SLJ does an ITT

SLJ does an ITT

Club Individual Time-Trial, Thursday 9th August, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                        19 km / 12 miles with 146 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                               35 minutes 12 seconds

Average Speed:                       31.8 km/h

Group size:                              Well, 1 (duh!)

Temperature:                          19°C

Weather in a word or two:     That gentle summer breeze? That was actually a hurricane.


TT
The Infamous M105 TT Course

I think I should be commended for surviving over 50 years as a sentient human, without feeling the compulsion to inflict wholly unnecessary and prolonged pain and suffering on my weak and frail body.

… Or at least that’s the line I always trotted out when some kind soul or other invited me to undertake cycling’s race of truth – an individual time-trial.

There were always other excuses too, anything other than a short blast would feel too big a step up and, when we did occasionally and intermittently hold a club competition, we tended to just piggy-back on another clubs event, holding an unofficial race-within-a-race, so to speak.

As well as this feeling unconscionably rude, as a pure novice, mixing it up with overly-serious, po-faced and glowering strangers and potentially getting in the way of their PB’s always seemed a bit intimidating.

I also never felt I had the right build to make even a passable attempt at a time-trial. I don’t have the concentrated mass and power to continuously turn over a massive gear -in body-type terms, I have more of a weedy Romain Bardet style physique, rather than that of a strapping, powerful TT specimen like Tom Dumoulin or Tony Martin. I also suspect I would be even more ineffectual in a time-trial as Bardet has proven amongst his peers.

Then, Crazy Legs took it upon himself to organise an official, club-based, standalone and (most importantly) short individual time-trial and put the call out for self-flagellating, masochists everywhere to sign up.

When canvassed beforehand, I did foolishly tentatively agree to participate, even while lobbying unsuccessfully for a much shorter event – maybe 10km instead of 10 miles, or perhaps even just 5km?

Oh, and preferably downhill, too…

But, 10-mile it was to be, a course was duly selected and a date was picked. There was no turning back and I felt it was important to support Crazy Legs’ enterprise, dedication and hard work in organising the whole damn thing.

A 10-mile ITT is a set and recognised, British tradition – a rite of passage for many a club cyclist – and suitable courses have already been set up and verified all over the country, hidden behind innocuous codenames and only discussed in hushed tones during shadowy meetings by those deemed to be “in the know.”

Our selected crucible of pain was imaginatively and poetically titled the M105 TT course and, for its outward leg, it traversed backroads made familiar from just about every club run we do, albeit we would be travelling north toward further pain, rather than south from the comfort of coffee and cake.

The return leg would be straight down the A696, a main arterial route from Scotland and shunned on our club runs as being too busy and too dangerous for group rides. It did however promise a fast run in to the finish, with the prospect of (hopefully) only minimal traffic on an early, weekday evening.

Once committed, it was just a case of making the best of a bad job. I came up with a simple strategy, figuring I should be able to ride at an average of 20mph across the whole course and, from this I set myself a target time of 30 minutes.

If I could somehow dip under this mythical barrier, it would be (in my mind at least) akin to Roger Bannister doing a 4-minute mile … and I’d probably celebrate it as if I’d achieved something of equal significance.

I tested how easy it was to reach and maintain 20mph, trundling along the bottom of the Tyne valley, both before and after our weekly club runs. I also tested myself a couple of times riding to and from work, although my single-speed commuter bike is geared to get me up the Heinous Hill every day, so sadly my legs spin-out at anything approaching 22mph.

Although not sustained over a long enough time, or distance to be conclusive, these tests all seemed to indicate my goal was at least achievable.

To give myself every advantage, I picked up some tri-bars from Amazon for less than £20. I realised I would be forgoing my classification in the standard, unmodified road bike category of the competition, but I was more interested in achieving the best personal time, than where I placed in any club hierarchy.

Despite the bargain price, the tri-bars proved to be solid, well made and more than adequate for the task at hand. I clapped them on Reg and actually started to feel sorry for him. My bike now looked unbalanced and with all the horns, pads and brake levers jutting out from the front, he resembled nothing so much as a primary coloured, rather anorexic-looking stag beetle.

I had a brief trial around the mean streets of Whickham. Control wasn’t especially precise, I didn’t feel overly confident, but the position certainly seemed to help aerodynamically, or at least psychologically – which was as good as.

I hemmed and hawed about using the tri-bars, right up until the last minute, before finally deciding to go with them – in for a penny in for a pound, I might as well be hanged for a lamb as a sheep, or any other cliché you feel is appropriate to insert at this juncture.

The day arrived and I packed up early, put everything into the car and drove out to where I thought the start line was. I had an hour or so in which to recce the course, something I’d planned to do, much, much earlier, but of course never got around to.

Getting a better feel for the tri-bars, I began to work out where I should be using them and where to back off and go for the greater control I could get riding on the hoods. I started to notice all the little lumps along the route, things you would just roll over in the normal course of events, but when you were pushing hard, really bite into your legs and drag down your speed.

Swinging left at Kirkley Hall, not only brought you onto the bumpiest, hilliest section of the course, with the roughest road surface, but pitched you straight into a headwind. As my pace dwindled horribly again I realised this long, outbound leg, was going to be the most difficult section, I would struggle to keep up to my target speed and I’d need to make time up elsewhere.

Hard left at the end and then left again spat you out onto the A696 and then it was just a case of pinning your ears back and driving for the finish. Or, that was the theory at least.

In practice my test run was thwarted by a car, trying to recreate a complex Spyrograph pattern and embarking on a convoluted, thirteen-point turn in the narrow entrance to the junction, something I could only hope didn’t happen during my timed run.

Once I’d swung south, the road surface was better, wide, smooth and fast and even with a few rolling hummocks to contend with, it seemed far less taxing. Plus, we would have the benefit of putting the wind behind us for the run-in.

I picked up a few visual markers I could tie-in to the distance left to run and rolled past the end of Limestone Lane, looking for anything that would give a clue to where the actual finish was. I could see nothing, but someone told me it was just past the junction, so that’s what I would work to.

I then rolled through to the start line, expecting to find Crazy Legs, but no one was around. I rode up and down the lane a few times, futilely looking for clues, until I bumped into Caracol … and then we both rode up and down the lane a few times, futilely looking for clues.

Richard of Flanders powered past on a warm up and we asked him where we were supposed to sign on.

“Down the road, first right” he shouted as he rode away.

We tried down the road and first right … and then second right … and then third right and kept coming up blank. Back onto the lane and in desperation, Caracol stopped to phone Crazy Legs for further instruction, while I spotted the Red Max and the Big Yin, numbers on their back and rolling toward us.

Max volunteered to help and led us to the shopping centre car park, where Crazy Legs had set up Race HQ, was taking entry money, dolling out numbers and teasing everyone with tantalising glimpses of Haribo and Energy Drinks for the finishers.

Oh, for those keeping count, it was actually the third right we had tried, we just hadn’t gone far enough.

So it was that, despite being one of the first ones to arrive, I was the last to sign on. That suited me well enough, at least I wasn’t going to be demoralised when someone roared effortlessly past.

With time running out, we rode down to the start, where I enlisted Buster’s help to pin on my number. I would be the last rider off, number 19 – so almost twice as many entrants as Crazy Legs had hoped would turn out.

The we stood round talking the usual blether as the early runners got underway.

The Monkey Butler Boy had gone for the full aero set-up, skinsuit, aero-helmet and visor, aero-socks (under aero-overshoes!) and aero-gloves. He was set to ride Crazy Legs’ aeroTT-bike (the one that always gives its owner a bad back) which looked like a matt-black, angular stiletto and as far from comfortable as I could possibly imagine. In fact just looking at it, I felt my spine twinge in sympathy.

The Monkey Butler Boy had even gone as far us using little-brass coloured magnets to hold his number on instead of safety pins for some truly infinitesimal weight or drag saving. They also seemed very fiddly and largely ineffective at their primary task.

“I reckon they’re actually fridge magnets,” I said.

“Well, that one does say, I ♥ Marbella,” Caracol pointed out.

Meanwhile, someone asked if there was any Salbutamol going free. The Red Max simply scoffed, declaring that anything you could get on prescription just wasn’t going to cut it and wouldn’t be strong enough to help tonight’s efforts.

He claimed his own strategy for the ride involved starting with a full bladder and working his way steadily through a new bottle, hoping the desperate imperative of needing to pee would spur him on to the finish.

When we’d chuntered on for long enough, our numbers slowly dwindling as we were called to the start-line, one-by-one, I rolled off for a quick post-warm up, warm-up. Returning in time to see a Tour de France green jersey with a number 17 on the back disappearing up the road.

“A sprinter,” Caracol observed. “Do you think he’s one of those ones like Michael Matthews or Sagan that are really handy at prologues and short time-trials?” he mused. Then he was rolling up to the start line and I was shuffling into his spot.

Off he sped and I took my place, alongside our starter-gate for the evening, Big Dunc and the official starter and timekeeper, G-Dawg.

“30 seconds,” G-Dawg intoned.

“I want my Mummy,” I whimpered, but no one cared and I surrendered myself to Big Dunc’s iron grip. Held rock steady, I clipped in and waited.

“If I’m not back by the time it gets dark, will you send someone out to look for me?” I wondered.

“10 seconds!” G-Dawg replied.

I raised myself off the saddle a little.

“5-4-3-2-1 – Go.”

I went.

A good clean start. The pedals whirred around building momentum. I dropped back into the saddle, took the first, long curving turn and settled onto the tri-bars, forearms well cushioned on their foam pads.

I glanced down. Bloody hell, I was doing 26mph already.

The first of many small rises came and I watched my speed trickle down, down, down, but it still held above the magic 20mph mark. Had I gone off too fast?

I tried to settle in to the task at hand, keeping the speed up and picking the straightest lines through the curves.

Around 2 miles in, and in the lane ahead I thought I caught a glimpse of green jersey disappearing around a bend. Then I was easing, hands on the hoods and freewheeling to sweep through the first junction at Kirkley Hall, briefly noticing a crouching OGL, serving as official club photographer for the day.


SLJ ITT


Back into position, my legs were starting to burn with the effort and my breathing was a rasping, staccato panting, much too loud, too harsh and seemingly too close to my own ears, as if my lungs had escaped my chest and were making their way up to squeeze out of my gaping mouth.

The first serious ramps appeared on the road up to the village of Ogle and, at the bottom of the first of these, I caught and passed the green jersey. I probably sounded like a deranged, asthmatic and over-excited sex pest as I lumbered past. Still, despite a lack of grace, I was somewhat comforted by the fact that, unless things went disastrously wrong, I probably wouldn’t be the slowest competitor.

As the slope bit and my cadence dropped, the pedalling became less fluid and the speed dipped below 18mph. Then I was over the hump, picking up the pace and back on track.

Four miles in and I was waved through Ogle by our marshal, Dabman. The route swung due west  at this point and into a headwind, a barely noticeable, pleasant, summer-evening breeze … well, as long as you’re not trying to turn yourself inside out with some wanton and furious pedalling.

Even worse the road started to buck up and down and the surface was rough, cracked and heavy, liberally strewn with gravel and other debris to avoid.

I now had a strange stitch to contend with too, a dull, throbbing pain that seemed to encompass my entire right-side, running from my collar-bone, down to my hip. Even worse, the effort had turned snot and saliva to a sticky, viscous and strangely elastic substance that seemed compelled to cling to me, no matter what.

I had trouble expelling it forcefully enough to ride clear and it kept pivoting around to slap me across the side of the face like a cold, wet haddock, or failing that spatter horribly across my shoulder.

I was certain I had strings of spit hanging, dangling from my gaping, gasping mouth – like a dishevelled, dribbling, drooling lunatic on a bike, it wasn’t pretty.

Still, constant speed checks were for the most part on the positive side of 20mph and I was starting to eat into the miles.

Through a sharp 90° bend, ably marshalled by Captain Black, I tired shouting that there was one more rider behind me, but I’m not sure if he heard, or could even decipher my garbled and incoherent rantings.

I didn’t recognise the last marshal, there was just a flash of blonde hair as she ushered me through the last 90° bend. I took it at a fast freewheel, yawing horribly wide, before pulling the bike straight and powering up the legs for one, last effort, a straight run of maybe 4 miles, down the A696 to the finish.

The first lump in the road was negotiated without losing too much speed and I changed gear for the first time, the chain clunking noisily down a couple of cogs. I stretched out and settled in to push hard. My breathing was fully under control now, there was no more breathless panting and the pain in my side had cleared completely.

The bike felt solid under me and I was astonishingly comfortable on the tri bars, my fingers curled right around the very ends, locked in place, head up and surprisingly static apart from the churning legs.

I briefly topped 30mph and while the rolling terrain made this high-end speed impossible to maintain, I don’t recall any point along this last leg where it fell below my 20mph target.

I now seemed to have stumbled into a zone, or maybe in sporting mythology the zone. Everything was flowing, it was comfortable and it felt strangely good. Beyond my wildest expectations, I was actually enjoying myself.

I didn’t really notice the traffic either. I was aware of a couple of cars considerately shifting right over to the far lane to overtake and there were no close passes. A massive HGV, thundering in the other direction, did kick up a storm of dust and turbulence in its wake, but I was quickly through this and pushing on.

The route markers I’d picked out flowed past, the pub with the speed camera, the long sweeping bend, the interesting looking fish restaurant, the large, dead bird, brutally eviscerated at the side of the road …

Hang on, back up! I don’t remember that particularly bloody, avian corpse from my first run through?

I saw a small knot of cyclists on the other side of the road and just behind them, but on my side, a small cluster of figures. The end was in sight. I glanced down and checked my speed for one last time and it was solidly in the twenties.

I didn’t sprint, try to bury myself, or “empty the tank” – I just tried to maintain the same smooth, rhythm and cadence as the road rose up and took me through the line.

Then I was done and pulling off the road, first left, to stop and try to restore breathing back to normal again. I looped back to where the other riders were waiting.

“Well, how did you do?” the Red Max asked.

“Oh, I don’t know.” I looked down at my Garmin. I hadn’t thought to stop it at the line, it was still running and now read 29:13.

“I guess I hit my target.”

Caracol had not only set a blisteringly fast time, he’d seemingly done so with a rapidly deflating front tyre and he set to work to replace the tube, while I explained there was still a rider out there.

“Who is it?” the Red Max wondered.

“The guy in the green jersey?” He looked blank.

“Reg? Is he called Reg?” I pondered, uncertainly.

The Red Max still looked blank.

“Sorry,” I admitted, “I only know him as Two Trousers.”

Slowly the Red Max folded over, emitting strange, distressed wheezing, squealing and gargling sounds.

He finally recovered and straightened up again.

“Don’t make me laugh, it hurts too much.”

There was only time for the Big Yin to imagine OGL turning up to berate us for riding too fast and declaring, “If you want to ride like that, you should put a number … oh …oh,  hello.”

Then we cheered our last man home, hung around long enough for Caracol to re-inflate his tyre and rolled back to the Race HQ/Shopping Centre car park.

There I received my official time of 27:45, or two minutes and 15 seconds inside my target – an achievement that means absolutely nothing to anyone else, but I was massively pleased with.

(Crazy Legs said he could tell I must have put a good effort in, as my face was almost as grey as it is when I finish the hill climb.)

I then slung the bike in the car and joined the rest in the nearby pub for a celebratory and much deserved pint of Guinness – purely for medicinal and recovery purposes, you understand. (Note: Other celebratory drinks are available.)

So, in the footsteps of many an embarrassing, verbose and much too lachrymose Oscar winner …

Many thanks to Crazy Legs for initiating, preparing, organising and running a fantastic event.

Many thanks to my rock solid starting gate, Big Dunc and official starter G-Dawg.

Thanks to the marshals, Dabman, Captain Black and the Mysterious Blonde, who gave up their free time to hang around country lanes trying not to look too suspicious.

And thanks to the various ladies of the Timing Association – even though I couldn’t manage to work in a full-blown nod to Jan and Dean and the Anaheim, Azusa, & Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review, & Timing Association.

Or, could I …

And finally, thanks to all my fellow competitors, there would obviously have been no event without them.

That was a blast, I really look forward to the next one.


YTD Totals: 4,739 km / 2,899 miles with 58,645 metres of climbing

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