Hilly Time Trials: nasty, brutish and long

I’m in the middle of a particularly savage batch of races; 6 Hardrider events on the bounce. Hopefully i’ll make it through the last one without a dns or some such. It started with Chippenham 24, which was hilly and rolling, and the field was absolutely stacked with stupidly fast people, including elite roadmen getting some form before their season kicked off. I managed 13th,  and was pleased, given the company. The weekend after was Gillingham, which was quite a bit hillier and started on a horrible lump out of Bruton. it suited me more and i managed 7th place, which was grand. hot on the heels the following saturday was the Severn HR, a 23 mile slice of penury. I felt absolutely horrible from start to finish, somehow managing 9th place, but still two minutes up on last year’s time.

Which brings me to yesterday’s event, the Bath Hilly 24, in and around the small town of Mere which is part of the Westcountry Carnival Circuit, apparently. it features 1500 feet of climbing, which is not immense, but hurts a lot when you’re trying resolutely to keep on the rivet. I decided to try to not treat the hills as intervals/hillclimb efforts, and this helped me maintain a rhythm. I managed 5th place, which is my best in a time trial by some distance; it’s a 23.2 mph average speed. I honestly can’t say how that’s possible, but there you go.

thus far, it’s going well. i don’t want to put a hex on my progress; but i’m happy with things. hardriders are notoriously unpleasant and difficult events – it’s hard to fathom the attraction from the outside. i’d venture suggest a few things that keep a tight knot of masochistic bike riders coming back for more. firstly, it’s a series, with prizes for the points score for your best 6 events (6 minimum, out of 12) which means you keep coming back for more, in the hope that you might raise your score a little bit, replace the 110 points from Gillingham with a 115 from Swindon, for example. Secondly, these events are about as far away from out and back dual carriageway courses as you can hope to be. they are almost scenic, although you don’t get much of a chance to take it all in. i seem to remember riding Swindon last year and suddenly finding myself on a road through the stone sentinels of Avebury, a place i’d always wanted to visit, but somehow didn’t imagine that my visit would be  astride a piece of alien technology with no time to stop and stare.

lastly, there is something more tangible and rewarding in a hilly course for someone of my build and physique. i look at the flat DC courses and sometimes see only a remorseless succession of absurdly strong powerlifters with misshapen thighs and buttocks bullying the tarmac into submission through power and science. i like to see them struggle and the pain etched into their faces on the relentless ups and downs of a rural hilly time trial. it levels the course.

(this is a picture of michael hutchinson, he’d bully anyone into submission, be it uphill or down, he is a monstrous quick rider who writes a funny column in the comic)

Geraint Thomas

Geraint Thomas grabbed second place at Dwars Door Vlaanderen, a sort of semi-classic that acts as a curtain-raiser for the epic races over the next few weeks. He’s an amazing rider, and learnt the ropes in Cardiff, riding for the Maindy Flyers along with Matt and Luke Rowe, a youth cycling club based at the famous outdoor track in Cardiff. Steve trains there on a regular basis; apparently last week the bunch was stacked with Cardiff Jif riders.

anyway, in short, Geraint Thomas is a brilliant rider. and he seems halfway normal, which is always a bonus in the world of professional sport.

Coping with Crosswinds on the Bike

i saw this today. it’s the craziest crosswind cycling video i’ve ever seen, partly because of the demonic flemish techno music, but in the main because of the attempted echelons in what looks like a cyclonic-force wind. those crazy continentals.

SPOCO and Hilly Courses

Sporting courses (SPOCO) and hilly time trials are a staple of the early British road season. Roadies use them to build form and intensity, Testers use them for the same reason, developing endurance before moving into speedwork, and some people simply ride them because they like them. i hesitate before using the word ‘fun’, because in reality, i question whether riding at full-on pace for one hour over a hilly rural circuit can ever be described as ‘fun’. it’s certainly more interesting than flat dual carriageway circuits, and arguably safer.

the Western Time Trials Association run a yearly SPOCO competition, 12 events of varying intensity, all pretty lumpy. today was the Severn Road Club event, last week was Gillingham, next week is Bath. i found today’s event to be almost unbearably horrid; it starts with a very fast descent, before hitting a wall, a short and savage ascent, then lots more up and down, culminating in the mother of all draggy bits on a very unpleasant road surface. after about 3 miles i felt physically sick and wanted to climb off. i very nearly did, but the feeling began to abate and i rode round the best i could. a semblance of rhythm began to return eventually, but i never felt remotely in control of the pace of effort, i was oscillating wildly.

coincidentally, this event last year was my first hilly time trial. I have improved, which is nice, by 1 minute and 34 seconds; 0.7mph quicker. it’s not much. i shall get a clearer idea of improvement next week at Bath, the event last year when Rebecca Romero turned up.

Paris-Nice – the Run to the Sun

Paris-Nice traditionally heralds the advent of the racing season in the form we know and love; continental stage-races. things have changed with the middle-eastern jaunts, and there will always be the early season classics, however, the Run to the Sun has pedigree.

In theory it starts at the beginning of the week in the inclement north, before ending on the sunday with a balmy sprint along the promenade des anglais. in reality, it’s often hosing it down and lethal, with barely an octet of blue sky in sight. this was the case yesterday, and it made for very exciting watching for the vicarious armchair rouleur.

remy di gregorio (nickname di gregoria, because it’s italian for domestique, and he’s seen as a bit of a domestique) took the win with a super breakaway, but not before a high speed wobble on a greasy white line as he sped away from the bunch. quite how kiserlovski ended up wedged underneath a truck is still open for discussion, but apparently the shock was so much that he forgot what country he was in.

here’s some brillant video with lovely dutch (flemish?) commentary – lots of ‘oh lorlorlorlor hophooy astana oonder der trocken’ – showing two of the wobblier bits. enjoy.

Early Season Time Trial Double-Header Horror

an unwieldy title, maybe, but it sort of sums it up. most people don’t double up over the course of a weekend, at least, not in race terms. i opted to do the somerset road club 10 yesterday and the chippenham wheelers hardrider this morning. I wasn’t going to the SRC event, but laboured under the misapprehension that some friends would also be riding, namely Kieran Ellis and Ed Trotman, two mightily quick fixie-fiends looking to dip a toe into the murky pondwater of timetrialling. suffice to say, they found a series of excuses to get out of this one. nevermind, they will be back, or at least, they will appear at some point in the club colours, and i suspect they both have the necessary wherewithal and disregard for pain to ride pretty damn fast.

the somerset 10 last year was my first open time trial ever, so it was with slight nostalgia and a sense of timeliness that i made my way down to the windswept somerset levels to have another go. i made significant inroads on last year’s time, over a minute quicker, and my first top ten finish, 8th in fact. the peerless stuart dodd took the win, he’s the masters national champion and absurdly quick. i got some plaudits though from him when i turned up at HQ on my bike (not in car) with an additional set of race wheels strapped to my back. ‘that’s class’, he said. cue other stories from the regulars in the car park about a chap who used to ride a motorbike and sidecar to races with the bike in the sidecar. how we chortled.

today was the hardrider, and the first one of the year. the field was pretty stellar, and some guy called Doug Dewey pretty much obliterated the field with a staggeringly quick time of 53 minutes over a 24.3 mile course with 800ft of climbing. i managed 1.00.57, which i was pleased with, considering the depth of the field and strength of the riders. i think it was probably good enough for 13th place. i nearly took a wrong turn, saved only by a marshall yelling at me. i felt like i was going well, so can only be pleased. i also think i may be riding into a bit of form, there are now events every weekend for the next month or so, which certainly should do it. on arrival back at the HQ my eyes felt really itchy, as though they had sunk back inside my skull. i think this is a result of dehydration. it wasn’t that nice a feeling.

this video taken from frome ten shows just how unglamorous and hardcore this sport is, as well as how close together my arms are, and how bright my jersey/oversock/glove combo is. it also shows the huge range in riding styles and position, in a sport where position is very important.

i saw the international space station pass over on Friday night. the weatherman on points west always lets the viewer know when and from where it will be appearing. it’s really bright and serenely arcs across the night sky. the oddest thing is that there are people up there, working in weightlessness.

here is a short video that i took.

Tired Legs

In the build up to any series of events, or race, or during any phase of training there are some real dead spots where nothing seems to be going well. that’s the sum of my limited experience in building form. i went out riding with steve on sunday. this was after a really heavy friday ride, 30 hilly miles (2000ft or so) at a 22mph average speed; this took more of a toll than i thought. the next day i planned to spin my legs out a bit on the turbo, which i did, but made a fatal error by watching omloop het neuwsblad at the same time, and my enthusiasm for the race ended up with me riding at pace for ten minutes whilst i chased down both juan antonio flecha and sebastian langeveld’s ill-fated escape, before destroying them both with my ferocious sprint to add to my illustrious palmares. so anyway, i went out riding with steve on the sunday morning and my legs felt flat, devoid of feeling, and i had a noticeable energy deficit. it was all i could do to drag myself around the 40 mile loop (again hilly, always hilly, every time, up monstrous hills, no shame or self-awareness, just hills) in his spritely, pedal-dancing wake. it was very tough. i regret destroying him and kieran two weeks prior. steve is now en forme, and thus i will consider my riding strategy when we next go out. it might even be time for a spot of half-wheeling. (i joke).

i’m hoping to ride through it in the next few days – i have the first hardriders event of the season on sunday, and it’s an absolute stinker with a horrifically strong field; lots of old-school testers ready to suffer and gurn their way to the finish. it is a great part of the season though, the weather is often harsh and you really ride into form, i have races for the next 5 weekends or so. alongside this, the pro peloton has hit the spring classics which culminate in paris-roubaix in 8 weeks time. it’s cobbled mayhem, with evil climbs and crazed belgians shouting from the sidelines. brilliant. het volk was a great primer, watching flecha bridge across to langeveld was pretty awe-inspiring. here’s his escape, after a typical ‘chute’ – the cobbles bite. he missed the win by an eyelash, which is fair enough, langeveld rode a great race.

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