Rudy Can’t Fail

Rudy Can’t Fail

I can’t say I’m at all happy with the Tour of Britain organisers, after excelling themselves by channelling the 2019 edition right past my front door, they decided to spoil things for 2021 with a route that wouldn’t come any closer than 1.7 miles of home. That’s 2.7 kilometres to those not using retard units. What on earth were they thinking?

Clubmates had all sorts of plans for taking in the event, ranging from travelling to the Grand Depart, in Carlisle, to cycling out to meet the race somewhere along it’s sinuous and very lumpy 2,000 kilometres and accompanying 3,000 metres of vertical gain (ulp!) A fun day off, although anticipation and plans were somewhat tempered by poor weather forecasts.

Crazy Legs, our reporter on the ground at the Grand Depart in Carlisle cast Cav and Alaphillipe as a couple of naughty schoolboys amongst the serious and sober adults, while anyone who travelled further out than me were likely to have witnessed the unlikely sight of the Tour de France’s most successful sprinter showing off his climbing chops and leading an early breakaway over some serious hills.

I’d picked out two potential viewing spots for myself, Busty Bank, leading from Rowlands Gill up to Burnopfield, 1.5 km at an average of 9%, or Pennyfine Road, skirting Burdon Moor to the top of Haggs Lane, 1.2km at only 5%, but with long, straight and wide open views. The latter was closest, so that’s what I went for, tracking the race progress on TV before skittering out to watch it go past.

TripleD-El and Triple D-Be had already reported Cav’s break had been caught from where they were stationed on Busty Bank. Minutes later, when the race arrived where I was, a small, select group including Julian Alaphillipe, Wout Van Aert, Dan Martin, and Ethan Hayter were being led by impressive Spanish youngster Carlos Rodríguez and trying to claw back an attack by Mike Woods.

Mike Woods in full flight

The rest of the field were smashed to pieces and scattered all over the road behind and it must have been a hard stage as I’ve never seen professional cyclists grimacing quite so much on (for them) such relatively benign slopes. Rolling down the bank toward home, I bumped into TripleD-El and Triple D-Be and stopped for a chat as we waited for the remnants of the peloton to roll through, almost 30 minutes behind the leaders.

As usual. it was great to get up close to the action, especially given the stellar field using the Tour of Britain as preparation for the World Championships.

The next day I had planned the long demanded, long delayed (Lazy. Indolent. Remember?) journey south of the river and into the dread lands of Mordor. With my original route covering 125km and close to 2,000 metres of climbing including some steep gradients, I planned an early 8am start, just to make sure I got everyone back home before dusk, come what may. Unimpressed with the thought of getting up at 6am to cycle across to the meeting point, I decided to drive, figuring this would save my legs a well as some time.

The excesses of the day before on the Tour of Britain route knocked out a hatful of contenders for the ride and when Cowboys cried off sick there were just 4 of us plucky, but trepidatious hobbits willing to take on this particular unexpected journey. I met Crazy Legs and Brassneck at the meeting point, with plans to pick up the Ticker en route, at The Sign of the Prancing Pony (I think that’s what he said) somewhere in Wylam.

Our early departure meant we could say hi-and-bye to the Judean People’s Front, also leaving early for their own mini-epic. They we heading north, we were heading south and apparently the Prof was taking a group west. It only needed G-Dawg to take our regular Saturday ride east and we’d have all the cardinal points covered.

Crazy Legs had blackmailed the much-cossetted Ribble out into last weeks rain with whispered promises of a new cassette and had made good on his promises with the cleanest, shiniest set of cogs I’ve ever seen. Sadly though, it just made his chain look tired and dirty. He also hadn’t tested it extensively, but that was fine, as I guessed we’d very quickly know if he couldn’t select the full range of climbing gears.

So away we went, bolstered by the first earworm of the day courtesy of Mr. Iggy Pop as, according to Crazy Legs, we started to ride through the city’s backsides. I knew on the very first climb I was having a jour sans, the legs felt heavy and tired, but I reasoned that was fine as everyone would wait for me if I was too slow – one of the perks of being the designated ride leader on roads nobody else knows.

We seemed to have caught a break with the weather which was pleasantly warm and dry, although a fairly strong wind kept things a couple of notches below ideal and might be a problem once we were out into the exposed North Pennines.

Our trio were soon dropping down toward Wylam and our rendezvous with the Ticker. He wasn’t there when we arrived, so Crazy Legs went off in search of a shop while I waited with Brassneck. Moments later the Ticker arrived, but the minutes crawled past and Crazy Legs failed to return.

“What shop did he say he was going to?” Brassneck enquired.

“Fenwick’s,” the Ticker shot back, quickly, naming the venerable department store in Newcastle city centre some 15 miles distant.

While we waited, our attention wandered to a small park across the road where a man was walking a small dog.

“Hold on,” the Ticker exclaimed, “Is’nt that Rudy Giuliani?”

We scoffed.

“It looks like Giuliani,” the Ticker insisted, “And walks like Giuliani …”

We peered across the road. You know, maybe he was right.

It did look like Giuliani and certainly the posture and the walk resembled that of the ex-mayor of New York City and ex-President’s lawyer. I mean there was no dye dripping down this fellers face, but then again it was a bit too chill for that and, we concluded, what better place to hide from a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit, professional disbarment and general ridicule than a small village in the Tyne Valley? Crazier, more unbelievable things have happened. Well, at least according to Mr. Giuliani and his ilk.

Crazy Legs finally returned from breaking what was perhaps the only card payment system in the entire village and we left Rudy with his cover intact to follow the river out to the bridge at Bywell where we crossed to the south side of the river, Crazy Legs crossing himself, muttering a prayer to the heavens and taking one last gulp of good northern air across with him.

A right past Stocksfield and then a left and the real climbing began on the single-lane “goaty track” (©Juan Antonio Flecha) up through Shilford Woods. It wasn’t long before I heard the “Aw fuck!” exclamation of someone who’s just found there already in the smallest gear and there’s nothing easier left. Luckily, at least Crazy Legs had access across the full range of his cassette.

From the top we dropped down a little just to get a good run at the climb to Whittonstall and I had to tell the Ticker to keep pedalling as the noise of his Hope freewheel was scaring the sheep. The climb to Whittonstall reminds me of the Ryals (but without the dip in the middle) the approach road is wide open and draggy and, like the Ryals, you can see it coming from miles away. It hurts about as much too.

From there we had the respite of a nice long descent down to Ebchester, crossing over the River Derwent and heading almost due south until Shotley Bridge, where we crossed back over the river and started the climb of Burnmill Bank.

Half way up the climb, just before the small cluster of houses making up Snod’s Edge, Brassneck recognised the football pitch somewhat incongruously carved into the side of the hill in the middle of nowhere, remembering years back when his work team used to play a rival firm there every week.

Further on, having topped the climb and taken in a long descent down toward the reservoir, we passed Muggleswick and Crazy Legs recalled how his gran had been in service at Muggleswick Hall. She only had half a day off work a week, so every Sunday afternoon she’d walk the 6 or so miles that was either up hill or down, along the route we’d just covered, to Shotley Bridge. There she caught a train to take her to Newcastle and home, where she stayed until leaving to catch the last train back to Shotley Bridge, then retracing her steps, 6 miles up and down hill, often in the dark and in whatever weather was thrown at her.

Much different times and, as Crazy Legs confirmed, his gran had truly been as hard as nails.

To complete the set, the route also stirred some deep-seated recollections in the Ticker too, but these were not quite of the rosy-eyed nostalgia variety. His recall was of the “twattin’ climb out of Blanchland” that we were going to be taking.

The road past the reservoir was as busy as I’ve ever known it and we had to single out until we reached Edmunbuyers as a constant stream of traffic squeezed past. Then, somewhat eerily, the traffic just disappeared. In the village we were almost lured into The Baa which, according to its website, “might be the smallest pub in the world, but probably isn’t.” Nevertheless it looked very welcoming, yet we somehow we managed to resist the temptation and pressed on, rattling over the cattle grid to pass out on the wiley, windy moors.

This was going to be our longest climb of the day and on exposed roads along the side of Harehope Hill, just over 5.3 kilometres and with the wind constantly pushing us backwards. This meant that the Ticker could only freewheel intermittently and it wasn’t enough to scare off the sheep who would crowd unconcerned onto the road to watch the idiots grunt and gurn their way past. Well, it was their domain after all.

The Ticker and Brassneck pushed on ahead, while I rode with Crazy Legs as long as I could, before slipping out of the shelter of his back wheel to find a pace I was more comfortable with. We regrouped at the turn off toward Blanchland, climbing to our highest point of of the day before our descent into the village.

Refreshments were taking at the White Monk Tearoom, bacon sandwiches and coffees all round (we like to keep it simple) and we took up residence in the garden along with our bikes, joining a gang of bikers, looking uncomfortably warm and sweaty in their thick leathers.

Unfortunately they left quite soon after we arrived. Before that they seemed to have been doing sterling job of attracting the local wasps, but once they’d gone the pesky blighters decided to harass us instead. Coffee and sarnies were good, if maybe a little too exotically priced for the frugal cyclist at a tenner a head. (I recall G-Dawg observing that cyclists don’t seem to mind dropping £8-£10 grand on a bike, but are super-sensitive when it comes to the spare change they have to cough up for their coffee and cake.)

We manged to escape without annoying the wasps too much and after Crazy Legs managed to recover from an insane and unexpected fit of giggles. Then it was back onto the bikes to take on the “twattin’ climb out of Blanchland.”

Crazy Legs complained his current earworm of “Super Trooper” wasn’t really cutting it, but he soon found it could have been a lot worse, as having visited the toilets in the tearoom, the Ticker had been subjected to the Dr. Hook Classic, “When You’re in Love With A Beautiful Woman” and now had that uncomfortably lodged in his brain. I think I dodged a bullet as my own musical accompaniment to the bathroom was Nillson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.” I could live with that.

I snuck onto the granny ring on the triple to tackle to 20%+ inclines on Park Bank and managed to spin up plonked firmly on the saddle and without too much effort then, banking off of the northeast winds, we were heading home and all the major climbing was behind us.

We made it back to Whittonstall and enjoyed a short, unspectacular descent that seemed to bear little resemblance to its long, steep and grinding ascent. A swift downhill run to the river placed us back in Stocksfield and we were soon traversing the bridge over the Tyne and celebrating our return to civilisation.

As we approached the end of the bridge we passed another cyclist heading the other way and greeted him warmly, only to be rebuffed by a growling admonition, “Keep to yer lane!” Perhaps it was the trepidation of riding south of the river that made him so tetchy? Maybe we should have told him it wasn’t as bad as people made out?

From there we decided to head to Wylam and climb out of the valley there, rather than taking in the final climb of Hospital Lane up from Newburn. Near the top I was caught and passed by a swift moving white blur that turned out to be Spry, who’d been following the route, but had probably started two or more hours after us.

The Ticker left us at this point to track his own way home, while the rest of us took on the final, relatively flat final 10km back to where we started. We survived and everyone seemed to enjoy the ride, so I’m guessing we’ll be doing it again next year, once the weather starts to pick up.


Riding Distance:118km/73 miles with 1,550m of climbing
Riding Time:5 hours 4 minutes
Average Speed:23.3km/h
Group Size:4 plucky but trepidatious hobbits, with a brief cameo from Legolas
Temperature:15℃
Weather in a word or two:Heads
Year to date:3,514km/2,183 miles with 36,796m of climbing

The Gloves Come Off

The Gloves Come Off

Club Run, Saturday 24th February, 2018                

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  100 km / 62 miles with 1,013 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 13 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.6 km/h

Group size:                                         28 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:           Bright with brass monkeys


2018 1
Ride Profile


As the country braces itself for the imminent arrival of a disruptive winter weather front from Siberia, colourfully labelled the “Beast from the East” – we were served up another cracker for our club run. Almost identical to last week. It was a blend of bitterly cold, beautifully bright and (most importantly) crisp and bone-dry.

Double base layers, lobster mitts with liners and a buff pulled up to cover as much of my face as possible were deployed early on, as the wind had a distinctively chilly, razor-edge to it and any exposed skin rapidly became numb. Nevertheless, it already looked like being a great day as a coppery new sun lent the sky a putty-coloured, green tinge before brightening to form a burnished vault of clear, limitless blue.

I trailed a nervous learner driver down the Heinous Hill, at a speed so slow that it made even my cautious, controlled, half-an-eye-out-for-ice approach, seem positively reckless in comparison. Luckily, they turned right before the bottom, while I swung away left, finally able to release my rictus hold on the brakes and get my legs working to generate a bit of much needed warmth.

The river itself seemed to act as a heat sink, sucking a couple more degrees from already chilled air. Stopped at the lights, my breath plumed out visibly in the air, like a deranged and louche Soup Dragon on the Clangers moon, toking madly on an e-cigarette.  It would definitely be chilly for the rowing crews who were starting to gather on the water for yet another busy day of competition.

Pushing on, for once I was glad to start climbing out of the valley and frigid air that seemed to have pooled in its bottom.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Making decent time, I arrived early enough to watch the Monkey Butler Boy engage in some cosmetic bike tinkering par excellence. First, he reached into a back pocket, extracted a multi-tool kit and carefully assembled a small torque wrench. He then applied this to his seat pin and then, painstakingly eased the seat post up 0.75mm, tightened everything up, disassembled the tool and packed it away.

He eye-balled his work briefly, then took the tool out again, re-assembled it, applied it to his bike and this time, carefully lowered the saddle by 0.5mm, while I looked on with Crazy Legs, both of us totally perplexed.  Apparently, those micro-adjustments hit the sweet spot though and give the optimum riding position – although I’m not sure how you could tell without testing.

“Is that thing on?” the Garrulous Kid asked, bending down to grin and gurn madly into the lens of my sports-cam, “How can you tell if it’s on?” he demanded, prodding at the case with an extended digit. I was reminded of nothing so much as the monkey-selfie, with the Garrulous Kid taking the part of a Celebes crested macaque. They have the same hairstyle and the likeness was striking. Somehow, I doubt that if his grinning, gurning selfie ever sees the light of day, that he’ll have a crowd of people who really should know better, causing a ridiculous stink and defending his claim to receive royalties.

Well, the first hints of spring were definitely in the air, the hedgerows were alive with chattering birds, scattered tulips were poking tentative buds out of the frozen soil and, even at the outset of my ride, the sun was up and well established on its low trajectory across the sky.

Even more telling for any budding amateur climatologist, or observant weather watcher, was the first, elusive sightings of carbon, as conditions were finally deemed good enough to lure out a smattering of good, “summer bikes” – even if it was just for one week. G-Dawg, the Colossus and Jimmy Mac among others, had seized on the opportunity, while, a contrarian to the last, Crazy Legs had swapped last week’s spring/autumn Bianchi back to his winter fixie.

Taffy Steve stayed with the thrice-cursed winter bike, I kept faith with the Pug and the Goose persisted on his experiment with the steel behemoth. Everyone seemed happy enough with their individual choices, all except the Garrulous Kid, who pined for carbon, whinged about his winter bike and, after spending all day avoiding the front of the group, blamed his loss in the café sprint on his “heavy” aluminium Trek.

Leading the ride for the day, Crazy Legs did a swift head count and determined we should split into two. The route was revised slightly to take into account better than predicted conditions, a rendezvous point was agreed for a final coalescing before we split and got ready to roll.

There was just time for a quick double-take at the appearance of a Carlton doppelgänger (it was just a cunningly disguised Two Trousers, but for a moment he had both Crazy Legs and me utterly confused and convinced we were suffering double vision.)


Spirits were high, chatter was on full-bore and the only rude interruption to our contentment came from Taffy Steve’s brakes, which squealed like a badly stuck pig. He confessed he’d tried some WD-40 Motorcyle Dry Lube on his chain, anticipating it to be suitably protective and heavy duty, but discovering in truth that it was horribly thick, gunky, all together messy and capable of getting everywhere it shouldn’t.

He’d spent an age cleaning the gunk off his drive chain, frame and wheel rims, but had missed the brake blocks which whenever applied emitted a protesting, high-pitched warbling banshee scream that directly assaulted the eardrums. The Garrulous Kid in particular seemed directly affected by the “horrible” sound – perhaps the rest of us were insulated from its extreme harshness by our innate presbycusis?

We spent a good while trying to come up with a suitable analogy for the noise – an irate R2-D2 when plugging himself into a power outlet instead of the Death Star security-systems? A rabid, indignant and starving dolphin, demanding fish? The antique, unsettling warble of a computer program loading into a ZX Spectrum from audio-tape?

We finally settled on a juvenile seagull being caught up in the spokes of his front wheel. This segued into Taffy Steve describing his son’s invention of a Geordie seagull, lost on the Isle of Man, starving, unable to find the sanctuary of a Greggs and all the while wondering what all the skinny seagulls were doing, out on the water trying to catch fish. Comic genius and a perfect Viz character just waiting for visualisation.

As we were chatting, Slow Drinker cruised down the outside of the group, resplendent in his black and pink Rapha kit, which Taffy Steve suggested made him look like a Liquorice Allsort. We soon had a marketing campaign licked into shape, complete with epic voice-over, all ready to promote “Bertie Bassets Paris-Roubaix Collection™. (Also available in blue).”

Through Dinnington, we carefully wove our way through the most heavily pock-marked, pot-holed, bombed-out surface that the RAF haven’t tested JP233 runway denial munitions on. Or, maybe they have?

We were briefly heartened by assembled construction equipment, temporary traffic lights and road re-surfacing signs, but should have known better. Hopes for a smooth, new riding surface were immediately dashed when we encountered the solitary, lone workman, patching the road armed with just a single bucket of sticky, rapidly cooling tar.

We also seemed to have stumbled onto National Hedge Trimming Day and found ourselves continually picking our way past massive, yellow tractors, laying waste to the local hedgerows. There’s nothing subtle about the process, they don’t so much trim the hedge as thrash it into submission, liberally scattering a trail of pulverised leaves and twigs and thorns across the road. By some minor miracle, no one punctured.


REC024 (3)


As such, our ride progressed without incident until we reached the Gubeon and hauled ourselves into a lay-by to wait for the second group to put in an appearance. The over/under on the second groups arrival was 5 minutes, but they were well inside this, even though Crazy Legs insisted they’d stopped at a café en route for the now traditional and civilising, mid-ride, flat white.

Those seeking a shorter ride then took a left, while the rest of us swung to the right on a route that would pass through Dyke Neuk, then Hartburn and on to Middleton Bank. At Dyke Neuk we paused again to set a longer-harder-faster group on their way, at which point Sneaky Pete and Sneaky Taffy Steve, sneaked off for a bit of a head start on the final run in.

I was beginning to feel the pace and the legs were already heavy as we approached Middleton Bank and I had dropped right to the back of the group as we began to climb. I managed to catch and pass the Goose, manfully wrestling with the steel behemoth, then Cowin’ Bovril struggling with a lack of road miles, before hauling in and passing Mini Miss and Princess Fiona.

I was closing on Rick the Gigolo as we passed over the top of the climb, with the main group still a further 200 or 300 metres up the road. I set about closing the gap, only to discover that a vicious headwind seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere and I was working hard just to maintain the distance to the front group.

I plugged away resolutely, finally catching Rick the Gigolo, but up ahead the others had started to ride through and off, increased their pace and soon disappeared from sight.

I was now battering away, pulling a small group through a punishing headwind, thankfully with some help from Mini Miss. She led us through Milestone Woods and up the first of the rollers. Here Rick the Gigolo pulled out of line and into the wind, rolled up alongside me, grimaced, swore fluently, grasped his chest and slipped away again. Bloody hell, did he just have a heart attack?

Down the dip and onto the final climb, I passed Mini Miss. She later said she’d tried to respond, but her legs refused in several different languages. Non, No, Nyet, Nein, Nay, Nope.

I then thought I was clear and away on the last drag, until Rick the Gigolo came whirring smoothly past – for the first time I’ve been fooled by someone faking a mild cardiac infarction.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The Garrulous Kid kicked the madness off, leaning across the table and confronting Jimmy Mac.

“You’re German aren’t you?”

“Err … no,” a nonplussed Jimmy Mac replied.

“But you were born in Germany, right?” the Garrulous Kid persisted.

“No. No, I wasn’t.”

“Well, someone was born in Germany.” The Garrulous Kid boldly asserted.

“Quite a few people, I’d imagine,” I reasoned, “There’s that Adolph Hitl …oh, hold on, he was born in Austria.”

G-Dawg came to my rescue with the name of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was definitely born in Germany. This recognisable name seemed to satisfy the Garrulous Kid and we spent a few moments marvelling at Herr Schweinsteiger’s impressively Teutonic moniker.

G-Dawg and the Colossus managed to secure themselves a helping of ham and egg pie, this week without the unnecessary distraction of salad. I congratulated them on ticking off two of the cyclists 5 essential food groups in one meal – pastry and meat. (The others, of course are caffeine, cake and confectionery.)

We reflected on the less than surprising news from the Winter Olympics and the rather inevitable discovery that the Russians, though competing as non-Russian’s, were still doing deeply Russian things and heavily engaged in pharmaceutical skulduggery. It was mentioned that the cross-country skiing biathletes were regularly tested for alcohol, which we felt was a shame – what sport wouldn’t be improved as a spectacle by arming drunkards with guns?

Talk of alcohol, beta-blockers and the like led to discussions about “Big Bill” Webeniuk, the Canadian snooker player who averaged 30 pints of lager a day while competing. Whether it’s true or not, the man became a legend for claims he had a doctor’s prescription to serve as a sort of TUE for his excessive alcohol intake, which was supposedly necessary to control a hereditary nerve condition. Yeah, right. Still better, there were rumours that he even tried to claim tax relief on his “medicinal” lager consumption.

Sneaky Pete expressed huge displeasure with the current state of the scrum in rugby union, which he sees as largely de-fanged, sissified and dull, a travesty of its former glory and in danger of becoming as ridiculous a spectacle as that used by the rugby league lot.

“Why bother,” I agreed, “They should just hold hands.”

“Sing ring-o-rose’s and dance around in a circle,” G-Dawg suggested.

“Cover their eyes and count to 10?” Jimmy Mac, opined, “… No peeking!”

But, the Colossus had the best idea, suggesting they should put their foreheads onto an imaginary pole, quickly spin around it a dozen times until everyone was really, really dizzy, then hoof the ball into the air and see who could catch it and run in the right direction.

From this, the Colossus (quite rightly) concluded, that there wasn’t a sport we couldn’t improve upon and make an even bigger, better spectacle, if we were just given 5 minutes to sort it out.

The manner of Mark Cavendish’s, premature crashing out of the Tour of Abu Dhabi-Doo, within 5 kilometres of starting, astonished G-Dawg. His purely rhetorical question seemed to sum up our thoughts that some kind of organisational idiocy had taken place: “Hmm, I need a car for the commissioner to drive around in extreme close proximity to bunch of tightly packed, speeding cyclists. Ah, here’s one with an automatic braking system, that’ll do. After all, what could possibly go wrong?”


Aside from the nagging headwind, the right home was straightforward and pleasant. The sky remained an unblemished, distant blue, the sun shone brightly, if lacking any warmth and the roads were dry and clear. I even found myself stopping at one point to pull off and pack away the lobster mitts that were simply too effective.

It was perhaps a little too chill to be riding completely without gloves, but I was home before second thoughts and numb fingers changed my mind.


YTD Totals: 1,145 km / 711 miles with 13,007 metres of climbing

 

Booty Contest

Booty Contest

Club Run, Saturday 5th November, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  93 km/58 miles with 804 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 9 minutes

Average Speed:                                22.3 km/h

Group size:                                         19 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:          All the y’s – chilly, wintry, gusty and showery


 

ride-profile-5-nov
Ride Profile


The Ride:

Business as usual on Saturday, as OGL and G-Dawg returned from their sojourn north of the border and the weather reverted to the kind of wild, windy and wet weather we’ve come to expect so late in the year. In fact, the BBC weather forecasts leading up to Saturday looked positively apocalyptic with heavy wintry showers across the day, all accompanied by a blustery, gale force winds direct from the Arctic.

Saturday morning proved things weren’t quite as bad as forecast, with the constant rainfall that was predicted materialising more as a series of short, sharp showers. The day then didn’t look quite as unremittingly bleak as expected, but it was easily the coldest we’ve had so far this autumn.

Clothing choice now became the central concern and I loaded up for the worst, a light, long-sleeved base layer under my Galibier Mistral jacket, topped with a new Santini “Rain” waterproof. This latter is in a fetching shade of light grey, that Crazy Legs suggested matched my complexion and gave rise to him calling me John Major for the rest of the ride.

Full-length winter tights, Thermolite socks, shoes and winter overshoes covered the bottom half, while thick and reasonably shower-proof gloves, a headband and buff protected the gaps and extremities. I even remembered to tuck a spare pair of gloves away in a pocket, in case the first pair did eventually succumb to the rain.

The road down from Heinous Hill has now gained another strip of fallen leaves, mainly down the central meridian, but occasionally spilling across both lanes. I wasn’t keen to test whether the surface just looked slippery or actually was, so I scrubbed off speed and picked my way carefully around the corners, no doubt annoying the driver following close behind. I think he may have actually read last week’s blog and wanted to get into the fun of seeing if he could graze the rain flap on my mudguards without bringing me down.

Surviving the descent, I was rewarded with my first blast of icy rain as I crossed the river and began to haul myself up the other side. Here I would stop a couple of times to shed the buff and the headband and loosen a few zips here and there to get some air flow to counteract the over-heating. Despite this I made good time and was the first to arrive at our meeting point.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

The BFG was the first of our group to appear, once again on his ultra-posh, much-too-nice-for-this-kind-of-thing, winter “hack” – kind of like wearing a white tuxedo to a Cradle of Filth mosh-pit. He reported his knee operation had been an all-round success, but he continues to recuperate and would turn for home early, “before his stitches started weeping.”

Meanwhile he educated me on the tricks of bike smuggling to avoid the censure of eagle-eyed partners. His infallible system is based on the principles of Trigger’s broom or, if you prefer something more highbrow, the Ship of Theseus paradox: Trigger receives an award for having the same broom for 20 years, then reveals that during this time it’s only had 17 new heads and 14 new handles.

The BFG’s cunning ploy is not to buy an all too obvious complete bike, but individual components piecemeal, slowly replacing parts one at a time and upgrading an existing bike. Of course, he admitted, the only drawback was that he always had to stick to the same colour, otherwise the swap became too obvious. This could explain why all his bikes are black, which in itself was a revelation as I thought he simply hadn’t outgrown the mad-Goth affectations of his youth.

Taffy Steve arrived amidst another shower of cold rain, reaching delicately into his back pocket with a finger and thumb to extract a tiny bundle of cloth about the size of a matchbox. He then shook this out to reveal a gossamer thin, shiny Funkier gilet, in an orange so bright and whizzy it actually seemed to oscillate to a different frequency and brought tears to my eyes to look at.

This flimsy, ephemeral garment was all the windproof and water-resistant clothing he felt he could wear without seriously overheating and was the latest addition to his foul-weather armoury, along with a pair of shiny-silver, winter cycling boots that looked as if they were styled on something Dave Hill might have worn back in the heyday of Slade and glam-rock.

As the rain increased in intensity, we finally saw sense and relocated to the shelter of the car park. Here I found G-Dawg had finally succumbed to the inevitable, put away his best bike and was now out on his winter-fixie. He was also immeasurably proud of his rear mudguard, an ultra-slender sliver of black plastic suspended horizontally, halfway between his rear tyre and saddle, where it would be able to deflect … oh, I don’t know … maybe one-tenth of all the road spray we were going to kick up.

Having just about survived another Braveheart Dinner, he suggested the event was in serious danger of losing some of its lustre, especially as this year special guests had been thin on the ground with only Callum Skinner to add a note of class. So, no Bradley Wiggins or David Millar, no Marianne Vos, or Mark Cavendish and, as G-Dawg concluded somewhat ruefully, “even Sean Kelly gave it a miss” Things must be bad.

Of course his reaction may in part have been coloured by not only being forced to journey there and back in a car with OGL, but also having to share the same hotel room. He subsequently reported no new yarns, but plenty of old ones.


I was somewhat surprised that the usual, slightly-crazed winter-stalwarts and “usual suspects” were well supplemented by a sizeable contingent of others, although all the girls were conspicuous by their absence. This being the first Saturday of the month however, our dauntless Go-Ride youngsters were out in force and at least their numbers included several girls.

The Garrulous Kid was out with us again and having himself recently graduated from the kid’s section had to endure a few catcalls and good-humoured cries of “traitor” from his previous riding partners.

At precisely 9:15 Garmin Time, we left the relative sanctuary of the car park and 19 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out into the teeming rain.


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To the Cheese Farm!


I dropped into the middle of the pack beside Caracol and we were soon out into the countryside and heading up toward the Cheese Farm. As we approached the entrance to the farm a silver 4 x 4 poked its nose into the lane, saw us and then pulled over to stop and let us through. I would usually give such a considerate driver a cheery wave and big thumbs-up, but behind the windscreen I could see him sitting there, evidently furious, gesticulating angrily and mouthing off at us.

I then rounded his car to notice a big, new sign for the Cheese Farm, proudly declaring “All Cyclists Welcome!” Maybe not all the staff are quite “on message” yet.

With a rotation off the front, I caught up with Crazy Legs, who’d dubbed Taffy Steve’s gilet “the Beacon.” I wondered if he’d noticed the new winter boots as well. He informed me that he’d not only noticed them, but compared them with his own in terms of style, build and quality. This he casually referred to as “a booty contest” – until he realised what he’d said and began guffawing loudly. Honestly, sometimes this stuff just writes itself.

He then declared he hated turning left at the next junction and was determined to turn right, even if it meant riding off on his own, but we all went right anyway. I guess it’s a strange but universal truth of cycling that different riders tend to grow to hate different bits of road and it’s never as obvious or simple a reason as it just being a hard-climb – although Szell’s love-hate relationship with Middleton Bank might be an exception.

The bits I hate tend to be “false-flats” where there’s a very slight, almost imperceptible rise and you struggle along them wondering what’s wrong with you and why it’s suddenly become so hard, not realising you’re heading ever so slightly, but very definitely uphill all the time.

We regrouped briefly after the climb to Dyke Neuk and found ourselves testing the uneasy peace between cyclists and horse riders as we converged on the gathering point for one of the local hunts. At one point one of the horses panicked and began crabbing across the road toward us, while I pressed ever further into the verge on the opposite side of the road as I tried to edge past. Large, dumb equine beast with flailing, iron boots narrowly avoided, I managed to finally exhale and press on.

The horse-people were unfailingly chipper and cheerful, despite the foul weather and appearance of a dozen or so unruly bike-oiks in their midst. Perhaps hunting and killing small frightened mammals grants you an inner, zen-like calm, but I have to admit it passed me by last week when I had to batter one of Mouse (the cat’s) errant mouse (the mouse) playthings to death with my cycling shoe in the “Blood on the Cleats” incident. Perhaps the horse people were just glad they weren’t having to cycle anywhere in such appalling weather.


 

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Negotiating an uneasy alliance


As we dived down and then up through Mitford I caught up with Grover, perhaps the only one of us who hadn’t yet transitioned to a winter bike as he sat proudly astride his shiny Pinarello. I queried whether he had a licence for such profligacy and he explained his only alternative – a vintage bike he’d restored with 3-speed Sturmey-Archer hub gears, was too heavy. I suggested he might need a different bike, he suggested he needed to get fitter … and I suggested he needed a different bike.

The Garrulous Kid was suffering in the cold and miserable conditions and wanted to know how much further it was to the café. One last hill, I promised as we swept through a road spanning puddle of dirty frozen water and his day became yet more miserable.

The Prof was having a jour sans and complained of being humiliated as we dropped him on the climb up towards Bolam Lake. We waited at the top, where G-Dawg suggested the Prof would ride straight through us without stopping and attack off the front, but he must have been feeling really off his game, as he reigned in his inner mad-dog enough for him to just take the front and try and control the group.

We were however closing in on the café and the speed was being wound up all the time. We were strung out in a long line as we swooped down through Milestone Woods and up the rollers, where the Prof was washed away off the front and I made up good ground sliding from the back to the front of the group, swerving around the Garrulous Kid as he pulled his shoe out of his pedal bindings.

I held there until the final corner and the last series of upward drags when G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg and Captain Black jumped away. I hung onto their wheels until they pulled me clear of everyone else and then watched them pound away to fight for the honours, rolling up behind them.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee shop:

Taffy Steve’s majestic, elephant’s scrotum purse made a reappearance, leading to a discussion about cycling wallets and purses in general. OGL flashed his waterproof wallet complete with British Cycling Licence, which he suggested he always carried because he was surprised how many of us went out without basic id on them and he’d been called on to try and identify a number of cyclists involved in accidents.

I remembered a cyclist just last year who was killed in Yorkshire and for about a week nobody knew who he was, only that he was a middle aged man found with a Carrera. I know there’s a bit of a bike snob in all of us, but surely his family and friends weren’t that embarrassed to own up to knowing him just because he bought his bike at Halfords?

OGL suggested he’d once even considered having his name and blood group tattooed on his bicep just for identification purposes. He didn’t quite get it when Taffy Steve and I agreed it probably wouldn’t have gone down to well with Nazi hunters and we told him he’d have to avoid holidays in Israel, while we commented on his typically Aryan, blue-eyed, blonde-haired looks. When he still didn’t catch on, I told him that the type of tattoo he described was a trademark of the SS, but he completely misunderstood and started rambling on about an ex-SAS, ex-member of the club, to much eye-rolling around the table.

The Red Max had enjoyed his holiday in Spain, riding with a few local clubs and enjoying perfect weather and hospitality. He generously offered to lend anyone his solid bike boxes too – “as long as it doesn’t clash” which Taffy Steve immediately took to mean you could put anything in them, as long as it was red.

OGL commented that one of our esteemed members, Facebook posting, carbon stress-testing, Guiness slurping, pie chomping, platter spinning, real ale swilling, curry sampling, all-azione, Thom-Thom, was off in Glasgow for the weekend, enjoying the track cycling at the Chris Hoy velodrome and indulging in the local hospitality.

I saw that he’d posted on Facebook how he was enjoying an evening curry at one particular Indian, someone had then recommended another and he’d replied along the lines of: “Good. That’s breakfast sorted then.” I like his style, but I couldn’t cope with his lifestyle.

OGL also said that he’d returned from the Braveheart ride to find G-Dawg diligently washing his bike in the hotel bath. I have to say I was completely unsurprised.


On the way home I had a chat with young-tyro, Jimmy Cornfeed, obviously about bikes, but also touching on this blog, how he didn’t seem to mind his own blog persona and how he thought the Garrulous Kid was the perfect moniker for, well the Garrulous Kid, obviously … or he did after looking up garrulous in the dictionary. There you go then, proof if ever it’s needed that my blog is not only mildly irritating entertaining, but slightly educational too.

We determined that the Garrulous Kid was particularly garrulous about sharks, which he seemed to feed randomly into any conversation whenever it was possible and appropriate (and occasionally when impossible and inappropriate.) We then decided he either had a deep fear of sharks (galeophobia, according to Mr. Google) or an unhealthy fascination with them, which I guess would make him a galeophile?

As we hit Berwick Hill, Jimmy Cornfeed took the opportunity to stretch his legs, floating effortlessly up the inside past all the stragglers and off on his own. I let him pull me across the gap and up to the front group where I dropped in behind the leading pair to find OGL growling about keeping it steady and not attacking the hill. I tried to counter by making a case for youthful enthusiasm, which I don’t have, but can at least still appreciate, but would imagine it made little impact.

Slotting in beside the Red Max for the final stretch we noticed a lone rider approaching, but still at a considerable distance and we both instantly recognised one of our own. Sure enough a wildly grinning Laurelan soon passed us, heading out as we headed back and leaving both the Red Max and me worrying about how easy it was to recognise someone just by their riding style and form on the bike.

Then we were through the Mad Mile and I was swinging off for my solo trek home. As I passed one large municipal roundabout en route, I noticed it was desultorily scattered with a few huge, tired and rather sad looking fabric poppies and I couldn’t help wonder what purpose they actually served and if the money wasted on the display wouldn’t be better donated straight to the relevant charities.

This annoyed me almost as much as the furore over FIFA stopping the national football team from playing in a one-off shirt emblazoned with a poppy. After all, can you think of any group of individuals less suited to represent the incredible heroism, bravery, stoicism and sacrifice of our military veterans than a group of millionaire dilettante sportsmen kicking an imitation pig’s bladder around a paddock? How much difference would this completely hollow, token gesture actually make to veterans and isn’t there some other, more dignified way we can commemorate their sacrifice?

How much time and money has been wasted discussing, designing, making, marketing and arguing about our football team’s right to wear these stupid shirts and how might all that time and money and effort been better spent doing something meaningful?

I’m no apologist for the ultra-corrupt, ultra-stupid FIFA, that somehow manages to make the UCI look competent, but their rules on this issue are quite clear in this instance and I for one am quite happy for them not to start blurring anymore lines.

Even more astonishingly the Football Association had already proposed such an empty gesture a few years ago and had been very firmly rebuffed, so why so recklessly disregard the past and plan the exact same thing again? Are they so bereft of creativity and wisdom that they cannot come up with anything more novel and appropriate, or are they just out to make mischief?

And finally, why does the scarily nationalistic, increasingly xenophobic, frothing-at-the-mouth British press treat this as some great indignity and national insult and feel the need to write about it with such mock outrage. Personally, I just think everyone need to get out on a bike and restore some balance, calm and consideration to their lives. Works for me.


YTD Totals: 6,093 km / 3,786 miles with 60,722 metres of climbing

The Butterfly Effect

Club Run, Saturday 30th July, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   107 km/ 67 miles with 984 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 18 minutes

Average Speed:                                   24.9 km/h

Group size:                                           28 riders, No FNG’s

Temperature:                                      21°C

Weather in a word or two:              Cool, bright


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Ride Profile

The Ride:

Another dry and relatively bright Saturday with no hint of rain and I’m beginning to feel rather spoiled. I could definitely get used to this. The stifling humidity of the past couple of weeks had given way to a cooler and much fresher feeling and it was chilly enough early on for me to pull on a pair of arm warmers for my ride across town.

I found a fairly stiff tailwind pushing me along the valley floor, which soon turned into a headwind as I looped back on the opposite side of the river. Nevertheless, a week away and free from commutes had me fairly fresh-legged and at the meeting point long before anyone else arrived.

The micro-climate of the Transport Interchange Centre suntrap allowed me to shed the arm warmers and it was very pleasant lounging in the sun while 28 lads and lasses assembled before riding out.


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Main topic of conversation at the start:

Rab Dee appeared, once again without his new BMC Time Machine which still resides in OGL’s workshop for continued tinkering with the internal cable routing. Perhaps only now are we slowly beginning to understand that the unlikely, overstated moniker isn’t a reflection of how fast the completed bike will be, but simply a consequence of how much time it eats away trying to get it into that completed state.

Relief is apparently at hand however, as OGL has conceived of a cunning plan involving superglue. I’m sure he knows what he’s doing but I wouldn’t be comfortable mixing expensive carbon frames, bottom brackets, internally routed cables and superglue.

G- Dawg and Son of G-Dawg fondly reminisced about their own familial bonding over the integrated carbon handlebar and stem set Son of G-Dawg received as a Christmas present. This took them most of Boxing Day to fit and the remainder of the day to take apart and re-assemble once they worked out where the critical spare component they had left at the end should have slotted in at the beginning. Next year, apparently Son of G-Dawg should expect nothing more technical than a bottle cage and bottle.

The BFG wrestled with something inside his jersey and finally, triumphantly revealed a saddle. A spare saddle? Apparently not, this was a gift for the Monkey Butler Boy, who wants a new bike and is perhaps contemplating building it piece by piece from other people’s cast-offs, something he’ll have to keep well hidden from the Prof, who believes he has the right of first refusal on all cast-off components or randomly encountered roadside detritus.

The BFG reflected that the saddle, nothing more than an unforgiving blade of pure carbon-fibre was “actually quite comfortable” but its sharp edges were wearing holes in his shorts. Now the Monkey Butler Boy has the chance to wear holes in his shorts instead.


I dropped to the back of the group as we set off, slotting in alongside Cowin’ Bovril as we threaded our way out of the city and into the countryside, variously discussing daughters and drinking, both electric and eclectic cars and thunderstorms and flash flooding in Cumbria.


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A loud clatter announced that my camera had shaken loose yet again from its mount under my saddle and was bouncing and cartwheeling back down the road. I stopped to retrieve it and found this time I was exonerated of all blame for shoddy fixing as the bracket had simply sheared completely away from the case. I can only guess that this was perhaps a consequence of the accumulated stresses from the horrible road surfaces we ride over, or perhaps it’s just an indictment of shoddy Chinese manufacturing and my own cheapskate buying patterns.

Back on the group we turned off for the Cheese Farm, only to be halted when Grover punctured and we stopped for repairs. He deftly swapped out his tube, slotted his chain back onto his chainring and then stood back to contemplate his be-grimed and oily paws and super-pristine, dazzlingly white bar tape in dismay. Oh. There’s a good reason for sticking to black bar tape.


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A long descent followed by a sharp, momentum-robbing right hand turn spat us out at the base of the Mur de Mitford, a real shock to the system for anyone who’d never scaled its hoary ramps before – and anyone getting their gearing hopelessly wrong.

I tried standing on the pedals and sweeping up the outside, but the road surface was damp and greasy and  my rear wheel was constantly slipping. “Softly, softly catchy monkey,” OGL called and I followed his advice, dropping back into the saddle and spinning upwards in a more restrained way, moving up from the back to the middle of the pack.

We regrouped again at the top, where another puncture was discovered, although this time the rider insisted he was turning off soon and so urged us to keep going.

We split the group further down the road and I went with the amblers as we tackled the Coldlaw Woods climb, avoiding the slightly harder and longer route up the Trench.

Nevertheless, the climb was still long enough and hard enough to split the group and I joined a small selection off the front with G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, the BFG and Cushty. We waited and regrouped at the top, but the next series of short sharp climbs as we started looping back toward the café splintered the group again and the same five of us rode clear.

I had a chat with Cushty who was wondering when the best time to attack would be. I advised him that with  just 20 metres left before the café would be a good time and warned that Son of G-Dawg had rather unfairly decided not to turn up hungover and was assuredly feeling more frisky than last week.

I took the lead as we swung down and around Bolam Lake, pushing the pace as hard as I could through Milestone Woods and over the rollers. As we swooped down and started the drag back up toward the café, Cushty put in his attack and for one, brief, glorious moment he had some daylight. Then the BFG with G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg in tow started to grind their way back to him.


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I tagged onto the back of the line as we swept upwards, incurring the wrath of a following car, who generously decided to treat us to an unwarranted blast of his horn. Son of G-Dawg coolly and phlegmatically pointed out to the RIM that he had the whole right hand lane available in all its empty entirety if he wanted to overtake us. As the car sped off Son of G-Dawg jumped, quickly burned off the BFG and then opened a big gap on G-Dawg.

With the BFG transitioning quickly and smoothly from “full-on” to “empty” in one brief nanosecond, I swept around him and gave chase, without ever threatening to close the gap on the front two.

I rolled into the café alongside the BFG who felt the need to retch dramatically from the effort and bemoan the decades long bout of pleurisy that seems to be inhibiting his natural potential.


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

In the raddled confusion from sprint-induced oxygen-deprivation, the BFG’s eyes were playing tricks on him as he imagined one of the waitresses was dressed in some sort of fetish wear, French-maid outfit. He managed to shake himself out of his erotic reveries before it had unforeseen, yet highly visible consequences, reflecting that tight Lycra clothing could occasionally be a dangerous impediment to acceptable social mores.

I reassured him that a cycling helmet would not only make a suitable codpiece, but an eminently impressive one too. Word up.


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Word Up!


The BFG then received a disparaging, “I thought we were riding as a group” remark from the belatedly arriving OGL. We were riding as a group, just a little bit ahead and a little bit faster than the group that he was part of.

Retreating quickly to the garden, we were joined by G-Dawg who managed to spill enough coffee on his tray to turn the collected sugar cubes he was reserving for his refill into a slowly dissolving morass which he dumped onto the table to act as a “wasp assault course.”

Szell reported that earlier OGL had been stung by a wasp – not for the first time this year (although he claims the first incident was no mere wasp, but an exotic, mutant, killer hornet). We pondered what the attraction might be.

Someone then wondered if a thin smear of jam on his handlebars might enhance his attractiveness and net him even more attentive followers, perhaps encouraging him to trail a cloud of flying insects in a style reminiscent of Pig Pen from the Peanuts cartoons. I uncharitably concluded that he’d then never have to complain about being left to ride alone.

The BFG mentioned that his Local Bike Shop (LBS) had managed to destroy one of his wheels while truing the spokes. I surmised that tweaking your nipples was never a good thing, encouraging Szell to recount a tale about his own extreme version of jogger’s nipple suffered during a “fun run” where the abrasion of his vest caused bleeding “like stigmata.” By the time he’d somehow turned the conversation around to include the phrase “light frotting” I’d luckily managed to tune out.

Meanwhile, Richard of Flanders recounted a brief but seemingly serious interaction (can you have any other?) with old Stone-Face himself, Nairo Quintana and a routinely standard blow off by Cav when requesting a photo op (“Sorry mate, not at the moment”) at the recent Toady France.

He then went on to claim that the number of new cyclists was exactly equal to the number of people who’ve recently given up golf, implying a direct relationship between men in the midst of a mid-life crisis switching from a sport where they wear ridiculous clothing and spend far too much money on ultra-expensive equipment with the false promise that it will make them better, to one where they wear ridiculous clothing and spend far too much money on ultra-expensive equipment with the false promise that it will make them better.

While we were talking we saw our first butterfly of the summer, circling among the shiny plastic bikes, before happily alighting on G-Dawg’s chain, proof it ever it was needed that his was the cleanest of them all.

Someone said if it had landed on Szell’s it would probably still be stuck there, while he fantasised about plucking it up and pressing it into his calf so he could have a butterfly shape to complement the sharply defined and impressively delineated dirty chain-ring tattoo freshly applied to his leg this morning.

At the table opposite we watched jealously as the Monkey Butler Boy was press-ganged into service, handed a tray and sent off to secure coffee refills. I think it should be the ambition of every cycling group to have its own designated Monkey Butler Boy.

Having admirably discharged his coffee refill duties, he next swung his leg over a bike and disappeared around the corner, leaving me to surmise that the café had run out of milk and he was off on an errand to the local shops to buy some more. Sadly, he was back much too quickly for this to be the case and had apparently been trying out his dad’s bike. Just for size, honest.

Crazy Legs looked worryingly up at the blue sky and very high, very benign, fluffy white clouds and declared, “You know, I think it might rain.” He quickly scrambled onto his much cossetted-Ribble and was away before I could even say, “Eh?”

I suspect he was only joking and had to be back at a certain time to discharge family commitments, but then again maybe his finely tuned senses detected an infinitesimal increase in atmospheric moisture and a similarly small, but nonetheless threatening increment in the potential for a few random spots of light precipitation.


The return home was punctuated by Red Max trying to convince the Monkey Butler Boy that if he wanted to improve he needed to eat porridge even if he hated porridge, by employing the simple, perhaps flawed, but indisputably strong argument that all cyclists hate porridge!

I swept through the Mad Mile and pushed on for home, catching a favourable tailwind once I’d crossed the river to ease my way back. Good weather, a decent ride, but ever so slightly too short, too slow and too flat to be truly belter. Still, there’s always next week.


YTD Totals: 4,419 km / 2,745 miles with 43,596 metres of climbing

Cresta Run (It’s frothy, man)

Cresta Run (It’s frothy, man)

Club Run, Saturday 2nd July, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  115 km / 71 miles with 1,058 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 32 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.3 km/h

Group size:                                         29 riders, 2 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    16°C

Weather in a word or two:          Rain, wind, sun

Main topic of conversation at the start:

At the meeting point I found Son of G-Dawg, sitting on the wall, alone and palely loitering, badly hungover and recently returned from a shamelessly inactive week’s holiday. He also complained of a suspected broken finger as a consequence of wrestling with North Atlantic waves. And losing.

Given this backdrop he wasn’t particularly looking forward to the ride, but concluded cheerfully that since “it only hurts when braking, changing gear or trying to grip the handlebars” he’d probably be all right.

To make matters worse, it was now G-Dawgs turn to be away on holiday, so Son of G-Dawg would have to pay his own way in the café. He’d brought along some money, but confessed he wasn’t quite sure how you made it to work and what you did with it.

I was quite surprised that G-Dawg actually took holidays, but suspect it’s more likely he’s just being stripped down to the bare components for a thorough cleaning before being assembled again.

Taffy Steve appeared, glinting and sparkling in the sharp sunlight and I queried if he’d had a recent close encounter with greeting cards, thinking he’d perhaps tried to sneak “yet another” birthday in under the radar. Apparently though he was simply suffering from a prank attack, when a “family friend” tipped a large tub of glitter over his head.

Several days later and he still trailed a glittering tail of dandruff in his wake, like Haley’s Comet skimming across the Earth’s atmosphere, or perhaps a hulking, grumpy, shockingly profane and disturbingly hirsute Tinkerbell.

Anyone with young children who have a passion for crafts and card making will know the insidious and truly evil nature of glitter, it’s almost impossible to eradicate once it’s got a foothold in your home, where it suddenly acquires the adhesive qualities of mutant barnacles in a sea of superglue. Taffy Steve is already plotting revenge, which perhaps involves the pranksters dog. I recommend selective shaving.

As it was the first day of the month our youngsters were allowed out on parole for a spin on the open roads. Taffy Steve looked across to where they were all gathering and wondered if they knew something we didn’t. They’d all gone way beyond simple rain jackets and were wearing clothing he thought Noah himself would have approved of. He then started chuckling to himself as he recalled how his young son had flummoxed theologians everywhere by demanding to know how the Ark had managed to carry all the freshwater fish.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Goose was found bemoaning the fact that despite being a fine figure of a man and logging hundreds of bike miles, his ceiling of 200 watts of energy output is barely enough to power a light bulb. This sobering thought lead to a general discussion about just how physically unremarkable the human species actually is and how we ever came to rule the roost.

Theories about our superiority seemed to come down to the blind luck of being born with opposable thumbs and big heads, but there were of course alternative claims for the top seat at the table. Naturally dolphins headed the list – as smart as humans and thoroughly hedonistic and carefree – clever enough to spend all their time playing around and enjoying themselves rather than angst-ridden worrying about the meaning of life.

Taffy Steve put in a surprisingly strong claim for octopuses (not octopi as already discussed: Italian Mobster Shoots a Lobster)  – the most intelligent of all the cephalopods, with unparalleled tactile dexterity, but apparently held back by a lack of depth perception (and no great desire to build machines to kill fellow cephalopods.)

We then had a good chuckle about Oleg Tinkov suggesting his team have the “Number One and Number Two cyclists in the world today” and that they were going to “kick Team Sky’s ass at the Tour de France”. Oh Oleg, you’re such a clown and I’m not going to remotely miss you.  I think Mark Twain might actually have been referring to Mr. Tinkov when he wrote, “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt”

(I’m pretty certain I’m not alone in thinking Alberto Contador is a spent force in the Tour de France – even before his self-destruction through crashes on Stage 1 and 2. If our clubs fantasy TdF league serves as a quick straw poll amongst cyclists, we have 14 entrants, 9 riders per team and not one single person has bothered selecting Contador. Mind you, none of us picked Cav either and look how that’s turning out.)

I’ll give Tinkov this much respect though, he does actually seem to have made his money legitimately. I have deeply unsettling concerns about billionaire’s who screw over their country and their countrymen and then fritter away millions on vanity sports projects while poverty reigns supreme at home. It’s one of the reason’s I’m hoping such a seemingly class act as Nibali is not going to be tempted by Bahrain blood money.

Goose seems to have taken a liking to green tea which I found surprising, as I was there when he’d first tried it and declared it all “a bit peely-wally”. He deflected our scorn by stating that it had become de rigueur in his household, where his wife drinks it, his daughters drink it, his dog drinks it and even his teenage son drinks it.

We had to tell him to stop and listen to himself. A moments self-reflection and he realised where he was going wrong, both as a father and a human being in general. He vowed to go home, slap some sense into his son, make him drink a double-espresso in double-quick time and tell him to MTFU!

Sneaky Pete sneaked in just to wave goodbye, before slipping quietly away and sneaking off on his own. His departure seemingly summoned a swathe of dark pewter clouds that roiled across the sky, releasing a sudden and stinging burst of rain. As if in sympathy all the lights in the café flickered and died.

The toilets, devoid of any windows and natural light now became like the Black Hole of Calcutta and we ended up having to cart mobiles in there with us to light our way – albeit with a very strict ban on selfies.

I was just about to volunteer Goose to step up to the dynamo and give up all of his 200 watts of usable power when the lights came back to life. The rain eased for a moment and in that brief, already closing window of semi-dryness, we scrambled out and away to see how far we could get before the heavens opened again.

 


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Ride Profile


The Waffle:

Rain was to provide the bookend weather conditions for this ride, the morning version being a light, all-pervasive drizzle that seemed to sift endlessly from a grey and overcast sky. It didn’t feel particularly cold though, so shorts, jersey, arm warmers and a rain jacket looked like being everything that was required.

I had a remarkably uneventful and unmemorable ride to the meeting place, where we began to congregate, joined by 2 or 3 FNG’s but no Crazy Legs or G-Dawg and a very conspicuously absent OGL. I was frankly amazed, not simply because of OGL’s no-show, but rather by the fact he hadn’t broadcast it in advance to all and sundry (and anyone else in between).

Without or usual leaders and planners, the Prof took control and barked out the intended route. Around 30 lads and lasses then pushed off, clipped in and rode out.

The Red Max was riding without the Monkey Butler Boy who had suddenly realised his mocks were almost upon him and had stayed home to revise, although rumour has it that the start of the Tour de France may have stalled academic progress. (Allegedly).

Off the leash, Max immediately stuck his nose on the front and started pushing the pace, burning off a succession of riding partners as he battered away into a relatively strong wind. We were achieving an average speed of around 30 kph before the first whimpering gasps of dissent were heard and Max finally eased, swung out and dropped back down the line, job done.


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The group split just past the reservoir and I sat at the back over the series of sharp climbs that followed. As we approached the Quarry Climb, Mad Colin whipped the front half of us into a loose paceline and the speed began to build.

Up the Quarry Climb we went, splintering the group to pieces. The front group swung left, while a few of the back-markers took the slightly shorter route and turned right at the top of the climb.


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Our shaky, improvised paceline had fallen apart on the hill where it quickly became every man (or woman) for themselves. With no sign of being able to get it working again, Mad Colin simply rode to the front and began to slowly wind up the pace. I dived across onto his rear wheel and tried to cling on for the ride, watching, strangely mesmerised as his chain began to rise like a breaking wave and then roll down his cassette in a series of agonisingly slow gear changes, each one bringing a corresponding increase in raw power and speed. Bloody hell! Just how many gears did his bike have?

And what the hell was I thinking, anyway? This was Mad Colin, who almost set a record time in the RAAM – Race Across America, the man who pushes FNG’s up hills faster than I can climb them, who used to be a sparring partner of Russ and Dean Downing and whose idea of a good breakfast is porridge mixed with energy gels! I was only ceding something like a 20 year and 20-pound advantage to him.


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On the horribly rough surface down to the Snake Bends he had all the advantages of Roger de Vlaeminck’s prototypical Paris-Roubaix rider, being “built like a small horse” and managing to power over the uneven surface. Meanwhile, I was already at maximum revs and being jostled and bounced around like a golf ball in a tumble drier, holding the bars in a death grip and reluctant to risk moving my hands even fractionally in order to change gear.

I don’t know how long I held onto the tiger’s tail, it was probably no longer than a mile, but felt like five, as my leg bones slowly turned to heating elements that scorched into my muscles and ragged breathing gave way to agonised gasping.

One more click of the gear lever, one more clunk of a chain shifting down, one more turn of the screw and the gap between our wheels slowly and silently opened out like a flower blooming to greet the sun.

And then I was gone, jettisoned like the ballast from a balloon which saw Mad Colin soaring away.


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Rab Dee jumped around me to try and get on terms, while I simply tried to hold the speed I’d stolen and keep going. The Prof, one of our young tyro’s and an FNG were the next to pass me in a futile chase of the front-runners, but while they initially opened up a gap it soon settled at around 10 metres and then refused to go either up or down.

Ahead the side road spat out Taffy Steve and Goose from their short-cut. I swooped around the latter and gave mad chase to the former, finally getting just about on terms with him and the FNG just before we swept around the Snake Bends and hit the main drag up to the café.

We’d not left the café long when the rain returned, washing over us in a reprise of last week’s awful conditions. Riding alongside Red Max he pointed out the Prof’s backside was beginning to foam like a rabid dog, as his shorts soaked through and the wet pad squelched horribly up and down on the saddle. Hey! It’s frothy, man!


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Max complained he was getting too much, err… salty spume in his face and pulled out for a quick overtake. I hung back chuckling to myself that perhaps the Prof was the only one of us who could foam incoherently at both the mouth and posterior.

In no time at all the group split and we hit the Mad Mile, I chased down the front-runners and enjoyed a slingshot around the roundabout as I set off for home alone.

The return ride was interrupted by intermittent heavy rain showers and several stops to haul on or off my rain jacket. I also tried tracing a new route on the cycle paths along the river, but it was all a bit too Strada Bianca for my liking, so I’ll stick to the roads in future.

I returned home to once again find my socks had turned a decidedly unpleasant shade of grey and the super-sharp road grime tan-lines were once again prominent. My socks from the previous week still haven’t recovered and I’m not sure they ever will. This pair could well be going the same way.

I’m slowly beginning to understand why some cyclists wear black socks, but it’s just not an option for an old, dyed in the wool, traditionalist curmudgeon. I’ve tried and they just make me feel louche and dirty. I even tried yellow, black and red socks to match the rest of my kit a few weeks back, but even then I knew that subconsciously it was all wrong.

Perhaps I just need some of that super-foaming detergent the Prof uses so I can restore my socks to their whiter-then-white condition?


YTD Totals: 3,797 km / 2,359 miles with 37,309 metres of climbing