Club Run, Saturday 22nd April, 2017
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 107 km / 67 miles with 1,024 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 03 minutes
Average Speed: 26.5 km/h
Group size: 34 riders, 4 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Moderate
Saturday looked like being a reasonable enough day as I carried the bike down the front steps, out onto the road, clipped in and pushed off.
Ahead of me, the traffic lights turned red and a car pulled up before them. I wasn’t really concentrating, sort of pootling along, aiming to glide to a halt behind the stopped car and I was within maybe twenty yards from its bumper when I sensed, more than saw another car overtaking.
I instinctively recognised there wasn’t enough space for both of us on the same stretch of road, flinched and bailed, diving for the inside and reaching for the brakes. The driver of the overtaking car, a pale blue Renault Scenic seemed to suddenly realise they were in the wrong lane and approaching a set of red lights too fast, so simply braked and swerved sharply into the space I’d just vacated. That was too close.
I banged on the passenger side window to ask what the hell the driver thought she was doing, only to learn it had all been entirely my own fault as I’d been “all over the road” so the driver had a right, if not in fact a moral obligation to punish me and put my life in danger. I’m pleased we got that sorted.
I assume by “all over the road” she mean’t I wasn’t hugging the gutter and doffing my cap to all the righteous car-drivers as they sped past. There was no mention of the fact she was obviously speeding (it’s only a 20mph zone) overtaking while approaching a traffic junction and stopped cars, had dangerously cut me up and seemed to be driving with undue care and attention.
Even if I was “all over the road” as she claimed I would have thought that would have been a good reason to hang back, rather than attempt a stupid and reckless overtaking manoeuvre. But then again, it’s hard to fathom the way some people think and refuse to own up to the consequences of their own actions.
I told her she was going to kill someone driving like that, but doubt it had any effect, although she did drop down the hill keeping scrupulously within the speed limit, so just maybe she sensed her actions weren’t quite as 100% justified as she claimed and had been shamed into more careful driving.
No, you’re right of course. Probably not.
I pressed on, glad to get to the bottom of the hill and see the Renault drive off into the distance, while I began to stalk, catch and pass another pair of cyclists as I wound my way down to the bridge.
Crossing the river, I back-tracked down the valley before beginning to climb out the other side. Before this I found that all the road works that had been holding me up for the past few weeks had cleared, and the road now bore a new scar, a long stripe where they’d buried pipes, or cables or some such. This strip of new road look glossily black and sleek, smooth and inviting compared with the original surface.
I naturally assumed this would be a much better to ride on and switched onto it. Whoah! It looked smooth, it looked shiny, it looked rideable and I’ve no idea how they’ve achieved this, but if felt as though I was riding over an invisible rumble-strip. The bike shook and vibrated with a weird resonance that almost made me nauseous and I had to hang on grimly as everything seemed to bump and rattle and buzz.
I switched back and checked the bike over, looking for a puncture or something to explain the horrible ride. Nothing. I tried the new surface again. Same result. It looks like I’ve found my own cobblestone runway, but at least I know to avoid it now. Let’s hope that’s not the new standard for all new roads and repairs around here now.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
I found an old acquaintance at the meeting point, finally deciding today was the day he’d join the ranks of the FNG’s and ride out with the club, only after a mere 4 years of promising and procrastinating. Apparently he’d been texting me all week to let me know he’d be out, but we concluded he must have the wrong number, so some random person would have received a slew of odd queries about chamois cream, clippety-clop shoes, leg shaving and tight fitting spandex clothing.
We spent the next 15 minutes or catching up with news on daughters, bikes and bike fits, man-made fibre allergies, tri-athlon training and retirement plans, until it was suddenly time to go.
There was still however an opportunity for the Garrulous Kid to show off his new socks. “They’re Pringle’s” he proudly told me, although that bit was quite evident from the way Pringle was emblazoned down either side.
At least they weren’t as long, hairy, flappy and floppy as last week’s efforts. They were neither too long, nor too short and were reasonably straight and inoffensive. They were passable. They still weren’t white though.
The Garrulous Kid then worriedly exclaimed, “It’s getting dark!” and I had to reassure him it was just a cloud passing over the sun. Goodness knows how he’d react if we had an actual eclipse.
With around 34 lads and lasses crowded onto the pavement, it was probably just as well that we split the group. The Hammer outlined the options and his plan for leading out the first bunch, aiming for a ride with an average speed of 17-19 mph. OGL and G-Dawg were set to lead off the second group, who would trace the route of tomorrows Sloan Trophy as a pre-race course safety-inspection.
I found myself in the front group along with some seriously strong and much younger riders, such as Mad Colin, Eon, Jimmy Mac and Biden Fecht. With a target of 17-19mph average speed, I thought this could get embarrassing quickly, although I was somewhat reassured by the presence of some more regular and “equally-abled” riders.
After last week’s ride behind Pierre Rolland look-alike Spry, this week I had the chance to follow Eon, who could pass as Steven Kruijswijk’s body double, his shoulders so wide it looked like he’d forgotten to remove the hanger from his jersey before pulling it on.
It took a while to find the rhythm, but pretty soon everything had warmed up enough, we were clipping along at the requisite speed and any fears of blowing up, grinding to a halt, or simply fading off the back began to diminish.
Eon set the pace on the front, first alongside Aether and then, when he’d worn him out, with Jimmy Mac, until he decided he’d best relinquish the lead before he got complaints he was going too fast. Eon pulled across and I then took over with Jimmy Mac for the next section of the ride.
Slipping across the Military Road, we skirted the Reservoirs and at the request of Zardoz I called a pee stop, laughing when he disclosed he didn’t need to pee, he was just worried he was getting too close to the front of the group and wanted to take the opportunity to slip back and find more shelter amongst the wheels.
We then realised the ride had been so fast and smooth that we were well ahead of schedule and in danger of reaching the café too early. We agreed to tack on a slightly longer, hillier loop and set off again.
As we freewheeled downhill as a prelude to a series of short, sharp climbs, I caught up with the Hammer and we had a quick chat about how well things seemed to be going. Despite living most of the time in exile away from the North East and rarely being able to ride with us, he’d even paid up his club subs to avoid any flak about leading a ride when he wasn’t a club member.
If that hadn’t been penance enough, he’d even found a club jersey mouldering away at the back of his wardrobe and, against his better judgement and all good aesthetic taste, had decided to wear it to look as official as possible. I agreed it was a nice touch.
He slipped back to count numbers and make sure we hadn’t lost anyone and I found myself on the front again, this time joined by the Garrulous Kid as the route became decidedly lumpy. We pushed on and no one moaned about the pace, so I guess we did ok.
As we rode along the Garrulous Kid complained that he thought he’d been unfairly treated in my blog witterings last week and explained his comment about never having met Captain Scott had simply been because he thought we were referring to a pseudonym I’d assigned a club member.
“Everyone knows Captain Scott was the first man to conquer Mount Everest.” he concluded. I am, of course more than happy to set the record straight and apologise for doubting his savvy, acumen and unerring knowledge of key historical figures.
As the climbing evened-out and we set course for Matfen, Mad Colin whipped us into an impromptu, pace-line, riding through-and-off. It was all a bit ragged at first, but it did get me off the front. We stuck with it though and had just about managed to iron out the kinks and start to cruise when – amidst much cheering and jeering from both sides – we passed our second group, heading in the opposite direction toward Stamfordham.
The pace-line drove us at a rapid rate of knots to the bottom of the Quarry climb and we scrambled up to the crest, taking the slightly shorter, but lumpier right hand turn. A few jumped away in a long-range strike on the café, but I hung back, knowing the road would soon start to drag up approaching the crossroads, they’d slow and I could probably bridge across at this point.
For once things actually worked out as planned, and as we dropped down the hill on the other side I caught up and then kept going, darting inside Caracol and onto the front around a tight corner. A long descent led to a sharp left and I braked late before sweeping round, kicking hard and dragging everyone over more lumps and up to the junction with the road leading down to the Snake Bends.
A few nudged in front at this point and I settled comfortably in amongst the wheels as the speed built some more. I eased up alongside Caracol and began singing him the chorus to Matt Keating’s “Boxed-In” – which I’m not sure he fully appreciated.
Now in a compact, buzzing group, Zardoz slid up on my right, I gave him a big, cheesy grin and he winked back before briefly inching his front wheel ahead of everyone else’s.
With the Bends fast approaching, I wound in the speed and sat up and the group elongated and spread out as we swept through the corners. That was good and fast and fun and I still didn’t feel like I’d been on the limit. Maybe my series of rides over the Easter weekend has had a positive effect.
We cut across the main road and ducked down the side lane, well, all except the Garrulous Kid, who took the direct route, belting straight down the main road to later claim he had won the race to the café.
I tried to explain to him that the official-unofficial finish is before the Snake Bends, so you don’t go racing through those and find yourself sweeping wide on a corner and into the path of a car – something I felt he should have realised when he’d done just that last week.
I declared instead that Zardoz had won the sprint, suggesting that brief nano-second when he inched in front of everyone else was right on the imaginary finish line. Zardoz agreed wholeheartedly with me, so that was that decided.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I found Princess Fiona, trying to arrange an alternative club activity for Sunday – a hike through the Cheviot Hills as a welcome variation on just another bike ride. Caracol and Goose seemed interested, although the former would wonder at her insistence that he must see a particular refuge hut.
Caracol felt the attractions of the refuge hut were being over-played slightly and the plan had gone from “you should see” to a mandatory – “you will visit” this place.
I couldn’t help thinking about the Great Escape and suspected Caracol was being sentenced to the punishment block: “For you, Tommy, zis var is over. You vill go to… ze cooler!” – or something else racially stereotypical and probably offensive to all Germanic people the world over. I hope he took his baseball.
Talk turned to how Princess Fiona felt the sporting prowess of her family – father still actively cycling at 85, brothers who are all triathlon champions – suggested she was genetically predisposed to being a better athlete than she felt she actually was.
In her shoes, I suggested my contrary take would be: look I obviously have the base genetic material to be good, so I feel I have nothing to prove and, you know what, I just can’t be arsed. Get over it. This attitude could of course go a long way to explaining my rather startling mediocrity.
We discussed my fear of not at being able to keep up with everyone in the first group that morning and how choosing a group to ride with is fraught with all the pressures, issues and uncertainties of picking a team for school games, only in reverse. For a ride, instead of choosing the best players to make your team as good as possible, you actually start looking for people of roughly the same ability or even slower, so you know you aren’t going to be the first one blown out the back at the drop of a hat.
Usually, if you ride together regularly, you’ll have a fair idea where you sit in the pecking order of abilities and any changes to the hierarchy are likely to be gradual and noteworthy. (None of my clubmates have ever shown the sort of overnight improvement that would lead me to suspect widespread abuse of EPO within our ranks. If they are using it, they should probably ask for a refund.)
The big problem comes when you’re with an unfamiliar group and trying to assess abilities – then you become particularly judgemental based on some very unscientific and totally unreliable barometers, which are all coloured by your own prejudices.
This is likely to involve such things as age, body shape, demeanour, tan lines, bike spec and cost, the tightness, brand and style of clothing, whether a helmet has a peak or not, or (in my case) even sock colour and length. Unfortunately, experience has taught me that none of these are any indication of how well, or poorly, someone can propel a bike up and down the road.
On the way out I caught up with Taffy Steve, who complained at his unjust punishment for missing last week’s ride, not only having to sit all day on the front of the second group, but also being forced to share a table with the Garrulous Kid at the café. I concluded it was karmic justice and that he was obviously being punished for some truly venal and unspeakably evil act he must have committed in a former life.
The Garrulous Kid himself then approached to claim he now, definitely knew how to fix a puncture and launched into a confusing and convoluted tale of a puncture simulation involving a needle to let the air escape and the complete removal of the tyre in order to fit a new inner tube.
We then questioned him about why he didn’t take the much simpler and sensible expedient of letting the air out through the valve. After some lame argument about how that wouldn’t be a real puncture simulation, the tale then morphed to where the needle was something or other attached to his track pump and of course he didn’t poke a hole in the tube, or take the tyre off completely.
Nope, I’ve no idea either.
He then nodded his head and exclaimed, “Look at that funny little bloke” I was left momentarily speechless, but luckily several others pointed out he was looking at Ray Wetherell, one of the greatest cyclist the North East has ever produced, a local legend, who’d achieved more in cycling terms than the Garrulous Kid could even dream of and deserved nothing but respect.
Trying to explain this unforgivable faux pas in a way the Garrulous Kid might actually understand, Taffy Steve suggested what he’d just said was akin to dissing Yoda. Maybe the message got through.
I set off for home alongside Taffy Steve, discussing truly crap British cars of the past, which to my mind were epitomised by the Talbot Samba. I then learned that Son of G-Dawg wasn’t out today as he was at some work away-day, conference and team-bonding session. This allowed me to regale Taffy Steve with my favourite Alexi Sayle quote, or to be more accurate truism: “Anyone who refers to a workshop outside the context of light engineering is a right twat.”
Dropping down Berwick Hill I had a chat with Grover, who seems to be finding his riding groove again following a winter of hibernation. I swapped places so I could latch onto G-Dawg’s wheel for the Mad Mile only to find I wasn’t alone and all the young racing snakes were jumping over the top and snapping at G-Dawgs heels like young pups trying to bring down the Alpha-male.
By the time I swung off and away at the roundabout G-Dawg was sitting watchfully encamped on their back wheels, just daring them to attack again so he could swat them down once more.
My solo ride back was without incident and I got back to hear about the tragic loss of Michele Scarponi, killed in a collision with a motor vehicle near his home. I can’t say I was ever a Scarponi fan, but this seemed a cruel and senseless death and for it to happen on familiar, local roads just seemed to underscore the poignancy of the loss for his young family.
Having had my own travails with arse hat drivers just outside my front door this morning, also reinforced how lucky I’d been and the ever present risk you take every time you swing a leg over your bike. Still, I guess the rewards must outweigh the risks.
Love him, or loathe him, I think perhaps Chris Froome’s comments on Scarponi summed things up best for me: “The whole cycling world has been shocked by his passing and it’s something that rings very close to home for a lot of people. Not just us as professional bike riders, but people who go and ride their bikes every day. He wasn’t breaking any traffic rules, he was just riding as he probably does every day, 2-3km from his home.”
A rather sad and sombre end to a great ride.
YTD Totals: 2,323 km / 1,443 miles with 24,825 metres of climbing