Archive for September, 2010

Northern Exposure

September 29, 2010

I want to tell you a story.

Fred Salmon, three-time winner of the Three Peaks, had promised Rob Jebb (seven wins and counting before the weekend) a big surprise at some point during the race.

Our local hero may have pondered briefly what the veteran had in mind before pressing on with the serious matter of being first across the line yet again in Helwith Bridge, but nothing can have prepared him for the sight awaiting on the slopes of Pen-y-ghent.

Emerging from behind a dry-stone wall, a shocking vision wearing a blond wig and nothing else ran alongside the leader offering encouragement. No half-arsed mankini nonsense for Salmon: he was butt-naked as no-one – least of all nature – intended, despite the stiff northeasterly.

A race such as the Three Peaks demands the competitor to prepare for every eventuality. Jebb famously has friends and family spread over the course, wheels and spare bikes at the ready. Mechanicals are common on such testing ground, breakages all too frequent.

But a naked Salmon, leaping and swinging in the breeze? I have scoured the race instructions and competitor’s advice, and nowhere does advice on how to deal with such an eventuality exist. Riders must carry a bivvy bag and whistle for emergencies, such as losing your way in fog on Whernside, but it seems the chances of a naked, platinum blond cyclist springing out from behind a rock are so remote as to fail to get a mention.

Needless to say, the meticulously laid plans of Jebb had not taken account of Salmon giving his own take on the sport of freerunning. The race leader lost concentration momentarily, went ass-over-tit and landed facedown in a peat bog. A few seconds were lost, but Jebb regained his composure to finish some five minutes clear of last year’s winner, Nick Craig.

So a record-breaking eighth victory for Rob Jebb and another gorgeous sunny day in the Yorkshire Dales to stash away in the memory bank, but the mental scars may well linger longer…

It should be pointed out that the details of this little episode many not be entirely accurate. Many pints were downed over the course of the afternoon and into the evening, tales growing taller on each telling, every rider with their own morning of triumph or disaster to relay, every one a gem.

My good friend Simon claims to see a woman sporting red hot pants by the stile on Ingleborough each year, an apparition the rest of us have singularly failed to share. It is too early in the race to be hallucinating, surely, yet he maintains she is always there.

But why let the facts spoil a good story? No naked men next year, though, please. Laughing was too painful after a day like that.

Peak Viewing: The Hunger Pt.2

September 22, 2010

It’s a strange feeling to be heading to Yorkshire for the annual pilgrimage with absolutely no enthusiasm for what is far and away my favourite event of the year.

The Three Peaks is a fantastic race, no two ways about it. Stumbling up mountains, ‘cross bike on shoulder, is not to everyone’s taste, but there are recompenses. The Yorkshire Dales offer some of the most spectacular scenery in Britain. Views from the tops of Ingleborough, Pen-Y-Ghent and Whernside are jaw-dropping, provided it’s a clear day and you have the presence of mind to actually (briefly) take them in. The 600 hardy souls who will line up in Helwith Bridge on Sunday morning are invariably great company: there is plenty of chat and no shortage of encouraging words mid-race. Rob Jebb and Nick Craig, the two most likely to be battling for honours on the day, are the two most genuinely likeable blokes on bikes you will ever meet. The finish line is next to a pub – always a winner in my book. First rider back from our London crew gets the pints in.

Why the apathy? The most likely explanation/excuse is lack of fitness. The usual routine of taking the whole of August to get racing fit after a summer of relatively leisurely riding went out the window. Holiday, illness, new job, and before you know it, September is here. Playing constant catch-up on the one-and-only training ride with fellow Peak-ers was thoroughly demoralising. My mojo is missing in action.

So there are a few possible scenarios on Sunday: a) grovel over Ingleborough, then turn sharp left, straight back to the start for opening time at the Helwith Bridge Inn; b) get swept up by the enthusiasm of fellow competitors and finish before realising I am desperately unfit and totally exhausted; or c) bumble round in my own good time and enjoy the ride, all the while noting useful shortcuts on the descents in preparation ‘The Big Comeback’ in 2011.

At the moment, c looks like the favourite, although b is also eminently possible, but that could easily lead to a.

Back to you next week with a tale of derring-do…or derring-didn’t.

The Hunger Pt 1

September 20, 2010

Ever since the announcement that central London had been double-booked last Saturday and the pope had first dibs over the Tour of Britain, I have been trying to tell anyone prepared to listen that a combination of the two would work beautifully.

Replace the race director’s car with the popemobile and everybody wins. The tour gains thousands of spectators – devout Catholics rather than devout cycling fans, but they could be converted – and the faithful get something a little more exciting than His Holiness pootling round town in a motorised Perspex box. The pontiff could have concluded the day’s entertainment by presenting the yellow jersey to Michael Albasini before cuddling one of the podium girls for the obligatory photo opportunity, apologising for the church’s many failings, then (knock ‘em dead, Benny) performing the beatification of Cardinal Newman. All that fun for free – leaving aside the estimated £12m the visit has cost UK taxpayers, that is.

The only downside I can see is the ability of the popemobile to take the corners of the Westminster circuit at race-pace. Throwing a converted Mercedes M-Class into the right-hander at the bottom of Whitehall at 30mph would be a good test for the vehicle’s stability, but a rough ride for il pape.

But apart from that, the idea is, I think, a winner. Sadly, my demented ramblings fell on deaf ears, the church triumphed, and the Tour of Britain was unceremoniously punted in an easterly direction, past the Toytown architecture of the Isle of Dogs to windswept barren wastelands adjoining the City Airport.

Here the peloton, having experienced some of the most spectacular cycling scenery this country has to offer over the past week (and some classic British autumnal weather), got to tear up and down a dual carriageway in possibly the ugliest part of our glorious Capital available.

The evening’s TV coverage, to really rub salt in an already positively gangrenous wound, showed a film montage of the great sights of London, much like you get on Tour de France highlights, except featuring all those famous buildings the spectators would not be seeing that day. Anyone tuning in to gauge what the nearby Olympic site would look like come 2012 was in for a shock. Silvertown has a long way to go.

A fair few thousand cycling fans, however, made the journey and probably enjoyed themselves well enough. Or would have done had the organisation had the foresight to actually provide some catering facilities. We cyclists love to eat, do we not? Tempt a multitude of us to the middle of nowhere and your hot dog stall is going to make a killing. Not so much as a squeezy bottle of English mustard was to be sniffed within a three-mile radius.

Some people who ride bikes also, apparently, like an alcoholic beverage, especially now the racing season has ended for most. We wandered sober as a cloud, pressing ourselves against the fencing separating the beer-swilling VIP’s from the great unwashed, just in case one of them should be asked the time and, in a Joan Collins-esque, Cinzano moment, tip their drink in our direction.

A coffee, then? Tea even? Surely there was a stall selling coffee and cake? Nope. The owner of the little booth at the DLR station had the foresight to open for business, so if you didn’t mind missing the racing to stand in a queue for half an hour, there was refreshment to be had.

What about the racing? It was alright, I suppose. I didn’t see much of it, to be perfectly honest: too busy queuing for a coffee…

Had the pope been able to swing past Silvertown on the way home with a couple fish and a handful of loaves, perhaps he’d have been able to sort out something miraculous for the five thousand. But probably not. We headed home: hungry, thirsty and preying for a return to Westminster next year.