Rudy Can’t Fail

Rudy Can’t Fail

I can’t say I’m at all happy with the Tour of Britain organisers, after excelling themselves by channelling the 2019 edition right past my front door, they decided to spoil things for 2021 with a route that wouldn’t come any closer than 1.7 miles of home. That’s 2.7 kilometres to those not using retard units. What on earth were they thinking?

Clubmates had all sorts of plans for taking in the event, ranging from travelling to the Grand Depart, in Carlisle, to cycling out to meet the race somewhere along it’s sinuous and very lumpy 2,000 kilometres and accompanying 3,000 metres of vertical gain (ulp!) A fun day off, although anticipation and plans were somewhat tempered by poor weather forecasts.

Crazy Legs, our reporter on the ground at the Grand Depart in Carlisle cast Cav and Alaphillipe as a couple of naughty schoolboys amongst the serious and sober adults, while anyone who travelled further out than me were likely to have witnessed the unlikely sight of the Tour de France’s most successful sprinter showing off his climbing chops and leading an early breakaway over some serious hills.

I’d picked out two potential viewing spots for myself, Busty Bank, leading from Rowlands Gill up to Burnopfield, 1.5 km at an average of 9%, or Pennyfine Road, skirting Burdon Moor to the top of Haggs Lane, 1.2km at only 5%, but with long, straight and wide open views. The latter was closest, so that’s what I went for, tracking the race progress on TV before skittering out to watch it go past.

TripleD-El and Triple D-Be had already reported Cav’s break had been caught from where they were stationed on Busty Bank. Minutes later, when the race arrived where I was, a small, select group including Julian Alaphillipe, Wout Van Aert, Dan Martin, and Ethan Hayter were being led by impressive Spanish youngster Carlos Rodríguez and trying to claw back an attack by Mike Woods.

Mike Woods in full flight

The rest of the field were smashed to pieces and scattered all over the road behind and it must have been a hard stage as I’ve never seen professional cyclists grimacing quite so much on (for them) such relatively benign slopes. Rolling down the bank toward home, I bumped into TripleD-El and Triple D-Be and stopped for a chat as we waited for the remnants of the peloton to roll through, almost 30 minutes behind the leaders.

As usual. it was great to get up close to the action, especially given the stellar field using the Tour of Britain as preparation for the World Championships.

The next day I had planned the long demanded, long delayed (Lazy. Indolent. Remember?) journey south of the river and into the dread lands of Mordor. With my original route covering 125km and close to 2,000 metres of climbing including some steep gradients, I planned an early 8am start, just to make sure I got everyone back home before dusk, come what may. Unimpressed with the thought of getting up at 6am to cycle across to the meeting point, I decided to drive, figuring this would save my legs a well as some time.

The excesses of the day before on the Tour of Britain route knocked out a hatful of contenders for the ride and when Cowboys cried off sick there were just 4 of us plucky, but trepidatious hobbits willing to take on this particular unexpected journey. I met Crazy Legs and Brassneck at the meeting point, with plans to pick up the Ticker en route, at The Sign of the Prancing Pony (I think that’s what he said) somewhere in Wylam.

Our early departure meant we could say hi-and-bye to the Judean People’s Front, also leaving early for their own mini-epic. They we heading north, we were heading south and apparently the Prof was taking a group west. It only needed G-Dawg to take our regular Saturday ride east and we’d have all the cardinal points covered.

Crazy Legs had blackmailed the much-cossetted Ribble out into last weeks rain with whispered promises of a new cassette and had made good on his promises with the cleanest, shiniest set of cogs I’ve ever seen. Sadly though, it just made his chain look tired and dirty. He also hadn’t tested it extensively, but that was fine, as I guessed we’d very quickly know if he couldn’t select the full range of climbing gears.

So away we went, bolstered by the first earworm of the day courtesy of Mr. Iggy Pop as, according to Crazy Legs, we started to ride through the city’s backsides. I knew on the very first climb I was having a jour sans, the legs felt heavy and tired, but I reasoned that was fine as everyone would wait for me if I was too slow – one of the perks of being the designated ride leader on roads nobody else knows.

We seemed to have caught a break with the weather which was pleasantly warm and dry, although a fairly strong wind kept things a couple of notches below ideal and might be a problem once we were out into the exposed North Pennines.

Our trio were soon dropping down toward Wylam and our rendezvous with the Ticker. He wasn’t there when we arrived, so Crazy Legs went off in search of a shop while I waited with Brassneck. Moments later the Ticker arrived, but the minutes crawled past and Crazy Legs failed to return.

“What shop did he say he was going to?” Brassneck enquired.

“Fenwick’s,” the Ticker shot back, quickly, naming the venerable department store in Newcastle city centre some 15 miles distant.

While we waited, our attention wandered to a small park across the road where a man was walking a small dog.

“Hold on,” the Ticker exclaimed, “Is’nt that Rudy Giuliani?”

We scoffed.

“It looks like Giuliani,” the Ticker insisted, “And walks like Giuliani …”

We peered across the road. You know, maybe he was right.

It did look like Giuliani and certainly the posture and the walk resembled that of the ex-mayor of New York City and ex-President’s lawyer. I mean there was no dye dripping down this fellers face, but then again it was a bit too chill for that and, we concluded, what better place to hide from a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit, professional disbarment and general ridicule than a small village in the Tyne Valley? Crazier, more unbelievable things have happened. Well, at least according to Mr. Giuliani and his ilk.

Crazy Legs finally returned from breaking what was perhaps the only card payment system in the entire village and we left Rudy with his cover intact to follow the river out to the bridge at Bywell where we crossed to the south side of the river, Crazy Legs crossing himself, muttering a prayer to the heavens and taking one last gulp of good northern air across with him.

A right past Stocksfield and then a left and the real climbing began on the single-lane “goaty track” (©Juan Antonio Flecha) up through Shilford Woods. It wasn’t long before I heard the “Aw fuck!” exclamation of someone who’s just found there already in the smallest gear and there’s nothing easier left. Luckily, at least Crazy Legs had access across the full range of his cassette.

From the top we dropped down a little just to get a good run at the climb to Whittonstall and I had to tell the Ticker to keep pedalling as the noise of his Hope freewheel was scaring the sheep. The climb to Whittonstall reminds me of the Ryals (but without the dip in the middle) the approach road is wide open and draggy and, like the Ryals, you can see it coming from miles away. It hurts about as much too.

From there we had the respite of a nice long descent down to Ebchester, crossing over the River Derwent and heading almost due south until Shotley Bridge, where we crossed back over the river and started the climb of Burnmill Bank.

Half way up the climb, just before the small cluster of houses making up Snod’s Edge, Brassneck recognised the football pitch somewhat incongruously carved into the side of the hill in the middle of nowhere, remembering years back when his work team used to play a rival firm there every week.

Further on, having topped the climb and taken in a long descent down toward the reservoir, we passed Muggleswick and Crazy Legs recalled how his gran had been in service at Muggleswick Hall. She only had half a day off work a week, so every Sunday afternoon she’d walk the 6 or so miles that was either up hill or down, along the route we’d just covered, to Shotley Bridge. There she caught a train to take her to Newcastle and home, where she stayed until leaving to catch the last train back to Shotley Bridge, then retracing her steps, 6 miles up and down hill, often in the dark and in whatever weather was thrown at her.

Much different times and, as Crazy Legs confirmed, his gran had truly been as hard as nails.

To complete the set, the route also stirred some deep-seated recollections in the Ticker too, but these were not quite of the rosy-eyed nostalgia variety. His recall was of the “twattin’ climb out of Blanchland” that we were going to be taking.

The road past the reservoir was as busy as I’ve ever known it and we had to single out until we reached Edmunbuyers as a constant stream of traffic squeezed past. Then, somewhat eerily, the traffic just disappeared. In the village we were almost lured into The Baa which, according to its website, “might be the smallest pub in the world, but probably isn’t.” Nevertheless it looked very welcoming, yet we somehow we managed to resist the temptation and pressed on, rattling over the cattle grid to pass out on the wiley, windy moors.

This was going to be our longest climb of the day and on exposed roads along the side of Harehope Hill, just over 5.3 kilometres and with the wind constantly pushing us backwards. This meant that the Ticker could only freewheel intermittently and it wasn’t enough to scare off the sheep who would crowd unconcerned onto the road to watch the idiots grunt and gurn their way past. Well, it was their domain after all.

The Ticker and Brassneck pushed on ahead, while I rode with Crazy Legs as long as I could, before slipping out of the shelter of his back wheel to find a pace I was more comfortable with. We regrouped at the turn off toward Blanchland, climbing to our highest point of of the day before our descent into the village.

Refreshments were taking at the White Monk Tearoom, bacon sandwiches and coffees all round (we like to keep it simple) and we took up residence in the garden along with our bikes, joining a gang of bikers, looking uncomfortably warm and sweaty in their thick leathers.

Unfortunately they left quite soon after we arrived. Before that they seemed to have been doing sterling job of attracting the local wasps, but once they’d gone the pesky blighters decided to harass us instead. Coffee and sarnies were good, if maybe a little too exotically priced for the frugal cyclist at a tenner a head. (I recall G-Dawg observing that cyclists don’t seem to mind dropping £8-£10 grand on a bike, but are super-sensitive when it comes to the spare change they have to cough up for their coffee and cake.)

We manged to escape without annoying the wasps too much and after Crazy Legs managed to recover from an insane and unexpected fit of giggles. Then it was back onto the bikes to take on the “twattin’ climb out of Blanchland.”

Crazy Legs complained his current earworm of “Super Trooper” wasn’t really cutting it, but he soon found it could have been a lot worse, as having visited the toilets in the tearoom, the Ticker had been subjected to the Dr. Hook Classic, “When You’re in Love With A Beautiful Woman” and now had that uncomfortably lodged in his brain. I think I dodged a bullet as my own musical accompaniment to the bathroom was Nillson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.” I could live with that.

I snuck onto the granny ring on the triple to tackle to 20%+ inclines on Park Bank and managed to spin up plonked firmly on the saddle and without too much effort then, banking off of the northeast winds, we were heading home and all the major climbing was behind us.

We made it back to Whittonstall and enjoyed a short, unspectacular descent that seemed to bear little resemblance to its long, steep and grinding ascent. A swift downhill run to the river placed us back in Stocksfield and we were soon traversing the bridge over the Tyne and celebrating our return to civilisation.

As we approached the end of the bridge we passed another cyclist heading the other way and greeted him warmly, only to be rebuffed by a growling admonition, “Keep to yer lane!” Perhaps it was the trepidation of riding south of the river that made him so tetchy? Maybe we should have told him it wasn’t as bad as people made out?

From there we decided to head to Wylam and climb out of the valley there, rather than taking in the final climb of Hospital Lane up from Newburn. Near the top I was caught and passed by a swift moving white blur that turned out to be Spry, who’d been following the route, but had probably started two or more hours after us.

The Ticker left us at this point to track his own way home, while the rest of us took on the final, relatively flat final 10km back to where we started. We survived and everyone seemed to enjoy the ride, so I’m guessing we’ll be doing it again next year, once the weather starts to pick up.


Riding Distance:118km/73 miles with 1,550m of climbing
Riding Time:5 hours 4 minutes
Average Speed:23.3km/h
Group Size:4 plucky but trepidatious hobbits, with a brief cameo from Legolas
Temperature:15℃
Weather in a word or two:Heads
Year to date:3,514km/2,183 miles with 36,796m of climbing

Plague Diaries – Week#7

Plague Diaries – Week#7

Alone again. Naturally.

The club Zwifters seem to be getting their act together and enjoying themselves immensely. Along with all that technical talk about gear ratio’s and tyre pressures, they can now also obsess about direct drive, ANT+, Max Resistance, Gradient Simulation et al. Really oddly, no one seems to care what colour their home trainers are?

After the last ride they even posted pics up on social media (screen-grabs, or actual selfies I know not) an oddly lurid, background of starlight over a mountain range and with a bunch of garishly dressed cyclist clones in the foreground).

Ah … hmm .. well… just … eesh … err … oh … umh …

So, yet more filler in the form of further musings from our road club ramshackle collective…

Question#3. How do you feel, emotionally about being involved in your cycling community?

  • I get really grumpy when I’m not involved!
  • It means a lot. I look forward to club rides and I’m grateful for the club, and the friends I’ve made. It’s been an important part of my life and I know it’s been really important for my mental health.
  • Love it. Cycling had helped my physical health, mental health and social life.
  • Welcome.
  • Privileged to have discovered something others drive past.
  • It warms the cockles of my heart.
  • I feel a bond with all cyclists and care towards them, given the negative and often hostile attitude towards the group.
  • I identify strongly with being a cyclist and it has affected me in other areas of life, It has given me the confidence to push myself professionally. It gives me an outlet for frustrations and helps to keep my mental health where it should be. I feel calmer, stronger and happier when I ride.
  • Proud.
  • Genuinely happy.
  • We are brothers and sisters, something to be proud of and to share
  • It gives me an outlet away from work. It makes me feel relaxed.
  • It helps me relieve stress and pressure.

Another decent Saturday, time for an old favourite, a blast out along the Derwent Valley, then up through Snod’s Edge, dropping down to the Derwent Reservoir and then climbing up into Weardale, before retracing the route home.

In part this followed the route of Stage 4 of last year’s Tour of Britain. You remember, when cycle racing was an actual thing? I would later note that I’d climbed Burnmill Bank almost 4 minutes slower than Davide Cimolai, the Israel Start-up Nation sprinter. Bet he didn’t have to pull over half way up to let a tractor past, though.

At the top, it was time for a reprise of the Daffodil Lament, but this time for the actual flowers, whose brief, bright glory had waxed and quickly waned in the few weeks we’ve been huddled indoors trying to avoid a rampant epidemic. Now, their browned, crumpled and discoloured, desicated heads nodded rather sadly as I passed.

Down a long descent and past the turn-off for the Harry-Potteresque hamlet of Muggleswick, there’s a silver pick-up parked in the lane here with a “for sale” notice propped against the windscreen. I recall seeing it the last time I was out this way 3-weeks ago. With passing traffic being so light, I can’t help thinking its going to be there the next time I swing past too, no matter how much of a bargain it might be.

Shortly afterwards, I was entering the Land of the Prince Bishops and stopped for another of those interminable, but now obligatory bike-propped-up-against-landmark moments.

Into Edmundbuyers, I had to take evasive action to avoid three black-faced sheep trotting down the middle of the street. They seemed to have been lured down off the moors to investigate the eerily quiet and empty village. If they were looking for a wild time, I think they would have been disappointed, the pub in Edmunbuyers, aptly named The Baa, was closed.

I rumbled over the cattle grid and started climbing toward Stanhope, 8km at a 4% average, up, up and then up some more.

I don’t know if it was the relative absence of traffic on the route (it’s never exactly been a super-highway) or the weather, or time of year, but the sheep seemed to crowding the road much more than usual and there was the added complication of their skittish lambs getting spooked and darting about erratically.

Remembering Ovis’s hard won nickname and his disastrous close-encounter with ninja sheep, I tacked from side to side of the road in long arcs, trying to give my new ovine friends as much leeway and road space as possible.

As I started up, the moorland was alive with birdsong, continuous piping trills, occasionally interrupted by the long pee-whit call of lapwings. Try as I might, I never did spot their source

Halfway, and there was another obligatory stop for a bike and sign shot, this time proclaiming I was now entering Weardale. A little bit higher still, my ears popped and the wind picked up, just to add a chill edge to proceedings.

The bird song had died away, but an occasional flash of red helped me spot what I would later learn were male red grouse, scurrying through the gorse. The bright red wattle above their eyes was a dead give away in the drab and dun moorland. (I always want to refer to them as grice, following The Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell’s depictions of Prince Phillip.)

At the top, I swung off the road toward Blanchland, climbing to the highest point of the ride, before the long descent down toward the village. I missed my usual turn off on the drop down Bales Hill and found myself actually riding into Blanchland, where I was faced with two choices for climbing out again, the bitching 25% road heading north, or the slightly less bitching 16% hill heading west.

Yes, your right, that’s really no choice at all. I winched myself up the lesser slope and was soon on my way back toward Edmundbuyers.

Before getting there, I sneaked past the quarantine closed signs, into Pow Hill Country Park, finding a bench overlooking the reservoir for a quick rest and a fine repast of a cereal bar and some lukewarm water. Reading the information board, I discovered that Blanchland was built in the 18th century from the ruins of the medieval Premonstratensian monastic church.

I’ve never heard of Premonstratensian monks, apparently also known as the Norbertines, or the White Canons (from the colour of their habit). Wikipedia tells me they were (are?) a religious order of the Catholic Church founded in Prémontré near Laon in 1120 by Norbert of Xanten. Yes, that Norbert of Xanten.

No?

Me neither.

As Einstein sagely noted, “The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.”

A fast descent down Burnmill Bank deposited me back on the valley floor and heading for home. Passing through Ebchester, I spotted a pair of cyclists from the Blaydon Club hammering away in the distance and picked up the pace to try and close them down.

I got near enough to see they were a couple, the man on the front driving the pace and the woman draughting close behind. The man was, as an old mate would say, “giving it beans” (I never did understand the origin of the phrase, but I think the intended meaning is clear) and the pair were travelling.

I caught them as we passed through Hamsterly, and tried to look cool as I breezed past, just before Lintzford. They caught and burned past me again heading into Rowlands Gill, then immediately swung left. They were home, I still had a few miles left. Hah! That’ll teach me to go all Red Max on complete strangers.

The chase had just about emptied the tank and I crawled up from Rowlands Gill to Burnopfield via Busty Bank, surprising myself by netting a completely unexpected PR on the way. I must have been really out of sorts the last time I venture up there. Then it was just a short hop, skip and jump along the Fell and I was done for another week.

The Untouchables

The Untouchables

Club Run, Saturday 14th July, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  109 km / 68 miles with 1,089 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 10 minutes

Average Speed:                                 26.1 km/h

Group size:                                         30 riders, 3 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    27°C

Weather in a word or two:          Hot, hot, hot


untouch
Ride Profile


Let’s skip a week shall we? The 7th July was another good club run in exceptional and hot weather, but with our Pyrenean misadventures taking up all my inane-wittering bandwidth, it kind of took a backseat.

Who knows, perhaps some day,some completion-obsessed, archivist will uncover this inchoate, hidden gem, tentatively titled “They Swarm” and it will be revealed to the world with huge fanfare* as an unfinished masterpiece to rank alongside Byron’s Don Juan, The Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg, or The Other Side of the Wind.

*I’m thinking maybe “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” played on a lone kazoo.

But for now, let’s put it to bed, US TV style…

Previously on Sur La Jante…

The hottest day we’ve had for years, but we didn’t have to worry as the Red Max had a cunning plan – all we had to do was ride harder and faster, he said and it would generate a beneficial cooling breeze…

It was a good route that picked out a section of newly surfaced road to let us ascend to the village of Ryal without having to tackle the infamous Ryal’s themselves. We didn’t realise that the road had actually been resurfaced with loose gravel, which was the perfect size, weight and composition to constantly get jammed under Taffy Steve’s fork crown, so the ascent became an irregular, stop-start sort of affair.

Not all was lost though, as Aether took the opportunity presented by all the mechanicals to successfully forage in the hedgerows for early blackberries. Luckily the Prof wasn’t with us, or we might still be there, taking advantage of all the free stuff.

Then, in the café garden a thousand and one, tiny black beetles fell in love with G-Dawg’s Molteni jersey (well the orange panels on it anyway) and descended upon him like a biblical plague. It was so bad, he ended up stripping down to his bibshorts, just for a bit of relief.

Stripping off all our tops for the ride home in show of mutual support and solidarity, was mooted, but quickly shot down, perhaps by Princess Fiona, although I couldn’t be sure who objected first.

A fully-clothed, return was then completed without incident and I made my way home having covered 113 km with 1,100 metres of climbing.

So, back to the present. Another fine, hot and sunny day was promised and didn’t disappoint. It was so hot in fact that for the first time in living memory I rode without a base layer of any kind and selected my lightest and theoretically coolest of jerseys.

The bridge at Newburn was still closed to cars, and they’ve taken the chance to resurface it. There is still a gaping hole at the north end where it was washed away though, so hopefully it’ll be a bit longer before it’s fully open again.

Despite the heat, the wind was up, keeping things cool, but also providing noticeable resistance whenever I found myself tackling it head on. Nevertheless, I made decent time across and arrived at the meeting place bang on schedule.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Garrulous Kid had been traumatised by having to use the Metro during the week, pressed uncomfortably cheek by jowl with the hoi poloi, amidst what he claims was a sustained and unprovoked attack by savage, M&M wielding chavs. They had apparently bombarded his train with the colourful, candy-coated confectionery so ferociously that grown men cowered in their seats and refused to leave the carriages at the station.

Taffy Steve was intrigued and posed the highly critical question we all wanted the answer to, were they hardcore gang-bangers, using peanut M&M’s, or just play-acting kids, wannabe-gangstas, restricting their attack to run-of-the-mill, plain M&M’s?

I think he was positing some kind of escalation in the seriousness of the assault depending upon the type of confectionery being used as ammunition.

This led to an exotic re-imaging of The Untouchables, with Kevin Costner’s Eliott Ness taking instructions from Sean Connery’s old-hand, Jimmy Malone:

“He pullsh a KitKat, you pull a Shnickers bar. He puts one of yoursh in the tuck shop, you put one of hish in the pic ’n’ mix aisle. That’s the Shouth Gosforth way!”

My dad-joke of the week also came from this unlikeliest of sources:

“What time did Sean Connery get to Wimbledon?”

“Tennish.”

It was so hot, the Garrulous Kid had frozen his bottle overnight, but by the time he reached the meeting point the ice seemed long gone. He picked the bottle up, peered myopically at its contents and gave it a prod with a bony finger.

“All the ice is gone,” he lamented, then, noticing a strange, opaquely white, foreign substance swirling around in the bottom of the bottle … “No, hold on there’s some left at the bottom.”

Goodness knows what he was seeing, but we pointed out that if it was ice, it would be floating – you know, icebergs never drag their feet along the seafloor.

The arrival of long-term absentee, Grover was greeted with a, “Bloody hell, is it that time of the year again?” from Crazy Legs.

“You said that last time,” Grover muttered drolly. Probably true, but it was still funny nonetheless.

It was indeed a day when many of our lesser-spotted luminaries would be tempted out, including the Antipodean Ironman, back from serious injury, the aforementioned Grover and even the Prof, given the day off from his role in a Back Street Boys tribute band, or perhaps lured out by the promise of free fruit just waiting to be picked along all the hedgerows.

Anyway, he would stay with us for, oh, I don’t know, maybe a whole, half an hour, before the collective responsibility of riding in a group began to chafe … and he buggered off without a backward glance.

Add in a smattering of FNG’s and there was about thirty of us altogether and we split into two groups before pushing out. A quick headcount saw the front group outnumbering the second, so I dropped back to the latter and away we went.


The Red Max and Taffy Steve led us from the start and we picked our way through Brunton Lane, where the good weather had encouraged the bushes and hedges into super-abundant, verdant and bucolic over-growth.

“Another couple of weeks of this and there’ll just be a cyclist-shaped hole in a wall of green,” Crazy Legs mused.

We took over on the front as we took the road up past the Cheese Farm, determined to set a perfectly reasonable pace and make it to the top of the hill without any complaints from behind.

Did we make it?

Well, what do you think?

We then stopped before taking a long loop that would see us heading south and generally slightly downhill to Twizzel, before stomping back up into a headwind. This engendered the first group split, with OGL and Grover deciding the loop was generally pointless.

Crazy Legs admitted the detour didn’t do anyone any favours, but I was happy to add a few more miles along previously uncharted roads and anyway, who could possibly resist a visit to a place called Twizzel at least once in a lifetime? Once is probably enough, though.

As we approached Dyke Neuk, I finally recognised the road and, from there it was a straightforward push through Whalton, then Hartburn and on to Middleton Bank. We stopped regularly to check everyone was ok and see if anyone needed a shorter route to the café, but everyone seemed to be holding up.

As we started to climb Middleton Bank, Andeven whirred rapidly and effortlessly away, showing us mere plodders and amateurs how it should be done. Meanwhile I got stuck twiddling too small a gear, too soon and it took me an age to get on top of it. As the ramps slowly steepened and the gears finally bit, I managed to work my way past the rest of the group and follow Crazy Legs catching onto his rear wheel as we went up and over the top.


midd


Crazy Legs looked back, determined no one else was in sight and indicated he was going to drop back to wait. I decided to press on alone, coaxed the chain onto the big ring and started to pick up the pace.

Around the first corner and into some welcome shade from the trees around Bolam Lake, Benedict stormed up behind, called out, “hop on” and went surging past. I accelerated onto his wheel and we were off.

He took a big, long turn and then I spelled him until I could no longer keep the pace high enough and he accelerated onto the front again, leading us through the dip and curves as we arced through Milestone Woods.

As we hit the bottom of the rollers, I noticed a new set of temporary traffic lights half way up the slope had just turned green. Determined not to be caught by an inopportune red light, I came around Benedict and surged upwards. Benedict said he guessed what I was trying to do, but hesitated a micro-second and just missed latching onto my wheel as I hammered up through the lights and over the first couple of crests.

As I jumped out of the saddle to keep the momentum up to tackle the third and final ramp, I looked back, expecting Benedict to be camped on my six, or thereabouts, but there was a sizeable gap between us. I decided just to press on, expecting he would catch up on final scramble up to the café, but suspect he eased once we made the main road and I rolled in imperiously and surprisingly alone.

“Did you ride the full route?” the Garrulous Kid asked, obviously slightly taken aback by the fact that there was clear air between me and everyone else from the second group. Such a disturbing lack of faith…


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

A Woodland Burial site has opened just down the road from the café and OGL has apparently already been eyeing up a plot for the future, thinking it’ll be an ideal spot from which to come back to haunt us every Saturday.

Crazy Legs revealed he still has his Mum’s ashes under the sink and his Dad’s in the garage and doesn’t quite know what to do with them. I unconscionably suggested the latter might be useful if he ever has an icy drive to contend with one winter. The whole topic cued up a number of stories of people trying to dispose of ashes, only to have them blow back in their faces.

On a slightly less morbid note, initial discussions were made about travelling to take in the Tour of Britain in September, in particular stages 5 and 6. The first is an unusual Team Time Trial up Whinlatter Pass from the easier, western side (five kilometres averaging 4%), followed by the following days stage which tackles the climb twice more, but from the eastern side with averages nearer to 7%.

Taffy Steve sat down opposite me and the creaking bench tilted alarmingly and tipped me into his shoulder. I’m not sure this rickety garden furniture is going to last another season.

We applied some Archimedean physics to our problem, Taffy Steve shuffling closer to the pivot point, while I slid along toward the very end of the bench. That worked better, well, at least until one of us decided to stand up suddenly. It didn’t stop Benedict laughing at us and suggesting it was like watching two mismatched kids trying to work a see-saw.

Meanwhile, Crazy Legs expounded on his new Novichok conspiracy theory, by pointing out the two incident locations, Salisbury and Amesbury were, strangely and coincidentally, almost equidistant from the British Chemical and Bacteriological warfare laboratory at Porton Down. The Novichok poisoning was then, either a leak from the government’s own facility, or its proximity was being used by the Russians to cover up their own nefarious “wet-work.”

Taffy Steve determined we deserved a sneaky third coffee and I readily agreed – after all, it was hot and we needed to stay hydrated.

We then had a chuckle at the Colossus who was sitting at the next table alongside the Garrulous Kid and looking extremely glum and fed up with life. We wondered what could possibly be upsetting him so much …


As we made our way home I caught up with Kermit, who thought he had a new bike sorted, a like-for-like replacement offer from his insurance company, after his Focus Cayo didn’t survive its trip back from the Pyrenees. (Or, to be more accurate, its whirlwind tour around Zurich and sundry other European airports.)

He’d been offered a Giant TCR Advanced which seemed like a great deal to me – then again, I’m not the one who has to ride it.

As we started up Berwick Hill our line attenuated and then fragmented and I had great fun slicing and sliding through the wheels, as I climbed from near the back to the front, dropping in behind leaders Crazy Legs and the Colossus as we crested the top.

On the reverse slope, the pair waved us through and I hit the front with Caracol, keeping the pace high all the way through Dinnington and onto the Mad Mile. The Colossus took over again, for this final stretch, before the remains of our group swept left and I peeled off to start my solo ride home.

I could get used to this fine weather.


YTD Totals: 4,251 km / 2,641 miles with 53,264 metres of climbing

Radiation Vibe

Radiation Vibe

Club Run, Saturday 22nd July, 2017          

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  105 km / 65 miles with 436* metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 17 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.4 km/h

Group size:                                         24 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    17°C

Weather in a word or two:          Dreich


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Ride Profile

* Stop me if you’ve heard this before – it rained throughout the ride and my Garmin naturally had a hissy-fit in protest. The official route Crazy Legs posted up had over 700 metres of climbing and that’s not counting my clambering up Heinous Hill or the other side of the Tyne valley. Nonetheless, I officially managed only 436 metres.

The Ride:

7:10 Saturday morning and I’m lying in bed listening to the rain hammering on the roof and window and the noisy gargle of the overflow racing down the drain pipe. Another rain swept Saturday in summer, it must be a club run day.

45 minutes later and leaving the house, the rain has eased from torrential, to just plain annoying and I’m pulling on a light, easily stowable waterproof jacket in anticipation of it actually stopping at some point. It’s always good to travel in hope.

Still, I’m more accepting of the weather than I was last week, I’d prepped the Peugeot the night before, so rolled out with the protection of full length mudguards. I’d also combined the thinnest socks I could find with my waterproof winter boots, assured of keeping my feet dry, but a bit concerned about them getting too warm.

The ride across to the meeting point was totally unremarkable, no exotic wildlife, no homicidal drivers, no near misses and the noteworthy, but not altogether unexpected absence of other cyclists on the road. It was horribly wet.

I ducked into the multi-storey car park to join the only other early arrival, the Garrulous Kid and to wait for the intrepid and insane to assemble.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

OGL was noticeable by his absence, having been called to attend some interminably dull, extraordinary general meeting for British Cycling. Someone wondered why G-Dawg hadn’t accompanied him and he visibly shuddered at the thought – explaining that not only would you have to sit through a long, boring meeting, but relive it in minute, forensic detail, blow-by-blow, in the car all the way back.

The Garrulous Kid proved he was in the running for a name change to the Hyperbolic Kid, declaring the Star Wars movies were the greatest film series ever made. Taffy Steve and I pondered if Chewbacca was still being played by the same “actor” Peter Mayhew and, rather bizarrely, the Garrulous Kid suggested Maria Sharapova, would make a great replacement Wookie.

“Only if she wears high heels.” G-Dawg drawled, while I tried to decide if in the Star Wars universe, dressing a Wookie in high heels was equated to a similar Terran expression about putting lipstick on a pig.

Jimmy Mac returned from a long absence and declared he’d qualified to represent Great Britain at the UCI Gran Fondo World Championship in Albi, in August. I had to express surprise, not so much because he’d qualified, more at the thought there was an actual Gran Fondo World Championship.

Still, if we wanted someone to represent us in a Gran Fondo World Championship, who better than the clean-cut, super-smart, highly practical, ultra-dexterous, unflappably cool, always in control, Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon and all round good guy Jimmy Mac.

Meanwhile Richard of Flanders reported that ex-club member, Arnold had completed the L’Etape du Tour and found it not only expensive, but massive, chaotic and very, very badly organised.

Richard of Flanders wondered about heading home to swap his good bike for his winter bike, but decided not to. He wasn’t alone and there was a distinct lack of mudguards on offer throughout the bunch. There were lots of ass-savers though – or perhaps they should be re-named i’m-all-right-jacks, or ass-covers – only useful for covering your own ass. I feel if you’re going to subject your fellow riders to the constant deluge of spray off your back wheel, the least you can do is accept your own share of the misery and discomfort and not hide behind these flimsy bits of plastic. Go on – take it like a man.

In spite of the weather, it was a surprisingly large group of two dozen riders who pushed off, clipped in and sallied forth into the deluge.


We hadn’t made it through Dinnington, when we had a puncture and all piled into a car park while repairs were made. Here Jimmy Mac found he could drag his wet buttocks across his damp saddle and create a fearsome squeal, akin to someone dragging their fingernails down a blackboard. Real squeaky bum time.

He took time off from setting my teeth on edge to compliment the Garrulous Kid who was now sporting the biggest, blackest chain ring tattoo I’ve ever seen.

“How did that happen?” the Garrulous Kid asked, I assume in all seriousness, as he looked down at his calf in befuddlement.

A bit further on and he’d added a second grungy, oily brand above the first, just to prove it was no fluke. I wondered if he always cleaned his chain on random bits of exposed flesh, but apparently not. Actually, I think it was probably foolish of me to assume he ever cleaned his chain.

Tracking through Tranwell, someone behind hit a pothole and went down in a clatter and we stopped again to allow everyone to pick themselves up and check for damage.

“Oh, they’re alright.” The Garrulous Kid declared from his vantage point 30 metres or so away from the accident and Jimmy Mac was forced to admire the assuredness of the declaration and acknowledge that the Garrulous Kid had exceptional X-ray vision to go with his 20/20 hindsight.

At the bottom of the Mur de Mitford we lost a large contingent of Grogs, as they by-passed the hill for a shorter route to the café, while the rest of us grappled with the slope, wheels slipping and sliding on the wet road as grip became somewhat negotiable. Topping out the climb we traced a new (to me anyway) route to the Trench passing around Stanton.

At one point I dropped off the back with Taffy Steve who was struggling on his thrice-cursed winter bike and we found Rab Dee patrolling the rear about 20 metres back. He confirmed this was the ideal distance to avoid both crashes and the showers of shit being spat off everyone’s wheels.


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Down through Hartburn and rising up the other side, Jimmy Mac had a front wheel puncture and pulled over to the side of the road to effect repairs. Crazy Legs popped up to where we all waited to borrow Taffy Steve’s mighty frame pump and we were soon underway again. We even managed to make it round the very next corner, before a loud hiss of escaping air announced Jimmy Macs original repair hadn’t fared too well, the tyre had popped off the rim and the tube had gone again.

Yet another unscheduled stop had Crazy Legs urging everyone on to the café, while he said he’d hang back with Jimmy Mac. Only then did he realise he’d left his saddle bag on his other bike and wasn’t carrying a spare tube. He too, then decided to go with the larger group in case he needed assistance.

Biden Fecht donated a spare tube and I hung back with Rab Dee, Richard of Flanders and the Big Yin to provide assistance, moral support and a ragged, surely highly-prized and always welcome, running commentary of piss-taking. Rab Dee lifted the front of Jimmy Mac’s bike up for him and he set to work wrestling the wheel out of the forks.

Watching on, the Big Yin admitted he’d rather take a dump in public than have to change a tyre in front of an attentive and critical audience of fellow cyclists … then went back to critically and attentively watching his fellow cyclist change a tyre.

I do have a lot of sympathy with his view and tend to try slipping quietly off the back, rather than wrestle with tyres and tubes while a censorious “puncture congregation” bears unholy witness.

Extended wheel-wrangling left Jimmy Mac with filthy black lines and marks up and down his legs, that were even more embarrassing than the Garrulous Kids chain-ring tatt and it was suggested he looked like an SAS sniper covered in camo paint for a night mission. Fighting through the grit and crud and crap and mud on his wheel, somehow he finally managed to get the tube in and seat the tyre back in place.

Taffy Steve had left with the larger group, taking his mighty frame pump with him, so Jimmy Mac fished out his own molto piccolo, Leznye Pressure Drive out of a pocket, screwed the hose into one end of it and attached the other to his tyre valve.

As he set manfully to work, inflating his tyre, Rab Dee kept a careful eye on Jimmy Mac’s Garmin, reading off his heart rate and we were all super-impressed that after about 5 minutes of pumping it never rose above 128 bpm. That’s the kind of cardio-vascular fitness we’d all like to have.

Unfortunately, the tyre remained as flat as Jimmy Mac’s heart rate and after several more minutes he surmised his pump must be broken. Richard of Flanders took over and pulled out his own, identical Leznye Pressure Drive. He screwed the rubber hose slowly into his pump, sizing-up the errant tyre with a dead-eyed looked as he walked toward it, much like an assassin fitting a suppressor to his pistol muzzle before administering the coup de grace.

Jimmy Mac, our UCI Gran Fondo World Championship representative, the clean-cut, super-smart, highly practical, ultra-dexterous, unflappably cool, always in control, Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon and all round good guy, then watched as Richard screwed the other end of the hose onto his tyre valve and began to inflate the tube…

“Hold on, do you have to screw that end onto the valve too?” he pondered loudly. “I just thought you had to press it on …”

Oh. Dear.

Richard of Flanders made light work of inflating the tyre and we were finally back underway again.

Perhaps as recompense for delaying us, or perhaps to leave the scene of his shame firmly behind him, Jimmy Mac surged to the front and drove the pace up. As we climbed past Angerton, I glanced back, finding totally empty road and told him we were alone, had split the group and needed to ease up a little.

We managed to regroup around Bolam Lake, but Rab Dee and Jimmy Mac seemed intent on making up for lost time and lined us out again. I dropped into their slipstream and hung there as the speed ratcheted up, hanging onto the coattails as we swept through Milestone Wood, drove over the rollers, down the hill and onto the final climb to the café.

At some point along the final stretch we zipped past Taffy Steve and Szell, who had taken a longer route to allow Szell tackle his bete noire, Middleton Bank and face down his own personal demons.

As we passed the pair, I eased and let go of Jimmy Macs wheel, coasting through the finish flags planted at the end of the lane for some event or other sponsored by the GS Metro club – I don’t know what it was for and there was no one around to ask, but it was nice of them to mark the finish of our club sprint for us.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Szell announced that his brand new dental x-ray produced no more radiation than you would get from eating 8 bananas and you didn’t even need to leave the room when using it.  I contrasted this to my last dental x-ray, where the dentist first put on a lead-lined apron and heavy duty goggles, before unspooling the remote-control trigger wire behind him as he left the room. I then heard the surgery front door open and close and saw him duck past the window, still unreeling the wire. A pause of about a minute, was followed by a deep hum, blinding flash and the smell of burning rubber. A few minutes later the dentist wandered back whistling nonchalantly, winding up the wire and declaring we’re all done.

We discovered that Banana Equivalent Dose was an accepted (well, almost) scientific measure of radiation exposure and eating one banana equivalent to roughly 0.1 Sieverts of radiation, while a flight from New York to LA was equivalent to 40 Sieverts.

From this Jimmy Mac concluded it was unwise to eat bananas on an aeroplane – and, never mind Snakes on a Plane, the next Hollywood low-budget schlockbuster could well involve aviation travel with everyone’s favourite Musaceae.

(Don’t worry by the way, a lethal dose of radiation is about 35 million Sieverts, you’re not going to get that from fruit – even if you’re in first class and constantly eating bananas washed down with daiquiris on a long-haul flight to Australia, or Hawaii)

The Big Yin was interested in organising a ride out to see the Tour of Britain, travelling on familiar roads somewhere on its route from Kielder to Blyth on Monday 4th September. It sounded like a reasonable excuse for a day off work and a ride out, although Szell raised the worrying spectre of us meeting other OGL’s from the all the different areas of Britain congregating on the same spot.

I dismissed his worries out of hand – there couldn’t possibly be other OGL’s out there. Could there?


On the way out, a quick word with the Red Max confirmed he could lay his hands on Tyvek overalls, a respirator and rubberised boots, should I ever find work in a banana plantation.

Given our puncture-crash-puncture-puncture ride interruptions, we were late leaving the café and it looked like we’d be late getting back. As we rolled down Berwick Hill I found myself on the front with the Red Max and encouraging his almost constant half-wheeling, even as Crazy Legs reported we’d split the group.

We kept going, nonetheless, up through Dinnington and around the the airport. Fast. I didn’t look back once and have no idea what was going on behind. I was still surprised, however to exit the Mad Mile without being caught and overtaken by a duelling G-Dawg and Colossus, sprinting for home and first use of the shower.

Just before crossing the river I tentatively removed my rain jacket. Oh well, better late than never and was soon heading uphill and home.

And that’s it for the next couple of weeks, as I’m off to Nice on a family holiday.

I think it’s just as well I’m leaving work before someone punches me in the face for being annoying. The trouble is, whenever I’m asked where I’m going, I can never resist:

“Where you off to then?”

“Nice.”

“That’s nice.”

“No, I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced Niece.”

It reminds me of the time a work colleague spent some time in Scotland.

“Where’ve you been?”

“Ayr”

“I SAID, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?”

Don’t worry, I’ve finished now and you won’t be subjected to any more crap jokes for a couple of weeks. Hopefully the weather will have improved by the time I get back too (Ha ha. Sorry, I promised no more crap jokes, didn’t I)

In the meantime, enjoy the peace.


YTD Totals: 4,609 km / 2,863 miles with 52,634 metres of climbing

The Curious Incident of the Cog on the Right


Club Run, 5th September, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                     108km/67 miles with 929 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 06 minutes

Group size:                                           26 riders, 2 FNG’s.

Weather in a word or two:             Chilly

Main topic of conversation at the start: Crazy Legs recounted a nasty, high speed, front wheel blow out that had him sitting around for 20 minutes considering his own mortality and the fragility of both life and worn Gatorskins. He then spent 10 minutes giving his upper body a total workout, pushing over 200 strokes through a Blackburn Airstick to inflate a new inner tube so the tyre was hard enough to get him home. This served however only to deflate his ego further when he got back, clipped on his track pump, and the dial barely flickered on its short, staccato hop to show that with all his efforts he’d forced a mighty 20 psi into the tyre.

The Tour of Britain is visiting these here parts and there was much discussion about how best to catch some of the action, as well as a hope that Greggs might sponsor the stage into Blyth and award the winner a bouquet of pasties.

It seems we could have both the Vuelta and Tour of Britain on terrestrial TV at the same time, surely a first for British broadcasting.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: G-Dawg and Zardoz have been running with the Wednesday Club an irregular group of older guys who batter each other incessantly over immense distances and ultra-hilly routes. If G-Dawg and Zardoz are complaining, it must be hard.

Dab Man rolled up all on his lonesome, not quite fixed enough to brake fully effectively or ride in a group, although I think he’s just waiting for the return of icy roads to add a little frisson of excitement and uncertainty to each ride.

[I feel duty bound to mention him because he says he only reads the blog if he’s likely to feature, so it’s a good way of doubling my readership. Oh, and while I’m at it, thanks Mom as well, I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense to a non-cyclist, and yes I will try to moderate my language in future …]

While relaxing with my second cup of coffee, Crazy Legs appeared from the Faster! Harder! Longer! group with a blank, thousand yard stare, muttering darkly about the Demon Cult of the Racing Snakes.

Finally, in one of the most bizarre conspiracy theories since the ice bucket challenge was recently proclaimed a satanic baptism ritual (yes, really), Red Max claimed the unseasonable cold weather was closely linked to the unveiling of Google’s new logo. Scarily I wasn’t altogether certain he was joking and the evidence seems to back him up, so just in case, can we petition them to change it back?


Ride Profile
Ride Profile


The Waffle:

Sadly the brief emergence of wasps last weekend did not presage an Indian summer and it was a decidedly chill morning with a constant, bitter-edged wind. Having learned a lesson from my early commute on Friday, I started out wearing long-fingered gloves which served me well and I didn’t feel the slightest urge to swap them out for the rest of the ride.

Although too cold for the wasps, there was a surprising turnout of that other pest, the common or garden club cyclist, and 24 regulars and 2 FNG lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out to systematically brighten and disrupt the day of many an impatient motorist. Our ranks were further bolstered by the juniors, who always take to the roads on the first Saturday in every month, and I started at the back chatting happily to one of the dad’s as we rolled out.

When the group split at a junction I was left behind with the kids and had a hard chase uphill to rejoin the main group, which at least got me warmed up a little.


Exclusive!
Exclusive!


I found myself having one of those days when the pedals seem to effortlessly float around on their own accord: un jour avec perhaps, rather than a day without? These ultra rare days are definitely to be savoured as there’s no rhyme or reason for them, no possible way they can be replicated – even if you follow the exact same routine, and absolutely no way of telling when you’re likely to have another.

I put my good fortune to maximum effect, standing on the pedals to stomp and sprint up a few sharp hills in double quick time. On cresting one of these I tried to change down into a bigger gear to push on, only to find nothing was happening. I did the “dumb bad-guy in a cliché-ridden action movie” shtick; pulling on the trigger of an empty gun several times in disbelief, but no matter how often or how hard I clicked the STI lever, nothing was happening.

I then did a quick double-take to find my chain was as far over to the right as it could possibly go, and I’d just shimmied up a hill in my highest gear.


usual
Huh?


As we turned for the café the Red Max surprised us all with a sneaky, completely unexpected, un-telegraphed, long range attack which faded quickly in the headwind. Taffy Steve followed on his thrice-cursed winter-bike, the choice of which he admitted was a mistake. Despite his protestations it didn’t seem to hold him back any when it came to the pointy-end of the sprint.

I followed G-Dawg through to the front, but could sense his reluctance to take on the lead too early, so I pushed through on the inside and lined everyone out as we tipped downhill over a sketchy, corrugated surface that felt like it had been recently ploughed.

Just as I hit terminal velocity a woman in a large green 4 x 4 started to pull out into our path from a T-junction, but luckily realised at the last moment just how fast we were travelling and she lurched to a halt halfway across the road, scant seconds before I considered bailing out.


eject
Eject! Eject!


I briefly caught the surprised look of the kid in the passenger seat, her eyes wide and mouth forming a perfect “O” as we hammered past, and then the road levelled out and everyone swept around me and down to the Snake bends.

On the way home I couldn’t help chuckling when I overheard a conversation between Son of G-Dawg and Shouty when she finally realised there was a paternal connection between G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg. I think she was secretly relieved to learn that the bacon and egg pie, bacon butties, tea cakes and cans of Coca-Cola lavished by father on son at the café weren’t part of some bizarre North East grooming ritual.

Shoeless then set a blazing pace up Berwick Hill, and I tagged on as he dragged a small group with him that managed to shed or pass everyone else and splinter the group. He continued piling on the pressure all the way to my turn-off, where I struck out for home, having netted six Strava PR’s in just over 10km. Even a RIM in a BMW who cut me up and then flipped me off at the last roundabout couldn’t blunt my good mood and the warm glow of a great ride.


YTD Totals: 4,513km / 2,804 miles with 51,163 metres of climbing.