Thursday, 13 June 2013

An Old Grudge Remembered

I shall be operating the Welford-on-Avon Control at Beacon RCC’s Cotswold Audaxes on Sunday week. I’d intended riding the 110 km. event but a lack of miles in my elderly legs persuaded me to run the check, an activity allowing access to unlimited cake and coffee and enabling me to hand out unwanted cheer and advice to the legless and luckless as they pass through Welford.

      I’ve successfully completed this event many times, although not always without personal trauma. At the start, a few years ago, I momentarily thought I had been struck partially blind, before realising that the problem was the surprising absence of the right-hand lens of my reading glasses, which I needed to follow the details on the route card, clipped on my handlebars.

      There followed a voluble, if forgivable, tantrum. I could just about read the route provided I peered through the remaining lens and kept the other eye shut, but it was obvious that riding one-eyed, for 70 miles, was impractical, hazardous and potentially terminal, so I needed to ride with someone capable of reading the sheet. However, my friends, unaware of my plight, were long gone, and after a few miles I found myself alone at a junction, borderline berserk and vainly trying to decipher the route sheet hieroglyphics. But just as I decided to call it quits and go back, Johnny showed up.

      Johnny is older than me, a long-ago pro racer of considerable reputation. (he was reserve for the Great Britain Tour de France team in 1955) He was alone, having suffered a Senior Moment at the start, turning right instead of left from the HQ and ending up well down the wrong road before he realised his error. (The previous year he’d locked his car keys in his car at the headquarters, and had to break the window to get in, but that’s embarrassing for him, so I won’t mention it)

     Anyway, his eyesight was adequate, so we teamed up, and made good time to the first check at Honeybourne and on up the nasty little climb past Hidcote. I faltered a bit towards the top, but Johnny kept going, and as I watched him go I was mentally transported back almost fifty years to a road race, which incorporated two very hard laps of our club’s Little Mountain Time Trial course. 

      On the first long climb, up Stanford Bank, the bunch split in two, and I found myself in the wrong half, along with Johnny and twenty-odd others. After we’d topped the climb, a chase got going and we were moving well, though the leading group were out of sight. Thirteen miles on, at Knightwick, our bunch was still intact, but the long, steep, climb up Ankerdine followed by the hard grind to Gt, Witley, created havoc, and by the time we started up Stanford Bank for the second time, Johnny and me had dropped everyone else, and we could see the leading group about half a minute ahead of us on the climb, I congratulated myself on being back in the race with a chance, unaware that I was about to witness the darker side of human nature.

      I’d just upped my pace slightly, to steadily close the leaders down, when Johnny came past, out of the saddle and sprinting. Before I reacted he’d bridged the gap and joined the leaders, leaving me wallowing indignantly down the road. The whole group was out of sight again before I reached the top, and I didn’t see another soul until the finish at Hartlebury, 30 miles and a lifetime of suffering later. 

      Johnny did wait for me in the Audax, though, well, at least until that nasty drag up the last six miles when my legs expired quite spectacularly, but then, what’s the point of finishing an event not feeling knackered? If I’m paying nine quid for a ride, I feel it incumbent upon the organiser to provide me with my moneys-worth of pain. As I’ve got older, long rides have become a war of attrition, the objective being not to go belly up before the finish, but to feel quietly smug because you haven’t. Therein lies the enjoyment, possibly.

      At the Audax finish, I reminded Johnny of his un-gentlemanly conduct on Stanford Bank all those years ago. He claimed not to remember it, but I do, and it’s there, right at the top of my long list of cycling grudges. 

      I’ll save the others for later.


  1. So your pal Johnny will be hoping that your memory fails before your legs do? What happened to honour amongst cyclists?

  2. You should write a book about your cycling years - before you forget them ! tehehe!!