Peterborough CC 10
Firstly, apologies for the bad grammar/spelling below. It’s just a brain dump. I’ll edit it a bit to try and improve it over the next few days. Thanks for reading 🙂
Yesterday I rode in my second time trial, the Peterborough Cycling Club 10 mile race. Held on the N1/10 course at Sawtry, the same place as my one previous open TT outing. With the experience of my first race, and four extra weeks’ training under my belt, I was hoping to make a good improvement. Perhaps improve on my earlier time of 23:39 by as much as 30 seconds?
There was much chatter in the local TT scene, because Michael Hutchinson, the current national champion and record holder (at multiple distances as well as 10 miles) was due to race. When the start sheet arrived by email last week, I was excited to see that I would be off 3 minutes before him, on number 57 to his 60. This would mean that I’d almost certainly get to see the man at work – despite the margin between our start times I knew that only a problem would prevent him from passing me at some point. I just hoped to get about 3/4 of the way through before he inevitably swept through.
I didn’t have a perfect run-up to the event, suffering from a cold for much of last week. But by Saturday morning I was feeling no ill effects from it. It had impacted my training, but I looked on that as a positive – I’d be absolutely fresh for the day. A couple of things got in the way of preparation on the Saturday: I had to drive up to Grantham to collect a horse trailer first thing, and then my son’s football team had a last-minute friendly against Peterborough United’s U7 side organised, which of course I wanted to attend. So instead of having all Saturday morning to prepare, I had to get it all done on Friday night, and I’d only have half an hour to spare between getting home from the match (lost 5-4) and needing to leave for the race.
I’m an eternal faffer and tend to get very stressed if I think I’m going to be late, so I was running round, chucking stuff about, ranting and raving as I packed my bits and pieces. It wasn’t the relaxed scene I wanted and needed. Still, I got to the HQ in plenty of time, with around 90 minutes to go before my start time. Last time I noticed that some of the faster riders (at least the riders who looked like they might be faster!) had turbo trainers to warm-up on. I hadn’t thought about that, I just warmed up on the road. But I thought it seemed a good idea, because you can do exactly the warm-up you want, with no randomness injected by traffic, or wind, or road layout. I’m a big believer in copying the behaviours of those who you wish to emulate. So I’d bought a power inverter from Amazon and taken my turbo with me. I signed on, set the bike up and pottered about for a while, safe in the knowledge that I had plenty of time.
I got changed into the Gimpsuit with well over an hour to go, and started to think about warming up. I went to check my helmet – I bought a new Kask Bambino which turned up on Friday. It has a very snazzy visor that is held in place by magnets. I’d read that these magnets tend not to be particularly well glued, and sure enough, one had dropped off. I phoned my lovely wife Roz, who was bringing the kids to watch, and asked her to pick up some superglue on the way for me. She wasn’t planning on turning up until nearer my start time, so I started to panic about that a little. I didn’t want the visor dropping off. But anyway, time to warm up. Oh, I’ve forgotten my heart monitor strap. Strictly speaking this isn’t critical, because I wasn’t planning to monitor it during the race, but I wanted to record all the data I could, especially after the last debacle when the Garmin decided to delete the entire race run. Back on the phone to Roz, who by now was en route with Superglue, to ask her to turn round, go back home and get my missing piece of kit.
This is not going well.
By the time they showed up, I hadn’t seemed to manage to warm-up much at all. With 25 minutes to go until my start time, I’d have to eschew the 30 minutes I’d planned, and try and cram it into 10 minutes. But first, we’ll glue the magnet back to the visor. Opened the tube, took off the cap, screwed the nozzle onto the tube, to break the seal. Oh, maybe I should have done that with the cap on the nozzle? Because half the tube has emptied onto my right hand, front and back. I stood there agape for a moment, before entering a full-on Victor Meldrew moment. What to do about this? I could think only to go to the toilet and try and wash it off? And make sure I didn’t touch any other part of me with that hand. Can you imagine? TTer fails to start due to glueing his hands together? Or worse? I ran it under the tap, god knows what I thought that was going to do, but it seemed to help getting it to set, then went outside in a bit of a daze to try and warm up the legs. 20 minutes until the start. You need to allow 10 minutes to get to the start, it’s over a mile ride, maybe closer to two, and you don’t want to be right on the last second. Also, what if the timekeeper’s watch is not showing the same time as mine? So I did a very quick, haphazard 10 minute warm up, then dashed off to get to the start.
Because I was worried about the time, I had to hurry, and rode to the start quite a lot faster than I would have liked. I arrived out of breath, but just in time to see number 54 leave. Phew, 3 minutes to spare. For some reason, numbers 55 and 56 did not show. But I would go at 14:57 anyway, I’d just have a large gap in front of me. As I prepared to roll forward to the start, I heard a Northern Irish voice behind me. Sure enough, the man was here. Soon, the chase would be on.
At the start, I was supported for 30 seconds or so while I clipped in and reset the lap counter. Whilst clipping in, I looked down to see my shoes. Where are the overshoes? I had forgotten to put them on. Now they might gain you nothing, but people wear them. They are supposed to smooth the airflow over your shoes. Perhaps they might gain you 5 seconds? And I had failed to remember to put them on. Well, never mind. 10 seconds, 5,4,3,2,1. Fingers crossed for a good race, eh?
I started as I have been taught, easily. The first mile is broken up by 3 roundabouts anyway, but I kept a good eye on my power meter to ensure that power did not exceed 250 watts for the first couple of minutes. This is hard to do, because you’re full of energy and excited, and of course I did exceed the number a couple of times, on the exit of roundabouts where you want to get back up to speed, but generally I kept a lid on it. This easy starting strategy is designed to prevent the legs filling with lactic acid immediately. Although you have warmed up, hitting race pace straight away is not a good idea, so I read.
Once through the roundabouts, the road begins quite a long, slow rise, before repeating a series of long, fairly gentle drags, up and down for a few hundred metres at a time. In a car you probably wouldn’t even notice, but when you’re riding at your time trial pace, you can feel the gradient acutely, and have to ease off and gear down to avoid going deep into the red. I planned to monitor my power meter reasonably regularly, but mostly to try and ride on the edge, using feel. Quite quickly I was breathing very hard, too hard, so backed off a little. I was already averaging the lower end of my target power range (285-290 watts) and this was only just after the slowish start period. Still, I felt good on the bike, all was well. I was just a little more out of breath than I expected. But this is a race, you’ve got to put it all in.
A competitor who had finished his ride earlier, told me as I made my way to the start that he thought it was harder in the ‘out’ leg than the return, but I didn’t really notice a head wind particularly in the first half. I arrived at the turn blowing rather a lot (there is a reasonably steep ramp up to the roundabout where you turn) and made my way down the hill to begin the return leg. I had failed to look at the time at the turn, but I knew it was over 12 minutes, so I was worried that I wasn’t going particularly quickly. As I got about half way down the hill, I noticed Hutchinson on the ramp already. Oh shit! Less than a minute behind!
My previous time was just over 4 minutes shy of the course record, 19:24, held by Alex Dowsett. You might have heard his name recently, since he won the Giro d’Italia individual time trial two weeks ago. It’s kinda weird to be riding the same events, treading the same path as these greats. It’s one really good feature of cycling that I’ve found – local no-hopers like myself can mix it with the best. You can compare yourself to them directly. It’s not a favourable comparison, of course, but somehow it brings you closer. The distance between yourself and the heroes you see on TV can be quantified.
I quite expected Michael Hutchinson to break the course record. It seemed a pretty good day to me, and I had little doubt that he could go fastest. He has done in most places. I settled into the second half of the course, not daring to look behind me. I just started to concentrate on riding my race, using the computer to ensure I was hitting the power level that I expected. I was, bang on 285 watts. Uncomfortable, but we’re managing it. I thought about the inevitable pass, hoping to hold him off until at least the B660 bridge. But I knew it was unlikely, he was too close at the turn. I passed a rider, not sure who it was, I guess it was probably 54. Nice bike.
As the bridge came into sight, about half a mile away, I heard the change in noise. These bikes can make a kind of rhythmic swooshing sound. I’m not sure if that’s what I heard, I can’t remember the nature of it, but it was there nonetheless. A disturbance in the otherwise constant roar of wind. And then he appeared in my peripheral vision. A motionless upper body, ducked right down out of the wind. This is it, this man here is the business. I might never be in this position again. I expect we’ll be in the same race at some point, but I might never be on the same part of the road at the same time again. So what did I learn, what piece of secret information did I glean from that most fleeting of moments? Nowt, really. Only what you’d expect. He was effortlessly smooth. His legs seemed to be turning in slow motion compared to mine. They were probably rotating at about the same speed. It looked as though he wasn’t trying particularly, but of course he would have been. So, he slipped past at a fast walking pace, and was off into the distance. I would have liked to have paid more attention, but approaching the 3/4 mark, I had other things on my mind. Like how the hell am I going to continue at this pace for another 5-6 minutes?
The approach to the set of roundabouts is slightly downhill, so you’re moving quickly. I think of this point as the beginning of the end. It’s the time to wind it up and give what you have left. I glanced at the computer. I am not going to cut significantly into my previous time! I might not even beat it! That stiffened the resolve. I tried to hunker down lower, and get the pedals up to a near sprint.
Immediately after the first roundabout is a relatively sharp rise. Got to keep the speed up on there, but without blowing. Need to finish strongly. Another roundabout, past my family who were watching on the verge, wife with camera in hand. They are applauding. That’s nice! On the way out I had managed a smile. Not now. My good lady hadn’t managed to switch the camera on, anyway, I later learned. Flat straight, last roundabout, round the bend towards the chequered flag. Flat out for the last few hundred yards then just roll. Sweat rolls down the inside of the visor, the breathing is not under control for some time. The computer tells me I have beaten my best by 5 seconds. I wonder if the timekeeper agrees?
I went up the road to the next roundabout, then circled back. At that point I was pretty happy to have gone faster, provisionally, because a couple of minutes earlier, I seriously doubted I would. I had a quick chat with my family, then went to get changed and await the result. By the time I had, the results were posted. After my first race, where I’d started 19 of 50, I had to wait for ages to get the result. But this time I was starting only 3 before the last man. I checked the time. The first race, the time they gave me was 5 seconds longer than my computer said. And exactly the same this time, 23:34. A 5 second improvement. Here’s a link to the official results.
I scanned through the results, my first care being to count how many had faster times than me. There were 11. So I’d finished 12th. My next care was to see if the course record had gone. It hadn’t, missed by 8 seconds 😦 I wanted to be able to say ‘Yes I lost to Hutch, but he had to break the course record to do it….’ 😀
Then the low started to set in. 5 seconds? All that work, for 5 seconds? I’ve only just started, surely I should see a big improvement every time for the first few races? I spent the rest of the afternoon sulking. Last night I had a proper look at the data and came up with some ideas for improvement. I will write about those tomorrow, hopefully, along with a bit about the ride I did today.