The race of truth: riding the Mersey Roads 24hr Time Trial 21st-22nd July 2007 - by Andy Barratt

It’s almost comical how one seems to forget the aching muscles, the coldness and the tiredness that the 24-hour Time Trial places onto your body. This year was very much the same with little warmth from the sun, which had selfishly decided to ration itself to a bare minimum. Quina Brook circuit was a wash out, with a sign-saying road closed due to flooding. Mersey Roads Cycling Club had decided to use the Preece-Espley-Preece circuit. I didn’t mind, in fact just the thought of that ruddy great hill on the Battlefield stretch was a bit daunting.
Alan Purchase, a founder member of the Kidsgrove Wheelers looked set for the task in hand, in fact from where I was standing he looked better prepared than myself. Alan is a bit of a mile muncher, riding Manchester airport and back to Stoke two to three times a week just for the love of cycling. 

As we approached the start line a lone piper played his bagpipes to each rider that passed by, there is something about bagpipes that send a shiver down my spine whenever played. Spirits were amazingly high despite the rotten weather. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 I’m off. The first six hours I found myself constantly changing my wet weather jacket, on, off, on, off, it was bloody annoying to say the least.

For the first 100 miles I couldn’t seem to get comfortable in my tri-bars and my back was beginning to ache, so I decided to change my bike for the remainder of the race. When looking back it was a wise decision. I saw my team mate Alan several times as we passed and exchanged a friendly wave to one another. 

The darkness slowly started to draw in and I pulled into Preece Heath and collected my lights from family members Pauline and Barry. At Preece roundabout there were lots of people shouting encouragement, which is always great to see every year. As I always say, ”A shout of encouragement is worth five miles or more in my book”. All our friends, family and club members had turned out in the awful weather to give Alan and myself a shout and to help us out. It made me feel very proud and humble, to say the very least. 

190 miles had passed by on my speedometer and I felt it time to pull in on Espley Island and have a well-deserved brew and a sleep in the back of my friend Mark Harrison’s van. Just as I was dozing off I heard a voice I recognised, it was Alan, he had just pulled up for a brew, when asked how he was feeling he said,” I feel good”. I knew Alan was going to make it, as he said on one club night, “I will finish the 24 Hour, regardless”. 

As I pushed on through the night and into the early hours of the morning I decided to take my third change of clothing as I was soaked to the skin yet again, a mixture of rain and sweat. Just before I did so I felt myself slipping into a bad patch, feeling sick and slightly dizzy - due to forgetting to drink from my water bottle, just before Espley Island? I wasn’t sure if I needed to be sick, or run to the loo. Either way I knew I was in trouble. I had pulled over, unclipped and slumped my head into my hands that were resting on my handlebars. I had a breather and just hoped that my wife Angie and friend Mark were at Espley Island and not Preece Island as was planned. I rode a few more miles and finally made it to Espley Island and there they were with a brew ready for me, I can’t tell you how thankful I was. I had a bowl of soup and drank my brew and felt like someone had given me a new set of legs.

The morning had broken and Alan and I were directed to the finishing circuit at the same time. By this time I had clocked approximately 285 miles and to push for my PB of 332 miles I knew I had to do something special. In the state that I was in with only three and a half hours to go it was looking like a PB might just be possible. I had a tin of Red Bull and a chocolate bar and gave it everything my legs had left to give. I finally made it to the finishing circuit and raced around the twisty slippery bends trying to notch up the mileage, bit by bit. I looked at my speedo and it was reading 325 miles with only a few minutes left to go, my PB was slipping away, and so was my strength. 

Roy and Joan came past me several times in the car shouting and applauding - along with family members Angie, Barry and Pauline. Adrian Humpage from Stone Wheelers Cycling Club was at the very top of a hill, so he didn’t see my good side as I got to the top. Club members Chris Patterson and Mark had cycled out from Stoke to watch Alan and myself on the finishing circuit. There were simply loads of cyclists and non-cyclists giving masses of support. I crossed my final timekeeper to finish in exactly the same spot as the previous year with a provisional distance of 327 miles, in 53rd position. Alan notched up a very respectable first time 24 Hour mileage of 238.71 miles and ended up in 68th position. 

The race of truth…