#4thcatproblems

 

image1 (2)

Photo credit: Dave Hayward (DaveHaywardphotos)

Through January I’d been doing my best to put Fat Pete back in his box and turn this flabby excuse for a cyclist back into some semblance of a road racer. Part of the plan was kicking off my season in January and returning to East London Velo’s winter series at Hog Hill. At the time I figured I was lighter than last year, not to mention stronger and smarter with it, so I thought I’d just plod around for 40 minutes and then hammer it off the front to victory and a triumphant escape from 4th cat. Right? Errr no, It didn’t quite work out that way….. I got dropped, not once, but twice. Cue much head scratching and a return to the drawing board. I’m not sure what was more embarrassing, getting dropped or explaining at HQ that I’d raced this series last year and yes, this was my second go at it. Without realising it I’d become an elder statesman of the 4th cat ranks.

  • Strava
  • Avg: 252 watts
  • NP: 283 watts
  • Avg speed: 34 kph
  • Points: 0 (12, still)

Like any good road racer I’ve come up with several excuses for my shocking early season form but I’ll come back to those and my training plans another day. The plan for February was pretty simple to be honest. Keep racing, 2 x 20s (shudder) to bring threshold power back up and turn myself inside out on the winter club reliability trials.

image1 (3)

Serious training is serious (VCR RT)

  • Strava
  • Avg: 221 watts (slightly up on my 2015 peak for 2 hrs, so higher than any RR last year)
  • NP: 230 watts (inc there and back)

Whilst back at my parent’s one weekend I decided to take a trip over to Hillingdon rather than get another kicking at Hog Hill. Its a fast circuit, narrow, not technical really but the finish is tricky (racing anti-clockwise) if you wanted to stay near the front. Crucially, it does not have a berg in the middle of it. The race was terrifying to be honest, 60 odd guys on a narrow track tooling round at a pretty comfortable pace,  which means questionable lines, prolonged conversations (seriously!) and far too much bunching. It made me realise that I really needed to focus on my positioning within the bunch if I wanted to get results. If you’re outside the top five on the final lap here points are pretty unlikely. I raced here three times in all and whilst I didn’t trouble the top ten I learnt a lot about my bunch skills, what I needed to work on, which wheel to follow and getting a feel for who is likely to feature at the end. Still not smashing off the front to 4th cat glory but I’d been far more active than ever before, animating the races, trying to get in breaks and generally playing around to see what would work. The fitness was clearly there and I was beginning to feel that I was racing on my terms for once.

  • Strava
  • Avg: 227 watts
  • NP: 244 watts
  • Avg speed: 38 kph
  • Points: 0 (12, still)

I had to wait until the end of February for a 4th cat race at Cyclopark. Without doubt my favourite closed circuit in the South East. It also seems to suit me as I scored 9 of my 10 points here last season. By now I had a good number of races, turbo sessions and winter RTs in my legs so I was feeling pretty good. I’d retested my power mid way through February and leaned out a bit so I knew I was in better shape now than I had been at any point last year. Not quite at that elusive 4.0 w/kg but well on my way! So off we go, a fairly gentle start whilst the bunch figures out the wind direction (cross/headwind down the finish straight like pretty much every other time I’ve raced here). The pace stayed pretty steady for the first 35 minutes, a few digs here and there but it was only really with 5 to go that the pace picked up when a good size break nearly got clear (with me in it I might add). That photo up the top shows my one turn on the front. The race had blown apart behind us so I was keen to keep the pressure on up the finish straight and suss out the headwind for later. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from the heavy breathing and coughing noises coming from over your shoulder at moments like this.

Roll on 4 laps and we are on the bell lap. Cyclopark has an almighty run to the finish, uphill slightly and its a long way out with a head wind. The temptation is to go early but you will be punished if you don’t have the legs to go all the way. I got round onto the bottom of the circuit about 6th or 7th wheel and on the sheltered side of the bunch as we came up to the bottom of the final straight. I think I’ve got Hillingdon to thank here as I’d fought hard for my position on the last lap. Last time I’d been somewhere like this in the final I’d got on the podium so I was keen to go first this time, but not too soon given the headwind.

image2

That hesitation saw me get beaten to the jump but the pair of us caught the rest of the bunch off guard it seems as we were well clear by the line. All in, it was a 24 second sprint but it seemed like an eternity, especially mashing away for an average of 750 watts. Not my best, but I’ve yet to see any sprint power PBs at the end of a race. I got up to about a bike’s length behind but couldn’t quite finish the job. Second place though, 8 points and a massive confidence boost with it. Totally stoked. I’ve also finally got that photo I’ve wanted almost more than the points. Just look at it, it’s magnificent! I’ll bore my future children with this one for decades. Did I tell you about that time I nearly won a bike race?

  • Strava
  • Avg: 210 watts
  • NP: 247 watts
  • Avg speed: 36 kph
  • Points: 8 (4 to go)

 

Advertisements

W/kg be like what?!

Fat Pete managed to get completely off the leash in December and, frankly, he went nuts. Like really nuts. I figured why fight the Christmas excesses, so instead just embraced Jaffa Cakes for breakfast and the frequent cheese boards. By the time January came around I was glad to be back to good habits and keen to get the weight back down in time for the winter crits and reliability trials. You might not believe it but I did, finally, get sick of cake.

I now have a full year of power data so I was curious to see how the excessive Jaffa Cakes over Christmas had affected watts per kg. As I keep track of my weight I figured I could knock up a chart to see what damage I’d done to W/kg (at FTP for comparison). I have to admit, the results were pretty shocking. I’d pushed myself beyond my 2015 starting point! The FTP figure is fixed, based on a test in late December, so the variations are purely driven by changes in weight.

watts_per_kg_chart_v2

Since the New Year I’ve been steadily chipping away at the kgs and got back down to about 75 kgs, which is the top end of last season’s race weight range. Not too shabby for this time of year but there is still a little more to come off.

As you can see its far easier to improve your performance by knocking off a few excess kgs (assuming you have them!) than it is to murder yourself with intervals. Particularly once you are beyond the point where you can add 20 watts to FTP in a month. Those were the days!

Obviously though, do both. Which is exactly what I’ve been doing through January and into February.

2015 – A season in numbers

 

Abberton 1

Photo courtesy Matt Wing

 

Rather than the usual Strava video or whatever I thought I’d take a slightly tongue in cheek look back at my season.

54,887 – Number of cakes consumed, wait, no, that’s metres climbed

9,197 – Distance covered. In km, because its pro. Maybe also because the number looks better…

299 – Hours spent on the bike.

261 – Number of individual rides. Excluding commutes, as they’re not on Strava they don’t exist right?

197 – Max heart rate. No two ways about it, you can’t get a decent result without suffering.

191 – What I thought my max heart rate was. See above.

184 – Longest single ride in kms (Ronde Picarde).

150 – Number of minutes spent hanging on for dear life and wishing that the Divs (Regional RR Champs) would end.

145 – Number of minutes spent secretly enjoying racing the Divs as a first year 4th cat. I didn’t last, but then I wasn’t expecting to get beyond the first lap anyway. Nat B as a first road race anyone?

24.45 – Best 10 mile TT. Note, taking the right turns can be conducive to good times.

16 – Number of races finished.

10 – Total points scored.

3.82 – Watts per kg at threshold. Power not bad. Little more weight loss required though. More to be done on 1, 3 and 5 minute power too.

3 – Best result of the season. Woop!

2 – Trips to A&E. I’m calling this the ‘Thrasher ratio’. Hoping to not improve on this particular stat in 2016.

0.25 – Watts per kg lost due to ‘slight’ overindulgence at Christmas.

 

Winter miles

For the aspiring road racer November is an awesome month. Most are done in after a long season of hard miles, be it racing or training. Winter gives you a chance to recharge your batteries, get back to enjoying riding your bike and prepare for the season ahead. I’d raced long into October so I’d actually reached the end of the season fairly fresh as my last few races had been crits. Rather than take a few weeks off I decided to head out in November and just ride my bike. I met up with the club run for the first time in ages, totally ignored my power meter and just plodded along without a care in the world. It was absolute bliss.

To many, November and December are horrible depressing months, why on earth would you ride in the rain, the cold and the dark? There are five things which I think are essential to making winter miles bearable. If you get it right, winter miles can be some of the best miles of the year. Do it well and you will also be in great shape for the coming season.

Mudguards

A divisive subject but I bloody love my mudguards! No soggy chamois, your feet stay dry and you get home not smelling like a farmer’s field. What’s not to like? I’m also convinced that mudguards create a serious parachute effect in the wind. Your good bike will feel about 2 kgs lighter when you dust it off in April. So hopefully 4kgs lighter in my case….

A solid winter bike also helps to get you out the door when plugging away at the miles. I’ve set my Kinesis up with the same fit as the Emonda, the same saddle and the same gearing so its pretty much just a heavy version of the good bike. There really is no point spending three or four months on an uncomfortable bike that bears no resemblance to the fit of your good bike. In my case I’m still limited drop wise by my hip flexors so I’ve dropped the bars 10mm lower on the Kinesis to see how it goes. I live in hope of something that resembles an aero position on the bike next year.

winte_rhack_2

Good kit

There is no such thing as bad weather, just poor kit choice.

There’s a lot to be said for that I reckon. My winter essentials are as follows:

  • Good quality bib longs.
  • Merino base layer, ideally long sleeved.
  • Gillet
  • Decent gloves, overshoes, buff and hat.

With the above and a couple of different jerseys to layer depending on the temperature you really can ride in all weathers. I’d love to add a Gabba to that list but I’ve yet to find a spare £200 down the back of the sofa. Don’t underestimate the awesomeness of quality bib longs. I bought a pair of Sportful Fiandres earlier this year and they really are a world away from shorts with a cheap pair of tights over the top.

image1

A plan

It sounds daft. But decide early on what you want to achieve next season and structure your winter so that it gets you to where you want to be. Ideally you want to be using either power or heart rate to guide you along the way but whatever you use, make it structured.

baldrick

I’ve got a pretty weird season ahead of me so my winter training will have some scratching their head. I’ve got an exam in April so realistically my season can’t start until May and I’m getting married in September which means my season will only run until the start of August. I’m going to give the Hog Hill winter series a solid go this year and try and make 3rd cat early on.  My winter will look something like this.

  • November – Volume. Simples.
  • December – Less frequent longer rides (3-4 hours). Sweet spot and threshold work plus intervals. Stay away from the mince pies.
  • January – Race Saturday. RTs where possible on the Sundays whilst maintaining some volume through the week (study permitting).
  • February – As above.
  • March – Drop the racing, focus on the exam whilst hopefully maintaining some semblance of fitness. Try not to eat too many biscuits.
  • April – Final pre season tune up. Mostly sweet spot and intervals.

 

Good mates/training buddies

Why else would you get out of bed at 6 am on a Sunday and ride for four hours in the pouring rain? Given we spend most of the year staring at each others seat posts and breathing through our arses, it’s a pleasant change spending a few hours rolling around the countryside catching up with the guys, putting the cycling world to rights (Froome’s data release will keep us going until February at least) and just generally having a laugh. All the while building a solid base for next season.

CUM43Y1XIAA4AUV

Rest

Seems obvious, but don’t over do it! Catch up with your friends, your loved ones and just generally relax. Also eat cake. Winter should be filled with cake. There’s absolutely no point in watching your weight until that Terrys Chocolate Orangathon that is Christmas is behind you. Once January comes around pick a target and start that painful taper back down to race weight.

cake

I would say there is also no point in peaking in December but that’s exactly my plan…..I’m going full winter warrior.

Speaking of which, is it acceptable to wear arm and leg warmers with a skinsuit? I really don’t want to shave my legs in January…..

Whatever you do, enjoy it. It’s supposed to be fun.

Desperation crits – Part two

So then, one round down, two to go. Three points needed.

Hog Hill 4th only – 17 October

This is a track of mixed fortunes for me but one I love. I raced here in January and got round ok in my first few races. I’d also raced a couple of 3/4s here later in the season and got unceremoniously dropped. Lets not even talk about the 50 kph faceplant. Its a circuit your legs will remember the next day that’s for sure.

image3

Matt the mountain goat had joined me and as usual we weren’t taking things too seriously. That’s one thing I’d noticed about road racing. Everyone is so serious pre race. I mean, sure, we’ve all invested serious time and effort in our pursuit of points but its supposed to be a hobby, you know, fun? Well, that’s what Tom Starmer has been telling me repeatedly and it’s easier to appreciate when your heart rate is under 180 bpm. Dave Hales was Chief Comm for the day so I was guaranteed some ‘helpful’ advice and encouragement on my way round. There was a crosswind blowing across the hill from right to left so it would be important to stay on the sheltered side. It’s hard enough dragging my 75 kg arse up that hill without a cross headwind in my face.

The races were getting increasingly frantic and this was no exception. The twitchy bunch wasn’t helping my nerves that’s for sure. but at least the hill was keeping everyone honest and keeping the effort levels up. Two got away fairly early on and built a lead of about 40 seconds. I attacked the first prime hard as a test run for the last time up the hill. Its so important to keep on top of the gear and keep the cadence up or you just grind to a halt when the hill ramps up. It worked and I won the bunch sprint. Hurrah, this could work! Back into the bunch I went doing my best to stay out of the wind and do as little as possible. Roll on a few laps and the two were still off the front. The bunch had let the gap go out a bit and when two buddies of the guys up the road brought the pace down that bit further Matt reached his limit. I had to laugh as I heard Matt hit the front with a shout of ‘its not a f*cking club run’. If his effort wasn’t enough, the words were. The chase was on.

4 laps to go and a dude from Cambridge got fed up of of the bunch rolling around looking at each other and did a one man demolition job on the field. I’d been a bit further back than Matt when the bunch split in front of me. Eight or so were in the lead group (with two still up the road) and I’d ended up in a group of about five stuck in no man’s land. A couple were willing to work but no-one was really strong enough to bridge as a group. With the gap growing I attacked hard into the descent and tried to bridge across solo. For once, my additional ballast came in useful. Being on my own I could absolutely rail the corner at the bottom of the descent. Man, that’s a blast. With the wind in my face after the hairpin I was careful not to overdo it going in to the base of the climb. I bridged over just as they crested the hill with one other guy.  There were 10 of us in the lead group now so unless two dropped out points weren’t guaranteed. The rest of the 30-40 strong bunch was strewn around the circuit behind us.

Last lap and we were still strung out behind Cambridge boy, he was strong no doubt, bit daft as he had been on the front for two laps, but definitely strong. Halfway up the hill for the last time and I chose the sheltered left hand side. Matt went right. The attacks came but I was already moving up, come on legs this could be it! The guy in front picked left too though so I got boxed in and I had to settle for 9th. Again! Matt bagged 6th though and got his 3rd cat. Good lad! I’d felt like I’d given this one everything so although disappointed not to get the points I needed I was happy with how I’d raced. Totally stoked for Matt too. I had kind of hoped that this would have been the end of my season though….

  • Strava
  • Avg: 224 watts
  • NP: 264 watts
  • Avg speed: 38 kph
  • Points: 1 (2 to go)

Hillingdon 4th cat – 24 October

Not raced here before. I’d heard it could be messy but seeing as both Cyclopark and Hog Hill had been messy recently I thought why not. I was back in Hemel for the weekend so I wasn’t far away and this was supposedly a track for the sprinters. Not being a climber, I must be a sprinter right? Matt had pre-entered so he had a race but couldn’t score points. One of the two guys that had ridden off the front last week was in this race so he couldn’t be allowed a gap. Enter Matt the super domestique. Wandering around the HQ it seemed there were plenty of others chasing those last points with team mates willing to help. All were supposed to be racing for themselves but it was clear that wasn’t going to happen.

The track was wet and greasy, less than ideal given its a fast track and I’d never raced here. It would be a tailwind finish so really I’d need to be in the first ten wheels going into the bottom corners to stand any chance. Pace wise I was perfectly comfortable, we tooled around for the first half before the siren went for the prime. Matt had been doing a sterling job marking the moves, particularly the big man from Hemel. I’d clocked someone shouting for Pete near the finish line. Took me about three laps to realise that Erin had come out to cheer me on. A nice surprise! Whilst an hour stood in the cold is probably not how she would have wanted to spent a Saturday afternoon it really does make a difference hearing someone cheer you on. Unfortunately she got her own surprise when a guy went down right in front of her in the sprint for the prime. I’ve no idea why half the field bothers to be honest. It’s £20 and even Mark Cavendish couldn’t make it from 20th to 1st. I’d been well over the other side and missed the crash. Broken collar bone for him and a broken wrist for the guy behind him. Ouch.

The race settled down again until the 5 to go board came out. 4 to go and there was another crash. This time a chap faceplanted on the approach to the tight left hander at the top of the rise. He was sparko on the track when we came past next lap so I was expecting the race to be abandoned. Nope! Next lap round and the first aider’s car is parked on the apex of the corner. VW Tiguan’s aren’t particularly soft and squishy which distracted me a bit. Note to self, focus more! Anyway, with 2 to go I’d moved up nicely whilst two guys from Dulwich Paragon had gone off the front. It wasn’t sticking though and they were caught with half a lap to go. Approaching the last two corners and I was on Matt’s wheel and we were both in the first 15. This might just work!

It didn’t. We went to the right out of the last corner and got a bit boxed in. Wouldn’t have mattered at Cyclopark but Hillingdon is pretty narrow. It didn’t hold us up much, but by enough that I couldn’t quite get into clear air soon enough and the line wasn’t far enough away to make up the lost ground. 14th place was the result and a major disappointment given the build up of the last few weeks. I was pretty crushed to be honest. I guess it wasn’t meant to be this year. There was the option of racing on into November but given how messy the races had become I decided to call it a day for the season. Strangely it hadn’t been a hard decision. It had been a roller coaster of a season both physically and mentally so by this point I was ready to knock it on the head and spend a few weeks just enjoying riding my bike. Had a few beers that night with some good mates which finished the season off nicely.

  • Strava
  • Avg: 209 watts
  • NP: 228 watts
  • Avg speed: 41 kph
  • Points: 0
  • Points needed: 12, again.

Desperation crits – Part one

So then, eight points, that’s seven more than the goal I set myself at the start of the season. Back then I just wanted to be strong enough to get round a 4th cat crit without getting dropped. So that’s all good, mission accomplished you might think? Errrr no, not quite.

As ever, goals change and ambitions grow. I’d said earlier in the year that I wanted to earn #sockdoping. I’m more than capable of looking all the gear no idea without the socks so that meant 3rd cat. Joking aside I was keen to get my 3rd cat license so I could stop worrying about points and start racing for decent results.

sock doping 2

Maldon CC Road Race 3/4 – 4 October

First up though, my last road race of the year. I’ve not ridden many road races but I’d felt like it was coming together at the Easterly Leaves in September. A road race is a totally different beast from a 1 hour crit, not least because of the length, but also because they are almost like a chess game on wheels. I’d just been trying to get round them really and gain some experience for next season but it would be good to end the road race season with a decent result.

The course was fairly flat, even for the Eastern region. It had one nasty sharp incline that felt like your legs were turning in treacle when you hit it. The usual early attacks meant that the first lap flew by. A group got a gap on the second lap and started working together. I had flashbacks to the Mid-Suffolk where the early break was never seen again and with it the prospect of any points so I bridged over with another lad. I had just about got past stuffing my lungs back down when the bunch brought us back. It had been worth a punt.

Next thing I knew the bell was ringing. Why am I so far back? The final mile or two went nasty hill, fast gradual descent, tight 90 degree left, then a short sprint.  By the turn I was still too far back (as ever) but I had a clear path to the line which came up far quicker than I expected. Arse, I really must start moving up sooner. I think being new to the road there is almost a nervousness about going too early and blowing up. In reality most of the other guys are in the same place and often those that make the first move gain an advantage that requires everyone else to go that much harder to mark it. At least I got Jamil on the line though so it wasn’t all for nothing!

Andy Sheridan photography: Maldon and District CC road race Cat 3/4 15 &emdash;

Latest edition of ‘Where’s Pete’. He’s there, somewhere in the distance…

  • Strava
  • Avg: 195 watts
  • NP: 224 watts
  •  Avg speed: 40 kph
  • Points: 0 (26th)
  • Points needed: 3

Cyclopark 4th only – 10 October

So then, round 1 of what Matt and I had dubbed the desperation crits. Earlier in the season you could avoid the chaos by riding in the first ten or so wheels. By October the chaos seemed to be everywhere. I’d only ever seen one break get away in a 4th only crit so I was taking a punt, call it an educated punt, by loitering at the back of this one. Matt was doing the right thing and staying in the first 5-10 wheels and doing as little as possible. Fast forward 15 or so laps and we had made it to the 5 lap board. Along the way I’d been overtaken on the grass and Matt had near been forced off the track by some dude trying to ride out the side of the bunch. I mean wtf? Can you see why I want my 3rd cat license? Anyway, the pace picked up and we had a race on our hands rather than a disorganised club run.

On to the final straight and I was near the back of the bunch (there’s a theme developing here). I had moved up on the back straight so I’m not too sure how I ended up here again. A chap ahead of me panicked and gave me a great lead out so I made it back to the pointy end of the bunch by the last 100 metres or so. Nice! The bunch was beginning to spread out ahead so I picked the sheltered right hand side and nailed it. I found myself alongside Matt in the final 10-20 metres with a narrowing gap in front of me. If it had been anyone else I would have bailed but I knew I could trust Matt not to do something daft (could have been an awkward drive home!). We crossed the line practically side by side. Matt was a wheels length ahead and got 7th, I’d managed 9th. Somewhere in the bunch there had been a wheel between ours on the line which is pretty crazy. I left Cyclopark a bit frustrated thinking I could have got a better result, but also encouraged that I’d managed to get a point despite my terrible positioning. Matt was happy, this ended a terrible run of luck for him and a points drought that went with it. He only needed 6th place now to reach 3rd cat. I needed 7th.

  • Strava
  • Avg: 229 watts
  • NP: 252 watts
  • Avg speed:38 kph
  • Points: 1 (9th)
  • Points needed: 3

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.

cyclopark_data

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