On Saturday I completed my longest ride of the year while still managing to get home half an hour before I usually would. Logic dictates then that I must have been travelling at a faster rate than normal and a quick look at Strava confirms this.
I had in fact ridden a full 3.6km/h faster than my average across the past 7 rides, despite also taking in an above average1,173 metres of climbing. I’m pretty sure my bike manufacturer (were they still in business) would be delighted to claim this is entirely due to the carefully designed aerodynamic optimisation of the 13, which I’d switched to with the Holdsworth being temporarily hors de combat.
That though would be ignoring the much more obvious explanation that, overwhelmed by civic duty, I’d let myself be drawn into the first (faster) group and been dragged along at such a pace that even bookending my ride with a 20+ mile solo pootle from home and back still gave me a stupidly fast overall time.
So, a quick ride and a (very) quick update…
The day started in the normal way, with copious amounts of nonsense. Brassneck proclaimed he’d invested in a new, untried and untested saddle, with all the inherent risks involved in using it on a long maiden voyage should it prove uncomfortable. This (of course) led to a discussion of whether there was a potential opportunity to offer a bespoke saddle breaking-in service, using a bunch of … err, larger-boned blokes shall we say, to liberally baste your new saddle in ass juices and thoroughly tenderise it with their bashing and clashing buttocks.
Throughout this discussion Mini Miss looked on with only a slight trace of disgust – well, certainly less than the previous week when she’d been informed by OGL her special task for marshalling duties would be to cover “a large exposed manhole,” without ever receiving an adequate explanation of just whose man hole he was talking about.
It was at this point that things started to go a little awry. Aether briefed in the route, basically an elongated figure of eight running north and south, with Kirkley as the nominated cafe stop of the day. We had sufficient numbers to split into three groups, but could barely muster four for the first group, so along with fellow sacrificial pawns (prawns?) Alhambra and Richard of Flanders, I bumped down the kerb and added my weight to the numbers. What was I thinking?
I spent the first half of the ride catching up with Alhambra as we negotiated a whole series of temporary traffic lights before finally managing to find some more open roads. A brief shuffling of the pack saw G-Dawg on the front alongside a relative newcomer, a triathlete and all-around big unit intent on keeping the pace up. I slotted into second wheel behind the Big-U and alongside Homeboy, where I half-jokingly mentioned my disquiet at being in the front group, the one consolation being that at least I’d found the perfect body to shelter behind. Homeboy assured me I was in the right group, reminding me we were going to the cafe at Kirkley so being among the first to arrive was imperative if you wanted to avoid the interminable queuing. It was a fair point and surely worth a bit of suffering for.
The Big-U finally burned out G-Dawg and he ceded the front on a stiff incline heading out toward the Gubeon. I took his place and stayed there until we started to climb toward Dyke Neuk where I slid back to take things at my own speed, mindful we had a hatful of hateful other climbs to go.
The first was the long drag up to Rothley crossroads, followed by Middleton Bank, both somewhat eased with patches of new tarmac (but still hateful). We regrouped at the top of each and pressed on, quickly homing in on the cafe.
Naturally, the pace at the front got whipped up and I was at the back desperately trying to close gaps as we swept through the Kirkley Hall junction, powered round the bend … and were brought to a sudden stop by more temporary traffic lights.
“I hate these bloody lights,” Homeboy exclaimed.
“I love these bloody lights,” I countered, there was now no time to open up any big gaps on the last few hundred metres to the cafe, where we did indeed enjoy much better services than the rest of our group who trailled in several minutes behind.
As usual conversation was thoroughly randomised and the typical diet of stuff and nonsense. It ranged from whether “arse bones” was an acceptable term for your ischial tuberosity, or “sitz bones” (a term I can’t use without immediately thinking of Lolcats), through to further accusations that Lance Armstrong was guilty of mechanical doping (in addition to being illegally jacked up on numerous pharmaceutical compounds, I guess.)
And then we were away again and the pace was still high until the group turned left and I swung off toward home. So, that wasn’t too bad, I suppose, I survived and the first group could be handy if you want to get home a little earlier. Next week?
I wake hale and hearty after a reasonable night’s sleep, much to everyone’s consternation as, based on past experience, they were expecting a shambling, pallid, hollowed out, shell of a man to emerge after a night of intense sickness.
I cram down a cereal bar and set to work re-assembling the bike. It seems to have survived its passage through three airports unscathed. The same can’t be said of the bike bag, which bears a large rip across the bottom. It’s more cosmetic than crucial, but annoying nonetheless.
It takes half an hour or so to build the bike up and then I’m good to go. (Lying to the British Airways baggage handler and assuring him my tyres were deflated helped. Contrary to popular myth, they didn’t explode in the hold and I’d read that keeping them inflated could help protect your rims, so that’s what I did. )
My cabin companions are not so lucky. Kermit finds his headset cap is missing, or more precisely, he suspects it isn’t missing, it just hasn’t travelled with him and is sitting proudly on display, in the middle of his kitchen table at home.
Even worse, he then discovers he’s forgotten to pack his pedals.
Meanwhile, Biden Fecht has assembled his bike, but his rear derailleur seems askew and is making his chain rattle like a rusty anchor dropping through a ships scupper.
An urgent trip is scheduled to the bike shops in Bourg d’Oisans, to be there as soon as they open. The van is loaded up with the bikes and away they go.
While we wait, after about seven years of riding with me, Crazy Legs finally notices how stupidly long my stem is. I explain it’s a consequence of having gibbon-like arms and I immediately become Mr. Tickle to Crazy Legs. Oh well, it keeps him tickled while we wait.
Then, Buster determines his derailleur is playing up. Shifting up the cassette is a decidedly hit-and-miss affair and then, after a bit of (supposedly) remedial fiddling, just a miss affair. Climbing the Alpe under the best of circumstances is a daunting prospect, doing it without leg-friendly, climbing gears sounds like utter madness, so Buster too departs for the local bike shops.
The rest of us are ready to go by the time Biden Fecht and Kermit return. Their trip has been a success, but they’ve still got a degree of fettling, preparation, essential male grooming and breakfasting to do. Crazy Legs suggest the rest of us make a start, while he hangs back to wait for Buster, Kermit and Biden Fecht and then they’ll follow in a second group.
It seems like a reasonable plan, so the rest of us saddle up, clip in and ride out.
At the entrance to the campsite we’re passed by a camper van trailing the unmistakable odour of burning clutch. Ah, the traditional smell I’ve learned to associate with l’Alpe d’Huez. I’m confused when we turn left onto the main road though, heading away from the climb and out into the town.
This diversion, it turns out is our warm up, a quick blast through town, an equally quick turnaround and then we’re heading for the Alpe. Ah OK, guess that makes sense, but I’m not sure it was all that effective as a warm up. We pass the entrance to the campsite and almost immediately begin to climb.
The first few ramps are by far the hardest and a shock to the system. It’s no surprise to hear a chorus of clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-fuck! as everyone quickly finds they’ve run out of gears. The Hammer starts to open up a lead and I follow at a more relaxed pace, with Ovis and Steadfast in close attendance. The Big Yin and, more surprisingly, Caracol are hanging back.
Approaching the third hairpin and our way is blocked by a cyclist and what appears to be his support car. Neither of them are travelling all that fast, as the cyclist takes the longest sticky bottle hand-off I have ever seen. I’m talking minutes here. If the riders already struggling this much, I’m not sure how he’ll cope with the remaining hour plus he’ll need to climb the mountain.
We finally forge a way past the cyclist and support car and settle into a steady rhythm. It’s cool, the roads are wet and the air damp. I seemed to have found a pace that’s comfortable for Ovis and Steadfast and the three of us form a tight knot as we push upwards, occasionally swapping turns on the front.
At some point in the early stages of the climb Caracol glides past and slowly disappears up the road, en route to a sub-hour ascent.
I remember to occasionally rise out of the saddle, just so I don’t get locked in to one posture, and I count down the hairpins, once again squinting at the tiny signs to try read the TdF stage winners. I find a sign commemorating Joop Zoetemelk’s win, but its for his 1979 triumph on the mountain, not the ’76 version, where he had the temerity to beat Van Impe.
Armstrong’s still up there (#boohiss) but then again, so is Pantani (#boohisstoo). I quite easily spot those for the most recent winners (perhaps they’re a bit shinier?) – Turbo Peanut (as a website has fabulously nicknamed one of the two, great French hope’s for the Tour) and Geraint Thomas, the very first Brit (or Welshman if you prefer) to win a TdF stage on the Alpe. Still, I miss more of the signs and their associated names than I actually see.
It’s cold, overcast and a little rainy, but there’s never a point when I actually feel cool and the backwash of chilled air from the few streams that tumble down the hillside before ducking under the road, provides brief, welcome relief.
Names and messages of encouragement disappear under my wheels at regular intervals, scrawled across the road surface in spidery, mostly white lines. The majority seem to be aimed at everyday club riders, rather than the pro’s. None of them make much of an impression.
We’re too early in the morning for the first of the photographers, but the second one gets a few shots of our compact trio and I get complaints as I’m on the front and supposedly hogging the limelight. I don’t know … what do these people expect to happen when they choose to ride alongside someone so obviously charismatic and photogenic?
Meanwhile, back in reality, we’re onto the last, long and straight drag up to the village of Huez itself. We turn the corner and drive across the unofficial-official finish line, opposite the bars already busy with cyclists. Then of course we keep going, because, despite the finish line and the flags and bunting and the photo-podium, we know this isn’t actually the finish of the climb.
We head through the underpass, made famous by all those TV broadcasts of the Tour and continue to climb upwards. I took a wrong turn the last time and ended up completing a circuit of an immense empty coach park, right next to where the last few ski chalets petered out. I then had to drop downhill until I met Crazy Legs climbing up the other way, turn around again and follow him to the official finish.
This time I’m glad to have Steadfast in tow, assured he knows the right route. I’m also forearmed with instructions from Crazy Legs to turn right at the big boulders … except the boulders appear to have been removed and even Steadfast seems unsure of the way.
We zig and we zag our way across the mountainside, until we find what we think is the right road. In our defence, all of them, including the “right” one, look remarkably bland, characterless, municipal and indistinguishable from each other. We spot Caracol and the Hammer waiting, know we’re on the right track, so I kick hard and jump away from my two companions to finish with a bit of a flourish.
I needn’t have bothered, for whatever reason, but most probably operator error, my Garmin covered an entire 1 second of my ride from the campsite to the summit, so Steadfast had to “tag” me onto his Strava file and I shared the same time as him.
The actual finish is marked by the smallest, most easily overlooked, tattiest and most unprepossessing of signs. Perhaps it’s no wonder most people stop in the village, it’s certainly not worth the extra effort to get up here and see.
Inadequate signage seems to be a recurring theme in France-land. They’re not big on signs and what signs they do have are not big. I mean, I’m not asking for some of the visual graffiti you find in other urban landscapes, but there’s a fine line between discrete and invisible. A case in point, it’s not until we actually start to head back down to the village that I see a few “Route de Tour” signs directing you to the official finish. They’re small and blend so seamlessly into their surroundings that no one else in our group even seems to notice them.
I complained last time about the signs naming the hairpins on the Alpe being paltry and utterly underwhelming – they’re really difficult to read when riding up (and obviously impossible to read when swooping down). I still feel the same way – and personally think these near mythic rides and riders deserve celebrating with a grand gesture, not an afterthought.
Once we ‘ve all arrived safely, we press gang an innocent bystander into taking the obligatory group photo …
And then we head back to Huez to join the other cyclists in the cafe for some well-earned refreshments and to wait for the rest of our crew to appear.
The first through is Kermit, looking mildly startled by the sudden burst of cheering and applause that erupts from the side of the rode as he scoots past, failing to spot us. He’s followed in close order by Biden Fecht, Buster and Crazy Legs, all crossing the “finish line” in a burst of wild cheering and applause, before disappearing through the underpass and away.
It isn’t too long before they’re back and we’re a united group again. We order lunch and another round of drinks, the sun breaks out and we can sit back and relax for a while, watching all the coming and going’s and admiring some of the glossy, sleek bikes lined up in the racks at the side of the road.
We learn that all the local bike shops in Bourg d’Oisans are good, helpful and friendly. They’d fixed all our bikes and happily sold Kermit a brand new pair of pedals, that perfectly match the over-looked pair from home that he finally rediscovers in his bag later that day.
Buster’s problems were caused by a badly frayed gear cable, which could have snapped at any time, including halfway up a mountain. The mechanic also insists on changing out his worn brake blocks, which seems sensible as, I think even Biden Fecht might blanch at descending l’Alpe D’Huez without brakes, despite his past experience with such things.
As we’re sitting there, some sprightly, older feller, with a strong Central European accent, asks if he can borrow the posh, shiny and expensive-looking Cannondale hanging on the rack in front of us, apparently so he can be photographed with it. It seems like a harmless, but strange request. We explain it’s not our bike and he wanders off, before returning again, with the same odd enquiry.
“I’m sponsored by Cannondale,” he explains, “but I’m riding my Pinerello today.”
What? Yeah, right. Get-away …
We reiterate that it’s not our bike. He takes it anyway. Too weird.
We start to discuss our options, with no one in favour of a direct return to the campsite. We could continue on to the Col de Sarenne, which we did last time, or, the Hammer suggests we could descend almost to the bottom of the Alpe, to the village of La Garde and then take the road that clings to the side of the mountain, the Balcon d’Auris.
A Road By Any Other Name
The quartet who did the Sarenne last time all feel it wasn’t that great a route, so we agree on the balcony ride. It became a route whose name seemed to change every time we talked about it, until it became a bit of a running joke and was referred to variously as the balcony ride, the ledge ride, the mantelpiece ride, the pelmet ride, the shelf ride, the terrace ride and even, at one point, the skirting board ride.
It would add another 25km, or so to our total, heading along the “Route de la Roche” as we climbed from just over 700 to almost 1,600 metres, with a maximum gradient of 13%.
This road clings precariously to the side of the mountain, with a low, stone parapet the only thing shielding you from a long, vertical drop and doing nothing to restrict brilliant views right across the valley floor. In places the road narrows to about a cars width, but thankfully, on the day we rode it, is mostly traffic free. I think we only encountered one car on our great traverse, although even this produced a modicum of uncomfortable tension as it squeezed past.
Things were going well until just before the village of Le Cert, where we ran into a roadblock and route barrée signs. For once these signs were quite prominent and unmissable. Here we paused for a rest and to assess our options.
Should we ignore the signs and press-on, hoping that whatever disruption there was we could get through, or walk around, or should we follow the suggested diversion that could take us well out of our way and potentially lead back up the mountain.
One option discussed was to send Kermit on ahead, to see if he could get through, “our canary in a mine” as Crazy Legs put it. In the end we just bit the bullet and followed the diversion. Looking at the map afterwards, it seemed to add a kilometre or so to our journey and just a touch more climbing, before we were back on track and on the long snaking descent down to Le Frency d’Oisans.
Here, we took a wrong turn, up toward Lac de Chambon, but quickly realised our mistake and we turned back again, eventually rolling down into the valley of La Romanche, from where it was a straightforward run, following the river to the camp.
Back to “that Dutch bar” that evening, we spread across a couple of tables, while the owner desperately tried to persuade us to sit inside, where he had a criminally underused table that would actually seat ten together. We explained that we were British, so never got a chance to sit out at home and wouldn’t give up the option now.
As we ate, other packs of feral-looking Englishmen with lean looks, hungry eyes and odd tan lines circulated, or shuffled into the seats around us. It wasn’t as busy as a couple of years ago, but there were still plenty of cyclists in town.
We spent a good few minutes counting the hairpins on the Alpe, handily depicted on the restaurant place mats, concluding there were more than 21, before conversation turned to plans for tomorrow.
Along with the Hammer and Steadfast, I was happy to accompany any of the others brave (or foolish enough) to attempt the Circle of Death, a monster loop which is basically the Marmotte route minus the final ascent of l’Alpe D’Huez, yet still ran over 100 miles and with 4,000 metres of climbing.
From past experience this was going to be 9 hours of riding, plus re-fuelling and rest stops and first time we’d done it had been a struggle to get home before daylight ran out. We determined to have a little more discipline in planning and executing the stops and I pushed for as early a start as possible. We agreed to meet and ride out at 7.30. Ulp!
Crazy Legs and Buster decided to go on a shorter ride, to the Croix de Fer and back, with a few additional bits tagged on. They only mentioned a dozen or so times that they were looking forward to a long lie-in and much more relaxed start. Bastards… did they think they were on holiday or something?
Total Distance:25 km / 16 miles with 1,033 metres of climbing
Ride Time:1 hours 50 minutes
Average Speed:13.6 km/h
Weather in a word or two:Hotter
I awoke rather groggily to find someone had broken in during the night and filled my legs full of concrete and it took me a while to get moving. When I did, I found Crazy Legs busily flitting around and dressed to ride.
“I’m going to ride up the Alpe.”
I needed to ride to try and rediscover where my legs were.
“Wait, I’m coming.”
“How long do you need?”
As we reached agreement, Captain Black emerged, blinking and yawning. Rest had obviously done him good and Twatty MacTwat Face had reverted back to being Old Faithful. I told him the plan and he hauled his ass into gear too – 3 for the Alpe!
It wasn’t much longer than 15 minutes later and we turned right out of the campsite, pushed the pedals around half a dozen times and found ourselves once again on the first ramp up the mountain to L’Alpe d’Huez.
I took the first couple of hairpins out of the saddle and turning a modestly large gear, until feeling returned to my lower extremities and the stiffness stated to dissipate. I then dropped onto the granny ring, and plonked myself down to spin slowly upwards.
Behind me Captain Black got half way round the first hairpin and was shocked to find just how hard it was. Just before he turned round to head back, thinking he obviously hadn’t recovered from the day before, he finally looked down and realised he was still on the big ring. There was a sudden, resounding, clunking, wince-inducing clang of stressed and tortured metal that reverberated around the mountains, as he changed down under intense pressure and finally found instant relief and his climbing form.
The three of us worked our way slowly up the mountain, pausing frequently at various shady vista’s and viewpoints, picking out the past winners signs on the corners, taking photos and chatting with other cyclists.
The signs were a roll-call, highlighting some of cycling’s great and good (and occasionally villainous) – both past and present, ranging from the imperious, il campionissimo, Fausto Coppi in 1952, right up to Thibaut Pinot in 2015.
I found signs commemorating wins by Bernard Hinaut, Gianni Bugno, Stephen Rooks, Frank Schleck, Pierre Rolland, Carlos Sastre, Andy Hampsten and Hennie Kuiper among the more famous and celebrated of the winners.
Lance Armstrong’s name is still up there (twice) despite having his Tour victories annulled, along with two for the equally dubious and questionable Marco Pantani, who still holds the record for the fastest ascent of the mountain in an astonishing – no doubt rocket-fuelled, but still astonishing time of under 38 minutes.
I have to admit though, that even taking time to hunt them out and read the signs, I still missed one or two, including Joop Zoetemelk’s 1976 sign which I’d vowed to desecrate in honour of Lucien Van Impe. (Only kidding, nice Dutch folk!)
As previously mentioned, I found the signs totally underwhelming – so much so that I didn’t even bother photographing any of them – but here’s one I prepared earlier (or pinched from the Internet anyway).
As we were making our way around one hairpin, our bête noire from Saturday made a reappearance, as a bumbling Harley Davidson blatted loudly up the road and awkwardly around the bend, leaving a trail of greasy exhaust fumes in its wake.
“Your bike’s shit!” an indignant Crazy Legs shouted after the motorcycle, unfortunately just as another rider pulled up alongside him. This rider gave him a long, quizzical look before deciding he was in the presence of a sun-touched Englishman and he didn’t need to defend the honour of his Cannondale SuperSix. Just to be sure, he accelerated smartly away to avoid further insult to his bike and Crazy Legs can at least take a little credit for spurring one rider on to set a good time.
At the village of La Grade we stopped in a welcome patch of shade, where an elderly rider and his support-vehicle-driving wife were sitting enjoying the views. Our talk turned to decomposition rates as Captain Black enjoyed a belated breakfast banana and Crazy Legs described in intimate detail how the discarded skins turned black, slimy and wizened along the way. “Speaking of black, slimy and wizened,” he declared, starting to reach down the front of his shorts, “My knackers could do with a bit of relief.”
“Hey, nice day, isn’t it?” the support-vehicle-driving wife drawled, stepping in with a nice bit of deflection.
“Oh, hello,” Crazy Legs responded, quickly withdrawing his probing digits and thinking fast, “I thought you were Dutch …”
It turned out they were American, from California, on holiday so the husband could enjoy a second-crack at riding the Alps. We then had a brief chat which concluded rather awkwardly when the wife offered sympathy over the “terrible, tragic things” in the UK and we had to ask whether she meant the terror attacks, the Grenfell Tower fire, or being lumbered with lame-duck, Prime Minister who would sell her own mother cling to power.
She meant the tower fire, which is obviously a cataclysmic tragedy, but not something we were ever likely to be personally invested in and it seemed an odd, discordant thing to bring up with total strangers on a bright sunny day, half-way up a mountain in France.
We kept going and stopped again at what we think was Dutch Corner, afforded the opportunity to look down and appreciate how far we’d climbed, the vista opening out to show the road below, twisting and turning sinuously through multiple hairpins as it snaked up the mountain. Crazy Legs recalled watching the Dauphine from this vantage point in 2010 as a rampant Alberto Contador made multiple impressive attacks before breaking clear to win the stage.
As we pushed on the other two slowly drew ahead and I was happy to trundle along at my own pace, slowing down and swinging right across the road to peer myopically at the signs on the hairpins and try to pick out past Tour stage winners.
More snaps from the photographers, the long drag upwards, a sarcastic slow-hand clap from the inflatable King of the Mountains and I was across the finish line and taking a seat next to Crazy Legs and Captain Black in the same café we’d stopped at the first time up the Alpe. Captain Black won the race to first beer of the day.
And then we spaced ourselves well out for the fun of the descent. It was to be this, more than anything, which gave me an appreciation of just how big a task cycling up a mountain actually is – it took almost 15 minutes to whirr down to the bottom and every hairpin I thought was the last one was followed by another and then another. Looking back around the corners was also the first time I appreciated just how steep some of the ramps actually were, it’s not something you get a good impression of while struggling up them.
And then, sadly it was over, we were done and back at the campsite and climbing off for the last time.
By this time my legs no longer felt like concrete, maybe more like hard cheese – a Cheshire or a Red Leicester perhaps. Either way an improvement of sorts. We broke the bikes down and packed them up, then picked up Steadfast and wondered into town for a few drinks and a late lunch.
The patron of the bar was apparently quite upset she couldn’t offer us any food, “Je suis desole!” but we were happy with baguettes and cornets des frites to accompany the beer. The Hammer joined us, fresh from a ride up to Allemont and then finally Goose appeared after a day alternatively spent walking and lazing by the pool. A few beers and we wandered up to the Dutch restaurant for the last supper.
All this time we talked an unending stream of nonsense (as usual): how Pierre Latour somehow acquired the name Roger, the immorality of any sport that needs judges to decide a winner, Tyneside legend Dave the Dwarf, once spotted drinking in the incongruous company of towering Scottish lock forward Doddie Weir. This led to an attempt to calculate how many dwarves you could reasonably expect in China’s 1.4 billion population and serious concerns about where all the Chinese dwarves are hiding.
We learned that Goose had been inspired by tales of a granny who was arrested for pointing a hairdryer at speeding cars in her village during a (seemingly hugely successful) attempt to get them to slow down. He revealed he had then taken this as inspiration for his own brand of traffic vigilantism, patrolling the streets around his home and leaping unexpectedly out at any motorist he suspects of speeding, arm raised, hand out while intoning a very simple, authoritative and stentorian: “No!”
We managed to calculate bills and work out a way where no one (hopefully) felt out of pocket and discussed doing something similar next year, or the following, although Crazy Legs declared he’s more or less done with the Alps, so we thought up a few alternatives such as Spain – the Pyrenees or Basque region, Tuscany, or perhaps, radically even somewhere flat like the Netherlands.
And then we wandered back, packed and slept, woke and showered, loaded the van, endured an unfriendly chalet inspection, settled our bills, waved off the Hammer and set out for home.
Swiss custom officials were strangely no happier to see us go than they had been to see us arrive and Heathrow customs officials managed to outdo them in terms of inertia, apathy and glowering disaffection.
We bade “bon voyage” to Steadfast, returning to his home along the south coast and the Goose wandered off in search of the best deals he could find on Toblerone. While we waited for our connecting flight, Captain Black stood us a round of coffee’s and had to double-check the price several times before he realised he wasn’t in Geneva airport and didn’t need to take out a second mortgage to pay for them.
The “barista” asked for his name and he momentarily confused me by saying Ant rather than Captain Black, or just the Captain. He obviously confused the barista even more as the coffee’s arrived with “Hans” carefully scribed on every cup.
“Oh no,” I suggested to Crazy Legs, “That makes you Knees and me Boomps-a-Daisy.”
We then sat around discussing the worlds woes and how to correct them, until Crazy Legs looked at the flight board and realised our gate was closing in 10 minutes and we were in real danger of being left behind!
A quick, power-walk through the terminal had us tagging onto the very back of the queue, before clambering aboard our connecting flight to Newcastle and home.
At the other end we kept an intent and anxious watch on the baggage carousel, waiting for the arrival of bike bags and boxes and getting a little concerned as time dragged on, the crowd started to thin and the conveyor belt slowly emptied. Then Goose took a step backwards and fell over our bikes which the ninja baggage handlers had delivered by hand and stealthily dropped off right behind us.
Home, safe and sound and largely intact.
So, two days of travelling, Thursday 15th June and Monday 19th June bookended 3 days of riding, the Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Over the three days we were out on the bikes for 22½ hours, rode 251 kilometres or 156 miles in around 14 hours with almost 6,900 metres of climbing including, L’Alpe d’Huez (twice), the Sarenne, Lauterat, Glandon, Croix de Fer, Télégraph and mighty Galibier.
BA Flights form Newcastle to Geneva via Heathrow cost £160 each.
Budget Car van hire, plus fuel was £478.24, or £95.65 per person (5 people)
The total cost for my trip was around £372, plus meals, food and drinks.
Having been back a couple of weeks now, I can honestly say if someone offered me the exact same trip, with the exact same rides (even including all the pain and misery of the Circle of Death) I wouldn’t hesitate and I’d sign up immediately.
YTD Totals: 3,844 km / 2,304 miles with 46,068 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 114 km/71 miles with 1,060 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 35 minutes
Average Speed: 24.8 km/h
Group size: 29 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Chilly and overcast
Main topic of conversation at the start:
According to his Faecesbook post, OGL undertook an epic ride of over 85 miles on Good Friday, two thirds of which he claims to have completed all on his lonesome. The BFG won the impromptu sweepstake by correctly anticipating OGL would mention his own “epicness” within the first 2 minutes of arriving at the meeting point. We were not disappointed.
Then, unwittingly and unlooked for and with no prompting at all from his audience, OGL once again launched into the gruesome tale of scrotum-meets-stem-during-track-meet, replete with an all too vivid description of the catastrophic ripping and rupturing that ensued and the stitching needed to make him whole again.
Attire, a fully-paid up member of the Cult of the Racing Snakes listened to this bloody tale impassively, then reached into his jersey pocket, wrestled out an entire Lyle’s Family Sized Golden Syrup Cake Bar (typical number of servings per pack = 9) and proceeded to devour it almost whole, gnawing through and around the different layers of packaging to get to the sticky goodness within.
Seeing such a massive cake bar being cavalierly brandished and then demolished, the Red Max felt it put Taffy Steve’s choice of puny cereal bars to mortal shame and he pressed Taffy Steve to reveal just how inadequate and insecure this made him feel.
The BFG had a cunning plan to not only ride every one of the four club runs over the Easter weekend, but complete each one on a different bike. With this in mind he rolled up astride the carbon on carbon uber-bike and immediately began praying to the weather gods for a dry day on Sunday so he could venture out on his wooden wheels.
The Prof informed us he’d manage to wrestle Mrs. Prof’s gear hanger back into some semblance of functionality and she’d been able to limp noisily home from her mechanical yesterday, albeit with the rear derailleur threatening to hurl itself bodily into the back wheel and playing a clattering tune on the spokes, as carefree as a schoolboy running a stick along park railings.
The Monkey Butler Boy complained about the pink stem cap that had appeared overnight on his bike following the Red Max’s latest round of refits and improvements. Max suggested it was there to remind the Monkey Butler Boy of how girly he is every time he looks down and said that he’d even considered having “You’re a big girl” engraved across the top.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
The Lance Armstrong film, The Program came under critical review and received the massive ringing endorsement, “Yeah … it’s all right”
I criticised Ben Foster for having to take drugs in order to be able to act like someone who took drugs, reminding Taffy Steve of Laurence Olivier’s fabulous response on seeing Dustin Hoffman’s “method” acting technique of not sleeping and making a mess of himself to get into character while shooting Marathon Man: “Dear boy, it’s called acting.”
[The venerable Toshi-san remembers Olivier’s retort as “Try acting, dear boy. It’s easier.” Which may be inaccurate, but is even better.]
Spry felt the actor who played Michele Ferrari really let the film down with an awful and unbelievable cod-European accent, only to discover the actor, Guillaume Canet was actually French, so plausible Italian shouldn’t have been that much of a stretch.
Someone wondered why Jan Ullrich didn’t feature and I think we all had in mind candidates to play the hapless, rotund German who never seemed to get to grips with the temptations of the off-season.
So, here we go then, day two of the Easter holidays and the second day in a row that I’m allowed out for a club run. I guess I was just born lucky. Or maybe the family are happier in my absence and I’m just unwanted in my own home.
The perfect, blue skies of Friday had gone however, leaving a grey, windy and even chillier clump of weather to be negotiated, with a burst of heavy rain being forecast to make an unwelcome appearance around midday.
The camera slung under the saddle appears to be producing one or two decent shots in amongst a mountain of dross and discards, so would be put into action again. One or two of the riders captured have even adopted the photos for their personal Faecesbook profiles, maybe there’s no higher compliment.
This got me wondering if I might get embroiled in an argument over royalties and image rights like David Slater and his monkey selfie. All it really needs is for someone to champion and care for the rights of cyclists the same way they do for hugely vicious, vermin-raddled, wild monkeys – c’mon, surely MAMILS are more lovable and worthy than crested macaque’s? Anyone? No? Oh, well…
Arriving at the meeting place there were a handful of survivors from Friday and a whole new batch of fresh riders eager to stretch their legs and dish out a little pain. Once again then a fairly sizeable group of just under 30 of us pushed off, clipped in and set out.
Things were going well until we stopped at a T-junction and I watched in disbelief as the BFG fell like some majestic giant redwood, slowly and silently toppling to crash into the ground while still clipped firmly into his uber-bike. I’m still not sure whether he was attempting a smart-arse track stand, was having cleat problems or simply forgot what he was doing – either way the results were unintentionally comic.
He shamefacedly picked himself up, scrubbed ruefully at the scratches on his no-longer pristine brake hoods and tried to nonchalantly side foot the debris back into the crater his impact had created in the road surface. Maybe now people won’t be so intent on pulling stupid-ass stunts – wheelies, track stands and other shit while riding in a group.
We recovered and pushed on, Crazy Legs and Goose hitting the front for an epic and marathon effort into a strengthening and debilitating headwind. Chapeau guys.
At the split Crazy Legs went off to recuperate a little with the amblers, but Goose stuck with the longer, harder, faster group of around a dozen or so, finding the going quite hard after all his sterling work on the front.
I felt good and led on the first couple of hills, but the legs tired quickly and began to feel heavy and full of hurt. Although we took a completely different route getting there, we were soon once again heading for the Quarry climb and then the slow burn to the café.
I managed to stay with the lead riders to the top of the Quarry, but was distanced for a while shortly afterwards trying to recover. We then all regrouped on a downhill section and the pace began to build.
Pierre Rolland look-alike Spry put in a perfectly timed attack on the next short rise and splintered the group. The rider whose wheel I was on lost contact and by the time I’d gone around him the gap was too great to shut down.
I was on the drops and working harder than I had on my solo break the day before, but the gap at refused to close and then ever so slowly yawned open. I pushed on regardless, bouncing and rattling over the uneven road surface and limped into the café some way behind the leaders and appropriately sur la jante.
Inside we found Plumose Pappus home from university for the holidays and intent on turning all the paper napkins in the café a bright shade of red. He was managing all of this from a deep gash in his elbow where a large crescent of flesh seemed to have been crudely hacked out and according to the BFG he looked even paler than I did after the hill climb.
From what I can gather from the muddled conversation around me, Plumose had fallen whilst trying to take a jacket off mid-ride. If true, maybe now people won’t be so intent on pulling stupid-ass stunts – wheelies, track stands – oh, sorry – you’ve heard that already…
The Red Max once described Plumose Pappus as the only man with legs the same diameter as his seatpost and Taffy Steve had calculated he was exactly twice the young feller’s weight. The worry now is that with a sizeable chunk out of his arm he’s going to weigh even less and be even more difficult to hold back on the climbs. It’s a radical form of weight loss and perhaps one that should be kept from Sir David Brailsford and his dogged and unwavering pursuit of marginal gains.
Plumose Pappus was bundled into his mum’s ambulance/voiture balai, no doubt destined for the local A&E and an intense bout of wound cleaning and stitching up. When he recovers he’ll have a great opportunity to swap hoary old injury stories with OGL and perhaps one day, if he’s brave enough, they can even compare scars.
Meanwhile, back in the café I was successfully inviting my fellow cyclists to sit like a human shield between me and the fire which was roaring and throwing out heat with the intensity of a Krupp blast furnace.
Ever the pragmatist, Taffy Steve took the much more effective step of simply negotiated with the café matron to have the fire turned down, or for them to at least not bother throwing another sacrificial cyclist onto the blaze. Mission accomplished the stop at least became bearable.
On the return home we hit roadworks and were stopped at some traffic lights. OGL spotted a car pulling into and lurking in parking space on the wrong side of the road and rightly guessed he was going to jump around us when the lights changed.
Suitably warned we were able to avoid getting unnecessarily caught up under his wheels and impeding his entitled progress. The danger wasn’t over though, as a truly moronic RIM in a white Transit van tried to shoot the gap between the lights and cyclists forcing us to dive out of the way again. We watched in complete and utter astonishment as he then drove 20 yards past the lights and turned off the road and onto a driveway. What a complete and utter arse hat.
The legs were heavy and hurting, but I managed to hang in the group until the first split when the remnants entered the Mad Mile and started to accelerate away for one last blast. I let them go happy with my own pace and preparing myself to turn off and into the headwind for the trek home.
Things weren’t too bad until I started to drop down to the river, finding the wind was so strong I had to pedal downhill to maintain momentum. As I crossed over the bridge the first drops of a light rain began to sift down, but I was on the climb of the Heinous Hill before it began to fall with any real intent and safely indoors before the heavens truly opened.
Two hard rides in two days, both enjoyable, but I really do need to rest and recover now. I’ve also discovered that doing two club runs in succession is a challenge, but not nearly as difficult as two blog entries.
I’m quite looking forward to the resumption of normal service next week.
YTD Totals: 1,720 km /1,069 miles with 16,238 metres of climbing