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 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.
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.
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.
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.
It sounds slightly more glamourous than it actually was. Today I trekked to Wales for their 25 mile championship event. In truth, it wasn’t that different to any other event on the R25, it’s a course that attracts the strongest, fastest and scariest riders in the principality, and from over the border.
It was my first run at the Glynneath bank this year. I try to head over there a few times a year because there is always the tantalising promise of at least a personal best, and possibly a 30mph ride. For a slower rider like me it’s subject to the vagaries and whims of the weather, and especially the wind direction. Today wasn’t too bad, a headwind out and tailwind back is the preferred option. It was a bit too windy so I bore this in mind and moderated my ambitions. I wanted to beat my old PB and come in under 52 minutes. If i got close to 50 minutes then that would be a bonus. I was riding blind, entirely on feel. I couldn’t find my garmin this morning. I used my wristwatch instead to get a sense of where I was. This ended up being a little bit confusing, i kept thinking i was off on a 10, when I was a 1, which skewed my calculations. I realised eventually. I also recognised belatedly that i shouldn’t go by the ‘real time’, because my watch is set to ‘work time’, which is very different to ‘garmin time’. I turned it off after about 15 miles.
There were some luminaries on the startline, including Andy Wilkinson. 25 miles is a bit on the short side for Andy who has ridden 547 miles in 24 hours and done the End to End on a recumbent thingy in 41 hours. He also managed a paltry 317 miles for the 12 hour. That’s 20mph for 875 miles, 23mph for 24 hours and a ridiculous 26.5mph for 12 hours. He proved today that he can also ride 25 miles at 31mph. He is unquestionably one of the legendary figures of time trialling in the UK.
I felt quite good, held a reasonable speed going out and chased it hard coming back. I managed a 51.36, which is a minute or so down on my best time, but still works out at a 29mph ride. I think there is a 30mph ride in there somewhere, but I’m more reliant on the conditions than some of the other super strong men. Jeff Jones won the race with a mid 48, with Wilkinson second. I’m not sure what position i managed; perhaps grazing the outside of the top ten.
It was nice to be racing in vaguely mild temperatures, without knee warmers or arm warmers. I used my new disc wheel which i got second hand from Mike at Strada. It came with some interesting new decals so I left these on. The bearings on the new wheel are smoother than the proverbial codpiece made of cashmere and it was a psychosomatic dream.
Allen Janes came along for the day out and did a bit of riding around Rhigos whilst me and Danny got to grips with the fast tarmac. We talked racing and club things on the journey over and Allen came up with some startling statistics: he has ridden over 1300 open time trials. This includes nearly 800 25 mile races. He has calculated that his average speed for the 800 is 24 miles per hour.
Last night i didn’t sleep fantastically well. It was classic case of ‘race eve nerves’. At one point I was literally dreaming about the Burrington Hill Climb. In my addled and sleep-deprived mind I dreamt that Tavis Walker obliterated the course record with a 6.21, slicing a mere 30 seconds from Tejvan’s mark in 2011. I was glad when morning came around. I ate some nutella on toast and then rode down to the Mendips.
In a roundabout sort of way I tend to target the Burrington Hill Climb (even in my dreams). I know that not having form for September and the 1st week of October is fine, as long as I can sense that it’s not far away. I’m sure it’s the same for most cyclists, but you tend to know when you’re heading in the right direction: things start to feel good and the weight stays at the right place. More so than that, riding uphill at a brisk tempo becomes relatively easy. Last weekend at Holme Moss and Jackson Bridge I felt as though I was getting there; i felt light and relatively quick, even if the time and placing told a slightly different story. I had an inkling that a few more training rides this week followed by a short taper – essentially 2 full days rest – would do the trick. If i time it right then it carries over into the last week of the season and the National Hill Climb, which is pretty much what happened last year.
The Burrington Hill Climb is my favourite event and it’s the one that means the most to me in cycling terms. 3 years ago, it was my first event and I came 5th. I’ve already said this in this blog, so apologies for repetition. Essentially it kickstarted everything else that you may have since read about. It led to a transformation from being a weekend leisure cyclist, if not too hungover, to becoming a fully fledged racing snake. Burrington is an absolute measure of progress in terms of placings. If I do well, then the season suddenly becomes much more successful than it might have seemed 8 minutes previously. It’s also a classic roadman’s climb – tough and challenging, but also long and without any evil pitches in gradient. This suits me down to the ground, you can just about ride it at threshold, a sort of TT pace but slightly above the 10 mile effort, without needing to go into the total paroxysm of oxygen death. With the exception of the sprint for the line, of course.
The event was fantastically well supported with the biggest number of spectators I’ve seen on the Combe road. The bend before the cattle grid was lined with eager spectators, gladiatorially cheering the combatants onward and upwards. I confess: i forewent a long warm-up and for the first half of the race I was also cheering before heading down to race, then sneaking back down after my ride to catch the last 10 or so. The atmosphere was fantastic, pots, pans and cowbells were ringing out along with shouts and cheers. Rich Lewton took some super pictures.
I had a minor degree of gear anxiety before this event. My sneaking suspicion was that it would be quicker on gears, but I’d opted for fixed, so that was that. I stuck a 16 tooth cog on the back (39 on front), aiming for about 64″ which should have been just right, but I feared might be a tiny bit light on some of the faster (flatter) sections. I knew that Tavis Walker was also riding fixed, along with some other riders further down the field, possibly one or two more.
A quick run up the climb confirmed that it would be fine. I always forget that essentially you’re not going to spin out a 64″ gear going uphill. 19mph requires a cadence of 100rpm, the race is won with a 16mph average speed. Competition at the top was ferocious, with Rob Gough fresh from his win at Catford, Glyndwr Griffiths alongside having won at Cardiff Byways and nailed 4th at both the Cat and Bec, and Tavis still pedalling in the same super smooth circles he turned in a season of successful elite road racing for Wilier.
Whilst warming up Tavis said he thought the climb ‘had my name on it’. I was a bit sheepish and doubted this. He then said (and I might be paraphrasing slightly, but this is very much the gist):
‘Sometimes you just have to turn up and smash it, and know you’re going to smash it, and then get out on the road and smash it’.
I definitely had managed the first bit; the ‘turning up’, but it was the second bit that I was a bit unsure about. I told him i would certainly try and smash it. In truth, I knew i’d throw the kitchen sink at the climb, because I know the climb and was fairly sure about how to pace it.
I used my Casio wristwatch as a timer. This means starting it when the timekeeper gets to ’10’. I always forget this and then think my ride is even slower than I thought it was. This can have a beneficial effect in that I then try a bit harder to rescue things. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a Garmin on the bike. The lower slopes were fine, i got into a rhythm but with a real sense of urgency, I kept asking myself if I could turn it a bit quicker, maybe go a bit faster. I didn’t want to lose any time or pace. Rounding the corner and onto the straight ahead of the bend I could see a line of people curving round and could hear the noise reverberating around the tree-lined walls, impelling me upwards.
Once over the cattle grid I checked my watch and the time was surprisingly slow. I didn’t think I was having an off-day, but it was just ticking over at about 7 minutes. I distinctly remember thinking that Tejvan would have finished by now (going by last year’s staggeringly quick course record) and I still had about a minute to go. The dreamtime Ur-Tavis would have finished an hour ago. At this point you don’t tend to think, ‘oh it must be a slow day’, you just tend to think ‘i’m not going well or anywhere near quick enough, but I hope that it’s the same for everyone and maybe, just maybe it’s a slow day and I can be happy with a slow time’.
At the top the fog was fairly dense and it made it very hard to see the finish. You had to trust your instincts and get it all out anyway. I was rasping like Keats in Rome, but finally managed to see the rusty cars on the right and the bright timekeeper’s umbrella on the left which signalled the cessation of hostilities. The casio said i’d managed it in around 7.50 or so. I spun back down to the bend and cheered on the remaining racers. For about ten minutes i struggled with deep feelings of nausea. I overcame these by shouting at riders.
it’s always great to see other riders going up, and something you don’t always get the chance to do. I cheered on Rob Gough by doing an old fashioned TdF close-up shout and cheer.
It was great to see so many first-timers taking on the unrelenting but curiously addictive challenge of the hill climb. Dan Levrier rode fantastically well, taking 17th place and carding a 9.05. It would have certainly been sub 9 if he’d reversed the cap and ditched the wellies.
And i also managed to witness a few other people trying to put down a marker in the most contested competition of the year: Faces of Pain, 2012…
I was stillno nearer to knowing how i’d done. I bumped into Rob Gough on the way back to the HQ and he said he’d ridden a 7.51 and was lying second. I suspected this left me in first place, waiting on Tav’s time. This was confirmed when I saw the results board; i’d managed a 7.48.9 to Rob’s 7.51.4. Glyn had handed in a 7.52.9. It was suddenly squeaky bum time. After an eternity, the remaining times were delivered by hand. Tavis managed a 7.52.3.
I’ve won 4 open events this year. Each one has been pretty amazing, but I’ve not felt overwhelmed at any point. Today was entirely different. Of all the events I’ve ridden, this one singularly means more than the rest. To win the event was overwhelming. I felt emotional and elated; my peers were incredibly gracious in their praise. Even now, as I type this, I find it hard to believe that I’ve won against such stellar and impressive riders. I’m also thrilled to bits that i managed it on fixed wheel. This shouldn’t surprise any devotees of the sport, but in these days of super-light alien weaponry, riding a Bob Jackson with 631 Reynolds tubes is a slightly brave step. Possibly not as brave as riding a 1950 Rotrax, but on a par. Bristol South CC took the team prize, unsurprisingly, with 1st, 3rd and 4th (and 7th and 10th) and the fixed prize went to Malcolm Chave of Okehampton – the chap who sportingly rode up Haytor on a 64″ gear earlier this year. Lucy Walker took the ladies prize, just nudging ahead of Claire Greenfield and Christina Gyles – a sharp BSCC ladies’ team if ever there was one.
In a sense, my season is done. It’s changed from being a pretty surprising and successful year to being something else entirely – a year that I’ll probably look back on with a mixture of awe and amazement and will be proud of in future. After getting a bit of a kicking on a few different climbs, along with a great ride on Haytor, it all came together at the right moment. I’m proud to have won this event for Bristol South CC and for John Kempe.
It’s quite an inelegant title. I had other ideas, perhaps ‘Hallelujah’, which was running through my head as i soft-pedalled to try and get off the main road as quickly as possible.
I haven’t posted about the event as an upcoming target because I’ve been wary of tempting fate and generally keeping my cards quite close to my chest. This weekend I made the epic trek to the frozen tundra of the North to see my Dad who lives at Withernsea. Coincidentally, there happened to be a 10 mile time trial on at South Cave, also in The East Riding of Yorkshire. Coincidentally I had got my entry in some 6 weeks ago.
The V718 at South Cave is almost universally seen as the fastest in the country. If you’re chasing a fast-time then it’s in the same league as the R25/3L. On a good day you stand to obliterate your PB and therefore spend the rest of your cycling life locked in a fruitless battle to regain those lofty heights. On a bad day you still stand to beat your PB, but more destroy than annihilate. The startsheet suggested it was going to be a bit of a humdinger. I was off on a ‘2’, which is some way down the list of seeds. There were a frightening number of quick people on the sheet, or if you look at it another way, people who had set times on one of the super quick days in Hull over the past 18 months. It’s hard to escape the fact that this course, like the Welsh ski slope, attracts the fastest riders in the whole country, making it quite difficult to get a start even with the large field. I think there were three events running with180 riders and a lot of reserves. Top of the pile was 55 (!) times national champion Michael Hutchinson, who also came 4th at the last two Commonwealth Games. A quick glance at the startsheet suggests that the event closed on a 22.30. This means if you haven’t ridden a 10 mile time trial at an average speed of above 26.7mph then you wouldn’t make the cut.
I drove the course beforehand to check out the route, especially the turn. There’s nothing remotely romantic or scenic about it. Neither does it look like a classic drag strip course. The road surface in places is appalling with lines of potholes, but in others it’s been resurfaced and is billiard-table smooth. The inkling that it might be quick comes from the trees and raised sides that give the course a considerable amount of shelter from the wind – with the exception of the last 3 miles where it’s suddenly much more exposed. The turn is fast, 2 roundabouts with a long sliproad either side. The finish is on the main road rather than requiring a turn, meaning you can hit the line at full pelt.
On arriving at the HQ it took me a full 30 minutes to find somewhere to park. The village of Newport was inundated with men and women in lycra with strange bikes. They seemed to take it with a healthy degree of tolerance. The Wiggins factor is helpful in this respect, you don’t feel quite so anomalous when riding some piece of crabon fibre bongo. I could see the trees swaying fairly ominously in the breeze, and i was angry. If it hadn’t been entirely coincidental that I was doing the race in the first place I would have been even more vexed that I’d embarked upon a 500 mile round trip simply to experience the debilitating effect on progress riding into a headwind can have. The chance element meant that i could afford to be vaguely circumspect. I adopted my usual goal-setting method that i tend to use for a big event. It’s a way of managing disappointment, as much as anything.
Goal 1: Go under 20 minutes, achieving a 30mph average. Jeff Jones told me I could do it. He should know, he recorded the 3rd fastest time of 18.09 (ever, anywhere, 11 seconds behind Saint Bradley of Wiggins)on this course in April. If it went wrong, i could blame Jeff’s duff gen, with all his uber-fancy crabon blingblong skinsuit and windtunnelbike combo.
Goal 2: Get the Bristol South club record. It was set in 2007 by Steve Downs, he put in a sterling 20.19.
Goal 3: Improve upon my PB of 20.42.
I felt the middle one of these was the most likely and I would probably turn in a 20.15 or thereabouts, with the conditions and the course probably good for about 30 seconds. Just getting under 20.40 would have left me feeling vaguely happy. Going under 20 was a bit of fantastical whimsicality on my part, but you have to aim high.
On the start line i said to the pusher that ‘the boss was starting in a moment’, referring to Hutchinson. They said he was a ‘dns’, to which I replied, ‘that’s because he heard I was riding.’ They went really really quiet and didn’t say another word. The pushed looked at me askance. I was tempted to say ‘it was a joke’, but i kept schtum, having already offended their sensibilities with my slightly undetectable and dry humour. They seemed like nice chaps though and the start was organised with a military efficiency. You were held on the path until your turn, then called forward by your first name. It was all very exciting, in an ‘I better not mess this up, these chaps are going to tell me off’ kind of way. I didn’t get the telling off, but i did get ‘the look’. Another chap got a warning for performing a u-turn near the start (before racing).
At the start i opted to go off fairly conservatively. I dropped down onto the dual carriageway and started turning over the big gear. Within a short space of time i was doing around 32mph and it felt ok, not effortless, but i was on top of the 11 sprocket. I kept it steady and held it on the outward leg, making it to the 5 mile mark in 9 minutes 31 seconds, with a 32.5mph average. I had to gird my loins for the return, anticipating a steady hemorrhaging of seconds with my average speed slipping away. My aim was simple – keep it above 30mph. I knew the very last bit was quick, it crests up and then has a relatively fast finish, but was anxious that the return leg would be somewhat slower. And so it proved. Even with the turn out of the way my speed did begin to dip. I was under no illusions though, holding 32.5mph would have seen me return an 18.30 or thereabouts and put me next to Graeme Obree on the 10 fastest rides ever list.
By about the 7th mile i knew that a PB was in the bag, the club record was almost certainly on and there was a distinct possibility i’d squeak in under 20 minutes. Moments later the shelter at the side of the road disappeared and the headwind increased substantially. I had to dig deep into the suitcase of courage and had a horrible feeling that it all might slip away. For the first time my speed noticeably dropped, as low as 23mph on the steady drag. I redoubled my efforts, crested it out and picked it up for the slight downhill to the finish. The wind was unpleasant and I had no semblance of souplesse, I was completely on the rivet and relieved to get across the line. I then had to stay on the main road for about 4 miles to get back to the HQ. By my reckoning and the generally accurate science of the Garmin, I had managed a 19.49. This is within the margin of error and I knew I’d done it. I just needed confirmation from the results board which came in due course. I think i may have got into the top 15, probably just outside the top ten, which is creditable given the strength in depth of the field. The winning time was around a 19.20 or thereabouts with a whole host of riders in the 19.40s.
One of my season’s aims was to take the club 10 mile time trial record. I managed it – beating the existing mark by 30 seconds. This is a whopping chunk. More significantly, I’m the first Bristol South rider to record a 30mph ride at 10 miles. I feel proud and privileged, not to mention a bit lucky and bit strange. It feels really weird to have managed a sub-20 minute ride. In fact, it doesn’t feel real, as though there has been an error somewhere and it will all come crashing down at some point. Rob Pears congratulated me this morning on the ride. It’s surreal; I can’t really work out how I’ve come from where i was two and a bit years ago, to where I am now. I’m happy though.
Today i felt emancipated from the shackles of mental slavery. I’m sure Marcus Garvey would approve. A couple of slightly shonky races and a demeaning argument with the turbo trainer had left me feeling fragile and debased. I knew there was only one thing for it: a return to that most scientific of racing and pacing strategies: PLF.
I rode the Chippenham 10 at an ungodly hour. I got up at 4.50am and went to Cricklade in the middle of the outer edges of nowhere. I rode to the start for my allotted time of 7.20am. Tavis Walker was also riding in the club colours, as was Andy Legge. This meant we had a strong team and a clear shout for the team prize. We rode to the start together in case one of us got lost. That would mean we would all miss the event, but at least we’d have each other for company.
The sun was shining and the wind was light. It was a bit chilly but after last week’s debacle on the Glyn Neath bank i opted to not wear my gloves. it was a good call, i didn’t notice their absence. Once out of the gate i stuck it in the biggest gear i could manage and pushed it up the drag to the turn. Once over the hardest section i was averaging 27mph which set me up nicely for the last 5 miles. I managed 31mph back and pushed the average up to 29.1 for the race. This left me with a satisfying new PB of 20.42 on a course that’s probably slower than the reverse variant where i set the last PB in better conditions.
Rob Pears did what Rob Pears usually does, he managed a 19.56 to win. I was second and Tavis 3rd. One stranded and punctured competitor got in a right pickle on his way to the start, trying to pump up his repaired tyre but pulling the valve out. A passing knight astride his steed, one Sir Tavis of Walker, adhered to the chivalric code and lent him his Zipp Uber Disc and the chap got to ride after all, setting a season’s best. I’m sure the scorching sound of the disc, along with a surfeit of adrenaline, combined to help. With Andy in 6th we took the team prize and i took home a whopping £45 for my efforts, one of the biggest paydays yet. I felt pleased to be back on an upwards curve, and glad to feel the sun on my back. That may change tomorrow with the Cheltenham Hardrider.
There were other successes, BSCC Ed scored a PB in tricky conditions. Whilst chatting afterwards he mentioned he had trouble getting it in the big ring on the outward leg. I suggested that if you slack off on the pedal stroke ever so slightly it allows the chain to catch. Then i asked him what the hell he was doing in the small ring. Apparently another club rider spins it out of the gate with a mega high cadence and it seems to work. I pooh-poohed this idea and told Ed to use the big ring always. It’s not a hillclimb after all, it’s one of the faster courses in the district. In the words of Richard Prebble, the small ring is for popping to the shops.
Today involved a schlep over to Glynneath to ride the superfast Welsh course. Fingers were crossed for a float day, but it didn’t materialise. Conditions were certainly better than earlier in the week, a bit chilly possibly, but the sun was out and it wasn’t blowing a gale. Small mercies. My wounds have also healed, just about, and generally I felt ready to ride.
There were a number of BSCC riders on the startsheet; Allen Janes, Dan Kempe, George Keene, Andy Legge, Yan Keene and me. On paper we had a strong 3 rider team and there was some gentle talk earlier in the week of challenging for the club record. I was quite eager to give it a go, not having managed to get any club records as yet. I think Andy also liked the idea of getting his name up on the honours board alongside his dad. Equally, I didn’t want to curse it by admitting it might be on the cards. The target was 2 hours 43 minutes and 49 seconds which roughly works out as three 54 minute rides.
There were also another outfit on the day, the Drag2Zero fastboys, who were looking to bag a record. Their target was a slightly quicker 2 hours 28 minutes and 33 seconds for the National Competition Record. They had 4 possible riders, such are the riches available to Simon Smart’s crack team of aerodynamicists.
Racing out to the turn was a complete blast; i topped out at 46mph on the slight downhill at the beginning and averaged 32mph for about 12 miles. This is a full three and half minutes quicker than the same section when i last raced on this course. I sensed the gentle push of a kindly tailwind and gamely crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t come back to slap me in the face after the turn. At one point i looked down and saw i was doing 36mph. On the flat. Without too much bother and nowhere near max heart rate. I remember thinking ‘this must be sort of slightly what it’s like to be Bradley Wiggins’. Of course, if Bradley Wiggins was riding he’d probably be doing 46mph at that point, so i was a bit wide of the mark, but you can see my point.
I went round the convoluted turn and back down onto the main road, at which point the wind immediately began to molest me and do anything and everything it could to hinder my progress. The average speed dropped slowly and painfully in tiny increments, and with it my hopes of various achievements slipped through my fingers. First to disappear was the club record of 50.53, although i may have been being a bit optimistic to think i could grab it anyway. Then i realised a 51 might also not be on the cards which meant i only had two things left: a PB and the counter for the team prize. Right at the last the PB disappeared out of reach; i missed it by 6 seconds. I’ll be honest here, as i crossed the line i didn’t shout out my number, i just swore, loudly, in a surly and unpleasant manner. This is the trouble with chasing times – when you don’t get them there’s not often a whole lot else to be thrilled about.
By the time i got back to the HQ i felt better. It was still a 28.6mph average and times in general weren’t that quick. However, the other BSCC riders had turned in some cracking rides. Andy managed a PB by over a minute, a 53.41, and Dan turned in a very tidy 56.20. With my time of 52.20 we had nailed the club record by over a minute. It’s a really great result that etches our names into the club’s history. Meanwhile, the aeronauts managed to dial in a 2.24.46. Matt Bottrill managed a frightening 46.47 for a 32mph average. I can’t even begin to imagine what sort of time he averaged out to the turn, but i’m guessing it had to be up near a 40mph average. He’s a postman; he wasn’t riding his work bike though.
In personal terms, it feels good to be riding fast and to be part of a team that has achieved something lasting. We might even have another crack at it later in the year…
If i wasn’t a member of the Bristol South (God Save the Bristol South!) then i’d probably be a member of the Clarion. In fact, if i’d known about the Clarion back in the day there’s every chance i would have joined them. It’s a national organisation with regional sections, all affiliated to the bigger club. You can join the ‘central section’, or you can set up your own regional section of one person.
The club was formed in 1895 (2 years after the Bristol South) and got its name from the socialist newspaper of the same title. It was a part of a broader socialist movement, with lots of different leisure clubs being formed, including Rambling, Choirs (Vocal unions), Handicraft, Field, Drama, and Cinderella clubs. The cycling clubs were forged in the crucible of industrial Britain: Stoke, Bradford, Liverpool, Birmingham and Barnsley. There are similarities between the Clarion and the Bristol South – and most other clubs formed at the turn of the 20th century; they offered something beyond the factory wall and the increased personal mobility and awareness of leisure time coincided with the affordability and rise of the bicycle as a means of mass transport.
it’s the era of humphrey jennings and mass observation, socialist movements and consensus politics. the bike gave freedom and camaraderie and the opportunity to get out and about. Humphrey Jennings was making documentary films in the 30s and 40s emerging from the GPO film unit. He was attuned to the rhythms and sounds of contemporary life. it’s easy to say he was ‘ahead of his time’; in truth the cadence and calm observation (with an occasional somnolent voiceover) is vital and fascinating. I saw Spare Time at the BFI some years ago, and would recommend that if there’s a Mass Observation repertory screening near you that you head along. The clip below is from ‘Spare Time’; I like the strange kazoos and the film-woven fabric of sound and images.
looking back through the BSCC archive it’s hard not to impose a similar reading onto the photos – images of people out and about in the countryside, smiling or reposed, miles away from work and the city. i wonder if people will look back at photos i’ve taken in 80 years time and see a similar desire to escape, this time from the constraints of the modern world, of technological chaos, the voracious and insular tyranny of the motorcar and the tensions of the age, and in the faces of the cyclists see a calm and peace that comes from the physicality and realness of being out on the bike. if so, they’ll see a genuine timelessness from within the passage of time, linked by the shared happiness and fellowship (for lack of fellowship is death) of cycling and the cycling club, be it the Clarion or the South.
the club hillclimb has been in the back of my mind since last year: back then it was my first open event and i rode to 5th place on fixed wheel, with little or no awareness of how it happened or why. looking back, i’m still none the wiser. it’s felt like an erratic boulder.
a year further on and everything looks a bit different; i’ve ridden quite a lot and raced numerous weekends, it’s been a bit of an exponential learning curve. and yet all year long the club hillclimb has been lurking beneath the surface, it sits in my subconscious, a horrible big fish rising up to meet me in the shallow shadows of a murky pond. it’s the cause of self-doubt, the interminable worry that i might never go as quick again.
in preparation to go as quick again, i spent the weekend with my feet up, eating bread and cheese, drinking squash and watching the pro peloton get covered in rain and mud in la classica delle foglie morte. I offered silent thanks to no-one in particular for the promised clear skies here in albion. this morning was indeed clear and beautiful, but also by some distance the coldest morning of the autumn thus far; the kind of cold that creeps malevolently with icy grasping fingers, through the interstices and into the house. intense effort and intense cold are not comfortable bedfellows; it invades and assaults the lungs and chest. but those are the breaks; as if riding uphill fast wasn’t painful enough…
i’ve had plenty of time to think about this one; and on the morning of the race i felt quite calm and unperturbed. the sun warmed the higher slopes of the coombe, but the ascent was shrouded in shadow, and a lot colder. i got to the start in good time, within two minutes of the push, thus staying as warm as possible for as long as practical. it makes an enormous difference knowing the climb; judging the effort becomes more instinctive and much more effective. at three or four key points where the gradient kicked up i rode more softly than i would instinctively, not kicking on and standing up in the pursuit of seconds, but sitting down, maintaining cadence and riding through the short ramps. On Burrington this is the important thing, and it’s a climb that rewards a seated, regular effort – each sharper section is linked by a longer drag during which you can press on and move up through the gears, gaining in pace and speed. beyond this, i didn’t overly analyse it, but just went for it, riding hard and pushing it as close to the edge as i could. i had no sprint at the top, i just pursued the same relentless cadence as my aching legs propelled the bike forwards. a sprint at the end of a hillclimb sometimes strikes me as the pursuit of time already lost.
it was an exercise in suffering, but unusually i wasn’t waiting or silently begging for the finish, or fighting the demons; both the cartoon devil chastising my lack of pace, or the angel urging me to ride more cautiously. the deafening inner monologue was strangely quieter than usual, replaced by a repetitive focus on breathing and cadence and a sense of distance – almost from myself. i was still accelerating over the line, but had no sense of time to go on, and no way of knowing. it felt quick, but as per usual, on the descent a few riders seemed to have infinitely more souplesse, rode more effortlessly and danced across the camber of the sweeping uphill curves.
i knew i wanted to get under 8 minutes; anything else would be a disappointment; last year i managed 8.01… i felt quicker and lighter this year. the top end of the field was packed with featherweight thoroughbreds, including rob gough, james dobbin, tejvan pettinger and luke dunbar. i came fifth in 7.45. i have a feeling this might be a new club record on this course. i am over the moon and this afternoon i have eaten carrot cakes made by belle; they tasted even more delicious than usual.
1 Tejvan Pettinger 7’10
2 Rob Gough 7’27
3 Luke Dunbar 7’29
4 James Dobbin 7’36
5 Paul Jones 7’45
6 Robin Coomber 7’57
Saturday was incredibly hot, the perfect day for lazing around, getting out the barbecue or drinking a few ice-cold beers in the park. or alternatively, seeing just how much perspiration you can generate by racing for ten miles up and down the a38. unsurprisingly i chose the latter; it being the club open raised the stakes a little. the u7b and the 25 mile variant is not my favourite course; apparently it’s known as the ‘graveyard’ although this might be just hearsay. it’s an undulating main road course, with just enough ascending (not much in the scheme of things) to sap your legs and force you to think about gearing down, fighting to maintain speed.
it had been a pretty hardcore week – about 170 miles, with one rest day midweek, so although i didn’t expect much i had been feeling pretty good in training. i managed to really have a proper go at belmont; once on fixed, once geared, both times in under 4 minutes; considerably faster than anything last year, or ever for me personally. 3.48 on the gears. All of which gave me some cautious grounds for optimism. as it happened, i woke up feeling quite sprightly, spend the morning annotating my red TT frame with a sharpie and some pretentious quotes from f.scott fitzgerald, then waited for belle, who was team car for the day.
having gone fairly well at yeovil and still not placed that highly, i decided to throw caution to the wind and really dig deep. i tried not to change down and also consciously picked up the pace – concentrating on avoiding those fallow periods mid-race where everything slips; and trying to get into what felt like a relentless, and remorseless rhythm. for the first time i flew past someone else at ridiculous speed; then the icing on the cake – i caught my minuteman; who not only had his name written on the toptube, but also was on a ‘1’ seeding, so ostensibly, a quick man.
on a day of slow times, i managed 22.37, a PB, and good enough for 7th place – a majorly pleasing result for me, having never got higher than 16th in flattish courses this year. i am beginning to think that i might be able to get under 22 minutes on a flat and fast course this year. that would be totally ridiculous. i like my bike though, it has been quite an instructive first TT build. it is no longer the assripping leg-killer of yore; a few tweaks and the constant fear of emasculation seems to have disappeared.
The Western Time Trials Association run an annual competition called the ‘hardriders’. It’s essentially a series of at best sporting courses, and at worst; evil, uncompromising, brutal undulating parcours. The banner on the website reads ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’, which pretty much sums things up.
Some of the courses are suitable for sprinters, the hills tend to be shallower. Others are pretty nasty, with constant ups and downs. Most riders tend to go for uber-bling time trial machines, the biggest time-savings can be had from aerodynamics. this is where bike design is at its most radical, moving steadily away from the conventional diamond shape.
Today’s course went Tomarton-Marshfield-Lanhill-Castle Combe-Acton Turville-Marshfield. It had some really lumpy stuff and some very very fast sections. I rode the Condor with clip-on tribars. On the whole, i got the effort right, which may be another way of saying that i felt pretty good, and rode the 23 mile course in 59.19, coming 12th out of about 70 or so riders. I am pleased with this; especially to get in under the hour. Next week I have to repeat the endeavour in the Bath event, with the added bonus of Rebecca Romero being on the startsheet; i never ever in my wildest cycling dreams imagined that one day i would be in the same race as an olympic gold medallist. She is training for the time trial in the Olympics, having had her chosen event arbitrarily scratched from the Track programme. i’m sure switching within the same discipline won’t be quite as taxing as switching sports entirely.
the riders ahead of me in the pecking order are quite a frightening bunch; seriously fast, with seriously pornographic cycling gear. this time i managed to get slightly further down the road before being passed at a rate of knots by a swooshing disc wheel and huge-cranked cadence. i nearly didn’t get my time at all – i pinned my race number on myself (this ritual is usually done by a fellow rider, but i felt small and frightened by the wealth of talent and muscular definition on the freshly shaven legs, so opted to pin the tail on my own donkey) – and thus made a pig’s ear of it. visibility was a problem, so when i got back there was a bit of a hoo-ha about the time, and the timekeepers, who were the loveliest, most amazing people ever, were confused. they nearly did the switcheroo with me and some lumpenmenschenfresser who turned in about 20 minutes slower. all was resolved though, and ended happily. i felt calm, but also wary that i had nearly transgressed, and it was all my own fault. i shall not make the same mistake twice.