This 2015 season was my second as a professional cyclist and coming into it I knew what I wanted to achieve. I kept my cards close to my chest as I find there is nothing worse than telling the world you are going to break records and then end up looking foolish. My involvement with Sport Grub-Kuota is not the normal cycling contract, but thats because I’m not a normal cyclist. I have a visual impairment only being able to see 10% of what most people can, the fact I continue to ride a bike somewhat baffles people as to why I would want to do such a dangerous thing. Well I have some help when it comes to racing from a pilot named Adam Duggleby. I race a tandem, hence not the normal cycling contract! Unable to ride in able body domestic races tandems are out on a lim and often don’t provide the teams sponsors the coverage required. However when you are a part of the British Cycling Team there is a wee bit of leverage as not only do we ride domestic races but on the international stage as well.
Our domestic season shapes in the form of Time Trials. There isn’t that much road racing to be had for tandems that is a level that will test us in this country. Thats not arrogance on our behalf it’s simply there are not that many people visionally impaired that race tandems. Because of my limitations of sight Adam and I can enter any open Time Trials and race against the clock like everyone else. Time Trialling is a simple concept, you race over a set distance normally 10 or 25 miles as fast as you can on your own. You are set off from the start line at 1 minute intervals with the idea being you don’t catch the rider in front so you receive no assistants from following a rider in front. At the end your time is calculated and the winner is the person to cover the distance the fastest. Simple. Well in theory.
Riding a Time Trial is as much a mental game as a physical one. You are suffering for most of the race trying to gauge if you can go faster by driving the pedals harder but trying not to put yourself into a place that you no longer can sustain the effort. A game of risk and balance played at your physical limit. Someone once said that if you know you are going to make the finish line then you haven’t gone hard enough. Likewise if you know you’re not going to make the finish line you’ve gone too hard. But if you’re not sure you are going to make it but you think you might just get there you’ve probably got it right. To give you an idea we try and cover a 10 mile course in less than 18 minutes, from a standing start we are trying to average around 35mph.
We have ridden several TT’s this year with our focus trying to beat the National 10 mile record which stands at an impressive 17 minutes and 21 seconds, this was on a course near Hull which has a reputation for being very quick. We have ridden it three times this year in between international races and the closest we have come was our last attempt ,a 17:42. The wind conditions on the day were far from perfect however I think that was the last opportunely this season. Due to our commitments for the National team we haven’t been able to have to many assaults at the record. Although disappointing thats is sport and sometimes it’s that disappointment that is needed to much you strive and work that little bit harder to achieve it the next time.
The other record I have been after this season is another of national calibre however this one is on the track. For those who have never seen a velodrome in person it’s worth going out of your way to experience one. The Manchester Velodrome is like a second home to us, we spend many early mornings riding around the creaking timber surface. The cambered corners tower above you when stand below them and it’s hard to fathom how a bike could stick to the smooth surface that looks near vertical. Our event on the boards is the 4 km Pursuit, this is classed as an endurance event but unlike a Time Trial it is over in under 5 minutes! Four kilometres is 16 laps of the 250m track, and 16 laps of a different kind of suffering. From a standing start you build your speed to around 40mph. Once you have the bike up to speed you simple hold it there trying to ride the same lap splits each time you pass the start line. However right at the end you ask questions of your lungs and legs to lift the pace for the last few laps, driving on upping the speed and lessoning the time. At which point you will begin to see stars, struggle to feel anything other than pain, you can’t get in the amount of oxygen your body needs and you just hope it will all be over sooner than it actually will be.
Unlike TT’s track events are like hens teeth, very few opportunities come around and when they do you have to be at your best. Have enough training to the tank to perform but not have to much for it to hinder your performance. Again the lines are extremely fine and it takes a few goes to work out what works best for you. We knew after last years first couple of pursuit’s together we were good enough to get this record that had stood for 10 years, we just needed the timings to be right. The stars alighted for us in January this year at an event in Newport, Wales. Things were on track right up to the moment we started to piece together our record breaking ride. We were in the gate listening to the all familiar count down bleeps when it hit zero and the gate didn’t release us. A false start. We then had to wait serval minutes while the staff tried to get the gate working but had no luck. It would be a held start like we have in training. As the count down hit zero we were off, and as we came around for our first time check a lap in we were down on our schedule, far to slow. One lap into a 16 lap race and its already over. All that hard work wasted and back to the drawing board, again massive disappointment but these are the moments when you really question yourself to see what you are made of. Do you have what it takes……..A question that haunts all athletes.
Another opportunity arose with a selection for the Track World Championships. This time Adam was struck down with illness and although a better performance we missed the record by 3 tenths of a second. riding a PB 4:27.003 to put us 6th in the world after only our 4th attempt. At his point I put the record on the back burner as it would be months before we would have another crack at it. That day came on the 26th September 2015 at the National Track Championships in Manchester. After a long international season of Road Racing and TT’s we found ourselves in pretty good shape on paper. Only two weeks back in the country from a successful World Cup in South Africa taking our first Gold medal in the TT we knew things were going well. The only problem was I had a bad cold collected along with my bags from the long flight home.
In the starting gate again listening to the bleeps I hadn’t even thought about records, just focused on putting in a good shift for Adam and making the bike move smooth and efficiently. As we rolled around the track listening to our lap times being yelled at us from Simon our coach I was worried we had gone to fast to early but as the laps ticked by the splits remained the same. With 3 laps to go I started the game of suffering, driving my legs as hard as I could knowing now it would all be over in less than a minute. Once we sat up and I looked up at the board to see our time, glaring back at me was my name with 4:22.01 next to it. A new personal best and National Record by 5 seconds. As it was bellowing through the PA system the crowd applauded our efforts. Proudly dressed in Blue and Green we rolled around giving them a wave thanking them for the their cheers and well wishes, that 10 year record was now ours.
As I we stepped off the podium we had paper work to sign to verify the record. My hand still shaky as the caffeine I had taken before the race was in full effect . A scribble of something that resembled mine and Adams names there in blue ink, in the record books for who knows how long?
Looking back it has been a great season, one that started with a high speed crash which could have ending our lives not to mention the season. Attending the Track and Road World Championships, 4 World Cup medals, National Road Race and Time Trail Title defence, Personal Best over 10 and 25 mile Time Trails, 4km Pursuit National Record and Personal Best. I can only thank Adam for his commitment and effort this season piloting me. Sport Grub - Kuota and all of their sponsors for their support, we couldn’t do what we do without the support.