Nelson Whs 50 Circuit of the Dales Hilly TTEveryone who’s ever raced bikes knows that it’s going to hurt. It’s the nature of the sport, it’s how you get rid of the competition in a road race. You go to the limit of pain and see who can still hack it. Likewise, when someone does it to you, you try and ignore it, hoping that it won’t last too long. Surely they can’t keep it up much longer?
Credit to Ken Roberts for the pic, taken near Barbon.
Not all races are the same though. In road races you can get to a point where you are no longer in contention so you can just roll in with the bunch, or you get dropped completely and you just turn off the course next time you pass the changing rooms. Stage races are a bit different, you have to finish in the time limit, hopefully you can hang on the grupetto.Most races you can just ride to finish if you don’t feel too good and look at it as training. There’s a big difference from finishing to winning, it might only be a few percent of whatever you measure, but it’s the hardest few percent by a long way. And then you get races that are hard. It depends what level you race at: for the pro’s it’s probably the grand tours and the classics, for British Elite riders I guess it’s the premier calendar series and the tour of Britain, if you’re lucky. For the regular local boys and girls it’s events like the Dales. It’s a bit of a northern classic of the time trial world. And the reason that I avoided riding it for the fourteen years of what passes as my “racing career” is that if you have a bad day, you can just about guarantee it will be one of the worst days you will spend on a bike. You can’t really abandon the Dales because you’re having a bad day. You know it’s going to be hard. If you can’t face that then don’t enter. There’s nowhere to recover much, it’s very undulating. There’s some quite steep climbs, some scary fast descents, and the weather can be foul too. In many ways it’s similar to the 3 peaks cyclocross race, there is nowhere to hide.
Credit to Ken Roberts for the pic, this one going under Ribble head viaduct. You can see the pain etched on my face here.I rode it for the first time last year and it was every bit as hard as I imagined. It took me 2hr18m28s for the 50 miles and that got me 10th place. Ever the optimist I thought I needed to aim at 2hr10m and hopefully that would get me well inside the top ten.
In my head I broke the route down into sections, start to Kirkby Lonsdale, then Sedbergh, Hawes and the finish. Last year I rode the first two sections conservatively then put some effort in on the hillier 3rd section and grovelled the last 15 mile section into the wind. This year the wind didn’t seem so bad, and it wasn’t raining, so I thought I’d go a bit harder in the first 2 sections which are relatively flat and then try and keep on top of it in the 3rd section, and play the pain game in the last section. I guess it went quite well. Previous winner Mark Holton was off 2 minutes after me and it took him an hour to pull back those 2 minute. It was getting a bit worrying, I feared I’d set off way too fast but after about 25 miles he pulled past me and gradually rode away from me. It was around this point, as it started getting hillier; that I started struggling. I can’t remember how I felt at this point last year but my back was starting to hurt and I was getting a bit of cramp in my legs. The faster descents were getting a bit scary too. There’s a small rise leading up to Hawes that gives you an indication of how your legs are feeling before you hit the wall when you turn right at Hawes. Last year my legs felt bad but this year didn’t seem so bad. It didn’t make any difference when I got to it though, it’s a hard climb after 35 miles at nearly full gas. I just didn’t have the grunt to maintain the pace uphill into the wind like the top riders can. The only thing to do is keep riding and keep telling yourself it’s nearly over. It is nearly over, it’s just that this is the hardest bit so again you break it down into sections and deal with them one at a time. The mental turmoil of this section is hard to describe. You really want it to be over but for it to end you have to keep pushing, and the harder you push the sooner it’s over, but the more it hurts. Eventually I finished in a time of 2h10m03s. The time I wanted but the course had been shortened by a couple of miles so it’s hard to compare. It got me 16th place which isn’t too bad considering the strength of the field this year. It’s hard to know if I went too hard early on, maybe a little more caution earlier on would have paid dividends into that wind, who knows? I’ve got 12 months to think about it before next year.