My beard has been getting lots of attention. After yesterday’s 10 there has been some light-hearted speculation as to how fast I might have gone had I forsaken the hirsute of face approach. My response to this has been consistent: the beard has been wind-tunnel tested at a variety of yaw angles and it effectively channels the air, smoothing out the airflow and working in conjunction with the visor, this in turn leads to a higher FTP and net marginal gain of 0.23 seconds per mile.
I am growing the beard to go with my fixed wheel hill climb bike. I am keeping it resolutely, unashamedly old school for the anti-gravity season in an attempt to somehow get into the spirit of things. I shall continue to shave my legs though, even though some famous specialists of the past are known for such eccentricities as unshaven pins.
I have a couple more dates with flat drag strips before the road really kicks upwards, including today’s bit of tally-ho at Resolven in South Wales. I drove out along the M4, past Port Talbot. it’s the second time i’ve been out that way and I can confirm that Port Talbot is truly an apocalyptic, industrial slough of despond. It is impressive for this reason, the ranked tiers of chimneys and tangled metalwork of the various chemical works are cinematic in their uninhibited nastiness.
conditions looked absolutely lovely on the way out, but as is often the case, a brisk wind took to dancing through the tree tops in the hour so before I was due to ride. Luckily, it was blowing in the right direction, if that’s possible. ideally there should be no wind, not even a parma-violet scented breath to ruffle a blade of grass. But if the promoting club somehow fail to organise decent weather, despite the length of time they have to sort it out and make the necessary inquiries, then a headwind out and a tailwind on the return leg is best for this course, despite what anyone else might say.
i rode the 7 miles to the start, a perfect warm-up. I was too early though, so got cold again and had to warm-up again. In conversation with Stuart Potts beforehand i gave away my strategy: i was going to put it in the 54t ring and the 11t cog and ride as hard as I could all the way out and then all the way back again. In short, the plan was to muller it, decisively. I knew i had to get to the turn as close to 30mph as possible, even with the headwind. I nearly managed it, and was around a 29.5mph average speed after 15 miles.
Right on the slipway to the turn I was overtaken by Michael Hutchinson. I had been expecting it for the previous 14 miles, and was quite pleased it took that long. His pedalling was smooth and he seemed to rein it in on the roundabout, not taking risks and taking it steady. He then moved back onto the road about 30 metres up and gradually disappeared. The fluency and souplesse was incredibly impressive. He had a habit of freewheeling every now and then. I think this might be a weird scientific thing. it’s been dissected by the cognoscenti eager to get a bit of his magic fastness.
I had my usual combination of goals to aim for. The first one was a sub 50 minute ride. This was a very lofty goal. The second one was a sub 50.53 – the club record, again a fairly lofty goal. The third one was a 51 minute ride, and the final one was any kind of PB, i.e below 52.14. As you can see, i do everything I can to avoid disappointment. I considered making ‘complete the course’ a goal, but thought better of it.
In the end, I was chasing the 49 all the way back from the turn. My average speed stayed stubbornly at 29.9mph and when i was balked at the roundabout 3 miles from the finish I lost rhythm and time and knew it was going to slip through my hands. I didn’t feel alarmed because i realised, finally, what this course can offer when you are having a good day and the breeze is being kinder than usual. I have been fed up with seeing other people get the good days on this course when I am off doing other things, and then when it’s my turn getting slapped in the head by a brutal headwind in both directions. oh well, ‘that’s time trialling’.
I nailed a 50.21 which made me very happy indeed. It is within spitting distance of a 49. More generally, i was a lot closer to the mega-fast men than i have been before over this distance, which is a tough one to get right. Michael Hutchinson set his second competition record in 3 weeks with a 45.46, that’s nearly a 33 mph average. This is frightening. He hung around after at the HQ and because I am chums with Jeff Jones (I gave him my spare visor, i think this contributed towards his short 47) i managed to inveigle my way into their conversation, although it wasn’t as sinister as that because the Hutch is very friendly. He recounted the story of the tandem comp record which i have heard about before, but not from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. it’s an apocryphal anecdote in time trialling circles. It went a bit like this, i’m going to loosely quote from memory:
‘I was stoking, Sean Yates was the pilot. We were going down the bank pretty fast. At one point the cars were slowing down as they came past, and i thought that’s interesting, they’re obviously slowing down to look because it’s a tandem, a bit unusual. All the cars seemed to going past slowly. I asked Sean afterwards what speed we were doing and he said he didn’t know because the unit stopped recording at 100kmh, and this was before the steep bit. Later on I didn’t even see the Resolven roundabout, i was just suddenly aware of the bike moving sharply to the left, then sharply to the right, and that was it, we were through”.
Essentially, they hit 70mph going down Glynneath bank on their way to a 43.39. I told him that I would have most probably shat myself. Jeff said he probably would have shat himself too. But we all agreed that if you had to ride a tandem at 70mph down a hill and across a roundabout, you’d want Sean Yates on the front.
Hutch is riding for Ireland at the Worlds’ Time Trial next week. He rode it in 2002 and was caught for 5 minutes by Cadel Evans. Today i was caught for 3 minutes by Hutch. I don’t know what this means, but it’s interesting. He certainly seems to be going well and enjoying an unparalleled year of success at the age of 38 and is another inspirational figure, up there with Sarah Storey and George Keene.
Lastly, my 50.21 was enough to take my second club record of the year (or third if you include the team 25), beating Dave Keene’s 2006 time of 50.53 by some 30 seconds. I am very happy and proud to have done this.