Posted on Monday 17 June 2013 by Martin Hayman
Rocco’s Rocket is a tribute to the late Rocco Richardson, who died last year.
I knew of Rocco as a hero of West London cycling long before rejoining CTC about 5 years ago, so it was a pleasure and delight to come under his tutelage on my very first outing with Central London CTC. He took a group of us to Hillingdon circuit to instruct us in group riding. (Nick Bloom arranged this session and wrote it up here.)
On that occasion, I had made my own way to Hillingdon and, on my arrival, was greeted by Ken Peters – my first contact with a member of the CLCTC. Later I made contact with Nick and others of the group who have become firm friends since.
As a proper club rider and former racer, Rocco found our dogmatic individualism (cluelessness?) exasperating I think – “like herding cats” is the expression – but he was patient and cheerful in imparting basic group etiquette, and it has served me well since.
Nick encouraged me to keep at it and in the following year we did a good number of Audaxes together, often in the company of our American member Rory Rhodes. On one event, I had the honour of riding with Rocco and was able to tow him along a bit. He imparted the advice that you can keep going well into your 60s, even though your power up the hills fades somewhat. (By then he must have topped 70.) I take heart from this.
Rocco’s Rocket is organized by Rocco’s partner Liz and is based on an older version of the Bluebell Ride. Hard riders can opt for a 200K but the 100K jaunt suffices for most participants, among whom of course a large contingent of the promoting club, Willesden CC. it was with a slight sense of déjà vu that I met Nick and Ken at the départ, Manor Farm Cafe, Ruislip, a much enhanced billet, though the ramshackle hut in the car park that used to serve as event HQ is still standing. Bob Davis competed a trio in the CLCTC colours, and there too was Charlie, out on an event for for the first time in ages — and I didn’t even get to say hello!
As in the last time out of this venue, Nick and I dawdled along behind some Willesdens with Ken, leaving Dr Bob and presumably Charlie to do their hardman thing with the lead group. Still, it was cool for June and as the others got into their stride, we kept pace after the course ducked under the railway viaduct into the magical-real world of the Chilterns (bluebells gone by now, even though spring was so very late). As the route turned this way and that, we rather carelessly lost contact with Ken.
It makes its way through delightful Chiltern villages like Sarratt, Flaunden and Cholesbury via lanes with vivid names like Hog Lane, Dog Kennel Lane, and Dead Man’s Ash Lane. Road surfaces on these lanes, deeply embedded in the steep and wooded landscape, range from poor to atrocious, and a cloudburst the previous day had left much gravel washout and even some floods — remarkable for nearly midsummer.
In the circs, I was pleased to have followed Nick’s advice to bring my winter bike with fat tyres and guards; I was surprised that most of the home club members were on lightweight summer wheels. A couple of weekends previously my front Dura Ace wheel had been dinged by falling down a pothole and I hadn’t been too pleased about that. It has to be an ever-present risk in the Chilterns.
Nick recounted how in previous seasons he had covered this route on fixed and shuddered to recall the fast, bumpy and scary descent of Aston Hill. Nearly at its foot, the route takes a sharp left turn back up into Wendover Woods, to the the cafe at the high point of the Chilterns scarp. Here for the first time, the granny ring came into operation. Fixed, forget it!
This viewpoint is a popular resort for families with children and hikers, and with the addition of a good number of bike riders, the cafe was rather slow. Nick and I had nearly finished our pot of coffee when a disgruntled Ken turned up. Having gone off course, he was resolved to bail forthwith, and bade us farewell. A light rain began to fall as we left and, under 100% cloud cover, one rather wished to have dressed warmer.
The second descent of Aston Hill gave Nick further insights into the rather odd handling of the Vittoria radial tyre, and a number of Willesdens came whizzing past, in three generations of their green-and-white strip. Well this was obviously an opportunity to complete the second half of the course with dispatch, so we glommed on and basically let them pilot us back in – though in the individualistic spirit of Audax, we abandoned them and rode on when one of their number punctured for a second time on the approach to Harefield. From there, we knew our way back!
The gloom had lifted, the rain that had threatened to make misery had gone, and a fitful sun was making an appearance. Back at the arrivée, everyone was very cheerful after a splendid day out.
Thank you for organizing, Liz Creese!
Riders: Charlie Keep, Ken Peters, Martin Hayman, Nick Bloom, Robert Davis
Nick Bloom adds:
Liz Creese thanks all the Central London riders who turned out to support her ride and remember Rocco. All the many, many Ruislip events were run by Liz & Rocco together, so to continue on one’s own must be tough. I hope we can persuade Liz to keep the Bluebell in the calendar, assisting as we can.