Percy Shaw* I shake my fist at thee
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