Sunday, 27 November 2011

Winter Version 1.0

Well it's started. My winter campaign is underway and I am now into the second week of what I have dubbed Winter 1.0. It was nice to have a few weeks off after the Nationals, and by off I mean have three or four caramel slice runs in my week back home (one of them was a double as well, slightly gluttonous) and then do a 7 hour epic with the Southport CC. Hmm. I hadn't expected it to be quite as long as it was, but it was great fun-new roads, big group, real sense of actually travelling somewhere as opposed to just doing endless loops. Have a look at the report here:

Those 3 weeks of beer, curries and chocolate passed rather quickly and I had originally intended to only start Winter 1.0 in December; but a Saturday club run with the Ystwyth club, a few spritely fellow students and resident Team UK Youth Pro Gruff Lewis gave my body an unexpected but not unwelcome kick start last I figured why not start now! I'd been getting a bit bored forcing myself to not ride too much and was really rather looking forward to getting back in the routine and eating properly again. Sunday was a bit dodgy though, a combination of having shredded legs after around 3,000 ft of fast climbing on the Saturday (and the distance, a modest 68 miles-but these are Welsh miles. I.E. nothing flat) meant I was swinging a bit after about 20 miles. It wasn't helped by having the resident Aberystwyth GearMonster being the only other one out on the post club dinner ride...(think Bert Grabsch cadence and gear choice and you've got a good comparison). 
I knew I'd seen him somewhere before...
Normally I would have relished such a motor-pacing opportunity, (22-23mph into a headwind on a rolling road anyone?) but not last Sunday. Long story short, still did nearly 60 miles, very nearly got the fringale, cursed my Uni accomodation being at the top of a f**k off big hill, napped, felt like sh*t for the rest of the day, slept like a log, felt great come Tuesday's night ride! 

These two weekends have largely followed the same template: Saturday, feel good then not so good. Sunday, feel ok then definitely not good. Luckily this week both days were more 'good' than 'not so good'. I could definitely feel the benefits of last weeks unpleasantness. It is interesting how quickly I feel the fatigue now though, I can go from feeling comfortable to struggling in less than 15 mins. Very strange. But then again, I wasn't expecting to start winter with anything approaching race fitness! So yeah, looking forward to seeing what two months of this does!

Things I've learned recently:

  • A cup of Big Maggy's coffee is perfect for getting a tired and weary John back home over a couple of nasty 25% gradients at the end of a ride.
  • Welsh roads=FANTASTIC
  • Flat roads and 'recovery rides' are a relatively alien concept to Aberystwyth cyclists ;)
  • I am very glad I specced my winter bike with a compact chainset! Need it round here...
  • If you put me in the position where I can buy cake in a cafe, even though I am now 'training' I will buy said cake. 
  • Merino wool base layers can take a lot before they begin to smell or feel nasty-student's best friend!
  • I am already sick of washing all my cycling kit in my sink and then having it drip dry for days on my airer in the middle of my room :/
  • I now need a lot more sleep than your average student.
  • And more food.
  • I really should go to the Uni library more often.

Speaking of winter miles, interesting riding companions and cake have a look at this, I expect you'll find it rather amusing:

That is the end of tonight's stream of consciousness. 


Friday, 25 November 2011

Season Review Part 2.

Then I started at the University of Aberystwyth. And the second weekend I was there, did the Fibrax-Wrexham RC Open Hill Climb up the Horseshoe Pass in Llangollen. I went into this just as the dreaded ‘Fresher’s Flu’ kicked in, and awoke the morning of the competition with a horrendously thick and catarrhy head. Still after a decent warm up I didn’t feel too bad. I had been seeded 87th out of 90. I did what I still believe to be a ‘perfect’ ride. Got the pacing spot on, gearing just high enough and emptied myself sprinting for the line. I was pleased my pacing was accurate, as we’d only driven up it the day before and I hadn’t had time to ride it. I placed 3rd, 17 seconds behind Richard Handley (Team Raleigh-lovely guy) and 6 (I think) seconds behind Dan Evans (Rhos On Sea CC). I was rather surprised at this result if I’m honest, I hadn’t really been able to do any training in the run up what with the craziness of Fresher’s Week and all. However it now seems like I was properly rested coming into it and that my road form was still very much present! Either way, seeing my name 3rdout of 90 was rather special, as was the medallion and £20 prize money! 
Told you I could gurn.
Trust me when I say this, there was a dog on the roof. Seriously. 

Things then quietened down for a few weeks. Tried to get into a training routine and failed, largely due to dodgy weather and not lectures getting in the way (or is it the other way round...) Either way, the weekend of my birthday came around and with it a manic few days travelling back home, doing two hill climbs and then getting back to Aber. On Saturday it was the Nelson Wheelers HC up out of Barley near Pendle Hill. I wondered whether this climb really suited me, yes it had a steady gradient but it was rather short as the course record from the previous year was around 4 minutes. I set a time of 3:53.6. And held the new course record for approximately 57 seconds! I ended up 5th behind Mike Cuming (Twenty 3C Orbea) who set a new course record (he held the previous) of 3:30.2. That was a lot of time to be beaten by over such a short distance. The next day (my birthday incidentally-20 years young!) was the North Lancs RC HC up the Infamous Nick O’Pendle. Interestingly, this event attracted the likes of Tejvan Pettinger (Sri-Chinmoy Cycling Team and a bit of a Legend this year) and Paul Jones (Bristol South CC and fellow competitor at all my Open HCs this year. Also a bit of a Legend...) which tells you something about the nature of this hill. Again, I didn’t pre-ride it due to time constraints more than anything else (seems to be a recurring theme this...) and paid the price subsequently. I posted a time of 4:23.3 which was good enough for 8th, 50 seconds down on Tejvan (who was if memory serves me correctly 7 seconds off Chris Boardman’s record). On reflection I think forcing myself to ride a higher gear by using a fixed gear would, providing I kept the cadence, yield a significantly quicker time.
Barley HC. Cheers to Paul Jones for these two!

Nick O'Pendle HC. B*tch of a climb. Think my bar tape needed changing no?

So that just left me with another double weekend of competition left, but this was the big one. The BUCS Uni champs on Saturday 29th and then the Nationals on the Sunday. I remember talking to Jim Henderson at last year’s Southport CC club dinner and asking him if it was a realistic goal to try and ride the Nationals this year. He said it was, but it seemed like such a big step (at that stage I had probably done fewer than 10 competitive events on a bike-not forgetting two hill climb wins of course :D...). I think the weight of what I was undertaking had been lost somewhere in the intervening 11 months (perhaps the fatigue of a long season catching up on me?) but I struggled to really motivate myself for these two last, and admittedly rather large, hurdles. As a result, I kind of got the week in-between my birthday weekend and the Nationals weekend wrong. Where I should have tapered and rested, I did a couple of hard rides and only had one day completely off the bike before the weekend. Not perfect preparation, but with a good long warm up  (which for a change included a ride up the hill) I felt ok for the Uni champs. I was seeded 145th out of 150 riders and came joint 13th with two other guys at 6:11.00 with the winner coming in at 5:37.00. This was a bit of a disappointment if I’m honest, as despite not knowing the hill at all, or having any idea of the level of competition, I’d quietly been hoping for at least top 10 and possibly better. Unfortunately in terms of accurate results, times were only recorded to 00.01, whereas normally timed events such as these are done to 00.00.01 which resulted in a huge number of joint placings. Next year I plan to target this event properly, come back and recce it a number of times beforehand and used a fixed gear-as again, I can see big time improvements being made with a carefully selected fixed gear. 
Warming up for the BUCS Uni Champs. Thanks to Colin from the club for the plain skinsuit loan!

So, onto the 2011 National Hill Climb Championships. At 4.44 miles long and an average gradient of 3.2%, this wasn’t exactly a hill, more a ‘slope’, but as people have rightly pointed out this just gave some of the more powerfully built riders a shot at the title. I set a time of 14:44.4 (which works out at an average speed of 18.5mph). I apparently had the fastest halfway split time for much of the race, but as people rightly point out that’s only worth noting if you actually maintain it all the way. Unfortunately I didn’t, but I attribute this more to my lack of aero kit than shoddy pacing!
This is my scary face. Gurn #3?

As you can see, my kit and bike set up was same as before: skinsuit, cotton cap, lightweight handbuilt wheels, lightest tyres and tubes possible, bottle cages and bolts removed, haircut (ok, maybe for next year) which has worked admirably. However, comparing this to the standard of at the very least tri-bars, and often extending to full TT bikes and even disc wheels I began to get a bit suspicious. You know it’s not your average ‘hill’ when deep section wheels and TT helmets massively outnumber lightweight wheels and cotton caps. Not that I’m bitching or making excuses. I got my training wrong, routine was wrong in the weeks leading up and to be honest, I was a bit fed up of all the hassle by the end of it! So that was my first National Championship. Next year I will be back and better prepared, onwards and upwards!

I honestly don’t think there’s any more I could write if I wanted to. Fin.

Season Review Part 1.

Well that’s it for 2011.  No more races, no more competition (apart from maybe a Boxing Day TT), no more zipping round on the good bike. Now begins the slow but inevitable departure of ‘form’ and the slow and thankfully inevitable march of time towards spring where it all starts again.

I started off this season back in February (the 27th to be exact) with the Clayton Velo Spring Classic Handicap. That was one hell of a race to start with. Still, it was better than starting last season with the Eddie Soens!  Although to be fair I did the Soens the week after this year...and finished in the bunch!  This was followed by the first few CDNW races. The second of which, Capernwray (a brute of a circuit) I got my highest ever placing in an event-13th.  
Post Soens. 

Pimbo. March. Bit nippy.

Bashall Handicap. Tongue out cornering obligatory.

Capernwray. I missed wearing the red gloves in summer.

Last year, while technically my first season, resulted in no top ten placings. No BC licence points and not much experience (as I only did about 5 races). This year I was up for it. And a decent placing on a hard course was encouraging as early as Capernwray.  Anyway, not much else happened for a while. Tried doing some Crits to improve my ‘sprint’ and ‘cornering’ etc, but without much success. I really seem to struggle with them. Maybe I’m too tall? Maybe I just don’t have that punch. Maybe I just can’t make myself hurt like that. Who knows? What I do know is that I had my first crash in one. It resulted in mild concussion, a cracked helmet, quite bad roadrash and a slightly relieved me; as you see I knew I’d come off/be brought off eventually so it was kind of a relief to have it happen in the relatively ‘safe’ environment of a crit and not hurtling down some remote descent somewhere at 40mph. I also switched to racing for the Bill Nickson Cycles RT from Southport CC at this time, got a shiny new race bike and then didn’t do any races for a while. Until the Horwich handicap that is. Me and 5 other 4th cats stayed away for the whole race minus 1km, where we were caught by 4 Elites. I won our ‘bunch’ sprint and got myself some licence points! Wahey!  They were 4 very painfully acquired points though. I then went along to a Crit and picked up another 2 points! Rather unexpected...and then. Well, I got my first win on the road.
Litherland. I was beginning to realise crits and I didn't get on well. 

The Calthwaite Road Race is known for always coming down to a bunch sprint. So I wasn’t really sure whether it was worth riding, as I’m not really your archetypal sprinter. Rather spindly and tall. But I thought it would be a good one to ride aggressively just to see what happened! It was a rubbish evening, really cold, heavy rain, mud/cow poo on the roads and I spent the whole race nervously watching for the crash. Luckily it was a good bunch, no cowboys, and everyone played it sensibly. It was clear it was going to come down to a bunch sprint (not for lack of anyone trying to get away-it was manic throughout with people jumping off the front left right and centre). Me and my mate Garth found ourselves at the back with about a mile to go and joked ‘Well, now’s the bit where we get our arses kicked by the sprinters’. Quite. I’d been planning (if it came down to a bunch kick) to go up the outside (as you do) but saw a mini train with last year’s winner on the back moving up. Instead of latching onto the back of that I decided to go up the inside instead. Cav can apparently remember the details of all his victories, and I can understand what he means. All my movements and decisions in that closing 2 mins or so are still crystal clear. A gap opened. I started to move up. I squeezed through a tiny gap between a rider and the verge. I shouted ‘INSIIIIDDEEE’ at another guy, and to my amazement, he moved aside for me, seems to be a 4th Cat phenomenon that. He ruined his own chances just because (I presume) I sounded like I knew what I was doing...anyhoo, that put me at the front of the bunch. One guy had gone for a long one and was a few seconds off the front of the bunch with about 200m to go. Doing my best impression of a ‘sprinter’ I jumped out of the bunch and got on his wheel, left it late enough to ensure nobody had time to come round me-and nipped round him to take the win. Phew. It was a lot less tiring at the time. The strangest thing was the sprint didn’t hurt. From being at the back of the bunch to crossing the line was one looong anaerobic effort, but seeing the line flicked a switch inside that just seemed to make my legs impervious to pain. I seem to only be able to access this ‘reserve’ on special occasions. Used it twice more this season, once when I was going for 2nd place at Smithfields and would have got it (just one of those things, I would have-trust me) and then got blocked in one of those amazing Chopper moves where somebody suddenly decides in the heat of a sprint that they don’t like the line they’ve chosen and decide to switch across to the other side of the road. That pissed me off big time. The second time was at the last RR of the season, but I’ll get to that later. So yeah, first Road Race win! And I didn’t even get my hands in the be honest, I had to check I’d won after. It’s illogical. I had crossed the line first. I had beaten everyone and I knew it. But I still had to get somebody to tell me, as it’s the sort of thing you really don’t want to get wrong! So, £50 prize money, 15 licence points (enough to get me my 3rd Cat) and the ability to say ‘Yep, I’ve won a road race’ good evening’s work. Still makes me smile thinking about it. But I didn’t get my hands in the air, something I plan to rectify next year.  Then it went arse-over-heels again (quite literally) when some prune decided to fall off in front of me in the next race. It was one round Pimbo industrial estate. It really is the sort of course that you really shouldn’t have to use the brakes on. And yet someone managed to fall off, towards the front of the bunch (not always the safest place to be it seems) on the longest straight on the circuit. He brought about 6 of us down in a big mangle. The annoying thing about that was I was keen to use my sprint again, (Pimbo is always a sprint) and the more annoying thing is that the guy who won it was the guy I’d just nipped round at Calthwaite! But fair play, it was good to see him win. If I’d been riding though....well, ;)
How cool is that? :D

My socks had been white before the race. Still, cheesy grin :D

Then came Dolphinholme. The word on its own is enough to strike fear into the heart of many a North West racer. It’s a great course, properly hard. Climbs galore. Unfortunately I felt like crap on the day, but decided to bluff my way through by following a few attacks and never being any further back than 3rd wheel. It paid off, even if it was grim at times. I began to feel stronger towards the end, and hatched a plan. Unfortunately the super strong Mike Ashurst had gone up the road halfway round the last lap. He was just in sight as we started the final climb, and I realised it was going to require perfect timing to pull this one off. If I jumped out of the group too early, I risked blowing and coming in 99th. If I went too late I risked not catching him. I waited, and waited. And then my intuition told me it was time to go. Unfortunately, as a relatively inexperienced racer my intuition isn’t that developed and as such I got to within a cat’s whisker of Mike, blew and got pipped by my mate Garth on the line. Still, 3rd place on what is reckoned to be one of the hardest circuits out there was more than a little satisfying. It really, really, and I mean really hurt. I was redlined a long way out from the finish and apparently pulled some impressive gurns. If there’s one thing I can do, it’s gurn. 
Dolphonholme: Nearly got him!
Bugger....not quite. Nice one Mike!
Then came Oakenclough the week after. Another properly hilly circuit; I was confident but not complacent, if there’s one thing I've learned from this season it’s that a lot of little things need to click in place to get a result. It’s simply not enough to have good legs on the day. Unfortunately that’s exactly what happened at Oakenclough. I had the legs, but somehow missed the break. To be fair, all the ‘favourites’ missed it; one rider had a seemingly futile dig off the front, then another and another. And before we knew it a break of 4 had a minute on us! It’s no good just marking those you believe to be a threat...I tried to bridge, attacking multiple times up the main climb for the next couple of laps (apparently causing much pain in the group-which is always good to hear!)-although sadly, to no avail. As a result of these frantic attempts to salvage something, I then had very little left for the bunch sprint and came nowhere. On reflection, it probably would have been more prudent to have saved it all until the last lap and attacked then, inexperience once again getting the better of me. Still, you learn through making mistakes!
Quite like this photo. Horwich Festival of Racing.

The next week was the Southport CC organised Bickerstaffe road race. An event I enjoyed last year, as I had finally found some form. Unfortunately this year it was not so fun. Sub 10 degrees C temperatures, torrential rain and inadequate clothing resulted in one of the worst experiences I’ve had on two wheels. I looked like Elvis doing his famous leg jig thing when I got off the bike I was shivering that badly. Lessons learned, more appropriate merino wool base layers bought for next season. Luckily the final race of the season went a little better. The Bashall Eaves circuit is one of those ones that doesn’t feel too hilly, doesn’t have big climbs, but is never flat and you definitely feel it in your legs afterwards! I now only needed to get 3rd place or better and I would have my 2nd Category licence. No pressure then. Long story short I didn’t! It came down to a bunch kick, I was (as I thought) perfectly placed. Rider in front of me went with about 500m to go. I hesitated. My reasoning: ‘if I follow him the chances are it will be a big effort to stay on his wheel, we’ll probably be brought back and then I’ll have nothing left’ so I let him go. Unfortunately that left me on the front of the group, reasoning #2: ‘if I ease up to try and get on someone’s wheel, I might just get swamped’ so I stayed where I was. So I basically ended up doing the last 300m on the front...and being overhauled with about 20m to go by a couple of guys. Fair play! I shouted a rather rude word when we crossed the line as I really thought I’d done it, but alas. Lessons learned once again.
C'est moi, on the right. About to shout f**********CKKK ;)

So I did a few more Crits in an attempt to find the 3 points I now needed, but with little success. I won’t go into details, but safe to say it wasn’t through lack of trying. Inattentive commisairing coupled with some rider’s inability to understand the rule that you are not allowed to jump on the back of a group that laps you did however deny me at least one or two points. Not that I’m still annoyed about that or anything. Moving on. To make up for it though, I got my 3rd Hill Climb victory, up Jubilee Tower! I’d won two club ones last year, but this was a bit bigger. Still club organised, but open to any club-although not a proper ‘open’ event. I’d also placed 4th in another ‘semi open’ Hill Climb behind winner Matt Pilkington a couple of weeks prior...
Before anyone says anything, I always wear a helmet...except when doing Hill Climbs :D

Stay tuned for Part 2...