Timing the National 25-mile Championship it so it clashed with the Criterium du Dauphine meant that in, comparison with the National 10, the number of people on the start-sheet called Bradley Wiggins was dramatically reduced. This, in theory at least, improved my odds of getting the win.
It was an unusual championship. Rather than start in a featureless lay-by somewhere, it had a start ramp in the town square, flanked by a slightly bemused looking jazz band. From the start ramp, you went down a hill so steep that it was, in all the respects that matter, BASE jumping. Then you rode up another hill, of about 10%, then down, then up and so on to the turn, and back the way you came to a finish by a farm gateway two miles outside the town.
The odd side-effect of this finish point was that the onlookers in the square – most of whom were a bit unsure what was going on anyway – were treated to the sight of several-hundred bike riders flinging themselves off down the hill, never to be seen again. We could have been being eaten by a giant toad just outside the town.
If I’m honest I wasn’t so sure about the hilly course – personally I liked it, but then I’ve spent quite a lot of my time over the years riding early-season hard-riders’ events and the TT series, all based on lumpy courses. The National 25 is traditionally much closer to the old roots of the sport, the idea of showing off how fast you can go on something that is more or less flat, and perhaps almost 1000ft of climbing was too much. Maybe once every few years it’s OK? I’m really not sure, and opinion at the race seemed to be divided between those who loved it, and those who wished they’d stayed at home.
Certainly I had mixed feelings about the hills at around 18 miles when I had a sudden conviction that, contrary to the way a bike’s front gear-changer has always worked, it would be possible to change chainrings while going at full pelt up a hill without backing off the pressure on the pedals a little. I had quite a few moments to contemplate my own genius while I was standing by the road ham-fistedly putting the chain back on.
About the best that could be said for that bit of stupidity was that I picked a good spot for it. Only about a mile further up the road I got a time check that showed I was still comfortably in the lead. And since I knew from some earlier checks that I was riding faster than anyone else in the race, it was just a case of keeping relaxed and staying in front. It could have been a lot worse.
It was nice to see Matt Botterill getting the silver, after more fourth place finishes than you would believe possible. And my team mate Pete Tadros’s ride for sixth was terrific. He’s probably the most underrated time trial rider I know, and it got us the team prize, along with Dave Pollard.
But the race of the day was clearly that of women’s Champ, Julia Shaw – winning by more than 3 minutes over an hour-long race was just awesome.