I lay back on my bed and stared at the ceiling. We waved Deb and Brit off about half an hour ago and it all seems a bit weird now. It's weird that I can't hear the girls bickering. It's weird that I'll be going to meet the gang on my own. It's weird that I'll be sleeping in my own room tonight.
I listened to Dad's tuneless whistling downstairs and grinned as I recalled some of our 'adventures' over the last few weeks. Those first few days when we were all getting to know each other, a lot has happened since then. I've done a lot on the bike, I glanced at the picture of everyone after the National Champs, there's, Maddy, Debs, Josh, Jules at the back, me, Sab, Kristen, dunno what she was winking at and Brit on the end. Some day huh!
Floating off into dreamland again, I recalled some more highlights of the Walters stay, the trip to Creswell, Dad trekking us over Ilkley Moor, that cool stop at Duxford, winning the race at Newark and of course the trip to Germany. Then there was the other stuff, ending up in Jessica's spare skirt at the skating rink, well the whole Gaby thing really. I wonder what would have happened if I'd managed to put my own plan into action, probably not much different, well I guess I'll never know.
Before last night and Brit's confession it was just frustrating, now I know it was a plot I'm starting to fume a bit. Not so much at Brit and Deb but at the gang! What were they thinking? I'll have to get them back, but I'll make them stew a bit first, a plan started to formulate; I'll need Rhod in on it I think. Hmmm.
"Is that everything now?" Jules complained
"I think so" Dad had set the pair of us the task of changing all the bed linen and moving my stuff back to my room. At least Dad was in charge of the washing machine!
"Great, maybe I can get off now, I'll get slaughtered if I don't have my stuff for cookery" Jules fancies herself as a chef, not that you'd know at home!
I checked the time, bum! Nearly twelve and I'm supposed to be at Mad's fifteen minutes ago.
"We thought maybe you weren't coming" Ally stated
"I was moving back into my room, it took longer than I thought it would"
"It's a bit sad that they've gone really," Bernie mentioned
"So are you lot gonna continue as cheerleaders?" Rhod asked
Well guess who said no!
"Aw Drew, we're not much of a team without you" Mad pouted
"Well in case you all forgot, I'm not a girl!"
"Er sorry about that Drew" Ally told me
"Yeah sorry Drew" Bernie added
"Come on, are we going to the Superbowl or what?" Rhod enquired
I looked pointedly at Mad but she was avoiding eye contact and for that matter apologising.
"Yeah come on, it'll be great with just the old gang!" Ally enthused
"Mad?" Rhod queried
"I guess," she allowed
Five is an odd number for bowling so Bernie devised a system where the A team, that's me and Rhod, get an extra bowler from the girls team each round. Sound complicated? Well in practice it works pretty well. Somehow the girls still won much to my chagrin and there was nearly world war three when Rhod hinted that Ally had 'pulled' a couple of throws when she was on our team.
We hit Burger King afterwards for a change but there was still a bit of tension running between Mad and me when we got back to Warsop.
"So what're we doing tomorrow guys?" Ally asked
"I've got a race"
"I don't suppose you want us along?" Bern mentioned.
"You can come if you want, but no cheerleaders!"
"You coming Mad?" I asked
"You're not still mad at me?"
"A bit, but what's that got to do with it?"
"You tell me"
"Oh stop arsing around you two!" Bernie interrupted, "yes she's coming Drew"
"Mad?" I queried
"There room for me?" Rhod enquired
"Don't see why not" I was a bit surprised as Rhod is not exactly a sports fan as you might have noticed. "I'd better let Dad know that everyone's coming"
"What time Drew?" Bernie asked
"'Bout nine I think, I'll ring everyone later"
We went our separate ways and I broke the news of the extra passengers to Dad over supper. The Chrysler went back today, that's Saturday in case you're not following, so the camper is being pressed into service tomorrow, Dad doesn't trust the car and six of us would have been a squeeze at any rate!
"What are you guys up to?"
"Nothing Drew, you just relax" Ally replied
They'd been whispering ever since we left Warsop, being sat in the cab meant I couldn't hear what they were talking about, particularly as Dad had Radio Two blaring away.
"I know they're plotting something Dad"
"You're paranoid son. Relax we'll be at the circuit in a few minutes"
"I still think something's going on" I glanced back at my still whispering friends, Dad was probably right, I'm getting paranoid.
A few minutes later we were parked up and Rhod joined me in a trip to the bogs while Dad did his stuff with my bike. The girls? Don't ask, we left them eyeing up one of the seniors warming up on a turbo. Rhod was uncharacteristically agog with all the pre race activity and it seems that the still warm weather has encouraged a few more riders than usual to have a last fling for the season. There are a few more events before we pack up for the year but this end of the season everyone starts to wind down, me included!
When we got back to the camper the girls were nowhere in sight, probably on their own toilet run.
"They'll be out for you today son"
"I guess so" I replied
"Why's that Mr. B?" Rhod asked
"Well first off he's the National Champion"
"Oh I get it, they all want a crack at the champ"
"Just what I need" I sighed
"The other thing is that the race series is decided today, Drew and two of the others are on the same points so whoever finishes in front wins the whole series"
"Cool" Rhod mentioned
"Thanks Dad, nothing like a bit of pressure"
"You'll be alright Drew, just ride your own race and stay out of trouble"
"Easy for you to say" I retorted
I spotted John on his way over, never good news!
"Hi Dave, Gaby" he greeted us, winking
"Morning John" Dad replied
"Hi" I glowered
"Brought the fan club again I see, hello Maddy, girls"
"Hi John" Mad's voice came from behind me.
"I thought you'd like to christen this today Drew" he handed me a poly bag.
"What is it?" I asked peeking inside
"That if I'm not mistaken is your champions jersey" Dad looked at John who nodded in confirmation.
"Wear it with pride, you worked hard for that. I'm not supposed to show favoritism but go and kick some butt!"
I was a bit taken aback by Johns outburst but the gang had no such hang ups and I lost my jersey for a few minutes while they 'inspected' it.
I was feeling more nervous than ever as I joined the rest of the riders on the start line. It was really weird not wearing my club jersey; everyone was checking me out as though I was someone new. Maybe I was. John started his pre race pep talk and I slipped into dream world! I did my own sizing up exercise, looking the competition over. The usual players were all present plus a few others that I recognised including Nottingham. I continued my pre race prep with Johns voice as background while I started my breathing exercises. I was jerked back to the present by the sound of the klaxon setting us off. I'd got a plan, now it's time to put it into action. Dad was right, everybody would want a piece of me today and this jersey wouldn't help my cause either.
I spotted Rhod and the girls on the back of the course and yep, you've got it, they were now wearing their cheer kit. They shouted and waved their poms as we went by in a compact bunch, hmm maybe I can use them to my advantage! By the end of the lap everyone was settled and the 'contenders' were all sat at the front, apparently waiting for me to do something, well they kept looking at me anyway. For me this is great, I reckon I can out sprint the lot of them so this suits me!
I could see that Nottingham was getting a bit edgy and I chuckled to myself as his nerve went on lap three and he made a break for it. I let the others chase him while I tucked in behind and let myself be dragged along. The less able started to peel off and by the time the escape was contained a lap later we had lost almost half the field. That was me last year but now I'm Drew Bond, National Champion and I smiled to myself as we once again passed my fan club.
We still have a way to go but we resumed a watching brief, albeit with a bit more pace. I took my turn at the front and then found that no one wanted to take over, seems like none of them read the script! If that's going to be the way, well so be it. I sat up and slowed down and whether they realised it or not I was in control. A couple of back markers made contact again, boosting our numbers to just over a dozen and I could see that apart from the newcomers there were a few nervous faces. They knew I was up to something but what?
The wide airfield roads allowed us plenty of space and we lapped almost in line abreast with me sat out front. Not exactly exciting but I determined it wasn't going to be me who broke the status quo! When it came it was from an unexpected but welcome source. One of the 'second rank' riders tried his arm and soon had several metres but I held my nerve and stayed put. The others were all looking at me to give chase but for a second time, I held back although I was itching to let fly.
They were now getting a bit nervy and confused; here I was not doing anything when by experience they knew I usually tried to get away, often quite early in the race. Dad smiled as we passed the finish area again, I guess he had an inkling of what I was up to. The breakaway was gaining ground and it was Nottingham who once again lost his nerve and set off in pursuit. I waited until my rivals for the series broke before joining the pursuit. Today isn't about winning the stage but instead the important thing is the series. I reckon that any attempt I make to get away will get jumped on so why bother? No, although it would be nice to win, I just want to beat those two today.
I did just enough to stay with my rivals, up the road Nottingham was up with the original escapee and they were now holding station about fifty metres in front of my group. The girls continued to shout encouragement each lap and soon we were at half distance, the sun continues to shine down on us and I'm sat in cruise control. The situation didn't change much over the next few laps, another out of contention rider made a bid for freedom and soon there were three at the front, my rivals for the title still watching me like a hawk.
Next time past the 'Foresters' I shouted "14" and hoped that Mad understood.
I tried to remain calm for the lap, only five to the flag, as we turned into the back straight again I sighed with relief as I saw the girls starting the cheer. I eased the bunch towards them, lets face it, they were following my every move so it wasn't difficult! The timing was a bit off but the final flourish from the girls, bums in the air, was enough to distract the right lot, dumb idiots. I used that moment of inattention and made my move, not immediately, no I waited for them to exchange cheesy grins and sit up slightly. Well you know me; I don't wait for the invite.
I felt good and put my track and testing experience to good use, a quick underarm glance half a lap later confirmed my success. Nottingham and co were still a good bit in front but I was now a reasonable distance away from my rivals, hopefully enough. The girls whooped in delight as I went through, hang on where's Rhod? Head down, I assumed a semi tuck that Maria had shown me back in Germany last spring. Will my gamble pay off? I concentrated on my riding, legs pumping steadily, breathing even; I resisted the temptation to look back and relished the challenge. The break had now spotted me and no doubt under Nottingham's influence were turning the screw some.
"Come on Drew!"
My fan club were still very much vocal as I crossed them again. Here I am, dangling between the break and bunch with three to go, relax and it's over. I dug a bit deeper and I swear I could see the gap to the break shrink and still no one had got up to me. Realistically I'm not going to make contact with the break but I have to keep going if I'm gonna take the series. No one in front can affect the overall result but I wasn't sure my rivals realised that. The girls were gone next time round, no doubt heading for the finish area.
Then I heard the dreaded click of an Sti lever and the whir of another bikes chain and my escape was over. Best laid plans and all that. I checked to see who it was and was surprised to find just one rider, the lad I beat when I won the frameset earlier in the year. So it would just be the two of us. I eased slightly and it was clear that he was breathing hard, if I went now I'd break him. Unfortunately I'm not in any better condition at this point so we ride on with him half wheeling me.
"Ding, ding, ding, ding!"
One lap to go, it's gonna come down to a sprint and I've not got any tricks left! Unless there was a miracle it looks like I'm going to be sprinting for fourth place and I'm not too confident of that either. What happened next you just won't believe. I saw Nottingham make his move, in theory he should have been able to stomp all over the other two but fate was against him. I don't know what caused it but instead of sprinting away he was freewheeling and thumping his bars. The other two quickly overhauled him and me and my shadow followed in short order. 'Yes!' we were still too far behind to catch the break but going for third is so much better than fourth.
We both knew what was at stake and I realised I was hungry enough to make a go of it, I glanced over, the smirk on his face confirmed that he thought he had it, after all I was lucky before, right? I pretended to fumble a gear change, you can do that with Campag, and he took the bait with 300 metres to the line. Right where I wanted him. The line hove into view and I was glued to his wheel. 200 metres, keep it going Drew, I tracked his wheel as he stood up for his big finish and steeled myself to bide my time. Dad as usual was stood about 50 metres from the line and I jumped as we came abreast of him. Kerchunk! Wow I never noticed that headwind before. The girls were screaming their support as the line zoomed towards us, hang in there, its all going red, there's the line, push!
Then I was freewheeling and my opponent was behind me, I shook my head to clear my vision, had I done it? It must have been close. I turned off the circuit and headed back towards the finish to find the four girls running towards me.
"You did it Drew!"
"You kicked some ass boyo"
Who said that? Hang on four girls? I managed to get my feet on the floor before I was engulfed. I saw my victim scowl as he pedaled past, he needs more than brawn to beat Drew Bond in a sprint, sucker!
"Whoa, hang on guys"
"Sorry Drew" Ally stepped back and I got a look at the mystery girl for the first time.
"Er hi Drew" Rhod relied somewhat sheepishly
"This your idea Mad?"
"No it was mine Drew" Rhod replied
"Come on Drew" Bernie interjected, "time to party"
Well the official verdict was third by half a wheel, that's like about a foot. An inch would have been enough. The presentation wasn't till after the senior race so I had time to get changed and get a Maddy leg rub! Somehow Dad had missed Mfanwy and Rhod reappeared without him noticing anything amiss, I think. They did the race prizes for today first, I slipped my champions jersey on to get my envelope of vouchers and ten quid as I joined the two intrepid breakaways, there was no sign of Nottingham. Then it was time for the series, the prizes went down to tenth so I had to wait as everyone else collected their envelopes. The guy running the presentation must work in a bingo hall, he never shut up!
"...And first overall, by a single point, the new under 14 National Champion, Drew Bond!"
I went up to take the plaudits and my cheer squad erupted into an embarrassing cheer.
"Well done Drew"
"I think Mick wants a word or two"
"The guy with the microphone?"
I took a breath, "ok"
Mick took his cue and joined us putting an arm round me,
"Well Drew, that was quite a finish out there, you been reading the sprinters manual?"
"I saw a friend do it in the summer"
"Anyone we know?"
"Tina Porsche in stage four of the Women's Tour"
"I'm impressed you remembered something like that and that you know her"
"Well she rides with my Mum and if you want to win you have to pay attention right?"
"Well there you go ladies and gents, sound advice from the champ and there's a few here could do with taking a leaf from your book Drew."
I started to blush quite heavily.
"I give you this years under sixteen series winner, Drew Bond" and he led a round of applause that only reinforced my embarrassment.
It was late afternoon when we got back home, the guys stayed for tea and it was cool with it just being the fab five again. Dad dropped the others home about seven and I collapsed to veg in front of the box for a bit. It was a bit weird really, winning but not being first over the line, I guess its sort of like Mum winning the Tour. Another lesson to learn I guess, first past the post isn't always the winner! And what's the crack with Rhod / Mfanwy? I need to talk to him soon!
School seemed to be missing something on Monday, that something was Brit and co. with the race yesterday the Americans were pushed from my thoughts but I realised how much I missed not just Brit but all of them as school sank into a not particularly enthralling round of classes. We never really discussed it, but I could tell the others were having similar thoughts, even Rhod. By the next weekend we were back to some sort of normalcy, no trips away, no 'talent' shows, just school, homework and a settling back into school relationships disrupted by the summer break.
For the first time this term I got to notice properly the new haircuts, new cliques and new relationships amongst my peers. Puberty was starting to make itself felt, girls were 'filling out' and body hair was sprouting on the lads. I suppose they were happening all the time, these changes, but the six week hols meant that Abby appeared to have grown a sizeable chest overnight and where did Gallows get that moustache from? I guess me and the gang have changed over the summer too.
That weekend was just an 'ordinary' weekend whatever that is. I went training Saturday morning and all the gang went up to Worksop in the afternoon. Sunday was 'family day', read housework!
"What are you still training for Drew?" Bernie asked
"Yeah, I thought you'd finished for this year" Al mentioned
"I need to stay in shape, Mum says a lot of riders take a couple of months off and then have to start from scratch in the New Year. If I just keep ticking over, I'll not have so much to do later. And I've got a few events left, Mums coming home this weekend to ride the charity races with me."
"Oh cool!" Mad stated
"You sound like Sabbie" Bernie told her
"You never said Drew" Ally accused
"Well it wasn't certain until last night"
"Don't you have to enter in advance?" Mad queried
"Yeah, Dad entered us weeks ago but Mum had to negotiate with the team or something. Anyway she rang last night and said it was on."
"So when's she get home?" Al enquired
"Friday, then she goes back Monday I think"
"That's not long, it must be pretty crap without your Mum for so long" Rhod put in
"Yeah it sucks"
"So where're you riding then? Mad asked
"Ranby on Saturday and Lincoln Sunday morning"
"I've got to go and see Dad and Cherys worst luck" Rhod advised.
That's something else that's changed this summer. The appearance of Mfanwy and Rhod opening up a bit about his Dad and rels. That's got to be good hasn't it?
"Do you get sponsors or something then, we'll sponsor you" Bernie offered
"No, it's not like that. We get to slog our guts out but there aren't any prizes."
"So how does that make it charity?" Al said what I could read on all their faces.
"Well all the prize money goes to charity instead, Dad says that a lot of people donate money and stuff too."
"Sounds a bit odd to me," Rhod stated.
The rest of the week round to Friday had the Bond household gripped in ever increasing tension and excitement. Mum was coming home, maybe it was for just the weekend, but she was coming all the same.
"Have you got to pick Mum up tomorrow?" Jules asked Dad
"No, she's driving"
"That's a long way," I mentioned
"Erm, didn't you see in the comic Drew, it's not just Mum coming"
"What do you mean Dad?"
"George apparently mentioned that your Mum was coming and Appollinaris thought it would be good publicity if the whole team came and rode, apparently they are starting a campaign in the UK, so there'll be photographers and stuff as well."
I could see that Jules was less than impressed.
"But she is coming home here isn't she" I asked
"Of course she is, where else would she go?"
"What about the others?" Jules enquired
"I think they are in the 'Motor Lodge' at Worksop"
"So the whole team are coming?" Mad asked as we walked to school next morning
"That's what Dad said"
"Mum says that she'll bring me and Bernie out to watch"
"I guess Al's got other stuff on"
"You don't know this right?"
"Ally's going to Wales with Mfanwy tonight"
"That is so weird!"
"I never told you okay, it's supposed to be a secret"
"Whatever, it's still weird"
"No more than when we went to the Con"
"And anyway his Dad thinks he's a girl so he won't think it odd for Ally to go will he?"
I didn't even want to start going down that line.
Of course whenever I saw Rhod or Al I started to smirk and it took a lot of self-control not to say something. Fridays usually drag and today was worse than usual, I nearly ran from the Peters road back home, Mums team car was on the drive, my heart leapt in joy.
"Mum!" I rushed in to the kitchen and into Mum's arms. We hugged and I could tell that Mum was filling up.
"Enough Drew, we have company"
"Company?" the disappointment in my voice must have been obvious.
"Don't worry, come on they're in the front room"
They? Mum led the way; I dropped my school bag by the door and followed her through.
"Here you are Kat, I said he wouldn't be long didn't I?"
My smack was gobbed, here in our living room was Kat and her Mum and a bloke I thought I should recognise but I couldn't quite place him.
"Hello Drew" Maria added from the sofa
"And this is..."
I interrupted, "...Erik Zabel" I finally made the face fit to a name!
"Erik, this is my partner for the weekend, Drew"
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