What is it that possesses grown men and women to get up at 7am on a freezing Sunday morning in March, drive god knows how far to a small village on a main road near Reading, stand about shivering for half an hour and then, finally, ride themselves into insensibility for 23 minutes or more – for no more reward than a cup of tea?
Yesterday was my first competitive ride of the season, a 10-mile time trial on the H10/2 Maidenhead Thicket course at Knowl Hill. You ride straight down the A4 for four miles, turn at a roundabout then ride six miles back, all along the A4. It’s a bit lumpy and the road surface is poor.
For all but the best riders, it was a slow day – this is because the prevailing wind across the UK is not the normal mild westerly, which would help you back uphill on the homeward six miles, but the persistent icy north-easterly that has dogged Europe all winter. These things make a difference – in our case it meant riding more than half the TT slightly uphill into a headwind. This does not make for a fast time.
So my 26.07 for my 10-mile debut was reasonable under the circumstances. I set out in the morning hoping I could go under 25 minutes, but it wasn’t to be. I was also hoping to be fastest Willesden rider, but that wasn’t to be either, thanks to a storming ride from Pete Dixon. On top of all this I was hoping I’d be comfortable riding on the clip-on tri-bars I’d fitted the night before. Guess what? My warm-up run in which I found myself weaving across the road suggested I need to do a bit of practice before I’m ready to race in the aero position.
So it was on the drops, legs pumping, heart racing and 26 minutes of discomfort. I’m going to borrow Jayne’s philosophy here and treat every ride as a victory of some sort. I wasn’t the first Willesden, but I did beat Hippy by a second and he was on a TT bike. I also placed 17th out of about 60-odd riders. And I may well have been the fastest rider riding a road bike on the drops. With so-so wheels. Most people were either on full-on TT bikes or road bikes with TT bars that they were doubtless used to using. Oh, and I might have been the fastest first-timer. So it’s a small victory. Of sorts. Perhaps. Ok, I’m scraping the barrel now.
Anyway, it was really a “see what it’s like and how you’re going” ride. I’m a complete novice and in terms of my training I’m nowhere near ready to actually ride fast (I’ve only just started my strength work and done nothing on speed at all). The ride also showed me that I may have to work on my endurance – I faded badly over the last mile-and-a-half, although that could just be inexperience and poor judgement.
I know I have the power to do a fast TT, and I know I have the basic speed (or will have in a couple of months). The question really is “Do I have the stamina?”. At the moment the answer is a somewhat dispiriting “No”. But your body adapts quickly and I’m hoping I’ll be ready to ride well in May/June/July.
I now have a target to beat on my next ten, which is good. My next TT is a 25-miler in a fortnight’s time on the HCC113 Amersham road course, which is the site of my only previous time trial before yesterday (apart from the two-up with Jayne that we abandoned because of my cramp and her raging hangover). Eighteen months ago I rode a 1.06 with a streaming cold. I have to do better than that this time. I have to, surely?
I’m hoping to have more aerodynamic wheels by then, and Lance, a man who knows all there is to know about the highs and lows of time trialling, has suggested I try out his old TT bike. So I should go faster than before. It’ll be embarrassing if I don’t.
So, I’m publicly setting a target of below 1.05 whatever the conditions. And below 1.04 for a decent day – after all it was only a few weeks ago that I was screaming along that road at 29mph in the small ring with Mike the Bike in tow (albeit with a very pleasing tailwind). Oh, how you’re all going to laugh when I’m slower than before.
So, anyway, back to that first question: what is it that possesses grown men and women blah blah blah? I’m not really sure I can answer this because I think people are there for so many reasons. But we all share a desire to ride hard, do better than before and find out what we’re made of, even if that means facing the reality that you’re not as good as you hoped you might be. It’s an unforgiving sport is cycling.
- Read Lance’s report of the day on the Willesden Cycling Club site
- Read Lance’s more personal account on his (excellent) blog
- Read Hippy’s excuses here