Sunday, 19 May 2013


When The Guy From Tunbridge Wells called about the bicycle I’d told him he’d need to be at my house by 11.00 the next morning. I was nervous that this relatively early hour might jeopardise the sale, for The Guy From Tunbridge Wells was a young man and in my experience young men like to get up late, especially at weekends. I didn’t know how long the journey would take him but I knew that the M25 – London’s orbital – would be involved, and was fairly certain that he would have to be on the road before 09.30 to be sure of making our appointment. But I had another appointment that day: at 13.00 in Morden Hall Park with the members of Carlos-Weltschmerz, an engagement of great significance.
            The Guy From Tunbridge Wells arrived 10 minutes early and appeared reluctant to enter into cycling based discussion of any great depth. He asked a few cursory questions but I didn’t get the sense that my answers were of much consequence to him. He appeared wary of me, in fact, yet surprised when I allowed him to take the bike for a ride unaccompanied. Teenagers…
            In terms of making a sale I had a good feeling from the off. He struggled in identifying the Carlos from the Romani, as they stood against each other in my hallway, and I suppose either may have sufficed. Why was I selling one of them?
‘Because I can’t afford to keep both.’
‘Oh. Is there anything wrong with the one you’re selling?’
‘No, the Romani just serves my needs better. It cost more.’
The look of the bike was the thing - I don't suppose he cared too much about the performance. I still fully expected having to haggle a bit, but he paid what I'd been asking for and was swiftly on his way.

The atmospheric conditions were pleasant when Mommersteeg and I left Twickenham, although I hesitated over whether or not to take my new sunglasses, for the forecast was not in our favour. I don’t like having to carry superfluous material on my person, but a satisfyingly strong burst of sunshine broke through just at the moment I opened the front door, so I took them.
            We cycled through Richmond Park and down the A3, before joining Coombe Lane to Raynes Park. We then followed the small gyratory to the other side of the train tracks, joined Kingston Road, but then turned right too far along it, missing the turning off of Bushey Road that would have led us straight to Morden Hall Park. On realising our mistake we improvised a shortcut alongside the River Wandle, which unintentionally brought us upon our intended destination via its north-easterly aspect. Mommersteeg and I were exactly seven minutes late for the rendezvous, but no one seemed to notice.
            Beverages were purchased and introductions were made. I observed that Gowland’s Bianchi was not typically celeste, but a deeper, more royal blue, which suited it well. I was probably the only one that cared. Mommersteeg talked of the new Condor Squadra he’d picked up just a few days before, which he was too protective over to bring along for the ride. And jerseys were mentioned – of course jerseys were mentioned.
            After our coffee, Wenborn led the way towards Battersea, weaving through Merton, Summerstown, Earlsfield, Wandsworth and Clapham. Once we’d cut through Battersea Park, I took over the lead and we crossed over Chelsea Bridge and followed the A3212 all the way to Westminster.
            Our destination was Rapha Cycle Club on Brewer Street, Soho, to stop for another coffee and to watch half an hour or so of the Giro d’Italia, in which Bradley Wiggins was suffering.  Unfortunately, this being central London, many other cyclists had similar ideas and we had to sit outside and grab whatever visuals we could from the pavement.
Such is the nature of the Rapha Cycle Club, Team Carlos-Weltschmerz felt rather underdressed. The weather forecast was partly to blame for this. Many of us had overcompensated in preparation for the negative forecast: cycle shorts were worn under looser outdoor garments; jerseys were obscured by anoraks; one of us wasn’t wearing any cycling gear at all.  But Carlos-Weltschmerz feels no pressure to conform to type and the staff at the Rapha Cycle Club were most welcoming, refusing to exact revenge for any perceived vestmental failings on our part.
Raining now – but not heavily – Wenborn and I led the group (a reflection of our geographical savvy) back along the Thames as far as Wandsworth Bridge, whereupon we crossed south over the river and stopped for alcoholic refreshment at The Ship, just at the end of Jew’s Row. We sat outside to mind our bikes, and the rain moved up a gear. After finishing his drink, Evans (S) announced he was leaving and cycled hard against the wind all the way back to Epsom. The rest of Carlos-Weltschmerz decamped to the Queen Adelaide for more ale – two more pints of the stuff. Or was it three?
I calculated that Mommersteeg and I rode 35 miles of ground over the course of the day.  Wenborn – who had not particularly benefitted from the meeting point being so close to his home – had cycled out to Box Hill in the morning to compensate, and will have travelled nearer 50. Gowland had come from Croyden so he probably chalked up a fair few miles too. Evans (S) will have had no reason to be dissatisfied either. But covering ground had not been the point of the day’s excursion: that had been for the members of Carlos-Weltschmerz to meet and form an integral unit.
            I had perceived a potential schism amongst the rank and file of the Weltschmerz, although I saw no need to impose a creed. The matter concerned the regulatory wearing of lycra cycling shorts from London to Brighton, with me in favour and Evans (S) personally opposed. On the grounds of comfort alone I thought this madness, but Evans (S) explained to me that his looser shorts incorporated a cycling-short style padding in the rear, so what was the problem? Wenborn, too, would be wearing baggier shorts, but over the top of a pair of regulation cycling shorts, his justification centring around the need for multiple pockets.  Mommersteeg and Gowland did not offer an opinion either way, although I suspect Mommersteeg will be a ‘cycling shorts only’ kind of guy. Gowland, meanwhile, remains something of an enigma.
It’s not really important, but when I started disseminating propaganda with a view to persuading everyone to wear retro-inspired jerseys, I’d just sort of assumed that people would be wearing black cycling shorts to match.  Apparently not, although by marked contrast my ‘order of the white sock’ seems to have been taken on board without the merest hint of dissent.
Our meeting also afforded the opportunity to gauge fitness levels and assess the team’s capability. Mommersteeg and Wenborn already have a clear advantage because they regularly commute into town on their bikes, and also own more capable machines.  Wenborn certainly looks to be the fittest of the lot at this stage, although no one is too off the pace. Thing is, there’s talk of a dual stop strategy: once at the halfway point and again at the top of Ditchling Beacon. The halfway stop off is by no means controversial – I’m sure I will be in need of a pause after 25 miles of uninterrupted peddling, and it should serve as a good incentive to keep the team together for as long as we can.  But to stop off at the top off Ditchling Beacon seems like a wasted opportunity. Why throw away the relief of the sharp descent that follows by stopping off to recuperate and take in the view?
Again, these are the thoughts of Evans (S) and Wenborn, and they’re both semi-veterans of the London to Brighton. More inclined to partake in triathlons and marathons respectively, the London to Brighton is their B-Movie, a laugh, entertainment – a mild challenge. One cannot admonish them for this, and it would go against the spirit of Weltschmerz to do so. Still, I’d been looking forward to quite an aggressive last quarter, and maybe even leading someone out toward the finish.
Training in full swing, I followed up Sunday’s cycle with 19 miles on Monday, 20 miles on Tuesday, 14 miles on Wednesday, eight on Thursday (which was supposed to be my day of rest) and another 19 on Friday. I know these aren’t massive distances, but it’s over a hundred miles covered in less than a week, and for me quite unprecedented. Furthermore, I’ve cycled them at an honourable pace.
            It seems incomprehensible, now, the idea of engaging the London to Brighton on Carlos, or indeed any bike other than the Romani Prestige. This is not to say that it would not have been possible – I am sure the Carlos would have handled fine up until the climb to Ditchling Beacon. In all probability, it would have coped with that too, assuming that the Suntour Ole rear derailleur didn’t fail me, which it sometimes did. But I recall how agitated I was three months ago, trying to decide whether to lavish money on the Carlos and get it up to speed, or replace it with another more race-worthy bike. The moment I laid down the deposit on the Romani, committing myself to its use, I felt a sense of relief, of doing what was necessary. But it was instinctive and the road-worthiness or otherwise, of either bicycle, is not really the point, for plenty of people finish the London to Brighton on any old bike.
The acquisition of the Romani roughly coincided with the moment I embarked in earnest on what one might sensationally call a training regimen. I had intended to commence my physical development earlier but circumstances conspired against me. Now I’m in full flow, minor injury having abated, warmer and drier conditions prevailing, and an absence of work bestowing ample opportunity. And the Romani is the machine on which I’m labouring, and it is proving a very satisfying ride. I suspect the Shimano gears and the Wolber TX Profil 622 700C rims, with their Campagnolo Record hubs, have been partly responsible, but if I was still riding the Carlos would I have known any better? If I was gifted a half-decent carbon road bike tomorrow, would I not then regard the Romani with equal dubiety? Hard to say, but I suspect the issue is a psychological one. I am reasonably assured of the Romani’s quality, even more persuaded of its aesthetic harmony, but those 115 miles have probably instilled a confidence I did not have when I sat down months ago to watch amateur footage on YouTube of the exhausted hordes flagellating themselves up Ditchling Beacon.


Whether “the event” will deliver the reward I’m hoping for is another matter. The idea, of course, was ‘to know what it is to ride en masse… and generally get some idea of what it must be like to ride in a Grand Tour.’ It’s ludicrous conceit, I admit, and it has been pressed upon me that the London to Brighton is not to be raced at all. There will be many others fit enough to ride more competitively but I suspect they will be sorts who belong to clubs, race in designated sportives, and just like the idea of laying down a personal best in an event that they may well enter every year to raise money for charity, or just to enjoy the traffic-free roads. How will these dedicated amateurs respond when the greenhorns of Carlos-Weltschmerz huff past them? Or will it just be me?  Will I be the only one pushing hard for a sub four hour finish (to include our stop on Turner's Hill)? Or will I have come unstuck, a victim of my own hubris, disgorging energy bars at the side of the road?
What is beginning to occur to me is that there might be something rather savage behind all of this.  Here I am, quite insistent that I ride a bike that’s at least 20 years old, finding a jersey congruous with that, and precociously intent on pushing myself and my team – if it will let me – to its limit.  I’ve been riding road bikes for less than a year, commenced training with just two months to go, and I’m treating the London to Brighton like it’s a stage in a Grand Tour.
If I hadn’t decided to write about this somatic venture, then the myths I’m imagining would be mere solipsism, existent only in my mind, fleetingly, and completely inconsequential.  I certainly didn’t treat my first (and only) 10k run like this, digging down into the minutia, but I didn’t seek to depict that endeavour. Is it the narrative I’ve created that’s driving me forward, imparting a mission, making it seem more significant than it really is?  Or maybe it’s to do with the romance of road-racing, its history of gallant suffering? 
Perhaps it was last year’s Vuelta a Espana and the sight of Javier Chacón chasing hopeless causes.

[POST-SCRIPT: Bradley Wiggins was to subsequently withdraw from the Giro after completing stage 12, suffering from a chest infection. He’d had a torrid time of it, crashing his bike during the seventh stage, and sustaining a puncture on the eighth – the individual time trial.
Vincenzo Nibali went on to win the general classification – the pink jersey – and Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Mark Cavendish amassed the most points, awarding him the red.  Cavendish has now won the points classification in every grand tour. He’s only the fifth rider to have achieved this feat.]

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