With my Time Trial season drawing to a end only one event remained, one that would arguably be the toughest race of my season; The Team Time Trial. Not only was I hungry to improve on last years 3rd place position, but this would also double up as the South West Regional Championships.
Having ridden a handful of TTT’s before, I knew it would be a challenge to get right and even with hours of practice in the bag top professional teams would rarely pull off “the perfect TTT”.
In my individual season I’d suffered a devastating blow, narrowly missing out on a podium place by a single point (A single point!?). This meant there would be even more riding on the championships. One last chance to medal and to save my season. No pressure then…?
I firmly believed the team could really challenge for the overall this year, on paper we certainly had the firepower, the results and the hunger. I’d felt like this previously; last seasons’ team event had looked highly promising until the midway point. We quickly and heartrendingly spiraled out of overall contention, we went from a strong quartet of riders down to a confused and annoyed duo of myself and Dave stopped on the side of a dual carriageway!
I promised myself 2019 would be different. A change of personnel meant we would have an even stronger line up than last year. Our Team consisted of James Hadfield, Tim McEvoy, Jason McGowan and I. Tim was our not-so-secret weapon, 2nd overall in the BBAR (Best British All Rounder) and no stranger to a Course Record. Tim epitomized everything it was to be a time triallist; if it wasn’t aero or efficient, he wasn’t interested. Regular trips to the wind tunnel confirmed he was as aerodynamic as was possible and his lengthy palmares backed up his ability. Jason had won the event multiple times and had been an essential cog within a super strong St. Austell Wheelers lineup. Myself and James had traded results throughout the season including multiple podiums. I felt good, despite a long season I’d manage to sustain a high level throughout within the end-of-season tail off many suffer from.
Prior to the event Tim sent us graphs and charts showing optimum cadence vs speed using different Chainring teeth and gear ratios. It was clear to see that Tims’ 62T chainring would be hard to keep up with, likewise the 58T both James and Jason would be using. My 54T however would require a much higher cadence if I were to keep with them. I had little option but to go bigger, the cadence needed would already be much higher than I would usually race at so the larger chainring would hopefully keep my legs spinning at a more manageable level. I worried I would’t be strong enough to pull a 58T so opted for a compromise and went with a 56T.
We set about trying to arrange a couple of practice sessions, this proved easier said than done. Clashing coaching plans, work and family commitments seemed to consistently conspire against us. We managed to squeeze just one practice in before the big day. Far from ideal but certainly better than nothing. With typical Cornish luck our meet up fell on the wettest and most filthy of evenings. Putting aside the poor conditions it was a great lode off my mind to get up to race pace with my new teammates on my freshly fitted 56T chainring. Together we rode through and off for two laps of the 15 mile Ladock Valley course, with each length of the valley we became smoother, more synchronized and in return, quicker.
The noise of the four disc wheels rumbling together in a whirling harmony was fantastic, from the back looking along an arrow-straight line of flat backs felt great, could we really be in with a chance here?
Our short but sweet practice did nothing to quell my nerves about the race, if anything it had exaggerated them further. If I have poor legs on an individual race then I affect nobody but myself, If my legs aren’t playing ball in a team then I could jeopardize the race for everyone else too. Our pace and power meant we would be serious contenders, I just had to perform. –No pressure
An almost perfect day with light winds and clear skies greeted me on the morning of the race. Normally I quite enjoy being up super early on a Sunday, you see only a few cars and feel like you’re getting a head start on the world, this time was different; nerves, nerves and more nerves.
We were the first to arrive at the Race HQ, agreeing to head out for a “quick 10” on the course as our warm up and to iron out a few creases. Looking at the start list we were going to have to give it our all to take home the spoils, we expected big competition from the Penzance Wheelers and the various Military teams.
Our warm up confirmed the power numbers required to win were going to be big, bigger than I thought. A quick tactical briefing by Tim, an SIS gel and a slurp of Isotonic and we were ready to roll.
We watch the first two teams head off before taking our place on the start line. I can’t help but feel like I’m riding towards the gallows. It’s decided I’ll lead us out and up to the first rise. As nervous as I feel, dictating the pace of the first effort suits me, I just have to keep it smooth and make sure we’re all together from the start.
Naturally I get excited and push hard from the gun…oops.
I get the shout to ease, slowly until we’re back together. By the first mile we’ve settled into a firm but fast quartet. – Panic over
Turns out “race pace” is at least 50 watts more than what I thought it was going to be: Rider 1 is anywhere from 410 to 500 watts, Rider 2 is 350 to 400 watts, Rider 3 is 290 to 350 and Rider 4 is 250 to 300.
We’d done one full rotation and things were going smoothly, hard, but smoothly. The relief of catching back onto the tail after finishing your turn was immense. The pre-race shakes and concern had been replaced by a lung burning oxygen debt and an eye-crossing stare on the wheel in front. We had executed our tactics well with Tim hitting the front on the fast and flat parts to drag us along and keep our speed up and on target.
At just 5 miles in the ferocious pace means we have ourselves a split, Hadfield has gone through too hard and misses the wheel to catch back on, he doesn’t call it out in time and the gap widens. I look back and see him dangling, “EASE!!” I scream, dropping back to him. Once he’s on my wheel I bury myself to drag us back up to Jason and Tim. United once more as a foursome we ramp the speed up again much to the complaint of my lungs.
We’re flying along now, the noise of the wheels and the wind funneling past my aero helmet is deafening, as hard as it is I’m starting to enjoy it now, this is great, this is really racing! The turn comes quicker than I expect, our plan is for rider 2 to pull us up the drag and then for Tim to slingshot us around the roundabout and back onto the carriageway, It’s all aboard the McEvoy express for the next 2 miles as we sit at 45mph+! We lose James for good here, he pushes on far too hard up the climb and ultimately pays the price for his big effort.
For a second we pause, not knowing whether to hold on for him, Tim makes it clear it was time to cut our loses and push on. The knock on effect of dropping to 3 was immediately noticeable. It meant that recovery leapt from a very manageable 250 to 300 watts to a much less manageable 330+ watts.
16 miles in and despite the extra effort of losing James we’re soaking it up and pushing on through. I’d broken the course down into checkpoints, 10 miles, 15miles and 20 miles. The last 5 would be an all out empty the tank effort. The miles were ticking over the but the fatigue was also starting to creep in, each time I had to catch back on after a turn I could feel my legs screaming at me.
The course was over two laps of a circuit, as we’d come around on our second lap we began to catch the teams on their first leg, this had to be a good sign.
On the front my pace dropped to 27mph as we covered the undulating rise and fall of the road, “30MPH Or Change!” came the call from Tim. I dug deep, heaving the gears and clawing my way up to speed.
The teams came thick and fast, each time we caught one we’d set our sights on another and another, like a game of Pac-Man. With only 5 miles to go the gaps were widening, we no longer had the wheel to wheel, flat backed, low head position of the first 20. My legs hurt, my shoulders burned, my neck ached and my lungs felt raw.
5 more, just 5 more to go…
We approach the last roundabout to leave the carriageway, I know there’s just one last big push to bring it home. Tim shouts out to empty the tank. I obey, spinning my legs as fast they’ll possibly go, leaving everything i’ve got left on the road. We blast past through the finish line and up the service road. Gasping and unable to turn the pedals we coast to a standstill congratulating one another, bent double and sucking in mouthful’s of air, I can barely stand.
Jason’s feeling confident, he think our time is good enough to win, Tim agrees. We started early so now we have to play the waiting game, I feel good, i’m trying to keep my smile hidden and not get my hopes up, but they seem so confident we’ve got it…
Back at the HQ we anxiously wait… team by team they come in and each time they do we make the familliar post race small talk before asking the pointy question on all our lips; “tough course ey?… hard work isn’t it…say, how did you do?”
Everyone is back now, the time keepers are huddled around the time sheets and the tea and cake is flowing.
“Cough cough, can I have your attention please…in last place..”
We start bottom to top, each team called gets a round of applause until it’s just us, Plymouth Corinthians and the Royal Marines left… a podium, if nothing else we’ve equaled last years achievements. Third for Corries and Second for…Royal marines… we’ve done it! Regional Champions for the South West 2019!
I’m stunned, so happy and so relieved all at the same time. Wow, what a feeling…me, us, champions!
Massive shout out to Tim, Jason and James it was a team effort but you guys were awesome, pleasure racing alongside you and lets hope we can do it again next year…
Bit of a longer one this time, I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Thanks for reading and apologies for the long delay in getting any writing done, this ones been a long time overdue.
Now, Just Go Ride..