Saturday, June 26, 2010

Invisible Friend

This morning I get up early, this is proper early, 6am early, and drive over to Bourne for my Sportive. It’s called Flat Out In The Fens and claims to be a sportive with a difference. They say they have got rid of the hills.

It’s also a mere 73 miles, which is actually less than what I thought I’d entered. Phew. That should make it easier on my shoulder, which was dreadfully painful in the aftermath of last week’s Nottinghamshire Bike Ride. There’s two cake stops on the route, which is the same as last week then... well maybe there were five last week but I only managed to find the brakes for two of them.

They also have some nice new trendy timing chips which involves simply sticking a strip of sellotape with a bit of metal in it to your helmet. Hope it works but there’s no reassuring beep like when you cycle over a timing mat. I'm not doing all this for no time.

On the way to the start at Bourne Leisure Centre, I miss the junction off the A1, get a bit lost and end up having to cut across country. So I arrive a bit later than I intended and find that there are not many folk there waiting to start. They’ve probably all left early, the starts were from 7am and it’s now gone 8am. If you were doing either of the longer routes (112 miles which is Ironman Triathlon distance or the eye watering 153 mile option) and wanted to see the match, you would have had to have got started as soon as possible. The upshot of my rural diversion is I don’t end up starting until 8.10. This means I’m going to have to keep up a reasonable pace if I’m going to be back in Nottingham to catch the match myself.

Well they’re right about one thing; they have got rid of the hills. The course is flat, very flat. Although this leaves us very exposed to the elements, which are a strong sun but also quite a brisk wind as well. So the going isn’t quite as easy as you would have thought.

The route consists of mainly quiet country lanes, which often have pretty poor road surfaces but other than that it’s all very pleasant and a chance to top up the sunburn. It’s also very quiet cyclist wise. I find very few groups to cycle with and there never seems to be more than three or four in a group. All the same, as I pull into the first feed station, at a place called Thorney, with 24 miles covered, I feel things are going fairly well and to plan. The feed station is ok but not great. The snacks are a bit naff and there’s no hot tea again.

As I restart I end up cycling with a guy and a girl who I think at first are a couple. I feel a bit of a gooseberry but then I realise that it’s more a case of just her hitting on him. He seems to tire of the attention and takes the opportunity afforded by a tricky road crossing to get rid of her. He powers across a small gap in the busy traffic before she can follow him and doesn’t wait for her on the other side. By the time the girl and I get across a few minutes later, he’s long gone. Now he’s left her with me.

From there it’s not far to feed station two which comes at 54 miles covered. Note, feed station number two, that’s two out of two. See I'm remembering to stop today. The feed station is in the car park of The Ship Inn at Pinchbeck just past Spalding. It’s not open for business, unfortunately.

The 'couple' seem to make it up when they rendezvous at the feed station and they leave together but in the closing stages I pass her again, once more cycling on her own.

I did notice on the route profile that there was one hill on the route and that came in the last few miles. It actually a makes a nice change from the rest of the course and my legs are still thankfully up for it. Glad there weren’t any more though, it was far too hot for taxing climbs.

I complete, what turns out to be, 74.5 miles in four hours and six minutes which is a slightly slower pace than last weekend. 29.2 kph. I put that down to the lack of big groups to cycle with and to hide from the wind in.

There are no drinks at finish, which is a bit naughty. Water would have done. Instead I have to buy some out of the leisure centre’s vending machines. My prize for completing the event is another buff, exactly the same as the one I got at the Cat.

L texts me congratulations and suggests that I get my shoulder massaged so that I don’t struggle with it like I did last week. Problem is if I stop for a massage, I run the risk that it will make me late for the match. Dilemma. Still that nice looking young girl who’s doing the massages would be a good compensatory measure for only getting another buff and she may make my shoulder feel better as well. If she doesn’t, I’ll just grin and bear the experience. As L is insisting, who am I to refuse.

The girl actually gives me a very nice calf massage, very gentle and soothing as she chats... chats... chats... It’s probably completely ineffectual but it feels nice. Then she turns her attention to my shoulder. Obviously her specialist area. Talk about getting a good seeing to. I feel more bruised now than ever before. I’d hate to get on the wrong side of her. I stop answering her questions and bite my knuckles instead.

I arrive back home at 2.30 and head into town. L has gone off to Scruffys with Mikael, her invisible friend, the star of her audiobook. I hope he's saving a seat for me. Surprisingly I make kick off because a bus fortuitously turns up at the precise moment I needed it. A good sign? Perhaps not, once the match kicks off, I start to wish I’d been delayed. It’s not pretty, they are soon 2-0 down and I’m left wondering why England appear to have taken Derby's defensive coach out there with them.

The experience isn’t helped by the fact that Scruffys is oddly and annoyingly, in the middle of a world cup and on the day of the big match, out of cask ale, pretty much any other beer and all but one of their lagers as well.

Then suddenly England are back in it and playing moderately well, then comes that ‘goal’, the one that wasn’t. Scandalous. Ok we barely deserved it but still. It starts an immediate clamour for goal line technology to be introduced but really, it was so obviously a goal it shouldn’t be necessary.

It hasn’t been a good tournament for referees. There’s been some ridiculous sending off's and numerous other bad decisions. In fact later that evening, Argentina's first goal was allowed when it was clearly off side. They then mistakenly replayed it on the screens around the stadium, sparking a near riot.

Whether Lampard’s disallowed screamer would have made any difference who knows, and with the way Germany waltzed through England’s defence at will to add two second half goals, you kind of think not.

If the tournament has been bad for referees, it also didn’t start off that well for football either but the games have been getting better all the time and can only get better still with the demise of a very average England side. In fact the Argentina v Germany quarter looks very tasty.

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