R25/3L: Fastest 25 Course in Christendom

The R/25 in Wales is universally seen as the fastest 25 course in the country. the national records for men and women have been set there, 45.54 by Dave McCann and 50.01 by Julia Shaw. Next week the last event of the season for the course has attracted a ludicrously strong field, to the extent that entries closed on a 55. This means that if you haven’t ridden a 25 at over 27mph in the past three years, then you can’t get in. Chitchat on the interweb has been asking the question if there has ever been a faster event. I’m riding, and have been seeded on a ‘7’, which means essentially that i’m in the bottom half of the field (just). today’s event was less rapid because the big hitters were at the British Time Trial Championships.

I  discovered just how fast the course is today. Despite being off the bike for a while and only just getting some form back, and being a bit over my racing weight, and training for hillclimbs more than flat events (get your excuses in early), i sliced 45 seconds from my PB and managed a 52.14. In truth, i was a tiny bit disappointed, i think there is a 51 there on the right day. i struggled with a headwind for about 7 miles or so and it dented my time a little bit. Interestingly (or not) i rode to the same sort of figures as i had been earlier in the season, although this meant i was riding harder because i’ve upped the max HR on the garmin. In reality, i’m not sure i was all that much quicker than i was on the u46. My fitness is slightly below what it might have been 8 weeks ago, but clearly not hugely far adrift. In reality, i came 10th in a very strong field, so am pleased with that.

The winning time was about a 49, so i wasn’t far off. Alec Baskaya managed a 50.12 (or thereabouts), which is a staggering ride and testament to his hard work and willpower. We’ve both got startlingly quicker this year, but Alec has now left me miles behind. Jeff Jones also rode, he came 2nd, barely a week after setting a new competition record for the 12 hour with 306 miles. George Keene from Bristol South turned in a 1.09, at the age of 75. Crazy feats of epic cycling.

One of the reasons why the R25/3L is scarily quick is because the first 3 or 4 miles contain quite a bit of downhill, including one hairy bit of dual carriageway, but the route finishes before you climb back up, with a slightly longer outwards leg. This is what you might call a ‘gift course’. It is also referred to as ‘the welsh ski-slope’, or more simply ‘that course’. The danger is, as mentioned yesterday, that it simply isn’t comparable with anywhere else, and is solely a PB course. Once you’ve bagged a fast time on the R25, there is no other option but to return in the hope that it might be improved, because it’s absolutely not going to happen anywhere else. I shall see if i can improve it next weekend…

you can see i was in zone 5 for all of it, bar the shouting. this is my new approach to time trialling that i’ve worked out over the season. when i ride as fast as i possibly can without cracking, and don’t let it slip, and try not to change out of the 53:11, i tend to turn in a good time. after developing pacing with the advent of my garmin earlier in the season, i now seem to have reverted to some old-fashioned PLF. or, just mullering it for as long as possible.

BSCC/Corinium 50 Mile Time Trial

I didn’t ride yesterday because I was organising a 50 mile time trial on behalf of my club. It’s quite a complex task, but essentially a straightforward one, made easier by the involvement of a small army of helpers, without whom there would be no events ever. Saturday’s race was made more complex by the weather being full of intermittent showers, it’s not an event that can run in heavy rain because of conditions on the dual carriageway. at one point i was close to calling riders off the course during a prolonged shower at the top of the course – near Daglingworth – but a 50 mile trial travels some distance, and some riders saw barely any rain at all during their time on the road.

the event was cancelled approximately half way through due to an accident on the carriageway. a competitor was ‘brushed’ by a car; it made contact with his leg at high speed, i can’t say why because i wasn’t there, but can presume that the vehicle was close, and assume that the cyclist had not been seen. the car swerved outwards on realising what was happening, into the fast lane, whereupon a serious collision happened with several cars involved, two of which left the carriageway and rolled several times. there were several injuries and the accident was attended by the air ambulance and several emergency vehicles. the rider was unharmed. i am hopeful that all involved will make a full recovery. it was a traumatic experience for all involved.

it raises a question regarding the safety of cycling on certain roads, and this is now being hotly debated amongst the fraternity. whilst we chase fast courses – and this is undoubtedly a fast course – quick stretches of road tend inevitably to be dual carriageways. i have mentioned before that cycling on a dual carriageway goes pretty much against every single instinct i have as a cyclist, and it is not something i would ever consider doing if not racing. that i have come to consider it a part of racing is interesting and has, in retrospect, required a sort of cognitive justification. great steps are taken to minimise risk prior to and during events such as these. however, whilst riders are on the road, there is little one can do, we are entirely reliant on an optimistic combination of safe cycling and safe driving, and all that these two things involve.

the issues with this road have risen before, last year, with tragic consequences for one competitor. following a good deal of discussion, the district has continued to use it – including the fast u47 ten course. accidents can and do happen on any stretch of road, but frequency is a separate issue – if something happens twice does that make the experience automatically less safe?  following this event i was in discussion with some of the competitors regarding our experiences of this course.  i frequently reflect post-race about the experience – a sense of fatigue, gratitude that i did not puncture, a sense of relief that it is over. on the DC courses my reflections sometimes include a degree of awareness that i have had a safe ride and am still in one piece. in the back of my mind i am aware that there is unambiguously more risk when riding on a dual carriageway – average speeds are higher, the sense of car-bound insulation increases at fast cruising speeds on straight stretches of road, and with two lanes of traffic there is always a chance that  driver may be unsighted  – and not see a cyclist – by other cars. if i think back to the events i have ridden this year, i have most enjoyed the odd ones, the mountainous courses, buxton, the little mountain, minehead, the hardriders series, which are close to the spirit of cycling. i am a hillclimber at heart (and in body) and like riding up gradients. the shap hill climb was a fantastic experience. i have enjoyed riding a 20.47 on the u47, but i haven’t enjoyed riding the u47 per se – it is about the time and nothing else. i did get a silent thrill from just how fast it was though; the glassy concrete meeting the miniscule contact point of a 150psi tubular tyre was pretty exciting.

i have no conclusions to this, i cannot educate or force greater awareness of road users towards cyclists. i cannot change the traffic flows and car-culture that is a part of life; the way that personal mobility has changed the way we live, shop, eat and work. i cannot make the dual carriageway free of risk, no matter how many signs we put up, or how bright the skinsuit. i cannot suddenly create an outbreak of respect and warmth towards cyclists that engenders safer conditions, nor can i raise the profile of the sport so that people wish to slow down when they see a racing cyclist, out of respect for their efforts and souplesse, rather than express resentment that they are sharing the same piece of road.

i can make the decision to not be involved in sending riders onto main arterial trunk routes in pursuit of the satisfaction that beating a personal best can bring. whether i do that or not, i am undecided, i understand fully the competitive instinct and desire to nail a fast time. i am due to ride several races over the next few weeks on this section of road – if it is still in use – and will have to think about whether i wish to do so. or i may decide that safer, more honest courses are the only way forwards. i fully intend to organise events in future, to marshall, to get involved in promoting the sport of time trialling further and support the club and the district, but the type of these events may change, as the sport changes. it would be a shame to lose these courses, they are a part of the sport, and as a stretch of road devoid of traffic the u46 is safe; it’s the cars that change the context. Maybe we should change the Traffic Count risk assessment, making it a ‘douchebag driver count’ instead, and if there is a time of day where the prevalence of total douches in cars is particular high and thus presents a palpable danger to non-douchebags, the event may have to be delayed.  I guess this is where i’m leading (and i’ve edited this to include this summary), that it’s not fast roads, or cyclists mixing with cars, or windy weather conditions that threaten lives and cause accidents, it’s the elevated context and concept of the car within the UK; the hermetically-sealed sense of completeness it engenders that creates the problem. and changing a wider culture is a Sisyphean endeavour.

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