Thursday, 17 April 2014

Beer ride - Halfway House

A beautiful wednesday evening, bright, warm sun and hardly any wind - ideal then for my first beer ride of this year - a relatively easy trip to Donisthorpe, North West Leicestershire and a rendezvous at The Halfway House.

I opted for shorts and a tee-shirt - even though I knew I'd be cold riding back in the dark, the prospect of enjoying the sunshine on the outward ride was too much to resist.

Donisthorpe is a smallish village on the border of Derbyshire and Leicestershire - very much a 'mining' village and home to Donisthorpe Colliery until the pit closures of 1991. The character of the village has changed radically over the last decade. The local shops have closed down and the pit site is now a housing estate.

The Halfway House is trying hard - I remember it when it was 'The Turks Head' - a name I prefer. It looks quaint and inviting from the outside, well cared for and tidy. Inside the layout is quirky interconnecting rooms, a bar area with bar stools and a fireplace, a comfy old leather chesterfield and a chose of real ales. The landlord has incorporated a unique ale tasting system. Just in front of his range of beer pumps is a small shot glass filled with whatever the guest ale is - no ned to ask about the beers - just try a shot!

We opted for Burton Bridge 'Spring Ale' and another pale ale called something like 'Stara' - The Stara was slightly lighter in colour but both beers tasted remarkable similar.

The pub seems to have a busy trade with people appearing the whole time we were there - always a good sign. There are clear gastropub intentions here and from what I could see there is plenty of trade to support the idea. The dining area looks sleek and stylish (at a glance) and was at least half-full.
The menu is ambitious for a village local - daily blackboard specials include,  Poached roulade of lemon sole, tandoori lamb cutlets, pan fried sea bass and sorrento chicken. From the menu there is pan fried bacon and black pudding, crayfish cocktail, and chicken liver pate.

We stayed until around 10.00pm - 5 of us in total - and then the cold ride back! - thankfully I had the foresight to bring my arm warmers - very welcome. I rode well with an accompanying full moon, after a few miles I stopped noticing the cold and enjoyed the peaceful silvered landscape. Home for 11.00 - 26 miles covered.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Total madness - Paris-Roubaix...

Last year while on our ride from London to Paris we experienced a short section of the Paris - Roubaix route around Chantilly. A section of pave (pronounced parvay) probably only a few hundred yards long - but that was enough to understand what's involved in riding the Hell of the North - The Paris Roubaix. We lasted about 50 yards at most, shaken, rattled and rolled, we got off and walked. This isn't a road surface like any i've ever experienced. It is totally uneven, rutted, with gaps inches apart, the surface is jagged, sharp and torturous - the stories of pain and destruction come suddenly and clearly to life.

Yesterday I watched this years race on TV - it really is incredible - unbelievable even. 260 kilometres long with about 50 of those over the pave and ending in Roubaix with one and a half laps of the velodrome. To win this, one of the 'monuments' of the cycle racing season a rider is raised to God like status - Coppi, Merckx, Moser, Kelly have tamed Paris-Roubaix's pave for well-earned status.

The Paris Roubaix is one of the oldest races in professional cycling.Ffirst run in 1896, it was created by two textile manufacturers to publicise the opening of a new velodrome that they had built in Roubaix. They offered a winning prize which represented seven months' wages for a miner at the time. The Paris-Roubaix was born.

The Pave is sections of granite cobbles, uneven in size and laid haphazardly, dating back to Napoleonic times the rough, uneven surface afforded greater grip for carthorses transporting munitions across France. Each pave weighs around 16 kilos and the race winning trophy? - you guessed, a piece of pave.

Considering the pave surface the speeds the cyclists achieve is remarkable - the record was in 1964 - 165 miles at an average of over 28mph.

The largest winning margin? - Eddy Merckx (who else?) in 1970 he won by 5minutes 21seconds.

And the best quote.... Bernard Hinault in 1981 - "Paris Roubaix is just plain stupid"

Here's a few photos so that you get the feel for it.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

whisky, cheese and cycling - not a good mix...

I had promised myself that with the onset of British Summer Time I would be able to find the time for a couple of short evening rides after work - didn't happen. It's annoying but there have been too many distractions and pesky freelance jobs to finish - I just ran out of time.

My only option was to rely on a longish ride on Saturday - over to my mothers and back - a total of around 43 miles. I've been making this journey for the past three weeks - it is a chore on the older bike and I think I know why. I was checking the bike over and noticed the cranks feel stiff - they don't spin freely like they should - no wonder that pedalling seems such an effort - no idea what's wrong, perhaps something seized up in the bottom bracket an ingress of salt and crap maybe? - I'll have to strip it down and investigate further.

Friday night we were out with Gaz and Val as guests of John and Jane - a 'Whisky and Cheese tasting evening' - That's right - whisky and cheese, perhaps not a combination that would be the first to spring to mind. However sceptics should give it a try - and spend a few minutes checking it out on Google - this whisky and cheese thing is big in London, there are many trendy, high class establishments singing the praises of this somewhat suspicious pairing. To be honest I was expecting the worst - a total annihilation of anything resembling 'taste' - the power of the whisky would surely be too much for the subtleties of fine cheese? - I was wrong. The whole thing was a complete revelation, the mixing of separate flavours and textures enhanced and altered into something new and entirely different. John and Jane had gone to unbelievable trouble in their preparation. We were presented with 13 whiskies and at least as many cheeses, plus chocolates to add a little more intrigue. We had sheets of tasting notes giving details of all the whiskies on offer plus space to write our own thoughts and notes as we ploughed through. Just looking through those notes, the most noticeable feature is the diminishing legibility as the night progressed.

Needless to say Saturday morning wasn't good. No need to go into detail - hangovers are boring and such a waste of time. By lunch I was feeling better, not enough to actually eat any lunch but definitely a few degrees north of dead. I decided to carry on with my plan - riding to see Mum, I vaguely remembered that I'd said I'd let Gaz know what time I'd be passing through Netherseal - I did - 3.30pm was the rough estimate and he replied to say 'great'. So off I went, slightly fuzzy, dizzy, borderline nauseous but just about well enough to stay upright. Strangely I felt better after a few miles. I sipped at my water bottle and pushed on the pedals with surprising ease. I met Gary and we rode to Barton under Needwood - he on his shiny new cycle-cross/winter bike, with disc brakes and wide, comfortable tyres. Thankfully he too had been feeling 'jaded' but nevertheless we motored along at a reasonable pace - we were trying to work out the last time we had cycled together - I thought it was probably riding to Paris, last summer - astonishing but quite possibly true!

Riding solo is fine - and it suits me in the main, but riding with someone else definitely makes things easier - can't figure out how or why that is? - but I've cycled to Barton the last few weekends - with Gary it seemed easier. Perhaps because we've covered so many miles together, suffered, experienced tremendous highs, and a few lows... I don't know, but it felt good that we were both out on familiar roads.

At my Mum's she stuffed me with pork-pie and bacon sandwiches and egg custard - riding home I thought I might vomit - it would have probably made things easier - I was tired, but not hungry when I reached home - and it was still light (just about).