Exquisite but always pragmatic Holland

So here we are, a few musical bars distant from the N14 trunk road which links up with the A4 superhighway running between Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Belgium, France and the rest of those mythical countries which we Brits are now instructed to loathe.

The trainline from Den Haag Centraal to Leiden, Utrecht and Amsterdam is but a couple of crotchets away, just the other side of the Zijdesingel canal.

The Mall of the Netherlands lies a blues rhythm away with parking for 4000 cars but you’ll see many more bikes than motors. Antoniushoven hospital is a demisemiquaver hop skip and jump away at the end of the Karekietlaan.

It is a pretty crowded place. However road noise from the N14 is muted, there is no through traffic in residential areas and only the trains make their presence known along with the herons, storks and parakeets.

A bike ride here can be anything from 2 kms to 200 kms on any type of machine, but it is always the same song….the thrum of tyres rolling over a smooth purpose built cycleway, or sometimes a road where cars are GUESTS.

Now then, we know all this, but there are layers of infrastructure, thought, planning and intention which contribute to the whole experience. The cycleways are accompanied by separate footpaths often alongside a tranquil canal lined with reeds, long grasses and an abundance of wild flowers. The calming effect of the whole shebang cannot be exaggerated. And to think that this is all by design, a world created for the betterment of everyone.

Anyway I digress, we haven’t even pedalled a couple of hundred metres before appreciating the thought that went into this model for living. The Zijdesingel weaves past sports fields, allotments, castles, meadows….it dives under railway tracks, shares a road or two before fetching up at the broad watery expanse of the Vliet canal. Here you will witness, rowers, pleasure boat potterers, fisher people of all ages, runners, a nudist beach and plenty of content cyclists on normal bikes enjoying the outdoors…. all the while pedalling away from the comfort of your own saddle.

From Vlietland, there are dedicated cycle paths leading out into the polders and beyond…indeed all the way to the far eastern borders of Holland. Nearby Driemanspolder has recently been dredged and converted into a nature reserve replete with footpaths, campsite and picnic areas ringed by a super smooth cycle circuit of approximately 6 kms in length…the whole is carpeted by a plethora of colourful flowers and grasses which soothe the spirit.

No litter, no flytipping, no potholes, no aggression on the roads that we frequently encounter in the UK. A composition which we should be eager to import.

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Where there’s muck, there’s brass.

Since Brexit, it has become increasingly difficult to source bike parts and bike clothing. Facebook’s algorithms target me with tantalising ads for all manner of bike related goodies which are never in stock.

Like a crusty beachcomber trawling the coast for detritus to make use of, The Wattmeister spends his time surveying the secondhand bicycle parts adverts for a good deal. These are few and far between. Vendors ask more for preloved bits and pieces than they cost new, and what’s more, people seem to be paying these premium prices.

The time spent sifting through this information has not been wasted. A lifetime of buying stuff, putting it aside until is obsolete and then awaiting its rebirth as vintage has left The Wattmeister with a mountain of junk. A surplus of materials for projects which were formulated in the dead of night never to see the light of day.

And so, what to do? A little experiment, using an irresistible sales pitch and the magic words..IN STOCK.

This story has a happy ending in the old fashioned fairytale sense. The Wattmeister can report that he has just sold a pair of well used rarely washed bibshorts, unharmed by modern detergents and overzealous spin drying. The elastic grippers in this garment could be described as ‘relaxed’ ….accommodating the lapsed athlete’s culinary indescretions. The clincher, (forgive the many possible puns here) is that they came complete with ‘as new’, immaculate skidmarks, (otherwise known as decals).

For £75 some collector has picked up quite the bargain he never bargained for.

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Exquisite lanes around Rogart, Sutherland

After our ride up from Inverness on Thursday, we settled in at the independent hostel comprising self contained accommodation made up from railway carriages. https://www.sleeperzzz.com/

Friday morning followed the promised weather forecast script…cold, wet and windy. After a couple of breakfast G&Ts, The Wattmeisterin consented to join me on a ride to Golspie via the mountain back road, a distance of about 20 kms, (I told her it was less).

Crossing the A839, a road that sounds like it ought to be terribly busy, but is in fact hushed like the inside of a gastropod’s snug, we immediately began the aperitif, a 2.5 km climb up to Rogart Church. This section has a couple of steep ramps and swiftly transports the rider up to the community of Rogart, a collection of original stone built dwellings and some modern timber and glass creations which all have superb views across wild peat moors and the hills on the far side of the River Fleet Valley.

This ribbon of road gives much visual satisfaction and continues up to Knockarthur crossroads, a total climb of 150m over a distance of approximately 5.5 kms. On this day, we fought valiantly against a terrific headwind from the north as the drizzle turned to rain and the temperature dropped to January.

Turning right onto the Dunrobin Glen Road, we criss-crossed a tributary of the Fleet, Allt Clais a’ Chait via a series of stone bridges, whose source is Loch a’Choinn Duinn which sits atop Meall Odhar at a height of 406m. We continued our ascent on this brooding, winding road until the 12 km and 250m ascent mark. In these wintry conditions, it is a truly atmospheric conduit from Rogart to Golspie, and one that many cyclists will miss if they stick to the valley road.

Plummeting down to Golspie, we passed a super steep forestry road to the right which leads up to the Duke of Sutherland monument situated at the summit of Ben Bhraggie…a diversion we could easily resist due to the high winds and the rumbling noise coming from The Wattmeisterin’s stomach.

In Golspie, we headed straight to The Coffee Bothy for a belated brekkie and a bit of warmth

Bang goes the diet

Excellent fare. Suitably refreshed, our next port of call was the dead end road to Littleferry on the north side of Loch Fleet about 6kms away. Propelled by a dreamy tailwind, we rode swiftly to the abandoned jetty, where once upon a time one could hitch a boat ride across the sandy narrows towards the grassy slopes of Embo and Skelbo.

Rejoining the A9 at Golspie and returning directly to the hostel via the A839, this trip totals a mere 44 kms. However, the hinterland above Rogart Church is well worth further exploration, but perhaps wait for a dryer, warmer less windy day.

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To Rogart

It was time to check on the wellbeing of old friends in Scotland. I’m talking about places as well as people.

A long train journey up the East Coast from King’s Cross delivered us in Inverness late on a damp, windy and cool Wednesday evening towards the end of an unnaturally damp, windy and cool May of 2021.

The Wattmeisterin and I set off on our loaded touring bikes to be reunited with the village of Rogart, some 58 miles to the north, a few miles inland from the seaside town of Golspie, where innocent looking seals bask on the beach between ruthless feeding raids on the local salmon population of nearby Loch Fleet.

The first couple of kilometres wind through an industrial landscape before climbing up to the underwhelming bike path over the Kessock Bridge which straddles the vast expanse of the Moray Firth. Mighty munro Ben Wyvis dominates the view to the northwest.

Soon enough, we have navigated our way under the A9 and onto the majestic Black Isle via a narrow winding lane snaking up to Drumsmittal and then descending to Munlochy. To the left, wooded slopes drop down to the Firth, and to the right, fields are carpeted in rapeseed whose yellowness is as bright as sunlight….much needed, as the rain falls and we pedal gamely into a headwind.

In Munlochy a passer-by asks where we are headed.. “Rogart!” we chorus, ….”Good luck!” comes the friendly reply.

We climb slowly up to the telephone mast at Black Eagle Point and bimble down through wooded and steep slopes of Braefindon to Culbokie and the Cromarty Road bridge. Back to the trafficked world, our bikes splash along with the trucks and cars for about 3 kms before nipping up a steep potholed lane to join the quiet back road to Alness where we dive into the Station Hotel for some sustenance which arrives in generous, Wattmeister-sized portions.

The Scotsburn Road is about 16 kms long and joins Alness with Tain. What a gem, I’ve made a new best friend who will need visiting again in due course, hopefully in more clement conditions. Thick, golden gorse adorned the hedgerows and hillsides, contrasting with giant granite rocks and complimented by verdant fields washed by the rain.

By the time we pitched up in Tain, The Wattmeisterin had had enough of the precipitation and headwind… also, carrying all my baggage, both physical and mental…so she decided to have a couple of G&Ts, a piece of cake and take the train to Rogart,

I do not blame her….but did I really have to carry my own bags and take the wind for the remaining 35 kms?

The Salsa galloped out of Tain, weaved over the blustery Dornoch Firth road bridge and onto the peaceful, narrow track to Cuthill and Dornoch. It was blowing a hooley, the dribble was out of control and being dangerously diluted by rainwater. Alas, it was too cold to stop in Dornoch, but in better weather….

This route avoids the A9 and leads to the wonderful nature reserve of Loch Fleet, and the ruins of Skelbo Castle before rejoining the main road near The Mound. A short drag leads to a left turn and 7 km ride down the valley to Rogart….my old friend.

The train from Tain had pulled in a few minutes earlier and The Wattmeisterin announced, “it’s time for a G&T!”

Whatever happened to whiskey?

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Art in the time of Covid…a self portrait.

During lockdown, and inspired by the artwork of his 95 year old father, a mean sprinter in the days before fibre optic replaced cat whisker radio, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crystal_detector#Cat_whisker_detector), The Wattmeister delved into the fecund puddle of his creative talents with the aim of producing a self-likeness for posterity.

It soon became apparent that fast twitch muscles are not compatible with water colours, canvas and oil paints. All that explosive power equates to a narcotic Jackson Pollockesque shambles.

Somehow, he had to find a way to define his favoured cycling milieu. As a ‘chasseur’ of the perfect headwind he laboured over technique. How does one paint a headwind? In any case, it had been done before, Edvard Munch had it covered, The Scream doubling up as, “I can’t stand to listen to no more PBP stories”.

The answer to this conundrum lay in the lens of his Motorola G8 Power (predictably) smartphone.

As a connoisseur of the Full English Breakfast, at 1500 calories the perfect refuelling fare to counterbalance a 60 kms ride, an opportunity presented itself. But how to go about composition? It would be sacrilege to order one but allow it to get cold….uneaten.

The solution lay in deft fork work, subtle arrangement with a blunt knife, and some discreet use of the condiments as a final touch.

Here is the result. The Wattmeister’s self portrait.

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Cannondale Synapse Carbon Ultegra 2019 long term review

Second review of the day…I’ve been waiting a long time to write this, it’s a love affair founded on shifting sands. The love is manifested by way of small gifts….for the bike.

I have now ridden 5,600 kms on it. There is a lot of technical information regarding the frame, forks etc. etc….I believe you, here’s my money…how does it ride?

So in the beginning, the Synapse carbon (not Hi-Mod) was an opportunity to embrace road hydraulic disc brakes. The reluctance to do it earlier stems from the inabilty to swap out rim brakes wheels for disc wheels…simple as that.

The bike came with a Fulcrum 600 DB disc wheelset and Vittoria Rubino Pro 700 x 28mm tyres…the tyres have been EXCELLENT.

Our first outing together was in Regents Park suffocated by lots of traffic on a blowy afternoon. I felt extremely comfortable but SLOW. It was the wind, the traffic, the rider….no, it was the wheels. The wheels are great if you want to ride super steady, or stick on some 32mm tyres and go gravel.

I still had insurance money left, so bought some incredibly good value ZUUS wheels  (a story in itself)…ceramic bearings, 50mm carbon disc rims, Sapim X ray bladed spokes for £600…the company went bust, but I did get my wheels, and they have performed oustandingly.

The ZUUS wheels changed the bike completely. It is still incredibly comfortable, but my weak efforts are transferred into forward motion much more quickly than with the lethargic stock wheels. It looks banging….so sexy that I bought new colour coded bar tape to tie in with the subtle black/green Cannondale livery and a similarly colour co-ordinated bottle cage. These little presents are a sign that we will be together a long time. Our longest ride is 225 kms, but we’ve done plenty in excess of 100 kms very happily and back to back.

OK, now I want to share a secret. I recently swapped out the heavyish FSA 50/34 chainset for a Cannondale Spidering 52/ 36 chainset, giving a 36/34 bottom gear but a higher top gear…..and also, I obtained a Cannondale carbon SAVE seatpost which is much lighter than the stock Cannondale C3 seatpost. My, do I love this bike.

And how does it reward me? Massively! It’s not super light, probably 8.3 kgs. Braking is excellent. As are the R8000 Ultegra shifters. It makes that whizzing noise which drapes the rider with a cloak of contentment. It is pretending to be an electric bike….but it’s not, what a brilliant illusion!

I’m so happy that I am going to order another present from Wiggle, and as a little surprise, we are going on holiday this weekend to Great Dun Fell.

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Cannondale CAAD 12 Ultegra 2019 long term review

I have now ridden 4,500 kms on the CAAD 12, always equipped with FFWD F6r carbon rims, aluminium braking track. There is easily enough clearance to run 700 x 28mm tyres which give increased comfort and extra protection against the UK’s increasingly pot-holed roads.

Longest ride to date on it is 154 kms out into the Chiltern Hills, taking in some gravelly lanes and steep climbs. The specced low gearing of 36 chainring/30 tooth cassette, is a touch overgeared for me on Whiteleaf Hill near Monks Risborough, but the CAAD 12 got me a personal best on the vertiginous beast back in April, as it did on the Swain’s Lane Urban Hill Climb in September 2019 (on this one occasion shod with Vision Trimax 35s)….so I can only praise the bike for its assistance.

Although its rider is deteriorating with every passing day, we have managed to grab a genuine KOM on gnarly Dancer’s Lane out near Potter’s Bar, and have grabbed a couple of old boy sprints when nobody was paying attention. The power is transferred swiftly and sweetly through the stiff Spidering chainset and BB interface when produced (rarely!).

Before purchasing, I had read many reports of creaking bottom brackets in the Cannondale frames. This bike has not been afflicted by any such troublesome condition. It is not a difficult job to access the bearings by removing the chainset from the spindle and to check/apply grease to the bearings and spindle/crank interface. So far, no creaking.

I am very happy with this bike. The geometry is quite aggressive in that my position is rather more forward in relation to the cranks than other bikes in the Wattcollection. However, I am never left feeling that it is not right for me. It is light, fast enough, relatively inexpensive, and although I have swapped out the specced Fulcrum Sport wheelset, they have done mighty fine service on my audax bike including Paris-Brest-Paris qualifiers and the event itself. A really smooth set of hubs and a build that has not needed touching with a spoke key.

This frame/fork has now been superseded by the new CAAD13.

All in all, a highly desirable package.

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Travel Woes

“Earwig!”, announces The Wattmeisterin with her customary boldness.

“Earwig?”, replies The Wattmeister with his customary timidity.

“Yes, I am awake,” she proclaims assertively.

It seems that in the present, we are having a conversation meant for sometime in our joint future.

We decided to give the Wattmobilehome an outing in order to charge its half-dead battery.  Agonising over whether this is strictly within the rules of Covid-19 behaviour, we decided that we don’t understand the rules, so cracked on anyway, all the while staying alert and using our common senses.

The country is facing economic collapse, a second wave, (not to be pessimistic maybe a third wave), and, with little rain since February, the sobering prospect of a drought.

Traffic has been incredibly light over the lockdown, and the weather has been terrific.  We jumped in the van buoyed by the justification that The Wattmeister can only see out of one eye and is therefore duty-bound to test his eyesight by driving 200 miles in a 3 and a half ton vehicle.

St. Ives in Cambridgeshire beckoned. As we joined the M11 at South Woodford, the heavens opened and stayed open for 15 hours. Just before junction 8a, Bishops Stortford, we ground to a halt. The motorway had been closed due to an accident. The subsequent hour of delay was a great opportunity to have our dinner in the van, handily parked as we were on the inside lane.

The motorway re-opened. The authorities diverted us along the A120 to Puckeridge, and then up the A10 to Royston and finally along the dead straight A1198 to Fenstanton. Fortunately, a couple of weeks earlier, The Wattmeister had been up this way on his bike, and was able to entertain his betrothed with details of Strava segment times on random lanes around Cockayne Hadley, Great Gransden and Eltisley.

“How long before we get there?”. asked The Wattmeisterin with just a hint of irritation.

Finally, as darkness fell,  we arrived in an alternative Bermuda Triangle, a series of major and minor roads between the spanking new A14 and the A1307. Roadworks appeared out of nowhere, forcing us to make figure of eight laps of Fenstanton and Fen Drayton, before The Wattmeister invoked the routesheet protocol of London-Edinburgh-London 2017  which delivered us out of Groundhog Day to St. Ives.

The moral of this story is:  Stay At Home….it may well help prevent the spread of Covid 19, and it could save your marriage.

Also..two tips. If you ever visit St. Ives, The Local Café is fabulous (closed at present)…and Tom’s Cakes (currently open) opposite Waitrose has delicious quiches and cakes at very reasonable prices.

 

 

 

 

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An Englishman, a Dutchman and a German Lady in a fish kiosk

Freezing mist. Bung on three base layers, thermo bibtights and a fleece-lined jersey. Decorate with snood, skullcap and two pairs of gloves. The bike paths had already been salted.

Head for the dunes and the North Sea cycle route from Meijendel to Zandvoort. Totally traffic-free. Hardly any other cyclists…do not attempt this at the weekends. Today is Tuesday,

The dunes are really a giant nature reserve, and there is an abundance of wild flora and fauna criss-crossed by a network of footpaths, bridleways and of course, cyclepaths. No potholes, no litter and no hassle. Wending my way northwards through a wooded section, some ponies had decided to make use of the trail to meet up and have a chinwag.

There are some deceptive little climbs, the one directly after the Wassenarseslag stings the legs, and turning seawards at the top, the landscape opens out into an alternative ocean of sandy dunes.

Katwijk-aan-Zee punctuates the ride with its urban influence, but a gentle tailwind propels me along the Boulevard towards a super smooth bikeway through more dunes to Noordwijk-aan-Zee. A dense mist has suddenly smothered the tepid sun and the temperature drops a couple of degrees. Two young stags  run right alongside me for a couple of hundred metres and I miss a left turn ending up off route but not lost in De Zilk.

It’s very difficult to get lost. Every junction, no matter how big or small is populated by bicycle signposts with distances in kms and safe access to cross over to another clearly defined path. I press on regardless towards Zandvoort-aan Zee, my northerly destination, via Vogelenzang and Bentveld.

Zandvoort is a big resort with a large promenade, but today it is deserted as the wind is now blowing a hooley from the Southwest. The mist is now officially a fog, and my glasses are useless, bespattered as they are by a fine, salty spray.

It’s a tough ride back through the dunes into the headwind. Everyone seems to be going the other way. I put my head down and try to look gritty and determined, but really I’m weak and pusillanimous. What a loser! And still 15 kms until Noordwijk and another 5 to Katwijk…this is going to take FOREVER!

I promise myself some food in Katwijk, even though Johann Museeuw preaches no food or drink on rides under 4 hours. He won Paris-Roubaix 3 times…..but he’s never taken on this effing headwind.

Finally, I make it to Katwijk and dive into Hartevelt Vis Kiosk on the Boulevard. A friendly Dutchwoman says, “hallo, this is no weather for cycling”…I cannot argue with her blunt observation.

I order kibbeling with a smattering of mayonnaise dip and a hot chocolate with whipped cream.

A German woman remarks that my bike looks expensive, I cannot argue with her blunt observation….my mouth is full of kibbeling and I suspect there is whipped cream on the tip of my nose….what would Johann make of this if he found out?

A Dutchman joins us. He looks rough. I wish I had locked up my expensive looking bike. He says “you have cream on the tip of your nose”. I cannot argue with this blunt observation, but by way of conversation, I tell him that it might be mayonnaise.

The four of us are chatting away amicably in English, Dutch, German and Wattmeisterspeak. It’s fun, uplifting and makes me want to cry when I think of Brexit.

“Fuck Brexit” I tell them politely, covered in cream and mayonnaise and spitting kibbeling on the pristine floor.

They reply in unison…”yes, but you’ll always have Mexit!”

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A Sunday Ride in Autumn with Muswell Hill Peloton

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.

Screenshot (1)

 

 

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PBP 2019. Part 5.

Thursday 22nd August. The final stretch.

The distance from Mortagne to the finish in Rambouillet, via the penultimate control at Dreux, is 122 kms. The decision was made to sleep for a mere 90 minutes in order to leave at 05.00 a.m, which would allow us 10 hours to complete the course.

Our group had to finish by 15.00 p.m.

LongTom and SavilleRowAlex had arrived in Mortagne at about 20.30 p.m, fully six hours in front of Bubbles, OldGreySocks and The Wattmeister. Consequently they both had a very good rest before setting off an half an hour before the slowcoaches at 04.30 a.m. Their plan was to wait for us in Dreux and we would all ride together to Rambouillet.

PBP2019 tom alex

Helen woke us up at the agreed time, fixed coffee and made sure we ate something before setting off into the bitter cold blackness to tackle the Perche whose stiff hills are the source of many tributaries of the River Seine.

At this point, the ride looked in the bag, a stone cold (very apt) certainty, assured, guaranteed, all the synonyms you can muster.

After about one kilometre, on a dark, ripping descent, OldGreySocks suddenly became alarmed as his bike started to shimmy uncontrollably. A frightening phenomenon. Under another miraculously placed streetlight, we checked the bike over as the minutes ticked by. A diagnosis could not be found, so OGS continued gingerly down the hill, thankfully  with no further occurrence.

The undulating 19 kms to Longny-au-Perche proved a tough test at this stage of the game, but we left the steepest hills behind at La Barbiniere, turned towards Senonches, and meandered along a plateau framed by golden cornfields. The sky turned a pastel shade of pink in advance of a majestic sunrise, and somehow, this display of natural beauty made every little hardship seem worth the effort.

Approaching Neuilly-sur-Eure at 30 kms into the stage, Bubbles was overcome with sleepiness. Our saviour appeared in the form of SAS Boulangerie Touffet, whose proprietor had a kerbside trestle table heavily laden with freshly baked pizzas and pain aux chocolats.

Here is what happened. There was one solitary chair inside the bakery. Bubbles collapsed into it. The proprietor’s wife quickly and kindly covered her with a blanket as it was still very chilly. Bubbles slept for about fifteen minutes, mouth open and snoring like a combine harvester.

While she slept, to the amazement of the baker, OGS and TW demolished half a dozen pizzas and enjoyed a couple of cups of coffee from the adjacent Bar Tabac.

When Bubbles awoke, still slightly dazed, but not as dazed as those who witnessed her snoring, she was served coffee and cake by her two elderly carers, and once again we set off towards Dreux. Thank you so much SAS Boulangerie Touffet for your amazing food and the kindness and respect you showed to us.

There were still 50 kms to cycle to the control, but we plodded along dreamily for an hour or so before joining up and sharing the workload with a nice group of riders until the village of Blévy where everyone decided to shed layers of clothing as the temperature climbed. For some riders this can be a tricky process after so little sleep.

What would normally take two minutes can last up to ten. The Wattmeister was befuddled by the concepts of  ‘left’ and ‘right’, and ‘front’ and ‘back’, and the workings of a zip seemed the domain of an astrophysicist….but eventually he managed to strip off the unnecessary garments and don replacement lightweight kit so that it wasn’t inside out and upside down.

As this feat took so long, there was some distance on the road between him and the remnants of Team MHP. Salvation came in the shape of a mature looking Belgian rider towing a group of younger riders at a conservative 40 kms ph. The Wattmeister did what he does best…wheelsucked for his life. The Belgian was a powerhouse and flew along the narrow flat D20 to Crécy, where Bubbles and OldGreySocks joined the party.

For the next 10kms, the Belgian Rocket rattled along merrily with a whole host of  riders high on adrenaline turning the pedals in his wake until we rolled into the control at Dreux…..thank you Belgian Boss.

Our time advantage now stood at 80 minutes. This presented an opportunity to supplement the four pizzas consumed at Neuilly with Omelette, Boeuf Bourguignon and Pommes de Terres Dauphinoises…all on the same plate.

It didn’t touch the sides.

Tom and Alex were sunbathing around the corner outside Dreux’s impressive station. The boys could have finished hours ago but chose to escort us back to La Bergerie in Rambouillet. We had about 4 hours to complete the remaining 45 kms. Alex sat himself on the front of the group tapping out a lovely tempo for the final run-in.

The mood in camp was light, happy, chatty…. liberated as we were from the burden of doubt. The trials and tribulations of Trevé on Tuesday night were a distant memory. The weather was nigh on perfect as we weaved our way through the endless fields of corn before crossing the outward route at Faverolles and dropping down to the Forest of Rambouillet.

PBP 2019 sign

Soon enough the cheers of hundreds of smiling spectators signalled the end of the ride as we passed under the Arrivé banner and crossed the timing mat in La Bergerie…..we had two hours to spare.

PBP2019 arrive

This had been a wonderful team effort. Managing a group of five individuals with different rhythms would always be a challenge on an adventure like this. However, we never had a cross word, and both Plan A and Plan B, which had been discussed in depth before the ride, were successfully deployed.

It was a privilege to have undertaken the ride with such resolute, reliable, capable and fun friends. On the ride, during the qualifiers, and whilst organising the mundane minutiae of travel and accommodation logistics, we all supported one another without question, and no doubt we will get more sleep on our return in 2023.

PBP 2019 beers

Thanks go to Helen and Sinclair who drove the Wattmobile out to Carhaix and back to Tinteniac and Mortagne to pitch tents, cook for us and listen to our travails in the depth of might.

The bikes were in great shape. Bubbles’ dynamo light bracket snapped after 150 kms.  We did not have one single puncture. There were no other significant problems apart from OGS’s temporary bike shimmy after Mortagne.

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After a celebratory meal in the huge marquee washed down by a couple of well earned beers, we adjourned to our headquarters in the glamorous surroundings of the long term campervan parking area and ordered more pizzas. Food never tasted so good.

 

 

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PBP 2019. Part 4

At some stage during the qualifying series, but before the actual event, Team MHP met regularly to discuss important details like ride tactics, sleep stops, hydration and nutrition….but really the purpose of these meetings was to allow The Wattmeister to drone on about past PBPs he had ridden and to accept free drinks when offered.

One evening, thoughtful LongTom cut to the chase and asked, “who is in charge of the Pearl Handled Revolver?”

pearl

A moment’s silence. This was a euphemism for….what happens if one of us slow the others down so they miss the 90 hour time cut-off?

“That will never happen!”, decreed The Wattmeister, “you are all so strong!”

“But, what if….?” persisted Tom….”what if The Wattmeister slows us down?

Well, at the village of Trevé at approximately half past midnight on Tuesday 20th August, Team MHP passed their first Pearl Handled Revolver test. Bubbles had looked down the barrel and said “NO”.

After a remarkably comfortable two hour sleep along the length of four chairs, and in OldGreySocks’ case, the linoleum floor, the trio departed Loudeac at precisely 05.00 a.m, faced with a 314 kms ride to the control at Mortagne-au-Perche. The first few kilometres would be crucial as it was still bitterly cold, and we were faced with a rolling course.

There was no need to worry ourselves….Bubbles set off with renewed energy through La Cheze making easy work of the steady climb out of the village. We did not see too many riders all the way to Menéac, but as dawn broke, a couple of lads came flying by on the long downhill stretch on the D305 and D66 to Illifaut. It seemed rude not to join in as somehow we had juice in our legs.

At the crossroads in Illifaut, the townspeople had erected a couple of marquees, and the local bakery was supplying croissants, pain aux chocolats and hot coffee. We took a break to enjoy this incredible heartwarming hospitality. Our progress for these first 30 kms had been impressive and now, we found the perfect group to tag along with for the second 30 kms of this leg. They were quick on the flat, but nice and steady on the hills…..we knocked out this section in about an hour.

As we entered Médréac another catnap was necessary, but being in the group had bought us the time to indulge another break. After 20 minutes, we were back on the road. The sun began to warm the air, and we only had to ride 22 kms to the control and a change of kit at Tinteniac…..where Tom and Alex had spent a rather more comfortable night than us.

A super fast group of Austrians sped past us….Yes! No! Yes!…we kicked hard and jumped on the back of them…it had looked impossible, but the power nap gave us back some punch. They smashed on down the D220 with even the hint of a tailwind…and then tackled the long climb up to Becherel…..the pace was quite fierce, but we hung on and joined them down the other side and all the way back to Tinteniac. Even with a couple of breaks, this leg had only taken a respectable 4 and a half hours to cover, a wonderful riposte to the troubles of the previous night.

We now had 60 minutes in hand.

A scrub down, kit change and some more fine stew from Helen and Sinclair put us back on the road to Fougeres, 54 kms away. The vibe was good….so good that The Wattmeister did his first turn on the front for 300 kms. We caught a couple of Spanish riders and shared the load with them through Dingé, Feins, Sens de Bretagne and all the way to Fougeres. It wasn’t quick, but rather a good ride at steady recovery pace which delivered us to the control with 75 minutes in hand.

Fougeres was hot. We needed food and plenty of drink….this required a brief nap to allow a semblance of digestion before hitting the road again. Now, in previous editions, this has been a happy hunting ground for The Wattmeister…this year was to be different. Bubbles had been fatigued by her fantastic morning effort, so we made sedate progress back towards Gorron, stopping at Paul’s famous creperie in La Tanniere for free coffee and pancakes.

Seated in the shade, it was agreed that we would ride our own pace for a bit, as the route was pretty much a straight road for the next 40 kms. OldGreySocks found a fast group and headed off into the distance. The Wattmeister found another slightly disorganised group and set off in pursuit and Bubbles continued at her own pace.

In the picturesque riverside village of Ambrieres les Vallées, about 30 kms out from the next control at Villaines La Juhel, everyone has their house or garage open for tired riders to take a nap, grab some food or drink or just to stop and chat. The Wattmeister took off his shoes on the village green and a thousand blades of grass died.

Soon enough, the resolute figure of Bubbles appeared, she needed a quick nap and we had built up enough time to allow 10 or 15 minutes. While she slept, The Wattmeister went to use the public loo…..as he entered a young lady was leaving.

“It’s unisex”, she said, “are you The Wattmeister? You’re a legend!”

“Yes, I think so….but I’m not a legend….Are you Jane Dennyson? You’re a legend”

“No, I’m not a legend, but Rory says you are….and that’s good enough for me!” she insisted.

“Come and meet Bubbles”…..and the rest is history.

Jane and Bubbles hit it off. They rode together almost all the way back to Villaines at touring pace, chatting away, oblivious to the passing kilometres. Meanwhile, The Wattmeister stopped at every roadside stall, availing himself of fresh produce, coffee, crisps, cold drinks, sweets, and so on ….by the time we reached Villaines, he could only manage one main course in the canteen….plus a dessert.

At Villaines, the riders receive an absolutely tremendous welcome….crowds of spectators cheering, a master of ceremonies announcing riders’ frame numbers over a public address system….a very humbling but exhilarating experience.

We were reunited with OldGreySocks who had been forced to remedy a mechanical issue in the service tent and we now had two hours in hand.

Departing lovely Villaines bathed in the golden glow of the evening light, we had 85 kms to ride before our next sleep stop….and could have expected to arrive there by 01.00 a.m but our expectations had already been shattered on this ride, and the spectre of tiredness still dictated our schedule.

After 20 kms there was a roadside party going on at Saint Paul-le-Gaultier. The villagers were seated around long trestle tables, and the owner of the café were handing out coffee and cake to randonneurs…we HAD to stop.

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Darkness fell quickly, Bubbles pulled an Englishman from Texas with A VERY LOUD VOICE……OldGreySocks and The Wattmeister dropped off the back…eardrums battered by his questions….”where do you come from?”……”UK”……”oh, whereabouts in UK?”…”London”….”oh, great….which part of London”….”Muswell Hill”…..”never heard of it,what’s your postcode?” Sorry dude, we were a bit grumpy tired.

OldGreySocks needed a streetlight. We found one miraculously at La Hotterie. He unloaded his saddlebag….dumped the contents on the floor and said,

“right, let’s go”.

You need a sleep mate. We found a nice bit of gravel away from the miraculous streetlight and The Wattmeister promised to wake his compadre up in twenty minutes.

About half an hour later, OldGreySocks shook The Wattmeister from his coma. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We set off in pursuit of the long gone Bubbles….The Wattmeister turned back for his rainjacket which he thought was laying on the gravel but which in fact adorned his body. It would be an hour or so before he saw OGS again.

Resigned to being last man on the road. The Wattmeister stalked a french couple who whispered sweet nothings to each other in the night air before St-Remy-du-Val,

….”trop vite cherie…..trop loin cherie…regarde, la lune cherie”…it was beautiful to eavesdrop on their affectionate chirping as they led us towards Mamers.

In Mamers, Velo club Saosnois were dishing out hot soup, coffee and cake to fortify riders for the last 24 kms push to Mamers. Unbeknownst to us, Bubbles was just around the corner praying to meet up again with Jane, and Jane was around another corner hoping to pal up with Bubbles….well, this is the magic of PBP….their paths crossed at a time when they both needed it.

Meanwhile, although The Wattmeister got a lively lead out from a couple of English guys, OldGreySocks hit a rich vein of form and ripped up the newly resurfaced road to Mortagne clocking in a couple of minutes behind Bubbles who had misplaced her bike, and a couple of minutes in front of TW who had misplaced his brain.

Despite dawdling a bit, we were now 2 and a half hours to the good….time that was about to be forfeited to sleep.

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