PHIL CALVERT: Cycle tour training takes a back seat

Phil Calvert
Phil Calvert
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I OPENED some emails the other morning which included one from my friend who organises our annual cycling tour.

The actual venue is kept as a secret until just before we depart, revealed in an information pack which contains notes on where we are going, details of team strip, maps and, of course, notes on the lucky individuals who have been invited, which amount to nothing less than character assassination, together with unflattering photos and reminders of incidents on previous tours which you hoped would be forever forgotten.

Now on this occasion, the email contained no more than a training update, the venue for this week’s training run and a hint (but no more) of where we were headed, but stated that “as the date of the tour grows closer your training should be pretty much complete”. Nothing unreasonable about that you might say, except I have only managed one outing on my mountain bike this year, when I managed to fall off and break my finger while my road bike still wears the dusty mantle of last year’s tour … it has been unused since last year!

You could be forgiven for thinking a cycle tour involving team strips, tour notes, training rides and a team leader would be something akin to Le Tour de France where magnificent iron-hard athletes cover hundreds of miles of country, pushing their finely-tuned bodies to their limits in the search of fame, wealth and glory …… You would be wrong!

Although I have done absolutely no training and this year’s tour is only eight weeks off, I feel sure I have time to sort myself out, dust off my bike, force my palid, lard enhanced body into lycra cycling garb and, red-faced, puff and pant my way around our local roads, usually at a snail’s pace and slowly, but surely, ride myself into fitness, and this is my intention starting as soon as possible, or maybe next week, anyhow, sometime soon.

I did stand at the back door, look at the skies, consider the wind direction and think about going for a ride the other day and took some comfort from the fact I’d just eaten a full English breakfast which is the standard, official tour breakfast, but I couldn’t face mending a slow puncture from last year so I decided I had shown enough commitment for one day and opted for a day in the Dales instead where freshly-baked scones simply demand to be buried under a thick slab of butter …. .marvellous!

I parked at Barden Bridge near Bolton Abbey, and accompanied by Wifey and a very excited Monty, we walked up the banks of the river Wharfe below Appletreewick towards Burnsall. This stretch of river provides some of the most pleasant walking in England and is justifiably very popular. The paths are easy and well-maintained, ready for the crowds who will no doubt turn up once the school holidays begin. But that day, we almost had the place to ourselves. We had caught the weather perfectly, and under sunny, blue skies we enjoyed a pleasant walk through Arcadia.

Being a popular route, there was practically no hassle with cattle as the path is largely fenced off from the open meadows and we did not suffer the dog-owner’s nightmare of being chased by stampeding cows. Instead Monty was able to largely run free, usually at a break-neck pace, over turf which could be walked comfortably in carpet slippers and also indulge in his new passion, swimming. Last year, he was a reluctant participant, but now he launches himself routinely into the cooling waters whether I throw a stick or not.

Perhaps, however, the most memorable aspect of the walk were the wild flowers, which were plentiful. While the meadows were neatly trimmed, the rougher ground and the river bank was dotted with hundreds of wild flowers, but not just buttercups and willow-herb. There were blue cranesbill geraniums, tall pale blue stalks of bellflowers, purple loosestrife, white ox-eye daisy, pink creeping thistle, yellow St John’s Wort, white flat-headed yarrow, violet-blue self-heal (Prunella), white and red clover, yellow coltsfoot and my personal favourite, the pin-cushion flowers of wild Scabious. They are currently looking at their best and in sunshine, and before the schools close, they are well worth seeing.

Under the heat of the sun, I worked up something of a thirst, and feeling guilty about my lack of training for the tour, popped into the Red Lion at Burnsall to be confronted with seven different hand-pulled beers from six different breweries. It would have been unforgivably rude not to support these craft brewers and as they all produce fantastic products, choosing would not be easy … so I didn’t!. They all needed my support. I took some comfort from the fact that not only was I helping rural businesses survive, I was also giving Wifey a chance to have a turn at driving later. Critically, although the lycra was conspicuous by its absence, the first part of my training for the tour was at last in place.

It is surprising how long a walk it is from Burnsall to Grassington. The distance isn’t too great but I fear my speed was not up to much. Arriving in Grassington, we had just enough time for tea, a slab of Yorkshire curd tart drenched in cream, before catching the last bus back to Barden and the car. Life felt very good, as sighing with contentment I put the seat back for a snooze as contentedly, we made our way home at the end of a marvellous day. I may not be ready for Le Tour de France, but with our tours, I think I’m pretty much ready now. I just need to actually get that bike out and get pedalling and I’ve cracked it. I could really get into this exercise thing!