The Green Flytipper

Close your eyes, take a deep breath and imagine a quintessential English country lane in summer. For the Wattmeister, this wayfare might be  bordered by a tapestry of colourful wild flowers, perhaps lined for some of its length by lush hedgerows. The gravelly tarmac will be dappled with sunlight….and give the impression that it is leading you to a bucolic paradise.

Now open your eyes, some f*cker has driven out into the countryside and shattered the idyll by jettisoning a load of grotty, stained mattresses into a tiny layby. Walk, or ride on a bit further, and a culturally challenged wastrel has dumped hundredweights of bricks, concrete and debris into a convenient (for them) clearing. Finally, a few hundred yards on, the collection is completed by an ugly assembly of unwanted wood, timber and mdf.

And this is only one country lane of so many.

This morning on the weekly club ride, we witnessed examples of this insidious, anti-social behaviour in High Canons, Shenley…. Cherry Tree Lane, Cupids Green and Beechtree Lane, Potters Crouch…..barely a mile separates all three.

Sarcasm was rife: “Yeah,” said James. “lovely summer’s night for a drive in the country,  I thought I’d get rid of me old mattresses….work of art really….an installation…..should be in the Tate.”

mattresses

“Nah, ” replied Pete, “that’s just messy, have a butcher’s a my specialty… bricks and concrete…Rachel Whiteread eat your heart out”

rubble

“Apologies gents, I’m afraid you are both trumped”,  (see what I did?), ” you are guilty of un-environmentally friendly actions….you DROVE out here in your polluting vehicles, whilst I loaded my bicycle trailer with all this unwanted timber shit and CYCLED it out to this pristine corner of Hertfordshire…..take my business card…www,greenflytipper.com”  said The Wattmeister.

wood

But of course, this problem is no joke, it’s a shameful, heartbreaking disgrace which seems to be more prevalent than ever.

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Tour de France Preview

Following the resolution of Froome’s Salbutamol anomaly and the subsequent release of performance data by Team Sky relating to stages 11 and 19 of the Giro, the show goes on.

It is a big ask for Froome to peak again so soon after his victory in Italy. The first week of racing will be frenetic and most likely punctuated with crashes, crosswinds and croissants.

At 7/4, his odds are too cramped.

Fellow teammates Thomas and Bernal have shown excellent form in 2018 but will surely be called upon to serve Froome. In any case, I can’t see Geraint being up to winning a Tour de France.

Richie Porte is a conundrum. He certainly has tons of ability, but always has one very bad day/mishap in a three week tour. I think the value is to leave him out of calculations all the while realising that he could be a big player for much of the three weeks. Stand firm and omit him from the podium.

Tom Dumoulin is on the roster for Sunweb. He had a tough Giro, was almost the equal of Froome, but his odds of 25/1 do not reflect this. Despite being a big price, he is overlooked.

In 2018 Mikel Landa rode in Sky kit, he looked the strongest rider sacrificing any overall GC placing in the service of Froome. If he turns up in the same shape, he will make things lively….but he won’t win. Movistar also field ‘forgotten man’ Nairo Quintana and an evergreen Valverde. It is surely too late for the latter, but Quintana must now be at his peak….12/1 seems a generous price.

Roman Bardet struggles in Time Trials, but perhaps that is his only Achilles Heel, in all other respects he races with zest and verve. I can see him on the podium.

Vincenzo Nibali is a most versatile and competitive racer with extensive Grand Tour experience. At 25/1 his odds are massive and I feel that he is the real value in a wide open event.

Other riders like Uran, second last year, Adam Yates, Roglic, Barguil and Martin will help to liven proceedings but are more realistically viewed as top ten contenders.

The Wattmeister Podium:

Nibali, Quintana, Froome.

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Kees and Theo, Club TC de Tol

So here we are, in Leidschendam, a suburb close to the centre of the Hague. By close, I mean a safe twenty minute commute in normal clothes … with minimal risk of being crushed by a skip lorry, disappearing down a pothole or having one’s possessions nicked by scum on stolen mopeds.

You know me, all those Facebook videos proclaiming to be in search of ‘the perfect headwind’….well, they are obviously fake…..there’s only so much headwind a man can take…..and only so much dribble a man can lose before severe dehydration sets in.
Therefore, in search of a bit of cover, The Wattmeister googled  ‘fiets clubs in Leidschendam’ and was directed to Club TC de Tol who meet up on Sunday mornings at 09.00 in the Sterrenpark, situated about five minutes trundle from The Wattkasteel (Wattcastle).
There are four groups, A, B, C and D…. Group A being the fastest……they are so fast that they had departed before our English dignitary had arrived….and Group D being the slowest.
Group B welcomed The Wattmeister into the fold. The look was very pro. Everyone was wearing helmets and sunglasses, so it was difficult to ascertain the median age of the group, but our leader, Theo, had cycled 300 kms in the previous two days and he did not look a day younger than 65……. from the knees down.
We set off into a raging headwind…..an easterly, rated at gale force 6. Theo and another chap with mature looking elbows set a very reasonable pace considering the conditions.
Our biggest hazard was not motorised, but a compilation of other cyclists, runners, walkers, skaters and ducks who populated the immaculately smooth bike path…even though there are separate walking paths, running paths, skating paths and even water paths for the ducks….(they are called canals).
Despite this, with good communication to avoid any mishaps, our two mature leaders battled the ferocious gusts and led us out through the polders to a café in Boskoop where everyone removed their helmets and sunglasses to reveal their true selves.
Knock me down with a feather! Theo’s co-leader was a gentleman who goes by the name of Kees, and,  FIFTY years ago, he was road race champion of South Holland. He is eighty one years old, let that sink in…. 81. And here he was, smashing it into the type of headwind that removes the need for a wet razor.
Theo and Kees proceeded to down a couple of Bailey’s liqueurs topped with whipped cream before leading us back to Leidschendam……Kees put in a strong attack crossing the A4 motorway  bridge and was never seen again.
Touché!  Father Time.
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The Cinglés of Mont Ventoux

Nothing can arrest the tranquil turbulence of passing seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years.

Suddenly you are 60 years old, or maybe 59 and 3/4, the departure lounge beckons, but is hopefully situated far far away, at the end of a long corridor….but you can’t see that far anyway.

Simultaneously in denial and acceptance, you are doing your very best to keep in shape physically and mentally. This means a good diet, plenty of healthy exercise and beating your 89 year old mum at Scrabble. (Tip:….let her win on her birthday).

You need an endeavour to defy the patience of the god of inevitability. For cyclists, there are many such challenges from which to choose. This group comprised Old Grey Socks, Faustino S, Ironmortal and The Wattmeister  with an aggregate age of precisely 240.

We chose to ride up The Giant of Provence, Mont Ventoux, on each of the three tarmacked roads which lead to its omniscient summit at 1912m above sea level. This is the equivalent to cycling halfway up Mount Everest in a day, 4400 metres of ascent.

The ride totals 140 kilometres in length, half of which is downhill. I won’t bore you with the unimportant details of this ride, but we left Bedoin in sunshine at approximately 07.15 on Saturday morning, 2nd June 2018 ….and we finished at approximately 18.00 on Saturday afternoon, 2nd June 2018, having encountered some rain and fog, but mercifully none of the strong winds for which this mountain is well known.

I don’t wish to skip over the suffering, but at one point on the murderous ascent from Malaucene, The Wattmeister spied a cyclist who had chosen to rest his legs by walking up the 13% incline. Cranking up his own speed to a thunderous 6 kms per hour, The Wattmeister proceeded to attempt to reel in the temporary pedestrian…..it took forever….that red jersey never seemed to be getting any closer….could it be possible that tramping, pushing a bike, was faster than cycling?

Somehow, The Wattmeister winched his way past the octogenarian hiker, who, to his great credit, was giving his own two fingered salute to the departure lounge. The overwhelming effort caused a flood of sun cream immersed sweat to cascade into his eyes, momentarily blinding him, all the while under siege from a plague of vicious man-eating flies.

Fun it was not….. the end never felt closer.

Nevertheless, the challenge was met, and the final ascent from the beautifully appointed town of Sault took us up gentle wooded slopes on the north east side of the massif, the paved surface steaming mystically after a passing thunderstorm.

Final food and drink statistics:

2 bananas, 2 gels. baguette of jambon et fromage, shared spaghetti bolognese, two coca colas, 3 x 750ml bottles of water, a bag of nuts magicked up from somewhere, 1 x giant pizza in Phil’s Bedoin washed down by a couple of beers. The proprietor shook our hands and congratulated us, which was rather touching.

I was still starving.

ventoux-2016-looking-back

https://www.strava.com/activities/1612800972

 

 

 

 

 

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Highlands Day 4

After three days of quite magnificent weather, including temperatures of 22 degrees celsius, the final day of the Senior’s Tour saw a collapse in all things climate related.

The rain beat down on the roof of our accommodation in Ullapool, The Ceilidh Place Bunkhouse. Imagine the scene: three shortsighted men of a certain age, all busting for a pee. The Wattmeister trapped on the top bunk with no means of getting down and no recollection of how he had ever arrived in this lofty position. There followed a frantic cross-legged scramble for reading glasses in order to consult our weather apps in the vain hope that the rain was a MISTAKE.

The apps confirmed what was happening outside….rain all day plus a top temperature of 9 degrees.

We sought a hearty breakfast and were cheered up by the proprietors of Café Margot who made us thumping bacon and egg baps accompanied by a wicked cup of coffee.

Thus fortified, we headed out like superheros to do battle with the amended conditions and the Braes of Corrieshellach which climb up to the high plateau flanked by monroes Beinn Dearg to the north and Sgurr Mor to the south. The A836 was a tad busier than the roads we had been used to, but we did not complain as we flew downhill with a tailwind towards Garve, Contin and Muir of Ord.

It was bloody freezing. We stopped to drip dry at the excellent Bad Girls Bakery in Muir of Ord. Home baked cakes, coffee and spicy soup may not seem to be the ideal partners, but they did the trick….we stopped shivering…. and dined royally in a puddle of water which we had brought inside from the outside. The owners were incredibly understanding.

Leaving the comfort of the bakery, we headed down the A832 to Inverness for a few kilometres before snucking down a tiny little road at Milton which runs along the north side of the Beauly Firth and delivers you underneath the Kessock Bridge and back to a different kind of reality.

In summary, four days ago we left Inverness to explore the Highlands by bike, and we found quiet singletrack roads which led to moorlands, hills, ridges and mountains with personality, all draped in flowering yellow gorse. Rivers, lochs, waterfalls, and tiny burns were constant companions in the fullness of what appeared to be an empty landscape. The Highlands begin and end in your mind.

Here’s a tip: if you are cold and sodden in Inverness, head for the station and use the shower facilities…..it is difficult to think of a better or more satisfying way to spend £3.50.

The End….for the time being.

https://www.strava.com/activities/1586763281

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Highlands Day 3

For the second successive day, we set off westwards on the A839 from Pittentrail up the gentle 13 km climb towards Lairg. The Fleet Valley is dotted with settlements some of which can only be reached by fearsome looking steep gravel tracks.

Beyond Lairg, we joined the undulating A837 through Rosehall before cycling for many a mile adjacent to the stately River Oykel which wends its way through lush Scottish meadows. After Oykel Bridge the roads climbs up to Loch Craggie as the river continues northwards, majestically,  towards its source high up on Ben More Assynt.

Cresting the rise we are confronted by the first sighting of Canisp’s sweeping profile, Suilven’s quirky silhouette and Cul Mor’s twin summits. Dominating them all, in size if not in personality, is Ben More Assynt which guards the approach to the Drumbeg/Lochinver peninsula.

We hurtled down the slope towards the Altnacealgach Hotel for what was a good cup of coffee, some refreshing lemonade and a delicious cheese sandwich…..The Wattmeister banged out a few bars of Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’ on the piano…..but we still had to pay for our food.

Here, with the assistance of mine host, who suggested the *FLAT ROUTE*, the decision was made to arrive in Ullapool (about 80 kms distant) via the A837 and Ardvreck Castle, Lochinver and a tiny road on the map which included such hamlets as Strathan, Badnaban, and Inverkirkaig.

The road to Lochinver passed through some devastatingly grand scenery before turning south into a headwind and chucking in a few leg busting roller coaster hills…..which were definitely not flat….nor part of the contract….*see above.

However, we made it to Lochinver and stocked up on food and drink in the village store.

In hindsight, had we not taken this route, we would tragically have missed out on one of the finest roads I have ever ridden…this being the little higgledy-piggledy, humpback crackerjack that leads south from Lochinver, eventually rejoining the A835 to Ullapool at Drumrunie.

If The Wattmeister was emperor, it would be mandatory for everyone to cycle this stretch of road. Every millimetre of tarmac yields an impression, a perspective, a feeling…..ever changing with each pedal stroke. At all times it is wild and protective, spectacular but tame….dominating and submissive. The western side of Canisp, Suilven, Stac Pollaidh and Cul Mor is quite different to the eastern approach. It is a magical world and this tiny road is full of spells…..oh, and by the way it is not *FLAT*.

Eventually, in warm evening sunshine, we were released from this enchantment to finish our ride into Ullapool, which has a magnetism of its own.

 

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Highlands Day 2

After dropping off the barren expanse of Loch Buidhe plateau, briefly rejoin the A9 opposite Loch Fleet nature reserve and next to the OTTERS CROSSING sign. Head north for 800 metres and take a left turn to Rogart. Book ahead for a berth at the magical Sleeperzzz independent hostel run by Kate and Frank.

On day 2, Doc, Big Mig and The Wattmeister headed west up the valley to Lairg, nestled at the southern end of Loch Shin. From a distance the village looks both fragile and majestic, seemingly threatened and protected by the surrounding landscape. Four roads meet eachother at Lairg, but on this occasion we headed north on the A836 towards the lonely Crask Inn and the tiny hamlet of Altnaharra.

What a crackerjack of a road this is….. especially with a tailwind. It climbs gradually into the wilderness. The northernmost monroe, Ben Klibreck, surveys the road from on high, massive and immovable. To the west the snowy flanks of capricious Ben More Assynt rules local weather patterns, exacting climatic tithes on the under prepared traveller.

On the horizon, mercurial Suilven stands proud of surrounding bogs and moorland, overlooking the village of Lochinver. Once seen never forgotten.

Stop at The Crask Inn… please. Under the auspices of Mike and Kai it offered sanctuary in a sometimes hostile environment. It still does, but under new ownership.

The 10kms drop from just north of Crask to Altnaharra is like a psychedelic trip on a Megaslide, a tumble through browns and yellows, twisting burns filled with dark liquid, solid hard rock and soft peat bogs, and a quality of light filled with the clarity of truth.

It has to end, but in the oscillating thread of road adjacent to Loch Naver we have the perfect serum to combat that heady endorphin kick. After 18 kms turn right at Syre towards distant Kinbrace. Climb up to a place that can have changed little in the past 10,000 years. An oasis in the desert offers water and shade from overwhelming heat….this plateau offers uncluttered simplicity to the neurotic urban traveller. Another gem of a road, we are on a roll.

In Helmsdale we refuel….bear in mind it is more than 60 kms from Altnaharra, so stock up on food and drink. The Wattmeister was so hungry he ate a packet of crisps….. including the packaging. Doc demolished a haggis (it happened so quickly it may not have been a haggis) and Big Mig crumbled under the influence of a packet of Hobnobs.

On to Brora, 15 kms along the A9, take a right turn just before the bridge on the northern bank of river Brora and enjoy the wonderful sinewy climb up to Knockarthur Cross before descending swiftly back to the accommodation in Rogart.

This mesmerising Highland ride was 170kms in total and includes a succession of fantastic roads any one of which would be memorable in its own right.

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The Scottish Highlands

What are the Highlands and where do they begin (and end)? Here is one way to find out.

Day 1.

If you are traveling with bikes from the deep south, take the Caledonian sleeper train from Euston to Inverness. In October 2018 new rolling stock will replace the charming but rather decrepit trains which have been in service since The Wattmeister last spat out his dummy in a tantrum…..(about two weeks ago when a younger rider pinched one of his prized KOMs).

Arrive relatively refreshed and ready to ride but remember to have breakfast in Charlie’s café near the bus station. The quality of sleep is variable, ranging from a comatose slumber to fits and starts of wakefulness as the train’s couplings squeak and groan on the track to a well deserved retirement.

Exiting Inverness city via Sustrans bikepath 1 is a short but humdrum experience which is transformed by crossing the Moray Firth via the Kessock Bridge. To the West it’s possible to spy the Ben Wyvss massif near Garve, and to the East lies the open sea framed by a gently sloping patchwork of fields.

Soon, there is a turn off for Munlochy, a small village in the heart of the Black Isle. Climb, descend and climb gently on a single track road until reaching the telephone mast on Black Eagle hill. The view from this vantage point whets your appetite for the challenges ahead.

If the Nigg ferry is running, descend to Cromarty, cross the Firth and wend your way North via Tain and Dornoch…..otherwise, use the A9 road bridge but soon turn off on a quieter road (B817) towards Evanton, and Ardross, taking in a long steady ascent on the B9176 behind Ben Struie, incorporating a scintillating descent to Bonar Bridge. The views across and down Dornoch Firth are special. Some mountains like Ben More Assynt on the West coast are easily visible even to a hedgehog like The Wattmeister.

Last week, the rocky crags were softened by an abundance of yellow gorse which illuminated the landscape and whose presence could open the hardest of hearts.

Pass through Bonar Bridge and climb once again through the lush farmlands of Migdale to the barren moorland waste surrounding Loch Buidhe. At the summit, take in the view and realise that somehow you have been spirited into the Highlands.

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Useless Knowledge.

Sometimes you just know stuff. It is difficult to determine the provenance of this knowledge, or why it sticks like a limpet to the hippocampus….(thanks Wiki), while other stuff drifts away, lost in an infinite universe never to be remembered again.

Imagine minute strands of fine silk rippling free and untamed in a light breeze. Your brain’s job is to catch the strands and braid them into a ribbon…and on completion of this task, you will have remembered what you had forgotten, probably some useful information…..like the contents of the shopping list or the name of your younger child.

On the other hand, imagine you are walking back from the park with The Wattmeisterin and The Wattmutt. It’s a lovely, mild evening in Spring. You overhear a couple speaking in a foreign accent.

“What language do you think they are speaking?”, asks TW.

“Italian,” answers The Wattmeisterin with typical conviction. “What do you think?”…..(this is our most favourite game).

“I think they were conversing in Romanian, because 38% of the population of Romania speak Italian and they are pretty good at French too.”

“How do you know that?”, she asks.

“My love, I know it in the same way I know that Ben Macdui is the second highest mountain in the UK, that Bustino finished fourth in the 1974 Epsom Derby and that ‘yo atropellé un gusano’ means ‘I ran over a worm’ in Spanish.”

There is a moment of silence as The Wattmeisterin processes the magnificence of being married to the possessor of such a substantial vault of useless knowledge….like tar on the brain, stuck there for all time, before reverting to reality.

“When you went shopping this morning, did you remember to buy milk?”, she asks.

“Oops”.

 

 

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Mexican Fireball

The Wattmeister booked Spanish classes in Tulum which is situated about a Rory McCarron bike ride aouth of Cancun, Yucatan.
After a few days tuition his head was full of new vocabulary, conjugations and a guacamole of irregular verbs. They tumbled out of his mouth like, well, like you know what. He even invented a phrase for the after effects of too much hot chilli sauce…..’pelota del fuego mehicano’… mexican fireball.
Okay, there was the odd mix-up. For example, confusing the word for ‘toilet’ with the word for ‘communal taxi’. Thus “where’s the taxi?”has become a euphemism for “a mexican fireball is on its way”, and “how much does it cost to take a toilet to the beach?” is tantamount to asking to be sectioned.

These mishaps aside, it is clear that channels of communication have been much improved thanks mainly to the dogged patience of the teachers at Mextli school. He even managed a ten minute presentation, in Spanish, on the pros and cons of Brexit, which nobody seemed to understand…..which also seems to be the norm, so must therefore be rated a great success.
Cycling has been endured on a singlespeed cruiser sized for a nine year old, and a short nine year old at that. The Wattknees will never be the same again…..fellow auper vets Big Mig, Pistol, Wizard, Old Grey Socks, Iron Mike et al will have to take pity when the old guy returns to the fray with Muswell Hill Peloton.

Until that time, go easy with the picante sause, hasta luego and #makewattsnotwar

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Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2018

The last Sunday in February has special significance in The Wattmeister’s busy calendar. Following on from bike racing in sunny climes, e.g The Tour Down Under & The Tour of Dubai, it heralds the start of the Belgian Classics season kicking off with the Omloop het Nieuwsblad, an undulating title to match an otherwise pan flat race which includes some infamous cobbled hills.

In the past this race has been won by some of the sport’s biggest names…Eddy Merckx, Roger de Vlaeminck, Freddy Maertens and Peter van Petegem to name but a few. This year’s edition will include favourites such as Greg van Avermaet, Edvald Boassen Hagen and Phillippe Gilbert.

Apart from the sheer thrill of watching these guys compete over the bleak Belgian landscape, often in rainy and sleety conditions which prevail in late February, this event renews our acquaintance, and tests our enunciation, with some of the crunchiest names in bike racing……Pieter van Speybrouck, Jonas van Genechten, Bram Tankink and Gillaume van Kiersbulck….names which announce the arrival of Spring every bit as much as the crocus or daffodil.

However, finding the winner of this event is not an easy task. If the weather conditions are bad, then the Belgians and Dutch will relish the challenge. Some riders have emerged from the earlier sunny races in great form…Sonny Colbrelli, Giacomo Nizzolo and Tim Wellens come to mind.

The Wattmeister likes to looks beyond the obvious choices, and one of his favourite riders is Jurgen Roelandts. He will no doubt be pressed into service for BMC team leader Greg van Avermaet, but this is his terrain and he has considerable form and experience over the cobbled hellingen. He is a tentative tip for the podium

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Things to Report

The metaphor “rust never sleeps” was famously the title of an album by Neil Young. The Wattmeister understands its meaning to be: if one cannot or does not adapt to change then one is vulnerable to the process of being outdated.

Well, indeed…..who wishes this fate upon themselves?

Therefore, over the past couple of months, The Wattmeister has attempted to evolve, to embrace new ideas and technologies lest he becomes extinct….like VHS and Betamax….or Bournvita even.

His first move was to purchase a power meter for the bike. To be clear, this device does not provide extra power, rather it reads the power output of the rider via a strain sensor…(at this point it would be possible to go off on a tangent, but let us desist from that path). The information this provides is invaluable as an opening gambit in any cycling conversation as proof of contemporaneous thinking and ongoing personal development.

However, it is no use to the utilities company which provides power to The Wattmansion. When asked for his latest meter reading, he downloaded the app, uploaded the figures and sent them off in a jiffy (bag). They were apparently so unimpressed with 262 watts for 60 minutes that one evening, the bailiffs appeared on the doorstep while he was watching his favourite film..

“Gone with the Headwind”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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