August 24, 2013, by David Greenaway

The VC’s Life Cycle 3 Blog: Day 5 – Cumnock to Belfast

Commando ChrisOur accommodation at the Dumfries Arms Hotel in Cumnock was very comfortable and the dinner last night outstanding. Top marks.

I actually set off with the entire team this morning. We quickly broke into a 9-2 formation (Man City in Europe?) with Chris and Stefano out front. Chris set out with a spare tyre wrapped around him, commando style, convinced his puncture troubles were down to tyres, not inner tubes. He had two more punctures and returned with a tyre and two inner tubes wrapped around him, looking even more like a commando.

We worked our way up and down the hills to Girvan on the Ayrshire coast, through a series of delightful valleys and villages. Like yesterday, it was lovely terrain with long, gradual climbs and descents.

Ten of us had a late breakfast in Girvan: Nick, Neville and I at Greggs (excellent porridge, sausage rolls and scotch pies); the others at the Café Royale.

That left 28 miles to the ferry port at Cairnryan on Loch Ryan. Steve, Marion and Penelope decided to follow the recommended route. Andy, Karen, Kate, Nick, Neville and I opted for the A77 down the coast. Stefano left first giving no indication of what route he was taking. Chris was just out there somewhere.

The A77 is actually a special road. Hills tumble down to the sea on one side, with great views over the Irish Sea to Ailsa Craig on the other. Despite the mist, you could just pick out Arran where Nick did his final training. It was a good surface and flat, until we got to Ballantrae. We then turned inland and climbed to about 800 feet over 3 miles.

To our amazement Andy, Karen, Kate and I arrived first at the ferry port. The smart money was on Chris bagging back to back yellow jerseys. Instead we now have the first shared award.

Cows!!In the meantime, Stefano had teamed up with Steve, Marion and Penelope. For some reason their chosen route included a field of cows. But not a field with a nice hard surface. They had to get themselves and their bikes through squelchy brown stuff (and it was not mud). By the time they joined us in the minivan to board the ferry, the smell told you exactly where they had been.

It is about 10 years since I was on a passenger ferry and I had forgotten just how big they are, and the services and entertainment they offer. We had a smooth crossing to Belfast, different team members doing different things. A few of us caught up on University business; Penelope slept; Marion bought two bottles of Armani (one to deodorise herself there and then, the other for the rest of LC3); Neville went to the children’s room and watched ‘Return to Oz’ with the kids.

The crossing was largely incident free, though Stefano was called to guest services on the tannoy to reclaim a Leeds scarf that no-one else would admit to owning; and there was evidently a fight in the children’s room (not involving Neville) between two parents.

Stefano had a bad fall on LC2 which required reconstructive surgery on his shoulder. His determination to get into shape to take on LC3 has been admirable. I have never seen him look so strong. In fact, had he challenged me for my King of the Hills title, it may have been at risk. But he did not, and now he cannot. Life Cycle rules mean you must challenge in the country where the title was won, that was Scotland. He knows the rules and the absence of a challenge is significant. So I have the honour of retaining the title.

Penelope on the ferryHaving cycled for so many miles with most of the riders, I can now tell who’s who from some distance: Kate’s tilt to the left; Nick’s shaking head on hills; Chris’s manic cadence; Andy’s upright and correct posture.

After a few days that already applies to Steve. Two things stand out. First, his hand signals: they have become quite regal (obviously a by-product of rooming with Neville). His slowing down signal is mesmerising, in fact quite balletic. The other thing is the handbag mirror taped to his handlebars. I couldn’t figure out what it was for, until today, when I could see him regularly check his lip salve had not smudged and there were no insects stuck to his face.

Team of the day: Simon, Paul, Sebastian and Ian got eleven Bikes into a van which already had three spares, all the day boxes, all the kit, and without disturbing the washing in about seven minutes flat. Brilliant.

Accomplishment of the day: well, self-indulgent or not, it has to go to the peloton which snaked down the A77 to scoop the yellow jersey.

Shock of the day: I arrived at the start line to find a Garmin fitted to my bike. I feel Chris J’s presence on this. Mind you most of the team were happy, that they had no desire to lose their VC. (The only person who seemed a bit miffed was the Deputy VC).

Quotes of the day:

Karen was wondering about hair styling and asked Nick for advice: ‘Thanks Karen’ was Nick’s simple response.

Marion in handing out shortbread in the van: ‘but the cow muck only got on my right hand’.

Today was a short 58 miles. That makes 425 miles in the first five days.

Physical stresses are now beginning to show: ankles, knees, hamstrings, wrists, elbows and backsides are suffering. That’s partly mileage, partly terrain. But it’s not surprising. However much I make light of things in the blog, this is hard stuff and it takes its toll. For me it is inspiring that spirits remain high and riders stay focused and determined to complete the task.

Belfast to Balbriggan tomorrow, 85 miles and the weather forecast is good.

Professor David Greenaway

Posted in Life Cycle 3