London to Luxembourg 2017: dictation

London to Luxembourg 2017: dictation

Team Kendall edged the Send-Off. With bacon sarnies, not 1 but 2 support vans, a mechanic, masseur and team photo (starring a badly constipated Chard). Not forgetting the 25km less riding than Team Missile riding out from Missile Towers had to knock off before they could even begin to think about catching up with Kendall’s Cohort.

Fuelled by a few donuts leftover from the Missile’s pre-ride midnight feast and verbally abused by 1 of the Missile’s Roehampton neighbours as he drunkenly staggered out of the William Hill (the neighbour not the Missile) the mood was edgy in Team Missile as it battled the South Circular.

No surprise really when you consider Chairman Kendall (Junior’s) ominous designs for the Bicycle Moaning Collective’s Annual 300/3 Tour. Yes, there was the preferential treatment for the Chairman’s Cabal, but even they were not to be spared the ardours of a route that tested then broke, then broke some more even the most gnarled veterans of past BMC tours.

Not to mention the Bear’s newbies, heartlessly abandoned to fend for themselves by their host after the super-hot ride to Dover.

The London to Dover route, familiar and welcome in the unique way that it combines tranquil Kentish lanes with frenetic Kentish A-roads populated by angry Kents*, is nevertheless effective in getting the job of catching a ferry done. The only shadow cast by the scorching sun was that damn Danton Lane climb, never disappointing in its brutality or its picture-postcard view of the Eurotunnel terminal from the top.

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(Dover looked splendid too, that’s not a typo).

 

Don’t mistake this as a letter of complaint or an expression of dissatisfaction. To the contrary. This is the very ideology of a BMC Tour. And we’ve not even got to the Feared (in a good way) Day 2. Day 1 was still to be enjoyed, our BMC Life President had surpassed himself with a quality lakeside retreat (that wouldn’t disappoint an African Despot), to rest weary legs and unwind after the totally unnecessary and wholly predictable race to the finish line by BMC elders who should know better.

Only the most autocratic leader could devise Day 2. 200km gruelling, cooking miles across the Northern extremes of France. Yes, it was flat, yes there were peaceful canals but there were also grassy fields (to be crossed on foot) steep flights of stairs (for bikes to be carried down) crystal meth tunnels to be negotiated. The oppressive heat meant that the BMC was spread out across the length of the bonus cycle tracks, bottles ran dry, sweat poured out – creating a Thai-dye cycle kit of a fashion not seen since the late 1990s.


We’ll never know if those camels were real or a sun-induced mirage.

After avoiding a ‘trench-of-death’ and admiring the Missile’s solo chase to catch the riders he’d generously afforded an unconventional ‘half a kebab head start’ the post-Apocalyptic silhouette of Charleroi was a welcome vision. Towering, derelict industrial relics marked our finish line. More importantly it meant rehydration. Rarely have endurance athletes quenched their thirst so voluminously as Mechanic Glenn worked on the street, attracting a following amongst the interesting locals (that’s interesting not interested).

All that was left of a Day 2 that lived up to its billing, was for Dave-O to have his customary ‘Cycling-Induced Whitey’ and for the really dehydrated to head to Charleroi’s best Irish bar, surely just a coincidence that it was located next to the hotel.

Day 3 should be easy by comparison (if you could get out of the lifts). We even had a local guide. Not since Cologne had the Tour enjoyed indigenous participation. Erwin rode into town on what quite possibly (but was probably not) Cavendish’s spare Cervelo. With its gold chain hinting at superior performance, Erwin’s bike and fresh legs were the envy of the group.

The temperature had dropped but the total scheduled ascent had not. The route profile looked as inviting as a dragon’s back. Only the most heinous Martinet could impose a Day 3 that topped Day 2. 190km better. 3500m ascent much much worse. It was no wonder that the minions dropped their protected ride, it was every man (and minion) for themselves.

But as brutal as it was, Day 3’s route was cycling perfection. Where there was beauty it was swiftly followed by pain. Every mini-alpine-like descent, was cruelly followed by a punchy ascent. Big climbs. Long climbs, stretching for kilometres-climbs.

From ‘kilometre ridiculously early’ the notion of the traditional front, middle or rear group melted into irrelevance. The Ardennes was exacting its toll. Groups were strung out such that membership of any 1 group was a loose concept. This was before Ming the Merciless played his Ace: Montagne de la Croix (Dinant). Short, sharp and wall like. Not great on a bike, not great on foot (in cleats) either. Crampons would’ve been more suitable.

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Post the Wall, inevitably the first rumblings of discontent could be heard. The Regime was close to crumbling, with the battered Peloton reduced to eating 2-day old sausage rolls on the pavement, maybe the Generalissimo had gone too far this time. The grip of his iron fist showed signs of weakening as riders dared to disobey his authority and escape off the front of the subjugated peloton on the final awesome descent into Luxembourg.

But this being a BMC 300/3, when the beers started to flow in the centre of Luxembourg (after a few inevitable diversions), the Wall, the near starvation, the enforced captivity of a young masseur in the back of a van, the double ‘sting in the tail’ climb into Luxembourg was forgotten. Dear Leader that was the toughest 300/3 yet but it might just have been one of the best.

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Thanks to all the BMC Riders, Support Crew and of course Stevo for making London to Luxembourg 2017 some if the best fun you can have for 3 days (on a bike).

 

*Kents: residents of Kent, when positioned behind the wheel of a car, easily mistaken for….

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the name isn’t important

the name isn’t important

We failed. Failure tasted sweet: a bag of M&S Percy Pigs consumed on the floor of the train to London Euston from Milton Keynes Central (with zero guilt).

Royal Leamington Spa was the ambitious destination for our Grand Union Canal based cycling adventure – because it sounded grand – by Sunday lunchtime, somewhere between Tring and Leighton Buzzard we’d settled for Milton Keynes (by then not caring that it sounded crap).

Brentford to Milton Keynes by the Grand Union Canal Towpath.

the canal

115km barely scratched below the surface of the canal and its mystique – I can’t do it justice in just one post.  Nor its humble towpath, the supporting act to the main event of the dead calm canal waters, that transported us from urban to rural, through town and country, through industrial wastelands and into open fields.

There was no need for complicated navigation, minimal turns, few junctions, no competing vehicles or traffic lights, it guided us all the way.  Not quite an autopilot but close, leaving us to enjoy a journey through Autumn’s clear skied, golden leaved explosion of colours; doubled up in sublime reflections in the canal waters.

the riding

Canal towpaths are flat. Easy then? Not exactly. You’re pushing on all the time.  No coasting as the terrain is too rough, no drafting as you need to see the obstacles on the path ahead, no relaxing either as a frozen puzzle or greasy cobble could pitch you into the November-cold canal waters.

Hunger was a constant, gnawing at our stomachs – the result of constant unrelenting calorie burning on the ever-changing surface, morphing through smooth-ish tarmac, squirming gravel, rutted track, smooth mud, sumptuous leaf carpet (hiding tree roots), thick grass.  We all complained that our chamois cream hadn’t lasted the distance. Mine had barely made it to Watford (and I was double-shorting!)  We weren’t in control.  This was the antithesis to road biking.

the bike

The bike did well.  Nothing fell off.  Not even a puncture.  Clearance was an issue at the end.  It’s ‘steel is real’ frame clunked over any terrain the towpath could throw its way. It’s weight probably an advantage as it soaked up and ironed out the unrelenting ruts and bumps, not bucking up and down but ploughing onwards stoically, without drama. What more could I want?

I want a proper adventure bike like the other 2!

the end?

To the contrary, this felt like the start of something new, fathoming out the canal, its history, secrets and ways of life.  France by Gravel Bike may have to wait for Little England by Canal Towpath.

you’re fooling no one with that

you’re fooling no one with that

Adventure Road Bikes are still not a satisfactorily scratched itch.  So, I got one.  If it looks suspiciously like my old steel commuter with 32c size tyres and thick handlebar tape. It’s because it is.

This itch has got worse, more irritating, more urgent as I’ve stumbled upon an adventure for an adventure road bike: Riding the Grand Union Canal north from Brentford (London) as far as we can get in 6 hours (which might only be Milton Keynes).

Why’s the itch so bad?

Because I don’t have an adventure road bike.  I’ve got an old steel commuter with too-big tyres and zero clearance.  Or more accurately only 2mm clearance between the rear tyre and the front derailleur braze on the downtube.  Or even more accurately: a perfect mud/dirt/leaf/stone-catching bike clogger.

The guys I’m riding with are armed with bona-fide Adventure Road bikes.  They’re early adopters and evangelical with regards adventure road bikes.  I’m worried that having roped them into the Grand Union Adventure I’m going to ruin it by grinding to a slow, painful clogged up stop.  Probably in the outskirts of Brentford.

The itch got so bad.  In this afternoon’s driving rain, I went for a test ride on the Tamsin Trail around Richmond Park to ease my fears or at least realise them early.  The Tamsin trail is for runners and leisurely cyclists – not somewhere the serious cyclist would venture.

Except that in the rain the 7-mile perimeter trail is suitably gravelly-muddy and littered with sodden, slippery leaves, an appealing blazing carpet of red, oranges and golds that distracts from their treacherous slipperiness.  A nightmare for a road bike.  Perfect for an adventure road bike.

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Conclusion A) My old steel commuter even with big tyres is not an adventure road bike and 6 hours on the Grand Union Canal starting at 6am this Sunday morning is going to be an adventure (of sorts…)

Conclusion B) You don’t have to go far or spend big to enjoy yourself in a whole new way.  Try some big tyres and thick handlebar tape on an unloved old bike and make something unexpected out of nothing, turn routine on its head and see what you take for granted a little differently.

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