Well, after a couple of weeks of eating loads and training less (on purpose and fully with the blessing of the coach, of course) I've been getting stuck back into the joy that is structured training. Loads of new goals for the summer - and even for next CX season - have been discussed, reviewed, set and plotted and plans set in place and I'm grinning each time I look at the training planner and see what's coming!
Last weekend saw me, well, mostly crawl into bed at sometime near 3am on the Saturday morning, half cut after a night out sampling many beers and the one nightclub on offer in a small town in Wales BUT it also saw the first TT of the 2023 season. You'll probably not find that anywhere in the Bumper Book Of Ways To Do Well At Races, but you know, real life and all that...and anyway, I had the Saturday to do loads of travelling, sobering up, unpacking, repacking and generally waiting for my head to stop shouting at me.
After an early start that I really didn't need, I found that the drive to the race venue took me along a big chunk of the TT course. It's a good job it did, as it revealed a lot more ups and downs than I'd expected, after looking at the route profile online (and a ruddy massive puddle that spanned the entire road at one point - thankfully at the top of a climb, so I wouldn't be hitting it at massive speed and decided it could be used to cool off if I got too hot on the way up!).
With the realisation that this wasn't going to be a gentle reintroduction to TTing, more of a baptism of fire, I signed on (credit to the cheerful organisers here, who'd obviously been out to double check the route and were advising everyone about the additional hazards) and set about clambering back into a skinsuit for the first time in ages... It may have taken a bit of time to relearn the process of shoehorning myself in there (OK ages, to the point where I had to slightly shorten my warm up because I'd spent so long in the back on the van contorting myself into the lycra!), but it still seemed to fit OK. Goal number one of the season achieved!
Straight from the "Go!" the course twisted and turned in a way that gave me little chance to relearn the art of getting tucked down/on the TT bike, with hands so close together on the extensions that my knuckles interlocked, chin pushed as far down as possible so I could feel the 'fin' at the back on the TT helmet gently touch between my shoulder blades to create as little drag as possible. I can't imagine I looked smooth, or efficient, or even particularly fast for the first mile or so, but surprisingly I settled into it soon enough and even started to find it quite easy a position to hold - I guess the strength/conditioning/core workouts are doing their job!
Within a mile or so the climbs started coming. On the first 'noticeable' on I got caught up behind a van that was erring on the side of caution and not overtaking a rider in front (I'll not moan about this as I'd rather see patient driving and lose a few seconds having to ride at an easier tempo, than watch a selfish overtake), but the one piece of research into the course I'd done (in the van, while trying to get into the skinsuit, after nearly boiling the vans brakes on the way there!) told me a bigger climb was coming, so not getting carried away straight away was just fine!
(That pic's from last year, but nowt's changed!) I paced myself up the main climb, at an "uncomfortable but never unmanageable" speed, with half a mind on the fact that most of the course was still to come and rode through the uber-puddle located at the top feeling surprisingly sprightly (and it was a nice way to cool off!)
After the "what goes up must come down" slightly terrifying descent that followed, where I rediscovered the limitations of the TT bike's brakes (front one is fine, if a bit noisy as the carbon heats up, the rear is essentially for show and has a similar level of stopping power to holding a sandwich bag up as a parachute) and the twitchiness of the handling when your elbows are millimetres apart, I reached the sharpest turn of the day and realised I'd ticked off the first third of the route feeling "just warmed up and on top of the effort". Maybe spending the days on a run up to a race should be spent avoiding sleep and pouring beers down my neck in future...
Feeling so good, the second part of the route was spend tapping away at the pedals on the seemingly continual climbs and hunkering back down on the twisty descents as much as I dared. My legs felt like they had a decent amount of 'snap' in them and even though the TT bike doesn't really like being flicked about like a 'proper' road bike, it danced up the climbs nicely enough. This was turning into an almost cheerful TT - the bike was working (luck more than skill there, as it hadn't been checked over properly since last season...), I was feeling good, Andy Whiteside hadn't yet come hurtling past me and bloody hell, the scenery was AWESOME!
The day before, the 'classic' "Circuit of Ingleborough" TT had taken place and I had the sneaking suspicion that quite a few people had chosen to do that instead. I wasn't surprised - it really is a fantastic route that's as hard as it is beautiful - but I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that this course was, well, even nicer! It was certainly no easier, but I realised, by the next major junction in the course (which was met the a fuzzy memory that I recognised the pub on the corner from a covid-lockdown based UK holiday...oh god, beer again!) that I'd had no issue keeping to the CTT Regulation that you should never ride with your head down, in fact I'd spent most of my ride gawping at the scenery I was whizzing through.
In no way was this course inferior. In fact I was coming to the conclusion that I preferred it. Punchy climbs, longer climbs, super fast descents, constant twists and turns and, now on the final third of the course, opportunity to get into 'proper' TT position and meter out the power along some flatter, straighter sections. A good mix of everything. Ace.
I couldn't tell exactly how long I had left to go, or how far, as at some point my computer had reset it's display to telling me about kilometres, which I have no real concept of, so those flatter sections were spent with me trying to do some mental arithmetic. I knew that 10km was about 6.2 miles. I was apparently 28km into the route, so that's (my tongue was probably sticking out at this point as I did my 6 times table...), errm, uuuuhh, not all that far left...
Thankfully more punchy hills appeared and I gave up the maths in favour of getting out of the saddle repeatedly and stomping over the crest of each rise.
Fairly sure there couldn't be much left I kept the pace up and, after a bit of a slow down to double check that the ejected rider of a motorbike that was lying on it's side on the 'wrong' side of the road was being suitable looked after by a few passers by (itself a good reminder that the potholes and loose gravel on the many corners weren't to be trifled with), I spotted the village that I'd set off from earlier. Knowing that the finish line was on the outskirts I sat down and tried to up the pace to "sprint for the finish speed" just in time to, well, pass the finish line. Bugger. Should have done that earlier!
Back to the van feeling slightly fresher than I had when I got out of bed for a swift change out of the skinsuit (OK, it took just as long to get back out of it) I was delighted to be told that the local pub had just received a cancellation for a lunch booking in half an hour. Back on the beer it is then!
Sadly (for Andy...) Andy's front tyre gave up on one of the potholes and he DNFed (but was rescued by the organisers, so more kudos to them) which meant that I unknowingly won the TT while I was busy tucking into a full roast Sunday lunch and pint of IPA. Happy days!
Mega thanks to everyone a Barrow Central Wheelers for putting the event on - that course and the great organisation deserve all the big hitters' attention, it's as good if not better than lots of the well attended and known SPOCO courses. I'd choose it over any of the same length again.
Mega awesome thanks too, to Lee at Adance Cycle Coaching who's not only got me grinning for what's planned for the summer and beyond but has somehow got me fit enough to compete already. Amazing stuff :) (So amazing, in fact, that I went home and immediately entered another hilly TT to make the most of it!)