Well, i might as well get this out of the way early on, otherwise there is probably a fair chance an unreasonable expection will build up in the mind of the reader. It’s almost certainly less epic than Mansell v Senna or Ali v Foreman but for 2012 my focus is going to be on finally getting the better of one specific race: the Beacon Roads Cycling Club Little Mountain Time Trial.
Why? A bit of history helps to explain. Before settling in Essex I lived in Birmingham and it there in 2005 that my cycling career, for want of a better description, got off to a start. At the recommendation of the local bike shop, and before i’d truly grasped how horrendous their kit was, I joined the Beacon Roads Cycling Club. At the time my main ambition was to take part in road racing, and time trialling was very much a means to an end for me. It represented a convenient way to get a decent workout as well as getting the satisfaction of actually competing with a number of my back. However, as my awareness of the clubs own events grew, the name alone made it clear that the Little Mountain was going to be something more than a handy mid-week evening tear-up on a quiet dual carriage.
The Little Mountain is a truly brutal affair. The ordinary man (or woman) would find it a big challenge to cycle the 39.5 miles from start to finish, and would doubtless walk up the steepest hills. The average club cyclist would consider it a short/medium length ride, but the hills somewhat on the tough side. But to race on the course can be considered bordering on lunacy. As an example: the Ankerdine section of road, which features in the course, is used by clubs solely as a hill climb venue – i.e. the competitors start at the bottom and finish at the top. Such events are usually staged on only the most taxing of inclines. In the Little Mountain the Ankerdine comes after 35 miles have already been covered and acts as a final kick in the ribs to follow up the damage dealt by the miles which preceed it. Riders have already climbed the equally tough Stamford Bank ten miles earlier and face another long climb before the finish.
My first attempt was in 2007 and I rolled up to the start line with the vaguest of understandings of what faced me. I’d already heard feedback within the club about how tough it was, and was trying to blank out the brief recee i’d done by car the night before. Chatting to those in the know prior to the event had established a clear goal – a rider could be pleased to cover the course within 2 hours on a standard racing bike: the benchmark was set. Disappointment followed – the record will show that I finished 65th out of 94 finishers with a time of 2hrs 11 minutes and 1 second. Perhaps most humiliating of all for a keen young man of 25, I was disgusted to see that I had been beaten by FOUR riders over 60 years old, FIVE over 50’s and TWENTY-TWO riders in their 40’s!
A bond had been formed though. Cleverly marketed by the organiser as ‘an historic and classic cycle race’ the race had certainly captured my interest. A lumpy start had settled down into a rolling 18 miles, I passed excrutiatingly close to the event HQ and embarked on the truly hilly part of the race. Two of the climbs are timed specifically and prizes awarded for those who make the fastest combined ascents. By the time I reached the second of these, the Ankerdine, reaching the top without stopping was my main concern. The final miles were agonising but even as I rolled back to the HQ, already with an idea of my woeful finishing time, i was thinking about how i’d improve next year.
Take two. 2008. The year of my triumphant return. Or at least that was the plan. For a host of reasons 2008 was a season to forget and I headed into the LMTT underprepared and overweight. I was rewarded with 88th out of 106 finishers with a time of 2:16:40. 25 of the finishers who had ridden the race before posted improved times, 30 did not. The explanation was clear: not good enough.
Third time lucky. In anticipation of a better season in 2009, and a more serious approach to racing, a dedicated time trial bike was ordered in November 2008 – with delivery due in February 2009. Frustratingly it finally arrived one week too late. 6 days prior to collecting the new bike I had again ridden the LMTT and placed 67th out of 85 finishers in 2:09:52 and chipped a measly 69 seconds off my personal best…. Some satisfaction was felt – the winning time was 1:40:42, 4 minutes down on 2007, but it was hardly the vindication I was looking for.
From a straightforward assessment of the finishing time 2010 was another day of disappointment in Worcestershire. A mere 29 seconds shaved from the finishing time – but in the context of bad conditions and a winning time of 1:43:56 – to be one of the 13 riders who had improved on previous performances was some satisfaction. It was obviously the springboard towards, slightly, greater things in 2010 as a week later I won a handicap award in the Shaftesbury CC Open 25 mile TT (£50!) with a time of 1:04:56, and later in the year a handicap award in the Eastern Counties Cycling Association Open 10 mile TT (no cash – but a medal!) with a time of 24:13. But 2010 was also the scene of some ignomious performances. Time trialling was still a means to an end – a tool in the greater goal of holding my own in ‘real’ road races. Two attempts were made in 2010 – the Abberton Road Race (DNF – dropped after 11 miles were covered in a little over 20 minutes) and the Maldon CC Road Race (DNF – dropped after 4 miles were covered in 9 minutes).
The end of the season was at time for reassessment. Bike racing was over for me. My duel with the Little Mountain Time Trial, or any bike race for that matter, was something in my past. It was on to new challenges. I would become a triathlete. Ironman beckoned. I learnt to swim over the winter. I ran a marathon. At first the change was refreshing, a welcome break. But quickly I realised I missed the time on the bike. By June I was back racing in local criteriums, albeit in the lowest category.
Most of the 2011 season had passed me by. And I was still smarting from my failure at ‘proper’ road racing in 2010. But I needed something to aim at for 2012. Impending nupitals ensure that my season will have to end before June. Neatly placed as it is at the end of April the Little Mountain Time Trial once again becomes the focus of my training.
So that’s what this is all about. Me and the Mountain.