At various points we each played rugby with Pete over a period of 3 decades. To our minds Rugby is the best team sport on the planet – often described as “a hooligans’ game played by gentlemen” or “men playing with funny shaped balls”. Pete was at the heart of the fun playing as a prop forward and widely regarded as a very good one. He was always a central guy to a team’s spirit of unity. Our Rugby roots still show through in our average stature and bodyweight – the mean of the latter being about 15 stone. The vast majority of our group haven’t been on a bike in a decade or more. Yet that has not deterred us with the training for our challenge. We are 4 weeks away from the start of a 330 odd mile challenge over 3.5 days which will test us harder than any game of our beloved sport ever did.
The training has been tough (for most of us at least). Regular 20 mile stints when we can grab the time and several 60, 70 and 80 mile rides in some of the warmest weather this country has been blessed with for some time. The rides have largely been successful but have had their moments of side-splitting amusement too…From one guy being told by the bike shop that with his “manly frame” he would need a custom built rear wheel to accommodate the weight; to another being pulled alongside by a worried motorist to ask if he needed emergency help due to the exhausted look and snail-like pace up a minor hill.
Of most universal note for many of the newbie MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) is the skill required to be learnt in operation of ‘clipped-in’ shoes. It still confuses us when they are referred to as ‘clipless’ pedals because that’s really what many of us would prefer – no clips! I think it’s safe to say that all of us have, by now, suffered the indignity and shock that comes with the sudden realization that you have stopped and your feet are still attached to the pedals. I for one managed a good 500 miles of training before having my first ‘moment’ in front of a very attractive young lady right outside my house – don’t tell my wife I might have been distracted. The most athletic of our group had his comedy-cartoon ‘moment’ directly infront of a busy, local parade of shops – much to the amusement of the busy hoard of shoppers.
However, my favourite ‘moment’, in this regard, affected the eldest of our group, who will turn 50 just prior to our ride. On a particularly steep hill, during one of the group rides, he was busily chatting away to me from behind – no doubt practicing his slipstream riding. As the hill dragged on my focus on his conversation began to wain as the burn in my legs gradually built. I wondered if I was going to make it… perhaps I was not alone because it dawned on me that he too had stopped talking. Suddenly there was an “OH!”… an expletive… a short pause and finally a crashing noise which would have well suited the ‘Wile E. Coyote’ in an episode of ‘Roadrunner’.
I knew instantly that he’d run out of steam and not been able to get the shoes from the pedals in time. I heard a concerned voice from a car behind ask him if he was OK and I have to admit that although I stopped to help him, I couldn’t have ridden any further anyway because of the uncontrollable laughter.
However, we’ve had our spills and our moments of feeling unable to finish the task but we are 4 weeks from D-day and we have surpassed our fundraising target with still more to come. Seeing all the guys on our last group training rides in the charity kit brought a choked feeling to my throat. We’ve had to train mostly in smaller groups but bringing the gang together was really bonding. Seeing every one of them in our charity 'Tour kit' brought back very fond memories of a team spirit that is at the very heart of Rugby and that Pete loved so much about playing with his friends.