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.

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Westbury Wheelers 24 Mile Hilly TT

It was a busy weekend. Generally this season I’ve done one race a weekend, if that. This weekend i pencilled in two. It was the same double header as last year when I somehow contrived to win both the BSCC 10 and the Westbury Hilly.

The Westbury event starts on the edge of Warminster before heading off on a loop out and around the edges of the military bits of Salisbury Plain, via Chitterne, Lavington and other such places. there’s a long section that has frequent ‘tank crossings’. The road is reinforced with concrete and there’s a warning sign. It would be quite something to be ‘baulked’ by a hulking great weapon of war. I think i’d slow down if that were the case and not try any flash-harry TT moves to slip through or round the side.

The minor road up and out of Chitterne; tank post thing on the right

It finishes beneath the White Horse after 24 miles  of undulating roads.

There’s always a degree of anxiety following a race the previous day, but it’s not often a problem if you’ve tapered a bit in the run up to both events. At times like this it’s worth remembering that the Giro D’Italia is currently serving up 150+ miles per day, for 21 days, through some of the highest mountain passes of the Alps and Dolomites. 34 miles ridden at pace over 2 days isn’t all that bad, or strenuous, no matter how much effort you think you’ve put it. It’s arguably about the recovery, but even then, a 20 minute effort shouldn’t compromise another effort the next morning. And so it proved.

I was in ‘have it’ mode this weekend. It’s that weird alignment where you have a sense of form and the ability to ride ridiculously hard, almost at full pelt, and for some strange reason it feels right and proper and vaguely exciting. It happened at Falfield on Saturday and the same again on Sunday. The course starts quickly with a slight descent and I got straight into the big ring and smallest cog. I reined it in ever so slightly on the climbs, barely though, and absolutely thrashed it on the descents, hitting a maximum at one point of 49mph. I think i was probably still on the poles at that point, the road surface was good and there was no traffic. I had the usual conversation with people back at the HQ afterwards, a club member was saying how he used the 39:25 heading up Chitterne. I don’t know what i used but it was definitely the 54, it was a big ring course for the duration, i might have cross-chained it a bit in the 20 or something, but i just sat back and gave it some welly. He looked a bit horrified. Power to weight is a glorious thing when you’re riding up hill at speed and weigh 67kg. I think I averaged 21mph on the drag up Anstey Hill. It was fun.

taken on Saturday, accelerating out of the roundabout

There were some classy riders on the startsheet, including Tavis Walker and Derek Smetham. Tavis has mostly been installing large farm machinery and working, taking time out to take a kicking from the other Elite roadmen at Castle Combe from time to time. Derek seems to be on a hot streak of form and he owed me 6 seconds from the Dursley mega-hilly a few weeks back. I got back to the HQ and Derek had done a 53.35, Tav a 53.40. My garmin was telling me i’d done a 53.34 but I kept it to myself. I normally start it a bit early and it’s about 10 seconds slower that the official time, which was confirmed after an agonising wait as being 53.28. It was a close contest, the best sort. It’s great to bag a win this year, I feel as though the pressure has lifted a little bit and I didn’t fancy another second place.

I also think, pending confirmation, that i nabbed the course record. It was previously set by Rob Lyne and I sliced about 10 seconds from his time. I’m quite pleased about this, Rob Lyne is super quick and I very much looked up to him in my first few seasons as the kind of chap I would never ever get anywhere near. A few years back he was a professional roadman who rode the Tour of Britain and won the Severn Bridge road race. It’s a vicarious encounter with greater glory. I’ll take it.

Rob in Amore & Vita colours

Winning a Time Trial (and setting a course record)

I imagine some cyclists go their whole cycling lives without winning an open event. Crossing the line first in a club event is great, but it’s not quite the same as that elusive Open win. however, there are so many mitigating factors that conspire, and quarrel, and ultimately stop so many of us from reaching the top step of the podium.

Wanting to win something can be a bit of an albatross, 2nd and 3rd is great, but bagging that 1st place, even if you only do it once, is a real game-changer. I’ve come second quite a few times; normally to Tejvan, but also to other super-quick chaps on expensive bikes. it’s something i’m used to, and i don’t bemoan it, in fact, it’s brilliant. i also come 10th or 11th often in flat events where the field is very very strong, and find real comfort in that. like in the man-with-no-pants race, where i came 10th. i count that as right up there with numerous second places.

setting a course record is another thing altogether; and it’s not often that you get the chance. it requires a relatively new course that hasn’t been ridden by someone like rob pears or chris boardman. last year i came within 45 seconds of the course record on the Black Mountain. In short, whatever the context, a new course record means you have ridden that race quicker than anyone else ever.

yesterday, i rode the Minehead Hilly, it’s a 26 mile course that undulates and rolls over the exmoor countryside. there is a whopping great big climb at the beginning and the end of a 12 mile lap. the course record was 1.13 or so, around 21mph average, and set by Andy Winterbottom, a 20 minute man on a 10 course. I thought a few others would enter; alec and steve no less, but they turned their attention to other races. the field didn’t look terrifically strong on paper, maybe three or four pretty handy timetriallists and a lot of club riders from Minehead. I began to harbour thoughts of the win, and also quietly hoped that i might be in with a shout of the course record.

I took the TT bike with full disc, the lot, but began to fear i had made a terrible mistake; no-one else was riding a TT machine. there were some tribars, but that was about it. a few aero helmets, shoe covers, things like that, but no proper pyscho stuff. i also saw a guy on  cervelo r3SL, a veritable hill-climbers bike if ever i saw one, and felt more anxious. one of the officials pointed at my disc wheel and tittered, looked at the weather and made comments about ‘wind speed’ and ‘gates’. i remained unconvinced though, my experience of hardrider events this year has taught me that TT bikes are nearly always quicker, unless the course is absolutely ridiculously hilly and hard. this one – the u26 – was very hilly, but the far side was essentially a 7 mile blast down a valley through winsford with a tailwind.even on the startline i made a joke; about how i felt like i’d turned up in fancy dress to a wedding, or something like that, and a chap said ‘that’s ‘cos it’s a hilly event’, with extra emphasis on the hilly bit, as though i was making a catastrophic error of judgement. maybe this put a bit of wind in my sails, i’m not sure. it’s not like a had choice, although i did take some lighter wheels with me.

i went off quite conservatively, caught three people by the top of the first climb, then proceeded to tear past the rest of the field in a most ungainly fashion. it felt fast, really really fast in fact. my legs were working and seemingly free of lactic build-up, i paced the climbs perfectly. i tore down the valley at around 35mph, sometimes more, rarely less than 32mph, then took the final climb in the big ring, riding at a remorseless pace and rhythm. i felt so good that i was almost certain the course record was there for the taking; i didn’t check the average speed because i knew i was up on 21mph. i prayed for no mechanical catastrophes. I was the 18th rider off, and suspect quite strongly that by the end i had caught pretty much every single rider ahead of me. it was that kind of day.there were two behind me, the scratch rider and one other.

both the second and third placed riders beat the course record, with 1.13.27  and a 1.12.36. i came 1st with a 1.05.30, a full 7 minutes ahead of the second placed rider and over 8 minutes inside the course record at around a 24mph average speed. the promoting club members were a bit gobsmacked, as was I. the finish line was busy, a crowd of supporters had turned out and it really was a fantastic event to ride – and win.

peter whitfield’s race report:

“It was quite a memorable day: great weather, a very safe but very challenging course, and everyone talking about Paul Jones’s amazing new course and event record, smashing the old record by more than 8 minutes. He came past me going uphill about 5 mph faster than I was, sitting down, on the tri-bars, smooth as silk, and he vanished from sight in about 20 seconds – something special. But Leigh Pinchen and Michael Waterjohns were both inside the old record too: pity we can’t give new-record prizes to all three.”

i shall now cease blowing my own trumpet.