The Tour of Cambridgeshire, Chrono & Gran Fondo, was my focus for the year. The challenge qualify for the World Championships which this year will be in France. This year the ToC looked even bigger than last year, our hotel had a Belgian team in it, the competition looked like it had stepped up a gear.
First up on Saturday, the Chrono or Time Trial, an interesting route at just over 26Km. The morning started watching Rory and Henry making their runs, both put in good times, but sadly only Rory qualified. Jim was out just after 12:30 and I was on the road at 1pm. Watching the guys get ready and go out added to the tension and I must admit I felt nervous hanging around. The weather was good and the day was getting warmer, and the hanging around gave time for indecision and doubts to gather over what was a run plan. Here goes what I remember from the Chrono.
Warm up went well, I had cycled for a while outside hoping to catch Jim start but time meant I had to go indoors and get hooked up to a turbo trainer for my detailed warm up. It went well I was able to get some gentle load on to loosen the legs then do some intervals to warm the legs and raise the heart rate. Everything looked good, power numbers on the button and the nerves drifted from me, I was working on a known sequence. I heard my number group called and we all lined up on the start ramp, it was all very calm and on the final beep rolled off the start.
I nodded to Henry then rolled out, keeping it steady, too many twists and barriers, then opened it up a bit onto a barrier lined straight past the finish finish line towards the road and into the wind. The first section was into the wind ahead I could see the previous rider, target acquired I settled onto the TT bars, the right shoulder complaining as I folded it in. Time to set a rhythm, not too hard but try to push the pace. Focus the breathing and settle down, but it was hot, even the wind blown up to me felt hot. Heart rate was where it should be legs felt like they were working but power was lower than planned.
As we approached a couple of left turns I was gaining on the 20 second man, but then the dreaded noise of a disc wheel, the ride behind was passing me. Off the bars, onto the brakes, round the corner then accelerate back to speed, 20 seconds before front rider behind, 20 seconds behind rider in front of me, back onto the TT bars, fewer complaints from the shoulder this time. The road became more lumpy, the first hill I managed in the TT bars, the second was bigger so out of the saddle working the legs and arms to avoid dropping out of the big ring.
The shoulder twitches with each leg crank but we crest the hill and I fold myself back into the TT bars to recover down the hill. Manage the breathing, drop the power but keep going.
At the bottom of the hill there are a series of bends I brake and sit up for the first then force myself back onto the TT bars for the rest as I need to take back some time and the rider in front is getting away. The next section has a gentle climb, not large but a climb again. I stay down in the TT bars trying to get along as quickly as possible. My shoulder no longer bothers me, the legs and my lungs are shouting louder plus my throat is dry. I am aware of being coated in a layer of sweat.
Some long sweeping downhills at last, the pace quickens I hit 61Km/hr, that feels much better I am passed again, but ahead is another rider, I focus on him and push past to once again be on a long slow climb, then round a corner and down again.
Only to find a photographer in the middle of the road, I edge right he steps further into my path so I aim slightly to his right. Great Photo’s but not what I needed at that moment. We have turned I am heading back towards the show ground, one more right turn but a car is in the road with hazards on. I decide it must be an accident so off the bars and brake. Marshall’s rush out and frantically gesticulate to the car and it is moved off the road, there goes half a second. Only 5Km to go time to empty the tank, now it is flat out nothing left in reserve. My vision narrows, sounds disappears and all I can hear is my breathing all I can feel is my heart pounding and legs burning. Time slows down.
I push on the last roundabout, the last couple of bends, the run to the finish line.
One last effort to push to the line.
And it is over. As you cross the line your time flashes up on the overhead gantry.
I sit up brake and shift down, suddenly I am aware of how hard I am breathing, I am dizzy and wobble plus am unable to speak. I grab my recovery beer and gulp it down I am so hot and thirsty. Jim talks to me, I cannot understand him I feel disoriented and dizzy but slowly life returns to normal. Off comes the helmet soaked in sweat. The time faster than last year, but not good enough. Sadly Jim also failed to qualify, and he borrowed my 50 seconds behind number. also un-seen by us Tim Gilling had a cycle round the TT course.
Day one over day 2 to come, the Gran Fondo. This I felt was my best chance. I qualified last year, I was only 50 seconds off in Ayrshire and I was feeling good and much better now. The start is always good, out along the roads the Chrono used, a mad pace and a rush of riders. We are grouped in age related pens and some always get carried away at the start. Just lining up two people crashed. It takes ages to get started, and when we do my power meter is useless indicating 15W maximum, and mainly 0W, back to riding by HR and feel.
We spin out over rolling hills through villages, this was good. Once the initial sorting occurred the group was rolling well and we were on our way. Henry and Jim kindly dropped back and after about 45Km we were all together and we pushed out onto the worst part, the fens. It is flat, it should be easy, but the wind whips across you and it always feels like a head wind. they drive on and I go into the red just hanging onto their wheels. It just saps you and soon my legs and back were complaining. A moped with video camera man rolls along beside us. The time was good but I felt bad, made worse by the recognition I was wheel sucking. I ate as much as I could, a jelly baby sugar rush helped pick me up and at last we were out of the fens and back to more normal countryside.
A fast group rolled by and we jumped on, I looked behind for Henry and Jim to hear Henry tell me to go for it so I tucked into the larger group. The pace was higher but it was more sheltered and even the hills felt better than that soulless wind. The last 20Km was leg shredding, fast and to be honest fun. All too soon we were back onto the finishing straight, an attempt at a sprint and over the line. 3:34 much faster than my last year time of 3:58, but the cut off time had fallen from 4:05 to 3:31.
And that is how my journey chasing for a Rainbow Jersey came to an end. I cannot really be sad, both times were improvements, and while I think the TT time could be better I cannot think I could ride the road element any faster. Time to be honest and say the competition was a step above me, and I still have last years memories.
Time for a new challenge.