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 telling a few stories and comparing bikes.
But there is one – The Raconteur – in every group, who has taken socialising to a professional level.
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.
He’ll give you episodes of run-ins with angry motorists; collisions with bollards, traffic islands and gooseberry bushes; survival situations atop 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?).
For example, I found myself, mid-ride recently, passing comment on the Colombian enigma that is Nairo Quintana. The Raconteur had a view.
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
A few years back the Tour of Britain rolled out from Carlisle, in the North of England, through high winds and driving rain and in the direction of the twenty percent gradients of Honister Pass.
Being the local expert and always keen to share a bit of local knowledge, our friend went into full raconteur mode, gained the trust of the diminutive Columbian as he warmed up – a captive audience – and passed on some sage advice about what to expect from the prevailing weather conditions and the gear ratios he might need on the climbs.
The way he tells it, Quintana was fretting and fussing about the day ahead and had his nerves calmed by this dose of no-nonsense Cumbrian insight; 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 our friend The Raconteur it sounds plausible.
It’s probably about 75% true