I rode well on Sunday. I cycled out to Chertsey, made the right calls at the junctions and roundabouts on the pre-planned route back to Kingston, stopped for coffee, before then improvising a ride out to Wimbledon, Wandsworth and Putney. 37 miles in all, but I could have done more. It was reassuring.
This was with one week to go before the London to Brighton itself. How does one approach training so close to the event? I read somewhere that on the penultimate day one should abstain from training altogether – take a day of rest – and then on the day before partake in some light cycling. I’m happy to go along with that, but what of the rest of the week? Should it be given over to a period of quiescence, or is it preferable to go all out and build up some muscle reserve? Or somewhere in-between?
I did nothing on Monday, although it was hard to resist the temptation to do otherwise. On Tuesday I took the bike on two laps of Richmond Park, then another half lap to catapult me towards Wimbledon. 31 miles in all and, again, I felt capable of riding farther. Went for a run on Wednesday, to rest the muscles employed for cycling and to test my stamina, then went bouldering in the evening.
Thursday presented me with something of a dilemma. I was decided in favour of cycling but was not sure how hard to push. I wasn’t even certain how much progress I’d really made with regard to my fitness since that jaunt out to Box Hill. My laps around Richmond Park had proved inconclusive. I was averaging 22 minutes in a counter-clockwise direction, although my methods of timing were imprecise. For example, on my first attempt I noted that it was 09.46 when I began my first lap, 10.08 as I finished, and 10.36 on completion of the second. My other circuits of Richmond Park yielded identically vague results.
In an anti-clockwise direction my laps came out at 23 minutes, although they felt no slower. In all instances I had to cycle into a headwind for at least a couple of miles of every 6.7 mile lap. From what I can tell, these times are just – only just – about acceptable if one takes into account the weight of my steel bike and the added wind resistance, but I’d like to be recording better. But then that’s how it goes sometimes, without the adrenaline of ‘the event’ to spur you on.
In the end, I rode 33 miles on Thursday in a bizarre improvised loop that saw me cruise through Kingston, Wimbledon, Tooting Broadway, Streatham, Brixton, Vauxhall, Pimlico, High Street Kensington, Shepherd’s Bush, Acton, Ealing Broadway and Brentford. On Friday I rested, and drank a little because I thought it might help me sleep better on the Saturday. And because I thought it was what Jacques Anquetil would probably have done.
On Saturday afternoon I readied myself. I’d passed my expendable baggage to my colleague, who would be travelling down to Brighton on the Saturday as part of Carlos-Weltschmerz’s limited support crew, so it was simply a matter of organising my attire, cleaning the bike, ensuring I had the requisite tools in case of a puncture, and preparing food and drink for the ride.
I wasn’t nervous or anxious, but I was alone and emotionally perplexed. The weather forecast for Sunday made for grim reading: heavy rain, 12°C, southerly winds – almost as bad as one could expect for the time of year. Forecasts – especially those put out there by the BBC – are not to be trusted, so I wasn’t overly concerned about that. I still felt weird, although I didn’t think it weird that I felt weird, because when one is faced with a weird situation one often feels a bit weird. To feel any differently would be weird.
It’s been almost nine months since I made the psychological commitment to cycling, to riding the London to Brighton, and, most importantly, of finding the appropriate bicycle. And herein lies the crux: if I’d already owned an acceptable vehicle then I wouldn’t have bothered writing any of this. Finding the right bike – and bear in mind that I was set on steel from the off – was more important than all the rest.
The reasoning is not simply utilitarian; it is aesthetic too. To succeed in my venture asked that I connect with something mythical, a beast worthy of my attention. I wanted a bike that was pure in its design, that was functional and at the same time beautiful – beautiful as a result of it being functional, like a Supermarine Spitfire or an E-Type Jaguar. It had nothing to do with being retrospective for the sake of being retrospective: it was the classic geometry I was after – not a Brookes saddle, brown leather bar-tape, or down-tube gear shifters (which I’ve got, whether I like them or not).
If that’s all it was about then why bother with the London to Brighton component? There’s no point finding a peculiar bike if you’re not going to ride it, and there’s no point riding the same bike if you’re not going to get something more out of it – otherwise I’d have been satisfied pootling about on the Jamis.
That’s not the whole story, though, because I’ve been defining this mission in combative terms. I’ve constantly referred to the London to Brighton as being a ‘race’, even though it’s not, and I’ve talked of pushing my colleagues to their limits, and of riding in a line and orchestrating breakaways. I’ve obviously got some sort of competitive issue although I’m pretty sure it’s against myself. I’m by no means a sore loser and my sporting exertions are rarely structured - meaning I don’t even need to be. But I do like there to be a point to my physical meanderings.
Why? Ask Javier Chacón. Why is he prepared to suffer for so little reward? Poor Javier Chacón…