0600 and the alarm bell rings. An early start is the name of the game as I prepare to meet up with the chainlube lejoggers for their Bristol to Taunton leg, bolstering the team compliment to a grand total of three. Parker Johnson is not in attendance as he is away on a 2 week training camp in Mallorca, getting in some much needed altitude training. He will be missed for his powerful locomotive engine on the flats but there will be other days when team chainlube is able to ride at full strength.
A train journey is required before our scheduled rendzvous can take place. Arriving at the platform with plenty of time, I find that the train’s bike spaces are already fully booked. This comes as no surprise as my own efforts to reserve a bike space the day previously had resulted in the same outcome as I spoke to the First Great Western call centre operative somewhere in India. A nervous fifteen minutes are spent waiting on the platform to see if the bike reservists show their face and more importantly, their wheels. A Helen Wyman lookalike shows up. Also a large Australian man with a spesh allez (the TCL official bike as it happens)…none of us bookings. Things aren’t looking good but at least I have the element of first come first served in my favour. I briefly comtemplate whether it is possible to cycle to Bristol but before I can seriously entertain the thought, the train manager decides that the reservists are a no show and so grants us access to the hallowed bike compartment. Relief all round. “I’ll be in Coach A if you need me” I say to the train manager as I head to my seat. He looks somewhat nonplussed and I then realise it is probably because he won’t have much trouble finding me given my lavish choice of cycling attire today. And by lavish I mean a garish mixture of unco-ordinated team kits.
Our route today looks easy on paper: 55 miles. A few minor climbs. A town called Westonzoyland. In theory it should be a doddle. However, it remains to be seen how the ravages of the previous two weeks have taken their toll on young Rafe Watson and Aldercy Manning. Do they have anything left in the tank? And will they be saving themselves for the last few ardous days through Devon & Cornwall, renowned for their energy sapping nature. Only time will tell.
In my bag I bring copious amounts of gold bullion aka homemade flapjack which I hope will see them through the next few days (though it later arises that Aldercy eats his all in one day). I dish out the rations on arrival as we are greeted by the charming Beatrice Charity and it goes down a treat. After a brief catch up over a coffee we get the TCL show on the road.
We set off fairly cautiously, following the shared cycle path out of Bristol and into the surrounding countryside. Before long we are barelling along at a heady rate of knots. Not quite full gas but close. Some big turns are put in on the flat sections although the peloton becomes more fragmented during the day’s climbs as we each climb at our own pace. Two of the climbs in particular stand out as being particularly challenging; one at the start of the ride and another near the end, forming the ride into some sort of hill sandwich.
During the last climb through Enmore, the sun and humidity increases creating a claustrophobic atmosphere on the narrow roads. The flies seem to sense our weakness and begin to circle and hum like vultures around our head which only serves to exacerbate the difficulty of the conditions. Aldercy in particular was troubled by these insect tormentors and looks rather flustered as he crests the top of the hill.
We happily leave the ascent behind us and then enjoy a fast and decent descent down into Taunton, allowing our sweat soaked clothes to gain much needed ventilation.
Reaching Taunton, we immediately set about locating the nearest beer serving, bike friendly establishment with outdoor seating. Not the most demanding list of requirements but it does take some time. After relaxing for a few minutes I realise that its actually taken quite a lot out of me today. Perhaps my showboating at times wasn’t the most energy conservative way to ride but if I feel like this after one day how must my felow team members be coping? Granted, I could quite happily get on the bike again tomorrow but the day after that? And the day after that? I’m not so sure. A chapeau is definitely in order.
Post dinner, I make my way to the train station and board the world’s quietest train back to London. Not a single bike in the bike compartment this time. Just as well that I actually have a reservation this time then.