Time-trialling is not for the faint hearted
The day my partner tried to kill me
Last Christmas, with the prospect of ‘Le Grand Depart’ 7 months away, one of the presents given to me was entry to the Dare2B time-trial event scheduled on the evening of Day One of the Tour. Harewood House would be the focus not only for the Festival of Cycling (now referred to here as FoC) that was being staged to celebrate the race coming to the UK but Stage One would also start from here. Essentially, the time-trial course was a 3.9 km perimeter course that went around the grounds. Full of Christmas cheer I thanked her and didn’t think too much of it until we started discussing our Yorkshire plans when I was reminded of my impending participation.
My original plan was to ride the time-trial on the singe speed Kona on the basis that I could manage a more consistent speed on it rather than a geared bike. I’d recently been out on the Kona and enjoyed it, but when I tried to adjust the saddle stem height I noted it was pretty stiff. Actually, it was stuck solid. This had put me off alittle, but nowhere near as much as the video of the Brownlee brothers had riding the course. Evidently this was not a flat circuit – indeed, far from it. That put paid to the thoughts of using the single speed.
I think it should be pointed out that (a) these days I don’t do much competitive anything and (b) despite all the cycling I do I have never entered a time-trial event. Riding as hard as I could for very nearly 20 km was always going to be a bit of a culture shock, especially since I didn’t know the course…….
We spent the morning of the opening day of the tour in a small town called Grassington. I’ll go into our tour experiences in more detail another time, suffice to say the whole town was bedecked in cycling paraphernalia and there were hundreds, if not thousands of people lining the streets. It was a great atmosphere and a real sight to behold. After the cyclists had hacked through town, Emma and I drove towards Harrogate to join in with the festival of cycling.
I’m not entirely sure what I expected from the FoC but what greeted us was a combination of pop up shops, large screens to watch live footage of the race on and a variety of other cycling related entertainments on another stage. On the basis of this I thought the entry fee of £18 per person plus £10 car parking in a field was overpriced. Food, as is usually the case at these large events was similarly expensive. The time-trial was being held between 18.00 and 20.00. The time was nigh.
This is in no way an excuse but I was not in the right frame of mind for racing. Staying with friends the previous night had resulted in an inevitable hangover that morning and I had just found out that my son had been taken to hospital with suspected appendicitis. As it was, this was thankfully diagnosed not to be the case, but this added a layer of concern to proceedings. As a result, I grabbed the bike out of the bag of the van and failed to check the tyre pressure. That would come back to haunt me later.
I readied myself and rode CX style over the field to the start line. I signed in then queued up with a couple of other time trial hopefuls, some of which seemed to be taking it pretty seriously. I figured the route was about 19 km. Anything under 40 minutes would be respectable. The fastest time posted was about 32 minutes. If I could do somewhere near 36 minutes I would be very happy with that. (Keep in mind this is on the basis if no prior experience whatsoever). A couple of riders received their count down and they were off. Then it was my turn.
I was riding the Holdsworth. I decided to go ‘old school’. Steel is real and all that. I took off. As was the case in both RIDE24 events, I went off way too fast this time too.. Adrenalin got the better of me and I could not contain myself. The start was situated on a mild incline. As you rode past Harewood House the rode bore left and downhill with a swift right/left bend complex following thereafter. At this point the road surface was pretty good. You continued downhill and after the first lap I realised you could take the final right-hander without touching the brake but it needed some bottle. From here you started to climb. I was out if the saddle, doing my best to carry over the momentum up the hill and over the first cattle grid. The road levelled off for a few hundred meters before another right- hander took you up, up and up again. I was probably climbing for about 3 minutes, maybe more. At the top the road levelled off again but the road surface was appalling. Here you entered a forest section where the name of the game was pot-hole avoidance. My saggy tyres were really noticeable now. Through the forest and two quick right-handers took you back onto the start/finish straight. One minute of hard pedalling took me past the start line.
The problem was that this was just one lap. I had four more to do. My legs felt like jelly. My breathing was uncharacteristically all over the place. Sweat streamed off my brow like heavy rain. I felt rough. I had clocked 7.09 for the first lap but there was absolutely no chance I would be able to repeat that again. I rode as economically as I could past Harewood House again and made the most of the descent. However the moment it came to applying more effort through the bike uphill I got immediately out of sorts. I was being bent right out of shape.
The third lap was my worst. At the hill I had to consciously wrestle my breathing under control and spin the legs accordingly. Granted I was getting past a few riders but I was also being overtaken my riders who looked like they should have been on the tour – not a dare2B time trial. Grinding out the hill section I did my best to make up time on the flat. Every bone in my body jarred as I crossed the cattle grids. Emma was there at the start each time cheering me on – I could just make her out through my sweat-blurred vision. I had not felt this rough for a while on the bike.
Understanding the course better now I consolidated my 4th and 5th lap times at 7.40. I worked as hard as I could muster on the flat and spun my legs for what they were worth uphill. I could see from the Garmin that I would do well to complete the course in less than 40 minutes.
I did, but not with much to spare. 39.37 was my official time, 28/50 overall. I hadn’t disgraced myself and I can honestly say I could not have put any more effort into that session. I was glad I competed. For sure I should have checked my tyres beforehand, but I think my performance was more down to the night before than anything else. I was completely spaced out when I dismounted. By all accounts I didn’t look ‘normal’ until I had something to eat a while later. Off the back of this, I concluded that time trialling was not to be taken lightly.
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