Today Staffordshire Goes Pedalling and we join in, sadly leaving the birthday boy, Doggo, at home. L has blagged the 35 mile route which means I have to man up and do the full 70 mile option. The start is at the rather pleasant location of Shugborough Hall.
I roll out at 8.30am with an hour's head start on L. The initial group of about 20 that I’m placed with seem to go off at a steady enough pace and I’m happy to stick with them. As we leave, we are pre-warned that the only hills in the main route are early on and within three miles we are heading up a climb on Cannock Chase. I change down to a lower gear and my chain promptly comes off. Bugger. By the time I’ve got oily and reattached it, my group are no longer looking quite so sedate and are already half way up the climb. I set off in pursuit.
Pretty soon there are bodies all over the hill but I don’t find it that testing and pass most of them, eventually catching up with the front of the group, although gasping and out of breath a touch. Just as I do the four girls in the group opt to pull over to admire each other’s sunglasses. Two of the guys in the group pull over as well, presumably to admire the girls admiring their sunglasses. The remaining four of us 'surge' over the top and immediately form a breakaway group.
We are making reasonable, if unspectacular, progress until a chap appears out of nowhere, doing about twice our pace and seemingly intent on time trailing his way solo through the whole distance. Everyone, except me, attempts to jump on his wheel. Total madness.
Momentarily abandoned and on a descent, I watch a girl upfront take a wrong turn, attempt a swift u-turn, hit some gravel and down she goes. I stop to scrape her off the tarmac and help her wobble to the curb for a sit down. There are plenty of signs on the route but they are small, in not very bright colours and often they do not give you enough advance warning of upcoming turns.
I leave the girl babbling to herself and push on. One by one I catch the foolhardy ex-members of my breakaway group, now with their tails firmly between their legs. I stick with one of them and with Cannock Chase now behind us we head through Lichfield. We’re going nowhere fast again but I’m happy to gently advance towards the first feed station which is after 36 miles. Then bizarrely the guy I’m following decides to stop and dismount in the middle of the road. I swerve around him and am almost wiped out by the fast moving peloton coming up behind me, which I had no idea was so close. Where was the chap on the motorbike holding the blackboard telling me that they were like 5 seconds behind?
As everyone pieces their nerves back together I try to look as anonymous as possible amongst their number and hitch a ride. We head over the A38 and round past Catton Hall where there is as expected a dog show in progress, there always is. Although not in their usual field that’s been taken over by the Bloodstock musical festival.
Then we roll in to the feed at Barton Under Needwood. Held in a bike shop with one toilet (big queue) and a stock of bananas, water, energy bars and gels. No tea and cake, shame. The CNP black cherry gels are rather nice though and would be great drizzled on ice cream.
The peloton that I swept in with are still recuperating or OD-ing on the black cherry, so I head off alone but following someone, so that they can spot the signs for me. Even then I miss one, even though the rider I was following took the turn.
That rider is one of the girls who was in the group I chased up the initial climb and eventually the rest of her group sweep us both up and yay, I’m moving swiftly in a group again. Then disaster. None of the eight of us see the upcoming right turn until it’s too late. The chap pulling on the front yells as we pass it, the girl behind him screams as she passes it, clips him and goes down. The girl behind goes over the top of her and the person behind her, me, takes swift but successful evasive action. We all stand at the road side and survey the damage count... two cracked helmets, a pair of smashed sunglasses, a twisted but fixable set of front forks and quite a bit of blood.
The group quickly swells to about 30 concerned faces, so I make my excuses and hope-you're-oks and head off to the second feed at Blithfield Reservoir which is just a mile away. If this look familiar, it is, it’s where I cycled in the triathlon last weekend and I now head across the very same causeway. The feed also has cakes, so that’s good. Still no tea though. Whilst there I get a text from L, saying she’s now at the finish. So it sounds like her new tyres stayed up.
I have just 12 miles to go, which is achieved without incident and back in a group.
At the finish there is real ale, a decent ham roll and bag full of bling that sadly will mostly go in the bin.
Afterwards we head home to the boys and take an evening stroll to Beeston. There we have fish and chips on a park bench. It's sort of a post-event treat for us but also for the birthday boy. Unfortunately they are very greasy and remind me why I don’t have Fish and Chips very often. They're never as good as you remember. Then on to the Crown for some decent-ish beers.
(Saturday 10th August)