Taken from Dirt issue 63, May 2007
The story begins sometime before taking off for Nice, and I remember thinking that faced with telling this as it was or making up some random tale of shenanigans on the road with five blokes, that I’d probably chose the latter to protect those involved.
Nigel Page has been the broken face of mountainbiking on many occasions over the last decade, and it was good to see the northern boy back in the groove and relishing the thought of racing and a trip south for some sun. Two days before we are about to leave I get a messed up phone call from the Royal something or other saying that Nige is with a nurse and from what I made of it, blood on his fingers. He doesn’t make the trip.
On the morning of leaving Rob Breakwell and Ralph Jones (the new Dirt team riders) have arranged to meet up in Monmouth at 10.30 to leave mine by 12. Turns out Rob leaves Ralph for an hour to go and visit an old friend for coffee, as it pans out that time could have been better spent on some paper work but that’s for later. Up in the hills overlooking Monmouth I’m with Paul Bliss, someone dear to all of us involved with two wheels, motorised or not. We’re shooting a Nissan brochure. I’m in lycra on a titanium hardtail pedalling up a country lane in a downpour.
Shortly after a poncho replaces the lycra and the bike is now sat on my shoulder. The Nissan, as threateningly four wheel as it declares itself, is sat mightily stuck in a bog with the landowners wife, a Dr Pain (don’t for one minute think I’m making this up) holding her head in her hands in sympathy for the snowdrops. Then both hands on Blissy’s watch turn to 12, the flight is at three and I haven’t yet packed my bag or bike. Heathrow is a two hour drive without any hold ups.
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Back up the road Ralph is sat having tea and there is no sign of Rob, who has now finished his coffee, and hurriedly gone in search of reducer cups to enable them to fit the new forks on their bikes. Nick Bayliss from Royal has arrived with a bag of riding gear for Steve Peat and Josh Bryceland, who has taken Pagey’s place on the trip. Their journey is already underway and are now in a plane above us having flown from Liverpool.
Before hitting the road I take a lost traveller to a neighbour whose address they cannot find. It is only then that we head first south and then east on the M4. Fifty minutes into the drive everything has calmed down, and I’m running aloud a list through my head of things I might have forgotten…camera, flash, kneepads, tripod, driving licence, riding kit, tubes, passport…“STOP THE VAN”. I look at Rob (or Dazla as he is known) with a smile and continue chewing on my gum. “STOP THE F–KING VAN”. I’m not stopping the van Dazla and it’s not funny, you think I believe that, well I don’t. “Steve stop the bloody van”. I continue at 90 east with not a hint of movement on the throttle and calmly point out the fact that we are now an hour from Monmouth with an hour and a half drive ahead and a flight 30 minutes after that. It is unlikely any of us will make it but I’m going to try.
We dump Dazla in Leigh Delamere services, and he limps in unimpressed for yet another coffee. I don’t know why he has that nickname but he certainly hasn’t been the brightest spark on this occasion. We find there is a later flight and his mum starts the drive, with passport, well she’d have to go to Heathrow anyway.
Twenty minutes before departure Ralph and me are sat in the Giraffe in terminal one finishing off a very tasty lunch much entertained by Dazla’s hopelessness. The phone rings, it’s Rob. “Where are we going?” “Nice”, I reply. A minute later it rings again. “There’s no flights to Neath”, I’m kind of beginning to think this is a wind up. “What’s the flight number?” “348”, I reply and put the phone down. “That’s inbound from Delhi…” I’m lost for words. Walking into the departure lounge Dazla comes running behind us with a stupid smile on his face. His mother must have dropped the hammer. Or she got into some weird time warp, it’s a mystery. A big one.
Such stories lead Ralph to remind us of the time his dad built a time capsule into the foundations of their new house. In it he had stored some family heirlooms, an old passport and some random bits and pieces. A year later the family are about to leave for a holiday in France and old man Jones picks up his passport only to see that in fact he has put the new passport in the time capsule not the old one, and now with roughly 50 ton of mortar now standing on top. This leads Ralph onto another story of trains in Chester…ask him yourself.
After so many false starts on this trip a new dawn begins as we land in Nice. Peaty is there waiting with a large van, a beard, Bryceland, an even larger box of beer and some serious resolution to add to a trip that had seemed to be slowly coming apart.