Whilst amazing things were being done by some of the team on the last weekend of June, a few of us had our sights on goals elsewhere, namely the BDCA 50, especially Sue and Chris M as it was to be a BAR counter for them.
For me this was one of the key events of the year. I did my first 50 on the reverse version of this course 2 years ago, and despite having only ridden over 50 miles once that year before the race I managed to scrape, very painfully, under 2 hours with a long 1:58. Improving on this was a big goal for last year, but I did a different kind of painful scraping in my first planned 50 of the year, the National, by crashing at 30 mph and leaving a fair amount of skin on the road. This lead to a DNS for the BDCA 50 2 weeks later. So going into this year I’d entered 3, started 2 and finished 1 50. I was hoping that this year would go a little smoother!
Lots of decent long tempo rides over winter and into spring gave me what I felt was a decent base to build on, with the hope of getting close to around 1:51 for the BDCA 50. But then life got in the way, as it does, and I’d only done a handful of 2hr+ rides in the last few months, so it was with a certain amount of fear as the event closing date approached – partly fear that I wouldn’t be fast enough to get a ride in the association event, and partly fear that I would, as it was going to hurt a lot!
There were 7 of us on the start sheet – Chris M, Sue, Libby, Bob, Dave, Chris H and myself. Unfortunately Libby was a DNS due to illness, wisely saving herself for a rather bigger challenge later this year.
Going into the event I had a few targets I was aiming for – beating my PB was the minimum, I wanted to beat my minute man Alistair (friend of the team & Sue’s husband), but the main goal was the men’s team record (1:55:20), and getting as close to 1:51 as possible – having done a few 53 minute 25s this year, the often quoted formula of 2×25 time + 5 minutes indicated I could get close(ish) if things went well. But Mother Nature had other ideas… The day before the race the forecast looked reasonable, small chance of showers, temperature in the high teens, average pressure, and a gentle northerly breeze meaning the return leg should mostly be sheltered. But on the day, it was to be anything but. The weather was ok during the warm up, but as I rolled down to the start to see Dave off a few minutes before me, the sky went black and it started hailing, hard. The timekeeper and start marshals were thankfully under umbrellas but us riders were drenched in seconds. Within 3 minutes the conditions had gone from dry to standing water and spray. Alistair went off, and I pulled up to the line wondering exactly how much sanity I had left! The storm caught Chris M & Sue as they were getting ready to leave the car park causing them to try and take cover – days later Chris’s skin still showed the marks from the crazy hailstorm.
I was counted down and off I went – all of 100 yards to the first roundabout, went to brake, and nothing – the conditions were so bad the brakes didn’t work! Thankfully I’d not exactly gone for a flying start so I was able to cautiously limp around the island. Onto the Etwall bypass and there was standing water everywhere, truly horrible conditions. I made the decision to see what things were like at the turn for the dual carriageway 2 miles away and if there looked to be spray I’d just turn and pack. But, in true bonkers British summer weather style, 2 miles away it was bone dry, so onwards I went!
A lot of the first quarter of the course was spent fighting the crosswind coming from the south, completely against the forecast. At times it felt like the wind was swirling around, probably because of the pressure change from the storm – I can see from the elevation profile that my Garmin recorded that it’s absolutely nothing like the actual elevation, so the weather was playing having with the barometric sensors in the device. Then it was Concrete Mountain, 6 mile uphill slog, where you watch the average speed drop and drop… even worse with the wind apparently against you! You just have to hope that you get most of it back on the trip back down the “mountain”. I’d got a power based plan for the race and stuck to it fairly well, so far, going not far off threshold power up the mountain, with the intention of backing off on the descent to recover. I’d been watching out for Alistair and thought I could see him approx 30 seconds ahead of me. Sure enough, after cresting the climb and getting to the turn, I could see him pretty close by on the other side of the road, and he gave me the thumbs up. I knew I was going to take it easy down the mountain, but was hoping my extra ballast over Alistair would claw some more time back. Even taking it easy I averaged high 30s on the descent, probably my favourite bit of any TT course I’ve ridden – 6 very fast miles, as long as the wind isn’t trying to knock you about!
After this it’s a 3 mile dog leg on single carriageway which I remember being quite a bit of a slog 2 years ago when I’d ridden it. I was hoping to see that I’d pulled more time back on Alistair, and as I approached the turn it looked that I had… then I realised it wasn’t the turn and I still had a little bit more to ride. It seems that a few riders unfortunately thought the same and turned early (effectively DNFing) but thankfully I pushed on until I saw the marshals, and realised I was probably about a minute off Alistair again. It was around this point I had a double caffeine gel – hoping for a bit of assistance for the last ~15 miles. This was on top of the large cappuccino in the morning, double espresso 90 minutes before the start, OTE caffeine gel 30 mins before the start, and OTE hydro caffeine drink. I think I may have a caffeine problem….
3 miles back to the dual carriageway now – I was expecting this to be a painful grovel into the southerly wind that I’d been fighting earlier, but instead I had a pretty substantial tailwind – the wind had apparently turned completely since earlier, and the leg back to the DC flew. Although it was here that I was caught for the only time during the race – by the tandem pair that started 13 minutes (!) after me, and flew past me like I wasn’t moving. They went on to beat the competition record. Back on the dual carriageway and I assessing how I’m doing. This should be the fastest leg of the race, so I’d hope my average speed (floating around 25mph) would pick up. I needed a minimum of 26 to get a 1:55. 1:51 was well out of reach, but the men’s team record could still be achieved. Unfortunately this is where lack of time in the saddle started to bite. I’m having to frequently sit up in the last 10 miles to ease the excruciating pain. Thankfully whilst sat up I’m able to put more power out so I don’t lose too much speed exposing my brick-esque aero profile to the wind, but then I started to run out of steam a little with 5 miles to go – a few (not so) micro rests here and there to relieve the legs. But the average speed is picking up – 25.8 or so with 4 miles to go, and then just tripping into 26 as I get off the dual carriage way, with less than 2 miles to go. I get a clear run at the island and push as hard as I can (which by this point isn’t all that hard) to the line. I thought I’d done a mid 1:55, so was going to be close. I rolled back to the car and catch up with Alistair who thought he’d done a similar time. There’s a bit of a wait at HQ for the times to go up, but Alistair takes the last podium spot of the association event with a 1:55:24. Me? An agonising 1:55:27. 3 seconds off the podium, and 7 seconds off equalling the men’s team record. But I’m not disappointed – over 3 minutes quicker than 2 years ago, which was arguably a float day, in at times pretty tough conditions. Here’s to 1:51 next year…
Some great rides from my team mates too, including PBs for both Chris M and Sue (by nearly 2 minutes for Chris and a fine 4th place, and nearly a minute for Sue) boding very well for their BAR attempts!
And after all that caffeine, my cake of choice? Coffee cake. The jitters kicked in on the drive home. Whoops…
1st Martyn Shore (Walsall Roads) 1:52:49
1st John Dewey (Team Bottrill) 1:37:57
2nd Stephen Irwin (North Lancs RC) 1:38:37
3rd Richard Bideau (Pendle Forest CC) 1:39:29
1st Angela Hibbs (Fusion RT Fierlan) 1:50:03
2nd Alice Lethbridge (Starley Racing) 1:52:39
3rd Karen Ledger (Langsett Cycles Race Team) 1:53:12
Me 1:55:27 (PB)
Chris Melia 1:57:28 (PB)
Sue Semple 2:03:44 (PB)
Chris Hal: 2:04:28
Dave Pemberton 2:14:19
Bob Awcock DNS
Libby McLaren DNS