On Tour (with Gerry and Colin, Beryl and Lance) A story of life, death and competitive cycling by G. Harris.
This is a script that I once hoped might be performed but this now seems unlikely. It is about an imaginary cycle ride (to a real place) with Beryl Burton and Lance Armstrong.
Gerry and Colin
Lance (Armstrong) and Beryl (Burton)
Lines in bold and underlined are envisaged as captions projected onto a screen, or spoken like satnav.
Prologue (Time Trial)
Gerry: In our house we use the phrase ‘on tour’ where other people say ‘off with the fairies’, lost in thought’, or ‘miles away’. Often we use it to describe the state we fall into when shopping in the supermarket on Saturday. But I go on tour a lot. In boring meetings at work, when people describe the dream they had last night and when Colin talks about his tropical fish. One mention of the word ‘guppy’ and the body may still be there but the mind has gone.
Colin: O Ha Ha.
Gerry: The idea of going on tour doesn’t seem threatening. But people who go on tour, away with the fairies, get lost in thought, or go miles away, sometimes travel too far, for too long. And they come back changed, or to a world that has changed. And sometimes they don’t come back at all.
Colin: Of course, for most people the phrase ‘on tour’ has other, meanings.
Colin fetches two bikes
Founded in 1902 the Tour de France runs over three weeks in July and involves a ‘prologue’ followed by 21 ‘etapes’ or ‘stages’ of up to 200 kilometres each. These include mountain stages that climb to over 2000 metres. The winner of the race is the rider who finishes with the lowest overall cumulative time
Gerry: Hallo. My name Gerry
Colin: And I’m Colin
Gerry: This is really my story- but Colin is not just along for the ride. We will be introducing Beryl and Lance in a minute but for legal reasons neither of them will be appearing in the first person singular.
Gerry: When I was a little girl I used to pretend my bicycle was a horse. Which is odd because I have always been scared of horses- a fear that proved justified because when I was about 10 years old I was ‘thrown’. I was racing my brother down the road to the sweet shop and as I pulled on the breaks the back cable snapped and I went head first over the handlebars. I was knocked unconscious so I don’t remember the accident. In fact I lost the memory of the whole day. I do remember that being unconscious is different from being asleep. The first thing I knew was my mother’s voice calling me as if from a very long way away… Geraldiiiine- she was Irish so she could do the accent better than I can- Geradliiine. Geradiiiine, Geraldiiiine. I had a physical sense of moving towards her voice. But it was her voice that called this ‘I’ into being. Before that there was nothing.
Colin: Your back tire needs air
Gerry pumps up tire.
Colin: Gerry may be pissed off pumping away-but she knows that the secret of avoiding punctures is to maintain maximum tire pressure. Usually this is my job. I also do the map reading, not because I am necessarily better at it than Gerry but because having -I quote -‘failed paper folding in primary school’ she is incapable of folding a map back up neatly-(Gerry tests the valve by letting a little bit of air out-noisily ) and this causes rows. The ride we are going to do today takes us through the Trough of Bowland. It is called the ‘Trough’ because it is a narrow steep sided valley. The ride also takes in at least three watersheds..
A high point between two rivers
Colin: Between the Lune and Wyre, the Wye and the Hodder, the Hodder and the Lune. From our house this involves a more or less sustained ascent for about 10-15 miles followed by a steep descent. Once at the bottom you have a choice of three routes. You can retrace your steps up this hill and return the way you came.
Gerry: This is not only the most boring option but the idea of cycling back up that hill is enough to drain you of the will to live.
Colin: Or you can take one of two circular routes home. One goes via Chipping and Galgate and is all in all a round trip of 40 miles. The other goes by Slaidburn and Wray and comes in at around 60 miles. We are going to do the second route.
Gerry: We have done this ride in the past but nowadays cycling 30 miles in one day is more than enough, especially on a route as hilly as this one. But we feel we should make an effort, because today we are riding with Beryl and Lance. Lance is, of course, Lance Armstrong.
Colin: Lance Armstrong was born in Dallas Texas in 1971. You are likely to have heard of him. He was once the world’s most famous living professional cyclist and is now the most notorious. Between 1999 and 2005 Lance won the Tour de France seven times. In 2012 he was banned from professional cycling for life, stripped of all his wins andhis named excised from all records of the Tour.
Gerry: Like Branded.
Gerry: It was on TV when we were young.
Colin: I never saw it
Gerry: You were probably watching something ‘educational’ like Vision On.
Colin: I liked Vision On
Gerry: Of course you did, it featured lots of advanced paper folding. Branded was about an American Civil War soldier who was drummed out of the army for cowardice. The opening credits showed him having the medals and epaulets stripped off his uniform and his sword broken in front of the regiment while the theme song went ‘Branded but he knows he’s a man’. As this implies unlike Lance Armstrong, the hero of Branded didn’t actually do what he was accused of.
Colin: But we will not be mentioning anything about that today, because Lance is our guest and it would be rude. Beryl is Beryl Burton.
Gerry: Beryl Burton was born in Morley, Yorkshire in 1937. It is unlikely you will have heard of her even though she is pre-eminent amongst British sporting figures of the 20th century. As well seven gold medals, 4 silver and three bronze in women’s world cycling championships and over 150 other British titles, Beryl won the British women’s Best all Rounder cycling championship every single year between1959 and 1983. That’s twenty four years running.
Colin: In 1997, Wellsway school set its pupils this maths problem
Thirty years ago Mike McNamara cycled 445.0 Km in 12 hours- setting a new men’s cycling record at the time. In the same trial Beryl Burton completed 446.2 K. How much faster was Beryl Burton’s average speed than McNamara’s (in metres)?
Gerry: Don’t look at me.
Burton averaged 100m more per hour than McNamara.
Gerry: Legend has it that as she passed McNamara she offered him a liquorice allsort because she said he looked ‘done in’. Beryl beat other male record holders but could not compete in the Tour de France…….
Colin: Arguably the world’s greatest and toughest bicycle race.
Gerry: Because it is only open to male cyclists. There has been a women’s version of the tour de France from 1984, known as La Grande Boucle Feminine
Colin: But no one has heard of that either.
Gerry: Even though British women won it in 2006, 2007 and 2009.
Colin: You will probably have heard of Bradley Wiggins, winner of the Tour in 2012.
Gerry: You might even have heard of Tom Simpson. Competing in the Tour in 1967, Simpson collapsed and died near the summit of the infamous Mount Ventoux from a mixture of heat exhaustion, alcohol and amphetamines. In contrast to Beryl’s obscurity, he is widely known as a British cycling hero from the past. We might call this the Captain Scott syndrome.
Some differences between Gerry and Colin and Beryl and Lance.
Gerry: Photographs from the first years of the Tour de France show riders smoking while cycling.
Colin: Possibly this is why in 1904 some of them cheated by getting lifts in cars and in 1908 by getting the train.
Gerry: We are giving up…… soon.
Gerry: I only shave my legs up to the knee. Colin doesn’t shave his at all. Both Beryl and Lance shave theirs completely. Although I suppose Lance might wax. He is very high tech. Because we don’t race, unlike Beryl and Lance we don’t have to worry about the extra millisecond speed it might give us by decreasing wind resistance.
Colin: It’s also easier and more hygienic in the case of injury. Remember how painful it was taking the plasters off when you had that boil?
Gerry: It was a saddle sore and nobody wants to hear about it.
3. Not very popular?
Colin: This really only applies to Gerry. In fact, I’m her only friend. Possibly because she only shaves her legs up to the knee- and gets boils.
Gerry: Saddle sore and I had lots of friends before I met you. Do the math -as Lance might say.
Some similarities between Beryl and Lance
1. Relatively economically deprived background
Colin: Lance was the child of a teenage single mother who worked at a variety of poorly paid jobs to support them. Lance started to contribute to their income through his winnings as an athlete when he was 15.
Gerry: Beryl came from a working class family who were labourers in what was known as the ‘rhubarb triangle’, an area defined by the towns of Bradford, Batley and Bingley. Beryl started work in rhubarb when she was 15.
2. Overcoming life threatening illness.
Gerry: As detailed in the first volume of his autobiography Its not about the bike, at the age of 25 Lance was diagnosed as having testicular cancer, with multiple tumours in his lungs and brain. The prognosis was poor.
Colin: As a child Beryl contracted St Vitus dance and then rheumatic fever.
Gerry: An acute disorder of the centre nervous system that causes involuntary movements of the face and extremities. She was in hospital for over 15 months, during which she was temporarily paralysed down one side.
3. An overwhelming determination to win at all cost
Gerry: So much so that once she heard that Lance was coming out with us today, nothing could stop Beryl from coming too. Not even the fact that she died in 1996.
4. Not very popular.
Colin: While until recently loved and celebrated in the US not least for the work he does with his cancer charity The Lance Armstrong Foundation, Lance was never popular France -because he persisted in winning the Tour de France, again and again and again. During the Tours insults were painted on the road and the French press constantly accused him of taking performance enhancing drugs… But we are not talking about that.
Gerry: While the current British attitude to Beryl is mostly neglectful, in her heyday it reflected a deep suspicion of women cyclists going back to the 1890s. This is evidenced in the myths about the legendary, and possibly entirely fictional, Rossendale Ladies Cycling Club. These stories date back to the early years of the 20th century but were still in circulation in the late 1970s.
Colin: Membership of the Rossendale Ladies Cycling club was supposedly a strictly kept secret. Like the Masons.
Gerry: Young male cyclists were warned about meeting them on the road because they were said to be either man hating lesbians or rapacious heterosexual nymphomaniacs or possibly both.
Colin: During time trials they were said to appear out of nowhere to throw rocks and scatter nails in front of the wheels of men who had offended them.
Gerry: They were also said to have discovered the secret of knitting their own inner tubes. The stories about Beryl are less colourful. Her daughter claims other cyclists loved her but like many women who are extremely successful in a male dominated field she was often criticised her for her single minded and ruthless ambition.
Colin: We were anxious about meeting them.
Gerry: Beryl arrived at our house seconds after Lance so we all ended up in the hallway
Colin: Which was uncomfortable because there is not much space and Beryl refused to shake Lance’s hand.
Gerry: The temperature dropped so far I got goose bumps, so I showed them into the kitchen for a cup of tea and Lance said he’d prefer coffee and after a second’s hesitation Beryl said she’d have coffee too thank you and so did Colin. I had tea because coffee makes me want to pee at the best of times and cycling makes it worst. We’d be spending the whole ride looking for peeing places.
Colin: Actually we spend the whole of every ride looking for peeing places.
Gerry: During the Tour de France, the riders don’t get off the bikes to pee. The spectators who line the route don’t object to being sprayed. They see it as an honour.
Some similarities between Gerry and Colin and Beryl and Lance
1. Gerry and Colin occasionally ride bikes- slowly and not very far
Gerry: We like to stop a lot.
Colin: So Gerry can pee.
Gerry: To enjoy the countryside.
2. Colin quite unwell when he was 11.
Colin: Actually Mum and Dad thought I was going to die. I was in agony and the doctors couldn’t work out what was wrong. They gave me a lumbar puncture and even took out my appendix –but never came up with a diagnosis.
Gerry: It was inner evil.
Colin: Like your boil
Gerry: Will you shut up about the boil.
Colin: I thought you said it was a saddle sore?
Some differences between Beryl Burton and Lance Armstrong.
1. Date of birth, gender and nationality
Gerry: These affect number 2 which is
Colin: By the time Lance was diagnosed with cancer, he already had commercial sponsorship but the next few years were extremely tough financially due to massive medical bills. By his second Tour de France win he was beginning to recover financially and had become ‘celebrity’ in the US-
Gerry: Which means that lots more people perceived it as an honour to be peed on by him.
Colin: And every aspect of his equipment and training were micro-engineered, regardless of cost.
Gerry: In the early years, after a ten hour day in the rhubarb sheds Beryl would train with Nim Carline, her boss and fellow member of the Morley Cycling club. In later years, her husband would drive her to events in the family car at the weekend. On the way back they would stop 100 miles from home and she would cycle the rest of the way. She probably also did the child care, cooking and the housework.
Colin: I’d like to point out that in our house I do all the cooking and the washing because Gerry has what we call ‘negative skills’ in these areas and basically I like to eat and to wear clothes the same colour as when I bought them.
Gerry: Colin has his own carefully honed negative skills but I would not dream of bringing then up.
Colin: We have told Beryl and Lance that today is a pleasure ride but whatever we say they are likely to compete against each other….
Gerry: And taking account that Lance is in his early 40s while Beryl is in either just shy of her 60th birthday, or in her mid 70s if we assume that she has continued to age since her death….
Colin: I don’t think you should keep mentioning Beryl’s condition.
Gerry: The list of the things not to be mentioned is growing at an alarming rate.
Colin: We thought it might help level the playing field if Beryl and Lance were both riding the same model of bike. So Lance generously agreed to bring two limited edition ‘Lance Armstrong’ Trek Madone racing bikes
Gerry: Colin and I are riding our own Dawes tourers. These are good bikes but really for this trip we’d be happier on road bikes, as racing bikes are also known… something like a Trek Madone. Because actually to some extent it is ‘about the bike’
Colin: Which is why none of us are riding a mountain bike. What people seem to miss is that there is a clue in the name; ‘road bike’- ‘mountain bike’. We notice Lance checking out Beryl’s bum.
Gerry: This is not what it might seem. Racing cyclists do it to each other all the time. The smaller the bottom the more likely that the rider is at the peak of training and fitness.
Colin: I’m not saying anything..
Gerry: They also test each others weight by surreptitiously pinching each others stomachs (Gerry demonstrates on Colin )
Colin: That really hurt
Colin: What’s that?.(Colin points to a place half way down Gerry’s chest)
Gerry: You being a pratt. Beryl and Lance are waiting.
Colin: Are the saddle bags packed?
Gerry: Beryl and Lance carry as little as possible when they ride. We on the other hand are carrying a picnic, an emergency medical kit, binoculars, compass, mobile phone, jumpers, map case
Colin: Puncture repair kit?
Gerry: Of course.
Gerry: We don’t need locks
Colin: Not just in case?
Colin: Water bottles?
Gerry: On the bikes.
Colin: Extra water?
Gerry: Stop it.
Colin: What’s the forecast ?
Gerry: Perfect -dry and sunny but not hot, enough breeze to help with breathing on hills but not enough to create a serious headwind.
Colin: Let’s go.
Gerry: Down the street, Beryl and Lance in the lead, riding side by side.
Colin: We turn left and stop at the traffic lights.
Gerry: At this point we constitute a tiny but perfectly formed peleton.
Peleton: Name given to the ‘pack’ or massed group of riders in
Gerry: A peleton can go much faster for much longer than a solo rider because the riders take turns pacing at the front. Pacing makes a huge difference in cycling, although its effect is thought to be largely psychological. However, riding behind or ‘sucking the wheel’ of even just one other rider does significantly decrease wind resistance and saves an enormous amount of energy- so that when the time comes the sucker can easily overtake the suckee to sprint victoriously to the finish line. In large peletons the whole group can be going at 40 kilometres per hour. Those at the front will be riding themselves into the ground but those at the back will be chatting, playing cards and preparing light delicious meals.
Colin: So it is an unwritten rule that in longer events, riders, or at least representatives of a team, take their turn at leading.
Gerry: There are a number of other unwritten rules in competitive cycling, sometimes referred to as a ‘code of chivalry’. Which is mostly completely ignored because lets face it whatever people may pretend, as in the rest of life, in cycling it’s the winning that counts. The lights are green.
Colin: In our peleton you will notice that Gerry is at the back sucking my wheel.
Gerry: Because I’m the slowest. Also if I ride in front of Colin he criticises my road safety -and this causes rows.
Colin: We all stick together as far as the Pointer roundabout
Gerry: Where following her usual tactic of ‘go to the front and make them suffer’, Beryl pulls out ahead makes the first break.
Gerry and Colin: Ho hey, Ho hey
Gerry: This is what the peleton chant when a rider makes a break or an ‘escape’.
Colin: Which may be fine when there are hundred or so of you but when there’s just two, you feel like a pratt.
Gerry: Lance follows Beryl. Ho hey.
Colin: I’m not doing it again.
Gerry: But Lance is not attacking Beryl for the lead. Instead he sits on her back wheel, sucking -and with Beryl setting the pace they speed off. This is probably the last we will see of them until we get back home.
Colin: We are going uphill past the University of Cumbria.
Gerry: It’s a nothing hill but I haven’t warmed up. I settle down into the cycling equivalent of trudging and lose sight of Colin.
Colin: I turn the corner and carry on up the road but wait for Gerry at the top at Golgotha, just before the old Quaker graveyard.
She’s often a long way behind and I find myself constantly checking for her over my shoulder.
Gerry: One August in Greece we were cycling back from the shops. It was midday and the temperature was around 40 degrees centigrade. We were going so slowly that when Colin looked over his shoulder to see where I was, he fell off from sheer inertia.
Colin: The old man sitting in the shade cried with laughter.
Gerry: This caused a row –Colin claimed it was my fault -even though I’m always telling him not to look back.
Colin: We turn right by the park
Gerry: A swooping descent on a good road surface which rapidly turns in a rise up the Slope of Stress.
Colin: It’s not steep but the surface is made up of small pebbles which have a deadening effect on your wheels. As cars goes past you feel embarrassed because you are going so slowly. We turn left, still going up but we are now riding on tarmac between fields. To our left we see Lancaster silhouetted in front of the 90 degree sweep of Morecambe bay. If Beryl and Lance were with us we might point out some landmarks; the castle
Gerry: Up until recently still a working prison.
Colin: The elegant Georgian houses
Gerry: Funded by money from the slave trade
Colin: The Ashton memorial
Gerry: Built by Lord Ashton in memory of his dead wife and modelled on the Taj Mahal.
Colin: The bay itself. Flat with only the smallest of waves it looks tranquil and innocuous but its quicksands and rapid tides have claimed a lot of lives.
Gerry: A gloomy theme appears to be emerging. Maybe it’s as well Beryl and Lance went on ahead
Colin: Finally. The top of the rise and we turn to face the hills, spreading out to Ingleburgh in the North and Littledale in the South.
Gerry: I love this view. It always makes me feel as if I’ve been holding my breath for a long time without realising it and suddenly I’m breathing and dizzy with pleasure
Colin: This dizziness is probably due to the fact that cycling uphill for twenty minutes has released chemicals into the bloodstream similar to those found in the drug ecstasy. We run parallel to one of the lines of hills until the turning for Quernmore. I wait for Gerry before the drop.
Gerry: I’ll catch you up at the bench by the post office. The drop is down a narrow lane, hedged around by trees. It’s very fast and full of hair pins. I’m not good at going down hill- but then I’m not good at going up hill either. I’m not so much a glass half full or glass half empty person, as a ‘what bloody glass?’ person. It’s a relief when I hit the bottom and cross the ludicrously picturesque bridge over the stream. Straight into the stink of slurry from the farm half a mile to our left and another trying upward gradient for which it’s difficult to find the right gear. But what makes it really hard is that the road opens out and you can see
Where, from this approach the road appears to go straight up in a vertical line.
Colin: The road going past the post office is popular with motorbikes speeding round blind corners.
Gerry: In the relative quiet the noise they make is like a series of punches to the head.
Colin: We say it gets us coming and going because later helicopters will pass over our roof bringing those who have crashed into the Royal Infirmary. Cycling is quieter but not really all that much safer. In an average season amongst a group of about 300 world class competitive cyclists there will be up to 6 serious injuries a week.
Gerry: These range from flesh wounds and relatively minor breakages of bones, to comas, losing eyes and ‘percussion fractures’ which refers to breaking vertebrae in the back.
Colin: Over the course of 2003, seven professional riders died of heart attacks –one of them was only 19 years old. Rumour has it these were related to the things we are not mentioning about Lance.
Gerry: I have started to need a pee.
Colin: The first bit of Quernmore Brow is the steepest hill of the day –and it feels like it.
Gerry: My heart is beating frighteningly fast.
Colin: There is a famous story about Jacques Anquetil,
Five time winner of the Tour de France.
Colin: When he began ascending in the mountain stages,
Gerry: He would switch his water bottle
Colin: From the bike frame to his back pocket.
Gerry: According to Tim Krabbe
Author of The Rider
Gerry: The best book ever written about cycling
Colin: Anquetil said a rider was made up of two parts,
Gerry: A person and a bike.
Colin: The bike allows the person to go faster
Gerry: But its weight also slows him down,
Colin: So when climbing the trick is
Gerry: To make the bike as light as possible.
Krabbe adds that
Gerry: People are made up of two parts
Colin: A mind and a body.
Gerry: The mind is the rider.
Colin: The only way to get up this hill is
Gerry: To believe that you can do it and
Colin: And you have to find a steady rhythm.
Gerry: Singing can help.
Coin: It might if you could carry a tune. Alternately you can just get off and push… but I am not going to unless Gerry does.
Gerry: Colin won’t get off and push unless I do first. This makes me hold out as long as possible just to torture him. Stuff it..– can’t do it- I’ll push just until we are round the corner.
Colin: From here the road ascends in a series of loops. The landscape becomes moorland, our progress is watched by sneering sheep.
Gerry: You keep thinking that after the next bend, or the next rise you will be at the top but when you get there, there is another bend and another rise, and after that, another and another and another.
Colin: At last, a short dip down and we are at the Jubilee tower. This high point is often shrouded in mist but on a clear day like today it offers a view past Heysham nuclear power station all the way to the Lake District. We usually stop here and share a coke.
Gerry: And have a cigarette.
Colin: But today we are aware that Beryl and Lance are probably half way back home.
Gerry: Besides, now I really need a pee and it’s too exposed here. Colin: Its not so bad though because we are now on a long graduated descent of over a mile-although insects hit you in the face like stones and after a while you get chilled
Gerry: In the mountain stages of the Tour de France riders risk heat exhaustion on the way up but it’s always colder at the top and factor in wind chill and a descending rider can rapidly lose feeling from their extremities.
Colin: Not clever when you are going down hairpin bends at over 60 miles an hour.
Gerry: Back in the trees, going up and then down to Abbeystead which is picture book pretty. A rushing river, golden stone buildings, hedgerows full of wild flowers.
Colin: And starting the climb to the Trough itself
Gerry: Stop. I won’t be a sec.
(gerry goes off)
Colin: There’s a car coming.
Gerry: (from off) There had better be because you just made me pee on my foot.
Colin: They turned off.
Gerry: (Gerry returning) Very funny
Colin: Think of it as a present from the guppies.
Gerry: Do you want to go?
Colin: I’ll hang on.
Gerry: Over the next three miles, tree lined lanes give way to broad views of upper moorland, burnt umber patched with purple heather.
Colin: There are few cars.
Gerry: Cycling round here one winter we were startled by a group of young deer, their hooves hitting the frozen ground like firecrackers. One spring we rode alongside a hare leaping in a field in such a contagious expression of pure animal being, that for the interval between two breaths we smelt hare, felt hare, were hare.
Colin: After a sharp bend we are into woodland. Although still rising, the going feels relatively easy
Gerry: Because there is something peaceful about this place. Between the trees- scattered boulders and moss, deep cut with streams.
Colin: One last steep section and we are at the watershed.
Gerry: And unbelievably-so are Beryl and Lance. Lance is talking on a mobile phone. Beryl is sitting by a stream a little way off her back turned to him. Lance tells us that he’s got a puncture and they have been waiting ages for us to turn up.
Colin: Are you suggesting that two of the world’s most experienced competitive cyclists, came out without a spare inner tube between them? Was Beryl planning to knit one?
Gerry: Lance supplied the bikes and is used to having a support team.
Colin: Even so, this route is popular with friendly local cyclists. In over an hour no one has come along and offered help?
Gerry: I did say it was unbelievable. You go and help Lance, while I talk to Beryl.
Colin: Why can’t you help Lance while I talk to Beryl?
Gerry: Because you are less crap at repairing punctures than I am and you can do the male bonding thing.
Colin: I’m more crap at the male bonding thing than you are at repairing punctures.
Gerry: Just do it.
Gerry: I sit beside Beryl and apologise that they had to wait. She surprises me by asking if I’ve got a cigarette? I say yes and go back to my bike to get them.
Colin: And you get to have a cigarette.
Gerry: There are still people who would be thrilled to have the chance to repair a puncture with Lance Armstrong…even if only to hit him over the head with the pump.
Colin: Lance is not happy and his mood worsens when he discovers that rather than a spare inner tube, we’ve got a puncture repair kit with glue and rubber patches.
Gerry: I said we should buy some inner tubes.
Colin: I am not having a good time here. When I tell him I need to find a puddle in order to detect the hole, he goes still.
Gerry: Beryl and I light up. Beryl tells me that she thought about going on ahead but she wanted to make sure there was no question about her winning this race fair and square. I said I didn’t think it was a race. And she says ‘O yes it is’ and the look in her eye could freeze the sea.
Colin: Lance tells me he can’t remember repairing a puncture this way. Once he’s calmed down he insists on doing it by himself and seems to enjoy it. Close up I notice his faced is deeply lined.
Gerry: Then Beryl laughs and says ‘Was he fit to burst when he got that puncture and realised we had no kit’.
Colin: Lance is putting the dust cap on, I am at my bike putting stuff away.
Gerry: Beryl has a final drag and jumps up shouting over to Lance ‘Beat you to the bottom’. Before any one can move Colin has jumped on his bike way and gone then Beryl, then Lance. I go after them but I’ve got no chance of catching up. Over the brow there’s a stunning view but the road is barely wider than a pavement and falls away on a sheer descent broken up by blind corners. On the first turn I can see them below. Colin is still just ahead, with Beryl on his wheel followed by Lance. They are going dangerously fast, not for an experienced professional but for Colin…Before I can stop myself.- I call out –Coliiin –Coliiin- Coliiin.… Even while I’m doing it I feel sick to the stomach because although I’m sure he can’t hear me, he does that thing we all knew he was going to do at some point when I told that story about Greece back in Golgotha. He looks back. And I can see his handle bars wobble – as he passes out of sight
I, 2, 3 ,4., 5 ,6, 7, 8,9,10,11, 12,126.96.36.199. 17. 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29. 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50 , 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 67, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 92,94,95,96,97,98,99, 100 .
According to Tim Krabbe, these are the numbers worn by riders who have been killed while racing.
Gerry: Round the next bend, the road falls more gently along side the gash carved out by Langdon Brook. For a moment the three of them are riding side by side down this narrow passageway like cowboys on the range. I can almost hear the film score from The Big Country playing in Colin’s head. He stops to wait for me.
Colin: Did you see that? I kept up with Lance Armstrong and Beryl Burton. Can you believe it?
Gerry: No I can’t. You stupid fucking shit. What were you thinking of? You nearly gave me a heart attack. You could have been killed, you fucking stupid, stupid …
Colin: I’m always telling you its more dangerous to go downhill as slowly as you do than it is to go fast.
Gerry: O act your age. If it weren’t as hard to go home as to go on I’d piss off and leave the three of you to it.
Colin: While Gerry is shouting at me, Beryl and Lance are cresting a small rise with Lance in the lead. Just before he slips out of sight he turns waves, like the Lone Ranger
Gerry: So that makes Beryl Tonto? Really?
Colin: You started the cowboy thing and The Big Country is hardly an argument for equal opportunities.
Gerry: Yes but I was imagining it playing in your head
Colin: That was presumptious of you. Actually I was playing Miles Davies.
Gerry: You’d do anything rather than apologise wouldn’t you?
Colin: Shall we get on? We are hungry -and this causes rows.
Gerry: Fine. Brook, Trough, Brook Trough Trough, blah, hill, road, blah, blah hill, cattle grid, road, blah, stupid Pendle witch tourist sign, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Colin: This is a famous beauty spot.
Gerry: Then people should come and see it for themselves.
Colin: By the old bridge a rustic bench in the sun. We stop for lunch.
Gerry: It’s impossible to describe how incredible food tastes when you have cycled up hill for a couple of hours. We eat too much, we can’t help it.
Colin: When cycling its better to eat small amounts of high energy food frequently than to stuff down a couple of doorstep sandwiches in one go.
Gerry I could just go to sleep. What are you smiling about?
Colin: That lunch cycling in Spain when you slipped by the stream and got a thistle up your bottom and I had to pick out all the spines.
Gerry: How we laughed.
Gerry: Have you noticed that Lance and Beryl look quite alike?
Colin: Well, apart from their noses, eyes, hair, teeth, ears, face shape, colouring, height and sexual ‘bits’ – Yes.
Colin: What shall we have for dinner?
Gerry: We’ve only just had lunch. Give me a hand up.
Colin: No- you give me a hand up-fat arse.
Gerry: No- you give me a hand up- pig–nose.
Colin: No-you give me a hand up-smeg-head.
Gerry: No- you give me a hand up- dog’s- breath.
Colin: What’s that? (Colin points to a place half way down Gerry’s chest)
Gerry: You being a pratt.
Colin: Tour riders only stop if there is an accident. Obviously because it’s a race -but also because your muscles get stiff.
Gerry: Starting up after lunch is always the low point on a ride. Especially if you are going up hill immediately afterwards.
Colin: You have to push yourself through it.
Gerry: All the most famous cycling stories are about suffering or rather ‘the triumph of the will over the body’.
Colin: Very Neitschzian
Gerry: Honore Barthelemy finishing in 8th place in the Tour in
with a broken shoulder, dislocated wrist and partial blindness.
Colin: Eddy Merckx finishing with a broken jaw.
Gerry: Tyler Hamilton, coming second in the Giro de ’Italia
having ridden most of the race with a broken shoulder. By the finish line he’d ground several of his teeth down to the nerve because they are not allowed painkillers.
Gerry: Ok so Hamilton was caught taking EPO in 2004 and 2011
EPO: Erythropoietin a drug that increases oxygen in the blood and can increase performance by up to 15%. Officially banned after scandals around the Tour de France in the late 1990s
and was one of Lance’s key teammates on US Postal team for the Tour and eventually one of the key whistler blowers on Lance’s own doping.
Colin: But we are not mentioning any of that…
Gerry: We struggle painfully up to Newton but then begin to settle down again. On the way through Slaidburn we circle the war monument. A first world war soldier, standing on a high pillar but looking at the ground.
Gerry: Colin’s mum tells this story about his great uncle Charlie …
Colin: Uncle Charlie who was “a bit of a card”.
Gerry: He and his brother Bill
Colin: My granddad.
Gerry: Were both in the trenches in France during the first world war- but with different regiments. One day Charlie stole a bike and cycled 50 odd miles without official leave to visit Bill. And then he cycled back again. I often think about that ride. Sometimes I imagine a cheeky young man riding through quiet sunny lanes whistling Madamoiselle from Armentiers. Sometimes I imagine a frightened boy in the rain.
Colin: Both Bill and Charlie not only made it through the war but came back relatively unscathed.. at least physically.
Gerry: There was another brother who was not so lucky but I cant remember his name.
Here we are in the Forest of Bowland
Colin: This is not a forest as in lots of trees but in the original medieval sense of the word- a Royal hunting ground.
Gerry: Where animals are raised to be killed for sport.
Colin: Up until the 20th century most of this Forest was virtually inaccessible, except on foot or by horse. There are still very few roads. In fact, where we are going eventually there is only one.
Gerry: As we approach the fells and grouse moors, the country side becomes starker and more open. You can hear a dog barking for miles around.
Colin: Most buildings we see are ruins. The road becomes smaller and rougher. It’s a surprise to meet a car.
Gerry: Instead of bird song you hear infrequent cries and alarm calls.
Colin: Eventually no more turnings only tracks
Gerry: This is the heart of the ride, when consciousness shrinks small, thoughts pass in and out of your head without being completed. Sometimes a single idea runs in a continuous loop.
Colin: You fix on details of the landscape rather than the whole. The exact geometry of the gap between two fells.
Gerry: A flock of birds turning against the sky, now white, now invisible, now black
Colin: An isolated stand of trees, each one different in the shape of its trunk and branches and in the colour and texture of its leaves.
Gerry: Yellow tufts of sheep wool among clumps of mill stone grit
Colin: The pointed stones on the top of a dry stone wall
Gerry: The pinks and greys of the squashed corpse of a hedgehog.
Colin: A field mouse running for cover.
Gerry: Colin stops looking back for me and rides so far ahead that I lose sight of him. I know he will wait for me when the time comes. This is the best kind of alone.
Colin: You hardly notice the developing soreness of your bum, the ache growing in your neck and shoulders, the shorter periods of relief provided by downhill stretches.
Gerry: Until that is –a high point in a clearing in the middle of a small wood just before the Cross of Greet Bridge. In the afternoon sun the road’s a white snake thrown across the bare hill.
I’d forgotten this bit. It’s beautiful but from here it looks as steep as Quernmore Brow. Worse, on either side of the road is a herd of bullocks. There is no fence. That’s it –I’ve had it with bloody hills and I hate bullocks almost as much as horses, they always attack me.
Colin: They do not attack you- they are just being frisky and it’s not nearly as high as it looks. I’ll prove it- give me the map.
Gerry: I don’t give a shit what the map says. I’m not getting back on that bike. Call a taxi. Why do we keep doing this? It’s too hard and I’m too old. It’s not fun. My bottom really, really hurts.
Colin: Stop whining. Beryl and Lance probably did this hill without even changing gear.
Gerry: Fuck both of them and double fuck Lance.
Colin: Ssh. look- the hole in the ground by the cattle grid- two beady little eyes.
Colin: A ferret or a weasel, maybe a stoat. Why don’t you put your hand in and maybe it’ll come out.
Gerry: Very funny.
Colin: When we get to the top we’ll have a banana.
Gerry: The hill is not as bad as it looked from higher up. Also, as I pass the bullocks one of them ‘frisks’ at me, so a spurt of adrenalin gets me to the top.
Gerry: We’ve dropped out of the world. You can’t even hear the sound of cars in the distance anymore.
Colin: The only human made objects in sight are the things we have with us –and the single white road. In the distance a peregrine falcon stoops
Gerry: Onto a landscape that looks empty until you focus in on the incredible variety of rock formations, mosses, grasses and tiny wild flowers. I’m sorry about the tantrum.
Colin: O did you have another tantrum? I must have missed that.
Gerry: I’m more worked up about the things we are not mentioning than I thought Id be,
Three things that many people would really like to believe despite the odds
1. That Tropical Fish are intelligent
2. That Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France without taking illegal drugs
3. That there is life after death
Colin: Guppies may be stupid but Angel fish are actually very bright. On the other hand didn’t you once you tell me that of the early Tour winners said of course they all took drugs- you couldn’t do it otherwise?
Gerry: Yes but when everybody is doing it, it’s not cheating. It’s only when they started banning drugs it became cheating. And like lots of people I believed what Lance implies in Its Not About the Bike that because of the cancer he learnt to push the pain barrier so far that he was able to come out the other side.
Colin: That’s stupid and romantic about cancer and about the Tour
Gerry: The Tour is stupid and romantic like climbing Everest or walking to the Pole, dangerous, pointless but for some reason, life affirming.
Colin: Only if you come back
Gerry: Yes- and every time Lance came back to win the Tour it was like he was coming back from cancer again and again.
Colin:Makes you wonder about Beryl.
Gerry: She worked in rhubarb in Yorkshire in the 1950s. Where would she get performance enhancing drugs?
Colin: You just said everybody used to do it
Gerry: Not necessarily everybody. And historically fewer women in sport have tested positive than men
Colin: Perhaps because there are fewer women?
Gerry: As far as I’m concerned Beryl kept going on liquorish and northern grit and if you don’t shut up I’ll start singing.
That just leaves life after death.
Gerry: I’ll file that one alongside Angel Fish being ‘very bright’
Colin: I can prove it
Gerry:Life after death?
Colin: No. That Angel fish are intelligent
Gerry: Yeah, yeah. yeah
Colin: Don’t you yeah, yeah, yeah me
Gerry: Yeah, yeah, yeah…
Colin: You haven’t peed for some time. Are you ok? Perhaps a prod to the kidneys would help?
Gerry: I’m fine thank you. You haven’t peed at all.
Colin: That why I thought of it. I’d better go now, while there’s no one around.
(colin goes off )
Colin: (returning) It’s getting late.
Gerry: Did I tell you about that time with my Mum, not long before she died when half way through Cilla Black’s Blind Date she suddenly asked me if I thought there really was a heaven?’
Colin: I can’t remember, maybe.
Gerry: I don’t believe in heaven but it threw me into a panic that having believed in it all her life, she was questioning it when she probably needed it the most. I wanted her to go on believing for her own sake, and to be honest for mine too because it offered her a comfort that I couldn’t. In the end I suggested she talk to her Priest. I still don’t know what I should have said. I think maybe I should have lied.
Colin: What’s that? (Colin points to a place half way down Gerry’s chest)
Gerry: You being a pratt
Colin: It’s down hill all the way now.
Gerry: According to the map the remains of the Cross of Greet are in front of us, the Cloven Stones to our left and there should be waterfalls all around but we are descending too fast to take in anything except the disappearing outline of fells.
Green Syke Bridge
Colin: We pick our way through a network of country lanes. Spen Brow, Trinket Lane, Hunts Gill Beck
Gerry: Colin was lying. It’s not actually all down hill but the road undulates gently, the dips giving you the momentum to sweep up the rises. This is easy riding.
Colin: Towards Wray the landscape becomes flatter, more populated. I’m tired now but Gerry always gets a second wind around this point. For the first time all day she takes the lead.
Gerry: And takes pleasure in riding for its own sake. A simple discipline of shifts in position on the bike and pre-emptive gear changing so as to take a shallow corner at speed or to mount a rise without breaking rhythm. The hands falling to the breaks, and then coming back up to rest on the bars. For a short while I am part of the machine not thinking- just being.
Colin: At Hornby we meet the A603, which we follow for a couple of miles. This busy road is flat and open so there is always a strong head wind crossed by the tail wind created by speeding cars and lorries. This is my least favourite type of cycling.
Gerry: I put my head down and pace Colin, giving him some shelter from the wind. Slow and steady. It won’t win us any races but it’ll get us there. Still, it’s a relief to reach Claughton and pick up the cycle path.
Colin: The disused railway line runs alongside the river taking in the Crook of Lune, another beauty spot. When we first moved to Lancaster this path was rough track and few people used it
Gerry: There were less cyclists about generally.
Colin: Now it’s tarmaced which makes for easier riding but at weekends it’s an obstacle course
Gerry: Whole families walking and cycling, small children and dogs throwing themselves under your wheels.
Colin: In any case, we’ve done this five or so miles so many times it makes us impatient for the ride to be over.
Gerry: Pushing our attention onto our aches and pains.
Colin: I’m not grinding down my teeth but my bad knee spikes on every third rotation.
Gerry: My bum is now so sore that every few yards I have to stand up on the pedals for relief.
Colin: Swallowed a fly.
Gerry: Do you want to stop for some water…or a spider?
Colin: Let’s keep on.
Gerry: At last we see the Castle and then in the foreground Sainsbury’s.
Colin: We join the road
Gerry: And go up a small incline.
More of a slope
Colin: Which nearly finishes us off.
Gerry: Because in our minds we have already stopped.
Colin: We turn onto our street and ride down the ginnel.
Gerry: The back door is open and the smell of baking drifts out. Lance is sitting in the yard.
Colin: He tells us that they got back hours ago. Beryl made some scones while waiting for us but eventually she had to go.
Gerry: She has also scrubbed the cooker and washed the floor. I can hardly walk. I begin to see how some people might find Beryl a tiny bit irritating. I ask Lance how they got on?
Colin: Lance says ‘She’s good -Beryl–she really pushed me today’.
Gerry: So who won?
Colin: Lance replies ‘I thought it was a pleasure ride’ and he winks at me.
Gerry: I suspect he didn’t mean it but I found that wink so patronising. And then for some reason Colin does his ‘joke’. This is something Eric Morecambe used to do with Ernie Wise in their double act. Colin points to a spot high on Lance’s chest and says..
Colin: What’s that?
Gerry: And as Lance looks down and Colin brings his finger up to hit the underside of Lance’s nose. I’ve never understood why this is supposed to be funny and for a split second I think there might be violence. But then Lance laughs and slaps Colin on the back
Colin: Very hard.
Gerry: Then he packs the bikes onto the rack on his car and is gone.
(Colin exits with bikes).
Stage twenty one.
Gerry: One day in 1996 Beryl went out for a ride- not racing or training but delivering some invitations to her birthday. She didn’t come back. They found her on the bike -her feet still in the pedal clips. There hadn’t been an accident. There were no suspicious circumstances. Her heart just gave up. That happens to lots of people. For all sorts of reasons. Their hearts just give up.
Colin: (returning eating a scone )I put the kettle on. This is the best scone I have ever had…
Gerry: Let’s go in and eat the lot.
( by Gerry)