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! 🙂

Burgos – Léon Epic Ride

The plan – get a lift to Burgos from my brother-in-law and cycle back to Léon. I had two route possibilities – cycle straight back on the ‘National’ road, or head up to the mountains, supposedly just 25km extra according to the routes planned in BikeRouteToaster. I had planed everything and was just looking for the opportunity to execute at some point over my three week vacation. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be), the opportunity came up on day three – the very day after I’d had a fairly tough 100km training ride. I couldn’t pass up the chance of completing my challenge, despite my weary legs, so I jumped at the opportunity.

 

First things first, getting to Burgos involved an early start – 06:20am aiming to leave Léon by 7am. The night before was a little late, and I tried to eat as much as possible in preparation, but when staying as a guest it’s a little harder to raid the kitchen…

 

Dressed and ready to go, we set off in the dark at the back of seven. The journey to Burgos took a couple of hours, and my brother-in-law and I chatted mostly about cycling. We arrived in Burgos, and I got my bike and gear out of José’s boot. He headed off to work on his motorbike, while I started off on my moderately slower means of transport. Just then, when it was too late to do anything about it, I realised the one thing I’d left in José’s car was my sun screen. I’d already slapped plenty on before leaving Léon, but I’d figured I almost certainly need to reapply more later on in the day. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll burn, or maybe the factor 30 will keep me safe – time will tell.

 

As I was leaving Burgos, my body decided it would be a handy thing to go to the toilet, and we’re not talking about simply nipping behind a tree. Great timing. While riding along, I’m wondering what to do – bushes or services (I was a little concerned about leaving my bike outside a bar or service station). I chose the easiest option – carry on cycling in the mild discomfort!

 

The next ‘challenge’ happened just a couple of kilometres into my ride. Following the BikeRouteToaster (BRT) route I’d downloaded into my Garmin, I found myself riding along a suburban backstreet that suddenly changed into a bonafide ‘camino’ – an unpaved road. It wasn’t too vicious, and, on checking the map, I could see that it was maybe only 1km long before rejoining the main road, so I followed it cautiously.

 

After a couple of navigational errors, I found myself in a small village, being directed (by the GPS) up a steep narrow street onto yet another unpaved road – bollox to this, I decided that BRT had decided that caminos were fair game for my route, so I decided to change tact, and let Garmin chose a route for me – selecting one of the larger villages on my original route, and telling Garmin to avoid unpaved roads. Off I went (partially backtracking) with a renewed confidence.

 

At last, I was on a major road (the N120) with very little traffic (it runs parallel to the Autovia, so hardly anyone uses the smaller road), and I was making pretty decent time – motoring along at around 34kph without putting in very much effort at all – the slight tailwind helped a little! 😉

 

After about 20kms, there was a decent looking service station, and, as nature had been calling a little longer than was healthy, I decided to see if I could use the facilities. It turned out that the ‘servicios’ were clean, and at the side where I could have my bike pretty much right outside the door – bonus!

 

I continued on in considerably greater comfort!

 

Garmin had chosen a route that kept me on the main road a little too long – the BRT route turned north-west a good bit earlier. In hindsight, I wish I’d spotted this fact, but the Garmin display is just too small to see enough detail for these situations. Eventually, I hit the point where I had to decide – ‘short’ route or long route?

 

Of course, a challenge isn’t a challenge if you don’t take the more challenging path, so, despite the slightly weary legs, I headed north onto the longer, but potentially more interesting route along the base of the mountains.

 

After three and a half hours in the saddle, I decided it would be a good time to stop for lunch. I had just reached Alar del Rey, and there was a reasonable looking bar right on the corner as the main road bent to the left, and the smaller road into town forked to the right… A sandwich, and a slice of tortilla out on the ‘terraza’ was the order of the day, and I was starting to feel much better. I went back inside to order a coffee, when, looking for my €20 note, I discovered that I had dropped it somewhere (I’d used a fiver for the food, so I had the sum total of 60 cents change in my pocket!). A brief hunt around didn’t turn up the twenty, and asking the folks in the bar proved fruitless. In hindsight, I probably dropped it at my table outside, and I suspect that the bloke clearing the tables and sweeping the floor nabbed it – my table was cleared sharpish while I was back inside the bar… Fecker!

 

On I pushed, with no money left and just one energy bar to go, I hoped things wouldn’t get too bad…

 

The scenery was stunning, and the road was wide, smooth, and devoid of traffic. The sun shining, and just a slight breeze – perfect! I spotted an eagle or buzzard of some sort, sitting atop a telegraph pole. A few kilometers later, there it was again – the same one? Over the next few tens of kilometers, I kept seeing the same bird (at least, the same breed!), and I had to keep reminding it that, although I was out of food, I’m not about to keel over and become a bumper meal for you! At least it wasn’t actually circling over my head all the time – that would be somewhat worrisome!

 

I passed through lots of small villages, some with very pretty ‘plazas’, others far more modest and rustic. Garmin decided to take me off the main road on what turned out to be a small detour, cutting out a large curve in the main road before rejoining the road I’d just left. The detour took me through the centre of Santibáñez de la Peña, past a picturesque plaza with a fountain in the middle – perfect. My bidons were almost empty and this was a perfect spot to eat my last energy bar, text my wife with my latest update, and fill my bidons. It’s curious how good plain old mountain water can taste on a hot, dry, thirst inducing day.

 

The break felt very good, sitting on a bench, eating the energy bar, hearing nothing but the odd twitter of a bird and the gentle trickling of the fountain. It was hard to take myself away and get back into the saddle. What was supposed to be an audacious bike ride, was turning into a significant test of endurance – there was only one thing to do. Bottles back in cages, bum back on saddle, feet back in the clips, and muscles back to work.

 

The day had started off very cool, around 11°C, but had warmed steadily and now Garmin was telling me that it was 33°C. I could believe it. The only saving grace was that the air was very dry. Sweat on my arms and legs only appeared when I stopped riding, and the air couldn’t whip away the moisture as fast.

 

The road I was riding on ran alongside the narrow gauge railway that runs from Léon to Bilbao. Not once did I see a train. At one point, in a remote area, I noticed a train stop – nothing more than a perspex shelter with a timetable on the side. It was in full sunshine, and I wondered how long you’d have to sit there, being baked, before a train would happen along. Cycling to Léon would probably be quicker!

 

I reached a fairly major town, Guardo, a while later. For some reason, there was a distinct lack of signs showing where the main road through the town goes, but plenty of signs for local destinations. Given the poor quality of the navigation guidance (or possibly the poor ability of the rider to follow the simple instructions!), I made a few wrong turns, and meandered my way through the town. There were plenty of inviting bars with terrazas where I could have happily stopped off for some more fuel, if only I had more then 60 cents to my name. I put the thought of food out of my mind and found my way out of town – a vicious little climb – about 11% but mercifully short was Guardo’s parting shot.

 

The road from Guardo to Cistierna went through some wild and desolate scenery. To the north was the foot of Los Picos de Europa and I had a spectacular view of its mountains. Despite the views, this was a fairly low point in my ride. I was pretty hungry, and the remote nature of the landscape added to the feeling of isolation – it would have been far better if I was in a group of riders. The only thing to do was to push on, focussing on knocking off those kilometers…

 

The long, winding descent into Cistierna was more than welcome. Flicking the bike through left, then right handers at 60kph was fantastic – a great morale booster. Then at the roundabout (still carrying a lot of speed) Garmin told me to go straight on (signposted for Riaño), while the road signs said that Léon was down the third exit – I knew I didn’t want to head towards Riaño, that’s way off my route, so I followed the road sign for Léon.

 

Garmin was very slow in recalculating my route, and it was only after I’d already covered a couple of kilometers that it proudly announced that the distance to my destination had now increased from 60 kilometers to 70! I stopped and checked my route. Sure enough, if I carry on the new road, my route will take me slightly further south of Léon, before turning back north-west. My original route headed south-west straight to my destination, hence the difference.

 

Tired, hungry, and (probably) getting sunburnt, I decided to backtrack and get back onto my original route. Sure enough, the road to Riaño split off to the north after a couple of kilometers, leaving me to head west on probably the smallest road so far. It even had a sign warning drivers that there are parts of the road with no centre line – as if us Scots need to worry about such things!

 

My recalculated route dropped back down, but I soon discovered why – the signposted route to Léon followed the river, and is, no doubt, mostly flat or downhill. The shorter route went over the top of a mountain. Halfway into the climb, I started thinking that the extra 10k might not have been such a bad thing, then, looking at the side of the road, I noticed a lifesaver – a bush full of brambles!

 

With no hesitation, I stopped, got off my bike and started stripping the bush of every ripe berry. I spent about 15 minutes eating berries faster than you’d believe. A couple of cars went past, and the occupants must have wondered what on earth I was doing, but I didn’t care – it was free food!

 

With all of the berries gone, I felt considerably happier (if not entirely sated), and I finished the climb. The road undulated through some amazing scenery, with tight, twisty descents through some small villages. At one, there was a bar with folks enjoying the summer sun on the terraza, so I stopped to ask for water. The barmaid was happy to oblige, and refilled my bidons. She even put in some ice, something that I thought was a bit pointless given the heat of the day, but the ice certainly made the water a lot cooler for a lot longer than I expect. if only I had some money to buy some food! :-}

 

A few more lumps and bumps on the road, then I had a speedy descent down to the main road heading south again. The main road followed another river, but now I had a pretty stiff headwind to contend with – I guessed that the thermals rising off the mountains to the north was pulling air in from the south, making my ride that much harder. There was nothing to do other than pedal on and not think too much about that nice cold drink, and big plate of food at the end of my journey.

 

A few kilometers down the road I spotted a small, fist-sized Swiss roll, still in its wrapper discarded at the side of the road. I stopped to investigate – *that* was how desperate for fuel I had become! Unfortunately, the wrapper had burst, and ants were happily enjoying a feast, but there were two other Swiss rolls close by, wrappers intact. The packaging all looked clean, surely this had been thrown out of a car window today. The best before date was November 2012, so I opened one, and had a sniff – it smelled fine. I had a bite. It tasted great. I stuffed it into my face! The other one lasted about as long. The Swiss rolls were completely loaded with sugar. I decided that if I felt ill later on, then so be it. I weighed up the risks and decided the benefit of the fuel was too great to pass up. I pedaled on with renewed vigour, wondering just how much you could eat for free if you looked hard enough!

 

Spanish road signs can be confusing. I approached a roundabout, and Garmin told me to take the first exit. The roundabout had signs for Léon pointing down the first exit and the second exit. This, I don’t like. I stopped, check the map, and sure enough, I could go either way, but the ‘Garmin’ way was probably a little shorter.

 

About 25 kilometers to go, I was nearing the end and my spirits were lifting. There were a few more 6% climbs that went on longer than I would have liked, but the sugar from my free snacks had kicked in and, despite my fatigued muscles, I kicked into a low gear and spun up the climbs – not that I spun terribly fast! The last of the climbs were a real kick in the teeth after such a long day, but the kilometer markers by the side of the road started to tick by surprisingly fast. Soon enough, I found myself reaching civilisation once again with the small suburbs of Léon popping up, and the increasing frequency of roundabouts.

 

At last I reached the ‘ring-road’ (it rings about a quarter of the city), and Garmin kindly laid out my zig-zag route through the centre of the city back to base. It’s amazing how, nearing the end of a pretty epic ride, you can suddenly feel energised. The street where my in-laws live is short, but steep (~12% gradient) – the steepest street in Léon, and happily used by driving instructors to inflict humiliation on their pupils. If this had been a climb 30km earlier, I’d have dreaded it, but with the finish line at the top, I had a burst of energy and fair powered up the slope to finally stop at my destination. Hungry, thirsty, tired, but alive and satisfied.

 

The most painful parts of my body? The balls of my feet, and my lips, tongue, and throat – I can only guess that the hot, arid climate was to blame for having a sore gob! Everything else survived remarkably well!

 

Vital statistics:
Distance: 254km (well, 253.28km, but I’m calling it 254!)
Ascent: 2,076m
Cycling time: 8hrs38min
Total Time: 10hrs50min
Avg speed: 29.4kph
Max Speed: 67.3kph
Ave HR: 135bpm (pleased with that!)
Ave Temperature: 26.1°C
Max Temperature: 34°C
Fuel consumption (not enough!):