Can road bike time tri­alling re­vive the TT scene?

Vern Pitt re­ports on a new ini­tia­tive to pro­mote the sport

Cycling Weekly - - SPECIAL REPORT -

Pro­pos­als to ar­rest the stag­na­tion in the num­ber of peo­ple do­ing time tri­als by in­tro­duc­ing a stan­dard­ised road bike cat­e­gory are cur­rently in de­vel­op­ment.

Time tri­alling has long been a stal­wart of the Bri­tish rac­ing scene but the ris­ing tide of cy­cling’s pop­u­lar­ity — ev­i­denced by a six-fold in­crease in Bri­tish Cy­cling mem­ber­ship be­tween 2007 and 2017 — has not lifted all parts of the sport equally. Track and cy­clo-cross con­tinue to grow but time tri­alling has re­mained largely flat. There were 168,896 time trial rides last year, up only 11 per cent on the 151,432 in 2007. The num­ber of TTS rid­den in re­cent years has even de­clined slightly from its peak of 189,702 in 2014.

This com­pares un­favourably with the growth in the num­ber of BC rac­ing li­cence hold­ers, which has grown 168 per cent from 11,846 in 2007 to 31,940 in 2017.

That is where Xavier Dis­ley, owner of Ae­ro­coach, has a plan. He in­tends to bring for­ward new rules to his re­gional Cy­cling Time Tri­als com­mit­tee later this au­tumn to in­tro­duce a road bike cat­e­gory for time tri­als, he hopes the pro­pos­als will be ac­cepted and taken to a na­tional level.

“If you take the num­ber of peo­ple com­pet­ing in sportives and triathlons and peo­ple buy­ing bikes there is an enor­mous dis­con­nect be­tween the two. I think one of the things to ar­rest that down­ward trend is to make time tri­als more ac­ces­si­ble to peo­ple,” he says. “I’m not try­ing to re­place TT bike rid­ing. The idea is to get more peo­ple do­ing TTS be­cause the numbers are dwin­dling. Un­less some­thing hap­pens now the sport will split be­tween the su­per aero geeks and the peo­ple who just want to ride nor­mal bikes. You need to get them now so you re­tain them for the fu­ture.”

You can ride a road bike at most time tri­als and many, cer­tainly at club level, have a road bike cat­e­gory, but the rules for those aren’t stan­dard and of­ten vary from club to club.

By mak­ing it stan­dard­ised Dis­ley hopes it’ll in­crease aware­ness of road bike time tri­alling.

He’s keen to point out that he’s not in­ter­ested in forc­ing event pro­mot­ers to in­sti­tute a road bike cat­e­gory but be­lieves there are ad­van­tages to do­ing so. Ae­ro­coach ran a road bike-only time trial on Au­gust 12 to test out some draft reg­u­la­tions and got 42 rid­ers and a dis­cus­sion of the draft reg­u­la­tions on its Face­book page (fol­lowed by just un­der 4,000 peo­ple) had at­tracted 147 com­ments at the time of writ­ing. All of which sug­gests there is sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­est in the idea.

It seemed to achieve Dis­ley’s goal. “We had a bit of a mix of peo­ple. It’s not on the CTT web­site and the club district web­site is a bit rub­bish, so we just pro­moted it on Twit­ter, Instagram and Face­book. We had a cou­ple of peo­ple there who don’t have TT bikes. We had a 14-year-old kid and his mum en­ter, it was def­i­nitely the big mix of rid­ers; it wasn’t all 40-50-year-old men on tricked-out bikes,” he says.

CTT too are “open minded” ac­cord­ing to na­tional sec­re­tary Nick Sharpe, who says they have seen a rise in rid­ers be­ing in­ter­ested in road bike events. “It’s a much sim­pler way of par­tic­i­pat­ing with­out hav­ing to in­vest in a ded­i­cated TT bike. In the 1970s and 1980s it used to be that every­one had one bike and you raced it; it may be that peo­ple don’t want to spend £6-7,000 on a road bike and TT bike as well.”

Former na­tional 10-mile cham­pion and former cy­cle sport and mem­ber­ship di­rec­tor at Bri­tish Cy­cling, Jonny Clay, played a ma­jor role in BC’S in­crease in mem­ber­ship over the last decade. He says that putting road bike rid­ers in a sec­ond cat­e­gory made sense. “We found that with clas­si­fi­ca­tion rank­ings for road rac­ing, for ex­am­ple, there is a de­sire to be clas­si­fied and be­long to a group of sim­i­lar abil­ity, that’s the whole prin­ci­ple around cat­e­gori­sa­tion and peo­ple do tend to warm to that,” he says.

He adds: “I would en­cour­age peo­ple to run open events across the cat­e­gories; run an open event for 80 rather than a road bike one for 40.”

Former time tri­alling cham­pion Michael Hutchin­son is pos­i­tive about the idea but warns there could be un­in­tended con­se­quences. “If you cod­ify what a road bike is you’ll get peo­ple who spe­cialise in rid­ing road bike TTS; it’ll be­come an­other el­e­ment to it and you’ll get peo­ple care­fully spec­c­ing and build­ing bikes to work to the limit of th­ese rules and it would be­come not much more ac­ces­si­ble than time tri­alling.”

He points out that he built a bike prior to his Hour record attempt in 2006 that would qual­ify un­der Dis­ley’s pro­posed reg­u­la­tions (see box) that he then rode a 49-minute 25-mile TT on. “It wasn’t much more than a 1kph slower than a full-on TT rig at the time,” he re­calls, be­fore adding that it’s worth risk­ing this out­come to in­crease numbers in the sport. He says that there are other bar­ri­ers to en­try that also need ad­dress­ing, like the re­liance on dual car­riage­ways but that “they’ve been try­ing to crack that nut ever since I‘ve been rac­ing”.

Best Bri­tish All Rounder in 2018 Adam Dug­gleby is sup­port­ive of the idea but doesn’t see the ap­peal. “If they want to do a TT they will want to go fast,” he says.

“The elite rid­ers that only go road rac­ing might just do it for train­ing and think, ‘At least I can com­pete against [Dan] Bigham [na­tional cham­pion] on his road bike’. Even if you do put peo­ple on a road bike they’ll still be quick.

“Bigham has tested his po­si­tion on his road bike as well as the TT bike,” he adds, giv­ing cre­dence to Michael Hutchin­son’s con­cern.

Whether Dis­ley’s idea will catch on or whether it will do what he hopes re­mains to be seen but one thing’s for sure: time tri­alling is los­ing sight of its min­ute­man on a road bike right now and should try ev­ery­thing it can to catch-up.

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