Wednesday, 8 September 2010

a blow upon a bruise

The drive down was nice, as was breakfast. I listened to John Lee Anderson's biography of Che Guevara, and I thought about many things. In the afternoon sun, and with the roof down, I found my way to the hotel in Dunster, a couple of miles from Minehead, where the Tour Ride started. There I bumped into Matt and Ned and John unloading the gear from their car. Ned, who had produced some utterly implausible excuse for being unable to ride his own, crap bike, happened to have borrowed a brand-new Pinarello from an importer ... unridden and worth six or seven grand. It was a thing of great beauty. Who'd have thunk that the notorious scrounger would have somehow found himself riding a carbon-fibre jet?

I nonchalantly threw the wheels on my bianchi, checked the shifting, and we cycled into Minehead. There we met the crew, Team Real Peloton, and recorded material for a podcast which should go out sometime this week (ignore my undistinguished comments on why Contador should have waited for Schleck). There were some good people there and we drank some. Minehead was full of wired eyes, expectant, tremulous hands holding the saddles of yellow bikes.

I slept appallingly and woke to rain. I hate it when it rains on a Sunday morning. It reminds me of almost drowning in Istanbul and of those mornings when I can't get out of bed because I know my jacket is only water-resistant, not waterproof. I oiled my chain, checked the brakes, loaded my pockets with flapjacks, my water bottles with electrolyte, and put my brand new jacket in my back pocket. Ned, Matt and John were in the breakfast room, wearing the Real Peloton team shirts (above) that Matt had had brought over from Columbia, and of which we were duly proud. At seven, ready for the unknown we mounted our bikes in the pouring rain and headed out.

It wasn't going to go well. Over wet tarmac we hammered our way to the start, where we were going to meet the team. Ready for mountains, I forgot that it was the start of the day and hugged someone's wheel close. For some unseen reason up front brakes were applied, my wheel caught, and I went bouncing over the tarmac.

After sitting by the side of the road and a few exclamations of 'F**k', 'f**k', 'f**k' - I suppose I could have called out that bit about waking on the burning lake, poetry never seems to work in these circumstances - I climbed back on the bike. But my left brake head was almost broken off, I couldn't do anything with my right hand, and there was blood running down both legs and blood on the handlebar tape. I couldn't see my chin, though Ned pointed out that my rain jacket was torn across the front. It looked like a bullethole. 'Was there anywhere you didn't land on?' he asked.

I started with the team, rode the first couple of miles, and then headed straight into the hotel where I showered (they still had about 105 miles to go at that point). But not before I'd been displayed to Ned's motorbike camera crew: the event will feature in the ITV4 coverage of Stage 4 of the Tour of Britain on September 14. As I watched the blood run down the plughole I decided I had done the right thing.

And that was my ride. I drove to the finish, in Teignmouth, and saw a paramedic, who patched me off and showed the worst of the bruising to his assistant, thinking she might find it instructive. I had bruising and cuts on the front and back of my right knee, grazing on my right shoulder, a big graze on my chin, a knock on my forehead where my helmet had protected me, bruising on both wrists, an inoperable right thumb, a big cut and swelling on my left ankle,grazes on the inside and outside of my left knee, a swelling the size of a golfball on my left elbow, grazes and a swelling the size of half a cricket ball on my right shoulder, and something indescribable on my right hip.

So I missed all the fun. I missed seeing Ned fly up the first mountain, and then have the freewheel on his brand new Pinarello bike freeze. It was an hour and a half before it was fixed. I missed Rob's rear derailleur snap (he also had to abandon). I missed crashes. I missed watching Matt pushing his bike up hills. I missed eight plus hours of cycling and several of standing around. Instead I limped to a bar and had a roast dinner and some wine and re-read a PhD thesis. It was all about how spirit is inseparable from matter, which seemed self-evident at that point. Then I went to the finish and saw individual members of team Real Peloton finish in better-than-respectable times. And finally I saw the Lanternes Rouge roll up -- Ned, Matt, team captain Steve Trice and Chris with the supportive girlfriend -- and finish side by side at the end of an honest days work slogging over the unforgiving hills and through the uncompromising winds of Somerset and Devon, navigating the incommunicable chemistry of camaraderie and isolation that is cycling.

We went out drinking in Torquay. This is how some of it looked the next day (don't look if you're faint at heart). As my friend Sarah said: so much for cycling being easier on the body. 



  1. It has a Rothko-esque quality, that bruise. I think you should photograph it as it fades through blue into ochre
    Seriously though, do try to stay on the bloody bike, eh?

  2. Blimey Joad, that is an impressive bruise. I imagine that, along with the other bangs and scrapes, it's still affecting your sleep, although I hope not. Either way, I wish you the speediest of recoveries.

    Oh, and I enjoyed the blog thanks.

  3. I'm struggling to work out which part of the body that is, though...

  4. That's my hip. I should probably have held a ruler up against it. Thanks everyone for kind comments and tweets. I am recovering rapidly and hope to be back on the bike next week.