On enhancing the National TT Championships with the spurious and wanton addition of the rock horns

I was trying to explain to someone recently what it means to ride in the BC National Championships. This involved the use of a clumsy analogy involving what it might be like for a very good club tennis player, or even district big-hitter, to take on Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. It was as close as I could manage; Thursday’s race included the Olympic Time Trial Champion and The Commonwealth Games time trial champion and the winner of the Tour de France. They were the thick end of a very thick wedge of absurdly quick riders. Somewhere in amongst it all could be found a gentle sprinkling of club riders, whilst over there, looking confused and nervous and a small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was PJ.

I spent at least some of the pre-race period sat on a sofa at Celtic Manor in my skinsuit talking to Matt Le Tissier. i didn’t know he was Matt Le Tissier until someone else came up and asked for a selfie to send their Southampton-loving chum. He looked a lot like Phil Tufnell. He seemed very friendly and not daunted by the lycra. He was aware that a race was going on. Bradley Wiggins then walked nonchalantly through and everyone stopped and stared.

I took my rollers. This is unusual for me, but it seemed unlikely that there would be anywhere to warm-up, and the possibility of wet weather posed distinct problems. I was very glad i did, i managed to find a quiet spot to set up. What with Celtic Manor being a Ryder Cup location, it seemed entirely appropriate that Colin Montgomerie was able to offer a helping hand.

After 4 weeks of beautiful weather, the heavens opened in time for the Elite race at 6pm. The roads were greasy and grubby. It made for some technical and hair-raising sections on the 12 mile lap. The start ramp was chronically exciting, as was the Hugh Porter commentary; at first. Hugh Porter is a legend of the sport, but his best years of commentary appear to be behind him. At times he seemed to have been switched with a confused dementia patient reading out some bingo numbers.

The bike passed the offical bike check, which is more than can be said for some. My complex home measuring system involving a tape measure, door frame and sharpie was identical to the rig used by the scrutineers. Several other riders fell foul of the bike checks. It left me wondering why people push it when they know the rules. Perhaps it’s easier when you’re not pushing the envelope; I didn’t particularly worry about it. The extensions needed to be pulled in by nearly 5cm and the saddle pushed back a bit, i erred on the side of caution – a metaphor for the race. And so it goes…

Race face on
Rolling down the ramp, taking Courtney Rowe’s advice to ‘freewheel just in case’

I didn’t go full gas on some of the sketchy bits, it was too sketchy. Apparently Wiggins was fully committed and asked where the nearest hospital was prior to starting. I eschewed this approach in favour of a slightly lower key ride. Fortune favoured the brave, and i wasn’t that brave. At the end of the lap loomed the horrifying spectre of a steep and savage climb. There’s no way to describe the brutality of climbing up a 25% wall on a slightly overgeared time trial bike. I had the 42:23 on, I didn’t have anything else. This was fine; I am used to climbing on fixed so can turn bigger gears over when going uphill. It was hard and i had to stay out of the saddle all the way up. I could have done with something a bit lighter, but it didn’t make a huge amount of difference, the climb was vile. It’s worth noting for information purposes that it is harder than any hill climb i’ve done over the past 4 years. The saving grace was the smörgåsbord of red and gold; a cheering, baying mob of the Bristol tifosi, screaming encouragement. It took my mind off the climb.

There are some other notable features that made this event the best race I have ever been involved in, notwithstanding the presence of several riders who I tend to idolise. It utilised a full road closure; not some rolling stoppages, but a full, barriered closure from start to finish. If you’re not used to riding on full closures it’s a weird experience. It takes a long time to get out of the habit of hanging to the left hand side of the road, rather than choosing the racing line through the long and sweeping bends. When you finally do get to taking the racing line through sharp right handers, it’s accompanied by a nagging fear, ‘i do hope the road really is fully closed and there won’t be any nasty surprises’. On the first lap I was led out by a motorbike outrider from the NEG group. This was an amazing experience; he signalled all of the slippery drain covers and hazards. After the first lap it was a free for all, there were more riders and more following cars.

Such was my excitement at being in the biggest race of my life that I took every opportunity to throw out the rock horns, both on the first and second lap. I think that some spectators saw this a potentially foolhardy, or perhaps a sign that I wasn’t treating the race with due diligence. Ultimately I wasn’t taking it hugely seriously, I wasn’t in it to win, I was there to do my best, to represent the club and to enjoy it. I didn’t want to come to last. Essentially these were my goals for the race. And to throw some shapes wherever possible.

Horns on the hill


Sir Brad did not give the horns

I came 28th out of 60. Wiggins’ time was stratospherically fast; he is the reigning Olympic the trial champion. Outside of the continental riders, the bulk of competitors were within 4 minutes of each other; i was within this block, just. I came in 9 minutes behind Wiggins. I just kept it to within 10 minutes, which is how i imagined it would be. Getting to ride the event in the first place was a success, staying on the bike and making it round was even better, finishing within the top 30 at the National Championships, ergo, all of the country, and not being significantly adrift of the non Grand Tour stage winners, was the best of all. I was chastened and humbled by the level of support; Mum, nephew, wife and child, in-laws, club-mates, random strangers asking questions, the tweets and likes, everything.

I raced yesterday on the Somerset levels. It wasn’t quite the same.



Dog on wheels

It’s an unwritten rule of amateur cycling that at the precise moment when you should be riding the crest of the most stonking pile-up of form and fitness, things take a bit of a nosedive. A combination of excessively long working hours and an outbreak of the crippling medieval plague known as ‘hayfever’ have had a savage effect on any intention to continue with the current block of panic training.

Today i returned to the F11-10 course in darkest homecountyshire with a couple of targets in the back of my mind. The first of these was to bag another 19. Both the Sphinx and I were of the opinion that a 19 should be on the cards as long as we both rode the course. In fact, rumour had it that they would be handing them out with the race numbers; there would be no need to ride. It’s the new face of time trialling; compare complex power-related numbers on internet forums beforehand, calculate the strength and direction of the wind, load up on ridiculous acronyms and then feed this all into an online weboracle called “Training Speaks”, which then chitters out a tickertape feed containing your time.

Not being able to seek solace in the world of numbers and figures (see: “ooh i did an all time power PB and my CDA was off the hook, check out my TO and i totes nailed the blue CTL, and my FTP is like, AMAZEBALLS, even though i was 5 minutes slower than everyone else) it came to pass that we did actually have to ride the course at race pace and then actually try and achieve the projected time. If the 19 wasn’t on, then we were chasing the club team record with Andy, the erstwhile club skipper and all-round good egg. Jo Knight was also chasing the BSCC ladies’ 10 record – she achieved her aim with a super-rapid 23.38.

On the epic, bongo-clad ride to the Spinkhaus in St Worstburg, calamity struck. The armrest bolts sheared off and it clattered to the floor. At that point there was only one thing for it; an EU mountain of duct tape.

i’m glad i didn’t PB, otherwise this set-up would have been the only way to go. A bit like ‘mr ride in his pants’.

It held firm for the duration of the race, which is far more than can be said for my mental fortitude, endurance and physical powers. Things started well; i caught my minute man within 3 miles or so. I’m not sure the rider up the road was at the peak of his powers; i’ve heard tell that he has had some form in the past and may have once ridden bigger races than the Hemel 10 and worn brighter jerseys.

I resisted the temptation to ‘do a cavendish‘ because I’m not Mark Cavendish, I am a fairly hapless club rider from the westcountry. I also didn’t want to get a punch in the chops or a pump in the trispoke from one of British Cycling’s bona fide living legends. I think Yates climbed off after about 8 miles or so. I don’t think he was having a particularly good day. I wasn’t having a good day either; i did ok for the first 8 miles, but after that turned into a headwind and lost my way a bit, dribbling home in 20.24 for the 10. I was about 20 seconds down on where I perhaps should have been. That said, it was enough to help lower the Bristol South CC ‘Team’ record for 10 miles, a mark which had stood for 23 years. I also managed to throw out the ‘horns’ for the legions of paparazzi stood at the side of the arterial trunk road. I shall go away and brood for a bit and then hope that form returns, hayfever subsides, and tiredness abates.

I’ve been getting lots of messages of support ahead of the BC championships in two weeks. Trotters wins the prize for the best one yet…

On current form i’m a hot favourite to destroy the hell out of myself.

“British Cycling Announces World Class Field For National Championships”

In a little over two weeks time the National Road Championships are taking place at Abergavenny. There are various events, including the road race, featuring a stellar line-up. It’s worth heading over to see the circuit; it takes a route through Celtic Manor near Newport and is a tough course. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see the top domestic and continental professionals going head to head for the red, white and blue jersey. On the Thursday evening the time trial championships kick things off. Some of the heroes of modern British cycling are riding; people who have shaped the narrative of the sport, like David Millar: his personal arc of triumph, then earth-shattering fall and eventual redemption contains all the elements of optimism that most cycling fans have clung to over the darker years.  Sir Bradley Wiggins is also down to start. I can’t begin to mention how important a figure he is without lurching into hyperbole. He is the reigning Olympic time trial champion.

David Millar is the commonwealth games champion. Both have won grand tour TT stages. They are the zenith of the sport. Also riding for Sky are Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe. Alongside is Alex Dowsett of Movistar, who recently sliced 25 seconds from the National “10” record, pulling out all the stops to record a 35mph ride.

The startsheet is available here. Some time ago i put an entry in. It was fairly speculative and I didn’t anticipate getting a ride. As it happens, I’ve managed to get in. I’d like to reiterate that last statement, it seems a bit Karl Power-esque. Somehow, i’m riding in the same race as the above people and a whole gang full of inconceivably fast people. Since i saw the startsheet this morning I’ve been a state of excitement, anxiety and fear. I hoped the professionals would turn out, but now the concrete, real reality of the race line up has created different emotions; I’m fearful and I am going to be on the receiving end of some fairly hefty time gaps. But it is what it is, and if you’d told me 5 years ago that i’d be on the startsheet for this kind of race I’d have looked askance and questioned your sanity. As it stands; i’ve entered, I was given a start based on the organiser’s belief that i wouldn’t be out of place in the elite race and was deserving of the chance. I want to race. I want to not come last. And i want to throw out the rock horns on the start ramp. (Oh no, please, no, i didn’t even think about the start ramp, if there is one, christ, please god don’t let me fall off).

And i want to savour the moment and look back on it as one of those things that i did within a life where opportunities were taken. Because time trialling, the race against the clock, the race of truth, is a thinly concealed metaphor for the battle against the capricious nature of time itself.

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

But at the same time i’m shitting myself in living terror at being caught for 25 minutes by Sir Bradley of Wiggins.


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.


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.




Early Season Time Trials and Course Records

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 scene in a layby near you on any particular Wednesday evening

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.

the ritual

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.

Road Race Hero Trotterz and 2nd Cat Supremo Tommeke check out a serious bit of stem slammage; newcomer looks on, confused
i consider this to be a fairly heavy bit of stem slammage. It’s an upside down 35 degree MTB stem. THIS IS BONGOWAR.

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.

Course Record Race Face (not really, Saturday’s race face at the U7b)

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.

Le Cimetière de Rêves Cassé (Part Deux) ((BSCC Road Race)) (((Le Crampzilla)))

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.

i did too much of this and not enough of what Ed was doing

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 season comes round quickly. One minute it’s cakes and chocolate orange, copious bottles of Bishop’s Ringpiece or whatever other craft ale floats your boat, a a resting heart-rate enlivened only by the gladiatorial combat of a game of yahtzee; the next minute you’re hurtling along a country road in pissing rain with a brutal headwind, all in the hallowed name of ‘amateur cyclesport’.

The season-opener proper is the Chippenham Hilly. The big beasts emerge blinking from their sweaty turbo-sheds, ready to do battle with the elements and with each other. This year was no exception and a field of sallow, lithe, pasty-faced lycra warriors duly signed on in a village called Sutton Langley, or Kington Benger, or something like that.

I opted to ride to the start; it’s a 24 mile schlep up and out of Bristol. I then did the race, a 24 mile schlep around Wotton Basset and Dauntsey. I then rode home, a 24 mile schlep back across the darklands of Wick and Marshfield. Oddly, the rerouted Severn Bridge Road Race used a stretch of the same parcours, but in the opposite direction. I came across the first lap of the elite race, where scary look group of Rapha Condor and assorted roadmen had already gained 20 seconds over the chasing bunch. One of the riders was called ‘the tank’, on account of being 6″9 and weighing 97 kilos.

Russell Downing and James ‘Tank’ Lewis

I thought i’d done well in the race, setting a course PB by over a minute; things were looking ok until everyone else also set whopping course PBs and made me look a bit shabby. I ended up 5th or thereabouts, but not disheartened. That came later, on the ride home, when i wanted to cry and lie down in the ditch with only 17 caffeinated energy gels for company. It was raining and windy and by mile 60 of 80 i was shot to pieces. I had one of those difficult moments where it’s quite hard to get off the bike at the end of the ride without collapsing or suffering a violent attack of cramp. I then struggled to lift the bike up the stairs. it was a pathetic sight.

I took one photo. It is a salutary warning of the tight-fitting nature of bongohelmets.

Steve Clark’s bongohelmet damn near sliced his ears off.

Tomorrow i shall rest and reconsider my policy of riding to events. I’ll be doing well to ride out and back next weekend; it’s the Gillingham Hilly.


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