“Legends of the Bristol Scene”

Yesterday I did my first time trial for three years. I am not including Burrington last year which was solely a sentimental ride because it was ten years since I did it for the first time and I was fat as hell, prompting a series of kind comments from close friends about how fat I was and how the hill climb diet clearly wasn’t have the same impact as it once did.

Three years ago I did one classic league race. I had planned to do more but life did its getting in the way. Since then I have had several false dawns and generally been resigned to not racing, simply pootling about and doing a bit of touring. It’s a joyous state, gentle and outwards facing, good for the soul. It isn’t training though, in any shape or form, because training requires a lot of effort, routine, structure, and above all, it required time I did not have. It is possible to go and ride slowly for a while with no training and enjoy the experience. It is not possible to do time trials with no training and enjoy the experience 

The key thing that has changed is I have all but finished writing – the book is hurtling through the edit phase (proof pages due in a week or so, details of the book can be found in catalogues, it is slowly emerging into the world) and I haven’t got to use every available increment of free time to write more words to complete sections and meet the deadline. I’ve said it before, but there is only scope for three things in life; family/marriage, work, and one other thing (i.e a hobby), and I’m genuinely pretty bad at getting these in the right ratio. Trying to ride whilst doing other things only affects other people. I think I regularly get tangled up in the desire to ride and gain the benefits from this kind of exercise, whilst not acknowledging that there is not enough time and that this time is time other people need, time needed to meet other commitments. It’s a struggle, and I feel bad that I get it wrong so many times, for myself, but also for those closest to me. It’s too easy to think that just going riding is the answer and everything else is the problem.

OK, so.

I had planned to ride earlier in the season but did not see the global pandemic dystopia coming. Nonetheless, I have been riding since and getting quicker, slowly. It is hard to quantify if I am quick or not because I am quick against recent measures – it would hard to be slower – but I am slow against older measures – it would hard to be quick against those. For example, I nearly shat myself through effort on a climb the other day, only to find I had been up there at least 14 times at a quicker pace, and on occasion had gone up there 3 minutes quicker. A huge amount of resilience and faith is needed.


The graph is interesting – it shows the peaks and troughs of form and also shows through the years where I have targeted this climb as a measure of fitness, it has an outlier then tends to feature a series of rides at higher pace. My most recent one is on that crest – really going full beans –  but still two minutes slower than the rides about 7 years ago. There are such obvious reasons for this but they have to be remembered. I was about 67kg  and doing billions of races and riding a Cervelo R5, to name three. This is where the resilience is needed. I have recalibrated my goals, based on being 44 years old and heavier.

I have lost some weight, I was 85kg or more at Burrington, which is as heavy as I have been. I am 6ft 1. Since then the weight has come down to 76kg, with 75kg as my initial target. Weight is important because these are the things that training consists of, eating better, drinking less, riding more. Sometimes people think that no training has happened, and that fast rides are just these things that happen, when in reality a lot of training happens. People also tend to think that training can only happen on a turbo, linked to zwift. I don’t doubt for a second that zwift is useful, unbelievably so, but it isn’t the only way of training.

I have been focusing on 5 minute efforts over the past 6 to 8 weeks, and stepped up the intensity over the past 4 weeks. What I mean by this is I’ll plot a 30 mile route with 3 or 4 long climbs and go hard on those climbs, whilst trying to maintain pace on the middle bits. It’s very old school, but it works for me. I am increasing my capacity to ride at threshold and beyond for five to six minutes at a time.

And back to the Lake. I had forgotten how much fun it is to see people at an evening club ten, the gentle camaraderie and support, being laughed at for having the oldest skinsuit and the oldest bike, that sort of thing. I am on the Giant TCR with parts bin components. It is very very light and very easy to get a good position. I really like it and I am quite surprised by this bike, although I guess I shouldn’t be, it was good enough for Michael Hutchinson and the Once team.

Icons of cycling: Giant TCR - Cycling Weekly
This is not me
This is me. FULL FADE BRO.

There was a lot of serious bongo on show. Everyone is using massive chainrings these days. In my retro-filtered view I’d assumed they were pushing massive gears, but it’s all about efficiency. They have huge derailleur jockey wheels and enormous rear cassettes, 36t side-plates at the back. Cables are hidden away and electronic shifting is du jour. I felt a bit odd on my relatively shallow wheels with friction shifters and a standard road double. I can’t actually get the cassette into the 24 or 25, which doesn’t really matter but is indicative of my spannering skills. I have paired a shimano front mech, maybe tourney or something I found, with a campag record square taper chainset. There is a margin of about 0.01mm where it doesn’t make a horrid graggedy-graggedy-graggedy noise between each gear. It’s quite exciting.

I have missed the Lake, it’s a technical course in the best sense of the word, rolling, sharp turns, bit of traffic and lots more casual cyclists of an evening than i can remember. I was hoping for a 22 minute time for the 8.3 miles but was pleased to dip under 20 minutes, with 19.50, or a 25 mph average. It’s a bit of a way from my PB of 18.25 but it was a lot quicker than I had hoped. I was being chased by someone on full bongo so was pleasantly surprised to not be minuted. Should I choose to do more there are lot of additional gains I might be able to access (shoe covers, shiny skinsuit, better bits, faster wheels, considerable weight loss) so there is cause for quiet optimism. However, in my experience I tend to go slower each week.

Danny is a BSCC legend. He has a new bike. I have borrowed his TCR from days of yore. 
This is bongo. See massive dinner plate and everything else. 
Bradderz has a shiny bongo bike with all the relevant new bits. These two spent a long time talking about percentages of bongo. 

Lastly I rode out to the TT, through the mean (and very congested streets) of Bristol. I carried the space helmet on the bars. I then wondered why I was carrying the space helmet on the bars, and concluded it must be because I was scared of looking like a complete tool, at which point I realised I was wearing the world’s worst skinsuit, riding a desperately inappropriate bike through Bristol traffic and already looked like a complete tool, so put the helmet on and had done with it. I was spotted by the Bike Radar gruppeto riding up over Dundry, the steep side. They mocked me later for this, but made up for it by casting me as one of two ‘Legends of the Bristol scene’. 

Image may contain: Joe Norledge, outdoor, text that says "bikeradar 43s Two legends of the Bristol scene แLnอร"

BSCC Classic League – 9/10, would re-bongo. 

Base Club and Upping the Intensity

At some point after doing lots of base mileage it’s time to start upping the intensity. I’m just about at that point now. it means that the days spent endlessly fannying around are all but over; and the days of pain and exhaustion are near. i will keep doing regular rides of around 4 hours to keep up the endurance, but it becomes more and more about pace and intensity from here on in.

the reason for this ridiculously early transition to a heftier, nastier block of training, is the Chippenham Hilly on 6th March. I have two warm up races before then, the Frome 10 and the Severn 25. After that it’s a total hardrider shitstorm, with 3 or 4 of them on the bounce. i’m looking forward to it.

to this end, i’ve been heading out on gears. whilst riding fixed is amazing, and great for winter, it’s not great for intensity – and i mean sustaining efforts over hills and on the flat, rather than tapping out a rhythm. i’ll be factoring in a couple of rides a week where i seek out hills, spaced around 2 or 3 miles apart, and essentially savage myself on the ascent, then recover on the flat. this is my own slightly fucked up take on intervals. it’s slightly more scientific than it looks and seems to work. the efforts will be slightly below threshold, with the aim being to sustain a relentless pace, then unleash a bit more where possible and if appropriate.

i’ll also be doing quite a few ‘like-for-like’ rides. this means tackling a similar distance and profiles to the event(s) i’ve entered, if anything a bit longer by around 4 or 5 miles, to build up the mental stamina as well as the physical fortitude required to hurtle round a hilly parcours at a 25mph average. The WTTA Hardriders series is one of my targets this year; last year i came 4th, but i finished the season much more strongly than i started it. my vague theory is that the knowledge of what i can achieve, allied to a steady winter, will help me improve by a placing by the end of the series. it also depends what sort of form last year’s 3rd place rider brings to the table.

Needless to say, i’m full of doubt and anxiety, nervous about how quick or slow i’ll be, and worried about how quick everyone else will be. but i’m absolutely itching to race again, it’s so exciting. i love riding my TT bike, getting tucked in low (i’ve worked on this) and attacking the hills. i also hope that the early season hilly events will be the springboard for a full-on assault on some club records later in the year. i shall keep you posted.

Training and Recovery

with regard to training and recovery, one thing i’m absolutely certain of is that what works for some people won’t work for others. on certain forums there’s all kinds of talk of crippling inverted interval sessions that turn previously lumpen cyclists into stiffened hulks of monstrous muscle, tearing across the tarmac and reducing allcomers to tears of frustration.

here, essentially, is how i approach things in race season:

1. i eat less and cycle more; conspicuously thinking about what i eat and cutting down on chocolate, cakes, cheese and ale. i have been known to have the most spectacular relapses on all fronts, often simultaneously, but this is also a part of any fairly strict regime, and i don’t beat myself up about it.

2. i’m 6″1 and weigh around 67kg during the racing season, sometimes less, but never lower than 65kg and never higher than 68kg. i’ve worked out that when i am at this weight i tend to go much faster uphill, and on the flat.

3. i try to ride 15 hours per week when training, as soon as i start racing it’s less. i have one completely off-the-bike day a week, usually the day before a race, and treat monday as a gentle spin. for some reason i have it in my head that someone famous, like allan peiper, once said ‘do 15 hours per week’ and it’s stuck with me.

4. i don’t do conventional intervals. essentially, i ride to work. it just so happens that my ride to work includes 3 big climbs,coming it at around 100o feet in 15 miles. i ride hard on the hills. sometimes i ride hard all the way in and back. i try to make sure that my average speed is in excess of 20mph, this means i’m working hard on the flat and the hills. sometimes after a hill-assault, i rest for a bit before picking it up again. i rode home on monday up and over dundry and redhill, 15 miles, 1000ft, 20mph average. in hill climb season i will do hill reps, i perversely enjoy these.

5. i train like for like. again, someone famous advocates this approach, i think it’s graeme obree. for example, in the run up to the little mountain time trial, which was 48 miles with 3500 feet of climbing, i planned a mendip route that matched this criteria, and did it quite a few times.

6. i factor in recovery wherever possible before i’m tired. that means taking the next two days off completely prior to the 100 on sunday. i rode 60 miles on the TT bike yesterday, including a PB on the club evening time trial. i rode in this morning, and felt heavy legged, so took it very slow. i planned to the same this evening but had to attend the most boring meeting i’ve been to, then was late leaving so had to really step on it, resulting in a 22mph average speed over the usual route. this tells me i’m strong at the moment, but also that i need to manage fatigue before i over do it.

7. i practice the things i’m not so good at, notably descending at speed and pushing big gears.

that’s about it: ride more, eat less, avoid dead miles: quality over quantity, drink hot chocolate.


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