False Dawns and Savage Winds

I’d been looking forward to today’s race. After the my first race two weeks ago I had a sense that it was a case of forwards and faster. The gaps were small and the Bath Hilly is deserving of the title with quite a bit of climbing. I had this feeling I was going to be flying and back where I where I once was. Needless to say, it didn’t quite work out like that.

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At the starting line I contrived to pull my wheel over in the dropouts. It’s a schoolboy error. There are a couple of grub screws but I hadn’t set them properly. Clearly way too much power. What with my skewer being an allen key fitment (seemed like a good idea at the time) I had to return to the start to get an allen key to fix it. I lost over a minute there and then. I was OK with this. I thought, well, I’ll just have to ride a minute quicker than i was going to. Which would have been fine, if instead I hadn’t chosen to ride about two minutes slower. I’m not sure it was that bad, it just wasn’t that good.

Looking at the strava thing I can see that I’m climbing ok, but I’m just not riding fast enough all the way round. This i guess is the problem with time trials. Other people ride faster. Finding the secret to riding faster takes a bit of effort. I haven’t put the effort in just yet. Well, I have, but within a short period of time, and during that time within the confines of a busy job and family life. It’s hard graft. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the day, which is what I set out to do, it just happens to be more enjoyable if you beat more people, because that’s bike racing, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a cyclo-tourist. I came 11th, one place down on last week, although the missing minute puts me 8th, hypothetically…

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Timeless Sunday Morning TT Scenes

 

It’s good to be on the road back home again. Again.

It isn’t a touring bike. It’s a P2 Cervelo. Honestly, I’m such a tease. Anyway, after two years off I’ve managed 8 weeks of training since January 1st. It’s been a slow build. I’ve lost 6 kg in weight. With that in mind I’ve opted to attempt a string of hilly time trials. I’m resolutely not chasing fast times, I am racing because I miss it. These are usually my favourite races; they are technical, fast, and hard work. The first of these was today, the Chippenham Hardrider.

The weather looked abysmal. Thankfully the rain slipped away, but it left a horrendous headwind behind on the worst stretches of the course. There is one section which is entitled “drag me into hell” on Strava. It’s an uphill shitfest through some of the grippiest tarmac ever laid, and there is always a block headwind in your face, denting the balls of your eyes. Before I even got there I had the indignity of being two-minuted by Rob Pears, at mile 12 of 23. I was relieved, I knew he was coming and it meant I could just ride my normal, slow race, picking off people who happened to be a bit slower than me.

On the drag of death I espied a suffering fellow tester up ahead. Cue the world’s slowest ever chase as I reeled him in, millimetre by millimetre. The overtake was excruciatingly long and drawn out; we could have made a cup of tea and eaten toast in the time it took to edge past. I was maxing out at 13mph in the small ring. It was hectic stuff, the sort of stuff that saw Mark Renshaw booted out of a slightly more prestigious race in days of yore.

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I made it round without further incident or hair-raising speeds. The bike was fine. If you have a squeamish disposition or like things to be ‘just so’, then look away now.

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This is the stuff of nightmares. Verily, though, it’s how I roll. Just don’t tell Mike from Strada what I done.

There has been a lot of not knowing about this race; particularly of the not knowing how I would get on. I was aiming for a top ten overall, and fortuitously came 10th. I sat up quite a bit around the course because it was pretty dicey and my main aim was to get round, to get things moving and to see where I was. I fared well against people who are going well, which gives me reassurance that once up to full steam I might be able to turn in some higher placings. I certainly think so.

In my absence two key things seem to have changed. Firstly, everyone wears Velotoze. These are shiny latex fetish overshoes. They are really tough to get on. You have to put them on without your shoes and then put your shoes on and unsheath them over your shoes. I couldn’t be bothered so I opted for some old altura waterproof ones. Secondly, everyone has a shiny embedded pocket in their skinsuit which does away with the need for pins. It’s very clever. I wrestled with pins and managed to jab myself about ten hundred times. I am going to adapt one of those A4 paper wallet things and tape it to my ass. That should do the trick.

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I managed to throw the rock horns. I felt obliged. I might have to think of some other new BSCC meme to chuck out at the paps.

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Super pictures from Rich Lewton: 

And lastly, I managed to win a prize. Which isn’t too bad, although I’m slightly ambivalent about the ‘V’ bit. I guess it’s just age, the recognition that I’m not a senior anymore, therefore I have to duke it out amongst the other greybeards and let the young tyros do their absurdly fast thing.

 

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C+CCC Music Factory

Today I rode the C+CCC open hilly time trial. it takes place in and around the scenic and beautifully named villages of Temple Guiting and Lower and Upper Slaughter, collectively known as the Slaughters, which is appropriate for an unseemly and particularly nasty race.

It’s a 12 mile loop, done twice, with two violent climbs. The first one is steep and short, coming at the end of a quick descent which makes it much worse. I hit the bottom each time at about 35mph, riding into it and crashing down through the gears, trying to find some semblance of rhythm and shape with no success. The second climb is a very long drag up to the finish line. It’s punitive and unnecessary, killing the average speed, the legs, the heart and the mind.

The field was fast, with Dean Robson, Tavis Walker, Derek Smetham and Dave Kiddell all chasing the win. I resolved to ride as hard as I could, as per usual, and hope i didn’t run out of energy or suffer from a slow, painful, lactic death. As a strategy it seemed to work, I managed to squeak in at 57.59, about 40 seconds quicker than last year. The weather was kind and I beat the next fastest rider by about 12 seconds. This isn’t very much, but it’s slightly more than last week. Tavis was third at about 18 seconds or so. I pinned his number on and he complained that I sabotaged his race by leaving it flapping in the breeze. He wanted me to pin the sides, roadie style, but i refused because I didn’t want to annoy the organiser with extra pinholes in their shiny numbers, and I’m afraid of authority. As a strategy, this also worked, the air resistance clearly impeded his otherwise serene progress.

Post-ride recovery fuel for Tav. He has a small naked man growing out of his shoulder.

In the immediate aftermath of the race and for much of the day I felt a bit sick. It’s one of those sorts of races, the constantly changing gradient is a challenge and it hurts to ride. All told, it clocks in at 2000 feet of climbing in the 24 miles. This is quite a lot, especially when ridden at a 24mph average speed. It was much harder than the Westbury event last weekend.

On a side note, I usually have an energy gel before a race. I am partial to the zipvit cola caffeinated ones, they taste vlle but are like rocket fuel. It’s part of the pre-race ritual, along with not warming up properly and urinating in a hedge about 24 times. Zipvit have changed the flavour from Cola to ‘smooth espresso’, so I gave it a punt. It’s absolutely disgusting; a wretched and horrible tasting item. In some small way, I can understand why ‘Cola’ might be a suitable flavour for an energy gel. It’s sugary and best consumed cold. It’s been used for sweets like ‘cola bottles’. I quite like the idea of an Espresso supped civilly in an Italian piazza with a jazzy little biscuit. However, when replaced with a lukewarm, slippery, glutinous, overly sugared packet stuffed up the leg and necked prior to a race and you have one of the worst energy gels every made. Here’s hoping the rhubarb and custard (really) and bakewell tart (also really) flavoured gels are slightly less repulsive. In the meantime I shall attempt to make my secret stash of the remaining stock of cola gels last for the rest of the season.

A rogue’s gallery of confusing flavours

I have no races for a few weeks now. I shall be mostly training on hills and enjoying a short break. I may even get to finishing a longstanding project. Hopefully I’ll still have some form when it comes round to racing again on the speedfest F11/10 course.

Low low low low low

The Hardrider treatment

taking the bike for a walk

Today’s stage of Tirreno-Adriatico was an exercise in living purgatory for the (fool)hardy bicycle racers. It included 3 ascents of the Muro di Sant’Elpidio, a piffling 27% ramp which caused mayhem and destruction. Horrible rain and wind contributed towards an enormous list of 54 DNFs. When even Zdenek Stybar calls it “one of the hardest days in my career”, you know it’s been tough.

Stybar in happier, simpler times

It was too much even for some of the hardened members of the peloton;

“It has nothing to do with bike racing, I call it sadomaso”; Cancellara

“In dry conditions would have been the hardest parcours I’ve ever done! With rain and wind turned into something between epic and insane!”; Quinziato.

Chris Froome lost time to Nibali who managed to get into a breakaway with well-known mountain goat Peter Sagan. It was a peculiar day where the form book and any sense of normality was rent asunder by the savagery of the weather and the parcours. Froome said he was overgeared on a 36:28. Sanchez changed bikes just so he could use a 30 tooth cassette.

Zig-zag wanderer, as Don van Vliet might have said.

All of which made for a brilliant spectacle as the professionals zig-zagged their way up the cliff face with all the elegance of drunken lizard.

Meanwhile, I managed to squeak into the online version of Cycling Weekly. I like it when that happens.

Scratch

The startsheets are coming thick and fast. This weekend is the Severn 25 and the weather looks and feels unspeakably cold. It will take all of my mental fortitude to make my way out to the push and ride this event. I have no desire to tackle the U17 in minus temperatures. However, it’s a key part of my training for the more serious stuff in March. we shall see.

Speaking of the more serious stuff, the startsheet for the Chippenham Hilly is out. Last year it was run off in the kind of temperatures that did for Captain Oates. Everyone is hoping for milder weather. The big beasts are out in force: including big Jeff and big Rob. Both are national champions.

Big Rob, the fastest dentist (and 49 year old) anywhere in all of the world

I scanned the list of riders and had a moment of genuine panic when i couldn’t initially see my name in amongst the field. I’d expected it to see it with the seeds in the middle somewhere but it wasn’t there. A closer inspection showed I had somehow, for some reason, been made the scratch rider. Normally I wouldn’t mind and there’s always a bit of latitude with these things, but on this occasion I was unnerved to be ranked (ostensibly) ahead of the two top guns. I asked the organiser why this might be. He’s a really nice chap. Apparently he calculated the speed of various riders by using a formula that factors up results in a hilly 24 by 1.16 in order to level the time with a fast 25. This was new to me, i’d always gone on the previous year or like for like times.

All of which doesn’t change the fact that I’m the scratch rider. This has happened before but generally it’s because I happen to be the fastest rider on paper and in the event. I’m looking forward to it and hope that I get a good result. There’s no genuine pressure because everyone knows the real order of things and that i’m not as quick as the seeding suggests.

I’m looking forward to the first real hilly. It’s time for the real racing to start. I’m also excited to see lots of BSCC on the startsheet.

 

 

WTTA Hardriders

The WTTA Hardriders series is something i write about periodically, usually in the aftermath of another savagely undulating time trial in the middle of the countryside somewhere. It’s a set of about 13 events across the season, starting in early March and finishing with the BSCC hill climb in late October. Points are awarded for each race, with 120 for the win. Your 6 best scores become your counting events and there are prizes for the overall at the end of the year. Last year I was 4th overall with 705 points out of a possible 720. This year, i’ve managed to accumulate 717 points so far, 3 short of the maximum, which puts me firmly into 2nd place in the district. Unfortunately, a win is out of the question because Rob Pears has 720 points already and there aren’t enough events left to catch him, which i couldn’t do anyway because he’s too fast.

It’s a brilliant series and about as far away from chasing fast times on dual carriageways as the sport can be. Courses are testing, hilly and often very scenic. They attract a real range of competitors and there is a greater sense of camaraderie amongst those foolish enough to line up and take part. This year the first event, Chippenham, created a sort of ‘blitz’ spirit; it was the most brutal event I have ever ridden in my life.

Today was the Minehead Hardrider, organised by Peter Whitfield, an eminent cycling historian and all round good egg. Last year i rode and managed to obliterate the course record and the rest of the field, lapping everyone. It helped that i was riding the TT weapon and everyone else was on road bikes. It also helped that no-one else quite as fast had entered. In simple terms, it was a chipper, but a brilliant race nonetheless and I was delighted to get my first open win. I was on form that weekend and rode well. This year, having become part of the series, it featured a heck of a lot more aero-bongo than one solitary bike and skinsuit. The locals, out in force to support (which was really grand and very impressive) were quite excited by the aero-smut. They gazed longingly at Dan’s Trek Speed Concept, and felt the carbon fibre with an inquisitive fingertip along the top-tube.

I had a series of goals. I would like to have won, but this meant i would have to vanquish the mighty and all-powerful Robin Coomber who has been riding his TT bike this year verily like he hath stolen it and is in need of a rapid escape. I wanted also to squeak inside my course record, which would be academic if Robin smashed it to pieces, but still vaguely satisfying because it would be a PB. I managed to slice a gargantuan 2 seconds off my previous time, carding a 1.05.26 (ish?). Robin said he had turned in a 58. This was startling. I told him his ride was ‘mind-blowing’. He has put 7 minutes into me. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend how he had done this. It meant a 26mph ride over a course that twisted and turned and rose and fell as though based on George Hincapie’s Leg Brain™. I was somewhat relieved when it became apparent he had suffered some sort of garmin malfunction and actually beat me by about a minute instead.

It was a great day out on the bike. It restored some of my motivation which has been rent asunder by a combination of cheese, ale, weddings, summer holidays, watching charolais cattle in burgundy fields, more cheese, white wine and bread.

The Westbury White Horse Hardrider

One of the nice things about the hardrider series is the range of amazing locations. it’s been said before, but it’s a league away from the A419. The Westbury Wheelers have been running an event for a few years now that heads  across, over and around Salisbury Plain, with the finish beneath the Westbury White Horse.

white horse and iron age encampment

The course runs around the edge of the military range on the Plain and is criss-crossed with the parallel mud marks of tanks and other assorted weapons of death. it’s a quaint juxtaposition. Red flags and angry signs warn of live-firing, lest you miss a turning and find yourself head down in the village of Imber, wondering where those marshalls are and why the army appear to be trying to kill time triallists.

unexploded military ordinance, do not leave the carriageway

the marshalling was exemplary, lots of people and lots of red flags and pointing. it’s reassuring. there was quite a bit of traffic, the race seemed to coincide with the moment when the brave Wiltshire burghers decided to get into their various cars and horse boxes and drive around quite slowly in a gentle fug, before being freaked into a panic-ridden state of catalepsy by crazed time-triallists on the charge. I got held up three times, once coming to a complete stop because of a bad decision by a car up front. I gave him a piece of my caffeine-fuelled, adrenaline-addled mind. It disrupted my rhythm for a while, but i was soon back in the tunnel of time-trialling darkness, head down, eyes up the road and the noise of the wind amplified by my spaceship helmet.

It was a fast course that suited me. There were lots of hills but they went up in a big-ring friendly 5% or 6% gradient. I say ‘big ring’ friendly, most people I spoke to afterwards were reaching for the Granny (the lowest gear you’ve got, usually the inner ring on a triple which, like Grandmother, is somewhat lacking in teeth) to give it a good shake. I then said that i could have gone into the small ring, but I would only have had to change back up again in a  couple of minutes so it seemed silly. I didn’t add at this point that it meant i was riding up the hills in the 54:23, that would have been uncouth and unchivalrous

 

I fancied second place today. This was because Dean Robson was down to start. He’s a handy cyclist who has previously won the national time trial series and had a CTT scholarship to race in France. He won the Little Mountain time trial a couple of weeks ago. Dean is one of those people who looks fast even when walking around the HQ. The other usual suspects were out and about, but no Rob Pears who is riding the National 10 Championships (good luck!).

cornering

I wasn’t sure how my legs would stand up to two days of abuse on the TT whip, although it’s as much mental as physical. I followed on from my most recent strategic shift: ride as hard as possible from the start and then carry on to the finish, without letting the mind wander at inopportune moments. It worked well, i managed a 25.2mph average speed, just above evens, stopping the clock at 54.42, a minute ahead of Dean and also Matt Burden. It was great to see Matt riding so well, he’s had a really tough time of late. Sometimes when life gets utterly overwhelming, the pleasure to be had from riding a bike fast through beautiful scenery can be something simple and profound.

The prizes were the usual cash money, but with the addition of a bag of John Hurd’s Traditionally Bunched Organic Watercress. This is one of the odder prizes i have taken home but it is exciting and adds another dimension to tonight’s dinner. In another great day for the club, Mary jane took the fastest lady (said the bishop to the actress) and Rob took the lanterne rouge, clearly he has half an eye on the lucrative post-hardrider criteriums.

the pain and glory of the race of truth expressed through the medium of organic watercress

It’s been a great weekend and i’ve exceeded my expectations and aims. I had an idea that I might just bag a win if the Gods smiled benevolently on my awkward progress, but to take two open wins in a row has left me grinning from ear to ear.