Playing the Badger

Discussion in 'Member's Travelogues' started by Monsieur Remings, 15 Aug 2012.

  1. Monsieur Remings

    Monsieur Remings Veteran

    Yatton UK
    Oh the book is a great one and I didn't really want it to finish. This became a tacky realisation in my mind, particularly having read the same thing on the back cover. Lemond and Hinault, eh? What could I remember of 1986? Never mind, I bought it anyhow and it was still true - I didn't want it to finish...

    It'll be a good book to go to France with I remember was the rationale for buying something in a real shop, as I walked away from W.H. Smiths in Yeovil that afternoon.

    Six days later I tackled the hardest sportive of my life, up and over the four Pyrenean passes of the Aubisque, the Tourmalet, the Aspin and the Peyresourde. Le Blaireau seemed an interesting character to me; somebody like Che Guevara perhaps, who was the first person that sprang to mind - the Argentinian revolutionary was both a hard man who you wouldn't really want to meet in the wrong circumstance but somebody, nonetheless, you had to admire for his total commitment, his strength of character and his unwillingness to compromise. Those were my first impressions of the Breton, Bernard Hinault. Lemond, on the other hand, seemed just like me; dizzy but focussed, very disorganised when it suited him, always cut it fine when it came to the parameters of time, individualistic, questioning of convention. How could these two ever have got on?

    Those first chapters were all I got a chance to read before my little jaunt to France had come to an end. I'd never felt so emotional when the tour ended; I felt I'd been a part of it truly...a kindred soul, turning the pedals ever on, up and over, piece by piece to the last km of the Etape. Wouldn't we have a party at the end! We did.

    I'd missed the kids though and the last few weeks back home had been okay I reasoned, I got a few rides and wasn't bothered about the poor weather - we'd had good old British weather in France too!

    Come to think of it, Bernard and Greg remind me a bit of my step-father and I, a man I love very dearly but who is so different in so many different ways, yes that's him and me...I'd be Lemond wouldn't I? Perhaps Le Blaireau is what I'd truly aspire to be? A state of mind that isn't fleeting, but a permanent, reliable fixture in the body and's too late, I needed suis fatigue!


    There was a reason I'd been unable to sleep. Cycling and books, thoughts, personalities and ideas associated with it were good at relaxing my hyperactive mind that wants to stay up thinking all night, analysing stuff whilst my body says enough. Quite often the body has the last word, but often enough I have to remind the Directeur Sportif in my head that tomorrow is just another ride, so chill the heck out.

    It had been a while since I'd seen the members of my road club - Clevedon and District - a combination of family commitments, very hilly training rides and work had meant a good 3 month gap since I'd been out on a Sunday jaunt. Today was the coast to coast - Clevedon to Seaton and back and my over-active mind last night, I now hoped wouldn't get the better of my body later on. Nah, should be okay.
  2. OP
    Monsieur Remings

    Monsieur Remings Veteran

    Yatton UK
    A nice gentle start, the rain is pattering and whilst there are complaints from some, I'm not cold yet. 18mph seems to be the pace for the 11 of us and within the hour we're on the A38 heading straight south. I'm glad, it's usually a busy road but 8am on a Sunday is a different story. The rain is still with us but it still doesn't bother me. It probably would have pissed Greg off when he first arrived in Europe but according to Le Blaireau - Brittany, in all its glorious rain and wind '...forged strong cyclists.'

    The pace is faster, and I'm happy to ebb away from one conversation about how crap SRAM Red is...I ride Rival with a new Force rear mech on the back so no hope according to this conversationalist. I take the front with another rider I often join up with, he's not much of a talker and like me he just enjoys the pace, the feel of gloves on the drops and the awareness of the steady cadence below and emanating from the other ten machines, whirring in the early morning. The sun has had a peek and a few spot blue sky but it would never have been enough for the blond, blue-eyed Californian to remind him of home. I'm quite happy to see some semblance of dry weather. Le Blaireau, on the other hand, wouldn't have given a shoot.

    Come the first food stop the sun is out and probably for the first time in recent years, I had to leave without breakfast and so tea and cake is welcome; nothing too sweet, yes, fruitcake.

    We head on for Devon and the sky deepens black. My mind travels back to the night before where a London friend and fellow QPR fan told me all about his father by leaving a video posted featuring him. His name was David Saunders and he commentated on cycling on the television long before Le Tour became a regular hit in July on terrestrial British TV. He was a good friend of Tommy Simpson and like Simpson, he died before his time. The video he posted was all about the Paris - Roubaix; the name Hinault called 'a race for dickheads' after he'd won it. I wonder what Hinault would think of some of the surfaces below us, rather like the Northern Hell, treacherous almost; the weather is one thing Le Blaireau could manage, at least when it suited him, but Devon roads? That may be another matter and sometimes I feel a 'dickhead' having to put up with so many holes. Who the hell put this route together?

    Another stop which I resented because this one at least broke up a rhythm but...the helpers were spot on and I made sure to thank them. Two of the women are well into their seventies and still ride for the club, but the day before, the Saturday, they'd made cake for everyone.

    On we went and soon we had a short stretch of the A303 - a road I know very well from my childhood journeys from South Petherton - the village I grew up in and situated just off the 303 and regular trips to London to visit both my parents' parents. I know the road less so this far south-west but unfortunately the character is the same - the A38 is fast and rideable, largely due to motor traffic at around 50-60mph with plenty of villages to break up the higher speeds. The A303 on the other hand is probably narrower here on this section but is much quicker with fewer villages and holiday traffic free to go as fast as they please. London and elsewhere they've come from is a long way and they just want to get there as soon as, okay? Big groups of riders are a recipe for disaster and you can sense the stress of the passing motorhomes who've already been held up on the Ilminster bypass for far too long already, at least for this time in the morning. A few beeps are sounded but very little response is given. I wonder whether one may stop a few km ahead, wielding a weapon, incensed. The book told me that during a training ride this had happened to Lemond in California with his team-mate Steve Bauer but my imagination runs riot for either side of this vile road is rural Devon, generally calm and scenic with the impression as with the rest of England that life just carries on regardless and a traffic jam is neither here nor there from the safety of a smirking tractor. How things must have changed with the swathe cut by this road and how thankful must the recession and weather hit holiday industries of Devon and Cornwall be so thankful for its existence in the present, nevertheless.

    We turn off the road, peace ensues in regards to the traffic and we are once again on the pave of the Northern Hell. We lose discipline as a group and whilst I sit on the front dodging potholes, believing that behind me riders are strung out in single file doing the same, the reality beckons that we are going too fast - a legacy from the 303 behind. I spot too many holes to call, slow down and another rider overtakes; he's done it a few hundred times before but this time I don't see him, the mother of all potholes, congeals into one or two others and I have a problem. I can't brake so I swerve by which time the other rider is level, I swerve again amidst drastic calls from behind, all of them too late.

    Hitting the back wheel of another rider is horrid at the best of times but was less so given the speed which was around 20Kph. I try to regain control, ending on the other side of the road as I treat myself and my 16 month old Ribble to a proper gravel massage. My first thought on impact is how is the bike. Are my clothes ripped? shoot, I'm bleeding all over the place and I feel like a fool. La Vie Claire indeed. The front wheel won't turn on the front, my new rear mech is scratched but where the hell is the frame damage? The other riders pile around and politely ask me what I'm doing when blood is pouring from both my right leg and corresponding arm. I ask for a hex key for the back of the front brake caliper but by this time the 'support car' has arrived with some water and I'm not alllowed to continue fettling with my bruised bike, such is the concern from the rest of the group. I run over to the other rider to see if his bike was okay - a ridiculous thing to do but a trait since adulthood of mine to play down injury and incidents of this nature, and to say I was sorry...I was. In retrospect of course it wasn't that simple...

    The shifters were bent and someone had freed the brake blocks and although the front wheel was out of true it seemed I could continue. A few told me that perhaps that was it but I thought if the bike worked, I'd carry on just to be stubborn. We were 55 miles in on a 135 mile ride.

    I must have looked a right state rolling into Seaton but for the fact I very nearly didn't get there. A few miles down the road there was a brief climb and taking it easy on the back of the group I slipped into a very low gear, noticed a horrible sound and realised the jockey wheels were smashing into the spokes. Lovely. So, I could actually ride but a mechanical failure would be sure to make me have to stop. I shifted down a few sprockets though and made it to the sea-front. Refreshments for the others gave me a chance to have a further inspection and whilst one chap managed to push the levers back to an almost right position, a few of us noticed that the good old mech hanger had done its job; in other words it was bent, badly, so apart from the hassle of having to order another one and replacing it, I'd have to ride the return journey with my lowest gear a 39 -19.
  3. OP
    Monsieur Remings

    Monsieur Remings Veteran

    Yatton UK
    Savlon is a bit of a Godsend but there was no treatment from the side of a team car with Cyrille Guimard in the front taking the opportunity to give instructions in the light of such a situation, but the chap who organised the route and looked after us really went to town with antiseptic wipes, dressings and savlon. I didn't have the stamina to wash anything out properly - that would have to wait for a bath - and I agreed that a dressing wouldn't be the best thing. Just a wash at the other end. The ride back was a touch longer and for a while I sat on the back, intermittently being asked how I was. And fair play to them...the CDRC is a good club.

    But I couldn't have given a shoot about wounds - they heal, but would the bike have suffered any permanent structural damage? I knew it called for a philosophical approach, like cycling another 75 miles with an aching bleeding knee and an elbow that was throbbing with pain, that would probably - bike dismounted - cause me more practical issues.

    I rolled on and started to doubt, I'd had very little sleep and now the bike and I were injured. But she was a mechanical creature, precious but fixable. I would, no doubt, have a small scar after all the scabbing and I thought through Culpeper and all the herbalists I'd read for potions to treat. Lastly, I think it was Guimard - the Renault Directeur Sportif during the time when Le Blaireau and Lemond rode for him that had said something along the lines of '...all great feats are achieved on no sleep' when Lemond had complained as such. It had managed to shut the Californian up and was a great enough piece of advice to see him through a race as winner the next day, though attributable only to Guimard's imagination and psychological management of his top riders as opposed to the wise words of Cicero or some other great philosopher. Guimard might have pretended otherwise at the time and I remember feeling how such a great piece of advice might have helped me during the July Etape, had I got that far into the book. Still cycling is a journey and advice is advice, whenever it arrives and it had got me out of bed and onto the road that morning so crash aside, there would be no ducking out.

    I thought about all the crashes I'd ever seen on the television, even the rider who went hurtling into the barriers a few yards away from me on a stage of the Tour of Britain last year in Wells. I thought about brave old Cavendish and the battering he took in the Giro, coming in a very lonely and bruised figure; I thought about Wiggins' crash last year that saw him in 'the form of his life' have to abandon the TDF with a broken collarbone; I thought about all the heroics ever - even the chap, probably injured but that's not the main story - who had to forge himself a new set of forks in a village smithery, and very nearly docked points for having a boy light the fire and bellow the flames for him; that was some time ago and yet my step-father - a Frenchman...sorry, an Occitanian from Beziers, told me recently over wine that his father told him the story, almost as if he (his father) had been there; he undoubtedly wasn't.

    But last of all my thoughts turn to Le Blaireau - the Badger, a man as I have said I would undoubtedly have had issues with had I ever been a professional cyclist, let alone the person I am. I would never be him I thought, I would never, ever have achieved the things his legs and his mind achieved - his mastery over the peloton like those before and after him, his lack of compromise and aggression. But what I can do, I thought, is behave like a stubborn old badger today. Roll on, forget the hills and the pain, forget it even happened - you hardly ended up over the edge of a cliff did you? Stop your pretense, you're stronger than this and your bike can handle it, best find out how well she manages a bit of pressure, eh?

    So I take the front again, setting the pace just like the Badger always did and I even manage a snarl. I don't feel like Beckham because I'm in a Manchester United top though, I just feel a sense of stubbornness override anything else; perhaps a sense of synchronicity, for there is always a reason behind actions, like reading a particular book at a particular time, even if we don't know it at the time.

    A few others have mechanical issues and there are a few more tea stops, a puncture and then on again, a conversation about football and the Olympics and on and on to an old friend that, despite my injuries I begin to doubt given the gradient and gears available - Shipham Hill. I then drift to other things, my son, the struggle he had to overcome his operation at 8 days old, to pull through and give us the utter joy he has given us some fifteen months on; I thought about the strength of my step-father in the face of my mother's terminal illness and his love for her. And I snarl some more, for England and Ireland and for Occitania.

    I'd trained on Shipham Hill for the Etape, it's a two kilometer climb out of Cheddar village and if you really feel like it, you can do Longbottom and then circle round on top of the hills to descend the Gorge and start over again. Not today.

    The tea ladies were ready and waiting for melon and the 19 tooth was enough. They'd got used to the blood all over my legs and arms and some casual chat ensued. But, my mind was on a bath and me and two other members were quite some way ahead now, so as to make waiting at the top of the hill for the rest slightly irrelevant, being so close to home. I remembered I'd snarled again during the climb up Shipham Hill. Grrrr........

    I get checked off at the finish point back in Clevedon and head for home. I check the bike again, as if perhaps I'd missed something and headed into the house. My other half and kids were away and I was going to have me one long hot bath, though it might be quite painful this time, removing gravel and insects from my wounds. Hot water...? Where's the hot water? I check the boiler and for the first time in some eight years it's packed up?

    What would Guimard have told one of his riders at the team hotel? Should I have a tantrum? Snarl.

    It's true, I take a look in the mirror and it's all so black and white, like that well known creature of the wild I once was told by a friend to resemble before Bernard Hinault ever arrived on my radar. I'd never be as fast as the man from Brittany I thought, but as my legs immersed themselves in a cold bath, I could certainly snarl like him.
  4. Excellent read Monsieur. The Badger was a great Hero of mine, the last true Patron. Chapeau on your ride Sir!
    Monsieur Remings likes this.
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