Am I on track?

Am I on track?

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!!