowing “Ride in single file!” out of the window. We all gave him our biggest, friendliest, cheeriest waves and I’m not certain, but I think G-Dawg may have even have blown him a kiss.

Moments later and another RIM in a massive 4×4  was cutting across into our lane to overtake a slower car and came powering straight at us. Thankfully he swooped back at the last instant, just before we started hurling ourselves off the road to escape the brain-dead moron.

Still even these incidents couldn’t sour what had been a good, long and testing ride over some less travelled routes and challenging climbs. I’d gone over 72 miles by the time I made it home, grinning from ear to ear and looking forward to doing it all again next week.


YTD Totals: 3,442 km / 2,139 miles with 37,377 metres of climbing

Questions of the day


The 15th Stage of the Giro from Valdengo to Bergamo, featured a select group of the top GC riders in a flat out, straight-up, drag-race sprint for glory and the win.

Quick-Step’s Bob Jungels finally prevailed, powering to the line just ahead of the surprisingly fast, quickly closing, pint-sized Nairo Quintana. In claiming a surprise second place Quintana handily beat “heavyweight contenders” such as Vincenzo Nibali, Thibaut Pinot, Bauke Mollema, Tom Dumoulin and Steven Kruijswijk.


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This for me then raises some serious questions: If Jungels had been beaten in a sprint by Quintana, would he ever have been allowed back onto the Quick-Step bus? Would his career have recovered from such a disgrace? Surely this Giro’s peerless sprinter, Fernando Gaviria could legitimately have refused to share a room with such a loser?

And, just how much do the other GC riders owe Jungels for actually pulling off the win and deflecting attention from the fact they all had their backsides whupped in a sprint by the feather-weight climber from Columbia?


 

What’s in a Name?


Sitting in the café and discussing cycling heroes, Crazy Legs said his all-time favourite sprinter was the Tashkent Terror himself, one Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. While I’m sure a lot of the appeal had to do with Abdou’s blazing speed, his ferocious, erratic and kamikaze bike handling and spectacular crashes, I couldn’t help thinking that his name probably played a part too.

Would Djamolidine Abdoujaprov have been quite so popular had he been simply Igor Petrov?

Djamolidine Abdoujaparov.  DJAH-MOLLA-DEEN AB-DOO-JAP-AROFF. You could tell just by the way Crazy Legs savoured each and every syllable and let the name roll off his tongue that he found the sound pleasing. He was even more delighted when Richard of Flanders asked what was his full name was again and he had one more excuse to deeply intone:

“Abdoujaparov, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov”

Oh, come on, admit it, it’s so much better than stale, old clichéd: Bond, James Bond

We then had a chat about the rather more unfortunate Bauke Mollema – who we agreed also had a great name, but for all the wrong reasons. In Scotland and throughout the North East to bowk has an unpleasant meaning and association – defined by Urban Dictionary as – bowk: To puke, hurl, or chunder, especially after excessive intake of alcohol, curry, chocolate cake or all three.

So, Puker Mollema then. Oh dear.

This set me to thinking how much of my own, initial allure to cycling’s was tied into the exotic, unusual sounding names of the riders of the day, Joop Zoetemelk, Giovanni Battaglin, Francesco Moser …

And we can’t of course forget Lucien Van Impe – literally Lucien from the village of Impe, a small and otherwise boring and unremarkable town in East Flanders. This sounded not only exotic to me, but also seemed especially fitting for the mercurial, puckish grimpeur who would “bedevil” some of his great rivals in the mountains during Grand Tours.

The fact that writers could craft Sun-style, headline-worthy puns to match, was just an added bonus – the most memorable from the era being, of course: Van Impudence.

While the foreign and exotic sounding names of the continental riders had an attraction for cycling waifs and strays on Tyneside, we also used to wonder what the continental fans would make of our seemingly mundane, Anglicised monickers.

For example, the local hero around this time was Joe Waugh – multiple National Hill Climb Champion, winner of the Mountains Classification and 2nd overall in the Milk Race, two time Olympian and a National Time-Trial Champion to boot.

Toshi San and I would often amuse ourselves trying to imagine the conniptions his name might give to Eastern Bloc announcers when he lined up to start in the Peace Race:

“Lay-dees and jentleman, from Great Britaniya … Jowee Waah-ooghah!”

We could perhaps forgive those in continental Europe struggling with the pronunciation of Waugh, but what about the rest of the English speaking world?

As a native of the North East, Joe Waugh was, fiercely and rightly, Joe Woff to us, not Joe Worr as the softy southerners would have it. Still it wasn’t until I started trying to figure out Australian Batsmen Steve Waugh’s nickname that I realised something was truly amiss. Tugga? Tugga Woff? What’s all that about then?

At this point I realised most of the rest of the world were simply incapable of properly pronouncing the name Waugh.

Still, even though perhaps we should have known better, we held the BBC to higher standards. It was unforgiveable then when Joe had a very brief 30 seconds of fame and was interviewed by regular Grandstand sports presenter Frank Bough.

Confusingly, Frank Bough’s name was always, religiously pronounced as Boff, which was kind of ridiculous in its own right and sets him right up there with Puker Bauke Mollema in my mind

(Again, from the Urban Dictionary – boff:  A term to describe quick sexual intercourse which includes the man not taking off his pants and a lot of dry humping.)

To have him refer to Joe as Joe Worr then, was, to us youngsters back in Tyneside an insult and an outrage and we were all willing Joe to answer, “Well, Mr Bore, the race was…”

Sadly, Joe was far too much of a gentleman to correct Mr. Bore. Or, maybe he accepted his name being mangled in this way as preferable to being known as Jowee Waa-ooghah?

Even today the tradition continues and there are riders that have an extra cachet simply because their name sounds interesting, weird, exotic or strangely melodious, for example I give you:

Gatis Smukalis

Wilco Kelderman

Sasha Modolo

Fabio Felline

Thibout Pinot

You’ll note I don’t include Tejay Van Garderen in this, although he has a suitably Flemish “hard-man” surname … but Tejay? T.J.? Really?

Anyway, I was reminded of my delight in unusual names during Stage 7 of the Giro, from Castroviillari to Alberobello. The highlight of the stage? An early break which featured both Giuseppe Fonzi and Simone Ponsi.

Fonzi and Ponsi working seamlessly together. It made my day. Well, to be fair it was an otherwise uneventful stage.


 

Shiny Happy People and the Strava Nazis

Shiny Happy People and the Strava Nazis

Club Run, Saturday 6th May, 2017          

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  114 km / 71 miles with 1,131 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 23 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.9 km/h

Group size:                                        34 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                   14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cold and breezy


 

6 may
Ride Profile

Another chilly Saturday. I don’t think I can recall getting into May and only having had one ride warm enough for shorts. Today certainly wasn’t going to be the exception and it felt like my knee and arm warmers combined with long-fingered gloves were just the bare minimum.

Shock! Horror! Could Donald J. Trump actually be right and is climate change a complete fallacy. Well, no children – don’t be ridiculous, of course not.

Crossing the bridge I was distracted by a strange, piping, peep-peep-peep call as a pair of unusual looking white gulls with grey-chevrons on their wings and long, curved beaks skimmed low over the parapet and carried on downriver. Avocet’s perhaps, if I read the RSPB bird-identification website correctly, but really, really don’t trust me on that.

As I approached the Cobblestone Runway I was held up by a new set of temporary traffic lights. At first I thought perhaps they’d recognised how horrible the new road surface was and had set about rectifying the problem. But no, of course not, they were actually digging up the other side of the road no doubt in preparation for the installation of another anti-cycling, stealth-rumble strip on the opposite carriageway.

(Chatting with work colleague Mr T. he’s encountered something similar and is blaming Northumbrian Water and whatever contractors they employ. You have been warned.)


Main topics of conversation at the start:

Despite the depredations of the wind and occasional discomfiting road surface, I made it to the meeting point in good time, but I still wasn’t the first to arrive. That honour went to Facebook-postin’ carbon-stress-loadin’ Guiness-slurpin’ pie-chompin’ platter-spinnin’ real-ale-swilling curry-gobblin’ all-azione Thom-Thom – who had arrived from the opposite direction and been blown in from the coast in record time.

Either that or, by his own admission, he was having a spectacularly glorious good day.

We had a brief chat about Holdsworth and Holdsworthy bikes and wondered if there was any link between the two – I’d seen the Holdsworth business “empire” referred to as Holdsworthy before, but didn’t honestly know the answer to that one.

Benedict had planned and posted the ride for today and I think everyone must have underestimated his magnetic appeal and winning personality, as the pavement was soon crowded with well over 30 riders, which included an unusually high proportion of lasses too.

Crazy Legs looked on in mildly irritated disbelief at the massive turnout, which you couldn’t even attribute to the weather as it wasn’t sunny and was still decidedly chilly.

As he’s due to set the route and lead the ride next week, he vowed that if the turnout for his ride isn’t at least half as popular as Benedict’s he’ll stamp his foot loudly and quit in a fit of pique. This almost had the feel of a self-fulfilling prophecy though, as a load of us are due to be missing next week, either off for a training camp in sunny Majorca, or grinding their way through the Cheviot Hills in this year’s edition of the Wooler Wheel.

The Red Max suggested his hallowed bike shed was uncharacteristically unkempt at present, as he admitted defeat in his search to locate a spare crankset he was generously donating to the Crazy Legs Time-trial Bike Build Project. (CLTTBBP – JustGiving reference #OG7783682). I wondered what could possibly have caused such a disruption to the natural order of things and Red Max blamed a badly misunderstood, natural phenomenon known as “Monkey Butler Boy.”

I just hoped the sacred ziggurat of used bottom brackets escaped unsullied and still sacrosanct.

There was only time to salute the plucky winner of the first stage of the Giro – even though no one could remember his name (isn’t it fun when the sprinters teams screw up?) – and we were off.

(Chapeau of course to relatively unknown, Lukas Postlberger and the deeply unfancied (without Peter Sagan) Bora-Hansgroe team for winning Stage 1 of the Giro in such an impressive and surprising way. If he’d listened to Crazy Legs he would have immediately retired, as it just wont get any better than this.)


As we streamed out onto the road I dropped in beside Zardoz as we chatted about our cycling experiences “back in the day” – rock hard chamois inserts, wooden brake blocks, tweed plus-fours and having to be preceded everywhere by a walking man waving a red flag. The days before Shimano existed and when you either had expensive, market leading Campagnolo kit, or something markedly inferior. And most people chose Campagnolo.

We hadn’t gone far before we spotted a bulging black bin bag by the side of the road. Imagining something as horrific as last weeks “bag o’ bloody birds” we gave it a wide berth, only to find it appeared to be filled with nothing more sinister than grass clippings. Why?


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Spinning along at a decent pace, despite the increasingly problematic headwind, we were soon skirting Whittledene Reservoir, calling a quick pee stop and giving Zardoz the chance to slide backwards and well away from the front of the group. Here we discovered that Crazy Leg’s chain was slipping every time he applied too much pressure through the pedals.

He attributed this to perhaps mixing up his spacers when re-assembling the cassette after cleaning. He now toured round our group, looking for someone else with Campagnolo gears so he could compare cassettes, only to realise he was the only one who wasn’t riding a Shimano equipped bike, as even Andeven astride his fabulous, pure-bred, Italian Colnago had an Ultegra groupset.

Off we went again, with Crazy Legs trying to contain his problems by riding off the front and easing gently up the hills, or hanging off the back. The usual, short-sharp climbing brought us to a T-Junction, where we usually swing right and then sharp left, but today our route took us directly left and we began a long straight descent into the Tyne Valley.

We then hit the A69, four crazy-ass lanes of speeding traffic we’ve engaged with in a few breathless games of Frogger before. This time the junction spat us out at an actual crossing point, with a safe-haven of space half way across, where we could gather ourselves before a final dash to safety.

It wasn’t long before we were all stacked up behind Crazy Legs, crowded onto this small, tarmac meridian, in a weird game of cyclist sardines.

“Just watch,” Caracol suggested, “Crazy Legs will spot a gap, try darting across, then his chain will slip and we’ll all pile into the back of him and be killed in a massive accident.”

Luckily it wasn’t to be, and in bits and pieces, dribs and drabs we managed to scuttle across to safety, regroup and press on down, down into the Tyne Valley.

The valley floor led through a massive gymkhana, row upon row of shiny 4×4’s and horseboxes parked on one side of the road and lots of fat, little girls jiggling on fat, little ponies and bobbing along on the other side. For a brief moment I thought we might lose G-Dawg to the lure of the attendant chip, waffle and do-nut vans, as he turned his big, puppy-dog eyes in their direction and his nose started twitching at all the attendant fast-food smells, but he somehow managed to restrain himself.

A bit of climbing, a bit of regrouping and we were heading for Aydon, then more climbing across the bridge that soared back over the A69 and yet more climbing to escape the valley. From here we picked out a course for Matfen and the Quarry Climb and then the mad, helter-skelter dash to the café.

The indefatigable G-Dawg was once again on the front of things, with Andeven alongside as we turned off for the Quarry and straight into a buffeting and chilling gale.

Our two leaders were both equally effective, despite a massive contrast in styles. G-Dawg pushed a huge gear in stately, slow motion, while a languid Andeven spun unfussily up the inside. Both did fantastic work driving us straight into the vicious block headwind and keeping the pace high.

Near the very crest of the Quarry Climb, Zardoz shimmied and shook and hurled himself clear of the pack, darting to the top before everyone else, then we regrouped and G-Dawg once more found himself on the front.

He then turned his puppy dog eyes on me, a look he’d obviously been perfecting ever since we’d passed the takeaway trucks at the gymkhana. Against all better judgement, I felt duty bound to reward his herculean efforts and take over on the front to give him a breather before everyone started battling it out for the sprint finish.

Pushing ahead, I took us round the last junction and onto the road down to the Snake Bends, at least having the benefit of being able to pick my own line down the horribly pitted and broken road surface.

I was joined on the front by Benedict and I tried to push the pace on, tucking in low to help minimise wind drag and even attempting to accelerate over the small humps and dips along the road, each one of which soon began to feel like a major climb to me.

I battered away for as long as I could, which probably wasn’t all that long, desperately trying to remember how much further we had to go and then, suddenly I was done. I looked back to check the road was clear, then swung wide, sat up and let the pack off the leash, as they howled past and away.

At the back I found Crazy Legs still glass cranking to try and avoid his chain slipping. He offered up the shelter of his back wheel, but even that was too much and too fast for me and he was soon rolling away.

As we crossed the main road and skipped down the adjoining lane I’d just about recovered enough to catch Crazy Legs and we had a chat about how today’s route was on the limits of how far we could go and hope to be back at a reasonable time. We’d have really been pushing it if we’d had a mechanical or a puncture and as it was we’d still likely be late leaving the café and getting back home.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We managed to dart into the café just in front of a bunch of burly mountain-bikers and joined a very long queue, which seemed to be moving with glacial slowness. I caught Sneaky Pete just as he was sneaking off home and he warned us about dark mutterings of discontent among the other group, who apparently weren’t  quite bought into the new world order.

As we waited to be served, Crazy Legs admitted he’d quite enjoyed his enforced, glass-cranking “recovery ride” – which made a pleasant, very occasional change from a lung-bursting sprint. He said it was particularly welcome after riding last Saturday, Monday and then Tuesday night at our newly inaugurated chain-gang session.

I mentioned I myself had ridden Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday … only to learn that “commutes don’t count.”

Crazy Legs revealed that Taffy Steve is a bit of a Strava Nazi and once, when he’d inadvertently recorded a turbo session on Strava, Taffy Steve had  heaped opprobrium on him from the first to the last pedal stroke of following weeks club run. By the same token he reasoned commuter rides shouldn’t count.

Well, bollocks to that. If you can say it didn’t happen because it wasn’t on Strava, then by default, if it is on Strava then it must have happened. Anyway, I’m quite proud of my single-speed commutes up and down the Heinous Hill, even if the front chainring is admittedly the size of an asprin and the rear sprocket bigger than a dinner plate.

At the table, Crazy Legs imparted how his son has become a connoisseur of dad jokes, which he’d realised when a simple query of, “All right, son?” was met with the hoary old, “No, I’m half left.”

We then had a round-robin of crap dad jokes:

“What do you call a blind elk? No idea.”

“What do you call a dead, blind elk? Still no idea.”

“What do you call a fly with no wings? A walk.”

Our collection was then topped, tailed and signed off in unbeatable style when Son of G-Dawg wondered, “If you pour root beer into a square glass, does it become just beer?”

Meanwhile, Crazy Legs’ issue with his cassette led to a discussion about cassette spacers and how G-Dawg was desperate to find someone who could make him coloured ones. He wanted some in yellow to add just a little more co-ordination to his bike and have yet one more excuse to keep his cassette spotlessly clean.

Crazy Legs suggested that for anyone with an 8-speed, a rainbow coloured series of spacers would always ensure you assembled your cassette correctly and avoid any embarrassment caused by slipping chains.

I could just imagine him, beavering away in his garage and muttering to himself, “Now, how does it go again? Richard of York gave battle  …”

Meanwhile, the BFG revealed he has no such issues as he keeps all the instructions he’s ever got with any bike components handily pinned to his fridge door with magnets. He (and his family) now enjoy easy access to instructions on assembling a cassette in 17 different languages, complete with multiple exploded diagrams.

Suddenly, Zardoz started chuckling away and when we looked at him quizzically chortled, “Root beer in a square glass. That’s funny.”

He then revealed he’d once been working in New York and learned that the natives would always suggest the best way to keep an Englishman happy in his old age was to tell him lots of jokes when he was young…

I had a chat with Famous Sean’s as we queued for the loo. He hadn’t been out with us for a good long time, but gave the new, split group option a big thumbs up and said how much he’d enjoyed the ride.

Meanwhile Crazy Legs had a chat with Rad-Man who’d been with the second group and he to said the ride had been great and he was more than happy with how things had gone.

Later, Facebook-postin’ carbon-stress-loadin’ Guiness-slurpin’ pie-chompin’ platter-spinnin’ real-ale-swilling curry-gobblin’ all-azione Thom-Thom, also riding with the second group would, true to his name, take to Facebook to declare that it had been an “excellent ride.”

None of this stopped OGL collaring Bendict and suggesting some of the older club members were unhappy with the arrangements, felt the club was descending into chaos and complain how the second group had been left with no strong riders to sit on the front all day and shelter them from the wind!

He then came by our table to reiterate the same points.

I personally haven’t spoken to anyone who doesn’t think the changes we are trying to implement aren’t for the better,  but would suggest everyone is open to discussing how we could sensibly improve things and the best way forward.

Hmm, well, maybe not everyone…


We set off for home and I rode alongside the BFG as we tried to guess what the square box  prominent in G-Dawg’s rear pocket could possibly be. We finally decided it was a pack of 20 Rothman’s King Size cigarettes that he (probably) carried only for show.

With us running fairly late, I took early leave of the group, skipping the dubious pleasures of Berwick Hill and Dinnington to swing right and cut a big corner off by looping back through Ponteland.

From here I decided to try and trace a different route home – crossing the River Pont and then turning immediately right. I thought I had swung too far to the west and I was back tracking, but checking the route on Strava afterwards it was pretty direct and threw up lots of other alternative  ways I could take for a bit of welcome variety.

I was even more delighted to see I’d secured the 4th best time ever on a short, Strava segment called Hillhead Barps, which I only mention as it gave me bragging rights over ex-club mate, work colleague and the much younger, super-strong racer Nick Spencer. By a whole second.

I made it home just shy of 6 hours after leaving, having completed over 70 miles and feeling suitably tired. Still, I guess the “officially recognised” Strava riding’s over for another week so I can rest up. Well, unless I’m tempted out by our newly instigated Tuesday night chain-gang, although to be honest, I can’t think of any other style of cycling that I’m less suited to.


YTD Totals: 2,727 km / 1,694 miles with 29,968 metres of climbing

The Hold Steady

Club Run, Saturday 21st May, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  114 km / 71 miles with 1,056 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 9 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.4 km/h

Group size:                                         24 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    19°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and passably warm

Main topic of conversation at the start:

I’d donated a pair of arm warmers to Taffy Steve because they were far too big for my puny, spindly arms and just a tiny bit too tight to even wear on my legs. He modelled them for his ride in and wondered what kind of idiot needed a big L and R on each cuff so they would know which arm to put them on.

I held out both my arms so he could see the corresponding L and R on the cuffs of my sleeves and explained this was even worse because these weren’t individual arm warmers, but a long sleeved base layer, with a logo on the front breast, a label inside the back and a scooped neck at the front so you know exactly which way to put it on. Or maybe not.

This left us wondering if cyclists could be unintentionally set up as the sporting equivalent of the dumb blonde. It reminded Taffy Steve of awful Irish “comedian” Jimmy Cricket who featured in The Krankies Klub with The Krankies and Bobby Davro. Now there’s a Iine-up that could still make me break me out in a cold sweat.

As well as lame catchphrases, Jimmy Cricket was of course famous for wearing wellies with a big L and R incised on the front, but wait, there’s more, as he hilariously wore these on the wrong feet. I know, side-splittingly funny.

This in turn reminded me of a very old and fetid joke about C&A knickers, but let’s not go there and then lead to completely unfounded speculation that posited OGL as the Bernard Manning of the local cycling club scene.

With the weather being a bit of a lottery as to how much rain we might get and exactly when, Crazy Legs revealed he’d packed his non-waterproof waterproof. Taffy Steve was imminently disdainful of any waterproof jacket and explained he must be putting them on inside out as the outside would remain dry, while the inside quickly became sodden.

An interesting article about changing cycling club culture that the Hammer had posted on our Faecesbook page caused a little, but in my mind not enough debate. I may yet have to return to this topic, much like a dog to its own vomit.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Crazy Legs revealed someone had invented a pump integrated into a seat tube, but of course you had to dismantle half of your bike to access it. It apparently weighs in at a measly 718g and is yours for a mere $50 plus P&P.


biologic-postpump-1


We decided the design could be improved if it worked in situ, the piston action perhaps providing a degree of suspension to smooth out a few bumps in the road. Even better if it was always connected and the bumps inflated your tyres as you rolled along. The problem then of course would be that on the horribly rutted and potted roads around here you would very quickly inflate your tyres beyond rock hard and unrideable, right up to spectacular blow out levels.

Thoughts turned to the Giro and I suggested (wrongly as it turns out) that no one with a team in our club fantasy Giro league had selected Valverde. Crazy Legs suggested this was because no one liked the wheel-sucking, drug-cheating, play-it-safe, selfish and unrepentant-doper, not even his own Movistar team mates.

He cited an early stage in the Giro when Visconti wouldn’t leave a breakaway in order to help his supposed leader, feigning radio problems before blatantly arguing with his DS and adamantly refusing to drop back to help.

There was further speculation that Valverde was so unpopular he didn’t have any friends on Faecesbook, no connections on Linked-In and no followers on Strava.

Crazy Legs complained his team of fantasy picks had been systematically decimated, his bad luck particularly epitomised by J.C. Peraud, simultaneously riding both his first and very last Giro, given joint team-leadership responsibilities and not even surviving long enough to ride a single metre on Italian roads.

This in turn brought up discussions about the proposed Giro 2018 start in Japan and how long a rest would be needed to recover from a 14-hour transfer. As a solution we came up with the idea of twinning – one rider completing the first few overseas stages before handing over to another rider to finish things off.

We then decided it would be more fun if the riders were “twinned” by lottery and it would be interesting to see who they were paired with and their reactions when the draw was made, for example when an overall contender had to rely on say Marcel Kittel to climb the 3,778 metres up Mount Fuji.

I suggested the riders could actually pick their twins, like choosing sides for a playground kick around and how informative it would be to see who was last man selected. Crazy Legs though scolded me for being silly, as it was obvious who would be the last man picked: the ever unpopular Alejandro Valverde obviously.

He then caught Son of G-Dawg fiddling with his phone and accused him of being caught quickly and surreptitiously unfriending Valverde on Faecesbook. We waited for the phone to ring and a Spanish accented voice start to plead with Son of G-Dawg not to follow through with the unfriending –  but sadly it never happened. Perhaps Balaverde (the Green Bullet) had other things on his mind at the time?


Ride profile 21 May
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

Despite having everything set out and sorted the night before, I found myself strangely short of time and dashing around early Saturday morning trying to get ready and out the door to ensure a timely arrival at the meeting point. It wasn’t to be and leaving over 10 minutes behind my usual schedule, I considered shortening my route, but thought if I just pushed a little faster than normal I could still make it before we set off for our regular and prompt 9.00 o’clock start (i.e. at 9.20 on the nose).

I dropped quickly down the hill and turned straight into a headwind that had me even more concerned and gave a little extra impetus and no small measure of unwelcome resistance to my charge. My usual early morning ramble now had a measure of urgency that saw me crouched low over the bike and trying to keep a high cadence.

With one eye on the time display of my Garmin, I passed the 8.42-mile mark (which I knew I’d hit at exactly 8:42 a couple of weeks back when I was on schedule) and checked to find it was only 8:35. I’d somehow made up the missing 10 plus minutes, gained another 5 and was now in danger of being much too early. I dialled the intensity back to a more, steady pace I could actually hold, but not before I’d set 4 Strava PR’s with my efforts.

For the day I’d chosen the most extreme version of kit matching imaginable to go with my black, red and yellow bike with the Lion of Flanders bar end plugs, yellow and black Vitorria Corsa tyres and carefully selected black red and yellow, BMC/PowerBar water bottle. This consisted of a Planet X Flanders jersey and shorts in yellow, black and red emblazoned with the Lion of Flanders, my new, very, very shiny, very, very red and very, very plasticky Chinese shoes and yellow socks also emblazoned with a black Lion of Flanders.


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Is this going too far?

The whole was topped off with a new Carnac aero helmet in black, yellow and red which, just to change things up a little, was emblazoned with the Lion of Flanders across the crown. According to one of my esteemed work colleagues this makes me look like an angry wasp, although I prefer to think the look is more akin to a benevolent, bumbling bee.

Lots of people … I was going to say complimented me, but I think just commented on my kit choice is the more accurate description. They did however all suggest I was at the very least “well co-ordinated.” There you go, I’m not the best rider in the club, nor the fastest, nor even the most stylish, but just for this one day I was the most co-ordinated and at my age you’ve got to take your victories where you can find them.

Crazy Legs suggested the whole look was ruined because my sunglasses didn’t match and I had to sheepishly admit I had some in a fetching shade of black, red and yellow on order, they just hadn’t arrived yet. Hmm, there’s a book called obsessive compulsive cycling disorder, isn’t there? I wonder if it’s catching…


 

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The anointed time arrived and 24 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out under intermittingly bright and sunny skies and occasionally dark, overcast patchwork cloud. All the weather forecasts had predicted that we were likely to see rain at some point during the day, the only question was exactly when and with what intensity and duration.

I completed the first part of the ride alongside the Monkey Butler Boy, fresh from conquering the Wooler Wheel and growing fast. Too fast. I’ve tried to persuade the Red Max to stop feeding him, but apparently he has well-honed foraging instincts and is surprisingly feral.

At one point we were split with cars in between the gaps and stopped at a junction to regroup. It was here that we learned we’d lost Szell, who had turned for home after only a few miles with no indication of why he’d abandoned. Perhaps he was just disappointed our intended route didn’t involve an ascent of Middleton Bank.

Pretty much from the re-start I found myself on the front with Caracol where the wind became particularly noticeable and occasionally head-on and energy sapping. Nonetheless we pushed things along at a steady pace until we reached one of our traditional places to stop and split the group.


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The Red Max tried to persuade the Monkey Butler Boy that the long route was actually the shortest way to the café. Armed with a keen sense of mistrust, perhaps common in many father-son relationships, but I suspect especially well-honed between this pair, the Monkey Butler Boy wasn’t buying it. Perhaps remembering the “shorter, easier route” that took in the Ryals a few week past, he needed a great deal of persuading to accompany the longer, harder, faster group and a bit of bribery as well, managing to offload his rain cape from his own back pocket onto his dad.

At one point we passed by what I can best describe as a dead duck in the middle of the road, (it was a duck and it was indeed dead) though it looked surprisingly intact. Disappointingly there was no one within our ranks to claim the carcase.

The pace increased as we approached the Quarry Climb and when Andeven spun away up the outside with Caracol in pursuit, I accelerated to follow, cresting the climb to find Crazy Legs in close attendance on my rear wheel, apparently just in case I tried a long, long break for home!


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I had time for a brief chat with Aveline, who’d had her rear wheel fixed and was pleased to find it no longer sounded like a bag of loose spanners, or made her feel seasick with the constant wobbling and then the pace started to build for the run to the café.

A sudden burst off the front saw a gap opening and with a massive effort, out of the saddle with the bike skipping and bouncing, I managed to bridge as last man across as we fractured into two groups.  I hung on as riders rotated off the front, an improvised paceline that whipped the speed up even higher.

Crazy Legs rolled back from his stint at the spearhead and slotted in front of me, while Son of G-Dawg charged off the front. Moscas tried surging up the inside, but couldn’t close the gap and we slowly crept up and then parallel with him.

Crazy Legs now manoeuvred so he was riding practically down the white line to try and find the least damaged piece of road surface. It helped, but not by much, as wheels continued to bounce and everything shook viciously.

I moved to overtake him, but was straying into the opposite lane and a car, still quarter of a mile away took exception and started flashing his lights furiously. Being sensible for once and realising my overtaking speed was likely to be akin to glacial creep, I eased, slipped back and tucked in again.

The car swept past and I tried once more, hitting the front of the pack just behind the front runners in time to sit up and ease back for the Snake Bends. As usual, great fun mixed with a little danger and some pure exhilaration.

From the café Taffy Steve again found himself leading the charge home and opted to pull over and let someone else batter ahead into the wind. I was still feeling good so joined Sneaky Pete on the front, trying to contain his over-exuberance and try and limit the number of “Steady!” cries we were generating from behind.

At one point he suggested, “Steady’s all you’ll ever get from me” I would have laughed, but I was too out of breath trying to keep pace with his incessant half-wheeling. Retired folk these days eh? You just can’t control them.

I actually thought we did a damn fine job pulling everyone home to the point when half turned off and the rest were able to slingshot around us and charge down the Mad Mile.

A good ride and the rain never did manage to catch us, but it’ll have to keep me going for a week or two as I head off on holiday. How inconvenient. No doubt I’ll miss more vintage runs full of of fun and frivolity and, who knows maybe even a welcome return for Captain America. Enjoy the peace.

I’ll be back…


YTD Totals: 2,932 km / 1,821 miles with 28,170 metres of climbing

The Driller Killer

The Driller Killer

Club Run, Saturday 7th May, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  121 km / 75 miles with 1,1094 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 42 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.6 km/h

Group size:                                         32 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Overcast, dry

 Main topics of conversation at the start:

Crazy Legs arrived astride his much beloved and cosseted Ribble – a sign more reassuring than even a pinky-promise from 100 of the world’s leading climatologists and weather forecasters that there was absolutely zero chance of any precipitation on our ride today. (He would however be caught getting off and carrying his bike gingerly around the few puddles that still lingered in the shadier parts of the lanes.)

He’d just returned from a brief sojourn on the south coast of Spain, declaring the trip absolutely fabulous and the cycling fantastic, but claimed the big, big mountain climbs (3,000 metres plus) in the Sierra Nevada had utterly destroyed him. He said it was an awful, dreadful, hateful, horrible, anguishing and humbling experience … and he couldn’t wait to go back.

He then turned his ire on the public poll to name the new, £200 million British Antarctic Survey ship where the people’s choice, “Boaty MacBoatface” handily won the online vote with over 124,000 supporters.

In this instance however the “voice of the people” had been inexplicably ignored and the ship has been named after Sir David Attenborough. In protest Crazy Legs declared his beloved and cosseted Ribble would now be known as Bikey MacBikeface. No doubt he’ll be lending his support to the petition which has just started to persuade David Attenborough to change his name to Boaty MacBoatface in recompense.

Taffy Steve was pleased to note that for the first time in weeks the “hard core of utter idiots” who’d ridden right the way through the winter with him, G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, The Red Max and me were re-united. If possible his grin spread even wider when he was reminded OGL was away on the club training camp in Majorca and we’d once again be off the leash.

G-Dawg had just formulated and gained consensus for a proposed route on some less travelled roads when Szell appeared, shaking off his winter torpor for a first club run of 2016. This is quite early for him actually, it’s still May and he’s only missed a quarter of the year.

His sudden and unexpected appearance gave us pause as ideally we needed a route that included Middleton Bank so we could practice our Szell Game – drop him on the climb, re-group over the top, then wait and wait and wait until he’d just … nearly … almost … made it back and then accelerate smartly away. Small? Petty? Childish? Yes, yes, yes, but great fun nonetheless.

As it was we decided to stick to the original plan which would take us in a big, clockwise loop around the Ryals to climb up past the radio mast at Beukley Farm before some demon descending down the A68, a sharp right turn and then more climbing to get us back up to a road that would eventually lead to the café.

Hopefully G-Dawg wouldn’t need his inner ring, although I’ve been led to understand it’s no longer in pristine, like-new condition after last week when, contrary to my earlier understanding, it was actually used in anger for the first time.

I’m only comfortable writing this as I have sworn affidavits from two independent witnesses who saw G-Dawg climbing on the inner ring last week, although I have yet to confirm rumours that he paid someone else to actually make the shift for him so his hands could remain unsullied.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We had pushed two tables together and it seemed to attract cyclists like a magnet pulls in iron filings as we attempted to see just how many chairs we could squeeze around it. We were soon sitting pressed together almost two deep, the table surface all but invisible under a mound of cups and cakes and plates and trays and cutlery and helmets.

Crazy Legs, channelling the inner maturity and sophisticated wit that makes him a (self-proclaimed) Cards Against Humanity demon, nodded across at another group in the far corner where Goose, Captain Black and a one or two others were spread out and luxuriating in a wide empty table and acres of space and explained their relative isolation by declaring, “That’s the stinky table.”

The noise of our incessant chattering, punctuated by giggling and guffaws drew the ire of other café patrons, in particular an elderly couple sitting adjacent, the woman wearing the kind of expression usually reserved for someone being forced to wash down mouthfuls of sauerkraut with long draughts of apple cider vinegar. I had to resist the urge to lean across and tell her it could be worse, she could be sitting next to the stinky table.

And then we actually managed to make it worse after all as one of the girls kicked a tray she’d leaned up and out of the way. It slid down the wall with a prolonged, rattling, rumbling scrape and then cracked down onto the floor with a noise like a pistol shot. Oops.

I now suggested “Duchess Suck-Lemon” actually needed to suck on a lemon to improve her disposition and help her face un-pucker just by the tiniest of margins. Sadly, my observation prompted a rambling discourse from Crazy Legs about all the lemon groves he’d recently ridden through on his Spanish venture, where apparently all the lemons looked so perfect that he began to think they were artificial.


 

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On stopping near one plantation he’d found a lemon on the ground and had opened it up just to check it was natural, only to start wondering if maybe the fallen lemon was a plant to convince gullible tourists that all the others were real. I can only attribute this level of paranoia to to the high altitude, oxygen deprivation and the sensory overload from exposure to warm sunshine following a winter of unmitigated bleakness in northern England.

He then foolishly told me he’d started watching fantastic Scandi-TV thriller, The Bridge and received both barrels of my enthusiastic acclaim for all the odd European TV shows that tend to appear without any great fanfare on BBC4 or E4 – The Killing, Borgen, Spiral, The Returned, Deutschland 83, The Cordon, Blue Eyes et al.

At one point I caught up with the Prof who’d dropped off the back of the group when his rear wheel started to disastrously unravel. We thought we’d seen the last of him and he would be calling for a taxi home, but his running repairs had been successful and he’d made it to the café.

He started to give me a long and very convoluted description of exactly what had gone wrong, something about axles and cones, bearings, cassettes, freewheels and quick release skewers, retaining nuts, tolerances and not having tightened everything up sufficiently. “Ah,” I suggested simply trying to cut through the all technical obfuscation, “You bodged it.”

Crazy Legs and G-Dawg had been out riding with the Wednesday Crazy Gang and they had revealed Szell used to ride with them back in the day and his nickname then was “The Driller.” Perfect.


 

Ride 7 may
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

Saturday turned out to be somewhat disappointingly cold after what had been a very pleasant week, with decent weather and prolonged sunshine. Still, while the sky was a monotonous and uniform shade of dingy grey and there was no chance of even a sliver of direct sunlight, it was dry and relatively calm. Good enough.

I found it still chilly enough for light, long-fingered gloves, but my legs did get their first airing of the year and I was able to show off my new, very, very shiny, very, very plasticky and very, very red Chinese shoes.

En route to the meeting point I was stopped at a level crossing to let a train rumble slowly past, but caught the lights on the bridge just right to skip across on the tail of the rest of the traffic. Swings and roundabouts – or lights and crossings?

A brief stop to irrigate some foliage found me rolling up to the meeting point with G-Dawg and Son, where we eventually numbered just over 30 lads and lasses, including a healthy contingent of our kids who always take to the roads on the first Saturday of every month.

We agreed to G-Dawg’s hastily improvised but unerringly good route, pushed off, clipped in and rode out. I found myself alongside Szell who told me he hadn’t been out for an age as he was currently playing in two covers bands and was finding it difficult to find any free time between (and I quote) “the music, the hoes and the blow.” I assume he was being ironic, but you just never know.


 

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He was keen to know where we were going to and whether a slower group was likely to form, already planning for a quick escape. He then knowingly asked if we would be taking in his own personal bete noire, Middleton Bank –  just so we could enjoy his suffering, suggesting he possessed a degree of self-awareness that I would never have attributed him with.

As we passed through one sleepy little village, Szell proclaimed how much he liked Genghis Khan’s quote about the greatest happiness being, “to scatter your enemy and drive him before you. To see his cities reduced to ashes. To see those who love him shrouded and in tears. And to gather to your bosom his wives and daughters.”


 

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“You don’t mess with Genghis Kahn!” he opined, loud enough for Crazy Legs to overhear and bark with delight, before commenting that you can find the strangest conversations buried in the heart of the bunch.

Szell drifted backwards after a few hills and I found myself riding along beside Taffy Steve, until we all had to single out and navigate around a large, very wide and very yellow bus. The driver stopped to let us through and called out something like, “Whey aye! gann on man, canny lad, a’ll keep yez al warkin!”


 

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Whey aye! gann on man, canny lad, a’ll keep yez al warkin!” – or something like that anyway

“Nice of him to stop, but I haven’t got a clue what he was saying.” Taffy Steve said as we regrouped and pressed on, chatting about the irrepressible Mario Cipollini and his ever so slightly inflated ego.

We started to climb on a road that wound up into the hills and turned into a somewhat rough, single lane farm track, becoming strung out in a long line as we crept slowly up toward a summit dominated by a massive radio tower. The surface was in a poor state and there was lots of pointing and an increasing number of hazard call-outs:

“Pots”

“Pots!”

“Gravel”

“Mud”

“Shite”

“Pots!”

Sneaky Pete suggested the Belgians might have the cobbled classics, the Italians Strada Bianca, but we were the only ones to get Strada Merda!

We then passed a pothole so deep that G-Dawg suggested that if you fell in you would have to ride around the bottom, like a wall of death to build up enough speed to attain an escape velocity and get out the other side.

We were soon crawling past the radio mast and up to the junction with the A68 before stopping to regroup. We now had a fantastic, long and fast drop off the top, then a sharp right turn and more climbing to replace the altitude we’d just thrown away so carelessly.


 

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Yet more climbing led us to a new junction where we again regrouped with some of the youngsters and Szell hurting and well off the back. It was here that we heard about the Prof’s wheel disintegrating, but the word came up not to wait and just press on.

The Red Max said he would take the youngsters off on a shorter route to the café while everyone else continued. Szell, perhaps sensing an end to his needless suffering decided to tag along too and then Sneaky Pete sneaked away with the group as well. What the sadistic Max had failed to mention however was his chosen, shorter route actually included an ascent of the rather fearsome Ryals. Oh dear.


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We continued with yet more climbing until we finally reached roads I began to recognise and the pace started to creep up. Soon there was a split and a compact bunch of us were driving toward the café at high speed, buzzing like a swarm of angry bees on the rampage.

As the road levelled and straightened, Son of G-Dawg surged around everyone and opened up a clear gap. I rounded G-Dawg and pulled everyone along for a while, then Captain Black powered through and carried everyone past me in turn, so I slotted back into the end of the line. Son of G-Dawg had sat up by now, job done as Captain Black swept past and into the Snake Bends.


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We flew over the junction and set out straight up the main road, my least favoured option, keeping the pace incredibly high. Once more I latched onto G-Dawgs rear wheel and let him drag me to the café.

I’m beginning to think G-Dawg’s rear wheel as my ultimate safety blanket, but he must be sick seeing me there every time he turns round – like having an unwelcome stalker always two steps behind you everywhere you go. I must ween myself off this and find some other target for my now very well perfected wheel-sucking chicanery.

On the way home I had time to chat with Captain Black and we laid tentative plans to tackle the new, 90 mile Cyclone route. Sneaky Pete and Taffy Steve had also suggested it was their favoured option, so we should be able to pull a small group together for it.

We also had a chat about the Giro and the surprise performance of ex-Ski jumper Primož Roglič. We wondered how he descended and whether we’d see him stand up on the pedals and lean forward with his hands clasped behind his back. I seem to remember some tale of Bernard Hinault experimenting with a bizarre Superman descending pose, but this could be even more spectacular.

I also had words with Carlton who noticed how relatively calm and ordered the ride had been, even without the strident exclamations of the absent OGL and we had a brief chat about whether the club needed to start thinking about succession planning for when the old feller finally hangs up his cleats.

As regular readers may know, OGL is our de facto Road Captain, Club President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Chairman, Secretary, Event Organiser, Social and Welfare Officer, Patron, Club Committee, Route Finder, Web Controller, Archivist, Photographer, Social Media Gatekeeper, Weatherman, Chief Recruiter and Club Ambassador, so it’s not a case of simply nominating the next man up.

As the group split and I entered the Mad Mile I passed Szell, sitting in the middle of the group and still plugging gamely away having survived a rather torrid first run of the year. I waved him off with a cheery “Next week?” and then pressed on for home.

A long, lumpy ride, but a great run and the weather is finally starting to turn good. Things are looking up.


YTD Totals: 2,567 km / 1,595 miles with 24,253 metres of climbing

Van Impudence!


An ode to grace …

So, there I was, awkwardly adrift in the cultural hellhole that was the early ‘70’s on Tyneside and entranced by an exotic sport held mainly in distant countries and with no media support to fuel a burgeoning fascination. In a time long before even World of Sport began their token showing of less than 1% of the world’s greatest, most gruelling, sporting extravaganza, the Tour de France, options for following races were as limited as your chances of buying a white Model T Ford.

The only Tour updates in those days were an occasional list of stage winners and, if we were very lucky, an updated top 10 GC, all hidden within the dreaded “Other Results” buried in the back pages of the Sports section of daily newspapers and usually secreted under all the football stuff that had already been reported elsewhere.

The cycling results were so small and so barely legible that they would have given actual small-print a bad name, and corporate lawyers a hard-on that could last for weeks.

Beyond these barest, most perfunctory of details, we restlessly devoured stage reports in Cycling (this was so long ago that it was even before the profound and dynamic name change to “Cycling Weekly”) to try and get a feel for the drama and the ebb and flow of the ongoing battle, but what came through was a generally disjointed and less than the sum of its parts.

For the young cycling neophyte the biggest treasures were a series of books published by the Kennedy Brothers following the narrative of each Grand Tour, imaginatively titled “Tour ’77” or “Giro ‘73” (you get the picture).

Although published weeks after the publicity caravans had packed away their tat and as the gladiatorial names garishly graffiti’d on the roads slowly began to fade, these books told a compelling narrative of the race, from the first to last pedal stroke, replete with some stunning high quality photos.

Opening the crackling white pages you could inhale deeply and almost catch a faint whiff of the sunflowers, Orangina and embrocation, as you were instantly transported to the side of the road to watch the peloton whirring by.


 

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It’s in one of these Tour books that I first stumbled across a full-page photo of a boyish, fresh-faced young man, posed with some faceless fat functionary to receive a completely bizarre gazelle-head plaque. This may have been a prize for winning a stage, or the mountains classification, having the most doe –like eyes in the peloton, successfully passing through puberty, or something like that.


 

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What struck me most though was that this hardened, elite, professional athlete didn’t look all that different from me – he wasn’t all that tall, very slight of build and looked so young – creating the impression of an instant underdog.

I would also later learned that under the jauntily perched cap was a head that would be subjected to some criminally bad hair moments too – instant empathy, although I never sank quite as low as having a perm.

It was hard to believe this rider was capable of comfortably mixing it up with the big, surly men of the peloton, with their hulking frames, chiselled legs, granite faces and full effusions of facial hair. Not only that, but when the road bent upwards he would fly and leave everyone grovelling helplessly in his wake.

The young man is Lucien Van Impe and the accompanying chapter of the book is titled Van Impudence, and relates in detail how he defied the hulking brutes of the peloton and their supreme leader King Ted, to wreak his own brand of cycling havoc in the mountains.

It was here that began my long-standing love affair with the grimpeurs, the pure climbers of the cycling world, those who want to defy gravity and try to prove Newton was a dunce.


 

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An Astaire-like glide

Watch any YouTube videos of the time and you’ll see the big men of the Tour grinding horribly uphill, their whole bodies contorted as they attempt to turn over massive gears and physically wrestle the slopes into submission.

Merckx, indisputably the greatest cyclist of all time is probably the worst offender, and looks like he’s trying to re-align his top tube by brute strength alone,  while simultaneously starring in a slow-motion film of someone enduring a course of severe electro-shock therapy.

Then look at Van Impe, at the cadence he’s riding at, the effortless style and how he flows up the gradients. Woah.

His one-time Directeur Sportif, and by no means his greatest fan, Cyrille Guimard would say, “You had to see him on a bike when the road started to rise. It was marvellous to see, he was royally efficient. He had everything: the physique, fluidity, an easy and powerful pedalling style.”


 

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A decent time trialist on his day, this is Van Impe during the 1976 Tour ITT – in yellow and on his way to overall victory

In his book, Alpe d’Huez: The Story of Pro Cycling’s Greatest Climb, Peter Cossins writes that, “Van Impe’s style is effortless and majestic. Watching him, one can’t help but think that riding up mountains is the easiest thing in the world. His is no heavy-footed stomp, but an Astaire-like glide.”

Many cycling fans prefer the rouleurs and barradeurs, the big framed, hard-men, the grinders who churn massive gears with their endless, merciless attacks, dare-devil descending and never-say-die attitudes.


 

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Van Impe wears the green jersey of the Giro’s best climber with much more aplomb than the highly suspect perm

Others seem to like the controllers who grind their way to victory, eating up and spitting out mile after mile of road at a relentless, contained pace, regardless of whether they’re riding a time-trial, a mountain stage or across a pan flat parcours.

For me though pure poetry lies in those slight, mercurial riders, who would suddenly be transformed – given wings and the ability to dance away from the opposition when the road tilts unremittingly skyward.

Even more appealing, they’re all just a little skewed and a bit flaky, wired a little bit differently to everyone else or, as one of my friends would say, “as daft as a ship’s cat”. The best can even be a little bit useless and almost a liability when the roads are flat, or heaven forbid dip down through long, technical descents.

The power of the Internet and YouTube in particular has even let me rediscover some of the great climbers from before my time, the idols who inspired Van Impe, such as Charly Gaul and Federico Bahamontes.


 

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Gaul and Bahamontes

This pair, the “Angel of the Mountains” and “Eagle of Toldeo” respectively, both had that little bit of extra “climber flakiness” to set them apart. Bahamontes was terrified of descending on his own and was known to sit and eat ice-cream at the top of mountains while waiting for other riders so he had company on the way down.

Gaul’s demons were a little darker, once threatening to knife Bobet for a perceived slight and for a long period in his later life he became a recluse, living in a shack in the woods and wearing the same clothes day after day.

As Jacques Goddet, the Tour de France director observed, Van Impe also had “a touch of devilry that contained a strong dose of tactical intelligence” and was referred to as “l’ouistiti des cimes” – the oddball of the summits in certain sections of the French press.

Goddet went on to describe the climber as possessing “angelic features, always smiling, always amiable,” and yet Van Impe was known to be notoriously stubborn and difficult to manage, requiring careful handling, constant reassurance and a close coterie of attendants who would cater to his every whim away from the bike.

Cyrille Guimard, who coached, cajoled, goaded and drove Van Impe to his greatest achievement, Tour de France victory in 1976, described him as “every directeur sportif’s nightmare.”


 

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Van Impe doing what he does best

While I’ve enjoyed watching and following many good and some great riders, it’s always the climbers who’ve captivated me the most, although just being a good climber doesn’t seem to be enough. In fact it’s quite difficult to define the exact qualities that I appreciate – Marco Pantani and Claudio Chiapucci never “had it” and nor does current fan favourite and, ahem, “world’s best climber” the stone-faced Nairo Quintana.

There has to be a little something else, some quirk or spark of humanity that I can identify with and that sets the rider apart and makes them a joy to watch and follow. Of today’s climbers I’m most hopeful for Romain Bardet – he seems to have character, style and a rare intelligence, but only time will tell if he blossoms into a truly great grimpeur.


 

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“Always smiling, always amiable”

From the past, our very own Robert Millar of course was up there with the best (although my esteem may be coloured by intense nationalism). Andy Hampsten, on a good day, was another I liked to watch and, for a time the young Contador, when he seemed fresh and different and believable.

Still, none have come close to supplanting Van Impe in my estimation and esteem. He would go on to win the Tour in 1976 and perhaps “coulda/shoulda” won the following year, if not for being knocked off his bike by a car while attacking alone on L’Alpe D’Huez. See, that sort of shit happened even back in the “good, old days.”

By the time Van Impe’s career was finally over (including a retirement and comeback) he’d claimed the Tour de France King of the Mountains jersey on a record 6 separate occasions (matching his hero Bahamontes) and a feat that has never been bettered. (Fuck you Richard Virenque and your performance enhanced KoM sniping, I refuse to acknowledge your drug enabled “achievements”).


 

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On the attack, in the jersey he became synonymous with

In contrast, both during and after his professional career, Van Impe never tested positive, never refused a doping test and has never been implicated in any form of doping controversy – he’s either incredibly, astonishingly lucky, clever and cunning, or the closest thing you’ll ever get to the definition of a clean rider.

So, if you follow the Kitty Kelley premise that “a hero is someone we can admire without apology,” then Van Impe resolutely ticks all the boxes for me.

During his career he also managed to pick up awards for the most likeable person in the peloton and the Internet is replete with video and images of him as a good-natured and willing participant in some weirdly bizarre stunts, such as his spoof hour record attempt – proof he was an all-round good guy who never seemed to take himself too seriously.


 

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In this bizarre and apparently hilarious (if you speak Flemish) YouTube clip, Van Impe is seen challenging Moser’s Hour record

In all Van Impe completed an incredible 15 Tour’s, never abandoning and was an active participant and presence in all of them.

He won the race in 1976 and was 2nd once and 3rd on three separate occasions, finishing in the Top 5 eight times. Along the way he won 9 individual stages and achieved all this while riding for a succession of chronically weak teams and competing when two dominant giants of the sport, Merckx and Hinault, were in their pomp.

Van Impe was also 2nd overall in the Giro, winning one stage and two mountains classifications on a couple of rare forays into Italy.

Not just a one-trick pony though, he could  ride a decent time-trial and won a 40km ITT in the 1975 Tour, when he handily beat the likes of Merckx, Thévenet, Poulidor and Zoetemelk.

Even more surprisingly for a pure climber he even somehow managed to win the Belgian National Road Race Championship in 1983 after coming out of retirement.

I’m not sure if this represents Van Impe’s skills and talent, a particularly favourable parcours, or simply the nadir of Belgian cycling. Maybe all three?


 

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Belgian National Champion

In October this year Van Impe turned 70 and until recently was still actively engaged in cycling through the Wanty-Groupe Gobert Pro-Continental Team. He lives with his wife, Rita in a house named Alpe D’Huez, a reminder of the mountain where he set the foundations for his greatest triumph and perhaps suffered his most heartbreaking defeat.


 

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An elder Van Impe – still active in cycling

Not bad for the one time newspaper delivery boy and apprentice coffin-maker from the flatlands of Belgium.

Vive Van Impe!