“You should buy this kit; it’s called Fat Lad at the Back”
“These shorts would be great for you; they are called Fat Lass at the Back”
“This top would suit you; you can buy it from Fat Lad at the Back”
People of all shapes and sizes often ask me for kit recommendations, but I am not sure if I can say any of those sentences out loud without losing friends, clients or offending someone!
Fat Lad at The Back was the nickname of Richard Bye, the founder of the company, and is a term of endearment. The company admit it is a touchy subject having the marmite effect – either you love it or hate it, but they bravely persevered.
Fat Lad at the Back (FLAB) is a sportswear brand born in Yorkshire, with the clothing manufactured by a family-run company in Italy. The Fat Lad brand was originally created for what their website calls “Mr Averages, MAMIL’s with a 44” chest and a 38” waist”, but it quickly became apparent that there were bigger cyclists so it introduced larger sizes including a Spare Tyre range for the larger build. A women’s range was soon created, which took into consideration women’s curves and comfort.
A Twitter conversation the morning of The London Bike Show suggested I should speak to FLAB at the show after a discussion about the lack of kit for women who are not “a flat chested size 8-12” with one rider asking “how can these new brands be “women’s” when the biggest chest size they do it a 14” and another saying “it is a huge barrier to women coming into the sport”.
I spoke to several designers of women’s cycling clothing at the show and did indeed find the largest size, called XL, was only a UK14-16. One designer I spoke with said unfortunately they just can justify the additional expenses needed to design, produce and hold stock of the larger sizes which are less popular.
Instead of just sizing up the clothing the FLAB garments have been redesigned so they properly fit and flatter different sizes of rider. Some items state the name boldly in large text across the garments, other are more subtle with just a small logo. I have to confess that having ‘Fat Lass at the Back’ across my bottom was a great training inspiration as I pedalled furiously to disprove the label!
I tried the Flabularse Shorts (RRP £49.99) and the short sleeved ladies Lanterne Rouge Jersey (RRP 49.99) both available from size 8 to size 26.
The shorts fitted well and had some nice details including a draw string for the waist and a soft stretchy panel across the tummy allowing you to pull them right up over the belly area. I normally wear bib shorts and think generally bibs are more flattering with smoother lines, but agree shorts certainly make toilet stops easier and mean there is no need to remove a jersey, which some riders may feel self-conscious about, especially if having to go al fresco! Unfortunately as there was no knot tied in the draw string it had been lost in the waistband prior to me wearing, but with a bit of fiddling I retrieved it. The shorts are black with flattering seams, a large logo on the leg and across the lower back. The pad was comfortable on long road rides, the mountain bike and on the turbo.
The jersey is noticeably longer than my other jerseys, this is great for us ladies who like to pull things down over our hips and bottom and there is certainly no chance of any bare flesh when standing upright. The colour changes gradually down the top with the darker, more flattering colours over the lower torso and brighter colours across the bust and shoulders drawing the eye away from the areas we are usually more self conscious about. The sleeves are loose and long with no restrictive bands. A zipped pocket is handy for your valuables and a full length zip is always a plus in jerseys of this price range.
Both items washed well and I would happily recommend them if I could find a polite way of doing so!
Fat Lad at The Back has become a community, not just a brand, with riders involved in the development of new products and social media filled with riders’ photos, comments and inspirational rides. The company encourages everyone to have a go, have fun and enjoy their sport.
When former rugby player Alastair Little was forced to cut his 25-year career short after a life-changing neck injury, he was devastated and soon piled on weight as his life spiralled towards depression. He managed to turn his life around after discovering a love for cycling. Riding with friends at Fat Lad at the Back, Alastair took to the road and after a few months he started to see the results, losing more than five stone and dramatically boosting his confidence.
Alastair said: “It was the motivation and help I received from the guys at FLAB which really inspired me to stick at it and lose the weight and not only that, I enjoyed the social aspect to cycling, and suddenly sport was bringing me back to life again.”
FLAB introduced Alastair to other, likeminded riders who taught him that he wasn’t alone.
FLAB Sportive – 8th May 2016
In a bid to further welcome novice cyclists, FLAB has introduced a new 25-mile event alongside its 50 and 75-mile distance sportives, taking place on the Yorkshire roads in May and in the Chiltern Hills in October. Looking after riders will be experienced FLAMbassadors riding in the sportives to encourage and support riders on the journey.
Fat Lad in Charge Richard Bye, who has 20 years’ experience cycling many of Yorkshire’s most recognised routes, said: “This year we have added a 25 miler as we hope to inspire some new riders who may fancy a sportive, but have never thought they could!”
“The food stops are also legendary and include black pudding scotch eggs and lots of other stuff which our fat Lads and Lasses like, as well as the usual fruit and flapjack based options. We also have a BBQ afterwards which went down really well last year, this means people hang about and chat and share rather than just getting in their cars and leaving.”
Richard went on to say “Since founding FLAB we have been overwhelmed by how many people have come to us saying how much confidence they’ve gained with our support”
You can enter the sportive here and can find FLAB on the web http://fatladattheback.com/ on Facebook and on Twitter
It’s always good to get out on a bright Autumn day.
I love this time of year as the Summer turns to Autumn, the leaves begin to turn some of the most amazing colours and winter gradually gets its claws into the land as the frosty mornings start cold and bright. However if I’m really honest I hate the cold dark dank days that also come in late autumn and winter. However on the bright side it is a great time to get out and play in the mud!
As many a great explorer has said “there is no such thing as bad weather just poor preparation” actually I’m not really sure who said that maybe not Scott! But seriously you can ride in any weather if you are wearing the correct clothing or have some of the top tips below to keep feet and hands warm.
So do not be afraid of the weather hug it tight and be a conquering hero of Autumn and Winter riding.
I noticed just this last week that the number of CX Sportives is on the increase and a quick trawl through the events list suggests that they are very popular in the South, come on you guys in the North make sure your events are publicised.
I rode my very first CX Sportive this year, the amazing Adventure X event based around Keswick. What an experience it was, don’t forget to read my review of the event elsewhere on this website.
So if you fancy trying a little bit of cyclocross but don’t have a CX bike, well don’t worry most events are open to wide range of bikes, pretty much anything will do, except perhaps your pride and joy the full carbon road bike!
From my experience riders will turn up on any bike from a full carbon CX bike, hardtail MTB, Full suspension MTB to a flat bar hybrid. The only thing I would recommend is that you check the ride profile and make sure you have a suitable range of gears for the event unless you are riding single speed! I got caught out on the Mini Monster Adventure X in Keswick.
CX Sportive (www.cxsportive.com) has several good rides available this season:
CX Sportives are the fantastic new mixed surface events that are combining the thrills of on and off-road riding into one awesome experience!
•Sportive style events on fast, mixed surface courses
•Courses from 40-80km
•Full sportive support and infrastructure
•Great for all kinds of bikes: CX, MTB, Hybrid, 29er, Singlespeed & even Road!*
Riding a mix of road and off road is so exhilarating.
Big challenge rides tend to come in two flavours; massive road sportives and hardcore MTB enduros. But why not mix it up, take on the best of both and spice up your riding?
CX Sportive is an exciting new ride format. It’s ideal for your cross bike, but equally suitable for your XC MTB or even road winter training bike, tweaked for a little rough stuff!* The course mixes back roads, interwoven with byways and a few short tougher off road links that will certainly bring on the heat!
Your choice of steed will define your ride. Will the versatility of a MTB offer the best performance over mixed terrain? Will the pure speed of your road bike make up for time lost on the short, occasional off road dismounts? Or will the CX bike give you the best return where it counts?
To prove a point (or just let you fly the flag for your tribe), they even include your bike choice in your results listing; so if you insist on tackling the route on your mum’s folding shopper, they’ll credit your lunacy!**
You’ll have a range of time targets to aim for, with age and gender adjustments; including full route marking, RFID timing, top notch catering and first class, friendly organisation and support.
*Not recommended for your beloved, super-light carbon road thoroughbred!
**Disclaimer: Don’t tackle the route on your mum’s folding shopper!
Ride X the Evan CX rides
The bike supermarket that is Evans have also added CX Sportives to their list of Ride It events this year. They might well be worth checking out if you live in the South (Evans Ride it CX Sportives).
For the Autumn/Winter season they’ve added 4 exciting mixed terrain routes to their existing Sportive offering. As with all of their road sportives, all routes will be fully way-marked with GPX files published pre-event. High5 sponsored feed stations will help you tackle a variety of riding surfaces (tarmac, mud, grass & more!) whilst clocking up some worthy mileage in this new format. The routes are best suited to cyclocross and adventure-road bikes that are up to some off-road exploring.
All rides include: Fully way-marked routes • Well stocked High5 feed stations • Mechanical support • GPS files published pre-event • Free High5 pack worth £10 when you sign up 8 weeks in advance • Free Garmin hire • Times published post-event
Cycling Weekly Adventure X Series
Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for next years Adventure X series promoted and run by Cycling Weekly with the support of changing sponsors. The event I rode in October was amazing, one of the best challenges I have have ever taken part in (more details can be found in my report on Adventure X Lakeland Monster Miles)
With so much going on on the cyclocross sportive scene surely it must be time for you to ditch the winter rode bike and get yourself a CX bike and rise to the challenge. I did and I haven’t looked back :)
Rees rides to dream finish at the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100
A desire to raise money for charity drove Ian Rees to be first across the line at the end of the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 this morning, completing a journey of recovery for the 43-year-old Bristol-based diabetic who was inspired by watching last year’s event.
Twelve months ago the former pro stood leaning on his crutches beside The Mall watching the first ever Prudential RideLondon sportive and promised himself that he would lead the mass riders under the finish gantry in 2014 to raise money and the profile of diabetes research.
After 86 of the hardest rain-drenched miles he’s ever ridden, Rees achieved his dream with the aid of his Bristol Dymag TID clubmates Paul Merryweather and Matthew Franklin, and believes his Herculean efforts will bring in some much-needed funds for the diabetes charity JDRF.
“I couldn’t do it last year because I broke my leg, but I watched it with people from the charity and told them that I would be first across the line this year to raise their profile,” said Rees, his mud-splattered face breaking into a smile of pure relief.
“Here I am a year on, and I did it. I can’t believe it. That was the hardest ride I’ve had since I was a pro in France in the 1990s.”
Rees, who’s never done a sportive before, set up the Dymag club with Merryweather to raise money for diabetes research two years ago after being forced to abandon his pro cycling career when he was diagnosed with the condition.
“This is what we really wanted to do,” said Merryweather, who followed Rees safely across the line at the head of a 60-strong bunch of early-finishing sportive riders.”
“I helped Ian set up the team two years ago so this was all about getting him home first and giving JDRF some profile. So it’s mission accomplished; it’s all quite inspirational.”
The group had a plan to stay near the front of the pack, avoiding as far as possible any problems caused by the adverse weather, and were full of praise for the organisers’ decision to shorten the 100-mile route by 14 miles, cutting out the potentially treacherous climbs up and down Box Hill and Leith Hill.
“We worked so well as a team,”
said Rees. “The rain and the speed we were going at the front made it so hard.”
“But it was such a good decision to cut out the hills. I hit a cat’s eye at one point and nearly came off, and there were a few crashes, so I’m really glad they took the hills out because coming down Box Hill or Leith Hill would’ve been deadly.”
“RideLondon have done an absolutely brilliant job. The organisation is as good as a pro race on the continent. I was so impressed, they should do these all over the country. I will do it again next year, definitely.”
Nicola Roberts and Bella Leach were impressed too. The two London friends rode the route together and crossed the line side-by-side, the first women to complete the sportive.
“It was wet but it was great fun,” said Roberts, a member of the Dulwich Paragon club. “It wasn’t too windy so you could still ride. Everyone was just getting on with it really and smiling and chatting.”
“Some of the corners and descents were quite sketchy but people were very considerate, slowing down and talking to each other.”
“I really enjoyed it, it was really good fun to just get out there and stretch the legs,” agreed Leach, a London Phoenix rider. “Nicola and I rode the whole way together so we wanted to cross the line together.”
“I’ve never been up Box Hill or Leith Hill and after today it feels like I’m destined to never ride them!”
Wiggle Honda’s Neil Towns was also among the early finishers, completing his second Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100.
“Riding at the front was really exciting,” he said. “I did the event last year. It was slighty damper than last year but still fantastic, still good riding. It’s a lovely bike ride that isn’t too challenging so you can just get out there and ride for the fun of it.”
“There were fewer supporters than last year but the ones who were out gave it some welly. I’ll definitely be back next year.”
“This event’s like the London Marathon for cyclists – if you can get a place you jump at it. A beautiful bike ride; the spirit of the London Olympics carries on.”
Ben Knapp backed up the other riders’ support for the shortened route, relishing a ride started by three world greats of women’s cycling: world and Olympic road race champion Marianne Vos, double Olympic track champion Laura Trott and multiple Paralympic gold medallist Dame Sarah Storey.
Ian Rees – post race
“It was a bit disappointing to have the route shortened but coming across the top of Newlands was pretty nasty so everyone understood why the organisers did it. It was the right decision,” said the Dulwich Paragon rider.”
“More than a quarter of Dulwich Paragon’s 600 members were riding today so it’s a really great event for everyone.”
“Having Marianne Vos, Sarah Storey and Laura Trott starting the ride was great. We set off feeling really inspired.”
All three women then rode the sportive themselves – Vos delighted to be back on the roads where she won Olympic gold two years ago.
“I’ve never done a ride as big as this; it was really something special,” said the Dutch rider who finished second in yesterday’s Prudential RideLondon Grand Prix.
“Just to ride with all these people and see everyone coming out riding, not caring about the rain was fantastic. It was great fun.”
“It was great to back on the roads of London 2012 and to see more than 20,000 out there too was fabulous. I saw quite a lot of them, I think, and everyone was taking care of themselves and each other.”
Angela before the off – Image ©Mel MacRae
Over 600, (Wowee!) turned up at Scone Palace today in pouring rain and howling gales for Scotland’s only Cycletta sportive. It was an impressive sight!. After doing the Applecross Duathlon yesterday I didn’t think my legs would manage but my hardy pal, Angela, had headed down from Inverness for the day’s event and convinced me that it would be a good idea so I got my stuff together!
…and we’re off! – Image ©Mel Macrae
We turned up to Scone Palace in the morning to a throng of cyclists getting ready for the off. After getting our bikes sorted; labelled with our numbers and stickers for the timing chip, we headed down to the start line. We were grouped in bunches of around 20 and given a safety briefing for the day. Then we were off, pedaling out of Scone Palace grounds to start our Cycletta adventure.
There was a lot of familiar faces which was great to see. Within the first few miles I spotted fellow cycle coach Kirsteen Torrance, working with a group of girls on some ‘on through and off’ technique. Group riding is such a great experience and with practice can save you so much energy.
We bumped into Debbie (not literally), from Perth Road Runners. She won a place after entering a competition through the local radio station, Tay FM. She had looked at Cycletta’s website before but was trying to decide between it and the Stirling 10k. Winning the competition made the decision for her.
Cycling on a bit more we came across the girls from the Glasgow Green Cycle Club, a cycle club which this time last year had only 3 female members. Today there must have been at least 10 working together in a team to push on up the road.
Glasgow Green Cycle Club Ladies – Image ©Mel MacRae
Things have really taken off for them this year. Amongst them was another cycling coach Elizabeth O’Donnell, we managed a quick catch up about the club and what she has been up to recently before heading on up the road into the rain. Also out were some of the ladies from my favourite club, the East Sutherland Wheelers. They now have over 100 female members in one of the most northerly cycle clubs in the UK.
Blowing us in the right direction
It was cold and wet that’s true but once we had warmed up it didn’t really matter at all. The wind was strong but this also had the advantage of giving us a nice tailwind for some parts of the ride which we most definitely took advantage of. We stopped briefly to refill the water bottles and devour a
East Sutherland Wheelers Ladies – Image ©Mel MacRae
couple of jelly babies at one of the well-stocked food stops provided for us along the way.
This was Angela’s first cycle event. She got into cycling when she took on the Barra to Butt challenge to raise money for a Zambian charity some years ago. Earlier this year, Angela took part in some women’s specific cycle coaching sessions run by East Sutherland Wheelers. She enjoyed the sessions so much she went out and bought herself a nice new road bike. Since then, she has been on her bike getting addicted to Strava and training to tackle the Bealach climb in Wester Ross, which showed today, with her classy climbing up the Gallowhill ..twice!
Sprint for the finish
63km later we were back at Scone palace and had enough in our legs to manage a sprint over the line. There was a good buzz at the finish line and everyone we spoke to said they had really enjoyed it and were already talking about registering for next year. There was massage available for tired muscles, hot food to warm us up and cool women’s cycle wear for sale too! The event was well marshaled and had a really friendly atmosphere and for me, it was fantastic to be cycling with 600 ladies on the roads around Perth. This Cycletta demonstrated the popularity and strength of women’s cycling in Scotland today… very exciting!
The Unexpected Randonneur
I quite often like to jump on my bike after work and pootle about town. Working in a bike shop, there’s not much time to actually ride the damn things. So on a nice day I’ll take my road bike into work, make sure she’s good to go and head straight out after locking up the shop. Head east, maybe do a few laps of Regent’s Park, an unspecified number of ascents up Swain’s Lane (aka the Alp d’Highgate), a ride south into Soho for a coffee and cake.
It’s the times when I think to myself that ‘I should head north’ that the world becomes more interesting and infinity more painful.
Cycling is an odd hobby. Some rides will be utterly unmemorable, others will burn themselves into ones neurons for life. The sights, the smells! See the magnificent Ikea, the glorious Tottenham substation, the enormous Matalan at Brimsdown! Experience the heady aromas of Hackney municipal dump!
Sometimes, this is all I see: London in all its disgusting, but very beautifully human, glory.
But there are times, the odd time, when a small alley or lane catches ones eye and I am pulled towards it, intrigued by the promise of the unknown. Without warning, I find myself tumbling down the rabbit hole and being sucked into the magnificent world of *le rouleur*.
I took one such turn earlier, and as the busy main road fell away, the landscape melted almost instantly into the kind of scene that would make Nigel Farage shed a single tear and salute a pint of warm bitter.
The willows formed an arch across the road, a single track that wound it’s way west from Enfield. The few houses are collecting moss and fallen twigs on their roofs. the owner carrying in firewood for the evening.
I push on, finding my legs in this novel summer evening sun. Short hedges enclose the road, half concealing the miles of rolling fields on either side. A line of electricity pylons snakes across the landscape, disappearing far into the distance on my right.
That such sights can be found within the m25 astounds me, it leads me to explore and discover more and more. It draws me in, pushes me to ride further and further.
Before I know it, it’s 9pm, the sun is setting and, most disturbingly, my ipod is showing signs that it’s not been charged in a while. My front light cuts a path in the badly potholed near-dirt tracks, the rising full moon, almost orange in the sky, casts a warm glow over the rollings fields either side of the road.
The thrill of discovery is beginning to be offset by a cold wind.
I roll into Potters Bar with numb fingers. I should eat something, I’ve not had anything since lunch. A BLT and a packet of fruit pastilles from the Co-Op, and a lucozade to refill my energy bottle – having consulted the gps, I’m ready to go again.
Now this is a race. The cold is setting in, I’m in short bibs and short sleeve jersey. My feet are numbing from the wind. I need to move fast, to build heat and to get home before the worst of the night takes hold. Cadence must be high, speed must be high, effort must be high. I smack up a few gears and start working my quads. Knees out, sweeping through arcing turns, illuminated by the light of the moon my legs pump in time with the symphony in my ears (Elgar’s Planets, for the interested). A fork in the road. Stop, check Google maps. Go.
Cut through little hamlets, houses solitary with wood fires burning, visible through the front windows as I power past, a red and white streak in the night.
It’s hard to explain why or when I started to panic. I knew where I was going, but the cold and the tiredness and the fact that I’m 20 miles minimum from home took its toll. While I was skirting the m25, this village world around me felt like I was riding hundreds of miles from home with nowhere to stay and no way to get back. Stop, check gps. No, I took a wrong turn a while back there. Turn around or find another route?
When I finally find myself in Radlett, which while far from home, is at least on an old training route of mine, and therefore familiar, it’s the boost I needed. Turning south, I know I’m on the home straight. I can ride to Stanmore and jump the tube back to Kilburn from there.
Hills that used to have me panting in the granny ring are now stomped at 21mph. I have conquered, and everything will be ok. Then, without warning, my front light turns off. The cold has shorted the switch and it’s now flicking through the settings, cycling between 100 and 500 lumens. I power onwards into the night.
The transformation from gentle rise to powerful sprint is not something I resent (especially now I’ve had a chance to warm up!). There are many sides to cycling. Relaxing in the warm evening sun and belting through the freezing night air are two completely different angles on an activity that seems to have as many faces as it does riders.
Riding fixed, single speed, town riding, commuting, randonneuring, audax, touring, sportive, racing, polo, 4 cross, downhill, bmx – hundreds of ways of enjoying the simple sensations of riding a bike.
Needless to say I got home. My light switching off on the final descent into Stanmore was interesting. I was travelling at 40mph with no helmet, no goggles and now, no light. But it switched on at the bottom. The stop start all the way home (do you really think I’d have caught the tube?) was offset by the warm London air (heated by 7 million people’s bodily emissions). My iPod held on to the bitter end, finally running out as I rolled into my estate. Front light was on and off, but I survived with my 10 lumen backup. All in, 59 miles or 95 kilometres in 3 and a half hours. Not too shabby for a quick ride after work.
While great training for the long rides I have planned this year, something more profound hit me. The beauty of riding is dulled by working the shop, selling people the idea of what I’ve just done. The freedom, the sunshine, the exploration of nature’s wonder.
Unlike other professions where romanticised ideals are used to sell, in cycling I have a hobby that can take me out of my front door and show me that ideal – and make me fall in love with it all over again. For that, I am truly grateful!
My First Sportive.
by Jon Carver age 60 3/4 class 2c
We got up Early. We had a long drive. It was in Surrey. Surrey is a long way away. In Surrey a man gave me a number and a sticky label and a bag of drink. I rode my bike for a very very very very long way. There were lots of men and ladies who were huffing and puffing and saying rude words. The rude words made me laugh, so I said some too and nobody told me off. We ate biskits and drank squash that made me go a bit faster and we ate bananas and I did a wee wee in the bushes. We went up some hills that were very very very very steep. So steep that one lady said the F word and the S word and she fell off her bike. Then a man rode into her and he fell off his bike and he said the F word and the S word. at the end a lady gave me a badge on a ribbon, but I cried cos I didnt get a balloon.
OK. I shall attempt the grown up version which will say a lot more but will amount to the same thing.
In the beginning was an idiot. The idiot sat reading a weekly journal called Cycling Weekly. It’s called Cycling weekly because it comes out every seven days and not as the idiot believed when taking out his subscription, because it is aimed at people who cycle weakly.
“Oh! they still have spaces left on The Dorking original Sportive” said the idiot to the poor woman he had duped into spending her life with him.
“How much?” asked she with a malevolent glint in her eye. He was too much of an idiot to read the thought bubble coming out of her head in which was written….” he could meet with a painful end. LMFAO”
So the idiot explained the pricing structure. The cheapest option would have taken him on the shortest route but would still have taken one ascent of the fabled Box Hill the OLYMPIC hill, he told her proudly, feeling certain that she’d go for that.
“Only 30 miles!” she taunted from across the room so wasn’t taunting from Taunton. ” your legs wont even have warmed up”
The idiot was by now beginning to realise that it may well have painted itself into a corner. He reasoned that although it was a distance that he would ordinarily laugh at in their own locality, in the North Downs of Surrey the same distance might reasonably be described as
” a bit of an arse!”
Her riposte was to suggest an element of cowardice on his part. Idiot or not he was no fool so in a last ditch attempt at sanity he went for the two pronged attack of “can we realistically afford the extra expense right now? and 120 miles is probably daft”
His ploy was fifty percent successful. She was persuaded that 120 miles was too far and proffered her debit card with which to seal his fate. No, I didn’t mean fete.
Thus at the appointed hour he presented his bike and himself at the starting house armed only with some drinks gels two legs and a panicking brain cell. In the interim he had of course very seriously stepped up the training (oops, forgot the S off the start of that word) furthermore he had gone to the expense of purchasing the ordnance survey map of the area and attempted vainly to plot the route thereupon for the 78 mile torture that he was to subject himself to. he looked at the contour lines and had convinced himself that although it would be hard, he could manage it. Yes, I know. He is an idiot.
First thing about a sportive to notice, is that its like a gigantic club run. There are the Mikes and Kevins in their 40s who have grown up round Shimano and know it all. There are the Harrys and Wills in their 20s who are as fit as racing snakes, go off like rockets, all with the latest gear and no guile. There are also the Wendys and the Jillys on their pink Giants (No you filthy minded swine). Ethel who prattle on about sports bras and coming out of said garment whilst rattling up Mow Cop just to loosen the legs up mid week. In amongst these are the keen, the evangelistic, and the plain moronic, this latter group embraced the idiot and off they set to a chorus of ” Good luck..love you.. see you at the end….and more than the odd wanker or two from the surrey scallywags”
About 4 minutes into the ride comes the first hill. The day was cold. Nay, there were cannonballs rolling off their brass monkeys aboard frigging frigates in the harbour it was so cold. It was one of those days when the chammy bulge at the front of ones shorts is protecting absolutely bugger all. The anatomical parts having ducked for cover unlike the rest of the body over which the brain was denying all responsibility for. The knees were creaking. The lungs were on fire. The idiot had selected the wrong gearing because although the signposting was brilliant in most respects, the signage which said “Absolute shitter of a hill after next right hairpin” had been omitted. A brief moment of jumping up and down on the spot and off the bike selection of a more sensible gear and it was off again. Up the hill that is, not the bike.
Take time to enjoy the countryside was the advice given on the last email. Its hard not to. The scenery of The Surrey North Downs way is quite simply England at its finest. Leafy lanes and rolling hills atop of each there is a spirit lifting view that is beyond compare. That’s actually the British Isles all over. It’s as though someone initially took an aerial snapshot after which the counties were divvied up, so unique is the character of each one. As we rolled along I remarked to a fellow idiot (had you guessed that it was me?…..Oh! really? When? right away? Oh well) that it was as though we were riding along a tarmac carpet and when you least expected it some bugger grabbed the end and gave it a flick causing some of the most lung busting gradients to challenge the unsuspecting rider round the next bend. So it was that after that initial horror I found myself now warmed up pleased with my hill climbing thus far and munching on a piece of Swiss roll at the first feed stop.
*”Excuse me mate” asked a chap whom I was certain had not been formally introduced to me by my valet “have we done Box Hill yet?” I replied that indeed we had not and had the best part of 40 or so miles before we encountered that pleasure.
“Are there any other big hills then? ” he was probably called Dennis or Malcolm.
Hoots of derision came from a group of middle aged men in Cleckheaton Clarion skin suits.
“Tha’s got the legendary Lethal Leith and the OMFG make it stop White Down before Box Tha’ knows. Box is for girls” The remaining Cleckheaton clarion acolytes brayed at the humour of their leader (who must’ve been a Mick or a Dave) though more than one of them looked a shade of green that clashed ever so slightly with the three vats of Gatorpiss (sorry? Oh Gatorade apparently). Just my little jape. Actually I really liked it. refreshing and restorative…..no, seriously I am not trying to avoid a libel action.
“So which one of those is The legendary Leith?” I asked (knowing full well)
“That one” Said MickDave pointing.
” That’s not legendary” quoth I
” hows that then?”
” Well it cant be a LEGEND cos I can see the B**tard”
Gales of comradely laughter met my little joke cast for the benefit of the crestfallen Malcolm. Away went the Cleckheaton bike shop support group accompanied by one of the Wendys in Lampre kit whom I would have followed all day if I could have kept up with her.
And so to that freak of nature Lethal Leith hill. Yes it is an A grade cow. It is steep. A good 19% here and there. But although it is the kind of hill that makes you plead for a lung transplant it is the sheer length of it that gets to you. it’s one of those ” Yes there’s the top COME ON!” out of the seat mash the pedals kind of hills. We all know what they are and yes sometimes even when we’ve ridden them once they still catch us out don’t they?
“The banking is my friend” is the trackies mantra. Well the 20% banking on the inside of the left hand hairpin at what you thought was the summit is nobody’s friend and more than one of us misjudged it and shamefacedly had to walk round it and remount. It is at this point that one remonstrated with oneself. “Why oh why?” I asked myself “did I not put the compact chain set on?” 39/28 is not the ideal lowest gear to ride these walls on. Yep you read right…WALLS. Because Leith keeps on getting lethaler….yes I know and I don’t care. Not one, but a total of 6 false summits are littered along its slopes. So many in fact that I refused to be cajoled by them, especially when at about half way up, the organisers had installed a cheeky placard reading “Smile the worst is yet to come” Thus when a veteran told me we’d hit the summit (I knew he was a veteran because he was wearing British army 1942 issue battledress) he reached across and patted my heaving shoulders and congratulated me. I felt great. He turned his bike round
” What are you doing?” I asked.
“Im going back down to find my girlfriend” he cheerfully replied..” Keep going Just two more to go and Box is a piece of piss after the next one” my elation at cresting Leith was short lived then.
The minus side of a 53/39 chain set is when the gradient is in a straight up direction. The beauty of it is of course running out of gears on the way back down. The roads were moist that day and the recent rain had washed a rut of crud down the middle of the road and deposited soggy autumnal leaves hither and thither too. However the joy of being a big lad with big gearing and the heart of a lion and the combined brain power of 1 and a half goldfish means that those who passed me on the way up as I was praying to the God in whom I have no faith were hitting their brakes and calling out the C word prefixed by “Mad” as I hurtled past on my restorative “I’ve spun out of my 53/12 and Im lurvvin it!” descent.
Euphoria is a fickle friend though, for whilst the drop down from Leith’s summit (highest point in the South I’m told) is manna to a speed merchant like me, it has the sting of hubris in its tail, for the next big challenge….THE big Challenge, greets one at the bottom. There is a little teaser then a full stop. Probably the only silly crossings on the entire route are the two over the A31. There is no option but to come to a grinding halt and wait for a chance to cross. It’s a long stretch with good visibility on the plus side. On the negative side is a little piece of road furniture. A street sign upon which is stencilled..WHITE DOWN LANE…at this point dear reader insert a blood curdling zombie sound track from Resident Evil or the anxious violin chord from the shower scene at The Bates Motel.
By this point I had teamed up with Mark. A 19 year old lad, really pleasant who had just got back into riding following a broken ankle and a lady called Marie who was wearing the kit of (sic) Cleckheaton Clarion
“Is this one Box?” she asked
“‘Fraid not” I replied as we each selected our lowest gear, which in my case would have got me a tolerable time in the over 60s 4k on the track!
I’d read up on White down in the wonderful little pocket guide 100 Greatest cycling climbs. thus, when it plateaued out after about half a steep mile later, I was able to caution my companions as some people changed up and zipped past us over the railway bridge. Ahead, a man with a battery of cameras sat snapping away at the strange creatures migrating their way across Surrey on Bicycles. He cupped his hands to his mouth and called up.
“The next batch are on their way Mike”
“Cheers” came Mike’s reply some 100 feet above us and parralel to us as well.
We were not in the slightest bit encouraged at the prospect of going from flat to 15% straight off a left hand hairpin I can tell you. That little run is about 500 yards to a right hander at which sat Mike digitally recording our torture and offering words of encouragement. It was the most agonising 500 yards of the entire ride, mainly because I knew what was coming. I rounded the corner…JUST, before unclipping and giving in. My lungs felt fine. So too did my legs actually, but they simply did not have the horse power to turn that far too big gear over another inch.
So Mark, Marie and I attached crampons and attempted to scale White Down on foot. its about 600 metres to the top. A top that was littered with several terminally ill bicycles and riders who were at best only marginally better off. There was blood on the road. More than one as I said came off. You quite simply cannot hold a track stand on a gradient of between 22%-25%. Joy of joys though. Hubris again. Remember Dave from Cleckheaton Clarion? There he sat, a forlorn figure at the side of thee road a red leaking chunk of road rash on his calf and his front wheel in hand.
“Two effin tub’s blown out now” he called out to Marie “You carry on love don’t wait for me I’ll see if I can cadge one”
When we were out of ear shot Marie revealed two things the first of which was that she wasn’t going to wait for the obnoxious bully (well thats not quite what she said) the second was that it seems she used to work for the now defunct Trans World Airlines for she called back and offered him some T.W.A. tea..How nice of her.
And so back to Dorking for the assault on Box Hill. Now don’t get me wrong. It ain’t easy. By Christ it ain’t easy. However, after Leith and White down it is relatively a pussy cat. I didn’t need to get out of the seat all the way up. That bit with the squiggly art work that you’ll remember from the Olympics? That’s half way and the steepest bit comes after. The sheer joy of reaching the top is incredible. Not only have you conquered the last hill, but you’ve the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve also ticked off three of those hundred greatest climbs in one day. And another that really ought to be in there, who’s name escapes me right now. Your reward? The reason why Box Hill is owned by The National Trust. The entire county of Surrey spread beneath a frame of trees and bathed in autumn sun. It would have been breathtaking but I had none left.
Sadly Mark and I lost Marie half way up Box she punctured and insisted we carried on, another of her club had joined us at this stage I point out before you think me unchivalrous. So Mark and I rolled off Box and through the last feed stop oddly 6 miles from home for us but twenty if one had ridden the short fun route. There was one last cheeky short hill before the roll in to Dorking and a little sprint to the line which I won and despite his age, I should have too. Racing someone recovering from a broken ankle is not cricket. No its bike racing and I loved it.
Lessons? from my point of view. Long fingered gloves next year and overshoes. Also light coloured lenses. You need your glasses, I had an infected eye from something that hit me at speed, but most of the route is through an arcade of trees and dark glasses aren’t clever. From the organisers point of view. I know its difficult but Marshalls at the second crossing of the A32 (or whatever it was) would be a help. You’re tired, Dog tired at thise point. You’ve still got a long way to go and a bit of assistance crossing that Leatherhead road would be good. Bit of advance warning about the uphill gradients would be good too, to help plan gear selection. There were plenty of cautionary notices on the descents. Lastly, they completely screwed up the nutrition packs (which were promised at the start) and the so called Goody bag was a choice of two magazines. I did feel fit to whinge and in fairness received a lovely apology and a bag of very useful stuff in the post 3 days later.
Will I do it next year? You bet. I reckon I could knock at least an hour and a half of that time with the compact on. As it was I was pleased at 7 hours for one hell of a ride and my first Sportive of 78 hilly miles.