I can't deny it. It's been great to be back racing time trials. I guess I'm lucky to be part of a sport that doesn't demand close proximity to fellow competitors and thus can be allowed (albeit in a highly modified format) under the current social distancing rules.
When my cycling club, Newbury Velo, was 'awarded' the RTTC National 10-mile time trial championships (I think the original course was in Wales, which is / was still under tighter lockdown conditions), of course I had to enter. Arrogantly, I just assumed since I was part of the host club, I'd get a place (too much time on the triathlon age group scene, where the host nation always had double the allocation of athlete slots over any 'visiting' country).
Little did I realise that wasn't the case and so while I wasn't surprised at my acceptance into the event, it was a bit of a shock to learn I was one of only two men from the club to get a slot and I'd be off first man. First man! I've never been first man in a TT before. Ever!
It turns out that only times from the last year count towards your seeding for the National 10 and I just didn't ride any fast courses last year (that and, of course, I'm just not that fast!). So first man it was.
Which really left me with three objectives for the race, in descending order of importance:
Finish the damn race
Don't come last (effectively, 'beat your seeding')
Score a course PB
The course in question is H10/3R on the A4 in Berkshire between Hungerford and Newbury. I don't think it's an especially fast course (or I didn't, before last weekend!). Prior to this year, I'd never managed to get under 22 minutes on it.
This year, however, I'd managed a 21:46 and a 21:43 on the two evening 10s that had been run on that course. So the plan was to just beat that.
The National 10-mile TT championship
This wasn't like a club TT or even a weekend open. This was serious stuff, with lots of very skinny cyclists, ridiculously expensive machines, more of those weird-looking POC helmets than I've ever seen in one place and an armada of team cars. And me.
I've recently started working with a new coach, after a lot of promises and false starts with other potential coaches, I finally stumped up some money. Obviously, there was very little he could do to have a tangible effect on this particular race (this is all about 2021, really), but one change he brought in straight away is a much longer warm up for shorter (25 mile and under) TTs.
That meant I was rolling out of the athlete village nearly an hour before my 2:01pm start time. Unfortunately, I was so nervous that several enforced pee stops during the warm up probably meant I only got about 35 minutes of riding time in before I slowly approached the start and the very weird experience of not having anyone off in front of me (the women and juniors had all finished about 90 minutes prior)!
So I just stood there, at the start, focusing on my race and hoping to hell the guys off directly behind me wouldn't embarrass the 'home rider' by overtaking me before the finish.
Eventually it was my time. Social distancing meant no pusher-off, so I had my usual fumble in the first few meters clipping-in, but was soon away. The start of H10/3R is a bit of a false flat (it's actually downhill) so you gain speed fast, which is always a bit of a morale boost.
Being able to hold that speed onto the true flat, I felt that it was going to be a quick outbound leg. I was holding power at about the right level (for my FTP) and I felt pretty good. It wasn't till later that I realized it actually wasn't as fast as I thought (I was about eight seconds off a PB for the outbound leg, despite slightly higher power than usual).
There's a short sharp hill just before 7km into the 16km course and I could clearly hear shouts of encouragement from our club members who were lining the course, none more clearly than Andy Tucker!
At the top of the hill is another false flat, although this time it is uphill and so you never (or rather, I never) quite get back up to the speed you had before the hill. Then round the roundabout (I got lucky, no traffic), which was the first time I got out of the tuck. As I started back the way I came I could see that number two was definitely not closing on me (yay!) and number three might not be either (double yay!) which gave me the confidence to push on.
I was a little surprised how slow I went back down the hill (turns out the northerly wind didn't really help on either the outbound or the return legs), but then I just had to tell myself there was only about 5.5km to go and I could hold on for that long.
Into the last two kilometers or so and I had it in my head that a course PB was on. I set a new power PB for the final segment of the course, yet was a full eight seconds slower (3.1kph) for the 1.43km stretch.
I crossed the line with a time according to my Garmin of 21:43. Equaled my course PB, but didn't beat it. Damnit (the official time would come through as 21:45 anyway). In the end, it was good (?!) enough for 129th (yes you read that right, 129th!) out of 148 riders on the day.
So while Dan Bingham could have stopped, made a cup of tea, and drank it, and still beat me, at least I didn't come last.
Two of out three objectives achieved: finished, finished ahead of last place, didn't set a new course PB.
It seems like it was an honest enough effort - three runs on H10/3R this year and a 21:46, 21:43 and 21:45 to show for them. Consistent, even if that's consistently slow!
To punish myself, the next day (August bank holiday in the UK) I rode the H25/1 25-mile TT course and missed a course PB by just under a minute despite setting a course power PB. Time trialing can be a fickle mistress!
As the season draws to an end I learned this week that I was rejected from the last event of F11/10 for the year (pretty much the fastest course within two hours' drive of home) so even though I'll be doing my best on P881 tomorrow (about a minute slower, as courses go) there will be no 'fast' time recorded for 2020. Hopefully that won't hurt my attempts at getting into open events in 2021...