I had a particularly runny cold when I rode my first ever individual time trial (I’d already attempted a two-up, but there’s no need to go into that). I hadn’t intended to ride it at all; it just sort of happened. Jayne was doing a 25-mile TT on the Amersham Road course and asked me along for company. Once we’d cycled out, I found myself pinning on a number and riding to the start line as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I didn’t even think about it. It just seemed churlish not to.
Within minutes of setting off, far too hard, I was gasping for breath and my nose had started running. Actually, running is an understatement. It was pouring out of me, like someone had punched a hole in a bucket of snot.
I did what anyone would do when riding a bike at more than 20mph and wiped it on my glove. By about halfway, both gloves were so saturated that they were also dripping with snot and it was smeared all over my bars. I figured the best thing to do was just to KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. I just let it drip – on me, on the handlebars, on the frame, wherever.
By the end of the ride, my face was so slimy that I looked as if I’d just pulled my head from a cow’s vagina. Mike Diggins asked if I’d slept in the garden, because the slime all over my top was like a network of glistening snail trails. Worse was to come when I went for a pee. It was like pissing needles, a really vile sensation that lasted for a week.
I instantly associated time trialling with discomfort, humiliation and intolerable pain and resolved never to do another. My resolution lasted almost two years, until March this year, when I relented and rode a ten mile TT at Knowl Hill near Reading. This was also unpleasant, but less so than before and I wasn’t covered with snot and it didn’t hurt to take a pee afterwards. I took this to be a major step forward and figured I’d do another and then another, and now here I am.
Some things haven’t changed, though. That first TT has marked me. It’s stamped so thoroughly on my mind that I’ve since made a point of avoiding any kind of hard exercise whenever I have a cold. Until last Sunday, that is.
It started with a sore throat on the Thursday. By Saturday morning, I was feeling quite rough, but went ahead with my regular Regent’s Park ride with Diggins and Simon Hewins nevertheless. After a bit the Lemsip kicked in and it wasn’t too bad and I reasoned that I’d see how I felt in the morning before making the decision not to race.
Of course I got up. If you’ve set your alarm for 5.30 on a Sunday morning, you’re damn well getting up. And once I’d got in the van and set off for the latest West London Combine TT on the HCC114 at Great Missenden, that was it. No matter that my throat was still rasping, I was riding. This was how it all started, of course: “I’ll just go along and see how I feel”. It doesn’t work like that. If you can get there, you can ride.
So I chatted with the guys and warmed up a bit and turned my pedals northwards onto the A413 at 7.37am. The first few miles were a bit of a struggle, but it was slightly uphill into a strong headwind. Then there was a turn and suddenly I was hurtling along, downhill, with a tailwind, at 30mph plus for the best part of 12 miles. Easy.
Then another turn, back into the wind and the rising road. It was like being hit on the legs repeatedly with breezeblocks. For about 25 minutes. Every pedal stroke was pain – gasping, wrenching unpleasantness and pain. And it went on, and on. After six or seven miles of this I was almost crying with frustration. I think I even shouted at one point: “WHERE THE FUCK IS THE FUCKING ROUNDABOUT?” or something like that. It wasn’t quite on a par with Octave Lapize yelling “Assassins!” at the commissaires at the top of the massive Col du Tourmalet in the 1910 Tour de France, but it had a kind of brutalist panache and if I had seen a race organiser at that point, I would have got off the bike and assaulted them.
I was proper shagged when I reached the chequered flag (yes, there was actually a chequered flag, something I’ve not seen at a time trial before) and I felt as though I’d spent the last hour-and-a-bit swallowing ground glass. So I was genuinely surprised by my time of 1.02.24. This was a good minute faster than I had hoped for, given my cold and the windy conditions. Hippy beat me again, though, by 13 seconds. Buggery.
In keeping with my new positive philosophy, I think there’s a good thing I can draw from Sunday’s ride: even with a bit of a cold on a road bike with cheap eBay wheels and badly-fitting tri-bars and on a windy day, I can ride a 1.02. That’s reassuring.
And the “learning points” (‘scuse crappy management speak)? There are several:
1) Time trialling hurts. Sometimes it hurts more and sometimes it hurts less, but it always hurts at least a bit. As Greg Lemond famously said: “It does not get easier. You just go faster”. Man up.
2) The perfect day does not exist and neither does the perfect course. You can prepare as much as you like but on the day of the race you might have a sore knee or the wind could be blowing in the wrong direction or there are potholes, or something. There’s always something and you just have to deal with it. Man up.
3) Riding 25 miles in less than an hour is going to take a little longer than I had hoped and I’ll probably have to dig a bit deeper to do it than I had thought. It’ll happen eventually, though.
4) Even if I absolutely annihilate myself when I’m feeling great, I’m probably only going to come fifth or sixth at best. There are a lot of good riders out there, not least Willesden Cycling Club’s very own Pete Dixon, who rode a stunning 58.02 to win Sunday’s event.
5) Listen to Lance. Always listen to Lance. He told me all of these things three months ago. I now know that he knows what he’s talking about.
6) It’s probably best not to race with a cold, even a mild one. It’s makes an unpleasant experience slightly less pleasant again.
7) I’ve got to man up. Well I do, don’t I?
- Read the official race report on the Willesden CC website
- Read Hippy’s more technical account on his blog
- Lance claims to have treated the ride as a gentle pedal in the country
- Lance has also put together a handy table of Willesden performances in the West London Combine series so far. I’m second!