What is it that compels us to seek a life less ordinary. Or in this case, a cycle ride less ordinary? We humans span the range of adventure. Perhaps you find comfort in routine and the familiar? Or does a lack of change discomfort, nay disturb?
The truly adventurous do not want change. They need it. Be it a life changing move to another country, or a more prosaic and seemingly mundane adventure of trying a new toothpaste. Yes, the adventurers are your early adopters, these are the people who bought 3D TVs. Bless them.
Give an adventurer a bike, sit back and watch as they fill your Strava feed with crazy rides of stupid distances to far-flung places in silly times. Or perhaps they’ll climb Alpe d’Huez on an old school Chopper bike, or ride around the world on a heavy cycle hire bike. Ultra-Nutters.
Or so I always thought until I embarked on a bit of ultra-nutting myself.
Tan lines fading. Motivation too. Mornings cooler, darker. Days shortening. Summer fades so quickly into autumn, an annual event that somehow manages to surprise and disappoint us. Ahead, only darkness. Nine months into the year and the dear cyclist begins to think of hibernation.
The paradox of fitness peaking, body stronger than ever yet oh so tired, weary, continually on the limit. Limbs lighter, mind perhaps wiser, most importantly you’re a quicker rider. Yet probably still not satisfied. You can always be quicker.
The dreaded cycling interval. Is this even cycling? As the end of the year nears I begin to tire of the weekly interval session. Physically, but mostly mentally. One, sometimes two, a week since January, the intensity increasing month by month.
Now it’s eyeballs out interval time, the moment of the year when intervals are best described as ‘oh my god I can taste my dinner again’ intervals. Ugh. I’d hate to see myself during an interval. What a horror show. I doubt I’d recognise the tormented soul punishing himself for no apparent reason.
The many contorted faces of Donald Trump spring to mind.
Warning: this blog post contains images of a graphic nature which some readers may find offensive. A hard interval session may actually be preferable to viewing the images within.
A tunnel. Cold and dark, scary yet soothing, entry to another world. A rewarding moment of quiet and calm, the cool relief much welcome after climbing a mountain for mile upon mile, toasted beneath the mid-summer sun.
Darkness. The world turns black. A quick mental check to see if you’ve passed out, the effort finally taking its toll. Still moving, your eyes fail to adjust. Gravel crunches beneath your tyres at the road’s fringes, the small white dot at the end of the tunnel your only focus.
The Transcontinental Race (TCR) is a bike race across Europe or perhaps more accurately, a voyage into the unknown mental and physical capabilities of oneself.
The rules are simple. Ride unsupported across Europe following your own route via four checkpoints before reaching the finish line. There’s no official cut-off time for this c.2,500 mile (4,000km) race but many riders aim to finish within 14 days to be a part of the finish line celebrations.
Following an ultra-distance cycle race is fascinating (and tiring!). Forget about the theatre of the Tour de France and the other so called ‘Grand Tours’. TCR is the real thing, very real, a vivid drama on a human scale, an adventure both relatable to most cyclists whilst being equally unfathomable.
Mountains everywhere. Surrounded. An alien land for a city dweller. Mesmerising. A child looking up to the heavens, agog. The only way out is to ride up and over. Bliss.
This is cycling in the Dolomites. Jaw dropping views at every twist, every turn. Waterfalls and snow-capped peaks, ribbons of tarmac with more hairpins than your grandmother. Cycling paradise.
Let’s talk cobbles. Why oh why would anyone think riding over gap strewn paving would be fun? It’s pure evil I tell you!
I went cycling in Flanders recently, heading to Belgium to ride the famous climbs and routes from the Tour of Flanders, or Ronde van Vlaanderen, as it’s known to the cycling mad locals, or simply The Ronde. Here’s my routes, along with an insight into cycling in Belgium, riding the cobbles, bergs (hills), and wind, plus a certain type of cyclist.
Cobbles and cycling. Belgium right? The Classics of the early season calendar. Moules et frites. Passionate fans, grim weather, steep climbs. Not Halifax, England. Pie and chips, bleak post-industrial landscapes and well, cobbles, steep climbs and the desolate moorland.
This is the scene for the Ronde Van Calderdale route, a tribute to the Spring Classic races in Belgium but most definitely British. The route climbs a whopping 3,000 metres over 75 miles, many of which are up very, very steep cobbled climbs.
Who is the creature who returns home exhausted, depleted? Dry salt caking face, heavy black rings lacing eyes, more aches and pains in legs than your average nursing home. This is the cyclist who has ridden too far, too high. Bitten off more than they can chew. The route too big for their legs.
The clue is in the name. Peak District. The road is either up or down, rarely flat. Hard up, terrifying down. Short yet sharp climbs to test the legs followed by twisting, snaking descents to test your grip on the brake levers.
Yet the ever changing landscape is magnificent, one minute rolling moorland, the next craggy cliff faces, a twist and turn here, there, a glorious ravine, a wooded valley, a bustling twee village blurring on by.