Saturday, 24 October 2009

Sportive Trinity

Just done the Tour of the Peak, well, kind of half done it, seeing as by the time I got to the point where the 100-mile and 64-mile routes diverged, I was about as dry as a jellyfish and I just didn't see the point of dragging my dripping tentacles over Strines, Holme Moss and Chunal. So discretion was the best part of riding and I took the easy option.

It's the third big sportive I've done this year after the Whitton - ace and gritty northern - and the Dragon Ride, less ace and with pink accoutrements and the third one I've drifted into with someone else's unwanted place. I phoned Keith afterwards to tell him how he'd done.

Was it lovely? Well, in a wet, windy, slippy sort of way. And I mean slippy, I saw two ambulance-attended stacks, one a mass pile up on a greasy descent, the other a solo effort. Just hoping everyone involved got off lightly, lots of treacherous wet leaves and polished asphalt strewn across the course.

The funny thing is, a year ago I'd have been comedy indignant at the idea of doing an organised mass road ride. What? Me? With a load of roadies. En masse? Hmmm... yes mate, you. But actually the Fred Whitton sort of converted me. There's a real epicness to the Whitton, it's partly the looming prospect of hitting the Hardknott with 90 hilly miles in your legs, partly the ever-present drama of Lakeland scenery and partly a funny, indefinable, northern grimness that seems to colour the whole event.

It's hard. And honest. And beautiful. You can't argue with that.

Thinking about it today and I realised just how much I've improved on a road bike in six short months. Not my doing, I owe it to the long-suffering people I've ridden with, who gently explained why Camelbaks are rubbish on the road. How to overtake people - never look back - and how many bottle cages are allowed.

And the end result? I can ride along and actually look around me without veering helplessly across the road. Gentle gusts of wind no longer scare the beejayzus out of me. I can get on the drops, if not seamlessly, then at least quite smoothly. And I only ever wore those stripey Sugoi arm warmers once...

I'm never going to be effortlessly smooth and fast. And I'm never, ever, going to shave my legs. And I doubt anyone will ever use my name and 'graceful' in the same sentence, when referring to road riding. But I'm a lot better than I was and, more importantly, I ride on the road because I love it. Simple.

And the Tour of the Peak? It would be a lovely ride on a sunny warm day. Or even a dry, crisp, winter's one. Today was neither. But there was a moment dropping down towards Whaley Bridge with the road heaped in russet orange, fallen leaves and the sunlight grated by trees, that made it all worth the wet and the windchill and the sideways-slithering tyres.

Really. Quite. Special.

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