I’ve raced a couple of times in the past fortnight on the F20/10 Course near Ware, Hertfordshire. There’s been a bit of a debate raging over on the TT forum about which are the fastest 10 courses. The F20 has some hardcore supporters, while others think it’s nothing special. What would I find? The F20 course is a straightforward out and back dual carriageway track, running south on the A10 and then back north to finish opposite the start point. The surface isn’t brilliant in places, what makes it fast is probably the traffic levels.
I decided to enter the Herts Wheelers open event on Saturday 21st June, but then also saw there was the opportunity to ride in their club event on Thursday 12th. The preceding Thursday had brought a long 19 and 20 minutes exactly for two riders who have been very close to me in races this year, so I thought I might have a genuine chance of the coveted “19” in these events.
Club event, 12th June
A week last Thursday, the wind forecast was a slight breeze from the north. This isn’t perfect, because the course is net downhill on the southerly leg, and of course net uphill on the way back north. So a breeze from the south would be optimal, to give some assistance on the way back. But, the conditions were very good indeed. I thought I’d need to average 32mph on the way out to have a chance. And by the time I arrived at the turn, I’d done just that. The last mile before the turn is quite a downhill gradient, and I topped out at 40mph which helped me achieve the ‘required’ 32mph. I’d averaged 302w, and the question was whether I could raise that sufficiently to get under the 20 minute mark. There was real hope which bolstered me for what would be a pretty unpleasant 10 minutes or so.
I had average speed as the most visible number on the computer. To go under 20 minutes over 10 miles, you obviously have to average over 30 mph. I’d averaged 32 outbound, but that’s largely downhill, so I’d have to suffer that number creeping back down as I made my way up the hard drag after the turn. It’s about a mile long, and heavy going. Sure enough I was struggling and the speed was dropping quickly. I lost 1.7mph up that drag, yet still the course was mostly uphill even after that hill. At that point I thought it unlikely that I’d do it [under 20 mins]. The road then flattens out for a little while before another, shallower drag that lasts for nearly 2 miles, much of it on quite a poor surface. Again I was struggling and losing a bit of heart, but crested the top with one mile to go having averaged 29.8mph.
Speed then rose sharply as I hit a downhill, but I didn’t seem to have much power to give. I could no longer make out the numbers on the Garmin, and I was looking desperately for the finish, but it was somewhere around the next left hand bend. Then I saw the start on the other side of the road, and from nowhere I had a real kick of power, up over 400 watts. I have no clue where it came from as just seconds earlier I was dying. Anyway as the road straightened and I could see the chequerboard, I sprinted all out for the line and as I crossed and the Garmin reset the lap, I looked down and tried to focus on the time. 19:56. That would probably not be fast enough. I usually have around 5 seconds gap between the time my Garmin records and the official time. But, it would be very close to 20 minutes and that’s no disgrace, I thought.
Back at the cars, the result sheet turned up. I waited impatiently for my turn to have a look, and then tried to appear nonchalant as I looked down the list for my name. Sure enough, 20:02. 3 seconds outside. I wasn’t disappointed though – I’d lopped 18 seconds off my previous best time, and now I was definitely close, just over the border frontier from ’19’ country. I felt, probably for the first time, that I’d really given everything I could. I’d found something in the last few hundred metres that I hadn’t seen before. 3 seconds at that speed is 40 metres. I asked myself if I could have been 40 metres further up the road, and I didn’t think I could, so I was very satisfied. It was my first time on the course, so maybe I could find a way to pace it a little better and pick up the extra time? Here’s the ride on Strava
I managed to push 322 watts on the way back, giving a split of 302/322 which with hindsight seems quite good, given the course profile. For reasons unknown, I decided to ignore this simple fact, as you’ll discover if you read on…
Open event, 21st June
So Saturday came, and I’d had plenty of time to think about the previous race, and pored over the data for ages. I looked at where I had gone slowest on the course – the drag just after the start, and the evil one after the turn. Perhaps if I could take those a little harder, and maybe recover a little on the dowhills, that might give me the tiny bit of extra speed I needed? After all, the secret to going fast is not going slow. The wind forecast was almost identical, slight northerly. So I was hopeful that, given the previous experience, I could find the 3 seconds and go under 20 minutes. In fact, the whole race became about the 20 minute mark. And I think with hindsight that was a total mistake.
I’d decided to hit the first hill hard, and then recover on the long slight downhill up to around 3 miles. I went out from the start like the proverbial, and got quite a way up the first hill before I started to notice. I’d later discover that I’d averaged 360 watts up that hill. Lunacy. By the time I crested, I was blowing, but no matter, I could afford to take it a little easier down the hill. But I was having to take it a lot easier! Uh-oh. By the time the 4 mile mark came, and I began the big downhill section, average speed was around where it had been the time before. And yet I was not in a good place going down that hill. In the previous race I’d been close to 300 watts and up at 40mph, now I was (unknowingly) down at around 225 watts, and topping out at 38mph. The turn approached and my average speed was half a mph less than it had been last time. The game was probably up already :(
Then I got baulked by traffic entering the roundabout, and I lost a bit of heart. I tried to raise it on the drag after the turn, but I knew from the speed that I had no chance. The last 4 miles were dreadful, I had been so hopeful, and had pinned everything on it, but now I could see what a mistake that was. I couldn’t muster any kind of sprint and rolled over the line in a time I would later learn was 20:39. Easily my worst performance ever, in terms of the result versus what I hoped for. But, even so it was 27 seconds inside my best time from last year. It’s funny how your expectations change.
I recently discovered raceshape, a brilliant website that takes rides from Strava and compares them, showing you where you lost or gained time. I plugged my two rides into it, here’s a link. And here’s a snapshot:
The pink line – the baseline – is my 20:02 ride from the club event on the 12th. The red line is my 20:39 ride from the open event on the 21st. It’s shows a virtual race between my two selves. You can see that in the second event I pulled out a 10 second lead in the first mile, as a result of hammering it right from the start. But then at mile 2 you can see the balloon slowly deflating. “I” – the 12th June me, overtook the 21st June me at 3.5 miles and then just pulled away at a reasonably constant pace. It’s an object lesson in how not to pace a time trial. Don’t go out too hard! You can even see the kink at the turn, caused by the 21st of June “me” having to slow down for a car.
Now, enough doom and gloom, I must mention my companion on the trip, Genadijs Tilgalis, or “G” to most natives, a young rider from Peterborough who I’ve known for two or three years. He’s been tearing me a new one on training rides and has recently done a couple of club TTs on a borrowed TT bike, on sporting courses, posting times similar to what I’d expect to do. I figured I had one chance to beat him in an open TT, before he gets a clue! But he utterly crushed me with a time of 19:32 in his first open TT on a TT machine, borrowed from a friend. What might the boy be capable of? In his first race he managed to do what I am yet to achieve, get on the podium (3rd place) and win a cash prize! I’m taking some of the credit since I gave him a lift to the race and pumped up his tyres. Every PSI was down to me. Well done, “G”! First place went to Mark Jones of Drag2Zero in 19 minutes dead. I was pleased for Mark – he really knows what he’s doing and has given me some good aerodynamic advice in the past, even though we hadn’t met before last Saturday. TTing is like that. People help. Especially if you aren’t a threat! Second was Luke Clark in 19:25. I came a deserving 17th.
I’ve learned from this experience that there is no point chasing just a time. Because if it becomes apparent that you won’t make it, the race can be ruined. If I’d just focused on trying to do the best I could, I might have finished a bit nearer the top. Neither of the riders whose results are close-ish to mine (hello Justin and Chris!) went under 20 minutes either, but I lost 20-25 seconds to them, relatively speaking. Perhaps that 20-25 seconds is entirely made up of desire, something I was sorely lacking for much of the second race.
So, I’m disappointed not to have hit the target, but delighted for G. I am quite philosophical about it. It should not be at all easy for a rider like me – a totally average club trundler – to get a 19. If you’d told me when I was starting, just over a year ago, that I’d get within 3 seconds, I’d have laughed heartily, but craned my neck to listen! It’s testament to modern technology that someone with zero talent can get close to a mark that wasn’t passed by anyone before 1980. It might come, I have perhaps one more chance this season.
As ever, thanks for reading :)