Monday, 23 June 2014

Eastbourne Rovers Pevensy 10 Mile TT - 19/6/2014

My first Time-Trial. But first, a little background!

I’ve come over to Hailsham, which is near Eastbourne (which is near Brighton for those who weren’t too sure!) for the next 8 weeks because I’ve just started a work placement here. I’m working at Enigma Bicycle Works, which is a company that specialise in hand building custom titanium and steel bicycles. The work placement is really a dream come true for me, coming from an engineering background and being obsessed with bicycles, and I couldn’t feel more welcomed within the company as all the staff are so nice and they are all really passionate about bicycles. If you’re interested in titanium bicycles, I highly recommend Enigma due to the quality of the finished product and the relationship you build with the company over the course of the build. For my work placement, I'll be doing a bit of everything, from the administration of the company, promoting certain aspects of their work, and even building my own bike from tubes to a complete bike! I've added a link for them at the bottom of this blog.

For the duration of my stay, I’m living in a caravan, in a campsite just around the corner. While this may seem crazy to a lot of people, living in a caravan is really second nature to me having spent months in it at a time for the first 16 summers of my life in Connemara and for a few weeks a summer in Biarritz since then.

My new home!
So, to the time-trial. I had no idea what to expect coming into it, as I’d never done one before. TTs (time-trails) are completely different to road races because it’s just you vs. you and your ability to get the maximum out of yourself over the course. It’s 25 minutes of finding the line of your maximum sustainable output and blowing up, and flirting with it. And with no one else around you to push you or encourage you, a lot of it comes from mental strength. I’ve read a lot about how to do time-trials and the tricks behind them but there’s a big difference between theoretical and practical, as I’d soon find out.

Pinning on the number.
The TT was run by the Eastbourne Rovers which is the local club and whom I’ll most likely be going for spin with. They were very welcoming and willing to give me some advise about doing a 10 mile TT. My parents were with me as well, as they had brought over the caravan and were just staying the week to make sure I was settled in and as a little holiday for them. So they brought me down to the start of the TT and followed me along some of the route. I signed up for only £4 which seems like quite a steal considering the route is marshaled (more on that later…), you’re timed, and you get a push start (also more on that later…). I was number 16 on the night which meant I was starting at 19:31, as there is a minute between each rider, starting at 19:15.

Not quite pinned on enough, needed Mum's help!
I don’t own a TT specific road bike, but I wished I did after some of the bikes I saw! The success to a TT is to be as aerodynamic as possible. This results in a change of equipment from what you’d normally use in a road race. Ideally, you’d have a TT bike, skin suit, shoe covers, and an aero helmet. All I had were shoe covers and some clip on TT bars, which help make you more aerodynamically positioned. It would have to do!

I warmed up by heading down to the starting line, which was down the road a bit, and just heading up and down the road beside until I felt warmed up and reasonably ready, again not knowing exactly what I was doing. One young guy had even brought his turbo trainer so he could have a proper and structure warm up in the car park, quite intimidating! Once I felt sufficiently warm, I rolled up to the start line and realised there was still 8 minutes till I started and that if I stood around till then, I’d get pretty cold given the chilly wind, despite wearing my jacket for the warm up. So I just went off again down the road for a few minutes and came back with 3 minutes before my start time. While I was waiting I drank most of my sports drink, leaving just a few mouthfuls. I again wasn’t sure if I’d need it and looking around pretty much everyone had no bidons. I decided to keep mine, just in case I was parched, it’s only a few extra grams! I also had a gel that would see me through the TT. Again, it probably wasn’t necessary but I didn’t want to take any chances.

Eyeing up my minute rider!
Eager to start.
One minute before I was due to the start, the rider in front of me went on her way, I was determined to catch her, but again didn’t know if that was possible over such a short course. So off she went and I would be next. At this stage I was getting quite nervous from the unknown, not from the pressure to perform or anything. 30 seconds from my time, the pusher steward holds on to your bicycle so you can start with without having to clip in and the chance of messing it up that comes with it. Again having never done a TT, I had never had a pusher and didn't know the knack of setting off. So when I was eventually told to go, I went to accelerate and the pusher released, the feeling was very weird to me and I panicked and pull my brakes! Thankfully I didn’t fall or anything, I was just slightly delayed, much to my Dad’s enjoyment, who was taking pictures of me starting.

Being held by the pusher, I feel sorry for him having to hold me!

Screwing up the start!
I was off. I had read again and again that you should build into a TT and pace yourself. While I was planning on following that plan, I was having none of it once I had started, partly due to the fact I had a strong tailwind for the first couple of kilometers. I got comfortable in my TT position and started to lay down some power from my large frame. Coming up to the first roundabout, the marshals were ready for me to come though but unfortunately a driver decided to pull out of a driveway just before the roundabout and proceeded to block me from flying through the roundabout and I had to come to a stop behind which was very annoying. I lost precious momentum and needed to spend additional energy getting back up to speed. At the roundabout, I also turned into the strong wind, which was now a severe headwind.

I was following this straight road for 8km, before hitting a roundabout and following it back, so I knew I had to dial back my effort or I’d be exploding very quickly! I found a comfortable cadence and gearing and went about just powering done the road at around 90% of my maximum heart rate. My parents told me later on that my cadence was very high compared to the other riders doing the TT, but it was comfortable to me so I stuck with it. This was where experience would help; in a TT it’s just you. In a road race, you’re riding against other riders, if they cycle a bit faster, so do you, they’re your incentive to push yourself harder. In a TT you just play mental games with yourself all the time, “Is this fast enough?” “Could I go faster?” “Why am I doing this, it hurts.”. It takes real mental strength to get the maximum out of you. As I progressed down the road to the roundabout, I could see I was catching my minute rider, which acted as an incentive to me, like a carrot on the end of a stick, and it made me push harder.

A kilometer from the roundabout, there was a little sharp climb followed by some rolling lumps, nothing serious, but another thing to push up that heart rate close to the red-zone… I took them slow and steady and just worked my way up them, eventually reaching the roundabout and starting the homeward leg of the TT, and with it came a lovely tail wind!

There was now 5km to the finish, as the finish was on the road I had just come down. So I decided to now give it everything and arrive empty. I caught my minute rider a kilometer after the roundabout and continued to power home, thinking if I go faster now, I can stop earlier! My speed along the final straight was up around 45kph, which is scary if you’re holding on to some wimpy TT clip on bars! Gradually, I could see the hi-vis vests of the marshals at the finish line and stood up to sprint to the finish line. At this stage my left calf decided to just seize and cramp up, but I had managed it to the line.

Driving to the line.
A hard effort!
My official time was 24:30 minutes, which put me in ninth place on the night. I was very pleased with this, given my inexperience, lack of proper TT equipment and a few hold ups on the course. I felt reasonably OK physically after it, although two days on I’m feeling it! Hopefully over my 8 weeks here I’ll be doing it every week in the hopes of improving my time trialing, which would stand to me later on in my cycling endeavours.

Very winded!
Thanks to the marshals of the event and to my parents for bringing me down and supporting me.


  1. Awesome Mark, top effort!!!

    Why are there cars on the course? I'd be getting pretty angry about that.

    1. Cheers Ben! Unfortunately the Eastbourne rovers don't have the resources to close 10 miles of road. So all the junctions are marshalled and you just have deal with the traffic on the straights, it's annoying but there you go!