The First Race of the Season…

After what seems like an eternity we’ve almost emerged from another grotty Cornish winter. Race season will soon be in full swing and we’ll no doubt be praying for the off-season to come back around. For me, the Start of a new season always comes with mixed feelings: on one hand I’m eager to get that flying feeling of good form and peak fitness, despite the early morning starts, I do really enjoy pitting myself against others.

On the other hand, the pre-season nerves and anxiety start to creep in once again; have I trained enough? Probably not. Have I mentally prepared well enough? Probably not. All of my recent efforts, training and even my introduction to Zwift has all been heading for this; the first race of the season. I know its going to hurt like hell and despite what others may say: I find it near impossible to replicate the super-deep effort of a race on a training ride or on the turbo trainer. Having had a few good local results and even some wins last season i’m certainly feeling more pressure to succeed this year, when I was an unknown it was a much more pressure-free environment in comparison.

Even with my added Cyclocross season, the average rider will have months to prepare for the coming season, in my case every season I seem to get caught out with the first TT, usually missing the closing date and therefore missing the race! I race in the South West district which typically features a couple of events early on, followed by a three week gap before the season seems to properly get underway. I always think these early races are more of a rally-style shakedown before the more regular events, something of an early season indicator of who’s going well and who clearly hasn’t touched their TT rig before now.

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I’ve worked quite hard this winter, heading out training undeterred by the weather and started training specifically on my TT bike much much sooner than in previous years  – this may be due to acquiring my power meter-  all in an attempt to lessen the shock of first race syndrome. I’ve hammered in the miles week by week (King of the Junk Miles) getting my  base fitness up to scratch, I’ve even driven out to do full disc-wheel-equipped test runs on the Trinity. In my opinion, no matter how much work is done on the turbo beforehand, there’s nothing quite like the first open-road run out on the bike, my 50 degree extensions paired with my HED tri-spoke front wheel meant for a seriously wobbly start, I’d forgotten what it was like to ride unsupported in the TT position, I’d also forgotten how taxing a bumpy road surface can be on your arms and shoulders when perched on the bars!

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As before mentioned, my pre season nerves and performance anxiety will be worming their way into my thoughts for weeks before the first race, but in reality if I don’t start the season on a flyer then it’s really not the end of the world. The season seems to be getting longer and longer, thus becoming harder to sustain good form from start to finish. There is more than one argument to say that if anything it’s probably better to start the season slower, coming into form when the season is in full swing. But there’s also another to say scoring points early on and catching other riders napping is a more effective way of managing form and accruing the all important Cornish Cup points.. I’m of the latter mindset.

The Cornish weather has lived up to it’s inconsistent reputation, gloriously sunny weeks without a breathe of wind or hint of rain have passed, right up until the first races… I’ve had my first and second races cancelled due to extreme weather: 50 mph gusts and torrential rain seems to be the order of the day. Hopefully being as these races are early in the calendar they’ll be rescheduled as apposed to cancelled altogether.

My first outing of the year should really have been my third outing, I’d planned to start with a 10 mile race, then a 16 and then the third, a 25. I would ease myself back into the swing of things with the shorter one, building into the hilly 25. So much for that.

The S5/25s, a hilly straight out and back course held at Tavistock is now my first, needless to say I’m pretty nervous about it already and at the time of writing It’s over a week away! As I have never raced there before I’d planned a course recce at the weekend, one to decide whether a full TT bike setup would work or- being a hilly “s” course- my road bike with deep sections on would be a better choice however, gale-force winds put pay to that little trip. Google maps will have to do for now.

This week, with the exception of a direct commute I’ve planned a full turbo week: I’ll start my mornings with 30 minute efforts, then spin my legs out riding to work the easy  way- no detours!- then I’ll have some longer intervals in the evening, all centred around holding my FTP (Functional Threshold Power) for different periods of time. As the week goes on i’ll ramp it up before tapering back down with shorter and slightly easier workouts as the “big day” gets closer. It feels very much like cramming before an exam which, in a sense I guess it is.

I’m quite particular about my pre race routines, trying to get my kit all ready and packed well in advance, through experience I’ve found that come race day eve there’s so much going through my head that it’s easy to forget things. Last season I typed out a checklist precisely for this reason. I’m a creature of habit with the hydration powders, gels and bars I use, if only because I like the taste of them.

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I usually take four bottles with me; one 500ml with a single Isotonic tab to sip on for the drive up to the race- early morning means I struggle to stomach overly sugary drinks-  one 500ml with two isotonic tabs in for my Warm up, the third bottle is just water, before rolling to the start a good swish out keeps me from getting cotton mouth! My fourth bottle is a whey rego rapid recovery shake for afterwards. I’ll always have a handful of the SIS gels in my race box, usually using two: one at the start of a warm up and one 10-15 minutes before I start the race. For actual food, I’m really in to the Veloforte bars lately but before that it was just an Eat Natural bar, I’ll get through one whilst warming up along with a banana and I find that’s usually sufficient enough for a 10 Mile. Fuelling strategy for 25’s and 50’s are a little different, I’ll take some of the Clif Bar Shot Blox with me, I put a few of the cubes underneath the leg seam of my skinsuit and eat them every 20 minutes.

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There’s some discussion about whether having the aero water bottle on will give you a slight advantage, I tend to keep it on regardless and usually only fill it up for a 25 or a 50.

Once the race is over I’ll drop to the little ring, get that zipper undone and open up my skinsuit, my helmet strap is undone and visor is flicked out the way too, with the oxygen debt well in effect I want to feel a bit of air flow. I smash Bottle #4 straight away and sometimes one of those mini coca-cola mixers just to get the sugars going again.  After all the sugar and isotonic fuel I’m usually desperate for plain water and something savoury. I’ll take a sandwich or some leftover pasta, typically the hosting Club will lay on a spread of cake and biscuits- the Gluten Free nightmare!

So its a few days before the race and the weather has been less than favourable, seriously high winds and some pretty torrential rain showers have thrashed the south west, I’ve locked myself away in the garage, sitting on the turbo trainer most evenings and even done a few double days with the early morning sessions too. I’m hoping the weather will change for the weekend but the long range forecast says otherwise.

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I’ve never raced the S5/25 before, I’ve heard it’s a very lumpy course and being that it briefly meets Dartmoor National park, i’m expecting the rumours to be true. After stewing over it for most of the week I’ve decided to drive up after work and do a course recce, it’s a gamble really; on one hand it could put my mind at ease but on the other hand it could confirm all my fears. Nevertheless I packed some kit up and prepped my road bike for an outing, I’ll be losing light quickly so hi-viz kit and lights are the order of the day. My dad has decided to come up too, meeting me after work we head up to Tavistock, the weather is less than ideal but if the weekends’ outlook is to be believed then it’ll be good practice, the typical misty-rain sits low and the cross wind blows harder than preferred. With the route already loaded in my Garmin I set about riding the course. Jeez it’s hilly.

As I roll around I start trying to make mental notes, looking for markers and constantly glancing at the distance to give myself an idea of pacing- if any-. The course starts on a hill and it’s a long slog, I’m warning myself come race day to take it easy here, there’s still a long way to go yet. Despite the crosswinds blowing my 50 mm wheels around, once on top of the moor its quite fast, I’m on a road bike not pushing hard and i’m in travelling in excess of 30 mph.

The rest of the course is a mixture of fast flowing sections with three momentum ruining climbs staggered to the turn, a long and leg sapping climb from the turn back to flatter terrain before the same three momentum-ruining climbs strike again, the course ends with a seriously fast descent down to Tavistock. Despite being soaked to the skin and windswept, the recce has definitely helped to put my mind more at ease, even if the return leg was mostly in the dark!

With only a day left, I pore over the Strava course map and the Garmin data, even though I wasn,t near race pace it’s still a useful tool to analyse parts of the course, the final commute before the big day seems to come around far too quickly.

With my 5:15 alarm set, the van loaded with all my kit and the standard pre-race pasta party consumed, race day was almost upon me. Up early to a bowl of porridge and in the van by 5:40, it was actually happening. I drove up running every eventuality through my head, listening to the radio to try and take my mind off it. At the sign in I picked my number up and cast my eye over the competition; what equipment where my competitors using? Gearing? Kit? What shape where they in? Did they look like Athletes? None of this did anything to calm my nerves.

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I drove to an industrial estate near the start and began my turbo warm up, nothing epic just ramping up my heart rate and power to race pace, then down and then up again, I followed this with a quick spin up the road to the start line. It felt great being back in a skinsuit, wearing calf guards and my TT helmet made me feel like I deserved to be there, At least I looked the part if nothing else.

I lined up at the start, my nerves still swimming around my head but physically ready to start, unfortunately there were a few DNS (Did Not Starts) before me, always annoying as they’re good markers to spot up the road and to aim for. 8:35 came around and it was Go time, I clipped in at the start line, held by the commisaire until the count of 0.

Bang, my first TT of the season is underway… I start conservatively, reminding myself of the long drag up to the moor: “don’t burn out before you’ve even begun”. Cue, Hailstorm number one. I’d barely begun before getting assaulted by the freezing hailstones, I kept my head down and span my legs quicker. The course finally flattens and it’s time to get the power down, ramping my speed up to 35 mph with my exposed thighs and hands taking the brunt of the hailstones, at least it’s forcing me to get more aero, trying to lower and shield myself.

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To say the S5 is an undulating course is putting it lightly, there’s some serious climbs there, I swear they’ve grown since my recce only a few days ago… I’m not ashamed to say I used the little ring AND the 25t on more than one occasion, I saw a few 1x Chainrings at the start and definitely didn’t envy them! Despite it being so hilly, it was reasonably fast: what goes up must come down and all that. The fast parts were very very fast and the slow parts were very very slow so it evened itself out to a certain degree.

The miles seemed to go by quite quickly and before I knew it I was on the descent to the turn, Cue Hailstorm number two, this one stung, a lot. My already numbed hands and thighs were really taking a lashing now and I could barely see the road through my hailstone spattered visor, my hot head and the cold hailstones were causing my visor to steam up too, double trouble. I feel I lost a good chunk of time here with my speed tailing right off on what should have been a really fast part. The hailstorm didn’t subside until way after the slog back from the turn, gear shifting was becoming harder as my fingers were refusing to play ball.

 

Once the storm passed, the sun started shining through and I instantly felt warmer, settling back into my effort now I could see where I was going. The return leg felt a lot more hilly than the outward leg, probably due to the fatigue -The marshal’s were encouraging as ever cheering me on at regular points- on the penultimate climb I pegged back four riders, this spurred me on further as I went deeper into the pain cave determined to force a respectable time, my lungs and legs were burning with the effort but my heart beat stayed at a sustainable rate. I knew the last three miles down into Tavistock would be super fast, I’d told myself it was only a 22 mile TT and the last bit would almost be a free ride -any mental trick I can play on myself to break it into easier chunks- once back on top of the moor I was flying, into the aero tuck and dropped into a big gear, getting that flying feeling back was ace. Miles 21-25 went in a high-speed blur as I crossed the line with a 1:03:11, far from my 25 mile PB but not a bad time all things considered.

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I rolled down the road to get my breathe back and spin out my legs before heading back to the van. I drove back to the HQ to return my number and get my well earned cup of coffee. The results took an age to be revealed, but it was worth the wait as I manged to claim 5th place, I was happy with that! Once the race is finished, my fellow riders seem to be much less serious- looking, everyone has a chat over a hot drink and it certainly feels like they have a genuine interest in previous and future races, the post-race digest is always a nice part of the morning.

After the cancellations of the previous races it feels good to officially start my 2019 season. I’ve entered the next couple of races well in advance so as not to miss the entry dates (I’m notoriously bad at that) and I’m going to look into some different kit in the hope of gaining a few seconds, but on the whole I’m pretty happy with my position, time and power. I’m confident that given the right conditions on this course I could get down to much nearer the Hour mark, time will tell.

Massive congratulations to everyone who raced, especially the winner; BPM Coachings’ Josh Coyne who put in an incredible time of  59:40 and to GB’s junior lady: Lauren Dolan who smashed the previous Womens’ course record by 5:30! Chapeau

Time Trialling is a hard discipline, you really are on the limit for the duration. However, I’d recommend it to anyone. There’s sure to be a local time trial coming up or a midweek 10 miler, I’d advise you to give it a go, you never know you might enjoy* it.

*sort of

Thanks for reading, I hope you’ve enjoyed it, if you have them please subscribe to my blog so you never miss a post. Feel free to leave a comment too!

Now, Just Go Ride…

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