Getting back to basics

As ever I’ve neglected the updates. Life has been too busy of late to ride my bike let alone write about riding my bike. I managed to get in the club run or a few commutes/chain gangs through late March/early April. I’ve missed the specific sessions that I should be doing on top which isn’t ideal. Jumping on the turbo at 9 pm after a long day at work isn’t the one.

I’d started an update on the Ipswich Spring Scramble, which was the last race of the my early season block of racing, but didn’t ever get around to finishing it. Without realising it at the time (as I was dying!) it was a great race. The course is rolling and it was seriously windy. I knew the start would be tailwind before turning into cross/head wind after half a lap. Most of the course was pretty exposed too so sheltering from the wind would be crucial. The race started hard, the car (which leads us out to the circuit) drove hard up one of the hills before slowing over the top. The flag dropped immediately after so there was a bit of a concertina effect. I’d made a point of getting right up behind the car which paid off as the start was brutal! I found out after the race that 19 of the 60 rider bunch got dropped in that first half lap.

Fast forward 2 hours and my legs were toast. A team mate spent a good 45-60 minutes up the road so I’d made myself useful/annoying by marking any attacks or sitting at the front with a lad from Strada Sport (also up the road). I would have got a much easier ride just sat in the bunch doing nothing but with that comes the risk of completely missing any decisive breaks (which I and 46 others did at the Mid-Suffolk RR in 2015!) For me personally though I would rather get involved and help out a team mate than just sit in and do nothing hoping for a gallop. I got a few warning signs of cramp with about half a lap to go which turned out to be terminal. My legs cramped spectacularly on the finish hill with less than 300m to go when the sprint kicked off. I stopped accelerating like I’d deployed a parachute! I couldn’t then get off the bike at the finish, it was horrible! I’d been beautifully placed too, but a combination of not racing over a crit distance (60 minutes) since last year and being fairly active earlier in the race tipped me over the edge. The legs had felt great though so the form was in there somewhere.

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Crampsville: Population me

  • Strava
  • Time: 2 hrs 30
  • Avg: 200w
  • NP: 253w
  • AVG speed: 38 kph
  • Points: Errrr nope

I had planned to do a few more races before my holiday but a combination of 10-11 hour days at work and an exam that needed some major attention meant that I missed loads of sessions. Fat Pete had also fought his way out with the long hours and stress. I wasn’t where I wanted to be so I sacked off the first race and chose instead to catch up with the guys on the club run. There’s no point forcing yourself to race, that will only lead to disappointment and frustration (lesson learnt in 2015). The second race was at Cyclopark and the weekend after my exam so I should have been keen for that but the enthusiasm just wasn’t there. I’ve been meaning to ride with the ColVelo boys for ages but never quite managed it. Usually because I had a race coming up or couldn’t justify a whole day biking. Turns out that coming weekend was the first of their five monuments, the 250k Ronde van Anglia. How Rob must have laughed when I asked if they had anything big planned!

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Rip my fingers

This was something completely different for me but it seemed like a great way to just get out, ride my bike and remember why I fell in love with cycling. I managed to rope in a club mate, Patrick, who seems to think anything less than 100k is popping to the shops. I say rope in, he was like a kid at Christmas. So we met the Colvelo boys just outside Colchester at 7 am. There were a couple of guys I knew from other rides, including Will who I haven’t seen in years, since I first joined the shop rides and got dropped every week. He’s since done LEJOG and I’ve since lost about 4 stone! It’s good sometimes to consider where you’ve come from, it’s often a lot further than you think. There were about 11-12 of us on a mixture of typical carbon and alu road bikes, a few sets of deep sections, at least one vintage racer, two rather beautiful all road Surlys and Liam on a fixie. But then if anyone is going to do that, it’s the guy racing the transcontinental race in July. Most had frame bags or saddle bags. I just had pockets so I’d been pretty limited with my packing. No gillet, no leg warmers or gloves as I just didn’t have the space for when they came off. Gloves were missed in the morning for sure! The only changes to my regular kit was an extra tube, some gas, a small power pack for my ageing Garmin and a bag of Percy pigs, sorted! Next stop Cambridgeshire.

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120k later and we hit Cambridgeshire

The weather had looked good for the day but soon it became apparent that we were in for a corker. Tan lines ahoy! I wasn’t sure what to expect other than a lot of strong legs. The guys were all really friendly and it was interesting to hear how many of them had tried out the other, more traditional, Colchester clubs (my own included) before choosing Col Velo. Patrick had told anyone that would listen that I only rode for 3 hours (cheeky bugger!) so I answered that question about eight times. There was probably a sweep stake on when my legs would fall off. The collective has a really chilled ethos with a much bigger focus on where you are going than how fast you get there. Don’t get me wrong we were chipping along quite nicely in places but the absence of heroics was refreshing (FYI, I’m often guilty of heroics) and it was fantastic just taking in the sights and having a chat along the way. The main topic being would Boonen go out with a win the next day.

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It’s a bloody good looking kit IMO.

Newmarket was the first stop after about 120k so we were well on our way to 250k by the time we stopped. The sun was out and the other perk of long distances is real food! No cake guilt, just straight into a bacon toastie. After Newmarket we continued north before swinging east across the bottom of Thetford Forest. This was probably my favourite section. The sun was out, my legs were feeling good and the countryside was wide open. Smooth, quiet roads and a gentle tailwind kept the group ticking along nicely.

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We swung into a pub in Thurston wth about 180-190k in the legs. Obviously I could feel that but considering I only ride 3 hours at a time (eh Patrick!) I was feeling pretty good. James in the shop (Cycle Evolution) has spent a fair amount of time helping me tweaking my bike fit over the last couple of years as we’ve changed bars etc beyond my initial fit and I think it’s pretty much spot on. I hadn’t even raised the bar height from my usual racing position and my back, shoulders, knees etc were fine.

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Setting off from Thurston was probably the point it dawned on me how much further we had to go. Even with 190k ticked off we still had at least 60k left before getting back to Colchester. We took a scenic route in past Lavenham and Hadleigh, not entirely appreciated by this point! A final pit stop in Lavenham for a giant cookie, an Oreo ice cream sandwich and a can of coke and we were on the home stretch.

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13 hours and 260k after leaving the house I grovelled home. I don’t ride this far often and it takes some getting used to having that much fatigue in the legs. I find it feels like your FTP is dropping point by point as you go on, by the end getting over 200w feels like 500w! Its difficult to fit this type of adventure around my racing but if you have the chance give something like this a try, I highly recommend it! It was so completely different to what I usually do and I loved it. Mojo fully restored. With a TSS of around 375 I still felt wrecked three days later. The tan lines are looking great though!

Strava

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Skin suit to wedding suit

So typically life got in the way of blogging. That’s no bad thing, I cycled a lot, worked too much, holidayed a bit, ate perhaps a little too much. More importantly though, I got married. A big year! And big years need to be lived in, except the work bit, I would happily not live that bit.

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Anyway so i’m ill, cruelly struck down with man flu, which is a perfect opportunity to type up something that doesn’t relate to pensions, tax legislation or levels of pension income that my generation will never see. I pretty much lucked out with illness this year which is pretty sweet. I also stopped my annual tradition of throwing myself at the tarmac for which I (and my ever concerned wife) am pretty stoked about. Here’s a picture of an echelon. No reason, I just like echelons.

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I had a pretty great season by my standards, actually make that really great, so I thought I’d pick out a few races from the summer that I at least found interesting. I ended the year a 3rd cat on 24 points having hung up the race numbers in August, roughly about the time a collar bone takes to heal before the wedding…She’s a smart one that Mrs Shaw.

Ken Wright Memorial RR – 2/3/4

So this was my club’s home road race, on home roads and this year NOT the regional champs. Result definitely possible for VC Revolution, or so we thought. Didn’t turn out that way but I had a blast covering moves, doing some work and generally not being pack fodder. Support from the club and friends of VCR on the road side was great as we (Ollie E, Andrew H, Tom S, Andy E and Grovesy) went round which really does make a difference. Anyway, we missed the break of 15 (all the points in a 2/3/4 Reg A) and I finished 27th, about 12th in the gallop which was half decent. Bah! Loved the course though, looking forward to next year already.

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  • Strava
  • Time: 2 hours 52 minutes
  • Avg: 178 watts
  • NP: 235 watts
  • Avg speed: 41 kph
  • Points: Up the road
  • Sock game: Strong (see below)
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VC Revolution, taking socks seriously since 2007

Abberton Road Race – 3/4

Call this one my second home road race. It’s on the same course as the Jock Wadley (see actual Wadley report here) and also put on by the Colchester Rovers. Organised this year by my good buddy Matt who stepped up and took it on. It was a target race for sure but I wouldn’t say that I had really trained specifically for it other than by putting a big block of racing ahead of it in May. Being a 3/4 I fancied my chances for this one much more than the Ken Wright. VCR had good numbers in the race (Tom S, Andy H, Ian F and Trevor) and we worked hard to make sure we didn’t miss the break this time. In the end no break stuck but one guy did get up the road solo and put 3 minutes on us. He was joined on the last lap (i think!) by another guy that I swear teleported off the front. I can remember realising he was gone when I couldn’t see his fluro polkadot socks near the front any more, no idea when he went. So the rest of us were left fighting for 3rd.

Teammate Trevor hit the front with a lap to go and put in a monster turn to string the bunch out over the bumps on the back side of the circuit. That effort really made the race for me as it kept the bunch together. The other half of the course isn’t hard enough to attack on unless its windy. Rolling up the New Road the wind was from the right, it wasn’t of Flandrian proportions but most of the bunch was busy fighting for the left hand gutter. The finish is sheltered though so I used this as an opportunity to move up. I ended up on the wheel of a lad from Ipswich BC, about 4 or 5 from the front and right on the edge of the bunch. Still not really sure how I managed that. I mean I often planned this, but it rarely worked in road races.

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Photo credit: Natural photography

Ipswich lad went, I followed and we had a monster drag race for the line. Literally side by side, it was awesome. I didn’t dare look behind but we finished half a wheel apart and held off the bunch, Erin was at the finish cheering me on. Best. Race. Ever. Ipswich lad took 4th, I got 5th. Turns out our drag race had produced a monster lead out for Tom from Interbike who took 3rd by a clean 2 bike lengths. That wasn’t part of the plan…..Sure, a podium would have been perfect but I was so chuffed with 5th. All my points prior had come from 4th cat crits so it was a pretty big deal for me. Plus I got a decent cheer at the HQ from the guys which was sweet and I knew I had nailed my tactics so I couldn’t really be disappointed losing in a drag race when I knew I’d given it everything.  The finishing sprint was 720w for 20 seconds. Not earth shattering in isolation but that came halfway through 470w for 75 seconds and after 59 miles! Boom!

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Colchester’s 2016 bike gurning contest

  • Strava
  • Time: 2 hours 25 minutes
  • Avg: 186 watts
  • NP: 238 watts
  • Avg speed: 39 kph
  • Points: 6

Cyclopark – midweek 3/4

I did a fair few mid week crits this year and seriously they are some of the most fun you can have on two wheels. No-one is peaking for these or taking them too seriously. Generally the strong guys try to beat up the weaker guys and see what’s left at the end. Rads (Paul R from the Rovers) and I had trekked down after work and this race stands out because the wind was exactly across the circuit. As the main straights are parallel this made both directions a complete slog and led to a fight for the gutter twice a lap.

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40 odd started, within a lap there were less than 30. Attack after attack kept reducing that number and eventually 4 got away 20 minutes in. We worked a bit and maintained the gap until about 2-3 laps to go. Inevitably people started looking at each other and another 3 got away. In hindsight THAT was the move! Being lazy I had hoped someone else would close it down. Nope! Roll forward to the final lap and the field was blown apart with 7 off the front in groups of 3s, 2s and 1s. I sprinted to 10th, 3rd in the gallop just behind the remnants of the break, and picked up a solitary point. I’ve marked this one down as a favourite as it was a complete sufferfest. Sometimes you don’t come away with much but you know you gave it everything and that in itself feels pretty good.

  • Strava
  • Time: 55:34
  • Avg: 228 watts
  • NP: 267 watts (rip)
  • Avg speed: 38 kph
  • Points: 1

Berkhamsted Castle revolutions – 2/3

The Tour of Hertfordshire series has been around a year or two now I think and they have done a great job of getting local councils onboard to run a series of festival like crit races on closed roads in town centres. I grew up in Hemel Hempstead and Berko is only minutes away from my parent’s house by bike. In fact, I ride through the course every time I meet up with the guys back home for a ride so it was a must do race. The circuit did laps of the Berkhamsted castle ruin and has the start/finish alongside the old castle wall so spectators could look down on the racing from above. Being a street circuit it had tight corners, not to mention a short climb and a fast descent into a tight 90 degree left hander before the finish. Tough circuit for sure. There were food stalls, lots of beer, music, a few bike companies and an awesome atmosphere. Did I mention there was beer?

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I was signed up for the 2/3 and a couple of mates (Jules T and Dan R) were racing the 4th cat. My parents had come down and a few of the other guys wanted to witness the suffering too. No pressure, particularly as the last time my parent’s spectated they ended up taking me to A&E…. Anyway, the guys had a mega race in the 4th cat with Dan picking up a couple of points in only his 2nd crit. Jules was committed to the hero move. Inevitably he was brought back but I’d say the committed cornering photo totally made it worthwhile.

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My goal for this one was simple. Survive. Street circuits are definitely not my thing (see Ixworth) and this one had added 2nd cat, plus I’d invited half the world to watch me. I was racing out of region but there were still some familiar (strong) faces in the races. The Fast Test boys had taken a hell of a day trip over from Suffolk and would definitely be a team to watch. I lined up near the front (Ixworth lesson learnt!) and kept top 20 for as long as I could. Someone went down about 2/3rds in which split the bunch, I was just about on the right side of this but slipped back as a result and suffered. Oh man! It was like watching the Jack Bauer’s 24 clock ticking down in the corner of my vision. Every lap I could hear Matt shouting “move up” from the castle wall as I passed the finish line. Whilst useful advice it was pretty much outside my control by that point! Anyway, I finished 27th, so not last. Wahey! Hella good fun but such a kicking. I’ll give it another go next year for sure. Heart rate graph below for lols.

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  • Strava
  • Time: 40:34
  • Avg: 234 watts
  • NP: 269 watts (rip)
  • Avg speed: 40 kph
  • Points: 0 (but not last)

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VC Barrachi road race – 3/4

This turned out to be my last race although I didn’t know it at the time. The CC London road race, which would have been my last, was cancelled the night before, shame really as I was feeling really good. Strava was filled with angry hard rides that day, think a few others were feeling good too.

The VC Barrachi course was fairly flat and pretty fast due to a lack of wind. Being way up in deepest darkest Suffolk it was well attended by Strada Sport, Iceni Velo, VC Barrachi (obvs) and Great Yarmouth so if a combination of them went that would be it! Grovesy and I had made the trip and my plan was simple, don’t miss the break (again) and attack the prime. It would give me a feel for the finish and given the lack of wind would probably be the best shot at a break.

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Photo evidence, occasionally I do some work

Well, I was right. The finish was fast and on a very short uphill after a gradual descent. The race strung out for the prime and a strong looking break got away on the one wind exposed section after the prime. I ummed and ahhed a bit too long and eventually went when I realised the composition was right. Cue my best 3 minute power ever (350w for 3:30ish). I got so close but ultimately blew up (hello max heart rate) and dropped back to the bunch. The course turned left, picked up a tailwind and the break was brought back pretty soon after. All for nothing but thats road racing.

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After that it was all staying up the front and seeing what was what. There were a few of us committed to getting away and never really got anywhere. We made the race tough though so I had a laugh. It was my hardest race power wise which on a flat course was going some. I really did get stuck in. I ballsed up the finish and it came up faster than I remembered from the prime. Think I finished 15th-20th or so. Defo had the legs but wrong place wrong time! A definite favourite this one, bit like chess at 40 kph. More races like this please.

  • Strava
  • Time: 1 hour 49 minutes
  • Avg: 194 watts
  • NP: 247 watts
  • Avg speed: 42 kph
  • Points: 0

Just ride your bike

Last up of my favourites wasn’t a race at all. Once the racing was done I did a few stupid things that I couldn’t do in the season. I rode around 250 miles in 5 days commuting from Colchester to Ipswich for the hell of it. Rude not to in sunny August when you have no races to taper for. Erin’s hen do was at the start of September and would leave me on my todd for a weekend. Cue, daft cycling adventure.

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Beautiful misty Summer’s morning

After a bit of excited messaging Jules and I came up with the brainwave of cycling from Berkhamsted to Ipswich via my wedding venue (conveniently near the Blue Egg, a popular destination cafe and occasional haunt of Alex Dowsett), skirting Colchester, meeting up with Matt for a few miles and crossing the Stour via the foot ferry from Harwich to Shotley. Approx 134 miles. My Dad (also on his todd as my Mother was on the hen with Erin) provided a late night taxi service so Jules drove over to Ipswich, dumped his car and rocketed back to Herts with us at about midnight on Friday. We set off at about 6 am Saturday after practically no sleep (Neither of us are renowned for our time keeping so I have no idea how we made it), spent a quality nine hours chatting shit, getting lost, ripped the side out of a GP 4season offroading on a road bike and got a tan on only the right side of our bodies. It was a mega day out!

Strava

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So that was the summer of 2016, mega year. Promise i’ll update this more in the future, maybe. Thanks for reading!

Rest of my year can be found below if you are bored, ill or can’t sleep.

Ixworth autopsy

Ixworth 4

Photo credit: Stuart Weatherley

My biggest weaknesses are probably cornering and bunch positioning. I think I’ve got to grips with bunch positioning but the cornering still needs some work. So what better race for me than 30-40 laps of a 60-70 second street circuit with 90 degree corners, street furniture and drain covers right? I don’t think I can say I was looking forward to this one but there was a 3rd cat crit and I figured it would force me to work on my cornering. Ixworth village crits have been a feature on the Suffolk race calendar for nearly 20 years and everything I’d heard suggested it was even more horrific than Trinity Park. But crucially the circuit did laps of a closed village centre on a bank holiday and that sounded like a laugh. My legs were nicely rested after three days off the bike. Unfortunately the rest of my body was a ruin after a 13 hour wedding related drinking session which involved some terrible attempts at dancing and far too little sleep. Fantastic wedding though! I feel I should point out here that for anyone taking this racing lark (very) seriously a rest day is a day spent on the sofa with their legs in the air. For me, it’s usually the day I drive to work…..

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So preparations went well. I got my numbers, personalised with my name and club (so cool!), got my kit together and did 5-10 laps of the track to get my eye in and warm up. Matt, having broken himself riding a stupidly long distance for charity, was my Director Sportif for the day and a damn fine one he was too! Although now I expect Twix milkshakes after every race which is going to leave me disappointed. There was a proper hard copy race programme which had my name on the start sheet. Whilst staring at my name in print I’d spotted the names of several strong riders from the cyclocross circuit on the start sheet that clearly fancied a day out circuit racing. Dougal Toms, Ross Tricker and Sean Dunlea to name a few. With cyclocross being their main discipline they were lowly 3rd cats on the road like me despite being nationally ranked juniors and seniors in cyclocross. Oh sh*t. And that’s before I realised just how many pesky juniors made up the rest of the field. I say pesky because they weigh about 50 kgs, are literally full of energy and completely fearless. I keep hearing that they will all be knackered and fed up by June so there is hope that someone over the age of 17 might score some points soon.

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Guys started gathering on the line pretty early. So early in fact that the Commissaire sent them round again. The first two corners were to be neutralised behind a National Escort Group moto. Great I thought, I’ll get another couple of laps in just to make sure I was nicely warmed up seeing as the start wouldn’t be the usual sprint from the line. Oh wow, how wrong was I! So in fact the neutralised start just became a motor paced start with the moto leaving us sprinting into a block headwind. One lap before the start there had been a handful of guys on the line, next lap there were 50 (i.e. everyone else….). Oh pants. My race was pretty much decided before it had even begun. First rule of crits, don’t start from the back. The video at the bottom shows just how aggressive the start was (around 2 mins in) and on a circuit like this that leads to an almighty elastic effect further down the field.

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Moving up was practically impossible with the sharp corners and narrow roads. There were places to be made up by diving up the inside but on a narrow circuit like this with bumpy braking areas I wasn’t going to push it too hard. No-one wants to be the guy that ends up upside down in the fence on turn 2. I narrowly missed getting tangled up in two guys taking themselves out by touching wheels on the back straight but other than that the race was pretty tidy, surprising I thought given how tight the circuit was. Unfortunately for the second guy in that crash there was no run off so it was the fence for him. We nearly wiped out the bicycle paramedics that tootled round the track to get to him in the following laps.

My cornering is coming together it seems. I was carrying speed through the corners so that’s something but every corner was followed by a full on kick. This hurt, a  lot. If you want to see just how much, the table below shows the proportion of the race I spent in each power zone. I spent over a quarter of the race in zones 6 and 7. That’s not unusual but have a look at how little time was spent in zones 2 to 5. Basically I was passing right through those zones going full gas, soft pedal, brake, corner, full gas and repeat every 20 seconds for 40 minutes.

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That doesn’t tell the full story either, 20 minutes in zone 1 you say, that can’t be too bad? Whilst my legs were back in zone 1 after each kick my heart rate was anything but! Basically my heart was doing a hilly TT whilst my legs were doing sprints every 20 second. We road racers have a strange idea of fun.

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Having started at the back my head told me to move up but when you are already pushing 800 watts out of the corners its kind of hard to find that extra zip on the guy in front of you. I closed a few early gaps but when another bigger gap went after five or six laps I had nothing (extra) left to get round the guy blowing up in front. I ended up in a group of 6-8 guys fighting for 30th place. At this point we still had at least 25 minutes of the race left but we toughed it out and kept working until the flag and finished about a lap down on the leaders. So all in all a thoroughly unpleasant experience you might think.

Er no. Actually it was one of my favourite races simply because the atmosphere was fantastic! It’s not often that as a 3rd cat you can race on closed roads with an actual crowd the other side of the barriers. I could hear Matt, Bernard and the Rethmans, amongst others, shouting for me each lap and that really does give you a boost. Not to mention the cow bells, the cheers and the David Attenborough-esque commentary over the PA. Although the commentary was kind of like hearing the narration of my own eventual demise. I felt like a wildebeest being chased by a lion.

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Photo credit: Bernard Morrison

West Suffolk Wheelers have put together a decent video of the day. My race is from 2:00-3:40ish. I hadn’t realised how loud the crowd was! I will most definitely be back next year. Hopefully my legs will have forgotten what it felt like by then. I’ll be the guy camping on the start line the night before.

Next up for me, the road race season kicks off. Woop! Starting with St Ives CC in Huntington, then my own club’s road race, the Ken Wright the week after. A return to the Crest circuit a few weeks later before the Rovers Abberton Road Race in June. The Ken Wright and the Abberton are on circuits less than a mile from my house. Can. Not. Wait. I’m not sure what my ambitions are yet for the road season, well, I do but I’m not telling you until I know where my form is at! I would like to feature though, none of this rolling round worrying about getting dropped. Time to go big, or ermm, well get dropped.

  • Strava
  • Avg: 241 watts
  • NP: 268 watts
  • Avg speed: 37 kph
  • Points: Hah!

 

2015 – A season in numbers

 

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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.

 

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.

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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.

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.