Time Flies: Andy Tyler's Time-Trialling Tale

It's an odd discipline, this time trialling lark. Hammer along some dual carriageway for five miles, turn around and then come hammering back. You ride alone, no tactics, no pacing, it's a test of raw aerobic power - "The Race of Truth".

It's the 1996 Eastern Counties Championships and there's a gang of useful riders here today, notably Martin Pyne, former national champion. We're both off quite near the end so we have to wait a good couple of hours as the 140-odd riders before us are dispatched on their way at one minute intervals. All the time I'm hoping that the wind will drop so that I can do a decent sub 21 minute ride.

With 30 minutes to go, I set about having a warm up. I feel really good, fantastic in fact. My CC Breckland team-mate Steve stops off on his way back from the finish, having done his ride. He looks knackered.

"What's it like?" I ask.

"Slow, it's a real grovel on the way back... Oh, I hope you're going to pump up your front tyre before you set off..."

Sod it! It's punctured.

12 minutes later, I'm well and truly warmed up after a flat-out sprint to the start with a hastily installed inner tube. I just about have time for yet another adrenaline induced pee in the bushes. By the time I've done, only Martin Pyne is left in the queue. As he shuffles up to the white paint mark on the kerb, I slot in behind.

"30 seconds," calls Margaret, the timekeeper.

Martin looks behind to notice me for the first time. "I forgot you were behind me," he says and I'm quite flattered by his worried tone.

"10 seconds... 5,4,3,2,1, Go...." Martin launches himself and soon disappears round the corner onto the A14.

I shuffle up to the line and reset my heart monitor and computer. I'm nervous as hell. At 30 seconds, I clip myself in and zip up my skin suit. I give my bike, Trigger, a covert pat and check we're in the right gear.

"10 seconds." I stand up and put my weight on the leading pedal...


Brakes off...

"..3,2,1, go!"

I get a huge push up the road and accelerate as hard as I can. In 12 pedal stokes I'm there and I settle down into my sleek aerodynamic tuck. The noise of air rushing over my helmet increases as Trigger starts eating up the road. Wahey, I'm time trialling again! Fantastic!

Ker-clunk, ker-clunk. The carbon fibre rear wheel broadcasts every gear change as my speed increases. Ahead, a man in a fluorescent vest points to the left and I grudgingly screw the bike down from over 30mph to tackle the sharp left hander onto the slip road. Wooaa! Not much grip on slick 18mm tyres...

I've used most of the road but I'm round and descending the sliproad, stamping on the pedals to get back up to speed. Ker-clunk, ker-clunk. There's a crowd and I hear a cheer above the whoosh of the slipstream. 35mph and back down into my tuck as the A14 sprawls out ahead of me. Quick glance at the heart monitor... 180 beats per min, absolutely spot on.

Out of the shelter of the roadside hedge, I notice the wind on my right shoulder. It's already dulling my speed a fair bit and I find myself having to go down a gear to hold my pedal rate, ker-clunk.

I'm only doing 27 mph, I've got to average 28.5 to get inside 21 minutes. This is going to hurt.

In-in-in-out-out-out. I keep the breathing going, concentrating on the metabolic dashboard in my head, lighting a 20 minute fuse. I catch sight of a red and white blob nearly a minute in front - Martin Pyne. I watch as he overtakes a slower rider in the distance. Off to my left on the hard shoulder is my shadow. God, I look silly, like an epileptic frog astride a flying broomstick.

183 beats per minute - I'm really cooking, my legs are just starting to sting a bit. In-in-in-out-out-out. I count my pedal revs to help me concentrate, 1,2,3,4.... The slower rider gets closer, it's almost as if he's riding towards me. I pull out to overtake and he rumbles by.

"Go on!" he shouts sportingly as I flash past. I enter a cutting and the wind seems to be funnelled right into my face. Again, the pedals slow. Ker-clunk. Bloody hell, down to 25mph, this is getting embarrassing.

Three miles gone. I finally crest the long drag and begin the descent towards the turn. Wahey! Ker-clunk, ker-clunk, I'm in the '12' sprocket before I know it, touching 40 mph. I'm starting to feel very uncomfortable and I worry that I've overcooked my ride. I hate time trialling, it hurts, it's horrible...

4.7 miles, the turn in sight. Approaching the slip road, Martin pops up on the other carriageway, heading for home. I make a note of the time as he passes a large roadsign.

Swooping down the sliproad, I sit up briefly to get my hands closer to the brake levers, just in case, but the road is clear and I sweep around the long 180� turn for home. Five miles in 10 mins 40 sec - it's still on! The full force of the crosswind hits me as I swing straight into it but I power through and then feel it let go as it moves around onto my left shoulder. I go up a gear and get out of the saddle to attack the gradient of the sliproad. I still feel quite strong, I think I'm going to survive....

I pass the roadsign 55 seconds after Martin. I'm five seconds up!! I pass another rider and I settle back down on the bars, crawling back up the slope I'd just descended at 40mph.

Seven miles and I'm grovelling, I can't get any speed in the crosswind. Everything is hurting like hell and it's taking all my concentration to hold my breathing rhythm. The 'wind tunnel' that I'd experienced on the way out beckons though, surely it must pay me back...

Yeeees! It's like someone has just attached a tow rope... Ker-clunk, ker-clunk.... 30mph, 31, 32.. 35, 36... I'm clawing back all my lost time, I'm absolutely flying. My legs are spinning quicker now but they're rapidly turning to jelly, drowning in lactic acid.

Eight miles - check the computer. I have less than 4 minutes to cover the last two miles. Oh God, I want to die... Got to hang on for four minutes... Four short minutes Andy... Concentrate...

Nine miles and I start to buckle. I get the dreaded fluttering in my chest and I know I've had it. Two minutes to cover the last mile, it's going to be so close. I start counting my pedal revs again to keep myself together. Only two hundred revs more and I'm home.

I see the finish ahead. I pass some blokes at the side of the road.

"You're doing a great ride!" one of them shouts, but I don't believe him. 300 yards to go and I'm totally smashed. My legs start to disobey me and my vision goes monochrome. Ker-clunk. Up a gear and out of the saddle for the final sprint to the finish. The cranks feel like they're made of sponge. It's going to be so close...

Weaving and swerving, rocking and rolling, I cross the line. The relief is almost orgasmic and I savour the moment... But quick, check the computer... Elapsed time 21min 3secs. No! But hold on, did it take me four seconds to check? I may have done a 20:59...

I jump off, dropping Trigger onto the grass verge and am violently sick, gasping for air. That's it, I'm never doing another time trial ever, I must be bloody mad... After just a few deep breaths I feel compus mentis once again and I'm engulfed in an almost post-coital glow - I'm out of my box on adrenaline and endorphines. Martin waits for me and we share a joke or two on the way back to the HQ. He's done "about a '21'" too. Perhaps I had done a good ride?

Back at the car, I give myself a wash down and remove what appears to be most of the lining of my lungs from my face and skinsuit. I give Trig a fond pat and wander inside the HQ. There's a huge crowd fighting for a view of the results board as I jostle to the front, spilling my cup of tea. Taking a sip, I see Martin's time first, 20:59. Then mine, 21:02!

I'm inconsolable. Three poxy seconds? Then I see the winning time, 20:48! Bloody hell, I'm fourth! Not only that but I've led the team to victory. Two lots of prize money? I'm rich!

"You'd have gone 40 or 50 seconds quicker on a calm day," says Mick, "That's a brilliant ride."

My smile broadens. "Tell you what Mick, I really enjoyed that."

Andy Tyler


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About the author

My name is John Swindells and I'm a keen recreational cyclist with a preference for long one-day rides. I've also previously dabbled in time trialling and cyclo-cross. See more of what I get up to on Strava!