#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)

 

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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.

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.

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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

Use it or lose it

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

Lee Valley Velopark 4th cat – 1 August

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

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

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

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

Little Bentley 10 – 5 August

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

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

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

Mid Suffolk RR 3/4 – 9 August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, you’re having fun…

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

Hog Hill 3/4 – 16 July

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

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

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

Langham 10 – 22 July

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

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

nuggets

Cyclopark 4th cat – 25 July

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

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

17th in my case. Next time perhaps.

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

Cyclopark 3/4 – 30 July

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

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

Cyclopark_3_4

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

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

Nuggets well earned that night.

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

Plenty of racing, not enough writing

Lea Valley

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

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

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

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

Eagle Road Club Good Friday Races 3/4 – Redbridge

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

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

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

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

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

CC Hackney Primavera 3/4 – Lea Valley Velopark

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

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

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

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

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

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

Run over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lotus Cycle Racing E/1/2/3/4 – Hethel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

East London Velo – Six days of winter – Round 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where’s Wally continued.

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

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

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

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

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