Buzzin’ – Tales of a 4-Up TTT

Buzzin’ – Tales of a 4-Up TTT

A guest blog by Crazy Legs

Tired of being misrepresented as the cheery, chirpy, care-free, ever-chuntering, all-singing and all-dancing, cycling comedian in this humble blog, one of Sur La Jante’s regular animators-in-chief, Crazy Legs has decided to take matters into his own hands and re-invent himself as an erudite, thoughtful weighty and perspicacious philosopher of cycling commentary.  

What was the impetus and inspiration behind this renaissance, I hear you ask, somewhat dumbfounded?  Well, it was discovering the joys of a 4-Up Team Time Trial that seems to have re-ignited his passion for all things cycling and, as he explains, gave him a real buzz and impetus to improve.

This unexpected catalyst was the Blaydon CC, 4-Up Time Trial, held on the 27th August on a rather secretive and mysterious course referred to by those in-the-know, simply as M18.

Here then, in our heroes own words, is the tail of his travails, trials and tribulations…

Sunday, August 27th, 2017 and ever since the Hammer had suggested this event, I’d been fretting about the day.

It had all started innocently enough …

“Hey, how about we do a 4-Up Team Time Trial, on the circuit in Northumberland?” was his rather innocuous question.

“Hmm, how long is it?”  I pondered, though not too deeply.

“18 miles.”

That seemed do-able…

“Sure, as long as we are all fairly evenly matched as a team, no problem.”

So, the initial groundwork was completed, and the proposed team was the Hammer, the BFG, G-Dawg and me.  As G-Dawg correctly and proudly pointed out, a team with a combined age of over 200!  With all that knowledge and experience what could possibly go wrong?

Well, first and foremost, was the change in the route from an eminently do-able, one lap of the Secret Squirrel like, M18 time-trial course, to 2 laps and subsequent shift to more than double the distance – from 18 to 40 miles!

Ok. Breathe deeply, reset the clocks, and re-calibrate for (hopefully) slightly less than 2 hours of pain. We can still do this.

Then, the BFG had to withdraw with a recurring bad back.  Luckily the Cow Ranger stepped up to fill the not inconsiderable void left by the BFG, but this presented its own problems. Previously, I’d looked at my companions and thought we were all fairly similar in outlook and ability. The Cow Ranger though was in a different league, a proven triathlete, experienced time-trialler and possessing some of the best kit and equipment money could buy – even, believe it or not, a solid disc wheel. I don’t know about you, but that’s nigh on professional in my book.

He would undoubtedly be stronger and faster than the rest of us, which rather unnervingly suggested he’d be dishing out real pain through every one of his turns on the front. Still, we were all committed now and determined to make it work.

Training sessions started about 8 weeks before the main event, but fitting it around work and holidays usually meant the turnout was just 3 out of the 4 riders.  In fact, it wasn’t until the last training session that all 4 of us actually rode together as a team.

Undaunted, we sorted out an order, trying to logically decide who went where in the line-up and why, along with some rough roles and rules. In all honesty though, no matter what the formation, pain was going to be the order of the day.  We aimed high and agreed on a simple but important motivational target: “Don’t come last!”

It was really easy objective to sum up, and we all bought into it as a team. If I cared about my bosses, I’m sure they would have been proud: we had an objective that was specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic (hopefully) and definitely time-based.  Welcome to the world of corporate time-trialling.

Two weeks before the event, perhaps not so good for the organisers, but a godsend to us, was the news that the course of 2 laps had failed a health and safety assessment and was consequently back down to 1 lap, as originally planned. I promise I’ll never, ever mock overzealous Health and Safety legislation and I too now fully support the wearing of protective goggles when playing conkers.

The M18 Time Trial Course

Quite how we were expected to ride through a popular, Northumberland village on a Bank Holiday weekend, with busy roads, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, roundabouts, rampant flocks of kids and a plethora of busy pubs and car parks was baffling, to be honest.  Then again a bit of chaos might have played into the hands of the teams who weren’t expected to be at the top of the finish list.  Nothing like a pensioner on a zebra crossing to stop a team in full flight.  They don’t have that sort of obstacle in the Vuelta I tell you.

So training sessions had been good, we’d studied and rode the course and had it divided into thirds, with an agreed strategy for each segment:

First third (the hilliest part):  Keep it steady, especially up the 3–4 km climb.

Second third:  Due west and normally into a headwind, keep tucked in, shorter turns on the front and for the last climb take it E-A-S-Y!

Final third:  Flat out, leave nothing in the tank, and head for home – and just in case you hadn’t been listening, I said FLAT OUT!

Much of the training sessions involved getting the Cow Ranger to hold back on the climbs when he was itching to power on.  A couple of time he had ignited the after-burners and destroyed the rest of us to varying degrees, so controlling his competitive impulses was going to be key to a smooth, fast ride for all.

He managed this superbly for our final training session, we were flying and had smashed our previous best times.  Brilliant, we we’re set to go.

One of the great things about riding with the other three was that I utterly trusted them and their decisions, so was comfortable sitting very close to the back wheel of the Hammer.  We’d decided to go with road bikes instead of TT bikes, as riding 5 cm behind another rider without having your hands anywhere near the brakes is best left for the professionals, especially on a slightly hilly course.  All but the Hammer had clip on TT bars, and we agreed to use these only when on the front.

So the day dawned, I’d contracted a minor ailment which had me worrying about whether I’d be able to take part, but in the end some helpful tablets from the doc had me running as close to my normal as possible, without the need for a TUE.

Preparation went well, a relaxing morning before our 2:27pm start, early lunch and a 1pm meet, so we could register, then put a few miles into our legs as warm up.  The weather was great, apart from a slightly stronger than predicted westerly wind, but sunny, warm and dry.  You can’t have everything.

Unfortunately, as countless coffees were being consumed amidst general chatting to some of the other 70 odd riders, the news filtered through that the course had been closed temporarily.  This was due to a poor soul on a motorbike being unseated in a collision with a tractor and needing the air ambulance to lift him out.

An hour’s delay was announced, which was not ideal preparation, but our team took it in our stride and saw it as the perfect opportunity for more coffee and extra cake.  We found the cycling cafés version of a flapjack with chocolate might even be denser than Rab Dee’s infamous, home-made, portable black-hole version.

By this time the air ambulance had appeared and disappeared, rushing the injured motorcyclist to A&E, and news went up that 3pm was the deadline for the race start. If the course wasn’t clear by then the event would have to be cancelled.  I hate to say it, but a part of me would have seen that as an honourable score-draw.  I mean we had committed, we had trained and we had turned up on the day, it wouldn’t be our fault if the whole thing was called off, would it?

2:59 and not a moment to spare, the road is proclaimed open.  Bugger.

Lots of police cars and transporter lorry carrying a motorbike bedecked in foliage and bits of grass verge went past and the road was officially declared open.  The team headed out for a quick warm up and, at the allotted time plus one hour, we rolled our way up to the start line.

Final preparations © Jeff Wilson

Nerves jangling, a strange sense of excitement and foreboding washed over me, but then again, that’s why we do these things I suppose.  OGL turned up at the line, and gives us advice, encouragement and just general support.  Cheers.

Our time is nigh, and the four of us line up.  My holder is a happy go lucky guy, who has 60 seconds of general, distracting chit-chat, before I clip in and he’s ready to push me off.  One problem though, the Hammer wants to clip-in himself, so if my guy pushes me off, I’ll plough straight into the back of him while he twiddles with his pedals.  We quickly agree that rather than me lose a few metres, I’ll angle slightly out, so the Hammer can clip in unimpeded and I’ll still be able to get going with a push.  As a supermarket might say, “every little helps”.

“10… 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!”

I get my push, the Hammer has clipped in smoothly and … we’re off.  Great.

Hang on.  No.

The Cow Ranger has set off like a Saturn 5 rocket leaving the launchpad.  G-Dawg is struggling to hold his wheel, and the Hammer is trying desperately to close on them.

Houston we have a problem!

Within 500 metres, the gap between G-Dawg and the Cow Ranger has yawned open and I don’t know about the Hammer, but I’m already in the red.  Bloody hell, we’ve only just started and my heart rate monitor is already yammering at me to slow down.

Now, we realise that the Cow Ranger’ has worn his space-age aero helmet for the first time out with us and is in full Buzz Lightyear, “To Infinity and Beyond” mode. With his head totally encased, the full visor down and the wind blowing past his ears, he can barely hear a thing.  He certainly can’t hear the shouts from the three of us, which get more and more frantic and use up all the essential oxygen we so desperately need.

Poor G-Dawg, who is second in line and should be getting sheltered, is exposed, and effectively on the front of a three-man team and temporarily taking all the wind.

The Cow Ranger eventually looks back, sees the problem and eases up, leading us through the rest of his turn in fairly good order.  He then pulls out and the three of us fluidly move through, while he slots onto the back.  Like the Hammer and me, G-Dawg, is already suffering from our all-out sprint start, but it’s his turn on the front now.  Sensibly he does the right thing, and pulls a shorter stint, before the Hammer moves through to relieve him.

After 4km, we’ve all done a turn, got our rhythm back and we’re approaching the 3–4 km ramp.  This can’t be described as a hill, more a series of rises, only adding 60m height over approximately 4km.  Nothing, eh?  Average 1.5% maximum, a pimple, a speed-bump a very gentle swelling?

Well, no. This becomes an entirely different proposition when you’re already going flat out.  Every metre of ascent is just more unnecessary pain, and every metre of descent only lifts your average speed to where you hoped it would be anyway.

We rotate through, shouting at the Cow Ranger to keep it steady and not burn everyone out.  I glance at my heart rate monitor and I’m on the limit and a strange sequence evolves where I’m actually looking forward to my stint on the front, so I can regulate my speed to match where my body wants it to be.

Still though, in the back of my mind, I can’t help thinking that I’m letting the team down, so I dig even deeper.  Is that the right thing to do? Who knows?  But it’s harder riding in a group than by yourself.  Pull a rubbish time by yourself and there’s no one else to blame.  Rubbish in a group and you’re it, the crap one, the useless one, the weakest link, the one they’d be better off without.  So I go further into the red, and try and push as hard as I can.

The Cow Ranger comes through after me, and after a few seconds respite, as I drift backwards and onto the rear of our line, he’s ramping up the speed again.  One thing which had escaped my notice until now, is that good time-triallers pedal hard downhill too.  Me, I normally take it easy downhill and give myself a break.  Not today, no way matey, no chance.  I’m spinning my legs off down the hills as well today.

The great thing about riding at a higher pace than normal (notice I didn’t say “fast”) is that the distance counter spins round much quicker as well.  I glance down and can’t believe we’re nearly a third of the way there!

We hit the sharp corner where a friendly marshal waves us onto a bigger road just in front of a car, but there’s no stopping, slowing or second-guessing now.  This road is a westerly section of about 11km long and it’s straight into the teeth of a headwind.  Not a massive headwind mind, but definitely there – and I refer you to my views on 1.5% climbs.

More Pain.

Throw in a couple of nasty rises, and it’s tough.

The Cow Ranger hits the front for one of these rises, and rides it perfectly.  Not too fast, not too slow for us, lovely.  It’s almost as if we’d practiced beforehand! Chapeau Cow Ranger.  I even have time to idly wonder if he’s getting a bit bored hanging around, soft-pedalling and trying to match his pace to ours?

This section of road hurts, but not as bad as the first part.  I end up on the last rise, and I’m on my limit.  G-Dawg and the Hammer are shouting encouragement at me to get to the brow, as my turn is nearly up.

“50 metres, come on” I hear clearly, through the pounding of blood and rasping of my breathing.

We’re nearly at the top and I peel off, my thinking being that if I get over the lip of the rise and someone else increases the speed, I’m gone.  They take over and luckily hold the pace more or less steady and I’m hanging on.

We drop into the village of our normal Saturday café haunt, but there’s no time for fruit scones today as we blast past, head down and legs whirring.

Now we’re on the home stretch, and it’s the time to empty the tank.  The Hammer, G-Dawg and I take our turns and I’m thinking this is as fast as I can physically go, when the Cow Ranger swings through.  The finish is less than 7km away, he can smell a good time and now really digs in. Whenever he puts the power down he tends to swing a little on the bike, but now he’s rocking and swaying like a drunken sailing rolling down the gangplank for 2-weeks shore leave.  I’m on his wheel, watching his entire body contort and our speed is starting to creep up.

Oh-oh, trouble here.  I’m clinging on for dear life as we hit a long, shallow rise, trying to make it, shouting at him to ease off, but he can’t hear.  I hang there, nearly, nearly at the crest, but then suddenly it’s reached the point where I have nothing left.  Nothing. Nadir. Empty. I’m gone.

I can’t hold the wheel for a second longer and I pull out of the line, tell them not to ease.  Go, Go GO!

I reckon I need 30 seconds recovery and we can’t take that long, not with only a few kilometres left.  I take a few deep breaths, look up, and they are only 50 metres away.  I hit the tri bars, and try and re-join, but 50 metres becomes 60, then 75, then they’ve gone.

I’m a solo TT-survival mode now.  I know I have to go flat out by myself in case anything happens to one of the remaining team mates, as it’s the time of the 3rd rider that stops the clock.  But now I’m riding on my limits and not someone else’s.  I can still give it everything, but if I need a fraction of a second rest, or don’t hit a rise full gas, then that’s it.  I can’t see any of any team mates, and bury myself coming up to the line.  Stop the clock! Stop the clock!

I see the rest of the team huddled in a group just past the line and finally recover enough to make my way across.  Everyone is happy with the time, much, much better than anything we’ve done in training.  They did stick together, and put roughly a minute into me over the last few kilometres.  Chapeau guys, well done.

It’s strange, but I’m slightly euphoric.  We think we achieved the aim of not coming last at this stage.  It all seemed worth it.  The harmony of 4 people riding close together has bonded us.  The Hammer reckons that people will have gone faster, but maybe none will have been as tight as us.  I can’t disagree.

(This is probably true – a watching OGL suggested a lot of the teams were very ragged and undrilled. He thought one team rode in the same formation, line astern, with no rotating on the front for the entire course and another even rode two abreast, as if they were on a club run. SLJ)

Pressing on at speed 5cm from someone else’s back wheel requires you to have a fair amount of trust in the rider in front.  I’d never given it a seconds thought as my fellow teammates are skilful riders and totally unselfish.

G-Dawg was slightly disappointed that we didn’t finish together, but I told him not to worry.  I simply couldn’t have given anymore.  We had a celebratory drink, packed up and left for home, very content.

Post-race, the results are in and show that we came 12th out of 18 teams.  Even by my poor reckoning, that’s nowhere near last.

I looked up my heart rate on Strava, and saw that the average was 177bpm for the ride.  That’s more than I can normally sustain, so all in all, not too shabby an effort.

I’ve been riding a few years now, and had begun to drift into the club run routine, and a kind of numbness.  I still loved the rides, but was looking for something to really excite me.  I’d tried individual time trials, great for solo suffering, but they only seem to scratch a deep masochistic streak.  I don’t really want to race against some pimply youths and I’m too old for that, but the team time trial was an electric jolt to my system.

I loved it.  The training was great, the planning was great, and it gave the summer meaning.  When you worry about an event for days, you know it matters.  This did.  I owe special thanks to the Hammer, he was the one who noticed it, and asked around and organised things, so without him, summer would have drifted by.

Next year, I’ll be back for more.  The actors might be different (hopefully not) but I’ll be fitter. I’ll be with the team at the finish line next time.  I reckon that our clubs infamously garish shirt might be represented even more, as I can think of at least half a dozen people who would take part given the chance.  The Red Max has already expressed an interest.

Thanks to the Hammer, we’ve all sat up and started looking for other Team Time Trial opportunities now.  So finally, to the team; G-Dawg, the Hammer and the Cow Ranger.  Brilliant one guys, loved every minute of it, and if I’m not mistaken, I think you did too.



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