Breaking Away 2.0²
The names etched on the Charles Glenister Trophy are a potted history of time trialling. There are two competition records on there, the most startling being a 53.40 from Alf Engers in 1972. He was later the first man to break the 50 minute barrier in 1978 with a 49.24. It stood for 12 years.
The Bristol South CC Open 25 has been the club’s blue riband event since 1947 and has hosted the National Championship on a couple of occasions.
This Sunday’s race was slightly less high profile and possibly suffered because of the ‘fast’ event on the Sunday in Wales. I first rode the event in 2010 and have done it a handful of times since. Spot the difference (and count the marginal gains):
After a strong week and some decent training I was looking forward to the race. I was also the ‘scratch’ rider; nominally at least the fastest on paper. This is good for your confidence, as long as it’s not in error. I also enjoy riding the club events, wearing the red and gold and catching up with other members of the South. For this event John Legge, a previous winner and holder of several club records in the 1970s, had made the schlep over from Portugal to have a dig.
It was windy on the way back, and wet for a significant amount of the time I spent on the course. I got thoroughly soaked and I lost my visor. It fogged up and i tried to clear it but it flicked off and was almost certainly squished to a million tiny pieces by the next car. The Kask visor is a bit shit. The magnets fall off if you look directly at them and it fogs over in the faintest hint of rain. And they are eye-wateringly expensive, which is ironic, considering that they’re supposed to stop this happening. Anyway, the only reason i got the helmet is because it looks slightly less like something designed by HR Giger and thus makes me feel like I’m marginally less of a idiot when riding full-bongo down the Gloucester Road amongst the savagely trendy hipsters (and dirty beatniks).
I paced the course well, it undulates a bit on two short loops off the main road. You never hear the words ‘fast course’ in connection with the U17. It’s slow and hard going with some sinkholes along the racing line. At various points there was also a nasty headwind to contend with. Nevertheless, I felt like I was going well and built up a head of steam on the way back. It was certainly quicker than February, where I struggled to sneak in under the hour. In the end I managed a 55.56, which is PB for this stretch of tarmac. I also won by over a minute from the second placed rider, which is healthy margin of victory. All of which means I get to see my name etched on the amazing trophy. I also picked up the ‘WTTA Spring Shield’, awarded to the fastest rider in the district in this event. It was quite a haul. The club also took the team prize thanks to Dan Alford and the evergreen John Legge.
It’s been a good week and I feel as though some of the hard work done earlier in the season is paying off a little bit. PBs and course records tend to suggest progress.
This week heralded the start of the club time trial season. The opens have been rolling along for a few weeks now, but the midweek specials only appear after the clocks have changed. If it’s a Tuesday or Wednesday night you can guarantee that somewhere near you a local cycling club is running a time trial. The full list of club events in the West district can be downloaded here. Club events are great for newcomers to the sport; the atmosphere is relaxed and calm and it’s entry on the line. It usually costs about £3 per ride and you don’t need a racing licence or to be a member of a club to ride.
The first 5 events in our Classic League series take place near Aust on a short 5.2 mile circuit. They run on the short circuit for two weeks, before doubling up for the next few weeks. After that we move down to the Chew Valley Lake series.
I first rode the Aust circuit in 2010, scraping round in 11.50 or thereabouts. The following year i shaded it down to an 11.20, then an 11.03. In 2012 I squeaked it down to an 11.02, then broke the elusive 11 minute barrier with a 10.59. Last year i chipped away a bit more with a 10.46. By this point the course record started to seem like it might be a possibility, but only on the right day. Finding the right day in April on a course adjacent to the sweeping expanse of the Severn Estuary is not straightforward. I knew several things: Andy Sexton set the course record; he is a big and powerful bike rider. Rumour has it that afterwards he was sick in the bushes. It’s a short course which seems simpler but can be deceptive; the temptation is go absolutely flat out, but this can lead to real difficulties after a mile or so. Judging just how far you can push it without completely blowing up is the key to riding this course well. In order to beat the course record a 29.4mph ride is required.
I did a wobbly trackstand at the start due to the absence of a push. I think it saved me vital seconds. I then hooned it off down the road, stuck it in the 54:11 and churned the massive gear; making it to the turn at about a 29mph average. If the return was quick, then the record was on. Fortuitously, the crosswind seemed to help rather than hinder and I gave it everything on the way back. It was painful and a few times i dropped into the 12, only to force it back up and drive the pace on. It was squeaky bum time; the average speed suggested it was on, but i knew i had to keep it moving and that there was no margin for error because of the short distance. Furthermore, it finished on a drag upwards to the line. My heartrate peaked at 185 and averaged 178 for the race; average speed was 29.4 with a maximum of 33.3, making it a fairly consistent output.
I started my garmin late, but had a feeling I’d done enough. I had to check with the timekeeper and he confirmed a 10.35; creeping in 2 seconds underneath the existing mark. It made me very happy. It’s hard to measure progress, year on year, due to the endless variables involved in bike racing, but when you’ve gone faster than everyone else over a set distance there’s a certain satisfaction and an inescapable sense that you are going well. It’s a concrete achievement.
After the race we all headed back in a long train of bongo weaponry. I really enjoy riding with the other members of the club; it’s supportive and there is a feeling of camaraderie that exists, celebrating each others’ achievements and offering advice and consolation when it doesn’t go so well.
There are a few more events at Aust. I worked out that a 30mph ride on this course would need another 15 seconds. That’s quite a lot. A 10.20 is unimaginably quick for the South Gloucestershire badlands. Maybe if it’s a total ice-cream float of an evening a few more seconds might emerge from somewhere, but definitely not a baker’s dozen.
This weekend is the club open 25. It’s a prestigious race with a trophy containing an illustrious list of names from the history of the sport. John Woodburn won it in 1959, Bill Holmes set a competition record and won the trophy in 1955, ‘King’ Alf Engers won in 1972, David Lloyd in 1982, John Pritchard twice in 1983 and 1991. I’m looking forward to riding.
Road racing is hard. A punishing circuit with 8 ascents of a 4 minute climb is particularly hard. It’s also a lot of fun, in a slightly manic, stressful, exhausting and not that fun way. I resolved to enjoy it today and by and large was successful. It’s definitely a lot more fun to watch than it is ride, that much is clear.
I rode on the front for a bit, mixed it up, got over-excited, attacked the climb without either trying to get away or go for the KOM competition, all of which put me firmly in the frame for the stupidest rider prize. I didn’t rein in my attacking or TT instincts. Despite all of this, it was going ok until the savage moment on lap 6 (i think) when i was attacked by Crampzilla, the destroyer of road races. A brief twinge grabbed at my right leg and i shot back through the bunch, dangling out the back door. It eased and I rode back up to the front, only to be abused violently a second time and it was instantly terminal. I had no option but to climb off.
There were some positives: Ed Trotman rode the best race of all of us; staying in stealth mode, completely invisible until the death when he saved the club’s bacon with an amazing 6th place finish. The other roadmen in the race were real gentlemen and even quite chatty, which was nice. Bath Uni CC and VC Walcot both rode brilliant tactical races. In all, it was good to be involved. my inexperience in this continental malarkey was exposed and ultimately, my lack of endurance – the two things that always do me in when it’s not a solitary endeavour and more than 30 miles.
Next week it’s back to the lonely and solipsistic arts of time trialling. I may do a few further road races later in the season if feeling particularly ambitious and brave.
The University of Bristol Cycling Club are organising a couple of races this year. This is impressive – they are a transient organisation, reliant on three year memberships and a constantly changing comittee. It puts to shame many of the longer established clubs and certainly exposes the fickle and shallow smash-and-grab of many sponsored clubs who seem to focus entirely on cladding their members in castelli kit and riding other people’s races; taking lots and giving nothing.
Their first event was a 10 mile time trial on the U7b, or as it’s more affectionately known, ‘the graveyard’; le cimetière de rêves cassé. It wasn’t too windy or horrible today; there was a bit of cross tail action and some blustery showbusiness on the way out, but it did that typically testing thing where it seemed to affect the slower riders much more.
The results took a long time to arrive. It was as though prior to this moment at the Falfield Village Hall we were in a realm of religious certainty in terms of the meaning of time, epochs and ages. Then the results bringers were like Charles Lyell putting the wind up the Victorians with his tall tales of geological anomolies and how this might mean things took a lot longer that everyone thought; like 300 million years longer. At the beginning It looked like an efficient operation; there were a glut of times inked on the board as soon as I arrived back. However, from that point on we entered ‘student time’, a weird dimensional shift where time and space collapsed in on itself in a vortex of startling strangeness. i held a tantalising glimpse of the inchoate origins of the universe; primordial gravitational waves echoed around the village hall, a faraday cage of no mobile phone signal, no time, no place. The Hall became adrift in a sea of shadows, intermingling with the matter and materiality of the cosmos, waiting the arrival of something finite. Time warped and arced, and each gentle inquiry was met with a further ‘two minutes’, ‘it’s nearly wrapped up’, ‘only a further two minutes’, and as minutes became hours and hours became days i found myself meandering back, metaphysically, to my student days and the collapsing of time that happens when you have one lecture a day and a lot of imbibing to do. Times appeared on the board, were drawn through, redrawn, corrected, amended, moved forwards and backwards. After lingering in the death zone known as ‘we’ve waited this long so we may as well wait longer because otherwise all the other waiting will have been wasted waiting’, the elastic suddenly snapped and Tom and I escaped. He was the driver, and we achieved a centrifugal urgency. The dark matter of Falfield did something funny to his car, the boot wouldn’t open. The electrics had been fried by the twisting of interrelated spheres.
I later found out i came second by 8 seconds; but somehow it seems like the 8 seconds are unimportant. In a parallel universe I was 8 seconds quicker, moving backwards. it’s funny to think that Greg Lemond won the Tour by 8 seconds.
Tomorrow is the road race; i’ll be the one at the back, clinging on whenever the surges happen and cursing the people at the front for making it happen and fracturing the race into tiny shards of broken cyclist.
Those of you unfortunate to have read this blog over the years will recognise that it tends to drift towards the more solipsistic side of bike racing; the lone effort, the race of truth, the time trial. However, occasionally I have dipped a toe into the filthy pondwater of road racing, where the strongest rider rarely wins and not going home in an ambulance is generally seen as a quality result in the Cat 4s. This year i’ve renewed my racing licence; it’s not cheap. This fact alone tends to spur me on to making some use of it, at least to get a degree of value having purchased the laminated card. The first of these is next weekend, the Bristol South Road Race. It’s ridiculously early in the season, but what the heck, it’s time to wear the red and gold amidst a sea of other roadmen and generally not take things too seriously.
Last weekend was the Bath Hilly, a horribly lumpy affair somewhere in Dorset, or maybe Wiltshire, i forget which. It was hailing and cold and wet and not particularly enjoyable. I did my best and came 4th, taking a cake home for my troubles. A few other roadmen came out to ride; all on the TT weapons though. Secretly they like the time trial, it’s so much simpler. Tavis Walker is back on form and he destroyed a quality field. I managed 4th place; it was a classic day where the time initially looked a bit slow, but the other times were even slower.
I’m looking forward to this weekend and holding out hope of slightly more clement weather. We shall see. I shall strive to enjoy it and smile. This sometimes annoys a particular clique of roadies who value seriousness above all else and refuse to countenance the idea that you might, on some level, enjoy bike racing.