So long, and thanks for all the fiets!
Ten Angry Men – and a Woman.
Adventures with the Not Possibles.
We may look like a bunch of middle- aged, unfit and possibly slightly overweight guys as we gather in the sports shop car park at 8.30 on a Saturday morning, but take a closer look, there’s more to us than meets the eye.
First of all , check out those bikes; carbon frames, Ultegra components, even a sprinkling of campy group sets can be glimpsed, and wait, are those Zipp clinchers I can see over there?
In our heart of hearts we are about to set off on a stage of the Tour de France. Amongst our ranks are the self-styled sprinters, climbers, domestiques, all-rounders, and the team would not be complete without at least one wildcard.
Clad in our finest new team kit; skin tight lycra, bib shorts and wind jackets all emblazoned with our team name (Not Possibles) and our sponsors (The Coffee Club, complete with their menu) We first need to discuss the route for todays ride. The weather reports are compared, wind directions analyzed and a leader elected. It is more than likely that there will be no consensus amongst the various weather predictions each rider has consulted, so instead we look at the sky and hold a wetted finger hopefully into the breeze. It only makes sense to set off into the wind, in the vague hope that there will be a tail wind to help us on our return journey, allowing us to fly home at speeds that rival our ages. This being the Netherlands however, hope continues to triumph over experience and the wind continues to whip around seemingly at random.
With a chorus of beeping from our various GPS devices, we set off, two by two, catching up on the weeks news as we go.
Ten minutes into the ride we approach a complicated junction.
“Left” calls our leader, “Left, left, left”
Anarchy descends, and the peloton continues straight ahead, mumbling into their beards “it’s straight on if we want to get to Delft, I went that way last week and it just takes you back to the motorway!”
Our leader gives up, slinks to the back of the pack and gloomily sits on their wheels.
As I mentioned before, this is The Netherlands, and the closest we will come to hill climbing today will be the hump-backed canal bridges that litter our route, but as compensation, we will face a 20km struggle into the 40kph head wind, the so-called ‘Dutch Hills’.
On various occasions, one or two brave souls, who have some experience of riding with other groups, will attempt to drill the team into an echelon, each rider taking a short turn at the front in order to protect the others from the wind. This strategy rarely works. Once the big boys are on the front of the group, there’s no way to kick them off without damaging their ego. It may help the group to average higher speeds, but try telling a testosterone fuelled 45 year old on a carbon frame to slow down, and you’ll soon be eating his dust.
Big Graham takes to the front, setting a blistering pace, accompanied by lead-out guys Rup & Mike. Sprinter Jon jostles for position in the pack , while Captain Dave dashes up and down the pace line, making sure everyone is happy at the back, then sprinting up to the front yelling at the big guys to “Slow it down!”. Our own, in-house, BMC rider, and Cadel Evans wannabe, Richard takes a turn as domestique for Vince & Jeff at the back; punching a hole in the air that they can slip through with ease, bringing them back into the fold. Wild card Andrew could be anywhere from leading the sprint to bringing up the rear, you can never predict where you’ll find him, but wherever he is, there’ll be someone on his back wheel, taking a rest!
Then suddenly, out of the blue emerges a hill.
Well, we like to think of it as a hill, but in reality, it’s little more than a slight incline. This is where the team climbers come into their own; Uffe and Johan powering through to the summit, while the rest of us stand on our pedals, mashing our way to stay on their heels.
Reaching a natural break while waiting for the team to re-group, and catching our breath, Captain Dave explains his latest challenge. We have reached a 5km stretch of perfectly smooth, flat, straight bike path. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to ‘Ride Your Age’. Fortunately most of us are still at an age where given the right conditions, this is perfectly achievable – even if Sarah, the only female on the team will only admit to an age of 21, and insists on riding in multiples of it! Faced with a challenge like this, the middle aged men in lycra cannot resist. It’s like a red flag to a bull, like a mountain stage to Eddie Merckx…
The break away is almost instantaneous, as the lightweight bikes respond to the first kick of their riders, but the rest of the pack are soon on their tails, spinning along and taking advantage of their draft, reeling them in, slowly but surely closing the gap.
Some time later, we re-group once again, the wind is finally behind us as we pedal gently homeward to the Coffee Club, where, over coffee and large wedges of apple pie, we analyse the ride statistics, discuss the technical problems of bike maintenance, and consider our dream bikes.
Next week, we’ll do it all again.