Am I on track?

Am I on track?

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!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Race 4/2012 - Metro Champs Road Race, Mt Alford.

On Sunday 27th May, I headed out to Mt Alford, a small town near Boonah and Lake Moogerah, for my first Open event for the year - the Map Financials Metropolitan Championships Road Race.

The 23km circuit went anti-clockwise from (A) Mt Alford, travelling along Ganthorpe Rd, left into Boonah-Rathdowney Rd, and then left into Mount Alford Rd and back to the start.. (click pic for bigger view)

This was to be my first open race in almost 2 years, so I was both nervous and excited.  All up, it was a 46km race, made up of two 23km laps starting & finishing in front of the Mt Alford state primary school.

I didn't know much about the circuit itself before I started.  What I know now is that each lap is split roughly into three distinct & roughly equal-in-length sections:

1. A series of very steep, short & sharp hills along some very rough road.
2. A very long (but gentle) downhill along better quality road, on which your speed doesn't dip below 40km/h.
3. A flat / slightly uphill section back to the finish, where the road deteriorates slightly again.

I headed into the race feeling good. My training had been going well, in particular the last month, and so my confidence was high.  This race wasn't a 'target', so I hadn't tapered for it - it came at the end of a big training block with an accompanying jump in mileage.  This race was more of a gauge to see how I was travelling before my big A race in a month's time (the Avanti Classic).

It was a big field in Masters C (my Open grade), with 71 starters lining up for the commissaires briefing at 1:15pm...

So, what happened in the race?

Well, let's just say how I thought it would go, and how it did go, were poles apart...

I was completely and utterly unprepared for exactly how brutally steep the opening hills were going to be, and how quickly the peloton would attack them.

We hit the first climb, and I eased back into an easier gear to spin up and let myself drift back through the field.  To my surprise, the entire field attacked the climb hard, and I was pushed to the very back in a matter of seconds!!

I crested the hill dangling of the back of the peloton, and had to push really hard to stay in touch on the descent and short flat period before the next hill. Again, the peloton smashed their way up the hill.  After having turned myself inside out just trying to catch back on, I had precious little to give for this new, steep ascent.  Halfway up, my legs pretty much exploded, and I had to let the field go...

So there I was, only 2km into a 46km race, and I had already been dropped!!

I allowed myself to feel a little bit of self-pity for a second or two (I was feeling pretty embarrassed!), and then decided to formulate a new plan.  From then on, I decided to make it a hard training day and look at it as a tough 44km individual time trial (ITT) to the finish.

The course itself was both tough and beautiful to ride on.  I pushed myself hard on my impromptu ITT, and was pleased to overtake someone late on the first lap.  As I crossed the start/finish after the first 23km, I saw a few others that had pulled the pin after only 1 lap.  It actually lifted my spirits a little and spurred me on to push even harder on the 2nd lap, knowing that technically I wasn't coming last anymore!!

After the 2nd lap finished, my stats were 46.5km at an average speed of 27.1km/h. A very, very tough day on the bike (both physically and mentally), but a very fun one as well.

I'll be marking this race down as one of my key events to target for 2013.  The course is fantastic - both brutally hard and beautifully scenic.  Now, to focus my training for the Avanti Classic in 4 weeks time...