This was the race that I’ve been looking forward to all winter. The anniversary of my first proper Time Trial. Last year I came 10th, in a time of 23:39. I was very chuffed with that, I had no idea what I was doing and turned up – having trained hard – with no idea what to expect. A year later, I’ve learned a bit (and spent more than a bit!) and so it would be good to use last year’s race as the yardstick to measure what progress has been made.
When I saw the start sheet, I was pessimistic about improving on that 10th place. There was a very good entry for this year’s race – 72 riders. Nearly double the number from last year. I could see 5 or 6 names that I knew I could not beat if they were on form, and quite a few others who I have never beaten, or only beaten once. This didn’t bother me too much – the beauty of Time Trialling at my level is that there’s loads of faster riders, and my finishing position in a race is simply a function of how many of them turn up.
That said, I have been looking at this date from a long way out, planning my training and racing to try and peak for it. I tapered this last week for the first time. I don’t know how to do this really, I just did my usual type of sessions, but foreshortened them to lower the volume a little. Unfortunately at the back end of the week I started to develop a problem with my right ear (I suffer from ear infections quite regularly, sometimes they blow up, sometimes they fix themselves) and so I’ve been on paracetamol for the past couple of days. I woke this morning still with a sore ear, but there’s no point dwelling on it, I was fit to race and the ear hopefully wouldn’t bother me too much.
I turned up ridiculously early, 2 and a half hours before my start time, and I was the first rider to arrive by about half an hour! I will claim that small victory, there ain’t going to be any others. Since it’s my club’s event, I thought I’d show up and help put the tables and chairs out. So I had ages to potter around. I like this, I don’t like to be rushed. Things go wrong when I am rushed.
I was number 33, with a start time of 14:33. I was changed and warming up on my turbo next to the car in plenty of time. The warmup felt hard, though, I was struggling a bit with the harder parts of it. This didn’t bode well for a good performance. I put the turbo away and cycled the 5 minutes to the start line. Not ideal conditions, today. Cold and quite windy, although mostly a sidewind, with a slight component of headwind on the way out. I tend to think the course is faster if you have a slight tailwind to counter the uphill first half. But it is what it is. I was in good time, I was there about 3 minutes before my start time. Not hanging around too long. I was in a bit of a daze for some reason and before I tuned in properly I got the 10 second warning. Wakey wakey, we’re off.
The course isn’t my favourite, if I’m being honest. It’s quite up-and-down for a TT course, not the hilliest, but not flat at all. And large parts of the surface aren’t the best. There’s not too much broken tarmac, but most of it is quite coarse and abrasive, not smooth and tightly packed. I reckon smooth tarmac is faster. There are 3 roundabouts to negotiate in the first mile, which I got through without any trouble, and then a long drag. I detest this drag! I was going ok, though, average power was over 300w, but not by much. Compare this to last time out, where I was up over 310w at a similar stage. I knew straightaway that this wouldn’t be my best performance in terms of power. I was having to work too hard to keep above 300w. So I tried to stop worrying about power output and instead paid more attention to average speed. The best speed I have done on this course – 26.5mph for 22:35 – is etched into my brain. I’d have to go faster than that to get a course PB. Because of the standing start, and the 3 roundabouts at the beginning, it’s a little while before you can gain much info from the speed you’re riding. In past events, if there isn’t a significant head/tail wind, there’s been less than 1 mph difference between my ‘out’ speed and my ‘back’ speed. So if I could get to the turn at around 26mph, I’d have a chance of breaking my own personal best time. You might think I’d be better off concentrating on pedalling, rather than worrying about this or that number, and you may be right. But I seem to do better if I have something to chase.
I was up over 26mph as I got to the bottom of the ramp up to the turn. This ramp is not much of a hill at all, it just feels like a mountain when I’m racing. Speed just drops off a cliff and I feel as though I’m hardly moving. I got to the top having averaged 25.8mph. Game on. Quick check of average power. 302w I think. Meh. 300w is my nemesis. I will probably beat it, just about.
I don’t recall much about the bulk of the return leg. I remember watching the speed climb towards 26.5mph as I hung on towards the top of the dreaded drag (which would now be downhill) at Conington water tower. Somehow, today it seemed to be uphill in both directions. I don’t know how that happened, but I was struggling pretty badly. Into the last quarter of the distance and I was not relishing it at all. Average speed was now resolutely stationary at 26.5mph. Not fast enough. I would need a fast last mile to claim my best time for the course. This was my baseline expectation. Pretty silly really, given that conditions can have quite a big effect on your time. But, I would view a time outside my course PB as a failure.
The last mile – and technical roundabout section – begins with a ramp upwards. There’s nothing you can do to avoid losing a bit of speed here. Once at the top you go through 2 roundabouts in quick succession and hope for no traffic. Slightly unlucky today, I was baulked a little by a car at the second and had to coast and go around, but very little time lost. Then it’s just dig in and wind it up for the run to the line, straight-lining the final roundabout – if traffic permits – and trying to get every last ounce of energy through the pedals.
All over! Time not too bad, Garmin said 22:20 so I’d probably get an official time of about 22:25 or so. Pretty sure it would be inside my previous best of 22:35. The disappointment of the reduced power quickly took over, I thought the time would be nowhere versus others. Very doubtful it would be good enough for the top 10, given the strength of the field. Cycled back to the car and put everything away. Normally I am very keen to get into the HQ to see how I have done versus others, but I was in no rush today. I sat in the boot of my car chatting to the mother of one of the other riders. One of the riders I knew should beat me. His mother told me he’s 20. I felt better.
After ambling over to the HQ and getting my free cup of coffee and a 50p hot cross bun (thanks, ladies) I went over to look at the elephant in the room, the times of the riders projected onto the wall. Checked my time, 22:26. PB by 9 seconds for the course. Then I started to scan through the other times. About two thirds of the times were recorded by now, with the later riders still out on the course. I looked first at the fives and zeroes (the riders whose numbers end in 0 or 5 have the fastest historical times, generally) and not many of them have beaten me, and one of them, Simon Norman, who won the event I raced in two weeks ago, did not start (DNS in TT parlance). In fact, at that point only one rider had recorded a time faster than mine.
Naturally you start to look at the riders still to finish. I could see two who would beat me for sure, and one or two others who might. But as the final results were entered, only three riders from the field had gone faster. I was 4th. The race was won by Brett Harwood with 21:16, followed by David McGaw with 21:22 and then last year’s winner Adam Gascoigne with 21:25. These three were all over a minute faster than me. That’s a yawning gap that will never be closed! But, I’d managed to record a faster time than everyone else, including some riders I hadn’t beaten before.
So, while I’m not delighted by the performance, it is my best result so far. And even if I’d recorded a power best, it would have moved me just a few seconds closer to the 3 riders at the head of the field. By my reckoning I probably need to find 45-50 watts to bridge that gap, which would require an entirely different body – the one I inhabit will never be able to do that. I’m satisfied with being fastest of the rest today!
Here’s the race data from Strava, if (like me) there is something wrong with you, have a look! :)