Up up up!

The Ronde was followed by a few days bumbling around Paris with the future wife. I even managed to fit a few miles in between the patisserie, baguettes and crepes.

fat tire tour

Obligatory strava

With the Ronde behind me and fresh legs after a week or so off the bike I was keen to get back to racing. The crash in August had set my fitness back and also knocked my confidence a bit. I’d felt fine at the Easterly Leaves but I’d found it difficult to relax at Cyclopark even though it’s a track I know well. Road races tend to be calmer, partially due to the distance but also I think due to the fact that they are held on open roads and people look out for each other. There’s something about a closed road/circuit that makes people do daft things (yes, yes, myself included).

Cyclopark 4th only – 26 September

Jamil and I had trekked down together and devised a master plan. It was hardly rocket science but moving up early would be key.The race started pretty steadily and stayed that way due to a strong headwind down the finish straight. It’s always windy at Cyclopark but I think this was the strongest wind I’d raced in here. It did a good job of keeping the bunch together as any breaks ultimately went pop by the end of the straight. A few attacks stayed away longer but they all came back.

With 3 laps to go I moved up a bit, crossing the line on the last lap I was probably 3rd or 4th wheel. I stole a glance at my heart rate and wished I hadn’t, note to self, ignore data whilst racing. When we hit the back straight a mountain of a man jumped on the front and proceeded to inflict some serious damage. This was good though as we were strung out for the second half of the lap which tends to take away the opportunity for silliness and weed out the weaker guys at the same time. I managed to stay fifth or sixth wheel into the bottom corner before a pedal strike in front of me followed by a massive high side for the poor chap promoted me to fourth wheel. Good example as ever of why it’s so important to get in the first few wheels.

At this point I was starting to think “Hang on, nothing has gone wrong yet”. Mountain man went early and put us in the gutter, does this man ever tire?! With no shelter from the cross wind it was hard work just staying on his wheel. Looking at the data it took 750 watts just to get back on his wheel. A chap from Dulwich Paragon got the jump with about 50 metres to go, I followed and found myself in clear air but unable to get round mountain man before the line. 750 watts for the final 15 seconds wasn’t enough but it got me 3rd place. Yes!!!! Jamil bagged 8th too so a good day all round.

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Power had been unremarkable, perhaps because of the 6 bpm I found above what I’d thought my max heart rate was? 7 points in the bag though, maybe 3rd cat could be doable this year? Clearly though more suffering was required to make that happen. 186 bpm for a lap proved that points don’t come easily.

  • Strava
  • Avg: 225 watts
  • NP: 253 watts
  • Avg speed: 38 kph

Bonus points for anyone that makes the link to cycling from the photo below?

Berties

September – Full gazzzz

Enforced rest killed off the second half of August. It wasn’t entirely unproductive though as I watched the first season of Game of Thrones and ate too much whilst off work. Good times! I wouldn’t like to make a habit of falling off though. The smashed up shoulder was one thing, but jeeeez road rash is nasty. Still, I feel like I’ve got good value for money out of the NHS this year.

CC Sudbury 3/4 – 23 August

No racing on my part despite having an entry for this one. Strict instructions from the Physio and (more importantly) the future wife relegated me to bottle duty.

Ollie, Justin, Danni and Andy were in for VCR and young James had got entry on the line too. Man, what a race to miss! Still, an afternoon spent in the sun watching others suffer isn’t a bad way to spend a Sunday.

A rolling course and a windy day kept the bunch together until the last half lap. Justin got away with 4 others  and held on for a stunning 3rd place and 3rd cat with it. My last lap bottle pass was, of course, the difference. Marginal gains and all that.

Easterly  Falling Leaves RR 3/4 – 6 September

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I’m not really sure how I ended up racing this one. I’d not managed many miles at all since the crash and with the Ronde trip a week away I thought this could be the ideal tune up. Jamil and Matt were going anyway so I had a lift over and the possibility of a race or a lumpy training ride home. Despite 12 reserves I got EOL somehow. By this point I was kind of looking forward to suffering on my own terms riding home.

No warm up at all (grateful now for long neutralised sections) and we were off. I’d spoken to Ben and Danni literally on the line. Ben loves the course, Danni hates it. Go figure, I was going to hate it too. The course profile reminded me of this picture. I really don’t feel like I spent much time descending. There was a draggy climb before the line, then an uphill kick over the line and another deceptively long drag over the top of the hill followed by a stonking short descent.

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First laps I felt terrible, I mean really terrible, like my legs were encased in concrete. Amazingly, that passed and by mid distance. I was feeling pretty good. Hurrah! The course was hurting people and it was encouraging to see that I was hurting no more than anyone else. Maybe the enforced rest had done me good? Inevitably something had to go wrong.

And it did, with half a lap to go I hit a rock the size of a house brick (where had that been the previous four laps!?) on the descent and pinch flatted the front. Frustrated doesn’t begin to cut it. With no neutral service and no tube I was grateful to the Marshall from Newmarket CC that gave me a lift back to HQ. 10 miles is a long walk in cleats.

  • Strava
  • Avg: 187 watts
  • NP: 230 watts
  • Avg speed: 37 kph

Cyclopark 3/4 – 10 September

Back here again with the dream team. Ollie had the prospect of making 2nd cat with 5th place or better. Justin had the potential for another great result if he could get away solo. I’m not sure what I was doing here really, especially as I was off to France for a 115 mile epic in two days time.

IMG_4142

With the season winding down the numbers were probably in the thirties. A bit lower than ideal for sandbagging. Thankfully this one was considerably more civilised than the last 3/4 I raced here, or at least it felt that way. Average power was similar, but a lower average power for a higher average heart rate suggests I’d lost some of my top end. I hung on for the duration, shorter thankfully due to fading light, but got gapped at the start of the finish straight and sat up. Ollie took the win and 2nd cat with some style and Justin bagged 9th. I remained upright. A good day out for VCR.

  • Strava
  • Avg power: 247 watts
  • Avg speed: 40 kmh

La Ronde Picarde – 12 September

‘It’s not a race’ is a phrase I’d heard countless times in the build up to the Ronde. Firstly, someone needs to tell the French this, and secondly I think for everyone it deteriorates into a personal battle against cross winds, cramp and generally paying the price for going waaay too hard too early.

For the record, I bloody love this event. Gran Fondos on the continent are absolutely nothing like sportives in the UK. They are timed, held on partially closed roads (bit like a UK road race) and typically mass start. Sadly this year the local authorities had cracked down a bit and the mass start had been downgraded to large waves. Either way, the first 10 miles was basically a road race and totally full gas. I dropped out of the lead group from our wave and ended up riding a team time trial with five french guys. I tell you, their bunch riding skills are something else. Probably the smoothest through and off I’ve ever ridden.

After about 20-30 minutes of chasing back on we sat up (one of the chaps adopted the role of road captain with the air of a retired pro. He was still in control 60 miles later in the larger group that we fell back into) and waited for the next group to come through. We had picked up about five to ten other guys on our travels but frustratingly none would work, well, except for a legendary old boy that had the legs of an ironman triantelope. At this point I had a good chat with another of the french guys. He pretty much perfectly summed up the Ronde as somewhere between a race and a sportive. If you feel good, you go for it, if you don’t, you sit up and wait for the next group.

Soon after we were caught by the next bunch on the road. This had clubmates Phill, Brett and Andy in it. We stuck together until the split which left Phill and I mad enough to continue on to the forest and another 40 miles. I had good supplies this year, going so far as to stuff a third bottle in my jersey pocket as well as enough gels to choke an elephant. The third bottle paid off a treat I might add. I stuck with that group for the rest of the ride and got round in 5 hours 14. I’d set a target of 5 hours 30 so I was pretty chuffed with that. Next time, sub 5 hours.

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Strava

Use it or lose it

August had felt like it was going to be a good month. Weight back down after hollibobs, decent fitness and legs that felt pretty good.

Lee Valley Velopark 4th cat – 1 August

lee valleyI’d felt pretty good after Cyclopark considering the kicking I’d taken so I was hoping to take some form into this race. I’m not greedy, a point would do. Even one point would double my total for the year. I’d raced here back in May and that had been a messy affair with a couple of crashes. I’ve still got the cassette imprint in the back of my neck as a memento. Matt had come down with me and we were both hoping for a good race.

The circuit is fast but it flows nicely and it seemed no one was particularly interested in first lap heroics. A prime on the third lap wound the pace up a bit so I used this as an opportunity to test my legs. I crossed the line 3rd, legs seemed good!

A few breaks went away but only one ever looked like having the legs to make it. Matt had made it across to this one and they looked to be working well. After a few laps the bunch saw the threat and brought them back. Matt and I tried our own break a few laps later and were joined by a guy from London Dynamo. I say we, it was mostly Matt. Our mid race break planning session hadn’t been exactly subtle either so it’s no surprise that we were brought back pretty quickly. That and the fact that I only contributed one pitiful turn to our effort.

The bell was ringing before I knew it and with half a lap to go I was way too far back. Sprinting for 20th hadn’t been in my game plan. I don’t think the circuit is hard enough which makes the last lap terrifying. It’s a shame as it’s a fantastic facility but I think I’ll save this one for 3rd cat. If that ever happens.

Little Bentley 10 – 5 August

Little Bentley had been on my calendar for a while as I’d heard it was a fast course. I’d gone well in both my previous (and only!) tens and put in respectable times considering the road bike handicap.

In a familiar routine I went out way way too hard before settling down into a rhythm. I took the first turn and found myself staring at the finish. Great you might think but it was about 8 miles sooner than I expected. Shit.

After rolling back to the start somewhat sheepishly I had another crack at it. I got caught pretty early which gave me someone to follow through the turns. I would have ended up in Clacton otherwise. The course is rolling and with the turns I found it hard to pace. Seems the 300 watt ten is still eluding me but I was stoked with 24:45. Have to admit a TT bike is getting increasingly tempting…..

Mid Suffolk RR 3/4 – 9 August

mid suffolkI’d raced two road races earlier in the year (as opposed to circuit races), one the Divs and the other a 2/3/4. The Mid Suffolk was the first of two 3/4 entries I had lined up so I was hoping for a more level playing field. I’d recce’d the course beforehand with Matt and scared myself silly having seen the hill before the finish. Prep had been good with a decent taper and a gentle ride out the day before to spin the legs.

I’d travelled down with Matt and Jamil in what was fast becoming a despondent 4th cat support group. Sign on and warm up had gone by in a blur of silliness which helped with pre race nerves. Besides, its supposed to be fun! VCR had numbers in this one with Ollie, Justin, Ben plus me. It was a course that suited all of them but me really. A certain Joe Skipper had appeared on the start sheet so if there was ever a break to make it was the one with the elite triantelope in it.

As if on cue Joe went away with another from the gun. A brief neutralisation two laps later saw the race brought back together and when we were racing again no one was quite sure whether the break was being given their time back. Net result was 12 men getting up the road with representation from pretty much every major club except the Colchester clubs. A proper face palm moment.

Ollie, Justin and Matt attempted to bridge over to the break after it became clear that the bunch was happy to spend the remaining laps like a club run in the sun. Ben, Jamil and I did our best to disrupt the chase and mark the moves that followed but they came back with a couple of laps to go. I’d been climbing well and feeling much better than I expected I led the bunch into the last ascent of the hill only for my legs to cramp and fall off at the bottom. Still haven’t got to the bottom of that one but with the break gone and no points on offer I rolled in 31st or so with a rather broken Matt. Jamil did well to keep the bunch at bay for half a lap and finish 14th. No result but I was starting to feel like I was capable of getting round a hilly course and racing for a result rather than just making up the numbers. All in all a good day’s racing. Decent tanning too.

Birthday crit (Hog Hill 4th cat) – 15 August

I’d meant to be racing on the Thursday before but that race had been cancelled due to weather. As a result I had fresher legs than I’d had all year and good form to go with it. Surely this was my day? I’d made a point of warming up well and I was feeling great to be honest, 300 watts was feeling like 200 watts and I had a plan in my mind. The whistle went and I got myself into the first ten wheels and prepared to do as little as possible for the next 45-50 minutes.

It was a little too early to say ‘it was all going so well’ but on the second lap I caught a wheel in front approaching the bottom hairpin and threw myself at the floor at around 32 mph (thank you Garmin). It was one of those things, I thought he was going right, he went left and wheels clashed. My wheel shouldn’t have been where it was to be honest but I’d been keen to stay well positioned, perhaps a little too keen. The bike looked decidedly secondhand and I seemed to be leaking from a few places. At the time I only noticed the mess I’d made of my legs but I soon realised that my right arm wasn’t quite doing what it was supposed to.

I’d brought my parents along to watch what was to be their first circuit race. A spectacular crash viewed from a distance and an agonizing wait whilst the first aider carted me back up the hill hadn’t been what I’d had in mind for their first race. With the adrenalin wearing off in the car home it felt pretty bad. My head was pounding and I’d landed heavily on my shoulder. Having broken a collar bone before it was all feeling rather familiar.

Watford A&E did a great job of patching me up and checking out my shoulder it must be said. They even made me a cup of tea! No broken bones but a heavy concussion and a torn AC ligament meant some enforced rest coming up. At least thanks to Tinkoff Saxo I can say it happens to the best of us (UCI World Champs – Richmond 2015).tinkoff

The crash bid goodbye to a carefully cultivated late summer peak but a trip to the pub that night for my 30th served as a reminder that there is much more to life than racing bikes. The time off the bike gave me some time to rest up and spend some quality time with the future wife. Sharing her hand on FB wasn’t perhaps the greatest idea, but I won the next five hands without the help (honest).

recoveryHow was the bike I hear you ask? My beautiful month old Black Betty was looking decidedly secondhand after the crash. I’d also trashed my helmet and wrecked my skin suit. The boys at Cycle Evolution did a great job making her as good as new again. Yellow Jersey were also fantastic and had the bike repaired and the claim settled within two weeks.

Remember, you’re having fun…

IbizaThe start of July was mostly spent burning off a few too many boozy weekends in June (see obligatory pool side Ibiza leg photo above) and getting my fitness back to where it had been. I tell you, it’s frustrating when the real world gets in the way of a well crafted training plan (Tongue firmly in cheek!). So here are a few highlights (or lowlights in some cases) from July.

Hog Hill 3/4 – 16 July

I foolishly ventured back to Hog Hill for a mid-week 3/4 race. Originally with a buddy, but I ended up racing on my own. For reference, my last 3/4 here ended about 30 minutes prematurely with me blowing out my arse. Not much has changed it seems. Tough course with some serious characters racing. There’s a big jump in ability between your garden variety 4th cat and a serious 3rd cat. Plus, the weaker riders aren’t going to choose Hog Hill for a mid-week crit. Sensible chaps.

Still, I lasted about 5 minutes longer before getting dropped this time. How’s that for progress?

https://www.strava.com/activities/347617951

Langham 10 – 22 July

Second attempt at a ten and I knocked 10 seconds off my PB with a 25:31. Average power was a PB equaling 284 watts. Solid. Any training benefit was immediately counteracted with celebratory nuggets.

https://www.strava.com/activities/351903501

nuggets

Cyclopark 4th cat – 25 July

Now this is where the excuses begin. I honestly reckon this could have been a great result, but, well, it wasn’t. Returning to the scene of my sole point with Jamil I was hoping for good things. We both were to be honest, think of it as a mid-season 4th cat lack of points paranoia. Instead of making excuses I’ll just leave this quote here, taken from a chap on a forum I frequent, which about sums up several of my recent races, including this one!

“I attacked a few times but no-one was willing to work with me, sat comfortably in the bunch for most of the race, was in a great position/leading position/first 5 riders with 250M to go and then <insert something bad here> and finished about 25th.”

17th in my case. Next time perhaps.

https://www.strava.com/activities/353741525

Cyclopark 3/4 – 30 July

Those words again, 3/4, more than a little apprehensive of this one. Sole mission, survive. I had no illusions of grandeur, just dreams of survival. The difference between a 4th cat only race and a 3/4 race seemingly is that everyone is strong enough to attack the bunch and no-one is willing to let anyone get away. Cyclopark is a tough circuit but its no Hog Hill, I was hoping that would be the difference.

You can see where this leads, to the most ridiculous set of intervals I’ve ever experienced. I was practically begging to be dropped by the end with the words “Remember, you’re having fun” ringing in my ears (Thank you Tom Starmer). Average heart rate in particular says it all. 175 bpm is what I would look to average for a 25 minute TT effort, which is usually a well paced climb towards a pre-planned oblivion, 175 bpm for an hour is a new level of uncomfortable.

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I was racing with two buddies from my club which was good fun, they both had good prospects of points, possibly even a win, whilst I was purely pack fodder. The inevitable attacks began almost immediately but no-one was getting away. Ollie and Justin each had a dig with the pair of us still in the bunch running interference. No joy though. Someone went down with about 6 or 7 laps to go which split the bunch and left me chasing hard the length of the back straight, Ollie came whoosing past like I was standing still but we both got back on (only just in my case). Simple maths is surprisingly difficult when in oxygen debt but I eventually worked out that there were only 12 or 13 of us left in the lead group. Suddenly, the odds had improved!

Not enough seemingly, the inevitable last lap pace change came early and gave it everything to hold on for 11th or 12th. Ollie bagged 3rd and Justin 8th. Not a bad team result all in. About 20-25 others hadn’t hung on to the lead group so I was happy with that, especially as the lead group was entirely 3rd cats with the exception of Justin, the world’s fastest 4th cat.

Nuggets well earned that night.

https://www.strava.com/activities/357613352

Topping up the roadie tan

Rovers time trial – Jock Wadley x 2 (14 miles) TT pic

Photo courtesy of Rick Laws

Conditions were ideal for a rematch with the Wadley circuit. My last TT had been mostly into a 20 mph headwind. Hardly conducive to a fast time, but good for power. Whilst a little too long for a threshold test (which should ideally be 20 minutes) this was a good check on progress. In March i’d averaged just under 260 watts over an agonisingly long 42:28. Whilst the time had been long the ride had been pretty well paced with a decent negative split. https://www.strava.com/activities/271669199 My aim had been to break 37 minutes. In the back of my mind I was more concerned with power than time, especially as I was riding this on a road bike. I set off pretty hard, probably too hard but I knew the course and there was time to be had on the Birch Bumps. I settled into a rhythm and knocked off the first lap. The second was agony, paying the price now for going out too hard. I crossed the line in 37:56. A long 37, not quite what I was after but a good result. Power wise i’d averaged 273 watts this time out. Power is skewed a bit over the shorter duration but still a healthy improvement over the last time out. I think there’s a bit more to come here as I did myself in a bit early. I need to give a 10 a go as that’s an ideal distance for a threshold test. I reckon a 300 watt 10 is possible before the end of the season. Going to take some work but its all good training. I’m not a natural tester by any stretch, long durations chucking out big watts are not my strength. Frankly, i’m just a bit of a wuss. Saying that though i’m already googling bar extensions….

https://www.strava.com/activities/317621243

Abberton Road Race 2/3/4

Photos courtesy of Matt Wing. Abberton 3Now this i’d been looking forward to. Local course again, the infamous Jock Wadley, with a strong field but no Elites or 1st cats. I wasn’t really sure what that would do to the race. Several said that the 2nds would basically try to thin out the 3rds and 4ths early on in the race. Not sure I like the sound of that. Weather was good, perhaps a bit too good. Wind was a nuisance but not really a factor. I was starting the race with loads of familiar faces. There were three in from VCR, four from Interbike and a whopping eight Rovers in the race. Just like a big chain gang really. The race distance had increased from last year to 72 miles plus an 8 mile neutral zone. That’s 11 laps of the Wadley, bit of a shock to the system.

I don’t really recall the neutral lap as the pace was pretty quick from the off. Once again I had no idea where the wind was coming from. Really must work on that. But then how do you work on that? Stand in a field slowly rotating? Who knows. Abberton 1 A break went away fairly early on, only four riders though initially so the bunch wasn’t too keen on chasing them down. Eventually seven were away and the pace ramped up for a couple of laps. Felt that! I was a little less on the limit than the Regionals so I was feeling confident at this point that I’d see the end. The break was caught and the pace settled down, plenty of attacks but none sticking so it was a case of closing the gaps and staying as far forward as possible now. Enter awesome photo below (courtesy of Matt Wing). I think this photo sums up racing to be honest, horribly uncomfortable but i’m sharing the pain with a few buddies. I think at this point Rads pointed out that 4 or 5 was pretty much the most number of laps either of us had ever done of the Wadley circuit. Not sure I needed to know that.Abberton 2 The race did settle down which is a good point to mention nutrition. The first hurdle to on the bike nutrition is getting your heart rate low enough so that digestion is possible. Whilst quicker, inhalation doesn’t seem to get the carbs to where they are needed. Its a case of consciously remembering that you’re burning off calories, particularly carbs at a rate of 60-80 grams per hour. I tend to take a couple of gels and a couple of baked cereal bars (not the crispy kind, they get stuck in your throat!) and eat one every 30 minutes after the first hour. Drinking is important too, its far too easy to forget.

I had thought I’d drunk enough but clearly not as with one to go my right hamstring went ping, followed closely by my left quad and left hamstring. Errrr less than ideal! I managed to shake that out and get my legs back under control. Cramp isn’t something that has bothered me much but this was agonising. I could barely turn the pedals. Whilst this little drama was unfolding I was still trying to keep up in the bunch and not drop back. A bunch sprint was inevitable at this point and I wanted to make sure I could get out when it all kicked off.

Disaster struck on the last time up the New Road, literally within a mile of the line my legs went again. The weird thing is that I wasn’t putting much effort in when it happened. But like the lap before my muscles seized one by one, but much much worse this time. Cadence dropped and try as I might my legs wouldn’t do what I wanted. I dropped out of the bunch, partly because the legs weren’t listening but also because I didn’t want to cause carnage by dropping back through a sprinting bunch. I got my legs back under control and rolled in 53rd of 54. Arse.

Like the Regionals power hadn’t set any new records. I’d positioned myself fairly well for the most part. Only for a lap or so did I let myself slip and then spend the following 2 laps getting back up to where I had been. I thought i’d drunk enough (2 x 750 ml) but I think the combination of the heat and not having raced that distance before did me in. Most of the guys got cramp too, just on the other side of the finish line…..

https://www.strava.com/activities/320249575

Trinity Park – E/1/2/3/4

So, back here again. I’d raced the Trinity Park crits last year and got dropped unceremoniously every race. Mostly within the first 15 minutes. I realise now that I was nowhere near fit enough last year. I reckon I’m fit enough this year but perhaps not on the back of a hard weekend’s riding and with legs still full of cramp. My sole point also conspired against me here and put me into the second group which meant I was starting with a handicap. We would not only have to keep the scratch group at bay but also bring back the first group of 4ths.

As ever the race was a series of 30 second and minute intervals. Positioning wasn’t great, I seemed to always end up in the wind on a certain part of the circuit. I spent more time chasing back on than I did hiding in the group. I did however seem to be closing gaps through the corners so that’s progress. I’d forgotten how brutal this track is on the body, particularly the wrists and back. I got gapped when the scratch group came through and as my back had been in bits for the previous ten minutes I sat up and dropped out. Not cool. In hindsight I should have dropped the tyre pressures and I think my legs were still recovering from the Abberton. These races are on my doorstep though so whilst I literally feel like I’m getting an hour long kicking I’ll be back next week.

https://www.strava.com/activities/322791829

Not finishing the Abberton in the bunch had been pretty crushing and dropping out of Trinity Park (again) was another blow to the confidence. Time to remind myself that my sole goal for this season had been to score a point. I’m already ahead of where I want to be and i’m only half way through the season. A long weekend off the bike will hopefully recharge the batteries and then its time to hit Trinity Park again next week.

Plenty of racing, not enough writing

Lea Valley

So I left this back in February having raced a few rounds of ELV’s Winter series. Generally they went pretty well. My main aim had been to get round, not get dropped and see how I compared to a field of 4th cats. There was no risk of sprinting to glory or soloing off the front any time soon but I was about on par with your garden variety 4th cat. A Sauber or a Force India if you like.

A combination of a mad month or two at work perfectly coinciding with an exam looming meant that the blog took a back seat for March and April. I’d taken a month off the bike whilst I studied for my last exam (post Ronde) and could barely function when I got back on the bike. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again, no sir-ree! So come mid-April and with the exam done it was time to get back out there. I’d managed to keep the miles up and if anything actually improved my fitness through March. Not sure how that bodes for exam performance…..

With the clocks changing, chain gangs starting, weather improving, April was all good! So much so I completely forgot about the blog. Since then I’ve had a pretty good few months, lots of hard miles and plenty of suffering. It has to be said that having your legs torn off by Mike and/or Tom every week is still a hell of a lot more fun that gurning at the garage wall waiting for the longest 20 minute interval in history to tick by.

Here’s a (very) brief round up of what I’ve been up to.

Eagle Road Club Good Friday Races 3/4 – Redbridge

In hindsight a 3/4 at Hog Hill was a little ambitious……As ever it sounded like a great idea at the time, Good Friday, why not do some racing! I blame Ollie.

The 4th cat races earlier in the year had averaged around 22-23 mph for the hour. I was in for a rude shock when the bunch got up to just under 25 and pretty much stayed there. Primes chucked in for fun (I swear the dude on the tannoy was enjoying this far too much) left me on the ropes and literally hanging on for dear life. I started slipping back and before I knew it was I out the back after the second Prime. Bugger.

2 mph a lap doesn’t sound much but when you realise that most of that increase came from a near 25% increase in speed up the Hoggenberg it’s no wonder it took its toll. My positioning could have been better as I slipped back pretty quickly and I didn’t have the legs to get out of the danger zone quick enough. Feeling a bit like Marussia at this point.

I’d made the trip with (a supposedly unfit) Ollie who spent most of the race calmly sat in the top ten until an assisted trip into a ditch on the last lap ruined his race. Shame, he’d been going well. I learnt that chicken nuggets contain pretty much all your macros in one hit so the day wasn’t a total loss.

https://www.strava.com/activities/278550323

CC Hackney Primavera 3/4 – Lea Valley Velopark

I’d heard this was a fast circuit which I was hoping would suit me better than Hog Hill. The circuit has very few actual straights, is fairly narrow and has a racing line which moves from one side of the track to the other frequently. There was to be a prime at some point and I was keen not to drop myself by sitting too far back. About 20 minutes in that moving racing line claimed its first casualty. From what I gather it was caused by someone sitting up to drink, either way it brought down most of the field like some sort of lycra clad domino set.

I would have missed it being on the other side of the road but the guy two in front locked up and went down leaving me and the guy in front no choice but go down with him. It’s weird how nonchalant you can be about crashing when you know there’s no way out of it. As first crashes go I think it went pretty well. The Garmin reckons I was doing about 28 mph before going down. I landed on a bike rather than the tarmac it seems, no gravel rash and only a slight stinging from the back of my neck. Result! A small moment of hilarity followed as the guy that landed on me tried to get up with someone on top of him. There’s an order to untangling after a crash it seems, much like picking up dominos.

Anyway, the race was neutralised so I dusted myself off, rolled back to the start and went for it again. 35 minutes in and the siren went for the prime, the pace went up and frankly all hell broke loose. Its amazing the risks people will take for what is likely a twenty pound prize. I sat back as there were too many bods in front of me to even attempt to sprint. Several tried to sprint from 30 places back. Bit nuts to be honest as they were never getting through. Inevitably someone went down, another hit the guy on the ground and got catapulted over the bars. Ouch!

The race was stopped, then abandoned as they scrapped the two poor chaps off the tarmac. One with a broken collar bone and the other knocked clean out. This shit just got serious.

I’d been feeling pretty good in this race, comfortably moving up and down the field and closing any gaps without too much (perceived!) effort. Promising if nothing else. Let’s call that one a Williams.

It turns out that stinging in my neck was actually a full imprint of a chain ring and a cassette. Joy! The next few hours were spent with a variety of medical professionals sucking air through their teeth much like a plumber does when your bath has created an indoor waterfall. Still, I got this cool picture and what appears to be a permanent scar. Despite what I thought though, chicks don’t dig scars, even less so when they first learn about them on Facebook…..

Run over

https://www.strava.com/activities/292283170

Crits at the Park (San Fairy Ann) 4th cat only – Cyclopark

I’d booked this one a few weeks beforehand. Everyone I’d spoken to seemed to love Cyclopark. I can see why, it’s a great track. Technical with a few changes of gradient, long straights and a nice range of corners. There’s no Hoggenberg (thankfully) but the gradients are in places that can cause you problems. Particularly the hill (ok, it’s not really a hill) after the hairpin. The wind was strongly up the start/finish straight. So strong in fact it blew my bike over twice.

I had Rob Kemp (CRCC) for company, although only briefly to be honest as he went off the front with about 4 or 5 others after about 15 minutes. I nearly made it across but that hill (see, now its a hill) after the hairpin led into a 20 mph + headwind so my bridging was short-lived. Good for Rob at least as it seems a good portion of the bunch were sat on my wheel.

For the most part the break were kept in sight, but after about 30 minutes the gap started to go out. I was sat in the top ten for most of the race and put in a few turns here and there. Mostly on the (tailwind assisted) start/finish straight cause I felt like Mark Renshaw charging across the line at 30 mph, but a few into the wind too. There were a few attempts at getting organised but no-one was really interested in working. A tidy through and off effort into the wind would have brought the break back in no time but despite a few attempts no-one would commit. Bunch sprint it is then.

I was feeling pretty good so I sat in for the last few laps and saved my energy. The bell went and I had kept myself top 5 or so on the final lap, 6 were away so the winner of the bunch sprint would get 7th. A few boys from Dulwich Paragon organised themselves into a tidy lead out so I tried to follow that as closely as I could. I crossed the line behind the Dulwich guys and alongside two other guys. I thought I’d got 10th, maybe even 9th….Could this be my first point? My sole aim for this season? Or was it 11th and a nearer miss than dodging the chap on the floor at Lea Valley?

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I must have refreshed the BC website about 300 times that night in the hope that the results would go up. They didn’t, but Jamil spotted them the next morning before the VC Oyster sportive. Boom, 10th! I have a point. That’s only 11 more 10th places to reach 3rd cat.

https://www.strava.com/activities/301215297

Speaking of the VC Oyster sportive. Whilst a sportive in name, a good group of us treated it as a training ride. The result was 63 odd miles at just under 21 mph. Tidy.

https://www.strava.com/activities/301690334

Ken Wright Memorial Road Race, incorporating the Eastern Region Road Race Championships

After much umming and ahhing I entered this. Mostly because I really wanted to ride my own club event but also because it was literally on my doorstep. As a lowly 4th cat I thought I wouldn’t have much chance of a ride. Turned out I was wrong. Oh shit! At least I’d convinced Jamil and Rads that this was a good idea so I wouldn’t be the only terrified 4th cat.

Picking an E/1/2/3 as my first open road race was never going to go down as my brightest idea. Race day came around and I felt literally sick with nerves, these were some pretty massive butterflies. What if I get dropped in the neutralised zone? What if I don’t make the first lap? All of this was flying around my head whilst I warmed up. Hardly ideal mental preparation. I’d ridden the course a few days earlier so I knew what to expect. Whilst there are no real hills on the course there are plenty of short sharp efforts that would sap the legs. Rolling out on to the course the butterflies were still there.

I made it through the neutralised zone, result! after that I parked myself in the top 20-30 and basically ignored my Garmin. Power was looking good, but heart rate was eye watering. I was burning match boxes rather than matches. The first lap ticked by and I was still there, right, lets see if I can make that 2 laps……..2 and a half laps went before the race was neutralised briefly. Off we go again and I made it round 3 laps of the larger Peldon circuit. Laps 2 and 3 had been fast, really fast. Breaks had been chased down and attacks launched all over the place. Partly through sheer fear of being dropped I kept myself well positioned (Thanks to Brett and Andy E for the helpful reminders) and whilst I could see the tank emptying rapidly I was starting to get into a rhythm. I was beginning to think that I might just make it on to the smaller Jock Wadley circuit. Ridiculous as it sounds I was ecstatic. Considering my original goal had been to not get dropped on the first lap I was feeling pretty good to be honest.

I made it on to the Wadley circuit, tried and failed to grab a bottle from Erin (probably should have practiced this…) and found myself echeloned in to the opposite gutter on the New Road. Now THIS is what it’s all about! Sadly the dream ended shortly after this as I dropped myself juggling a bottle on the next lap (really should have practiced this…). The gap that went had only been small but I had nothing left to close it by this point. Even if I had, Russell Hampton blew the race apart on the next lap with an astonishing jump up the road and I very much doubt my race would have lasted much longer than that.

All in all it was a fantastic experience. I hadn’t expected to get that far into the race. It sounds ridiculous to be happy to DNF but it will without doubt be one of my highlights of the year. A bit like Marussia at Monaco (and 10th in the Constructors championship) this one. Promising. Looking at the data I made no improvements to critical power, I had expected over that distance I’d be setting new pbs from an hour outwards. This is where road racing is deceptive, whilst not a constant effort like a time trial, it’s the sudden sharp accelerations that grind you down. None of these efforts are 100% of critical power but one minute you are doing 100 watts in the bunch, the next you are strung out doing 500 watts up Church Road in Peldon. What’s more, you don’t get to recover at the top. Chalk that one down as great experience. I was chuffed with 60 miles, i’d got much further than I thought I would. Next year, I may even finish!

https://www.strava.com/activities/306298228

Lotus Cycle Racing E/1/2/3/4 – Hethel

I’d heard that Hethel was good fast racing. It uses Lotus’ recently resurfaced test track and a very fast circuit. I was in two minds between entering the 4th cat only or the E/1/2/3/4 but in the end I got talked into the E/1/2/3/4 by Andy and Brett. I’m glad I did to be honest as it was great fun. It was ridiculously fast and all hard top end work. Weirdly I didn’t feel like I was working that hard but looking at heart rate and power afterwards i’d been on the limit throughout. The race was largely controlled by Strada Sport and Iceni Velo, who each had good numbers in the race so it was interesting to see how the tactics unfolded. Basically they chased down any break not containing one of their riders and sat up when they were involved. The bunch sprint was manic but very well-disciplined. No idea where I finished but it was great top end work if nothing else. Nothing but Lotus-Renault this one, no points, but just happy to finish without my engine exploding (For the pedants I’m fully aware that Lotus-Renault has nothing to do with Lotus).

https://www.strava.com/activities/308486568

No photos sadly (cameras not allowed) so here’s a snap of Ola (the VX220) instead. Despite the Vauxhall badge she rolled off the Lotus production line in Hethel. Great car, but totally shit for carrying a bike, or even a wheel.1e07efabcf1435137d14cd49564ae5d9 Crits at the Park (Medway Velo) 4th only – Cyclopark

Time for another trip to Cyclopark. After the (relative) success of last time I had high hopes for this one. I felt in great shape after the past few weeks of training and racing. Jamil had entered too so we shared the trip down and basically agreed that points were a must. We could both do with the reward for recent efforts. Less wind this time and a good sized bunch meant the race stayed together. I realised again that I’m utterly crap at determining wind direction. Being well positioned on the start/finish straight suddenly became fully exposed to the wind after a rider on my outside dropped back. Arse. One day I’ll figure out wind direction.

Jamil and I yo-yo’d around the front of the bunch for the most part until a broken spoke took him out of the race. On I plodded until the 5 lap to go board came out and the pace started to rise. With 2 laps to go a group of us nearly got off the front, but a moments hesitation between turns let the bunch get back on. Doesn’t take much.

One lap to go and I was still near the front, its crazy to think that 55 minutes of racing is largely irrelevant but compared to the last 5 minutes it really is. With a few corners to go I picked what i thought was a good wheel (i.e. not a chopper) only for the guy on his inside to wash out and put them both on to the grass. Less than ideal! I had to avoid them and lost touch with the first 10 as a result, chasing back on pretty much did me in. I’d closed the gap by the time we reached the finish straight but the guy in front sat up and I didn’t have quite enough left in the tank to jump across. In the end I rolled home in 17th after catching a few on the line. A frustrating race to be honest as I felt strong enough for another points finish. A solidly midfield effort. Force India say.

https://www.strava.com/activities/310231828

East London Velo – Six days of winter – Round 5

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(Some) photos courtesy of Ian Lambert (https://twitter.com/IanLambert18). The good ones basically.

Likely to be my last pre-season outing, I was looking forward to heading back to Hog Hill for round 5. The weather was looking great, no rain, kind winds and I was feeling pretty good. Due to mud on the circuit (floodlights have been installed) we were racing clockwise, which means down the Hoggenberg and up the descent. Most of the circuit was dry but the usually first corner, now the last, was pretty muddy. It’s also off camber for maximum pucker factor.

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 Ever wondered how much crap you need to take to a road race? Bike and rollers in addition for the pedants.

The event was marred by the sad news that a rider due to ride my race had been killed mid-week commuting in London. As a mark of respect the first lap of each race was neutralised and the bunch led round by his club mates to the applause of the supporters. I don’t think I raced with him, nor did I know him, but it was a fitting tribute. From what I gather similar events were held at the other road race circuits around London.

The race started at a fairly steady pace. I think most, like me, were not really sure of the circuit in this direction. The Hoggenberg had a nasty kink halfway down, not tight but the natural line took you out to the edge of the circuit and it seemed no two riders took the same line. The uphill was fine, no kick at the end but the last (first) corner was challenging especially if you had overdone it up the hill.

I set about floating about in the front third of the bunch, choosing my lines and keeping effort to a minimum. Having changed from 50/34 to 52/36 this meant a few more gear changes than before as I was using the bottom half of the block on the hill in the inner ring and most of the block in the outer ring on the rest of the circuit. The shorter crank length did also seem to be helping me hold a higher cadence.

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Where’s Wally continued.

At the halfway point I found myself sitting comfortably in the top 10/15. Only a couple had attempted to go off the front and all were brought back pretty quickly. A few laps later I found myself on the front up the hill. Initial thoughts were ‘Oh shit, how did I end up here?!’ Despite images of blowing up (and heading backwards through the bunch like I’d been dragged off stage by a giant shepherd’s crook) I paced myself and pushed on through the final dip and over the line still on the front. I briefly considered an attack off the front but it was far too soon and there was no way I had the legs to make it stick in any case. Consigned back to anonymity in the bunch a bunch sprint was looking a certainty.

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Roll on another few laps and we were approaching the last third. I’d slipped back a bit too far through not paying attention. Cyclingtips.com.au’s advice here is brilliant. If you’re not moving forwards, you’re going backwards (Well worth a read! –http://cyclingtips.com.au/2012/10/golden-rules-of-crit-racing). I set about working my way forwards again as the 5 laps to go board came out. By the start of the final lap I was well placed, probably on the edges of the top ten, until a crash blocked the road ahead of me. Those on the inside line got through unscathed but I’d lost all my momentum. A chase up the hill ensued but the top ten was out of reach by this point. A few caught me cresting the hill but I held off the remains of the bunch for what I think was 16th (results haven’t been posted yet). An improvement on last week, but a little disappointing as I’d felt good. Still, valuable training and another good chunk of miles in the legs.

Strava data below, complete with power data this time. Saying that though, the nature of the circuit throws out the averages.

https://www.strava.com/activities/251609098

Edit: I found this great video since the race (Courtesy of Thomas Willan: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9woSIYfS9EjG_-U3hBFCpg). Shows  I was further back than I thought at the end, lesson learned! Results are also in and I finished 14th rather than 16th.

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