VTTA National Championship 10 mile TT
This post is brought to you by Voltarol. The joy of movement.
I will get my excuses in first here. I did something to my back whilst lacing up my shoes on Thursday morning. I’d had a bit of a twinge every now and then for a couple of weeks but this was a lot worse, I couldn’t twist my trunk without a lot of pain and had to work at home on Thursday and Friday. This was not ideal preparation for the race today, which took place on the F11/10 course at Tring, Hertfordshire. It’s one of the fastest courses in the country, maybe the second fastest. This was my first opportunity to have a crack at improving on my existing best time of 21:06, set in the corresponding event last August, albeit on a different course. Back to my back. I am happy to report that with a liberal application of Voltarol and a gobful of Paracetamol and Ibuprofen [legal!], I felt absolutely no ill-effects and I don’t think I was at all hampered. The slippery slope. Before you know it, I’ll be on Tramadol like Sk….no, no, lets not go there 🙂
The VTTA is the Veteran’s Time Trial Association. It exists to organise events for the over 40s. So I just sneak in! These races are not decided on outright time, rather you get an age handicap for each year you are over 40. This is called the ‘standard’ time for a rider of your age. If you beat it, the time you beat it by is called your ‘plus’. Last year at age 41 my standard time was 26:04 and my race time of 21:06 beat it by 4:58. So my existing ‘plus’ was 4:58. The intention is to level the playing field, and allow folks to be competitive in their advancing years. It’s complex, I know.
Anyway, because I am at the younger end of the veteran spectrum, I am more interested in outright time. In an event like this, where some really fast riders would be racing, I will be nowhere near the top of the order either on outright time or standard. What I was looking for here was a personal best outright time. The weather forecast was ok-ish. Quite warm, with a strong southerly breeze. Generally wind is not good for TTs, but this is a bit of an odd course, and I thought a southerly might be quite beneficial.
There’s a map of the course below. It’s a little difficult to follow, but you start at the green blob, head roughly east to the first turn, then head back past the start where the course goes north west. Then the road bends roughly west to the second turn, and then you retrace back to the chequered flag.
So there’a section of course that heads north west between the green blob and the chequered flag that you only ride one way. A wind from the south, or preferably the south east should help you on that section, and you don’t have to fight it on the way back. At least that was my thinking.
What’s more interesting about the course – in fact you might say dubious – is that there is a whacking great downhill section exactly between the blobs. This is known as a ‘gift hill’. A hill you get the benefit from riding down, but do not have to ride back up! Here, check out the course elevation:
Of course this is very exaggerated, but you get the idea. No wonder it is so fast!
I had all day to play with today, so I got down to the HQ for about 11, even though I wasn’t due off until 1506. I wanted to ride the course first as I have never raced here. I had a cunning plan (more cunning than a fox, etc.) for how I wanted to pace the race effort, and so it would be good to check the course out to see if the plan might work.
In the days preceding the race, I had looked at the race segment on Strava and noticed that in 3 out of the 4 fastest rides on the course the riders had freewheeled part of the downhill, for up to a minute, at over 40mph! “Now that’s interesting information”, I thought to myself. Given the hill is right in the middle of the course, could the race be treated as two mini-races of 4.5 miles each, with a mile’s rest in between? What would that mean for the power output? You’d have to try and ride at above 10 mile pace for the first half, take a break down the hill, then really bury yourself for the last 4.5 miles. Freewheeling in a race goes against the general principles of trying to keep roughly constant power output, but if the fastest riders are doing it, well, there has to be a good reason for that. So, that’s what I decided to do.
On my recce lap I got over the brow of the hill and then freewheeled down, accelerating to 42mph with no input to the pedals. This was in regular cycling gear and helmet, so I knew it would be faster in the race. It felt quite stable, in fact the cross tailwind seemed to be totally absent down the hill, perhaps because much of it is in a cutting. This was not good news for the overall time – there were places elsewhere where I was being knocked from side to side by the wind, and any time there was a southerly component to the direction of travel, I could feel the wind eating at the speed. I completed the recce in 24:15 at about 190w. It was a breeze. At race pace, in full-on Power Ranger gear, I thought I’d probably be able to get a PB, and started daring to hope I might get close to the magic 20 minute (30mph) mark.
Then I had ages to wait, so I scoffed a sandwich, pottered about, then had a long, leisurely warmup. I got to the start in plenty of time and set off at the appointed six minutes past three.
The opening section to the first turn was ok, but the turn itself is tricky. You go around two roundabouts, but the entrance to the first one, off the sliproad, is blind. I was held up behind two cars who were waiting for space and had to come to a stop briefly. I didn’t need to unclip from the pedals, but it cost me probably 5 seconds or so. In the past I have got quite cross when I’ve been held up, but I expected this. It’s just one of those things, next time I ride here it might be completely clear. I got back on the dual carriageway A41 and headed back up the hill to the start. This was quite a hard section, side winds and a slight gradient against. I was hoping to get my average speed up to 30mph and at this point it was around 26, having taken quite a hit at the turn. I really tried to ride this part hard, because I would soon go back past the start and reach the top of the big gift hill.
Onto the hill, I got the speed up to over 40 mph and then bent both legs so the pedals were horizontal, in order to present less of a shape to the wind. The speed crept up to 44.5mph. I could see I was catching the chap in front. He was pedalling very quickly [probably against very little resistance] and yet I was reeling him in with completely still legs. Pretty surreal. As the road flattened out I got a hint of tailwind and was able to keep the speed over 35mph for nearly 1.75 miles. This had helped the average immensely, it was now showing 30.1mph. But I already knew from my trial run earlier in the day that there would be no chance I could keep it above 30, the last two miles had enough uphill drags and buffeting sidewinds, finishing with an uphill headind. I approached the turn knowing that barring disaster I’d go faster than ever before, but the sub-20 minute ride would elude me.
And then at the final turn my Garmin ceased working. Well, to be more accurate, the magnet that lives inside the disc wheel [which is how the speed sensor works, it measures the wheel rotation speed] detached itself. I will be writing to the manufacturers of duct tape to complain. I’d had a warning, it fell off on the turbo earlier in the week. Serves me right. Anyway the Garmin’s response to this was just to go into ‘auto-pause’ and refuse to start up again. It froze showing an average speed of 29.5mph. How apt. So I rode the last 2 miles with hardly any usable information from the Garmin. I was getting plenty from my Cardiovascular system, though.
Those last 2 miles felt very slow. I was going as hard as I could, but well below 30mph I reckoned. I thought I’d probably finish in around 20:30. Perhaps a bit faster if I was lucky. I passed the timekeeper in the usual condition and once I’d collected myself, rode the short distance back to the HQ, had a protein shake, packed up and went to look at the projector screen. Sure enough, exactly 20 minutes and 30 seconds. Initial reaction: disappointment. But, I had just ridden 36 seconds faster than ever before. It feels a bit odd though, a bit fraudulent to ride a course like that. Of course you can’t compare times on one course to another, and the fastest riders record the fastest times on the fastest courses. If you want to compare your best against them, you have to ride there too.
I didn’t bother trying to work out where I was in the results. There were 150 riders in this race, and with the results being decided on plus, far too complicated. Somewhere in the middle, I think. I had a brief scan through and the fastest two times I could see were both 18:53. Fully 97 seconds faster than me. Lots to do! On the VTTA front, I have improved my 10 mile ‘plus’ to +5:39. No, I don’t know what that means or if it’s any good, either.
I think the pacing worked ok. At the point the Garmin went west I’d averaged 290w, despite a section in the middle where I wasn’t pedalling. I’m certain this would equate to over 300 for the whole race, because I really hammered as hard as possible for the last 2 miles. If I managed my par for this season of 300-305w, that would vindicate freewheeling downhill I think, because it would mean that the effective average power for the rest of the race would be a few watts higher, i.e. I would have pedalled at over 10 mile pace either side of the downhill. But we won’t know until/unless I ride the course again.
Here’s the partial race file on Strava.
Cheers for taking the time to read 🙂