Tour Series: Aberdeen (Women’s race)

Position: 15th (let’s not dwell on the fact that there were only 16 female competitors on the start line)

I might as well start entitling all cycling related posts ‘Another of Roz’s dumbass ideas’, because yet again I found myself, on Thursday, May 25th, waking up with an overwhelming sense of dread.  The Tour Series was coming to Aberdeen, and as she had e-mailed suggesting a women’s race (but, like, IN THE FUTURE IF THEY WERE EVER TO RETURN), they obliged, which meant that SHE was obliged to sign up, and coerce as many victims fellow female cyclists into signing up as well, thereby proving the organisers weren’t wasting their efforts.  And because I am clearly incapable of saying ‘no’, I willingly entered, knowing fully that I was likely to face severe public humiliation.  But whatever, you know, support local shit.

As if to make up for my erroneous decision, the weather played nicely.  In fact, it was easily one of the most beautiful days Aberdeen had been graced with this year: glorious sunshine, blindingly blue skies, and temperatures that lured thousands of locals out as spectators (or, by chance, into beer gardens of the pubs surrounding the course).  I mean, I wore flip flops and considered removing my sweater – it felt like being on holiday.

As my teaching timetable is currently light, thanks to the fact that the senior kids are all on study leave, I was able to duck out early – which was just as well, as I had some bike maintenance to take care of.  During a social ride the previous evening, after casually commenting that I was still on the same tyres and inner tubes that came with my bike back in 2013, I suffered my first ever puncture.  And my second.  And then my third.  In the end, one of our group – Trish – had to phone her husband for roadside pick up as we were out of inner tubes and we were stranded.

Having never actually changed an inner tube or tyre before by myself, I wanted all the time I could muster to get things sorted.  I also had to remove my pannier rack, lights, bluetooth speaker…  As it turns out, I have a lot of junk on my bike.  I’ll cut the tension right now and let you know the tyre swap was a success, and it also became disgustingly clear that I need to clean my bike more frequently.  Or, you know, ever.

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Once cleaned up, and with everything I needed in a rucksack, I cycled down to the AWCC support tent to meet Roz, Rosie (who had also been fooled into signing up), Katherine (who was taking part in the team challenge), and Eilidh (who was there to laugh at support us).

Fully expecting to make a fool of myself, I decided to play up to my role with some fancy dress.  However, the unseasonably warm weather dictated that I would have to ditch this idea, as I was dangerously close to overheating when I was standing still.  After all the effort I went to getting into the outfit, I felt disappointment as well as relief when I peeled it off again.

Before too long, Natalie had also materialised, and we anxiously talked tactics.  Chiefly, the conversation went something like this:

“Stick together and work as a team?  Then we won’t look so bad?”

“Deal.”

Fuckin’ LIARS.

After a few warm up laps in a nearby lane, we found ourselves being ushered to the start line for the briefing.  We were to race for 30 minutes on the 1.2km circuit, and we’d be told when our final laps were.  There was an eye-of-the-storm moment in the 30 seconds before the start when nobody really had anything else to say.  And there was no way of avoiding the hurt that was to come.  Natalie, Rosie, Roz, and myself had taken our position at the back of the back.

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And then it began.  I clipped in securely and pushed off with a mighty heave – only to have to brake as the two women in front of me struggled to get clipped in.  I was right on their back wheel and did think: Well, fuck, wouldn’t it be awesome if I crashed ON THE START LINE.  Thankfully, a pile up was avoided, and I tried to pick up speed, but Roz and Natalie were already specks in the distance.  I had been abandoned at the first hurdle!  I desperately tried to hold onto the wheel of the girls ahead of me, but those bitches are fast, and I was struggling.

My main fear going into this event was cornering.  Being notoriously terrible at turning (in particular, right hand turns, which dominated the course), I worried I’d either crash into a barrier or come to a complete standstill.  What I actually found was a newfound love of weaving in and out of the small side streets, as it actually seemed to give me a chance to catch up to people!  After a few laps, I could see Roz’s AWCC jersey looming closer, and made an effort to jump on her tail.

“Help.  Help.  I’m fucking dying.” -Roz

“Team effort?” – Me

The two of us, initially joined by Rosie, made up the back of the race, and worked together round the course.  Until Rosie sped off on a straight, leaving the two of us in her dust.  Still, a two man team trumps a solo death effort, so Roz and I took turns towing each other along and trying to keep morale high, despite the announcer commenting FREQUENTLY that we were not only in last place, but soon to be lapped.  He did comment we were still smiling though, totally unaware of the raspy ‘fuck you’ uttered between gritted teeth.

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I don’t understand why I’m smiling.  Ignore the smiling.

If there is one saving grace to going balls-to-the-wall, it’s that, somehow, time passes in a flash.  Before we knew it we heard we were on our final lap, and we had a quick agreement that we would have a ‘champion’s finish’ (not my words) and cross the line side by side.  Cornering the horrendous 180 degree turn for the final time, we dug in for the final uphill drag amidst wild cheering and applause.

In the end, we had only been lapped by the three leaders, so I’m pretty sure we didn’t suck too hard.  Rosie finished two spots ahead of us, with Natalie just ahead of her.  We were basically champions.  But never mind that – we had beers to drink, dinner to eat, and, most importantly, the men’s pro race to cheer on!

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King of the Mountains 110 mile Sportive

Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk.  That will teach you to keep your mouth shut. -Ernest Hemingway

If only.  -Me

Time: 9:13:19

Medal: No

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Much in the same way I actively avoided anything to do with running when, back in September 2014, I picked up what I thought was a niggle, but was actually the death knell on my long distance running adventures, in the dark days of being housebound earlier this year I was creating draft eBay listings for my bikes, listening (and wailing along) to Nick Cave, and languidly sinking back liquor in a glass that was most definitely less than half full.  I hid every notification from cycling related groups, and aggressively declined facebook event invitations to social rides.  Any evidence that I had ever been on a bike was buried in the dusky corners of my hallway closet, shut out of sight, out of mind.  So when Roz took me on my tentative first ride back in February, I cautiously started considering the possibilities.

Naturally, this progressed to typing in my bank card details on an online entry for a punishing 110 mile sportive to the beat of Whitesnake’s ‘Here I Go Again’ in a dreamy beer fog.

Except this time I wasn’t going to be on my own when it came to undertaking this disgusting ride.  In fact, it wasn’t even my idea in the first place.  Roz had signed up for it (and booked a hotel room with beds aplenty) under the (false) assumption that a few others would sign up with her.  Instead, they did the sensible thing and booked a girls weekend in Aviemore with some social cycling and wine, and Roz, as a matter of principal, refused to abandon the event.  Not one to miss out on grievous genital harm, I decided to join her.

Following my entry in February, I completely forgot that the event existed until it loomed dangerously close.  In an attempt to ‘train’ for it, I went on a few rides out to the notorious Cairn o’Mount to prepare for some of the steep ascents I knew we would be tackling, as much of the route is similar to the Etape Royale that I rode last September, and which was not in the distant enough past for me to ignore memories of burning quads while climbing the mighty Lecht.

On the Saturday before, Roz picked me up and we drove out to Tarland where we checked in to our hotel (which was essentially a room above a bar), had dinner, and then settled in for a Eurovision Pyjama Party.  Disregarding the brief 01:00 drunken argument outside our window, we both got a reasonable rest, and were up at 06:00 to shovel food into our mouths and kit up.  The forecast had varied between sunshine and light showers to torrential rain, so a fresh mist and patches of clear sky was an acceptable sight to behold when we lumbered outside and into the car for the short drive to Aboyne.

Roz:  So.  This is occurring.

Me:  Yep.  Death or glory.

Wanting to get this shit-show on the road as soon as possible, we managed to squeeze into the first wave setting off at 08:00, tucking into the peloton of lycra clad dudes… until the first incline, when they pulled away and into the distance.  It was an early indication of what was to come, just in case the name – King of the fuckin’ Mountains – did not suggest strongly enough the kind of terrain we’d be facing.

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It might be telling that of the 225 finishers of the 110 mile route, there were only 11 females.  Roz and I had decided that in order to get through the day we would adopt a ‘casual’ pace and try to conserve as much energy as possible for the later, steeper, shittier hills.  In hindsight, considering the state of my legs in the final, dragging miles, this was a wise decision.

We cruised over Queen’s View and the Suie hill, also passing the turn-off for the shorter, 100km route with some reluctance.  After stocking up on water at the first aid station, we conquered the Cabrach, and descended into Dufftown.  I strongly suggested a pit stop here, and we had something to eat and drink from a local shop (and stocked up on painkillers for Roz), enjoying being swathed in the glorious sunshine that had wrestled through the thick morning cloud as we waved to fellow riders as they passed.  We were 50 miles in.  We felt OK. 3 hills down, 3 to go.

From Dufftown came the 18 mile stretch to Tomintoul, which I have only ever aggressively loathed.  This was no exception.  We battled against a vicious headwind on the net incline, very much looking forward to the next aid station (and the change in direction).  Sadly, upon arrival at the Tomintoul aid station, we were quickly informed that they had run out of water.  I had about a healthy gulp left in my bottle, but a couple of the riders who had decided to withdraw offered up what they had left, and one of the marshals procured a can of Coke for us.  Just as we were setting off again, the sweeper van came to collect the riders who wanted out, and it was sorely tempting to throw our bikes in and call it a day, but, you know, death or glory.  And we were still breathing.

We took it slow and easy for the few miles that lead to the bottom of the Lecht, and about half a mile before the climb began I switched on my bluetooth speaker and got my cycling playlist on in time for the ski centre to loom into view up in the distance.  

Once conquered, it was the death-grip descent in fierce crosswinds that made you really fear death momentarily before Gairnshiel sprung up in front of you.  Despite being less elevation, Gairnshiel actually felt tougher than the Lecht, but the thought of the third and final aid station at the top was motivation to just get to the top.  Thankfully, this time we were met by plentiful supplies, and after a quick rest, Roz and I were ready to plunge into our final 23 miles.  Piece of piss.

For the second time on the course, we were cruelly forced to pass a turn-off for the shorter route in order to take on one final climb – Strone.  Despite what the filthy, lying marshals had claimed, Strone did not, in fact, feel like a steady, gentle climb, fuck you very much.  The summit, however, did provide welcome relief, in part due to the knowledge that the course was – largely – all downhill from here.

We flew down the road, tailwind mercifully pushing us along towards Ballatar, where we both stopped for a comfort break.  There is only so much an undercarriage can take, after all.  Gingerly getting onto our bikes for the final time, we began the death march home – 10 miles of grunting, swearing, and accepting delirium.  

After a few moments of doing nothing but standing still in silence after finishing, we wordlessly made our way back to Roz’s car to load up and get home.  Kudos to her for managing to drive us back, because I was drooling in the passenger seat by this point.  

24 hours later, still breathing, no longer aching from everywhere, and the glory is starting to soak in.  We are Kings.  Kings of Mountains.