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…
Early Saturday and after days of a stifling heatwave (typically anything above 20℃ in the North East of England is considered extreme) it was quite pleasant to find myself descending through the cooling, clinging mist that had settled overnight, although my arm warmers, shorts and the lenses on my specs were soon beaded with jewelled dewdrops and I had to ship the latter and store them in my helmet vents.
I had my second time trial lined up for tomorrow, so was conscious of not wasting too much energy as I fumble towards finding the best preparation. With this in mind, I bumbled happily along at a fairly relaxed pace, reaching the meeting point without the need for any round-the-houses diversions to fill in a little time.
When I arrived I was introduced to a returning rider who has officially re-joined the club after a notable absence and in the process became about the 29th member called Paul.
I also learned that last week, in his fairly new, official capacity as Membership Secretary, Crazy Legs had serenaded our latest recruit with his very own new club member welcome song. She’d not returned this week and I’m not sure anyone had altogether enjoyed the experience, so that idea has been shelved. At least for now.
I of course had missed this singing celebration because of my mechanical travails last week. Every cloud has a silver lining, eh?
Speaking of last week, Biden Fecht had no sooner condemned me to a 2-up TT and put our official entry in, when the event was cancelled due to a safety issue with roadworks on the course. Everyone who’d signed up expressed their utter dismay, none so forcefully as Captain Black, although his Cheshire Cat grin did somewhat undermine his sincerity.
OGL turned up, I think principally to show everyone the mark on his arm, which he assured us wasn’t just any old, common, or garden insect sting, nor even a spider bite, but the result of a sustained and vicious attack by what he described as “some kind of flesh-eating arachnid.”
“Have you noticed any new superpowers?” Caracol enquired innocently.
Apparently he hadn’t. Or at least that’s what I interpreted from his rather salty reply.
Now the mist had burned off it looked like being a decent enough day, but our numbers didn’t quite match-up and we only just topped 20 riders. There was enough for a split though and we managed to get 8 or 9 into the first group without too much cajoling.
I joined the second group and off we went, heading for a drop into the Tyne Valley and a traipse along the river. G-Dawg and Crazy Legs led us out to Medburn, before ceding the front and I pushed through alongside the Soup Dragon. A little confusion reigned as the group split and took two separate descents down into the Tyne valley, so I found myself waving cheerfully at a bunch of cyclists emerging from the village, until I realised it was the back half of my own group. Not that I felt stupid or anything …
Strung out from both the descent and the split, we used the valley road to try and round everyone up again.
“Shout if you’re not back on yet,” Biden Fecht called out from the front.
We heard nothing but silence, so assumed it was gruppo compatto and pressed on.
Just beyond Ovingham, we passed the Famous Cumbrian, on his own and wrestling with a tyre change. Odd that he’d been abandoned by the first group. I asked if he was ok and got an affirmative, so kept on keeping on, down the steep ramp to the riverside path, where I spotted rest of his group, seemingly loitering with intent, soft pedalling and occasionally looking back. They seemed to assume our arrival relieved them of any responsibility to wait around any longer, quickly picked up speed and disappeared up the road again.
We agreed to stop and wait for the Famous Cumbrian at the Bywell Bridge, where Mini Miss climbed a fence to search for some nettles to irrigate, while the rest of us stood around, talking bolleux and enjoying the warm sunshine.
After a good 10-minutes or so with still no sign of the Famous Cumbrian, Crazy Legs retraced our route to go look for him. A further 5 minutes or so went by and Captain Black had a call from Crazy Legs to say the Famous Cumbrian had a puncture in his tubeless set up, was struggling to now get a tube in as a stop-gap fix and we should just push on without them.
Captain Black and Biden Fecht went back to reinforce the rescue mission and to make sure no one was left to ride the rest of the route on their own, while the rest of us carried on.
Just before Corbridge we took the bridge over the A69 at Aydon and started the long climb out of the valley. Here I played the “TT tomorrow card” to blinding effect, letting the front group go, while I tackled the climb at a much more relaxed pace.
From there it was a short hop to Matfen and then up the Quarry, taking the more straightforward run to the cafe. I tried to give the group some impetus as we wound up for the traditional cafe sprint, then was able to sit up and coast home as the road dipped down and everyone blasted past for the usual fun and games.
It was out into the garden at the cafe on what was turning into another hot day – hot enough for the tables with a bit of shade to be at a premium. Talk turned to various Everesting attempts – a rather bizarre challenge that involves riding one selected climb over and over again, until you’ve ascended a total of 8,848m, or the height of Mount Everest above sea level.
I suppose it’s fair enough to attempt if you have some big hills, or ideally mountains in the area, but the flatter the terrain you choose the more laps you need to complete the challenge. G-Dawg referred to one attempt he’d heard of using the local Billsmoor climb. (I could see his lip curling with disdain even as he said it, as he positively loathes Billsmoor). At just 1.9 kilometres in length and a maximum gain of 138 metres, you’d need to ride up and down this climb 65 times just to complete the challenge. You’d also need to achieve an average speed of 34.6 kph if you wanted to beat the record (a mere 6 hours and 40 minutes, although most riders take close to 24 hours straight to complete the feat.)
This whole thing sounds like a swift path to madness (or zwift path, for those attempting vEveresting) and I can safely say I’ll not be giving it a try. But then you probably could have guessed that based on the fact that a 10-mile TT is challenge enough for me.
If Everesting seems a particularly odd activity, we decided actually climbing Everest is even more so, especially now it has become a fully commoditised and commercialised activity. It seems odd to think of having to queue for summit attempts in one of the most remote places on earth and the cost in both time and money (an estimated average $45,000) appears to be making people somewhat reckless to push the limits of safety, with deathly consequences.
We were of course, reminded that it’s also become the domain of B-list celebrities and we all felt truly sorry for the poor Sherpa tasked with hauling Brian Blessed up the mountain, with his voice booming in their ears the entire way.
Being cyclists, it wasn’t long until the seemingly ever-lachrymose and mentally fragile Victoria Pendleton got a mention, because oxygen deficiency can trigger depression, so it’s only natural that she should have been chosen to attempt to scale the world’s highest peak … I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
We left the cafe in good spirits for the ride back home and I left the group and routed through Ponteland to shave some distance off what was heading for fairly long 70+ mile run, completing the last part at a stress free, relaxed pace.
Then, an uncharacteristically early 06:15 start on Sunday found me driving out toward Cramlington for the Barnesbury CC 10-mile TT. I knew it was uncharacteristically early as the only other traffic out on the road was heading to the rugby club at the bottom of the hill for a car boot sale. I didn’t even realise these were still a thing.
The SatNav got me close enough to the race HQ before deciding to randomly send me the wrong way, but I spotted a shiny TT bike sat atop a BMW and followed this into the actual event car park.
There I found the usual cluster of expensive looking, angular bikes with shiny, solid disk wheels, and all sorts of bars and wings and things jutting out their front ends like stylised, heavily-industrialised antlers.
The owners of these machines are typically ridiculously fit and very, very fast and they take this endeavour very seriously. I haven’t quite developed that level of dedication and I’m still finding the attire slightly odd, from the knee-high aero socks to the gleaming Death Star helmets and ultra tight skinsuits (I swear I’ve seen a few of these advertised on eBay as “fetish wear.”)
These skinsuits typically come without pockets, so a lot of my fellow competitors don’t appear to carry all that much with them (unless they have it stashed internally!) That’s never going to work for me as I think I’d struggle without the reassurance of all the usual crap I carry – keys, phone, pump, tyre levers, multi-tool and wallet, along with a couple of spare tubes on the bike.
I got changed and signed on with about an hour to go before my designated 08:29 start and asking for some directions, took the bike out for a ride around the course. This has the secret-squirrel designation of M102C and is run on a flat and fast dual carriageway. It comprises a straight east bound run, then an equally straight northbound leg up to a big roundabout at the halfway point. You then sail around this in order to retrace your steps back toward the start. Simples.
I should have followed the instructions I had to find the start but saw one of the event directional signs and followed this to find myself on the northbound stretch leading up to the halfway turn. All the way around the roundabout, back over the bridge (avoiding the large, raised divot in the centre of the road) and then back the way I’d come.
The problem was one stretch of dual carriageway looks pretty much like any other and I missed the turn and found myself way off course. At 08:15 I was still looking for the right roundabout and beginning to think I was going to miss my start-time. I finally spotted one of the event marshals and he pointed me toward the finish where the time keeper was able to direct me to the start and I bustled my way there with just a couple of minutes to spare.
I arrived, slightly winded, to take my place in line behind a tall guy from Ferryhill Wheelers. Was that the ideal warm up? Hmm, maybe not.
The marshal asked for the race number of the guy in front as he checked his bike over and made sure he had the requisite lights front and back.
“Number 28,” the guy told him.
Satisfied the marshall looked at me enquiringly.
“Strangely enough, I’m number 29.”
“Well, look at that,” my fellow competitor announced, “Cyclists can actually count.”
He pinged his nail off his rear tyre two or three times, testing the pressure.
“It’s a bit late for that,” I told him and indeed it was, as he shuffled forward to the start line and clipped in.
Half a minute later he was gone and it was my turn … 5-4-3-2-1 … and off we went.
On the flat, fast course I was quickly up to speed and soon travelling at a decent clip in excess of 20 mph. I stayed on the hoods for the first few hundred metres to negotiate the first roundabout and then, as the course proper straightened out before me I tucked in and settled down onto the aerobars.
I might, in my own mind, have been travelling at a decent clip, but my minute man caught and passed me before I’d completed two miles. Like I said there are some very, very fast riders doing this stuff.
The second caught me as I was hesitating and trying to decide whether the approaching junction was the one I needed to take at the halfway point in order to head back. He helpfully shouted instructions to stay on the right all the way around and I managed to keep him in sight and follow onto the right exit back onto the main drag.
The third, and last, caught me on the uphill ramp to the junction where we’d be turning west toward the finish line. This was the only time I recall my pace dropping below 20 mph, though I still went up it quicker than the rider who’d just passed me, as the gap visibly narrowed.
Then it was the final long straight to the finish, pushing as hard as I could for the last couple of miles.
There was a car on the final roundabout and if I’d been 10 seconds later, I may have had a marginal decision to make about whether to brake, or try and nip in front of it. Luckily, I was able to keep my momentum going and sail safely by, long before it closed.
A minute or so more effort and I crossed the line, sat up to freewheel around one more roundabout and started to roll back to the race HQ. Done.
The bars seemed alarmingly wide after riding for almost half an hour crouched over the aerobars, but I was pleased to have been able to maintain the position for most of the ride. I was 31st out of 34 riders, completing the course in 26:45 at an average speed of 22.43 mph. This was exactly 1 minute faster than my only other 10-mile TT way back in 2018, so progress of sorts, although that was on a lumpier and windier course.
So there you have it, my brief race season lasted from just the 31st July to the 14th August, covered two events and lasted a mere 1 hour 3 minutes and 44 seconds.
Still, the hook has been set and I’ll aim to try more of this next year – I’m starting from a low base so there’s plenty of room for measurable improvement. If not, then I guess I’ll still hopefully and somewhat bizarrely find this whole thing an enjoyable experience.
Back home by 09.30, I felt I’d earned myself a very lazy afternoon, so settled down to watch the European Road Race, the highlight of which was the possibly dyslexic rider from Iceland grabbing up an Ireland musette. Later that day, someone told me they’d found a cure for dyslexia, which I have to say was music to my arse…
Sorry. Sorry, sorry.
That seems like a very good place to end this now …