Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th August were a double header of racing for me as I firstly tackled one of the quickest 10 mile time trial courses in the country before hooking up with Horizon Fitness team mates Penny Rowson and Hannah Rich for the National Criterium Championships being held in Preston.
The weather didn't look as though it would give us an easy ride, but fortunately the clouds broke in time for reasonable conditions for the time trial. Although the north westerly wind was the exact opposite of what would be needed for super fast times, everyone was in good spirits that the roads were in fact dry.
The course I was tackling was up at Levens in the south Lake District. It's been made famous by Bradley Wiggins for his 17:58, the national record for 10 miles until just a few weeks ago when Michael Hutchinson sliced a second off using a different course. For me the challenge was about seeing whether I could get close to 20 minutes and given that my personal best was recorded at this year's National 10 Championships, I was obviously also hoping for a PB to boot. With the World Paracycling Road Championships less than two weeks away, the event would also provide me with some good training as well as possibly posting a time that could interest the Commonwealth Games selectors.
There's nothing much interesting that can be said about a quick TT course. As with many of the faster courses, this is straight out and back and the only interesting part is the virtual ski slope start mile! It's a real treat to be well up to speed within a few pedal revs and I would imagine half the fun of riding the course on a regular basis would be to see just how high the fastest speed could be.
I turned on a sub 20 minutes schedule and the power trace downloaded after indicated that I had in fact sustained a 350 watts average for the first 9 minutes and 30 seconds! This course is definitely all about getting to the turn as fast as possible and hoping there is a tailwind home. Given that we were heading home in a north easterly direction the north westerly wind was anything but helpful and whilst my speed slowed, I didn't lose too much on the power – still well above recent rides.
I grovelled across a very bumpy section of road to the finish line and had managed to cling onto a sub 20, to record 19:57. The time keeper came up to me at the HQ just after and asked whether my clock matched his, because he hadn't expected any of the ladies to ride that fast!
Looking back at the all time fastest times list, it looks as though I'm only the second British female to slip inside 20 minutes, with British Record holder Wendy Houvenaghel being the other at 19:50. I suppose on a still and warm evening, it wasn't quite 20 degrees for my ride, I may get a shot at the record?
With a swift 20 minutes on the rollers to get the ride out of my legs it was time to hit the M6 south and head back to our digs for the event. A beautiful cottage on a farm just outside Preston and a great spot for relaxing before the lunchtime ride at the Criterium Nationals the following day.
Arriving into Preston town centre to see the race circuit for the first time, the clouds looked menacing once again, but fortunately they held off and it even got quite sunny. The circuit itself was only 950 metres, starting in the covered market and finishing with a short but leg sapping hill after a headwind downhill section at the back of the course. With various events for riders of all ages throughout the day, there was a great atmosphere as we whipped round the circuit to contest the national jersey.
Hannah, Penny and I lined up on the start facing four girls from Motorpoint Marshals Pasta and several other big names, including previous Champion Jo Rowsell and 2010 Road Series winner Kara Chesworth.
My start was shocking thanks to the rider in front missing her pedal twice as she tried to clip in, after her second miss which nearly brought both of us down, I managed to steer round and began the chase to get into the group. With Penny and Hannah well protected in the group, on a circuit that was difficult to stay out of the wind for long, I eventually managed to get into the group myself and the pace just got faster and faster.
One or two riders got dropped virtually straightaway and by the time I hit the front after 20 minutes the group whittled down to about 10 riders including Penny and three of the Motorpoint girls.
The tricky part of the course to stay in touch were the two corners that came in quick succession at the bottom of the course, both immediately before the road rose into the start/finish area. With the group strung out to take these corners, losing the wheel in front made it tricky to regain the ground and it was easy for people to lose touch.
With about 30 minutes gone the lead group was down to 8 riders; Hannah Barnes, Corrine Hall, Jo Rowsell, Kara Chesworth, Sarah King, Sarah Byrne, Nicky Juniper and me. We were also starting to get sight of the dropped riders and this is when it started to get tricky. One group of dropped riders about to be lapped for the first time was quite big and we unfortunately caught them at the first tight left hander at the bottom of the descent at the back of the course. Whilst they were keeping over to the left to allow us to take the racing line, they had to move out to take the corner and so got caught between the 4th and 5th riders in our line and this created a split.
As the front four riders in our group accelerated between the two corners, the lapped riders didn't, so riders from 5th to 8th in our line [including me in 6th wheel], were held up and by the time we had space to get round, the leading four were already crossing the start/finish line with a 10 second gap.
It was really frustrating and that 10 second gap was held at pretty much the same distance for the remainder of the race, until the final lap when we caught the leading four, whose pace had slowed as they lined up for the finish, in the back straight. As we caught them, the final acceleration for the finish started and those of us who had been chasing just didn't have the legs to contest the finish properly.
I ended up rolling over the line in 8th, having done most of the work. It was a tricky situation to be in after the gap appeared, but working hard on the front was also a great training session and since the chance of winning had virtually gone, it was time to think about upcoming races and the form I could gain from such a brutal 15 minutes chasing!
With Penny finishing the first of the lapped riders in 9th it was a decent day for Horizon and a good stepping stone for the upcoming races we have as a team.
My personal schedule now takes me to Canada as I defend my two Road World Titles in the Road TT and Road Race. With the Road TT on August 19th and Road Race on August 21st, there's time for one more Evening 10 mile TT this week before I head off next weekend. Watch this space for details!
You can read more about the Horizon Fitness Racing Team at www.onthedrops.com.