Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Ford Fiesta




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.” 



Sunday, 11 September 2011

A Season in Hull


I'm not sure I've ever seen Pub Dave's training regime in any of the magazines. Usually the glossies talk about complex carbs, intervals and power hubs but not PD. Instead he spends the winter drinking lager and smoking fags. He stands at the bar as we analyse what's wrong with Liverpool's back four and why Harry needs a proper holding midfielder. We wax rhapsodical about Philip Gilbert and Fabian Cancellera and we don't talk about work. Come the summer term, he wheels his bike out of the shed and rides to work - a round trip of 40 miles, 200 miles a week and he rides himself back to fitness.

In the pub, after the manangers have had their say on Sky, we'll start talking about potential trips on the bike. Mainly pipe dreams, they rarely get beyond slightly sizzled beer chatter but every now again one sticks - four years ago it was 'Wouldn't it be fun to ride to Paris to see the end of the Tour on the same day you turn 40?'

Another such chat explains why I was on the 4.27 with the early morning shift, watching the sun glint off the Coryton refinery. Our bikes laden. On another adventure.

We rode across a sleepy London and over to Kings Cross, a quick coffee and the bikes were strapped into the high speed train to the 'North'. I'd looked on the map the day before. I had thought Hull was not too far away, my map said Yorkshire, Dave corrected me and said Humberside. Either way, a bloody long way!

Decamping at Hull, stopping only for a belter of a breakfast as we consulted the maps one last time before heading off in search of National Cycle Route 1. The blue stickers soon to become deeply etched into my mind's eye, forever scanning road furniture for their life saving signs. Seemingly trapped in one dodgy council estate after another we spot our first destination - the Humber Bridge - Dave had been particularly pleased earlier in the month when the actual bridge sent him an email confirming that bikes could indeed travel over. And we rolled over, not quite believing we were really doing this. Not just the Guiness talking for a change

And then we hit Lincolnshire, a long county and really rather lovely; two hours of rolling hills as we got used to the full weight over our back wheels - panniers stuffed with sleeping bags and tents; mini stoves and woolly socks; energy bars and inner tubes. The Wolds opened up in front of us and much out of the seat stuff ensued, wheezing and clambering all over our steeds we were glad to see the sign for Market Rasen and the first of a series of lovely cafe owners, all willing to fill water bottles and indulge two idiots by stoking their egos and asking them why they were so far from home.

All these Viking place names - Wragby, Buslingthorpe, Fiskerton, the B1202, the rampage of the Danes down the east coast. We rolled into Woodhall Spa after riding the quiet of a converted railway line next to the River Whitham. The home of the Dambusters but even a bouncing bomb wouldn't have woken me as I slipped into a sleep so deep that the kids still playing in the late summer sun must have wondered what the strange men in the coffin tents were up to.


The next day we wake slowly and unsurely but the self inflating mattress had done its job and the titanium pocket stove gets us a coffee and the lady in the pitch next door took pity on the lycra fools and made us a bacon sarnie. Thr ritual repacking of all possessions complete we take our leave and follow the river out of town to Chapel Hill and on to the straightest road, a place where Romans marched out of civilization and into the great unknown through Brotherstoft and Hollands Fen.

As we turn a corner there is an old boy, his bike propped to one side of the path. He is sitting contemplating his small pocket of the world. He asks us where we're going and whether we're enjoying Lincolnshire, he then utters, as if from a novel 'South Lincolnshire was invented by God for cyclists' and all we could do was concur. That breakfast in Boston tasted just that bit better for the twenty miles already in our legs.

The next few hours have become a blur as slowly we lost the wind from behind us and found it in our faces. The flat fens replaced by the steep ups and downs of Norfolk. I felt like a sailor tacking his way forward, fighting the breeze, dragging the bike towards the north Norfolk coast, time slipping as we hit Kings Lynn too late for lunch and with the knowledge that Wells-next-the Sea was still a long way to go.

When we sat down for a pint, trying to get a phone signal, the bike computer told us what our legs already knew - over 100 miles on a bike in a day is a long way. Neither of us thinking straight we stared and tried to recall the 'good bits' - swooping through Holkham Hall with its manicured lawns and deer and geese. Ploughing on past Sandringham. Team timetrialling along the Nene. The rollercoaster roads teasing us with glimpses of the sea as we rose, only to take them away as we dipped back down again. But we just wanted to pitch our tents and stuff our gobs. Fish and chips at the seaside is redolent of family holidays but tonight it was fuel and could have been deep fried Wellington boots and we would have been none the unhappier.

As we pedalled past the shrine at Walsingham the next morning, I too felt like a primitive pilgrim, pushing body and soul beyond comfort, suffering to somehow lead to revelation. I didn't mention this to Dave. He doesn't do metaphysics. Certainly not before breakfast. and certainly not after a small breakfast - the greatest sin as we discovered to our cost in Fakenham.

Now on the cycle route 13 we headed south, small tracks and gentle rises, wheat fields and Constable greens, dappled sunlight and the slight mustiness.  The tone shifted, Suffolk softened and our legs settled into the regular rhythmic cadence of a third day on the bike.

Not even the vicious sting of a wasp, nor the only serious time we got lost - trapped in the Thompson triangle as we looped back on ourselves and could only escape by ploughing on down the A1075 racing lorries as lunchtime disappeared from view - could spoil a day which will keep us warm through the disappointing long nights of Premier League underachievement by both Spurs and Liverpool.

We arrived at Glemsford at teatime, the locals bustling round the bar of The Cherry Tree keen to quiz us on our journey. Treated like conquering heroes come home, we knew where our meal would be served tonight. They kept the restauarant open while we went and pitched the tents and washed in an office with just a kettle to complete our ablutions. From such unprepossessing situations do great evenings arise. A heaped plate and great pint led to PD being asked to join their darts' team - he even won a leg against top of the league and my money was refused at the bar as he was doing them all a good turn. Not a bad way to spend my final day of being 43.

Final day and weary legs. Away quickly from our campsite, we needed somewhere to find a birthday breakfast and CM9 in Braintree proved to be the winner of our east Coast breakfast competition - hash browns and chips! No more Sustrans, it was to be ingenuity and luck to get us on the road home. Yesterday's afternoon dash through Bury St Edmunds was replaced with today's slow and stately progress. The honeypot border towns of Yeldham and Pentlow let us know we weren't far from home and when we saw the sign for Terling instinct hit.

Just North Hill, the Danberg as Dowsett calls it, to negotiate and then it's no more than the return leg of a Saturday ride - with panniers. Granny gear fully locked and loaded, I grimaced to the top, my pulse throbbing through my forehead. Home was round the corner. The familiar litany of names rolled by- Hanningfield, Battlesbridge, Hullbridge, Rochford and up, up to the last hill before Southend hospital.

One last pint, appropriately in the place where the plan was hatched. Back just as the lunchtime drinkers were slipping away, we sat in the garden, pints in front of us, 330 miles behind us and we felt good.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Leigh Riders On Tour

Once there were mountains....
The lot of a teacher can be hard and unfair. No more so when the boys decide to up sticks and hurtle down the Pyrenees during term time. So, until one of them gets it together and writes something, here are a few pictures which don't make me feel jealous, honest...sob...sob.
On the Road
Off The Road
Cheers
The General, he loves it when a plan comes together...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Alphaville





They all say it about the Leigh Riders. They all say how great it is that it's not like a proper cycling club with the blokes in blazers and annual subs and marshaling of the annual tt. We like it because it's a loose affiliation of blokes who just want to turn up and ride.


All true but also not exactly accurate. On the face of it the gang are just that, a group of like minded individuals existing in a state of perfect harmony - a dream republic where everyone is both King and subject. Where everyone's voice counts and peace flows like a river and everyone is free to wear Lycra.


I am often asked by outsiders (non bike riders) how we decide where we ride and it is here that it becomes clear that any impression of free wheeling anarcho-syndicalism gives way to nature red in tooth and claw. For it is here that the soul of the group is fought for. At best it is a good natured discussion, a debate amongst a select band who tussle over the various needs of individuals - who needs to get back to placate wives, kids, bosses; who feels knackered after a night on the lash; a knee strain; a rotten week at work and who just wants to have a chat and suck on a wheel for an hour or two. Consensus reached, we pedal away.


There are times though when the silverback gorillas emerge and we see the alpha males make their pitches. On long rides this can take the form of preferred roads, favourite hills or untried tracks. To be in possession of a map beforehand (or to have quite clearly done your homework) can signal an intention to run the ride, a benign dictator who dispenses the pleasure of a new found route like baubles to his court. It can also be seen as a gauntlet thrown with fingers jabbing at other squiggly lines to suggest, oh the temerity, an alternative destination. Here the feeling is more of incipient civil war rather than the universal brotherhood of cyclists. And this is without even considering the machinations which occur if someone dares to suggest a different cafe. Like a Jedi mind trick these are not the tea shops you were looking for.


Invariably the road taken is never regretted, but the road not taken is stored, logged and will be rolled out next time to be presented to the oligarchy again who may eventually allow the ride to be made. Whatever the actual form of government, the surface appearance of a democracy is important. Waiting for one another at key junctions, slowing for piss stops, barracking the unfortunates who puncture and giving a wheel to the desperate. Unless, of course, the gloves are off and the hammer's down and then it is the survival of the fittest. A Darwinian struggle where only the strong and the wily survive. Adapt or die goes the cry as the alpha-est male stomps on his pedals, up the hill and out of sight. And only then do the cycling socialists come to the fore giving protection to the weak and broken, huddling the masses, the we are truly all in this together mentality that gets everyone home and out of the wind and into a warm shower.


And like a beaten hound we come crawling back to our masters once more to do it all again. Back on the chain gang, hoping this time we will be top dog.


PS I have just come back from a solo Canewdon considering the message of this post - it started out as a possible paean for a soviet collective and ended up describing a 'no such thing as society/ we'll ride as a group if you can keep up with me' free market capitalist model with a little welfare state safety net for the weakest members of society slung on for good measure. Hmmm...I might need to rethink this cycling as politics thing.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Team Kit



Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Look of Love


Every time is like the first time. It starts with a few surreptitious looks. Glances almost out of the corner of your eye, as if to confront the love object head on will dazzle you into blindness.

Then you start making enquiries. Just for your own satisfaction you understand. You're never going to do anything about it. Out of your league.

Then you find yourself dropping a name into the conversation just to hear what it sounds like in your mouth. Your friends become suspicious.

Before you know where you are and quite how it happens you are going out together. By yourselves at first, out in the country alone where no-one else will know you. Eventually, you get to know each other. It's a little awkward and for a few days you wonder if you have made the right decision. But in your heart you know there is no going back.

You start to take a few pictures and you sneak a look on your phone, you can't quite believe your luck. Nothing's made you sweat with joy like this.

Eventually introductions are made, your mates coo and admire your choice, you can tell they are jealous. Some may even darkly mutter that you are punching above your weight. You don't hear anything but her sweet voice mingling with the birds in the trees.

Soon you realise you fit together perfectly - all previous relationships a pale imitation of this the ideal marriage. You go away for long weekends together. You speed down lanes with the wind in your hair, you are dangerous and carefree. You are young beyond your years and wish you had met sooner. You are glad you got together at all. You enthuse to anyone who will listen. You are in love.

Every time is like the first time, maybe this time you won't start having your head turned by the latest young thing, maybe this time the glossy mags won't sing their Lorelei song, maybe this time it's for keeps.
Maybe...

Monday, 12 July 2010

From Our Own Correspondent


News just in from our intrepid boys just back from the Doorstep Tour of Essex. 250 miles of sweltering heat, punctures and glorious sunsets.