In which I make apparently life affirming comments following a three lap ride around a golf course in Surrey.
Something very strange happened last night. And no, not the thing where I woke up with a raging hunger at 3am and managed not to trip over the cat on my way to make a bowl of porridge.
I’ve avoided the Redhill Horne TT all year, as well as pretty much any TT where I might have a time to compare. The last couple of years have been a bit platau-ey, to the point I’d hidden the PowerTap I was once so excited about somewhere under the stairs. Over the course of 2016, however – it’s all been very different. Having taken up track in November, and given crit racing a go as a result of the improved group riding confidence, all my cycling has been about crit racing, track training and racing, and trying to sprint up hills from stationary – for giggles. Somehow I feel both stronger, and like I’ve gained more perspective on – you know – life and the degree to which cycling fast in a silly suit and a pointy helmet matters to me.
Last night, at about 6pm I bundled my TT bike and TT helmet (unworn since April) into the boot of my car and drove down to the Horne circuit for the penultimate TT of the year. It was a last minute decision and I was half expecting it to be bad one. The other, more optimistic, half of me was also a tad excited. Regardless, if it all went wrong I had the excuse that I’d already had my head kicked in once that day at Herne Hill’s Vets and Women’s session.
I don’t seem to have a Horne TT time for 2015, the best time I’ve got recorded is 22.41 in 2014. Therefore I was aiming for three laps of about 7.30. Since we don’t have airs and graces at Ye Olde Club TT, there was no holder-upper – I kicked myself off, kind of letting my left leg hover around for a few seconds failing to clip in. Smashy smashy round the first lap, and I crossed the line in 7.10ish. Er – what now? My heart rate was hovering around 193ish, too – no real going back now so I just worked on maintaining it.
I passed a couple of riders in the second lap, edged my way around some horses, crossing the line again in 14.25ish. On the third lap I overtook my [half] minute man – something we’d joked about at the start, as he’s a strong rider but was also on a road bike whilst I was flying around on my magic carpet machine. On the final climb [it’s a sporting course] he mashed it back past me before the horse riders who seemed to be circling the same course, only for me to catch him on the bend before a final overtake on the home straight. Thankfully we were both pretty careful to accelerate past and I was always metres back when behind, so I can safely say that though the cat and mouse game helped with motivation, he wasn’t moving any air for me to ride through a tunnel. I came in at 21.45 (or 21.50, I’m still waiting for le official results).
A minute faster? On the first Horne attempt of the year? I didn’t know if I should be feeling bemused, incredibly happy, or kind of sceptical of the timer, though Strava analysis proves there weren’t any epic mathematical fails. That time is the sort of number I’ve been chasing for years. I’m generally still unsure if it even happened (this is silly, it’s starting to sound a bit like a Laura Trott acceptance speech, but regarding an infinitely less remarkable achievement next to the gravel covered car park of a Surrey golf course).
I can only hypothesise that the track and crit racing have made me a better rider. I took up track to speed up my cadence, gain some power, and my major goal in crit racing has been to improve my handling – perhaps they’ve both been successful. I hate to sound like a floating-big-head made of fragile balloon and about to pop (I’m honestly still waiting for someone to tell me the time was wrong or something), but I do feel the best I’ve ever felt on a bike lately. As well as being acutely aware that I’ve still got so very much more to learn and more to achieve.
Over the past years I’ve been flogging myself with 2x20s and 4x5s on the turbo trainer, often with an inkling that I might be better off throwing all the theory out the window and just riding with faster, more experienced cyclists. And it seems that inkling was correct. Not only that, but the ‘riding with faster people instead of solo intervals’ thing? WAY more entertaining. Even fun. Which is what it should be for anyone not riding a bike for a living.
The last few months, since my first session at Herne Hill in November, have been all about enjoying the lungs and legs on fire feeling of chasing down men twice my age and Women-I’d-Like-To-Be, working in harmonious(ish) breaks in crit races, making friends after them, as well as basking in assorted press rides in variable weather. All of those things, I think, have culminated to make me a better rider, as well as giving me a little more perspective. It’s nice to do well, it’s nice to improve, it’s nice to win. But really, riding under blue skies, huddling under bus shelters and piss-taking over silly socks are all nice too.
With all that in mind, I entered myself into the next H25/8 I could (after the next 2 weekends of Track League, Press Trip and Eurobike), as well as putting the next Cyclopark adventure into my diary. I’ve got another 18 points to earn me a Cat 2 license, as well as a hankering to see how much a 1 minute improvement over 9 sporting miles adds up to over 25 flat miles. And if I don’t succeed in either? Well, it’d be nice, but so would a crispy leaves ‘cross ride once autumn comes.