Time trials remain the backbone of competitive cycle sport in Britain. They have an historical anchor as the sport’s governing body, the progressive thinking National Cycling Union (NCU), banned mass start road racing before WW2 forcing riders to compete individually against the clock. No really, they did.
Despite this, British riders took the discipline to their hearts and now, during the summer months, many cycling clubs will run a mid-week 10 mile time trial supplemented with much posher ‘open’ events over the weekends. A look a recent British cycling heritage will reveal many of the current crop of professional riders come from a time trialling background. Certainly Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree but also Wiggo, Alex Dowsett, David Millar et al.
You’d expect there to be certain differences between the world time trial championships and the club TT starting at 7pm up the A442 wouldn’t you? You’d be right. Here are a few of them.
1. The world TT championships start in Florence – the home Da Vinci (well, he came from Vinci apparently but he ‘grew up’ in Florence). A centre of the Renaissance, a cultural cauldron and one of the most visited place in the world. In contrast, a club event starts at the car park of the ‘Mucky Duck’ where you can get sausage, egg and chips for £2.00 (£1.25 in week if you are on OAP) and you have to keep moving so you don’t stick to the carpet. Oh, and remember to park at the back – in case any ‘proper’ customers turn up.
2. The riders taking part in the UCI Championship TT are the fastest cyclists in the world. They could cover 10 miles in around 18 minutes, riding at well over 30 mph emitting a massive amount of power whilst retaining a perfectly flat back and a smooth, graceful and efficient style. The club time trial will be won by the one guy who manages to dip below 24 minutes with his club mates coming in 3 to 10 minutes behind him. The final rider will get back as it gets dark. These riders will have a range of ‘styles’ from text book to ‘gorilla engaged in wrestling match with lawn mower’.
3. None of the smoothed legged lean professional riders will have come face to face with a tractor towing a combine harvester during their race today although this often befalls club riders, evidenced from the look of abject terror on their faces and the amount of straw sticking out of their aero helmets as they return to the finish. Similarly, it’s unlikely any of the pro’s will report being hit square in face with a half-eaten McDonalds hurled from a passing car accompanied by a hearty cry of ‘w*nker!’ and a single finger salute.
4. You’d expect the equipment used by amateurs thrashing up the A442 and the professionals gliding around Florence to be different and, again, you’d be right. Top of the range carbon framed, wind tunnel tested, disc wheel and power metered equipped steeds costing thousands will be present at the evening club time trial whereas many of the pro’s will be riding stuff their governing bodies have forced upon them. One of the joys of our sport is that you can (just) ride the same equipment as your heroes in the Tour de France. If you follow F1 you have no, repeat, no chance of driving an F1 car but you can (if you’ve got 14 grand to spare) ride the same bike as Brad.
5. Enjoyment? Surprisingly equal. In their professional careers the fleeting joy of victory (that 15 minutes before they find the next target) is tempered by the enormous pressure to perform in a vanishingly small time window before becoming too old, knackered and disillusioned. For the amateur of any age or ability, nothing compares with the unmitigated ecstasy of knocking 2 seconds off your PB or beating ‘Fast’ Eddie, your time trialling nemesis, gaining bragging rights at the post mortem in the Mucky Duck.
6. It is unlikely any of the top pros today will be cautioned for parking on verge too close to the start line or be ‘hurrumphed’ by the time keeper for forgetting to hand their numbers back in at the end of the event. It is also doubtful they will be shouted at by a passing motorist for taking a pee in the hedge. However, to even things up, the pros will not experience that great village hall smell or get a piece of lemon drizzle cake to die for.
If you’re between 12 and 112 and fancy a lash at time trialling, contact your local club and see when and where they are held. If you’re 12, you might be the next Brad. If your 112 you might be the next ‘Fast’ Eddie. Either way, it’s a great accessible way to get into competitive cycle sport.
…Rich Smith is a Level 3 British Cycling qualified coach, the current British, European and World Transplant Cycling champion and the author of ReCycled a funny book about cycling and less important things like life and death…