R.T.F.M.

R.T.F.M.

Club Run, Saturday 10th March, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:87 km/54 miles with 446 m of climbing
Riding Time:3 hours 49 minutes
Average Speed:22.5km/h
Group Size:7 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature: 8℃
Weather in a word or two:Hmm, wintry?

Ride Profile

It lashed down on Friday night and I awoke to find the rain still drumming impatient fingers on the roof and windows. It was going to be one of those days, but, at least it had one positive – it made the consternation of prevarication much less of an issue. Today, as soon as I peered blearily out of the rain streaked window, I knew exactly which bike I’d be riding.

I had a completely unmemorable, uneventful ride across to the meeting point. Later, when our group suddenly found itself battering into a ferocious headwind, G-Dawg was prompted to ask what the ride across had been like and I couldn’t even recall the weather being memorably good or bad. It just was.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Jimmy Mac ‘fessed up to unfairly denigrating his Garmin, after switching it to “Super Power Saver” mode last week and then complaining that, rather than doing anything fancy, it had simply shut itself down. Hours after our ride it started beeping indignantly at him and he discovered it hadn’t actually turned itself off, had recorded his entire ride, was still working tirelessly away, only now was finally running out of power.

“Everyone knows Super Power Saver mode just turns off the user display,” Taffy Steve interjected, “Or, at least they would if they ever bothered to read the fucken’ manual.”

“Typical bloody surgeon, it’s just as well you’ve got nurses to keep you on the straight and narrow,” he continued.

“To be fair,” your average human-heart doesn’t usually come with an instruction manual,” I argued, leaping to the defence of our poor, beleaguered clean-cut, super-smart, highly practical, ultra-dexterous, unflappably cool, always in control, Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon …

Then I remembered this was the same clean-cut, super-smart, highly practical, ultra-dexterous, unflappably cool, always in control, Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon who didn’t realise you had to actually screw the end of a pump hose onto the valve before attempting to inflate your tyre (Radiation Vibe) …

Maybe Taffy Steve had a point.

G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid seemed quite pleased with their OGL-baiting on Berwick Hill last week, with G-Dawg earning Nostradamus-for-the-day honours for not only predicting the ensuing explosion on Facebook, but getting the timing spot-on.

“It was that last drop of red wine that was the trigger, it made him do it,” the Red Max suggested, “He was managing to hold it together, until the wine ran out.”

At that point OGL appeared, immediately and somewhat predictably, but this time entirely justifiably proclaiming, “Shorts! Madness!” as he spotted the Garrulous Kid’s bare legs. Trust me, this really, really wasn’t a day for shorts and it wasn’t even close. In fact the Garrulous Kid looked generally under-dressed and would spend all day looking cold and miserable, with legs like two raw slabs of corned beef.

His excuse was he’d ripped his pants. I don’t know in which of his numerous tumbles this occurred, but I can’t recall them being so badly tattered that they wouldn’t provide at least some cover from the elements.

OGL then roundly condemned and cast out all the heretics for their godless bikes. Wait!, sorry, no, for their guard-less bikes – only a few of us had switched back to winter steeds. It had, for example, proved an almost impossible task for Taffy Steve, who simply couldn’t face a return to the thrice-cursed winter-bike, even if it meant his titanium love-child had to suffer as a consequence.

The worst offender by far though, was the Monkey Butler Boy, who would be taking the club ride entirely on his TT bike. The frame had recently been acquired from Crazy Legs and he’d only just build it up, so naturally had to ride it, no matter how inappropriate it was for any club run, even without taking the weather into consideration.

I watched in amusement as Jimmy Mac’s Garrulous-Kid-filters got clogged and then, suddenly gave way under the constant, unending aural assault from the be-shorted one. Slowly, slowly, his head sank in abject surrender, until he was banging it off his crossbar to try and make the pain recede.

Luckily, G-Dawg interrupted with our route briefing for the day and we were soon pushing out onto the roads for some temporary relief.


I dropped in alongside the Ticker as we set out, ticker-less today as he’d gone for the winter-bike option with the near silent freewheel. We agreed that finding someone with mudguards to follow was going to be a bit of an uncomfortable lottery.

We also agreed it was much colder than the temperature suggested and he was, or at least his ears were, ruing his choice of a cotton casquette instead of a thermal cap.

It was incredibly busy at the end of Brunton Lane and we were splintered into several groups as we escaped the junction in one’s and two’s. We reformed and I found myself next to Crazy Legs as we passed through Dinnington.

He was pleased to have rid himself of his TT-bike, which he described as being as comfortable as sitting astride the narrow edge of a piece of 2 x 4 and with all the cornering characteristics of a three-legged, bull elephant on ice-skates.

He was, he declared “much happier with a strap-on.”

I think he mean’t clip-on tri-bars.

For time-trials, obviously.

(I hope.)

A bit further on and I caught up with the Red Max for the full tale about how the Monkey Butler Boy ended up riding a TT bike on a club run. I learned that, despite knowing his good, summer bike was undergoing a full service, the Monkey Butler Boy had apparently stripped his winter bike of parts in order to build up the time-trial bike, like a voracious vulture picking a carcass clean. As a result, the TT-bike was the only one he currently had in a ride-able condition.

“He even stripped out the headset bearings of his old bike,” the Red Max told me, caught somewhere between condemning the asinine stupidity of the act and admiring its resourcefulness.

“Even worse though,” he continued, “he’s in big, big trouble with the Mothership. Those are her good wheels that he’s taken.”

“Well, it’s not as if she’s going to need them in this weather. Will she even know?”

“Oh yes,” the Red Max replied with an evil grin, “I made sure to tell her.”

“Anyway, at least his bike’s ready for his first time-trial. When is it, by the way?”

“Oh, not for five or six weeks yet …”

A bit later on and I found myself on the front with Jimmy Mac, just as we rolled past Den Hague, who had followed our route in reverse in order to meet up with us somewhere along the way.



Jimmy Mac invited him onto the front, he politely declined and then we turned a corner and ran slap-bang into a ferocious headwind and it became a hard grind. I’d done about 5 mile or so on the front, when Taffy Steve took pity on a tired old man and took over for me as we approached the village of Stamfordham.

The group started to split into various rides at this point and I followed the main group.

I drifted back to check on the Ticker.

“How are the ears holding up?”

“I can’t actually feel them anymore.”

“Well, that’s good, I guess?”

“I guess. But the only reason I know they’re still attached is that my glasses haven’t fallen off my face yet.”

We pushed on and as we approached Whittle Dene reservoir, I was laying bets with the Ticker about how many hardy fishermen we would find camped out on its banks in defiance of the overcast skies, howling wind and bone-chilling cold.

We were both wrong. There weren’t any. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. The weather really must have been terrible.

“Bloody hell, there’s white horses on the water,” the Ticker announced. Sure enough, the surface of our usually placid inland reservoir was wrinkled with foam-capped waves chasing each other to the shore.

A traditional stop just past the reservoir found others taking a foreshortened route to the cafe, the Colossus and Garrulous Kid amongst their number. The latter was probably driven there by intense cold, while I think the former was sent on ahead to secure a seat by the fire and ensure the ham and egg pie that sustains G-Dawg was ready and waiting for him when he arrived.

Our route became increasingly bumpy as we made our way up through the plantations, through Matfen and out to the Quarry. At some point Aether found himself on the front and in the wind for maybe the third or fourth time that day. By the the time we made the Quarry turn his legs were gone and he was trailing off the back.

We regrouped at the top, but it was going to be a fast run to the cafe and we’d be scattered again soon enough. I managed to hang with the front group up to the final junction before the Snake Bends, but was jettisoned at that point and so have no idea what happened in the all-important sprint.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I found myself behind Caracol in the cafe queue, as he carefully weighed up the cakes with an appraising, keen eye. He wasn’t trying to decide which one (or two) cakes he was going to have, he’d already made his choice, now he was trying to ascertain which individual slice was the biggest.

His choices made, he placed his order along with the precise grid co-ordinates to let his server identify and corral his chosen slice. Aether wondered if anyone ever specified the smallest slice, Caracol just looked at him blankly, completely failing to entertain the thought that such insanity could exist in the world.

The three of us found a seat in the conservatory and settled in to enjoy our chosen goodies. Aether sliced into a cherry scone and prised out the sole half a cherry from the middle. There was actual cherry in the scone, so the name was technically accurate, but I can’t help thinking Aether felt short-changed.

I was questioned about not having the camera with me today and admitted the case was still bolted to my other bike and I would be relying on stock images from my club run archive this week.

I assured them I would have absolutely no problem finding a suitably bleak, windswept, wet and wintry image. They make up about three quarters of all the pictures.

Caracol suggested that cycling ranked in the top 10 of sports people like to watch, but conversely, was also in the top 10 of sports people couldn’t watch because they were boring and inexplicable.

I felt one of the issues was that riders are largely anonymous behind dark glasses and helmets, so it was hard to know who you were watching at times, something the sport never seems to have addressed successfully.

We did determine certain riders were instantly recognisable by their style or characteristics. Very tall, or very small riders seem to have a serious advantage, think Ilnur Zakarin and Nairo Quintana, while Aether suggested he could spot the flat-backed Wiggins from a mile away, or Contador bouncing on his pedals as he attacked uphill.

“Froome,” Caracol suggested and I anticipated a line about the ungainly lack of style, head down, jutting elbows, massive clown- feet whirring away …

“He’s the one running up the side of the road looking for a bike.”

Now I think about it, there are quite a few you can pick out from a crowd (or bunch) – Dan Martin’s pecking chicken for example, or Steven Kruijswick’s coat-hanger shoulders, Fabio Aru’s mad, mad flailing and Pierre “Roger” Latour’s manful wrestling with his bike. Still, they’re quite few and far between. Perhaps it’s time for dossard’s with names on?

The wind had had a seriously affected our ride speed so much that we’d arrived at the cafe late and were soon having to pack up and go, or face getting back late. I gulped down the remains of my coffee re-fill and headed out to face the weather again.


“I’ve really, really had enough of this now,” Jimmy Mac announced plaintively, as a particularly fierce gust of wind threatened to lift the bike out of his hands. “I just want it to end.”

We discussed his options.

It didn’t take long, there weren’t all that many.

He could either M.T.F.U. and get on with it, or retreat back into the warm, safe sanctuary of the cafe and phone home for the family “voiture-balai”.

But, I emphasised, without a serious, genuine medical emergency, or an unfixable mechanical issue, such wimping out was guaranteed to earn him an unwanted reputation and possibly a new derogatory nickname too.

At that point I thought he was going to try kicking the spokes out of his front wheel to fake an unfixable mechanical issue, but he finally resigned himself to his fate, swung a leg over the bike, and got ready to ride.

Sitting there, head down and obviously not happy, I could only think of one way to raise his spirits and motivate him. “I know, ” I announced, “I’ll get the Garrulous Kid to ride alongside you, that’ll cheer you up.”

Well, that got him going again.

Approaching Kirkley Hall and still running late, I decided it wasn’t worth delaying my solo battle with the wind and left the group to cut off a corner and loop up over the airport.

It was as bad as I expected, especially the grind up past the golf course, where I ticked over 65 miles on what would turn out to be the first 70 miler of the year. Then I crested the top of the hill.

Down in the valley the clouds had been torn to shreds and were being harried, hustled and bustled rapidly downstream. Once I got across the river, I’d have the wind at my back for a welcome fast run to the bottom of the Heinous Hill.

I just had to get there.


YTD Totals: 1,512 km / 939 miles with 20,404 metres of climbing

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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.


 

saw
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.


Untitled 4


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

There and Back Again

There and Back Again

Day#3  L’Alpe d’Huez

Total Distance:                                25 km / 16 miles with 1,033 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         1 hours 50 minutes

Average Speed:                                13.6 km/h

Group size:                                         3

Temperature:                                    31°C

Weather in a word or two:           Hotter


 

taba

The Ride


I awoke rather groggily to find someone had broken in during the night and filled my legs full of concrete and it took me a while to get moving. When I did, I found Crazy Legs busily flitting around and dressed to ride.

“Whassup?”

“I’m going to ride up the Alpe.”

I needed to ride to try and rediscover where my legs were.

“Wait, I’m coming.”

“How long do you need?”

“15 minutes.”

“Ok.”

As we reached agreement, Captain Black emerged, blinking and yawning. Rest had obviously done him good and Twatty MacTwat Face had reverted back to being Old Faithful. I told him the plan and he hauled his ass into gear too – 3 for the Alpe!

It wasn’t much longer than 15 minutes later and we turned right out of the campsite, pushed the pedals around half a dozen times and found ourselves once again on the first ramp up the mountain to L’Alpe d’Huez.

I took the first couple of hairpins out of the saddle and turning a modestly large gear, until feeling returned to my lower extremities and the stiffness stated to dissipate. I then dropped onto the granny ring, and plonked myself down to spin slowly upwards.

Behind me Captain Black got half way round the first hairpin and was shocked to find just how hard it was. Just before he turned round to head back, thinking he obviously hadn’t recovered from the day before, he finally looked down and realised he was still on the big ring. There was a sudden, resounding, clunking, wince-inducing clang of stressed and tortured metal that reverberated around the mountains, as he changed down under intense pressure and finally found instant relief and his climbing form.

The three of us worked our way slowly up the mountain, pausing frequently at various shady vista’s and viewpoints, picking out the past winners signs on the corners, taking photos and chatting with other cyclists.

The signs were a roll-call, highlighting some of cycling’s great and good (and occasionally villainous) – both past and present, ranging from the imperious, il campionissimo, Fausto Coppi in 1952, right up to Thibaut Pinot in 2015.

I found signs commemorating wins by Bernard Hinaut, Gianni Bugno, Stephen Rooks, Frank Schleck, Pierre Rolland, Carlos Sastre, Andy Hampsten and Hennie Kuiper among the more famous and celebrated of the winners.

Lance Armstrong’s name is still up there (twice) despite having his Tour victories annulled, along with two for the equally dubious and questionable Marco Pantani, who still holds the record for the fastest ascent of the mountain in an astonishing – no doubt rocket-fuelled, but still astonishing time of under 38 minutes.

I have to admit though, that even taking time to hunt them out and read the signs, I still missed one or two, including Joop Zoetemelk’s 1976 sign which I’d vowed to desecrate in honour of Lucien Van Impe. (Only kidding, nice Dutch folk!)

As previously mentioned, I found the signs totally underwhelming – so much so that I didn’t even bother photographing any of them – but here’s one I prepared earlier (or pinched from the Internet anyway).


huezs


As we were making our way around one hairpin, our bête noire from Saturday made a reappearance, as a bumbling Harley Davidson blatted loudly up the road and awkwardly around the bend, leaving a trail of greasy exhaust fumes in its wake.

“Your bike’s shit!” an indignant Crazy Legs shouted after the motorcycle, unfortunately just as another rider pulled up alongside him. This rider gave him a long, quizzical look before deciding he was in the presence of a sun-touched Englishman and he didn’t need to defend the honour of his Cannondale SuperSix. Just to be sure, he accelerated smartly away to avoid further insult to his bike and Crazy Legs can at least take a little credit for spurring one rider on to set a good time.

At the village of La Grade we stopped in a welcome patch of shade, where an elderly rider and his support-vehicle-driving wife were sitting enjoying the views. Our talk turned to decomposition rates as Captain Black enjoyed a belated breakfast banana and Crazy Legs described in intimate detail how the discarded skins turned black, slimy and wizened along the way. “Speaking of black, slimy and wizened,” he declared, starting to reach down the front of his shorts, “My knackers could do with a bit of relief.”

“Hey, nice day, isn’t it?” the support-vehicle-driving wife drawled, stepping in with a nice bit of deflection.

“Oh, hello,” Crazy Legs responded, quickly withdrawing his probing digits and thinking fast, “I thought you were Dutch …”

It turned out they were American, from California, on holiday so the husband could enjoy a second-crack at riding the Alps. We then had a brief chat which concluded rather awkwardly when the wife offered sympathy over the “terrible, tragic things” in the UK and we had to ask whether she meant the terror attacks, the Grenfell Tower fire, or being lumbered with lame-duck, Prime Minister who would sell her own mother cling to power.

She meant the tower fire, which is obviously a cataclysmic tragedy, but not something we were ever likely to be personally invested in and it seemed an odd, discordant thing to bring up with total strangers on a bright sunny day, half-way up a mountain in France.

We kept going and stopped again at what we think was Dutch Corner, afforded the opportunity to look down and appreciate how far we’d climbed, the vista opening out to show the road below, twisting and turning sinuously through multiple hairpins as it snaked up the mountain. Crazy Legs recalled watching the Dauphine from this vantage point in 2010 as a rampant Alberto Contador made multiple impressive attacks before breaking clear to win the stage.


alpe
Reg in repose © Clive Rae


As we pushed on the other two slowly drew ahead and I was happy to trundle along at my own pace, slowing down and swinging right across the road to peer myopically at the signs on the hairpins and try to pick out past Tour stage winners.

More snaps from the photographers, the long drag upwards, a sarcastic slow-hand clap from the inflatable King of the Mountains and I was across the finish line and taking a seat next to Crazy Legs and Captain Black in the same café we’d stopped at the first time up the Alpe. Captain Black won the race to first beer of the day.


me
© Griffe Photos


And then we spaced ourselves well out for the fun of the descent. It was to be this, more than anything, which gave me an appreciation of just how big a task cycling up a mountain actually is – it took almost 15 minutes to whirr down to the bottom and every hairpin I thought was the last one was followed by another and then another. Looking back around the corners was also the first time I appreciated just how steep some of the ramps actually were, it’s not something you get a good impression of while struggling up them.


alpdown
Captain Black assures me that tiny speck in the road is me descending the Alpe © Anthony Jackson


And then, sadly it was over, we were done and back at the campsite and climbing off for the last time.

By this time my legs no longer felt like concrete, maybe more like hard cheese – a Cheshire or a Red Leicester perhaps. Either way an improvement of sorts. We broke the bikes down and packed them up, then picked up Steadfast and wondered into town for a few drinks and a late lunch.

The patron of the bar was apparently quite upset she couldn’t offer us any food, “Je suis desole!” but we were happy with baguettes and cornets des frites to accompany the beer. The Hammer joined us, fresh from a ride up to Allemont and then finally Goose appeared after a day alternatively spent walking and lazing by the pool. A few beers and we wandered up to the Dutch restaurant for the last supper.

All this time we talked an unending stream of nonsense (as usual): how Pierre Latour somehow acquired the name Roger, the immorality of any sport that needs judges to decide a winner, Tyneside legend Dave the Dwarf, once spotted drinking in the incongruous company of towering Scottish lock forward Doddie Weir. This led to an attempt to calculate how many dwarves you could reasonably expect in China’s 1.4 billion population and serious concerns about where all the Chinese dwarves are hiding.

We learned that Goose had been inspired by tales of a granny who was arrested for pointing a hairdryer at speeding cars in her village during a (seemingly hugely successful) attempt to get them to slow down. He revealed he had then taken this as inspiration for his own brand of traffic vigilantism, patrolling the streets around his home and leaping unexpectedly out at any motorist he suspects of speeding, arm raised, hand out while intoning a very simple, authoritative and stentorian: “No!”

We managed to calculate bills and work out a way where no one (hopefully) felt out of pocket and discussed doing something similar next year, or the following, although Crazy Legs declared he’s more or less done with the Alps, so we thought up a few alternatives such as Spain – the Pyrenees or Basque region, Tuscany, or perhaps, radically even somewhere flat like the Netherlands.

And then we wandered back, packed and slept, woke and showered, loaded the van, endured an unfriendly chalet inspection, settled our bills, waved off the Hammer and set out for home.

Swiss custom officials were strangely no happier to see us go than they had been to see us arrive and Heathrow customs officials managed to outdo them in terms of inertia, apathy and glowering disaffection.

We bade “bon voyage” to Steadfast, returning to his home along the south coast and the Goose wandered off in search of the best deals he could find on Toblerone. While we waited for our connecting flight, Captain Black stood us a round of coffee’s and had to double-check the price several times before he realised he wasn’t in Geneva airport and didn’t need to take out a second mortgage to pay for them.

The “barista” asked for his name and he momentarily confused me by saying Ant rather than Captain Black, or just the Captain. He obviously confused the barista even more as the coffee’s arrived with “Hans” carefully scribed on every cup.


hans
©Anthony Jackson


“Oh no,” I suggested to Crazy Legs, “That makes you Knees and me Boomps-a-Daisy.”

We then sat around discussing the worlds woes and how to correct them, until Crazy Legs looked at the flight board and realised our gate was closing in 10 minutes and we were in real danger of being left behind!

A quick, power-walk through the terminal had us tagging onto the very back of the queue, before clambering aboard our connecting flight to Newcastle and home.

At the other end we kept an intent and anxious watch on the baggage carousel, waiting for the arrival of bike bags and boxes and getting a little concerned as time dragged on, the crowd started to thin and the conveyor belt slowly emptied. Then Goose took a step backwards and fell over our bikes which the ninja baggage handlers had delivered by hand and stealthily dropped off right behind us.

Home, safe and sound and largely intact.

So, two days of travelling, Thursday 15th June and Monday 19th June bookended 3 days of riding, the Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Over the three days we were out on the bikes for 22½ hours, rode 251 kilometres or 156 miles in around 14 hours with almost 6,900 metres of climbing including, L’Alpe d’Huez (twice), the Sarenne, Lauterat, Glandon, Croix de Fer, Télégraph and mighty Galibier.

BA Flights form Newcastle to Geneva via Heathrow cost £160 each.

Budget Car van hire, plus fuel was £478.24, or £95.65 per person (5 people)

Two chalets at the Cascades Campsite, Bourg d’Oisans, cost £698.41, or £116.40 per person (6 people)

The total cost for my trip was around £372, plus meals, food and drinks.

Having been back a couple of weeks now, I can honestly say if someone offered me the exact same trip, with the exact same rides (even including all the pain and misery of the Circle of Death) I wouldn’t hesitate and I’d sign up immediately.


YTD Totals: 3,844 km / 2,304 miles with 46,068 metres of climbing