And so it begins...
On a creative writing course you'd rightly be told not to begin your story with 'It was a dark and stormy night' or the word 'and' or perhaps 'so'. And you certainly shouldn't start paragraphs with the word 'but' or sentences with the word 'and'.
But as the year sets off on its wobbly way, devoid of stabilisers, so does the glass strewn cycle path meander it's way towards racing glory or mediocrity.
And so it was on a dark and stormy night when the lead in to the beginning of the season really began.
2014 had been ushered in by a gawp through the bottom of Alice's looking glass filled and quickly emptied of effervescent champagne. 2014 made a second appearance shortly afterwards by way of a headache and eyes the colour of lean steak.
Ever since I started riding a bike again in September 2011 a thought festered like a saddle sore unacquainted with Sudocrem. I'd followed pro racing for years and always wondered what it would be like to be jostled along in the peloton.
As I got faster and stronger my ego grew along side and I thought to myself that I might be quite good at amateur racing. I could climb hills reasonably fast and ride all day at a respectable pace but a crash on a descent in 2012 gave me the real heebie-jeebies and it took a long winter of scaring myself silly until I felt anywhere near confident enough to go down hill again anything like rapidly.
Being flattered by Strava and finishing first in a a hard and hilly sportive in the pissing rain can lead one onto delusions of grandeur. Riding with people who are slower than you can result in the same inflation of the ego.
It's put up or shut up time. Real racing takes no prisoners and gives no one an easy ride. You need to be fit, fast and fearless or else you're gonna have to go home and have a good cry.
I've bought a jumbo box of man-sized tissues just in case...
Let's call him protagonist A. Protagonist A had had a pretty good summer of riding and was polishing the sunny months off with rides at a speed of 24 mph plus. Going for a ride with him would result in much handlebar munching and complaining whilst being regaled with tales of who lives where and what they get up to. All reeled off without seemingly drawing breath whilst I languished listening in a mute, panting, sweaty mess.
Protagonist A sowed a seed as the nights drew in and he proposed to form an alliance and a team of sorts and jump two footed into the world of amateur road racing. As my 32.8 year plus VAT birthday looms this coming Monday it really is now or never for me.
And then there's protagonist B. He also was having a fine summer season, personally consuming the European Haribo mountain had fuelled him to winning success in two autumn hill climbs whilst pretty much claiming any Strava KOM he set his mind to, including the legendary Col de Solour in the Pyrenees.
Hand selected by protagonist A for his hamster heartbeat and the cadence of a unicyclist careering down a cliff, it seemed the combo of someone who can out sprint even himself on a good day and another who climbs so well that they've rendered all the hills seemingly totally flat for a 25 mile radius around where they live would indeed be quite formidable. And then there was me...
In 2013 my ambitions hinged around making my legs hurt for as many hours as possible. Like Jens Voigt without any friends, let's call him 'Jensie No-mates', I pedalled furiously in front of an imaginary peleton dishing out the pain. All the while I tried to increase my in-one-go mileage, the amount of hills in a ride and endeavouring to do it all faster and faster.
This all culminated in the taking on of the Bowland Badass. When I first read about this ride and its near height of Everest Base Camp amount of ascent I scoffed at the madness of anyone who would consider such a thing. But it seemed one day I possessed all the qualities of such a deranged loon.
I set off dead last and late and went the wrong way on the very first road adding a mile to the already not inconsiderable 167 miles. All those miles as Jensie No-mates soon saw me overtaking riders. First, those out taking it easy to try and save their legs for much later in the day but eventually I breezed past the chiseled cheek bones of gnarly riders on expensive, exotic machines.
I'll write a longer recounting of that ride on another day but suffice to say it was the ride of my life. I overtook all but four riders that day and as they'd set off before me I finished with the 3rd best time. Perhaps I wasn't bad at this riding-a-bike lark after all?
Now it would be nice to combine all of those attributes into a single, genetically-engineered, cycling machine. One leg of a sprinter, the other from a climber and the engine from the truck driven by the Duracell bunny. But of course that would be silly and anyway I don't think that Franken-cyclist could ride in a straight line.
The question now is what and how?
What do we need to do to compete in amateur races and how are we going to do it?
Watch this space...