Any proactive pedal pusher serious about hammering the hubs will ignore the most extreme variations in weather and, come hell or high water, head out into the elements in pursuit of the perfect Century. For the hardiest of hard wheelers it can never be too cold, too wet or too windy! The only real threat to a great ride is the possibility that the company you’re keeping is too soft.
Of course, softness was never a problem back in the ’70s and ’80s when kiddies left school at the age of 12, picked up a bit of part-time work at the local bike shop and studied at TAFE at night. Life was straightforward. A spade was a spade … or was that a shovel? Take your pick. Regardless…
Who could forget the 1980 edition of what became known as the ‘Neige-Bastogne-Neige’ when Bernard ‘The Badger’ Hinault punched his way through some of the worst snow in the history of cycling and dropped everyone by near enough to 10 minutes. Only 21 of the 174 starters finished that race. The Badger’s fingers were so battered and beaten by the frost that he was unable to fully ‘flip the bird’ again until Stage 12 of the 1986 Tour de France. Greg LeMond was the recipient on that occasion, but that’s a story for another day.
So, the matter was settled. The Badger had established himself as one of the original hard men of the peloton. Beginning his pro-career in the same year, Phil ‘Dr Teeth’ Anderson was an obvious beneficiary of such rigorous standards of grit and determination.
After sucking The Badger’s wheel and riding his way into the maillot jaune in the 1981 Tour de France, Phil was asked if Hinault had provided the motivation for his demonstration of doggedness. Being a tad shy, Dr Teeth simply shook his head, reached into the back pocket of his new yellow jersey and produced a Scanlens footy card of the South Sydney Rabbitohs’ wing three-quarter, Ziggy Niszczot.
The words printed on the back were understated but inspiring and could have been written about Phil himself: “Still developing his game but lacks nothing in keenness … Tough as teak and has a knack of escaping injury”.
As an emerging bruiser of the bunch, Phil risked it all by introducing the peloton to protective eyewear as one means of combating the testing conditions of the Spring Classics. You could shave your legs and drape your slightly androgynous torso in lycra and still be considered a tough guy. Tick. But throw on a pair of ski goggles and flip your cap back-to-front and you were certain to raise eyebrows. Avant-garde, maybe. But your hardness was immediately under a cloud.
In my bunch, the Old Cranks, Tezza sets the bar for hard-bitten bicycling. As a matter of personal pride, he has but one goal on the bicicletta: to ride on whatever the ABC’s Vanessa O’Hanlon declares as the darkest, coldest, wettest day of the year.
Each morning, long before dawn, the 60 year old ‘sparky’ will stroll out onto his back lawn in nothing but his Reg Grundys, use all of his available senses to survey his surrounds and then offer the briefest of assessments: “Too bloody dry,” he’ll say before pulling on his Penrith Panthers shorts and socks in preparation for the ride ahead. Or, “Not dark enough! We’re leavin’ too bloody late.”
On the last point, such is Tezza’s fondness of an early start that I have never seen him in the daylight. Ride early! Ride often! Ride haaarrrrrd!
It may sound like a simple philosophy, but Tezza is anything but simple. Don’t be fooled by the footy shorts and workshop safety goggles. He once described to me, over a bucket of cappuccino at the Springwood Cake Shop, a procedure known as the Barium Enema. He explained the experience with a medical precision that was difficult to find anywhere on the internet, and which was only confirmed by me through an unwanted day visit to Nepean Hospital. He’s also an avid movie goer with a fetish for film noir. Apparently he likes the cynical heroes, the stark lighting, the frequent flashbacks and intricate plots. A Lance Armstrong fan to the very end…
But amongst the Old Cranks, Tezza is Robinson Crusoe. Or Chuck Noland without Wilson the volleyball, for younger readers. The rest of us will smack snooze, roll over and pull up the doona in response to the slightest change in anticipated temperature, moisture or air movement. I once mistook my dog’s flatulence for a distant thunder storm and subsequently sent a text to the entire bunch cancelling our participation in the Blayney to Bathurst. In my defence, Duke is an imposing canine and it was difficult to interpret the sounds coming from my hallway as anything but threatening.
Recognising the potential anarchy that can ensue from leaving the job of calling the weather to the whims of multiple wheelers, Miguelito ‘El Dingo Loco’ de Pared became our self-appointed maestro of meteorology and spent nearly three grand on a WeatherHawk 922 Signature Wireless Weather Station. It has preconfigured sensors that can measure it all: wind speed, wind direction, air temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, solar radiation and rainfall. The only problem is that he set it up in a four-by-four foot courtyard located on the south side of his home that has its own, self-contained arctic climate. He’s cancelled just about every ride since Easter.