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

Ozzie Rules

Ozzie Rules

Club Run, Saturday 2nd September, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   108 km/67 miles with 1,105 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 30 minutes

Average Speed:                                   24.0 km/h

Group size:                                           31 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                      19°C

Weather in a word or two:              Pleasant


 

2 sep
Ride Profile


The Ride:

You can’t say I hadn’t been warned and I should have known what to expect, after all I’d already managed two bike commutes into work during the week. On both occasions the cold had made me grateful for the light, long fingered gloves (my favourite and highly recommended, Galibier Roubaix Vision 4’s) that I’d used both mornings, before switching to mitts for the considerably warmer return journey.

But, Saturday morning looked bright and breezy and I was setting off an hour later than I do when travelling into work – surely it wouldn’t be so cold that I’d need to supplement arm-warmers with gloves? It was though, and dropping down the Hill at high speed didn’t help. The cold attacked my hands, especially through the chilled metal of the brake levers I had covered throughout the descent.

Along the valley floor I tried to find some relief and to break the wind chill – hands positioned on the very tops of the bars, just before the warm tape gave way to icy metal, fingers curled up tight and bundled together like cold kittens, with only the runts of the litter, my two thumbs, still exposed to the air flow and slowly turning numb.

Despite the frigid, early morning conditions, it looked like being a great day once the air warmed up a little, the pale blue above only lightly smudged with milky ripples and whorls of cloud, like a giant had left his fingerprints across the sky. It was simply a case of surviving until the suns warming influence could be felt, perhaps one of the last, fine days before the dark, cold, winds and rain of late autumn descend and so, not to be missed.

The promise of decent weather was a real incentive to get out for the Saturday Club Run, overcoming the twin challenges of illness and a sore knee. I’d missed time at work on the Tuesday, feeling sick – high temperature, nausea, stomach cramps and a headache. I still wasn’t fully 100% but had determined to try and ride through it.

Then on Thursday I’d noticed my right knee was sore, especially when climbing. I’d shared the first half of my evening commute with Mr. T (aka The Man with the Van and the Plan) on Friday. He’s trying to reach his annual mileage target, so wanted a longer route home. During the ride he wondered if I’d done anything to actually injure the knee, but nothing came to mind.

It wasn’t until later, when climbing the Heinous Hill with little stabs of pain sparking in the offending joint, that I remembered slipping on the office stairs on Wednesday morning. Perhaps that was the source of the injury? I hope so, as it beats the alternative, that my aged and decrepit knee joints are just worn out, crumbling and terminally failing.

Still, as I crossed the river, admiring a small flotilla of single-sculls arrowing downstream, I felt fine, any knee pain was at least temporarily quiescent and the bike was whirring along smoothly and quietly. All seemed well with the world.

I reached the meeting point in good time and in good order and drew up to wait for everyone else alongside the early arrivals, Crazy Legs and the Garrulous Kid.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Garrulous Kid reported great success with his GCSE exams, especially Chemistry, Physics and Maffs. Apparently he’d passed his English too and with flying colours, causing me to enquire if there was an oral element to his testing and how well he’d fared at that part. (There wasn’t).

Crazy Legs thanked Zardoz for his moral and very vocal support during last week’s 4-Up Team Time Trial. Apparently Zardoz’s bellowing of, “you’ve almost caught your minute-men!” halfway around the course had been invigorating and motivating, even as Crazy Legs immediately realised it was a complete and utter lie.

Aether rolled up and we awarded him a full ceremonial fanfare as this week ride leader. We all genuflected in his august presence and I’m sure, out of the corner of my eye I even saw the Garrulous Kid attempt an awkward curtsy.

With another good turnout spilling across the pavement, Aether recognised the need to split us into two, but we still haven’t quite got the hang of this and we ended up with a pair of very lopsided groups, one of about twenty-strong, the other of no more than a dozen. Sadly this was just an excuse for those who don’t agree with splitting into groups to complain that it doesn’t work. And they did. A lot.

A small few of us hung back to form the core of the second group, even rolling up to the lights on green and refusing to go through them in order to allow the bunch out front plenty of time to get clear.

The lights finally cycled round to green again and we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve took to the front for the first part, while I slotted in behind them, alongside the Garrulous Kid, with Big Dunc and Zardoz following in turn and in our wheels. On past Dinnington, the front two peeled off, I pushed through with the Garrulous Kid and Zardoz, realising he was getting perilously close to the front immediately called for a pee stop, so he could slip quietly back down the order. We naturally ignored him and pressed on.

We drove the pace on, up past the Cheese Farm, trying to see how many “ease up!” cries we could generate on the climb, but they were disappointingly scarce. Passing under the A1 just outside of Morpeth, we ceded the front to Zardoz and Big Dunc. A large contingent of Grogs slipped away off the back to head straight to the café and when Moscas turned early for home shortly afterwards, there was just the front group and OGL left – a Malignant Seven – average age about 50, or if you exclude the Garrulous Kid, about 56.

We swung round a sharp corner onto the bottom of the Mur de Mitford, I changed down and attacked the slope. Ouch, big mistake, as someone introduced my knee to a little needle of niggling, sharp pain. Ah! So that injuries still there, then …

I tried to spin up, putting as little force as possible through my right leg, which felt a bit odd. It wasn’t hugely painful, but uncomfortable and the joint felt weak and somewhat femmer – definitely not something I wanted to put too much strain through.

We regrouped and pressed on. The weather had started to warm up, the sun was high and bright and I was able to abandon the arm warmers. It was, finally, a glorious day. All around us the countryside was blooming richly and riotously. Glossy blackberries dotted all the hedgerows and while a few fields had already been shaved back to a dry stubble, in the Font valley the maize was already reaching over head-height.

We swung left, onto the Coldlaw Wood Climb running parallel to the Trench and took the opportunity for a pee stop, while OGL shipped and stowed his gilet. The Garrulous Kid complained there was nowhere to pee. Crazy Legs raised a quizzical eyebrow and looked around the shady, secluded country lane, lined with a wall and hedge to one side and tall trees to the other?

“What more do you want,” he asked, somewhat exasperated, “A Dyson air-blower to dry your hands?”

“We’ve got one of them.” I added nodding back down the lane, where OGL was shoving a gilet into his back pocket.

“Nah,” Crazy Legs concluded, “Dyson’s need to be able to produce at least 100 watts.” Oh, dear … average age of 50 and we’re still such shockingly childish, immature and caustic bitches.

As the climb levelled off we swung left, while OGL, looking for a shorter, easier route went right. Rolling round a bend we passed our first group, all clustered at the side of the road while the Red Max worked feverishly to fix a rear wheel puncture.

We had no intention of stopping and rolled past, now forming the clubs advance party, or tête de la course, if you prefer, travelling down toward Dyke Neuk on a road we more typically travel up. Slow-witted as usual, it took me an absolute age to realise I actually knew where we were!

Just before dropping down the dip toward Hartburn, OGL was spat out of a side road ahead of us – now our virtual leader on the road. Once again though he didn’t press his advantage, taking a different, shorter route at the top of the climb, while we followed the less well-travelled ride plan, up to Scots Gap, before starting to close on Middleton Bank.

I drifted off the back of the group as we rolled toward the climb, happy to ride  at my own pace and nurse my sore knee along, only to find I’d acquired a pilot fish, as Crazy Legs dropped back to check on me.


NOVATEK CAMERA


The group splintered apart, Zardoz and Big Dunc riding off the front, with the Garrulous Kid in hot pursuit, while I spun up the climb alongside Crazy Legs, slowly closing the gap to Taffy Steve.

Over the top, Zardoz and Big Dunc were pressing on for home without regrouping. Crazy Legs took over on the front, checked I was happy with the pace and set off for home. “All aboard the gimp express!”

We caught Taffy Steve in short order. “All aboard!” I called, easing back to open a space behind Crazy Legs’ back wheel. Taffy Steve slotted in, Crazy Legs blew an imaginary train whistle … and then we started to eat into the gap up to the Garrulous Kid.

The Garrulous Kid appeared to be lost in a daydream and seemed a bit startled as we thundered past, but managed to respond to the call, “All aboard!” tagging onto the back of our line.

We never did catch the rampaging Zardoz, or the only slightly-less rampaging Big Dunc, but then again, despite all expectation, our erstwhile front group of runners and chasers never caught us either.

We managed to keep our small group all together until the rollers just after the Milestone Woods, when Taffy Steve drifted off the back. I hung on down the descent and around the corner to the final climb, before Crazy Legs and the Garrulous Kid romped away to contest the minor placings in the sprint.

Ahead of me, OGL emerged yet again from another side road and I swooped around him and then eased to roll up to the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The café has new coffee mugs, which are, apparently easier to carry, so I think the staff quite like them.  Or at least they did –  until they had to contend with a bunch of awkward, obstreperous cyclists insisting – beyond all reason and even after practical demonstration – that they were smaller than the previous version and we were all being short-changed.

We took advantage of the good weather to sit outside in the garden, reasoning there can’t be many more opportunities to do that this year.

Perhaps though, we should be more thankful we live in such a temperate climate, it is after all just a matter of perspective. OGL related how one of our club members was currently living in Las Vegas and didn’t seem too happy about it – perhaps because he can’t walk the dogs in the afternoon as the pavement (sorry, sidewalk) is so hot their paws blister.

Not that he can even get out himself either, as his steel gates expand so much in the heat they jam closed. Apparently the strict grid-like layout of American urban areas and the surrounding blank, flatness of Nevada ensure that all his Strava routes could be easily replicated by a child on an Etch-A-Sketch.

Crazy Legs recalled riding with the guy on one club run, in mid-autumn when it was typically wet, blustery and cold and everyone was complaining about the weather, apart from our ex-pat, who positively revelled in it and couldn’t have been happier. You see, perspectives.

Gazing into a nearby field, the Garrulous Kid seemed excited to see a black lamb amongst all its snow-white brothers. (He doesn’t get out much.) OGL revealed this was the field he was planning to use if he’d won the charity auction for Sean Kelly’s donkey at one of the Braveheart dinners. Luckily he was outbid at the last.

(I’ve yet to discover what possessed him to even think about bidding to win Sean Kelly’s donkey, or perhaps more accurately how much alcohol you have to consume before bidding for Sean Kelly’s donkey seems (even remotely) like a good idea.)

I felt duty bound to ask if OGL hadn’t felt a bit of an ass, while Crazy Legs wanted to know if the donkey had later wandered up to his room and “brayed on the door.” Well, it kept us vaguely amused anyway.


Coming out of the café and setting off home, the Garrulous Kid and Monkey Butler Boy got into a bitch-boy slap-fight, which the Monkey Butler Boy seemed to win, simply by virtue of his well-honed, rapier-sharp wit, as evidenced by his final retort – “Blah-blah, bler-bler-bler.”

“Blah-blah, bler-bler-bler?” I enquired.

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Your scintillating wit, bon-mots and clever word-play really would put Oscar Wilde to shame.”

“Who?”

“Oscar Wilde?”

“Never heard of the feller.”

I cocked an imaginary pistol, Contador-style, pointed it at the Monkey Butler Boy’s head and (figuratively) shot him dead.

“You’ve never even heard of Oscar Wilde?”

“Well, you’ve got to remember, I’m only young … I wasn’t around in the ‘80’s.”

Sigh.

The Monkey Butler Boy rode away to continue his fractious discussions with the Garrulous Kid, leaving me in splendid isolation, where I found I was continuously yawning. I mention this because it seemed so utterly incongruous – I can’t remember ever needing to yawn while cycling before – and now I couldn’t seem to stop.

I also began to feel nauseous and strangely displaced. This wasn’t good. At the next junction, I baled, swinging right to track through Ponteland for a shorter route home, while the bunch sped left. I started to feel chilled, even though I was sweating, but it was the clammy cold sweat of not being well, rather than the good, honest sweat of a hard workout and my speed began to drop away.

I stopped to throw up and pull on my arm-warmers – completely separate actions I’m afraid, I’m not that good at multi-tasking – before pushing grimly on.

At one point I suffered a too-close pass by a learner driver and started to wonder what exactly they were teaching them these days – but more or less forgave the driving-instructor when the car then bounced off the verge in a puff of dust and I saw him wrestling with both the wheel and the driver, trying to centre the car back into the middle of the road.

I finally made it to that Hill and crawled up it using gears I haven’t troubled since L’Alpe d’Huez, managing to make it home before an unfortunate attack of the Dumoulin’s. Well, that scuppered any chance of riding out Monday to catch the Tour of Britain – not that it was heading anywhere particularly scenic mind …


 

SWP_OVO_ENERGY_TOUR_OF_BRITAIN_0017x-1024x681
In a picture stolen from the OVO Tour of Britain website, the peloton rides past Bamburgh Castle, en route through one of my favourite places, the remarkably beautiful, Northumberland coast.


Actually, now that I think about it, the familiar scenery is about the only thing the OVO Tour of Britain has going for it – what an incredibly dull … I was going to say race, but “series of  unconnected sprints” would be a better description – they’ve managed to make it almost as uninspiring as the women’s version.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for both races as an opportunity to see professional cycling on British roads. I want them to succeed and spread the appeal of the sport and I’d rather watch even this level of racing ahead of just about any other sport you care to mention … but … what remarkable lack of ingenuity was employed in designing this race and does anyone want to see a GC largely decided among sprinters on bonus seconds?

How come the Tour de of Yorkshire (despite its sad, naming pretensions) can come up with an interesting parcours and compelling competition based on a couple of days of racing in just a single county, yet our National Tour, which should be the showcase event for cycling, has the whole, infinitely variable landscape of the British Isles to choose from (and a super-strong start-list), yet is so completely lifeless? Got to hope for better next year.

Right, time to rest up the knee and hopefully get better before next weekend.


YTD Totals: 5,253 km / 3,264 miles with 60,111 metres of climbing