Singling out to let the car pass broke our rhythm a bit resulting in me needing to pace Sal back up to the others. It wasn't so much steep as energy sapping; not steep enough to honk but steep enough that you want to. A sign pronounced Bwlch–y-Groes which turned out to be the summit of the climb. I took a swig from my bottle as we turned downhill, no time to appreciate the view.
After an initial steep bit into the valley the descent levelled some and with Josh in the lead we rode line astern clipping fifty k's from time to time.
“T at the end, turn right,” Caro warned.
I moved forward as we arrived at the junction but we had to stop anyhow as a tourist coach blocked the road in its attempt to get into a car park.
The unmistakable sound of a steam locomotive's whistle rent the air and beyond the coach a smoky cloud drifted across the road. By the time the king-size people carrier, it was actually from Bonn, I recognized the Univers name; there was something of a traffic jam. We finally got going again, the road becoming straight and level.
We were soon spinning along at a good pace alongside another lake. Up ahead the steam train came into view and we started to overhaul the tourist carrier. The line runs parallel to the road so it turned into a bit of a drag race, everyone giving their all even if Josh and I were doing longer turns. Suddenly we caught up and started overhauling the iron horse, the reason became apparent as a line side halt came into view.
Our pace started to ease to match.
“Don't slow down, keep the pace up.” Our director instructed.
“Slave driver,” Laura muttered.
“But our slave driver.” I added soto voce.
Without the train to pace us our speed never quite regained the previous kph but when a second train was spotted there was a little blip until we realised it was heading toward us! The timing was good as the level crossing was open by the time we reached it, there was a certain amount of tourist activity as it marked the other end of the line but we got through without stopping and made our turn without incident.
Coming alongside Caroline started on some new instructions, “We'll be hitting another climb shortly, Drew I want you to drop back, give the others a chance to tackle it without you in the mix. You go straight into it as we make the next turn, we'll regroup on the descent.”
It sort of made sense, she wanted to see the others climb not go into self-destruct mode chasing me. I eased off the back and let the others pull away taking the opportunity to grab a mouthful of energy bar and a slurp out of my bidon. Ahead of me I spotted the others, now best part of five hundred metres away, make the turn onto the climb.
There was a gap in the traffic that I gratefully took, oh shitza! It wasn't just a climb, oh no, hairpins and 20% warning signs greeted me within metres. Up above Caro's moped was complaining fit to expire, if it's that bad I need to change my tactic. I dropped the chain to the small ring and took it up a couple of sprockets at the rear.
Momentum all but gone I steeled myself for the worst. A car accelerated past into the first left-hander, must be a local as he shot around without issue. A glance behind allowed me to take a wider line, out of the saddle, down a gear, another and I was round. Ahead warning arrows and something changing down the gearbox indicated worse to come.
The downhill bound vehicle was another coach who I met as I went into turn two, he was very wide and I flicked towards the kerb as it swung past. Yeah it's all right for you, I'm going up! I took the corner and my heart sank as the next came into view. Not just the corner but what looked like Sal and a few metres above her, Claire. Steady does it, up on the pedals, down another gear, keep the breathing even. I slowly clawed my way around the bend, overhauling Sal as we came out of the corner.
“Keep it going.” I encouraged .
Whilst we were up the steepest bit we were still on a considerable gradient that allowed me to close on Claire pedal stroke by pedal stroke. Up ahead the whining moped was only about two hundred metres away; I'd have them easily by the top. Claire was blowing hard when I drew alongside; she's going to struggle to get up the rest at this rate.
Another grunt in reply as I passed.
Caroline was aware that being dropped like this is soul destroying which is why I was banished behind in the first place. To me this is just another climb, to Sal and Claire this is like Everest and my racing past won't lessen that. I looked ahead to the others, climbing steadily in a tight group, a look behind revealed I already had a good twenty metres over Claire, that does it.
I waited for a couple of cars to come past then turned around dropping back past Claire before returning to going uphill just behind Sal.
“Wotcha,” gasp, “doing?”
“Getting you to the top.”
“I'm crap,” ugh, “at hills.”
“You can be better, you're trying to force it, you need to relax.”
“If,” gasp, “you say so.”
“You're up the worst bit by the looks of things so we can work on your technique.”
It took a minute or two but we got her breathing and with it her heart rate under control, a change of gear and riding position and we started to make ground on Claire ahead of us. I stayed with Sal until we gained her wheel only then sending her ahead.
Claire's head dropped as she realised who had overtaken her, I nearly rode into her wheel as her pace dropped immediately.
I pulled alongside and proceeded to give her a few metres push, I couldn't keep it up, I'm not strong enough but it got her turning the pedals again.
“Come on C, if Sal can do it you can.”
Sal was now riding steadily a few metres ahead of us.
“So don't waste so much energy, how're you going to cope in Italy and Switzerland?”
That seemed to do the trick and by the time we emerged into open country the previously increasing gap up to the others was slowly but steadily closing again. We rode steadily, the girls now looking much better than they had been a few minutes ago. I've seen this sort of climb elsewhere, the summit, or close to it, visible a couple of kilometres ahead. I'm not sure if Caroline was aware of what was going on behind her but the hundred metre gap started to increase again as they dialled up the speed.
“Come on, they're not getting away with that,” I asserted .
“They'll wait on the other side,” Claire wheezed at us .
“They might but it won't happen in a race.”
“He's right Claire,” Sal agreed.
“I reckon we can get up to them before the top; we can rest on the downhill.”
“Alright then,” Claire sighed.
“Just hang on to my wheel.”
Having spent a good chunk of the climb at a slower pace than I'd have chosen I was reasonably fresh so cranking up the pace wasn't too much of a deal. Making sure it wasn't too much for the others was more difficult but the gap started to close again.
Caroline was obviously paying more attention than I thought as she let the others go ahead allowing us to overtake her in short order.
“Well done girls,” she beamed.
The lack of breath now was due to the serious effort going into the chase, I had to swing off shortly after for a breather but with the front group less than fifty yards away first Sal then Claire took a bash at pace setting. With the mopeds engine behind giving encouragement we didn't quite make contact by the summit but we weren't far over when two became one.
“What happened to you man? I was expecting you miles back like.” Josh opined as we took a breather when the road tipped downwards.
“Just getting the girls up.”
“Aye we dropped them on the first bend, they were manic eh?”
“Not nice, I came up to them on the steep bit.”
Caroline disturbed our tête a tête. “Come on you two, we've got some lunch booked in half an hour back at the Llanwyddyn.”
“Come on guys, let's wind this thing up!”
“Flippin' Germans always wanting to push the envelope!” Mand groaned even as she selected a higher gear.
It was a fast descent, a bit bouncy in places, not too much traffic apart from the parked cars in the village about halfway down. At the next junction we made another right hand turn, back home we usually race and train clockwise to avoid turning across the traffic, here in blighty it's the other way around. Although it was a ‘B' road it was pretty narrow and we soon lined out as we started to climb easily up the narrow valley. The top of the pass wasn't high; there was no significant gradient to master so we held together pretty well. The final descent back to today's base we used for a warm down, the midday sun was making a valiant attempt at warming things up.
“‘Bout time, we were gonna eat yours if you didn't arrive soon.” Geth grinned when we trooped into the back room BC had arranged.
“Get yourselves some food girls, “ Steve instructed, “we'll talk about what we've done this morning while you eat.”
It was a buffet lunch, nothing spicy of course but a reasonable selection of salad stuff, meat, cheese and so on, fruit for dessert. Of course everyone had a good appetite, the lads were just about finished when we arrived so we had to put up with their jibes as we ate.
I had wondered why the lads hadn't caught us on our loop, it turns out that they had spent the morning circling the lake outside concentrating on time trialling technique – over the Channel they don't do the fast flat roads that are the staple of UK time trialling. We tend to have more technical circuits of no fixed length so it's all about the ride on the day.
“I think we made some big advances today,“ Caro stated, “Sally, Claire, you both happier with climbing now?”
“A bit,” Sal agreed, “when Drew passed me on that climb it was like ‘how's he doing that', it was like there was a motor on his bike. When he came back and broke it down, you know, breathing, position, cadence it all made sense. It's not like I'll ever be a great climber but I reckon I've got a chance of hanging in with the bunch.”
“Like Sal says, I didn't get it when we talked about it before but it sort of clicked today.”
By now I was well into blush mode.
“What about you Drew, I didn't tell you to help Claire and Sally.”
“Well I erm thought, well the speed they were going we'd miss lunch so anything that got them up the hill was good.”
That caused a few chuckles, it was clearly a lie and everyone knew it but I didn't have the words to explain properly and Caro didn't push it.
“Okay then,” Steve got our attention, “my lot, front and ready five minutes, girls, you've got another fifteen.”
to be continued....
© Maddy Bell 06.05.13