During the winter and spring we saw a steady trickle of new members join St Neots CC, my local club. Getting to know the new members on the Sunday club runs and introducing them to the clubs activities, conversation often turned to the summer time trials. and the question would be asked whether they had considered having a go. The usual reply was a measured no. Reading between the lines the message was quite clear; I enjoy a good ride with like minded folk, but that TT stuff? Looks hard, I’ll leave that for the pointy lidded nutters.
But something changed. A contagion has swept through the newer club members. Spring arrived and Winters scepticism started to melt. The longer serving club members began to discuss the season ahead and the newer membership started listening. Then the questions started to come: when does the season start? what’s the circuit? By March rumours were circulating; some guys were getting extra training in. Over on the forums exchanges on training methods between the experienced riders were hotly followed. So the germ of time trial fever was born.
The last Thursday in April, 7pm.
16 riders turned out for the first race of the season. By mid May we were up to 25. The first Thursday after Bradley Wiggins stormed to Tour victory and the night before the Olympic opening ceremony 29 riders competed, a record for recent times.
If you don’t know the recent history of St Neots CC that is a remarkable number and needs a brief explanation. Two years ago 6 riders racing would be commented on as a good night. Since then the club has organised and grown significantly. We currently stand at 54 members and growing. Throughout July the numbers seem to have increased almost daily!
Of those regularly competing this year most are racing their first time trial season. Not everyone has caught the bug, although many have, but most new members have tried at least one Time Trial. If you consider yourself a serious sporting cyclist, but have never ridden a TT, find you local club and give it a go.
So what has brought about this enthusiasm for time trailing? To understand this I think you must understand what a time trial means.
On the Start Line
Clipped in, the pusher-off holds your saddle keeping you upright. The time keeper announces 10 seconds. You try to relax. The final count down comes. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The pusher-off sends you away, stamping down on the pedals you sprint up to speed. Then you crouch low on the bike, forearms resting on the bars as you continue to wind up the momentum. The stopwatch is running.
After a couple of miles you know whether or not you feel good and, to paraphrase Chris Boardman, you ask yourself: can I sustain this pace for the distance? If the answer is yes, you push a little harder. The answer you want is maybe. But judging your effort around a maybe is not easy, because a time trial hurts. What you are really asking is; can I endure this pain, plus a little bit more, until the finish line. It is a test of your strength of will just as much as it is a test of your bodily fitness. The time trial is not idly named the Race of Truth.
Although you ride alone with riders before and behind, you do not race in isolation. What is their form? Who can I catch or will I be caught? Catching your minuteman can spur you on, but as your chasing rider serenely glides past (and don’t they always) they can deliver a demoralising blow.
And so you drag your body around the circuit until the final kilometers are in sight. A sense of relief starts to swell, but it must be tempered with calm focus. Now is the time to demand everything from your body to push faster to the line. You bully your legs for more speed. Your lungs gulp draughts of air while your heart beats a frenetic tempo. Perhaps the bile is rising too. The messages from your body become overwhelming. Just to coast for a couple of seconds…
The line is crossed. It is over.
Why the Pain?
Thursday was a warm summer evening, we could have been sat in a beer garden enjoying a pint and discussing the Olympics. Instead we test ourselves on our bikes against the clock.
Over recent years there has been a huge increase in participation in endurance sports such as triathlon and cyclosportives. I think central to this boom is a desire to physically test ourselves, something most of us have little opportunity to do in our daily lives. Time trialling provides an accessible opportunity to do this. True there is an entry cost, but you do not need to spend a 4 figure sum on a TT bike to compete, an entry level road bike is sufficient. If you really get hooked, that’s the time to start spending money. Unlike a sportive they are quick and local requiring only a spare evening rather than most of a day and, compared to road or circuit racing, they provide a less fraught introduction to cycle racing.
For new riders time trials can be immensely rewarding. Over your first season you learn much; how to race the course, how to judge your effort and of course, you should also be getting stronger. Throughout the season new riders have been setting personal bests almost weekly.
With so many racing, clusters of riders posting similar times have emerged. Not surprisingly this has resulted in some rivalry. In each group there is competition to be the first to break the next minute barrier. At the start of the season sub 30 minutes was the goal, now it is sub 29 minute times (The St Neots CC circuit is a sporting 11.2 mile circuit, anything sub 30 minutes is a quick time).
Finally there is the little matter of the Tour de France and the Olympics. There is no doubting British success has inspired many to get on their bikes.
Whatever peoples reason for riding the clubs time trials it is fantastic to see so much enthusiasm and see the events well supported. St Neots CC is a resurgent cycling club, I’m hopeful this is just the beginning for the club as it reasserts itself on the local club scene.