SL Alfold 2/3 and Crystal Palace Crits 3/4

Been a while since my last couple of races so here’s a write up of what I’ve been up to recently.

SL Alfold 2/3

Since the May 3 day I’ve been a bit wary of entering the 2/3 races, especially if there has been a 3rds only alternative. I guess I just don’t think I’m quite there to compete at that level yet. However, Alfold is a pretty flat circuit, and there was no alternative for this weekend.

The weather was pretty much as good as it gets for racing, warm, not much wind, and perfectly clear. Paceline had a particularly good represntation with 7 riders on the line. Cameron, Pat, Gareth, Paul, Keith, Jon and myself. In discussions prior to the race Gareth and Pat were both keen to get in a long break from the start. I didn’t think I had the strength for that so my plan was to wait until nearer the end to either try and bridge, or form a break of my own.

Sure enough things got off to a fast start. Gareth had already drafted in a number of other strong break riders on his break plans, so they were trying to put things to action, with constant attacks. However the bunch wasn’t so keen and despite a couple of attacks briefly getting gaps, things were always brought together by a pretty commited peleton. As this was going on I was just surviving toward the back of the group, trying to keep an eye on what was going on up the road.

After around an hour of racing an incident with a learner driver meant the race was stopped to give everyone a talking to. Things picked up again after a brief break and the game was back on. Still attacks were attempted but still nothing got away. The course and weather was making things a touch dry.

With 20 miles to go I noticed Pat towards the back of the bunch and moving up. There was a couple of dangling off the front at this point. Pat looked like he was still keen to get in a break, I was feeling decent at this point, and though he would have much more chance in a break than I could at this point, so I got up beside and said to follow my wheel. As I got toward the front of the bunch I jumped and then settled into 350w for a couple of minutes to bridge Pat onto the guys out front at which point he could attack again. Seemed to work well as Pat was soon up the road with several others as I drifted back to the bunch.

Over the next lap Pat’s break consolidated and had a strong gap to the group, several others maanged to bridge across so it seemed there were 7 or 8 up the road by this point.

With about 4 miles to go I was still feeling ok, and with Pat’s break now all but secure I thought about an attack of my own. Rolled up to the front of the group then jumped hard, doing around 1000w for about 15 seconds to get a gap, then settling into as near to 400w as I could manage. I daren’t look back and just kept driving, knowing I only had about another 5 minutes of effort. After a minute or so I chanced a look back and saw I had a promising gap. After another 30 seconds or so it looked like two others were bridging across having also escaped the bunch. My effort was slipping to 350w when eventually the two others came past, Stuart Spies of Dynamo and one other. I tagged on the back, and then came through when the others had done a turn, we still had an ok gap, but things seemed to close up on the climb through Alfold, after another minute or so we were nearly at the HQ, and looking back the bunch was catching fairly fast, looked like the game was up.

As I passed the HQ (Still 500m from the finish) we were caught, at which point Declan Egan, sprinted like a bullet past, a couple of seconds later, as the bunch were passing to the right, all hell seemed to break loose and there was a heavy crash. Seemed as if 5 or 6 riders down, with others all over there place. I ended up in an opening in the hedge just behind Jon and Keith who had narrowly avoided the worst of it, only for Jon’s frame to have taken a hit and cracked on the chain stay.

I rolled over the line to pick up the finish and 31st place.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/370290269
Avg Power: 238w
NP Power: 301w
Avg Speed: 25.8mph

Thoughts post race.

Overall I was happy to have been able to finish with the main group, having been unsure of my fitness for 2/3 racing at the beginning. Looking back though I’m slightly annoyed I didn’t make a bit more of an effort to get in the break with Pat, as I think I could have potentially got stuck in there, and potentially got a result, should have backed myself really. Always easy to look back with hindsight though, and I’m glad I at least ahd the strength to attack towards the end, just wasn’t quite strong enough for it to come off. Looking at the watts as well, 301w NP for 2:25 is quite easily my best performance in terms of power, so pretty pleased with that.

I was also reprimanded for riding on the wrong side of the road without moving up, a second talking to after my DQ at Kitsmead. Really dissapointed with this, as I’ve always thought (DQ Aside) I’ve been a pretty safe rider. So I need to take a look at my riding on the road, and make some better decisions there in the future.

CP Crits

My third attempt at the infamous South London Crits series, with the track to be raced ACW, my prefered direction. I noticed one particular name on the start list being Iain Paine. A previous winner, from a very strong solo break. We lined up, and again I made the mistake of not getting to the line sooner, immediately being one of the last in the bunch.

The pace was brutal from the off and after a few laps there were a lot of gaps opening up all over the place with riders unable to hold the wheel in front. This made for tough work in keeping touch, or trying to move past slower riders. After a couple of laps I tried to move up into the hairpin but was soon back towards the back third as I just couldn’t quite maintain the pace.

After about 15 minutes of racing there was a big split, with the peleton dividing pretty much exactly in half, with me in the second group. The second group was clearly tiring as nobody seemed interesting in working. After a lap like this I made a big dig to attempt to bridge. Eventually caught up to the first bunch into the hairpin, but had gone deep enough that I was struggling to keep up out of the bottom corners. Gapped again going up the hill, only to catch back on at the hairpin, then to get dropped going up the hill again.

The game was up and the pace and bridge had been too much for me, so I rolled off the back and was passed by the next group, I rolled around another lap solo before being ushered off the circuit to clear things for the finish of the ladies, and 3/4 race.

Was always going to be tough with fatigue in the legs from Sunday, even so the pace being higher than usual just made things even worse. That’s the last one for this year, so perhaps next year!

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/372053792
Avg Power: 303w
NP Power: 391w (!!!)
Avg Speed: 24.2mph

In other news, I managed to pass my Stage 4 Track accreditation at Lee Valley, so have to build up another 10 hours track time, then I can enter the winter track league, in a hope to maintain some race fitness through winter. Treated myself by picking up a second hand Dolan Pre-Cursa to ride on track. Just need to sort some new chainrings/sprockets and Garmin/cadence sensor mounts.

SL Kitsmead Handicap, SL Cyclopark 2/3 and Crystal Palace Crits 3/4

Couple of races since my last update on here, a Handicap, a RR on a circuit and the infamous CP Crits.

SL Kitsmead Handicap

After the 10 on Wednesday wasn’t expecting too much from the legs for this Handicap. The circuit however is all but flat, so usually not too much in the way of big watts needed expect if attacking. I was in the second group, with the first given a healthy lead. Our group seemed to work ok, with the exception of one unattached rider who was barely strong enough to come through each time, he was still trying though so fair play to him, and one Maison du Velo rider who just didn’t want to work. A couple of laps in I was feeling pretty good, and was getting a bit frustrated at the lack of some people’s work, so sprinted up the road, to get a couple of seconds gap and try and catch the first group. I managed to stay away working hard for a lap before the group behind were closing, so I sat up and joined them again.

Eventually everything came together on the penultimate lap, and we spent the next lap working in no particular order with people coming through everywhere. I was concious to try not to do too much, but an hours hard racing was taking its toll anyway. Onto the second last straight section, and it was getting lairy, I tried to move up but ended up on the right hand side of the road with a car oncoming, not clever. Then it happened again just before the final left hander.

Round the corner and I held position, but was probably 20th or so at this point. Managed to find James Bradley’s wheel, who’s a strong sprinter, but I had to sprint hard up one of the small rises towards the finish, at which point I popped. Couldn’t hold on anymore and went backwards through the field and through to the finish.

An average race, feeling ok, and considering against Elite and 1st Cats at the end, I was probably never getting a result.

Anyhow, none of that mattered as I was Dq’d for going on the wrong side of the road when I did. In hindsight a really stupid thing to do, and something I’ll certainly not repeat.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/357596358
Avg Power: 282w
NP Power: 320w
Avg Speed: 25.9mph

SL Cyclopark 2/3

This was always expected to be a tough race, I think its a fairly selective circuit, with several points that require a pretty strong sprint on every lap. It was due to be 90mins plus 5 laps. Got to the circuit late, but managed to sign on, pin my number and get a lap in round to queue up at the start. Pace was pretty high from the off, but ok. As always here hanging around at the back requires much more work due to the concertina in the sharp turns, so I tried to get towards the front third which I managed to do after a couple of laps.

It was clear that I wouldn’t be strong enough to attack though, as there was a strong wind on the back straight and I was working hard enough to stay attached to the accelerations. After around 40 mintues Dom of Paceline (only teamate this race) attacked and it looked a good move, so I worked my way up to sit on the front and try to slow/disrupt any chase by the peleton.  After a lap on the front a couple of chasers got away and Dom was joined by two of them to form what looked like it could be the winning move. After several more laps, and just before the hour mark I felt like I couldn’t take anymore sprints, and so sat up.

I hadn’t felt great going into the race, so wasn’t too dissapointed, but never nice to throw in the towel. Looking at the numbers, my power was way down, so potentially carried way to much fatigue into the race after the 10 and Kitsmead.

Dom went on to finish 4th, another great result for him.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/358892580
Avg Power: 248w
NP Power: 305w
Avg Speed: 24.6mph

Crystal Palace 3/4

My second attempt at CP, and a new direction to the circuit with it being run ACW. After a decent sweet spot session on Monday the legs felt decent riding to the circuit, although I was keen to ride easy all the way there.

Rolled up to the start on the last row, which is not the wisest thing to do at Palace given the chances of getting dropped, and after the whistle almost didn’t get clipped in. Eventually got the pedal though and got into the bunch round the first hairpin. This was my first time in this direction, so the first couple of laps were tentative, but I quickly found rhythm, and was able to commit to the corners, which helped carry speed. There was a tough headwind down the finish straight, so looking back it breaks would be unlikely, not that that seemed to occur to me at the time stupidly.

After a couple of laps, and the legs feeling really decent for a change, I decided to get toward the front, which I managed pretty much in one corner, with the majority of the bunch seeming to coast into the hairpin, I just kept pedalling up to the inside, and got to the corner first. Decided to have a dig at this point to see if I could jump the group, and immediately had a couple of bike lengths after a hard sprint. Easy enough to keep the gap around the next couple of turns, but back onto the main straight the wind came into play and bunch was back on.

For the next couple of laps I couldn’t seem to get off the front, I didn’t want to sit up and let them all fly past and be spat out the back, so was probably working far too hard at this point.

A couple of laps later the bell went, which really caught me by surprise. I had expected an hour of racing, and it was only about 35mins at this point. I tried hard to move up, but the pace was now a couple of notches higher, and coming up the last ascent I was near the back. Made up a couple of positions sprinting up the hill, but wasn’t going to be in the mix for a placing as I crossed the line mid pack.

Pleased to stay attached throughout though, especially as it was my first time riding the circuit that way, and pleased to actually feel strong in a race, which I haven’t properly had for a long while now. Just don’t seem to have the tactical side working, as I’m sure had I not have worked so hard in the middle of the race I could have been well placed to contest the sprint. More attention needed on the lap board next time. Numbers look a bit more appropriate too compared to what I know I can do, which I was happy about.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/361283254
Avg Power: 292w
NP Power: 359w
Avg Speed: 23.7mph

Looking forwards, no real big aims in terms of racing until the end of August. I’ve got London triathlon on the 8th where I’m doing the bike leg as a relay team. Should be a good chance to try out my power for an hour, as I’ve not done a proper hour effort for a while. Then on the 9th have my Stage 4 Velodrome accreditation, so here’s hoping I can pass that, and be a step closer to getting into the winter track league.

After that its a SL Sharpethorne 3rd Cat race on the 23rd, followed by SL Seale 3rds the weekend after. Looking forward to those, and hoping I can forge some results before the end of the season!!

SL Dunsfold 3rds

Well after last weeks pretty upbeat post, this one will probably not read so positively (read boring), mostly because its been a pretty confusing and frustrating weekend.

I was targetting this race on Sunday as one that stood out as being a possible result for not only myself but with plans to work in a break with some other Paceline guys. In theory the course should suit me, relatively flat, a sharp uphill before a sprint to the line. I’ve recently discovered that I actually have a decent kick, so was keen to put it to use here.

The Thursday before the race I took a long fairly steady ride out to Dunsfold to take a look at the course, which would hopefully help me get an idea of where to attack, and where to position myself for the finish, this was a long ride at 95+ miles, but nothing too out of the ordinary given the relatively steady nature. The only annoying point was that my saddle rail snapped a couple of miles in which meant a stop in Kingston for a new saddle, and in my haste led to some pretty poor setup. Which took me a while to iron out.

As soon as I got on the bike Saturday for a pre race loosener, I knew something wasn’t right. I felt ridiculoulsly underpowered, where normally I could hit a comfortable 300w on the roads towards the park, I was struggling to hold 200w. I convinced myself I must be down to hydration or lack of electrolytes or some such, and carried on to cruise round the park. Eventually got home, and took some electrolytes to try and help things as well as copious amounts of water.Rested the rest of the day and even managed a fairly early night.

Up early on Sunday for the race, back on the bike for the ride to Gareth’s, and despite my hopes that the rest would bring my legs back they felt even worse. Gareth convinced me to at least give the race a try, and that my legs may return.

We rolled out of the HQ and after a brief neutralised section to the laps the pace picked up, I had positioned myself at the front behind the lead car, but almost straight away I was falling back through the pack. Pace was picking up and my legs were burning with lactic acid. I still had nothing. I could barely hold on, with the perceived effort ridiculously high, it felt like an E123 crit on the effort level! Lasted a lap before almost getting dropped on the brief incline out of the first corner, managed to get back onto the group, then lasted a further 3/4 of a lap before I was having to sprint out of the saddle just to make enough power to stay attached. As soon as I sat back down I was drifting off the back again. I couldn’t keep it up, so sat up and watched the peleton snake its way into the distance as I was passed by the remaining commissaires.

Embarrasingly I pootled back to HQ to return my number in exchange for my license.

At the time I was just confused, annoyed and frustrated. I went back to the car and led on the grass in the sun trying to clear the negativity out.

Eventually, got back up and back down to the course to watch the groups come through for the last lap. Damien and Gareth of Paceline were looking good in a break with Paul Hone of Addiscombe and had a good 40 seconds or so on the main bunch.

Moved back up to the finish in order to watch the sprint, which thankfully went off without a hitch despite about a million leisure cyclists out in the way as well as cars, and even an ambulance for good measure. Gareth took the sprint, with Damien not far behind in 5th, and Jim in 9th. A great day for Paceline!

Having had some time to reflect I think, and am hoping I’m just overtrained and under rested. The previous week was a big week with a hard 2 hills ride, followed by a failed Crystal Palace attempt, some hard 5 min efforts in Regents Park Wednesday, then another hard day at a Handicap (an hour near threshold, and 44miles too and from). Rest Friday, hard Crit Saturday and RP TT Sunday. So looking back I racked up over 1300 TSS in 9 days with just one full day off.

Pretty stupid thing to have done really, but at the time I thought I could handle it, because I felt ok at the time, and that it would set me up with a few rest days for this race. Lesson learned hopefully. I need to make sure I take either at least one days full rest, or actually go super easy on recovery rides, which I usually lack the discipline for. Planning to have the next two days off and see how I feel Wednesday. Here’s hoping I can find something in the legs then!!

SL Cutmill 3rds – 10th

Never say never. Last time I raced at Cutmill I saidI wouldn’t go back, as the course just didn’t suit me. I realise now that’s just not true.

Was cautiously looking forward to this race, as my first 3rd’s only road race. It was also one of the first road races I’d gone into with a degree of confidence. I knew the course, and I knew I could hold my own among 3rds. The race was to be 7 laps of the 7 mile Cutmill circuit.

Things got off to a reasonable start after the flag dropped, straight away on the first run up towards the main hill of the course Dom attacked solo. I quickly worked my way to the front to try and slow things a touch, which seemed to work OK. First time up the climb felt manageable, but I had too much PSI in my rear and was spinning a touch in the greasy conditions. Dom’s effort was fairly quickly closed up on the run to the tight hairpin and the group was back together.

On the fast descent everyone’s heart rate skipped a beat when the commisaires car shed its flashing light cover. A fairly sizeable white plastic object. which made the loudest noise I’ve heard in a road race as Damien ran over it and it shattered into a bunch of pieces. Before I even knew what was happening I’d managed to avoid a piece. I honestly thought someone had crashed seriously hard, quite a scary moment. Things were slowed soon after as we came across a road sweeper in action.

We were soon going again after a quick stop and the pace was still fairly high. 2nd time up the hill and Ed tried an attack, which was again shut down after a fairly short period of time.

Down the back of the course and up the lane back towards the main climb, was where a guy a couple of wheels ahead of me to the left decided to take a feed, in doing so touched wheels with Paul of Paceline, he went down and took the guy to my left down, going head of handlebars, and also taking Damien of Paceline down too. I narrowly avoided and was then up the road with a gap to the bunch with Ralph of Norwood. Seconds later the race was stopped which seemed fairly bizarre considering the guys in the crash weren’t too bad. One had a suspected broken collarbone with the others minor scrapes.

We stood around having a good natter for 20 minutes with the race stopped. A good opportunity to discuss things at least. I was stood next to Ralph, we talked tactics and good places to attack, he made it clear where he would be going for it with two to go so I made a mental note to try and be near or on his wheel.

As it happened it wouldn’t be too far away as after the delay it was decided that the race would be cut by 2 laps so there were only 3 to go. So it turned into a bit more a ctriterium effort given the length of racing left. I was still feeling good as things got back under way, and was keen on trying to force some breaks, as I had a good feeling I could try and get a placing this way.

We went round for another lap, and instead of waiting for Ralph to jump, I went for it before the hairpin, but was soon joined by him and another Dynamo guy, we worked well for half a lap, but just couldn’t keep any sort of a gap up on the fast descent.

Another lap in Sam A from Paceline and another Dynamo guy went up the road, and despite our best efforts trying to block they were soon reeled in on the main climb, despite it looking like a convincing break.

With one to go myself Ralph and Dynamo had one last break, and I really thought this would stick, as the bunch seemed to be tiring a touch, and we initially had a really good jump. Back down the back of the course though a couple jumped across, then soon after  it was closed up, however the pace was still high and things strung out. We went through the tight lane section of the course and I was on the front still pushing hard. I thought we still had a minor gap so wanted to push on up towards the hill.

This proved to be a poor decision as I felt the burn on the way up the hill. I was moving back through the group until I decided to give it a proper sprint effort after having recovered from my earlier effort a touch. But being so deep in the group it was really sprint for a bit get blocked/ held up try and move around and then get the same block from another rider. Eventually a gap opened on the other side of the road and I went full gas up towards the finish, which was when I must have made up about 10+ places to just cross the line 10th.

Frustrating because at the line the closing speed difference I had on everyone around me felt huge. Had I eased off earlier and kept the effort high up the hill initially, I would have been sprinting for a much more competive place.

Lesson learned though, this is the first race that has made me realise I do actually have a decent sprint/kick that I can hold for 30+ seconds, even after several hard efforts. Something I haven’t used in other races, and haven’t been able to fully exploit yet. But no doubt something I should in the future.

Overally pleased to get a result from a race I was expecting to not suit me, even if it is only 1 point.

Have Richmond Park TT coming up this weekend, then Crystal Palace Crits on Tuesday followed by Dunsfold 3rds race the following weekend. Probably my best chance for a win so far this year.

West Thames Crit Series E123 – Hillingdon

The less said about this one the better I guess. Cruised over to Hillingdon into a fairly strong wind, complete with legs feeling worse for wear after no rest day on Monday. Signed on and headed out to the circuit to get some laps in. The first time I’d raced on the circuit clockwise, which felt a bit odd at first.

As a 3rd Cat my hopes for the race were just to stay in touch with the bunch for as long as possible. We started off and I immediately found the pace ok, sprinting out of the corners was a given, but I was for the most part riding within myself, and moving well in the bunch towards the front third of the pack. There were numerous attacks going off, none of which I was going to be in, I was never going to be that strong. After a short while a group of four got a decent gap, with a Twickenham rider and a Pedalheaven guy too. After about 20mins I started to feel my rear wheel going soft in the corners, which felt odd. Up the back straight asked someone to look at it, and sure enough it was punctured and going down, albeit reasonably slowly. But the last thing I wanted was to roll it off the wheel on a hard corner, so I sat up and completed the lap before exiting the circuit. Gutted as I felt I was going well up until that point, which had surprised me.

Managed to inflate the tyre then hammered it home which was at least an ok workout, and the tyre stayed relatively ok until I got home, but was quickly flat after that.

Overall pleased to have been able to keep up for the time I was there, although I wonder if Pedalheavan and other teams with people in the break may have been slowing things down a touch. However the average speed is way higher than anything I’ve done before so perhaps not. The wind also probably helped slow the bunch up at certain points, which would have helped me stay in the mix. 

Really need to start taking spare wheels to races (tough when you ride there) or just start using gatorskin tubs or something.

Strava link: https://www.strava.com/activities/303247612

Avg/NP: 276w/285w

Avg Speed: 27.7mph

SL May 3 Day Stage Race

This was a race that had long been in the calendar, having been entered quite some time ago. The race is open to category 2 and 3 riders, and features 3 stages, Alfold/Dunsfold, Bletchingly and Lingfield. Teams of 6 are permitted to enter. I had put my name forward for Paceline and was going to be riding with Pat, Gareth, Dom, Adam and Jon.

The week before the race I had Cutmill, which really showed up my climbing ability in 2/3 races, so was even more worried about the race, with Bletchingly a very difficult circuit with two main climbs. I was also most nervous about how I would recover between stages, but as it turns out this wasn’t a huge issue.

Stage 1 – Alfold/Dunsfold – 69 miles

With stage 1 at Alfold and Dunsfold circuits my main aim for the day would be to just finish in the bunch and try not to lose much time. I was being realistic in that I knew I wasn’t in contention for any GC leaderboards, but thought I could maybe sneak into a stage result if I was lucky, failing that just be of help to the team where at all possible. The stage was always going to be interesting as Gareth had decided he would only be riding Day 1, and so could ride aggressively.

As everyone gathered in the car park ready for the stage I was shivering and probably the most nervous I’d been before a race for some time. There was a strong field and not knowing the circuit also made me nervous. We set out, and with no neutralised zone to ease us in the pace was immediately fast from the off, on what was a shocking surface to begin with. Having not had great legs all week I was pushing quite hard in terms of perceived effort just to keep touch with the bunch. I was concentrating most on avoiding dropped bottles and potholes, and trying to take in the course as well as watching when I could. Something which I failed to do as Gareth formed a break with several other riders and got up the road without me or several others in the team noticing.

At around the 20mile mark I noticed the pace slow, and could see Wyndymilla at the front marshalling things. I was pretty glad of this with my legs feeling as they did and took the time to sit in. After quite a while I could see several attackers trying to get up the road, I was feeling ok by this point about 40 odd miles into the race, so decided to move up and get near the front for a bit. Mostly as sitting in waiting for potholes to run through was becoming tiresome, not to mention dangerous. It was nice to sit on the front for a bit choosing lines and it not being as stressed. I was looking around at this point and could still see several other paceline riders in the bunch.

I began to struggle the last 20 or so miles, until I spotted Gareth coming back through the bunch. A quick chat at this point revealed he’d been in a break for most of the race, and had been working to the point of being spent. His break got reeled in, only for Pat to join on and have it extend back out again by 30s or so. After speaking he said I should get up to the front to try and slow the chase. By this point we were on the final lap and things were getting choppy. Riders were moving up any way they could and using the whole road. I was getting nervous, but managed to force my way up to get on the front.

May 3 Day

Once there I made a nuisance of myself and tried to disrupt the chase, which I hopefully did. After not too much further I began to slip back as I tired and found myself mid bunch again, on the way up to the finish hill.

Things began to get faster as people jostled for position, I wasn’t too keen on getting into a full on sprint by this point so just tried to move with the bunch. Coming up the last hill, two riders went down in front of me and I narrowly managed to avoid clipping them, a quick dig for the line using what I had left and I had finished mid pack. 45th out of 80 odd starters. Not too bad. Looking back I probably could have put in a decent finish here, as the short sharp hill and false flat may have suited. But not knowing much about the course meant I didn’t really know how far away the line was, my fault for not recce’ing any of the race.

Overall was pleased to finish in one piece, but was worried about how much it had taken out of me. Pleased for Pat who got a 3rd place finish!

Pat Sprinting

Strava: https://app.strava.com/activities/296643977

Avg/NP Watts: 242w/269w

Avg. Speed: 25.2mph

Stage 2: Bletchingly – 70 miles

I rolled across to Adam’s house early in the morning after another 6:30am alarm call. I was slightly worried as I soft pedalled the 9 miles that my legs were feeling terrible. In normal circumstances I’d have been tempted to bin off a recovery ride, let alone sign on to a 70 mile road race on one of the toughest circuits in the league. We began the drive as did the rain, as we got on the M25 it was getting seriously heavy, and was becoming difficult to see cars in front of us. Grim conditions to say the least.

Got to the HQ which was at a nice golf course and got prepared. I was changing wheels today to alu clinchers as I didn’t fancy a carbon braking surface in the wet, especially on a course I didn’t know. After yesterdays action the jerseys were handed out and Pat was in the green points jersey.

Then the commissaires stood up and began the usual briefing, however they really put a big emphasis on the descents being dangerous, especially in the wet. They had decided to end the neutralised zone before the descent and let us race it first time. A couple of guys stood up and challenged this suggesting it should be neutralised. Now I feel confident in my bike handling usually, but this really made me nervous for some reason, on an unknown course descending in the wet was really worrying me, and other riders expressing concern only made it worse.

As it was, we would race the descent first time out. So we rolled out of the HQ and made a right turn onto the high street. Things were neutralised for this drag up to the first left hander then we were racing. I was already near the back of the bunch and immediately there were gaps appearing and things were splitting apart. Onto the descent and I was taking it cautiously thanks to the briefing, and so got gapped further. First time down I was fine, and it wasn’t even that bad despite being very wet. After the descent I was now well off the back but still hopping wheels moving past other dropped riders. Eventually a sizeable group of 7 or so riders got together including me. At this point the main bunch were coming back into sight and it was looking like we could catch them. We started a decent little paceline going with people doing strong turns, however as more and more riders were shelled the paceline broke down, as people either weren’t coming through, or were a couple at the time, and in no order. I got a bit annoyed, and so powered down the descent for the second time realising this time that no brakes were needed for the descent despite the several blind turns on the way, which I began to realise was really good fun. I hung out in front of the grupetto for half a lap before getting swept up again and spending the remainder of the lap with them. The climbs on each lap were really taking it out of me though, and I was finding it hard even staying with out slower group. I was almost crawling up in my largest cog at the back in the small ring.

It was around then I passed the yellow jersey who’d stopped with a puncture. A little while down the road Alex Tinsley had stopped waiting for their teammate to get his puncture fixed. Then another 10 mins or so later three twickenham riders including yellow, and a couple of others came up behind us. I tagged onto the group and got involved in their paceline. They were working quite well, and were barking orders at each other. I had to work hard to stay with them, before getting dropped on the climb once more. Familiar story.

As I drifted further back I found Adam and a Maison du Velo rider. So I attempted to stay with them, by which time we were well off the back, and soaked. I stayed with Adam and the MdV guy for another lap or two before struggling so much I was dropped again. I was really pedalling squares at this point and was lacking any energy or motivation. I passed the 1 lap to go board and was so ready to quit. Had a sharp word with myself and carried on telling myself it was only another 10 miles. Grovelled the rest of the distance back to HQ by which point the weather was improving. Rolled over the line after just 6 laps (dropped riders get pulled out with a lap to go to stop them interfering with the finish) just in time to watch James Lowden power up the finish hill solo, and with a very healthy time gap to the next riders. With Pat finishing in 5th things were still looking good for his GC position.

Watts were very average this race, but perceived effort was way higher than the figures let on.

Strava: https://app.strava.com/activities/297319869

Avg/NP Watts: 219w/253w

Avg. Speed: 20.9mph

Stage 3: Lingfield – 67 miles

The alarm went off at 6:30am once more and the temptation to stay in bed was huge. The legs were hurting and the last thing I wanted at that point was ride another race. I got up and after getting ready and drowing myself in coffee I was feeling better about things. I was even more surprised to get out on the bike on the way to Adam’s and feel that my legs actually felt reasonable., things were looking up, and the weather was also playing ball. A much warmer day with sunny spells. I was careful not to push, but was now mildly optimistic at what the day might bring. From what I’d heard Lingfield was a much nicer circuit that the previous days. Still plenty of climbing but more rolling, and nothing as steep as Bletchingly. I was hopeful!

Got to the circuit and the weather was the nicest of the three days with sunshine and a decent temperature. After the presentations and briefing everyone was ready to roll out, for the first day without knee warmers and overshoes! After a brief neutralised section we were on the circuit. The surface seemed decent, as we made our way towards the first climb. First time up it wasn’t too bad and I was pleased to remain in the bunch throughout. The remainder of the lap featured some rolling fast road, a big fast descent into another climb, then another descent back to the start of the lap. With some smoothish flat road in between for good measure.

As we came onto the second lap it looked like Bradley the Twickenham CC rider had aims on the overall points jersey as he attacked with two other riders and went clear, looked like they had a fairly decent gap as well. James Lowden of Neon Velo (GC Leader) was still in the bunch but sat at the very front. We flew down the big descent second time round, and the bunch were moving fast, back into the climb the other side, and two riders tangled in front of me and went down. I had to all but stop to get in a decent gear in order to get going again, by which time the bunch were 150m+ down the road. I shouted at myself in frustration as at this point I thought it was game over and I’d be dropped for good, so annoying when I felt fairly strong. Spent the next couple of minutes chasing in vain at well over threshold, but couldn’t seem to gain on them. Looked back and saw an Army CU rider coming up the road, so sat up a bit and waited for him. He looked to be going well and we started a really good two up to get back on. Both putting in strong turns we were soon closing the gap, and despite having to overtake a few cars we eventually made it after half a lap. Also picking up a London Phoenix rider, who was also going ok along the way. I rested in the bunch for a minute before we were at the climb again, but I still felt ok at this point, and stayed with eveyone going up it, before taking most of the rest of the lap fairly easily. Coming back in towards the 3rd lap I noticed Pat going up towards the front in order to try and close down a break that had gone, so I put myself in front of him to try and protect a bit and put in a couple of decent turns with a Dynamo rider who also had similar ambitions of catching the guys up the road. This clearly took its toll on me as the next time up the climb I slowly drifted back through the bunch and by the top had lost contact.

Found Army CU guy again at the back of the field but this time it would prove too much to get back on. At one point we were within touching distance just before the bunch accelerated again and the gap went back out. He made it known that he would be going back to HQ at the end of the lap, and feeling cooked at the time I stupidly followed. Looking back now, wish I had just rolled over the line to complete the distance, but for whatever reason I didn’t.

Strava: https://app.strava.com/activities/298016138

Avg/NP Watts: 228w/279w

Avg. Speed: 23.4mph

Closing Thoughts

Overall I enjoyed this experience a huge amount, its not often you get the opportunity to take part in something like this, and get a small taste of what it takes to compete on a stage race. The team element was great, and was good to ride with the other Paceline riders, each of which did themselves proud. Looking at my own development, I think it really stretched me mentally as well as physically, so I’m hoping I can push myself further in the future as a result. I’ve also gained a lot just from spending so much time racing. By the end of the race I felt I was moving in the bunch at will, and was using far less mental capacity just staying upright than I was at the beginning of the race. Hopefully in upcoming races this will mean I can observe and watch things way more.

I guess it will also help me to address my weaknesses which I think for the most part is my climbing ability, which is really driven by my weight. I need to put a concerted effort in to lose another 5kg. I think I might stand a fighting chance at staying in the bunch on most of the climbs then. Even so, I think Bletchingly is still out of my grasp, as its brutal for me as a bigger rider.

Interested to see what fitness impact this will have on my riding, as it was a lot of volume in a short space of time. My CTL went from 80 at the beginning to 90 at the end, so a great bump up there, almost like a mini training camp!

Surrey League – Cutmill 2/3

Been looking forward to this as my second proper road race for some time, especially after Kirdford was cancelled a couple of weeks ago. Having not raced for a week or two I was really keen to make sure I was in good shape. I’d had a strong week too with new power pbs across the range by quite a margin, so felt confident within reason.

I had arranged a lift over to Elstead with Benoit, a guy who was interested in joining Paceline after having been a member of a tri club with only a very small bike racing contingent. On the way to the race we chatted about what might happen, talked tactics and the like for a fair while and discussed the circuit. Having heard the course was one of the toughest in the Surrey league I was pretty concerned about it, but was also confident I had some decent form.

After arriving fairly early Benoit and I rode up the course to check out the finish, where the main climbs were, on arriving initially I had thought how much less steep the climb was than I had anticipated, but that’s pretty easily said when cruising up a hill two up.

We rolled back to the start and began the usual number pinning ritual whilst chatting to all of the other Paceline guys, of which there were plenty! Good to see so many people in the team colours for sure.

After getting ready eventually we rolled out and started the short neutralised zone towards the circuit. After a short while we took the right hander onto the bottom right hand corner of the circuit (This would become a sharp left hander on the circuit.)

cutmill

Once onto the circuit there is a series of curves on a tight lane, littered with potholes which was pretty dodgy to say the least, the road then opened out up towards the first left hander. After which the road then kicked up in several varying inclines, with one noticeably steeper section before the finish, followed by several shallower inclines, and some other steeper bits thrown in for good measure. The hills are followed by a very quick descent then the road steepens again, before a very sharp left hander, and then some more descending back to the start.

The first time up towards the finish hill I was having to dig pretty deep as the pace was pretty meaningful from the off. There were some strong riders as well, and I guess most are probably lighter than me anyway meaning they’re going to be faster up the hills. Looking at the power I was doing up near 400w for several minutes on the steeper parts. I purposefully put myself towards the front before the hill, and found myself near the back towards the end of it! Need to lose some bloody weight!

The descent was pretty exhilarating at 40mph+ in a bunch, but it was also very dangerous, with oncoming traffic, catseyes, big potholes, and the odd bottle to contend with I was really having to keep myself sharp, but it was a big buzz.

For the first lap or so the pack seemed to stay together, second time up the hill felt better than the first as I’m sure I had warmed up a bit by this point, but I was still having to go much deeper than I’d have liked this early on in a race. It was becoming fairly clear to me I wouldn’t be getting in any breaks on this course, I just wasn’t quick enough up the climb, I could descend well and make up a bit of time there due to my weight no doubt, but it wouldn’t have been much help. My aim would just be to finish with the group.

We rounded the sharp left hander at the bottom right of the course and back through the tight lane with the pace still high, I purposefully moved up towards the front before finding myself in clear air at the very front, hoping to set myself in a reasonable position for the climb once more. However just as we rounded the top corner onto Littleworth Road I felt that familiar bouncy feeling in my rear wheel, as it began to go soft. Up went the hand and I slowed to a stop. Neutral service stopped to ask if I had a wheel in the car, to which my reply was no, so they were off up the road and I was soon on my own about 2 miles from the HQ. So I began walking back. Passed numerous riders off the back of the main bunch, who had either been dropped or punctured as well.

On getting back to HQ caught up with a couple of Paceliners several of who’d had punctures or had dropped out. Managed to fix my wheel and rode up to the finish with Paul to catch the end of the race.

Got up there with one lap to go and watched a breakaway group of 6 come through with a very strong gap to the main bunch. Pat was in the break so at least the team would get something out of the race. As the break came up the hill for the last time James Lowden of Neon Velo went long and nobody trouble him for the win, with Pat shortly after in 5th. Seemed like a really impressive ride from Pat who I’m told was in every break. Also impressive ride from Benoit on his road race debut, bit of a baptism of fire on this course, but a good effort nonetheless.

All in a pretty shit weekend of bike riding. The more I thought about it when I got home the more it annoyed me. Even though in honesty I wasn’t going to be troubling anyone for any points, and probably wouldn’t have even finished in the group, its still that unknown that’s niggling, knowing that I didn’t even get the chance to try!

I have the May 3-day stage race coming up now next weekend so am now even more concerned about that. Especially given that Stage 2 (Bletchingly) is also known as one of SL’s toughest due to its climbing, and the field looks pretty strong.

Surrey League – Longcross 2/3 Race

Since my last race I had a bit of a training blip, looking back at it now it was fairly obvious I was fatigued. I had been training pretty much non stop since the beginning of the year and so my ATL Was getting near a constant all time high and TSB was getting really low. All the training I was doing I was really struggling, and maintaining any sort of meaningful power was so difficult. So I decided to take a really easy week and just did around 3 hours of volume as opposed to my usual 8 or so hours.

This really helped and as soon as I went out this week on a ride I felt fantastic. I went out with a couple of Paceline guys on the usual winter training loop and I felt stronger than I ever have, although wished I’d done more on the front it was still good training. https://app.strava.com/activities/259880607

Took it easy the rest of the week before my biggest race year to date on Saturday at Longcross in Surrey. For anyone that doesn’t know,the circuit is based at an old MOD site, and is a car test track. It features a huge long straight, a very long sweeping left hander followed by several sweeping hairpins with some fairly strong elevation changes, which are quite challenging technically to get spot on each time. The lap culminates in a quick descent into a semi chicane, back on to the main straight.

So Saturday rolled round, and I started off the 23 mile journey to Longcross, I was slightly reticent to cycle all the way over as it meant quite a bit of use of the legs prior to the race which I wasn’t sure about. I met up with Gareth Thomas of Paceline in Kingston and we rode the rest of the way over together though. The weather was slightly warmer than it had been of late, but it was pretty constant drizzle which made it pretty grim. Got there spot on 10:15 and signed on and met up with a couple of other Paceline riders who were racing, Andy Lack, and Sam Andrews.

I’d borrowed a Paceline jersey as I’m still waiting for my kit order, so it felt cool to race in team colours for the first time! (Thanks Jim and Maryka for that!) We set off behind the lead car and the pace was immediately pretty high, I’d not ridden the course and was a bit nervous as to what was coming up, especially given the greasy conditions. I kept in the bunch the first lap and felt OK. The downhill into the chicane each lap was a bit of a sticking point with all of the riders forming a bit of a bottle neck, which would string out onto the main straight, meaning working hard to remain attached.

There was a strong headwind on the straight, so after pushing to keep attached the bunch eventually slowed into the wind and grouped back up before the end of the main straight. After the first couple of laps I felt comfortable on the circuit, with some of the corners quite enjoyable. Was glad to have fitted 25mm tyres earlier in the week though, which seemed to help with cornering confidence.

I just kept myself in the bunch and was happy to seemingly be able to take the pace, as well as being able to move up and down the group as needed. There was plenty of room on the circuit so it was fairly easy to move up the side. It seemed to me the best place to do this was using the downhills to carry more momentum than the bunch into the inclines, which helped moving forward. I did this a couple of times just to test, and ended up on/near the front into the main straight, also meant taking the chicane faster than the bunch too which helped onto the straight.

A break had gotten away from around 30mins in and stayed out, maintaining a 30-40 second gap to the bunch, but the gap began to come down as the laps got into the last 5, I was still feeling good by this point, and was hoping to get up near the front for the last time onto the main straight, but coming up one of the inclines out of the saddle, my chain missed a gear and I cycled half a revolution of air, my hamstring immediately felt odd but I kept with the bunch, half a lap later it still didn’t feel right so I stuck my hand up and threw in the towel. I’m off to Spain on a training camp so was worried of hurting myself prior to this.

I stood on the side and watched the sprint come in which was good to see, the lead guys looked absolutely rapid! Unfortunately for the break, they had been brought back in, and it was down to a full bunch sprint. Tried to pick out a couple of the Paceline guys and saw Gareth up near the front end of the bunch, with the other guys rolling in with the remainder of the bunch.

Had a chat to the guys after, then rolled back home, thankfully with a tailwind giving assistance which was much needed, ended up being a 90 mile day, by far the longest I’ve done for some time! Annoyingly the hamstring turned out to be fine, so probably needn’t have pulled in, but better safe than sorry I guess.

Overall, pretty happy with fitness and being able to keep up, could still do with dropping a few kg to make the climbs easier though. Glad to stay upright as well, as it was a bit sketchy at times. Saw one guy deck it on a corner which looked nasty, hope he was ok.  Next confirmed race is not until 12th April (Kirdford Surrey League 2/3 Race) but I’m hoping to get a waiting list space on the 29th March SL Alfold Circuit race. In the meantime, this time next week I’ll be in Spain riding hopefully!

Avg Power: 245w

NP: 263w

Avg Speed: 25.1mph

Strava: https://app.strava.com/activities/260994665