Update from the past few weeks
I’ve not updated the blog for a while, though there has been plenty happening. Busy busy. The bike changed a bit, with the addition of some Flo Cycling wheels, shipped in from the USA. Flo make ‘affordable’ race wheels, including deep section spoked wheels, and rear discs. They are not particularly lightweight, but they do seem to be pretty aerodynamic. More on that later. I also changed the handlebars for some USE Tula carbon bars. These are very low profile and aerodynamic. I will try and take some photos of the bike in the next few weeks, it’s quite different and does look like a proper TT rig now.
Over the past few weeks I have been racing the St. Ives CC weekly club 10, on Wednesday nights. If you’ve been reading from the start, this is the course I did my original race on. It is good to be able to ride the same course repeatedly, as it allows you to measure improvements, and see how you’re doing against other riders who also turn up regularly. Up until last night I have been chipping away at my times, recording a PB by a few seconds every single week. My times in date order from the start are 23:39, 23:34, 23:33, 23:23, 23:12, 23:09. A good, if steady, progression. I have been hoping to go under 23 minutes for a number of weeks, but it just hasn’t been happening for some reason.
There is more to this than meets the eye, though. Soon after I started working with Ben I saw a jump in output from around 290 watts to 300 and then 305. I believe this was partly due to extra fitness, but mostly down to starting to learn just what is required in the race, i.e. how hard you can push yourself. Also, recent weeks have seen new equipment added to the bike which does have an effect. I feel the wheel set is worth around 10-15 seconds over the deep section Pro-Lite wheels I was running before. And the bars are worth around 5-10 seconds I think.
A few days ago I was looking at my times and I started to wonder why the extra power wasn’t producing significant time gains. I had knocked 30 seconds off my PB over the course of the season, but a significant portion of that could be put down to the new equipment. After the first two races (23:34 and 23:39) I made a significant position change that allowed more power to be released, but did involve being quite a bit higher on the bike, and more forward. Could the extra power have been compromised by worsened aerodynamics?
I went back to the excellent book I read at the start of the season by Adam Topham. I re-read the chapter on position. He advocated lowering the saddle and the front end, and trying to be as narrow as possible, in order to present as small a surface area as possible to the wind. I had followed this advice originally, but then reversed it in June by raising the height and moving forward. Also I have been looking at the times and power figures of other riders on Strava over the same course. I noticed that one particular rider has recorded 21:50 off 330 watts, and another had recorded an incredible 21:10 off 335. I’m not a million miles from this power, and I have good, if not top level, equipment, so why am I tooling along in the low 23s? At these speeds, all other things being equal, one minute faster should require approximately 45 additional watts, yet the second rider mentioned had gone 120 seconds faster for only 30 watts more.
I decided to change the position. Drastically. I replaced the stem with a much steeper one and slammed the bars down as low as I can get them, probably 55mm lower then before. I moved the saddle approximately 50mm back, and 50mm down. Huge changes that are definitely not recommended. I tried it and the saddle was too low, I could feel it in the knees. So I raised it 10mm and went to the race.
The previous week was hot. Hot equals fast, because the air density is low. But it can also cost you power. The previous week I had gone 3 seconds faster than before, but with 6 watts less. Last night was equally hot, but less windy, and possibly with a more favourable wind direction. I was hopeful, but not expectant that the new position would deliver.
I had no dramas and was released by the starter at 1937. Straight away I knew it was quick, I was averaging 27mph over the first mile, a good 2mph faster than normal. Due largely to the unusual cross tail wind. The first half is uphill on average, so if you get a tailwind out I think it helps. Of course you get a headwind back, but that’s downhill on average, so I think it’s easier. I was watching the average speed like a hawk. 26.2mph was the target, that would get me inside 23 minutes. Power was pretty hopeless, somewhere down close to 290 watts and falling. But it’s a time trial, not a power trial! (I told myself)
At the turn I was somewhere around 26.6mph, so it was looking good. Power continued to fall on the way back, but the speed was quite static, so I just tried to hold on. As usual I found something for the last mile and crossed the line in 22:35, some 34 seconds faster than ever before. Average power was 291 watts, 14 watts off my peak. I put this down to the heat, which had cost power the week before, and the new position. It is more squished, and the saddle is miles further back, so it was bound to cost something.
I was 38 seconds faster than my power peak run, with 5% less power. Conditions were better, but not hugely. I think the bulk of that increase is down to improved aerodynamics. Now I need to train myself into that position, to try to recover the lost power. Hopefully the final weeks of the season will produce good racing conditions, but I fear that my run of PBs (I have gone faster than before in every single race so far) is likely to be over…
Anyway I was 3rd. The race was won by a local Pro, Steve Lampier in 20:32. Second was Mick Hodson in 22:21. An off night for Mick, he is usually 90 seconds faster than me. Maybe now that has reduced to a minute, we shall see.