R25/3L – the Welsh Course (comp record for Hutchinson)

dedication to the club and bicycle. i don’t think the owner is about to jump ship any time soon.

My beard has been getting lots of attention. After yesterday’s 10 there has been some light-hearted speculation as to how fast I might have gone had I forsaken the hirsute of face approach. My response to this has been consistent: the beard has been wind-tunnel tested at a variety of yaw angles and it effectively channels the air, smoothing out the airflow and working in conjunction with the visor, this in turn leads to a higher FTP and net marginal gain of 0.23 seconds per mile.

I am growing the beard to go with my fixed wheel hill climb bike. I am keeping it resolutely, unashamedly old school for the anti-gravity season in an attempt to somehow get into the spirit of things. I shall continue to shave my legs though, even though some famous specialists of the past are known for such eccentricities as unshaven pins.

I have a couple more dates with flat drag strips before the road really kicks upwards, including today’s bit of tally-ho at Resolven in South Wales. I drove out along the M4, past Port Talbot. it’s the second time i’ve been out that way and I can confirm that Port Talbot is truly an apocalyptic, industrial slough of despond. It is impressive for this reason, the ranked tiers of chimneys and tangled metalwork of the various chemical works are cinematic in their uninhibited nastiness.

conditions looked absolutely lovely on the way out, but as is often the case, a brisk wind took to dancing through the tree tops in the hour so before I was due to ride. Luckily, it was blowing in the right direction, if that’s possible. ideally there should be no wind, not even a parma-violet scented breath to ruffle a blade of grass. But if the promoting club somehow fail to organise decent weather, despite the length of time they have to sort it out and make the necessary inquiries, then a headwind out and a tailwind on the return leg is best for this course, despite what anyone else might say.

i rode the 7 miles to the start, a perfect warm-up. I was too early though, so got cold again and had to warm-up again. In conversation with Stuart Potts beforehand i gave away my strategy: i was going to put it in the 54t ring and the 11t cog and ride as hard as I could all the way out and then all the way back again. In short, the plan was to muller it, decisively. I knew i had to get to the turn as close to 30mph as possible, even with the headwind. I nearly managed it, and was around a 29.5mph average speed after 15 miles.

Right on the slipway to the turn I was overtaken by Michael Hutchinson. I had been expecting it for the previous 14 miles, and was quite pleased it took that long. His pedalling was smooth and he seemed to rein it in on the roundabout, not taking risks and taking it steady. He then moved back onto the road about 30 metres up and gradually disappeared. The fluency and souplesse was incredibly impressive. He had a habit of freewheeling every now and then. I think this might be a weird scientific thing. it’s been dissected by the cognoscenti eager to get a bit of his magic fastness.

I had my usual combination of goals to aim for. The first one was a sub 50 minute ride. This was a very lofty goal. The second one was a sub 50.53 – the club record, again a fairly lofty goal. The third one was a 51 minute ride, and the final one was any kind of PB, i.e below 52.14. As you can see, i do everything I can to avoid disappointment. I considered making ‘complete the course’ a goal, but thought better of it.

In the end, I was chasing the 49 all the way back from the turn. My average speed stayed stubbornly at 29.9mph and when i was balked at the roundabout 3 miles from the finish I lost rhythm and time and knew it was going to slip through my hands. I didn’t feel alarmed because i realised, finally, what this course can offer when you are having a good day and the breeze is being kinder than usual. I have been fed up with seeing other people get the good days on this course when I am off doing other things, and then when it’s my turn getting slapped in the head by a brutal headwind in both directions. oh well, ‘that’s time trialling’.

I nailed a 50.21 which made me very happy indeed. It is within spitting distance of a 49.  More generally, i was a lot closer to the mega-fast men than i have been before over this distance, which is a tough one to get right. Michael Hutchinson set his second competition record in 3 weeks with a 45.46, that’s nearly a 33 mph average. This is frightening. He hung around after at the HQ and because I am chums with Jeff Jones (I gave him my spare visor, i think this contributed towards his short 47) i managed to inveigle my way into their conversation, although it wasn’t as sinister as that because the Hutch is very friendly. He recounted the story of the tandem comp record which i have heard about before, but not from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. it’s an apocryphal anecdote in time trialling circles.  It went a bit like this, i’m going to loosely quote from memory:

‘I was stoking, Sean Yates was the pilot. We were going down the bank pretty fast. At one point the cars were slowing down as they came past, and i thought that’s interesting, they’re obviously slowing down to look because it’s a tandem, a bit unusual. All the cars seemed to going past slowly. I asked Sean afterwards what speed we were doing and he said he didn’t know because the unit stopped recording at 100kmh, and this was before the steep bit. Later on I didn’t even see the Resolven roundabout, i was just suddenly aware of the bike moving sharply to the left, then sharply to the right, and that was it, we were through”.

Essentially, they hit 70mph going down Glynneath bank on their way to a 43.39. I told him that I would have most probably shat myself. Jeff said he probably would have shat himself too. But we all agreed that if you had to ride a tandem at 70mph down a hill and across a roundabout, you’d want Sean Yates on the front.

off to the world championships next week.

Hutch is riding for Ireland at the Worlds’ Time Trial next week. He rode it in 2002 and was caught for 5 minutes by Cadel Evans. Today i was caught for 3 minutes by Hutch.  I don’t know what this means, but it’s interesting. He certainly seems to be going well and enjoying an unparalleled year of success at the age of 38 and is another inspirational figure, up there with Sarah Storey and George Keene.

Lastly, my 50.21 was enough to take my second club record of the year (or third if you include the team 25), beating Dave Keene’s 2006 time of 50.53 by some 30 seconds. I am very happy and proud to have done this.

R25/3L: Not a Fast Day (although quick enough)

Today involved a schlep over to Glynneath to ride the superfast Welsh course. Fingers were crossed for a float day, but it didn’t materialise. Conditions were certainly better than earlier in the week, a bit chilly possibly, but the sun was out and it wasn’t blowing a gale. Small mercies. My wounds have also healed, just about, and generally I felt ready to ride.

There were a number of BSCC riders on the startsheet; Allen Janes, Dan Kempe, George Keene, Andy Legge, Yan Keene and me. On paper we had a strong 3 rider team and there was some gentle talk earlier in the week of challenging for the club record. I was quite eager to give it a go, not having managed to get any club records as yet. I think Andy also liked the idea of getting his name up on the honours board alongside his dad. Equally, I didn’t want to curse it by admitting it might be on the cards. The target was 2 hours 43 minutes and 49 seconds which roughly works out as three 54 minute rides.

There were also another outfit on the day, the Drag2Zero fastboys, who were looking to bag a record. Their target was a slightly quicker 2 hours 28 minutes and 33 seconds for the National Competition Record. They had 4 possible riders, such are the riches available to Simon Smart’s crack team of aerodynamicists.

Racing out to the turn was a complete blast; i topped out at 46mph on the slight downhill at the beginning and averaged 32mph for about 12 miles. This is a full three and half minutes quicker than the same section when i last raced on this course. I sensed the gentle push of a kindly tailwind and gamely crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t come back to slap me in the face after the turn. At one point i looked down and saw i was doing 36mph. On the flat. Without too much bother and nowhere near max heart rate. I remember thinking ‘this must be sort of slightly what it’s like to be Bradley Wiggins’. Of course, if Bradley Wiggins was riding he’d probably be doing 46mph at that point, so i was a bit wide of the mark, but you can see my point.

I went round the convoluted turn and back down onto the main road, at which point the wind immediately began to molest me and do anything and everything it could to hinder my progress. The average speed dropped slowly and painfully in tiny increments, and with it my hopes of various achievements slipped through my fingers. First to disappear was the club record of 50.53, although i may have been being a bit optimistic to think i could grab it anyway. Then i realised a 51 might also not be on the cards which meant i only had two things left: a PB and the counter for the team prize. Right at the last the PB disappeared out of reach; i missed it by 6 seconds. I’ll be honest here, as i crossed the line i didn’t shout out my number, i just swore, loudly, in a surly and unpleasant manner. This is the trouble with chasing times – when you don’t get them there’s not often a whole lot else to be thrilled about.

By the time i got back to the HQ i felt better. It was still a 28.6mph average and times in general weren’t that quick. However, the other BSCC riders had turned in some cracking rides. Andy managed a PB by over a minute, a 53.41, and Dan turned in a very tidy 56.20. With my time of 52.20 we had nailed the club record by over a minute. It’s a really great result that etches our names into the club’s history. Meanwhile, the aeronauts managed to dial in a 2.24.46. Matt Bottrill managed a frightening 46.47 for a 32mph average. I can’t even begin to imagine what sort of time he averaged out to the turn, but i’m guessing it had to be up near a 40mph average. He’s a postman; he wasn’t riding his work bike though.

In personal terms, it feels good to be riding fast and to be part of a team that has achieved something lasting. We might even have another crack at it later in the year…

Under Wychwood

I know it’s hard to countenance and I find it somewhat strange that I am typing these words, but there are times when life takes precedence over cycling. As much as I’ve held true to certain maxims, “life is a metaphor for cycling’ being one that springs to mind, the past ten days have been shaped by other things. i have had 8 days off the bike and instead spent 8 days basking in the mutual happiness of being newly married. it’s not something i necessarily imagined possible, but the past two and half years have continually confounded my expectations of life, of what constitutes happiness, and how things need not be unbearably complex if you just let them unfold. there’s a depth of feeling here that i won’t impress upon this page – those of you coming for details of the latest in regional time trials may start running for the comfort of the turbo trainer.

i’d be lying if i didn’t say that during those 8 days the bike was entirely banished from my mind, i had occasional moments where i wondered what a combination of omelette, estrella damm, chocolate crackers (?), croissants and other such delicacies might do to my form. In truth, that was about the extent of my diet in Barcelona because conjoining the words ‘spain’ and ‘vegetarian diet’ is bit like trying to put the wrong poles of two magnets together.

spanish tapas: patatas perros

incidentally, the spanish word for greyhound stadium is ‘canodromo’. not unlike ‘velodromo’, but with dogs. i like it. it’s a good job my favourite two foodstuffs are potatoes and eggs because we stumbled across a culture that valorises the eggy potato alongside the virgin mary, violent bulldeath and weird catholic parades featuring the KKK.

aforementioned weird catholic easter parade featuring KKK.
or maybe the imperial guard, it's hard to tell. either way it was a bit freaky.

suffice to say, a short break mid-season never did anyone any harm, apart from maybe fabian cancellera at last week’s tour of flanders.

at some point prior to the intervention of things wondrous relating to the circle of life, i thought it might be a great idea to get a race entry for my return to keep things going. when i looked in the calendar the only one that came up as a possible was the Wychwood Classic, a 36 mile hilly time trial. like i said, i thought it might be a great idea. the reality was ever so slightly different to the one contained within my flawed imagination.

In a nutshell, the race was 8 miles too long. this was the point at which my legs collapsed in on themselves and the pain became almost unbearable at the slightest incline. up until that point i was steaming along. i ignored Belle’s sage advice: “Don’t go off too hard in the first ten miles and you’ll be fine’. i went off way too hard in the first ten miles, so much so that the second time (it was two laps) up the main climb i was about 50 seconds slower. Clearly, the wind has picked up, my brake blocks were rubbing and the surface had been degraded by the legions of timetriallists riding ahead of me on the road. These were my goals, in descending order:

1. Go for the course record – 1.28 or thereabouts – and thus get the win

2. Go for the win – a 1.30 should be sufficient, or a 24mph ride

3. Go for second or third, get a podium place somehow

4. In case all else fails, treat it as a training ride.

I was on course for the first lap, but then recalibrated when my fickle legs deserted me. I fear that in the last stretch i was losing time like a noro-virus sufferer loses vomit. I took on an energy gel about ten miles from the end in the hope that it might help. In truth, if you’re reaching for your second energy gel it’s out of desperation and is not going to help all that much. At this point in the race i was reminded, perversely, of a song by a weird 1980s anarcho-punk combo called ‘Conflict’, featuring the romantic lyric ‘when you hear the 4 minute warning it’s too fucking late”. Suffice to say, it was too late and a nasty time-trial nuclear winter ensued.  It was all i could do to hang on for a 1.30.34. I scraped second place behind an imperious Steve Golla who was about 2 minutes up. Rob Yeatman was about a minute back for 3rd. I’m pleased in hindsight that i managed to take second place and also to do what i set out to do, namely a 24mph ride. Hats off to Steve for pulling out all the stops, and to Rob for a really terrific ride.

Since the race i’ve been variously walking like an old man and cramping up savagely without warning. I am having most trouble walking downstairs on account of my very sore quads which are complaining the loudest. I also feel a bit nauseous because i forgot i was chowing down caffeine energy gels and then had a coffee back at the HQ and started gibbering in a slightly scary fashion to anyone within range.

Next up: the club time trial season has started; i’m riding the r25 next Sunday and looming on the horizon is the terrifying prospect of a massed start road race: up the league!

R25/3L: Fastest 25 Course in Christendom

The R/25 in Wales is universally seen as the fastest 25 course in the country. the national records for men and women have been set there, 45.54 by Dave McCann and 50.01 by Julia Shaw. Next week the last event of the season for the course has attracted a ludicrously strong field, to the extent that entries closed on a 55. This means that if you haven’t ridden a 25 at over 27mph in the past three years, then you can’t get in. Chitchat on the interweb has been asking the question if there has ever been a faster event. I’m riding, and have been seeded on a ‘7’, which means essentially that i’m in the bottom half of the field (just). today’s event was less rapid because the big hitters were at the British Time Trial Championships.

I  discovered just how fast the course is today. Despite being off the bike for a while and only just getting some form back, and being a bit over my racing weight, and training for hillclimbs more than flat events (get your excuses in early), i sliced 45 seconds from my PB and managed a 52.14. In truth, i was a tiny bit disappointed, i think there is a 51 there on the right day. i struggled with a headwind for about 7 miles or so and it dented my time a little bit. Interestingly (or not) i rode to the same sort of figures as i had been earlier in the season, although this meant i was riding harder because i’ve upped the max HR on the garmin. In reality, i’m not sure i was all that much quicker than i was on the u46. My fitness is slightly below what it might have been 8 weeks ago, but clearly not hugely far adrift. In reality, i came 10th in a very strong field, so am pleased with that.

The winning time was about a 49, so i wasn’t far off. Alec Baskaya managed a 50.12 (or thereabouts), which is a staggering ride and testament to his hard work and willpower. We’ve both got startlingly quicker this year, but Alec has now left me miles behind. Jeff Jones also rode, he came 2nd, barely a week after setting a new competition record for the 12 hour with 306 miles. George Keene from Bristol South turned in a 1.09, at the age of 75. Crazy feats of epic cycling.

One of the reasons why the R25/3L is scarily quick is because the first 3 or 4 miles contain quite a bit of downhill, including one hairy bit of dual carriageway, but the route finishes before you climb back up, with a slightly longer outwards leg. This is what you might call a ‘gift course’. It is also referred to as ‘the welsh ski-slope’, or more simply ‘that course’. The danger is, as mentioned yesterday, that it simply isn’t comparable with anywhere else, and is solely a PB course. Once you’ve bagged a fast time on the R25, there is no other option but to return in the hope that it might be improved, because it’s absolutely not going to happen anywhere else. I shall see if i can improve it next weekend…

you can see i was in zone 5 for all of it, bar the shouting. this is my new approach to time trialling that i’ve worked out over the season. when i ride as fast as i possibly can without cracking, and don’t let it slip, and try not to change out of the 53:11, i tend to turn in a good time. after developing pacing with the advent of my garmin earlier in the season, i now seem to have reverted to some old-fashioned PLF. or, just mullering it for as long as possible.