The following morning's ride was pretty straightforward, no specific aims, no special requirements. Despite that it was a much more disciplined affair than when we started last week, we formed up into a rotation without prompting, no one trying to burst the pack or shying from their turn. That's not to say it wasn't a hard ride, we headed across to Glossop before turning south over some fairly tough climbs to Chapel en le Frith before heading back towards Manchester.
By the time we re-crossed the motorway it was getting quite warm despite or maybe because of some light cloud that only allowed the briefest glimpses of blue above. Whilst Caro had been doing the manager bit on our ride, Steve had been busy back at base. Behind the minibus a sizeable trailer awaited our steeds, our luggage was already loaded, there'd be a seat for everyone on the bus this time.
"Come on you lot, we haven't got all day," Steve cajoled.
"How far is it?" Darren asked as he swung up into the bus.
"Couple of hours, we'll be there for tea time."
Well it's not down at Southampton then.
Tardiness and seats on buses are directly related, you get a crap seat if you are late, I'd made a point of getting my bod out to the bus first.
"Where's Drew?" Mand enquired scanning the car park from the side door.
Bamm! She whacked her head on the ceiling with an impressive amount of force.
"Eww," escaped my lips before anyone else reacted.
“You alright?” Caro pretty much demanded as Mand rubbed her sore noggin.
“Miles away from any vital organs.” Mand joked although she looked a little pale.
“Hmm, what do you think Steve?” Caro asked our other oppressor.
“We should really get her checked out.”
“I'm alright, really,” Mand insisted.
”I guess it can wait until we get to Lilleshall, if you feel sick at all Amanda tell someone straight away.”
“I will,” she agreed, “where's that Bond?” and with that she launched herself towards the back of the bus.
By the time we left Droylsden I was surrounded by the girls leaving the lads to occupy the front section. It's not far from our base out to the M60 and soon we were trundling along Manchester's outer ring road towards Stockport. The sun was now firmly in the sky, the bus quickly warming up despite the air blowers best efforts.
Not that I've been this way that much but I kept a look out for the only landmarks I know hereabouts, Stockport viaduct and the pyramid just after. Of course being sat in the back of a minibus is different to sitting in the front of a car so I missed the former and only just spotted the latter.
“You okay, Drew?” Claire enquired.
“Yeah, just a bit warm.”
“You should take off that jumper.”
“Maybe,” I allowed.
Okay I'll admit it; I'm wearing the baggy jumper so no one notices my boobs. ‘What about when you're riding?' I hear you ask. Well my sports bras do a pretty good job of squishing stuff down, I suppose if you were giving me a close inspection you might wonder why I was wearing some kind of vest but lots of riders do, even in summer. I have got a little paranoid after the weekend though, hence the jumper.
“Anyone want a chewy?” Laura offered.
She lobbed the pack over to me, hmm fresh mint, not my favourite but beggars and all that. I removed a stick and sent the rest back to their owner. How does that work? We're doing like fifty miles an hour but even something like a pack of chewing gum acts as though we are stood still, weird.
I unwrapped the gum and stuffing it in my mouth returned my attention to the passing scenery. Onto the M56, past the airport turn but instead of following the signs for the m6 we took the Altrincham. After a bit of a loop de loop we crossed the motorway heading towards Knutsford however after a couple of miles we ignored the turn into the town shortly reaching the busy m6.
Not familiar as such but we came along here when Caroline took us to Gran's at the weekend. We joined the south bound traffic and the boredom of motorway travel soon had most of the bus comatose, sally and Laura were deep in conversation over a copy of Cosmo or some such, a card school had the attention of a few of the lads. Boy it's warm; I pulled my jumper off and used it as a makeshift pillow to stop my head bouncing on the window.
“Wakeup yer daft moo.” Mand's voice whispered with some urgency.
“Wassup? Was sleeping.”
“And showing off your assets,” she hissed.
“What?” I sprang up.
“Shush you'll wake the others.”
My brain still wasn't fully engaged, “others?”
“Rest of the team? Here stick this on,” she instructed thrusting a pile of fleece into my hands.
“Well unless you want to come out to everyone else you need to cover those babies up.” she gently prodded my chest.
Things came into focus then, I'd stripped off my jumper but I'd only got a bra on underneath - no not some lacy thing, one of my race bras. And I was in view of a good few of my teammates who are not privy to my impending girldom, not good. The fleece turned out to be a gilet type thing, loose enough to disguise my girls but not so heavy to have me overheating.
“Cheers, Mand, I owe you one.”
“I'll collect later.”
“Everything okay back there?” Caro called down the bus.
“Yep.” I called back.
“Not far now, maybe half an hour.”
Almost on cue the engine tone changed as we dropped off the motorway heading, according to the road signs, into Stafford. I can't remember ever having been before so my attention moved back to what was outside of the bus rather than the now stirring occupants. After the steady hum of the motorway the change of engine tone and movements of the bus soon had everyone back to some form of consciousness.
“Where are we?” Claire enquired stretching as much as was possible within the restrictions of the bus.
She was clearly none the wiser not that it helped me either. The traffic was fairly heavy as we headed into the town before following signs for Rugeley and Cannock. I've heard of Cannock, there's some big forest near there where they hold some big premier series race so is this Lea Shore place near Cannock then?
That theory was thrown out of the window when at the third big roundabout we ignored that turn taking instead a road signed for Newport. I've been there, its in Wales, are we somewhere near Wales then? My knowledge of the geography of this area is next to zilch, Welsh Wales is somewhere over here, it's not that far from Gran's but that's about it.
We were now heading out of Stafford only finally leaving the place behind when we passed under what I guess was the m6. As we moved out into the countryside the road, not exactly straight to start with, added some up and down into the mix despite which Steve managed to keep our transport rolling along at a reasonable pace. The bends through some place called Gnosall did finally break our momentum not helped by one of Mr Ferguson's infernal field engines pulling out in front of us!
At the next island I was confused even further, this Newport is apparently not in Wales and further more we joined the A41 towards Wolverhampton, isn't that near Birmingham? A mile further on we left that road to follow a sign for Telford but also for ‘Lilleshall National Sports Centre'*. Is that where we're going? Coulda sworn Caro said Lea Shore.
“I bet that's it.” Paul opined from up the bus.
There was a general murmur of agreement although a seed of doubt was sown when we turned off at the next roundabout.
“Nearly there people.” Caro informed us, “We aren't the only group staying here so please respect that, remember you are representing BC and we'd like be able to come back.”
It's the standard school trip lecture of course; only difference being this isn't school and this isn't the local museum. For some reason that thought conjured up images of that trip to the humanities museum in Bonn a few weeks ago, remember that?
“What're you grinning at, 007?” Claire asked.
“You so were, spill or I'll set M on you.”
“Mand, the spy is all yours,” Claire announced.
“Geez, Claire you need to take more water with it.” Laura suggested.
“So? What was it, Drew?” Mand pushed.
“Er nothing, might tell you later.”
The bus crunched to a halt in front of a modern block that could have easily have been a mid range hotel.
“Okay everyone, you can get out but please stay by the bus while Caro and I sort out your accreditation,” Steve instructed.
Our leaders headed inside and we all clambered down.
“Some place.” Geth allowed.
“Not many.” Sal agreed.
From where we were stood you couldn't see a great deal, the bulk of a big building could just about be seen through the trees but all about it was clear that the place was looked after by the neatly tended grass and paths. A few bods were walking about; a small group ran past us before heading into the building before us. With the sun pleasantly warming us from above I could have stayed there all afternoon.
“Right people, grab your bags from Steve in the trailer then come inside,” Caro instructed.
We were given our accreditation and installed in our rooms, somehow we all landed singles which at least avoided any issues for me. That out of the way we met in a side room, the sign on the door, 'British Cycling junior development squad' leaving no doubt as to whom we were.
Caro and Steve were talking to a chap in the corporate uniform of the place when we filed in.
“Shut the door please Jamie,” Steve asked.
That done it was down to business.
“Hello everyone and welcome to Lilleshall. I'm Derek Underwood and I'll be looking after you for your stay, we're a bit quiet at the moment what with the games in Athens but that means you've had an accommodation upgrade. Caroline and Steve will tell you what you're programme will be so I'll cut to the important stuff.
You've all got your accreditation, don't lose it, it's your access all areas pass, without it you'll not get fed or get into the facilities. When you are on campus you are free to go pretty much anywhere, we do ask that you respect any closed coaching sessions. We've got a wide variety of athletes staying this week, trampolinists, archers and even ice skaters.” he chuckled a little at that.
“Meals are pretty informal, we use a self service cafeteria, you can eat pretty much any time from seven in the morning until nine in the evening. Your accreditation will be scanned, we don't take money directly and you're on an inclusive deal. There's a TV lounge and games room to keep you occupied in the evenings, we do have a curfew for under eighteens of eleven p.m.
If you have any problems or issues with anything on site you can usually find me in the office by reception or just ask one of the uniformed staff. That's it from me, enjoy your stay.”
“Okay ladies and gentlemen, the evening is yours, front of reception in gym kit at nine am prompt please. Oh yes, I understand chips are available in the cafeteria Darren, just be sensible.” Steve dismissed us.
*One of Team GB's centres of excellence.
to be continued....
© Maddy Bell 27.09.12