Landed in Alice

DORC have landed in Alice Springs once again. Our bikes are built up and ready to go in the Rapid Ascent Redback mountain bike stage race. Perfect weather right now, but we won’t be well adjusted to the cold overnight temperatures that will mean freezing race starts in the morning. I’m feeling pretty relaxed, having no real expectations this time around.

IMG_20160817_082348

I was stoked at the performance I put in for the Easter in the Alice stage race, but having completed an everesting not so long ago, I don’t feel like I’m where I could be for strength and fitness. But I like that I have an excuse to set the bar low – it means I’m not putting pressure on myself and I can have fun. And when I’m having fun, I’ll often ride fast!

We’ve been out for an afternoon ride, and I’m stoked to be riding here again – so much fun, but dire consequences if you bin it. I’ve even checked out the hill climb stage – it’ll be more fun than I thought; quiet a steep, sustained grade for about a minute of riding. Will check in again after tomorrow’s 40odd km stage.

Off to Alice!

Well, I’m almost all packed for another stage race! Back down to Alice Springs for the Redback mountain bike stage race. Keep your eyes peeled for race updates from Thursday through Sunday – there are 6 stages in all, and I’m planning on riding each of them… Fast. Hopefully I’ve recovered enough from my first NT Everesting only 9 days ago (my recovery has consisted of drinking beer, partying at weddings, working and one near vomit Zwift session). If I can’t ride fast, I’ll at least have fun!

Basin to SkyHigh

Despite a number of long endurance rides under my belt over a short time period, I still rate myself as more of a puncheur than a pure climber or long distance specialist. My most impressive efforts, typically, are on short, steep climbs, where my power to weight ratio lends me a natural advantage. But over 2015, I managed some great times on some extended climbs when I had someone to help pace me along. On the Lake Mountain Domestique ride, Nick Liau and I managed a top ten (this is definitely a ride I’ll have to recount some time soon). On that occasion, having Nick dictate the pace by use of his power meter meant we didn’t burn out and held it to the finish. I’ve also ridden well with Luke Chippendall, and on the segment of Basin to Skyhigh, a balanced effort to the summit got Luke into the top ten on the leader board. And it was on this segment a few weeks later, newly power meter fitted, that I put in a hard, solo effort.

The Basin to SkyHigh segment literally goes from The Basin, at the base of the Dandenong Ranges, to the car park gates of SkyHigh, at the top of Mt Dandenong. A rider must first contend with the 1/20 segment, and then turn left at the top. The road tends uphill towards Olinda, and then drops quickly to Mt Dandenong township. A left turn just after the bakery has you riding steadily uphill again, with a few undulations along the way, before one final left turn gives the segment on final, steep push. All in all, it climbs 431m over 13.6km – very much a climbers paradise, but with enough downs and near flats to require a serious TT effort.

Having not ridden much over the Christmas period with various commitments, I wanted to smack the shit out of some segments before moving to Darwin. And the newly added power meter made everything more interesting for me. Donna and Chase had left for Darwin on New Year’s Day, so on January 2nd, I rode solo out to the nongs. With numerous segments on my radar, I took it easy on the way out, but immediately cranked it up upon reaching The Basin.

The first stretch up the 1:20 I expected to be tough. I knew that I had to put in a personal best time up this first 6.5km, but still have legs remaining for the following 7km. Ouch! But chasing the live Strava time helped; rather than trying to dig crazy deep, I focused on keeping my time above Joel Nicholson’s (the KOM holder). I must have got the jump on him at the start, with a quick lead, but I managed to build on it all the way to Sassafrass. At my last Garmin check, I think I had nearly 30 seconds up my sleeve by the top of the 1/20. But that’s when things got really interesting for me…

If you are up to date with Blood on the Lungs, you may remember me mentioning a GPS dead spot at the top of The Crescent. Well, that dead spot can wrap around the hill a little bit, and by the time I was a hundred metres or so away from the top of the 1/20, Live Segments dropped out. Crap.

Knowing this to be a possibility, and with the addition of a power meter, the back up was to watch the screen and try and hold the effort to the summit. The only problem was that I still had little idea of what level of power I could maintain, so had to also go by feel. I could see my heart rate way up there, and a power output floating around the mid 200W mark, so I just kept pushing. The pitch up to Olinda is extremely tough if trying to go fast. It isn’t very steep, but to maintain a high speed will really sting your legs.

Not knowing how I was faring, but knowing I had a massive lead, I did worry that I’d gone out too hard. Coasting the downhill to the bakery, I recovered enough to keep pushing through the lumpy part of the course. On all the downs, I couldn’t keep the power level very high, but I would take the pinches very hard. And on the final pitch of the segment, I gave it everything I had left, so much so that I had to roll the last few metres.

IMG_20160107_103105

Turns out I can do okay on a longer segment! KOM! But I had other segments to ride that day…

Time: 29:21

Average Speed: 27.9km/h

Average HR: 174bpm

Max HR: 181bpm

Average Power: 278Watts

Happy New Year To Me

Talbot Hill

If you are a road cyclist in Melbourne, you have probably ridden the Kew Boulevard before. At the northern end, it starts at Chandler Highway, beginning with a climb that averages about 3% over 700m. There are multiple segments on Strava for the same chunk of road, but on the one entitled “Talbot Hill”, of 17000 odd entrances, I currently hold the equal fastest time. And it is up there with the hardest short efforts I have put in.

Another KAB Wednesday ride in January 2016 had me out in the late afternoon trying to snipe a few segments. I’d managed to knock one over, but was disappointed to miss out on a couple of others that had been on the radar for a while. Riding back from the Pony Club in Viewbank, my legs were feeling heavy and the clouds were rolling in thick. But a strong northerly was favourable for some more efforts.

I’d started another attempt on the Ivanhoe Boulevard, but with rain starting to fall, I gave up and quickly found myself sitting undercover on Heidelberg Road, staring at the radar on my phone and looking at other possible segments on Strava. Some of the crew had already been out riding as well, and we’d agreed to still meet up at the Clifton Hill Brew Pub at 6:30 or so, with the rain looking like it wouldn’t last forever.

When the rain abated, I rolled off and out to far Kew, looking to tick off another segment or two. Wet roads and sketchy intersections were not ideal, but I equaled another, and headed back towards the Boulevard. Heading over the Chandler Highway bridge, the northerly was clearly blowing hard, but with heavy legs, I didn’t like the idea of taking on Talbot Hill. About 100m before the left turn, I decided I’d get on the gas at the start of the segment, see how I’m going, and just treat it as training if I blew up quickly. I’d smashed myself time and time over on this segment before, so had no grand ambitions, despite the wind direction.

Coming into the left turn, traffic on the road didn’t allow me to swing wide with speed. And slippery conditions made me more cautious than I might otherwise have been. So with a pretty slow approach, I started the attempt.

Onto the Boulevard, out of the traffic, and with no more fear of a wet slide, I immediately got over a big gear and pushed up to around the 700 watt mark. I weigh in at 55kg – so throwing around power like that means I go pretty damn fast if I’m going up a hill. The very start of the segment is slightly downhill, but as it pitched up, I was flying along at just over 40km/h. Still prepared to bail, my confidence was not where it needed to be to take a hill so commonly ridden.

After that initial rush of speed, I looked down to see how I was travelling with the live segment loaded onto the Garmin. I was doing well. Very well! So despite the lactic still burning in my legs, I pushed on. With my heart pounding like a jack hammer, and the hill steadily continuing up, I did my best to push the bike upwards with 600W of power. And I was still just ahead. I knew from experience that I needed to hold just a little in reserve to jump at the very end as the hill bends around to the left at the top. With my lungs burning at me and screaming to stop, and my head feeling dizzy, I could barely make out the data on my screen. Regardless, I was surprised I was able to hold the intensity for that long, and I threw the bike around the corner, no longer holding power, but maintaining the momentum accumulated by riding uphill at 40km/h.

Gasping for air and barely squeezing out some expletives, I coasted down to the freeway bridge, my chest heaving up to my chin. I didn’t see how I went for time – I couldn’t make out the screen. I just knew it would be close. As I made it to the bridge, I saw Paris Pollock getting a bike shot against the rails. He’d been out playing KAB too, and laughed as he saw my face. Turns out he’d just burnt himself attempting the same segment (Paris is exceptionally strong and well suited to power efforts like this one), and was probably sure that I’d just hit it very hard by my body language.

With roads still sodden, we rolled to the pub together and recounted our efforts. Neither of us were particularly confident of Talbot Hill, although we were certain and happy with top 10s. The bluetooth engaged, I scrolled through Strava to the segment I most wanted to see… I’d claimed the first boule hill! Fair to say it was a satisfying ale.

Time: 1:01

Average Speed: 41.3km/h (that’s right – uphill, in the wet, no drafting)

Average Heart Rate: 176bpm

Max Heart Rate: 184bpm

Average Power: 517 Watts

Max Power: 803 Watts

KAB Wednesday

Passport To Insanity

Up. Turn right. Down. Brake. Turn right. Repeat… 850 times. No, I didn’t slip – that zero is meant to be there. Below is an account of the most ridiculous ride I have ever done. (And I typically set the bar pretty high for crazy and outlandish things). This is the account of the first Everesting in the Northern Territory – Atkins Drive, well-known as “High School Hill”.

My latest Everesting, showing complete lack of self-control and preservation, came about through peer pressure. As a pretty handy climber in Melbourne, and gaining some attention through some pretty outlandish rides, a relocation to the Northern Territory lent to whispers behind my left ear. “When’s he going to do it”. “It” being the first Everesting in the NT. The vanity in me thrived, and I was eager to knock it over ASAP, and I wanted to do it in Darwin. But I quickly discovered that Darwin is as flat as Beach Road, and the humidity over the wet season is only tolerable by consuming a higher volume of beer than what one would lose in sweat (per hour)… fine for my usual rides, but maybe not for a big one.

The dry season barely arrived as promised, and was looking to run out soon. I ride with some excellent cyclists in Darwin, most of whom I see real potential of completing an Everesting (even if they doubt themselves), and the table talk circled around Litchfield. There are very likely climbs in this national Park – good, consistent gradients that could result in a sub 300km ride. But I’ve been keen on local from day 1. Litchfield is quite remote; no coffee, no pizza, no reception. As beautiful as it is, it would require a large logistical effort to attempt. Darwin, on the other hand, is a small city where a cyclist can get anywhere in no time at all – prime for a support team. The downside – I’m yet to find a climb that gains more than 20 odd metres. 20m! There are driveways in Melbourne that rise more than that. In Adelaide, if you want to go for a ride, you’ll find yourself gaining more metres meeting your bunch ride around the corner. Repeats it is.

I’d had my sights set on another climb from day dot, but decided on HSH after doing some repeats and preferring the higher grade and more accurate barometric readings (something that, in the end, would eventuate to nothing). Sure, it would be more repeats with such a small rise, but it is fairly quiet, smooth and very well known amongst both cyclists and runners in Darwin, being a training ground for the Triathlete biased city. In numbers, it has an average gradient of about 8% and rises about 12m in approximately 150m. I initially thought it only 10.5m in gain, hence the 850 laps – I’ve really gotta stop overshooting my mark!

Into the nit and the grit. A 2am alarm, breakfast (is it really breakfast at 2am?), kitted up and I rolled out the door to meet Matt at the shop for coffee. What a start – 2 quick double shot piccolos woke me up and got me excited. I was stoked to have Matt out for early laps, and without delay, we were at the base of HSH to start climbing.

IMG_20160806_025705
Obligatory fuzzy shot of the screen

Those early laps were great. Devoid of traffic with a chill in the air, conditions were perfect to bang out lap after lap. Somehow it didn’t get boring, and consistency meant efficiency and a lot of vert covered fairly quickly. Unfortunately for me, the barometer in my Garmin had basically died completely, and would typically record about 1m per lap…. Darwin is flat, but not that flat. So I had to rely on hitting my lap counter at the top of every ascent. So yet another thing to repeat. Up, hit button, turn right, down, brake, turn right, repeat. Ergh!

Back to the Tower

Hard slog on the Hour of Power this morning. Matt pulling about 90% of the time, with the bunch whittling down to 4. Awful head winds allowed me to tuck in nicely behind Matt, but also meant my turns on the front were unpleasant. But all a warm up anyway…

A couple more digs on Bagot Rd at the end of the Hop and I felt nicely warmed up. Time to hit Wayne Tower again. This time I took the opposition’s strategy – getting a run up on Flinders St. It works well. Over 50kmh into the first corner. Kept it level the whole way – I’d get ahead taking the corners hard, but would drop behind on the slight downs. Dead level on the ups. Dead level at the end. Not getting the tail wind I expected.

The final straight – should I stand up and sprint, or try and stay aero? I opted for the latter, hoping I’d get picked up by some wind eventually. The wrong strategy in the end – the sprint would have hurt, but I think a few extra watts would have given me a second. Until another day.

Revisiting Stuart Park…. Again

The Postal Service

Yesterday saw the beginning of my first true Top End Battle. Survival of the fittest. No room for pushovers. Slow riders need not apply. Etc, etc, etc… piss everywhere.

I received an email at work yesterday entitled, “Uh, oh…”. A Strava KOM had been taken off me. Lately it has only been non-legit thefts, and mostly in Melbourne. But this was legit. And it was in Darwin. I could do something about this! I could get it back! But alas, I was at work, and would have hours of agonising waiting before I could kit up and reclaim some stupid glory.

With my Garmin mounted and at the ready, this morning I set up with brave Sir Sam and Sir Maris – reputable lead out men with broad shoulders and draft worthy glutes. Together we hit some local cols (read ant hills), and warmed up for the ensuing onslaught. The culprit I was now targeting had set a fast time on another segment nearby… a segment I had planned to take before I knew it was him! And the winds were favourable! Ha, ha ha!

With a whoosh from the south, I had demolished that first, flat segment. But would I have the legs for the final assault. A hill My forte. My favourite. I would. Not wanting to  completely wipe out the enemy, and thinking about the future economy, I took the segment with a modest 7 second advantage. Hurrah.

The comments, the banter, the satisfaction. All such good talking points for the next half a day. But then the talking point for the remainder of the day… another email…

Save Some Legs

This segment I stumbled upon by accident. Often part of the warm-up for Hell’s500’s RFWYA, it involves the steep pinch of Hodgson St, with a left turn onto Nolan Ave at the top, left and down Walmer St, followed by a right onto the Boulevard and finishes at the top of the first boule hill, before the Studley Park Rd turn-off. With a decent enough time posted one Tuesday morning, this one seemed a great segment to target. And it is dif-e-cult!

Take Hodgson St too easy, and you’ll fall too far behind. Hit it with too much pace and your lungs will be bleeding too early. You’ve gotta get it just right. And then hold that effort for a short, flat TT, followed by a downhill TT. And if you’re not already gasping for air and looking for a lie-down, there is a short but painful uphill TT to finish it all off. Ouch!

I love these segments – enough variety to favour no one but a good allrounder over a short distance. With  bit of a warm up on the way there on the boule, I wasn’t feeling amazing about the upcoming attempt, but warm weather can often give you a bit of an advantage, and I rolled down Walmer St regardless. Keeping the barest of momentum as the segment pitches upwards and onto Hodgson St, I started to through a bit of power through the pedals, but not enough to ruin me. 3/4 of the way up and I think I realised that I could ride up this pinch very quickly. I wasn’t hurting too much, and getting a clearer run than I would normally on a Tuesday morning made a difference.

With my heart rate a few beats per minute below my max at the top of the climb, I eased on the pedals to take the left turn, and got a look at the Garmin screen. Well ahead. And my legs felt good. This could be tough – perhaps the current record had a very fast finish. I basically treated the flat on Nolan, and the down on Walmer as recovery to hit the final section hard – probably not the best strategy, but when you have a lead, sometimes it’s best to conserve some energy.

With the right turn onto the boulevard, and the longest stretch of downhill of the segment, another glance down at the screen revealed that I was now barely ahead of the KOM. Shit. Time to hit it hard again. Whilst my power was not overly impressive for this descent, my cadence hovered around 110rpm – clearly showing I was trying hard to keep in front. And rounding the final major corner, into another uphill, I got back on the gas with an output back over 600W to get over the gear. For about half of that final hill, I managed to hold about 40km/h, holding close 400W for it’s entirety, fading with speed only in the closing metres, surpassing the previous KOM by 10 seconds.

Shot like an old horse, I limped under the Studley Park Rd Bridge, turned around with my heart still pounding and lungs feeling singed, and rolled out the lactic in my legs to go and have a crack at some other segments in Kew. Right near the bridge, there was a total fire ban sign. Pretty sure I ignored it.

IMG_20160119_164246Average heart rate – 176bpm

Max heart rate – 188bpm

Average Speed – 36.8km/h

Average Power – 332 W

Time – 4:33

Total Fire Ban