My first time trial!
Having had a few days off from training (due to feeling knackered) I decided at the last minute to ride in the last round of the Peterborough Cycling Club 10 mile winter series. I’d had my eye on the event but assumed I wouldn’t do it due to the poor weather recently. I really wanted to get a little experience before the event I have been targeting as my first ‘proper’ race, which takes place on the 20th April. So I thought the PCC event would be very good practice. I’d ridden less than 50 miles on the road on the TT bike and I really need to get as much experience as possible. It was really quite windy yesterday and I was concerned about my wheels, particularly the front wheel. Deep rims are not ideal in windy conditions, and mine are nearly as deep as they come, without going to a disc. I took a shallow wheel with me just in case I didn’t fancy it.
So I drove to the start location in plenty of time, to find one other competitor had already arrived. His name is Michael and we had a quick chat. Also the club secretary was there. Soon after, the two timekeepers arrived and we could have a race. But…only two riders! I’d looked at the previous results on the PCC website and normally about 5-7 riders would show for these races. Tim, the club secretary, told me that a number of the regulars had gone to Belgium to ride in the Tour of Flanders sportive, so that explained the turnout. It didn’t bother me really, I had just turned up to get some experience of the protocols, and also what it’s like to ride under race conditions. I mentioned I was slightly worried about my front wheel in the wind, but the general consensus was that it would be ok, so I figured I’d use the deep rims.
Michael was allotted number 1, and I had number 2 pinned to my jersey. So he would go off first, and I would follow exactly one minute later. I would have preferred a good warm-up, but it was windy and cold and I sensed everyone wanted to get on with it, so I rode the 1/2 mile to the start line, then went a bit further to try and get the blood flowing. When I returned to the line, Michael was held in position, given the countdown and then off he went. I rolled up, got the 30 second warning, then I was supported so I could clip in, then 10 seconds, 5,4,3,2,1 and I was away.
I had ridden the course before, about 4 years ago. I saw the route on the PCC website and thought I’d go and have a crack. I finished in about 29:30. Since I am now fitter and riding a dedicated machine, I wanted to beat that time, even though conditions did not favour time trialling. When I rode the course previously, it was a still, summer’s day. About 25 degrees. Yesterday it was 3 degrees and windy. I had thought about the course and how I would approach it. It’s not a fast course, I think it’s known in the trade as a ‘sporting course’ – rolling terrain, and also the finish point is not the start point, and it is quite a bit higher in altitude, so it can be considered as ‘uphill’ – on average there is a gradient, unlike the typical out-and-back courses that start and end at the same point and so have an average gradient of zero. Mentally I had split the course into quarters. The first quarter is largely downhill, the second quarter is a little uphill, the third quarter is rolling, up and down. The fourth quarter is the most interesting one. It starts with a sharp up-slope and then continues largely uphill for the whole rest of the course. Having read over and over that ‘the key to going fast is not going slow’ I knew that the final quarter would be the most important. I must leave enough in the tank to be able to attack it, rather than just survive it. The wind is usually from the west, and it would be at your back for the final quarter. But currently these cold winds we’re suffering are from the north and east, exactly the direction of the final 2.5 miles. So I’d have to cope with the hill and the wind – even more important to make sure I had enough left.
With this in mind I set off deliberately easily. You should do this anyway in any time trial, but with the first quarter downhill it was important to keep the effort under control. The wind was immediately an issue, I’d get caught by a gust and be thrown considerably off course. Luckily these are rural roads with not much traffic, but I quickly started riding right in the middle of the left side of the road, to provide a margin for error. It was quite disconcerting and made me grip the ends of the aerobars like a vice. At about the 2 mile mark I realised that I was catching my rival. Michael was not riding a time trial bike, but he was astride a beautiful carbon Pinarello road bike. If he reads this, I hope he won’t mind me mentioning that he does have a good few years on me. So all things being equal, I ought to be able to catch him (or at least close the gap) at some point on the course. As it was, I passed him just before the 4 mile mark, as we came into Barnack. Apart from the wind, I was doing ok. I was reasonably happy with the position on the bike (a bit of saddle shifting, but not too bad) and I had the heart rate under control, in about the right place (for me about 150 bpm is probably the approximate area for a 10 mile TT, just above threshold).
The third quarter was just a case of holding back enough for the finish. That last section begins with a sharp left turn followed immediately by the start of the hill. It requires coming off the aerobars and standing up. I thought I’d sprint it to try and get the steepest part out of the way, but in hindsight I think that was a mistake, because I was left gasping for the next couple of minutes as the road continued to rise, albeit not at the same gradient. Next time I think I will ride more slowly up the sharpest part of the hill – it’s only short – and conserve energy for the long drag that follows. That effort really meant that I was just hanging on from that point. With about a mile to go, the road levelled out to a degree, and so I was able to up the pace – don’t know about you but I always seem to have a little left at the end of any hard effort – and I crossed the line flat out.
I returned to the finish line to get the news. 26:12 was my time. I was pretty pleased with that. The timekeeper told me that it would probably be “worth at least a 24′ in the summer”. Michael rolled in a short time later, we had a quick chat to bemoan the conditions and then went our separate ways. Looking back at the data, you can see the spike in heart rate and drop in speed that coincides with the sharp uphill section starting just before the 8 mile mark:
I really enjoyed my first experience of racing, even though the officials outnumbered the competitors! The summer evening series starts soon and, work permitting, I will be back to ride in a few of those. I’ve uploaded the ride to Strava, the TT course segment is here.
Thanks for reading 🙂