It’s a bright, crisp sunny November morning in Muswell Hill, North London. The club meets outside the Everyman cinema at 8 a.m every Sunday. After all the recent rain, it is unsurprising that there is a big turn out on such a majestic morning.
The Wattmeister has been absent for many weeks. A nervous apprehension courses through him when he sees that some of The Big Names are present. Dingle Dave sporting new gilet and top, Simon G, Bryce, The Rappster, Killer Kay, James VDP, Riz, akaFred, Johnny Boy and about ten others who can both inflict and suffer pain on a bike.
The group depart down Coppett’s Lane and up to Barnet via Friern Barnet Lane. Already, Big Bryce has split the group taking Greg, DingleDave, The Rappster, Mikey D and Simon G with him. These guys are up for it. The rest are still warming up, chit-chatting away as the gap grows.
At this hour, there is very little traffic, we have a clear road and are moving along at a solid 30 kms per hour. A couple of riders bridge across including The Wattmeister….”that wasn’t too bad”. One or two guys already look at little ragged….others follow the wheels anonymously knowing that as the ride develops, more serious questions will be asked of them.
We pedal on through Whetstone towards the foot of Barnet Hill, dodging potholes and sunken drain covers. The road is in a parlous state and has been for many years. At Chipping Barnet we take a left onto May’s Lane…the first half a residential area with width restriction barriers to dissuade speeding motor traffic….the second half a portal to the open countryside beyond Borehamwood.
Barnet Gate Lane is our first test….a punchy little climb after about 11 kms of riding. James VDP and Riz look uncharacteristically sloth-like this morning….maybe too many glasses of wine on Saturday night. Bryce is caning it, closely followed by Simon, Greg. akaFred, DingleDave…JohnnyBoy is there too…..The Wattmeister responds with a little dig to join the last wheel……all the while thinking…”not too bad”.
A brief regroup and we hurtle down newly resurfaced Rowley Lane, skirting Borehamwood before climbing up to Well End and marching on to Shenley.
Somehow, The Wattmeister and Killer have found themselves in a poor position at the rear end of the cavalcade, and as the the two oldest rouleurs, they burn a match or two to get back on to the disappearing peloton……”not too bad”, thinks TW.
The head splits away from the body, and the tail sees a gap form as the body chases the head. Riz valiantly attempts to reunite the tail with the body, but he just hasn’t got it at the moment. The Lion King and The Rappster set off into the void, but really, they are going nowhere fast. A coalition hastily takes shape. The Wattmeister, Killer, James VDP and Riz work together to haul in the two beleaguered riders. We rejoin the body of the peloton who have in turn caught the coattails of the lead riders…..gruppo compatto once again….but the signs are there……The Wattmeister muses, “not too bad”.
The Col du Shenley Lane and twisty-turny back lanes into Saint Albans stretch us out once again before we address the 5 km tear-up along wide and fast Redbourn Road.
“You don’t want to be on the front too soon, and you certainly don’t want to be last wheel”, thinks The Wattmeister as usual suspects Bryce, Simon G, akaFred, DingleDave, Michael G and JohhnyBoy set a fast tempo towards Redbourn. With each passing few hundred metres, the group of seventeen is whittled down.
“Denzil looks good. Michael G, he’s as strong as ever. The Rappster, he loves this road…..Mikey DL, he’s got a super slippery aerodynamic position on the bike……as long as I can stay with them…..it’s actually not too bad”, thinks The Wattmeister.
We stop briefly in Redbourn to weigh each other up, crack a couple of jokes and split into two groups….those in the “Every Man for Himself Group“…..and The Rest.
Sometimes though, The Rest are just as strong .
We head off for Harpenden unencumbered now by the need to smash it up Redbourn Hill. It is all quite pleasant. We are ripping along at 33 kms per hour, but the effort is moderate. Happily, James VDP has found his legs and we share the workload into Colney Heath. The breather we have had since Redbourn, relatively speaking, allows us to start upping the pace and intensity.
With 20 kms left to go, after a civilised gallop up Tollgate Incline, we are transported back towards the M25 services at South Mimms via a 4 km straight and bumpy road adjacent to the A1 proper, which goes by the name of Swanland Full Gas.
Traditionally, this devilish highway is another tear-up. If MHP had a constitution, in it would be written the words….Swanland must be ridden Full Gas at all times.
And so, Simon, Greg, JohhnyBoy, akaFred and the others set off all guns blazing. Mikey DL single handedly closed the intial 50m gap with Denzil, Killer, The Wattmeister and others hanging on, grateful for his exertions.
After 1 km, the pace edged up a little more. Here and there daylight flooded in between wheels as gaps appeared in the line. After 2 kms, it was clear that the leading group of 5 were taking no prisoners as they kicked clear of their pursuers.
Suddenly, akaFred was in a spot of bother with The Rappster and Denzil on his wheel. Sensing danger, both The Wattmeister and Riz jumped across to the leaders.
With 1km to the roundabout, perched on a tidy uphill slope, it became a question of who would kick first. Simon G had done a colossal. unselfish pull on the front, and though he possesses a tremendous kick, surely he had done too much, been too generous to take this particular sprint.
With about 300m to go and just as the gradient kicked in, Greg pulled clear of the chasers….
“This is it!”, thought The Wattmeister as he engaged the biggest gear his aging legs could uncomfortably turn for the next 25 seconds. Pushing with all his might, spittle flying into his slipstream, his mortality enshrined in the fast approaching shape of the roundabout….he gave it everything. With 150m to go, he scooted past Young Greg fully expecting Killer, Simon, akaFred or even The Rappster to come and undo him….the loser’s excuses were already being composed frantically in his head…..with 50m to go he looked round to witness the beautiful sight of empty tarmac.
“Not too bad”, he thought.
Yes, the others had let him win.