Tinselitis and Other Chaffin’ Nonsense

Tinselitis and Other Chaffin’ Nonsense
Total Distance:100km/62 miles with 1,025 metres climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 11 minutes
Average Speed:23.9km/h
Group Size:26
Temperature: 8°C
Weather in a word or two:Mild

Ride Profile

Heavy rain overnight had cleared, but left the road soaked and my tyres made a sibilant hiss and seemed to be shushing me all the way down the hill … shhh!

It was chillier than I’d expected, the digital sign on the factory unit flashing just 6°C, a grey, drab, dreary, dark start. Still, we were only one day removed from shortest day of the year and the rain wasn’t forecast to return. It would do.

And then, once across the river and turning back on myself, I was rewarded by a glorious sunrise. Well, not so much the sun rising, it was more as if the earth had cracked and was leaking molten light from its core, painting the underbelly of the clouds in a roseate glow and setting the horizon to flame. It was worth the price of admission alone.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

We had a good turnout for the ride and a varied assortment of Christmas jumpers, T-shirts, lights, tinsel and dangling baubles, but G-Dawg and the Colossus stole the show. G-Dawg in bright red ladies leggings (he assured me they were bought specially and not stolen from his wife’s wardrobe) topped with a very busy top, all Santa hats, Christmas trees and ribbon-wrapped gifts.

And then the Colossus… well, the Colossus wore a formal Christmas suit – blazer and trousers, heavily patterned in striped candy canes, stars and Christmas stockings, a garish, riotous, technicolour nightmare, that I found vaguely threatening. In fact, his outfit lacked only a jaunty bowler hat to resemble a psychedelic tolchoking malchick from a fever dream Clockwork Orange.

The Monkey Butler Boy had his entire bike frame swathed and swaddled in ropes of thick golden tinsel. Given his usual obsessions, the obvious question then was, is that actually aero? Would the individual strands of tinsel smooth turbulent airflow and make it more laminar? Were boffins from Team Sky watching, measuring and gauging, with an eye to next years Tour de France and more marginal gains?

G-Dawg was worried the tinsel could get caught in the Monkey Butler Boys cassette and suddenly lock his freewheel, while I thought it might unravel and trail behind him, like a meteor’s tail on an earth bound Haleys comet.

Just before 9.15 Garmin Muppet Time, G-Dawg stepped up to address the gathered throng, “Hello, for those of you who don’t know, this is Richard,” Richard of Flanders uncertainly raised an arm, “and this is the route for the day …”


We split into two, with a general coalescing agreed at Hallington, once we were out of the ‘burbs. I dropped onto the back of the first group and away we went, the Cow Ranger on the front and driving us at a brisk pace from the off.

I slotted in beside the Red Max, currently languishing in the dog house as he’d miscalculated his holidays at work and now has to be in on Christmas Eve. Even worse, being responsible for all the work planning, he’d previously decided there would be no early finish for those unfortunates pulling the last shift, not reckoning on actually being one of them himself.

Riding behind the Monkey Butler Boy, I had to continuously swipe loose bits tinsel out of my face, as he shed a golden trail in his wake. It prompted me to enquire after the health of Red Max’s Christmas tree and I learned that not only had the Monkey Butler Boy denuded it of all the tinsel, but one of their cats had perfected the fine art of hooking baubles off with a single claw and disdainfully flinging them across the room.



With the Cow Ranger driving us onward and with the occasional manoeuvre to avoid the blizzards of stray tinsel being shed ahead of me, we were soon at the rendezvous point and pulled over to wait for the second group.

The Monkey Butler Boy dropped his bike into a ditch and started taking pictures on his phone.

“I’m gonna ‘gram them,” he declared.

“Huh?” I asked brightly.

“Gram them,” he repeated.

I still had no idea what he was saying.

“Eh?”

“Put them on Instagram,” he explained, rolling his eyes at the old dotard.

“Oh. Ah. Right. Instagram”

Richard of Flanders complimented the Peugeot on it’s subtle French branding, tricolour bar end plugs that match the even more subtle tricolour etched into the top tube. I’d bought these from the same place as the Lion of Flanders plugs for the Holdsworth, VeloHeaven a not too expensive bit of bike bling, that I thought added a nice touch. Of course I didn’t admit to
Googling the French flag to confirm that I’d put them in the wrong way round at first.

The Monkey Butler Boy looked down at his once gleaming, white shoes in disdain. “No matter how many baby wipes you use, you just can’t keep them pristine and white,” he moaned. The shoes were indeed looking somewhat yellowed and poisonous now. I realised he wasn’t wearing overshoes and then that he was wearing mitts not gloves.

“Aren’t your hands cold?” I wondered.

“Freezing. But they were fine when I set off from Wallsend this morning.” Ah right, that’ll be the famous Wallsend microclimate then, warmed by the benign currents of the Jet Stream and North Atlantic Drift, a balmy, semi-tropical enclave in the heart of frigid Tyneside.

We seemed to wait an age for the other group to join us (they’d had a puncture) and talk turned to Christmas preparations. The Garrulous Kid was complaining about the expense of presents for his girlfriend and then, admitted he didn’t like Christmas Day at all, chiefly because his uncle always brought his bulldog around (let’s just call the dog Onan for now) and it always had vigorous sexual congress with the Garrulous Kid’s pillow.

“Let me guess,” the Red Max piped up, ” And you don’t realise until you wake up with the pillowcase stuck to your face?”

“Hmm, that explains your strange doggy odour,” I volunteered, “I thought it was just your Pedigree Chum body spray.”

The Red Max then wondered if blaming the dog for random, seminal emissions in a teenagers bedroom wasn’t a bit unfair on our canine friends and he imagined an on-going conversation between the Garrulous Kid and his mother …

“Ugh! What’s this?”

“Oh Mum! Onan’s been at it again.”

“But your uncle hasn’t been round with the dog for three months now…”

With the Monkey Butler Boy continuing to shed tinsel, I remarked that at least German Fighter Command wouldn’t know our numbers, or the destination of our raid.

“Huh?” the Monkey Butler Boy asked brightly.

“Window.” I told him.

“Eh?”

He still had no idea what I was saying.

“Window,” I repeated,”Düppel, radar countermeasures” rolling my eyes at the ignorance of youth.

“He’ll always be chaff in the wind to me,” the Red Max added as a postscript.

Luckily, we were saved from further discourse when the second group finally rolled past, we tagged on the back and were off again.

At one point above us a small kestrel appeared, fluttering wings and split-second pauses keeping it fixed in place, hanging directly over the road. “Drone!” the Big Yin announced wryly. Well, I chuckled, but then I hadn’t been delayed at Gatwick for 16 hours.

We picked our way through to Mitford, descending into the Wansbeck Valley to the accompaniment of a droning, honking wail from a set of vigorously asphyxiated bag-pipes. We then passed the lone piper, obviously banished out into the chill, dank garden to practice his dark arts, well out of the earshot of the rest of his family.

The discordant wailing brought a small tear to Aether’s eye and he emitted a little, subdued “Och aye the noo!” Everyone else seemed to quicken their pace to put a bit of distance between us and the unnatural noise as quickly as possible.

We did a loop around Mitford and then, as a novel, new twist, found ourselves cautiously descending the Mur de Mitford for the first time. All went well and then we were back to climbing. I managed to reserve a stint on the front until after the hated drag up to Dyke Neuk this time.

The various assaults on our senses continued as we passed the Dyke Neuk inn, this time it was to be smell not hearing that suffered, the air heavy with the rather unpleasant odour of over-cooked Brussell sprouts.

On the front alongside me, Richard of Flanders slowed the pace down and we kept the group together down through the dip and rise around Hartburn and the turn for Angerton, where we called a pee stop.

The group became attenuated on the climb up to Bolam Lake, as Spry rode off the front. A few hundred metres later and Ovis and Andeven followed. I waited to see if anyone was going to take up the chase and when they didn’t, I swung wide and accelerated away.

I thought a few others might follow my lead and we could work together to bridge across to the front. I had no takers though and I ended up hanging off the front on a bit of a chasse patates. Still, whatever gap I’d opened up most have been fairly sizeable as I hung out there through the Milestone Woods, up and over the rollers and round the corner of the last bend on the final climb, before I was caught and dropped.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I took perhaps a last chance for another seasonal stollen scone, working on the assumption they’ll not be around much longer and I should enjoy them while I can. I ordered, while pondering why the Garrulous Kid’s helmet appeared to have Special Liz written on one side.

At our table, Buster had decided wool jumpers, no matter how jaunty they looked, were no substitute for technical sportswear, complaining he’d been overheating during the ride, but chilled at the same time as his Santa jumper wasn’t even remotely windproof. Usually this would have been the cue for OGL to tell us all about the good old day, riding in thick, wool jerseys and shorts with a real chamois insert, but he was absent and missed a golden opportunity for more lore building.

Buster said he’s considering joining Crazy Legs’ annual expedition to the mountains of France next year, finances permitting. He took the opportunity to question Captain Black and me about the trip. He was particularly keen to understand the niceties of our typical itinerary, which was usually a Thursday depart, travelling on BA to France via a Heathrow transfer, 3 days riding and a return trip on the Monday by the same route.

He then did that quick phone-tapping thing that youngsters do. “Hmm, Queasy Jet fly direct to Geneva, but only twice a week, Sunday’s and Friday’s.” He paused to consider.

“That means we could fly out on a Sunday, have 4 days riding and fly back on a Friday. That would still be cheaper and easier than the BA flights, especially if we hired bikes across there and didn’t have to pay baggage fees. Then of course, hiring the cars would be a lot cheaper and simpler too.”

“Woah, woah, woah, hold on youngster, ” I complained, “You can’t just come in and tip the current order upside down based on logic, common sense and a bucketful of sound economic and logistical benefits!”

We all admired the Red Max’s new gloves, bright red of course and newly purchased from Planet X. They even had a fold away cover so you could convert them to mitts for a bit of added protection.

He admitted he’d actually bought them as a Christmas present for the Monkey Butler Boy, but took a liking to them when they arrived, so had decided to keep them. Once again Taffy Steve was left in awe and deeply humbled by the Red Max’s innate parenting skills – a sort of a modern day Spartan agoge based on the principles that if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger.

It was time then for us to all line up for the semi-traditional, group photo outside, with Carlton stepping up to the plate as our resident Ansel Adams.

“Will you post it up somewhere?” Princess Fiona enquired.

There then followed one of those awkward and tentative, new-tech conversations us older folk have when discussing something that’s (rudely) second nature to the youngsters, with lots of uncertain talk about airdrops, cloud postings, instant messaging and the like.

I was tempted to step in and suggest that Carlton simply ‘gram the pictures, but didn’t rate my chances of explaining how to do it if someone called my bluff.


Photo opportunities fulfilled for another year, we were then off, splitting into two groups, the Red Max leading a handful off on a slightly longer, alternative route home. I stuck to the traditional return run, facing strict instruction to be back on time to greet scheduled holiday visitors.


Paul Dorman©

I spent the ride back chatting with Buster about the parlous state of the guitar industry and the value for money vs. quality conundrum of Planet X. Once again I found myself recommending their mighty lobster mitts for the most extreme conditions.

Before long I was following the Colossus and G-Dawg through the Mad Mile, chuckling at all the people pointing out the strange man in the strange suit. Then I was off on my own, riding unusually quiet roads, even those around the local shopping centre. It might have been a quiet Christmas for the nation’s High Street businesses, but I’m not complaining


YTD Totals: 7,261 km / 4,512 miles with 88,830 metres of climbing.

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The Effin’ Ibex Ride

The Effin’ Ibex Ride

Club Run, Saturday 26th May, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                       114 km / 71 miles with 1,229 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                               4 hours 21 minutes

Average Speed:                      26.1 km/h

Group size:                              25 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                         20°C

Weather in a word or two:    Warm and cool


 

ibex
Ride Profile


WARNING: Parental Advisory: Explicit Content

A cool start to the day made arm warmers very much de rigueur as I dropped down the hill and started to push along the valley floor toward an uncertain river crossing. I don’t know if my encounters with burst pipes last week were a precursor to a systematic collapse of the entire system, but a major water main at Newburn had burst spectacularly, flooded the roads, inundated several cars and washed out much of the bridge surface.

The bridge over the Tyne was closed to cars for the foreseeable future, but the Internet informed me it was still open to pedestrians. I was hoping this was the case and a man and a bike might be able to squeeze over, otherwise I face a long backtrack and would probably have to race to make the meeting point on time.

All the Road Closed signs down to the bridge weren’t especially promising, but at least it kept the cars away, which was an added bonus. The second bonus was that the traffic lights on the approach to the bridge had been turned off, so at least I didn’t have to wait before attempting to make it across.

I threaded through a gap in the traffic cones and out onto the span itself. The road surface didn’t look damaged, but the far end was completely sealed off and I guessed this was where the water main had burst. There was however a wooden ramp built atop the footpath, so I stopped, unclipped and lifted my bike over the kerb and clopped my way up and down the ramp.

Another cyclist had followed my lead and I turned to him to suggest the lack of cars on the bridge actually made this one of the more pleasant crossings, despite having to stop and haul the bike on and off the footpath.

The north bank successfully reached, the rest of my ride to the meeting point was plain sailing.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Conversation at the meeting point was dominated by Chris Froome’s Lazarus act on Stage 19 of the Giro, where his long-range break on the Colle delle Finestre combined with the implosion of Simon Yates turned both the GC and formbook completely on its head.

The overwhelming reaction seemed to be one of incredulity and doubt verging on downright disbelief, or occasionally completely by-passing the doubt and heading straight to disbelief.  

I have to admit I’m no fan of Chris Froome, largely because I’m far too shallow to overlook his execrable, wholly ungainly style on a bike. I’ve no idea if he’s a clean rider and even though I don’t like the idea of him riding while under investigation I recognise his right to do so. I will say this though, his “miracle” ride in the Giro was utterly, utterly brilliant … for sending the Internet trolls into complete, frothing-at-the-mouth, unhinged, melt-down frenzy. For this alone, I salute him.

It also produced some memorable quotes from Kiwi George Bennett, who, when informed of Froome’s exploits, offered up “Bullshit!” and then proclaimed, “He did a Landis. Jesus!”

He would later row back his comments a little by suggesting, “I didn’t say that Froomey went out and railed a load of gear and came back and won the stage … I’m just saying he made a bigger comeback than Easter Sunday!”

Our other main reaction from this whole questionable affair was that Mitchelton-Scott had badly fumbled their game plan. They should have called up Adam Yates to body swap for his brother as soon as his charge started to falter on the upper slopes to Praternevoso.

The Red Max brought news of the Monkey Butler Boy’s latest racing exploits from a local criterium, where he’d apparently been, in contention until disappearing from the spectators view into the last corner. There had then be an elongated,  interminable wait during which the race was won and everyone else crossed the finish line, before the Monkey Butler Boy had finally emerged wearing the biggest, shit-eating grin known to man and declaring “I’ve still got a bike!”

Barged aside by another hard-charging rider, the Monkey Butler Boy had lost control and careered off the course and over a grass verge, where, much to his relief, he’d managed to recover without crashing and trashing his brand new bike.

The Colossus wanted to know if the Monkey Butler Boy had learned the fine art of twisting and contorting his body to put it in harm’s way between bike and road, sacrificing skin and bone to protect vulnerable carbon.

News from OGL was that he’d completed an epic 90-mile solo ride along the proposed Cyclone route last Sunday, into a fantastically strong block headwind that strangely, defied meteorological science and dogged him both out and back again. No news yet on whether he managed to successfully grapple with that instrument of Satan that people call Strava, or when conditions will be challenging enough for him to attempt the 106-mile version.

Meanwhile, the Garrulous Kid was in full, inquisitive mode, eyes darting left and right, in and around the bikes gathered around him, as his brain clicked and whirred and his mouth spat a series of largely unrelated questions.

“Have you found a use for that recess in your stem, yet?” he enquired of the Colossus.

“Perhaps you could keep pound coins stacked in it?” he decided.

“And then carry a small plunger to pull them out with?” the Colossus asked, but he needn’t have bothered, the Garrulous Kid had already turned his attention to the BFG.

“Why have you got a tyre in your bottle cage?”

The BFG patiently explained it was a tub.

“Will it not fit in your back pocket?”

The BFG handed him the tub, explained what it was and how it was too big to fit comfortably in his pocket.

He then started to explain about having to glue them onto the rims, when luckily we were saved from 1,001 other questions as Crazy Legs stepped up to outline the route for the day.

Yet again, numbers were sufficient to split into two groups and, yet again, the first group off was the smaller of the two. I weighed the options and joined the front group, along with 10 others as we set out.


Hooting and cheering from across the road highlighted Richard of Flanders, booted and suited and waving wildly as he headed in the opposite direction on a Mobike. Hmm, must have an interview with his bank manager to seek a loan for a new bike, or perhaps they’ve finally caught him and he’s due in court?

We set off at what seemed a high pace and maintained this by constant rotation of the front two. Alongside Ovis, I was doing my turn at the pointy end as we pushed through Mitford. Crossing the narrow stone bridge, we had just started to climb up toward the junction, when the BFG came roaring past in a sudden burst of energy.

He slowed and hesitated at the junction ahead of us.

“Right, right, go right,” we shouted.

“What?”

“Right!”

“Right?” the BFG questioned uncertainly.

“Yes, right,” we confirmed.

“Oh.”

As we started heading downhill, I think it finally dawned on the BFG where we were heading. A sharp, momentum-killing, left hand turn dropped us at the bottom of the Mur de Mitford and up we went.

Still recovering from his earlier burst, The BFG disappeared backwards, while I fought with a slipping rear tyre on the damp and greasy surface.

“I think I’ve just wasted a couple of good pedal strokes,” G-Dawg confirmed, acknowledging the same issue. I eased the pressure on the pedals, got the skipping, slipping tyre under control and began to pick my way upwards at a more careful pace.

Regrouping over the top, we took a seldom travelled route up Harelaw Hill, which was to provide our highest point of the day. As we crested the top, Biden Fecht glanced across to his left.

“Is that a fucking ibex?” he wondered aloud. I think the altitude may have been getting to him.

We determined it was just a goat with a bad haircut and overgrown horns and tried to reassure him.

“Hmm, there could have been a zebra there, too,” Biden Fecht concluded somewhat enigmatically.

After this moment of madness, we carelessly frittered away all our hard-earned altitude for a swooping, whooping descent down the other side, before our road started heading upwards again, through the Coldlaw climb, which runs parallel and provides an alternative to the Trench.


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At the top G-Dawg wondered if that was better or worse than the Trench and I think the consensus it was no harder, no easier and both were hateful.

I was at the back, chatting with Zardoz as we approached Middleton Bank and as the first slopes bit I dropped the chain off the big ring. There was a loud crack, a crash and the gentle tinkle of discarded metal bouncing along the ground.

I stopped pedalling immediately, convinced the back end of my bike had suddenly disintegrated. I looked back and could see nothing amiss and nothing left lying in the road. As my freewheeling speed began to die, I tentatively pushed the pedals around once. The chain bit and propelled me forward a little. I tried again. Still no problem. Odd. I picked up the pace and gave chase up the hill. Everything seemed to be working as it should.

I closed on the group ahead, but was still well detached as we crested the top. The front group pressed on without easing and I was cast adrift, outnumbered and battling into a headwind. I gave chase, but it was futile and the gap only grew the closer we got to the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Zardoz enquired about my gear-changing travails on Middleton Bank. He too had heard the distinctive sound of metal striking tarmac, but reassured me he often carried a pocketful of bolts and random bits of metal, which he discarded behind other riders to make them hesitate while he attacked.

I believed him.

The Garrulous Kid bounced up.

“We had two punctures!” he announced.

“So what, we saw a fucking ibex!” I countered.

“Well, to be fair, there was only one of them,” Biden Fecht quipped.

The Garrulous Kid looked from me to Biden Fecht and back again, understandably bemused and wondering what the hell we were on about.

Crazy Legs wandered by to declare he hated “that Chris fucking Froome” even before the rider’s implausible resurrection, which now looked set to scupper the lead Crazy Legs had carefully built up in the clubs Velogames Fantasy Cycling League (Giro edition).  

He was somewhat cheered when I told him his league position was safe, as not one of our number had actually bothered to pick Froome.  Crazy Legs felt this wasn’t a reflection on the Froomes chances of winning the Giro, but rather confirmation that everyone else shared his view and they’d rather lose than have any association, no matter how indirect, with the Sky rider.

I thought I might have sneaked an improbable, come from behind league win at the last, but Thibaut Pinot’s sudden implosion on the penultimate stage scuppered that. Rather surprisingly then, Crazy Legs held on for a win built largely on the performance of the indomitable, but somewhat comical, Domenico Pozzovivo.

The Garrulous Kid was in distress because his unrequited love interest (according to Taffy Steve and the Red Max – and who could doubt their veracity) – an older, ginger-haired, upper sixth former, was now finished her A-levels and had left school.

“Well, you know, you’re kind of ginger, too,” the Garrulous Kid mused, nodding at the Colossus.

“Woah, are you coming onto me, now?” the Colossus demanded, not quite knowing where this conversation was going and keen to head it off anyway.

Zardoz then declared the girl behind the counter secretly loved him. A love so secret apparently, that even she doesn’t realise yet.  He determined he could prove this by securing everyone at the table one of the samples of rhubarb and ginger scone currently being offered.

“Anyway, if I had a tray I’d get everyone a refill too …” he declared, rising and then quickly stepping back as half a dozen trays instantly appeared and were wordlessly brandished in his direction.

True to his word, Zardoz returned with both coffee refills and enough scone samples to go around. The verdict? Well the verdict was that there wasn’t enough ginger in the scone … oh, that? Well, I think we decided Zardoz probably bought the samples for cold, hard cash, rather than relying on his innate charm and puppy-dog eyes to schmooze them out of the café staff. In our eyes, their deep, abiding devotion to him still appears unproven.


We had a fast run back, forced a breakaway selection on Berwick Hill, hammered through Dinnington, and caught and passed OGL through the potholes again. I clung to the wheels through the Mad Mile and was catapulted through the roundabout to start my ride for home.

I caught another cyclist/TT’er at the lights down Union Hall  and we both dropped into the left-hand lane and started to pass inside all the cars queued in the middle lane to turn right.

Without signalling, obviously without looking, one of the driver’s suddenly decided he was in the wrong lane, or the traffic was moving too slowly for him and swung wildly out into our lane. He missed the TT’er by a hairs breadth, while I swerved away. I caught the other rider on the downhill run to the river.

“I thought he had you there,” I confessed.

“Yeah, you get used to that,” he replied, seemingly unperturbed. I’m not sure he realised just how close he’d been to being collected on the cars bumper, my reaction would have been slightly less phlegmatic.

Through the defunct lights out onto the bridge, I took to the footpath, saw that it was completely empty and rode up the ramp. It then served as a sort of impromptu time-trial start gate, I rolled off the end to an imaginary “3-2-1, Go” and struck out for home.


YTD Totals: 3,122 km / 1,939 miles with 36,814 metres of climbing

 

Carbon Fever

Carbon Fever

Club Run, Saturday 24th March, 2018     

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  112 km / 70 miles with 1,126 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.4 km/h

Group size:                                         24 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    13°C

Weather in a word or two:          Perfect

Club Run, Saturday 24th March, 2018     


 

24 march carbon

Ride Profile 


Cabin fever is an idiomatic term for the extreme irritability and restlessness that takes place when a person is stuck in confined quarters for an extended period.

Carbon fever, on the other hand, is an idiomatic term for the extreme irritability and restlessness that takes place when a person is confined to riding their winter bike for an extended period.

The only known cure for the latter is to break out your best bike and try to burn off the fever by doing something slightly spontaneous, unplanned and out of character…

The giant swinging pendulum that seems to invent the British weather on a whim, promised us a weekend composed of a few, fine and completely still Spring days, as if trying to make up for the horror of last week’s snow, hail and gales.

That was enough for me to hint at the possibility of a “carbon weekend” as soon as Richard of Flanders posted up the route for the run on Saturday. ‘Bout bloody time, too.Still, I drew the line at G-Dawgs suggestion of shorts. Unlike him, I actually have nerve endings in my legs.

So, Friday night saw me lifting Reg from his cotton-wool cocoon to prep for the next day, still, after all this time, startled at the difference in weight between modest-carbon Holdsworth and workhorse-aluminium Peugeot.

A smattering of rain showers early Saturday failed to dissuade me from my choice and I carried the bike down the front steps, swung a leg over the frame, pushed off, clipped in … and immediately found myself riding with a big, stupid grin plastered across my face.

Everything about the bike seems crisper, cleaner, smoother and more comfortable. My foot appeared to be drawn magnetically to the pedal and the cleat engaged with a sharp, positive click. I barely touch the brakes and they immediately bite and slow me and the chain rolls smoothly and noiselessly up and down the cassette as I change gear.

I was instantly in a good mood that nothing was going to shake, not the close pass at high speed while arrowing down the Heinous Hill, not being caught at every single traffic light along my route and not even the raucous gaggle of Canada Geese that lined the road around Shibdon Pond and honked derisively as I rode past.

It was as smooth and enjoyable ride across to the meeting point as I can recall.

Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

True to his word, G-Dawg was in shorts and his new, super-bling, Sidi slippers that he’d received for a significant birthday, but only managed to wear once in since last November.

The shoes were in a startling shade of what the Garrulous Kid might describe as illuminous yellow.  Even better, G-Dawg had somehow managed to find a pair of socks that were the exact same shade, showing that the time between receiving the shoes and actually wearing them hadn’t been totally wasted.

Talk of Nibali’s imperious Milan-San Remo win, led to discussion about the Yates-twins, with OGL reporting that 58kg-when-soaking-wet (including the towel) Simon Yates-twin felt he needed to lose a few kilos for the Giro!

Prompted perhaps by something in Cycling Weekly, we wondered if in fact there was only one Yates–twin and, depending on how he was feeling, he preferred being called Simon Yates-twin, or Adam Yates-twin. We decided it would be even better if the Yates-twins were in reality identical quads, so you could change rider as easily as changing your bottle. The advantages are so obvious I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Sky have a cloning programme in development.

Analysis of the Monkey Butler Boy’s bike reached a consensus that his slammed handlebars left a dangerously prominent and potentially emasculating stack above his stem.

Little Benny Franklin once opined that three things are inevitable in life: the weather, death, and taxes. I would like to add to this the certainty that, whenever handlebars and stems are mentioned in polite conversation, OGL will resurrect the hoary old tale of ripping his scrotum open when crashing at a track meet.

He did nothing to disprove my thesis now, “Did I ever tell you about the time I ripped my scrotum open, crashing at a track meet?” he asked, to everyone’s great surprise.

Yes,” Crazy Legs replied flatly, but very, very distinctly.

OGL paused, blinked once slowly and then nevertheless launched into recounting the gory details of how he once ripped his scrotum open when crashing at a track meet.

To wake us from the resulting stupor, our New Glorious Leader, Richard of Flanders, leapt athletically onto the wall to demand our attention while he outlined the route for the day in precise detail.

His “lend me your ears” speech provided a nice counterpoint to the “et tu, Brute?” moment he almost faced a few weeks ago, when we decided he was a despot in-the-making and considered pre-emptive coup d’etat, cutting the head off the snake, before it grew fully into its power.

Sadly, whatever gravitas he hoped to bring to proceedings was somewhat lost by the cheeky, tantalising flashes of pink flesh that would be occasionally peep through the ripped up knees of his tights.

Fatally, he then concluded a thorough, comprehensive briefing of route details with a call for “any questions?”

Slowly, hesitatingly, G-Dawg raised a mitt … “Err … did you have to pay extra for the ripped knees, or did you borrow those tights from a fashion-conscious teenage girl?”

9.15 and we formed up and started to roll out.

At this point OGL began muttering darkly about how the club was “disintegrating” around him, based largely I think, on the absence of any of the Grogs from our ranks today and a modest turn out of only two dozen! Apparently, OGL suggests the Grogs no longer want to ride with us because we go too fast at the start and they’re having difficulty free-loading at the back.*

[*My interpretation, not his – in 5 years riding with the club I’ve only ever seen a Grog on the front and leading a club run on one, single occasion and I’m pretty certain that was a mistake.]

I find it odd that OGL tolerates this inner-group, let alone measures the health of our club based on their participation. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that they have their own jersey, Facebook page, meeting points, hierarchy, rides, events, overseas trips, social gatherings et al.

Before knowing better, I wrote about them as “a dark and secretive cabal within the club … that has its own, special club jersey, which can only be won through a dark ritual involving the sacrifice of small, furry animals and communing with the drunken ghost of Henri Desgrange.”

I continued, “They often silently and mysteriously slip away from the club run to do their own thing, only to reappear sitting relaxed and unruffled in the café, long before anyone else gets there. They communicate through a series of arcane hand signals and a high-pitched chirruping that can drive dogs insane, but is generally inaudible to human ears.”

Now, I realise my first impressions were largely correct, although I haven’t yet solved the biggest mystery, why they want to remain part of the club at all?

Still, even OGL’s ranting and railing and a-bitching and kvetching and complaining, wasn’t going to derail me from my good mood today.

Onward!

We ride.


Things were going well and I’d just dropped in alongside Buster for a quick catch-up, when he declared, “Shit! puncture.”

We rolled to a stop in someone’s driveway while repairs were effected, spirits high and happily chattering amongst ourselves. I’ve no idea if the house owner ever noticed they had a gaggle of twenty plus, lycra clad lunatics clustered in their drive. Perhaps they hid hoping we’d get bored and move on soon enough?

Which, to be fair we did, pushing along without further incident to Stamfordham, where the Garrulous Kid rode off on his own, to continue his utterly bizarre fixation and thoroughly unhealthy obsession with the Ryals.

From there, the rest of us pushed onwards across the Military Road, past the reservoir, before stopping to split the group. To the delight of Crazy Legs, Richard of Flanders took up a position of easy authority, at the focal point of our group, with all of his seeming-acolytes arrayed before him.

From here, he explained the options for different routes and groups and we split, with a few taking the slightly shorter, slightly less bumpy, slightly more direct route to the café.

The rest of us pressed on, up through the Stelling climb, up Newton Hall and Kip Hill, before turning left and then first right, onto a narrow farm track that would take us around the plantations.

A slight mix up when the leaders zigged instead of zagged and I found myself leading, with everyone happy to hang back to see if I could find a safe route through the numerous puddles without disappearing into an enormous pothole.


REC004 (3)


The track spat us out, back onto the main road just outside Matfen and I was joined on the front by G-Dawg as we rolled toward the Quarry at a steady 17-18 mph.

The bright day had brought out dozens of small groups of cyclists who whizzed past with a wave and a shout.

“It’s busy out here,” I remarked at one point, “Yet, we didn’t see anyone else last week.”

“Yeah,” G-Dawg seem to consider the conundrum seriously, “I can’t imagine why?”

We led everyone up the Quarry climb, before the group swung right and I dropped back through the ranks, while the pace started to tick upwards.

As the road levelled and straightened, the Big Yin attacked from the back and opened up a sizeable lead. The Red Max and Taffy Steve followed, powering across the gap, but it was too early and I assured Biden Fecht we’d catch them easily as the road started to climb toward the crossroads. Sure enough, the move was soon reeled back in and the pace wound up even more.

[The Red Max would later complain that the problem with his attack wasn’t that it was too early and from too far out, but in fact much, much too late and too close to home!]

Now, as we hurtled toward the crossroads, Rab Dee cruised up the outside of our group and I latched onto his wheel and followed. As I slid past G-Dawg, I declared things had turned “feisty” … and then the carbon fever bit. I catapulted myself off Rab Dee’s wheel and attacked off the front as we started to grind up the slope, quickly finding myself in clear air.

Approaching the crossroads at speed, I slowed as little as I dared, head on a swivel, frantically scanning for traffic, left and right. I hoped I’d read things right and the road really was clear in both directions, as I darted across and tried to pick up the pace again.

A good handful of seconds later, I heard the shouts of “clear!” behind me and guessed I had a reasonably decent gap. I knew I wasn’t going to be contesting the sprint, but I thought I could probably discomfort, or perhaps even eliminate some of the heavy-weight “puncheurs.”

I drove on, suppressing an urge to cackle like the Red Max in full flight, while the road dipped down again. I slowed to take the corners at a sensible pace, not wanting to wipe out in front of everyone.

As the road straightened and dropped toward the next junction a shadow suddenly appeared under my bottom bracket and I knew I’d been caught. I slid to the left, Crazy Legs powered past and I dropped onto his wheel, guessing everyone else was strung out in close attendance behind.

We slowed for the next junction and then tried to pick up the pace again, swinging left, with just two more climbs to go before the junction for the run down to the Snake Bends.

These are not real climbs, not a Cipressa, or a Kemmelberg, nor a Mur de Huy, just a gentle stiffening of the gradient, probably nothing over a 5% for a couple of hundred metres, but the effect when you’re already red-lining and in oxygen debt can be just as devastating.

Halfway up the first slope Crazy Legs seemed to lose momentum, so I rounded him and attacked again, managing to make it half way up the final rise before I was overtaken. I dropped into place at the back of the first group through the junction, latching onto the Monkey Butler Boy’s wheel and thoroughly satisfied with my efforts.

As we accelerated again, I found the Monkey Butler Boy didn’t have the legs, the gears, or the inclination to give chase and, as the front group pulled away, I hesitated a bit too long before accelerating past.  As we hammered down toward the Snake Bends, Zardoz eased up alongside – puffed out his cheeks exaggeratedly and then slipped away again.

Through the bends, across the junction and I cruised down the road to the café more or less alone, but quite happy. What a blast.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The weather was good enough for us to decamp to the café garden to enjoy some surprisingly warm sunshine. The Monkey Butler Boy fiddled with his phone and declared, “It’s 5°!”

“The only thing that’s 5° is this table top,” Caracol corrected him, while deftly pocketing some small change that threatened to roll off the angled surface. Caracol had the right of it – the temperature was well into double figures and it was very pleasant.

Crazy Legs took me to task for not calling out that the crossroad were clear as I attacked through them, forcing the chasers to slow and look, rather than chase me down at full bore. Unrepentant, I argued no one was there to shout for me, I was clear at the time and I needed any advantage I could possibly eke out.

G-Dawg seemed to accept my argument and even suggested I should have called out an imaginary “car left!” to slow the pursuit further. Clever. Sneaky, but clever.

It was around this time that we realised we seemed to have lost Richard of Flanders somewhere out on the road and Buster set off to back-track  to see if he’d run into trouble somewhere.

We tried to remember when we’d last seen our NGL. The Red Max recalled a kamikaze-style overtaking of Richard on one of the sharp corners on our run in, and our logical reaction was to wonder if the Red Max had put him in a ditch, or eased him through a hedge, but there was no evidence to support this.

The Garrulous Kid then bounced past, heading off early because he had an appointment in the “hair studio” for a fresh trim and besides, he had to get home to prepare for a “crihical finkin’” test.

Holding the National Timetrial Championship on local roads raised the possibility of actually seeing Chris Froome riding in the UK, for perhaps only the fifth or sixth time in his entire career. Crazy Legs is ready with his salbutamol inhaler, just in case.

“It’s odd,” Zardoz observed, “I read all 200 plus pages of his book, The Climb. There’s a lot of detail in there, but he never once mentions asthma.”

“Is it not Sir Chris Froome, now anyway?” the Monkey Butler Boy interjected.

No, we assured him, he’s not been knighted.

“So, how come it’s Sir Bradley Wiggins and yet he’s only ever won the one poxy Tour de France?” an affronted Monkey Butler Boy demanded to know.

While the Red Max smacked his head in disbelief, someone gently reminded the Monkey Butler Boy of the numerous Olympic and World medals that clutter up the sideboard in the Wiggins family household. I could have pointed out that knighting anyone for sporting achievements and before they’ve officially retired, seems a rather fatuous thing to do, but that’s an argument for another day.

Talk moved on to gold chains and led us to wonder if an actual chain made of gold was feasible. (We suspect not). I briefly tuned out and returned to the conversation to hear talk of someone’s fully-blinged up bike, “complete with shifters on the downtube.”

“Shifters on the Downtube?” I pondered, “That’s a great name for a band.”

It was quickly co-opted as a line into a re-worked “Shaking All Over” but sadly (or perhaps, thankfully) a suitable second line completely eluded us.

Then I remembered something, “Hey, did we ever find out what happened to Richard?”

Crazy Legs excused our lack of concern, claiming we were cyclists so understandably, very easily distracted by coffee and cake. Buster reported that he had seen no sign of Richard when he back-tracked, then someone else recalled he had house-pests staying, so may have gone home without calling in the café. Once again though we became distracted by the call for coffee refills and we never did determine what had happened to our erstwhile leader.


Back out onto the road, we were accompanied by a spirited rendition of Perfect Day from the newly formed, Crazy Legs and Biden Fecht: Cycling Barbershop Duet©. They would have been a trio, but the Garrulous Kid declined their invitation to join, claiming barbershop’s are  much too common for his more-refined and somewhat effete tastes.

Musical accompaniment aside, things were progressing well until we hit the small, sleepy hamlet of Ogle, when Buster punctured again. Out of spares, he invited us to continue, while he found the hole in his tube and patched it up. Taffy Steve and a few others that needed to get back pressed on, but the rest of us were happy to wait by the side of the road in the sunshine, chatting away idly, while helpfully critiquing the ongoing repair operation.

The Monkey Butler Boy dug into his back pocket and offered up a spare tube.

“Is that a Giant tube?” Buster asked accusingly.

I thought we were going to have some sort of political standoff, with Buster refusing the tube, revealing himself as a die-hard opponent of the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer on ethical, or perhaps even aesthetic grounds.

“Err …yeah,” The Monkey Butler Boy responded uncertainly.

“Ah, great, I’ve got some of them at home. I’ll bring you a replacement next week.”

Confrontation avoided, they got on with swapping out the tubes. Meanwhile the rest of us started to speculatively eye-up the cottage we had stopped outside. It looked empty and up for sale and we pondered how good it would be to live there during the winter, smugly dropping off the club run on the way back from the café and waving the rest of the group into the cold and freezing rain to slog the rest of the way back.

Still feeling relatively sprightly, I felt I was able to provide G-Dawg and the Colossus a better than usual lead-out into the Mad Mile, before they launched their attacks to see who could win the race for home and first use of the shower.

I was then swinging off and away to complete my own ride back. Already happy, the icing on the cake was finding my descent down to the river had been completely re-surfaced and was smooth and slick and fast.

Now if they could only sort out the other 69 miles of my route …

Over the bridge, I was caught by an Ee-Em-Cee rider and we had a quick chat before he charged away. We both agreed that it had indeed been a perfect day.


YTD Totals: 1,707 km / 1,061 miles with 19,908 metres of climbing

It Burns

It Burns

Club Run, Saturday 10th March, 2018     

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  110 km / 68 miles with 614 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 13 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.1 km/h

Group size:                                         14 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:          Manky and murky


march 14
Ride Profile


Normal service is resumed …

We survived the worst depredations of the “Beast from the East” more or less intact, although today we would discover that in passing it had left its mark. For now though, we’d exchanged bitter, freezing temperatures and snow, for numbing cold and a sky full of rain.

As my tyres hissed down the Heinous Hill this rain was drumming relentlessly on my helmet and jacket and the damp was already inveigling chill fingers through any unprotected layers. This was not going to be at all pleasant …

The river looked high, wide and empty although the opportunity for gawking was somewhat reduced by the concentration required to thread a route through the newly acquired holes in the bridge surface, entire, paving slab-sized plates of tarmac seemed to have crumbled and been washed away.

Climbing out the other side of the valley, I found my route narrowed between a small stream, rushing down the gutter and a broad moraine built up from swathes of gravel, grit and broken up surface that had been deposited down the centre of the road. A bit further on and the reason for the free-running stream became apparent – the drains at the side of the road were full of silt and completely blocked.

Pressing on, I wiped the rain off my Garmin screen and glanced down. The display read 8:49. Yikes! I was running late, although I hadn’t been aware of dawdling at any point. Better get a move on, I told myself. I increased my pace up a long, dragging climb and checked again. 8:55! Time was literally flying by – what was going on?

I rubbed the screen clear again and took a long, hard look at the numbers. What a complete and utter idiot, I was looking at the distance travelled and not the time and I was well on schedule. Relax. (I can only blame the cold getting through to my brain for my hopefully temporary stupidity.)


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The first thing I did on arriving was to find the spare pair of gloves I’d packed so I had something dry to wear after the café stop. I quickly pulled them on over the ones I was already wearing. It was much colder than I’d anticipated.

The boys had seriously enjoyed their mountain bike expedition through the deep snow last week, although G-Dawg said he’d been surprised that after riding for 2 hours he found he was only 20 minutes from home.

Meanwhile, OGL had been out touring the roads of Northumberland on Friday, looking for a suitable course to use for the British National Time Trial Championships. Unlike today, the weather then has been especially benevolent, cold, but brilliantly bright and dry and with barely a hint of wind. He’d been amazed by the number of cyclists the weather had lured out, including one TT’er (or Tri’er) in a short skinsuit, threading the needle between massive snow banks while sat astride a sleek, carbon time-trial machine with full disk wheels.

OGL warned us of these 6ft high banks of snow piled up either side of roads, restricting traffic to one single, narrow lane. He then warned of a whole slew of new and enormous, life-threatening potholes everywhere else.

“Potholes so big and so deep that you could ride around inside them,” G-Dawg embellished. And, you’d need to reach escape velocity to slingshot out of them the Colossus concluded with appropriate hyperbole.

Despite the dire warnings that we were all doomed, we decided to stick to the route that our ride-leader for the day, Richard of Flanders had posted, reasoning we could make adjustments on the fly if conditions proved as treacherous as some would have us believe. We were set fair for an assault on the Mur de Mitford, a long scrabble up the Trench, then a trek across the wind-blasted moors up through Angerton.

The rank weather had its effect on our numbers, reducing us to a core contingent, or the Usual Suspects™ – those who would seemingly endure almost any kind of weather in order to a avoid a Saturday morning shopping trip with their partners…

We jokingly discussed the need to split the group after a quick head count showed us to be 13 strong. Crazy Legs suggested a dozen upfront and the Monkey Butler Boy trailing a respectful distance off the back, but we had no time for such frivolity as Richard of Flanders, obviously taking his leadership duties very seriously, started barking out the orders. He hustled us into pushing off, clipping in and riding out a full minute before our usual 9:15 deadline.

There’d be no loafing today.


That extra, stolen minute almost proved critical, as it set Taffy Steve on a collision course with the X9 bus to Blyth. As irresistible force converged with immoveable object, I had visions of the bus doors suddenly swooshing open to swallow bike and rider whole, before carrying them off to destinations unknown – or, even worse … Blyth. Somehow, an epic coming together was narrowly avoided and we escaped out onto the roads with our group intact. Here, we were joined by a late arriving Buster and the Unlucky Chosen 13 became the Unlucky Chosen 14.

Taffy Steve and the Cow Ranger took to the front and led us for the first few miles, until we were out onto the country lanes. Much to the disappointment of Crazy Legs, before ceding the front, they drove us straight past Kirkley Cycles without pause and the first opportunity for an early, fortifying, flat white was lost.

We found that last week’s snow and prolonged freezing temperatures had been not at all kind to the road surface, with many newly opened cracks, pots and crevasses to memorise and try to avoid. The dangers were worsened by the rain, with many of the holes lying hidden in the depths of murky, muddy puddles, just waiting to catch out the unwary cyclist.

One of these was the Slow Drinker, who hit a pot so hard his bike instantly and violently tried to eject all extraneous weight, bottles, tool bags, lights, chain and almost the rider himself. Luckily, rider and bike remained upright and no lasting damage seemed to have been done.

At some point the Garrulous Kid swung away for a solo ride, despite admitting he’d lost his pump and had no way of fixing even a simple puncture should he encounter any problems. He’s obviously the kind of person who thinks casino’s offer good odds.

Reduced back down to 13, we entered a stretch where dirty snow was humped up on either side of the lane, significantly narrowing the road surface. An impatient, overtaking car squeezed into this space, roared past and dumped a cascade of glacial, dirty water on all the riders in front of me. Ooph! What a wake up call. Undaunted, if slightly wetter than before, we pressed on with only a few choice expletives to mark our passage.


REC002 (2)
Whoosh!


The Monkey Butler Boy would later suggest he was protected from this unexpected shower because he was riding alongside Taffy Steve, thus claiming the first known instance of a cyclist acting as a rain shadow.

We encountered a few road spanning puddles, picking our way through them in Indian file, closely following the rider in front and hoping their wheel wasn’t going to suddenly disappear into a submerged pothole. We also passed found a few snowdrifts and piles of dirty snow humped either side of the road, but nothing quite on the scale we’d been warned about and nothing that threatened to impede progress.

Just before the Gubeon turn we stopped to re-assess options and the majority decided to stick with the planned route. Two hundred yards further on though, and everyone in front of me took a sharp, left-hand turn and I found myself alone on the road with just Crazy Legs. He looked back and determined that G-Dawg and the Colossus at least were following, but everyone else seemed to have baled for a shorter run to the café.

A bit further along and in ones and two’s the rest of the group started to sheepishly reappear again, chasing to re-join us, perhaps reasoning it was too early for the café, or perhaps realising they simply couldn’t get any more wet.

We had to slow almost to a standstill for the sharp turn to the Mur de Mitford, mindful of the rain slick corner. This robbed G-Dawg of some much needed momentum and a chance to build up a head of steam as he tried to drive his fixie up the slope. He somehow managed to winch his way upwards, but I’m not sure he enjoyed the experience.

At the top, the rain didn’t so much stop as the clouds had descended to our level. Now the water didn’t have to fall on our heads and could just seep directly into our clothing as the day became ever more murky, misty and gloomy.

As we traced our way along the Font valley to Neverwitton, our vista became confined to a long stretch of empty tarmac and bleak, waterlogged fields hemmed in by walls of grey mist. It was eerily quiet, the landscape cold and bleak and completely empty.


REC005


Nevertheless, at Neverwitton we waited dutifully at temporary traffic lights over the bridge, even though we seemed to be the only road users for miles around. I’m not sure how our patient waiting equates to all those tales of cyclists being scofflaw, red light jumpers, but there you go.

The lights finally released us, I assume because they ran through their normal cycle rather than automatically detected our presence. I’m not sure the inductive loop works well with cyclists and, if they operate on thermal imaging, we would have been as invisible as Arnold Schwarzenegger hiding under a riverbank from the Predator.

We started the long drag up the Trench, pressed on through Dyke Neuk and through the dip and swoop to Hartburn, before we ground our way up and around Bolam Lake.

Crazy Legs took to the front and lined us out over the rollers and onto the last climb, where he pulled over and declared his lead out work complete. G-Dawg, the Colossus and the Cow Ranger roared off to contest the sprint, while I rolled past Crazy Legs and we pressed on in half-hearted pursuit.

A loud clunk and a rattle indicated a botched gear change for the Cow Ranger and like chum in the water, it piqued Crazy Legs into action. He sensed weakness and his predatory instincts took over as he attacked from behind my wheel, seeking a glorious third place. But, just as he closed, the Cow Ranger somehow slammed his chain into place, reengaged the drive and accelerated away.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We stood, dripping in the café queue as blood rushed back into chilled extremities with deeply unpleasant, burning and itching sensations. I think I preferred the frozen numbness.

Then it was black bin bags all around to keep our water-logged derrière’s off the chairs. One of the hidden qualities of the padded seats of cycling wear seems to be their impressively high capacity for water-retention – kind of like Pampers for grown up kids. Couple that with a poor rinse cycle, or excess detergent use and you can potentially end up frothing at the arse – something that seems a speciality of the Prof.

No fan of Bradley Wiggins, Crazy Legs found himself in the uncomfortable position this week of actually defending the cyclist from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report into doping. He felt they should have published one line of the report “we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the WADA rules” and left it at that. No laws have been broken, nothing to see here, move along now …

His pragmatic argument was that, while perhaps acting unethically, Team Sky, Wiggins et al had done so within the rules of what was permissible. It doesn’t look great, but the rules are the rules and while they may have pushed right up against the line, they never stepped over it. Besides, I agree, it’s always a bit rich receiving a self-righteous lecture on ethics from politicians.

I’m not so convinced though. That full sentence from the report reads; “we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the WADA rules to enhance the performance of riders, and not just to treat medical need.”

I neither like, nor dislike Team Sky, or any other cycling team for that matter. I do like and admire some of their riders and want to see them be successful. But, the DCMS report highlights so many inconsistencies, fudges, improbabilities and evasions, that a degree of extra scrutiny and scepticism is warranted.

It also shows such a degree of embarrassing unprofessionalism that it is either damning in its own right (remember, this is a team that prides itself on getting the smallest and most mundane of microscopic details perfect) or it suggests a systematic cover-up.

Either way, the much trumpeted Sky cause of winning clean and being ethical, truthful and totally transparent, is now in tatters and they face a credibility gap that seems entirely of their own making. What happens next? No idea.

Foraging through his pockets, the Cow Ranger pulled out a spare pair of completely dry gloves, which he offered to make available to the highest bidder.

Though many were tempted, Crazy Legs deferred, reasoning that the Red Max was probably carrying a dozen or so spares in his Bag O’ Tricks.

Meanwhile G-Dawg started eyeing up the queue at the counter, “there’s a little old lady there with gloves on …” he mused speculatively an evil glint in his eyes.

“What does it matter if they’re lavender and have a fur cuff,” I agreed, “At least they’ll be dry.”

Crazy Legs however was uncertain the gloves would be the right size and tried his best to dissuade G-Dawg from becoming involved in some ugly, OJ Simpson-style, trial-by-glove pantomime.

Luckily, we were distracted from further thoughts of pensioner-mugging by the arrival in the café of a group of student cyclists, including at least two in shorts. Hard, brave or mad? You can decide, but I know where my vote would be.

As Richard of Flanders disappeared to powder his nose, we discussed the zeal and enthusiasm he’d brought to his leadership role today, like a duck to water, or perhaps a would-be despot to the well-honed apparatus of a corrupt and oppressive regime.

It was speculated that he could yet become the NGL, or our New Glorious Leader and we should probably kill him … now … before he grew into his nascent power.

Just as we were organising our pre-emptive strike however, he returned and immediately took charge. “Right, let’s go!” he peremptorily ordered, perhaps pausing to wonder why we all suddenly dissolved into a sniggering and chortling mass, or how Crazy Legs somehow ended up with a blunt butter knife tucked into his back pocket.


On the way home, I caught up with Captain Black who hadn’t made the meeting point and had traced his own way to the café. He told me he’d been enjoying a peaceful solo ride and had just turned off for the Quarry, when the Garrulous Kid had suddenly popped out from behind a snow drift with a bright, “Ooh, hello!” Goodness knows how long he’d been waiting there to ambush the unwary.

We found a few more road-spanning puddles and some areas where the snow had only been cleared across a single lane of the road, but otherwise the ride back was largely uneventful and I was soon turning off for home and wondering whether I shouldn’t just step into the shower fully clothed.

The man who came down a hill and went up a knoll?

Once again the heavy rain had defeated my Garmin, robbing me of a couple of hundred metres of climbing and making the ride profile look like it had been drawn by Etch-a-Sketch. If I believed its results, I’d scaled a 90° cliff face somewhere along the route and the Heinous Hill had eroded to only half the height it had been in the morning. I couldn’t help thinking I’d be much happier at the end of every ride if that was actually true.


YTD Totals: 1,367 km / 849 miles with 15,340 metres of climbing

 

Arctic Turn

Arctic Turn

Club Run, Saturday 20th January, 2018              

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance                                   89 km / 62 miles with 862 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 51 minutes

Average Speed:                                 23.1 km/h

Group size:                                         5-6-5 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    3°C

Weather in a word or two:          Turning Arctic


Jan 21
Ride Profile


A week of commuting into work through snow, hail, slush and ice, had prepared me for the worst on Saturday, when temperatures remained manically depressed and I found myself questioning the wisdom of my own actions, even as I layered up and prepared to head out to ride across to the meeting point in the still gloomy dawn.

But, as I told everyone at work throughout the week, the roads seemed a whole lot safer than the pavements, although I wondered if I’d miss the reassuringly fat and heavily-ridged mountain-bike tyres of the Rockhopper, as I pulled the Pug out of the shed in preparation for the ride.

Down the hill, cutting wide of the icy ribbons down the gutters, it was chill, but we’d already ridden in much worse conditions once this winter. My digital checkpoint informed me it was a flat 1°C. The low temperature hadn’t discouraged the rowers out on the river though, where half a dozen or more fragile-looking white hulls stood out stark against the cold, black waters.

As I’d found on my commutes, the roads were generally ok, as long as you didn’t stray off the beaten track and I had absolutely no issues as I passed through Swalwell, Blaydon, Newburn, Denton and Blakelaw on my north-east bound trajectory.

Then I got to what Wikipedia describes as the “affluent and well-established” area of Gosforth and things became increasingly sketchy. Side streets and pavements resembled ice-rinks, every speed bump was like a snow-boarders wet-dream of the perfect berm, and the cycle lane down the Great North Road appeared to have been commandeered to store all the excess snow that the ploughs had scraped off the road.

Rolling up to the meeting point, a dodgy road/pavement interface layered in ice, had me unclipping and trundling to a less than elegant stop.

Made it.


Main topics of conversation at the start.

Awaiting me were just two stalwarts of the club, G-Dawg and Taffy Steve. Referencing the high incidence of dodgy roads through Gosforth and lack of snow and ice clearance, I had to ask G-Dawg if its fine and upstanding citizens had stopped paying their council taxes, or perhaps it was just assumed that everyone here could afford a 4 x 4.

Taffy Steve had likewise been commuting by bike into work, where he’d had a grandstand view of his fellow workers trying and failing to negotiate their un-gritted car park. From his observations, he concluded that most modern 4 x 4’s were only good for appearing in rap video’s and not actually all that suited to tricky road conditions.

Even as we were talking a middle-aged woman swaddled in scarves and muffled in a massive parka emerged and went shuffling down the opposite pavement, shaking out a thin, meagre trail of road salt from a small Tupperware container.

“There you go,” remarked G-Dawg dryly, “The council’s emergency response team in action, that’s where all the money goes…”

As we stood around, hopping from foot to foot in a vain attempt to keep blood circulating, up rolled Aether and our plucky trio, expanded to a string quartet, the four riders of the all chapped lips. Aether had been suffering all week with a heavy dose of man-flu and, like me a few weeks ago, had pondered Crazy Legs’ recommendation to try riding through it.

Aether had even gone as far as consulting Dr. “Snake-Oil” Crazy Legs via social media:

A: “I’m feeling rough with the cold. Do you think a run out on Saturday will do me good?”

CL: “Yes…”

And a minute later,

CL:  “No…”

And then,

CL: “… Not sure.”

To which Benedict had helpfully added, “CL is correct on this one.”

Oh well, I guessed we were going to find out.

G-Dawg informed us that OGL was suffering with his own version of man flu and wouldn’t be out today. Apparently, he was even too sick to drive past to tell us we were all insane, the roads would be lethal and we were all doomed. We discussed the possibility that his contact in the “Outer Hebrides” was just a massive wind-up merchant, who liked scaremongering with exaggerated tales of dire weather engulfing the region. The weight of evidence certainly seems to be leaning that way.

News had filtered through that Richard of Flanders would be out of action for a few weeks with his wrist wrapped in plaster following an accident. We had to clarify for Taffy Steve that this accident wasn’t of the bike-on-ice variety, but a seemingly far more common sporting injury, the kind all too familiar to middle-aged men who tried to defy time by haring around 5-a-side football pitches like a bunch of hoodlum teenagers. Now that’s what I call lethal.

Biden Fecht arrived as we waited, negotiating the icy road/pavement interface with far more aplomb than I had. He’d apparently been slightly delayed by layering on top of his layering, allegedly up to 5 different strata of insulating material on his feet alone, including a reflective, tin foil barrier.

We’ve all been there, all tried and all pretty much concluded it doesn’t work – although G-Dawg’s the only one to claim his sheets of tin foil were utterly destroyed and emerged from his shoes shredded into a million tiny flakes. (I’ve no idea what he does with his feet while pedalling and really don’t want to know.)

 At Garmin Muppet Time + 3, we decided we’d waited as long as possible and that this was it in terms of numbers. With a verbal agreement on a basic route, including plenty of room for on the fly adjustments, the five of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


I dropped to the back and slotted in between the last pair on the road, in what I thought was the ideal, sheltered position. Later though, Taffy Steve rotated off the front and dropped back to chat. This left Aether sitting alone, right in the middle of the pack between the front and rear pair, and if anything this looked even more sheltered.  I’m sure that, physically and temperature-wise, there was no discernible difference, but psychologically it just looked a whole lot cosier.

As we passed through Ponteland and onto lesser trafficked and less clear roads, we picked up the Big Yin who’d missed us at the start, but more by chance than good management, picked a route that neatly intersected with our ride. He swung round to give chase, dropped in amongst us and we reshuffled the pack and pressed on.

For the most part the roads G-Dawg chose were good, but you didn’t have to stray far to find yourself in all sorts of trouble and there was plenty of snow and ice to go around if you looked hard enough.


snow2
You didn’t have to stray far to find yourself in all sorts of trouble


Taffy Steve suggested we take a leaf out of his recent mountain bike excursion with Crazy Legs and call into the café at Kirkley Cycles for an early, warming and fortifying beverage. This sounded like an eminently sensible and civilised suggestion and was duly adopted.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop … Part One

Biden Fecht revealed that his multiple layering didn’t seem to be working all that well, his feet in particular were already frozen and he couldn’t add any more layers as his shoes couldn’t accommodate the bulk. The Big Yin was toting chemical hand-warmers and I wondered if they’d help if I shoved them down the front of my bib-tights. G-Dawg went one further and suggested you could buy a couple of dozen of them to gaffer-tape all over your body.

Taffy Steve thought we’d done well to sit away from the cycling merchandise displayed on the walls, avoiding the temptation to buy up their entire stock of clothing to wear on the go.

For some reason the conversation turned to Rolls-Royce cars, with Taffy Steve recounting that Crazy Legs had done some work at one of the Rolls-Royce plants. Apparently, they’d been thoroughly unimpressed with his devotion to his Renault Cactus, while Crazy Legs in turn had been thoroughly unimpressed by their offer of an obsidian coated “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament, that just looked discoloured, black and gunky. Taffy Steve suggested this would only appeal to someone with an unhealthy Minecraft obsession, or far more money than sense.

The only thing I knew about a Rolls-Royce was the much over-quoted, Ogilvy ad-copy from marketing lectures in the dim and distant past, to paraphrase, “at 60 miles an hour, all you’ll hear is the clock ticking.” Biden Fecht recalled getting a lift in a Roller once, something he considered the very pinnacle of his hitch-hiking activities. He reported it had been the ultimate in comfort, but rather disquietingly smooth and silent.  

Having enjoyed our brief, impromptu sojourn and a chance to thaw out a little, G-Dawg identified two more cafés en route to our usual stop and we considered whether we should call in to those as well.

As we were bundling ourselves up to leave a fellow cyclist burst through the door and loudly declared, “the roads are bloody shoite.” Nobody argued.


Out once again, onto the bloody shoite roads, I pushed on at the front alongside G-Dawg, refusing to look back or acknowledge Biden Fecht’s forlorn cry of disappointment as we rode straight past the next potential café without even a glance.

Much more frequently than usual, we now started encountering feral packs of cyclists with hungry looking eyes. Much like us, they travelled in small, buzzing, compact groups of half a dozen or so riders, roaming the roads as if searching for easy prey – the old, weak and infirm, the abandoned and those who had become dangerously separated from the herd.

We finally hit a T-Junction and had a choice to make, turn right and in 3 or 4-miles we would hit Morpeth. Turn left and we were just a few miles away from Whalton and on direct route to our usual coffee stop, where we’d be arriving just a tad too early. The only issue with the Morpeth route was we couldn’t think of a good return leg that wasn’t likely to be ice-bound and potentially dangerous.


snow1


After a lot of hemming and hawing, we decided to head straight to the café and from there work out a longer route home for the added miles.

As we turned onto the road for Whalton, our senses were assailed by the gagging, eye-watering stink of muck spreading in the surrounding fields and we pressed on quickly to escape.

A little further on, and G-Dawg’s phone started ringing insistently and incessantly and, assuming it was important, he rode off the front to buy himself the time to answer. Taffy Steve surmised it must be serious if someone would knowingly interrupt G-Dawg’s sacred, Saturday morning, club-run ritual.

As G-Dawg pulled out a gap ahead, a tractor and trailer sneaked out of field in-between us and we found ourselves not only on shoite roads, but closely following a farmers shoite-wagon – fresh from muck-spreading in the fields and trailing its own entirely fearsome smell behind it. Caustic! That certainly clears the nostrils. Perhaps it’s something Team Sky could investigate for beneficial marginal gains, although to be fair they’re doing a fair job of creating their own malodorous stink at the moment.

G-Dawg re-joined and we guessed his intrusive phone call hadn’t been a matter of life and death after all. From his grumpy face, I could only assume that during his essential phone call, he’d just learned he’d been miss-sold PPI, or realised he’d been involved in an imaginary traffic accident that wasn’t his fault.

He took his evident frustrations out on his pedals and he and Biden Fecht rode off the front to contest the café sprint. No one else seemed all that bothered and we all trailed in behind and at our own pace.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop … The Sequel

In the café, a Morpeth-based cyclist in civvies stood at the counter waiting to be served and declared he couldn’t decide if we were brave, or foolish to be out riding today. I didn’t actively disagree with the foolish moniker, but then again we weren’t the ones who’d driven out to a café, sans bike, to meet up with our cycling buds when we could have been lying-in at home, in a nice warm bed.

Amongst our many, many fond memories of Superstars; Kevin Keegan’s bike-handling abilities, Brian Jacks devouring oranges (seemingly whole), Mo Farah’s canoe-piloting …err… skills? and Brian Hooper’s all-round excellence, G-Dawgs recollection of 1980 Tour de France winner, Joop Zoetemelk’s performance in the gym tests stood out.

Asked to see how many push-ups he could master in one minute, G-Dawg reported Zoetemelk bravely and elegantly managed to lower his upper torso to the floor … and that was it. Apparently, he then needed assistance to get back up again.

Someone had spotted an Internet video of a group of cyclists in South Africa being impressively paced and then schooled for speed by an ostrich. Although judged irascible, dim-witted, unpredictable, fractious, powerful and dangerous, Taffy Steve vowed he’d rather take his chances riding alongside the ostrich than with the Garrulous Kid.

Further discussion about layering for the cold and the use of tin foil led to the thought that Biden Fecht might consider an insulating layer of goose fat, once the best-in-class, fat of choice for discerning Channel swimmers, well, after baby dolphin fat became somewhat frowned upon.

“Goose fat stinks, though,” Aether declared, knowledgeably. He seems to know a lot about such things, though I’ve never had him pegged as a Channel swimmer.

His assertion immediately set off alarm bells for me … we pass so many hunts that the lingering aroma of roasted game bird could easily trigger the prey-drive instinct in the dogs. Being chased by a pack of hounds could possibly be as dangerous as being stalked by a rabid ostrich … although it obviously pales into insignificance in comparison to the risks of riding with the Garrulous Kid.

We then overheard, or perhaps mis-overheard, the staff talking about an old boiler in the gent’s toilet. While Aether boldly went to investigate, the rest of us quickly started gathering up our things in anticipation of having to make a swift exit …


Our usual, longer, alternative route home through Stamfordham was mooted and then quickly agreed. Off we went. Once again, we were struck by how frequently we encountered other small groups of roaming cyclists. It wasn’t until G-Dawg explained the obvious that I finally caught on, the snow and ice had forced us all onto the few roads that were guaranteed to be more or less clear, safe and passable. Restricting road choice meant we were much more likely to pass other cyclists. Ah, now I get it.

As for the fact all of the groups were small, only 6, 7 or 8 strong? I seemed to recall it’s a little known British Cycling bye-law that each club has to nominate up to “half a dozen stout, cycling yeomen volunteers” who will be named “the Usual Suspects“ and deemed “foolish enough to turn up for the club run regardless of the prevailing weather conditions.” British Cycling, Club Rules: Section 12, Subsection 2.4, Sub clause 17b.

Channelling his inner-roving troubadour and making up for the absence of Crazy Legs to provide us with musical accompaniment, Biden Fecht took note of the branding on my bib-tights and invited me to join him in a rousing chorus of UB40’s, “I am the one in Tenn.” I politely declined.

Then, the road was dipping down, everyone was slowing for a sharp left, while I kept straight on, starting my solo ride back home.

At the lights before the bridge, I pulled up behind a large estate car, much to the excitement of two Jack Russel terriers travelling in the cargo well. Being too small to see directly out of the rear window, they kept springing up, one after the other like demented Whack-a-Moles, trying to catch a glimpse of the mad cyclist stupid enough to be out in the cold and ice.

Luckily, there was no need to call into Pedalling Squares this week to see how Thing#1 was getting along, she’d shipped herself off to Leeds to check out her University accommodation for next September.

Besides, although Pedalling Squares seemed to like her and had offered her more work, she’d declined and I think I understand why … too many bloody cyclists.

Anyway I’m not sure yet another coffee was such a good idea – I was likely to be buzzing until Wednesday as it was.


Year Totals: 360 km / 212 miles with 4,402 metres of climbing

An Amicable, Amiable Amble

An Amicable, Amiable Amble

Club Run, Saturday 18th November, 2017             

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  94 km / 58 miles with 980 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 51 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.5 km/h

Group size:                                         22 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    8°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright but raw


 

18 nov
Ride Profile


The Ride:

A band of heavy rain passed over in the night, but by morning the skies were clear, it was bright, but cold and the wind had a raw edge to it. I’d misplaced my Galibier “disco-headband” and suspected my ears were going to suffer unless I found them some cover.

Rather handily, there were a couple of girly hairbands that either Thing#1, or Thing#2 had carelessly abandoned on the sideboard. The red, sparkly one was a bit garish, but the black one would just about do. I slid it up into my hairline, pulled it down low at the sides to cover my ears and plonked my helmet on top. Perfect – almost as if they’d been made for this very purpose…

I was a little late leaving, so went with the quicker route option and the closer bridge over the river, looping west to approach from the east and minimising the amount of dual-carriageway surfing I needed to do. Swinging left onto the span I was somewhat surprised to find an Ee-Em-Cee rider approaching directly from the south, a route I’ve never attempted, suspecting the traffic’s a bit too busy and wild. He’s a braver man than me, or maybe just more confident.

Anyway, I was glad of the company as he dropped in behind me on the bridge, figuring two riders were a little easier for motorists to spot than just the one. Unfortunately, we never got to chat as once across, he followed the river west, while I took a sharp right and started my climb out of the valley, arriving at the meeting point in good order.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

G-Dawg was once again out on his best bike, this time using the excuse of a new pair of shoes that he needed to road test, before packing them away for the summer. His new Sidi kicks, a very welcome birthday present, were super-classy, super-stiff, super-light and super-bling – I did however question their inherent thermal properties and suspected G-Dawg might have to suffer a little for his sartorial splendour – but he obviously couldn’t have desecrated the Sidi’s by hiding them under overshoes or Belgian booties. Just for the record, I was wearing winter boots and my trusty Prendas Thermolite socks and my toes were only just ok throughout the ride.

It turned out G-Dawg was not the only one with shiny new toys, the Colossus having acquired a new turbo trainer. Crazy Legs suggested it wasn’t the one voted “Best Buy” in Cycling Weekly, but the Colossus was unmoved as his turbo had red and blue light’s!

Crazy Legs persisted, this time with the suggestion you could tell how hardcore and pro a rider was by the fans they deployed with the turbo. He said there should be a minimum of two, slightly off-set at a 18° angle to maximise bodily surface exposure to the airflow and at least 60% of their construction had to be in carbon-fibre.

The Colossus countered that the only specialist equipment he felt needed was one of those triangular sweat nets. Someone suggested that a sweat net would be relatively easy to make from an old pair of tights, while I felt the answer was fisherman’s waders, with regular waddles to the bathroom to empty them out during the turbo-session.

An FNG rolled up and greeted us with what I took to be a pronounced Antipodean twang. “I’m guessing you’re not from around these parts?” I suggested.

“Aw, I’ve bean heer twinny yeehz,” he assured us. He turned out to be an Ironman triathlete, who’d seen us ride past his home on many a Saturday morning and he’d finally decided to come over to the dark side.

Crazy Legs tried to explain to the FNG an unseemly, on-going social-media spat between the absent Prof and OGL, by drawing parallels between Kin Jong Un and Donald Trump’s slightly less fraught and contentious relationship.

G-Dawg also explained Our Glorious Leader wouldn’t be riding today as he was off to a British Cycling meeting which, according to some rather self-serving Facebook posts, OGL claimed he was looking forward to, as a chance to relax without having to wear a stab-proof vest to protect his back. Huh?

Taffy Steve simply welcomed the opportunity for a good ride, as we were absent at least three potential sources of friction that he could think of. Ultimately, he had the right of it.

Aether was set to lead the ride and had picked a route that Crazy Legs had posted in the summer, emphasising we didn’t need a new and novel plan every week and there was no harm in repeating things. He hoped this would encourage others to set and lead future rides and briefed the opportunity in, along with outlining the planned route for the day.

Another decent turnout of 22 riders, all seemingly in a relaxed and rather amenable mood, pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


As we turned off toward towards Great Park and the filthy, muddy, potholed and often thorn-strewn Brunton Lane, G-Dawg took his regular detour, aimed at keeping his good bike and fancy new shoes in pristine condition at the expense of a slightly longer and busier route out of the city.

As we emerged from the end of the lane and scurried uphill, an injection of pace had us all spread out. Mini Miss eased alongside me and asked, “Is it just me, or is the speed really high this morning?”

I peered up to the front where the Colossus and Caracol were driving us on, with Rainman waiting in the wheels to take over if either faltered and let the speed drop.

“Nope,” I replied, “It’s fast,” before kicking to close a gap that was threatening to yaw open.

The pace was evidently too fast for G-Dawg, whose detour usually spits him out well ahead of the group, just before we hit Dinnington. This time he wasn’t there waiting for us and when I looked down the road he would emerge from, it was completely empty.

Having missed us and then waited at the junction thinking we may have been held up by a mechanical, G-Dawg spent the rest of the morning trying to find the right time and place to intersect with our ride.


18 non


We continued for some distance at a pace I felt was just the tiniest increment above comfortable and it would be some time before I was able to infiltrate the front alongside Crazy Legs and drop the speed by a good 2mph or more. No one seemed to be struggling particularly, but I needed a bit of a breather, even if everyone else was ok.

We then found that Aether’s cunning plan of using one of Crazy Legs’s summer routes was not without its flaws, the small lane we took before Meldon being wet, slippery and thick with mud kicked up by farm traffic. At this point the FNG punctured and, while we were stopped for repairs, the Colossus discovered G-Dawg was still missing and set off to find him.

As we waited, Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs kept me entertained with tales of the labyrinthine, convoluted and quite frankly bizarre local government rules and regulations relating to business expenses. I think my soul is still scarred from this nonsense.

We then pushed through to Dyke Neuk, where we unleashed the now twitchy racing snakes and shooed them away for a faster, longer, harder ride before they became too irritable. The rest of us pushed on, down the dip through Hartburn and toward Middleton Bank at a more considered pace. As we approached the hill, we met G-Dawg flying down the other way and he was able to swing round and rejoin us, reunited at last.

Reaching the steepest part of Middleton Bank and, just for the hell of it, I bounced off the front and opened up a gap before sitting back down and easing over the top. We slowed to regroup and Crazy Legs, who had no intention on mixing it in the café sprint on his fixie, offered to provide a lead out. I dropped onto his back wheel as he slowly began to wind up the pace and lined us out. Perfect it was like having my own personal derny moped.

Crazy Legs pulled us past Bolam Lake and then, with a professional flick of the elbow, peeled away and I took over at the front and tried to hold the pace he’d set, as we rattled through Milestone Woods. I attacked up the first of the Rollers and as my pace slackened G-Dawg rode off my wheel and away, the others only slowly coming around me in pursuit, as we tipped down the other side. As we began the last drag no one was committing to bringing back G-Dawg’s lead, so I dug in and accelerated to the front again.

I pulled everyone to within maybe 5 metres of G-Dawg’s back wheel, just before he nipped around the last corner, but that was it, I was done and cooked and sat up. The others zipped past, but I suspected it was too late and G-Dawg was long gone.


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

The main topic of conversation at the café was the dark, dangerous and twisted plotting within the Byzantine world of cycling club politics, but this is a family friendly blerg … so let’s move swiftly on…

Somehow the conversation eventually morphed into a discourse on political leaders, with Taffy Steve’s assertion that all you needed to succeed was a good haircut, sharp suit and a pithy slogan, “You know,” he outlined, “Make Uh-murica Great, or Strong and Stable Leadership, Things Can Only Get Better, that kind of thing”

“Ah, like Strength Through Joy?” I suggested helpfully.

We then had a chuckle that Bradley Wiggins felt he had in somehow been exonerated from the “living hell” of his “malicious witch hunt” by the conclusions of the UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) investigation into the contents of the now infamous Jiffy bag. Under the circumstances, UKAD appear to have done as good a job as possible and their conclusion of “no definitive evidence” was logical. As far as I can tell, this is a very neutral statement that exonerates no one.

It’s laughable that Wiggins and Team Sky claim there was no wrongdoing on their part and both think the verdict backs this up. The assertion by Shane Sutton that they would “game the system” and use TUE’s for marginal gains sounds much closer to the truth and more adequately explains the injections (injections, Bradley?) of triamcinolone Wiggins received before several races. As for what was actually in the Jiffy bag – the truth is, we’ll never know.

A group of  cyclists from the University made their way, wide eyed and blinking into the café and Sneaky Pete and I rolled our eyes at the folly of youth and the fact they chose to ride out in weather like today only wearing shorts and short-sleeved jerseys. The fact there flesh looked raw and marbled like corned beef seemed to suggest we well-wrapped, old curmudgeons had the greater sense.


Outside and I had a quick look at the FNG’s Trek Madone Aero bike with fairings over the front brakes that opened and closed like aircraft ailerons whenever he turned the bars – it seemed like an awful lot of engineering for a very minimal gain.

The FNG himself said he’d enjoyed his first ride out with the club and it made a companiable change from all the solitary Ironman training on his TT bike.

A blast up Berwick Hill tracking Biden Fecht got the blood flowing and it wasn’t long after that I was swinging away for my ride back home, reflecting on what had been a perfectly amiable, amenable, run, with no objectionable shouting or swearing and no encounters with dangerously crazed motorists.

Things weren’t quite so peaceful at home though, where Thing#1 and Thing#2 were engaged in a spat over Thing#2’s missing black hairband. I ‘fessed up to being the guilty party, pulling the offending article out from under my helmet and proffering it back to Thing#2 on the end of my index finger, where it hung, limp, damp and shapelessly unappealing.

“Ugh! It’s all sweaty.”

Oh. Sorry.


YTD Totals: 6,819 km / 4,237 miles with 78,229 metres of climbing

The Circle of Death

The Circle of Death

Day#2 Saturday, 17th June, 2017

Col du Glandon | Col del la Croix de Fer | Col du Télégraph | Col du Galibier | Col du Lautaret

Total Distance:                                  168 km / 104 miles with 4,246 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          9 hours 8 minutes

Average Speed:                                18.4 km/h

Group size:                                         6

Temperature:                                    26°C

Weather in a word or two:          Still Hot


CoD

The Ride

Relive the Ride


Part One. Reservoir Dogs

Day#2 of our grand adventure was all about the Crazy Legs master-plan, a long, looping clockwise ride around the area, taking in 5 major cols, including the fearsome Galibier. We were expecting a long day and had accordingly planned an early start, rolling out at just after 8 o’clock when the air was still relatively cool and pleasant.

The first few pedal strokes were absolute agony on my back, which I think I must have damaged lugging the bike box around in supremely ugly and inappropriate ways. The pain was so intense I wondered if I’d even make it out of the town, but luckily it settled down to a dull throb and occasional sharp twinge once I got a bit warmed up. Later Captain Black would set himself up as our “main man” and started dealing from his precious stash of Nurofen. He had many takers and became the most popular person in our group that day. I’m sure the two were in no way related.

We slipped out of the campsite and took the road north from Bourg d’Oisans, following the course of the wild flowing La Romanche all the way to Allemont. The roads were wide with a plush (by British standards) cycle path, shaded by trees and relatively traffic free so early on a Saturday morning. It was a very agreeable start to the day and we made good time, with Crazy Legs in particular driving hard on the front and seemingly eager to get going.

Reaching Allemont, the Hammer and Goose stopped off to look for an ATM, while the rest of us started the zig-zagging ride up the face of the barrage. At the top we paused to look down and heckle our returning companions, before regrouping and rolling across the top of the dam and turning up into the wooded hills that skirt the reservoir.


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This was the start of a long, shaded and pleasant climb up to the village of Le Rivier d’Allemont, where we stopped for a leisurely coffee and to allow Crazy Legs to endear himself to the café patron with his valiant attempts to ask for a strawberry ice cream in French. He was quite proud when his language skills were judged to be “not the worst” that had ever been heard in the village.

As we were leaving we spotted a public drinking fountain and stopped to fill our bottles, only to back away from a hastily scribbled notice that warned tests were underway and that we roughly translated as meaning: “drink this and you’ll probably die a horrible death.”

We actually had no shortage of intestinal distress already and needed to take no further risks in this area. Just past the water fountain, Crazy Legs spotted a public toilet and ducked inside. We thought he’d just gone for a quick pee and rode slowly on, not realising we were witnessing a Dumoulin moment and our own defegate, until the French equivalent of a NEST team turned up in hazmat suits and quarantined the whole area.

Our whole round trip can then probably be traced by all the now radioactive toilets we desecrated and devastated at each stop, in what the French authorities would later declare as a major act of eco-terrorism so horrendous that even ISIS wouldn’t dare claim responsibility. They’re still hunting the perpetrators, who somehow managed to slip the police cordon. Truth be told, I think we were all suffering from a combination of the heat, hard work, foreign food and far too many gels, energy bars and isotonic drinks.

 


Part Two. Toad in the Road

We were now on the Route Des Cols and a quick descent hustled us across the river and onto a short, sharp ramp to begin our climb toward the Col du Glandon and Col de la Croix de Fer.

We became spread out and I was climbing on my own, as the road rose to top another barrage and then continued, up and up until the surface of the Lac de Grand Maison was a glittering, blue-grey mirror far below. Another rider caught me up and started chatting away immediately in English. I’d wondered how he knew my nationality, but Crazy Legs and Steadfast had already been laughing at the less than subtle branding that had the quintessentially English name, Holdsworth stamped across Reg’s small frame in at least 14 different places. Alternatively, maybe he just guessed?

Anyway, I learned he was riding following surgery for a prolapsed disc (which put my own back pain into perspective) and was the rabbit being chased by a couple of friends down the road. He pushed on not wanting to be caught (I only remember one other rider, who was obviously a local passing me, so presume he managed to stay out in front.)  He pressed on the pedals and accelerated away in that strange mountain climbing time perspective, which meant that after 10 minutes of hard effort he’d gained about 50 yards on me.

The road topped out and I began a long, fast drop through a valley pass. I couldn’t help hating this descent, which frittered away a load of hard won altitude I’d sweated to accumulate. At the same time it shattered any climbing rhythm I had managed to find. By the time the road started to rise again toward the summit of the Glandon I felt like I was starting from scratch and a nagging headwind added to the difficulty.

I negotiated a photographer in the middle of the road who snapped away despite my distressed countenance and then pressed his card into my hand.  Not sure those pictures are worth buying, mate. I soon found myself skirting a massive flock of brown, alpine sheep whose bells tinkled away merrily and then the climb stiffened under my wheels and up we went again.

After a bit more climbing the road split in two and I guessed wrong, following a rider down the right hand route toward the Croix de Fer summit, only to be called back by Crazy Legs behind me. I back-tracked and joined him, Steadfast and Goose on a short detour and quick haul up to the top of the Col du Glandon, in what apparently was the ultimate BOGOF (buy one get one free) offer on French summit finishes.

At the Glandon, we press-ganged some friendly Dutch cyclists into taking a commemorative picture of us next to the summit marker and heard all about Crazy Leg’s highlight of the ride, a massive, crisp and limbless toad he’d spotted baked black and pressed flat into the tarmac.


glandon
© Angus McMillan, 2017


We dropped down again and picked up the hairpins heading up to the Croix de Fer, where we waited for the Hammer and Captain Black, who’d beaten us up the Glandon, but had stopped off in the café there. Reunited again, we coerced an English cyclist into taking the obligatory commemorative photo with the summit marker and there, at the point of no return, discussed our options.


croix de fer


We agreed by a vote of 4 to 2 to press on toward the Télégraph and Galibier, rather than turn back to re-trace our steps. I was one of the two voting to turn back, figuring we could run the Galibier the next day. Damn, don’t you hate democracy!

We then began a fun, high speed drop down from the Croix de Fer, while keeping our eyes open for a suitable lunch venue. We finally spotted a suitable candidate, a crêperie with decking that extended out over the mountain and ducked inside. Here we had a pleasant and relaxed lunch while watching the buzzards riding the thermals around the peaks on the opposite side of the valley.

Back on the bikes, the descent continued, but was more gradual now as we followed the course of swift flowing, turbulent L’Arvan  for a few miles, before scrambling up a short climb, whipping past a group of very tentative descenders and rolling down toward Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.


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Just before joining the main A43 carriageway to head south east, we were stopped by a gendarme to allow a pro race to pass through. This was the Tour de Savoie-Mont Blanc, which would be won by the latest Colombian climbing sensation Egan Bernal, allegedly on his way to Team Sky for next season, where he can be carefully neutered, roboticized and stripped of all attacking intent.

This stop also marked the first sighting of what would soon became our arch enemy; hugely fat, sweating, middle-aged, pretend biker gangs on Harley Davidsons. A suitably unimpressed motorcycle gendarme disdainfully escorted a swarm of their ridiculously noisy, filthy, rumbling, farting and belching, noxious machines off the road to let the cyclists through.

The front of the race whipped quickly past, spearheaded by a break of half a dozen, with an AG2R rider in desperate pursuit. Then the main peloton followed, already a couple of minutes back, a gleaming, multi-coloured cavalcade that whirred cleanly away at high speed and in a blare of horns and sirens.

We were released onto the road and followed the perimeter cycle-lane, dodging the occasional discarded bidon or musette left behind by the rampaging peloton.

 


Part Three. Hog Hell

At Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne we found the town centre swarmed with more fat, hairy, utterly boorish, pretend- bikers, hooting and hollering and revving their stinking, too-loud engines to screaming excess, chaotically slaloming down the road and generally being as noisy and anti-social as they could possibly be.

In direct stark contrast was a woman in cool looking cream leathers, riding a gleaming white and chrome motorbike that emitted a rumble like a purring snow leopard. She glided serenely through the chaos, like a swan parting a crowd of squabbling and squawking ducklings and then was gone.

We dropped into a café for a quick drink and to see these huge, bloated bikers close-up, red-faced and sweating in their dusty leathers, shovelling food and swilling beers into gaping maws, while swaggering around like the hard-asses they undoubtedly weren’t. Attila the Stockbroker, anyone?

Having had enough of the aural assault, we rode on, swung south, crossed the river and were immediately of the climb of the Col du Télégraph. Even here though we couldn’t escape the stupid bikes and bikers that reminded me of nothing more than being stuck in a room with a swarm of fat bumbling, annoying bluebottles that continually buzz around your ears.

They were intent on roaring up and down the mountainside, often passing deliberately and intimidatingly close, racing each other around blind bends and occasionally grounding and grinding away bits of the road as they tried to guide their own monstrous, ungainly, fume spewing machines around the tight corners.

 


Part 4. Ingénue Ascending

We were now on a steady climb of 12 kms at around 8%, winding up to the top of the Col and the Fort du Télégraph.  On reviewing the ride, I think we were all surprised at just how much this route twisted and turned as it climbed, but the views are generally closed in with trees and you never get the open vista revealing the line of the road you’re following.

As we started up a slender, dark-skinned, French ingénue in Liv pro-team livery rode up alongside Crazy Legs.

“Ça va?” she enquired.

“No, I’m English … and it’s too bliddy hot!” Crazy Legs replied smoothly.

She laughed, turned the pedals over lightly and started to pull ahead and the Hammer followed like a puppy on a lead. He later revealed that up ahead he’d almost had to do a track-stand as her team car forced its way in alongside her, blocking the road, before handing over a bottle, which she took a tiny, delicate sip from, before handing it back. What was the point in that?

Approaching the top of the Télégraph my Garmin beeped loudly to announce low power and eventually shut down just before the summit. I had to ask Crazy Legs to share his file for the ride and he would later compare our two efforts side-by-side and concluded we were remarkably similar riders!


telegrapge
© Angus McMillan, 2017


The café at the top provided more liquid refreshment, before we found someone willing to take on the most risky of photo-assignments yet, capturing our collective clustered around the summit sign, while simultaneously dodging the stupid Harley’s that still buzzed and bumbled loudly up and down the road.

 


 Part Five. It’s Like You’re Riding Into the Sky*

And then we went on, heading toward the famed Galibier, a climb 20km longer than l’Alpe d’Huez and rising twice as many vertical metres to 2,645 above sea level, where the oxygen starts to get thin. It’s just 100 metres shy of being 35km in length and there is 17km of climbing at over seven per cent, with a real sting in the tail – the steepest ramps are in the final 2 kilometres.

Dropping down off the Télégraph and once again lamenting the loss of hard won height, we first had to thread our way through Valloire, which proved to be the source of the infestation of stupid Harley bikers. The town was holding the Punta Bagna Festival, advertised with the words: “bike show, run wild, custom culture.” Huh? There were thousands of big, ugly bikes crowded into just about every space available, and plenty of big, ugly bikers too.


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Off the bike and having to rely on their own locomotion, they appeared particularly inept, unable to cope with traffic unaided and we had to weave our way around several rotund, stationary forms, seemingly frozen into indecisiveness in the middle of the road.

Finally out of town we climbed up the long straight valley following the tumult of La Valloirette river for about 10km, a long, boring uphill grind. At one point we passed a field with signs advertising helicopter rides up the col for €50 and I have to admit to giving it very serious consideration.

A few scattered wooden structures at Plan Lachat marked the end of the valley. A bridge was thrown across the river and from there the road twisted and turned, climbing with serious intent now, as it soared up the mountain. The Hammer had gone on ahead, but the rest of us agreed to stick together as all the initial skirmishes were put behind us as  and we began our battle royalé with the beast of the Galibier.

Round the corner, with the snow mantled peaks above us, we passed the rather incongruous sight of a couple sunbathing on a picnic blanket by the side of the river. Then we swept over the bridge and started climbing, trying to stay away from the right hand verge, where the land fell away precipitously.

The seemingly indefatigable Steadfast led and I got the impression he could continue riding this way for hour upon hour yet. Goose and Crazy Legs followed his lead, while I dragged along at the back with Captain Black who was beginning to cramp up and almost looked to be suffering as much as I was.

Up and up we dragged ourselves, but accumulated fatigue was soon making itself felt, breathing becoming more demanding and I think we were all struggling. We took to pausing at every kilometre marker for a brief respite, which not only let us rest for a moment, but also let us appreciate the spectacular views, both up to the snow-capped summit and back down along the twisting, torturous route we’d followed to get to this point. It was absolutely wild, beautiful and stunning and gave us a real sense of accomplishment.


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Col du Galibier © Jeff Wilson, 2017


At one of our stops we spotted a fat marmot, happily frolicking in the grass at the side of the road. At another, agonisingly, the kilometre marker was missing and our exhausted brains couldn’t make the decision to stop without a visual reminder. Crazy Legs was insistent we then rode three whole kilometres without a rest stop, Goose and Steadfast were adamant it was only two. I wasn’t bothered as long as it got us closer to the end.

Finally, we reached the point where the odd patches of snow thickened and all merged together to give the landscape a thick, uniform and glittering white coating. The snow exuded a welcome chill, piled high in crusty hummocks either side of the black, glistening road and providing a constant stream of runoff that trickled away, happy to succumb to gravity rather than fight it like an idiot cyclist.

Someone said only two kilometres now and I looked up … and then up some more, to see the summit was really close, almost in touching distance. Then my heart sank, as I realised it only looked so close because the last stretches of road raked up at a completely hellish angle.

Still, nearly there. I let the others ride on ahead, took one last, deep breath and pushed on, struggling with even basic tasks like clipping in. I remember nothing about that last 2,000 metres, no pain, no elation, no wonder, no big sense of accomplishment. One moment I was below the summit, the next I was at the top, grinning and lining up for the obligatory photo, before pulling on arm warmers and a rain jacket for the descent.


galibier
© Clive Rae, 2017


I looked around, content and enjoying the view, trying to imprint it on my mind – “Look Ma, top o’ the world!” – but it was too cold to hang around long and I followed Crazy Legs as the road tipped down and we began the long, screaming descent.

* “It’s like you’re riding into the sky.” Andy Schleck’s description of climbing the Galibier.

 


Part Six. Christ on a Bike

I let the bike run and was soon picking up speed, the rain jacket fluttering, flapping and snapping in the wind and the freewheel whirring crazily as I followed the winding road down and around all the bends.

At one point we passed more Harley bikers spluttering up in the opposite direction and seeming to want all of the road surface to play with. Several where sticking their inside legs out stiffly into the middle of the road as if dribbling a football alongside their bikes. What the hell was that all about – are the Harley’s so unbalanced and ungainly they need a counterweight, or is it just to take up more room and intimidate passing cyclists? I pressed a bit closer toward the cliff face on my right hand side, but ahead of me a thoroughly disgruntled Crazy Legs decided enough was enough and planted his bike firmly in the middle of the road in a game of chicken.

The bikers flinched first and gave ground. Crazy Legs flashed past them, then I did too and we were around another bend and far away before their indignation filtered through to their dullard brains and one of them finally leant on his horn in futile rebuke.

Following behind us, the Hammer reported one of the idiots had then stood bolt upright, arms stretched out to either side, like Christ on a bike, all the while trundling along inches from the edge of the road with a long, long drop to his right. Ass hat.

At the top of the Col du Lautaret, we stopped to regroup and the Hammer disappeared into the Hôtel des Glaciers and returned with a round of ice cold Coke’s for everyone. Top man. Off we went again, racing the oncoming darkness with the sun already starting to dip behind the mountains and throw out long shadows.

The descent down from the Col du Lautaret was utterly brilliant, on wide empty roads, with long sweeping bends that encouraged you push on ever faster and dare not to brake. Despite the fatigue I hit the big ring and hammered downwards as fast as I could go, sweeping through tunnels and villages, crouched low over the bike and whooping with joy.

All good things must come to an end though and we were soon back in the valley of La Romanche and pushing toward home. With the Tunnel Du Chambon closed following damage in 2015, we crossed the river and took to a (remarkably decent) temporary road, which skirted the southern edge of the lake.

A few, slight inclines reminded us of our accumulated fatigue and stung the legs and Captain Black fought a series of debilitating cramps as we plugged on. There was a distinct feeling of twilight encroaching on us as we hit the last stretch of road and here Goose accelerated off the front with a startling injection of pace. At first I thought he was responding to an emergency call of nature and dashing back to the campsite as quickly as possible, but Crazy Legs reassured me it was just his way of riding on the front and shepherding us all home. We finally closed on him, sat on his back wheel and he brought us, at long last back to camp.

We’d been out for over 12 hours, ridden for at least 9 of these, covered over 100 miles and encompassed over 4,000 metres of climbing. In that period, we’d gone through every single emotion on our “cycle of acceptance” and then some.

An exhausted Captain Black was perhaps in the worst state, declaring his bike had let him down bigtime, he never wanted to see it again and he was changing its name from “Old Faithful” to “Twatty-Mac Twat-Face.”

 


Part Seven. Ice Cold in Bourg d’Oisans

We showered and changed and headed into town for some much needed food, aiming for the first restaurant we stumbled across. Someone mentioned spaghetti bolognese and once the thought took hold it spread like a forest fire, becoming an instant fixation and the only thing that would satisfy our needs.

The walk seemed incredibly long and impossibly hard on our exhausted bodies, but we finally found a likely-looking restaurant and circled the seating area like a starving pack of skinny, feral dogs. A waitress with blue hair approached and Crazy Legs cut straight to the quick.

“Do you do spaghetti bolognaise?”

“Yes,” she smiled, looking somewhat bemused.

“Ah, good. Table for six, please.” It was a demand, not a request.

She wondered away to sort out a table and I scored some menu’s and handed them around ,while we quickly confirmed what already knew we wanted.

The waitress got us seated and returned with menus, which we waved away and made our order, not wanting any further delay. Six grand biere’s arrived for the conquering heroes and Crazy Legs spotted and claimed the only tankard with a handle, so he could indulge in some proper wassailing.

“Salut!” the glasses clinked together and in a real “Ice Cold in Alex” moment the beer slid very, very easily, down 6 parched throats. Perfect.

The spaghetti bolognaise filled the craving and was good, but surprisingly no one seemed to have a massive appetite and we were all quickly replete, ready for the long walk back and a collapse into bed.

Vague plans were made for our last day, with a relax by the pool, or a short ride out for coffee all mooted. Captain Black was all for sawing his bike into pieces and introducing it to the river, while I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I knew I’d be out riding. Again.


YTD Totals: 3,651 km / 2,269 miles with 44,466 metres of climbing