Stratford to Bristol

The last day and the return leg, if you like. As the ride progressed I began to encounter more roads and places I’d been to before. It took a while though. My route out of Stratford was flat and tailwind assisted, it helped no end. In fact, things were going great and at one point I was nudging a 16mph average speed. After ten miles of blissful ignorance, I hit the northerly point of the Cotswold escarpment, heading up via Mickleton Village onto the tops and across the summit of Dover’s Hill. This is the spiritual home of hill climbing, and outside of Winnats has been used more times than any other. It was also where I first took part in the National Hill Climb, in 2010. It was won by Dan Fleeman, who previously rode for Cervelo. I remember coming 24th and getting chastised for not wearing my club jersey. I don’t think I actually had a club jersey at that point though. Maybe I did, if so it was a scratchy Kalas number that I didn’t really take to.

The banner picture of the blog was taken at Dovers and you can see both me (in the crowd) and Tejvan launching his assault, when he came 4th by a very narrow margin to Mike Smith. I imagine Matt Clinton was 3rd. Lots of people were there who I didn’t know, but later came to know very well through the book. It’s the first time I’ve been near the climb since, and didn’t realise until I recognised the turn and place where riders looped round to head back down the hill. It felt strange.

After Dover’s the road carried on rising up to the Broadway Tower, a landmark in this section of the Cotswolds. Apparently you can see for 62 miles and take sight of 16 counties. I carried on, it looked like a slightly gaudy folly, which essentially is what it is. I was content though to have avoided Chipping Camden, or anywhere with the word ‘Chipping’ in the title. For what it’s worth, the term ‘chipping’ means market square, or long market. Maybe I’m debasing such places by association, it’s the David Cameron effect. The tuneless, tootling twat lives somewhere with Chipping in the title, therefore all Chippings must be avoided at all costs.

IMG_20170422_091047
Broadway (so many people)

The route straight over and across was quite arduous. I’ve done worse, but it probably wasn’t the best idea for the third day of a tour. I went up and over Cutsdean, and then intersected the course for the Cheltenham CC Hilly Time Trial. Again, it was a slightly odd experience to cut across a stretch of road I’d previously only raced along. I vaguely remember winning there once, but it might have all been a dream. At Temple Guiting the road dropped down into Kineton. Ominous signs warned of ‘deep water’ and ‘FORD’. I became fearful, the descent was long, long long. The further it descended into the bowels of the Cotswold woodland, the more I resolved to swim whatever raging torrent lurked at the bottom if I had to. It would surely be preferable to returning from whence I had come.

At the bottom the ford was intoxicating; a picture of stillness and tranquility. The only sound was the water running in rivulets over the polished pebbles and birds in the trees above. I can’t recall the last time I was in a place where the only sounds were the products of the natural environment. It felt special, utterly unusual, and deeply soothing. I would have stayed for longer, and in that moment vowed to return again one day.

IMG_20170422_093605

I was also grateful for the ancient clapper bridge, which meant I avoided a swim.

It was a beautiful day and I lucked out with a tailwind most of the way home. It made pedalling a joy and I almost didn’t bother stopping for lunch, but a fortuitously-placed cafe in Sherston saw a last pasty smash and avoided the threat of bonk.

IMG_20170422_122432672.jpg
Cheese and Onion Pasty Smash

I got home around 2pm, 88 miles to the good, with 270 complete for the three days. I had ridden back from my Dad’s, a curious ambition I’d held for a while. Admittedly, I am not yet a fully qualified ultranutter, but I have achieved my solo saddlebag touring badge and will be sewing it onto the carradice soon.

IMG_20170422_112019736

IMG_20170422_082913

It is the sense of adventure, the achievement in doing something like this, and the opportunity to see the countryside and patterns of people and places unfold at a sedate place, that make it such a thrilling, life-affirming activity. It’s good to go with people, but it’s equally joyous to take off and ride on your own, through the heart of the landscape, and to make good your escape for a few brief liminal moments. It makes the return a lovely experience, the reacquaintance with waiting family.

IMG_20170422_140626.jpg
Daddy. Is that you? You look different. Like you’ve had a liminal experience. Did you bring me choclut? 
Uncategorized

Flintham to Stratford on Avon

There are some salutary lessons to be taken away from the complex art of route planning. Primarily, by all means plan a 90 miler away from all conurbations and anything larger than an abandoned medieval hamlet, but don’t be surprised if you then find yourself wondering where all the shops are and panicking about what you’re going to eat.

Leicestershire is both prettier and lumpier than I anticipated. I think I ended up riding across the Wolds, a stretch of woldiness up above Loughborough. It is quaint and gently rolling. I found the remote village of Quorn, which is a pilgrimage of sorts to a vegetarian like me. I started slowly on account of some pangs of anxiety, my knee was hurting at the end of the previous day’s riding. It was fine. Once I got up around the 50 mile mark I pressed on and made up time. It’s interesting how distance changes when you embark on a long day in the saddle, or multiple long days. Once you crack the 50 mile ride there’s a ray of optimism, only 40 miles to go… It’s peculiar. You have to forget about distance and just tap along, looking at things and getting lost in the flow of the activity, the gentle pulse of the mind, ambling along in unison with the bike. It’s surprisingly easy to do long days, although I’m not sure how long a ride has to be these days to qualify as ‘long’. No sooner had I uploaded my three day epic than one of my chums spuffed out a 280km day ride just for the express purpose of shitting and giggling. These people (the Baineses, the Silvertons, all of Bristol Audax Club who thought it would be fun to ride home from Rome before tea –  you know who you are) shall from this day forth be known collectively as the ‘ultranutters’.

edwar.JPG

IMG_20170421_105334304

This is the first mini-tour I’ve done on my own, so it gave plenty of time for thinking, but unfortunately yielded no profound insights. I made some observations; inane things like how counties or areas become defined by their county towns in the imagination at least, For instance, I thought Leicestershire would be a bit of a shitty midlands sprawl because that’s what I think Leicester is (even if it isn’t), but it couldn’t be further from the truth, it’s a beautiful county. Once you get out of the towns and cities, weaving a stitched line along the OS map, it’s quite startling how English everything becomes. The rural landscape, imaginative, physical, demographic and imaginative, is very much middle England, punctuated by the flag of St George, villages in thrall to a vision of the past that is at once bucolic, refreshing, but clearly at odds with the more modern subjectivity of the city dweller. The gap is more of a yawning chasm, there is nothing within the villages of Quorn or Cerney or Wymeswold or Barnetby that links even remotely (no pun in intended) to the metropolis. When you ride through it, it’s not hard to see and feel the disconnect between the city and the countryside in terms of modern identity.

IMG_20170421_101752
PARTY TIME! EXCELLENT! WYMESWOLD! (very nice post box)

The closest I came too civilisation (which now sounds like a contradiction in terms) was the outskirts of Nuneaton. It was also the only place I saw a shop, and the only place I didn’t really want to stop and leave the bike, so i pressed on. I did ride up Gun Hill though, and wondered if it was the same Gun Hill which Harold Worthern and Vic Clark used to ride up in the early 1940s.

IMG_20170421_154636658
Me, with a slightly odd, beadle-esque arm.

Stratford is nice, insofar as they have kept the bits that were important and linked in some way to old Shakey. I was expecting amazing medieval hostelries, but found only Greene King pubs. Mercifully, there is a micropub there, which is one of the best drinking establishments I have ever been to. It’s called the ‘Stratford Ale House’ and occupies an old health food store. Seems apt.

IMG_20170421_181619
Amazing exterior
IMG_20170421_164415.jpg
Amazing interior

day two

By about 9pm I was absolutely cream-crackered. It took two and a half pints over three hours to wipe me out completely. Hardcore.

Withernsea to Flintham

The weather has been kind. Touring is much more straightforward without the unwelcome involvement of pissing rain or a slapping headwind. Fortunately Thursday’s 91 miles involved neither of those things. Now that I’ve mentioned the “91”ness of the ride, i feel like i need to immediately drag this 100 mile imperial elephant into the room and kill it. I knew it was going to be a 90 mile ride. If I’d gone through the Wolds via Market Rasen, it would have been 107 miles. And i would have been a messy, leaking heap on the floor. I had no desire to pop that 100 mile marker, especially with two more big days to follow.

It did involve some lovely scenic stuff. The Humber bridge is an utter corker, curving upwards in a tensile arc like a longbow. Lincoln is beautiful and very medieval. It’s the closest I’ve seen to a French city like Dijon. I imagine it escaped wholescale bombing in the war. The joyous bit is at the top of Steep Hill (that is what it is called, on account of it being really steep). I think it’s used in the Lincoln GP. I have a new found respect for the riders.

IMG_20170420_132715IMG_20170420_133035

For most of the day i was tapping along, flatter is easier. Lincolnshire is flat. Essentially, it’s flat flat flat. And straight, often on account of the Roman road and parallel road. It’s also deserted because all the traffic seems to pour over the Humber Bridge and down the main road, leaving everything else empty. The landscape is punctuated by current and mothballed RAF bases, and more than a few deserted medieval villages. (They’re more just tumps then ghost towns).

The hunger took hold at Lincoln when i rode past the walker’s crisps factory. It smelt good. I ate a banana, then stocked up on Newark for my evening meal. It was a king’s banquet of packet macaroni cheese and packet egg fried rice, with a bag of wasabi peas and two malteser bunnies. And three bottles of choice ale. I caned the lot. Just reward for a 91 mile touring schlep.

IMG_20170420_081540297.jpg
Grand depart
Uncategorized

Saddlebagging

It sounds slightly dubious. Like sandbagging, or teabagging (no hyperlink on this occasion). Maybe a combination of the both, sandyteabagging. With a saddle. Others call it ‘credit card touring’, on account of the lightness of the tour, i.e not going full touring bongo, front and back panniers, dynamo hub, SPD sandals and other CTC erotica. Either way, and whatever hankie you’ve got in your top pocket, I’m going on a short saddlebag tour. These are convenient and can be woven into a busy life, allowing a short glimpse of the outdoors without the kind of legal compromises that can ensue with the unexpected announcement of a forthcoming world cycling tour.

Previously I’ve done Devon/Cornwall. It was very hilly and very beautiful. We (me, Graham and Steve) missed a fatal helicopter crash by inches. It was very hilly. We went to a pub and were lucky to escape alive. The road out of Lynton was the most beautiful ride I think I’ve ever done. A pint of Exmoor Ale on Exmoor never tasted so good. Day two was enlivened by the three of us catching up with a clubmate who had been dropped in a road race. It was strange. Day one was way too hard. It was all absurdly hilly and incredibly beautiful.

I also did the Brecon Beacons and Gospel Pass with Will. It was very hilly. In fact, it was so hilly I think he had some sort of minor breakdown halfway up the climb to Foxhunters. We survived. We met with Jack Thurston and featured in his book about Wales.

This year I’m opting for a straight ride back, an A to B, from Withernsea (the Saint Tropez of the Holderness peninsula, said no-one ever) to Bristol, over three days. It’s big miles, but it hopefully should be relatively benign until I reach the Cotswolds.

The bike is ready to go.

IMG_20170418_094239.jpg

I’m using a Carradice Nelson on the back and a Carradice Barley bar bag on the front. It’s a nice set-up, and one I haven’t used before. In the past I’ve always opted for the super C, which is a total whopper of a bag, and nothing on the front. I like the option of having ready-to-grab things up front. It also means you can opt for the slightly smaller bag at the back. Accommodation is then provided by the good folks at Air B+B (a high-end shed in someone’s garden near Newark) and Premier Inn.

super c.jpg
The Super C. SUPER MASSIVE BLACK HOLE. 

I’ll try and keep people posted. Probably best for the three long-suffering readers of this blog to check out my instagram feed for live pictures of unending tarmac and the lincolnshire badlands. So excited.

 

New Kit Day and MilltagMan and Mark Hamill

Today was new kit day. I went to Forever Pedalling, a shop run by an erstwhile Bristol hipster (Bripster? Hipstol?) friend which has lovely things in a range of modish colours. It has no white socks; I had to get these via Prendas. I picked up my Das Rad Klub jersey; it’s understated by their standards; I have a previous iteration I like with a bright pink arm. I missed out on the DRK vs GTA megamix, but liked this one. Like most new cycling jerseys it seems to have grippers on the arms, which I like. It feels quite ‘pro’. I also got a new Giro Synthe helmet after noticing my previous 5 year old, 4 x crashed (at least) lid had several cracks running all the way through. New jersey, socks, helmet: new kit day.

IMG_20170409_085241
Das Dad Klub

It seemed to make me go much faster than usual; but that could also be the weather and the slightly quieter 2 weeks after 8 weeks of fairly relentless training.

better

It’s quite reassuring to be upping the average speed, even if I did reduce the amount of elevation I’d typically factor in. I felt I’d gone well on Chew Hill, it’s our club segment this month, only to see Dan B smash it up there a full 45 seconds faster. Still some work to do in the ‘riding hard’ stakes.
My new DRK jersey is made by Milltag. They make nice jerseys. I have a stack of Milltag stuff, including a Pixies jersey and a Boikszmoind jersey, neither of which I ever wear. The label has a picture of someone who shall henceforth be known only as ‘MilltagMan’. There’s something utterly modern and beikgeist about this picture. The only thing missing is an expensive full-sleeve tattoo.

The fact that he looks a bit like a bit like Zod adds to the panache, the aesthetic totality. It means business, it means lasers from the eyes and immense strength, it means immaculate beardage and the strength of a thousand weekend warriors.

General Zod is the touchstone for hipster decolletage as well. The line of neatly coiffed hair ascending from the V complements the precision of the facial trim. Maximum points here. This is modern cycling.

This weekend was also Bespoked Bristol, the ever growing and pulsating hand-made bike show which takes place at the engine shed. I missed it this year because I was faced with a fundamental and savage dilemma: go and see bikes vs ride bikes. The latter won, hands down. The Bespoked arena is increasingly serious high-end fetishism. There is some wondrous stuff there, beautiful and impressive, none more so that this beast from the Engineered Stable (Bristol based, of course):

ENG_ESP_G01
5.1kg

Chris King was there. In the heroic legend stakes he’s second only to Tom Ritchey. And Mark Hamill, who Rob Borek thought it was.

It wasn’t him. Although there is a similar level of mythology surrounding both men.

Uncategorized

No Excuses

As a committed racing cyclist who was recently become reacquainted with the form, I’ve noticed the exponential increase in cycling is accompanied in equal measure by an increase in purchases. I thought I’d broken the habit and even discovered that my platinum discount with Wiggle had run out. Alas, it was simply because I wasn’t racing.

The issue with regard to any deep-seated problem, like the obsessive purchasing of shiny cycling bongo, is how to conceal the ‘illness’ from friends and loved ones. This is the point at which the deception begins. Herewith are two of the  recent excuses I have heard from similarly-afflicted people. These do not include the ‘arrange delivery to work, sneak it into the house, hide the box in the shed and eat the haribo at once‘ approach.

Excuse 1:

“I had to get a new disc wheel. The old one was lenticular, which was all the rage about 5 minutes ago but has since been superseded by a quicker wheel with a wider rim and toroidal profile. I couldn’t get out of not buying it. When it arrived in the house I put it beside the dining room table for a week and told the husband it was a lazy susan for when we have the in-laws to stay, I’m going to cook dim sum.”.

Lazy-COLLAGE
Spot the Difference.

Excuse 2:

An erstwhile colleague who bought home a brand new, super-expensive Bongo-helmet from the bike shop one Saturday afternoon.

“What is that?”

“That? What? That’s nothing.”

“That, there in the box, the box with Kask written on it, which might as well say ‘kid’s inheritance spent on Dad’s mamil-bongo’.

‘Oh that! That’s an aero-helmet. It’s by Kask. It’s normally super expensive. I went in for an inner tube and when I paid for it this klaxon went off and they told me I was Sigma Sport’s 100,000th customer and gave me a Kask Aero-helmet.”

 

animation (7).gif

 

Uncategorized

Just when i thought i was out…

It’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one struggling with the vagaries of form and fitness when measured against former glories. The simple truth is coming back after a layoff is very hard. It’s difficult to attain the same level, and even more difficult to maintain a degree of equanimity about it. It’s impossible not to compare a ride with an equivalent from 5 years ago (1hr 04 Vs 57 minutes anyone?) Yet at the same time it’s an entirely pointless exercise because you simply can’t compare the two. Since I started riding in January it’s been a hard slog. I’ve lost a lot of weight in a short space of time, and I’ve made some progress. In short though, it’s a case of trying really hard and not really getting anywhere. It makes me realise how competitive I used to be, and how dampening that competitiveness is going to be central to enjoying the experience of bike racing.

The WTTA course is one of my least favourite hilly events. It’s not very hilly. In fact, it’s so not very hilly that they use three laps as a 100 mile TT. It suits the big powerful boys and girls, and can be ridden in the saddle. The road surface is also very grippy. Lots of chunky A-road stuff. Since the first race of the season I’ve been getting slower each time. I started off quite close to my peers. I’m now drifting out and going backwards. I’m not sure why this is, possibly because I’m not trying hard enough, possibly because I have a lack of training and base, possibly because everyone else is on a sharper upwards curve than I am. By way of an example, someone I caught for three minutes three weeks ago was pretty much the same as me today.

It’s my last race for about 6 weeks so we’ll see what happens later in the season.

Capture

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized