VTTA National 10 Mile TT Championships
Today I rode in the Veteran’s national 10. Since my first race in April, this is the one I have been targeting above all others. This year it was run on the E2/10 course near Cambridge. This is the 10 mile version of the E2/25 course that I raced on in my solitary (so far) 25 mile race at the end of June. It’s a fast course. Not the fastest in the country but generally over a minute faster than the only 10 mile track I had ridden so far, the venerable N1/10 at Sawtry that I have often written about. It is important to record as fast a time as you can, because the more popular events on the fastest courses are often over-subscribed. Entry to them is then decided by PB. So it’s a vicious circle, you cant get a fast time without entering a fast event, but you can’t enter a fast event without a fast time. So when you get the opportunity, you really need to take it.
The VTTA is an organisation for TTers over 40. They have a handicap system (called the standards) whereby every year you get older, you get a slightly larger handicap, to compensate for the decline in physical prowess as we approach the grave. So I am one of the younger members of the VTTA at 41 years old. There are prizes for the outright win, and also the win ‘on standard’ (i.e. taking into account everyone’s handicap). A young whipper-snapper like myself ought to be near the sharp end of the outright win, but in fact I expected to finish somewhere around halfway, because TTing is a veteran’s sport, and there are a hell of a lot of fast guys out there in their 40s and 50s. And still fast guys in their 60s. It seems that ability in endurance sport like time-trialling does not decay as fast as it does in more high-impact sports.
As a backdrop to this, things have not been going well for me recently. As I wrote back in July, I had taken quite a chunk out of my best time on the Sawtry course. Whilst this was pleasing, in fact I had done so at a cost of about 15 watts of pedalling power. Yes, I had gone about 30 seconds faster than ever before, with 15 watts less power. This drove home the simple fact that time trialling is not just about how hard you can press on the pedals. This PB time had come because I had drastically changed my position on the bike, lowering the front end and the saddle right down, to try and punch a smaller hole in the air. It worked. But something inside me did not like the fact that I was going faster with less ‘output’. It felt wrong. I became frustrated over the next few weeks with the loss in power. I started to hate training, because I was not able to produce the same power as I had a few weeks before. Coupling this with the holiday season, where I had an enforced couple of weeks off the bike, and I was feeling pretty dejected about future prospects. I have learned some things, I think, about positional changes and the effect on power, but a couple of weeks ago I decided to put TTing to bed for a while and take a break. I got myself into the position where I was either actually in a training session, or positively dreading the next. As cycling is my hobby, not my job, that’s a ridiculous place to be.
After my holiday I thought I’d turn up at the race today and see what happens. No expectations. It’s a fast course, I should still get a PB despite very little training in August. Previously I had decided that I ought to be capable of a very short 21 (i.e. somewhere between 21:00 and 21:15) but now I had no idea.
I got the start sheet through on email last week, and, sure enough, I was given a 9. Any starting number ending in 9, so 9, 19, 29 etc. denotes the lowest of the low. Because I am relatively young, and have only raced on a slow course, my time relative to the standard for my age is not good. The numbering of riders was seeded according to time on standard, so I was right at the lowest end of the field, even though I’d expect to finish in the top half , possibly even the top quarter, on absolute time. In fact, I was starting as number 9, at 1409.
I had a good warmup. I have recently been following the Team Sky time trial warmup procedure. I have no idea if it works well, but hell, if it’s good enough for them…and anyway I like a bit of structure. For today’s race I also brought out the heavy artillery: I had a BreatheRight strip on my nose and had smothered my face with Olbas Oil, to open up the airways as much as possible. Serious stuff! On the downside, I had not shaved my legs, and I wasn’t wearing lycra overshoes!
I had done the warmup on my turbo within 200 metres of the start, so I arrived at the start with only a couple of minutes spare. I was held in the usual manner and started at 1409. The course is all dual carriageway, which frankly is a little unnerving, but you don’t really have time to worry about it when you are riding at race pace, because all your focus is on the physical effort, and keeping yourself on the left side of the road. Apart from junctions, the only time on a dual carriageway where I concern myself with the traffic is when I’m overtaking another rider. This happened twice in the first 5 miles, and of course it is necessary to look behind and signal. Even though I’m riding fairly fast at close to 30mph, the traffic is passing at 30-40-50mph faster than that.
Power was holding up reasonably, well, on par with recent efforts. Since the position change, gone are the 305w races, replaced by 285-290w. As I said above, I have struggled with this, but meh, it’s no worse than I have been producing recently. I had set my computer to show me only average power, recent power (last 3 seconds), total distance and cadence, so I had no idea at any point what sort of speed I was riding, and therefore what kind of time I could expect. At the HQ, it was pretty windy, as forecast, and so I expected a tailwind on the way out, and a headwind on the return, but other than the sideways buffeting from passing vehicles, I didn’t really notice much wind either way. As I was going along, I felt I was doing ok, keeping the power high on the uphill parts, and allowing it to reduce slightly downhill, as you should. I seemed to get to the turn quite quickly, went round the raised roundabout and rejoined the A11. I could see that power was dropping a little on the way back, but I didn’t really care about it.
On the way back I came across some workmen who had put out cones and closed off the outside lane. It was a little dicey as all the traffic came into my lane. With the speed difference, I felt a little exposed, but the lane closure lasted only a few yards and soon I was on my way and thought little of it.
Two miles from home I tried to up the ante without much success. One mile out I managed to add some more power, because at that speed it’s only a couple of minutes until it’s all over. Soon the sliproad came, and just before I reached the timekeeper the Garmin bleeped for 10 miles. I looked down to see a time of 21 minutes dead. Cool! I’d expect this to lead to an official time of 21:05-21:10 because there is always a negative discrepancy, but even so this was the top end of the performance I had expected, even when I was training well and focusing on the event, back in July.
It was only a 1 minute ride back to my car. As I approached the hubbub of riders and cars, some waiting for their ride, a few early starters like myself having just returned, one of the starters was walking along the line of cars saying ‘sorry but the event is cancelled’. W.T.F.!? The roadworks meant that the organisers had to stop the race as it was deemed unsafe. Only about 25 riders had been started at the point of abandonment, out of a field of 150. Selfishly, my immediate thought was that my time would not count! I felt a mixture of elation at the time I had recorded, but dejection that it may not count. For myself, I didn’t care about the result of the race, because I was never going to finish anywhere anyway, either outright or on standard. I just wanted a good time to be able to use for future event entries. But some people had travelled the length of the country to ride, for me it had only been 45 minutes. I suppose there will be some recriminations, at this point I have no idea what to think, or who might be at fault. These events are organised carefully, with both the police and local authorities being made aware, so I dont know what has happened…
Back at the HQ I chatted to the officials, who told me that, even though the event was cancelled, since my time had been officially recorded, I could use it as my PB. Result!
Next week I am scheduled to ride a 25 mile race on a course in South Wales, the mythical R25/3L in the valleys, generally held up as the fastest 25 course in the country. It’s not yet certain that I will go, but if I do, I will write about it upon my return. I am also working on a post detailing the state of play with my bike. In recent months, new Flo wheels and USE Tula handlebars have been fitted, so I will soon post some photos and my opinions on those changes. Watch this space. Or don’t! 😀
Thanks for reading.