I was convinced we were going to be subject to a rinse and repeat of last week, with an unfortunate, heavy emphasis on the rinse, but while we saw only the sparsest glimmer of sunshine, it was pleasantly cool rather than chill and the much forecast rain showers never materialised. I would go as far as saying the conditions were about as perfect as they could be without tipping directly into the “good” weather bracket and I even managed a couple of extended periods with my arm warmers tucked away in a back pocket.
Just over 20 of us gathered for the off where a mountain-bike-riding, casually dressed Crazy Legs briefed in the ride he’d carefully planned, but would not be participating in, citing canine care committals. After what must be the now obligatory weekly-whinge from OGL, we split into two groups, G-Dawg leading out the first, while Not Anthony volunteered to lead the second “from the rear.”
I hung back to join up with the second group, which quickly became the first as, within 500 meters of setting out, we passed Caracol and the Cow Ranger furiously working to repair a puncture, while a bit further on the rest of G-Dawg’s group waited for them to rejoin.
I was chatting with La Pinta as we rode out, comparing notes on a running-cycling balance as she’s a runner whose found the joy of cycling, while I’m a cyclist who has discovered a true-hatred of running. After a quick shuffle in the order I then caught up with Spoons, who is counting down the remaining few days until he retires, the lucky beggar.
Another shuffle and I found myself alongside Szell, who’d originally set off in the first group, but had seemingly now infiltrated ours. I wondered what had happened.
“I looked around and realised there were no fat lads,” he explained, “then I looked back and there was only a racing-snake (Spry) lurking behind me, so realised I was completely out of my depth and on a hiding to nothing.” Discretion being the better part of valour, he’d wisely taken the opportunity of the impromptu puncture to swap groups. I couldn’t blame him, it seemed like the sensible thing to do.
I learned he too was contemplating retirement, but at least his release from work wasn’t quite as imminent as Spoons’ as Szell’s business is still recovering from COVID-19 and he needs to establish new premises with an extended lease in order to sell it as a going concern.
We shuffled yet again and I found myself alongside the new gal and I was relieved to find she is nowhere near being able to retire yet. A student from Ecuador, she was back in the UK to pick things up again after having been forced to abandon her studies and return home during the pandemic.
Ecuador adds another notch in our clubs cycling League of Nations, having already hosted in my time, Dutch, Poles, Spaniards, Basques, Nigerians, Chinese, Irish, Americans, Canadians, Aussies and Italians, as well as a wide assortment of Brits including Welsh, Scottish, Somters, Devonians, Geordies, Mackems, Smoggies, Yorkies, Cockneys, Cumbrians, Lancastrians, Brummies and Scousers. Sadly, no Eshingtonian’s yet, though I live in hope.
Along with TripleD-El and Taffy Steve, we tried encouraging the new gal to close up on the wheel in front, but she was distracted by all the shouts; car-up! gravel! pots! hor-sezzs! et al. The problem was she couldn’t understand any of them and so kept easing back, horrified in case she was being castigated for doing something wrong.
She particularly couldn’t understand the “warra-ragga-warra-shugga” Tasmanian Devil-like bellowing that was emitted from the back of our group, until it mercifully it went silent as the tail split off to take a differnt route. TripleD-El reflected that even after many, many months she still couldn’t translate what was being shouted from the rear, while I assured her it was probably best to ignore it anyway.
Yet another shuffle and I found myself on the front with TripleD-El comparing the fortunes of the respective British and Dutch Olympic teams to find we were both satisfied with the performances of our compatriots. TripleD-El was however much less sanguine about the muddy stretch of road we then found ourselves on, complaining that she’d only just cleaned her bike last week and didn’t want to have to do it again for at least another month!
Somewhere along the way we picked up Zardoz, out for a solo ride, but more than happy to tag along for some unexpected company. We went up the Quarry and stopped to regroup and then I was joined on the front by Princess Fiona for the last push up to the café at Capheaton.
I was going to suggest to Zardoz that I’d never seen the café quite as busy, until I realised we were the ones who were making it look busy.
Zardoz then queried if he was right in thinking the Vuelta starts next week and I confirmed that he was. This, prompted Taffy Steve to query if we’d ben watching “The Least Expected Day” – the behind-the-scenes documentary about Movistar that was on Netflix. This, he is convinced, shows that he has all the right qualities to be an excellent pro-cycling Directeur Sportif, or at least as good as the example served up by Eusebio Unzué. In other words, never have a plan, pointedly ignore any rider who asks about a plan, swear a lot when things go badly and, if by some chance things do go well and your rider somehow lucks himself into the lead, simply drive up alongside and holler Venga! Venga! Venga! at them non-stop until they’re caught.
In non-cycling related discussion, Brassneck found we all shared his complete lack of sympathy for the “poor” individuals who’d decided to travel over 5,000 miles for a holiday in Mexico and were now having to spend £8 grand for the privilege of flying immediately back home to avoid quarantine. I mean, what were they thinking? Oh, sorry. Obviously they weren’t …
Damn fine cake and coffee, along with the novelty of free refills kept us at Capheaton perhaps longer than planned, but soon we began to move out and form up into various groups for the ride home.
I found myself riding with Taffy Steve who was wondering if G-Dawg is in danger becoming more of a meme than a person, while he chuckled at the fact we’d stuck two small women, Princess Fiona and Mini Miss on the front, while a whole bunch of burly blokes took shelter on their back wheels. What can I say, we’re an equal opportunities club.
Finally Carlton and Not Anthony took over the lead as we routed toward Saltwick Hill. Once there, I took off to burn a little excess energy on the climb and then pushed the gap out a little more along some of the twisting lanes until, at one junction, I spotted a lone cyclist thrashing around by the side of the road. Assuming he had some sort of mechanical, I dropped down the hill to see if he needed assistance, only to find he’d lost one of his wireless earpieces from his headphones somewhere in the deep vegetation. His phone was telling him it was there or there abouts, but I didn’t rate his chances of actually finding the damn thing. It wasn’t until some miles later that I realised his best chance of recovering his earpiece would have been to crank up the volume of some scuzzy death metal to see if he could locate it by sound. Oh well, too late now, maybe he thought of that anyway?
While I’d been rendering no assistance whatsoever to my fellow cyclist, our group had turned at the junction and shouted down that I was heading the wrong way. After a cursory search for the missing earpiece I left him to his quest, turned around and gave chase to the group. Somewhere along the way I must have taken a wrong turn, or missed the right one and I ended up on the cycle path running alongside the A1. From there I had to extemporise a route back onto more familiar roads, an interesting detour, but slightly too urban for my tatstes. I was still thoroughly enjoying myself though, perfectly happy just to be out, rolling along without getting rained on.
I manged to find my way through Hazelrigg, which eventually spat me out onto our regular route just before the Mad Mile and from there it was plain sailing back home, to complete what was perhaps the longest ride of the year so far.
Another guest blogger has kindly stepped up to the mark in our time of need! This contribution is from my old (old, old, old!) mate, Tony Clay, who describes himself as a long-distance member of our cycling club, before explaining that by this he means he lives a long way from Newcastle and not that he rides long distances anymore!
Currently residing in the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire, Tony still has dual nationality and a Geordie passport and recalls his formative years “happily riding around Northumberland and Durham with some great people.”
This is a faithful telling of how he (and then, by association, yours truly) came to be cyclists, rather than … I don’t know … golfers? … lard-arsed sofa surfers? … sane and mellow normal people without a Lycra fetish? Maybe all, or none of these.
A Revelation on the Road to Damascus Hexham by Tony Clay
For the record, my other clubs – Tyne Road Club (at the same time as Joe Waugh(1)), Whitley Bay Road Club (at the same time as Mick Bradshaw(2)) Tyne Velo, Sheffield Phoenix, Sharrow CC, Meersbrook CC, Rutland CC (at the same time as Malcolm Elliott(3)), Thurcroft CC and my current local Club – Rotherham Wheelers (100 years old this Summer).
I’ve a couple of years on SLJ and have known him since I was 14. One of my fond memories is when he and I went on a YHA cycling tour around Devon and Cornwall in 1978. We had some laughs. I think it was £2 per night in the Youth Hostels back then and I booked and paid in advance by Postal Order, do they even exist today? (Mr. Google suggests that indeed, they still do, but I’ve never heard any one use, or even talk about them for decades!)
But anyway, let’s go back to my childhood… I had to visit a Psychotherapist some years ago and, though it sounds cliched, that was actually about the first thing he said to me, ‘Tell me about your childhood.’
Well, there was a small gang of us 14/15 year olds at school, a mixture of lads and lasses who ‘knocked about’ together, all very innocent. We all went to the after-school clubs, the youth club, the ‘movies’, walking, camping and canoeing together. Simpler times.
The summer holidays in 1974 saw some lovely weather. We all got the train to South Shields now and again for a day at the beach with Frisbees, burgers, coke and ice cream.
I can’t remember who suggested it but someone said, ‘let’s go for a bike ride’.
But I didn’t have a bike…
But, asking around I managed to borrow Dick Taylor’s bike. The bike was a Sturmey Archer, 3-speed ‘all steel’ Raleigh. I’m not sure what happened to the bike, but Dick Taylor went on to a place in the GB Olympic Kayak Team and, even at 16, he was quite an impressive physical specimen, tall, blonde and ‘fit as the proverbial butcher’s dog’. Perhaps he got that way riding his beast of a bike?
So, beastly bike sorted, where would we go?
The obvious choice was South Shields, only a 20-mile round trip and we could go on the beach with Frisbees, burgers, coke and ice cream. Perfect!
We decided to go to Hexham.
Initially not a bad idea as we knew Hexham quite well as we had been there many times at ‘Dukeshouse Wood’ School Camp, very happy times.
What we didn’t factor in was the distance… we didn’t even think about what is essentially a 50-mile round trip.
50 miles! I’d never ridden further than the local shops on my tricycle as a bairn!
So the ‘Liste de Engagements’ was:-
‘Rowesy’ riding his brother’s Holdsworth.
‘Fat Rowesy’, – no relation and earned the epithet “fat” principally to differentiate the two Rowesy’s. Fat Rowesy was on his brother’s Carlton Kermesse (a lovely bike which I later bought off him.)
‘Fat John’ on a BSA Tour of Britain.
‘Erra’ on a flat handlebar Raleigh Roadster.
‘Gutha’ on his brother’s Carlton, horribly hand painted with Hammerite.
‘Doddsy’ on his very own (he was posh) Carlton Ten. A really sound touring bike, in mint condition. They sell for around £250 to the ‘Eroica’ enthusiasts today.
‘Maundy’ on his PUCH (PUKE!) International, really cheap and horrible, horrible, horrible; (I could never determine if it was meant to be pronounced puke, or if this was some subtle kind of Austrian humour and should perhaps be pronounced poosh. You know, like a poosh bike? Ah, forget it.)
‘Bryan’ so utterly nondescript he didn’t even earn a nickname… and I can’t remember his bike either!
(It’s brilliant to realise that teenage kids are every bit as accomplished at coming up with pithy, creative nicknames as some of our, err, “mature” professional sportsmen. I’m looking at you Wrighty, Gazza, Giggsy, Waughy, Cookie, Floody et al. Simple rules – if the surname is too long, truncate it a bit, then all you have to do is stick an “ee” or “ah” on the end. Why didn’t I think of that, could have save myself a huge amount of time and soul-searching!)
Having no idea what we were letting ourselves in for, nobody had any food or drink and a couple of us didn’t even take any money, so we all had to chip in to get them their ‘burgers, coke and ice cream’ when we got there.
The journey and return is perhaps a story for another day, but the key moment in that ride was when I swopped bikes with Fat Rowesy for a few miles as we passed through Corbridge.
Going from a 3-speed steel ‘clunker’ to a real racing bike was amazing. A real revelation. His Carlton Kermesse had 10 gears, tubular tyres and lots of alloy kit. It zinged. It seemed to smoothly glide along and was utterly effortless to ride.
That is the precise moment, 46 years ago, when I got hooked on cycling.
To be continued?
(1) Joseph Alexander Waugh. Twice National Hill Climb Champion King of the Mountains,1975 Milk Race 2nd, at 5 Seconds, 1976 Milk Race, riding in support of the winner Bill Nickson 2nd to Robert Millar (Pippa York) National Road Race Championships 1979 Gold Medallist 100km TTT 1982 Commonwealth Games, with Malcolm Elliott
(SLJ: Also occasionally known as Joey Wah-oogah to eagle-eyed readers of this blerg.)
(2) Mick Bradshaw.
Gold, Silver and Bronze Medallist in National Time Trial Championships at 25, 50 and 100 miles.
And, after a heart transplant he came back to win medals in the World Transplant Games, coincidentally held in Newcastle, one tough cookie.
(3) Malcolm Elliott. What needs to be said? National Hill Climb Champion, National Road Race, National Criterium Champion, Milk Race Winner (and holds the record for the number of stage wins), Tour de France rider (read ‘Wide Eyed And Legless’), Vuelta a Espana Points Classification Winner, Gold Medallist 100km TTT 1982 Commonwealth Games AND the Road Race… and was still racing, very successfully, as a pro aged 49! And a lovely friendly guy!
Tired of being misrepresented as the cheery, chirpy, care-free, ever-chuntering, all-singing and all-dancing, cycling comedian in this humble blog, one of Sur La Jante’s regular animators-in-chief, Crazy Legs has decided to take matters into his own hands and re-invent himself as an erudite, thoughtful weighty and perspicacious philosopher of cycling commentary.
What was the impetus and inspiration behind this renaissance, I hear you ask, somewhat dumbfounded? Well, it was discovering the joys of a 4-Up Team Time Trial that seems to have re-ignited his passion for all things cycling and, as he explains, gave him a real buzz and impetus to improve.
This unexpected catalyst was the Blaydon CC, 4-Up Time Trial, held on the 27th August on a rather secretive and mysterious course referred to by those in-the-know, simply as M18.
Here then, in our heroes own words, is the tail of his travails, trials and tribulations…
Sunday, August 27th, 2017 and ever since the Hammer had suggested this event, I’d been fretting about the day.
It had all started innocently enough …
“Hey, how about we do a 4-Up Team Time Trial, on the circuit in Northumberland?” was his rather innocuous question.
“Hmm, how long is it?” I pondered, though not too deeply.
That seemed do-able…
“Sure, as long as we are all fairly evenly matched as a team, no problem.”
So, the initial groundwork was completed, and the proposed team was the Hammer, the BFG, G-Dawg and me. As G-Dawg correctly and proudly pointed out, a team with a combined age of over 200! With all that knowledge and experience what could possibly go wrong?
Well, first and foremost, was the change in the route from an eminently do-able, one lap of the Secret Squirrel like, M18 time-trial course, to 2 laps and subsequent shift to more than double the distance – from 18 to 40 miles!
Ok. Breathe deeply, reset the clocks, and re-calibrate for (hopefully) slightly less than 2 hours of pain. We can still do this.
Then, the BFG had to withdraw with a recurring bad back. Luckily the Cow Ranger stepped up to fill the not inconsiderable void left by the BFG, but this presented its own problems. Previously, I’d looked at my companions and thought we were all fairly similar in outlook and ability. The Cow Ranger though was in a different league, a proven triathlete, experienced time-trialler and possessing some of the best kit and equipment money could buy – even, believe it or not, a solid disc wheel. I don’t know about you, but that’s nigh on professional in my book.
He would undoubtedly be stronger and faster than the rest of us, which rather unnervingly suggested he’d be dishing out real pain through every one of his turns on the front. Still, we were all committed now and determined to make it work.
Training sessions started about 8 weeks before the main event, but fitting it around work and holidays usually meant the turnout was just 3 out of the 4 riders. In fact, it wasn’t until the last training session that all 4 of us actually rode together as a team.
Undaunted, we sorted out an order, trying to logically decide who went where in the line-up and why, along with some rough roles and rules. In all honesty though, no matter what the formation, pain was going to be the order of the day. We aimed high and agreed on a simple but important motivational target: “Don’t come last!”
It was really easy objective to sum up, and we all bought into it as a team. If I cared about my bosses, I’m sure they would have been proud: we had an objective that was specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic (hopefully) and definitely time-based. Welcome to the world of corporate time-trialling.
Two weeks before the event, perhaps not so good for the organisers, but a godsend to us, was the news that the course of 2 laps had failed a health and safety assessment and was consequently back down to 1 lap, as originally planned. I promise I’ll never, ever mock overzealous Health and Safety legislation and I too now fully support the wearing of protective goggles when playing conkers.
Quite how we were expected to ride through a popular, Northumberland village on a Bank Holiday weekend, with busy roads, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, roundabouts, rampant flocks of kids and a plethora of busy pubs and car parks was baffling, to be honest. Then again a bit of chaos might have played into the hands of the teams who weren’t expected to be at the top of the finish list. Nothing like a pensioner on a zebra crossing to stop a team in full flight. They don’t have that sort of obstacle in the Vuelta I tell you.
So training sessions had been good, we’d studied and rode the course and had it divided into thirds, with an agreed strategy for each segment:
First third(the hilliest part): Keep it steady, especially up the 3–4 km climb.
Second third: Due west and normally into a headwind, keep tucked in, shorter turns on the front and for the last climb take it E-A-S-Y!
Final third: Flat out, leave nothing in the tank, and head for home – and just in case you hadn’t been listening, I said FLAT OUT!
Much of the training sessions involved getting the Cow Ranger to hold back on the climbs when he was itching to power on. A couple of time he had ignited the after-burners and destroyed the rest of us to varying degrees, so controlling his competitive impulses was going to be key to a smooth, fast ride for all.
He managed this superbly for our final training session, we were flying and had smashed our previous best times. Brilliant, we we’re set to go.
One of the great things about riding with the other three was that I utterly trusted them and their decisions, so was comfortable sitting very close to the back wheel of the Hammer. We’d decided to go with road bikes instead of TT bikes, as riding 5 cm behind another rider without having your hands anywhere near the brakes is best left for the professionals, especially on a slightly hilly course. All but the Hammer had clip on TT bars, and we agreed to use these only when on the front.
So the day dawned, I’d contracted a minor ailment which had me worrying about whether I’d be able to take part, but in the end some helpful tablets from the doc had me running as close to my normal as possible, without the need for a TUE.
Preparation went well, a relaxing morning before our 2:27pm start, early lunch and a 1pm meet, so we could register, then put a few miles into our legs as warm up. The weather was great, apart from a slightly stronger than predicted westerly wind, but sunny, warm and dry. You can’t have everything.
Unfortunately, as countless coffees were being consumed amidst general chatting to some of the other 70 odd riders, the news filtered through that the course had been closed temporarily. This was due to a poor soul on a motorbike being unseated in a collision with a tractor and needing the air ambulance to lift him out.
An hour’s delay was announced, which was not ideal preparation, but our team took it in our stride and saw it as the perfect opportunity for more coffee and extra cake. We found the cycling cafés version of a flapjack with chocolate might even be denser than Rab Dee’s infamous, home-made, portable black-hole version.
By this time the air ambulance had appeared and disappeared, rushing the injured motorcyclist to A&E, and news went up that 3pm was the deadline for the race start. If the course wasn’t clear by then the event would have to be cancelled. I hate to say it, but a part of me would have seen that as an honourable score-draw. I mean we had committed, we had trained and we had turned up on the day, it wouldn’t be our fault if the whole thing was called off, would it?
2:59 and not a moment to spare, the road is proclaimed open. Bugger.
Lots of police cars and transporter lorry carrying a motorbike bedecked in foliage and bits of grass verge went past and the road was officially declared open. The team headed out for a quick warm up and, at the allotted time plus one hour, we rolled our way up to the start line.
Nerves jangling, a strange sense of excitement and foreboding washed over me, but then again, that’s why we do these things I suppose. OGL turned up at the line, and gives us advice, encouragement and just general support. Cheers.
Our time is nigh, and the four of us line up. My holder is a happy go lucky guy, who has 60 seconds of general, distracting chit-chat, before I clip in and he’s ready to push me off. One problem though, the Hammer wants to clip-in himself, so if my guy pushes me off, I’ll plough straight into the back of him while he twiddles with his pedals. We quickly agree that rather than me lose a few metres, I’ll angle slightly out, so the Hammer can clip in unimpeded and I’ll still be able to get going with a push. As a supermarket might say, “every little helps”.
“10… 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!”
I get my push, the Hammer has clipped in smoothly and … we’re off. Great.
Hang on. No.
The Cow Ranger has set off like a Saturn 5 rocket leaving the launchpad. G-Dawg is struggling to hold his wheel, and the Hammer is trying desperately to close on them.
Houston we have a problem!
Within 500 metres, the gap between G-Dawg and the Cow Ranger has yawned open and I don’t know about the Hammer, but I’m already in the red. Bloody hell, we’ve only just started and my heart rate monitor is already yammering at me to slow down.
Now, we realise that the Cow Ranger’ has worn his space-age aero helmet for the first time out with us and is in full Buzz Lightyear, “To Infinity and Beyond” mode. With his head totally encased, the full visor down and the wind blowing past his ears, he can barely hear a thing. He certainly can’t hear the shouts from the three of us, which get more and more frantic and use up all the essential oxygen we so desperately need.
Poor G-Dawg, who is second in line and should be getting sheltered, is exposed, and effectively on the front of a three-man team and temporarily taking all the wind.
The Cow Ranger eventually looks back, sees the problem and eases up, leading us through the rest of his turn in fairly good order. He then pulls out and the three of us fluidly move through, while he slots onto the back. Like the Hammer and me, G-Dawg, is already suffering from our all-out sprint start, but it’s his turn on the front now. Sensibly he does the right thing, and pulls a shorter stint, before the Hammer moves through to relieve him.
After 4km, we’ve all done a turn, got our rhythm back and we’re approaching the 3–4 km ramp. This can’t be described as a hill, more a series of rises, only adding 60m height over approximately 4km. Nothing, eh? Average 1.5% maximum, a pimple, a speed-bump a very gentle swelling?
Well, no. This becomes an entirely different proposition when you’re already going flat out. Every metre of ascent is just more unnecessary pain, and every metre of descent only lifts your average speed to where you hoped it would be anyway.
We rotate through, shouting at the Cow Ranger to keep it steady and not burn everyone out. I glance at my heart rate monitor and I’m on the limit and a strange sequence evolves where I’m actually looking forward to my stint on the front, so I can regulate my speed to match where my body wants it to be.
Still though, in the back of my mind, I can’t help thinking that I’m letting the team down, so I dig even deeper. Is that the right thing to do? Who knows? But it’s harder riding in a group than by yourself. Pull a rubbish time by yourself and there’s no one else to blame. Rubbish in a group and you’re it, the crap one, the useless one, the weakest link, the one they’d be better off without. So I go further into the red, and try and push as hard as I can.
The Cow Ranger comes through after me, and after a few seconds respite, as I drift backwards and onto the rear of our line, he’s ramping up the speed again. One thing which had escaped my notice until now, is that good time-triallers pedal hard downhill too. Me, I normally take it easy downhill and give myself a break. Not today, no way matey, no chance. I’m spinning my legs off down the hills as well today.
The great thing about riding at a higher pace than normal (notice I didn’t say “fast”) is that the distance counter spins round much quicker as well. I glance down and can’t believe we’re nearly a third of the way there!
We hit the sharp corner where a friendly marshal waves us onto a bigger road just in front of a car, but there’s no stopping, slowing or second-guessing now. This road is a westerly section of about 11km long and it’s straight into the teeth of a headwind. Not a massive headwind mind, but definitely there – and I refer you to my views on 1.5% climbs.
Throw in a couple of nasty rises, and it’s tough.
The Cow Ranger hits the front for one of these rises, and rides it perfectly. Not too fast, not too slow for us, lovely. It’s almost as if we’d practiced beforehand! Chapeau Cow Ranger. I even have time to idly wonder if he’s getting a bit bored hanging around, soft-pedalling and trying to match his pace to ours?
This section of road hurts, but not as bad as the first part. I end up on the last rise, and I’m on my limit. G-Dawg and the Hammer are shouting encouragement at me to get to the brow, as my turn is nearly up.
“50 metres, come on” I hear clearly, through the pounding of blood and rasping of my breathing.
We’re nearly at the top and I peel off, my thinking being that if I get over the lip of the rise and someone else increases the speed, I’m gone. They take over and luckily hold the pace more or less steady and I’m hanging on.
We drop into the village of our normal Saturday café haunt, but there’s no time for fruit scones today as we blast past, head down and legs whirring.
Now we’re on the home stretch, and it’s the time to empty the tank. The Hammer, G-Dawg and I take our turns and I’m thinking this is as fast as I can physically go, when the Cow Ranger swings through. The finish is less than 7km away, he can smell a good time and now really digs in. Whenever he puts the power down he tends to swing a little on the bike, but now he’s rocking and swaying like a drunken sailing rolling down the gangplank for 2-weeks shore leave. I’m on his wheel, watching his entire body contort and our speed is starting to creep up.
Oh-oh, trouble here. I’m clinging on for dear life as we hit a long, shallow rise, trying to make it, shouting at him to ease off, but he can’t hear. I hang there, nearly, nearly at the crest, but then suddenly it’s reached the point where I have nothing left. Nothing. Nadir. Empty. I’m gone.
I can’t hold the wheel for a second longer and I pull out of the line, tell them not to ease. Go, Go GO!
I reckon I need 30 seconds recovery and we can’t take that long, not with only a few kilometres left. I take a few deep breaths, look up, and they are only 50 metres away. I hit the tri bars, and try and re-join, but 50 metres becomes 60, then 75, then they’ve gone.
I’m a solo TT-survival mode now. I know I have to go flat out by myself in case anything happens to one of the remaining team mates, as it’s the time of the 3rd rider that stops the clock. But now I’m riding on my limits and not someone else’s. I can still give it everything, but if I need a fraction of a second rest, or don’t hit a rise full gas, then that’s it. I can’t see any of any team mates, and bury myself coming up to the line. Stop the clock! Stop the clock!
I see the rest of the team huddled in a group just past the line and finally recover enough to make my way across. Everyone is happy with the time, much, much better than anything we’ve done in training. They did stick together, and put roughly a minute into me over the last few kilometres. Chapeau guys, well done.
It’s strange, but I’m slightly euphoric. We think we achieved the aim of not coming last at this stage. It all seemed worth it. The harmony of 4 people riding close together has bonded us. The Hammer reckons that people will have gone faster, but maybe none will have been as tight as us. I can’t disagree.
(This is probably true – a watching OGL suggested a lot of the teams were very ragged and undrilled. He thought one team rode in the same formation, line astern, with no rotating on the front for the entire course and another even rode two abreast, as if they were on a club run. SLJ)
Pressing on at speed 5cm from someone else’s back wheel requires you to have a fair amount of trust in the rider in front. I’d never given it a seconds thought as my fellow teammates are skilful riders and totally unselfish.
G-Dawg was slightly disappointed that we didn’t finish together, but I told him not to worry. I simply couldn’t have given anymore. We had a celebratory drink, packed up and left for home, very content.
Post-race, the results are in and show that we came 12th out of 18 teams. Even by my poor reckoning, that’s nowhere near last.
I looked up my heart rate on Strava, and saw that the average was 177bpm for the ride. That’s more than I can normally sustain, so all in all, not too shabby an effort.
I’ve been riding a few years now, and had begun to drift into the club run routine, and a kind of numbness. I still loved the rides, but was looking for something to really excite me. I’d tried individual time trials, great for solo suffering, but they only seem to scratch a deep masochistic streak. I don’t really want to race against some pimply youths and I’m too old for that, but the team time trial was an electric jolt to my system.
I loved it. The training was great, the planning was great, and it gave the summer meaning. When you worry about an event for days, you know it matters. This did. I owe special thanks to the Hammer, he was the one who noticed it, and asked around and organised things, so without him, summer would have drifted by.
Next year, I’ll be back for more. The actors might be different (hopefully not) but I’ll be fitter. I’ll be with the team at the finish line next time. I reckon that our clubs infamously garish shirt might be represented even more, as I can think of at least half a dozen people who would take part given the chance. The Red Max has already expressed an interest.
Thanks to the Hammer, we’ve all sat up and started looking for other Team Time Trial opportunities now. So finally, to the team; G-Dawg, the Hammer and the Cow Ranger. Brilliant one guys, loved every minute of it, and if I’m not mistaken, I think you did too.
Total Distance: 109 km/68 miles with 1,039 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 19 minutes
Average Speed: 25.2 km/h
Group size: 30 riders, 3 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Cold then warm, but always breezy
Rain and wind overnight had scrubbed the sky clean, leaving behind a bright blue and sunny Saturday morning. A “Battle of Britain Sky,” an old mate used to call this type of day and I couldn’t help looking around to see if I could spot the odd contrail from a lone Spitfire or two.
Despite benign looking weather, stepping outside to prep the bike revealed that it was actually surprisingly chilly and the wind was stiff and cold. Remembering last week, when the morning had been considerably warmer, but my fingers were still numb as I dropped down the hill, I stepped back inside and picked up a pair of light gloves and some arm-warmers.
That did the trick, now the only thing feeling chilled were my toes where the wind was whistling through vents and mesh on my shoes. Perhaps I need to dig out those seriously odd-looking toe-covers I bought and haven’t used and add those to my arsenal of early morning, flexible wardrobe accoutrements.
Otherwise, the journey across to the meeting point was remarkably unremarkable and the bike was running smoothly, silently and properly. Cause in itself for celebration after the past two weeks or so.
I arrived at the Meeting Point with plenty of time to clamber up onto the wall and sit and wait for the gathering, enjoying the crack and the sun and the warmth that finally persuaded me I could safely swap my gloves for mitts, although the arm-warmers, for the time being at least remained in place.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
Crazy Legs told us he’d unwittingly emulated Isaac Newton and been bonked on the head by a falling apple as he rode in this morning. Sadly, it didn’t seem to engender any great eureka moment for him, but it did have me singing, “Newton got beamed by the apple good… yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” for the rest of the day.
As good as his word, the FNG with a snapped gear cable from last week had returned, and was there extra early to introduce himself to everyone. Dressed from head to toe in heavy, black and heat absorbing garb, I took in the full length leggings, long-sleeved jersey and long-fingered gloves, tied his clothing choices to a somewhat exotic and alien accent and, with Sherlockian intuition deduced he must be from somewhere with a much hotter climate and must still struggling to adjust to the North East “summer.”
“I’m guessing you’re not from around these parts then?” I confidently ventured.
“No,” he replied, “I’m from Amsterdam-via-Oxford.”
Hmm, not the sub-tropical paradise I had assumed then, but I guess Oxford is closer to the equator than Newcastle and maybe it’s warmed by the Gulf Stream. Or something. I did wonder how our visitor was going to cope with the real North East winter when it starts to rear its ugly head, probably in the next 2-3 days or so.
Perhaps making up for lost time, the Monkey Butler Boy had recovered from his serious, debilitating boy-flu and ventured out early with the Red Max, having already clocked up a dozen miles or so. Like me, they’d marked the chilly start to the day and layered up accordingly, although with perhaps less flexibility in mind.
Noticing his tights, I queried whether Max’s legs had been put away until next summer, which he agreed was pretty much the case, although the family did have a week or so in Spain to look forward to, so the poor people of Andalucia may need to brace themselves and learn to look away.
Unfortunately, the logistics of getting both his bike and the Monkey Butler Boys out there with them was proving a little problematic. He’d bought two hard-shell bike boxes, only to find he was struggling to fit them both into even his impressively spacious Škoda Octavia estate.
This then meant a re-think of hire car options at the other end and a necessary upgrade to a van with more carrying capacity, which hadn’t proved particularly popular with Mrs. Max.
Meanwhile, the Monkey Butler Boy had been studying the local maps and declared he’d identified several massive climbs that had featured on La Vuelta. Now Max has the additional problem of careful route planning so he can skilfully avoid all of these hilltop challenges.
At the anointed hour, OGT (Official Garmin Time) Crazy Legs invited me to take to the front with him and we pushed off, clipped in and led a handily-sized group of 30 or so lads and lasses out from the suntrap and oddly sheltered micro-climate of the Transport Interchange Centre: a haven which is no doubt warmed by the gentle throbbing of badly tuned diesel engines and the subtle insulating properties of noisome fumes.
We were horribly splintered at the start and took a good while to regroup, but finally we got all formed up and pushed on.
As we rode through Dinnington a young kid at the side of the road lifted a pretend machine-gun and sprayed the entire peloton “rat-ta-ta-tat!” At least, I think it was a pretend gun, but it was Dinnington after all, so anything’s possible.
I melodramatically clutched at the imaginary, gaping bullet wounds stitched across my chest, while beside me Crazy Legs emitted the strangled cry of a gunshot victim and slumped down as we rode past our grinning assassin. Little did I know he would only be the first of several out to do me harm today.
Somehow making a miraculous recovery from “being plugged” or, more accurately “having his ass capped” (which I believe is the more common argot of today’s youth) – Crazy Legs wondered if the Monkey Butler Boy had squealed like a girl when he saw someone pointing a gun at us. Perhaps though he’s remarkably fearless in the face of firearms and its only buzzing insects and itsy-bitsy spiders that reduce him to a terrified, quivering wreck?
We climbed out past the Cheese Farm, but the Prof was with us, so naturally we had to stop at his favourite bush for a pee before we could really get going. Crazy Legs took the opportunity to relinquish his place on the front to Son of G-Dawg and we pressed on.
We were having one of those days when route communication was utterly random and seemed to be on a delayed feed, with OGL playing the part of a cranky and oddly recalcitrant sat-nav. Crazy Legs had pre-empted any problems by relaying a call back for directions as we were approaching each junction, but once he’d rotated off the front and I was joined by Son of G-Dawg, information seemed to suddenly dry up.
Once again we started a game of “guess the route” – but like playing Russian Roulette, you know that sooner or later you will lose. We finally reached that point, sailing straight on at a junction instead of taking a sharp left and just like that, we had slipped from the front to the back of the group before we had a chance to recover.
A few miles further on and we found the road blocked by what we at first thought was a herd of skeletally-skinny, pale, stilt-legged sheep, but transpired to be one of the local hunts with a full pack of foxhounds. Is it that time of the year already? We slowed and trailed them awhile, until the huntsmen found a space by the side of the road to corral the dogs, allowing us to single out and slip past.
Somewhat taken aback by the size of our group, I heard one of the huntsmen-toffs turn to his companion to query bemusedly, “Ay say, is it the Tawdee Fronce?”
Things had warmed up substantially by now and it was turning into a really pleasant day. Along with many others I took the slight drop in our pace to strip off my arm warmers and tuck them away.
We split, with the self-flagellation ride disappearing off to Rothley Crossroads, while the amblers and the longer, harder, faster group again found themselves travelling the same roads for the second week in succession.
A badly judged and executed gear change on the run up through Hartburn left my legs spinning uselessly, whirring around with no traction or momentum and I once again dropped back through the group, but slowly recovered the lost ground as we plummeted toward Middleton Bank.
I hung back until the steepest ramp began to bite, then spun the revs up and, still seated, pushed up the outside and past everyone to pull clear. As the slope eased I changed up and tried to keep a consistent tempo while, through all my strenuous wheezing my lungs did a remarkably apt impersonation of a malfunctioning vacuum cleaner in desperate need of a bag change, singularly failing to deliver enough oxygen, no matter how rapid my panting became.
I’d only intended to put a bit of hurt in the legs of everyone for the final sprint to the café, but the twinkle-eyed, avuncular and cold-calculating assassin that is Zardoz was the first to catch up with me. “Through and off?” he suggested rather innocently and instead of waiting for everyone to regroup, a small selection was soon pressing on and building momentum.
A couple of the younger and stronger FNG’s jumped off the front and opened a sizable gap. “Too early?” I asked Crazy Legs and, “Too early” I affirmed to my own question when he didn’t answer. But it wasn’t and they continued to work well together to build their lead.
There were 5 of us pushing hard in pursuit, myself, Zardoz, Crazy Legs, G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg, but we all seemed flat-out and our efforts didn’t mesh and were becoming ragged.
Further along, we lifted our pace again, but Zardoz was taking longer and longer to fight his way past me and then he blew. I tried filling in the gap he’d left and managed to pull just about parallel to Crazy Legs but no further. I hung there awkwardly for a while, like a human cannonball whose trajectory carries him briefly up alongside a jet plane, until gravity re-exerts its cruel grip and plummets him back down to earth once more. That time quickly arrived for me and I waved goodbye to the pilot, peeled off and dropped away.
Finding a second-wind, Zardoz charged past me to cling to the back of our group while they slowly but inexorably pulled away from me. I hammered down through Milestone Woods, sweeping round the corners while planted right in the middle of the road, only to encounter a motorcyclist similarly occupying the middle of the road, which I wouldn’t usually mind, but he was on my side while travelling in the opposite direction.
He had come thundering around the corner too fast, too wide and barely in control, sweeping right across the white line into my lane and nearly into my face. I instinctively twitched away as he swept by, much, much too close for comfort. If I’d been a car, further across the road, or even a few centimetres wider, it might have ended in disaster.
Perhaps fuelled by a sudden kick of adrenaline I hammered over the rollers, catching and immediately dropping Zardoz and trying to recover as the road tipped down to the last drag up to the café.
Even as I began the last climb, the terrible-triplets of G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg and Crazy Legs were already rounding the bend up ahead, where a supreme effort by G-Dawg pulled him past the first, but not up to the second FNG escapee.
We rolled into the café, to congratulate the FNG’s, equal parts exhilarated by the chase and utterly spent. At least Son of G-Dawg couldn’t complain that we’d followed the exact same formula this time and it had produced the same result. All we then had to ponder was how we could replicate the mad chase next time.
Comparing notes, it seemed Zardoz also had a too-close encounter with the suicidal motorcyclist, but Crazy Legs and the others hadn’t even noticed him through their hypoxia-induced tunnel vision.
I obviously hadn’t been thinking clearly either, as Crazy Legs convinced me that I should look on the advantages a crash could have brought, as at least I would have had an excuse to stop pedalling!
On that point we retreated to the garden, for a continuation of our on-going battle with our deadly enemy, wasp-kind.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
It was pondered (not all seriously, I hasten to add) if setting rollers up at an angle would simulate climbing a hill and if so, would it be possible to emulate the whole of the Tour de France route without ever leaving your garage. Taffy Steve even suggested that with a bit of creative thinking and enough time and money you could probably get a disgruntled Frenchman to scream abuse in your ear and douse you in urine – for that added touch of authenticity.
He then took me to task for attacking up Middleton Bank and depriving him of his weekly pleasure of mugging me on the line in the sprint, all the while screaming something incoherent, which he actually claimed to have been, “Dip for the line, bitch!”
We mourned the loss of one of the regular waitresses, who had left for a job in Sunderland and I pondered if she’d gone to the cycling café there which bears the very witty title: “Fausto Coffee.” We all agreed it was a great name, but wondered how well it translated in the mackem dialect.
Talk of the new £5 plastic notes seemed to focus on the fact that they would survive being washed with your clothes. Son of G-Dawg claimed than American dollars were already capable of surviving repeated washes without recourse to plasticizing the shit out of them. To illustrate he said he’d found a $5 bill buried in the pockets of his walk-in trousers, having survived several years and numerous washes in pristine condition.
Or at least I thought he said walk-in trousers, imagining something rather roomy and capacious that you never had to struggle into, even after a big meal out and several pints.
By the time I’d been corrected and we knew he was talking about walking trousers, G-Dawg and Crazy Legs were already off and running with the thought of Son of G-Dawg wearing Wallace and Gromit style techno-trousers.
“They’re the wrong trousers, Gromit and they’ve gone wrong!”
Caracol looked down at his plate to find a wasp trapped and struggling under his great slab of Snickers tray bake, looking for all the world like it had been trying to lift the cake and make off with it. We urged him to crush it flat under the cake and then, like a true man, eat the cake, smeared wasp and all, but being a gentle soul (or maybe just a wimp) he set the critter free.
The conversation then pinged randomly around starting with double-decker bikes: how unsuitable they are for riding over river bridges with low-railings and how even with a novelty bike you need to keep your chain clean. Are you listening hipsters?
This led on to decorators in stilts so they can paint ceilings (how do they pick up a dropped paintbrush?) and the dark arts of plastering, with all of us DIY-ophobes convinced magic was involved in getting a smooth finish.
Taffy Steve’s eminently sensible solution for patching plaster-work: mix up copious amounts of filler, smear it into and all around the offending hole, let it set hard and then smooth to a nice finish with an orbital sander. Works for me.
We then ended up talking about rugby players and how even the weedy looking ones, like Rob Andrew were actually all built like reinforced brick outhouses. This seems to be the reverse impressions cyclists generate, you see a Marcel Kittel or Andre “The Gorilla” Griepel and you immediately think of a big hulking bloke, but in a crowd they’d look remarkably normal if not malnourished. You could then take a weedy rugby player like Rob “Squeaky” Andrew, put him in a crowd and he’d look like a hulking man-beast, or Master of the Universe. Very different sports, very different worlds.
I guess the conclusion I drew was that we’re all reflected and framed by the company we keep. Looking around the table at my fellow club cyclists, that’s not an entirely comfortable or reassuring thought. (But don’t tell them I said that.)
I caught up with the news from an assortment of riders as we made our way home, revelling in the glorious weather and particularly enjoying Mini Miss questioning what on earth had possessed Red Max to wrap up as if he was on a Polar expedition … and then compound his error by pressuring the Monkey Butler Boy to similarly over-dress. She claimed this came perilously close to systematic child abuse.
A bit further on, I found our exotic flower from Amsterdam, who professed to have thoroughly enjoyed his ride, even going as far as declaring Northumberland even more beautiful than the Yorkshire Dales. Even he though, was forced to admit he was just a trifle over-dressed for the occasion.
As we entered the Mad Mile I had a bit of a gap to make up to the front of the group, where the G-Dawg boys had already started battling for the rights to first shower and to avoid the booby prize of having to clean the bikes. I flew past Cowin’ Bovril, suggesting he jump onto my wheel and hang on, but he sensibly demurred, as I shot across the gap, netting myself a Strava PR for my efforts.
Latching onto the tail of our racing front-runners, I used my momentum to slingshot me across the roundabout as they pulled a hard left. Here another cyclist, perhaps mesmerised by the rest of our group piling off down the left-hand exit at full bore, rode directly out and into my path without even looking.
I slammed the brakes on and swerved around him letting out the cyclist’s universal WTF roar of “Whoa-ah!” I’m not convinced he ever saw or heard me, but I hope he did and learns to pay a little more attention.
I climbed uphill to drop down into the valley again, slaloming narrowly around a car door that an inattentive driver flung open in my path and arrived at the bridge over the river. Still enjoying my ride, despite a seemingly unending litany of people wanting to do me harm, I decided on a slight extension, so I turned and just kept going up the valley.
The road was heavy, a constant uphill drag and straight into a headwind, so it quickly wore me down, but I made it as far as Heddon-on-the-Wall, before I swung around for a rapid downhill descent all the way back down to the bridge and home.
Had I kept going I would eventually have hit Wylam and I could have crossed the river on a different bridge and looped home that way as well. Perhaps a choice for the next glorious day, whenever that will be.
I do know it’s not going to be next Saturday though, I’m off for a University Open Day visit with Daughter#1, so if I don’t get out next weekend at least I had a perfect blast to carry me over until the next ride.
YTD Totals: 5,242 km / 3,257 miles with 51,883 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 102 km/63 miles with 700 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 4 minutes
Average Speed: 25.0 km/h
Group size: 20 riders, 3 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: A game of two halves
By heck, isn’t the Vuelta entertaining this year, in a way the Tour singularly failed to be. Not that I’m one of those people who would say the Tour was boring. Predictable? Yeah… maybe, in that the final result was widely known half way in, but boring? Then again I’m a person who sees a certain savage grandeur in the way Team Sky ratchet up the pressure on climbs until the rest of the field get gradually worked loose and slowly whittled down. Or “strangled” as the critics would unkindly insist.
Anyway, at least old Stone Face has actually decided to fight for the Vuelta, he’s climbing fantastically well and the Ungainly One is just about hanging on by his fingernails. We could yet see someone giving the Sky behemoth a right kicking*.
One minor gripe though – is it just me, or has Sean Kelly decided that Simon Yates rides for Ulrika Bike Exchange?
[*After Sunday’s stage it looks like only a catastrophe will derail Stone Face as the Sky behemoth and the Ungainly One were well and truly outfought and outthought in a classic Contador ambush that Quintana profited from. El Pistolero might not have the legs anymore, but there’s no one to match him tactically – he’s what my old boss would call a “wiry old fox”]
Meanwhile, somewhere in the North of England, Saturday’s weather was promising heavy rain showers on just about every forecast I checked – the only real question was just when they were going to hit, although mid-ride at 11.00 seemed to be the general consensus.
The promise of perhaps-maybe half a ride in dry conditions was enough to tip the balance in favour of Reg, despite the newly serviced and primed Peugeot, complete with mudguards, sitting there looking hopeful. Not yet, mon ami, but your time will come.
Of course I may have made the wrong decision as the slight grating noise of a couple of weeks ago seems to have returned. As I levelled out along the valley floor and the noise of traffic fell away I heard a strange, chirping from the drive-train which was grumbling away and seemed to be calling out to me: freak, freak, freak – wallaby … pause … freak, freak, freak – wallaby.
The noise disappeared when I freewheeled, or quietened to a whisper when I jumped out of the saddle, but always came back annoyingly, freak, freak, freak – wallaby. I pressed on, knowing the problem wasn’t going to get any better, but hoping it wasn’t going to get worse and plotting how I could get the bike to Patrick at Brassworks Bicycle Company to let him try and figure out what the problem is.
As I made my way across to the meeting point I passed a group of half a dozen riders, all decked out for extreme weather in rain jackets, tights and overshoes. In just a jersey and shorts, they made me feel rather under-dressed and perhaps wildly unprepared for what was to come. Did they know something I didn’t?
At the meeting point though, I was re-assured to find very few of us had our winter bikes out and even fewer were wearing much beyond shorts and jerseys – if we were going to get soaked – we’d be doing it all together.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
Rab D arrived astride his old winter hack, with the BMC Time Machine left safely at home, not because he worried about riding it in the rain, but because he felt if things turned really mucky he’d have to disassemble half the bike just to clean it properly.
If he was waiting for ideal atmospheric conditions to ride his new toy, we determined there was probably only 3 days a year when he could safely use it – and we’d had 2 of those already.
Crazy Legs turned up with tales of the Bank Holiday club run last Monday, which he described as the worst ride. Ever. I had been tempted to ride too, but had missed out and in the process perhaps dodged a bullet.
The day had started auspiciously enough with a plan to ride to the coast, but the group had somehow ended up travelling along the Spine Road, one of the most heavily trafficked routes in the County, on a Bank Holiday, in decent weather and with the Tall Ships departure from Blyth enticing an inordinate amount of cars onto the road.
Unable to find a misplaced, mis-remembered crossing point and desperate to escape the deadly rush of traffic, Crazy Legs had utilised Google Earth to identify an old track they could use to by-pass the road and led them down it.
The track however narrowed, turned boggy and then marooned them in the middle of wildly, overgrown and nettle-riddled field as it completely disappeared. At this point there was some discussion about whether they should turn back and face death by road traffic accident, or press on and face drowning in quicksand. Crazy Legs though was convinced nothing could be worse than riding down a dual carriageway in that traffic.
At one point, he said he was riding through the wilderness so carefully and so precariously that horseflies were feasting on his legs, but he didn’t dare let go of the handlebars to swat at them.
Finally shouldering their bikes, the group fought and clambered their way out onto a farm track, muddied, bloodied, bitten, stung, lost, tired and utterly miserable – emerging like a defeated army from the jungle and right under the nose of a local famer, who must have seen nothing quite like it in all his days, but didn’t bat an eyelid and completely ignored them!
They’d then found themselves traversing back along the Spine Road battling the terrifying, Tall Ships and Bank Holiday swollen traffic. Crazy Legs rode the entire way home behind Plumose Pappus to try and shelter him a little, convinced the youngster was going to be sucked under the wheels as he fluttered like a moth caught on a windscreen every time a lorry thundered past.
Red Max showed up without the Monkey Butler Boy, the allure of riding his new bike apparently having worn off, allowing him to once again reconnect with his teenage genes and demand to be left in bed.
Max had warned him there would be dire consequences and sure enough, as he left the Monkey Butler Boy was being presented with a list of domestic chores to complete since he wasn’t out riding. Now that’s the kind of motivation that can make an Olympic champion.
Mini Miss was out on her brand new Focus, having had her old bike completely replaced by the company after it had developed a crack along the top tube. She said she’d received a particularly terse and uncommunicative text from her daughter the previous night that simply read, “I’m not coming home.” We were assuming this was just a one off arrangement and not a long term declaration of intent.
Even Mini Miss however had to admit that Red Max trumped her, when he described a similar text from his daughter, “Dad, I’m moving out and I’m pregnant.” Kids, eh?
I dropped into place, 3rd in line alongside Son of G-Dawg as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, chuckling as the Red Max proved he’d chase down just about anything, swerving across the road in vain pursuit of a crow while shouting Ca-Caw, Ca-Caw and receiving a remarkably similar squawk of complaint in return.
We did wonder what might have happened if the bird had been so panicked it had flown off into his front wheel and it reminded us of the time we were ambushed by a pheasant that had clattered into flight from the roadside, right under the nose of our lead rider as we lined it out downhill for the café sprint. That had been a close enough call for us to treat our avian friends with a degree of caution.
Red Max and Crazy Legs rotated off the front as we crested the hill past the Cheese Farm and Taffy Steve and Ovis took up the pace as we rattled and bumped along a series of badly cracked and cratered rode surfaces that are becoming pretty much the norm in these parts.
Further on and I rolled through onto the front with Son of G-Dawg, starting to pick our own route as we came to junctions with no instruction from further back and guessing we were making the right choices when there were no barking complaints from behind. It was a bit like playing Russian Roulette with a route map, or reading one of those adventure game-books. I hoped we didn’t take a wrong turn and end up in a den full of rabid trolls and kobolds.
At one junction we went left simply because they’d been trimming hedges on the right and we had visions of mass punctures. Yes, it’s autumn already so they’re starting to strew the clippings from thorn bushes across the road to deter cyclists.
Caught in a slightly too large gear with an immediate climb after the turn, I rose out of the saddle and stamped hard on the pedals and we flew upwards dragging everyone out in a long line behind.
Bursting round a sharp right hand turn at the top of the climb, our sudden appearance surprised a BMW approaching at too high a speed and already starting to swing wide across the road. Luckily the driver had time to brake and correct their line and the group behind managed to squeeze past.
A bit further on and travelling down a narrow country lane, Son of G-Dawg called out, “Car up!” and accelerated sharply so I could tuck in behind him. Even singled out and hugging the gutter, the bright red Toyota Yaris passed frighteningly close and frighteningly fast – and behind us the almost inevitable happened.
I’m still not quite sure if the car actually clipped Mini Miss, or came so close she took desperate and evasive action, but she ended up tangling wheels with Buster and coming down, while he bailed out for the safety of a roadside ditch.
I was astounded that the driver even stopped, but apparently this was just so she could tell us that we shouldn’t be riding on the road, while we, being the nicest, most polite cycling club known to man tried to reason with her in a rational manner. Perhaps this was the time when some incoherent swearing and outright anger might actually have served us better and made more of an impression. Then again, maybe not.
As it was, satisfied she hadn’t quite managed to seriously injure anyone, completely unrepentant, utterly convinced she’d done nothing wrong and wasn’t in any way responsible, the driver climbed back into her car, slammed the door and roared away to endanger other weird people who mistakenly feel they have the right to use the roads, leaving us to assess the damage.
Mini Miss has somehow snapped the end completely off her brake lever and Buster was particularly chagrined to find his rear mudguard had been smashed to pieces, just after he’d finally managed to get it to stop rubbing. Luckily all the damage seemed to be to bikes rather than people, although on the ride back Buster complained his hip was causing some discomfort.
We regrouped slowly before pressing on and since we were close to a usual split point decided we wouldn’t stop again, but drop into different groups on the fly. Unfortunately, not everyone got the message and as the amblers split off for the café, Happy Cat missed the turn and uncharacteristically found herself tagging along with the faster, longer, harder group.
She’d also taken the weather forecasts to heart and was wearing a baggy and billowing waterproof jacket that not only acted like a drogue parachute, but slowly began to boil her as the pace increased and she fought to hang on.
We finally called a halt to split the group again, carefully steering Happy Cat away from the longer, harder, faster self-flagellation ride, but Taffy Steve failed to convince another struggler who was lured away by the siren song of the racing snakes, perhaps never to be seen again.
Happy Cat managed to ditch the jacket, stuffing it roughly into two of the pockets of her jersey and then it was just a case of hanging on as we wound our way back to the café.
I suggested that now she’d ridden and survived with the longer, harder, faster group she’d struggle to ever go back to the amblers. She was still smiling, but I don’t think I convinced her.
Down through Milestone Woods and over the rollers, I ran up the outside of the group and was sitting perched on the shoulder of the lead man as we dropped down and then began the long drag up to the café. A quick glance behind showed me Son of G-Dawg and G-Dawg stacked on my wheel, so I buried myself in an impromptu lead out until they swept around me and I could sit up.
A few others passed me as well, but faded as the slope ground on and I managed to claw back and overhaul them. Then just as I approached the white finish line, Taffy Steve charged up on my outside, screaming incoherently and threw his bike over the line in a fair imitation of Chris Hoy, stealing the sprint by a tyre’s tread.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
A deeply traumatised Crazy Legs couldn’t let it go and circulated photos of their epic trek into the Northumberland Badlands during the Bank Holiday Club Run from Hell, including one shot of OGL leading his bike while he tip-toed gingerly along a very narrow, very muddy trail perched precariously above a marshy and incredibly boggy rivulet.
Another photo showed cyclists adrift in an overgrown field that had deliberately been left fallow … for a decade or three perhaps, while the most damning was left until last – a picture of the much cosseted Ribble, befouled, begrimed and mud-spattered to such a degree that the brakes would no longer function because of the build-up of mud, grit and crap caught up in them.
The conversation turned to the Planet X outlet where Crazy Legs suggested he’d been lucky to escape without treating himself to a new TT bike on a recent visit. I happened to mention the Vittoria Anniversary, limited edition shoes they were currently selling, RRP £220, but reduced to £34 and made from very glossy, very shiny “gold medal microfibre.”
Sadly, they didn’t have my size, nevertheless I think I managed to horrify everyone by suggesting that I would even consider wearing bright gold shoes and they all agreed it was a step too far and I would need to dominate every sprint to be able to carry something like that off.
The conversation then turned to Reg, my Holdsworth frame which had also come to me via Planet-X. Being a somewhat, err, distinctive design in an eye-bleeding combination of vile red, poisonous black and acid yellow, with the group wondering if I’d been instantly attracted to it.
I had to confess to loathing the frame on first sight, but it had been an absolute bargain and I thought it would serve as a stopgap until I got something better. Then I’d slowly grown to appreciate it’s somewhat esoteric and divisive looks – to such an extent that it now influences what I wear.
Taffy Steve suggested it was somewhat akin to going to the puppy pound for a pedigree dog and being chosen by the ugliest, rattiest, scrattiest, flea- ridden pug in the entire place, that wouldn’t let you leave without it.
Crazy Legs had been out with G-Dawg the night before, sampling the wares at a local brewery, where the pair of them wrestled myopically with a long, poorly printed beer menu in bad light. Crazy Legs had resorted to his Nooz reading glasses, slipping them out of his wallet and slapping them on long enough to determine that Beer#1 was a lager and #2 was a bitter.
Of course G-Dawg was utterly delighted by the slightly unusual style of the Nooz specs and had ripped the piss mercilessly out of Crazy Legs for the rest of the night, until leaning conspiratorially across and quietly asking – “What do you call them specs and where can I get some?”
Taffy Steve was questioned about the NTR Club Runs which take place every Tuesday and Thursday evening, involving upwards of 80 riders at a time and all impeccably organised into different groups and abilities via Facebook. In the realms of club run organisation they are multi-spectral and satellite earth-imaging compared to our water dousing with bent willow twigs.
I was interested to learn if they continued the rides throughout the year, even when the nights became dark and cold and Taffy Steve reminded us he’d first started riding with them just before Christmas last year. We decided he was perhaps unique in British Cycling as the only person to ever join a club in the middle of December.
I left Crazy Legs and the G-Dawg collective camped out in the café declaring it was too early to leave and if they went home now they’d be expected back at the same time every week, but everyone else was pressing to see if they could beat the rain home, so I joined the general exodus.
It wasn’t to be, however and the much-forecast rain finally arrived as we grouped up before setting off, delaying slightly while everyone dug out their rain jackets. Once started the rain didn’t ease and everything and everyone were soon soaked through, but at least it wasn’t cold and the rain had had the good grace to hold off until after we exited the café.
The Prof introduced me to one of the FNG’s who also lives south of the river, so as I exited the Mad Mile I had company for a change as we worked our way down to the bridge.
Crossing the river, he then turned right, while I swung left and I was soon alone again with just my thoughts, the rain drumming on my helmet and back and that insistent, persistent murmur of protest from the bike under me; freak, freak, freak – wallaby…
YTD Totals: 4,938 km / 3,068 miles with 48,766 metres of climbing