Rise Of The Planet Of The Men In Lycra
21 September 2011
Last week the Tour of Britain came through Wells. The professional cycling race, rather than a busload of fat Americans. Not much happens in Wells, so the Tour of Britain was news. Even though it's a cycling race.
I quite like watching the Tour de France, although largely for the scenic mountain views. Can't be doing with the eight hundred mile flat stages, where they ride along in a big bunch - like a great swarm of seven year-olds playing football - before the same three guys break out into a sprint at the end of each day. The mountain stages, where men suffer, the race is won and lost, and great deeds of drug-enhanced sporting heroism are enacted, are the ones worth watching.
Looking at a guy riding a bike on a flat road for eight hours, you're just thinking, how hard is that? But when they ride up the side of a steep mountain for four hours, or come downhill at three hundred miles an hour, then you know you're in the hands of men with talent, men who have put in hours of effort, men who have sweated through blood transfusions and long sessions of unpleasant anal drug intake. It doesn't really matter if any of them have done anything illegal in order to ride up that hill, because they're still there doing something pretty fucking extraordinary.
Wells doesn't have an Alp d'Huez, but it does have the less well known Bristol Hill. It may not kill people to cycle up it, but it's still a bloody steep hill that goes on for a couple of miles. Perfect for sending a group of men who are paid to ride bicycles up. As the excitement built around Wells at the impending arrival of the Tour of Britain - and by excitement, obviously I mean that tangible thing that could be gauged by the amount of yellow signs that were erected giving details of the road closures - I thought to myself, well I don't actually give a stuff about a bunch of men in lycra, but if they're going to be going up Bristol Hill, then I'll take a walk up there and have a look. It won't be Alp d'Huez, but some of those chaps are the same chaps you see riding up Alp d'Huez, so it'll be not unlike watching Lionel Messi or Charlie Adam play for East Stirling.
Notice how I used Lionel Messi and Charlie Adam in the same sentence there.
The Wells Journal last Thursday excitedly talked about the following day, illustrated by pictures of men in lycra, detailing that the event would run through the very heart of Wells - about fifty yards from our front door - and then go up Bristol Hill. So I had a choice. I could walk fifty yards and watch a group of men in lycra ride along a road, or I could walk for forty minutes up a big hill, and see the group of men in lycra do something that represented genuine testicle-crushing sporting endeavour.
Late on Friday morning, timing my walk to perfection, I set out on the peregrination up Bristol Hill. There was a lovely autumnal chill in the air, and the city of Wells was buzzing with middle-aged men in lycra, working themselves up into a state of excitement about the fact that a group of younger men in lycra would soon by pushing the envelope of human endurance.
The perfection of the morning walk, however, came to a juddering halt at the foot of Bristol Hill. There were crowds gathering, there were banners and signs and all kinds of cycling shit. It was perfect, except for one thing. The signs that pointed the riders to the left. Away from Bristol Hill. In fact, the race would be going up Old Bristol Hill, round the back of the new road, on a winding, gradual gradient of a hill. Old Bristol Not That Much Of A Hill. I stood there, along with everyone else who had turned up with the same idea, thinking: What… the actual… fuck?
You take a race around the flattest dull-as-shitwater landscape in Britain, and in the middle of it you're presented with the most fabulous hill that, with a bit of mist, almost anyone could mistake for Alp d'Huez, and you take a fucking left? Really? It's preposterous.
So there I was, faced with the complete ruination of my morning. I had set out with two plans; walk up the hill and see a group of men in lycra put some back into it, when out of nowhere I was presented with a choice. Walk up the hill, or look at the nice men in lycra. So, I walked up the hill and missed the race.
That's the story of how the Tour of Britain passed fifty yards from our front door and I missed it.
Half way up the hill there was a solitary wee old woman sitting, waiting for the nice men in lycra. We didn't speak on my way up, but on my way back down I nodded and said hello. At that precise moment there was no traffic on the hill, and the wee old woman said, 'Think something's about to happen now.' I shook my head and said that I didn't believe they were coming up this way, that they were going round the back. She pointed out that the paper had said they'd be coming up Bristol Hill. I nodded. Couldn't fault her. 'But there's nothing,' I said, indicating with a great sweep of my arm the full extent of the hill. 'Well,' she said, 'I'll just give it another five minutes.'
I left her there, the wee old woman, sitting alone in peaceful silence, waiting for a group of men in lycra that will never come.
Possibly this week's Wells Journal, as well as being full of photographs of the men in lycra, will also have a sad story about the remains of an old woman found lying on a wall beside a hill, leaving behind a mark in the stone where she bled tears of loneliness.