Friday, June 29, 2012

National 50 reportage

Scott Povey, moi, Peter Lavine (support) and Matt Bottrill: Team winners at the men's National 50

3rd + team + best 40-45 age group in the National 50! I kinda knew I had it in me but to pull it off is something else. And don’t worry, I paid for it with very very sore legs and have been pretty flattened this week.

Hutch won his 13th title, Matt was 1’28 back and I surprised myself in only being 3’49 behind Hutch. Bear in mind he beat me by 3’40 over half that distance a couple of weeks ago and I thought I’d done well that day, weather notwithstanding. I do seem to get better as the distances increase but I’m not sure Hutch was at his best, as it came three days after winning the Irish TT championships. Matt certainly gave it everything and while it wasn’t as nail biting as last year, it was great to see him pushing himself to yet another personal best.


I travelled down to Cornwall on Saturday with my TTing friends Low and Mark Smith, who grew up there and have handy relations. We got down there early enough for a genuine and excellent Cornish pasty before Low raced later in the afternoon.

The 3 lap course was mostly dual carriageway with a bit of single carriageway at one end so you avoided one of the slip roads. It was rolling rather than hilly and fairly quiet as far as traffic went, but the main feature was the SW wind which made the outward leg a real slog. And for the unlucky women, the rain which began around 30mins before they started and didn’t really let up. It wasn’t as bad as the National 25 but certainly wasn’t pleasant and around half the field either didn’t start or didn’t finish. There was a reserve course this time but it wasn’t used.

Our own Julia Shaw, who has won eight national 50 titles, did around 5 miles and called it quits. Another top favourite Rebecca Slack (London Dynamo) didn’t start due to the conditions, which left her teammate Jenny Lloyd-Jones to brave the conditions and take the win. I have to say I’m a bit gun shy now after the 25 and I doubt I would have started either.

Low thought she’d do a lap and see how she went – she duly carried on, eventually finishing 14th/16 finishers with a new PB of 2:19:37. Impressive in that weather on that course, as her previous one was done in much better conditions on a quicker course.

Race day

We headed back for some more food and I got as much sleep as I could manage before a 4:55am start the following morning. As forecast, the rain eased off as the first of the men started at 7am, visibility was good and we were just left to contend with the wind.

We had a ‘gift’ 4.5 miles with more tailwind than headwind between the start and the eventual finish. That was good for morale as it’s always nice to start off with 31mph average. Then there was the small matter of three full laps, 15.2 miles each.

The first was about settling into a rhythm, punching it into the wind but not too hard. I saw my average power gradually rise, not too high – it was still below what I thought I could do for the whole race although it’s hard to judge what sort of day you’re going to have. The climb to the turn was murder, only 3.5% but into that wind, ouch. Then it was back up to speed in a big way coming out of the turn, hitting 44mph on the way back down and trying to carry as much as possible into the long drag that followed. The tailwind was good but you still had to work for your speed or the drags would sap it, as I’d find out later. I saw Matt (who started 5mins behind me) and Hutch (11mins behind me) and tried to calculate splits – massively overestimating the time they’d taken out of me because I was in the tailwind bit. I could see that Hutch was gaining on Matt though.

I finished the lap in 31’51, which I thought was OK but not brilliant. At least I was holding the power nice and steady. I sucked down a gel and started the second lap with a good feel for how to ride it. I could feel the hill to the turn bite into my legs and was hoping I’d have enough gas to last one more lap. Back up to speed with the tailwind, going slower in some places, faster in others, inhaling a gel en route to finish the lap in 31’47. Hutch and Matt had gained a bit more time on me, but surprisingly not much. One more lap, one more gel. Was it enough?

As soon as I hit the headwind I knew I was fading. This leg was pretty important, crack there and that’s a minute gone. I maintained my effort as best I could, using the knowledge of the previous laps to ride that section fast enough despite losing power.

Then came the tailwind. Normally this would be easy but I was running on fumes. 20W down on the previous two laps, 15sec slower. That’s the raw numbers although they do not equate to how you’re actually feeling! I wanted it to end and was looking forward to the final brief bit of headwind which led to the chequered flag. It was something to fight against rather than the more daunting task of maintaining speed in a tailwind when you’re spent. I didn’t even bother looking to see how Matt and Hutch were faring, all my effort was focused on my own ride.

The last lap was 32’09 in total so I guess I just managed to hold it together without completely cracking. We had to turn left under a bridge to finish, just a few hundred metres, all uphill. I sprinted and extracted every last bit of energy out of my empty legs, crossing the line with 1:44:24 on the clock. I thought ‘average’ – my power didn’t look great and I knew my teammate Scott Povey had done 1:44:05 on this course earlier in the year so I figured I might be lucky to scrape the top five.

But I saw Adam Topham just ahead, and he’d started five minutes in front of me. He’s always beaten me in the national 50, even caught me for a couple of minutes in 2010, so maybe I hadn’t done so badly after all. I waited a little bit until Matt finished and worked out he’d taken about two and a half minutes out of me – I expected double that.

With that, I started the 3 mile ride back to the HQ. My legs gave up at that point, first one then the other cramped and it was not a cramp that was going away in a hurry. It was one that resulted from complete depletion, absolute exhaustion of every bit of glycogen that had been leading a happy life until the point when it was called on to do some serious pedalling work. A quarter of an hour later I limped back into the carpark, shattered and slightly frustrated with my not-quite-optimal fitness – that virus didn’t quite give me enough time to recover for this although my form’s definitely coming back.

My mood changed when I saw Low smiling and holding up three fingers. ’3rd! I’m pretty sure’ and I hoped she was right! She told me Hutch had done a 1:40 and Matt a 1:42 and I started to believe her, verified when I managed to get changed and check my time on the board. Yep, all true – in fact I’d beaten 4th place by a whole two minutes! And with Scott finishing 7th, no-one got close to us for the team prize, and to top it off I won the 40-45yr medal again. Three medals from one championship is pretty hard to beat :-)

To finish this high in a national championship (25 or 50) was one of the main long term goals I set myself 20 months ago when I started with Ric. To achieve it is the result of a lot of hard work during that time combined with the testing I’ve done in the Drag2Zero tunnel (and on my own) and of course the opportunity to ride with this team. It’s been interesting and motivating, to say the least, and there might be more to come yet.

Next up: the national team time trial on Saturday. I’m riding with Scott and Jon Simpkins, which should make a good combo, while Matt, Chas and Mark will be gunning for gold against the best teams from around the country.


cdp said...

A superbe effort Jeff but if you have to go that deep to satisfy the 'Lord of Power' then I think I'm better off with my more natural approach to TT'ing. Taking things a bit easy this (50th) year and it feels a bit wierd but may catch up later in the season. Keep it up


Bike Hound said...

Super read, what a marathon effort that would put people half your age to shame!