The trick today was to get the layers about right as the morning was decidedly chilly, but there were hopes temperatures might nudge into double figures by the afternoon. G-Dawg had decreed it was most assuredly an official ‘shorts-day’ though, so that was one decision taken care of. Now I just had to work out how to stay warm at the start and yet have the flexibility to shed bits and pieces as things warmed up.
So, arm warmers, short-sleeve base layer and jersey, cap, track mitts with light running gloves on top and a lightweight windproof jacket. I toyed with knee warmers, but thought I’d be straining the capacity of my jersey pockets if we somehow struck lucky and I had to abandon the gloves, cap, jacket, arm warmers and knee warmers.
It was then a first outing of the year for my legs, pale, flaccid and as unappetising as over-cooked noodles. Well, you’ve got to start somewhere.
I think I got the layering about right, unlike G-Dawg who stepped out, was immediately struck by the cold and ended up pulling on a Castelli winter jacket, which I’d sure he’d regret once we were well into the ride. At the other extreme, James III went with just shorts and short-sleeved jersey and admitted he was seriously under-dressed for the early conditions.
He did however take the opportunity to apologise to Crazy Legs for wearing his Ineos jersey again and assured him he’d ordered something “more acceptable” from Wiggle.
We speculated what “something more acceptable” might be, but even bandying around names like UAE Team Emirates, Bahrain-Victorious, or Astana Qazaqstan we couldn’t quite find anything with the same palpable aura of distaste as suggested by the Ineos Grenadiers kit.
(Given the very serious human rights violations of the regimes backing these alternative teams I realise this is a seriously shallow and quite absurd prejudice. One day I might even unpick the reasoning behind it, but not today.)
“Anyway, I don’t understand why it’s ok for football fans to wear replica team kit, but not for cyclists,” Brassneck argued.
“It’s not the replica team kit he objects to particularly,” I suggested, “but the fact it’s Ineos kit.”
Alternatively, I could have legitimately argued that it is decidedly not ok for grown men to wear replica football kit. If you’re going to a match it might be acceptable, but beyond that, it just seems a bit, well … weird. Or, as one Shelbourne FC fan on the Internet would have it, “To the match? Yes. To the shops? Only if you’re picking up jelly babies and some Pokemon cards.”
We welcomed the return of the Ticker and BFG back from cycling accidents and broken bones (collar bone and elbow respectively.) The Ticker had concussed himself and could remember nothing about his smash, or how he even got home, while the BFG swore me to secrecy about the cause of his entirely avoidable prang and hoped amnesia would eventually erase it from his own memory too.
To change the subject he spent some time admiring G-Dawg’s shiny bright gold chain, carefully coordinated gold cable ends and yellow (but not quite gold!) tyre valve dust caps. Always one who likes a bit of bling, the BFG admitted he’d once invested in some Swarovski crystal dust caps. Personally, I think that’s a step too far.
While the BFG was admiring G-Dawg’s bike, Taffy Steve and I were admiring his latest, steel-framed steed replete with ultra-deep Vittoria carbon wheels (with added graphene) which he assured me were an absolute bargain at only £1,500. Right.
G-Dawg was our route architect du jour and had planned a trip down into the Tyne Valley and then a loop above and around the Bywell Barn before descending there for coffee. That meant that post-cafe everyone else had the very dubious pleasure of dodging the traffic to cross the A69 and the climb out of the valley, while I would be sailing downhill to follow the river home.
G-Dawg sat on the wall explaining the route, replete with extravagant hand gestures to sketch out the left and right turns, ascents and descents, while Crazy Legs sat alongside and mimicked his every move. It looked like he was performing one of those “not-my-arms challenges” where you stand behind someone who has their hands behind their back and slip your arms through under theirs to take their place and get up to all sorts of mischief. I did chuckle.
I am that immature.
Once again we struggled to get enough sacrificial lambs into the first, fast group, until Richard of Flanders volunteered with one of those fateful, “I can always drop off and join the second group” observations. (This only tends to happen once you’re totally cooked so dropping back seldom leads to any respite.)
“Well, there’s brave and there’s foolish, and I know which way I’m leaning,” Taffy Steve noted as he watched Richard of Flanders join-up with the handful of racing snakes, but then Aether, TripleD-El and a few others bumped down the kerb to join him, so at least the front group had a good core of steadier riders too.
I dropped into the last group and away we went, slotted in beside the BFG who hadn’t forgotten our previous conversation and returned to the theme of amnesia. Seemingly worried about age-related memory loss, he’d recently pestered his doctors into administering him a simple cognitive test … and then, just as a precaution spent several days beforehand actually trying to revise for it.
He passed, so like other people who claim to have “aced” this memory test he can at least call himself “like, really, really smart and a very stable genius.” Strangely though, none of the general knowledge questions he’d been swotting up on had actually featured.
We lost the post-Covid and still recovering Crazy Legs somewhere around the end of Limestone Lane, as he took himself and Yet Another Paul off to the cafe at Matfen. Then a few miles further on, the BFG called it a day and cut short his ride too.
The 5 remaining members of the last group pressed on, dropping down into the Tyne valley via Wylam and following the river west, at one point riding through fields of vividly yellow rapeseed, the air heavy with its sickly sweet perfume.
“Eh lad, it’s just like the Tour de France, but with rapeseed replacing the sunflowers,” G-Dawg suggested, while I looked around for a horse to gallop alongside our group for that perfectly clichéd Grand Boucle photo op.
Narrowly avoiding a head-on smash into an approaching car, the kind of everyday occurrence that happens when you take a blind corner too fast and stray a little over the white line, we worked our way out to the Bywell bridge and then started to climb again as we looped around to approach the cafe from the north.
The climbing got a little more intense as we took a “goaty track” (©Juan Antonio Flecha) back toward our coffee destination, with steep sections encouraging out of the saddle work, but also a narrow broken surface strewn with gravel and limited traction to keep you planted firmly in your seat.
All the hard work was rewarded though as the track spat us out onto the main road and a short descent brought us to the cafe.
I think we had enough numbers to stress-test the service at the Bywell Coffee Barn and uncover its (rather serious) shortcomings. As the last group to arrive we had an interminable wait for our order, a lot of which came piecemeal.
A desperate Richard Rex started to hungrily eye up the sugar sachets on the table as an alternative fuel supply, while Taffy Steve compared us to starving labradors, fixated on the cafe door, stopping all conversation and sitting bolt upright every time it swung open, only to be hugely deflated when it revealed a waitress with one solitary order that was inevitably for another table.
We did finally get served, but half our group had already left for home by then.
Cake and coffee finally delivered and rapidly consumed, the remainder of us formed up just outside the cafe courtyard where we found a natural suntrap and sat on our bikes idly chatting in the warmth, seemingly reluctant to get moving again. When we finally did get underway, the group turned left and headed uphill, while I waved them off, took a right and dropped down.
It was still a little early to go straight home and things had warmed up enough that this was the best part of the day. On a whim I decided to cross the river at Bywell, then take a detour through Stocksfield to climb out of the Tyne and then drop down into the Derwent valley.
I took my usual route (another goaty track) up to Broomley through Shilford Woods, somewhat surprised to find the Forestry Commission has been hard at work and felled a huge swathe of trees near the crest, so the climb looked totally unfamiliar. I then had the delight of the drag up to Whittonstall into a stiff headwind, but it was worth it for the long fast descent down toward Ebchester. From there I climbed some more, looping through Burnopfield, Byermoor and Marley Hill, before turning south for a straight run home.
Despite the detour, I was back in time to watch the magnificent Elisa Longo Borghini’s decisive and well-worked move to take a hugely deserved win at Paris-Roubaix.
The world’s fastest adopted Irishman, Filipp O’Ganna was very heavily favoured (well, at least by the female members of the SLJ household) for the men’s race the next day, but it wasn’t to be, so congrats to Dylan van Baarle for a totally unexpected victory after so many attempts and failures by Skineos over the years.
(Jens on the Podium Cafe website had the most likely explanation for this and concluded that “moving Amstel in between Flanders and Roubaix was brilliant for Ineos as they got confused and mistakenly won a cobbled monument without thinking about it.”)
Hmm. Is that the faintest trace of a tan line on my legs?
|Day & Date:||Club ride, Saturday 16th April 2022|
|Riding Time:||3 hours 57 minutes|
|Riding Distance:||95km/59 miles with 1,037m of climbing|
|Group Size:||22 riders|
|Weather in a word or two:||Problematic|
|Year to date:||1,257km/781 miles with 13,004m of climbing|