Sunday, 20 July 2014

I'm Back...With a Vengence!

After taking a week off to 'recover' I've been putting in the miles again. Starting with a training ride on Monday and Tuesday. Monday's ride was a quick spin with a couple of guys from the club, the winds made it especially hard and having created the route I spent most of the time on the front, meaning I got a good workout. Tuesday was a race team ride with Tom and James, after pulling my fair share at the start, I had to sit on the back for the final third as the pace was too high for me to maintain. We averaged 31.9 km/h on a route which included Tom's Hill and the backside of Ivinghoe Beacon, followed by Billington hill - my nemesis of climbs.

Wednesday was an opportunity to test my form as James suggested an impromptu time trial on the Tring course, which has a reputation for being fast. Upon arrival we were informed that the course has recently been resurfaced, as a result it isn't quite as fast as it used to be. However the air was completely still and so fortunately there was no wind to deal with.

The result was that I set a new PB, breaking the 24 minute mark by just two seconds. Despite the new PB I was slightly disappointed as I felt I should have gone faster at the start. I held back as I wasn't sure how my form was, and it was only after being passed by my minute man after 2 miles that I realised I was pacing the ride awfully. It might also have had something to do with the fact that I was riding without any sort of speedometer, riding purely on feel. After a PB perhaps I'll ride blind more often!

With the school holidays having started I'm looking forward to an exciting week of training in preparation for this Thursday's race.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Hill Reps and Bonking

Unfortunately there's been no racing this week, the MK Bowl is closed for a concert. So unfortunately there will be no race report tomorrow, and although there was a TT available, after yesterday's hard ride I feel I need a rest day.

Elevation Gain - Ivinghoe Beacon Followed by Eleven Tom's.

The week kicked off with the inaugural hill-rep club ride. On which I was the sole rider. It was a good ride in the end, I put in eleven (ten plus one for luck) repeats of 'Tom's Hill', a short but steep climb in Aldbury, near Tring. I chose Tom's as it's the closest thing locally to the Alps, in terms of gradient and style. The hill itself winds upwards for about 900 metres, before a hairpin right-turn, the summit is then another 50 metres up the road. Not wanting to exhaust myself to soon, the first few repeats were at a steady pace, I picked up the pace up in the middle before inevitably slowing towards the end. It was quite nice surprise to find that I'm not the only one with a taste for the hills; another rider by the name of Mark, I think? Was there also. He was using Tom's as training for the Alps later this year, lucky bugger!

I had only brought a single gel with me, which I'd consumed after the seventh rep. On the way home with about 7 miles to go, I bonked. Now, if you've never heard of the term before or you've never experienced 'The Bonk' then you probably don't know what I mean. 'Bonking' is a term used by cyclists to describe completely draining your body of energy. It results in the rider becoming very weary, usually very disorientated and it becomes extremely difficult to pedal. Bonking differs greatly from 'Cracking', which is when your muscles give out and the pain experienced from a hard effort becomes too much, this can usually be rectified simply by stopping or slowing down and taking a few minutes to recover and allow the lactic acid to subside. Bonking occurs when your body uses up the entirety of it glycogen supply and the only when to prevent it is to take in more energy.

Even more Alpine in the snow.
The issue most cyclist encounter is that your body can only process a certain amount of energy, usually about 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. More often than not, when you're training hard, you're actually burning more energy than your body can process. So even if you down energy gels, you will inevitably run out, the best way to avoid it is to pre-loaded your body with energy. This is why some professional athletes choose to carbo-load, ensuring their body had plenty of glycogen before the start of an event. Normally when you bonk the best option is to find a cafe or shop and buy something sugary, taking half an hour or so to recover and let your body process the food. I had no such luxury however, as it was quickly getting dark and I had no light to guide me home. I made it back with about 10 minutes to spare before it got to the point where I would have felt uncomfortable riding without lights.

It's hard to explain what it feels like to run completely dry, but never before have I had to lie on the floor immediately after walking through the front door. Still, lesson learnt, and I wont be making that mistake least not for a while.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Time Xpresso 4 Pedals - Review

The pedals are not showing many signs of wear after 700km.
The Time Xpresso 4s are Time's mid/low range pedals. I've had them since April now so I think it's about time I wrote a review (no pun intended).

Before buying the 4s I actually purchased a set of the Xpresso 8 pedals, which are a higher end model. However upon arriving home, I quickly realised that buying white pedals may not have been such a good idea. So I held of using them and returned to the shop two days later to exchange the 8s for the 4s. The difference between the two models is negligible in my opinion. I think the weight difference is something in the region of 12g, so unless your bike is made of feathers it's not really going to be noticeable. The only other difference, is the size of the bearing, apparently bigger is better.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the cleats.
The 4s go for around £50, and considering they're made from precious, precious carbon, that's not bad at all. I've only done about 700km on them so far but they've been great. The biggest difference I've noticed in the upgrade from the Shimano SPDs to the Time Xpressos is the fact that the Time Xpressos hold my feet much tighter and give them less room to shift around. This is one of the biggest factors that convinced me to upgrade. The only issue I have experienced is that, the cleats, despite the fact I do very little walking in my cycling shoes, have almost worn out completely. In the year and a half that I had the SPDs I never once replaced the cleats, but I expect I'll have to replace these ones before long. As you can see from the photos the rubber on the cleats has worn out fairly rapidly, leaving the bare plastic exposed.

The rubber has worn away quickly, exposing the plastic
The open design with the Time Xpressos is great, I thought this might weaken them somewhat and shorten their life span, but so far there are no signs of the pedals themselves wearing out. It means it's quick and easy to engage them, particularly useful when pulling away from a busy junction. There's no tension adjustment with these pedals as they work much like a mouse trap however this hasn't proved to be a problem.

Overall I'm very happy with the Time Xpresso 4s and I can certainly recommend them to anyone looking to upgrade and take the step up from entry level SPDs. I'll keep you posted on the cleat-front, so we'll see how long they actually last

I'd be interested to hear your opinion if you have tried Time pedals, and particularly how the measure up to other brands. 

Friday, 13 June 2014

Race Day.

I'd left something at home, again. It wasn't the money this time, it was my race number. Thankfully they let me race anyway*. Although I hadn't been for two weeks I was feeling good and thought it might be my first chance to pick up some points.

I had a position midway up the bunch for the first few laps, trying to conserve energy. But after rubbing hands with the guy next to me it was quickly abandoned in favour of one closer to the front. It was a pretty nervy race yesterday, a lot of swerving, and shouts of 'hold your bloody line!'. I like to stick to the inside of the course, that way I know where my line is.

I held a good position for most of the race, James on my left came second overall.

I was able to hold my position in the bunch fairly well throughout, and stayed within the front ten most of the way round. Then (near) disaster struck, as we approached the bell lap one of the riders to my right swerved suddenly towards me. Our handlebars locked and for what felt like minutes we were jostling around trying not to fall, my front wheel came up and I thought 'this is it, your first ever crash, you're going down Wilf. Prepare yourself'. I'm not sure how, but I managed to stay upright. It did mean I lost a lot of places though, and I think several guys behind had to brake hard, one guy went into the grass and had to abandon the race with just a lap to go. I didn't manage to make my way back to the front on the last lap, and although I must have gained about twenty places in the sprint I was too far back to be in contention. 

The Milton Keynes Bowl, courtesy of Google.

James Barlow, who also rides for LBRCC placed second overall, despite his claims of 'not feeling too good'. And good races were run from the other LBRCC guys: Neil and Gareth, who handled my little tussle well, skilfully avoiding running into the back of me, I'm very grateful for that!

In the end I was glad that both me and my bike were unharmed, if a little shaken up. As for losing my position, there's always next time. 

Strava profile for the race.

*After the hiccups of Wednesday and yesterday, I've decided to write out a race day list which is pinned to my bag. Never again shall I forget!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Second TT and a PB

Yesterday was time trial day, I've only ever ridden one time trial before which was last Thursday's Hemel 10 miler. The Hemel course is simple enough, you ride up a straight road on the way out, then down the same road on the way back. Nothing complicated especially as there are marshals at both roundabouts. It's a long slog uphill on the way out, which I like.

Yesterday though, yesterday was hard. The North Bucks TT is a really undulating course, but it's long undulations which I hate. I like the long grueling gradients that go on and on, ones I can settle into a rhythm on. This, was not one of those. My TT started bad and got worse.

It was 5:30 and I thought to myself, right 15 minutes and then you need to get ready to go. Half an hour later and I was scrambling around trying to get my bits together. Spare tube, tyre levers, etc. Quickly attach the clip on aeros. Go. I was supposed to be meeting James at the Three Locks, which is a pub en-route to the TT. It's only 6km outside of Leighton Buzzard but 10 minutes wasn't a lot of time to get over there. It turns out I was so desperate not to be late that I rode like the wind and pulled in early. So it was a leisurely ride over to McDonalds, where the makeshift car-boot headquarters were parked. I was bugged the whole way by a squeaky cassette, I'd forgotten to oil it after cleaning my bike. Anyway, I was here now, time to get down to business. Okay sign on and...oh...where's my money? Oh yeah, that's right, it's sitting at home on my desk, in a neat pile, with some selo-tape round it so it doesn't jingle in my jersey pocket. Thankfully Miles was there to save me, he's a great guy and lent me the money.

So I put all the mishaps behind me and began to get ready, music on, get motivated. I take the music with me on the time trial. You're not really supposed to but it gives me something to do. Well for 100 metres it does. Before it cuts out and I spend a good thirty second fiddling with the iPod trying to get it to play, those are thirty seconds I should have been riding for. I gave up eventually and got down to the cycling. I knew Tom was my two-minute-man and he's fast so I told myself that if he hadn't caught me by the halfway point, I was going well. It was a headwind out and mostly uphill coming back which meant it was hard - really slow on the uphills and not fast enough on the short downhills. I struggled to get my speed back up after cresting any kind of bump. About 3/4 of the way round Tom caught me. He was going fast so I decided to try and keep him within sight, and I did. I kept him within about 40 metres for a good while until the roundabout where I had to slow for a car. I couldn't have finished more than thirty seconds behind, which meant I wasn't more than 2:30 off Tom's time. I was happy with that.

As it turns out I set a PB, 24:50. Which is thirty seconds faster than my previous attempt. Mind you I hadn't pushed myself particularly hard on the Hemel course, and I'd ridden it on a full stomach. Interestingly, I also got a 3rd place overall on a Strava segment whilst racing to the meeting point with James...I've decided to be late more often.

Review of 'The Climb'

I'm sure you know that Chris Froome's autobiography 'The Climb' went on sale recently. I'm not sure how successful it's been, not as hot selling as Brad's I'd imagine. But I'm a big Froome fan, so I was excited to read it.

The book starts with what feels like some strange narrative, it tries hard to portray the Kenyan vibe of Chris's upbringing and unfortunately comes across quite cliché. However once you get past the first page or two it gets much better. 

Chris goes on to talk about being the youngest to two older brothers and about how they left for school fairly early and he effectively became an only child. His parents then split up and he stayed with his mum. There are quite a few enchanting anecdotes and the first third of the book is about his Kenyan childhood and how the Kenyan national rider Kinjah takes him under his wing. 

The middle of the book is taken up by the transitional stage between amateur and pro, about struggling with the Kenyan Cycling 'Committee' and about some frankly shocking scenarios involving several desert stages at the Tour of Egypt when the 'support' crew decided they would rather be in a bar sipping cold beers than supporting their riders. Leaving one of their riders to lie by the side of the road on the brink of death well into the night until he was eventually picked up by another team car.

Finally Chris talks about the 2012 and 2013 Tours. I was really enjoying the book at this point, however, the style shifts somewhat at this point and I can't help but feel that Chris is using the book largely to get back at the team. Everyone knows about the friction between Froome and Wiggins, but what I wasn't aware of, was the battle he had with the Team Sky management, Dave and Rod. At this point his Bilharzia parasite was undiagnosed and his form was very shaky, despite performing well in the Vuelta in 2011 Sky were reluctant to give him a good contract and Chris got very frustrated. He felt his performance merited a better contract and a chance to go for GC at the Tour in 2012. He talks about some of the offers he got from other teams, offers substantially better than those made by Sky. The problem was that although Froome wanted to stay at Team Sky, they weren't offering him a salary anywhere near what his manager though he ought to be earning. In the end they gave in and they told him he would be able to ride for GC alongside Brad in 2012 but would be on only a slightly higher salary. There's quite a bit of emotion bought across in the writing and you can really feel his state of mind at this time.

After that section the reading gets easier, he talks about the 2012 Tour and the famous tussle between him and Brad. In my mind it's fairly obvious that Chris was the stronger rider and that a lot of the time he was pulling Brad up the mountains, however they were reluctant to go with him for GC. I don't think it was down to his unreliability or whatever Brad said it was. My opinion is that as Brad has spent so much time within British cycling they thought it would be better if he became the first Brit to win the Tour, despite being the weaker rider. Which I suppose makes sense, I just think it's a shame that Chris was never even given the go ahead to go for stage wins and that he had to be glued to Brad to ensure no time was dropped in the mountains. Don't get me wrong, Brad was good in the mountains, but Chris was better and so were the other contenders. 

 Then Chris recounts how Brad didn't invite him to his 'Yellow Ball', despite Chris pulling on every stage and eventually sticking to team orders. He didn't give Chris a share of the winner's money either, which is customary. In Chris' autobiography it comes across as though Wiggins is very distant from the rest of the team, I'm not sure if this is the case.

The account that Froome gives of the 2013 Tour is fairly dry, it's a bit like a diary really, with an entry for each day and not much emotion until the very end. At this point you could almost skip to last stage where he gives his speech on the podium and not really miss much.

Overall I enjoyed the book, despite my critical opinions above, it gives a real insight into just how hard it was to come into the pro world from Kenya. It's predominantly about the years before the Tour de France, which is good and there are also some very touching personal moments. But I feel the short section on the two Tours, particularly the 2013 Tour, lack real emotion. Almost as if the point was proven and talking about winning the tour was just a formality. I would also like to have seen a bit more about his training and his relationships with other members of Team sky, It's definitely a good read though and well worth the £9.00 on Amazon.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The First Post

The first post should be something interesting, something worthwhile right? Ah, well not this one. Here I'm just going to talk about why I've set up this blog.

Firstly, it's a really good way of tracking my progress. It will allow me to look back at the races I've run and how I felt after and during them. Otherwise I'm sure they'll all just blur into one hazy mess of high speed lunacy.

Secondly, it lets me get my opinions about cycling news down on paper and out there, instead of crammed up in my head. With cycling becoming more and more modern it's inevitable that the media attention has shifted. From focussing purely on the races and results in the past, to looking more socially at the sport and discussing the personal lives of the athletes. This means that a shit storm will stir up every now and again over some doping control tests, or some outrageous crime committed in the peloton. No doubt I'll want my say in it.

I'd also like to give some context to this blog. This is my first year racing properly, I entered one race last year. It was the junior category at the MK Bowl, long story short: it was hard, I wasn't prepared, I didn't like it and I gave up after the first lap. I had no idea how fast it was going to be and how serious people would be taking it. I had expected to turn up and be racing against a bunch of guys my age or younger. I thought they'd be on rickety old steelies handed down by their grandfathers. Meanwhile I, on my flash new Giant Defy, would toast them easily! How wrong I was. Despite the fact the category I'd entered was for the under 16s I'm fairly certain I was the only one who fitted the bill. Everyone else was significantly taller and older looking. They thrashed me on their slick carbon racers. 

I didn't race again for over a year. This time I raced in the senior 4th Cat race*. This was a much better choice, the guys were more experienced and not so prone to crazy manoeuvres. Also I had improved significantly and was much better prepared. I'd like to point out that I've only raced in 4 races this year, so I'm not at all experienced, and that brings me onto my final reason for starting the blog. I'd like to share the experience of coming into the cycling world and starting racing from the perspective of an over excited and inexperienced, young rider. 

My third race of the season, and my mild breakaway success. To be quite honest I don't
think they were pushing particularly hard to pull me back. But it felt phenomenal, I had
broken away and was leading and adult race all on my own. I survived for 2 laps before
being caught just before the bell lap.  *If you're not familiar with how the British Cycling
racing system works the adult categories go 4/3/2/1/Elite. 4th being entry level.
[Photo credit: Ashley Lewis]