It’s been 2 weeks since my last race and despite getting plenty of miles in, I’ve definitely missed the action of racing. I’ll be back racing the March Hare Classic (and likely getting beat up) next weekend, but this week was my first time trial of the season – a 2-man, 18 mile thrash around 2 laps of the Brickendon circuit (F7/10). My team mate for the event was Chris Nicholls – his riding style can only be described as the exact opposite of self-preservation.
In the week leading up to the event, there was a lot of banter between the RPR guys racing the event (lots of talk of secret training, upgrades, watts, tapering and the usual bluster) and a lot of build up from others in expectation of the showdown. Big Mat and Gav were racing together and Tom was racing with the strong Joe Bowers of Buxton CC, going for the ‘combination’ club prize. When the start list was posted online, some guys on TimeTriallingForum called Mat and Gav as the winners, giving Chris and I some extra motivation.
The competition between the two RPR teams was no secret. Some had labelled it the battle of Zwift Islanders vs. the Regent’s Park-ers. Structured training vs. Pub laps. There were even rumours of Kickrs and Wattbikes lined up in front of laptops in the village car park.
We all ride with each other fairly often – pacelines usually get competitive – but rarely do we get to ride against each other with numbers pinned on. The TTT seemed a good chance to do so, and with both teams on road bikes there was a fairly level playing field.
I spent a lot of time during the week working on marginal gains, mostly on my bike. It’s strange how it takes a TT for me to start thinking about all the little bits, but I’ve missed out on placings by a single second before! I replaced the BB (after 14.5k miles…), finally cut down 25mm from my steerer, stripped and cleaned everything twice, re-greased every bearing, found and adapted to a lower position, upgraded aero kit etc. I knew we were up against it and every little advantage would be needed.
On the day, Chris kindly offered me a lift and saved me from riding ~35 miles to get to the course. Instead, we ate Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference (TtD) cookies and chatted strategy. Arriving about 45 minutes before our start time, we decided to drive a recce of the course as I’ve only done about half of it before in the opposite direction. This was another gain. Learning the corners and road surfaces meant I knew when to brake, and perhaps more importantly, when not to. We also got a chance to see the pace of some of the early starters and get a rough guide as to cruising speeds in each section.
Whenever I turn up to races, I’m always amazed by the potential for intimidation by the competition. TTs are probably the worst for this. It could be guys blasting out planned warm-ups on rollers or guys with all the gear flaunting incredibly slick TT bikes/skinsuits etc. This used to get in my head but nowadays I take it all with a pinch of salt, head out to do what I can do and worry about how we compare after the race has finished. You can easily start to doubt yourself on a road bike, in a normal jersey and in leg warmers against all the Castelli Body Paint on show.
After a quick sign on, 4 minute warm up and last minute gear adjustment, we were ready to hit the start for our 3pm slot. We knew Mat/Gav had done a 21m flat first lap (they had started 40m before we were due to) and that this was an incredibly fast time as last year 22m laps were solid times.
Conditions were relatively fast, with balmy temperatures (11c) and a very slight wind from the E.
The course can be broken down into 4 sections:
- Fast gradual downhill from Brickendon to Hertford (to 2.5mi)
- Flat/draggy stretch from Hertford to the bottom of the climb (to just before 5mi)
- Climb up Robin Hill’s Nest (to 6mi)
- Rolling, then fast downhill with a few technical bits and the uphill punch to the finish in Brickendon (from 6mi to 9mi)
We rolled off the start and I did the first minute @ ~420w to get us up to speed. We’d agreed on 30-60s turns and the first half lap worked out perfectly. Nothing too difficult as we rotated often and kept very close in the draft, keeping our powder dry for the climb and the second lap.
Heart rates first really escalated on the Robin Hill’s Nest climb, a 5 minute drag with some steeper grades (still a big ring climb though really), as we started to push a bit harder 10 minutes in. For a fast time you need to push hard when you are moving the slowest to make up the most time for your effort (because you spend relatively more time covering distances at slower speeds and because of the aerodrag effect at higher speeds).
The time was passing very quickly and before I knew it, we were approaching the first time check at 9miles in. We passed in about 21:15 (so 15 seconds down on the fastest time), and Chris turned to me and said ‘I reckon I could do that again, easy mate‘. Strong chat for halfway through a TT, I thought.
I felt fresh and as if the first lap hadn’t taken much out of me. We had no idea what the best finishing time would be, but we’d built the foundation for a perfect negative split by not cooking ourselves first time around. At the same time, we knew we had to speed up and ride everything faster to be in with a shot at the win.
The second lap would decide the race – it was definitely the time to push on and where the suffering started. I put in a big turn on the downhill to Hertford, and this started the momentum of our time gain.
We had a few awkward changes as the fatigue began to set in, but largely we remained smooth and most importantly, kept communicating. Chris took us up the hill and pointed out we had roughly 10 minutes to go. From there it was all out hurt – a deep burning in the legs while trying to rail every corner but stay as smooth as possible.
I gave one last big turn on the downhill coming into the final and gave Chris the last tricky corners and last downhill before the final punch. I think I was suffering slightly less than he was here and I should have been on the front all the way into the final hill, but it was edge of the knife stuff; give a little too much too soon and you’ll blow up on the final drag. He led into the final drag and I passed him early on, gapping him slightly. The first rule of a TTT though is leave your ego at home and I duly waited and paced us up to the finish line to cross together for the winning time of 42:18, a slim 5 seconds ahead of our RPR rivals. 5 seconds is such a fine margin (0.002%), it could very easily have gone the other way!
Coming away with a win in a TT/TTT was another first for me and will definitely get me racing some more TT and TTT (albeit road bike only). I’ve already entered the London Pheonix 9.2mi individual TT on the same course on April 30th where there is a road bike category and I can’t wait to race it again (pending body condition coming out of the weekend before..). It brings the win tally to 6 for the season so far and ends a high pressure week (although more so for Chris who is a TT specialist – he had a lot more expectation on him to win than I did).
The above is an overlay of Chris’ power trace (purple – 350w AP) vs. mine (blue – 320w AP) with 30s smoothing applied. You can see our power increases substantially from 10mi to 16mi where the lead swung back our way.
Chris for being an animal, great guide and Team Bus driver.
Gav/BM for pushing us to the absolute limit
Tom and Joe for the ride home (and congrats on winning the combination prize and taking 4th)
CC London for organising a great event, putting so many marshals out and making the whole race a great experience.
Sainsbury’s on Brampton Road for providing a perfect batch of TtD cookies. Pow!