club run! (A post by Rob Armstong)
The moment came and the decision was made in an instant, I kicked and my legs answered…
The day had been long. The ride had reached the point of being one last blast back to the start point. There were 10 of us and I found myself in about 9th wheel with my friend Mike in 6th.
There were men up front, fast men, men who were slowly opening the taps as it became clear that this was no longer a sociable ride, this was a drag race to the finish.
Mike was suffering, I could see his head drooping as some 90 odd miles of Welsh countryside took their toll.
To my surprise I wasn’t feeling too bad, I’d taken a slow motion tumble earlier in the ride and I knew the bruising and aches were in the post but they could wait ‘til tomorrow. Now I just wanted to stay in touch with the group of 5 who were easing away. Mike had let the elastic snap and could do nothing about it. I put my domestique hat on and came through to the front. I started to wind up but gently, I knew if I gave it the beans then Mike would pop. A transit van and a Mercedes came past and slotted into the gap that I had just about stabilised at 50 yards or so.
That was The Moment. I knew that life would be a great deal easier if I could get in the slipstream of the car. Out of the saddle and miraculously in the right gear – more luck than judgement – I did my best to surge forward hoping that Mike had seen the same opportunity. He hadn’t.
For ten or twenty seconds I pushed hard and suddenly found myself alone and being motor-paced by the two vehicles that were unable to pass the 5 cyclists in front. I waited and did my absolute best to recover, an eye out for the start of the pass. The van driver was patient and passed the group after a mile and a half, the Mercedes staying easily with it. I was left sprinting in what was left of their slipstream to make up the last few metres as quickly as I could.
The road ahead I knew well, a few miles of flat before a deceptively painful climb out of Tintern and another five or so miles of fast running road into Chepstow and over the old Severn Bridge. In a small moment of triumph I latched onto the back wheel of the fast men.
Suddenly the effort, the crash and sudden reduction in draft all caught up with me, I was struggling to hold the wheels, I pushed on and moved up the line hoping to stay in touch. Looking round though I discovered that I was still at the back of the group. The guy I’d passed had slipped straight off the back and was nowhere to be seen. At least I wasn’t the only one suffering!
The long drag loomed large and I decided not to fight to stay on the wheel as the fast fast men would put me in all sorts of trouble if I tried to live with them. As the road kicked up I watched them gradually slip away. I decided to make the best I could of the situation and turned my thoughts to staying in front of those behind, 5th place in this company was quite respectable. I pushed on up the hill keeping my legs turning fast and my heart rate at a sensible level. Every time the pitch relented I’d move up a gear or two, just keeping the pressure on.
I reached the summit, staying in front of the pack to the top. The next job was to keep going and hold the guys behind at bay. I imagined them all riding through and off, pushing to reel me in, I could only do one thing, keep my legs moving, push push push. I thought of David Millar riding into Barcelona with the whole peloton of the Tour de France clawing him back, snatching his glory in the last kilometre, and chuckled to myself. My challenge meant so much less than that epic ride, yet still I felt the urge to push on. The tiniest of victories awaited me, yet I wanted it. Question was, did I want it enough?
The Bridge was another matter, what had felt almost flat on the way out suddenly turned into a small col. Exposed to the wind I soon dropped down to a pootling 14mph with my heart rate skyrocketing. I reached the halfway point and looked back. There wasn’t another rider on the bridge. I’d done it, I span up on the way back down the slope of the two mile long bridge and let gravity help me home. I’d done it, I hadn’t been caught. I pulled up a few minutes ahead of the now splintered group, all of us broken by that last push home. A small victory was mine.