East London Velo – Six days of winter Round 3

Pete - Hog Hill 2

Photos courtesy of Fadil Mokchane (www.twitter.com/fadilmokhchane)

After a pretty woeful attempt at racing in 2014 (Trinity Park was not kind to me!) I was determined to have a better year this year. I’ve been busy racking up the miles in horrendous weather and spending hours in November and December sweating on the rollers like a Polar bear in the Sahara. Part of my master plan was to race a few early season crits to see where I stood. East London Velo’s six days of winter is held on the daunting Hog Hill circuit and provides a 4ths only race and a 2/3/4 race over a six week series. Having read up on the circuit I was pretty nervous, like really nervous, images of being blown out the back on the first lap were filling my head and I really I didn’t fancy a two hour round trip for ten minutes of racing…

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After a healthy dose of Rule 5 (not entirely self prescribed), I chose the second race of the series to be my debut. My bunch riding skills needed work and I still wasn’t sure whether I was fit enough but I joined 40-45 other chaps with nowhere better to be on a Saturday afternoon at Redbridge Cycling Centre. If nothing else this was reassurance that if I had lost my marbles, at least I wasn’t the only one. Sadly the notorious Hog Hill puncture fairy caught up with me and my first race of 2015 ended after five laps. I’d been warned it was terrible in the wet but hadn’t realised that I could take a lap out (to swap wheels) before getting back in the race. Lesson learnt for next time! Despite the brief time spent actually racing I’d felt pretty good and got round ok with the bunch.

Roll forward a week and  I took to the start again with (with spare wheels this time I might add). I’d warmed up by spending fifteen minutes on the rollers steadily building the intensity with a few harder efforts towards the end. So far so good, I had mounted and dismounted the rollers without ending up on my arse (which is more than can be said for some poor chap that stacked it next to the line). I save my roller acrobatics for the privacy of my own garage. Trinity Park taught me that my warm up needed to be harder, especially for short races like these. It’s no good getting into your stride ten minutes in as the bunch wont wait. The race was to be 45 minutes plus 5 laps which would be roughly an hour in total. The course was dry and the wind straight down the start/finish straight (meaning there was also a nasty headwind into the bottom hairpin and on the approach to the Hoggenberg).

Pete - Hog Hill

Like Where’s Wally this.

The start went well and I got myself into the front third of the field in preparation for the first ascent of the hill. Many go out the back in the first few laps and you need to keep your wits about you to avoid getting boxed in and dragged out with them. After a couple of laps I settled into a rhythm, stay close to the front on the hill, recover (a bit!) on the descent, choose my line carefully for the sharp right at the bottom of the hill and carry as much speed as possible into the bottom hairpin before getting back into position for the hill. I found I was moving up the field on the hill by choosing my wheels carefully. Still carrying a slight weight penalty over many I was catching others on the descent without too much effort. This left the bottom of the course as my danger zone. Despite terrifying me on the first couple of laps I was carrying good speed through the sharp 130 degree right hander at the bottom of the hill and positioning myself well on the bottom straight. There was always a bit of a kick coming onto the straight but it was good fun jockeying for position.

My only goal at this point was to remain upright, stay out of trouble and get round so I camped firmly in the middle of the bunch and sucked wheel like a pro. At roughly 30 minutes two went off the front and remained away but in sight, probably about 10-20 seconds ahead of the bunch. After another couple of laps it became clear that they weren’t tiring so the pace shot up as the bunch tried to bring them back. This took me out of my ‘happy place’ and I could really start to feel the fatigue in my legs. The pace dropped after a lap or two and it wasn’t long after that the 5 laps to go board came out.

By now I’d already eclipsed my 2014 racing efforts so mentally I was ticking the laps off with legs that were getting increasingly heavy. On the last approach to the hill Andrew LoveLock (Interbike RT) went off the front and the pack chased hard to bring him back. With not much left in the legs I dug in and literally emptied myself. The effort was worth it though as I caught a couple on the line and finished 19th (of 34 finishers). I’m not threatening 3rd cat just yet, but once I’d stuffed my lungs back down I was pretty happy with the result. To give some scale to the graph below my threshold heart rate (i.e. what in theory would be sustainable for an hour time trial) is around 170 bpm. I was hitting about 180-185 bpm every lap, which is about 90-95% of max and blew through this on the last climb of the hill and set up camp on my maximum heart rate. No wonder I couldn’t speak after the finish.

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If you got through that waffle you deserve a medal. I’ll likely race one more round of the winter series before getting back to training through February and March. Exams in April mean my actual season isn’t likely to start until late April or May.

Strava data below:

https://www.strava.com/activities/245444840

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Adding lightness

Krypton Exige

It’s easy to focus on power but I’ve been learning of late that there is far more to cycling than how many watts your legs can put out. Weight is the other obvious area for improvement but I’ve picked out a few others areas to work on in the early part of the year.

Weight wise I’ve managed to shed the aftermath of the obligatory Christmas binge and get back to a respectable 75 kgs. I reckon another two kgs can be lost before the season kicks off properly. ‘Add lightness’ as Colin Chapman once said. Saying that I’ll never be the cycling equivalent of a Lotus 7. A Lotus Exige perhaps….

My flexibility is pretty rubbish so I’ll keep working on stretching exercises and strengthening my core muscle groups to achieve that ever lower body position. I’m still a little too ‘more tea vicar’ for my liking.

Pedalling efficiency was something that Russell at Marginal Gains picked up on during my ramp test. Whilst I’m fairly smooth there are still improvements to be made in using the full pedal stroke. I’ve been doing a lot of sessions on the rollers which have improved this no end. Improving core strength should also help with stability whilst at higher cadences.

Last but by no means least, skills! I found last year that my bunch riding skills were woeful. My cornering was shoddy, I lacked confidence in the bunch and generally wasted energy by braking too much. This one should be the most fun to improve as it will only improve by entering races.

Are we nearly there yet?

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One question that has been bugging me for the last six months was ‘how do I know when I’m fit enough?’

I spent October, November and December steadily plugging away through the dark mornings and the grim weather, increasing the distance each weekend whilst chucking in a session or two of 2 x 20 intervals where I could in the week. Whilst not exactly a training plan to make Team Sky envious, looking at training load at least I appeared to be fitter in December than I was during the Summer. I felt pretty good, but how does ‘good’ compare to your garden variety 4th cat?

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Winter miles without a wet arse, sponsored by SKS mudguards….

To answer this I enlisted the services of Russell Hampton at Marginal Gains Cycling (http://www.marginalgainscycling.co.uk/) and took on the ramp test. Best not to google that before giving it a go as all you will find are tales of vomiting, seeing spots and jelly legs. Which pretty much sums it up to be honest! The test takes on average between eight and fifteen minutes and starts at a low resistance level.The aim is to maintain a steady cadence, say 90 rpm, whilst the resistance increases until you can’t sustain that cadence any longer. The weirdest part is that nearer the end of the test, when the seconds pass like minutes, you’re breathing like a hyperventilating rhinoceros, seeing spots and concentrating equally on 90 rpm and not vomiting, it just ends. Like that its over. The results give you an indication of your functional threshold power (from which power zones can be derived) and your heart rate zones. I’d already worked out my heart rate zones using the British Cycling threshold test but this was a great chance to see how the two correlated.

And the results? Well, pretty good actually. I’m no Marcel Kittel obviously, but power wise I’m pretty strong which is reassuring, stronger than I thought in fact. Worth remembering here that I’m heavier than your average racing whippet (and not just because of all the Jaffa Cakes and Smarties I consumed over Christmas!) so I need to be putting out better numbers than my lighter competitors just to level the playing field.

Wattbike-Trainer

Would I recommend Wattbike based torture? It’s well worth doing if you want to get an idea of where you are power wise. Marginal Gains combine this with a personal evaluation which assesses training, nutrition, goals, pedalling efficiency and strengths/weaknesses. Overall, I’d put it right up there with a proper bike fit.