Form comes and goes, and it’s a fickle, capricious beast. Last week i was slower than everyone who i measure myself against, by some distance. I was tired and run down; it was a hard day. I took a more rigid approach to training this week and tried to stay off my feet a bit when resting and recovering.
Today i went to the R course in Wales. I’ve changed the bars on my TT bike; it took 3 evenings of wrangling. I’m using the 3T aura pro. The bike is nearly UCI legal, ready for Thursday’s smashfest against the choppers. I left the extensions at normal length, rather than pulling them in to within the 80cm rule. This may or may not mean anything to you.
I had no expectations today – or more accurately, i had very low expectations. A brief test run, checking the new setup, felt ok. I was cautiously optimistic. I warmed up and again felt ok, free from the nagging, omnipresent fatigue. I rode away from the start and settled into a rhythm; characterised by trying to go as fast as i could, but also not overcook needlessly when I didn’t have to. I had some time and speed in the bag at the turn, but the home leg is really draggy and has wiped out fast rides for me before today. I clung on and hit the last corner at an alarming pace to stop the clock at 49.58. This is a 30mph average. It’s also the first 30mph ride ever recorded at 25 miles by a BSCC rider. I’m very happy. It puts me up into the lofty heights of the ‘fastest riders’ tables and makes me about number 130 in the ‘all time fastest riders’ list. I’ll take that.
My form appears to be back on the up again. Timely.
It’s an unwritten rule of amateur cycling that at the precise moment when you should be riding the crest of the most stonking pile-up of form and fitness, things take a bit of a nosedive. A combination of excessively long working hours and an outbreak of the crippling medieval plague known as ‘hayfever’ have had a savage effect on any intention to continue with the current block of panic training.
Today i returned to the F11-10 course in darkest homecountyshire with a couple of targets in the back of my mind. The first of these was to bag another 19. Both the Sphinx and I were of the opinion that a 19 should be on the cards as long as we both rode the course. In fact, rumour had it that they would be handing them out with the race numbers; there would be no need to ride. It’s the new face of time trialling; compare complex power-related numbers on internet forums beforehand, calculate the strength and direction of the wind, load up on ridiculous acronyms and then feed this all into an online weboracle called “Training Speaks”, which then chitters out a tickertape feed containing your time.
Not being able to seek solace in the world of numbers and figures (see: “ooh i did an all time power PB and my CDA was off the hook, check out my TO and i totes nailed the blue CTL, and my FTP is like, AMAZEBALLS, even though i was 5 minutes slower than everyone else) it came to pass that we did actually have to ride the course at race pace and then actually try and achieve the projected time. If the 19 wasn’t on, then we were chasing the club team record with Andy, the erstwhile club skipper and all-round good egg. Jo Knight was also chasing the BSCC ladies’ 10 record – she achieved her aim with a super-rapid 23.38.
On the epic, bongo-clad ride to the Spinkhaus in St Worstburg, calamity struck. The armrest bolts sheared off and it clattered to the floor. At that point there was only one thing for it; an EU mountain of duct tape.
It held firm for the duration of the race, which is far more than can be said for my mental fortitude, endurance and physical powers. Things started well; i caught my minute man within 3 miles or so. I’m not sure the rider up the road was at the peak of his powers; i’ve heard tell that he has had some form in the past and may have once ridden bigger races than the Hemel 10 and worn brighter jerseys.
I resisted the temptation to ‘do a cavendish‘ because I’m not Mark Cavendish, I am a fairly hapless club rider from the westcountry. I also didn’t want to get a punch in the chops or a pump in the trispoke from one of British Cycling’s bona fide living legends. I think Yates climbed off after about 8 miles or so. I don’t think he was having a particularly good day. I wasn’t having a good day either; i did ok for the first 8 miles, but after that turned into a headwind and lost my way a bit, dribbling home in 20.24 for the 10. I was about 20 seconds down on where I perhaps should have been. That said, it was enough to help lower the Bristol South CC ‘Team’ record for 10 miles, a mark which had stood for 23 years. I also managed to throw out the ‘horns’ for the legions of paparazzi stood at the side of the arterial trunk road. I shall go away and brood for a bit and then hope that form returns, hayfever subsides, and tiredness abates.
I’ve been getting lots of messages of support ahead of the BC championships in two weeks. Trotters wins the prize for the best one yet…
On current form i’m a hot favourite to destroy the hell out of myself.
In a little over two weeks time the National Road Championships are taking place at Abergavenny. There are various events, including the road race, featuring a stellar line-up. It’s worth heading over to see the circuit; it takes a route through Celtic Manor near Newport and is a tough course. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see the top domestic and continental professionals going head to head for the red, white and blue jersey. On the Thursday evening the time trial championships kick things off. Some of the heroes of modern British cycling are riding; people who have shaped the narrative of the sport, like David Millar: his personal arc of triumph, then earth-shattering fall and eventual redemption contains all the elements of optimism that most cycling fans have clung to over the darker years. Sir Bradley Wiggins is also down to start. I can’t begin to mention how important a figure he is without lurching into hyperbole. He is the reigning Olympic time trial champion.
David Millar is the commonwealth games champion. Both have won grand tour TT stages. They are the zenith of the sport. Also riding for Sky are Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe. Alongside is Alex Dowsett of Movistar, who recently sliced 25 seconds from the National “10” record, pulling out all the stops to record a 35mph ride.
The startsheet is available here. Some time ago i put an entry in. It was fairly speculative and I didn’t anticipate getting a ride. As it happens, I’ve managed to get in. I’d like to reiterate that last statement, it seems a bit Karl Power-esque. Somehow, i’m riding in the same race as the above people and a whole gang full of inconceivably fast people. Since i saw the startsheet this morning I’ve been a state of excitement, anxiety and fear. I hoped the professionals would turn out, but now the concrete, real reality of the race line up has created different emotions; I’m fearful and I am going to be on the receiving end of some fairly hefty time gaps. But it is what it is, and if you’d told me 5 years ago that i’d be on the startsheet for this kind of race I’d have looked askance and questioned your sanity. As it stands; i’ve entered, I was given a start based on the organiser’s belief that i wouldn’t be out of place in the elite race and was deserving of the chance. I want to race. I want to not come last. And i want to throw out the rock horns on the start ramp. (Oh no, please, no, i didn’t even think about the start ramp, if there is one, christ, please god don’t let me fall off).
And i want to savour the moment and look back on it as one of those things that i did within a life where opportunities were taken. Because time trialling, the race against the clock, the race of truth, is a thinly concealed metaphor for the battle against the capricious nature of time itself.
But at the same time i’m shitting myself in living terror at being caught for 25 minutes by Sir Bradley of Wiggins.
I’ve kept a bit quiet about this one because it was quite a scary event. Earlier this season I opted to try and put a club team together to ride the National Championships which were taking place at Abergavenny. The event rotates around and could be anywhere from Teesdale to Telford, so it’s always good to try and get a ride when it’s on your doorstep, or thereabouts. We managed to get an entry, which is always the first step, and kept our hopes in check. I rode with Richard Spink and Ed Trotman; Richard and I are fairly even matched, he’s better at the longer stuff. Ed is a classy roadman but not quite at the same level in time trial terms. His bongobike is also a slightly retro and rather heavy steel frame. The ideal is to find 3 evenly matched riders and then make sure you take equal turns. If there’s a disparity then it becomes a bit more complicated.
The startsheet was a bit terrifying with Olympic and Commonwealth Games riders, the current leader of the Tour series and lots of serious time triallists. The scariest of them all was Steven Burke, riding for Haribo Beacon.
It’s also a rare privilege to ride the same race as Sarah Storey; this has happened before about 3 years ago; i remember catching her slowly on a climb on the Buxton Mountain Time Trial; once the climb was done she disappeared into the distance. She is an amazing athlete.
Sarah was in the same team as the world track champion.
In short, it was a long way from your average fish-and-chipper. The course took in two and half laps of a circuit, with a total of nearly 37 miles. I have to say at this point that it’s a bit above my preferred distance; I usually max out at 25 miles, sometimes 30. I can do this kind of mileage with no problem, but it’s the speed with which you do it when time trialling that causes problems. I’m also aware that lately i’ve been feeling a bit under the weather in a vaguely non-specific way and definitely haven’t been firing on all cylinders. In a solo race getting your excuses in early counts for a lot; when riding with teammates it’s a source of disappointment and anxiety.
In terms of aims; we had a couple we were going for. A top ten placing wasn’t entirely beyond the realms of possibility and would have been a spectacular result. We were also aiming to be the first unsponsored club team home. This is an important one – in an unsponsored club, devoid of any financial or kit-based incentive or sweetener, you are representing the place where you live. It’s not composite; insofar as you ride with the club members you have and you ride for the club you are a first claim member of. It’s a more traditional arrangement. Sponsored clubs and teams tend to draw in faster riders, making it easier for them to field a particularly strong outfit. Clubs like Bristol South are the apotheosis of amateur endeavour, it’s Corinthian, if you like.
One of the ways you know it’s a serious race is you get ‘arm’ numbers as well as the number on the back. You also have the possibility of a doping control which is dreadfully exciting. The car park was chock-full of expensive machinery and well-honed racing cyclists and i’d slightly underestimated how long it takes 3 people to get ready, compared to the solitary man. We made our start in good time and headed out onto the course under beautiful skies with barely a breath of wind. It was going well, we had a bit of a ding dong with another team who seemed unaware of some of the fundamental rules of time trialling, especially those pertaining to company riding, section 21 of the CTT handbook, but it wasn’t too much to worry about, more an irritation. Towards the end of the first lap we were passed by the Haribo Beacon team with Steven Burke on the front, cracking the whip. They had made up 3 minutes and in the end took 5 minutes out of our time.
Throughout the race we held our shape and moved through fluently. My legs were beginning to ossify and it was left to Spink to drag us along the last few miles as my turns became shorter and shorter. Trotters by this point was glued to the back; clinging on to the mast and praying for the storm to end. We crossed the line in a beautiful parallel formation, managing a teeny bit shy of a 28mph average for the 37 miles.
We came 15th and were first unsponsored club team. It was a fantastic result and a great day for the club. The overall winners were the international riders; full results are here.
This weekend I’m riding the National Team Time Trial Championship with two clubmates. The race features two laps of a circuit near Abergavenny for a total of 35 miles. We’re hoping to do reasonably well, at least amongst the clubs. There are lots of sponsored teams; amalgamations of faster riders seeking free bongo kit in exchange for publicising a UPVC window company or caravan coach-builder.
We had a warm-up yesterday in the driving rain; a ride out to Axbridge and back to take in the Somerset Road Club midweek 10. The meet-up was at the Nova Scotia; I opted to use my Kask Bambino, despite the notorious fogging problems in dank weather. This was observed and commented on by Trotters and Spink. However, I have recently installed an old-school bodge on the newest of new-school bongo helmets and opted to take a chance.
After 15 miles of 3-up TT paced riding both Trotters and Spink had to stop on account of ‘not being able to see shit’. Their fool-proof giro selectors had fallen foul of the inclement weather, whereas the Bambino was entirely unfogged. I was Mr Smug of Smugville, Smugshire.
We rode the TT at race pace through the wind and rain, coming through in twos on the outside and taking longer turns that you would in a through and off. It was good fun and made the experience less of an existential struggle compared to usual. As far as testing the water goes, we managed 20.38, which was a good start on a crappy old day. The ride back to Bristol wasn’t as much fun, a stout northerly made it a bit tricky.
Later on I uploaded by data to Strava, doing a bit of KOM bagging in the process. My evening was then ruined by a succession of updates to the virtual high score table as first Trotters, and then Spink, edged each of the segments with some canny KOMbags. I suspect this is what they were riding for all along; half-wheeling through each pre-recce’d segment, holding back then making up the ground to bag some virtual kudos.
I’ve found it hard to write things lately; it’s a combination of being very busy at work and a vague sense that I didn’t want to retread old ground; churning out the same stories, suffering each time from the law of diminishing returns. I have been cycling though, with some small successes; i came 3rd in a time trial in Wales, recording 20.25 for the 10 miles. I was quite pleased but also slightly disappointed that i wasn’t closer to the 19 minute mark. It’s funny how expectations subtly recalibrate themselves without you even noticing. I managed to beat Matt Postle who was an accomplished roadman back in the day. I have no doubt that if it was back in the day he’d have put me royally to the sword. I also rode as fast as Matt Rowe (brother of Luke) and Dani King, who were doing the 2-up. Matt memorably ‘boxed’ with the Tour of Britain peloton when they came over Caerphilly Mountain.
The club 10 last weekend was cancelled due to lakes of water on the course, which left a road race on Sunday to round out the weekend. It was promoted by Taw Velo and took in 7 laps of a hilly circuit in North Devon. We had 4 riders in the field. It was a tough day and riders were dropping off the back faster than an exploding plane spills passengers. By lap 5 or 6 there were less than 20 left. I clung on in, felt strong. On the penultimate lap i could feel the fickle pangs of cramp and knew it was going to be touch and go. At the bottom of the finishing climb it grabbed hold and destroyed my hopes of a placing; i dribbled in at the back of the group. Kieran rode a super race and took 7th place. One guy rode off the front after 4 laps and we never saw him again. It was quite chastening. Apparently he did it the week before as well.
Road racing is a complicated business; there are a huge number of variables to contend with and your destiny is rarely your own, if that makes any sense at all. You can minimise some of these, but at any given point there are decisions to be made and the wrong one can ruin the race. Tom (of Dream CC, a lesser outfit consisting mostly of cat 3s and juniors) argued succinctly that it’s probably best to sit in the bunch and not even think about what might be happening up front because it usually comes back together and you only get stressed out wondering if that might be the winning break. Tom gives good advice, but doesn’t always follow it himself – on Sunday he opted to attack long and hard at the bottom of an 8 mile summit finish in the Tour of Carmarthen. Not being Nairo Quintana, it didn’t work out that well and he got Kimmaged by a lady, by all accounts. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
The thing i struggle with, apart from the lack of control, the jostling for position in the neutralised section, the random skills of some riders, the fear that a moment’s inattentiveness might cause a catastrophic and costly crash and the vague sense that i’m a man with a fork in a world of soup, is the SURGES. These are designed to bankrupt the tester’s capacity to ride just below threshold for as long as it takes by taking you violently above this level for a very short period of time, repeatedly. I can just about do it, but it’s a struggle due to the absence of any similar efforts in my typical racing or training. The end result is a slightly crampy experience after a while.
This weekend coming is the National Team Time Trial Championship. We’ll see how it goes; it’d be nice to mix it up with the fast men. It’s my first national outside of the uphill season and I’m riding with the Spinkmeister and Trotterz. Should be fun. I’m silently hoping that the occasional road races will add something extra to my time trialling repertoire. I had a recovery ride with Penny today, it was a stately 16 mile loop including a climb i’ve never done before. It was perfect.