Tag Archives: cycling

Missing a Syllable?

Many years ago, en route to Epsom racecourse in the company of “Bubbles”, “Peanuts” and Arthur Foot, we were in the process of discussing early moves in the betting market….following the money….often emanating from the trainer’s stables.

Luca Cumani was a very successful trainer in those days; bookmakers and punters alike were wise to heed any morning trading on his runners for the day.

Racehorses are often given expressive names, perhaps in the hope that they would run faster….on occasion this formula works out….witness See the Stars, Nijinsky, Pebbles, The Minstrel.  However, regarding nomenclature, the trainers also have to play with what they are given.

It is hard to imagine a more balanced, elegant and lyrical name than Luca Cumani. Five exquisite syllables. As an example of oral expression, it rolls so gracefully off the tongue.

Imagine then the horror, back in that car on the way to Epsom, discussing the forthcoming day’s racing, as Arthur Foot mutilated smooth ‘Luca Cumani’ into clunky ‘Lou Macani’….he probably got mixed up with the former Celtic footballer Lou Macari. It was a long journey that day.

In his new life, occupied by all things cycling, The Wattmeister, (Germanic, functional and 3 easy syllables),  often encounters a similar situation when discussing drug culture within the professional and amateur cycling ranks.

He is frequently confronted in the gym by Loony and Bud (names changed to protect privacy), who proceed to bang on about the use of  ‘Bob Hope’, ‘EPO’ and ‘Toss’ in the peloton….insinuating that it may even be prevalent within Muswell Hill Peloton!

The Wattmeister always puts up a robust defence of himself and his colleagues, but for many weeks was bewildered by the meaning of the word ‘Toss’. When he finally approached Loony for a definition, the reply shot back like a bullet….”Toss? That’s short for Tosterone!”

For some, words and names with 5 syllables should be banned.

Arriderci X




London-Edinburgh-London 2017…setting the scene

LEL 2017 can only take place due to the phenomenal efforts of the organisers and volunteers who make it happen. To them, we the riders, are indebted for their time, patience and support. Thank you one and all.

The Muswell Hill trio comprised Saville Row Alex, Baking Ben and The Wattmeister. Our combined weight was 244 kgs including filled water bottles.

Alex 68kgs plus bike/luggage 15kgs…..Ben 52 kgs plus FIXED WHEEL bike/luggage 13kgs….The Wattmeister 80kgs plus bike/luggage 16 kgs.

Alex rode a steel Casati road bike, TW and Ben opted for bikes mades from titanium tubing.

We all three opted for at least a front hub dynamo lighting system….Ben also had a rear light wired to the front hub….this set up is slightly heavier but offers exceptional reliability. Alex and TW chose to run battery operated rear lights. In addition, we all ran a form of rechargeable and/or battery operated front light of at least 300 lumens to illuminate dark narrow lanes in complete safety, and finally, we attached headtorches to our helmets in case of emergencies.

For navigation, Ben and The Wattmeister preferred a laminated series of route sheets, with Alex and TW also making use of a Garmin 810 with downloaded GPX files.

Our kit contained spare inner tubes, multi-tools, batteries, portable charging packs, spare clothing as necessary, food, (spare reading glasses for The Wattmeister), suncream and bum cream and legal medicines such as paracetomol and ibuprofen gel.

1443 riders were taking part. The first group left at 05:00 a.m and the last batch were due to go at 16:00 p.m

We departed from Loughton at 13:00 p.m on Sunday 30th July with 1440 kms/890 miles in front of us….our closing time back in Loughton was Friday, 4th August at 09:40 a.m….just under 5 days in total.

To be continued.

It’s Not About the Bike

Thursday 3rd August.

It is about 8 in the morning. The rolling hills of north west Lincolnshire…yes, hills…have been replaced by the broad expanse of the Fens for which the county is best known.

The landscape offers no cover from an unrelenting headwind.

I am a human parachute, but not one sewn from the finest silk, more like offcuts sellotaped together…. a mish mash of unravelling thoughts and worn body parts.

I don’t know it at this time, but in 40 kilometres everything has to come together to get me out of bother.

Logic, charm, patience, skill, memory, communication….they don’t always flow at the best of times.

Pop! A rear spoke snaps in Bunker Hill, near New York, Lincolnshire. Bunker ‘Flipping’ Hill…New York…even the road signs are taking the piss.

Dismounting, I tape the loose spoke safely out of the way with electrical tape (what planning!) and adjust surrounding spokes using the spoke key on the brilliant Topeak Hexus multi-tool so that the wheel runs relatively straight.

Should get me to Spalding…I have a spare, just need the right tools. My God it is windy, a struggle to hold 16 kms per hour. The parachute has  metamorphosed into a dried out husk. Must make a quick stop at the convenience store in Gypsey Bridge for nourishment.

Sitting on the wall, smashing jelly beans, coffee and crisps into the raging furnace, a big group cycles past. I have taken my shoes off! Need to get into this group. It’s an opportunity to take some cover but requires a desperate chase to get on. The wind is my enemy, but the crossroads at Langrick are my friend….I hide in the peloton.

We take turns on the front for 15 kms and catch a group of strong Germans…one guy is towing the whole peloton into the hooley….what a superstar. At the control I thank him profusely…he looks bemused.

The mechanic is just leaving the control…he has packed up his tools. Hard luck for me but he is probably as whacked as I am. But, another wonderful volunteer, Vince,  has turned up with a comprehensive toolset. I need a chainwhip and cassette lockring tool…YES! he has them….but he is also tired and a bit tetchy and dealing with someone else….and, he has no spanner big enough to turn the lockring tool….but, the chainwhip handle is fitted with exactly the right size hex fitting. I just cannot use both ends at the same time!

I sit on the floor, deflated, aware that something can be done if only I had the wit to think of it. I have the spoke and 99% of the tools, but my brain is fried….Vince softens….he sees my predicament….and suggests that I stick a screwdriver in the back of the cassette to hold it firm instead of using the chainwhip, (while I untighten the lockring with my teeth….no, that last bit really didn’t happen)…. and use the chainwhip handle to loosen the lockring.

Vince, thank you…out of the mental maelstrom we found a solution.

A ride in the Ardennes

A ride in the Ardennes

Belgium is flat. Well, it’s flat in the west, in Flanders, but even that region has its hellingen; shortsteep cobbled ramps which test the legs of pros and amateurs alike. These rutted brutes are a feature of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, perhaps Belgium’s most important annual sporting event.

Travel further east to the hills of the Ardennes and you enter a landscape which resembles Shropshire with pine trees. This area is home to classic bike races like the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne- Liege. The finale to LBL (265kms) consists of a series of iconic climbs in the last 70 kms, including De Wanne, Stockeu, Haut Levee, Col de Vecquee, La Redoute, Roche aux Faucons and St.Nicholas. None of these are very long, but they are all punchy legbusters, and on Good Friday 18th April, I resolved to incorporate a couple of them into a 130 kms solo ride.

The weather could have been much worse, for instance like the snow affected 1980 edition of LBL won by indomitable Breton Bernard Hinault, who, to this day, claims that he lost the feeling in his fingers contesting that race. However, I just had a chilly, nagging headwind to deal with on leaving the village of Heyd. The first climb through the shady Bois de Haaré was devoid of motor traffic and took me from 190m up to a height of 475m. There followed a steady descent on a smooth fast road via Harzé to the town of Aywaille which stands on the banks of the river Ambleve.

This is the gateway to the Cote de la Redoute, a climb of 1.6 km with an average gradient of 10%. On big race day, La Redoute is the place where the real contenders for victory come to the fore. It’s a stepped climb which starts with a steep pull up to the motorway bridge at around 12%, then, at the right turn, the gradient eases slightly before a double kick of 17% up to the bench where I took the photo.

From the summit, a plummet to 187m and then steady 6 kms of ascent to 525m as I tracked across country in search of the fearsome Stockeu climb on the outskirts of Stavelot 20 kms away. But it would be a crime not to describe the beauty of the high meadows in the spring sunshine. The muted sound of traffic had faded away to be replaced with the buzz of insects and the prattle of birdlife amid a backdrop of bright dandelions and tall purple grasses.

The Garmin led me up a rocky bridleway, impossible to ride, and down a gravelly farm trail. If Plastic Pete could ride Paris- Roubaix, then I could ride on this loose stuff. Shelled out onto the N606, I followed the signs to Stavelot via La Gleize, where the BMC team bus was parked up outside a pub! I chanced a left turn on the way, which took me up the interesting if unexpected climb of the Col de Coo, a little cracker at 1.6 kms in length, at 8% gradient. A driver wound down his window and wished me luck…I must have looked in bad shape.

In Stavelot I was treated to a couple of hundred metres of cobbles before crossing the bridge and hitting the Stockeu. Hallelujah, it had been re-surfaced. There were three riders spread out in front of me, but this is not one to light the fuse at the bottom. The race circuit itself turns left at the T junction adjacent to Eddy Merckx’s statue after about 900 metres, but I was continuing all the way to the top, 2200 metres at 11%.

Straight into the 34/28 low gear, breathe deeply if possible, control the heart rate if possible; don’t think about the guys in front, they look cooked anyway. After a couple of minutes I had a (slow) but steady rhythm and began to reel in the other riders. They had tried to smash the lower slope which is just an introduction to the 22% ramp situated just after half way. This is a big mistake. Save something for the steepest part and then try to power up to the statue. On this day it worked for me, I grabbed them all. Shit! I felt like I had won the bloody race. No matter, I still had the second half to conquer. There is the briefest of respite before the narrow and now extremely potholed road lurched up to 18%. Thanks a bundle, a least no one could see how bad I looked.

From the top of the Stockeu at 478m, there’s a smashing rollercoaster Imageover glorious countryside which leads to a vertiginous descent of the Wanne via Spineux. Make sure your brakes are in good order or you could end up in the side of a stone barn. Having only covered 70 kms but with about 1400m  of ascent, I felt like partaking of some Belgian frites for lunch in Trois Ponts. Suitably fortified, the way home was punctuated by the Cote de Rahier, Cote de Bra and the Rue de Boussines on a mixture of smooth tarmac and impossibly pockmarked bitumen. It had turned out to be an epic adventure due to the severity of the terrain and the history behind it in terms of bike racing. But also, on a couple of occasions I ignored the GPS to explore some little spurious gems which always seemed to go uphill and finish in a dead end.

It didn’t rain, indeed the wind abated and the sun shone brightly as it fell towards the western hills to put the seal on a great day of riding. The Ardennes pose a real challenge for any cyclist, and disprove the theory that Belgium is flat.


131kms 2400m climbing

Wet and windy RP laps (tongue in cheek)

I will attempt to relate the story of this morning’s outing without too much self regard. :))
We met up at the shop as arranged at 06:45. On the way, I overtook Ian outside the new ‘Le Creuset’ store. He didn’t know it was a race, but I am claiming the win.
Mig, Ben, Ian, Patrick and I departed on time and picked up Dan at the top of Onslow. We were overtaken by a guy on a hybrid in full rain gear with a waterproof pannier outside Buildbase, but he had very little chance of  holding off Muswell Hill’s finest aboard 30 grands worth of carbon bling. (But it was a close call). The pace ratcheted up along Hampstead Lane Westbound, despite a tricky headwind. Naturally, I was shielding the youngsters from Nature’s fury, but still had enough in the legs to record 31s for ‘En Guarde’. This burst of raw power split the group leaving Patrick and I to arrive at the Park ahead of the others. I let the lad take the sprint. It would not be fair to crush his spirit when he shows so much promise.
After about half an hour, the group arrived, and I set off at a leisurely 41 km ph (into the headwind), with the others strung out like knickers on a washing line. Sadly, Patrick punctured so we eased off for one second before leaving the lad behind to learn one of life’s hard lessons. On the way we encountered Mike and Alex who had arrived late at the shop with some spurious excuse. For some reason, this spurred me on to higher heights than a 55 year old man could reasonably expect, and I upped the pace (into a headwind) and we never saw them again.
Patrick was still messing about with his wheel on the next circuit, so I kindly gave him a hand to finish the job. I hate taking a break when cruising at 180 bpm, but one has to deal with the vicissitudes of life. Back on track, we set about catching all the fuckers who had passed us by whilst dealing with Patrick’s travails.
I did a massive turn on the front (into a headwind) (about 3 laps), and we caught and passed the bastards. One or two joined in and did a nice job of replacing Ian!! and Dan who got shelled out by the ferocious pace being set on the front. I have to admit that following young Patrick through was a good work out, my HR peaking at 254bpm. Nevertheless, I had already decided to again gift him the sprint as I am that type of fellow.
At some stage we were stopped at some traffic lights, which was rather unfair, as it allowed the others to catch their breath whereas I was just warming up. Never mind, I decided to gift Ian the sprint too, because I am that type of fellow. Meanwhile, I must put in a good word for young Miguel, who worked his socks of for his team leader. He never flinched, even when I took a 5 second break from leading out into the wind.
Finally, we called it a day. The youngsters were flagging and it would serve no purpose to ride them into the ground. I conceded Swains to Alex and Patrick, feeling that it would encourage them in the future, but passed Ian just to show who is really boss. On the sprint from Cranley Gardens to Fortis Green Road, by chance Will Grayburn was handily placed to witness the gulf, the separation, the chasm, the void between my back wheel and Ian’s front wheel. Not bad into a headwind! (The wind had changed direction).
I hope you get the gist. I have done my utmost to describe the ride in as impartial manner as possible.