RTTC National 12 Hour Championship – 17/6/2018
by Richard Gildea
Having progressed to 50 mile TTs in 2016 and 100 mile TTs in 2017, the obvious next step would be a 12 hour time trial in 2018! After much prevarication, I eventually bit the bullet and entered the National 12 hour TT on the local Bentley course. Although I was fairly confident I had the training volume to cope with such a long race, I was still nervous ahead of the race, as it was more than 3 times as long as my longest race so far. Based on my performance in the Charlotteville H50/8 event earlier in the year, and the range of power I thought I might be able to maintain for 12 hours, I was hopeful that something in the range 290-300 miles might be achievable.
The course: H12h/8
Main circuit: laps of a 20.153 mile circuit between the Chawton and Coxbridge roundabouts on the A31 near Farnham on the Surrey/Hampshire border.
Finishing circuit: at some point in the day riders switch to the shorter 14.302 mile finishing circuit, which covers the same stretch of road as the main circuit, just turning early at the Holybourne roundabout, missing out the slowest section with the worst road surface between Holybourne and Chawton roundabouts.
I had recently installed a new 60T chainring from Pyramid Cycle Design – probably overkill for as “slow” a race as the 12 hour, but it shouldn’t be a problem, and any efficiency and aero gains from moving to a single-ring setup will add up over such a long race. Although I hadn’t had any problems with dropped chains in my limited experience of the setup, given the bumpy nature of the Bentley course, I erred on the side of caution and fitted an AeroCoach chain guide.
Hydration/nutrition: after much deliberation, in the end I went with a single 550ml standard bike bottle on the downtube. I ordered 6 identical brand new Elite bottles, and got them all ready the previous night with energy drink (Torq), and taped an energy bar (High5) and energy gel (mixture of Wiggle energy gels and SiS caffeine energy gels) with electrical insulation tape to each bottle. I planned for handup of new bottle every lap (or as needed).
Spares: I brought along spares of everything I could think of – inner tubes, tyres, gear cables, skinsuit, wheels (thanks to Stan and Ant for loan of front/rear wheels, thankfully unneeded in the end), road bike (in case something went catastrophically wrong with my TT bike towards the end of the race).
Support crew: My wife Louise would be there for the full 12 hours, and teammate Harri was coming down from around 2pm onwards. They would base themselves near the Hen & Chicken Pub, which has amenities close by (the pub itself, and the petrol station with shop). It provides handup opportunities in either direction, with the helpers only needing to cross the road.
4:15 am – alarm
5:20 am – on the road to Alton with Louise
6:30 am – arrive at HQ, sign on, last minute visit to the toilet, spend too long chatting
7:00 am – park just a couple of minutes from the start, get bike ready. There’s some light rain in the air, enough to wet the ground – that wasn’t in the forecast, I didn’t think to bring my Gabba as it wasn’t supposed to rain! Decide to stick on a light baselayer and hope for the best! Final drink of water, eat a nine bar, then head to the start.
7:20 am (0h00m) – very strange start to a race, just gently roll off, settle into aero tuck and steadily trundle along at Z2 pace in full race gear, trying to resist as much as possible the temptation to push harder.
0h49m – First lap complete. I’d set my Garmin to autolap every 20 miles which roughly corresponded to a full lap of the course (20.153 miles), which would hopefully help me to better monitor my progress/effort throughout the event. First lap 233 W for 24.7 mph average – will need to pick up this speed if I want to achieve my 300 mile target. The traffic was very light on the first lap, so hopefully the speed will pick up as the traffic volume increases. Attempted to pick up my first bottle passing the Hen & Chicken around 25 miles in – travelling too fast, dropped the bottle, now had no bottle on the bike as I’d jettisoned the previous bottle despite probably still having ⅓ of a bottle left. No problem, it wasn’t hot, I wasn’t going particularly hard, I’d just make a second attempt at a handup half a lap later on the other side of the carriageway. Again, I missed the handup – this time I decided to stop and wait for Louise to run after me with the bottle. I resolved to only take a handup once I’d finished a bottle – no point discarding a bottle with some left when there’s a risk of missing a handup and ending up with nothing. I would also slow down a lot more to guarantee I can make the handup – seconds saved from missed/repeated handups would probably outweigh those lost by slowing down to increase the chances of a successful handup.
1h37m – second lap complete (243 W, 24.9 mph). Power and speed up, but still below my target. Legs feeling good though. At some point Adam Duggleby came past like a train – not really a surprise as I knew he would have been starting around 10 minutes after I started my second lap, and he was only a few hundred yards short of breaking the 12 hour competition record last year (as well as smashing the 100 mile competition record).
2h24m – third lap complete (244 W, 25.6 mph). Power steady, speed much better, overall average speed up to 25.0 mph, back on schedule.
3h56m – 100 miles up in 3h56m41s. Legs still feeling good, lap average creeping up, need to work hard to keep it down, resist the temptation to push on too much. HR starting to creep up in to low Z3. Also starting to need a wee – probably shouldn’t have had so much to drink just before the start, and early on in the race. Start thinking about where I can stop to pee. Stop at layby on the ‘climb’ shortly after the Hen & Chicken – stop by a couple of people supporting another rider, ask them if they can hold my bike, and then go and pee in the bush!
6h00m – half way! 153 miles at an average of speed of 25.6 mph (242 W). If I can just keep this going then hopefully I’ll be in with a good chance of 300 miles.
7h00m – about 180 miles in, I start noticing a rattle from my front end, it might be the right pad coming loose, eventually I realise it’s the bolts coming loose underneath the base bar that go up into the risers. The right extension is quite wobbly. I’m hopeful that Harri will have arrived, as I knew he was aiming to arrive around 2pm to help out for the second half of the race. Pass the Hen & Chicken, spot Harri, and shout (pointing at my extensions) “Harri! Allen keys! Pads!’. Carry on, riding up to the far end of the course, frequently tightening up the bolts as best I can with my fingers, and back towards the Hen & Chicken where Harri and Louise are waiting with a set of Allen keys. I quickly explain to Harri which bolts it is that have come loose (thankfully he has the same set of PDQ bars, so should be familiar with where all the bolts are), hand my bike to Louise and use the opportunity to relieve myself (hopefully for the last time!).
8h56m – Finally! The sign is out at the start of the finishing circuit telling riders that we are now to ride the finishing circuit – no more Chawton stretch, which is the slowest and bumpiest section of the course!
9h28m – Approaching the Holybourne roundabout expecting to turn there, believing I was now on the finishing circuit. When I go to circle the roundabout, the marshal on the roundabout insisted I went straight on to Chawton, he said he hadn’t been told to send people on the finishing circuit. Quite frustrating to have to do yet another lap of the main circuit when I thought I was finally onto the finishing circuit.
9h33m – 240 miles complete, however the power and speed for the last lap had dropped quite significantly – 215W and 24.2 mph. It felt like the wind was picking up and the headwind leg of the course just felt slower than ever.
9h49m – power still low, stop briefly to pick up a couple of slices of malt loaf and a nine bar, which are a much welcome change from my diet thus far of energy drink, bars and gels. After having the malt loaf I start to feel much better again, and the power and speed gradually started to come back up.
10h25m – 261 miles up, club record achieved, now to push on as much as I could for the final hour and a half! At some point before 11 hours was up, my Garmin (Edge 500) flashed up a message to warn of low battery – now I start worrying about if it’s going to last the distance, and if it runs out before my 12 hours is up, how would I know when to stop?! Hopefully the message comes up with 10% battery left, in which case I should hopefully be OK.
11h00m – 276 miles up, an average of 25.2 mph, hopefully 300 miles should be in the bag, just as long as I can keep going at a reasonable pace for the final hour. Spend most of the final hour trying to calculate in my head approximately where on the course I would be when my 12 hours is up, just in case my Garmin dies completely and leaves me without knowing what the time is.
11h29m – 288 miles up, circle the Holybourne roundabout to start what would be my final lap of the course, nice 28 mph tailwind section, reaching the Coxbridge turn with just over 5 miles needed to hit my 300 mile target, with just over 15 minutes left. Even with the final headwind stretch to come, that should be achievable. My Garmin ticks over to 300 miles just before the Hen & Chicken, with around 3 minutes still to go. Big grin to myself, and then big thumbs up to Harri and Louise who are cheering me on for the final time past the Hen & Chicken on the way to Holybourne for the final time.
12h00m – My 12 hours is up on the approach to Holybourne, with around 301 miles on the Garmin. The next timekeeper is in the layby (I think and hope!) at the start of the finishing circuit, just after the Holybourne roundabout. Stop my Garmin on 302.29 miles in 12h02m59s. Grovel slowly the mile or so back to the Hen & Chicken where Louise, Harri and the car would be waiting. So thankful for the tailwind at that point! Adam Duggleby comes past me for a second time, so I know he must be on for a competition record, somewhere in the region of 20 miles up on my distance. Number 30 also comes back past me, so I assume he must only have been a couple of minutes at most behind me on the road, and, not knowing he had done one fewer lap of the full circuit than I had, I assumed that he was ahead of me on distance.
Main circuit: 12 x 20.153 mile laps = 241.836 miles
Start to finishing circuit: 3.195 miles
Finishing circuit: 4 x 14.302 mile laps = 57.208 miles
Total: 302.239 miles in 12h02m59s (moving time 12h00m46s)
Final distance: 301.19 miles (25.099 mph) for 3rd place (a bronze national medal!), which is far beyond my expectations of the race (I was hopeful of a top 10, maybe top 5 at a push).
CTT writeup: https://www.cyclingtimetrials.org.uk/articles/view/352
(“third place and Bronze Medal went to outsider Richard Gildea”)
Fantastic rides by Adam Duggleby (321.446 miles, 26.787 mph) and Kieron Davies (319.689 miles, 26.641 mph), both smashing the previous competition record (317.97 miles, set 6 years ago by Andy Wilkinson). A different class of rider to the rest of the field.
I think I paced the race fairly well – for the first 6 hours or so it was mostly a question of constantly resisting the temptation to push harder, and there was only an hour or two about 3/4 of the way through where the power really started to dip, but I managed to pull it back for the final couple of hours. Right from the beginning I used every opportunity I could – the various lumps, bumps and roundabouts – to stretch the shoulders and relieve pressure by getting out of the saddle. This meant that even late on in the event I was able to maintain a relatively aero position on the faster tailwind sections of the course.
As I settled into a rhythm, it was a challenge to keep the power down and the power gradually crept up over the course of a few laps, before levelling off at a more sensible 230-240 W range. There was a tough period around 9/10 hours where the power dropped, coinciding with the wind picking up, having to to the unexpected extra lap of the full circuit, and probably not taking up some extra food as early as I should have.
Particular thanks go to Louise and Harri for being a fantastic support crew, and also to Nick Clarke, Pete Harrison (last year’s National 12 champion) and Mike Broadwith (3-time reigning National 24 champion and now LEJOG record holder) for lots of useful advice and answering my dumb questions about riding a 12 hour.
Final word must go to Brian Hygate of Fareham Wheelers, who rode a stunning 191.293 miles (15.941 mph) at the age of 80! A fantastic video of his ride can be found here: