Sunday, 30 May 2010

Unscheduled Downtime

My dwindling fitness graphically portrayed, thanks to some unscheduled downtime.

After our 10-day monster training camp in Lanzarote in early March (blog post about that still to come), I carried some pretty great form and fitness straight through til the Bedford stage race two months later. Well... to be fair, that form was starting to get somewhat ragged around the edges by then, and as a former "big event" triathlete I wasn't quite sure what to do about it. My years of training until this year have been based on the train hard, train harder, train so hard you're dead, taper/rest, then race schedule that I really had no idea how to approach this week-in week-out constant training and racing. How does one maintain fitness without too much fatigue and still have good form for races? So after Bedford I decided the best way to hang on to my form yet stay fresh was to forego the weekly long rides and stick mostly to shorter stuff, either as races or faster training rides. After all, the longest non-TT race I'll do this year will be less than three hours, so why the need for 100 mile training rides?

So with a CTL hovering nicely around 110 and TSB plus or minus a few digits, I settled in these past few weeks to that plan. And while it seemed to be working in terms of freshness and fatigue balancing into some semblance of form, I still was missing that zip in my legs that I had back in mid-April. I wasn't awesome when I wanted to be; form in races seemed to come and go when it felt like it. Thursday night handicap AKA training race? Great performance! Southeast road race divisional championships? Meh. Crystal Palace saw me relying more on good position and timing than on good legs, and the National 10 mile TT last weekend could barely garner FTP watts. What to do?

Then, a crash a week ago Friday (bringing with it some unwelcome road rash and bruises) made the link between my body's fatigue and freshness even more tenuous, and finally last Tuesday the saddle sore I'd been carefully nursing for the past few weeks was no longer a minor annoyance. So as a result I've been off the bike for six days with at least another two to come before I dare try my luck matching arse to saddle again.

I've been trying to find a bright side to this as I watch my CTL drop like a stone with every passing day, now below the level it was when I finished the training camp in March. And I think it's this: downtime isn't necessarily a bad thing. The timing isn't catastrophic. I'm not truly sick or injured, so building my fitness back up shouldn't be an issue. My peak from the last major build came about six weeks later, and looking at the calendar, the same timing now should mean good form for the Essex Giro national series race at the end of July. So in the end I think I've answered my question about form and fitness and how one races all summer long trying to hold a peak: you don't. At some point you just have to let it go, take a rest, then work to build it up again. I mean, I could race 12 months a year non-stop, but I suspect I'd just end up frustrated that I never felt 100% fresh and zippy. Some downtime, unscheduled or not, is required.

Now I just need to figure out how to make the races that count your best ones... but I have a sneaking suspicion the answer will be much the same. This is a big reason why I love cycling: there's just so much that can't be predicted, though we data geeks sure love to try.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Boxhill Challenge or Why I'm a Big Fat Liar

According to Cycling Weekly, the 2012 Olympic road race will take place on roads I know well and love to hate, including that Alp of Southeast England, Zigzag Road up Boxhill. So popular is this little climb and the woods around it that on any given weekend the cafe at the top is overflowing with mountain bikers and road cyclists scarfing down tea and cake. The Olympic course will include at least one and hopefully more loops of the hill, and while hardly a bump in the road for pro cyclists, it will be an interesting spectacle nonetheless.

With any climb comes a challenge, and the very nature of Boxhill with its easily identified start and finish points, unique switchbacks, low traffic and promise of cake at the end means amateur cyclists like myself can't resist racing themselves and the clock to get to the top. Thus the Boxhill Challenge was born, and it's one in which I fare pretty well compared to a standard TT or Richmond Park's 3LC (three lap challenge). Climbs level the playing field for smaller riders as long as their power is high relative to their weight. I'm not a pure climber by any means, but when the road goes up I don't mind at all! The longer the better, in fact.

Boxhill 24-05-2010Boxhill Gradients

Boxhill at 2.5kms with 5% average gradient means hitting it at full-on VO2max power, bouncing over the rough road, fighting an oft-present headwind, and forcing the pedals to keep turning over when it slightly steepens. It begins as you turn into Zigzag road, sheltered from the wind, and quickly progresses to the steepest section at about 10%, though you hardly notice it if you're carrying good speed after having sprinted to get a quick start!

Turning the corner into the next switchback usually means a tailwind, much welcomed albeit short-lived, and if you have a tailwind here, you're guaranteed to suffer a headwind on the third leg. That one parallels the first and is almost fully exposed to the elements. It's the longest leg and seems to go on forever, bringing about the inevitable bargaining and promises made with oneself: "just a few more minutes, you're almost there", "keep going, at the top you can stop", and my personal favourite "once this is over, you'll never have to do it again!"

Finally the last corner comes into view, inviting a sprint to get around it as the road starts to flatten. The last few hundred yards are a frantic dash to the "finish line", which is at the carpark entrance directly across from the cafe. Gasping for air, you hit "stop" on the bike computer and try to see through bleary eyes what time you did.

While I climb Boxhill as part of my rides around the Surrey Hills quite often, I only take part in the Boxhill Challenge once in a while. My brain does a pretty good job at remembering those bargains and promises I made to myself the previous attempt. Of course, those promises fade into lies, as I always find myself climbing Boxhill full-tilt not two months later, gasping and struggling and cursing the clock, the hill, the road, myself and all the other people who think it's important to race up Boxhill and test themselves, then post their results to motivate everyone else.

And my result? Yesterday's effort -- with a rare but favourable tailwind from the NW -- clocked 6:19 at 297 watts, more than 10 watts higher than my previous best and only one second off my best-ever time (set with my TT bike last September). In fact, I smashed my previous best road bike time by 14 seconds and set a new five-minute peak power record. And of course, I lied to myself that I'd never have to do it again, but in a month or two I'll be back again to see if I can break 300 watts and get closer to six minutes.

Boxhill Climb (297 watts):
Duration: 6:19
Work: 113 kJ
TSS: 16.6 (intensity factor 1.255)
Norm Power: 295
VI: 0.99
Pw:HR: 6.46%
Pa:HR: 0%
Distance: 2.487 km
Elevation Gain: 185 m
Elevation Loss: 60 m
Grade: 5.0 % (125 m)
Min Max Avg
Power: 133 479 297 watts
Heart Rate: 149 186 178 bpm
Cadence: 75 112 93 rpm
Speed: 13 35.5 23.6 kph
Altitude: 61 190 132 m
Crank Torque: 15.3 53.8 30.5 N-m

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Crystal Palace 2010, Race 5

Having missed round 3 because I was helping as assistant commissaire and round 4 because I was recovering from Bedford, after Sunday's disappointing race at Hillingdon I was eager to burn up the tarmac at Crystal Palace last night. We got another good field of women out with 15 on the start line, though with the warm weather it seemed every 3rd and 4th cat guy in London was there as well. The average speed turned out to be faster than usual and 25 laps made it the longest so far, at just under an hour.

Such a close finish! This pic was taken a few metres before the line (courtesy of London Cycle Sport.)

We started out easily enough but within a few laps Natalie from Twickenham had come to the front to start pushing the pace. This dropped a handful of riders from the group, and spurred on by Charlie from Cyclefit, Natalie and I put in some attacks to try and get a gap. We never really managed to get away, but did manage to tire some legs, and with about 10 laps to go we were down to seven riders. Attacking more at that point seemed futile as the fracturing of the other races meant we had to endure group after group of men overtaking us (though we overtook a fair few men ourselves).

On the final lap, Natalie -- doing too much work on the front as usual! -- was pushing the pace with my KW teammate Emily on her wheel, followed by Emma P from the Dynamos (the only sprinter left in the group at that point) and me. I tried to time my now-customary bid for freedom on the hill so that Emma was out of position and couldn't jump on my wheel, but I think I was slightly overgeared as I hit the steepest bit of hill and felt like I was stalling. I managed to keep her to the outside on the bend but knew it was a losing cause as she quickly overtook me, leaving me with no option but to get on her wheel and settle for second. Or so I thought. Fifty yards before the line, she was labouring a bit, and I thought "could I? can I? actually win this?"

I stood up, found my legs keen to give it a try, dug in with everything I had and almost magically found myself coming around her left side. I nearly ran out of road but just nicked my wheel in front of hers in time. The few seconds afterward weren't ones of celebration but instead a mix of shock, disbelief and nausea as I tried to recover from what was apparently a massive effort; I hardly ever feel pushed right to the limit of being sick in a race. Power numbers show new peak watts for 45 to 55 seconds, so clearly I was working hard!

So it's the most exciting win yet in my short-lived racing career, but maybe not one I'll be able to repeat often as my typical "jump with a minute to go" must be looking old hat to the others! The good news is that Emily came in a strong third so I think we've got some more KW cards to play in the future. It'll have to wait two weeks though, as next week I'm back to my role as assistant commissaire.

Entire workout (197 watts):
Duration: 55:30 (55:58)
Work: 657 kJ
TSS: 99.5 (intensity factor 1.037)
Norm Power: 244
VI: 1.24
Pw:HR: 7.2%
Pa:HR: 1.52%
Distance: 33.053 km
Elevation Gain: 726 m
Elevation Loss: 727 m
Grade: -0.0 % (0 m)
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 716 197 watts
Heart Rate: 118 187 171 bpm
Cadence: 38 182 99 rpm
Speed: 0.6 63 35.7 kph
Altitude: 73 99 87 m
Crank Torque: 0 89.6 18.6 N-m

Monday, 17 May 2010

Pack Fill redux

Last year I wrote about my first men's cat 3 race, a great experience where I was happy to finish in the bunch though upon reflection I knew I was just pack fill. And I thought to myself at the time, "enough of this! from now on I will ride at the front, attack when I can and make a difference in my races!" Ha ha.

To be fair, I haven't done a bad job at this, at least in women's races. In men's races my prime objective is to 1) hang with the front group as long as possible, followed by 2) not get dropped by the main bunch, and 3) get a really good workout and test my limits. But in women's races, my aims are higher. Obviously, I'd like to 1) win, but failing that, I'd be happy to 2) get on the podium, 3) make the break, or 4) do something memorable. Sunday's Hillingdon Grand Prix women's race was one of those where I did none of the above, and my mediocre performance led exactly to what it deserved: a mediocre result.

Well, maybe I'm being a bit hard on myself. It was a national series race, which turned out to contain half the elite riders in the country, most of the Olympic Development Team, plus various world track champions past and present. The course is the least technical around, with wide sweeping corners and barely 5m of altitude change per lap. In fact, it's the very same course that lulls average 3rd and 4th cat men each week into believing they are good racers because they can hang onto the bunch for an hour "saving themselves" for a finishing sprint they have no hope of winning. And I'm all of 5-foot-2 and 53kg, with a nearly-middle-aged crash-wary body, lacking the drive to claw my way up the bunch for what would be at best a 15th place finish in the final sprint. So my only hope in such a race is to attack early and often, try to get a gap, try to get someone to join me, and hope we can stay away.

But did I do that? No. I watched and waited, saw a few other strong riders try to make a break for it and told myself "if it sticks, I'll bridge". It never stuck and they always came back. The primes every few laps did nothing to help us there, as the big sprinters -- also strong riders -- knew they'd make an easy £20 every time if they kept it together. Why work harder than you need to?

Two girls take advantage of a couple of lapped riders to make a go of it, what I should have been doing.

With two-thirds of the race gone, I had moved up to the front fifteen in the bunch in preparation for another prime, wondering if this would be the one that opened a gap and divided the bunch into two. And it almost happened, six of the strongest contenders went for the prime and kept going, and I instantly knew I had to join them, now or never. So I dug in, sprinted away from those behind me and made sure nobody was on my wheel, got over to the six girls... just as they sat up. The End.

Where's Maryka? Safely in the middle of the bunch! zzzz

Ten laps later and I, deflated and jaded, lacking any motivation to have a go myself and no longer wanting to fight to maintain my position in the bunch, had drifted back to 30th or so for a while. Then two laps to go and I wondered if I took a flyer off the bunch at the bell, would I be allowed to get a gap and maybe ride away with it, everyone thinking I'd blow up long before the finish? Probably not but at least I'd come away accomplishing #4, something memorable. But it was too late, I was well back and there was no way I'd get up the bunch in time to try it. And the bell went and I rode around at a slightly higher speed and effort than I had most of the day but made up no places and rolled in for 33rd in the end. Power numbers read 180 watts average and 205 watts normative power -- far from what I can do in a 68 minute race.

Just another easy day on the bike from the look of it. You have to look pretty far down to the bunch to see me on the right-hand side. Oh yes, the girl crossing the finish line is already 11th.

Lessons learned:
-- crits are not my thing
-- non-technical crits are definitely not my thing
-- position maintenance is incredibly mentally tiring
-- it's hard to unleash a sprint from 30th place and achieve anything
-- next time I should just put my entry fee directly into the pockets of the prime and race winners and not bother racing! and just hit the pub instead.

I can see, however, that crit racing would definitely appeal to some kinds of folks, and frankly I'm surprised that I don't bite harder on them, what with my background as an ice hockey player. Contact sports, I love 'em! But somehow contact with people on expensive bikes going all out at 50km/h with nothing but hard asphalt to answer to if a mistake is made doesn't quite entice me the same way. I'll stick to the hills I think.


At least my day, mediocre as it was, ended with me and my bike upright. Not so lucky for Rapha's CJ Boom who was part of a 3-rider crash and lived to tell about it. Best wishes to her and to Cassie Gledhill who came off the worst and was taken away by ambulance (she's home now with broken ribs and shoulder injury).

Friday, 14 May 2010

Racing as Training

Thursday night was the weekly Surrey League handicap race. These offer a great option on the midweek racing menu around London, as they take place on rolling 3-4 mile open road courses rather than the usual short closed circuits. The "handicapper" (usually Keith Butler, founder of the Surrey League) sets up the groups and the times between them depending on the course and which riders show up.

The make-up of each group varies from night to night (Keith has a good memory for names, faces and abilities!) but usually the first group to go consists of new 4th cats, ladies and 4th vets. The second group has weaker 3rd cats, 3rd vets and more experienced 4ths and ladies, the third group has the stronger 3rd cats, the fourth group is the 2nd cats, and the scratch (last) group contains all the elites and 1st cats. The groups are set off in order with gaps of up to several minutes between, meaning each group has to try both to catch the groups in front and stay ahead of the groups behind. On any given night, nobody knows how generous the handicaps will be, who will work together well enough to stay away, or how long it will take to be caught by the groups behind. Makes for some very interesting racing!

Tactics are basic but ruthless: the faster groups try to sprint past when catching the slower groups to prevent anybody from jumping on the train, while the slower groups try desperately to latch on and keep going. Within each group, it's an unspoken agreement to work together, but sandbaggers can expect to be attacked. Groups are often as small as eight riders. With nowhere to hide, and everyone with a vested interest to work together to catch/keep from the other groups, it's one of those "push your limits or get dropped" kind of races. Just what some of us need to get in a great night's training, as I could certainly never ride 30 miles so hard on my own the way I can in a handicap.

What's interesting about handicap races on the open road -- where you often can't see a group you're catching until mere minutes before you catch them -- is how little shelter it offers the rider who's used to hiding in a 60+ rider bunch. In the early laps, most people will come through and take a turn on the front, but as the laps pass and legs tire, often it's down to only a handful of riders doing all the work while the rest are doing their best to conserve energy and hang on. Sharp corners, rolling hills, accelerations as other groups come past and unexpected gaps opening up all contribute to that stretching elastic effect til suddenly you look around and realise that half the group you started with is off the back. This is when some riders are confronted with the brutal truth that a good Surrey League handicap race exposes: just because you can finish in the bunch at Hillingdon week after week doesn't mean you're a strong rider! In fact, I would say that not only are handicaps a much better way to use racing as training, they are a good test of true fitness. And they will expose your weaknesses in racing like nothing else.

To illustrate my point, here are a few diagrams taken from WKO+ from recent men's races I've done. The first is Hillingdon during the winter series, a 3rd cat men's race. The second is Goodwood, a pan-flat windy circuit, also a 3rd cat men's race. And the third is last night's handicap at Accommodation Rd. out by Longcross. All three races I felt that I put in some effort, but was still well within myself. Note how much less time is spent essentially freewheeling in the handicap, and how much more time is spent sprinting and at VO2max level!

Hillingdon, January 2 2010

Goodwood, March 28 2010

Accommodation Road handicap, May 13 2010

Oh yes, a race report!

In last night's race I started in the second group and it was quickly apparent that I was one of a handful of stronger riders in the group. We worked together reasonably well but it was only two laps before we were caught by Jim's group (the third group), who had quickly pared themselves from ten to four riders by the time they caught us. Most of my group managed to latch on, though the speed had now increased and some people (who had already disappeared from the front a lap before) were struggling. They got some respite as we caught the leading group on the road of 4th cats, many of whom also managed to join the back of our group thanks to a car that slowed us at the wrong moment. A lap went by, then an attack at the front saw the group split briefly at the corner-plus-draggy-hill section and I was on the wrong side of it. But seeing Jim and fellow KWer Damien in the group ahead, I was content to let them go and not chase -- especially when nobody came around me to help!

We caught them back up by the next corner after the downhill though, and it stayed that way for another half-lap until the scratch group came steaming through, which included a strong rider in Jim's original group who had been caught napping when the four of them had attacked. The acceleration from the scratch group saw most of my original group and all of the 4th cats dropped, with only four of us left (not coincidentally the four who had been taking the most turns before being caught by Jim's group). I looked around and realised I was the caboose on the train, and though I knew I needed to move up the line of riders, with the tailwind and speed I just couldn't and sadly hit the next corner still at the back. I tried desperately to come out of the corner and hit the hill hard, but as that was the prime attack spot on the circuit, attack they did and off the back I went. As I did, I overtook two riders from my original group as they blew themselves up trying to stay in touch, and ended up 100 yards behind the main group -- now the front group on the road -- as they rode away.

The last guy left from my original group joined me and we worked together to try and stay away from whoever was left behind us, which we managed for another lap and a half. Then just as we hit the bell lap, the rest of the scratch and 2nd/3rd cat riders who had been dropped from those groups earlier on caught us up and I spent the final lap in a group of a dozen riders again. On the final hill to the finish, I managed to come around a few of them who either gave up or blew up and I ended around 20th or so. Not bad for an evening's training! Damien ended up in the points at 8th and Jim 11th, while former Wheeler Luke was 5th.

Below is the hardest lap out of the eight we did, lap 3 when Jim's group joined us. Note my FTP at 235 and how I spent much of the time above it! My peak 1-sec, 5-sec, 10-sec, 2-min, 5-min and 10-min were all in this lap.

The hardest lap

Lap 3 (0:09:04.04):
Duration: 9:03
Work: 119 kJ
TSS: 16.5 (intensity factor 1.045)
Norm Power: 245
VI: 1.12
Pw:HR: -11.92%
Pa:HR: 10.83%
Distance: 6.011 km
Elevation Gain: 84 m
Elevation Loss: 84 m
Grade: -0.0 % (0 m)
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 741 219 watts
Heart Rate: 154 184 175 bpm
Cadence: 31 159 101 rpm
Speed: 16.9 68.6 39.9 kph
Altitude: 35 72 52 m
Crank Torque: 0 87.9 20.3 N-m

Entire Race
Duration: 1:16:51 (1:17:41)
Work: 951 kJ
TSS: 123.7 (intensity factor 0.983)
Norm Power: 231
VI: 1.12
Pw:HR: 5.35%
Pa:HR: 1.49%
Distance: 48.081 km
Elevation Gain: 666 m
Elevation Loss: 665 m
Grade: 0.0 % (0 m)
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 741 206 watts
Heart Rate: 85 184 170 bpm
Cadence: 31 196 99 rpm
Speed: 4.5 69.6 37.5 kph
Altitude: 35 72 52 m
Crank Torque: 0 87.9 19.6 N-m

Monday, 10 May 2010

Secret Ingedient Mock Mojo aka Kitchen Sink Bars

Over the past six months I've been making my own energy bars. Part of this was brought on by being sick of nearly every other energy bar out there (both in the way they taste and in how much they cost), and part of it is that the only bars I really like have a very limited distribution in the UK. So until Clif manages to export Chocolate Brownie and Cool Mint Chocolate flavours to the European market, I'm stuck buying them by the boxload the few times a year I visit home. And making my own when I run out.

Last year I discovered another Clif invention that was nearly as good as their regular bar -- the Mojo bar. For long bike rides, these rock! Sweet and salty, a nice chewy mix of textures and of course can't-do-without chocolate. So this recipe is my ode to the Mojo bar. Named after my old housemate's cat Mojo, of course, who's not a fan of being mocked as you can see.

Mojo circa 2007, photo by Barry

Mock Mojo Bars
*all measurements approximate*

1/2 cup maltodextrin (this is the secret ingredient!) dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
2 tablespoons runny honey (or melted crystallised honey), less for less sweet
1 cup of jumbo Scottish oats
1/2 teaspoon table salt to taste (I like mine on the salty side)
total of 1 to 1 1/2 cups of any/all of the following (this is the kitchen sink part):
- raisins
- currants
- dried cranberries
- chopped dates and figs
- dried coconut flakes
- pumpkin seeds
- sunflower seeds
- walnut or almond pieces
- roasted peanuts
- chocolate chips or chunks
- pretzel pieces (not super common in the UK)

Stir the honey into the dissolved maltodextrin, then add the oats and blend well til coated. Add the other ingredients and stir well. Add a little water if the mixture is too stiff or falling apart. Add more oats or some crushed up Special K cereal if it's too sticky. The mix should have the consistency of cookie dough but not stick too badly to the spoon. Put into a baking pan -- I found a glass Pyrex square pan lined with parchment paper to work best -- and bake at 200C for ~20 min. The top should feel very lightly crusted when it's done, don't overbake or you will be needing a trip to the dentist. Cool and cut into squares/rectangles and wrap separately in foil or cling-wrap. Store in the fridge. Put into jersey pocket before a ride and enjoy!

The finished product

Saturday, 8 May 2010

The P2SL Project

As most people who know me know, I love my Cervélos! My trusty Soloist, aka the Stealth Bike, has racked up thousands of miles as my bombproof all-season road and racing bike since I bought it new in May 2008. And the P3C is one of the most aerodynamic TT frames ever made, a perennial favourite on the Ironman scene. Alas, once the P3C arrived last June, my P2SL -- the first Cervélo I owned -- was reduced to mere frame and forks and relegated to a bag under the spare bed, awaiting a possible future as a fixed-gear track bike. So despite owning three Cervélos, but only two were ever fully-built and rideable. Until recently.

2008 Cervélo Soloist Team, 48cm

Jim and I had signed up for a couple of hilly Surrey League road races at Easter, but a persistent squeaking sound finally attributed to worn-out bearings meant his Powertap wheel would be at the repair shop over race weekend. With a 700c Powertap wheel on my Soloist and a 650c Powertap wheel on my TT bike, we had two Powertap wheels we could race with -- true data geeks would rather not race than be without a Powertap! -- but only if I built up the P2SL frame into a road race bike. I'm proud (embarrassed?) to say we had nearly all the spare parts lying around the house to do that, with only a front derailleur needed.

2006 Cervélo P2SL, 48cm

So I set about it two days before the first race, spending some time first studying the Cervélo geometry pages, then lining up the Soloist against the P2SL to try and replicate the position as best as possible. The first test rides revealed the need for a longer stem (and more comfortable saddle) but in the end I'm so glad Jim's Powertap died when it did, because without that impetus I might never have thought to put drop bars on the P2SL and race it. Instead, I now have an amazing little road machine that tops even the Soloist in agility and quickness. And it's pretty damned aero to boot.

Various smaller women, including 4'11" American elite racer Kerry Litka, have extolled the virtues of 650c wheels on their bikes, and I would never disagree when it comes to TTing, where aerodynamics and a short headtube and low front end are of utmost importance. But I was a bit hesitant to dive headlong into racing a bike with uncommon-sized wheels in important road races. Even Cervélo Test Team pro rider Emma Pooley, who rode 650c in 2005 as an amateur, now rides 700c as a pro (albeit 650c on her TT bike).

Emma at the Bedford Stage Race 2005 on a tiny Principia, photo by Paul Brown

Emma at the British Championships 2009 on a Cervélo S3, photo via Cycling Weekly

In a world where everyone else is on 700cc, it's clearly a distinct disadvantage to be riding a odd-sized wheel, even for someone with a team car following the race! But so far I've found it's not too bad. Convincing reluctant neutral service car drivers to carry my wheels for me is a bit of effort, though fortunately I've not needed to use them. I either race for myself or as one of the top riders on my team, so the likelihood I'd need to give up a wheel to a teammate is slim -- and if I were to do a race in support of another rider, I'd be happy to ride 700c just in case. And on longer rides I stick with the slightly less aggressive and more comfortable Soloist, which means I can share spare tubes with my riding companions if need be.

Here's what my two bikes looked superimposed on each other. Notice the steeper seattube on the P2SL (it is a TT frame after all), horizontal toptube and slightly slacker fork angle. I've still got some spacers under the stem which I'm hoping to remove over time so I can get even more low on the front end (the Soloist would need an lower-stack headset to get any lower). Both bikes have compact cranks, but the P2SL has an 11-23 cassette while the Soloist has a 12-27 for getting up those steep hills I train on but never seem to see much in races.

48cm Soloist (grey) vs 48cm P2SL (black)

The biggest difference I've found is the quicker acceleration with the smaller wheels, particularly on hills. There's also no toe overlap like I have on the Soloist (an unfortunate side effect of proper geometry on a small frame with 700c wheels). I've since added 165mm cranks to the Soloist to try and improve both of those things, but I definitely notice a zippier and more frisky feel to the P2SL. At the same time, it seems to hit bumps harder and roll less happily over rough ground, which I attribute to the smaller wheel size (similarly to the way 29er mountain bikes are supposed to handle bumps more easily). Not sure if this is actually true or just my subjective feeling?

Some more pics of the P2SL alone and lined up against the Soloist:






Thursday, 6 May 2010

Giro d'Holland, er, Italia

Image by Gigilla83 at Wikimedia Creative Commons

This weekend the Giro d'Italia begins, otherwise known as "official summer cycle racing season". It starts in Holland this year, with the prologue in Amsterdam on Saturday, then Sunday's stage running in and around my old stomping grounds the Utrechtse Heuvelrug to finish in the Utrecht city centre. We had initially planned to be there to watch the stages in person, but between working out the logistics (ferries, lodging, bike storage), predicting the weather (cold and possibly rainy) and recovering from last weekend (which only ended on Monday night), we decided to give it a miss. We'll probably head there for a warmer sunnier July visit instead.

Nonetheless, the next three weeks will mean Giro fever around here and on the Kingston Wheelers forum. I'm planning to catch a few stages at the new Look Mum No Hands cycling cafe in central London, but mostly I'll be watching the stages at home: studying the attacks, watching the way the race plays out and seeing how well the teams cope with the pressure of protecting a leader's jersey or trying to win a stage. A rougher and more ruddy-cheeked sibling to the slick Tour de France, often seeing snowy conditions and gravel roads, the Giro is stage racing at its raw best.

I've even selected a team on Velogames, though historically my sports pool teams have done quite poorly! Maybe this year that will change.

all-rounderChristian VANDEVELDEGAR8
all-rounderVincenzo NIBALILIQ14
climberCarlos SASTRECTT20
climberDavid MONCOUTIECOF12
sprinterAndre GREIPELHTC10
gregarioLinus GERDEMANNMRM8
gregarioSebastien HINAULTAG26
gregarioIgnatas KONOVALOVASCTT6
wild cardAlexandre VINOKOUROVAST16

With 100 points to play with, I took a gamble on Vandevelde, that Dutch-named American, coming into form sooner than he thinks. Sastre is my sentimental favourite and Gerdemann is hopefully ready to burst forth with his huge talent. And Vino of course as the wild card, because hey, the guy really is a wild card.

Much better cycling fans than I write much better previews and reports of pro racing, so I won't even bother to try that here. Check out the very excellent Podium Cafe instead for day-to-day Giro chat and in-depth analysis. And Velonews for the news, results and interviews.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Bedford 2-day Stage Race, day 2

Surrey League Team -- Bedford

If I thought day 1 was pretty tough, I had no idea what day 2 had in store! We woke up to blustery 4 degree temps, with the added fun of sideways rain squalls coming over every hour or so. The Millbrook testing centre -- built for testing cars and trucks -- would have been a great place to race had it been nice and sunny, but without any indoor facilities or running water, we had to make do with sheltering ourselves in the parking lot and changing in our vehicles. Luckily between Leona's van and Emily's camper we could set up a cosy little basecamp with our turbo trainers and stay dry and warm for the most part.

The morning started with an individual time trial, two laps around the banked oval speed circuit totalling about 6.5km. I had set myself a time goal of under 10 minutes and much to my surprise managed to pull that off. It was a tough race though, as we started into a headwind, gradually picked up a tailwind as we rode around the oval, then ran straight into a headwind again by the lap/finish line. Twice! My speed fluctuated between 30km/h at my slowest to 50km/h at my fastest -- all of which was on a dead flat smooth road.

Quite the outdoor velodrome!

My time of 9:45 put me into 8th place for the ITT and 13th place overall on the GC which would turn out to be the highest I'd get for the whole race. I managed 276 watts AP/NP, so perfectly paced and new power records to boot, which was quite pleasing. Maybe I should be thinking more about racing the individual pursuit on the track...?

We had a few hours to kill between the morning and afternoon races, and in that time Jim and Eddy were racing the men's support event. It hadn't warmed up and if anything the wind had gotten even stronger and more gusty. Jim had on every layer of gear he'd brought and then some, but never managed to warm up and dropped out after two laps of the hilly road circuit. He spent the rest of the day chilled -- no doubt made worse by standing out during our race and taking lots of photos -- and came down with a cold the following day. Eddy finished in 15th place in a race where nearly half the starters DNFed.

With just a single lap of the "alpine circuit" part of the course (consisting of a half-mile climb at 7%, a swift twisty downhill, then another 200m power climb at 14%) under our belts for a warmup, we headed to the start line for a neutralised lap of the oval then nine laps to follow. Having been warned about the more dangerous corners where the road narrowed and crosswinds kicked in, I was perhaps a bit overcautious as I ran off the front of the bunch leaving the oval and rode the next five minutes on my own, 10 seconds ahead of the bunch. An extra warm-up as it were, and an opportunity to stay out of trouble as the crosswinds caught some people out.

The next few laps were steady, though Catherine Williamson of Rapha attacked along with Anna Fischer of MaxGear to clean up the sprint and hill points. They never got more than a minute ahead of the bunch under the watchful eye of Horizon Fitness, even after a third rider joined them. Jim had suspected that Horizon had a deal amongst themselves to get Dani King the road race wins and Sarah Storey the overall GC, and he was right: no break was going to get away without the two of them in it.

As the bunch dwindled with every lap and my legs started to feel the punishment of the climbs, which were neither long enough nor steep enough to do me any favours, I had to fight to stay up near the front. Even if I crested the 14% hill at the front, I often lost lots of space on the downhill, and had to ride hard to get back on the bunch into the brutal headwind that followed. Then recover as best as I could in the oval, come out and cross the bridge and start it all over again for a new lap. I had a sneaking suspicion that I couldn't last the whole nine laps in that yo-yo, and I was right. On lap five, even as I was thinking to myself that I had to move up before the climb started, an attack went and our bunch of 20 split into three different groups with me in the third. Willpower was lacking, but legs were lacking even more. We tried to get back on, but once our little group realised that the chase was futile -- all the big names were in the front group, which would later catch the break, and the second group contained another eight strong riders -- we set about working together just to get through the rest of the race.

And so it went for the last four laps: in the oval and on the flat bits into the wind, we worked a smooth paceline; the hills we rode tempo and the descents we grouped back together. One rider attacked on our second lap together and rode off not to be seen again. That put us down to eight, which shortly turned to seven as another rider cramped up and suffered off the back. Those seven lasted the last laps, and as we left the oval to begin the bell lap, I crunched down an Energy Surge and started thinking about how I could win our group sprint. First step: push the pace a bit more on the climbs, as I was easily making it up the hills in better shape than my companions. Second step: wait until the pace inevitably slowed and people started missing turns in the oval for the final mile or so, then attack. And sure enough, as we rode along with the tailwind and passed the 1km to go sign, the two riders up front stopped working and started chatting. I took that opportunity to launch the sprint of my life to come around them, and to get as aero as I could to put as much space between them and me as possible. After what seemed like an eternity but was probably only 20 seconds, I chanced a glance behind and saw that not only was I alone, I had a gap of nearly 100 metres.

Riding straight into the headwind, I was starting to hurt pretty badly, but soon the 200m banner appeared and shortly after that the finish line. I was losing speed rapidly -- down from 55km/h max after I launched my sprint to 32km/h into the wall of wind -- but I managed to hang on to get across the line clear of everyone else by several seconds. And it was worth it: that gap would get me one extra place higher on the GC, from 17th overall to 16th. And it was a nice finish to an otherwise disappointing race where I'd hoped to finish more like top 10.

Nonetheless, given the strength of the field this year I can't say I'm unhappy with my result. And I'm extremely proud of my teammates who all finished the race, which is more than can be said about most of the other teams. In fact, of 17 teams who entered, we were one of only three with no DNFs. Had the overall rankings for the team standings been done on cumulative rider time instead of finishing placings, we would have finished a strong 5th place with all our riders placing in the top 60 of 90 entrants. Between Rachel's strong day 1 race and Leona's strong day 2 race, they both salvaged good GC placements. Emily put on a great showing for her first stage race ever, and Claire despite feeling under the weather all weekend gutted it out and finished every race in the top 2/3rds of the field.

Here are the final BC results, and report/pics as well. And the nearly 300 photos that Jim took on day 2 are on Flickr too.

I've taken my 25 favourite and created a little slideshow below (collage above). Onward to the next one!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Bedford 2-day Stage Race, day 1

Quick report on the first day of the Bedford 2-day race, pics to come later.

This year we put together a team of five Surrey League riders quite complementary to each other in ability and experience. It seems the Team Series is getting a bit more serious with every passing year, with Sarah Storey's Horizon Fitness team topping quite a solid list of contenders. With our team lacking any elite or near-pro riders, our plan was always to do our best to hang in there and well, do our best. And enjoy ourselves as always. At least this year I felt like I knew all my teammates pretty well, which made it a lot more interesting and fun.

The weather, unlike last year, was rainy, cold and windy, but also unlike last year, I managed not to fall apart completely. Our TTT this morning looked and felt quite a bit better drilled than last year, but we finished only 8th out of 17 teams, a full 2:22 behind Horizon Fitness (who finished 1:34 ahead of everyone else). The stiff headwind and lack of TTT practice couldn't have helped, but I couldn't help feel a bit disappointed and wondering if we could have done better.

With that on my mind, I went into the afternoon race feeling less than optimistic for a strong GC placing in this stage race, but kept reminding myself that I just needed to stay in the front group to mitigate the morning's results. High hopes to get in a break if I played my cards right, though with the strong winds and relatively flat course being a "big girls' race", I wondered if that would be possible. The first lap started out hard with Horizon keeping the bunch at a manageable pace: hard enough to shell the less-fit riders, not hard enough to string it out too badly. My legs felt okay, but not great. Good enough to hang in, good enough to be near the front to watch everything unfold, not good enough to make any real go of it on my own. Second lap, more of the same though with the hill and sprint primes thrown in, things were getting tougher. On the third lap, Natalie Creswick from Twickenham attacked and the bunch let her ride off to a maximum gap of about 20 seconds. After nearly a lap on her own, another rider tried to bridge across and shortly afterwards I decided to try and follow; nothing doing. Legs were just not enough for me to attack into a headwind! I was brought back, leaving two riders out there hanging. And I decided that would be the extent of my attempts to hurt myself today.

And yet, a few minutes later after a third rider had gone off to join them, I found myself in a promising position near the front of the slower-than-expected bunch as former pro Catherine Williamson from Rapha and her teammate Ang Mason took a flyer. I saw this potential six-woman break as something that could be big, so despite my previous agreement between brain and legs, I found myself flying off after them. I caught them and we began to work well towards bridging to the other three. But alas, before we could really reach them, the bunch strung out behind four Horizon riders -- they had none in our would-be group of six -- and we were all reeled in. It stayed this way for the rest of lap 4.

Then coming over the lap/finish line hill for the bell, I made the crucial error of finding myself too far back in the bunch as an attack (containing two Horizon riders) went. And to compound it, I had to take a hastily-timed bottle hand-up that nearly spit me out the back of the dwindled bunch. Luckily I got back on without a problem, but the five riders in the break were well gone, and after a few minutes of spirited chase, the rest of us more or less gave up and they were gone for good.

So the last lap was ridden in a group of 25 or so, and we lost a few of those to a bad crash during a moment of inattention once we had sat up. Coming into the final miles, a few early attacks went off the front for the finish but I managed to keep them close until the final few hundred metres up the hill when my legs finally cried out for mercy and refused to stop working. After what seemed like forever pedalling through wet cement, it was over and I had finished 13th overall. I later heard that the winning break of five consisted of Sarah, her teammate and top rider Dani King, the former pro Catherine, and one top-ranked rider each from MaxGear and Halesowen. Had I been in that break, I would have been hard-pressed to do much work without being shattered! So in that sense, I can't be disappointed with how I did; I finished about halfway in the front group behind the break, and ended up 18th in the GC at the end of the day.

Our team had a strong performance by Rachel -- who ironically rides for Rapha these days, but not in the Team Series -- as she hung on until the bell when the attack went and she dropped off the back. She caught a few other riders on her solo lap and finished well. Leona and Emily were in the next bunch and Claire came in a lap down but still in the top 2/3rds overall.

Tomorrow is the ITT, promising a 10-minute session of pain and suffering, followed by a hilly road race that probably suits me better than today's wind-fest. And hopefully my creaking old legs will let me play a bit harder!

British Cycling's report on day one is here.

Today's power numbers:


Duration: 16:49 (17:02)
Work: 223 kJ
TSS: 30 (intensity factor 1.035)
Norm Power: 243
VI: 1.1
Pw:HR: -8.73%
Pa:HR: -2.75%
Distance: 9.115 km
Elevation Gain: 150 m
Elevation Loss: 146 m
Grade: 0.1 % (5 m)
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 481 221 watts
Heart Rate: 105 182 166 bpm
Cadence: 54 141 95 rpm
Speed: 6.8 45.9 32.6 kph

Road Race

Duration: 2:07:54
Work: 1329 kJ
TSS: 159.2 (intensity factor 0.864)
Norm Power: 203
VI: 1.17
Pw:HR: -3.15%
Pa:HR: -1.46%
Distance: 79.398 km
Elevation Gain: 586 m
Elevation Loss: 596 m
Grade: -0.0 % (-11 m)
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 697 173 watts
Heart Rate: 114 183 159 bpm
Cadence: 39 182 100 rpm
Speed: 15.2 65.7 37.2 kph