Get off your horse and drinks your milk

Cafe stops are what make bike rides. I am guilty of forgoing this treat for fear of being alone and looking stupid with nothing to read.  However, today I had both the cafe in mind and a companion to keep me entertained on the stop.  This morning I met up with an old school friend Adrian for a ride that has been a long time in the making (courtesy of Facebook). On a cold and overcast morning we rode out to Ironbridge and a favourite sopping point of mine, the Tea Emporium. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before but I need good coffee – and all in the pursuit of good taste, good tea too – and the Tea Emporium does just that: a dark, slightly bitter espresso with just enough crema to make it slip down.  It makes the exit from Ironbridge that bit easier, not that it can ever be described as such.  As any good geography student (or even an astute history pupil) will know, Ironbridge sits in a gorge and though any entry in is downhill, the exit is via a climb.  Today’s ascent was Jiggers Bank, a climb I first encountered after watching the Tour of Britain in 2008. On that occasion I had noticed a double espresso was sufficient fuel to take on this beast and what better excuse today.  Yes, I conquered it but riding with Adrian up that I now know how Tom Boonen must have felt watching Fabian Cancellara ride away on the Muur in this year’s Tour of Flanders. Oi oi oi.

In all seriousness it was great to get out with an old friend. I am now completely shattered and have my entertainment lined up on the coffee table next to me. I think I’ve deserved a second beer this evening before an early night.

From dreaming spires to punctured tyres

Maybe I spoke too soon on Friday. Maybe I have got what it takes to ride the Tour of Britain. Specifically, may I’ve got what it takes to ride this year’s Tour of Britain.  Yesterday’s Oxford-to-Cambridge ride certainly was a contrast to last week’s exploits on the Tour Ride.  The distance was slightly less, the start slightly earlier, the terrain more what I would call undulating than the shark’s teeth of North Staffordshire and the weather… Well the weather was truly ToB 2010: wet, windy yet warm.

The hardest part about riding in the wet is the start.  Who wants to leave the confines of a warm place to get wet and cold. The warm place on Sunday morning was bed and the 6am alarm call was unwelcome. Last week I was suffering from a post Tour Ride cold: sore throat, cough, aches and limited energy.  I hadn’t wanted to admit to myself that I was in this state knowing full well that I had over 90 miles to cover on Sunday so needless to say it wasn’t the best preparation.  However, having committed to rising with my cycling buddy Nicola I couldn’t really back out. Reluctantly I think it’s fair to say that with the added support of Mrs AB we chivied each other up and out and to a very dark car park in south Oxford.  In comparison to last week, yesterday’s “event” was more village fete than major sports parody which was slightly disappointing and somewhat anti-climatic.  The heavy morning rain doing its best to add to the deflation.  And so at just after 7.30 am we rolled out of Gloucester Green with lights and waterproofs on.

The ride itself was fine.  Riding at a slower pace than last week was good and dare I say enjoyable. Despite Nicola urging me to go off at a faster pace, riding together and joined by her colleague Helen not only seemed right it also would be fun.  And it was.  Indeed, as the rain eased (not the wind) and the sun came out, as our thoughts turned to triple chocolate muffins which Mrs AB had procured for the finish it might be fair to say we all sensed achievement. I’m glad we stuck together, I wouldn’t have wanted to do that distance alone nor at the pace of last week and I’m starting to find the joy of cycling with others.  In fact, Helen (who has recently returned from the States) and I were sharing our mutual want to ride with others but a hesitancy over the potential clique of the cycling club. Maybe there’s still some way to go on this one.

And so we finished on Midsummer Common in sunshine. 90 miles under our belts and a nice sense of achievement. My companions were great and despite our couple of technical hitches (and for some the hills!) we had a good time.  Thanks to both Nicola and Helen for the company yesterday and to Nicola extra thanks for being my virtual cycling buddy as its helped a lot!  (Apologies though if I was annoyingly fast at times) On the point of technical hitches though maybe I can send a message to those riders who decided not to bring basic puncture repair equipment to do so next time – good Samaritans only have so much patience when they are getting cold and have chocolate waiting less than 10 miles down the road!

So that draws to a close this phase of the reclaim.  I have completed the challenge I set out to do and added an unexpected bonus.  Now to reflect on the achievement before drawing up new plans.  I’ll keep going out on the bike but try to enjoy some relaxed miles around the lanes and start to find some nice tea shops to stop at along the way.

What Sundays were designed for

This is how Sunday’s were designed to be, I’m pretty sure of that. Despite the Catholic education, I’m pretty sure that any overseerer in the sky thought that Sunday was meant for a good ride in the English countryside.  And so with enthusiasm gathered from depths I didn’t know existed I’d had breakfast and first espresso of the day by 8.30 and was in the car by 9 headed south.  My destination was Evesham and a rendezvous with one of my virtual cycling buddies, Nic.  Nic is a friend of Mrs ABs who responded to one of my early blogs suggesting we give each other some mutual support.  I think it’s fair to say that we have both suffered inertia in varying forms and so far Facebook and email encouragement together with an eye on each other’s Runkeeper log has been great in keeping this going.  Today was time to meet up and hit those roads together.

Evesham seemed like a mutually convenient meeting point being about equidistant time wise from our respective homes and I was quietly impressed with it on a sleepy August Sunday – I can’t say I can say the same later in the day but I suppose every town suffers these days! Parking up on the Meadows just kept the dreamy Sunday image going and it wasn’t long before Nic turned up.  We had a 35 mile circuit planned around the Cotswolds.  What we hadn’t factored was a) parking charges on a Sunday (almost financially embarrassed at the start after false information from the local authority website) b) hills of which there are legion and c) the human sub-species Homo Moterus Inpatientus.  Still, we managed to find some quiet rolling roads and enjoyed the amble, complete with an obligatory coffee stop (espressos 2 and 3 in dual formation) at a nice little and surprisingly quiet coffee shop in Chipping Campden (although I was asked if I wanted a small or large double espresso!).  The only sting was the climb out of CC which seemed to go on and get steeper – one of us definitely didn’t have their climbing legs on but I won’t say who.

So all in all today’s been good and I’m not complaining.  I’m sat here with a post-ride pint and about to collapse on the sofa. Job done.

(Thanks to my virtual buddy and another challenge added to the calendar.)

On the street, hoping for a brighter day

(Apologies to Gil Scott Heron for ruining your lyrics for my title)

So, 2 rather pessimistic blogs and I had to find redemption somewhere.  And that somewhere was the roads between here and Ironbridge, riding with a friend and having coffee with an ex-World Champion (and pretty mean Team Pursuiter).  Today I got out on the bike and enjoyed it.  Getting out of bed was still difficult but I made it.  The ride wasn’t particularly fast, but it was some miles.  The best thing was that I had a natter, rode somewhere and felt a bit freer.  Yes, I know many people have said it before and I’ve often forgotten it but the best things in life are the small and simple things.  As Frances E Wilard said: “She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.” I think she might be right.

Thanks to everyone who has emailed me, left comments on the blog or replied on Facebook.  Each one has been helpful in a different way and made a difference in my mood.

Rolling with the boys

Yesterday was one of those days where I refound my love of cycling again.  In all essence I was supposed to be having a meeting in Birmingham about a project I am trying to get off the ground.  Fortunately for me I was meeting my friend Jim. Jim works for a co-operative development agency but importantly, like me, Jim is a recovering cyclist.

On Monday Jim sent me a message on Facebook pointing out the weather would be good yesterday.  With this in mind he suggested I take a trip down to his and we take in a ride around the Forest of Dean.  With clearance from Mrs AB to take the car for the day I had no hesitation in agreeing and yesterday I set off just after rush hour on the trip from Wolverhampton down to Ross-on-Wye.  And what a day it was.  The sun shone, the temperature was high and the roads were good.  Okay, so we started after most people had had their lunch following a brief cycling inspired consumer visit to Cheltenham’s bike emporiums for new shoes.  But once on the road I was feeling great.

Our route was a mere spin for some, but for us a decent jaunt and a good spring board for further “training”.  We took Jim’s 14 year old son Will with us which Jim feared might lead to trouble. Trouble for us on the hills that is.  But I think we bored Will into submission and he struggled later on – let that be a lesson to the pros in defeating your rivals.  So the ride wasn’t particularly quick overall but we had some fast decents.  Going up the hills I refound the cadence I’ve been lacking and learnt an important lesson in speed – slower can really be faster overall.  It was good.

We ended up with our own mini-tour finish.  As I watch today’s stage I’m thinking of our similarities: Jim who wants to be Cadel but is much more the Cancellara of this piece with his rapid decents but lack of power on the climb; Will a cross between the Chicken and Alberto; me the Andy Schleck of the piece.  So on the last decent and climb, Jim attacks downwards, is caught, I slow, Will catches. I climb away in a low grear, Will follows. I attack, will responds, I slow. Then the hammer blow and I beat him.  Yes, this is what you will see on 22nd July from the Tour’s main protagonists or my name isn’t Paul the Octopus (or more realisticvally you all comment on the fact that I have beaten a 14 year old!).

So in response to my plea for a cycling buddy I have found 2: Jim is my long distance buddy. My other buddy I will reveal later this week. Rolling with the boys (and girls) really is much more fun so here’s to more.