Cyclocross – Half Term Report!

4/10 – see me after class…

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I’ve now completed a grand total of 6 cyclocross races and my intention is to do another 6 before the end of the year, so it feels like an opportune time to take stock.  So far, 4 of the courses have been mainly dry and grassy, one has been a mixture of landfill and boggy moorland and the last one, at Northwich, was wet and grassy with a side order of mud.  I’ve no idea if that is representative or not, but when you lack technical skills it’s quite enough thank you!  What has surprised me most is the number of people taking part.  The races I’ve been in have ranged from 90-odd riders to 170-odd, which leads to an interesting experience.  For example, if you aren’t near the front at the start, you aren’t likely to get to the technical sections near the front, which means you lose even more time.  It then becomes a race within a race with the riders around you.  In addition, fitness and power isn’t everything.  It clearly helps, but I find that I am losing out to technically better riders because they can pick more efficient lines and are faster over the obstacles.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve ridden past riders on open sections only to see them whizz past me on tricky descents or because they can remount their bikes whilst actually running (I can’t!).  The obvious answer is more practice but that doesn’t fit with my longer term goals so it would be a waste of time.

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Things I’ve learned/confirmed

1) I don’t look forward to the races like I do for TT’s.  I’m okay once it’s started

2) The first 20 minutes is harder than it should be, primarily because I don’t warm up properly!

3) I don’t like riding in a big bunch.  174 riders is too many!

4) Some other riders believe they have better handling skills than they actually have. That makes me even more nervous

5) Lower tyre pressures seem to be better

6) Any obstacles where I have to get back on the bike after getting off will lose me time

7) Soggy or muddy ground tires people quicker – better for me I find

8) Whilst the times I’ve fallen off haven’t really hurt, they have knocked the wind out of my sails for about a lap.  I don’t like falling off

9) Cleaning both me and bike can take longer than the actual racing – anyone that likes that is just plain wrong!

10) I don’t know if I’ll be doing it again next year, but never say never!

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First Cyclocross Race

On Saturday I rode my final TT of the season, achieving a course best 55:42 for J2/9, and 4thoverall.  On Sunday I rode my first ever cyclocross race at Leverhulme Park in Bolton.  This was the second round of the NWCCA series that takes place for the next few months around the north-west.  I was pretty nervous leading up to it so I thought I’d get there well ahead of the 12-45pm start time to have a look around and try to see what was what.  The place was already full with kids races in full swing.  I have to say the kids looked like they had a ball and were really going for it – very impressive stuff.  I was told that the course wasn’t very technical and would be a good one to start on.  It looked reasonably technical from my perspective but that perspective generally involves riding very fast on flat roads in essentially a straight line, turning at a roundabout and doing the same back!  So I signed on and got my pack for the season – you keep your number and timing chip for the whole shebang – and headed back to get my bike.  There were lots of people with multiple wheels, tyres and even bikes and some warming up on rollers.  There were quite a few in skinsuits which surprised me, as I thought you needed to be going >25mph to get any real aero benefit?  Anyway, I did a couple of practice laps which got my heartrate up a bit, but my legs felt slightly heavy from the day before.  I went and chatted to Giles at the start-line and before long was surrounded by a huge number of riders as they gathered for the start.  154 to be precise!  When you are used to starting on your own at one minute intervals it’s a bit of a shock!  The commissaire gave some last minute instructions and then the whistle went.

We were off in an almighty sprint up a long, open grass section.  I held back slightly as I wanted to see what the form was before getting in anyone’s way but soon realised if I did I’d get swamped.  At the end of the open section there was a slightly damp/muddy section and then a sharp right into a narrow section through some trees.  The course then arced back round on itself, down and up some dips and rises before we headed to some steps.  I was able to approach and dismount and run up the steps pretty quickly, surprising myself that I overtook some riders as I did.  Reality intervened as they all then went past me as I struggled to get back on and start pedalling in anything even remotely like a fluid movement.  This was repeated on subsequent laps (note to self, learn to get on my bike running).  Up another incline and then sharp right and down snaking through and past trees, rattling my teeth as we bounced over the protruding roots.  Several times people were bumping and nudging the back of my bike – I’ve no idea if that was their lack of skill or mine!  We then looped back up towards the finish line and then through a few grass switchbacks before zipping off through some more trees and then dropping steeply into a wood, hard on the brakes to make the 90 turn at the bottom and then climb back out again.  Up onto the grass and out into the open again before zipping into some long grass which just sapped any speed completely.  Back onto the grass for the second lap!  I was knackered!

What I did find was that on the long grass bits I could make a lot of ground up, passing a lot of people and being able to power past them.  On the “technical” bits I got caught quite a lot, but I was really only trying to understand how far I could push my handling skills.  It didn’t take long before I was overcooking some bits and nearly hitting trees!  Anyway, the constant up and down of the efforts, sprinting out of corners and up bankings started to take its toll on my single-paced tester’s fitness, and I got slower and slower as the laps went on.  And there is no pack to hide in either to get a breather.  It’s very definitely a different type of fitness.  By the end I was hanging on and we only raced for 49 minutes!   I came 34th  which I’m pretty pleased with for a first effort and I think I can probably improve on that – although probably less so when it all gets a bit more technical!

Some interesting contrasts between my two weekend races – Cyclocross first.

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Then time-trial.

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Race time – Saturday 55:42, Sunday 49:36

Distance – Saturday 25M, Sunday 10.6M

Average Speed – Saturday 27mph, Sunday 12.9mph

Elevation gain – Saturday 522ft, Sunday 335ft

Average/Maximum HR – Saturday 173bpm/181bpm, Sunday 179bpm/188bpm

Strava suffer score – Saturday 46, Sunday 71

I was in my threshold HR zone on Sunday for 4x longer than in my TT, which is leading me to question whether, all things being equal, I could squeeze more power out during a TT?  All very interesting and promising as a means of increasing my fitness over winter whilst having a bit of fun too!  Roll on the next one in two weeks.

Cycle-Cross in Calderdale

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 16.57.59 Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 16.58.16

Spent an awesome couple of hours with Giles riding the trails around Hebden Bridge.  Although I’ve done loads of road-riding in the area, we went up and down paths, trails and roads I’d not been on before, with me only getting my bearings as we criss-crossed familiar main roads.

I got a lesson in bike handling skills as I watched Giles disappear off up rocky ascents as I struggled to make traction, realising it’s far harder climbing off-road than on, and that I needed to sit down to keep my back wheel grip.  What was worse was watching him disappear even further off down the descents – I’m pretty rubbish if truth be told, and despite being confident that I have the power and the engine to compete in cyclocross, I have nowhere near good enough bike skills.  Still, it’s great fun and I’m looking forward to it.  Here’s our ride compressed into 3 minutes

Ride stats : 26.6 miles in 2hrs 26m at 10.9mph average.  3,000ft of ascent, 1504 kcals used, average HR 124bpm

Strava ride here

August

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I managed a few gentle training rides in Lanzarote at the start of August (see previous post) and arrived back feeling rested but slightly unfit. And two days later it was the National Clarion Road Race at York Arena.  That was great fun and it was really successful for North Cheshire Clarion, taking 1st, 2nd, 4th and 7th for myself.

The day after was Manchester Wheelers Hilly TT, a 20.5M loop round the Peak District.  I took the TT bike which was fine for going up the hills, but terrifying going down, especially in breezy conditions and on winding descents.  In fact my nervousness probably cost me a prize.  4th from 37, 58:35

On the Wednesday was the final Seamons Club 10 of the year, and I enjoyed another good ride in sunny conditions which attracted a large field.  2nd from 50, 22:41

The following Saturday was my third 50 of the season.  I’d normally done a few more by this stage and I was a bit nervous given my fitness levels.  As it was the ride went like a dream and I felt really comfortable, with a power PB and clocking my best time for J4/16, although there was a stellar field with some of the best amateurs in the country riding.  16th from 108, 01:56:14

The midweek ride at Rainford was cancelled due to the weather so my next ride was Withington Wheelers 10 at J2/1 the following Saturday.  I needed a decent ride here as I won’t get the full 10 rides in for the Cheshire points series, so need to pick up as many as I can in this and the final qualifying race in September. As it was I rode a course best time but it could have been quite a bit quicker due to traffic hold-ups and needing to unclip twice.  I’m not sure I like J2/1 – I always seem to get something holding me up.  11th from 83, 00:22:06

Rainford on the Wednesday threatened rain again, but it held off.  For some reason I felt really strong, and put down my best 10M average power and narrowly missed a “21”.  4th from 30, 22:00

In between races I tried a bit of cycle-cross riding, as I’ll be racing this autumn/winter.  Here’s a bit of video of me – first one is a short version

 

The final Sunday of the month saw me riding at D25/8e early in the morning.  It meant getting up at 5-30am and driving an hour and a half to Tilstock.  As I didn’t warm up on the turbo (an extra half hour in bed seemed favourable!) I knew the first 5 miles would be horrible.  And they were, my legs feeling heavy and slow. For a change on D25/8e the conditions were calm and I started to get stronger and stronger and managed another power PB.  I’d had decent results here with 57 and 58 minute times so when I crossed the line in my course just under 55 minutes I thought I might do well.  It was good enough for my first open podium finish, fastest veteran and £15 prize money.  I was absolutely delighted, and it was nice to finish the month with 4 successive course bests and new power bests at 10M, 25M and 50M.  3rd from 96, 54:59

August saw me ride 654 miles, with 31,523ft of climbing at an average speed of around 17.4mph.  I used 24,461kcals of energy, with another 3,392kcals during 4hrs and 18mins of turbo time.  Total training stress was 2,062TSS.