Imagine, if you will, a huge Roman sports arena, the crowd booming loud and large and gladiators charging around in chariots. Or being chased by chariots. A frenetic and violent scene, full of colour and guts and bloody-mindedness. That, dear reader, is what the Reading CC 25 time trial felt like…
Well, actually, we were west of Reading on a section of the A4 called Bath Road not far from Aldermaston, where warheads for Trident missiles get assembled. And, like a missile, +RichardM and myself intended to launch ourselves on the green Calfee tandem around the course at top speed. And why not? The H25/1 course is one of the faster non-dual carriageway time trial courses in the south, so it has the dual appeal of being both rapid and relatively easy on the eye.
Our very first 25-mile race was on this course and yielded a sub hour time, 58:43, in spite of overshooting one roundabout (“You see that nice marshal in hi-viz?” “Er, no. Oops”). So, going off-course aside, we were hopeful of a decent time. There was a slight alteration the original course. A cycle lane had been put in at the west end and so the turnaround was a little earlier. Really minor change and the course is now known as the H25/1A.
So, to the start line. Some bothersome Velotoze shoe covers had precluded our structured turbo warm up, but no bother, we felt good and ready. Ready enough to decline the offer of being held up on the start line. Not such a great decision, as we struggled to clip in after we pushed off and lost a few seconds in that moment.
OK, let’s rewind a little. Tandem time trialling is a very niche activity. Often we are the only entrants, but the £20 prize had attracted a second machine. This machine was a stunning-looking steel tandem trike. Yes, trike. We’d looked at the results of the team riding it on the CTT website and they were good.
Back in the race we set off with Richard joking that he felt we were going to be chased down by what felt like a chariot from the movie Gladiator.
Whilst I was deeply grateful that our rivals were not equipped with bows, arrows, swords and other brutal weapons, I did get the sense that they were breathing down our necks. At the six-mile point there is a turnaround at a roundabout and as we came back we saw the chariot, I mean trike, approaching it. They were definitely getting closer. At the next turnaround, there was no sign. Could we have gained ground? I knew that they were closing because they must have been on the roundabout when we exited it. Darn, overtaken at halfway was not a good look. We were now going back into a slight headwind, which was miserable, but we held on. 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 miles. It wasn’t until the 18th mile that we succumbed to the three-wheeler.
Cool and calm lawyer by day, Richard is an emotional racer and he reacted with a passion. The trike moved ahead of us, but I could feel in the pedals his desire to bring them back. And I looked to raise my game, too. Try as we did, we could only slow down the growth in the gap between us. This was partly down to their strength and good aero positions, but also we had no less than five hold ups for traffic. At one point a van more or less parked in front of us causing a near dead stop. This was suboptimal, to say the least, but part and parcel of racing on the open roads. It can happen, but this was an unusual number of interruptions. Even without them, our competitors would have beaten us, probably by 15 seconds or so. Hats – or should I say helmets – off to them.
Our time was 59:21, them 58:02. Disappointing in a sense, but looking at all the results that day, only about half went under the hour. So, not bad really. That’s it. Exit, pursued by a tandem trike.
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"You will always be in our hearts and on our roads." - @Giro d'Italia on Michele Scarponi