From Norway to Norwich

From Norway to Norwich

Club Run, Saturday 14th September 2019

Total Distance: 86 km/53 miles with 651 m of climbing
Riding Time: 2 hours 54 minutes
Average Speed: 29.4 km/h
Group Size:31 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature: 19℃
Weather in a word or two: Very pleasant.

Ride Profile

What a great week for cycling fans in the North East, as the travelling circus that makes up the Tour of Britain hit the town. As previously stated, I’m not convinced that Britain has the requisite terrain, or the Tour organisers the required nous, to make compelling stage race in Britain that doesn’t just devolve into a series of hotly contested sprints. This year though, at least they brought the Tour (quite literally) to my doorstep.

On the Monday I had casually wandered out of the office at about half past three and moseyed over to a packed Grey Street in time to catch Dylan Groenewegen zip past, both arms up in the air, as he won a brutish uphill sprint at the end of Stage 3.

I’d found a good viewing spot, against the barriers in the run-off area just past the finish line, which put me in touching distance of all the riders as they were herded into a short decompression zone following their super-fast finish. Here, I found myself literally rubbing shoulders with Mikel Landa, while, in amongst the confused mass of milling riders, I was also able to spot Matteo Trentin, Eddie Dunbar and a blue-jawed, unhappy looking Cav. There really is no other sport in the world where you can get quite so close to its superstars.

I also spotted an AG2R rider who I think was their Lithuanian, points jersey wearer, Gediminas Bagdonas, providing conclusive proof, (should there be any doubt), that brown shorts are a really, really bad sell in terms of achieving harmonious colour coordination.

Even better was to come, as the next day the “Queen Stage” left from the Gateshead Quayside, to loop around the Angel of the North, before climbing up through the Silver Hills, scene of much of my formative cycling years. It then zipped right past my front door, en route to one of my favourite climbs, up Burnmill Bank and through the delightfully-titled village of Snods Edge. [The name is supposedly derived from the term snow’s edge, with the village having sufficient elevation and proximity to the North Pennines to lie right on the snowline. ]

Too good to miss, I took the day off work and endured the hardship of camping out on my sofa, eating biscuits and drinking coffee, while I watched the live feed, and waited for the race to whoosh past.

45 minutes before the stage had even started, spectators started appearing on the streets, bolstered by groups of cheering, chatting school-children. It all seemed a bit premature to me, but I’m pretty certain the schoolkids didn’t mind.

Even Cat#2 got in on the act, finding a good perch on the roof from which to eyeball all the action.


Cat#2 Giving the Katusha team car the evil eye.

By the time the race came past, Axel Domont and Dylan Van Baarle were off the front and there was a small gap of maybe twenty or thirty seconds, before the rest of the peloton swept by.

4 or 5 minutes later, the rest of the race caravan was past and I could safely cross the road and return to the sofa for the first half of the stage, spent traversing some very familiar roads. Great stuff.



My usual Saturday started a bit different, as I found myself driving across to the meeting point in order to transport a car load of jerseys and shorts for my fellow riders try on for size. Uninspired by the current, unloved club jersey, I’m looking at an alternative and Satini had sent lots of samples to see what would best fit.

This not only lopped a good twenty or so miles off my run, but also gave me an extra hour in bed, so when I rolled up at the meeting point – actually 10 minutes later than usual, despite driving there (go figure) – I was feeling fairly sprightly.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

It was discovered that, according to the directional arrows on his tyre, Jimmy Mac had his on the wrong way. Despite possibly negligible consequences, he took this as a ready made excuse for poor cornering and a general loss of power and actually spent the time to unhitch his wheel and flip it around.

I then spent a good few minutes with Caracol and OGL trying to decipher an ad in on the bus shelter that stated Red, Red, Wine (or Red, Red, Whine, in my estimation) and You Be Forty. It wasn’t until the crowd parted slightly that we realised it was an ad for Spotify, celebrating the 40th Anniversary of UB40 turning Neil Diamond’s song into a reggae dirge.

Buster outlined the planned route for the day and with another big group topping over 30, we aimed for even split, but as I joined the front group it looked like we’d already picked up about two thirds of all the available riders as we set out.


With G-Dawg and TripleD-Bee (a.k.a.Double Dutch Dude) on the front we set a fairly sedate and relaxed pace out toward the village of Stamfordham, where we were going to briefly coalesce before splitting into different routes.

15 mile in and my right knee, still heavily strapped, started to feel hot, but it was pain free, so I assumed this was a consequence of its wrapping, more than a reaction from the injury, so on we went.

The pace was perhaps too relaxed, as we soon had the second group bearing down on us, but we picked things up enough to maintain a workable gap through to the rendezvous.

From Stamfordham, it was a tried and tested route over the Military Road, skirting Whittledene reservoir, before some extended climbing up through the plantations.

Here I found myself sitting on Zardoz’s wheel for a masterclass in how to surf through a bunch, as he slid from wheel to wheel, looking for the path of least resistance and the best way to conserve energy.

We worked our way to Matfen, took a sharp left turn up the hill and then things really started to kick off. Andeven ghosted onto the front alongside TripleD-B and the pace immediately ratcheted up. A gap opened between the front pair and Benedict and I eased into the space to fill it. Then, it seemed like full bore to the quarry, as Andeven accelerated and dragged us out into a single, long line.

It was about all I could do to cling onto TripleD-B’s rear wheel as we continued at an unrelenting pace, touching 50 kph as we swept through the lanes. Just before the turn for the Quarry, TripleD-B slipped off Andeven’s wheel and I dragged myself around him to fill the gap.

We took the sharp, right hand without pause and hammered on, steadily climbing now. I dropped back a little, once more swapping places with TripleD-B. This was really hurting now, it was head down, mouth agape and barely hanging on, and I had no opportunity or inclination to look back, so no idea if anyone was behind and following.

Hitting the final, steep ramp of the Quarry I couldn’t hold the wheel and a massive gap immediately yawned open. I clawed my way up the rest of the climb as best I could, swung left and tried to recover. A very quick glance back seemed to show no one close behind and no chance of any help as I set off in pursuit of TripleD-B, who himself now seemed to have been distanced by Andeven.

I started to pass riders who’d taken a shorter route, OGL, Goose and the Monkey Priest and suspected I’d picked up a couple of followers on my back wheel, but no one came through to take a turn as I slowly, slowly closed the gap to TripleD-B.

Finally I caught him and pushed past, as the road tipped down toward the Snake Bends, I kept the pace high, but had no answer as Goose darted off my wheel and away, followed seconds later by TripleD-B.

As always, hard work, but great fun.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

In the cafe garden, I dropped into the seat opposite TripeD-B.

“How did you find Norway?”

He looked at me blankly, “Norway?”

“Didn’t you recently get a new job, in Norway?” I was convinced that’s what TripleD-L (Double Dutch Distaff) had told me a couple of weeks ago.

“Ah, not Nor-way, she meant Nor-which,” he laughed.

“It’s the English language, the pronunciation, the place names, are just so arbitrary and inconsistent.”

I had visions of him eviscerating our mother tongue, much as he had the Imperial System of weights and measures, before declaring it as a hopelessly retarded language and kicking it, battered and bleeding into a ditch.

Some local place names an their perceived punctuation were discussed, Prudhoe (Prudah, or Prude-ho?), Ponteland (Pon-tee-land or Ponty-land?) and Houghton (Ho-ton, How-ton, or as an Irish work colleague of mine would insist, Hoofton?)

My all-time favourite though, had to be the anecdote of a cricket commentator, who’d been stopped by a tourist with a strong strine accent and asked if he knew the way to Luger-Broogah.

Caracol highlighted some other idiosyncrasies of English, with the had-had example: “James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher.” Which he insisted could be read to make perfect sense.

[If you’re wondering, trying to read it as: “James, while John had had “had“, had had “had had“; “had had” had had a better effect on the teacher.”]

After the ride, TripleD-B sent me this statement, just to highlight how absurd and inconsistent some of the rules of English could be: “A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.”

As incomprehensible as English might have been, we decided nothing was quite as illogical as Movistar team tactics that were once again proudly on display in the Vuelta.

This is, lest we forget, a team that attacks when a rival race leader crashes, earning universal condemnation, only to suddenly stop driving before achieving anything of value – all that pain, for no gain?

It’s a team that will consistently chases down breaks featuring one, or more of their own presumptive leaders, then the next day ask another rider to drop off the front, on a potential stage winning move, to “pace” said presumptive leaders for all of 200 metres up a mountain.

It’s a team that’s just been shorn of three potential GC contenders, yet has brought in no one of quality to replace them. Next year they’ll have to rely an ageing, visibly diminished, 40-year old Valverde and the improving, but still less than imposing, Marc Soler.

Now that’s incomprehensible.


Heading home and, as usual it all kicked off on Berwick Hill, with a sudden acceleration and mass splintering, that this week refused to settle. We were still jumping and chasing each other all the way down the other side, through Dinnington and out around the airport.

I knew that it had been hectic, when even Caracol declared he was done and dropped off the pace. Then I was swinging off with everyone else, just before the Mad Mile as some semblance of order was finally restored. From there we picked our way through the busy traffic to the car park where I’d abandoned the car.

To a passer-by, what followed must have looked like an impromptu drug-deal for performance enhancing substances, or perhaps a refined form of dogging, as a dozen or so cyclists clustered around the car, pulling on, taking off and swapping different jerseys. Still, it seemed to serve its purpose and gave people an idea of what to expect from the Santini kit.

All done, I loaded the bike back into the car and drove home. Checking back, despite the rather benign start, but greatly helped by the shorter distance, lack of solo riding and the removal of the Heinous Hill from my itinerary, I’d managed an astonishing (for me anyway) average speed of over 29km/h across the 85km of my ride.

I think I earned a lie down.


YTD Totals: 5,709 km / 3,547 miles with 74,983 metres of climbing

Socks and Watts

Socks and Watts

Club Run, Saturday 4th August, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 117 km / 72 miles with 1,216 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 20 minute

Average Speed:                                26.9 km/h

Group size:                                        28 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   22°C

Weather in a word or two:          Not bad.


 

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Ride Profile


It looked like being a disappointing day, with plenty of cloud cover, little wind and the temperature struggling to top out around 17°C first thing. What am I saying … at any other time I would suggest this was perfect cycling weather … if we not been utterly spoiled by weeks and weeks of clear blue skies and ever-present sun.

Nonetheless, I was feeling pretty good, so decided to thrash my way westwards, cross the river and then thrash my way east again. It probably looked really ugly, but the pace was decent and it was fun, until I had to climb out of the valley and found out just how tired my legs now were. Still, I managed to just about recover and made the meeting point in good time.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Monkey Butler Boy was joining us for the start of the run, before meeting up with his delinquent Wrecking Crew for some rough, adolescent bonding and mutually appreciative denigration. His latest wage packet had been spent on some (surely too-tall to be stylish) glaringly white and super-expensive aerosocks.

He complained they were ridiculously tight and uncomfortable and I wondered if their main benefit was in cutting off blood supply to the feet, so toes turn gangrenous and drop off – a marginal, if somewhat extreme, weight saving.

But no, apparently the socks were engineered to manage air flow and, ahem, “reduce the low pressure behind the leg that sucks you backwards.” (Manufacturers hyperbole, but my emphasis.)

“Each sock can save me up to 3 watts!” the Kool-Aid imbibing Monkey Butler Boy declared.

“I’ve tried to persuade him that if he wears 5 pairs he can save 30 watts,” the Red Max concluded dryly.

At this point, the Monkey Butler Boy discovered he’d been sitting in a freshly-laid patch of finest seagull guano, that he’d then smeared all over his hands and shorts.

“Just wipe it off on your socks,” someone suggested.

“Or your shoes,” I added. (They’re still obscenely white.)

The Monkey Butler Boy decided it was best to wipe the guano off with grass, so, as the Red Max looked on it dismay, he proceeded to pull out tiny little tufts of grass and rub them ineffectively over his fingers.

Kids today, eh? They don’t even know how to wipe off shit.

I blame the parents.

As our numbers grew, I looked up and spotted what at first I thought must be a miradjee. But no, when I rubbed my eyes and looked again, the mysterious figure was still there. It was, in all reality, the unfailingly cheerful Dabman, returned to us after an absence of at least a year. In fact, the last time I recalled seeing him, he was sat on a wet road, being unfailingly cheerful while carefully holding onto his snapped collarbone.

I could tell he hadn’t been out on the bike for a long, long time as he was wearing long bibtights and obviously hadn’t received the memo stating that, temporarily at least, global warming had become an established fact in the North East of England.

Or, maybe he needed the bibtights to hold in place all the armour he’s taken to wearing, just in case he suffers another unfortunate “chute.”

Crazy Legs put in a promotional broadcast for self-flagellating masochists to take part in the club 10-mile TT that he’s kindly arranged for us next week, then G-Dawg outlined the days route in microscopic detail. We split into two packs with a re-formation planned at Dyke Neuk to decide options and away we went.


I joined the, this time smaller, front group. It was still a bit chillier than I would have liked, but the temperature was starting to creep slowly upwards and I’d reluctantly persuaded myself to part with my arm warmers.

As we took the road toward the Cheese Farm, those at the back announced the second group was closing rapidly and was in danger of catching us. I could only surmise the Red Max was on the front of the second group, his seeker-head was pinging with active targets to chase down and he was in full-pursuit mode. I didn’t dare think about the number of complaints his pace was likely to be generating from those hanging on his wheel behind.

We decided we would be safe if we could reach the sanctuary of Bell’s Hill, reasoning we could then open up a bigger gap on the climb, and so it proved.


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A sharp left-hand turn at Dobbie’s Debacle, reminded Crazy Legs that he’s intent on naming and mapping all the places where we’ve donated skin, blood, expensive lycra and sprinklings of aluminium and carbon-fibre to enhance the road surface.

Dobbie’s Debacle is the place where I’d slid out at low speed, taking down Taffy Steve on his brand, spanking-new Titanium love-child and putting a terminal hairline fracture into the top-tube of my Focus Cayo. Well, terminal for me anyway – the Prof had taken away the frame, self-repaired it and so birthed the Frankenbike.

There’s a whole host of other landmarks that deserve commemoration too, such as Horner’s Corner, which sadly isn’t a corner (why let the facts get in the way of a good name) but the straight stretch of road where the Plank and Red Max touched wheels during a café sprint, with disastrous, but quite predictable consequences.

Crazy Legs remembered our Icecapades, beautifully choreographed, all-fall-off-in-sequence efforts to rival any Dancing on Ice number. We have both common and a posh varieties of these (based on average house prices in the locale of the accident).

Then, of course, how could we forget the time OGL inexplicably and for no apparent reason, simply fell over while riding in a straight line …

My own notable occasions might include the roundabout, where a Polish girl (who for some reason no longer rides with us) hurled herself to the ground, in what seemed to be a desperate attempt to escape from Cowin’ Bovril.

Or, perhaps the time Princess Fiona was ambushed by a sheep in a Ghillie suit (Righty-Tighty-Lefty-Loosey and the Ovine Menace).

Or, maybe the numerous places where the Dabman has perfected the fine art of, in his own words, “hitting the ground like a sack of spuds”.

But, without doubt the most memorable was on one freezing, poorly attended winter ride, when half a dozen of us turned down a lane we didn’t know was a single, smooth sheet of ice … or, at least we didn’t know until G-Dawg went sailing past everyone … on his arse … followed two seconds later by his supine bike. Somehow, Aether managed to stay upright, steer into the grass verge and stop, while the rest of us all came clattering down, one by one, like dominoes in a row. Good times!

As planned, we reached Dyke Neuk and paused there to allow the second group to join us. I then followed a smaller, break-away section for a route that would see us descending down the Trench and then dragging our way out again via, Ritton Bank, the Rothley Lakes climb and Middleton Bank.

As we worked our way along the valley floor as prelude to this series of climbs, Crazy Legs and Biden Fecht started dancing with much exaggerated, synchronised finger waggling and then Biden Fecht took to bobbing up and down in the saddle.

“Is that your Dan Martin, on the attack, or a pecking chicken impersonation?” I asked, before realising I’d just described two almost identical things. My ignorance was met with great disdain from Biden Fecht, as apparently I’d witnessed, but failed to recognize his sexy, Beyonce-style dance routine.

Rrriiiiiggghhht …

We stayed in compact group until the top of Ritton Bank, when everyone swung left before the summit, apart from Crazy Legs who pushed on for some added miles. At the next junction, we swept downhill, before starting the long slog up to Rothley Crossroads. Caracol, Andeven and Rab Dee had pinged off the front and we became split-up and strung out as we started about 4 kilometres of climbing, with one or two spicy sections of over 16%.

Ahead of me, Caracaol and Andeven pressed on at pace, while Rab Dee dropped back to check on the backmarkers. A creaking Rainman (he claimed it was his cleats, but I suspect it was his protesting knees) caught and passed me on the drag up and we started a strange little ritual, where I would claw my way slowly up to him and then he’d dig a little deeper and pull away again. Nonetheless, I was able to keep him just about within striking distance, until the road finally relented and started to tip down again.

Rainman pulled over just past the Rothley Crossroads, seemingly intent on regrouping with the rest, but I was on a charge and swept straight by. He finally abandoned all pretence of gallantry and gave chase, latching on to my wheel and recovering from his efforts, before we started to work together.

I say work together, but this was implicit, rather than a well-formulated and agreed plan. I think we were both simply going as hard as we could, for as long as we could, just to see where we would end up, or if we could actually kill each other.

I thought we were all alone on the road, well apart from the vole that darted under our wheels at one point. Just behind though, Biden Fecht was chasing furiously and behind him, Rab Dee was also trying to close us down, having first checked the backmarkers were being shepherded safely home by G-Dawg and the Colossus.

A leg-burning ascent of Middleton Bank put us on the path for the café and we started to share turns a bit more fluently, even if my stints on the front were necessarily shorter. They were enough anyway to keep the pursuers at bay. I buried myself over the rollers and took us down to the final, cruel drag up to the café, rounded the corner and I was done, cooked and flailing as Rainman pulled away at the last.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We learned Princess Fiona had booked the wrong return flight for an upcoming trip to Geneva. Apparently, the return was booked for not just the wrong time, the wrong day and the wrong date, but the wrong month.

We tried to rationalise how easy the mistake could be. Was it the right day, but the wrong month and she’d just clicked too far on the calendar?

No.

Was it one of those scrolling menus, where you might inadvertently cause the date to roll over if you accidentally brushed the screen in the wrong way?

No.

Had the flights been changed at short notice by the operator, causing confusion and a bit of last-minute panic?

No.

“Well,” I had to conclude, “Looks like you just fucked up.”

Others confessed to their own flight fuck-ups, probably just to make her feel better. Biden Fecht won this particular contest by bizarrely suggesting he turned up at Heathrow Airport, very, very early one morning, to catch a flight from Aberdeen to London.

Post-Toady France, pre-Premiership, Richard of Flanders bemoaned the lack of sporting distraction available once he got home this afternoon. I tried to sell everyone on the Clásica San Sebastián, which looked to have a strong field, including some potential winners I highlighted, such as Egan Bernal, Mikel Landa and Pierre Latour.

I don’t know what sort of strange-voodoo hex I put on these unfortunates with my casual name-dropping, but all three of them crashed out the race with serious injuries that’ll keep them off the bike for weeks.

I’m just pleased I didn’t mention deserved winner, Julian Alaphillipe, who took the honours with a searing uphill acceleration to bridge across to Bauke Mollema, who was then easily dispatched in a final sprint. I’m struggling to understand how the classy Alaphillipe can climb with such grace, power and speed, but never seems to trouble the GC, even in week long stage races (with the exception of his 2016 Tour of California win).

The sun began to break through the cloud cover as we gathered to head home, leaving one table including G-Dawg, the Colossus and the late arriving Crazy Legs, behind to enjoy some extended blathering.  


As we started up Berwick Hill, the Red Max surged to the front, blinked in surprise and looked around somewhat bewildered.

“Agh! What am I doing up here?” he plaintively asked.

“You’ll get a nose-bleed, if you’re not careful,” I advised.

“I’ll just get me coat,” he replied and slipped back again.

According to Princess Fiona, Caracol then called out an admonition of “Steady!” before he surged away off the front while everyone else hesitated. I worked to slowly close the gap, pulling the rest along behind me, although not without causing a few fissures in the group.

We pushed over the top and regrouped as we sped down the other side and up through Dinnington. Caracol then threw me another curveball, swinging left with the rest of the group, leaving me on the front as we entered the Mad Mile, although at a more sedate pace than usual in the absence of G-Dawg and the Colossus.

I split away from the rest and made my way steadily upwards and then down again to the river. Crossing the bridge and climbing up to the traffic lights, a group of riders flashed through the junction ahead, so naturally I felt compelled to give chase.

The group split at the next roundabout, but I tracked a couple through Blaydon and caught and passed them just before Shibdon pond, only to be stopped short by some temporary traffic lights. As we waited, another, larger group of cyclists joined us and I found myself uncomfortably at the head of a large peloton. No pressure then.

The light changed and I led everyone off, through the roadworks, across the last roundabout and up to the traffic lights at the bottom of the Heinous Hill. I waited for a break in the traffic and then started the climb.

One of the riders surged past, but I didn’t respond, which was just as well as he turned off for the Pedalling Squares café, while I still had the rest of the hill to scale. I assumed the rest also followed him, drawn away by the promise of good cake and coffee, so once again I found myself alone, tacking steadily upwards and home.


YTD Totals: 4,665 km / 2,899 miles with 57,923 metres of climbing