Hertfordshire Wheelers Club and Open 10s (F20/10)

I’ve raced a couple of times in the past fortnight on the F20/10 Course near Ware, Hertfordshire.  There’s been a bit of a debate raging over on the TT forum about which are the fastest 10 courses.  The F20 has some hardcore supporters, while others think it’s nothing special.  What would I find?  The F20 course is a straightforward out and back dual carriageway track, running south on the A10 and then back north to finish opposite the start point.  The surface isn’t brilliant in places, what makes it fast is probably the traffic levels.

I decided to enter the Herts Wheelers open event on Saturday 21st June, but then also saw there was the opportunity to ride in their club event on Thursday 12th.  The preceding Thursday had brought a long 19 and 20 minutes exactly for two riders who have been very close to me in races this year, so I thought I might have a genuine chance of the coveted “19” in these events.

Club event, 12th June

A week last Thursday, the wind forecast was a slight breeze from the north.  This isn’t perfect, because the course is net downhill on the southerly leg, and of course net uphill on the way back north.  So a breeze from the south would be optimal, to give some assistance on the way back.  But, the conditions were very good indeed.  I thought I’d need to average 32mph on the way out to have a chance.  And by the time I arrived at the turn, I’d done just that.  The last mile before the turn is quite a downhill gradient, and I topped out at 40mph which helped me achieve the ‘required’ 32mph.  I’d averaged 302w, and the question was whether I could raise that sufficiently to get under the 20 minute mark.  There was real hope which bolstered me for what would be a pretty unpleasant 10 minutes or so.

I had average speed as the most visible number on the computer.  To go under 20 minutes over 10 miles, you obviously have to average over 30 mph.  I’d averaged 32 outbound, but that’s largely downhill, so I’d have to suffer that number creeping back down as I made my way up the hard drag after the turn.  It’s about a mile long, and heavy going.  Sure enough I was struggling and the speed was dropping quickly.  I lost 1.7mph up that drag, yet still the course was mostly uphill even after that hill.  At that point I thought it unlikely that I’d do it [under 20 mins].  The road then flattens out for a little while before another, shallower drag that lasts for nearly 2 miles, much of it on quite a poor surface.  Again I was struggling and losing a bit of heart, but crested the top with one mile to go having averaged 29.8mph.

Speed then rose sharply as I hit a downhill, but I didn’t seem to have much power to give.  I could no longer make out the numbers on the Garmin, and I was looking desperately for the finish, but it was somewhere around the next left hand bend.  Then I saw the start on the other side of the road, and from nowhere I had a real kick of power, up over 400 watts.  I have no clue where it came from as just seconds earlier I was dying.  Anyway as the road straightened and I could see the chequerboard, I sprinted all out for the line and as I crossed and the Garmin reset the lap, I looked down and tried to focus on the time.  19:56.  That would probably not be fast enough.  I usually have around 5 seconds gap between the time my Garmin records and the official time.  But, it would be very close to 20 minutes and that’s no disgrace, I thought.

Back at the cars, the result sheet turned up.  I waited impatiently for my turn to have a look, and then tried to appear nonchalant as I looked down the list for my name.  Sure enough, 20:02.  3 seconds outside.  I wasn’t disappointed though – I’d lopped 18 seconds off my previous best time, and now I was definitely close, just over the border frontier from ’19’ country.  I felt, probably for the first time, that I’d really given everything I could.  I’d found something in the last few hundred metres that I hadn’t seen before.  3 seconds at that speed is 40 metres.  I asked myself if I could have been 40 metres further up the road, and I didn’t think I could, so I was very satisfied.  It was my first time on the course, so maybe I could find a way to pace it a little better and pick up the extra time?  Here’s the ride on Strava

Herts Wheelers Club 10, 12th June 2014


I managed to push 322 watts on the way back, giving a split of 302/322 which with hindsight seems quite good, given the course profile.  For reasons unknown, I decided to ignore this simple fact, as you’ll discover if you read on…

Open event, 21st June

So Saturday came, and I’d had plenty of time to think about the previous race, and pored over the data for ages.  I looked at where I had gone slowest on the course – the drag just after the start, and the evil one after the turn.  Perhaps if I could take those a little harder, and maybe recover a little on the dowhills, that might give me the tiny bit of extra speed I needed?  After all, the secret to going fast is not going slow.  The wind forecast was almost identical, slight northerly.  So I was hopeful that, given the previous experience, I could find the 3 seconds and go under 20 minutes.  In fact, the whole race became about the 20 minute mark.  And I think with hindsight that was a total mistake.

I’d decided to hit the first hill hard, and then recover on the long slight downhill up to around 3 miles.  I went out from the start like the proverbial, and got quite a way up the first hill before I started to notice.  I’d later discover that I’d averaged 360 watts up that hill.  Lunacy.  By the time I crested, I was blowing, but no matter, I could afford to take it a little easier down the hill.  But I was having to take it a lot easier! Uh-oh.  By the time the 4 mile mark came, and I began the big downhill section, average speed was around where it had been the time before.  And yet I was not in a good place going down that hill.  In the previous race I’d been close to 300 watts and up at 40mph, now I was (unknowingly) down at around 225 watts, and topping out at 38mph.  The turn approached and my average speed was half a mph less than it had been last time.  The game was probably up already :(

Then I got baulked by traffic entering the roundabout, and I lost a bit of heart.  I tried to raise it on the drag after the turn, but I knew from the speed that I had no chance.  The last 4 miles were dreadful, I had been so hopeful, and had pinned everything on it, but now I could see what a mistake that was.  I couldn’t muster any kind of sprint and rolled over the line in a time I would later learn was 20:39.  Easily my worst performance ever, in terms of the result versus what I hoped for.  But, even so it was 27 seconds inside my best time from last year.  It’s funny how your expectations change.

I recently discovered raceshape, a brilliant website that takes rides from Strava and compares them, showing you where you lost or gained time.  I plugged my two rides into it, here’s a link.  And here’s a snapshot:

RaceShape.com view of the two race efforts

The pink line – the baseline – is my 20:02 ride from the club event on the 12th.  The red line is my 20:39 ride from the open event on the 21st.  It’s shows a virtual race between my two selves.  You can see that in the second event I pulled out a 10 second lead in the first mile, as a result of hammering it right from the start.  But then at mile 2 you can see the balloon slowly deflating.  “I” – the 12th June me, overtook the 21st June me at 3.5 miles and then just pulled away at a reasonably constant pace.  It’s an object lesson in how not to pace a time trial.  Don’t go out too hard!  You can even see the kink at the turn, caused by the 21st of June “me” having to slow down for a car.

Now, enough doom and gloom, I must mention my companion on the trip, Genadijs Tilgalis, or “G” to most natives, a young rider from Peterborough who I’ve known for two or three years.  He’s been tearing me a new one on training rides and has recently done a couple of club TTs on a borrowed TT bike, on sporting courses, posting times similar to what I’d expect to do.  I figured I had one chance to beat him in an open TT, before he gets a clue!  But he utterly crushed me with a time of 19:32 in his first open TT on a TT machine, borrowed from a friend.  What might the boy be capable of?  In his first race he managed to do what I am yet to achieve, get on the podium (3rd place) and win a cash prize!  I’m taking some of the credit since I gave him a lift to the race and pumped up his tyres.  Every PSI was down to me.  Well done, “G”!  First place went to Mark Jones of Drag2Zero in 19 minutes dead.  I was pleased for Mark – he really knows what he’s doing and has given me some good aerodynamic advice in the past, even though we hadn’t met before last Saturday.  TTing is like that.  People help.  Especially if you aren’t a threat!  Second was Luke Clark in 19:25.  I came a deserving 17th.

I’ve learned from this experience that there is no point chasing just a time.  Because if it becomes apparent that you won’t make it, the race can be ruined.  If I’d just focused on trying to do the best I could, I might have finished a bit nearer the top.  Neither of the riders whose results are close-ish to mine (hello Justin and Chris!) went under 20 minutes either, but I lost 20-25 seconds to them, relatively speaking.  Perhaps that 20-25 seconds is entirely made up of desire, something I was sorely lacking for much of the second race.

So, I’m disappointed not to have hit the target, but delighted for G.  I am quite philosophical about it.  It should not be at all easy for a rider like me – a totally average club trundler – to get a 19.  If you’d told me when I was starting, just over a year ago, that I’d get within 3 seconds, I’d have laughed heartily, but craned my neck to listen!  It’s testament to modern technology that someone with zero talent can get close to a mark that wasn’t passed by anyone before 1980.  It might come, I have perhaps one more chance this season.

As ever, thanks for reading :)

Alex Dowsett breaks the 10 mile competition record (and I rode too)

Last Saturday marked the end of the first half of the season for me.  I planned to race quite a lot up until the end of May, spending June training for La Marmotte at the beginning of July, before doing a few more TTs in July and August.  This first semester was designed to end with the ECCA (Eastern Counties Cycling Association) 10 Mile Championship on Saturday 31st May.  The day my little girl turned 13!  Happy birthday Eleanor <3

The start sheet arrived a week or so in advance and I idly scanned the start sheet to see who had entered, as I always do, to try and get some idea of where I might expect to finish.  Some of the usual names were in there, Dave McGaw notably, but my eye was quickly drawn to number 110, Alex Dowsett.  Alex Dowsett!  That’s Alex Dowsett of Movistar, winner of the 2013 Giro d’Italia individual time trial.  This was exciting news.  No, really!  I spent the next few days telling anyone and everyone that I was going to race against Alex Dowsett:


“Alex Dowsett….have you been living under a rock?!”

Clearly cycling has some way to go to match the level of public awareness that certain other sports enjoy.

So Saturday came, and my parents and brother were visiting, because of our daughter’s birthday.  So they came along and brought my son.  It was quite nice to have some support.  I’d need it if I was going to stand a chance of beating Dowsett.  I say beat, I mean lose by a margin of less than 3 minutes.  That was the target I set myself for victory!

I was wearing number 45, off at 1445.  Dowsett was 110, off at 1550.  So, unless I had a spectacularly bad day, I would have the chance to do my ride, get packed up and wander to the start line to see him begin his effort.  There was a lot of talk in TTing circles in the run-up to the race of whether he would beat Michael Hutchinson’s competition record time of 17:45.  I thought he might.  The course we were racing on, E2/10 to the east of Cambridge, is one of the fastest courses in the country, but not THE fastest.  That’s generally reckoned to be V718 near Hull, where Hutchinson set the existing mark in 2012. So Dowsett would need to go well on a good day, but I thought there was a better-than-evens chance he would.

Two of my club mates at St Ives CC, Mick Hodson and Pete Balls, were helping out with the events, doing the pushing-off at the start.  So I spent most of the few minutes before the race – where I’d normally be “focusing”, staring sternly into the distance and breathing deeply, pretending to be an athlete – chatting to Mick instead.  Even into the last few seconds before the race, as he held me up, we were chatting away.  It removed what little tension there was, and of course didn’t have any negative effect on the performance.  The opposite, probably.  Off I went onto the A11.

I’d raced this course just once before, in August 2013.  I’d set my PB for 2013 there, in a time of 21:06.  I was doubtful that I’d be able to beat my PB from 2014 of 20:30, since I’d set that on what most people think is a faster course (F11/10 near Tring), albeit on not a very good day.  So I was hoping to go under 21 minutes at least.  Anything else would be a bonus.  I say that, but now of course I am really hoping to go under 20 minutes.  Any ride on a fast course might be an opportunity to go under, if the conditions are freakishly good. They seemed pretty good to me on Saturday.  Having said that, by the time I had huffed and puffed to the turn with a mildly disappointing 299w, I was averaging 29.3mph and I thought at that point that a sub-20 minute ride was impossible, given the even conditions and very low wind.  The turn on E2 is one of the reasons why it’s quite fast – if you can get onto the roundabout without being baulked by traffic, you can stay on the tri-bars and ride almost at race speed around the entire turn.  Luckily I managed to do that.

Photo by Davey Jones

Photo by Davey Jones.  Power bulge by McVities

Of course I soldiered on and seemed to be going a little faster on the return leg.  I think I paced reasonably well, because I was quite goosed when it came to wind it up for the last minute or so, I didn’t have a lot in the tank.  I crossed the line and the Garmin bleeped and said 20:15.  I had managed to go over 30mph for the second half, and even accounting for the usual Garmin error of 5 seconds or so, I would have a PB.  Nice!

Fairly brief warm down and said hi to my family who’d been watching on a bridge over the course.  They were keen to get off to the HQ for a cup of tea, whilst I was keen to glimpse the main man.  I walked down towards the start with my lad and passed Dowsett warming up next to his van.  Like a pathetic groupie I squealed “Good luck, Alex”.  He looked up and said “Thanks”.

1545 arrived and quite a large crowd had gathered at the start.  At 1549, Number 109, Bob Bush of CC Sudbury started.  I’d bumped into Bob earlier, when I was warming down, he was warming up.  I noticed he was wearing number 109 and so I caught him up to have a chat and wish him luck.  Bob must be at least 70 and so I don’t think he held out much hope of holding Alex Dowsett at bay for very long.  We had a nice chat, both marvelling at the opportunity we had to race in such exalted company, and wondering in what other sport would ordinary amateurs be able to rub shoulders with the great and the good?

Alex Dowsett of Movistar waits to start, behind Bob Bush of CC Sudbury

Alex Dowsett of Movistar waits to start, behind Bob Bush of CC Sudbury

Dowsett started and to my surprise, he looked just like anyone else.  I mean, he was wearing the British Champion’s skinsuit and riding a very nice Canyon Speedmax, Movistar issue. He went off up the road at a decent lick, but looked to all intents and purposes like any other decently-kitted tester.  Ceetainly not starting at a million miles per hour.  He was in sight for a few seconds and then blended into the Saturday afternoon traffic.  So that was that.  Back to the car for the 10 minute drive to the HQ to see my result, do the usual count-how-many-were-faster thing and await any news on the competition record.

Alex Dowsett at the turn.  Photo by Davey Jones

Alex Dowsett at the turn. Photo by Davey Jones

Of course by the time I had arrived, Dowsett had finished already and his time was on the board.  17:20.  He had broken the record by an astonishing 25 seconds.  Amazing!  My ride was bang on what I thought, 20:20, so a PB by 10 seconds.  And exactly 3 minutes behind Dowsett.  He’ll never know, but I will grant him an honourable draw, to go with his competition record.  Scanned through the results and I’d come 9th out of about 100.  It’s quite a competitive event, so I was pleased with that.  The first mortal to finish was Dave McGaw, who had beaten me twice already this season by about a minute, and did it again, finishing in 19:24.  Only two other riders went under 20 minutes, Russell Kober and James Walsby.  Then there was quite a clutch of us with short twenties.  Bob Bush finished with 31:26.  I guess he didn’t manage to grab hold of Dowsett’s seat post as he went past.  Anyway, well done, Bob.  I hope I can perform at your level when I’m your age.  In fact, it would be good if I can still ride a bike.

So, the first part of the season has finished.  It’s been reasonably successful, probably better than I’d expected.  I’ve improved my 10 mile PB from 21:06 to 20:20.  And my power has stabilised at around 300w.  I managed one race at 310w, so it’s in me to go faster.  The problem is that I still don’t really have a clue what training works and what doesn’t.  I’m going to have to try and nail that down if I want to squeeze out every last watt, which of course I do! Thanks for reading. :)



On the difference in speed between road and TT bike

St. Ives CC 10 mile Strava Segment

St. Ives CC 10 mile Strava Segment

This is something that I’ve often wondered, but never gathered any data to test.  I did one club TT on my road bike last year, but it was a 2UP, so I can’t count the time, since for more than half of it, I was being dragged round by Ben Price of Kinetic Velo.

I’ve not written any updates recently, because I haven’t been racing.  I was supposed to race the fast 25 course at Etwall, near Uttoxeter, earlier this month.  I went all the way there and then chickened out due to the weather.  About half the field didn’t start.  I wasn’t happy with the side wind and the amount of spray coming off the road.  So I drove home again.  This means I am still to do a 25 in 2014!  I’d resolved to focus more on 25s this season, and yet I still haven’t managed to ride one.  After that I went to Mumbai with work for a week, which messed up two weekends, and so the open racing has ground to a halt.

Anyway, onto the subject of this post.  St. Ives CC – until very recently – ran it’s club TTs on the venerable N1/10 course at Sawtry.  I’ve written loads about racing on this course.  This season, the local district has ruled that the course requires more marshals to hold events, and this has been deemed unrealistic for club events.  So a new course was sought.  Terry and Chris, who run the club race, worked out a new course in the vicinity of the old one.  It’s what you would call a ‘sporting’ course.  The old course was pretty sporting (this means slow!) in my opinion, and the new one is even more so.  What makes a course sporting is hills, bumps and twisty bits.  The things that slow you down.  The new course has a big uphill section after a mile or two, and then snakes through a wood on a very bumpy, twisty road, before a downhill section back towards the start.  To make it up to 10 miles, you then do a loop round a couple of roundabouts before finishing outside the HQ.  It’s quite complex to get your head around (which I think also contributes to the lack of speed).  It’s not a traditional out and back, more of a loop.  But I prefer it.  It’s more interesting than the old course, and time seems to pass quicker.  No doubt I will grow to detest it over time.

Since the course is slower, last week I thought I’d turn up and ride it on my road bike, because I thought it wouldn’t be too much slower than on the TT bike, and it’d be a bit of a novelty.  It’d also put down a marker so I could compare my speed on the TT bike at some point.  So I rolled up on my trusty Planet-X and shallow section wheels, wearing regular cycling gear (no skinsuit) and non-aero helmet.  To cut a long story short, I trundled round in a disappointing 25:48.  Power was low, too, just 280w, which I think is because I have trained for TT efforts almost exclusively in the TT position, and so I am not optimised for road bike riding, even on the drops.  What also affected power, I think, is the nature of the course.  There are plenty of places where you have to slow down.  Not brake, necessarily, but freewheel.  In a short race like a 10, this really hurts average power.  Just a few seconds without pedalling takes a few watts off your average power.  Anyway, excuses, excuses.  We all have our expectations of the times we should do, and for me that was pretty dire.

So this week I decided to roll out the heavy artillery.  Full lycra jacket.  TT bike, aero wheels, skinsuit, aero helmet.  I chatted to Mike Hoy at the line who thought the course wasn’t any faster on a TT bike.  “It’d better be!” I thought to myself.  The weather wasn’t good today, raining almost all day.  By the time 7pm came around, the rain had gone, but the surface was damp and the air was full of water.  The wind was quite light.  Overall, the conditions were a little poorer than the week before, which was comparatively warm and sunny.  Only 6 people turned out to race tonight, testament to the weather, but also the numbers have been poor so far this year.  Since the early TTs were cancelled due to the old course being unsuitable, the attendance hasn’t really got going yet.

Off I went, number 3 at 19:03.  Last week I think I went a little too hard up the hill, so I watched the power this time and tried to keep it below 320w.  This is quite hard to do when you want to cycle fast uphill.  It’s very easy to get over 400w, which for me would be pretty terminal (for a good time, at least).  At the top of the hill there’s a sharp left turn which is tricky when it’s damp, and then almost immediately another sharp left.  By this time I had passed numbers 2 and 1, and so there was nobody in front of me.  I set off into the twisty wooded section and by now my visor had started to mist up quite badly.  At the end of the woods there is a VERY sharp left bend, a sharp right which marks the half way point and then you go down a steep hill.  I was feeling ok.  I could see that power was down but I felt I was going reasonably well, and put the slightly lower power down to the 2 junctions and 2 sharp bends where I’d been freewheeling, sitting up.

By now my visor was completely misted up.  There are a couple of tiny vent holes on the top edge.  I was peering through those to be able to see anything.  A bit precarious when you’re hitting speeds of up to 40mph on the downhill, but in the moment you just shrug it off.

I don’t think I rode the next couple of miles brilliantly, time to be made up there, and then you go into the last section where you have to loop back on yourself.  I saw a couple of riders here, since it takes a good 3-4 minutes to complete the loop.  I didn’t ride very well over the last mile, because the line was approaching before I even realised, and I should have been pasting myself much earlier.  The garmin bleeped 10 miles as I crossed the line, but I couldn’t see the time because of the visor.  I was reasonably happy with the ride, although there is definitely time to be made up on several parts of the course.

So, the time.  I went round in 23:25 at 25.7mph, which is 2:23 faster than the week before.  Average power was 287w, up 7w on the week before.  But conditions were poorer, which I suspect would more than make up for the power difference.  So all in all, I think I am around 2 minutes 30 seconds, or just over 2.5mph faster on my TT bike than my road bike on this course.  When you consider that it isn’t a course that really favours aerodynamics (compared to a flatter, less technical course), I find that quite interesting.  On a dual carriageway course, I suspect the gap would be considerably wider.  Well over 3 minutes.

The last race of the first half of my season is this Saturday, on the fast E2/10 course near Cambridge.  Alex Dowsett has entered!  Hopefully he won’t catch and pass me, since I’m starting over an hour before him :) After that, I will be training for La Marmotte in June, before hopefully returning to TTing in July.

Thanks for reading :) A link to tonight’s ride on Strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/146633506

VTTA National Championship 10 mile TT

This post is brought to you by Voltarol.  The joy of movement.

I will get my excuses in first here.  I did something to my back whilst lacing up my shoes on Thursday morning.  I’d had a bit of a twinge every now and then for a couple of weeks but this was a lot worse, I couldn’t twist my trunk without a lot of pain and had to work at home on Thursday and Friday.  This was not ideal preparation for the race today, which took place on the F11/10 course at Tring, Hertfordshire.  It’s one of the fastest courses in the country, maybe the second fastest.  This was my first opportunity to have a crack at improving on my existing best time of 21:06, set in the corresponding event last August, albeit on a different course.  Back to my back.  I am happy to report that with a liberal application of Voltarol and a gobful of Paracetamol and Ibuprofen [legal!], I felt absolutely no ill-effects and I don’t think I was at all hampered.  The slippery slope.  Before you know it, I’ll be on Tramadol like Sk….no, no, lets not go there :)

The VTTA is the Veteran’s Time Trial Association.  It exists to organise events for the over 40s.  So I just sneak in!  These races are not decided on outright time, rather you get an age handicap for each year you are over 40.  This is called the ‘standard’ time for a rider of your age.  If you beat it, the time you beat it by is called your ‘plus’.  Last year at age 41 my standard time was 26:04 and my race time of 21:06 beat it by 4:58.  So my existing ‘plus’ was 4:58.  The intention is to level the playing field, and allow folks to be competitive in their advancing years.  It’s complex, I know.

Anyway, because I am at the younger end of the veteran spectrum, I am more interested in outright time.  In an event like this, where some really fast riders would be racing, I will be nowhere near the top of the order either on outright time or standard.  What I was looking for here was a personal best outright time.  The weather forecast was ok-ish.  Quite warm, with a strong southerly breeze.  Generally wind is not good for TTs, but this is a bit of an odd course, and I thought a southerly might be quite beneficial.

There’s a map of the course below.  It’s a little difficult to follow, but you start at the green blob, head roughly east to the first turn, then head back past the start where the course goes north west.  Then the road bends roughly west to the second turn, and then you retrace back to the chequered flag.

F11 Tring Map

So there’a section of course that heads north west between the green blob and the chequered flag that you only ride one way.  A wind from the south, or preferably the south east should help you on that section, and you don’t have to fight it on the way back.  At least that was my thinking.

What’s more interesting about the course – in fact you might say dubious – is that there is a whacking great downhill section exactly between the blobs.  This is known as a ‘gift hill’.  A hill you get the benefit from riding down, but do not have to ride back up!  Here, check out the course elevation:

F11 Tring Elevation

Of course this is very exaggerated, but you get the idea.  No wonder it is so fast!

I had all day to play with today, so I got down to the HQ for about 11, even though I wasn’t due off until 1506.  I wanted to ride the course first as I have never raced here.  I had a cunning plan (more cunning than a fox, etc.) for how I wanted to pace the race effort, and so it would be good to check the course out to see if the plan might work.

In the days preceding the race, I had looked at the race segment on Strava and noticed that in 3 out of the 4 fastest rides on the course the riders had freewheeled part of the downhill, for up to a minute, at over 40mph!  “Now that’s interesting information”, I thought to myself.  Given the hill is right in the middle of the course, could the race be treated as two mini-races of 4.5 miles each, with a mile’s rest in between?  What would that mean for the power output?  You’d have to try and ride at above 10 mile pace for the first half, take a break down the hill, then really bury yourself for the last 4.5 miles.  Freewheeling in a race goes against the general principles of trying to keep roughly constant power output, but if the fastest riders are doing it, well, there has to be a good reason for that.  So, that’s what I decided to do.

On my recce lap I got over the brow of the hill and then freewheeled down, accelerating to 42mph with no input to the pedals.  This was in regular cycling gear and helmet, so I knew it would be faster in the race.  It felt quite stable, in fact the cross tailwind seemed to be totally absent down the hill, perhaps because much of it is in a cutting.  This was not good news for the overall time – there were places elsewhere where I was being knocked from side to side by the wind, and any time there was a southerly component to the direction of travel, I could feel the wind eating at the speed.  I completed the recce in 24:15 at about 190w.  It was a breeze.  At race pace, in full-on Power Ranger gear, I thought I’d probably be able to get a PB, and started daring to hope I might get close to the magic 20 minute (30mph) mark.

Then I had ages to wait, so I scoffed a sandwich, pottered about, then had a long, leisurely warmup.  I got to the start in plenty of time and set off at the appointed six minutes past three.

The opening section to the first turn was ok, but the turn itself is tricky.  You go around two roundabouts, but the entrance to the first one, off the sliproad, is blind.  I was held up behind two cars who were waiting for space and had to come to a stop briefly.  I didn’t need to unclip from the pedals, but it cost me probably 5 seconds or so.  In the past I have got quite cross when I’ve been held up, but I expected this.  It’s just one of those things, next time I ride here it might be completely clear.  I got back on the dual carriageway A41 and headed back up the hill to the start.  This was quite a hard section, side winds and a slight gradient against.  I was hoping to get my average speed up to 30mph and at this point it was around 26, having taken quite a hit at the turn.  I really tried to ride this part hard, because I would soon go back past the start and reach the top of the big gift hill.

Onto the hill, I got the speed up to over 40 mph and then bent both legs so the pedals were horizontal, in order to present less of a shape to the wind.  The speed crept up to 44.5mph.  I could see I was catching the chap in front.  He was pedalling very quickly [probably against very little resistance] and yet I was reeling him in with completely still legs.  Pretty surreal.  As the road flattened out I got a hint of tailwind and was able to keep the speed over 35mph for nearly 1.75 miles.  This had helped the average immensely, it was now showing 30.1mph.  But I already knew from my trial run earlier in the day that there would be no chance I could keep it above 30, the last two miles had enough uphill drags and buffeting sidewinds, finishing with an uphill headind.  I approached the turn knowing that barring disaster I’d go faster than ever before, but the sub-20 minute ride would elude me.

And then at the final turn my Garmin ceased working.  Well, to be more accurate, the magnet that lives inside the disc wheel [which is how the speed sensor works, it measures the wheel rotation speed] detached itself.  I will be writing to the manufacturers of duct tape to complain.  I’d had a warning, it fell off on the turbo earlier in the week.  Serves me right.  Anyway the Garmin’s response to this was just to go into ‘auto-pause’ and refuse to start up again.  It froze showing an average speed of 29.5mph.  How apt.  So I rode the last 2 miles with hardly any usable information from the Garmin.  I was getting plenty from my Cardiovascular system, though.

Those last 2 miles felt very slow.  I was going as hard as I could, but well below 30mph I reckoned.  I thought I’d probably finish in around 20:30.  Perhaps a bit faster if I was lucky.  I passed the timekeeper in the usual condition and once I’d collected myself, rode the short distance back to the HQ, had a protein shake, packed up and went to look at  the projector screen.  Sure enough, exactly 20 minutes and 30 seconds.  Initial reaction: disappointment.  But, I had just ridden 36 seconds faster than ever before.  It feels a bit odd though, a bit fraudulent to ride a course like that.  Of course you can’t compare times on one course to another, and the fastest riders record the fastest times on the fastest courses.  If you want to compare your best against them, you have to ride there too.

I didn’t bother trying to work out where I was in the results.  There were 150 riders in this race, and with the results being decided on plus, far too complicated.  Somewhere in the middle, I think.  I had a brief scan through and the fastest two times I could see were both 18:53.  Fully 97 seconds faster than me.  Lots to do!  On the VTTA front, I have improved my 10 mile ‘plus’ to +5:39.  No, I don’t know what that means or if it’s any good, either.

I think the pacing worked ok.  At the point the Garmin went west I’d averaged 290w, despite a section in the middle where I wasn’t pedalling.  I’m certain this would equate to over 300 for the whole race, because I really hammered as hard as possible for the last 2 miles.  If I managed my par for this season of 300-305w, that would vindicate freewheeling downhill I think, because it would mean that the effective average power for the rest of the race would be a few watts higher, i.e. I would have pedalled at over 10 mile pace either side of the downhill.  But we won’t know until/unless I ride the course again.

Here’s the partial race file on Strava.

Cheers for taking the time to read :)

N&DCA 10 mile TT, same place as last week

A few weeks ago I entered a bunch of races so that I’d be racing pretty much every week until the end of May.  Today’s race I entered mostly because it is so local.  I *am* browned off with the course, but I thought it might be a chance to pit myself against some different riders – and a lot of the same riders too.  The N&DCA (Northampton & District Cycling Association) run a championship over a number of races throughout the season.  Because of this (I reckon) the events attract more riders than might ordinarily race on the more “sporting” (i.e. a bit hilly) courses like the venerable N1.  Last week’s St. Ives 10 had a big entry compared to last years, but today’s event attracted 40 more riders even than that, despite being on the same course only 7 days later.  Around 115 riders entered, many of whose names, in seeded positions even, I did not know.

I had a quick look through the past results of some of the seeded riders who I didn’t know (well, you gotta…) and it was quickly apparent that I wouldn’t be finishing as high up the field as I did last week!  I was given number 95, so among the second tier of seeded riders, and due to start at 1535.  Showers were forecast, I just hoped to avoid any rain.  As it happens, not one drop fell (in the entire event, I believe).

The past few weeks I have worked hard to get my training volume up, to see if it would make any measurable difference to performance.  As a result of this I have been quite tired.  I picked up a cold in the earlier part of this week and – with the poor weather forecast – was in two minds whether to race or not.  This morning I woke feeling not brilliant, but had a couple of paracetamol and perked up.  As I write this in the evening after the race, again I feel a bit under the weather, but have to say I was A-OK for the race today.  Good old amphetamines.  Joke!

Because of the large field – and my late start within that field – I had aeons of time to play with today.  I got my number from the out-of-the-ordinary HQ in Glatton, 2-3 miles from the start, and found a suitable spot within a few hundred metres of the start to park and setup my turbo.   I messed about for a bit, listening to the football on the radio and then got myself sorted.

One little custom I have adopted recently is to warmup with Olbas oil-soaked cotton wool up my nostrils.  This is, no doubt, a total placebo but it does give the feeling of the nostrils being cleared before the effort of the race.  It looks a bit stupid, but that’s ok because I’d normally be in a reasonably quiet place, left to my own devices.  Today, however I’d chosen a spot that would be passed by most of the field as they warmed up before the start.  Doh.  A new young rider from my club named Thomas pulled up to have a chat, a few minutes before he was due off, to find me doing a passable impression of Captain Edmund Blackadder.  Embarrassing.

 Right, blah blah blah, we’re off.  Today’s conditions you would not consider ideal.  A strong southerly breeze.  Nobody I spoke to thought the conditions were good for racing, but I was pretty happy.  The reason being, the course runs virtually due north and then due south.  The first half is net uphill.  A slight tailwind in the first half counters the gradient.  In addition, there is some psychological effect on me of a tailwind in the first half of this course.  I watch average speed while riding, and I know what my best speed is.  A tailwind here in the first half can give you a good average speed, even though you’re climbing.  This means that you can arrive at the turn – having done the ‘uphill’ part of the course – with an average speed greater than your PB.  This is undoubtedly good for the soul.  The tailwind was considerably more than slight, but it suited me and I hoped to be able to make hay in the early stages of the ride.

So it proved today.  I was bombing along on the out leg, the gradient seemed to have disappeared and I arrived at the turn – at the top of a harsh ramp – having averaged 28.8mph.  Last week’s race was completed at 26.9mph.  I had ‘simply’ to avoid bleeding off more than 1.9mph to secure a PB!

Seeing the conditions, and knowing how hard the return leg would be, I’d planned to pace the out leg to try and reserve as much as possible for the way back.  Often this sort of thing completely goes out the window the moment you’re released to ride your race.  But today I noticed at the turn that I was averaging around 300w.  I hoped that if I could add just a few watts to that on the return, I might be able to beat my previous best of 22:26, recorded 7 days earlier.

Heading back, it was hard.  There is a long drag just after the turn, and the average speed, with the accompanying headwind, was dropping fast.  At times like this I do have thoughts along the lines of  ‘this is not so important, why not coast it back?’.  So far I have been able to dismiss these absurd ideas.  It’s pretty amusing to me that they even occur.  I have quit plenty of training sessions after similar voices appear, but never a race.  Onwards.

At the last mile, the average speed had dropped to 27.0mph, a hair’s breadth faster than last week.  There’s a pretty steep ramp to cope with, plus 3 roundabouts and a stiff breeze in the face.  Oof.  On the plus side, it is the last mile.  Technique goes out of the window here, and I was acutely aware of some wayward riding out of the last roundabout on the approach to the chequered flag.  But we crossed the line showing 27.0mph!  Garmin says 22:15, so if the gods are smiling, it will be a narrow PB.  Had a ride around for a bit to warm down, then got myself sorted and drove back to the HQ.

Lots of people had gone home by now, since the results were all in some time before I made it back to the HQ.  It’s one of the advantages of a late start – plenty of time to kill before the race, but not hanging around for ages afterwards.  The first care is to check one’s own time, 22:18 today, a PB by 6 seconds.  Very satisfactory given the conditions.  The next care is to count how many riders have gone faster.  Eight.  Missed out on a cash prize AGAIN.  The race was won by Simon Norman in 21:14.  The same rider who beat me by a similar margin three weeks previous.  Good time.  Never going to get close to that.  There were three other riders below 22 minutes, David Kiernan with 21:28, Nick Cave (I presume not THE Nick Cave!) with 21:34 and Mark Exon with 21:56 and then a few more just over 22 minutes.  Ninth place this week doesn’t sound as good as fourth place last week.  But I did go faster, on probably a more difficult day weather-wise.  Pretty happy.

Looking at the data on my computer, I went out in 300w and came back in 314w.  This is pleasing.  As I said earlier, I hoped to be able to produce more on the way back to counteract the wind, and I did manage it.  As a result, that’s probably my best all-round performance on this course.  It’s my best time, of course, but I mean in terms of my current capabilities.  To be able to get 300w out in the first half, then 5% more on the way back, that’s pretty much as good as I could hope for at the moment.

Strava race data here.  Thanks for reading :)

One year on: St. Ives CC Open 10 mile TT

This was the race that I’ve been looking forward to all winter.  The anniversary of my first proper Time Trial.  Last year I came 10th, in a time of 23:39.  I was very chuffed with that, I had no idea what I was doing and turned up – having trained hard – with no idea what to expect.  A year later, I’ve learned a bit (and spent more than a bit!) and so it would be good to use last year’s race as the yardstick to measure what progress has been made.

CarlStIves10On19thApril2014 - Version 2

When I saw the start sheet, I was pessimistic about improving on that 10th place.  There was a very good entry for this year’s race – 72 riders.  Nearly double the number from last year.  I could see 5 or 6 names that I knew I could not beat if they were on form, and quite a few others who I have never beaten, or only beaten once.  This didn’t bother me too much – the beauty of Time Trialling at my level is that there’s loads of faster riders, and my finishing position in a race is simply a function of how many of them turn up.

That said, I have been looking at this date from a long way out, planning my training and racing to try and peak for it.  I tapered this last week for the first time.  I don’t know how to do this really, I just did my usual type of sessions, but foreshortened them to lower the volume a little.  Unfortunately at the back end of the week I started to develop a problem with my right ear (I suffer from ear infections quite regularly, sometimes they blow up, sometimes they fix themselves) and so I’ve been on paracetamol for the past couple of days.  I woke this morning still with a sore ear, but there’s no point dwelling on it, I was fit to race and the ear hopefully wouldn’t bother me too much.

I turned up ridiculously early, 2 and a half hours before my start time, and I was the first rider to arrive by about half an hour!  I will claim that small victory, there ain’t going to be any others.  Since it’s my club’s event, I thought I’d show up and help put the tables and chairs out.  So I had ages to potter around.  I like this, I don’t like to be rushed.  Things go wrong when I am rushed.

I was number 33, with a start time of 14:33.  I was changed and warming up on my turbo next to the car in plenty of time.  The warmup felt hard, though, I was struggling a bit with the harder parts of it.  This didn’t bode well for a good performance.  I put the turbo away and cycled the 5 minutes to the start line.  Not ideal conditions, today.  Cold and quite windy, although mostly a sidewind, with a slight component of headwind on the way out.  I tend to think the course is faster if you have a slight tailwind to counter the uphill first half.  But it is what it is.  I was in good time, I was there about 3 minutes before my start time.  Not hanging around too long.  I was in a bit of a daze for some reason and before I tuned in properly I got the 10 second warning.  Wakey wakey, we’re off.

The course isn’t my favourite, if I’m being honest.  It’s quite up-and-down for a TT course, not the hilliest, but not flat at all.  And large parts of the surface aren’t the best.  There’s not too much broken tarmac, but most of it is quite coarse and abrasive, not smooth and tightly packed.  I reckon smooth tarmac is faster.  There are 3 roundabouts to negotiate in the first mile, which I got through without any trouble, and then a long drag.  I detest this drag!  I was going ok, though, average power was over 300w, but not by much.  Compare this to last time out, where I was up over 310w at a similar stage.  I knew straightaway that this wouldn’t be my best performance in terms of power.  I was having to work too hard to keep above 300w.  So I tried to stop worrying about power output and instead paid more attention to average speed.  The best speed I have done on this course – 26.5mph for 22:35 – is etched into my brain.  I’d have to go faster than that to get a course PB.  Because of the standing start, and the 3 roundabouts at the beginning, it’s a little while before you can gain much info from the speed you’re riding.  In past events, if there isn’t a significant head/tail wind, there’s been less than 1 mph difference between my ‘out’ speed and my ‘back’ speed.  So if I could get to the turn at around 26mph, I’d have a chance of breaking my own personal best time.  You might think I’d be better off concentrating on pedalling, rather than worrying about this or that number, and you may be right.  But I seem to do better if I have something to chase.

I was up over 26mph as I got to the bottom of the ramp up to the turn.  This ramp is not much of a hill at all, it just feels like a mountain when I’m racing.  Speed just drops off a cliff and I feel as though I’m hardly moving.  I got to the top having averaged 25.8mph.  Game on.  Quick check of average power.  302w I think.  Meh.  300w is my nemesis.  I will probably beat it, just about.

I don’t recall much about the bulk of the return leg.  I remember watching the speed climb towards 26.5mph as I hung on towards the top of the dreaded drag (which would now be downhill) at Conington water tower.  Somehow, today it seemed to be uphill in both directions.  I don’t know how that happened, but I was struggling pretty badly.  Into the last quarter of the distance and I was not relishing it at all.  Average speed was now resolutely stationary at 26.5mph.  Not fast enough.  I would need a fast last mile to claim my best time for the course.  This was my baseline expectation.  Pretty silly really, given that conditions can have quite a big effect on your time.  But, I would view a time outside my course PB as a failure.

The last mile – and technical roundabout section – begins with a ramp upwards.  There’s nothing you can do to avoid losing a bit of speed here.  Once at the top you go through 2 roundabouts in quick succession and hope for no traffic.  Slightly unlucky today, I was baulked a little by a car at the second and had to coast and go around, but very little time lost.  Then it’s just dig in and wind it up for the run to the line, straight-lining the final roundabout – if traffic permits – and trying to get every last ounce of energy through the pedals.

All over!  Time not too bad, Garmin said 22:20 so I’d probably get an official time of about 22:25 or so.  Pretty sure it would be inside my previous best of 22:35.  The disappointment of the reduced power quickly took over, I thought the time would be nowhere versus others.  Very doubtful it would be good enough for the top 10, given the strength of the field.  Cycled back to the car and put everything away.  Normally I am very keen to get into the HQ to see how I have done versus others, but I was in no rush today.  I sat in the boot of my car chatting to the mother of one of the other riders.  One of the riders I knew should beat me.  His mother told me he’s 20.  I felt better.

After ambling over to the HQ and getting my free cup of coffee and a 50p hot cross bun (thanks, ladies) I went over to look at the elephant in the room, the times of the riders projected onto the wall.  Checked my time, 22:26.  PB by 9 seconds for the course.  Then I started to scan through the other times.  About two thirds of the times were recorded by now, with the later riders still out on the course.  I looked first at the fives and zeroes (the riders whose numbers end in 0 or 5 have the fastest historical times, generally) and not many of them have beaten me, and one of them, Simon Norman, who won the event I raced in two weeks ago, did not start (DNS in TT parlance).  In fact, at that point only one rider had recorded a time faster than mine.

Naturally you start to look at the riders still to finish.  I could see two who would beat me for sure, and one or two others who might.  But as the final results were entered, only three riders from the field had gone faster.  I was 4th.  The race was won by Brett Harwood with 21:16, followed by David McGaw with 21:22 and then last year’s winner Adam Gascoigne with 21:25.  These three were all over a minute faster than me.  That’s a yawning gap that will never be closed!  But, I’d managed to record a faster time than everyone else, including some riders I hadn’t beaten before.

So, while I’m not delighted by the performance, it is my best result so far.  And even if I’d recorded a power best, it would have moved me just a few seconds closer to the 3 riders at the head of the field.  By my reckoning I probably need to find 45-50 watts to bridge that gap, which would require an entirely different body – the one I inhabit will never be able to do that.  I’m satisfied with being fastest of the rest today!

Here’s the race data from Strava, if (like me) there is something wrong with you, have a look! :)

Team Sales Engine 10 mile TT, 6th place in 21:13

Here’s a link to today’s data on Strava.

Today was my second race of the season.  If you read the post I wrote about the first race of 2014, you might remember that I had a good result, but a poor performance.  Sometime after the race I noticed that my saddle had slipped down, and I wondered if the low power figure was in some way related to that.  Since that race I have trained quite well and hoped that I’d be able to push the pedals hard enough to satisfy myself that the winter has not been wasted!  I wasn’t targeting this race specifically, the first race I am looking at is later in April, so the early races like this one are handy training.  But of course I always want to do as well as I can.

Photo by Davey Jones

Photo by Davey Jones

The race today was on the F2A/10 course, which is on the A428 just west of Cambridge.  It’s a dual carriageway course, but oddly not hugely fast, historically.  I rode over it last weekend and it seemed a good course to me.  Nice surface in the main.  A little exposed, but I was looking forward to tackling it with a number pinned on.

Saturday morning I take my Son, William, to football.  So afternoon racing generally has to fit around that.  His match today kicked off late and so I was short on time.  I don’t like this – I like to be early and in plenty of time.  But I arrived about 60 mins before my start time, with time to do everything I needed to do before the race.  I signed on, got changed and did most of the “Team Sky Warmup” on my turbo near the car. I try and do this warmup whenever I can use my turbo before a race.  I haven’t spent years perfecting my own procedure, so why wouldn’t you copy those boys?!  They’re not doing too badly with it.

I was in plenty of time getting to the start line, I had about 5 minutes to wait, but that’s ok.  I needed a wee of course, but too late for that.  At 1425 I was set off onto the course.  I was determined not to start too hard this time.  It’s all too easy to do this – the pace you can sustain for the race feels very, very easy at the beginning, and you’re naturally excited and wanting to go fast, but if you overcook it in the first part of the race, it can ruin you for the rest.  The biggest uphill section on the course is just after the start, so that’s not ideal from this point of view, because your power rockets as soon as you start to go uphill, and also generally you should push harder uphill, but I seem to have kept it under control, from looking at the data post-event.

Having said that, after about a mile, I noticed that I’d averaged about 310w, which was about 30w more than I was thinking I’d make.  But I felt quite good so I thought I’d try and stick at that level for as long as I was able.  I passed number 24 quite quickly and was going along quite nicely, power even went up to 313w.  I thought ‘uh-oh’ and was waiting for the inevitable loss of breathing control that would signal a necessary reset of expectations.

The course runs east-west and there was a pretty brutal sidewind coming from the south-south-west.  It was gusting occasionally and I got knocked sideways a couple of times.  Luckily traffic was quite light!  Maybe the rear disc wasn’t such a great choice today, but once you’ve started, of course you’re stuck with it.

Sure enough I had to back off as the turn approached, but even so I was pretty pleased with the first half and hoped to be able to match it on the return.  I’d averaged a reasonably good speed on the out leg (26.6mph) and as soon as I started to head back east I got a slight benefit from the crosswind, which was now helping to push me along a little bit.  On a couple of the downhill parts I was struggling to keep the power up because the wind was helping to such a degree that I was pedalling as fast as possible to keep some resistance on.  In fact, one mile from the end on a downhill section, cadence went up to 106rpm, but power down to 190w as my speed went up to 38mph.

The course ends with an uphill drag of about 3/4 of a mile.  I seem to have had enough left in the tank because I pushed 356w for this part and averaged 31.5mph for the last section (cheers, tailwind).  I managed to get everything I had out and passed the timekeeper just as the Garmin bleeped to end the 10 mile lap.  I squinted through the tears and snot to see the time, somewhere around 21:15.  That’s a lot faster than I hoped to go, and I thought it should be reasonably competitive.  Best of all, I knew I’d produced the best-ever power – I didn’t know at the time but the average was 311w for the race, and I’d done a slight negative split (more power on the return leg) which is something that I think is good to do, because it means you didn’t over- or under-cook the first half too much.

The results were being projected onto a white screen at the HQ.  My official time was 21:13, which is outside my PB by 7 seconds.  But the course I did my PB on (E2/10) is very fast.  And today’s time was only 2 seconds slower than I recorded on V718 in Hull last season (V718 is generally accepted to be the fastest course in the country).  There were 90 riders in this race, and I’d gone off 25th, so I had quite a while to wait to see how I’d done relative to everyone else.  It was shaping up quite well, I was in 4th place after the first half of the riders had finished.  Might I make the top 10?  The rest of the results were displayed in small batches, and I finished in 6th place.  The race was won by Simon Norman, some 62 seconds ahead of me.  That’s a long, long way.  I wasn’t too far off 3rd place though, only 7 seconds, and I missed out on a small cash prize by 4 seconds to 5th place.  But no matter, it was far and away my best result and performance.  I finished ahead of a few riders that I’ve never beaten before.  Hopefully I haven’t peaked and can improve a little more in the next little while, as the main events of my season approach.

As Chris Boardman might say: Satisfactory :)

Thanks for reading :)