Time trialling is like tea with milk – it’s done differently in Great Britain.
Imagine dedicated amateurs discussing deepset carbon rims and aerodynamic oversocks, huddled at the roadside of a dual carriageway. It might be a rainy Tuesday evening in Grimsby but they wouldn’t have it any other way. Time trialling in the UK tends to be a passion project for physiologically talented geeks.
A tradition that goes back to the early beginnings of cycle racing, when riding one by one was the only way to appease authorities mistrustful of big groups of cyclists blocking the roads, any young riders looking to take their first pedal strokes in competition will invariable do so at a time trial. There is very little support structure or funding and as a result, the community is very tight knit.
Utterly unheralded in comparison with the flash European racing scene, time trialling maintains its hobbyist feel even today, yet nobody would deny the talent produced in Great Britain. From Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree, to Alex Dowsett and Sir Bradley Wiggins, Union Jack chronomen have taken on the world – and beaten them.
On Thursday 25th June 2015, Rapha was present at the most important date in the calendar for the British men who ride against the clock: the British Cycling Road National Championships Time Trial.
Words and pictures by Harry Dowdney.
Cadwell Park’s motor racing circuit was the scene for the day’s battle, a swooping track set deep in the Lincolnshire Wolds with dips and crests plunging up and out of sight. The finishing line stretch is the centre stage of a beautiful natural amphitheatre, right in the heart of England’s greenest pastures.
You might ride for a top Belgian team, but you still have to warm up on your own in a car park.
The national championships are one of only a few occasions when domestic-based cyclists can take on euro pros and World Tour riders. Above left is James Shaw of the Lotto Soudal U23 team. He might be one of the most talented young riders in the country, but he still has to ride the rollers on his own in public – euro tan and all. Meanwhile, the tangy scent of embrocated legs [above,right] hung in the air.
A man who embodies well the divide between the pros and the amateurs is Rhys Howells. A full time employee at Rapha, Rhys rides for the Richardsons-Trek Road Team, who are a small scale British domestic team. They try to provide food, board and travel for Rhys to compete at races, but can’t always, and he sometimes has to ask his mother for support. Like at last year’s nationals, when she drove the car behind him during the time trial, racing round the bends of Monmouthshire, Wales. “I couldn’t keep up… It was the most scared I’ve ever been,” she told Rapha.
Rhys was aiming for a top fifteen finish in the Elite Men’s time trial, and he succeeded, crossing the line with a time of 1 hour 7 minutes 25 seconds for 14th place.
Hackney prodigy Tao Geoghegan Hart, seen warming up using Rapha’s B&O H6 Headphones, took a bronze medal in the Under-23’s competition. The 20-year-old is tipped for the top of the sport, and a 13th place overall at the Tour of California in May was the latest superb result in his burgeoning career.
Tao took home a cash prize of £50 for his day’s work, scant reward for an hour’s thrashing, not that he'll mind.
They were going like motorbikes out there.
Cadwell Park motor racing circuit is nicknamed the Mini-Nürburgring, for its challenging sloped corners similar to the famous German track. 3.62km long, the circuit is used primarily for motorcycle racing, with the Bennetts British Superbike Championship taking place there every August Bank Holiday. On Thursday, the cyclists tackled the corners as the motorbike riders would: knees out, following the apex of the curve.
Over 100 cyclists competed across the Men’s U23, Elite Women’s and Elite Men’s races. The young men and elite women did two laps of a 14.9km circuit, which started on the Cadwell Park circuit before heading out into the Wolds and back, while the elite men did three, totalling 44.6km.
Befitting a time trial in Great Britain, the event was woefully under attended. Those who did not have to work enjoyed a day of sunshine on the grass, with some great bike racing in front of them.
The Rapha-sponsored Team Wiggins was started this year by Sir Bradley Wiggins as a chance for some of the most talented young British cyclists to ride and race together. Wiggins had Owain Doull, Chris Lawless and Jon Dibben on the startline for the Men’s U23 race.
Welshman Doull was unlucky to be beaten by compatriot and defending champion Scott Davies by only six seconds, a mere sliver of time after 47 minutes of effort. They are pictured above in discussion just after finishing: Doull a gracious loser and Davies a humble champion.
“That was harder than the hour”
In the Elite Men’s race, with no Geraint Thomas, or Sir Bradley Wiggins, who GB coach Heiko Salzwedel had previously suggested would be competing, it was Alex Dowsett’s gold medal to lose. The Movistar professional, and former Hour record holder, didn’t disappoint, with a stunning time of 1 hour 11 seconds. He donned the British jersey for the fourth time, a record-equalling feat that only Stuart Dangerfield had done before him.