My alarm is set for 5:45am though invariably I am awake at around 5:15am and usually spend the half hour letting my mind reflect on the previous day’s ride and on what lies ahead today. I might even have a peek at the route on Ride with GPS – how long, how hilly, how straight, any interesting places along the way. When I do finally swing my legs off the bed it all becomes a bit of a rush. The first thing I do, on the way to the bathroom, is to squeeze the CVs tyres to check that they haven’t gone soft overnight. If they have then a tube change is probably required.
Once I’m in the bathroom I drink a couple of cups of cold water. Then after a quick wash and a scrub I don my bib shorts, a t shirt and some ordinary shorts. I prefer not to inflict the sight of my lycra-clad ‘athletic’ figure on my fellow hotel guests, especially those who aren’t cyclists, as I’d like them to enjoy them breakfasts! A few years ago I was once asked to leave the breakfast room and not return until I was properly dressed!
Then, once I’m dressed, it’s time for the first critical event of the day, a visit to the ice machine to fill my Camelback and water bottle, with the addition of a berry flavoured hydration tablet in the latter. I put the Camelback and the bottles in my room fridge to keep them as cold as possible. Maintaining my hydration and electrolyte levels is absolutely essential to being able to sustain the intensity of riding day after day in the heat we’re having.
Once that’s all completed I head down to breakfast around 6:00am. I usually have some fruit juice, a yoghurt and some cereal. Depending on what’s on offer I may have some powdered scrambled egg and sausage (sliced, not links) or bacon. I’ve been developed a bit of an aversion to the scrambled egg so more often than not I have a toasted bagel or a couple of slices of brown toast. Often there’s a waffle iron or pancake machine so I might ring the changes and have some with maple syrup. Other ‘delicacies’ on offer might include powdered egg omelette, usually with cheese and sometimes onions, which I steer well clear of. A few places have had ‘proper’ fresh fruit – melon and strawberries which if available I’ll come back to for seconds and thirds, but never fourths! I’ll wash everything down with a cup of coffee with skimmed milk if it’s available, black if not. UHT creamer and the Captain don’t mix well at this hour. I’m finding breakfast quite challenging – I eat it mainly because I need the fuel, not because I find it particularly tasty.
Once breakfast is out of the way it’s back to my room to complete my ablutions and pack up my two kit bags. There’s a weight restriction of 30lbs of kit for the two bags. I’ve been pretty ruthless with what I’ve brought but even so space is tight, very tight. This means that each day I have a struggle to get everything stowed away and successfully zip up the bags. I’ve turned this into a bit of a game too – and so far I haven’t been beaten. I’ve had to resort to some cunning techniques though. For instance I’ve got a pair of flip flops and a pair of trainers. The trainers have broad heels so I’ve discovered that the best approach is to mix and match by packing one trainer and one flip flop into each of the bags. It’s these little details readers, that I’ve discovered make all the difference. I live in constant fear of leaving some essential item behind. So far my count is two water bottles in the first week and, last week a complete set of riding kit (my beloved spotty Bianchi jersey). The kit was in the bathroom where I had hung it up to dry. I managed to phone the hotel who had already retrieved it and I was hoping to be reunited with it here in Abilene but it hasn’t arrived yet so it could be following me around for the rest of the tour!
Then it’s time to don my riding kit, apply the various lotions I use (sun tan and chamois cream) and have another look around the room to make sure I’ve haven’t forgotten to pack anything. Once I’m fully kitted up I take my bags down to the hotel foyer so that Itchytoo can load them into the back of his truck. I then head back to my room to collect the CV. At this point we usually have a little tête-à-tête to go over the day’s route and the challenges that lie ahead. Over the years I’ve found that this can make a big difference to how my Bianchi family and I perform. As a relatively young thoroughbred the CV is showing promising signs of responding well. As it gets more miles under its Michelins it is even starting to toss in a few helpful suggestions. Given that we are going to spend several hours together it is vital to get any issues or wrinkles out into the open and then put to bed before we depart along the tarmac.
With a final look around the room to make sure that nothing has been left behind we are then ready to go public. We head down to the foyer, surrender our room key and chill out on the hotel forecourt. This is a good time to do two things. First, have a look around at other the riders to see how they’re shaping up and, perhaps offer or even seek a few words of encouragement. Second, it’s a chance to clear the mind and complete the final preorder checks. This includes another tyre pressure thumb test, powering up the Garmin and loading in the day’s route and switching on the rear flashing red light.
Next up is school assembly where Headteacher Paula reads the route notes of the day to the assembled throng, making sure we know of any hazards along the way, tricky navigation points and crucially SAG arrangements. By this time we are all ready to go so at around 7:30 Paula bids us well and we set off. With a cry of ‘Andiamo’ (look it up) I clip in and the CV and I are underway. I like to start at the back of the group and watch people head off. Unless I get caught at a traffic light this also means that I am unlikely to get lost straightaway. Once we’re rolling I pick out the rest of the Fabs and within a mile or so we have usually formed up and are on our way on the day’s stage.
After a few miles apart from keeping half an eye on the road surface, gradients and so forth and half the other eye on The Fabs and any riders who are lurking in the vicinity I normally travel to a parallel universe, cycling land, where I stay for most of the day. Time in cycling land is quality time. I do a lot of thinking here. You might be surprised what passes through the little grey cells. On a good day I even might transcend to quite a euphoric state. All through this another half an eye is taking in what we are passing through, the landscape, the history, the people I see. And if you’re counting then you’ll have worked out that I still have half an eye in the bank. I might also chat to the Fabs, perhaps a random comment exchanged here or there. Sometimes if I am really lucky a train of events, a sighting or a comment will trigger a thought that might ultimately form the basis for the day’s story.
And then there’s the singing! I sing a lot when I am riding. Usually silently so that I don’t disturb or frighten my fellow riders. Occasionally I might accidentally let rip which usually provokes a sharp response from anyone within earshot. (If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be on the receiving end of my vocals you’ll understand!) What do I sing? Well everything and anything. I’ve even been known to try and teach the CV some poetry.
By now some of you may be thinking the Captain has totally lost the plot. Well maybe I have but what I am really trying to say is that for me cycling on a good route with great riding companions is almost without compare. The soft hiss of rubber on tarmac, the near-silent whirr of chain over sprocket and the rush of the breeze through the vanes of my helmet is what gets me up and riding day after day. And to be able to do this for several hours at a stretch. Well, I just feel so incredibly lucky.
Anyway back to reality. Rather like the start of the day, the end is also pretty time constrained. Unless it’s a short or especially fast stage we arrive at our destination by mid-afternoon. One of the great things about this tour is that when I arrive in my room my bags are already there and the air conditioning is on. I’ve have dropped a few hints to Itchytoo that a bottle of beer on ice wouldn’t go amiss either but I’m not having much luck in that direction – so far.
Once I’m in my room, I extract my wash kit and bag of electrical leads and chargers and plug in Garmin to recharge it. Then I’m into the shower fully clothed and just like the pro-cyclists I drown my kit removing each piece slowly and giving it a good squeeze under the shower. Once all the kit is off and soaked I wash myself. Then after drying off I’m out of the shower and, with a fresh towel, roll up my bib shorts and walk on them to squeeze as much water out before hanging them up to dry. I repeat this for each item of clothing. This means that by the following morning my kit is dry and ready to be packed until it’s next worn. And unless it’s been a particularly hot and sweaty or long day I find that with three sets of kit I can get for a week before hitting the washing machine for a full-blown cleanup. Ideally on rest days, as indeed I have done today.
With kit washing out of the way it’s then time to attend to any minor issues with the CV. I carry a pack of baby wipes with me so I can give it a quick facelift if needed. The CV seems to love this attention and often purrs softly when I run the wipe back and forth over the cross bar. We also use this quiet time to review the day’s events. If I’m really lucky an idea of what I might write about is already forming and I’ll run it past the CV. It’s my fiercest critic. And if I’ve finished the stage early I might even fire up my iPad and start laying down some actual words. But more often than not that comes later. This is also when I upload my Strava data and then check in to see how my fellow riders, on the tour and back at home, have been getting on.
As the tour has progressed Pete and I have developed a pattern of seeking out a post ride beer around 5:30 pm. Sometimes this involves a bar but more often than not we head over to the nearest gas station to buy a few bottles and we set up a sort of open house back at the hotel when other riders come along and share a beer and commune with us. Judging by the growing numbers I think we are proving quite popular. I always enjoy listening to other riders recount their day’s adventures – especially from people who I haven’t ridden with.
Around about 6:00pm normally it’s time for dinner which is either in the hotel, a nearby eaterie or catered in. One of my tour satisfaction barometers is to listen to the level of chatter over the meal. And I can honestly report that most days the chatter level is both high and happy. That must say something.
By about 7:30pm most people are back in their rooms, as indeed am I. My first order of business is to extract tomorrow’s cycling kit and get it ready. Then I make sure that anything I have unpacked, apart from today’s kit which is still drying, is all in one place ready for tomorrow morning’s zipper battle. Now it’s my time. The CV is quietly snoring in the corner of the bedroom – it needs at least 10 hours beauty sleep. I get my iPad out, power it up, close my eyes and clear my mind for 30 seconds and then start typing and see where it leads me. By 10:00pm I have usually finished and filed the day’s story and done all my social media stuff. Then in the words of Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout it’s “Time for bed”.
So there you have it. A day in the riding life of Captain Century. I hope I’ve answered many of your questions. We start all over again tomorrow. See you on the start line.