A quick recap of Friday and Saturday before moving onto the main event.
Friday night I headed out to Beeley for a spin up the climb I’d be racing on Sunday, it would also serve as another power / confidence test of my ability to suffer like a dog for around 10 minutes. During the week, probably due to the heavy traffic I’d begun to get some tightness in my left leg, no real pain but on the bike I sensed it was affecting things, Friday night did nothing to dispel those niggles.
Having got to the bottom of the climb I quickly did a U-turn, reset the Garmin and smashed myself up the 2.3 mile climb. Having not done enough of these longer efforts in the last 4-6 weeks I think I was optimistic with the power target and sure enough I came up about 30 watts short, the time on Strava painfully showed up my deficiencies. But, this was on a cold dark Friday night and fully kitted up, I still felt I’d improve that on the day so wasn’t too downbeat. If nothing else, it was a decent ride and if the effort didn’t help on Sunday, it’s still maintaining my fitness.
I woke up on Saturday with even more tightness and some mild pain, this was not looking good so I started getting some pain relief on board. Going up the stairs made my thighs burn, it was at this point I remember sprinting up the stairs on Friday morning to get Charlie’s potty and wondering if that’s where that pain had developed.
Late afternoon I kitted up and headed out on the bike for a short session, the plan to just rev the engine a bit and prime the legs for the work to come on Sunday morning. After Friday’s small confidence boost, Saturday eroded that somewhat as every time I pressed on the pedals my legs just felt like lead weights and seemed to fill with lactic at the slightest effort, not good. Rather than carry on I returned home and prepped the bike in readiness for Sunday morning, with the planned rain I figured it’d best to do this in the dry.
Sunday morning – Race day
Having soaked my legs in bath salts the night before they felt a bit better and despite the rain pouring down I was really looking forward to racing. I knew the weather would put some people off so I figured I’d use that as added incentive to do well. Don’t get my me wrong, I’m not exactly a Flandrian hard man like Tom Boonen but sometimes in cycling you just have to get on with it. With the car loaded up, I set off for the 20 minute drive to Beeley. Radio 1 and Capital weren’t really doing it for me so I hit the CD button and Ice Cube took care of business. Or “shut it down” if your name is Honey G, seriously though Honey G, what the hell is going on there.
My Canyon Ultimate with borrowed ENVE wheels (and my trusty mat)
No fancy headquarters at Beeley, you park where you can at the top of the hill, the conditions were pretty bleak, rain and wind, I channelled my inner Boonen and got out the car to get my race number, safely signed on I got back in the car to keep warm. Hard as nails me!
With approximately 1 hour to go I slathered my legs in tiger balm, pulled up my leg warmers, put on my Gabba, my rain jacket, ratcheted up my shoes, put on my overshoes, gloves and woolly hat and set off for a warm up. Yeah real hard man me! Thankfully the legs felt better than I had anticipated, time to forget the last few days and get in the zone. After a quick chat with James Allen, Adam Kenway and couple of other guys I went back to the car to strip off some layers and make my way down the hill to the start.
The easy bit
As I headed down, I got some encouragement from Ian Farrand and Alex Deck and then descended the hill. As I did so I passed around 7-8 riders who had begun their race, I offered each one some of my own encouragement to take their minds off the pain that would be burning through their legs, not sure it helped any of them, but at least I tried.
Last year despite being at the start in plenty of time I forgot what number I had on, missed my slot, and got a 5 minute penalty before completing the course in 10:32, this year there would be no such mistakes.
With a few minutes to spare I stripped off my remaining kit, had a final swig from my bottle before putting everything in the starters car. The contrast in conditions at the top of the hill (wet and windy) to the bottom, (mild and still) was bizarre and with no sign of number 70, I was held in place, I hit start on the Garmin and I was released up the hill. Last year I’d put out 332watts for a time of 10:32, I would settle for 332 watts today, the time might be slower due to the cross/head wind I’d face in the final half of the climb.
The hard bit
I soon got into my stride in the first 300-400 metres, despite trying to keep it steady I was pushing well over the 332W, but in fairness the sections of the course probably needed it. I tried to keep my breathing (well heavy panting) in check, shifting slightly from the hoods to the bars to give my lungs the opportunity to get more air in before settling on the hoods to keep the power on.
Having rounded one of the corners you get a slight break, a type of false flat, but in reality, the effort remains the same it’s just the speed goes up. The road twists it’s way upward, at the tightest points the road dips slightly so I rode down those to try and get some momentum, I think it worked ok but my legs were burning, I was already beginning to fade. One of the keys to a quick time is to be able to push the power on the less steeper sections (I’d say flatter sections but that makes no sense), I noticed my power dropping so no doubt losing time. It was on this section last year that the eventual winner Matt Clinton (who started 1 minute behind me) passed me, he was seated, so again I stayed seated.
In true hill climb fashion, there was a spectator with a cow bell ringing loudly, he shouted lots of encouragement as I grovelled my way past, thank you whoever you were. Having done roughly 9 minutes of lung busting effort, I got to the corner “ice cream corner” as it’s known, where the small crowds were gathered. I’d taken a very, (very, very) short (micro short) breather before that corner, two reasons, one to build momentum out of the turn and two, to enable me to conserve a small burst of energy for the final section.
The final section, pic courtesy of @TonyWood29
At the turn I’d put out an average of 332W, but as I rounded the turn for the long drag to the finish I was empty, use whatever analogy you want, dead, exhausted, ruined they’ll all fit. I needed to get on top of the gear so I could “big ring it” to the finish, but I could barely turn the pedals, I was going so slow, I knew any chance of a decent time was disappearing fast but I clung on for grim death and as I passed the line the Garmin showed 10:58, not a disaster but not what I wanted. In reality I had no right to expect anything better, the miles / time had not been put into the legs, this was my reward.
2015 vs 2016 (2016 was tougher weather wise)
Just after and during #vainpain
After recovering, I rode back to the car, got changed, handed my number in, scoffed some cake and checked the time sheet. I’d been put down as 11:59, my immediate thought was they’d got it wrong, probably as result of number 70 not turning up but I did have self-doubt so checked my Garmin. Oxygen debt can play funny tricks on you! My Garmin backed up my 10:58, so I informed the time keeper again but sadly this was to no (immediate) avail, they didn’t agree and said my 11:59 would stand. I was annoyed to say the least, I know I didn’t win but personal pride seeing my name up there next to an 11:59 did not sit right. On arrival home I uploaded my data to Strava as a final check, I was still right. Thankfully though, Chris Myhill (the organiser) agreed with me (he’d rechecked his own data once he’d got home) and my time was changed to 10:59 on the official results.
Summary and outlook (not weather related)
My performance on the day, or lack thereof again hammered home where I want to focus my cycling, hills, lots of them. Whilst I want to enjoy my cycling, which I will, I’m already thinking of 2017 and getting myself in the best shape possible. Hill climbing is so popular now, young whipper snappers who weigh next to nothing and put out big power are coming through at an alarming rate shoving middle markers like me further down. I’m determined to stop the slide! Congratulations to Luke Hind from my old club who did a 10:12, going to be interesting watching his progression.
To put things into context, more talent (a lot more), more miles (a lot more) in the legs, slightly less weight and 20% more power gets you a 9:18 and a top 10, (it’s not that simple), I’m realistic enough to know that maybe I can add 5-10% more power, maybe drop a bit of weight, I can definitely do more miles but perhaps talent will be the limiting factor, you either have that or you don’t!
Either way, it’s another nail firmly in the 10 mile time trialling helmet, hills or dual carriageways, hills win again.