Yesterday Barny and I rode the National Masters’ Road Race Championship. Although, I’m sure many would agree, we don’t look a day over 29, we were in fact in the 40-44 age group. Andy wore our jersey with pride in the 30-39 age group so please enjoy his and Barny’ s race reports later too.
The race was 7 and a bit laps of a 10.7 mile circuit with a couple of hills to keep things as unfair as ever for us 86.5 kg riders when competing against the sub 65kg ones (excuses in early)!!
55 of us set off in the rain for what would be a 76.8 mile race at an average speed of 25 mph!
My main concern (other than the weather, the slippery roads, my knee, my back, my (still bloody lingering) cold, my gears and the fact that some of the opposition rode in last year’s ITV4 Tour Series!) was that I hadn’t prepared to ride that hard for that long. I had a long road race planned in April (which was cancelled) followed by three 50 mile races in May but my crash in the first meant I missed the other two. Still, I had had a good winter where I laid down some good base endurance work, I was the leanest I’d been since I was 7 years old and I was getting very familiar with ‘hurting myself’ over the past few months, albeit over shorter distances. Who cares that I hadn’t even ridden 76.8 miles in the last year let alone raced it?!
This race was particularly important to me, firstly because it was 2 weeks before my year’s target; the National Criterium Championships – a shorter flatter race that suited me – so I wanted to get a hard ‘national level’ race in my legs. Secondly I didn’t finish this event last year, I was dropped with an hour still to go and had to ride home alone, soaking wet , exhausted and freezing cold. That was NOT going to happen again.
I had to make sure I did 2 things very very well:
- Eat and drink correctly
- Use as little energy as possible.
People always ask me how and why you should do these things. The eating and drinking thing is obvious in terms of the energy requirements – you have to eat/drink regularly which largely means remembering to eat and also means grabbing all the opportunities where you can eat as it can be quite dicey out there with one hand in your back pocket. Just ask Barny – a rider crashed in front of him whilst he was holding his water bottle. He somehow managed to pull off a one-handed skid, kept the bike upright, put the bottle back in the bottle cage and ride around the ‘victims’ on the floor!
The energy saving tactic is a bit more subtle and most people in the peloton get this very wrong. People pay me good money for this advice so I won’t give everything away but if you think of your car, it uses a lot more energy accelerating then it does driving at a constant speed. So there’s one tip; how can you accelerate less than everyone else yet still stay with them. There are so many ways I did this and they included letting riders pass me on tough sections, following bigger riders who offered more shelter and learning not to panic if gaps opened. For the record a ‘bigger rider’ here was a relative term. A 5ft 10” 78kg guy is a ‘very big rider’!
The first time I looked down at my computer we had covered 3.21 miles and I thought “this is going to be a long day” but I swear I looked up and straight back down and it said 10 miles! We were flying and it stayed that way all day. I know Barny found it easier than I did but he is 23.5 kg lighter than me and in the form of his life. I would have loved to see him finish top 10 today but it wasn’t to be and I certainly wasn’t in a position to help, I just had to focus on getting myself round.
2 laps and 20 miles covered and I’d finished a bottle of water/carbohydrate/electrolytes. This was good; I was taking my hydration seriously. I had also eaten a banana although even that wasn’t plain sailing; after one bite someone selfish decide to go very very fast and I needed both hands and all my concentration just to stay in the race so I shoved it back in my pocket. When I had a chance to get it back out I couldn’t grip it so ended up with a mush in my pocket and banana all over my hands until eventually I succeeded and ‘downed’ the remainder. Whilst this was going on we were on a slight uphill gradient in a cross wind and I looked down to see that we were riding at 31.8 mph!!
Barny’s better half Susan was at the start/finish area with spare bottles so my strategy was ride with 2 and leave a third for her. I discarded my first empty bottle at lap 3, feeling all very ‘pro’ when chucking my bottle away! “I’ll wait a couple of laps until I take my third bottle” I thought, “as it will only weigh my down”. Who did I think I was? Bradley Bloody Wiggins?!
Other than having to avoid the aforementioned crash and use a huge amount of energy catching back up, I had got the first hour out of the way without too much drama. At the halfway mark however, around 90 minutes, the lads off the telly decided to put the hammer down and now a lot of us were in serious trouble. 55 riders in one long line, flying around the lanes of Milton Keynes (no it isn’t flat in Milton Keynes if you are one of those who said it was!). Gaps opened everywhere as weaker riders struggled to hold the wheel in front. This was good and bad; good in that I realised there were weaker riders and bad in that I had to use energy plugging gaps that they had left. Wherever possible though, I still forced other riders to do this for me, riding with my head as much as my legs.
2 laps and a little over 20 miles to go and I told Barny I was going to take a water bottle from Susan, in case has was planning on doing the same (handing out water bottles is a complicated business you know!) and he said I could have his spare. Aha, a chance to see how Barny rides so fast, “maybe it’s what he puts in his bottle?!” I chuckled to myself. It took my mind away from the pain in my legs whilst I tasted it and discovered it was just the same as mine! I discarded a second empty bottle when I saw Susan and declined a third. Thank you Suze for all your support and help, you’re a star.
55 miles done, my legs are really heavy now. 60 miles done, I was hurting now but I remembered a text I got from Steve that morning: “You’ve got enough for this mate”. A wave of emotion ran through me and I knew at that moment that I was finishing this race.
65 miles done. As we passed the start/finish we got the bell. My first bell at a National Road Race Championship. I am a contender. This is it. 10 miles to go. I had heard via the peloton that about 10 riders had escaped off the front but I didn’t see them (I think I was breathing out of my back side at that point) and neither did I care. I was still racing against 45 of the best riders in the UK.
The final kilometre, which we had already ridden 6 times, was a short rise over a railway followed a long straight drag of a hill to the line. Before that it was quite flat but halfway through the race quite a lot of ‘flat’ sections started to become hills and the hills started to become Alpe friggin D’Huez.
So, the final kilometre now read; a short hill followed by a longer hill over a railway followed by an even longer hill to the finish!
As we approached this finishing section I was more or less where I wanted to be. I was in about 15th, knowing that the front guys would falter in the left-to-right cross wind. My plan was to keep right and to follow the wheels around the leaders as the sprint opened.
I was hurting.
Not hurting like when your mate drops you on a hill out in training. This was light headedness, dehydrated, feeling sick and dizzy, legs screaming, lungs burning, scared of crashing or hitting a car but NO F*CKING way I’m backing down hurting. All the way through the race we had adhered to the Highway Code, not crossing the middle white line, but the Organisers know that this is the Nationals and (hopefully), somewhere way up that hill at the finish they are stopping cars coming down towards us now. We are all over the road, fighting for position, over hill one, over hill two and the railway bridge like they don’t exist and then, the sprint opens as we hit the last hill and the final 200m. I follow a fast wheel that goes right and can see my gap, leeward side, exactly where I want to be. We hadn’t ridden on this part of the road all day so now really was the wrong time to find out that the surface was as bumpy as corrugated iron! It took all my speed away and now I’m in the wrong gear for this hill. I grind the gear around and can hear riders shouting as I’ve blocked their path. That’s the way it is I’m afraid chaps. I muscled my bike over the line, gaining on Barny, finishing 26th, a couple of bike lengths behind his 23rd place.
I am exhausted, delighted and emotional.
I finished a 76.8 mile National Championship race and I beat more than half the field. This hasn’t sunk in yet! 9 years ago I got my old mountain bike out in the January and rode 3 miles. It genuinely nearly killed me. I seriously needed a cigarette at that point back then!
The morning of the race I was so touched by how many of my friends, team mates and family took the time to send me well wishes, which really really spurred me on. I could NOT come home and say, once again, that I didn’t finish and I am so glad I didn’t let them down.
One last thing: I NEVER care about calories but I noticed I’d used 5886. Not bad in 3 hours. Did I replace all of them that night? You bet I did and there wasn’t any wild rocket in sight 😉