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.

There’d be no distance that could hold us back

Firstly, Happy New Year. I hope last year was good and this year will be even better. My year has been amazing for reasons entirely unconnected with cycling.

I’m going to wait here until Dad gets back from Base Club.
OMFG Dad, I’m so tired just watching this hill climb.

In many ways cycling has been a secondary endeavour. I’ve still tried to squeeze it in and I’ve managed a fairly healthy racing calendar. For this I’m indebted to the support of Belle, who is amazing. It’s all well and good to say, “I’m only going to do local races”, bike racing requires time, energy and commitment. I can argue that it makes me feel better, it’s good for my mental health, I keep fit, it stops me going loco, but these are all ultimately self-serving arguments, and family comes first. I feel incredibly lucky that I have been able to race and fit in some training around family commitments, and it’s nothing to do with what I want to do, or however many sacrifices I feel like I’m making, it’s everything to do with working together to make things right and ensure that time is sacrosanct. And I’ve got it wrong at some key points this year, but generally I’ve got it right. If i had to offer a few key tips to anyone whose life is about to change enormously and wondering how they might manage to ever ride a bike again, then it’s this:  

1. Family comes first

2. Ride when you can: this means don’t make plans to go out at 8am with friends, it means ride on your own in the 2 hours you’ve got in the middle of the morning or whenever the window opens

3. Make use of rollers, sometimes the window is small

4. Insist your inlaws move to a location approximately 50-70 miles away on the other side of an escarpment of hills; visit them regularly en famille: cycle there.

In line with point 4, I cycled to the inlaws at the weekend. In these enlightened times where everyone’s a cyclist and everyone has an opinion about cycling, people are less and less surprised by the strange endeavours of the long distance wheelman. I rode to Cheltenham from Bristol, a 65 mile jaunt over the old Severn Bridge and via the Forest of Dean. I dropped this into a pub conversation and it caused a murmur of disbelief. ‘You did what? CHEPSTOW? You’ve been to Wales? ANOTHER COUNTRY?’ I felt vaguely nostalgic for the days when every Monday was marked by similar conversations as non-cyclists attempted to suspend their disbelief at my heroic exploits around lanes of Kent. Maybe it was a peculiarly atavistic weekend, after all, I saw only two other cyclists in the four hours in the road and I traversed the Forest of Dean where the locals eat their young.

in the five years since moving to Bristol and 30,000 miles or so ridden I’d not made it over the bridge by bike until yesterday. Belle managed this feat some years ago. I ignored my normal Cotswold lungbuster in an attempt to squeeze in a few more miles. Riding over the bridge is fun. It opened in 1966, which isn’t all at long ago. I imagine it was heralded as a new economic dawn and anglo-welsh success story, destined to link the two shorelines in perpetuity. Instead, traffic tripled in 20 years and a new bridge was completed in 1996. I wonder how long it will be before another bridge is mooted as the solution to ever-increasing numbers of vehicles.

The Severn Estuary: a total bore
Heading into Wales for about 5 minutes

Before the bridge there was only a ferry at Aust. Some of the signage is still there and the crossing is marked by Passage Road.

Under construction; an anachronistic image of what was then the future
Under the railway bridge in Chepstow: last resting place of the Severn Princess
No Direction: Home
the times, they are a-changin’

The climb up and out of Chepstow is terrific. It heads upwards for around 4 miles or so, then the road sinuously reaches up towards the Forest of Dean. Come the high season I’d like to get fresh and take the C-Bomb up there for a bit of bike-on-hill action. There are several other tasty climbs, including one beast of a ramp up to Speech House. I enjoyed it and a 68″ was just about right, apart from one or two slightly tall ramps where I had to honk it a little bit. The run into Gloucester and Cheltenham was rapid and terminally dull, apart from a nice stretch around the lanes somewhere. I have been using the ‘breadcrumb’ mapping capacity on an old Garmin 500. It’s really simple; you map the route on bikehike or similar then upload it. As long as you keep an eye out for turns it works perfectly.

The Forest of Dean: here indeed be Dragons

My arrival was heralded by a chocolate cloud cake. It was amazing.

The chocolate cloud cake baked by Belle of Bristol. Amazing; light, perfectly formed and subtle; the C-Bomb of cakes.

The following day I rode back from Cheltenham to Bristol along my normal route; straight up and over the Cotswolds. It was cold and beautiful, but also horribly icy. By the time I’d realised just how icy, it was too late. I came round the corner near Painswick to a perfect tableau of a car, gently rocking on its side and a static sea of surface ice. Luckily a fellow cyclist had warned me near the top of the descent of ice on the road so I’d taken things extremely carefully on the way down. As soon as I saw the run-off across the road i started walking.

Something not quite right with this picture

Mercifully, no-one was hurt, although moments later the Cheltenham CCC club run came rolling down the hill and went down like nine-pins. there were a couple of dicey bits and if i wasn’t doing an A to B ride I would have turned round and headed for home. As it was, I took it steady and stuck to the main roads wherever possible. I made it back in one piece.

I had a vaguely self-satisfied feeling that comes from ratcheting up the miles over the festive period. I managed a few decent rides. However, everyone else has been out doing a passable impression of team sky, busting out back-to-back 100 milers and other insane feats, including 21,000 feet of climbing in 2 days. (J’accuse Ben Davis et aussi Tom Ilett). Oh well, no prizes for having a shedload of form in February. Unless your target for the season is the Frome and District Wheelers 10 Mile Open Time Trial. Which it isn’t.

Um Bongo, Um Bongo, they drink it in the Congo

Today i went full aerobongo for the commute to work: skinsuit, space helmet, disc wheel, trispoke, shoecovers, everything. I mistimed my commute and ended up over ten minutes early, sat outside on a kerb in my spangly new BSCC skinsuit waiting for the site to open and ignoring the bemused gaze of passers-by. I scraped a 20mph average for the hilly 15 miles.

#bongocommute #bongoweaponry #startledfellowcyclists #slightlyembarassinghackbike

The reason for my aero commute (or lessons in using a crane to squash a fly) was that the last Aust classic league was taking place after work. In a couple of weeks the action shifts to the lake. I needed to have a ‘bit of a dig’ before this weekend’s race and also wanted one last go at the course record for this year. Tonight’s race consisted of 2 separated 5.3 mile races with an aggregate time and individual times recorded for posterity.

It was grand to catch up with people, most of the club-mates were looking utterly resplendent in their new team kit – many thanks to Ade Ridley for a sterling design that captures everything that is important about the club. One chap was sat on the grass getting things ready; he had the dreaded 13 on his back. I told him it was upside down, trying to imply that he needed to turn it the wrong way up in order to escape the curse, but he looked at me blankly and it suddenly seemed a bit complicated to explain so i left it. After my first circuit i saw him wrestling with a puncture and felt bad, as though somehow I’d created the situation by drawing attention to the number error.

Number wrong way up.

It was a fairly balmy evening and I even went so far as to shed my kneewarmers; but there was just enough of a headwind on the way back to dent my ambitions. Nonetheless, i decided to absolutely shank it for the first 5.3 mile circuit in a sort of ‘shit of bust’ (another thing my dad used to say) attempt at the CR, then see what happened on the second 5.3 mile circuit. In the end I came agonisingly close, turning in a 10.46, with the course record being 10.42. It suggests that on the right day the record should be within reach, perhaps even fairly straightforward. Unfortunately that day never seems to come and the window on this course opens and closes very quickly. it’s now closed for another year. The second lap was a formality, I was a busted flush and knew it from the very first second. I coasted round about 30 seconds slower.

This weekend sees the mega-hilly, a truly horrible event in the Cotswolds. I’m organising it and riding. Should be a blast, if a very slow and painful one.

Down to Earth With a Bump

Yesterday was an eventful day. It was my first foray into the Classic League; the club’s annual time trial series. The first few races are held at Aust, in the shadow of the severn bridge and not far from the old ferry crossing, famously visited by his royal Bobness on his landmark electric/folk judas tour in 1966. I’m not sure if he was in town for the time trial or not.

Looks like a climber to me. (Barry Feinstein Image)

The weather for the race was a lot nicer than it was for Robert Zimmerman. The wind dropped and we had some late-evening sunshine.

i decided to ride out to the start in a slightly circuitous fashion and treat the whole endeavour as a training ride. The loose plan was to ride a slightly hilly 20 miles out, do the 5.2 mile TT, then ride home a further 15 miles, with the out and back being fairly hard, but not so hard that i couldn’t sustain it. You get into a fairly remorseless rhythm; for me it’s around 25mph or so, maybe a bit more, with heart rate at around 80%.

The first bit went well, then i dropped down to the suspension bridge coming back into Bristol. A car in front was doing a steady 15mph. I was behind – and certainly quite near, trusting in two things, that they would continuing moving at the same pace, and that the cycle lane belonged to me. They started to drift into the cycle lane, so i shouted, fairly benignly, to ask them to vacate it – but they didn’t hear. The driver then swerved suddenly across right into the lane and stopped. I presume he was checking his change for the bridge. I had no time to make any kind of decision, slammed on the front brake as i hit the car on the side and went straight over the handlebars pretty quickly, ending up wedged between the car and half on the pavement with my bike on top of me and a freaked-out looking driver nervously getting out of his car.

When you have a crash like this there’s a couple of things to consider, usually in a set order. Firstly, I checked to see if i could stand up, walk, raise arms, and made sure nothing was broken. Then i checked the bike thoroughly. The bike is absolutely fine, no damage whatsoever. My helmet is cracked and scraped though and there is a massive hole in my assos skinsuit.

this is what the crash looked like. see speed drop from 16mph to 0 at the beginning of the trace.

i had a lengthy conversation with the driver, he was quite shook up as well. he gave me some wetwipes to clean my face and shoulder. After that i decided to ride across and down bridge valley road at which point i’d decide whether i wanted to race or not. it’s hard to know what to do in the aftermath of a spill, and is best to sit still for a while. Heading across the bridge i got caught in a massive hailstorm and then had to shelter in the public toilets. it was quite an eventful few minutes.

it looks like i've stuck my shoulder in a tin of dulux matt emulsion
i can heartily recommend prendas baselayers. they are the bees knees.

once i got to the bottom of the hill i decided to ride out to the start. i was running a bit late by now so had to get on it. once i got up to speed the pain dissipated somewhat. I tacked along and made it just in time.

the race was comparatively uneventful. i rode as fast as i could, didn’t worry too much about pacing it, and managed an 11.02, which is an improvement on my PB of one second. i was a bit disappointed not to go faster but it wasn’t ideal conditions and also it didn’t help that i’d crashed heavily on the way over. It was good enough for the win by around 30 seconds. Somehow i’d like to find a further 20 seconds in the next two weeks. It was just one of those days where i thought i was going to really fly but didn’t actually go that fast.

We all rode back in a sort of TT and road bike convoy. I rode on front almost the whole time because i was still looking to do a bit more training. the others seemed happy to follow. I was glad to get home and have a bath. I’m a bit sore this morning but am optimistic that i will be fine in time for Sunday and the fastest course in christendom.


total of 40 miles @ 21.5mph average; 1 x 5.2 mile TT @ 28.3mph; one violent collision from 16mph to 0mph in 70 cm; one energy gel consumed

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