As Britain sweltered in 30 degrees centigrade and the comedy sunburnt people sat outside cafes and public houses, it was for the time-triallists of the UK to figure out their cooling strategy for the National 10 mile Time Trial Championships!
As the warmest day of the year approached I felt lucky to have had the experience of preparing for the Beijing Time Trial – in 40 degrees centigrade – and set about the process of freezing drinks and gels overnight and packing a small towel that could be soaked in cold water and placed on my neck. Preparing for the heat in Beijing had involved the use of a heat chamber at the Manchester EIS for the final 10 days in the run up to departure for the Games. These sessions involved the chamber being set to around 33 degrees centigrade and 95% humidity in order to get the body quickly used to a higher core temperature.
Overseeing these sessions was physiologist Jamie Pringle, who was also going to be present at the National 10 and he kindly brought me an ice jacket to help take the heat off prior to the start. As unlike Beijing, we hadn’t had the foresight [or weather forecast to use a heat chamber for this event!]
Fortunately, despite being one of the last to arrive at the HQ, as we’d been staying just a 15 minute ride away, we found a well shaded paved area to warm up. My frozen drinks were defrosting rapidly and along with the cold towel, my cooling strategy for the warm up was working well. It really is a strange concept trying to warm up the muscles sufficiently to race, whilst keeping the core body temperature well under control. There are a few keys areas, hands, feet and neck – which can easily be bathed in a bucket of water to quickly reduce body temperature if needed. I donned the ice jacket as the final part of the plan and set off for the ten minute ride to the start.
It’s difficult to make a dual carriageway time trial sound interesting and today’s course, whilst fast, was not going to win any prizes for being imaginative. Predominantly flat with very little noticeable wind, the course was based partly on a dual carriageway and the rest on a wide single carriageway main road. There was nothing that could be described as a climb, but the road did rise fractionally for around a mile inside the last 3 miles. I’d be lying if I’d described it as my ideal course, because there’s no doubt I’m more suited to the more technical lumpy courses we find at international events, but whatever the course it’s the same for everyone and I was looking to try and go faster than I’d ever gone and see if I could sneak a win!
As with every event I’ve ridden at Championship level, the course was lined with people cheering and the official marshals were doing an unbelievably great job despite the speed of the vehicles on both the dual carriageway and the single lane A46. It had been a hectic time during the couple of days I’d spent at the course for the recce and despite our hopes for quieter roads on race day, the beautiful weather meant there was still a lot of traffic on the road.
As second seed for the event, I was starting two minutes in front of the favourite, Julia Shaw. I started as hard as I could manage, knowing that with Julia behind me I would need to try and get up on her pace to put her under pressure. Of course with her behind, I’d never know if the tactic was working! I flew down to the retrace roundabout and the traffic was kind to me and there were no awkward moments. As I headed towards the halfway mark I passed some supporters who told me I was almost 30 seconds up on the girls who’d started in front. I pushed on trying not to think about how fast Julia was riding!
The right hand turn at the main roundabout had been tricky during the practice runs and even with Barney following closely behind in the car on the previous day, I’d still been cut up by a flat bed truck with a long trailer, as I’d attempted to move into the middle lane of three. As I neared the roundabout I started to claim my space in the inside lane and was alarmed when an old couple brushed past with less than another bike’s width! I made it towards the point where I could actually get into that middle lane and then I felt the wind disappear and glanced across in time to see a huge truck heading exactly for where I was planning to put my bike!
As I freewheeled and braked to make sure I didn’t get hit by his back end swinging out, I knew I’d lose time and just had to freewheel behind and wait for him to make the turn. After exiting I really pressed on the pedals, trying to make it to the final left turn as fast as possible and could feel my legs screaming as I asked them to maintain a high power.
Seeing the left turn was such a relief and I cornered well, pedalling through and then clicked down into a bigger gear and started to lift the speed through the final sweeping bend and into the finish.
A new PB and beating my previous best of 21.49 set only 4 days earlier.
I was delighted with the time and collapsed on the verge to wait and see how long it would take for Julia to come into sight. It was about 90 seconds, which meant I had definitely not won and naturally there was a brief moment of deflation.
I picked myself off the grass and started to roll back to the HQ thinking about the race and whether I could have changed anything. Ultimately I’d put in the best I could, there was nothing I could specifically change and I couldn’t seriously be disappointed by such a huge PB and especially not on such a terrifying course! I’d lost to a true Time Trial Champion who has dominated the UK’s time trial scene for a while and I couldn’t have picked a better person to lose to.
Driving away from the race and up to the venue of the National Tandem Sprint Championships, where Barney was racing [and winning his 4th Tandem Sprint National title], I got to thinking what a shame it was we couldn’t have closed roads for all such important events as these in the UK. Cycling is gaining in popularity and time trialling attracts people of all ages – which one of the greatest parts about our sport. Yet in time trial national championships we are racing on roads that are effectively motorways, with people in cars and trucks who have little regard for anything else on the road. They would prefer to save themselves 20 seconds rather than make the day of another road user less dangerous.
The organisers of the National 10, like all the other UK cycling events I have been lucky enough to ride in, have put on yet another superbly run event and with a well oiled results board and refreshments that suited all attendees, there was plenty of merry cheer in the HQ. Time to head north for the National 25 Mile Champs in Yorkshire in 2 weeks….
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Photo Credit: Dario Belingheri/Bettini Photo