My doorstep

Hi again.  Before I get onto the real subject of the post, a quick note about the title change.  We spent our summer holiday this year in the Limousin, a region of central France.  I took my bike with me and went out most days.  Whilst there I happened to notice that the Tour du Poitou-Charentes was passing reasonably close, and the individual time trial was about an hour’s drive from where we stayed.  Looking at the list of riders taking part, I saw the names of Mark Cavendish and Alex Dowsett.  Dowsett in particular is a hero of mine and so it was an easy decision to make the trip to watch the race.

That’s when I first came across the term Contre-La-Montre.  It’s French for ‘against the watch’ and it’s their term for time trial.  I thought “what a cool-sounding phrase”.  So there you go, that’s why I decided to change the blog title.  It’s taken me a few months to get around to it.  Probably most fans of TTing are well aware of this phrase, but of course I am a Johnny-cum-lately to the sport; I only started paying attention to it when Wiggins won the Olympic TT, so I’m the cycling equivalent of the Manchester City fans who have appeared by magic on high streets up and down the land in recent years.

By the way, Sylvain Chavanel won the TT (or Sylvain-ah Chhhhhaaaaavaneellll as the commentator at the race pronounced it, every 30 flippin’ seconds for 3 hours).  Here’s a terrible photo I took on my iPhone of the victor:

Sylvain Chavanel racing in the individual TT at the

Sylvain Chavanel racing in the individual TT at the Tour du Poitou-Charentes 2014

Nice bike, Scott Plasma Di2.

The main thing I wanted to mention in this post is the Tour of Cambridgeshire, announced today.  It’s taking place on the weekend of the 6th/7th June 2014 and consists of a 16 mile TT on the Saturday, followed by an 82 mile “Gran Fondo” (sportive) on the Sunday.  Both with closed roads.  This is a very big deal for me.  The start and finish of the events is at the East of England Showground, which right in front of where I live.  I can see the arena from my bedroom window.  I have entered both events, but I’m most interested in the TT.  I won’t be competing for the £1500 first prize, or indeed any of the prizes, but I reckon a lot of good riders will show up and I like to race against the best.  I heard this morning that one multiple national champion is planning to ride, so I bet other top riders will too.

I heard about the event a couple of months ago.  I sometimes ride with local legend Malcolm Smith on the Kinetic Velo club rides and he mentioned to me that he was involved in organising the event.  It captured my imagination straight away.  Start and finish in an arena, starting on a proper ramp. Chip timing.  Closed roads, the roads I know well.  A lot of the course runs on a lane called Bullock Road.  That’s where I go to do my hardest training sessions.  So I have plenty of time to prepare and think about how best to ride the course.  I can go into tiny detail as to how hard to ride the climbs, where to recover, search out the sheltered sections, find the best line through corners.  I can’t wait.  I’m going to make it my main season goal for 2015.  I want to be the best I can be on that day.  I’ll probably get a puncture.

In other news, I’ve entered a race this Saturday.  It’s the Farnborough & Camberley Christmas 10.  For some reason I keep reading that as Farnborough & Cranberry.  Anyway, I entered because there was quite a lot of banter on the TT forum about it and I fancied it.  I discussed it with Matt and he said “go for it”.  We’ve made a position change and I would like to test it in a competitive environment at the earliest opportunity before I commit to the work necessary to properly train into it over the winter.  I’ve also made some equipment changes to my bike (ostensibly new bars and tyres) and I’m keen to see how I go with those too.  It’s experimental.  I will be trying as hard as possible of course, but I don’t have any great expectations.  There’s a lot of riders down to race who are faster than me.  So I will write a report on the race probably at the back end of the weekend.

Recent occurrences pt2 – end of season

The season is over for me now, sadly.  I was due to race in the Leo 30 mile TT yesterday, but it was cancelled because of heavy rain.  A pity, because I’d worked very hard on the spin bike in the week, and now I have no way of enjoying any benefit from that.  On one hand I am ready for a rest – I haven’t had more than 2-3 days without a race or training session since September 2013.  But on the other, I have really enjoyed myself and been going quite well at the back end of the season, so looking at it that way I’m sorry that the racing for 2014 is finished.

In my last post, I wrote about my experiences in making up the numbers in the national championships.  Since then I have raced 3 times, all 10 mile races too.

VTTA EA 10

VTTA 10, 6th September 2014.  Photo by Davey Jones

VTTA 10, 6th September 2014. Photo by Davey Jones

On September 6th I made the short trip down the A1 and A14 for the VTTA (Veteran’s Time Trial Association) East Anglia race, held on one of my favourite courses, the E2 near Cambridge.  It would be the 3rd time I’ve raced here, clocking my best time of 21:06 in 2013, and then improving to 20:20 earlier this season on the day Alex Dowsett broke the competition record.

I didn’t have much in the way of expectations.  I don’t believe that I currently have the ability to go under 20 minutes, but perhaps I could beat my previous best on the course?  Conditions were very good.  A warm, still day.  I had trained well in the week and felt pretty good.  As usual I went off too hard, but at the turn I was averaging dead on 30mph and 310w, which is as near as dammit the best ever.

On the return I slowed a little, despite finding a few more watts.  I guess there was a slight wind against.  Also I got a bit confused as to where the end was.  There are two bridges, one at one mile out (and also of course 9 miles out), and one half way along at 2.5 and 7.5 miles.  For some reason I thought the 9 mile bridge was the 7.5 mile one, and so the end came upon me before I had chance to empty the tank – it was more of a sprint than a measured output, which is not very efficient.  Anyway I crossed the line with my Garmin recording 20:07 and 313w, which is the joint highest power I’ve done.  So with a bit of luck I would get a PB for the course.  Back at the HQ and sure enough my official time was 20:12.  Also, for the first time I’d finished in the top 3.  The race was won by my team mate Jason Kierman in 19:34, a brilliant performance!  Substantially out of my league.  Another team mate, Pete Balls had come (I think) 5th or 6th and so St. Ives won the team prize for the fastest team of 3.  As you can imagine I was pretty pleased with this!

Here’s the data on Strava.

ECCA 10

Two weeks later, on September 20th, I was back racing on the E2 in the ECCA 10 mile race.  Now this time I *really* didn’t have any expectations of a good time, because it was a terrible day.  My parents and brother were visiting so they came with me.  We drove the course just after the race started (I was one of the later starters, so I had plenty of time) and I wouldn’t have raced in those conditions.  Too much spray from the rain, I didn’t think it was safe.  But the rain stopped and by the time I needed to warmup there was no reason not to go.  It wasn’t very warm, and it was windier than either of my previous races on the course this season.  I changed my helmet from the usual Giro Selector to the Kask Bambino, because it has a removable visor.  I’ve never raced without a visor, but I knew that because of the amount of water around, the visor could mist up.  The Bambino visor is held on by magnets and can be easily discarded, even if it is a rather expensive thing to do.

This race was my first as a “zero”.  TTs are generally seeded with the fastest riders wearing numbers ending with 0 (10, 20 etc) and then the next group with 5s, then 1s, 6s, and so on.  It’s done to try and prevent competing riders from encountering one another during the race.  Anyway I remembered back to my first race where I wore number 19, among the slowest.  The 0s seemed like proper hardnut athletes to me.  But actually they’re often just middle aged plodders with a nice bike, too.  Who knew?

In the run-up to the race, I had been thinking about pacing a little more.  Usually I try and keep the power as constant as possible, but someone had said something in passing about the times when you’re on the power and the times when you’re not.  I thought “but I’m always on the power…”  So I thought I’d experiment by going substantially harder uphill and then accepting having to back off when the gradient points back down.  I’ve always known that you should pace this way, but I end up going into the red uphill, and then not wanting to ease off downhill.  This ends up with you getting to the next uphill and having to back off just when you shouldn’t.

I started, and very quickly realised the visor was a mistake.  After about a mile, when I started getting pretty hot, it began to mist.  By 2 miles I couldn’t see very much, unless I lifted my head.  About a minute later I realised that lifting my head up wasn’t likely to lead to a fast time!  So I removed it and frisbee’d it onto the verge.  That’s about £40 down the drain!

I seemed to be going pretty slowly.  I didn’t have a view of speed on the garmin, but it all seemed rather pedestrian.  Although the wind was now hitting my eyes, it wasn’t causing me any problems.  Power was marginally lower than the previous race at the turn, but I had given up the idea of a good time already, I was just motivated to try and not disgrace myself.  I’m normally quite consistent, and it really pinkles me off if I am way below par.

This time I clocked the bridges correctly and wound it up at the 9 mile mark.  As I crossed the line and looked at the Garmin, it had stopped at 20 minutes exactly.  Umm ok!  I thought this would translate to a time in the region of 20:05-20:10, which would be another course PB.  Power was slightly down on the previous race at 310w.  Presumably aerodynamics were slightly poorer too, since I’d worn a sub-optimal helmet (for me), and removed the visor after a quarter of the race.  I also think it must have been a worse day.  So perhaps I discovered something.  Having analysed the data I think I have.  I will possibly write about it over the winter months.

Anyhow the official time was 20:07, which was 5 seconds faster than I have ridden the course before.  I thought this had given me 4th place, but a time on the board was wrong.  Joe Gorman, who I’d never heard of, was credited with 21:09, but in fact had ridden round in 19:09.  He was off early in the pouring rain.  Incredible time.  Dave McGaw, who usually beats me by 50-60 seconds was 2nd, but this time only 37 seconds ahead of me.  I also beat a couple of people who I’d normally be beaten by, albeit closely.  I was 5th, but given the conditions I have to be happy with that.  It has given me a thing or two to think about, too.

Again, here’s the ride on Strava.

Kettering CC / Sheppard Memorial 10 mile TT

Kettering CC 10 mile TT, 27th Sept 2014.  Photo by New Leaf Photography

Kettering CC 10 mile TT, 27th Sept 2014. Photo by New Leaf Photography

In what was supposed to be my penultimate race of 2014, on 27th September I was in Kettering for their open 10 mile TT.  I’d never ridden or seen their course before, so I made sure to get there early and went for a ride around.  I’d seen the profile on Strava and it seemed a real challenge.  Not out-and-back, but a circuit.  Mostly uphill for the first 5 miles, then in the second half a couple of quite nasty uphill sections and a fast downhill.  Probably not my kind of course!

With my experiences in the previous race I thought I’d try and make sure I nailed the uphills.  But once I started, I realised immediately that I was down on power.  I couldn’t maintain over 300w for any period of time, so the plan was all out of the window.  By the time I got to the halfway mark I was under 300w.  This dwindled still further on the long, fast downhill, which is immediately followed by the biggest uphill.  I should have something in reserve for this, but I didn’t, trundling up it at just over 300w.  I was hoping for more like 350 for that section.  At the 9 mile mark I found some energy from somewhere and finished quite well, the official time being 22:59 and average power exactly 300w.  Before the race I would have taken sub-23 minutes on this course.  4th place again.  Also 3rd place on vets’ handicap, so I won the grand total of £25, which is the most I’ve ever won in a race.  Not far off being enough to pay for the visor I’d chucked away the week before…

Here’s the ride on Strava.

Goals and Review

My main personal goal this season was to go under 20 minutes.  I didn’t really externalise this as a target, but it has been my only target really.  I decided I wanted to go for it at the end of my first season in 2013.  I had no right to set the goal, since I hadn’t even got within a minute of it at that point.  But I thought “I’m going to do it”.  If you’ve read the blog before, you might have seen that I got reasonably close – 20:02 in June and 20:04 at the Nationals.  But that was the last chance I had really.  Although I went close in the ECCA race described above, 7 seconds is quite a long way.  So I fell just short.  But overall, 2014 has been very good to me.  My other main goal was to race the National 10, which I did do, and I seem to have found a place towards the top end in local races.  I’m not in danger of winning one, but I’m usually around the top 5, which is no disgrace.  When I first started I hoped to be ‘competitive with people having similar constraints’.  That’s a bit nebulous, but I guess I meant similar age, similar lack of talent, similar time constraints.  I’ve achieved that, at least.

Looking forward

After 2 years, I am none-the-wiser about what sort of training I should be doing to get faster.  I have got faster, of course, but I haven’t found what training is best, and I have no idea really about what to do.  So I decided a few months ago that I would get a coach for 2015.  It might be considered a bit grand for someone at my level, but I am very passionate about my time trialling and I want to be the best I can.  I am also very impatient and I don’t want to take 5 years to learn something that could be learned in 1 year with the right help.

A few months ago I started chatting to Matt Bottrill.  If you know your TTing, you’ll know who he is:  National champion at 10, 25 and 50 miles in 2014.  Also competition record holder at 25 and 50 miles, and he rode the 2nd fastest 10 of all time to win the national 10 mile championship (and beating me by the small matter of 2 and a half minutes in the process).  Fair to say that he knows what he’s doing.  Matt’s going to coach me, starting at the end of October.  Excited isn’t the word.  Although of course I am paying for the privilege, I still feel very lucky to have this opportunity.  This will limit the amount of detail I’m able to go into, but I will still be updating the blog with my experiences.  It might be a bit barren over the winter, but if you check back every now and then, hopefully there will be some new stuff.

Matt not too far behind a certain knighted gentleman at this year's British TT championship

Matt Bottrill not too far behind a certain knighted gentleman at this year’s British TT championship (not to be confused with the CTT national championship that I raced!).

Re: the above photo, I call this two degrees of separation! Two massive degrees, I admit :D

Thanks for reading :)

Recent occurrences pt1 – National Championship 10

Hello!  I haven’t been very good in recent weeks and months in updating this blog.  I ran out of steam a bit, partly because it seems to me that every post is much the same.  I’m not sure it’s very interesting to read, but I did find it cathartic to write.  And one of the original reasons I started was to record my ‘journey’ in time trialling.  I lost sight of that a bit, and perhaps things that I might consider important in future years have happened and I haven’t bothered to note them down here.  Anyway, one of the all-time greats of the sport recently asked me why I’ve stopped writing.  So that spurred me into action. Thanks, Ian :)

So this is an update of what’s been happening in my TT ‘career’ lately.  Although I haven’t been writing here, I am extremely motivated by the sport still.  I’ve been racing a fair bit and am already very excited about next season.  There is some news which I am not yet able to share, which I hope will help me to improve next year.  It has really fired me up for the latter part of the season, which is what this post is really all about.  So…this is a rundown of my recent events.

RTTC National 10 mile TT

National 10, photo by Craig Zadoroznyj

On 31st August I made the trip up to Humberside to race in the national championships.  I had made it one of my main season goals to get in to this race.  It still seems utterly bizarre to me that I might be able to ride in a national championship for anything, even though I obviously wouldn’t be ‘troubling the scorers’.  This year, because of the course being used (a variant of the V718, the fastest course in the land) it was harder to get a ride than might normally be the case.  Entries are ranked in order of your PB, and the top 150 riders get to race.  Although I’d ridden 20:02 in June, that was in a club race, which is not eligible for entry to the nationals.  So for these purposes, I entered with the 20:20 I recorded on the day Alex Dowsett broke the competition record with 17:20. I think the slowest rider in the race had 20:30 or so, so I didn’t squeeze in by much.

I made the trip up with my pal “G” (Genadijs Tilgalis, have a look at his site here).  He’d finished second in the Herts Wheelers open 10, with a brilliant time of 19:32, in the process destroying me by over a minute.  G was hoping to go well.  I was just looking forward to my non-league-team-day-out-at-Wembley.  Of course I was taking it seriously, but I mainly wanted to enjoy myself.  I didn’t think a PB would be on the cards, because it was thought that the /1 variant of the course would be slower than the regular version, the final mile or so being on single carriageway, following a tight left hand bend.

G and I did a recce of the bend, I thought it probably wasn’t that slow after all.  I was off quite early, number 29, reflecting my lowly status (the nationals are seeded in order of PB, the Bottrills and Hutchinsons of this world would be starting much later).  I didn’t have a fabulous warmup, just kinda rode around a bit.  I was at the start line in plenty of time and in a bit of a daze.  I remember immediately upon starting thinking to myself “you should have some kind of plan, you’re in the national champs, here”.  But I rode down the slip road onto the A63 and got on with it.  IF I did have any kind of plan, it was “since it is the nationals, lets try for a power PB and deal with the consequences later in the race if it’s not happening”.  So I roared off onto the course far too quickly – as usual.  Looking down I could see 330-odd watts after the first minute or so.  Instead of thinking “better cool it a little”, I thought “good”.

The turn came and I was starting to struggle a bit with the pace.  It seemed to come very quickly, and in fact – for me – it had.  The half way mark is in fact after the turn, and I was on the sliproad up to the double roundabout in under 8 minutes.  As I came back down onto the DC to head back up to the course, I could see my minute man, he wasn’t all that far away.  I didn’t think much of this at the time, other than “Oh, I will probably catch him then”.

At my start time, conditions favoured the out leg, with a slight tailwind.  I could immediately feel the headwind on the return and was already regretting the decision to go out hard.  I was blowing quite badly at the point of hitting the infamous (well, in TTing circles) Welton drag.  Power was way down, and speed was suffering.  In fact I seemed to have stopped reeling in the man in front.  I came to the turn off the main road knowing I had a mile or so to go.  In the biggest race of my short career, hopefully I would have something left?  Indeed!  In the last two minutes of the race, I put out 343w.  No idea where it came from, because I was dead on my wheels coming off the DC.  The occasion warranted it, and it came from somewhere.  But I could have done with 20 or 30 of those watts a few minutes earlier…

Approaching the finish.  Chaos! Photo by Kimroy

I was catching the chap in front again as we approached the line.  I couldn’t see too well because of the effort, I could see cars parked ahead and I was desperately trying to sight the finish.  Eventually I saw the chequerboard and found another boost of power, almost 400w for the final 30 seconds of the race.  As I crossed the line the Garmin had reset the lap.  Through the sweat, spit, snot and whatever else I craned to see the time.  It had stopped at 20 minutes dead.  Now I knew that wouldn’t be the magic ’19’, because my Garmin always reads faster than the timekeeper’s watch.  But I had no idea I’d get within a few seconds of my PB.  My minute man was not very far up the road at all at the finish.  I later discovered he’d done 20:57.  When I sighted him at the turn, if you’d whispered in my ear “catch him and you will go under 20 minutes”, I honestly believe I’d have caught him.  Having a visible target there, rather than riding “as fast as you can” is so valuable.  But, I didn’t catch him, and my official time was 20:04.

Matthew Bottrill won the championship in 17 minutes 40 seconds.  The second fastest time ever recorded.  I bet he could teach me a thing or two.  I finished in joint 90th place.  I was hoping to get into the top hundred, so I’d achieved my aim.  Average power was not brilliant, 306w, but it was about par.  Within tolerance, anyway.  I think I suffered for the effort at the start.

All in all I had a marvellous day and felt privileged to have been on the start sheet.  When I started this caper I never thought I’d be able to ride in a national championship, so it was a total delight to be able to do so, and rub shoulders with the great and the good.

I’ve raced a couple of times since on the fast E2 course near Cambridge.  I will hopefully write about those very soon.  Thanks for reading. :)

Two days, two races

This weekend I entered two races for the first time.  Some people say they go better the day after a race or hard training effort, so I thought I’d try it.  Usually I try and do some kind of training ride the day before racing, but generally a 2 hour endurance/low tempo ride, no hard efforts.

iCycle 20.2 mile open TT

On saturday afternoon I drove over to Cranfield (near Bedford) for the iCycle Northampton & District Cycling Association (N&DCA) 20.2 mile race, held on the F5/20, which is basically two laps of the F5/10 course.  Being a circuit, it’s different to most of the open courses I’ve ridden, which are generally out and back along the same section of road.  That said, it’s quite similar to our club course, in terms of the twists and turns and relatively lumpy roads.  I drove round the course after signing on and immediately thought that it’s not the kind of course that would suit me!  That might sound negative, but courses with hills tend to suit lightweight riders, and courses with lots of turns and twisty bits require good handling skills.  Get my excuses in early.  At the first sign of a tight corner, I’m off the extensions and onto the base bar.  I always think I could do better on corners!  But, I was well motivated for the race.  It’s part of the N&DCA points competition, a 10-race series that runs throughout the season.  I think I will base my season around this next year, as it’s a chance to race against the same riders regularly, and to experience a variety of different course types and distances.

The event was very well organised, lots of helpful marshals and the start and first corner were nicely coned-off to protect riders.  The first lap was quite good fun.  I passed a lot of riders compared to the second lap, and I seemed to be going well.  Power was where I hoped it would be, a little up on last week’s 25.  There’s two quite big hills on each lap.  The first time up the first hill I went up it feeling good.  You come up into a village and I got a bit baulked behind a car who was waiting for someone going the other way.  It’s silly, but these things bug you at the time.  The more it happens though, the more chilled about it I get!  The course is quite bumpy and twisty for the rest of the lap and you have to be careful with the line you take sometimes.  The lap ends with another big hill.  It’s the first time I’ve raced on a course with hills that have me sitting upright to get up them. The speed is reduced quite considerably, I was down to 14/15mph on both the hills.

In the second lap, power dropped off a little, indicating that maybe I’d started a bit too hard.  Didn’t see many other riders on this lap, except I passed a couple of later starters who were on their first time around.  Just after the first hill and village, I got strangely delayed by a car who seemed to be waiting for someone.  It was out in the country, so no turns, and she was driving at about 20mph as I approached, looking all the time in her mirrors.  As I got very close I sat up and waved at her to try and get her to foxtrot oscar out of the way!  But she continued to dawdle, having clearly seen me.  Eventually I either had to sit behind her, or overtake, so I went past.  Weird.

The race ends just over the brow of the second hill on the lap.  This time of course I emptied the tank and stayed above 18mph.  I crossed the line, went to the end of the road and then rode the 4 miles back to the HQ.  I was 4th again, with 45:52, same placing as last week, a long way behind Ashley Cox of Luton CC and Jon Simpkins of Drag2Zero, and 30 seconds behind Jason Gurney of Arbis-Colbert Cycles RT.  Power was 1w up on last week’s 25, so a reasonable performance, and a decent result.

Here’s the ride on strava

Bedfordshire Road CC 25 mile open TT

This morning I drove the 30 minutes down to Tempsford on the A1 for this race.  It was held on a different variant of the F1 course, this time running south to Baldock and then back north to Tempsford.  It’s a significantly hillier version, quite lumpy around the turn.  Obviously this morning the weather forecast wasn’t so good, but at the start there was no rain, although the sky ahead to the south did look ominous.

I felt pretty good and got to the start with no stress and was set off at 0736.  Within a mile though I could see that I was struggling with power, not really getting above 280w, versus last week where I was riding at around 300w for similar perceived exertion at this point.  And then the heavens opened.  I’d been thinking about riding without a visor, but since there was no rain when I started I left it in place.  In no time it was pretty useless, misted up on the inside and covered with water on the outside.  The one saving grace was that the visor on the Giro selector has two small (useless) vent holes at the top edge.  The angle of my head is such that I can see enough through one of these holes to be able to ride safely.  I’d discovered this on a club TT earlier in the year.  But I was concerned about the conditions.  I have never raced in rain before and the course has several roundabouts and traffic flashing past you all the time.

I went up and over the hilly section before the turn, and encircled the Baldock roundabout and headed back North.  The main hill seems steeper as you approach from the south, it is a straight road so you can see all the way up it from a way away, and it seems to ramp up as it gets towards the top.  But, I had a tailwind now and speed dropped to 17mph as opposed to 15mph on the way out.  It was hard to make out the digits on my garmin, but when I did, it didn’t make for good reading, averaging somewhere down around 270w.  At the final roundabout at Sandy, I had to slow right down to wait for a car, cost me a few seconds but it didn’t bother me.  I picked the power up in the final couple of miles, went past the timekeeper as fast as possible and made my way back to the HQ in the rain.

I saw a clubmate of mine, Dominic, and he said I’d come third!  But on closer inspection I was 4th with 56:02, missing out on 3rd by two seconds.  So the last roundabout had cost me!  But of course the guy who came 3rd might have been delayed any number of times that I’ll never know about!  In fact I am a little relieved not to have come 3rd – I hope to get on the podium (so to speak, there isn’t actually a podium!) one day, but off the back of a good performance, not like this.  I’d averaged 267w, fully 15w less than last week.  I think this was due in part to tired legs from the race yesterday, and also a slight lack of desire and concentration because of the conditions.

Once again, here’s the ride on strava

No more races for me now until the National Championship 10 on the 31st August, but I will be training hard for that!  Thanks for reading :)

Finsbury Park CC 25 mile open TT

Yesterday morning I raced in the Finsbury Park CC 25 mile open TT, on the F1/25 course (on the A1, in the area of Black Cat roundabout, if you know where that is). First 25 of 2014, and my second ever. F1 races have to be run early in the morning because of traffic levels, so I was off at 0732. Decided I would aim to average 280w, as that’s about 90% of my best 10 mile power. Bit of a breeze running from the south, and the course is mostly north-south so it was fast one way, slower the other.

80 names on the start sheet, including Mark Arnold, the newly-crowned national 12 hour champion. A few local fast riders were missing, probably owing to the national 25 champs also being run yesterday in Cumbria. For me it was about experimentation, since I don’t have much experience at this distance. The F1 course is not quick for a dual carriageway, and my only previous time (54:56) was set on the E2 near Newmarket, which is among the fastest in the country, I hoped that the improvements I have made since last year might enable me to beat that time. But I didn’t really have a target time in mind.

The first part of the race heads south on the A1, down to Sandy roundabout. I could feel the wind against, and tried to settle into a rhythm and push reasonable power. No difficulties at this point. Turned at Sandy and headed north for about 12.5 miles, up to Buckden roundabout. I had the wind behind now and it felt fast. I knew, though, that it meant I would be up against it for the final 9 miles or so. I was overtaking quite a lot of other riders, and feeling good.

The turn at Buckden was negotiated with no problems, but immediately I felt the wind. 9 miles of that to come. Suddenly the energy drained away. I was struggling a little to maintain the power now, which was a pity, since it’s better to push harder into the wind. I caught rider 29, Adriano Taverna of St Neots CC, but I struggled to get past. He put more power down as we went up a hill and I was stuck about 5 metres astern. You can’t draft other riders, so I had to either drop back, or push hard to get past. I managed to get past.

In the last few miles I found it hard, and just wanted it to end. I kept looking at the Garmin to see how much distance remained. Into the wind, speed had dropped from nearly 30mph northbound, down to around 25mph. Cruel that every mile was taking longer, just when the reserves were petering out.

So I crossed the line without much of a sprint, and made my way back to the HQ, which is quite a long and convoluted route. The aforementioned Mr. Taverna caught me up and introduced himself, we had a nice chat. I got changed, had a chat with my pal Mick Hodson, who lives just down the road and had turned out early to offer a shout of support. I’d seem him twice on the course in different places. It gives you a boost when you get a shout of encouragement, cheers Mick!

In the HQ to see my time on the board, 54:48. So I’d done a PB, by a narrow 6 seconds. I was a bit miffed at first, because I thought my Garmin had said 54:28. Of course it matters not a jot what time you think you did, the timekeeper decides. Anyway, when I got home I realised I’d read it wrong, and I agreed with the timekeeper after all! I’m sure he’s relieved. Good job I’d said nothing. With 60 of the 80 results known, I was in 2nd place, behind Nigel Hale of Herts Wheelers, who had recorded 54:32. A good ride, also a PB for Nigel I think. But the two favourites were still to come. Sure enough, Mark Arnold finished with 52:43 and then the final rider, Luke Clarke, bumped me down to 4th, with the 2nd fastest time of 53:48. But, with prizes down to 5th, I’d finished in the money for the first time! The kids are pleased, they can share the £20 between them :)

Overall I’m happy. I slightly exceeded the power I planned to produce, got a PB and felt I did all I could in the race. Mildly disappointed that it wasn’t good enough to get into the top 3, but of course that is down to others and outside of my control. Thanks for reading :)

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:

“Who?”

“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 :)

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