“British Cycling Announces World Class Field For National Championships”

In a little over two weeks time the National Road Championships are taking place at Abergavenny. There are various events, including the road race, featuring a stellar line-up. It’s worth heading over to see the circuit; it takes a route through Celtic Manor near Newport and is a tough course. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see the top domestic and continental professionals going head to head for the red, white and blue jersey. On the Thursday evening the time trial championships kick things off. Some of the heroes of modern British cycling are riding; people who have shaped the narrative of the sport, like David Millar: his personal arc of triumph, then earth-shattering fall and eventual redemption contains all the elements of optimism that most cycling fans have clung to over the darker years.  Sir Bradley Wiggins is also down to start. I can’t begin to mention how important a figure he is without lurching into hyperbole. He is the reigning Olympic time trial champion.

David Millar is the commonwealth games champion. Both have won grand tour TT stages. They are the zenith of the sport. Also riding for Sky are Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe. Alongside is Alex Dowsett of Movistar, who recently sliced 25 seconds from the National “10” record, pulling out all the stops to record a 35mph ride.

The startsheet is available here. Some time ago i put an entry in. It was fairly speculative and I didn’t anticipate getting a ride. As it happens, I’ve managed to get in. I’d like to reiterate that last statement, it seems a bit Karl Power-esque. Somehow, i’m riding in the same race as the above people and a whole gang full of inconceivably fast people. Since i saw the startsheet this morning I’ve been a state of excitement, anxiety and fear. I hoped the professionals would turn out, but now the concrete, real reality of the race line up has created different emotions; I’m fearful and I am going to be on the receiving end of some fairly hefty time gaps. But it is what it is, and if you’d told me 5 years ago that i’d be on the startsheet for this kind of race I’d have looked askance and questioned your sanity. As it stands; i’ve entered, I was given a start based on the organiser’s belief that i wouldn’t be out of place in the elite race and was deserving of the chance. I want to race. I want to not come last. And i want to throw out the rock horns on the start ramp. (Oh no, please, no, i didn’t even think about the start ramp, if there is one, christ, please god don’t let me fall off).

And i want to savour the moment and look back on it as one of those things that i did within a life where opportunities were taken. Because time trialling, the race against the clock, the race of truth, is a thinly concealed metaphor for the battle against the capricious nature of time itself.

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

But at the same time i’m shitting myself in living terror at being caught for 25 minutes by Sir Bradley of Wiggins.

 

Snow, Soft Pedalling and Frighteningly Psychotic Car Drivers

subtitled ‘an eventful commute’.

it was chilly this morning and flakes of snow were falling from the sky. i opted to ride, much as sean kelly would have opted to ride first, ask questions later. although i opted to ride at around half the pace of the mighty irishman from carrick on suir.

rain, wind and snow are merely trifling weather phenomena to the elemental irishman

halfway up belmont i passed a fellow cyclist – at 6.40 in the morning. this is an event that is startling in its rarity. i sometimes see people coming down the hill, but never up it. they are hill avoiders all. as i passed i gave him a hearty, not-out-of-breath hello, and we both commented on the lovely weather as the flurries danced across the powerful beams of our car-blinding lanelights and a moment’s solidarity was achieved.

on arriving at work i felt vaguely pleased with myself and smug. i anticipated comments from my frozen colleagues on how mad i must have been to contemplate cycling. when they duly arrived i felt more smug and wrote down a few masochism points in my imaginary cycling log book of suffering.

the way home proved eventful. i rode out towards the docks for a bit of a spin. i got lost in shirehampton. this is the second time it has happened. the only thing i can compare it to is jorge luis borges’ collection of stories, labyrinths, and more specifically, the garden of forking paths. shirehampton is a sprawling village of endless bifurcation and potentiality, none of the forks lead where you might expect and none of them hold any promise of narratological satisfaction. maybe the forking in shirehampton takes place in time, not space. if so, i was damn lucky to escape. either way, a short ride turned into a substantially longer one. at least i got to see the chemical works by night, a genuinely eerie and strangely alluring sight.

Chemikal Underground, by day
Jorge Luis Borges, lost in shirehampton and finding inspiration for a short story

the rest of the ride home was an odd one. i picked up my CTT handbook from the club chairman’s house. this was very exciting. i can now plan my peaks and troughs for the forthcoming season more accurately. then, on riding across the downs, something unpleasant happened. i took a corner wide on account of ice and grit, only to be beeped at repeatedly by a man in a car. i waved my arms in frustration, he drove past and slammed on the anchors. i have to add that when this happens i immediately turn around and ride the other way and i did so on this occasion, stopping around 20 metres further back to wait the inevitable mouthful. the driver did not disappoint – he threatened to stab me in the face. this was a new one on me. he could barely get the words out, such was his utter inarticulate and incandescant fury. i opted to pedal away and asked, rhetorically, ‘would you really? stab me in the face for taking a corner wide? really?’. i was gobsmacked and not a little freaked out. i then took the main road back through town and resolved – just as i did last time – to never ride through the centre of town again.

it has been a surreal day.

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