Tinselitis and Other Chaffin’ Nonsense

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

Ride Profile

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

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

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


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

“I’m gonna ‘gram them,” he declared.

“Huh?” I asked brightly.

“Gram them,” he repeated.

I still had no idea what he was saying.

“Eh?”

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

“Oh. Ah. Right. Instagram”

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

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

“Aren’t your hands cold?” I wondered.

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

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

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

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

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

“Ugh! What’s this?”

“Oh Mum! Onan’s been at it again.”

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

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

“Huh?” the Monkey Butler Boy asked brightly.

“Window.” I told him.

“Eh?”

He still had no idea what I was saying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Paul Dorman©

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

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


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

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SLJ does an ITT

SLJ does an ITT

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!)

Temperature:                          19°C

Weather in a word or two:     That gentle summer breeze? That was actually a hurricane.


TT
The Infamous M105 TT Course


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.”

I went.

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.


SLJ ITT


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

Socks and Watts

Socks and Watts

Club Run, Saturday 4th August, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 117 km / 72 miles with 1,216 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 20 minute

Average Speed:                                26.9 km/h

Group size:                                        28 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   22°C

Weather in a word or two:          Not bad.


 

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Ride Profile


It looked like being a disappointing day, with plenty of cloud cover, little wind and the temperature struggling to top out around 17°C first thing. What am I saying … at any other time I would suggest this was perfect cycling weather … if we not been utterly spoiled by weeks and weeks of clear blue skies and ever-present sun.

Nonetheless, I was feeling pretty good, so decided to thrash my way westwards, cross the river and then thrash my way east again. It probably looked really ugly, but the pace was decent and it was fun, until I had to climb out of the valley and found out just how tired my legs now were. Still, I managed to just about recover and made the meeting point in good time.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Monkey Butler Boy was joining us for the start of the run, before meeting up with his delinquent Wrecking Crew for some rough, adolescent bonding and mutually appreciative denigration. His latest wage packet had been spent on some (surely too-tall to be stylish) glaringly white and super-expensive aerosocks.

He complained they were ridiculously tight and uncomfortable and I wondered if their main benefit was in cutting off blood supply to the feet, so toes turn gangrenous and drop off – a marginal, if somewhat extreme, weight saving.

But no, apparently the socks were engineered to manage air flow and, ahem, “reduce the low pressure behind the leg that sucks you backwards.” (Manufacturers hyperbole, but my emphasis.)

“Each sock can save me up to 3 watts!” the Kool-Aid imbibing Monkey Butler Boy declared.

“I’ve tried to persuade him that if he wears 5 pairs he can save 30 watts,” the Red Max concluded dryly.

At this point, the Monkey Butler Boy discovered he’d been sitting in a freshly-laid patch of finest seagull guano, that he’d then smeared all over his hands and shorts.

“Just wipe it off on your socks,” someone suggested.

“Or your shoes,” I added. (They’re still obscenely white.)

The Monkey Butler Boy decided it was best to wipe the guano off with grass, so, as the Red Max looked on it dismay, he proceeded to pull out tiny little tufts of grass and rub them ineffectively over his fingers.

Kids today, eh? They don’t even know how to wipe off shit.

I blame the parents.

As our numbers grew, I looked up and spotted what at first I thought must be a miradjee. But no, when I rubbed my eyes and looked again, the mysterious figure was still there. It was, in all reality, the unfailingly cheerful Dabman, returned to us after an absence of at least a year. In fact, the last time I recalled seeing him, he was sat on a wet road, being unfailingly cheerful while carefully holding onto his snapped collarbone.

I could tell he hadn’t been out on the bike for a long, long time as he was wearing long bibtights and obviously hadn’t received the memo stating that, temporarily at least, global warming had become an established fact in the North East of England.

Or, maybe he needed the bibtights to hold in place all the armour he’s taken to wearing, just in case he suffers another unfortunate “chute.”

Crazy Legs put in a promotional broadcast for self-flagellating masochists to take part in the club 10-mile TT that he’s kindly arranged for us next week, then G-Dawg outlined the days route in microscopic detail. We split into two packs with a re-formation planned at Dyke Neuk to decide options and away we went.


I joined the, this time smaller, front group. It was still a bit chillier than I would have liked, but the temperature was starting to creep slowly upwards and I’d reluctantly persuaded myself to part with my arm warmers.

As we took the road toward the Cheese Farm, those at the back announced the second group was closing rapidly and was in danger of catching us. I could only surmise the Red Max was on the front of the second group, his seeker-head was pinging with active targets to chase down and he was in full-pursuit mode. I didn’t dare think about the number of complaints his pace was likely to be generating from those hanging on his wheel behind.

We decided we would be safe if we could reach the sanctuary of Bell’s Hill, reasoning we could then open up a bigger gap on the climb, and so it proved.


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A sharp left-hand turn at Dobbie’s Debacle, reminded Crazy Legs that he’s intent on naming and mapping all the places where we’ve donated skin, blood, expensive lycra and sprinklings of aluminium and carbon-fibre to enhance the road surface.

Dobbie’s Debacle is the place where I’d slid out at low speed, taking down Taffy Steve on his brand, spanking-new Titanium love-child and putting a terminal hairline fracture into the top-tube of my Focus Cayo. Well, terminal for me anyway – the Prof had taken away the frame, self-repaired it and so birthed the Frankenbike.

There’s a whole host of other landmarks that deserve commemoration too, such as Horner’s Corner, which sadly isn’t a corner (why let the facts get in the way of a good name) but the straight stretch of road where the Plank and Red Max touched wheels during a café sprint, with disastrous, but quite predictable consequences.

Crazy Legs remembered our Icecapades, beautifully choreographed, all-fall-off-in-sequence efforts to rival any Dancing on Ice number. We have both common and a posh varieties of these (based on average house prices in the locale of the accident).

Then, of course, how could we forget the time OGL inexplicably and for no apparent reason, simply fell over while riding in a straight line …

My own notable occasions might include the roundabout, where a Polish girl (who for some reason no longer rides with us) hurled herself to the ground, in what seemed to be a desperate attempt to escape from Cowin’ Bovril.

Or, perhaps the time Princess Fiona was ambushed by a sheep in a Ghillie suit (Righty-Tighty-Lefty-Loosey and the Ovine Menace).

Or, maybe the numerous places where the Dabman has perfected the fine art of, in his own words, “hitting the ground like a sack of spuds”.

But, without doubt the most memorable was on one freezing, poorly attended winter ride, when half a dozen of us turned down a lane we didn’t know was a single, smooth sheet of ice … or, at least we didn’t know until G-Dawg went sailing past everyone … on his arse … followed two seconds later by his supine bike. Somehow, Aether managed to stay upright, steer into the grass verge and stop, while the rest of us all came clattering down, one by one, like dominoes in a row. Good times!

As planned, we reached Dyke Neuk and paused there to allow the second group to join us. I then followed a smaller, break-away section for a route that would see us descending down the Trench and then dragging our way out again via, Ritton Bank, the Rothley Lakes climb and Middleton Bank.

As we worked our way along the valley floor as prelude to this series of climbs, Crazy Legs and Biden Fecht started dancing with much exaggerated, synchronised finger waggling and then Biden Fecht took to bobbing up and down in the saddle.

“Is that your Dan Martin, on the attack, or a pecking chicken impersonation?” I asked, before realising I’d just described two almost identical things. My ignorance was met with great disdain from Biden Fecht, as apparently I’d witnessed, but failed to recognize his sexy, Beyonce-style dance routine.

Rrriiiiiggghhht …

We stayed in compact group until the top of Ritton Bank, when everyone swung left before the summit, apart from Crazy Legs who pushed on for some added miles. At the next junction, we swept downhill, before starting the long slog up to Rothley Crossroads. Caracol, Andeven and Rab Dee had pinged off the front and we became split-up and strung out as we started about 4 kilometres of climbing, with one or two spicy sections of over 16%.

Ahead of me, Caracaol and Andeven pressed on at pace, while Rab Dee dropped back to check on the backmarkers. A creaking Rainman (he claimed it was his cleats, but I suspect it was his protesting knees) caught and passed me on the drag up and we started a strange little ritual, where I would claw my way slowly up to him and then he’d dig a little deeper and pull away again. Nonetheless, I was able to keep him just about within striking distance, until the road finally relented and started to tip down again.

Rainman pulled over just past the Rothley Crossroads, seemingly intent on regrouping with the rest, but I was on a charge and swept straight by. He finally abandoned all pretence of gallantry and gave chase, latching on to my wheel and recovering from his efforts, before we started to work together.

I say work together, but this was implicit, rather than a well-formulated and agreed plan. I think we were both simply going as hard as we could, for as long as we could, just to see where we would end up, or if we could actually kill each other.

I thought we were all alone on the road, well apart from the vole that darted under our wheels at one point. Just behind though, Biden Fecht was chasing furiously and behind him, Rab Dee was also trying to close us down, having first checked the backmarkers were being shepherded safely home by G-Dawg and the Colossus.

A leg-burning ascent of Middleton Bank put us on the path for the café and we started to share turns a bit more fluently, even if my stints on the front were necessarily shorter. They were enough anyway to keep the pursuers at bay. I buried myself over the rollers and took us down to the final, cruel drag up to the café, rounded the corner and I was done, cooked and flailing as Rainman pulled away at the last.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We learned Princess Fiona had booked the wrong return flight for an upcoming trip to Geneva. Apparently, the return was booked for not just the wrong time, the wrong day and the wrong date, but the wrong month.

We tried to rationalise how easy the mistake could be. Was it the right day, but the wrong month and she’d just clicked too far on the calendar?

No.

Was it one of those scrolling menus, where you might inadvertently cause the date to roll over if you accidentally brushed the screen in the wrong way?

No.

Had the flights been changed at short notice by the operator, causing confusion and a bit of last-minute panic?

No.

“Well,” I had to conclude, “Looks like you just fucked up.”

Others confessed to their own flight fuck-ups, probably just to make her feel better. Biden Fecht won this particular contest by bizarrely suggesting he turned up at Heathrow Airport, very, very early one morning, to catch a flight from Aberdeen to London.

Post-Toady France, pre-Premiership, Richard of Flanders bemoaned the lack of sporting distraction available once he got home this afternoon. I tried to sell everyone on the Clásica San Sebastián, which looked to have a strong field, including some potential winners I highlighted, such as Egan Bernal, Mikel Landa and Pierre Latour.

I don’t know what sort of strange-voodoo hex I put on these unfortunates with my casual name-dropping, but all three of them crashed out the race with serious injuries that’ll keep them off the bike for weeks.

I’m just pleased I didn’t mention deserved winner, Julian Alaphillipe, who took the honours with a searing uphill acceleration to bridge across to Bauke Mollema, who was then easily dispatched in a final sprint. I’m struggling to understand how the classy Alaphillipe can climb with such grace, power and speed, but never seems to trouble the GC, even in week long stage races (with the exception of his 2016 Tour of California win).

The sun began to break through the cloud cover as we gathered to head home, leaving one table including G-Dawg, the Colossus and the late arriving Crazy Legs, behind to enjoy some extended blathering.  


As we started up Berwick Hill, the Red Max surged to the front, blinked in surprise and looked around somewhat bewildered.

“Agh! What am I doing up here?” he plaintively asked.

“You’ll get a nose-bleed, if you’re not careful,” I advised.

“I’ll just get me coat,” he replied and slipped back again.

According to Princess Fiona, Caracol then called out an admonition of “Steady!” before he surged away off the front while everyone else hesitated. I worked to slowly close the gap, pulling the rest along behind me, although not without causing a few fissures in the group.

We pushed over the top and regrouped as we sped down the other side and up through Dinnington. Caracol then threw me another curveball, swinging left with the rest of the group, leaving me on the front as we entered the Mad Mile, although at a more sedate pace than usual in the absence of G-Dawg and the Colossus.

I split away from the rest and made my way steadily upwards and then down again to the river. Crossing the bridge and climbing up to the traffic lights, a group of riders flashed through the junction ahead, so naturally I felt compelled to give chase.

The group split at the next roundabout, but I tracked a couple through Blaydon and caught and passed them just before Shibdon pond, only to be stopped short by some temporary traffic lights. As we waited, another, larger group of cyclists joined us and I found myself uncomfortably at the head of a large peloton. No pressure then.

The light changed and I led everyone off, through the roadworks, across the last roundabout and up to the traffic lights at the bottom of the Heinous Hill. I waited for a break in the traffic and then started the climb.

One of the riders surged past, but I didn’t respond, which was just as well as he turned off for the Pedalling Squares café, while I still had the rest of the hill to scale. I assumed the rest also followed him, drawn away by the promise of good cake and coffee, so once again I found myself alone, tacking steadily upwards and home.


YTD Totals: 4,665 km / 2,899 miles with 57,923 metres of climbing

Hard Way Home

Hard Way Home

Club Run, Saturday 28th July, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  114 km / 71 miles with 1,237 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 20 minute

Average Speed:                                26.3 km/h

Group size:                                         19 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    21°C

Weather in a word or two:          Hot and cold


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Ride Profile (with Garmin rain adjustments!)


Some blog posts flow easily and just seem to write themselves. I don’t quite understand how or why, but this was one of them and consequently way ahead of schedule, even by my incredibly lax standards.

The run across to the meeting point this week was wholly uneventful and unsurpassingly dull, both physically and metaphorically. It was all carried out under grey and cloudy skies and the ever-present threat of a shower.

I did notice the wind picking up as I slipped back down the other side of the river and began to clamber up and out of the valley, but for the time being it was more a cooling help, than a hindrance.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

At the meeting point, the Garrulous Kid proclaimed complete mental and physical exhaustion, having been away all week at some kind of school camp in the darkest wilds of Pickering, North Yorkshire. Here he had been thoroughly dissolute and debauched, staying up until after 10pm almost every night – and even drinking a beer.

He said it had been a terrible ordeal, buried in a deep, dark, valley where a thready and intermittent, phone signal could only occasionally be found and even then you had to venture out beyond the chicken coop. As a consequence, he’d felt strangely dislocated, cut off from the real world and removed from all important news.

I wondered what he felt he had particularly missed out on, the spreading canker of unconscionable, Trump venality? The tangled, Gordian knot of the infinite-seeming Brexit negotiations? The growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen? Perhaps, the delicately balanced and fraught elections in Zimbabwe?

Nope, his actual concern seemed to be that Demi Lovato had apparently OD’d and he’d not known about it for 2 whole days …

He then began telling us something about Chris Hemsworth.

“Who?” I enquired, looking at G-Dawg for help, but he seemed equally as unenlightened.

“The actor who played for,” the Garrulous Kid offered.

“The actor who played for what?”

“No, no, the actor who played For. Tee-Haitch-Oh-Arr, as in For: Ragnarok,”the Garrulous Kid persisted.

“Oh. Sorry, no idea…”

(I was going to complain about his use of “haitch” instead of “aitch” but practical experience slapped me hard in the face and I realised it would be a hiding to nothing.)

Apparently, the people who ran the school camp had given the Garrulous Kid a brand new nickname, to go along with the 13 or so bestowed upon him by this here, humble blerg and his cycling companions.

Rather worryingly, he didn’t like this new one, either…

Crazy Legs has found watching the ITV coverage of the Toady France a bit of an ordeal, principally because of the constant, ire-inducing, Watchfinders sponsorship: corporate strapline (hah!) “There’s always someone stupid enough to squander a princely sum so they can have a big, ugly, garish and gaudy lump of bling strapped to their wrist, even when it’s not new.”

His complaint was not only with the ad showing someone changing a front wheel while committing the cardinal sin of laying the bike upside down, but why someone who could obviously afford a super-nice bike, along with a  big, ugly, garish and gaudy lump of bling strapped to their wrist, should have to ride so painfully slowly.

Perhaps the watch is so heavy it weighs them down, or maybe it’s so expensive they daren’t ride any faster in case they fall off and smash it to smithereens? Or, perhaps they ride slowly so people can see the watch and admire their exquisite, understated style and exemplary taste?

Finishing his mini-rant, our planner and ride leader for the day, Crazy Legs, outlined the route and decided that, with a relatively compact 19 riders, we would roll out as one.

Somewhere along the way we’d be picking up the Colossus, but Richard of Flanders declared he was only out for the first hour, so numbers seemed manageable.


Apparently though, we were still a major and inconvenient impediment to rightful and righteous road-users and, while skirting the airport, we had to suffer a punishment pass from an arse-hat in a horn-blaring, black Range-Rover, sweeping by inches from my elbow as he overtook us around a blind bend. Dick.

One of our guys was wearing shoe covers and revealed he’d checked the BBC hour-by-hour forecast and, for each hour for the rest of the day, there was a 40-60% chance of rain. By his reckoning this was as good as a guarantee that, sooner or later, we were in for a right soaking.

Still suffering from a long-term, persistent chest-infection, Crazy Legs sounded like a consumptive raddled with tuberculosis, hacking away before spectacularly ejecting a bolus of vivid green mucous that would hit the road with a wet splat, like a fully-loaded pizza dropped face down from a great height.

After we’d swapped out the Colossus for Richard of Flanders, Crazy Legs set about organising an autobus for any riders not at 100%, finding the pace too high, or wanting a shorter, more relaxed run to the café. After a bit of horse-trading and negotiation, this groupetto formed at the back of our group and then they eased to allow smooth separation.

With reduced numbers, we pushed on, until force of habit had us swinging right at Matfen for our usual run to the Quarry. We were called back by G-Dawg, as this wasn’t today’s official route and everyone bar the Garrulous Kid turned around to get back to the plan. The Garrulous Kid wandered away for one of his solo romps that always make G-Dawg wonder why he bothers riding with us in the first place. The rest of us re-grouped and pressed on.

Pushing on the front alongside G-Dawg, we took the newly re-laid, back road up the village of Ryal. It seems to have lost most of the loose chippings from its surface, not that it mattered anyway, as Taffy Steve and his unique combination of frame geometry and sticky tyres were absent today and our passage was wholly without incident.

From the village we regathered, before pitching down the Ryals, hitting speeds over 65kph. Planning ahead, G-Dawg had swapped out his deep section carbon rims especially for this descent as, on at least two, previous occasions he’s battled terrifying speed wobbles, tearing down this road.

At the bottom, we swung first right for the sharp clamber up through Hallington and one of my favourite sections of road. As we reached the junction at the other end, we were peppered with a stinging, sudden shower and rain jackets were quickly pulled out and deployed.


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At this point, we lost two more, as Rab Dee set off for home and Andeven went for a longer ride.

Ten minutes later and hot from yet more climbing, the sun broke out and jackets were quickly discarded again. We reportedly had it much better than our other group, as although separated by just a few odd miles, they were caught in a sustained hailstorm, while we only got a bit damp around the edges.

Swinging right just before Capheaton, we followed the dogleg route to the short, steep and painful Brandywell Bank climb, which spat us out onto the road down to the Snake Bends.

The speed ratcheted up and we were dragged from two abreast into one single file, riding hell-for-leather down the white lines in the middle of the road to try and avoid all the pots and cracks in the tarmac, which seem to be multiplying on a weekly basis.

I hung grimly onto the back of this compact, ultra-fast group, as Caracol, Rainman and the Colossus tried to outdo each other in a flat out sprint. Then we were sitting up and easing through the bends and onto the main road.

G-Dawg, hit the front and drove the pace up a notch and then I followed, before ceding to Caracol and then, G-Dawg again, as we closed rapidly on café and a much deserved break for coffee and cake.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

It was black bin bags all round, to sit on at the café as we were rather water-logged and, as I mentioned to the Colossus, each a couple of pounds heavier than when we set out.

G-Dawg revealed that, despite changing his wheels, he still had a heart-stopping speed wobble on the descent of the Ryals, so his deep-section, carbon rims weren’t the cause.

He’s now at a loss to explain the reason and not sure how to fix it, other than changing a few things and constantly hurling himself downhill to see if it makes a difference. As this would involve deliberately trying to induce a speed wobble, I can understand his reticence to investigate further.

The Colossus showed us video from up the coast of the impressive thunderstorms that had washed over us during the night. G-Dawg reported these had been so intense, the pre-season game between Sunderland and Middlesbrough – (I almost made the mistake of calling it a “friendly”) – had been abandoned, for fear of lightning strikes.

“Sunderland can’t really afford to lose any players,” G-Dawg concluded.

“Sunderland can’t really afford to lose any fans, either,” I suggested and G-Dawg wearily agreed.

Talk turned to more edifying sporting spectacles, in particular the Toady France, where I found unlikely sources of sympathy for two of the pelotons more maligned riders. Carlton suggested he was close to tears, when he realised Chris “Puff Daddy” Froome wasn’t going to win for a fifth time, while the Rainman was rooting for “Old Stoneface” Quintana, well, if a certain big Dutchman wasn’t going to take the title.

Caracol seemed most impressed with Primoz Roglic, but was worried that, sooner or later, he was going to do that ski-jump landing celebration on the podium, one foot forward, arms flung wide, and smack both podium girls in the face at once.

Personally, I don’t think anyone is ever going to top Sondre Hols Enger’s podium dance as a celebration…   

… and, no matter how dangerous Roglic’s manouver, anything has to be an improvement on Nibali  wiggling his fingers on top of his helmet in an extremely cheesy approximation of a shark fin.

Someone mentioned the women’s team kit with flesh coloured panels that made them look as if they were half-naked. The Rainman thought there was a new male variant, based apparently on a lime coloured mankini … and I sensed possibilities for a new club jersey…

Everyone had their own version of the worst jersey ever, Castorama dungarees got a mention, along with Carrera fake-denim, though somewhat surprisingly no one mentioned the brown shorts of AG2R.

Carlton disliked the super-bright, super-colourful Mapei kit, but conversely this was one of G-Dawg’s favourites and a serious contender for his next jersey purchase. 

As we were tidying up as a prelude to leaving, the Garrulous Kid swung by and informed us he’d met up with the Crazy Leg’s grupetto just before the café, but had ridden right past them. We expressed some disapproval that he hadn’t lent his efforts to helping them out, but he insisted Crazy Legs himself had told him to ride on.

The Colossus nodded in understanding, then proceeded to give what we felt was probably a highly accurate re-enactment of what Crazy Legs had actually said, while shooing the Garrulous Kid up the road.

“Oh, go away … No, further … Further … Further still. Look, keep riding until you can’t hear my voice…”

We continued gathering our things, plonking wet helmets onto heads and squeezing fingers into sodden gloves. Quite unpleasant.

I started collecting the black bags to hand in. “Hey, “ the Colossus called, “You know you could almost use those to put rubbish in, as well.”

Good shout, I should probably mention that to the staff next time…


Outside and for the first time in about six or seven weeks, it actually felt cold, we were shivering and impatient to get away to warm up. We now found the wind had strengthened considerably and it was a real struggle on the front. It wasn’t all bad though, having blown up from the south and torn the clouds apart, so at least we had some bright and warm patches too.

Crazy Legs and Caracol drove us up and over Berwick Hill, before G-Dawg and Andeven took over, battling head on into the wind as we worked our way around the perimeter of the airport. Crowds lined either side of the road, perhaps drawn there, I thought, to witness the edifying, unequal battle of man against the elements.

But no, they were actually there for some plane spotting, as the airport was being used as a staging post for the Sunderland Airshow.

I was painfully reminded of this by the sustained, ear-shattering shriek of military jet engines, which someone said belonged to the Red Arrows, screaming down the nearby runway to take off in formation. I’ve no reason to doubt them, but I looked all around the sky and totally failed to spot any of the tell-tale, bright red, BAE Hawk’s, or anything else for that matter.

With G-Dawg visibly flagging in his unequal battle with the wind, Crazy Legs and Caracol took over on the front again and drove us down to the Mad Mile. There, I hung on the wheels until the last minute, before swinging away at the roundabout and turning right past the rugby ground.

I was soon battling solo with the wind and then, a few turns later, trying to climb uphill with it blasting full force into my face. Finally, cresting the valley and dropping down toward the river, I found even here I had to pedal to keep my momentum up and it was hard work.

Out onto the bridge and all the signs and barriers were blown flat, laid low by the gusting wind. I clung to the guardrail to let a MTB’er ease past. He could take the expediency of just riding over all the mesh fence panels, fallen road signs and plastic barriers, trusting to his fat, tractor tyres to negotiate the obstacles safely, while I hung back to give myself space to pick my way carefully through all the windblown debris.

“Bit blowy!” he confirmed, riding smartly past. I wasn’t about to disagree.

There was just one final obstacle to overcome, a clamber up the Heinous Hill into the unrelenting headwind. Not the best way to end a ride, but we made it, finally.


YTD Totals: 4,530 km / 2,814 miles with 56,420 metres of climbing

F@@k That!

F@@k That!

Club Run, Saturday 21st July, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  108 km / 70 miles with 1,122 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 1 minute

Average Speed:                                 27.0 km/h

Group size:                                         26 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    23°C

Weather in a word or two:            Sticky hot


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Ride Profile


There was plenty of cloud cover around on Saturday to provide a bit of welcome shade from direct sunlight, but it would still be a hot and sticky day. Nonetheless, I’d reverted to type and gone back to wearing a base layer. I also got laughed at for turning up at the meeting point in arm warmers. I explained it was still a bit chilly first thing, especially when your first act on climbing aboard your bike was to drop down the Heinous Hill at 35 mph, but the excuses weren’t washing.

I’ve seen many odd things discarded on the roads while riding a bike, but today was the first time I’ve ever encountered a saw. A saw? How did that end up there? I swept carefully around it, giving myself plenty of room to avoid the pointy side.

The bridge over the river now has new kerbs to go with its all new shiny tarmac – still a bit fur coat and no knickers though, as there remains a gaping hole at one end.

I was feeling relatively sprightly when I hit the other side, so wound things up and carried my speed up the climb out of the valley, netting a string of new Strava PR’s and arriving at the meeting point much earlier than expected.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point

Wednesdays Circus Maximus hit-outs were a hot topic, with participants convinced their collective efforts are closing in on netting someone a Strava KOM … or a myocardial infarction… I guess whichever comes first. There’s only a few more weeks planned to get there too.

There was some discussion about BMC Racing being saved by its amalgamation with CCC Sprandi Polkowice. I liked pro-rider, Michael “Rusty” Woods’ comment that no matter who the main sponsor would be, he’d be referring to them as BMCCCC from now on. I guess when you ride for EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale you know a thing or two about snappy team names. Nevermind BMCCCC, I think I’ll be referring to them as B1400.

News from Kermit was that the insurance company couldn’t find a suitable, child’s size TCR Giant 2 anywhere in the UK, so they’d offered him a £2,800 TCR Giant 1 instead. Score.

Not all good news though, as both our designated drivers, Kermit and Goose had been hit with speeding tickets from our Pyrenean adventures.

Goose was anxious to compare notes to try and determine if they both fell foul of the same speed trap. Being true cynics, we both felt this was probably located just outside the car hire compound in the airport, ideally placed to catch those struggling with unfamiliar cars, left hand drives and finding an unknown destination on foreign roads, all the while trying to remember which side of the road to drive on.

Jimmy Mac outlined the route for the day, amid the usual grumbling from the usual quarters and we split into two. Once again the bulk of riders went with the first group, so I hung back to even out the numbers.

OGL started complaining about routes that involved backtracking, or, even more bizarrely, riding into a headwind. Other than circumnavigating the entire planet, we couldn’t think of anyway to avoid a headwind at some point along the way and, as the Red Max explained, all routes must necessarily involve a degree of backtracking, otherwise we’d never get home.

Sneaky Pete sneakily suggested an AGM would be a great opportunity to air out any differences, discuss options and make the runs better for everyone. Once again though we were told it was pointless doing something different, or even discussing it, as nothing ever changes.


Saturday irregular Another Engine seemed confused by the split, initially went with the first group, but was soon detached and ended up chasse-patate in the no-mans-land between the two groups. We finally picked him up and as he dropped back, admitting he was totally confused by the new arrangements – a confusion that will no doubt be seized upon as grist to a certain mill.

Our route took us pretty much along the same route as last week’ but without the there-and-back loop through Twizzel. At one point Sneaky Pete took a sneaky short-cut to Walton, arriving there in time to wave through our first group, before hunkering down to wait to rejoin everyone in the second group.

Somewhere along the way we lost OGL and the headwind deniers and the ride became much faster and smoother as a result.

We then reached Dyke Neuk and called a halt to reassess our several options. “The published route, goes left here down toward the bottom of the Trench, which we then have to climb up,” The Red Max relayed.

“I must admit, I looked at it and could only thing of two words,” he continued, “Fuck. That.”

“Ok, what’s your considered opinion, now?”

“Fuck that.”

That seemed clear enough and succinctly put, so we decided to forego the dubious pleasures of the Trench and route through Hartburn and on to Middleton Bank instead.


fthat


Avoiding a ravaged road leading down to Middleton Bank, I dropped back through the group, just before the climb. This seems to be my (un)usual modus operandi for this climb, a strange habit I’ve apparently adopted, although I’ve no idea why.

Captain Black led the charge up the steepest ramps and I accelerated onto his wheel as we went over the top. We pushed on toward the cafe at a steady pace, with everyone latching on behind as best they could.

Captain Black then injected some pace and did a big pull at the front, I did a turn and then Taffy Steve took over, droving us through Milestone Woods and up to the foot of the rollers. I took over again and ripped over the ramps, down the other side and onto the final climb to the cafe.

Rounding the last corner I pulled over and sat up at the exact moment Captain Black put in a massive, perfectly timed, out-of-the-saddle attack, quickly opening up a big gap which I had no chance of closing.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Much of the discussion around the table was focused on the Toady France, with Taffy Steve sympathising with Richie Porte, sitting all alone, embittered and unloved somewhere in Tasmania, snarling at images of Geraint Thomas and telling anyone who’ll listen that he, Richie Porte, used to be that erstwhile, hapless and crash-prone second lieutenant who had great potential but always faded, or had un jour sans in the third week of a Grand Tour.

The phenomena that is Peter Sagan received some attention, including his YouTube clips of his core workout  and Sagan Parking. So used to seeing him in green, or yellow, or his national jersey, or World Champion bands, we tried to remember if we’d ever seen him in standard Bora-Hansgrohe kit.

(A quick Google suggests that, astonishingly, the last time Sagan raced in a standard team jersey (other than in a time trial) was in the Tour de Suisse in 2011!!!)

Caracol bemoaned that Sagan had suffered such misfortune in the Olympic mountain-bike event – he would have liked Sagan to unzip the maillot jaune to reveal the maillot vert … which he’d then unzip to reveal the Slovak champions jersey … which he’d then unzip to reveal the rainbow bands … which he’d finally unzip to reveal an Olympic medal, nestled in a luxurious nest of chest hair à la Mark Spitz.

I did suggest that Sagan might struggle to win the World Championships this year which looks hugely mountainous. The table were universally horrified at my lack of faith.

While Sagan was living up to expectations in the Tour, Nairo Quintana has looked a spent force, much to Caracol’s disgust as he reasoned Old Stoneface had the best poker-face in the entire peloton, never looking like he was suffering, never smiling, never looking surprised, or angry, or happy, or upset.

In fact, I was surprised no one else had seen the Quintana sex-tapes – where he wore the exact same expression throughout, even when reaching the …err, apogee of pleasure.

OK, I made that bit up.

I told them that Just Pro Cycling blogger, Mike Franchetti, once previewed Stage 9 of this year’s Giro by suggesting it would be won by Vasil Kiryienka riding away from Dayer Quintana in the final kilometre. Kiryienka would then be met at the finish by Nairo Quintana and challenged to a staring contest in order to avenge his brother’s defeat.  Mr. Franchetti concludes that: “After three and a half hours, Kiryienka blinks.”

I felt that Quintana wasn’t particularly loved or appreciated within Movistar who would always favour Spaniards such as Landa or Valverde over the enigmatic Colombian – hence the ridiculous and unworkable three-leader trident at the Tour.

“I just don’t think he’s very happy at Movistar,” I suggested.

“But, obviously no one can tell!” Caracol concluded, before suggesting that behind the blank mask, Quintana was probably crying out for help and possibly even passing around notes in the peloton that simply read, “Help! Sign me. Save me.”

Sneaky Peter returned from the café, rather perturbed by the posters he’d found in there that declaimed Beware the Grey. We wondered what it was they had against us, until we realised the message was aimed at grey squirrels displacing the indigenous reds and not auld git cyclists.


The return home was punctuated by another burn up Berwick Hill and, as we we swung onto the road toward Dinnington, I took over at the front alongside The Ticker, owner of the loudest freehub in the club since Shouty left for pastures new. We slowed long enough to allow everyone to regroup, then smashed it up through Dinnington and around the back of the airport, netting another PR along the way.

I set off for my solo ride home and arrived still feeling good enough to have actually ridden, rather than grovelled up the Heinous Hill.

Woohoo.


YTD Totals: 4,416 km / 2,744 miles with 55,183 metres of climbing

Chevauchée Pyrenees – Day #4: Time for Business

Chevauchée Pyrenees – Day #4: Time for Business

 

Ride 3, Sunday 24th June, 2018

Hautacam and Col de Tramassel

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                       40 km / 25 miles with 1,286 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                               2 hours 17 minutes

Average Speed:                      17.5 km/h

Temperature:                         27°C

Weather in a word or two:    Hot


Hautacam
Ride Profile


Sunday morning and we meet up at the campsite entrance ready for our last day of riding. “Time for business,” Caracol mutters, setting Crazy Legs off on a Flight of the Conchords song:

It’s business
It’s business time…

Hmm, business time indeed, but first we had to wait for the Mid-Life Motorcyle Mob to clear the campsite entrance with their farting, spluttering machines. Once they’d buzzed off, trailing a cloud of exhaust fumes and waves of pungent aftershave, we mount up and ride out.

It promised to be another hot, hot day, with traffic surprisingly busy for a sleepy Sunday morning, so we had quite a delay getting out the campsite. Not that we were in any great hurry, we only had one goal today, the Hautacam and back by the most direct route and preferably in time so the boys could watch the England vs. Panama kickball game.

We snaked our way through the village, crossed a bridge over the turbulent and swift-flowing, Gave de Pau and almost immediately found ourselves heading uphill. We were planning on passing through the summit of the Hautacam and its traditional Tour de France finish and pressing on, right up to the top of the Col de Tramassel. I would understand why when we got there.

So on the menu today was a hors catégorie climb of around 16km and up to a height of 1,190 metres, running at an average gradient of 7.5%. Kermit told me it no lesser a rider than Alberto Contador had described it as one of the hardest climbs he’d ever faced, although I couldn’t find any source to support this. Anyway, I would question Contador’s judgement, after he allegedly claimed OGL was one of the greatest descenders ever to ride a bike (that’s according to OGL anyway.)

Through the village of Ayros, the gradient stiffens and the signs warn the next kilometre is at an average of 10%. We’re already slightly strung out along the road, but at this point the gaps start to seriously attenuate. Caracol and Kermit skip lightly upwards, while I lumber in pursuit of the Hammer, closing in on the steeper sections, but falling back again when the road levels – (“levels” being a purely relative term, I mean of course where the slope eases ever so slightly). The rest of our group are strung out at various points behind.

Just after the village of Arbouix, Captain Black bridges across to join me and I share his company for the next few kilometres. The gradient hits 13% through some hairpins, as we catch and pass another couple of Brits. I beg them to tell me it gets easier, even if it’s a lie.

Following the road around the perimeter of a narrow field, a couple of bare-chested farm labourers are struggling to clear out some bushes. It looks like dry, dusty and hard work. Meanwhile, just by the side of the road, their small dog lies dozing comfortably in the shade of a leafy, green tree, seemingly intent on proving that it retains all of its mental faculties and feels no need to join the Englishman out in the (near) midday sun.

Thanks Nappy

I read somewhere that the Alps are more uniform than the Pyrennees because Napoleon (once an artilleryman, always an artilleryman) had their roads engineered with regular gradients. This was to ease towing gun carriages up and down the mountains, thus enabling his need to invade sundry other countries and kill lots of their citizens.

I’ve no idea if this is true, but even by Pyrenean standards the Hautacam seems to have a point to prove. It goes out of its way to be as irregular and erratic as possible, with ramps of various pitches all jumbled together within its kilometre sections, making the average gradients all but useless when judging how hard the next section will be.

At one point, a sign declaring a 7.5% average became somewhat more foreboding when it is immediately followed by a sustained and prolonged downhill section. We knew we would be paying for this brief respite just a little further on.

“In the granny ring yet?” Captain Black enquired as we topped another steep ramp. I assured him I was and had been for a long, long time. Despite this I seemed to be climbing out of the saddle with more power and without spinning my legs quite so futilely. I attributed to the extreme steepness of the slope. Hmm…

We hit sections of 15% and 16% and the Captain slowly started to pull away. I found myself alone, again. Naturally.

As a distraction, I start counting pedal strokes between the kilometre markers and reckon there was about 750 of them, although if I’d miscounted, or even double-counted I wouldn’t have been remotely surprised.

On one, aggressively steep section, I pushed the right hand lever hard left. It was already against the stops and I knew it, but I had to try anyway, just in case a new gear had miraculously manifested.

I then glanced down and found I was still in the middle ring. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but immediately dropped onto the granny ring, although the worst of the climb seems to be behind me. I was now out beyond the tree line, rattling over another Passage Canadien and could see the road twisting and turning across the open pastureland ahead and a long trail of riders clambering up behind me.

(In)Sole of the Mountain

Off to the right I saw the totally incongruous sight of a solitary, discarded insole by the side of the road Who? What? Why? When and how? Answers on a postcard, please.

The gradient has eased back to an 8% average and, as I pass the summit sign, the road yawns wide open. It feels like I’m riding across the deck of an aircraft carrier, a flat sea of empty, rather dusty, black and featureless tarmac, capped by nothing but a blank, blue sky overhead.

When the Tour de France finishes up here, this area will be transformed into a busy finish hub, with cars and caravans, coaches, tents, barriers, crowds and the works. Right here and now though, it’s all a bit disorientating, just a big empty car park. I feel as if I’m suffering a mild attack of agoraphobia and I stop pedalling and coast, looking around for where to go next.

The two Brits I had passed further down the slope work their way up and past me and I wait to tag onto their wheels and tentatively follow, trying not to make it too obvious that I’m not quite sure where I’m going.

They find a road out of the car park and we’re back on track and set to climbing again. Another 1.5 kilometres or so up the road from the Hautacam is the summit of the Col du Tramassal, and a café promising cake and coffee. What further incentive does a man need?

I’m still feeling pretty good, so roll the chain down the cassette and attack the last few slopes, rising out of the saddle and bursting past the two Brits, who must have wondered what the hell I’d been snorting back there in the car park.

Around a final shoulder of the mountain, the road zigs and zags upwards toward the cafe, a natural amphitheatre, where our front-runners are now sitting along the crest of the slope, enjoying the sun while they look down and cheering everyone through the final few hundred metres.

I join them to encourage the others in, take a few photos and to admire the fantastic views of the Col d’Aubisque and the other snow-capped peaks across the wide-open valley. It is utterly stunning up here and it only takes a thoroughly enjoyable ride to experience it.


IMG_0294


4 Days of Bullshit

We retire to the café terrace where the question du jour is why the bear in the TV series, BJ and the Bear, was played by a monkey? We decided that the pilot probably cast a proper Grizzly in the lead role, but it proved too hard to control and savagely mauled its co-star. We then imagined the Hollywood producer-types trying to determine how best to replace the Grizzly and save their series?

“I know guys, what about an alligator? Mountain lion? Ok, ok … how about a camel?”

I have a chat with Crazy Legs who asks if I’ve enjoyed the trip. “What, four days of unadulterated bullshit? What’s not to like?”

“Ah,” he suggests, “You’ve got a blog title already.”

Briefly Airborne & Then Done

For some reason, I’m the first off on the descent and lead the way for the first three-quarters or so, until the Hammer edges in front.  As we sweep through one of the villages, I hit a speed bump and become briefly airborne.

As the road straightens, Caracol surges past, pedalling furiously and we drop onto his wheel. The three of us ride full-bore all the way back to the campsite, opening up a big gap on everyone else.

And we’re done. I can’t help thinking I’ve got another mountain or two left in my legs, but I’m pretty sure that’s just bravado.

Lost in Translation

We retire to the bar to watch the football, where England record a handsome victory, albeit built on a rather homely looking performance.

We also get the short-end of a cultural exchange with the barman. We helpfully tell him Crème Anglaise is custard in English, but he fails to reciprocate in like fashion when Crazy Legs enquires after the French equivalent of the term “built like a brick shithouse.” I guess somethings get lost in translation.

We stayed long enough to watch the start of a Grand Prix, typically the only interesting bit of these races. Sure enough, there was the usual carnage and crashes off the grid. We left shortly afterwards to ponder why they had soft, super-soft and ultra-soft tyres (I guess hard, medium and soft doesn’t sound dramatic enough, but what they’ve chosen sounds like different grades of toilet paper?)

The campsite bar is closed Sunday evenings, so we need to head into town for ravitaillement. Goose wanders off as our advance party to scout out food and drink options, while the rest disperse to start packing up our bikes.

Reg breaks down and packs away handily and with surprising ease and I wander around the campsite just to fill in some time. Here I find Caracol, struggling to fit everything into his bike box, and looking gaunt and washed-out again. He cries off from the evening’s excursion and retires to his bed, still seemingly suffering the after effects of heat stroke and his exertions across the three days.

The rest of us congregate on a chalet porch to finish off any remaining supplies and then take a two mile or so walk into the town to find Goose.

Goose Gets Paella

He’s discovered in a bar with a friendly waiter who Goose insists is Spanish, despite the lack of any kind of supporting evidence. He’s now communicating with his “new best friend” in pidgin-Spanish, even though the waiter speaks perfect English (and probably Spanish too.)

The bar is good, beer is good, company is good and the menu looks good . The only downside seems to be a bunch of English cyclists, all uniformly dressed in tuxedo-printed cycling kit (hilarious and original) and straw Panama hats. Rightly or wrongly (and I’m still leaning heavily toward rightly) we take an instant dislike to them, but luckily they’re just there to pour a few beers into their faces and soon wander away.

After days of wanting a paella, talking about paella and how best to prepare and cook paella, Goose finally gets to eat paella, which he declares is very good, very big and suitably filling.

Along with Crazy Legs, I choose the cassoulet, which is also tasty and big enough for hungry cyclists. The rest have various pasta dishes, all of which are deemed at least adequate, except for Steadfast’s lasagne, which is about the size of a choc ice and soon disappears without touching the sides. We wonder if he hasn’t accidently ordered from the children’s menu.

Goose Invents Ebola

With a big clean-up of the chalets scheduled for tomorrow, Goose describes an advert, that seemingly only he has ever seen, of someone cleaning a kitchen work top with a chicken breast. He also revealed a dark and distant past part-time job as a “professional” cleaner. Apparently, he was somewhat less than diligent and claims to have inadvertently invented MRSA and maybe Ebola too.

Carry On Regardless, Part 1.

For some reason talk turns to Carry On films, which, through the power of Google, Kermit reveals number an astonishing 31 titles!

Unfortunately, he then starts listing each one individually:

“Carry On Sergeant, Carry On Nurse, Carry On Teacher, Carry On Constable …”

“Ok, we get the picture.”

He “carries on” undaunted.

“Carry On – Follow That Camel, Carry On Doctor, Carry On Up the Khyber, Carry On Camping….

“No really, stop now.”

“But, I’m almost finished. That’s Carry On! Carry On Emmannuelle and … [dramatic pause] … Carry On Columbus.”

He takes a deep breath, “Several other films were planned and scripted, but unmade…”

“No!”

We discuss options for a trip next year, perhaps somewhere we can fly direct to from Newcastle and doesn’t include a long car transfer. Perhaps that way I won’t suffer that first night travel-sickness-thing again? (Or whatever it is.)

We have lots of ideas, but nothing is decided, well, other than to cross off Goose’s suggestion of Chernobyl as a destination. I’m sure the roads are lovely and quiet, but there are sadly no direct flights to Boryspil Airport in Kiev and even if there were, it’s still a 3 hour drive from there to Pripyat.

We wander back to the campsite. Ably assisted by good food, red wine, beer and the cumulative efforts of several days riding, sleep comes easily.

In the morning, we clean out the cabins and handover the keys. Unlike last year, there’s no forensic inspection and no accusatory interrogations and we’re free to go without even a cursory glance at our, nonetheless spotless accommodation.

We plan and execute a quick detour to take in crepes atop the Col de Peyresourde. It looks like a fantastic climb from the west and it would make it onto my bucket list if I had such a thing. The crepes were good too. I’ll be looking forward to the Tour’s super short, Stage 17 this year, which starts at Bagnères-de-Luchon and immediately tackles this route.

Then it’s the long drive to the airport, arriving in plenty of time for check-in.

Carry-on Regardless, Part 2.

As we wait to check-in Kermit starts to get antsy about his big, red, oversized carry-on bag again, convinced he’s going to be stopped and charged for exceeding his baggage allowance. He starts eyeing up the ground crew, trying to determine which one looks the most benevolent and identifying the stern, stone-faced ones he hopes to avoid – a sort of baggage Russian Roulette.

Before we make it that far, an announcement informs us that the flight will be busy, so passengers are invited to check hand baggage into the hold for free. Kermit breathes a sigh of relief. Nonetheless, he gets a ticking off from the ground crew for having such a ridiculously large carry-on bag and somehow manages to feign both innocence and remorse, as he’s relieved of his big, red burden.

I’m the last to check-in and everyone else has disappeared by the time I make my way to the over-sized baggage drop off. Five minutes on intense, unfriendly scrutiny and unnecessarily prescriptive instructions from a taciturn, French baggage handler and the bike bag goes one way and I go the other.

Plain Sailing

I catch up with the others, just before boarding and notice we’re sharing the flight with some Panama hat wearing, English cyclists that may just have tuxedo-printed cycling kit tucked somewhere in their luggage. Crazy Legs even gets to sit in the same row of seats as one of them, but is luckily buffered from direct contact by another innocent passenger playing piggy-in-the-middle. As such, his curled-lip disdain goes unremarked.

Leaving the plane, I can’t help but notice all the HSBC adverts plastering the air bridge, welcoming us to Heathrow and extolling our “United Kingdom.” I can’t help wondering if this is supposed to be ironic, or is just very badly misinformed.

De-planed (as they insist on saying in the business) we all congregate at the other end, minus Steadfast, who has already taken a flyer into the seething morass that is a hugely overcrowded, glacially slow Heathrow passport control.

We’re about to plunge into this very maelstrom ourselves, when Captain Black spots signage directing us elsewhere for our connecting flight. We find ourselves in some kind of placid, quiet backchannel, quickly passing through a fully-automated passport control system and then smoothly released into the general departure lounge.

We stop in the Wetherspoons for some food and then we’re on the last leg and being hustled on to the plane for the short hop back up to Newcastle. Well almost, Goose gets stopped at the gate and we pause to laugh at his startled, rabbit in the headlights act as he screws up the facial recognition sensors and then desperately tries to get them to recognise him.

At the other end, our baggage arrives in dribs and drabs and we depart piecemeal. As such I’m well on my way home before Kermit realises his bright green bike box isn’t going to put in an appearance.

“It’s Big & Green and Nowhere to be Seen” : Kermit

Kermit’s bike box is eventually tracked down to Zurich and is finally returned to him a few days later. Before this, however, it seems to have been fed through a threshing machine and both box and bike are badly damaged. An insurance claim is on-going, while in the meantime, Kermit has to resort to his winter-bike, at a time when we’re enjoying the longest spell of fair weather we’ve had for years.

I have a feeling though that even this isn’t going to put any of us off signing up for similar adventures if offered next year.


Chevauchée Pyrenees Totals: 228 km / 142 miles with 5,570 metres of climbing

 YTD Totals: 3,741 km / 2,324 miles with 47,054 metres of climbing

Chevauchée Pyrenees – Day #3 Do They Know Something We Don’t?

Chevauchée Pyrenees – Day #3 Do They Know Something We Don’t?

Ride 2, Saturday, 23rd June 2018

Col d’Aspin (west side) Col du Tourmalet via La Mongie

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                        125 km / 78 miles with 2,707 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                6 hours 4 minutes

Average Speed:                        20.6 km/h

Temperature:                           31°C

Weather in a word or two:   Baking


Day 2
Ride Profile


Early morning, feeling better for a good night’s rest – or at least a sustained period of unconsciousness – I still can’t face a proper breakfast, but cram down a cereal bar and as much water as I think I can hold.

Today is going to be our “Big One” – although not quite on a par to last year’s Circle of Death, it is going to be a long day in the saddle and promises to be red hot too. Hopefully I’ll fare batter. Kermit is up and fuelling on multiple bowls of cereal and the Breakfast Club are just returning from their sumptuous petit dejeuner.

We congregate at the entrance to the campsite and wend our way through a sleepy Argelès Gazost, crossing the bridge over the permanently tumultuous, Gave d’Azun. Its spray gives a pleasant, brief interlude of comfort cooling, then we’re through the town and out onto open roads under a hot sun.

The Hammer seems to be on a mission, or perhaps chasing a personal Strava segment, either way he’s winding up the pace on the front. It’s too much too soon, so in tacit, unspoken agreement with Crazy Leg’s, we give up the chase and back off to let a gap grow. Finally, the Hammer realises he’s ploughing a lone furrow and we slowly coalesce into a single group again, a cycling embolism … a slow moving clot.

Heading east, we pick our way through the anonymous commercial outskirts of a quite unremarkable Lourdes, well, at least the portion of it we traverse, well away from any of the religious razzamatazz and what we’ve been led to believe is a vast array of astonishingly nasty and tacky religious tat.

Then we swing south along a valley, following the course of the river L’Adour which Google tells me actually rises from our ultimate destination, on the slopes of the Col du Tourmalet.

We’re about 35km into the ride and the road is already starting to rise as we hit the town of Bagnères-de-Bigorre and get caught behind traffic filtering into the town centre.

Ribble Rousers Meet Again

While queuing behind the cars, a group of cyclists’ weave through the traffic and pass us. It’s the two Ribble Rousers and the cheery Dutchman on his town-bike we’d met on the Col d’Aubisque yesterday.

We find a café by the side of the road and settle in for perfectly polite elevenses. Here we have a brief chat with the Ribble Rousers, one of whom couldn’t have been half bad as he was a fellow Vittorian.

They were on their last day, just winding down and pottering around before leaving for a 14-hour, 1,500km drive home (eek!) to the Midlands. This had to include a detour via a local bike hire shop, after one of them somehow managed to destroy his gear hanger on a descent, luckily quite close to where they were staying. Naturally, whatever gear hangers the local bikes stocked, none of them had anything that would fit a Ribble

Hold on there, Bald Eagle…

We settled down for a relaxed coffee or two, each one served with a slice of the local delicacy, nougat.

“Ah, nugget!” the Hammer proclaimed, adopting the full Geordie-kid pronunciation of “noo-garr.” Brilliant. In a small corner of my heart, it will forever be nugget. Toblerone? That’s nugget, mate. Snickers? That’s nugget too. And who could forget the short-lived Texan bar in the eighties, it sure was a mighty chew.

Goose was found once again rhapsodising over cycling caps, for him the revelation of last year’s trip. They are now an essential part of his kit, worn under his helmet to protect his bare noggin from the sun.

Crazy Legs queried if Goose would turn back the clock, given the choice and return to having a full head of hair.

“I’ll have to mullet over,” Goose quipped. Ba-boom. (A front-runner in the Bad Dad Joke of the Day competition, but not the winner.)

He then revealed he never did have a mullet (“business at the front, party at the back”) – but had been known to sport an outrageously enormous flat-top. Now there’s a photo I’d like to see – if only because I can’t imagine it.

By way of the Hammer complimenting Captain Black on his baby-smooth skin and obviously first class moisturising regimen, talk turned to Steadfast’s Arse-Butter™ – which he revealed came in two varieties – Standard or European. The difference, apparently was the European version gave you a bit of tingle …

“Ooph! Have you tired that Tea Tree Oil shower gel,” Goose exclaimed. “I can’t use it, it’s too nice!”

Did he really just say that out loud?

With enough nonsense talked to keep us going for a while longer, we paid our dues and got back to the serious business of the day. We were already climbing on grades of around 5% as we reached the small village of Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, where the group decided to split.

Still suffering horribly from his chest-infection and problems breathing, Crazy Legs decided to skip the Col d’Aspin and just ride the Tourmalet. The Hammer decided this was a good plan and having himself already conquered the Aspin, decided he’d tag along too.

As a vital prelude, they decided a stop in the bar on the corner of the village square for further ravitaillement was in order, before attempting the climb. Meanwhile, the remaining six Aspin virgins set off for the lesser of the two peaks.

Six Virgins of the Aspin and the Kenny Clone

As the road climbed out of the village of Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, we passed an old bloke in a bright orange jersey, riding a touring bike, his reflection glowering at us in his mirrors as he ground his way uphill. The road dropped down and while we saved energy and free-wheeled he pedalled furiously past, only to get caught and left behind as the road ramped up yet again.

He repeated this performance a few times, until the climb stiffened and there were no more downhill interludes for him to attack. We dubbed him “Kenny” in honour of our own Szell back home, whose particularly fond of charging to the front on downhills, before fading horribly on the subsequent climb and just getting in the way. I had a feeling we’d see “Kenny” again, before the day was out.

Up we went, with nothing too testing to start with and it was a very pleasant climb, even chugging along well off the back of the group.

The ascent from Sainte-Marie-de-Campan is about 13km long and adds another 650 or so metres to the height we’d already gained, at an average gradient of 5%. The Aspin tops out at 1,489 meters, the climbing stiffens at the top with the final 5km averaging about 7.5%.

It really is a pleasant climb to begin with, up through a lush, coniferous forest that provides lots of welcome shade. In many ways it reminded me of the Col du Telegraph, although minus the thoroughly annoying Harley bikers we’d encountered on that climb last year.

Passing through the ski station at Payolle, with about 6km to go, you are out of the trees into open pastureland, with the ubiquitous Alpine cattle clanging away on all sides. At the ski station the road briefly levels out to a false flat, before kicking up appreciably and then it starts to wind all about the mountain looking for the path of least resistance.

Despite these desperate manoeuvres, it still averages over 10% in places and a kilometre or so from the top there’s a final ramp approaching 20% just to test already tired legs.

Cow Lickin’ Good

There’s nothing really at the top, besides fantastic views down both sides of the mountain. Oh, and the cows, lining up to lick any, apparently delicious, salty-sweaty cyclist who gets too close.


aspin
View from the top – Col d’Aspin


We dropped into the grass at the side of the road, resting up and taking our fill of the scenery. It was at this point that someone voiced what we’d all been thinking, “Did Crazy Legs and the Hammer know something we didn’t and should we be concerned that the only veterans of these mountains had decided to skip their chance to climb the undeniably pretty Col d’Aspin?”

We finally pulled ourselves away from the views, donned jackets for the descent and started to retrace our way back down the mountain to Sainte-Marie-de-Campan and the route up the Col du Tourmalet.

As we tipped over the crest and started to gather speed, up huffed “Kenny” – he’d made it. Chapeau to that man.

At the village, we followed the example of Crazy Legs and the Hammer, stopping for a few drinks and a quick baguette in the bar just off the village square, before filling our bottles at the water fountain, where all the local cyclists were congregating.

With a Mighty High-Ho, Silver!

Then, with a mighty, High-Ho, Silver, or maybe just a tiny whimper, depending on what you want to believe, we started our ascent of the Col du Tourmalet.

If the Aspin reminded me of the Telegraph, then the Tourmalet was the crazed, bastard half-brother of the ferocious Galibier. Likewise, it was still marred by banks of dirty snow lurking in the hollows on its upper slopes, as sure a sign of thuggishness as the wispy moustache on the over-sized, over-developed, pre-teen classroom bully.

“The Col du Tourmalet is a legendary place for cycling, steeped in history and steep in slope” read one of the many descriptions of this beast that I found.  It was the first climb above 2,000 metres ever used in a race and is the most used col of the Tour de France. By the time the peloton crests its summit this year, they’ll have been up it on 86 separate occasions.

You’d have thought they’d have learned by now.

Bad Trip

Apparently, the name “Col du Tourmalet” is often wrongly translated into English as “Bad Trip” – it might be factually incorrect, but nevertheless seems entirely fitting. At an elevation of 2,115m it is often referred to as the highest paved mountain pass in the French Pyrenees.

Starting from Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, the eastern climb is 17.2 km gaining 1,268 m at an average of 7.4%, while my Strava recorded a maximum of more than 18% on one of its many, variable slopes.

So, upwards we went and downwards we started counting the kilometre markers to the summit, again my speed seemed to vary wildly depending on the slope, or the thankfully light, but still noticeable wind.

We were soon split up and scattered over the road, and even though there was generally only a couple of hundred metres between everyone, this represented massive gaps in terms of time.

I remember passing the sign for 10km to the summit, glancing down and noticing I was riding at about 5mph and running through some quick and very rough calculations … 5 miles an hour … that’s about 8 kilometres an hour … that means it’s only going to take … another hour and a quarter.

Only going to take another hour and a quarter? Only? An hour and a quarter? Climbing all the way?

We must be mad.

At 7km from the summit, there is, apparently a memorial to Eugene Christophe at the spot where his forks broke in 1913. Nope, I can’t say I noticed.

At 6km to go, I passed through the first avalanche shelter. I didn’t trust myself to reach down and grab a drink, while keeping the bike moving in a relatively straight line, so I pulled over to the side of the road for a drink and a rest.

At this point Steadfast rode past me and I was last man, tail-end Charlie again. I remounted and rode on.

Riding with the Ghost of Gerard Manley Hopkins

At 5km to go I was passing through the ski town of La Mongie, on what I thought was one of the hardest parts of the climb. The streets were wide and open and steep and, try as I might, I couldn’t go fast enough to put the spectacularly ugly ski apartments behind me and out of sight.

Like a random collection of brown Lego bricks, dropped from a great height, this monstrous collection of jutting angles was an affront to the eyes and horribly marred the otherwise spectacular scenery. “When we hew or delve: After-comers cannot guess the beauty been,” as I like to think a suitably apoplectic Gerard Manley Hopkins might have commented as he rode past.

At 4km to go I notice an Italian tricolori off by the side of the road. A bit closer and it resolved itself into an abandoned pizza box and badly gnawed pizza. Even in my oxygen deprived, single-minded focus on keeping the pedals turning, this distracted me and raised some serious questions: Who would want a pizza out here? How did the Deliveroo rider react when told he had to make a delivery three quarters of the way up the Tourmalet? And who the hell is moronic enough to litter this astonishing landscape with fast food cartons. Arse hat.

Hot Foot to the Top

At 3kms to go, my right foot became almost unbearably hot and I developed a shooting, stabbing pain through the big toe. I stopped and let the pain slowly ebb away.

At 2kms to go, I can look up and see the summit and it’s lined with the dark shapes of a troupe of llamas, like an army of rapacious Zulus looking down on Rourke’s Drift. My wildly floating thoughts had become detached from their moorings, perhaps in a futile attempt to ignore the pain signals my body has been incessantly firing at it.  I remember hoping they weren’t an, as yet unheard of breed of feral, carnivorous llamas, then wondering if a dalai of llamas was a suitable collective noun. I know, I know. Sorry.

With less than 1 km to go, I pass a young ingénue with pigtails, looking suitably cool in a long-sleeved white jersey and pushing (?) her bike down (?) the mountain. I theatrically puff out my cheeks and slowly draw a finger across my throat. I’m cooked.

“Well done, keep going, you’re almost there,” she calls out in perfect, but slightly accented English.

She’s not lying just to encourage me, either. Round one last corner and I’ve suddenly reached the summit and the unprepossessing silver-grey sculpture of the Géant au Col du Tourmalet. It’s done.


tourmalet


I find the rest of the crew relaxing on the terrace the picturesque café at the top and wander inside to confront the horribly unfriendly staff and buy some food and drink. Even as a fully-paying customer, they refuse to fill my bidon for me, though they will sell me a bottle of water so I can do it myself. Pah!

I learn that Caracol had suffered on the climb even more than I had. Bordering on serious heat stroke, he’d been forced to take refuge in the shade of one of the avalanche shelters to try and recover. He still looked pale and raw-boned, but seemed over the worst of it.

Captain Black reported encountering the pizza-eating poltroon at a point that coincided with him unleashing a majestic and nostril-burning guff, a gaseous discharge of such epic proportions and expanding so rapidly from ground zero, that he then struggled to outpace it up the slope.

We decided the pizza-poltroon had caught a whiff of this unpleasant miasma, determined his pizza was suddenly on the turn and abandoned it in its half-eaten state. The Captain was immensely pleased to know that I though I could still detect a lingering, unpleasant smell as I passed the same spot, some minutes behind him.

As the slowest descender, Kermit begged the indulgence of being first off on the descent, reasoning we would catch him before the bottom anyway, so it would reduce our waiting time. Captain Black followed, then Goose and Caracol.

Still soaked from my efforts on the climb, I pulled on my light, windproof jacket, zipped up, counted to ten and set off in pursuit.

Down Side of Me

Well ,this bit was certainly fun, with the wind snapping at the sleeves of my jacket so they fluttered with a noise like ripping silk, I was quickly up to speed and leaning sharply round the corners.


tourmalet2


Ahead of me and still a couple of bends away, Goose and Captain Black were slowed by catching Kermit and, braking late, I rapidly closed the gap and followed them around him. I dropped into their wheels until I had a chance to slide past further down the mountain, just before the characteristics of the road started to change. Gone were the tight hairpins in favour of sweeping bends and long straights, where you could just let the bike run and quickly build up speed.

I tucked in tight and as low as I could get and started pulling back the flying Caracol, hitting 74.9km/h at one point and slowly closing the gap, churning away on the big ring whenever the pace threatened to drop. I was on terms before the descent ran out and then we were both braking hard as we swept into a built up area, before stopping to allow everyone to regroup.

Luckily, there was very little climbing left to do and the run back to the campsite was mainly flat or slightly downhill. We made good time and were very soon home and hosed.

After showering, we congregated on a porch for pre-prandial drinks and nibbles, learning that Crazy Legs had been bonding with his new chalet neighbours, a contingent of exuberantly raucous, French motor bikers, of the mid-life crisis variety. Eeh, the devils.

Around, 30 or 40 strong, the bad news was we’d be sharing the bar and our evening meal with them. The good news? The campsite was finally going to fire up the truly enormous paella pan that had proved so intriguing to Goose.

Wok-i-wok

We learned he was the proud owner of his own, oversized outdoor cooking apparatus. This he claimed was called a wok-i-wok, a cast iron behemoth complete with metre wide wok or paella pan, incorporating a giant pizza stone and barbecue grill, with the whole assembly easily convertible to a patio heater, potters wheel, garden waste incinerator or portable forge for some crude iron working.

All, shipped direct from China for a mere £150, although Goose reported that sadly, they no longer seem available. (I guess it would have been churlish of me to suggest I wasn’t surprised, as I could actually only think of one, single person who might be interested in buying such a monstrosity.)

But the revelations were by no means complete, as we then had a masterclass in the cooking the perfect giant paella in a wok-i-wok, giant paella pan. The secret apparently is all down to layering – all ingredients have to be prepared in advance and then layered into a extra large Lakeland, Tupperware pail (I think this was a grandiose way of saying a bucket) – but, and here’s the trick, they have to be added in the reverse order to which they’ll be used.

Talk turned to the local cattle, complete with their clanging bells, which Goose presumed were only put on the Alpha Males of the herd. It was time to strike for Bad Dad Joke of the Day and with no shame I accepted the challenge – “I don’t know why they need bells, they’ve all got horns.” (I don’t think I’ll be invited back next year.)

A suitable point to retire for dinner…

In the bar the giant paella pan had been fired up for the Mid-Life Motorcycle Mob, piquing the interest of Goose, who naturally had to get involved and share tips and secrets with the taciturn cook. He was especially intrigued by one ingredient a huge quantity of a bright red elixir, which he guessed was some super-exotic, local speciality, that would give the paella a unique flavour and character.

“Non,” he was told,”Ee’s just food colouring.”

Oh well …

The paella was just for the Gallic Mid-Life Motorcyle Mob, not for the British Mid-Life Crisis Cyclists, we had to choose from the standard menu, but had some consolation in prime seats to follow the Germany vs. Sweden World Cup game.

Crazy Legs seemed to have found a new hero in Polish footballer, Łukasz Piszczek, whose name he thought was brilliant. I felt it was a name that was likely to give Chris “Puff Daddy” Froome sleepless nights.

Meanwhile, Crazy Legs fell into conversation with a Dutch couple, who kindly queried after my health, having seen me looking like a zombie extra from the Walking Dead at dinner last night.

Match ended and paella despatched, the Mid-Life Motorcyle Mob broke out a guitar for an impromptu sing-along. Perhaps expecting some French culture, things got off to a bad start with a raucous rendition of Volare and then the Gypsy Kings Bamboléo.

“Well, it’s not Jacques Tatti,” Crazy Legs observed dryly (or Jackie the Spud as he’s known on Tyneside.)

Sing-along degenerated into massed chanting. A couple of “oggie, oggie, oggies” which then gave way to something that sounded disconcertingly like “Sieg Hiel.”

As the guitar was picked up again and the mob launched into an off-key, off kilter version of La Bamba, we suddenly remembered we had to be up early tomorrow to ride up a mountain and quietly slipped away.