Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Race of Truth

The Race of Truth

Time-trialing started in England as a rebel sport to thwart the National Cyclists' Union's ban on road racing which had been introduced for fear of a ban not just on racing cyclists but all cycling. Nevertheless, it acquired a respectability which led time-trialing to become a cornerstone of British racing. Races are generally held over 25, 50 and 100 mile distances with some based on times of 12 or 24 hours with the winner covering the greatest distance.

In 1890, the Union had banned racing on public roads in fear of a ban not just on racing cyclists but all cycling. The legal position of cyclists was not secure. "Events organized by clubs in the 1880s, although taking place on quiet country roads, were constantly interrupted by the police. Often horse-mounted policemen charged at racers and threw sticks into their wheels”

On one beautiful Sunday morning in spring some years ago I was driving from a friend’s house in North Yorkshire across the Pennine hills to Sedbergh. Coming towards me was an endless procession of time trialists. I had stumbled upon the Nelson Wheelers Cycling Club’s premier event, the 50 mile “Circuit of the Dales” which runs from Ingleton – Sedbergh – Hawes. What really struck me was the diversity of riders in terms of gender, age and abilities. It was rather therapeutic to watch all the cyclists riding their hearts out on this extremely hilly course. The very fastest of them turn in times of less than two hours.

I was reminded about how passionate British cyclists are about their Sunday morning time trials. It is as much a part of the weekend ritual as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. As the years have passed, various changes to the sport have been made. Participants no longer have to meet in secret, wearing what was quaintly called "inconspicuous clothing". The general idea of individual riders riding "against the clock" and ignoring any other rider who they catch (or particularly who catches them) still holds true for the majority of events today.

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