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Awards evening

Two posts in two days.  You lucky few.  On Saturday night, St. Ives CC held it’s annual awards night at the Dolphin Hotel in St. Ives.  It was my first experience of Rollapaluza.  This is a fun competition where two riders compete in a sprint on fixed-wheel bikes mounted on rear-wheel rollers, the races being timed and the distance covered by each rider displayed on a large Countdown-style clock visible to everyone.  Good fun, but sprinting is not my discipline.  It’s simply a test of leg speed as much as anything else.  Overall fastest was Jason Kierman (pictured) with a best time of 22.71 seconds for 500 metres, and a peak cadence (how fast your legs go round) of 193 rpm.  My time was 24.63 which put me in 6th place, with peak cadence of 184 rpm.

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Photo pinched from Rollapaluza’s Facebook gallery of the event, hope they don’t mind!

There’s photos and so-on on our Facebook page and the Rollapaluza Facebook gallery and here for the results.

As for the awards, I won best 10 mile TT (any age) and best 10 mile TT (veteran) for my 19:37 on V718 near Hull in August, best 25 mile TT for the 49:50 on R25/3L in South Wales in September and Best 50 mile TT for the 1:45:38 on E2/50c at Newmarket in June.

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Separately I had a nice surprise in the post, a certificate to say that the St. Ives team of Luke Hattersley, Mick Hodson and myself beat the Northants & District association team record in their September event on the F15/10 course at Brogborough.  Justin Layne took the outright solo record with 19:39 in the same event.

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Winter update

Like most of us in the sport, I’ve been beavering away over the winter, training for the new season which – thankfully – is now just around the corner.  I’ve seen reasonably good gains on the WattBike, which is primarily where I train.  I’m sure there will be an adaptation period when the racing starts – I have yet to start a season well, even when the winter training numbers have been good.  I think it takes me a few races to find it, and then I’m ok from that point on.

I did have my first proper crash at the weekend, whilst out training with my friend Justin.  Apparently, damp roundabouts are not to be taken on the tri-bars at race speed.  Who knew?  I was a big brave soldier, though, and gamely rode back to the car.  Like they do on the telly.  Not like those pansy footballers.

Racing starts for me proper on 19th March with the ECCA 10 mile TT on E2/10 at Six Mile Bottom, near Cambridge.  Well, I have entered at least.  I also plan to ride the Team Swift Good Friday 10 on V718 before rolling on to the main Spring Classic of the UK Time Trial season – the St. Ives CC Open 10 on 16th April!

More musings to come once the racing begins 🙂

An evening with Graeme Obree

Last night I went to Henley-on-Thames to see and listen to Graeme speak, to mark the Opening of Athlete Service.  I was invited by one of my newest friends, David W.  Thanks David!  And thanks also to Clarry for putting me up and putting up with me.

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Immediately we entered the shop I spotted the man himself, chatting.  I couldn’t have been more star struck if Eric Cantona was in the room.  As anyone who has known me for years can vouch, that is the highest praise.

One of the greatest moments of my life came in February 1994 when, at an away game at QPR, I actually touched the Frenchman’s head.  21 years later I can still remember the granite cranium, covered with a shortly cropped, but thick shock of hair.  The main man, in the best team I ever saw.  They were men, too, unlike the collection of prima donnas, divers and cheats currently doing great injustice to the shirt (and all the other shirts).  But this is a cycling blog, not football.

A few months before my brief meeting with Le Roi, Graeme Obree broke the hour record for the first time.  I couldn’t have been less aware of that if I’d been on the moon.  I was totally disinterested in cycling until the late noughties.  It’s to my lasting regret, but I can’t do anything about that now, can I?

Much of Graeme’s talk centred around the first hour record, the fact that he failed initially to break it, only to try again successfully the next day.  That, as he eloquently put, is one of the things that will be left rattling around in his colander, when all the other stuff has drained away.  I find it difficult to comprehend this true story, having recently watched a number of the contemporary “hours”, including the aftermath of Dame Sarah Storey’s attempt, where she was collapsed on the floor receiving oxygen through a mask.  How can you go through that, fail and then almost immediately resolve to have another go tomorrow?  His reasoning is that he needed the hour record like a human needs air.  He didn’t want it, like I want to break 20 minutes for 10 miles. He needed it.  Second time around, he was going to get the record, or he was going to die.  That sounds dramatic and far fetched, but you need to see his eyes when he explains that.

Of course I don’t know what it takes to compete like that  I don’t mean in terms of talent – I genuinely have no clue about that – I mean desire.  I try as hard as I can in my 10 and 25 mile races, and yes afterwards I think “phew, that was jolly hard”. I’m aware of sore and tired legs afterwards, but y’know after a little while I get on with my day as if nothing has happened.  These guys aren’t doing that.  They’re digging a lot deeper than I am.  It occurred to me that when my achievements are sifted, we’ll need a sieve, not a colander to catch them.  Maybe even a filter paper.  I’d be lying if I said that didn’t bug me.  I still have time to turn the fine powder into slightly coarser grains!

So it was fascinating to hear Graeme’s explanation of how that first record came to pass.  I didn’t learn anything new, his story is out there already in books, films, website articles and YouTube videos.  I have read and watched most, if not all of it.  Once I decided cycling was for me, I set about learning as much as I could.  This story was one of the first I encountered, and by far the most enduring.  Graeme became the closest thing to a sporting hero that a man in his forties like me should decently have.

That I knew the story did not matter a jot.  It’s like live music.  Bands I like, I will gladly see them live many times.  There is something about a live performance that elevates it above any recording.  I might be able to predict every note, but there and then they are being played just for me.  So it is with events like this.  I was quite happy for him to go off on any tangent, it’s all good stuff.

One thing I couldn’t fail to notice is that in the flesh he absolutely crackles with intensity.  If I might draw a very poor analogy, its a little like when Emperor Palpatine is trying to kill Luke Skywalker at the end of The Return of the Jedi.  Except in Graeme’s case, there’s no evil, and there’s no actual lightning delivered from his hands, but boy, is there energy in the room.  For this reason alone, even if you too know his story, it’s still well worth making the effort to go and hear it first hand if you get the opportunity.

David wrote about it on his blog, too.  Check it out, if you haven’t already.

The problem with using different power meters

Apologies for not posting, etc!  The season fast approaches, so if you follow this blog you’ll be getting spammed soon enough, and longing for the fallow winter months 🙂

Virtually my entire season is planned out.  I’m hopefully beginning with the King’s Cliffe Flyers Winter Warmer 12, which is next Sunday 22nd February.  I’ll mainly be riding in the N&DCA (Northampton & District) points series, mostly because they are local events and it’s good to measure yourself against the same riders I reckon.  Oddly I haven’t planned to ride many fast 10 courses this year, indeed I might not go to Hull at all.  I spent a lot of last year chasing the sub-20 minute 10, I suppose I decided it will come if and when it comes.  The main reason is that there’s 10 N&DCA events and I want to ride as many of them as possible.  There’s typically two per month, so if you want to commit to that, it limits what else you can do.  I might change my mind later of course, but at the moment I want to focus on the local races.

A quick update on my winter training.  I have been beavering away doing the sessions set for me by my coach Matt Bottrill.  I will write a longer post on my experiences with Matt soon, but suffice to say working with him has been a revelation.  Of course so far I have achieved nought, and results will be the barometer, but he has planned training for me that has been interesting, eye opening, and has pushed me to power numbers I haven’t seen before.  Not night and day differences, but I am certainly producing more power than I was 12 months ago.

Now to the actual intended subject of this post.  I own a Power2Max power meter, mounted on a Rotor 3d+ crank.  I love the thing.  If I had to keep only one component from all the cycle-related things I own (which believe me, is quite a lot) it would be that.  It’s been attached to my feet through most of my training and all my races so far, and has been one of the key tools I use to measure performance.

During the week I use one of 3 WattBikes that we have in the gym at work.  All last year I found that I could not make the same power on the WattBike as I could on the road through my Power2Max, either on a road bike or my TT machine.  I put this down to overheating.  The gym at work is air conditioned, but there’s no direct fan, so I get very hot and sweat buckets during the 60 minute sessions I tend to do.  Towards the end of 2014 that started to change – I found that I could at least equal the Power2Max power on the WattBikes.  This was a good thing, and I congratulated myself on adapting to the WattBike.

Into the new year, and I started to see a further swing in favour of the WattBike.  To the point where you couldn’t mistake it – I was making more power in the gym at work than I was able to produce in any configuration through the Power2Max.  Road bike, TT bike, on the road or on the turbo.  It seemed unmistakeable.  My very good friend Mark “Eddie” Amos has a PowerTap wheel that was recently serviced and calibrated by Paligap, and he kindly offered to lend it to me to conduct some tests.  The good thing about the PowerTap is that you can measure power both through the Power2Max at the cranks, and the PowerTap at the hub simultaneously.  I have two Garmin Edge head units (A 500 and an 810) and I thought it would be useful to record a couple of rides simultaneously to see if I could discern any measurable difference.

First up was a 20 minute FTP test.  I loathe these with all my heart.  To the point where I am ready to refuse to do them.  I set my Dolan TT training bike up in the kitchen, made sure both meters were being recorded and set off.  The highest power I have recorded on the turbo before for 20 minutes was 302w in January 2014.  During this test I monitored the PowerTap reading and did not look at the Power2Max.  By coincidence, the resultant 20 minute reading on the Power2Max crank was 302w.  But the PowerTap read some 14w higher at 316w.  I think if you have two power meters, one measuring at the crank and one at the rear hub, if both are accurate, you should get a higher reading from the crank, because it is measuring power before any losses in the drivetrain (chain, gears, cassette), whereas the hub meter will “deduct” those losses.  Indeed Matt told me his PowerTap reads typically 5-10w lower than his Quarq crank.  14w is nearly 5%, and if the PowerTap is accurate, the true difference might be as much as 20-25w.

The next day I took the bike on the road for a sweet spot session (around 90% of FTP).  Again the PowerTap read higher, 12w this time over the course of 2 hours.  It seems likely to me that, given my subjective experience with the WattBikes at work, and the direct comparison I did with the PowerTap, that my Power2Max is reading low.  I am going to send it back to Germany to have it serviced.  I have discussed it with Power2Max, and they aren’t too impressed with my comparisons, but hopefully they will check the calibration and change it if necessary.  Unlike some other power meters, it’s not possible to calibrate the Power2Max by yourself.

The question that begs is, if the Power2Max is indeed reading low, when did it start?  Did it affect any of the readings from my races last year?  Am I making more power now or not?  It’s impossible to tell.  I am going to rent a PowerTap for a few months from cyclepowermeters.com so I can regularly compare, and at least have some idea of consistency.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back after the race next weekend with a report.  I’m hoping to get round this time and not suffer another puncture.  Fingers crossed…

N&DCA 10 mile TT, same place as last week

A few weeks ago I entered a bunch of races so that I’d be racing pretty much every week until the end of May.  Today’s race I entered mostly because it is so local.  I *am* browned off with the course, but I thought it might be a chance to pit myself against some different riders – and a lot of the same riders too.  The N&DCA (Northampton & District Cycling Association) run a championship over a number of races throughout the season.  Because of this (I reckon) the events attract more riders than might ordinarily race on the more “sporting” (i.e. a bit hilly) courses like the venerable N1.  Last week’s St. Ives 10 had a big entry compared to last years, but today’s event attracted 40 more riders even than that, despite being on the same course only 7 days later.  Around 115 riders entered, many of whose names, in seeded positions even, I did not know.

I had a quick look through the past results of some of the seeded riders who I didn’t know (well, you gotta…) and it was quickly apparent that I wouldn’t be finishing as high up the field as I did last week!  I was given number 95, so among the second tier of seeded riders, and due to start at 1535.  Showers were forecast, I just hoped to avoid any rain.  As it happens, not one drop fell (in the entire event, I believe).

The past few weeks I have worked hard to get my training volume up, to see if it would make any measurable difference to performance.  As a result of this I have been quite tired.  I picked up a cold in the earlier part of this week and – with the poor weather forecast – was in two minds whether to race or not.  This morning I woke feeling not brilliant, but had a couple of paracetamol and perked up.  As I write this in the evening after the race, again I feel a bit under the weather, but have to say I was A-OK for the race today.  Good old amphetamines.  Joke!

Because of the large field – and my late start within that field – I had aeons of time to play with today.  I got my number from the out-of-the-ordinary HQ in Glatton, 2-3 miles from the start, and found a suitable spot within a few hundred metres of the start to park and setup my turbo.   I messed about for a bit, listening to the football on the radio and then got myself sorted.

One little custom I have adopted recently is to warmup with Olbas oil-soaked cotton wool up my nostrils.  This is, no doubt, a total placebo but it does give the feeling of the nostrils being cleared before the effort of the race.  It looks a bit stupid, but that’s ok because I’d normally be in a reasonably quiet place, left to my own devices.  Today, however I’d chosen a spot that would be passed by most of the field as they warmed up before the start.  Doh.  A new young rider from my club named Thomas pulled up to have a chat, a few minutes before he was due off, to find me doing a passable impression of Captain Edmund Blackadder.  Embarrassing.

 Right, blah blah blah, we’re off.  Today’s conditions you would not consider ideal.  A strong southerly breeze.  Nobody I spoke to thought the conditions were good for racing, but I was pretty happy.  The reason being, the course runs virtually due north and then due south.  The first half is net uphill.  A slight tailwind in the first half counters the gradient.  In addition, there is some psychological effect on me of a tailwind in the first half of this course.  I watch average speed while riding, and I know what my best speed is.  A tailwind here in the first half can give you a good average speed, even though you’re climbing.  This means that you can arrive at the turn – having done the ‘uphill’ part of the course – with an average speed greater than your PB.  This is undoubtedly good for the soul.  The tailwind was considerably more than slight, but it suited me and I hoped to be able to make hay in the early stages of the ride.

So it proved today.  I was bombing along on the out leg, the gradient seemed to have disappeared and I arrived at the turn – at the top of a harsh ramp – having averaged 28.8mph.  Last week’s race was completed at 26.9mph.  I had ‘simply’ to avoid bleeding off more than 1.9mph to secure a PB!

Seeing the conditions, and knowing how hard the return leg would be, I’d planned to pace the out leg to try and reserve as much as possible for the way back.  Often this sort of thing completely goes out the window the moment you’re released to ride your race.  But today I noticed at the turn that I was averaging around 300w.  I hoped that if I could add just a few watts to that on the return, I might be able to beat my previous best of 22:26, recorded 7 days earlier.

Heading back, it was hard.  There is a long drag just after the turn, and the average speed, with the accompanying headwind, was dropping fast.  At times like this I do have thoughts along the lines of  ‘this is not so important, why not coast it back?’.  So far I have been able to dismiss these absurd ideas.  It’s pretty amusing to me that they even occur.  I have quit plenty of training sessions after similar voices appear, but never a race.  Onwards.

At the last mile, the average speed had dropped to 27.0mph, a hair’s breadth faster than last week.  There’s a pretty steep ramp to cope with, plus 3 roundabouts and a stiff breeze in the face.  Oof.  On the plus side, it is the last mile.  Technique goes out of the window here, and I was acutely aware of some wayward riding out of the last roundabout on the approach to the chequered flag.  But we crossed the line showing 27.0mph!  Garmin says 22:15, so if the gods are smiling, it will be a narrow PB.  Had a ride around for a bit to warm down, then got myself sorted and drove back to the HQ.

Lots of people had gone home by now, since the results were all in some time before I made it back to the HQ.  It’s one of the advantages of a late start – plenty of time to kill before the race, but not hanging around for ages afterwards.  The first care is to check one’s own time, 22:18 today, a PB by 6 seconds.  Very satisfactory given the conditions.  The next care is to count how many riders have gone faster.  Eight.  Missed out on a cash prize AGAIN.  The race was won by Simon Norman in 21:14.  The same rider who beat me by a similar margin three weeks previous.  Good time.  Never going to get close to that.  There were three other riders below 22 minutes, David Kiernan with 21:28, Nick Cave (I presume not THE Nick Cave!) with 21:34 and Mark Exon with 21:56 and then a few more just over 22 minutes.  Ninth place this week doesn’t sound as good as fourth place last week.  But I did go faster, on probably a more difficult day weather-wise.  Pretty happy.

Looking at the data on my computer, I went out in 300w and came back in 314w.  This is pleasing.  As I said earlier, I hoped to be able to produce more on the way back to counteract the wind, and I did manage it.  As a result, that’s probably my best all-round performance on this course.  It’s my best time, of course, but I mean in terms of my current capabilities.  To be able to get 300w out in the first half, then 5% more on the way back, that’s pretty much as good as I could hope for at the moment.

Strava race data here.  Thanks for reading 🙂

One year on: St. Ives CC Open 10 mile TT

This was the race that I’ve been looking forward to all winter.  The anniversary of my first proper Time Trial.  Last year I came 10th, in a time of 23:39.  I was very chuffed with that, I had no idea what I was doing and turned up – having trained hard – with no idea what to expect.  A year later, I’ve learned a bit (and spent more than a bit!) and so it would be good to use last year’s race as the yardstick to measure what progress has been made.

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When I saw the start sheet, I was pessimistic about improving on that 10th place.  There was a very good entry for this year’s race – 72 riders.  Nearly double the number from last year.  I could see 5 or 6 names that I knew I could not beat if they were on form, and quite a few others who I have never beaten, or only beaten once.  This didn’t bother me too much – the beauty of Time Trialling at my level is that there’s loads of faster riders, and my finishing position in a race is simply a function of how many of them turn up.

That said, I have been looking at this date from a long way out, planning my training and racing to try and peak for it.  I tapered this last week for the first time.  I don’t know how to do this really, I just did my usual type of sessions, but foreshortened them to lower the volume a little.  Unfortunately at the back end of the week I started to develop a problem with my right ear (I suffer from ear infections quite regularly, sometimes they blow up, sometimes they fix themselves) and so I’ve been on paracetamol for the past couple of days.  I woke this morning still with a sore ear, but there’s no point dwelling on it, I was fit to race and the ear hopefully wouldn’t bother me too much.

I turned up ridiculously early, 2 and a half hours before my start time, and I was the first rider to arrive by about half an hour!  I will claim that small victory, there ain’t going to be any others.  Since it’s my club’s event, I thought I’d show up and help put the tables and chairs out.  So I had ages to potter around.  I like this, I don’t like to be rushed.  Things go wrong when I am rushed.

I was number 33, with a start time of 14:33.  I was changed and warming up on my turbo next to the car in plenty of time.  The warmup felt hard, though, I was struggling a bit with the harder parts of it.  This didn’t bode well for a good performance.  I put the turbo away and cycled the 5 minutes to the start line.  Not ideal conditions, today.  Cold and quite windy, although mostly a sidewind, with a slight component of headwind on the way out.  I tend to think the course is faster if you have a slight tailwind to counter the uphill first half.  But it is what it is.  I was in good time, I was there about 3 minutes before my start time.  Not hanging around too long.  I was in a bit of a daze for some reason and before I tuned in properly I got the 10 second warning.  Wakey wakey, we’re off.

The course isn’t my favourite, if I’m being honest.  It’s quite up-and-down for a TT course, not the hilliest, but not flat at all.  And large parts of the surface aren’t the best.  There’s not too much broken tarmac, but most of it is quite coarse and abrasive, not smooth and tightly packed.  I reckon smooth tarmac is faster.  There are 3 roundabouts to negotiate in the first mile, which I got through without any trouble, and then a long drag.  I detest this drag!  I was going ok, though, average power was over 300w, but not by much.  Compare this to last time out, where I was up over 310w at a similar stage.  I knew straightaway that this wouldn’t be my best performance in terms of power.  I was having to work too hard to keep above 300w.  So I tried to stop worrying about power output and instead paid more attention to average speed.  The best speed I have done on this course – 26.5mph for 22:35 – is etched into my brain.  I’d have to go faster than that to get a course PB.  Because of the standing start, and the 3 roundabouts at the beginning, it’s a little while before you can gain much info from the speed you’re riding.  In past events, if there isn’t a significant head/tail wind, there’s been less than 1 mph difference between my ‘out’ speed and my ‘back’ speed.  So if I could get to the turn at around 26mph, I’d have a chance of breaking my own personal best time.  You might think I’d be better off concentrating on pedalling, rather than worrying about this or that number, and you may be right.  But I seem to do better if I have something to chase.

I was up over 26mph as I got to the bottom of the ramp up to the turn.  This ramp is not much of a hill at all, it just feels like a mountain when I’m racing.  Speed just drops off a cliff and I feel as though I’m hardly moving.  I got to the top having averaged 25.8mph.  Game on.  Quick check of average power.  302w I think.  Meh.  300w is my nemesis.  I will probably beat it, just about.

I don’t recall much about the bulk of the return leg.  I remember watching the speed climb towards 26.5mph as I hung on towards the top of the dreaded drag (which would now be downhill) at Conington water tower.  Somehow, today it seemed to be uphill in both directions.  I don’t know how that happened, but I was struggling pretty badly.  Into the last quarter of the distance and I was not relishing it at all.  Average speed was now resolutely stationary at 26.5mph.  Not fast enough.  I would need a fast last mile to claim my best time for the course.  This was my baseline expectation.  Pretty silly really, given that conditions can have quite a big effect on your time.  But, I would view a time outside my course PB as a failure.

The last mile – and technical roundabout section – begins with a ramp upwards.  There’s nothing you can do to avoid losing a bit of speed here.  Once at the top you go through 2 roundabouts in quick succession and hope for no traffic.  Slightly unlucky today, I was baulked a little by a car at the second and had to coast and go around, but very little time lost.  Then it’s just dig in and wind it up for the run to the line, straight-lining the final roundabout – if traffic permits – and trying to get every last ounce of energy through the pedals.

All over!  Time not too bad, Garmin said 22:20 so I’d probably get an official time of about 22:25 or so.  Pretty sure it would be inside my previous best of 22:35.  The disappointment of the reduced power quickly took over, I thought the time would be nowhere versus others.  Very doubtful it would be good enough for the top 10, given the strength of the field.  Cycled back to the car and put everything away.  Normally I am very keen to get into the HQ to see how I have done versus others, but I was in no rush today.  I sat in the boot of my car chatting to the mother of one of the other riders.  One of the riders I knew should beat me.  His mother told me he’s 20.  I felt better.

After ambling over to the HQ and getting my free cup of coffee and a 50p hot cross bun (thanks, ladies) I went over to look at the elephant in the room, the times of the riders projected onto the wall.  Checked my time, 22:26.  PB by 9 seconds for the course.  Then I started to scan through the other times.  About two thirds of the times were recorded by now, with the later riders still out on the course.  I looked first at the fives and zeroes (the riders whose numbers end in 0 or 5 have the fastest historical times, generally) and not many of them have beaten me, and one of them, Simon Norman, who won the event I raced in two weeks ago, did not start (DNS in TT parlance).  In fact, at that point only one rider had recorded a time faster than mine.

Naturally you start to look at the riders still to finish.  I could see two who would beat me for sure, and one or two others who might.  But as the final results were entered, only three riders from the field had gone faster.  I was 4th.  The race was won by Brett Harwood with 21:16, followed by David McGaw with 21:22 and then last year’s winner Adam Gascoigne with 21:25.  These three were all over a minute faster than me.  That’s a yawning gap that will never be closed!  But, I’d managed to record a faster time than everyone else, including some riders I hadn’t beaten before.

So, while I’m not delighted by the performance, it is my best result so far.  And even if I’d recorded a power best, it would have moved me just a few seconds closer to the 3 riders at the head of the field.  By my reckoning I probably need to find 45-50 watts to bridge that gap, which would require an entirely different body – the one I inhabit will never be able to do that.  I’m satisfied with being fastest of the rest today!

Here’s the race data from Strava, if (like me) there is something wrong with you, have a look! 🙂

Winter training update

Not too much to report, been training away.  Power has been rising steadily, which is just what the doctor ordered.  I’m currently working off 275w FTP.

Last time I wrote, I was concentrating on sweet-spot sessions, at around 90% of FTP, and trying to up the ante by 1w per ride.  I did this for 3 weeks continuously.  I managed to up the power, but perceived effort and HR rose at a similar rate, so the sweet-spot sessions quickly became threshold sessions.  Rather than slavishly sticking to that plan, I decided to tweak it quite a bit.

My training at the moment is based around 4 key sessions:

  • 2x20min at 100% of FTP
  • 1x60min at 90% of FTP
  • 3x10min at 106% of FTP
  • 8-10x3min at 120% of FTP

The 2x20min at FTP is forming the bedrock of my current work.  I don’t mind it.  It’s hard enough to make me think it’s doing me good, but not too hard that I hate it.  All these sessions are being done either on my turbo or on the Wattbike at work.  I find that the hardest part of training indoors is the heat.  The longer the effort, the hotter I get and the more HR goes up.  Perception of effort doesn’t necessarily go up, but feeling of unpleasantness does.  So the 20 minute interval is not a bad compromise of power output vs heat management.

Because of heat, I am really not enjoying the 1x60min sweet-spot efforts, at 90% of FTP.  On the Wattbike I really struggle, because there is no fan in the gym.  It’s air conditioned but I can’t control my body temperature well enough.  Also, the WB saddle doesn’t suit me at all in TT position, so I can’t get comfortable and stay there for 60 mins without spending sometime riding in a more upright position.

The 3x10min intervals I have been doing for a while.  I got a bit disheartened with them, because I’d set off trying to hit a certain power level, then fail and get off the bike altogether.  I have changed this now so that I do the first two at 106% of FTP, which is manageable but hard, then I try and do the highest power I can for the last one.  That way I hopefully finish strongly, with a feeling of success.

The 8-10x3min set I have only done once so far.  It’s going to become an important session for me, I think.  There’s something about it that makes me think it will help me produce higher power over longer durations.

Today my mentor, Ben of Kinetic Velo came round to supervise me doing a 20 min power test, to see what sort of power I could produce right now in a 10 mile race.  Ben’s completely different to me.  I’d approach a 20 minute test by deciding what power I was hoping to achieve, then hit it and try to hold it.  If I was able to maintain it, getting into the last few minutes I’d try to raise it.  If I failed to even hold the power, I’d hope to complete, but more often than not I just get off in disgust.

Ben’s approach was to have me start around 270-280w and then slowly build to over 300w so that I’d reached an average of 290w at 10 mins.  Then up it again to around 310w, raise it further at 15 minutes if possible, then really nail the last two minutes.  I was hoping for 300w, but managed to push 303w average for the 20 minutes.  Result!  Having thought about it, I think this approach to doing it is very good.  The first 10 minutes was not too bad, the last 10 minutes was very hard and the last 5 minutes extremely hard.  The last 2 minutes was off the scale.  In addition to hopefully hitting the average you want, this approach also takes you into territory you would not ordinarily visit – high power when you’ve already been working hard for a period of time.

For example, in this case I pushed an average of 313w for the last 10 minutes.  That kind of effort will hopefully count for something when I’m trying to push 313w for the first 10 minutes!  I flirted with defeat in the last 5 mins, averaging 305w for the 15-18 min spell.  But I had a good last two minutes at an average of 341w.  It seems to me that pushing that kind of weight when the body is already screaming ‘no’ is probably better for development than sitting at the overall average of 303w for 20 minutes.  For the same reason that doing short intervals at well over race power is beneficial.  Any thoughts on that?

I wouldn’t race like that.  Generally speaking, constant speed is the best way of pacing a flat time trial.  Of course no time trial is absolutely flat, so you have to adjust power to suit the terrain, within limits.  But for training, I think it’s a great way of approaching it.

In summary, all is well at the moment, I’m where I want to be power-wise, but lots still to do before the season starts, which for me will probably be the end of March.  If I can make good gains between now and then, I have a reasonable chance of being a bit better than I was last year.

Wind Tunnel session with Drag2Zero

This is gonna be a bit dry if you’re not interested in bicycle aerodynamics…

Today I paid a visit to the Mercedes F1 wind tunnel in Brackley, Northants, for a session with Drag2Zero.  Paid being the operative word, as it ain’t cheap! 😀

The specific information given to customers in the tunnel is confidential, so I won’t be going into detail as to exactly what changes were made.  But I know a few people who read the blog are interested to hear about this jaunt, so I will explain my experience as much as I can.

I arrived nice and early for the scheduled two hour session.  The staff were very friendly and welcoming, and after a coffee and a quick glance through Rouleur magazine, I was introduced to the main man, Simon Smart.  As someone with a keen interest (but no technical nous) in bicycle aerodynamics, to me Simon is a figure who demands proper respect, as not only is he the chap who tells you how to go faster on your own bike, he’s also the designer of the Giant Trinity Advanced and Scott Plasma TT bikes, among other products.  Here’s a short video featuring Simon from the BBC website

We had a quick chat about my (limited) experience and Simon explained the protocol of the testing we would do.  Without going into too much detail we’d carry out a number of runs in the tunnel, each of approximately 5 minutes.  During each run, Simon would be measuring the amount of drag I caused in real time and the results would feed into the changes we made for the next run.  I got changed into my gimp suit and by the time I was ready my bike was mounted on their equipment in the tunnel.  

The testing rig sits in the wind tunnel on the ‘drag scales’ (my invented phrase), which as far as I can tell is a large horizontal pad that can measure the amount of drag that an object (i.e. me and my bike) suffers when sat on the pad in the wind flow.  It connects to the bike via a set of rollers on the front and rear wheels, and the bike is supported by elongated skewers through both wheel centres.  It’s like a cross between rollers and a turbo trainer.  My gears, and the resistance of the rollers, were set so I could spin the wheels at approximately 30mph with effort, but well below race pace (since I would be sat on the rig for 2 hours, although not pedalling all that time).  Simon explained that the wind would be set to 30mph and we would test at one yaw angle, which he said is the average yaw that a rider experiences at that speed.  Effectively this means that the rig is rotated by a number of degrees from the centreline of the wind flow.

I knew that to establish a baseline, the first run would need to be done in the position in which I have been racing.  So I was careful to ensure that I had adjusted the bike to exactly that position.  Obviously I was hoping that the position would prove so poor that the sound of the wind would be drowned out by the laughter of the technicians.  Any first time visitor to the tunnel surely wants to be told “your position is terrible, here have a couple of mph for free”.  Sadly that wasn’t the case.  Simon’s view on my position was that the CdA was about as low as I could expect to achieve, given my size.  I don’t yet know the absolute figure, because post-processing is required to remove the drag effect of the rig hardware, but Simon told me the figure was less than 0.2 (meaningless to most of you, I know).  I think his words were “It’s not quite exceptional, but it’s very good”.  Very good really means very bad.  It means big improvements in aerodynamics would not be found.  Somehow, quite by chance, I had found an aerodynamic position.  Damn.  This means I am not going to be a world beater.  If you need to, please take a moment to recover from the shock of that revelation 😉

If you’ve read my past postings on position, you might recall that in mid July I had lowered my saddle to the lowest position I could (reasonably) comfortably pedal in, and lowered the bars as far as they would go.  This was my amateur attempt at improving my aerodynamics.  The position was definitely faster (I PB’d by 30 seconds in my first 10 mile race after the change), but it cost me 10-15 watts of power (due probably to the very closed hip angle between thigh and torso).  Simon advised that if the drag effect of this position could not be improved within the scope of the session, we would focus on trying to find a position that would allow me to produce more power, with little or no extra drag cost.

In the main set of runs we tried various positions to see the effect on drag.  As Simon had predicted, we didn’t find one that significantly reduced drag.  We did however, manage to find a far less extreme position that was slightly better on drag.  It is to be hoped that this position releases a reasonable amount of power.  If so, that will be the material gain from the session.  It’s about power vs CdA after all.  Most folk would hope to improve CdA without harming power.  In my case, prior to the test, CdA happened to be very good, but in order to achieve that CdA, power output had degraded.  I am hopeful that my power output can be restored to what it was before I lowered the position so much in July.  I won’t know this until I can conduct a test, which may be a week or so, as the bike needs to be re-cabled in it’s new configuration.

We also tried some different things with the parts of the body that are not fixed to the contact points of the bike.  There’s two specific things that I have been trying to do this year to reduce frontal area (and hopefully drag).  We found that one of these things reduced drag, and the other one (which I find physically and mentally difficult to do) actually increased drag.  So I’m pleased to be able to stop trying to do that thing!  I am being cagey here due to confidentiality, but also these things are so specific to the individual that someone else might find the polar opposite if tested.

As for the whole experience, I had a really cool day.  The full force of the F1 wind tunnel technology and the technical know-how of Drag2Zero is brought to bear, for two hours, to try and make you faster.  It really does feel like you are the centre of their universe for those 120 minutes.  I felt as though they treated me as they would treat Tony Martin.  It’s expensive, and for me there was no silver bullet aerodynamically, but I hope and expect it to bear real fruit, and it was a very memorable experience.  I am due to receive a full technical report of the session (CD by post I think), most of which I won’t be able to share, but I will probably follow up with a post of my absolute CdA numbers from the best and initial positions.  A number of photos were taken during the session.  I’m not sure yet if I can post any of them, but if I can, I will.

Recent happenings

Although I have been neglecting the blog, mainly because I have no more races this year, I haven’t been sitting idle.  I have managed to get going on the turbo once again in the past few weeks.  If you’ve read the blog from the beginning, you might remember I used the turbo trainer a lot in my first few months of training, up until mid-May.  After that I seemingly lost the ability to train at the level I had before, even though results showed I was getting faster.  By the summer I was quite demoralised with it and stopped using it completely.

Well, in the past few weeks I have got started again.  My race bike isn’t going to see much outdoor action for the next few months, so there is no choice.  I decided that I wanted to start next season in better condition than I ended this one.  That way if I can keep improving I should be able to better my times from last year.  To do this will require a lot of work, so  I am not planning to have an off-season as such.  Instead I am going to train steadily, trying to avoid getting anywhere near burnout, but putting in the quality and volume that hopefully will make me gradually fitter.

And I have discovered my earlier problem with the turbo: it is temperature.  The past few weeks, especially the past fortnight, have been noticeably cooler.  As it gets cooler, performance goes up.  The odd warm day, I cannot make the power.  I’m 99% sure this is the cause.  I must be the only person in Britain now praying for cold weather at the weekends!

In other news, I decided to take the leap and invest in a wind tunnel session.  Primarily because I want to be as fast as I can with the limited engine I have.  I chatted to a couple of top riders during the season who really are on a different planet to me.  Their power figures, however, aren’t.  They are higher, for sure, but one chap in particular, who has paid a great deal of attention to aerodynamics, is fully 2 minutes faster than me.  His power figures suggest that all other things being equal, he should be 30 seconds faster.  But the other things are not equal.  And they may not be able to be made equal by a session in the wind tunnel.  I might go there and end up with little theoretical gain.  Or I might come away with a high theoretical gain but be unable to turn that into performances on the road.  So it’s a gamble, but I want to get as close as possible to my potential, so I think it’s a gamble worth taking.  The actual goings-on in the wind tunnel are confidential, riders are not allowed to divulge the details of what they learn, so I won’t be able to explain fully what happens.  But I will at least post my thoughts on the session in late November.

After a pretty poor end to the season, I feel as if I am on an upward curve once more 🙂

Sure it won’t last long!

Review of the Season (the numbers)

The season is over.  It finished like a damp squib; the disappointing trip to Hull was followed by withdrawing from my scheduled final race on  28th September after I knackered the thread on one of my armrest clamps on the preceding Thursday night.

So, time to reflect on my first year time trialling.  I plan to write a few posts in the coming while, looking back on my experiences so far – both to record my (growing?!) understanding of the sport and hopefully to help anyone who reads the blog and is thinking of taking it up.  I have learned a few things which ought to help.

I raced 15 times in total.  13 of these were 10 mile races, and all but 3 were on our local course at Sawtry.  My best times are:

Distance Time (Min:Sec) Speed (MPH) Date
10 miles 21:06 28.6 Aug 28
15 miles* 35:12 25.6 May 24
25 miles* 54:55 27.3 June 29

I’ve marked the 15 and 25 mile distances with an asterisk* because I only raced once at those distances! (So whatever time I did, it’s my PB)  I’ve also included the average speed because I know from comments that some people (not TTers!) think in terms of speed rather than time.  The 10 and 25 mile PBs were recorded on the E2 course down near Cambridge, which is a dual-carriageway.  The 15 mile time was on the single-carriageway course at Sawtry (this is why the speed is considerably slower – more on that in a later post)

One thing I learned that I will write more about soon is that times for a given distances are extremely sensitive to the course you’re riding on.  So you can’t compare a time on course A to a time on course B.  But of course I want to be able to compare performances, to see where there has been progress and where it has started to go wrong.  Luckily the vast majority of my 10s have been on the N1/10 course at Sawtry.  So I made a chart in Excel of the times/speeds I have recorded on there and the power outputs that went towards them.

Power Speed and Time on Sawtry 2013

I hope this chart is reasonably clear.  It shows my best performance by far was the 22:35 I rode on 24th July.  There is no doubt that this was my stand-out race of the season, even though it was nowhere near my best power.  I never went close to it before or after.  My summary of the what I think the chart says is:

  • After the first couple of races there is a big jump in power.  I believe this was due more to understanding how hard I could push, rather than a big jump in fitness (though I believe my fitness was steadily improving at that point)
  • Times came down quite rapidly from the 26th June to 17th July.  I think there’s two reasons for this: better equipment and improved weather conditions.  During this spell I fitted my new Flo wheelset and USE Tula aerobars.  And the nights got noticeably warmer.  Warmer equals faster.
  • I peaked on 24th July and it was largely downhill from there.

Believe me I have spent many hours trying to distill what I did on the 24th July!  If I had performed that well in my PB race on 29th August I believe the time would have been below 21 minutes.  And if I had taken that form to Hull I think I’d be sitting on a PB close to 20:30.  IF IF IF.

I’m pretty sure I know what happened – I made a drastic position change that night.  Dropped the saddle and the bars a long way down and it paid immediate dividends.  It was the best night of the year in terms of conditions, so that would have helped considerably. Given the drop in power to 291 watts, the time was so much faster that the new position just must be better.  The following 3 performances, all poor power outputs, prove the point I think – times were similar to earlier in the season, but 15-20w less power.  The drop-off in power from mid-season deserves a post of it’s own.  That will follow.  It will contain a couple of lessons for any novice TTer like myself.

Overall though I am pretty pleased with my initial foray into time trialling.  I started with no expectations, only the hope that I would not disgrace myself.  In fact I didn’t disgrace myself, I turned out to be solidly mediocre.  At school I never reached the dizzy heights of mediocrity in any endurance sport.  In fact I was so bad that I rarely even finished events.  So being mediocre is a large step up.  I hope to be able to kick on next season into the ‘not bad’ area.  I can do it, no doubt, but it will take big improvements in several areas.  I have alluded to these areas in this post and will write about them in more detail soon.  In short, I need to pedal harder and slip through the air better.  Easy eh? 🙂