Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to have ridden with lots of VERY fast time triallists. If done properly, team time trials can be great fun to ride. If not, they can be purgatory!
My first experiences of riding team time trials were in the 70s when Adrian (Collard) and I used to train together
and ride the occasional 2-ups in club events on the F1. I was always told to ride with people faster than
yourself in the hope that some of ‘it’ would rub off, so took advantage of every available opportunity (only until I
ended up being on the wrong end of a hiding though!).
While I was in the St Neots Cycling Club I remember riding with guys like Nick Cavan and the Davey brothers
from Nomads Hitchin. When I moved on to the Oundle and Northampton Clubs I rode with Graham Bickle and
Pete Trotman a few times and although they were getting harder, it wasn’t until I moved to the Edgware RC and
started riding with the likes of Pete Wells, Renny Stirling and Paul Bennett that I realised there was a bit of a
technique to it … rather more than just kicking through and staying on the front until you’ve got JUST enough
left to be able to jump on to your team mate’s wheel when they come kicking through on you.
Pete was very competitive and a master half-wheeler (already mentioned elsewhere on the site) which I found
wasn’t a good combination to have in a 2-up partner. I’d like to think Renny, Paul and myself were a bit more
equally paced, so riding with them wasn’t quite so hard.
In the late 70s / early 80s I started getting a bit of form and somehow got invited along to some of the GB team trial sessions that Jim Hendry used to run on the A1 based at Sawtry (not far from home!). As a result of some half-decent performances I got selected to ride the 100km ttt a few times for GB. The first, in 1979, was an international 100km circuit ttt in Holland with Ian Fagan, Martin Pyne and Pete Watson. Martin was VERY strong. I wasn’t!
In subsequent years, trial events continued to be carried out on the A1 and the old A604 (now the A14) … all VERY fast dual carriageways and right up my street. On some occasions we used to get enough riders to have 4 or 5 teams of four for each session. They included the likes of Sean Yates, John Patston, Tim Stevens, Phil Griffiths, Joe Waugh, Pete Wells and more recently Darryl Webster, Keith Reynolds, Pete Sanders, Steve Poulter etc.
In one of the earlier sessions I was to learn more about team trialling than all the other sessions put together. In the very same session, it spelt the end of Phil Griffiths’ international career (wrongly so in my opinion).
The (then) BCF had never actually told us how to ride a team trial. We were just put in to teams and told to ride over a set distance. We’d be followed by the selectors in their cars who would pick the team on the basis of what they saw.
In this particular session, we had two teams. One was the ‘possibles’ (which included Phil Griffiths), the other was the ‘probables’ (which included me). Griffiths’ team started in front of us but they suffered mechanical problems during their ride which resulted in us catching (what was left of) them … which included Griffiths. Our team wasn’t exactly working like clockwork and Griffiths could see that when he jumped on the back. He immediately started telling us how it SHOULD be done … and started going through to show us exactly HOW too. In just two or three short miles we were a changed team … and it was not only so much easier but significantly faster too.
The probables all got pats on the back for going so fast and Griffiths got told he’d never ride for his country again. Looking back now I can’t imagine Phil could give a hoot, but at the time I couldn’t believe what was happening.
My impressions of the others? Sitting behind Sean Yates was like sitting behind the pistons from one of Isambard Kingdom Brunell’s great steamships. Sitting behind Griffiths was like sitting behind a London double decker bus. I’d never ridden behind anyone who sat as high in the saddle as him. Darryl was like a pacing rabbit at a greyhound race; sure enough none of us were going to get past him … even if we wanted (which we didn’t / couldn’t). He’d just go faster and faster until i) he’d dropped everyone or ii) was told to slow down. Waugh, Gilchrist and Eddie were all totally reliable and you always knew they’d come through when you swung over and more importantly that the pace wouldn’t drop. The same went for Keith Reynolds and Tony Mayer (the latter probably never knowing how good he actually was).
In 1981 I went to the World’s which were held in Prague, Czechoslovakia with Eddie Adkins, Joe Waugh and Bob Downs. We arrived in Prague with a few days to ‘acclimatise’ and familiarise ourselves with the course … which I must admit was considered (by myself) to be a bit hilly for a ttt course (I don’t like hills). My concerns weren’t unfounded as when we came to ride the actual event we found out we’d been training on the wrong road!! Honest!! (Typical BCF in those days).
In the early 80s I was lucky enough to form part of GS Strada’s team in a number of national 100km ttts. Griffiths referred to these as our annual club run. Even our (very) near 30 mph 100 km ride in the 1981 national championship was a pleasure to be part of. It was just SO smooth.
Despite them all being great fun (because they were done properly … with no-one out to prove anything … no kicking through … nice long steady turns etc) we did have one or two cock ups along the way.
We lost out to the Manchester Wheelers in the 1982 national as a result of Tony Mayer ‘getting carried away’ and
deciding to do an extra lap of Grantham roundabout during the ride. It was quite funny (even then) as I was following his
wheel at the time and I knew we had to go straight on … yet he banked over to the right and kept on going … to the
right!!!). We lost out on the gold by 7 seconds!
In another of the nationals (this one held up near Doncaster in 1985), I remember riding with Sandy Gilchrist, Charlie Williamson and Steve Farrell. We’d reached the 75km point when Sandy pulled over and said he couldn’t go on. Charlie immediately sat up and said he couldn't either. We spent the next couple of miles with the two of them arguing as to who was most knackered – they were virtually pulling straws to decide which one ‘lost’ and had to continue (that ended up being Charlie … who took umbrage with the jury’s decision and refrained from doing any more turns!).
And then there was the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 (well I still get asked about that!). We’d done lots of training
sessions with many different permutations of the possibles and probables before it was finally narrowed down to five
of us: Darryl, Steve Poulter, Keith Reynolds, Pete Sanders and me. The initial plan was for Pete to ride the road race
and take the ‘reserve’ seat for the team time trial. The day before we flew out I won the National 50 beating Darryl into
fifth place by just under 2 mins ... so I had good form ... then.
We were in America for 5 weeks in all. The first week or so was spent acclimatising at altitude in a ski resort called
Copper Mountain. From there we rode the 9-day Coors Classic stage race. I’d read about this before we went.
In its previous incarnation it was ‘The Red Zinger’ and had a reputation for destroying riders due to the altitude of the
racing. We’d been prepared for it though … well as much as a drag-strip specialist could be (in my case!). I spent
the whole race at, or off, the back of the bunch getting totally annihilated and my morale (and form) took a dive.
We moved on from the Coors Classic to the Olympic village and spent a week riding up and down the same stretch
of the Malibu coast road every day. Although I got on extremely well with Darryl, the ‘roadmen mentality’ of the others
started to shine through. When riding with the GS Strada we all looked after one another. I don’t recall anyone ever
kicking through on me (or anyone else come to that) as we all had total respect for one another … after all the team
was only as fast as the slowest rider. Why was it then, that come the most important race of our lives ‘self
preservation’ and pride suddenly started becoming such a big issue? What was supposed to be a team event slowly
started to become an individual event with just about everyone wanting to make sure it wasn’t them who was going to
let the team down. If that meant giving someone else a hard ride then so be it (well that’s what it appeared like to me).
And that’s VERY easy to do … I mentioned kicking through on people earlier ;-)
Well it got to the stage where I considered myself to be the fifth fastest of the five of us … or should I say the most
likely rider of the five of us to get dropped if we were to ride together! So I went to Jim Hendry and suggested Pete
should ride in my place, I was told I’d never ride for my country again (I’d heard that before somewhere) and that I’d be
letting my country down if I chose to go down the route I was suggesting. I’d thought long and hard about it but was of
the opinion I was only being open and honest and the best chance GB had would be if Pete rode instead of me.
Anyway … that was that. While the rest of the team stayed on for the duration of the Olympics and later figured on the front page of The News of the World for attending after-games beach parties (honest!) I couldn’t wait to get home and in the car to race at the Harrogate Festival.
Looking back would I have done anything differently? I like to think I’d have been more selfish and ridden … yes. But I honestly think that would have definitely been one kicking too many.
PS ... I've always considered team time trials the VERY best way to train. If you can find someone you can ride with fast (without giving each other too much of a hammering by kicking through etc) then I'd highly recommend you do so. It's a sort of interval training innit? I remember riding lots in my lunch-breaks (when I was with the MoD in Cambridge) with Ken Platts. Together with the ride to and from work it wasn't going to do anything but good was it? AND ... if you're consistently knocking out 19 and 20 minute 10s in training it'll come second nature when racing ... surely?
I also used to ride evening 25s with Gary Dighton. They were hard! We (or rather Gary) did several 49s!
Me and Mick Storey ... I rode a lot with Mick. He'd always go well until he knew how fast we were going then he'd think 'Christ...if we're going THAT fast it must hurt' ... then he'd blow! :-)
Pete Wells and me in a 2-up '25' between Norman Cross and Stamford
Pete, Renny and me in a 3-up 'somewhere in Essex'
Me. Joe, Bob and Eddie looking delighted after our ride in Prague 1981 (above) and during the actual ride (left) ... I'm hiding somewhere under Bob's left arm-pit
Some of the easiest (and fastest) team time trials I ever rode were with the GS Strada. At the start of the 1982 National (left) with Griffo getting into the spirit of things behind me, Eddie, Sandy and Tony.
Taking a pasting with Eddie though ... right!
In the Coors Classic and off the back (yet again) preparing for the Los Angeles Olympic ttt..
'Help Wanted' poster nicked from the local burger bar