Two French riders of exception.
November. The summer jerseys are packed away for another year. The days are shorter, and the weather colder. Riders huddle together for warmth while they wait for stragglers at the top of the climb.
Surrey hills, November 2011
Photo: Dan Thornton 2011 (aka FatManonaBike)
Sunday, 18th July 2010
Sue Ryder Big K Cyclesportive
I’ve heard it said that a happy writer is a lousy writer. That is not to say that Fat Man on a Bike is borne out of a suicidal depression, or periods of alcohol-fuelled paracetamol overdoses. On the contrary. However, I have become fitter, and the suffering has become secondary to the enjoyment of the cycling itself, words have failed me. Sort of.
Perhaps it was destined to only be a temporary blip, a relatively brief period when I could convince myself that I was getting better, but still maintain that I should be spending July in France, riding somewhere in the Alps, wearing a yellow jumper, and shoving a bicycle pump through the front spokes of that little Spanish chap, Bertie Cupboard-door. Or whatever his name is. The proof would be in the pudding which, in this case, was a big fat Yorkshire Pudding. With sugar and lemon juice. This was the Bronte Big K sportive.
I was relatively confident that an eighty-eight mile jaunt around the hills that I still considered “home territory” would be little more than a walk in the park, and the utter absence of blazing sunshine, as is customary in Yorkshire, would simply make it easier. I duly arrived at my brother’s house at around 08.00hrs, and was greeted by a man dressed not in a lycra outfit, but instead in the expected dressing gown. Never ready, he’s nothing if not consistent. After much messing about, bouncing of a small child on my knee, and a torrential downpour outside, we finally set off for the event registration in nearby town of Keighley.
It wasn’t long before we were on a hill, although we nearly didn’t make the first climb of the day. The signage was pretty poor coming away from the town centre, and a bit of common sense (one of the most inappropriately named senses, perhaps) was needed to avoid riding round in uninspiring circles for the entire day. In retrospect, it’s entirely possible that common sense failed, as we could’ve used it as a criterium-style circuit, and saved ourselves from the sadistic route planner and his/her vile course. Anyway. The first hill was the climb from Keighley up into Haworth, home of the Brontes. Well, it was, but since they’re all rather dead by now, and as we’re not a pair of time-travelling freaks, I should probably have said the former home of the Brontes. We’d left the start line with another chap, who was clearly a wheel-sucker with no intention of sharing the pace. It took a set of temporary traffic lights, and our refusal to disobey the road traffic regulations to get rid of him, as he whipped around us and disappeared off up the road. That was the very last time anyone rode past us all day.
The first climb of the day was already completed, and I was looking forward to a few miles of flattish road to get the legs going. I was going to be denied this most basic of requirements by a route planner that probably drove around the course rather than riding it on a bicycle. The hills were joined together with hills, with some wind and rain thrown in there for good measure, meaning that at times we had to ride at an angle of approximately 45〫to the road. Or 135, depending on which side you’re measuring. Pedants. By the time we dispatched a number of riders on the 26% ascent of Goose Eye, I had a thigh strain, and couldn’t ride out of the saddle for much more than ten or twelve pedal revolutions. I had to ride like Der Kaiser himself – Jan Ullrich. Except without the a face full of chips. Or, sadly, beer.
Twelve hills in, we hit something that not only resembled a descent, but was somewhere I recognised. Considering I spent the first twenty-nine years of my life living in the area, I’d been utterly lost until we reached Stoney Ridge. From here, we dropped down into Saltaire, a picturesque Victorian model village, founded in 1853 by Sir Titus Salt, a miserable twat who built houses for his workers so they couldn’t be late for work in t’ mill (or something), and boasts streets named after his children, the most memorable being Fanny Street. My brother is, by his own admission, shit at riding his bike downhill, and I’d opened a gap between us. The gap was to be very short-lived, as this was also the location of the second feeding station. On offer were such delights as the cyclist’s perennial favourite, the banana, flapjack, and the highly-rated High5 energy drink. I threw back several small cups of High5, and was tucking into a nice bit of cake when my brother arrived. “Don’t go drinking that High5 stuff fast…it’ll give you a really bad stomach if you do”, he said (or words to that effect).
“Oh”, I replied. “It might be a bit late for that”. He wasn’t to be proved wrong.
Leaving the feeding station was a slightly confused affair, with crap signage and the route requiring us to cycle over a footbridge where cycling is prohibited. A few turns later, and we were heading up into Baildon, and across Baildon Moor. The High5 had delivered it’s promised stomach problems as soon as we’d set off, which is a shame really, as the road pointed upwards. I went backwards, and it was the last I was to see of my brother until well after the finish. On the descent from Baildon Moor, I chased as hard as I could without puking, but the rider in the distance turned out not to be him, but a chap who’s name almost certainly wasn’t Jeff Dangleberry. I caught and passed Jeff easily enough, but he hung on my back wheel for a while and refused to come and share the work. I gave it as much wellie as I could find, and dropped him.
A few solitary miles later, and after an energy gel which seemed to suck energy out of me rather than put it in, I rolled into the posh spa town of Ilkley. You can tell it’s posh, because it has a Betty’s cafe. Or maybe it has a Betty’s because it’s posh. Either way, if it didn’t have a spa, it’d be as piss-poor as everything else around it. But it does, and so it’s not. It’s a pleasant, busy little town, with a big bastard hill on the other side. This is where I was headed. Ilkley Moor is the highest part of Rombalds Moor, and is famously known outside of Yorkshire because of the stupid git who tried wooing his bird on the moor without his hat on, and the associated county anthem, On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at. I’d considered the climb of Ilkla Moor (upon which I was wearing a helmet, which is a sort of hat, I suppose) to be the toughest part of the route. On it’s own it didn’t concern me, but after fifty-something miles that was tougher than I was expecting it looked bloody huge. It was. At it’s steepest point, it’s “only” a 13% gradient, but I managed to go slow enough to be, albeit briefly, stationary. After about four days, I crawled past the Cow and Calf rocks, and the public house of the same name, and I was at the top.
Despite all my moaning, groaning and wheezing, I’d managed to not only not get caught, but to catch someone up. Well, nearly. From the top of the Cow and Calf, the road levels out briefly before starting a lumpy descent across the moor itself. I pedalled for all I was worth, all £3.26 of it, in a desperate pursuit of the chap in front. Hitting speeds of over 50mph, the descent into Burley Woodhead became a little technical, due to my lack of desire to ride through steaming piles of horse poo, and the road surface leaving a little to be desired. I caught Mr Yellow-jumper just before The Hermit public house, and his legs clearly felt as bad, if not worse, than mine, as he disappeared behind me as the road kicked up again.
Either the road surface was getting worse, or my arse was getting more sore, as I felt every bump after the descent from the Cow and Calf, and I suspected I had a puncture. I looked down at my back wheel through my legs, but it looked alright, and so I pressed on. I bumped along for another mile, realising that there was something very much “up”, but not quite being able to put my finger on it. I figured I should probably stop and have a proper look, and there it was. A great big fat hole in my tyre, winking at me like some kind of rubbery pervert, measuring about and inch and a half, with my still-inflated inner tube poking through like some kind of cycling hernia. It occurred to me that slowing to safely negotiate steaming horse excrement may well have saved me from a speedy crash which would have left me, physically and metaphorically, in the shit.
I’d ridden for only sixty miles of the total eighty-eight, but the tyre was dead and, if I rode on, there was a fair chance I’d be next. Apparently, the better part of valour is discretion. I turned round and headed for The Hermit, and a nice pint while I awaited rescue. Don’t blame me…blame William Shakespeare. It’s his line, not mine.
Fatman: Planet X SL Pro Carbon with full 10-speed Ultegra
Patrick: Some Orbea thing with 9-speed 105, and Ultegra compact chainset