Thursday, January 23, 2020

The first TT of the year

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Having set both run and swim PBs in the last month or so, it was inevitably time to get back on the bike and see how my winter base training had fared.  And so last weekend I bit the bullet and signed-on for a local TT run by my now first-claim cycling club, Newbury Road Club.

The course in question was an unfamiliar 10-mile TT circuit, code name HCC204 (is it me or does anything else think it’s kind of funny how the old ‘secret’ names for TT courses persist?).  As 10-mile routes go, it’s a fairly challenging one, with 750ft (220m) of climbing, together with a few sharp turns and road junctions to navigate.  That said, of course it’s the same for everyone.

My bike set-up is completely unchanged from the end of the 2013 season, so on Saturday morning I set about fitting the FFWD 80mm front and Reynolds disc rear.

Having never ridden HCC204 before, I arrived at the venue early to drive the course, looking to get a feel for the topography of the course, where I could stay aero versus where I’d need to brake or corner sharply.

Then it was off to registration and warm up.  I had brought my turbo with me to warm up on, and I was sipping my usual Elivar Endure carb drink as I went through the familiar ramp-up process.

TT1I had chosen to wear my new Fusion Speed Top, purchased at the Triathlon Show at Sandown Park.  It’s essentially a very tight long-sleeve cycling jersey primarily designed for cold-weather triathlons. In lieu of a proper TT speedsuit, I thought the Fusion top plus Castelli Inferno bib shorts would make a decent aerodynamic package when combined with my Kask Bambino (thankfully I managed to borrow a tinted visor, having lost mine at the Age Group world champs in London last year).

The only problem with the Castelli / Fusion combo was that there wasn’t a single key pocket anywhere on the entire outfit! I elected to shove the keyfob for the Audi up into my right sleeve.

Onto the start line and I was off in 12th position.  I knew the chap running #11 and knew he would be a good target for me to catch (a bit tactical on my part, I admit).  11 set off and I was called up to the start line.  I started the Garmin and waited as it auto-paused.  At 30 seconds I clipped-in as the starter took the weight of the bike. Twenty seconds and I rotated the pedals into the start position. Ten seconds and I stood and got my breathing under control.

Five, four, three, two, one. And we’re off.  I stayed standing to get power into the pedals for the first 300-400m before taking a left turn and diving down a hill.  Through the first turn and I got down into an aero tuck as quickly as possible.  With the downhill section, I was already running out of gears and so I tried to moderate my power, conscious that much climbing was to follow!

After a mile or so it was a left turn at a roundabout onto the A339 for a short stretch.  I could see a small traffic build-up but luckily it cleared as I neared the roundabout and a quick safety check to my right confirmed I was ok to make the turn.  However, there was quite a traffic queue ahead.  It seemed the traffic was queuing behind #11 as he made his way up the hill.

I had two choices: stay in the traffic or cut out to the right and overtake the slower cars.  Rightly or wrongly (and to be honest, I’m still not sure if it was right or wrong), I chose to cut out to the right and overtook 3-4 cars on the right (I had to be careful as there were solid white lines in the middle of the road) before catching and passing #11.

Shortly after we finished the climb there was a hard left turn onto the next leg of the course.  I’d gone too hard up the hill and was paying for it, but got back into the aero tuck and tried to get my cadence back up.  I glanced down at the Garmin and could see my bloody keyfob inching towards the end of my sleeve cuff.  Oh no.

I reached across with my left hand to try to tuck the key back in, but it was too late, the key popped out of my right sleeve and bounced along the road.  In a split second I had to decide whether to leave it or go back for it.  “It’s a training ride” I thought, and “someone’s going to run over it” also flashed through my mind.  Dammit.

tt2I had no choice but to turn around and get it.  “Bike computer!” shouted #11 as I passed him in the opposite direction. Well, no, it’s my bloody car key… but same effect.  I could see a car aiming right for my car in the middle of the road and pointed to it in the hope the car would avoid it.  No such luck. The car duly ran over it before I re-circled, picked it up and shoved it further up my sleeve this time. Only later would I find out that the whole episode had been caught on camera…

This was going well, not!

I could see I’d lost tons of time on #11. He was well up the road.  I reckon I must have lost a good 30-40 seconds.

The next section of the course was downhill so I concentrated on getting as aero as possible and trying to re-catch #11.  A tight bend and we were into a sharp uphill.  I’d driven it in the car, but it felt worse on the bike. I’d got my gear selection wrong, so stood to get maximum power into the pedals and over the crest.  Then back down into the tuck before eventually catching #11 for the second time.

The next major junction was a T-junction which I knew from the recce required careful navigation.  It was clear and so I used the full road for the turn. Next up was a longer hill to Brimpton.  I did a better job of gear selection but I could see sweat trickling down the inside of my visor and my breathing was rapid. My lungs felt like they were going to burst! God I’d forgotten what a full-on TT feels like!

Up into Brimpton and time to make the final turn toward the finish line.  I knew there would be a headwind for the last couple of miles, but that didn’t make it any easier when it happened.  In the car recce I had noted that the first s-bend out of Brimpton was probably too tight for the aero bars, but of course I promptly forgot this and had an ‘oh sh*t’ moment as I arrived too hot and on the bars into a tight corner.

At least I remembered that the rest of the bends were much more shallow and could be taken on the aero bars.  I concentrated on getting my cadence back up, aware that my normalized power had dropped a lot lower than I had expected.  Seeing another rider up ahead was good incentive to not pussy out and to try to keep pushing.  I caught him (#9 I think) and then I could see another ahead.

The last mile or so was just pain. My right hip was cramping (again!) whenever I tried to push harder.  So instead I focused on a 90+ cadence.  I finally crossed the line in an official 24:54.  An absolutely country mile off of my 10-mile PB but given the key disaster and topography of the course, I wasn’t too disappointed. I was just over a minute behind my ‘benchmark’ rider and without the key mishap would have been closer to 30 seconds, so I’ll take that for now.

The bike fit – or rather the hip cramp – is cause for concern.  In my head, I’m still thinking that switching from 172.5mm to 170mm cranks would help lessen my hip angle at the top of the pedal stroke, which might help prevent the cramping. Unfortunately, Rotor were completely unhelpful when I asked to try a set of 170mm cranks (I have the 3D aero cranks). They wouldn’t even lend them to me with an agreement that I’d buy them if they worked.  Pretty disappointing customer service.  But given that I don’t get hip cramps on the Wattbike or the road bike (which both have 170mm cranks), it seems a logical move.

It’s also clear that I have indeed lost power over the winter.  Perhaps with the focus on aerobic riding and run work, that’s to be expected.  But I don’t have log to get the power back before Mallorca.  I need to focus on building back up my strength on the bike.

Next up in the evening was a hard swim session, set by Adam at GreenlightPT. It started well, but unfortunately (whether due to the TT or other reasons) didn’t quite go to plan.  On the fourth of five planned 400m reps my back started really tying up and I thought it better to kill the main set early rather than risk pulling something.   I felt really bad letting Adam down, but hopefully it was the right decision to stop (or rather, move onto the technique section) rather than risk injury.

On the Sunday I did a 100km ride from Egham to home, a nice stretch but riding into a strong westerly headwind the whole way!  I’d taken two bottles of Elivar Endure drink, but this time supplemented each bottle with a 50mg Myh2pro tablet (see previous post re sodium loss in sweat).  On the ride I didn’t really feel any difference; but when it came to running off the bike my legs felt much better than normal.  A single test isn’t remotely scientific, but it does suggest that better replacement of lost sodium may well benefit me in the latter stages of a 70.3 race.

Hopefully this is a good sign for future training and racing. Now to stop that bloody right hip cramping…

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Matt Fisher runs - so it's all his fault! He pretends to be a triathlete, but really he is a husband, father and company VP. But he has raced for the GB Age Group squad a few times and is a two-times qualifier for the IM70.3 world champs