Sunday 4 September 2016

Vuelta a Norfolk (C#36)
Sunday 4 September, 128 Miles

I spent part of yesterday evening watching the highlights of Stage 14 of the Vuelta a España. What an exciting stage; professional road racing at its very best. To watch Nairo Quintana and the Froomedog battling it out on the slopes of the Col d’Aubisque was breathtaking. I can’t even begin to understand where they get the strength to climb at the speed they do. And Simon Yates phenomenal attack in the latter part of the race totally lit it up. Robert Gesink was a very worthy winner and the fact that he was riding a Bianchi absolutely made my day.

So without in any way wishing to trivialize the achievements of yesterday I decided that today’s century would be a celebration of yesterday’s Vuelta stage – my own Vuelta a Norfolk! One thing I didn’t realise was that the word ‘Vuelta’ translates to ‘Return’ – at least according to Google, so that seems doubly fitting as it’s been a few weeks since I last did a ‘proper’ Norfolk century. And to make the ride even more enjoyable I was joined by Daren, a friend who rode the in the Fens with me a few weeks ago (C#26).

Daren's away on a break
We had arranged to meet in East Harling so I rode the extra 9 miles to get there and Daren arrived soon after. The leader of the Vuelta traditionally wears a red jersey and as Daren emerged from his car I could see that he had come suitably clothed. Clearly Nairo Daren had his own ideas about who was ‘le patron’. I was going to be a mere domestique today! Perhaps I should have worn a white jersey to match the Froomedog? Instead I was sporting a rather fetching celeste spotted jersey. Well that was my view. Daren quickly unloaded his Bianchi and we were soon lined up for le grand depart.

After a false start when Daren remembered that he’d left his heart rate monitor in the car we were soon riding north into a fairly testing headwind towards Watton and the Swaffham. Leaving Swaffham I started to feel that we were entering new territory – crossing north of the A47 feels to me like crossing a frontier simply because then I know that I’m on a big ride.

Despite the headwind we were soon into North Norfolk with its undulating ridges and what felt like some quite isolated and lonely countryside. By now my legs were starting to feel the effort but we were maintaining a good pace. I say ‘we’ but Daren did most of the leading as I practiced my drafting technique. Well Daren is quite a lot younger than me and he was wearing the leader’s red jersey so I was quite cool about taking shelter.

As we rode along we started chatting about a friend of ours, another Bianchi rider who has recently joined the Passione Celeste Movement. Tracy started riding seriously about 9 months ago and in June at the Tour of Cambridgeshire she qualified to ride in the World Championships in Perth. That’s Perth, Australia not the other one. Daren has been doing a great job helping Tracy to train and today was the day of the championships. In fact, by the time we started Tracy had already finished. She finished 28th and was the 3rd placed British lady. So that was a fantastic result for her and even more cause for celebration by us. I am hoping that Tracy will join Daren and me for another century ride before too long. It will be an honour to ride with her.

That spotted or is it spotty jersey
Finally, we were able to turn eastwards and escape the headwind and then after a few miles started to head south with more of a tailwind. This both boosted our morale and our speed. To add variety, we rode on what I had told Daren was Norfolk’s answer to cobbles – a concrete slab road which certainly made its presence felt. Feeling in need of some refreshment we stopped at the Plume of Feathers pub for a sandwich lunch. The food etc. was fine; the landlord did seem less than interested in us and the service would best be described as perfunctory – nothing wrong, northing memorable.

Suitably refreshed we were soon underway heading southwards. One amusing, well to me anyway, incident occurred as we passed through the village of Shipdham. Approaching a junction Daren mentioned that some friends lived in a house that we were about to pass. As we turned we saw one of the friends outside painting the window frames so we pulled up for Daren to say hello. It soon became apparent to me that neither had seen the other for a while and also that the friend had some interesting insights to Daren’s past. Now readers, at this point all I am going to say is that my silence can be bought for the right price. So, feel free to get in touch!

Much as we would have both enjoyed the offered coffee and I would certainly have enjoyed hearing more of the gossip, we were conscious that we needed to keep riding so sadly had to set off again. Daren was a tad subdued for the next couple of miles as I ribbed him with my new knowledge. But we were soon both focused fully on the ride – occasional crosswinds at gaps in the hedges meant we had to concentrate all the time to avoid being blown across the road.

All too soon we were back at East Harling where we enjoyed a drink, shook hands and then parted company. Daren to drive home; me to ride the final 9 miles. By the time I got home I had covered 128 miles, my longest century of the series so far. Although slightly further than the Vuelta’s Stage 14 it was undoubtedly easier. Much easier. And a good way to celebrate some fantastic achievements – in Spain and in Australia. Passione celeste!

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