Thought I’d do something a bit different and recount various cycling-related short stories from over the years I’ve been racing and riding. Some funny, some not, some disgusting, some painful but see what you think. I’ve written down ten off the top of my head, so I’ll break them up over two posts, first five now.
If you’ve heard them before, just move on to the next one.
The Fluke win
My cycling buddies will be bored of hearing this one so I’m just going to get it out of the way. Back in 2008(?) I rode a local race called the Two Counties RR , based on three laps of the Rabbit Run circuit near Bridgnorth. I was going well. I’d had a good cross season so I was carrying some decent form, the only question mark was my endurance. The race was 85km. The race rolled out up Hermitage Hill and down the long stretch into Worfield where the flag went to start the race. Someone attacked from the gun and got a gap, then another rider and then me within the first mile. I caught the two in front up pretty quickly, we had about a 15-20 secs gap and away we went. It was clear the guy who attacked first was really strong. The 2nd guy was no less than the ex-pro, Steve Jones and me. For the first circuit we drilled it, riding too hard pushing through and then Steve took control, ‘had a word’ and told us what to do. Simply ride through, don’t push then ease. It kept the speed high without the surges that were killing us. The gap went up and up, over a minute and the laps ticked off. The first guy was still way stronger than me and Steve. On the last lap Steve told us he was cooked and wouldn’t contest the sprint but would work if we didn’t attack. The finale has a short sharp climb and as we hit it the strong guy went, Steve was dropped, I was in 2nd. I buried myself but couldn’t get the gap any closer than 20 metres. At the top of the climb there is a roundabout and the course goes left but on the last lap you go straight on for 200m to finish. Resigned to 2nd place I ploughed on up the drag to the roundabout and then watched the guy in front go left rather than straight on. I turned round to look at the commissaire (race judge) in the car and he just waved to just go, go, go. So I did. I carried straight on and (accidentally) won one of the best races I ever rode from a 54 mile long break.
At the prize giving after I sat next to Steve who told me that 25 years to that day he was lined up to start the Amstel Gold race. I felt really bad for the guy that lost but I got my name on a big trophy for posterity though.
10p tyre levers
I was out on a training ride some years ago. So long ago in fact it was when we had the old, bigger 10p pieces. Well I was out over Spetchley way near Worcester and got a puncture. Annoying as they are but no big deal until you realise you have forgotten your tyre levers! I didn’t have a mobile phone and no phone box as far as the eye could see. All I had was some change in my pocket which included two old 10p pieces. I wrecked my fingers but somehow I managed to wrestle my tyre off and back on using them as tyre levers. It took a while but it got me home. I never did use 10p pieces as levers again after that because I’ve never forgotten to take them with me since.
I think we’ve all had to improvise when out on our bikes at sometime when we’ve had a mechanical.
First sub hour 25
Going under the hour for 25 miles is a rite of passage for club cyclists that race. Having achieved it when I was Junior I’d say its more mental than physical because I raced a few times and failed and then when I did manage it, the sub hour rides came regularly. Anyway, the first time I went under the hour was on the old K24/25, the A46 Warwick bypass. It’s effectively a motorway now and hasn’t been used for years. I think it was banned when a rider got killed at an event on there. The course used to start on B road by Leek Wootton that ran parallel to the A46. You’d filter onto the bypass and ride a short section, come off and ride up over Hatton Bank to an island, return, back onto the A46 and then out to Coventry before turning and riding home to finish. If you ride or race a lot, you just know when you’re going well and that day I felt great. You also know if you’re close to the hour or a PB you can somehow get another few % out of yourself and literally destroy yourself. Well that day I was on a ride and I did smash myself to bits and scraped under the hour in 59:58. I was overjoyed. I was a junior and my mom used to drive me to the events. My enduring memory of this race was trying to get off my bike when I got back to the car. My back, my glutes, everything was just locked up. I was in agony and couldn’t walk down the stairs when I got back home.
A few weeks after this ride I broke the club record for a junior and that year I think I won every junior prize in the club. I still have a press cutting from the local rag of me (with hair!) about 17 or 18 showing off with my bike and trophies in the snow outside my house.
L’Etape du Tour
If you tell someone who doesn’t know that you once rode a stage of the Tour de France. They’ll always be impressed. I did. Back in July 2001, I rode a 148km stage from Tarbes – Luz Ardiden in the Pyrenees. The Etape is a closed-road sportive ride for thousands of us non-pro cyclists which follows the same route of a chosen stage (normally a mountain one) a few days before the actual race passes through. This stage climbed the Col d’Aspin, Col du Tourmalet and then upto the ski resort of Luz Ardiden. When you ride these mass participation events there is always a buzz and a vibe of excitement at the start. It was about 7am, cool and I was pumped. I’d been training well and one of the last rides before heading to France was a ride upto Llandudno to my folks. 120 odd miles in 6.5hrs. I was ready. The event started. A bit chaotic as normal and the fast groups came past until you latched onto one and got a free ride. We hit the first climb the Aspin, its 1st category so not super super tough but a test. It wound its way up and up and I rode a decent tempo. This was my first taste of real mountains. The real take away from this and all the events I’ve done like it since is despite how many hundreds of riders are around you, its eerily quiet. Everyone is suffering and riding in their own bubble. Its difficult to convey but it is an odd thing. The descent was fast and safe and then at the bottom it was a left and we began the climb of the Tourmalet. This beast is Hor Category meaning so hard its beyond categorisation. The lower slopes were fine but as the gradient kicked up and sustained, the gears went down and down until I had no more left. All I could do now was rely on brute strength. Some way up we passed through the La Mongie ski resort. I stopped at the feed station knackered. I filled my pockets and got going again. When I left the resort I could see only what I can describe as a line of ants ahead. Riders ahead high up. It crushed me and the doubts set in. I just kept toiling with the gradient, pedalling. The top never seemed to get any closer. Just before the top, I caught my mate and we descended together which was a buzz. The crowds in Luz-St-Sauveur at the bottom were awesome and then it was out of town and back into the deafening silence of the final climb to Luz Ardiden. Its a unique last few km because you kind of round the mountain into almost an amphitheatre. You can see the finish high up in front and the road snaking up in front of you. Broken, I rounded the final bend and then out of the distance I heard my (ex) wife shouting and I nearly broke down in tears. The emotion of finishing something so hard just took over.
The take home from this event was you can’t prepare for real mountains in the UK. I got complacent and it came back to bite me big style. On top that, the stage winner in the Tour took 4hrs and the slowest rider 4.5 hrs, a full 2hrs faster than me FFS!
Cross trainers DNF
I got into cyclocross quite late circa 2007 I think. Typical of me I then threw myself into it and took it seriously from a kit, training and racing point of view and did ok. I’d place often and won a couple. Most of the events I did were in the West Midlands league but occasionally I’d ride twice in a weekend or fill a weekend with a race elsewhere. This particular day I went up to the Darley Moor racing circuit to ride a race there which was part of the Notts & Derby league. I was going well and fancied this one. The circuit suited me. Not much mud, pan flat and some tarmac (on the circuit). I got changed and then realised I’d forgotten my shoes. I was so pissed off but I was so determined not to waste the trip I lined up in my pumps on eggbeater pedals. Now if you don’t know what eggbeater pedals are they effective look like one. There is no platform so riding on them on soft pumps in the middle of your foot is difficult. I started and got going. I’d resigned myself to just riding round for a workout. We rode through a couple of gravel traps on the edge of the circuit which were deep and interesting. The power was there but as the event carried on and I completed some laps, the soles of my feet began to burn. I tried to ride through it but after 30 mins I just pulled up. My feet were on fire. I never did forget my cross shoes after that.