Cycling at my level is essentially an excuse to go out and shoot the breeze with a few mates. Sure, the riding is important, but so is the chance to spend a couple of hours in good company winding each other up, telling a few stories, and comparing bikes. But there is one in every group who has taken the art of socialising to virtually a professional level…the true raconteur.
Not only is this friend of yours gregarious, outgoing and full of fun, he seems to be one of those people to whom things happen: he gets in scrapes, meets interesting people, and around every corner there seems to lurk the next adventure. When you’re out on the bike with him he will regale you with his seemingly endless supply of anecdotes and tall tales. As much as you don’t want to believe him, you know the stories are true (…aren’t they?) and you’re powerless to resist.
He’ll give you episodes of run-ins with angry motorists, collisions with bollards, traffic islands and gooseberry bushes, survival situations on the top of alpine passes, mechanical failures in remote parts of Scotland, and a cast list of characters so outlandish that it’s tempting to think he might be making some of this up (…he wouldn’t be, would he?).
On a ride recently a few of us were chatting absent-mindedly about whatever bike race was currently taking place in some mountainous, sun-baked corner of southern Europe, and someone offered an innocuous comment like:
‘Did you see that Nairo Quintana? He looks in good form, might go well in the Tour this year’.
To which our friend – the raconteur of the group – replied: ‘Quintana? Oh yes, nice fella actually…’
Now, my friend is from Cumbria, in the north of England, and a pretty remote part of Cumbria too. It’s fair to say that he and Nairo Quintana are poles apart; their paths unlikely to cross in a social situation
But you know there’s a story coming.
It turns out he went to see the start of the Tour of Britain last year as it rolled out from Carlisle, through high winds and driving rain, and in the direction of the 20% gradients of Honister Pass. Being the local expert and always keen to share a bit of local knowledge (and, frankly, have a chat with anyone who will listen), our friend went into full raconteur mode, apparently gained the trust of the diminutive Columbian, and passed on some sage advice about what to expect from the prevailing weather conditions and the gear ratio’s he might need to take on the climb of Honister.
You would assume that Quintana’s team already had this sort of thing in hand, but our man was insistent that this passing of local knowledge across barriers of culture and language was key to Quintana’s good performance that day. In fact, you would be forgiven for assuming that our mate is now on Quintana’s Christmas card list and the invite to his next family gathering in Columbia is in the post, such was his apparent gratitude.
Coming from some, a story like that might seem far-fetched and self-indulgent, but from the way our friend the raconteur delivers the story, and the fact that you’ve seen him in action before, it sounds plausible, entertaining, and probably at least 75% true…but there’s more to come. Since you’re on the subject of meetings with pro cyclists, he has all kinds of little gems to wheel out for our entertainment…
…like the time he was riding through the valleys of north Wales and was passed by two young bucks on pristine Pinarello bikes, clad in full Team Sky regalia.
Now, wearing the replica kit of a pro team, whilst clearly not being a rider for said team, is questionable, but is basically down to personal taste. I, for one, wouldn’t be seen dead wearing a Team Sky kit whilst riding around the lanes of Lancashire (Rapha, or no Rapha) but clearly thousands disagree with me on this.
On being passed by these two big time Charlies, my friend decided he’s going to ride up alongside and have a gentle and good-natured chat with them (all in good fun, of course). After (eventually) catching up, panting heavily by now from the exertion of the chase (the two mystery men are clearly no mugs), he manages to grunt ‘ow do lads’…before noticing the lettering up the side of there jerseys which reads ‘Thomas’ and ‘Swift’.
Before they’ve even swung their heads around to return the greeting it’s clear they are Geraint Thomas and Ben Swift…of Team Sky fame…and very much permitted to be kitted out like this. Our friend’s story is sketchy on detail from this point, but clearly ends with the two lads maintaining their steady, easy pace, whilst he is summarily dropped and recedes into the distance.
I can’t imagine they gave a second thought to this guy who had appeared suddenly and then vanished moments later; to be fair to them, they’re probably used to rank amateurs making brief appearances in the middle of their training rides, followed by doomed attempts to keep up.
And yet, even as I write, I’m starting to get the feeling I’ve heard this story somewhere before. Has someone else told it to me? Have I read it in a magazine? Could it be that my friend the raconteur has been recycling other people’s anecdotes for all these years?
After all, is it really plausible that, having been passed by Swift and Thomas he could actually chase them down and catch up?
Hmmm. It might be time for me to confront him about these tall tales…
…either that, or stock up on a few quality anecdotes of my own.