So today was the big day.
8.9km round the inner circle of Regent's Park, matching the distance, if not the road surface, gradient, or speed, of today's Tour de France prologue. The idea being, that when the TroisV sit down later today to eat pizza and watch le tour, we'll have some remote idea (a) of how far the riders are going and (b) how much worse we are than them both as riders and as men.
Having finished work at past midnight last night, returning home knowing I had to fix a flat tyre before bedtime, and making, in hindsight, a poor choice to eat the cold dinner that the Club Mascot's mum had left out for me whilst watching my favourite squadron, I suspected I would not be at my best this morning.
However, after an encouraging pep gurgle from the Club Mascot, and the traditional anointing with vomit, I set out with a spring in my step. Then I went back for my cyclecomputer. Then I got stuck behind the household cavalry. Then I eventually turned up, with a bag full of exciting time trial goodies.
Matt was in his traditional coating of Rapha, and Doug in his temporary insurrection-friendly Speedy USA jersey. I wore as much Garmin Kit as I could muster.
A short warm up lap followed, with apprehensive glances at each other. Were the others as nervous as I was? For the most pointless competition in human history? Turns out they were.
We were all feeling it.
Doug and Matt did a quick recce of the course while I unpacked and fixed my race card to my bike, taking note to avoid the thigh-chafing position that the others had selected for theirs.
Then it was start time. Doug received his instructions. Each lap completed would be signalled to him as he passed the start/finish line. After the first lap, he would also have a signal as to whether his current lap was faster or slower than the previous one. The final lap would be signalled by something awesome. He nodded that he'd understood. He set off. He yelped. He carried on.
The first lap, a scorching 1:39.3, a frightening pace. Matt and I looked at each other. Surely he couldn't keep this up? Sure enough, on lap 2 he was six seconds down on his first, but then he held his time. Each lap around the 1:46/1:47 mark.
A gaggle of Japanese tourists approached the Queen's Gardens, Matt and I considered preventing them crossing the road to make way for Douglas, but it was ok.
His final lap approached. I reached into my bag. I unleashed the cowbell. Doug smirked, but didn't guffaw and fall off in the way I'd hoped. This was serious business.
He flew round the final lap, restoring his pace of the first lap. 15 minutes, 47 seconds final time.
And he looked fine afterwards.
Then it was my turn. Knowing I wouldn't win, I had nevertheless failed to think what a reasonable goal was, or target time. Or anything.
Like Doug I set off too fast. The adrenaline was flowing. But I had the loyal gps to guide me. Heart rate and cadence became the guide. Confusion reigned at the finish line updates: "Faster, no, slower, no the same, no faster, no, argh!". I ignored them (the signals and the signallers) and waited for the bell.
Coming round the final corner, a parkie was about to cross the road ahead of me. "STAY THERE!!!" I bellowed. He hopped back on the pavement, startled. 19:19:8 final time. That would do. I made the turn back towards the finish, apologising to the parkie for waking him from his torpor.
Matt was up. Visibly anxious, but also looking confident. Doug offered him a choice of language for his countdown. I lay on the grass trying not to think about the 1am plate of cold pasta.
Matt chose German.
Cold. Brutal. Efficient.
The language of Ullrich.
Off he went. His first lap was 1:46.:9 He'd learnt from Doug's and my error. He was holding back for the final two. He held his pace, 1:46/1:47 all the way.
Doug was now nervous holding the stopwatch, both for fear of screwing up the single-button technology (that a chimpanzee could have worked), and also because he now stood a chance of winning.
Matt's seventh lap was where it was lost. 1:48.5 when a sub 1:46 was needed. He would have to do two extraordinary laps to win it.
The eight lap. The cowbell sounded at 1:46:8. Impossible? Doug was making 'eeep' noises. Matt arrived on final approach. 1:39:2 The fastest lap of the day. Not enough. Like Ullrich, victory against his brash American rival eluded him.
Final time 16:00:8
13 seconds short of victory.
Matt collapsed on the grass. His lungs and spirit broken.
The race of truth had spoken.
We had been told.
Doug performed an ancient and solemn Potawatomi ceremony of thanks to the gods.
Matt connected with a deeper spiritual self, and acheived a state of zen-like calm and acceptance.
But to the victor the spoils. In this case the chance to buy us breakfast at LMNH (whose wi-fi we used, and whose TdF bunting we admired), and to enjoy a tasty victory beer.
(This photograph was taken at 10:40 AM).
It was a tremendously fun event. I was surprised how nervous we all were, and how much we found out about ourselves over such a short course.
And none of us were sick.
Now the Tour de France is about to start. As someone who will today probably go faster than us once said:
"Vive le tour. Vive le tour forever."