Monday, 25 July 2011

Hey diddle diddle...

...the cat and the fiddle.  Or to be more precise, the Cat and Fiddle, the pub on the A537 between Macclesfield and Buxton that is both the highest point on the pass over the Pennines between those two towns, and that gives its name to the climb from Macclesfield.  Apart from the pub allegedly being the second highest in England (the Tan Hill Inn in Swaledale taking the accolade as the highest), the Cat and Fiddle climb is famous, or perhaps just notable, for the following:

- until recently it was statistically (deaths and serious injuries per mile) the most dangerous road in Britain.  However, strip out the figures for motorcyclists and its stats make it no more dangerous than plenty of other stretches of A road.  That's because it become a motorcyclists mecca at the weekends, with its climbing, its curves, both tight and sweeping, and the attractive countryside and fine views.

- rather hilariously (IMHO), Cheshire East council spent £500,000 last year installing an average speed camera detection system in a bid to cut the number of accidents on the road, and do you know the number of people detected breaking the speed limit so far?  None, zero, nobody.  And the reason?  Well, there's two in my book.  First, and most significantly, there are at least two roads on the way up to the top that leave and re-join the A537, and can therefore be claimed to be shortcuts.  However, even if the out-of-town biker weren't aware of those, he can avoid detection as there's no camera at the top of the climb, meaning he or she can roar up to the top at goodness knows what speeds, have a little rest in the pub car park, and carry on their merry way as an apparently law-abiding driver.  Well done council planners.

- the climb used to feature prominently and regularly on the "Milk Race", as what is now the Tour of Britain was known in the 1970s.

- it partly featured because it's one of the few decent length climbs in Britain, and whilst there are a couple of dips amongst the slopes, my 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs (of Britain) book tells me that it's 11.27km long, which is about as good as it gets in the UK when it comes to preparing for long Pyrenean climbs (or Alpine ones for that matter, but it's the Pyrenean ones I'm going to see again soon).  So, it was for that reason that I decided to have a ride up it on Sunday morning, and it was the for motorcycling mecca reason that I was on it by 8 am - the motorcyclists seem to only get out after about 9, after which it becomes a bit unpleasant.

I have to say it wasn't one of my favourite ascents.  It should have been - the road surface on the lower slopes has been hugely improved since the last time I went up, it was nice and quiet, and the sun was shining.  However, as with many hilly areas, the C&F seems to have a micro-climate of its own, and the higher I went, the duller, cooler and windier it became.  I was also feeling the effects of not doing my morning stretching for three days on the bounce, with the back and hamstrings moaning that they really didn't want to be doing this.  And yet, and yet.....it took me 31.5 minutes to get from the Arighi Bianchi furniture store at the base of the climb to the pub car park.  I'd never managed anything faster that 33.5 before.  The wind wasn't especially favourable, and I wasn't particularly in the mood.  I'm wishing we could go to the Pyrenees next week rather than in a month's time, for I surely can't stay this strong till then.  I'm not sure what it is really - I haven't done anything particularly different in training this year, though I have heard people say that they became stronger all round after completing a marathon.  It didn't seem to do Lance Armstrong much good - he did a few marathons after his 7 TdF victories and before he came out of retirement to complete the 2009 TdF.  Then again, you could argue that finishing 3rd in that Tour was a pretty impressive achievement for a nearly-38 year old, and would he have been able to do it without the conditioning created by running?

Which brings me to a couple of other areas before I close.  First, the Tour itself, which finished yesterday.  Like plenty of other people it has fascinated, obsessed and captivated me for the last 3 and a bit weeks.  I love it.  At some point, when I've got more time and space, I shall write a paean to its marvellousness, and why it is the best sporting competition in the world, no argument, no competitors, no exceptions.  It was interesting to see the winners of arguably the two most important jerseys (yellow and green) both being native English speakers; you wouldn't have had that 40 years ago.  Lots of congratulations have been bandied around, but for me amongst the biggest must go to Christian Prudhomme, the race director, for his selection of the route - it was magnificent in both scenery and conception, as it kept alive all the competitions until the last feasible moment.  His job = my dream job.

And finally, and more mundanely, I did do a couple of other rides last week, Weds and Saturday, both pretty hilly, Wednesday's in particular.  Neither were particularly long at either side of two hours apiece, but they were fun - I'm enjoying going up hills at the moment.  As I said earlier, I wish the Pyrenees were this week...

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