Cycling is, in its various forms, a sport, an enjoyable pastime and a downright chore.
Sometimes it is 100 per cent of one and, on other occasions, it can be a mixture of several in varying proportions.
Usually it starts off being enjoyable and, if you’re lucky, remains so until you finish.
Unfortunately, there are occasions when it starts well but rapidly or gradually degenerates into some form of purgatory.
Take, for example, La Marmotte cyclosportive in the French Alps.
This is purported to be the longest established sportive in existence and it is one of the hardest and has been held annually for the last 28 years.
One brave soul has ridden every one since it began and he must be one of the cyclists who enjoys this (he may, of course, simply be a masochist!).
Why? Well, because La Marmotte is just over 100 miles of torture, climbing the cols of the Glandon (1918 m), Télégraphe (1570 m), Galibier (2642 m), Lautaret (2057 m) - o.k., that’s on the way down, but, hey... - and the final climb of l’Alpe d’Huez (1880 m), with its 21 hairpin bends!
I rode it five years ago with a Seacroft Wheelers’cycling colleague who had, as he likes to describe it, a bad hair day.
Having reached the foot of l’Alpe d’Huez, after some 95 miles or so of tortuous riding in oppressive heat, he rapidly found himself out of energy, suffering from cramp and a particularly bad back.
He was in such a state that he ended up riding between one set of hairpin bends, then walking between the next set.
Try doing that in cycling shoe cleats - it would probably have been easier to take his shoes off!
Thanks to, or was that despite, the manipulative attentions of a kind Dutch lady (I still reckon he was hallucinating), he managed to struggle up to the finish where I greeted him with a pint - mine, that is, having already finished, showered and changed.
Well, what are friends for, eh?
Last Saturday, another club mate suffered the Fred Whitton Classic, a 115 miles extremely hilly sportive taking in almost all the major climbs in the Lake District.
But he was discouraged from continuing at the 80 miles mark by the Mountain Rescue guys who were working flat out to avoid even more cyclists crashing and suffering from exposure.
Unfortunately, I must admit to joining the ranks of terminal sufferers on my LEJOG (Lands End to John O’Groats) ride last month.
Four days and some 350 miles in and I was taken ill overnight and felt like packing in there and then.
However, I bowed to pressure from the rest of the team and, without breakfast or any sustenance during the ride, I accompanied them on the 76 miles leg to Halifax.
To say I didn’t enjoy it would be the understatement of the year.
I was so bad that night, I had no option but to retire from the event and spent the next three days in my sick bed and a week after that studiously avoiding even the sight of my bike.
However, I’m back in the saddle and on Sunday (weather permitting) shall be doing the Etape du Dales - a mere 112 miles including the climbs of Fleet Moss, Buttertubs, Tan Hill, Coal Road (Garsdale Head) and Newby Head.
It will be interesting to see what happens, as this (along with the Fred Whitton) is one of the toughest sportives in England and really should not be attempted with less than a 75 per cent fitness level. Hey, ho.....
I shall report back upon my return and talk, also, about some less demanding rides which can be undertaken locally.