Sunday morning, 5.58 AM and Julian’s awake already. He leans over to the bedside table to turn the alarm off which is due to start blaring at 6. Best not wake up Alissa. Julian sneaks out from under the covers and pads down the landing in his boxers, stifling an expletive as he steps on a piece of lego on the landing floor, then silently curses the detritus of kids’ Games kit and school bags that greets him as he gets down to the hallway of the double fronted Victorian house in Wandsworth. A quick look in the mirror to check his paunch, then he’s in the large open plan kitchen extension. Extra strong pod in the Nespresso machine, Granola and yoghurt, glass of orange juice. He warms his bum on the Aga and pushes the dog’s nose away from his crotch. All the while eyeing up the Pinarello hanging up on the black bull’s horns. He’s had it for 2 weeks now but can’t stop admiring it.
Alissa had made the usual fuss:
- why did he need another new bike when there were 5 other perfectly good ones in the home office in the garden?
- he’d only just bought a new bike this time last year
- did this mean he’d be spending even more of his precious weekend time away from her and the kids?
- why do we have to have it in the kitchen?
- couldn’t he spend the money on a city break so the two of them can get away from the kids?
Yep, if only she knew how much this beauty had cost! Christ, the 10 grand he’d forked out was closer to covering the cost of the family holiday in Corfu than a dull weekend aimlessly wandering the cobbled streets of Bruges, Dublin or some twee Cotswold town. Julian’s face clouds over as he remembers that dreadful weekend in Bath to clebrate Alissa’s 50th. He’d had flu, she’d had her period and she’d spent the entire weekend accusing him of ogling the Czech waitress.
10 minutes later and he’s stepping into the Rapha bib shorts in the en-suite. He knows to do this in private now. He’s had enough of the stifled guffaws and giggles from under the heap of bed clothes. He breathes in and takes another look in the mirror. Definitely an improvement. He stretches out a leg and tenses his calves. Much more definition since he started shaving his legs. Well, yes, that was another point of contention with Alissa. The fuss she’d made about his stubble! Anyway, Rapha jersey to match the Rapha shorts and socks. Then, silently, like a cat, he glides across the bedroom, gently shuts the door and he’s out the front, astride the new Italian stallion in the street before you can say Milan-San Remo.
Garmin, on. Strava, on. iPod, on. With The Who’s “I’m Free” blaring into his ears, Julian spins down Trinity Road towards the South Circular, relishing the empty roads and the crisp spring air. Through Wandsworth Town now and he smiles as the playlist segues beautifully and aptly into that masterpiece, "Mr Blue Sky" by ELO, and he puts in a strong spurt up the rise towards Putney. A bit puffed at the top, and a bit miffed when he’s overtaken by a London Dynamo rider, he presses on, pausing only to swear at the Volvo 4WD, not unlike his own, that momentarily blocks the path of this dedicated, lycra clad 52 year old ‘athlete’ with a thing or two to prove.
Approaching Richmond Park now, and it’s Dire Straits’ "Sultans of Swing" on the playlist. Christ, they don’t write them like this anymore! He has time to glance across to see how the building work is progressing at the posh prep school where he sends Toby and Clara. Last time he’d popped in there was for Clara’s assembly on “Famous Women in History”. Pile of old tosh as far as he was concerned, of course. And then Clara had refused to appear because he’d taken the opportunity to get in a couple of laps round RP and was Lycra-ed up from head to toe and a little shiny from the exertion. She’d been embarrassed apparently. More cold looks from Alissa but that Miss Havilland, the pretty blonde one, had performed a miracle and somehow dragged her out for her line about Emily Pankhurst.
The beauty of Richmond Park opens up before him. Tall, yellow grass swaying in the breeze. A herd of deer graze peacefully under a tree. And there’s Dave, Julian’s riding partner and colleague from the office, leaning languorously on the frame of his Colnago C60, checking his phone. Julian’s heart skips a beat. Dave who came over from the States with his bronzed athletic, good looks, easy smile and open, easy way. He was the one who got the firm involved in that charity ride a few years ago which is how Julian got into all this in the first place. Dave looks up, wipes a long strand of straw blond hair from his eyes. “Hey, Jules, super cool! You made it!”
Dave flies up Sawyers Hill with Julian close behind, just keeping up. Christ those calves are unbelievable. Merino wool hugs broad shoulders and tapered torso. A strand of damp hair snakes down the nape of his neck. At the top, Julian’s pretty beat, but he does well to disguise it. And he stays on Dave’s wheel the whole circuit. Those broad shoulders, that slim waist. The nape of his neck. Julian follows him for the whole lap before he calls out, “Don’t wait for me, Dave. Taking it easy today, gotta bit of a calf strain I think.” Dave flashes that easy American smile. “Hey, no problem!” and he’s off.
Later, back home, and Julian leans against the Aga. Toby sticks a soldier into his boiled egg, Clara takes a scoop from her grapefruit and Alissa pores over a cook book, planning the Sunday roast. The dog asleep with his mouth propped on a cushion. God I love my family, he thinks. Then he looks up at the Pinarello. God I love my bike! A flashing memory of Dave’s calves, golden and smooth, pumping the pedals. God, I love…
“Lamb or beef? What do you think?”