OldVelos Vintage Classic

What is OVC experience? Have a look at this video which captures some of the atmosphere. The OVC is not for those who are afraid to suffer, but always remember what the OldVelo says ‘Hills are only as hard as you want them to be’

Every wonder what it might be like to ride the long route of the OldVelos Vintage Classic? Well read on for a review from our very own ‘Cannibal’

The day started out in incredible sunshine. Chrome glinted. Optimism was high, the wind was low and I envisaged a day of effortless pedaling and admiring the views. It met expectation, all the way to the beautiful coffee stop at Curraghmore House. The air was abuzz with anorak chatter about the merits of steel frames, Campagnolo and cotton walled tyres. Pedal strokes felt effortless. Surely things would only get better when sugar and caffeine were coursing through our veins. The stop was beautiful and furthered the romantic notions of our spin.

We left Curraghmore House together, maybe halfway around the course but I certainly felt like the glass was more than half full. If we stuck with the medium length route, I thought that I would be finished and still feeling fresh. Maybe I should try and get out for another spin later this evening, I thought. I had only whet my appetite.

The group hummed along some glorious, secluded, sun soaked roads. The Tour de France may have been in progress as we rolled, but this was real cycling. Open roads, beautiful bikes, great company, astounding scenery and a clear head. Together, the group stopped and assessed the possibility of either diverting for home or pointing the wrong direction and stretching our route to 90km. Well, 88km, but you have to round up.

Brendan posed the question and a chorus of good sense rang out. The majority would head for home. But then a stubborn voice or two rang out. I’m nothing if not stubborn and cantankerous, so I thought I would be in good company if I opted for the longer route. I am Eddy Merckx. I am Gino Bartali. 90km will be a doddle. Rule #91: No Food On Training Rides Under Four Hours. So let’s earn that cake and coffee. I didn’t drive all this way for a pleasant spin. I’ll relish the opportunity to dance my way up some steep climbs and I would make the day worthwhile. So three of us, with a broom wagon looming, headed for the longer route.

Damn those sepia toned sunglasses… I misread the grass verge up the centre of the road. I was transported back to a time before cars became the ubiquitous mode of transport. Cycling is what we’re meant to do! The reality is that the grass verge illustrated how many intelligent, well balanced people dare not traverse this route. This road was quiet for a reason. Suddenly the trees, previously seen as a gentle blanket sheltering us from the sun loomed lower, darker and heavier. Baring whiteness to our idiotic challenge against nature.

Due to the unique engineering, hard crafted feeling and individual character of old bikes, mechanical issues would inevitably play their part in deciding who crested the hill first. As the incline took hold, Bill went for his miniscule 21T “bail out” gear. Some grumbling and thudding resulted in a foot being dropped and a dreaded attempt to restart mid climb. As I am a bourgeois git with a 26T rear cog, I harboured notions far above my station. I intended to “level the playing field”, by dropping my chain to the 21T sprocket and promised to keep it there for the climb. I had a 38T front ring, so I already had a small advantage over the others, but I would hope that my advantage wouldn’t be too great as to ruin the competition. I needn’t have worried. At the first corner, Mark mercilessly ripped my head off. I hadn’t levelled the playing field. All I had done was stupidly exposed my incompetence, my weakness and set my appointment for The Man With the Hammer. Here I was, isolated. Mechanical issues had hampered Bill, physical prowess on Mark’s side and a lack thereof on my behalf had decided the winner. I was alone. Would anyone notice if I walked? Tales of previous grand tours rang in my head. I could lie, I could cheat, I could find a sticky bottle, I’d hitch on a train if I could find a station. Reality dawned, there were no cars to hang on to, no trains to catch. Only my legs to rely on.

Mark waited for us to regroup at the top of the climb. It wouldn’t be the last time that he made that concession for us. None of us were too familiar with the route, but we hoped that the worst was behind and beneath us. So we rolled on as I harboured some nerves that I might need to employ a single digit cadence if the road pointed up again. But I would try to put those thoughts to one side as we rolled on. Eventually, the legs softened up, the road flattened for us and I was feeling OK.

I earnestly extoled the virtues of old bikes, denigrated modern bikes, carbon fibre, aerodynamic design constraints, the ambiguity of overly specific data, all without irony or awareness of how slowly I was getting around and how much I would relish the energy saved with modern equipment.

We had one brief stop, as Bill noticed a rattling bottle cage. If only I had an excuse to give us some respite, I would have used it. I could have feigned a slow puncture, a rubbing brake or some other power sapping fallacy that would save face as I catch my breath.

In a moment of radically misplaced self-confidence, I though to myself that Mark has led us all the way. I’ll stick my nose to the wind and help out. I’ll give the poor lads a rest. We’ll that didn’t last long. I dropped off the front as quickly as a grimpeur on a TTT. Funny, my grimpeur tendencies evaded me when I was climbing. Mark, “The Educator” taught me a lesson. He rolled to the front as I watched the elastic snap. I wouldn’t recover for a while and Mark would have more time to kill at the top of the next time. Lesson learned.

We were so well sheltered by the OldVelos support car, which afforded me plenty of time and space to think and these were the only real conclusions I found. I am a grimpeur on the flats. I am a sprinter on the climbs. I am only ever a domestique when I’m confined to the house. I am never a rouleur. I am hooked and I can’t wait to get back out on some vintage steel. I’ll be quicker next time…

I spent the remaining kilometres thinking that the OldVelos road markings being friend and foe. Keeping us safe. Pointing us up steep inclines. Pointing us towards home, but not as quickly as one would hope.

We got back to a largely deserted café. Weak, weary and even more irritable than normal, we might have to resort to scavenging. In the end, we were well catered for as we sheepishly sat down to dissect the day, remark on how enjoyable it all was and how well run the event was. It doesn’t take long to forget the pain and suffering and develop notions of Merckxian efforts. Roll on next year.

– Gary O’Sullivan (aka ‘The Cannibal’)