Cheating in Sport – Follow Up

Did you know that in the very recent past, three Premier League Football Clubs, including current leaders Manchester City, have been charged and fined for anti-doping whereabouts regulation violations?

Nope, neither did I.

I imagine that if the best World Tour cycling team and two others were in the same position it would be front page news.

It seems I was not the only person to look to other sports in light of the Team Sky ethics/cheating debate that is currently raging.  The information above came from Lionel Birnie of the Cycling Podcast, who wrote this excellent blog post here.  It’s a great piece and I recommend you take a look.  He also has some posts on his relationship with Team Sky over the years which are also very much worth your time.


Cheating in Sport

It cannot have escaped most people’s attention that there is another storm in the world of cycling.  Many believed that after the Lance Armstrong “era” those days were behind the sport and that any future winners would be “clean”.  Prior to Armstrong cycling had long had question marks hanging over it, with many legends of the past the subject of suspicion, although it’s fair to say that Lance took it to the next level with an almost Mafia-like control keeping it as quiet as possible.  So when it all blew up, it exploded and many thought that was the last of it.  Indeed, success at the Tour de France from 2012 onwards and the continued cycling success during the London Olympics led to a lot of new people, possibly naively and particularly Brits, being attracted to the sport because of the (at least publicly facing) stance that Team Sky took against cheating.  Famously (maybe now infamously) when Team Sky were formed Sir David Brailsford, then just plain “Dave”, claimed they would win the Tour clean with a British rider within 5 years.

Fast forward and we have tales of mystery jiffy bags,  asthma and triamcinolon, asthma and salbutamol, disappearing medical records and finally a report from the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that has lit the blue touch paper again.

From the news headlines you’d think the report was just about cycling.  It isn’t.  The title is Combatting doping in sport.  It is 52 pages long of which cycling is covered in pages 19 to 32.  If you want to read it you can find it here

There are several reactions I have noted to both the press stories and the report itself.

  1. Team Sky, Wiggins and Froome are cheats and should be banned
  2. Team Sky, Wiggins and Froome haven’t broken the rules per se but ethically and morally they are cheats
  3. Team Sky, Wiggins and Froome haven’t broken the rules, they pushed the line which everyone does in sport – plus everyone else is quietly doing it too
  4. Any combination of the above whether you like or dislike Team Sky, Wiggins and/or Froome!

Several of my non-cycling friends have asked me what I think and the answer is, like most things, complicated.

Firstly, and the deliberate reason I titled this post “Cheating in Sport”, is that cheating is rife in every single sport.  Every single one.  For example, in every single Premier League Football match you will see one or more of the following

  • Diving to gain an advantage like a penalty
  • Feigning injury to get an opponent sanctioned in some way
  • Moving a freekick/throw-in forward to gain an advantage
  • Claiming a throw-in/corner/goal-kick even though the player clearly knows it isn’t his

Some people say it is gamesmanship, or pushing the line but it isn’t cheating.  Okay, what about injections?  Quite often a star footballer will “play through the pain” in a key match by having painkilling injections and they will receive plaudits for it.  The difference between that and a cyclist taking asthma medication is what, exactly, other than context?

But taking drugs to enhance performance is different right?  I suppose it is.  By the way, here are some figures from the UK Anti-Doping agency (UKAD) website.  They are numbers of UK athletes currently banned for doping offences

  • Cycling – 7
  • Football – 3
  • Rugby Union – 17
  • Rugby League – 12
  • Weight & Powerlifting – 7
  • Athletics – 4

It seems to me rugby has a bigger problem than cycling but nevertheless cheating is widespread.  What is a fact as I write this, is that none of those 7 cyclists is either Bradley Wiggins or Chris Froome.

The new head of the UCI, David Lappartient, has come out and said taking anything to enhance performance is cheating.  Er, I best put that strong espresso down then because caffeine is one of the few things scientifically proven to enhance athletic performance.  Even as a mediocre amateur racer I am bound by the UKAD rules that say I am responsible for what goes in my body and can be tested at any race against a set of banned substances.  But I do drink coffee.  Am I pushing the line?  Am I cheating?  What about creatine for footballers, athletes and rugby players?  Beta-alanine?  Bicarbonate of soda?  None are on the banned list but are routinely taken by athletes to enhance their performance (not me, I might add – I stick to the coffee).

Froome may yet get banned and people will continue to question the intent behind the use of medication by both him and Wiggins.  Was it for medical reasons or was it to enhance performance?  Very few people know the actual truth and it is a massive grey area – the area of intent.  So in the end most of what you read on the subject, here and elsewhere, will come down to opinions.

For what it’s worth, my view is that I am torn between wanting to believe it was all above-board, a mistake or some strange physiological trait in the case of Froome (who would cheat so blatantly when leading a Grand Tour when you are guaranteed to be tested?).  However, I do think that the line was being pushed by Team Sky.  Was it too far?  In most cases I’d say it wasn’t, but for Team Sky, with their holier-than-thou raison d’être it definitely was.  In the main I just feel disappointed and let down and I don’t believe Brailsford can survive.  He was either cheating or incompetent – both are untenable.

I will leave you with one final thought which I heard from François Thomazeau, occasional guest contributor to the Cycling Podcast (I saw their book tour at the Lowry recently – it was excellent!)  He says that doping is a legal issue, not a moral issue.  So you either break the rules, or you don’t.  Nice and simple – only it isn’t really, is it?


Motivation, Mind Games and the Power of Failure

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I’ve read a number of books on the subject of mental strength and self-improvement in my attempts to become the best amateur cyclist I can be.  Some of these have been profoundly useful whilst others less so.

It’s fair to say that I didn’t originally get on with “The Chimp Paradox” by Professor Steve Peters – he of British Cycling.  Not for me inner humans, chimps and computers the first time I read it.  In fact I stalled part way through.  However, the more I think about it, the more I realise I probably should give it a second chance and a re-read because it does provide methods to help cope with wider issues such as anxiety and unwelcome thoughts and feelings.  Maybe there is an irony in there – my inner chimp acted impulsively and got me to stop reading the book and now my human is taking control (this will only mean something to you if you read the book!)

“Black Box Thinking” by Matthew Syed is a good book but is really a different subject area – it is more about the process of improvement borne out of failure.  As somebody who has spent the last few years learning as much through my own trial and error it certainly resonated with my own experiences.

One other area where I’ve read quite a few articles and studies is the Central Governor Theory, where the brain is the limiter rather than the muscles.  I guess you could call this mind over matter.  Much of this theory is based around the premise that fatigue is simply the sub-conscious brain creating a perception or feeling in order to moderate the amount of damage you do to yourself – a bit like a valve.  This is where books like “Dig Deepest!” by Adam Topham and “How Bad Do You Want it” by Matt Fitzgerald come in, as they basically support this premise and then cover ways and means of pushing past it.  In the case of Fitzgerald, he refers to these as coping strategies.

At the moment my training is going quite badly, which is not where I really wanted to be as the season starts.  I have a stack of data that tells me it shouldn’t but it feels really hard.  I know, I know – training is meant to be hard.  The data includes figures that define my Chronic Training Load (CTL – it’s high ✅) and my Training Stress Balance (TSB – it’s positive ✅).  I should be flying.  But in terms of rate of perceived effort (RPE) my training feels harder than it should do.  And in addition my Heart-Rate Variability (HRV) has taken a worrying tumble (by the way, the last time it did that I was ill the week after so fingers crossed it’s just a blip).

So it is clear that physical conditioning is not the complete picture.  There is a massive psychological side to it as well.  And I don’t just mean during actual races.  To get yourself into the best condition requires great motivation and dedication to map out and stick to a plan at the macro level, but then during each individual workout you have to have the mental strength at the micro level to push through the discomfort (and yes, pain) to make the gains necessary to drive adaptation in physiological systems.  And it is that micro level that I’ve been struggling to sustain in the last few weeks as the intensity has stepped up.  My coping strategies in the past have included

  • Setting challenging goals
  • Remembering success and the feelings that come with it – repeat, repeat, repeat
  • Event visualisation – pre-riding a race in my mind, especially the last hard effort, with positive outcomes
  • Lying to myself – “One more minute and I’ll stop.  Okay, just one more minute…”
  • Fear of failure – use of social media (and this blog) to publicly state goals and intent
  • Reward – if I get to the end of this session then my reward will be…

Repetition plays a big part.  It’s important to repeat successful behaviour but also to avoid unsuccessful behaviour becoming a habit.  Just not bothering, or finding excuses for giving in can become habit forming, so I’ve always found it better to just get on with it and stick with the plan.

That all said, these last few weeks I think I’ve overreached a little bit as the strategies haven’t really been working, so I’ve decided to dial back the intensity a bit and rebuild some confidence.  You only really learn when things go wrong, so hopefully this will let me take one step back to then allow me to move forward again.

February update

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Well the cold snap has continued this month. The first weekend was a write-off – sleety rain on the Saturday forced me onto the turbo but I was determined to get out on the Sunday as cold as it was. However, I turned back after 10 miles because the roads were icy and I didn’t want to risk a fall. So I made do with 20 miles outdoors and then a bit of a turbo session to finish off. During the week on my commute, the mercury dropped as far as -5C which is, as they say, a bit nippy.  The following weekend was no better.  Rain, sleet and strong winds on Saturday.  Ice, hail and settled snow on Sunday and Monday.  Two more weekend days on the turbo and the tram to work on the Monday.  To cap it all my commuter bike was having freehub issues (kindly repaired/replaced by KeepPedalling) and I got my first p******e for ages on my backup Raleigh touring bike.  This turned out to be a large shard of glass that went right through my usually-bulletproof Schwalbe Marathon tyres.  Needless to say, in near zero temperatures, changing the tube was somewhat painful, mainly due to trying to get the tyre back on the rim!

After a brief respite (albeit remaining cold) the weather took a turn for the worse as we approached the end of the month, with a strong Easterly wind bringing in cold air from Siberia.  As is usual with any weather event in the UK, the media and associated meteorologists went overboard with tales of “feels like” temperatures of -10C and the “beast from the east”, but for once it did actually snow and lived up to the hype, stopping me commuting by bike.

As I publish this it has been compounded by a storm hitting from the south bringing strong winds that are making it feel even colder.

In other news, as I mentioned last month, Highways England had issued a TRO to ban cyclists from the A63, thereby removing the fastest 10 mile time-trial course in the country (V718) and any chance I had of #project 1849 being a success. I, and many others including the CTT and Cycling UK (formerly CTC), wrote off our letters of objection as per the official process and waited with bated breath to see what would happen.  The date for objections was then extended into March so it is still unclear whether this course will be available for racing in 2018.

At the start of February I attended the Seamons Cycling Club 69th Annual Awards Dinner and was presented with the trophies I’d won during the 2017 season. Here’s a picture of me with the Club President

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and one with the trophies I received during the evening.

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Overall a very satisfying year at the club and a great event to round it all off.

Training hasn’t been great. I somehow strained my hip flexor early in the month (I think – I had pain at the front and top of my right thigh) and that made things more difficult, although it did seem to recover.  To compound it, I am definitely finding VO2Max intervals much harder than I used to (intervals of between 2 and 4 minutes duration at between 120% and 115% of FTP).  I’ve definitely done less work in zones 4 and 5 this year than last – I hope this isn’t significant.

I swapped the old road bike I had on the turbo for my TT bike.  I’ve made some contact point changes to my bike for this year including a Specialized Sitero saddle and new angled Zipp Vuka 110 extensions.  I’m hoping this will improve comfort and allow for a more aero position but my expectation is that it will take me most of March and April to adapt to it properly.

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Very little chance of hitting this number in aero tuck

I re-tested on this bike using the new position and it seems to have cost me a small number of watts in power.  I’m hoping that as I adapt that will come back but I doubt I will be able to get all of the power out in the aero position if past seasons are any indicator.

To cheer me up and help keep me motivated I’ve now entered all my planned events for March and April. When the race list comes out in January I use post-it notes to plan in potential races on a wall planner and then Sharpie them in when I book the race.  A simple but effective way of making sure I keep track of what I’m planning and what I’m actually entering.

Finally, as I post this my first race is only days away subject to the snow/ice clearing, which is by no means certain.  I’m not sure I could have trained harder over the winter and my aim isn’t to peak for a while just yet, so although I’m nervous I’m excited.  As this is season 6 I know from experience that the first few races will be horrible so my expectations are quite low, especially as the field for the first race is a quality one.  We shall see.

In February the weather only allowed me to get in 342 miles outdoors with 20,584ft ascent at around 15.5mph average, which used up around 12,920kcals. I did, however, spend 32 hours and 54 minutes on the turbo using a further 23,660kcals. Total for the month was 2,830TSS

Happy New Year – January Update

January often feels like the month that never ends.  The post-Christmas blues, dark and miserable, cold and wet.  Not the most inspiring month in the calendar so it is easy to lose focus.  Add in the poor weather that leads to a couple of weekends stuck indoors on the turbo going stir crazy.  However, on the positive side, the days start to get a little bit longer and the number of weeks until racing begins drops into single figures – so there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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Towards the end of the month I had a nice lunch at the M&DTTA annual luncheon and prize presentation and also picked up a few medals and team trophies as a result of last season’s endeavours.  On a personal basis I came 2nd in the M&DTTA BAR, 12hr and Middle Distance Championship (1st veteran on standard) and 3rd in the 50 and 100 mile championships.  As part of Seamons teams we won the 25 mile Tom White trophy, the 100 mile South Lancs shield and the LH Brooks cup for the 12hr (pictured above and below).  Events like these provide further motivation, if needed, to continue with the hard work, and to catch up with people you haven’t seen since the end of the race season.

In terms of my training, at the end of December I came out of  my base phase and started speed and power work.  VO2Max and supra-threshold intervals came as quite a shock to the system.  I found them really hard.  Harder than I remember, but then I hadn’t done a proper one since the end of last season.  I’m still finding them really hard and that I need the recovery day after completing a session.  Whereas in previous years I would have ignored a recovery and done back-to-back sessions, this year I have resolved not to be as stupid!  I’m hoping that will pay off but as with all training, only time will tell, and it’s fair to say I’m having a bit of a training wobble at the moment.  There is an old saying that races are not won in the summer, they are won in the winter – winter miles, summer smiles!  Hope so – things are going well with power edging upwards and I’m a lot lighter than this time last year.  The big question is whether I can transfer the gains from the turbo to the bike – something which proved difficult last year – so no complacency here.

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As an aside to training I watched the final evening in the Revolution series at the Manchester Velodrome.  I was interested but didn’t have particularly high expectations because track racing is not really my “thing” but I have to say it was absolutely brilliant.

The young riders were especially impressive, but it was good to see great Olympic and World Class riders like Jason Kenny, Katie Archibald, Dani Rowe and Elinor Barker. I really enjoyed it and will probably go again the next time it comes around.

Finally, Project 1849 looks like it may stall before it even starts!  Highways England are looking to ban all cyclists from the V718, which is realistically the only course where I was likely to even get close to a sub 19 minute 10.  It will be a shame if that happens, but we live in a car-centric society where the answer to cycling safety is to ban the victims rather than address the actual issue at hand.  I will write more on this subject as it unfolds.

In January I managed 345 miles outdoors with 20,292ft ascent at around 14.9mph average, which used up around 13,357kcals. I spent 35 hours and 2 minutes on the turbo using a further 25,521kcals. Total for the month was 3,088TSS

Project 1849 – Season 6 Goals

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As I write this the start of my season is only 8 weeks away so my thoughts have turned to goals I want to achieve.  Accepted theory is that goals should be SMART

  • Specific – check ☑️
  • Measurable – check ☑️
  • Achievable – hmmm…
  • Relevant – check ☑️
  • Timely – check ☑️

So here’s the thing.  I’m not sure I’m capable of achieving these goals.  Time, and physiology, is not on my side (unless I suddenly develop asthma 😂)

An “18 minute 10” and a “49 minute 25”.  Project 1849.

To be clear, that is to complete a 10 mile ride in 18 minutes and 59 seconds or less – which means riding for 10 miles at more than 31.6mph.  And similarly complete a 25 mile ride in 49 minutes and 59 seconds or less – which means riding 25 miles at 30mph or more.

My current bests are 19:39 and 51:40, which equate to 30.53mph and 29.03mph respectively.

About 1mph in both cases.  It doesn’t seem like a big increase but in reality it’s massive.

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I put both of my PB rides into BestBikeSplit.  This is a tool that takes your power, the profile of the course and the ambient weather conditions at the time, and then uses complex mathematical models to estimate your CdA (the aerodynamic drag of a rider).  You can then use the aero analyser to adjust aspects of your ride to see what the impact might be.

In reality I can either increase my power, or decrease my CdA.

The figures suggest that if all things remain equal I need to add around 20W in both cases and I don’t think I can increase my power that much.  My tests over the winter so far suggest that I can’t and I’m training as hard as I can.

I have a new position on the bike but I have been unable to test this so far so I don’t know if I can decrease my CdA.  However, let’s assume that I can by a small amount (I was pretty aero before).

Therefore I might, just might, be able to do combine a smaller increase in power with a smaller decrease in CdA.  If I catch the right ride on the right day, I might have a slim chance.  But it will rely on riding fast courses so I will have limited opportunities to do so.

I also have other specific goals which will be similar to previous seasons and revolve around PBs, Club and Local Championships and VTTA competitions.

All of this will be a big stretch but isn’t that what challenging goals are meant to be?

A Chill Wind Blows – December (and 2017 overview)

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Much of December was taken up with Sweet Spot Base 2, which means long turbo sessions at various intervals in the “sweet spot” – somewhere around 88-94% of FTP.  I say somewhere because a) everybody has different physiology and b) there is no such thing as exact levels or zones as it is really a continuum.  Anyway, what is true is that the sweet spot intervals are meant to be tough but manageable with relatively short recovery intervals between them, and the training effect comes from an accumulation of fatigue.  By the end of the 5 week period it was pretty hard going and I was ready for a recovery week just in time for Christmas.

In between I managed to squeeze in some outdoor rides as well as my daily commute to work – and I hit a personal goal of doing every single commute in 2017 in shorts!  I did think one day that riding to work with the temperature on my computer showing -4C was bad enough, but the very next day it dropped to -6C.  Did I mention the shorts!  In conditions like that the commute isn’t so bad as it uses very busy arterial routes into Manchester and therefore they are well gritted.  It’s a different story at weekends though and the risk of black ice has forced me to stay indoors and ride the turbo.  It’s something I don’t mind for training during the week but it’s a bit soul destroying having to do it at weekend, rather than be out in the fresh air.

The downside of having a recovery week just before Christmas was not just the opportunity to gain weight (I ate a ridiculous amount of the wrong food) but also the fact that the Sustained Power Build phase of training would start immediately after Christmas – with the opening FTP test on Boxing Day!  The test felt really tough and it showed a very slight improvement (2W) over the previous one; albeit not quite as high as at this time last year.  However, I am using both a different test protocol and a different power meter this year so there will be differences.  Last year I used the 8 minute protocol, this year 20 minute.  Last year I used Garmin Vector pedal power meter readings, this year Tacx Neo’s reading from the hub.  In theory, drivetrain losses (the difference between power at the pedal and power transferred to the hub) should mean my readings this year are 2-3 % lower anyway – so as long as I am improving relatively this year I’m happy.

In December I managed 410 miles outdoors with 26,995ft ascent at around 15.8mph average, which used up around 14,997kcals. I spent 33 hours exactly on the turbo using a further 24,217kcals, which just about covers Christmas Day! Total for the month was 3,437 TSS

My summary for 2017 is in the infographic above – I used canva to create it which is pretty cool.

I wish you all the best for 2018.  Happy New Year! 

November and Season 5 (2017) in Review

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VTTA Manchester & NW 2017 Awards Luncheon

Season 5 Roundup

I raced slightly less this year due to a number of reasons.  I was ill and forced to miss some races, I had a DNS (mechanical) and some races were simply cancelled due to roadworks – probably more than all of my previous seasons combined.  In the end I competed in 33 open races in total.  Doing fewer races probably contributed to me being more competitive at the end of the season in comparison to previous years, where my form and fitness were dropping off a cliff, especially after the 12 hour.  This year the 12 hour seemed to give me a form boost, which was a pleasant surprise.  That all said, I still raced for 1,393 miles at an average speed of 25.7mph, which used around 53,190kcals – a decent wedge of cake!  That’s made up of twelve 10s, one 15, ten 25s, six 50s, three 100s and a 12hr.  (I don’t include club 10’s as I treat them as training – but there were a further 14 of them)

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Freezing cold and wet in August – British Summer! (© Ellen Isherwood)

At the start of the season I’d had my best ever winter training and my numbers on the turbo were better than ever.  I’d also done some testing and had a new position that was pretty aero.  It was disheartening to then find out that I couldn’t transfer either the power numbers or the racing position to where it really mattered – in races!  My times were fine – in fact I posted course bests on many occasions – but the improvement I’d been expecting just wasn’t there.  I struggled on for a bit, adjusting my position to see if that helped, but in the end I realised that I wasn’t going to significantly increase my power in races during the year, and I could only edge towards the aggressive aero position, so the only other option open to me was to better manage my weight.  My thinking was that this would increase my W/Kg figure and my VO2 max but also reduce my frontal area to increase my W/CdA.  It would also hopefully allow me to maintain a more aero position for longer.  So I set about using an app called myfitnesspal to monitor my net nutrient intake.  In previous seasons I’d entered the season at race weight and then not really bothered about it during the year and I’d find that my weight drifted up so that at the end of the season I’d be as much as 3 or 4kg heavier.  I performed some tests in May at the University of Chester (read about it here) and I got a bit of a rude awakening due to my weight and bodyfat %.  Anyway, the results of taking it seriously are there to see

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Weight & Bodyfat % during Season 5 – 2017

I managed to lose a significant amount of weight and bodyfat.  My power dropped a bit as expected but my times and performances improved, and eventually the power returned.  In monitoring my food intake I’ve found I’m eating more – but it is generally better food, although I haven’t been going without treats or feeling deprived.  The net result is I’m now about 5kg lighter than I was earlier in April/May.  For what it’s worth, in April I rode a 10 and averaged 305W at 67.5kg, or 4.52W/Kg.  The last 10 I rode I averaged 304W at 61.2kg, or 4.97W/Kg.  I don’t know what the fastest riders are riding at but I suspect it’s nearer 6W/Kg which at my age is not going to happen!  And I’m not sure if 61kg is taking it too far so I’d be happy to maintain wight at anything around 63kg (10st) going forwards (which is where I am now).

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A rare hot day! Courtesy of and © Ellen Isherwood

In summary it felt like an up and down year.  If I average my results out I probably did slightly worse this season – I certainly only managed 2 podium places versus 1 win and 5 podiums the year before, and my percentage of top ten finishes was about 5% lower.  And I lost the Cheshire Points Series by 6 points rather than 4 – the gap is widening (although Ben must be nearly 20 years younger than me!)  He also beat me into 2nd place in the M&DTTA BAR as well, but at least a bronze medal last year becomes a silver this time.

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Last year 4 points, this year 6!!

I did manage to set personal course bests on most of the courses I’ve ridden this year, and I’ve had a very successful season with the VTTA Manchester & NW group, winning the BAR and a number of other trophies.  It’s always nice to see your name engraved on a trophy that goes back many, many years although I still feel out of place next to many of the names also on them.

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What has been clear is that everyone has moved on and it’s getting harder and harder to keep pace so I guess I should be satisfied, especially given that I’m getting on a bit!

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The dreaded roadworks appeared more than ever!

As mentioned above and frequently this year, roadworks have featured more often than I can remember in any previous season, resulting in changed courses and cancelled events.  The weather has felt worse too.  It’s definitely been wetter than last year and although there haven’t been more very windy days, there have hardly been any days where there was no real wind to speak of.  It seems like wet and windy summers are the new norm so I guess we’ll just have to get used to them.

So what of my targets for the year?  Well, I hit some and I missed some.

  • New PBs at all distances ridden with the exception of 10M – I missed that by 5s
  • I wanted power PBs at all distances.  I only managed those at 50M and 12 hour
  • I wanted to win the M&DTTA Cheshire Points Series – I came 2nd again!
  • I wanted to win one of the VTTA M&NW trophies which I did, including the BAR
  • I wanted to win the main Seamons club competitions – I won the Timetrial and BAR (Best All Rounder) but came 2nd in the Club 10 Series
  • I wanted to set a club record which I duly did and I only narrowly missed a couple of others during the season
  • I wanted to win at least one of the club championships and I managed to win the 25, 50, 100 and 12 hours (which is an improvement on last year when I won the 50 and 12 hour)
  • I wanted to finish top 20 in the UK Best All-Rounder (BAR) competition.  I was 22nd with an average speed of 26.027mph across 50M, 100M and 12 hour (versus 35th in 2016)
  • I wanted to win more prize money than 2016 – I fell slightly short but still won over £700

In addition, I was delighted to be part of a winning team on 11 occasions – I’m very proud to ride for Seamons CC, a club with a long and rich TT history.  I was also part of the teams that broke the club team records for 25M, 50M, 100M and 12 hours.

I don’t get a lot of satisfaction in my professional life these days so I make no apologies for taking pride in the things I’ve managed to achieve, and even in those where I have fallen short – because I know I gave it my best.  The key, as with everything, is hard work, application and effort and as I’ve said before – if I can do it, so can pretty much anyone.


My November training has been going well.  I completed Sweetspot Base I and started Base II – I managed to record a modest FTP increase in the 6 weeks.  I’m down on power versus this time last year but up on W/Kg (see above!) and I’m taking it more steadily this year and managing my own expectations.  I did suffer from some knee pain after a couple of long rides one weekend only to notice that my seat post had slipped and dropped my saddle by over 1cm.  It’s a lesson I’ve been taught many times – a sudden onset of pain is usually the result of some form of equipment change or malfunction.

In November I managed 425 miles outdoors with 25,430ft ascent at around 15.7mph average, which used up around 15,954kcals. I spent 32 hours and 50 minutes on the turbo using a further 23,629kcals. Total for the month was 3,178 TSS

This will be my last post before Christmas so I’ll take this opportunity to wish you a peaceful and happy time.  And if you are riding the Rapha 500, good luck and stay safe.

When is Waterproof not Waterproof…?

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Not me riding in the rain

You could legitimately argue that waterproof gear is necessary at any time of year in the UK.  However, as we flash through autumn and rapidly approach the winter months it definitely becomes more important.  Cycling technology has moved on rapidly in the last few years meaning that the well known Alfred Wainwright quote is more relevant than ever

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”

So lots of cycling kit is marketed to allow you to ride in all sorts of weather, but does that marketing blurb actually stack up?  Well there are many websites out there that can describe the scientific detail behind all of this better than I can but here is a relatively quick overview.


There is a British Standard so whilst many things might be labelled as waterproof you should check whether it is to a British Standard (or comparable International one).  Essentially a hydrostatic test of a fabric must resist over 1500mm of water across a 1 inch diameter tube for 24 hours.  So a jacket with a test value of >1500mm is considered waterproof, but not all waterproofing is created equally.  For example, a jacket that resists 20,000mm will be considerably more waterproof than one at 1500mm.  Eh?  Surely it’s either waterproof or it isn’t?  Well no.  At a molecular level very few things are completely waterproof – the amount of water, pressure at which it is applied and time it is exposed to water all come into play.  So a bigger number is better.  But cycling is an active sport, so it’s all very well being clad in something that stops water passing into it (a bin bag?) but that also means that when you sweat it stops the moisture passing out.  And that can give the impression that you are “cooking” or simply get wet anyway, albeit not from the rain.  So there’s a balance to be struck and most manufacturers have developed technical fabrics that tread the fine line between waterproofing and breathability.  The final consideration with waterproofing is the fact that clothing involves complicated shapes that are joined together,  Seams, zips, cuffs are all traditional weakspots for waterproofing, so the overall capability of an article of clothing can be compromised if these are not considered properly.

Water Resistant

Some garments are not even labelled waterproof.  They are described as water resistant.  These items generally rely on a Durable Water Repellency (DWR) coating – water forms a bead on it and runs off before it can soak through.  Typically this coating will erode over time and use and washing and need re-applying but it generally works well for showers.  It can, however, be overwhelmed by persistent rain.

So what is the reality of all of this.  Here’s a short, subjective review of all the decent waterproof kit I’ve tried over the years, from the bottom to the top.

Socks, shoes and overshoes

Northwave Fahrenheit Winter Boots

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These use a Gore-Tex membrane to claim to be totally waterproof and breathable.  That may, in fact, be absolutely true but the water runs down your legs, or wicks down if wearing tights or leg-warmers, and your feet can get wet from the inside.  Once they’re wet, they stay wet, as the membrane keeps the water in.  In sustained heavy rain they can keep my feet dry for about an hour. In drizzle I’ve done rides of around four hours with dry feet.

Sealskinz Socks – these are totally waterproof.  I can attest to that fact because when the water somehow gets down into them (and it usually does) it forms pools of cold water around your feet.  When you take them off you can pour the water out.  However, they work well in all but the heaviest rain.

Sealskinz Overshoes – again, these appear to be waterproof but the water gets in around the cuff which is pretty loose.  That, or I have very delicate ankles and narrow calves.


Gloves tend to be problematic.  The shape means there are lots of seams and joins which don’t help with waterproofing.  There is also the problem of the cuff – outside the jacket and water can wick down the sleeve, under the jacket and it’s pretty bulky to get on and off.  And, of course, they are a point of contact with the handlebars which are themselves wet and the introduction of capillary action or osmosis or whatever the correct scientific term is.

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Sealskinz Gloves

When the mercury drops I wear the Sealskinz heavyweight winter gloves because I really feel the cold in my hands.  These are about the best waterproof gloves I’ve tried (and I’ve tried a lot).  They can last in drizzle for hour after hour.  In very heavy rain you may get an hour out of them, which is generally much longer than other gloves.  The lobster gloves are equally waterproof and toastie warm in winter when worn with under-gloves.

Endura Deluge Gloves

Lighter gloves and the name is more of a hope than a reality.  They don’t keep water out for long and certainly not in a deluge.  Autumn showers gloves rather than winter gloves.

Altura Waterproof Gloves

They just aren’t.  They will resist some drizzle, and an occasional shower but they aren’t waterproof – but they do have the word “waterproof” printed on them so what do I know.

Bibshorts and leg warmers

Sportful Fiandre No-rain leg warmers

These work pretty well with the rain beading off at first.  Can be overwhelmed by heavier downpours and also inadvertently direct the rain down into your boots/shoes.

dhb Aeron rain defence bib shorts

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Very decent, especially when combined with the leg warmers above.  They are good shorts, comfortable with a good chamois and plain black, which I like.  Water will bead but not for a sustained period.

Jerseys and Jackets

Gore Oxygen Jacket

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They say you get what you pay for and this is absolutely the best waterproof item of clothing I own.  It has never let me down.  It fits well, the sleeves come down to cover the cuffs of gloves (and thus stop rain running into them) and it has a longer tail at the back if you’re one of those lunatics that insists on not using mudguards in the winter.  It doesn’t, however, pack down into a size that is easily portable so it’s a put-on-at-the-start-of-your-ride jacket.  Which brings me to…

Sportful Hotpack

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This is a great packable waterproof.  The water beads off it and it will withstand strong showers.  It will pack down into it’s own pocket to then fit into a jersey or jacket pocket.  This is the jacket I carry on my bike/person during most of the year in this country – it’s a just-in-case jacket.

Sportful Fiandre No-rain Winter Jacket

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This is a very warm jacket which I think is ideal for winter in this country.  It’s a racing fit and so far it has held the rain at bay when I’ve needed it too.  The rain beads at first but then appears to soak in a bit but it doesn’t get through.  Did I mention it’s pretty warm too?

Rapha Classic Winter Jacket (Tricolour Version)

Ade's Road Cycling BlogWhat a great jacket.  Another put-on-at-the-start-of-your-ride; it’s windproof and weatherproof.  I’ve worn it in four hours of drizzle/rain and gusty wind and it’s kept me warm and dry.  The fit and cut is everything you expect from Rapha with nice detailing touches.  In comparison to the Fiandre above it’s not quite as snug a fit and not quite as warm but that’s a subjective view.  In the dry it appears to wick sweat away really well.  It is expensive but if you use vouchers and sales (I’ve never bought Rapha full-price ever) it’s a great jacket that will do a job for ages.

Pactimo Storm Jacket (club kit)

This is a strange jacket.  It has short sleeves and a pair of arm warmers.  The body is meant to be water-repellant and it does so to a certain extent.  It certainly isn’t waterproof and though the body is warm enough (roubaix-type lining) the arm warmers don’t really cut it in winter.  So I tend to use it for Spring and Autumn.

Commuting Jackets

Both the Altura NightVision and the Proviz jacket I use in winter are waterproof in the heaviest rain but then my commute doesn’t last very long!  I’d say you’d be dry in either for a commute up to an hour.  Both have hi-viz reflective detailing (the whole Proviz is reflective!) and therefore stand out in the dark and help make you more visible.

Stolen Goat Orkaan Race Tech Jersey

This is a super racy fit mid-sleeve length jersey.  It’s warm and is water-proof although the seams are a weak point.  It’s great for those spring and autumn days when the weather doesn’t know what to do.

Le Col Aquazero Winter Jersey

Great quality, super-warm and water-repellent.  Excellent winter jersey and looks amazing too, which always helps.

Finally, I’ve tried a whole host of cheap alternatives to the above over the years and they generally don’t work.  Technical bike-wear has come on tremendously in the recent past and you do usually get what you pay for.  I have found out to my cost that mostly, if you buy cheap you buy twice.

To sum up – if you do very long rides in the rain, sooner or later your waterproof clothing will fail you as water always finds the weak point – like a seam, a zip or an opening.  How long that takes will be a combination of the conditions and the product.  If you are doing shorter training rides there are a lot of good products out there that will very effectively keep you dry.  My comments are based on my own experience of both types of ride.

If you decide to buy any of this gear you can get cashback by joining here and then clicking through to various online bike shops including Wiggle, Chainreaction, Evans etc.  Ade's Road Cycling BlogIf you buy a lot of gear online (or anything really), the cash back really is worth it. 

October – Season 6 (2018) Training Plan

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Everybody needs a plan!

I’ll be using TrainerRoad for my training again this winter.  Last year I added to it with some additional indoor sessions that I found useful, but I think this time round I’m going to stick to the plan during the week.  At weekends, if the weather is relatively kind, I intend to substitute turbo rides with appropriate outdoor rides.  This helps mentally as it can get a bit stir-crazy constantly training indoors.  As ever, all my rides will be logged in TrainingPeaks – you can see the overall training plan PMC chart above.  I’ll be following these  plans

  • Sweetspot Base High Volume I – 6 weeks
  • Sweetspot Base High Volume II – 6 weeks
  • Sustained Power Build High Volume – 8 weeks
  • 40k TT Speciality High Volume – 8 weeks

Instead of the TT bike I am using an old road bike frame on the smart-turbo, with all the measurements set as close as possible to my TT position.  I want to reduce the wear and tear on the TT bike and although using a different bike is not optimal, as long as I get the position close enough it should be okay.  That said, around about the middle of January I will be swapping back to the TT bike in order to iron out any positional differences before the season starts.  A welcome side effect so far is that the road bike is MUCH more comfortable on the turbo than the TT bike!

I’d also like to do some changes to the front end on my TT bike, with some new aerobars that provide more of a ski-jump extension than a flat extension.  Initially I’ll try to use the BikeFastFit video app to get the position how I want it viusually, and then hopefully some reasonable weather in the New Year will let me do a bit of outdoor aero testing to fine tune it.

Of course, most of this is just a plan at the moment.  It’s important to have a plan and a sense of how you might get to the outcome you want, but it is equally important to understand that they can and do change and be prepared for that.  However, I have started and it’s going well.  The first task was to re-establish zones by performing an FTP test – using the 20 minute protocol.  These tests are pretty hateful affairs and mentally having a decent music playlist helps tremendously.  I’ve spent a bit of time perfecting mine with tunes that motivate and keep me going.

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A decent start point

At this time last year I started with an FTP of 296W, whilst weighing 68.76Kg.  That means my FTP was 4.3W/Kg.  As you can see, this year I start slightly higher at 298W, which doesn’t seem like a big gain.  However, my current weight is under 63Kg, meaning an FTP of around 4.75W/Kg.  I’ll take that as a starting point!

As I write this post I am coming towards the end of week 5 of Sweetspot Base I and my legs are starting to feel it.  I’ve had some decent outdoor rides including a recent trip over Holme Moss and Audlem CC’s reliability ride both of which were high TSS efforts.  I’m looking forward to a recovery week of lower intensity before my next FTP test which is fast approaching.

In October I managed 625 miles outdoors with 36,355ft ascent at around 16.3mph average, which used up around 24,256kcals. I spent 21 hours and 20 minutes on the turbo using a further 15,914kcals. Total for the month was 3,234 TSS