This morning was the first seriously cold start of the winter, with a gaggle of malicious minus temperatures hanging around outside waiting for unsuspecting cyclists. I prepared by wearing two pairs of gloves: a thinner set of Defeets and some Pearl Izumi Cyclones over the top. This has typically saved me from the cruel nastiness of numb and painful fingers. I’ve never really suffered from cold hands, unlike others I know who have struggled for years to find some sort of solution to the pain and misery of icy digits.
Bernard Hinault wasn’t averse to riding in cold weather and it’s impossible not admire the relentless and indefatigable spirit of Le Blaireau. I recommend Richard Moore’s recent book, Slaying the Badger, for further insights into the character of arguably the last great patron of the peloton. One of his landmark victories came in Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1980. Around half of the field abandoned within the hour, unable and unwilling to ride into the ashen and ghostly face of a savage blizzard. Hinault stayed put, finally pulling out a 10 minute lead over Hennie Kuiper and taking the win, but at a cost: he had such severe frostbite that two fingers on his right hand remain numb to this day.
Being able to ride through unbelievably harsh conditions and get the job done is a good way to pick up points. See Ian Stannard at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne, or Andy Hampsten’s epic ride over the Gavia in 1988. This year’s Chippenham Hardrider is the closest I’ve come to hypothermia on the bike.
During this morning’s 6 mile ride to work my hands stubbornly refused to warm up. This is of course exactly how Hampsten and Hinault must have felt. I gained some feeling in my left hand but the fingers on my right remained cold and became extremely painful. When I arrived at work the pain had increased to the extent that I felt nauseous. I have had cold hands before but usually it’s only for the first bit of a ride. For a brief moment I thought of Cherry-Garrard in his savage quest for penguin’s eggs, walking into the eternal frozen night of the South Pole and becoming permanently frostbitten. And i resolved to get some better gloves.
I suspect that one of the causes might have been paradoxically because i wore two pairs of gloves. They were quite tight with no layers of air between the fabric or around the fingers. I think that a layer of warm air is required to add insulation, which is perhaps why mittens or even the lobster’s claw, are a popular choice for those with poor circulation. I have ordered some thicker and hopefully more effective winter gloves for the really cold mornings to come.