Flaming June

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I knew it would happen at some point, it seems to happen every season, but the suddenness of falling out of love with cycling this time round has surprised even me.

Up until the end of May I’d been quietly pleased with how my season had been going, but it’s fair to say that June was a frustrating month for me. I picked up my first chest infection for a while at the end of May, which meant no training or racing whilst on antibiotics so I had to endure several days of sitting in traffic instead of bypassing the morning queues in the bike lane as per normal. I also got an extra dose of steroids to help with the usual fall out on my asthma which, coupled with the sudden drop in activity and not so corresponding drop in calorie intake, saw me add a frightening amount of weight in just over a week. With a trip down to Swizterland planned for the middle of the month, I was desperate to be in some sort of shape to be able to put in some decent miles in the Alps.

After 10 days or so of moping around, I was off the drugs so I decided it was kill or cure at the evening MTB crit. I normally like the summer crit series as it’s not as technical as the winter XC races and generally suits my lack of off road skills, but I’d heard the track wouldn’t be much fun on my ‘cross bike so wasn’t feeling overly motivated. It was also the first time I’d been on a proper off road ride since I’d trashed my wheels in the UK in April, but the joys of my flash pump meant that changing from my ruined winter tubeless tyres to my summer ones was painless. Alas, it turns out they weren’t particularly suited to the rutted earth of the local motoX track. I had a fairly sketchy couple of warm up laps where I felt my front wheel was about to wipe out at any moment as the lack of knobbles towards the side of the tyres left me with a distinct lack of grip everytime I leaned into a corner.

As ever, I got away to my usual poor start but gradually moved up through the field as my confidence and knowledge of the track grew – it turns out smashing it round rutted berms on a cross bike is a nerve-wracking but ultimately satisfying experience! All in all it was going quite well until I glanced over my shoulder to see where the guy behind was, took too much speed into the very final corner, my front wheel went from under me, and I stuck it on the deck in a cloud of dust and lost a place in the overall GC. No damage to the bike luckily, but I ended up with a bit of gravel rash down my shin, a nasty cut on my knee and a badly bruised ego.

Two days later my bike & I, both safely bubbled wrapped, duly arrived at Zurich airport for a week long *cough* business trip. The forecast was for heavy rain all week, so after catching the early train on the Sunday morning from the city down towards the Italian border it was a pleasant surprise to see a bit of blue sky overhead. The day started with a thoroughly enjoyable but chilly climb up the deserted cobbled road over the San Gotthard pass, followed by a brief coffee and cake stop in Altdorf overlooking the statue of William Tell. Despite the forecast, the next 2 hours were spent climbing the relentless Klausenpass in nearly 25C. By the time I reached the top though you could see the bad weather sweeping up the valley and, although the rain held off for the steepest part of the descent, the final 80km back to Zurich was a pretty unpleasant affair in ever increasing traffic and heavy rain. In truth I still hadn’t recovered fully from my chest infection, and I spent the rest of the week in meetings in a very soggy Zurich with what felt like a nasty head cold. I did manage a couple of shorter evening rides out of the city during the week – nothing mountainous, but enough to test the legs, before setting off early on the Friday for a damp lap of Lake Zurich and a short but steep climb through the clouds up the back roads of the Etzel. It was the first time I’ve seen anything of Switzerland other than Zurich and the scenery was truly breath taking, but a week of burning the candle at both ends left me feeling absolutely exhausted by the I time I got back to Guernsey late on Saturday evening and there was no way I was either a) well enough, or b) going to clean the bike, reassemble it and be signed on for a road race at 06:30 the next morning.

Luckily Monday was a scheduled rest day anyway, but I felt totally rock bottom and had no enthusiasm for getting back to training on the Tuesday – even that day’s short commute was an absolute grind. I’m not sure whether it was fact that the weather has been relentlessly shit this summer and that fact that I’d got wet on every ride for 2 weeks solid, or just the come down of being back from the alpine scenery of Switzerland the week before, but I was totally rock bottom and out of love with my bike. The final straw came when my turbo broke on the Wednesday – the resistance keep jumping up and down making it totally unusable so, after a tantrum my 5 year old would be proud of, my turbo was sent back to Tacx and I was back to training outside in the rain without any power data.

Everything pointed to last Sunday’s 10 mile TT being a bit of a disaster, and so it duly was. I hadn’t done any road racing for over a month, let alone sat on my TT bike, and my lack of race sharpness showed as it all unraveled in the headwind over the final mile or so. As if that wasn’t enough, I managed to pick up a stomach bug that day too which has totally floored me. On the plus side, I’ve dropped over 3kg in weight, but I’m still not over it nearly a week later. I’ve already written off this weekend’s 25 mile TT too, and I’m going to try and get back into some sort of form in time to head to France for a few road races next weekend.

I’m hoping this is where my coach earns his keep and picks me up off the floor, because at the moment I could quite happily jack it in for the season.

Plus de la même

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SaintCast

Whoops, have been rather remiss at updating the blog for a while!

Well, the weather has warmed up a bit and it feels like we’re well into the racing season already. Since my last update I’ve done a couple of road races in Guernsey (without any notable results – although I did manage to beat someone in a sprint finish for once) and a few shorter time trials, including a PB in a 5TT when the seemingly incessant wind finally abated for a day!

I had planned on making my UK racing debut with a Southern XC race at Checkendon over the Easter holidays (my wife still doesn’t believe it was a coincidence I booked a place only 2 miles up the road!), but unfortunately it was cancelled on the morning of the race due to a waterlogged car park so I was left to smashing it round the very picturesque byways and bridle paths of the Chilterns on my cross bike until I managed to hit something particularly large and put a big hole in a tubeless tyre and broke a spoke for good measure. It was fun whilst it lasted.

The next trip planned for France was the Pentecost weekend when there’s normally a race in our village on the Sunday. I had hoped to find a Cat 3 race on the Saturday, but because of the bank holiday Monday in France, finding a race within a reasonably distance was difficult and disappointingly the only race in the whole of Brittany was a D1/D2 a two hour drive away down towards the South coast.

Entering the races proved a little trickier than previously, with neither of the race organisers particularly communicative via email, and I ended up resorting to a search of Strava segments to find details of the courses.

I travelled with a mate again to split the travel costs, and there were 3 other guys from the Velo Club on the same boat over who ended up doing the same two races, albeit in the next category up. Sign on was a little easier to find this time with it being at the start/finish line both days rather than a nearby bar or sports centre but, despite my best Google translated pigeon French emails, neither of us were included in the ‘engagements’ for either race. That said, there was no problem adding our names to the bottom of the sign on sheets once we’d handed over €7 each and flashed our BC licences and letter of authority.

Saturday’s race was in Sérent, near to Plumelec where Dad & I had watched the team time trial at the Tour de France last year, and it was the usual format of an out and back loop for the main 1/2/3 race followed by several laps of the same closed road circuit that our side show D1/D2 race would be on. Once we’d done a couple of warm up laps, and the main event had headed off out of the town, the 80 or so in our race lined up and headed off at break-neck speed for 11 laps of the rolling circuit. After a mile or so I found myself near the front when the first attack came, and despite busting a gut sprinting off to join the early break, I turned round to see the whole peloton was right on my wheel! There were a couple of short sharp climbs that did nothing to spread the field our, and the roads were quite decent apart from one section of rough stuff at the top of the climb out of the town, which knocked the breath out of me every time we had to chase down an attack.

It seemed that everyone fancied having a go at getting off the front, and the pace was relentless as the peloton reacted to shut down each move until a small break got away just after half distance. I was struggling by this stage and found myself being repeatedly shouted at by a guy in a VC Rennes kit to the point that I sat up and, to para-phrase, pointed out that if he was unhappy with my pace maybe he’d prefer not to be sitting on my wheel the whole way round. I hung in for a few more laps before ended up on the wrong side of a split in the peloton and trundled round for the remaining 2½ laps somewhere towards the back of the 50 or so finishers, trying to save as much energy as possible for the next day. One of locals was grumbling on my Strava entry that it was more like a Cat 3 race than a D1/D2, so I guess I got what I wished for after all!

I was still feeling a little tired from the previous day’s 4 hours of driving, never mind the lesson in bike racing, when we woke up on Sunday but at least it only took us 10 minutes to reach Sunday’s race just outside our village of Saint-Cast-le-Guildo. Having done a couple of back-to-back races already this season, I’d remembered to fuel properly during the race the day before but the quads were still burning on the walk back up the hill from the boulangerie in the morning. We got chatting to one of the local racers at sign on who’d previously visited Guernsey, and it was interesting to learn that every weekend he drives all over Brittany to do these closed road village races – not a single time trial in sight.

Sunday’s race was a dizzying 22 laps of a much shorter 2 mile circuit, and thankfully the pace was back to my previous experience of D1/D2 racing. There were some pretty narrow lanes round the back of the circuit for the 75 riders to try and squeeze through, and I found myself boxed in as an early break of 12 or so riders got away – although to be fair I was pretty happy sitting in for the first few laps as my back was starting to ache from the not particularly sensible 120psi in my not particularly sensible 23mm tyres. The peloton was pretty disorganised and we never really got going in trying to chase down the leaders, and the slow pace meant the group was still pretty big until the inevitable crash following a touch of wheels as we lapped some back markers with 2 laps to go. I somehow managed to avoid the guy bouncing off the road right of me and, with the pace suddenly increasing, decided that the front of the group was the best place to be. Luckily I managed to time my move up through the peloton well enough to grab 4th place in the bunch sprint, and 16th overall.

After a gentle spin in the sunshine up to Matignon and back for a recovery coffee, we indulged in the customary post-race galette saucisse and traditional chat with a drunk local who insisted that their uncle once won Paris-Roubaix (seriously, this guy must have nephews in every village in France!), before watching the other Guernsey guys finish their 2/3 race and then heading back into town for quite frankly terrible pig-burger and a couple of well-earned Pelforth.

At the time I was a bit disappointed with Sunday’s result, as it wasn’t that fast and I really should have got across to the break when it was only 10 or 20 seconds ahead. It’s very different to Guernsey where seemingly every race ends in a bunch sprint, so the tactical side of reeling in a large breakaway is still something of a learning curve, but with hindsight I was quite pleased with my sprint, as it’s something that has never been one of my strengths and I have focussed on it a lot in training recently, and 16th is still my best finish in France this season. My next trip over in the summer will be for a bit longer, so it’ll be interesting to see if I can find myself at the front towards the end of races when my legs have had a few recovery days in between efforts.

And so it begins…

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Finally – road season has arrived! Although with not quite with as much of a bang as hoped. Whether it was the cold weather, or the unfortunate cancellation of this year’s Channel Island Cyclocross Championships, but it sort of slipped in under the radar unnoticed right at the end of February.

I had been working hard towards the inaugural CI Cross Champs over Jersey in the middle of February, but a lack of interest amongst Jersey competitors at thought of only two riders coming over from Guernsey (seriously chaps – it’s double the number that normally race over here and besides, have you tried getting to and from Jersey on a Sunday in February?!?) saw the race cancelled without anyone from the organisers telling me, even though I told him I had booked my flights already. Cue much gnashing of teeth. Feeling guilty for encouraging my mate to come over with me for the race, I bought his plane ticket off him, changed the flights, and and ended up taking my son over to Jersey for the day instead during half-term so that rescued a few brownie points from the wife.

To make up for the disappointment, I hastily arranged a long weekend with my two-up TT partner over in Brittany at the beginning of March for a couple of road races. I found a website which lists various villages races in France and, which my bestest pigeon French, rang the contact numbers listed. The first race I found was the Etoile de Tressignaux on the Saturday, a relatively well know early season race just north west of St Brieuc. Having just about managed to work out that there was space in the D1/D2 support race (note to self – look up what the French for the ‘@’ symbol is before you start trying to exchange email addresses!), I emailed over our names and UCI licence numbers and the club president confirmed our entry.

Something for the Sunday was a bit trickier to find. There was a 3rd/D1/D2 race just east of St Brieuc, but they wouldn’t let us race unless we have a French Cycling Federation (FFC) licence. I found another 3rd/D1/D2 race just west of Rennes and having ascertained via the magic of Google translate that they’d be happy for us to race as long we were on the FFC’s list of approved foreign riders. Cue a quick call to British Cycling who promptly issued us with a nice letter in French detailing our insurance cover and passed our details to the FFC to add us to their list. Bingo – race entry confirmed!

In the meantime, the local road season started with the traditional 15 mile time trial. As expected for the middle of the English Channel in February, it was blowing a gale and freezing cold. In fact it was so cold that I opted to wear my ‘cross skinsuit, and rode up to the start with a winter jersey and thermal jacket over the top and two pairs of gloves in an effort to stay warm! Most people’s times were about a minute slower than last year, so I was pretty pleased to take 12 seconds off my time from last year and finish as first senior and 6th overall.

Roll forward 5 days, the wind had dropped enough for the ferry to sail and we were heading to France. We arrived at Tressignaux just as the race commissaire was setting up in the local bar and were greeted as long lost friends – “Ah! Les Anglais!”. All signed on, we did a course recce and set up the turbos in the rain for a warm up. It quickly became obvious from the odd looks we were getting that we were the only ones doing this as the locals just did repeated laps of the short 4.5km circuit.

Having initially tried to line up in the semi-pro 1/2/3 category race, we worked out our race was the following one, and 125 of us headed off into rain for 80km/17 laps of the undulating course. I struggled to clip in at the off, and found myself towards the back of the pack, seemingly having to dodge a rider lying on the deck at every corner for the first few laps on the narrow greasy roads. The pace was relatively relaxed and I gradually made my way up through the pack, but by the time I was on the front on the peloton at about 40km I had already missed a break of about 20 riders and my mate had abandoned with a mechanical. A couple of riders attacked the peloton going up the finish straight, so I sprinted across to them and another 10 or so came with us as we worked together in an attempt to claw back the race leaders. As the rain stared getting heavier, and my Garmin gradually ticked down to 0C, our group of poursuivants collected a few who had been dropped by the leaders but ultimately finished about 30 seconds down on the winner and I crossed the line in 25th.

Sunday’s 3rd/D1/D2 race was the main event that day in Cintré, and there were a number of junior races taking place as we signed on in the local sports hall. The crowd started to build as we did our recce lap, and we were even introduced to the crowd as “l’equipe de Guernesey” by the race commentator as we crossed across the start/finish line. It was a fairly flat 100km course, and the pace was noticeably quicker than Saturday as the 160 person peloton was strung out from the off. I really suffered for the first 15km and tried to hide in the middle of the peloton as my mate took turns on the front helping keep the pace up and not letting the early break of 3 riders get too far ahead.

Gradually my legs came back, but the peloton splintered after a couple of crashes in consecutive laps (just how do you ride into a tree on a dead straight section of road?) and I found myself in the third group of three and having to chase back on. Nobody was really working together so I found myself digging deep to drag our gruppetto back on to the main bunch. I stuck with it for another lap or so, but my legs decided that was enough for the weekend and I peeled off after 65km and trundled back round to the start/finish line before climbing off for my first ever DNF in a road race. As it turns out, my team mate was already back at the van having abandoned with another mechanical in the previous lap, so we grabbed a gallette saucisse each, got chatting with the locals, and watched the final couple of laps before heading off home.

All in all, not the most successful weekend in terms of results but I’ll certainly take a lot away from it. It was the first time I’d raced in such a large group (the biggest previously was about 40), and it took a while to get used to bumping shoulders at 50kph and how to make room to safely move up through the bunch. The races were also longer than the usual distances back home, albeit less hilly, so it was a good test of my early season form. Ultimately though, it was just a joy to be racing somewhere different for once.

 

 

 

The coach approach

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  There were more than a few occasions last season when people expressed surprise that I didn’t have a coach. It seemed that nearly everyone I was racing against had at least sort of formal training plan, and several people did take me to one side and suggest that I would likely benefit from being coached in some form or another. I must admit, I’d never really thought about it before but the idea of having ‘a plan’ to rigidly stick to filled me with dread – riding my bike has always put a smile on my face, and I didn’t want it to become a chore. And besides, I’d always quite liked the fact that people thought I was slightly nuts for riding everyday all through the winter instead of retreating to a warm spare room on the turbo until spring.

I think I finally made my mind up in the bar in St Malo after the Duo Normand that I would take the plunge and hire a coach for this season, even if only out of curiosity as to how much of a difference it would actually make, however it was the purchase of my turbo that really opened the door to something more scientific than my existing regime of commuting back & forth to the office. Now I could record my power output, and actually measure just how hard I was actually pushing myself (or not), as well as quantifying any improvement in my abilities over time beyond just another PB in a time trial.

I was in two minds about whether to hire on or off island (how can someone coach you if they’ve never seen you even ride a bike?), but the others I had spoken to all used off island coaches and seemed to get on OK what with various training diary apps, Skype and email. So I did a few Google searches and came up with a shortlist of few places that offered various packages ranging from 12 week generic training plans to 12 month tailored coaching programmes with a professional coach. In for a penny in for a pound, I thought I’d probably get more out of something more tailored so a couple of emails and a questionnaire about my type of riding and goals for the coming season later and I had signed up with Dig Deep Coaching. They set me up with a Training Peaks account and then introduced me to my hand-picked appointed coach.

First things first, after a brief introductory Skype call, I had to take a functional threshold power (FTP) test so that we could determine my maximum power output and set my training programme accordingly. I can honestly say that was the hardest I’ve ever worked on a bike – I turned myself inside out and really felt like I was going to throw up, which was about the right level of effort I understand! Once I recovered, my coach outlined the parameters for my training zones and set my training plan for the first week – mostly power work set around my ‘sweet spot’ – about 80-90% of my FTP. The initial 8 weeks followed pretty much the same pattern, with the same 3 or 4 sessions appearing in my Training Peaks diary over and over again, which did worry me a little that it was going to fall into the ‘chore’ category quite quickly. However, the sessions have varied since, and there is now enough variety in my training to prevent any feelings of Groundhog Day.

It’s followed from there really. Three weeks of 3 mid-week turbo sessions, a couple of recovery rides and the ‘treat’ of a long ride out in the real world if I’m not racing of a weekend. Every fourth week is a recovery week, and then it’s back to business. I’m still commuting to work by bike, albeit a much shorter route than before, but I’ve definitely been working harder than I did last winter and as well I would otherwise have pushed myself if I’d been left to my own devices. Each Monday I get my sessions reviewed and feedback on my performance, and my programme for the week ahead gets input into my Training Peaks calendar for me to follow, and if I ever have any questions outside of this time my coach has always responded fairly promptly to any ad-hoc emails.

Not that it’s all be been plain sailing. There are a couple of things that haven’t quite worked out as expected – I’ve found that initially the hours I’ve had to put in have been above what I had indicated I had available to train on the questionnaire I completed when I joined (much to my wife’s annoyance); and I’ve struggled to understand the benefit of a couple of the sessions such as high cadence spinning or low effort 4 hour endurance rides – although that may well be a lack of understanding on my part as much as a lack of communication from my coach. To be fair, he has suggested changes to my programme based on what he seen of my performance (over-training springs to mind!), and changing my routine slightly has helped maintain my motivation too.

Speaking of motivation, although it’s ultimately down to me to actually put the hard graft in, I’ve found that thought of letting someone down if I didn’t do the sessions has helped kick me up the backside (more so than the thought that it’s actually costing me money for the training!), so I haven’t missed a session yet. Also, receiving feedback for the first time ever has been a real bonus. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all been super-positive brown nosing stuff as I initially feared, but I’ve found that having someone who is supposedly objective analyse my sessions and point out positive things even when the feedback I’ve given has been that I felt that a particular session went badly, or felt I was really suffering whilst doing it, has helped keep my chin up when I was initially beating myself up about it.

So far so good then. I have done a second FTP test and although my power output only increased by 2 watts, I had shipped 2 or 3 kg of weight, so it was a 4-5% increase in the all important watts/kg ratio. I’m definitely having a better ‘cross season (well, read MTB XC series on a CX bike) than last year, with a win and a third place out the four races so far, although I’m not sure if that’s just a result of more experience given last winter was my first racing off-road. The real proof will be in another 6 weeks when the road season starts, but I suppose I won’t know if it’s really been worthwhile value until I’m sitting in that bar in St Malo after this year’s Duo Normand.

Turbo charged

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tacx

I’d never understood the need for a turbo trainer. All my training had always been riding to work as fast as I could, whatever the weather, and my pre-race warm ups were simply riding to the start line. It seemed to work quite well for me, even last season, despite watching most of my contemporaries spinning away in the sign-on car park working up a sweat and getting ‘in the zone’. Why did I need to spend my days sitting staring into space when I could be actually riding my bike watching the real world go by?

Then I went to the Duo Normand. Given the hundreds of spectators wandering around the small village that the start/finish line was in, not to mention the associated traffic and crazy French parking, riding around the nearby lanes (and no doubt getting horribly lost in the process) wasn’t an option. So I borrowed a turbo trainer from a mate and we set up team HQ in the car park of the village veterinary clinic. Although I didn’t have a planned warm up (I’d never used a turbo before so just sat there spinning my legs trying to look as if I knew what I was doing), the benefit of such a contraption for a even a simple session to get the muscles going dawned on me, as did the potential as a training aid.

After my endurance-based training for my LEJOG ride in 2014, I tried to stick to my pledge of ‘quality over quantity’ last year and waste less energy and time churning out junk miles. Despite the fewer miles, I still finished the year feeling pretty jaded and with a less than impressed wife (although my son has now stopped thinking I’m a professional cyclist), so I thought that a turbo would help me further condense my training without the need to spend hours grinding it out in miserable weather all winter and serious money on flowers for the Mrs – win-win! So I popped down to my LBS to see what they had in stock, and not ten minutes later I was the proud-ish owner of a “I’ll give you a great deal because it’s ex display” ready-assembled Tacx Bushido Smart.

With nothing much in the box except the motor unit and a front wheel stand, all I had to do was attached the flat ended axle to my rear wheel and download the free Tacx app onto my iPad and away I’d go – or so I thought. No matter how hard I tried to pair the Bushido with the iPad app, it just wouldn’t connect. It turns out that the version of Bluetooth that the Bushido uses is a different version of Bluetooth that my iPad 2 uses, so I had to pop back to my LBS and buy an Ant+ dongle for another £40. A bit annoying. Anyway, dongle duly inserted, and it immediately paired via the app. Fortunately, connecting to my Garmin 510 was a doddle as it speaks Ant+, and whilst I’m still using my existing speed and cadence sensors to record those metrics, it was simply a case of searching for a power meter whilst pedalling on the Bushido and it connected up in seconds.

As the Bushido is a fluid trainer, the resistance automatically adjusts depending on the ‘slope’ you programme into it and as well as how hard you pedal, so the next thing was to try and calibrate the resistance on the motor unit. It seemed straight forward enough using the calibration option in the app, but I found that it resulted in such impossibly hard resistance that the only time I could turn the pedals was when my back wheel slipped on the motor unit fly wheel. A bit of googling later, it seems that this is a common problem with the Bushido and the accepted fix/bodge is to simply unscrew the resistance dial a full turn once it’s calibrated. Not really what you’d expect for a £300+ turbo, but it seems to have solved the problem.

Once finally all set up, it was relatively straightforward to control the Bushido using the iPad app. There are a number of pre-installed workouts that target various things like resistance, power, heart rate, as well as a short demonstration video of a real world ride. The videos are quite good fun, and the motor unit automatically adjusts the resistance depending on whether you’re ‘riding’ on the flat, up or down hill, and there’s a selection of various famous mountains, grand tour stages or classics race routes to buy. Again, a bit annoying that these cost £8.50 a pop to download as I would have thought they’d be a few thrown in for free for such an expensive bit of kit.

So I loaded up one the pre-programmed workouts and off I went (virtually speaking), spinning away in the garage staring out the window, watching the unsuspecting cat go about his business in a flower bed. Ten minutes later, not only had the cat long since wandered off in search of food, but I was mind numbingly bored and dripping in sweat. I must admit, living on a wind swept little rock in the middle of the English Channel I’ve always cursed the inevitable head wind you get when out on two wheels, but it does do a fantastic job of keeping you from overheating. So I requisitioned an old table top fan from the study, grabbed a towel, and uploaded a few techno beats onto my phone before heading back to the garage to finish my session, sweating marginally less than I was before.

I suspect it was probably me being a noob, but it took a while to get used to the automated  adjustment and just flicking through the gears to increase or decrease the resistance as well as the more rigid position of the bike when sprinting out of the saddle (bad form I know, but I’ve always tended to rock the bike from side to side quite a bit when doing so). Once I’d conquered that though, I can’t say I’ve encountered any problems. I did experience some wheel slippage when my tyre pressure was c.80psi and I was heading up a particularly (virtually) steep hill, but it does everything I need it to as well as having the added bonus of telling me exactly how much power I’m producing. The app displays all the data you’ll ever need (with the exception of heart rate – but half the time I probably don’t want to see that either), and the speed and cadence recorded by the motor unit are pretty much bang on with what my Garmin records from the existing sensors.

I haven’t bothered buying any videos yet, although the demo one does look quite good fun – they’re actual films that move in relation to the speed you’re riding at rather than the virtual reality ones you get on Zwift and other such platforms, and one of the classics routes does appeal to me (although I suspect that it may lose something in translation unless the motor unit can simulate riding over cobbles!). That said, I did look into Zwift as there was an offer of 3 months free usage for Strava Premium members, but apparently there isn’t an iPad app available yet (please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!) and, as I’ve been banished to the garage to save ruining the study carpet, I haven’t bothered to try connecting everything up with my Mac.

So, is that me all set for 2016? Well, no. After a couple of sessions it quickly became apparent that far from improving the quality of my training, I was simply using the Bushido as a means of replicating my outside rides inside, which wasn’t really what I was hoping for. To be honest, I haven’t got the time to sit there and devise a proper training plan for the winter, so in order to get the best out of it (and me) the next thing on my shopping list had to be a professional coach. Nobody ever said going fast was cheap!

New Year, New Plans

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DCIM101GOPRO

It’s been a while since I last blogged, but I’ve still been going for a ride you’ll be relieved to read.

I think took part in nearly every racing series that Guernsey had to offer in 2015 – road races, time trials, road crits, as well as keeping my legs turning over with the MTB summer crit and winter XC series on my trusty (and now slightly knackered) cyclocross bike. I was moved up to Div 2 at the end of 2014 and, although my best finish was a couple of second places last year, I never felt like I disgraced myself in any of the road races at any point despite the noticeable increase in pace from Div 3. Overall I felt it was more of a ‘solid’ road season than a ‘good’ one – my crit racing was dreadful at times, but my time trialling came on leaps and bounds, helped no doubt by having a specialist TT bike for the first time. I was pretty confident I’d get under the hour for a 25 mile TT, which I managed at every attempt, and the highlight of my season was probably a toss-up between going sub-2 hour on the local 50 mile course or finishing 50th out of 320-ish in the Duo Normand two-man time trial in Normandy (3rd out of 93 in our category) – not bad considering it’s a UCI 1.1 event which has been ridden by the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Alex Dowsett and Fabian Cancellara in the past.

I also managed to fit in a couple of great rides in the UK early in the season (despite saying after I’d finished the Ride Across Britain that I never want to ride there again) – the Hell of the North Cotswolds “endurance” ride and the truly brutal Fred Whitton sportive. The HoNC was the first time I’d done a proper cyclocross event, as the local winter MTB series are technical XC races that can be just miserable on a ‘cross bike, and I thoroughly enjoyed smashing it through the Gloucestershire countryside. The Fred Whitton, dubbed Britain’s hardest sportive, was a different kettle of fish. Meandering round the major climbs of Lake District in filthy weather, it’s crowning glory is Hardknott Pass, England’s steepest road with gradients of over 30% – hard work with 100 miles and 12,000ft of climbing already in your legs (although I did manage to save a bit for a ‘recovery ride’ up Buttertubs in the Yorkshire Dales the following day!). Anyway, these two trips really fuelled my desire to do more off-island riding this year but wasn’t really sure what to do. A couple of friends had mentioned the Mallorca 312 (again), and I have long fancied doing one of the Classics sportives in Belgium in the spring, however it was the Duo Normand at the end of the season that really made my mind up for next season – France.

I’ve done a fair bit of (non-competitive) riding in France now, including riding part of last year’s Tour de France route as it snaked through Brittany (not at the same time as the pro’s!), and have always enjoyed the quieter roads and level of respect you get from other road users. I still have vivid memories of long summer holidays at my parent’s old holiday home in the middle of the Brittany countryside, which involved endless laps of the local velodrome and watching the occasional local race that brought the whole village out to watch, whilst wondering what the guy on the microphone sitting on the back of the tractor trailer was managing to shout about for 4 hours solid. Living (and riding) on a small island, being able to spend hours riding through rolling countryside also makes for a pleasant change too, whilst the occasional stop at a boulangerie or cafe in a random little village in the middle of nowhere and the joy of being able to do spend the whole day on the bike without heading down the same road multiple times is quite novel too!

So that’s the grand plan for 2016 – I’m targeting half a dozen road races in Brittany. I’ve never done a British Cycling sanctioned event, so have no idea of my equivalent UK racing category, but I’ve got a rough idea of my standard in French terms following the Duo Normand when we would have won the Departmentaux category or finished about mid-field in the 3ème category had we been racing in them. Knowing I was dragged around the final 10km by my faster partner, I’m going to aim for the Departmentaux level to begin with a see how I get on. I’m sure they’ll be other stuff that comes up along the way too and I have already booked my flights over the Jersey for the Channel Islands Cyclocross Championships in February.

Not that I’m going to abandon racing in Guernsey altogether. Once the calendars are out I’ll figure of which events I’ll target, but whatever I end up doing I’m also want to improve my time trialling too. Although the season ended on a high with the Duo, and I was pleased with my 50 mile time of 1:58:58, I was disappointed with my seasons best of 57:57 for the 25 mile. Granted, it’s not known as a fast course, but I felt like I should have gone quicker in what were pretty good conditions and so I’m targeting a pretty healthy improvement in my TT PBs too given I’m now of the age where my fast twitch muscles are being rapidly replaced by more TT friendly slow twitch (well, that’s my excuse for last season’s poor showing in the road crit series!).

To cut a long story short (too late!), the total lack of useful information (i.e., in English) I’ve managed to not find on the interweb about taking part in tin-pot village races brings me back to the reason why I thought I’d resurrect the “Alex goes for a ride” brand and document my season. Even if it doesn’t serve as the ultimate “Sunday racer having mid-life crisis fancies having a bash at arcing in France but has no idea how it all works” guide to any other Anglophone out there who fancies doing the same, I thought it would be fun to keep a record of how badly I get stuffed by the locals racing round places I’ve never even heard of.

So, goals all set next season, time for a bit of working out how to get there. I lost count of how many races I did last season in total, but I was properly tired to the bone by the end of the season. In hindsight I don’t think I had every really properly recovered from the Ride Across Britain. I’d taken a week or so off with tendonitis when I got back, but then decided I could get to 9,000 miles for the year and kept going right up to the year end. I’d cut down on miles in 2015, ending up at just over 7,000 for the year, but the additional racing had left me feeling drained. I therefore decided that this year I needed to train smarter, not harder. I needed two things I said I’d never get:

1. A turbo trainer; and
2. A coach.

I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be another long season!

It’s only a bike ride

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Well, I suppose you already know how it ends, but as ever there’s slightly more to the story than that. Apologies for the long post, but 3G is a little hard to come by in the Highlands of Scotland and there’s quite a lot to tell.

That said, to spare you too much detail, after my last update from Penrith I started feeling ill and ended up spending most of that night in the bathroom. I couldn’t face any breakfast and at the start line I was tired, cold and decidedly under fuelled. Luckily it was another clear morning as we headed up through the Carlisle traffic and on towards Gretna via the obligatory photo stop at the border crossing. At the first pit stop at the wonderfully named Ecclefechan, and after reacquainting myself with the inside of a portaloo, we met up with some of the other Guernsey riders and formed a pretty efficient train that I was grateful to disappear into the middle of whilst someone else did the hard work on the front.

The roads gradually deteriorated as we meandered through the Clyde Valley towards the Glasgow suburbs, and it eventually became like riding on cobbles whilst being repeatedly punched in the stomach. By this stage I was reduced to just concentrating on holding the wheel in front rather than holding a conversation, and after vibrating a couple of teeth loose, the shrapnel like surface finally resulted in my only puncture of the trip about 20 miles from the finish at Hamilton. Although other Alex stayed with me, the rest of our train disappeared into the distance, and I probably reached my lowest point of the whole trip as my tiredness, illness and the road surface all became too much. Despite Alex’s best efforts, I spent the rest of the ride swearing at anything and everything and generally being thoroughly miserable company (what’s new?).

The next day was the Queen stage – 127 miles and 8,000 ft of climbing as the route took us into the Highlands. I set off with the same group of Guernsey riders but it soon split up on the first climb as we headed into the Trossachs and I found myself on my own for most of the first 45 miles as I paced myself to try and get to the finish. Just after passing through Calandar several sirens sped by up the road and I was flagged down by a couple of riders at a layby who had been told by the Police to stop all riders at that point.

As you may have heard, there had unfortunately been a fatal accident about 15 miles up the road involving one of the Lloyds Bank team which resulted in the road being closed for several hours. As more and more riders turned up, we moved up to a Loch-side cafe a couple of miles up the road where the news filtered through that the day’s ride had been cancelled and the 650 or so riders stuck on the road were to be bussed the remaining 80 miles to Fort William (much to the relief of the woman at the cafe who, having served more people in 3 hours than she must see in a year, was verging on a nervous breakdown).

Another dreadful night spent traipsing back and forth across a damp field to a portaloo saw me set out on a subdued day 8 at a steady pace with Tim from CycleWorld, the Guernsey newlyweds and a nice chap called Chris who they’d ridden with the previous day. The grey mist that hid the top of Ben Nevis at the departure gradually lifted as we headed up the Great Glen towards Loch Ness, passing the time by encouraging passing lorry drivers to give us a supportive honk of their horns.

A tactical ‘rest stop’ at a pub just short of Inverness was a welcome relief, before we meandered through the Saturday traffic (inspecting people’s car boots to see what they’d been buying for tea), and on to the oil rig graveyard that is the Moray Firth. The terrain gradually started rolling as much as my stomach, and the final long descent into the fog that was creeping up the Kyle of Sutherland was a fantastic way to end a very enjoyable day’s riding through some breathtaking scenery.

A full night’s sleep for the first time in ages left me feeling much better for the final day, but I headed off early on my own as I wasn’t sure how much strength I had left in me after being unable to keep any food inside me for more than 4 hours for the last 3 days. Boosted by the best flapjack of the whole trip at a midgie infested stop in Altnaharra, a superb ride up the River Naver watching the otters and eagles along the roadside (alive, I hasten to add!) followed before I reached the coast, where the landscape became more barren and even the sheep looked at you as if to say “you’re mad”.

A stiff cross wind made the final undulating 50 miles tough going, and after 90 miles on my own I was glad that I managed to join up with a couple of other riders as we turned up the hill out of Thurso for the final 15 mile slog down some achingly dull roads into John O’Groats, truly way beyond the arse end of nowhere.

I don’t know whether it’s because I’m so tired, the fact that not everyone who set off made it safely to JOG (and consequently I was unable to ride those 80 miles), but I feel a little bit underwhelmed to be honest. I’ve cycled further than the official distance between LE and JOG, seen some wonderful scenery, and have raised a fair amount of money for charity, so maybe a sense of achievement will sink in later this week when I’m back at my desk in the office retelling tales of potholes avoided.

For once it’s not me being deliberately modest, but after everything that happened I’m just grateful to be home safe and sound. After all, it was only a bike ride wasn’t it?

Close enough to smell Scotland

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I no longer know what day of the week it is. I just wake up and ride my bike. I had to be repeatedly told that today was day 5, which means we’ve gone over half distance and are bearing down on Scotland at a rapid slowness.

We left a relatively toasty Haydock Park (11 degrees!), and turned right out of the race course. And immediately stopped. And then turned around to head left. That apart, it was probably my favourite day so far, with the urban sprawl of Wigan and Preston giving way to rolling countryside and fantastic views as we meandered through the B roads past Lancaster, up the Lune valley, and climbed through the Lake District.

We got into a group of 6 very early on today and shared the work, with familiar places from holidays passed zipping by as we were able to maintain a decent pace. Everyone quietened though as we weaved through the Kendal traffic and headed up the 9 mile climb of Shap Fell. Not a tough one in terms of gradient – only topping out at 9%, but the 23 degree heat (I know! In Cumbria! In mid-September!) made it feel like a very long drag.

The group quickly splintered as other Alex & I rode off the front and the views just kept getting better as we climbed towards The summit. The fields either side teamed with sheep and soaring buzzards circled ominously overhead, but the most impressive sight was probably the RAF Tucano suddenly bursting out from from of the valleys and barrel rolling over our heads.

Eventually we reached the top and began the long descent into Penrith. A nice wide road meant you could keep up a steady 35 to 40 mph as we shot through Shap itself. By this time I’d caught the same chap who’s wheel we’d followed toward the end of yesterday’s ride and we cruised the final 25 miles into Penrith.

Tomorrow’s crossing into the People’s Republic of Scotland promises to be an psychological boost as at least we reach the final country, but if I’m honest I don’t know how far we’re going or how much climbing there is, I’m just going to get on my bike and ride.

Still going…

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Another night without 3G spared me from writing something in Ludlow last night as I was pretty tired to be honest, although I had hoped to post a few pictures of the wonderful scenery on route, particularly through the Wye Valley.

Day 3 was another hilly day, and a last minute diversion (literally an hour before we arrived on scene) up an thigh bursting 18% climb meant it turned out harder than anyone expected (or feared!). The weather was kind again, with blue skies from the off at a chilly Bath but an immediate climb warmed us up and we passed over the Severn crossing to briefly enter Welsh Wales, before safely crossing back in Gloucestershire. There were plenty of photo ops as we headed north up the Wye Valley, and a convivial caffeine stop was deemed necessary at picturesque Ross-on-Wye.

The hills flattened out after that as we headed into the Herefordshire countryside and in to Shropshire (I think county 7 of 23!), and it was great to see Dad at the side of the road encouraging us on. He also came along to the finish at Ludlow Racecourse and we enjoyed a recovery Flake 99 in the warm afternoon sunshine. Another 97 miles down, in just over 6 1/2 hours riding, but the 20,000+ feet climbing in just 3 days is starting to take it’s toll on my knees.

Another cold start out of Ludlow saw us join up with Tim from our local bike shop and two Guernsey honeymooners (really!) who struggled yesterday as we tried to raise their spirits by playing the worst ever game of ‘Guess Who?) for a full 30 miles. We made our excuses at the first pit stop and pushed on with a couple of other groups as the terrain flattened out as we crossed into Cheshire. All good news for the knees, but my Achilles heal has started to get quite painful and was pretty swollen by the time we crossed the line in Haydock Park 107 miles and 6 3/4 hours later.

A quick visit to the physio for some magic tape should hopefully see me right for tomorrow’s climb up Shap Fell, but to have reached ‘the North’ is certainly a welcome physiological boost.

Two down, seven to go!

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Well that’s the hardest 2 days done (hopefully!). No 3G at the camp in Okehampton was a shame, but at least it saved you from having to two dull blog posts.

Day One started early as ‘Eye of the Tiger’ blared out over the PA system at 05:30, much to everyone’s delight. It was misty and damp as we headed out from Land’s End on the road to Penzance, with St Michael’s Mount hidden from view in the fog, and it didn’t take long for a few spots of rain to appear. It was pretty undulating terrain from the off, but as the sun gradually burnt through the cloud and the thermometer on my bike computer nudged into the low 20’s, the ups and downs turned into longer, steeper hills as we meandered through the B roads of Cornwall (including a visit to the wonderfully named village of Minion).

Plenty of people shot past us from the off, but we soon caught them on the uphill sections and the other Alex & I found ourselves riding alone for some considerable miles. I had expected it to be a little more organised into small groups, but that said it was quite a pleasantly uneventful ride through some lovely rolling countryside in the late summer sunshine. Eventually we formed a gruppetto with 3 others with about 20 miles to go as we completed the 108 miles in a touch over 7 hours. Consensus was total climbing of between 8,500 and 9,000 feet, but I didn’t feel like I’d pushed too hard and felt pretty strong at the finish.

Sunday promised more of the same, as we woke to ‘Let’s Get Ready to Rumble’ blast out of the camp tannoy. A cold start gradually warming up to the low 20’s, and plenty of rolling countryside across Devon and Somerset. The day started well as we latched onto a few groups before settling towards the front of a bunch of 8 or so UK club riders. The Quantocks were climbed, as well as Cheddar Gorge, before the a very hilly final 25 miles into Bath Uni. Unfortunately the energy drink we’d been given hadn’t agreed with me and, as I swelled up like a ballon, leading me to switch to water. As I sweated out electrolytes I started to cramp up in my calves and I commuted the schoolboy error of neglecting to fuel properly as the pain set in.

Consequently I started bonking with about 10 miles to go, and the other Alex had to lead me into Bath in just over 7 hours for he 111 miles and a mere 6,000ft of climbing. I crashed badly after we arrived and staggered off to the medical centre to recover my senses. A couple of pints of a well know soft drink eventually brought me back round and I got clean bill of health for tomorrow.

Another early night is in order, but there’s a quite a bit less climbing tomorrow which promises to be a bit of a relief, and I’m looking forward to going over the Severn Crossing. At 97 miles, people are already talking about adding on the extra 3, but I’ll see how I feel at 05:30!