It’s been a while since I wrote up a bike
race ride… Covid wrote off a couple of years of racing and mass start events. Not to mention my fitness. Having not raced since 2019, and weighing 10% more, I opted to downgrade my British Cycling licence to 3rd cat. I also decided that it’s about time to buy a British Masters Cycle Racing licence, but am yet to use it.
I took part in a BC 3rd cat race at the Cyclopark a couple of weeks before RLE. As it was my first race in two and a half years it wasn’t pretty, and not really worth writing up. Short version: I kept up until 4 laps to the end, when my body stopped recovering from the anaerobic efforts. Wasn’t lapped though.
With hindsight I was starting to come down with a cold, which included the usual Brucie bonus mouth full of ulcers that I get every time I get run down. The cold stayed with me for the whole of the lead up to RLE. So the 2 weeks prior to the event I had an enforced long taper with almost no training. And worse: NO BEER! I did try one sweetspot session, but could only manage 30 minutes at SS and felt terrible. I only started to feel up to pushing on the pedals the day before the
race ride, so I went out for an easy spin with some openers. Although I wasn’t back up to full strength I felt decent enough. Thank goodness – I had been questioning if I should do the race sportive at all. Still, I had no idea where my fitness was, and was by no means “well”. I realise this paragraph is a very similar story to the blog about my 2016 effort!
So, as I couldn’t do anything about my fitness I decided to try to take as much stress out of the day as possible, and to be meticulous in my planning:
5 park in London
5:15 arrive at start
6 start ride
Breakfast: 4 Weetabix with honey, coffee, 1 litre of water
Car journey: sip water, protein bar
Before start: banana, flapjack, sip water
First stint: sip Hi5 energy drink
45 minutes in: banana
Second stint: Hi5 energy drink, couple of flapjacks as and when possible
1:30 in: banana
Third stint: start on the gels, every 30 minutes, flapjack as and when, finish Hi5 and start on water
2:15 in: banana
Fourth stint: drink water, eat everything that’s left
Strategy wise I knew I wouldn’t last long with my nose in the wind, but if anyone overtook me I’d try to jump on their wheel and hopefully get a ride to the front of the
race group. The day before I got sent a looong message with an analysis of the route, with key points outlined where breaks might try to get away. Whilst interesting, it was of little use to me; I was just going to try to hang on for as long as I could, the fight would be taken to me and not vice versa.
I gave my bike the obligatory once over, cleaned the drivetrain, checked the indexing, got all the bottles ready, kit laid out, the car ready and had an early night. Whilst falling asleep I felt my legs burning from the openers ride I went on earlier – might have been a bit harder than was optimal?
I managed to wake on time. I still wasn’t 100%, but didn’t feel too bad. I followed my planned schedule, getting to the start of the
race event bang on time. I saw Dave, Paul and Sonni from Bigfoot who were in A wave. I was in B. The pen system was the usual chaos. People in waves ABC and D all mixed together. I thought about jumping over the barriers to get nearer the front with the Bigfoot boys, but decided to chill and not worry too much about it. I also kept an eye out for Jay who rides with Dulwich Paragon these days, I’d suggested we ride together. Whilst I saw loads of DP riders, I didn’t see the man himself, so I settled for riding freelance and see what happens.
After 45 minutes of standing around getting cold we were finally off. Actually I wasn’t too cold, I had a base layer, arm warmers and my Aerocoach TT overshoes on, so I was just right. The ride started facing into the morning sun, which at 6am was just cresting over the London skyline. You couldn’t see anything past a couple of meters in front of you. “Whose brilliant idea was that?!” – a thought I’d have several times that morning. I put in a bunch of sharp efforts to get up to speed and make up places, and to try to get the blood flowing. After a few minutes I jumped on the wheel of a rather tall looking chap, he was strong and we started motoring past the other weekend warriors. Then 4 or 5 riders from Onyx RT motored past us. I thought that this was my opportunity to get to the front, so accelerated and joined them. They were strong lads, cheers guys if you’re reading this, I was at threshold just sitting on the back there.
Getting out of London was crazy. Blinded by the sun, potholes galore, cones in unexpected places, slower riders veering about, crashes, pinch points, people stopping to piss on the side of the road, concertinaing etc.. “Whose brilliant idea was this?” was the theme of the first 10 miles. I saw two fast crashes where guys rode into traffic cones. The thing is with traffic cones, you can’t see a traffic cone when you’re riding in a group, not until you’re crashing into a traffic cone. “Whose brilliant idea was that?!”.
I made it to the front group safely though, we could see the safety car keeping just ahead. Once the road opened up things were a bit calmer in the bunch. I tried to move up when there were gaps, and didn’t worry about dropping back a bit from time to time. I was probably too far back really, every time something happened at the front the rest of the bunch slowed down and we had to put in a hard acceleration to get back on the wheel. Whilst there were no real climbs on the route, there were some long drags which did pitch up enough to hurt the legs of this slightly fat MAMIL. There was a constant theme, road goes up = VO2 max effort, get to the top and have to brake, everyone shouts in despair, then accelerate back up to speed. Repeat. Another repeating theme was: the rider in front lets the wheel go, James has to close a 10 meter gap just when the peloton is in full flight, get aero sit at +400w until gap is closed, try to recover. You know, good type 2 fun.
After 45 minutes I managed to eat my first banana. I had been drinking a bit, probably not enough, but I wasn’t feeling thirsty. Whilst my body was complaining, and my nose needed regular clearing, I felt good that for once I was on top of the nutrition. I sparked up a few chats with people. I said “I bet it’s brutal on the front?” to one guy. He replied “Yeah, I did a couple of turns. 500w all day mate. Won’t be doing that again.” “Yeah, very wise. I’ll stay here then”.
At the halfway point I was feeling good that I’d kept up thus far. It’d been hard, but my legs had answered all the questions I was asking of them. Now was the journey into the unknown – would I be able to keep this effort going to the end? The journey back should have a tailwind – will this be good or bad? Answer: both.
On the return journey Dave pulled up alongside me. I asked how he was and he showed me his hand, covered in blood. “Anything broken?” I asked. “No, but I’ve got blood all over my white shoes”. Reminded me of my hand when I had a crash in the London Nocturne. I checked later and saw Dave finished with the lead group. Props Dave.
I had the second banana on schedule, and had eaten some flapjack. All good. I was managing to stay with the lead group, and after a while things did calm down for a bit. A break had made it a few seconds up the road. Phew, I’d passed the first test, and if the ride stayed steady for long enough I might just manage to stick with it. It didn’t stay like that for long enough though, the break fell to bits. I found out later that only 5 (one of them Jay) of the 15 were doing any work and people started arguing so they jacked it in. Once the break came back it was full gas on the front again, back to the concertina effect and VO2 max accelerations.
With 100km+ in the legs the accelerations were starting to hurt (more). I could tell the writing was on the wall for me, so damage control was put into action. Drink more, take a gel, let yourself drop back, carry speed where possible, get aero, follow bigger riders. This worked for a while, but with every drag things were getting more testy. After one long drag I got chatting to one of the Onyx guys: “Any more climbs before London”, “No idea mate” (there were).
Finally, at about 130km, after just over 3 hours of “not-racing” the bubble burst part way up a 4km drag. Looking at my stats I spent over 7 minutes with my heart rate over my FTHR of 170bpm. I was cooked. I couldn’t put enough power down to stay with the group. At the same time another guy dropped off the back with me. We tried to keep the
race peloton in sight and maybe catch back on on the next descent, but we were both out of matches. So the two of us teamed up for the last 30km back to London. We were both blowing, but still able to push on a bit; I’d depleted my glycogen stores, so was just running on fat (which I have plenty of). I could maintain zone 2 at around 180-220w, and short bursts of sweetspot at ~3.5w/kg. My new teammate was a bigger guy who seemed to be a bit of a diesel. He went quite well on the downhills, and flats. When he started fading I took over and did all the climbing at sweetspot if I could manage it. We chatted a little, it turned out he’d crashed and lost his water bottle on the way out of London. How he’d managed the next 70 miles without water I do not know? He’d also buckled his rear wheel a bit, but was luckily running disc brakes. I still had loads of water, so he had a drink, and I realised I’d probably not drunk enough, or could’ve gotten away with 1kg less on the bike – doah and doah.
I was counting down the KM. Whilst I’d had a blast, the end couldn’t come soon enough. Only so much type 2 fun is enjoyable in one go. Just as we were coming into central London another rider caught us and went past. We both put in an effort to jump on his wheel. He was obviously still feeling good, or at least better than the pair of us. He did sit in for a bit whilst I did a turn on the front. I made sure to say thanks for the tow. “Not far now” he said. The road surface and route back into London raised the “Whose brilliant idea was that?!” thought again and again. Potholes, narrow hairpins, broken glass and all of a sudden unmarshalled pedestrianised areas. I had to take evasive action a few times – once for a guy in a bloody marshal Hi-Viz top who walked out into the road looking the wrong way, #youhadonejob buddy. Another time where the return route came back on the other side of the road to the outbound route, riders coming the other way were on the wrong side of the road, oblivious to the danger – one cone every 5 meters is not enough to deter an idiot from straying from their lane. Coming back into London my GPS lost signal a couple of times, Wahoos suffer with crap GPS line of sight. Going through the tunnels was good fun, we managed to get some speed up. However the dim lighting and wearing shades meant I could barely see, having to trust the lines my cohorts were taking. Bit sketchy. Glad I wasn’t in a large group at this point. I could also taste the diesel particles still thick in the tunnel air, yuck.
The last handful of KM seemed to take an age. The Wahoo went past 160km and still no finish in sight. Finally there was the turn onto the bridge. I’d already decided not to sprint past my riding buddies I was just happy to finish in under 4 hours. I looked over to fist-bump my diesel riding partner but some other guy was there who gave me a fist-bump anyway. I didn’t see my 2up teammate again. He must’ve gone properly pop a couple of KM before the end. If you’re reading this buddy thanks for company.
After the finish I bumped into Jay. Jay and Paul had made it to the sprint at the end – I’m not jealous!! 🙂 I stuck around with the DP guys, drank their beer (cheers again) then found my way home. Parented a bit (made the kids bring me beer), drank beer, soaked in the bath, couldn’t keep my eyes open and fell asleep by 8pm. Slept until the wife’s alarm went off at 7.
Official time 3:54:03
Placing – about 120th?
For the 100 miles 41.3kmh
First 3 hours (until I was dropped) 42.7kmh
Limping in 35.7kmh