Crosswind caper

I’ve often thought that cycling, for those unfamiliar with the sport, must seem like a very strange pastime. On a few occasions I’ve made the mistake of using cycling terms in normal conversation and received some rather strange looks. It’s all too easy to forget that phrases such as “I had a massive bonk” and “I’m trying a different sort of lube” may have alternative meanings. I have a few friends who still can’t quite get their heads around the fact that everybody wears lycra voluntarily. I suspect that my love of time trialling is especially perplexing to outsiders aka normal people. Truth be told, I can understand why. Riding along dual carriageways on bikes that usually aren’t easy to steer and don’t brake especially well, probably doesn’t constitute most peoples idea of having fun.

I rode my very first TT on a whim three years ago. I ‘attacked’ the local 5 mile course on my road bike, put simply, it was horrible. Most of the time in road races the pace is very much on and off, either it’s easy or you’re going into the red. TT’s are different ball game, the effort is relatively constant throughout, pacing it correctly is harder than you might think. Anyway, on this particular occasion I got the pacing spectacularly wrong. I started off at breakneck speed, felt good for the first two miles, blew up halfway round and rode the homeward leg embarrassingly slowly. I resolved never to ride a TT again. That was until I saw that I’d only been beaten into fifth place by a handful of seconds. I came back the following week, paced it better, and went twenty seconds faster. From then on, I was hooked.

Since then, I’ve invested huge amounts of time and money in the pursuit of personal bests. I’ve acquired all of the usual paraphenalia; TT bike, skinsuit, aero helmet, deep section wheels, etc. Recently, I’ve been eyeing up a pair of rather expensive aerodynamically optimised overshoes, guaranteed to save a whole ten seconds over a distance of 25 miles. I’ve changed my diet, experimented with various training strategies and even tried out some mental exercises in the name of shaving a few seconds off of previous times. You probably get the picture by now. During the last couple of seasons, I’ve travelled far and wide in search of fast courses. Conveniently, the fastest 25 mile TT course in the country is ‘only’ a couple of hours away in Wales. It was there that I found myself last weekend.

It’s fair to say that the trip didn’t get off to the best of starts. The hotel we’d booked at the last minute turned out to have been the only place with rooms available for a very good reason. It took us several attempts to find the place, with the satnav initially trying to send us along a footpath. We arrived to find something that can best be described as a welsh version of Fawlty Towers. Our room had an overpowering smell of bleach which I suspect was designed to cover up the subtle underlying odour of mildew. Having been travelling all afternoon, we were starving hungry and in need of a good meal. Eons passed before the decidedly mediocre meal arrived. Lastly, we discovered that the walls were paper thin. Thank heaven for ear plugs.

It won’t surprise you to learn that I didn’t get much sleep that night. After an early start, we escaped as soon possible and ended up having breakfast at McDonalds. As pre-race nutrition goes I can tell you that it was far from ideal, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. Just like last year, it started raining shortly before we got to HQ to sign on. By the time I got on my bike to warm up, I wasn’t in the most cheerful mood. After the century last weekend  my legs weren’t feeling brilliant and, to add insult to injury, the skies turned ominously grey again as soon as I took to the start line.If I hadn’t travelled so far to get there I’d have pulled out then and there.

Mercifully, once I got going my legs seemed to remember what they were supposed to be doing. Apart from an unusually high heart rate things seemed to be relatively normal. The first mile of the course was well sheltered from the wind, once I passed the first turning and got out onto the main road it was a different matter. In six years of cycling, I’d never encountered such scary conditions. The 90mm wheel I was running up front proved itself to be a very effective sail, it was all I could do to keep the bike going in a straight line. It’s the only time I’ve ever looked forward to uphill sections in a TT, the reason being that it was slightly less difficult to stay in control at slower speeds. One particularly vicious gust almost put me directly into the path of an oncoming van, apologies to everybody in the surrounding five mile radius who heard the resulting 18-rated scream of terror. I’m eternally grateful that it didn’t rain properly until I’d finished, had the roads been wet I’d probably have retired early.

Suffice to say, the first 15 miles of the course were not especially enjoyable. I breathed a sigh of relief when I reached the turning point, knowing that the wind would mostly be behind me from that point onwards. The return leg was relatively easy, by that stage I’d settled into a good rhythm and could just tick off the miles as they came up on my Garmin. I finished, exhausted but satisfied that I’d given it my very best shot. My final time of 53:48 with an average speed of 27.9 mph definitely wasn’t what I’d hoped for, however, crucially it was still a PB. The weekend hadn’t been a total waste.

Inevitably, I’ll be back next year. The maddening thing about time trialling is that there’s always going to be something new to aim for. Personal bests, then wins, then, if you get really good you can start targeting course records. I suspect that I’ll still be hurtling along those dual carriageways in forty years time.

Thanks for reading.

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