Monday, December 17, 2012

Alone On The Club Run

The club run is the mainstay of club cycling in the UK. Though there is often an element of competition and definitely one of training, it is a social event, friendly chat often drowning out whirring free hubs. I really enjoy our club rides; someone else thinks up the route, someone else will take the wind and I get the chance to be a component part of the living breathing beast that is a group of cyclists.

When all that is considered, it was a strange decision for me to go out on my own last weekend. As minor surgery had kept me off the bike for two weeks, I knew it was folly to try riding with the fast group, so hatched a plan which, if my timing was right, would see the fast group emerge from the coffee stop as I passed, I could then sit on wheels, protected from the wind all the way home. As it turned out I couldn’t even pull off a fundamentally flawed plan.

Despite having been warned not to confuse the designated route with another the club takes to Royston, I went the wrong way. Cursing my Garmin for not working, I had ridden about three miles before realizing my idiot mistake. It had, however, taken a fraction of that distance to work out that the wind would make the whole day very hard.

As any regular cyclist knows, the only good wind is a tail wind, not something I was going to see much of with the route heading generally south and a gale from the West. Mind you, all was going well for the first few miles. I got down past Cambridge and even comfortably tackled the dreaded Chapel Hill in Haslingfield, but it was the open fields near Fowlmere which did for me. I tried to drive it on, keep the speed respectable, but the wind and lack of riding were taking their toll: I was tiring and weakening quickly.

South of the A505 the road undulates and, though they wouldn’t be called hills in anywhere else, I always find them quite hard. The difficulty was only exacerbated when I turned into the wind. So slow was my progress, I was convinced the Royston Little Chef would be empty of cyclists, but when I passed, on my last legs, I could see familiar red jerseys inside, they were even coming out as I negotiated the roundabout.
Salvation was about 100 metres behind.

I kept checking, and a mile or two later thought I saw them behind, but ploughed on regardless, expecting to be caught at any time. As I ground a 39/27 gear up Croydon Hill I thought I heard them chatting, but saw nothing. Now in a dark place, I could happily have closed my eyes and fallen into a ditch, every time I looked over my shoulder the sound of my laboured breath concerned me, I didn’t dare look down at my heart rate monitor. Any incline saw me selecting the inner ring, lactic acid filled my legs, my back ached, even my arms hurt. I dropped down a short hill, struggled over a hump back bridge, before selecting an easier gear to climb out of a shallow valley. 

Without warning the first of my club mates passed, followed by others, all hanging onto the wheel in front. They’d taken 12 miles to catch me. With a big effort I tagged on, then tried to take my place in the line, even attempting to close a gap which opened in front, but just couldn’t keep going. I was briefly off the back after half a mile only to be conclusively dropped two miles later.

Slumped on my handlebars on the drive, my face felt puffy and swollen under my glasses. I was beaten, unable to fulfill expectations I had of myself. I was useless all afternoon, ached into the evening and was tired all through Monday. Can’t wait ’til next time.

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