Sunday, 23 March 2014

Road surfaces are bad...

Another dry week, plus the added treat of prolonged periods of bright sunshine has really lifted spirits. There has been some stunning sunrises and sunsets over the past week - enough to make me stop and just look.

Unfortunately the weekend has taken a backward step into winter - I'm out again, riding 40+ miles. No chance of shorts this time, it's back to longies and layers. The wind is strong, finger freezing and creating a dancing effect everywhere of branch, flower and grass. Riding into the wind is tough, in fact it's a struggle; especially when combined with any slight uphill gradient. Along the lanes towards Shackerstone there is staggered row of oaks and chestnut trees to help break the wind but the absence of leaves limits their effectiveness. Through Shackie and on towards Snarestone there is some relief offered by the high hedges along the lane, it is infinitely easier for cycling, the wind barely troubles me for a mile or two.

Nothing in the way of other cyclists today - last weekend was like riding a stage race - a relentless stream of riders out in the fine weather. Today I've travelled almost 10 miles and haven't seen a soul. The roads are wet and shiny, I am passed by a vehicle along a single track lane, it kicks up a splatter of mud and grit, like a powdered, wet biscuit, for a few seconds my eyes sting from the grit. It occurs to me how poor the road surfaces are, perhaps the effects of prolonged rain. There are deep ruts, many potholes, gashes and slashes as though the surface has been attacked by some wild beast. Cycling makes me aware of road surfaces in a way that driving never can. I notice every camber, every repair, every change in surface treatment. There are places where the surface is in a shocking state - the tarmac breaking up into millions of separate segments the effect is like riding over cobbles in France, it rattles the bike and vibrates through my entire body. The natural reaction is to swerve inwards towards the centre of the road where the surface is smoother - this of course carries risks - I check the road behind, it's clear and I take the smoother option.

As I pass through Measham and towards Netherseal I pick up a head of speed, at least as much as possible on the old bike. Overall it's slow progress and the miles count down slowly. As I ride my mind drifts onto the pro cycling I've been watching on TV - in particular the Tirenno-Adriatico. Alberto Contador won it with some impressive displays - the race had been billed as an early clash between him and Chris Froome - but Froome pulled out before the race started with a back injury. I watched one stage with an incredibly testing climbing section - there was a section that saw the riders climbing gradients of 30% - watching it on TV was enthralling - they were struggling to stay upright, weaving and zigzagging all over the road - Contador was able to forge ahead but it was by no means easy - the commentator informed us that they were riding gears of 34/28 - that's the same ratio that I used going up Mont Ventoux - good to know that the pro's have to drop down to the gearing of mere mortals occasionally. But 30%!!! - mere mortals would definitely be walking.

The heavens opened and blasted me with a hail as I approached Congerstone on my return journey - so severe that the bullet like ice hitting my bell sounded like I was giving out a demented warning to someone up ahead - ding-ding-ding-ding-ding - in the end I decided shelter was the best bet and huddled into the bus shelter to let the storm pass. By now it was dark and my energy levels had depleted to such an extent that I was crawling along at around 8mph up the hill to Barton in the Beans - cold, hungry and in need of rest - thankfully home was just a few miles. When I got back I spent 15 minutes standing in the shower to warm myself - my fingers ached with the cold.

Another week and the clocks go forward - and with that the opportunity of a short ride in daylight after work - if it's warm enough I'll give it a go.

Meantime - I'm going to catch up with Sir Brad - making an appearance on the Archers! - Then get the tele set up for highlights of Milan-San Remo - the longest of cycling's fabled one day classics - 294 kilometres - should be entertaining!

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