Resting Bitch Face

Resting Bitch Face

Club Run, Saturday 3rd August 2019

Total Distance: 109 km/68 miles with 1,030m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 10 minutes
Average Speed: 26.2km/h
Group Size:38 riders, 3 FNG’s
Temperature: 24℃
Weather in a word or two: Almost felt like summer!

Ride Profile

A misty start to the day, but there was a promise of much better weather, if only we could avoid the widely forecast thunderstorms.

I pushed away from the kerb and was quickly reaching for my brakes as a car shot past and then cut in front of me, either racing the changing traffic lights, or determined not to be held up by a cyclist descending the Heinous Hill. Once again I was struck with the idea that many drivers have no real understanding of just how fast a descending bike can go. I frequently get cars pulling out of junctions directly in-front of me on the long downhill I use on my commute. This either means a rapid application of brakes, or, if I have momentum and a clear road, a bit of over-taking that I’m sure the drivers think is completely reckless and dangerous.

Here, I just had to engage in a bit of tail-gating, stuck behind a car travelling much slower than I would have been, if I didn’t have to hang on the brakes all the way down. I would like to think the sight of a cyclist louring in their rear-view mirror had an intimidating effect, but I very much doubt my presence even registered.

Luckily the rest of my ride across town was incident free and the sky had even shaken of its milky, misty filter by the time I was climbing back out of the river valley.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point

I found club run irregular and Steven Kruisjwijk look-alike Eon waiting with G-Dawg at the meeting point. Eon suggested this was one of his rare penance rides, when he joins a club run just to ensure he exacts the full value out of his £10 annual membership fees.

“I was expecting more out today, though,” he added.

“Well, it’s early yet, let’s wait and see.”

We didn’t actually have all that long to wait, as numbers kept building until we had almost 40 riders and bikes packed like sardines on the pavement. It was going to be a big, big group.

Crazy Legs spotted a couple hanging slightly back from the fray, determined that they were first-timers and invited them into the fold. They had exotic accents, by which I guessed they weren’t from around these here parts…

“Your not Dutch are you?” I challenged, “Because I think we’ve already exceeded our quota on Dutch cyclists.”

“Yeah, it’s true,” Double Dutch Distaff added.

They seemed rather relieved to be able to claim American citizenship, while at the same time quickly disassociating themselves from the Dutch, while no doubt wondering what bunch of lunatics wouldn’t want more lovely people from the Hollow Lands to come out and ride with them.

“Where are you from anyway?” Crazy Legs wondered.

He was from Wisconsin, the girl from a state not a million miles from Wisconsin, but still a sizeable distance away from America’s Dairyland. (Which is my feeble way of saying I didn’t quite catch her reply.)

“Where’s Wisconsin then, is that in the North, on the border with Canada?”

“Hmm, not quite.”

“Is it in the East then?” Crazy Legs continued, undeterred.

“In the West? The Middle?”

“Kinda, North Central.”

“Oh!” I’m not sure we were any wiser really.

“Are you a Packers fan, though?” I wondered.

“Well, you’ve kind of have to be,” he answered, not especially enthusiastically, perhaps worried I’d think he was secretly Dutch if he claimed to be an ardent Cheesehead.

OGL arrived in time to condemn the unwashed state of the Monkey Butler Boy’s bike. It seemed only natural to progress from there to the state of the Garrulous Kid’s bike and in particular his filthy, grungy chain (well, it is about 3 months since his bike was last serviced, which was when it was last clean.)

“And black socks too!” OGL despaired, “That would have resulted in an instant disqualification in my day.”

“Well, they were actually white when he set out this morning,” G-Dawg quipped, “But with that chain, you know …”

Aether outlined the route for the day and the need to split such a big group into at least two. The first group pushed off and started to form up at the lights, but their numbers looked a little light and someone called for additional riders.

Ah, shit, is this what I really wanted to do after a week of indolence, sitting around a pool doing nothing but eating and drinking? I reluctantly bumped down the kerb and tagged onto the back of the group with a few others. I was going to regret this, I was sure.


I slotted in alongside Plumose Pappus, where we tried to determine if there was any pattern to Eon’s seemingly irregular appearances on a club run. We determined that he probably had a number of different groups he rotates through, smashing each one in turn before moving onto the next one and, sportingly, allowing them all 3 months to recover before he puts in another appearance to repeat the cycle.

We then had an involved, entertaining and engaging conversation about beach volleyball. Hold on, I know what your thinking, but this was actually a conversation about a beach volleyball rather than the sport (game?) of beach volleyball itself. Suffice to say, Plumose Pappus may soon be the proud owner of his very own, completely free, beach volleyball. Why? I hear you ask, but I’ll simply paraphrase his well-reasoned answer: Well, why not?

On the narrow lanes up toward the Cheese Farm, three approaching cars in quick succession pulled over to the side of the road and cheerfully waved us through. Perhaps it was just as well though, as we were churning along like a runaway express. Caracol and Rab Dee had kicked things off, the Garrulous Kid and the Dormanator, Jake the Snake (recently rechristened Jake the Knife by Crazy Legs) had added fuel to the fire and then Eon and Andeven increased an already brutal pace.



From 30kms into my ride to the 55km mark, across 32 different Strava segments, I netted 16 PR’s, culminating in a 20km/h burn up the Trench itself.

Prior to that, we had tackled the Mur de Mitford, pausing briefly at the top to regroup, where the Garrulous Kid was invited to lead us to the Trench.

“Take it to the Trench!” I extemporised, channelling just a teeny bit of James Brown.

The Garrulous Kid hates hills now, so refused, claiming he’d just get dropped on the climb.

“Well, just take us to the bottom of the Trench,” someone suggested. Even better, there was a bridge at Netherwitton, just before the Trench.

“Yeah! Take it to the bridge!” I was quite enjoying myself now. The Garrulous Kid just looked at me blankly with a WTF expression and steadfastly refused to lead us out.

Eon and Andeven then pushed onto the front and off we rolled.

Get up-a, git on upp-ah…

And upp-ah we went-ah … up the Trench, a tight knot of us clustered around Eon’s rear-wheel, while trailling a long, broken tail of discarded riders.

Once more, we stopped to regroup at the top, where the Monkey Butler Boy spotted a small knot of dithering sheep in the middle of the road. It looked like they’d escaped from a nearby field only to discover the grass really wasn’t any greener on the other side. The sudden appearance of wild, potentially dangerous animals gave the Monkey Butler Boy strange, flashbacks to a time when he claimed he’d passed a pack of wolves on this very road. Nobody had the faintest recollection of this, or any idea what incident he was actually referring to. Perhaps they’d been a pack of hounds, he concluded lamely … or vampire sheep, I helpfully suggested.

I took the lead alongside Biden Fecht, who had the great joy of calling out a warning of “Sheep!” as we passed the panicking, evidently non-vampiric, ovine escapees. Anyway, a simple pleasure and one that makes a refreshing change from constantly having to shout out Pots! Gravel! Car! or other, equally mundane cycling hazards.

Half way up Middleton Bank and I was done in by the relentless pace, bad gear choice and rampaging speed. Gapped over the top, I chased fruitlessly for a kilometre or two, before giving up, forming an impromptu, very small and select grupetto with the Monkey Butler Boy to cruise the rest of the way to the cafe. I did still manage a quick dig up and over the rollers – but it was just for forms sake.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I wandered into the garden, sitting down in time to catch the end of an anecdote in which the usually mild-mannered, happy-go-lucky, Crazy Legs, admitted he’d recently snapped, losing it and going absolutely postal with a driver who’d shouted at him for not riding in a segregated bike lane.

On being told he was a stupid idiot, Crazy Legs had fully admitted the possibility, but suggested that at least he wasn’t going to keel over and die of a heart-attack anytime soon, unlike his fat, lazy, lard-arsed adversary.

Dinger listened with some sympathy, having himself fallen into the trap of hurling childish insults at a “speccy-four-eyes, bastid” driver in the heat of the moment, before admonishing himself with the simple question, “What am I, five again?”

Elsewhere, we learned that a disgruntled Big Yin had been complaining that Stage 18 of this years Tour de France saw Nairo “Stoneface” Quintana climbing up the Galibier in a time that was considerably faster than the Big Yin had managed going down.

Crazy Legs had caught an interview with Marcel Kittel in which he came across as knowledgeable, humorous, likeable and engaging person, suggesting a stint as a TV-pundit wouldn’t be a bad call if he couldn’t get his cycling career back on track.

I thought this would probably have to wait until the unforeseen time when his hair-modelling options inexplicably and improbably dried up. Crazy Legs then wondered what damage Kittel could do to the Alpecin brand, if he suddenly revealed his hair was falling out. I was all for him shaving his head bald and blaming a certain, caffeine-shampoo for the hair loss, but realised this was unlikely as it would severely curtail hair-modelling opportunities.


We found a fantastically ostentatious, bright red Ferrari in the car park as we made to leave. “That’s worth more than my home,” someone quipped.

“It’s worth more than my family,” I assured them.

G-Dawg looked at the car somewhat askance, before shaking his head in dismay. “You’d never fit a bike rack on that,” he concluded dismissively.

And away we went … Even with early departures, it was still a big, big group that set out for home. Things were fine until we took the lane up toward Berwick Hill, noticing the road was closed just past the junction. This didn’t affect us, but seemed to have forced a huge volume of traffic to share the lane with us, some caught behind with no room to pass, while we had to constantly single out, slow down and hug the hedges for the stream of cars approaching from the other end of the lane.

At one point we passed a group of cyclists heading in the opposite direction, being led by a woman who looked fully enraged. I’ve never seen such anger on a bike, although I suppose Crazy Legs may have approached such levels of incandescent fury during his altercations with his lard-arsed adversary.

I wondered aloud what her problem was, maybe the cars stacked up behind, or the the sea of cyclists filtering past? Surely it couldn’t be the weather, which had been beyond even my most optimistic expectations?

“RBF,” Caracol concluded.

“What?”

“Resting Bitch Face,” he clarified.

Not a phrase I was overly familiar with, but apparently a recognised phenomena, with its own Wikipedia page! Resting Bitch Face is defined as a facial expression that unintentionally makes a person appear angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous, particularly when the individual is relaxed, resting or not expressing any particular emotion.

Hmm, perhaps he had the right of it.

Up the hill to Dinnington and one of the youngsters was struggling to hold the wheels, so I dropped in alongside him and matched my pace to his. Up ahead I could seen Carlton looking back concernedly and rightly concluded this was probably another Carlton prodigy I was escorting and he would be ripping our legs off in a (short) few years.

While the main group disappeared up the road, a few of us dialled back the speed a little for the final mile. As they all turned off I started my solo run for home. The legs were tired and heavy, but it had been a good ride and the decent weather was a real bonus.

It almost felt like summer.


YTD Totals: 4,991 km / 3,101 miles with 66,160 metres of climbing

R.T.F.M.

R.T.F.M.

Club Run, Saturday 10th March, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Ride Profile

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

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


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe Taffy Steve had a point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

I think he mean’t clip-on tri-bars.

For time-trials, obviously.

(I hope.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, not for five or six weeks yet …”

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



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

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

I drifted back to check on the Ticker.

“How are the ears holding up?”

“I can’t actually feel them anymore.”

“Well, that’s good, I guess?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

We discussed his options.

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

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

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

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

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

Well, that got him going again.

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

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

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

I just had to get there.


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

The House of Dying Flaggers

The House of Dying Flaggers

Club Run and Hill Climb, Saturday 14th October, 2017    

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  112 km / 70 miles with 703 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 42 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.9 km/h

Group size:                                         28 riders

Temperature:                                    15°C

Weather in a word or two:          Dank, damp, dark and diluvial


 

hill climb
Ride Profile


Anyone with any sort of connection to a British cycling club will realise we are in the midst of hill climb season, a peculiarly national, highly traditional affectation, that encourages even those of advanced years and who really, really should know better, to bodily hurl themselves at short, steep hills to see how fast they can be ridden up.

The fact that this hurts like hell, puts immense strain on your heart and lungs and leaves you jelly-legged and coughing, spluttering and wheezing like a 40-a-day-smoker for a week afterwards is, apparently, all part of the appeal. In fact, British hill climbs are such a fixed, established tradition that they have their own National Championship and this has even inspired a book, the truly excellent A Corinthian Endeavour by Paul Jones.

Jones suggests it is the brutal simplicity of the hill climb that makes it so compelling. In his words you “ride uphill until your eyeballs explode and the fastest time wins – the paradox is that such a savage and unkempt experience can be so life-affirming.” Hmm, life-affirming? I’m not so sure.

Still, despite Mr. Jones’ claims, I would suggest any of our Continental, Trans-Atlantic or Antipodean cousins stumbling across a hill climb, would probably back away quickly, shaking their heads at the eccentric, nay, certifiably insane excesses of the British cyclist.

This was to be my 7th participation in the futile endeavour that was our club confined Hill Climb and I’ve said I’ll stop as soon as I can no longer improve on the time I set the previous year. Each time I think that day is coming closer – I’m not getting any younger and I can’t think of anything equipment-wise I could buy that would make me demonstrably quicker (well, aside from the obvious PED’s, or hidden motors.)

Still, I cling to the fact that I’m a year older, a year nearer to retirement, a year nearer being fully licenced to wear Farah trousers and dress exclusively in beige. Something has to give, surely. So I was semi-hopeful this year would be the last, results would finally show a deterioration and I’d be free of the curse.

As the day started to loom I had a lot weighing on the plus side and had started to marshal a veritable cornucopia of excuses lined up in anticipation of failure (or, do I actually mean success?)

Preparation hadn’t been ideal – a lengthy knee injury has hampered me recently, although sadly it seems to have cleared, so I can’t use that as an excuse not participate. I’ve also been plagued with random, seemingly migratory abdominal pains and been extensively poked and prodded and pricked and sampled and trialled and tested by my GP – all to no avail. I’m a medical conundrum.

Along with seemingly most of the medical community, I’m still in the dark as to the cause and awaiting further scans. An ECG did however come back clean, robbing me of another potential excuse for not riding, but not to worry, I’ve plenty of others…

My fair-weather commuter bike of choice, my shingle-shpeed Trek (I’ve no idea why I need to pronounce it in my head like Schteve McClaren impersonating a Dutchman speaking English – perhaps I’ll just call it the Shrek from now on) has been out of action with a seized rear wheel, while my winter bike, the Pug (Peugeot) has also been laid up in the LBS with the rear mech and hanger inextricably fused together. This still worked after a fashion, but made removing and replacing the rear wheel a tricky, almost Herculean task, so needed fixing before the inevitable puncture on a cold and wet winter ride in the middle of nowhere.

All this meant I’d done far less commuting in the past fortnight than I would have liked, (or, to be more precise, exactly none) but as of last weekend both bikes have been restored to full working order.

I’ve been suffering with a heavy cold all week, but remembered the patented Crazy Legs cure, as he swears by trying to ride through them, so I’d managed to commute on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with this in mind. Halfway through and I was already imagining the ensuing conversation in my head:

Me: “I had a cold last week and remembered how you always try to ride through them, so thought I’d give it a go.”

Crazy Legs: “How did that work out for you, then?”

Me: “Just made me feel worse.”

Crazy Legs: “Yeah, it’s always the same for me…”

Oddly though, it does seem to have helped, or maybe the cold has just run its natural course regardless of what I was doing. Anyway, by the Saturday I was starting to feel on the mend, although still plagued by a head full of intractable, irradiated, green snot. On a positive note, it did stir up some nostalgia, reminding me of the thick, viscous Gloy gum we used to have at school.

I had planned to take it easy on the Friday, but encountered what may have been the vanguard to Hurricane Ophelia and couldn’t resist the strong, strangely warm tailwind that whipped me into a drag race, daring me to see just how fast I could actually ride in to work. The “easy” return in reverse, then became a solid grind into blustery, strong headwinds. (Not that gurning my way up the Heinous Hill on the shingle-shpeed Shrek can ever be considered especially easy.)

Still, the weather looked like being just about perfect for Saturday, warm and dry, so a lack of grip and traction wasn’t going to assist me to underachieve, the wind would be a non-factor and it wasn’t going to be cold enough stop my legs, muscles and lungs performing at their usual modest levels. With the forecast looking so benign and amenable, I planned to ride, instead of drive across to the meeting point and even allowed myself an extra quarter of an hour so I could arrive relatively fresh.

Saturday morning revealed the weather forecast had been nothing but a malicious fantasy, the sky was bleakly and uniformly grey beneath a low cloud base that leeched an intermittent, sifting, and drifting mist of cold rain. All the while the temperature just barely struggled into double figures.

On went a pair of arm warmers, on went the long fingered gloves and then I pulled on a rain jacket and, leaving it as late as possible, reluctantly left the warmth of the house.

The weather had cleared a little by the time I got to the meeting point about an hour later, but it still wasn’t warm enough to persuade me to shuck and stow the jacket.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

G-Dawg was waiting at the meeting point on his fixie, a deliberate choice to ensure that, no matter how tempted, he wouldn’t be able to participate in the hill climb for fear of blowing out his knees. Instead G-Dawg had volunteered to help out as holder and had co-opted Crazy Legs to help as official starter and timekeeper. With OGL handling timings at the finish at the top of the hill, we were all set.

The Monkey Butler Boy was obviously taking the whole thing very seriously and rolled up in his club skinsuit and brandishing magnetic number holders. I joked that they looked heavier than safety pins, but apparently not, as they are infinitesimally lighter and that’s before you even consider their more advanced aerodynamic properties. Allegedly.

The Red Max wandered behind the Monkey Butler Boys bike and returned smiling contentedly. The Monkey Butler Boy looked all around, fear and real concern in his eyes.

“What’s he done? What did he just do to my bike?” he demanded to know. Luckily his paranoia was quickly diverted when, to his everlasting shame and horror, he discovered a perfectly formed, chain-ring tattoo branded on his calf. Amateur.

He was then taken to task for seriously over-lubing his chain. In demonstration, like the pickiest ever contestant on 4-in-a-Bed, G-Dawg ran a finger along his own, gleaming, shining silver links and showed us the faintest trace of clean oil forming a slight snail-trail across the pad of his finger. Repeating the process with the Monkey Butler Boy’s chain his finger came back stained with a thick, grungy, greasy smear that he ostentatiously wiped off on the grass. And then returned to wipe some more, as the filthy black grunge proved surprisingly sticky and indelible.

The meeting place has sprouted a new bin that seems to have grown up organically, straight through the pavement. Being deeply conservative and suspicious of anything new, we kept a good distance and eyed it warily as we waited to leave – delaying until the last possible minute to ensure we captured a full contingent of hill climb victims participants.


I rode out with Biden Fecht, chatting about this and that, everything and nothing, as we picked our way up through Dinnington, before swinging left to head down into the Tyne Valley. This was to be the plucky fellers first hill climb and the usual gallows humour had already started to infect him. He confessed to thinking about staging an accident to avoid the hill climb, if only he could find a suitable grassy knoll. I made him promise to make sure he brought me down if he found the right opportunity.

We dropped down through Wylam and started skirting the river, all bundling into a parking area at the bottom of the climb to regroup and for everyone to pull on jackets as the intensity of the rain increased and started to bounce back off the tarmac.

We picked our way along the north bank of the river, while I had a chat with the Hammer about creeping paranoia and the fear of being a dissident. Or, at least I think that’s what we were discussing, he’ll probably deny it under oath.

We paused at Stocksfield to regroup again and I took the opportunity to ride out onto the bridge to look over the parapet at the river, flowing fast and high beneath us. We crossed into more rain and took to the wide, but fast and busy road up through Riding Mill toward Corbridge and our chosen scene of torture, Prospect Hill.

The group splintered on a couple of rises and I found myself chasing across the gap onto the Red Max’s wheel, sitting just off centre of his rear wheel and trying to find some shelter from the wind, while avoiding the arc of cold water his tyre was kicking up into my face.

A sharp left and we were there, joining a throng of happily babbling kids, our Go-Ride section, who all looked delighted to be riding up a steep hill in the cold and pouring rain.

“Have we started yet?” G-Dawg enquired, before remembering he was the actual starter and no one was going without his say-so.

I signed on and press-ganged Captain Black into slapping my number on my back, “any-which-way.” He was surprisingly adept at any-which-way and I was soon ready to start. Unfortunately, I think I was number 22 or so, with all the young kids setting off first so we could get them out of the cold and the rain as quickly as possible – although they seemed to be coping with the grim weather conditions much better than all us grumbling, auld gits – they were excited and happy and hyper and it was brilliant.

It could have been a lot worse, I think last year we probably had over 40 starters, but the weather had obviously put a damper on things and deterred a lot of participants. Still it meant I had 20 minutes or so to hang around and get progressively colder and damper.

We stood chatting aimlessly for a while, talking the usual nonsense. The Natty Gnat outlined his strategy, which included waiting until “he could see the line” before changing up and charging at it. I suggested if he could see the line, he was probably doing it all wrong and he amended his strategy to” sensing the line” through the red-haze of hypoxia and tunnel-vision of hurt.

I checked that Jimmy Mac our Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon was ahead of me in the start list and would be at the top and able to help the old feller in crisis who would come staggering up behind him. I then realised his services might be in high demand and in any triage situation I was unlikely to be a priority. I could feel his eyes already coldly appraising me, with a look that seemed to suggest, “this one’s too old, far too troublesome and not worth saving.”

Meanwhile firm-favourite to win, broad shouldered, Steven Kruijswijk look-alike, Eon discovered his Di2 had given up the ghost and he’d be essentially reduced to riding the hill in just a single gear. What to me would have been the perfect excuse to scrub the ride was just seen as an additional challenge to Eon, who considered and discarded the idea of borrowing someone else’s bike and decided he just needed to choose his one gear very, very carefully.

With ten minutes to go I went for a short spin to try and warm up a little. Then the bike and pockets were stripped of any extraneous weight and finally and very, very reluctantly I slipped out of my rain jacket and took my place in line behind a visibly shivering Colossus.

With just a long, last, blood-chilling glower at Crazy Legs, our official timekeeper for the day (as if this was all his fault!) the Colossus roared away and I was next up. I nudged up to the line and was clamped in place by G-Dawg on one side and another big bloke I didn’t recognise on the other. I was now locked in, rock-solid, unwavering and utterly motionless.

“Thirty seconds,” Crazy Legs informed me brightly.

I clipped in and paused.

“Hold on! I’ve changed my mind, I want to get off.”

I could feel the unknown bloke wavering, his grip loosened just a little. G-Dawg though was unmoveable, implacable and his hold unrelenting, there was no escape, I wasn’t going anywhere…

Crazy Legs then began a very fine impersonation of Ted Rodgers doing the 3-2-1 countdown, or maybe it was that Phones-4-U thing. Either way I’m not sure the UCI would have approved and his struggles would later find him practicing his manual dexterity in the café. In his defence, I have to say that both the double-digit and single-finger salute he greeted my gentle ribbing with were delivered with suitable aplomb and professionalism.

“5-4-3-2-1 – go, go, go!”

Shit! Shit! Shit! I was released, managed not to fall over and headed for the bottom of the first ramp, legs quickly whirring up to speed

I was determined not to bury myself too deeply on the first corner, despite the encouragement of a group of “cycling moms” who’d stayed behind to add their support to the senior riders with much shouting and the shaking of home-made rattles. Great stuff, thanks ladies.

I exited the first corner in good order, distractedly noting that at some point I’d actually managed to stop shivering. Unfortunately, I think I’d also been a little too relaxed and I wasn’t carrying enough momentum with me. The speed began to drop and I did what I usually do, leapt out of the saddle and tried to add a little oomph.

Nope, not happening, not today…

The rear wheel slipped and slid with no traction, the ground was much too wet and too greasy for a sudden application of power. Three times the wheel spun ineffectively as I teetered on the edge of disaster, before it finally bit and I was back in control and climbing upwards again.

Now I started to notice how bad the road actually was, the surface was rough, cracked and pitted with potholes, while the corners were strewn with dead leaves and gravel and, just outside a new construction site, liberally daubed with slippery mud.

I was now concentrating on trying to pick a clean line, while running my chain up the cassette, trying to find the right gear that would let me accelerate while staying rooted firmly to the saddle. I already knew this wasn’t going to be a good time but pressed on, legs burning, lungs strangely okay and breathing not quite as distressed as usual.

As the road dug eastwards, I glanced over the dry stone wall to my left and saw the murky, misty clouds in the valley slowly burning off, lifting and blowing away as the sun lanced through in bright columns. I think I might have appreciated the sight for at least a nano-second, before it was back to the task in hand and I was threading my way around a gravel moraine, skirting the edge of an elongated crevasse and pushing my way around one more corner.

I rose out of the saddle a few times, but far more circumspectly now, trying to gradually add power without losing grip, working constantly upward. The tyres were still slipping a little, but it was far more controlled and through it I was able to slowly pile on a little more speed.

I rounded the final bend, squinting toward where a hazy collection of people outlined in bright sunlight marked the finish. I crashed back down the cassette, willed my legs to maintain the same cadence and closed quickly, throwing the bike over the line.

I hung over the frame for a minute or two trying to control my ragged breathing, before turning and looking back down the road. Shattered riders and discarded bikes were scattered on the grass verges like a column of refugees after a strafing attack by dive bombers.

I slowly made my way back to the finish line, congratulating Biden Fecht on a good ride and in time to cheer on Buster, the Monkey Butler Boy and, last man up, the Garrulous Kid, all of whom did great rides.

Me? I came home in 6:24, that’s 23 seconds down on the previous year. I am officially no longer getting any faster.


HClimb
The law of diminishing returns


Jimmy Cornfeed helped me unpin my number and I picked my way back down the hill now there were no more contestants racing up it. At the bottom I met up with G-Dawg, Crazy Legs and others, as we set out to find a café – hopefully in Corbridge, but definitely anywhere other than Brockbushes, where we have been made to feel especially unwelcome in the past few years.

We failed to locate a café rolling through Corbridge and set out in a wide loop around the town, before heading to a place the Red Max had pinpointed as a potential stop. As we pressed on into the wilderness and seemingly angling North toward the border, Biden Fecht cheered me up by suggesting that if all else failed he knew of a good café in Jedburgh. Then as we pressed on further with no relief in sight, he concluded there was always our usual stop at Belsay.

This slight detour turned into a bit of a grind, as the rain started falling again. Crazy Legs and G-Dawg had set off at a pace designed to restore some circulation and warmth to their much beleaguered bodies. They must have had it even worse than the participants, having stood around from start to finish of the event, without the benefit of even the most ineffectual warm up, or the opportunity to actually ride the hill.

So, while they pressed on, full of energy and desperate to warm up, I found my legs drained of any strength and on a long, dragging climb drifted slowly off the back of the group. On we pushed, seemingly with a final destination in mind, but finally regrouped so I could find a bit of shelter in the wheels and hang on grimly.

“A right turn, somewhere along here …” G-Dawg informed us.

“Or here?”

“Maybe here?”

“Ah, here.”

We turned in, Biden Fecht read the sign as Valium Farm, but that was only wishful thinking on his part – the great horde of unwashed cyclists had finally descended on the otherwise peaceful and sedentary Vallum Farm Tea Rooms.


Main conversations at the coffee shop:

The Garrulous Kid was found wandering around asking people the quickest way home as he had an appointment with his lah-di-dah hairdressers for another fresh trim. Earlier, G-Dawg had patiently explained how he could retrace his steps back, crossing the river at Stocksfield.

“You know where that is, don’t you?”

The Garrulous Kid just looked blank.

“Wylam? You know Wylam and how to get back from there?”

The Kid still looked blank.

He’d asked me the quickest way to get home and I unhelpfully suggested he cadge a lift back with someone who’d brought a car. In retrospect, perhaps it was the most sensible suggestion he’d got all day.

Now, the Red Max, who seemed to be the only one who actually knew where we were, told him to turn left out the farm, then first right and then right again and he’d be on the road to Stamfordham.

The Kid still looked blank, but left regardless. We still have no idea if he’s actually made it home yet, let alone in time for his salon appointment.

I got my time for the hill climb – significantly slower than last year. I said I would stop once my time started to regress, so “never again!” I vowed to anyone who cared to listen.

The possibility of transporting a set of rollers up to the start of the hill climb for a more considered warm up was discussed. Caracol was surprised the Red Max hadn’t pulled a set out of his “bag of tricks” while G-Dawg wanted to see someone riding with a set of rollers strapped to their back. In his absence, we all volunteered the Garrulous Kid to transport them to the bottom of the hill climb for us next year.

Crazy Legs pondered whether you couldn’t make some exceedingly narrow, portable rollers and wondered how narrow they could be made before they became unusable.

OGL left, returned to tell us he’d been harangued by an old harridan who objected to cyclists clogging up the country lanes (for once he didn’t seem keen to acknowledge any form of leadership over our ranks). He left again, then returned realising he hadn’t paid (important in case we wish to return to this venue next year, hopefully without circumnavigating the whole of the Tyne Valley to get there) and then, he finally left for good.

As we packed up and made to follow, Crazy Legs congratulated the Red Max on finding an even more expensive café than our usual haunt. The Colossus tried to wipe down his chair and I followed suit, finding a cold, damp and gritty film had permeated the seat.

“Yeuk!” I observed.

“Yep,” the Colossus agreed, I don’t like sitting in that, I certainly wouldn’t want someone else to.”

Hmm, perhaps we won’t be welcome back here next year after all, even if we all remembered to pay our bills.


We followed the Red Max out into the dank and dark day, as he followed the directions he’d given the Garrulous Kid, turning left, then right, then right again. True to his word (I know, I checked the map – but only after the event) we were now running just south of Stamfordham, but the road we were on was slick with mud and grit and who knows what else.

“Don’t ever let my Dad choose the route again,” the Monkey Butler Boy protested as he bounced and rattled along the smashed up surface and his bike, shoes and new skinsuit developed a thick coating of filth. I felt even worse for the Natty Gnat on his all-white bike and predominantly white University of Newcastle cycling kit. I must admit I don’t recall ever getting the bike this filthy and it took 3 full buckets of car shampoo to get it clean again.


shoes
White bike, white kit, white shoes … all a big mistake


A little further on and we slowed for three horses and riders, at the same time as a car approached from the opposite direction. One of the horses baulked, crabbing sideways, before turning a full 180° and trotting back past us, the rider wearing a rueful grin and trying to pretend that he was still the one in charge. As we rode past we were somewhat surprised to find the riders all dressed in tweeds and ties and formal shirts, despite the foul weather. Skinsuits be damned, we vowed we’d have to organise our own Gentleman’s club run in woollen plus fours, knitted ties, brogues and flat caps.

Aware that time was pressing on and I was already late getting back, I saw a sign for Stocksfield at the next junction, knew it was south of the river, so split with the group for (hopefully) a more direct route home. I soon found myself passing the familiar roads around Whittledene Reservoir and having to track west to find a place to cross the A69, before heading east again.

The usually buzzing A69 dual carriageway was eerily quiet and I rode quickly across without having to pause. It wasn’t long before I was dropping down into the Tyne Valley again, crossing the river and heading home.

That was a long day, over 70 miles and with lots of hills, despite the usual rain foreshortened climbing metres on my Garmin. This somehow recorded a total less than the previous year, when I’d driven across to the meeting point and hadn’t climbed in and out of the Tyne Valley five times, or tacked the Heinous Hill onto the end of my ride.

So another year and another hill climb ticked off. Now I’ve had time to reflect and recover, will I do it again? I’m not ruling it completely out, but won’t feel as compelled to keep the streak going. So if the weather isn’t filthy, rotten, dirty, cold and wet and I’m relatively fit I might line up. If not, I’ll hopefully be able to shrug, give the thing a miss and not feel any remorse.


YTD Totals: 6,053 km / 3,761 miles with 68.935 metres of climbing

Questions of the day


The 15th Stage of the Giro from Valdengo to Bergamo, featured a select group of the top GC riders in a flat out, straight-up, drag-race sprint for glory and the win.

Quick-Step’s Bob Jungels finally prevailed, powering to the line just ahead of the surprisingly fast, quickly closing, pint-sized Nairo Quintana. In claiming a surprise second place Quintana handily beat “heavyweight contenders” such as Vincenzo Nibali, Thibaut Pinot, Bauke Mollema, Tom Dumoulin and Steven Kruijswijk.


Capture
Getty Images Sport


This for me then raises some serious questions: If Jungels had been beaten in a sprint by Quintana, would he ever have been allowed back onto the Quick-Step bus? Would his career have recovered from such a disgrace? Surely this Giro’s peerless sprinter, Fernando Gaviria could legitimately have refused to share a room with such a loser?

And, just how much do the other GC riders owe Jungels for actually pulling off the win and deflecting attention from the fact they all had their backsides whupped in a sprint by the feather-weight climber from Columbia?


 

Rumble Strips

Rumble Strips

Club Run, Saturday 22nd April, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Temperature:                                    13°C

Weather in a word or two:          Moderate


 

ride 22 april
Ride Profile


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.


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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.”

Team Sky website

A rather sad  and sombre end to a great ride.


YTD Totals: 2,323 km / 1,443 miles with 24,825 metres of climbing