British National Championship Road Race

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Give me six years, and I’ll make it to the British Champs“. A sentence I never uttered when I first started racing back in 2012. Even just a year ago, the idea of entering the British National Champs was a thought so daft I had not ever given it any thought, yet here I was; in the Isle of Man, lining up at the start with 134 other riders. Alex Dowsett a few riders behind, Ian Stannard and Steve Cummings, Mark Cavendish, et al., a few riders in front, waiting for the roll out. How surreal.

RacePrep

The weather was surprisingly decent – dry, pretty cloudy, with a reasonable but bearable Westerly breeze.

 

The course itself was going to be challenging (indeed, riders later commented that it was the hardest British National Champs course in a long time (if not ever) – Steve Cummings (the eventual winner) commented that it was the worst race he’s ever done!

 

Two laps of the IoM TT course – mostly rolling, but with two notable climbs; the first out of Glen Helen (that many folks completely overlook), and the second is the climb out of Ramsey, up to the top of Snaefel – the lump in the middle of the island that gives rise to the name The Mountain Course.

 

After the two laps (totalling around 122km, the race would pass through the Grandstand in Douglas then hang a right to begin ten laps of the finishing circuit of just under 7km per lap – a total of 192km (that’s ~120 miles in old money).

RouteMap

My original worry was how I was going to fuel myself for such a long race? I didn’t have anyone to hand out bottles and food. Then the realisation occurred to me that there was a time limit at the end of the second lap of the TT course – any rider more than eight minutes behind the bunch would get pulled out of the race. In short, I probably only needed to worry about food and drink for eighty-odd miles – not so much pessimism as realism!

 

As it turned out, a fellow Kinross CC rider, Kirsty Ellis, happened to be across as a spectator, and jumped at the opportunity to have an ‘official role’ – she became my Soigneur for the day!

 

Just before lining up for the start, I chatted with John Archibald (ProVision). He asked me if I’d signed the ‘big board’, to which I answered ‘No’ – I’d thought that was just ceremony for the bag name riders, but no, it was for all, so off I wheeled, halfway down the pit lane, to sign on in big print. The photographer took some photos, whilst the announcer announced, “…and here we have Andrew Bruce, riding for Leslie Bike shop and Biker’s Boutique…” over the P.A. system. Deary me! This was all very glamorous for an average Cat 2 rider from Scotland!

 

After signing, I turned to reclaim my bike, only to find three race fans having a good look at the hardware. “You’re going to win!”, one claimed as I un-propped my bike from the gate. I chuckled, “Nice if I did, but I’m probably the oldest bloke in the peloton today!”.

 

“With that bike, how can you lose?”, he commented. Well, a rolling chassis is no good if the engine is old and worn… The trio continued to drool over the bike. I gave a cheery grin and hoped they enjoyed the racing as I wheeled the bike away. “I have some serious bike envy!”, one commented as I left. If you can’t win, at least look good – and my bike was certainly helping on that front!

 

Back to the line-up, and riders were slowly gathering. I thought about wheeling right to the front as there was plenty of space – in hindsight, I should have done exactly that, but I thought it would not be good etiquette, so I took my place towards the rear.

1_Minute_to_Go

With much fanfare and cheering, we started to roll out, and the race was getting underway. The neutralised flag, held by the Commissaire poking up out of his car sunroof, kept us in check from the Grandstand and down Governer’s Dip. By the time we got to the sharp right turn at Quarter Bridge, the red and white chequered flag was pulled in, and the lead cars were pulling away; Kilometre Zero, and the race was on.

 

The roads around the IoM TT course have a great, smooth surface for the motorbike racing. There are no cat-eyes in the middle of the road, and it’s wide. The peloton was making full use of the width – kerb-to-kerb bikes, and pretty tight at that! I remember thinking that it felt more like a cross between a road race and a criterium race – almost elbow to elbow riding. Mix in some World Tour riders that you often see on the telly, with Chris Boardman or Sean Kelly commenting on their riding, a worrying thought entered my head – if anyone crashes, I’d sure as hell better not be the guy that causes it! Imagine being the guy to be remembered for ending a World Tour riders season!

 

It was around that moment when Alex Dowsett passed me on my left hand side, through a non-existent gap. As smooth as butter, and without any fuss or commotion. How the hell did he do that? I was in awe. I’d never have dared such a move for fear of turning into a pinball, with my peers becoming the bumpers… Yet another illustration of the skills of these top riders, and the gaping crevasse to us mere mortal amateurs below…

 

Through Bradden, and on to Union Mills – My dad would be here, taking photos, but I’d already warned him that I expected the bunch to roll through at around 50 KPH (30MPH), and I was not wrong…

 

Despite sitting at the back (and getting a rather good tow), I could see that there were riders attacking off the front. I knew that I should be much further forward, but I simply couldn’t find any gaps I was happy to go for, the racing was that tight – at least from my perspective.

 

At least the pace was manageable. That’s not to say it wasn’t high – it was a high tempo, but nothing I couldn’t cope with…

 

Despite the headwind (well, head-breeze), we passed through Glen Vine and Crosby surprisingly quickly. Despite the small drags in the undulating road, there were no significant surges in pace.

 

My first worry, however, was the climb out of Glen Helen. It’s fairly short, but reasonably steep – so much so that the first time I ever rode round the TT course back in 2011 (as an entirely untrained cyclist), I had to take a wee breather about two thirds of the way up it – I knew no shame back then!…

 

We reached the crossroads at St Johns, and turned onto the A3. We’d be upon Sarah’s Cottage and Glen Helen pretty shortly, and I expected the bunch to put in a dig round the junction, but it didn’t.

 

Down into Glen Helen, and up the other side – goal number one was to stay in the bunch up this short climb. To my surprise, the effort didn’t seem all that much. Indeed, while most of us powered up the climb, there were a surprising number of riders going backwards, out of the bunch. I was definitely not one of them! Job done. Now for the rapid ‘flat’ section to Kirk Michael and beyond…

 

With a mainly cross-tailwind, the pace was rapid as we headed northwards. As we passed through all the wee villages along the way, crowds of spectators lined the streets, cheering, clapping, and general making lots of encouraging noise – to experience this atmosphere alone made the long trip to the IoM worthwhile.

 

With a couple of groups successfully breaking from the main bunch, we were now riding steadily, almost easily at this point. It was still wall-to-wall bikes, but not as tight as before. I thought about moving further forwards, and I should have taken the opportunity, but didn’t. I remembered Jason Robert’s advice – get off the front, into a break to give yourself a chance on the climb up the mountain – good advice not taken – I was too busy enjoying being swept along in the occasion…

 

Over Ballaugh Bridge (where the racing motorbikes typically leap spectacularly into the air), and down the Sulby straight – we were hitting the high 40s (kph) without any real effort. The motorbikes would be hitting 200 MPH along the stretch of road! Not sure if the speed trap along the straight was set up for us lot though…

 

Over Sulby bridge, the peloton started to string out just a little as we went up the brief climb at Ginger Corner. I was really enjoying the race, and my legs, lungs, heart, and head were all feeling great.

 

Before I knew it, we were at Ramsey and taking the sharp junction leading to the start of the dark shadow of the Mountain Road.

 

The mountain climb begins with a very short initial ramp before the climb proper, and the bunch surged a little over it. On the false flat leading up to the hairpin, I knew I should be further forward, but I fully expected to get punted on the climb, so I didn’t think there’d be any real difference.

 

Round the Ramsey Hairpin, there were crowds on both sides of the road cheering us on and clanking their cowbells. I took the inside line, preferring the steeper, but much shorter, gradient, and the tortuous climb up Snaefel had started.

 

The mountain climb can be split into two parts – the initial ramp which is steep and hard, then the more gentle drag to finish you off.

 

Once again, I recalled my 2011 ascent – a mammoth undertaking for me at the time, and I could recall the exact spot where I stopped, mid-climb, to eat a banana and take a couple of photos of the views over Ramsey down below – at least that was my excuse at the time – nothing to do with blowing up, oh no…

 

This time round, I was racing with the big boys, and I was only just starting to lose contact with the bunch at that spot.

 

I was riding level with Andy Brown (Kuota MetalTek) at that point, suffering as much as me. Misery loves company, as they say, so I didn’t feel quite so bad.

 

Contact lost, we started to drift backwards through the race convoy. NRG Brother, Team Sky, Team Wiggins, et al.. Their race support cars passed us, and, each time, we tried to duck behind them to get what little shelter from the cross-headwind that we could.

 

As the gradient eased, Andy gave a dig and started to pull away from me. Not unexpected, but it put a dent in my morale. I simply could not follow. We were heading South Westwards, and our friendly cross-tailwind from earlier was now a cross-headwind. I’d held on up the climb as long as I could, and had actually performed better than I had expected – Jason’s advice echoed in my head, and the realisation struck that I had, indeed, made a tactical error. If I’d got to the front of the bunch before the start of the climb, I’d have had the length of the group to slowly drift backwards up the steep section, and I’d possibly have been able to keep in contact with the tail of the peloton by the time we reached the ~3% ramp, gaining shelter from the wind. I’d likely to have been able to hold on at that point over the rest of the mountain section, and stick with the group for the second lap…

 

Hindsight is 20/20, but there was not a lot I could do now – I’d been shelled out.

 

I picked up one rider, and we vaguely worked together. Further up the road, around thirty seconds ahead, was a group of six that had been splintered out the back of the bunch – if we could get across, we might still be able to make good on my mistake.

 

We rode, but my partner didn’t seem to have his heart in it. His turns on the front were briefer, and slower than mine, and I could see that the group ahead were not getting any closer.

 

We rode round the Verandah, a sweeping right hander, that’s edged on the right by a 6ft+ high wall/grassy mound. I hugged the right hand side of the road to make the most of the shelter from the wind afforded by the wall (the benefits of a closed road event). We reeled in another rider that had been shelled, but, for some reason, he was sitting out on the left side of the road, exposed to the wind and taking the much longer line round the bend.

 

I shouted to him in advance so he could take his time accelerating to our pace and tack on the back – the more the merrier, but he looked up and just shook his head in resignation. It was pretty clear that he’d had enough and the Grandstand in Douglas this time around was his destination.

 

The road across the top of the mountain is rolling, with a bit of a dip on the approach to the aptly named Windy Corner, and windy it was!

 

At a fair lick of pace (~50 KPH) I had to hold the handlebars tightly as the gusting wind pulled and pushed on my front wheel, trying desperately to send me anywhere other than my intended trajectory. I wrestled with the wind whilst wrestling with the temptation to give the spectators on the corner a wave and a grin. Their cheers were rewarded with a grin and my left hand vaguely flapping out from the drops in an attempted wave with my thumb still firmly griping the bar…

 

My cycle chum and I rode on, heading towards one of the highlights of the course – the descent from Kate’s Cottage to Creg-Ny-Baa – steep, straight, and, most importantly, fast. A great opportunity to squeeze as much pace as possible, just to earn some high-speed bragging rights.

 

A quick punch out of the saddle to get some initial pace rolling, before getting on the drops, and sitting on the top tube, crouching into as compact a ball as possible, thinking small, aero thoughts.

 

KatesCottage-CregNyBaa_Descent

Chris Froome earned some fame for riding like this on his descent down the Col de Peyresourde in last year’s Tour. He got into the crouch and pedalled, looking somewhat comical in the process. I found it hard enough just holding the position. Maybe my technique is wrong, or I need more practice, but my arms and legs were taking my weight – it’s just too uncomfortable resting much weight on the top tube. Cyclists are not known for their upper body strength, particularly in their spindly arms (well, let’s ignore track riders, and the odd world class sprinters). In my case, my arms were aching. Holding course was fine, albeit a little wavering and unstable, but holding weight?…

 

The Creg approached all too quickly, and I had to decide just how fast I could take the corner. Task number one was to get my backside back up onto the saddle without snagging the padding in my shorts on the nose of the saddle in the process – success!

 

Then to line up the turn. A wide, empty road, a perfectly smooth, dry surface, and a bike that handles superbly – knee out, right butt-cheek slightly off the saddle, weight all set up, round we go.

 

The photographer sitting on the grass at the apex of the corner was in a prime spot to grab a photo – I faced the camera, and gave a big grin – I might be out of the race, but this was what riding fast was all about (at least in my book). I can only imagine a brilliant photo – chances are, I’ll never know, but at least in my mind’s eye, it was awesome! 🙂

 

The descent continued after the Creg, though at a lesser gradient. The 92 kph I hit from Kate’s, was down to a paltry 75kph after the Creg. Still pretty swift considering two contact patches the size of your thumb and nothing more than lycra to separate my skin from the road should anything go horribly wrong. Then again, these thoughts don’t enter your mind in such moments, otherwise you’d never ride so fast…

 

I wondered what had happened to my fellow rider so a look over my shoulder confirmed my suspicions – he was way behind. Whether he didn’t go aero, or just wasn’t pedalling hard enough, he’d been dropped. I didn’t expect he’d continue after Douglas.

 

I would though – I had full intention of riding the race so long as the organisers would allow it!

 

On up the little dig to Hillberry, and on to the mini roundabout that would lead me back to the Grandstand.

 

For the first time ever, I rode on the small section of the course known as The Nook. It’s only open during the TT (and the cycle race). Normally, traffic has to take the main road to the roundabout and turn right to get to Governor’s Bridge.

 

As I came round the sweeping left-hander, halfway along The Nook, I was faced with the barriers before the main road, and I was not really prepared for the severity of the sharp right hand turn. With squealing brakes almost drowning out the cheering crowd, I had a bit of a moment as I scrubbed off enough speed to safely make it round and onto the second part of the Nook. A bit more gingerly round the sharp left-hander, and I was back onto the main road and up the brief climb out of Governor’s Bridge, onto Glencrutchery Road just before the feeding zone.

 

I’d almost forgotten about bottles when I spotted Kirsty, perfectly holding up a spare bottle for me to grab. Unfortunately, in all my excitement, I’d hardly drunk any of my water – I had around one and a third bottles, so I didn’t see the point in taking the spare that Kirsty held up…

 

I shook my head as I went past, feeling a little bad that Kirsty had hung around for that one moment, and I declined the bottle…

 

I was always going to be an ‘also-ran’, with full expectation of getting dropped on the mountain – I’d achieved my goals (stay in touch to that point), so now all I had to do was ride round and enjoy the atmosphere, and riding through the Grandstand did not disappoint.

 

Both sides of the road, along with the grandstand itself were jam-packed with fans. They didn’t care that I was all on my own, clearly chewed up and disposed of by the bunch, an unknown guy, riding his bike. The fact that I had a race number on my jersey was enough to get the crowd cheering and whooping, banging the advertising hoardings in time-honoured tradition, and generally creating an unforgettable experience.

 

I might have a bit of a reputation for smiling and waving for the camera, but the Cheshire-Cat grin on my face could not have been stopped. I grinned from ear to ear and waved at the crowd as I rolled on through to start my second lap.

 

All the way through Douglas, there were pockets of crowds, enthusiastically clapping and cheering as I rode by. Down Bray Hill, I crouched on the top tube again – might as well try to look pro if folks think I might actually be pro… The kids that were spectating were suitably impressed. A surprising number of them around the course kept shouting at me to throw them a bottle. I declined – better to have them think I had bottles worth collecting, than oblige them with the disappointment when they discover my bottles were completely run of the mill bidon, about £2.50 from Wiggle, and suitably scuffed and bashed about…

 

Round Quarter Bridge, I caught a glimpse of another dropped rider a short way up the road. A minor increase in pace, and I was closing in on who I would hope to be my new comrade.

 

Around Braddon Bridge, I’d caught up, and we chatted briefly – at least I’d have company for the next 50km or so…

 

My new found friend, Mike, was a fellow Cat 2 rider from the South of England. We wheeled about at a fairly easy pace as we approached Union Mills for the second time. I decided to go on the front with the expectation that my dad might still be hanging around at the foot of Strang Road – and right on cue, there he was. Camera raised, and snapping merrily away. Cool, at least there’d be some photos (or so I thought – I later discovered that my dad had tried to take a video clip, but didn’t realise he’d run out of storage, so the camera recorded nowt!)…

 

We continued riding along, chatting, and failing to understand the attitudes of dropped riders that had thrown in the towel at the end of the first lap. It’s the British Nationals, for goodness sake. The roads are closed, the weather’s pretty decent, the roads are excellent – why the hell would you go all this way to ride forty miles and climb off your bike just because you got pumped on one climb?

 

We rode on.

 

Just after Greeb Castle, I realised there were three convoy vehicles behind us, driving an echelon, flashing amber lights on their tops. The dreaded back of the convoy, and the broom wagon! I really didn’t want to get pulled before the end of the lap, so we pushed the pace and got back to something vaguely approaching race pace (that’d be my level of race pace!).

 

Just before Glen Helen, another rider caught up from behind (I suspect he’d stopped and had been chatting with someone at Ballacraine, saw us, and decided to carry on with some company). It turned out to be Ben Heatherington (not that I realised this at the time). Ben and I did the lion’s share of the work on the front between us, while Mike, burst beyond belief just sat on the back and took a free ride…

 

Initially, this was fine, but it became a bit irritating as we worked our way towards Ramsey with Mike not even rolling through as a token gesture of thanks for Ben and my efforts.

 

As we hit the climb out of Ramsey, Ben hit a marginally harder pace and started to gap Mike and me. I considered pressing on to stick with Ben, but I really didn’t see the point in flailing myself to hold his wheel when we would still get pulled at the end of the lap, so I just cruised.

 

Sitting at 290-300 Watts, the climb was steady and comfortable. Despite this, Mike was blowing hard, taking shelter on my wheel, and occasionally gasping for me to ease up a bit. I was shocked.  When I’d originally lined up to start the race, I’d fully expected to be the weakest guy in the bunch. Clearly, I underestimated my abilities – I was the *second* weakest guy in the bunch!

 

With Mike gratefully sitting in, we cleared the climb, and headed across the mountain top – a long, winding road that is fairly barren save for the Mile markers and occasional landmarks such as Guthries, The Black Hut, and the like.

 

After what seemed an age, we got to the last section of climbing, after the tram lines at The Bungalow. It’s a cruel part of the course where you think the climbing is done with – the final mountain sting before the descent.

 

Up to the highest part of the course at Brandywell, and we could relax a little as we descended through Windy Corner and beyond.

 

We soon rounded Keppel Gate, the beginning of the descent proper, and I decided to put in a kickstart to the descent – my last opportunity to hit some high speeds. A good kick, and I was off (and I suspect this was where Mike was also off – off the back!).

 

Into the Froomey tuck and down the descent for the second and last time. There were still folks hanging around at the corner at Creg-Ny-Baa, cheering, and I took the bend with a little more confidence than last time.

 

A quick look over my shoulder at the end of the straight confirmed that Mike was gone.

 

Riding tempo, I pressed on until I got to the top of the rise at Hillberry, where Johnny Waterson Lane meets the A18. This was where the finishing circuit joined the main circuit. I was well outside the time limit, and the barriers had been brought across the road. A couple of marshals flagged me down and told me the obvious news. I was out – to be expected.

 

Timing chip removed, they explained that I could continue round the course to the Grandstand, but I should keep well over to the side, and make sure I don’t get in the way of the race should they catch up as I roll along.

 

I rolled along, and they didn’t catch up – thankfully. I didn’t fancy the thought of the lead riders fast approaching, and me getting in the way. In this respect, I’d prefer to maintain a low profile!

 

I rode on to the feed area, where I caught up with some familiar faces. My race was over. It had been the most amazing road race experience to date, but now it was time to become a spectator, and cheer on the guys that are several levels of ability above me – quite an amazing site.

 

A hard race on a tough course – Steve Cummings (eventual winner) later commented that it was his hardest race ever. Folks recognised that the course was one of the hardest courses ever used for the British National Championships (if not *the* hardest). I’d like to think that the main circuit was the most brutal – I never got to see the finishing circuit… 🙂

 

In the run up to the event, I had been nervous, and a bit anxious as to what to expect. Having gone through the experience, if anyone asked me if I’d do it again, my response would be a resounding “Absolutely! In a heartbeat!” (which, at peak heart rate would be about a third of a second…

Dick Londragon Road Race

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Prize

“The Dick”, previously an E,1,2,3 road race, had been downgraded this year to a 2,3,4, much to the understandable dismay of several 1st Cat riders. This year, however, was my first time at the event (I’m not sure why I hadn’t raced it before, but I intend to again!).

 

After a lengthy drive up from the Kingdom, I arrived at the Race HQ – an out door centre “Wester Knockhill” just East of the wee village of Strachan, close to Banchory. The sun was shining, and although the wind was not especially strong, it was certainly fresh. Signed on, booted and suited, I warmed up and prepared to do battle.

 

Peloton

Photo courtesy of Austin Bodie

We had a strong turnout from the team, and I was joined by Craig Adams, Craig Kidd, Andy Auld, Andrew Hood, Alan Lamont, and Franco Porco.

 

The neutralised section ran from the race HQ Westwards towards Strachan, and I was glad I’d kept my arm and leg warmers on, along with my gilet – it was pretty chilly!

 

The 118km race was on a relatively short, triangular course. It would take us Westwards along the rolling terrain of the B976 for a few kilometres until we reached a fairly sharp left turn onto the Old Military road. With a bit more undulations before we hit the main climb of the day – a rather nasty 8% (?) rise, in two parts with a very brief false flat halfway up. This rise would take us to the finish line, then, a few hundred metres later, we would turn left onto the B974 that rolled along to a sharp, corkscrew descent before starting back along the B976 once more. Ten laps in all.

 

With the red and white chequered flag pulled in, the race was on.

 

I’m not sure if it was immediate or not, but David Griffiths (ProVision Clothing and general nutter – in a good way!) was off on what is becoming one of his trademark do-or-die attacks, and was joined by Callum Sharp (Pedal Power, and showing some excellent early season form).

 

The pair got a gap, and continued to ride strongly away while the bunch collectively shrugged, deciding that it was a bit too early in the morning to work that hard…

 

The peloton rode on, with sporadic attacks getting launched, but relatively quickly shut down.

 

As expected, the first couple of times up the climb were hard – everyone was fresh, and riders were willing to have a dig on the climb and see who cracks. It appeared that nobody did, and the bunch rolled, puffing and panting (some more than others) across the finish line as we started the next lap.

 

The gradual descent to the ‘Corkscrew’ was rapid, and the Corkscrew itself was fast and technical. I quickly realised that there was free speed to be had if I could get to the front just before the twisting drop – by lap four, I was blasting down the drop and getting a good gap of twenty or more meters from the bunch by doing nothing other than descending the Corkscrew faster than other riders were willing to go. I needed to try and capitalise on this advantage, so on lap five I attacked.

 

Down the drop, up to the B976, and round the corner, and away.

I was hoping that a small number of riders would see the opportunity and work to bridge across. Unfortunately, nobody did, and I found myself dangling out on my own for a few kilometres. This was how it remained until a little after the southward turn down the Old Military Road and into the headwind. I decided that enough was enough, and I soft-pedalled until the bunch finally caught up and swept me along.

 

Up the climb (the pace was a good bit more sensible) and over the finish line to start the next lap.

 

Next to attack was my teammate Craig Adams. We had traversed the Corkscrew and turned onto the B976 when he went. Callum and David were in sight, though a good thirty seconds (or more) out, and it looked like bridging across would be a great move for Craig.

 

Nobody chased, so I moved to the front of the peloton and tried to control the pace to give Craig every advantage.

 

Only briefly was the peloton happy to oblige, but about half way along the B976 other riders decided to push the pace a bit. I became a passenger again!

 

Craig eventually suffered the same fate that befell me – halfway down the Old Military Road, he was reabsorbed into the bunch, and that was that.

 

Another lap down.

 

While the gap between the bunch and the escapees yo-yoed somewhat, the pair was, once again, within striking range on the following lap. This time, however, I could see David, in the distance, raising his hand looking for assistance. A puncture, I decided – what rotten luck (I later discovered it was actually a broken spoke – no less damaging though). With neutral service nowhere in sight, David had the frustration of sitting up, and dropping back until service found him – that was his break for the day over, and Callum was on his own.

 

With about 55km still to go, it was an extremely longshot for Callum to stay out, but, to his credit, that was exactly what he was doing.

 

Around Lap 7, Callum finally ran out of power and was cruelly caught by the bunch just before the climb on the Old Military Road…

Lap 8 – a stealth attack. Scott Wardlaw (VeloClub Edinburgh) decided to ease away from the bunch just after the climb. Off he rode along the B974, getting a sizeable gap from the rest of us. Nobody chased.

 

As we approached the Corkscrew, I worked my way to the front again. With just under three laps to go, bridging across to Scott would be a handy move. Just behind me was Matthew Cockerell (Aberdeen Wheelers CC).

 

We flew down the Corkscrew, and Matt and I had a clear gap fro m the bunch. With a quick word, we agreed to push on, so we did – up to the junction, and round onto the B976 once again. “Let’s see if we can bridge across to Scott…”, I suggested. Matt agreed, so we worked hard, bit ‘n’ bit and slowly reeled in Scott, as the bunch dropped further and further back.

 

Scott must have been putting out the watts as it took almost the full length of the B976 to make the junction. He sounded pretty pleased to see us, as we reorganised and got the chain working. I was feeling the effort in my legs and wondered how hard my companions would be pulling – too hard, and I’ll be kicked out of the group and drifting back to the hungry bunch behind us.

 

As it turned out, it was clear that Scott was suffering as much as me, but Matt seemed to be the most capable for the moment.

 

We charged on down the Old Military Road, but there was a large group of riders hot on our heels – I could see that it was not the full peloton – this was a good thing – but it was a larger group than I would like.

Break

Photo courtesy of Andy Auld

 

Up the climb and round the corner onto the B974, and the chasers were less than fifteen seconds behind. They were going to close the gap very soon. About 2km along the road, they bridged and our escape grew from three riders to about fifteen or so.

 

We managed to form a pace line, and roughly two thirds of the group started to work. I really wanted to stay away from the bunch now, with less than two laps to go. If our group messed around, we’d likely get caught and all the efforts would have been for nothing…

 

There were a good number of riders sitting on at the back. I wasn’t sure if they were just sandbagging, or if they were genuinely struggling to hold on. Unfortunately, there was not much I could do, so we continued round the course to complete the penultimate lap.

 

Finally, one more lap to go.

 

Some riders were tiring, and our group was stringing out a little. Once we’d cleared the Corkscrew for the last time, I was watching my Garmin as it counted down the kilometres to the finish. Each time I went to the front, I increased the pace a little, trying to stress any weaker riders – if they weren’t going to roll through to the front, I’d try to shake them out the back. With luck, we’d whittle down our group before things got serious at the climb to the finish.

 

With 4km to go, one rider came alongside and exclaimed, “Look what you’re doing! You’re splitting the group!”. I think he was wanting me to ease up in order to keep the group together… I just smiled…

 

Into the headwind down the Old Military Road for the last time, and the Cat ‘n’ Mouse antics began. A couple of riders tried an attack, and closing them down took an effort – my legs were already complaining, and we still had the final push to go.

 

Our group had whittled down as I’d hoped, and we arrived at the bottom of the climb, and I’d miscalculated positioning and was at the front.

 

In hindsight, I should probably have had a poke at the bottom of the climb – treat it as an all-out power-climb and blast it to the top, but I suspected that I would simply have blown at the halfway point.

 

As it was, at the halfway point where the first ramp of the climb eases off and goes almost flat before the second ramp, Lewis Oliphant (VeloClub Edinburgh) burst from the back of our now small group with a surprising acceleration. Five riders were in tow, and I accelerated as best I could given the state of my legs.

JobDone

Photo courtesy of Austin Bodie

Unfortunately, it was too little too late and it was clear I was not going to catch the attack.

 

The fifth rider (Charles Fletcher – Cairngorm CC) started to blow, and I realised that if I dug just a little deeper, I’d be able to catch him before the finish line. Despite their protests, my legs kicked again and pushed harder, over the crown of the climb and I sailed past Charles, but the other four riders were untouchable.

 

Finally, with about fifty metres to go, nobody to catch up to, and nobody to catch me, I coasted, easing over the line in a satisfactory 5th place.

 

The first three riders across the line were Lewis Oliphant (VeloClub Edinburgh), Zak Loney (Edinburgh RC), and Struan Pryde (HMT with JLT Condor).

Drummond Trophy Road Race 2017

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Frozen Hell of the North

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It’s a shame that Garmin thought I’d only climbed 287m rather than the actual 1250m! 😀

One year ago, the Drummond Trophy was a veritable test of endurance; a hard wind, and constant rain made for a miserable event. This year, the weather leading up to race day had been positively decent with lots of sunshine and unseasonably high temperatures. However, all that was to change…

I would swear that the weatherman had said that the rain would hold off, and that the Drummond Trophy Road Race would be generally dry (though possibly on damp roads). It was raining when I headed off from the Race HQ over to the local Sainsbury’s car park where the race briefing was being held. Most of the riders stood in the light rain, shivering slightly, while one group was huddled under a large trailer-cum-portacabin that was sitting nearby trying to stay out of the rain. I briefly chatted with my teammates, Craig Adams and Andy Auld.

 

With race briefing over, we set off onto the course – seven laps of the 20.5km course, on rolling terrain, with just one reasonably sharp, but short climb to tackle on each lap.

 

With plenty of standing water, there was ample spray being kicked up, mixing with the light rain, ensuring that we were soaked pretty early on into the 145km race. I’d taken the precaution of wearing my long sleeve top with arm warmers and a merino wool base layer underneath. My gilet had been an afterthought, but I was glad I’d grabbed it at the last moment. Garmin was saying that the temperature was already just 3°C, so I was keen to get moving and try to warm up.

 

Within the first half of the first lap, my brand new waterproof gloves were drenched inside, and the icy water felt like a cold, steel vice on my hands when I went onto the drops. This was going to be a tough day.

 

A few attacks went in, but nothing too serious. I was more concerned about riding tight in the bunch as the water was playing havoc with my brakes again, and all the spray made visibility awkward – no way I was taking my glasses off though – I’ve learned from past experience that I’d rather have all the spray hitting my lenses rather than hitting my eyeballs!

 

We headed south from Strathaven down to Drumclog where the road was reasonably wide and the surface OK. The rolling terrain was not challenging, and nor was the pace.

 

Left at Drumclog onto the B745, and we were on a glorified farm track. The surface was reasonably smooth, but there was plenty of mud strewn around, and the road was a good bit narrower as the full bunch of around eighty riders headed eastwards towards the only real climb of the day.

 

A sharp left, over the wee bridge over the Glengavel Water, then a sharp right (where I crashed in the Anderside Classic 2015) before we hit the climb up to the B743.

 

I was bracing myself as I had expected the push up the climb to be vicious. Either my training over the winter had been good, or (more likely) the bunch wasn’t quite in aggressive race mode. That’s not to say the climb was slow; it wasn’t, but it wasn’t the leg-ripping blast I expected.

 

We passed the feed point where Martin Lonie was standing on the left on bottle duties (he’d kindly offered to take one of my bottles to hand out earlier on).

 

The peloton pressed on. As we turned left onto the B743, I was conscious of making sure I kept pace – in previous races at this junction, I’d been lax in maintaining position, only to find the bunch accelerate hard on a false flat immediately round the junction. Anyone not paying attention either has to dig deep or get dropped!

 

The acceleration was there, but it wasn’t harsh.

 

The bunch, pretty much all together, pressed on back northwards towards Strathaven as the cold rain continued to fall. My wet hands were going numb, and I wondered if I’d be any better with the gloves off…

 

Over the finish line, and briefly into Strathaven, we completed the first lap and took the hairpin turn back onto the A71 – the marshals were doing a splendid job of keeping us safe at that junction in particular.

 

About halfway down the A71, Craig moved forward up the bunch and I followed. He made some hand signals, but I’m afraid I had no idea what he was signalling. My momentum carried me past, and I found myself progressing to the front. I decided that the pace was not so high, I might as well put in a dig and attack the group. If nothing else, it might help to warm me up a bit.

 

Off the front, and head down, I increased my pace and started to get a bit of a gap. Some riders followed, and I was surprised to see some of the big hitters come across. We formed a group of ten escapees in total, including (I think – there may be some wrong ‘uns in this list!) Steve Lampier (JLT Condor), Alex Luhrs (Brother NRG Driverplan), William Brown (Brother NRG Driverplan), Ralf Hodgson (MTS-Rapid Engineering NE), Callum Sharp (Pedal Power RT), Steven Lawley (Metaltek Kuota Racing Team), Alastair McNicol (Dooleys), and Henry Johnson (MTS-Rapid Engineering NE). Pretty quickly, we got to work and the pace line had formed. I was instantly worried that the like of Steven and Co., would put the pace so high, that I’d just get spat out, but it didn’t happen. Steve Lampier was particularly good at getting the group organised, and we started to smoothly pull away from the bunch.

 

Our pace was strong but perfectly manageable as we reached Drumclog. We rounded the junction and our gap to the bunch had increased significantly. By the time we took the sharp left/right bends before the climb, the bunch were barely in sight – I remembered thinking that we must have over thirty seconds on them already, as we hit the climb, but kept the pace steady.

 

Minor disaster struck on the climb as I had changed to the biggest cog at the rear whilst still on the big dog at the front. The chain decided to try and slip off the outer ring, but the front derailleur wouldn’t allow it to engage on the inner ring, resulting in constant slipping, and, more significantly, no power – I slowed down dramatically as I tried to sort it out.

 

In any other race, I’d have been left to my own devices, but I felt a strong push of a hand on my butt to keep my momentum going as I sorted the gearing problem – it had been Steve. He recognised that keeping all ten of us together kept the group stronger, so he helped me out as I got the chain settled and got the power back down – what a gent!

 

Past Martin (with a big grin on my part), and we rounded the junction onto the B743 for the return leg towards Strathaven.

 

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Photograph by Peter Collins.

Shortly afterwards, the Commissaire’s convoy was reorganised, and I realised our gap must now be very healthy – NEG came alongside and confirmed – we had over 1 minute 20 on the bunch. It was early in the race, but I was delighted with the way it was going – I was still feeling fine, albeit cold, I was in a very strong break, and it sounded like the bunch was not up for a fight…

 

As we progressed down the B743, my hands had become so cold, they felt like I was wearing boxing gloves. Holding the handlebars was hard enough. Braking took a serious amount of concentration and effort. It then dawned on me – how am I going to drink from my bidon? I already realised that the gels and banana in my pockets would likely stay where they were – absolutely no chance would my hands enable me to get them out of my pockets, but I hadn’t considered hydration until now.

 

A few times, on straight sections of road, I tentatively reached down to the bottle on the down tube. I could wrap my hand around it, loosely, but my fingers lacked the strength to grip the bottle tightly enough to actually pull it out. I then considered that, even if I did manage to pull it out, I’d probably just drop it straight away. This was grim. A 145km bike ride with absolutely nothing to eat or drink – a harsher test of endurance than I had expected…

 

As we crossed the finish line to start the third lap, my hands were the worst I had ever experienced. I was so glad for the eTap groupset on my team bike. Despite the shifters being simple buttons, it was all I could do to try and press them to change gear – I had to look to see what my clubbed-hands were doing as I certainly couldn’t feel the shifters.

 

I was now having to corner the bike very gingerly. The lack of feel and grip in my hands made every turn somewhat precarious, and it also meant losing far more speed in the turns than my compatriots, and I had to work harder and harder to stay in contact.

 

Around the junction, back onto the A71, and our group seemed to have a small flurry of mini-attacks. I couldn’t understand what was going on – as far as I was concerned, it was far too early to break our group apart…

 

A couple of miles later, we were back together as one unit, and continued to work once again. I was now feeling a little hungry and I knew I had to try to get some fluids in me, but, once again, my hand simply wouldn’t work, and I had to resign myself to carrying around one kilo of useless carbohydrate sports drink for the full distance.

 

We turned onto the B745 and pushed on towards the left/right turns at the wee bridge. On the left turn, I felt the bike slip a little, so I slowed a bit more for the right turn. Unfortunately, I was at the front of our group, and someone was not happy with me slowing down so much into the turn. I’d scrubbed quite a bit of speed, and I was feeling the effects of lack of fuel. Into the climb, the group started to go past me, and I ended on a line that went right over a patch of slimy mud. Thankfully, my front wheel held its line, but the back slithered and slipped through the sludge, and I lost a bit of pace. By this point, my glycogen must have been used up, and I found that I simply couldn’t put down enough power to stay in contact with the group anymore. Scott Johnston and Martin shouted encouragement as I passed them at the feeding area, but there was nothing I could do to coax the legs into action. I was on my own.

 

It was a strange feeling, getting into time trial mode as I eased my pace back up along the B743. It felt as though I had been chewed up and spat out by the bunch, yet here I was, sitting tenth at this point in the race. This wouldn’t last long on my own, and I could see me being swept up and dropped by the bunch as the come haring up from behind. I was determined to stay away from them as long as I could.

 

Up ahead, I could see two other riders from the break that had clearly blown. I was slowly catching them, and now I had a goal. Get back to these two, and see if we could work together to survive this frozen hell a bit longer. I slowly reeled them in. One rider had blown big time and was struggling even at my solo pace. He sat in while the second rider (Brother NRG Driverplan, but I’m not sure who) and I took turns on the front. The wind was not especially strong, but was coming slightly from the right, but the Brother NRG rider kept on riding over to the left. I shouted a few times for him to move over to give better shelter, but my face was so cold that my mouth wasn’t really working very well! Eventually, he understood.

 

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Photograph by Peter Collins.

About 3km from the finish, there is a fast short descent onto a green bridge over Avon Water. The bridge is, in effect, a chicane (thankfully covered with shell-grip, so plenty of traction). With my hands barely working, all the fun of these types of bends was cruelly stolen from me. Worse than that, the exit from the bridge is onto another short climb back up. Having to slow down more than I’d like, also meant having to work harder on the climb up the other side…

 

Up the climb and down to the finish, I realised that both of my compatriots had slipped off the back, and I was on my own again.

 

I crossed the finish line and started the fourth lap. Not even middle-distance, and I was frozen, hungry, thirsty, tired, and on my own. The joys of road racing in Scotland! So long as my legs would turn the cranks, the only thing to do was to carry on. I decided to see if I could stay away from the chasing bunch for a full lap…

 

Head down, with nobody in sight, I continued down the A71 once again. The lumps seemed to be getting bigger, and my pace was definitely getting lower. Down to Drumclog, over the Glengavel Water, and back up the climb.

 

As I reached the feed area, Martin could see I was in trouble, and was graciously offering me a gel as I approached – I’d have done anything for that gel. In hindsight, maybe I should have stopped to take it, somehow, but I didn’t. A shouted that my hands were not working as I rode past, gel-less.

 

Down the B743 and across the finish line to start the fifth lap – somehow, I had managed to stay away from the bunch, but they were well in sight. I rounded the hairpin junction onto the A71 and I estimated that I had about 20 seconds up on them. I’d achieved my goal of staying away for the lap, so now was the time to ease up and rejoin the group. This didn’t take long.

 

I was thankful for the company, though I hoped their pace wouldn’t just throw me by the wayside. The group that caught me was pretty small – maybe twenty riders. I commented to Rob Friel (ProVision Clothing) and he told me that this was it. The cold had taken its toll on the race, and most riders had jacked it in. Rob encouraged me to stick in – you never know what will happen and it might be worthwhile going the distance.

 

I chatted briefly to Sean Gordon (East Kilbride Road Club). He was looking comfortable. As if to confirm this, Sean and Rob soon decided to attack our group and head off down the road. I had nothing to contribute, so I tacitly wished them well as I just hung with the rest of the group.

 

The next few laps were a bit of a blur. When your body is suffering, the only escape is in your mind, so I rode on automatic, trying to ignore the pain in my legs and hands. One or two riders drifted off the front. Some were ‘softly’ chased down, others managed to get away. By this point I just wanted to finish the race.

 

By the close of the last lap, our group had dwindled to about eight riders: Stephen Collins (Pedal Power RT), Joe Reilly (Spokes Racing Team), Henry Johnson (MTS-Rapid Engineering NE), Jordan Doig (Wheelbase Altura MGD), Danny Grieves (GS Metro), Mark Robertson (Army Cycling Race Team), Neil Scott (Deeside Thistle). We mostly worked together to bring it home. I was trying to work out how many riders were up ahead, and whether there’d be an opportunity of any points at the finish.

 

We cleared the B745 climb for the last time (and not a moment too soon – the last ascent was a significant effort, with my legs screaming at me!), and we rounded the junction onto the B743. Stephen gently rode away, and nobody seemed to care. Before anyone realised, he had established a good gap, and was gone.

 

As the final kilometres closed in, I decided I should do what I could to beat as many guys as possible – a big ask given my state. Together, we took the descent over the bridge at Avon Water, and I was first round and into the short climb. I was conscious of pacing this sensibly, as my legs were close to giving in, and I knew that the climb turns into a surprisingly long drag. Into the last km, and I was sitting at the front. This, I didn’t mind as I wasn’t driving the pace. With a very slight drop to the finish, I decided to accelerate as hard as I could with about three hundred meters to go. It was horrible.

 

With about half as much power as I’d normally put down in a sprint finish, three riders came past; Joe, Henry, and Jordan. Thankfully, they didn’t come past so fast that I should hang my head in shame – it was still reasonably tight.

 

Finally, over the line for the last time, I continued on back to race HQ.

 

It’s fair to say that I don’t think I’d ever been quite that cold for quite that long. The average temperature during the race was a balmy 2°C. Even after running my hands under a hot tap for a few minutes (ouch – that really hurt), I didn’t have the strength to pull the zip on my gilet – I ended up having to pull it over my head, instead. Getting changed out of my wet cycling kit and into dry clothes was a slow, painful process, and I’m sure it took a good hour to get any sense of warmth.

 

The saving grace of the day was that I had managed to finish 18th – not bad, and three handy points to add to my early season tally. Then the organisers kindly pointed out that only 21 riders actually finished – cool, so I was fourth last!

 

The heroes of the day, in order of finishing were 1st: Steve Lampier (JLT Condor), 2nd: Sean Gordon (East Kilbride RC), and 3rd: Alex Luhrs (Brother NRG Driverplan).

 

It was a genuine pleasure to be in the break with Steve – what a gent he is. For me, however, the impressive ride was Sean’s. Despite missing the break, he bided his time, bridged across, and took an outstanding second place. Race performances like that do not come easily.

As for me – my hands are almost back to normal!

Next up: Dick Londragon Road Race – a new one on me…

Configure a TalkTalk Huawei HG-633 as a WiFi Only Router

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TalkTalk recently sent me a new router to replace my aging (failing) Huawei HG-533 box. They replaced it with a Huawei HG-633 ‘Super Router’.

On the plus side, the WiFi performance of the new router is absolutely fantastic – though I do wonder if I should stand close to it; it must be outputting a fairly hefty radio signal!

On the downside, its ability to hold the VDSL broadband connection is woeful, requiring a reset of the VDSL signal every hour or so – unless you enjoy 56k dial-up modem speeds.

TalkTalk refused to replace the new router, instead offering to send an engineer round at my cost despite the fact that I probably know more about this technology than any engineer they’re likely to send round, so I bought my own replacement router – a TP-Link WD-9980 (well, it was actually a WD-8980, but a cheeky wee hack brought it up a model).

As luck would have it, despite the TP-Link router handling the VDSL connection supremely – even managing higher transfer rates than the TalkTalk router when it is not on a go-slow, the WiFi on the TP-Link is not so great. Indeed, that’s maybe an understatement. It really doesn’t cut the mustard compared to the HG-633.

So, I now have a brilliant VDSL router with crap WiFi (though it does have 4xGb ethernet ports), and a crap VDSL router that excels in the speedy WiFi department.

The solution seems obvious: run the TP-Link as a VDSL router, with wired ethernet to the HG-633, acting as a WiFi-only router. The only problem is that TalkTalk dumb down the interface for the HG-633 so much that it makes the configuration process highly unintuitive – there’s no “run as a WiFi router” mode…

I like a challenge though, so I set about the HG-633 to see if I could get it to do what I wanted. This blog is a simple log of what I did in case others find this useful.

I’m assuming that the reader is fairly familiar with networking, and can handle the basic setup of the HG-633 (IP address, WiFi parameters, etc.).

Step 1: Disable the moronic self-help ‘feature’. This is the mechanism (on by default) that intercepts any web requests when you connect to the WiFi router, but it is not connected to the internet via the xDSL port. It’s very annoying, though I’m sure it’s useful for some folks the first time it pops up…

Disable_SelfHelp

Step 2: Disable the ‘Internet_ADSL’ connection. I’m not sure if this is really necessary, but with no xDSL cable connected, there’s not really much point in having the connection ‘enabled’…

Disable_InternetADSL

Step 3: Configure the WiFi router with an appropriate IP address within your network.

Set_IP

Step 4: Set up static routing so that the WiFi router will route any IP packets to your actual router (possibly your working xDSL router)

Configure_StaticRouting

Step 5a: Disable the built in DHCP service. This is only really required if you already have a DHCP server in our network. Fortunately, despite not making things obvious, the HG-633 will relay DHCP broadcast requests, so a WiFi device attached to the HG-633 will still be able to get DHCP service from the server sitting on the ‘other side’ of the HG-633.

Disable_DHCP

Step 5b: Optionally, configure DHCP appropriately. If you do want to use the DHCP service in the HG-633, don’t forget to set up the IP pool appropriately for your network. Don’t forget, if doing this, you’ll need to manually specify the DNS servers to use – otherwise DNS will fail as it tries to use the DNS servers automatically retrieved from the (disabled) xDSL connection. Obvious, really!

Set_DHCP
Step 6: Test! Attach to the WiFi, and check to see if you can do the following:
    • Get an IP address (as provided by the DHCP server!)
    • Ping the HG-633 (this should be a given, but you never know)
    • Ping your network router
    • Ping ‘yahoo.com’ (or your favourite internet host). Note, this performs two tests:
      • DNS resolution – your DHCP server should be providing the correct DNS servers to use
      • IP routing out of your network to the public internet
    • Bring up a web browser and surf
 Step 7: Enjoy!

Vets Road Race Series – Round #1

2017-03-25 21.03.38
And so it came to pass, Winter changed to Spring, then, on the 25th of March, slightly earlier than billed, Spring jumped straight into Summer for one whole day. Happily, this coincided with the first round of the all-new Vets’ Road Race Series – the aptly named “Is That My Knee or Your BB”, with about 55 riders ‘of a certain age’ lining up to try and display that there’s life in the old dogs yet, and indeed there is…
With a field of riders a bit older, the organisers had sensibly scheduled a start time of 13:00 for the race – none of this early morning, 10:00am nonsense, and so it was, we all congregated at Fenwick Church for our respective sign-on, warm-up, and pre-race briefing.
The course, itself, was not entirely inspiring – starting at a roundabout on the A77 (at Juntion 7 of the M77), we were to race 3.5km up to the next roundabout (J6), then race back to the first roundabout, eight times. With ideal weather conditions, and only a slight breeze (and no big climbs to think about), the race was going to be fast, but it would be interesting to see if anyone would be able to force a break.
This time, I had the company of three fellow teammates: Craig Kidd, Alan Lamont, and Franco Porco. With four strong team riders in the lineup, we had an excellent chance of getting a good result.
Neutralised from Fenwick out to the course, the race soon got underway with some probing attacks once we were heading down to J6 for the first time. I planned to take it easy for the first lap or two in order to check out the condition of the road surface at each roundabout – always good to know what level of grip is available before you actually need to use it! Conditions were good.
David Dalziel (Glasgow Nightingale) was the first to attack, and he established a decent gap rather rapidly. A couple of other riders gave chase, but it was pretty clear that this move was not going to stick, and within half a lap, we were reeling them all back in.
On the third lap, Kenny Riddle (Moray Firth) launched, and was joined by another rider (I’m not sure who). The pair were working together as they headed down to the J6 roundabout, and I decided that this may be a good break to join, so I accelerated and started to bridge across.
Round J6, I was catching up (and getting away), and it was a bit of an effort to close the gap – there’s a bit of a rise on the return leg, and despite there only being a gentle breeze, it was a headwind in this direction, and a noticeable one at that. Eventually, I managed to join them, and we started working together to keep the pace high. With a decent gap to the main bunch, I could see a second breakaway of three riders bridging across – if they could make it, and the six of us put the hammer down, we’ll be away!
As the lap closed in on J7, our break became six riders, and we managed roughly one full rotation, with high hopes of leaving the bunch behind, before we were chased down, and reabsorbed into the main peloton. As we cleared the roundabout to start the fourth lap, I remember thinking that my effort was wasted. What was the cost going to be…
For lap 4, it was the turn of teammate Craig Kidd to give things a bit of a poke. He accelerated past us all, and got a good thirty seconds up the road. I, for one, was impressed by the gap he pulled. I tried to keep the bunch at bay, but riders were simply going past, so I just sat in and enjoyed the ride.
Around J7, just starting our fifth lap, and Craig’s moment of glory was eventually shutdown, but it was certainly a worthy solo effort.
Lap 5 was the ‘interesting’ lap. The bunch were cruising down to J6 with not much happening. I remembered noting the rider (let’s call him Rider ‘A’) to my right and slightly in front was overlapping wheels with the guy in front of him – not a sensible thing to do, but not much was happening. Unfortunately, Rider ‘A’, for some, inexplicable reason, decided to look over his should to see how things were looking behind him. This is not a good thing to do in the middle of the bunch. For one thing, the race is in front, not behind, secondly, all you’ll see behind you is a bunch of riders behind you – it’s not as if he was attacking, and trying to get a gap. Thirdly, when a rider turns to look behind, the body movement invariable causes the rider to move off their line and gently veer in the same direction their head turns, and this was exactly what happened.
Rider ‘A’ turned his head to the right to look behind, his bike drifted slightly right, and his front wheel, overlapping the wheel in front, came in contact, and the crash was inevitable. As if in slow motion, Rider ‘A’ started falling to the right, but, as his front wheel had been turned left and was going from under him, the whole bike was sliding left – right towards me. I had zero time to react, other than to ready myself for the inevitability of having my wheels swiped out from under me, and the certainty of hitting the deck at speed.
By some miracle, Rider ‘A’s wheels missed me (by some extremely small margin, I’m sure), and I was lucky to carry on, unscathed. The riders behind, unfortunately, were not so lucky. With plenty of space around me to safely look back (this was a conscious consideration!), I looked round and saw a mess of bikes and bodies flying through the air, a sight nobody wants to see, and a cold reminder that road racing is not a risk free past-time. No matter how good a bike handler you are, you’re still at the mercy of other riders.
About a third of the bunch was caught up or held back by the crash. Up ahead, Kenny Riddle was off the front (again!), but he wasn’t going especially hard. I accelerated across, and pulled up alongside to let him know about the crash, and asked if we should ease up to let the other riders get back on. He shrugged and commented that they’re unlikely to get back on – in hindsight, he was maybe thinking of the riders on the deck, rather than the riders that were simply held up. Either way, we just carried on.
2017-03-25 21.57.53We approached J6, and I led-off round the roundabout, unintentionally creating a gap as I headed back up the road, so I decided, “What the heck”, I might as well give it a nudge, so I did. The gap opened, and I got into a time trial position, and settled into a manageable pace. I was hoping one or two other riders might bridge across, but, once again, by the time I made it up to the other end of the course, the whole bunch was bearing down on me, and it was all for nought.
The race was entering the end-game as laps 6 and 7 flew by. We were finally on the last lap, and it was clear that the finish would be a bunch effort. Given that the run-in from the roundabout was slightly downhill with a gentle tailwind, it was going to be a fast one, and race position and getting up to escape velocity early was going to be key at the finish.
As we headed up to the J7 roundabout for the final time, I made a point of ensuring I was sitting no further back than fifth wheel in the bunch. Despite the big wide road, it doesn’t matter how much power you have in your legs, there’s nowhere to use it if you’re boxed in with nowhere to go…
Round the roundabout, there were about 2,000 metres of racing left. I was managing to hold my position in the bunch, and made a point of keeping fairly central in the left side of the road giving me space to move around if needed. Stuart Munro (East Kilbride) was directly in front of me. Having ridden with him plenty in the past (Stuart joined me and four others for a week of riding around Annecy last year), I know he’s a strong rider and would be a good wheel to follow. He didn’t disappoint.
With less than 1,000 metres to go, Stuart made a beautiful move between two other riders to take the front of the race, and I smoothly followed him. Things were looking very good so far. Riders were lining up behind, but I had space to move around as needed.
With about 500 metres to go, I started thinking that either Stuart needs to speed up, or I need to consider going early as someone was likely to jump us. Stuart must have read my mind and he opened up the pace, and accelerated nicely. Another two hundred metres covered and this was working out very nicely indeed.
I normally open my sprint later rather than sooner, but today I was aware that the advantage would be to the guy that gets up to speed quickly. With about 250 metres to go, I launched.
Stuart started to blow, and I had plenty of room to get around him and accelerate towards the line. I focussed on getting the power down, and getting as much speed as possible. With less than 40 metres to go, it was clear that I had caught the bunch off-guard and nailed the race. Ten metres left and I could ease off and raise one hand in victory (I decided that raising both hands might not be a great idea – I was riding on 88mm wheels, and I didn’t want to run the risk of an unexpected sidewind snatching at my front wheel).
My goal for this race had been realised – first across the line – closely followed by Paul Rennie (Dooleys) in 2nd, and Kenny Riddle (Moray Firth) in 3rd (Kenny also took the prize for 1st V50+ Vet), with the rest of the bunch immediately behind.
What should have been a day for celebrations, however, was marred by the carnage in the remaining sprint for the line. It turned out that, in the final 100 metres, a rider further back in the bunch decided to change line abruptly, causing considerable carnage. My impromptu lead-out man, Stuart, had been swamped, and was caught in the resulting crash culminating in a destroyed frame-set, not to mention cuts, bruises, and ripped kit. Others suffered broken collar bones. Teammate Alan Lamont was also brought down, landing flat on his back – not good for someone that had back surgery the previous year (I hope you’re recovering OK, Alan!).
The worst, however, was the sight of my friend Alastair Pell (Glasgow Nightingale), laying in the middle of the road unconscious. Three other riders were looking after him whilst we waited for an ambulance to turn up (he was in good hands: an oncologist, a vascular surgeon, and an anaesthetist). I later found out that his CAT scan and spinal checks were all clear. Alastair suffered a bit of concussion, and a couple of minor broken bones (I’m not sure what they were though). Hopefully, he’ll soon get back on the bike and this incident won’t put him off racing in future…
As for my teammates, Craig’s effort was rewarded with tenth place, and Franco managed to avoid the carnage to salvage (I think) 14th place.
A good outing for the team (Alan’s crash notwithstanding), putting us in a good position for round 2 at the end of May, up in Alford.
Next up: Crit on the Campus (that’ll be a shorter report! 😉 )

Thursday Intervals Session

This is my horror session each week at the moment. Give it a try and see what I mean:

An “interesting” turbo session; 5 on 5 off x 5!

It consists of ‘blocks’ of 5 x 5 second intervals with just 5 seconds off between. Sounds complicated? It isn’t!

Warm up then engage bottom gear and big ring (maybe 52×21 or similar) and if you are using a variable resistance turbo, then use a resistance that relates approximately to the road.

Stop pedaling completely and then hit the interval flat out for just 5 seconds, ease back to almost stopped for 5 seconds and repeat 5 times.

This is one block of intervals and will take 45 seconds in total.

Have 2 minutes easy to allow for complete recovery and repeat in each gear right down the bock finishing on the 13 or 12 sprocket.

This could be between 9-10 blocks of intervals depending on how many sprockets you have.

Don’t be misled into thinking this session will be easy just because the intervals are only 5 seconds long. Done correctly it will be the hardest thing you have done all winter, almost a baptism of fire I’m afraid!

As the weeks progress begin to come back down your gears by one sprocket each week until you are using all the gears from say 21 down to 13 and eventually back to the 21 over a few weeks; a training pyramid.

You must take the full 2 minutes rest between sets otherwise you will be unable to complete the session.

This is a very demanding session so do not underestimate the effect it will have on you. If you find you are unable to complete it initially, then do just what you are able to do, probably 3 or 4 sets of intervals initially, and add 1 set each week.

There are no heart rate restrictions but it is unlikely you will exceed mid Level 3 because of the length of each set which is only 45 seconds.

Take a carbohydrate drink while cooling down after this session.

Because of the new high level of intensity you may have sore legs for the next two days or so but that will go as your body becomes accustomed to the session.

Neat Little Cadence Magnet

Take a cheapo, neodymium magnet (12mmx3mm) – £5 for 10 on eBay

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Glue an M5 nut onto it (using araldite or similar epoxy resin glue). The nut is really just there to make sure the magnet doesn’t slide about (or get bumped off).

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Insert it, nut first into your Look pedal axle from the frame side. Below is my crank before and after adding the magnet (my old cadence magnet is still attached in the background.

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Use it as a very neat cadence magnet, getting rid of the ugly, standard magnet strapped to the crank.

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The finished article. Neat, hidden, out of the way, and secure. It’s easy to remove just with fingers, though you might need to have half decent nails! 🙂

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More aero (oh yeah!), and a whole gram lighter than the standard, ugly, cable-tied magnet! 🙂