Not again – surely.

Oh the irony. One of the main themes of various lectures this week has been the effect of exercise on the immune system. I should therefore have been well aware of the elevated risk of catching something nasty following a bout of heavy training and taken the necessary actions to reduce it. Sadly I did not. In what is becoming a tradition I succeeded in avoiding any form of illness right up until the day before my first competitive outing. To any long-term followers this might sound familiar. 

This time though, I was determined not to miss the event. Especially having just spent the best part of the previous afternoon sorting out my TT bike, of course changing the wheels meant everything had to be adjusted – why wouldn’t it have done? That would just have been too simple. As colds go it’s about as mild as it gets – just a sore throat and a slightly stuffy nose. In which case, no excuse to not be on the start line.

Anyway, onto the day itself. It was of course the morning where the clocks went forward (i.e. losing an hour of sleep), and that on which some of my fellow students thought it was a brilliant idea to play some god-awful music very loudly at 3AM. Volatile was the word I would have used to describe my state upon climbing out of bed, bleary eyed and steadily losing the will to live. Still, I suppose it was my choice to enter that particular Time Trial so there isn’t much point in moaning.

At least it was decent weather, meaning the sky was blue for what felt like the first time in months. It was a nice feeling, riding my bike along empty roads so early in the morning.  Hoping all the while that my Garmin didn’t decide to give up the ghost and leave me stranded somewhere in the middle of Devon with no hope of finding the event HQ. A combination of potent nasal spray, coffee and porridge began to work it’s magic – I didn’t feel amazing by any stretch of the imagination but no longer had the legs of an octogenarian.

The next stage was mercifully simple; sign-on, do battle with various pieces of aero equipment, gulp down that last energy gel and ride over to the start. I know what you’re thinking and yes, I did get a bit lost – fortunately I was able to follow another rider and arrived with minutes to spare. Any naive hopes of a podium had long since evaporated – survival was now my goal. TT’s are a heaven for expensive equipment – dimpled skin suits, disc wheels, integrated carbon frames and just about everything else you could imagine.  I can’t deny feeling a tad inadequate with my humble Cannondale Slice 105 and standard clothing.

Honestly the first five miles were horrendous. My legs did not take kindly to going from a cold start, I was soon breathing heavily – probably sounding like something out of a bad horror film. Experience kicked in then, this had happened to me before – I knew that if I pushed on my legs would start to feel better. Fortunately they did, just in time for the hardest part of the course. Hills are not easy at the best of times but trying to climb in the aero position makes them that bit harder. Oh, and of course there was also a headwind to contend with.

My spirits were given a much needed boost upon seeing my minute man (he who had set off before me) up ahead. It’s always satisfying to make the catch in a TT, especially when it’s someone with a nicer bike. Over the next couple of miles I slowly gained time on my immediate rival – something which did a very good job of taking my mind off the pain. I would have overtaken him, had a junction not presented itself at exactly the wrong moment – forcing me to wait and lose a few crucial seconds.

I glanced down at my Garmin then, just five miles to go – time to ramp up the pace. Well, that would have been my strategy had there been anything left in the tank. In actual fact, it was hard enough just to keep my speed up – let alone think of a fast finish. A small mercy was granted now, a descent coupled with a tailwind. It’s always nice to see 40mph come up the screen. Finally the end was in sight, the prospect of a recovery drink followed by a slice of cake was precisely the motivation I needed in order to carry on.

After one more turning the finish line came into view, just typical that I should be passed by another rider meters before crossing it. I’d made another mistake here, or rather the organisers had – the course was in fact 14 miles long as a pose to 17. Not that you’d have caught me complaining. I’d like to think I would have gone a bit faster with that knowledge in my head – though realistically it’s unlikely.

The next challenge was finding my way back the start, this ought to have been a simple matter of following the other riders. Unless of course they happened to be heading out for post TT ride and not going back to HQ – suppose I really should have thought to ask. There followed three miles of muddy lanes, before coming across another group of lost Cyclists. Between us we managed to work out the way.

Now came the time to wait for the results. I was apprehensive then, this being the first real test of my legs since the last race of 2016. I had a few excuses of course (course length misinformation, not being tapered, not wearing a skin suit and having a bit of a cold – just to make then all very clear). In the end I was pleasantly surprised, 10th out a field of 48 – not bad for a first ever Open TT given the circumstances. Last season the best I managed was 11th in a low-key club event. “It’s worked” – I thought to myself then. All those winter miles, the early morning hill reps and evening turbo sessions. Relief was the overriding factor – concrete proof that I wasn’t performing badly relative to others.

It was time to head home then, except of course things just weren’t that simple. It was the last thing I wanted to do but nonetheless it was what my training plan called for. Another hour of riding in order to achieve the prescribed training load for the week. I wouldn’t ordinarily have bothered, however this happens to be my last hard week of training before the taper for my upcoming A race begins. Spurred on by the thought of an upcoming rest week (and really, really not wanting to get home and finish writing up the week’s lecture notes) – I pushed myself through those last few miles.

Never has a shower felt so good or a massive bar of chocolate tasted so guilt-free. That brings us neatly to this point – I’m of course writing this as a means of procrastination. Looking back, in riding when slightly under the weather I’ve failed to take my own advice. Somehow I have a feeling that the next few days are not going to be much fun. Still, there are many positives to take from the experience.

Stay tuned.

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