Well, the previous Saturday didn’t go at all to plan. I managed to prise myself out of bed, despite the rain and cold and set off on the single-speed with a degree of hopeful optimism, only for my rear wheel to slowly seize, to the point where it felt I was riding with the brakes on. I’d only travelled around 10km when things became so bad I had to stand out of the saddle just to get up and over a speed bump, and at this point I quit, did a complete 360° around a convenient mini-roundabout and set off back home.
I tried working a circuitous route up the Heinous Hill, that would at least give me a fighting chance as I ground and gurned my way agonisingly upwards, but the final steep ramp proved to be my downfall and with the chain starting to slip and skip I admitted defeat and climbed off. Pah!
“Almost made it!” a cheery passer-by noted.
Pah! Again. I was definitely not amused. Still, my ride may have been cruelly curtailed, but maybe I’d just endured the hardest 20km of my life.
Sunday brought me a Covid booster. Tuesday brought me the onset of a 4-day-long headache and a general feeling of washed-out grottiness. Perhaps the two were related, but I don’t know.
Luckily, at least the weather looked like being dry on Saturday, so I could eke out another ride on the ‘good’ bike. It was just as well, as Andy Mapp had devised the route, initially with an assault up the Ryals included, although he’d later decided to reverse the final loop to go down the Ryals instead, just in case G-Dawg was thinking of using his fixie. He wasn’t, the weather was dry enough for his good bike too, but the route change remained.
It was in fact, not only dry, but agreeably and unseasonably warm for November, and half the group were wearing shorts with, for one week only, no one thinking to question their sanity. Well, no one except me. I remained well wrapped up and was happy to be so.
I was slightly late courtesy of several sets of new roadworks on the valley road and arrived to find G-Dawg explaining that he’s perhaps the only person in the club who’d prefer to climb up the Ryals rather than go down, the legacy of a speed wobble he once suffered on the descent. This mental aberration seems to still be living completely rent free in his head.
Alhambra was intrigued about how you would tackle such a fearsome descent if you were on a fixie, and whether you’d be best just lifting your feet clear of the pedals to freewheel. Crazy Legs pointed out the obvious flaw to this plan – if you couldn’t hold your legs up for the duration of the descent, the furiously rotating cranks would smash your ankles to flinders. So nobody’s going to be trying that anytime soon.
The pleasant weather had brought out a sizable contingent and we were 29 strong, sprawled across the pavement. Big numbers, but we still couldn’t scrape together a good half a dozen straight men and true for the first/faster group. With just 5 volunteers, I finally bit the bullet and sacrificed full-enjoyment for a little speed. Fully committed with no turning back, I immediately pushed out onto the front alongside Caracol, reasoning that I would do a good, long stint in the lead, get that responsibility out of the way and then just try to hang on for as long as I could.
Off we went. through Dinnington, up Berwick Hill and out to Kirkley, entertained by Caracol whose been watching I’m a Celebrity … just to see how much (richly deserved) humiliation is heaped upon the head of sackless, hapless and repugnant Hatt Mancock. On the road to Ogle we finally ceded the front and I put the second part of my plan into operation, just hanging on as best I could. Even that was going to be no easy task though, the pace rarely dropped below 30kph, and I picked up 9 new Strava PR’s in the next 10km stretch.
We hit some of the climby-grindy-hilly bits I recognised from our club time-trial course. This gave me nasty flashbacks which were only compounded when the Cow Ranger reminisced about previous versions of the event, when the circuit had to be completed twice over. Err … No thanks.
At bottom of the Quarry the Cow Ranger then left us to head for home, all part of his carefully formulated preparation for the 2022 World Triathlon Age-Group Championships in Abu Dhabi in just 2 weeks’ time.
Naturally, as soon as I heard where the championships were being held, I couldn’t rid myself of the childish thought that the people of Dubai don’t really like the Flintstones, but the people in Abu Dhabi do.
Dad humour. As awful as it is inescapable.
Heading towards the Ryals now, I was flagging and told Caracol I was going to drop off to cut up through Hallington rather than follow the planned long loop around the reservoir. Apart from quite liking this short-cut, despite its shockingly poor road surface, the detour would also shave a couple of miles off what was heading toward an uncharacteristically long winter ride, even for the uncharacteristically un-winter like conditions.
As I dropped off the front, I found Goose at the back wrestling with the near indestructible cellophane around his snack of choice, tearing at it furiously with his teeth to little effect as he drifted off the wheels.
“You picked a bad time for refueling,”
“I’m having trouble with me Garibaldi’s,” he complained plaintively.
“Ooph, I sympathised, “Nothing worse than trouble with your Garibaldi’s. You can probably get an ointment for it, though.”
I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered anyone using Garibaldi’s for mid-ride refuelling. Perhaps the reason is Goose’s later observation that they’re really quite dry and he’d actually had to persuade the rest of the group to stop to give him a chance to wolf them down without choking.
Interestingly, I’m sure everyone knows the Garibaldi biscuit was named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, a leader in the struggle for Italian unification, but I wonder how many know he made a popular visit to South Shields in 1854. This I find even more random and remarkable than Muhammad Ali’s visit to that particular North East berg in 1977. I mean, WTF?
I let the others ride off and rolled down the Ryals at a relatively sedate pace, before taking the sharp right opposite the war memorial and starting to climb upwards. I was now travelling at a much more sustainable pace, idly wondering if the others would complete their loop and catch me before I made the cafe.
They didn’t, but they weren’t all that far behind and I’d only just sat down with cake and coffee when they bustled in after me. A discussion about how many hummingbirds it took to make hummingbird cake became a little surreal even by our standards, but luckily we were distracted when OGL appeared from the back room to tell us he was off as he had to get back early.
We waved him off and he almost reached the door, before shuffling back to remind us it was G-Dawg’s birthday today, before turning around . He actually had his hand on the door knob before he came back again, this time to tell us how many motorist’s he’s caught on camera making close passes and shopped to the local constabulary. He’s particularly proud of the fact that his latest capture was a Bentley driver. He then reminded us he had to be back early, before drifting away again.
I swear he had the door actually open this time, before he deliberatley closed it and turned back to tell us he’d found a lost, limited edition, Cartier watch in the gym and if no one claimed it in a few weeks it would be his, before telling us he had to be back early and wandering off, out the door and closing it firmly behind him.
I kept watch for a few seconds, expecting anther curtain call, but apparently we were done for the day.
“Bloody hell,” Caracol noted, “I feel like I’m caught in an episode of Columbo.”
The rest of our group arrived shortly afterwards, the much too large second group causing a degree of congestion as they crowded around the counter.
“This,” Goose remarked, “Is the benefit of riding in the front group.”
Well, yeah. If you’ve got the legs.
There was then only time for me to enquire about his brand new helmet and try to understand why, out of all the colours to choose from, he’d picked one that was a rather dull (IMHO) battleship grey. Apparently, he quite likes grey and anyway he was determined not to get another red helmet because he claimed it made him look like Super Mario – the Nintendo game character obviously and not a certain Italian wife-beating sprinter. Now that’s an image I may have some difficulty losing.
We left shortly afterwards for an uneventful run home. Luckily Super Mario was feeling super strong and I just hung off his back wheel as he pulled us all along until the point where I could slide off the front and strike out for home.
I’ve got a university open day next Saturday, but I’ll be back the following week for the last right in November. I wonder if we’ll still get away with the good bikes?
Saturday had me missing the club run in order to fetch Thing#2 back from Term#1 at Leeds University. All kudos is due the gallant 10 who did make the ride, in very chilly and quite unpleasant conditions.
As the snow, sleet and freezing rain set in later in the day, there was a further club gathering of a different kind, the Annual Club Christmas Party and Awards ceremony. Or, yet another excuse for an extended period of doing what club cyclists do best – talking complete and utter bolleaux.
This was held in conditions that were actually worse outside than anything experienced on the ride that morning, so kudos to all who trekked through the weather and made it such an entertaining and enjoyable night. Extra kudos, of course, if you did both the morning ride and that evenings soiree.
Despite the weather, it was a well attended event with around 30 riders and their significant others and a good time was had by all. (As far as I’m aware.)
Things I think I learned:
The Red Max half-wheels the Monkey Butler Boy, even when they’re training indoors on their turbo’s.
The Garrulous Kid’s hair is not resilient to environmental precipitation.
Sneaky Pete thinks G-Dawg models his off-bike, civilian style and swagger on Lovejoy, a character in a BBC TV series who is a roguish, swindling, trickster antiques dealer and unrepentant mullet-wearer. According to Sneaky Pete, the resemblance is so acute he’s even lobbying for me to change G-Dawg’s blog name.
The highlight of the night were the Peroni Awards – (The Peroni’s™ – not to be confused with the Oscar’s™ which are far less feted, less important and significantly less controversial).
The Peroni’s were ably hosted by Crazy Legs and G-Dawg, reminding me of two ex-professional footballers turned-pundits (think Gary Lineker teamed with Robbie Savage) and performing as perhaps the finest myopic double-act since the Two Ronnies.
Ticker won a Peroni for having the loudest wheels in the peloton, Aether for the whitest legs, Goose for a voice that could wake the dead and the Red Max for “furious and relentless half-wheeling”.
I was granted an award for what Crazy Legs referred to as my wordsmiffery – the Rumpelstiltskin in Reverse award – demonstrating an innate ability to turn comedy gold into straw. (Then deftly mix it with liberal lardings of bullshit before launching the whole mess blindly into the public domain.)
Taffy Steve received the most acerbic comment award, but unfortunately couldn’t attend and express his overflowing joy at such recognition. No one felt capable of stepping into his shoes to deliver a terse, witty and suitably blistering acceptance speech.
The self-effacing, “I am Richard” Identity Theft award deservedly went to Richard of Flanders, who can now perhaps reclaim his name from all the weekly route briefings.
I think the, “for those of you who don’t know me, I’m Richard and this is the route for today” refrain has probably run its course, after being hijacked by a wide variety of impostors and used with impunity for about 6 weeks in a row.
It has also caused some unnecessary confusion, with Jimmy Mac being referred to as “that Dick feller” on a couple of occasions. Of course, in relating this, I’m discounting the (highly unlikely, surely?) possibility that they are acutely aware Jimmy Mac’s actual name and are simply attempting to describe him in the most accurate terms possible.
The Garrulous Kid was kept happy with seven separate awards, including wins in the most likely to crash category, most likely to inexplicably walk away from a crash unscathed, least able to turn left (he only narrowly missed out on the least able to turn right award) and for completing the shortest club ride – ever. Well, quantity has a quality all of its own, no?
In amongst the fun and frivolity there was even the opportunity to bestow the official, club recognised and actual trophy-laden award of Most Improved Rider, thoroughly deserved by the winner, Buster.
There was also a quick salute to the tireless efforts of the behind-the-scenes team, all the Grips, Gaffers and Best Boy’s, whose too often thankless and sterling efforts underlie our seemingly effortless productions:
Crazy Legs for organising the club 10 mile time-trial and the Club Dinner, G-Dawg, Crazy Legs and Big Dunc for timing and starting duties at said time-trial and the Hill Climb, plus all the marshals at all the events, Rick Rex for organising the club 25-mile time-trial, the Red Max for the midweek Circus Maximus (Natural Selection) ride and the Circuit Maximus (Chain-gang), our volunteer weekly ride leaders: Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, Spoons, Richard of Flanders, Taffy Steve, Aether, Jimmy Mac, the Hammer and the Red Max and last, but not least, our monthly social nights organisers G-Dawg and Crazy Legs.
Not forgetting of course, the elephant in the room, or in this instance not in the room, the absentee OGL, for all the bits in-between, as well as bringing that extra ray of sunshine into our lives and being so compliant and accommodating of those who think the club could perhaps be run a teeny bit better.
All this just supports the obvious conclusion that a club is the sum of its disparate, different parts and only ever as good as the people it represents.
So onward we go. Next up is the traditional Christmas Jumper, Bling Yer Bike and Fancy Dress ride. Then it’s downhill-with-a-following-wind, all the way to the end of December and a brand-spanking new year.
Club Individual Time-Trial, Thursday 9th August, 2018
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 19 km / 12 miles with 146 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 35 minutes 12 seconds
Average Speed: 31.8 km/h
Group size: Well, 1 (duh!)
Weather in a word or two: That gentle summer breeze? That was actually a hurricane.
I think I should be commended for surviving over 50 years as a sentient human, without feeling the compulsion to inflict wholly unnecessary and prolonged pain and suffering on my weak and frail body.
… Or at least that’s the line I always trotted out when some kind soul or other invited me to undertake cycling’s race of truth – an individual time-trial.
There were always other excuses too, anything other than a short blast would feel too big a step up and, when we did occasionally and intermittently hold a club competition, we tended to just piggy-back on another clubs event, holding an unofficial race-within-a-race, so to speak.
As well as this feeling unconscionably rude, as a pure novice, mixing it up with overly-serious, po-faced and glowering strangers and potentially getting in the way of their PB’s always seemed a bit intimidating.
I also never felt I had the right build to make even a passable attempt at a time-trial. I don’t have the concentrated mass and power to continuously turn over a massive gear -in body-type terms, I have more of a weedy Romain Bardet style physique, rather than that of a strapping, powerful TT specimen like Tom Dumoulin or Tony Martin. I also suspect I would be even more ineffectual in a time-trial as Bardet has proven amongst his peers.
Then, Crazy Legs took it upon himself to organise an official, club-based, standalone and (most importantly) short individual time-trial and put the call out for self-flagellating, masochists everywhere to sign up.
When canvassed beforehand, I did foolishly tentatively agree to participate, even while lobbying unsuccessfully for a much shorter event – maybe 10km instead of 10 miles, or perhaps even just 5km?
Oh, and preferably downhill, too…
But, 10-mile it was to be, a course was duly selected and a date was picked. There was no turning back and I felt it was important to support Crazy Legs’ enterprise, dedication and hard work in organising the whole damn thing.
A 10-mile ITT is a set and recognised, British tradition – a rite of passage for many a club cyclist – and suitable courses have already been set up and verified all over the country, hidden behind innocuous codenames and only discussed in hushed tones during shadowy meetings by those deemed to be “in the know.”
Our selected crucible of pain was imaginatively and poetically titled the M105 TT course and, for its outward leg, it traversed backroads made familiar from just about every club run we do, albeit we would be travelling north toward further pain, rather than south from the comfort of coffee and cake.
The return leg would be straight down the A696, a main arterial route from Scotland and shunned on our club runs as being too busy and too dangerous for group rides. It did however promise a fast run in to the finish, with the prospect of (hopefully) only minimal traffic on an early, weekday evening.
Once committed, it was just a case of making the best of a bad job. I came up with a simple strategy, figuring I should be able to ride at an average of 20mph across the whole course and, from this I set myself a target time of 30 minutes.
If I could somehow dip under this mythical barrier, it would be (in my mind at least) akin to Roger Bannister doing a 4-minute mile … and I’d probably celebrate it as if I’d achieved something of equal significance.
I tested how easy it was to reach and maintain 20mph, trundling along the bottom of the Tyne valley, both before and after our weekly club runs. I also tested myself a couple of times riding to and from work, although my single-speed commuter bike is geared to get me up the Heinous Hill every day, so sadly my legs spin-out at anything approaching 22mph.
Although not sustained over a long enough time, or distance to be conclusive, these tests all seemed to indicate my goal was at least achievable.
To give myself every advantage, I picked up some tri-bars from Amazon for less than £20. I realised I would be forgoing my classification in the standard, unmodified road bike category of the competition, but I was more interested in achieving the best personal time, than where I placed in any club hierarchy.
Despite the bargain price, the tri-bars proved to be solid, well made and more than adequate for the task at hand. I clapped them on Reg and actually started to feel sorry for him. My bike now looked unbalanced and with all the horns, pads and brake levers jutting out from the front, he resembled nothing so much as a primary coloured, rather anorexic-looking stag beetle.
I had a brief trial around the mean streets of Whickham. Control wasn’t especially precise, I didn’t feel overly confident, but the position certainly seemed to help aerodynamically, or at least psychologically – which was as good as.
I hemmed and hawed about using the tri-bars, right up until the last minute, before finally deciding to go with them – in for a penny in for a pound, I might as well be hanged for a lamb as a sheep, or any other cliché you feel is appropriate to insert at this juncture.
The day arrived and I packed up early, put everything into the car and drove out to where I thought the start line was. I had an hour or so in which to recce the course, something I’d planned to do, much, much earlier, but of course never got around to.
Getting a better feel for the tri-bars, I began to work out where I should be using them and where to back off and go for the greater control I could get riding on the hoods. I started to notice all the little lumps along the route, things you would just roll over in the normal course of events, but when you were pushing hard, really bite into your legs and drag down your speed.
Swinging left at Kirkley Hall, not only brought you onto the bumpiest, hilliest section of the course, with the roughest road surface, but pitched you straight into a headwind. As my pace dwindled horribly again I realised this long, outbound leg, was going to be the most difficult section, I would struggle to keep up to my target speed and I’d need to make time up elsewhere.
Hard left at the end and then left again spat you out onto the A696 and then it was just a case of pinning your ears back and driving for the finish. Or, that was the theory at least.
In practice my test run was thwarted by a car, trying to recreate a complex Spyrograph pattern and embarking on a convoluted, thirteen-point turn in the narrow entrance to the junction, something I could only hope didn’t happen during my timed run.
Once I’d swung south, the road surface was better, wide, smooth and fast and even with a few rolling hummocks to contend with, it seemed far less taxing. Plus, we would have the benefit of putting the wind behind us for the run-in.
I picked up a few visual markers I could tie-in to the distance left to run and rolled past the end of Limestone Lane, looking for anything that would give a clue to where the actual finish was. I could see nothing, but someone told me it was just past the junction, so that’s what I would work to.
I then rolled through to the start line, expecting to find Crazy Legs, but no one was around. I rode up and down the lane a few times, futilely looking for clues, until I bumped into Caracol … and then we both rode up and down the lane a few times, futilely looking for clues.
Richard of Flanders powered past on a warm up and we asked him where we were supposed to sign on.
“Down the road, first right” he shouted as he rode away.
We tried down the road and first right … and then second right … and then third right and kept coming up blank. Back onto the lane and in desperation, Caracol stopped to phone Crazy Legs for further instruction, while I spotted the Red Max and the Big Yin, numbers on their back and rolling toward us.
Max volunteered to help and led us to the shopping centre car park, where Crazy Legs had set up Race HQ, was taking entry money, dolling out numbers and teasing everyone with tantalising glimpses of Haribo and Energy Drinks for the finishers.
Oh, for those keeping count, it was actually the third right we had tried, we just hadn’t gone far enough.
So it was that, despite being one of the first ones to arrive, I was the last to sign on. That suited me well enough, at least I wasn’t going to be demoralised when someone roared effortlessly past.
With time running out, we rode down to the start, where I enlisted Buster’s help to pin on my number. I would be the last rider off, number 19 – so almost twice as many entrants as Crazy Legs had hoped would turn out.
The we stood round talking the usual blether as the early runners got underway.
The Monkey Butler Boy had gone for the full aero set-up, skinsuit, aero-helmet and visor, aero-socks (under aero-overshoes!) and aero-gloves. He was set to ride Crazy Legs’ aeroTT-bike (the one that always gives its owner a bad back) which looked like a matt-black, angular stiletto and as far from comfortable as I could possibly imagine. In fact just looking at it, I felt my spine twinge in sympathy.
The Monkey Butler Boy had even gone as far us using little-brass coloured magnets to hold his number on instead of safety pins for some truly infinitesimal weight or drag saving. They also seemed very fiddly and largely ineffective at their primary task.
“I reckon they’re actually fridge magnets,” I said.
“Well, that one does say, I ♥ Marbella,” Caracol pointed out.
Meanwhile, someone asked if there was any Salbutamol going free. The Red Max simply scoffed, declaring that anything you could get on prescription just wasn’t going to cut it and wouldn’t be strong enough to help tonight’s efforts.
He claimed his own strategy for the ride involved starting with a full bladder and working his way steadily through a new bottle, hoping the desperate imperative of needing to pee would spur him on to the finish.
When we’d chuntered on for long enough, our numbers slowly dwindling as we were called to the start-line, one-by-one, I rolled off for a quick post-warm up, warm-up. Returning in time to see a Tour de France green jersey with a number 17 on the back disappearing up the road.
“A sprinter,” Caracol observed. “Do you think he’s one of those ones like Michael Matthews or Sagan that are really handy at prologues and short time-trials?” he mused. Then he was rolling up to the start line and I was shuffling into his spot.
Off he sped and I took my place, alongside our starter-gate for the evening, Big Dunc and the official starter and timekeeper, G-Dawg.
“30 seconds,” G-Dawg intoned.
“I want my Mummy,” I whimpered, but no one cared and I surrendered myself to Big Dunc’s iron grip. Held rock steady, I clipped in and waited.
“If I’m not back by the time it gets dark, will you send someone out to look for me?” I wondered.
“10 seconds!” G-Dawg replied.
I raised myself off the saddle a little.
“5-4-3-2-1 – Go.”
A good clean start. The pedals whirred around building momentum. I dropped back into the saddle, took the first, long curving turn and settled onto the tri-bars, forearms well cushioned on their foam pads.
I glanced down. Bloody hell, I was doing 26mph already.
The first of many small rises came and I watched my speed trickle down, down, down, but it still held above the magic 20mph mark. Had I gone off too fast?
I tried to settle in to the task at hand, keeping the speed up and picking the straightest lines through the curves.
Around 2 miles in, and in the lane ahead I thought I caught a glimpse of green jersey disappearing around a bend. Then I was easing, hands on the hoods and freewheeling to sweep through the first junction at Kirkley Hall, briefly noticing a crouching OGL, serving as official club photographer for the day.
Back into position, my legs were starting to burn with the effort and my breathing was a rasping, staccato panting, much too loud, too harsh and seemingly too close to my own ears, as if my lungs had escaped my chest and were making their way up to squeeze out of my gaping mouth.
The first serious ramps appeared on the road up to the village of Ogle and, at the bottom of the first of these, I caught and passed the green jersey. I probably sounded like a deranged, asthmatic and over-excited sex pest as I lumbered past. Still, despite a lack of grace, I was somewhat comforted by the fact that, unless things went disastrously wrong, I probably wouldn’t be the slowest competitor.
As the slope bit and my cadence dropped, the pedalling became less fluid and the speed dipped below 18mph. Then I was over the hump, picking up the pace and back on track.
Four miles in and I was waved through Ogle by our marshal, Dabman. The route swung due west at this point and into a headwind, a barely noticeable, pleasant, summer-evening breeze … well, as long as you’re not trying to turn yourself inside out with some wanton and furious pedalling.
Even worse the road started to buck up and down and the surface was rough, cracked and heavy, liberally strewn with gravel and other debris to avoid.
I now had a strange stitch to contend with too, a dull, throbbing pain that seemed to encompass my entire right-side, running from my collar-bone, down to my hip. Even worse, the effort had turned snot and saliva to a sticky, viscous and strangely elastic substance that seemed compelled to cling to me, no matter what.
I had trouble expelling it forcefully enough to ride clear and it kept pivoting around to slap me across the side of the face like a cold, wet haddock, or failing that spatter horribly across my shoulder.
I was certain I had strings of spit hanging, dangling from my gaping, gasping mouth – like a dishevelled, dribbling, drooling lunatic on a bike, it wasn’t pretty.
Still, constant speed checks were for the most part on the positive side of 20mph and I was starting to eat into the miles.
Through a sharp 90° bend, ably marshalled by Captain Black, I tired shouting that there was one more rider behind me, but I’m not sure if he heard, or could even decipher my garbled and incoherent rantings.
I didn’t recognise the last marshal, there was just a flash of blonde hair as she ushered me through the last 90° bend. I took it at a fast freewheel, yawing horribly wide, before pulling the bike straight and powering up the legs for one, last effort, a straight run of maybe 4 miles, down the A696 to the finish.
The first lump in the road was negotiated without losing too much speed and I changed gear for the first time, the chain clunking noisily down a couple of cogs. I stretched out and settled in to push hard. My breathing was fully under control now, there was no more breathless panting and the pain in my side had cleared completely.
The bike felt solid under me and I was astonishingly comfortable on the tri bars, my fingers curled right around the very ends, locked in place, head up and surprisingly static apart from the churning legs.
I briefly topped 30mph and while the rolling terrain made this high-end speed impossible to maintain, I don’t recall any point along this last leg where it fell below my 20mph target.
I now seemed to have stumbled into a zone, or maybe in sporting mythology the zone. Everything was flowing, it was comfortable and it felt strangely good. Beyond my wildest expectations, I was actually enjoying myself.
I didn’t really notice the traffic either. I was aware of a couple of cars considerately shifting right over to the far lane to overtake and there were no close passes. A massive HGV, thundering in the other direction, did kick up a storm of dust and turbulence in its wake, but I was quickly through this and pushing on.
The route markers I’d picked out flowed past, the pub with the speed camera, the long sweeping bend, the interesting looking fish restaurant, the large, dead bird, brutally eviscerated at the side of the road …
Hang on, back up! I don’t remember that particularly bloody, avian corpse from my first run through?
I saw a small knot of cyclists on the other side of the road and just behind them, but on my side, a small cluster of figures. The end was in sight. I glanced down and checked my speed for one last time and it was solidly in the twenties.
I didn’t sprint, try to bury myself, or “empty the tank” – I just tried to maintain the same smooth, rhythm and cadence as the road rose up and took me through the line.
Then I was done and pulling off the road, first left, to stop and try to restore breathing back to normal again. I looped back to where the other riders were waiting.
“Well, how did you do?” the Red Max asked.
“Oh, I don’t know.” I looked down at my Garmin. I hadn’t thought to stop it at the line, it was still running and now read 29:13.
“I guess I hit my target.”
Caracol had not only set a blisteringly fast time, he’d seemingly done so with a rapidly deflating front tyre and he set to work to replace the tube, while I explained there was still a rider out there.
“Who is it?” the Red Max wondered.
“The guy in the green jersey?” He looked blank.
“Reg? Is he called Reg?” I pondered, uncertainly.
The Red Max still looked blank.
“Sorry,” I admitted, “I only know him as Two Trousers.”
Slowly the Red Max folded over, emitting strange, distressed wheezing, squealing and gargling sounds.
He finally recovered and straightened up again.
“Don’t make me laugh, it hurts too much.”
There was only time for the Big Yin to imagine OGL turning up to berate us for riding too fast and declaring, “If you want to ride like that, you should put a number … oh …oh, hello.”
Then we cheered our last man home, hung around long enough for Caracol to re-inflate his tyre and rolled back to the Race HQ/Shopping Centre car park.
There I received my official time of 27:45, or two minutes and 15 seconds inside my target – an achievement that means absolutely nothing to anyone else, but I was massively pleased with.
(Crazy Legs said he could tell I must have put a good effort in, as my face was almost as grey as it is when I finish the hill climb.)
I then slung the bike in the car and joined the rest in the nearby pub for a celebratory and much deserved pint of Guinness – purely for medicinal and recovery purposes, you understand. (Note: Other celebratory drinks are available.)
So, in the footsteps of many an embarrassing, verbose and much too lachrymose Oscar winner …
Many thanks to Crazy Legs for initiating, preparing, organising and running a fantastic event.
Many thanks to my rock solid starting gate, Big Dunc and official starter G-Dawg.
Thanks to the marshals, Dabman, Captain Black and the Mysterious Blonde, who gave up their free time to hang around country lanes trying not to look too suspicious.
And thanks to the various ladies of the Timing Association – even though I couldn’t manage to work in a full-blown nod to Jan and Dean and the Anaheim, Azusa, & Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review, & Timing Association.
Or, could I …
And finally, thanks to all my fellow competitors, there would obviously have been no event without them.
That was a blast, I really look forward to the next one.
YTD Totals: 4,739 km / 2,899 miles with 58,645 metres of climbing
Tired of being misrepresented as the cheery, chirpy, care-free, ever-chuntering, all-singing and all-dancing, cycling comedian in this humble blog, one of Sur La Jante’s regular animators-in-chief, Crazy Legs has decided to take matters into his own hands and re-invent himself as an erudite, thoughtful weighty and perspicacious philosopher of cycling commentary.
What was the impetus and inspiration behind this renaissance, I hear you ask, somewhat dumbfounded? Well, it was discovering the joys of a 4-Up Team Time Trial that seems to have re-ignited his passion for all things cycling and, as he explains, gave him a real buzz and impetus to improve.
This unexpected catalyst was the Blaydon CC, 4-Up Time Trial, held on the 27th August on a rather secretive and mysterious course referred to by those in-the-know, simply as M18.
Here then, in our heroes own words, is the tail of his travails, trials and tribulations…
Sunday, August 27th, 2017 and ever since the Hammer had suggested this event, I’d been fretting about the day.
It had all started innocently enough …
“Hey, how about we do a 4-Up Team Time Trial, on the circuit in Northumberland?” was his rather innocuous question.
“Hmm, how long is it?” I pondered, though not too deeply.
That seemed do-able…
“Sure, as long as we are all fairly evenly matched as a team, no problem.”
So, the initial groundwork was completed, and the proposed team was the Hammer, the BFG, G-Dawg and me. As G-Dawg correctly and proudly pointed out, a team with a combined age of over 200! With all that knowledge and experience what could possibly go wrong?
Well, first and foremost, was the change in the route from an eminently do-able, one lap of the Secret Squirrel like, M18 time-trial course, to 2 laps and subsequent shift to more than double the distance – from 18 to 40 miles!
Ok. Breathe deeply, reset the clocks, and re-calibrate for (hopefully) slightly less than 2 hours of pain. We can still do this.
Then, the BFG had to withdraw with a recurring bad back. Luckily the Cow Ranger stepped up to fill the not inconsiderable void left by the BFG, but this presented its own problems. Previously, I’d looked at my companions and thought we were all fairly similar in outlook and ability. The Cow Ranger though was in a different league, a proven triathlete, experienced time-trialler and possessing some of the best kit and equipment money could buy – even, believe it or not, a solid disc wheel. I don’t know about you, but that’s nigh on professional in my book.
He would undoubtedly be stronger and faster than the rest of us, which rather unnervingly suggested he’d be dishing out real pain through every one of his turns on the front. Still, we were all committed now and determined to make it work.
Training sessions started about 8 weeks before the main event, but fitting it around work and holidays usually meant the turnout was just 3 out of the 4 riders. In fact, it wasn’t until the last training session that all 4 of us actually rode together as a team.
Undaunted, we sorted out an order, trying to logically decide who went where in the line-up and why, along with some rough roles and rules. In all honesty though, no matter what the formation, pain was going to be the order of the day. We aimed high and agreed on a simple but important motivational target: “Don’t come last!”
It was really easy objective to sum up, and we all bought into it as a team. If I cared about my bosses, I’m sure they would have been proud: we had an objective that was specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic (hopefully) and definitely time-based. Welcome to the world of corporate time-trialling.
Two weeks before the event, perhaps not so good for the organisers, but a godsend to us, was the news that the course of 2 laps had failed a health and safety assessment and was consequently back down to 1 lap, as originally planned. I promise I’ll never, ever mock overzealous Health and Safety legislation and I too now fully support the wearing of protective goggles when playing conkers.
Quite how we were expected to ride through a popular, Northumberland village on a Bank Holiday weekend, with busy roads, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, roundabouts, rampant flocks of kids and a plethora of busy pubs and car parks was baffling, to be honest. Then again a bit of chaos might have played into the hands of the teams who weren’t expected to be at the top of the finish list. Nothing like a pensioner on a zebra crossing to stop a team in full flight. They don’t have that sort of obstacle in the Vuelta I tell you.
So training sessions had been good, we’d studied and rode the course and had it divided into thirds, with an agreed strategy for each segment:
First third(the hilliest part): Keep it steady, especially up the 3–4 km climb.
Second third: Due west and normally into a headwind, keep tucked in, shorter turns on the front and for the last climb take it E-A-S-Y!
Final third: Flat out, leave nothing in the tank, and head for home – and just in case you hadn’t been listening, I said FLAT OUT!
Much of the training sessions involved getting the Cow Ranger to hold back on the climbs when he was itching to power on. A couple of time he had ignited the after-burners and destroyed the rest of us to varying degrees, so controlling his competitive impulses was going to be key to a smooth, fast ride for all.
He managed this superbly for our final training session, we were flying and had smashed our previous best times. Brilliant, we we’re set to go.
One of the great things about riding with the other three was that I utterly trusted them and their decisions, so was comfortable sitting very close to the back wheel of the Hammer. We’d decided to go with road bikes instead of TT bikes, as riding 5 cm behind another rider without having your hands anywhere near the brakes is best left for the professionals, especially on a slightly hilly course. All but the Hammer had clip on TT bars, and we agreed to use these only when on the front.
So the day dawned, I’d contracted a minor ailment which had me worrying about whether I’d be able to take part, but in the end some helpful tablets from the doc had me running as close to my normal as possible, without the need for a TUE.
Preparation went well, a relaxing morning before our 2:27pm start, early lunch and a 1pm meet, so we could register, then put a few miles into our legs as warm up. The weather was great, apart from a slightly stronger than predicted westerly wind, but sunny, warm and dry. You can’t have everything.
Unfortunately, as countless coffees were being consumed amidst general chatting to some of the other 70 odd riders, the news filtered through that the course had been closed temporarily. This was due to a poor soul on a motorbike being unseated in a collision with a tractor and needing the air ambulance to lift him out.
An hour’s delay was announced, which was not ideal preparation, but our team took it in our stride and saw it as the perfect opportunity for more coffee and extra cake. We found the cycling cafés version of a flapjack with chocolate might even be denser than Rab Dee’s infamous, home-made, portable black-hole version.
By this time the air ambulance had appeared and disappeared, rushing the injured motorcyclist to A&E, and news went up that 3pm was the deadline for the race start. If the course wasn’t clear by then the event would have to be cancelled. I hate to say it, but a part of me would have seen that as an honourable score-draw. I mean we had committed, we had trained and we had turned up on the day, it wouldn’t be our fault if the whole thing was called off, would it?
2:59 and not a moment to spare, the road is proclaimed open. Bugger.
Lots of police cars and transporter lorry carrying a motorbike bedecked in foliage and bits of grass verge went past and the road was officially declared open. The team headed out for a quick warm up and, at the allotted time plus one hour, we rolled our way up to the start line.
Nerves jangling, a strange sense of excitement and foreboding washed over me, but then again, that’s why we do these things I suppose. OGL turned up at the line, and gives us advice, encouragement and just general support. Cheers.
Our time is nigh, and the four of us line up. My holder is a happy go lucky guy, who has 60 seconds of general, distracting chit-chat, before I clip in and he’s ready to push me off. One problem though, the Hammer wants to clip-in himself, so if my guy pushes me off, I’ll plough straight into the back of him while he twiddles with his pedals. We quickly agree that rather than me lose a few metres, I’ll angle slightly out, so the Hammer can clip in unimpeded and I’ll still be able to get going with a push. As a supermarket might say, “every little helps”.
“10… 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!”
I get my push, the Hammer has clipped in smoothly and … we’re off. Great.
Hang on. No.
The Cow Ranger has set off like a Saturn 5 rocket leaving the launchpad. G-Dawg is struggling to hold his wheel, and the Hammer is trying desperately to close on them.
Houston we have a problem!
Within 500 metres, the gap between G-Dawg and the Cow Ranger has yawned open and I don’t know about the Hammer, but I’m already in the red. Bloody hell, we’ve only just started and my heart rate monitor is already yammering at me to slow down.
Now, we realise that the Cow Ranger’ has worn his space-age aero helmet for the first time out with us and is in full Buzz Lightyear, “To Infinity and Beyond” mode. With his head totally encased, the full visor down and the wind blowing past his ears, he can barely hear a thing. He certainly can’t hear the shouts from the three of us, which get more and more frantic and use up all the essential oxygen we so desperately need.
Poor G-Dawg, who is second in line and should be getting sheltered, is exposed, and effectively on the front of a three-man team and temporarily taking all the wind.
The Cow Ranger eventually looks back, sees the problem and eases up, leading us through the rest of his turn in fairly good order. He then pulls out and the three of us fluidly move through, while he slots onto the back. Like the Hammer and me, G-Dawg, is already suffering from our all-out sprint start, but it’s his turn on the front now. Sensibly he does the right thing, and pulls a shorter stint, before the Hammer moves through to relieve him.
After 4km, we’ve all done a turn, got our rhythm back and we’re approaching the 3–4 km ramp. This can’t be described as a hill, more a series of rises, only adding 60m height over approximately 4km. Nothing, eh? Average 1.5% maximum, a pimple, a speed-bump a very gentle swelling?
Well, no. This becomes an entirely different proposition when you’re already going flat out. Every metre of ascent is just more unnecessary pain, and every metre of descent only lifts your average speed to where you hoped it would be anyway.
We rotate through, shouting at the Cow Ranger to keep it steady and not burn everyone out. I glance at my heart rate monitor and I’m on the limit and a strange sequence evolves where I’m actually looking forward to my stint on the front, so I can regulate my speed to match where my body wants it to be.
Still though, in the back of my mind, I can’t help thinking that I’m letting the team down, so I dig even deeper. Is that the right thing to do? Who knows? But it’s harder riding in a group than by yourself. Pull a rubbish time by yourself and there’s no one else to blame. Rubbish in a group and you’re it, the crap one, the useless one, the weakest link, the one they’d be better off without. So I go further into the red, and try and push as hard as I can.
The Cow Ranger comes through after me, and after a few seconds respite, as I drift backwards and onto the rear of our line, he’s ramping up the speed again. One thing which had escaped my notice until now, is that good time-triallers pedal hard downhill too. Me, I normally take it easy downhill and give myself a break. Not today, no way matey, no chance. I’m spinning my legs off down the hills as well today.
The great thing about riding at a higher pace than normal (notice I didn’t say “fast”) is that the distance counter spins round much quicker as well. I glance down and can’t believe we’re nearly a third of the way there!
We hit the sharp corner where a friendly marshal waves us onto a bigger road just in front of a car, but there’s no stopping, slowing or second-guessing now. This road is a westerly section of about 11km long and it’s straight into the teeth of a headwind. Not a massive headwind mind, but definitely there – and I refer you to my views on 1.5% climbs.
Throw in a couple of nasty rises, and it’s tough.
The Cow Ranger hits the front for one of these rises, and rides it perfectly. Not too fast, not too slow for us, lovely. It’s almost as if we’d practiced beforehand! Chapeau Cow Ranger. I even have time to idly wonder if he’s getting a bit bored hanging around, soft-pedalling and trying to match his pace to ours?
This section of road hurts, but not as bad as the first part. I end up on the last rise, and I’m on my limit. G-Dawg and the Hammer are shouting encouragement at me to get to the brow, as my turn is nearly up.
“50 metres, come on” I hear clearly, through the pounding of blood and rasping of my breathing.
We’re nearly at the top and I peel off, my thinking being that if I get over the lip of the rise and someone else increases the speed, I’m gone. They take over and luckily hold the pace more or less steady and I’m hanging on.
We drop into the village of our normal Saturday café haunt, but there’s no time for fruit scones today as we blast past, head down and legs whirring.
Now we’re on the home stretch, and it’s the time to empty the tank. The Hammer, G-Dawg and I take our turns and I’m thinking this is as fast as I can physically go, when the Cow Ranger swings through. The finish is less than 7km away, he can smell a good time and now really digs in. Whenever he puts the power down he tends to swing a little on the bike, but now he’s rocking and swaying like a drunken sailing rolling down the gangplank for 2-weeks shore leave. I’m on his wheel, watching his entire body contort and our speed is starting to creep up.
Oh-oh, trouble here. I’m clinging on for dear life as we hit a long, shallow rise, trying to make it, shouting at him to ease off, but he can’t hear. I hang there, nearly, nearly at the crest, but then suddenly it’s reached the point where I have nothing left. Nothing. Nadir. Empty. I’m gone.
I can’t hold the wheel for a second longer and I pull out of the line, tell them not to ease. Go, Go GO!
I reckon I need 30 seconds recovery and we can’t take that long, not with only a few kilometres left. I take a few deep breaths, look up, and they are only 50 metres away. I hit the tri bars, and try and re-join, but 50 metres becomes 60, then 75, then they’ve gone.
I’m a solo TT-survival mode now. I know I have to go flat out by myself in case anything happens to one of the remaining team mates, as it’s the time of the 3rd rider that stops the clock. But now I’m riding on my limits and not someone else’s. I can still give it everything, but if I need a fraction of a second rest, or don’t hit a rise full gas, then that’s it. I can’t see any of any team mates, and bury myself coming up to the line. Stop the clock! Stop the clock!
I see the rest of the team huddled in a group just past the line and finally recover enough to make my way across. Everyone is happy with the time, much, much better than anything we’ve done in training. They did stick together, and put roughly a minute into me over the last few kilometres. Chapeau guys, well done.
It’s strange, but I’m slightly euphoric. We think we achieved the aim of not coming last at this stage. It all seemed worth it. The harmony of 4 people riding close together has bonded us. The Hammer reckons that people will have gone faster, but maybe none will have been as tight as us. I can’t disagree.
(This is probably true – a watching OGL suggested a lot of the teams were very ragged and undrilled. He thought one team rode in the same formation, line astern, with no rotating on the front for the entire course and another even rode two abreast, as if they were on a club run. SLJ)
Pressing on at speed 5cm from someone else’s back wheel requires you to have a fair amount of trust in the rider in front. I’d never given it a seconds thought as my fellow teammates are skilful riders and totally unselfish.
G-Dawg was slightly disappointed that we didn’t finish together, but I told him not to worry. I simply couldn’t have given anymore. We had a celebratory drink, packed up and left for home, very content.
Post-race, the results are in and show that we came 12th out of 18 teams. Even by my poor reckoning, that’s nowhere near last.
I looked up my heart rate on Strava, and saw that the average was 177bpm for the ride. That’s more than I can normally sustain, so all in all, not too shabby an effort.
I’ve been riding a few years now, and had begun to drift into the club run routine, and a kind of numbness. I still loved the rides, but was looking for something to really excite me. I’d tried individual time trials, great for solo suffering, but they only seem to scratch a deep masochistic streak. I don’t really want to race against some pimply youths and I’m too old for that, but the team time trial was an electric jolt to my system.
I loved it. The training was great, the planning was great, and it gave the summer meaning. When you worry about an event for days, you know it matters. This did. I owe special thanks to the Hammer, he was the one who noticed it, and asked around and organised things, so without him, summer would have drifted by.
Next year, I’ll be back for more. The actors might be different (hopefully not) but I’ll be fitter. I’ll be with the team at the finish line next time. I reckon that our clubs infamously garish shirt might be represented even more, as I can think of at least half a dozen people who would take part given the chance. The Red Max has already expressed an interest.
Thanks to the Hammer, we’ve all sat up and started looking for other Team Time Trial opportunities now. So finally, to the team; G-Dawg, the Hammer and the Cow Ranger. Brilliant one guys, loved every minute of it, and if I’m not mistaken, I think you did too.
Total Distance: 105 km/65 miles with 1,030 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 38 minutes
Average Speed: 22.6 km/h
Group size: 13 riders, no FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Like riding through a slushie
Main topic of conversation at the start:
G-Dawg turned up replete with the bright blue oven gloves again, but having swapped out the carpet-felt muffler for knee-high hiking gaiters. I can’t decide if this is an inspired choice of winter accoutrements or just plain odd. Maybe if the gaiters had Castelli emblazoned across them I would be more accepting?
Crazy Legs wondered if the oven gloves were there so G-Dawg could help out in the kitchen at the café, but even professionally equipped, I didn’t think there was a hope in hell they’d let him anywhere near the bacon and egg pies as they emerged hot from the oven.
Unbelievably the weather mid-week had been so good that G-Dawg had felt the need to unleash his good bike and had temporarily hung up the winter fixie for the Wednesday run out. He managed to enjoy his freewheelin’ fun, despite an unadvisable tendency to try and slow down by simply adding a bit of pressure to the pedals. Where was that good weather now?
Crazy Legs told us a salutary tale of steppin’ out to see Joe Jackson in concert, deciding to miss the support act in favour of a pint or three, and then turning up to find Mr. Jackson already on stage and mid-song, halfway through his set as there had been no support act.
Crazy Legs therefore missed the iconic “Different for Girls” but I assume caught “Steppin’ Out” and “Is She Really Going Out with Him” – and sadly that’s just about where my limited knowledge of the Joe Jackson oeuvre ends, although I always coveted a pair of those cool, Cuban-heeled, side-laced pointy-toed Beatle boots that adorned one of his early albums. Maybe in a more utilitarian black not white though, after all I’m not a total fop.
Anyway, Crazy Legs saw enough of the show to highly recommend it and I’ll be taking heed of his warnings not to arrive late for my hugely anticipated trip to see the mighty Shearwater in some pokey hole on the banks of the Tyne later this month.
Readying ourselves to ride out we held back as we noticed a late arriving cyclist carefully weaving his way through the traffic and street furniture toward us. “Who’s that?” someone asked.
“It’s that Scottish feller” Crazy Legs finally determined
“Yeah,” I agreed, “The one from Ireland.”
Oh hell, I guess they’re all Celts, aren’t they?
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
As we reached the café my lobster mitts finally succumbed to the weather and cold water began to seep through their linings. We decided that the holy grail for cyclists were fully waterproof gloves, which seem to be an impossible dream, although G-Dawg did suggest a pair of Marigolds. Of course we agreed these would need a little Sharpie branding to make them acceptable to cyclists, but someone got there before us …
It amused me when I Googled “cycling Marigolds” and found a great picture by photographer Steve Fleming of one of our youngsters scaling Hardknott Pass during last years Fred Whitton Challenge, all the while sporting yellow gloves that the photographer purports are in fact Marigolds. I’m not wholly convinced they were, but must remember to ask.
Motor-doping was back on the agenda, along with how an engine could be so difficult to detect. I suggested the UCI set off an electro-magnetic pulse halfway up an Alpine climb, just to see who then keeled over as their motors died a sudden and brutal death. My Strava-enamoured companions were somewhat horrified by my blasphemous suggestion that someone might deliberately fritz their beloved Garmin’s.
Talk of advances in bike technology led to reminiscing about the past, when specialist winter clothing wasn’t readily available for cyclists. OGL recalled wearing old-fashioned motorcycle gauntlets with a big flared cuff, which we decided would also be suitable for a bit of on-bike falconry. Never mind motor-doping, if you could tether an Eagle Owl or Andean Condor to your bike think how many more watts you could generate? And how cool would you look in the process.
We then indulged in a wide-ranging conversation that wrapped around cycling books, old-style, rock-hard chamois leather inserts, saddle sores and the Laurent Fignon and Lance Armstrong books. OGL mentioned the traditional method of alleviating the pain of saddle sores was to cut a hole in your saddle, or ride with raw steak down your shorts.
We speculated that when Fignon lost the 1989 Tour to LeMond by an agonising 8 seconds he may have ridden the final and decisive time-trial with steak down his shorts to ease the suffering and unbearable pain from his saddle-sores.
In an “if only” moment, Son of G-Dawg suggested Fignon may have gained a small measure of consolation and revenge if he’d proffered the used steak to his victor as some sort of rare, ultra-exotic, specially prepared, luxury dish, which LeMond would unwittingly have consumed after it had been carefully tenderised by the Frenchman’s thudding backside, basted in saddle sore secretions and liberally marinated in butt sweat –a “filet fignon” if you will. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
In a discussion about under-age drinking, OGL claimed to be in the Percy Arms and playing on their darts team at the exact time Kennedy was shot. Personally I thought it was a bit suspicious that he went to such lengths just to establish an alibi.
We also learned that both Crazy Legs and G-Dawg are strangely discomfited by the sound of cotton wool tearing. I just don’t think I’m empathic and mature enough, or have the proper medical and psychological training to properly respond to such a heartfelt revelation and strange revulsion …
Strava highlighted the ride temperature in blue once I’d finished, so I’m guessing it was officially cold out there by any measure and way beyond one of Carlton’s Cold Hand Days. Despite this I woke to find the curtains sharply silhouetted against an unexpected brightness from outside. Ever the pessimist my first thoughts were that I was either a target for an attempted alien abduction, or winter had returned with a vengeance and the light was bouncing off a deep, pristine layer of snow.
Thankfully I looked out to find the garden free of both extra-terrestrial lifeforms and snow and although the ground was wet there didn’t appear to be any frost or ice. Time to ride.
Even with the initial brightness it still looked cold, so I dressed accordingly, two long sleeved base layers, jersey and jacket, digging out the massive and ridiculous (but warm!) lobster mitts.
By the time I’d breakfasted and made it outside the initial brightness had been smothered by dark and threatening clouds. A quick check of the bike, a topping up of tyre pressures and I was dropping down the hill to the valley and straight into the teeth of a sharp, stinging hailstorm.
With the hail bouncing audibly off my helmet I stopped to pull my waterproof jacket over everything else and once on it never returned to my pocket for rest of the ride.
The shower passed to leave the air still and strangely hushed, seeming to carry and amplify the odd, random sound. There was the occasional whisk-whisk of tyre on mudguard, a ripping noise as I cut through random puddles and the low, ominous hum of power cables strung high over the road.
From somewhere unseen seagulls greeted me with a chorus of raucous shrieking. Did this mean the weather over the coast was particularly bad, or just that there were richer pickings to be had amongst the rubbish inland?
Thumbs and toes turned slowly numb and then, even more slowly, recovered as I warmed to the task and started to clamber out of the valley on the other side of the river. With time for a quick pee stop (cold and ancient bladders aren’t a great combination) I arrived at the meeting place with a handful of others, including OGL, slowly recovering from last week’s illness, but not quite there yet.
There were however a couple of noticeable absentees from the “Usual Suspects” who can be relied on to try riding regardless of the weather. I assume the Red Max had finally given up an unequal fight and decided to recuperate properly from his vicious illness, while the seagulls may have had the right of it and sensibly retreated from the coast where it looked like the weather was bad enough to keep Taffy Steve penned up.
It was a small group, a baker’s dozen if you will, who finally pushed off, clipped in and rode out, for once with no lasses present, although we did encounter both Mini Miss and Shouty at various points along our route.
I dropped to my usual position, hovering near the back where I started to chat to the “Scottish-Irish” feller. He’d begun riding with the club before I joined, but had been forced to stop because of family commitments (damn kids!) and had only just started again.
I was surprised to learn he’d actually been in the North East for over 8 years as we still hadn’t managed to knock the corners off his accent. While he could almost convincingly adopt the full Geordie, indignant-dolphin-squeak (well, far more convincingly than the Profs embarrassing Dick Van Dyke type stylings) –his underlying lyrical Irishness gave it a strangely odd and musical quality.
Being a feisty feller he began telling me a tale about confronting a speeding motorist, who’d ended up calling him a “Speccy, Scottish git.” Oh hell, I guess they are all Celts after all.
The blue flashing lights of a police car warned us of trouble ahead and we were forced to creep around a massive recovery vehicle squatting across two thirds of the road. Beside it sat the attendant police car and a battered and scraped silver pick-up truck that looked like it had been driven at high speed through a concrete pipe that was too narrow for its bulk.
I’ve no idea what actually happened, but couldn’t help feeling a degree of satisfaction that at least there was one less of these vehicles on the road. I know I shouldn’t stereotype all drivers based on their cars, but my only encounter with pick-ups has been when some homicidal, willfully careless, red-necked RIM has driven them directly at us too fast down too narrow lanes, with no intention of slowing and even a hint of accelerating toward us.
Having crested the first serious climb of the day we were halted by a puncture and instead of hanging around in the cold, the still-recovering OGL sensibly took this as an opportunity to strike out early and alone for the café.
While we waited for repairs to be effected the heads of state gathered to decide a new route in OGL’s absence. I had a brief chat with beZ to try and determine why he’d given up on the bright purple saddle that provided such a, err, startling contrast shall we say, to his pink bar tape. Apparently, although it might have looked “da bomb” it was too damn uncomfortable.
I idly speculated if anyone would ever come up with a heat mouldable saddle you could pop in the oven and then straddle when still hot to form it to your own unique contours. Alternatively, I guess you could just stick a sirloin down your shorts…
We pressed on as the weather began to get a little nasty and the roads a whole lot filthier. Son of G-Dawg pointed out the coating of snow and ice lurking in the grass at the road verges, as we discussed whether we should adopt the athletics ruling on false starts and apply this to punctures – we leave you behind on the second one, even if you were in no way involved in the first.
Almost in direct response the call came up that there had indeed been another puncture and we pulled over to wait before finally deciding to split the group. beZ and Aether went back to help out with the repairs and the remaining nine pressed on.
In horrible sleet and frozen rain we scaled the Trench, negotiated the dip and clamber through Hartburn and suffered the drag and grind from Angerton to Bolam Lake. From here speed started to build as the café beckoned, with Captain Black in fine form and continually driving us along from the front.
At the last corner three consecutive fast commutes in a row and the exertions of the day took their toll and I drifted off the back to finir sur la jante and in need of a quick caffeine fix.
Despite being royally beasted in the café sprint, when we hit the climb out of Ogle on the return home, my contrary legs felt suddenly transformed and I floated up it effortlessly.
We were then blasted by a sudden and harsh blizzard of wet stinging snow that lashed down, striking exposed skin like a hundred tiny micro-injections of novocaine which stung and then almost instantly turned flesh numb. With the likelihood of the weather worsening I decided to turn for home early and cut off a few miles by looping over, rather than under the airport.
Now I was able to ride at a good pace as if my legs had settled on a steady and comfortable rhythm. I found myself clipping along at a surprising 17-18mph even as the road started to tilt upwards, my momentum only occasionally interrupted when I slowed to wipe occluded lenses clear of the wet, clinging snow.
I took the long, hated grind up past the golf course in the big ring, and kept the pace high right until the descent down to the river. For some reason this winter has been especially hard on brake blocks and here I found braking that had been fine in the morning when I set out had become decidedly sketchy in the cold and wet.
Having trouble scrubbing off speed quickly, I eased gingerly downhill, pulling hard on the brakes all the way, despite the icy flood that welled from my waterlogged gloves every time I squeezed the levers.
Swinging across the river I pushed along until the next hill beckoned where progress was slightly interrupted. I’m usually quite content with the thumb operated shifters on my old Sora groupset, but the combination of cold, wet and numb fingers coupled with bulky lobster mitts meant I couldn’t drop down onto the inner ring without stopping and using my right hand to forcibly click the lever down.
With this task finally, if not smoothly accomplished, I scrabbled quickly up, away from the river and swung left for the last few miles home.
Considering I was carrying what felt like an extra 6 or 7 kilo in my waterlogged socks, gloves and jacket, the climb up the Heinous Hill was relatively accomplished. As I ground up the last but steepest ramp another punishing hail shower swept in, pinging off my helmet with a sound like frozen peas being poured into an empty pan.
Stung into action by the hail, I watched the white streak of one of our cats shoot across the neighbour’s front lawn at high speed before launching himself headfirst through the cat flap and disappearing with a loud clatter.
Shelter seemed like a sensible idea and I swiftly followed, temporarily abandoning the Peugeot in favour of a hot shower with bike drying and cleaning set for some indeterminable future when the weather improved.
YTD Totals: 861 km /535 miles with 8,519 metres of climbing