Two posts in two days. You lucky few. On Saturday night, St. Ives CC held it’s annual awards night at the Dolphin Hotel in St. Ives. It was my first experience of Rollapaluza. This is a fun competition where two riders compete in a sprint on fixed-wheel bikes mounted on rear-wheel rollers, the races being timed and the distance covered by each rider displayed on a large Countdown-style clock visible to everyone. Good fun, but sprinting is not my discipline. It’s simply a test of leg speed as much as anything else. Overall fastest was Jason Kierman (pictured) with a best time of 22.71 seconds for 500 metres, and a peak cadence (how fast your legs go round) of 193 rpm. My time was 24.63 which put me in 6th place, with peak cadence of 184 rpm.
As for the awards, I won best 10 mile TT (any age) and best 10 mile TT (veteran) for my 19:37 on V718 near Hull in August, best 25 mile TT for the 49:50 on R25/3L in South Wales in September and Best 50 mile TT for the 1:45:38 on E2/50c at Newmarket in June.
Separately I had a nice surprise in the post, a certificate to say that the St. Ives team of Luke Hattersley, Mick Hodson and myself beat the Northants & District association team record in their September event on the F15/10 course at Brogborough. Justin Layne took the outright solo record with 19:39 in the same event.
Like most of us in the sport, I’ve been beavering away over the winter, training for the new season which – thankfully – is now just around the corner. I’ve seen reasonably good gains on the WattBike, which is primarily where I train. I’m sure there will be an adaptation period when the racing starts – I have yet to start a season well, even when the winter training numbers have been good. I think it takes me a few races to find it, and then I’m ok from that point on.
I did have my first proper crash at the weekend, whilst out training with my friend Justin. Apparently, damp roundabouts are not to be taken on the tri-bars at race speed. Who knew? I was a big brave soldier, though, and gamely rode back to the car. Like they do on the telly. Not like those pansy footballers.
Racing starts for me proper on 19th March with the ECCA 10 mile TT on E2/10 at Six Mile Bottom, near Cambridge. Well, I have entered at least. I also plan to ride the Team Swift Good Friday 10 on V718 before rolling on to the main Spring Classic of the UK Time Trial season – the St. Ives CC Open 10 on 16th April!
More musings to come once the racing begins
I noticed a few days ago that the last time I wrote a post was at the end of May, less than half way through the season. I have been putting little bits on Facebook, but for the few people who read this who aren’t connected to me that way, I thought I’d write an update, now that my racing season has finished and to review the season as a whole.
Firstly I would really like to thank the people who have helped me, and who make my hobby so much more enjoyable.
- My coach Matthew Bottrill changed the way I look at racing and has helped me improve aspects that I never thought were that important, but turned out to be critical. When I started the coaching I thought it would just be about training plans, but it turned out to be so much more – complete support.
- My friends David Woodhouse and Justin Layne have helped me enormously with field testing and suggesting changes which worked incredibly well and were very influential in the improvements I saw in the second half of the season.
- The first person I met in TTing, Mick Hodson, my friend and club-mate. I met him after he caught and passed me in my first race in April 2013. He is still better than me as we have established many times this season. It’s a source of mild irritation to me, but I hope he gets some satisfaction from it! Chewing the fat with Mick is another thing that enhances my enjoyment of the sport.
Looking back at what I said I’d target in 2015, that didn’t last very long! I realised very quickly that sporting (read: hilly) courses are just not my forte. I could get better at them if I lost some weight, but I am naturally more competitive on flat courses where aerodynamics are more important. I decided I wanted to be as competitive as possible, and that required choosing the courses that suit this particular horse.
I’m not going to write laborious race reports as you’d be here all day, and I’d be here all week. Instead I will just split the season up into the various distances and disciplines and try to be brief. If you want any more detail on something, please ask a question in the comments and I will try to respond.
This is the distance I race most. I broke 20 minutes for the first time on 30th May, then in subsequent races on the V718 course in Hull improved that to 19:40 and 19:37 in July and August. None of the days I raced on were particularly good, so I’d hope to be able to improve further in 2016. PB from 2014 was 20:02, so in absolute terms I saw a 25 second improvement.
On my local course, the N1/10, times improved by an average of 34 seconds in the 3 races I did, versus 2014. Best was 21:37.
My best single carriageway time was 20:21 on the F15/10 near Brogborough, Beds.
Before this season I had only raced the distance three times, with a PB of 54:50. One of my main goals this year was to improve that to a level that was somewhere commensurate with my 10 mile times, relatively speaking of course. In June and early July I raced 4 events, two each on the A25/11 Etwall and E2/25 courses, among the fastest in the country. My best from the bunch was 51:10 in the Belper CC event in July on A25/11. I was quite satisfied with that.
I had one more opportunity to improve, the Port Talbot Wheelers event on the R25/3L course in South Wales on 6th September. Conditions were lovely – warm sunshine and very little wind, and the course ought to suit me. I’m still not quite sure how it happened, but I somehow recorded 49:50, which got me an entry on the all time fastest list on the TT forum. If you use your scrollbar and go a long way south, I’m down there somewhere, about 160th or something like that
Sub 50 minutes was so far away at the beginning of the season that it never occurred to me to set it as a target. My feelings about it are still a mixture of pride and bewilderment.
This isn’t a distance that is raced all that much, I think there are only a couple of fast events each year, but one of them is close to me, on the E2/30 near Newmarket – the Leo 30 held on Saturday 3rd October. I entered in 2014 but the race was cancelled due to bad weather, so I was very keen to have a go this year. My enthusiasm increased when it was announced that a new variant of course would be used this season. Having raced over the same roads for 50 miles (see below), I thought the new version could be really fast.
It would be my final race of 2015. I am entered into the Closed Circuit champs at Thruxton in a fortnight, but I will not ride as I have been troubled by a persistent back problem and I need to get it sorted, so I decided to draw a line after the 30. The day came and, oh my, the weather played ball. Fairly warm, but practically zero wind. Zero wind is what we need for fast time trialling. After the successful 25, I thought there was an outside chance of a sub-60 minute 30 mile ride, so long as it was the best day of the year. And it definitely was the best day of the year, certainly of the days I have raced on. I made a plan to try and go under 60 minutes. It was a pretty simple plan on paper – get the average speed up over 30 mph as quickly as possible and then try to hold it, managing my available resources in the way Matt has taught me.
In the event, it went like clockwork. I went hard and reached the 30mph average within about 5 miles, and then steered it home. Of course it was very hard work, but there was only one point, just after the turn, where it seemed in doubt. I crossed the line in 59:29 for 8th place. Before Saturday, only 14 people had ever gone under the hour, but because of the new fast course, that list has now swelled to 23 names, and I’m 17th. I think it is a St. Ives CC club record.
I don’t seem to be well suited to longer distances, as my power drops off more than most I think, the longer the race. But I wanted to try one 50 this year, and I chose the VTTA event on E2/50 in June. Although it was raining, it was another excellent day in terms of wind, and I was 6th with a time of 1:44:38. Again this may be a St. Ives club record for the distance.
Time trialling is primarily a solo sport, but most events have a team prize, for the lowest aggregate time of the fastest 3 (occasionally 4) riders from each club. At St. Ives we are blessed with a few riders who generally finish quite close to the top of the results board in local races. I did a quick check and I think we had a qualifying team in 12 events this year, and won 11 of them. I was lucky enough to be in 10 of those winning teams. The only one we missed was by 1 second across an aggregate time of over 62 minutes. So all in all, a reasonable year for St. Ives CC!
I did one 2UP team race this season, with Mick Hodson in the Kettering CC 10 mile event. We won in 21:55 from Stu Wright and Sam Barker with 22:44. Mick basically dragged me round most of the way.
2nd was my best solo placing of the year, in the VTTA EA 10 mile TT on E2/10 in September. I was 3rd in the Bossard Wheelers 10 mile TT on F15/10, also in September. Outside of that, there are a few 4th places and the odd 5th or 6th. My best results in terms of time often don’t coincide with the best placing, as those races are often very competitive, drawing the fastest riders. For example, in my 10 and 25 mile PB races, I was 16th in both of those.
Overall 2015 has been incredibly good to me. Once I de-prioritised the local sporting events, I pretty much hit all my other targets, and also a couple of things I never even thought to target. This is largely because I surrounded myself with the right people (mentioned above). I wouldn’t have achieved any of it without them.
I have raced most weekends this year and really loved every moment of it. I am very sorry to see the back of 2015, but I’m already planning and looking forward to next year! Thanks very much for reading
Towards the end of 2013, after my first season in the sport, I was out on a ride with my friend and sometime mentor, Ben Price of Kinetic Velo. We were chatting about goals and so on for the 2014 season. I had recently recorded a time of 21:06 in the abandoned VTTA championship on E2/10 at the end of August, and so I was feeling quite pleased with myself and maybe a bit overconfident of what the future might bring. I’d be secretly thinking to myself “what if I could do a 19?” (sub 20 minutes for 10 miles)
Generally I like to act first and talk later so thoughts like that are best kept to oneself, but for reasons unknown I blurted it out. “I’m going to do a 19.”
Silence. Response came there none.
I was immediately a bit embarrassed, but I’d made the thought real, it was now a thing. I could tell from my riding partner’s silence that he didn’t share my conviction, and why should he? But now I’d said it, I needed to make it happen. I made a plan, I needed something like 50 watts, so I’d go to the wind tunnel and save, what, 20-30 watts? And so that just needed me to gain 20 watts or so from training and I’d be there. Let’s go. So I went to the tunnel, and I gained 2-5 watts from a helmet change, if I kept my head really low. Which I might not be able to do. Bugger. But, I did come away with a far less aggressive position, which ought to release some power.
And so it transpired, with an additional 20-25 watts, a bit more savoir faire, and some favourable conditions, during 2014 I got pretty close, recording 20:02, 20:04, 20:07, 20:12 and 20:20 in various races throughout the season. But I missed out on the 19. I thought that was fair enough. I deserved it for boasting to Ben that I’d do a 19. Hubris.
Moving onto the current season, I have made a host of kit changes, experimented with position to see what’s fastest and seem to be adding a bit more power, watt by watt. In 2014 I managed a best average of 313w on a couple of occasions. In 2015 it’s been creeping up, 314, 315, 316w. Each additional watt is worth approx 1-2 seconds, so these are very small net changes. What’s definitely required for a PB is good conditions. Early races in 2015 have not – as is fair to expect at this time of year – provided those conditions. Best so far is 20:35 in the VTTA London event at the beginning of May. A long way from a 19 (about 450 metres on the road behind where I needed to be!).
So I bought a golden ticket to ride in the VTTA National Championship, this year to be staged on the fabled V718 just west of Hull, generally considered (nay, pretty much universally considered) to be the fastest course in the land. With good conditions and good form, maybe I could sneak under 20 minutes?
Yesterday I made the trip up with my father Barrie and brother David, who are visiting for a few days. They were present last year for two separate PB rides, and so I dragged them along to be my rabbit’s feet. The forecast wasn’t great, quite a strong westerly (the kind of wind that recently prevented Sir Bradley Wiggins from breaking the competition record on the same course). Hopefully not as strong. I started with a sore throat on Friday night, but I dosed myself up with Paracetamol and forgot about it. Not everything was in my favour, but you never know what will happen on the day, in the minute, and so I took my place at the start line in South Cave hopeful, but not expectant.
I can’t compete really in the VTTA championship. There are far too many faster riders, and a lot of them are older than me, so with the event decided on handicap time (called “standard time”) it was really just about the actual time I could record in the event. It was pretty much 19 or bust. Because of this, I decided to break a golden rule I have and display average speed on my Garmin. I used to do this, and found that if things weren’t going well and it was below target, I tended to lose heart and not do as well for the remainder of the race. But yesterday, if I failed it didn’t really matter if I did 20:00, 21:00 or 25:00. I needed to keep average speed above 30mph, simple as that.
Setting off on the course, you get the immediate aid of a downhill slip road, and with the westerly wind and me heading South East, I was getting a bit of assistance and average speed was quickly up over the necessary mark. I knew that the second half of the race would be harder than the first, and also riders always lose time at the turn, because we don’t go as fast around the elevated roundabouts as we do on the faster dual carriageway. I arrived at the bottom of the sliproad up to the turn at about 4.5 miles having averaged 31.2mph. I didn’t feel as if I was going well, my throat had closed up a bit and the chin strap on my helmet seemed to be too tight, causing me to need to swallow repeatedly. At this point I thought maybe it wasn’t possible. But I was ahead of the needed speed, and as long as that was the case, I was on target.
After the turn the average had dropped to 30.7mph, and then I reached the Welton drag, this is a half mile slight uphill, that you really wouldn’t notice in a car. But I was noticing. I was struggling down at around 26mph and the average speed was ticking down like a bomb timer in a Bond movie. By the time the course swung due west, into the wind for the final mile, it reached 30.0mph. But the bomb didn’t go off! Instead I reached a slight downhill section, and the wind wasn’t as bad as I feared. Speed eased up to around 32mph and the average stabilised. The final section is uphill and I reached this on an average speed of 30.1mph, which should be enough. I had to fight to keep the speed above 30 for the final few hundred yards and I passed the chequerboard utterly spent. The Garmin bleeped for 10 miles and showed 19:54. But, recently it has been out by up to 6 seconds. It would be close! Somehow did a power PB, by 1 watt, 317w. It didn’t feel as though I had, because whenever I looked at current power during the race, I seemed to be labouring and having to back off a bit.
Back at the HQ, time was confirmed as 19:57. So there we are. It’s been my main focus throughout 2014 and 2015 and now the box is ticked. I’ll have to think of some new goals. But maybe I’ll keep them to myself and not say anything out loud, like say sub 51 minutes for 25 miles, or sub 1:50 for 50 miles. Oops.
Ride on Strava is here.
Thanks for reading
I’ve raced three times in three weeks since the last update. First up was the Team Sales Engine 10 on the F2D/10 course just west of Cambridge. In last year’s event I had a good run, clocking 21:13 on the F2A course (very similar route, just in reverse) and making record power of 313w, which I later equalled but had not beaten. I think it’s a good course for average power because it’s quite flat and there’s not much other than the turn to affect your rhythm. I went into this year’s race hopeful of a good performance and a good result.
The event was notable for the return to action of my good friend Mick, another St. Ives member. He’s been quite an inspiration to me since I started two years ago, when he bothered to chat to me after my first event, having started one minute behind me and passed me at about the 7 miles mark. He didn’t race last year, a period where I improved quite a bit, so naturally this year I am keen to see where I am relative to him. I was also hoping to get under 21 minutes, which I thought should be likely. And I had a faint hope that St. Ives would be fastest team, given we had Mick and Luke Hattersley riding. Luke’s a very good rider, National Junior champion over 25 miles two years ago.
It was a cold day with a breeze from the side. I had my pal James along for moral support. I got going in the race and made pretty good power, I was quite confident I would be able to better my previous power figure, but as the race went on that looked ever more doubtful as I struggled in the last couple of miles. I was lucky at the finish as the rider before me was baulked by a bus, but I arrived at the roundabout just at the right time and scooted past him and sprinted over the line. It was very close to 21 minutes, but I felt just over the mark. Damn. But…average power was showing at 314w, a PB by 1w.
Fears were confirmed at the result board, 21:01. Mick went well, clocking 20:43. Luke was fastest St. Ives rider with 20:33. It turns out we lost the team prize to Team Velovelocity by one solitary second. If I’d managed 20:59, we’d have won it. The race was won by Jason Bouttell with 19:57, Justin Layne taking second with 20:04.
I was not a particularly happy camper. I failed to achieve my target time, we didn’t win best team, and I was well beaten by Mick. I’ve trained a lot harder this winter than I did last year and so I was hoping there would be tangible improvement. No.
Last weekend I rode the first N&DCA event of 2014, on an 18.7 mile sporting (hilly) circuit course near Rockingham. I did a couple of N&DCA events last year, there’s a points competition aggregated over the season. It was my plan to ride as many of these events as possible this season, to see how far up I could finish in the competition. It was my plan, it’s not now! It was a very windy day, but I enjoyed the race itself. Power was a not-brilliant 286w, but it’s a longer race and I have never averaged good power in a hilly race. Don’t know why. The results weren’t kind to me, I finished a distant 11th with 44:29, nearly 3 minutes behind Luke this time. Whilst I enjoyed the race, I was peeved (to say the least) by the result, and I resolved to stick to events where I fare best: namely faster, flatter courses where aerodynamics can make up for the relatively low power and high weight!
So to the race yesterday, the blue riband event on the UK time trialling calendar, the St. Ives CC Open 10. It’s the most important event to me, because it’s the first one I ever did. I fell in love with the sport on that day and so it’s the one I look forward to the most. I did quite well in my first race in April 2013, clocking 23:39 and finishing in 10th place. Last year I improved to 22:26 and 4th place. I was NOT expecting any improvement this year, following the previous races. I had a cold all week which stopped me training, and I also developed a recurrence of my old knee problem towards the end of the week. Doom!
I went back to my old saddle position and used my Kask Bambino helmet. Everyone says it’s not the fastest helmet. Well, I like it. It’s very comfortable, and visibility is excellent. I think it’s easier to see with your head down low. I wore it at the back end of September on the E2 course and did ok. I’d wear it for the St. Ives. I was quite relaxed beforehand. I expected nothing, just wanted to avoid disgrace!
I had number 20 pinned on my back. I saw this as a good omen, as in my first race in 2013 I was number 19 and Mick was 20. It was a good reminder that I have made some progress since I started. Back then, the “zeroes” seemed like double-hard bar-stewards to me. Mick was racing too, off 10 minutes before me. I had a good warmup and got to the start in plenty of time. Conditions were ok, pretty much the same as last year. 12 degrees, north-easterly wind which meant a cross headwind on the northerly out leg. I don’t mind that, means you can try harder on the out leg – which is slightly uphill – and get some benefit on the return.
My coach Matt Bottrill has taught me some interesting things about pacing. I’ve tried to implement the ideas in my races so far, with some success. I have ridden the N1/10 course many times, more than 10 I think, and improvements have always been incremental, with one exception when I made a drastic position change for the better. So I decided to REALLY concentrate on the pacing ideas, and try and carry them out in an even more extreme way. I figured “do what you’ve always done, get what you’ve always got.” Expectations were very low, so why not take a risk?
I’m pleased to say it appears to have paid off. Power was quite good, 308w, which I think is a very slight power PB for the course. But I clocked 21:50, a course PB by 28 seconds. I could scarcely believe that when I saw it. I can’t say for sure that the pacing was entirely responsible, because most of the other riders I looked at in the race also improved, some by a similar margin. So maybe it was a very good day after all? Or maybe everyone has improved? Anyway I never dreamt I’d do that time, it’s not far off two minutes quicker than my first effort two years ago. I finished 5th. Matt Sinclair won (20:45), followed by David McGaw (21:00), Luke Hattersley (21:32), Mick Hodson (21:36). So the home team St. Ives was fastest team. Yay!
Next week I’m racing on the same course again, in the next round of the N&DCA series. So we’ll see if it was a fluke!
Thanks for reading, apologies for the length of the post. Should have written sooner.
Yesterday saw my first dual carriageway race of 2015. Almost a month has passed by since I was comprehensively put to the sword in the King’s Cliffe event. Hopefully this would be a better race for me, with none of those nasty features I don’t like, such as hills and corners.
The forecast all week was for a strong northerly wind, and around 7-8 degrees. After the last race, I promised myself that if conditions were adverse, I would simply DNS rather than suffer the poor power I have seen in every cold race I’ve done so far. In the event, despite the forecast, I’ve been training hard and looking forward to it, so my intentions went right out of the window. Also, marshals would be braving the elements for a lot longer than I, so it’s a bit poor to enter and then not show. Not without a good reason, anyway.
Winds were predicted to be above 20mph, gusting to over 30mph. No matter which forecast I scanned! I generally find that the actual speeds are well below those forecast – if they weren’t, we’d be going nowhere fast. It probably takes a couple of hundred watts just to move at all into the face of a true 30mph headwind.
Given the conditions, one of the decisions to make is what to wear? For my previous races this winter I’ve worn my best Castelli skinsuit, with a Skins thermal compression base layer underneath. I bought a size small and it’s so tight that I can barely get it on. The upside is that it is hardly detectable under the suit – it doesn’t create much in the way of wrinkles. One downside is the tightness. I can feel it all the time. I even entertained the idea that it was restricting my breathing – a possible cause for the power loss – but of course that’s almost certainly nonsense. What I can say that the Castelli suit on it’s own is definitely a summer garment – it’s ridiculously thin in places (more on that below) – but with the Skins layer underneath, I can stand it down to around 5 degrees. It’s too hot to wear in the house, even on it’s own, though. A good buy, I think.
I’ve also worn a pair of full length leg warmers previously, but last week on impulse I bought some Castelli Nanoflex leg warmers. They’re fleece-backed and semi-waterproof. They did a good job of keeping my knees warm yesterday, so I’d recommend them I think. In the photo you can see some wrinkling around the knees. That’s not ideal, but on balance I’d wear them again in a race.
Over my ludicrous Aladdin shoes I wore some of the new Velotoze latex overshoes. They’re a departure from the usual lycra ones I wear. They’re made of thick balloon-like material. They kept my feet pretty warm yesterday, though of course that’s not at all the reason for wearing them. I don’t know how aerodynamic they are. They’re very tight, so you’d think they’re good. During the race, a couple of times I became convinced that the left one had fallen down. I could feel it flapping and it felt as though my ankle was bare. But when I looked down, the overshoe was still in place. Odd. I think maybe there is some looseness around the ankle at certain foot angles. I bought XL to go over my size 46 Bonts, I will buy another set in the size down I think. They’re only £17, so not expensive.
I have some Craft gloves that I’ve been wearing this winter. They are warm, but light and thin. They have a windproof mitten piece that covers the inner glove and encases your fingers. It’s quite tight, and so I decided they’re probably quite aero compared to regular gloves that would be as warm. No data! However, in terms of quality, they are dreadful. I’ve so far sewn up 7 holes that have appeared on the seams.
I parked at the HQ and planned to ride down to the race, to warm up. My start time was 14:20. Getting ready I managed to put my finger through the mesh part of the skinsuit. Awesome. A hole the size of a 10 piece appeared. You can see it on the outside of my left upper arm in the photo above if you look carefully. That’ one disadvantage of the Castelli suit – it’s very flimsy.
I set off 40 minutes before the start time and I had plenty to spare, too much really. I ended up retracing some of my steps to while away the minutes. At the start line I saw a couple of people I know. Slavik, another member of St. Ives. And also Chris Rimes, a Peterborough rider that I’ve raced with quite a lot. He was pushing off. That means he was starting riders – not just about to leave
I got chatting and it passed the last few minutes. I quite like a bit of distraction before the race, helps the nerves. The time came and off I went. Outbound there was a tailwind, but it wasn’t the forecast gale. I wasn’t cracking along at over 35mph with no effort, I was putting out race power for generally low 30s MPH. This surprised me. I didn’t know at the time, but my average speed to the turn was just 30.7mph. Power had been not bad! After the usual over-enthusiastic start, I’d averaged 299w to the turn. Given the expected headwind on the way back, that was pretty much bang on what I hoped. It meant that a good time was totally out of the question, but I didn’t know that at the time.
The return leg was hard, but not as hard as expected in terms of headwind. Speed dropped down to the low 20s MPH at one point, and I knew then that I wasn’t going to trouble my course PB. But then later, I was up over 32mph on a downhill section. If I’m honest, I probably didn’t have that last half percent of desire that’s there for the really important races or when you suspect a PB might be on the cards, but I’m sure it didn’t cost me in terms of placing.
I picked up power by 10w or so for the return, and averaged 305w for the whole race. That is quite satisfactory. It’s within 5w of my best performance on that course, set last September when I was at the peak of my powers. The position I’m riding in now is significantly more aggressive, so I think things are ok on the power front. I clocked 20:48 for the race, which was a bit of a shock initially. I didn’t expect it to be that slow. I hoped it would be reasonably competitive, given I’d made decent power, so I rode the long way round, back to the HQ feeling pretty good.
As I was one of the earlier starters – 20th of 110, I had plenty of time at the HQ to watch the results come in. I was fastest on the board for a time, but it wouldn’t last, it was just a question of how many would finish above me. I knew almost for certain who was going to win, and so it came to pass. Justin Layne won by 50 seconds with 19:30. I beat Justin once last year, and otherwise was generally a handful of seconds behind. He has made huge strides and moved himself into the upper echelons, there’s no doubt about that. Second was Daniel Northover, who I must confess I’d never heard of. He was off on a 9 – essentially meaning he hadn’t recorded a fast time before – yet clocked 20:20. Turns out he is also coached by Matt Bottrill. Adam Atkinson was 3rd with 20:30 and then me, some 22 seconds back with 20:52. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been 4th now. I think it was about half my races in 2014, and now both in 2015. The overall result is reasonably satisfying. I beat one or two riders who beat me last year, but was a long way behind Justin. For my own sanity I’m going to have to let that one go as he goes off chasing the likes of Adam Topham. I’d say the overall verdict for the race is “par”.
Strava ride is here.
Thanks for reading
Last night I went to Henley-on-Thames to see and listen to Graeme speak, to mark the Opening of Athlete Service. I was invited by one of my newest friends, David W. Thanks David! And thanks also to Clarry for putting me up and putting up with me.
Immediately we entered the shop I spotted the man himself, chatting. I couldn’t have been more star struck if Eric Cantona was in the room. As anyone who has known me for years can vouch, that is the highest praise.
One of the greatest moments of my life came in February 1994 when, at an away game at QPR, I actually touched the Frenchman’s head. 21 years later I can still remember the granite cranium, covered with a shortly cropped, but thick shock of hair. The main man, in the best team I ever saw. They were men, too, unlike the collection of prima donnas, divers and cheats currently doing great injustice to the shirt (and all the other shirts). But this is a cycling blog, not football.
A few months before my brief meeting with Le Roi, Graeme Obree broke the hour record for the first time. I couldn’t have been less aware of that if I’d been on the moon. I was totally disinterested in cycling until the late noughties. It’s to my lasting regret, but I can’t do anything about that now, can I?
Much of Graeme’s talk centred around the first hour record, the fact that he failed initially to break it, only to try again successfully the next day. That, as he eloquently put, is one of the things that will be left rattling around in his colander, when all the other stuff has drained away. I find it difficult to comprehend this true story, having recently watched a number of the contemporary “hours”, including the aftermath of Dame Sarah Storey’s attempt, where she was collapsed on the floor receiving oxygen through a mask. How can you go through that, fail and then almost immediately resolve to have another go tomorrow? His reasoning is that he needed the hour record like a human needs air. He didn’t want it, like I want to break 20 minutes for 10 miles. He needed it. Second time around, he was going to get the record, or he was going to die. That sounds dramatic and far fetched, but you need to see his eyes when he explains that.
Of course I don’t know what it takes to compete like that I don’t mean in terms of talent – I genuinely have no clue about that – I mean desire. I try as hard as I can in my 10 and 25 mile races, and yes afterwards I think “phew, that was jolly hard”. I’m aware of sore and tired legs afterwards, but y’know after a little while I get on with my day as if nothing has happened. These guys aren’t doing that. They’re digging a lot deeper than I am. It occurred to me that when my achievements are sifted, we’ll need a sieve, not a colander to catch them. Maybe even a filter paper. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t bug me. I still have time to turn the fine powder into slightly coarser grains!
So it was fascinating to hear Graeme’s explanation of how that first record came to pass. I didn’t learn anything new, his story is out there already in books, films, website articles and YouTube videos. I have read and watched most, if not all of it. Once I decided cycling was for me, I set about learning as much as I could. This story was one of the first I encountered, and by far the most enduring. Graeme became the closest thing to a sporting hero that a man in his forties like me should decently have.
That I knew the story did not matter a jot. It’s like live music. Bands I like, I will gladly see them live many times. There is something about a live performance that elevates it above any recording. I might be able to predict every note, but there and then they are being played just for me. So it is with events like this. I was quite happy for him to go off on any tangent, it’s all good stuff.
One thing I couldn’t fail to notice is that in the flesh he absolutely crackles with intensity. If I might draw a very poor analogy, its a little like when Emperor Palpatine is trying to kill Luke Skywalker at the end of The Return of the Jedi. Except in Graeme’s case, there’s no evil, and there’s no actual lightning delivered from his hands, but boy, is there energy in the room. For this reason alone, even if you too know his story, it’s still well worth making the effort to go and hear it first hand if you get the opportunity.
David wrote about it on his blog, too. Check it out, if you haven’t already.
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.
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.
Strava data is here.
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…
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.
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