How far can you ride in 24 Hours?
If you jumped on your bike and rode non-stop for twenty-four hours, how far would you get? British 24 Hour time trial champion Graham Kemp managed a record-setting 544.32 miles.
One minute you're riding to work, a five mile-each-way meander, and the next thing you know, you're getting up at four in the morning to get in 100 miles before settling down at your desk. I mean, we've all been there, right? Ok. We really haven't, have we? But then not many of us are attracted to the challenge of riding a 24 Hour time trial, the 'sprint' of the 12 Hour time trial or the two-day grind of a Land’s End to John O'Groats record. Those long-distance 'testers' are a breed apart.
Graham Kemp is the 2019 UK 24-Hour time trial champion. In July he rode over 544 miles in the title race, a mark that also saw him set a new UK Road Time Trial Council record. For good measure he won the Welsh 12 Hour title too, setting a mark of 296.06 miles. All in all, a decent season for the 40 year old who only started riding back in 2007. “I was riding to work, but that year my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and I started riding longer distances before going into work, I think in part just to get out, get away and clear my head.”
“I had always been quite active, I always liked doing cardio sessions rather than weight training at the gym but I just took to cycling, it seemed it suited me.”
The former pole-vaulter, cross-country runner and sometimes gym bunny found himself drawn more deeply into cycling. “I had always been quite active, I always liked doing cardio sessions rather than weight training at the gym but I just took to cycling, it seemed it suited me. I started doing Sportive rides in 2009, then road races with the TLI and British Cycling. I did a two day stage race, where one of the stages was a short time trial. I just did it on my road bike, but loved it, I loved the pain factor,” laughed Kemp. After three years of road racing, Kemp had found his niche. “My family have always been really supportive and I remember in 2015 my dad told me that I had found my 'thing,' something that really suited me.”
Talking to Kemp, it comes as something of a surprise to find someone so in love with long-distance time trials, his enthusiasm is almost evangelical. Everything about the sport seems to delight him, from the training to the equipment to the clothing, even the discomfort of it. It's like he's discovered a pursuit he can lose himself in and every aspect – from nutrition to training to clothing and aerodynamics – intrigues him.
“...you can still improve your performances and results, that's a great motivation, especially when mentality has so much to do with it...”
“I suppose as you get older you can't escape the fact that certain aspects of your ability start to drop off, so you can't be as competitive in road racing and short-distance time trialling. But long distance time trialling is an area you can still be at the sharp end in, you can still improve your performances and results, that's a great motivation, especially when mentality has so much to do with it,” explains Kemp.
Since joining Team Bottrill at the end of 2016 - the squad set up by another formidable time trialling performer Matt Bottrill - Kemp has had his eyes opened and his sights raised. “My training changed a lot when I joined Team Bottrill. I mean, before that I wasn't even using a power meter to race or train and overall my training is much better. I do a lot of core strength work in the gym, because being able to hold your aero position on the bike for those rides is fundamental. And to do that, you obviously need a strong core.”
For all Kemp's new training regime – including “living” on his time trial bike (“you've got to be totally at home on it”) and the core work in the gym, it still means he has to put in long rides. There's no getting away from the fact that you need to cope with the strain and sheer discomfort of riding non-stop for 24 hours. “I'm coached by Gareth Pymm now and he got me doing long rides in May and June, but even on two hour rides I'm on my time trial bike.” Speaking of comfort, Graham broke the 24 hour Record in an Endura D2Z Encapsulator SST suit, which he insists was so comfortable he was in no hurry to take it off, even though he had “been living in it for 24 hours, wearing the same stuff... like being in the same clothes on a flight to Australia or something!”
“I know some guys laugh at the aero socks, but if it's worth even one watt, in an event that lasts 24 hours, that counts.”
“The fit was perfect, there was no chafing and the new pad, which is trimmed down at the front compared to the previous model, was great. Obviously there are a few points of contact – elbows – but I was so happy with it I was dreading any rain and maybe needing to change into my old training suit.”
If Kemp agrees that fit and comfort are important, he is fully on board with the aerodynamic benefits of clothing too. “I know some guys laugh at the aero socks, but if it's worth even one watt, in an event that lasts 24 hours, that counts. Some guys told me they were too hot, but I was prepared to put up with that sort of discomfort for the gains!” laughed Kemp.
And he's not finished. “I'm still quite new to this,” insists Kemp, sounding like a wide-eyed junior rider, “I've never done any training camps and never been in a wind-tunnel to work on my position, so I think there's more to come, it's very exciting. I've got a camp in Mallorca lined up for March 2020 and another in Calpe in April. Then we're planning to go to Chris Boardman's aero centre.”
What's the plan? Kemp is a little coy, but apart from the '24' and the '12' Hour events, he has another challenge in his mind. “Well, I'm going to recce the Lands End to John O'Groats route in May. I know the route is well-established, but I want to ride parts of it, see if I can find anything and make some notes. I'm a bit OCD like that...”
Attention to detail, a delight in riding, an ability to suffer, an obsession with clothing and equipment married to a training programme that leaves nothing to chance. That Land's End to John O'Groats record looks like it might be beaten sooner rather than later.
Footnotes Words by Kenny Pryde, Photos by Kimroy Photgraphy, Waterlane Photography & Eilidh McKibbin.Ewloe, Deeside, UK
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