Team Carlos-Weltschmerz recently partook in the London to Brighton for the second year running. Long may this continue.
The expanded team of seven (plus two auxiliary members, who were never formally inducted) allowed for more contact throughout the 'race' and, thus, more intrigue. Indeed, I pushed the in-team competitive element to the fore this time around, giving up on any pretence that this was merely some charitable jolly (although funds were raised this year, unlike last).
Other events conspired to make this a closer contest, in particular a tragic accident near the village of Gatton. After passing under the M25 – descending at some speed, one assumes – a cyclist collided with a telegraph pole, was seriously hurt, and the ride was temporarily halted. On reaching this neutralised zone I had to wait approximately 10 minutes before the road was reopened, and then fight my way past 50 odd metres worth of cyclists whilst fending off about 30 metres of the same from the rear.
Up until this point I felt generally that the London to Brighton hadn't been congested as the year prior. The team had departed grandly at exactly the same hour – Moomersteeg hadn't been held up with mechanical issues, but instead new recruit Easterbrook arrived late – so there was no apparent reason for this to be so (although a late night World Cup football game involving the English national team could have played its part). Whatever the reasons for this decongestion, the conditions allowed for rapid progress.
All that hard work had been undone now, and there were people to get in front of again. With regard to my team, I wasn't sure who was where. I had ridden fast to get ahead of the crowds but had not been aware of overtaking any of my cadres. I last had contact somewhere between Carshalton and Chipstead, and could be fairly certain that Mommersteeg was ahead of me. Beyond that, who knew?
Confident that I'd covered some ground, I paused to remove my outer layer and took the opportunity to consume my only 'energy bar'. Once I'd remounted my bike, I started to think quite seriously about stopping at one of the many refreshment centres along the way to refill my water bottle, and maybe even for a quick coffee.
I decided against it after realising there were less than 15 miles to Turners Hill, reasoning that, given I was cruising at near to 30 mph, I'd be there in no time at all. I was riding full gas, so it came as quite some surprise when, just four or five miles away from Turners Hill, I spotted Easterbook ahead of me. Easterbrook is a fellow aficionado of steel and owns a bike similar to my own. How had he got so far in front? My disrobing and gorging had taken just a few minutes, and, like I said, I’d been flooring it; he must have been too.
But Easterbook was to pay for his impertinence. He didn't have it in him to match my pace going up Turners Hill and I rolled in ahead. Predictably, Mommersteeg awaited. And Cavanagh too – another London to Brighton/Team Carlos-Weltschmerz debutante. We were unable to establish which one of them arrived first so the points were awarded evenly.
Within 15 minutes everyone was there.
Stage 1 (Medium Mountain Stage)
Mommersteeg / Cavanagh - 30
Evans - 22
Easterbrook - 19
Gowland - 17
Oakley - 15
Ross-Gower - 13
Our pause for lunch was fairly succinct. Turners hill was awash with cyclists, the fallout from that nasty incident in Gatton earlier, no doubt. We were ready to leave within 45 minutes of our arrival; last year’s leisurely lunch had taken us well over an hour.
The second stage was swift. By the time I reached Ditchling Beacon I'd peaked. The hill was a real grind and I came close to walking the last quarter. I'd made the error of shifting down gears too far in advance, which really didn't help, but my chain had slipped off as we exited Turners Hill and I wasn't taking any chances.
Stage 2 (High Mountain Stage)
Mommersteeg - 20
Cavanagh - 17
Evans - 15
Gowland - 13
Easterbrook - 11
Oakley - 10
Ross-Gower - 9
This time around the weather was kinder atop that hill, but only just. There wasn't the rain that rolled in last year, but it was overcast, rather cool.
The drier conditions meant for a steadier ride across those hills on a stage that descends gradually, and then very abruptly, into Brighton itself, which is then pancake flat all the way to the finish. It was Easterbook's turn to suffer a mechanical mishap – his chain worked its way free just as he was about to fly down that really steep bit – but he dealt with it expeditiously.
In the meantime, Ross-Gower and Oakley had gotten away quickly, although they did not necessarily intend this. Such was the congested nature of Ditchling Beacon, we'd been unable to depart as one, and the team had gradually spread out. There was the possibility that someone unlikely could snatch the stage win and take points that might affect the overall standings. Aware of this potential, Gowland, Easterbrook, Cavanagh and I made a collective effort to make contact with our fortunate leaders. Ross-Gower was soon dispatched, but Oakley was nowhere to be seen. How had he managed this, another London to Brighton debutante riding a bike tailored for the delivery of groceries?
We concentrated on our own endeavours, the four of us, hoping that the traffic lights might bring favour and allow for some sort of breakaway. Easterbrook got close but pulled back at the last minute for fear of being broadsided by cross-town traffic. Then I tried it on, but the next set of lights remained resolutely red, and Cavanagh and Easterbrook soon caught up again – although Gowland was seemingly dropped.
At Grand Parade the passage narrows. Cyclists are kettled into lane and it becomes increasingly difficult to overtake. One is not supposed to overtake, in actual fact: this is not a race!
Easterbook appears to edge into the lead, but I'm onto him; I'm hanging onto the back of his wheel patiently. He's persistent, finding his way into every gap imaginable. There's probably only enough room for four bikes to ride abreast, and whenever Easterbrook shifts diagonally into space it's very hard to keep with him – the circumstances do not allow for it. He could feasibly break free from here, so I take a different tack. I seek out my own passage, hoping that I can slip past him before we reach the final straight. This works for a while, and on the bend into the finish I find a channel on the inside and get myself ahead. Unfortunately, Easterbook somehow worms his way down the middle, and all I can do is try and slip in back behind him. There is no way around and Easterbook is riding too fast and hard for me to gamble on finding another channel back down the left-hand side. A steward roars at us to slow down, but it's too late, Easterbrook has beaten me. He's not got the stage win: Cavanagh found passage down the right and overtook the both of us with about 20 metres to go before the line.
Turns out that Oakley had actually stopped to use public facilities some way back.
Stage 3 (Flat Stage Finish)
Cavanagh - 45
Easterbrook - 35
Evans - 30
Gowland - 22
Mommersteeg - 20
Oakley – 18
(Mommersteeg/Easterbrook/Ross-Gower/Evans - Courtesy: Bethan Easterbrook)
Cavanagh was champion, then, and a deserving one. He’ll get to hold onto that trophy until next year, by which time the ranks of Team Carlos-Weltschmerz may have swelled further. It’s a team that now has nine official members and more have already registered an interest in riding under its appellation next year.
In truth, those who ride for Team Carlos-Weltschmerz may not necessarily take their membership in any way seriously. Nor are they supposed to. That said, I’ve been thinking of forming some sort of 10 year plan. What started as a club may grow over time into a cult – that could take 5 years. By 10 we could be looking at a movement of sorts. I may need to expand on the team’s agenda to allow for these loftier ambitions. I’m thinking along the lines of ritual sacrifice, initiation ceremonies, secret handshakes, stuff like that.
Cavanagh - 92
Mommersteeg - 70
Evans - 67
Easterbrook - 65
Gowland - 52