North Road Hardriders 23rd Feb

A few (painful) thoughts from Dominic Bray

The legendary North Road Hardriders. The traditional season’s opener. The ride of champions. My second attempt. Last year was cold, -2 degrees cold, icy. Today? Moderate wind, 11 degrees, no rain. The only thing standing between us and a promisingly pleasant Sunday morning was 24 miles through ‘Little Switzerland’.
“Why are we doing this?” asked Jeremy. “Because it’s fun” I replied, and so it was. Who wouldn’t enjoy a ride around the quiet lanes of Hertfordshire on a quiet Sunday morning?

I’d been promoted. No7 last year; No18 this year. I can’t imagine why, but it felt like progress of sorts. 17 was a DNS; damn, no-one to aim at, until a late No9 slotted in front of me. Tracksuit trousers. “I can catch him surely?” Off he went. Now me. Last year I had “That’s a pretty bike”: that wasn’t meant as a compliment on the Hardriders. This year I had clipped on some tri-bars for camouflage. It must have done the trick. “Want holding?” “Yes please, all the way round?” Off we go. The organisers had cruelly removed one of the few flat-ish miles by moving the start to The Ridgeway to avoid some road works, thereby depriving us of a few deluded minutes of feeling “this isn’t so bad” before Carbone Hill rears its ugly little head.” Still, a bit of flat to start with, but why is my heart rate at 175? I’m going to die and I’m only 500m in. Settle down, find a rhythm…

… Carbone Hill, rhythm? Darnicle Hill, made it over the top, along the flat, round the roundabout, the traffic (a paperboy with a dog) is held back by the marshal – “I’m a freekin’ pro” PUSH PUSH. Back down Darnicle, back up the other side, still going. I’ve got someone on my tail? Already? Still there, still there, still there. “F*****g come past if you’re going to” (under my breath, sort of). He does, eventually, no number, out for a Sunday ride, following the course, getting a tow from me, piss taker.

I hear the whirring of aero wheels. Already? Only 10k done; No20 cruises past. Guess I’m not going to win then. Rhythm, rhythm. PUSH PUSH.
Cucumber Lane. Narrow, wet, low hanging branches, grit, twigs, dirt, mud, – water, potholes, menacing, murky puddles – how deep? holes? rocks? twigs? branches? horse shit? – no time to think, keep the line, straight through … hope for the best, still alive.

Sharp right turn onto Little Berkamstead Lane. No20 still in sight. He didn’t know the corner. The mug. I’ve got him. No … we’re going uphill again … he’s gone.

White Stubbs Lane … a rider ahead, with a number on … COME ON YOU **** (nothing personal). No16; I’m past.

Brickendon Lane, down past Bayford Station. SHiiiiT too fast round the corner, nothing coming, all OK. “Clear” shouts the marshall at the top. These guys are good. Round I go, slip on the gravel, just stay upright, down the hill, up again. HR 175. Come on, that’s the last hill … until Essendon. Save a bit for Essendon…

Now, the long sweet run down Brickendon Lane to Lower Hatfield Road, 40kmh, 45, 50, 55 … puddle, big puddle, and a horse, where do I go? Puddle it is. Hold on tight, onto the drops … wooosh. I’m smiling. Why am I smiling? This is fun.

Then the long not so sweet drag from there to the bottom of Essendon Hill, (save a bit for the hill, save a bit for after the hill). No25 comes cruising past. 25? That’s seven minutes on me. Hey ho. Shit this is hard work. The floods have gone. Not too far to go now. WAKE UP. Lost concentration, lost some speed. GET A GRIP.

Hit the bottom of Essendon Hill, almost literally. Wind hits me bang in the face, one mile up, not steep, but long, long, long … A look of pity, an amused smile and encouraging clap from a middle-aged couple out on a Sunday walk. I’m out too early for any spectators to be watching. We could have had a cup of tea the speed I was going. Finally, finally, reach the water tower. But this isn’t the Club Hill Climb. This isn’t the end.

A welcome shout of “COME ON FINSBURY” gives me an extra spurt for the last bit. Round the S-bend, down the hill past the Little Berkampstead turn off, then up, again, up, up, not far, but far enough. Another whirring aero wheel. “Stay with him, stay with him”, out of the saddle, PUSH, no chance, he’s gone, I’m gone too, lungs exploding, tongue out (why?), legs giving up, but only a mile to go, “COME ON. CAN’T STOP NOW. And there it is, the chequered board, last ten yards, right to the finish… “EIGHTEEN” (in my head). Done it. Gasp. Still alive. Gasp. No vomit. Gasp. Could have done it quicker. Maybe next time. For there has to be a next time. That was too much fun, in a painful, messed up, lung busting, thigh burning, throat rasping, heart pumping, masochistic kind of way. How much for a TT bike? A skinsuit? An aero helmet? Five less kilos? A winter’s training camp?

Back to HQ to see a beaming Jeremy, sipping his tea, standing next to the leader board which has a blue “3” next to his name (third vet on standard). 1.09. He takes a picture. The “3” gets moved. Sweet while it lasted. Daniel’s next in. Phil. Andy. Gray. Michael. A fine turn out from the Park.

Straight onto the SPOCO website when I get home to find some more hilly TT’s. If I can ride with the pros (albeit very considerably slower) anyone can.

93 finishers. 8 DNF.
Winner: Ashley Cox of CC Luton in a most impressive 00:56:47.

A sterling effort from FPCC. :

13th. Gray Turnock. (V) 01:03:39 (with the remains of a heavy cold)
29th. Mike Briars 01:07:11 (fresh from a ten pint day with Dr Fuentes at Twickenham)
36th. Phil Murrell (V) 01:08:27) (with a broken pedal from the start)
42nd . Jeremy Greenwood (V) 01:09:50 (with Dave Snowdon’s skin suit – how?)
44th . Daniel Northover 01:10:37 (under 40, a mere child, he should be fast)
53rd Dominic Bray (V) 01:12:01 (on a pretty bike)
72nd Andy Turnock (V) 01:15:57 (remarkably fast for such an unfeasibly tall man – the air is turbulent up there)

FPCC pictures with thanks to Davey Jones.

Full results on NRCC website:

Many thanks to North Road CC for an excellently organised and most enjoyable event.