Last weekend Andy returned to the start line of the Legs of Steel sportive, determined to finish a ride cruelly cut short by a plague of mysterious punctures. You can read about that here. But how did he get on without the aid of feed stations and, crucially, a broom wagon?
I'm back for more. Granted, the cold light of a late Friday morning, solo but sunny, wasn't as invigorating as the thunder and torrential downpour we were treated to during the previous weekend's Legs of Steel. But it was nice to be able to set up in my own time and coast over the start to tackle the Zig Zag at a faster speed (and considerably lower nipple stiffness).
In the days since the Legs of Rust, the road surface along the A24 to the turning up the road to Westhumble had been scraped and ramped for road 'improvement', not that much consideration had been made toward those with skinnier tyres.
Talking of tyres, I was now sporting a beautiful pair of open tubulars as my trust in the Conti Ultra Sport had drained faster than the air had done at the bottom of Pitch Hill. Open tubs are made the same way as tubulars, but instead of being sewn together, they are given an aramid bead and turned into the evil twin of their premium sibling.
Promising all the comfort of pro riding but without the hassle of glue and the inconvenience of having to buy expensive wheels, they instead deliver a fiendish, Augean sweat-storm as you try to mount the buggers on clincher rims. Imagine trying to find the end of the sellotape, wearing boxing gloves while being beaten in the groin by an insane midget with a hula-hoop (no, not the potato-based snack).
Anyway... After providing an hour's entertainment for my family and workmates the previous evening, I was safely booted with a pair of Challenge Elites, and very nice they were too. More on that later...
Not being surrounded by a swarm of fitter, lighter, younger peers I felt no need to keep pedalling or attacking climbs like someone more than half my age, so I had time to take pictures. I tried to stop at the bottom of each of the climbs, drink in the challenge and say a few swear words. Looking back at my Strava, it seemed this approach worked as I chalked up impressive times on the first three ascents - not blisteringly fast, but also not handicapped by two extra kilos of rainwater.
Last Saturday's landmarks were ticked off one by one: Ranmore, Leith, Holmbury, the bottom of Pitch Hill (raspberry blown this time, not my tubes), and onward to the first of the missed climbs, the Queen of Steel, Barhatch Lane. So far, so sweaty.
Incredibly, I heard a familiar bang-and-flap as I descended the other side of Barhatch. Another sidewall puncture, but this time with no mechanical back up, no spare CO2, no broom wagon.
This time, though, I had the experience to look for the guilty split and I'd had the foresight to pack a mini-pump. I also had packed a small but not insignificant extra that was to come in handy in a few short moments... (Hang on, let me find a pic to ramp up the suspense - Ed.)
Having found the sidewall split, I was struggling to think of a way I could limp to the nearest cycle shop. I knew there was one back in Shere, or in Peaslake. While pausing for thought, I reached into my back pocket for a snack and then remembered that, knowing there would be no feed stops, I'd grabbed a couple of energy gels for emergencies. After emptying the contents of something that tasted vaguely like some sort of citrus wallpaper paste, I jammed the wrapper inside the tyre to stop the spare tube from rupturing.
Another reason NOT to throw away your spent wrappers, boys and girls.
With the tyre pumped up to about 50 psi, I had enough control and confidence in the front wheel to head back towards Dorking. Initially, I thought I'd just trundle along the A25, but having come this far and with growing belligerence decided that Combe Bottom and Crocknorth could be tackled at a leisurely pace as the speed wouldn't be too risky.
Helpfully, at the bottom of the Bottom, someone has spray-painted the word 'climb' at its junction with the main road, so climb I did. Near the crest of the climb, there is also a poignant 'steep bit' daubed on to the tarmac just before its penultimate corner.
Having conquered Coombe Bottom without puking, it seemed rude not to have a go at Crocknorth as well. So this I did, and with growing stupidity, even attempted a bit of out-of-the-saddle tomfoolery. No pictures exist of this epic task, you'll just have to trust this eye-witless account.
I was impressed at the amount of control the semi-deflated open tub was giving me, so when revisiting Ranmore with gravity on my side, I threw a bit more caution to the wind and backed off the brakes a bit more.
The final leg of steel, back to the top of Box, was a more sedate affair as by this point I had burned my matches, the matchbox, the receipt from the matchbox shop and the matches I used to burn the box and receipt with on climbing Crocknorth.
I pulled over at the legendary tea rooms on Box Hill. Suitably fortified with a sausage roll and a steaming cup of tea. I packed my bike away and in the process, noticed that the front brakes and forks were covered in yellow dust, matching the tone of the gum walls on my brand new tyres.
Closer examination revealed the cause of my two epic sidewall failures over the course of the previous week, and resulted in a face palm so large it could be seen from space. The poorly adjusted brake block on my caliper had steadily sliced a neat gash in my tyre every time I braked heavily, for example, when descending at speed.
Safely at home again, I consoled myself by buying a replacement tyre and watching a colleague at the bike shop try to fit it...
So - my increasingly protracted business with Legs of Steel is still unfinished, but I feel better for the experience. Just as alloying other elements to pure iron gives steel its desirable properties like resilience, flexibility and sex appeal (OK, I made that one up), diluting seven-eighths of the Legs of Steel with one part brainfreeze has made me a stronger, some might say invincible, cyclist.
More than that, it bestowed me with a chance to pay stupidity tax to the deity of cycling, if one exists. As St Martha is the Catholic patron saint of active, practical women, perhaps I should take one with me next time I try to tackle my missing Leg.
If any readers know a Martha who would like to accompany Andy on his third attempt to complete the Legs of Steel, please apply via twitter.com/lulhandy.