A late autumn day, and despite the bright sun, the temperature is only a few degrees above freezing. A day for full winter cycling kit. Belgian style merino hat, long bib tights, windstopper jacket. It's a Monday and I've got a few hours free. Plodding along the quiet back roads that zig-zag across this part of Northamptonshire. Single track in places. Almost car free, except for some farm traffic.
I'm not going far, just looping through local villages. They are places I know well, but usually by car and as always you see a different place on the bike. The hills seem steeper (of course) and the red-brown fields on the other side of the hedgerows look heavy. Waterlogged and uninviting.
The rain gets heavier. It's time to head for home, luckily I'm not more than a few miles away from a warm shower and hot drink. I get my head down, peddling in the small ring, almost home.
That moment when you let go of the saddle and instead of swerving off to the left or right they glide forwards, feet whirring almost in a blur.
When our eldest Vi learned to ride her bike, it was a slow and painful process. I’d bought a heavy old bike off eBay. At that the time we lived at the end of a cul-de-sac. On a Sunday morning we’d go out and try to get her riding on her own, but it usually ended up in both of us getting frustrated. Bike on the floor. Tears. Shouting. She can ride her bike now. We soon got rid of that clunky old bike for something more lightweight and easy to manoeuvre.
A few years on and it’s Hazel’s turn. Full of gung-ho enthusiasm to emulate her sister. We don’t live on the ‘banjo’ anymore, instead there’s a few quiet village roads which have served as good training. Hazel wobbling along with me running alongside. Grabbing the saddle as she veers towards the curb. Almost there, but not quite.
Easter time and we are away on holiday, staying on the old Stanegate. There’s some traffic during the day to the Roman fort of Vindolanda, but after closing time there’s no traffic at all. After a few test runs she’s racing up and down the Roman road.
Over the next few days we find a few different routes. A disused railway in Kielder Forest and a dedicated trail at Wallington. But it's the deserted Roman Road each evening that's the favourite.
Yorkshire. Huge crowds. Good weather. Great riding. Good company and a long ride.
For the many British pro-riders who didn’t make the tour (or those that did and then didn’tget past the first week), the 2014 Tour de France is probably one to forget. But for British based cycling fans the 101st edition will stay long in the memory.
A dash for the train. Greens and brown blurred as the pedals spin and breathing hurries. The fields have a haze of green, early shoots of growth, wet with a misty rain. A pheasant fails to hide against this baize, an obvious shot, ready to be potted.
Into the effort now. Traffic grows; plumber, Golf, Audi, school bus. Past the two small woodlands, then down and over the little bridge, and up the bailey to skirt the embankment and into a village now fortified by roads and starter homes.
Down into the town, that welcomes careful drivers, though it does a poor job of attracting them, to make the train. Now I’m the one glistening with a morning dew.
The train pulls away, South. From the carriage window a kestrel hovers, already at work.
Our latest bike is a very different machine to my usual rides. The Kona MinUte, a small load carrying bike, is no XtraCycle, but it’s certainly capable of lugging a fair amount of gear around. Our aim isn’t to try and move large loads, but to get the girls out on the back of the bike. With a good sized platform (and some careful drilling for the Yepp Maxi bike seat mount), we should be able to get 2 passengers on the back, but for now it’s set up for just one.
But it’s not the technical specs, gearing or comfortable position that makes this bike my favourite ride, it’s getting out on the road with Violet. Who knew load carrying could be so much fun.
Photo: Violet and I heading home from Hoggeston Fête, taken by Emma.
An update to a post I made this time last year adding Froome to the list of British cyclists who have worn yellow at Le Tour. As I mentioned when I posted about this before, nationalism and sport are tricky areas, especially when we start talking about British sports people. Of the people on the list only 3 were born in the UK (by birth Millar, Wiggins and Froome are Maltese, Belgian and Kenyan respectively), which throws into relief what British might mean in this context.
From my perspective I’d hope to cheer anyone who rides with panache in the pro peloton, but as a British cyclist myself I take some pride in the performances of people representing British cycling. So to these six I say Chapeau.
Where Leth focused on the battle between Eddie Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck, directors David Deal and Dave Cooper take the battle between terrain and rider as their inspiration. The film is beautifully photographed, lingering shots of the treacherous cobbles are interspersed with rider interviews, some excellent photography and television footage of the 2007 race.
The access to some of the big names on the current cycling circuit is impressive, even Lance Armstrong pops up - however, some of the editting decisions seem awkward, and the battle to entwine the progress of the 2007 race into the story is sometimes a little heavy handed. It feels a little stretched at 86 minutes and might have been better nearer the hour mark.
Overall though it’s a cracking insight into the ‘Queen of the Classics’ and pro-cycling. If it wheels itself your way as part of the BFF world tour, then it’s definitely worth watching.