Tour of The Highlands -Part 2



Stu checks his “Well I’m fucked then, I’m banging oot 187BPM ” he blurts oot with sweat cascading fae his chin. Wish I had kept ma masterplan stoom now!  Anyway it has landed and he’s slowing. I don’t know whether it’s deliberate or psychosomatic.  Not wanting tae upset the climbing rhythm I’ve got going, I start tae slowly edge away fae him.  We turn a corner and the Lawers Dam comes into full view, but just as it does I see a photographer hunkered down beside a big rock, with a long range lens pointing doon the road towards us.  Fuck knows what happens, but a switch in ma head is flicked and I come over all Berty Contador. Springing up out the saddle, shifting up a few gears. In ma mind I’m like a gazelle, prancing across the Savanah. A vision of poetry in motion. In reality, nowhere near it, probably look more like Dan Martin, putting a fire out with his feet, whilst chewing a highland toffee! Never did see that photo.

The road narrows and cuts through the rocks as I crest the top.  First test of the day done and feeling good.  I cycle on another few hundred meters tae completely crest the hill and stop.  Here I wait for Stu and Tank.  I suck on the bottle and chew some more fuel.  I also take the opportunity for a bike photo.  Stu soon appears, blowing a bit but still chirper. We hang for another few minutes taking in the scenery, Still no sign of Tank. He warned us tae ride on if he falls back, so we do. We will get him at the next water station.

Stu cresting at the dam

We glide along the side of the dam, gathering ourselves.  What goes up must come down and Glen Lyon is approaching. Forewarned at the pre-race brief that this is a precarious technical descent with poor road conditions.  (Organisers spent last night manicuring it as best they could tae remove boulders and scree).  No sooner, do I get tae the start of the descent and I have almost forgotten the pre-race brief, dialling into the fastest lines, staying loose, adjusting through the scree and rocks. Fun, soon comes tae an end though.  I catch up tae a cagey husband and wife combo in front of me. Don’t know if they are a couple, but thought I would apply a healthy dose of affinity bias; basing ma assumption on their similarity in cycling garb.  He is also riding counter intuitively off the fall line in order tae shield her fae aggressive descenders! Tough titties amigo.  I’m no mincing doon a tasty descent like this.

A few twists and turns pass and my mind wanders as I await ma chance tae get through. Hmmm  A couple cycling;I wonder if they met at a Gran Fondle in the Dolly Tights; A cycling themed night at a swinger’s club in Manchester?’(The Grand Fondle at the Dolly tights reference is purely fictitious, but if some opportunist wanted tae promote such an event then I hold copyright tae the name and thus should be invited tae vet the membership process!!)  Back tae riding…the bike, before this story goes further downhill!

Another few bends pass and it’s too technical tae pass easily.  Looking for a comparison? It reminds me of the twists and turns Richie Porte wiped out on at the Tour this year (Noo that was a dull yin). Swinging quickly fae one bend tae the next.  I need tae couture an opening soon or all chance o fun will be lost.

I swing off line tae ensure ‘hubby’ clocks me in his peripheral and like a bird protecting its chicks, this only serves for him tae defend his line even mare.  I stay attentive but not intrusive and a gap soon presents as they both brake way too early for a right hander, “on your right” I shout as I press hard on the pedals making a dive for the inside line.  They clock it and hold left. Through. Ya beauty, an empty descent in front of me and not a soul as far as the eye can see, which is only tae the apex of the next turn.  I stomp on the pedals, taking aggressive lines, only dabbing the brakes if necessary and accelerating out fae each apex.  Stay loose and fast, like your snowboarding , I keep reminding maself.  I enjoy the sufferfest of climbing but I absolutely love descending.  I’ve been on an evolutionary curve fae BMXing, Mountain biking, Snowboarding tae Road Biking.  A culmination of experiences and exposures that have habituated me to the risk of descending steep and tight lines.  Love it.  Total risk and reward.

A cattle grid approaches ahead, I’m ripping it doon here and there’s no chance I’m wiping any speed now.  I pull up on the pedals and handlebar simultaneously, sending ma bike air born.   Nibali like, I almost bunny hop the whole grid only catching the last few bars with ma back wheel which sounds out a machine gun like trrrrrriiill on landing.

Ma eyes are watering from breaking air, but the thrill spurs me on for the final section of the descent ahead as we enter the tree line.  Trying tae squeeze every ounce of speed out this descent, I drop onto the top bar one final time and spin the frogs legs ala Chris Froome when he opportunistically attacked on the descent of Bagnere de Luchonon stage 8 of TDF 2016 with amazing success. By the way, an amazing transformation in a rider that used tae descend like Bambi on ice.  A transformation I think I can take a wee bit credit for (tongue firmly in cheek) right enough.

The story goes like this and trust me sometimes fact is a crazier story than fiction.

For ma 40th celebration, Sherpy, Sposs and maself set off on a buddy trip tae the 2015 Vuelta Espana.  That years Queen stage finished on the summit at Encamp in Andorra. On arrival the night before tae our hotel, conveniently situated at the start of the climb up Encamp; Sherpy and maself cycled up the climb, picking out the perfect set of hairpins tae set up basecamp on next day.  ON the day of the race we cycled back up.  This time our bidons were replaced with wine bottles and cans of beer in the back packs( not lying). You could say, we were OOT for the day!

Mikel Landa, the then Astana rider (pre Sky) passes us first and goes on tae win stage. The GC group soon follows, although strangely devoid of the SKY team, who then follow a good few minutes later. Froome lying in 2nd place at start of the day inexplicably falls completely out of GC contention this day. The Autobus, Gruppetto and convoy of vehicles then follow.  Sherpy commented that no team buses or the like had passed us pre or post racers and thus “Hey maybe we’ll see the riders cycle back doon past us?” he said.  NO sooner had the wistful hopes floated fae his wine stained mouth, that dribs and drabs of the racers started buzzing down the 7K descent in front of us with jackets and team backpacks on.  A red rag tae some drunken Scottish bulls.  We quickly gathered ourselves and packed up our empties, ready for the off.

A BMC rider takes the hairpin bend in front of me and starts accelerating tae the next bend.  I set off in hot pursuit, giving it ma all, in feeble attempt tae catch said BMC rider.  I hear Sherpy shouting after me as I make chase, but I’m making ground and bizarrely bevvy motivated tae catch up tae the rider, in doing so I drop tae the bars spinning the legs trying tae gain every bit of speed out of ma hired Cannondale Synapse that I can; A decent hire bike,  but to all intense purposes, it’s merely rendering it a knife tae a gun fight versus his BMC Swiss masterpiece (and lets not talk about his superior athleticism).  I can still hear Sherpy shouting. Something must be up? I turn around incase he’s dropped one of the last remaining cans o lager.  I cani see him tho, as ma view Is blocked by a rider draughting ma wheel.  A rider that looks suspiciously like Chris Froome.  “Fucking hell”; it is Chris Froome! The now 5 times grand Tour legend Chris Froome is sitting in on ma wheel.

He now pulls out, overtakes me and drops back in front of me. I almost crash in star struck surprise. I couldn’t miss this opportunity tae see what had happened tae him today. Why did he lose so much time?  I managed tae get up beside him, “Chris, Chris, what happened today?” I blurt out, He automatically pulls away in a defensive manoeuvre, probably suspicious I’m some journo looking for a scoop,  only tae realise I’m just a  slightly inebriated fan.  Tae his credit, he could have just dropped me and disappeared ,but for about a 1k he sits up and tells me how he crashed very early in the stage. He thinks he’s broken a toe and is heading straight for an x-ray when he gets back tae team bus sitting down in Encamp below us. He throws his Bidons tae kids at the side of the road as we pass.  They are completely oblivious tae the legend in the making whom has just passed and gifted them his bidons. After some more small talk he hits the hyper speed button, dropping me in a flash, leaving me literally trailing stars.

“No need tae thank me on the descending master class Mr Froome!!  See yi, Good luck with the x-ray”. * NOTE: Chris Froome pulls out of Vuelta next day with a broken metatarsal.

Chris Froome dropping me at 2015 Vuelta

Another reason I love cycling.  Which other sport could that have happened?  Golf/ football? Nae chance!  That’s play finished for the day at The Masters, “Rory fancy joining me for a few holes?”  Final whistle at the Camp Nou.  Boys fancy a kick about,  Messi your on ma team,  Suarez over there. Love him or loathe him, but Froome’s season basically finished that day and through the pain and disappointment, he still took the time tae talk tae a  fuckin drunk stranger.  Worthy of a gid ol KUDOS if you ask me.

Slightly off piste there but back fae the slopes of Andorra tae Glen Lyon. I blur past another few riders and then roll out the bottom of the descent.  Man that was good, Stu’s not far behind. The dude also partial to bit of harem scarem descending.

We soft pedal tae the water stop in the hope Tank will roll in soon.  He arrives but all is not good.  Dude has been suffering fae cramps.  He tells us they kicked in on the climb tae Ben Lawers.  Tae the point, he had tae get off and push.  The first of many cramps that will frame his day. From his pained expression, this is obviously stressing him, both physically and mentally, as we were not even 50 miles through the day. I had brought a couple of extra NUNN tabs and I ship them in his direction.  Hopefully help re-balance the chemistry of his muscles.

We set off fae water stop with ‘Tank’ re-enforcing us not tae soft pedal if he lags. He’ll finish one way or another. Boys a grinder.  Chapeau tae him.  We roll the next 5-10 miles together talking all sorts of nonsense.  Its times like this I fully appreciate cycling.  There’s the obvious health benefits that go with it, but there’s more tae it.  It grabs you.  It’s like tapping a well into your soul.  It’s beauty, it’s creation, it’s adventure, it’s solitude, It’s clarity, It’s focus, it’s pain, it’s determination, It’s views and smells you’ll never see in a car, It’s purging out problems, It’s discovery and random conversations (like finding out Stu is as handy with pair of secateurs as he is with his Dura ace gear shifters). But the single most important thing I Iove most about cycling? it’s about making that someday today. The ultimate sporting distillation of life and living as a whole.  Love it.

Right now the miles are dissolving under ma wheels. I’m going tae enjoy them, take the time tae look up and absorb the moving 4d canvas, the myriad of smells, the fleeting animals. As just like life! That bike mechanical, rough road, steep climb or bus with big floppy dog wing mirrors could be just around the next corner.  Then and only then, will I know whether tae fix things, pedal harder, dab the brakes or change direction quickly. That’s cycling and scratching a little bit deeper; fuck that’s life Mr Sinatra.

We start tae string out on the approach tae Shiehallion.  An easier climb, but certainly not as easy on the eye as Ben Lawers. All the way through the climb ma bladder is reminding me that I need a slash, however I don’t want tae stop mid climb and I’ve not managed a rolling slash(yet) so I keep pedaling until the road eases and flattens.  I then desperately scan for a place tae go.  But there’s nothing. It’s quiet, still and it’s totally wide open. Tae gain any type of modesty cover I would need tae jump over a ditch and traverse through some marsh land.  Fuck that, needs must and like a kid crossing the road for the first time, I look left and then right, before stretching down the bib shorts and opening the tap. Heading rolling skywards, I get lost in the relief.  So lost in the relief, I fail tae hear another tourist bus creeping around the corner. It peeps fae a far, obviously a pre warning. . . ‘get it away before they see’, if horns could speak eh? The surprise of the horn only serves tae startle me and ma motor response is tae turn and see what the impending danger is? In doing so further opening up ma peeing position tae the passing onlookers. ‘You manky cycling tink yi’. I can just hear the tour guide on board.  “On the right we have the stunning Scottish Highlands home tae the beautiful stag, grouse, pheasants and eh…… on your left, a petrified highland vole, peeking out a bush”.

Stu rolls round the corner.  “You awrite, what was the bus peeping at?”    “ah nothing mate’ lets get the flock out of here before I get put on a register”

Another good bit of descending ahead, Quickly I’m up tae full pelt, just then Stu effortlessly glides past, all nonchalant. Shit that looked easy. I hope he was peddling like fuck in ma slip stream before he slung oot.  Big fecker is seriously shifting.  A wonder of grace. I bear down on ma pedals and see if I can spin anything else out of ma top gear.  I eventually catch his wheel, holding his slipstream in trust as we flow through some tight lines.  We then cat and mouse, building speed as we go. Only met the fella at the Shuffle down festival last week, but looks as if I have a kindred spirit. We later find out that this segment on Strava is aptly named ’The Bomber’. We coast into Tummel Bridge and tae the next feed stop.  Feeling tired but upbeat we down some more Pepsi, Aussie bites and granola bar, as the sugar orgy continues.

With rain threatening (forecast was for electrical storms) we ready ourselves for the final leg. Just as we are clipping in, Tank comes rolling in, making sure he is just ahead of a couple riding the event on a tandem bike. Unsure whether this is face saving or he thinks they’ll beat him tae the snacks! Looks like he’s bouncing back though.  We hang back let him refuel and we set off all together again. I grab a final handful of jelly beans for the pocket.  Never know when the little jelly wonders will be required tae caulk energy leaks.

74 miles in, 27 tae go.  We roll and climb out of Tummel, the next big test tae deal with is the climb at Trinafor. Smack, it hits us at a fairly steep pitch. the chat fae other rider labouring on the climb is of the testing nature of this first day.  A lot of fucked looking people out here, maself included, although adrenaline, naivety and 30min Garmin feed alerts are keeping ma neb up.  As sore as I feel I’m sadistically enjoying this Trinafor climb probably as it is being sound tracked by some quality Northern Souls blasting out fae a speaker at the top of the climb.  At least I thought it was at the top of the climb.  Tae add further sadistic enjoyment, the organisers have added some hilarious road graffiti tae encourage and distract riders in equal measure.

“C’mon fanny baws”,

“Ma granny can ride faster than you”.

“Ya dobber”

I’m chortling as I’m gasping for every ounce of air. Loving their sense of humour, some old biddies on their Sunday drive are in for a big shock. “Agnes whits a dobber?”

I eventually reach the speaker only tae realise we are only half way up the climb, I can now see rise, after rise, after rise ahead.  SHIT! I use the towelling on ma mitt tae wipe the nipping, streaming sweat fae ma eyes.  When I’m struggling like this, I battle it by playing mind games.  Instead of slowing I sporadically punch the cadence in the hope the gradient will ease or I’ll jump start ma mind and legs, finding a rhythm.  The latter happens and instead of falling back, I start playing catch the ‘rider in front’.  Although pained the remainder of the climb becomes hypnotic.  I reach the top drenched in sweat and gasping for air like a goldfish thats been spilled fae a fairground bag. I ride on for another few hundred yards tae make sure there is no further tricks or kicks on this climb.  I pull in tae rest, drink and refuel. Four other riders follow suite. Each tae a man, we are fucked! Legs shaking, hearts thumping, sweat drenched and not a single word is spoken.   Stu arrives with the carrying the same ‘goldfish pedalling a bike’ expression. He stops and slumps over his handlebars.  “tougher than I thought it would be today” he gasps.  Five heads nod.

Upwards and backwards we press on. We are soon onto the old A9, a road/path of sorts. With huge variations on surface quality and coverage, we would be forgiven for imagining we were riding part Strade Bianchi, part Paris Roubaix such is the smorgasbord of surfaces we have tae contend.  We are riding into the wind now with each pedal stroke a chore as pace dramatically drops.  After what feels like an eternity we see House of Bruar come into sight.  Not far now.

At this point I’m done and just want tae see Pitlochry.  Time tae caulk those energy leaks.  Jelly bean time! I neck a handful and wait like a raver for the next big beat tae drop. Respite fae the wind is gained by the winding tree lined nature of the road towards Pitlochry. We next reach Blair Atholl when Stu suddenly turns all Fabian Cancellara and finds his beat. Fuck sake he must have snuck another Kit Kat in?  I’m hanging on for grim death in his wheel, but only just! Vanity has me trying tae take ma pull, but when I move out his slipstream it’s like a parachute has been  popped open on ma back and I shoot backwards. His pace is incredible. He’s spitting the miles out and the only support I can offer is verbal.  Hellava ride.

Villages and hamlets pass in a blur as we arrive in Pitlochry, courtesy of the Stu Highland express train. Our eyes are darting about looking for the final redirection tae the finish line.  Not a word is spoken between us, but I can smell it and I know he can smell it. That addictive scent he of competition. I sense a sprint finish; we are both itching tae duke this out.  We are in the cars(tourist) as we go through the town, regularly wiping speed and then catching back up tae the cars as they rubber neck shops and then speed up.   At the far end of town, we see the sign leading us off the main road tae the finish line; I’m ready, coasting and waiting tae attack. I can sense Stu is tae. He ups the pace and takes the turn left in front of me. GO GO GO I put the head down and shift gear, launching ma attack. Shit I’ve just launched onto what I can only describe as Pitlochry’s twin tae the ‘Mur de Huy’ or in other words ‘ a steep brae’  and I’m ridiculously out of gear almost grinding tae a standstill, ‘C’mon change gear’ as I frantically try every combination of the gear shifters tae find the dear old Grannie gear. ‘I know I don’t visit much, but I still love you and miss you, cmon give me a custard cream’ I don’t want tae face the ignominy of turning tale back down hill tae get in the right gear, before having another go. (Mental note: Wish I had paid more attention tae the route profile)

Stu is suffering the same fait and is dropping faster than a fat kid on a seesaw.  The Brae twists and turns and I loose sight of him as I grind in ma own cave.  This isn’t right. We have ridden 95% of the miles together today, we will cross the line together.  I stop at the top of the Brae (one-part breather two parts camaraderie) and wait for him. Stu soon crunches around the corner pedalling hexagons, sweating like a blind lesbian in a fishmonger’s.

“don’t speak mate, just keep rolling” I encourage him…still gasping for air.

We pootle towards the finish line at the high school.  Hardly the baws tae the wall sprint I was expecting.  We cross the line, devoid of any sense of celebration or congratulation, only relieved.  I unclip, pick up some halved bananas fae the make shift finish line feed station and make a bee line it tae the chip van laid on by organisers as post race recovery. Genius. The most awaited meal of the day. Priorities after all!

Chip Butty time

Polystyrene trays are filled with chips with a hastily buttered roll planked on top.  Disnae look like much, but there in lays the magic.  Another can of coke is sparked.  I’ve drank more coke today than I have in the last year, Fact! As far as it goes for chip butty’s, It’s low in quality, but high in hitting the spotness! Chapeau tae the organisers. A masterstroke.  Definitely, outside the box and bucking the generic staple trends of bland pastas, local gourmet burgers etc. that many other race organisers religiously follow.

Not too long after, Tank appears and flings his bike tae the deck in defiance. Clocking that Tank has just completed the stage in a pair of trainers & strap on pedals, Alan Anderson organiser of this race, bounds over, congratulating and lauding his amazing effort. “ you did that in your trainers”? A momentary smile lights up Tank’s face, which a minute ago was a picture of pain and turmoil. Too tired tae stand up I stretch out a congratulatory hand. He sits with us and his legs are still twitching like they are plugged into the grid.  Some recovery, food and beers will hopefully provide the much needed morale boost tae hit the start line tomorrow.

‘We’ve made it through day one, not pretty, but it’s done. . . in one way or another.

Ma phone starts ringing.  Sherpy and Mark, our one day classics men are in town and heading up tae meet us.  They check in for tomorrows 3 piste challenge.

Time for further introductions.

Mark AKA Marky AKA Tattie:

Our friendship struck up when I arrived home fae work one night and ma new neighbour had his garage door open revealing an Aladdin’s cave of bikes. Introducing maself out of politeness and envy. I discovered that we shared a passion for all things cycling, music and snowboarding.  Bingo.  Only the omission of Golf preventing a full house at  A powerful rider, excellent on the flats and crosswinds

Craig AKA Sherpy AKA IL Pirata AKA Papa Sherp

Also founding member of The BCR.  A Marco Pantani look-a-likey, (and like Pantani self-applied the nickname; IL Pirata). Partial tae a tattoo or two. In fact I would say he sports more ink than a 15th century Port brothel.   A font of general knowledge, passionate cyclist and wine drinker. Another kindred spirit.

It’s is only as I ponder tae write, that I realize that IL Pirata and maself have shared some pretty memorable experiences through our life.  Some great, some a little less great!

For example, tearing around Northern Spain and Andorra following the Vuelta in 2015.  IL Pirata as our encyclopaedic co pilot and navigator. Twas Amazing.  Both us being pepper sprayed by Guarda Civil in Ibiza. They took scorn on some high jinks that we were performing fae Boat tae Boat in a harbour. Unfortunately rendering IL Pirata blind for 2 days. Twas not so amazing. Getting used as human footballs in a game of Ronda by a gang of football hooligans, that we happened tae get on the wrong side off.  Also not so amazing. Being in a band performing a headline set in Dublin Castle in Camden. The night, later made famous by ‘Babyshambles’ own Pete Docherty swinging his guitar at the paparazzi.  Amazing.  Chaperoned out of Caesars casino in Las Vegas by security on his wedding day. Not Amazing.  I’m pretty sure there is a still a few stories left tae write.

We grab our bags fae the drop and sling them over our shoulders and roll back down the hill tae our digs.   As far as digs go, Tank has pulled a blinder in booking ‘ Scotlands leisure hotel’ (A named that suggest’s  Scotland only has one)

Blinder 1) It’s a free wheel doon the hill

Blinder 2) It has a Jacuzzi and sauna.  Top –fuckin-notch.

We check in and then have tae bizarrely wheel our bikes through the hotel restaurant tae get tae our room, At the room, we put the bikes, with limited room where we can and proceed tae slump on the two single beds

He is still cramping.  Looks like he has some invisible defibrillator attached tae his legs. I delve into ma bag, a cornucopia of all sorts of ‘legal’ contraband. Vitamins, electrolytes, ibuprofen, aspirin, turmeric, dioralytes, and salt sticks of which, I pull out two.  I toss them in his direction.  They bounce on the hard bed and fall onto the floor next tae his feet.  He reaches down and picks them up

“get them doon yi” I say

“What are these Daz?” Tank Inquisitively yet complicity asks?

“Ask no questions? gub yin the noo and one in the morning”

“would Dr Fuentes do you harm?”

“They are salt tabs!. sorry tae disappoint yi amigo?” I say as I repack ma bag.  He duly gubs one

“Your legs will feel better soon”

For me, it’ time tae begin recovery 101. At home this would be a banana sandwich and a shower.  But as I can selfishly focus on maself this weekend, I add a few bells and whistles tae ‘the program’. If your goni play the game, play it right eh!

Step one: Recovery shake

Torq mint chocolate recovery shake is ma weapon of choice and is eagerly awaiting its alchemy with water. Said water is added and I get tae work shaking it like a maraca player in the Buena vista social club. The Lid is unpopped and I let the cool healing minty elixir do its regenerative work.

Great taste, best consistency and easily dissolves without globule formulation. Having tried many shakes this is the gold standard. Try it.

Step two: Massage

A leg massage fae a soigneur would be amazing at this point, but probably pushing the boundaries of our friendship tae ask Tank. Instead I produce ma portable soigneur, a foam roller fae ma weekend bag

‘What does that hing dae?’ Tank, asks looking like a I have just pulled a dildo with gears fae ma bag

‘This, this big boy, hurts yi!  It hurts yi tae help yi’, I say in ma best trainspotting Spud impression. Tank takes a step back

“Let me show you” Tank takes another step back

I roll ma calves gingerly over it. “sair, but not tae sair” I encourage maself, through self-assessment.  I then roll all the way forward onto ma glutes” oh ya fucker.  There toight!” Now the bit I know is going tae hurt. I roll over onto ma front in a position I can only describe as’ spider man dry humping a rug’ I place the roller under ma right quad and slowly put all ma weight on it and begin tae roll. I hit a knot that jabs like a needle on the bone “For fuuuucksake that’s sair” I last about five rolls before I have tae change legs and repeat the drill.

“Fancy a wee burl on it?” I ask

He stairs back with a smile ‘Naw your awright!

Step three- When in Rome. “Lets hit the spa”

“I’ll meet yi doon there, gonni phone Les and the girls” replies Tank and he waits back.

When I get there Stu’s already flippering about the pool.  I plunge in as I’m too scared tae subject ma legs tae the any further exertion required tae step down ladders.  We ponder Tanks predicament and his chances of starting the morra?  Pretty sure he will. Saying that we are a smidgeon presumptuous as we don’t even know how we will recover overnight ourselves. Tank soon arrives and looks a little bit chirper.  Chat with the family must have boosted him. Cycles of Jacuzzi, steam room and saunas ensue. When we return tae the room Tank surprisingly asks if I think Stu will make the morra.  Whit?  Confused, this is all getting too soap opera for me.  Talk about a twist in the story line

“Whit dyi mean?” I implore

“Stu said in the sauna, he’s not sure if he will make the start line the morra?”  Tank repeats.  ‘Well that’s a turn up for the books’ I think.  Right two things I can deduce faethis.

  1. Great news is; Tank is obviously starting regardless as he is questioning the participation of others.
  2. Bad news is; Stu’s either playing a sports psychologists blinder by redirecting Tanks doubts tae his own or he was a lot further in the pain cave fae today than he let on. I hope it’s the former. Time will tell

We convene downstairs in the lobby and head out for some scran.  Good thing about tiredness, it makes you decisive, no collective bargaining on dining options, its the first boozer/ restaurant we meet. We get a table outside at The Old Mill Inn. A round of beers is soon delivered and soon an ice cool Peroni is salving ma mind.  Thankfully this Italian sizing does what it says on the tin or tap this time.  A pint!  Not a half pint! A full pint. We speed read the menu, once again hunger rendering our decision making business like.  Tonight I’m definitely in a carb-fucking mood.  I order up a chilli prawn linguini with a side of Artisan bread.  ‘Artisan bread?’  This better be good and not just another excuse tae rip another pound out of gullible tourists and tired cyclists.

Mark returns fae a nosey sojourn of the establishment with two packets crisps.  The bags are split, dumped in the middle of the table and a shoal of piranhas must have swam by, as ten seconds later, the packet is empty.  This cycling malarkey gives you an appetite.

Artisan bread is then brought tae the table. Yip, just as I thought, ripped off! Obviously, a spelling mistake, it should have read ‘Air bread’ No cheese, walnuts, seeds, oats, anything that I would say, place it under the artisan umbrella.  Instead just slivers of bread with holes in it you could poke your finger through.  The £3 must come with a £2 air tax.  I’m no chef like, but this ‘sit-u-ation‘  could be easily salvaged with a side dish of balsamic and olive oil, but naw. . . I have tae pester the waiter for this tae. Talk about first world problems eh? No, daft though, clever wee culinary fuckers as after two slice of that dryer than a Nuns… bread and I’m swiftly back at the bar getting another Peroni tae quench ma Arab’s sandal mouth!

Man, am I happy when the main meal of chilli Linguine arrives.  The plate  is huge. Unlike the bread, this looks fucking delicious. Words are few and far between as we all tuck in. Soon there is four and half empty plates on the table.  IL Pirata leaves a respectable amount on his plate.  “had enough” I ask.  “Aye man” He must be watching the calorific intake tae maximize power tae weight ratio for the climbs tomorrow.  “Don’t need tae ask me twice” as I polish of the remainder of his plate too.

Energy levels rising, conversation is back tae full flow. We are regaling Mark and Sherpy with all the highlights and lowlights of the day. The little battles, near misses, the difficult climbs, the wicked descents and not tae forget the cramps.  As always when a coupla pints tae the wise, we are probably over embellishing the story-line’s a tad.  All seemed fairly innocent at the time right enough, but little did we know that these little stories, were blowing seeds of doubt up into the wind, and cross pollinating doubtful minds on it’s journey.  Left untethered these weeds could grow out of control.

Chats starting tae slow as digestion and fatigue take hold. Looks like it’s time tae wind things up for the night.

‘Is this how you imagined spending your 40th Tank?’ I enquire

“Whit dyi mean?” say’s Tank

‘Us, here, knackered…celebrating your 40th’ I reply.

‘this is no for ma 40th’ tank blurts

‘Whit…..FUCKIN IS’ Sherpy torpedo’s out fae the remnants of the pint he has just taken a sip off.  At first we think he Is taking the piss, but a few rounds of back and forth’s prove otherwise. The lactic acid must have gone tae his brain and having a hallucinatory effect. Seems like the chief organiser of this trip, has rather hilariously forgotten the soul purpose and reason, this merry band first pulled together in commune.

“Well whit we here for then.  That’s the reason ma missus thinks we are here?” I throw out

“Same wi mine” says Sherpy.

We agree tae disagree

Later on Mark finds the evidence on our what’s app chat, confirming our assertions.

‘Maybe it is then’ as he hastily sips his pint, in sheepish defeat.

Priceless.  Cramps and fatigue obviously doing funny things tae the mind.

We retreat back tae the hotel, Tank and Stu head off tae bed.

‘Cerveza por la calle Sherpy?’ I proffer in ma best Spanglish

‘SI, una mas’ say’s Sherpy

‘aye goan then’ Mark’s picking up the local lingidy quickly.

We detour tae the hotel bar. Stu and Tank are room bound.

Mark finds a seat as we scope the bar.

‘Pint please neebor and vodka sprite for ma good man here, Mark whit yi oan?’

‘On seconds thots, I’m no goni bother’ Mark shouts back

‘yi having a mechanical?’ I chide

Wee blether route, profile, clothing and feed strategies for tomorrow. Marks fairly quiet though.   No like him.  Maybe nervous or apprehensive? So am I.   I’m on knife edge, if I stay for another drink, it’ll be a few others. Need tae go now. I arse ma drink and force maself tae leave

“Night boys, see yi at breakfast. Six bells or there-aboots”.

Tanks still awake when I hit room, watching todays Giro stage on his phone. “Dumoulins been controversially attacked again” is the topic of conversation.

Tomorrows kit is laid out and I collapse on bed.  It doesn’t take long until I’m snoring like a train, according tae Tank.  I Supongo 101 miles, 3 Pepsi, 3 bananas, 2 snickers, 3 fig rolls, 2 energy gels, 1 granola bar, 15 jelly beans, 3 handfuls of pretzels, a kit Kat, 3 Peronis, chip butty, prawn linguine, some not very artisan bread and recovery shake will do that tae a man!

Sair but not too sair, happy but not too happy, ready for a sleep, but can’t wait tae get up again.  That’s day one done!


To enter The Tour of The Highlands 2018 CLICK HERE



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On and Offline peloton for the curious and creative types that are drawn to cycling like a deodorant can to a village bonfire

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