Time to panic?

I have just been browsing through Epic website and noticed that it is a mere 76 days and 12 hours to the start of the race. New year has arrived, and the training seems to be on track, but the worrying thing is that we haven’t yet booked any accommodation or even fixed our flights. Worse still, I see that all the accommodation and transfer packages that would have made it oh-so-easy have been booked up. So now we will have to go along with accommodation-only, and make our own trasfer arrangements. Not easy from 6,000 miles away, but somehow we will do it.

At least the weather in southern England has been consistent, cold, but no rain, so not too much mud around at the moment. In fact, much of the time it is frozen, making an off-road ride a real bone-shaker much of the time.

As for the broken thumb, it is still sore if it takes a knock, but that doesn’t stop me riding. Holding onto the handlebars can be tiring, and I avoid shifting the front derailleur, but downhills are the worst, because holding tight over bumps and applying brakes at the same time can be a bit scary. The doctor said to take it easy and go back in four weeks when they will X-ray again. He didn’t recommend any drastic action, but I know that it is vital – it’s time to pull our fingers out.

Sod’s law? Or rule of thumb …

After commiserating with Andy over the broken collarbone, I somehow managed to follow in his tyre tracks. Yesterday I went out on one of my regular routes, 30km of mixed on- and off-road. I know the route well and in summer, when it is dry, it is really great – you can tear along the undulating Pilgrims Way, hammering it over roots and rocks. But in the winter, when it has been wet for a while, it is a different story – greasy, muddy, like riding in porridge. Totally treacherous.

The problem, I believe, is that it is all chalk under the thin layer of mud. And the chalk, when wet, becomes as slippery as squashed snails. (The North Downs is the belt of chalk that emerges at Dover as the famed white cliffs.)

Well, yesterday I survived the worst of it, emerging after about 9km on a stretch of road, where suddenly I found I could belt along at quite a pace. The legs felt really good after some turbo-trainer sessions, and the hills just flew by. Then I came to a very short off-road section, cutting between a main and minor road, and I forgot the treachery of the terrain. I stood up to accelerate over a small kerb, and the back wheel flew sideways and I crashed down. It was one of those silly moments that are usually forgotten in five minutes – I smacked my right knee on the ground, nothing else. Nothing else, that is, except somehow my left thumb got caught between handlebar and gear lever as I hit the ground. I knew I should have swapped the Specialized tyres for the new Maxxis Madusas that I bought down in Wales – but too late now.

I finished the ride as it was getting dark, then examined the damage. Bike fine, but when I took off my left glove my thumb was black and bulging, and throbbing. A visit to casualty today confirmed the damage, a clean break across the top of the thumb. The result is that I can type, but not write. I can cycle, and drive, but I can’t do the dishes. Oh, I’ll just have to suffer through that one.

You saw it here first

Very green, even the background, and the mode of travel

Very green, even the background, and the mode of travel

Yes, here it is folks, The Times cycling jersey, modelled by yours truly. So far, this is the only example in existence, so it cannot be worn with impunity, or anywhere muddy.

Fortunately our Editor, James Harding, loves it, as does Anoushka, who runs all things marketing and promotional at the paper. If all goes to plan, you may soon see these sleek green signs of The Times being worn by riders all across the country – city cycle couriers, road-racing whippets and middle-age management mullahs. Best of all, you will be able to identify the Times Two at the Absa Cape Epic in March – how better to stand out from the crowd?

Andy, still intact, at Afan in November

Andy, still intact, at Afan in November

But have some sympathy for Andy Keys, who designed the wonder shirts – he came off about a week ago while downhilling in Wales, and broke his collar-bone. That means he is out of riding for at least six weeks, and no downhilling for probably six months. Who knows when he might pull on one of these green wonders. The times will tell. But thanks, Andy, for the great shirts, and mend soon.

On a more serious note – Paul has been talking about our need to up the training. The weather is cold, wet – totally miserable and not the type of season you want to go out in. Paul reckons we should be cycling a minimum of ten hours a week at this stage. Paul manages an hour and a half riding to work four days a week, which gives him six hours, and leaving four to be made up at weekends. I’m lucky if I get 45 minutes a day when working. If I cycle all the way to work it takes nearly three hours, which is great in the summer, but not these conditions. But fear not – both my children, Caroline and Matt, moved out of home recently, so there are two spare bedrooms – ideal space for the turbo-trainer to (until they come home to visit, that is). So, with a bit of determination, the hours go up from here.

A thing of beauty

Well, last week it arrived in the office, and we all spent some time drooling over it, but no one was quite brave enough to put it on. Polaris produced a prototype Times cycling jersey, according to Andy’s designs, and it truly is a thing of beauty. Everyone wanted one, and James Harding, our Editor, wanted to take it for James Murdoch, the News Int supremo. We had to convince him that, because this was (so far) the only one in the world, that he would have to wait until it had time to breed.

Andy was thrilled to see his design turned into hard copy, so to speak. But the poor chap was less than thrilled on Saturday, though – he crashed out on a downhill in Wales and is now nursing a broken collarbone. No more downhilling for a while, and one fewer training partner.

Meanwhile, both Paul and I feel the need to up the mileage, but work and weather keep getting in the way.

In the beginning …

And so, it begins. The long process of getting ready – a series of challenges even before the race begins.We have our press invitation, permission to ride as a Times team, and, today, Andy Keys showed us his design for a cycling jersey (see below) – there is no going back, we are on our way, our journey has begun.

Part one is the preparation, and mostly, when I think about it, that is the harder part – more difficult than the race itself. This section takes six months, while the race itself takes only eight days. Only!

This part is about the training, especially during the winter months, booking flights, organising leave, getting all the right kit and, most important, making sure our bikes are right. Eight days and 960km on an uncomfortable saddle does not bear thinking about. So that takes us to the big decision: hardtail or full suspension?

Plus, all along the way, there will be the task of placating spouses who will not be accompanying us to South Africa, finding ways to make up for all the time that they will be alone, left (in Paul’s case, quite literally) holding the baby. Also, we have to make sure that we keep on working as usual, and don’t piss off our employer by taking too many liberties (if, indeed, we take any at all).

Finally, and by no means least, there is the task of keeping a record of our adventure – the training and the race – which probably more than our participation itself, is our reason for all this madness. I could say that we are undertaking this journey to explore our inner selves, to push our bodies and spirits to the limit, to travel into the great unknown. But, in short, we wouldn’t be riding the Absa Cape Epic if we weren’t writing about it, and photographing it, for The Times, for the organisers, and lastly, but no means least, for ourselves.