The question, of course, is why?
Why have I chosen to make my first foray into the realms of serious, competitive sport only now when I’m knocking on the door of middle age? Me, a laughably poor sportsman mocked in school for pulling up exhausted in a 400m race and who was overlooked for my class football team (and not even picked as substitute) despite there being only 13 boys available.
And why cycle racing of all things… a brutal and occasionally downright dangerous sport where there’s no hiding place for the physically or mentally weak?
Well, why not?
First, I didn’t choose cycling; it chose me, via the lottery of a newspaper competition (more on that another time, maybe). Second, as any man – and any long-suffering wife or girlfriend – reading this will appreciate, once the male of the species gets properly obsessed with something it becomes all consuming and has to be taken just about as far as it can possibly go.
To be honest, I thought “as far as it can possibly go” would be doing a few cyclosportives. For the benefit of the uninitiated, these are open-to-all timed events held on public roads, with parcours anything from 50 miles up to 130 miles and beyond. Think of them as cycling’s equivalent of the Great North Run, only without the ridiculous costumes and Blue Peter presenters.
Since first getting my hands on a proper road bike in 2007 I’ve done sportives in various parts of the country, from Yorkshire to Wales to the West Country. But the end of that particular line was reached in the French Alps last year, when I took part in the granddaddy of such events, La Marmotte.
I completed it too; and inside the time limit. But these bare facts hide agonies of underperformance and missed opportunity that make me rage inside to this day. What should have been the pinnacle of my cycling life turned into a stinging failure, for reasons too long and boring to rehash here.
Upon my return from France I did some serious soul-searching and reached the following conclusions:
1. At 6’6” and 85kg, and with a pathological fear/hatred of descending, I’m not ideally suited to going up and down mountainous terrain at high speed
2. I’d become fed up of toiling away simply to get through long distance rides… it proves I have stamina but hardly stirs the blood like the white heat of competition
3. I love cycling but regular multi-mile training rides on my own quickly become pretty tedious
4. Not that I have the free time available for such marathon efforts anyway
In light of all that it hardly takes a genius to work out that joining a cycling team and going racing was the only natural progression from this point. Teams train together and group rides are a thousand times more fun than cycling solo. Also, at beginner level the races are mostly one-to-two hour cavalry charges on flat courses rather than day-long, saddle sore inducing slogs on routes specifically chosen to hoover up every available undulation…
So, with the fat lady of my sporting life busy picking out her gown and warming up her vocal cords with a few scales, I prepare to take to the roads and circuits of South East England, resplendent in the colours of the Bayeux Cycling Team (see photo).
This blog will keep track of how my brave new world unfolds. It could be a very short and sad one. Or it could be a stirring tale of triumph over adversity. My personal prediction, for what it’s worth, is somewhere between the two. But maybe a little closer to the former than the latter.
Anyway, enough of all that. Let’s get rolling!