Closed roads for Time Trials in the UK are such a rarity and possibly only an annual occasion at the Blenheim Palace TT, so when the opportunity to ride there came up I couldn't wait to experience what everyone had told me was the best Time Trial event in the UK.
Apart from an evening time trial event I hadn't raced since the National Circuit Race Championships, so was looking forward to getting stuck in again. The race would also be at the end of the final big training block before heading to the Road Worlds and from here on in it'll be putting the final touches to the form. Heading down to Oxford I could feel the big training rides I'd been putting in were weighing down my legs a bit, but the training block had been the longest at home all summer and after the tough racing of July it had been brilliant to stay put for a while and train on familiar and picturesque routes.
Living on the edge of the Peak District and Cheshire countryside is an ideal spot for the rides I needed to be doing and whilst the weather was generally good to me, there were a couple of days when I felt like I was never going to get dry. Normally the Goyt Valley is one of the most beautiful spots to be on a summer's day but a couple of weeks ago I ended up in a fog cloud, hailstorm and river like road, whilst riding through there, I had to keep reminding myself it was in fact August!
The course at Blenheim was an ideal Time Trial route, good road surface, wide sections, narrower sections, grippy uphills, quick downs, fast following corners and plenty to concentrate on which made the 6.5km laps go by really quick. The three narrow bridges made timing the passing of other competitors quite crucial but everyone kept to the general idea that you pass on the right and try and keep left when someone is coming up behind.
The start was to the side of Blenheim Palace itself and then turning to come along the front of the magnificent building there was no time to admire the view as the quick left and right handers led to a fast section directly before the first draggy part. After this we dropped through a short narrow section and over a well-covered cattle grid and up the main drag of the circuit. This lasted a minute or so and then quickly transitioned into another descent and then a fun section of corners, bridges and cattle grids before the final false flat to complete the lap.
It was by no means a slow circuit though and the race covered three laps, the challenge would be pacing the second and third laps, as everyone feels like Fabian Cancellara in the first lap don't they! The atmosphere all around the circuit was great as there were lots of people watching and even more standing at the barriers through the start/finish straight. The marshals and event staff were also working hard keeping the regular Palace visitors from accidentally wandering onto the course although they couldn't do much about the native pheasants! With only two weeks until the Para-cycling Road Worlds, it was brilliant to be able to practice using the whole of the road in the corners.
By the final lap it was just about smashing everything in sight, getting over the little rises and round the hay bales that were protecting an oddly place cattle grid. Coming into the home straight I had no idea just how quick it had been, but I knew it had been great fun and I was ready to sign myself up for next year's event!
Being presented with the trophy by the Duke of Marlborough in the sunshine beside the Palace was a presentation like no other and after the formal part, came the Formula One part. The Champagne shaking! I shook it so hard by the time it had finished fizzing there was very little left for me to guzzle!
Aside from the TT event there was the Brompton World Championships and a sportive where hundreds of riders set off at 8am for up to 100 miles of riding in the local Oxfordshire countryside.
Some of the Blenheim Palace gardens were transformed into a huge village with refreshments and bike related stalls which made for a great atmosphere and a place to meet up with the other competitors in the event. That is the one great thing about cycling, it can involve everyone in the family and there is no doubt the Blenheim event really encompassed all the great things about our sport.