Mid week racing is usually kept to local club TTs but this Wednesday was the 4th round of the North West SPOCO series, so I couldn’t resist the entry. It’s the farthest race in the series to travel to and would mean battling through the rush hour traffic across the highways of South and East Manchester. Fortunately I was off last, giving me some extra time to make the journey.
I had given myself an extra hour than I thought would be necessary to get there in time for the start as I wanted to check the suitability of my 80mm front wheel at the top of the course that is particularly exposed to the wind. Riding down from the top would also give me a chance to recce the final and all important banzai descent to the finish. The extra hour I had given myself was dissolved by the endless roadworks. Stress levels rose at every traffic light and seemingly endless queue, as did the level of fluid in my bladder after making a point of staying well hydrated all day. Eventually I arrived, collected my number, emptied my bladder and got to the top to get ready.
It was windy and quite gusty. Attempting to align an 80mm front wheel with the fork in those conditions makes you feel like such a neewb, that is until you realise that attempting this facing the wind makes it easier much easier, that is when you realise you really are a neewb. I would say the level of wind was on the cusp of me choosing the heavy box section training wheel I have to take with me each race just to mount the bike on the car rack. However I persevered with the 80mm, it cost too much, jumped on the bike and it was absolutely fine.
The course is pretty straight forward SPOCO to pace. You start at the bottom of a hill, ride up to the top for a bit over 10mins, ride down the other side, ride back up to the top again and then ride down again to finish when you started. The course wasn’t without it’s gotcha moments though.
Firstly I knew the first turn off the main road was at a pub. What I hadn’t remembered is that there are two pubs. Don’t try and turn at the first as there isn’t a road and you’ll only lose all the precious momentum you had built up.
Secondly, once the first turn has been successfully navigated, a short up hill mash leads to another fast descent into the village of Meltham. I don’t know this area at all but I was fortunate enough to have a quick look at Meltham last week and the one thing that stood out was the sharp left into a sweeping right hand bend leading into the village. I am glad I had spotted this before the race. What looked to be an ambulance-like vehicle was stationed at this bend when I came through. I don’t know if this was waiting for business or there by chance.
Thirdly once the hill has been climbed for the second time there is a fast right hand turn to rejoin the main road which takes you down to the finish. This right turn is one to be judged just right. I could see cars approaching from both directions, evenly spaced out. The undulating road makes it particularly difficult to judge the closing speeds. Just like Frogger it has to be timed right. I had to make a few dabs on the brakes to make it through safely.
I set off with a nice tale wind up the first climb. It felt a bit too easy, but looking at the power I was happy that I was working at the right rate. As the time climbing increased and the false summit came into view the power began to feel harder. I was glad I hadn’t let the chimp take charge earlier. At the top this power felt just about right and I was willing the descent to come. I was enviously watching the first lucky few begin their final descent to the finish. The open baron landscape is great for surveying those ahead of you on the course. From the bottom of the hill to high up on the fast descents it was possible to watch the flickering lights ahead.
First summit reached, I went too far down the cassette for the inner front chainring which I am having a few issues with. There was a clatter, the chain was off and all drive and my momentum was gone. I managed to use the front derailleur to get the chain back on without unclipping from the pedals. A quick stamp of the pedals and I was up to speed. I got aero and pedalled quite nicely over the slightly rolling first part of the descent, albeit at a 45 degree angle due to the cross tail wind. I spent the rest of the descent watching the speed, tweaking my position and alternating between pedalling to as tight an aero tuck I could manage.
Taking the correct turn toward Meltham I took this descent easy. I remembered the tricky corner but couldn’t remember the road layout leading to it. After a cautious descent into the village and a few speed bumps to ensure my saddle sores from Saturday’s race were with me few a few days longer, I began to ascend the final climb back up to the main road. This was into a welcome headwind to justify the aero equipment I had carried up the hill so far. At what I assumed was about half way I was desperate to climb out of the saddle for a few minutes but I had the fear that I’d collapse back down and my rhythm and resolve would be lost. So I stuck with the seated position which was starting to really hurt. Hills that you don’t actually know where they finish are incredibly tough mentally. I had to rely on the fact that it looked to be about a 10 minute climb and I was 6 minutes in.
Finally after false summit after false summit a car that passed actually appeared to go over the crest ahead and disappear. I saw the main road and relaxed a little as the bike came up to a reasonable speed. Timing the junction right I made it back on to the main road. All I had to do was reach the descent and hold on. It felt good. I was still able to pedal well into the headwind and slight up hill drag. The landscape became torture as the endless straight road never seemed to level and give me an indication as to where the final descent to the finish would begin. Eventually after much false hope the road was going down.
I made it to the finish feeling almost refreshed after the descent. It’s very strange not to be sprinting hard at the finish of a time trial. I was pleased with the time. My pre-race estimate was around 1km/h slower than I had actually gone so I was particularly pleased with that. I finished 4th, 29 seconds off the winner. Which, after 50 minutes of racing I was relatively satisfied with.