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My 2016 TT season

I told Helen when I got back on my bike 5 years ago that I wouldn’t be racing and I’d stick to my first love of touring. So how did it happen that I rode more races this year than any other apart from when I was a teenager?

It started slowly with a local club 10 on a sporting circuit where I did a 29:11. This was April 2014, 23 years since my last race, 26:30 in a Kettering Amateur CC club 10 on the now defunct Brigstock-Islip course. Martin Bailey won that race in 1991, his dad Tom is still racing at 79 years of age!

I did the Peterborough CC open 10 the following month expecting to go better on a flatter course, the N1/10 which back in the day being on the traffic assisted A1 could a superfast course. Now though, although still flattish, it is a quiet road running alongside the A1(M), with many roundabouts and a slow road surface. I was very disappointed with my 28:50. A third attempt, back on the sporting Woodnewton circuit in August yielded an even slower 29:21. Three races, three disappointing times, but I had a lot of miles in my legs by the end of the year as I was working towards the 2015 Paris-Brest-Paris.

For the 2015 season I joined Kettering CC as my previous year’s club, the Army Cycling Union, was not offering a local community feel, i.e. local club events. Focusing on distance and not doing any speed training I managed to record 26:39 for a 10 on the A43 Broughton course. I was pleased with this as at the start of the year I told Helen that my target would be a 27’, i.e. 27:59, to which she scoffed and said I should be looking to beat 27:00! Three weeks earlier I had set a club record in the National 24 hour Championship with a fairly modest 368.33 miles.

I then failed to finish the Paris-Brest-Paris, DNF after ~550 miles with tendonitis in my achilles which basically brought a halt to any serious riding. After two months rest I started training for the 2016 season. My target was the club’s 12 hour record, currently standing at a shade over 240 miles. To achieve this I would need to maintain my long distance capability but also substantially increase my speed. A rough calculation gave a 20W (~10%) power increase required so a training plan was prepared, based on my twice weekly 60 mile commute for endurance, and 2-3 one hour turbo sessions for speed/power.

The plan was going OK until my first commute of the new year and an unexpected fall on ice resulting in a broken hand. This meant that endurance work went out the window and it was 5-6 turbo sessions per week. Up until now i had been doing a variety of available workouts using the TrainerRoad system, but now I started following a more specific plan using workouts created myself based on research papers I had read, primarily by Stephen Seiler and Veronique Billat, with an emphasis on improving VO2max and anaerobic threshold.

This work was clearly having a very positive effect as in April I recorded 1:04:36 in the Beds CC open 25 mile time trial, followed a month later with 2:09:23 in the Norlond Combine open 50 mile TT which was a PB beating my 1988 time by just over 20 minutes. I thought after the 25 result I could possibly aim to beat the hour next year, and after the 50 I was now thinking that a BBAR certificate would be nice.

The BBAR (Best British All Rounder) competition is a season long competition based on your best average speeds for 50 miles, 100 miles, and 12 hour time trials. There were trophies and medals for the top 12 but everyone who manages a 22mph average gets a certificate. This certificate became my secondary target after the club 12 hour record. Assuming I make 241 miles in the 12 hour (20mph), then if I can do 2:05:00 for a 50 (24mph) I’d only need to do 22mph for a 100!

A week after the Norlond 50 I rode the Peterborough CC 10, again on the N1/10 but this time I finished in 26:13, well over two minutes faster than two years ago, and on a much slower day. Things were going well, which was confirmed two weeks later when I recorded a 24:37 on the A43 Broughton course. Another two weeks on and the next race was a 25 on the superfast (if the wind is kind) E2 yielded a 59:19, a PB and beating the hour for the first time. My previous best was in 1989, a 1:01:53 in the Fenland Clarion open 25 on the N10/25 (Peterborough Parkways) course. That race had been won by Rod Ellingworth in 54:37, who is perhaps better know as Mark Cavendish’s coach in recent years.

Three days after beating the hour I thought I’d see what I could do in the 45RC club 10 on the Rushden bypass, unfortunately the forecast thunderstorms and heavy rain cancelled the event but as I approached Oundle the weather looked a little better so I decided on riding the KCF club 10 on the hilly Woodnewton circuit as I was all dressed up and ready to race! As I drove to the start though I changed my mind at least 4 times, the newly laid gravel road surface in Fotheringhay didn’t look kind to my 20mm slick Conti Supersonics, then it started raining again, rain after a dry spell usually means slippy corners. By the time I got to the start I decided I may as well give it a go but take it a bit easy on the corners. I was pleased with the resulting 26:42 a two and a half minute beating of my course best from two years ago, particularly as I had done a hour interval training session at 5:30am earlier in the day.

The following Saturday was my key 50 mile TT of the year, so to be at my best I reduced this week’s volume but kept the intensity. Tuesday’s efforts were followed by a rest day, a 30 mile level 3 ride home on Thursday, and just 20 minutes of hard intervals on the turbo on Friday. I was aiming for 24mph and as usual would pace it on heart rate. Unfortunately my HR monitor was playing up and didn’t budge from 99bpm all race so I had to ride on RPE instead. A reasonable if not brilliant day yielded 2:05:04 and another PB, 4 seconds short of my 24 mph target but I was very happy with that.

Next up was a weekend away riding the Hemel Hempstead open 10 and open 25. These were not key targets so it was a quite a hard training week of three hour long turbo interval sessions and one 60 mile commuting day. The Saturday afternoon 10 was on a fast course so I was targeting my 1989 PB of 23:56. It was going well for the first two miles, then I had a crisis of confidence, I knew I needed to come off the dual carriageway but I could see my minute man and his very distinctive Fou4th Scorpion TT special rear light. He had carried on so I followed him, then he slowed and stopped and it became clear that he had missed the turn. I had gone too far to walk back to the off slip road by now so decided to ride on and walk down the on slip road. Here I found a nice bike lane looking margin on the right hand side so rode down this at least until in sight of the marshal at the bottom. Walking the final 10-20 metres down to the underpass I then remounted and carried on finally finishing in 26:02. Analysis using Strava later would indicate that without the extra bit I would have done around about 23:45ish so I was a little disappointed to say the least.

Next day was a typical early Sunday morning start so the idea was I would race then get back to the hotel (one village away from the race HQ) just in time for breakfast so Helen could have a lie in. Like yesterday it didn’t quite go to plan as about half way back from the turn I hit a huge pothole and suffered a double blow out about 8 miles from home. Only one tube under the saddle meant it was a rescue call to Helen to pick me up. Stopping briefly at the HQ to return number and pick up my bag we got back to the hotel just after breakfast had ended so had to sweet talk the chef for a well deserved full English. As romantic weekends away go, I don’t think Helen was that impressed.

I hadn’t managed to get a ride in my first choice 100, being on the popular, fast (and over subscribed) E2, so had to drive up to Darlington for the National Championship 100 mile TT in July. For this race I would be racing my new TT bike, bought second hand from a guy in Holland, this was a 2006 T-Mobile team issue bike. Lovely to ride but with only one bottle cage I added a between the tri-bars aero bottle to supplement the down tube bottle and hid a 750ml bottle at 50 miles. In order to hit my 22mph target I’d need to finish inside 4:32:44, quite a tall order with the wind on quite an exposed rolling course. On schedule at 50 miles I stopped briefly to refill my aero bottle with energy drink and ploughed on. With about ten miles to go I ran out of drink and started to suffer but convinced myself that it was just another two miles of uphill and then the last eight was pretty much all downhill. That was enough motivation to get me through and even though the finish seemed to take forever to come once I’d left the main road, my final time was 4:32:15!

So just the 20mph 12 hour to crack and both season’s targets will be achieved. Then after browsing the CTT website I realise that my 50 time won’t count for the BBAR because it was an association event and not a BBAR qualifying event. My best counting 50 would be the 2:09:23 which would mean that a certificate was now pretty much out of reach. Oh well; my next three races were the Mersey Roads 24 hour National Championship and a 400 mile target, another PB attempt on the Tring F11/10, and finally the main target for the year, the CC Breckland 12 hour.

The 24 started well and on schedule for 400 miles but after 8 hours and 150 miles I called it a day, the knee issue that had manifested itself during the 100 was causing some pain so in order to protect it for the 12 hour I decided not to continue. A tough call, particularly considering the time and effort that goes into preparing and supporting an all dayer, but this race wasn’t my main target…

Five weeks to go, but with a two week holiday coming up, fitness was going to take a hit. Carefully balancing required endurance training against knee care, while still adding in some speed sessions, I went into the VC10 open 10 with not a lot of confidence so was very pleased to record 23:54 beating my 1989 PB by all of two seconds!

One week later and it was time for the CC Breckland 12. My eldest son Ryan was doing my support, which mainly consisted of running alongside me every 20 miles and handing up a new bottle of energy drink. Unfortunately although it was the fastest course used for all of this year’s 12 hour options, the strong wind made for a very tough day. Needing to average 20mph overall, for the first half I was ending each 10 mile tailwind section ahead of schedule but dropping behind at the end of each headwind section. As time went on, the averages fell and by the time I left the fast loops heading to the finishing circuit at 10 hours I was 3 miles behind schedule with only 197 miles covered (19.7mph). I was not going to be able to make this deficit up in the final 2 hours on slower roads so lost motivation for a while. It was only after getting to the finish circuit that I decided that 230 miles sounds significantly better that 220something that I started working hard again and finally finished with 231.752 miles.

So how did my season pan out? I failed in my main target (and my extra BBAR target) but beat my 27 year old 10 mile and 25 mile PBs, getting under the hour for the first time, as well as a huge beating of my 50 mile PB and setting reasonable marks for 100 miles and 12 hours. Overall, considering the broken hand and knee issues, I can be pleased with those results. Although I am clearly faster in TTs, I “bought” a lot of that speed and I reckon I am still between 1-2mph below where I was in 1989, but I am also 12+kg heavier so still lots of improvement room. I would still like to get back into road racing but I’m not near that level yet, I’d be dropped as soon as the road went uphill. I have set my main target for next year, so now just need to lose some weight and push up my power!

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