Rest days and cycling…

there are two things i’ve learned over the past couple of years with regard to training for races and generally making improvements.

the myth of mega mileage

there are friends and accomplices who take a fairly intense attitude to training. this includes what i’d describe as ‘mega-mileage’. they tend to ride in excess of 300 miles per week and regularly get out and do 100+ mile road rides. i have ridden over 100 miles twice in my life, once on tour and once in a race. i’ve probably ridden further than 75 miles around 5 times. my average distances are nearly always below 50 miles, usually around 40.

i subscribe to the sean yates approach, aim for 15 hours per week, quality over quantity. it works for me, and works for most other time-starved people. it’s also quite a lot of time in itself – people who wonder why you are making rapid gains might be surprised if they totted up their time on the bike, my suspicion is that its comparitively low. getting the right combination of volume and intensity is tricky, but ultimately, unless your riding Le Tour later in the summer, you have no need to ride 400 miles a week. 150 is far more realistic and beneficial.

there are exceptions to this rule, most notably Frank Colden, an average or lesser time triallist in the early 60s who set out to improve by creating a training regime forged in the devil’s own smithy. it consisted of 400 miles per week with anything up to 80 miles done after work on a regular basis. he got up ridiculously early and went to bed extremely late. he didn’t tell a soul what he was doing, not even his clubmates. He also had a full time job.

By the time spring came around he had fairly good legs. He won the blue riband event, the 25, with a comp record, slashing 2 minutes from the existing time. he went on to win the national 100 with a new comp record, beating Ray Booty’s time by 4 minutes. He then set a new comp record for the 50 with 1:52:38. There is lots more detail on Colden’s exploits and other time triallists from the heroic era in Peter Whitfield’s book, “12 Champions”. it’s a great read. He also wrote a lovely history of British  road racing in the 50s and 60s, the time of Owen Blower, Les West and others, called “The Condor Years”. Again, comes very highly recommended.

the importance of rest

you have to listen to your body and take a day off, or two, or even three. yesterday i went out on a ride with some chums and i was going backwards on the climbs. it was debilitating and my pride took a knock. there wasn’t anything i could do about it, i was knackered from a couple of hard days in the saddle. right now i need a few days off to let the miles settle into the legs. again, it’s about the combination of volume and intensity, getting to the point where progressive overload is a good thing, and doesn’t lead to overtraining and fatigue.

BSCC/Corinium 50 Mile Time Trial

I didn’t ride yesterday because I was organising a 50 mile time trial on behalf of my club. It’s quite a complex task, but essentially a straightforward one, made easier by the involvement of a small army of helpers, without whom there would be no events ever. Saturday’s race was made more complex by the weather being full of intermittent showers, it’s not an event that can run in heavy rain because of conditions on the dual carriageway. at one point i was close to calling riders off the course during a prolonged shower at the top of the course – near Daglingworth – but a 50 mile trial travels some distance, and some riders saw barely any rain at all during their time on the road.

the event was cancelled approximately half way through due to an accident on the carriageway. a competitor was ‘brushed’ by a car; it made contact with his leg at high speed, i can’t say why because i wasn’t there, but can presume that the vehicle was close, and assume that the cyclist had not been seen. the car swerved outwards on realising what was happening, into the fast lane, whereupon a serious collision happened with several cars involved, two of which left the carriageway and rolled several times. there were several injuries and the accident was attended by the air ambulance and several emergency vehicles. the rider was unharmed. i am hopeful that all involved will make a full recovery. it was a traumatic experience for all involved.

it raises a question regarding the safety of cycling on certain roads, and this is now being hotly debated amongst the fraternity. whilst we chase fast courses – and this is undoubtedly a fast course – quick stretches of road tend inevitably to be dual carriageways. i have mentioned before that cycling on a dual carriageway goes pretty much against every single instinct i have as a cyclist, and it is not something i would ever consider doing if not racing. that i have come to consider it a part of racing is interesting and has, in retrospect, required a sort of cognitive justification. great steps are taken to minimise risk prior to and during events such as these. however, whilst riders are on the road, there is little one can do, we are entirely reliant on an optimistic combination of safe cycling and safe driving, and all that these two things involve.

the issues with this road have risen before, last year, with tragic consequences for one competitor. following a good deal of discussion, the district has continued to use it – including the fast u47 ten course. accidents can and do happen on any stretch of road, but frequency is a separate issue – if something happens twice does that make the experience automatically less safe?  following this event i was in discussion with some of the competitors regarding our experiences of this course.  i frequently reflect post-race about the experience – a sense of fatigue, gratitude that i did not puncture, a sense of relief that it is over. on the DC courses my reflections sometimes include a degree of awareness that i have had a safe ride and am still in one piece. in the back of my mind i am aware that there is unambiguously more risk when riding on a dual carriageway – average speeds are higher, the sense of car-bound insulation increases at fast cruising speeds on straight stretches of road, and with two lanes of traffic there is always a chance that  driver may be unsighted  – and not see a cyclist – by other cars. if i think back to the events i have ridden this year, i have most enjoyed the odd ones, the mountainous courses, buxton, the little mountain, minehead, the hardriders series, which are close to the spirit of cycling. i am a hillclimber at heart (and in body) and like riding up gradients. the shap hill climb was a fantastic experience. i have enjoyed riding a 20.47 on the u47, but i haven’t enjoyed riding the u47 per se – it is about the time and nothing else. i did get a silent thrill from just how fast it was though; the glassy concrete meeting the miniscule contact point of a 150psi tubular tyre was pretty exciting.

i have no conclusions to this, i cannot educate or force greater awareness of road users towards cyclists. i cannot change the traffic flows and car-culture that is a part of life; the way that personal mobility has changed the way we live, shop, eat and work. i cannot make the dual carriageway free of risk, no matter how many signs we put up, or how bright the skinsuit. i cannot suddenly create an outbreak of respect and warmth towards cyclists that engenders safer conditions, nor can i raise the profile of the sport so that people wish to slow down when they see a racing cyclist, out of respect for their efforts and souplesse, rather than express resentment that they are sharing the same piece of road.

i can make the decision to not be involved in sending riders onto main arterial trunk routes in pursuit of the satisfaction that beating a personal best can bring. whether i do that or not, i am undecided, i understand fully the competitive instinct and desire to nail a fast time. i am due to ride several races over the next few weeks on this section of road – if it is still in use – and will have to think about whether i wish to do so. or i may decide that safer, more honest courses are the only way forwards. i fully intend to organise events in future, to marshall, to get involved in promoting the sport of time trialling further and support the club and the district, but the type of these events may change, as the sport changes. it would be a shame to lose these courses, they are a part of the sport, and as a stretch of road devoid of traffic the u46 is safe; it’s the cars that change the context. Maybe we should change the Traffic Count risk assessment, making it a ‘douchebag driver count’ instead, and if there is a time of day where the prevalence of total douches in cars is particular high and thus presents a palpable danger to non-douchebags, the event may have to be delayed.  I guess this is where i’m leading (and i’ve edited this to include this summary), that it’s not fast roads, or cyclists mixing with cars, or windy weather conditions that threaten lives and cause accidents, it’s the elevated context and concept of the car within the UK; the hermetically-sealed sense of completeness it engenders that creates the problem. and changing a wider culture is a Sisyphean endeavour.

Bristol South Open 10

Saturday was incredibly hot, the perfect day for lazing around, getting out the barbecue or drinking a few ice-cold beers in the park. or alternatively, seeing just how much perspiration you can generate by racing for ten miles up and down the a38. unsurprisingly i chose the latter; it being the club open raised the stakes a little. the u7b and the 25 mile variant is not my favourite course; apparently it’s known as the ‘graveyard’ although this might be just hearsay. it’s an undulating main road course, with just enough ascending (not much in the scheme of things) to sap your legs and force you to think about gearing down, fighting to maintain speed.

it had been a pretty hardcore week – about 170 miles, with one rest day midweek, so although i didn’t expect much i had been feeling pretty good in training. i managed to really have a proper go at belmont; once on fixed, once geared, both times in under 4 minutes; considerably faster than anything last year, or ever for me personally. 3.48 on the gears. All of which gave me some cautious grounds for optimism. as it happened, i woke up feeling quite sprightly, spend the morning annotating my red TT frame with a sharpie and some pretentious quotes from f.scott fitzgerald, then waited for belle, who was team car for the day.

having gone fairly well at yeovil and still not placed that highly, i decided to throw caution to the wind and really dig deep. i tried not to change down and also consciously picked up the pace – concentrating on avoiding those fallow periods mid-race where everything slips; and trying to get into what felt like a relentless, and remorseless rhythm. for the first time i flew past someone else at ridiculous speed; then the icing on the cake – i caught my minuteman; who not only had his name written on the toptube, but also was on a ‘1’ seeding, so ostensibly, a quick man.

on a day of slow times, i managed 22.37, a PB, and good enough for 7th place – a majorly pleasing result for me, having never got higher than 16th in flattish courses this year. i am beginning to think that i might be able to get under 22 minutes on a flat and fast course this year. that would be totally ridiculous. i like my bike though, it has been quite an instructive first TT build. it is no longer the assripping leg-killer of yore; a few tweaks and the constant fear of emasculation seems to have disappeared.

Pushing Big Gears

Nick Bowdler was best BBAR last year; riding at an average speed of 27.206 mph over three seperate events; a 50, 100 and a 12 hour. he managed 287 miles in the 12 hour.  he’s a supremely fit and strong cyclist.

i generalise, but time triallists tend to rely on leg strength and big gears. Nick seems to take this a stage further.

He uses a  76 tooth chainring. Cadence is around 60 rpm, with a 170 inch gear.

Rudy Project National TT Series

I can’t quite remember what my reasons were for entering this event, I think it was because i thought it was a WTTA Hardriders parcours,which it was, and i conveniently ignored the fact that some of the leading time triallists in all the land would be tearing it up on their technologically crazed carbon steeds.

the course was near Frome, and went up a particularly abhorrent hillock near Mere, as well as several other nasty, brutish and long ascents. the effect was magnified by the omnipresent headwind – especially in the last 4 miles where it became almost soul-destroying and utterly rhythm shattering.

these are some of the riders who turned up:

matt bottrill, the winner in a stupidly quick 57.04

sarah storey;

and of couse, rebecca romero.

only eight riders went under the hour; sarah storey gave rebecca romero a bit 0f a pasting – three minutes up; i was precisely three minutes adrift of the olympic gold medallist. it was a really tough day in the saddle; it hurt a lot; my chain came off and wouldn’t go back on, then it got stuck in the big ring; lost about 4o seconds right there. it’s all a part of the rich tapestry of  ‘the race of honesty’. one of the most awe-inspiring results was in the vets category; John Woodburn completed the course in 1.11, just over 20mph. John is 73; admittedly a former national champion, but 73!

in the mens seniors/espoirs race I came 16th in 1.06.51; this is a little bit disingenuous, because a lot of the vets, some of the women, a fistful of the whippet-thin juniors and at least three of the disabled riders were all quicker than me. of the field of about 140 in total, i came 35th. i am very pleased and am now making firm plans to go totally aero. i may even ride another rudy project, although not the next one, the hutch is riding.

the prizes were cake – i nearly forgot – which was apt, because belle drove me to the start and back, and she makes the best cakes ever. she got to see some serious lycra smut for her troubles.

Hardriders

The Western Time Trials Association run an annual competition called the ‘hardriders’. It’s essentially a series of at best sporting courses, and at worst; evil, uncompromising, brutal undulating parcours. The banner on the website reads ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’, which pretty much sums things up.

Some of the courses are suitable for sprinters, the hills tend to be shallower. Others are pretty nasty, with constant ups and downs. Most riders tend to go for uber-bling time trial machines, the biggest time-savings can be had from aerodynamics. this is where bike design is at its most radical, moving steadily away from the conventional diamond shape.

Today’s course went Tomarton-Marshfield-Lanhill-Castle Combe-Acton Turville-Marshfield. It had some really lumpy stuff and some very very fast sections. I rode the Condor with clip-on tribars. On the whole, i got the effort right, which may be another way of saying that i felt pretty good, and rode the 23 mile course in 59.19, coming 12th out of about 70 or so riders. I am pleased with this; especially to get in under the hour. Next week I have to repeat the endeavour in the Bath event, with the added bonus of Rebecca Romero being on the startsheet; i never ever in my wildest cycling dreams imagined that one day i would be in the same race as an olympic gold medallist. She is training for the time trial in the Olympics, having had her chosen event arbitrarily scratched from the Track programme. i’m sure switching within the same discipline won’t be quite as taxing as switching sports entirely.

the riders ahead of me in the pecking order are quite a frightening bunch; seriously fast, with seriously pornographic cycling gear. this time i managed to get slightly further down the road before being passed at a rate of knots by a swooshing disc wheel and huge-cranked cadence. i nearly didn’t get my time at all – i pinned my race number on myself (this ritual is usually done by a fellow rider, but i felt small and frightened by the wealth of talent and muscular definition on the freshly shaven legs, so opted to pin the tail on my own donkey) – and thus made a pig’s ear of it. visibility was a problem, so when i got back there was a bit of a hoo-ha about the time, and the timekeepers, who were the loveliest, most amazing people ever, were confused. they nearly did the switcheroo with me and some lumpenmenschenfresser who turned in about 20 minutes slower. all was resolved though, and ended happily. i felt calm, but also wary that i had nearly transgressed, and it was all my own fault. i shall not make the same mistake twice.

testing times

this weekend i did my first ever time trial, at quite a ripe age, but never mind. it was quite a reality check, there were also some seriously pornographic bicycles on show. anyway, the story runs thus…

ever the non-car-driver, i opted to ride to the start, thinking it was about 17 miles, turned out to be nearer 22. tried to keep the powder dry, just about managed it. the sign on was in a classic village hall setting, and the weather was good, in fact, it felt almost balmy. a few other club riders were in attendance, but steve was running late and had to sprint the two miles back from the HQ to the start – a good warmup i suppose. i was off a bit later, so took my time; pinned the race number on – 29. on the ride to the start one thing become utterly clear, the 5 miles back from the turn (out and back course) would be fought against an unpleasant headwind. after a nervous few minutes, the pusher held the seatpost, the starter counted down and i was off… like a greyhound out of the traps, a scolded cat – despite telling myself I wouldn’t. i thought i could see my minuteman, and felt i was gaining, but he seemed to remain about 25 seconds ahead, despite me going around 27mph. he then turned off into the HQ when we went past, and i realised he was just warming down. i was then passed by someone going at high speed, the disc wheel roaring like a jet turbine, pure souplesse. he later came second.

from the turn at the roundabout i hung on in, but my speed kept dropping and dropping, first 24mph, then 23, and i ended up switching between sprockets, unable to find a rhythm, chewing stem. clawed my way to the end, with the result being 17th place, out of 50 starters. which is ok, no great shakes, but certainly leaves me room to manoeuvre and a time to aim for – namely getting under 24 mins for evens. the rock cakes afterwards were amazing. and i won my class – which was the novices, taking home a tenner in a plain envelope.

i was due to ride the chippenham hardriders today, but opted out – so another first, this time a DNS. i went to the track and tore around for a while. and did the club run this morning. i think tomorrow needs to be a rest day.

Testing times

i didn’t really want to ride any great distance today, maybe just a pootle, soft pedalling round town. but in my infinite wisdom i decided to get the TT rig out of the cupboard where it’s been since the end of october and give it a runout in the dry. i’m thinking of doing the frome 10, so thought i should at least have a look. anyway, cue inordinate amounts of faffing around trying to get the right gear; i forgot it didn’t have a miche carrier/sprocket (so much easier to switch around) and it had a hideous big chaintool destroyer of a chain. end result, running 90″, should be good for a flat course with an average of around 25mph, hopefully on or around 90rpm. might need to go a bit higher though, but we shall see.

had a blast up the portway, impressed some chaps with a trackstand, followed by the slowest pedal away from the lights ever. the bars are slightly too low – the tuck brings my knees up to my chest, and the bike might be a tiny bit too small, but it feels really really comfortable, makes an awesome sound (i like to think like the helicopters at the beginning of apocalypse now) and goes like lightning. columbus neutron tubing is pretty darn light. it’s made by vernon barker, semi-lugless, and he’s done an amazing job.

i really like the cinelli angel handlebars too, sort of early modern, a nod to the changes that were coming, and again, very comfy.

“Neuron (0.7-0.5-0.7).  very sophisticated tubing, Columbus pulled out almost all the stops to make a lightweight 0.5mm tubing, using zone butting, elliptical butting, the works: lightweight, yet very stiff. still has a very devoted following among serious steel frame lovers”.

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