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 ❤
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:
“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.
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?
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.
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. 🙂