Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Homage to Liam Killeen

Oh dear. The Malvern Marvel Liam Killeen did it again; wiped out in the opening two minutes of the Olympic mens' mountainbike race.

In the frantic melee of riders trying to get a decent position before the track narrowed, his bike touched another wheel and he went over the handlebars. We've all done it (well, technically my over-the-handlebars-experience was due to a malevolent tree root and there wasn't a soul for at least fifty yards and it wasn't in a race but I was still well winded, I can assure you).

If Liam hadn't wiped and spent several minutes remembering who he was and getting the bent bike straightened, he might well have had a medal because, despite spending what seemed like an eternity before he got back on the circuit, he managed to zip through a field of internationally brilliant riders to finish seventh. Fourth place is first loser but his catch-up attempt was nothing short of heroic and we must look forward to success and stability for 2012 even if it means glueing his ass to the saddle.

As far as I'm concerned, his efforts were worth it because he inspired me to tempt DT man out for a lengthy mountainbike ride; an Olympic achievement in itself, especially as there was Very Important Lawn Mowing to do before The Rain.

In the true spirit of Olympic ideals – faster, longer, higher, wider, wetter, floppier etc – I devised a challenging route to test a whole range of mountainbike skills.

It included some busy road, some quiet road, plenty of off-road, a horrible hill, loads of lifting bike over gates and one ancient wooden gate, which when opened, disintegrated into pieces necessitating hasty, inadequate reassembling and sharp exit. Goodness knows how many miles we covered but it took more than three hours, what with refuelling and everything - much longer than the Olympic version.

There were additional, specially negotiated, obligatory elements of three pubs and a chinese restaurant. The pubs, as you can imagine, were especially gruelling, with their riverside views, g&ts, real ales and chips (not as scientific a diet as the Olympians, admittedly).

Interestingly, at the second pub, we were able to watch a proper tree pass by on the river which we'd noted from a picnic table vantage point at the first pub, upstream. Then the ex-swan floated past that we'd seen at the first pub too. There was some controversy about the swan. Without my specs, which were quite muddy, I thought it must just be head down and dabbling but remembered that swans don't dabble while heading downriver, upside down, at 4mph. The afternoon was turning into a giant version of Pooh sticks. I reflected that the Severn had undoubtedly taken a shorter, quicker route than we had, so we must have cycled quite fast – an achievement worth celebrating with a second round.

Then there were extra-hard elements which would have been too unreasonable to include in the Olympic course – impossibly steep uphill with the wrong sort of grass, long tricky sections of horsey-churned thick mud with lacerating brambles either side and then a further mud surprise at the top of the hill, just at the bit where one would normally pause to admire the 360 degree view of glorious Glos. Those geography teachers lied when they said that water percolates through rock and spurts out of little springs. It doesn't all do that. A lot of it falls from the sky and stays put. It reminded me of the Langdales where, on top of one of the mountains, my dear departed doggo went to an innocuous puddle for a refreshing slurp and promptly disappeared into a morass of evil black water. Moments later he struggled out and came to me for reassurance. Only a spaniel can look heart-rendingly upset before peppering you with bits of peat bog.

This time it wasn't a peatbog but wide, foetid green/brown puddles which are the unappealing consequence of farm vehicles carrying much animal excrement to nourish our wholesome organic crops.

As night follows day, this kind of terrain is always followed by a stony downhill which might be enjoyable if not for the hefty gobbets of mud flying into your face thanks to the self-cleaning action of the front wheel.

Faces and legs were liberally splattered. Being far too gruesome for dim sum, we decided to give the Chinese restaurant a miss.

And then it began to rain. DT man yelled something and put the hammer down, as they say in cycling circles. I didn't catch what he said but it could have been 'Last one home's a cissy' or “The mowing! The mowing!”

Anyway, as I watched his ass disappearing into the distance and a tropical storm ensued, I couldn't help thinking that final burst of speed had probably been inspired by Liam Killeen.

Like Liam, DT man didn't medal but he went one better. By the time I got in, he'd kettled and left me an Olympic-sized mug of tea.

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