Don’t tell me we’re back to that always raining on Saturday malarkey. I thought we’d done with that?
But no, apparently not.
This weather would have made for a truly grim club ride demanding full protective measures – thermals, rain jackets, mudguards, overshoes, casquette, spare gloves et al. The good news was I wasn’t heading out on a club run …
The bad news was I was heading out to my first time trial of the new season and this was likely to be just as grim, if not more so than the club run, but without the benefit of any of the protective measures.
Today was Team Kirkley Cycles’ 10-mile individual time trial where I was the 42nd rider off in a bumper field of 80. It was also about returning to the scene of the crime. my first ever time trial, way back in August 2018 (the horror of which can be relived here) when I was a callow, 55-year old. Now in a whole new age category, but seemingly none the wiser, I was about to do it all again, my 4th such competitive event, and the first on a course I actually knew and had ridden before.
At least my start time gave me an additional half an hour in bed beyond when I’m usually up and about on a Saturday morning. Sadly, it also gave time for the cold, dismal rain to settle in fully, like a depressing, soaking wet blanket thrown over the entire region. I arrived at Kirkley in plenty of time, parked up and finally worked up the courage to get out of the nicely warm car for a chat with a couple of team mates, while I pulled out the bike and started preparing.
I signed on and got briefed about potential hazards out on the course: gravel, potholes, and mud I was familiar with, especially on the lane past Ogle, and puddles and standing water were a given on a day like this, but open farm gates? I struggled to work out what hazard open farm gates posed – other than the not impossible scenario of me taking a wrong turn and riding into a newly ploughed field.
Once I’d pinned my number on my back, I wandered out for what I farcically term a warm-up, even though that was something that was almost impossible in the prevailing conditions, and it was more an exercise in trying not to get too wet and chilled while killing time before my start.
With a few minutes to go, I backtracked to the start line, just in time to witness a comedy of errors. First up, one tall rangy rider somehow slipped and majestically toppled like an up-rooted redwood. I can now safely report that If a time-triallist topples in a forest, and no one is around to hear, he does indeed make a sound, and that sound is undoubtedly a loud and explosive “Ooph!”
No damage seemed to be done and the rider picked himself up, dusted himself down and got underway, probably with a huge jolt of adrenaline as a boost.
The marshal’s then tried to fit a late-comer into the minute gap between the next rider up and the one immediately in front of me. The interloper jumped away 30 seconds into the minutes’ gap and made maybe 2 or 3 pedal strokes before his drivetrain imploded. The starter then leaped to the rescue and wrangled the bike upright and the chain back in place, helped the rider up off the floor, and got him underway, but not before the poor guy in front of me had to start with a foot on the ground, clip himself in and then steer carefully around the chaos unfolding in front of him.
Luckily, I had no such issues and managed to get underway in good order, grateful to be moving and hopefully generating some warmth. I made it to the descent just before Ogle before my minute man caught and passed me and I was on the final run for home before I was passed again. For me, this was quite an encouraging state of affairs.
Even better, as I approached the turn on the outward leg a flashing red light showed I was catching someone ahead and though it took a bit longer than anticipated I eventually passed them on the long straight road toward the finish. It’s always good to know you’re not going to be last! I was even closing on a second set of lights as I crested the final rise but ran out of road before I could make that catch.
Done, I then had to take the long loop around Berwick Hill to get back to the race HQ to (rightly) avoid riding on the actual race circuit. It was here that I realised just how tired I was and how chilled, soaked to the bone, and filthy I was too, and I hated every mile of this enforced detour. For a different perspective though, a much hardier rider from Weardale told me he thought this was the best bit of the route as he relished the smooth new tarmac on Berwick Hill after the crusty, potholed monstrosity that is the track from Ogle.
I didn’t hang around at the finish, but packed up as quickly as I could, pulled on as many layers as I had, although there wasn’t enough, and shivered all the way home, even with the heaters in the car cranked up to the maximum and the windows slowly fogging. It took a long hot shower and a couple of hours huddled indoors before I started to feel warm again. That was unexpectedly brutal.
I finished in 55th place out of the 70 starters who were brave or foolish enough to turn out in such miserable weather, and in a time of 29:14, almost exactly 2 minutes slower than my previous attempt on this circuit. If that rate of decline is anything to go by in another 5 years or so I won’t be able to ride fast enough to consistently stay upright, so I’d better enjoy my cycling while I can.
If I’m reading the results correctly the winner in the 60+ Vets category finished with a time of 26:17, which is better than I’ve ever managed on the fastest course in the most favourable conditions. Well, it’s something to aim for…