It’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one struggling with the vagaries of form and fitness when measured against former glories. The simple truth is coming back after a layoff is very hard. It’s difficult to attain the same level, and even more difficult to maintain a degree of equanimity about it. It’s impossible not to compare a ride with an equivalent from 5 years ago (1hr 04 Vs 57 minutes anyone?) Yet at the same time it’s an entirely pointless exercise because you simply can’t compare the two. Since I started riding in January it’s been a hard slog. I’ve lost a lot of weight in a short space of time, and I’ve made some progress. In short though, it’s a case of trying really hard and not really getting anywhere. It makes me realise how competitive I used to be, and how dampening that competitiveness is going to be central to enjoying the experience of bike racing.
The WTTA course is one of my least favourite hilly events. It’s not very hilly. In fact, it’s so not very hilly that they use three laps as a 100 mile TT. It suits the big powerful boys and girls, and can be ridden in the saddle. The road surface is also very grippy. Lots of chunky A-road stuff. Since the first race of the season I’ve been getting slower each time. I started off quite close to my peers. I’m now drifting out and going backwards. I’m not sure why this is, possibly because I’m not trying hard enough, possibly because I have a lack of training and base, possibly because everyone else is on a sharper upwards curve than I am. By way of an example, someone I caught for three minutes three weeks ago was pretty much the same as me today.
It’s my last race for about 6 weeks so we’ll see what happens later in the season.
I’d been looking forward to today’s race. After the my first race two weeks ago I had a sense that it was a case of forwards and faster. The gaps were small and the Bath Hilly is deserving of the title with quite a bit of climbing. I had this feeling I was going to be flying and back where I where I once was. Needless to say, it didn’t quite work out like that.
At the starting line I contrived to pull my wheel over in the dropouts. It’s a schoolboy error. There are a couple of grub screws but I hadn’t set them properly. Clearly way too much power. What with my skewer being an allen key fitment (seemed like a good idea at the time) I had to return to the start to get an allen key to fix it. I lost over a minute there and then. I was OK with this. I thought, well, I’ll just have to ride a minute quicker than i was going to. Which would have been fine, if instead I hadn’t chosen to ride about two minutes slower. I’m not sure it was that bad, it just wasn’t that good.
Looking at the strava thing I can see that I’m climbing ok, but I’m just not riding fast enough all the way round. This i guess is the problem with time trials. Other people ride faster. Finding the secret to riding faster takes a bit of effort. I haven’t put the effort in just yet. Well, I have, but within a short period of time, and during that time within the confines of a busy job and family life. It’s hard graft. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the day, which is what I set out to do, it just happens to be more enjoyable if you beat more people, because that’s bike racing, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a cyclo-tourist. I came 11th, one place down on last week, although the missing minute puts me 8th, hypothetically…
I don’t know why I keep getting drawn back into the murky world of the zwifterati. There is something oddly compelling about the whole scheißeshow. The latest titbits fed through from friends include these ‘gems’:
So pumped to hear that Zwift are organising a virtual sportive. This is great news. Can’t quite afford to pay the vast sum of money to ride roads outdoors that are free at all times, with the exception of this one day when you get to ride them with 6 billion other people? Have no fear, you can ride the event virtually and avoid the queues, apart from the 6 billion other zwifters riding indoors at the same time. Yep, the taking part really matters.
It isn’t a touring bike. It’s a P2 Cervelo. Honestly, I’m such a tease. Anyway, after two years off I’ve managed 8 weeks of training since January 1st. It’s been a slow build. I’ve lost 6 kg in weight. With that in mind I’ve opted to attempt a string of hilly time trials. I’m resolutely not chasing fast times, I am racing because I miss it. These are usually my favourite races; they are technical, fast, and hard work. The first of these was today, the Chippenham Hardrider.
The weather looked abysmal. Thankfully the rain slipped away, but it left a horrendous headwind behind on the worst stretches of the course. There is one section which is entitled “drag me into hell” on Strava. It’s an uphill shitfest through some of the grippiest tarmac ever laid, and there is always a block headwind in your face, denting the balls of your eyes. Before I even got there I had the indignity of being two-minuted by Rob Pears, at mile 12 of 23. I was relieved, I knew he was coming and it meant I could just ride my normal, slow race, picking off people who happened to be a bit slower than me.
On the drag of death I espied a suffering fellow tester up ahead. Cue the world’s slowest ever chase as I reeled him in, millimetre by millimetre. The overtake was excruciatingly long and drawn out; we could have made a cup of tea and eaten toast in the time it took to edge past. I was maxing out at 13mph in the small ring. It was hectic stuff, the sort of stuff that saw Mark Renshaw booted out of a slightly more prestigious race in days of yore.
I made it round without further incident or hair-raising speeds. The bike was fine. If you have a squeamish disposition or like things to be ‘just so’, then look away now.
There has been a lot of not knowing about this race; particularly of the not knowing how I would get on. I was aiming for a top ten overall, and fortuitously came 10th. I sat up quite a bit around the course because it was pretty dicey and my main aim was to get round, to get things moving and to see where I was. I fared well against people who are going well, which gives me reassurance that once up to full steam I might be able to turn in some higher placings. I certainly think so.
In my absence two key things seem to have changed. Firstly, everyone wears Velotoze. These are shiny latex fetish overshoes. They are really tough to get on. You have to put them on without your shoes and then put your shoes on and unsheath them over your shoes. I couldn’t be bothered so I opted for some old altura waterproof ones. Secondly, everyone has a shiny embedded pocket in their skinsuit which does away with the need for pins. It’s very clever. I wrestled with pins and managed to jab myself about ten hundred times. I am going to adapt one of those A4 paper wallet things and tape it to my ass. That should do the trick.
I managed to throw the rock horns. I felt obliged. I might have to think of some other new BSCC meme to chuck out at the paps.
And lastly, I managed to win a prize. Which isn’t too bad, although I’m slightly ambivalent about the ‘V’ bit. I guess it’s just age, the recognition that I’m not a senior anymore, therefore I have to duke it out amongst the other greybeards and let the young tyros do their absurdly fast thing.
I went up North for the first time in a little while. I had a longstanding commitment to attend the annual YCF awards dinner as guest of honour. It’s worth mentioning that when these invites come along I’m very surprised and feel obliged to attend. I usually apologise when speaking for not being someone of greater worth or notoreity. Nevertheless, people are kind enough to ask so it suggests in its small way that something I’ve done, namely written a book, has had some impact on the lives of others, for which I’m genuinely grateful and touched. I still feel like an imposter though.
I took the bike and went out early on the Sunday morning on one of my favourite loops ever, anywhere. It’s a short but savage perambulation that runs as follows:
Allerton – Haworth – Stanbury – Wycoller – – Scar Top – Colne – Trawden – Widdop – Blade Dean – Slack Top – Heptonstall – Hebden Bridge – Peckett Well – Oxenhope – Denholm – Allerton
It translates as about 5,000 feet in 45 miles. I had three hours to spare. It was a quite tight. The climbs pitch up in brutal slices, none more so than a very narrow track up Slack Road towards Widdop, and then the most horrid death that is Wadsworth Lane and Height Road, a vile and unrelenting climb of unceasing pitch that had me reaching for gears that I didn’t have, nor will ever have. It wasn’t a case of missing the 27, I was missing a massive dinner plate on the back and an 11t on the front. I have been doing this circuit for many years. There are other rides, but it’s the one I go back to and know inside out. Some of my first longer rides after returning to cycling in my 20s were out on these roads, so it does have a certain feeling, a resonance if you like.
It’s a beautiful and utterly desolate landscape. The two things are symbiotic; the emptiness of the hills and the raw, unfettered moorland combine to transcend wherever it is you’ve pedalled from.
The trouble and the joy of riding in Yorkshire is the continual undulation. The Mendips, for example, are beautiful, but it’s a confined area of a certain number of square miles. Get up into West Yorkshire and it’s all like it, until you get to the Dales, then it’s even worse/better, until you get to the Lakes, at which point it’s more worser/betterer again.
I made it back with some chewing of stem, just inside the three hour window, and then hotfooted it across to Tadcaster for the shindig. There was the usual table laden with silverware and famous names.
Mike Smith was the compere. He was very charming. I didn’t really put the name to the voice until l checked later, but he does quite a bit of Eurosport stuff and things at Manchester. They gave away a special award in honour of CA Rhodes. This year’s winners were Steve Bate and Adam Duggleby for their medals in Rio. These are incredible feats.
The Worlds are coming to Yorkshire soon. In my brief speech I mentioned how it’s easy to see it as a testament to the recent popularity of cycling. However, it’s a tribute to the success of Yorkshire Cycling over the years, the way the topography has become intertwined with the mythology of cycling within this country, a part of the national identity, a litany of names, places and things; Beryl Burton, Ben Swift, Blubberhouses, Holme Moss, the Circuit of Keighley, Dave Rayner, Malcolm Elliott, the Strines… and the beat goes on. It’s amateur sport that has led to this pinnacle of cycling. It was curious to meet people with living memory of Beryl Burton, discussing their memories of her. Up until this point she has been a mythic figure; images and anecdotes. It was vaguely reminiscent of the time I saw Karl Marx’s grave in Highgate. I realised he was was really real.
I think that this will probably be the last of the ACE related Endeavours. It’s done me well. I now have to turn my attention fully to the next project and pile on in. In the meantime, I’m going to get out on my touring bike this weekend. I’ll keep all three of you posted.
I’ve managed to keep up with regular riding since the start of the year. It’s hard though. You can’t add in extra time to your day without losing time somewhere else. It’s possible, but you have to be disciplined and make the most of the time that sits around the time spent not doing other things.
I’m getting fitter, very slowly, and thinner, also very slowly. There is a certain satisfaction in being able to fit into clothes again. I took out a suit today only to find it had cobwebs in the crotch. The arachnids had made a nest of my disused groin.
I have some minor goals, primarily in aiming for 125 miles per week. I can’t always get in a long ride at the weekend so this means really pushing it in the week. I work quite long days and have family, so this limits the time to ride. And you get tired. At a push, I can do 100 miles during the week. Even around that mark it can be diminishing returns.
It’s chastening. A fast ride feels fast, but at the same time it’s significantly slower than anything I managed a few years ago. I smashed it up clarken coombe the other day but didn’t even make it into the top 25 on Strava. That’s my top 25.
Onwards and upwards. It’s hard to get a sense of perspective. I’m not aware what race fit means anymore. I am aware that I feel better when I cycle more, unless I’m really tired and hungry.
The long-suffering three readers of this blog will recall a reference to the all-encompassing new thing for indoor virtual cyclists: Zwift. It’s seen as the antidote to the sterile hell of the turbo; I do repent the tedious minutes I with her have spent. It’s the very thing to transform the solipsistic and endless darkness of a life spent moving nowhere but really really quickly (virtually quickly, not really quickly). It takes all of those lonely, existentially challenged turbo warriors and places them into a virtual world where they can all exist as one. There are now virtual club rides on ze Zwift, as the three of you will recall from the EC1 blog post of late. They are big on Zwifting.
There are virtual routes which then can be uploaded to strava and have virtual virtual segments. Or is that virtual virtual? It has a map of London. People can ride in London with their friends whilst they are in the kitchen on their own. Or perhaps not in the kitchen, maybe in a sort of white clockwork orange space, on a grey pinarello, sat on top of a drum riser with a gert big telly and a sticker saying, like, RIDE ON ZWIFTERS.
Jasmijn Muller recently (yesterday or even today, that recently) undertook a challenge to set a Zwift ‘distance record attempt’. She managed 1000 miles in 2 days, or something like that. Jasmijn is quite a cyclist – I’m not going to be churlish about this; she is an ultra endurance athlete and she won the National 12 hour a few years back. Nevertheless, I want to be by some distance not the first person to point out that she hasn’t actually broken any distance records at all, in fact, she’s enacted the hoary old cliché (i think the phrase ‘hoary old cliché’ might be a hoary old cliché) of going nowhere fast. Very fast. Or somewhere very far but not fast at all. Wait: she’s gone nowhere not fast, but she’s taken a very long time to do it. In fact, she’s been sat in her kitchen for two days.
I admire something about this, even if it’s only the tenacity of the endeavour. But it’s a glimpse of a future which I don’t really want to be a part of. I’ll stick to actual club runs, or base club, or riding out every morning and being thrilled by the serendipity of seeing someone I actually know, in actual form, rather than an uncanny avatar. I’ll listen to wind noise, struggle with headwinds, experience wildlife, the changing of the seasons, the fluctuations of form, the sense of genuine space, the onrush of cold air, the feeling of unbridled joy and I’ll leave zwift to those who enjoy zwift and don’t see at as counter to some irreducible truth of what bikes are for.
Oh but PJ, you’re just missing out on the way it shapes the interior and brings community into a solo activity…. It’s a training aid, it helps me do stuff.
Well good for you. Now get back into your kitchen and ride a 100 miles on a static bike with friends who aren’t there, all the while towelling yourself down and using one of those triangular sweatcatchers.