Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Rapha Road Race - Report

So this weekend was the Rapha Road Race (ERRL 2/3/4) in Great Chesterford, Essex. I was feeling pretty good going into this, had two pretty big weeks of 20 + hours and then a 10 hour week and a good result at Crystal Palace. That said I hadn't done a RR since the RAS de Cymru, and not one this long since the London Phoenix RR.

Rather uncharacteristically for an ERRL race it was fairly lumpy over the 10 mile lap, with a 1 mile climb at 4% upto the finish. Doesn't sound much, but it had a few ramps at 8% to really kick you in the head. Total distance was to be 70 miles, so 7 laps, and actually 8 times up this climb...

We had 4 miles of neutralised to get onto the circuit which then started on the finishing hill, maybe I didn't warm up enough but the pace up the so called neutralised section of the hill seemed quite hot... After this, nothing much really happened for the first half of lap 1 as riders got used to the course and others in the 60 strong field.  We had just climbed what was the 3rd "hill" of the circuit, feeling good and eager to see what was what I opted for the classic 1st lap solo break, I actually managed to get a pretty good gap, and held off the bunch for about a lap, they probably all wondered what was this idiot doing? They'd be right really, but as we came into lap 2 I was joined by 2 other riders and we worked together, although I knew this would never stick when one chap remarked that if I slow down he'll be able to get past. We're in a break mate...  All good fun though, and nothing quite like a chasing pack of riders to keep you going. Got to practice my TTing anyway...

The bunch caught us just over the hill into lap 2, I was determined to stick near the front, follow attacks and try and get in another break and make it stick. Over the next few laps there was plenty of attempts, but there wasn't enough people working to make it stick. I think It was probably at the top of the 3rd time up the climb that a break of 7 went, including Feathers Cycles and Richardsons Trek. A strong move which included the right people. Not sure what I was doing, but I missed this. Que plenty of attacks to get across to the break, and whilst we kept them in sight for a lap, we couldn't get across. I was perhaps doing too much work really, a few more solo break, but with nothing sticking and only 3 or 4 riders doing any turns over the next few laps the break had this. With 2 laps to go and the 6th time up the hill I was feeling it now, to be fair I think the rest of the bunch were too thankfully. We descended down off the main climb and are stopped by the comms car, what's happening? A crash? Nope, a group of deer on the road... The break also stopped up the road. They set off. and a minute later we were on our way again. Slightly annoying as 5/6 of us had a gap at the top of the hill, ah well.

Coming into the final lap and up the climb for the 7th time the pace had built up, my legs were in bits and I wasn't quite sure what i'd have for the final time, only 10 miles to go and I needed to concentrate on being in a good position coming into the final climb... Last lap, and after the 3rd hill on the circuit it was a long twisty road, slightly down hill and a slight tailwind. The pace was high now, with riders appears on the front out of nowhere, going to be one of those finishes is it... With 7 still up the road it was likely to be a bunch sprint for 8th, we got onto the bottom of the climb, the final time and essentially a hill top finish (glamorous eh) I was the first rider and at the front, great. I wasn't really sure where the best place to go on the hill was, a mile is quite a long distance to sprint, and the false flat upto the finish would be difficult to judge. With that in mind I tapped it out on the front, not in the red, but bloody close, nobody came past, halfway up the hill and still nobody, I couldn't quite understand it... It flattened a bit and I kicked, still nobody coming past, I must have gone too early? With maybe 100m to go 3 or 4 riders passed me, I managed to drag one back and held on for 12th! Ok, so it wasn't a win (or even top 10 - points to 15th though) but given the amount of work i'd done and the quality of the field I was pretty pleased with that. I was cooked.

A very well organised race by Rapha, loads of spectators, can of coke at the finish and loads of food back at HQ. A quality event. Next weekend is the Manchester 2 day stage race, and Palace on Tuesday, so think i'll have a few easy days on the bike...

Thanks for reading guys.


Thanks to Dave Haywood for the photos: http://www.davehaywardphotos.com

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

RAS de Cymru: Stage 6 - The Tumble

So it's here, the final stage of the RAS. Similar to last year, in that it was fairly flat circuit, with a mountain top finish. All pretty epic really. Although similar to last year, this stage was held on a different circuit which was based around 3 laps of a 17 mile course and then finishing on The Tumble. I'd never ridden The Tumble, i'd heard it was quite tough at 2.6 miles and 8%, around a 15 minute effort, so my aim was to stick with the bunch and be in a good position for the climb, and then hopefully, make up some times/places on the climb.

We rolled out of Abergavenny, with all the riders looking quite tired now, myself included. Out of the town, and after a 3 mile neutralised section the hammer went down, at precisely this point I herd the unmistakable sound of carbon and wheels hitting the floor. There had been a crash at the back of the field, around 10 riders down perhaps, I didn't want to look over my shoulder too much... apart from this the bunch rode quite well, the pace certainly was too hot and for the first of three laps nothing much happened. A few attacks and sprints for the KOM and sprint primes, but nothing else really. I stayed in a good position, and coming into lap two felt strong. As with previous days my heart rate was getting lower and lower, with an average of around 138 for the 3 laps. I was pretty fatigued now. Again, nothing much happened on lap two really, people saving themselves for the final lap and final climb. Onto the final lap now, I was feeling good, rode well upto the KOM, but certainly kept some energy back...

3 laps done and we were on the way to The Tumble. The pace was high now, the road wide and riders were jostling for position, all the usual shouts as somebody touches their brakes were heard. Just before the climb we touched the village of Govilon, I was in a good position now, maybe in the top 30, riders were already starting to peel off, clearly having done the work for the team. Now onto the climb, the bottom sections are steep, and two hairpins and subsequent ramps around 12%. There was a flurry of attacks, all of which I managed to stay with. 3 riders had a pretty large gap at the front, a few bridged over to join them, but I was concentrating on distancing myself from the bunch and trying to make up some time. I was riding well, it bloody hurt, but I was reeling people in, who dare I say it, had gone out far too quick. I was on my own now, and could see a group of 5 up the road, I had to pass these. The climb opened up and we were on the moors, I passed the 2km to go mark and just after passed the group of 5, they jumped on my wheel, but i'm pleased to say they were dropped! 500m to go now, there was another group of 5 up the road, but I didn't have the legs to get across. I look around and see an NFTO rider on my wheel, where did he come from? I clicked down and sprinted within the last 200m and distanced him. Crossing the line I was empty, had nothing left and proceeded to just stand there in a daze. Great ride by Paul Double who got the stage win, very impressive climbing.

That's it. The RAS is done for another year. I'd done better than I had thought, thanks mainly to the TT and this final stage. On Stage 6 I had placed 20th, which rewarded me with some valuable time on GC. I finished in 17th overall on GC at 2:49 to yellow. The RAS has a reputation for being seriously hard, and this year was no exception, the number of junior & U23 teams is impressive as is their ability. I did wonder if after 5 stages some might crack on stage 6, obviously not the case! 17 of the top 20 in GC were either juniors or U23, serious riding ability.

Thanks again for reading and hope you enjoying following my posts. Huge thanks finally to all the BC comms, organisers, NEG and static marshals, timing judges etc... you were all brilliant, the race was a huge success.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

RAS de Cymru: Stage 5 - Glasbury

I was starting to feel it a bit now, and despite going well in the TT yesterday I knew today would be hard, mainly because I rode the course last year, and the main hill is pretty painful, only 0.6 miles at 5% av, put peaks at 12%. We had to do this 6 times. 

60 miles in total, with 6 laps and a final turn off for a flat sprint finish. Probably not a stage I was going to contest. Today for me was about keeping our of trouble, saving some energy and more importantly not loosing any time on GC.

It was quite a twisty, technical course, with plenty of road hazards, bollards, parked cars etc... certainly a course where you had to pay attention. First time up the hill, and as expected it hurt, I was perhaps poorly positioned in the back half of the peloton, so couldn't really get into a rhythm. The next section of the course was flat and fast as we turned into Glasbury, I seemed to make quite a few places on the B road toward LLyswen, and found myself near the front on the 3rd lap, I knew the sprint was coming up so attacked, taking one rider with me. It felt like I was out there for ages, reality was it was probably more like 20 seconds, but as the sprint came into view I got swallowed up by riders, who attacked again. Much like yesterday I didn't have much in my legs to respond, so latched onto a few wheels and then made contact with that small front group. The peloton however now all back together. 4th time up that hill, and it probably hurt the most, plenty of people getting shelled from the bunch, some managing to rejoin on the fast descent after. The pace was picking up a little now, some nervous riding and of course, the inevitable happened. A high speed crash, around 5 riders in front of me when another rider tried to cut in front of a bollard... I somehow avoided it, 4 other riders not so lucky as they were strewn across the floor, not nice. I was distanced a little from the bunch now, but chased back on with about 20 other riders and we were all once again back together. Final bloody time up that hill, and I was keen to get in a good position, put in an extra dig and was perhaps top 20 going over. I knew that if I could hold this position I maybe had a chance in the sprint as it seemed most other riders were knackered as well... Unfortunately at 3km to go there was another crash, this time right in front of me, another bollard/rider collision, no real idea how, but I managed to stay on the bike... We turned into the finishing straight and I had caught back up with the bunch, wasn't really sure what I had for the sprint, and given there was no time gaps to be awarded I kind of just  rolled across the line, maybe top 30. Save myself for the Tumble tomorrow. 

Unfortunately Simon had a crash whilst instigating a break on the 2nd lap, hitting a car and a wall. He's ok, snapped forks and some road rash means he couldn't finish and is out for tomorrow's stage, gutted. 

GC wise I didn't loose any time, but I didn't gain any, so i'm still 19th at 1:49. That's going to be some effort up the Tumble...

Friday, 1 July 2016

RAS de Cymru: Stage 4 - TT

This is the double day, this is the day you do a bloody TT in the afternoon. We hadn't ridden the course, instead deciding that sitting in Cafe Nero was a better option (probably was really). I was off at 4:10, with the rest of the team at 1 minute intervals. The course was 4.6 miles with 400ft of climbing, so i guess you could call it sporting. A 0.7 mile climb to start with at 5% followed by a rolling A road and small B road.

I like TTs and I like hill climbs, so in theory this should be a good course for me. In practice though I could tell I was quite fatigued, and I wasn't really sure how i'd feel.

Off I went, basically sprint up the hill and settle into a rhythm. Actually, I felt quite good, the climb went well, heart rate seemed quite low at around 175bpm though. Onto the A48 and I could feel a good rhythm setting in, aiming to get as aero as possible, and maintain my low cadence riding. The A road was quite "draggy" some some rises kept it interesting, and the speed changing a fair bit, but the key thing was my heart rate was stable. 

I passed the 3km to go sign, just before the turning onto the B road. I misjudged the corner and wasn't sure just where the turning was, so lost a bit of speed there, but got back on the hammer and smashed those pedals. There was another small rise at 1 mile to go, nothing long and less than a minute of effort, but I felt like I was going backwards here. Final push as I go past the 1km to go sign. Cross the line with a time of 11:26.7 (official).

I'd no real idea if that was good, I mean it felt good, and I couldn't have pushed much harder. But we shall see. Back at HQ and results confirmed as me in 8th. Very pleased with this indeed and moved me upto 19th on GC at 1:49. Kudos to the winning time of 11:12 by Paul Double. 

RAS de Cymru: Stage 3 - Cowbridge

This was a new circuit for the RAS, and not one I had ridden before. With that in mind we arrived with enough time to drive the circuit. Seemed fairly tame, a few hills, but nothing like the previous day. Today was best described as rolling. 54 miles in total, 3 laps with a hill finish of the A48.

First section of the course was on the A48, fast, wide and plenty of opportunities to pass meant there were plenty of attacks. I was keen to ensure I was near the front all race so made my way up with some of these moves. A little dig off the front with a rider from Audlem saw a gap appear, I did think for a brief moment, "ah, maybe we can TT this for 50 miles" before quickly rethinking that as a group joined us and they attacked... I sat in the bunch for the rest of the lap, the pace didn't seem too high and my heart rate for the first 25 miles was only 151bpm (144bpm for the last 25 miles) that said, unlike yesterday this course had less opportunities to rest and stop pedaling due to the descents. Coming onto the second lap and going up the slip road onto the A48 I was feeling it, thankfully it seemed everybody else was, so the pace was slow. Maybe everybody was just saving themselves for the TT in the afternoon? There was however a break of about 10 up the road. The bunch didn't really seem to be making much of a dent into their time, so I moved up after the KOM section with the sole aim to catch the break. I dug pretty deep here, perhaps too deep, but I managed to bridge across and joined the back, unfortunately I appeared to bring most of the bunch with me, at which point there was another attack. My legs said no. I drifted back a few places and settled into the pace for the last lap. Now 7 riders up the road, despite that, and despite it being the last lap it was the slowest of the three so far at only 25.1mph ave. Maybe I could have pushed a bit harder, maybe I could have got off the front, I doubt i'd have caught the break who had 1 minute. Either way, I didn't and sat in the bunch towards the front, good positioning coming into the final 3 km, but then getting cut up on the tight left hand bend pushed me back. Off the course now and onto the A48 dual carriageway hill finish. This was pretty cool, with the NEG riders running a  rolling road block at this section, very pro. The surface was crap, riders were all over the place, but more importantly I was dead (thanks to a Finchley rider for pointing that out) he was right though, thankfully everybody else was and I picked my way through the bunch, finally finishing in the top 20.

I was hopeful for some time gaps to be opened up, but that wasn't to be and most of the bunch got the same time. Now sitting at 30th in GC with the TT in the afternoon...

Thursday, 30 June 2016

RAS de Cymru: Stage 2 - Chepstow Hills

So today was the first road race, on the fairly hilly Chepstow circuit. 52 miles, with just under 4,000ft of climbing. 3 laps, with a hill finish on the 5 mile climb out of Chepstow towards Usk. (4 times up here in total)

This circuit was used last year, and last year I punctured on the first lap, during the descent into Shirenewton. I spent the race on my own, and really didn't want to do that again, plus it was chucking it down.

Today was dry, and at times, a bit sunny... I was feeling good after the TTT yesterday, and as we faffed around in the car park, I think the rest of Phoenix were too. Given this is quite a hilly circuit I was looking forward to test myself of the hills and see where I was compared to the rest of the field. Start of the race, and it was straight onto the climb, which is a gradual ascent over 5.5 miles, average probably around 3%-4%. The bottom section is quite narrow and very twisty, couple this with solid white lines for around 3 miles this made for a pretty sedate climb. Also made moving up the field very difficult, I was probably 40/50 riders from the front at this point. I needed to move up. Thankfully towards the top there is sharp left which then kicks up. I passed quite a few here, moving up through the field. Next section was a fast and wide descent into Crick, around 4 miles in total. It was pretty intense flying down at 45-50mph in the bunch. Out of Crick there was two quite deceptive climbs, one just after the junction which wasn't much of an issue, then a second, slightly longer section of climbing, it kicked at the start, and the bunch slowed down thankfully, but a few attacks off the front meant that pace kept of creeping up, was starting to hurt now, back down towards Chepstow and it was onto the second lap. I was moving up again and there were a few attacks off the front, at which point group of 4 got away (think it was here anyway) with another group of 6 going shortly after. The field was getting thinned out abit now, which meant descending was feeling a bit safer as you had more room to move around. Coming upto the small climbs after Crick and the pace just went mental, not sure what happened, some serious attacks I guess, but that seriously hurt. Still, hanging around in a good position onto the final lap and penultimate time up the climb. This lap was pretty standard, we reeled in the group of 6 that were away, leaving 4 riders out front at around 50 seconds. Final time on the climb, 3 laps done and 4th time up the climb. Legs were still feeling good, heart rate on the climb wasn't that high, average of probably 160bpm, so I had the capacity to push... This proved difficult though given how hard it was to move up... I should have been in a better position coming into the climb. The finish line was around 0.5 miles from the summit (safer section of road) 1km to go sign was passed and the pace was getting up, riders all over the whole road, and yet again, difficult to move forward, I sowed my way through for the sprint which I contested and finished in the top 20. Don't think there was any time gaps for the bunch, so the 4 riders who stayed away will have a nice advantage of around 50 seconds plus yesterday.

Overall pretty pleased. Will be interesting to see where this puts us on the GC table. Things I learnt, MOVE UP. Kind of obvious I guess, but i'll focus on this in tomorrow's stage. RR in the morning with a ITT in the afternoon. Think i'll be cooked tomorrow evening.

As always, thanks to the BC comms, organisers, marshals, NEG riders. The race was very well organised. Thanks to Hugh Fairclough for the photos, seriously quick uploading!

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

RAS de Cymru: Stage 1 - TTT

It's that time of year again, the RAS de Cymru. I did this last year, and it was brutal, so obviously I was keen to head to Wales and be back again this year to experience that 5 day, 6 stage race pain. Riding again for London Phoenix we had a strong team of Richy Pointer, Simon Johnson and guesting due to Martin's injury, Ross Hallard (plus me).

Stage one, much like last year was a TTT. t was however a different course, slightly shorter at 8.5km and on faster A roads. Unfortunately as a team we hadn't even ridden together let along practiced any TT techniques, so we were going into this a bit blind. We didn't drive the course before, and due to the pretty damp conditions, we we not going to ride it either...

3 minutes to go and we were waiting in the layby. pretty wet, and pretty unsure just how we'd go. I was first rider off, with instructions to ease into the pace. Straight away we hit a problem as Simon, who was second man, could't clip in, there was a 10-15ft gap between me and the guys, so I slowed up for them to rejoin. Back on, and we wound up the pace, typically taking 30 second turns, although I'll be honest, I couldn't really see or read my Garmin through the rain...

We were working together well though as we came upto the first of two roundabouts around 3.5km in I took these fairly steady, perhaps too steady? I don't know, but I certainly didn't want to come off. Onto teh second roundabout and I was 3rd wheel, I let a gap form, perhaps costing us a second? Sprinting back onto Richy & Ross and it was back down the A48 toards the finish. I was feeling pretty strong and doing some good turns. The hills, headwind and water were all a bit sapping on the way back, perhaps loosing a few seconds here, difficult to know really. Final push and Ross was on the front for 30 seconds driving the pace, we finished strong and all finished together which was great.

Me on the front. Good line.

Ross & Richy. Me, chasing.

Our time was 11:41 which has placed us 11th (26 teams) Winning time was 11:04, which was pretty rapid, albeit not surprising given one of their riders is Rich Bussell.

Stage 2 tomorrow is a hilly circuit and a hill top finish. I punctured on the first lap last year and lost valuable time, so i'm keen for that to not happen again.

As always, great organisation by the BC comms, organisers and marshals, thanks!