I’m staring at a computer screen through tired and bleary eyes. It’s been one of those weeks that my fellow students have warned me about but that I’ve been fortunate enough not to experience before this point. Training has had to take a back seat in favour of working on assignments long into the night in order to meet deadlines. Survival has been of the essence.

My reward has been a weekend at home, sometimes you just need to forget about work and focus on the things in life you enjoy. In my case it’s translated to rather a lot of junk food, a couple of beers and a good few miles on the bike. A short run or an indoor turbo session might be good for my fitness but nothing quite compares to getting out on the open road and feeling the wind in your hair. It’s safe to say there is no place I’d rather have been on a clear winter morning.

For various reasons it’s been a couple of months since I last made it out on a club ride. Today I decided to make the effort, something which I initially regretted after hauling myself out of a warm bed at 8AM to be greeted by freezing cold temperatures. Two base layers, leg warmers, arm warmers and my trusty old Castelli Gabba jersey were hastily thrown on in the hope that they might prevent me from becoming hypothermic. Early mornings are not my forte and as such the journey to the meeting place involved the usual manic time trial effort.

On a more positive note I was very happy to be back on my Specialized. Of all the bikes I own it’s probably the one I most look forward to riding. Years have been spent adjusting the riding position to perfection, it’s more aggressive than my winter bike but not as slammed as the race machine making for the ideal compromise between comfort and speed. A couple of years ago I had the groupset upgraded, I still can’t fault Ultegra 6800 when it comes to shifting and braking performance. It’s currently running a fairly mediocre pair of wheels but the stiffness of the frame more than makes up for it. The Bike is sporting enough scratches that I don’t worry about taking it out in bad conditions from time to time. I’d no doubt be quicker on the Scott but I’d spend the entire ride worrying about getting it dirty.

Turnout was much better than expected for this time of year. Perhaps the prospect of stopping at one of the nicer local Cafe’s was enough to tempt a few riders out of hibernation. It’s always good to see a few familiar faces. I risked it and decided to head out with the fast group, somewhat apprehensively given how little riding I’ve managed to get in over the last couple of weeks. There were six of us in total, mercifully all willing to do a turn on the front. By the time we headed out the clouds had dissipated and we were treated to that most valuable of winter commodities, sunlight.

Conversation inevitably turned to the usual topics; disc brakes, the state of the roads, pro racing and the latest eye – wateringly expensive super bikes that most of us could only dream of owning. In the past I’ve been guilty of taking myself too seriously and neglecting the opportunity to enjoy the social side of Cycling. Now I have come to the realisation that it’s one of the best things about the sport, there are few situations in which it’s so easy to strike up a conversation with someone you’ve never met – even if it does turn out they’ve taken some of your KOM’s.

Inevitably the poorly maintained lanes gave rise to punctures. Four in the space of three miles really is pushing it a bit, fortunately none of them were mine. We were treated to a cheery wave from members of the two slower groups as they rode past, destined to beat us to the Cafe stop and as such have first pick when it came to cake. Once the last inner tube was replaced and we set off again and I was unable to help myself, going to the front and setting a high pace in the hope of catching at least one of the other groups. Sadly my heroic chase was destined fail miserably. That said, my legs felt inexplicably good – perhaps the takeaway curry the nigh before contained some kind of undiscovered performance enhancing superfood.

This particular Cafe never fails to disappoint. A generous slice of Dorset Apple cake accompanied by a large coffee may not have been the best option in terms of nutrition but I had no regrets whatsoever. Soon after we set out on the journey home the notion of a ‘steady winter ride’ was conveniently forgotten by all. My competitive instincts soon drove me to smash it on the front, holding a heart rate of 192 BPM for a good fifteen minutes. You know it’s been a good ride when you get home and have the urge to eat every single thing in the fridge and subsequently need to lie down.

The experience has left me feeling reinvigorated, ready to face the rest of the University term and whatever it might entail. My head is clearer than it’s been for several weeks and my legs are beginning to feel like their old selves. ¬†After a long time I’m feeling ready to throw myself back into hard training, lose those few KG’s gained over the off season and hopefully get fitter and faster than I’ve ever been before.

Thanks for reading.

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