“I’m going to keep on rolling for a bit and come back round to meet you at the Cafe”, said Ewan, almost apologetically as he put in a kick and shot off into the distance. It was quite normal of him to find every opportunity to put in a few extra miles. Always conscious of his Strava heat map, the minutes he gets on the bike were treasured like a child loading a piggy bank with pennies, always hopeful of a much bigger prize.
“This will do”, muttered Graham, who after being second in line, now had the responsibility of leading us into the car park that signalled the cafe was now upon us. The number of bikes leant against the fence told us that we were by no means the first to arrive and judging by the brand of most of them – always the first thing we notice, these guys could be quite an athletic bunch. We paused and wondered if it wasn’t those arrogant lot from Westham Cycling Club, or ‘The Twats’ as Julie routinely referred to them as. They were, and have been for many years, our main road rivals.
Helmets off and rested over handlebars, we peaked through the misty windows of the unexplored cafe and it looked like it could be a good one. A busy place on a Saturday morning was always a slight concern when it came to table space, but it was also a sure sign that the coffee would be good and that usually meant a good bacon sandwich too. The thought of the latter had kept us going those last few wet miles, especially as Ewan had upped the pace again.
“Get us a coffee and the usual”, said Graham, who with as much speed as he rides headed off to the toilet for what looked like a post-Cricket Club detox. He would usually be a while, and that wasn’t just because of the bib shorts. As we took our place in the queue, Adrian was surveying the room and making claim to a large table that needed a bit of furniture rearrangement to make space for the two extra chairs.
Distracted by the cakes we failed to notice the Westham Cycling Club jersey that now had its back to us at the front of the queue. ‘How did he get there’, were the words we all thought but didn’t mention. They never had any manners these guys. Never once in all our years of riding did they ever wave, lift a finger or even nod a helmet when we passed. So up their own arse were they that they even had their own disciplinary secretary, monthly committee meetings and a secret handshake. There were even rumours, picked up from the Tuesday night Castle Coombe circuit, that they kicked out a member last year as she failed to meet the maximum weight threshold. It was tough on her, she had only had the baby two months before.
The Colonel isn’t just a man of principle, he’s a man who likes to make a point – but only to those most needing it. A firm tap on the shoulder was all that was needed to rotate the Westham jersey and Nick introduced himself to his main rival. “It’s a bit cold out there today and that’s why we were stood here patiently waiting to order our coffee. The queue is along there!” The poor young teenager behind the counter paused a little startled by the discussion and not wanting to make things worse by speaking. Nick slowly turned his eyes towards her and shoulders wide, chest puffed firmly stated “six coffees. And make them two shots”. “And six bacon sandwiches, four with egg. Runny egg, on granary”. First blood to Marshway.
Stuart by now was making his way to the table with Julie. Not a confrontational chap by nature, Stuart could engage with anyone on most subjects and could always be relied upon to get a conversation going with a stranger. This wouldn’t usually bother Archie, but with an element of rivalry in the air, there was something very telling about the way he presented himself firmly alongside Stuart, the loyal corporal that he was.
“Good ride?” Said the Westham rider we knew was called Craig by the fact it was written all over every article of clothing he had on. Julie used to joke that “it should have said Twat”.
“Twenty-six miles, roughly”, said Stuart helpfully. “How about you guys?”
“Just the 46 K for us”. Twat replied.
Stuart was just about to start talking when Nick squeezed past and said “that’s about the same as us then Stuart”, keen to neutralise the mileage as the conversation headed towards the cycling equivalent of a game of Top Trumps. “What way did you come?” Nick asked, eager to turn the draw into a win.
“Out of Devizes then along the Cumberwell Road before wrapping around the downs to here. It was a category 3 climb wasn’t it Dave? He said looking over his shoulder signalling for back-up from his own gang.
Slightly deterred Nick searched for a new angle. “So you started in Westham, headed round to Devizes and then looked around the B2043 I reckon. Past the Ship and then the old Post Office before coming back around on yourself to loop up to here?” A nod was the only response. “Yeah that’s a category 3 climb alright and I know that as I used to ride it with my wife on our a Sunday ride as the rest of it is so flat and easy”. Without hesitating Nick walked off to the table, finding it hard to conceal the smile that now evaded Craig.
Meanwhile in the background, Adrian was swapping stories with another Westham rider about the quality of the coffee. It seems odd, but why they would be getting into a lively debate about how much espresso each other could drink is beyond me, but it was clear Adrian fancied his chances. After all, if it were beer this would be a clear mismatch as Adrian would rather be carried out on a stretcher than lose a drinking competition. And often on a Friday night, it would involve both, especially in the summer when the cider was flowing more freely.
As they stood at the counter, espresso shots in hand, their eyes never left each other as they necked the hot coffee, trying hard not to flinch under the heat of the liquid and the bitterness of the gritty drink. “Two more”, said the rival. “Each!” Added Adrian, still keeping his eyes locked on today’s opponent. Meanwhile, Archie, quietly as ever, slipped out of the cafe unnoticed.
A tad lighter, Graham was washing his hands in the toilet when he noticed through the window he had just had to open someone crouched down in front of a bike outside. At first, he was worried someone was tampering with one of our bikes, and then, after looking more closely, he noticed it was Archie crouched down in front of the Pinarello. The noise of the air escaping from the tyre was so loud he glanced around to make sure nobody was watching. On spying Graham through the open window, he pressed a finger to his lips and smiled widely.
Adrian was now on his sixth espresso and showed no signs of holding up. The barista was now looking concerned and after wiping down the counter with their cloth, threw it over her shoulder muttering “if that’s the way you want it fellas, two more coming right up”. Adrian’s head was nodding, quickly. His cleats were now tapping rapidly on the floor like Thumper on cocaine and his rival was dripping in sweat from his now dangerously rapid heart rate. In the act of further intimidation, Adrian started doing his head rolls, cracking his neck from side to side – hands on hips in further defiance.
Graham sat down at the table, leaning forward to whisper to the others the sight he had just witnessed from the open window. “Good. Fucking Twats” said Julie, less quietly than Graham had intended the conversation to be. Nick just smiled and Stuart didn’t look too sure whether Archie had done the right thing.
The discussion was broken up by another interruption from the Westham gang. “Whilst we did come the B2043 route, it’s worth pointing out that there is a North Westerly wind today and as a result, we were having to put in at least another 30 watts to hold our average speed at 27kph. This rattled Stuart, who tapping his fingers on the desk, was now deep in thought.
It was clear by the unsettled staff at the counter that Adrian had probably taken the coffee duel a little too far. Standing on the counter in just his bib shorts wasn’t the main concern of the manager who was clearly concerned about the danger to herself should he fall back onto her. Her bigger concern was the fact that the bib shorts looked like they were only seconds from being removed and it was only the fact that Adrian couldn’t stand up straight on his cleats that was causing sufficient delay for back-up to come in the form of Paul and Graham. Talking Adrian down off that counter was a delicate operation, made slightly worse by the fact that the Westham guy was now so high he was running around the cafe making aeroplane noises with his hands out wide knocking into everyone.
Stuart finished his phone call and threw the iPhone into the air before catching it back in the other hand. With a slow and deliberate walk to the Westham table, he held the phone out to the tall chap who was still smirking from the wind gain statistic. “I think you’ll find the weather changed at 9.31am this morning” Stuart politely stated. “In fact, having just spoken to a good friend at the Met Office, I can confirm that we have in fact been riding into a head-wind for the last hour and that in fact you gained at least a 9mph supporting wind for 8 and a quarter of your miles – or 13.27 Kaays if that’s how you would prefer it”. Without even waiting for an acknowledgement of the win, Stuart turned on his cleats and took his seat back at the table, high-fiving Graham as he did. “Twats!”, said Julie, with absolutely no attempt to lower her voice.
Adrian took a seat in the corner of the cafe on his own, still in his bib shorts and still shaking from the dangerous levels of caffeine now in his system. The bacon sandwiches arrived and there was a lull as each group returned to their own and allowed the mood and discussion to settle back into relaxation and calm.
With the ketchup and coffee stained table in front of us, it was time to go. Just then, a girl from the Westham table squeezed past us on her way back from the toilet. Usually, at this point the eyes of most of the table might have gone to her hair, her face, eyes or even her breasts. But today was different because today this was Westham. Instead, the eyes of the table turned to horror and even despair as the tattoo on the Westham leg stared back. The much coveted Iron Man tattoo stood in front of us. Bollocks. This was serious and no amount of wind tunnel science or Garmin data was going to get us through this one. Without so much of a word, the girl looked down at her tattoo, back up to us and laughed loudly. “See ya”, she said, as she flicked her hair and walked back to the table.
Scowling, the Marshway table sat silent – too embarrassed to suddenly leave, and too shocked to plan their next move. It was a trap – and we had been played by the oldest trick in the book. As moods lowered, the bell on the door rang loudly, and the warm cafe was once again broken by cold air. The cafe filled with fluorescent – and this wasn’t good news, This was GREAT news. Ewan’s here.
I’ve never seen the Marshway group look so pleased and smug as they did at that moment. You didn’t need to be sitting on that table to hear them talking about Everesting, Etapes, Audax riding, LEJOGs and although they didn’t say it, they all knew that the MS card was also the check-mate of any cycle-off, even if Ewan never once played it himself. Graham rubbed his hands and grinned like a child “quality!” He said, exaggerating his wave and greeting to Ewan across the cafe and over the heads of the Westham gang – who clearly had no idea of the Top Trump card that awaited them.
Ewan made his way through the cafe, his clothing glowing like the North Star at Christmas – a guiding light of hope and in this case, the victory for Marshway. A sweet sweet victory. Archie stood up ready to greet his pal, arms out wide for an over-friendly hug. Before he could – Ewan turned to face the Westham gang – all of whom were now looking back at him. “Hi Stevie, how are you, buddy?” Were not the words we wanted to hear at that point. And neither did we want to see the Iron Man girl giving him a kiss on the cheek either. “Fuck”, we all thought, but none of us said. “Twats!”, Julie thought and also said.
“Ade, get your clothes we’re going”, said Nick firmly in his authoritative Colonel tone. Even a hyper-active Adrian knew this wasn’t the time to argue and despite his shaking, managed to collect up his clothes like a drunk picking up his keys.
The Marshway gang stood up as one and the noise of the chairs being dragged back silenced the cafe. The Westham group stood up in unison too – and quickly. Ewan looked confused and slightly anxious. “Not today guys, not today”, said the manager as she appeared from nowhere with her arms held out wide in front of her, as if separating two boxers before a bout. “Don’t worry, we’ve got a 50 mile ride back to Marshway to do” the Colonel said as he nodded at his troops to head towards the exit. Graham and Paul walked past without making eye contact with anyone. “Twats” Julie muttered under her breath. Archie was smiling, grinning in fact, and placed his hand on Ewan’s shoulder as we passed. “We’re just getting off mate if you want to join us”. “Yeah sure” came the quick reply, always keen to ride when a stop wasn’t needed”. Adrian was now dressed and bouncing off the door frame as he left. “It’s not even with the wind behind us” shouted Stuart over his shoulder, as Archie nudged him to get a move on.
“We’ll follow you to the bridge”, said a strange voice from the Westham gang. Which wasn’t received as an act of friendship. “Great idea, why don’t we all ride together?” Added Ewan, oblivious to the earlier showdown. Embarrassed by the awkwardness of the situation the Westham gang agreed, forcing Archie to speed up his exit from the cafe even more.
Out in the car-park, the Marshway crew were now all mounted up ready to ride, this time with Nick at the front, one hand on the handlebars and the other on his hip as he leaned back looking out for his riders. Archie, without even stopping to put his helmet on properly, jumped over his bike and was clipped in and pedalling before we knew it and was by now already flying out the car park onto the main road.
“WHO THE FUCK LET MY TYRE DOWN” came the loud shout from the big bloke with the 58” Pinarello. “Fucking Twats” Julie shouted, as the dust kicked off her back wheel as the Marshway gang rode off down the road.
This was a cycling rivalry that would run and run.
All rights reserved: Dadonabike (2018)