Salt & Sham 10 Mile TT 2018

I took part in an early season time trial on the U102 course in Iron Acton this past weekend. It was a bright and sunny day but also typically freezing for February, so it seemed slightly mad to be out racing in nothing but tight-fitting lycra. This was the inaugural event of Salt & Sham (SAS) cycling club, so I wanted to take part and show my support for a local club. The fact that I might catch pneumonia seemed a small price to pay.

After signing on and collecting my race number I headed out for what would normally have been a warm up, but was more a case of just keeping moving to avoid freezing. There was a headwind for the slightly longer outward leg, and combined with a hill leading up to the turnaround it could potentially have made the first half of the race a tough mental challenge. But I felt like I found a good rhythm, walking that fine tightrope between going bloody hard but not overdoing it. Plus I overtook my minute man and then two-minute man on the outward leg which always helps the confidence.

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There were 42 riders taking part, plus a healthy number of spectators along the route shouting encouragement and shaking cowbells making it an enjoyable event. And the tailwind and downhill stretch from the turnaround improved things even further. It’s an exhilarating feeling to be buzzing along at high speed with nothing but the sound of the whistling wind and a disc wheel whooshing for company.

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With the wind on my back, I kept my momentum up most of the small rises without losing too much speed and for the final couple of miles I was hanging on, wanting to give it everything but also knowing that I was already at my limit.

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Emptying the tank

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LOL 

My finishing time was 25:41 giving an average speed of 23.4mph. I rode the race blind in terms of data on my bike computer, but looking at it afterwards I averaged just over 300 watts which is a personal best power output, a significantly positive outcome for such an early season race. The winner was Josh Griffiths from Bristol South CC in a time of 22:51. I ended up placing 16th.

So if I want to start threatening the podium I need to find another 3 minutes from somewhere. I’m not sure whether this could come from improved aerodynamics, increased specific fitness or better rest and nutrition. These are all areas that I’ve only recently started paying better attention to. However, I do have enough experience of cycling to know that whatever the question, a new bike is usually the answer.

Falling down the TT rabbit hole

I seem to have inescapably fallen down a slippery, aerodynamic rabbit hole this season. This has partly been fuelled by having a lack of time for longer rides due to work and two small children. But also a renewed desire to improve my cycling performance this year.

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Bad to the bone

There have been various catalysts for this change in focus, probably the mains ones being a lack of time, more regular use of the turbo trainer this past Winter, an improved diet, cutting down on alcohol consumption, reducing my weight, becoming excited by all the resulting improvements and then the subsequent purchase of speedy cycling equipment. The upshot of this snowball-effect being that I am now beyond the point of turning back from the slippery, aero war of time trialling!

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Shit just got real! 

I can still vaguely remember back to my early cycling days and being embarrassed about going out in public dressed in lycra shorts. Since then, experience has taught me to never-say-never with anything cycling. However, having recently bought one of those ‘penis helmets’ (albeit a slightly less ridiculous one that has a very small tail, and which I’m calling a ‘semi’) there doesn’t appear to be many absurd, cycling barriers left to cross. My aversion to aero skin-suits and shaved legs are probably the ‘last stand’ against my complete indoctrination.

Over the last few months I have been steadily improving my average speed on the local club time trail. It’s a non-standard 8.5 mile distance, covering a complete loop of the lake in our valley. It’s also a slightly undulating course with a few sharp turns so not the quickest of courses. Prior to the recent purchase of a second hand time-trial bike I managed to set a personal best around the lake on my road bike. This gave me some justification for the TT bike purchase, as I could satisfy myself that I am now actually quicker over short distances than I used to be, rather than just buying a faster bike in an attempt to keep up with my younger self!

I managed to pick up a frame and a set of wheels from a friend who used to race at a top level. I then picked up various odds and ends second hand like a chainset, derailleurs, brake calipers and gear shifters so it’s ended up being a bit of a mongrel bike. But, it kept the cost down and ultimately it’s just needs to go fast, not look pretty.

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My best average speed on a road bike was 22.5mph, whereas I averaged 24mph this week on the TT bike. My next target is to try and hit a 25mph average which would result in a sub-20 minute time around the lake. This has always been my benchmark for ‘proper-quick’ and should normally result in a top 3 finish in races. My time this week put me in 9th place out of about 35 riders. The club record is 17:20 (average speed 28.8mph) which is quite frankly ridiculous and I’m not sure I could even do that in my car.

This week I managed to overtake two riders who had set off at separate one minute intervals ahead of me. At the finish I heard my two-minute-man telling his friend that he had been overtaken by a rider who had set off 2 minutes behind him. However, he explained “that’s ok – he had a disc wheel”. Suddenly it dawned on me, I had become ‘that guy’.

 

Time Trial Three – the double-whammy

This evening was my third attempt at time-trial racing. Following the last two races I’d suffered  quite painful muscle soreness in the neck for a few days afterwards, so my main aim tonight was to try and ride with a more relaxed upper body and not try to rip the TT bars off the handlebar. And also to obviously try and ride a little faster than last week.

Setting up the bike from the boot of the car

Setting up the bike from the boot of the car

There was a strong tailwind for the outward leg of the circuit which allowed me to stick it in the biggest gear and churn out a fast pace. Hearing the sound of the tyres buzzing over the tarmac was really exhilarating and I found myself relaxing and enjoying it.

However, the return leg was soul destroying as I fought the strong wind. I had left the bar-mount of my Garmin at home so didn’t actually know my speed, which may have fortunately allowed me to just concentrate on finding some momentum and form. At times it felt like I was crawling at a snail’s pace and I was constantly waiting to be overtaken … but it never happened. Obviously everyone else was suffering as badly.

Lap 2 was more of the same, except the return leg seemed twice as tough. I told myself that the wind must have picked up, but knew deep down it was just my fatigue. In the end I completed the first lap 25 seconds quicker than last week’s time, and the second lap 5 seconds slower, at an overall average speed of 22.6mph. This was a touch faster than last week, and for twice the distance so I’m pleased with the further improvements. Tomorrow I will be back on the commuter bike for a slow, relaxing ride to work.

Time trial take two

Yesterday was my second attempt at time-trialing. It was the same flat 5 mile course as last week where I’d produced an average speed of 21 mph with no tactics other than cycling as fast as I could.

This week I set myself the goal of averaging 22 mph but with the aim of trying to pace myself, rather than red-lining and hanging on like a slobbering wreck. I made a few tweaks to the bike (raised the saddle a centimetre and removed the spacers from beneath the stem) to get myself lower and flatter and also turned up a little earlier and did a warm up lap where I surprised myself by averaging 20 mph with a steady and controlled level of effort. This gave me good confidence.

Under starter's orders

Under starter’s orders

The outbound leg felt good with an average speed just above my target of 22 mph. Just before the turn I was overtaken, however rather than feeling demoralised I just felt respect for the quicker pace of the other rider. I had set myself a target and wasn’t about to get too distracted by other people. I felt good enough on the return leg to drop down a gear and increase the pace a touch. I pushed the last mile hard and crossed the line one minute quicker than the previous week at an average speed of 22.4 mph. I’m pleased with the performance and am looking forward to making further improvements over the season. Next week is 2 laps of this circuit and I think my goal will be to try and maintain this week’s pace for the full distance.

The time-trial

This evening was my first experience of loitering around on an A-road lay-by dressed in Lycra with a number stuck to my back. Fortunately this unusual activity preceded the more exciting first experience of proper time-trial racing. It all started by having to endure a stressful ten minutes getting dressed and then setting up my bike from the back of my car with a giant Alsatian barking incessantly at me. Admittedly this was self-inflicted after choosing to park directly outside a farm entrance, however as I pedalled off to the TT rendezvous I started to have doubts that maybe my helmet was on back-to-front or my wheels weren’t properly attached to the frame. Next time I’ll find a more peaceful place to park!

As beautiful as an English A-road can get

The scene

I arrived at the start, paid my entry fee and received my race number. I then had the privilege of my race number being pinned to my jersey by local TT legend Paul Jones of traumfahrrad fame. I’ve been reading his blog for ages now which largely interested and inspired me enough to join my local cycling club and have a go at time-trialing. So it was nice to finally meet him. I also had a chat with a few of the other cyclists who were all equally friendly and freezing cold. It was cold and windy.

Loitering with intent

Loitering with intent

When my time came I set off at a steady pace and slowly worked my way up to a level which I felt I could maintain. There was a strong headwind on the outward leg so I tried to ignore my speed and just concentrate on gauging my effort. It was also my first time using the clip on TT bars since last summer so I also needed to concentrate on my balance, especially when a couple of lorries hurtled past and replaced the headwind with a swirl of turbulence.

Just before the halfway point and the turnaround I overtook my minute man. This obviously felt excellent. All way out I had been looking forward to the tailwind of the return leg and it was a great relief to finally feel its benefit and see my speed going up to a constant 23 – 24 mph. I was just starting to have thoughts of catching another person when I was overtaken. This was humbling. I actually heard him before I saw him and when I finally caught up with him (after the finish line obviously) I told him that he’d sounded more like a car than a bike. It was quite scary.

I completed the 5.2 miles in 14:44 at an average speed of 21 mph. But the most important thing was that I really enjoyed the experience and will be back again next week for some more …

Blenheim Palace 20km TT

This morning I rode a 20km time trial – my first ever competitive cycle race. For this event I had purchased a set of TT extension bars – something I had sworn I’d never do just a few months previously. I’ve now learnt never say “never” when it comes to cycle purchases. I also made a few small adjustments to my bike to get it ‘TT-ready’.

Bike before – normal road bike set up

Bike after – spot the difference

I doubted that any of these minor adjustments would actually make any difference but it seemed right to take it seriously. I feel fairly certain that I would ‘never’ go so far as to use a disk wheel or a TT helmet but I need to be careful with these types of predictions! I rode the event with Mike. As it was both of our first time-trials we were categorised as ‘novices’ and started very early in the day. I was the 5th and he was the 21st starter out of 300 racers.

At the start line and knowing there’d be 180 riders breathing down our necks

We managed to get in a practice lap before the event started. I was surprised by the number of corners and climbs on the thee-lap route so was glad to have discovered these ahead of time.

A surprisingly undulating course

I was held by the starter as the time approached. And then, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” and I was off. I accelerated steadily, got into a decent gear and settled onto the bars. I got out of the saddle for the steepest climbs, and I didn’t feel comfortable cornering on the TT bars, but generally it went well and I felt like I’d pushed it 100%. Midway though the second lap I started to feel nauseous from the exertion and looked down to see my heart-rate had hit 190bpm. I took this as a signal to ramp it down just a touch.

In full flow – not the most elegant of positioning but it felt faster than normal

I overtook numbers 1 and 2 quite early as well as several of the later starters on my second and third laps. On my final lap I was overtaken by somebody who had just started. I kept him in my sights and was slowly gaining on him when he lost control and crashed on a corner. I flew past trying not to get too distracted as he tumbled across the grass. Near the end of the final lap I overtook number 3 who had an aero helmet and disk wheel combination. However on a flat section he edged back past me, possibly making use of his better equipment. Fortunately the last kilometre was a slight climb and I managed to get ahead of him to cross the line in a time of 33 minutes & 50 seconds. This gave an average speed of 35.3kph (22mph) which felt good for the course.

The second man across the finish line looking knackered but satisfied

I waited around for Mike to finish who reported a time of “sub-34 minutes” so we will have to wait for the official times to see how we both placed. Exhausted but happy we made our way to the start line to watch how the pro’s do it and to wonder what sort of times they’d achieve over the course.

The British paralympic tandem cycling team set off

The commuter grand prix

When you rely on bike and body to get to work it’s handy to have a backup for any unforeseen problems. I don’t own a car and have been cycle-commuting for almost six months. Touch wood, I haven’t had any injury serious enough to prevent me from riding. I have however had a few problems with the commuter bike. Recently the rear wheel has been showing its age – I’ve taken the insides apart to clean and grease them on numerous occasions but it only ever seems to be a short term solution. Last night on my ride home I heard the nasty sound of a snapped spoke – the third time it’s happened to my rear wheel. For the last 20 minutes I limped home with the wheel gently rubbing the brake pad on each of its revolutions. Enough’s enough, I thought. It’s time for a new wheel.

This puts my commuter bike out of action. Fortunately I own a second bike usually reserved for ‘Sunday Best’, but last night I prepared the show-pony for some work-horse duties. It’s a bit like driving a Ford Fiesta every day, but having a Porsche in the garage – you’re not going to be too distraught if the Fiesta breaks down.

In 2 weeks’ time I will be riding my first ever competitive race – a 20km time-trial. For this occasion I bought myself a set of TT extension bars which were already attached to the bike. Rather than remove the cow-horns I decided to put them and myself to the test and participate in a personal commuter grand-prix this morning.

On the starting grid for the commuter grand prix

I have been riding my current route to work for about 2 months. My average time on the commuter bike is typically around 55 minutes, although I had managed to beat the 50 minute mark on one occasion about 3 weeks ago, requiring such a monumental effort that I hadn’t attempted to better it since.

This morning I set off motivated to conquer the 16 mile route. Recently I have been trying to pedal with a more efficient technique, however ten minutes in I realised that my over-exuberance was putting me in danger of stomping the pedals to smithereens and ripping the TT extensions off the handlebars. For the next couple of minutes I was exhausted and so decided to try and regulate my effort levels more evenly for the rest of the ride. I ended up completing the route in a time of 45 minutes and 15 seconds at an average speed of 34.1kph (21.3mph). This is another massive improvement and gives me good confidence going into my first time-trial in a couple of weeks. It’s also reassuring to see the big difference in performance between my two bikes. It will however probably be at least another 3 weeks before I try to beat the 45 minute mark …

After a couple of sharp ‘warm-up’ hills the route lends itself well to going fast