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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Ronde Van Suttonbengeren

Today was the Tour of Flanders, the first of the proper Belgian monuments. Watching Fabian Cancellara’s attack on the Oude Kwaremont was slightly terrifying; he had a dig, tested the waters then put the afterburners on, in the process dispensing with the fearsomely badass Peter Sagan as though he was a cyclo-tourist out shopping for croissants. Peter Sagan is such a fearsome badass that he regularly wheelies over the finish line just to show how sick to the power of rad he is. Cancellara had other ideas.

At one point Cancellera was doing over 50kmh on the run-in to Oudenarde. On a road bike. Jez from Strada Cycles told me Cancellara would win but i didn’t believe him. Jez was right. Jez knows cycling; there is documentary evidence of him with Lance Armstrong back in the day discussing important matters. Anyway, I digress. Cancellera’s blitztastic assault on the field at the end of a 250km race was unnerving and made several classy riders look ordinary.

This morning I took part in the WTTA Spring Hilly, so named on account of the balmy conditions and floral bouquet from the daffodils swaying gently in the jetwash of another screaming disc wheel. Or so I wished. Instead I found myself yet again riding gingerly and spending far too much time on the base bar, avoiding the ice or anything that might possibly be considered to be remotely slippery or icy. Whilst forsaking the gilet-under-skinsuit trick from last week, i still managed to ride with 2 pairs of gloves and lots of other layers.

Jeff Jones and Rob Pears fought it out at the top of the leaderboard. In the slightly esoteric and calming world of the Western Time Trials Association, where friendship and camaraderie take precedence over egotism and 5th Cat going on Elite posturing, it’s easy to forget that Jeff and Rob are two of the finest and fastest testers anywhere in the land. I settled for 5th place, behind several erstwhile rivals and have to be content and optimistic that faster times and higher placings might be just around the corner. I shall stick with it. Watching Cancellara pedal faster on a road bike at the end of an epic stage than I’ve ever managed in a flat 10 astride a slice of aerobongo made me feel inadequate.

The highlight of today’s event was the presence of John Woodburn. It’s always an honour to catch up with one of the greatest living time triallists in the UK. He comes from the golden generation, along with other luminaries like Alf Engers and John Pritchard. Today he gave out the prizes for last year’s hardrider competition where I managed second place behind the all conquering Rob Pears. In 1982 John Woodburn managed the LEJOG in 1 day, 21 hours, 3 minutes and 16 seconds. It makes me feel unwell just thinking about it. He also rode the 162 miles from London to Cardiff in 6 hours 44 minutes, setting a new place-to-place record. On a Moulton.

Time Trialling Legend… and some bloke in a grey fleece leaning on a car

A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Coldness (ergo; WTTA Hilly Time Trial)

Winter refuses to let go this year. I seem to remember this time last year we were basking in temperatures of around 20 degrees. Maybe it was a collective dreamwish. Today was in the realm of minus something. The wind chill was unspeakably revolting. I had intended to put in a ‘DNS (apol)’, but opted to ride under the hypothesis that any riding is good riding and if i didn’t ride in the morning at the race i wouldn’t be riding later.

I wore two pairs of gloves, 2 pairs of overshoes (one thin, one thick), full tights under my skinsuit (double pad effect quite comforting on the rough roads), 2 base layers and a winter waterproof gilet worn UNDER my skinsuit. I looked like Lisa Reilly by the time i’d made it to the start and was still frozen to the core. It left me feeling physically insulated and slightly restricted in my movements. I’d have been better off wearing a blobby suit.

The windchill factor of about – 54 degrees meant we were operating in less than optimal conditions. If i was a space shuttle my O-rings would have experienced catastrophic failure and right now we’d be in the early stages of a presidential commission into the tragedy.

I struggled round, not that manfully. The first section has an ‘out-and-back’ of about 5 miles before the first climb proper. Somewhere along the main road i saw Rob Pears warming up – in shorts. There’s something literally and semantically implausible about warming up in shorts. He had the thinnest of skinsuits on. He may as well have taken to the tarmac in bodypaint.

The course takes in a fairly nasty climb up the Mere. In previous years i’ve barrelled up there, all bluster and big ring. This year i stuck it in the granny and climbed like a bag of spanners being lobbed up a staircase. The headwind refused to abate. I was extremely cautious on the descents and anything that looked slightly damp. Several others were off the pace, including the mighty Ben Anstie, now riding for Cycology Bikes.

I made it back to the HQ in one piece, taking home £30 and a cake for my 3rd place. Several other riders looked suitably traumatised. Our glorious chairman sought solace in tea and cake. Mary-Jane was pleased just to finish. Rob had a catastrophic nosebleed so had to stop. It was that kind of day.

A look that says “what in the name of hell just happened?”

http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/news/timetrial/537574/adverse-weather-plays-havoc-with-weekend-time-trial-events.html

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.

Tour De France Time Trial

Like most of my friends, i’m glued to the Tour this year. FACT. This year is uniquely captivating because of the unprecedented British level of interest in the race. It feels a little bit like cycling in general is creeping into the wider consciousness of the British public. My boss and various colleagues are aware of both Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish and would probably be able to pick them out of a identity parade, as long as they are wearing lycra.

A few years back it was a very different story, i was one of three colleagues in the workplace who were seen as freakish exponents of a niche sport, up there with curling and possibly welly-wanging.

wang that welly: hard, fast and long.

Things began to change with a couple of timely occurrences; British Olympic success, the staggering rise of Mark Cavendish, the beginnings of the current bike boom, and the Tour’s visit to London a few years back. When colleagues who previously had shunned me as a lycra-clad leper instead chose to ask questions about Cavendish, i knew that strange things were afoot at the Circle-K.

The current tour has the potential to push the sport far further into the mainstream than it has ever been. I’m on tenterhooks, anxious not to jeopardise the serene progress of Wiggo. Each day i studiously avoid all spoilers, which in effect means avoiding any outside communication, and then watch the stage in the evening in a state of enraptured tension. I then plan the next day’s cycling, simultaneously excited vicariously by the Tour, and suddenly painfully aware of how a big day (or even two days) for me pales into insignificance behind the herculean feats of the peloton.

I like the mountain stages, it’s impossible not to. They possess grandeur, romanticism and physical suffering on an epic scale. They are one of the few instances where cycling generally deserves its typically hyperbolic metaphor. I also recognise some of the Cols through my experiences over the years – heading to the Alps to ride the Cols is a ‘must-do’ for all keen cyclists. There are few sports that present such an involving, astounding and wholly photogenic spectacle as the Queen stage in the Tour.

However, i have an unsurprising soft spot for the time trial stages. it’s fantastic to see the race of truth play a central role in the best bike race in the world ever. Tuesday’s stage was quite lumpy, not unlike a slightly warmer, classier hardrider event. The winners averaged around 29mph, which is where any tenuous connection between the WTTA and the UCI ends. As an aside, Matt Clinton made this observation on his facebook page: “People say Cav can’t climb. They also say I can. Thats why he finished 1hr20min quicker on today’s stage than I did in the Etape”.

It’s interesting to note that Wiggins started with a visor and finished without one. I rode the Gillingham hilly course yesterday in the steaming rain, with gravel and grit making it treacherous under tyre. I had to take my visor off halfway round after it steamed up the extent that i couldn’t see an awful lot. For a brief moment i felt a kinship with the great man. I managed to force the spiky visor down the front of my skinsuit where it sat awkwardly. I suspect Bradders had some Skyflunky to grab it from him.

It’s great to see the elevation of time trials to an artform; when Wiggins is turning over the o-symetric rings in full flow it’s a balletic sight, remorseless and utterly smooth. It’s inspirational. I mentioned to my boss the other day that cycling is an odd one, everyone can ride a bike and sometimes it’s easy to think that there isn’t that much of a gap between the pros and the amateurs. The action and process is the same. I think Ned Boulting touches on it in his recent book (which i recommend by the way, it’s insightful and engaging, and i’ve reassessed my vague ambivalence towards him). It allows us to dream. When i ride to work the morning after a stage, or take part in a time trial during the Tour (concurrently, not the Tour time trial), i dream lazily, or allow my mind to drift and feel as though somehow i’m at least metaphysically not that far away from the tour – i’m racing on my bike and enjoying (!) the same sensations as those experienced by Froome, Wiggins, Rolland and the others. It’s a child-like fantasy, but an endearing one.

Ned’s book. Very good.

Christian (of HW fame) put it more succinctly than me in a text message recently, although he might have forgotten this. It read simply:

“FUCKING YES BIKE RACING”.

Incidentally i won at Gillingham by over two minutes, was 30 seconds off my PB despite the terrible conditions and sitting up round the corners, not to mention thinking i had a puncture at one point and pretty much stopping. I was pleased.

Let Them Eat Cake!

Almost exactly two years ago i took to the startline for my third ever time trial, the Rudy project event run by Bath CC. There were cakes for prizes and the field was stacked with scary men and women sitting astride a range of scary bicycles and riding them at obscene speeds. I came 16th in the seniors on my Condor Acciao with TT extensions. I had a set of veloce wheels and averaged 21mph. i was optimistic that i could improve, firstly by spending a shedload of hard-earned cash on aero-erotica, and secondly by doing some proper training. those first few races were quite telling, the best placing i achieved that year was in the Dursley ‘mega’ hilly, a tidy 7th.

i rode the Bath event again today, and so did Alec. The course record prior to today’s event was a 57.48. I went off early and got back to the HQ after 57 minutes and 55 seconds of suffering, average around 24.8mph. I was pleased to get within 7 seconds of the CR, but fully expected both Alec and Rob to smash it to pieces on a balmy day matched perfectly to the sport of cycling. They didn’t disappoint, Alec turned in a 56.22 and Rob a 56.51. It was a quick day. I also improved on last year’s time by a full 4 minutes. I was particularly pleased to beat Ben Anstie who is a very accomplished rider and someone who i’ve never got anywhere remotely near in the past. He is a nice chap and it was his birthday, so i felt a bit bad. and he’s been ill. But what the hell, cycling is a brutal sport for hardmen, he knows the drill. If you’re worried about losing on your birthday then don’t have a birthday.

The gains have come about in 24 short months. after making huge strides last year i genuinely didn’t expect to be making similar, if not more pronounced, improvements this year. i think it’s an accumulation of various things, rather than the proverbial magic bullet. maybe i’ll list them in a future post.

The cakes were extra-special. Alec bagged the chocolate one which we were all eyeing up. Rob took an apricot number and i went for a cranberry sponge cake. It is very tasty. my eye was first taken by a smutty looking piece of ‘scottish parkin’, but i didn’t know what parkin was and suspected that the scottish element might be lard, or irn bru, maybe some tennants super, so i erred on the side of caution. Penny Gardiner bagged it for being first lady and apparently it was very tasty. Giles Oakley rode well to take 10th place and i’m sure he’s had a small slice or too.

I’m now taking a bit of a break (apart from a midweek circuit thing) and will be missing the next WTTA event. I have a prior event lined up this Saturday, sign-on is at 3pm. It’s perhaps best suited to a tandem, starting the journey with a partner for support, rather than the solo steed. I’m really excited.

Here are some photos from today:

this is what a course record looks like
village hall
alec went for the smuttier-than-thou chocolate
to the victor, the spoils

 

 

Riding Uphill Fast: GDW Open Hardrider

After last week’s cyclonic descent into hell, this week’s race was played out in beautiful conditions. There was some lingering mist across the tops of the hills, but it was warm enough to dispense with the kneewarmers and the heavy duty overshoes. it helped the scarring memory of last week to gently fade into the ether. Dennis and Paul are two of the timekeepers that appear regularly at district events, they are very friendly. i usually chat to them on the startline, it takes my mind off the torturous effort to follow. Dennis remarked that i would have nothing to write about on the blog – something like: ‘clement weather, riders happy, cycling done’. i was secretly flattered that he read my blog. in all the chit chat i forgot to set my garmin so ended up fiddling with it on the way up the climb.

very nasty start, very fast finish

There were a number of bristol south riders on the start sheet, 6 in total. Reinforcing our presence was the magisterial wonder of Allen Jane’s car with its custom BSCC paint job. It rounded out the picture beautifully. It was great to have so many clubmates, there is a solidarity amongst those of us brave enough climb onto the hilly time trial carousel (and an even more pronounced solidarity amongst the VOTCH – veterans of the chippenham hardrider – brigade).

Dan, Allen and the team car. there is a lot going on in this picture.

the gillingham course is relatively short, coming in at 19 miles. it starts with a 1.2 mile climb up and out of bruton which the organisers designated a ‘prime’, with a prize going to the fastest ascent. once over the top it’s relatively straightforward for a while, before hitting a series of morale-destroying false flats and 1/2% climbs. not unlike a night out at the Vauxhall Tavern: exhausting and beset by unnecessary and intense drag. these sections link together to form a sort of 6 mile ‘super drag’.

unnecessary super-drag
Gillingham Hardrider Course

once up and rolling i enjoyed most of it, except for the long and drawn out false flat. it hurt a lot and i felt that i wasn’t going fast enough. in my head i think i managed to convince myself that i was, and that everyone else would be experiencing similar issues. this sort of relativity is helpful and stops me worrying and getting ground down by the tougher sections of the course. A hill is always a hill, you expect it to take a toll, but a false flat into a headwind plays a deceptive and damaging game with your perception.

I managed a 46.36 last year, good enough for 7th and a really promising ride. This year i wanted to get as near to 45 minutes as i could. this meant i would have to do a 25mph ride on a really hilly course. i figured it was possible and i would have to manage it if i was going to get 2nd place which was my ‘A’ target. I try and avoid fatalism, but Rob Pears is really very fast indeed and unless the road climbs without end for the whole 19 miles it’s unlikely i’ll catch him.

the hillclimb threw a bit of excitement into the mix. i knew i’d go for it and wouldn’t really be able to not take up the challenge. it’s essentially my pride as a hillclimber that was at stake. There’s no point referring to yourself, however obliquely, as being ‘good at hills’ if you’re not then prepared to go out and make it happen. With this in mind i opted for a really simple strategy: go really hard at the beginning all the way up the climb to bag the prize then carry on all the way to the finish without stopping. I think it was a successful strategy because these things, these horrible hardrider things, are based on how much you can hurt yourself and how hard you can go for a set period of time. yesterday i went really hard and put in a huge effort all the way round. the result of this was a really quick time of 43.37, coming second to Rob by less than a minute. I made up all of my time on the ups and he stole it back on the last 5 miles, where he rode at a 33mph average to my 30mph. i managed to beat Dave and Derek, (like Derek and Clive, but in lycra) by a minute and a half and two minutes respectively. It was a very good day, made even better by just how close I got to Rob. He sportingly said that I ‘was getting dangerous’.

I won the hillclimb prime by around 15 seconds from the next rider. This is quite a lot over 4 minutes. It was an ‘unofficial’ prize because it hadn’t been sanctioned or recorded by a CTT timekeeper – club timekeepers don’t carry the same weight. I don’t value it any less and in fact, the surreptitious nature of it feels strangely daring. You’ve got to love the anachronisms of the CTT. It’s like the freemasons, but a bit cuddlier and without the special handshake, conspiracies and blackballing.

shhh!

Next week it’s the Severn Hardrider, then Bath after that. With a bit of luck and some ferocious pedalling i might have a decent points total by the end of the month. If you’re thinking of racing any of the events this year then i’d wholly recommend them as fantastic introductions to time trialling. The details are on the West DC website.