john simmons

the way to go faster, push harder on the pedals

2017 Western CX League R2 – Gloucester – Fun at last

 

Gloucester-GridIt was as I passed 3 riders on the straight heading for the ramp I decided this was a good day. Third race in 8 days. Race 1 I was all over the place, indecision on tyre choice and lacking commitment. Race 2 things that go bump in the night,  I was run into and lightly injured on a night race. (see previous blog posts).  I needed a good day out to build some much needed confidence. The plan start at the back, keep clear of trouble and get some practice in. The weather was dryer than predicted in that it was not raining ,but the ground was wet, leaving a mix of all sorts of surfaces.

The course was long, with a few banking’s to climb,  grass, mud, gravel and broken tarmac to contend with, along with a traverse along a dusty cambered section that crumbled more with each passing bike. No dismounts, this was another course I could ride the entire length without having to get off, providing I could miss the trees and branches. Practice was spent learning the course and playing with tyre pressure. Rolling up early was an advantage as I got a few practice laps in.

Ellie-on-slope

Ellie on slope

The course suited me, tight sections to chase people through then open sections to sprint to pass. In the gravel I could feel the bike slide, but if you hit it fast enough you shot through, the banking’s rewarded precision with no need to brake, just let the slope slow you so you could turn.

Gethin

Gethin on one of the banked turns

The field  was a good mix of abilities , skilled riders rushed pass, but there were a few similar ability riders so with each pass I could see another shirt to aim for, with a couple taking a whole lap to catch before lining up the overtake attempt.

On the last lap I was still hanging in there, getting sore but ok, so I decided to go for it and tried to sprint out of each corner, it hurt and  I did end up fairly well at 100% of Max Hr (Average for race being 95%)  and made 3 passes on the last lap ending crossing the line gasping for air but so pleased.

Gloucester StatsThe official results say  I placed 5th, but there was a timing error so I fessed up and on the reprint I was 16th of 36,  12th in category. Firmly midfield that felt like a good result for me and an enjoyable race at last this year.

Post race analysis. More of that please.

 

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2017 Supermarine CX – Round 1 – Things that go bump in the night

Supermarine

Race 2 of the week, after a bad start last week I decided to use this round to build more confidence. An evening race around the Rugby pitches using lights, what is not to love. My plan, start off near the back and pick up speed as  I went around. It started well After letting the mad rush of the start go I gently started picking up speed and it felt good. I started to overtake and was enjoying myself, it was good to throw the bike round the track. HR wise I was in about the correct place.

Half way through the race I passed another rider as we crossed the timing line. Only to get a call of “On the left”. Normally it is fine but it was a left turn, I had a rider just behind on my right, I had started the turn and there was not much room to my left, so I shouted “No” and was hit hard from the rear. My left leg had a shooting pain in my ankle plus the bike rapidly stopped making a terrible noise. After what felt like an eternity I worked out the rear wheel had been pushed out of the frame and to my surprise it all went back together and with the chain on again I was moving.  But time was lost, and I did not feel confident the rear was ok, plus on every dismount the left ankle was not feeling good.

Post race analysis. Just getting the head down and racing was fun and I had worked out the correct pace for me. A daylight bike check revealed damage to the quick release and missing paint on the frame. The wheel looks to be ok, so pretty lucky. OK  I had experienced a racing incident, but that is life and apart from my left ankle, nothing seriously damaged. Chalk it down to experience and get focused on the next event. And the confidence, still lacking. Due to the ankle I had a two day off bike rest, so played badminton and went for a long walk to try and get it moving again.

Result 32nd of 36.

Western CX League Race 1 – Bradford on Avon

courseIt is often said choice is a good thing, but it needs a qualifier. Choice is a good thing if you know what you are doing. I was kindly given a set of nail file tread cross tyres, great on gravel and dry grass. and on the hot week, and even day, before the race they looked like a great choice. But it was raining.  I stared at them and my normal mud tyres sitting on my normal race wheels in the car. Previous weeks practice had gone well on them, I went for a spin around the field serving as the car park and they were fine so I headed off for a practice run and on a churned up track in the rain they were not so great. Back to the car for a swap of wheels and tyres and out for a practice run which  I barely had time to complete.

In the main the course was flat and fast. I cannot think of a CX race where I spent so much of the time in the big ring, in fact I can only think of one other race where I had ventured into it and that was a dry race. About 3/4 of the race was fast and flowing, the rest was a tight technical section through some trees, and I struggled there. It had tree roots, exposed rocks, and a rough hard packed surface with a slimy coating. Inside this technical section was a small log you could bunny hop plus a short dip section with a sharp left turn at the top.

The grid was different this race, the V40 men were released then the V50 men and ladies were held for 2 min then started. This left our first lap 2 min longer than the V40’s. The first lap was chaotic, a bunch start then we funnelled through the technical bit, this was problematic as people fell off and some got off for the dip section, I pushed my way through and rode the section making a few places and had a good close race with one of the ladies for the next lap, until on the dip part where the bike slid on the descent and my line was all wrong on the rise. I made it up to drop the bike on the turn smashing into the ground on my left side.  I never made that dip without problems again.  I stayed upright but with a foot down etc and the lap times slowed. Lets be honest I dropped my speed in the technical bit too far and went too cautious. And so I drifted backwards.

Post race it is good to reflect on what happened. Did  I enjoy it, yes and no. The faster sections yes, the technical section no.  17th of 22 in category, not last but hardly a stellar result.  I entered this race with trepidation, to be honest following my winter crash I have lost confidence. Faffing about at the start with tyres did not help and much of it was about having confidence to push on. I know I did not commit enough in the corners, too worried of falling. But I fell anyway and was fine. This race was a learning exercise and contained a lesson. In the wet  I need to drop the tyre pressures more and I need to practice more on mud. Plus I need to either get over it and push on accepting the risk of crashing or retire.

 

Racing from the back – Rainbows End

Attack

The Tour of Cambridgeshire, Chrono & Gran Fondo, was my focus for the year. The challenge qualify for the World Championships which this year will be in France. This year the ToC looked even bigger than last year, our hotel had a Belgian team in it, the competition looked like it had stepped up a gear.

First up on Saturday, the Chrono or Time Trial, an interesting route at just over 26Km. The morning started watching Rory and Henry making their runs, both put in good times, but sadly only Rory qualified. Jim was out just after 12:30 and I was on the road at 1pm. Watching the guys get ready and go out added to the tension and I must admit I felt nervous hanging around. The weather was good and the day was getting warmer, and the hanging around gave time for indecision and doubts to gather over what was a run plan. Here goes what  I remember from the Chrono.

Warm up went well, I had cycled for a while outside hoping to catch Jim start but time meant I had to go indoors and get hooked up to a turbo trainer for my detailed warm up. It went well  I was able to get some gentle load on to loosen the legs then do some intervals to warm the legs and raise the heart rate. Everything looked good, power numbers on the button and the nerves drifted from me, I was working on a known sequence. I heard my number group called and we all lined up on the start ramp, it was all very calm and on the final beep rolled off the start.

sportograf-98964492_lowres

I nodded to Henry then rolled out, keeping it steady, too many twists and barriers, then opened it up a bit onto a barrier lined straight past the finish finish line towards the road and into the wind. The first section was into the wind ahead I could see the previous rider, target acquired I settled onto the TT bars, the right shoulder complaining as I folded it in. Time to set a rhythm, not too hard but try to push the pace. Focus the breathing and settle down, but it was hot, even the wind blown up to me felt hot. Heart rate was where it should be legs felt like they were working but power was lower than planned.

As we approached a couple of left turns I was gaining on the 20 second man, but then the dreaded noise of a disc wheel, the ride behind was passing me. Off the bars, onto the brakes, round the corner  then accelerate back to speed, 20 seconds before front rider behind, 20 seconds behind rider in front of me, back onto the TT bars, fewer complaints from the shoulder this time. The road became more lumpy, the first hill I managed in the TT bars, the second was bigger so out of the saddle working the legs and arms to avoid dropping out of the big ring.

sportograf-98972503_lowresThe shoulder twitches with each leg crank but we crest the hill and I fold myself back into the TT bars to recover down the hill.  Manage the breathing, drop the power but keep going.

sportograf-98977913_lowres

At the bottom of the hill there are a series of bends  I brake and sit up for the first then force myself back onto the TT bars for the rest as I need to take back some time and the rider in front is getting away. The next section has a gentle climb, not large but a climb again.  I stay down in the TT bars trying to get along as quickly as possible. My shoulder no longer bothers me, the legs and my lungs are shouting louder plus my throat is dry. I am aware of being coated in a layer of sweat.

Lonely

Some long sweeping downhills at last, the pace quickens I hit 61Km/hr, that feels much better  I am passed again, but ahead is another rider, I focus on him and push past to once again be on a long slow climb, then round a corner and down again.

Church

Only to find a photographer in the middle of the road, I edge right he steps further into my path so I aim slightly to his right. Great Photo’s but not what I needed at that moment. We have turned I am heading back towards the show ground, one more right turn but a car is in the road with hazards on. I decide it must be an accident so off the bars and brake. Marshall’s rush out and frantically gesticulate to the car and it is moved off the road, there goes half a second. Only 5Km to go time to empty the tank, now it is flat out nothing left in reserve. My vision narrows, sounds disappears and all I can hear is my breathing all I can feel is my heart pounding and legs burning. Time slows down.

I push on the last roundabout, the last couple of bends, the run to the finish line.sportograf-98967437_lowres.jpg

One last effort to push to the line.

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And it is over. As you cross the line your time flashes up on the overhead gantry.

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I sit up brake and shift down, suddenly I am aware of how hard I am breathing, I am dizzy and wobble plus am unable to speak. I grab my recovery beer and gulp it down I am so hot and thirsty. Jim talks to me, I cannot understand him I feel disoriented and dizzy but slowly life returns to normal. Off comes the helmet soaked in sweat. The time faster than last year, but not good enough. Sadly Jim also failed to qualify, and he borrowed my 50 seconds behind number. also un-seen by us Tim Gilling had a cycle round the TT course.

Day one over day 2 to come, the Gran Fondo. This I felt was my best chance. I qualified last year, I was only 50 seconds off in Ayrshire and I was feeling good and much better now. The start is always good, out along the roads the Chrono used, a mad pace and a rush of riders. We are grouped in age related pens and some always get carried away at the start. Just lining up two people crashed. It takes ages to get started, and when we do my power meter is useless indicating 15W maximum, and mainly 0W, back to riding by HR and feel.

We spin out over rolling hills through villages, this was good. Once the initial sorting occurred the group was rolling well and we were on our way. Henry and Jim kindly dropped back and after about 45Km we were all together and we pushed out onto the worst part, the fens. It is flat, it should be easy, but the wind whips across you and it always feels like a head wind. they drive on and I go into the red just hanging onto their wheels. It just saps you and soon my legs and back were complaining. A moped with video camera man rolls along beside us. The time was good but I felt bad, made worse by the recognition  I was wheel sucking. I ate as much as I could, a jelly baby sugar rush helped pick  me up and at last we were out of the fens and back to more normal countryside.

A fast group rolled by and we jumped on, I looked behind for Henry and Jim to hear Henry tell me to go for it so I tucked into the larger group. The pace was higher but it was more sheltered and even the hills felt better than that soulless wind. The last 20Km was leg shredding, fast and to be honest fun. All too soon we were back onto the finishing straight, an attempt at a sprint and over the line. 3:34 much faster than my last year time of 3:58, but the cut off time had fallen from 4:05 to 3:31.

And that is how my journey chasing for a Rainbow Jersey came to an end. I cannot really be sad, both times were improvements, and while I think the TT time could be better I cannot think I could ride the road element any faster. Time to be honest and say the competition was a step above me, and I still have last years memories.

Time for a new challenge.

 

 

Racing from the back – Testing Times

Garmin

After much agonising, at the end of last year  I decided it was time to get more scientific and jump into the current century with my cycle training. Till this year I have been fairly unorganised about my cycling, riding as far and as hard as I felt/had time. I had heard so much about being smart with available time I at last overcame my good Scottish upbringing and I ordered a Power meter and booked a testing session to set me up on a new training regime with an idea to  follow some set plans to build strength and get faster at  Time Trials. With amazing timing, later that same day I proceeded to crash and break my collar bone, pushing all concerns on training and fitness out the window.

Power Meter wise  I went for a Garmin Vector S2, mainly because it is easy to swap between bikes without having to worry about different group sets  or crank lengths. I have nothing else to compare against, but I have to say its working fine for me, and in the early days of recovery it made my basic turbo set up more interesting and it meant I could do some fairly good controlled exercises while recovering and unable to get outside.

Having made a start to road cycling again and being able to ride fairly normally again  I decided it was time I re-booked the planned lactate test and try and focus my training for this summer. It was  with some anxiety as there will be no hiding from the results as it will almost certainly show the weaknesses I have, compounded by the injury time off the bike. There is always the fear of being found not so much a Ferrari as a Morris minor, and lets be honest a lot of those fitness articles point out how you degrade as you go over 40, then go further downhill with each decade.  So feeling nervous I turned up for my session with Alex in a not so secret test location at Performance Cycles.

The test started off with a gentle warm up at 100W, a chance to calibrate the Turbo Trainer and also check my power meter readings against it. The good news was all looked fairly close so we proceeded to the test. It would start at 100W, and every 3 min my blood lactate level would be tested and the power increased by 25W. At first it was fairly easy, a slight sting of the finger every now and then but it was ok to chat and I did not notice the changes in power level, it just felt like  I was settling into a ride.

IMG_1462

One of the problems  I find is it is hard to gauge pace, on a route or TT you do plenty of times you can practice/get a rhythm, you can run it and decide was it too fast/too slow ride it better next time, and the local TT is a case in point. But on a new ride I find it hard to spot the difference between riding at say 100W or 170W, hence the interest in the power meter.  And so it was on this test, it went from chatting and a breeze to a tad more serious in an instant, to be honest I stopped noticing Alex attack my finger and started to sweat. This was turning into that last effort at the TT where you wonder if you will be sick when you stop.

The battle begins, the legs start to burn a bit, the breathing is up, you are sweating,  and bugger Andy is back with that camera for not a great Kodak moment. I always think in sportive photo’s I look like a grinning simpleton or in pain, this time I achieved both. Alex is counting down the time at each power level, “275W, do the first 30 seconds if you can keep the cadence you can do 3 min  after that”Pain

I managed to hang on for the 300W step, but the kick to 325W killed me, I just could not keep the cadence up, not a great picture either, so much for stoic suffering, all  I can say is it was hurting.  If Froome can share his data I guess I can. The low tech answer is I came out as a diesel, ok over long distances slogging away, but not a sprinting machine, and lets be honest that is fair.  For those more interested here are the graphs and the key points.

Testing

So what did I learn from all that, well quite bit. First off a better understanding  of how my body works as it currently is on recovery but even more important I am now starting to get a better impression of training load and also pacing for events. All of that to follow later, in part 2. The good news, I have plenty of scope for improvement and Strava just bumped up my FTP this  week. The bad news  I have till the end of the month to the ToC.

Numbers

After a couple of chats with Alex I must admit it is sinking in.  And I have been able to make changes. Back in Feb doing the classic of average power over 20min gave me an FTP of 221W, by the test at the start of May Strava was claiming 245W, and now mid May by adapting some of my training and approach at last Club ride Strava bumped my FTP to 263W.

The cynic of course asks how much of the above is just caused by me riding more, and that is a fair question. All I can say is I could not personally judge the efforts to hit the intervals I am running in some sessions by perception. The first one would be harder than target and the last couple lower. With the meter I can see if I am not hitting the threshold. Also recovery rides, I now ride with less effort so am fresher to hit the hard sessions. I think the latest change is part mental, through understanding myself better and part due to the training.

One month left to ToC, can I recover enough to qualify in either event.

Racing from the back – The Tour of Ayrshire – 50 Seconds in 112Km

Course

50 seconds, how important is it? In a time trial it is a massive amount of time, in a 112Km road race it should be nothing, but it was everything. This is my tale of going to the very first Tour of Ayrshire, a UCI Master series qualifying event. When I booked it the plan was a visit back to see my mother and a race in Scotland with the chance to get an early qualification for the final in France. After my crash up till April it was a wasted entry fee, but after some great medical help it was changed to a practice ride, one more step on the way to recovery. As you can see from the profile it is a lumpy course, no killer hills but no flat sections either. This was a closed road Gran Fondo, as close to road racing as  I will ever get.

15 min till race start there were virtually no riders in the start pens. The wind was building in speed, it was 9C and we were sheltering from the wind. 10 min to start we were summonsed to the pens and given the race director briefing, followed by the news there would be a delay, a house was on fire and the fire brigade were using the road. The Tour of Ayrshire was having a difficult start, not much the organisers could do. Around me some people were wrapped in winter clothes, some like me looked to have base layer shorts, summer top and arm warmers, while others were in shorts and summer top. Ahead of me a couple of riders were shivering badly, one turning a shade of purple. Those who warmed up earlier questioned their wisdom.

20 min late the race started, with a bunch of cold over 50’s rolling over the start. And we were off, uphill at a very stiff pace from a cold start. We were running uphill at 40Km/hr on very cold legs, which made a mixed feeling, relief at getting moving and generating some heat but concern on could I live with this pace and would I injure  myself starting so cold. I looked at the power level, it was above my FTP, this was mad. I was racing for qualification, not the win, and I eased off to find myself in a no mans land. Ahead the main group moved off and behind me a second group at some distance.

By 10Km the main group shattered and I was no longer on my own as more fell out the back, some looked ok having made the same decision as me, others were in trouble.
We rolled on about 28Km/hr pace in a fairly good pack that was gaining riders as we rode, some joining us, some falling straight out our back. This was more comfortable and I settled in feeling quite good. This course never settled, it never felt like we had a flat section, it was uphill then down then back up again. The surface was all over the place, some sections lovely tarmac, others patched and terribly scarred and potholed, this was tough and the bike and my arms were taking a pounding. But it was ok I felt good and the plan changed, could I do a qualification time?, race fever took over.

After  an hour, on a downhill section before a run uphill my right calf started to go into spasm, not on the uphill but on the downhill. Was it cold, lack of electrolyte? I decide to go safe and eat my banana early and stretch the leg and I dropped to the back. On the uphill it worked ok but I was worried. Each uphill we lost a rider or two, I was determined not to join them. I had expected my arm to be the issue, the rough surface mixed with a lot of out of saddle action was putting a lot of pressure on it, the legs were not an expected problem.

Just before 2 hours I was once again climbing well and at the front of the group as we rolled over the hill to the downhill.  Once again I felt the sharp pain and the right calf went into spasm, I expected my arm to let me down, not the legs.  I started to try and diagnose what was gong on, it was every time I ran out of gears and over about 110rpm, weird and new for me. I stretched the leg to stop the spasm and took on food and drink but was out the back. Thankfully on the climb I was OK and I re-caught the group, but I was working hard to recover the lost downhill pace.

While I was wondering what to do about my leg, the wind started to pick up (after the races tales of 40mph winds). This made it essential to be in a group and we rolled through as an about 20-person chain gang with 3 people not working (causing temperatures to rise and as we rode as some heated comments were made to those not working). We turned and were riding into the wind. This was tough, more riders from the front dropped back to us and we must have been up to about 40. It triggered a change, the selections started. On each turn uphill the pace would suddenly rise. I survived three, but on the fourth I lost touch. Now I was in a group of 5, on we rode struggling uphill into the wind.

3 hours in and my lack of fitness started to hit, legs getting weary plus my arm was suffering from the pounding on the road. The bike started to rattle,  the vibration had loosened the pump and it was hitting my crank. I had to stop and remove it on the descent the cross wind made it too dangerous to try and remove it while moving. The re-start was hard but it was important to get rolling again. I was on my own.

Out of the head wind the course was better with rolling hills I was enjoying this more and able to get up to over 70Km/hr, could I hang onto a qualification time? I was passing people but this was the point where it re-joined the shorter route, how many of those I passed was I racing. A lot of people were struggling up the climb, I stuffed a handful of jelly babies into my mouth and pushed on. By my counting this had to be the last hill, I went for it passing a lot of riders including some of the guys I had been with earlier. To stop me being smug  a bunch of elderly gents sailed past serenely so my pace was not that great.

Over the hill I went pushing on downhill into town and past a cheering crowd,  I was convinced the end was close, I was wrong, there was the 10Km board. That meant one more hill to go. The last hill hurt, but the 4 hour target was there, the legs, my back and my right shoulder were all in pain and that voice telling me to stop was getting loud. I rolled to the top and this time it was downhill to the end. My right shoulder was a mess throbbing madly every time I held the bars but I needed it for stability in the wind. Once more I spun up the legs onto the finish line hitting 56.9Km/hr, averaging 28.3Km/hr and just beating the 4hr target.

Beer
Did I qualify? I drank my finish line beer, and watched the presentations, being most impressed by the pace  3 Hrs 11min for the quickest, and only 14 min slower for the 70+ winner. I looked at the results I could see and decided I had missed it by about 5 min. I went home happy to think that with a bit more work  I could be close. They published the results today. I was the first person to not qualify in my age range, missing qualification by 50 seconds. I could think back on a few moments where seconds could have been saved. 50 seconds in 4 hours I could have done that, the stop for the pump, not cramping, hanging in there with a group a bit longer….

Truth is I was lucky to be there at all, and even luckier to be able to finish. Looking at the power and heart rate data it was an improvement on my recent rides. I think that is as much as I can do, currently and to be honest given the field I am happy as there is potential to improve.  But 50 seconds……….

stats

The Long Road Back

OK so last post I had stuffed myself well and truly, what can I add from there? Should you injure an arm/shoulder/hand here is what I can say from my experience and what helped;

  1. Rather than ask what you cannot do, ask what you are allowed to do? I was told stationary bikes/turbo trainers good, just no vigorous bouncing around and listen to the body. I found strapping my arm up tight in a sling with a waist strap as well onto the arm worked. Plus point the shoulder pain on any rough movement smoothed out my peddling action as well. Spin classes were good as well, its a bit more social than just grinding away on the turbo. Rollers were ruled out, too many cyclists fall off when fit, far less thinking about the one armed.
  2. Try not to take the pain killers if you can and find out if there are different pain sensations. It allows you to exercise and know when to stop if it is gong to cause harm. For the first 4 weeks I found I could do a reasonable amount of exercise, than had to stop for @ 2 weeks when my bones probably knitted together. Some pain is just forcing scar tissue to bend, some is damage. If you can find out the nature/location it can help. For my recovery now I need to put the arm into pain to push it back to recovery.
  3. Do not underestimate the mental side. Being told it would take 6 months to heal was the low point in January. Being on the bike in March was a great but terrifying experience. Riding in a group again was terrifying, I found myself very alert and sensitive to the thought of falling off again. But like the injured limb, you need to push through.
  4. The NHS is staffed by excellent people. OK there was some waiting around, but I was always treated with respect and care plus there were people around me with worse injuries and it looked like the staff were working hard. My physio at Cirencester Hospital “Heidi” was a star. Yes it hurt but the pace of improvement after treatment was amazing as was the advice on what to push and what to leave.
  5. Take some time to enjoy riding the bike again. I know it sounds obvious but I was so aware of the form loss plus trying to regain my confidence I was shocked to find myself rolling along in the spring sun.

So where to next? Latton TT has started again, I set the arm rests wide and found with some gritting of teeth I can hang on for about 10 miles. I am 40 seconds down on my best, but it feels like I am catching up again. Tour of Ayrshire is next weekend, I am in the UCI road race, I bought and paid for the place before the crash, could I hang on and qualify??

Then May is power and lactic acid testing , can science propel an old git to a faster time for the Tour of Cambridge in June?

Having a break – Rapha 500 fail

break

I had intended to take a break at the end of January but this is far too literal. I waited for the thaw and set off in the afternoon, but a freezing fog descended as I was out. A slip on ice, I corrected it only to hit a pothole badly and fly over the bars to hit the ground on my right shoulder, should have just fallen off first time. So waiting on next hospital visit where they will decide whether to pin my Clavicle bone together or not. I wish I could say it was something dramatic like in a race, but no a simple ride.Thus ends my attempt to complete the Rapha 500 challenge (282Km) and also my cross racing season.

It has been a cracking year, and until the last two days I enjoyed my mad year of being 50. I took up cyclocross, time trialling and road racing. I made it to the World Championships and took part in the Relay and Road races and even had a Km or 2 off the front in the lead. Other firsts, bunch sprint, velodrome, and a gravel sportive. But like being 50 all that is in the past and it is time to learn lessons and look forwards.

So what have I  managed to learn

  1. Just go for it. putting yourself in for doing something adds motivation especially in the winter and spring. And once you have said you are going to do it it is much harder to back out. Some one has to be last and if its you, well congratulations on giving it a go.
  2. Try riding an event with a more experienced cyclist. From riding a 2 up TT with Jim I picked a lot up, some of it just motivation. Also tips on technique or position etc are invaluable.
  3. You can push harder than you may think. I discovered you can keep going beyond the point I thought was exhaustion, it will just hurt more after. And you need to build in more recovery time after to compensate.
  4. Science & bikes matter. I took 2 min off my 10 mile TT time through riding harder.I too another 1 min 30 sec off by switching to a TT bike.
  5. Structured training is important. A lot of what I achieved was through riding more and harder, but I now think with more focused training, including proper rest I could avoid some problems I hit last year like over training when you just go slower the harder you try.
  6. Mental attitude and preparation time/the correct warm up helps especially at time trials. For me eat 3 to 4 hours before, and hitting the appropriate level  of warm up matters, start slow and gentle but end with some harder intervals. Also have an idea of pace and how you will adjust it for winds.
  7. In every event you will hit the “difficult” bit. Remember the 5th rule of cycling, shut up and man up. Or if you must speak, get angry at yourself, but whatever you do stay focused, those are the moments time can drift away on.
  8. Tyre pressure is really important in CX. One day I hope to find out how to gauge it.
  9. Never smile at photographers while on an event. I either look simple or constipated.
  10. At many events there are a lot of nice people taking part or being a marshal etc. Take time to talk with them, it is part of the event and without them there would be no event. When someone shakes your hand after a race and says thanks it is good, even if you are thinking of how you will beat them next time 🙂 Healthy rivalry is good and part of the fun.
  11. For iffy weather days just get a turbo trainer. It’s not the falling that hurts, its looking out the window on a good day that hurts.

Plans for next year?

  1. Get body fixed
  2. More focused training and learn how to use a power meter (I know they are mostly used for Cafe bragging rights but I hear there are training and pacing benefits).
  3. Take part in Tour’s of Ayrshire plus Cambridge and see if I can qualify for both Road and TT World UCI events.
  4. Drop 5Kg, this will be tough for me.
  5. Break 40Km/hr average barrier on Latton TT
  6. Do some 25Km plus TT events.
  7. Not fall off.
  8. Keep smiling.
  9. Retire from racing??

Slip sliding away

27th-dec-banner

It is nearly the end of the year and the cyclocross  season has not much left in it. Here goes for the last two races I have taken part in and a few snaps from the last event of Gethin.

Oldbury Court – Western League

I think this is one of the best tracks for people new to cross. Having had a bit of a crash the week before I was still not fully recovered but as Andy had fixed the bike quick and  I liked the course last time out I thought I would kick myself if  I missed it. The course is long and not over technical but had quite a few different types of mud.

This race was different from the others this season as for a while all adults racing were on track at the same time, rather than having category specific races. U23 and seniors set off first, then the Veterans, then the ladies. This, as we were warned at the start, meant the race would be closer to the hour long than 40 min as per usual Veteran races. So the Veterans lined up as the seniors hared off for the horizon, and despite the warning it was an aggressive fast start.

My initial plan was to take it easy for the first few corners (not feeling fully confident on my own condition) then see what a longer distance race pace could be. The mission build some confidence and not fall off.  But when everyone else is going for it you need to keep up. I decided on a measured approach, trying not to loose too many positions but keeping something in reserve. After 3 corners  I was smiling and the nerves were gone.  I had played with tyre pressure, dropping it lower again, and while the bike was sliding I felt I could manage it. After a lap a lot of people were showing the pain of the early pace with a boggy slightly uphill section being a good overtaking point.

A quick description of the course. From the start/finish line it drops to a wooded section with a small stream to cross, then up a slope onto the park land. the surface went from grass that was just starting to cut up to mud as you swept to the stream making the dismount more interesting than it should have been. The park section was mainly flat but it wound round some bends with molehills to add a variety to the grip. There were a few bits where the ground was sodden and that rapidly cut to mud making for a draggy and slippery surface. Then through a small wooded section with dismount boards before a long and slow drag up a boggy hill then twisting down hill to a sharp corner and a drag back uphill to the start and finish line.

My race, pretty good to be honest and for 40 min I was having fun. Ok I fell off once but it was a classic front wheel wash out at low speed’ more hurt pride than anything. The mud  I was doing OK on, I found myself picking a large gear and just pushing hard through it letting the bike pick its own path.  And once people got over their initial burst of enthusiasm I found myself overtaking on the uphill sections and doing ok, even passed a couple of seniors. But after 45min my poor condition started to tell. The left leg was burning and the back was not much better and just to make things worse the gears started to jump ( a later inspection showed so much grass and leaves in the rear I was amazed it turned at all) . It was a case of hanging on to the end with a slow last lap and 58min of racing.

Results 30th of 47 in Veterans 6th of 12 in V50+

Deerhurst – Western League

There had been a good frost overnight and as we arrived it was thawing. This made some sections with hard ground and others rutted with a slippery sludge on top. As time went on more and more of the circuit cut up and quite a few sections became boggy.  This was a course where a mountain bike might have been a good choice. The start was on the flat in a field that led through a gate (that became ever more boggy) into another field with a long steep hill that was covered in claggy mud. A few could ride up it, especially mountain bikers with dinner plate rear cassettes, but for most it was a run at the start and a walk at the end.

At the top of the hill the course ran along a ridge of grass that was frozen when we started but rapidly became a bog. There was a downhill run through the trees with a turn back into the field and an adverse camber turn. At the start this was fine but by the end it was hard work getting the bike back into the trees as the mud kept trying to slide the bike down the hill. In the trees the surface was firm and there were a few banked corners, then out onto the fields where there was a fairly fast section, with a tricky adverse camber section and turns that were cutting very bad. The last part was along a cinder path, with rocks waiting to slice tyres, and back round to the start via a boggy corner or two.

There was a good field of riders and some very fast lady riders. Allegedly one of those was the U23 world champion, though whether it was cross or mountain biking there was not agreement (Evie Richards I can confirm from the results sheet). All  I can say is she had blond hair, the rainbow jersey (that stayed remarkably white) and passed me, once going uphill and the other time while coming down hill with a mountain bike. I tried to follow her downhill, but it was no use I lacked the skill/bravery.

From the start the hill sorted the pack out, and I think I made two passes all race after that, but it was the first run up the hill that split the pack. I could not see any of my usual racing adversaries, they were there at the start but we were all split apart on lap one. On the last lap one of the Ride 24/7 guys blasted past, this was upsetting because I thought he must have lapped me and I wondered where he got his energy from. I later found out that the three guys I normally race all punctured on lap 1 so he was at least 1 lap down.

This course was hard, the hill was punishing and the wooded section quite technical, though I came to find the adverse camber sections worse as the bike was sliding at both ends. Getting the front into the corner became a priority and on the adverse camber sections it was interesting to note the slip angle I could ride at without falling off. A push at the end found me lapping some of the ladies, though  I think the top 3 ladies lapped me.

My race, to be honest it was a bit more lonely than usual. I did not fall off, so that was a bonus but it would have been nice to be closer to some people to race. The legs held out much better but the back was aching towards the end, so that is not fully recovered. As for the bike on lap3 the gears had a few moments of playing up but a run through all the puddles I could find cleared it up till the end. It is looking like the best tactic is to have a lightweight rigid mountain bike as a second bike, or have a more lightweight rider and a second cross bike.

Corrected results 30th of 48 in Veterans, 13th of 20 in V50+

Racing from the back – Falling to the ground on two races. Must skip Practice.

championship-finishSouthern Region CX Championship

Why do crashes always happen in slow motion? My front wheel washed wide and  I lost it crashing to the ground on  a sudden frozen patch after a slippery corner. I hit the ground and was OK, but  I was still moving. I went under the tape into another section of the track and into the path of 3 riders, one hit my hand/rear shifter and ran over my hand and two ended on top of me. I just watched them slowly head towards me and nothing any of us did made a difference. It was weird, my hand was fine (sore but functioning), I was OK, they were fine, but my rear brake lever was broken and hanging off.

This was the Southern Region Championship cross race in Swindon, it had been a very frosty start to the day but things were warming up. I was riding the course gently (I thought), on a practice lap, and just working out where the grip was, each corner varied. The crash was after the corner and a slight kink in the track, I had made the hardest bit of the corner but obviously this bit was hard packed and frozen, the corner before wet. Did I push too hard coming out of the corner? possibly, well in reality yes because it all went wrong.

Now I was in trouble, I went to the start to see if they had any gaffer tape, and tried the masking tape, but no way was it strong enough. I was on the point of calling it a day and handing back my timing chip when some kind gentleman said he may have some tape in his car, so we rushed to the car park to put some electrical tape on, it worked, sort of. The brake was spongy, and sometimes it was binding so I had to push it off, but it was better than nothing. I rushed off to the start line. I was late, they were set on the grid and as  I arrived they set off so I set off in pursuit, dead last.championship-broken

The start was on tarmac, then swung off onto the grass.  I caught up with the back and followed for a few corners before  I decided I had better make a go of it. I think I made 3 places in the first lap which was good, mainly on the straight sections. This course was good, plenty of long sections with some tricky corners, one uphill dismount and more than a few adverse camber corners. There were a few uphill sections with turns round trees that tested the ability to find grip.  I had to alter my style of riding, braking in a straight line only so  I could use the front where required and not being able to rely on the rear brake, so I became cautious into corners and blasted as hard as  I could out of them, this was physically tough. As the course melted it helped as the drag of the ground slowed the bike, but some sections were tricky, a thin layer of slime on top of frozen rutted ground.

Ahead  I recognised two riders from the Western League in their Ride 24/7 tops, so  I set my target of catching and them. I passed one on a good twisting uphill section where  I could use gravity to slow for the corner, then concentrated on staying ahead, the other was harder to catch. After a couple of laps the first of the ladies caught up, they  had set off 1 min behind and were moving well. This was good as it gave me an idea of my relative pace, poor in slow corners, ok in the rest.

In my rush I had not had time to reset my timer, so i was dependent on the lap boards to know how long was left. It said 00 (I assume this meant last lap) as  I crossed the line so I pushed like mad and nicked ahead of the last Ride 24/7 rider. I had to push hard in this section to make a gap before the slower corners and managed to over the lap open a 20M or so gap. A couple more of the fast Lady riders had caught up so I was trying to let them through without holding them up or loosing ground. the rear brake was spongy, but some use. I sprinted for the line to find the lap counter said 2 laps. This was not good, time to dig deep. The rear lever was getting very wobbly, not good when you rely on the hoods to pull on for hills as well as what little effort  I could get out of the brakes. The course was melting, and my body was starting to notice the earlier crash, my left thumb and shoulder ached, no issue, but my left leg and right foot were more of a concern and my back was starting to burn. Every race/event has the bit where your body says, “thank, that’s enough lets stop at the tea stand and have that cup of tea and cake”.

I ground on, feeling I was slower on the lap, the gap to the Ride 24/7 rider was only 15M now and another lady ride passed me, one lap left. I would like to give a tale of heroic effort, instead I will just say  I hung on, burying myself on the straight sections and hanging on round the corners, the thought of dropping it now was terrible.  I managed to hang on, and lapped a lady on my way to the line. My garmin tells me  I raced for 56min, not the @ 40min the race is meant to be, I think my 45 min pace was good, the last 10, torture. But I made it to the race and  I was not last. The poor bike, well new lever on order, will it be there in time for next weekend????  Some pictures of the frosty start and how it was by the end, oh and I think I can see the tread marks on my leg.

 

Western Cyclocross – Forest of Deanforest-of-dean-1

This was a tough one, it had rained a lot in the days running up to the race and this was a large course. I set off on my practice lap and within 10M I was flying, over the handlebars onto my back. Of course this was on the one section with spectators. I scrambled to my feet just in time to see the next rider repeat my display of how not to dismount, at least  I was not alone in finding the hidden tree root. this course was tough, and in some strange ways likeable.

the start was on grass and while the flooded section threw frozen water onto the legs it at least cleared some of the mud off the bike. the corners were trick but passable. Then on into the woods. The section in the photo went uphill and that was OK, but there were tight turns around trees that were hard to take and a downhill section on slimy mud around trees that was just scary and asked you to crash. On the first lap I was passed, and passed one ride a couple of times.He would fly past me, then slide off at the corner only to barrel past me again before dropping his bike again. I was exhausted just watching him.

Then onto the best bit, a forest road that was fast, I was up into the big ring and hitting 36Km/Hhr. It went downhill then a stiff climb before turning into an unride-able section, well  I never saw anyone do anything other than run/carry the bike of fall off. It was full of claggy mud that was very rutted and twisted round bushes for a long way. The laps were long 11 to 12 min. On the second lap I went for it and did pass a few people, setting a new personal recorded heart rate of 192 beats per min, up from my 182 normal, but on the fourth lap the effort told on me and when the rear brake stopped working on the downhill tree section I was all over the place. I did not fall off but the time was terrible.

I wrote this race off to experience then discovered I got 10 points. Cross race points,cannot work then out but I think I was 8th in my age range. The groupset deserves special mention. No missed shifts and in this condition, respect to Shimano 105.

forest-of-dean-3forest-of-dean-2