Grass Roots

As much as I’d like to think otherwise, time trialling is a resolutely amateur sport. I don’t mean that I favour the professional set up per se, in fact, i’m a fervent believer in the noble ideals of amateurism and ideologically opposed to the apotheosis (or nadir) of professional sport. I sometimes like to think that my racing victories somehow have some sort of national context and represent an elite level of competition. In truth, there are a handful of competing riders within each district who could hold their own within the higher echelons of elite and professional racing. Matt Bottrill is one, Jeff Jones another, I am not one of them. Occasionally I come up against a professional, and occasionally I even finish within the same time zone, but generally, i compete amongst the ranks of equals, those tying down a full-time job and wrestling with the demands of life; trying to compete, but only competing with an array of competing interests. I settle for half, and I like it better.

Generally i ride anything between 40 and 70 races a year, sometimes more. I rode 40 opens in 2011 and probably a similar number of club events. In order for this to happen an army of willing volunteers have to be mobilised, giving up their free time entirely willingly to organise the events for people to race. For the past three seasons I’ve also been organising races, with varying degress of success. I can’t say i ever willingly chose to take on the promotion of an open time trial; someone asked because no-one else wanted to do it and I said yes. Had I known the level of hard work and the time frame involved, I might have said no, and most years when up to my eyeballs in race entries and struggling to work out how many marshalls i need I tend to say ‘never again’. I’m silently envious of those who organise a 10 or a hill climb, with their one marshall, a couple of signs, balmy afternoon starts and a time frame of about half an hour.

Bristol South CC organises several events including opens at 10, 25 and 50 miles, a mega-hilly in the Cotswolds and a season-ending hill climb at Burrington. The chairman organises a road race, and several other club members also organise events for the WTTA. In addition, like most clubs in the country we run a weekly time trial series on Wednesday nights; this is often the first introduction for racing for many people and leads to bigger, scarier, faster things. In short, the club actively promotes cycling at a grass roots level.

Last weekend I organised the club 50 for the third year. I’ve learnt several things: riders are very appreciative of a well-marshalled course; the quality of the cakes is important and a degree of (legitmate) flexibility within the often heavily intransigent CTT regulations can go a long way. I’ve been plotting and planning it for ages. There are several deadlines you have to adhere to and all sorts of risk assessments to be done. the hardest thing is probably the marshalling – it involves convincing people to get up at about 4am on a Sunday morning to make their way down the badlands of north somerset in order to stand at a roundabout for 3 hours.

I am indebted to the support of those who made the trek. In many ways, it’s what club life is about. Being a member of the South offers the opportunity to race and ride with peers, to socialise and share stories, become a part of the wider narrative arc of cycling and experience what it means to find unsullied heroes like George Keene or Chris Holloway, or Jon Kempe, rather than placing your faith in the endless loop of betrayal represented by those corrupted and in turn betrayed by the professional sphere. It also offers the chance to give something back, by putting on events for other people to enjoy and to make the arrangements so that they can ride, unencumbered by thoughts of anything other than riding as fast as possible and experiencing the untrammelled joy of racing on the road.

I don’t ride the 50; it’s a little bit too complicated and it’s not really my sort of event. I did ride the mega-hilly – that would be a bit like organising your birthday party then watching everyone else eat the cake and take the plaudits. Not riding gave me a bit more time to take a few pictures, until the starved competitors returned and I had to man the catering stand and make infinite cups of tea. A picture probably tells a thousand words, so I’ll stop writing.

It was windier than a flatulent grandmother.
the badlands
At 18, James was the youngest competitor. The oldest was 78.
It was Giles’ last event. Giles has good taste: he is a fan of the blog. His partner is a triantelope of untold ferociousness.
Glyn’s preferred distance is about 800 yards, uphill. He came 7th in the National Hill Climb Championship. I have no idea why he opted to ride a 50 mile time trial, but I admire him for it.
Steve is the new VTTA West 50 Mile Champion. The trophy needed two people to lift it.
The sun shone for about 5 minutes. It didn’t rain. It winded though, horribly.

Thank you to everyone who helped and everyone who raced. See you up the road.

Finding form, like Samson

Some cyclists are superstitious about odd things. Lance Armstrong wouldn’t shave the night before a race, due to the energy required to regrow the hair, apparently.

my hair is currently getting long, although it’s not really long, i’ve not suddenly become some goddamn longhair hippy hipster mulleteer, but it is in need of a cut. my sideburns are getting unruly, inching down my face day by day. i had planned to get it cut along with the beard once the hillclimb season came around, but it’s one of those things, the longer i leave it the more i think i may as well leave it until the last race, thus avoiding any samsonite style catastrophes.

tomorrow is the penultimate race of the season, the beastly Nick O’ Pendle, with it’s varied and horribly steep gradients. it’s been the scene of the national on more than one occasion, and i’m sure will return again.

Boardman and Curran on the Nick
Steve Joughin goes into serious debt on the Nick in 1980, equalling the course record

I’m a bit nervous about the whole thing, but looking forward to it. i warmed up today at the Nelson Wheelers climb on Barley Moor. Strangely enough i just happened to take my girlfriend up north and met my mum when two hillclimbs just happened to be occuring in the near vicinity, for the second year running! imagine! what are the chances!

Mike Cuming

interestingly, last year i remember feeling disappointed that i hadn’t ridden hard enough, not really dug deep. this is confirmed by the blog. this year i was determined to make amends, and whatever happened to just make sure I really pushed the pace and hurt myself. i succeeded in this respect, blasted out of the gate and hit the lower slopes really hard, so much so that half way up i began to have doubts about whether i could sustain the effort. this is what happens on shorter climbs, where it’s about pain management. i tried to ignore the lactic and the climb was over almost before it seemed to have really got started. there were 4 other riders on the startsheet who had beaten me before, including raleigh/orbea rider Mike Cuming, National Bronze Medallist Ian Stott, and Carl Helliwell, the latter two being part of a very strong Blackburn District CTC outfit who have one the national team prize on previous occasions.


I managed a 3.42 for the climb, compared to a 4.24 last year, this is at least in part due to a bit of a gift tailwind (fingers crossed for tomorrow). This put me inside the course record by around 18 seconds. In effect, i held the course record for about 2 minutes, the time it took for Mike Cuming to make it up in 3.30. I took second, beating everyone else. i was surprised and pleased as punch to beat a real quality field, and be within shouting distance of Mike who has been riding in europe with the professional Orbea 20 road team.

it was a great day, but it really hurt, and by really hurt, i mean stabbing lung pain and sprinter’s cough, sore legs, sore chest, the lot. in fact, it was the most hurt i’ve had this year. maybe tomorrow after the Nick i’ll have to reassess this.

two more races to go.

Nelson Wheelers Hillclimb: barley lane

i took my my girlfriend up north to meet my mum and Ian. it just so happened to coincide with two hillclimbs the weekend before the national, both of a similar length and incline. what are the odds on that? amazing.

the first one was at Barley, and it was a dour, damp affair. the host club were lovely, it was well-supported and boasted the frightening mike cuming and ian stott as favourites. i rode the climb twice beforehand, it was quite a gentle gradient, possibly around 7% and consistent, no nasty surprises around hidden bends.

the only downside was a persistent drizzle, making it very difficult to get warm, and stay warm. it reminded me of dursley, except it was a lot colder. the rainfall and malevolent low-cloud slightly spoiled the beautiful scenery, lots of rolling lancashire moorland.

i’m not sure if i dug quite deep enough, i rode to 4th place, and was pipped by two seconds by carl helliwell to third – i’m almost certain i had at least another few seconds i could have found from somewhere. that’s not to say i didn’t feel happy with the ride, it’s more that i just felt i didn’t quite measure the pace, or does the effort accordingly. still – i felt pleased, riding against the northern hard-men and women for the first time, to come away with a result of sorts.



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