Climbing Up Like a Spider – Alpine Echoes – Part 2.

Climbing Up Like a Spider – Alpine Echoes – Part 2.

Total Distance:59 km/37 miles with 1,752 m of climbing
Riding Time:3 hours 12 minutes
Average Speed:18.4km/h
Temperature: 17℃

Route & Ride Profile

L’Alpe d’Wheeze

I wake hale and hearty after a reasonable night’s sleep, much to everyone’s consternation as, based on past experience, they were expecting a shambling, pallid, hollowed out, shell of a man to emerge after a night of intense sickness.

I cram down a cereal bar and set to work re-assembling the bike. It seems to have survived its passage through three airports unscathed. The same can’t be said of the bike bag, which bears a large rip across the bottom. It’s more cosmetic than crucial, but annoying nonetheless.

It takes half an hour or so to build the bike up and then I’m good to go. (Lying to the British Airways baggage handler and assuring him my tyres were deflated helped. Contrary to popular myth, they didn’t explode in the hold and I’d read that keeping them inflated could help protect your rims, so that’s what I did. )

My cabin companions are not so lucky. Kermit finds his headset cap is missing, or more precisely, he suspects it isn’t missing, it just hasn’t travelled with him and is sitting proudly on display, in the middle of his kitchen table at home.

Even worse, he then discovers he’s forgotten to pack his pedals.

Meanwhile, Biden Fecht has assembled his bike, but his rear derailleur seems askew and is making his chain rattle like a rusty anchor dropping through a ships scupper.

An urgent trip is scheduled to the bike shops in Bourg d’Oisans, to be there as soon as they open. The van is loaded up with the bikes and away they go.

While we wait, after about seven years of riding with me, Crazy Legs finally notices how stupidly long my stem is. I explain it’s a consequence of having gibbon-like arms and I immediately become Mr. Tickle to Crazy Legs. Oh well, it keeps him tickled while we wait.

Then, Buster determines his derailleur is playing up. Shifting up the cassette is a decidedly hit-and-miss affair and then, after a bit of (supposedly) remedial fiddling, just a miss affair. Climbing the Alpe under the best of circumstances is a daunting prospect, doing it without leg-friendly, climbing gears sounds like utter madness, so Buster too departs for the local bike shops.

The rest of us are ready to go by the time Biden Fecht and Kermit return. Their trip has been a success, but they’ve still got a degree of fettling, preparation, essential male grooming and breakfasting to do. Crazy Legs suggest the rest of us make a start, while he hangs back to wait for Buster, Kermit and Biden Fecht and then they’ll follow in a second group.

It seems like a reasonable plan, so the rest of us saddle up, clip in and ride out.

At the entrance to the campsite we’re passed by a camper van trailing the unmistakable odour of burning clutch. Ah, the traditional smell I’ve learned to associate with l’Alpe d’Huez. I’m confused when we turn left onto the main road though, heading away from the climb and out into the town.

This diversion, it turns out is our warm up, a quick blast through town, an equally quick turnaround and then we’re heading for the Alpe. Ah OK, guess that makes sense, but I’m not sure it was all that effective as a warm up. We pass the entrance to the campsite and almost immediately begin to climb.



The first few ramps are by far the hardest and a shock to the system. It’s no surprise to hear a chorus of clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-fuck! as everyone quickly finds they’ve run out of gears. The Hammer starts to open up a lead and I follow at a more relaxed pace, with Ovis and Steadfast in close attendance. The Big Yin and, more surprisingly, Caracol are hanging back.

Approaching the third hairpin and our way is blocked by a cyclist and what appears to be his support car. Neither of them are travelling all that fast, as the cyclist takes the longest sticky bottle hand-off I have ever seen. I’m talking minutes here. If the riders already struggling this much, I’m not sure how he’ll cope with the remaining hour plus he’ll need to climb the mountain.

We finally forge a way past the cyclist and support car and settle into a steady rhythm. It’s cool, the roads are wet and the air damp. I seemed to have found a pace that’s comfortable for Ovis and Steadfast and the three of us form a tight knot as we push upwards, occasionally swapping turns on the front.

At some point in the early stages of the climb Caracol glides past and slowly disappears up the road, en route to a sub-hour ascent.

I remember to occasionally rise out of the saddle, just so I don’t get locked in to one posture, and I count down the hairpins, once again squinting at the tiny signs to try read the TdF stage winners. I find a sign commemorating Joop Zoetemelk’s win, but its for his 1979 triumph on the mountain, not the ’76 version, where he had the temerity to beat Van Impe.

Armstrong’s still up there (#boohiss) but then again, so is Pantani (#boohisstoo). I quite easily spot those for the most recent winners (perhaps they’re a bit shinier?) – Turbo Peanut (as a website has fabulously nicknamed one of the two, great French hope’s for the Tour) and Geraint Thomas, the very first Brit (or Welshman if you prefer) to win a TdF stage on the Alpe. Still, I miss more of the signs and their associated names than I actually see.

It’s cold, overcast and a little rainy, but there’s never a point when I actually feel cool and the backwash of chilled air from the few streams that tumble down the hillside before ducking under the road, provides brief, welcome relief.



Names and messages of encouragement disappear under my wheels at regular intervals, scrawled across the road surface in spidery, mostly white lines. The majority seem to be aimed at everyday club riders, rather than the pro’s. None of them make much of an impression.

We’re too early in the morning for the first of the photographers, but the second one gets a few shots of our compact trio and I get complaints as I’m on the front and supposedly hogging the limelight. I don’t know … what do these people expect to happen when they choose to ride alongside someone so obviously charismatic and photogenic?



Meanwhile, back in reality, we’re onto the last, long and straight drag up to the village of Huez itself. We turn the corner and drive across the unofficial-official finish line, opposite the bars already busy with cyclists. Then of course we keep going, because, despite the finish line and the flags and bunting and the photo-podium, we know this isn’t actually the finish of the climb.

We head through the underpass, made famous by all those TV broadcasts of the Tour and continue to climb upwards. I took a wrong turn the last time and ended up completing a circuit of an immense empty coach park, right next to where the last few ski chalets petered out. I then had to drop downhill until I met Crazy Legs climbing up the other way, turn around again and follow him to the official finish.

This time I’m glad to have Steadfast in tow, assured he knows the right route. I’m also forearmed with instructions from Crazy Legs to turn right at the big boulders … except the boulders appear to have been removed and even Steadfast seems unsure of the way.

We zig and we zag our way across the mountainside, until we find what we think is the right road. In our defence, all of them, including the “right” one, look remarkably bland, characterless, municipal and indistinguishable from each other. We spot Caracol and the Hammer waiting, know we’re on the right track, so I kick hard and jump away from my two companions to finish with a bit of a flourish.

I needn’t have bothered, for whatever reason, but most probably operator error, my Garmin covered an entire 1 second of my ride from the campsite to the summit, so Steadfast had to “tag” me onto his Strava file and I shared the same time as him.

The actual finish is marked by the smallest, most easily overlooked, tattiest and most unprepossessing of signs. Perhaps it’s no wonder most people stop in the village, it’s certainly not worth the extra effort to get up here and see.



Inadequate signage seems to be a recurring theme in France-land. They’re not big on signs and what signs they do have are not big. I mean, I’m not asking for some of the visual graffiti you find in other urban landscapes, but there’s a fine line between discrete and invisible. A case in point, it’s not until we actually start to head back down to the village that I see a few “Route de Tour” signs directing you to the official finish. They’re small and blend so seamlessly into their surroundings that no one else in our group even seems to notice them.

I complained last time about the signs naming the hairpins on the Alpe being paltry and utterly underwhelming – they’re really difficult to read when riding up (and obviously impossible to read when swooping down). I still feel the same way – and personally think these near mythic rides and riders deserve celebrating with a grand gesture, not an afterthought.

Once we ‘ve all arrived safely, we press gang an innocent bystander into taking the obligatory group photo …



And then we head back to Huez to join the other cyclists in the cafe for some well-earned refreshments and to wait for the rest of our crew to appear.

The first through is Kermit, looking mildly startled by the sudden burst of cheering and applause that erupts from the side of the rode as he scoots past, failing to spot us. He’s followed in close order by Biden Fecht, Buster and Crazy Legs, all crossing the “finish line” in a burst of wild cheering and applause, before disappearing through the underpass and away.

It isn’t too long before they’re back and we’re a united group again. We order lunch and another round of drinks, the sun breaks out and we can sit back and relax for a while, watching all the coming and going’s and admiring some of the glossy, sleek bikes lined up in the racks at the side of the road.

We learn that all the local bike shops in Bourg d’Oisans are good, helpful and friendly. They’d fixed all our bikes and happily sold Kermit a brand new pair of pedals, that perfectly match the over-looked pair from home that he finally rediscovers in his bag later that day.

Buster’s problems were caused by a badly frayed gear cable, which could have snapped at any time, including halfway up a mountain. The mechanic also insists on changing out his worn brake blocks, which seems sensible as, I think even Biden Fecht might blanch at descending l’Alpe D’Huez without brakes, despite his past experience with such things.

As we’re sitting there, some sprightly, older feller, with a strong Central European accent, asks if he can borrow the posh, shiny and expensive-looking Cannondale hanging on the rack in front of us, apparently so he can be photographed with it. It seems like a harmless, but strange request. We explain it’s not our bike and he wanders off, before returning again, with the same odd enquiry.

“I’m sponsored by Cannondale,” he explains, “but I’m riding my Pinerello today.”

What? Yeah, right. Get-away …

We reiterate that it’s not our bike. He takes it anyway. Too weird.

We start to discuss our options, with no one in favour of a direct return to the campsite. We could continue on to the Col de Sarenne, which we did last time, or, the Hammer suggests we could descend almost to the bottom of the Alpe, to the village of La Garde and then take the road that clings to the side of the mountain, the Balcon d’Auris.

A Road By Any Other Name

The quartet who did the Sarenne last time all feel it wasn’t that great a route, so we agree on the balcony ride. It became a route whose name seemed to change every time we talked about it, until it became a bit of a running joke and was referred to variously as the balcony ride, the ledge ride, the mantelpiece ride, the pelmet ride, the shelf ride, the terrace ride and even, at one point, the skirting board ride.

It would add another 25km, or so to our total, heading along the “Route de la Roche” as we climbed from just over 700 to almost 1,600 metres, with a maximum gradient of 13%.

This road clings precariously to the side of the mountain, with a low, stone parapet the only thing shielding you from a long, vertical drop and doing nothing to restrict brilliant views right across the valley floor. In places the road narrows to about a cars width, but thankfully, on the day we rode it, is mostly traffic free. I think we only encountered one car on our great traverse, although even this produced a modicum of uncomfortable tension as it squeezed past.

Things were going well until just before the village of Le Cert, where we ran into a roadblock and route barrée signs. For once these signs were quite prominent and unmissable. Here we paused for a rest and to assess our options.



Should we ignore the signs and press-on, hoping that whatever disruption there was we could get through, or walk around, or should we follow the suggested diversion that could take us well out of our way and potentially lead back up the mountain.

One option discussed was to send Kermit on ahead, to see if he could get through, “our canary in a mine” as Crazy Legs put it. In the end we just bit the bullet and followed the diversion. Looking at the map afterwards, it seemed to add a kilometre or so to our journey and just a touch more climbing, before we were back on track and on the long snaking descent down to Le Frency d’Oisans.

Here, we took a wrong turn, up toward Lac de Chambon, but quickly realised our mistake and we turned back again, eventually rolling down into the valley of La Romanche, from where it was a straightforward run, following the river to the camp.

Back to “that Dutch bar” that evening, we spread across a couple of tables, while the owner desperately tried to persuade us to sit inside, where he had a criminally underused table that would actually seat ten together. We explained that we were British, so never got a chance to sit out at home and wouldn’t give up the option now.

As we ate, other packs of feral-looking Englishmen with lean looks, hungry eyes and odd tan lines circulated, or shuffled into the seats around us. It wasn’t as busy as a couple of years ago, but there were still plenty of cyclists in town.

We spent a good few minutes counting the hairpins on the Alpe, handily depicted on the restaurant place mats, concluding there were more than 21, before conversation turned to plans for tomorrow.

Along with the Hammer and Steadfast, I was happy to accompany any of the others brave (or foolish enough) to attempt the Circle of Death, a monster loop which is basically the Marmotte route minus the final ascent of l’Alpe D’Huez, yet still ran over 100 miles and with 4,000 metres of climbing.

From past experience this was going to be 9 hours of riding, plus re-fuelling and rest stops and first time we’d done it had been a struggle to get home before daylight ran out. We determined to have a little more discipline in planning and executing the stops and I pushed for as early a start as possible. We agreed to meet and ride out at 7.30. Ulp!

Crazy Legs and Buster decided to go on a shorter ride, to the Croix de Fer and back, with a few additional bits tagged on. They only mentioned a dozen or so times that they were looking forward to a long lie-in and much more relaxed start. Bastards… did they think they were on holiday or something?

That’s tomorrow sorted then.

Oh dear, remind me why am I doing this again?


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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

 

There and Back Again

There and Back Again

Day#3  L’Alpe d’Huez

Total Distance:                                25 km / 16 miles with 1,033 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         1 hours 50 minutes

Average Speed:                                13.6 km/h

Group size:                                         3

Temperature:                                    31°C

Weather in a word or two:           Hotter


 

taba

The Ride


I awoke rather groggily to find someone had broken in during the night and filled my legs full of concrete and it took me a while to get moving. When I did, I found Crazy Legs busily flitting around and dressed to ride.

“Whassup?”

“I’m going to ride up the Alpe.”

I needed to ride to try and rediscover where my legs were.

“Wait, I’m coming.”

“How long do you need?”

“15 minutes.”

“Ok.”

As we reached agreement, Captain Black emerged, blinking and yawning. Rest had obviously done him good and Twatty MacTwat Face had reverted back to being Old Faithful. I told him the plan and he hauled his ass into gear too – 3 for the Alpe!

It wasn’t much longer than 15 minutes later and we turned right out of the campsite, pushed the pedals around half a dozen times and found ourselves once again on the first ramp up the mountain to L’Alpe d’Huez.

I took the first couple of hairpins out of the saddle and turning a modestly large gear, until feeling returned to my lower extremities and the stiffness stated to dissipate. I then dropped onto the granny ring, and plonked myself down to spin slowly upwards.

Behind me Captain Black got half way round the first hairpin and was shocked to find just how hard it was. Just before he turned round to head back, thinking he obviously hadn’t recovered from the day before, he finally looked down and realised he was still on the big ring. There was a sudden, resounding, clunking, wince-inducing clang of stressed and tortured metal that reverberated around the mountains, as he changed down under intense pressure and finally found instant relief and his climbing form.

The three of us worked our way slowly up the mountain, pausing frequently at various shady vista’s and viewpoints, picking out the past winners signs on the corners, taking photos and chatting with other cyclists.

The signs were a roll-call, highlighting some of cycling’s great and good (and occasionally villainous) – both past and present, ranging from the imperious, il campionissimo, Fausto Coppi in 1952, right up to Thibaut Pinot in 2015.

I found signs commemorating wins by Bernard Hinaut, Gianni Bugno, Stephen Rooks, Frank Schleck, Pierre Rolland, Carlos Sastre, Andy Hampsten and Hennie Kuiper among the more famous and celebrated of the winners.

Lance Armstrong’s name is still up there (twice) despite having his Tour victories annulled, along with two for the equally dubious and questionable Marco Pantani, who still holds the record for the fastest ascent of the mountain in an astonishing – no doubt rocket-fuelled, but still astonishing time of under 38 minutes.

I have to admit though, that even taking time to hunt them out and read the signs, I still missed one or two, including Joop Zoetemelk’s 1976 sign which I’d vowed to desecrate in honour of Lucien Van Impe. (Only kidding, nice Dutch folk!)

As previously mentioned, I found the signs totally underwhelming – so much so that I didn’t even bother photographing any of them – but here’s one I prepared earlier (or pinched from the Internet anyway).


huezs


As we were making our way around one hairpin, our bête noire from Saturday made a reappearance, as a bumbling Harley Davidson blatted loudly up the road and awkwardly around the bend, leaving a trail of greasy exhaust fumes in its wake.

“Your bike’s shit!” an indignant Crazy Legs shouted after the motorcycle, unfortunately just as another rider pulled up alongside him. This rider gave him a long, quizzical look before deciding he was in the presence of a sun-touched Englishman and he didn’t need to defend the honour of his Cannondale SuperSix. Just to be sure, he accelerated smartly away to avoid further insult to his bike and Crazy Legs can at least take a little credit for spurring one rider on to set a good time.

At the village of La Grade we stopped in a welcome patch of shade, where an elderly rider and his support-vehicle-driving wife were sitting enjoying the views. Our talk turned to decomposition rates as Captain Black enjoyed a belated breakfast banana and Crazy Legs described in intimate detail how the discarded skins turned black, slimy and wizened along the way. “Speaking of black, slimy and wizened,” he declared, starting to reach down the front of his shorts, “My knackers could do with a bit of relief.”

“Hey, nice day, isn’t it?” the support-vehicle-driving wife drawled, stepping in with a nice bit of deflection.

“Oh, hello,” Crazy Legs responded, quickly withdrawing his probing digits and thinking fast, “I thought you were Dutch …”

It turned out they were American, from California, on holiday so the husband could enjoy a second-crack at riding the Alps. We then had a brief chat which concluded rather awkwardly when the wife offered sympathy over the “terrible, tragic things” in the UK and we had to ask whether she meant the terror attacks, the Grenfell Tower fire, or being lumbered with lame-duck, Prime Minister who would sell her own mother cling to power.

She meant the tower fire, which is obviously a cataclysmic tragedy, but not something we were ever likely to be personally invested in and it seemed an odd, discordant thing to bring up with total strangers on a bright sunny day, half-way up a mountain in France.

We kept going and stopped again at what we think was Dutch Corner, afforded the opportunity to look down and appreciate how far we’d climbed, the vista opening out to show the road below, twisting and turning sinuously through multiple hairpins as it snaked up the mountain. Crazy Legs recalled watching the Dauphine from this vantage point in 2010 as a rampant Alberto Contador made multiple impressive attacks before breaking clear to win the stage.


alpe
Reg in repose © Clive Rae


As we pushed on the other two slowly drew ahead and I was happy to trundle along at my own pace, slowing down and swinging right across the road to peer myopically at the signs on the hairpins and try to pick out past Tour stage winners.

More snaps from the photographers, the long drag upwards, a sarcastic slow-hand clap from the inflatable King of the Mountains and I was across the finish line and taking a seat next to Crazy Legs and Captain Black in the same café we’d stopped at the first time up the Alpe. Captain Black won the race to first beer of the day.


me
© Griffe Photos


And then we spaced ourselves well out for the fun of the descent. It was to be this, more than anything, which gave me an appreciation of just how big a task cycling up a mountain actually is – it took almost 15 minutes to whirr down to the bottom and every hairpin I thought was the last one was followed by another and then another. Looking back around the corners was also the first time I appreciated just how steep some of the ramps actually were, it’s not something you get a good impression of while struggling up them.


alpdown
Captain Black assures me that tiny speck in the road is me descending the Alpe © Anthony Jackson


And then, sadly it was over, we were done and back at the campsite and climbing off for the last time.

By this time my legs no longer felt like concrete, maybe more like hard cheese – a Cheshire or a Red Leicester perhaps. Either way an improvement of sorts. We broke the bikes down and packed them up, then picked up Steadfast and wondered into town for a few drinks and a late lunch.

The patron of the bar was apparently quite upset she couldn’t offer us any food, “Je suis desole!” but we were happy with baguettes and cornets des frites to accompany the beer. The Hammer joined us, fresh from a ride up to Allemont and then finally Goose appeared after a day alternatively spent walking and lazing by the pool. A few beers and we wandered up to the Dutch restaurant for the last supper.

All this time we talked an unending stream of nonsense (as usual): how Pierre Latour somehow acquired the name Roger, the immorality of any sport that needs judges to decide a winner, Tyneside legend Dave the Dwarf, once spotted drinking in the incongruous company of towering Scottish lock forward Doddie Weir. This led to an attempt to calculate how many dwarves you could reasonably expect in China’s 1.4 billion population and serious concerns about where all the Chinese dwarves are hiding.

We learned that Goose had been inspired by tales of a granny who was arrested for pointing a hairdryer at speeding cars in her village during a (seemingly hugely successful) attempt to get them to slow down. He revealed he had then taken this as inspiration for his own brand of traffic vigilantism, patrolling the streets around his home and leaping unexpectedly out at any motorist he suspects of speeding, arm raised, hand out while intoning a very simple, authoritative and stentorian: “No!”

We managed to calculate bills and work out a way where no one (hopefully) felt out of pocket and discussed doing something similar next year, or the following, although Crazy Legs declared he’s more or less done with the Alps, so we thought up a few alternatives such as Spain – the Pyrenees or Basque region, Tuscany, or perhaps, radically even somewhere flat like the Netherlands.

And then we wandered back, packed and slept, woke and showered, loaded the van, endured an unfriendly chalet inspection, settled our bills, waved off the Hammer and set out for home.

Swiss custom officials were strangely no happier to see us go than they had been to see us arrive and Heathrow customs officials managed to outdo them in terms of inertia, apathy and glowering disaffection.

We bade “bon voyage” to Steadfast, returning to his home along the south coast and the Goose wandered off in search of the best deals he could find on Toblerone. While we waited for our connecting flight, Captain Black stood us a round of coffee’s and had to double-check the price several times before he realised he wasn’t in Geneva airport and didn’t need to take out a second mortgage to pay for them.

The “barista” asked for his name and he momentarily confused me by saying Ant rather than Captain Black, or just the Captain. He obviously confused the barista even more as the coffee’s arrived with “Hans” carefully scribed on every cup.


hans
©Anthony Jackson


“Oh no,” I suggested to Crazy Legs, “That makes you Knees and me Boomps-a-Daisy.”

We then sat around discussing the worlds woes and how to correct them, until Crazy Legs looked at the flight board and realised our gate was closing in 10 minutes and we were in real danger of being left behind!

A quick, power-walk through the terminal had us tagging onto the very back of the queue, before clambering aboard our connecting flight to Newcastle and home.

At the other end we kept an intent and anxious watch on the baggage carousel, waiting for the arrival of bike bags and boxes and getting a little concerned as time dragged on, the crowd started to thin and the conveyor belt slowly emptied. Then Goose took a step backwards and fell over our bikes which the ninja baggage handlers had delivered by hand and stealthily dropped off right behind us.

Home, safe and sound and largely intact.

So, two days of travelling, Thursday 15th June and Monday 19th June bookended 3 days of riding, the Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Over the three days we were out on the bikes for 22½ hours, rode 251 kilometres or 156 miles in around 14 hours with almost 6,900 metres of climbing including, L’Alpe d’Huez (twice), the Sarenne, Lauterat, Glandon, Croix de Fer, Télégraph and mighty Galibier.

BA Flights form Newcastle to Geneva via Heathrow cost £160 each.

Budget Car van hire, plus fuel was £478.24, or £95.65 per person (5 people)

Two chalets at the Cascades Campsite, Bourg d’Oisans, cost £698.41, or £116.40 per person (6 people)

The total cost for my trip was around £372, plus meals, food and drinks.

Having been back a couple of weeks now, I can honestly say if someone offered me the exact same trip, with the exact same rides (even including all the pain and misery of the Circle of Death) I wouldn’t hesitate and I’d sign up immediately.


YTD Totals: 3,844 km / 2,304 miles with 46,068 metres of climbing

 

Questions of the day


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

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


Capture
Getty Images Sport


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

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


 

What’s in a Name?


Sitting in the café and discussing cycling heroes, Crazy Legs said his all-time favourite sprinter was the Tashkent Terror himself, one Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. While I’m sure a lot of the appeal had to do with Abdou’s blazing speed, his ferocious, erratic and kamikaze bike handling and spectacular crashes, I couldn’t help thinking that his name probably played a part too.

Would Djamolidine Abdoujaprov have been quite so popular had he been simply Igor Petrov?

Djamolidine Abdoujaparov.  DJAH-MOLLA-DEEN AB-DOO-JAP-AROFF. You could tell just by the way Crazy Legs savoured each and every syllable and let the name roll off his tongue that he found the sound pleasing. He was even more delighted when Richard of Flanders asked what was his full name was again and he had one more excuse to deeply intone:

“Abdoujaparov, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov”

Oh, come on, admit it, it’s so much better than stale, old clichéd: Bond, James Bond

We then had a chat about the rather more unfortunate Bauke Mollema – who we agreed also had a great name, but for all the wrong reasons. In Scotland and throughout the North East to bowk has an unpleasant meaning and association – defined by Urban Dictionary as – bowk: To puke, hurl, or chunder, especially after excessive intake of alcohol, curry, chocolate cake or all three.

So, Puker Mollema then. Oh dear.

This set me to thinking how much of my own, initial allure to cycling’s was tied into the exotic, unusual sounding names of the riders of the day, Joop Zoetemelk, Giovanni Battaglin, Francesco Moser …

And we can’t of course forget Lucien Van Impe – literally Lucien from the village of Impe, a small and otherwise boring and unremarkable town in East Flanders. This sounded not only exotic to me, but also seemed especially fitting for the mercurial, puckish grimpeur who would “bedevil” some of his great rivals in the mountains during Grand Tours.

The fact that writers could craft Sun-style, headline-worthy puns to match, was just an added bonus – the most memorable from the era being, of course: Van Impudence.

While the foreign and exotic sounding names of the continental riders had an attraction for cycling waifs and strays on Tyneside, we also used to wonder what the continental fans would make of our seemingly mundane, Anglicised monickers.

For example, the local hero around this time was Joe Waugh – multiple National Hill Climb Champion, winner of the Mountains Classification and 2nd overall in the Milk Race, two time Olympian and a National Time-Trial Champion to boot.

Toshi San and I would often amuse ourselves trying to imagine the conniptions his name might give to Eastern Bloc announcers when he lined up to start in the Peace Race:

“Lay-dees and jentleman, from Great Britaniya … Jowee Waah-ooghah!”

We could perhaps forgive those in continental Europe struggling with the pronunciation of Waugh, but what about the rest of the English speaking world?

As a native of the North East, Joe Waugh was, fiercely and rightly, Joe Woff to us, not Joe Worr as the softy southerners would have it. Still it wasn’t until I started trying to figure out Australian Batsmen Steve Waugh’s nickname that I realised something was truly amiss. Tugga? Tugga Woff? What’s all that about then?

At this point I realised most of the rest of the world were simply incapable of properly pronouncing the name Waugh.

Still, even though perhaps we should have known better, we held the BBC to higher standards. It was unforgiveable then when Joe had a very brief 30 seconds of fame and was interviewed by regular Grandstand sports presenter Frank Bough.

Confusingly, Frank Bough’s name was always, religiously pronounced as Boff, which was kind of ridiculous in its own right and sets him right up there with Puker Bauke Mollema in my mind

(Again, from the Urban Dictionary – boff:  A term to describe quick sexual intercourse which includes the man not taking off his pants and a lot of dry humping.)

To have him refer to Joe as Joe Worr then, was, to us youngsters back in Tyneside an insult and an outrage and we were all willing Joe to answer, “Well, Mr Bore, the race was…”

Sadly, Joe was far too much of a gentleman to correct Mr. Bore. Or, maybe he accepted his name being mangled in this way as preferable to being known as Jowee Waa-ooghah?

Even today the tradition continues and there are riders that have an extra cachet simply because their name sounds interesting, weird, exotic or strangely melodious, for example I give you:

Gatis Smukalis

Wilco Kelderman

Sasha Modolo

Fabio Felline

Thibout Pinot

You’ll note I don’t include Tejay Van Garderen in this, although he has a suitably Flemish “hard-man” surname … but Tejay? T.J.? Really?

Anyway, I was reminded of my delight in unusual names during Stage 7 of the Giro, from Castroviillari to Alberobello. The highlight of the stage? An early break which featured both Giuseppe Fonzi and Simone Ponsi.

Fonzi and Ponsi working seamlessly together. It made my day. Well, to be fair it was an otherwise uneventful stage.


 

A Fat Lads Bike?

A Fat Lads Bike?

Club Run, Saturday 11th June, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 57 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.4 km/h

Group size:                                         26 riders, 2 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    14°C

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

Main topic of conversation at the start:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

 


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

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

“So that’ll be a mug of coffee?”

“Yes, please.”

“And toasted teacake.”

“Yes”

“And one of those tray bakes?”

“Yes, please.”

“A glass of water?”

“Yes please.”

“And do you want ice in that?”

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

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

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

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

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


 

ride profile jun 11
Ride Profile


 

The Waffle:

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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


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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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


 

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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