Hard Way Home

Hard Way Home

Club Run, Saturday 28th July, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  114 km / 71 miles with 1,237 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 20 minute

Average Speed:                                26.3 km/h

Group size:                                         19 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    21°C

Weather in a word or two:          Hot and cold


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Ride Profile (with Garmin rain adjustments!)

Some blog posts flow easily and just seem to write themselves. I don’t quite understand how or why, but this was one of them and consequently way ahead of schedule, even by my incredibly lax standards.

The run across to the meeting point this week was wholly uneventful and unsurpassingly dull, both physically and metaphorically. It was all carried out under grey and cloudy skies and the ever-present threat of a shower.

I did notice the wind picking up as I slipped back down the other side of the river and began to clamber up and out of the valley, but for the time being it was more a cooling help, than a hindrance.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

At the meeting point, the Garrulous Kid proclaimed complete mental and physical exhaustion, having been away all week at some kind of school camp in the darkest wilds of Pickering, North Yorkshire. Here he had been thoroughly dissolute and debauched, staying up until after 10pm almost every night – and even drinking a beer.

He said it had been a terrible ordeal, buried in a deep, dark, valley where a thready and intermittent, phone signal could only occasionally be found and even then you had to venture out beyond the chicken coop. As a consequence, he’d felt strangely dislocated, cut off from the real world and removed from all important news.

I wondered what he felt he had particularly missed out on, the spreading canker of unconscionable, Trump venality? The tangled, Gordian knot of the infinite-seeming Brexit negotiations? The growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen? Perhaps, the delicately balanced and fraught elections in Zimbabwe?

Nope, his actual concern seemed to be that Demi Lovato had apparently OD’d and he’d not known about it for 2 whole days …

He then began telling us something about Chris Hemsworth.

“Who?” I enquired, looking at G-Dawg for help, but he seemed equally as unenlightened.

“The actor who played for,” the Garrulous Kid offered.

“The actor who played for what?”

“No, no, the actor who played For. Tee-Haitch-Oh-Arr, as in For: Ragnarok,”the Garrulous Kid persisted.

“Oh. Sorry, no idea…”

(I was going to complain about his use of “haitch” instead of “aitch” but practical experience slapped me hard in the face and I realised it would be a hiding to nothing.)

Apparently, the people who ran the school camp had given the Garrulous Kid a brand new nickname, to go along with the 13 or so bestowed upon him by this here, humble blerg and his cycling companions.

Rather worryingly, he didn’t like this new one, either…

Crazy Legs has found watching the ITV coverage of the Toady France a bit of an ordeal, principally because of the constant, ire-inducing, Watchfinders sponsorship: corporate strapline (hah!) “There’s always someone stupid enough to squander a princely sum so they can have a big, ugly, garish and gaudy lump of bling strapped to their wrist, even when it’s not new.”

His complaint was not only with the ad showing someone changing a front wheel while committing the cardinal sin of laying the bike upside down, but why someone who could obviously afford a super-nice bike, along with a  big, ugly, garish and gaudy lump of bling strapped to their wrist, should have to ride so painfully slowly.

Perhaps the watch is so heavy it weighs them down, or maybe it’s so expensive they daren’t ride any faster in case they fall off and smash it to smithereens? Or, perhaps they ride slowly so people can see the watch and admire their exquisite, understated style and exemplary taste?

Finishing his mini-rant, our planner and ride leader for the day, Crazy Legs, outlined the route and decided that, with a relatively compact 19 riders, we would roll out as one.

Somewhere along the way we’d be picking up the Colossus, but Richard of Flanders declared he was only out for the first hour, so numbers seemed manageable.


Apparently though, we were still a major and inconvenient impediment to rightful and righteous road-users and, while skirting the airport, we had to suffer a punishment pass from an arse-hat in a horn-blaring, black Range-Rover, sweeping by inches from my elbow as he overtook us around a blind bend. Dick.

One of our guys was wearing shoe covers and revealed he’d checked the BBC hour-by-hour forecast and, for each hour for the rest of the day, there was a 40-60% chance of rain. By his reckoning this was as good as a guarantee that, sooner or later, we were in for a right soaking.

Still suffering from a long-term, persistent chest-infection, Crazy Legs sounded like a consumptive raddled with tuberculosis, hacking away before spectacularly ejecting a bolus of vivid green mucous that would hit the road with a wet splat, like a fully-loaded pizza dropped face down from a great height.

After we’d swapped out the Colossus for Richard of Flanders, Crazy Legs set about organising an autobus for any riders not at 100%, finding the pace too high, or wanting a shorter, more relaxed run to the café. After a bit of horse-trading and negotiation, this groupetto formed at the back of our group and then they eased to allow smooth separation.

With reduced numbers, we pushed on, until force of habit had us swinging right at Matfen for our usual run to the Quarry. We were called back by G-Dawg, as this wasn’t today’s official route and everyone bar the Garrulous Kid turned around to get back to the plan. The Garrulous Kid wandered away for one of his solo romps that always make G-Dawg wonder why he bothers riding with us in the first place. The rest of us re-grouped and pressed on.

Pushing on the front alongside G-Dawg, we took the newly re-laid, back road up the village of Ryal. It seems to have lost most of the loose chippings from its surface, not that it mattered anyway, as Taffy Steve and his unique combination of frame geometry and sticky tyres were absent today and our passage was wholly without incident.

From the village we regathered, before pitching down the Ryals, hitting speeds over 65kph. Planning ahead, G-Dawg had swapped out his deep section carbon rims especially for this descent as, on at least two, previous occasions he’s battled terrifying speed wobbles, tearing down this road.

At the bottom, we swung first right for the sharp clamber up through Hallington and one of my favourite sections of road. As we reached the junction at the other end, we were peppered with a stinging, sudden shower and rain jackets were quickly pulled out and deployed.


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At this point, we lost two more, as Rab Dee set off for home and Andeven went for a longer ride.

Ten minutes later and hot from yet more climbing, the sun broke out and jackets were quickly discarded again. We reportedly had it much better than our other group, as although separated by just a few odd miles, they were caught in a sustained hailstorm, while we only got a bit damp around the edges.

Swinging right just before Capheaton, we followed the dogleg route to the short, steep and painful Brandywell Bank climb, which spat us out onto the road down to the Snake Bends.

The speed ratcheted up and we were dragged from two abreast into one single file, riding hell-for-leather down the white lines in the middle of the road to try and avoid all the pots and cracks in the tarmac, which seem to be multiplying on a weekly basis.

I hung grimly onto the back of this compact, ultra-fast group, as Caracol, Rainman and the Colossus tried to outdo each other in a flat out sprint. Then we were sitting up and easing through the bends and onto the main road.

G-Dawg, hit the front and drove the pace up a notch and then I followed, before ceding to Caracol and then, G-Dawg again, as we closed rapidly on café and a much deserved break for coffee and cake.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

It was black bin bags all round, to sit on at the café as we were rather water-logged and, as I mentioned to the Colossus, each a couple of pounds heavier than when we set out.

G-Dawg revealed that, despite changing his wheels, he still had a heart-stopping speed wobble on the descent of the Ryals, so his deep-section, carbon rims weren’t the cause.

He’s now at a loss to explain the reason and not sure how to fix it, other than changing a few things and constantly hurling himself downhill to see if it makes a difference. As this would involve deliberately trying to induce a speed wobble, I can understand his reticence to investigate further.

The Colossus showed us video from up the coast of the impressive thunderstorms that had washed over us during the night. G-Dawg reported these had been so intense, the pre-season game between Sunderland and Middlesbrough – (I almost made the mistake of calling it a “friendly”) – had been abandoned, for fear of lightning strikes.

“Sunderland can’t really afford to lose any players,” G-Dawg concluded.

“Sunderland can’t really afford to lose any fans, either,” I suggested and G-Dawg wearily agreed.

Talk turned to more edifying sporting spectacles, in particular the Toady France, where I found unlikely sources of sympathy for two of the pelotons more maligned riders. Carlton suggested he was close to tears, when he realised Chris “Puff Daddy” Froome wasn’t going to win for a fifth time, while the Rainman was rooting for “Old Stoneface” Quintana, well, if a certain big Dutchman wasn’t going to take the title.

Caracol seemed most impressed with Primoz Roglic, but was worried that, sooner or later, he was going to do that ski-jump landing celebration on the podium, one foot forward, arms flung wide, and smack both podium girls in the face at once.

Personally, I don’t think anyone is ever going to top Sondre Hols Enger’s podium dance as a celebration…   

… and, no matter how dangerous Roglic’s manouver, anything has to be an improvement on Nibali  wiggling his fingers on top of his helmet in an extremely cheesy approximation of a shark fin.

Someone mentioned the women’s team kit with flesh coloured panels that made them look as if they were half-naked. The Rainman thought there was a new male variant, based apparently on a lime coloured mankini … and I sensed possibilities for a new club jersey…

Everyone had their own version of the worst jersey ever, Castorama dungarees got a mention, along with Carrera fake-denim, though somewhat surprisingly no one mentioned the brown shorts of AG2R.

Carlton disliked the super-bright, super-colourful Mapei kit, but conversely this was one of G-Dawg’s favourites and a serious contender for his next jersey purchase. 

As we were tidying up as a prelude to leaving, the Garrulous Kid swung by and informed us he’d met up with the Crazy Leg’s grupetto just before the café, but had ridden right past them. We expressed some disapproval that he hadn’t lent his efforts to helping them out, but he insisted Crazy Legs himself had told him to ride on.

The Colossus nodded in understanding, then proceeded to give what we felt was probably a highly accurate re-enactment of what Crazy Legs had actually said, while shooing the Garrulous Kid up the road.

“Oh, go away … No, further … Further … Further still. Look, keep riding until you can’t hear my voice…”

We continued gathering our things, plonking wet helmets onto heads and squeezing fingers into sodden gloves. Quite unpleasant.

I started collecting the black bags to hand in. “Hey, “ the Colossus called, “You know you could almost use those to put rubbish in, as well.”

Good shout, I should probably mention that to the staff next time…


Outside and for the first time in about six or seven weeks, it actually felt cold, we were shivering and impatient to get away to warm up. We now found the wind had strengthened considerably and it was a real struggle on the front. It wasn’t all bad though, having blown up from the south and torn the clouds apart, so at least we had some bright and warm patches too.

Crazy Legs and Caracol drove us up and over Berwick Hill, before G-Dawg and Andeven took over, battling head on into the wind as we worked our way around the perimeter of the airport. Crowds lined either side of the road, perhaps drawn there, I thought, to witness the edifying, unequal battle of man against the elements.

But no, they were actually there for some plane spotting, as the airport was being used as a staging post for the Sunderland Airshow.

I was painfully reminded of this by the sustained, ear-shattering shriek of military jet engines, which someone said belonged to the Red Arrows, screaming down the nearby runway to take off in formation. I’ve no reason to doubt them, but I looked all around the sky and totally failed to spot any of the tell-tale, bright red, BAE Hawk’s, or anything else for that matter.

With G-Dawg visibly flagging in his unequal battle with the wind, Crazy Legs and Caracol took over on the front again and drove us down to the Mad Mile. There, I hung on the wheels until the last minute, before swinging away at the roundabout and turning right past the rugby ground.

I was soon battling solo with the wind and then, a few turns later, trying to climb uphill with it blasting full force into my face. Finally, cresting the valley and dropping down toward the river, I found even here I had to pedal to keep my momentum up and it was hard work.

Out onto the bridge and all the signs and barriers were blown flat, laid low by the gusting wind. I clung to the guardrail to let a MTB’er ease past. He could take the expediency of just riding over all the mesh fence panels, fallen road signs and plastic barriers, trusting to his fat, tractor tyres to negotiate the obstacles safely, while I hung back to give myself space to pick my way carefully through all the windblown debris.

“Bit blowy!” he confirmed, riding smartly past. I wasn’t about to disagree.

There was just one final obstacle to overcome, a clamber up the Heinous Hill into the unrelenting headwind. Not the best way to end a ride, but we made it, finally.


YTD Totals: 4,530 km / 2,814 miles with 56,420 metres of climbing

The Driller Killer

The Driller Killer

Club Run, Saturday 7th May, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  121 km / 75 miles with 1,1094 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 42 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.6 km/h

Group size:                                         32 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Overcast, dry

 Main topics of conversation at the start:

Crazy Legs arrived astride his much beloved and cosseted Ribble – a sign more reassuring than even a pinky-promise from 100 of the world’s leading climatologists and weather forecasters that there was absolutely zero chance of any precipitation on our ride today. (He would however be caught getting off and carrying his bike gingerly around the few puddles that still lingered in the shadier parts of the lanes.)

He’d just returned from a brief sojourn on the south coast of Spain, declaring the trip absolutely fabulous and the cycling fantastic, but claimed the big, big mountain climbs (3,000 metres plus) in the Sierra Nevada had utterly destroyed him. He said it was an awful, dreadful, hateful, horrible, anguishing and humbling experience … and he couldn’t wait to go back.

He then turned his ire on the public poll to name the new, £200 million British Antarctic Survey ship where the people’s choice, “Boaty MacBoatface” handily won the online vote with over 124,000 supporters.

In this instance however the “voice of the people” had been inexplicably ignored and the ship has been named after Sir David Attenborough. In protest Crazy Legs declared his beloved and cosseted Ribble would now be known as Bikey MacBikeface. No doubt he’ll be lending his support to the petition which has just started to persuade David Attenborough to change his name to Boaty MacBoatface in recompense.

Taffy Steve was pleased to note that for the first time in weeks the “hard core of utter idiots” who’d ridden right the way through the winter with him, G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, The Red Max and me were re-united. If possible his grin spread even wider when he was reminded OGL was away on the club training camp in Majorca and we’d once again be off the leash.

G-Dawg had just formulated and gained consensus for a proposed route on some less travelled roads when Szell appeared, shaking off his winter torpor for a first club run of 2016. This is quite early for him actually, it’s still May and he’s only missed a quarter of the year.

His sudden and unexpected appearance gave us pause as ideally we needed a route that included Middleton Bank so we could practice our Szell Game – drop him on the climb, re-group over the top, then wait and wait and wait until he’d just … nearly … almost … made it back and then accelerate smartly away. Small? Petty? Childish? Yes, yes, yes, but great fun nonetheless.

As it was we decided to stick to the original plan which would take us in a big, clockwise loop around the Ryals to climb up past the radio mast at Beukley Farm before some demon descending down the A68, a sharp right turn and then more climbing to get us back up to a road that would eventually lead to the café.

Hopefully G-Dawg wouldn’t need his inner ring, although I’ve been led to understand it’s no longer in pristine, like-new condition after last week when, contrary to my earlier understanding, it was actually used in anger for the first time.

I’m only comfortable writing this as I have sworn affidavits from two independent witnesses who saw G-Dawg climbing on the inner ring last week, although I have yet to confirm rumours that he paid someone else to actually make the shift for him so his hands could remain unsullied.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We had pushed two tables together and it seemed to attract cyclists like a magnet pulls in iron filings as we attempted to see just how many chairs we could squeeze around it. We were soon sitting pressed together almost two deep, the table surface all but invisible under a mound of cups and cakes and plates and trays and cutlery and helmets.

Crazy Legs, channelling the inner maturity and sophisticated wit that makes him a (self-proclaimed) Cards Against Humanity demon, nodded across at another group in the far corner where Goose, Captain Black and a one or two others were spread out and luxuriating in a wide empty table and acres of space and explained their relative isolation by declaring, “That’s the stinky table.”

The noise of our incessant chattering, punctuated by giggling and guffaws drew the ire of other café patrons, in particular an elderly couple sitting adjacent, the woman wearing the kind of expression usually reserved for someone being forced to wash down mouthfuls of sauerkraut with long draughts of apple cider vinegar. I had to resist the urge to lean across and tell her it could be worse, she could be sitting next to the stinky table.

And then we actually managed to make it worse after all as one of the girls kicked a tray she’d leaned up and out of the way. It slid down the wall with a prolonged, rattling, rumbling scrape and then cracked down onto the floor with a noise like a pistol shot. Oops.

I now suggested “Duchess Suck-Lemon” actually needed to suck on a lemon to improve her disposition and help her face un-pucker just by the tiniest of margins. Sadly, my observation prompted a rambling discourse from Crazy Legs about all the lemon groves he’d recently ridden through on his Spanish venture, where apparently all the lemons looked so perfect that he began to think they were artificial.


 

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On stopping near one plantation he’d found a lemon on the ground and had opened it up just to check it was natural, only to start wondering if maybe the fallen lemon was a plant to convince gullible tourists that all the others were real. I can only attribute this level of paranoia to to the high altitude, oxygen deprivation and the sensory overload from exposure to warm sunshine following a winter of unmitigated bleakness in northern England.

He then foolishly told me he’d started watching fantastic Scandi-TV thriller, The Bridge and received both barrels of my enthusiastic acclaim for all the odd European TV shows that tend to appear without any great fanfare on BBC4 or E4 – The Killing, Borgen, Spiral, The Returned, Deutschland 83, The Cordon, Blue Eyes et al.

At one point I caught up with the Prof who’d dropped off the back of the group when his rear wheel started to disastrously unravel. We thought we’d seen the last of him and he would be calling for a taxi home, but his running repairs had been successful and he’d made it to the café.

He started to give me a long and very convoluted description of exactly what had gone wrong, something about axles and cones, bearings, cassettes, freewheels and quick release skewers, retaining nuts, tolerances and not having tightened everything up sufficiently. “Ah,” I suggested simply trying to cut through the all technical obfuscation, “You bodged it.”

Crazy Legs and G-Dawg had been out riding with the Wednesday Crazy Gang and they had revealed Szell used to ride with them back in the day and his nickname then was “The Driller.” Perfect.


 

Ride 7 may
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

Saturday turned out to be somewhat disappointingly cold after what had been a very pleasant week, with decent weather and prolonged sunshine. Still, while the sky was a monotonous and uniform shade of dingy grey and there was no chance of even a sliver of direct sunlight, it was dry and relatively calm. Good enough.

I found it still chilly enough for light, long-fingered gloves, but my legs did get their first airing of the year and I was able to show off my new, very, very shiny, very, very plasticky and very, very red Chinese shoes.

En route to the meeting point I was stopped at a level crossing to let a train rumble slowly past, but caught the lights on the bridge just right to skip across on the tail of the rest of the traffic. Swings and roundabouts – or lights and crossings?

A brief stop to irrigate some foliage found me rolling up to the meeting point with G-Dawg and Son, where we eventually numbered just over 30 lads and lasses, including a healthy contingent of our kids who always take to the roads on the first Saturday of every month.

We agreed to G-Dawg’s hastily improvised but unerringly good route, pushed off, clipped in and rode out. I found myself alongside Szell who told me he hadn’t been out for an age as he was currently playing in two covers bands and was finding it difficult to find any free time between (and I quote) “the music, the hoes and the blow.” I assume he was being ironic, but you just never know.


 

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He was keen to know where we were going to and whether a slower group was likely to form, already planning for a quick escape. He then knowingly asked if we would be taking in his own personal bete noire, Middleton Bank –  just so we could enjoy his suffering, suggesting he possessed a degree of self-awareness that I would never have attributed him with.

As we passed through one sleepy little village, Szell proclaimed how much he liked Genghis Khan’s quote about the greatest happiness being, “to scatter your enemy and drive him before you. To see his cities reduced to ashes. To see those who love him shrouded and in tears. And to gather to your bosom his wives and daughters.”


 

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“You don’t mess with Genghis Kahn!” he opined, loud enough for Crazy Legs to overhear and bark with delight, before commenting that you can find the strangest conversations buried in the heart of the bunch.

Szell drifted backwards after a few hills and I found myself riding along beside Taffy Steve, until we all had to single out and navigate around a large, very wide and very yellow bus. The driver stopped to let us through and called out something like, “Whey aye! gann on man, canny lad, a’ll keep yez al warkin!”


 

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Whey aye! gann on man, canny lad, a’ll keep yez al warkin!” – or something like that anyway

“Nice of him to stop, but I haven’t got a clue what he was saying.” Taffy Steve said as we regrouped and pressed on, chatting about the irrepressible Mario Cipollini and his ever so slightly inflated ego.

We started to climb on a road that wound up into the hills and turned into a somewhat rough, single lane farm track, becoming strung out in a long line as we crept slowly up toward a summit dominated by a massive radio tower. The surface was in a poor state and there was lots of pointing and an increasing number of hazard call-outs:

“Pots”

“Pots!”

“Gravel”

“Mud”

“Shite”

“Pots!”

Sneaky Pete suggested the Belgians might have the cobbled classics, the Italians Strada Bianca, but we were the only ones to get Strada Merda!

We then passed a pothole so deep that G-Dawg suggested that if you fell in you would have to ride around the bottom, like a wall of death to build up enough speed to attain an escape velocity and get out the other side.

We were soon crawling past the radio mast and up to the junction with the A68 before stopping to regroup. We now had a fantastic, long and fast drop off the top, then a sharp right turn and more climbing to replace the altitude we’d just thrown away so carelessly.


 

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Yet more climbing led us to a new junction where we again regrouped with some of the youngsters and Szell hurting and well off the back. It was here that we heard about the Prof’s wheel disintegrating, but the word came up not to wait and just press on.

The Red Max said he would take the youngsters off on a shorter route to the café while everyone else continued. Szell, perhaps sensing an end to his needless suffering decided to tag along too and then Sneaky Pete sneaked away with the group as well. What the sadistic Max had failed to mention however was his chosen, shorter route actually included an ascent of the rather fearsome Ryals. Oh dear.


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We continued with yet more climbing until we finally reached roads I began to recognise and the pace started to creep up. Soon there was a split and a compact bunch of us were driving toward the café at high speed, buzzing like a swarm of angry bees on the rampage.

As the road levelled and straightened, Son of G-Dawg surged around everyone and opened up a clear gap. I rounded G-Dawg and pulled everyone along for a while, then Captain Black powered through and carried everyone past me in turn, so I slotted back into the end of the line. Son of G-Dawg had sat up by now, job done as Captain Black swept past and into the Snake Bends.


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We flew over the junction and set out straight up the main road, my least favoured option, keeping the pace incredibly high. Once more I latched onto G-Dawgs rear wheel and let him drag me to the café.

I’m beginning to think G-Dawg’s rear wheel as my ultimate safety blanket, but he must be sick seeing me there every time he turns round – like having an unwelcome stalker always two steps behind you everywhere you go. I must ween myself off this and find some other target for my now very well perfected wheel-sucking chicanery.

On the way home I had time to chat with Captain Black and we laid tentative plans to tackle the new, 90 mile Cyclone route. Sneaky Pete and Taffy Steve had also suggested it was their favoured option, so we should be able to pull a small group together for it.

We also had a chat about the Giro and the surprise performance of ex-Ski jumper Primož Roglič. We wondered how he descended and whether we’d see him stand up on the pedals and lean forward with his hands clasped behind his back. I seem to remember some tale of Bernard Hinault experimenting with a bizarre Superman descending pose, but this could be even more spectacular.

I also had words with Carlton who noticed how relatively calm and ordered the ride had been, even without the strident exclamations of the absent OGL and we had a brief chat about whether the club needed to start thinking about succession planning for when the old feller finally hangs up his cleats.

As regular readers may know, OGL is our de facto Road Captain, Club President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Chairman, Secretary, Event Organiser, Social and Welfare Officer, Patron, Club Committee, Route Finder, Web Controller, Archivist, Photographer, Social Media Gatekeeper, Weatherman, Chief Recruiter and Club Ambassador, so it’s not a case of simply nominating the next man up.

As the group split and I entered the Mad Mile I passed Szell, sitting in the middle of the group and still plugging gamely away having survived a rather torrid first run of the year. I waved him off with a cheery “Next week?” and then pressed on for home.

A long, lumpy ride, but a great run and the weather is finally starting to turn good. Things are looking up.


YTD Totals: 2,567 km / 1,595 miles with 24,253 metres of climbing