Much happens in the year of the peloton – members arrive, make their presence felt and become old hands, other flash across the front and are soon spat out of the back never to be seen again. Others winter away and return with the swallows ready once more for the turbulence of Spring. Still others come back miraculously from the dead, Lazarus like, seemingly out for the count to reclaim their rightful place in life’s slipstream. Of course, some never leave, old faithfuls out in all weathers, iced water bottles no problem, loss of sensation in extremities a little local difficulty, roads that are like skating rinks merely more grist to their mill.
So when one of the movers and shakers decides to move and shake somewhere new it requires some kind of acknowledgement, a marking and a remembering of his influence and effect on a bunch of lycra clad blokes with ‘all the gear and no idea.’ Sloping off to Dubai without some kind of farewell ride was never going to happen, not on the Wing-Co’s watch!
So it was that under strictest Bletchley Park secrecy (removing Christian’s name from the group email), we amassed a mob to ride a hundred miles in a day in honour of our very own Tom Boonen. A man who rides as if he is going for the stage win every time he throws his leg over his crossbar. A man for whom the word ‘steady’ quite clearly has another meaning – something akin to ‘just a bit faster than a normal cyclist can manage.’ A man for whom Strava is a gift and for us a curse.
I had planned on some witty list of cars Ford had made and to go on to make analogies – Meteor, Maverick, Deluxe – but I have never really got my head round cars. Cars haven’t always got round Christian either…But if I had to choose one car from my Wikipedia list of Fords I would choose not something flashy and grand (although it would suit a man who has had more flashy and grand bikes than anyone outside of the pro peloton – Look, Specialised, Willier and now a Pinarello Dogma - a man who is always planning his next bike) no, I would choose the Ford Popular. Look at what my thesaurus gives as synonyms:
Popular- accepted, approved, attractive, beloved, caught on, celebrated, crowd-pleasing, faddish, famous, fashionable, favored, in, in demand, in favor, in the mainstream, in vogue, leading, likable, liked, lovable, noted, notorious, now, pleasing, praised, preferred, prevailing, prominent, promoted, right stuff, social, societal, sought, sought-after, stylish, suitable, the rage, trendy, well-liked, well-received. Yep, that pretty much sums him up.
On the hottest day of the year we rolled out of Leigh with the legendary Blue Egg as our initial destination. A cyclists’ teashop Mecca with Cav’s framed World Champion jersey and favoured watering hole of local legend Alex Dowsett. At just under fifty miles in 30 degrees C, we did well to look like a bunch of hardened men of the road, rather than limp rags waiting to be squeezed dry as we stuffed our faces and slurped our coffee – hydrate, rehydrate, the mantra of the day.
Desperate for shade, we rolled through the Essex countryside in determined fashion, stopping for necessary replenishments in a greasy café in Blackmore and the more genteel The Viper in Writtle. No matter the location, we only cared for more fluids. Each time we arrived looking less like a Rapha advert and more like a middle aged crisis in action. By the time the clock had hit 90 miles we made our final stop, The Barge in Battlesbridge, an ironic name for the war torn cyclists sprawled over the grass, jerseys open to the navel, bare chested and panting, scaring small children and frightening bull terriers and hoping heart rates might return to somewhere near normal.
And then onwards to home, the last hurrah, slowly we reclaimed our bikes, put on soggy helmets and adjusted ourselves one last time. We pledged to ride ‘steady…’ As Jason later reported, “The last time I heard and saw Christian was when he left the Barge saying "Ok I'm just going to sit in and take it easy now" - he then disappeared ahead into the distance! That's probably the last I will see of him - very apt.”