DAY 18

WHILE half-watching the hilarity that was Arsenal crashing out of the European Cup in the pub last night, a friend sniggered into his beer: ?So,? hurr, hurr, ?now that you?re cycling again are you going to shave your legs??

It got a cheap laugh, as it always does with non-cyclists, and after the inevitable questions about why they do it: ?Does it make them go faster?? I answered that no, it probably wouldn?t.

Many will no doubt think that marks me down as a part-timer who?s not taking it seriously. One of the least positive things that has accompanied the boom in sportive riding is the self-appointed judges of etiquette who look down their noses at anyone who has the temerity to spend a couple of grand on a carbon-fibre off-the-peg bike and refuses to shave his legs. ?Hairy legs? has become a pejorative description and it stinks.

I?ve never really been one for convention and the way some cyclists sneer at those who don?t shave their legs (the men that is) gets on my nerves. It?s pure snobbery and as far as I?m concerned if an amateur cyclist wants to be hirsute, let him be. Likewise, if you want to shave, wax, or use some kind of hair-removal cream on your legs, go ahead.

Anyway, today brought back a wave of nostalgia as I headed out onto a well-worn loop I used to ride as a teenager, taking in Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chilterns, which back then was our Alpe d?Huez.

Now it?s just what it is, a steady 1.3km drag with ? in the summer ? the possibility of an ice cream van in the car park at the top dishing out synthetic goo in a cone to kite flyers and dog walkers.

Back then it was our hors category climb and the race to the top earned bragging rights until the next time, with frequent excuses about jammed chains or lost water bottles to explain defeat.

When I was 13 the 30-odd mile ride from my parental home to Ivinghoe Beacon and back seemed like an epic Tour stage. I say 30-odd mile ride because we never really knew how far we?d ridden. Unlike Lance Armstrong’s, my mum wouldn?t drive our cycling route and measure it on the car?s odometer so we had to employ a large chunk of guesswork. At one point my regular riding partner had one of those odometers that had a cable and a flywheel that rested against the rim of the front wheel. Unfortunately it was terribly unreliable. For example we?d reach a crossroads after 20 minutes of riding and I?d ask how far we?d been. He?d look down. ?1.2 miles.? The flywheel had come away from the rim before we?d left our home town.

Until the Avocet 30 computer came out ? just like the one Greg LeMond used ? we applied an inexact science to estimate the length of our rides. We had a particular circuit we knew was 1.9 miles long ? because we?d once persuaded my friend?s dad to drive it for us ? and we knew how long it took us to ride at a steady pace. So, we timed our long rides and then guesstimated our distance.

Ah, the Avocet 30. Quite possibly that remains the best birthday present I?ve ever received.

Anyway, it took me a while to venture into the club scene after one off-putting experience when I was about 13. I turned up to one of the social evenings with my pride and joy ? an MBK road bike that was exactly like the ones Stephen Roche, Sean Yates and the rest of the Fagor team rode except it was black, about half the size and four times the weight ? and met the sort of grumpy old curmudgeons who give lots of pastimes in Britain a bad name. ?You?ll have to put mudguards on it,? said Mr Grump. ?In case it rains. I don’t want to be covered in YOUR muck.? This seemed an odd comment as it was mid-June. ?We don?t have a junior section, as such, but if you can keep up you can come along.?

That may have been his way and it is the sort of anecdote of which champions are made. If I had had any backbone at all I?d have made old wrinkly face chew on his silly long socks and ill-fitting back-to-front cycle cap by turning up in my trainers and jogging bottoms and hanging in there with grim determination, slowly winning the respect and admiration of the old timers until I was able to roast them on every hill.

But I didn?t. I just carried on riding by myself or with my friend, who never took it quite as seriously as I did, until a few years later when I did join a club and conform. Slightly.

These were the thoughts whizzing through my brain as I enjoyed by far the best ride of the month so far. I covered a bit over 70 kilometres ? not epic distance yet ? but I felt good all the way. Well, I say all the way but I really mean all the way but the first quarter of an hour. I always feel awful in the first 15 or 20 minutes, as if the bike is an alien instrument of torture and I?m being forced to ride it for the general amusement of a conquering race from another world.

But I soon improved and switched my mind to auto pilot and enjoyed ride in the sunshine. Knowing that the weekend?s house move may prevent me from getting out, this was over-compensation. A reasonable-length steady ride taking in a few sharpish hills ticked off and out of the way, leaving me to squeeze in an hour here or there over the weekend if I can.

THE LOWDOWN

Distance: 71.5km (44.4 miles)

Time: 2 hours 56 minutes

Average speed: 26.3kph (16.3mph)

Roadkill: A staggering number of squirrels, rabbits and two badgers were spotted.

Disappointment of the day: No ice cream van at Ivinghoe Beacon. Could have murdered a Sprite

New favourite in-ride drink: Robinson?s High Juice peach-flavour cordial, diluted so it?s quite weak. My new favourite drink, beating long-time leader Lipton?s Ice Tea into second place.

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