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.