Tuesday 31 March 2015

Crits at the Park #1 (3rds Only) - Saturday 28th March

I was planning to abstain from racing until the end of April, and subsequent end of the squash season, in order to get some decent training done. However, when a team-mate announced he had entered a race at the purpose built Kent Cyclopark, and had space in the car, I couldn't resist! It worked out quite well, as I'd had two tough squash matches Monday and Tuesday, including the world no. 140, so a couple of easy days pre-race were welcome.

Magic KT Tape!
Come Friday I felt a bit sluggish, so I went out for a tempo blast for 90mins or so, with nearly disastrous consequences. The previous Sunday. I developed quite a harsh pain in the hamstring/entry to inner knee, which went away with squash on Monday, leading me to believe it was just a bit tight. However, after Friday's ride, I could barely walk with the pain, not good! An evening of ice, ibuprofen and kinesiotaping followed, in the hope of a quick fix. I also decided enough was enough, and that it was time to abandon my new saddle, which has given me nothing but problems, despite being nigh on identical to the old, albeit with a cut-out.

Saturday morning arrived, and there was a slight improvement in the leg, so I figured I'd chance it, taking the camera just in case I had to pull out. The drive down went well, with minimal traffic, and a crossing of the impressive Dartford bridge (although I've always been crap at structural engineering, I still marvel at such structures!), and we arrived in plenty of time. Sign on done, peanut butter and banana bagels consumed, we set out to check out the track with the womens race in progress. Having watched a few YouTube videos, the track looked a lot narrower, and the hairpins a lot tighter! Being on the Dart estuary it was also windy...really bloody windy!

Getting cold, we decided to go and warm up. I'd foolishly not brought the rollers, as I couldn't be bothered lugging them out of the shed. Resistance rollers are great, but a lot bulkier than regular. A few laps of the car park it was. The first few pedal strokes were hesitant, but something magical had happened with the advent of my new old saddle! Everything felt right, better than 6 weeks of faffing with the new one!

Cyclopark - Top left is the exposed twisty section
Buoyed by this, we headed to the track, where fortunately there was time for a few familiarisation/warm up laps. The hairpins really were quite tight, and the wind was ferocious! 50mph gusts apparently, which was late to be my undoing. Overall though the track was great, smooth surface, plenty of runoff space, and decent straights.

The race was off, and immediately strung out as we tentatively approached the first hairpin, regrouping on the downhill straight. A series of tight right-angles corners at the bottom of the circuit made for tricky riding, as we entered them from behind an earth banking, the full force of the wind hitting us halfway round the first! It also made for a big effort to get on a wheel on leaving the corner. Still, I managed to keep a half decent position. The final straight was nice, with a slight incline and a tailwind, the place to make up ground I thought.

As the laps wore on, there were some...let's say interesting...manoeuvres, with people darting up the inside, into non existent gaps, and a fair bit of resulting cyclocross! After about 5 laps, I decided to try and move up, taking the opportunity on the straight. This went well for the most part, until I got stuck on the inside approaching the first hairpin, having to slow right down and take the inside line. I lost a few places, but overall had gained. I stayed about mid field for a lap or two,or so I thought, until I looked back, to see a distinct lack of people behind! I thought I'd lost places, but it turned out about 20 had dropped off! I'd made a move at a good time.

I'm sure mine was this impressive...
Feeling good, I carried on, near the back, but comfortable. However, I was soon to become victim of the vicious wind! As I mentioned, the first exposed corner led to gusts of wind halfway round, and on this lap a particularly fierce gust blew me off course a little. This would have been ok, apart from someone on my inside was sporting 50mm wheels, which acted like sails, blowing him towards me. Evasive action required, I ended up on the grass. It was possibly the worst section of the course to have a stumble on, with 4 windy corners meaning in was impossible to catch the disappearing bunch. Watching Gent - Wevelgem on Sunday, I can compare my off to Geraint Thomas's...give or take the spectacular acrobatics of his, and the speed, and...well that's enough!

I was a bit disheartened, as I was feeling good, and riding a lot better than the other week, but I figured it wasn't the end of the world. I considered dropping out, but decided getting a position was better, and who knows, a pileup might even mean I could get back on! This didn't happen, but I did pass probably another 10 - 15 other riders, which was a good mental boost, as my endurance was looking better. In the end, it turned out to be 50 odd minutes riding at over threshold HR (avg 179), so turned out to be a decent workout if nothing else!

Race day socks (short of pictures...)
Out of a field of over 60 riders, I finished 31st, not too bad all things considered, and Andy finished
34th after a similar push round. Interestingly, over 20 people dropped out of the race, and comments bounding round on Twitter and Strava suggested the wind had made it a really tough day. In summary plenty of positives!

Next race:

Not too sure yet. Possibly a Crit at Tameside if I head North for a few days, otherwise a month of training and a return to racing in May!

Monday 16 March 2015

Battered at the Bowl! - MK Bowl Spring Circuit Series Race 2

Saturday saw the second race in the Spring Series at the MK Bowl, hosted by Team Corley Cycles. It was my first race of the season, and the designated LBRCC takeover. With an unprecedented number of the club taking part, and loving, racing cyclocross over the winter, people were keen to try road racing, but a little hesitant. I decided the best way to get everyone racing and feeling comfortable was to get everyone racing on the same day. That way, there would be plenty of support, and should a few get dropped, there would be teammates on hand.

The date was set for the LBRCC takeover, and the day arrived. In the 4th Cat race, six people were entered, one dropped out (mentioning no names, but rhymes with Even Hand...), and the solitary figure of myself in the 2/3rd cat race.

4th Cat Race


Flickr: AshleyJohnLewis
A monster field of 80 riders lined up, the five Team Green providing the biggest turn out. Lining up were experienced riders Neil Green, Neil Challis and Gareth Kennedy, second racer Miles walker, and debutant, star cyclocross rider Ross Gallacher.

After a brief talk from the commissaire, the race was off, with two neutralised laps behind a pace car. Nerves showed through a little, with three of the five LBRCC'ers lurking near the back as the bunch came round. The car pulled away and the race was off!

Flickr: AshleyJohnLewis
The pace was furious from the start, providing a baptism of fire for the team this early in the season. After the first lap, many riders including Miles, Ross and Gareth were off the back, stung by the initial pace. The two Neils stayed in the bunch, using experience to their advantage, with Neil C in a great position about 10 places back. Unfortunately Gareth had to pull out, an underlying cough providing unwelcome breathing issues.

The race carried on with the pace unrelenting. Riders continued to drop away from the pack including Neil G, who found himself feeling strong in the second group on the circuit. Unfortunately, Neil C, looking in great form in the lead group, had to pull out around halfway, as did Ross after a valiant solo effort. Neil and Miles carried on, picking up groups along the way, looking a little tired, but strong nonetheless, and both battled on. Both finished, with Neil taking the LBRCC honours, with Miles second. Strong rides from both overall!

Flickr: James V Barlow
As the race came to it's conclusion, the strong riders came to the fore, with Team Corley and Matrix riders looking strong. The pace ramped up as the bell sounded for the final lap, and as the riders rounded the final corner, a two up sprint ensued, between Team Corley and Bicester Millenium riders. The sprint came down to the final centimetres, with the BMCC rider taking it on the line, to the disappointment of the host club.

Post race, LBRCC regrouped, weary, but in high spirits. Everyone enjoyed the race, a baptism of fire for the new riders, but great experience,

2nd/3rd Cat


Flickr: AshleyJohnLewis
Another full field lines up for the 2/3 race, including a number of last years 1st cat riders who fell just short of the 100 points required to stay there, meaning a fierce race was always on the cards. Add into the mix Hannah Barnes, pro rider for the United Healthcare pro Team in the USA, and it was bound to be tricky. I was the only LBRCC rider in this race, and after much debate about participation at this stage of the year (mid squash season), I lined up with much trepidation. The omens were not good from that start, where I found myself way back in the bunch on the start line.

After a commissaire briefing and two neutralised paced laps, the race was off with absolutely astounding ferocity. Reports are that up the hill coming out of the last corner, riders were hitting 600 - 800watts! My positioning hadn't got any better, and I was playing catch up with a full out sprint before the first lap was up. This was an ongoing issue, as the number of strong and more experienced riders didn't allow for moving up the bunch easily. The whiplash effect of the top riders at the front meant I had to pull out 3 huge sprints per lap, which although I felt good, I knew were unsustainable.

Flickr: AshleyJohnLewis
The exposed part of the larger surface had a strong headwind, and about 6 laps in, I found myself near the back of the bunch through it. As a result, we became completely strung out upon entering the  inner circuit and the climb. A cruel kick by someone at the front exacerbated this, and a number of us lost contact. Despite a lung busting effort, I couldn't quite make up the last 20 metres, which over the next solo lap extended to about 150m, a crevasse in this sort of race.

However, anyone that knows me in the squash world will know that I don't give up until I break, a Moussa inspired 'Heart of a Lion!!!' approach. I decided it was all or nothing, and despite the hummingbird like heart rate and pumped legs, I kicked it up a notch and set in pursuit. I made the most of an empty circuit, hammering the corners, and making ground every turn. I knew I had to make contact with the bunch in the exposed area, which I did on the turn before. The climb was incredibly unpleasant, but I held on.

It was always going to be a struggle from then onwards. Despite my excellent anaerobic capacity, developed from years of squash, there is always a limit. I reached this 2 laps later, after struggling to move up to a better position in the bunch, an acceleration on the climb proved to be my undoing, along with several others. I did a few solo laps, getting some practise in, and satisfyingly catching a few people in the meantime!

Overall, I'm not really too disappointed. There's a massive, massive gap between this race and the usual 3/4 race at the bowl. I'm sure this was exacerbated by the former 1st Cat riders looking for easy early season points in a bid for promotion. There is simply no room for error in this race, the accelerations out of the corners are unsustainable at the back of the bunch, you really need to be in the top 20, gaining the most benefit, especially in the exposed section. I was pleased with my fitness considering a lack of riding, and my cornering skills gained last season have remained/come back quickly. I simply need to learn how to hold my position in the bunch, as it's necessary at this level, whereas at 4th cat I could get away with it. The only way to get better is practise, and happily, there is a whole season ahead for that!

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Targets 2015

This post might seem a little late, as it's now March! However, with the squash season not finishing until mid-April, I won't start training properly until then, so I haven't been in a rush to set my targets for the upcoming season. It's probably just as well, as I've recently got a job in Swindon starting in June, so I'll be moving there soon, meaning Milton Keynes based targets are a little obsolete!

They're not the most ground breaking targets, but realistic based on the lack of pre-season training, and they will probably be updated as I get a feel for things - new location etc.

I've a few races planned (and one indeed ridden) before then, but these are more for 'enjoyment' and relying on underlying fitness. I've split the targets up into Road and TT.


I face a real dilemma with the road racing. I think I can get the fitness and speed to get to 2nd Cat, but I would have to treat it like I do squash, i.e. 2 or 3 competitive races (matches) a week, and proper training otherwise. Whilst I'd love to do this, I have a couple of hesitations. Firstly, I don't want to turn cycling into anything too serious, it will always be my second sport, so I'd rather enjoy it. Secondly, it's a lot of time money comittment. I don't mind this, hence travelling a couple of hours twice a week for various squash leagues, but it was nice last summer not to have to travel far.

However, in general I'd like to keep racing at the Mk Bowl, as it's a good laugh with clubmates. It should be feasible, as I'll finish work at 4.30, and it's about 90mins back to MK, with the race at 7pm. I'll certainly race every other week. I also believe there is a few other circuit race series near Swindon, Castle Combe for one, which I've heard good things about, and one in Bath too. I'm going to focus on Crits mostly, as I think they suit my fitness, and I get a bit bored in road races!

- Promotion to 2nd Cat
- Top 3 (Win!) a couple of races at the Bowl
- Leicestershire 2 day stage race - Top 10 in Prologue
- Top 10 Chilterns Cycling Festival Hill Climb. (18th last year despite overtraining!)
- Top 10 in a road race (will enter 3 or 4)
- Top 5 at other circuits (Castle Combe, Bath)
- Top 10 at Tameside

Time Trial

TT Goals are a bit more easy to define, as they require fewer but more targeted efforts. My sprinting definitely got slower when only TT'ing for a month last year, so I might designate a month out from the road to TT. The first goal is to sort out an effective and replicable set up with the clip on bars! I think last season I changed it every time! Goals as follows:

- New PB, F11/10 is looking the most likely again. Anything under 21:47 would be great, under 21 would be spectacular, but would take specific training...and a standard chainset!
- 21:XX on the f5d/10. I just like this course, maybe because it was my first TT. Very susceptible to wind though, and living away will mean less attempts.
- Race a 25. Definite pacing practice needed to avoid overcooking it!
- Top 20 in an open would be good too I think on a road bike.

Sunday 1 March 2015

Rossendale Hilly 11 - Season Splutters to a Start!

One year on from my first TT, and back to Bolton-by-Bowland it was. The weather seemed like it was going to hold off, until I opened the car door upon arrival and down came the rain! Fortunately it didn't last too long, although it was enough to turn the farmers muck on the roads into a muddy soup. A light wind was blowing, but overall conditions were good for a February day in Lancashire!

Renowned as I am for poor preparation, this time...well, this time was no different! Being in the midst of the squash season, I've been complementing 4/5 squash sessions with 2/3 sessions on the rollers per week, and a grand total of 4 rides on the road since September! These roller sessions have been more geared towards the upcoming crits at the MK Bowl, (and further afield... details to be revealed shortly!), but I thought any training is good training right?! Wrong. Cranking out suitable watts at 110 RPM for crit prep doesn't equate to good TT'ing it would appear! I also managed to overtrain just under 2 weeks ago, leading to a week of feeling awful, and not being able to sleep this week. I was going to DNS, but I figured I'd already come 250miles North, another 40 wouldn't hurt!

Another undesirable prelude was a problem with CTT affiliation. It turned out when I came to enter, that LBRCC weren't affiliated - the renewal form hadn't been sent. I held off until the last possible day, but it wasn't processed, so with hours to go I decided to join another club online! I opted for albaRosa CC, based in Leeds for a number of reasons. Firstly, I'd heard and read great things about the club, which although not even in existence when I left Leeds 4 years ago, now boasts hundreds of members! I thought at worst, it would be good to show support for the club. Also, through my recent job search I have strongly considered moving back to Leeds, so I thought this would be good potential prep if I were to do so.

On the positive side, I did take the rollers to the race, meaning I actually warmed up at a TT for the first time ever!

Pain, pain, and misery...
Photo: Ellenndan Flickr
Anyway, excuses out of the way,
on to the race itself!

It transpired that at no. 20, I was seeded. I felt bad, as this was purely a result of my 21.40 on the F11/10 last year, when I was training, and wholely unrepresentative of current squash season lack of form! Especially as super strong junior Adam Hartley was off no.22, and would essentially tear up the course. I digress. I came with a race plan this year, the most important point being not to overcook it on the first kick at about 0.5km! Of course, in the heat of the moment (according to Strava) I hit it even harder than last year! Not helped by my minute man being visible at the top, and an inability to resist the chase!

The following drag was ok, a little slower than planned, as my legs didn't seem to want to turn particularly quickly! The downhill to the turn was a welcome change, but the muddy wet conditions - roads more like Belgium than Bolton-by-Bowland - left me hesitant to go full gas. 4 rides in 6 months doesn't do too much for confidence in bike handling!

Reaching the turn, a gale seemed to appear, for arguably the hilliest section of the course. BBC weather states light wind, but all cyclists know that one must multiply those figures by at least 5 for the actual effect, 10 if you're having a slow day! My lungs were bursting here, I just didn;t seem to be able to get the power down consistently, and as such I was frantically trying spinning, grinding, tri bars, drops...nothing seemed to work! I should have just stuck with one really, certainly inefficient swapping. Finally, the last little kick appeared, at which point Adam Hartley glided past me. I knew he'd be on for a 24:XX, but I was hoping to get onto the final 7Km drag before he caught me. I managed to stay close on the downhill to the turn, a benefit of having the drops on the road bike, but at the turn, the TT bike prevailed and off he shot.

The final stretch is more or less downhill...on paper. On bike, it certainly doesn't feel like that with constant undulation. More mud and wet conditions led me to be a bit too hesitant on the corners, a few more road rides and I think my handling confidence will return. Still the legs felt leaden, but I managed to grind it out to the seemingly never-appearing final turn, cursing my decision to start racing without training! Timekeepers in sight, I mustered the strength for a sprint finish. I actually hit 56km/h during this, good indicator for the RR in a fortnight, and probably the most positive thing to take from today!

I crossed the line for 33rd out of c. 100 in 28:21, an improvement of over a minute from last year, but I was a little disappointed. I was hoping for 27.XX at least, and I reckon I could get a short 26, maybe long 25 in the midst of the season. Though after some reflection, I decided it wasn't too bad without training.

The runaway winner was Adam Hartley in 24:07, and last years winner Craig Battersby second with 24:34. Fellow albaRosa riders did excellently, coming 4th and 12th, with another unfortunately puncturing, and still not coming last despite a treacherous ride on a flat! We came 3rd in the team comp, so I guess turning up had one benefit of team filler!

- Slow, but an improvement from last year at similar stage.
- Decent sprint finish bodes well for the start of my road season in a fortnight!
- Although I didn't utilise them, the new clip on bars will be better with a bit of trial and error position wise.
- Served as team filler with the misfortune of another clubmate!

- Slow!!!
- Unsurprisingly, 2/3 hours a week on the rollers isn't good for sustained big gear efforts...hopefully better for crits, which has been the main aim of the sessions.
- Bike position needs tweaking, riding outside seems to dictate a different position on the bike to the rollers.

Next up: Back South and back in LBRCC Team Green for the start of the road season at the MK Bowl on March 14th! Time to start my 2nd season and hopefully an assault towards 2nd Cat!!!