Where you at legs?

This is the start of my 3rd season road racing. Which means by now I’ve realised that I always go like a bag of spanners at the start of the season. Always. Some people seem to be able to just jump straight back into racing. Not me, oh hell no. I need to drag my legs kicking and screaming back to some sort of race fitness. Particularly after nearly six months of only racing for the club run sprints. I checked, I last raced in July! Wowsers. It’s not just the legs mind, It takes me a few races to get my race head back and stop cornering like a granny. Last season it took 3 or 4 races to get up to speed. I was hoping this year would be the same, few races and then boom, points galore. I covered the first race of the year here so this kind of brings you up to date in the world of Pete’s winter racing exploits.

Race 2 – Hillingdon E/1/2/3 – 11 Feb

I went back to Hillingdon a week later despite a stinking cold. It took me 4 hours to get there and back from Colch and it was snowing. I should have listened to my wife (standard) and stayed at home. Anyway, I got there literally just in time, having tried to divert to the nearer Velopark and missed sign on there by about 10 minutes. Thank you M11. I probably should have gone home after missing sign on at Velopark but I’m stubborn and I’d already invested 2 hours in this daft caper. So I made sign on and got changed quicker than Superman in a phone box. The legs felt pretty good despite the world’s shortest warm up but I was producing snot at an alarming rate. I got round ok, kept myself towards the front of the 3rds. I thought I’d finished better than the week before. Probably not troubling the points but progress you know. Hilariously I ended up 18th, again. I really hate that last corner and it pretty much makes or breaks your race. This was only race 2 though and another E/1/2/3 so no drama. Some deets of the race below:

  • Strava
  • Time: 73 minutes
  • Avg: 214 watts
  • NP: 238 watts
  • Avg speed: 42 kph
  • Points: Gold star for consistency…

Race 3 – Cyclopark 3rd cat – 25 Feb 

So, on to the 3rd race of the season and this time it was a 3rd cat only at Cyclopark. Very definitely my favourite circuit. Pretty much all my points from last season were scored here too. Having raced Hilly in an E/1/2/3 bunch I figured I’d go alright in a 3rd cat only, maybe pick up some points and get the season going. Cue day dreaming of podiums and finish line celebrations. I won one round and got 2nd in the other as a 4th cat last year so I had high hopes. Didn’t quite turn out as I planned…

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Firstly, Hilly in an E/1/2/3 is like a stroll in the park compared to a mega windy Cyclopark. There were 25 starters in the 3rds, not ideal as I’d rather have a few more bods to hide behind. By the finish there were only 9 left in the bunch, oh and I wasn’t one of them. The rest of us were strewn across the circuit in various states of ruin having run out of gutter to hide in. I finished 16th despite getting dropped twice and then DNFing with a puncture. It’s some race when you are placed (and not placed last!) despite pulling out 4 laps from the end. It turned out to be a bit of a Colchester day out with 3 Rovers in the bunch plus me. Mixed fortunes I guess as 3 of us were stood on the sidelines whilst the other won the race!

  • Strava
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Avg: 238 watts
  • NP: 275 watts (rip)
  • Avg speed: 36 kph
  • Points: Starting to regret this line….

So I was pretty bummed with getting dropped. Like “this isn’t fun any more” bummed. After a few days of comfort eating (I’m pretty much the Bridget Jones of cycling) I had a look at the data and the numbers weren’t bad to be honest. I could see when the bunch imploded in the data and the next 10 minutes were at circa 280 watts! So chalk it down as a “Meh” and move on.

Race 4 – Cyclopark 3rd cat – 4 March 

Fast forward a week. A pretty mental week to be fair. February/March is always crazy busy at work so I was pretty wrecked. Tuesday and Wednesday’s sessions had gone really well. I’d skipped Thursday’s Z4 session as I was practically a walking zombie by then. Initial thoughts for Saturday were bail, just bail, eat more ice cream and hammer around the Rovers RT instead pretending its a road race. Given the several days of eating anything and everything I wasn’t expecting watts per kilo to look pretty, but I did have fresh legs, it was sunny and it wasn’t windy. Huzzah!

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I made a point of warming up really well on the rollers this time, rather than just doing a couple of laps of the car park, a sprint or two and a few laps of the track. The temperature was in double figures so not only were the legs out, but the arms too. Amazing really in March. I’ve not experienced vitamin D since about September though and I’m not sure Kent was ready for the milk bottles coming out. There were more starters this week and less wind. Both good. The same dude that tried to grind off the front at about 50 rpm last week did the same again this week and like last week we left him to it for a few laps.

A couple of the London clubs had mega numbers in the race so I was half expecting some coordination and a good chance of a break going. It wasn’t to be though and there was only ever one attempt that got far enough to be a worry. I saw spots as we chased that one down. One thing I’ve noticed in 3rd cat vs 4th cat is that when an attack goes it really goes and its usually followed by an immediate counter attack. It settled down a bit as the board came out and people started to watch each other. Given how quickly the bunch was rotating there was no point sitting 5th wheel as the front was becoming the middle and rotating back through pretty quickly. A few crashes, a few excursions on to the grass and at least one pedal strike later and the bunch was on the finish straight. I was determined to stay out of the wind even if that did mean being a little far back, I guess I got greedy as the guy in front of me sat about with about 70 metres to go and blocked what was basically a sheltered clear run to the line. 70 metres, who does that!! That pretty much killed my sprint but it looks like I still managed to bag 12th. Bit gutted to miss out on getting a few points to be honest. Still, the form is coming and its only March I guess. Found a cool video of the finish. Waaaaay out of it.

  • Strava
  • Time: 61 minutes
  • Avg: 219 watts
  • NP: 267 watts
  • Avg speed: 37 kph
  • Points: Tantalisingly close!

 

To finish, I’ll just leave this photo here. In between the winter crits its also been reliability ride season. This weekend rounded off the winter miles with a grim 50 miles of cross winds and torrential rain. I’m not sure how the Rovers always manage to order such grim weather but they always get it. I spent most of those 50 miles in a 7 man paceline so we were pretty wrecked by the time we got back. So much so we couldn’t even face the ride home from the HQ. Thank you Mrs Starmer for collecting 2 rather damp, wet dog smelling empty shells of men and for driving home with the heater on full. That Rocky Road in my hand was totally worth 50 miles of misery.

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Hillingdon E/1/2/3 – Race season is here!

I decided to sit out January crits this year, mainly as Hog Hill in a 2/3/4 did not particularly appeal. So it was back to Hillingdon a year on and a category up to see where my legs were at for 2017. Weight has come down nicely to around 73.5 kgs, which is pretty much as low as I’d got last year (albeit briefly!), training has been going well and I’ve felt pretty good around most of the early reliability rides so I was hoping not to be too far off the pace. Still, this is early days and more a toe in the water than a full on cannonball jump. There are some crits later in the month at Cyclopark which I plan to race with a bit more ambition.

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Mostly dry and not much wind. Decent by winter crit standards!

I’d entered the 3rd cat only figuring the 4th cat only last year was pretty easy going until the terrifying 3 lap gallop at the end. I don’t really like Hillingdon counter clockwise to be honest, particularly the long left hander before the finish where I always feel like I’m going to lose the front or clip a pedal. There always tends to be a few silly crashes too and there’s not much room to avoid them if someone does go down. Not really selling this am I?

Anyway, my buddy Dan was also testing his legs in the 4th cat race so we stocked up the car and headed over. Dan was pretty reserved about his chances but I reckoned he had a solid shot at some points.

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Bicycle origami is the other reason I like racing bikes

At sign on I bumped into a 1st cat buddy and found out pretty much by accident that the 3rd cats didn’t race on their own but instead raced with the E/1/2s for separate points. I must have looked like the wide eyed emoji. Shit, this wasn’t part of my plan! Cue Dr Pepper “What’s the worst that could happen” song ringing through my head for the next hour.

I had a little time before my race whilst Dan warmed up for his so I passed on the few things I’d learnt about crit racing. I figured learning from my mistakes may be of use to someone so I’ve listed them below. I learnt most of these the hard way!

  1. Get to the line early and get yourself straight into the first 10 wheels off the line. Let’s not talk about Ixworth….
  2. Stay in the top 1o wheels. The elastic band effect will be smaller and it will keep you out of the carnage further back.
  3. Do zero work. Nothing. Nada. zip. Unless you are racing with team mates there’s no reason to work unless you are trying to get into or make a break. There will be plenty of characters that want to hammer the front so leave them to it. Breaks in 4th cat races don’t tend to work. They do sometimes work in 3rd cat races though so maybe worth a punt.
  4. Hold your line. Not as obvious as it seems as the line often changes. But basically don’t make any abrupt changes of direction mid corner. You can’t hit the apex if you tip into the corner with three guys on your inside. You’ll usually find the guy shouting “hold your line” isn’t in fact holding his…..
  5. Don’t put your front wheel anywhere stupid. i.e. don’t overlap the guy ahead. He might not be holding his line (and require some verbal coaching post corner), but it will be you that ends up with a face full of tarmac when your wheel is taken out from under you.
  6. If the there’s a crash ahead or a touch of bars try to keep a straight course. Usually the first incident is minor and often no one goes down, the mega pile up follows when someone throws out the anchor and tries to avoid whats happening ahead.
  7. Lastly, this one is Hillingdon specific when the circuit is being raced counter clockwise. You need to be in the first 5 wheels going into the tight right hander before the long final sweeping left hander if you want any shot at the points. The first 10 wheels can work but you need a little luck or to be an absolute hero through the corners. Often the hero is the guy that ends up in the long grass on the outside though.

I didn’t see the finish of Dan’s race but whilst I was sat waiting to get on to the circuit the 4th cat bunch rolled in on their cool down lap and he was up there with the leaders. Promising I thought. We had literally 20 seconds to chat before my race and he had only gone and won it!! Amazing, first race of the season and he bags 10 points. Plus, just look at that sprinting position!

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Photo credit: Cliff Hughes

So, my race. Well I got to the line early…..After that I pretty much ignored most of my advice on positioning and proceeded to drift to the back. A slightly damp track, that inbuilt wariness of the last corner and not having raced in a bunch since July meant I was a little cautious for the first few laps. I was happy enough sat on the back getting my head back into it when the E/1/2s made themselves known and promptly strung the bunch out for several laps. It was brutal! We were not far off hitting 50 kph down the start/finish straight and absolutely hammering it through the bends.We were taking the corners faster and in much closer proximity than a 3rd cat only race which took a little mental adjustment, particularly after the time out. Saying that the manners were pretty good and there were only a couple of guys in the bunch that scared the crap out of me. One particular lap early on averaged 46 kph, 336 watts and 183 bpm so it’s good to know the legs are there.

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Making chasing look off casually deliberate since 2017. Photo credit: Dave Hayward

I worked my way up a bit to mid pack but I was finding that the bunch was rotating pretty quickly and I didn’t ever really get much further forward than that. Despite the faster pace and closer cornering there was only one major crash and it was one of those crashes that you could see happening ahead of you in slow motion. A few guys lost skin but hopefully no major injuries. Doesn’t matter how many times you hear it the sound of metal and carbon crunching into the ground always makes me cringe.

Three got off the front at some point. Didn’t even see that and in fact I’ve just realised the chalkboard being held up was showing the time gap! Haha! I spent ages wondering when the lap board would come out, particularly as I was expecting an hour of racing. Still, the legs lasted and I was moving up through the last 5 laps as the pace built. No idea where I finished other than in the bunch but a solid start to the season. Back again next week and I promise I’ll get the elbows out.

  • Strava
  • Time: 73 minutes
  • Avg: 222 watts
  • NP: 255 watts
  • Avg speed: 42 kph
  • Points: Only a warm fuzzy feeling

#4thcatproblems

 

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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.

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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.

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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)

 

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.

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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.