SLJ does an ITT

SLJ does an ITT

Club Individual Time-Trial, Thursday 9th August, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                        19 km / 12 miles with 146 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                               35 minutes 12 seconds

Average Speed:                       31.8 km/h

Group size:                              Well, 1 (duh!)

Temperature:                          19°C

Weather in a word or two:     That gentle summer breeze? That was actually a hurricane.


TT
The Infamous M105 TT Course

I think I should be commended for surviving over 50 years as a sentient human, without feeling the compulsion to inflict wholly unnecessary and prolonged pain and suffering on my weak and frail body.

… Or at least that’s the line I always trotted out when some kind soul or other invited me to undertake cycling’s race of truth – an individual time-trial.

There were always other excuses too, anything other than a short blast would feel too big a step up and, when we did occasionally and intermittently hold a club competition, we tended to just piggy-back on another clubs event, holding an unofficial race-within-a-race, so to speak.

As well as this feeling unconscionably rude, as a pure novice, mixing it up with overly-serious, po-faced and glowering strangers and potentially getting in the way of their PB’s always seemed a bit intimidating.

I also never felt I had the right build to make even a passable attempt at a time-trial. I don’t have the concentrated mass and power to continuously turn over a massive gear -in body-type terms, I have more of a weedy Romain Bardet style physique, rather than that of a strapping, powerful TT specimen like Tom Dumoulin or Tony Martin. I also suspect I would be even more ineffectual in a time-trial as Bardet has proven amongst his peers.

Then, Crazy Legs took it upon himself to organise an official, club-based, standalone and (most importantly) short individual time-trial and put the call out for self-flagellating, masochists everywhere to sign up.

When canvassed beforehand, I did foolishly tentatively agree to participate, even while lobbying unsuccessfully for a much shorter event – maybe 10km instead of 10 miles, or perhaps even just 5km?

Oh, and preferably downhill, too…

But, 10-mile it was to be, a course was duly selected and a date was picked. There was no turning back and I felt it was important to support Crazy Legs’ enterprise, dedication and hard work in organising the whole damn thing.

A 10-mile ITT is a set and recognised, British tradition – a rite of passage for many a club cyclist – and suitable courses have already been set up and verified all over the country, hidden behind innocuous codenames and only discussed in hushed tones during shadowy meetings by those deemed to be “in the know.”

Our selected crucible of pain was imaginatively and poetically titled the M105 TT course and, for its outward leg, it traversed backroads made familiar from just about every club run we do, albeit we would be travelling north toward further pain, rather than south from the comfort of coffee and cake.

The return leg would be straight down the A696, a main arterial route from Scotland and shunned on our club runs as being too busy and too dangerous for group rides. It did however promise a fast run in to the finish, with the prospect of (hopefully) only minimal traffic on an early, weekday evening.

Once committed, it was just a case of making the best of a bad job. I came up with a simple strategy, figuring I should be able to ride at an average of 20mph across the whole course and, from this I set myself a target time of 30 minutes.

If I could somehow dip under this mythical barrier, it would be (in my mind at least) akin to Roger Bannister doing a 4-minute mile … and I’d probably celebrate it as if I’d achieved something of equal significance.

I tested how easy it was to reach and maintain 20mph, trundling along the bottom of the Tyne valley, both before and after our weekly club runs. I also tested myself a couple of times riding to and from work, although my single-speed commuter bike is geared to get me up the Heinous Hill every day, so sadly my legs spin-out at anything approaching 22mph.

Although not sustained over a long enough time, or distance to be conclusive, these tests all seemed to indicate my goal was at least achievable.

To give myself every advantage, I picked up some tri-bars from Amazon for less than £20. I realised I would be forgoing my classification in the standard, unmodified road bike category of the competition, but I was more interested in achieving the best personal time, than where I placed in any club hierarchy.

Despite the bargain price, the tri-bars proved to be solid, well made and more than adequate for the task at hand. I clapped them on Reg and actually started to feel sorry for him. My bike now looked unbalanced and with all the horns, pads and brake levers jutting out from the front, he resembled nothing so much as a primary coloured, rather anorexic-looking stag beetle.

I had a brief trial around the mean streets of Whickham. Control wasn’t especially precise, I didn’t feel overly confident, but the position certainly seemed to help aerodynamically, or at least psychologically – which was as good as.

I hemmed and hawed about using the tri-bars, right up until the last minute, before finally deciding to go with them – in for a penny in for a pound, I might as well be hanged for a lamb as a sheep, or any other cliché you feel is appropriate to insert at this juncture.

The day arrived and I packed up early, put everything into the car and drove out to where I thought the start line was. I had an hour or so in which to recce the course, something I’d planned to do, much, much earlier, but of course never got around to.

Getting a better feel for the tri-bars, I began to work out where I should be using them and where to back off and go for the greater control I could get riding on the hoods. I started to notice all the little lumps along the route, things you would just roll over in the normal course of events, but when you were pushing hard, really bite into your legs and drag down your speed.

Swinging left at Kirkley Hall, not only brought you onto the bumpiest, hilliest section of the course, with the roughest road surface, but pitched you straight into a headwind. As my pace dwindled horribly again I realised this long, outbound leg, was going to be the most difficult section, I would struggle to keep up to my target speed and I’d need to make time up elsewhere.

Hard left at the end and then left again spat you out onto the A696 and then it was just a case of pinning your ears back and driving for the finish. Or, that was the theory at least.

In practice my test run was thwarted by a car, trying to recreate a complex Spyrograph pattern and embarking on a convoluted, thirteen-point turn in the narrow entrance to the junction, something I could only hope didn’t happen during my timed run.

Once I’d swung south, the road surface was better, wide, smooth and fast and even with a few rolling hummocks to contend with, it seemed far less taxing. Plus, we would have the benefit of putting the wind behind us for the run-in.

I picked up a few visual markers I could tie-in to the distance left to run and rolled past the end of Limestone Lane, looking for anything that would give a clue to where the actual finish was. I could see nothing, but someone told me it was just past the junction, so that’s what I would work to.

I then rolled through to the start line, expecting to find Crazy Legs, but no one was around. I rode up and down the lane a few times, futilely looking for clues, until I bumped into Caracol … and then we both rode up and down the lane a few times, futilely looking for clues.

Richard of Flanders powered past on a warm up and we asked him where we were supposed to sign on.

“Down the road, first right” he shouted as he rode away.

We tried down the road and first right … and then second right … and then third right and kept coming up blank. Back onto the lane and in desperation, Caracol stopped to phone Crazy Legs for further instruction, while I spotted the Red Max and the Big Yin, numbers on their back and rolling toward us.

Max volunteered to help and led us to the shopping centre car park, where Crazy Legs had set up Race HQ, was taking entry money, dolling out numbers and teasing everyone with tantalising glimpses of Haribo and Energy Drinks for the finishers.

Oh, for those keeping count, it was actually the third right we had tried, we just hadn’t gone far enough.

So it was that, despite being one of the first ones to arrive, I was the last to sign on. That suited me well enough, at least I wasn’t going to be demoralised when someone roared effortlessly past.

With time running out, we rode down to the start, where I enlisted Buster’s help to pin on my number. I would be the last rider off, number 19 – so almost twice as many entrants as Crazy Legs had hoped would turn out.

The we stood round talking the usual blether as the early runners got underway.

The Monkey Butler Boy had gone for the full aero set-up, skinsuit, aero-helmet and visor, aero-socks (under aero-overshoes!) and aero-gloves. He was set to ride Crazy Legs’ aeroTT-bike (the one that always gives its owner a bad back) which looked like a matt-black, angular stiletto and as far from comfortable as I could possibly imagine. In fact just looking at it, I felt my spine twinge in sympathy.

The Monkey Butler Boy had even gone as far us using little-brass coloured magnets to hold his number on instead of safety pins for some truly infinitesimal weight or drag saving. They also seemed very fiddly and largely ineffective at their primary task.

“I reckon they’re actually fridge magnets,” I said.

“Well, that one does say, I ♥ Marbella,” Caracol pointed out.

Meanwhile, someone asked if there was any Salbutamol going free. The Red Max simply scoffed, declaring that anything you could get on prescription just wasn’t going to cut it and wouldn’t be strong enough to help tonight’s efforts.

He claimed his own strategy for the ride involved starting with a full bladder and working his way steadily through a new bottle, hoping the desperate imperative of needing to pee would spur him on to the finish.

When we’d chuntered on for long enough, our numbers slowly dwindling as we were called to the start-line, one-by-one, I rolled off for a quick post-warm up, warm-up. Returning in time to see a Tour de France green jersey with a number 17 on the back disappearing up the road.

“A sprinter,” Caracol observed. “Do you think he’s one of those ones like Michael Matthews or Sagan that are really handy at prologues and short time-trials?” he mused. Then he was rolling up to the start line and I was shuffling into his spot.

Off he sped and I took my place, alongside our starter-gate for the evening, Big Dunc and the official starter and timekeeper, G-Dawg.

“30 seconds,” G-Dawg intoned.

“I want my Mummy,” I whimpered, but no one cared and I surrendered myself to Big Dunc’s iron grip. Held rock steady, I clipped in and waited.

“If I’m not back by the time it gets dark, will you send someone out to look for me?” I wondered.

“10 seconds!” G-Dawg replied.

I raised myself off the saddle a little.

“5-4-3-2-1 – Go.”

I went.

A good clean start. The pedals whirred around building momentum. I dropped back into the saddle, took the first, long curving turn and settled onto the tri-bars, forearms well cushioned on their foam pads.

I glanced down. Bloody hell, I was doing 26mph already.

The first of many small rises came and I watched my speed trickle down, down, down, but it still held above the magic 20mph mark. Had I gone off too fast?

I tried to settle in to the task at hand, keeping the speed up and picking the straightest lines through the curves.

Around 2 miles in, and in the lane ahead I thought I caught a glimpse of green jersey disappearing around a bend. Then I was easing, hands on the hoods and freewheeling to sweep through the first junction at Kirkley Hall, briefly noticing a crouching OGL, serving as official club photographer for the day.


SLJ ITT


Back into position, my legs were starting to burn with the effort and my breathing was a rasping, staccato panting, much too loud, too harsh and seemingly too close to my own ears, as if my lungs had escaped my chest and were making their way up to squeeze out of my gaping mouth.

The first serious ramps appeared on the road up to the village of Ogle and, at the bottom of the first of these, I caught and passed the green jersey. I probably sounded like a deranged, asthmatic and over-excited sex pest as I lumbered past. Still, despite a lack of grace, I was somewhat comforted by the fact that, unless things went disastrously wrong, I probably wouldn’t be the slowest competitor.

As the slope bit and my cadence dropped, the pedalling became less fluid and the speed dipped below 18mph. Then I was over the hump, picking up the pace and back on track.

Four miles in and I was waved through Ogle by our marshal, Dabman. The route swung due west  at this point and into a headwind, a barely noticeable, pleasant, summer-evening breeze … well, as long as you’re not trying to turn yourself inside out with some wanton and furious pedalling.

Even worse the road started to buck up and down and the surface was rough, cracked and heavy, liberally strewn with gravel and other debris to avoid.

I now had a strange stitch to contend with too, a dull, throbbing pain that seemed to encompass my entire right-side, running from my collar-bone, down to my hip. Even worse, the effort had turned snot and saliva to a sticky, viscous and strangely elastic substance that seemed compelled to cling to me, no matter what.

I had trouble expelling it forcefully enough to ride clear and it kept pivoting around to slap me across the side of the face like a cold, wet haddock, or failing that spatter horribly across my shoulder.

I was certain I had strings of spit hanging, dangling from my gaping, gasping mouth – like a dishevelled, dribbling, drooling lunatic on a bike, it wasn’t pretty.

Still, constant speed checks were for the most part on the positive side of 20mph and I was starting to eat into the miles.

Through a sharp 90° bend, ably marshalled by Captain Black, I tired shouting that there was one more rider behind me, but I’m not sure if he heard, or could even decipher my garbled and incoherent rantings.

I didn’t recognise the last marshal, there was just a flash of blonde hair as she ushered me through the last 90° bend. I took it at a fast freewheel, yawing horribly wide, before pulling the bike straight and powering up the legs for one, last effort, a straight run of maybe 4 miles, down the A696 to the finish.

The first lump in the road was negotiated without losing too much speed and I changed gear for the first time, the chain clunking noisily down a couple of cogs. I stretched out and settled in to push hard. My breathing was fully under control now, there was no more breathless panting and the pain in my side had cleared completely.

The bike felt solid under me and I was astonishingly comfortable on the tri bars, my fingers curled right around the very ends, locked in place, head up and surprisingly static apart from the churning legs.

I briefly topped 30mph and while the rolling terrain made this high-end speed impossible to maintain, I don’t recall any point along this last leg where it fell below my 20mph target.

I now seemed to have stumbled into a zone, or maybe in sporting mythology the zone. Everything was flowing, it was comfortable and it felt strangely good. Beyond my wildest expectations, I was actually enjoying myself.

I didn’t really notice the traffic either. I was aware of a couple of cars considerately shifting right over to the far lane to overtake and there were no close passes. A massive HGV, thundering in the other direction, did kick up a storm of dust and turbulence in its wake, but I was quickly through this and pushing on.

The route markers I’d picked out flowed past, the pub with the speed camera, the long sweeping bend, the interesting looking fish restaurant, the large, dead bird, brutally eviscerated at the side of the road …

Hang on, back up! I don’t remember that particularly bloody, avian corpse from my first run through?

I saw a small knot of cyclists on the other side of the road and just behind them, but on my side, a small cluster of figures. The end was in sight. I glanced down and checked my speed for one last time and it was solidly in the twenties.

I didn’t sprint, try to bury myself, or “empty the tank” – I just tried to maintain the same smooth, rhythm and cadence as the road rose up and took me through the line.

Then I was done and pulling off the road, first left, to stop and try to restore breathing back to normal again. I looped back to where the other riders were waiting.

“Well, how did you do?” the Red Max asked.

“Oh, I don’t know.” I looked down at my Garmin. I hadn’t thought to stop it at the line, it was still running and now read 29:13.

“I guess I hit my target.”

Caracol had not only set a blisteringly fast time, he’d seemingly done so with a rapidly deflating front tyre and he set to work to replace the tube, while I explained there was still a rider out there.

“Who is it?” the Red Max wondered.

“The guy in the green jersey?” He looked blank.

“Reg? Is he called Reg?” I pondered, uncertainly.

The Red Max still looked blank.

“Sorry,” I admitted, “I only know him as Two Trousers.”

Slowly the Red Max folded over, emitting strange, distressed wheezing, squealing and gargling sounds.

He finally recovered and straightened up again.

“Don’t make me laugh, it hurts too much.”

There was only time for the Big Yin to imagine OGL turning up to berate us for riding too fast and declaring, “If you want to ride like that, you should put a number … oh …oh,  hello.”

Then we cheered our last man home, hung around long enough for Caracol to re-inflate his tyre and rolled back to the Race HQ/Shopping Centre car park.

There I received my official time of 27:45, or two minutes and 15 seconds inside my target – an achievement that means absolutely nothing to anyone else, but I was massively pleased with.

(Crazy Legs said he could tell I must have put a good effort in, as my face was almost as grey as it is when I finish the hill climb.)

I then slung the bike in the car and joined the rest in the nearby pub for a celebratory and much deserved pint of Guinness – purely for medicinal and recovery purposes, you understand. (Note: Other celebratory drinks are available.)

So, in the footsteps of many an embarrassing, verbose and much too lachrymose Oscar winner …

Many thanks to Crazy Legs for initiating, preparing, organising and running a fantastic event.

Many thanks to my rock solid starting gate, Big Dunc and official starter G-Dawg.

Thanks to the marshals, Dabman, Captain Black and the Mysterious Blonde, who gave up their free time to hang around country lanes trying not to look too suspicious.

And thanks to the various ladies of the Timing Association – even though I couldn’t manage to work in a full-blown nod to Jan and Dean and the Anaheim, Azusa, & Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review, & Timing Association.

Or, could I …

And finally, thanks to all my fellow competitors, there would obviously have been no event without them.

That was a blast, I really look forward to the next one.


YTD Totals: 4,739 km / 2,899 miles with 58,645 metres of climbing

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The Keyser Soze Ride

The Keyser Soze Ride

Club Run, Saturday 8th July, 2017             

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 111 km / 69 miles with 1,037 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 16 minutes

Average Speed:                                26. km/h

Group size:                                        28 riders, 1 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   21°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and breezy


 

8 jul
Ride Profile

The weather forecast had predicted wall-to-wall sunshine, but as I stepped outside I realised the air was still surprisingly chilly and quickly ducked back inside to find and pull on some arm warmers. A quick squirt of WD-40 cleared up an annoying, squeaky cleat and I was off.

The ride across to the meeting point was without incident, until Postman Plod (the miserable sod) clocked me approaching a roundabout at speed and decided his carefully honed-Formula 1 race reactions and uber-powerful van could safely squeeze into the gap. There may well have been … just … enough time and space, perhaps for Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes-Benz, but there certainly wasn’t for Plod and his coughing and spluttering van, especially after his shaky, jerky start, that perhaps only Billy-Ray Cyrus’s lyricist would have approved of.

He lurched out onto the roundabout in a loud squeal of tyres … and immediately stalled. I slalomed round the van, stationary in middle of the road and gave the driver my most censorious head shake, which I’m absolutely certain had precisely zero effect.

The only other thing of note on my journey was a de-badged, souped-up, boy-racer saloon car of rather indeterminate make, that had custom alloys in a deep, glittery purple. Dubious. Probably expensive and worth more than the rest of the car combined, but very dubious.

I met up with the Colossus of Roads approaching the meeting point and we rolled in together.


Main topic of conversation at the meeting point:

The Colossus reported that G-Dawg was still away on holiday, in his element and thoroughly enjoying sitting in cafes in Keswick, watching the world go by. I suggested all he really needed for it to be perfect break was an accompanying bevvy of cyclists to sit around the table and talk bolleaux with him.

G-Dawg is due to return tomorrow in time for the club 25-mile time-trial. The Colossus re-affirmed he had no intention of subjecting himself to such pain and misery, suggesting he has the same aversion to time-trials as root canal treatment.

Talk turned to gyms, with the Colossus impressed he’s somehow managed to avoid paying his gym membership, while somehow retaining access. I declared my own interest in gyms can be placed in pretty much the same category as time-trials and root canal.

OGL had his own tale of the gym – recently having found himself on a static bike next to four professional athletes, who turned out to be Newcastle United footballers. They were also (according to his tale) utterly clueless and totally disorganised.

“Ah, that’ll be their back four then.” Caracol quipped. (Oh, come on, you’d have to pay a host of script-writers a fortune for a killer line like that.)

OGL of course, never shy in coming forward, had to point out exactly what they were doing wrong and ensure they all benefited from an unexpected and unasked for dip in his vast pool of knowledge and experience. Surprisingly, he suggested one or two weren’t particularly receptive to his input …

The Garrulous Kid took me to task for grammatical errors and poor spelling throughout my blerg and wondered if I wasn’t perhaps dyslexic. He suggested my writing is littered with elementary and unforgiveable typo’s, such as spelling maths as maffs and three as free. Shoddy, must do better.

With the designated ride leader, the Hammer unavoidably delayed, Big Dunc manfully stepped up to the breach and determined we should stick to the route that had previously been planned and posted.

OGL interjected with some scaremongering, suggesting any pre-designated group hierarchy, or pre-publicised route would see the ride leader legally responsible and liable for everyone’s well-being, conduct and safe return.

“Ok, then” Big Dunc announced smoothly, “This is the wholly impromptu route we planned earlier.”

 OGL then suggested that, as there were only 20 of us, we didn’t need to split into two groups.

“Huh?” The Colossus observed from his perch on high (atop the wall), “There’s got to be more than 20 of us here.”

“28 at the last headcount,” I confirmed, “Looks like we’re rounding down. Bigly.”


We pushed off, clipped in and rode out, but not before delaying our start slightly to deliberately manufacture several distinct groups on the road, maintaining the gaps until we were well clear of the suburbs and busy roads.

By the time we past the Cheese Farm, we were all together again. A bit further on and we cleverly stopped for a further regrouping, sprawled across the middle of a road junction (I’ve still no idea why) with seemingly no regard for other road users. From there we plunged downhill, before braking, almost to a standstill, for a sharp left turn that deposited us at the bottom of the Mur de Mitford.

On the uphill drag the order got all mixed up and I found myself riding alongside a girl I didn’t recognise. She told me she’d been out with the club on a couple of Sunday runs, but this was her first on a Saturday.

Originally from San Francisco, she’d been brought to the far more exotic environs of North East England on a temporary work assignment and had brought her bike with her. This was a particularly smart, vintage, steel Moser in blue and chrome and called “Peggy”. It was also a bit of a family heirloom, as it was the bike her mother had used when she had first started riding and had been in the family since new. How cool is that?

I noticed another rider I didn’t recognise, abruptly pull over to the side of the road.

“Are you ok?” I asked.

“Just a puncture.”

“Puncture!” I instantly shouted, to let everyone know and stop.

“Oh, I’m not with your group.”

Ah! Infiltrator. Oh, bugger. Sorry, guys.


NOVATEK CAMERA


At Netherwitton, we stopped to split the group, with most heading up the Trench, while I followed a handful of others on the longer route up Ritton Bank and the Rothley Lakes climb. Faced with his nemesis of the Trench, a climb he’d been complaining about miles in advance, Sneaky Pete immediately sneaked away to get a bit of a head start on everyone else, while I turned around and tagged onto the back of the group for the longer ride.

Heading up Ritton Bank, a cry of “Ease up!” floated up from the back, which was rather unfortunate as it immediately set Kermit off singing, “Ease up, Mother Brown, Ease up, Mother Brown.” Really, there’s no need for that.

We stopped at the top to regroup and pressed on, hitting the long, dragging climb up toward Rothley Crossroads, where the group splintered and it was every man for himself. Half way up the climb my Garmin beeped indignantly at me – I’d done 45 miles already and were still some miles out from the café, this was going to be a long one.

I hung around at the back, making sure we left no one behind, but needn’t have worried too much as everyone waited at the crossroads to regroup anyway.

Off again, I stayed with the front runners as we hit Middleton Bank, just so I could test my climbing legs. They were surprisingly still good and I romped up fairly easily (by my standards anyway) before pulling over to wait for our stragglers.

Others pushed on, while some waited with me, so we had a fairly tight group of half a dozen or so picking up speed as we made the run toward the café. As we swooped through Milestone Woods, Aether braked for a lorry turning on the opposite side of the road and I swept passed and attacked the rollers hard, managing to open up a sizable gap on everyone else.

Dropping down the other side, Taffy Steve led the chase behind, while I freewheeled as much as possible to try and save my legs for the final climb. I rounded the corner and dug in hard, but I was caught by Biden Fecht on the last ramp and we rolled into the café together.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

In the café queue, I found myself discussing plausible deniability with Taffy Steve (I don’t recall why) when he injected a few lines of the Usual Suspects into the dialogue. This gave him pause and he then mused, “There’s someone in the club nicknamed The Kaiser, isn’t there?”

I affirmed there was indeed.

“You know who it is don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“You probably call him something else, though.”

“Yes. True.”

“Ok, but don’t tell me, it seems fitting that I don’t know who Keyser Soze is.”

Sneaky Pete appeared to prove he isn’t quite as sneaky as he should be. In the absence of her regular man-servant, Captain Black, he had somehow been coerced into collecting Princess Fiona’s coffee refills and he was now wandering around carrying her dainty, little cup aloft like a trophy. Charging it with coffee and milk, he checked to ensure it was an acceptable colour and he would be granted the royal seal of approval, before returning with his prize.

I suggested about 10cc of milk would be about right …

Out in the garden we were plagued by swarms of tiny black flies that seemed particularly enamoured with the colour yellow. The relevant bits of Reg soon became flecked with a mass of shiny black carapaces and one or two of the critters infiltrated my cake. They neither improved or detracted from the flavour, but perhaps the added protein was beneficial.

The Garrulous Kid appeared out of nowhere to challenge Caracol, “You’re from Baff aren’t you, or is it Barf?”

I tried to settle this issue once and for all, by applying impeccable (and therefore dubious) Sur La Jante logic, “Look, you never hear that Jesus rode into Bethlehem on his arse, do you, so why would it be pronounced Barth.”

“Ok,” The Garrulous Kid was back on track now, “Is Baff not near London?”

“Your right, Bath is – not near London.” Caracol replied dryly and perhaps a bit too cryptically for the Kid.

We next learned the Garrulous Kid had never heard of the Beach Boys, that “Good Vibrations” sounds weird and dodgy and that all the Beatles songs are rubbish. I’m pleased we’ve got that cleared up.

I did later find out that, before my arrival the Garrulous Kid was extolling his love of wrestling, which I rank alongside his other inexplicable and slavish devotion to things I loathe, such as Gordon Ramsay, The Hangover series of films, Bear Grylls Celebratory Island, Porsche’s, BMW drivers and the Young Conservative Party. It wouldn’t surprise me if he liked golf and tennis too, but I digress.

Intent on tripping him up, OGL challenged the Garrulous Kid to prove he was a true aficionado of the “sport” and tell everyone Big Daddy’s real name.

“Oh, you mean Shirley Crabtree?” The Garrulous Kid replied, without skipping a beat.

An obviously narked and momentarily speechless (no small feat in itself) OGL then countered with a demand to know Robert Millar’s new name, but was quickly shouted down by everyone for being unfair. After all, and to the best of my knowledge, neither Robert Millar or Philippa York have ever been particularly renowned in wrestling circles.


On the return home I spent some time with Caracol and we concluded that Fabio Aru had all the characteristics of a young, awkward, amiable and lolloping Labrador. Caracol conjured up a delightful picture of Aru in the Astana team car, sitting in the front seat, head out of the window and tongue lolling in the airstream.

It’s a heavy burden to bear, but I think the lolloping Aru and the often aggressive and cerebral, Romain Bardet might just be our best chance to keep Le Tour interesting in the face of Chris Froome, Sky dominance and the devastation of the sprint contenders.

On the last run before the split, Taffy Steve was asking what I had in store for the rest of the day. I have a fairly set routine on a Saturday afternoon that involves tackling the family ironing while watching cycling, or failing that a TV box set or two, Breaking Bad, Penny Dreadful, Black Sails, The Wire, or something similar. I told him today it would be me, the ironing board, the family laundry and the Tour de France Stage 8 from Dole to Station des Rousses.

He wondered if I ironed any quicker when the action hots up in the cycling – but sadly not, in fact the reverse is generally the case, which is why I’ve petitioned the UCI to ensure only long, boring sprint stages, or individual time-trials are held on a Saturday. Taffy Steve recalled an aunt who used to knit through rugby matches and said every 5 metre scrum heralded a staccato flurry of needle clacking and a sudden surge in woolly jumper production.

And then we were done for another week and I was turning off for home and my appointment with the ironing board.


YTD Totals: 4,294 km / 2,668 miles with 50,396 metres of climbing

A Fat Lads Bike?

A Fat Lads Bike?

Club Run, Saturday 11th June, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  116 km / 72 miles with 1,097 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 57 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.4 km/h

Group size:                                         26 riders, 2 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cool, grey and damp. Again.

Main topic of conversation at the start:

I arrived at the meeting point to find Crazy Legs sitting on wall with a furrowed brow, 1,000-yard stare and slightly pensive air, seemingly lost in esoteric thought and obviously wrestling with one of life’s great and challenging conundrums. When pressed he admitted to be contemplating the life of hermit crabs and in particular their “house chain” – far worse than even the most protracted suburban one – as they queued up in size order, hoping and waiting for the biggest to find a new home before they all quickly swapped shells while keeping a wary eye out for opportune predators.

Meanwhile his much beloved and cossetted Ribble sat leaning nonchalantly against the wall, seemingly unconcerned that it was likely to encounter atmospheric precipitation for the first time in its life. Sources suggest Crazy Legs is coveting a brand new Bianchi, but cannot justify it if his “good” bike remains in pristine, good as new condition, so he’s now decided to ride it come what may.

The Prof rolled up on the Frankenbike, sporting bright orange gloves and a matching water bottle, which he instantly started to moan about because, although it met his most specific criteria for product selection – i.e. it was free, the walls were incredibly thin and femmer.

Crazy Legs wondered if it was one of those biodegradable ones, then answered his own musings by declaring it probably wasn’t and anyway he’d been using a biodegradable bottle for 5 years now and it was still going strong. We suggested this was very daring as the longer he used it the more likely it was to suddenly disintegrate and flood his bottom bracket with Ribena. Maybe that’s what he’s secretly hoping for so he can declare the Ribble a right-off and buy a new bike?

There was then a very strange (even by our standards) conversation about whether all-out thermonuclear war would speed up the biodegradation process, or whether AG2R bottles would still litter the post-apocalyptic wasteland, a lasting testament to the fact that pale blue and brown just don’t mix. Ever erudite, the Prof capped this morbid thought by stating that everything in existence was biodegradable – if you just waited long enough.

Sneaky Pete arrived sans Taffy Steve, even though they’d started to ride in from the coast together. Apparently he’d hung around the meeting point just long enough to not feel guilty before sneaking off, but was now a bit concerned by his companion’s non-appearance. He was just whipping out his phone to make a quick call when Taffy Steve rolled up, hale and hearty, but having been  delayed by what the Eurosport commentators like to refer to as a natural break.

Szell was next to appear and, although I didn’t notice at the time, he’d traded in his old Trek for a new bike, the exact double of Taffy Steve’s titanium love-child. With a disarming (or perhaps highly calculated) lack of empathy he would later explain in a loud voice to all and sundry that he’d looked at Taffy Steve’s mount and decided that titanium was the material of choice “for a fat lads’ bike.” Ouch.

This was upsetting to Taffy Steve on a number of fronts, but mainly because Szell’s old Trek had been purchased second-hand from OGL and OGL had complained long, hard and very bitterly every time Szell dared adjust his “perfect” set-up, or considered replacing any of its parts. Taffy Steve had been in the process of organising a collection where everyone contributed to buying new parts for the Trek, just so he could watch OGL’s head explode in apoplexy, but he’d now missed the opportunity.


 

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Eddy Merckx as King Ted, the Belgian Elvis, shortly before his hour record attempt, Mexico City 1972

 


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Even though I was before him in the queue and it’s usually a very strict “we only serve one person at a time” type procedure, the waitress insisted on getting both my and Taffy Steve’s orders at the same time. Pretty much dismissing me and fluttering her eyelashes at him, she paused only long enough to confirm she had correctly remembered his regular order:

“So that’ll be a mug of coffee?”

“Yes, please.”

“And toasted teacake.”

“Yes”

“And one of those tray bakes?”

“Yes, please.”

“A glass of water?”

“Yes please.”

“And do you want ice in that?”

“Well, if it’s not too much bother, yes please.”

Bloody hell! When they started giggling about how he could have told her the price before she rang it into the till I began to feel like an awkward and uncomfortable interloper and for just an instant I thought I’d been completely overlooked and might even get away without paying. No such luck.

At the table we sat with Pierre Rolland look-alike Spry and we had a chat about his latest blog entry – a real labour of love where he’s tried to rank and quantify how exciting each Grand Tour has been using a considered, exhaustive (and no doubt exhausting) series of objective and measurable factors. It’s more interesting than I’ve made it sound and well worth a read.

Taffy Steve disappeared for coffee refills, taking Andeven’s cappuccino mug with him. You’re not supposed to get free refills on the posh coffee, which is why the mugs are a completely different shape and style, but sure enough he returned with all the mugs brimming having had to endure only a slight and playful admonishment. I simply can’t imagine how much eyelash fluttering went on to secure that concession.

This led to the assertion that the coffee available to cyclists at Box Hill was “even more expensive than the Blacksmith’s in Belsay” and didn’t even come in proper mugs, but cheap and nasty plastic cups. I don’t even think they’re biodegradable.


 

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Ride Profile

 

The Waffle:

Saturday morning and the weather was almost an exact reprise of last week, cold, grey and decidedly damp around the fringes, chilly enough early on to again need the rain jacket for my trip to the meeting point.

Making my way out to the river crossing I was joined by a fellow cyclist from the Sunderland Clarion, who was even more out of his way than I was. We had a brief chat and he complimented me on the obvious effort that had gone into my co-ordinated look (there’s that word again) before admitting that it probably appealed to him because he was “a bit OCD anyway!”

I was at the meeting point with plenty of time to spare and was eventually joined by 26 lads and lasses, including a couple of FNG’s who’d actually been sticking around for a couple of weeks, but hadn’t quite lost FNG status yet.

Quarter past nine came and went with no indication that we were going to be starting anytime soon. Crazy Legs was just about to suggest we rolled out, when OGL started to move from where he was holding court and we all prepared for the off. We were to be disappointed however, he was just switching position so he could have a chat with Mad Colin and as their conversation grew in intensity it looked like we weren’t going anywhere soon.

After a round of polite coughing and watch-tapping failed to have any effect, Crazy Legs and G-Dawg started clipping in and out very noisily and ostentatiously. The fusillade of cleats on pedals sounded like a drive-by shooting in Compton and OGL finally took the hint and we were off.

I dropped towards the back of the group where I found Big Dunc and we had a chat about the Dauphine and Chris Froome’s attack to win Stage 5 to Vaujany. We agreed it was hugely impressive, but unfortunately he still looks far too ungainly and awkward on a bike, all sharply jutting limbs and staccato movements, like a preying mantis trying to charge through treacle.


 

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It’s almost as funnily-embarrassing as watching pure climbers sprint, as evidenced by Ilnur Zakarin’s recent relegation during the Tour de Romandie and so perfectly highlighted by Bardet and Pinot’s wobbly fight for the line on Stage 6 of the Dauphine.

I think OGL has started to take note of low-key grumblings about riding the same routes week in and week out as, for a bit of a change we soon found ourselves swooping down into the Tyne Valley, although the long, looping descent was rather spoiled by too many cars travelling much too slowly and getting in our way.


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As we levelled out along the valley floor, Sneaky Pete was already starting to worry about the climb out the other side again and wondered if there was a way this could be magically avoided. I suggested a cable-car solely for cyclists, or perhaps a funicular railway which would not only meet the needs of weak-legged local cyclists, but could be a tourist attraction in its own right.

We were enjoying the quiet ride along the banks of the Tyne, the water off to our left looking glassy and eerily placid and expected this to continue along the closed river road we’d taken a few weeks back when G-Dawg was leading. OGL had other ideas however and we were soon climbing out of the valley again to reach the imposing barrier of the A69 – four busy lanes of thundering, high speed traffic we had to find some way across. Oh great, real-life Frogger.

Our ill-considered route led us onto a footpath that petered out after a few metres, forcing everyone down a steep kerb to pick our way along the narrowest of hard shoulders where we were barely separated from the traffic that whistled past, oblivious to our presence and dangerously close.

A couple of hundred metres further on we were able to find a crossing point and finally in ones and twos, we were able to dash across the road in the short gaps between the hurtling lumps of steel.


 

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We resumed climbing up the other side, finally escaping the valley and reaching recognisable, more travelled roads. We split the group at this point, with the faster, longer, harder group climbing up the village of Ryal via the back roads and avoiding the infamous Ryals climb we’re all looking forward to tackling on the Cyclone next week.

At the crossroads in the village we regrouped and waited for Mad Colin to appear after apparently puncturing on the ascent. Taffy Steve took this opportunity to force more air into his own rear tyre which was becoming noticeably squishy, hoping that this was only because the valve had been partially open and not the consequence of a slow puncture.

We set off again and dropped down the hill, swung a sharp left and began the approach to the Quarry Climb. Positioning himself for a heroic, climbing action-shot, Taffy Steve noticed my on-board camera was pointing downward at an odd angle. As the quickly appointed Key Grip of SLJ Film and Photography Productions LLC, he gave me directions as I tried fiddling with the camera, only to find the mount had worked itself loose and it was sliding about on the saddle rails.

Taffy Steve rode alongside to lend a hand with a bit of camera jiggling of his own, even as the pace increased, the road started to rise and we closed rapidly on the Quarry Climb. We had everything lined up as good as it was going to be as we hit the steepest ramp and I stood on the pedals and began to accelerate upwards, only to hear the tell-tale tinkling noise of one of the bolts on the camera mount finally working free to bounce off my frame and down to the road.

I was hoping everything would hold together long enough to crest the rise, but it wasn’t to be and upward progress was aborted as the camera jettisoned itself and clattered away. I reached the top and rolled back down to retrieve it, stuffing it unceremoniously into a back pocket before climbing back up the hill.


 

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NOVATEK CAMERA: “Ouch that hurt – oh well, at least I landed on my back. Hold on … who is this weird looking feller? No, no don’t pick me up …no! Aargh, not the back pocket, no…”

The others had pressed on, but Taffy Steve was waiting and we tried to re-join the main group who were in full flight, the smell of cake and coffee spurring their efforts on. We gave futile chase for a while, until Taffy Steve sat up, his tyre once again losing air and his rear wheel starting to rumble sur la jante.

We pulled over and after much searching finally located a tiny puncture in the tyre carcase where the air was slowly bubbling through. We were both convinced the hole was just a few inches past the valve and as Taffy Steve stripped out the inner tube  we started looking for the damage on the inner surface of the tyre to check there wasn’t a thorn or some other piece of nastiness still lurking there mischievously.


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Try as we might we couldn’t locate the hole, despite working backwards and forwards either side of the valve. In a fit of desperation Taffy Steve inflated the tube again and began a painstaking search across its entire surface area. Nothing.

I was beginning to think we were both going mad when he forced yet more air into the tube and finally was able to hear the tell-tale whisper of escaping air and locate the infinitesimally small nick in the rubber – almost exactly opposite the valve and as far away from the area we’d been concentrating our searches on as you could possibly get. Idiots.

Taffy Steve made certain the tyre was clean and clear and swapped the tube out. A few blows from his mighty frame pump and we were back underway and heading for much deserved coffee and cake.

We were pretty much the last to arrive and fittingly the last to leave, long behind everyone else – although we did pick up Sneaky Pete for the return leg home.

For some reason the trip back was punctuated by a discussion about Evel Knieval, the American stunt motor-cyclist, infamous for multiple crashes, broken bones and threatening to jump the Grand Canyon in a steam-powered rocket. He was quite a big deal when I was growing up and garnered a lot of attention with his fancy-dan white leather cat-suit, like a poor man’s Elvis.

It didn’t take a massive leap of imagination to wonder if Eddy Merckx and cycling in general hadn’t missed a publicity trick – with his dark quiff and sideburns, King Ted would have made a suitably convincing “Belgian Elvis”. I can easily picture him in a white leather cat-suit bedecked with rhinestones and a long flowing cravat streaming out over his shoulder as he pedalled along singing Hound Dog. Uh-huh, thank-you-very-much.

There was only time for me to giggle childishly when Taffy Steve asked Sneaky Pete if he wanted to be taken up the dirt alley (he politely declined) and we were onto and then through the Mad Mile and I was spinning off to make my own way home. Another decent ride in the bag and just long enough to have my yearly total ticking over to 2,000 miles.


YTD Totals: 3,219 km / 2,000 miles with 31,142 metres of climbing

Van Impudence!


An ode to grace …

So, there I was, awkwardly adrift in the cultural hellhole that was the early ‘70’s on Tyneside and entranced by an exotic sport held mainly in distant countries and with no media support to fuel a burgeoning fascination. In a time long before even World of Sport began their token showing of less than 1% of the world’s greatest, most gruelling, sporting extravaganza, the Tour de France, options for following races were as limited as your chances of buying a white Model T Ford.

The only Tour updates in those days were an occasional list of stage winners and, if we were very lucky, an updated top 10 GC, all hidden within the dreaded “Other Results” buried in the back pages of the Sports section of daily newspapers and usually secreted under all the football stuff that had already been reported elsewhere.

The cycling results were so small and so barely legible that they would have given actual small-print a bad name, and corporate lawyers a hard-on that could last for weeks.

Beyond these barest, most perfunctory of details, we restlessly devoured stage reports in Cycling (this was so long ago that it was even before the profound and dynamic name change to “Cycling Weekly”) to try and get a feel for the drama and the ebb and flow of the ongoing battle, but what came through was a generally disjointed and less than the sum of its parts.

For the young cycling neophyte the biggest treasures were a series of books published by the Kennedy Brothers following the narrative of each Grand Tour, imaginatively titled “Tour ’77” or “Giro ‘73” (you get the picture).

Although published weeks after the publicity caravans had packed away their tat and as the gladiatorial names garishly graffiti’d on the roads slowly began to fade, these books told a compelling narrative of the race, from the first to last pedal stroke, replete with some stunning high quality photos.

Opening the crackling white pages you could inhale deeply and almost catch a faint whiff of the sunflowers, Orangina and embrocation, as you were instantly transported to the side of the road to watch the peloton whirring by.


 

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It’s in one of these Tour books that I first stumbled across a full-page photo of a boyish, fresh-faced young man, posed with some faceless fat functionary to receive a completely bizarre gazelle-head plaque. This may have been a prize for winning a stage, or the mountains classification, having the most doe –like eyes in the peloton, successfully passing through puberty, or something like that.


 

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What struck me most though was that this hardened, elite, professional athlete didn’t look all that different from me – he wasn’t all that tall, very slight of build and looked so young – creating the impression of an instant underdog.

I would also later learned that under the jauntily perched cap was a head that would be subjected to some criminally bad hair moments too – instant empathy, although I never sank quite as low as having a perm.

It was hard to believe this rider was capable of comfortably mixing it up with the big, surly men of the peloton, with their hulking frames, chiselled legs, granite faces and full effusions of facial hair. Not only that, but when the road bent upwards he would fly and leave everyone grovelling helplessly in his wake.

The young man is Lucien Van Impe and the accompanying chapter of the book is titled Van Impudence, and relates in detail how he defied the hulking brutes of the peloton and their supreme leader King Ted, to wreak his own brand of cycling havoc in the mountains.

It was here that began my long-standing love affair with the grimpeurs, the pure climbers of the cycling world, those who want to defy gravity and try to prove Newton was a dunce.


 

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An Astaire-like glide

Watch any YouTube videos of the time and you’ll see the big men of the Tour grinding horribly uphill, their whole bodies contorted as they attempt to turn over massive gears and physically wrestle the slopes into submission.

Merckx, indisputably the greatest cyclist of all time is probably the worst offender, and looks like he’s trying to re-align his top tube by brute strength alone,  while simultaneously starring in a slow-motion film of someone enduring a course of severe electro-shock therapy.

Then look at Van Impe, at the cadence he’s riding at, the effortless style and how he flows up the gradients. Woah.

His one-time Directeur Sportif, and by no means his greatest fan, Cyrille Guimard would say, “You had to see him on a bike when the road started to rise. It was marvellous to see, he was royally efficient. He had everything: the physique, fluidity, an easy and powerful pedalling style.”


 

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A decent time trialist on his day, this is Van Impe during the 1976 Tour ITT – in yellow and on his way to overall victory

In his book, Alpe d’Huez: The Story of Pro Cycling’s Greatest Climb, Peter Cossins writes that, “Van Impe’s style is effortless and majestic. Watching him, one can’t help but think that riding up mountains is the easiest thing in the world. His is no heavy-footed stomp, but an Astaire-like glide.”

Many cycling fans prefer the rouleurs and barradeurs, the big framed, hard-men, the grinders who churn massive gears with their endless, merciless attacks, dare-devil descending and never-say-die attitudes.


 

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Van Impe wears the green jersey of the Giro’s best climber with much more aplomb than the highly suspect perm

Others seem to like the controllers who grind their way to victory, eating up and spitting out mile after mile of road at a relentless, contained pace, regardless of whether they’re riding a time-trial, a mountain stage or across a pan flat parcours.

For me though pure poetry lies in those slight, mercurial riders, who would suddenly be transformed – given wings and the ability to dance away from the opposition when the road tilts unremittingly skyward.

Even more appealing, they’re all just a little skewed and a bit flaky, wired a little bit differently to everyone else or, as one of my friends would say, “as daft as a ship’s cat”. The best can even be a little bit useless and almost a liability when the roads are flat, or heaven forbid dip down through long, technical descents.

The power of the Internet and YouTube in particular has even let me rediscover some of the great climbers from before my time, the idols who inspired Van Impe, such as Charly Gaul and Federico Bahamontes.


 

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Gaul and Bahamontes

This pair, the “Angel of the Mountains” and “Eagle of Toldeo” respectively, both had that little bit of extra “climber flakiness” to set them apart. Bahamontes was terrified of descending on his own and was known to sit and eat ice-cream at the top of mountains while waiting for other riders so he had company on the way down.

Gaul’s demons were a little darker, once threatening to knife Bobet for a perceived slight and for a long period in his later life he became a recluse, living in a shack in the woods and wearing the same clothes day after day.

As Jacques Goddet, the Tour de France director observed, Van Impe also had “a touch of devilry that contained a strong dose of tactical intelligence” and was referred to as “l’ouistiti des cimes” – the oddball of the summits in certain sections of the French press.

Goddet went on to describe the climber as possessing “angelic features, always smiling, always amiable,” and yet Van Impe was known to be notoriously stubborn and difficult to manage, requiring careful handling, constant reassurance and a close coterie of attendants who would cater to his every whim away from the bike.

Cyrille Guimard, who coached, cajoled, goaded and drove Van Impe to his greatest achievement, Tour de France victory in 1976, described him as “every directeur sportif’s nightmare.”


 

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Van Impe doing what he does best

While I’ve enjoyed watching and following many good and some great riders, it’s always the climbers who’ve captivated me the most, although just being a good climber doesn’t seem to be enough. In fact it’s quite difficult to define the exact qualities that I appreciate – Marco Pantani and Claudio Chiapucci never “had it” and nor does current fan favourite and, ahem, “world’s best climber” the stone-faced Nairo Quintana.

There has to be a little something else, some quirk or spark of humanity that I can identify with and that sets the rider apart and makes them a joy to watch and follow. Of today’s climbers I’m most hopeful for Romain Bardet – he seems to have character, style and a rare intelligence, but only time will tell if he blossoms into a truly great grimpeur.


 

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“Always smiling, always amiable”

From the past, our very own Robert Millar of course was up there with the best (although my esteem may be coloured by intense nationalism). Andy Hampsten, on a good day, was another I liked to watch and, for a time the young Contador, when he seemed fresh and different and believable.

Still, none have come close to supplanting Van Impe in my estimation and esteem. He would go on to win the Tour in 1976 and perhaps “coulda/shoulda” won the following year, if not for being knocked off his bike by a car while attacking alone on L’Alpe D’Huez. See, that sort of shit happened even back in the “good, old days.”

By the time Van Impe’s career was finally over (including a retirement and comeback) he’d claimed the Tour de France King of the Mountains jersey on a record 6 separate occasions (matching his hero Bahamontes) and a feat that has never been bettered. (Fuck you Richard Virenque and your performance enhanced KoM sniping, I refuse to acknowledge your drug enabled “achievements”).


 

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On the attack, in the jersey he became synonymous with

In contrast, both during and after his professional career, Van Impe never tested positive, never refused a doping test and has never been implicated in any form of doping controversy – he’s either incredibly, astonishingly lucky, clever and cunning, or the closest thing you’ll ever get to the definition of a clean rider.

So, if you follow the Kitty Kelley premise that “a hero is someone we can admire without apology,” then Van Impe resolutely ticks all the boxes for me.

During his career he also managed to pick up awards for the most likeable person in the peloton and the Internet is replete with video and images of him as a good-natured and willing participant in some weirdly bizarre stunts, such as his spoof hour record attempt – proof he was an all-round good guy who never seemed to take himself too seriously.


 

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In this bizarre and apparently hilarious (if you speak Flemish) YouTube clip, Van Impe is seen challenging Moser’s Hour record

In all Van Impe completed an incredible 15 Tour’s, never abandoning and was an active participant and presence in all of them.

He won the race in 1976 and was 2nd once and 3rd on three separate occasions, finishing in the Top 5 eight times. Along the way he won 9 individual stages and achieved all this while riding for a succession of chronically weak teams and competing when two dominant giants of the sport, Merckx and Hinault, were in their pomp.

Van Impe was also 2nd overall in the Giro, winning one stage and two mountains classifications on a couple of rare forays into Italy.

Not just a one-trick pony though, he could  ride a decent time-trial and won a 40km ITT in the 1975 Tour, when he handily beat the likes of Merckx, Thévenet, Poulidor and Zoetemelk.

Even more surprisingly for a pure climber he even somehow managed to win the Belgian National Road Race Championship in 1983 after coming out of retirement.

I’m not sure if this represents Van Impe’s skills and talent, a particularly favourable parcours, or simply the nadir of Belgian cycling. Maybe all three?


 

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Belgian National Champion

In October this year Van Impe turned 70 and until recently was still actively engaged in cycling through the Wanty-Groupe Gobert Pro-Continental Team. He lives with his wife, Rita in a house named Alpe D’Huez, a reminder of the mountain where he set the foundations for his greatest triumph and perhaps suffered his most heartbreaking defeat.


 

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An elder Van Impe – still active in cycling

Not bad for the one time newspaper delivery boy and apprentice coffin-maker from the flatlands of Belgium.

Vive Van Impe!