Watch your manners.

I’ve never competed as a cyclist. While I’m fit and healthy, I am well above average height and weight so suffer an aero and gravity penalty that wouldn’t do me any favours. It’s a relativity thing, gravity and black holes and all that – Einstein, himself a keen downhill mountain biker, based his famous formula upon this premise. E=MC2, where E is energy gels required, M is the middle aged man, and C pertaining to being a cyclist, and 2 confirming that us big guys have to work twice as hard.

He was wise.

Still and all, never having entered a ‘competition’ before, when the opportunity arose to volunteer as a marshal at a Sportive recently I jumped at the chance.

On the day I was allocated to a pit stop, so never got out onto the course. I won’t name the Sportive, and thus identify the organiser, but I felt it could have been better organised. The pit stop was the fairly large car park of a warehouse. Unfortunately, there was only the single road in and out. Perhaps not a problem if everyone could be trusted to be sensible, but this left two traffic streams, incoming and outgoing, sharing the same road. The problem arose when the incoming riders spotted the lovely juicy energy drinks, energy bars, sweeties and crisps being handed out for free. The temptation of this wondrous sight was too much, recalling to mind the scene at the end of Ice Cold in Alex when John Mills finally gets his hands on the pint of beer. The sight was too much for some of them, and like John Mills they were drawn inexorably towards this source of wonder…straight through the outgoing traffic flow, while the sensible riders left their bikes in the bike park and walked the correct route to collect their freebies.

This caused chaos, and it was us poor, unpaid marshals that took the verbal abuse during the ensuing chaos. OK, there were thousands of riders, and maybe only a few dozen who were rude or threatening to the marshals, but it really ruined the whole experience for me. Without these unpaid marshals there would be no event, and after the way I was treated I certainly won’t be volunteering my time and fuel (I had to drive half way across Southern England to get there) to do so again. If enough people felt like that there would be no such events. Ever.

On the upside some of the decent riders were horrified by the behaviour they were seeing, and many felt compelled to apologise to the marshals on behalf of people they have never met before, which was really jolly decent of them. There are some good people left.

Out on the course things were also quite uncivilised on occasion. Several drivers did not think a lawful road closure applied to them and bullied their way through. One driver managed to knock over a marshal while doing this and broke the poor bloke’s hip, and ended up getting himself arrested. I don’t know if I’m being over sensitive, but I think it’s an utter disgrace that a middle-aged volunteer has a very painful and possibly life changing injury because some utter idiot (I would use stronger language, but this is a family friendly blog) did not think the law applied to them.

The bikes and riders were interesting to watch. The fast boys were really moving, and by-passed my pit stop altogether. Some of the times they were posting were absolutely phenomenal. I know it isn’t a race, but it’s no secret that a fair tranche treat it as such and take it very seriously.

The average rider was on a fairly mundane machine. Sure, there were the super light top flight carbon framed space ships, but the majority were on high end alloy framed bikes, or mundane mass produced lower end CF bikes, and beyond the very fast lads there seemed to be no correlation between the value of the bike and the order in which the riders were coming in. There were even a couple of mountain bikes, and one old feller that strongly resembled Catweazel (remember him?) was on a full-squidge mountain bike, and he wasn’t hanging about, coming in to out pit stop easily in the top 1/3 of the shoal.

There were a couple of titanium framed bikes that were very nice, but the real treat for me was the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s 531 steel framed British bikes. Some even had mudguards, and it’s amazing to think that more than 50 years on these wonderful machines were providing comfortably competitive performance to their owners. One of the other marshals had even ridden to the event on a gorgeous 1950’s Claud Butler – it wasn’t mint, but it was good and straight and had a wonderful patina that only 70 years of loving use can bring.

This got me wondering. I’m in my 50’s, and I’m also not mint but I’m in pretty good shape. I’ve upped my mileage this year and my fitness and endurance are probably as good as they have been in the last decade. With all this in mind you may see me on a Sportive myself, perhaps later this year or early the next. I’ve the handsome young Tom Selleck lookalike, so give me a wave as you watch me trundle by.

There’s dog in the old life yet.

Ride safe.



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