“But I would walk 500 miles (and I would walk 500 more)
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door – Da da da da (da da da da)
Da da da da (da da da da) Da da da dun diddle un diddle un diddle uh da”
500 Miles for Racing
1988 was a fine year for music, or so you’d imagine until you actually check. Yes, there’s George Michael’s ‘Faith’ and Terence Trent D’Arby’s ‘Introducing the Hardline…’, Dire Straits too, with ‘Brothers in Arms’, but for every late 80’s gem, there was piles and piles of crap. Lest you forget, 1988 was the year of Kylie’s ‘I Should be so Lucky’, or ‘The Only way is Up’ by Yazz and the Plastic Population, T’Pau and Phil Collins, Tiffany and Belinda Carlisle etc. Now that’s What I Call Music 13 was unlucky for some – mainly for those of us alive at the time. Luckily, much of it was easily forgotten. There was one unlikely single that year, however, that would prove to have real stamina in its legs. 1988 was the year two twin brothers calling themselves the Proclaimers would burst from their Scottish hometown of Leith and into our musical consciousness like a pair of proto-Jedwards. South of the border, their single ‘500 miles’ would peak at number 11 in the charts*, enjoying lots of primetime airplay with its catchy chorus; the brothers themselves proving visually memorable, with their glasses and hyper-mobile mouths. But in their native Scotland, where 500 miles might perhaps be considered a reasonable distance to travel for a date, the song was to become a favourite, striking a chord with young and old alike and enjoyed to this day as the last song of the night at Student Unions and Over 30s Discos across the land. It was also to prove an unlikely soundtrack to glory for the seven Baroudeurs who made the (almost) 500 mile journey up to Glasgow last month. It was to be our base from which to compete in the inaugural Tour of Ayrshire Gran Fondo (ToA), 75 miles of closed-road racing starting in Kilmarnock. With qualification places for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships up for grabs for the top 25% of finishers in each age category, the ToA was an early season target event for us, hoping to book our places in Albi before the UK’s biggest qualifying GF, the Tour of Cambridge in June.
We’re here, M8
The Big One
The Gran Fondo is a relatively new feature of the UK’s road cycling zeitgeist. Translated literally as Big Ride, the Gran Fondo template was developed in Italy in the early 70’s. Over distances of between 70 and 90 miles, the Gran Fondo was a hybrid sportive/race which allowed riders the opportunity to race on closed roads, with lead/follow vehicles for support, and feed stops replacing team cars for those with small pockets or large appetites. Several races within the race could be contested, with age and gender categories to compete in. The Gran Fondo was to be a taste of pro cycling for riders with actual jobs. Despite the winning formula, it remained a solely European affair for the next 30 years or so, and it was not until 2009, when US Postal had finished delivering Tour de France glories for an American team that the Gran Fondo crossed the pond and began to spread around the world. In 2017, there are over 200 such events in the US alone, and today, some 28 countries from Argentina to Uruguay host versions of that original Italian model. Here in the UK, the Tour of Cambridge was the first large-scale, closed road Gran Fondo, with the first edition held in 2015. It’s since grown into a ‘Festival of Cycling’ with cyclocross, fixie racing, and ‘family fondo’.
North of the Lake District, rolling hills topped with rows of turbines were all ominously active as a gusty wind blew and clouds gathered purposefully in the skies above Lockerbie and Gretna Green. From a ludicrously early start, all had gone worryingly to plan. Indeed, so high were our spirits that even being victims of a pre-dawn robbery was not enough to puncture the mood. The fact that the nondescript plastic bag, stolen from beside our car at a petrol station forecourt in Kilburn had contained 6K calories’ worth of racing jelly-babies and malt loaf, was one thing. The real test to John’s spirits was in the fact that his bag had contained an unread copy of this month’s Rouleur Magazine, (rrp £10). Somewhere in Kilburn, a member of Fagin’s gang was blithely leafing through it, wondering whether SRAM Red eTAP was a meaningful aero advantage over the new Di2.
Ride it like you stole it
Da Da Da Da (Da Da Da Da)
Yes, it was a happy 500 miles. The boys from Leith had a fair bit of airplay on the long drive up the M6, singalongs were delivered with gusto, and a bold pact made that were one of us to achieve a podium spot, the others would celebrate with a lusty chorus from our song of the moment. It was in a mood of anything’s possible that we pulled in to a petrol station somewhere just south of the border for our third or fourth lunch of the day. The blonde cashier, demonstrating the friendly time-passing notable almost everywhere outside London, struck up conversation with us. Her opening remark: “I can’t decide which one of you three is the biggest poser”, left us slightly lost for words. I replied that she should withhold judgement until she’d seen Lowell, but then her eyes settled on John. “You,” she said, “Mr Slick”. She then observed that John had obviously ‘just been doing his hair’ before offering unsolicited advice on whether he’d look better without his beard. John was a little stunned; Dave and I were delighted. Driving off the forecourt, we saw her gesturing and had started to wave back before realising that she wasn’t waving but pointing and nodding, with a large grin. She’d seen Lowell, and yes, he was the biggest poser after all.
Needless to say, John will forever be Mr Slick, or just Slick.
Lowell will always be Disco.
In part two: we fettle with our bikes needlessly and carb-load by entering a Burrito Challenge.