Am I on track?

Am I on track?

Monday, 31 December 2012

December 2012 Review

Well 2012 has drawn to a close - as I type here, there is only about 17 hours left to go!  Just enough time to drop in my final blog post for the year, and draw a line under my 'post-injury comeback year' once and for all...  But first, the all-important stats!

Mileage: 155km (2012 year-to-date: 4638km)
Weight: 79kg 

A 'moment of clarity' changed things a lot for me in December.  Normally, I ride right up until the new year, then take a few weeks off the bike totally.  Then in the last week of January I start turning the legs over again and slowly build up over the next month or so.

Looking at my 2013 goals (a blog-post to come!), I already want to be riding well by February as there is an Open race I'm keen to have a crack at. So starting in late January is too late!  So I had a decision to make - keep pushing for my 5000km 2012 total over December and let January go, or shelve the bike now for a few weeks and then hit the road again in the new year and start building for the February races.

It was an easy decision to make in the end (and a quick one!). I'm super-excited for a big 2013 after mucking about on the bike this year, so all my cycling-focus is on what I can achieve next year.  So after the first couple of weeks in December, I racked my bike and have focussed on other activities for the last few weeks.

I've learnt heaps this past year about how I train, why I train, the types of riding I love or hate, and most importantly what motivates me and what I'm capable of.  I'm looking forward to stepping things up in a (slightly!) more focussed and structured way starting tomorrow - bring on 2013!!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Product Review: Winners Choc-Berry Energy Bar

Many times on this blog, I have mentioned that as a C Grade Cyclist I am all about value-for-money, bang-for-buck, and cheap-but-effective.  As such I don't normally buy 'energy bars', and usually buy up bulk quantities of my favourite muesli bar ("Carman's Muesli Bars") whenever they come on special at the local supermarket.

A few weeks ago though, as I browsed through the aisles looking for marked-down goodness, I came across a box of Winners Energy Bars (Choc-Berry flavour) that had been knocked down to half-price as it was getting close to expiry.  always one to snap up a bargain, I grabbed them with both hands and hoped that I wouldn't have buyer's remorse later...

For those who care about the important figures - these bars have 183 calories, 5.2g of protein, 4.6g of fat, 27.7g of carbs (of which 9.1g is sugar) and 21mg of sodium.

As a rule, I don't eat prior to training rides less than 90min long (in the morning, pre-breakfast that is).  And so I normally would only wolf down a muesli bar before setting off on longer bunch rides.  This is where I used these bars - usually before setting off on my 2-3hr Planet Cycles shop rides on a Saturday morning.

Do they work?

Yes, of course they do - they provide energy.  I wouldn't say any more or less than my normal muesli bar hit, although I got the feeling they lasted a bit longer energy-wise...  That's not measurable in any way though, and could have been just placebo.

More importantly - the taste!

Taste is always subjective - but I really liked these. The texture was terrific, chewy and a little moist, and very easy to eat. I felt like I was eating something 'substantial' which is what I prefer for pre-ride food.

The actual flavour made me think of a cross between a Carman's muesli bar and a Cherry Ripe chocolate bar - in a good way!!  Just enough chocolate to flavour the bar, and a nice berry taste without being sweet.  Thumbs up from me.

Would I buy these again?

Yes, I would - with the caveat that I would only buy them on special.

I honestly believe that most 'energy bars' are massively over-priced for what they are.  I got these for around $1.50/bar, which I thought was very fair.  But I wouldn't pay more than $2/bar for them (or any other bar).

If you are the sort of person that likes buying products in this category though, then put these on your list.  Great taste and texture, ticks off the energy needs, fits easily into a rear jersey pocket.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Strava - what is it good for?

Don't know what Strava is?  I'm tempted to say you've been living under a rock!  Depending on who you talk to, Strava is either the best or the worst thing to happen to cycling in a long time...

Essentially, Strava is simply a recording tool for your rides.  You use a GPS (via either your smartphone or bike computer) which records your ride, and then you upload it later to Strava.  Simple so far, right?

What Strava is most famous for is its KOM (or QOM for the ladies) leaderboards.  Segments are created (a segment is just a stretch of road - doesn't have to be uphill - and can be any length, long or short) by users, and then a leaderboard is created that ranks you on an all-time list for that particular stretch of road.

These KOM leaderboards have polarised the cycling community in many ways. Some see it as just a fun way to test yourself, others see it as wrecking the usual convivial nature of group rides and turning everything into a race.  Personally, I think its just a bit of fun - but that's not why I'm talking about Strava in this post.

The real value of Strava is in training analysis. Keep in mind I'm talking about the free version here - there is also a premium 'paid' version that lets you record and analyse power and heartrate as well.

Keeping you honest

If you asked me 6 months ago how often I trained, I'd say "Oh, roughly 7-8 hours a week".  Looking back at Strava, I know now that on my biggest months, I averaged just under 6 hours a week!  Even my best weeks were no higher than 7 hours (with just the one outlier - a 9 hour week).

Knowing what I do (and don't do!), has helped me to develop some realistic training goals for the next month and year ahead. 


Strava shows weekly volume graphs (in either mileage or hours), which allows you to match up how you are feeling and performing with how you have been training, and thus start to look at how best to improve.

As an example, I've been able to see where I've felt in the best form and other periods where I've felt sluggish, and consider my training loads around those times to identify some correlations.

Speed graphs

One of the more recent additions to Strava has been 'speed graphs'.  Basically, for each ride (or segment) it will show a graph of your speed from start to finish.

This aspect is very useful for racing.  I've been able to look at some criteriums I've done, seen how the speed has changed over the course of the race in an easy-to-view line graph, and matched that up to when I've felt flat or struggling.

Similarly it has helped with my longer interval training.  I can see how my speed has waivered (or not) for some intervals and gotten to understood where I've backed off and could've pushed harder, or conversely been pleased when I've seen how I've managed to hold my pace high throughout each interval.

Not a magic bullet

Don't get me wrong - I know I am talking Strava up here, and I feel I've gotten a lot out of it now that I've racked up about 6 months worth of data into it.  But I should point out that simply recording data into the application won't change anything (unless you get pleasure from staring at pretty graphs).  The value is having the data there to analyse, and that analysis is facilitated by having a variety of easily accessible formats (eg graphs, calendars) in which to view it.

So should you use Strava?

If you've never used Strava, or simply written it off as a way for ego-driven speedsters to show off their best times, then I'd urge you to look more closely at how Strava can work for you - it really is so much more than just a 'leaderboard'.

It's ease of use (Android or iOS app on your smartphone), simple user interface on your PC, and super-low cost (free!) mean there are no real barriers to entry.  Personally, I use my Android smartphone to record my rides - I just initialise the GPS function before I set off, throw it in my back jersey pocket, and away I go.  I then upload the ride data at home using my own wifi, so I don't need to use mobile data at any stage at all!

Allow yourself to gather a few months worth of data to give yourself a good basis for training analysis, and then go from there.  If it turns out not to be your thing - then so be it.  But if you have an interest in developing your training off the back of real data, then you should give this application a try.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

November 2012 Review

Almost at the end of the year - where has 2012 gone?!  Road racing season is well and truly over, and the only racing left is track racing (which I don't do) and club criteriums (which finish for the year in mid-December).  So not much to do but ride-ride-ride!!

Here is what I managed to do for November - 

Mileage: 422km (2012 year-to-date: 4483km)
Weight: 78kg (steady)

Mentally, I'm already preparing myself for 2013.  I have been carefully going over all that I have done this year, and deciding what worked, what didn't, what my obstacles & stumbling blocks were and how to overcome them, and getting some basic goals sorted.  Needless to say, I will blog these in the new year to keep myself accountable!!

Meanwhile, there is (barely!) a month left of 2012 to go, and that is not time that I intend to waste!

I want to make sure I hit my 5000km goal (as per the last blog post) for the year.  I also want to try and squeeze a couple more races in before the clubs shut up shop for the year.  ANother priority is to try out a few more shop/bunch rides to suss out which ones I like the most and can become regular parts of my training next year.

Healthwise, I have had a good going over by my GP - I asked him to make sure I was in good health given I want to ramp up my mileage next year.  Turns out I have a low haematocrit (37) and low haemoglobin levels - not what you want to hear as a cyclist!

I'm getting another round of bloods done, looking at my iron & b12 levels (results still to come).  It wouldn't surprise me if I'm anaemic, as my mother & aunts have all had issues with low iron levels in the past - but time will tell.

Just to cover off any other possible causes, my GP has booked me in for a colonoscopy and upper endoscopy for next week - "cameras up both ends", he laughed (easy for him to laugh!!).  I've never had a colonoscopy before - apparently the 'prep drink' that cleans you out pre-procedure is, well, very effective...  At any rate - better to be safe then sorry, and my GP and I will have all the info we need to ensure I'm in tip-top shape for 2013.

All I need is for the weather to behave itself, and I can hopefully get some good mileage down for December to help set me up for the new year...!!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Chasing 5000...

Something I have never done is rack up 5000km of on-bike mileage in a calendar year.

I'll just pause for a second here, and let the decent cyclists amongst you all have a little chuckle...  Yes, I know - only 5000km!! Hey, the blog has "C Grade" in the title for a reason...

I've been a 'cyclist' for around 15 years (if you include my triathlon years - I know some will be offended at that suggestion!).  Not a serious one though, just a lover of lycra-ing up and riding my bike.  It was around 7-ish years ago that I 'got serious', joined Balmoral cycling club, and paid up for a race licence.  I've held my club membership and race licence continuously since then.

For the first few years, I really did nothing of note training wise.  I left the bike alone during winter months, and had very short spurts of training occasionally to try and get race fit. I would typically rack up 2000 - 3000kms in a year, concentrated around the start & end of the calendar year. During this time, I scored my only two ever race podiums - a 2nd in D Grade (2006), and a 4th in C Grade (2008), both at the HPRW Summer Twilight Crits.

After the last podium in late 2008, I decided I should have a more determined, consistent crack at getting better.  I set myself the modest goal of achieving 4000km for the year, with some consistency (especially over winter).  Whilst I was still a little sporadic, I finished 2009 with around 4300km in the bank - goal achieved!!

So the goal for 2010 was a simple one - 5000km. A small but steady increase, with an eye on small, steady improvements over a lifetime of cycling.  By October, I had already reached 4000km - easily on track to make it.  But then of course, 'the accident' happened - 9-10 months off the bike, a couple of shoulder surgeries, and many months of rehab came next...

So this year, 2012, is my first full calendar year back on the bike since then.  My resumption year.  My rebuilding year. A year of gently bringing my body back into consistent cycling-shape.

That elusive 5000km, whilst a very modest target, has been my big goal amongst all that - the cherry at the end.  For me, hitting 5000 will be my mental signal that I am 'back on track' with my lifelong, onwards training progression.

As we reach the end of November, I have roughly 500km to go - something I know I can easily achieve.  It's funny - just thinking about it almost gets me a little emotional.  How can such a small thing (literally!) ingrain itself into my psyche as such a huge measure of progression?

Part of me has already started mentally pencilling in my big cycling plans for 2013.  I suspect the most significant boost to making those plans a reality is when my bike computer trickles over to 5000km sometime during late December - I will officially be back...  :)

Monday, 19 November 2012

Trying something new...

As I get closer and closer to 40 years old - new experiences tend to come along a little less often.  But a week or so ago, I had one of those "OMG, this is AWESOME!" experiences that make you feel like a 5 year old discovering something for the very first time...

My youngest daughter, now 11 years old, has just about grown out of her bike (a supermarket cheapie).  I want to get her something much more decent now, especially as she is getting very enthusiastic about cycling and is keen to get out every weekend onto the local paths.

Serendipitously, I got an email from Planet Cycles that they were holding their Test the Best weekend at Daisy Hill State Forest.  Basically, they had all their road and mountain bike (mtb) high-end bling out there, ready to be test-ridden by anyone and everyone.  I decided it would be a great opportunity to take the family to check out a few mountain bikes.

When we arrived on the Sunday (the 2nd day of the demo), there was a short queue.  This gave me time to cast my eye over the incredible smorgasboard of road bikes they had.  My heart yearned to take an S-Works Tarmac or Venge for a spin, and I had to forcefully and deliberately remind myself that I was not there for a roadie.  It did hurt though...

When we reached the front of the registration queue, we handed over all our details and ID's, and talked about mountain bike options to try.  I couldn't believe our luck when we were kitted out on super-top-end full-carbon Specialized S-Works Epics (29'ers), running Shimano XTR running gear...!!  They were beautiful bikes, and I couldn't wait to try them out.

The mechanics made sure we were well fitted and set-up comfortably.  They asked if we'd ridden mtb trails before, and I said no...  They let me know to ride the wide fire trails for a while, and if we felt comfortable and confident, we could try some singletrack as well (a particular singletrack trail had been 'reserved' for the demo).

We headed off down the fire trail tentatively.  I had never used disc brakes before, and it took a little while to get used to them.  It was fun riding, and the bike was ridiculously comfortable.  My oldest daughter and I had a few battles trying to outclimb each other, and there were smiles alround.

We reached the start of the marked singletrack (which I know now is called "Turning Japanese").  My eldest and I decided to give it a try, while the others headed back on the fire trail.  I remembered the final words of advice from the mechanic ("Trust the bike, it'll get you through almost anything..."), and we headed off down the unknown...

Wow - just wow!! 

The singletrack was just incredible fun!!  I literally shrieked a few times as I rode through some rocky spots and rolled over a few small drop-offs.  I was concentrating like crazy to stay on the impossibly thin trail and snake through what felt like tiny gaps between trees, but I had a massive grin on my face and laughed out loud at the sheer joy I was feeling.

My oldest daughter caught up with me when I briefly dismounted to climb down one deep (to me!) drop-off.  "This is so hard - but its so fun!" she said smiling.

We managed to squeeze in a second run along the singletrack before heading back along the fire trail to the demo tent and reluctantly handing our bikes back over...

It has been a long time since I've had that much fun on a bike!!  I have already started checking out the local bike shops for new mountain bikes for the family - it'll be the perfect family riding activity for weekends.

My only regret is not giving mountain biking a try years ago...  :)   I'll always be a roadie first, but there is always room for something new too...

Friday, 2 November 2012

October 2012 Review

Funny how the best laid plans can come unstuck by the most unexpected of events...  That ridiculous rib injury, caused by my newly-found surfing gumbiness, meant around 3 weeks off the bike. Hence my stats for the month are nowhere as I had planned...


Mileage: 230km (2012 year-to-date: 4063km)
Weight: 78kg (1kg increase)


My main focus now that I'm over the worst of the injury is to get back to some good, regular mileage again.  This past week has been much harder than I expected!! My legs have felt pretty sluggish, so it's obviously going to take a good 2-3 weeks before I start getting some spark back into them again.

My main mileage goal now is to crack 5000km for the year.  I have never done this before, and its a very important one for me to achieve on  a personal level.  Without too much bad luck, I should achieve this.  I'll talk more about its importance to me in a later blog-post...

The other thing I'm working towards is, of course, racing!! The Brisbane Blast is looming large on the horizon - its only a month away, and I'll have to really work hard if I'm to hit it in any sort of form.  Its also my last chance for Open racing this year, so I have plenty of motivation to get the legs into half-decent shape by then.

As always, I'm looking forward with positivity and motivation to keep up my trend of slow, gradual improvement.  I still believe I can make it onto some sort of podium before the year is out - last time I did that was a 4th place back in 2008, so its been a long time between drinks!!  But I honestly believe I am in the best shape that I've been in since my school days (oh so long ago), so some tangible cycling results can't be far off...

Happy riding everyone!!

Friday, 19 October 2012

An injury setback...

I suppose it had to happen eventually, everyone gets the occasional injury.  But I like to get my injuries in particularly ego-destroying ways...

Late in our family holiday at Burleigh, we were going for a walk through the local shops. As we browsed through one of the old surf-shops, my oldest daughter yelled excitedly - "Look Dad, we can hire a surfboard all day, and its only $20!!  Can we??"

Now, I've never, ever surfed.  But only $20 for a whole day - what could go wrong?  Famous last words...

On the 2nd last day, we headed back to the surf shop.  I handed over $20, and was given the longest, widest, 'floatiest' board they had.  We carried it to the beach, and away we went.  My two daughters, not surprisingly, did very well for their first ever surfing attempt.  I had a great time helping them out to the breakers, and launching them off into smaller waves...

Inspired by their success, I took my turn.  Paddling out for my first attempt I tried to pop over a breaking wave. The board hit me in the chest pretty hard, and I felt a sharp pain. "You are kidding..." I thought to myself as I grabbed my left lower ribs...  I hadn't even tried to catch a wave yet!!

Bottom line is I cracked or fractured a rib.  Could not believe how sore it was!  I was OK to walk around, and breathing was fine - but coughing or laughing hurt like buggery, and lying down, rolling over, and getting in/out of bed was sore too. 

After a bit of research, I decided against going to the doctor as there isn't really anything that can be done for a broken rib.  I was careful to monitor myself closely for any changing pain or symptoms that might suggest I'd scratched a lung or anything else, but otherwise decided I'd have to take it easy so as not to impair the healing process.

I bought a bottle of Caltrate Plus (calcium, vitamin D, and trace elements supplement) to assist with bone repair and strength, and popped a couple of tablets a day.  Not sure if it made a difference or not, but figured it couldn't hurt.


So I find myself now, a little over two weeks later, finally starting to approach normal.  It took about 10-12 days for the pain to drop a notch or two, and for the last couple of nights sleeping has been much better.  Its now just 'sore' rather than painful, and I can feel improvement each day.  Finally!

Having avoided the bike the whole time, I'll lycra-up for an easy spin tomorrow morning and see how I go.  The plan is to stay in the saddle and ride at a cruisy effort, avoiding any efforts that might need me to push-&-pull on the handlebars.  With some luck, the ride will be fine and I'll be able to ease back into more normal efforts over the next couple of weeks.

I've definitely got itchy feet after being off the bike for so long, so I'm really looking forward to it.  Hopefully this will be the start of a build into the HPRW Twilight Criterium series - its held on Wednesday afternoons after work at the Nundah criterium circuit, and starts in late November.

UPDATE:  Went for an easy 30km cruise on Saturday (20/10/12).  No soreness or pain in the rib, which was fantastic!!  Could feel it 'pulling' a bit though, so will just make sure I don't do any intensity-stuff for the next week or two so I don' aggravate it.  Very happy to be back on the bike though!!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Race 8/2012 - Nerang Twilight Criterium, Gold Coast.

I was lucky to be able to take my road bike with me when we headed off to our family holiday at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast.  One of the many opportunities that affords you is the chance to race at a new venue if your stay coincides with some local racing.

On the 2nd Wednesday of my stay (3rd October), the first round of the Nerang Twilight Criterium series was being held - perfect timing.  It was due to kick-off at 5pm, so I was very keen to head out and try some Gold Coast racing.

Arriving about 4:30pm, I did a quick spin around the circuit to see wheat I was in for.  The circuit is at the same location as the Nerang Velodrome, with the criterium circuit being a long loop around the outskirts of the 'cycling centre'.

The Nerang Velodrome, you can see part of the criterium circuit around the outside and behind the stand...

First impression - hilly!!  There is a genuine, real hill on the criterium circuit - what was I going to be in for during this race?!

The circuit reminded me a little of Lakeside motor-racing circuit, a regular venue for criteriums used by the HPRW club near Caboolture, in terms of its hilliness.  I knew this was going to test my legs, especially after a week or so of mainly easy riding whilst on holidays...

Off to registration  which was a very smoothly run affair.  After a chat with one of the commissaires, I was (thankfully!) put in C-Grade for the race.  I paid my $10, pinned my number on, and rolled around the velodrome for a few laps to warm my legs up.

Around 20 or so riders lined up in C-Grade.  The commissaire announced it would be 40 minutes + 3 laps, and sent us on our way.  D-Grade (30min+3) and a combined A/B Grade (50min+3) were also racing on the circuit at the same time.

First time up the hill, and my legs were already hurting!  I've talked before about my lack of hill-climbing ability, and so this circuit certainly was NOT playing to my strengths...  I decided that I would just work as hard as I could, and see how long I could last for, setting myself the goal of at least making it to the halfway mark (20min) before getting dropped.

To my surprise, I was stronger than I expected! I ended up lasting the whole race, only drifting off the back when the race exploded up the hill on the final lap.  My legs handled it really well - I wasn't a front-runner on the hills, but I was able to stay in touch and not dangle off the back...

My performance was a genuine surprise to me, my first real test on a hilly circuit in a long time and I was able to handle it! Further proof that my training and form are both heading in the right direction, and another big confidence and motivational boost.

Stats for the race (if I remember correctly) were 45min of racing, covering 26-ish km at an average speed of 35.5km/hr.

If yo get the chance to race at this circuit - do it.  It is a genuinely 'honest' circuit that gives you a great test of your legs.  The organisation was terrific as well, running very smoothly.

So what's next?

I'm off to Canberra for the next week, meaning a week off the bike.  Then I've got the Northshore Open Criterium (Brisbane) and the Be Better Psychology Open Criterium (Toowoomba) on consecutive Sundays - it'll be interesting to see how I go in much faster Open fields with my current form...

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

September 2012 Review

I am having a great time at the moment, enjoying a 2-week family holiday at Burleigh Heads. It has been a perfect mental recovery time, and I am having a wonderful time.  Fortunately, I was able to bring the bike with me to keep up a bit of mileage and maintain a bit of consistency in the legs.

But first - my stats for the month:
Mileage - 539km (year-to-date total - 3833km)Weight - 77kg (1kg loss)

Very happy with my consistency again, and I can certainly feel the difference its making in my legs.  I'm comfortable and strong on the bike at the moment, and my form is tracking in the right direction.  Its very motivating, and I'm looking forward to testing myself in some club and Open races during October.

One of the highlights has been 'road/track training' at the Nerang Velodrome on the Gold Coast.  I took the chance to join in while I'm down here on holidays.  Basically, it involved 100 laps on the 365m outdoor velodrome (on road bikes), with every 10th lap being a sprint.

It was a very, very hard session!  There was a decent crowd of 20-30 riders, with a mix of abilities across all grades all riding together.  To be honest, I probably spent the same number of laps circling on the outside of the velodrome gasping for breath and recovering as I did in the paceline!  It was a heap of fun though, and was a great mid-week hit-out to smash the legs.

That's it for now, the beach is calling me (holidays are tough stuff!) - plenty of time to reflect on what's to come when I rejoin the real world next week...  :)

Friday, 21 September 2012

On Being Sensible...

On Monday, I had one of those days on the bike that I'd rather forget. 

It was always planned to be an 'easy' day, so I cruised into work for my commute. My legs lacked any snap and I felt a bit lethargic, but I hoped that the easy ride in might shake out the legs a little.  Usually, when this happens my ride home is much better.

The afternoon came, and finally it was time to bike home.  Well, things didn't improve - I felt really awkward and uncomfortable on the bike for the whole hour-long ride, and my legs just had nothing to really give.

I arrived home, and trudged up the stairs to see my wife & kids.  "That was a pretty crap ride..." I groaned to anyone who'd listen.  "You're not overdoing it are you?" replied my wife as she was prepping dinner.

Now, even though it was more of an absent-minded comment, my dear wife was 100% correct (as usual - ha!).    :)

I've mentioned before that in the previous two-weeks I had restarted doing two-to-three hard interval sessions each week.  They are great for crystallising some form in the legs, but they are also pretty draining as well.

This can be a real trap for lower-grade cyclists (who are only used to a moderate training load) and to cyclists who are hitting middle-age.  And I cover both of those categories!!  Jackpot!!

The tendency, especially for males, is to tell yourself to drink a big hot mug of cement and HTFU - in other words, suck it up and train through it.  But if you are in one (or both) of those categories above like I am, its probably the worst thing you can do.

Your body is actually sending you that message, and there's a reason for it.  You might have reached a limit and you need some more recovery, or maybe you have a low-grade virus that has taken the edge off your normal performance level.  It could be a few things really - but the important point is what you should do about it, and that's to take a brief break.

Rather than risk injury, worsening a mild illness, or going into more serious over-training symptoms - just have a few days off the bike.  It will only have a marginal effect (if any) on your form, and will in fact save you from having much longer off the bike if you make things worse (which will have a major effect on your form!).

So what did I do?

I took a couple of days off, leaving the bike in the garage on Tuesday and Wednesday, and catching the bus instead.

On Thursday, I jumped back on the bike for an easy commute into work - and my legs felt terrific.  I did my usual hard intervals on Thursday afternoon's homeward commute, and I felt strong and powerful.  I even set a couple of Strava PR's on two segments.

So all I'm saying here is that listening to your body is a very important part of developing long-term fitness and enjoying 'cycling longevity'.  Play the long game - a couple of days off to refresh the body when it tells you it needs it is good practice. Ignoring it, and developing long-term injuries or illness, is silly and counter-productive.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Race 7/2012 - Balmoral Club Criterium, Murarrie.

My legs have been singing after my first two weeks of re-introduced interval training.  I have felt really strong on the bike, and so was looking forward to taking my current form out for a spin at the my club criterium races.

It was a perfect morning for riding today, so getting out of bed was easy.  Beautiful blue sky, a light southerly wind, and warm temperatures - no better time to be on a bike!!

Around 35 competitors all up in C-Grade - including somebody on-board the most expensive bike I had ever seen in the flesh!!  It was  Pinarello Dogma2, shod with Lightweight Fernweg wheels, and dressed in the new Campagnolo EPS electronic groupset. That's close to $15,000 worth of bike, rolling around in C-Grade!! Certainly a beautiful example of a bicycle, and great to see it being ridden and raced... 

The short story of the day is - I am stoked with how I went.  I was very much in the race, and it was only a poor choice of which wheel to follow on the last lap that stymied what I thought was a real chance of a podium position.  The race itself was very hard work, but the legs handled it all well and recovered quickly during the brief lulls in pace.

Overall stats for the day were about 44 minutes of racing, at an average speed of dead-on 40.0km/h - so yes, it was a quick race!  I've only seen an average speed of 40+km/h a couple of times in my racing history, so that gave me a huge boost in confidence.  I managed to roll over the line in around 15th place out of 35 after messing up my positioning in the sprint, so that's another thing for me to work on before next time...

I'm very glad I made the effort to race after such a good result.  I can't wait to see how much more my form improves with some more consistent interval training over the next few weeks!  I'm almost letting myself dream of a club race podium before the year is out - almost.....  :)

Friday, 7 September 2012

The 3rd third...

So there is one-third of the year left to run - the 3rd third, only 4-months to go.  The perfect time to have a think about what I want to try and achieve for September to December 2012.

I am reasonably happy with how I have gone so far in 2012.  As always, I would have liked to have been more consistent with my training mileage and have raced more often - but family life and work-trips take priority over that, so c'est la vie.

So what will be the focus for these last 4 months of 2012?

Road racing season is coming to a close. There are still a couple more races, including the Ipswich Open (which was on my list of 2012 goals at the start of the year) - but looking at my forward calendar it looks like I'll be away for all of them.

And so, I have decided I will be switching my focus onto preparing myself for the upcoming criterium season.  My training and prep will be mainly about getting myself in a position to do well at these shorter, more explosive types of races.

Goal Races

There are a few Open Criteriums that I'd like to try and have a go at in this last part of the year. I'm not sure I'll be able to get to them all, but I'll do my best to arrange the schedule so I can hit at least one or two of them.

1. Northshore Criterium, 21st October, near Hamilton, Brisbane.
2. Be Better Psychology Criterium, 28th October, in Toowoomba, Queensland.
3. Brisbane Blast, 1st-2nd December, a new race in the Brisbane CBD.

I'm also hoping to do well in the Summer Twilight Criterium Series, run at the Nundah criterium track on a few Wednesday afternoons (after work) by the HPRW club.  It's only a 5-minute ride from my workplace, and is a fun mid-week hit-out on the bike.


So far this year (as at the end of August), I've racked up 3294km on the bike.  When you split that up, I did 1494km in the first third of the year, then 1800km in the 2nd third - nice to see an upward trend!

I'd really like to make 6000km for the year, which would need me to knock out 2700km for the final third of the year - almost 700km/month.  I'm not sure if that's achievable, but I'm going to give it a red hot go!

My plan is to make 600km/month as my base goal, and try and push a couple of those months up to around 800km.  Of course, I have to be realistic about it - but I'll strive hard to achieve it and see how I go.  No point in having a goal that's 'easy' - I'd rather fall short striving for a difficult goal, than rest on my laurels for reaching something that's too easy...

Training Style

No, not what I'll be wearing on the bike...  ;)

The plan is to get back to incorporating more hard efforts and intervals into my training, after a couple of months of 'just riding' to try and build up some base.  I'm not going to crazy with it, but will do at least two sessions a week (probably integrated into my commutes) where I really try hard to smash the legs.

To help with leg strength, I'm also planning to hit Mt Gravatt for some hill reps roughly once per week or per fortnight.  Not sure how often really, but I'll see how that goes...

Other Training

I bought a 5kg medicine ball, which I have just started using as part of a core strength routine 4-5 time a week.  I'm enjoying doing it, and I feel like its paying some dividends on the bike.  It'll be interesting to see how that progresses over the next few months.

I'm also going to try and do the One Hundred Pushups program.  Not sure if it'll do much to improve my cycling, but this is more about my long-term general health and fitness. My upper body strength has always been pretty ordinary, and I'm hoping this'll give me some half-decent functional strength.

Finally, I'm considering integrating a bit of running into my week.  Not so much for my cycling (although I think it will help), but because my oldest daughter is becoming a keen runner.  It'll be fun to be able to train with her, plus the 'cross-training' can only help me.  What can be better than combining exercise and family time!

Finishing off...

I have probably rambled on longer here than I expected to.  There is plenty in there for me to achieve, but I believe if I can really commit to these goals, plans and ideas, I can have a really strong finish to my year cycling-wise.  It would be great to be able to podium in a club race before the finish of 2012, and I think that's certainly a realistic goal if I can stick with what I have written above.

Naturally, I'll review and rejig all of this after a month or so, as I settle into a routine and figure out what is working and what isn't. 

Saturday, 1 September 2012

August 2012 Review

A bit of a better run for August. Still not perfect consistency-wise, but got my mileage up to a much more acceptable level...

Mileage - 530km (year-to-date total - 3294km)
Weight - 78kg (steady)

Not great, but not bad either.  I'd call that a 'par' month.  The key now will be to build on that for September and reap the benefits of two decent months in a row...

Only real disappointment for August was missing out on racing the Charles Coin Memorial.  I was setting myself for it, but unfortunately work & family stuff got in the way and I had to ditch it.  That's OK though - its another one I'll hopefully get to do next year.

I have a few things brewing this month that I'll go into more detail about in later posts.  I purchased a bargain heart rate monitor from Aldi, a Crane Sports branded one for the princely sum of only $20!  Not sure how exactly I'm going to use it yet, but I have a few ideas...  Once I unbox it (I'm not allowed to open it until Father's Day!) and use it a few times, I'll post up a review...

My new HRM - now, what to do with it...

I also picked up a 5kg medicine ball from Southside Fitness for $40.  I've been using one at the work gym to do some core strength work, and it has been paying dividends. So I have bought one for home so I can make it a part of my morning routine. I may not end up with six-pack abs (I think that prospect disappeared in my late teens!!) but hopefully that will further help with my core stability and warding off any back pain on long rides.

Finally, I'm almost finished coming up with a plan and some goals for the last third of the year.  I'm looking to finish the last four months strongly - both in training and racing.  As always, the challenge is  to come up with a plan and goals that will stretch me, but are also realistically achievable - with some luck, I'll get that balance just right!

In the meantime though, it is finally Spring in Australia!! There can be no greater motivation than bright blue skies and weather that is just getting warmer and more pleasant every day...!!  Happy & safe cycling everyone!

Friday, 31 August 2012

Bling City - Eurobike 2012

I have mentioned before that my mantra as C Grade Cyclist is "value for money" over all else.  My bike-related purchases all reside in the low to mid range, and I will scour the specifications and build quality to make sure I extract maximum bang for my cycling buck when it comes time to buy.

But of course, that doesn't mean I don't take the time to drool over top-end gear.  And drool season has officially started, with the first of the 'big two' trade shows starting in Germany - Eurobike!!

"Demo Day" at Eurobike 2012

This is the first opportunity for cycling fans to see the new cycling products coming out for next season, by all the major cycling manufacturers.  You can expect to see the official launch of new groupsets, wheels, bike frames, tyres, and many assorted accessories.

New Sidi shoes - I want, I want, I want!!

Personally, I'm a sucker for wheelsets.  I absolutely love staring at the brand new light-as-a-feather carbon fibre hoops brought out by the different manufacturers.  I have my fantasy budget (or my "if I win the lottery" budget), and carefully study the new product offerings to decide what I'll buy if my numbers come up and I have an unexpected windfall to spend...

Mavic's new Cosmic Carbone SLE - yummy!!
This is definitely the time I wish I was a well-respected, reputable cycling journalist - rather than a wannabe cycling fan/blogger - so that I could snaffle myself a press pass and mingle with the crowds at this cycling mecca!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Vuelta a Espana 2012 - preview & predictions

The final Grand Tour for 2012 has just begun - the Tour of Spain, better known as the Vuelta a Espana.

The Vuelta often (and unfairly) lacks some of the following that the Giro and the Tour de France attract.  Perhaps people are 'cycling-weary', especially after a big year on the ProTour that included an Olympics as well.

Nonetheless, this year's Vueta is worth following!  It is very different to this year's Tour de France, in that the Vuelta route is much more for pure climbers.  There will be some interesting battles, and a number of questions will likely be answered...

Who will win?

Alberto Contador (SaxoBank-Tinkoff)

The big story of this year's race is the return of El Pistolero - Alberto Contador - after his suspension for use of clenbuterol.  He is almost an unbackable favourite with the bookmakers.  I believe he will win, but not by the crushing margin many are predicting.

In his favour is the fact he hasn't raced the Giro, Tour, or the Olympics, and will have fresh legs.  I believe this is the key factor that will see him prevail over the likes of Froome and Van den Broek.  Against him is his lack of racing - anyone who has raced before knows there is no substitute for 'race fitness'... 

Expect to see Alberto Contador wearing the red leader's jersey at the conclusion of the Vuelta...

Who will come 2nd & 3rd?

Chris Froome (Team Sky)

Second at least year's Vuelta, after losing valuable time early on trying to sheperd Bradley Wiggins to teh win (sound familiar?).  Second at this year's Tour de France, and arguably could have won himself if given the leeway to do so.  There is no doubt the Kenyan-born Brit has the ability to win a grand tour one day.

I believe he will come second again in this race though, mainly because of his tough Tour de France and Olympics campaigns.  The fresh legs of Contador will be too much for the talented Froome to overcome...

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)

Another rider with fresh legs, and a grand tour pedigree, is Joaquim 'Purito' Rodriguez. This punchy Spanish climber has podiumed at grand tours before, but has never broken through for the win.

He is not in the same class as Contador, but will challenge Froome hard for 2nd place.  Apart from having fresh legs, Rodriguez's big advantage is his ability to win stages and take advantage of the generous time bonuses on offer at the Vuelta.  This will put him at a huge advantage over Froome...

Close, but not quite...

Jurgen Van den Broek (Lotto-Belisol)

For me, VdB was the big surprise in this year's Tour de France. He showed genuine improvement, and made the big step up in class to show he is capable of winning a grand tour some time soon.  Like Froome though, I don't think he'll be able to back-up after a very tough Tour and will finish just off the podium.

The Rabobank Dilemma

Robert Gesink vs Bauke Mollema

This will be an interesting race within a race.  Rabobank has a 'dual leader' strategy for the Vuelta, giving both Gesink and Mollema freedom to do their best for the overall.

On the one hand you have Gesink, who has promised much as a grand tour contender but has never broken through for an overall podium.  Then you have the 'young gun' Mollema, who is desperate to prove himself as worthy of outright team leader status.

By all accounts, both riders get on well and the team dynamic is very good. So it will be fascinating to see which of these riders prevails as the standout for Rabobank.  It will likely decide team leader status for next year's Tour de France...

Viewing in Australia

SBS Television is showing a handful of stages live this year - do yourself a favour and watch this year's race. It should be a great mountains battle between the key contenders...

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Race 6/2012 - Balmoral Club Criterium, Murarrie.

A great start to the month of August training-wise saw me having racked up over 300km in the first 9 days. After having Friday off the bike (as I had to cart a lot of work stuff home for a trip to Sydney at the start of next week), I decided it was time to bust out the brand new club jersey and hit the Saturday morning crits.

After a solid week and a half of steady base-building style riding, I knew I had no 'speed' - but I was hoping my overall fitness would get me through.  The aim was to basically get through the race with the pack, giving me a solid effort at a higher intensity than normal in order to give the legs a bit of a 'change up' as part of my August 'build'.

The hardest part of the day was getting out of bed!  It was a cold morning, with some very fresh (ie. freezing!) south-westerly winds whipping around.  I dragged out my wind-vest for the first time in 3 years, and also had an under-shirt under my jersey, and arm-warmers...

The race had a good-size peloton - around 35 people toed the line for C-Grade.  After a quick race briefing we were racing 40min + 3 laps), we were away. We settled into a steady pace, with two main teams (QSM and Kangaroo Point Cycling Club) looking to control the race.

All went well in the first half of the race, I was able to maintain a midfield position without killing myself. I was feeling god, and was happy with how I felt.

Everything changed just after the mid-way prime sprint though. I had a really tough time from about the 25min mark to about 40min.  It was 15min of total pain for me.  I really struggled, and had to focus hard and put in some big efforts to hold on to the back of the pack.  Not really sure why - if it was the pace, or just a shock to the legs being at that intensity for so long - but it was very hard work.

The pace then dipped, as the two main teams eased up waiting for the 3 laps to go sign to come out.  It didn't arrive until the 45min mark, so I got two easy laps to 'recover'.

This was surprising for me - I recovered very quickly. After those two laps, I felt terrific and ready to get going again!  I guess this was the benefit of my consistent base riding over the last week and a half...

The final three laps went quickly.  I was in a great position on the last lap, and came into the final corner in the front third of the field.  Unfortunately, I had no sprint to unleash (but that will come!) - so I did what I could, and rolled over the line in about 15th place.

All up, a terrific morning of racing. A great confidence build, and told me a lot about how well my training is going - it's certainly encouraged me to keep up my consistency!

Final stats for the race - 50min at 39km/h average.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

July 2012 Review

A bit of a write-off month for me. Missed a few weeks due to work & family holiday travel, then struggled to get back into the swing of things for the last quarter of the month...

Mileage - 163km (year-to-date total - 2764km)
Weight - 78kg (steady)

Don't really want to dwell on this 'off month' - no point in any woulda-shoulda-coulda analysis.  I did learn a few lessons though that I will take with me moving forward.

The habit of training

What surprised me most, and caught me off-guard, was how hard I found it to get back into the habit of regular training after the forced month off the bike.

I expected to just resume my usual schedule.  But I was really disorganised, found myself shrugging off some perfect cycling days, and slept-in way too easily.  It goes to show how important it is to have that 'standard routine' ingrained into you, so you just 'get up and go' without thinking about it.

So that's one of my main goals this month - restarting the 'habit'.  I know my fitness and pace will bounce back quickly with that habit and consistency back, so the motivation and reward are both there.  The month has started well cycling-wise, having ridden both days, plus the weather outlook is perfect, so all the stars are aligning...  :)

Racing for the month ahead

The key event this month is the Charles Coin Memorial road race. For me (Division 6 / Masters C), this will be a 72km race (4 x 18km laps) out at Mulgowie, which is south of Laidley, Qld.

Much like the Avanti Classic back in June, I have a shortened preparation for this one.  Learning from that though, I will be trying to get in some much longer rides in prior to the race. 

The keys will be doing the long Sunday club rides for the next two weekends (usually around 80km), and joining some other group rides on each Saturday as well for similar length rides.  I'll fit some faster work in on my weekday commutes to sharpen the legs up as well.

If I can achieve these training goals, I think I can realistically hope to finish with a large part of the peloton come race day.  Not knowing the course, I may be misguided - but that's the goal anyhow.

Hopefully, if all goes to plan, this will be a relatively high-mileage month for me, which will set me up for some good results in the last quarter of the year.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

London Olympics Road Race 2012 - preview & predictions

The opening ceremony fireworks are over, the cauldron has been lit, and the 2012 London Olympics have begun!!

One of the first events is the men's cycling road race.  This is one of the toughest races to win (and predict!), and is a highly sought after victory for every rider.

Why is it so tough to predict a winner?

Length - the race is a long, testing 250km.  If you are a sprinter, you still need to have the legs to sprint for the line after a very long day in the saddle.

Course - The main part of the race is a 15km circuit around Box Hill, which they complete 9 times in a row. It has a short, 2.5km climb in it that averages around 5% gradient.  On its own, that's not too bad - but they do this 9 times in a row.  To make it even harder, the roads on this circuit are narrow, windy, and uneven.  It'll be very difficult to hold you rposition, and even harder to make up ground if you drop back or any reason.

Team size - A normal pro team has 7-9 members for each race (depending on the event). The maximum team size in the Olympic event is 5, and only a handful of teams have qualified this many members (notables include Great Britain, Australia, and Germany).  Many teams have only 1 or 2 competitors, most notably Peter Sagan who is the sole representative for Slovakia.  This makes controlling the race very difficult, and only a few teams have the resources to chase down breakaways or split up the peloton.

No race radios - Race radios are banned, so there are no team instructions or status updates being fed straight to the ears of each rider as per usual racing.  This means they won't know who is in the breakaway until it is away, causing huge uncertainty.   Also, if a key tem member is dropped and isn't immediately noticed, they will be gone and too far back to assist.

Competitor calibre - There is a significant number of competitors who aren't at Pro Tour level, but have qualified as their country's sole representative.  These guys will be doing their best to keep up with the Cancellaras, Boonens, and Gilberts - but could they cause problems on the tighter parts of the circuit with possible lesser handling skills?

So what are the race scenarios?

The race will either end with a large breakaway group winning, or a massive bunch finish with the peloton all together.

I believe a large breakaway will escape and the winner will come from that group.  This is chiefly because only two teams want the race to come down to a sprint - Great Britain (for Mark Cavendish) and Germany (for Andre Greipel).

As I mentioned earlier, team size means Great Britain and Germany have only 8 suppport riders between them (the size of only one normal Tour de France team)to control the pace and chase down any breakaways.  No other team will help them, because Greipel & Cavendish are the form sprinters at the moment - why assist them to the line if they'll just beat your team mate?

So all the other teams will be trying to get riders into the breakaway, and then letting Great Britain and Germany do the chasing if they can.

The tight Box Hill circuit will make this harder too - they will need to close any gap in the long 50km drag race to the finish line at Buckingham Palace.

Who will win?

Let's start with who won't win:

  • Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) - for the reasons above.  Plus I think the course will be a bit too tough on him.
  • Andre Greipel (Germany) - ditto.
  • Matthew Goss (Australia) - he will be shadowing Cav and Greipel, and if I am wrong and it does come to a sprint, they'll be too good for him...

Who will win in my 'breakaway' scenario:

  • Peter Sagan (Slovakia) - this course is made for him, but he will struggle as the only Slovakian team member.  He won't have any team members to get him waterbottles, etc from the team car, or help him chase back to the main peloton if he punctures.
  • Philippe Gilbert (Belgium)- another who likes the hillier course, and has a good size team.  Likely that Tom Boonen will wait for a sprint, while Gilbert will go for the breakaway, so Belgium has both scenarios covered.
  • Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway) - my favourite for the race, a strong sprinter who has the legs to get over Box Hill 9 times...
  • Fabian Cancellara / Michael Albasini (Switzerland) - similar to Belgium, these guys will both aim to get into breakaways. One of them will succeed...
  • Sylvain Chavanel (France) - a classic breakaway rider, but I suspect he fancies himself in the time tiral instead for this Olympics.
  • Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) - one of the best bike handlers in the peloton, he'll look to form a break on the tight Box Hill circuit.
  • Simon Gerrans / Cadel Evans (Australia) - like the Swiss team, these two will both look to get into the breakaway. First one to get into the successful break will have a great chance, while theother will drop back and then protect Matthew Goss.
Can't wait to see how this pans out. It'll be a tough, exciting, unpredictable race!!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Training Challenge - Ten Days of Pain!

I find myself 10 days out from the end of July, and what have I done on the bike? A big fat nothing...

The first half of the month was planned that way - I was away in Canberra for work, and then had the big family driving holiday to the snow.  But the next week was a combination of weather, injury, and laziness...

Some early rain in the week meant the bike stayed in the garage for the first couple of days.  Plus, some sort of injury flared up in my foot.  I have no idea what it is - basically, its pain & soreness at the front of the arch of my right foot...  I'm guessing it plantar fasciitis, but that's typically more at the heel end of the arch.

At any rate, I decided to take it easy so I didn't make it worse.  It started to come good at the end of the week, but I decided to wait until the weekend before riding again, just to be sure.  Which was an easy decision to make, given that I was so tired from staying up late to watch the Tour de France...

So where does Ten Days of Pain come in?

With 10 days of July left, and coming off almost a full month off the bike, I decided I need a goal to really kick start my training towards the Ipswich Open.

One of the things I've learnt in recent months is that consistency is the most important factor in my training.  The best results come from stringing together consecutive days on the bike.  Up until now, the most days I have done in a row has been seven...

So my goal for the rest of this month is to get on the bike and ride every single day - my Ten Days of Pain!!

Sure, I could've called it "10 days of consistency" or "10 days on the bike" - but that doesn't have the same kick-butt, motivating hook!

The weather forecast is looking great for the next week or so, with fine, sunny days likely for at least the next seven days. So no impediments there!

I'm feeling confident and excited to see how my legs cope with ten days of cycling in a row - hopefully I'll learn some more about how my body reacts to that much training, and it'll give me a basis for further structure in the future.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Race 5/2012 - Avanti Classic, Lowood.

Way back on Sunday 24th June, I lycra'ed up for my first big 'target race' of the season - the Avanti Classic. It was an 80km handicap race, starting (and finishing) in the town of Lowood, west of Brisbane.  Held over two 40km laps, it travelled through Fernvale, over the Wivenhoe Dam wall, and passed Coominyah.

My main goal for the race result-wise was to go under 2hrs 40min for my overall time (my previous best was 2hrs 51min).  But in reality, my chief goal was to enjoy the race, push myself as hard as I could, and just see what I could do!

How did the day go?

Race day kick-off was at 11:30am for the first riders.  I rocked up with my wife and kids in tow at 10:30am to find out my handicap, and collect my race numbers, timing tag, course map, and other bits and pieces.  Lifecycle CC run an outstanding event, and so this all went very smoothly.

I checked my handicap - I was in the 17min group.  This meant that I would start 17min after the very first group.  Checking the rest of the list, I found out I had a 20min headstart on the scratch markers...  This had me feeling pretty nervous - only a 20min headstart over 80km against A-grade riders!!

I was hoping to at least get through the first 40km lap without getting passed by the scratch group, so I knew I couldn't muck around when I started!  I had my motivation sorted...

Race time!

I won't go into crazy detail about the race itself - but the first lap went really well.  My group of 10 riders all worked well together from the start.  We started a rolling paceline that worked pretty efficiently 90% of the time.  Every now and then I skipped a turn when I felt my legs getting over-worked, but I really enjoyed being part of a smoothly-running, hard-riding start to the race.

Unfortunately, when we hit the first decent hill of the race, I got dropped by the group.  The race has two notable climbs, being the two hills on either side of the Wivenhoe Dam wall.  I struggled on both hills, on both laps - a clear sign of where I need to focus my training over the coming months!!

From here, I hooked onto faster groups as they went through and held on as long as I could.  Obviously, this got harder and harder as the race went on - as each new group came, they were much faster, plus I was getting more and more tired!  On the first lap though, I only lost a few more groups, so I was happy with that.

I covered the first 40km lap in 1hr 9min 44sec, giving an average speed of 34.4km/h.  With a decent chunk of that solo riding up two tough climbs, I was feeling quietly pleased and confident with my performance so far.

Finishing the first lap...

The second lap beckons...

I knew the second 40km lap would be my 'lap of truth'.  My lack of long rides meant I really didn't know how my legs would handle it - it was very much unknown territory.  I crossed the start/finish solo, and decided to keep pushing hard and see how long I could go before I popped...

Not long after starting the second lap, a group of two faster riders came through and I tacked on. These two were my last real group for the day - after about 5km, a very quick, large bunch of around 15 riders came pouring through. I couldn't hold onto them at all, and watched them ride off into the distance...

I felt a bit down, as I knew that any more groups coming through would be just too fast for me, and I still had over 30km to go! But that's when I got my little 'mental miracle' - I saw a car that looked a lot like mine parked further down the road.  As I got closer, my youngest daughter jumped out and started cheering madly, while my other daughter and my wife yelled encouragement out the windows!  It was exactly what I needed - I refocused my effort, and with a big smile on my face pushed onwards...

I really struggled on the 2nd lap with the two hills.  It was pretty ugly - I basically wrestled my bike up each hill, convincing myself of how much I'd enjoy the descent afterwards...  I do remember vowing to make sure I do hill repeats every single week for the rest of my life to make sure I never sucked this bad again!!

Not surprisingly, I probably hit my limit at around the 70km mark.  I got the first twinges in my lower back, and my legs were starting to burn.  To be honest, I was pleased I'd gotten that far without my body starting to fall apart - but I knew this last 10km would be a true slog.  I put my head down, and focussed everything on keeping a steady (albeit slow) cadence and getting to the finish as soon as I could.


The lap finishes with a 1km downhill sweeper, and I could see the start/finish arch from the top of that downhill.  I pushed hard, and used up every last bit of energy I had to finish off the 80km and the race.  It was a pretty ugly sprint in the 52x15 (embarrassing!), but I felt totally stoked to complete the race.

So how did I go?

I finished with an overall time of 2hrs 34min 27sec - beating my goal time, and setting a personal best of over 15 minutes!  Very, very happy with that. 

Position wise, I was the very last finisher on the road.  There were 187 starters, of whom 163 finished, and I was lucky 163rd.  But that meant I did beat the 24 DNF's, so was I really last...??  :)

I mentioned it earlier - but Lifecycle Club run a terrific race.  Everything went super-smoothly, and I had a great time racing.

I learnt a lot about how far I had come since re-starting racing after the 'big accident', and a lot about what I need to do in the coming months. Plus I had an awesome Sunday afternoon riding a beautiful course.  Can't wait to do it all again next year!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

June 2012 Review

I am finally back home (and online!) after a two-week road trip with my wife and kids around rural New South Wales and Queensland, including a weekend skiing in the snow at Perisher.  So I'd better get my stats recorded before I forget what I have done!!

Mileage - 412km  (2012 total so far - 2601km)
Weight - 78kg  (down 1kg for the month)

My mileage figure of 412 km isn't much, but when you consider that is only from just under two weeks of riding, I'm actually very happy with that!!  I missed the first week of June with a very bad cold.  I then had two clear weeks, culminating in the Avanti Classic 80km handicap.  Then I missed the rest of the month due to a combination of bad weather and work commitments taking me away.

So, averaging over 200km/week is something I am very proud of!!  My body handled it OK, so I know what I can work with now for my next race goal...

Weight-wise, I continue the downward trend.  I lost another kilo without really trying, which is a good thing. Its still not a focus though, I'll only be concerned if it suddenly spikes upwards...

So what's next?

Three races are ahead of me:

These are the key events I'll be doing in the next couple of months, with the Ipswich Open being the "A race" it will all be focussed upon.  Now that I;m back home, this weekend will be about planning how I'm going to roughly structure my training for the 11-week build towards Ipswich.  

Let's hope for clear skies for the next 3 months!!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Tour de France 2012 - preview & predictions

People can argue which cycling race is the 'greatest' or the best test of an all-round cyclist.  But there is no question that the BIGGEST cycling event around is the Tour de France.  It kicks off in only a few days, so its time for me to lay down my predictions for how the race will go!!

The Course

The biggest defining feature to me in this year's course is the over 100km of individual time trialling, made up of a short prologue, and two longer ITT's.  This is definitely more than normal, and plays into the hands of a couple of key contenders.

Add to that only a few mountain-top finishes, and the usual dominance of the 'pure climbers' is looking much less likely.

So let's have a look at who will win!!

The Favourites

Cadel Evans (BMC)

The defending champion, Cadel really couldn't ask for a better course than this one.  He had an early hiccup this year with some illness in May, but showed that he was building form nicely with a strong result in the Criterium du Dauphine.

Expect him to be at his absolute best in the 3rd week of the Tour.

Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky)

The bookie's favourite, Wiggins is in career best form.  He has won both Paris-Nice and the Criterium du Dauphine this year, and has a stellar team of genuine tour contenders as his support team.  If Wiggins is ever going to win a Tour de France, this is the one!!

The biggest question is how will Wiggins cope in the 3rd week of the Tour.  Will he crack, like he did in last year's Vuelta?  I think he'll struggle to keep up with Cadel in that final week...

The Best of the Rest

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas)

The Italian most likely! Nibali knows how to win a Grand Tour, having previously won the Vuelta.  Normally he Targets the Giro, and then supports Ivan Basso in the Tour - but this year the roles have been reversed.

His form hasn't been outstanding, but he is also building form.  His 3-week pedigree is strong evidence he'll be around at the end of the race.

Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel-Euskadi)

Last year's King of the Mountains winner, and a perennial high performer at the Tour.  Not good enough to beat Cadel, but likely to be at the front of proceedings when the road heads upwards.

Robert Gesink (Rabobank)

My tip as the man most likely to come of age in this year's race.  Gesink has had a bad run of injuries, but has performed well in the last few months - most notably winning the Tour of California emphatically.  Expect  him to be standing on the podium in Paris!

Jurgen Van de Broek (Lotto-Belisol)

Cadel's old team-mate at OmegaPharma-Lotto, he is finally showing the form that his team directors knew he had.  He is sharing a team with sprinter Andre Greipel, so won't have a full team of helpers - but he will Top 10 for sure.

Alejandro Valverde (Team Movistar)

Back at the Tour after his long suspension, Valverde is looking to make a statement with a strong result.  Historically, he always has a 'bad day' at some point - but he is riding well this year and has grea team support.

Who Won't Win

Dennis Menchov (Katusha)

Too old, inconsistent form - sorry Dennis, its not your year!!

Frank Schleck

Way too many time trial kilometres for the older Schleck brother to do well this year.  He is a super-talented climber though, and is my tip for this year's King of the Mountain jersey.

The Final Classification!!

So time to stick my neck out - what will the final GC look like in Paris?  I had a shocker tipping the Giro, so let's see if I can do better for the Tour:

1. Cadel Evans
2. Vincenzo Nibali
3. Robbert Gesink
4. Bradley Wiggins
5. Samuel Sanchez
6. Jurgen Van den Broek
7. Alejandro Valverde
8. Bauke Mollema
9. Pierre Rolland
10. Frank Schleck

And not to forget the other jersey classifications:

Green sprinter's jersey - 1. Peter Sagan; 2. Matthew Goss; 3. Andre Greipel.  Mark Cavendish will drop out before the end to freshen up for the London Olympics.

Polka-dot mountains jersey - 1. Frank Schleck; 2. Cadel Evans; 3. Samuel Sanchez.

White youth jersey - 1. Bauke Mollema; 2. Rein Taaremae; 3. Tejay Van Garderen.

Here's to a fantastic Tour de France 2012!!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Ready and raring to go...

So I am three days out from the Avanti Classic - the 80km handicap race that was initially my main goal race for the year.

Whilst my goals have changed, this will still be a key event for me for 2012. It'll now be used as a 'training event' for me, as I build towards a couple of big road races in August.

That's me in the white helmet on the right side of the picture, during the 2010 race.

Am I ready?

The last couple of months of training have been terrific.  I've been averaging almost 200km/week, and I've felt the improvement in my legs.  The only hiccup has been a couple of weeks off the bike to work travel and a cold - but I think that almost worked in my favour.  While 2 weeks was clearly too long, the break did help  my legs have a full recovery from a big increase in mileage through May.

I did my last 'hard' pre-race sessions on the bike today as well, and set personal bests for my overall commutes to and from work - another positive sign for the race on Sunday!!

My race day goals.

I've raced the Avanti Classic twice before.  In 2009, I completed the 80km race in 2hrs 51min (and was the 3rd last finisher!).  In 2010, I had a much better race - a course change caused by roadworks meant it was a 90km race, but I finished in exactly the same time of 2hrs 51min (this time, I was the 6th last finisher).

While it's hard to goal set when you are at the mercy of the handicapper, which can have a significant effect on the final outcome, I'd like to see a quicker time for the 80km race.  How fast? I'm not sure, but finishing under 2hrs 40min would definitely be a big success in my book...

What's left to do?

I'll take tomorrow off to rest my legs, and maybe have a short, easy spin on Saturday morning depending on how I feel.

More importantly, the bike will get a good clean on Saturday. A sparkling clean, freshly lubed drive-train will add that bit of extra zing, plus give me a mental edge as I toe the start line.

It should be a great day of racing.  The weather forecast is for fine and sunny conditions, with a coolish top temperature of 19 degrees.  Whatever happens though, at worst I know I'll enjoy a great 80km on the bike...  :)

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Coping with interrupted training

One of the big challenges that every cyclist (or endurance athlete generally, like runners or triathletes) has to face is being knocked out of the usual training regime by illness.

I am dealing with that right now, having lost two weeks of training less than a month out from one of my main race goals for the year.  After racing the Metropolitan Championships road race, I had a week in Canberra for work.  I was planning on being straight back on the bike after the well-timed rest, but caught a bad cold while down there that resulted in losing another full week of training.

There are a few traps you can fall into with this scenario:

1. Forcing yourself back into training too early.

Remember that you are SICK!! Your body is compromised, you are running at much less than 100%.  And your body's already lower resources are being diverted to fighting off the sickness, bugs and nasties...  The very last thing your overloaded system needs now is for you to stress it even further by training.

2. Trying to 'catch up' once you are back to training

Another easy trap is trying to fit in extra sessions and make-up the time you have lost.  Your body will usually take a good couple of weeks to fully recover and be firing on all cylinders again. And remember, you have probably just come off a week or two of doing nothing at all.

What is likely to happen if you then launch into a higher training volume and/or intensity is that you'll get sick again, or injure yourself.

So what should you actually be doing when you are ready to train again?

Here are the "do's" for when you've stopped sniffling and coughing, and it no longer hurts just to get out of bed and stumble to the bathroom...

1. Take it easy for the first week back.

Don't do any 'high intensity' stuff - keep the heart rate relatively low.  What you are trying to avoid is straining your body's systems as they slowly recover that final 10-20% post-illness.  Instead, just get the muscles used to exercising again, and give yourself a short period of 'base training' before throwing yourself into any crazy efforts.

2. Get your consistency back and ride often.

While high intensity is to be avoided, consistency is one of the key's to getting back to your previous level as soon as possible.  Much better to be back and training for short, easy periods on most days during that first week.

3.  Trust your previous fitness base.

It can take a long time (months, even years!) to get yourself to a certain level of fitness.  Naturally, you will lose some of that when you get sick. But you won't take the same amount of time to regain that previous fitness level.

A common term to describe this is 'muscle memory'. It basically describes the idea that your muscles still retain a lot of that base fitness you had before, and will quickly return themselves back to their more highly-trained state once normal training resumes.

This is one of the huge pay-offs you get from having trained consistently in the past.  So don't try and 'force' your body back to previous fitness levels.  Trust all that effort you've put in before, and let it return - it'll happen sooner than you think!

4. Listen to your body as it recovers!

This is a huge one, especially in the first few days post-illness. If your body starts complaining, and you can feel the illness not getting better (or even worse, returning) then STOP!  The very last thing you want to do is send your self into a sickness spiral because you've either returned to training too soon, or started doing too much, too quickly.

Heed any early signs of this, and back off.  You might lose another couple of days, but that is much better than losing another few weeks due to having 'round 2' of your cold or flu re-occurring...

In summary...

Take it easy when you are returning from illness.  Most of us aren't doing this for a living - its supposed to be fun!  So don't risk shortening your sporting 'career' by trying to force yourself back into things too early.

An extra couple of days away from training is insignificant in the context of many years (and hopefully decades!) of enjoying your chosen sporting endeavour.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

May 2012 Review

We are almost a week into June already, so time to get down my thoughts on what was a very productive and positive month of May on the bike.

Mileage - 695km  (2012 total so far - 2189km)
Weight - 79kg  (down 0.5kg for the month)

Firstly, I'm very happy with the mileage figure.  More than that actually, I'm totally stoked! I finally managed to string together a consistent month of training.  Prior to May, I was averaging a very pedestrian 370km/month.  I managed to almost double that for this month, and easily crashed through my goal of 600km.

The increased mileage made a very noticeable difference with both my overall fitness and speed.  My club race performances were solid, and my speed when doing intervals and harder rides showed a definite and clear increase.  All great stuff, and it has made it very clear what I need to continue doing if I want to get better at this cycling caper...

Highlights for the month has definitely been the racing - three races (2 club, 1 Open) for the month all up.  Whilst the Open race was a bit of a disaster result-wise, it was still great fun.  Plus the club races showed me that being competitive is definitely a realistic and achievable target to keep striving for.

Weight-wise, my body seems to have recalibrated itself to stabilise in the high-70's, which is another plus.  My goal now is just to monitor it and stay comfortably below 80kg for the next few months at least.

So what's ahead for June?

The dominating event ahead of me is the Avanti Classic - an 80km handicap on Sunday 24th June, held near Fernvale (west of Brisbane, Queensland), on a course that crosses the Wivenhoe Dam wall on both laps.

Its a longer race, and so my training will be pitched accordingly - making sure I have the legs to get me through 80km (around 2.5hrs of racing) in good shape.

The month hasn't started off too well - I haven't ridden at all yet due to a lingering cold.  But I'm not too concerned - its all about having fun. So as soon as I stop coughing and sniffling, I'll get back to logging some decent long rides in anticipation of the big race.

Keep the rubber side down!