(actual posting date: 27 October 2016)
Match ten – vs Leicester City (away)
Total mileage 2,190.1 miles
When the fixture list was published in the summer, I quickly checked for clashes with any key family dates. Both of the kids’ birthdays were clear and the Christmas and New Year games were all within the M25. But the one clash was with my wife’s birthday. Janet’s birthday is 23 October; and we were to play Premier League Champions Leicester City away on the day before. Oh dear…
My original thought – prior to the fixtures coming out – was that Leicester would be a five day trip: two days there, match day, and then two days back. That, however, would mean missing Janet’s birthday completely.
The weekend was also the start of half term, and Janet came up with the idea of taking the kids to Legoland on her birthday if I could meet them there in the early evening to see the fireworks. It would mean longer days in the saddle for me, but looked feasible and being the generous husband I am, I said I’d pay for us all to stay in the Legoland Hotel on the Sunday night. Also being the generally useless husband I am, I left it to her to make all the arrangements and book the hotel, while I just provided the money and worried about my journeys to and from Leicester.
My plan became to ride most but not all the way to Leicester on the Friday; do the final 20 or so miles on Saturday morning; ride back to the same hotel on the Saturday night; ride to Legoland on Sunday and then ride home from Legoland (after a day at the resort) on Monday evening. And when I searched for somewhere to stay on the Friday and Saturday nights I found that I would be returning to Rothwell – where I stayed on the Middlesbrough trips – albeit at a different pub this time (purely because if was £5 a night cheaper).
I’ve been asked a few times whether I get bored on long days on the bike on my own. The honest answer is no – I love riding; I love watching the countryside go by; and I listen to podcasts, the radio or music for much of the time. Having said that, my routes have been getting a bit repetitive. My first and last day’s routes have been pretty much the same for all the outside London games (except for the rather ill-fated first day to Sunderland). Some parts of the route remain a pleasure – the sign for “Winkers Nightclub” in Chalfont St Peter always raises a smile – but some different roads would be nice for a change.
As I wrote on the post after the West Ham game, I’ve been struggling to shrug off a cold as well as having continued problems with my shoulder/back. The latter still isn’t perfect, but is causing me much less discomfort now. The cold, however, was affecting my breathing on the trip up to Leicester and I think that was the main reason I found the 103 miles to Rothwell tough going. Nonetheless, I took encouragement from an unladen road cyclist who, when overtaking me, wished me a cheery good morning and commented on how fast I was going ‘for a touring bike’. I did 54 miles before lunch – a brie and cranberry baguette at the Queen’s Head in Wing – and 49 miles after at an average of nearly 13 miles per hour. And, about 15 miles before reaching Rothwell, I passed 2,000 miles for the challenge so far.
I stayed at the Red Lion in Rothwell. It is about 100 yards from the Blue Bell where I’d stayed on both the way up and way back from Middlesbrough. My room was a small single room in the attic. It was fine for my needs, though lugging the bike up three flights of stairs was an effort.
Breakfast was extra and started late, so I sorted myself out with Belvita biscuits and an energy drink before setting off shortly after nine am to cover the 23 miles to Leicester’s King Power Stadium. As a result, I arrived ridiculously early and after a brief look around I got back on the bike and rode half a mile back to the nearby Morrisons for a second breakfast (a pot of tea and a sausage sandwich, since you ask).
Refuelled, I headed back to the stadium for my 12 o’clock meet up with the Contact a Family representative. The charity have arranged for someone to meet me at each of the outside London away games, and I really appreciate it after some long rides. The representative from Leicester City let us into the ground, with the bike, to take a few quick pitch side pictures before ushering us out again.
I then again rode away from the ground to meet a Leicester supporting ex-colleague for lunch – which he kindly paid for. He was with his daughter who had the enviable record of never having seen Leicester lose at the King Power – in 26 matches. Could Palace ruin her record? What do you think? (At time of writing, it’s now 27 games unbeaten.)
Shall we get the match details over and done with? For the first 20 minutes or so Palace dominated the match (even allowing for Steeeeeeeve Mandanda’s attempt to gift Leicester a first minute goal). Had Christian Benteke’s header gone in rather than – for the second week in a row – hit the woodwork, then the result might have been very different. But as the first half progressed, the balance of play shifted and it was no great surprise when Leicester took the lead shortly before half time. Two more Leicester goals followed in the second half, including a stunning finish from Christian Fuchs. Palace, to their credit, never gave up and had more possession and more efforts on goal than Leicester. But Yohan Cabaye’s late goal was never going to be anything more than a consolation.
After the match, I headed back to Rothwell and – after lugging the bike up the three flights of stairs – I decided to head out to eat rather than stay in the pub as on the previous night. I ended up in the Turkish restaurant where I’d eaten on the way up to Middlesbrough. At first, I thought I had not been recognised, but when she brought me my menu, the waitress asked ‘Still doing the cycling’?
Sunday’s breakfast was a repeat of Saturday’s, with the addition of a banana. I got away pretty early – just after 7.30 – and as a result got to see the tail end of a beautiful sunrise. I had hoped that my destination being Windsor rather than home might have resulted in a different route than previous trips. No such luck: my planner devised me a route that stuck to by now very familiar roads for most of the day. The lovely sunrise was, however, a good omen: I felt in much better form than on the way up and it turned out to be a beautiful day for cycling. The weather – and the fact that it was a Sunday – meant fellow cyclists were out in force and I spent much of the day shouting greetings or nodding and waving at other people on bikes.
I rode 64 miles before lunch – a nice, but overpriced, sandwich in Wendover – at just over 14 miles per hour. I was even quicker (average 14.6mph) for the post-lunch 30 miles, mainly because overall they were downhill. As a result I arrived a Legoland earlier than I’d expected at about 3pm. I was delighted to find that our room themed as one of the ‘Kingdom Rooms’. I’d assumed this was a coincidence, but later learnt that – of course – Janet had arranged that deliberately. We were both disappointed that only one member of staff at the hotel commented on the surname/room name link (the woman allocating tables at breakfast).
I had time to sort my stuff out and get changed before Janet and the children returned to the room. We then relaxed for a bit before heading (back, for them) into the theme park for a quick look around and to get ready for the fireworks. The fireworks were excellent – especially with the special effect glasses which made bright lights look like Lego pieces. It’s difficult to explain if you haven’t tried the glasses, but they made the fireworks look like a cascade of plastic building blocks.
We returned to the room and eventually got the children to sleep before Janet and I shared a bottle of Prosecco to celebrate her birthday. I do know how to treat a lady, you know…
We spent Monday at Legoland and in the hotel swimming pool before parting at the hotel car park at about twenty past four: Janet and kids in the car for the drive home; and me on my bike. A pleasant 26 mile early evening ride then followed – much of it following the Thames – and I was home by quarter past six. Another away game ticked off, albeit one with a more circuitous return journey than normal.
Three flights of stairs later…
It was 126 miles for me – maybe my route planning is not that bad after all
Legoland – and they were ready for us
I know how to spoil my wife
Palace won last time they played at this old stadium