Friday, 25 May 2012

Lycra, Pelotons, Unicycles and Medals - The Prince's Trust Palace to Palace

Cycling solicitor Colin Martyr talking about the Prince's Trust Palace to Palace charity ride.

I wasn’t a complete novice. Lycra was no stranger to me. I’d  done plenty of, say, hilly rides of an hour or so on a town bike over the last few years. 45 miles, however, is bit further.

I needn’t have worried. The first time I went out on it I got as far as Market Bosworth (about 30 miles) and the next week after that I had established a loop of about 40 miles, paced out on Google Maps Street View. I was smart enough to realize that for a good ride in the country you need to ride from nowhere to nowhere and soon I was scuttling through villages off the beaten track – Thorpe Constantine, Clifton Campville, Ratcliffe Culey – that sounded like characters out of a Mills and Boon novel. And by now, I was beginning to enjoy it.

Tim came with me once when I did the “Leicestershire Loop” and as a special treat we ended up at the Purple Mountain Cycle Centre at Willesley near Ashby (picture on the right). If you even get within striking distance, I recommend the “biker bar” which seems to me to be a lump of chocolate with bits of chocolate biscuit stuck in it, baked in a tray and then sawn into chunks. You get the idea? Perfect after 40 miles in the saddle.

Then the big day. The Prince's Trust Palace to Palace, starting from Warwick Castle, looping around Warwickshire, back to the castle. Old vs New! Tim of course was on his carbon fibre Focus jobbie. This weighs about as much as a paper clip. I had the famous hand-crafted classic. Who had the advantage?

Oh yes, on the hand-crafted point. Unfortunately the brilliant hand-craftsmen of the 1970s, whilst they had invented gears, had only managed to invent 10 of them (as opposed to modern bikes that have umpteen). Also, instead of having fancy flick gear levers on the handle bars that simply get in the way, they had the smart idea of putting actual keys on the frame (see picture on the left). This means that whilst cycling, you have to reach down to knee level, with your left hand, and grope around until the bike hits the right gear. Since one lever selects the front sprocket and one the back, they need precise positioning to get the gear you want. This causes especial difficulty on hills. A millimeter or two out and you can be either free pedaling the bike to a swift halt or wading through wet cement.

I had learned that its best not to change gear on hills if possible. On the Leicestershire Loop this worked as I knew where the hills were, how long and steep they were, and where to change down. On new, uncertain terrain, it was going to be harder. Oh, by the way, you sometimes have to hold the lever in place until the gear catches as well. I didn’t mention that.

The third member of our team was our respected barrister colleague, Paul, an ex-regional level hockey player, climber, sports nut and cyclist. In short a fit and proper person to cycle 45 miles. Fortunately he had had the decency to turn up on a bike he claimed to be an old clunker and carrying two or three injuries.

Tim at the start
Nonetheless, giving away a combined 30 years to my two colleagues I thought I could see who would be doing the stopping and waiting and who the catching up. I wasn’t convinced that the sheer aura of the Galaxy would make up for raw pedaling-power.

We congregated at the picturesque surroundings of Warwick Castle at about 7.45 on Sunday 20th. The air was cool and filled with the cries of peacocks. About 50 or so early starters were milling around waiting for the off. At the stroke of eight the first tranche got  the gun to stream off over the cobbles, under the arch of the castle and the clock above and onto the open road. Within ten minutes the organizers had wisely given up on the idea of start times and said that, if you were ready, you could get into the next group, and be off with you.

Our mob (I’ve since learned that the correct word is “peloton”) set off at about ten past eight. We were soon strung out. I observed that some brave souls were hacking along on heavier hybrids (normally faster than me). We hit a few hills.  What fun. But what’s this? Tim was pulling away from us in a sly attempt at a breakaway. Or maybe he was just going faster.

Paul gallantly throttled back to keep me company. The weather was fresh, cool and a bit damp, perfect really for this sort of ride. We got tangled up with other riders a few times. One of the bizarre things about this type of ride is that you encounter other riders who are going to do the whole 45 miles at more or less the same speed as you. You overtake them and leave them behind. A mile later they overtake you, and so on.

Action shot...
Tim had brought a tiny camera to get a few action shots. He or Paul pulled ahead and stopped a couple of times to get shots. I just carried on pedaling. At about 18 miles we stopped for a slurp of water and set off again. For some reason the refreshments break since to have energized my two co-riders. Paul attempted a breakaway, Tim reeled him in, I redoubled my efforts to join in the combat, but to no avail. I was 100 metres, then 200 metres back. They were dots on the horizon, obscured by other riders in between. I had made the fatal error of dropping out of the mob, sorry, peloton.

It was then that I pulled off my (unwitting) masterstroke. I hacked down a hill in company with a few other cyclists, vaguely aware of passing a water station at about 22 miles. Marshals (they were excellent throughout)  waved us all on. I breasted another hill. Now my co-riders were out of sight. They must have put the really put the hammer down! I pressed on. I passed through a small town, heavens knows where. Out into the country again, head down and going at it with a dash. Still no sign of them. It was flat country and, whilst I was tanking along, they could have been at the finishing line for all I knew.

I had probably reached the 30 mile point when, improbably,  Paul came up behind me. He and Tim had pulled into the water station. Tim had tried to wave me down. Problem. We had all been issued with identical light blue “Palace to Palace” cycling shirts, so Tim had just been one of a blurry group as I sped past, grim-jawed. Anyway, I don’t know how long they had left it before taking off again but it had taken a few miles to chase me down.

After that we took things a bit more sedately, not dawdling, but skipping along. Soon we were in Warwick again but then out of it as the route looped round another 4 miles of countryside. We formed a heroic trio line abreast as we pedaled up to the finishing line, and after that it was medals, goody bags, free sandwiches. Walking back to the car-park I spotted the chap on a unicycle that we'd passed earlier. Finishing the race on a unicycle. Respect.

So I had done 45 miles on the old warhorse. I had hoped at some point while it was parked up somebody would say “Gosh - Is that a 1978 Dawes Galaxy???”  But nobody did. But at least nobody laughed…

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