Sharapova goes to Largs
Sunday. 6am. The things I do for this cycle training malarky. Up and at ’em to get round to the starting point for the day’s cycle to Largs (remember the train?) – Big J’s house. So I’m getting in an extra 6 or so miles as a ‘warm up’ by cycling over to his place. When I arrive (a couple of minutes later than the 7.30 start time) everyone’s getting kitted out in the new cycle jerseys which arrived a few days before (John, Sammy and Brian). A smart looking team get lined up for photo’s, with poor Niamh (Big J’s 11 yr old) roped in at this early hour on Sunday morning as photographer. A few “drive-by” photos and we’re ready to go, except John is having some sort of issue, and is in and out the house for bits n bobs. The rest of us, getting a bit chilly standing (sitting?) around waiting head off, knowing he’ll soon catch up. I lead off, calling behind for directions as I’m not sure which way we’re going (Largs is somewhere I drive to. In a car on motorway/ dual carriageways. Which is sensible, its quite far away). We’re soon working our small train of 3 well, setting a good pace and its not long until we’ve left the more built up areas for the countryside. Brian and Sammy are not happy at the spatter from the occasional puddle/ damp stretch of road soiling their pristine new jerseys, but I’m not paying much attention as I’m starting to wonder if I overdid the training this week (3 pacey 6 mile runs and two 15/18 mile cycles). The first incline of any note and I’ve dropped off the back. They wait at the top, and we get to admire the view – the sun is out, though its still chilly – as John appears a short distance behind us. He goes to pull out his camera, but can’t find it in any of his pockets – he has the case though. Has it fallen out on the road? A quick phone call home confirms he actually left it behind, so camera phone it has to be. John’s new carbon Trek is ‘not feeling right’, swapped wheels and tweaked handlebars are not what they should be, but some road-side mechanicking from Sammy seems to do the trick and we’re good to go.
I take off a little ahead of the group (chance to go a bit slower til they catch me up), but have only gone a mile or so around the loch and there’s no sign behind, so pull over, grab my phone and take a few piccies at Loch Thom. Sammy and Brian round the corner, but John isn’t with them.
He turns up moments later, something not right with his gears now. More quick fixes and we’re off again. The road gets a bit hilly and I’m starting to regret my sub-40 10k on Monday, and drop behind the rest again. But its not long before there’s a good downhill stretch and not being with the group is of little consequence – the road down in to Greenock is steep and allows for a good turn of speed.
We regroup at the bottom, and I refuel on a Torq bar, a gel, a few Zip-vit sweets and wash it down with some lucozade. There’s a nasty little ‘thigh-burner’ coming up and I want to be ready for it. We set off, the first left turn is up a fairly steep hill, then a right up a slightly easier incline (I’m dropped, again), left twice more before the wee bugger of a hill I remember from back in January. At this point, no-one is in sight, but I recall school shot-putting practice – I was rubbish, but a fellow pupil from my athletics club (a chunky thrower) recommended grunting will get you an extra few feet, so decided this must translate into hill climbing, go all Sharapova and grunt my way up the hill, putting in a decent (for me) turn of speed to reach the summit.
We travel on and down into Largs without incident, though I seem to lose touch with the group with regularity, we regroup outside the ice-cream shop. A snack break, then a few photos of us looking dapper in our team kit with the seaside behind us (though I’m too busy snacking to get my camera-phone out), and we take off towards the next challenge – the Hairy Brae. We are instantly put at a disadvantage, the lights are red at the start of the climb, forcing us all to start from a standstill before we can push upwards. I stick to the group for the first section, but am soon left behind, and a lorry gets between me and the group, causing a concertina of traffic behind it. I’m tempted to hang on to its trailer as it passes, but decide thats probably not the best plan in the world. No way am I stopping on this hill, so just keep plugging away, hoping the vehicles will get by without bumping me or the leading group. The lorry eventually gets by and the other traffic thins out, the climb continues, and I give a few brief attempts at upping my speed by standing on the pedals. This works out ok, so try and work in a few more ‘standy-up’ bits as I continue upwards. As the incline lessens, I start to speed up a little, trying to remember how long it is to the top (you don’t really pay attention to these things when you are driving the car along). I glance up along the now straight road, to see Mr. Whitevanman hurtling towards me on my side of the road as he overtakes a couple of small cars – I’m not liking the look of this, the road isn’t that wide, so move as close to the gutter as I can, and am missed by feet, though it feels much closer as I’m buffeted by the van as he zooms by and I offer him some unheard driving advice and a few choice words of abuse.
The top comes soon enough, and the rest wait in the roadside parking bay, arguing whether a 54/25 or 26 (28?) is the way to go. I’ve no real idea what they are on about (something to do with gears/cog sizes I gather), so just take the opportunity to slug back some juice while they come to any sort of conclusion. We set off in a train, the rolling of the road is such that I’m able to keep pace comfortably, and we pick up a roaring pace as the road takes on a combination of level and downward slopes, with few upward sections to slow our progress. At one point I find myself at the lead, zipping downhill and unable to keep up with the pedals and no bigger gears left. Realising the futility of continuing pedalling when I’m not actually achieving anything, and the slighly scary speed we are at (knocking on 40mph) entering a corner, I stop pedaling. Apparently this is bad form, to which John yells – keep pedaling! so I do, to little effect other than looking like I’ve a vague notion of what to do. I guess I need another cog somewhere for these odd speedy bits. 28?
The pace settles down as we pass Kilbirnie before another ‘hill’ is to come (around Lochwinnoch) after which I’m warned we take a right turn on the downhill. The “up” doesn’t take long to spread us out, and its not much longer before I’ve lost sight of the team again. The ‘hill’ seems to be over and there’s no sign of a right turn or in fact anything much other than traffic cones on various bits of ‘road closed except for access’ sections. I occasionally see road bike tyre tracks leading out of puddles so think I’m going the correct route, but begin to wonder if I’ve somehow missed a turning somewhere along the way. I’m not that bothered, as I’ve a vague notion of where I am, as I’ve a recollection of being round these parts in the pouring rain/ wind with Mark M a few weeks previous, so tootle along regardless, with a plan of working out a way back home solo if need be. My concerns are soon over, as I hit a downward section, and can see a few black and white jerseys ahead, as the three others wait in the promised right turn. We regroup, as a couple of other cyclists head down the hill I’ve just come down, the second yelling to his friend to ‘go right’ as he zooms on oblivious. We have a short conversation, offering ourselves as a target for him and his buddy once he realises he’s missed the turn. We set off again, and I’m struggling to maintain contact, but notice I’m averaging just around 15mph over the route as we head into Bridge of Weir. The road flattens out, the team keen to hit their target 17mph average, but I’m fading and not up to their pace. However, I’m still keeping my own pace well above 15, so am happy enough on my own, though regretting not hanging on the back a bit longer as I’m not really sure where I’m going. I soon see a junction ahead signed for Paisley to the right, Erskine left, can’t see the guys, so reckon Paisley is the way for me (it isn’t). As I close in on the junction, I see them on the left, so slow to a stop. Left it is. A squad of purple/blue clad cyclists come by as we discuss my proposed route (apparently the Paisley road way ‘wouldn’t be fun’ and ends up on the motorway), one of whom plays with the oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road eliciting a few angry beeps from a car. We turn left, and I tuck in behind John determined to hang on for the last few miles.
We hit a roundabout, and it seems Brian has been left behind. In the team spirit of the moment (polite translation of what passes between the guys – “he’ll catch us up”), we forge on, but John and Sammy’s pace is proving hard to match. They leave me on a slow climb, but a dozen or so of our purple/blue friends appear behind me soon after, so I put in a surge to latch on to the last in the group as they come by (Mark M’s words of “closer” echoing in my head). Now this is more like it. I’m barely putting in any effort, and am cruising along at the back of this three-wide group. Bliss. Sadly this easy going is short-lived, as they all turn off, bar one, a short distance along the way. I thank them for the tow, and try to hang on to my new friend, who has spotted John and Sammy ahead, and has upped his pace to catch them. He reaches them stopped at a set of lights lights. I start to get into range just after the lights change and they’ve surged off, but 70-odd miles are taking their toll and I can’t match their speed. I drop off before making contact, but am not that far behind as we near the round-a-bout leading to John’s house. Purple/blue goes straight on, J&S turn right, but I’m not going to catch them now. I roll up to John’s slightly ahead of Brian – turns out he couldn’t get clipped in back at the Paisley/Erskine turn and was playing catch-up all the way, missing out on the tow-advantage of team purple/blue that I was lucky enough to get.
Top result for me – 15.5mph average, 72.08 miles. My best average to date and my longest ever cycle in the bag. And even better – no train-ticket required.
More photos (proper camera not my basic phone one will hopefully come via Big J), carrot cake (thanks Mrs. Sammy!) chit-chat about the day, and then I take a ‘recovery’ ride for the 6-miles back home.
Shouldn’t have reset my Garmin, got an extra 0.1 mph speed on this last 6 miles…