It’s quite an inelegant title. I had other ideas, perhaps ‘Hallelujah’, which was running through my head as i soft-pedalled to try and get off the main road as quickly as possible.
I haven’t posted about the event as an upcoming target because I’ve been wary of tempting fate and generally keeping my cards quite close to my chest. This weekend I made the epic trek to the frozen tundra of the North to see my Dad who lives at Withernsea. Coincidentally, there happened to be a 10 mile time trial on at South Cave, also in The East Riding of Yorkshire. Coincidentally I had got my entry in some 6 weeks ago.
The V718 at South Cave is almost universally seen as the fastest in the country. If you’re chasing a fast-time then it’s in the same league as the R25/3L. On a good day you stand to obliterate your PB and therefore spend the rest of your cycling life locked in a fruitless battle to regain those lofty heights. On a bad day you still stand to beat your PB, but more destroy than annihilate. The startsheet suggested it was going to be a bit of a humdinger. I was off on a ‘2’, which is some way down the list of seeds. There were a frightening number of quick people on the sheet, or if you look at it another way, people who had set times on one of the super quick days in Hull over the past 18 months. It’s hard to escape the fact that this course, like the Welsh ski slope, attracts the fastest riders in the whole country, making it quite difficult to get a start even with the large field. I think there were three events running with180 riders and a lot of reserves. Top of the pile was 55 (!) times national champion Michael Hutchinson, who also came 4th at the last two Commonwealth Games. A quick glance at the startsheet suggests that the event closed on a 22.30. This means if you haven’t ridden a 10 mile time trial at an average speed of above 26.7mph then you wouldn’t make the cut.
I drove the course beforehand to check out the route, especially the turn. There’s nothing remotely romantic or scenic about it. Neither does it look like a classic drag strip course. The road surface in places is appalling with lines of potholes, but in others it’s been resurfaced and is billiard-table smooth. The inkling that it might be quick comes from the trees and raised sides that give the course a considerable amount of shelter from the wind – with the exception of the last 3 miles where it’s suddenly much more exposed. The turn is fast, 2 roundabouts with a long sliproad either side. The finish is on the main road rather than requiring a turn, meaning you can hit the line at full pelt.
On arriving at the HQ it took me a full 30 minutes to find somewhere to park. The village of Newport was inundated with men and women in lycra with strange bikes. They seemed to take it with a healthy degree of tolerance. The Wiggins factor is helpful in this respect, you don’t feel quite so anomalous when riding some piece of crabon fibre bongo. I could see the trees swaying fairly ominously in the breeze, and i was angry. If it hadn’t been entirely coincidental that I was doing the race in the first place I would have been even more vexed that I’d embarked upon a 500 mile round trip simply to experience the debilitating effect on progress riding into a headwind can have. The chance element meant that i could afford to be vaguely circumspect. I adopted my usual goal-setting method that i tend to use for a big event. It’s a way of managing disappointment, as much as anything.
Goal 1: Go under 20 minutes, achieving a 30mph average. Jeff Jones told me I could do it. He should know, he recorded the 3rd fastest time of 18.09 (ever, anywhere, 11 seconds behind Saint Bradley of Wiggins) on this course in April. If it went wrong, i could blame Jeff’s duff gen, with all his uber-fancy crabon blingblong skinsuit and windtunnelbike combo.
Goal 2: Get the Bristol South club record. It was set in 2007 by Steve Downs, he put in a sterling 20.19.
Goal 3: Improve upon my PB of 20.42.
I felt the middle one of these was the most likely and I would probably turn in a 20.15 or thereabouts, with the conditions and the course probably good for about 30 seconds. Just getting under 20.40 would have left me feeling vaguely happy. Going under 20 was a bit of fantastical whimsicality on my part, but you have to aim high.
On the start line i said to the pusher that ‘the boss was starting in a moment’, referring to Hutchinson. They said he was a ‘dns’, to which I replied, ‘that’s because he heard I was riding.’ They went really really quiet and didn’t say another word. The pushed looked at me askance. I was tempted to say ‘it was a joke’, but i kept schtum, having already offended their sensibilities with my slightly undetectable and dry humour. They seemed like nice chaps though and the start was organised with a military efficiency. You were held on the path until your turn, then called forward by your first name. It was all very exciting, in an ‘I better not mess this up, these chaps are going to tell me off’ kind of way. I didn’t get the telling off, but i did get ‘the look’. Another chap got a warning for performing a u-turn near the start (before racing).
At the start i opted to go off fairly conservatively. I dropped down onto the dual carriageway and started turning over the big gear. Within a short space of time i was doing around 32mph and it felt ok, not effortless, but i was on top of the 11 sprocket. I kept it steady and held it on the outward leg, making it to the 5 mile mark in 9 minutes 31 seconds, with a 32.5mph average. I had to gird my loins for the return, anticipating a steady hemorrhaging of seconds with my average speed slipping away. My aim was simple – keep it above 30mph. I knew the very last bit was quick, it crests up and then has a relatively fast finish, but was anxious that the return leg would be somewhat slower. And so it proved. Even with the turn out of the way my speed did begin to dip. I was under no illusions though, holding 32.5mph would have seen me return an 18.30 or thereabouts and put me next to Graeme Obree on the 10 fastest rides ever list.
By about the 7th mile i knew that a PB was in the bag, the club record was almost certainly on and there was a distinct possibility i’d squeak in under 20 minutes. Moments later the shelter at the side of the road disappeared and the headwind increased substantially. I had to dig deep into the suitcase of courage and had a horrible feeling that it all might slip away. For the first time my speed noticeably dropped, as low as 23mph on the steady drag. I redoubled my efforts, crested it out and picked it up for the slight downhill to the finish. The wind was unpleasant and I had no semblance of souplesse, I was completely on the rivet and relieved to get across the line. I then had to stay on the main road for about 4 miles to get back to the HQ. By my reckoning and the generally accurate science of the Garmin, I had managed a 19.49. This is within the margin of error and I knew I’d done it. I just needed confirmation from the results board which came in due course. I think i may have got into the top 15, probably just outside the top ten, which is creditable given the strength in depth of the field. The winning time was around a 19.20 or thereabouts with a whole host of riders in the 19.40s.
One of my season’s aims was to take the club 10 mile time trial record. I managed it – beating the existing mark by 30 seconds. This is a whopping chunk. More significantly, I’m the first Bristol South rider to record a 30mph ride at 10 miles. I feel proud and privileged, not to mention a bit lucky and bit strange. It feels really weird to have managed a sub-20 minute ride. In fact, it doesn’t feel real, as though there has been an error somewhere and it will all come crashing down at some point. Rob Pears congratulated me this morning on the ride. It’s surreal; I can’t really work out how I’ve come from where i was two and a bit years ago, to where I am now. I’m happy though.