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.

 

 

 

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.

Hardrider

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.

 

on the pain of the first race and how the wind tore my pins out

Yesterday was beautifully calm and sunny. Given that this is officially the worst winter since the quaternary glaciation, it felt like summer had arrived. Which made it all the more inevitable that today’s race would be run off in a darkening, ferocious gale with the omnipresent threat of rain.

Having been frozen out by the weather at this time of year in ice ages past, i again opted for discretion over valour. I wore a full length, long sleeve merino base layer over a short sleeve merino baselayer, with a long sleeve skinsuit, full legwarmers, winter gloves and industrial strength winter neoprene overshoes. I took no chances. I also wore my spangly new helmet, which fits very snugly and weighs next to nothing.

so how many Megabloks can i get for this one space helmet, Dad?

The Severn Road Club use the U17, it’s a tough course with about 1300 feet of undulations. The roar surface is pitted and getting beyond repair. They’ve done that thing where it looks a giant with an enormous tub of gritty black polyfilla has scraped over a huge hole. If you measured the distance and took into account the size of the depth of the fissures and tectonic gaps you’d find the course is significantly further than 25 miles. I think this is known as self-similarity, but i might be misremembering my studies into Chaos Theory.

One of the smaller potholes on the A38

I took it relatively easy on the way out, emboldened slightly by the mother of all tailwinds, but nervous about the last 9 miles after the turn and the savage assault to come. At 5 or so miles I had an average speed of 32mph. This dropped around the two short loops where the course deviates into the Alveston badlands, but heading for the turn i was up to a tidy 27mph, which i felt was perfectly reasonable given the swirling tornado. By this point my number was flapping violently in the gale, the wind had torn the pins out on one side.

I circumnavigated the roundabout at Slimbridge with a degree of caution. It’s a big roundabout. By the time I’d started to turn into the wind it became clear that things were about to change for the worse. I was using a Hed 3 trispoke on the front. It always raises an eyebrow on a windy day. I had a few spicy moments when a gap in the hedge made me wobble slightly, but generally it was within tolerance, whatever tolerance is. Some people really don’t cope with a gusting crosswind. I don’t mind it too much.

The journey back from the turn was an exercise in damage limitation; i had one overriding desire: to come in under the hour. I haven’t gone over the hour since i used a road bike and didn’t want to start now. I turned the Garmin screen off and clung on, trying desperately to make up time on any sheltered and downhill bits. It seemed just about manageable, but the drag up towards Stone was exhausting. The wind picked up and it was squeaky bum time; the bike was starting to do strange things, flick and twitch. Once through the funnel of doom I pushed to the line and managed a 59.32. It’s by far my slowest 25 for about 4 years, discounting any hilly courses, and shows just how hard a day it was. I scraped a 22mph average for the return leg. Nevertheless, it was the same for everyone and it was good enough for the win, with only one other rider coming in under the hour. There were several 2-up teams out on the course, Ben Anstie and James Cartridge glided round to a 55.30, making the most of company riding with a superlative effort.

Clubmate Jo Knight took the women’s prize with a 1.14, an incredible effort in the circumstances. She was going to ride home, a piffling 19 more miles into the teeth of the headwind; i gave her a lift.

It’s peculiar to take a win in the first event of the season. The pressure’s off, I guess. It’s also good to be racing and seeing the familiar faces coming out of hibernation.

Jo battles the elements on a team-issue weapon, with sensible wheels
slightly less sensible wheel choice
Simon did the 2-up. The faraway look in his eye tells a tale of bravery, supreme physical effort and an unfettered devotion to the sport.

Next week the hilly season starts, with the Chippenham Hardrider. I am silently hoping for benign weather.

Rough Stuff: The Madness of Cyclo-Cross

Cyclo-grot. Winter sport of choice for filth fans.

This weekend i headed out to the Odd Down circuit with Trotters (of Hamilton Wheelers fame) to spectate at the club’s nominated trophy event. Cyclo-cross is spectator-friendly; the race is usually on and around a short circuit, comprising of about 8 to 10 laps. All the hardy onlooker has to do is stake out a suitable location and wait for the filthy, mud-caked racers to come past. It was lovely and claggy under tyre; creating challenging conditions for the (fool)hardy bike riders. Trotters and I watched the enormous field charge away from the flag; there were a hundred on the start sheet, an almost incomprehensible figure that suggests the numbers opting to ride competitively is on an exponential upwards curve. Good luck gaining entry to Cat 4 circuits next season, newbies.

After a lightning quick blast along the road race circuit, the peloton squeezed through a tiny gate and headed into the wilds. Therein followed a classically circuitous meander through scrubland before hitting up the bmx circuit for a few endos and some spicy 360s. After that it was down to the woods for a bit of proper sketchorama offski, followed by a deadly climb up a slippery slope. Arch-Cross supremo, Charles Coleman, designed the course and threw in a couple of hurdles at the end. It was a right derailleur-breaker and there was a satisfying number of strange and terrifying mechanical problems, mostly caused by the dense layer of clag coating any exposed metallic parts.

Greener gets serious and takes his bike for a walk in the woods

It was savage and exciting to watch; a stream of riders mullering it into a state of exhaustion, coping with the conditions and the terrain with varying responses from the fatalistic to the exhilarated. I took it upon myself to cheer and heckle uproariously, getting into the spirit of the ‘cross and waving the cowbell with violent abandon. Somehow Trotters and I managed to find a prime spot in the middle of the course – and by ‘middle of the course’, i mean in the actual middle of the course: hiding behind a tree with racers passing on either side, ambushing them with nothing more than a camera, cowbell, wooden spoon and saucepan.

Helping Tom with some kind words

Dave Atkinson joined us halfway through, then a few other people who were at first diffident, before suddenly getting into character, cheering and jeering in equal measure. Those who managed to ride up the short but impossible climb received the biggest cheer.

Me, Trotters, Big Dave and Charles give it ‘more cowbell’

I made a short and slightly old-school audio slideshow. It would have been a lot easier to make a video, but i’m nothing if not anachronistic.

Burrington Combe Hill Climb 2013: (sotto voce) “not too fast mind”

Long-standing readers of this blog, of which there are 4 family members and possibly one other random person, will know that the Burrington hill climb is the defining event of the West DC racing calendar. It brings the curtain down on the season, finishing off the hardriders trophy series and for most people acts as their last race before they head into a wilderness of winter base and ale raves™. This year we had a full field which is pretty much unheard of round these parts and certainly without precedent in a hill climb. It made for a spectacular day’s racing.

I rode out on a 68″; it’s not far from Bristol, a short incursion into the dark heart of the Mendips. On arriving I rode the climb, sneaking in amongst a couple of riders, to check on the ominous power of the headwind. The feather flags used by the club were pointing back down the climb and it did not bode well. The initial section past the rock of ages was a struggle into some blousy, full-frontal gusts. After that it seemed to lessen slightly and the top of the 2 mile climb was more manageable. I switched the cog on the back to a lighter 65″ and then settled down to watch the early starters.

I took the opportunity to wave a cowbell aggressively in the face of several riders. This is a part of the hill climb experience.
Ed regaled us all with the epic ‘tale of the broken spoke’. It was awesome and not at all boring.
When i tired of the cowbell I decided to wave my bicycle in people’s faces instead. It’s a new motivational technique.
famous designer Ade Ridley opted for the more traditional ‘pan and spoon’ noisemaker.
Dad, Ed’s doing the robot hill climber dance. Kieran is about to join in. I’m not sure about this. Make them stop please. 

At the alloted time I made my way down the Combe and lined up at the start. I had my picture taken by a bona fide World Champion whilst Roger did the honours.

For those about to rock (bit more upright please Roger)

The lower slopes were windier than a tripe-fed greyhound. I hunched low over the bars and dug in, getting into a rhythm and sitting on top of the gear. It seemed to work, I felt good and drove it on all the way up the climb. Cowbell corner was a spectacular feast for the eyes and ears; it makes such a huge difference to be cheered on by spectators.

dig in, drive drive drive
Heading for the steep bits

I then headed up onto the steeper section and gave it everything I had. On the whole, I felt good, it was the kind of ride where I couldn’t have really done much more; i was at threshold and just kept going. I managed to go a second faster than last year in noticeably slower conditions. Once across the line I did a small bit of retching, thus earning my hill climber’s badge from the hill climbers scout troop.

It was a brilliant day. Ben Davis won with 7.33; Liam Glen 7.38, then me with 7.47. I just beat James Dobbin into 4th place by a second. Richard Cartland was 5th with 8.04. I was the only one in the top ten on a fixed wheel, but there were lots of other riders opting for the simplicity and joyousness of the single cog. At the start my minute man made a vaguely disparaging comment about my choice of bike; something along the lines of ‘that’s brave’. It seems to be fairly common for people to think it’s foolhardy to ride fixed in any sort of hillclimb, when the reality is that with a regular gradient a fixed wheel bike is the perfect machine for the task. It’s become the preserve of a hardy few but has grown again in popularity over recent years with the more general resurgence in fixed wheel bicycles. I’m quite disappointed that I won’t be racing on it again this season; I’m using gears for the National, but it will be my choice of bike for the winter miles. Anyhow, I overtook the aforementioned minuteman within about a minute.

On the way home I bullied my way up some other Mendip climbs; taking advantage of the tailwind to do some fairly hard efforts. I saw some really strange things… things you people wouldn’t believe…

Near Winsford. Put the wind up me, I can tell you.
this is what happens to strangers who outstay their welcome in the farmstead of Winsford. let it be a warning to all. 

I made it home alive. It’s been a brilliant weekend of hill climbs and I feel as though I’m getting some sense of form at just the right time. This was always the intention.

There is only one race left: The National Championship on the Stang. It’s the big one.

The Mighty Garbutt Speaks

<html>

<curmudgeon>

I’m a subscriber to the Comic. Like most subscribers to the Comic i complain loudly and vociferously about the marginalisation of many of the traditional elements of cycling, especially club life and the UK time trial and hill climb scene. I also complain about the absence of race coverage of any depth and the paucity of results in favour of relentless self-promotion of their sportive series.

It was interesting to see Garbutt’s editorial this week bemoaning the standards of riding out in the sticks near Croydon or wherever the CW lodgings are.

“the rise of the rubbish rider is a step too far… ”

His solution is an interesting one:

“There’s much to be said for being a member of a traditional cycling club. So many of today’s newbie riders would certainly benefit from the experience”

All sitting comfortably next to the index:

Turn to page 22 for “CW’s latest sportive triumph”.

If CW had perhaps spent more time supporting the grass roots of cycling and club life and less time chasing the sportive dollar, Garbutt’s specious comments might make sense. The last Gran Bloato sportive I stumbled across didn’t have a club jersey in sight, no-one said a word to anyone else and I had to weave around the zigzag wanderers. Such is the egocentrism of the current bike boom; all digitised high score tables, massively expensive bikes and extortionately priced bike rides. The Comic is at the heart of the desperate race for bike boom quids, selling their past and readership for a few cheap energy gels and a some loose marketing copy pebbledashed with the words ‘epic legendary sufferfest’.

[/curmudgeon]

On racing after a lengthy hiatus and the difficulties that ensue

monkey 23

Being race fit is not the same as being fit. Racing is hard and unforgiving, whether it’s cyclo-cross, criteriums, downhill mountain bike or whatever other persuasion tickles your fancy. In order to race with any degree of success (contextualised to what success means to you) you have to be on it all the time. Every ride is a training ride or fits in to some sort of bigger scheme. It’s really hard work and when things start to slide, simply because of that big and sprawling thing known as ‘life outside of cycling’ it gets really really hard and can be utterly disheartening. It’s because the difference between racing and not racing is the edge. It’s the intensity acquired through being on it. If you can no longer replicate the intensity then the race is over, it moves on without you.

racing equipment and clothing has moved on a lot in two short months

By way of a simple comparison, lately I have been trying to get back towards race fitness after a lay-off. I’ve still been riding my bike, but without the pressures of racing. Now I have reacquainted myself with the pressures and therefore I have been working hard in training. i rode back from Cheltenham last week at a 21 mph average speed. I took in some savage climbs and i tried pretty hard. And yet my average heart rate hovered in the 140s. I think I hit a maximum somewhere on Selsley Hill where it brushed 179 for about 10 pedal strokes. And i was trying really really hard to push it up.

In contrast, I rode the Minehead CC Hardrider, two laps of circuit near Wheddon Cross. I’ve done it twice before and it’s bloody hard work and technically quite demanding. Right from the start my heart-rate hit 170bpm and it kept climbing.  I rode for an hour and 5 minutes and it hurt for the entirety of the hour and 5 minutes. In fact, it hurt more as time wore on. My average heart rate was 171bpm. I did ok, I came second behind a ferocious Robin Coomber who mullered it on the flatter sections to good effect. I am satisfied that I have rekindled some form, I am on course for the hill climb season and on an upwards curve. But it’s only happened because I’ve been training properly. This is why I admire racing cyclists; I know and understand the level of commitment that is required to compete.

The climb up to Pantygasseg. Horrible.

Yesterday i went to Wales and rode a hill climb. I have been anxious to open my account this year, having missed the two Dursley promotions. It was a savage and unpleasant ascent up to the small village of Pantygasseg. It was much shorter than I would have liked, I hoped they were using the full valley road but in the event they went for the steep ramp at the top. It needed a huge effort, no real pacing, just an out of the saddle churn of the pedals and the capacity to ignore the lactic burn. it was horrid. I won by about 15 seconds and set a new course record. it wasn’t the most competitive of events, but I’ll take it. The good people of Pontypool Road Club were very friendly and welcoming.

Tomorrow I am using the Mercian to get to work. After spending Saturday astride the C-Bomb (which is currently tipping the scales at salacious 6.39kg) the Mercian feels like it’s made of girders.

Riding the Trough of a Wave

It’s been a busy week. Last Sunday I went to the Welsh course. I had very low expectations but somehow came away with a 51.45. I would have taken this beforehand. It was a windy day in the Valleys. Wendy Houvenaghel was there, she turned in a short 54.

The Wendster; all round cycling superstar
Here be dragons… on some sort of monocoque frame

I then took things easy on the Monday. It was wet and dank. On Tuesday I headed out to Didmarton for a Hardrider. Incidentally, the surnames recorded in the parish graveyard, and in that of the Didmarton Congregational church, include: Baker, Bickerton, Borham, Cox, Gould, Lucas, Pritchard, Short, Rice, Robbins, Till, and Tuck. The race was a chastening experience, i was well beaten by several other people I have been beating relatively recently. My legs deserted me and the headwind was cruelly indifferent to my lack of form and general fatigue.

I rode slowly to work on Wednesday through the dank and murky mizzle.

Legs of despair, murk-ridden cruelty

The weather has since atoned for its derision and nastiness with a couple of days of glorious sunshine. It looks suspiciously like it might be a floaty weekend. Therefore it is inevitable that my race is cancelled due to roadworks.

Gloire du matin

I shall be busting out the C-Bomb tomorrow for a ride around the North Somerset environs, dreamily contemplating the distant prospect of a return to form, one day.

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