I won a time trial.
Nothing to shout about, you’re probably thinking, but it made me happy for a few weeks. Plus, to anyone who knows my (ahem) fitness regime, it does sound highly unlikely.
It was a complete and utter fluke, of course, and a few years back. It had actually slipped my mind until stumbling across the first and hardest climb of the circuit whilst riding in Kent last week. Hubbard’s Hill is a nasty ascent even when you’re fit. When bumbling along in a post-Christmas fug, it has the capacity to finish off a man miles from home with empty legs.
But a strong rider with good form can stomp up Hubbard’s and recover quickly enough, as I had done once, in a previous century, on a crisp March morning. Time trials have always been an ordeal to my mind. Getting up before it’s light and riding flat out as the sun rises has never agreed with my constitution.
Hammering along dual carriageways, all alone, in the vain hope of catching some speck in the distance, messes with the mind of the uncommitted racer. It is the ultimate in self-discipline – therein lies the issue.
The early season hilly TT, though, seemed just about bearable: something to get your teeth into; a reasonable start time. The winning fluke came about for two reasons. This was the first event on a brand new course and, in those pre-GPS days and with scant details of where the start was, I failed to find it.
Unloading the bike and heading off into the lanes for an hour or two’s spin, I happened upon the race after half an hour, pinned on a number and was away, sufficiently warmed-up for once to go flat-out from the off. It was an uncommonly good feeling and, as riders were caught, it kept on coming. No easing off, no backing down, and Hubbard’s Hill was all mine. The saddle may have been about to part company with it’s post for the last three miles, but there was no denying the legs.
The second reason for this unlikely victory became apparent at the finish, as several riders who would have undoubtedly kicked my backside all over Sevenoaks Weald hung around drinking tea, victims of the lack of published detail regarding the race start. Welcome to the world of time trialling, ladies and gents.
Holding the course record was the icing on the cake. It stood for precisely one year, until the next time the annual race was held, when it was lowered by several minutes. The fast boys had found the start.
My last attempt at the ‘race of truth’ would remain the best. Others are better equipped, mentally and physically, for the discipline, and I hold the utmost respect for those who can grind out a blisteringly fast TT.
This leads me (rather neatly) to Stiler er Manden from Rouleur issue 22, a study of the art of time trialling by four Danish artists, including Jørgen Leth, director of A Sunday in Hell. (If you have not seen it, do so – now).
They present four views in their chosen medium – whether words, photographs or illustrations – to encapsulate this test of mental fortitude that has decided so many Grand Tours in the modern era.
Master the ‘race of truth’ and good things will surely follow. Just warm-up properly and make sure you know where the start is…