…but sometimes you speak too soon….

Perhaps I was a little premature in my earlier post.  Whilst still a way from being a classic, today at least saw the touch paper ignited effectively.  And whilst the determination was clear to see in the attacks of Contador, Evans and Sanchez, the Schlecks, Andy in particular, did themselves no favours at all.  I’m sure they are having an awkward enough evening already and their comments from Sunday are likely being quoted back at them across cyberspace if not around the dinner table, but today they were given a lesson in how to make attacking riding pay.  And to cap it all by, in the words of Chris Boardman, “throwing everything out of the pram” shows they are a long way from being Tour champions.  In highlighting their petulance, I can only take my hat off to Thomas Voeckler.  I did him a disservice in my previous post and his attacking style is a welcome relief in any race. To be still in yellow tonight highlights his guts and determination and is the colour that every Tour needs.  As I said to MrsAB this evening, this race is between Evans, Contador and Voeckler. Maybe, just maybe, there is hope. We’ll see.

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Always drinking in the last chance saloon?

Yesterday afternoon, after losing 1-0 to Everton, Chelsea Football Club sacked their manager Carlo Ancelotti.  On those facts alone some of you may wonder why I’m writing this. Actually, most of you will wonder why I am a) writing about Chelsea and b) doing so with some concern for their manager. I am no Chelsea fan and indeed my interest in football has waned to its lowest ever ebb despite the relative success of my own team this season.  However, looking at the bigger picture this one incident is symptomatic of the world around us.  Ancelotti led Chelsea to a league and cup double in his first season in charge last year and though there has been no silverware for the club this year they have still finished 2nd in the World’s richest football. No mean feat when you think about it (however many millions are spent doing this). According to the BBC a club statement read: “This season’s performances have fallen short of expectations and the club feels the time is right to make this change ahead of next season’s preparations.” Which makes you think that with expectations that high one can only succeed in failing. 

Football isn’t the only arena in which these expectations are meted out.  As I indicated at the end of last year, cycling has its own obsessions with unqualified success and in doing so places perhaps undue pressure on  its own protagonists.  But it doesn’t stop there. Our work lives are seemingly ruled by the pursuit of “continuing success”, our economies driven by not only continued growth but an expectation that it will be growth above a particular rate. Our sights are set on the “top”, however those at the top might define it. I know from first hand experience about working in an environment which strives for “world class”. All of us, it seem, are only one drink away from the last chance saloon.

I also know from first hand experience how that “world class” tends to ignore the small gains, the marginal impact and the difference small ideas can ultimately have if allowed to develop and evolve.  Too much of life is based on wanting what we cannot have rather than appreciating what we have. My own recent admissions in this blog are an attempt at that acceptance for me. As I suggested to a friend, I don’t want to change the world anymore just improve my own back garden. Her reply took me back but made sense – if we all did that wouldn’t it have much more of an impact.  Equally, my appeal for blog readers to get in touch prompted this response from @spandelles: “yes, many hits will be fake. It’s the few real hits that count.” Two good lessons in life I think worth focussing on. In giving up the allotment, I’m getting a better back garden. In accepting that some people cheat, I can enjoy watching cycling. In finding I can’t be “world class”, I know what difference I can actually make to somebody’s life.  In realising I have a few blog readers, at least I know I’m not talking to myself.  As Colin Firth says in Fever Pitch, “what’s wrong with that? It’s actually pretty comforting if you think about it.”

I’ve got what it takes to ride the Tour of Britain

Or so it says on the t-shirt I was given at the end of Sunday’s Tour Ride. My immediate reaction it has to be said was one of shock – do that again? and for 8 successive days? You must be joking! So Sunday was the big day. It was a long time in the making and the days leading up to it did seem to drag. The ride was hard. But I’m glad to say I did it.

Ready for the off - Pensive & Laidback

Paul and I lined up under clear but cold skies ready for the 8am off.  I didn’t sleep well the night before and the early start never helps me relax. We were first out of the park gates at the head of the VIP group and despite Paul suggesting otherwise, we seemed to lead this group for a good couple of miles.  Once out onto the open road though the perils of bunch riding were brought back to me as people passed us on climbs and then we re-overtook them on the descents.  The upside was a very quick pace for the first hour with almost 20 miles ticked off. In fact I was surprised at how quickly we reach Uttoxeter.  And then the work started.

At Uttoxeter not only did the wind blow in our faces for the first time (the reason for and the obvious downside of that fast initial pace becoming obvious) but the hills weren’t far off.  Added to this were the joys of the Alton Towers traffic: boisterous, inconsiderate and downright dangerous. At Ellastone the road hit the first of the day’s main climbs, the second category King of the Mountains climb to Ramshorn Common. I did seem to find a rhythm up here, slow though it was.  However, the climb itself didn’t finish at the prime but carried on. And on. And on.  This was to be the pattern for a good portion of the ride from here on.  The climb over Hollinsclough Moor was relentless too and kicked like a mule at the end, the point at which I first had to stop but thanks to encouragement from other riders I slowly got going.  Even the descents up to this point were hard, straight into a head wind and no respite, continual pedal strokes to keep up momentum.

Every pedal stroke is one nearer the end

I’m not usually a fan of fast descents but I have to say I was pleased when we hit the Leek-Buxton Road, a tail wind pushing us along the top at a fast lick and ono the descent past the Roaches, the point at which I hot my maximum speed fo the day.  With a brief lunch stop at Tittesworth it was onto Gun Hill, by this point I was truly suffering. I also felt cheated by all those riders telling me I was near the top – I wasn’t. However, this was meant to be it. The climbs I was worrying about were meant to be behind me, the run in was, I thought, all downhill. Oh how my childhood memories failed me. Undulating is how some might have described it, I’d like to think of it as torture along the lines of waterboarding. Each up brought more pain. And just to spring a surprise the organisers threw in a stinger of a climb with 2 miles to go to the finish line – they even took the family ride up it!

Crossing the finish line I had mixed emotions – yes I’d done it, I was glad to have stuck it out and finished but I was disappointed I’d lost my brother in the final few metres and we didn’t cross the line together (I think tis fair to say we both struggled in our own ways and I couldn’t have got through it without him) and I didn’t feel any overwhelming success or elation at having done this. In fact as the evening wore on all I could feel was the aches and pains of the effort.  At first this worried me (it still does to some extent) – why can I not recognise accomplishments. But as the week has worn on the success has slowly sunk in and now I do feel proud of what I have achieved: 100 miles in 6hrs 47mins over sharks teeth. I know its taken almost a week to post this blog but that’s part of the process and probably for the best.

Finished and Prized

So a year on from my breakdown I’ve reclaimed part of the AbandonedBicycle.  Like Sunday it’s not been an easy or straightforward ride. At times I’ve gotten off the bike, at times I’ve taken wrong turns and at times progress has been slow. Ultimately though I’ve reached milestones that I should make more effort to recognise and celebrate. So what’s the future? There’s a lot more miles left and I’m going to enjoy cycling more for knowing I can meet new challenges. Bike-wise I’m riding from Oxford to Cambridge on Sunday. Life-wise who knows – I guess you’ll need to keep watching this space!

Waiting for the train that never comes

Right train, wrong direction, wasted time.

If only!

Tonight I had the pleasure of fully understanding how Andre Greipel feels this season.  You wait in vain for that train to take you home and it either takes you too far or never comes. In my case a bit of both.

It’s a regular story for those of us whose commute takes in the stretch of railway between Wolverhampton and Birmingham – The Tipton Boys had been out again stripping metal and in the process leaving a trail of travel chaos as signals fail to work, points stick and, as tonight, there is a major power outage.  Usually this means a detour past the delights of Sandwell Valley Park and Bescot (one of these is recorded ironically) to arrive in Wolverhampton delayed but still there.  But not tonight.

Tonight the 16.57 to Manchester decided to miss out Wolverhampton all together.  An announcement after we had left Birmingham informed passengers the first stop would be Stafford. I looked up. The bloke opposite me looked up. A vague expletive was uttered and then the train manager appeared.  The train manager’s name was Paul. He wouldn’t give his surname when asked but he did remind me of Blakey from On the Buses should you ever come across him on Cross Country Trains.  And the Blakey similarities don’t end there.  When asked how I would get back to Wolverhampton I was told I couldn’t. When asked why the was no indication that the service would not stop at Wolverhampton he told me he had – and he had 102 witnesses down the train. OK, so I was late joining the train but there was no indication at New Street, no announcement that the service would be diverted so drastically.  But Paul seemed to be having a bad day and almost picked a fight. It was a sad sight to see (though secretly I was hoping he was going to throw me off the train which would mean diverting back to Wolverhampton – case solved as Motty would say!).

What I noticed about this was 2 things. Firstly, Paul’s reaction was the nought-to-nuclear reaction I used to display, and if I’m honest can still be prone to.  Flying off the cuff at the slightest feeling of criticism and pushing blame onto someone else.  But secondly I noticed how I managed to deal with this inconvenience.  No, I didn’t want to be in Stafford on a Tuesday evening with no known train back to Wolverhampton, particularly as the Stafford Arms is no more so no pint of Titanic. But hey, I got home and it only took 2 and a half hours – surely a new record Norris McWhirter?

And the reason for this story in what is also my cycling blog? Well, It almost cost me tonight’s ride. But it didn’t.  Another 20 miles and after that escapade I’m pretty pleased with myself.  But you have to agree waiting for trains that never come is total Madness.

Progress

Well that was the week that was – quite literally.  Mrs AB is away visiting some of my in-laws and I’m at home on my tod.  Its strange, whenever I get a few nights on my own I have grand plans and then end up frittering it away.  Take tonightfor instance – I’m sat with the football on in the background and reading articles on Wired about what would happen if (the scariest one so far has been what would happen of a Tsunami hit the Severn Estuary – read at your peril!) having rushed between TV and kitchen like a yo-yo to fit in tea and the highlights of the Dauphine Libere. I’m not even really interested in the football this time around.

But enough moaning, this week has been good if slightly hectic.  Last weekend I travelled down to Bristol to see one of my best friends from University. We removed a ceramic tiled kitchen floor and managed to fit in a few beers, some political reminisences and sang along to indie favourites from times gone by and possibly mis-spent. It was great and thanks to Jay for a great few days – I’m told the new floor fits perfectly.

A train journey home, an evening down the allotment, a Sunday partly frittered away and then into the week proper.  And that has flown by. Some mundanity which is par for the course, plenty of coffee but a growing sense of feeling that something is coming together. Watch this and other spaces hopefully in the not to distant future. So the recovery on that front is taking new shape and I’m liking where it is heading.

And to add to my positive mood I have managed over 80 miles this week on the bike courtesy of 3 different rides. Sunday morning I had a nice long trek through South Staffs and up to Penkridge. Yesterday I did a briefer but similar circuit – a ride spoilt only slightly by the wind and the need to don the late spring wear again.  And I’ve topped it off today with a good solid 25 miles over a rather undulating route – and that wind still hasn’t gone away.  I’m starting to feel good on the bike, both physically but importantly mentally. I’m exploring routes again and even adding on bits as I’m going along.  None of this I could have done 6 months ago.  Whilst I couldn’t have got here without the help of friends, family and a great counsellor there’s also a lot that I have had to do myself.  This week feels like one of those milestones and I’m pleased to have passed it.

Now back to my boy’s night in. To read my book or watch some trash TV? There are some lessons I’ll never learn.