National Championship Team Time Trial

I’ve kept a bit quiet about this one because it was quite a scary event. Earlier this season I opted to try and put a club team together to ride the National Championships which were taking place at Abergavenny. The event rotates around and could be anywhere from Teesdale to Telford, so it’s always good to try and get a ride when it’s on your doorstep, or thereabouts. We managed to get an entry, which is always the first step, and kept our hopes in check. I rode with Richard Spink and Ed Trotman; Richard and I are fairly even matched, he’s better at the longer stuff. Ed is a classy roadman but not quite at the same level in time trial terms. His bongobike is also a slightly retro and rather heavy steel frame. The ideal is to find 3 evenly matched riders and then make sure you take equal turns. If there’s a disparity then it becomes a bit more complicated.

The startsheet was a bit terrifying with Olympic and Commonwealth Games riders, the current leader of the Tour series and lots of serious time triallists. The scariest of them all was Steven Burke, riding for Haribo Beacon.

It’s also a rare privilege to ride the same race as Sarah Storey; this has happened before about 3 years ago; i remember catching her slowly on a climb on the Buxton Mountain Time Trial; once the climb was done she disappeared into the distance. She is an amazing athlete.

Sarah was in the same team as the world track champion.

In short, it was a long way from your average fish-and-chipper. The course took in two and half laps of a circuit, with a total of nearly 37 miles. I have to say at this point that it’s a bit above my preferred distance; I usually max out at 25 miles, sometimes 30. I can do this kind of mileage with no problem, but it’s the speed with which you do it when time trialling that causes problems. I’m also aware that lately i’ve been feeling a bit under the weather in a vaguely non-specific way and definitely haven’t been firing on all cylinders. In a solo race getting your excuses in early counts for a lot; when riding with teammates it’s a source of disappointment and anxiety.

In terms of aims; we had a couple we were going for. A top ten placing wasn’t entirely beyond the realms of possibility and would have been a spectacular result. We were also aiming to be the first unsponsored club team home. This is an important one – in an unsponsored club, devoid of any financial or kit-based incentive or sweetener, you are representing the place where you live. It’s not composite; insofar as you ride with the club members you have and you ride for the club you are a first claim member of. It’s a more traditional arrangement. Sponsored clubs and teams tend to draw in faster riders, making it easier for them to field a particularly strong outfit. Clubs like Bristol South are the apotheosis of amateur endeavour, it’s Corinthian, if you like.

The Corinthian ideal; with added rock horns from Trotters.

One of the ways you know it’s a serious race is you get ‘arm’ numbers as well as the number on the back. You also have the possibility of a doping control which is dreadfully exciting. The car park was chock-full of expensive machinery and well-honed racing cyclists and i’d slightly underestimated how long it takes 3 people to get ready, compared to the solitary man. We made our start in good time and headed out onto the course under beautiful skies with barely a breath of wind. It was going well, we had a bit of a ding dong with another team who seemed unaware of some of the fundamental rules of time trialling, especially those pertaining to company riding, section 21 of the CTT handbook, but it wasn’t too much to worry about, more an irritation. Towards the end of the first lap we were passed by the Haribo Beacon team with Steven Burke on the front, cracking the whip. They had made up 3 minutes and in the end took 5 minutes out of our time.

Throughout the race we held our shape and moved through fluently. My legs were beginning to ossify and it was left to Spink to drag us along the last few miles as my turns became shorter and shorter. Trotters by this point was glued to the back; clinging on to the mast and praying for the storm to end. We crossed the line in a beautiful parallel formation, managing a teeny bit shy of a 28mph average for the 37 miles.

We came 15th and were first unsponsored club team. It was a fantastic result and a great day for the club. The overall winners were the international riders; full results are here.

Chapeau

Storey, Archibald, Horne + reserve rider

Dreadfully exciting. As I was 143 I only just didn’t have a pot to piss in.

 

 

 

Triple Bongo

This weekend I’m riding the National Team Time Trial Championship with two clubmates. The race features two laps of a circuit near Abergavenny for a total of 35 miles. We’re hoping to do reasonably well, at least amongst the clubs. There are lots of sponsored teams; amalgamations of faster riders seeking free bongo kit in exchange for publicising a UPVC window company or caravan coach-builder.

We had a warm-up yesterday in the driving rain; a ride out to Axbridge and back to take in the Somerset Road Club midweek 10. The meet-up was at the Nova Scotia; I opted to use my Kask Bambino, despite the notorious fogging problems in dank weather. This was observed and commented on by Trotters and Spink. However, I have recently installed an old-school bodge on the newest of new-school bongo helmets and opted to take a chance.

Expensive and complex KaskBodge

After 15 miles of 3-up TT paced riding both Trotters and Spink had to stop on account of ‘not being able to see shit’. Their fool-proof giro selectors had fallen foul of the inclement weather, whereas the Bambino was entirely unfogged. I was Mr Smug of Smugville, Smugshire.

Trotters gets his race face together in a moment of quiet contemplation

We rode the TT at race pace through the wind and rain, coming through in twos on the outside and taking longer turns that you would in a through and off. It was good fun and made the experience less of an existential struggle compared to usual. As far as testing the water goes, we managed 20.38, which was a good start on a crappy old day. The ride back to Bristol wasn’t as much fun, a stout northerly made it a bit tricky.

Later on I uploaded by data to Strava, doing a bit of KOM bagging in the process. My evening was then ruined by a succession of updates to the virtual high score table as first Trotters, and then Spink, edged each of the segments with some canny KOMbags. I suspect this is what they were riding for all along; half-wheeling through each pre-recce’d segment, holding back then making up the ground to bag some virtual kudos.

 

plus ça change

I’ve found it hard to write things lately; it’s a combination of being very busy at work and a vague sense that I didn’t want to retread old ground; churning out the same stories, suffering each time from the law of diminishing returns. I have been cycling though, with some small successes; i came 3rd in a time trial in Wales, recording 20.25 for the 10 miles. I was quite pleased but also slightly disappointed that i wasn’t closer to the 19 minute mark. It’s funny how expectations subtly recalibrate themselves without you even noticing. I managed to beat Matt Postle who was an accomplished roadman back in the day. I have no doubt that if it was back in the day he’d have put me royally to the sword. I also rode as fast as Matt Rowe (brother of Luke) and Dani King, who were doing the 2-up. Matt memorably ‘boxed’ with the Tour of Britain peloton when they came over Caerphilly Mountain.

The club 10 last weekend was cancelled due to lakes of water on the course, which left a road race on Sunday to round out the weekend. It was promoted by Taw Velo and took in 7 laps of a hilly circuit in North Devon. We had 4 riders in the field. It was a tough day and riders were dropping off the back faster than an exploding plane spills passengers. By lap 5 or 6 there were less than 20 left. I clung on in, felt strong. On the penultimate lap i could feel the fickle pangs of cramp and knew it was going to be touch and go. At the bottom of the finishing climb it grabbed hold and destroyed my hopes of a placing; i dribbled in at the back of the group. Kieran rode a super race and took 7th place. One guy rode off the front after 4 laps and we never saw him again. It was quite chastening. Apparently he did it the week before as well.

I got cramp on the way back to the HQ as well. I got dropped at about 8mph.

Road racing is a complicated business; there are a huge number of variables to contend with and your destiny is rarely your own, if that makes any sense at all. You can minimise some of these, but at any given point there are decisions to be made and the wrong one can ruin the race. Tom (of Dream CC, a lesser outfit consisting mostly of cat 3s and juniors) argued succinctly that it’s probably best to sit in the bunch and not even think about what might be happening up front because it usually comes back together and you only get stressed out wondering if that might be the winning break. Tom gives good advice, but doesn’t always follow it himself – on Sunday he opted to attack long and hard at the bottom of an 8 mile summit finish in the Tour of Carmarthen. Not being Nairo Quintana, it didn’t work out that well and he got Kimmaged by a lady, by all accounts. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

The thing i struggle with, apart from the lack of control, the jostling for position in the neutralised section, the random skills of some riders, the fear that a moment’s inattentiveness might cause a catastrophic and costly crash and the vague sense that i’m a man with a fork in a world of soup, is the SURGES. These are designed to bankrupt the tester’s capacity to ride just below threshold for as long as it takes by taking you violently above this level for a very short period of time, repeatedly. I can just about do it, but it’s a struggle due to the absence of any similar efforts in my typical racing or training. The end result is a slightly crampy experience after a while.

This weekend coming is the National Team Time Trial Championship. We’ll see how it goes; it’d be nice to mix it up with the fast men. It’s my first national outside of the uphill season and I’m riding with the Spinkmeister and Trotterz. Should be fun. I’m silently hoping that the occasional road races will add something extra to my time trialling repertoire. I had a recovery ride with Penny today, it was a stately 16 mile loop including a climb i’ve never done before. It was perfect.

We found a secret grove of giant sequoias. It was very exciting. 

 

On riding ten miles in less than 20 minutes

I’ve come to realise over the course of a few years that i’m pretty much an out-and-out tester. This includes hill climbs or any solo race of truth against the clock. I like the romanticism of road racing, but i lack the attributes or desire to succeed in amongst the bronzed continentals. Therefore, I accept my status as a hardcore tester. Despite any initial reticence, I’ve come to embrace this most British of pursuits. Nevertheless, I retain some ambivalence towards the sport. One of the key factors involved in time trialling is, unsurprisingly, time. Success is measured in minutes and seconds; perhaps more so than finishing position. Emphasis is placed on the achievement of benchmark times; initially under the hour for a 25, under 24 minutes for a 10, and then a series of reducing markers to be aimed at and crossed off.

What’s that Dad? 30mph? you wait ’till you see what i can bust out on this bad boy; no bongo in sight. You gonna look slow. Keep trying, Dad.

The quicker you get, the harder it becomes to go more quickly. There are lots of reasons why; i’ve been led to believe it’s something to do with how the level of effort involved in overcoming air resistance increases exponentially the faster you go; ergo it’s much harder to add 1mph to your speed if you’re already travelling at 29mph. As a result, the course and the weather conditions become more and more important. The holy grail is a fast course on a fast day, whereupon strange things happen and people suddenly achieve lifetime ambitions. This has to coincide with the right form. Suddenly the variables become a little bit more complicated.

Rock Horns, no space helmet, mind still blown. Wife gives the BSCC race salute.

Of late I’ve been going well. ‘Going well’ is often subjective; I know the variables that can lead to a fast time and it might not be as clear cut as simply ‘going well’. Regardless, if you put in a succession of quick times, it’s clear that you are going well. This week I had booked in a prior appointment on a known fast course, the F11-10 near Aston Clinton, a place where the houses looked expensive and the roads were quiet. The last time i rode a fast course was two years ago near Hull, on the super-quick V718. I don’t ride there any more; i’m not a fan of the narrowness of the carriageway or the lines of sight. In fact, i tend to avoid most fast courses unless I’m sure that in relative (and relatively subjective) terms, they are as safe as the other courses I use on a regular basis. It’s not a simple as saying ‘all dual carriageways are unsafe’; but some courses happen to be unsafe and it’s self-serving to suggest otherwise. Anyway, I felt that a relatively quiet bypass road in the home counties with an unblemished safety record that doesn’t lead towards a major continental ferry port with all of the additional freight traffic that might ensue, or have a start point at the very junction that distinguishes it from motorway with only a change in colourway for the signs, might be worth a punt.

I shared a lift with the Spinkmeister. He was gunning for a 19 but i suspect he dared not mention it in case it didn’t happen. It’s a bit like this when you’re chasing the elusive 30mph ride; until you’ve actually bagged it you dare not even imagine that it might happen. It was quite blustery, by no means floaty, but nothing to really worry about. the faster you get the less you worry about certain types of wind conditions. The wind seemed to be cross, rather than head or tail, which can be significant in that it’s often a faster day than promised. It’s important to not allow yourself ot be beaten before you start; the conditions on a sheltered course are very different to those at the HQ. In the earlier event, the VTTA National Championships, Rob Pears had turned in an 18.53 which is super super quick. I did some mental Maths and surmised that a 19 should be in the bag if i rode according to form. Rob has ridden the 14th fastest 10 mile trial in the history of the sport. Ahead of him are Hutchinson, Wiggins, Dowsett and others.

Aston Clinton – lovely there this time of year.

I did my usual warm-up. This is a well-honed routine which consists of getting the bike out of the car, riding to the start, maybe riding up and down the road for about 10 minutes, having a caffeinated energy gel and then heading to the start. It’s not complicated. Richard said he’d seen some of the big hitters with olbas oil tissues up their noses, locked on the turbo churning out fat watts and clearing their breathing. I saw them, they looked really serious, like they meant business, proper bongo-business. It was quite intimidating. Everyone else’s bike always looks much more expensive and much faster. Usually because they are more expensive and much faster. I try and retain some sort of anti-tester status.Keep it independent, try not to take it too seriously. It keeps me sane and prevents disappointment.

There is one topographical reason why the F11-10 is a fast course: it has a ‘gift hill’ in the middle of it. This is a descent of sufficient length to speed things up a bit without suffering the indignity of having to come back up again. Clever course alignment helps in this respect, althought it’s more just luck than anything. After a relatively quick start I hit the top of the slope and floored it. It’s not a huge huge drop or anything like a ski slope, but it does really boost your average speed after a slow opening and complicated double roundabout thing. Once you’re through and onto the last bit it becomes a case of holding on. I’ve got much better at holding on lately, i think due to the rides at Aust which have consisted of going flat out and holding it for as long as possible. I knew the 19 was on with about 3 miles to go, so it became a question of how much of a 19 it would be. In the end, it worked out as a 19.38; a new club record and PB, heading up for about a 31mph average speed for the ten miles.

I guess with any long distance ride in search of fast times, it makes sense to turn yourself inside out and do the best you can; the worst that can happen is you try your best and fail, which is infinitely better than finishing undercooked and left with a sense of what might have been. Richard Spink also scraped under with a 19.52. He’s the second BSCC rider to break the 30mph average for 10 miles and it was a super ride. If we had a 3rd counter they could have carded a 23 and we would have taken the Club team record. Jon Simpkins, who carded an 18.53 and was a very nice bloke for one so fast, advised going off slowly. I ignored his advice, or so it felt. I managed to sustain the heartrate in a fairly tight upwards line and even hit the highest bits (185bpm) in the run to the finish. I enjoyed the race; especially the sensation of riding very fast for ten miles. It’s good fun. I think i came about 6th, Nick English was 1st with 19.11, a very quick time, then there were 4 riders on 19.30 or thereabouts. I was surprised to be in amongst them, to be honest and I’ll settle for reducing the gap between me and the mighty Wiggo to a mere 1 minute and 39 seconds. I also lowered the club record a little bit which is always really satisfying; it’s great to be a part of the lineage of fast riders for the South. John Legge was magnanimous with his praise. Lower down the field there weren’t that many 19s. I suspect that many people came along with high hopes and went home disappointed.

Normal service is resumed this coming weekend with a hilly circuit in the Cotswolds, where a fast average speed will be somewhere around 23-24mph.

on the perils of an expensive skinsuit without a self-healing zip; and on course records

These days, everyone who is anyone is marching around in a semi-stooped posture, clad in a hyper-expensive skinsuit that clings tighter than a horn-struck jack russell frotting a stranger’s leg. Usually it’s made by Castelli and the thickness of the fabric can be measured in nanomillimetres. Marginal gains and all that. It contrasts sharply with the ImpSport jumpsuit I wore a couple of years ago which had all the narrowness of a cordura winter jersey.

The Spinkmeister has been nailing down some sharp times at Aust this year, helped my his second epidermis of castelli aerobongo. In the last run of this year he was chasing an improvement on his super-quick 10.45 of a few weeks previously. This is when things started to go a bit awry…

Zipping up a skinsuit is a battle of wills at the best of times

No-one offered to help; Spink was alone in his struggle; man vs zip

In the end, a compromise was sought. Spare pins, tested in the wind tunnel on a range of yaw angles, were used to alter the garment and retain some of the raw bongoness. Mary-Jane said there are self-healing zips made of nylon. This wasn’t one of them.

Job done

It didn’t slow him down too much; each lap was dusted off in 10.50, an average speed of 28.5mph. I took a different approach, mullering it on the first lap and then seeing how things were on the second. I had a feeling it might be quick, despite the breeze, so threw everything at it. The course record was 10.35; I scraped this at the beginning of April. After about a mile I felt it might be on again; it was a question of waiting for the turn to see if there was a strong headwind. It didn’t seem too bad so it became a simple question of seeing if i could hold the effort for the remaining two miles. At one point i thought a 30mph ride might even be on the cards – i think it needs a 10.20 – but it drifted away. Holding the power is hard, it’s a short and intense effort; kept in the big gear and forcing it through the slightly draggy sections. The timekeeper stopped the clock at 10.28, a new course record by 7 seconds. It’s also safe now for a whole year; we don’t use the course again until next April, the window has closed.

I rode the second lap a minute slower, the effort paid a price and I sat up for much of it. There were some other PBs on the night, several people rode quickly and grabbed time. Commiserations to Tom, who scored a new personal best, but then smashed an expensive carbon wheel to pieces in an enormous pothole on the way back.

Pothole wins

This weekend is quiet, with the exception of a bank holiday 10 which may or may not be very fast, depending on all of the variables of time trialling.

I want to give a really BAD time trial. I mean it. I want to give a time trial where there’s a brawl and seductions and people going home with their feelings hurt and women passed out in the cabinet de toilette. You wait and see.

Capture

Time trials are much of a muchness. A group of men, often of a certain vintage, clad from head-to-toe in shiny, tighter than skin tight lycra, gather together in a layby littered with the pages of a discarded copy of razzle magazine and a once-used prophylactic. They then take turns to ride at speed in the inside lane of a dual carriageway for 10 miles, no more no less, before retiring back to the shelter of a village hall for tea and cake. It’s an act completed under the cover of the stillness of the pre-morning, the only speculative onlookers are the drunk wastaways and students completing the walk or drive of shame. Once the furtive act has been completed the lone rider can get changed and sneak back into the house; his absence not noticed because it’s not even 9am.

And then there is the Megahilly. An apocalyptic battle of survival against the elemental power of gravity and the sheer, unrelenting and savage beauty of the Cotswolds. A mere 28 miles incorporating 3,500 feet of climbing. For some reason, the event is growing in popularity. Hardened veterans of the event now speak of the addiction; ask to be reminded why it is they can’t keep away, why they keep coming back for more. It’s acquired a metalanguage of battle, the semantics of war being the only vernacular capable of describing the horrors of the course.

It’s a real time trial, a technical and challenging course where you have to kill a small dog just to be allowed to start and the citizens of Uley complain vociferously of ‘those shiny bike riders weaving around, like they wuz drunk, like, and being sick and that all over the hill, awful it wuz’.

And it hurts, it really hurts.

Iain Hounsell tries to find the right words, the right cog, the right rhythm, but can only grip the bars and hope the end will be soon.

Ed resorts to counting the individual pieces of gravel on the road to cope with the slowing down of speed and time, of self-similarity, and of the desire for oblivion

This is the second year i’ve organised the event. I chose to run it again because I like hills and was convinced to do so by Mike Hallgarth, the course designer. It used to be slightly easier, until Mike decided that the winning average speed needed to be kept as low as possible, and that a 20mph average should be a rarity to be celebrated. He succeeded.

This year the startsheet was headed by Tejvan Pettinger, National Hill Climb Champion. Further down the field it promised to be a royal scrap with the fastest hilly testers in the district lined up to enact the slow dance of oxygen death on Frocester’s fabled slopes. In a similar vein to last year, road bikes far outnumbered the TT bikes. I don’t think there’s any question that a road bike should climb better than a TT bike, but that’s probably where the advantages end. Even on this course, there are enough stretches to justify the use of bongo-weaponry. I spiced up the dilemma by throwing in a handful of road bike prizes, enough to tempt the waverers.

Tejvan showcases his superpowers on Crawley Hill. However, the magnets have fallen off his visor just like mine: he is human after all.

I managed to squeak a spot in the field. I didn’t seed myself as a rider (said the bishop to the actress) because i wasn’t entirely sure i’d be able to ride due to the fairly intense duties involved in organisation. Thanks to fantastic help and support from the club, it was ok. I snuck in between the mighty atom (apologies to Eileen), Derek Smetham, and the VC Walcot blade-for-hire, Sir Tavis of Walker. Tavis nearly missed his start on account of a prior appointment with a small terrier on Adey’s Lane. He hit it amidships on his TT weapon, ending up in the hedge. The fate of the dog is unknown. He then legged it back up the hill to switch bikes, making it back down in a surge of adrenaline and confusion. It solved the equipment angst at least. Tav is a bit of a monster, but with me on the bongo and him on the road bike I steadily reeled him in.

Classic bongo shot (rich lewton)

I also kept it level on the climbs with the splits being fairly equal. I made a superfast descent to Selsley after catching him over the top and over took a Honda 4×4 which was sticking rigidly to the 40mph speed limit. This was quite exciting. Tav tried the same trick but the Honda lady got a bit freaked out by being overtaken by one frighteningly fast bike person and slammed on the anchors, Tav got fresh with the back of the car, just like he got fresh with that dog. He has a line of ‘kills’ painted on his top-tube, mammals, children, adults, Chelsea tractors, anything impeding the pursuit of straight-line speed pays a heavy price.

The last climb is Stouts Hill. It’s also the toughest. On approaching the bottom it’s easy to think ‘last climb, let’s rag it, make up the time’, but it’s not possible. A string of riders are lined up the hill experiencing the same dichotomy, betrayed by the fading legs and lungs. I was out of the saddle and caught three riders engaged in mortal combat. Something wasn’t quite right with the picture: the one in the middle wasn’t actually racing. He was a weekend warrior, out for a jaunt, and yet he stumbled across some real life bike racers, and to be fair, was giving them a bit of a hard time. I’m not sure how i’d cope if i got Kimmaged. I might never touch or look at the bike again.

The Stouts Effect (amazing picture from rich lewton)

Despite it being a bit of a windy day and arguably slower than last year, I rode pretty much the same time, within 2 seconds, for a 1.22.48. Derek was 3rd, at 30 seconds. I was pleased to come second. Tejvan Pettinger, unsurprisingly, took the win. It’s worth noting that the Hill Climb course record on Stouts is 4.58 by James Dobbin. I’ve managed 5.09. During the race today I managed 5.54. Tejvan Pettinger scaled the heights in a frightening 5.18. All told, Tejvan made it round in 1.17.17, or 5 minutes quicker than me. In short, he bagged about 45 seconds per climb, more on the longer ones, and also eked out time on the flatter seconds. It was a masterclass in hilly time trialling and he was imperious. He managed to take 36 Strava KOMs during the ride. Sometimes a race can be won or lost by a slim margin; last year Derek edged it by 6 seconds. I think i know where those 6 seconds went. This year, it’s a little bit hard to tell where exactly those 300 seconds disappeared to.

All told it was a successful event; no-one crashed (apart from the dog thing) and people seemed to enjoy the masochistic side of things. There is something curious about the out and back aspects of the course; you get to see other riders far more than in a typical time trial and there is a hushed solidarity. Everyone is fighting the same battle, trying to get up Frocester Hill, or London Road, or Crawley, or Selsley, or Stouts. And at the end, there is a shared sense of achievement, it was hard for everyone. Even the winner.

I may ignore his suggestion for two laps. Although he has planted a seed.