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James Jenkins journal: trial and error

Rider journals 2021: James Jenkins #03/June

James Jenkins and nine other cyclists are keeping rider journals for The British Continental in 2021. Talented 22-year-old James Jenkins rides for the Richardsons-Trek team and juggles racing with study and work. In his third journal entry, James talks about his rediscovered love of time trialling…

One of the first things I did once I started cycling more than to and from school was to join my local cycling club, the Southend Wheelers. My Dad had been a recreational cyclist for a fair few years, but we both decided to enter the Christmas Pudding 10 Mile TT on the infamous E21 (brought to fame mainly by Alex Dowsett and the Maldon 10s). I was nearly 14 at the time and managed to complete the course in 33:22.

I came into great form last summer and wanted to race … I turned back to my first love: time trialling.

Both my Dad and I were clueless about the right steps to take as a young rider trying to race. In hindsight, we raced a stupid number of times over the following two years making everything up as we went. For context, in 2016 I raced over 80 times, but there was no one there to say this is the wrong thing to do. And you can imagine the state of my single skinsuit! I was just enjoying what I was doing so I did it as much as possible. This was my first year as a junior and also the first time I started racing on the road. It was all completely new but with each race, my Dad and I gradually learned more. We listened to all the advice that was given to us (it turns out cyclists love telling people what they are doing wrong) and took from them what we thought was worthwhile.

After a good winter, I started the second year as a junior in a far better place than I had been in the previous year and picked up a handful of top tens in the Junior National Road Series. Throughout that year I was still time trialling a fair bit, but the focus was slowly becoming more and more on the road. I did not know it at the time but at the end of 2016 I did what was my last open TT for four years. All focus was now on the road, but in the back of my mind I knew I was a half-decent tester and would want to come back to it. 

Photo: Andy Sheridan

In 2019 I did a TT on a road bike on the Southend/Maldon 10 and rode a course PB, just nipping under 21 minutes. It was then I kind of realised I should probably commit to doing a few more of these as it was only going to open doors for me in the sport. 2020 arrived and with it the Covid pandemic. I didn’t want to sit on the turbo on my TT bike while the weather outside was glorious. I stopped training mega seriously and just started riding my bike for the fun of it. I gave myself a rule to add a new road to every endurance ride I would go on, no matter how short the added lane. This kept things fresh when they could have easily become stale. I just really enjoyed riding my bike. Obviously, I am not the only person who experienced this (most racing cyclists did I imagine), but I came into great form last summer and wanted to race, but there was nothing on. I did the odd chain gang once restrictions lifted slightly, but it was not enough to quench my thirst for racing. I turned back to my first love: time trialling.

Starting with a few club tens, then a couple of opens, I was hooked again

Starting with a few club tens, then a couple of opens, I was hooked again. I spent every turbo session over the winter on the time trial bike. I constantly tinkered with my position, set mirrors and webcams to see my form and where I could maybe go faster. I would ask my girlfriend and flatmates to record videos of me to see where there was room for improvement (what must they have thought of me? – half naked, sweating my bollocks off, and then asking for a video of the whole act?).

Photo: Ben Bowler

After another delayed start to the season in 2021, I finally got racing in April. I continued my work on and off the bike to help improve my ability to hold as aggressive a position as possible and managed to win my first open TT appropriately enough out on the same road I started time trialling on. It was great to hit one of my targets for the year almost straightaway.

No matter your age or ability there are always ways to improve and I love that

On a final note, the thing I love the most is chasing PBs. This summer it is my goal to join Alex Dowsett in the sub-20-minute club (although he has gone sub 19 now…) at the Southend/Maldon 10. Back when I started in 2012 the goal was first to go under 30 minutes, then 29, then 28, then 27, and so on. No matter your age or ability there are always ways to improve and I love that. In my first 18 months of testing, I took over ten minutes off my PB. Now I have spent the last year looking for 28 seconds! Anyone can time trial too. In one of the open TTs I did this year there was a young lad from Kent in his first race, old gits like my Dad, and others that race internationally. I don’t think you’d get that in many other sports.

Once road racing starts again, I will continue time trialling and not leave it behind like I did when I became a senior in 2017. If the lack of racing has taught me anything it is that exploring the different avenues of cycling is only a good thing. I have been riding my mountain bike more, exploring more, and pushing myself more in training. 

The current proposed national calendar from British Cycling is not a very inspiring one. August looks to have a decent amount of racing on, but until then there is only really the odd National B every now and then. Without another discipline I would be lost, bored, and unmotivated but fortunately that is not the case. I have a lot to thank time trialling for. 

Featured photo: Dave Haywood

Find out more

James Jenkins journal #2: Crash

James Jenkins journal #1: A not-so-bleak winter

Rider journals 2021: introducing James Jenkins

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