300

For anyone who doesn’t live in the UK, there’s a popular challenge going around at the moment. The idea is straightforward; run 5k, donate £5 to the NHS, and nominate 5 people to do the same. Of course, in an ideal world our health service would be funded properly and such things wouldn’t be necessary, but you’ll be relieved to hear that’s not to be the subject of this post. I was nominated twice and had to decline due to an annoyingly persistent foot injury. Having seen some of my less athletically inclined friends struggle through the run, I decided to do something as a forfeit that would provide me with an equivalently gruelling challenge and hopefully raise some funds in the process. This came in the form of three consecutive century rides in deepest, darkest Devon.

Throughout my cycling career I’d completed a few multi day trips and events. A couple of forays to the alps, some training camps in Mallorca, Land’s End to John o’ Groats and of course the Tour of Wessex. What I hadn’t yet attempted, was a fully solo adventure. Due to the lockdown, these rides would have to be completely self supported. That meant carrying enough water, carefully planning a nutrition strategy and stocking my saddlebag with all the tools I’d need to fix any mechanical problems. Add to that the task of planning the routes, and there was quite a lot of work to be done in the 5 days between coming up with the idea and the planned start date.

As anyone who knows me might expect, I still left most of it till the last minute. The day before the first ride was mainly spent making industrial quantities of chicken korma, my favourite recovery meal. After that, I turned my attention to bike setup. If you’re not a cycling geek, feel free to skip the next three paragraphs.

Day 1: The calm before the storm.

I toyed with the idea of doing the rides on my trusty Specialized, but eventually decided that speed was more important than comfort and went with my Scott Foil instead. Ordinarily there’d be a few places to stop along the way and refill water bottles, thanks to the lockdown that wasn’t the case this time round. I went with a 950 and 550 ml combination, giving a total capacity of 1.5 L. Ideally I’d have carried more, but the weight weenie in me couldn’t face making the bike any heavier. Having not been organised enough to order energy gels, my on bike nutrition consisted primarily of jelly babies, with a few granola bars thrown in.

I will admit to having had several moments of paranoia the day before the first ride, each leading to another ‘essential’ addition to my saddlebag. Normally the thought of a chain breaking or a cable snapping wouldn’t have crossed my mind, I’ve had both happen to me once in 7 years of riding. Yet, if something were to go wrong on one of these rides there was no support van. For obvious reasons, I wanted to reduce the risk of needing to be rescued as much as possible. In the end I bought the following.

  • Hand pump
  • Spare inner tube
  • Tyre levers
  • Tyre boot
  • Multitool
  • Rubber gloves
  • Quick link
  • Chain tool
  • Quick link pliers
  • Sticking plasters
  • Spare gear cable
  • Packable waterproof
  • Arm warmers

All in all, I was equipped to deal with anything excluding a catastrophic mechanical failure of the kind that would probably result in a trip to A & E. Unfortunately, all these tools added rather a lot of weight and the massive saddlebag didn’t exactly improve the look of the bike. My svelte race machine had been turned into a packhorse, which wouldn’t be especially helpful on some of the climbs.

Whilst I could very easily dedicate an entire post to each ride, I have an MSc thesis that I should probably be writing instead, so here are the highlights.

Day 1: Dartmoor

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I decided to tackle the hardest of the three routes on the first day, the idea being that it would be best to complete it whilst feeling relatively fresh and enthusiastic. In other words, I wanted to get it over with. Dartmoor is a beautiful place to ride, however, as in most spheres of life, great beauty is accompanied by great risk.

The day started out well, I even managed to leave the house on time, having wolfed down a massive bowl of porridge accompanied by a strong coffee. It was perfect weather, bright sunshine with a cool breeze. The first 20 miles were relatively flat and mostly on quiet roads, on an aero road bike it was a piece of cake. I was bought back down to earth upon scaling the first major climb of the day. Haytor Vale is one of those that lulls you into a false sense of security; not especially steep for the most part, but dragging on for a good few miles, with a couple of false summits thrown in for confusion. My instinct was to push on and power up it (Okay, it wasn’t, until someone overtook me halfway up the climb), but I restrained myself, knowing that worse was to come.

Miles 25 to 50 were pleasantly uneventful, mostly downhill from the summit of Haytor to the town of Ivybridge. This being day one, I’d adopted a very conservative pacing strategy, by which I mean I was more concerned with taking decent photos than increasing my average speed. After a week of being cooped up in the house, it felt great to be out on the road again.

10 Miles before my sense of humour failure.

The climb out of Ivybridge didn’t turn out to be as bad as I’d feared, it was a long drag but the gradient was very manageable, especially with an 11-28 cassette fitted. At the top, I noticed a slight crosswind but didn’t think much of it, after all it was much more fun to consider the prospect of tucking into the banoffee pie I had sat at home in the fridge. A few miles later, things started to get harder. After a couple of short climbs I reached the highest part of Dartmoor, fully exposed to the elements. If you want a road that can challenge your fitness and bike handling skills in equal measure, look no further than the B3212 on a windy day.

There’s no hesitation before I say that in 7 years of cycling I’ve never encountered a stronger headwind. It was incredibly demoralising, looking down at my garmin and seeing that whilst putting out what I’d estimate to be around 300 W on a flat road, I was managing a speed of 7 miles per hour. Worse still, there was no chance to rest on the few brief sections of road that weren’t heading straight into the wind. With my bike sporting 45 mm deep rims, the crosswind threatened to blow me over several times. I sometimes think that the weight training I force myself to do twice a week is a waste of time. On that day, I was beyond grateful for the extra upper body strength.

With 35 miles to go, I stopped and considered my options. My legs were hurting, the cold air hadn’t done wonders for my lungs, my garmin was low on battery, and I was facing at least 10 more miles of that evil headwind before the next major turning. Borrowing a phrase from my late Grandfather, I looked up at the sky and shouted “GODFORSAKEN BLOODY WEATHER”, to nobody in particular. After a few minutes of venting my frustrations in a similar manner, I resolved to carry on.

The last leg of the ride seemed to take forever. Despite the last 20 miles being relatively easy, the physical and mental fatigue was really taking it’s toll. Tiny rises that I’d barely notice on a normal ride might as well have been mountains. As Chris Boardman would put it, endurance sport is the art of trying to keep going with an engine that gets smaller and less powerful as time goes on. I’d like to think that at the beginning of the ride, I had a decent V6 with a performance air filter, by the end it had been reduced to a diesel two stroke.

Day 2: Exmoor

Like day 1, but better.

I woke up at 5AM, it felt as if someone had come along in the middle of the night and tried to put my legs through a meat grinder. I seriously considered taking a rest day, but eventually reasoned that it would be better to at least attempt the second leg in good weather rather than wait until later in the week when it was forecast to deteriorate. After treating myself to a double breakfast consisting of porridge followed by eggs on toast, I set off with a great sense of foreboding. Luckily, the ride was heading in the opposite direction to the previous one, as far away from Dartmoor as possible.

Inevitably, my legs felt sore and stiff at first, the short climb out of Exeter was harder than it should have been and I questioned whether carrying on was a sensible idea. Fortunately, after the first 10 miles I began to feel better, much better in fact. The sun was shining, the road was flat and refreshingly traffic free, and I was making good time. I had another 15 miles of relatively easy terrain before the first big ascent of the day.

I knew that miles 25-50 would be very slow going, once you get onto Exmoor it’s all up and down. Well, mostly up judging by my average speed over that section. I’d edited the route so as to take in Dunkery Beacon, a contender for the title of hardest climb in the UK. Having lived in Exeter for four years and never gotten round to riding it, the time was right. In the absence of the headwind from hell, I could properly relax and enjoy some of the scenery in the run up to the climb. I knew that this was the calm before the storm, but that failed to detract from the serenity I felt on those moorland roads. It might as well have been different world up there, far removed from the depressing headlines that have characterised the past few weeks.

Enjoying life on the long and winding road to Dunkery Beacon.

After a rather scary descent on roads that should probably have been reserved for the gravel bike, it was time to tackle that famous climb. The first section was very manageable, steep but nothing out of the ordinary and soon levelling off. However, the latter half was a different ball game altogether. Rising up out of a wooded section, it started off steep and only got steeper, with no sight of the approaching summit to motivate me until I at last came around the final corner. At the top, I decided that I’d never ride up it again. Having now seen the appallingly slow time I posted, I’ve reconsidered and resolved to tackle it again someday, at a more respectable pace.

Don’t think anybody told these guys about social distancing.

The last 50 miles of day 2 were probably the nicest of the three day venture. Having paced the climb carefully, I had enough in my legs to raise the tempo a bit. With a nice tailwind I could, quite literally, breathe easy in the knowledge that the hardest part of the ride was over and done with. In the end, I even had enough left in the tank to put in a good effort on the final climb back into Exeter. In sharp contrast to the previous day, I arrived home in good spirits, confident that I’d be-able to manage the upcoming final leg of the ride.

Day 3: The Blackdown Hills

By Devon standards, this counts as a flat route.

“I thought you’d been very organised this morning”. My housemate remarked, as I prepared to leave set off on the final stage of the journey. I had, except that I’d completely forgotten to charge my phone overnight. Unwilling to take the risk, I had to delay the start by half an hour. With the temperature set to rise to an unusually high 22°C in a few hours time, the wait wasn’t ideal. When I’m tired from consecutive rides, I’ve found that the heat can be a real killer.

I’d left the easiest route until last, less spectacular scenery was an easy price to pay for well maintained roads and far fewer climbs in comparison to the previous two days. With no ride planned for the following day, I didn’t have to worry about saving my legs and could adopt a faster pacing strategy in the name of trying to set a decent time. Honestly, my main motivation to speed up could be found in the prospect of being able to order the takeaway pizza that I’d been craving all week upon getting home.

One last climb.

The standout moment came at mile 20. Having briefly stopped at the outskirts of a small village to take on food and water, I happened to glance to one side and see a noticeboard. My eyes were drawn to one particular headline, written proudly in bold were the words: “Have you seen the asian hornet?”. Reading further, I learned that a few had been spotted in the surrounding area. I should mention that following a childhood incident, I have an extremely strong dislike of anything that flies, buzzes, and stings. I looked up from the article, and was greeted by something small and yellow that appeared to be making a beeline (please excuse the terrible pun) for my face. In a brief moment of panic, I frantically tried to bat the creature away, loudly uttering something unrepeatable in the process. Once I came to my senses, I realised that all the fuss had been directed a completely benign fruit fly. Let’s just say that the next few miles were ridden rather quickly.

Thereafter, things settled down and my legs found their rhythm. It was quite possibly the most painless century I’d ever ridden. No mechanical issues, strong headwinds, muscle cramps, navigation problems, unexpected climbs, or dodgy drivers. Practically unique. When I reached the top of the last big climb with 35 miles still to go, I began to wish that I’d picked a longer route. Despite this, I decided to put the hammer down in the pursuit of pizza. Aero bikes really come into their own when you want to go fast on rolling roads, it might only be about 10% easier to maintain a given speed but it makes a very noticeable difference. For the last 25 miles of that ride, I was grinning from ear to ear.

It goes without saying that I was happy and relieved to arrive back in one piece that day. However, another part of me was sad that it was all over. In the midst of so much uncertainty, planning and completing those rides had given me something concrete to focus on. In cycling, I’m lucky enough to have found something that never fails to keep me sane. In the words of John F. Kennedy, nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.

I’m going to end by thanking everyone who provided messages of support during the challenge. A few words of encouragement can make all the difference when the going gets tough. I’m not sure how much money was raised in the end, but thank you if you donated.

Thanks for reading.

Rule 32

It’s Easter, or at least it was when I started writing this a few days ago. Traditionally a time of hope, renewal, and optimism, it’s been a little different this year. Each day is accompanied by a new set of depressing headlines; record death rates, crashing economies, and, worst of all, healthcare workers forced to put themselves at risk because protective equipment is in short supply. Most of us are largely confined to our homes, often with little to do except wait, watch, and wonder what on Earth is going to happen next. Truthfully, keeping my spirits up at this time has been rather challenging. Taking a leaf from the book one of my heroes, Columbus of Zombieland, I’m embracing rule 32 and trying to enjoy the little things. If you don’t understand that reference, go watch the movie – it’s guaranteed to be much more entertaining than reading this.

Whilst I’m not going to lie and pretend that I’ve enjoyed the lockdown, it has to be said that there a few silver linings to be found. It might be tricky to get hold of tinned tomatoes, however, on the flip side, desserts are often to be found on special offer. I would highly recommend starting your day with a slice of passionfruit cheesecake. I should probably put in a disclaimer at this point: If you came to this blog in search of nutrition advice, it might be best to look elsewhere. If dessert for breakfast isn’t enough, more happiness can be found in justifying a takeaway habit in the name of social responsibility. Why risk venturing to the local supermarket, when you can get a large pizza with two sides delivered to your door, contact free.

With very few official work commitments, the daily routine has become pleasantly flexible. I must admit that it’s rather nice to ‘occasionally’ not set an alarm, roll out of bed at 11, and spend most of the day in my dressing gown. After all, I’m sure I read somewhere that being in a comfortable environment can enhance productivity. My thesis is, in fact, coming along surprisingly well. Better still, there’s time to get all of those small jobs done, the ones that inevitably get left till the last minute most of the time because there’s always something more important to do. I’m not necessarily doing any of those chores, but it’s nice to have the option.

Anyway. As per usual, I’ve managed to go off on a completely irrelevant tangent. “Where’s the Cycling stuff!” I hear you ask, in indignant tones. Fear not, my increased level of cheesecake consumption has to be compensated for somehow, I haven’t stopped riding, i.e. committing the usual acts of ineptitude that might be vaguely entertaining. I must admit was starting to get worried; my training was going well, the bikes were all rideable, and I hadn’t succumbed to the temptation of any cycling related impulse purchases of late. How very boring. Luckily ,there’s a substantial dose of irony to be found there, in that the one time I prepared properly for the racing season, there won’t be any races. All those wet winter interval sessions, gruelling spring endurance rides, and careful weight loss efforts, were in fact completely unnecessary.

In an effort to make the most of the hard-earned fitness, I’ve decided to go out and chase some Strava KOM’s. Over the past couple of seasons, quite a number of the precious few that I held have been lost. It goes without saying that all the riders who beat me must have been riding e-bikes and been lucky enough to catch perfect tailwinds. Nonetheless; it remains a sore point (before you ask, yes, I have discussed this in therapy). There’s one particular segment that I’ve long since wanted to add to the collection, an 11 mile unofficial time trial course that conveniently starts only a couple of miles away from my front door. Yesterday, in the name of giving my neglected time trial bike an outing, I decided to make an attempt.

You’ll be pleased to hear that I didn’t go all out and put my skinsuit on. Though, it did occur to me afterwards that the sight of it might have helped persuade people to say indoors that day. No, taking a TT bike was overkill enough. Having not ridden mine for months, the first few miles of the ride were a bit of a learning curve. Those machines are very good at going fast in a straight line, sadly they fall short elsewhere. When it comes to certain things you occasionally have to do, such as; stop, go round corners, go up hills, go down hills, and avoid hazards, the TT bike is not your friend. Mine is currently sporting a rather nice pair of 90 mm deep, full carbon rims, fitted with a pair of super slick tyres. Fast as those wheels are, they’re a bit terrifying in anything other than perfect conditions.

The steep descent before the beginning of the segment did a perfect job of getting my adrenaline levels up. I can only apologise to the passing driver who may have heard some of the language I used when, due to questionable braking, I entered one particularly sharp bend a bit more quickly than I had intended. There’s something especially gruelling about a full on TT effort, especially when you haven’t done one for a while. I have a theory that the main reason why people often go on to ride more TT’s after their first one is that the brain forgets the extent of the pain shortly after the experience, as some kind of psychological defence mechanism. Half way through the effort, for the umpteenth time, I vowed to never again try to get the KOM on any segment more than half a mile long.

It’s hard to put the elation that I felt upon eventually taking the segment by 15 seconds into words. At the time, I simply imagined that I’d just won the TT stage of the Tour de France. Punching the air, and shouting “YEEEESSSSSSS”, at the top of my voice felt entirely justified. I have a feeling that the startled family, who happened to be walking on the path beside the road at exactly that moment might not have felt quite the same way. Should this post ever reach them, let it be known that I got my comeuppance on the way home. Having completely exhausted myself, on the final climb of the ride I was overtaken by a man on a hybrid.

To end on a slightly more serious note, if you’re still able to cycle outdoors, please do it responsibly. Listen to the experts; avoid group rides, stick to routes you know, and stay as far away from pedestrians and other riders as you possibly can.

Thanks for reading.

The COVID-19 One

It was all going so well. A phrase that I suspect will be on the lips of a large proportion of the world’s population at the moment. Being the chronic overthinker that I am, I came up with a great number of scenarios in which things went wrong in 2020. A global pandemic was not among them. It’s surreal to think that a few weeks ago, in the UK at least,  coronavirus was only a distant black cloud on the horizon. A problem in a far away corner of the world, that would never trouble these shores. Oh how wrong we were. I’m writing this five days into an unprecedented national lockdown.

So far, I’ve been very lucky. Whilst it would be very easy to fall into self pity over my research being suspended and not being able to see my friends, it’s important to have a sense of perspective. I’m young and healthy enough that my chances of survival, should I pick up COVID-19, are essentially 100%. I haven’t lost my income, had a vital operation postponed, or seen a loved one succumb to the virus.  In a world that tends to favour extroverts, it’s a good time to be an introvert. At this point, I’m itching to launch into a rambling anecdote about the value of self reflection and introspection. Having read some truly terrible ones over the last few days, and concluded that it’s hard to write such a thing without sounding like a sanctimonious narcissist, I’ll desist.

If you’ve read this far without closing the browser window with a sense of exasperation, kudos. I haven’t forgotten that this is supposed to be a blog about training, racing, and all things cycling. From this point onwards, I’ll try to stay on topic. Luckily, unlike in France, Italy, and Spain, ‘recreational cycling’ is still permitted over here. Where I live, it’s just about possible to go for solo training rides without breaking social distancing regulations. I’m pleased that bike shops have been deemed essential and kept open, lest we forget that millions of people, including a few healthcare workers, rely on the humble pushbike to get to and from work everyday.

If things continue as they are, the chances of the racing season going ahead are slim to none. It goes without saying that it’s very annoying to think of all those wet and cold pre-season training rides going to waste. I’ve been unusually good at keeping to my training program, having decided that things needed a rethink following a rather disappointing 2019 season. My trusty gravel bike has been bombproof, surviving floods, hidden potholes,  black ice, and just about everything else the roads of rural Devon could have thrown at it. One particularly memorable ‘highlight’, came when I had to shelter under a tree for 10 minutes due to a freak hailstorm occurring halfway through a 3 hour endurance ride.

I could go an all day about adapting training sessions, adjusting goals, and home workouts. It goes without saying that, within the weird and wonderful bubble that is the world of endurance sport, such things are important. Truthfully, in the midst of these uncertain times, it seems trivial to dedicate a post to the technicalities of interval training or a critique of periodisation models. Rather than improving my power output or reaching my race weight, my motivation for waking up and heading out on long, hard training rides is that of keeping up semblance of normality.

In a cruel twist of fate, when we’re only allowed the leave the house once a day, we’ve been treated to a couple of weeks of unusually warm weather. I’ve avoided a lot of my usual training routes, mainly out of fear of running into people with no regard for the distancing regulations that have been put in place. Sadly, there have been quite a few still wandering around in large groups. Instead, I’ve stuck to the remote lanes of Dartmoor. After a couple of hours riding around there at the best of times, you could be forgiven for thinking it was uninhabited. It’s been fun to re-discover some hidden climbs, test myself against block headwinds, and negotiate twisty descents, with only sheep and the odd pony for company.

Joy can be found in those brief moments; when you’re pushing as hard as you can at the top of a climb, letting go of the brakes on a descent, or simply getting lost in your surroundings. For a few precious seconds, you’re exclusively focused on one thing and one thing alone. You can forget about the problems facing the world, silence those nagging voices in the back of your mind, and experience a level of serenity that it’s difficult to reach by any other means. Of course, reality rapidly returns afterwards, often in the form of your legs running out of steam when there are still thirty miles left to ride. Anyway, you get the picture.

Thanks for reading.

Crosswind caper

I’ve often thought that cycling, for those unfamiliar with the sport, must seem like a very strange pastime. On a few occasions I’ve made the mistake of using cycling terms in normal conversation and received some rather strange looks. It’s all too easy to forget that phrases such as “I had a massive bonk” and “I’m trying a different sort of lube” may have alternative meanings. I have a few friends who still can’t quite get their heads around the fact that everybody wears lycra voluntarily. I suspect that my love of time trialling is especially perplexing to outsiders aka normal people. Truth be told, I can understand why. Riding along dual carriageways on bikes that usually aren’t easy to steer and don’t brake especially well, probably doesn’t constitute most peoples idea of having fun.

I rode my very first TT on a whim three years ago. I ‘attacked’ the local 5 mile course on my road bike, put simply, it was horrible. Most of the time in road races the pace is very much on and off, either it’s easy or you’re going into the red. TT’s are different ball game, the effort is relatively constant throughout, pacing it correctly is harder than you might think. Anyway, on this particular occasion I got the pacing spectacularly wrong. I started off at breakneck speed, felt good for the first two miles, blew up halfway round and rode the homeward leg embarrassingly slowly. I resolved never to ride a TT again. That was until I saw that I’d only been beaten into fifth place by a handful of seconds. I came back the following week, paced it better, and went twenty seconds faster. From then on, I was hooked.

Since then, I’ve invested huge amounts of time and money in the pursuit of personal bests. I’ve acquired all of the usual paraphenalia; TT bike, skinsuit, aero helmet, deep section wheels, etc. Recently, I’ve been eyeing up a pair of rather expensive aerodynamically optimised overshoes, guaranteed to save a whole ten seconds over a distance of 25 miles. I’ve changed my diet, experimented with various training strategies and even tried out some mental exercises in the name of shaving a few seconds off of previous times. You probably get the picture by now. During the last couple of seasons, I’ve travelled far and wide in search of fast courses. Conveniently, the fastest 25 mile TT course in the country is ‘only’ a couple of hours away in Wales. It was there that I found myself last weekend.

It’s fair to say that the trip didn’t get off to the best of starts. The hotel we’d booked at the last minute turned out to have been the only place with rooms available for a very good reason. It took us several attempts to find the place, with the satnav initially trying to send us along a footpath. We arrived to find something that can best be described as a welsh version of Fawlty Towers. Our room had an overpowering smell of bleach which I suspect was designed to cover up the subtle underlying odour of mildew. Having been travelling all afternoon, we were starving hungry and in need of a good meal. Eons passed before the decidedly mediocre meal arrived. Lastly, we discovered that the walls were paper thin. Thank heaven for ear plugs.

It won’t surprise you to learn that I didn’t get much sleep that night. After an early start, we escaped as soon possible and ended up having breakfast at McDonalds. As pre-race nutrition goes I can tell you that it was far from ideal, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. Just like last year, it started raining shortly before we got to HQ to sign on. By the time I got on my bike to warm up, I wasn’t in the most cheerful mood. After the century last weekend  my legs weren’t feeling brilliant and, to add insult to injury, the skies turned ominously grey again as soon as I took to the start line.If I hadn’t travelled so far to get there I’d have pulled out then and there.

Mercifully, once I got going my legs seemed to remember what they were supposed to be doing. Apart from an unusually high heart rate things seemed to be relatively normal. The first mile of the course was well sheltered from the wind, once I passed the first turning and got out onto the main road it was a different matter. In six years of cycling, I’d never encountered such scary conditions. The 90mm wheel I was running up front proved itself to be a very effective sail, it was all I could do to keep the bike going in a straight line. It’s the only time I’ve ever looked forward to uphill sections in a TT, the reason being that it was slightly less difficult to stay in control at slower speeds. One particularly vicious gust almost put me directly into the path of an oncoming van, apologies to everybody in the surrounding five mile radius who heard the resulting 18-rated scream of terror. I’m eternally grateful that it didn’t rain properly until I’d finished, had the roads been wet I’d probably have retired early.

Suffice to say, the first 15 miles of the course were not especially enjoyable. I breathed a sigh of relief when I reached the turning point, knowing that the wind would mostly be behind me from that point onwards. The return leg was relatively easy, by that stage I’d settled into a good rhythm and could just tick off the miles as they came up on my Garmin. I finished, exhausted but satisfied that I’d given it my very best shot. My final time of 53:48 with an average speed of 27.9 mph definitely wasn’t what I’d hoped for, however, crucially it was still a PB. The weekend hadn’t been a total waste.

Inevitably, I’ll be back next year. The maddening thing about time trialling is that there’s always going to be something new to aim for. Personal bests, then wins, then, if you get really good you can start targeting course records. I suspect that I’ll still be hurtling along those dual carriageways in forty years time.

Thanks for reading.

Don’t try this at home.

A fortnight ago, I was sitting in a rather nice restaurant in France, enjoying a spectacular meal washed down with a pint. That day’s ride had been easy, we’re talking that rarest of situations, a flat route with the benefit of a tailwind. The sun was shining, the company was good, and my bike didn’t need cleaning. You get the picture, it was a nice day that had put me in a good mood. Discussion turned to the upcoming club century ride. It’s been going for a few years now and is probably the most popular ride of the year. The route is relatively easy, the feed stations are well stocked and, with so many riders participating, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll find a group going at a suitable pace. Every time I’ve ridden a century, I’ve climbed off the bike at the end and vowed to never do another one. My last one was back in March, therefore, by the time that fateful evening arrived I’d had adequate time to forget how much my legs hurt and had reached a point where I was open to another 100 miler.

An idea popped into my head, in my contented state it was all too easy to let rational thought fall by the wayside, and convince myself that it would be fun to try and ride the route of the club century alone, trying to set a solo course record. Even more stupidly, I let the plan slip to couple of people – making it next to impossible to take the sensible option and back out of the ride the day before. Of course, once I got home from France and had a couple of rides on the potholed, muddy, and narrow UK roads, I realised that the task lying ahead of me was not exactly going to be an easy one and would require careful planning. If you’re a normal person i.e., not a cycling geek then feel free to skip the next two paragraphs.

First and foremost, I turned my attention to bike setup. I was torn between an aero road bike and full on time trial setup. The former would have been more comfortable and quicker through the corners but in the end I decided on the latter, opting for straight line speed above all else. So far, the furthest I’d ridden that machine was a mere 56 miles a couple of years back. Earlier in the year during a 25 mile TT, I realised that the saddle needed changing – without going into too much detail, the old one wasn’t doing wonders for my chances of being able to have children later in life. I hoped that the one I found on eBay for £15 would do the trick. The bike was set up with a very aggressive riding position, prioritising speed over comfort. I can just about hold that position for an hour, the prospect of doing it for at least four and a half didn’t bear thinking about so I swallowed my pride and raised the stem by a couple of centimetres. Things were made more complicated by the questionable weather forecast. In the interest of safety, I swapped the 90 mm carbon wheel I usually run on the front for a 45 mm carbon-alloy hybrid.

In typical last-minute fashion, it occurred to me a couple of days before the big ride that the bike didn’t have any bottle cages fitted and offered nowhere to store food. Fortunately, I’d hung onto the aero bottles (yes, that’s a thing) that I used to use for triathlon. I borrowed a top tube bag from my father and found that it would just about accommodate the essentials; four energy gels, pump, puncture repair kit, phone, car key and bank card. On the day, I taped a couple more gels to the top tube just to be safe. If there’s one thing you really want to avoid on long rides, it’s running out of fuel. Finally, I thought long and hard about the best kit for the job. In the end I went with a skinsuit, not exactly flattering to look at but, from an aerodynamic perspective, much faster than an ordinary jersey and short combo. Rather than a long-tail TT helmet I opted for a aero road model, knowing that I’d struggle to hold my head still for such a long period of time and, therefore, fail to reap the full benefits of the former. Anyway, enough of geeky stuff – onto the actual ride.

I woke up early, wolfed down a massive bowl of porridge and loaded my bike into car. I wanted to set off as early as possible, I told my family that this was because I didn’t want to get entangled with any large groups  which would be tricky to get past. In reality, it had rather a lot to do with making sure nobody was subjected to the sight of me in my skinsuit. At first, the signs were positive. My legs felt fresh, the sun was shining and, mercifully, the first 5 miles were almost all downhill. On the main road out of town I was confident that my decision to ride a TT bike had been the right one, riding in the aero position made it easy to maintain a fast pace.

At mile 5, things began to get a bit trickier. TT bikes are infamously difficult to handle and I had to concentrate hard to navigate mine through some narrow, twisty country lanes. Inevitably, I took a couple of wrong turns in the process. It didn’t help that there had been some heavy rain during the preceding few days, leaving mud and debris on the roads. A large stone, well hidden by a patch of mud, put a spanner into the works at mile 25. The 23mm slick tyre I was running on the rear was no match for the stone in question and, inevitably, I punctured. In theory, I was well prepared and properly equipped to deal with it. Sadly, the reality wasn’t quite as straightforward. Try as I might, I couldn’t get a patch to properly adhere to the inner tube. Worse still, I hadn’t had enough space on the bike for a spare one. In the end the only solution was to knot the tube and hope that it would hold. Luckily, the first feed stop was only another mile up the road. I had no choice but to wait there until the groups started rolling in, hoping someone would have a spare tube that could be adapted to fit my deep section wheel. Ever reliable, my father had a spare that worked perfectly. I’m never going to hear the end of that one.

Thanks to that incident, I completely lost the benefit of my early start. Truth be told, I was feeling very irritable. On a more positive note, the roads soon improved and once again I could get to work on raising my average speed. That was, until it started to rain. At that point I came very close to bailing out, I’ll admit that a few close shaves in the past have made me quite nervous about riding a road bike in the wet. Keeping going became a mental test rather than a physical one. I was able to hold off the fast group until mile 50 when they came flying past. Getting caught was inevitable, despite my aerodynamic advantage, a well coordinated group of quick riders would always have been faster. Nonetheless, the sight of the group vanishing into the distance was demoralising. Suffice to say, the first half of the ride had not exactly gone according to plan.

I’ve always found that, from a mental perspective, miles 50-75 of a century are easily the hardest. Your legs feel fatigued from the sizeable distance you’ve already covered but there’s still a long way to go. You’ve got to be careful not to listen to that little voice in your head that pipes up, telling you that you won’t get round. I can say with honesty that that particular segment of the ride was a real struggle. I’d been in riding in TT position for much longer than I’m used to, my neck and lower back were loudly protesting. In typical UK style, by mile 60 the rain had stopped and given way to bright sunshine in the space of about half an hour. This phenomenon was very much a double-edged sword, the roads had dried out but the heat came into play. I only had enough room to carry a litre of water in total, which I was now having to carefully ration. Completing the ride was not a foregone conclusion.

With 3o miles to go, the fatigue really began to kick in. I broke the ride down into 5 mile segments, a strategy I learned during my running days. My nutrition plan had worked relatively well, and I just about had enough energy gels left to get me through the final leg. Small climbs that I wouldn’t have noticed during the first 25 miles now required what felt like herculean efforts. Desperate times call for desperate measures, having not bought a pair of headphones with me I put my phone on full blast. It probably wasn’t the best idea to ride through all those sleepy little villages with heavy metal blasting out of my top tube bag, however, at the time I really didn’t care. Thanks to the combination of heat, tiredness and dehydration, I wasn’t exactly thinking straight. I can’t deny that my grandmother would probably have fainted if she’d heard the language I used when I arrived at any particularly steep climbs.

With 10 miles remaining, I briefly pulled over to take my final gel and check on my average speed. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I’d been going more quickly than I’d thought. That quick glance at my garmin, coupled with the thought of a cold recovery drink followed by a shower, gave me the mental boost I needed to make it home. The last 5 miles were almost entirely uphill, in some ways I was relieved because it gave me an excuse to get out of TT position and ride on the base bar – by that point my neck was on fire. The sight of the town sign that signified the start of the final two kilometres genuinely bought a tear to my eye. I’ve rarely been so relieved to have finished a ride. Having been cycling for a few years, I’m used to pushing myself, this ride took it to the next level. I was pleased with my time of 4 hours and 54 minutes, giving an average speed of 20.4 MPH. It wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, but, factoring in the puncture incident, rain, and everything else, I decided to take it as a win.

24 Hours later, I’m writing this sat on the sofa where I’ve spent most of the day. I can testify that pretty much everything hurts, including a few muscles I didn’t know I had. I’ll take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped organise yesterday’s ride, without their continued investment of time and effort, it simply wouldn’t be possible for it to take place each year. I’m going to end with the following, just in case you ever think that a solo century is a good idea. It isn’t. Don’t do it. See sense. Save yourself.

Thanks for reading.

Back in business

I’m back. To the three or so people who regularly read this thing and must have been waiting with baited breath for the past several months, in my head anyway, I can only apologise. To say that it’s been a busy time, would be a serious understatement. I’m going to try and sum it up in this post, kudos to anyone who gets more than half way through it without falling asleep.

First and foremost, I graduated, miracles do indeed happen on occasion. After three years of blood, sweat, tears, coffee and beer I came out of University with a BSc in Sports Science. I’m probably going to spend at least the next ten years explaining that it was ‘very nearly a first class’ followed by a series of exquisitely crafted excuses as to why it wasn’t. Like many students, I’ve become strangely fond of the University lifestyle and developed a phobia of getting a real job. To that end, I’ll be heading back in a few weeks time to start a research Masters.  Now that’s out the way, I’ll try to make the rest of this post about important stuff, by which I mean cycling.

I’m sorry to report that no new bikes have been purchased since the writing of the last post on here. In fact, I’ve even managed to sell a couple. Before you judge me too harshly, know that the loss of those bikes has been punishment enough. After six years of faithful service, the time came to say goodbye to my beloved cannondale supersix. Together we shared many happy memories; my first century, completing the ventoux cingles challenge and getting the KOM on a local climb after two years of trying, just to name a few. Unfortunately, with my homemade gravel bike now performing winter training duties the cannonade simply wasn’t getting used. With a heavy heart, I sold it to a friend of mine. Consolation came in the form of the pair of carbon wheels I bought for my TT bike with the proceeds of the sale.

A couple of months later, it was also time to say goodbye to my mountain bike. I’d had a lot of fun on the local trails in the past eighteen months, however, with an off-road biased gravel bike I simply couldn’t justify keeping the MTB. In about twenty years time, when I manage to scrape the money together, I’ll get  a more up-to-date full suspension model. This time round, the proceeds went toward a very nice SRAM carbon chainset, I’ve justified this particular buy on the grounds that it’ll save me a vital two seconds or so in time trials. That’s left me with four and a half bikes to my name, the half being the 1980’s peugeot that’s still sitting in bits in the garage. Fortunately, I have managed to spend a bit of time riding the remaining quartet.

The highlight of April was a week in Mallorca. I’m going to save some time and summarise it by saying that, for the most part, it was much the same as last year. However, there are a couple of noteworthy exceptions. Specifically, I’ve spend a lot of time basking in the glory of having been the first one in our group to make it up a couple of the big climbs this time round. I’ll concede, however, that my victory may be have been partially related to me not having ridden 100 miles the day before, unlike my ‘competitors’. Typically, the trip happened to coincide with the deadline for handing in my dissertation, most of which I characteristically left until the last minute. Sadly, a couple of days of the holiday had to be spent trying to finish it and I missed out on some of my favourite routes.

Thereafter, things took a turn for the worst. The combination of exam season, an unshakeable cold and dominoes pizza probably did a good job of counteracting the fitness gains I’d made in Mallorca. I managed a couple of club 10’s in late April but that was it, my racing season was not set to a be a particularly fruitful one. Having just about survived my last term at University, by the time June came around it was time to try and get back on track.

Thanks to a strict regiment of calorie counting, interval training and long rides with a minimal number of cafe stops I managed to get back to something vaguely resembling race fitness. Beating last years time at a local open 25 mile TT by over a minute provided a much needed confidence boost. My annual attempt to return to road racing went much the same way that it usually does. In my defence, I did get into a perfect position to attack on the final climb – sadly, it was a lap too early. Once again, I’m cursing myself over a lack of tactical awareness / common sense. I’ve reached the conclusion that, if I really want to do better next year, I’m going to have to subject myself to some local crit races in order to hone my skills.

That brings me to a rather surprising event that happened a couple of weeks ago. Already, I’m planning on boring my grandchildren to death with this story at every possible opportunity. It was the end of graduation week, the hangover had only just worn off and I’d only turned up to this particular time trial on a whim. Miraculously, my legs felt quite good. I’d ridden the course the previous week and was at least 90% sure where all of the turns were. It goes without saying that all time trials are hard, some, however, are harder. This particular course was characterised by a hideously steep climb in the last kilometre, set to dash the hopes and average speed of those foolish enough to ride it. If I do say so myself, I paced it to perfection – riding at 95% during the first 9 miles so that I had just enough in reserve to tackle the last climb at full tilt. My final time was only five seconds quicker than that which I’d posted the previous week. However, it was enough to beat the thirty other riders who had turned up and finally bring home that allusive win. I know, it was only a club ten and I only won because nobody faster could be bothered to turn up. Nonetheless, it was a very sweet moment, after six years of riding I’d reached the point of being able to challenge for victory.

After a few days, it was time to set off for the second cycling holiday of the year, a week in France. I could easily have dedicated an entire post to that trip but in the interests of time (laziness) I’ll keep it short. You really can’t beat the roads in that part of the world; smooth, grippy, quiet and pretty much devoid of dangerous drivers. After a hectic few months, a few days spent riding along at an easy pace was exactly what I needed. Due to my competitive nature, that didn’t happen. You can take the man out of time trial season, but, you can’t take the time trialling out of the man. Inevitably, one day I decided to ride solo and complete the sixty mile route in as little time as possible. As you might imagine, this made the final two days of riding rather hard work.

I was further rewarded for my impulsive smashfest by getting dropped on last sunday’s club run. I didn’t even have time to tell everyone about my sensational time trial victory before they were several miles up the road. True to form, I’ve spent this past week recovering and contemplating my decision making skills. As I’m writing this, it’s blowing a gale outside and tipping it down with rain, which makes the club century ride on Sunday a particularly unattractive prospect. In short, it’s situation normal.

Thanks for reading.

Welcome back

Hey folks. It’s been a ridiculously long time since the last post, you can thank a combination of Uni work, training, stress from various sources and of course the usual dose of laziness. During the last couple of months it’s been a bit of a whirlwind, to call it challenging would be a spectacular understatement. The main positive to take from it is that somehow or another I’ve gotten myself back into decent shape.

I’ve barely touched my road bike since last November. The condition of the roads in Southwest England seems to get worse every year; we’re talking potholes that you could learn to swim in, half-inch thick mud coating the lanes, deep floods and on one memorable occasion a load of snow & ice. For that reason I’ve trained mainly on my trusty gravel bike.

                                    

It’s in bad conditions that off-road inspired tech really comes into its own. Disc brakes that work in the wet, wide tubeless tyres that can be run at low pressures to enhance grip without the risk of a pinch flat and 1x drivetrains that are easy to clean & maintain. Add mudguards and you’ll have a machine that can cope with pretty much anything. I’m proud of having only had to resort to the turbo trainer once this winter, putting that bike together was a big investment of both time and money but it’s very much paid off.

Traditionally I’ve done my long winter rides on the road but this time round I’ve taken to long MTB sessions instead. At the risk of offending all the roadies reading this I have to say that personally I find these much easier to get through, it’s very hard to get bored on the trails – if you switch off you’ll probably end up falling over a tree stump. My £375 hardtail is a very long way from the high end mountain bikes  you see on magazine covers but as a winter workhorse it’s done a brilliant job. If nothing else when you’re used to climbing on a 15 kg bike with knobbly tyres and small wheels it feels amazing when you get back on a carbon fibre thoroughbred.

Somehow or another I’ve still managed to squeeze in a couple of gym sessions each week. Following my initial skepticism I’m very much a convert to weight training and would suggest it to any fellow Cyclist. I’ve worked on my lower back strength which lets me ride in the drops for longer, trained my core to improve power transfer on the climbs and finally gotten full strength back in my right shoulder having injured it a couple of years ago. I have to admit that the aesthetic effects are also very pleasing, I’m no Arnold Schwarzenegger but have succeeded in putting on some upper body muscle which means I no longer have the physique of a stick insect.

With all the time commitments that come with the final year of University I’m focusing on quality over quantity. Realistically I don’t have more than about eight hours a week to train, the key is making the best possible use of it. Unfortunately it means a lot of hard interval sessions, like the majority of sane individuals I can’t say that I always enjoy them but there’s no doubting how good high intensity training is for your fitness. PR’s have been coming thick and fast and with the time trial season starting soon that’s very reassuring to see. This newfound fitness coupled with the carbon wheels I’ve managed to get hold of having sold my old winter bike should hopefully lead to some decent results.

It’s very likely that these words will come back to haunt me but I’m optimistic that we’re through the worst of the winter. Already the roads are starting to dry up, it’s just about warm enough to ride in shorts and it won’t be long before the evenings are light enough to head out without fear of having to get home in the dark. That brings us neatly to the very memorable ride I had yesterday.

If I’m honest then there’s no getting around the fact that the few days preceding it had been very difficult. I won’t discuss the details on here but it can be summed up as series of unexpected problems of both personal and professional nature. There’s something uniquely comforting about waking up to sunny weather, especially when it happens as rarely as it does in this country. That morning it was particularly stunning; blue skies and a warm breeze. I decided to take my Specialized out for the first time in well over a month and head to the beach.

In my experience the best rides tend to be the ones you decide to go on at the last minute, this one took things to the next level. I’d forgotten how it felt to ride a light, fast & nimble road bike – powering up the climbs and descending as quickly as my nerve would allow. Unusually for a Saturday morning the roads were quiet, the sun stayed out and the traditional block headwind didn’t manifest itself. It was warm enough for a mid-way cafe stop. I felt happier than I had in a long time, sat there eating a very nice slice of carrot cake whilst looking out over a calm sea. It bought on a feeling of calmness, a sense that everything was going to be alright and that my bad week was very much in the past. I could talk all day about the fitness benefits and competitive side of cycling but in reality it’s the thought of that feeling that gets me on my bike.

Thanks for reading.

In with the new

It’s over. After a hectic few months of training and racing encompassing all the usual highs, lows and laughs the 2018 season has come to an end. By my own admission the very last event of the year was something of a disappointment. Body and mind had both had enough, all I could think about on the startline of that Hill Climb was the tantalising prospect of going home, climbing off the bike and putting my feet up. My rather embarrassing finishing time reflected this attitude.

Fortunately, earlier that week I had received some encouraging news. After hitting a rather worrying 74kg in April I decided that something had to be done. I certainly wouldn’t recommend a calorie controlled diet for everyone but by this stage I know I have a tendency to overeat and that the best solution is keeping a very close eye on my intake to ensure that doesn’t happen, too often anyway. I was pleasantly surprised to step on the scales and see a much more hill friendly 68kg. Next up came a VOMax test, the kind of thing you’re lucky enough to get for free if you’re doing a Sports Science degree. Once again the results were promising, 64 ml.min-1.kg-1, marking a 10% improvement over the last nine months. No doubt there is still work to be done but it’s reassuring to see quantifiable proof that my training has worked.

All of this has got me thinking about the prospect of next season. My main goal is a bit of an ambitious one but I’m hoping it’s going to do the trick with regards to keeping up my motivation over the winter once training starts again. Before this year attempting to qualify for a National Championship would have been laughable. However, achieving some good results in TT’s on what I have to admit was often a less than ideal training regime and whilst being significantly above my race weight has given me some hope that with some hard work it might just be possible. I’ve decided to dedicate myself to setting a time good enough to get a starting slot in next years National 10 (that’s national 10 mile TT champs for those not familiar with the UK scene).

This is going to mean taking everything up a level. More hours on the bike, structured training sessions, regular testing and being disciplined with my diet amongst other things. On the plus side it’s given me a fantastic excuse to bring out the inner bike tech nerd and look into getting some new equipment that ought to gain me a few precious seconds – looking cool obviously being a mere secondary concern… honest.

A lack of riding last winter meant that endurance was by far my biggest weakness. Blowing up prematurely ended my hopes in two road races and my performance in shorter TT’s was much better in comparison to longer ones. Unfortunately there’s no substitute for miles in the saddle. In order to motivate / scare me into getting up early for those long rides over the winter I’m considering taking on a challenge in the Spring before the TT season really begins in earnest. Typically it’s something really brutal that’s attracted my attention. When you see a survival blanket and emergency whistle on the compulsory kit list for an event it’s hard not to take notice. As it stands an attempt at the Dirty Reiver is in the works. It doesn’t get much tougher than a 200km off-road ride in a remote forest, my homemade gravel bike should be up to the task but I can’t yet vouch for the bloke riding it.

My immediate future is not going to consist of hard training. It’s time to rest my legs for a month and focus on other things – namely making sure I don’t fail my degree. Much as I love Cycling, a break from the mental and logistical strain of training and racing is very much needed at the moment. I’ll still ride but only if and when I want to, no hill reps in the rain for a good long while. On that I’ll sign out – time for some cake.

Thanks for reading.

 

Climb & Punishment

Hey there folks. At the time of writing I’m looking back over what can’t be described as a straightforward week. It’s summed up very well by the events of Saturday morning.

Hill climbs are a a uniquely British tradition, usually held towards the end of the season in late autumn. It’s just as simple as it sounds, ride up a climb as fast as you can. To all intents and purposes it’s a very short time trial. I hate them. In fact, hate is something of an understatement – loathe, despise, fear and dread were the other four words that came to mind. Back in the day when I still had a skinny teenage physique and weighted 10kg less than I do at the moment I’d have had a good chance of doing well, sadly this is no longer the case.

Why bother entering then? I hear you ask. Motivation is sometimes very hard to come by at this time of year, often the only way I can drag myself out of bed for those training sessions in the cold is to give myself an incentive in the form of an upcoming race. At the moment hill climbs are the only realistic option. When I heard of one taking place a mere two miles from my front door I couldn’t really refuse. So it was that I bought my race bike, skinsuit and best pair of shoes to University with me and prepared for what I knew would probably be one of the most unpleasant five or six minute segments of my life.

Of course it was freezing cold in the morning. And raining. And windy. I just about managed to fit a base layer on under my skinsuit but sadly it was akin to bringing a knife to a gunfight. By the time I reached the event HQ my hands were so cold I could barely change gear. What made matters worse was still having half an hour to go until my start time. Ordinarily I’d have used it to warm up but this time round the prospect of sitting down in the dry was simply too enticing.

That’s how I found myself getting on the bike a mere ten minutes before I was due to start. Just about enough time to ride down the hill and get very cold again, say hello to a couple of people I knew on the startline and set off. I’d had a look at the course elevation profile the night before, my pacing strategy was relatively simple; 0-0.4 miles ridden hard, 0.4 to 0.8 at medium-hard, 0.8-1 hard again and finally flat out for the last quarter of a mile. In a desperate attempt to get the whole experience over with I of course overpaced the first section. As you might imagine the remainder of the race wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs.

I mean it when I say I’ve never been so happy for a race to be over. I didn’t even bother to stick around for the results once I’d signed back in and handed my race number back. Suffice to say my time was pretty appalling, the one small positive I can take from that race is that I didn’t succumb to hypothermia. The flu-like symptoms and hacking cough I had for the next two days were I think a sign that I should never do another hill climb ever again. Once I’ve done the one in a fortnight that I entered a while back anyway.

Now, having read that you can draw your own conclusions about the rest of the week. It’s an unfortunate truth that in much the same way as getting the pacing for a time trial or the tactics for a road race completely wrong it’s possible to misjudge people and certain situations. During the last ten days or so I’ve really excelled myself.

Not for the first time I’m immensely grateful for the escape that rides can provide. The countryside that is in reality only about four miles away from the city centre feels like a whole different world. An easy ride gives you time to think about things without the usual distractions and a very hard one can make you forget about your problems all together if you do it right. There is certainly a lot to be said about the mental health benefits of getting out on two wheels, it’s my opinion that they are just as important if not more so than the physical ones.

It was during the last few miles of my ride today that a big home truth popped into my head. This is very important year, during the next few months I’ve got to finish my degree and get round to applying for a Masters. In short, making a mess of it would be a very bad thing. More than ever keeping my health in check is going to be essential. For me this means always keeping some time spare for training, whatever else may be happening in life.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Job done – Mostly

Hi folks, it’s time for that racing update you’ve all been dying to hear (in my dreams). With the exception of a couple of Hill Climbs the 2018 racing season is now over and done with. I’m following the usual plan of continuing to train throughout September and then taking October off so as to focus on Uni work and anything else that might happen to come along.

I’m sorry to report that the final TT of the season was a complete and utter disaster. I knew from the start that the sub-20 minute time just wasn’t going to happen. My legs were utterly spent, I’ve put this down to an unusually intense last two and a half months. Trying to make up for starting my season so late by competing twice a week had worked well up until this point but sadly the accumulated fatigue caught up with me that day.

I still had some hope of a good showing during the first five miles, my confidence boosted primarily due to that fact that most of it was downhill with a nice tailwind for good measure. Sadly once I’d negotiated the mid way turn my worst fears were realised. I did my level best to get something out of my tired legs but to no avail, truth be told it felt as if I was riding backwards.

In a way I’m glad of what happened next because it gives me the perfect excuse for my exceptionally slow time. Typically, on the one occasion I didn’t look closely at the course before the event I managed to take a wrong turning. Only when a set of roadworks I didn’t recognise appeared in the distance did I realise it, a full mile after the error had been made. At that point there was nothing more to be done but turn around and hope that I could at least find my way back to HQ.

It was tempting to find another event to enter but ultimately I decided to end my season then and there. My form hasn’t been great over these last couple of weeks and my motivation certainly isn’t what it was. It’s fair to say that whilst it hasn’t been the season I was hoping for a year ago it’s been better than I could have realistically expected after such a difficult winter.

I’ll forever remember 2018 as the year in which I realised that my forte within the world of Cycling is most definitely Time Trialling. With a best 10 mile time of 20:01, a 25 mile PB of 54:54 set in apocalyptic weather and a club-record of 10:57 on the local 5 mile course I can look back on the summer with a sense of satisfaction. Hopefully the upcoming off-season won’t be as turbulent as the last one and I’ll be-able to set myself up to better those times next year. Of course a few upgrades to my TT bike may also be in order for the sake of some precious seconds.

I’ll cheerfully admit to being nervous heading into the off-season. Having built up to a good level of fitness again I’d hate to lose it in the course of another winter defined by setbacks and difficult circumstances. I’m going to do something different this time round and use these next few months to focus primarily on Mountain Biking. That particular discipline can be enjoyed (or at least tolerated) in all weathers and the challenge of improving on the trails should provide a good substitute for racing in terms of motivation.

If all goes to plan project gravel will finally come to an end soon – more of that in a future post. With a 1x drive train, disc brakes and enough clearance to fit full length mudguards that bike will be far more suitable for winter training than my trusty Cannondale. Hopefully the poorly maintained Devon lanes will be a bit more bearable, which is to say I’ll manage to motivate myself to get out and ride on them a bit more often this time round.

In short it’s been a good season and I’m hopeful of more to come. I’d like to think that 2019 may be the year when I manage to convert top 10’s and the occasional podium into a few wins. Better still I feel I can finally justify the eventual purchase of a disc wheel, even if fail to attain any PB’s I’ll be doing so in style (don’t laugh too hard).

Thanks for reading.