A seasonal cold is keeping me pretty much off the bike this weekend so here’s another book review for you..
Racing against the clock in any form of time trial is a Race of Truth. How far? How fast? Nothing else matters. Time trialling on the track is an even purer Test. Stripped bare of all the issues of weather, terrain and surface it reduces the contest to just Man and Machine. And there is no greater test of Man and Machine than The Hour – a increasingly mythologised undertaking that pits each new challenger against the greats of the sport who have held the record through the decades. Michael Hutchinson, in his 2007 book (Yellow Jersey Press. £8.99) detailing his own own attempt at the record notes that, in this way, he able to race against Coppi, even from beyond the grave.
Now that the Tour of Britain has concluded, all eyes are fully focussed on Tuscany for the UCI World Road Race Championships this week. Racing started today with the Team Time Trial before moving onto the individual time trials in the middle of the week and then culminating with the Blue Riband road race events next weekend. Junior (Men and Women) and U23 (Men only) versions of all the events are either side of the midweek races, filling out a packed schedule of competition. We are guaranteed some gorgeous scenery as the routes traverse the beautiful Tuscan landscape around Lucca, Pistoia and Florence and there are going to be plenty of fireworks throughout the event.
The Team Time Trials – uniquely contested by trade teams rather than nations – kicked off the annual event and both the Mens and Women’s events were won by the defending champions, though in starkly contrasting fashions. Whilst Specialized-Lulu Lemon romped home in the Women’s race, besting second place Rabo Womens Cycling by over 70 seconds across the 42.7km course, the Men’s Omega Pharma QuickStep squad had a somewhat narrower margin of victory over the Orica Greenedge team. Racing an extended course of 56.8km, the Belgian outfit – who were the last team out on the road – took the title from the understandably gutted Australians by less than a single second. Their time of 1:04:16.81 was just enough to deny Orica Greenedge, who had maintained a strong run in the final kilometres to set up the nail-biting finish. Sky Procycling rounded out the podium some 22 seconds further back.
Home interest in the Team Time Trials has been impacted by the fact that cross-scheduling of this event with the last stage of the Tour of Britain meant that two of GB’s best male testers were unavailable. Whilst Chris Froome (SKY), and Steve Cummings (BMC) both took part, it was the absence of the talents of Alex Dowsett and Bradley Wiggins – both of whom illuminated the final ToB stage in some way of recompense – that was most obvious.
Imagine, if you will, climbing onto your bike early on a summery Saturday afternoon and going for a 60 minute solo ride at a pacy 21.5 mph. Sounds good, nice even.. Now imagine staying on your bike, needing to maintain that speed, for another 23 hours straight. Doesn’t sound so good anymore, does it? Imagine how you might be feeling by 10pm on Saturday evening; with darkness falling, knowing that you will still be going hard at 10am the following day, having ridden right through the night with only burning muscles and an exhausted mind for company. And when 10am finally rolls around you still have four more hours to do. At the same viciously relentless pace.
Welcome to the very singular pain-cave that is the 24 hour Time Trial.
On 22nd July, whilst most of the cycling world was focused on the casual Parisien denouement of the Tour de France, a few hardy amateurs were completing the Mersey Roads 24hr National Championships Time Trial. Having taken themselves to their limits for a full day and a night, the event was won by Stuart Birnie, riding his third ’24’, with a spectacular distance of 518.372 miles (833km) – beating the defending champion, Ultan Coyle, by a margin of just 5 miles, less than 0.5% of the collective mileage. For most of the race they were only separated by a couple of minutes at the respective time-checks. If the distances alone are impressive, then the addition of the pressure of a closely-fought encounter is incredible.