Sunday, December 2, 2007

November reflections

Where did November go? I seem to have missed it this year.

November marks the end of the cycling year. As the nights close in the racing schedule gradually dies away and evening rides become ever more snatched. By the time the clocks go back the racing season is all but finished. Only a few diehards turn out the peculiarly British torture that is the round of autumn hill climb championships, a simple activity that consists of riding up the steepest imaginable hills in the shortest possible time, usually in driving rain. Thinking back, I once won the Tandem Club’s championship for doing just this up Horseshoe Pass, assisted by a partner with an crude indiference to pain.

And for those who really don’t know when to stop, I suppose there is always the cyclo-cross season, which requires much the same indifference, except this time, to sanity. For cyclo-cross is all about riding rough shod bikes through muddy fields until you are head to toe in muck and the whole contraption - usually body and bike together- breaks down.

But for most cyclists November is for sitting down with the latest edition of Cycling Plus, scanning the rehashed articles on winter lighting and reflective clothing - Be seen; Be safe - and the hearty encouragements to keep you riding through the depths of winter - Your Ten Step Guide to Winter Training. November isn’t so much about riding; it’s about cleaning the club trophies and electing the Committee; it’s about old pedants proposing absurd resolutions at the AGM which nobody cares about but lead to a row anyway. Most of all November is a time for winding down and reflecting on the year just gone.

In my case it's been a paradoxical year. I've cycled less than at any time in the last decade and yet I'm probably more involved than ever before. After years of avoidance I joined on the dreaded Committee, organised a packed youth programme and spent the best part of the summer chasing round the country taking my son to races. To keep track of it all I had a colour coded year-planner on the wall of my study; at one time there wasn’t a free weekend all summer.

For my son it was meant to have been a year of transition. The previous year he'd won all but a handful of his races. This year he had moved up a category and was racing against older and more experienced riders. 'We’ll take it easy this year,' I’d said, and see how he gets on. My wife knew better, ‘So you’ll be off every weekend then.' As it turned out we were both wrong.

His first race was in March, it was sheeting hailstones and we huddled in a shelter as he rode round some godforsaken airfield to finish ahead of only a handful of competitors. He found the new category difficult at first but by the early summer he was racing well, getting reasonable results in the national events and riding particularly well on the velodrome. Then in May he broke his jaw, falling off a BMX bike on an evening which was meant to be fun but became, in a single slip, one of the most frightening of my life.

He recovered quickly, but in a way it was a wake up. I realised I was becoming one of those parents who, living vicariously through their children, lose all sense of perspective. We backed off after that, skipping most of the major events. By the last weekend of the season we choose to ride locally rather than trek up to London for the last of the national series.

This year has also been about the riding the track. I realised yesterday that we had made the ninety mile round trip to the velodrome over a hundred times. It’s ridiculous of course. But to watch him, circling the boards with effortless grace, is one of my greatest pleasures

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