No Mans Heath
“Urgh, I hate six o'clock,” Mand complained.
“It's ten past,” I declared .
“I hate ten past six.”
This Bulkeley place isn't far away but we don't want to be leaving at the last minute and rushing to get there.
“I'll see you later, have a good ride.” Josie waved as the two girls set off half an hour later.
Two girls, yes there really wasn't much doubt, no make that any doubt, that the child they had all thought was a boy for so long was really female. Since she'd last seen Drew in the flesh so to speak, he, no she'd, bloomed into quite a beauty almost a spit of her mother. This morning's race brought back memories of watching Jenny do the same so many years ago – there was no Amanda back then, it was Richie Black.
She shook her head. Yeah Jenny was just as enthusiastic even if she didn't show the precocious talent of her offspring, she'd be out on that bike morning, noon and night. Back then the idea that she would one day earn her living racing was a pipe dream, there being no ladies professional riders. When she was offered that first contract, just a bike and expenses, the sheer joy on her face. And now Drew, Gaby is trumping her mother's achievements, poor kid, so much to contend with.
“That must be it.”
“Looks like.” Mand agreed.
The scene was one repeated across the country, cyclists with a full spectrum of abilities coming together to spend an hour or two thrashing up and down the roads and lanes in pursuit of a PB or at least a seasons best. The cut and thrust of bunch racing, the spectacle of the track, trialling has neither even so some riders dedicated all their efforts on a bike in pursuit of speed.
“Excuse me, could you tell us where to sign in?” I asked an old chap on a pricey low profile machine as we crossed.
“Blue Mondeo* on the corner luv.”
“You do much testing in Germany?” Mand asked.
“Hardly any, I rode the club ten at my Aunt's last week but that was the first one this year I think, you?”
“Mid week tens mostly, a few twenty fives to fill when there's no road to ride.”
We pulled up by the Mondeo and waited whilst a chap in Wheelers strip finished up.
“Phil, from the bike shop, said we could get a ride?”
“Pound non members.” The chap in the car stated without looking up.
“Er sure, there's two of us,” I clarified.
He passed a clipboard out with the signing on sheet, which we duly filled out and returned with our consent forms.
“Amanda Vreen, best twenty five?”
“It's de Vreen, one one twenty.”
He scanned the sheet on a second clip board, “de Vreen, Catford CC number seventeen.” He grabbed a number off of the other seat and passed it out to Mand.
“So, Drew Bond, twenty five time?”
“Fifty seven fifty four** but it was like two years ago, I did a twenty two twenty four ten last week?”
He finally looked up.
“Team Apollinaris, that Dutch or something?”
“Thought it was something like that by your accent, that's quite a sharp time.” He consulted his start sheet again, “Twenty one I think.”
“Er thanks.” I allowed receiving the patch of fluorescent material.
“First rider off in er, ten minutes, good luck girls.”
“Thanks,” Mand allowed.
“It was on the O2***,” I supplied.
“Still, that's pretty swift.”
“I guess, doubt I'll go under evens this morning, I feel crap. Do I really have an accent?”
“A bit, it's quite cute really, better than my sarf Lunnun,” Amanda chuckled .
I rolled my eyes, “Come on, let's get ready.”
Mand set off with a big effort and my thoughts turned to my own approaching start time. There's nothing resting on it, no prizes so I don't need to kill myself but it doesn't mean I shouldn't try for a good time – more fun than just ploughing the lanes at least.
I rolled alongside that same Mondeo where the pusher waited to set me off.
I got into place before checking everything was in order.
“Ten, good ride.”
Out of the saddle, push, heave, push and I was away.
I quickly settled into a good cadence, with no aero bars fitted I assumed a crouch holding onto the drops like I've seen people using in old pictures. The first kilo dipped slightly before the road started a surprisingly steep climb through Bulkeley village then easing slightly before the final sting in the tail. I don't mind admitting having to get out of the saddle once or twice on the way up.
At one point I could see three riders ahead of me but clearly the effect of the climb was slowing everyone. Over the brow and click, click, click, up the gears and wheeee! A short steep drop was our reward, of course we'll have to climb it later, the riders ahead apparently having shot ahead, only one now in view as the road continued to drop away.
The road suddenly fell away to reveal the first turn ahead, the sign said Broxton Island, the remaining rider in view seemed to come back towards me at a stupendous rate as I approached the roundabout and the yellow jacketed marshal.
I nodded my head in understanding before powering round onto the A41 to start the long leg down towards Whitchurch. My carrot turned out to be number nineteen who started two minutes ahead of me, according to my comp I was holding a 42kph average despite the big climb, and clearly he wasn't. The forty-one whilst not a dual carriageway is reasonably wide and well surfaced and glancing ahead I could see the road rippling away ahead of me.
On the first up slope I zipped past my quarry, must keep something for the way back. It's easy to let your mind wander when you are out on your own, I found myself running through the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody as I spun the pedals around, concentrate Drew. The sign for another roundabout took me by surprise, am I at the turn already?
‘Don't be daft,' I chided myself, ‘ t's nowhere near far enough yet.'
In fact I was barely halfway out. Straight over the island, not literally of course and as the road dipped another rider hove into view on the rise ahead. The tell tale signs of a reasonably new bypass took me past the turn to Robberhill before climbing to No Mans Heath – who makes up these names? Down again before another steady climb up to Bell o' th' Hill.
I'd been steadily gaining on the figure in front, at this rate I'll have them by the turn, talking of which shouldn't I be seeing riders going the other way? The road dropped away again and I topped fifty k as I hit Grindley Brook. It was only as the road crossed the canal that I saw my first returning rider that on second look I realised was Manda, where'd everyone else gone?
The road climbed straight up to the turn roundabout, my current bait barely cleared the roundabout before I reached it. Up to now there had been little traffic but would you credit it, a flippin' horsebox chose that moment to cross the island. There was a gap behind so I didn't need to brake but I lost enough momentum to require an out of saddle effort to get going again.
“Dig in lass,” the marshal encouraged as I returned to the A41, I didn't need a second opinion on that as I slammed it into the twelve. I glanced at the clock, twenty-seven minutes, geez that's fast .
So intent was I on my quest for speed I almost missed the frantically waving marshal in Grindley Brook. Of course, that's why I hadn't seen many returning riders; Phil wotsisname said something about coming back through some place called Malpas. I gave the yellow clad official a small hand wave in acknowledgement as I turned into the B road.
I spotted my prey on the short climb ahead of me and renewed my efforts to catch them. I wasn't expecting the double bends at the top, which scarily had me nearly ending up on the wrong side of the road. Concentrate Bond, concentrate. I regained my composure and chased along a fairly straight but undulating road, the surface less than perfect not helping me maintain my pace.
The road suddenly disappeared down a steep incline, I didn't dare get too enthusiastic not knowing the road – just as well, a sharp right-hander had me on the brakes. Bum! The road climbed steeply away from the bridge that followed, are they serious about this course? The bonus was that as I hit the summit I claimed the scalp of number eighteen.
After a small dip the road started a fairly steady climb up into what I assumed was this Malpas place. The figure labouring away up ahead by deduction must be Mand unless she's passed someone in the last couple of miles of course. Up and up the road climbed, through the ‘town' and still upwards only finally levelling off as I cleared the place.
Off in front I could just make out the great lump of what is home to Maiden Castle, not the Maiden Castle of course, that's in Dorset, no Dad took us up to this particular example of a hillfort once when we were staying at Gran's. I realised my mind was wandering again, concentrate! The road dipped down towards Hampton Heath where I managed to nip out onto the A41 in front of another donkey transport.
The small climb away from the island barely slowed my progress then it was onto the generally downhill leg back up to Broxton Island, the final turn. It wasn't Mand but number thirteen, a lad about my age by the looks, savaging his gears as he tried to crank up some speed.
“Dig in.” I encouraged as I swept past.
I didn't expect nor did I get a response, my mind turned to my computer, seven k's to go, forty five minutes on the clock, wow I'm gonna be well under the hour! Ahead I caught glimpses of two riders, Mand has to be one of them surely? Broxton Island is quite small so I had to ease off quite a bit to make the turn, slipping through between the cars.
I'd forgotten ‘The Hill'. Yeah I know, I came down but you never imagine it'll be so steep going back do you? I was puffing a bit by the time I crested the first bit, surprised to be almost on another rider. In the distance the final climb up Fullers Moor taunted me, already the clock was ticking through fifty-one minutes. I'm not gonna let it get away, come on Drew.
Number nine was in a much worse state than me as I passed him on the almost flat approach to the wall of a climb and Mand, yes it definitely was she, was now only maybe ten seconds ahead of me. Talk about red rag to a bull, I punched up another gear but she held her advantage onto the climb. I stayed in the saddle as long as possible but when it kicked at Coomb Dale I had to get up and honk my way up, my hill climbing prowess proving invaluable.
Mand succumbed moments later.
“Shit!” she gasped.
“Bleh!” I allowed.
“Allez Bond! Dig in kiddo!”
I glanced at the cheering figure, it was Gran. Have to put on a good show, I dug a little deeper in response and soon rolled over the summit. Two kilometres to go, fifty five ten, I'll be under but by how much? Its downhill all the way to the finish, within metres I had it in the twelve and pushing the speed up.
The speed climbed quickly, forty-five, fifty, fifty-five, sixty, I pedalled through the couple of little dips, sixty-five. There's the finish, come on Drew push! The gradient levelled after Bulkeley and my speed dropped off some.
“Twenney one!” I gasped out, slapping the stop button on the computer as I freewheeled up the slope towards the event ‘HQ'.
Stopping by the collection of cars I collapsed over my bars, dragging in great lungfulls of air.
“Bloody hell girl, you got a motor on there?” Mand exclaimed as she pulled alongside about a minute later.
“A two stroke Bond,” I allowed checking my computer properly.
“Sixty nine point seven K's.”
“Fifty seven thirtyish,“ I grinned, “you?”
“That's pretty good.”
“Says Wonder Woman!”
* Family saloon from Ford
** See chapter 82 of the saga
*** Time trial courses in the UK are given identifying codes; O courses are in the North Midlands near Warsop.
to be continued....
© Maddy Bell 10.09.12