During a Grand Tour all of the big riders are watched closely for signs that they may be struggling. Perhaps they were breathing heavily on a climb, not riding as aggressively as they would normally do, or developing a cold sore or other signs that they are run down. The day before the Southport CC Bickerstaffe Road Race and it’s lucky my rivals can’t see me. I’ve got angular cheilitis, basically a tear in the corner of my mouth, that to the untrained eye looks as though I’ve been messily eating pizza and not bothering with a napkin. A quick google suggests that this can be caused by a lack of iron, but I eat so much iron that Tony Stark could fight crime whilst wearing me. Having ruled out a lack of iron it’s probably either a fungal or a bacterial infection that’s ruining my face. The internet tells me that the fungal infection is basically the same as the one that causes thrush, which is why I decide to slap on a bit of canesten cream. The package states that the product is “for use on the vagina only”, the potential side effects of putting this near my mouth are unimaginable, but I’m prepared to take the risk.
Many men have forged their reputations by laying down the rules of bike racing. For example there are people like Henri Desgrange, who came up with a set of conditions under which riders would race around a large portion of France. Then there are the riders themselves, notably those of the 1990s and early 2000s who were complicit in defining the rules of Omertà, which basically meant that “snitches get stitches”. In cycling terms this translates as “don’t mention the drugs we’re all doing unless you don’t want to have a career anymore”. Other rule makers include the Velominati, whose set of more than 100 rules govern how a cyclist should carry his or herself, sartorially, aesthetically and personally. Somewhere amongst all of these rules a few seem to have managed to avoid being laid down. Here’s an example: If you’re going to spit, pull out to the right and then spit to the right*. If rules like this had been clearly set out then it would most likely have prevented me from having to bollock some rider for turning to his left and gobbing on my leg barely 20 minutes into this race. I don’t want to get bogged down writing about how standards have slipped as it’s only a short leap from there to proclaiming that “they should bring back hanging”, but in this race I also had to have a word with a rider who thought that it was ok to fly up the inside of the bunch, just as we were turning left, because he was shouting “on your left.” Announcing the fact that you are a chopper doesn’t make it ok to be a chopper. If all crimes could be excused by announcing them just before you commit them then society would be in a right old mess.
*swap right for left if racing in Europe.
Anyways about the race, asides from getting spat on and chopped, I find myself having a pretty decent time. The race is flat and brief, only 69km, there’s no real wind to speak of, and the course isn’t in the least bit technical. This means it’s fast and there’s almost no chance a rider of my dimensions and talent is going to get away, but this doesn’t stop me trying. The best it gets is when I attack as my teammate Phil is setting the tempo on the front of the bunch. I’m trying to bridge across to a group of riders about 15 seconds up the road. I make it about halfway when I start to fade and hope I’ve tempted another rider across to work with me. Turns out I’ve tempted two of them, but they both ride for Chronomaster and they’ve got no intention of collecting me as they fly past in search of the break.
Most attempts to get away will fail in the same way mine did, not enough strength to get away from a motivated and fast moving bunch. One breakaway that finds a novel way to get caught is a pair of riders who crash into each other on a seemingly benign stretch of road. For such a small group they make a big impact, creating a blockade across the road using only two bikes, two riders, a water bottle and a garmin. The patrons at the front of the bunch slow us down before we negotiate the improvised road block, and as usual after a crash, everyone immediately starts riding as hard as they can. I’m not sure who the riders who went down were, but I hope you’re both ok and back racing soon.
Somehow a group of 4 riders does manage to get away from the bunch to sort out the win amongst themselves, the rest of us are forced to scrap for the remaining positions on offer. This is the first race of the season that I’ve actually enjoyed, and I position myself well for the final corner before the sprint. Not well enough, though, as a slight touch of wheels in front of me, means the rider whose wheel I’m following, loses control of his bike, drops his chain, but brilliantly manages to stay upright. I have to brake hard and put a foot down on the road, which is the end of my chances to take part in the finale. My teammate Phil was on my wheel and is able to keep at least some of his momentum, but his day is over too.
Coming up there are some races with actual hills in them so there hopefully won’t be too much of this nonsense.
On the way to the race Phil had been telling me about how the night before, he and his daughter had had fish and chips in a layby on the A6. He'd been telling he about an infamous murder that happened there in the late 80s. On the way home from the race, Phil realises that he was supposed to have picked her up from dancing about the 30 minutes ago. His father of the year award should be some compensation for the lack of points we managed to pick up in the race.
Thanks as always to Jamie at High Peak Cycles for supporting the team.
And to Ellen Isherwood for her always wonderful photos