The Spoke June 30, 2012

'The Wind and the Rain' - RIDE24 - by Lukey

The rain and the wind, the wind and the rain

They are with us like a disease:

They worry the heart, they work the brain,

As they shoulder and clutch at the shrieking pane,

And savage the helpless trees.

The Rain and the Wind by William Ernest Henley

William Ernest Henley was not a member of the 2012bikebritain team at Goodwood over the weekend, in no little part due to his unfortunate death in 1903. Had he been, one imagines that he would have been somewhat less profound and more sweary than he was in the verse above. Henley’s work felt appropriate after the weekend, although I would replace the word “pane” with “cyclists” and the word “trees” with the word “cyclists”.

It was, at times, horrific. Jonathan, evocatively, referred to the soul-searching of the early hours in his account, but sometimes it was difficult to locate my soul, let alone search it. I assumed it had been washed away. The rain was without mercy; even when holed up in the bikebritain van it drummed unremittingly on the roof, reminding you of what lay ahead. For the best part of nine hours, even when you had managed to get yourself dry, you were less than an hour away from getting wet again. In fact, “wet” doesn’t really seem to do it justice, like describing a severed leg as a ‘minor scrape’. And then there was the wind. If the rain had punched you in the face, the wind was running up and kicking you in the kidneys while you were writhing in agony on the floor.

RIDE24 2012 was worse than the 2011 vintage in almost every way, yet somehow ultimately more satisfying. When the rain finally yielded on Sunday morning, the relief was palpable. Although much energy had been spent simply enduring the conditions through the night, as the track dried and the sun began to show, the feeling of just being able to cycle around the track without wanting to howl in frustration was a tonic that spurred us towards the finish. By the time we were stood on the track for the presentations, Goodwood was bathed in a sunshine that seemed to mock, but instead it reminded me of what had gone before and gave me a sense of extreme satisfaction that we had made it through to this point.

2012bikebritain were focussed on a top 20 finish (I may have mentioned this last time) and I would have hoped to have been able to report to you that we achieved this. However, I can only really report that I think we probably achieved this. The ‘official’ timing information has us 12th in category and 19th overall but, and I need to be careful with my words here, the ‘official’ timing information is utter rot. Almost none of the figures attributed to our team that we can check are correct, and the information does not even tally with what was provided during the race. Of course, the primary purpose of RIDE24 is to raise funds for a great cause, but I don’t think it is too much to ask that our entry fee goes towards the provision of accurate information. Not returning your timing chip was punishable with a fine, but I’d suggest that it might have been better if they’d let everyone take them home as a souvenir and then come up with the figures by repeatedly mashing their hand into a calculator. They certainly wouldn’t have been any more wrong that way.

So, the conditions? Worse than 2011. The organisation? Worse than 2011. The food? Not quite reaching the heights of 2011, much to my chagrin. Even the Lavant Straight let me down. At the height of the inclement weather, the wind finally located the last haven on the track and booked in for breakfast. That was when I truly felt that there was nothing left I could believe in. I certainly lost belief in my ability to deal with clip-in pedals; the additional pressure of literally anyone watching during the pit-lane changeover left me thrashing around like a distressed bullock, my first and last stints in particular beginning in a particularly unprofessional fashion.

I’m even going to complain about the bikebritain van. It was too comfortable. In the middle of the night, I awoke in anticipation of my fourth stint, curled up in my sleeping bag and dressed in a fleece and jogging bottoms, to the sound of the continuing torrential rain. I had one set of dry kit left, and I knew it would be saturated before I had even got on the bike. I was warm and the van, resplendent with mattress, was dry and comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, I momentarily considered what the consequences would be if I just didn’t go and get changed and take my turn on the track. I blame the van entirely for this rogue thought.

That’s been an awful lot of complaining. But it was those things that made it more satisfying at the finish. And what a finish it was. I have been a keen sportsman all my life, never once put off by the notable handicap of being pretty awful at all sports. Consequently, I have rarely been the man to score the winning goal, to hit the winning runs, or to score 10.0 on the parallel bars. So when it became clear that the last stint on the track was going to be nip and tuck if I were to get the prescribed 4 laps in, I naturally assumed the outcome, thought gallant, would be failure. Some pedal discord got things off to a poor start, but after a couple of laps, the potential not to disappoint our now sizeable entourage still remained. Jonathan’s tactical masterplan was key. By starting and finishing with short, sharp stints, when it came to those last two laps, I called on my reserves and for once it wasn’t like shouting into an empty room. If I left myself 8 minutes for the final lap, I believed I could do it. When I came under the big red inflatable arch to start my final lap, there were 7 minutes and 50 seconds left of the 24 hours. I don’t really remember a lot of the next six minutes, but the hooting of the bikebritain entourage was ringing in my ears for most of it and I knew I wanted to hear it one more time. As I came on to the home straight for the last time, I had no idea whether I was even close and my poor eyesight meant I wouldn’t know until I had about 100 metres to go. I just kept pedalling. As the clock came into focus, I was distraught. I hadn’t left it nearly close enough to be dramatic.

I crossed the line acting like we’d just won the bloody thing. But, to be honest, for that moment it felt as if we had. It was glorious. The noise from the rest of the team and those who came down to support was amazing. I will never forget it. Ultimately it was just one more lap for bikebritain, and one that, according to the ‘official’ timing information, never happened, but it felt like so much more than that. During the small hours of the morning, we’d changed over in the pit lane with barely more than a glance of utter pain and misery, but had kept going as relentlessly as the rain that pounded down right to the last twenty seconds of the 24 hours. It was a brilliant team to be a part of; Jonathan, Malc (‘the metronome’) and Warwick were all outstanding and, as a team, we made a very efficient unit. Apart from when I was treating my pedals as if they were bars of soap, not a second was wasted and if we could have squeezed another lap from anywhere, I cannot tell you where.

Congratulations to whichever University of Birmingham team it was that won and all the other category winners, and my enduring respect to anyone who rode that solo. A couple of hours of that rain interspersed with a nice sleep was nearly too much for me and, whilst I am probably not the ideal benchmark for endurance sportspeople, the glory of my last lap means this is probably the closest I’ll get. Of course, when I say “probably”, I mean ‘definitely’. And when I say “glory”, I mean ‘relative competence’.

As always, huge and genuine thanks to everyone who sponsored us. The generosity of so many people meant that we blitzed through our target. Thank you also to the folks who came to support us, and especially those who were there at the end. Special thanks to Danielle, who sent me encouraging messages at all hours and kept me going when I thought I might be dying or about to abscond.

Finally, what can I say about the team? For all my many, many complaints about everything else, it was an honour and a privilege to be a part of the 2012bikebritain team. Wherever we finished, and we may never know, it was the culmination of everything we could have given. And we still have the best changeover technique in the race.

That said, I’ve told my agent that I will need certain guarantees regarding the weather if I’m going anywhere near 2013. Of course, when I say “agent”, I mean ‘anyone who will listen’.

Words:- Lukey

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