Friday, 21 May 2010

Rising damp

Bad weather always looks worse through a window.

He was an astute cookie, that Tom Lehrer. Sunday morning's curtain twitch revealed a sight we'd been expecting and dreading in equal measure - relentless rain. Nothing's more likely to drive you back to bed on the morning of a long ride than foul weather, so we helped ourselves to another 15 minutes in the hope that might clear it. No chance.

Martin then ably proved the Duke of Gloucester's assertion in King Lear that the worst is not, so long as we can say: this is the worst. Upon declaring it looked as bad as it was going to get, the heavens conspired and issued forth untold torrents upon the undeserving Welsh countryside. And yet, by the time we crossed the threshold, the rain had stopped. We set off immediately. Five minutes up the road, it started again, around about the time my knee started to flare up again.

"I'll give it until the top of the hill and take a view," I said as we began the first climb of the Black Mountain. It held up OK on the ascent, but after a cold, windy, wet descent, it was screaming at me. I ploughed on, mentally giving myself another 10 miles before I'd really have to bail out. Six miles further down the road and, with the sun finally peeping through the clouds to witness proceedings, the joint seemed fine. Whether this was the extra warmth or the muscles getting used to moving, I wasn't sure, but the knee definitely felt better when pedalling, so I kept going.

From Brynamman, we followed the road along to Hirwaun, at the foot of the Rhigos pass, before heading for Brecon along the extended Dragon Ride route. Utterly stunning scenery. We take a brief break by the shores of a reservoir before heading down a magnificent descent at full pelt. Big ring, smallest sprocket, head down and pedalling. Great fun, but I can't help thinking I should be doing it the other way round.

We're halted further along the road by a 'bike event' - the National Youth Championships - which sees around 100 under-18s sprint past at impressive speed. Huge respect to the lads, which grows even more as we see (and descend) the 18% hill they'd just climbed before they passed us.

Further rain and wind dogs our progress homewards, back towards the Black Mountain and up a couple of nasty little testing hills we'd totally forgotten about on the way out. A well-needed energy gel provides just enough oomph to carry us over the pass and we descend like kings for the last time into Llangadog. At which point, the clouds clear and Mediterranean conditions break out.

So 87 hard miles covered and the knee held out, but I have learned I'll need to change my saddle. The Fizik Arione that came with the bike might be popular among some riders, but for me it was like perching on a sliver of seasoned mahogany. I'm still feeling the effects and there's no way I can countenance spending nearly 12 hours sitting on the thing in July, so I'll switch it with the one on my training bike and test ride that this weekend.

Training has been poor this week. First few days were spent resting the knee, then I made the misjudgement of meeting up with the guys responsible for Caught By The River on Wednesday, an immensely enjoyable evening, but not one likely to advance my cycling cause. This weekend sees my climb aboard the wagon and really start ratcheting up the fitness levels. I still have ever such a long way to go.

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