Pain in the Park

The weather has a mind of its own. Friday night turned cold and damp, bringing with it a cold, burrowing breeze. The forecast for Saturday morning was for milder air with light showers.

It was going to warm up…in the night….in November. No way, thought The Wattmeister, and that is the reason why he turned out a tad overdressed for the weekly Regents Park thrash with Muswell Hill Peloton.

06:45: Slayer, Pistol, Lion King, David C, Gray Goliath, Saville Row Alex, Doc and Big Mig were assembled at the meeting point. It wasn’t actually raining, but a film of moisture hung in the air like a veil. The tarmac glistened in the dark, manhole covers reflected light from the streetlamps. The Wattmeister was glad to be there, one of the pack. But, his legs weren’t really there, not yet anyway. This morning, there would be no bravado from him, no wasted energy on the way to the Park.

Muswell Hill Road leads to Highgate Village. There’s a bus lane and speed bumps, and plenty of potholes to shake the half-awake rider from his slumbers. A little drag up to the traffic lights by the Woodman pub gets the blood circulating good and proper before the slightly longer climb up Southwood Lane to Highgate Village. This morning, the group are taking it a bit easier than usual, maybe because of the wet conditions. The Wattmeister is grateful, his legs are grateful.

Hampstead Lane Westbound crossed the Bishop’s Avenue like the top of a ‘T’, skirting Kenwood House before kicking up to The Spaniards Inn. On a good day, TW would ride hard in the 53t chainring to force the group up alongside the Heath before the drop through the curves of Hampstead Village. Today, they cross the lights by the station, and power up the false flat before plummeting down Fitzjohn’s to Swiss Cottage and finally, the Park itself.

Wolf, Gav and Young Geoff are waiting in the shadows. The first lap is taken at a steady pace. It is the club’s concession to being a club. A rotating chaingang forms on the second lap, each rider coming through on the outside to ‘do’ their ten second turn on the front.

There’s the Wolf in his bright pink Rapha gilet and pink overshoes. He’s strong. He’s also younger than most of us. Saville Row pulls through on his Bianchi, very smooth. Big Mig spins along at a higher cadence followed by Gav, aerodynamic Pistol and Lion King. The Wattmeister sits on Wolf’s wheel, his turn is next. Feel that loss of cover, the breeze rips into him for 15 seconds before Slayer pulls through and puts the lid on it.

Big Mig counts down each passing lap. We’re riding fast, but not that fast. Even so, the legs are on fire and breathing is strained. The next stage of attrition is in the mind. The Wattmeister tells himself that he wants to bridge that tiny little gap, that there are only two laps to go, just 14 minutes more to endure. Take a breather if you can, he tells himself. Brace yourself for the left turn at the College of Physicians. If the group pull away up that insignificant rise, which in reality is equal to Mont Ventoux itself, then all is lost, or at the very least nearly lost.

If they pull way….oh shit, that means he’ll have to sprint to close the gap, and then hang on to the backmarkers as the pace increases up to Parkway. If he can latch on to them then maybe there will be ten seconds of respite.

But, they don’t pull away. The Wattmeister has pulled away from them. He’s recycling his own pain. With each turn of the cranks, the traffic island after Chester Road gets closer. As it gets closer, his legs cry out, but his mind tells his legs to suck up the hurt and recycle it.

That’s a new one. The group come back and pass TW. One lap to go cries Big Mig. The sprinters drift to the back. Saville Row, Gav and Pistol take turns on the front. TW has recovered, that’s a good sign. It means that the recycling really works…today.

Past the zoo, along the top, towards the Mosque, drop down across the lights at Hanover Gate, only a kilometre or so to go. Another blasted little gap appears. Wolf dithers. The Wattmeister ignores his legs and bridges to Pistol, Big Mig and Saville Row. The lights are in their favour at York Bridge.

Now is time for commitment, not just bloody involvement….real commitment.

TW leads the foursome into the left turn, Pistol takes over the mantle and wisely doesn’t attack Mont Ventoux, he is just below the red line. TW comes through again, almost on the limit. The pain is intense. The group of four are about twenty metres clear. They’ll never catch us. We’re too strong. Just a couple more turns each.

It’s too much though. With 300 metres to go TW can hear the electronic gears of Slayer and Lion King change up…or is it down…to keep the cadence high. A blur, a flash of pink overshoes, the unmistakable whirr of deep section full carbon wheels.

They are past. The Wattmeister can’t see who has come past, but he sure can see his own pain. It’s in his head and his legs and his chest. The colour of pain is beige and the texture is like porridge. In fact, pain is porridge. It’s a mushy mixture with hard metallic bits of shrapnel in it.

He can’t win the sprint, but he’s still going to sprint. What is he here for? To make up the numbers? Fifth place. It doesn’t matter a jot. Next week he’ll win either by sprinting or a long breakaway. Pain? What that’s?

The Wolf beat Slayer by an inch




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