Time trialling

Sunday, 5:30 am, the alarm doesn’t rouse me, I’d turned it off by mistake sometime during a broken night’s sleep, but I’m awake anyway, waiting for dawn to break yet slowly realising that I’ll be riding before it does.

Downstairs everything is waiting, prepared the night before. I’m remembering how to do this. My bike is cleaned if not perfectly adjusted (note again, to book myself onto a bike maintenance course), my clothes laid out.

I’m here, doing the stuff you have to do to participate in a sport. First I feel pleased with myself, then I feel smug for feeling pleased with myself, and then I reassure myself there’s nothing hollow about this, and I feel pleased over again. I eat a bowl of muesli and yoghurt, drink a mug of tea, make an expresso and leave it to cool whilst getting ready to leave.

I’d planned to leave at 6:15. By 6 I’m worried I’ve not left enough time to reach the race. It’s still dark. I find a front and back light and fumble them onto my bike. Swig the coffee, then off, out of the still sleeping house.

I love riding when the streets are empty. I love riding in the night. Whenever I do, I remember I don’t do it enough. Over the Lune, north out of Lancaster into the purple sky.

I’m riding 20 miles to a race, the kind of thing I’ve not done since I was a kid. It’s Lancaster CC’s open 25 mile time trial on the Levens and Lindale course. My start time is 8:09am.

The A6 slumbers. I spin the gears through Slyne-with-Hest, Bolton-le-Sands and Carnforth. A voice is behind me. It’s Graham Atkinson’s; he’s riding to his marshalling duties. He rides fixed, 48×18. Turning the pedals at 100 revs a minute, he rides 20 mph. We ride side-by-side and chat, I drop back for a tow, we chat again, I break a sweat, shout to Graham that I’d better drop back, and he soon disappears into the road ahead, a lone figure against a still lightening countryside. Graham trains as fast as I race. This year.

I don’t want to overdo it before I start. I haven’t ridden a 25 mile time trial yet this year. I’ve one today, then another next week. I rode one last year, in 73 mins, 33 seconds. My goal at the start of this year was to ride the distance in under 70 minutes.

I find the start. Two long lines of cars are parked either side of the lane. Some riders warm up on rollers pulled from car boots still gaping in the cold morning air. I sign on and collect my number from event HQ,  a gazebo with table and trophy standing silent there. The team of marshals huddle together, awaiting instructions from race organiser Ken Peasnell.

Clive Scott, one of today’s helpers, pins number 39 to my jersey. He’s happy for me to leave the gear I don’t want to carry whilst I race (clothes, one of my spare tubes, food and drink for afterwards) in his van. Clive’s son George is in there, watching a DVD or playing a computer game. For a second he reminds me of myself, in my childhood, waiting in cars – neither participating nor helping, occupying a kind of in-between space and time … but George rides bikes, races bikes, already; it took me years to find that kind of place for myself …

I chat to Judith Irving, who will leave one minute before me. At the start we meet again, and wish each other luck. She’s off. I move to the start line, am held up, watch the seconds count down, click in, try to regulate my breathing …

5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go … this is when the world goes into the background, this is when hopefully less than 70 minutes of time-out starts. It’s certainly some kind of freedom …

The first stretch is downhill. I’m up to 32 miles per hour, but trying not to overdo it. Less than 2 miles into the race, Richard Handley, who started a minute behind me, comes past; my mind starts calculating, ‘at that pace he should beat me by about 13 minutes’ (he does, and more … he’s an excellent young rider).

It strikes me as a slightly strange way to spend a Sunday morning, hammering as hard as I’m able – along with around a hundred other people – along the A590 in south Cumbria. But then I start wondering what all the people inside all the vehicles coming past me are up to, and everything – car boot sales, mountain walks, tourism – also starts to seem pretty weird.

I beat my target. 68 minutes, 12 seconds. I’m chuffed. Everything’s relative. Here, among these people, that’s slow. Compared to where I was a year ago, let alone five years ago, it’s not at all bad. I see Judith at the finish. She’s done around 1:06:30. I congratulate her, she congratulates me. I say I’d better get home, 68 miles under my belt, for a family day out. The sun is shining, it’s a glorious autumn day. She says she’d better get home, see if her kids are up yet. Not bad, this cycling life, I think, and I bet she does too ..

My legs ache today, but my head doesn’t …

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