Hit the North

I was on the road recently between Grantown on Spey and Forres.

Barely a car to be seen just me bowling along under a crisp, clear blue sky.

it was a spiritual experience and I thought, it’s days like this you live for on the bike.

just a shame I was car the car!

I’ve barely looked at the bike for several months now, for various reasons.

And I have had to miss all of the cyclocross season. So time to get some goals sorted for next year!

A day at the races – British National Road Race in pictures

Sunday 23 June was a great day for cycling in Scotland.
The cream of British cycling descenced on the city of Glasgow to battle it out for the title of British Champion.
There were thrills aplenty (and luckily not too many spills) along the way.

I had the good fortune to see the end of the women’s race (alas no pictures).
And spend the duration of the men’s race in good company around the course.

There are plenty of great race reports & photos around the web.
So this is simply a few pictures I took of my day at the races…

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Brian Holm DS of Omega Pharma Quickstep (Mark Cavendish & Andy Fenn’s team), before the race.
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Hardman Hammond drives the bus!
‘This is my trucker look’
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Housewives favourite Rab Wardell looks fresh and clean.
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Cav & Fenn’s team car, also carrying a spare bike for BMCs Adam Blythe

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Fenn and Stannard out on their own at the bottom of the High Street.
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Montrose street was a popular spot, with one Manxman wearing nothing but a Man flag.
It was like being in the Alps!

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Vote Manx Missile?

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A knackered Hugh Porter, ‘I hope you enjoyed the entertainment’

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Me: Are you getting a lift home on the Death Star? (Millar’s nickname for the Team Sky’s bus)
Bronze medal winner and ‘Man of the Match’ David Millar: Ha ha! No! But I’m off there for a shower.

Queen Jay at the National Road Race Championships

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Following on from my preview of the National Time Trial Championships I managed to fire a few questions at Jay Burgess. who will be riding in both the TT & road race.

Jay  is the recently crowned women’s champion of Scotland for 10 mile and 25 mile time trials.  Her storming rides this year have earned her a place in the National Time Trial on Thursday and the National Road Race on Sunday.

I know you’ve been a wee bit ill recently Jay, but still planning to ride on Thursday and Sunday?

Absolutely! Illness has scunnered me in June for the last two years, meaning I have been poorly for the British RR champs but I am determined to ride this year.

You have picked up some good results this year, winning the Scottish 10m & 25m Time Trial championships. Well done!  Any other TT results you are proud of?

To be honest, those are by far my best TT results; I have picked up a couple of silver and bronze individual medals in TTs over the years so the Scottish 10 was my first individual gold. My time in the Scottish 10 was also really unexpected and it took a while for William (Jay’s partner) and me to believe that I’d won.

Is this your first ride in the National Champs TT?

I haven’t done a British level TT championship before so I am really looking forward to this new experience. I’ve made a lot of progress against the clock this year which has made me reconsider my attitude towards TTs.

How do you prepare for this race?
Any course recce-ing?

My preparation has been compromised by my chest/sinus infection so I am really focusing on getting well. I rode one lap of the course today (Sunday) to get my head around it. I would have like to do some race intensity efforts round the course but I am just easing back into the bike.

What is your goal in the TT?

 I will be setting myself a power output and average speed target. I try not to set results as targets in TTs; I can only control my own ride so I try to ignore what others will do. Obviously, I want to do well; I am just interested to see how my best compares to the very best in the world.  

How different does this feel  for you compared to a typical 10 or 25?
Does the fact it’s a National Champs on home soil mean anything?

I expect the atmosphere to be incredible. Because it’s a TT, I can rehearse and plan my own race so the anxieties I experience before a RR are, to a large degree, eliminated. Hopefully this means I can soak up some of the atmosphere!   

There is a strong mix of local riders and Olympic medal winners.
Who do you see as having the best chance of picking up the win in the Time Trial (apart from you!)?

I reckon Jo Rowsell is taking the TT pretty seriously. I saw her out on a recce today when I rode the course. Rebecca Slack has picked up some great results recently. But would you really bet against Julia Shaw? I wouldn’t!

And you are racing again on Sunday in the road race.
Have you carried out any prep work for that?

I want to have a ride round the RR course but, again, my chest/sinus infection has scuppered my plans. Plus, it looks like the course goes up some one way streets the wrong way. There’s still time though…

And which discipline do you prefer?

That’s getting harder to answer! Until the Scottish 10, I wouldn’t have hesitated: road. But now I am not so sure. There is a brilliant buzz in a RR but I am starting to enjoy the Zen state TTing requires. Can I answer that at the end of this season? (No bother!)

There seems to be growing interest in women’s cycling.
The Olympics last year certainly helped and I know there are many people working hard to raise the profile.  How have you experienced this?

Wow, yeah, it’s like a different sport. Even just in Scotland, the number of women regularly racing has rocketed in the last 12 months. It’s brilliant and I hope it continues.

I hope Jay recovers well and is able to put in a strong performance against the clock on Thursday.  And may the good form roll over to Sunday for the road race.

All being well I will try and catch up with Jay after her busy weekend to see how it all went.  You can follow Jay on twitter @scotiabikerbird

Good luck to Jay and all the home riders racing over the weekend!!!

Light it up!

British National Time Trial Championships Preview

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Time trialling is an essential part of cycling in Great Britain.

The History

Back in the dim and distant early years of the sport the National Cycling Union (as was) banned bunched road racing, as it was feared this could bring the reputation of cycling into disrepute.  The NCU wanted to move racing to closed circuits and velodromes.

Time trials became the only way to circumvent these rules.  Riders would race the clock and, by extension, each other without breaking the NCU regulations and races would be held at ‘secret’ locations with the minimum of fuss to avoid unwanted attention.  Even now time trials are held on quiet roads and often as early as possible on a Sunday morning, although that is more to do with rider & marshal safety than secrecy these days.

The legacy of British time trialling can be seen in the competition calendar: at the time of writing there are 128 competitive road events planned in Scotland, of which 69 are time trials of some kind.  This number does not include the dozens and dozens of confined time trials organized by cycling clubs for their members.  The CTT (Cycling Time Trials) is the national governing body for time trialling in England & Wales and their website lists hundreds (if not thousands) of open and confined TTs on English and Welsh roads.  it’s hard to imagine the current level of British cycling success without considering the time trialling and the role it has played in British cycling history.

Championships are held each year to determine the fastest riders over 10, 25, 50 and 100 miles as well as duration-based trials such as 12 and 24 hours.  But the BC National Championships will determine who will be the best British time trialler and for the coming year they will don the national jersey when competing in any road-based time trial competition.

Alex Dowsett in full flow wearing the national jersey
(Image from Eurosport)

The Course

The women and under 23s have two loops of 17.5km to cover, while the elite man have two loops of 24.6km.  Both routes start and finish in the Ayrshire town of Stewarton and the roads around here roll nice and easy.  It’s not flat and there’s a bit of a rise out of the start/finish area before gradually losing some height down to the bottom of the course.  The turn means slowly rising back up to Stewarton, but we are not talking about hilly time trial material!  The roads are quite exposed for most of the course, so wind could play a role in determining who performs well.  Prevailing winds means there is likely to be a bit of headwind for the early part of the race, with a tailwind pushing the riders back to the finish line, but I don’t work for the Met Office.

The Contenders

The Under-23 race will see last year’s winner Sam Harrison defending his title.  Sam rode a club 25 mile TT recently and tweeted he hoped he wouldn’t be riding a 25 any time soon as it is #toolong.  Lucky for him this race is about 22 miles! Sam will face stiff competition from George Atkins who already has two silver medals in the race: can he go one better this year?  Joe Perret will be sure to gatecrash everyone’s party following his win in the CTT 25m champs.  Local lads Duncan Ewing & Finlay Young will be hoping to make an impression in this race.

The women’s race has been dominated in recent years by Emma Pooley & Wendy Houvenaghel, neither is racing on the 20th.  Julia Shaw will be hoping to improve on recent second places by taking the top spot for the second time in her career.  She has shown good form this season and is the current CTT champion for the 10&25 mile events.  A whole host of Olympic medal winners will be trying to take the jersey, including Lizzie Armitstead & Laura Trott.  Hannah Barnes will aim to continue her good run of form, after her did-she-didn’t-she drama at the London Nocturne (she did!)  And Jay Burgess is top of the best local representation at the moment, coming in hot from her recent victories in the Scottish 10&25m champs.

The men’s race has been won by Alex Dowsett for two years now.  He showed in the Giro, where he won the first individual TT, that he continues to time trial well since leaving Sky for the Spanish Movistar team.  He will surely be favourite to make it three in a row. Former teammates Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome who are both strong time triallers will not race this year.  Former winner Michael Hutchinson also misses out. Matt Bottril has climbed on to the podium in several occasions through the years, but will do his best to make it on to the top step for the first time.  Local representation is once again high in this race, with Ian Grant and Ben Peacock both showing good form recently, winning the Scottish 25m and 10m champs respectively.

A full start list can be found here
And the event website here

Three and Not So Easy – Kinross CC’s Three Ten Team Time Trial

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A solo Time Trial means 100% individual effort against the clock over whichever distance the course covers, be it 10 miles or 100 miles, or any other distance for that matter. More importantly it means 100% pain.

Surely sharing such a burden with two others during a team time trial means shouldering only one third of the burden, and only 33% of the pain?

That was the thinking when Jason, Norrie and I entered Kinross Cycling Club’s Three (man) Ten (mile) Team Time Trial. Unfortunately, due to an uncomfortable injury, Jason had to withdraw his entry. Luckily another willing victim was found in the form of Graeme and the team remained intact. Both Graeme and Norrie had clocked well under 28’30” in a recent solo 10 miler, so I was hoping the two big diesel engines would drag me around the course in a time we could all be happy with.

As race-day approached a second three-man team from within the ranks of Stirling Bike Club was taking shape: the SBC ‘Elite’ squad of Charlie, Glen and Steve. They would be fighting our ‘Three and Easy’ equipe for the SBC honours, while both teams would be competing against clubs across Scotland, with the home club being well-represented by three teams hoping that their knowledge of local roads would help them defeat all-comers.

The organizers had given the teams the option of riding aero with tribars, deep rims / disc wheels and pointy hats etc, or to ride on normal road bikes. We had opted for the latter.

The first trio was off at 9.30 and sign-on was a few miles away from the start line, so after an early muster and chit chat, we rolled out to the start/finish area to warm up and check out the set up.

The course had three left turns which brought the riders back almost to the start line and we were able to reccy the run up to the finish from the final turn. There were nice clear signs marking 1km and 500m to go. We talked about how we would wind up to a sprint for a blanket finish, then realized we’d be burst by then and we’d have to hope for the best.

We rolled up to the holding line, where there was a nice big digital clock to tell us what time it was, like something from a track meet.
A course marshal checked who we were and gave us some info about what to expect at the start line and out on the course. A couple of minutes of chat about how we should line up at the start and then on to the start line proper, where three pushers held us in position while we steadied ourselves and watched the clock tick down and peep when time was up.

And then it really was time for us to go…

I had the responsibility of setting us up for a good start and pushed hard out of the blocks to pull us up the rise and into the first mile of the course. We had talked about setting a high tempo without going in the red, so as soon as I felt close to the danger zone I eased up and realized I had probably set off a little bit too hard and would pay for it down the road! Sure enough at the end of my second spell I was struggling to hold the wheel and we became a little fragmented. After a few seconds to regroup we pushed on again and settled into a good rhythm with each rider taking spells on the front.

We were rolling ok at this point and took the first turn off a main road into a minor side road. It seemed a little easier on this stretch and the tempo and speed started to climb. Graeme and Norrie were fairly flying at this point and we made it to the next turn in no time, being heckled along the way by some old-timer for being 10 seconds slow (no idea what that meant!). At this junction we were merging onto another, busy, main road, and this was slightly more difficulty. We had to slow up and regroup again after the junction, then our speed dropped as we bit into another gradient.

The team crested the wee rise and picked up speed as Graeme and Norrie pulled us up to +40km/h over the next couple of miles.
I think I may have had an out of body experience at this point, but I managed to hold it together and get on the front during this section.

It wasn’t long before we reached the final turn and knew the race was almost over, was that my dad waving a red marshal flag on the corner? I think so, but we’re not stopping to find out now! And on to the final 1.5 miles as we picked up a bit of a headwind in the last drag. I definitely had an out-of-body experience here, as did Graeme (Norrie too I’m sure!) and we pushed hard to get over the line.

And all too soon, or should that be not soon enough(?), we were over the line and gasping for air, trying not to fall off our bikes after that supreme effort.  It seems that a three man time trial still means 100% pain!

Our time was a respectable 27’29”.
And as Norrie pointed out this will be the fastest any of us will do a 10miler for some time!

In the end the SBC ‘Elite’ team took club honours, beating us by just under a minute (26’35’’), so well done to Charlie, Glen & Steve.

The overall and Aero cat winners were Bicycle Works with a time of 21’40.
And City of Edinburgh won the Road cat with 22’27”.
So well done to those guys too.

This was a cracking event, well-thought out and organized and I hope I can enter this next year with the same team to see if we can improve on our time.  Big thanks and well done to my team-mates and to KCC.

You can see more results at Kinross CC website

What’s in a name – the Willie Rafferty 10m TT

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What’s in a name?

Willie Rafferty was a devoted cyclist and important member of the St Christopher’s Cycling Club. So much so that the club honours his name by holding a memorial 10m (16km) Time Trial on the roads he loved. The race is one of the most popular on the Scottish Time Trialling calendar and attracts a huge, top quality field every year.

Willie Rafferty was also my dad’s Uncle, and he remembers riding out as a boy over the hill from Castlemilk to ‘the lochs’ on rolling roads with his dad and uncle(s). ‘…And all I wanted to do was play football with my pals!’. I’ve also heard stories of how the brothers and friends made trips abroad, with one cycling and camping trip resulting in a French field being set on fire!

I decided at the turn of this year to focus on riding in some time trials.
I hoped this would give me some focus in 2013 and get some speed and stamina for the ‘cross season later in the year.

There are plenty of club and open time trials around the calendar, but it would have been foolish of me not to enter the ‘family’ TT, so enter I did.

The main goal was to try and beat my modest PB of 31’23”.
(See a post about my first ever open TT here).

I arrived at the sign-on half an hour later than planned thanks to heavy traffic on the motorway, then getting lost in the vicinity of the hall where everyone was meeting. That’ll teach me! A quick sign-on and change while blethering to my dad and fellow competitor Grant (who is organizing the Sharon Argue Memorial Race) and by then I was in a hurry to get to the start line. I made it with plenty of minutes(!) to spare and got ready to start.

60 seconds and then off you go… so time for a bit of banter… ‘Where’s the finish’… 30 seconds… ‘Who’s counting?’… 5-4-3-2-1 and away.

Down the hill to the underpass and then straight back up again. Hang on, how come this course isn’t flat? Shouldn’t all time trial be flat, unless advertised as a hilly TT? Why am I constantly up and down the gears? In fact why are my gears slipping themselves? This won’t be no PB!

After a wee bit of mild panic about the absence of flatness (!) I was able to settle in to a steadyish rhythm as gradients gradually took me up or down. As I approached the turn I was cheered on by some tifosi at the side of the road. The same tifosi cheered me by name on the way return …mon the Raffertys… and that bit of family support gave me some extra energy to push back up the gradient and into a bit of a cross/headwind.

Time seemed to be slipping away as I approached about three miles to go, and I forgot about the clock and tried to keep the average speed as high as possible. At this point I passed a wheelchair entrant, who then whizzed past me going downhill. I dragged myself up the rise to the start line and picked up speed again as I rolled ever onward to the finish line. I spotted two people at the side of the road, who looked like they could have been finish timers, but it didn’t feel right and, sure enough, as I pushed on I spotted the real finish and thrashed as hard as possible to get over the line.

A gentle spin down the hill brought me back to the sign on, and I was able to get changed and organized in a more sedate manner than before the race! I had enough time to sample one or two of the fantastic cakes on display, plus a mug of tea and a blether with my dad, Grant and a couple of other entrants. Unfortunately I then had to cut and run home to the family, which was a shame as it would have been nice to have stayed to the end to meet more entrants and family and eat more cakes of course.

I am not sure what my time was but I believe I came in under 31 minutes.
So that’s an improvement if correct: mission accomplished!

All in all this was a very enjoyable night, with a safe and well organized course and a great selection of cakes and sarnies at the end.

Only 365 days to the next one…

Critical information : TourSeries Round 1 Kirkcaldy

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The 2013 TourSeries kicked off in fine style tonight in the Scottish coastal town of Kirkcaldy.

The UK’s best domestic teams and riders fought it out on a tight course with plenty of corners to keep the pack on their toes, with the seafront esplanade providing a beautiful backdrop for a hard 60 minutes plus five laps of crit racing.  The course was around 1 mile long and rose away from the start-finish area of the esplanade, up behind the main pedestrian shopping street before dropping down and doubing back along the esplanade for the mayhem to start again.  One or two corners in particular were tight and tricky.

Last year’s round saw several breaks off the front of the race before it all came together in the final couple of laps.  Scott Thwaites had the biggest kick to outsprint the bunch and take the win for his team, Endura, who went on to win the 2012 series.  They stepped up to Pro Continental level for 2013 (after merging with Teamm NetApp) and did not return to defend their titles.

Series runners-up from last year, Rapha Condor JTL, were looking to go one better in 2013, and had high hopes of kicking off their title tilt in style, with Ed Clancy leading the team.  The field was speckled with Olympic and Commonwealth medal winners, while man-mountain and living legend Magnus Backstedt also brought his years of experience to the race.  There was plenty of local interest too, with the likes of David Lines, Evan Oliphant, Ben Greenwood and the ‘King of Scotland’, James McCallum all lining out on a dry and calm evening.

There was a ferocious pace set right from the gun, which quickly put some riders in trouble as they slipped off the back.   The race settled into a rhythm after the early onslaught and Team UK Youth’s Niklas Gustavsson forced the pace at the sharp end of the bunch for several laps before finally clipping off the front.  He looked in control and ready for the long haul, but within a lap he had dropped down through the pack and out the back.  It turns out he had a rear puncture and couldn’t get a replacement from one of the pit areas out on the course where there was no mechanic from his team (he shook his head at this pit area on a later pass).

Meanwhile Tom Scully of Team Raleigh took the reins up at the front and broke clear. By now a lot of riders had been shelled out the back.  Mags Backstedt had been dangling off the back for a while, but at the halfway stage he was adrift from the main pack and no amount of support from the fans could help him: a quick shake of the head showed his race was over.

Tom Scully was pushing on, ‘he’s a big lad and he can shift’ according to a soigneur, but with about 20 minutes to go he had been joined by Felix English of Rapha, Mike Northey of Node 4-Giordana (a Kiwi like Scully) and Yanto Barker (who would post the fastest lap at 2’05”) of Team UK Youth. They had a small gap on the chasing pack and over the next couple of laps they were able to extend their lead, shelling English (seems he was suffering from cramps) in the process. Finally the bunch gave up, leaving the group of three to duke it out for the win.  With a couple of laps to go Yanto Barker ramped up the pressure on his breakaway rivals and took the bell on his own.  Would he be able to hold off the other two from the break and take the win?

As the leaders rounded the final corner onto the finish straight, Barker still held a gap to the others and was able to sit up and celebrate his win as he crossed the line.  Scully and Northey compeleted the individual podium places, while English held off the advancing pack to get fourth.  Team winners and leaders in the overall standings were Team Raleigh, thanks to the hard work from Scully and high positions in the final bunch sprint from Lang & Blain.

This was a great night’s racing in perfect conditions and the enthusiastic crowd (which seemed much bigger than last year) clearly loved the cycling, as did I.  But the Tourseries is more than Elite Men racing, as there were schools, youths and cat4 races all afternoon before the main event.  And there are also races being held at 5 of the 11 rounds as part of a women’s tour series.

Highlights of the Kirkcaldy race (as with all rounds) are on ITV4 on Wed 15 May from 10pm, while the next race in the series will be on Thursday in Durham.

You can find full results here
And some nice pics from Peloton Pedro here
Continue reading

Sunday Service : Marshalling the Boomerang Time Trial

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The Boomerang is a 22 mile, out-and-back, time trial organized by my club (Stirling Bike Club) and the Scottish Veterans Time Trial Association.  It’s been running for years and is very popular with local and not-so-local cyclists.  There is a form of age weighting or reverse handicapping, which I have no clue about, to determine the winner, as many older veterans compete against the younger whippets.  It also uses the 2-up format where two riders work together to complete the course: the clock stops when the second rider rolls over the line.

My marshalling position was at the top of the course on a roundabout where riders turned the 360 degrees to begin the journey home.  I had to make sure competitors made the full turn and also warn any oncoming traffic of their presence on the roundabout.

I completed a 2-up time trial last year and can remember feeling like my partner dragged me along and all I could do was hang on and keep out the wind.  In reality I spent plenty of time on the front trying to maintain our pace and felt like a burst ba’ at the end.

The main difficulty is trying to keep a steady pace, which is at once high but also compatible for two people of potentially differing abilities.  And it’s difficult to keep in touch on a busy road with the wind screaming in your ears!

The course for the Boomerang was relatively flat, except for a flyover carrying the road over a motorway and the drag up to the roundabout I was positioned on.  There was also a cross-tail wind on the way out, but the riders would be heading in to this on the return leg of the route.

From the roundabout I was able to watch each pair as they sped down the flyover and then grind their way up to the turn.  It was interesting to note how each pair was coping with the pace and conditons.  I reckoned everyone would have set off hard to make the most of the tail wind to push them along, and then try and limit the damage on the way back.  On more than one occasion it seemd that by the half-way point in the route several pairs had at least one rider who was completely ‘cooked’.  They were struggling to work together and some gaps were opening up between the two.  Other pairs, however, were moving in tandem as if using telepathy to communicate.

Using the start sheet (over 50 pairs entered) I was able to keep track of who was coming through and also see who had made up or lost time over the first half of the race.  And it definitely seemed that some of the pairs were flying round the course.

I am happy to report that there were no incidents involving riders at my marshalling point (or anywhere else on the course) despite the questionable driving of some tourists visiting Stirling Castle.  One rider did take a wrong turn, but was quickly put right, while another pair where shouted at by me (and the other marshalls) to go right round only for us to realise they weren’t racing,  Another rider also had a wee fright when one of the watching tifosi (a clubmate’s toddler daugher) rattled her homemade clanger too hard as he went round ‘ …what the hell was that?..’

The Boomerang was won by Messrs. Doyle & Gibson, of Dooley’s Cycles, while their team-mates Gordon & Grant won the scratch race (best outright time).

Full times can be found here

31:23 : a report of my first open time trial

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What could you do in 31 min 23 seconds?

Maybe read a chapter or two of the book you are currently reading?
Or watch an episode of your favourite TV show?

I participated in my first ever open 16km (10 mile) time trial on Sunday morning, and that was my time – 31:23.

Abysmal is the only word I have to describe the weather, as heavy rain and strong gusty wind turned a Sunday morning spin into a serious struggle. It took me a while to get up sign-on, by which time I was soaked to the skin.  I am not the lightest rider, but I reckon my gear had soaked an extra kilo or two of rainwater, slowing me down more than usual.

So I arrived on the start line feeling like a drookit rat.

Someone had warned me that the second couple of miles of this out and back course was quite exposed to a cross-head wind, but you got something in return on the way home, as the cross-tail wind drove you to the line.

My plan was to basically fight to the 5 mile mark and ‘limit the damage’.  Then wind it up on the return leg to pull back lost time, all the while trying to finish below 30 minutes.  The initial tempo I set myself was quite encouraging, but, sure enough, the speed dropped as the road opened up,  and I found myself saying, ‘try and hold 30kph… try and hold 29kph… …try and hold 26kph!

I hit the turn with the knowledge I was well behind schedule and started to crank things up and take advantage of any tail wind. I was unable to find any real rhythm as the wind blasted; my bike computer veered between 30 and 38kph as I struggled to claw back the lost seconds on the first half of the ride.

I limped across the line in 31:23 and made for home, via the sign-on location to hand in my race number (62).  Within minutes of getting off the bike my legs started to tighten up and I was in quite a lot of discomfort: it felt like my hamstrings were cramping up.

So what did I learn?

1) TTing is fun, even in testing  conditions
2) I need to get my summer bike set up properly
3) Time to get some serious training in on the bike to break the ’30’ (and keep going).
4) Maybe invest in a pointy hat & tribars at some point.

Full results here

Next TT is a club confined 5m (8km) over the home leg of Sunday’s race.
So hoping for lots of following wind…

The Blue/Green Hill : how I got on trying to get up the Cairngorm

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The Cairn Gorm mountain in Scotland is the sixth highest mountain in the UK, topping out at 1245, as it towers over its smaller brothers and sisters in the Cairngorm range. It also dominates the skyline to the East of the A9 around Aviemore and boasts stunning views on a clear day. The North-West slopes of the mountain were converted into a ski centre in the 1960s and there is a funicular railway which starts half-way up, along with a visitor centre near the top and a weather centre on the summit plateau.

All this development on the Cairn means there is a very good access road up to the funicular, where you will also find a carpark for all the skiers, and a ranger station.

So much for the touristy info.

Where there is a road there is a cyclist…

I was passing through Aviemore last week with my bike in the boot and I thought why not give the Cairn a go. So I did.

Unfortunately the Cairn gave me a going over.

The road from Aviemore to the base of the climb is rolling, but you gain some height all the way. After about 6 miles of mainly forest, the view opens out across Loch Morlich and the climb becomes clearer.

Up until now I had felt ok. I was not going at any great pace (but then I never do) and I could feel the combined effect of a slight uphill gradient and a bit of a cross/headwind. Upon clearing the Loch and rounding a bend I started to feel the pain. The gradient had doubled from 2% to 4%, and my speed had dropped considerably, yet the gradient wasn’t even visible and at the time I felt a right eejit for going so slow on a ‘flat track’.

But if I thought I knew what pain was, I needed to think again. After a short downhill the road reared up to a switchback at about 1500ft and the gradient was getting serious, averaging about 7% and at times rising above that.

I huffed and puffed my way up to the hairpin, while the temperature dropped: there was still a lot of snow at the side of the road. By now I was struggling and stopped few time for a breath: not due to lack of training, but lack of training at altitude (aye right!). And by the time I got to the bend I had to admit defeat.

Did I mention Cairn Gorm is Gaelic for blue/green hill: blue for the cold and green for how sick I felt.

So at about half way up the mountain I called time and turned around to head back to the car, hitting speeds above 50mph on the downhill which was a lot of fun!
I did feel some shame at not finishing the climb, but it means I know what I need to do next time, and there will be one. I have some unfinished business with this beast of a climb.

You can see a Strava file on this ride here.

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