Hills, rain, and suffering. We do this for pleasure, right?
by Timothy John
Sixty miles or 96.5 kilometres is a good, solid distance; a ‘decent’ ride at any time of the year.
My regular ’60-miler’ contains a bit of everything: fast, flat sections on quiet country roads; occasional testing climbs, rapid descents that demand a bit of nerve and bike handling skill, and, last Thursday at least, driving rain.
The expected wet weather, while not embraced, at least afforded an opportunity to test the Castelli Gabba jersey that arrived with our Italian kit for our Giro-inspired May content. Click here for a full review, but it’s enough to say here that in mile after mile of driving rain (the blinding, ‘stair rod’ variety), my torso remained dry while other areas (feet, notably) got wet.
Back to the ’60-miler’.
The first five miles take place on busy suburban roads; quiet by the standards of the city-based colleagues riding with me, but enough to keep me on the front and driving for the rural roads I knew lay ahead.
Once there, relaxation. Single carriageway with no markings, lined by nothing more forbidding than hedgerows on either side, these tranquil byways provide the surface for much of the route, broken by occasional village or still less frequent market town.
The first climb of the day is barely worth the name: a short, steep slope followed by a long drag along a narrow, tree-lined byway, fields visible through the foliage on the left hand side. A long descent, blunted by an unseasonable headwind (the precursor of worse weather to come) and a too-brief flat section through a village leads to the first proper climb
I rise from the saddle for its lower slopes (the steepest section) and grind my way up the remainder as it tapers to a false flat of about three miles. It finally levels at a junction, which, having chosen the correct turning (left in this case) gives was to a substantial descent through one of the prettiest villages in England. Not that the cyclist has much time to admire the scenery. The stonework passes in a blur at speeds in excess of 30mph before the descent ends in a sharp left turn that forces out the left knee on instinct.
Once around the corner, something inexplicable happens. I find myself bouncing along through the gutter, traveling far too fast to turn back onto the metaled road surface and too surprised to brake. Miraculously, I make it back on to the road unscathed, and acknowledging the bemused expressions of my colleagues, continue as if nothing has happened.
Not long after, the rain begins: heavy drops at first, then, gathering pace, a monsoon, forcing an impromptu gathering in a passing place while my accomplices unfold and pull on lightweight race capes. I’d brought Endura’s excellent Adrenaline race cape with me, but remind myself that part of today’s exercise was to test the Gabba and accompanying Nano Flex arm warmers, and pedal on manfully.
The rain soon reaches a pitch where visibility is impaired. Riding directly a cyclist without mudguards (all of us) is nigh-on impossible, and so we fan out in echelon, each rider slightly to the right of the man in front, retaining some, if not all the shelter, while avoiding the unwanted hosing to the face supplied by the rider ahead.
By the time we reach a main road, the weather has worsened, and progress takes o the feeling of survival as cars hurtle past with unrelenting frequency. Credit where it’s due, however: all provide adequate space, making the rain the only thing contend with.
Finally, as we approach a roundabout at the end of this section of main road, the rain eases, and as we draw to a halt shortly afterwards at the lowered barriers of a railway level crossing, we each reflect on the passing of the heavy and prolonged show that has left us on the wetter side of soaking, and my colleagues remove their rain jackets.
A further delay focus as I dive in to a nearby shop to check directions (embarrassingly: we’re on my patch) before heading into another long, dragging climb and a seemingly endless section of false flat. Finally, we stop to regroup at a turning on to a minor road and I break the news that an horrific climb lies ahead. Mercifully, the road to the sky is closed to traffic, and we plough ahead along a short section of major road that leads to another market town. A short stop ensues while I offer lunchtime options (right to an exceptional café but the inevitability of cold and a hillier route home. or left for a faster, flatter route back to base and the chance of cooling down secure in the knowledge that our ride is done). Option two wins the unanimous approval of the party and we set off with renewed determination, and what feels, to my tierd legs at least, like another five miles an hour.
I suffer in the last five miles as my colleagues seem to gather renewed strength. I’ve been on empty for a while, my first (and only) gel consumed two hours ago, and with little more than willpower and the kindness of colleagues prepared to slow until I regain something of a rhythm to carry me through the closing miles to a a waiting café.
Between us, we order pretty much everything on the menu: banana bread, brownies, cheese and ham pastries, orangeade, lemonade, and coffee. Banter ensues, the conversation turns briefly to the scale of achievement registered by Wiggins if he wins the Tour (one suggests the greatest achievement in the history of British sport; the transformation from Olympic track star to Grand Tour specialist already accomplished is given proper consideration).
Fed an watered, the shower is calling. I have business to attend to at the local bike shop (chiefly the recomissioning of an RCUK test bike which has been kindly stored there) before I can wend my way homewards (at a speed that suggests the refreshments have worked their magic) and then it’s over. Hot water, clean clothes, sodden cycle kit consigned to the washing machine and relaxation by answering a few emails. Bliss.