Clubman to Coureur
Thursday July 22nd

On the July day I am writing this I am almost certain that you, dear reader, will watch the Tour de France on television.

If there could be anything more likely to make the non racing owner of a good bike dream of competing I cannot think what it might be.

Naturally, while your first thought will be “I want to be there, on that mountain, hammering up between the cheering crowds and wondering if one more big effort will shake Andy Schleck off my wheel”, but your second thought may be: “possibly one club run to Billingbear golf club is not fully adequate preparation.”

If you are the sort of person who does not enjoy reading wordy essays complete with historical references, I suggest you cut to the chase now and go straight to the last paragraph, if not, please read on.

The longstanding members of this club, and probably of many other clubs, wonder why it is that while there is an increasing number of new enthusiasts coming into cycling there seems to be some barrier to those newcomers riding competitively. We are very pleased to see big club runs all the year round, but we remember times in the past when it was unusual to have a worthwhile run in the racing season - because everyone was busy racing!

Well ‘times change and we change with them’ as the proverb goes, but it really does seem possible that there are talented riders out there who for some unknowable reason are hanging back from taking their new found pastime of club cycling onto what is its natural next level - from clubman to racing man.

A possible reason for the current position may be that the publicity around bike racing today is so different from the past. We watch and read the coverage given to the big tours and world class track racing, but we look in vain for anything about amateur racing which we are taking part in ourselves. ‘Cycling’, the magazine, was the bike riders' bible and from the 1920's onwards for about forty years under the editorship of Harry England it gave an almost obsessive coverage of time trialling, with detailed accounts of big events, often relegating dramatic developments in the Tour de France to obscure inside pages. Even the results of club events were reported.

After England's reign came to an end there was a more generous policy towards road racing and so things became even better. However as we all know, Cycling Weekly's policy has changed over the past decade or so, and now it has very little interest in the sport at club level.

Clearly this may have led to the situation where new arrivals in the game get the impression that unless one is a Godlike superman equipped with a full set of bikes of ethereal lightness, complete with professional team support, there is no point in trying to race.

Well this is not the case. Although it's impossible to say how much longer it will continue, at the moment there is still a full programme of races which beginners can take part in. There is accessible track racing at Reading and Herne Hill (maybe even at Stratford in the future), for road racing there is the Minet Park circuit at Hayes and a good Surrey League programme for fourth cat. riders, and there is time trialling.

Time trials are really the easiest entry point for aspiring racing cyclists. If you feel that you really are only interested in the exciting competitive jostle of road and track racing I can only wish you well and encourage you to get on with it, but if you are less self confident, then it is time trials you should be thinking about.

You do not need anything more than enthusiasm to take part. You do not need a special bike, nor is there any necessity for the speed and skill required to stay in a fast moving bunch. At first all you need to do is to set a bench mark for yourself, and then to put your mind to improving on what you did in the past.

It's worth mentioning here that there is, in the world of cycling, an anti time trial faction. Supporters of this view believe that TTs are a stultifying dead end, almost as dull to take part in as they are boring to watch. Encouraging young enthusiasts to ride time trials will kill their interest before they experience the exhilaration of being first over the line in a road race, and so they will be lost to the sport for ever. In order fully to understand the bitterness occasionally expressed in this argument it would be necessary to study the angry struggle which lasted for most of the 1940s and 1950s between the old guard NCU and the BLRC, which would go way beyond the scope of this article. However, I believe the anti time trial view to be too elitist, since most novices just do not have the speed and skill required for bunched racing but may acquire it after a year or two of club riding and time trialling.

Of the British riders who have gone on to notable careers in Europe most started as time triallists. Our very first Tour rider, Charlie Holland, had no choice in pre-war England, but in the post war period when road racing did exist here we find that Tommy Simpson, as an ambitious sixteen year old writing to Henri Pelissier, the most famous directeur sportif of that era, seeks to establish his credentials by mentioning that he is the fastest sixteen year old in England over 25 miles. Barry Hoban and Vin Denson were both very successful contre la montre before they knew the French name for the discipline. More recently most of the senior members of this club have been beaten in time trials by Sean Yates, and to come to the present I will draw your attention to the current 10 mile competition record held by Bradley Wiggins with a time of 17.58.

It is with the hope of encouraging recently joined non racing members to dip their toe into the enthralling world of bike racing that the club has organised a special 10 Mile club TT on the Maidenhead Thicket course next Saturday afternoon (24th July).

Anyone interested and needing more information can ring me: 0796 3636 784.

I hope to see you on Saturday!

Chris Lovibond