Base Club – Geared Up

Today saw the re-emergence of base club after a two week hiatus. the weather was pretty horrid; damp and muddy with a seriously unpleasant and blustery wind blowing in off the bristol channel. I could hear it whistling through the letterbox at 6.30am and it took all my willpower to even get out of bed. it was one of those days where i lay there, unsure if i could physically move from the warmth of the duvet at stupid o’ clock on a saturday, until suddenly i was upright, as though my body did the moving and i happened to be in it at the time.

i dressed according to the forecast, taking a pacamac thing that stuffs into a half-water bottle. I opened the door, although i use the word ‘opened’ in the loosest possible sense, i turned the latch and the door blew open as the wind invaded the house, marching through the gap without ceremony or even a hello. The rain sliced across in sheets of drizzle, so i quickly changed into a more robust jacket and went back out. It took a lot of effort to close the door again. it was an inauspicious start.

we met at the tobacco factory, a group of slightly damp and nervous bike riders. steve rolled up ten minutes late. i should add at this point that we waited for him, despite not knowing if he was coming or not. this is a point i will return later in this post. as with all big headwind days, we opted to ride out into the claws of the beast, thus hopefully gaining on the return leg when our legs began to tire. the route took in clarken coombe, clevedon and churchill, before climbing up shipham and dropping down to cheddar. from cheddar we rode back up the gorge and across, coming back into town through whitchurch. it’s a standard base club ride, with a bit more main road than usual because some people were on their bestest, newest bicycles. i was on my condor which i have equipped with SKS race blade longs. i shall let you know the outcome of this experiment in a forthcoming post.

cheddar gorge is an incredible place. the steep sides of the gorge tower above the ribbon of road like silent sentinels. there is a peculiar sense of geological time, of forces over and above what we can understand from within the finite and utterly transient time scales we have available to us. it’s awe-inspiring, and was used as the National Hillclimb in 2006. There’s a steep section in the middle followed by a long and generally fast ascent of around 3%. it’s not my favourite climb in cycling terms, but it is a fantastic place to ride though, if that makes any sense at all. Today the wind favoured us, giving a gentle push all the way up. if i wasn’t trying so hard to take pictures i might have had a real go at it and see what sort of time i could do. as it was i got stuck on the really steep bit (it’s 17% near the bottom) with a camera in my hand just as the headwind suddenly reared up and channeled down the gap between the enormous cliffs on either side.

base club climbs the gorge

later we really upped the tempo, riding with the wind as we hurtled through the lake side villages of bishops sutton and chew magna. all was well until I sat up to eat a banana. the others didn’t notice at first and a gap opened. i ignored it and ate my banana, confident that i could close it fairly easily. My confidence was misplaced, it went out to around 70 metres and we turned back into the block headwind; i was completely adrift; the front four were working together (and not waiting) and i was have a really tough time and chewing stem. it made me realise why road races get so edgy when the wind blows – once you’re out the back, for example after a corner, you’ve pretty much no chance of getting back on again. I sat up in the end, and felt sure they would wait. they didn’t. it took near enough three miles. i unleashed some mock indignation. they said they thought i was taking photos or something. steve later tweeted:

“softlad wants us to stop so he can eat a banana. have trouble getting yer bib on or summat?”

it’s now an apocryphal part of the short history of base club. in the end we managed the 45 miles, with 2500ft, in about 2hr 40 minutes; roughly 17mph average. it hurt a bit and was the hardest i’ve ridden over distance since last season. which is a good thing, of sorts.

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