What's the point?
I've been asked a few times 'why'? Why did I even do this? In truth, there's not much of a substantial answer to that. I simply wanted to see what is possible, right here, right now. We'll all get old. We'll all look back one day and think of what we were. I simply wanted to try and see. So that I could say, one day in the not too distant future (it's always not as far away as you think) that when I had it, I could use it. When I could do it, I tried it. Nothing too deep. I just wanted to try.
In terms of motivation, I really enjoy playing bikes. And I also love power meters. In my eyes a bike is simply a power meter with wheels on it (a somewhat sacrilegious statement perhaps?). I love the opportunities for expression that power meters provide. Some 'purists' (or whiny people, whatever) argue that power meters take the 'magic' or 'artistry' out of cycling and racing in particular. I say that is an absolute fallacy. Trust me when I tell you that even with my watt-meter I still race on feel and instinct and on passion. All a power meter means is I can see after the fact how I failed in more detail. Also, there is a myth that power meters take something away from cycling, which is absurd. One can, and I do, ride not looking at the numbers, but in terms of focused training one simply can't train as effectively without one. No matter how old school one is or how much they know by feel what is happening, power meters are a more efficient way of making training effective. In terms of this exercise, the power meter gave a quantifiable metric for the effort. Anyone can compare, apples to apples. Using the power meter opens a door into what I was hoping to, but failed, to achieve. It allows others to see in absolute and real terms, as well as to compare to their own individual context what this mere internet scribe in a land far away from their own set out to achieve. I hope the challenge in that sense was transparent and moreover, comprehensible.
Regarding the numbers, 300w for 100 miles. These are arbitrary. I could have chosen 310w for 75 miles, or 290w for 300 miles. Or more artistically, 299w for 99 miles. It doesn't matter. I simply selected numbers that would push me and those which I felt were ever so slightly out of reach. On the morning of the final effort I was giving myself maybe a 50% chance of success. Too easy and what's the point, too hard and there's no motivation. For others maybe 200w for 50 miles is the goal, or for the watt-monsters out there maybe 350w for 100 miles is the secret sauce. It's just a goal. No finish line, no podium. Just me, and a goal.
PS: f you have read this far (assuming you got through the preceding 3 posts containing my ramblings) first up, well done, and secondly, you might have a final question? These numbers might seem lacking context so I'll finish up with some. Measured just prior to the final effort, my weight was 150lb/68kg.
PPS: Will I do it again? I'm not sure, I think so. I think I can do it.
I didn’t make it to 100 miles with an average power of 300w. I completed 90 miles, in 3 hours 33 minutes with an average power of 300w. That was as good as it was going to get. It’s worth noting I suppose that when I stopped I had not hit the wall- continuing for another 10 miles was possible, but it wasn’t possible while maintaining a total average at or above 300w. Based on what I was feeling (which was pretty wretched) I would have guessed that I could have maybe got the final 10 miles in and at the end of it would have had a complete total number around 295w average. Of course, what’s the point in that- anyone can ride around for 100 miles with a power number that is less than 300w.
There are a few questions that come to mind and I think there are some things to explore to help answer them. Two major things come up: how is it that I was able to do 4 hours at 300w before, but on the day of the challenge I failed in less time? Why do I undergo a precipitous drop-off after about 3 hours? After those questions, the next big question is- can I fix the problems and complete the challenge?
I’ll start with the last question first- can I get better and achieve the goal? I think I can. I think it is possible and I think there are a few things to work on that might allow me to get there.
By looking at the first two questions there are a few things to explore which may open the door to success. How did I do 4 hours before but less on the day of the challenge? In short, I believe a huge element of this was in the course selection, which allowed different muscle recruitment. For the first, 4 hour effort, I wasn’t looking for a fast course. Any course would do, so with that in mind I hit up my local training roads which include a lot of climbing and pedal-able descents. As a result, I was able to alternate muscle groups frequently and of the total ride time about half was out of the saddle (see below- data obtained as a metric from the Garmin Vector power meter used for both exercises). Spending as much time out of the saddle as possible allowed me to recruit a significantly different set of muscles, thereby allowing me to spread the fatigue across more systems, thereby delaying failure. Compare that to the second effort focused on speed/distance. Only 30 minutes were out of the saddle (more in keeping with a flat route with no climbs and an effort to stay compact and fast). Moreover, 3 hours (50% more than the first effort) were in the saddle- ploughing along in the drops for the most part. In short, it seems that a large component of the failure before 4 hours was the focused work falling on one muscle system. It seems that failure came at the muscular level with both thighs cramping and leading to the end (end of 300w output anyway). It seems that the engine could cope (as evidenced by the longer effort which had been achieved previously) but the effector muscles were taken to failure before that. This is of course a hypothesis but seems like something that can be explored for improvement. If I want to do 4 hours on a flat course, I suppose ideally training on a flat course would be required. If I need to use a single muscle system- train that single system. Or alternatively, perhaps a non-flat course might work- could I find a course that allows me to do more climbing out of the saddle and therefore allow me to shift to a standing position, but not so much that my average speed is significantly below 25mph (on the day of the second activity my average speed was 25.4mph)? This concept opens of a lot of doors regarding training a preparation and gives plenty of food for thought as to how to get close to my goal the next time.
The second element of both efforts warranting further analysis is the power drop-off after 3 hours. For both long efforts I averaged almost identical power in the first 3 hours (306w for the first, 305w for the second effort). For the last 55 minutes of the longer first effort my average power was 281w, for the last 33 minutes of the second effort my average power was 274w, an 8% and 10% drop respectively, relative to the first 3 hours. That’s a big, consistent drop-off. I say drop off as the power average for the first 3 hours was very flat (by design) in both efforts but at about 3 hours it really started to get difficult to keep the power up. As stated above, I hypothesize the longer time at work and marginally lower drop-off in the first effort is likely associated with the muscle groups doing the work being different in the two exercises. In addition to simply looking at postponing the time at which power begins to fall, perhaps I could explore averaging less in the first 3 hours. Five or 6 watts doesn't sound like much but it's 2% too high for 3 hours. Any good time-trialist knows that the key to success is being spot on your target, not above or below. Could I have managed to average 301w for that time instead, perhaps allowing me to postpone failure for an additional 10 minutes or more? The answer is that I don't know, but it's something that warrants looking into.
Finally, it's worth bearing in mind the conditions and equipment I used. The day was not perfect (cold with rain to be precise). For any given power speed will be increased with higher temperatures. The average ride temperature on the day of the distance effort was 47 degrees Fahrenheit. A higher temperature would undoubtedly have allowed more speed, but as a trade off, sweating and fluid loss as a result needs to be factored in. Nonetheless, 10-15 degrees increased temperature would probably have been a net gain. Of more significance is the equipment used. I was bundled up in weatherproof gear- not much consideration of aerodynamics. On a warmer and dryer day, an aero jersey or skin suit would have provided free speed. As the day was forecast for rain I took the decision to use my standard road bike with training wheels (tubeless for puncture protection- which didn't help but did at least allow a very quick repair). Using my competition racing bike, with faster tires, more aerodynamic wheels and components would have been free speed. I don't however regret my equipment decision. I was pretty cold as it was (gear changes got hard with numb hands at some points)- wearing less was not an option. If I got a puncture even with tubeless, how many may I have got with silky fast and supple, but thin, racing tyres? Who knows, but as things stand, conditions being equal, I would have made the same choices. As for a TT bike- no chance for 4 hours! My current TT bike position is arranged for up to maybe 60 minutes and the time and effort to adapt it for a more Iron Man-esque effort was not available in the few months up to the attempt- fitness and power were a priority. In future, it would be a definite option with a longer build-up.
I came up a little short on the day. But I'm relatively content with the work and progress I made in 3 months. I took two weeks off the bike completely and went on holiday at the end of the Summer. My first day back on the bike was 9th September 2019, with the effort on 22nd December. I got quite far (90 miles to be exact) but not quite far enough. Next time, I think I can do it. I think I can get to 100.
Click [here] for the next blog in this series.
300w, 100 miles-
Want to see the Strava record of this event?
Nothing is ever perfect in life. You have to go when you have to go. Travelling over Christmas meant that from 23rd December 2019 I was taking a week-long break from the bike. I was incredibly lucky with the attempt I had planned as an adventurer friend of mine, Theo, had with the most graciousness offered to be follow-car. He had set dates available. With my traveling plans also factored in the date was pretty much pinned on 22nd December. My training plan had originally had the week of 16th to 22nd of December as the one containing D-Day and the actual date fell right at the end of that. It was scheduled to be cold with wind and rain. Not ideal, but couldn't be avoided. It was what we had and it was what we went with.
Theo is an established endurance event crazy man having completed multiple of his own challenges (several Everesting attempts, some successful, some not, even an hour record attempt at a local velodrome, naming just a few bike-related ones). This made him a perfect corner man for this bout. He apparently had a somewhat sadistic side in wanting to participate on my behalf and was very generous in offering to help me. He offered to ride as Directeur Sportif in a follow car. For the entire 100 miles- which is absolutely incredible. It was a massive help and genuinely offered me a shot at success. First up I could count on support in case of a mishap. Second, Theo and I had planned a pan-flat route for the effort in the hope of being able to go as fast as possible. We needed a good return on speed for 300w. We enlisted Theo's brother Émile who used to live in California's Central Valley to contribute to designing the route. For those who do not know, the Central Valley is flat. Very flat. One other thing about the Valley is that there is a prevailing wind in most instances meaning that a point-to-point route is ideal (not out-and-back) which would have been a nightmare to achieve without a follow car to take you to the start and take you home after. The additional benefit of a follow car was having help at intersections and stop signs. The follow car was able to move ahead at the few isolated intersections we would hit and clear them in advance, or at least let me know what was happening (we were connected by race radio for the entire effort through which Theo could pass on instructions and inspiration). Not slowing for intersections was a huge benefit- every second coasting at 0 watts would require 2 seconds at 600 to compensate. Route set, date set, help and support enlisted. It was go-time.
Less than 24-hours before the ride start we decided to flip the route- the start became the finish and vice versa. This was in response to a storm moving through California which had reversed the usual northerly wind in the valley, as well as bringing rain and cold temperatures. To go as fast as possible I really needed the wind to help, or at the very least not be in my face. Nature had made the call. We got up before dawn and loaded up the required equipment for a departure at 5am. Travelling to the start would require a 3 hour drive.
We strained our eyes as we sped down Interstate 99. This was the major north-south highway we were taking to the start. Scanning the horizon as we passed buildings and farmhouses we were in search of flags. Flags blowing in our intended direction of travel to confirm our course amendment. The interwebs had fortunately been correct and as we barreled southward along the I99 we saw each flag blowing back into our car's face. Despite the inevitable rain which was forecast and the cold temperatures, at least there was going to be a tailwind. It made all the difference. Heading to the start line it seemed possible that this might just work. I had done 4 hours at 300w before. If I could get my average speed up to around 25mph for that power with a little help from a favourable course and climate, it could be possible. For sure I wouldn't need to do more than I had previously. I was at least in known territory, so I thought.
The start was a discrete location on a road in California. No significant markings. Some gravel on the side of a long, flat, straight country road. This was it. My arena presented itself. The overcast sky, predictive of the rain and chill that would be encountered in an hour or so topped a sideless colosseum. The spectators were absent at the start, but comprised of intermittent farmers going about their business, or occasionally a dog, as the day wore on, neither of which paid mind, neither of which seemed to notice my intrusion into their habitat which formed my 100 mile velodrome.
Pockets limited to food and gels, bottles loaded, power meter on, zero offset established. It was time to start. I was off. I'm not one for warmups, especially for an effort at 300w, so it was simply ready-steady-go! I knew what to expect. The fist 30 minutes are a little uncomfortable as your body searches for rhythm. The next 90 minutes are comfortable- you are setting a pace and have found a good cadence. At 2 hours there is comfort in your progress. At 2 hours 30 the strain starts to toll. Dripping inexorably first through your mind, then down your body into your legs, doubt comes. At 3 hours the magnitude of the effort is completely apparent. It hurts. Then it is nothing but a war for what time remains- up to an hour if calculations were right. My experience with these efforts was a great help and with my mentality already planned (based on what I knew to expect) there were few surprises as I kicked off and within minutes started thinking about how I felt off and how I was always in a gear too high or a gear too low. This was the opening act and I knew I would feel 'off'. I took comfort in experience and continued. As I knew, after 30 minutes or so the rhythm became comfortable. I tried to not stare at the watt measurements on my screen. In the comfortable stages after the opening 30 minutes this was a constant source of belief. I'd just pedal at what felt comfortable then after a few minutes look to assess my numbers. During this period the effort seemed to come with ease. Numbers in the 310s and 320s felt easy. I'd tell myself to ease off. After easing off the numbers would tell me that my effort felt low but my numbers were on. I had reached the comfort zone.
The roads were long and straight. A rare overpass but no significant features. I pedaled on.
Theo would pop up in my ear informing me of how long we were riding each stretch of road. How long until our next left or right turn. At one turn towards the West an endless arrow-straight road stretched out before me, reaching the horizon. The horizon was met by a thick, grey bank of sky. Our storm was awaiting our arrival. All things considered, I was pretty lucky. I had started in the dry and didn't get wet until about an hour in. It's always mentally much easier to start a ride in dry rather than wet weather and for that I was grateful.
I'd noticed a pleasing slightly over-geared cadence that I had adopted in previous efforts like this. About 80 RPM in the drops. To little surprise this was my go-to on lots of the course. Where no significant hindrance (like climbs) are encountered a strong pedal stroke felt good and enabled good power output. As I hit the 25 mile mark (I had distance on my computer, not time- I was scheduled to have a gel every 12 miles so was using that metric) I had an average of 308w accumulated. I felt good, had eaten on schedule, my stomach and legs felt good. I was moving.
The rain came and I got wet. My cadence remained and my progress continued. I tried to play a mental game. Would the rain water reduce rolling resistance between the tyre and road? Was I getting faster? Would my drivetrain have less friction? Was I getting more speed for my watts? I'd turn, sometimes left, sometimes right. Sometimes my tailwind would disappear and start hitting me from the side. Sometimes it would come back again. I knew not to focus or worry on the minutiae of the route. It had been calculated. The route was planned for speed, the fewest intersections, a helpful wind and a flat route. I took solace in the preparation. I was content.
Disaster struck- a flat. It's OK, I thought; stay focused. I was about 90 minutes in and pulled over. Theo pulled up immediately. My initial thought was 'dammit' but then I realised that yes, I had been disturbed from the slumber that was my rhythm but it wasn't a disaster. It could be overcome. We quickly identified the puncture, plugged the tubeless tyre and pumped it back up to pressure. The plug and sealant held. I tried to take the positives and took the opportunity to swap bottles to full ones and drop off empty gel wrappers. This meant that a moving bottle handoff and the inevitable reduction in power associated with such a maneuver could be avoided later on. At least there was that. Back on the road in just a few minutes and back up to power. I was able to get back into the required rhythm with ease so no significant loss.
The 50 mile mark was reached with a 307w average power. I was half way by distance. The power was good and the effort achievable. The rain desisted leaving a damp and cold day into which my battle continued. The miles expired but things became different around the point when the 60 mile mark passed. In the preceding first two hours my gaze would slip from the computer screen to the vast expanse in front of me and after what seemed a short period, my glancing at the screen would reveal that another 2 miles had passed. Now, the same exercise, the same perceived time frame and the same re-inspection of the computer would reveal that only 0.6 miles had been covered during the intermission. I had reached the stage after that of comfort, the first flickers of fatigue began to burn within. Smoldering embers providing only a small amount of heat, but make no mistake, the fire would grow and expand, the fire would get larger, would consume and would envelop all. I was into the back half of the journey and the expected resistance was starting to form against me. The battle was well and truly on.
The 75 mile mark passed with an average of 304w on the screen. I was unaware of the time (actually 3:06) but knew I was getting tired. Probably a bit more fatigued than I had hoped. Turn the cranks, keep it going. I was looking at the numbers and new I had a bit of wiggle room. If I could keep the numbers in the 290s then the average for 100 miles would be right on 300w. As I continued under an albeit great but thankfully damp but not deluging sky, my speed was picking up as we had hit the final leg without turns. My power however, was falling. I tried to pedal at higher cadence, looking for comfort, but the number remained persistently below my target. I tried a higher gear but the effort which had come so easily before was absent. Again, the numbers were persistently low. Wherever I could see a slight climb, perhaps out of the saddle would help. This did offer some respite from the declining power output but no consistency was to be found here as the course, by design, was flat and any slight rise was for no more than a few seconds. The emptiness within began to manifest. I wasn't bonking, but just failing to get the power. My ability to keep the numbers high was slowly ebbing away.
At about 85 miles, only 15 miles from the finish, my average power for the entire effort was at 301w. It was still on, but things were only going one way. I tried as many mental games as I could to keep focused knowing that in any sense 15 miles is a minuscule distance, but at that time it felt like so, so far. Then a problem. Cramp struck my left thigh. Despite the momentary relaxation required, and associated drop in power for that period, I would have to forge on with a very tender left leg effort, trying in desperation to not prompt a worsening of the ailment. This in itself wasn't catastrophic. I knew cramp would feature at some point. I was hoping to hit the 90 mile mark before that but in any case, this was not unexpected. I set about keeping focused and trying to push more work onto my other leg where I could. A few miles later a slight rise appeared in front of me. A good opportunity to get out of the saddle and switch things up. As I rose onto the pedals and began to exert force I could feel the constant 'on-edge' tightness in my left quad. As I sought not to agonise this further, I forced extra exertion onto my other leg. Immediately, the cramp which had thus far been limited to my left leg suddenly, and painfully, made itself known in my right quad. Boom, both legs cramping. Both legs tight and both legs arguing against me and my mission. I sat back in the saddle and retreated to a higher cadence and lower power, gingerly pedalling in an effort to appease my protesting quadriceps. I passed the crest of the small hill, and tried to regain speed and power. I persisted, although at that point, with the toll of my exertions weighing ever more heavily, I knew that another 15 miles was tough. I continued. I went on trying to keep my legs appeased whilst maintaining the required power. Efforts at 260-280w seemed comfortable, but each foray into a higher zone risked inciting a revolt in my legs. Eighty-seven miles, 88 miles, 89 miles... Each mile took an eternity, each mile was uncomfortable from a fatigue angle, as well as a cramping muscle perspective. My total average power had dropped- 300w exactly over the entire effort. For me to maintain a 300w average overall I had to do the last part of the work at no less than 300w. I had nowhere to retreat. I continued desperately trying to keep the first digit displayed on my computer a '3'. It was hard. My legs on the verge of constant uprising at every significant effort. The mile marker hit 90. My total average power was still at 300w. I knew that I had hit the day's limit of what I could do at my target output. I was done. It was over. I had fallen at the 90th mile. Theo pulled over, he helped peel my cramped body off of my machine (ingeniously suggesting that I more or less keep still and raise my foot slightly as he tilted the bile almost horizontal on the floor and took it from under me). I had not hit my goal.
In total, I'd done 90 miles with an average power of 300w. I had been on the road 3:33 and had a left:right power split of 50:50% (explains why both legs cramped in exactly the same location at more or less the same time). My average speed on this day had been 25.4mph/41kmph. In the last 33 minutes of the effort I had averaged 274w, for the preceding 3 hours I had average 304w- a precipitous drop-off.
Click [here] for the next blog in this series.
Want to see the Strava record of this event?
I have always wanted to see if I could ride a bike for 100 miles whilst averaging 300w. I don't know why but it has been a bit of an ambition. So I decided, seeing as I am not a professional and have no 'off season', that in the Autumn and early Winter of 2019 that I'd go for it. Set it as a goal and see if I could. This is the story of that attempt.
Since moving to California and realising that road races here are often long, long rides have been a factor in my regular workouts. I've never got close to 100 miles averaging 300w solo so there'd need to be a bit of a workup. I went traveling for two weeks at the end of Summer and then got back at it mid September, spending a month just riding with not too much focus or distance. I then began focusing efforts on the total time/distance but absent the high power. I did several 100 mile rides where the first half was tail-gunning a group ride or solo at a low intensity, for example 250w, before going for a 50 mile, 300w effort. These had gone pretty well and had given me some confidence moving forward. I could cover the distance well. I could do the power well for parts of the distance. The phase of piecing together the time and distance and power into a single unit then began.
I had put some work into looking at my equipment- should I used my TT bike? I had practised workouts on my TT rig but it quickly became apparent that I wouldn't have time to adapt to that machine prior to the scheduled event date. I planned the final effort for just before Christmas, so after about 3 months of preparation. At that time I was going abroad for a holiday so there was a hard stop in the 3rd week of December. The time prior to that required focused work on power and endurance. It seemed that the time required to not only adapt myself for a 4-hour TT bike ride, but also to adapt my set-up for longer distance work (not high-power, sub-60 minute TT efforts) would be absent. I made a pretty early decision to use a road bike- time was pressing.
The next step would be to see if I could get 4 hours at 300w, ignoring distance. Obviously conditions and course selection will drastically effect total distance (climbing is slow) so the goal here was time not distance. I had calculated that I'd maybe need 4 hours to do 100 miles on a favourable (read: flat) course, so hitting that time, irrespective of distance was my first goal. If I could do 4 hours, presumably I could then get a more ideal course where I work for the same time, but get close the the required distance. My local training roads offer a few options for courses with climbs which are followed by descents which allow pedaling to maintain power. I would have to do a few out-back-out-backs to get the total time but it didn't matter. I had a goal and had a good route and so I gave it a go.
A big test was nutrition. What would I eat and drink? My first plan had me consuming a gel every 10 miles (so 9 gels) and two bars at some point in that time. I also took three bottles of energy drink to drink in that time and I was adamant that I would be diligent about eating and drinking. This after all was largely an exercise in nutrition as well as endurance. So, on a day lacking any real significance, I gave it a go- 4 hours at 300w. In summary, this effort ended in disaster. The route was good and the effort was good but the nutrition was way off. I diligently shoved down a gel every 10 miles and drunk as much sugary drink as I could. By 60 miles disaster struck. At this time I had eaten 5 gels and a bar as well as consumed a litre of sugar drink. My stomach was not amused. I felt full, bloated and developed a debilitating stitch. It seemed like I was struggling to breathe and I was unable to pedal with intensity. After 3 hours I called it. I'd averaged 300w, but the nutrition was too much. OK- back to planning.
A new plan. Seeing as the intake was too much, I'd scale the gels down to every 12 miles and instead of taking sugar solution to drink, use pure water. I reasoned that I would acquire enough electrolytes and fuel from the gels so the water would only be needed for hydration purposes and to enable efficient absorption. I'd also try a solid bar or two in there to have something more substantial at a couple of points.
Take two. On another autumnal day of insignificance, I tried again. Four hours, 300w. The effort went well. I settled into my rhythm, the early miles at a higher power forcing me to tell myself to focus and hold back. The miles ticked up and I hit my first gel. The distance accrued and more gel marks came and went. Twenty four miles, second gel. Thirty-six miles, the third, 48 miles, the fourth. As the 50 mile point came and went I began to feel nervous. This is where I had began to understand my excessive consumption in the first effort, had I made the same mistake? Mile 60 came, where I had come a cropper the previous attempt but unlike before, where discomfort had manifested, I felt good. The lower intake, longer digestion time between gels and water instead of electrolyte drink seemed to have been right. I continued. I hit the 3 hours mark knowing that my nutrition was far improved and my energy levels felt good. Onto the last hour.
As the 3 hour mark hit I had a total average power of 306w. Just one hour to go. I knew I had some power in the bank due to my 2% excess for the first 3 hours so even in the case of the inevitable power drop-off that would come, I could still hit the target. I kept going, feeling not too bad. My power was not as effortless as the first two hours but it was still decent. I kept going and let the fatigue become part of the effort. I knew it would get uncomfortable and here I was, my prediction being realised. The final 30 minutes of the effort were climbing. I approached the climb and tried to mix up the work- in the saddle, out of the saddle, high and low cadence. I hustled up the climb. My power average was dropping but still was good. I was almost done.
I approached the final 15 minutes of work and 'Ping!'- my left hamstring cramped. This could and did happen, no big deal. That's why you have two hamstrings, right? I settled into a slightly lower power, looking to take up the slack with my other leg. I kept going, mindful to not overexert the ailing hamstring but also mindful to keep power. My average had fallen slightly- 301w for the entire effort, but I only had 10 minutes or so to go. I pushed on, trying to mix seated and standing postures. Things were slowly progressing, my target moving closer, I was almost there. One push out of the saddle and then, again, 'Ping!'- this time my left quadriceps cramped. Must admit, something new for me- never had both parts of a leg cramp! I was admittedly about 3 hours 50 minutes into a 300w effort, so perhaps that's where you have to go to learn new things?
I had to hustle. Almost there. Yes, my left leg had abandoned me but I had to keep going. Not long to go. My average power now at 3 hours 51 minutes was exactly 300w. I ket going, round a corner, up the final part of the climb. Cramp was permeating my work, staining the effort, but I was close. I kept climbing, came around a corner, struggling under the weight of exhaustion and muscle failure. One more turn, one slight ramp, one more bend in the road. 'Beep'- the lap button sound on my computer, pure bliss, pure relief. It was over. I had hit my goal*. I had on my screen an average of 300w.
My nutrition had been spot on. I didn't bonk but hit exhaustion at my goal time. I was content. My bike and clothing were not optimised for speed and neither was the course. I'd averaged 21mph/33.8kmph on a course which had included almost 5000ft of climbing. I knew I'd need to go faster on the day of the test, but I also knew that I could do the power. Satisfied and exhausted I trundled home, pretty pleased with the work. Things were progressing. Onwards to my goal- I was on the way.
*For the eagle-eyed who checked the Strava file you'll notice that I actually completed 3 hours 55 minutes for this effort. I cut it short because I had hit the top of the final climb on the route which meant that I'd struggle to keep power on the following steep decent, but mostly because of Strava's ludicrous power algorithm. My plan was to fall to 299w and sprint the last 30 seconds to get a 300w average on my computer screen for 4 hours. Perfect. However, Strava's algorithm is not the same as Garmin's, so in many instances a number on your computer, when uploaded to Strava is often a watt or two less. Having spoken to Strava about this they know about it- it is their method of data reduction which differs from Garmin's, the problem is that I, and all others, use our computers to measure intervals, not some post-hoc analysis we can't even see. With this in mind I was reticent to have an average power too close to the 299/300w boundary as the idea of my work on Strava reading "299w for 4 hours" was too much to bear. I'd rather it say "300w for 3 hours 55" and know that I wouldn't get Strava pick-pocketed after the fact. That's my explanation, and if explaining away one's inadequacies on the internet is not what the internet is for, then I don't know what its purpose is.
Click [here] for the next blog in this series.
Last week was the fun and hilly Winchester Circuit Race. Think an Ardennes classic mixed with a crit. The course had almost 3,000 feet of climbing in about 27 miles. Racing with two teammates I had the luxury of not hitting out from the start. Instead, my guys would help soften up the field in this short and intense event so that I could make a move about a third of the way through this relatively short escapade (the whole race was about 70 minutes).
About 20 minutes during which my teammates ensured that nothing got away, it was time for me to go. Three quarters of the way up the most significant climb in the race (a climb of about two and a half minutes which we'd ascend 6 times over 6 laps) I had a dig, the field somewhat less fresh after two laps of the relentless, climb-filled course, I got separation and was away.
Well, that wasn't quite the plan. The idea was to make a separation, to take a group with me. Oh well. In that situation you've got your three options. Sit up- which always seems like a bit of a shame, why waste that effort? Go solo- this one's actually my personal favourite. Really hard, but surely the true path of the hero. Alternatively, just hang out. I chose the the final option- to hang it out there and wait for company.
Hanging out is one of the best ways to get a break started, although it is the somewhat more nerve-racking method. The more common method of establishing a break is going all in with your group from the inception: you just go for it. No holding back. You can always tell when one of those breaks has legs as the first 30 minutes feel like absolute torture and you just want to quit. You feel many things in those scenarios, but definitely not nerves. Mostly just your spleen trying to get vomited out out through your nostrils. When you're hanging out, you actually do the opposite: use all your willpower to hang out there but not by going full gas. You want enough of a gap so that others are tempted to join you. Enough of a gap so that people behind will need to bridge as opposed to just surge over to you. Enough of a gap so that you are sometimes out of sight but not gone so far as to be out of mind. However, you need to be watching behind and be capable of blasting full on when the group gets too close. When any sort of break or move establishes, the first 5 minutes are the most precarious, this is the time when the field still has hope and the move is not far away. At this point there is jumping and surging in the main pack as people look to either get in on the action and close it down or to get across themselves. This is when most attempts at separation are snuffed out (which I guess is stating the obvious to some extent). It's in this time that the guy hanging out (or guys- often when the move is only one or two guys it is legitimate to wait for reinforcements) has to be acutely aware of behind, going hard to stay clear but not constantly hard to get too far away from would-be support.
So that was my mission. The course to some degree, being entirely up or down, helped my purpose. I went hard up the climbs, and did my best to tuck-and-roll on the descents. This should be enough to keep a distance but not to go all in, extend the lead and blow up. Off I went. I'll be honest, I was hoping for my solo ride to be a bit shorter than it was, but it turned out that my hoped-for support wouldn't make a visit until exactly a lap after I took flight, using the same climb to make the junction over that I had used to get away. My little escapade had taken 12min 05sec at a normalized power of 354 w. My average power for that 4.5 miles was only 311 w- it was either big effort uphill or minimal on the descents. I'd been paying attention behind me and when the group got a little too close, I put more in, always trying to maintain some sort of decent space. As the most significant climb of the lap approached I was somewhat apprehensive. I'd done 12 minutes solo at a good clip and there was a significant chance that as the backup reached me that it would surge right past me seeing as the climb was steep-as and there'd for sure be a push. I took a peep behind, saw people making a move over to me, eased up ever so slightly, as as the small group made the junction, went all-in, hoping to ascend the climb with a big push to make it to the top with the fast-moving backup. My first finish line was the top of that hill.
I made it. Actually it wasn't as bad as I'd have thought- I guess the move over to me on that climb was pretty hard on the chasers. And that was that, we were a group of 8, my support had arrived, and I'd successfully been hanging out. At a normalized power of 354 w, but hangin out nonetheless. The race went OK and after some more tactical play and some well timed attacks to drop some of my companions later in the race, I ended up on the podium. Didn't win (another story about getting blitzed at over 600w by a monster athlete on the final climb- savage), but not a bad way to hang out there and get a result.
I have watched countless professional races on TV, especially grand tour stages. Interestingly, despite racing myself and knowing the feelings and sufferings inherent in bike racing, when I’m watching the breakaway in those races I’m often left with the same question: why did you stop pedaling? I have this thought mostly on the hilly/mountain stages. It looks so easy from the sofa. They’re on the last climb, they've been in the break all day. They have earned a two minute lead. Just put it slightly below threshold and they’d stay away. They’d win the stage. Why do they not keep going? Why do they let the guys who have sprung from the peloton glide past them? This weekend I did a road race where I was that guy, in that position. Now I know.
As is my want, today was a day I wanted to be in the break. Having just this very moment at this keyboard invested some time contemplating that sentiment, it seems that is essentially my want on all the days. In all the races. This was a weird one however, as I had the intention of going as soon as possible, at the gun if it could be achieved. The oddness here wasn’t that I wanted to go as soon as, but that this race was 108.5 miles (or 174.6 km in new money) with about 8,500 ft of climbing. On really tough, rough roads. In short, this race was a beast. A monster. I’ve written a little about this race before so you can get a sense of the difficulty of the parcours. Fortunately, my team manager, the selfless Diamond-J, supplied me with a sponsor-provided, phenomenal bike for the event, one specific for the cobble-esque nature of the course, giving me the right equipment for the job at the very least.
I tried to get a bit of separation from the start. No dice. I’m not sure if those behind were ‘chasing’ or simply didn’t know to let the lunatic on a solo flyer just go. Either way, it wasn’t allowed. Two miles after the start the race’s major climb starts (~9 minutes at an average 5%, which was to be tackled 5 times in the race). About two thirds of the way up a group tried to go clear. I went after it which contributed to the highest 5 minute power I put out all race (377 w, 144 lb) and highest 1 minute numbers, too (459 w). Astoundingly, I wasn’t able to follow the move. Even fresh I couldn’t make the junction and get across: they were putting out some power which was a bit too much, apparently. Fortunately, it was of little consequence as the race came back together at the top of the climb. With the attempts to get away, climbing and trying to follow other attacks, my average power for the fist 20 minutes of the race was 325 w, which is a little on the high side seeing as I wasn’t always on the front!
After about 30 minutes of racing and 9 miles, a couple of riders got some space. Seeing as these guys were in the two teams with the largest squads, this seemed like a move with potential- so I went off after it. I was surprised to get some daylight but considering this now, I suppose it was given to me. Its better for the teams blocking to have a few more bodies in the move helping their guys than not, so I guess that played in my favour; after all, there’s still 99 miles left to race race. I’ve talked about bridging to moves before and the folly therein, but apparently I never learn. I got two-thirds of the way across and then started to suffer. Ah shit. My Garmin tells we that I averaged 378 w for those first 2 minutes of the bridge which only got me part way. The riders ahead had about 15 seconds when I started out and they probably still had 6 seconds on me after two minutes of chasing. Six seconds doesn’t sound like much but when you’re stuck in no-man’s land it is an absolute canyon. I took a quick peek over my shoulder and saw two welcome surprises. First, I had quite a lot of space on the pack. Second, two other bridging riders were following me. This was a heavenly sight, allowing me to ease up slightly to allow the junction and get support. After a short period the two chasers reached me and I tucked in at third wheel. Unfortunately, one of the riders in that duo was a teammate of one of those who I had gone after originally. This meant that he had no intention of putting anything into this bridge attempt, leaving it down to me and the other rider. In any case, after taking a nice breather on the back for a few moments, I came round our passenger at second wheel and began contributing again to the bridge with the other rider who would work. After another minute or two, we made the junction- making 5 out front, two from the same team. The day’s break had been established. We were 10 miles in to a 108 mile race.
I’ve had the fortune/misfortune to have been in a fair few breakaways in long road races before, but this was the most demanding that I had attempted, purely from a course perspective. As the break formed there were still over 90 miles of racing left with almost all of the climbing remaining. It was going to be a tough day at the office. I’ll summarise the finale here: at mile 70 of the race, I got pinged from the group on the fourth of five attempts up the course’s major climb. By the end of the race, only one of the original breakaway riders hung on (and he won- great performance!). Due to luck, fatigue, mechanicals the rest of us were jettisoned at some point. The day’s work was hard and a challenging ride in every sense. I wasn’t even doing as much work as the others in the move, knowing that I had to try at least, to be smart and conserve where I could. Prior to eventually losing contact with the break (at which point we were down to four riders, having lost one guy before) I’d had to fight to stay on the wheel on the prior two climbs, chasing and barely latching on on the previous climb. When we hit the longer, 10 minute ascent for the fourth time (with multiple other, smaller climbs added in for fun) I just didn’t have it. We’d been given many time checks on the road: 2:00 minutes at first, then 2:30, then 3:00, with the largest gap at about 5 minutes. The race to me getting flicked had taken me 3 hours 3 minutes at a normalised power of 289 w. It was hard but not horrendous, according to the numbers. But in any case, it was the point at which another hard climbing effort was out of the question.
I was shelled. I still had a few minutes on the chasing group once I became unhitched but it didn’t matter. I was cooked on both sides and ready to come out of the oven. After settling into a much more reserved pace, two riders who had sprung from the pack came by me after a few minutes. I entertained the idea of getting on and briefly surged into third wheel as they passed. Yeah…not happening. That lasted about 20 seconds before I relented. Did I say I was cooked? I managed to scramble up the climb and down the other side and put a few more miles in before easing up to let a small chase group from the field hoover me up. I jumped in the group and hitched a ride until the next climb, where I again became unglued as they attacked each other, racing for top-10 finishes. After that ascent, there were still 20 miles to race with a final ascent up the major climb included, which I covered at a modest but continuous pace, eventually crossing the line 14th place, about 20 minutes behind the winner.
I now know what it's like when I watch those valiant breakaway riders as they lurch up the day's final climb on that stage of the Tour. Their pedaling is ragged. Their shoulders slumped. Fatigue etched across their faces. Only a few miles from the end, the group is still a few minutes behind. No matter, that final 3 mile ascent they face may as well be a thousand miles. The end, and the win, is gone. Those relaxed legs who had been whooshing along in the pack all day, barely sniffing the wind, are fresher. Those legs are more spritely. They're move capable. Those legs can still pedal fast. For our breakaway rider, his legs have been leached dry. Their power withdrawn mile after mile, the toll that needs paying for those out front. In reality, those going hard in the finale of a race who catch and pass the remnants of the break are also fatigued, going at a measured pace. But to those men of the breakaway, that tempo is unattainable. The price for racing has been paid in the many, many miles before that point, and it is of a significant value. That's why those riders of the breakaway don't pedal harder. That's why those riders of the breakaway don't hang on.
The breakaway, down to four, somewhere between mile 40 and 60 of the race.
This weekend saw the 2018 Snelling Road Race take place here in Northern California. A race of 87 miles over some tough terrain. A fun event.
The race, as is the norm for a parcours without an excess of climbing, was very, very busy early on as breaks tried to get established. As is my want, I thought I’d wet my beak and get amongst the action, so I had tried to instigate or follow a moves to no avail. Approximately 15 miles into the race a solo rider had been given a little space and was off the front, maybe 15-20 seconds. As always, I thought that it seemed appropriate to have a little dig.
Now, instantly one should realise the folly of this. This isn’t my first affair with that temptress which is the Solo Bridge, and as mentioned before, they should re-adjust that title of this endeavour from "bridge" to "full-gas sprint until you blow. Let’s hope you get there before you blow."
Off I go. First thing is to get separation from the pack, which is never easy especially early in the race. To attempt this I duly put about about 1000 w in a sprint to get a gap. Then, of course, one needs to press the advantage and get up to the rider ahead. To do this I then got into a rhythm of between 350-370 w. I’m hesitant to use the term ‘settle’ as that implies some sort of comfort, which I can assure you was absent. It’s at this point, after the sprint, about a minute into the work, that the situation’s obvious farcical nature becomes apparent. During the solo bridge you see your target, you blast from the pack, you get seated and into a rhythm and in that first minute you make good progress; you get two thirds of the way across in only about 60 seconds. Then, it dawns on you. You’re close to blowing your load and that progress you were making to your target falters. The gap stops going down. Oh dear...
Here’s the tease of the solo bridge. Getting into no-man’s land and then struggling like hell to get that last part across. The last part is always so difficult. An almost unattainable treasure. I’ll clarify here, it’s not actually getting across which is the unattainable treasure, although very difficult, it’s often attainable, often finished with a full-on sprint, out of the saddle to cover those last 30 m or so. It’s the getting across, then having any juice left to help out in the move. Of course, in this instance the solo rider had been out front too, forging ahead solo. He would need rest and recovery also. Could I provide that opportunity to him?
I was two thirds across and knew that I had to make that junction. All this had not escaped the attention of the solo rider I was moving towards. He had hoped to get some company so had been checking behind. He knew that I was moving across and was keen to see me get there. Here’s the funny part. A few minutes into my effort, after he’d been periodically checking on my progress, I am pretty sure he had eased off to let me make the junction. Even with this help I wasn’t closing very fast. After another few hundred meters he looked behind, one hand off the bars looking at me with this kind of shrug and a look which I could see, even through my lactate-blurred vision, conveying a clear an apparent sentiment of "What are you doing? Why are you prancing around in the gap between me and the pack. Get up here silly." At that particular moment I looked at my computer, perhaps convinced that maybe he was right, was I not trying? Nope, I was. Power meter said that I was doing 370 w at that moment, not bad for my 148 lb frame.
I did make it across. The whole bridge attempt took 3:09- about 2 minutes too long! The average was 357 w. The power numbers aren’t absurd, but should be put into context. I’d been active before in trying to get out front. Also, the dash across the gap involves a supra-threshold effort after an almost maximum, full-on sprint, which is a challenge. Once I had made it over, I took a few moments and then took a rather meek turn on the front.
In case you are wondering, after only a couple more minutes out front, we were caught by a chasing peloton. I didn’t have enough to drive open the gap. I was pretty cooked and needed some recuperation. The solo bridge- what’s the point? Even if you make it if you are in no position to start hammering instantly the chances of your move getting daylight are slim. Might not be the most sense to try. But it does look cool at least.
I put the power profile of the attempt below. You can clearly see the initial sprint and the two obvious drops in power were turns in the course where I (thankfully) had to stop pedaling to avoid pedal strike. The final sprint to close the gap after the last turn is visible too.
The 2017 racing season...
I’d made the trip to the 2017 Green Mountain Stage Race in Vermont with every intention to race. To race really hard. The first stage was a TT where I had finished 17/59, placing me 36 seconds off of first place. That was great: I’d turned up at a light race weight and the windy day meant that for a less big rider conditions were not ideal. All in all, a good day out.
Stage 2 was a 108 mile road race over rolling terrain. I had every intention of making things happen. After three miles I got up the road with a group of two others. After two small bridge groups made it up to us at miles 40 and 50 of the race, our group stuck it and held on to the line. Out of our group of nine I only managed 7th place, but had secured enough points to take the Sprint Jersey out on the road, as well as to be just a couple of points off of the KOM jersey too (second place at the end of that stage). A fair few mid-race sprints to be in both competitions, especially for being in the break from the go, meant that I didn’t have too much left for the finale.
I raced the 2017 Dunnigan Hills Road Race. I did not win. However, I did end up on the podium, and I'm quite proud of that. I'll tell you why.
When you train or imagine racing in the depths of Winter, your mind wanders to your hoped glories come the warmer months. The attacks you'll make. The solo moves off the front... In reality, racing aggressively is one of the hardest facets of road racing to master. It's easy to imagine going all in, harder to do 80 miles into a race when you are already spent.
Ninety miles with over 8,000 ft of elevation gain makes the Patterson Pass Road Race a real toughie. It also is really windy. Astoundingly, the race features strong headwinds as you ascend up grades exceeding 10%. This race is a bit of a pig.
This race is known for being very mean so it attracts strong riders. It's not the biggest race on the calendar but for sure it garners massive kudos. A good result at Patterson demands nods of acknowledgment and respect from all those in NorCal racing circles. That's my way of saying that the field has strong people in it.
The Ladoga Road Race is deceptively hard. Only 84 miles and with only ~3,000 ft of climbing, on paper the race doesn't come across as too much of a beast. One major factor that makes this race such challenge is the Californian mid-summer heat. I say this as I try to explain my performance in the race. With my team's support I managed second place, but it's more how that second place came about that sticks in the mind. In total, ~70 miles off the front, with the last 35 being faced with just me and one other breakaway rider but instead of the win, the second step on the podium was the best I could muster.
Descending is an inextricable part of bicycle racing. In NorCal the menu of road races offers a variety of events- some flat, some windy, and many with lots of climbing. As a result, for those who like to flex their climbing muscles, the necessity to be able to descend exists.
Am I crying? Wait a second, are those tears because of the wind, or because I am crying? I'm wearing glasses, so maybe not the wind. Fuuuuuck my hands hurt. This descent is obscene. Why the fuck did they make use come down this. Five times! Yep- I'm crying.
My thoughts descending the final hill at the Copperopolis Road Race.
The Bariani Road Race saw me galavanting around all compartments of the peloton on a 70 mile course across rolling, wind-swept terrain. The race started as per: lots of surging as a break was trying to establish. After about 17 miles I found myself having finally forced my way to the front (no mean feat with incredibly narrow roads, a strictly enforced ‘centre line rule’ and ~50 guys not really wanting to let anyone move up free of charge). So, what do you do- chuck in a move, right? Things had been going but nothing was given any freedom. I jumped on something but it didn’t really form. Immediately after, I jumped away again. Oddly, this was given a little freedom. I think as it was just me and one other guy. It didn’t seem like the field was too worried. We got a time check “THIRTY SECONDS ON THE PACK” bellowed the moto referee. At this point my companion complained that this was going nowhere. Obviously, he was right. It wasn’t that we had got away, more like we’d been let away. Irrespective, this didn’t diminish my enthusiasm, the idea is that you let it sit out there until others join.
The Hensley Lake Road Race this weekend was an excellent event. An honest course which could have favoured a group finish, break or solo winner.
In the break. Attack the break because of its unfavourable composition. Get away two-up for 25 miles before getting caught by a chase group of 3. Attempted a solo move with 8 to go before getting caught 2 miles from the line on the final climb and succumbing to fifth place. I raced for the win, but came up short.
That was a painful fall. I need to take a minute to get myself together. I’d already had an unlucky fall in this mountain bike race 5 miles earlier. Racing on a descent my front wheel went from under me on a slight off camber region on what must have been a dusty top layer, common to the trail during the California Summer. That had been a bad crash, so much so that I had cracked my helmet. This second fall, although much slower, was in a rock garden and I landed flush on one of the mineral protrusions jutting up from of the ground like a tooth. I got out of the way of the other racers, painfully dragged myself and bike out of the race course, took a drink and had a gel. After letting the pain subside for a few minutes, it was time to get back on the horse. I tried to swing my leg over the top tube and was met be a searing pain. This was a real problem.
The mechanism by which USAC upgrades function, or more the way the riders interpret this functionality, is one of the worst things in amateur cycling in the US. How many times have you heard the question “How many upgrade points do you have”? How often have you heard someone opine that “I only need a few more points to upgrade”? It think that it might be possible to say that USAC upgrades are designed for a purpose yet wholly misinterpreted by amateur racers. What’s worse, this misinterpretation of cycling upgrades makes amateur cycling in the USA worse.
Some races you enter and you feel crappy on the start line. You know you are going to have a bad day. Some races you enter and within a few minutes you can tell you are on a good day- it feels effortless, your pedaling is light and fluid, the initial surges and accelerations at the start of the race are easily assimilated into your rhythm as if they were nothing. At the 2016 Pescadero Road Race I felt neither of these sensations. Just felt average. Not bad, not good. Just fine.
The course comprised of three 27 mile loops, each loop with 3 climbs, the final major climb being 1.5 miles in length with an average 7% gradient. The finish line was at the top of this climb. I recall feeling that when we climbed the major ascent (Haskins Hill) on the first lap that I didn’t think that we went very fast. It was work but nothing hard. I crested the climb second wheel and looked back and thought the field was struggling. Odd, I mused, as I could have sworn that we hadn’t gone full gas (after the race, according to Strava, I learned that in fact we had climbed the 1.5 miles in 7 minutes flat and I averaged 362 w. So, I guess we did go fast.).
Mile 71: I was in the perfect position for the sprint. I’d wanted to be third wheel in our group, which in total consisted of three. I was. Unfortunately my inexperience showed. I wanted to go at 200 m, which is when the leader of our trio decided to hit out. We ended up crossing the line in the positions that we were when the sprint started. Neither myself, third wheel, or the guy in second, came around. I ended third. The mistake I made was coming out of the slipstream way too early. I probably came out into the wind after about 50 m (i.e. with 150 m to go). That was wrong. I should have sat there and sat there and only nosed out in the final 50 m. I showed no patience. Next time. it wasn’t an abysmal sprint at least. Over 1000 w, which wasn’t bad as I had spent the preceding ~35 miles or so for the majority in one move or another off of the front, or at least trying to make a move happen.
Let’s go back…
A midday start meant that there was a little heat for this race, with my Garmin later telling me that the average temperature for the 52.8 miles of racing was 93.4 ℉. It was pretty useful that there were seven laps of the course which meant that we would pass the feed zone which had neutral water seven times. I think I hit a new record and drank 6 bottles in this race.
The closed roads in operation for the entire race were a nice touch meaning that moving around the field was somewhat straight forward. The first 20 miles saw lots of attacks. Nothing was getting much space. I’ve said it before and will say it again- I have no idea why amateur racers chase a lone rider who has a gap of 20 seconds, who still has 40 miles until the finish, in temperatures over 90. Have at it champ- knock yourself out!
The weather for this one was horrendous, a downpour beginning 12 hours prior to start-time continuing throughout the entire event. Sooner or later road racing in the rain is going to happen and as I had already enjoyed the moist conditions of El Niño racing mountain bike at the first CCCX race of the year and had had the unfortunate/fortunate (depending on how you look at it) opportunity to do a lot of training this Winter in rainy conditions, a road race in similar conditions seemed somewhat inevitable. Disappointingly, about a quarter of the pre-registered riders made a game-day decision to not attend due to the monsoon-like conditions- poor form California, poor form…
The course was not overly challenging- very little climbing and no technical sections, basically flat. Pleasingly, for ~75% of the course we had access to the full width of the road. A real positive for any event and in my opinion an excellent enhancement to the race. Due to the placid nature of the course there was not too much to describe in terms of racing dynamics. For the entirety of the race, riders in ones and twos would attack, dangle for a period, then get brought back. The field was having none of it.
At the start of the ~63 mile race a small group goes away looking for the break. I had little intention of being off the front from the absolute beginning so was not overly concerned. The only negative associated with this group of three that forged ahead was that one racer was from the most represented (3 riders total) team, meaning that for sure these guys would contribute nothing to any sort of chase required in the latter part of the race.
Mid way the break had approximately 2 minutes on the field. At this point I started to pay a lot more attention to what was transpiring. The last quarter of the race had two significant climbs. It would be touch and go as to whether the field would be able to bring back the escapees if we hadn’t done so by mile 50, which was the beginning of the first climb. It didn’t feel quite right- the strongest riders in the main field were rotating on the front, keeping the time gap from extending. I had a good sense for who the stronger and weaker racers were due to knowing some of the field and simply observation on the day. This would have been ideal if the gap was gradually coming down, but it wasn’t. If the gap had be falling, with the strongest riders in the field becoming fatigued by their chasing efforts, coupled with the strongest riders out front tiring from their all-day exertions, this plays perfectly into the hands of those not contributing in the main field. However, as mentioned, the gap was holding, not falling.
In stark contrast to the preceding week , the climate for the second race of the CCCX mountain bike XC series was marvelous; dry, warm and without wind. Oddly, maybe it was almost as tough from a bike handling perspective though? Whereas the week before the course was a swamp-like snorkeling exercise, at least the tyres tracked predictably for the most part in the sticky mud (except the really deep muddy sections). This week, the course’s sandy nature was exposed which provided a lot of loose corners in which one’s front wheel might go walkabouts. I managed to arrive early enough for a recon lap, during which I quickly preceded to slide out in that very fashion on the first corner. A valuable exercise though as it meant that I quickly grasped the challenges of this week’s course (it was drastically different to the previous week in terms of both conditions and route) and from my pre-race research was able to learn enough to avoid a tumble during prime time in the race itself. I’m really beginning to appreciate the benefit of practice laps for XC races. Having said that, I also think the pre-riding a road race course, however long, is valuable if plausible.
The 2015/16 Winter in NorCal has been moist. Very wet. Racing and training has had to happen in rain and sometimes, in a lot of it. The morning of January 31, 2016 just outside Monterey, California was on theme. Heavy rain that had started hours before.
Resultantly, the cross-country course used for the first mountain bike race of this series at Fort Ord was a bit of a bog. In all honesty, not that much of a big deal, I mean, you expect to get filthy racing off-road. The temperature was more bothersome, combining with the wet to make hanging around at the start uncomfortable.
After moving from New York to the San Francisco area, I have been really blessed with pretty much fantastic cycling weather all year round. That notwithstanding, we’ve had a pretty rainy January in the year of 2016 which looks set to continue (in fact, since they started measuring precipitation, this is the wettest January ever, except that same month in 1997, in NorCal). I’m not complaining, in fact, I have a sly smirk when I have to contend with ‘bad weather’ that is 55 degrees Fahrenheit and wet; those were the good days on the East Coast.
I don’t aim to ride when it is raining heavily. I usually have some flexibility in my training plan so on those days I will swap the gym session around and ride when the weather is a bit better. Or perhaps, re-jig things slightly to get more rest and take a day off and then the following day hit a harder workout than I might have originally planned. However, yesterday I had pretty much re-worked the schedule as best I could and was ‘forced’ to head out in some pretty heavy precipitation. I kind of enjoyed it. Riding in the wet occasionally, at one’s own behest, is kind of fun. You brush up on a few wet-weather riding skills, gain confidence riding in the conditions, practice with your brakes being a bit slower than normal (knowing to dry the rims before actually needed them proper is a very important skill to know on race day). I knew the forecast the night before and was mentally prepared, something which is essential for bad weather riding morale.
My goal was to get a "sub hour" T-shirt for the 40 km race and I'd trained diligently at and around my target wattage of 280 w on the time trial bike. Testing outdoors on windless days had shown me that 280-285 w was the bare minimum I'd need to make the time cut by keeping me at 40 km/h. As an aside, that was about 20 or 30 watts lower than what I'd been able to achieve on a regular road bike.
Every time one sets out to do an effort it's a conversation (negotiation?) between the mind and the body. Prior to this race I'd always given each an equal voice at the table. On race day my "sensations" were way off and my body was negotiating hard for a "do what you can" effort. From the moment I woke right through my warmup my body lobbied for compromise. So that was the decision I needed to make; to listen to my feelings and do what I could - which would definitely mean missing my goal, or to "go big" and try and hold the speed I needed for the race target.
Back in September I wrote about how the racing in 2016 started back then (The 2016 Road Race Season Starts Here). The observation was pretty apt for multiple reasons. Foremost, the racing starts here the second the calendar ticks over- January 1st! In order to be anywhere near competitive and at least within shouting distance of a reasonable race weight one needs to put in a few miles over the tail end of the preceding year. Second, NorCal racing is stacked with people who can ride bikes fast, a talent acquired in large part by riding all year. So, when in Rome and all that, and by copying the locals with some Winter miles in the bank I raced the San Bruno Hill Climb.
I think that when you average over 5,000 miles per year there should be a government fund from which you can draw a small stipend. Ignoring cycling essentials like inner tubes, energy gels and Dura Ace, this fund is mostly to cover the costs associated with your shrink. Cycling makes you need one.
Riding bikes is surprisingly challenging. I say surprisingly not because it is somewhat peculiar that riding a bike a long way up a big hill at a high speed is difficult. I say this because gradually, one by one, it is possible to overcome these challenges. One gets stronger, one gets faster, one gets more experienced. Then, the incredible happens. You discover a whole load of other stuff to suck at. It’s like you just can’t please the cruel mistress that is cycling.
Absolutely infuriating. I can never tell if it is actually the noise or the fact that you don’t know what the noise actually is, that is so irritating. There has been a bit of a squeak for a while. A long while. It is transient. Only happens on hard, out-of-the-saddle efforts. I performed the standard actions: bottom bracket- looks good. Seat post/saddle rails- looks good. Headset- look good. Quick release skewers- look good. Seems to happen with multiple wheelsets...
This is not a time trial, it is a race. The objective is to place, not obtain a high average power or low race time. The first ~5.8 miles will average 4%. Miles 5.8-8.8 are where it gets tough and will average 8%. Miles 8.8-9.9 are rollers to the finish. For the first six miles just sit in. There will probably be attacks but no-one will put it on full gas. Follow the surges and stay in the wheels. Even when feeling good, just stay in the wheels. At mile 6 it will get a bit tougher. Be patient and wait for the moves. If there’s a group of any sort, more than 2 or 3 riders, it will probably have been an easy pace. That means people will get anxious and look to do something. Let two or three of these efforts happen, jump on the wheels. At mile 8.8 try as best as possible to suck wheels- there are rollers until the finish with no significant net gain in elevation. Hold wheels until mile 9.8, then go for the line.
Above are the notes I made the night before the race. I looked at the course and worked out where the gradients got tougher and where it was less difficult. The plan was simple: try and hold wheels and do little. The race wasn’t going to get hard until about mile 6 so just holding on until then was the plan before seeing what played out.
September 11 2015
- This is not a time trial, it is a race. Time to finish or average power are not the objective, the objective is to place.
For the first 4 miles, do nothing. The only objective for the first 4 miles is to be at the front at the turn-off when the main climb begins. For the next few miles stay with the front group, even if that means doing 500w at times. Just do not stop. Do not let a gap open. During miles 4-8 follow wheels, even if I am feeling good, follow wheels. Just follow wheels. At miles 10-12 attack. It doesn’t matter what group I am in, attack it. Attack the group. If I am alone at any point during the race make sure I do 350 w on any of the inclines; I will be able to keep a high pace this way- power up the hills, rest slightly on the declines of the Seven Sisters.
The above are the notes that I made the night before the 2015 Mount Tamalpais Hill Climb.
The majority of training miles I complete on my training bike. I am huge advocate of the ‘Training Bike + Racing Bike’ philosophy. Most of all having two road bikes means I wear them out half as fast. Also, ain’t no-one got the time to swap out their super-light racing rubber for training treads after each race, and reverse that before the next one. I could have one bike with two sets of wheels and just interchange those, but truth be told I like bikes and enjoy having several and the choice of which to ride.
The money value of my racing bike is somewhere around 2x that of my training machine (maybe a bit more than that), however, despite my particular racing steed looking awesome and being a custom build (I bought the frame and selected all the parts and built it myself) it is my second string, training bike that gets loads of attention. I get compliments routinely on my training machine, from the simple “It looks really cool”, to the inquisitive “What type of bike is that?” accompanied by interest and approval. And let’s not forget the “All bikes should be available in that livery” that abounds when peeps cast an eye over my training bike. With a black on black theme, all the parts are selected for their absolute functionality- exactly the composition of any training bike worth its salt.
The big ride. Or the long ride. I don't mean that long slow steady crap some people tout as the way to train. Incidentally, I put "LSD" in the same category as all the other nonsense left over from the 70s, like only using the small ring in the off-season -erm...why not just use a cadence sensor if you are trying to spin higher and use any gear you like?- as well as tubulars. I have been somewhat taken up by the wonderful notions of riding these amazing time-condensed programmes, with really exciting short bursts of power. I thought that if I used a turbo trainer indoors for 70 minutes and chucked in some VO2 max intervals with a few seconds at 110% threshold then that's it, right? I will be tip top for race season? That was true. Getting through Cat 4 on those programmes was a doddle. But then it changed. I moved to NorCal and started racing bikes out here.
It didn't really occur to me until recently that the races here are all really, really long. They are really long and have lots and lots of hills. To date in 2015 I have completed 7 road races. Tabulated below are the distances and elevation gains for each. Not an insignificant average distance. However, the data are somewhat skewed by the inclusion of University Road Race (a freak show of an event involving 15 laps around the University of Santa Cruz campus just going up a massive hill, back down, then up again). Omitting that 'outlier', the average road race distance for me this year was a significant 72.28 miles. Hokey dokes, so a pretty good race distance, but that in itself is not super intersting. The more intersting thing is that when I look through my training regimen for 2015, there are only four days where I rode a bike for further than 72.28 miles (excluding races). Only Four!
Quite an odd statement with it being September 1st 2015. True, the road races start incredibly early here in California, with the first events literally kicking off the New Year on January 1st. Nonetheless, that’s still 4 months away, or a third of an earth year. But, that’s the way it is in NorCal. The races are long, contain thousands of feet of climbing and have incredibly competitive fields. To get a result in 2016 preparation way before the end of the preceding year is a must. Crazily, the 2015 race season isn’t even over yet with a few sporadic events littering the final Summer and early Autumn weeks.