Eyepoppin’ heartstoppin’ legshreddin’ heavysleddin’ bloodboilin’ stomachroilin’ musclestrainin’ bodypainin’ stillcoughin’ lungfrothin’ hill climb

Eyepoppin’ heartstoppin’ legshreddin’ heavysleddin’ bloodboilin’ stomachroilin’ musclestrainin’ bodypainin’ stillcoughin’ lungfrothin’ hill climb

Club Hill Climb, Saturday 8th October, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  81 km/50 miles with 713 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 06 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.0 km/h

Group size:                                         34 riders

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and cool


 

hill-climb
Ride Profile

The Ride:

Well, it’s that Saturday again, the one all but the very young, very light or insanely masochistic among us seem to hate with equal measure. It’s a day when people who should know better will hurl themselves up a hill, putting more strain on their bodies in that 6 or 7 minutes of unequal battle with gravity and encroaching decrepitude than anything else they’ve done that year. Or, possibly even more strain than everything they’ve ever done that year.

Of course some of us have realised it’s an unequal, unwinnable battle and have waved the white flag, denying themselves the fundamental, innate, inner-truth of the hill climb test.  The rest of us though, well we’ve yet to see the light and are doomed to repeat our past mistakes, like Sisyphus with his rock and there’s a sort of epic heroism in our struggles.

I have to admit the hill climb has been lurking at the back of my mind since late August, with a mixture of unease and trepidation. You recall the pain from the previous year, but after so long it tends to fade just a little, and there’s always the hope that somehow, some way, it’ll be different this time. It never is. The best you can hope for is that it’s worth it and you’re happy with your final time.

Actual preparation began on Wednesday and Thursday, when the commute into work was an opportunity to trial a new pair of shoes before riding out to the hill climb and discovering they’re uncomfortable and crippling. Then on Friday I swapped the single-speed for the winter bike so I could take it a bit easier on the way home and use the gears to avoid my typical gurning, body contorting and leg-straining, out-of-the-saddle grind up the Heinous Hill.

On Saturday morning I drove across to our meeting point, which not only saved my legs a little but also afforded me an extra half an hour in bed –  I like bed, so it’s not a luxury to be sniffed at. It also ensured I was back at about the usual time and didn’t have to worry about night encroaching on my slow and wasted crawl home.


Main topic of conversation at the start:

The ailing BFG defended his decision not to do the hill climb and claimed he had a note from his doctor. “That’s nothing,” The Red Max countered, “I’m not doing the hill climb and I’ve got a note from me Mam.”

The Prof arrived on the Frankenbike rather than one of his myriad, small-wheeled velocipedes, leading to speculation that he must, surely have applied for a BUE.

Crazy Legs was reporting a less than ideal prep, a lingering cold that he’d unsuccessfully tried to burn away with a midweek ride, but felt he was starting to recover now.

The Son of G-Dawg also described less than ideal preparation, when his planned early night was waylaid by the seductive charms of an Indian takeaway, several large drinks and some late night boxing on the TV. Still, he happily concluded that he was becoming used to riding with a hangover and too-little sleep and anything different might have been disconcerting.

The BFG admitted he hadn’t attended our newly convened and hugely successful social night out because he “couldn’t be bothered.” Sigh, doesn’t he realise that apathy is a leading cause of, you know, whatever…


Somewhat fresher than usual then, I joined 30 or so clubmates, a mix of both the doomed and the hill-climb-deniers, as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, starting to wend our way up the Tyne Valley to our destination 25 mile or so to the west: Prospect Hill, just outside Corbridge.

The scene of our self-induced, masochistic debasement is a 1.5km long climb at a 7% average incline with a maximum gradient of 15.5%. It’s a fairly narrow, twisting track that runs upwards through 9 bends and I don’t think it would be fair to describe the road surface as somewhat challenging.

As we set out, I dropped in beside the BFG, who’s had one of his knees condemned and is awaiting micro-surgery. They’re going to drill holes in him and have a bit of a poke around to see what they can find. I think he’s hoping the procedure will not only cure a long-standing injury, but might also produce beneficial weight savings.

Today he was struggling and complaining that his tendons were as taut as harp strings. My sympathy was somewhat tempered by a fascination about what sort of Ennio Morricone, “Fistful of Dollars” type soundtrack he might be able to generate on long descents, with the wind whistling through the holes in his knees and his hamstrings twanging away like a demented, drunken harpist.

He also confided he’d been skipping this blog as he hadn’t been riding with us and he wasn’t interested if he didn’t feature. An understandable attitude, but one that I’m afraid is based on a mistaken assumption.

Lingering discomfort would eventually persuade the BFG to turn for home early, but before this he was delighted to overhear a conversation between the two riders behind him:

“Been riding long?”

“I’m Dutch…”

Cue long, long silence.

Q.E.D?

I glanced behind and, sure enough saw Mellstock Quire riding alongside our new Dutch friend, De Uitheems Bloem, who was once again dressed from head to toe in heavy-duty, black garb, with only a tiny crescent of pale flesh showing between his shades and high collar. I can’t help wondering how much more he can actually don to protect himself once the weather turns really cold and if he might end up resembling a Michelin Man in negative.

Looking at his typical grimpeur frame, Crazy Legs then questioned Mellstock about his weight and concluded glumly that he was not only giving away an advantage of over 20 kilos but probably an equal number of years as well.

We swooped down into the Tyne valley and raced en masse through the villages, where at one point we were greeted by cheers and prolonged clapping. (I can only assume they don’t get out much.)

“What, no cow bells?” Crazy Legs commented and for a brief, dread instant I thought he was channelling his inner Cowin’ Bovril and complaining there were “no cowin’ bells.”

We then became entangled with a bunch of MTB’ers as we all jostled for hedge space at our traditional pee stop – and evidently theirs too. We finally managed to extricate ourselves and made it to the course in good order, where Taffy Steve and the Red Max led the deniers away on a more traditional group ride.

Everyone else was then left to mill around, causing traffic chaos and blocking the road while signing on and building our own version of a modest, chaste and wholly innocent circle jerk in order to pin numbers onto one another’s backs.

Although by no means warm, the weather was much kinder than last year, when a cold, dank and dreary mizzle had engulfed the hillside and chilled us all to the bone. This had not only made hanging around to start almost unbearable, but made a complete mockery of any warm-up attempts. This time I shed my jacket with far less reluctance, and began to empty pockets and unload the bike of bottles and anything else that could be easily stripped off to save that crucial, scintilla of weight.

Zardoz approached as I was shuffling reluctantly toward the start line, clapped his hands on my helmet and dragged my head round so I faced him directly. “Just making sure I can remember how you look with actual blood in your face!” he quipped, before walking away chuckling to himself.

I slotted into line between a pensive looking Monkey Butler Boy and Richard of Flanders, already poised at the timing gate for his roll-out. Crazy Legs was somewhat horrified to see him still in the big ring, but he was gone before anyone suggested he change down – I guessed there was a very good chance he’d realise his mistake fairly early on.

I had a brief chat with the Monkey Butler Boy who was looking forward to catching me and gurning into the camera still slung under my saddle. I asked which side he was going to pass me on, but to be honest I didn’t expect to see him unless I was having an outrageously bad day – always a possibility, but thankfully not a probability.

At the start line we had two volunteers who clamped onto my bike and held it rock steady. Mrs. Prof, press-ganged into helping out with the timing called out at the 30 second mark and I clipped in and waited, exchanging a few words with Carlton and Cowin’ Bovril who were riding on up ahead to provide vocal encouragement to all, but especially Carlton’s young son doing his first hill climb.

10-9-8-7-6. A last deep breath.

5-4-3-2-1. I rocked my weight forward and was off to a chorus of shouts, probably stealing a full second on the “Go!” command, spinning up to a decent speed as the first corner approached quickly and the road started to kick upwards.

I threaded the needle between Cowin’ Bovril and Carlton, out of the saddle with the front wheel snaking extravagantly from side to side. Apparently Cowin’ Bovril pulled a celebratory wheelie as I bundled past, but tunnel vision had already descended and I saw nothing but a flash of hi-viz yellow and heard nothing beyond my harsh panting, each breath resounding in my ears like a damaged steam train pulling a heavy load through a long, uphill tunnel.

But … I was through the steepest and hardest section of the climb and unlike previous years I wasn’t yet getting that hollowed-out, empty feeling in my legs as all the strength drained away. Now the only limit seemed to be how much oxygen I could bundle through to my already burning lungs, yet I couldn’t work out how I could breathe any harder or any faster. Now I understand the allure of EPO or blood-doping if it increases the aerobic capabilities and efficiency of your body – how much faster could you go if you could just stoke more fuel onto the fire?

The rest of the ride was a blur of fleeting images and impressions, punctuated always by my harsh, bellowing, rasping breaths:  a tantalising glimpse of Richard of Flanders just up ahead on the one long, straight section, picking my way carefully through hissing and spitting gravel around a bend, a random mother and child walking up the hill and cheering me onwards, a careful and considerate driver trying to pick their way down the hill and give me as much room as possible, looping across the road to avoid a deep, ugly divot carved out of the apex of a corner and the tiger-striped pattern of tree shadows thrown across the road by a low, bright sun.

Then a clump of colour coalesced into a group of people at the finish line. Hating myself, I clicked down once and then again and tried to pick the tempo up for one last push … and then it was over, I was through and done for another year and could slow to a juddering halt and hang gasping over the top tube, panting harder than a fat, black Labrador locked inside an airless car abandoned in Death Valley at midday.


wlf
Finishing fast and gripped by white line fever. With thanks to Craig Cushing for the photo.

Several minutes seemed to crawl past as I hung there, trying to control seemingly out-of-control panting, until the pain and tightness stated to ebb away and I could look up. A few yards further back Son of G-Dawg hung similarly boneless and loose limbed across his bike, chest heaving, while on the grass verge before him Richard of Flanders lay prostrate and in evident distress. I was just beginning to worry when he started to stir and pull himself together, returning from whatever dark place his efforts had driven him, either that or his prayer session had ended prematurely.

Making my way back to the finish, I saw Crazy Legs ploughing across the line and dropping to the side of the road in a tangle of limbs. I gave him a minute or two to recover and approached carefully. He looked up at me myopically through a fog of hypoxia induced delirium and began to plead, “Paul, you’re my friend. Please, please say you don’t want to do this anymore, so I’ve got an excuse to stop as well.”

Of course, ten minutes later, somewhat recovered and realising he’d smashed his previous best time, he was already planning next year’s assault.

With the conditions near perfect, everyone seemed to be on their game and riding well. Bez won in a new course record of 4.00 – agonisingly close to a sub-4.00 ride and we had two of the youth team crack the top 10. The amount of young talent in the club at the moment is incredible (and somewhat daunting to us old dinosaurs.)

Standout performance of the day however has to go to Zardoz, whose genial, avuncular façade of a twinkle-eyed octogenarian, hides the dark-heart of a cold-blooded assassin. Not planning to ride at all he decided at the last moment to give it a go, completing the course in a hugely credible time of 6:24 while riding stripped down to his string vest, extravagant handlebar moustache bristling magnificently and, tweed plus-fours flapping wildly in the wind.

Although (as ever) employing a questionable degree of artistic licence and hyperbole, it’s worth pausing to note that the estimable Zardoz is a super-fit, hyper enthusiastic, 69 years young and did in fact strip down to a base layer for the climb. Obviously he doesn’t feel the cold like us “young ‘uns” – which is perhaps the legacy of him and his wife partaking in early morning swims in the North Sea every day, all year round – regardless of the weather!

For my own part, I managed a time of 6:00, taking into account the second I may, or may not have stolen at the start. That’s a decent 16 seconds faster than last year and I’m still improving, which is a shame as I’ve convinced myself I can honourably retire as soon as my times start slipping backwards.


hill-climb-times
A progression of sorts.

By the time we’d wound our way back down the hill to the start, the last rider was already off and running. We collected our kit and started to make our way to the café at the Brockbushes Garden Centre, perhaps the least welcoming, unfriendliest place known to cycling kind.

In years past, OGL has called into the café on the morning of the hill climb to let them know we’d be descending en masse afterwards. This common courtesy and guarantee of additional custom however had earned us no consideration whatsoever and we always seem to be an unwelcome imposition that earned service with a snarl.

But first we had to get there, which meant crossing the river and climbing up the other side of the valley, no small feat when even the camber on the bridge hurts legs already brutalised by the hill climb. Still the lure of richly deserved cake and coffee, even in such an unwelcoming venue, was not to be denied.

Access to the garden centre is through a narrow, dark tunnel that dives under the main A69 dual-carriageway. I pulled Crazy Legs back  as a car was barrelling through the tunnel toward us as we approached. Once the way was clear we pushed on through and had almost made it out the other side when the tunnel was filled almost wall to wall with a massive Chelsea Tractor, the driver of which was travelling fast and blind, with no consideration of what might be coming the other way.

She saw us late in darkness that was such a sharp contrast to the bright and low winter sun outside and stamped on the brakes while we swept around to either side. Obviously discomfited by having to slow down and interrupt her journey by a massive 10 seconds, the driver wound-down her window and announced in an incredibly disgruntled, plummy voice, “This is quite ridiculous!”

“Yes. You are.” I heartily agreed with her. Seriously, I would have tugged my forelock if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet, what more did she want?

We usually park around the back and enter the café through the rear, but the fence was firmly closed and chained off this time around. If I was cynical I might have felt they’d rushed out to lock us out of this section as soon as they got wind of our arrival, but probably not. As it was we had to make do with sitting perched on a narrow apron of concrete out front, enjoying the beautiful vista of a half-full car park.

We stacked our bikes up and made for the doors while I suggested the piano and all conversation was going to stop as soon as we crossed the threshold and predicted all the in-breeds would turn and fix us with glassy, malevolent stares. Still, cake and coffee wait for no man. Onward, brave cyclists!

 


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Approaching the almost empty counter, Crazy Legs had barely opened his mouth to place his order when the cashier jumped in;

“I’ve already had one lot of youse in here. I’ve got 6 staff off sick and I’m under-manned, you’ll have to wait for your order. We’ll get to it as soon as we can.”

Err, ok then. We just checked they knew where we would be sitting, that they would bring our orders out to us, paid up and beat a hasty retreat. It’s an interesting concept in customer care, but I’m not sure it deserves to catch on.

Mind you, for all that the coffee, when it did arrive was good.

OGL had a laugh at Yoshi as he waddled past like a pregnant duck, his back pockets resembling a lumpy makeshift bustle, so stuffed were they with bottles, spares and tools. His explanation: “Bottle cages are heavy.”

Another weight handicap was discovered when a large, somnolent bee was rescued from Crazy Leg’s back, where it had been hitching a free ride for goodness knows how long. I suspect it was even more debilitating than the bottle cages, or the money spider I was transporting last week, after all bees are notoriously un-aerodynamic aren’t they. Next year, without the uninvited guest he might be able to ride the course even faster.


The ride home was conducted at a fast pace that left little room for talking, as I hung on grimly while one of our racing snakes – Johnny Reb, the King of Spin hammered away on the front. It was an interesting form of warm-down, but at least got us home in good time.

I’m not sure I slept much on Saturday night, rather I think I simply blacked out for long periods. Still recovery is well underway now, the climbers cough slowly diminishing in frequency and force and we now have a full year’s grace before we have to start thinking about that damn hill again.


YTD Totals: 5,533 km / 3,438 miles with 54,079 metres of climbing

Ghostface Killah


Club Run and Hill Climb, Saturday 3rd October, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    89 km/55 miles with 924 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             3 hours 46 minutes

Group size:                                           No more than 20 –2 FNG’s

Weather in a word or two:               Extremely chilly

Main topic of conversation at the start: Crazy Legs gives voice to what I suspect all the regulars are thinking – how much we hate this day. No matter how good you’re feeling, I’m not sure anyone actually looks forward to the hill climb and its attendant hurt.

He then suggested we have a whip around to hire a Portaloo for the start of the hill climb. I countered by saying what we really need is a patio heater. The general consensus was we were both wrong and what we actually need is both a Portaloo and a patio heater.

A couple of FNG’s, or more accurately an FNG couple, exiled from Sarf Larnden, spotted Reg and we had a good chat about the original Holdsworth shop in Putney, which was their LBS and they remember as being loaded with a cornucopia of memorabilia from the mighty Holdsworth-Campagnolo pro team.

The store closed in October 2013 after 86 years, according to my interlocutor’s because it was located in some prime real estate that the owner’s family sadly wanted to cash in on. Although Reg’s carbon frame was probably mass produced by a faceless squad of minions in an ultra-high-tech, utterly sterile, Far East factory, I like to think it has some spiritual connection and shares just a little bit of heritage with this illustrious and successful British bike brand.

Fallout from last week’s plethora of punctures saw Crazy Legs check the pressure in his repaired tyre on returning home – to reveal a massive 20psi. This was despite his and Red Max’s efforts with both the molto piccolo and Max’s uber-pump. Some discussion was had about Szell’s spectacular blowout and whether it was caused by the inner tube trying to squeeze out between tyre casing and dangerously worn rims.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: Hill Climb day is the only time we use this particular café, and then we all turn up coughing and spluttering with climbers cough1., like a consumptive poet dying of TB. We often wonder what the staff make of us and whether they think we’re the most unfit cycling club in existence, or are perhaps sponsored by Rothmans and contractually obliged to smoke 40 a day.

Zardoz told me he was out again on Wednesday with the Retired Gentleman’s Combative Cycling Club, when the conversation rolled around to Il Lombardia, and someone asked where the race was and received the very obvious and undoubtedly correct answer: Lombardy. Then there were blank stares and silence all around as everyone realised they didn’t quite know where Lombardy actually was.

Apparently the Cyclone Sportive and associated events which OGL organises may be without a headline sponsor this year, as negotiations with Virgin Money to renew seem to have reached something of an impasse. I must admit OGL seemed remarkably sanguine about the whole thing.

Coffee, and the supposition that Britain has the worst tasting coffee, with the highest caffeine content. Discuss.


Ride Profile (Hill Climb highlighted)
Ride Profile (Hill Climb highlighted)

The Waffle:

Hope you’re sitting comfortably, this could be a long one …

We’re into October and all the portents are pointing assuredly toward this being the start of winter. Il Lombardia or to use this classics most poetic title, la classica delle foglie morte, closed out the pro season on Sunday2., and as if on cue all the leaves at home are suddenly turning golden and starting to sift down.

Darkness is beginning to slowly steal away precious minutes of daylight at both ends of the day and the weather is developing a distinctive chilly bite to it. And if all this wasn’t enough, the final indicator that we’re at the back end of the cycling year is that the traditional British hill climb season is now in full swing.


Fabulous Lombardy poster from the Handmade Cyclist
Fabulous Lombardy poster from the Handmade Cyclist

Not to be outdone, this weekend was our turn to pander to our worst masochistic, self-harming instincts, with a tilt at the club hill climb. The chosen arena for our self-flagellation is Prospect Hill, near Corbridge in the Tyne Valley. The climb is about 1.5km long at a 7% incline, with a maximum of 15.5% and runs through 9 bends, several of which are almost tight enough to be classed as hairpins.


Prospect Hill
Prospect Hill and our TT course

The forecast for the day was an early mist that would eventually burn off, but with temperatures subsequently depressed and unlikely to claw their way up into double figures. My breakfast and ride preparations are interrupted by about half a dozen trips to the toilet. Nerves? Possibly.

Knowing it’s going to be chilly out, compounded by the lengthy wait hanging around for a start slot, I choose a base layer, club jersey, arm and knee warmers, long gloves and a windproof jacket over the top of everything. I’m attempting to walk the razor-fine line between not overheating on the ride to the hill and trying to stay reasonably warm once I get there. I’m somewhat shocked to find how surprisingly capacious my club jersey has become.

After last week’s mega turn out, the numbers at the meeting point are disappointingly low, even though they’re bolstered by a few of the racing snakes, who don’t usually deign to ride with us mere mortals, but have been lured out by the thrill of competition.

Several notable absentees can be explained by conflicting events, G-Dawg and the Prof are doing the Kielder Run-Bike-Run, while Red Max and the Monkey Butler Boy are tackling the Autumn Wooler Wheel Sportive, but where’s everyone else?


The original Holdsworth store
The original Holdsworth store

Even with the juniors making their own way to the climb, numbers are significantly down on previous years, and several of those at the meeting point are just out for a normal ride and have no interest in seeing if they can cough out their own lungs by riding as fast as possible up a hill, just to turn around and come back down again. Oh well, at least it should help get things over with fairly quickly.

The temperature dropped even further as we swept down into the bottom of the Tyne Valley to follow the road upstream, and as we approached the start we could see the hillside above us shrouded in a dense grey blanket of wetly-dripping mist.

A rival club was holding their own “chrono escalada” up the other side of the hill, but thankfully they’re early starters (and probably punctual too!) They were just about done and dusted by the time we rolled up, avoiding the potentially catastrophic (if comic) opportunity for two, charging, heads-down and rapidly converging riders lunging for the same line and colliding in an explosion of flailing limbs and carbon fragments.

As we milled around, horribly messing up the signing on process and allocation of numbers in the disorganised chaos that only cyclists seem capable of achieving, the cold really started to bite. We stood around shivering, with fumbling fingers occasionally bypassing jersey material to pin numbers directly through benumbed, frozen flesh, but at least they were well secured and not likely to flap in the wind.

Rab Dee offered me some of his home made energy bar, which is reportedly so dense it absorbs light. It didn’t seem to be the sort of extra weight I should be taking on board before hauling ass up a steep hill, so I politely declined.

Then, in a break with tradition, instead of being snooty and snotty and whingeing at us for having the temerity to use the public road outside their homes, one of the local households decided to embrace the annual invasion of slightly mad cyclists, and sent out a sacrificial daughter with a tray of freshly baked brownies. Not only did they taste great, they were actually still hot, and several groups of cyclists formed a huddle around them trying to warm their hands.

I discussed tactics for the climb with a horrendously hung over Son of G-Dawg, who  blasphemously suggested starting on the inner ring. Luckily his Pa wasn’t around to hear, but it seemed the sensible decision anyway, as there’s less to go wrong if you’re not dropping from the big to smaller chainring under pressure.

A bit of riding around to … I was going to say warm up, but I think “not feel quite so cold” is closer to reality, and then it’s time to strip both myself and bike as I jettisoned water bottle and tool tub, sunglasses, gloves and finally, and with great reluctance, my jacket.

It was good to see one of our semi-FNG’s, Avatar: The Last Air Bender lining up directly in front of me, ready to hurl himself recklessly at the hill in his first ever club competition. I’m not sure he realised when he rocked up this morning that we would be doing the hill climb, so he gets extra kudos for not backing out. Chapeau!

I only have time to note that one of the young kids is set to follow me, then I’m on the line ready to start, not really concentrating and feeling quite disassociated from the entire process. The timekeeper tells me 30 seconds, and I lift my foot, clip in and settle. 15 seconds. Breathe deep. The 10 second countdown starts, I tense, the hand comes down and I’m off.

I quickly roll up a decent cadence, reach a bend and sweep around it to attack the first ramp, cresting it and pushing on toward the second bend and probably the steepest part of the course. The first slopes however have sapped just a little too much speed, the gear is too big and I’m now losing momentum and dying dismally.

The next section is a real struggle as impetus drops sharply and I’m forced out of the saddle to grind away to the accompaniment of my cleat creaking horribly on the pedal. Or at least I think it’s my cleat, it could just as easily be one of my ancient, fragile knees humming discordantly as it vibrates under the pressure in an audible warning that it’s about to explode.

An awful moment appears to attenuate into long, torturous minutes, and I can’t help gratefully thinking that unless the kid behind me is one of our outrageously talented youngsters, I should at least manage not to be caught by him. Gradually the slope eases, and I’m able to flop down heavily in the saddle and roll the chain up a couple of gears.

I try to find a rhythm now, and maintain the pace, but can’t go any faster without jumping out of the saddle and stamping hard on the pedals, and this burns up oxygen quicker than I can suck it down.

As if still influenced by last week’s blood moon, I’m in full Laurens Ten Dam “werewolf” mode now, mouth agape and thrashing like a basking shark stranded on a beach and with great strings of snot and slobber, spit and drool pouring from my mouth and nose and eyes. My chest is heaving like over-worked, over-extended bellows, sucking in huge lungful’s of the freezing, burning, damp and clammy air. And it’s not enough.


Full Ten Dam mode
Full Ten Dam werewolf mode

I round another bend. All I can hear now is my rasping, too-quick panting that seems to be in wild syncopation with my thudding, banging heart. Is it natural to try and breathe so damn fast? As the bend straightens I almost plough into the back of a couple of ramblers walking blithely up the middle of the road, studiously and very deliberately ignoring each one of the gasping, labouring cyclists who have had to haul themselves around this unexpected impediment.

I swerve wide to the right to pass them, and almost immediately have to dive to the left as a huge 4 x 4 sweeps past, heading downhill with headlights blazing in the gloom. Everything is hurting now and I can’t distinguish individual areas of pain as I try to raise my speed.

Ahead of me in the mist and murk, almost always just disappearing around the next bend, I keep catching the occasional glimpse of another rider, my minute man, who’s craftily chosen a fog coloured jersey to blend in and not give me a distinct target to chase. Not fair.

I recognise I’m approaching the final section, and against all reason and the silent screaming of my body I click down one, then two gears and just push and hope. I think I’m still accelerating as I shoot over the line, then freewheel and finally remember I have to brake. Some 100 yards past the finish line I finally stop, but the pain doesn’t, and I slump over the crossbar, trying to control what feels like supernaturally fast panting.


To be read in your most hysterical Phil Liggett voice:
To be read in your most hysterical Phil Liggett voice: “Just who is that rider coming up behind in the mist – because that looks like La Jante! That looks like Sur La Jante… it is, it’s Sur La Jante!”

After a few minutes I manage to get turned around and slouch my way to the finish, where Zardoz cheerfully informs me I look like a ghost and wonders aloud how I managed to so successfully drain all the blood from my face. I might have laughed, but was instantly consumed with my first bout of climbers cough.

Another year, another hill climb. So how did I do? I was 17th out of 33 riders and 4th out of the vets. Much more importantly, I posted a personal best time of 6 minutes and 16 seconds, 11 seconds better than the previous year.


My Hill Climb Times
My Hill Climb Times

In fact it’s pleasing to see the steady, if unspectacular progression I’ve made year on year. At 53 however I’m not looking forward to the inevitable day when age conspires to erode any improvements I can make through increased training, better equipment or smarter preparation, but at least for today I can feel I’m still winning the battle with time.

In the café I hang back to stand guard on the wallets, phones and helmets that get abandoned as a few go off to pay, and the first of our group splits and disappears up the road. I decide to take the more direct route home along the valley floor, rather than climbing out to the north and then dropping down again and strike out on my own.

I make good time on the flat, but every little incline hurts. At the bottom of the Heinous Hill I decide to postpone the inevitable a little longer and drop into the Pedalling Squares café to arrange a much overdue service for my ratbag mountain bike. Suitably fortified with one of their excellent espresso’s, the clamber up the hill and home turns out to be not quite as bad as I imagined it would be.


Footnote 1.

During a hill climb, cyclists are breathing as hard as their lungs will allow, so hard in fact, that their airway gets eroded from the air passing through it. This erosion causes irritation in the airway which leads to the dreaded climbers cough (or in running parlance, “track hack”).

This irritation can cause the membranes to produce mucous for protection and lubrication, which can lead to phlegm in the cough, and may even break little capillaries in the airways causing the taste of blood, or a metallic taste in the mouth. Hmm, nice.

Footnote 2.

The inaugural Abu Dhabi Tour doesn’t count – I’m willing to be proven wrong, but this just looks like a shameful, money-grubbing exercise by RCS and/or the UCI, and likely to be as dull, tedious and anodyne as all the other interminable Gulf Tours. I think a certain Mr. Cavendish is the only person who feels mass sprint finishes are the acme of cycle racing.


YTD Totals: 4,975 km/ 3,091 miles with 56,247 metres of climbing.

The Last Hurrah?


Club Run, Saturday 19th September, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    118 km/73 miles with 1,083 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 26 minutes

Group size:                                           28 cyclists at the start. 3 FNG’s.

Weather in a word or two:               Practically perfect.

 

Main topic of conversation at the start: Whether wearing clothing emblazoned with the Campagnolo logo should only technically be allowed if accompanied by a complete change of groupset to match.

The shocking, eye-wateringly and prohibitively expensive cost of tickets for the Rugby World Cup, even just to see the minor nations where you’re unlikely to recognise a single player. A stark contrast to the Tour of Britain where you could see, meet and mingle with some of the World’s top cyclists for free. To be fair to the RFU, their concession policy does allow kids to get in for only £15 … once the accompanying adult has forked over £150 for a ticket.

The Great North Road Cycle Maze and Death Trap™ continues to prove fantastically divisive. A photo of our Sunday morning club run studiously avoiding its perils was one of several snapped by ever vigilant, eternally law-abiding RIMs, no doubt using completely legal, dashboard and hands-free mounts on their mobile phones. The “incriminating” photos quickly found their way onto a Faecesbook page, where they started an all too predictable flame war, which rapidly grew in vitriol. The whole argument was neatly summed up in one of the most mature, astute, devastatingly logical and proportionate responses I’ve ever had the pleasure to read: “Well, if they’re going to ride in the road, I’m going to drive on the pavement.” Sigh.

Elsewhere, a local motorcyclist group also condemned the GNRCM&DT™ to the local press and the story was picked up by the RCUK website, where the comments section found even cyclists bitching amongst themselves, though without the same degree of creative swearing, searing insight and deep reflection the more general public had brought to the debate. I’ve got the feeling this one’s going to run and run…

The 6½ minutes of sheer hell, commonly known as our club hill climb (chrono-escalade if you want to be suitably pretentious) is looming large. Is it too late to file excuses? I noticed a handful of regulars have already reported conflicts with hastily arranged events elsewhere.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: As expected, the wasps were out in force and anyone having jam with their mid-ride scones or tea-cakes was universally shunned like a leper and exiled to a remote table in the corner. They should be grateful we didn’t take it as far as Son of G-Dawg’s suggestion of smearing them with jam and setting them loose as some sort of wasp decoy.

The fallout (seepage?) from last week’s rain-sodden, “godless ride” continues: Crazy Legs and I both agreed there had to be a better way of staying dry on both the inside and out. His solution was a new 2½ layer, foul weather jacket, though none of us could quite comprehend what half a layer might look like. I had to go one better of course, and went for the triple-layer Galibier Mistral jacket. I’m guessing both are indisputably and impressively waterproof, the acid test is how breathable they are. I’ll report back when I know more.

We were also chastised because some of the more incontinent “godless” amongst us had soaked through the seats at the café last week. It seems the pads of their shorts acted like giant sponges throughout the ride, sucking up a veritable flood of rainwater and road spray, which was duly squeezed out when they slumped their tired bodies down to enjoy hard-earned coffee and cakes.

Now on rainy days black bin bags to sit on will be issued to one and all, not just those who request them. There was some wild speculation that if things didn’t then improve there would be no choice but call for Bottom Inspectors a la the fantastically juvenile, but intermittently hilarious Viz comic. Heaven help the waitress who draws the short straw and gets such a truly thankless task.

Halfway through our stay one of the potential Bottom Inspectors came outside to look for used mugs to take away and wash as they were running short. Our table couldn’t provide any, but Carlton and Richard of Flanders conspired to helpfully load her tray down with a teetering, super-Jenga construct of used plates, dirty cutlery, glasses, saucers, milk jugs, teapots and empty cans – everything in fact except a single one of the needed and requested mugs.

Great, now they probably think we’re incredibly obtuse, as well as hell bent on sabotaging all their seating.


Ride Profile
Ride Profile – [Now in glorious technicolour]

The Waffle:

The contrast with last week’s deluge couldn’t have been more marked, as Saturday morning dawned with faultless, clear and pure blue skies vaulting from horizon to horizon. This was the kind of day one of my friends would typically refer to as having a “Battle of Britain sky”, lacking only the contrails of a lone Spitfire or Hurricane to complete the suitably cinematic image.

Nevertheless, the air still had a real bite to it as I rode out early for the meeting point, and the long descent down the Heinous Hill had the cold wind dragging tears from my eyes and chilling my fingers. Thankfully things soon warmed up and before too long the arm warmers were dispensed with.


Why, oh why, oh why do we have to put up with such reckless, selfish and criminal behaviour, potentially holding up traffic, and enjoying themselves at the same time. What is this country coming to?
“Why, oh why, oh why do we have to put up with such reckless, selfish and criminal behaviour, potentially holding up traffic, and enjoying themselves at the same time. OMG what is this country coming to?”

At the meeting point a competent looking and enthusiastic Irish FNG turned up, bang on 9 o’clock. We had to explain that the 9 o’clock start time listed on the website was technically accurate, but actually represented a fantastically fluid and elastic concept of time that meant we would, of course, be leaving at around 9:15. He looked at us as if we were all ever so slightly mad, but seemed to accept our general tardiness with good grace, if a slightly furrowed brow. He’ll probably try and find a more punctual group to ride with next week.

Not surprisingly the perfect weather brought out a good sized bunch of lads and lasses to supplement the ranks of last week’s hard-core Rain Dogs, and despite missing a few students, it was a large complement of 28 that pushed off, clipped in and rode out en masse.

The first distraction of note came somewhere out in the wilds, where we swept past a big directional sign pointing to a wedding, but all we could see was a big tractor rolling round and round in circles in a somewhat overgrown and otherwise empty meadow. I guess that’s a rural wedding Northumbrian style?


this-is-jenga_o_2710843


The Prof spent a great deal of time and energy playing mother-hen to a couple of the FNG’s, who he recognised as exiled flatlanders of some ilk, which might explain his affinity for their struggles. They just couldn’t seem to get the hang of even the gentlest of slopes and slipped inexorably backwards whenever the road rose up. I’m guessing his efforts weren’t all in vain, as I’m fairly certain they at least made it as far as the coffee stop, although they may still yet be struggling to get home.

The usual stop and group split saw Taffy Steve sidling shamelessly away with the amblers on a direct heading straight to the café. Although he proclaimed some excuse about family commitments and having to be home early, he didn’t have the requisite signed note in triplicate. The consensus was that after winning the sprint last week he had decided to retire while still at the peak of his game, a little like Alberto Contador, but obviously far more successful and with much greater kudos.

A big bunch of us pressed on, before our middle group split away from the Racing Snakes. At the bottom of Middleton Bank I drifted to the back until the slope began to bite and the initial surge died. As a gap developed I pushed up the outside to latch onto the small leading group and let it pull me upwards and away.

Over the top we regrouped as Szell wasn’t around, so the strict Szell Game rules weren’t in play. Shoeless then hit the front and started piling on the pressure, and the pace was so fast that even the Red Max’s Forlorn Hope attack never materialised. He stayed firmly planted three back on G-Dawg’s wheel as we were all strung out while I tucked in behind him.

As we swept up the final hill G-Dawg kicked past Shoeless and Max slid back. On the limit, I held on for as long as possible before pulling over and watching Son of G-Dawg surge across the gap. He went straight over the top, sweeping past G-Dawg on one side, as Shoeless dived down the other to snatch second.

With the sprint done and dusted, there was only time for Ovis to briefly flirt with death and destruction show some sublime traffic filtering skills that scared the crap out of me, before we were rolling to a stop and some well earned cake.


Potentially on their way to a cafe near you!
Potentially on their way to a cafe near you!

As we were packing up to leave the café Crazy Legs floated the idea of an extended, longer and shockingly novel, alternative route home to Red Max, rightly reasoning that if anyone was daft enough to agree it would be Max, and his participation might “encourager les autres.

With this being perhaps the last hurrah of summer and much too fine a day to waste, around eight daring and extreme radicals swept left on leaving the café, while everyone else turned to the right. The first few miles were into a hard headwind and everyone took a turn pulling as we slowly built up to a cracking, leg-burning pace and rode with remarkable (well, for us) discipline and organisation.

It was interesting to travel the roads back to the Quarry in the opposite direction to the way we usually do, and realise just how much it actually climbs. This isn’t really noticeable charging the other way down to the café, where the favourable incline no doubt fuels our mad capering and pushes us toward dangerously terminal velocities.

Despite the extended ride we quickly ticked off the miles until reaching a point where I had the chance of taking a slightly shorter way back. As the group thundered around a sharp left turn I got slingshot out of the back, like some forlorn probe on a deep-space mission to parts unknown, and set fair for home. Yet another great ride. Thanks fellas.


YTD Totals: 4,679 km/ 2,907 miles with 53,134 metres of climbing.

Bitchin’ Climbs#1

 


Whenever I get the opportunity I like to take in one of the behemoth’s featured in the book “100 Greatest Climbs” to see how much strain I can put my on ancient knees before they explode in a welter of bone, sinew and blood, like a feral alien bursting out John Hurt’s chest cavity.

A recent holiday in Keldy Forest, North Yorkshire saw me travelling with Reg to tackle the fearsome Rosedale Chimney – the climb the recent Tour de of Yorkshire wimped out of.

The books author Simon Warren, who just happens to have competed in National Hill Climbs, helpfully explains his rating system in the book is an amalgamation of gradient, length and the likely hostility of the riding conditions. He concludes, “all the climbs are tough, therefore 1/10 is hard and 10/10 is it’s almost all you can do to keep your bike moving.”

Rosedale Chimney is a 1.4km climb rated 10/10 with gradients reaching 1-in-3, and Simon cheerfully goes on to recount how he snapped his chain “not once, but twice while trying to conquer this vicious stretch of tarmac.” Oh my.

Oh, well…


The top and bottom of Rosedale Chimney.
The top and bottom of Rosedale Chimney. That’s not Reg by the way.

My allotted day arrives and I kiss goodbye to an anxious wife, say a final farewell to the kids, and we’re off. The weather is pleasantly mild and quite bright, but there’s a noticeably stiff breeze whenever the road is exposed.

A 25 kilometre or so loop gets me warmed up, and as I ride along the valley approaching the climb I can look over to the left and see a daunting picture of the road snaking its way up to the top of the North York Moors.

I slow down deliberately, gathering myself and coasting pass the big sign at the bottom of the hill. The road twists and turns a few times then spits me out past the last building and now we’re going resolutely uphill. Out and exposed, with the road clinging precariously to the side of the moors, and the “noticeably stiff breeze” has turned into a capricious, gusting blast that seems to come from all directions at once.

I hit the 33% hairpins and suddenly I’ve run out of gears and my legs are barely moving. I now have an image from a Ted Hughes poem lodged firmly in my brain, and I’ve become a “black-back gull bent like an iron bar slowly.” My mind keeps repeating the line over and over, to the rhythm of my straining, shuddering, agonisingly slow pedal strokes.

The gusting wind has me going from almost a standstill, to skeetering nervously across the road and swerving wildly to avoid running out of tarmac. And upwards, always upwards. A protracted crawling and dragging upwards.

I’m fighting the bike and the incline now, legs and lungs burning, zig-zagging back and forth across the surface and praying there’s no traffic coming the other way. I want to sit on the saddle, but when I try the road is so steep that the front wheel keeps lifting and I’m barely keeping control.

And then slowly, agonisingly I’m past the hard bit, the road straightens out and the climb goes from suicidal to just plain hard. I reach the top and crawl into a gravel strewn lay-by to unclip, breath again and admire the majestic, but rather bleak and threatening views. A quick photo and I turn around for the descent.

It’s only now that I realise my ordeal on the hill isn’t over yet. The sign usefully suggests that “cyclists dismount” and the road seems to drop away into emptiness. I creep down slowly, gingerly, brakes almost full on, knowing if I gather any momentum it’s going to be difficult to reach a controlled stop, uncertain on an unfamiliar road and sketchy surface.

Twice on the way down I have to pull over to the side of the road to shake out and flex my aching fingers back into some semblance of life. Then the incline eases and I can sit back and wheel merrily the rest of the way, off the climb without looking back.


rosedale chimney
That big, isolated bump at around 30km, like the topography flipping you the finger, is Rosedale Chimney. It laughs in the face of aged cyclists.

Well that’s that one ticked off. It was one hell of an experience, but I can honestly say I don’t ever see myself going back for another attempt.