I’d decided to join a Sky Breeze Ride the other week. I wasn’t sure what to expect of a Sky Ride and contrary to people I’d seen on the roads on a weekend wearing Team Sky kit, I didn’t need to be a middle aged man in skin tight white lycra pedalling frantically on a ludicrously expensive bike. It was a group of ladies, all normal, all lovely and thankfully there was a distinct lack of skin tight lycra or competitive attitudes. I’d had a fabulous time, made some new friends, had a gorgeous cycle out and had cake. Loved it.
However a couple of them had mentioned that their club was holding a time trial on the Wednesday. I’d expressed a tentative interest but in a ‘it’s something I might like to do when I’m sure I won’t be an actual danger to other road users, people walking on the pavement, cows two fields away or my own bicycle’ kind of a way.
However after exchanging a couple of texts, I realised I’d accidentally agreed to come along and was going to be taking part in my first ever time trial with Coventry CC.
This could be embarrassing. For everyone. I can’t even be relied on to stay upright on a bike. I probably should have mentioned my embarrassing ‘lie-on-floor-with-bike-on-top-of-me’ moment at that major roundabout. Maybe hinted at the’ catapulting-self-into-hedge-after-riding-through-a-puddle’ moment. Maybe I should text a quick excuse. Surely no-one wants to be the club member that invited along the girl who can’t be 100% relied upon to actually climb onto the bike the right way round every time.
However I ran out of excuses.
You know when you watch Big Fat Gypsy Wedding on the TV and they show the pony cart races and the camera pans out to show all the cars parked up the verges? It was a bit like that but with carbon bikes instead of ponies and a lot more estate cars. I imagine the locals were all still hiding though.
I parked my car in a space on the verge and hauled out helmet, bike shoes and Evie. Without realising it, I had ALREADY managed my first bike-etiquette-fail. My top didn’t have sleeves. Apparently sleeves are mandatory when cycling. I was also wearing my finest Neapolitan ice cream style tan so no sharp tan lines either. I’m surprised I was even allowed on the verge.
However, I paid my £3 entry and had a look around. Everyone else looked SUPER professional with their time trial bikes, long sleeved race lycra and smooth helmets. And here was me in my running vest, Aldi gloves and road bike with clip on bars. However, despite looking exactly like I was – a nervous newbie with absolutely no clue - everyone was REALLY friendly.
Julie helped me pump air into my bike tyres as apparently having tyres at 80 psi isn’t really ideal for a time trial. Thanks Julie, but OUCH, could really feel all the bumps in the road now! Should have packed my padded padded-pants.
Judy, Julie and Tracey all introduced me to their club friends and we went off for a warm up – or in my case a wobble up – around the country lanes nearby which helped calm my nerves and reassure me that I did still know how to ride a bike without stabilisers.
My race number was 13. I was given the option of wearing this upside down as apparently this stops any bad luck from attaching itself to me. But I declined. If I fell off my bike no-one would know which way to put me back on again. Safety first, kids.
We all queued up ready for our starts a minute apart and it was here that I discovered the absolute BEST PART of time trials.
Before you start, you get a nice strong man holding onto your saddle so you can clip your feet in and THEN you get a massive SHOVE to start you off. Brilliant. No feet-waving, wobbles-into-oncoming traffic or spinning pedals as I try desperately to find the clips. I did get flashbacks to my first ever group ride (last year) where I had to get pushed up a hill, but I ignored those and concentrated on trying not to get lost, distracted or overtaken by absolutely everyone else who started behind me.
I had NO idea how to pace a 10 mile time trial so decided that I would pretend it was a running race and take it mile by mile. I secretly wanted to try and get around 30 minutes if possible (although this was a BIG ask) which meant I’d have to have an average speed of 20 mph. Eeek! I was hoping that this was an Escher style-course which was downhill ALL the way despite being a loop.
However my bank-the-laps plan was foiled when I realised I’d forgotten to set laps for the miles. I was just going to have to pedal like hell and try to keep my total average pace up. Or if that failed try and spot a nice soft verge to fall off on when I started throwing up and my eyesight failed.
I enjoyed my hefty shove off, started pedalling and then accidentally caught sight of my speed. Argh. Too fast for me! Just keep pedalling, Sarah! Try and hold on! Everyone else is starting now and you’ll be holding them all up like a fat kid on the slide.
The roads were fairly busy but the cars appeared to be taking pity on my rapidly reddening face and my rapey-sounding breathing and were keeping their distance and giving me plenty of space. I wasn’t sure whether they were being considerate to me or safeguarding their paintwork by keeping outside the moving potential-vomit-splatter circle.
I flew down the B4453 enjoying a bit of a tailwind and shot out onto the A45 avoiding the potholes, the doddery Nissan Almera drivers and the insane dump truck drivers. The surface was fairly smooth after the slip road and it was nice to get a bit of wind in my face and enjoy the feel of nicely flattened-down roadkill under my tyres. None of this still-alive-and-moving roadkill for the A45. We’re dead posh, here.
Luckily the cars in front of me didn’t slow too much coming up to the Memorial Roundabout and there was nothing coming from the right as I approached so I was able to use my momentum off the slope to whisk over the roundabout, the number 13 pinned to my back flapping in the wind. The miles were ticking past quickly and I was at the point where I was holding my speed ... but running out of familiar road.
As anyone who has done any sort of race knows, it is at least 30% easier on familiar paths. I’m not sure why this is but it’s an irrefutable rule. I knew that once I got past the next roundabout, I was unfamiliar turf. And I had been threatened with a dragging hill somewhere in there.
One girl’s dragging hill is another girl’s misty-peaked-mountain. The cyclists had all looked a bit keen and fit and I remembered the person describing the hill setting off as though they were rocket powered. I suspected what might be a ‘dragging hill’ to them might be a vertical slope for me. I hoped I wouldn’t have to get off and push the bike. I understood that was frowned upon in time trials. Especially when you hadn’t even observed the tan-line rules.
My breathing was heavier now and my legs were reminding me that I’d cycled 8 miles flat out now. Where is this HILL?
I hadn’t seen another cyclist the whole time. Either I’d got lost or I was about to hear the voom-voom-voom of disc wheels on the road behind me any moment. I bent over my clip on tri bars and tried to force my heavy legs into greater effort. We coasted a small rise and flew down the other side. A village sign flashed past – back into familiar territory briefly, then back out again as I passed my usual turning for the Fosse Way. And there was the hill.
In the usual scheme of things it was nothing more than a rise, a small bump, a tiny climb. But with half a mile of a time trial left, my legs were crying tiny sweaty tears that rolled into my socks. With each revolution of the pedals, my legs reminded me that they’d really, really like to cramp up about now. But my heart told me that trying my best would be worth it. That each tiny moment of pain now, would be worth double with the feelings of achievement afterwards.
And is that another cyclist in front of me? It gave me an added boost and I crested the hill and soared down the other side, Evie’s tri bars singing in the cross wind. Last 5 leg pumps and I was done. Past the marshalls, past the cyclist, down the road and coming to a stop.
I’d survived. I’d not fallen off. I’d not got lost.
And there was haribo and hot tea waiting for me at the end.
10 mile time trial: 26:31 Strava
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