I went out on the club run this week, opting to take the hill weapon out for a spin. I’d just assembled it the day before which included some quite complex mechanical operations, with changing headsets being the most challenging task. I used my home-made headset press, a disused flat handlebar and a rubber mallet. There are very few things a rubber mallet cannot be used for.
The bike held up well but i suffered on the flat route, spinning out a bit too much with no hills to tackle so i chipped off earlier (a cameo appearance, as Clare put it), and headed out towards Burrington Combe to test the legs. As i neared the mythical col it became apparent that there had been a disturbance in the force. Legions of cyclists were crawling along the A368, each with a number plate stitched onto the front of the bike. The dominant kit colour was Wiggle orange, along with lots of team kits. Radioshack seemed very popular, along with Garmin Sharp. It became clear I’d stumbled across the parcours of the Wiggle Mendip Etape Epic Ride Sufferfest Super Series Sportive™.
I turned onto the Combe and stretched my legs; it felt strangely incongruous; the climb was lined with riders, many of them on markedly expensive road bikes, some not. They were all sizes and persuasions. For some unfathomable reason the feed station had been placed at the bottom of a two mile climb, providing the perfect opportunity to cram your face with cake and gel and whatever else before riding uphill for two miles. Avid readers of this blog, of which there are at least two – my wife and child – will know that the mystical and frightening world of the sportive surfaces occasionally. Having found myself unexpectedly thrown into the midst of sportive, like a leftover cake crumb trapped haplessly in the rolling stomach folds of a corpulent ex-golfer, I have a number of observations to make. Of the 100 riders I passed on the climb in the space of about 9 minutes, not one was wearing club kit. i found this a little bit disappointing but it’s indicative of the way ‘cycling’ is at the moment. I can’t help but feel that these mass-participation events are a little bit more solipsistic and individualistic than people like to think. They all looked pretty damned miserable. For some of them there clearly was a sense of personal challenge, which i applaud without reservation or irony. Judging by the number of Wiggle jerseys in evidence there is one clear beneficiary to the super series. Lastly, the thought of paying £28 to ride around the Mendips and have a free high 5 gel seems a little bit steep when you can do it for free on any given weekend on a club run and other people will share the fellowship of the road with you in exchange only for kindness and reciprocity.
On the way up the climb I had to repeatedly and frequently ask riders to keep in. The norm seemed to be to ride 3, 4 or 5 abreast. The sudden changes in direction were also a bit alarming. I think i got some strange glances, hurtling past in a club jersey, of all things, on fixed wheel, riding tubs, at high speed. It was all a bit much. No-one tried to stay on my wheel. Kieran mentioned that he also encountered the ride later that day and witnessed a crash as the riders were going uphill. i don’t quite know how this can have happened, but imagine it was played out in high-def ultra slo-mo. More dishearteningly, I came across several discarded energy food wrappers. There is no excuse for littering the countryside.
Here is the photobomb: