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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!