King’s Cliffe Flyers ‘Winter Warmer’ 12 mile TT

Excitement has been building – let me tell you – in this corner of Northern Cambridgeshire, for the opening race of my 2015 season.  I’ve been working away, consistently training, and producing comparatively good numbers.  So hopes were high for a decent performance.  I was ill on Wednesday and Thursday this week, a tuna sandwich from the train’s buffet trolley the most likely suspect, but by today I was fighting fit and ready to go.

If you can’t be bothered to read to the bottom, the executive summary is: raced, cold, didn’t win.  Pretty much like all other races, with added cold.

Shall I use the deep section front wheel today, or the shallow?

Shall I use the deep section front wheel today, or the shallow?

Now the long version.  Having looked at the start sheet, I knew I wasn’t going to feature at the very top of the result board, but maybe I could produce a decent performance?  I’d never raced on the course before, but I have ridden it quite a lot lately.  The course is two laps of the Southwick race circuit, a six mile course used for local road races and TTs.  It’s probably the hilliest course I have raced on, and quite technical, with 3 left turns (for 2 of which you don’t have right of way), and a couple of tight right handers.  The most noticeable feature, though, is the hill at the start and end of the lap.  There’s no mountains round here, but this is about as close as we get – about half a mile at an average of 5%.  You notice!

This hill has been worrying me.  The old timetrialling adage “the secret to going fast is not going slow” springs to mind.  In training I was struggling to ride the hill on my road bike at much over 13mph.  It takes just under 2 mins for me to climb the hill, so going significantly slower than another rider up the climb is going to cost serious time.  Especially since you have to do it twice.  At those speeds, aerodynamics don’t play a huge part.  It’s mostly about power to weight.  I’ve got not much of one, and rather a lot of the other, and sadly not in the right order.  I was more concerned about the first lap, how hard to attack the hill given you’re only half way through the race?  Second time around I thought I’d be ok, there’s always some power left at the end.

It was cold this morning, but thankfully dry.  It was still a bit frosty when I drove round the circuit, and about 1 degree above zero.  The forecast was for around 4 degrees for the race, and no rain until this afternoon.  There was a light breeze, but strengthening.  If it had been raining, it’d have been properly unpleasant and I’d probably have DNS.  I don’t like the cold as it is!  I arrived in plenty of time, got my number and set off for the start with about 40 minutes spare.  The start was around a 5 mile ride from the HQ, so I used that to do the warmup routine that my coach Matt Bottrill recommends.  I wasn’t suffering too much with the temperature, except my toes.  I have a Skins A200 thermal compression base layer.  I really recommend it for cold races.  It’s very, very tight.  Hard to get on, in fact and even harder to get off.  But once on, there are no wrinkles to ruck up your skinsuit.  It’s so warm that I can’t really wear it in the house, I get too hot within a few minutes.  But for a freezing day, when you’ve just a thin lycra suit on top, it’s just the job.

Arriving at the start line with 3 minutes to spare, I ditched the outer jacket I was wearing and lined up.  I was set off at 11:35.  You’re almost instantly into a steep downhill.  Quickly into the mid-30s MPH.  Down to the bottom of the hill and you have to scrub off a lot of that speed for a 90 degree left turn.  The first half of the course is pretty fast.  With a SW breeze you have the wind mostly behind you, and it’s largely downhill or flat.  After a mile, again scrub speed for a left hander.  Luckily the marshals were watching for traffic and I got through no drama.  Then another mile and a half to another left turn marking approximately the half way point.  So far so good.  Now it changes to net uphill.  You can notice it straight away.  It’s just a gentle upslope, but the speed dropped from 29-30mph to low 20s.  There’s yet another left turn where you have to yield – fortunately no traffic again, a nasty sharp little hill and then a quick run down to my least favourite corner.  It’s a sharp right next to a farm.  You arrive at high speed, but the surface on the corner is terrible.  Stones and mud all over the road.  Shortly afterwards is another unsighted sharp right, and then you’re on the run towards the hill that marks the end of the lap.  I managed to get up it averaging 14.0mph and 340w.  Probably should have pedalled a little harder really.  Onto lap two!

It was just like lap one really, but I was more puffed out.

On the approach to the corner before the final hill, I could see rider 33 in front of me.  I was 35, so he’d started 2 minutes ahead.  He was just far enough away to make a decent target for the hill.  I hammered it as hard as I dared and just held on.  I didn’t manage to catch him, but we crossed the line almost together.  I messed up a couple of gear changes at the top and just ended up standing and sprinting over the line.  But I did average 15.0mph up the hill and 361w.  I’d have taken that.

After I got my breath back I rode back to the HQ the long way around, as hard as I could, to get a bit more effort in.  After changing and putting the bike in the van, I popped into the HQ to have a hot drink and slice of cake.  The results were not posted yet, waiting for the timekeeper to return.  Normally they are phoned through, but I don’t think there’s much mobile coverage in King’s Cliffe.  Zero Vodafone signal anyway.

Soon he turned up, and I positioned myself nonchalantly with my back to the result board.  This was counter-productive, quickly had neck ache from turning 180 degrees to see the results as they went up.  28:40 I did.  But George Fox did 26:46!  Beaten by nearly two minutes.  This is the 3rd time I’ve raced against George.  I somehow beat him in the St. Ives 10 in April last year.  I think he was coming back from injury, I remember chatting to his Mum after the race.  And then in the National 10 in August, where he beat me by 38 seconds.  And now almost 2 minutes.  One of us is on the up, and it ain’t ol’ Whitters!  To be fair though, the Good Lord has gifted me 20 more years to carry around the course, and, by the looks of things, about 20 more kilograms too.  You gotta rage against it though, don’tcha?  You can’t give in to it.

Peter Cocker was 2nd with 27:39, a minute ahead.  And I was beaten for 3rd place by Stuart Wright by 1 second.  In terms of relative results, this is probably the worst I have had. I did win a prize, “fastest vet”, but on further inspection I noticed that I wasn’t actually fastest vet.  The rules were “one rider, one prize”, and Stuart was fastest vet but since he won the prize for 3rd place, the fastest coffin-avoider vet went to yours truly.

So following all that, as you can imagine I wasn’t in the sprightliest of moods.  I rarely get disappointed after races, but I was today.  It’s not the type of course to get the best out of me, but to lose by 2 minutes stings a bit.  Next up for me is likely to be the ECCA 10 on E2/10 on March 21st.  More my type of course.  Head down and pedal.  Doesn’t matter if you’re a bit fat, or if you can’t go round corners fast, because there’s only one corner and it’s a nice wide roundabout.  Hope for no traffic at the turn and plenty everywhere else.

Onwards, friends :)

Strava data is here.

The problem with using different power meters

Apologies for not posting, etc!  The season fast approaches, so if you follow this blog you’ll be getting spammed soon enough, and longing for the fallow winter months :)

Virtually my entire season is planned out.  I’m hopefully beginning with the King’s Cliffe Flyers Winter Warmer 12, which is next Sunday 22nd February.  I’ll mainly be riding in the N&DCA (Northampton & District) points series, mostly because they are local events and it’s good to measure yourself against the same riders I reckon.  Oddly I haven’t planned to ride many fast 10 courses this year, indeed I might not go to Hull at all.  I spent a lot of last year chasing the sub-20 minute 10, I suppose I decided it will come if and when it comes.  The main reason is that there’s 10 N&DCA events and I want to ride as many of them as possible.  There’s typically two per month, so if you want to commit to that, it limits what else you can do.  I might change my mind later of course, but at the moment I want to focus on the local races.

A quick update on my winter training.  I have been beavering away doing the sessions set for me by my coach Matt Bottrill.  I will write a longer post on my experiences with Matt soon, but suffice to say working with him has been a revelation.  Of course so far I have achieved nought, and results will be the barometer, but he has planned training for me that has been interesting, eye opening, and has pushed me to power numbers I haven’t seen before.  Not night and day differences, but I am certainly producing more power than I was 12 months ago.

Now to the actual intended subject of this post.  I own a Power2Max power meter, mounted on a Rotor 3d+ crank.  I love the thing.  If I had to keep only one component from all the cycle-related things I own (which believe me, is quite a lot) it would be that.  It’s been attached to my feet through most of my training and all my races so far, and has been one of the key tools I use to measure performance.

During the week I use one of 3 WattBikes that we have in the gym at work.  All last year I found that I could not make the same power on the WattBike as I could on the road through my Power2Max, either on a road bike or my TT machine.  I put this down to overheating.  The gym at work is air conditioned, but there’s no direct fan, so I get very hot and sweat buckets during the 60 minute sessions I tend to do.  Towards the end of 2014 that started to change – I found that I could at least equal the Power2Max power on the WattBikes.  This was a good thing, and I congratulated myself on adapting to the WattBike.

Into the new year, and I started to see a further swing in favour of the WattBike.  To the point where you couldn’t mistake it – I was making more power in the gym at work than I was able to produce in any configuration through the Power2Max.  Road bike, TT bike, on the road or on the turbo.  It seemed unmistakeable.  My very good friend Mark “Eddie” Amos has a PowerTap wheel that was recently serviced and calibrated by Paligap, and he kindly offered to lend it to me to conduct some tests.  The good thing about the PowerTap is that you can measure power both through the Power2Max at the cranks, and the PowerTap at the hub simultaneously.  I have two Garmin Edge head units (A 500 and an 810) and I thought it would be useful to record a couple of rides simultaneously to see if I could discern any measurable difference.

First up was a 20 minute FTP test.  I loathe these with all my heart.  To the point where I am ready to refuse to do them.  I set my Dolan TT training bike up in the kitchen, made sure both meters were being recorded and set off.  The highest power I have recorded on the turbo before for 20 minutes was 302w in January 2014.  During this test I monitored the PowerTap reading and did not look at the Power2Max.  By coincidence, the resultant 20 minute reading on the Power2Max crank was 302w.  But the PowerTap read some 14w higher at 316w.  I think if you have two power meters, one measuring at the crank and one at the rear hub, if both are accurate, you should get a higher reading from the crank, because it is measuring power before any losses in the drivetrain (chain, gears, cassette), whereas the hub meter will “deduct” those losses.  Indeed Matt told me his PowerTap reads typically 5-10w lower than his Quarq crank.  14w is nearly 5%, and if the PowerTap is accurate, the true difference might be as much as 20-25w.

The next day I took the bike on the road for a sweet spot session (around 90% of FTP).  Again the PowerTap read higher, 12w this time over the course of 2 hours.  It seems likely to me that, given my subjective experience with the WattBikes at work, and the direct comparison I did with the PowerTap, that my Power2Max is reading low.  I am going to send it back to Germany to have it serviced.  I have discussed it with Power2Max, and they aren’t too impressed with my comparisons, but hopefully they will check the calibration and change it if necessary.  Unlike some other power meters, it’s not possible to calibrate the Power2Max by yourself.

The question that begs is, if the Power2Max is indeed reading low, when did it start?  Did it affect any of the readings from my races last year?  Am I making more power now or not?  It’s impossible to tell.  I am going to rent a PowerTap for a few months from cyclepowermeters.com so I can regularly compare, and at least have some idea of consistency.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back after the race next weekend with a report.  I’m hoping to get round this time and not suffer another puncture.  Fingers crossed…

Percy Shaw* I shake my fist at thee

DNF

On Sunday 21st December I made the journey down to Bentley to race in the Farnborough & Camberley Christmas 10.  I entered for a couple of reasons.  Firstly there were a number of riders that I wanted to compete against, including Adam Topham, 3 times “Best All-Rounder” and author of the Time Trialling book that I never tire of recommending.  It’s not that I can get anywhere near these guys, but it fascinates me how far ahead of me they are, and I can waste time wondering how I could close the gap.  The second reason for riding was that I’ve made a number of position and equipment changes on the advice of my coach, Matt.  It’s probably not the right time of year to be able to do comparative testing, and one single race in winter is hardly conclusive, but I was hoping to come away with the knowledge that what we’d done wasn’t completely awful.  The changes can be summarised as seat up, bars down, new tyres.  That’s as much detail as you’ll get!  I did also change handlebars to 3T Ventus II, but not on advice.  I am building a training bike so I needed a second set of bars.  In 2014 I used Ian Cammish’s great PDQ bars and I planned to buy another set.  But then I saw the 3T bars, which are ordinarily priced well out of reach, on sale at half price and I couldn’t resist them.  They are a thing of beauty.

Ordinarily, this would have been just another dull “I rode 5 miles one way and 5 miles back again” race report, as rightly ridiculed by fellow competitor David Woodhouse on his excellent blog, Cycling Epiphanies.  If you haven’t seen his site yet, I recommend it.  He’s funny and he can write.

So far as the race report goes, I did manage to ride 5 miles one way, but sadly didn’t quite make the full return journey.  Not on wheels, at any rate.

Photo by Derek Jordan

Photo by Derek Jordan

I found the first half very difficult.  It’s uphill and a strong wind was blowing mostly in my face.  I struggled with it and power was not where I expected it to be, a featherweight 280w for my heavyweight 80kg.  The surface is quite poor too and I found myself shuffling around on the saddle a lot, which I think indicated that the new position required a slight change in saddle angle to stop me falling off the front of it.

I’d started number 76.  75 didn’t start and so the man in front was number 74, with a 2 minute head start.  I caught him just past the turn at halfway and started to enjoy the tailwind, though I couldn’t seem to do anything to raise power.  The last 2.5 miles or so are downhill and as I entered that part of the course the speed shot up to 37mph.  On the other side of the road a few minutes earlier, I’d come to almost a standstill at under 17mph.

Anyway, shortly after I entered the fast finish stretch, my race ended.  I’m still not entirely sure what happened, but I went over a cat’s eye at the edge of the road.  One of those benign lumpy rubber protrusions that are there for our safety.  Didn’t do much for my safety on this occasion as the front tyre gave up with a shocking “BANG” at 37.1mph.  Obviously I knew straightaway what had happened and I sat up and gently applied the rear brake, hoping to stay on.  It felt remarkably stable until I slowed right down, but I came to a halt on the tarmac strip to the left of the line and dismounted.

I had a strange set of emotions.  I wasn’t shaken at all, although I was obviously relieved.  I just thought “oh well, had to happen”.  I took my shoes off.  I figured I’d rather sustain minor injuries to my feet than ruin my Bont Crono shoes.  They’re far too good for a midfielder like me anyway.  Damned if I am going to destroy them like this.

It’s the first time I’ve failed to finish, probably won’t be the last.  I turned round and started walking back up the dual carriageway the way I’d come.  I thought I’d passed a junction shortly before and I was always taught to walk facing oncoming traffic.  I was on the tarmac edge of the road, next to the verge but outside of the road itself.  Even so it was a little worrying having traffic buzzing me at 70mph.  The junction I thought I could make out in the distance turned out not to exist, and so I turned back around and walked in the direction of the course, with my back to the traffic.  I’m not happy about that, but I just wanted to get off that road ASAP and I could see a bridge ahead that I knew was close to the HQ, if I could somehow get to it.  I couldn’t, there was no way up to it without destroying my clothing and flesh on brambles.  Just ahead there was a footbridge.  When I got there, again I couldn’t get off the road.  So I ended up walking about a mile just to get off the main road.  By now my feet were rather sore and my socks had worn through.  I was actively searching out muddy parts because they were softer!

As I approached the HQ, the Garmin bleeped to signify 10 miles.  I’d forgotten to stop it.  44:59, so I managed to do 10 miles inside 45 minutes!  Not bad, considering the last mile and a half were done in stocking feet.  In the HQ, there was hardly anyone left.  I’d started 3rd from last anyway, and the majority of people had departed.  My name was up on the board with a mournful “DNF” (did not finish) next to it.  I drove home a little depressed, cursing myself for not being able to control my bike properly.  I was sure the cat’s eye had been on my side of the white line, but I looked at them all the way home and didn’t see a single one that was on the right side of the line.  And on google street view in that area they are indeed on the left of the line.  I can’t remember exactly why I drifted over.  Perhaps I’d shifted position and it knocked me off course a little.  So it may be that my failure to finish was down to a combination of changing position and tyres (the tyres I used on Sunday are a lot softer – maybe my old race tyres would have stood up to the cat’s eye?).

Viewed in this way, you might judge the experiment a failure.  But actually the data I do have appears to show a step forward in drag or/and rolling resistance, probably both.  Power was down, which might be related to the position change, but I think I’d have finished in the top 10 of a decent field, had I managed to avoid road furniture.  So it wasn’t a completely wasted trip.

Thanks for reading, and I wish you a Happy Christmas and hope that 2015 is good to you.

*Percy Shaw, inventor of the cat’s eye

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. :)

 

 

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