This afternoon I went out for a quick hour on the bike. I left in freezing mist so was not expecting much from the ride beyond some easy junk miles. However, as I started climbing the A46 towards Stroud just beyond Brockworth, I could see the mist thinning and a golden orb shining through. After a few more minutes I was above the mist in blazing sunshine and spinning along on a bone dry road in relative warmth. The hill was bathed in sunshine and to my right I could see the thick fog bank engulfing the land below; the very tops of Churchdown and Robinswood Hills poking out like islands in the mist. It wasn’t long before I had to plunge back down into the misty cold, but those few minutes were certainly uplifting and reminded me that you should always get out there!
A bit blurred but that’s Churchdown Hill Island in the Mist
Like hundreds of other cyclists throughout the country, whenever there is talk of a family outing, my first thought is, ‘can I ride back’? The second thought is, ‘what’s the wind direction’? On Tuesday I went to Ikea in Bristol with my wife and two young children. I got to ride back and the wind direction was perfect: a solid southerly to help me back to Cheltenham! Within minutes of being on the bike the Ikea experience was behind me: the mattress topper and storage box decisions a distant memory. I was heading out of Stroud on the early part of the B4070 climb, just before Slad, when in the distant darkness I saw the flashing red light of a cyclist. I upped the cadence and slowly caught him up. Once alongside, I quickly sussed from his fast cadence and ease on his bike that he was a good rider. I said hello and we got chatting. As we exchanged the usual pleasantries about the wind, general riding conditions of late, what each other’s routes were and so on, I realised the tempo had increased a fair bit and that I was beginning to blow a little harder. We continued our conversation – both trying to sound as un-out-of breath as possible (the usual bluffing technique employed in group running or cycling conversation to make it sound like you’re finding the steady pace incredibly easy because you’re so good). However, just after we passed Bull’s Cross the road steepened and my counterpart started really upping the tempo – not quite a full blown attack but a definite move. He was clearly testing me out! I got out of the saddle and pulled him back in before calling out, ‘what are you doing?!’. To which he replied, ‘just having a bit of fun’. I loved that reply. There we were, two strangers pretending to be Froome and Quintana slugging it out on Ventoux. I wish I could say that we continued ripping each other’s legs off but a gentlemanly pact was soon declared as we were both supposed to be having ‘easy recovery rides’ (code for, ‘I don’t really fancy nailing myself because my legs are a bit tired’).
After a little more conversation I learnt he was called Simon, rides for the local club and does a bit of time trialling. He then told me he was nearly 60! I definitely had the edge on him on the climb but not by much….. 60. Fair play! As we parted ways a little further on, I was left to my own thoughts and reflections: I do enjoy these random meetings with fellow cyclists on the road. Often they are very fleeting, but they all add to the rich experience of riding a bike. Whether I see Simon again or not, I certainly enjoyed our ascent of ‘Ventoux’ together.
For a few moments the dark B4070 became the Ventoux and it was Quintana v Froome (I was Froome).
Footnote – I have since been informed that my compatriot was none other than Simon James, a local legend with a tonne of hill climbing wins to his name. Simon, I salute you!!