I think the reason why I was so struck by the unfriendliness of the chain gang (see my previous post) was because I had come from a running, sportive and multi-sport background, where a whole range of people from elites, veterans, novices and charity athletes all mingle together creating a happy murmur before and after the race. I remember racking my bike in transition before my first British Duathlon Championships (age group) in 2012. I was pretty inexperienced and nervous, but was reassured by a very friendly chap next to me who went out of his way to offer some excellent advice. I found out later that he was a top athlete called Hugh Mackenzie and had come third overall. The fact that this chap – who was vying for the championship – went out of his way at a crucial point just before the race to help out a random competitor was extraordinary. This was a far cry from my first experiences of chain gang and cycling road races. The latter was a cat 2/3/4 race on the roads around Pendock, north of Gloucester. As I signed on in the local village hall I was struck, not only by the universal pre race routine involving the seemingly pleasurable application of embrocation oil to shaven legs, but by the lack of conversation. I sat on a chair and quietly strapped on my shoes, hiding my hairy legs as best possible whilst panicking far too much about whether I should wear a thermal or not. At the time, I was pretty unimpressed with this attitude at races and the lack of cheer at chain gang, but now I actually enjoy it. Running and multi-sport events are my staple sporting diet so I frequently get to appreciate the social side of these sports. Therefore, now and again, I like dropping into the icier world of road races and chain gang – I know I’m not there for the social, I’m not there for a PB or to support a team leader: I’m there to compete against other racers and revel in the mano-a-mano battle. Here’s to the broad range of experiences out there in our sports!
I remember the very first time I turned up for the local chain gang (a very lively group ride for racing cyclists from the Cheltenham area): I rocked up at the lay-by outside the Ellenborough Park Hotel in Southam at the bottom of Cleeve Hill all enthusiastic and keen to meet my fellow riders. However, as I drew up to the group, I sensed this was no jolly. There were a dozen or so riders, all clad in team kit and giving off an aura of sullen indifference. Several sat on their top tubes, leaning nonchalantly on their handlebars. They gave me the quick once over and immediately went back to their conversation about a recent race they had done. It was the opposite of the cheery welcome I was hoping for. I immediately felt rather out of place: my hairy legs, shabby Trek and hotchpotch clothing that didn’t match were clearly offensive to those around me. However, I swallowed my pride and forced my way into the conversation: surely when I tell them I’m new and not sure of the route or general protocol they’ll make me feel welcome? I was wrong. After a mumbled instruction for me to stick near the back and further disinterest in my ensuing questions, I sheepishly rolled to the back and kept myself to myself. The ride was fast and whilst I did push through to the front now and again as part of the revolving group, I was not strong enough so mainly stayed at the back where the drafting made it easier.
It’s now been a few years since that un-enjoyable first outing with the group and whilst I blend in better with my shaved legs and lovely K1 team kit and bike, the main thing is that I have improved my fitness and power significantly since then. Therefore, when I rock up to chain gang these days, I remember that first outing and make sure of two things: 1) I always welcome new riders to the group 2) I use the frosty reception I received as fuel to get out of the saddle and dish out the pain with relentless attacking in the final 3 or 4 miles!
Get out there!
It’s 9.30pm and I’m writing this slumped on my sofa drinking a warming cup of hot chocolate, my body awash with post exercise endorphins: it feels good! Just over 2 hours ago I was lying on my bed cosily tucked up reading my children their bed time stories. I was incredibly tired from a long day at work and was so comfy and relaxed that the evening ride I had planned for tonight was not feeling particularly enticing. I put the kids to bed and wandered downstairs, took a look out the front door and peered out into the dark. Shall I go? No, I’m too tired. I need to rest. I said I would. It’s in my training plan. It’s cold out there. Eventually, I begrudgingly got my kit together and jumped on my Kinetic One roadie. However, by the end of my road I knew I had made the right decision. My legs felt unexpectedly good, the wind was light and I was feeling warm in decent kit. My usual frustrating stop-start route through town suddenly became a traffic free race track as I sprinted over roundabouts and roared through junctions: no headlights in sight so out of the saddle and punch it! I blasted down the Shurdington Road and pushed on up the A46 climb from Brockworth towards Stroud, hung a left along the Buckholt Road, all the time in the big ring and piling on the power. At the very top I turned and descended as fast as I could, right on the limit through the swinging corners. Midway down, the full moon emerged from behind the clouds and I could see my shadow to my left, zipping along the hedge. It was one of those whoop-with-delight moments, so I whooped with delight! I was soon heading back down the Shurdington Road to home but didn’t want it to end so hung a left and smashed on down towards Badgeworth and then Churchdown for an extra loop. I planned to head out for just an hour – which I thought was going to be a struggle – but by the time I got home I’d done an hour and 45 minutes and wanted to do more! What a ride. I’m now enjoying reliving it through this blog and the hot chocolate is slipping down a treat.