A distinct lack of inclemental impedence

Today was the Bristol South CC 10 mile open time trial, taking place on the U7b, or as it’s affectionately known, ‘the graveyard’. Generally, it lives up to its moniker, burying any hopes or dreams of a fast time with all the clinical brutality of the grim reaper. The usual high-score combo is a lovely tailwind out, lulling you into throwing everything at the tarmac in the hope of a fast time, only to find the turn gives way to a wall of wind; all souplesse disappears as riders slip down through the cogs, trying to get over the three lumpy bits (including the mythical Col de Gossington Bridge) and somehow make it across the line without hæmorrhaging too much time.

Last year I won the event, but this year I was under no illusion that the feat might be repeated. Several extraordinarily fast men had decided to make the pilgrimage to the West’s fifth fastest 10 course, including Kieron Davies, Jon Wynn, Ben Anstie and Robin Coomber, all of whom have hefty 19s to their name and a clutch of 49 minute 25s. I decided that the best strategy was one i occasionally employ: PLF.

About fifteen minutes prior to the start, the wind dropped almost completely and a heartwarming stillness descended. I felt good, and continued to feel good all the way to the turn, scratching out a 29mph average. I took the roundabout at a decent pace, trying not to think about rolling a tub and grateful for the absence of any cars, then headed back for the home leg. It took me about 400 metres to realise that the return leg was going to be equally fast. As soon as i’d got over the three short climbs i whacked it into the 11 and completely mullered it, turning over the big gear with a sense of rhythm and circularity. I scraped home in 20.43, slicing a marginal 3 seconds from my PB on this course, set on a balmy and warm September morning last year. I was also only 5 and 8 seconds respectively behind two fellow competitors who normally eke out much larger margins.

It’s quite pleasing to set a PB. It means that whatever else happens – or whatever times other people turn in – you can rest assured that you have produced the best ride you could. It’s sometimes interesting on fast days (and it was clearly a fast day) to see how other people cope. I find it surprising that other riders don’t always put in a rapid time, but you never can tell what sort of form or fatigue people have brought with them. My form seems to be on an upward trend, I’ve been relatively focused and working hard and my weight has dropped to around the magical 67kg mark. This is important, the last 2 or so kilos of weight loss take time and come with the right kind of riding and structure. I place quite a lot of stock on the idea of ‘racing weight’, partly because i know that when i’m just a bit lighter i climb with much more freedom and pace. I did a couple of very hilly rides at the weekend and assaulted several climbs in and around the Mendips, enjoying them rather than toiling to the top. Keeping an eye on the bigger picture is always important in the early part of the season; hard work pays off in the long run.

The social side of time trials was very much in evidence today, it was great to catch up with others and talk at random. In the white heat of the post-race endorphin and caffeine mania i heard myself saying, ‘there was a distinct absence of inclemental impedance’. The person on the receiving end of this slab of pseudogibber looked at me and edged slowly away towards the results board.

It’s always good to lambast a few triantelopes as well. I met a rider I hadn’t seen for some time who had been spending some time amongst the triathlopeds. He seemed happy to pile in with the general ribbing of the tritard world and their shonky bike handling skills. I recounted a story of how i passed a group doing a 4up at a Castle Combe TT one evening last year. I found the experience unsettling; they were doing a 4up and yet still contrived to be riding at around 5mph slower than me. And i wasn’t going very fast. I think that same evening i saw one of the tripods do his 5 laps at around 19mph, then drop his bike and start running around the edge of the track in his sleeveless top and armwarmers. I resolved never to return. 

Recently I ended up having to overtake a triaptoplod on a full TT bike, head down, going across the downs the other morning. I held off for ages but in the end had no choice. His pace was fluctuating oddly, occasionally going up about a mile per hour or so, then dropping two. I was on a 65″ gear with a carradice saddlebag full of heavy things like fruit and sandwiches and books and shoes. I gave him a puzzled look and as i came through asked what he was doing. He said, through stuttered breaths and out of the salt-stained corner of his mouth;

“Intervals”

I was rendered speechless. Tritards: the turducken of cycling.

oh yeah i’m gonna put my inside pedal down and tame that corner in my groovy tritard hotpants with utility girdle drink station yeah yeah

Tomorrow is the Westbury Hilly. I shall have to see what the legs feel like.

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Measuring Progress Through a Graveyard

The U7B is my local course. i’ve ridden it considerably more times than any other ten course I know, especially if you factor in club events. Over the past three years I’ve steadily improved through a combination of fitness, form, equipment and pacing. In May 2010 I managed a 22.37 for 7th place in an event won by Jeff Jones. I was 2 minutes adrift.

Today i managed a 20.45 for 2nd place behind the same rider and the gap was 35 seconds. Jeff is the 3rd fastest rider over 10 miles in the history of the event. He has recorded a 18.09, behind Bradley Wiggins with a 17.57 and Michael Hutchinson with a 17.45.

It’s clear progress and I feel pleased with everything. The U7B is a tough course with some really draggy climbs, more so than your average, but i really like it. It’s honest as the day is long and only one person – Stuart Dodd – has managed to go under 20 minutes, with a 19.58 or thereabouts. I’ve gradually worked out how to pace the effort and when i turn up to ride i’m generally relaxed and in a positive frame of mind; this undoubtedly helps. Getting under 21 minutes is generally considered to be very rapid and it doesn’t happen very often.  Open events on the course are frequently won with mid 21s.

One of the more amazing things about today was the return of George Keene. He has had an enforced layoff after breaking his collarbone. He couldn’t use the extensions because he was still suffering from the residual after-effects of the injury, but rode round in 30 minutes for a 20mph average. He is 80 years old. George appears in the clips in the two previous posts to this one. He is legendary figure and an inspiration.

George Keene, Bristol South Cycling Club; inspirational.
slippery profile, PB in the bag
Even more slippery profile

Marginal Gains

I’ve missed a few races lately for a variety of reasons. Each one seems to have been a float day with people turning in bristling times, scorching across the road surface and whispering convivially afterwards at just how ridiculously fast it was out there. At the weekend, whilst I was in Wales (albeit enjoying myself with the Strada boys) my fellow testers had a grand day out in Cirencester. Over a third of the field set a new personal best, most by at least a minute.

This week i’ve been trying to recover, but also keep things ticking over. I was exhausted yesterday and could barely turn the pedals, grinding my way up Whiteladies Road and being overtaken by Grannies not even using their granny ring (don’t let this innocent statement conjure up unwholesome images). This evening I opted at the last minute to take a trip out to the Graveyard to have a bit of a thrash at the Dursley10. I like the U7B, it’s my local course, it’s just not particularly nice. It is hilly from the turn and nearly always windy. I went because i thought it might be a little bit floaty and didn’t want to miss another floatilicious bonanza to tell the Grandchildren about in years to come. That fabled night on the a38 near Falfield, oh yes.

The lay-by for the sign-on has been undergoing some changes of late. There is a large building being erected. Tonight an enormous juggernaut was parked up. It had huge cowhorns on the top and as i walked past the cab it was blaring out ‘Jolene’ by Dolly Parton. There were also several pages of a bongo magazine lying on the road. It was all a bit Shane Meadows.

I didn’t do too much of a warm-up, opting instead to ride around and see if my legs were working. I took it relatively steady from the push, rather than my usual hell-for-leather, guns blazing charge for the turn. It didn’t feel that slow, but i noticed i was having trouble catching Ed Trotman, my minuteman. He was on a bit of a pearler as well, and knocked about a minute off his PB. Once around the turn, i measured it over the climbs then just tried to annihilate myself for the last three miles. It seemed to do the trick, i crossed the line for a 20.55, just inside the magical 21 minute mark which is seldom beaten on this course. The key difference is that the speed never really dropped, i hit a steady 28.5mph and generally held it at or around that figure. It’s my best and most satisfying ride of the season.

Wiggins et Froome, Ooh La La, Parfait.

I had a race today; my first open event for what seems like yonks. It was the Severn Road Club open 10 mile time trial. As such it was a close second to another race going on in somewhere in southern France. I imposed a spoiler lockdown, avoiding all tweets and inadvertent checking of any internet site that might have a banner or link to the results. At one point at the HQ a chap began talking about the stage and a couple of riders gave him a damn good shhhshing. I managed to watch the stage this evening with the wife. She was very excited by the cycling and knows her onions, commenting on Hesjedal’s untimely exit, amongst other tactical nuggets. It was brilliant to watch and genuinely exciting to see British Cycling, and Wiggins and Froome, elevated to such lofty heights. Froome’s late attack was staggering, his spindly, sinewy frame overcoming the gradient and the other riders with comparative ease. Normally i delete the stage after watching it but i’ve stored this on Tivo for repeated bongo sessions. The Tour is always exciting, but the added dimension of having a British rider at the sharp end of the race in a dominant team makes it completely engrossing. Froome is in polka dots, Wiggins in yellow. Cripes.

Meanwhile, on a main road somewhere in Gloucestershire, i got reacquainted with the Graveyard. I rode out, it’s about 22 miles or so, at a fairly brisk pace. The wind was swirling around and it was pretty damp, but it felt like a crosswind which is usually best for for the U7B (in the absence of float). I rode to the turn slower than the norm, around 27mph, and after the turn didn’t feel the sudden kick in the face from the typical headwind. After the climbs i picked up the pace and finished with a 21.15. This is a PB by about 2 seconds, which i’ll take, and it was enough for the win with the second placed rider about 30 seconds back. I then rode home. Despite the slightly hairy conditions, the most dangerous bit of the day was riding a full TT whip with aerobongo gear all the way down the Gloucester Road at 6.30pm. It garnered some funny looks. I felt a bit like i was on a stag do. Average speed for the race was 28.3mph, average speed for the whole 52 miles was 23mph.

It’s my 3rd open win of the season and i’m very pleased. Three is the magic number.

Back in the Space Helmet

Normality has returned. I’ve been seen wearing a space helmet whilst perched precariously on a bike that looks like an alien. Yesterday i headed off to Gillingham to ride their absurdly hilly ten mile time trial. I was looking forward to it. I even factored in some time to ride the course before hand so that i wouldn’t miss any turns and thus get lost and miss the chance of a win and a course record and all that jazz. The fatal flaw in this otherwise perfect plan was that during the warm up lap/pathfinding mission i managed to miss a turn and end up somewhere strange in the Dorset countryside, utterly lost, with only confused and blinking yokels offering utterly useless advice. I missed my start time having gone 7 miles in the wrong direction. Nevertheless i managed to do a hilly 17 miles at about a 23mph average. I was racing to get back and hopefully get a ride, but by the time i did make it back the timekeepers had moved to the finish. Ed Pitt said it even trumped the time i went off course in a hardrider and ended up 9 miles adrift; at least it was in a race that time. I had my suspicions when i found myself hooning it up Malmesbury high street in full aero bongo amidst some bemused and startled and very middle england shoppers. Meanwhile down at the lake the BSCC were knocking out PBs like frantic schoolboys sequestered beneath a grubby duvet with a copy of Razzle.

By way of recompense i headed out to the graveyard tonight for the Dursley evening 10. It’s the only way. When times get rough and the course gets confusing, the graveyard beckons. It was a blowy old night, fast out, revolting back. I smashed it to the turn at around 31mph, then grovelled my way back, just clinging on to my aim of a 28mph ride for a 21.29. It’s very much in the right ballpark and makes me feel positive because i’m clearly riding well, hiatus or no hiatus. Ed Trotman and Ed Pitt were both there, doing the usual thing, namely smashing their PBs to little pieces. Ed’s had quite a week. he has been upping the gear inch by inch and is now on 110″ or so. He started the season on 84″ or thereabouts. At this rate of improvement he’ll be on a 208″ by hillclimb season.

trotters leaves it all out on the road.

This weekend i have a road race. I shall be seeking to try and overturn my 100% DNF/DNS record. It is a training ride for the rank misery that is the Colin Carfield Road Race in about two weeks time.

falfield, AKA the graveyard