Every Saturday night, around 8pm, my phone pings with a group message. A pre-arranged set of questions follow.
Who’s out for a ride tomorrow? What time we meeting? Where we going? Who’s buying the coffee? But this is the pre-amble. The real question will naturally follow.
One of us breaks cover: “So…who’s having a drink tonight?”
And the mind games begin.
Nothing saps the strength and the will of a cyclist like excess alcohol sloshing around in the legs. It’s the dehydration, the poor night’s sleep, and the likelihood that the alcohol was followed by an excess of other bad things.
Cheese, pizza, or perhaps some kind of kebab, if the mask really slipped.
Cards are usually kept close to chests.
We all secretly hope someone has started on the gin, and is in for a torrid time next morning. I always straight bat the issue: “… it’s a Kale smoothie and an early night for me,” I lie, as I contemplate opening that cheeky second bottle of wine.
This is the key.
If you’ve hit the bottle, under no circumstances should you let on. Whoever spent the evening sipping mineral water and nibbling on carrot sticks and hummus will undoubtedly want to be the route setter come Sunday morning. If they know you drank a skin-full, they will instinctively plan a tough hilly route to ensure maximum suffering.
Not necessarily for reasons of cruelty, and they might not even realise they’re doing it, it’s just the way it works. They feel fresh and strong, so it’s up to everyone else to keep up.
It’s a simple trade-off around what you value in a social life: you either drink heavily and suffer terribly, or eat hummus and ride fast.
Interestingly, I recently discovered that some Etixx energy gels contain small amounts of alcohol. I have no idea about the science of this but, being a Belgian company, the alcohol is presumable a derivative of one of those dark, potent, Belgian beers that come in small bottles.
According to a friend of a friend, after necking one too many of these gels during a time-trial recently, he found himself weaving, grinning, and waving happily to bemused passers-by.
How competitive his performance was is unclear.
But if it’s a choice between an alcoholic energy gel and a Kale smoothie – no contest, surely?