This past weekend Tim Welsh was representing Cambridge University Cycling Club in the National 24 hour TT championships put on by the Mersey Roads cycling club. It was set to be an absolute scorcher, with the Met Office warning that it could be the hottest weekend of the year so far with no clouds and high humidity. Undeterred, Tim took to the start line along with 63 other competitors (11 out of the original 75 started chose not to even start the day). The course for the 24hrs was quite complicated, to ensure that riders were on different routes that were safer for different parts of the day and to make things more simple for the timekeepers at the finish. The majority of the course centred around the Prees Heath roundabout which was part of the main day circuit and the night circuit. After his start time at 13:26, Tim started the leg of the race to get to the main circuits (which of course required climbing directly uphill for the first 10 miles).
Within 15 minutes of the start, tragedy struck. Tim hit a pothole and the clamp on his right aero bar (clip-ons on his road bike) entirely snapped. With the aerobar now dangling from his handlebars it took a few moments to gather his thoughts. Luckily he had packed some gaffa tape, so he phoned his support crew who gave him hand ups of strips of gaffa tape which he used the wrap the bars together. Somehow, he managed to get the setup reasonably stable and carried on with gaffa taped bars for the first 7 hours until he took his first stop and had the bars and mount cable-tied more solidly.
Despite the bumpy start, Tim was getting on very well. The heat was getting to everyone, with loads of people (including multiple previous champions) deciding to pull out within the first day section. Tim however, was doing great. His support crew – Julia, Alex, and Steve – did everything they could to keep him fed and cool, handing up bottles full of electrolytes and sugar every 18 miles and ice packs to put down his skinsuit. His heart rate was skyrocketing the first 6 hours in the heat, but he felt good and carried on – managing to cover the first 112.45 miles in 5th place with a speed of 22.49mph.
After the first 112.45 miles on relatively busy A roads, the race moved onto the more relaxed Quina Brook circuit, which featured a bit more rolling terrain and even some nice little lanes through some local farms. Tim fared well on this section of the course, fuelling often with rice cakes and energy bars, and even managed to creep up into 3rd place overall before moving onto the night section.
Running a race through the night is a difficult task, and it requires a course that is reasonably smooth but also had little traffic. The night section for this race was a slightly mixed bag for Tim. He of course had no problem in the dark, probably due to his countless audax rides he has done through the night in much worse conditions on much smaller roads, but there were certainly more lorries than would have been desirable. That being said, Tim was still rolling well – covering the first dark 50 night miles in 2:15 (22.2mph). Things slowed a little bit from there, but never significantly. Around 2 am, Tim’s stomach started to tense up a bit – maybe due to the rapid ingestion of caffeine pills chased with an energy drink and antacids, or maybe due to not having enough solid food in the early hours of the morning – but this caused him to take a 35 minute stop to involuntarily empty the contents of his stomach and try to collect himself and recover. Being a stubborn person, Tim carried on for the remaining 3 hours on the night circuit, albeit at a slightly slower pace.
Around 7 am, Tim was one of the last riders to be moved back onto the Quina Brook circuit, where the first lap he still was moving relatively slow (by his self-imposed standards). After one lap around Quina, he took another short break to get some more solid food in, cover his legs in deep heat, and swap the clear visor for the sun visor on his aero helmet. After that break, things started to perk up. Tim started picking up the pace again and was looking a lot better than he was at 3 am. After completing 5 more laps of Quina, Tim was one of the first riders to move towards to finish circuit near Wrexham.
This was Tim’s first time ever riding in Wales, something he hoped to have done already in the 3 years he’s been in the UK, but nevertheless, at least this was a notable first ride to do in Wales. The race crossed into Wales on the A525, and of course, as soon as the “Croeso i Gymru” sign appeared the roads turned into a vertical wall (or so it felt). The rest of the commute over to the finish circuit was equally hilly and draining, or maybe it was just the previous 21hrs and 420+ miles in the legs. After the transit over, Tim made it onto the finishing circuit in 6th place with ~430 miles covered in the first 21:20.
The finishing circuit was an 8.18 mile lap around the lovely Wrexham Industrial Estate, with 4 timekeepers spaced out around the circuit to mark riders once they finish their 24 hours. Something obviously ticked for Tim in the final 2.5 hours, because all the tiredness and soreness seemed to drop away and he went full gas and even managed to consistently get negative splits across the 7 finishing laps he completed! Because of the shorter circuit, it also meant there were more supporters dotted out around the lap, and they were clearly excited by the speed Tim was moving as it seemed like pretty much every group of people screamed at him as he passed. In the last 3 hours, Tim didn’t manage to eat any solid food, but the carb drinks, countless gels, and most importantly the yells of support pushed him on.
Going into the last hour, Tim was determined to squeeze out every last bit of energy he could and was out of the saddle sprinting up every climb, and tucking into his most aero position to hit up to 30mph on the straight and flat sections. The final lap was his fastest one of all, averaging over 23.5mph – not bad for the end of a 24-hour ride!
In the end, Tim eked out 487.70 miles, securing him 4th place in the nation (3rd male). His original goal was to beat the Cambridge University record of 442.66 miles, and he absolutely smashed it. For his first TT over 100 miles, Tim and all of us at CUCC are pretty pleased with the result – especially on such a hot day where only 37 of the original 64 finished. Also a massive thank you has to go out to Julia, Alex, and Steve who were an absolutely stellar support team, they did everything they could to keep the pedals turning for Tim and it wouldn’t have been possible without them.
Tim is recovering and as always is already scheming for his next massive ride (although maybe it’ll be at a more relaxed pace). Onwards!