Guest Writer - Richard Horton. WCA 12hr Time Trial

Last year a team of four riders from Sleaford Wheelers set of to Wales to compete in the Welsh Cycling Association’s 12 hour time trial. We had the county 12hr team trophy to defend, I had the individual title and Richard the vet’s.

Owing to a slight shortage of photographs from this event I’ve reused some of the ones taken at the National 24hr but I’m sure no-one will notice, a picture of Richard or I on a time trial bike looks pretty similar wherever it was taken.

Richard has taken over writing duties for this one, so here is his take on the race:

WCA 12hour – 31st August 2014

A team of 4 Sleaford Wheelers entered the Welsh Cycling Association’s 12 hour Time Trial on the last day of August. Henry Thompson (off at 06:16), Kath Smith (06:22), Andy "Crasher" Howett (06:26) and the last Lincs solo rider for 2014, Richard Horton, off at 06:42. All the riders had personal targets; Henry and Kath to basically just finish as Henry had never ridden further than a club run, roughly 75 miles and Kath had recently returned from an epic 4,500 mile trip around the coast of Britain. Both riders had been drafted in at the last minute to make up a team for a shot at the LRRA 12 hour team trophy. Richard and Crasher had their own personal battle for 2 prizes, the Club 12 hour Championship, and Lincolnshire Championship, the latter a target of 236.9 miles and the former was a rematch of the 2013 title on the same course, Crasher on that occasion taking the win by a margin of less than 2½ miles.

At 06:16 battle commenced and by 06:42 all the club riders were on the road. The morning had started with light winds from the South West and hazy sunshine, ideal weather for the first leg from Abergavenny to Hereford and back, a distance of around 50 miles. The outward leg involves quite a reasonable climb and kept the average speed down. At the turn Richard had closed the gap down to around 10 minutes to Crasher who was just 2 minutes behind Kath and Henry, so Richard was averaging just a little over 21mph and was leading slightly but this is a marathon not a sprint and nearly 11 hours of this battle remained. At 40 miles checking in with one of our support vehicles the gap at the front between Henry, Kath and Andy was less than 2 minutes with Richard still around 10 minutes further back. 

At Abergavenny the riders were turned onto the first circuit of 24.839 miles. A welcome tail wind pushed speeds up to 27+ mph in places, probably faster for the really quick guys in the event, and a chance of a real push for Richard to close down the gap. Armed with 2 bottles of liquid feed and a medley of snacks it was clear that there would be no let up from Richard’s attack on the lead group of Sleaford Wheelers. 

A right turn at the Steel Horse Inn into a southerly and generally downhill stretch of about 6.5 miles took the riders into Usk, a brief hold up for traffic lights on the Chainbridge some 4 miles earlier was going to be an issue for all the riders on every lap (there was a knack to getting through this without losing any time - Ed) A left turn eastwards followed by another left and the riders were heading for Raglan. The team had expected to see the support vehicle by now but this had suffered a geographically challenged moment and was missing. Thankfully Kath had support all of her own and all the team knew they could at get something if they got desperate. A welcome sight on a bit of a climb after the left turn last year was a chap handing out rice pudding in ice cream cones topped with jam, and everyone was delighted to see that he was back. Rice pud seems to be the favoured fuel of endurance riders, being easy to digest and being a reasonably good source of carbohydrates and protein. 

Onward to Raglan and one of the rider’s least favourite parts of the course, a short sharp climb followed by a sharp left turn at the junction to continue climbing. Because of the junction speeds here are not much above 5mph. Leaving Raglan you join the A40 dual carriageway, a 7.5 mile generally downhill run back to the roundabout at the Abergavenny end and the end of lap 1. Downhill it may be but by now the course had turned into the wind and although it was possible to keep 20mph up for some stretches the last, and steepest, part seemed to take superhuman strength to get much above 15mph. The four riders struggled as the wind funnelled between the banking and the trees.

On this stretch Richard, and presumably some time earlier Kath and Andy, had overhauled Henry. 70-ish miles had been completed by this stage and Henry was entering uncharted waters. At this point having missed the support vehicle Richard had no idea how far behind Kath and Andy he was, had they battled harder on the A40 and opened the gap out? 

At last the welcoming sight of the Abergavenny roundabout and the start of the second lap was reached and the chance to bring back some of the lost average speed and hopefully the sight of Liz in the support vehicle. This appeared at about 85 miles after another welcome dollop of rice pud and jam. 

Replenished and finding he was just 6 minutes behind Crasher, and a further 4 behind Kath Richard reported that he had passed a tired but still moving Henry and then set off after Crasher. A spirited 3rd lap and the gap was down to under 4 minutes with Kath holding steady at 10 minutes. In effect, because of the different start times, this meant that Richard was 12 minutes in front of Crasher and 10 up on Kath. With Kath at this point circulating at the same speed as Richard was the danger coming from another angle? Kath had a personal best of over 236 miles to Richard's 227.

By now all riders had completed well over 110 miles and were getting to the half-way point, the only worries reported were that Henry hadn't been seen for a while and the rice pudding man had run out of jam. On lap 4 Richard continued the pursuit and at the support vehicle cruised up behind a stationary Crasher, who was busy eating yet more rice pudding. Kath was also beginning to slow, the gap between her and Richard was down to about 6 minutes. 

So 7 odd hours completed and now Richard was 16 minutes ahead of his main rival. Crasher set off with Richard giving him about 2 minutes lead whilst he refuelled. It would only be a matter of time before he was re caught and a small battle raged on the still tough A40 stretch back to Abergavenny with Richard holding the lead at the turn and what we expected to be the start of the finishing circuit. Having been passed by Richard Crasher announced that he was throwing in the towel in their personal battle and was just riding for the team title.

Judging by last year’s experience in similar conditions the dash back up the A40 for the first time would see speeds of around 30mph uphill (!) the riders would still be passed by the really quick guys though. Surprisingly as the lead rider hadn't completed 6 laps all 4 of our riders were sent off for another lap. This was not good news, Richard and Kath both reported they really couldn't face another stretch of the A40 east to west, into the unrelenting  wind, and although there was a visible gap between Crasher and Richard in front it wasn't a great amount and with over 3 hours still to go, it was by no means won. The A40 proved to be a turning point with Crasher re catching Richard just before the turn and announcing that he had got a second wind and was getting the towel out again.

This turn took the riders onto the finishing circuit, a 15.484 mile lap with 10 “timekeepers” spaced at around 1.5 mile intervals, the idea being that as you passed each checkpoint you were recorded until you complete your allocated time of 12 hours and stopped at the next timekeeper.

Now having a tail wind but being uphill the A40 was suddenly a different animal. Crasher had a lead on the road of roughly 30 seconds and Richard kept him in sight throughout the lap, caught him again while refuelling at the support vehicle, just setting off again just as Richard arrived. Nursing a sore hamstring and not being able to sit on the bike with any comfort Richard opted for a second pair of shorts, a tactic that had helped in the latter stages of recent 24 hour event in June. This cost around six minutes and more worryingly for Richard, let Crasher get out of sight.
With 1 hour and 50 minutes left, Richard had a lead of 10 minutes over Crasher, so was six minutes behind on the road. (We found it all really confusing too! - Ed) One more lap passed and somehow the gap remained at 6 minutes, both Richard and Crasher covering the near 16 miles in around 50 minutes. 

So with 1 hour left for Richard and just 44 minutes for Crasher, the mind maths calculated that Richard would finish on the A40 after the next lap. Outside of this battle, Henry completed his first ever 12 hour race and as Crasher and Richard continued their battle he headed back to the HQ having covered a very creditable 192.05 miles. 

6 minutes later Kath wrapped up her ride at 213.90 miles. Crasher had just passed the support and with only 5 minutes remaining elected not to refuel. Richard passed the same spot 13 minutes later, his rival had by now finished, but where and how far had he covered? Timekeeper 5 was just beyond this point and Crasher had not turned back here, timekeeper 6 was at the turn for the A40 and a complicated roundabout could have kept him hidden from Richard’s view if he was circling around to return to the HQ as Richard passed this point with a little over 2 minutes left. 11 hours and 58 minutes gone meant riding to the next timekeeper, which in this case was number 8, we had previously spotted that no-one had taken the 7th check-point.

Heading back up the A40, the timekeepers became visible and so did the figure of a Sleaford Wheeler anxiously looking at his watch, how long had he been here, how close was this going to be? Richard had to reach this spot less than 16 minutes after Crasher to take the title. He made it in a little under 12 hours and 4 minutes and, more importantly it turned out, just 14 minutes and 35 seconds after Crasher to give Richard the victory by just 85 seconds. An absolutely epic fight back from Crasher who was obviously tired from the previous weekend’s Gorrick 12:12 “TORQ in your sleep”, a 12hr MTB race, but Richard was just too strong.
Liz arrived with the support car shortly after but both riders elected to ride back to the HQ to await the provisional results. Amusingly this involved climbing up the embankment, a skill Crasher was far more adept at, to shorten the ride back by about 10 miles, neither rider really wishing to face any further cycling than was absolutely necessary.

The final distances were Henry 192.05miles, Kath 213.90, Andy 219.99 and Richard 220.77, a reversal of last year and even closer, it’s left it nicely poised for a best of 3 in 2015. In such strong winds none of the riders were ever likely to be able to challenge for the overall Lincolnshire title but Kath has won the women’s and Henry the junior’s.

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