This weekend sees the UK’s qualifier for the UCI Amateur Road World Championships and Time-trial via the Tour Of Cambridgeshire.
Both events will see our best amateur riders competing to finish in the top 25% for their age group and so be invited to the UCI finals in Perth in September.
I managed to qualify last weekend at the French qualifier in Albi. But I’m certainly nowhere near the best. I’m almost 53 and have only ever been a cat 3 rider.
Last year I wrote a piece on what I learnt towards achieving qualification. http://bit.ly/1JtZcfn
1 Achieve your impossible – just once
2 Work smarter
3 Stop eating cake – for these last few days
4 Turn up early
5 Get to the front
6 Don’t relax
7 Take your partner
This year I decided to try and take it on a step and so here is part 2 of how you may qualify.
In Albi I finished 11th of around 70 starters, in the 50+ age group. It was almost (almost) the perfect race. I was part of a four man break from a big group with 40 miles still to go. I’ve never been part of a successful break before! But heavy rain (and bad cornering!) resulted in me losing it on a downhill high speed bend with 10km to go. Why do I always ‘do’ my same elbow & same patch of bare skin on my thigh? But adrenaline kicked in big time & I managed to catch the others back up. The competition is incredibly tough; 155km at 33.7kph ave with 1,700m climbing, top speed of 75kph & I was only 11th!.
One of the riders in our group of 4 finished 2nd in the 55+ age group - only 2 years to go for me
I put last years learning’s into practice but also the following….
8 Do a training week
In April, I decided to once again join Philip Deeker – who led me and 40 others round the whole Tour de France route in 2013 – in one of his ‘hard’ cycling weeks. Phil organises all the Rapha Cent Col Challenges but starts the year with his ‘Hardennes Week’ – 8 days of riding, that include racing the Spring Classic sportives and watching the pro’s do likewise for the Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and topping it off with the 271km Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
HARD IN THE ARDENNES Ride & Race-watch: 16 – 24 April 2016
Saturday: Amstel sportive 160 km / 2000m climbing
Sunday: Amstel Gold ride & race-watch: 150km / 2,600m
Monday: Malmedy / Spa / Stavelot 180km / 3,800m
Tuesday: Fleche Wallonne Sportive. 170km / 2,000m
Wednesday: Fleche Wallonne ride & race-watch: 150km / 2,000m
Thursday: Luxembourg Explorer. 180km / 4,400m
Friday: Local Loops. 100km / 1000m
Saturday: LBL sportive 271km / 4,400m
Sunday: LBL race-watch
Total 1,360 KM distance, 22,200m climbing!
Like everyone else, at school I learnt that Holland and Belgium are flat countries. Phil does his best to change history. They are not flat but also they don’t appear to contain many hills that have a less than 10% gradient. It was a tough week – but as the pro’s tell us it is the training where they are teaching their bodies to do stuff its never done before, that hurts the most but brings the most reward. As an amateur it’s hard to motivate yourself to such a place – easy answer, ride with Phil and your body will be doing stuff its never done before – most minutes of every day.
As the saying goes – it doesn’t get easier – you just go (very slightly!) faster.
The toughness of the week was summed up for me when Phil’s devised ride we were due to do 2 days before LBL, 280km long and containing 16 climbs, was justified by Phil that the climbs are all only 2km-4km long. A bit of maths later, working out that 16 climbs, at 3km average = 30 miles of climbing – often between 10-26% (honestly!) = a big mental hurdle to get over before we even got out the door.
The group was mixed ages (30s-50s) and generally I did well but was (obviously) eventually dropped by the 30 year olds. A thirty year old sees this as amazing that in your fifties you are even riding alongside them at all – a fifty-something sees it as a sign of despondency that we can’t keep up – we don’t feel old, don’t think we look old, but our bodies let the secret out – for all to see.
Watching the pros race, especially for me seeing them climbing up to the finish of the Mur de Huy in the Fleche Wallonne was very inspiring. To be honest, because at last they all looked human and knackered and these are the best riders on earth. They no longer look like the drugged up super humans that we could never dream to be.
It’s a great week – I was completely knackered. They are long days. But actually the biggest victory of every single day was actually getting to the end and knowing you got your clothing mix exactly right! Not too cold, not too hot, keeping dry etc. – when you are getting dressed at 6am, facing 2-20 degree temperature with snow, rain and bright sun and finishing at 5pm – that’s a tough equation to get right.
This week isn’t for everyone (you don’t have to ride every day – no one forces you). But if you want to get better, push yourself, and enjoy the best Belgium countryside and pastries - then give Phil a call.
9 Rest Properly
For training, I’ve previously just gone out and ridden as hard and fast as I can, three times a week but thanks to Natalie Creswick of Halo Cycling Project putting together a ‘proper’ training programme that has now all changed.
I have this year been cycling less miles, using less calories but working various parts of the body harder (legs, core, strength etc.) with a weird feeling result that I feel more tired, although with less riding.
I have struggled with this. With paid (mental) work to also do after riding, I’ve previously managed to keep myself going by visiting my caffeine and sugar dealers but using less calories means I’ve had to rely on sleeping more – something I don’t like doing – to really benefit from recovery.
And it seems to be recovery which is the real difference between us Sunday cyclists and the pros. We can train as hard as we can but we can’t laze about fully recovering afterwards – to make sure we can (ideally) give 100% on every (training) ride. The pros do F’all between rides, whilst we have to go to work, earn a living, still appear vaguely sociable to our mates and even vaguely interested in our own children!
But I hung on in with the plan and about a month a go it started to fall into place and before the qualifier I was able to beat all my best times by a good 5%.
10 Prepare like a champ
Twenty things cyclists worry will go wrong when going for ride round the route the day before a race...
Alarm won't ‘go off’
Wake up & its pissing with rain (it will be!)
Can’t manage pre-race poo
Get to start and find you're at the back of 3,000 cyclists
Clipped by another rider & crash
Lose it on a corner
Lose it on gravel
Taken out by a dog
Taken out by a goat
Swallow a wasp
Miss a break
Need a pee
Water bottle bounces out on cobbles
Miss a turning arrow
Gear cable snaps – oh it's just happened
Albi has one bike shop – amazingly it was a Focus dealer - and he was brilliant – then only had 20 things to worry about, instead of 21.
Albi - nice place for a bike race. Venue for the 2017 Amateur world champ finals.
11 Prepare to make a break part of your race strategy
As mentioned, I’ve never been part of a successful break before! But its now built in to planning for future races. We were the second group on the road – about 25 of us, but as I looked around I could see that about a dozen were in the same age category as me, which meant if things didn’t change it was going to come down to a sprint – which I didn’t fancy at all - especially in the wet.
As we hit the top of the second and final major climb, two riders went off the front but no one made chase. I had a split second to decide - I had to go for it. I knew one of the riders was good – I’d led the group up the climb with him and I thought we would never see them again.
I put my foot down and after about 20 seconds looked back – no one was coming with me. The other three were about 200m ahead. I reckon it took about 5 minutes of full on chasing to catch them. When I did, it took another five minutes of sitting-in to recover. The four of us – French, English, Danish and Spanish – worked hard together for another 20 minutes before we knew we had got far enough ahead of the group that we could settle slightly and keep them at a distance.
It was exhilarating to be part of. With 40 miles to go it was a big risk though. Would I use all my energy up and not catch them and therefore struggle to even stay with the group I'd just tried to leave? I put the success of it down to training better. Instead of just going out and riding Natalie had me doing standing starts – 100m from standing start as hard as I could 10-20 times, weekly. Mixing up training – working on strength, enabled me to max out with 40 miles to go but still recover and benefit from the gap I had had to work so hard to bridge.
12 Get constant support!
I had a little idea. With your Garmin app open on your phone in your jersey pocket, your text messages appear on your handlebar Garmin. I mentioned it to my wife and so having a race full of fun and motivating little text messages from her, our kids and even the dog, was certainly inspiring.
My Strava http://bit.ly/1RPFlrY
Phil Deeker http://centcolschallenge.com
Cyclefit UK - gave me the best bike fit http://cyclefit.co.uk
Woolsey of Acton look after my bike http://www.woolseyofacton.co.uk
Milltag Cycle Clothing http://milltag.cc
Natalie Creswick at Halo Cycling Project for training. http://halovelo.cc
There is obviously debate as to why the UCI would hold the world champs in Australia. As one of my fellow riders said – it would be cheaper for us all to pay for the Aussies to come here. Next year's final is on the Albi course I did last weekend. It could be that for many of us simply ‘winning’ one of the official UCI rainbow medals for finishing in the top 25% is enough of a motivation this year
Chris Ward was brought up with the dodgy sight of his father appearing in their lounge every Sunday lunchtime in the brightest red & yellow wool of FCCC (Farnborough & Camberley Cycling Club). It was the spindle thin bright white legs though that put him off cycling until he was 40.
Since then, in a bid to play catch up he has cycled up and down Ventoux 6 times in a day, cycled the whole Le Tour route with Tour de Force, managed C2C2C in a day, ridden around the M25, competed in the Trans Alp, Trans Rockies and Cape Epic Mountain Bike Races and finally in 2015 & 2016, qualified in St Tropez and Albi and competed for GB in the UCI Amateur World Championships.
When he's not cycling he's hanging out in coffee shops, writing books and trying to engage the world in charitable campaigns.