It’s Saturday morning again, so, naturally it’s raining. Again. Heavily. This time however, I’m assured that it is going to stop and the rest of the day should be relatively rain free.
45-minutes later, I’m getting ready to leave and the rain is slowly petering out. Still I take precautions, pulling on a light waterproof jacket and, after a tormented inner dialogue of Hamlet-like intensity, a pair of black socks. These make me feel rather uncomfortable and dirty, but it seems preferable to ruining another pair of white socks with road spray.
Minutes later and I’m more at peace with my choice as my front wheel cuts a bow wave through all the surface water sheeting the Heinous Hill. Socks and shoes are already soaked, but looking none the worse for it.
I’m caught behind the barriers of a level-crossing as two trains trundle past in opposite directions and then passed by two cyclists who I track to the end of the bridge, where they split off left and I head right. They’re both braving the weather sans-rain jacket and I soon stop to follow suit. Things are good, the weather has perked up and I’m almost perfectly dry by the time I pull up at the meeting point.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point
“Are you the cycling group that leaves here at nine?” a breathless feller asked as he pulled up in front of us.
“9:15,” we corrected him. Obviously we were not the droids he was looking for and he scuttled away around the corner to search for who knows what group and who knows where. I’d been there from just before 9 o’clock and I could have re-assured him there been no other groups of cyclists lurking in the area.
The Garrulous Kid came bounding in, flushed with success having secured the grades necessary to get into Aberdeen University. Now he/we only have a couple of rides left before he leaves for an extended Fresher’s week over the border. It seems just moments since he was a gangling, callow, awkward and immature school kid, incapable of taking a left turn smoothly on a bike. Now look at him – a gangling, callow, awkward and immature, soon-to-be student, who is still incapable of taking a left turn smoothly on a bike.
Caracol reported a city-wide street party had spontaneously erupted in Edinburgh when they learned the Garrulous Kid was headed to university in Aberdeen rather than in their fair city. We also speculated on how Biden Fecht might take this news and whether he’d feel honour-bound to resign from his post at the University of Aberdeen
As our maître d’, unofficial meeter-and-greeter and chief pastoral carer, Crazy Legs was once again employed to bring a stray FNG into the fold. This proved to be a guy riding a bike that he claimed was transitioning from city bike, to gravel bike. The revolution had started at the front end with impressively wide-chunky tyres, before petering out with the super-skinny slicks still on the rear. We’re a broad church, with an open and inclusive outlook though, so both rider and transbike were immediately welcomed into our merry throng.
Den Hague had bravely volunteered to plan and lead the ride today and had us set for picking our way along some newish, somewhat pot-holed and distressed looking tracks en route to an assault on the Ryals. Crazy Legs assured the FNG that his bike was probably ideal for the task in hand … well, half of it was anyway.
We then only had time to ponder the unusual, unannounced absence of G-Dawg before we were pushing off, clipping in and riding out.
I dropped onto the back of the first group, where things started to go wrong almost immediately, as we were split by a red light. The light changed to green and Homeboyz and the Big Yin led the chase onto the main road, in pursuit of the front end of the first group.
They barrelled straight over the first round about. Uh-oh, I think we should have turned left at that point. We pressed on and then started to slow and prevaricate as it became apparent we really should have taken that left turn.
We decided to push on regardless, adding in a big dog-leg to our route in order to get back on track. A few miles further up the road, a group of cyclists appeared ahead of us and we were able to tag onto the back. The only thing was, it wasn’t our first group but the second and our numbers had just swelled it to a bloated twenty-plus.
The Big Yin queried if we should over-take and chase down the front group, but I suspected it would cause all kinds of mayhem and so we just sat at the back and enjoyed the ride.
Which we did, until we got to Matfen and a general re-grouping. Homeboyz explained how we ended up at the back of the second group and held his hand up to acknowledge his part in our misadventures.
“I have to admit,” he declared, “It was partly my fault,” he assured Crazy Legs.
“Partly?” I queried.
“Oh, okay, it was fully my fault,” he amended.
We split at this point, some off to the cafe via the Quarry, while the rest pushed on climbing up through Great Whittingham, flirting briefly with the A68 before taking the rough track through Bingfield toward the Ryals.
Then up the Ryals we went. I struggled to find the right gear and wasn’t pushing too hard, but somehow managed a new, fastest time, which was a little unexpected bonus.
A front group had raced away up the climb and they didn’t look back, but the rest of us regrouped in the village of Ryal, before tackling the Quarry. At the top we turned right and started to accelerate toward the cafe.
A small knot pulled away from the front, but I held fire figuring they would slow on the long drag up to Wallridge crossroads and I could try attacking and bridging across then, all the while Crazy Legs drove us on, intent on pulling our splintered group back into one cohesive unit.
I paused to let an approaching car past, then slipped to the outside and gave a kick. The delay for the passing car proved fortuitous as I caught the front group just as they approached the crossroads. I only had to slow momentarily before one of them called that the road was clear. Still carrying more momentum than the group I’d just caught, I eased past and pushed on with what I suspected was a small gap, but it was still a gap.
From behind Den Hague gave chase and pulled the Garrulous Kid along with him. Down the twisting descent, I made it through the junction, still with a slight advantage. Den Hague finally overhauled me on the climb up to the final junction.
Onto the road down to the Snake Bends, he seemed to pause momentarily and I tried to give chase, slowly clawing back some distance. Then the Garrulous Kid thundered away of my wheel and I eased, letting the pair up front fight it out, before once again our group slowly coalesced and we made our way to the cafe.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
We found a perky looking G-Dawg already ensconced at a table in the garden, having decided to wait out the early downpour before taking to the roads. I think he was suffering from the same malady I was last week – rainmalaise.
Crazy Legs suggested if we ever needed a grumpy old man to replace OGL to bitch and kvetch about the weather and massively exaggerate its impact, we’d found the ideal candidate.
Meanwhile, Buster turned up at our table with a Chocolate Rollo tray bake as dense as osmium.
“That looks super-calorific,” Crazy Legs acknowledged admiringly.
“You might even say it’s super-calorific- expialidocious ,” I ventured, but singularly failed to inflict an unwanted ear-worm on Crazy Legs.
I needn’t have worried, minutes later he as talking about the end of season three of Stranger Things and serenading us all with a heartfelt version of Neverending Story.
Talk turned to other TV-Series and we learned that both Buster and Princess Fiona still have two episodes of Killing Eve left to watch and they warned us against issuing any spoilers.
“I’m only just getting over the shock of her husband leaving,” Buster volunteered.
“What! Her husband leaves her?” Princess Fiona demanded.
Oops, there goes the no spoilers alert, looks like someone actually has more than 2 episodes to catch up on.
From TV, it was a short hop to film, with Crazy Legs off to see the new Tarantino movie and still marvelling at how Christoph Waltz made drinking a glass of milk look so threatening and unsettling in Inglourious Basterds.
We discussed a pivotal point early in the film, when a spy in a German bar revealed himself by ordering three drinks the British way, by holding up his his index, middle, and ring finger. Apparently, that’s not how it’s done on the Continent.
“Show us three, with your fingers,” Crazy Legs asked Double Dutch Distaff, who wasn’t really following the conversation. She immediately held up three digits … a thumb, index finger and middle-finger.
Crazy Legs responded with his British version – index, middle finger and ring finger proudly upraised.
She looked totally perplexed, as if he’d just performed some incredibly difficult and strange sleight of hand, before declaring it was just wrong, unnatural and awkward. I sensed we were just moments away from such a gesture being declared retarded.
G-Dawg wandered over to suggest we took a different route home via Whalton as the road for our regular run through Ogle was muddy and “covered in crap.”
Crazy Legs announced the change, but probably could have saved his breath, G-Dawg swung left instead of right out of the cafe and everyone else just seemed to naturally follow.
The Red Max was riding happily alongside Crazy Legs, when he suddenly reprised “Neverending Story.”
“Nah!” the Red Max declared, “I’m not having it, not that song.” He made a show of pulling off to one side and slipping to the back.
I shuffled up and had a chat with Crazy Legs, again touching on the lack of club jersey’s in a group that was still almost twenty-strong.
“We must look like a bunch of masterless Ronin, roaming the countryside, seemingly without purpose,” I mused.
“I’ve always seen us as more of a rowdy, rabble.” Crazy Legs determined. He liked the connotation of rowdy with rodeo’s, suggesting our Wednesday evening drop-rides akin to bronc riding, you just hug on as long as you could before you were inevitably thrown off the back.
A brief reshuffle and I found myself alongside the Red Max. I couldn’t resist and gave him a quick burst of Neverending Story – and it was a quick burst, as I only know that one line from the chorus. Nevertheless, it was more than enough, even before my ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah’s, were complete, the Red Max was swearing like a trooper and dropping out of line again:
“Na! Na! Na! I’m not having it. Na!”
Who’d have thought it. Like kryptonite to Superman, or garlic to vampire’s, we’d discovered that Limahl’s horrid warbling was the Red Max’s Achilles’ heel.
G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid finished their stint on the front and I took over alongside Homeboyz, keeping the pace respectably high as we swung round the airport. As we entered the Mad Mile and most of the group swung away, G-Dawg appeared on my shoulder and we pressed on to the roundabout, where I could slingshot away and start my solo ride back.
YTD Totals: 5,261 km / 3,269 miles with 69,553 metres of climbing
Time for one last hurrah, one more brief spin out, before breaking down and packing up the bike for the return home. Steadfast and the Hammer have disappeared for solo ride’s, off up the valley, the Big Yin is, I believe treating himself to a ride up the Col d’Ornon, while Caracol is riding Oulles and the Col d’Ornon as a warm up for another assault on the l’Alpe d’Huez.
That leaves six of us for a slow-paced amble back up the Alpe, complete with multiple stops and a vague plan to arrive at the top in time for a relaxed lunch. From there, thoughts go no further than a quick zip back down the mountain to the campsite.
Not a very taxing day, but for me it’s going to be enough. I remember doing the exact same thing last time around when, the day after the Circle of Death, I felt someone had poured concrete into my legs. Things weren’t as bad today, but I was still mightily tired and anything beyond a slow-paced amble was completely beyond me.
All traces of the bad weather from yesterday had blown over and it looked like being a good ‘un, the sky a backdrop of deep blue, scratched with a few gauzy, high altitude contrails and dotted with bright, primary coloured highlights from a handful of drifting paraglider wings.
So, up we went, slowly spinning the legs back up to speed, as chains rolled up cassettes, again and again and again. And again. We initially rode en bloc, at a comfortable pace, enjoying the sunshine and chatting away quietly.
We stopped every three or four corners to enjoy the views and watch the sparse, but steady flow of riders heading up, or zipping down. Crazy Legs felt our presence kept those descending honest, as no one wanted to misjudge a corner and mess up in front of a critical jury of smart-arse cyclists.
We greeted and encouraged those clambering upwards, they were almost unfailingly cheerful, despite the rigours of the task they’d assigned themselves. What is it about bikes and mountains that makes us want to ride up them and makes us happy to do it, too?
After exchanging pleasantries with one fellow-Brit, he then looked behind and shouted down words of encouragement to his companion, toiling upwards in his wake,”Come on, Paul.”
We immediately took up the chorus, encouraging Paul to greater efforts,
“Come on, Paul!”
“You can do it, Paul!”
As he drew level, no doubt wondering who this bunch of piss-taking, miscreants were, Kermit gave it one last shot.
“Come on, Paul,” he paused for dramatic effect, “We’ve heard so much about you!”
As we dissolved into giggles, Paul hauled himself past and around the corner, shaking his head and no doubt cursing the lolling, goggling, gaggle of lazy, smart-arse cyclists, who didn’t even have the ability to ride up on their own without stopping at every corner.
Undeterred, at some point we resumed our super-relaxed ascent and I found myself riding alongside Ovis as the others stretched away out in front.
We were just discussing whether riding up a mountain was actually a good choice for a recovery ride, when Ovis jinked into my path. This forced me toward the low wooden barrier, that was all that stood between the road and a precipitous drop over the other side. I had visions of him body-checking me over the edge as he quipped, “Oh yeah, try recovering from that, then!”
Apparently though, this was just my paranoid delusions and we pressed on without any further overt attempts on my life.
At the next stop a German couple seemed hugely amused by our antics and banter, I suppose for them it was almost as entertaining as spotting a troupe of wild Barbary apes cavorting across the Rock of Gibraltar. They must have eventually decided that we were mostly harmless and possibly even trustworthy, so they co-opted Ovis into taking a few photos for them.
On we went again, all the way up to the village of Huez, where a little leafy shade perfectly framed what we determined would be our final stop before the summit.
Running Up That Hill
After another suitably elongated rest, replete with idle chatter, off we went again, slowly catching and passing a runner pounding her way resolutely upwards. Crazy Legs had a brief chat, learned she was a visiting American and she gave him the answer to his most burning question: what would she do once she got to the top? She said she was just going to turn herself around and run straight back down again!
I can’t help thinking running down a mountain would be as punishingly hard, if not actually harder, than running up one. And I thought cyclists were crazy …
Once more our group became naturally stratified by the slope and I found myself riding at the back with Ovis as we rounded the photographers. Yet again I got undeserved grief for hogging the limelight.
We had a bit of a chat about the possibility of extending our trips over a few more days, but given I was so deeply tired already, I wondered how enjoyable that would actually be. Perhaps we would need to plan a rest day in the middle, or, Ovis suggested, maybe we’d just need to avoid mega-long, multiple mountain marathon’s, like yesterday’s “Circle of Death.”
Then we were on the long straight up through the first ski chalet’s, following the road as it dog-legged left around one last corner and riding across the official-unofficial finish line with its barriers and bunting and podium.
Done. That was it for the day, there was never any intention of pushing through the town and up to the actual finish this time around. We clambered off and joined the rest of our group who’d already staked out a table in our favourite bar.
Here we would enjoy a few cold drinks, have a bite to eat and generally watch the world go by on two wheels.
One rider wandered past clad in a specially made, one-off, bright pink jersey, featuring a bigger than life, sublimated image of Donald Trump’s snarling face, all sneering mouth, tiny, piggy eyes and ridiculous, Shredded Wheat hairstyle. The rider was at pains to tell anyone who’d listen that he wasn’t a fan of the 45th President of the US of A, but then, we wondered why he’d gone to all that trouble and expense of making and wearing the jersey?
Crazy Legs told him an orangutan-orange jersey would have been much more appropriate, which seemed to be the only sensible response to this particular horror.
A few of our mob wandered off to do some souvenir shopping, while I sat with Crazy Legs, watching a large group of strapping, young men, all of a similar age and build, ride past. They all wore identical, understated kit, all-black, save for one red, white and blue, tricolour sleeve. I suspect they were from the armed forces, maybe French Marines or similar, speculation that was reinforced when one of them strode past later, with shiny metal prosthetic’s where an arm and a leg were missing.
We then idly wondered if perhaps we’d just been presented with the ideal way of coming up with a tasteful club jersey that could still pay homage to our established, traditional and sadly lurid, club colours of tangerine and green.
Crazy Legs reminisced about the last time we were here, when he’d had to break the news to a disbelieving Englishman that, although he’d crossed the unofficial-official finish line, with its barriers and bunting and podium, he hadn’t actually completed the climb.
We’d watched him quickly run through all the stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and finally acceptance and resignation, before wandering away disconsolately. I’m not sure he liked us after that. He certainly didn’t seem inclined to hang around and chat.
It’s all downhill from here
Well fed and watered and with souvenir jersey’s and t-shirts safely tucked away, we rolled out and started our final, glorious, sweep down – a last twenty minutes of unabashed fun.
Around the first few curves and we passed Caracol pounding up the other way, cheering him on. He never did manage to better his time from the first day, but then again, after yesterday and his testing idea of a warm-up, it wasn’t a great surprise.
Back at the campsite, the bike broke down and packed away without any problems. I wandered into the chalet next door to find Crazy Legs and Steadfast watching the Tour de Suisse on their TV. I have to admit, despite wandering past it for 3 days, it hadn’t actually registered with me that we had a TV.
He wins it by a chin
It wasn’t a particularly interesting stage, but it did allow Crazy Legs to indulge in his rather unconventional dislike for the ultimate winner on the day, Luis León Sánchez Gil. Apparently, it’s all about the chin, as he bears no particular malice for the riders results, team, nationality, history or other physical traits and positively admires LL’s “older twin brother” (ahem), Samuel “Samu” Sánchez González…
Crazy Legs was only appeased by a brief cameo from one of his all-time favourite riders, Domenico Pozzovivo, who he much admired for his openness and honesty in clearly demonstrating he doesn’t give a rat’s arse, whenever he can’t give a rat’s arse.
Once the Tour de Suisse, boo-hiss pantomime was complete, we wandered into town for a Last Supper at the Dutch bar, once again deflecting the owners offer of a table for ten inside and even managing to persuade him we were trustworthy enough to fit ten chairs around a table for eight.
We had an extended discussion about where we could cycle next year with, naturally, no real conclusions reached.
We then tested Caracol’s knowledge of dead minor-celebrities, during which we (rather alarmingly) learned that much-beloved-by-grandparents, comedy double-act, Cannon and Ball were behind the book, “Christianity for Beginners.”
Someone wondered if Cannon and Ball were still working as a double-act and it was my sad duty to inform everyone that this was no longer the case, as I was pretty sure I’d heard that “Cannon fired Ball.”
That seems a suitably low enough point to draw a veil over this particular evening. We finished up and wandered back, only to be distracted by the moon rising over the mountain peaks. A suitably picturesque grand finale.
We were up early the next day to clean out the cabin, wash everything down and brush and mop the floors. This time around the nit-picking, cabin inspection Nazi’s were apparently on a day off, so we all passed muster quite comfortably, loaded up the vans and away we went.
Eye of the Spider
Our return trip was spent in much the same way as the inbound one, keeping an eye on the directions for our stalwart, designated driver, Kermit, while tuning to various radio stations to try and keep us entertained.
The highlight was undoubtedly Survivor, belting out one of their ultra-cheesey, Rocky theme-songs. (No, not that one). Google informs me (sorry, I’ve never felt the remotest desire to actually watch a Rocky film), that the song in question was Burning Heart, from the motion-picture, Rocky IV.
We listened in hushed awe as the complex, poetic imagery of this magnificent opus unfolded, until Biden Fecht turned to me, perplexed.
“Did he just sing ‘climbing up like a spider?'” he asked, somewhat bewildered.
“Ah, I think the actual lyrics were ‘rising up like a spire,'” I sadly had to inform him. Much more mundane. But then again, I was sure I could find a use for the phrase “climbing up like a spider.”
Wholly inadequate French signage had one more mean trick to pull, before I could escape its malign influence. We completely missed the turn-off for the French side of Geneva airport and ended up passing through customs at the border and trying to return the car to the Swiss side.
Luckily the car rental rep put us right, tapping the correct destination into my phone’s Sat-Nav with such efficiency and aplomb, that I couldn’t help conclude we were not the first to make this mistake and he’d probably had to do something similar for hundreds, if not thousands of confused travellers before us.
We back-tracked through customs again and immediately slowed to a crawl. We knew the junction we needed was here somewhere, but it was remarkably well hidden.
“Across there,” I was finally able to declare, pointing across the two lanes of traffic queuing to enter the customs checkpoint.
Kermit somehow forced us a way through to where an anonymous, unimpressive and almost apologetic, small, Secteur Français sign pointed the way.
We turned onto a characterless, unremarkable B-road that resembled nothing so much as the delivery entrance to a shopping centre, but we were at least re-assured by the appearance of the first car rental signs. What a bizarre route into a major international airport.
It wasn’t much longer before we could abandon the van and make our way into the airport to check our bike bags and boxes onto our return flights.
Things went smoothly enough from that point and it wasn’t long before we were airborne on the first leg of our trip home. The Big Yin send a couple of photo’s to our group chat, but they were too clever for me and I had to ask for a direct interpretation.
They showed, he explained, the passenger cabin altimeter and corresponding view out of the window as we reached 2,400 metres above sea-level – or, in other words, the height we attained at the top of the Galibier.
Steadfast left us at Heathrow, while the rest of us transferred onto the Newcastle flight via the Terminal 5 Wetherspoons pub. And then we were home and all our bike bags and boxes belatedly appeared, as the airport ground crew had to manually carry them up all the stairs from the tarmac. They didn’t seem all that pleased about it.
Still, all the bags were there and everything seemed intact, which was a major advance on last year.
So, another enjoyable trip and, even with the same rides, a different experience from two years ago.
By the numbers …
My flights, from what I can recall cost me £160, the three bedroom chalet/cabin was £115 each, van hire, fuel and road tolls around £100 each, so the trip cost about £375 plus food and drink.
Across the 3-days we managed 249 kilometres, or 155 miles, with 6,831 metres of spectacular climbing and descending. Yet again, another brilliant trip, conceived, planned and successfully executed by our very own Tour Director, Crazy Legs.
7:40 Saturday morning and five of us are lined up at the gates to the campsite ready to embark on our mini-epic: The Circle of Death. Not bad for us, as we’re only running a couple of minutes behind schedule, but it would have been much more impressive if all eight of us managed to be there.
We suspect that Steadfast and Ovis have pushed on ahead, but have no confirmation. When queried, Crazy Legs reports they’ve definitely left the chalet, but they’re not at the gate, and we can’t find then en route to the gate, so our suspicions seem reasonable.
We’re still missing the Big Yin, even though he’s hard to miss, but then he appears riding up from the direction of the town, having been who knows where. The six of us form up and set off after our early break-away companions.
Huh, Club Run Pace?
Once through the town, the Hammer seems keen to wind up the pace, but I’m conscious of the fact we have a long day ahead of us and don’t want to start out at break-neck speed. I deliberately let Caracol’s wheel go and watch the gap to the front pair widen, working on the assumption they’ll eventually look back and hopefully adjust their speed to suit.
None of the others push past me to take up the chase, so I assume they’re happy with a more relaxed start too. The roads are relatively quiet, the cycle lane’s are wide, well-surfaced and good, so I’m happy to bool along, taking in the sights, fields of lavender and wild poppies, a gleaming river off to our right and a backdrop of snow-mottled mountains, wrapped in tattered ribbons of cloud.
At the next, small hamlet, the front pair finally look behind and the speed at the front gets knocked back. We reform into a single group and are together for the dramatic zig-zagging climb up the face of the dam at Allemont.
The road then has us skirting the Lac de Vernay, before we start to climb, up through densely wooded hills and the first distance markers for the distant summit of the Col du Glandon appear.
Its remarkably peaceful on the road, with only the whirring of chains, an occasional bit of chatter and rhythmic breathing of my companions to provide the backdrop to the fluting, piping calls of unseen birds in the woods around us.
As the gradient varies, the Big Yin starts to yo-yo off the back, until Kermit drops back to ride with him and we continue to work our way through the trees, the road always climbing. It’s hot and humid under the canopy of the leaves, the sun is starting to burn through the cloud cover and is promising better weather than yesterday.
Then we burst out into the open, with spectacular views of the peaks off to the right, as we enter Le Rivier d’Allemont, our first port of call for a welcome jolt of wake up coffee.
You Say Tomay-toe
We catch up with Ovis and Steadfast, already royally ensconced in the cafe and enjoying the early morning sunshine. The Hammer plans to break his fast here and politely asks for a savoury crêpe, but instead, gets a lesson in French cuisine.
“Non, pas une crêpe, c’est une galette!”
Ah, OK, pleased we cleared that up.
Before we finish our coffee, Ovis and Steadfast are up and away again, obviously hoping to maintain their advantage over the peloton. We slowly move to follow, finish up and settle the bill, while the Hammer wanders in to find out how his crêpe galette is doing.
They haven’t even started thinking about it, let alone cooking it. Well, you know you can never rush an artist and his work. The Hammer cancels his order and in a show of Anglo defiance buys a Mars bar instead. Haute cuisine? My arse.
Ring of Fire
This is the first time the Hammer has brought his own bike rather than hire one and he admits the bike is brilliant, but the copyright for the saddle seems to belong to Torquemada and it’s causing him exquisite pain. “Ring of Fire” becomes the unofficial theme song, not just for the day, but for the rest of the trip.
Back on our bikes, we climb out of the village, then there’s a brief and joyful swoop down and over the river, before the road starts to relentlessly climb again. I drop back to pace the Big Yin and the rest slowly pull away from us.
Up we go, climbing above the dam, which they spectacularly routed the Tour up a couple of years ago and onto the balcony road high above the Lac de Grand Maison.
As we climb I notice the first snow banks, dirty and crusted by the side of the road, but still surviving well into June. It makes me wonder what we might find on the Galibier.
I hate the next bit, a too long descent where all you can think about his how much altitude you’re losing and how much work you’ll need to do to win those precious metres back. As the road inevitably starts to climb again, a photographer is waiting to ambush us and capture our distress and stupid gurning faces, just in case living through that horrid transition once, from descending to steeply uphill, wasn’t quite enough.
The Big Yin spots and points out what I take to be a marmot, scurrying through the meadow in a flash of russet and yellow and then we’re past the scenic pastures, as I escort the Big Yin up to the summit of the Glandon, barely giving him time to catch his breath and take in his surroundings, before I hustle him into turning around and we drop down to start the clamber up to the Croix de Fer.
We find the others there and waiting. The Big Yin puffs out his cheeks and declares that if Buster was expecting an easy day, just making it to the Croix de Fer would disabuse him of that notion.
Someone snaps a pic of me. Weirdly, I almost look happy …
We then reiterate that this is the point of no return for anyone who wants to turn back, once you’re on the descent, you’re committed. No one does, they’re all committed. Or, at least they should be.
We’ve got maybe a 25km downhill run, once we tip over the other side. Caracol leads us off and is quickly several hairpins below me, as I watch him gaining rapidly on a white camper van. Luckily the driver realises that cyclists are descending considerably faster than he can manage and he doesn’t try to get into a drag race, moves aside and lets Caracol slide swiftly past.
A handful of seconds later and I’m whistling past as well, just letting the bike run and riding in the Hammer’s wake. We literally rattle through a couple of sleepy, one street towns, the road surface as rough and chewed up as anything at home in rural Northumberland, and start skirting the noisy tumult of the fast-flowing L’Arvan river.
We stop briefly to regroup, right next to where someone has ingeniously formed a map of our twisting descent on top of the wall, using nothing more than the decapitated corpse of a snake. Are we heading toward that pool of dried blood where the head used to be?
There’s an unwelcome and rude bit of climbing on a 4th Category hill, we dart through a tunnel or two and then it’s a long, straight descent from Pierrepin to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. I max out at 71km/h down here, without even trying, but still some way behind the likes of Michal Kwiatkowski, Lilian Calmejane and Tiesj Benoot, who averaged 84km/h down the same stretch.
Reforming at the bottom, we decide to push on to Saint-Michel-De-Maurienne before stopping for lunch, at which point we’ll only be a handful of metres away from the foot of the Col du Télégraphe.
This is one of the worst bits of the ride, along the valley floor on a dual-carriageway. Even though the bike lane is good and the traffic relatively light, it’s an uncomfortable, somewhat exposed ride. To add to our woes, its hot, the sun is beating down hard and we’ve lost the cooling breeze of descending.
Perhaps trying to get this bit over with, or maybe sensing that a food stop is imminent, the speed at the front ramps up. I wonder if they’re considering a cafe sprint, but I don’t think it’s worth the effort to keep up and, as I’m on the back and there’s no one relying on me to hang on, I ease back and let a gap grow.
I rejoin the group in the same cafe we stopped at last time, although it was much more pleasant this time around, without the presence of raucous,beer swilling, fat bikers and with the street free from scores of filthy, fume-belching, Harley Davidson riders, having an inane competition to see who could rev their engine the hardest and loudest.
There wasn’t a great deal of choice on the menu and most of us go with a burger of some description. They’re good, but massively heavy and probably not ideal for what’s to come next. We wondered what Team Ineos “coaching guru” Tim Kerrison would have made of our selection and where burgers might sit in the pantheon of marginal gains.
The Big Yin suggests we’re at the halfway point and technically, in terms of mileage, yes we are. I don’t bother to tell him that the worst is yet to come.
The burger’s lying like a lead weight in my stomach, but at least we’ve had plenty to drink and all the water bottles are topped up. We’re just about to start rolling, when Biden Fecht finds he has a puncture.
Steadfast and Ovis decide to press on and the Hammer follows, as I hold up Biden Fecht’s bike and let him slide out his rear wheel to change the tube. After a bit of prevarication, the Big Yin determines he too needs a head start on the climb and sets off too.
I hang around long enough to help roll the tyre back onto its rim, then assured everything is in good order, leave Biden Fecht, Caracol and Kermit to force some air into the new tube, while I start my own ascent of theTélégraphe.
The climb is both longer and harder than I remember. There’s also fewer trees and much less shade than I recall too. It’s perhaps the hottest part of the day and it’s baking. I try to ride as close as possible to the rock walls at the side of the road to maximise the shade, but it doesn’t help all that much.
Electra-Glide in High Viz#2
On the first slopes I’m passed by a woman who powers past churning a massive gear, limbs gleaming with sweat and working hard. In contrast, I’m then passed by another who coasts effortlessly by on an e-bike, barely working at all and so relaxed and unflustered by the heat, that she’s wearing a high-viz jacket zipped up to the neck.
I think e-bikes are the future, I can see myself riding one when (surely it won’t be long now) I’m too weak and decrepit to keep up on a club run without mechanical assistance. I also have this glorious vision of a government that gives everyone an e-bike, makes public transport free and then bans cars. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?
I can’t quite see the challenge of travelling all the way to France to zip up and down mountains on one though – especially when you’re young, healthy and look fit enough to climb up under your own steam. But then, what do I know?
I’m starting to close on a trio of hard-working Englishmen, when Caracol storms past. He bridges across to the three ahead, slides by and they immediately give chase, while I chuckle to myself ruefully, thinking that’s not a wheel they should be trying to follow.
One of them, in a Bianchi jersey, is almost immediately blown out the back and abandoned by his companions, who disappear around the bend, out of the saddle and flailing along in high pursuit.
On the straighter bits of road I keep catching glimpses of the Big Yin, Ovis and Steadfast climbing ahead of me, as I reel them slowly in. A kilometre or so later and I’ve caught the Big Yin, he’s completely cooked in the sun and starting to suffer like a dog. He mutters that he’s really struggling as I push past and continue upwards.
Three or four kilometres from the top and I keep catching glimpses of Ovis and Steadfast, tantalisingly close, but I’m unable to bridge the gap. I’m starting to develop an irrational hatred of their blue and yellow and orange jersey’s – always hanging there, tantalisingly close, but out of reach.
Cutting across the steepest, shortest inside of one corner, I manage to close to within maybe 20 metres, when they spot Bianchi man ahead and accelerate to try and catch him. I’m not able to get any closer and as we finally approach the summit, the gap begins to go out again.
You’re Awesome, Man
Still, not much further. The summit is aswarm with Americans who’ve ridden up to where their local guide is waiting with a van laden with anything and everything they could possibly need, food, drinks, towels, blankets, spare clothing and, who knows, maybe a soigneur or two and fistfuls of performance enhancing drugs.
The riders are loud and overly-familiar in that endearing, over-whelming and almost childlike, way that Americans seem to have, something that makes us Brits inwardly wince a little.
“You’re awesome man! You can do this! Believe in yourself! Go! Go! Go! This is unreal!”
“Err, OK. Thanks old chap… I think.”
I spot the rest of our crew sitting outside the cafe and make to hang my bike on one of the nearby racks and go and join them.
“Non, monsieur, privé, privé.” The guide from the American party is warning me away from the bike racks? Because they’re reserved for his clients? WTF? Is my bike going to contaminate theirs? Are they suddenly going to break out twenty more bikes and fill up the entire rack? I shrug, roll the bike away a couple of metres and lean it against a wall. It all seems a bit over the top.
Death on the Mountain
I grab a cold drink inside and join the others. As with last year, Caracol is struggling with the heat and looks flushed and glassy-eyed. Even worse, the Big Yin finally hauls himself to the top of the climb looking grey-faced and declaring himself as sick as a dog. The heat and the climb have clearly got to him, he’s not sure he can go on and needs an escape route. He slumps to the ground and lies there like a fresh cadaver, trying to recover, while we discuss options.
After a while he slowly rises, like a monster from the slab, and wanders down to the guide from the American party. They look like they have room in the van for one more and plenty of space for another bike too. I suspect though that I know the outcome of their chat, even before it begins and so it proves. Privé, privé. And no succour for the sick and needy.
Wile we watch an AG2R squad, accompanied by their team car, briefly stop at the summit of the climb. I hadn’t realised just how vibrant the blue on their kit was, it always looks quite dull on the TV and is much better in real-life. Sadly, the same can’t be said of the brown shorts, which remain a crime against humanity.
We determine that the best plan of action would be for the Big Yin to wait at the cafe until he’s recovered a little, roll down the valley to the town of Valloire and see if he can get a taxi from there, either back to the campsite, or over the Galibier where he can meet us at the cafe on the Col du Lautaret. I’d just been to a cash-point the night before and had €100 or so stuffed in my back pocket which I handed over to fund his rescue mission.
Then our reduced bunch is off descending to Valloire, which is mercifully free of fat, hairy bikers this time around. We pick our way through the town and are soon climbing again and heading for the pinnacle of our route, the monstrous Col du Galibier.
Overhead, the sky darkens and quickly fills in with grey cloud, the temperature plummets and we start to get peppered with chilling rain. Even worse, a cold wind is blowing straight down the valley and into our faces.
Caracol winds up the pace and slowly rides away from the rest of us, as Steadfast and Ovis take manly turns at the front until, as the road noticeably kicks up, Kermit takes over and drags us along behind him. The pace is slow enough that there’s probably no benefit in draughting and there’s not a great deal of shelter from the wind. Nevertheless, it’s easier to follow and just concentrate on holding onto the wheel in front.
We drag our way up to Plan Lachat, cross the river and the real climbing begins. We forge on, into a gathering darkness and occasional lashing rain showers.
Are Friends Electric?
Through some tight-hairpins and the e-bike rider is back, whizzing past us as we strain upwards, like a high-viz mosquito.
“That’s cheating! It doesn’t count,” the Hammer calls after her fast retreating figure. I assume it’s a joke, the e-bike rider though has seriously misheard and is lurking at the next corner.
“What did you call me?” she demands. Oh, dear, someone seems overly sensitive.
“I said that’s cheating and it doesn’t count,” the Hammer replies, truthfully.
There’s a bit more verbal to and fro, when she claims she’s not trying to prove anything and then concludes that the Hammer is just “a horrible man.” Ah well, if she’d asked I could have told her that for nothing.
Once more, she whizzes away, while Biden Fecht calls for a bit of peace and calm. We keep working our way upwards.
The snow is starting to build up at the side of the road, occasionally hiding the kilometre markers. I don’t know whether this is good or bad, it worries me when the time between sightings attenuates, suggesting we’re going slower and slower, but it can also deliver a pleasant bonus, such as when I miss the 6 km to the summit marker and suddenly “leap” (I use the term loosely) from 7 km to just 5 km to go.
Ha-ha, just 5km to go.
We’re becoming more spread out on the road, Kermit spearheading our push for the summit, with Biden Fecht just ahead of me and Steadfast a few metres back, as I ride alongside the Hammer in companionable silence. I’m struggling to keep the wheel pointed straight up the road and seem to be weaving a slightly undulating, wavering path, twitching constantly as the wheel rocks a little from side to side. I’m tired.
At some point the Hammer drops back and somehow finds the energy to snap a photo as we enter the snowfields. My once pristine white socks are already grey, soaked through with rain and road spray, I’m probably wet to the skin, but keeping warm with the effort.
As I remember it, the final few kilometres look really daunting, with the road rising to a sharp crescendo, twisting up and away over your head. Still, it means that the end is in sight. Steadfast eases away past us, obviously spurred on by sight of the summit, while I keep plugging away with the Hammer, as the road cuts through the snow banks, which rise on either side of us until they tower overhead, easily twice my height.
A couple of Englishmen descend from the summit to take a few photos of each other climbing against the backdrop of the wall of snow. A nice memento, that I haven’t the energy, or will to reenact. Just as we pass them, there’s a dull crack and a flat rumble that slowly fades as it echoes around the mountains. Thunder?
“Have you got a sprint finish in you?” I challenge the Hammer. He suggests it would be more appropriate riding over the summit side-by-side à la Hinault and LeMond. Thank goodness for that, I think a sprint might have finished me off.
Riders on the Storm
Kermit and Biden Fecht are at the top, taking in the sights and pulling on jackets for the descent. Kermit pushes away and starts down, but Biden Fecht is distracted by a bright, actinic flash away in the distance.
“Is that lightning?” he asks, just as another rumble of thunder answers for him.
I also notice our e-biker, being wrapped in blankets and towels from her support vehicle as she’s force fed a hot beverage. She’s obviously gone well beyond her limits … or something.
The sky is turning black and ominous, while over to my right, the distant peaks are rapidly dissolving into a grey blanket of rain. I hurriedly pull on my light rain jacket, arm warmers and thankfully, some long fingered neoprene gloves that I’d only shoved in my pocket as an afterthought.
The Hammer and Biden Fecht seem intent on watching the storm come in. I’m just intent on getting out of there.
We would later learn that this is the same storm that capsized and damaged boats on Lake Geneva, where a tourist drowned after her yacht was swamped. 70 mile an hour winds and torrential rain had lashed the city for hours, causing enough floods and incidents to almost overwhelm the emergency services.
It was the same storm that brought a tree down on a German camper in the Haute-Savoie region, killing him outright.
It was the same storm that inundated the finishing straight of that days Criterium de Dauphine stage, so winner Wout Poels literally left Emu Buchmann and Jakob Fuglsang in his wake as he sprinted to the line. It was so bad that the organisers considered enacting UCI extreme weather protocols midway through the stage.
It was the same storm we were now caught in 2,645 metres above sea level, with nowhere to shelter and a fast, exposed and twisting descent with sheer drops off to the side to contend with.
On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness
As I pushed off, the freezing rain came lashing in and I was instantly soaked and shivering. It was grey and gloomy, so I turned on my lights, reasoning that, at worst, their intermittent flashing might help locate my broken body if I went over the edge. Ahead of me a camper van was running with full lights on and really struggling with the hairpins. I braked hard, cut inside and undertook it on a bend, this wasn’t the time for niceties.
I told myself I was probably safe from lightning strikes, insulated from the road by two ridiculously thin rubber tyres. Nonsense of course, but I semi-convinced myself and couldn’t really see an alternative.
Then, it was just a case of trying to get down the mountain as quickly and as safely as possible, letting the bike run on the straights, but braking hard and trying to be cautious on the corners, where sheets of water were washing across the road surface.
Halfway down and my shoulders were already aching with the constant effort of pulling hard on the brakes that had lost their immediacy in the wet. I shot past a truly miserable looking Kermit, who was taking a more cautious approach, but with the drawback of greater exposure to the cold and the wind and the rain.
Ahead of me, Ovis had been halfway down when he said his front wheel started shaking so much he was convinced his headset had suddenly disintegrated. He’d slowed a little to try and asses the damage, before he realised his bike was fine, he was just shivering so violently he was having trouble steering.
Later, Caracol reported that after clocking a temperature in the mid-20’s on the Télégraphe , it had been no more than 3℃ on the descent of the Galibier, even before taking into account the windchill.
I finally spotted the cluster of isolated buildings formed on the summit of the Col du Lautaret, swooped across the car park of the Hotel des Glaciers and found a space to abandon the bike amongst the dozens of others lined up there. I climbed off stiffly and made my way into the Irish bar. (Although none of us realised it was supposed to be an Irish bar, until the owner told us!)
I stood dripping on the threshold frozen, wet, shivering uncontrollably and momentarily dull-witted and confused, as I scanned the tables for familiar faces, before realising our group were sitting right in front of me. Perhaps I was shaking so hard my eyes couldn’t focus, or my companions were shaking so hard there faces all blurred together – I don’t know how else to explain my temporary befuddlement.
I stripped of gloves, helmet and rain jacket, sat down, then almost immediately stood up again to pace about and try to control the uncontrollable shuddering. I wandered into the toilets and plunged my hands into a sink full of hot water. It helped. But not much.
At the table, we ordered hot drinks and I get a mug of cocoa, that I couldn’t actually lift without spilling everywhere. I left it on the table to drop my head and occasionally sip from it, like a dipping bird.
Thankfully the remainder of our crew, the Hammer, Biden Fecht and Kermit all made it down safely behind me, but all of us were equally blue and shaking and we sit huddled miserably around the table, trying to warm up and devouring hot drinks and food while the rain continued to lash down outside.
At the next table, a large group of Italian cyclists were chatting and laughing and having a whale of a time, despite being caught in the same downpour we were. Either they’re more hardened to these extremes, or they were dressed considerably better for the conditions.
I couldn’t help thinking we must look like Scott’s expedition to the South Pole, trapped inside meagre shelter by a savage storm and just waiting the inevitable end.
We check our phones to try and determine how the Big Yin was doing. He’s left a message saying he’s feeling a lot better and didn’t come all this way to ride around in a taxi, so he’s set off to ride the Galibier.
In this weather?
But also, ever so slightly bonkers.
We contact Crazy Legs, safely back at the campsite and he agrees to drive out to us, in case we need a rescue mission to bring the Big Yin down off the mountain.
An elderly Englishman and his son dash inside and out of the rain, in as bad a state as we were, or probably worse as neither has a jacket to their name. The bar owner hands the old fellow a big, fluffy, towelling dressing gown, as we look jealously on.
The Italian’s pack up to leave. Apparently they’re happy because the day’s riding is done for them and they don’t have to go back out and ride in the rain. Much to the bar owners disgust, they wheel their bikes into his lobby, before starting to break them down to pack into their van.
In other news, Vailloire is twinned with Newcastle upon Tyne
We’re starting to get a little anxious about the Big Yin, when the big galoot suddenly materialises out of the rain in the car park. He hustles in to join us and we demand to know what on earth possessed him to continue to ride.
“Oh, once the rain started and the temperature dropped, it just felt like being home in Newcastle, so I kept going.”
His madness would continue, as he’s determined to finish the ride now.
Kermit and Biden Fecht though have had enough and have decided to wait for Crazy Legs and the voiture-balai. That leaves at least one spare berth in the car, but, strange, masochistic bunch as we undoubtedly are, no one wants it.
Stack Up, Baby, Stack Up (with apologies to A Certain Ratio)
We’ve sheltered so long from the storm, that we’re well-behind schedule now, with around 40 km still to ride, albeit most of it on a fast, downhill run. The Hammer decides that when we leave, we need to do it as quickly as possible, with no faffing about. So, we all get ready and stack up at the door, like a well-oiled SWAT Team about to breach and clear a room.
We get a “Go!” and we’re dashing through the still falling rain for the bikes and setting off. It’s every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.
This would be a brilliant road to ride, in the warm and dry, when you’re not on the limits of your endurance. Even with these limitations, it’s still kind of fun, almost all downhill with long sweeping curves and wide, open roads.
We all actually need to pedal though and as hard as possible, to try and generate some warmth and we’re all travelling at different speeds and well strung out. I’m also hoping that the lower we get, the warmer it will be.
I’ve got a feeling Caracol is away out front and out of sight, while I’m trailing Ovis and the Hammer, with Steadfast and the Big Yin behind me.
Coming to one of the tunnels I slow, while I fiddle to get my lights on and, by the time I’m out of the other side, the road ahead of me is empty. I look back. There’s no one in sight behind me either. I keep going regardless, it’s too cold to stop and wait and it’s meant to be a fairly straightforward run back, so hopefully I wont get lost.
There are a few more tunnels to contend with and I’m in two minds about them. It’s good to get a break from the rain for a while, but the air in the tunnels seems much chillier. I’m still occasionally shivering, but at least its no longer the full-on, uncontrollable shaking following the Galibier descent.
I think I recognise the detour we’d taken last time, set up when one of the road tunnels had collapsed and they’d routed us around the lake. It had been a pleasant diversion and Steadfast had talked about possibly using the same route today. It was closed though, so even if we’d wanted a more scenic amble it wouldn’t have been possible.
The actual tunnel has been repaired, or maybe completely rebuilt and it was plush, long, well-lit and with a super-smooth road surface. I blasted through onto a long, straight road, as completely empty ahead of me as it was behind.
I hit a town, at speed, neck on a swivel, desperately looking for a sign or some directions. Finally I spot one, another classic of French minimalism, attached high up on a building and almost completely blending into its surroundings.
It points the way to Bourg d’Oisans and I take up its mute invitation. I keep hoping the sun might break through and warm me up a little, but even as the skies clear a little, the sun is starting to sink and never generates much warmth.
A bit further up the road and a car with steamed up windows pulls up alongside me and Biden Fecht’s head pops out the back.
“D’you want a lift?”
I’m good, I tell him and wave them on, re-assured that I’m definitely on the right road.
Crazy Legs would later tell me when he’d picked Kermit and Biden Fecht up, they’d both been shivering so badly they couldn’t lift their bikes into the back of the car. He’d put Kermit in the front, in charge of the heater, which he’d cranked up to the maximum 29℃, where it had stayed for the duration of their journey, while Crazy Legs had sweated and chugged bottles of water to try and avoid extreme dehydration.
I finally recognise the route we took back from the “pelmet ride” yesterday and then I’m onto the final stretch, past the town and turning, at last, into the campsite.
Kermit and Biden Fecht are back in the chalet and look to have recovered from their ordeal. I learn that, sterling and stalwart fellows that they are, Crazy Legs and Buster have cooked us dinner and we wont have to drag our sore, sorry and abused bodies into town to forage for food.
Before that though, I have a pressing appointment in the camp shower-block, where I spent 40 minutes and gallons of hot water trying to feel human again.
Soaking wet kit is hung out to dry, before I make my way to the chalet next door, find a chair and slump down.
Buster hands me a piping hot plate of pasta and sauce … I don’ think it’s seemly to cry, so I just ask him if he’ll marry me on the spot.
The weather was about the same as last week, grey overcast, relatively chilly, but dry. An arm warmer kind of day. I hoped somewhere along the line I would be tempted to get rid of them, but it never happened.
I tracked and caught a fellow rider on my way to cross the river, resplendent in a bright red jersey with a big Isle of Man triskelion blazoned across the back.
“Are you lost?” I enquired when I caught up and passed him.
He looked at me blankly.
“You’re a long way from home,” I explained.
“Aah, the jersey. Hah, no,” his answer was delivered in pure Geordie, convincing me I was talking to a native and not some poor lost Manxman who needed directions.
The river was high, wide, flat, grey and fairly featureless, with not a boat in sight. Looked like the rowing clubs were off competing for the day and the crossing was quiet.
I clambered out the valley on the other side of the river and pushed through to the meeting point to join the slowly assembling crowd of chancer’s, wastrel’s and ne’er-do-well’s. (Or in other words, all the usual suspects.)
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I pulled up, clambered off and found a perch on the wall alongside the Monkey Butler Boy. He was smugly pleased with his brand new Kask helmet, bought to replace the one he’d used as an emergency brake during a recent crash. I was then in prime place when his acolyte, the Money Priest, rolled in and approached.
There was no excited jabbering this week, just a silent, rather uncomfortable and over-long pause as the Monkey Priest stood face to face with the Monkey Butler Boy, faces scant inches apart, as they stared deeply and lovingly into each other’s eyes.
I didn’t want to break this beautiful moment, this rare meeting of minds and young hearts, but this was quite uncomfortable and I found myself coughing apologetically…
I was just about to suggest they “get a room,” when the Monkey Priest broke the spell.
“New sunglasses then?”
“Let’s have a look …”
There was then a discussion about their new club jersey. Apparently, the Monkey Priest was wearing one and the Monkey Butler Boy wasn’t. I’m pleased they told me this, otherwise I would never have known.
They both agreed the new jersey was much, much better than the old one. I did a double-take.
And then another.
And again, slower and more considered.
Nope, they both looked absolutely identical to me. I had to ask.
“What’s different?” the Monkey Butler Boy shook his head in despair at my distinct lack of acuity.
He pointed to one out of half a dozen sponsor names encapsulated in half inch squares that ran in a line across his chest.
“Le Col have replaced this sponsor,” he said, and then, as if this alone wasn’t a momentous, earth-shattering change in its own right, he pointed to another tiny sponsor name on his sleeve. “And they’ve changed too…”
Ah, so the kind of blatantly obvious difference you would expect in a fiendishly difficult “spot the difference” picture quiz. Now I get it.
While the Monkey Priest’s near identical jersey was “clearly superior,” his shorts were an entirely different matter. He too seems to have conspired to crash recently and had ripped a hole in the front of his shorts. (The front?)
He had a cunning plan though, they would be meeting up with their coach a little later and he’d be bringing a new pair of shorts for the Monkey Priest to change into.
“On the fly?” the Hammer asked.
“Well, I bet Alberto Contador could do that,” I reasoned, having once watched him change shoes mid-race, without stopping, or even slowing.
We then wondered if the coach would just hold the shorts up for the Monkey Priest to snatch as he rode past, “like a musette in the feed-zone” the Hammer suggested.
Sadly, the actual plan was much more prosaic, but probably a lot safer. The Monkey Priest had earmarked some bushes he could retire to in order to protect his modesty while performing his costume change.
Crazy Legs rolled up on his much cossetted Ribble, which we all took to be a sign from the gods that we would have no rain on the ride. He said he’d read two forecasts, one promising a dry day with sunny intervals, the other overcast with intermittent showers. He’d only dared to share the first of these with his recalcitrant Ribble.
Just like last week, we were graced with a load of old hands and intermittent irregulars, including what I think might have been a first outing of the year for Grover and Famous Sean’s. Our numbers slowly built up to top 30 again.
There was an enlightened discussion about cable rub, but no one could answer how brake cables managed to move, seemingly of their own volition, to so deftly avoid the protective patch you’ve carefully applied to the frame, even though it’s exactly where the paint was first abraded.
I was messing about with my camera, so missed the front group leaving, but was more than happy to tag onto the always slightly less frenetic second group, as we clipped in, pushed off and rode out.
I dropped in alongside Sneaky Pete, just behind Crazy Legs and Ovis, as they led us out of the ‘burbs and into the countryside. I took over on the front with Sneaky Pete for the push through Ponteland and down to Limestone Lane, before swinging over for Taffy Steve and Carlton to pull through. All seemed to be going smoothly and everyone seemed content.
The front pair then ceded to OGL and whoever’s ear he was intent on bending at the time and we started to push up a slight incline. Almost immediately Grover was struggling and became detached. Crazy Legs drifted back to check on him and reported that Grover was more than happy to ride in his own company and at his own pace and didn’t want to hold anyone up.
Crazy Legs admired the, quiet dignity, stoicism and the self-awareness necessary to realise when your own lack of ability or fitness was an impediment to the rest of the group. Rather uncharitably, I suggested Grover was like an old bull-elephant, quietly slipping away from the rest of the herd to seek out the elephant’s graveyard.
We pressed on, until another change in the front saw Radman and Mini Miss taking over. Almost immediately OGL was blustering and growling about the pace. “I’m breathing out me arse, here!” was, I believe, the precise aphorism deployed – a term I’ve never quite understood, I mean, I get the general sentiment, but … eh? … what?
(Taffy Steve would later, rather naughtily, contend that OGL spends so much time talking out his arse, that breathing out of it should be second nature by now. Ouch.)
The grumbling continued.
“But you’re the only one whose been dropping people,” Crazy Legs innocently informed OGL, while I rode behind them, snorting with suppressed laughter.
We reached the top of the Quarry (yes, I know, the top!) and paused to regroup. OGL claimed infirmity from a bad chest infection and made straight for the cafe, while the rest of us dropped down (yes, I know, down!) the Quarry Climb.
We passed another club grinding up the Quarry and looking miserable, as we harnessed gravity to its full effect and zipped down past them. I know which direction is the easiest.
At the junction at the bottom of the Quarry we paused again, while Crazy Legs outlined route options.
“Left is the shorter ride, which is shorter and right is … err, a longer ride that’s … err … longer,” Crazy Legs concluded lamely, before adding, “Oh and right goes down the Ryals.”
“Which way are you going? I don’t want to be left on my own,” Mini Miss asked me.
“Rye-urhls!” I groaned in my best guttural, Neanderthal-zombie-meets-Frankenstein-monster voice.
Double-Dutch Distaff eyed me warily, no doubt wondering what had set the lunatic off and what kind of gibberish he was bellowing. It didn’t put her off though. The Red Max lead a contingent left for a shorter loop to the cafe, while the rest of us swung right for a gleeful swoop down the Ryals.
Reaching the crest, I kicked onto the front, tucked in and plunged, four minutes of unbridled fun as I recorded my fastest time yet for the descent, hitting over 74 kph, or 20 meters per second, on the double-dip down. (That’s 46 mph if you want it in retard units.) Crazy Legs, Double Dutch and Taffy Steve followed in close attendance and we seemed to open up a gap on the rest of the group.
As we slowed to reassemble at the bottom, Crazy Legs suggested we were in danger of being early at the cafe, so we could amend the route and put more miles in by looping around the reservoir, rather than taking the scramble up through Hallington. This got the immediate support of Taffy Steve, who likes this loop almost as much as he detests climbing through Hallington, so our course was set.
I pushed out onto the front alongside Ovis as we swung in a wide arc around the (always hidden from view) reservoir and up to where we would have emerged if we’d taken the planned route. Around the corner, I drove us up a segment known on Strava as Humiliation Hill (I know not why). This had everyone stretched out into a long line and we paused at the next junction to re-assemble.
As our last riders pulled through I looked back down the road and saw the flashing of florescent green cycling socks.
“Is that one of us?” I asked Taffy Steve.
“Nope, we’re all here.”
I hung back a little just to make sure, confirmed I didn’t know the lone rider and then hustled to catch up with the rest.
The unknown, rider in the florescent green socks passed us as we dawdled along, then Big Dunc put in a Big Dig. Everyone responded and we all bustled past Green Socks, until Big Duncs attack was foiled by temporary traffic lights and we all slowed and stopped.
Green Socks took the opportunity to nip in front of us as the lights changed. Crazy Legs caught him and sat on his wheel for a while, before dropping back, while I accelerated to take his place and started winding up the pace.
I passed Green Socks as the road began to climb and pushed on with Ovis, increasing the pace as we raced toward the end of the road, reaching the junction and then stopping to let everyone regroup. Green Socks passed us while we waited and disappeared down the road, probably glad to see the back of us.
We regrouped again and started the final push to the cafe, with Crazy Legs and Double Dutch on the front. As we approached the short, steep, Brandy Well Bank, Crazy Legs started to explain that, in about 3-4 kilometres, it would all kick-off toward a final sprint before the cafe. In normal circumstances he would have been dead right, but I didn’t fancy my chances in a straight-up sprint, so decided not to hang around and attacked.
I accelerated toward the climb and tried to keep my legs spinning as the gradient bit. It wasn’t like last week though, when I’d done hardly any work before hitting the same climb, I had tired legs and momentum dropped quickly, until I had to haul myself out of the saddle to keep going.
I paused at the top, part hesitation, wondering if the attack was premature, part from the needing to drag some air into tortured lungs and let the pain in my legs subside. Then I pushed on …
I was just starting to flag, when Ovis nudged past and I dropped onto his wheel. Now, slowly, but surely we started to reel in the lone rider in the florescent green socks and Ovis pulled us around him. Yet again. He must have been sick of the sight of us.
As the road started to drag upwards, I bustled back onto the front, trying to find a good line across the battered and lumpy road surface. Down toward the Snake Bends, we passed a lone Grover, seemingly still happy in his own company and I briefly stopped the frenetic pedalling to greet him in passing.
The road levelled out and I pushed on, until Ovis roared past me with an astonishing burst of speed. I had no response. Seconds later a hard-charging Crazy Legs and Mini Miss zipped past, but they were too late and Ovis was long gone, while Taffy Steve caught me just before the Bends.
As ever, great fun.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Carlton wondered if anyone had been watching the Chernobyl TV-series, which one of my work colleagues, Big Dave, described as unremittingly bleak. He reported that in the first 5 minutes alone, some bloke fed his cat, then hung himself and it the just got darker from that point on. (I guess it could have been worse and he could have left the cat to starve.)
I prefer my end-of-the-world, Armagideon Time to have a dash more humour, so was more interested in the recently released, TV adaptation of the Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett book, Good Omens.
“Are you a Terry Pratchett fan, then?” Crazy Legs enquired.
“No, not really, but I like Neil Gaiman. Then again,” I added, “I do have to acknowledge the particular genius of inventing a character called Quoth the Raven. That’s very clever.”
Crazy Legs looked at me blankly, “Eh? What?”
“Quoth. The Raven.”
“Nah, don’t get it?”
Everyone else around the table looked suitably blank too.
“You know, from the Edgar Allan Poe poem, The Raven.”
“Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore.'”
Across from me, Famous Sean’s suddenly giggled.
“See, he gets it …”
But no, he didn’t, it was more a nervous laugh, the kind you might emit if you were embarrassed on someone else’s behalf.
“Oh, I give up, you’re all a bunch of bleedin’ Philistines.”
“You’re on a table full of scientists, mathematicians and engineers,” Crazy Legs consoled me, “What do you expect?”
I left to get some coffee refills and to see if I could find some more erudite cycling companions. The first bit was relatively easy, the second though … well, the jury’s still out.
Still, at least it gave me an opportunity to briefly ear-wig on an delightful conversation between two old biddies in the queue, carried out almost entirely in question form.
“Do you know Annie?” the first pondered.
“Ooh, Canny Annie?”
“No, no, smaller Paula.”
I would like to have hung around to hear more, but was conscious of Philistine cyclists requiring further injections of caffeine.
When I returned Double Dutch Dude who’d been in the first group, was dragging Double Dutch Distaff away, to get some more miles in. Meanwhile, conversation had returned to less culturally divisive subjects … or maybe not … as Taffy Steve expressed his love for Gogglebox, a TV programme about people watching TV programmes. We wondered where it would end – was there, for example, an opportunity for a TV programme about people who watched TV programmes in which people watched TV programmes?
G-Dawg briefly joined us, having sneaked out from the cafe for a bit of peace and to try and quell a strange, incessant clamouring in his ears. Sadly though, the strange incessant clamouring followed him out.
I noticed he seemed to be a riot of colours today; green shoes, yellow socks, blue shorts and a red jersey. Still, I’m sure last week’s civilian, who complained about cyclists dressed all in black, would have found some other reason to disparage him.
Famous Sean, being one of those weird triathlete-types, started undertaking a series of stretches in preparation for us leaving. He’d left the fat velcro straps of his triathlon shoes unfastened and they flopped over to lie flat on the grass, making him look like Big Bird, all skinny legs and big feet.
Crazy Legs had to ask if the velcro actually worked on grass and if that was why Famous Sean’s could touch his toes without toppling over.
We lined up and rode out, for what would prove to be a remarkably unremarkable trip back, the only thing of note I recall was being subjected to a short, sharp shower half way up the Heinous Hill,
Our first June club run complete then and still we wait for some good better weather. Come on, make it happen…
YTD Totals: 3,604 km / 2,240 miles with 46,106 metres of climbing
Scattered light showers. That’s what the forecast predicted, clearing from 11.00 clock onward, before returning later in the evening. This was an improvement on the previous day’s forecast, which basically suggested wall-to-wall rain from dawn ’til dusk. As I looked out, first thing Saturday morning, the rain indeed, seemed to have cleared, the roads were wet, but there wasn’t much surface water lying around. I’d fully-prepped the Peugeot the night before, but now it didn’t look like its full mudguards would be needed. A bit of a gamble, but if you gamble enough, sooner or later you have to win … don’t you?
On the valley floor, I tracked and then caught up with a fellow cyclist as he stopped at the traffic lights just before Blaydon. If I’d accidentally misplaced caution, he must have given it a right good kicking, before recklessly abandoning it, shocked and bleeding, by the side of the road. Yes, I was on the good bike with no mudguards, but I had on knee warmers, overshoes, a winter jacket under a waterproof, a cap and gloves. My fellow rider was wearing a white, short-sleeved BMC jersey with world championship bands, track mitts, shorts and little else.
I told him I admired his optimism, while wondering if he knew something about the weather that I’d missed.
All was going well and I was beginning to think I was a mite overdressed when, within a mile of the meeting place, the rain started. It would then stay with us pretty much as a constant for the rest of the day, with only the briefest of interludes (ironically, when we were all sitting warm and dry in the cafe).
Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:
I pulled into the meeting place, which had shuffled off the pavement and over into the bottom of the dim, dank, dreary, dismal (but dry) multi-storey car park to wait and see who else thought this was the perfect weather for a club run.
Taffy Steve, having ridden in from the coast, confirmed we were facing wall-to-wall rain, with no possibility of a break in the weather. He’d had the foresight to not only prep his winter bike, but actually use it too, although I think in part this was due to having a new toy to play with. Gone, banished without hope of redemption, is the thrice-cursed winter bike and in its place is a bright and shiny and neat, Blessèd Beneficent Boardman.
OGL was heading off to watch Round 4 of The Tour Series, in Durham later in the day and offered a lift to anyone who wanted to tag along. We all agreed that a fast, city centre circuit on the tight, cobbled and steep inclines of Durham would be lethal enough, without multiplying the danger with a sprinkling rain to turn the surfaces greasy.
G-Dawg knew of one particular corner, where he felt certain everyone would congregate in anticipation of a crash-fest and thought you’d have to be there ridiculously early to grab such a good perch.
OGL wondered if our ex-clubmate, young tyro beZ would be riding for the Ribble Pro Cycling Team and, given the potential dangers of the course, actually hoped he wasn’t. I was momentarily left speechless by this uncharacteristic show of concern and empathy for another human being.
As our numbers slowly built up, The Silence appeared out of the gloom to lour over us, with no acknowledgement, or word of greeting.
Oh, hi there…
OGL suggested banishing anyone without mudguards to the back, before realising that would mean an extra long, hard day on the front for just him and Taffy Steve.
“Don’t worry, it’s dry rain,” G-Dawg assured us.
There was only time for the Garrulous Kid’s highly considered and informed opinion that “Caleb Ewan is not a sprinter” and then we could delay no longer and pushed out and into the rain.
For the first part I found myself riding alongside Taffy Steve and discussing (I know not why) “the parmo” a culinary delicacy on Teesside. It was described, by no less an authority than the Guardian, as the “‘delinquent nephew of veal Parmigiana.” I can only assume they meant off-the-rails raging delinquent, wild and feral and unpleasant.
My extensive research reveals that the typical parmo, consists of flattened chicken breast, covered in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried until crisp. It’s finished off with thick layers of béchamel sauce and melted Cheddar, before the option of topping with pepperoni, bacon, more cheese, and ladles of creamy garlic sauce. Traditionally served with a bucket of chips, the typical parmo is said to contain over 2,000 calories and has been branded as “monstrous” by an anti-obesity campaigner.
While wondering about the etymology of the word “parmo” I told Taffy Steve about my youngest daughter, Thing#2 being out with friends in a restaurant and one of them reading a menu in puzzlement, before asking:
“What’s ‘man get out?'”
“Eh, what’s that? Let me see … oh, yeah, man get out. No idea.”
Luckily one of her more erudite friends turned up before they made fools of themselves asking the staff. “It’s mangetout, you blithering idiots!”
This led Taffy Steve to recall the launch of a Susan Boyle album promoted under the hashtag #Susanalbumparty. We couldn’t decide if this was the work of pure, unalloyed, evil genius or just lucky happenstance, but we both agreed neither of us were remotely interested in Su’s anal bum party.
I spent most of the day trying to ride slightly offset from the wheel in front to avoid as much spray as possible – it didn’t seem to make much difference whether the wheel ahead was covered by a mudguard or not. Water, water flying everywhere, there was no avoiding it. I was soon soaked through.
I had a chat with one of our new(ish) Irish guys, Wilf – the Irish seem to be forming as strong a cabal in the club as the Dutch at the moment. I wondered if the conditions were making him homesick.
“At least it’s warm rain,” he suggested, a nice positive spin on things. Notice how he didn’t try to convince me it was dry rain, like the dastardly G-Dawg.
I took a turn on the front alongside Biden Fecht, through Stamfordham, where we split into different groups for different routes, before pushing across the Military Road, past the reservoir and calling a brief halt for further splits. There were quite a few fishermen out today, but they looked thoroughly miserable.
On we went again, climbing up through the plantations and making our way to Matfen and from there to the Quarry. At the top of the Quarry I pushed onto the front alongside Wilf and we made a run at the cafe.
I helped drag the group up and through the crossroads, ceding the lead through the hairpins, before hitting the front again for the final drag to the road that leads down toward the Snake Bends. Once through the junction, I straightened up and tried to keep the pace high as a launchpad for anyone wanting to sprint.
Taffy Steve burned through, testing out his Blessèd Beneficent Boardman, but a rocket-fuelled Biden Fecht followed in his slipstream and was able to slingshot around the outside and romp clear.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
It was bin bags all around at the cafe, to protect the chairs from some very wet cyclists’ posteriors. Well, all round apart from the Monkey Butler Boy who confessed he hadn’t bothered asking for one.
“That’s because you’re uncouth,” I told him, “whereas I’m the opposite and totally couth.” He looked quizzically at me, but said nothing.
Speaking of uncouth, Szell sat down, grasped his scone and flexed his fingers around it, as if preparing to rip it in two.
“Ooph, you’re an animal, ” I told him, “Are you really going to tear that poor, defenceless scone apart with just your bare hands?”
He paused reflectively, remembering he was a cyclist with all the upper body strength of a wet moth. “Nah, better not, I’ll probably end up with De Quervain tendinitis.”
Outside the rain had temporarily stopped and I even noticed a group of brave cyclists taking a rare opportunity to sit out in the garden.It wouldn’t last.
The Monkey Butler Boy complained that he’d been on a college trip to Middlesborough and been charged £5 for a croissant. We would have sympathised, but what did he expect, croissants and other delicate pastries are probably seen as rather effete and exotic on Teesside, beside, who’d want a feeble, foreign bread roll with a stupid name, when you could get a mighty parmo for far less?
Taffy Steve commended the Monkey Butler Boy for his perfectly framed and composed family mugshot on Facebook, taken from their recent holiday in Italy. He said the whole group looked happy, tranquil and relaxed, but he wished he’d been there for the five minutes before the picture was taken so he could enjoy all the bickering, slapstick mayhem and disgruntlement that he was certain preceded it.
The Monkey Butler Boy admitted it had been a somewhat fraught and fractious affair, before launching off into a tirade about the angle of the sun in the shots being all wrong. Evidently, it still rankled even now.
We then got an unfettered glimpse into life in the Red Max household, learning the Monkey Butler Boy had accepted the challenge of washing the family car for £5 and then been charged £1 for the shampoo, £1.50 for the water and £2.50 for the loan of a bucket.
After that , he’d been enlisted to help out as the Red Max drilled through a thick slab of hardwood during some insane DIY project. Loosening the drill bit and letting it slide out and drop to the ground, the Red Max had picked it up by the non-business end and lobbed it nonchalantly toward the Monkey Butler Boy …
“Hold that for a minute.”
Deftly catching the drill bit, the Monkey Butler Boy had instantly felt the burn of hot metal on skin, swore loudly and instinctively hurled the offending object away from him, only to get a rebuke for disrespecting his dad’s tools.
In contrast, the Garrulous Kids confession of, “I once hit my fum with a hammer” seemed rather tame and uninteresting.
By the time we left the cafe, the rain had returned and looked like it had settled in for the long term, while the temperature seemed to keep bumping its way incrementally downwards. I decided to cut my losses and bailed from the group early, to loop around the other side of the airport and shave a few miles off my journey.
Even with this short-cut I still racked up 70 miles, most of them in a wet and pretty miserable conditions. Perversely though, it was a good ride.
I got home in time to watch Caleb Ewan handily winning Stage 8 of the Giro d’Italia, in what looked to be a sprint finish where he easily beat lots of top sprinters.
Yeah, not a sprinter.
YTD Totals: 3,244 km / 2,018 miles with 42,066 metres of climbing
No surprises certainly, as yet again we are treated to an unseasonably chill, generally dull and cloudy day, with an increasing threat of rain showers the longer we stay out.
Still, there was no delay, drama or diversion on the first leg of my journey and I found myself rolling into the meeting point in good time and in good order.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I found G-Dawg alone once more, without the Colossus, who seems to have fallen out of love with his road bike following one too many altercations with psychotic drivers. Or, as G-Dawg phlegmatically determined, “He’s gone and done a Kittel.” Now the Colossus was heading out for peaceful, quiet and, most importantly, car-free trails on his mountainbike instead.
Not only was one part of our well-established dynamic duo missing, but one part of our latest dynamic duo was missing too, with Distaff Double Dutch away in Canada, so Double Dutch Dude was out on his own.
Speaking of dynamic duo’s, Crazy Legs had dared to venture out on his much-cossetted Ribble, defying both tradition and the auguries that suggested that, sooner or later, we were bound to encounter some rain today. This was a real sign of increasing desperation and frustration, with Crazy Legs acknowledging he’d never made it into May before without having at least one opportunity to ride his best bike.
Sneaky Pete had been listening to an interview with poet, Simon Armitage, (I can’t say I’m familiar with any of his work, but any who would describe Tom McRae as “one of our greatest living songwriters” can’t be all that bad). Apparently, part of the remuneration Armitage will receive for being the new poet laureate is a “butt of Canary wine” which, as an aside, apparently translates to 720 bottles of sherry.
Sneaky Pete wondered what would be adequate remuneration for our in-house, club blergger in general, Sur La Jante.
“A beaker of battery acid?” I suggested. It seemed appropriate.
Benedict briefed in the route which included the Mur de Mitford and then a slightly less-travelled route to the Trench, avoiding Pigdon. Numbers were bolstered by an unexpected group of Ee-Em-Cee riders; ex-club members, or those who had second-claim membership status with us, so we split into two, and away we went.
I started the day on the front with the Garrulous Kid, chatting about the sad loss to the peloton of Marcel Kittel (and, far more importantly, the sad loss to the peloton of Marcel Kittel’s hair) the Giro and the various sprinters who were likely to dominate the next week or so. The race is so loaded with mountains in the third week, I can’t help thinking not many of these gentlemen will make it all the way to the finish in Verona.
We held the front for the first 15km or so, passing apparent, occasional club member, The Silence (he blanked us) as we rode the Cheese Farm and up Bell’s Hill, before peeling away and inviting the next pair through. I dropped back through the group and was still there sometime later, as we scrambled up the Mur de Mitford. I was then in pole position to watch as a very animated Goose, deeply engaged in conversation, led us straight past the turn we were supposed to take to loop around Pigdon. (Not that I would have realised, if G-Dawg hadn’t pointed it out.)
Oh well, we weren’t going to be using that particular wrinkle to our route today.
Someone called a rest break and we pulled into the junction that led up to Curlicue Hill. Once again the Garrulous Kid was disappointed with the toilet facilities, even when Caracol invited him to step into the field of head-high, painfully yellow, almost buzzing, rapeseed. I encouraged him to adopt a Theresa May persona and go skipping through the fields with gay abandon. He wasn’t interested.
Off we went again, working our way to the bottom of the Trench which we seemed to ascend effortlessly, en masse and as one compact group. We took the dip and swoop through Hartburn and then the turn to Angerton, avoiding Middleton Bank.
Around Bolam Lake the pace picked up, increasing all the way until we hit Milestone Woods, where there seemed to be a slight lull and a bit of hesitation – relatively speaking of course, we were still thundering along at over 25 mph. I was on the outside, surfing a few wheels back from the front, there was space to pass and we were approaching the foot of the rollers. It looked like an open door … how could I possibly resist kicking at it?
I accelerated down the outside and off the front as the first slope bit. I’ve no idea if I had a gap, provoked a response, or caused anyone to be shelled out the back, I just kept going, over the second and third bump without looking back. Unfortunately, there was no tractor waiting to pace me this week, as I tipped down the other side and pushed on.
As the road started to climb again, a tight knot of riders burned past, followed by a long tail in one’s and two’s, as I slipped form first to last place, trying to recover. As the road kicked around the bend and onto the final drag, I managed to accelerate and then it was just a case of seeing how many back-markers I could catch and pass before I ran out of road.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Somewhat surprisingly, it was just about warm enough to tempt us to sit out in the garden. We just had to get there. This proved a breeze for G-Dawg and me, but we were followed out by the Garrulous Kid, who seemed to be really struggling to walk and balance a tray at the same time.Luckily, he didn’t have any gum to chew.
He emerged from the doorway and took his first, tiny, tentative baby step toward us, tray in a white-knuckled, double-handed death grip as he tried, largely unsuccessfully, not to spill coffee over everything. G-Dawg looked down at his plate, speared a chunk of his ham and egg pie on his fork and started chewing thoughtfully. He looked up again …
The Garrulous kid was creeping toward us with all the speed of an approaching Ice Age.
“Have you actually moved?” G-Dawg asked, before returning for another bite of pie.
“Actually, is he not going backwards?” he asked when once again he checked on the Garrulous Kid’s progress.
Finally, after a tortuous, extended period of tottering, stiff-legged steps, that made him resemble a stilt-walker who’d crapped their pants, the Garrulous Kid made it to the table and plonked down a tray awash with coffee.
In direct contrast and moments later Goose swept through the cafe door, tray balanced expertly on the splayed fingertips of one extended hand as he sashayed nimbly around a group of departing cyclists, stepped around a pile of abandoned bikes and strode quickly and purposefully to the table. There, he spun the tray fully through 180 degrees and deposited it, with a flourish on the table.
I commended him on his very stylish, professional busboy technique.
“Yeah, but I spilled coffee everywhere…”
Despite having promised to set the world to rights, deride the current running of the club and speak out as a representative for all the poor, oppressed yoofs, the Garrulous Kid had remained meekly silent and quiescent during a recent club meeting.
We determined that he was either an “all mouth and trousers,” blustering, braggart, or an agent provocateur, working directly for OGL and tasked with sowing discord, while encouraging dissidents to implicate themselves.
“Hold up,” Caracol challenged, “Are you wearing a wire?”
This, we decided was probably why the Garrulous Kid was so particular in finding a pee place where he couldn’t be overlooked and his duplicitous double-dealing discovered. And here I was thinking it was just because of some hideous deformity he was trying to hide.
We learned that the morning’s influx of Ee-Em-Cee riders was prompted by large portions of their club being away on holiday/training camp in Majorca, leaving only a smattering of riders behind. These had been either too few, or otherwise disinclined to form their own club run, so we had been a welcome refuge.
Goose was interested in how far and how fast their typical club runs were (it goes without saying that they were obviously much longer, faster and much, much harder than ours). One of them gave Goose typical distances and average speeds in miles per hour.
“These, what is it … Imperial measurements you call them?” he continued, “We always refer to them as retard units.“
He then started to ask a number of very awkward questions – how many ounces are there in a pound? How many pounds in a stone? How many inches in a foot? Feet in a yard? Yards in a mile? How many pints in a quart? How many quarts in a gallon?*
(Unfortunately, he didn’t ask how many bottles of sherry there were in a butt, I knew that one.)
We knew some, we guessed others, we argued over a few more. It was enough to prove his point. Imperial measurements are now wholly devoid of ryhme, reason, or logic, they are arcane, unguessable and unusable.
[* 16, 14, 12, 3, 1760, 2, 4 and 72, respectively. I think]
“Every child in Holland knows there’s 100 centimetres in a metre and 1,000 grams in a kilogram,” The implication was clear: Imperial = retarded. QED.
The Monkey Butler Boy distracted us, talking about a hand-built set of carbon wheels made by the Walker Brothers.
“The Walker Brothers?” I queried, immediately thinking to myself that the sun ain’t gonna shine anymore and regretting that Crazy Legs was absent, otherwise we might have had a little sing-along.
“Yeah, the Walker Brothers,” the Monkey Butler Boy replied, completely oblivious to what I was hinting at, or why I found the name so amusing.
“He doesn’t get the reference,” G-Dawg let me down gently. Oh well, I don’t know why I was surprised, after all this was the same Monkey Butler Boy who excused his ignorance of Oscar Wilde (“never heard of the feller”) by reminding me he was “only young, so wasn’t around in the 1980’s.”
There was some gentle ribbing of the Monkey Butler Boy for wearing Velotoze time-trial socks on a club run. Apparently, they can save him up to 3 seconds on a 10-mile time trial, but take him 15 minutes of sweating and straining effort to pull on.
Life’s too short.
Then, there was just time for the Garrulous Kid to badly fail the most basic, Bike Knowledge 101, (being unable to identify where his jockey wheels were located) and we were packing up to go.
I was chatting with Goose as we approached the bottom of Berwick Hill, when the Monkey Butler Boy surged off the front. I immediately dropped onto his wheel and was sitting there trying to look calm and composed when he looked around to see how big a gap he’d opened up. He swung away and I took over the pace-making on the front, dragging everyone up and over the crest.
The rain had obviously swept through here moments before and the road ahead was soaking wet and still sheeted in water. In seconds my socks were soaked and had gone from pristine white, to grimy grey.
“Ha! bet you wish you had Velotoze on now,” the Monkey Butler Boy crowed.
“Still,” he continued, “It could be a lot worse, at least we’re on the front.”
He was right, we were safely out of the spray being kicked up by everyone’s wheels, we just had to stay there. We did, by keeping the pace high enough to discourage anyone else from coming through, as we drove to the bottom of the hill, up through Dinnington, past the airport and finally down into the Mad Mile.
It could also have been worse if we’d been in the second group on the road, who said they took a real battering from rain and hail as they passed through Ogle. This was a rain storm we were happy to have missed. I’ve yet to find out if Crazy Legs’ much cossetted Ribble will ever forgive him for this ultimate of betrayals.
At the end of the Mad Mile, I swung off and away for home, with the sun occasionally breaking through and the roads starting to dry out. My clothes followed suit, so I was bone dry by the time I hauled ass up the Heinous Hill, though my socks remained a grainy, grungy, grimy grey and may have to be abandoned. Do you think I need Velotoze?
YTD Totals: 3,075 km / 1,911 miles with 40,367 metres of climbing
Another Saturday, another cloudy, overcast and chilly day. At least it’s not raining, I keep telling myself and anyone who’ll listen, but after one weekend of record setting high temperatures, we’ve now had several extremely cold ones, culminating in record setting lows. So, once again I’m bundled up against the chill and diving down the hill en route to the meeting point.
At least it’s not raining … although I am periodically blasted by billowing cherry blossom, stripped off the trees by the wind and hurled at me like a storm of confetti unleashed by the worlds most over-enthusiastic wedding guest.
Timing is bad again and once more I get stopped at the level crossing, but this time the train is heading up the valley and quickly rumbles past and away.
Over the river and back-tracking, I’m periodically passed by vintage motorbikes and scooters burbling away in the opposite direction. I assume they’re holding some sort of rally, but can’t find anything online to suggest who, what, where or when. A secret vintage biker meet?
Then I’m at the meeting point in good order and in good time. Here we go again …
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
G-Dawg is visibly shaken by the condition of the Garrulous Kid’s chain, black and glistening with evil intent, a thick, grungy coating of sticky black oil and accumulated gunk.
“It’s a black chain,” the Garrulous Kid insists, unconvincingly. No one’s buying.
It’s probably not going to cleaned until his bike needs a major service (considering it’s just had one, that’s probably some time in the future) or, he accidentally wipes it off on his calf for an epic chainring tattoo.
A couple of FNG’s or, to be more precise, an FNG couple, roll up to join us. Double Dutch! They are adventurers from the Hollow Lands, perhaps drawn here by our sunny weather, gentle rolling hills and the general feeling of compassion and empathy for cyclists exhibited by the average British motorist. Welkom goede Nederlandse mensen.
The club is looking at ways to ease the passage of young riders from our thriving Go-Ride section into the senior ranks – as Big Dunc stated, if we can just bring half a dozen teens into the fold, we’ll be able to reduce the average age on club runs from 49 to, oh at least 48½.
To be able to do this though, British Cycling insist we have fully trained Ride Leaders (there’s a BC course for that) and said ride leaders have to have First Aid certification (and there’s no BC course for that).
“Don’t you have First Aid training already?” OGL enquires of Big Dunc,
“Technically, only in the event of oil rig evacuation, or an oil fire.”
“Well, that could prove useful,” G-Dawg muttered, once again looking askance at the Garrulous Kid’s oil clogged chain.
I complained to Big Dunc about the weather.
Ever phlegmatic, he shrugged, “At least we’re not in Yorkshire.”
He was, of course referring to the horrendous weather at the Tour de of Yorkshire, where extreme cold, high winds, hail and freezing rain have been battering the riders to such an extent that some of the women’s teams admitted to attacking just to stay warm.
We’re all watching, hoping for a glimpse of “old” boy and ex-clubmate beZ, riding for Ribble Pro Cycling and being paid to rub shoulders with the likes of Chris Froome and Greg van Anorak Avermaet. We can’t in any way claim to have been instrumental in guiding beZ from junior, to club-rider, to hardened pro-racer, but at least we didn’t irreparably break him along the way. Perhaps there’s hope for our Go-Ride youngsters after all?
Aether outlined the route for the day, including his signature Twizzel Twist, an odd phallic-shaped diversion, 5km down to the village and then 5km straight back out again on a parallel road. Captain Black speculated that Aether had been attempting some clever Strava art with his route planning, but had almost immediately lost interest when it proved too difficult.
A rendezvous point was agreed at Dyke Neuk and away we went.
I joined the first group, chatting with Andeven and Captain Black, before dropping in alongside a relative FNG who seemed keen to get more involved with the club. I learned I was in the company of another Dutch refugee, which if the pair from this morning stick around would mean that, along with Rainman, we would have four in the club. I’m not completely certain, but I’m sure that violates several UCI protocols.
We took the Twizzel Twist, dropping down at high speed with several of the group pushing away off the front. The FNG gave chase and nearly over-cooked it on a tight bend, braking furiously, unclipping and dabbing a foot down. G-Dawg swore he saw a trail of sparks where cleat kissed tarmac, then the FNG swung wide, off the road and through the grass verge, before correcting and powering on. Hey! Our very own Dutch Corner … and it almost gave me a Dutch Coronary.
Up toward the Gubeon, we called a halt for a pee, but the conditions were neither amenable, or luxurious enough for the Garrulous Kid, who crossed the road, squeezed through a fence and tried to pick his way into the woods for some privacy and a chance to commune with nature in splendid isolation.
We tracked his progress through the swaying of foliage, snapping of branches, a series of random grunts and the occasional startled exclamation.
“I’ve stepped on a fawn!” he announced at one point, but I very much doubt there were any deer within a thousand yards of his decidedly unstealthy bushcraft.
Captain Black wondered if the Garrulous Kid was recording his off-road adventures via his smartwatch.
“He’ll have a small Strava segment,” he declared, “And it will be small in this weather.” Ba-boom!
Finally, all fell silent amongst the trees.
“Ok, let’s go,” G-Dawg announced immediately.
“I’m here!” the Garrulous Kid announced, popping up suddenly beside the fence. Damn, that was quick. Missed opportunity.
Dropping down from Meldon, I swung wide and just let the bike run, new wheels picking up momentum quickly as I shot past everyone and onto the front. We swung left and started the climb up to Dyke Neuk and, as quickly as I’d hit the front, I drifted back, as everyone raced to be first to the top. We were stopping to regroup there anyway, so I was in no great hurry and followed at a more relaxed pace.
The Garrulous Kid had lots of queries about saddles with grooves and odd shaped protrusions. G-Dawg encouraged him to get a saddle with strategically placed cut-outs, suggesting he could then dangle his testicles through them and, whenever he was going too fast on the front, someone could grab one and give a little squeeze. Alternatively, if he was going too slow someone could “reach across and give him a little tickle” of encouragement.
Ahem. Yes, well … Hmm … maybe we’re not quite ready to include Go-Ride youngsters in our club runs just yet.
Luckily the second group arrived before the conversation had a chance to take an even more disturbing direction. Unsurprisingly, no one wanted an extended ride up the hated drag to Rothley crossroads and we all stuck to the original plan, but split into two groups.
I dropped back into the second group alongside G-Dawg and Captain Black and we set out for a run at the cafe via Middleton Bank. As we took the turn for the climb, we found ourselves being followed by a massive tractor hauling a large slurry tank. We were in full cry now though, speeding downhill toward the foot of the climb, so there was no way the tractor could get past here, or on the narrow ascent, so it would have to crawl up the hill behind us.
Zip Five took a flyer off the front, but I waited until the steepest part of the climb before slipping out from behind G-Dawg and giving chase, pulling Captain Black along with me as we passed everyone. We pushed over the top with a decent gap and then slowed to regroup.
As the road straightened to run past Bolam Lake, the tractor finally rumbled past, but to be honest it wasn’t travelling that much faster than we were, so we never lost sight of it.
On the front with Captain Black, we started to wind up the pace and were soon humming as we swept through Milestone Woods to the foot of the rollers, where … as foolish tradition dictates … I attacked. There wasn’t the usual out of the saddle flailing, I just stomped on the pedals a bit harder and managed to open a decent gap.
By the time we hit the second ramp, I’m usually a spent force weak legged, gasping and flapping like a fish out of water, but today the legs seemed pretty good, so I kept going.
I caught the tractor, just before the final bump and dropped in behind it as we started the descent to the final drag up to the cafe. It proved perfect for a sustained bout of illegal drafting and I tucked in tight behind the bouncing slurry tank, hoping the driver wouldn’t brake suddenly, or the tank start leaking its noxious contents over the road.
With the tractor travelling at a good clip, I was confident my mechanical assistance was going to make me hard to catch – and so it proved. I eased over the last section of road and let the tractor pull away, before swooping through the final junction, just behind the back-markers from the first group.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Space was at a premium in the cafe, where a shrieking coterie of middle-aged women had commandeered the big round table in the centre of the floor and were pressed in great number all around it. It looked like perhaps the most civilised (second? third?) hen party, ever. But maybe not.
A few of us squeezed onto a table alongside an octogenarian couple trying to enjoy a peaceful lunch. Sorry, citizens, we had no choice.
I caught up with Taffy Steve, who’d been riding with the Distaff Double Dutch and been teaching her new words to ease her assimilation into the clubs culture.
Having already covered off “knacker” and “minging” he was wondering what else she might need. I suggested “worky ticket” but (rather oddly) Taffy Steve didn’t think she’d have much need for such a pejorative term amongst our serried, serene and cultured ranks. “Paggered” the always erudite Biden Fecht suggested, a word I think he’s taken a bit of a shine to. So paggered it was.
Halfway through our stay, the octogenarian gent pointed over his wife’s shoulder and declared, “there’s a girly party going on over there.”
Andeven looked at me and mouthed “girly party?” and I only just managed not to burst out laughing. Luckily, he distracted me with descriptions of Spry’s new, all white Trek Madone. This, he suggested made his Colnago look astonishingly dated in a side by side comparison, but, he reasoned that, much like pet dogs, bikes have a tendency to grow to suit their owners. Or, perhaps owners grow to resemble their bikes …
Still. the ultimate, thousand dollar question remained – would the shiny, new Trek encourage a return of the white shorts?
We left the cafe and I found the Red Max, resplendent in a smart new winter top. He said he’d only just got it for his birthday and hadn’t thought he’d get a chance to wear it until at least October. It really was that cold. Later, Taffy Steve would echo the same sentiments when he asked if I ever thought I’d be wearing overshoes in May.
As we were about to leave, we found out Distaff Double Dutch had a flat. Most of the group pressed on for home, while half a dozen or so of us hung back to help.
Well, I say help, we actually huddled round the side of the cafe, out of the wind and called out criticism and helpful suggestions in equal measure from this surprisingly sheltered space.
Back out onto the roads, I had a chat with Distaff Double Dutch and learned she’s on a research contract at the University, so here for at least 3 years. Meanwhile, Dude Double Dutch was on the front, riding alongside the Red Max and the speed kept incrementally notching upwards.
“Is there a Dutch term for half-wheeling?” I wondered, hoping to contribute something to Taffy Steve’s cultural-exchange programme.
Sadly, there isn’t, but, when I described the phenomena, she instantly recognised exactly what I was talking about. She agreed that Dude Double Dutch was a fine proponent of the art, and yes, that’s exactly what he was doing at the moment, aided and abetted by that arch half-wheeler himself, the Red Max.
I sprinted forward and got them knock it off, well for a while at least.
We had a decently fast run back from there and I even had enough zip left in the legs to burst past everyone as we drove to the end of the Mad Mile. A quick slingshot round the roundabout and I was off and heading home, quite absurdly pleased with myself.
YTD Totals: 2,913 km / 1,810 miles with 38,425 metres of climbing