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  • Writer's pictureSteve

Time trial gods

My legs ached, more than normal. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, it never is, maybe that’s why we do this to ourselves! The problem I had was we had only just started, less than a mile into our first Time Trial of the season and we wanted to start well, to make a statement but it didn’t feel like it was going to be much of a statement. Not at this point anyway. My breathing was all over the place and far too hard, my legs continued to scream at me but I wasn’t listening just hearing. Adam slowed the pedalling, I looked up and we were heading into the first roundabout, a slim chance to rest and I was thankful, those precious couple of seconds allow me to get control of myself. As we came through the roundabout, Adam nailed the racing line and we were back on the power like we hadn’t even been off it, driving hard. As we exited, we were hit by a gust of wind and the bike was forced into the gutter and over a drainage grate inches from the kerb and a certain crash. It was rough and there was a loud bang, and my first thought was will we puncture? This took my mind off the pain in my legs as I waited for the hissing sound of 140psi emptying from our tubular racing tyre. Then my mind engaged again: thank God the disc hadn’t exploded! We were using Adams Zipp disc which isn’t rated for the weight that we both are: this was just one of the things in a week I’d rather forget building up to this very moment.

As Caroline and I landed from an amazing rest week in Lanzarote, I turned my phone on in the airport and I had a message from Adam saying phone me as soon as you can! Never one to over react, I knew something was wrong. When I tried to phone several times but couldn’t get through, I started to worry. Then an email from Jon Pett came through, he’s the guy that runs the British Cycling Para-Olympic Program so you always read his mails, however this was one I wished I hadn’t opened. I was copied in along with the rest of the squad on the news that Connor Taylor, our team’s physiologist, was leaving. I was gutted. I’ve worked pretty closely with CT for the last few months: he has been a huge part of my development, and knows my body almost as well as I do, so to have him leaving was gutting. Not only that, but I was losing a friend off the team. I told Caroline and she knew what this meant to me, then the phone rang. It was Adam. After the usual greetings, he told me that we were not selected to go to Italy for two races in three weeks time, the first races in our international calendar, and ones we were planning to go to. The bad news just kept coming, and I was angry. Then a message from Simon our new coach. Call me when you are free. I didn’t want to.

After speaking to Simon it all made sense: we weren’t going to Italy, but there were good reasons as we only had 8 weeks until the first World Cup races and to be away for 2 weeks of that time wasn’t ideal preparation. Time Trialling will be a big focus this year, and we were kicking that off with a race the following Saturday.  Our road tandem had been with us at the Worlds so that needed sorting out over the next week, which unfortunately through miscommunication turned into a nightmare. Emails and phone calls went back and forth at a rate of knots as we all tried our best to get the bike ridable during the week for the time trial on Saturday, hence the reason for using Adam’s disc wheel. After a lot of last minute effort from everyone, we had a bike to ride, maybe not the best we would have hoped for but it was better than nothing.

The morning of the TT, when I arrived at Adam’s, we looked over the bike and I saw what had been changed and we loaded it into his car and drove to the course headquarters, an old building that belonged to a rally club. There were the usual tables with all the numbers to pin on your skin suit, the tight lycra one piece you wear for aerodynamics, the sign on sheet and plenty of people either looking excited or totally wrecked after they had finished. It was a dark building which made it hard for me to see details, but there were rally car pictures and memorabilia all over the old lime rendered walls. After collecting number 90 we headed back out to the car to set the bike up: we had to put the wheels on, and my rear handle bars which we had taken off so the tandem fitted into Adam’s Audi A4 estate. I’d said to Adam driving up to the course today that the TT gods had been against us this week, and if we got around this course today it would be a miracle! After getting the wheels in nice and tight to take the power that both of us produce, I looked for my handle bars, which were not in the boot, or in the front - maybe Adam had them out already. After a couple of minutes the feeling of panic washed over me like the incoming tide. The gods had acted again, this time a hash blow, we had forgotten my handle bars in the haste to leave. That was it, they had won at last.

I thought we could ask to borrow some bars (how embarrassing that we are professional cyclists that can’t even get ourselves together for a club 10 mile time trial). I just wanted this week to be over. There was nothing in the car, nothing we could use, I admitted defeat. However Adam appeared with his track pump…… the only thing in his car besides the empty limp wheel bags. It looked about the right diameter of the 31.8mm stem and fitted! All he had to do was take the handle and base off and I had a bar. In one swift move the gods had called check, Adam made one move to call check mate. We were riding. We would get this bike around this course today. We had eaten into our warm up time so our legs weren’t as ready as they should have been. I knew as soon as we started it was going to be hard without a warm up in the legs, but we were riding, and that’s what we were there to do, I just had to work out a position that would be as aerodynamic as possible without causing me injury.

The wind was savage, hitting us hard from the side as we rode the draggy first 4 miles. I was all over the place on the back of the bike which doesn’t help Adam at the front steering. I need to be super smooth from my weight distribution to my pedal stoke. I need to follow and feel what Adam is doing through the pedals or else we fight against each other and waste loads of energy. My legs settled in, my mind winning the battle for now, they still hurt and were trying to tell me, but now I wasn’t listening or hearing, focusing on my breathing and trying to relax, well as much as you can when your heart is pounding so hard you feel like you’ll cough it up. The next roundabout we turned into the wind. Bang we stopped…..or thats how it felt, like we were pedalling in a sticky thick treacle. We were down to 18mph pushing as hard as we could, driving the pedals around. When it gets this hard it’s tough to focus on anything as every ounce of you is trying to generate power so the bike gets a bit tantric. Everything hurts as you try to turn your mind off to what your brain is telling you as it tries to protect your body. Bright red lights flash, alarm bells ring at a defining tone, the voice inside your head clammily speaks to you ‘Steve, just stop. Just stop pushing and the pain will go away, it’s easy, just stop, just stop’…… I kept driving hard as I could see Adam was doing the same as I watched his back contorting in front of me. We had both agreed at the start that we would almost empty ourselves on the way out to the turn which was now only half a mile up the road because after that we’d have a tail wind and a bit of down hill to go at all the way back.

As we ground ourselves into tiny pieces pushing that head wind out of our way we hit the furthest point of the out and back course, another roundabout. It wasn’t going to get easy straight away as we had to negotiate the roundabout then get this human propelled rocket up to 40-45mph before we could get some recovery, but at least we had a following tail wind for assistance. Adam ran through the gears until we hit the 56/11 - the biggest gear we had - and we kept driving, desperate to claw back some of the time we had lost onto that brutal head wind. Our cadence grew, and I could feel a slight bit of recovery returning to my legs. Instead of being numb now, they just hurt again. We caught more riders as we hit top speed hammering down the single carriage way of the old A1. Before I knew it, Adam was off the gas and on the brakes this time - the earlier roundabout where we had met the head wind was upon us again. That was our free speed over, now after negotiating the roundabout it was back to the cross wind and four miles back to the time check and finish. Nearly clipping the kerb overcooking the corner we were back full gas driving the tandem back up to speed, except this time without the luxury of a tail wind.

We ate up the miles on the way back as we felt every sinew in our bodies ache with every pedal stroke. My heart rate at 95% of capacity, right on the limit any harder I would blow and my legs would turn to jelly. I still was all over the back of the bike trying to get the power out with this strange new bar set up we had developed. I could taste blood in my throat which didn’t surprise me as I had started the race with a sore throat and a blood nose, at least now the pain in my legs had taken over the fire in my throat. We passed another rider before crossing the finish line. As I sat up from the position I’d just held for the last 10 miles flat out I could feel my back was stiff, not used to having to hold my upper body weight. I gasped for breath, unable to speak and gave Adam a slap on the back. It wasn’t easy for him in the gale force winds today, especially with me not being as solid as I usually am. Yet again I put all my trust in him and he delivered the goods of getting us round in the quickest time of the day. We should, saying that, there are two of us and this is our job!

I’m happy to draw a line under this week, but it was very nearly a disaster. One to learn from and move forward on. The great thing about this is in a week we do it all again……


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