On Saturday I completed my longest ride of the year while still managing to get home half an hour before I usually would. Logic dictates then that I must have been travelling at a faster rate than normal and a quick look at Strava confirms this.
I had in fact ridden a full 3.6km/h faster than my average across the past 7 rides, despite also taking in an above average1,173 metres of climbing. I’m pretty sure my bike manufacturer (were they still in business) would be delighted to claim this is entirely due to the carefully designed aerodynamic optimisation of the 13, which I’d switched to with the Holdsworth being temporarily hors de combat.
That though would be ignoring the much more obvious explanation that, overwhelmed by civic duty, I’d let myself be drawn into the first (faster) group and been dragged along at such a pace that even bookending my ride with a 20+ mile solo pootle from home and back still gave me a stupidly fast overall time.
So, a quick ride and a (very) quick update…
The day started in the normal way, with copious amounts of nonsense. Brassneck proclaimed he’d invested in a new, untried and untested saddle, with all the inherent risks involved in using it on a long maiden voyage should it prove uncomfortable. This (of course) led to a discussion of whether there was a potential opportunity to offer a bespoke saddle breaking-in service, using a bunch of … err, larger-boned blokes shall we say, to liberally baste your new saddle in ass juices and thoroughly tenderise it with their bashing and clashing buttocks.
Throughout this discussion Mini Miss looked on with only a slight trace of disgust – well, certainly less than the previous week when she’d been informed by OGL her special task for marshalling duties would be to cover “a large exposed manhole,” without ever receiving an adequate explanation of just whose man hole he was talking about.
It was at this point that things started to go a little awry. Aether briefed in the route, basically an elongated figure of eight running north and south, with Kirkley as the nominated cafe stop of the day. We had sufficient numbers to split into three groups, but could barely muster four for the first group, so along with fellow sacrificial pawns (prawns?) Alhambra and Richard of Flanders, I bumped down the kerb and added my weight to the numbers. What was I thinking?
I spent the first half of the ride catching up with Alhambra as we negotiated a whole series of temporary traffic lights before finally managing to find some more open roads. A brief shuffling of the pack saw G-Dawg on the front alongside a relative newcomer, a triathlete and all-around big unit intent on keeping the pace up. I slotted into second wheel behind the Big-U and alongside Homeboy, where I half-jokingly mentioned my disquiet at being in the front group, the one consolation being that at least I’d found the perfect body to shelter behind. Homeboy assured me I was in the right group, reminding me we were going to the cafe at Kirkley so being among the first to arrive was imperative if you wanted to avoid the interminable queuing. It was a fair point and surely worth a bit of suffering for.
The Big-U finally burned out G-Dawg and he ceded the front on a stiff incline heading out toward the Gubeon. I took his place and stayed there until we started to climb toward Dyke Neuk where I slid back to take things at my own speed, mindful we had a hatful of hateful other climbs to go.
The first was the long drag up to Rothley crossroads, followed by Middleton Bank, both somewhat eased with patches of new tarmac (but still hateful). We regrouped at the top of each and pressed on, quickly homing in on the cafe.
Naturally, the pace at the front got whipped up and I was at the back desperately trying to close gaps as we swept through the Kirkley Hall junction, powered round the bend … and were brought to a sudden stop by more temporary traffic lights.
“I hate these bloody lights,” Homeboy exclaimed.
“I love these bloody lights,” I countered, there was now no time to open up any big gaps on the last few hundred metres to the cafe, where we did indeed enjoy much better services than the rest of our group who trailled in several minutes behind.
As usual conversation was thoroughly randomised and the typical diet of stuff and nonsense. It ranged from whether “arse bones” was an acceptable term for your ischial tuberosity, or “sitz bones” (a term I can’t use without immediately thinking of Lolcats), through to further accusations that Lance Armstrong was guilty of mechanical doping (in addition to being illegally jacked up on numerous pharmaceutical compounds, I guess.)
And then we were away again and the pace was still high until the group turned left and I swung off toward home. So, that wasn’t too bad, I suppose, I survived and the first group could be handy if you want to get home a little earlier. Next week?
For this week’s weather read last week’s, but add a couple of degrees here and there, and for this week’s variable temperature layering-strategy also read last week’s, only this time around the arm warmers even came off.
Given it was a Bank Holiday weekend and the sun was out I was expecting a much bigger turnout than we had, but maybe people were keeping their powder dry for Sunday and Monday, although riding Sunday was complicated by the Sloan Trophy road race at which many in the club had volunteered to help marshall.
We had a new rider join us, instantly dubbed as rich and posh by Crazy Legs when he admitted to doing a fair amount of riding on Peloton. We also tried to get two women to join our serried ranks too, but I’m not sure we were all that successful.
It all started when one of them arrived having, I guess, planned to meet her friend at our meeting place and at our meeting time, without realising that it was our meeting place and our meeting time. Slightly perturbed to find so many cyclists openly loitering there already, she separated herself from the herd by ducking under the eaves of the multi-storey car park to wait. Her friend then arrived and spent several moments trying to pick her mate out from amongst all the lycra-clad bodies and bikes, seemingly without success. To be fair, one lycra-clad and helmeted idiot looks much the same as any other.
“Caroline! Caroline!” the first one called from within the car park, although she wasn’t having much success attracting the attention of her friend.
“Caroline! Caroline!” about a dozen of us echoed, I’d like to think helpfully …
We managed to attract Caroline’s attention and direct her to her mate so the pair were finally reunited.
Aether invited them to tag along with us, which seemed sensible as we could always do with some new blood and a few more female members would be a boon too. He suggested they could always drop off the back if the pace was too high or too slow and they weren’t enjoying it.
“How fast do you normally ride, anyway?” Crazy Legs queried, just to be on the safe side.
“Around 16mph,” he was told.
“Woah, that’s way too fast for us!” OGL interjected jokingly, but actually, it sounded about ideal.
Still, they said they had other plans, but would consider joining us on some other, unspecified Saturday. We’ll see.
As we waited for Carlton to arrive and signal that it was exactly 9:15 and time to leave, two Muckle Cycling Club riders swooshed past, totally ignoring us mere mortals. From somewhere deep, deep in my subconscious a song from my misspent youth percolated its way outwards and I gave it voice:
“We are the men of the M.C.C. – M.C.C. O.B.E.” I started.
“So serious we never stop to pee,” Crazy Legs helpfully supplied and we traded lines until we had composed at least an entire verse of an accomplished little ditty. When’s Eurovision again?
Buster briefed in the route, which included a sojourn into the Tyne Valley, though sadly not one that included a stop at Bywell, so no skipping off home early and it looked like I was in it for the long haul. (And it did prove quite a long one too.)
This week the front group was well populated – maybe the weather is emboldening us, and the third group looked almost too numerous to be practical, so I joined the second group led out by Crazy Legs and off we went.
Crazy Legs and Carlton took to the front and I dropped in alongside Biden Fecht for a bit of role reversal. His summer bike was behaving impeccably and running near silently, providing him the opportunity to look askance at Reg whose bottom bracket had taken to creaking and groaning miserably whenever I eased out of the saddle. I’ve no idea why he was moaning, I was the one doing all the work.
We had a brief chat about Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but even Biden Fecht couldn’t tell me if Phil Gil had got into trouble from his mam (Madame Gilbert, obvs) for writing his name 151 times on the road surface of la côte de la Redoute, or Phil Gil Hill as it’s likely to be renamed in this blerg. Even better was the fact that, in typical brotherly fashion, Philippe blamed his younger brother, Jérôme for this act of wanton vandalism.
Captain Black and Mini Miss took over on the front as we turned west, spotting a Bambi-like, spindly-legged, baby alpaca stuttering around in a field near Callerton.
“What’s a baby llama called?” Crazy Legs queried.
“Obama-llama?” I suggested covering my ignorance.
“Rama-Llama-Ding-Dong?” Crazy Legs didn’t know either.
[The right term for a baby llama, alpaca, vicuñas, or guanacos, is a cria. Something I’m now sure to instantly forget. I also have no idea what the difference is between a llama, alpaca, vicuñas, or guanacos … and no incentive to learn.]
Anyhoo, whatever it was called, it was kinda cute (in a stupid ass way).
We turned due west and started climbing on the Stamfordham Road and then a sharp left and we were heading south down toward the river. Captain Black and Mini Miss ceded the front.
“Are there only 6 of us?” Mini Miss wondered in surprise as she dropped back, but not half as far as she was expecting to.
Crazy Legs barked with laughter, “It’s good to know you’ve been following lead-rider protocol and always checking back on the group behind.” But yes our group was small (I prefer the term select). Was it something we’d said?
We dropped down into the river valley via Wylam and pushed along towards Corbridge, pausing at the Bywell bridge to shed a few layers as the day was warming up nicely. Talk turned to the unofficial (deep fake) club kit and the very snug-fitting, very grippy shorts, which are comfortable, but definitely take a bit of getting used to.
“They are,” Crazy Legs declared, “The only shorts I can’t pull on over my socks.”
I’m not sure that’s exactly a ringing endorsement…
We dawdled a bit more, half expecting the 3rd group to catch us, but there was no sign of them as we made our way out to the bridge at Aydon to vault up and over the pesky A69.
From there it was a familiar route through to Matfen, the Quarry and on to Belsay for the cafe. There we found the 3rd group had already arrived. They’d obviously been influenced by Sneaky Pete and had sneakily cut out the drop into the Tyne Valley for a shorter ride and a bit of cafe queue-jumping.
The weather was pleasant enough for us to decamp to the garden to enjoy our coffee and cake. Crazy Legs started talking about his classic La Doyenne T-shirt celebrating the 1999 Liège-Bastogne-Liège win of Frank Vandenbroucke, although none of us could remember his name. Still, if you were listening carefully and following along you would have learned that Crazy Legs had acquired the T-shirt, quite by chance, on a random visit to a supermarket in Belgium.
An old-new-guy, or new-old-guy, or perhaps something in-between guy, obviously wasn’t listening carefully or following along and wanted to know how we’d suddenly jumped from the oldest of the Classic Monuments into a Belgian supermarket chain.
Crazy Legs patiently explained the journey, but warned the guy that if he wanted to ride with us regularly he’d have to get used to completely random and disconnected conversational gymnastics, non-sequiturs and quite unabashed topic-hopping.
And then, just like that, we were talking about disk brakes on bikes and how not all the pro’s are fully in favour of them. I acknowledge that the next new bike I buy will undoubtedly have disk brakes, but it’s not something I’m actively looking for, unlike Crazy Legs, who wants them just so he can kamikaze even faster down Alpine descents without fear of overheating his rims and blowing out a tube.
I’m not a big bloke and never travel all that fast, so I’ve always found rim brakes perfectly adequate, although I do like the wheel longevity disks would afford. Cowin’ Bovril though was determined to convert me there and then.
“If you’re at the top of the Ventoux,” he began, “Daylight is fading, it’s raining cats and dogs and you have a howling tailwind, then you’d be much better off descending on a bike with disk brakes.
“That,” the new-old-old-new-maybe-in-between-guy observed, “Is one very specific set of circumstances.”
But, yes, yes I’m convinced. If I’m ever at the top of the Ventoux, when daylight is fading, it’s raining cats and dogs, there’s a howling tailwind and I have a choice of bikes, then I’ll definitely go for one with disk brakes.
There was a puncture shortly after we left the cafe, but enough of us dropped back that I felt I could safely press on for home without waiting or assisting. I caught up to the next group on the road and took to the front with Aether as we climbed Berwick Hill. He was complaining of tired legs but stayed with me on the front all the way until everyone swung away and left me to start my solo ride home.
The creaking from my bottom bracket wasn’t getting any better on the clamber up the Heinous Hill, so I took a detour to the Brassworks at Pedalling Squares to get a service booked in and return my climbing to some semblance of quiet – well, from the bike at least. I don’t think there’s any remedy for the heavy panting, grunting and groaning noises the rider produces.
Total Distance: 107 km / 67 miles with 1,024 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 03 minutes
Average Speed: 26.5 km/h
Group size: 34 riders, 4 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Moderate
Saturday looked like being a reasonable enough day as I carried the bike down the front steps, out onto the road, clipped in and pushed off.
Ahead of me, the traffic lights turned red and a car pulled up before them. I wasn’t really concentrating, sort of pootling along, aiming to glide to a halt behind the stopped car and I was within maybe twenty yards from its bumper when I sensed, more than saw another car overtaking.
I instinctively recognised there wasn’t enough space for both of us on the same stretch of road, flinched and bailed, diving for the inside and reaching for the brakes. The driver of the overtaking car, a pale blue Renault Scenic seemed to suddenly realise they were in the wrong lane and approaching a set of red lights too fast, so simply braked and swerved sharply into the space I’d just vacated. That was too close.
I banged on the passenger side window to ask what the hell the driver thought she was doing, only to learn it had all been entirely my own fault as I’d been “all over the road” so the driver had a right, if not in fact a moral obligation to punish me and put my life in danger. I’m pleased we got that sorted.
I assume by “all over the road” she mean’t I wasn’t hugging the gutter and doffing my cap to all the righteous car-drivers as they sped past. There was no mention of the fact she was obviously speeding (it’s only a 20mph zone) overtaking while approaching a traffic junction and stopped cars, had dangerously cut me up and seemed to be driving with undue care and attention.
Even if I was “all over the road” as she claimed I would have thought that would have been a good reason to hang back, rather than attempt a stupid and reckless overtaking manoeuvre. But then again, it’s hard to fathom the way some people think and refuse to own up to the consequences of their own actions.
I told her she was going to kill someone driving like that, but doubt it had any effect, although she did drop down the hill keeping scrupulously within the speed limit, so just maybe she sensed her actions weren’t quite as 100% justified as she claimed and had been shamed into more careful driving.
No, you’re right of course. Probably not.
I pressed on, glad to get to the bottom of the hill and see the Renault drive off into the distance, while I began to stalk, catch and pass another pair of cyclists as I wound my way down to the bridge.
Crossing the river, I back-tracked down the valley before beginning to climb out the other side. Before this I found that all the road works that had been holding me up for the past few weeks had cleared, and the road now bore a new scar, a long stripe where they’d buried pipes, or cables or some such. This strip of new road look glossily black and sleek, smooth and inviting compared with the original surface.
I naturally assumed this would be a much better to ride on and switched onto it. Whoah! It looked smooth, it looked shiny, it looked rideable and I’ve no idea how they’ve achieved this, but if felt as though I was riding over an invisible rumble-strip. The bike shook and vibrated with a weird resonance that almost made me nauseous and I had to hang on grimly as everything seemed to bump and rattle and buzz.
I switched back and checked the bike over, looking for a puncture or something to explain the horrible ride. Nothing. I tried the new surface again. Same result. It looks like I’ve found my own cobblestone runway, but at least I know to avoid it now. Let’s hope that’s not the new standard for all new roads and repairs around here now.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
I found an old acquaintance at the meeting point, finally deciding today was the day he’d join the ranks of the FNG’s and ride out with the club, only after a mere 4 years of promising and procrastinating. Apparently he’d been texting me all week to let me know he’d be out, but we concluded he must have the wrong number, so some random person would have received a slew of odd queries about chamois cream, clippety-clop shoes, leg shaving and tight fitting spandex clothing.
We spent the next 15 minutes or catching up with news on daughters, bikes and bike fits, man-made fibre allergies, tri-athlon training and retirement plans, until it was suddenly time to go.
There was still however an opportunity for the Garrulous Kid to show off his new socks. “They’re Pringle’s” he proudly told me, although that bit was quite evident from the way Pringle was emblazoned down either side.
At least they weren’t as long, hairy, flappy and floppy as last week’s efforts. They were neither too long, nor too short and were reasonably straight and inoffensive. They were passable. They still weren’t white though.
The Garrulous Kid then worriedly exclaimed, “It’s getting dark!” and I had to reassure him it was just a cloud passing over the sun. Goodness knows how he’d react if we had an actual eclipse.
With around 34 lads and lasses crowded onto the pavement, it was probably just as well that we split the group. The Hammer outlined the options and his plan for leading out the first bunch, aiming for a ride with an average speed of 17-19 mph. OGL and G-Dawg were set to lead off the second group, who would trace the route of tomorrows Sloan Trophy as a pre-race course safety-inspection.
I found myself in the front group along with some seriously strong and much younger riders, such as Mad Colin, Eon, Jimmy Mac and Biden Fecht. With a target of 17-19mph average speed, I thought this could get embarrassing quickly, although I was somewhat reassured by the presence of some more regular and “equally-abled” riders.
After last week’s ride behind Pierre Rolland look-alike Spry, this week I had the chance to follow Eon, who could pass as Steven Kruijswijk’s body double, his shoulders so wide it looked like he’d forgotten to remove the hanger from his jersey before pulling it on.
It took a while to find the rhythm, but pretty soon everything had warmed up enough, we were clipping along at the requisite speed and any fears of blowing up, grinding to a halt, or simply fading off the back began to diminish.
Eon set the pace on the front, first alongside Aether and then, when he’d worn him out, with Jimmy Mac, until he decided he’d best relinquish the lead before he got complaints he was going too fast. Eon pulled across and I then took over with Jimmy Mac for the next section of the ride.
Slipping across the Military Road, we skirted the Reservoirs and at the request of Zardoz I called a pee stop, laughing when he disclosed he didn’t need to pee, he was just worried he was getting too close to the front of the group and wanted to take the opportunity to slip back and find more shelter amongst the wheels.
We then realised the ride had been so fast and smooth that we were well ahead of schedule and in danger of reaching the café too early. We agreed to tack on a slightly longer, hillier loop and set off again.
As we freewheeled downhill as a prelude to a series of short, sharp climbs, I caught up with the Hammer and we had a quick chat about how well things seemed to be going. Despite living most of the time in exile away from the North East and rarely being able to ride with us, he’d even paid up his club subs to avoid any flak about leading a ride when he wasn’t a club member.
If that hadn’t been penance enough, he’d even found a club jersey mouldering away at the back of his wardrobe and, against his better judgement and all good aesthetic taste, had decided to wear it to look as official as possible. I agreed it was a nice touch.
He slipped back to count numbers and make sure we hadn’t lost anyone and I found myself on the front again, this time joined by the Garrulous Kid as the route became decidedly lumpy. We pushed on and no one moaned about the pace, so I guess we did ok.
As we rode along the Garrulous Kid complained that he thought he’d been unfairly treated in my blog witterings last week and explained his comment about never having met Captain Scott had simply been because he thought we were referring to a pseudonym I’d assigned a club member.
“Everyone knows Captain Scott was the first man to conquer Mount Everest.” he concluded. I am, of course more than happy to set the record straight and apologise for doubting his savvy, acumen and unerring knowledge of key historical figures.
As the climbing evened-out and we set course for Matfen, Mad Colin whipped us into an impromptu, pace-line, riding through-and-off. It was all a bit ragged at first, but it did get me off the front. We stuck with it though and had just about managed to iron out the kinks and start to cruise when – amidst much cheering and jeering from both sides – we passed our second group, heading in the opposite direction toward Stamfordham.
The pace-line drove us at a rapid rate of knots to the bottom of the Quarry climb and we scrambled up to the crest, taking the slightly shorter, but lumpier right hand turn. A few jumped away in a long-range strike on the café, but I hung back, knowing the road would soon start to drag up approaching the crossroads, they’d slow and I could probably bridge across at this point.
For once things actually worked out as planned, and as we dropped down the hill on the other side I caught up and then kept going, darting inside Caracol and onto the front around a tight corner. A long descent led to a sharp left and I braked late before sweeping round, kicking hard and dragging everyone over more lumps and up to the junction with the road leading down to the Snake Bends.
A few nudged in front at this point and I settled comfortably in amongst the wheels as the speed built some more. I eased up alongside Caracol and began singing him the chorus to Matt Keating’s “Boxed-In” – which I’m not sure he fully appreciated.
Now in a compact, buzzing group, Zardoz slid up on my right, I gave him a big, cheesy grin and he winked back before briefly inching his front wheel ahead of everyone else’s.
With the Bends fast approaching, I wound in the speed and sat up and the group elongated and spread out as we swept through the corners. That was good and fast and fun and I still didn’t feel like I’d been on the limit. Maybe my series of rides over the Easter weekend has had a positive effect.
We cut across the main road and ducked down the side lane, well, all except the Garrulous Kid, who took the direct route, belting straight down the main road to later claim he had won the race to the café.
I tried to explain to him that the official-unofficial finish is before the Snake Bends, so you don’t go racing through those and find yourself sweeping wide on a corner and into the path of a car – something I felt he should have realised when he’d done just that last week.
I declared instead that Zardoz had won the sprint, suggesting that brief nano-second when he inched in front of everyone else was right on the imaginary finish line. Zardoz agreed wholeheartedly with me, so that was that decided.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I found Princess Fiona, trying to arrange an alternative club activity for Sunday – a hike through the Cheviot Hills as a welcome variation on just another bike ride. Caracol and Goose seemed interested, although the former would wonder at her insistence that he must see a particular refuge hut.
Caracol felt the attractions of the refuge hut were being over-played slightly and the plan had gone from “you should see” to a mandatory – “you will visit” this place.
I couldn’t help thinking about the Great Escape and suspected Caracol was being sentenced to the punishment block: “For you, Tommy, zis var is over. You vill go to… ze cooler!” – or something else racially stereotypical and probably offensive to all Germanic people the world over. I hope he took his baseball.
Talk turned to how Princess Fiona felt the sporting prowess of her family – father still actively cycling at 85, brothers who are all triathlon champions – suggested she was genetically predisposed to being a better athlete than she felt she actually was.
In her shoes, I suggested my contrary take would be: look I obviously have the base genetic material to be good, so I feel I have nothing to prove and, you know what, I just can’t be arsed. Get over it. This attitude could of course go a long way to explaining my rather startling mediocrity.
We discussed my fear of not at being able to keep up with everyone in the first group that morning and how choosing a group to ride with is fraught with all the pressures, issues and uncertainties of picking a team for school games, only in reverse. For a ride, instead of choosing the best players to make your team as good as possible, you actually start looking for people of roughly the same ability or even slower, so you know you aren’t going to be the first one blown out the back at the drop of a hat.
Usually, if you ride together regularly, you’ll have a fair idea where you sit in the pecking order of abilities and any changes to the hierarchy are likely to be gradual and noteworthy. (None of my clubmates have ever shown the sort of overnight improvement that would lead me to suspect widespread abuse of EPO within our ranks. If they are using it, they should probably ask for a refund.)
The big problem comes when you’re with an unfamiliar group and trying to assess abilities – then you become particularly judgemental based on some very unscientific and totally unreliable barometers, which are all coloured by your own prejudices.
This is likely to involve such things as age, body shape, demeanour, tan lines, bike spec and cost, the tightness, brand and style of clothing, whether a helmet has a peak or not, or (in my case) even sock colour and length. Unfortunately, experience has taught me that none of these are any indication of how well, or poorly, someone can propel a bike up and down the road.
On the way out I caught up with Taffy Steve, who complained at his unjust punishment for missing last week’s ride, not only having to sit all day on the front of the second group, but also being forced to share a table with the Garrulous Kid at the café. I concluded it was karmic justice and that he was obviously being punished for some truly venal and unspeakably evil act he must have committed in a former life.
The Garrulous Kid himself then approached to claim he now, definitely knew how to fix a puncture and launched into a confusing and convoluted tale of a puncture simulation involving a needle to let the air escape and the complete removal of the tyre in order to fit a new inner tube.
We then questioned him about why he didn’t take the much simpler and sensible expedient of letting the air out through the valve. After some lame argument about how that wouldn’t be a real puncture simulation, the tale then morphed to where the needle was something or other attached to his track pump and of course he didn’t poke a hole in the tube, or take the tyre off completely.
Nope, I’ve no idea either.
He then nodded his head and exclaimed, “Look at that funny little bloke” I was left momentarily speechless, but luckily several others pointed out he was looking at Ray Wetherell, one of the greatest cyclist the North East has ever produced, a local legend, who’d achieved more in cycling terms than the Garrulous Kid could even dream of and deserved nothing but respect.
Trying to explain this unforgivable faux pas in a way the Garrulous Kid might actually understand, Taffy Steve suggested what he’d just said was akin to dissing Yoda. Maybe the message got through.
I set off for home alongside Taffy Steve, discussing truly crap British cars of the past, which to my mind were epitomised by the Talbot Samba. I then learned that Son of G-Dawg wasn’t out today as he was at some work away-day, conference and team-bonding session. This allowed me to regale Taffy Steve with my favourite Alexi Sayle quote, or to be more accurate truism: “Anyone who refers to a workshop outside the context of light engineering is a right twat.”
Dropping down Berwick Hill I had a chat with Grover, who seems to be finding his riding groove again following a winter of hibernation. I swapped places so I could latch onto G-Dawg’s wheel for the Mad Mile only to find I wasn’t alone and all the young racing snakes were jumping over the top and snapping at G-Dawgs heels like young pups trying to bring down the Alpha-male.
By the time I swung off and away at the roundabout G-Dawg was sitting watchfully encamped on their back wheels, just daring them to attack again so he could swat them down once more.
My solo ride back was without incident and I got back to hear about the tragic loss of Michele Scarponi, killed in a collision with a motor vehicle near his home. I can’t say I was ever a Scarponi fan, but this seemed a cruel and senseless death and for it to happen on familiar, local roads just seemed to underscore the poignancy of the loss for his young family.
Having had my own travails with arse hat drivers just outside my front door this morning, also reinforced how lucky I’d been and the ever present risk you take every time you swing a leg over your bike. Still, I guess the rewards must outweigh the risks.
Love him, or loathe him, I think perhaps Chris Froome’s comments on Scarponi summed things up best for me: “The whole cycling world has been shocked by his passing and it’s something that rings very close to home for a lot of people. Not just us as professional bike riders, but people who go and ride their bikes every day. He wasn’t breaking any traffic rules, he was just riding as he probably does every day, 2-3km from his home.”
Total Distance: 113 km / 70 miles with 1,063 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 24 minutes
Average Speed: 25.6 km/h
Group size: 34 riders, 3 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Beautifully bright, bitterly cold
Main topic of conversation at the start:
With a degree of mild, but surely misplaced approbation, OGL called out several riders he’d spotted out riding mid-week, as if they’d been caught doing something they shouldn’t have and were standing accused of getting in “unauthorised” secret miles.
The Prof once again rolled up on the Frankenbike, eliciting gasps of disbelief from those who hadn’t seen his progression from small-wheeled velocipede to a grown up bike last week. He gave me a special hug, ostensibly because I was well dressed and co-ordinated (Bertie Bassett rides again) -although I suspect the real reason was that Crazy Legs was late arriving and I was simply the nearest target for his latent, but still patently simmering homo-eroticism.
Crazy Legs did finally turn up and commended the group for a fine showing of club jerseys. A sotto voce commentary from Son of G-Dawg suggested that the 6 on show were about 75% of the total number who would wear the club jersey with any kind of regularity. I’m not sure whether or not he was double-counting G-Dawg who was actually wearing two – an official club gilet over a Grogs unofficial one.
OGL then took several of youngsters and no few elder statesmen to task for wearing shorts, declaring it was still much too cold for exposed knee joints. Many suggested they had packed away winter clothing for the year in boxes, in under bed stores, the loft or in old steamer trunks and it was too much hassle to revert now. It was also suggested that not everyone had the luxury of living in OGL manse, where entire rooms, if not complete wings are devoted to his vast collection of readily accessible and seasonally themed bicycling apparel.
OGL mentioned Shane Sutton’s dismissal of Jess Varnish (and I think I’m only paraphrasing slightly here) as having a fat ass and needing to go away and produce babies. G-Dawg was unimpressed, but reasoned you shouldn’t expect much else if you’re foolish enough to promote an Australian to a position of power and authority.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
At the counter I happened to hear an FNG asking the girls whether he should be getting a mug or a cup of coffee and had to intervene for the sake of decency. We are men, we drink from manly mugs.
As he’d defected from another club and embraced his dark side I was curious to find out how we compared us to his previous band of brothers. As expected his former club took the novel approach of splitting into many different rides according to ability and publishing all the routes well before the day.
This had the advantage of allowing people to plan things in advance, but at the obvious expense of surprise and novelty, or as Andeven explained, the joy of looking up to find you’re suddenly in Rothbury, 40 miles from home and expected back for an important family engagement in the next half an hour.
I asked the Pinarello riding FNG, Dogmatix what bike he had before, interested to know just how much of an upgrade the uber-bike was and how it actually compared to a more affordable option. He said he’d ridden a Carrera previously. Well, that was a conversational dead-end then.
Dogmatix then revealed that when he’d stopped to tighten his seat post last week someone had pointed out a washer on the ground that he’d reasoned wasn’t from his bike, but had picked up and slipped into his pocket just in case.
This morning he’d found that it was an essential part for holding together his multi-tool. He’s now gone from being the proud owner of a convenient, quality multi-tool to having two bits of steel case and a loose collection of jangling allen keys and screwdriver bits in his pockets.
A dry day, bright and sunny – if bitterly cold and infinitely preferable to the past few Saturdays dreich and bleak showing (they rhyme by the way, if you’re wondering how to pronounce dreich :))
A rare confluence of decent weather, work load and family commitments had allowed me to commute into work 4 times during the week. These journeys had warned that the mornings were still very chilly, but there was at least a possibility that things would warm up enough to be pleasant later.
My commutes had been good rides, other than a strong headwind all the way home on Monday and the fact that on Thursday morning I’d wrapped my bike lock around my frame, but completely missed the bike rack.
Luckily Campus Security spotted my dunderheaded idiocy and slapped on one of their own locks to secure the bike. I’d then been somewhat taken aback to hear the ratbag mountain bike described as “expensive” when I went to get the lock removed. Then again, maybe it just looks good in comparison to some of the bikes our students use.
There was a big group of us at the meeting point on Saturday, including a few faces I’d not seen for months including Famous Sean’s an irregular will-o-the-wisp who occasionally graces us with his presence. This was perhaps the first indication that the long months of cycling hibernation is at last coming to an end, although one swallow doesn’t make a decent drink as the parched sailor said. As a counterbalance there were a few noticeable absences amongst the regulars, with The Red Max away on holiday and Taffy Steve strangely and silently AWOL.
As we started out I found myself riding alongside the Prof who enquired if I’d ever had any issues with the Frankenbike’s bottom bracket. The loud and disturbing creaking from “down there” persuaded me not to hang around in case it ultimately disintegrated and a quick rotation brought me up alongside Richard of Flanders.
He was celebrating as he’d inadvertently found and secured a rare Strava KOM while riding a tatty hybrid to school to pick up the kids. This gave me the idea of hauling my bike over next doors front gate and riding up their drive to see if I can secure an unassailable Strava KOM of my own. I think it could even earn me a Charly Gaul-like nickname, how about “L’Ange de Allées” or “The Angel of the Driveways.”
Yet another rotation found me alongside Son of G-Dawg and I complimented him on a perfectly aero bike, deep section carbon wheels, and skin-tight jersey, but had to ask what had gone wrong with the sloppy, baggy socks that negated all his marginal aero-gains and resembled saggy welly tops that had been set to flutter in the wind like twin drogue parachutes.
Apparently he’d forgotten to do the weekly laundry and scratting around in the back of his drawers to try and find anything suitable to wear, the socks were the best he could come up with. He admitted he’d also tried in extremis to dry his jersey by hanging it in the back of the car on the drive over, but it was still unpleasantly damp around the edges. He was obviously hoping it didn’t rain otherwise he’d start foaming and secreting a trail of soap suds behind him.
Not to be outdone, one of the youngsters in front was wearing hideous, putrid green socks decorated with big bloodshot eyeballs that seemed to be staring right at me. I guess the good old days when the only socks you could wear would be white and you’d be pulled from the start line of a race for any wardrobe transgressions are sadly no more.
I overheard Crazy Legs discussing Captain Scarlet and suggesting he drove an SPV or “Special Patrol Vehicle” and had to jump in to correct him – as we all know Captain Scarlet actually drove a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle (c’mon kids, keep up). I think this exchange just convinced Richard of Flanders that all cyclists are at heart deeply weird nerds.
At one point OGL drifted aimlessly back through the group, seemingly just to disrupt everyone. A few minutes later he was sprinting back up to the front, going round a blind corner on the wrong side of the road. Son of G-Dawg called out that there was a fast approaching car, but OGL blithely waved off the warning before swooping inside. Son of G-Dawg growled that he didn’t care if OGL tried to ride over the onrushing car – but he was worried by the sudden swoop back across the road that had everyone scrabbling for brakes.
With the club organised Sloan Trophy set for Sunday, OGL was intent on reconnoitring the route as a final check that everything was in good shape for the next day’s racing. This led us down the Quarry Climb, where a whimpering, vacillating BFG was so eager to escape the longer, harder, faster group that he felt compelled to dive recklessly away in pursuit of the amblers, brushing incredibly close to G-Dawg, if not in fact physically jostling him as he passed.
This would have been the perfect opportunity for Crazy Legs to prove his maturity by shouting, “Feck off you big feck” or something equally as erudite and witty, but sadly he’d already turned off for the café with a bad case of un jour sans.
Ahead, at the junction we saw the amblers turning left while our longer, harder, faster group went right. I joined G-Dawg on the front pushing into a vicious headwind as we ground our way toward the top of the Ryals – this was perhaps going to be the only day when riding down them was almost as hard as climbing up.
Just before the top Mad Colin called a halt as, for the second time in as many outings, Dogmatix found his seatpost slipping. Bloody cheap Pinarello’s. We waited, but people began to get impatient and started to slip away in ones and twos to stream down the descent.
I held back a little longer, then as things seemed sorted pushed over the brow and began to accelerate downward. I moved onto the drops and tucked in, quickly building up speed as gravity sucked us down and hitting a max of 67.7kmph according to my Garmin, despite the headwind.
Halfway down I saw G-Dawg wrestling manfully with his bike, his whole body rigid and shaking and his wheels oscillating savagely as he tried to ship speed and remain in control. I couldn’t tell if his deep-section wheels had caught a sudden crosswind or he’d developed an uncontrollable speed wobble – either way I gave him as much room as possible, sweeping right across the roadway to slide past.
Somehow an ashen G-Dawg managed to complete the descent, but couldn’t be persuaded to climb back up and try again. We regrouped as we swung right onto a narrow farm track and started to climb up again, where we caught and merged with the riders who’d slipped off the front. More climbing and then a bit more followed, before the road finally levelled and we pushed on at high speed for the run in to the café.
I was sitting behind Laurelan as the pace increased and saw she was slowly starting to detach from the riders in front. I cut inside and clung onto G-Dawgs rear wheel as he and Moscas wound the pace up further. With the road starting to dip down a small group managed to open up a gap and we pulled slowly away.
Son of G-Dawg jumped, but I was at terminal velocity and couldn’t have come around G-Dawg to chase if I’d wanted to. Moscas then slowly faded and dropped away and just when it looked like Son of G-Dawg’s break was decisive, Captain Black thundered past to challenge and they raced each other down and into the Snake Bends.
Crossing the main road, we dropped into single file to slalom around the potholes that made the lane look like a recently bombed lunar surface. There was then just the chance for one last burst up the sharp rise to the junction and we were done and rolling through to the café.
On the way home I dropped in beside Captain Black for a chat and to try to discover the secret of his hugely rampaging form; was it drugs, clean living, motor doping, or perhaps three Shredded Wheat for breakfast?
He said it was nothing exotic, just hard work in the gym and, as his temporary gym membership is due to run out soon, he suggested he’ll soon be returning to join me amongst the ranks of the also-rans. Damn, I was hoping for an easy to follow short-cut to good form, but there’s no chance in hell you’ll get me into a gym.
I completed my trip home in good time and without incident to find anniversary greetings from WordPress in my email. I was somewhat surprised to learn I’ve been plugging away at this blog thing for a full year. Tempus fugit?
So, I guess now’s a good time to thank anyone who’s managed to stumble upon this benighted backwater of the Internet, has put up with my verbose, inane ramblings, actually “liked” the odd post or two, added erudite comments, or even bravely signed up as a follower.
One year, 64 posts, 4,711 hits, 1,943 visitors and counting. It’s all quite humbling. Thank you.
YTD Totals: 2,250 km / 1,398 miles with 21,081 metres of climbing