I’m now a few weeks into a training programme, and I’m rather impressed with my progress. Perhaps I haven’t had any real increases in fitness, but the structure of high intensity workouts followed by periods of rest have lead to some very strong performances.
Notably, at the Mitchell St Criterium the other week, I managed to sustain a much higher average power output than I have on a flat course before. For that 27 minute effort, my watts per kilo were considerably higher than they were a few weeks prior when I completed a 20 minute FTP test.
Another week of mostly resting and I am back into another hard week, and with one intense hour completed, I’m feeling very lethargic and rather unmotivated. Fortunately I can engage that part of the brain that usually only functions for me on very long endurance rides, and convince myself that getting up to do the same hard things again is actually fun.
The Strava summary of Invermay Rd, 1.1km at an average gradient of 10%, belies the true difficulty of this classic Dandenongs climb. Some climbs have a steep bit – Invermay Rd has a ridiculously steep bit – hitting over 20% and proceeding straight up. You can’t even see the top when approaching from the bottom!
John Van Seters first took me up the climb on his tour of the Nongs, and I’ve only ridden it twice since… mostly because there are other options. The second ascent was with Luke Chippindall, and he was trying to set a PR – so naturally the rest of the group rode it fast as well. Surprisingly, I found myself sitting second overall from that ride, so I was keen to go back.
Two days later, I set out to the Nongs with a bit of a rampage on my mind. The Basin to Skyhigh was the first target (an effort which I have already written about), following it up with a crack at the Crescent (10th overall and I was feeling smashed after segment one, but I would go back another day), next was Invermay and I would extend that to Skyhigh for another KOM attempt.
My confidence was much lower than my heart rate at the bottom of Invermay – I was pretty happy with the Basin to Skyhigh effort, but it really emptied my tank for the Crescent, and that in turn left me running on fumes for Invermay. But I figured I should hit it again, and could then cruise up to Skyhigh and set a good time for the longer segment.
Rounding a bend, one finds oneself looking up at the first pinch of Invermay Rd and the start of the segment. It’s only short, but still quite steep, and got me warmed up for the main event. Throwing down 500 odd watts, I had to take it relatively easy so as not to burn out for the steeper part. 500 Watts – easy? No, not so much. It was bloody hard.
With the tarmac levelling off briefly, I had time to catch my breath a little, but with the new addition of a power meter, I was conscious of the screen and didn’t let off the gas too much. Soon enough the road shot up in front of me – much like a rollercoaster, although in this direction the cart would be torquing it’s way up the track at low speed.
Revisiting my data from that ride, my cadence is probably of most interest. I must have been churning a large gear – not unusual for me on a hill, especially if trying to go fast on something short. The first steep part had me riding around the mid 60rpm mark – most likely I would have been trying to power over the start. It then crept up to mid 90s for the flatter part, before dropping down to mid 40s on the steepest face!
At approximately 8km/h, I found myself pulling up on the bars whilst simultaneously pushing most of my weight down on one pedal. A little bit of weight actually needed to be spared to keep the rear wheel connected to the road! I can’t emphasise enough how difficult a club such as this can become on your upper body. Sure, if you have easy gears on your bike, you can spin up a very steep climb. But with a standard crankset, and narrow road bars, I was forced to push the bike with everything I had to get it up that hill with speed.
And of course, one final pedal stroke eventually got me over the crest. About 150m more would get me to the end of the segment. I was completely hammered. My heart rate wasn’t all that high – not a good sign on such a short segment. I couldn’t give that road a final push – I was happy enough to get to the finish, let alone quickly. Grunting over the finish, I didn’t pause to look at the time – that would have to wait for later… I was still on a KOM hunt, and it would finish at the top of Skyhigh.
So how did I go? 2nd overall – exactly one second faster than my time two days prior and 13 seconds slower than the KOM. But I did get the top time when I extended Invermay to the top of Skyhigh, and only today I discovered that another segment has been set-up for Invermay Road…. a full segment from the intersections at both ends, adding an extra 20 vertical metres and about 300m. How does my time from that effort fair on this newly created segment (not created by me, by the way)? I’ve currently got the KOM!
Invermay Base to Wall – 1.4km at 10% average gradient completed in 4:59s
Please be warned that the recount below is by far the most amount of words I have written in relation to time spent on the bike. But as one of the most exciting races I’ve competed in, I feel it worth it. And before I start – a massive than you and shout out for the Darwin Cycling Club and all the organisers for making this race happen. I turned up and had a blast. You guys did an amazing job setting everything up and really showcased competitive cycling in Darwin. Kudos
What better way to finish off my first two hard weeks of training with a criterium? After strength efforts, knocking about in bunch rides, yoga and targeted training under the tutelage of Matt King, I found myself lining up for the inaugural Mitchell St Mile race. And what a race it was.
The Mitchell St Mile is a foot race held on a closed circuit in the middle of Darwin, and for the past few years has attracted some of Australia’s best runners. This year, the Darwin Cycling Club announced that a criterium would be held before the running race, and that Arafura Fabrications would be laying down some serious prize money. 25 minutes and a lap in the men’s race would mean some serious speeds being hit right past a bunch of pubs followed by some squealing brakes into a u-turn before doing it all again.
Coming off a good block of training, I was feeling pretty confident. Far more confident than I’d normally be for that type of racing. The tight turns and the short duration initially put me off, but some good practise on Thursday night gave me quite a confidence boost – I knew I could hold a wheel and I was feeling strong. Nevertheless, I had tactics in mind leading into the event, and implemented them quickly.
20 odd riders lined up at 2pm, and with the very real threat of rain imminent, the bunch was looking a little nervous. I was nervous too, but shrugged it off by having a laugh… tactic one. With the sound of the gun, I put my head down to roll off with the bunch, but as soon as I had my right foot clipped into the pedal, I hit the gas. Hard. That was tactic two. I had no desire to be rolling around for 25 minutes with a bunch of big dudes who in all likely-hood could overpower me in a sprint finish. So I went out with the idea of unleashing constant attacks to try and break the field apart.
That first attack probably didn’t work, but I’m sure I caught some by surprise. I must have opened up a good 20m on the pack, but cooled it off when I saw former Australian Criterium Champion, Steve Rooney, bridging the gap. I couldn’t see behind him, but decided to sit up a little and roll the legs over… at 40km/h!
I took the first u-turn in pole position, and could see the field coming around behind me. Clearly, it was good to be close to the front on the corners on this course – those in the rearward positions would only be coming into the corner whilst the front guys could be attacking out of it.
I think it was about lap 3 that the damage really started to be done. After rounding the south turn and sitting on the front, I watched Chris Hanson drop about 60 million watts with no one willing to cover his attack.
The pursuit was on. I had no doubts that Chris would be the type of rider who could hold on for a win. But I was concerned about the size of the bunch. Bridging to Chris from the front of the pack would have brought everyone up with me. Not only that, the rain started to fall, and the turns became quite precarious.
Chris had a solid lead, perhaps 200-300m up the road, but I felt like I was doing all the work. Matt put in some short, strong turns, and a few others started to pull on the front as well, which gradually worked to both reduce the size of the peloton, and close the gap to Chris.
Hard braking in the wet required a lot of concentration, and everyone quickly learned to start braking before the rider in front, or risk a collision! At one point, coming into the south turn, we could hear the commentator calling out that Chris had had a near miss. And sure enough, we could see Chris hitting the start of the straight from an unusual position… but I was glad to see he’d remained upright.
I didn’t feel like I was red-lining, but I was certainly concerned I’d done too much work, and the bunch would completely reform. But it didn’t. With two laps to go, I started to tuck in more and allowed myself to drop back in the now much smaller bunch. Chris was now back in the fold and the pace felt to be dropping. On the bell lap, I rounded the turn in first place, but took it very wide so as to force someone else to the front.
The rain was awesome in both senses of the word. I loved how difficult the parcours had become, and the grit required to keep racing. But I could actually feel the extra weight of the water in my shoes, my socks were feeling uncomfortable and the sheer torrent of water produced as a rooster-tail from the rider in front was near blinding. I’m not quite sure how I managed to keep my sunglasses on, but was rather amused to hear that Steve Rooney had tried to rinse the grit out of his eyes with a water bottle, only to find it filled with Endura!
One mile left in the race and I could only sense about half a dozen riders remaining in the bunch. For perhaps the only straight in the race, I stayed off the lead, and allowed myself to recover somewhat. Lining up for the final u-turn, I’ll admit to being super excited. In front of me was Steve, Ryan Coppola, Matt and Chris, and I think only Phil Brownscombe and Sam Wood behind. Ryan entered first, followed by Chris and then Matt and myself cutting in sharp to overtake. Perhaps foolish, but I saw an opportunity to attack at that very moment, and yelled at Matt to get on my wheel.
Dropping almost 20 watts per kilo, I flew past Ryan, and found myself out the front of the race with a decent gap again. A quick look-back and I realised that no one had jumped on my wheel. Shit. I had time to look down at my power meter, and didn’t like my chances of holding 450-500 watts for the remaining 700m of the race. I dug my heels in anyway, and urged my legs to push on.
The inevitable catch came early. I glanced right to see Sam fly past with a bit of a gap before Steve went through with Matt immediately behind him and Chris also catching the draft. I had gambled too much and was unable to grab a wheel. And looking back down the road, could clearly see I would hang onto 5th place, so rolled over the line without a real sprint contest. Sam took the win, Matt in second, Chris was incredibly impressive for 3rd, and Steve Rooney demonstrated amazing experience to hold me over for 4th.
I’ve taken so much out of that race, but I’ll try and quickly summarise what I’ve learnt. Attacking off the front unpredictably works for me. I’m a much smaller rider than most, and can’t hold the highest speeds, but I can accelerate quickly. A relaxed, yet confident mindset will help me perform when conditions are tough – from the start line,
I wanted to dictate the racing as much as I could, and refused to get nervous.If I want to win a race, doing so much work on the front will not work in a criterium. It’s better to save my legs for a handful of efforts that really matter – be it the final sprint, an attack that gets me away, or simply bridging a gap in 1 second rather than 10. And finally, I reckon I can race!
The race in numbers:
Average Heart Rate: 175
Max Heart Rate: 191 (previously I’d only hit 190 on 2-3 occasions!)
Average Speed: 38.6km/h
Max Speed: 61.6km/h
Average Power: 246 Watts
Max Power: 1052 Watts (on my final attack, and only the second time I’ve gone over 1000)
I don’t have an exhaustive list of KOMs by any measure, and I’ll most likely have them all taken away at some point, so I’ve gradually been chipping away at some more segments in Darwin. Thus far I’ve only written about these efforts in Melbourne, so it’s time to run you through one of the harder stretches of road I’ve managed to top in the top end.
Bagot Road runs pretty well directly north-south through the northern suburbs of Darwin. The segment in discussion runs for 3.5km with an average gradient of 0%. Yup, 0%. Flat as a pancake. Although probably that shitty first pancake of the batch that doesn’t come out quite right. Bagot Road basically has what I’d describe as 3 steps – sections of a few hundred metres where it is just obvious that the tarmac is tending a little up or a little down. A set of traffic lights intersect the road 3km in, making things tricky for a good time. The next set of lights signal the end of the segment, and fortunately you don’t need to run them to get a good time! Unfortunately, the segment is often hammered by one of the Saturday morning bunch rides – that means plenty of strong riders sharing a turn on the front!
I was vaguely aware that the segment existed, frequently taking it to get home after the Hour of Power, but typically at a fairly sedate pace having just worked so hard. But I knew where it started, and figured there would be a segment to the second lights, so I decided to have a bit of a dig one morning after a cruisy ride with Alex McCallum, up from Melbourne.
Farewelling Alex at the casino, I rolled along Stuart Highway just after peak hour, and took note of the strong southerly (remember Bagot runs north-south). Turning onto Bagot itself, the road bends and drops dramatically by Darwin standards, and I was able to pick up a lot of speed. I didn’t have a heart rate monitor on, and I wasn’t exactly sure of the distance, but I was determined to hold 300W all the way to the second lights, and see what sort of time that would get me.
With that tail wind, and the downhill start, I found myself really flying along. 50km/h was a breeze for the first hundred metres. I didn’t expect that to last as the tarmac crept up, but found it manageable, still maintaining that high speed and cranking the power up. I had nothing else to focus on apart from one number on the screen, so just threw my legs down harder if the number was dropping too much, or backed them off a bit if I surged too high.
I’d basically stopped looking at my speed, but was stoked I was holding out with this 300W effort. Stuart Crompton from the cycling club drove past in his car and gave me a toot… he does this often enough, but on this occasion he wasn’t overtaking nearly as quick as usual. Approaching the Totem Road lights, I could see I was going to get a perfect run, so I kept pegging away.
Dropping in power slightly, I was feeling the strain of riding so hard, but determined to make the most of effort, I flicked into a harder gear, simultaneously dropping my cadence, but increasing my power back to 300W. Fading badly towards the very end, I sucked it up to give it everything I had left, and was hoping for the best when I uploaded.
Reaching the second set of lights, the segment was now complete and I was stoked that I managed to hold that power for so long. I wasn’t really hoping for a top ten, knowing that a bunch would likely go through far quicker, but nonetheless, I figured it would be a pretty bloody good time.
The result. KOM. By 2 seconds. Yes, the tail wind was a massive help, but drafting in a bunch works well too. Couldn’t believe I’d knocked this one over, but more than anything I was stoked to have held the power I wanted to.
The first full week of actual work is over. A mixture of hard efforts, recovery rides, yoga and cardio, both indoors and out on the road. Was it hard? Some days, yes. Was it manageable? Definitely. Will I keep going with it? Without doubt.
Having spent a couple of weeks in my definition of a relaxation mode, I’d been chomping at the bit to thrash my legs on the pedals. And the first week of training did not disappoint. It was encouraging. Thus far, the sessions have been on the short side, mostly because of the time constraints I have, but also to focus on building power. This has meant I’ve typically had a very hard hour on the bike, followed by a normal day. But after each of these short sessions, I find myself wanting to go back into them. Perhaps my intensity needs to lift, or perhaps I need to become more patient with the importance of recovering.
The best part? I’m feeling amazing! I’m not sure if the rest leading into the programme is the difference, or maybe it’s the targeted training – either way, I feel like I’m getting stronger already. My legs get heavy, but bounce back quickly. I feel as though I can breathe deeper. I’m putting out more watts at a seemingly lower heart rate. And I don’t feel as though i’m going to crash and burn – having recovery days during a hard week are clearly a good thing right now – and soon enough I’ll have a full recovery week. It’s too early to make claims about improvement, but I’m pretty sure this is all getting me somewhere.
I’ll let you know how I go at the end of the week – perhaps another 7 days will knock me back some.
If you’ve been following me on Strava for the last week, you’ll notice that I’ve been taking it relatively easy on the bike (not on the coffee front – I’ve been hitting the coffee as hard as always). This has been a planned part of the program (I think I’m going to make lots of doping references for the next 3 months – hopefully I’ll be getting some results that look suspicious by the end of it). You won’t, however, have seen the behind the scenes, off the bike work I’ve been up to the last week.
No, I haven’t been hitting weights at the gym. Nor have I been out running or getting into a special diet. The last week has been all about recovery and planning. I still got out on the bike, and I did put some efforts in, but by and large I’ve just been casually turning the pedals and reducing my fatigue levels.
After last week’s FTP test, Matt showed me a video he’d taken of me on the bike. It was probably towards the end of the test, and I was most certainly feeling ragged by that point, but it clearly shows a bit of an imbalance I have on the bike. For ages I have been ignoring my lack of flexibility. With this in mind, the newest addition to my program has been Yoga!
Wednesday morning had me up at a time I’d often be cycling, and down to Palmerston for some stretching. It’s something I’ve never been into, but have been meaning to give a serious go. I’m now pretty convinced it’ll get me more flexible on the bike, but was surprised how much it hurt everything around my chest – in a good way. Thursday morning I woke up and was really sore, but in a way that made me feel like my diaphragm had been worked for the better. Guess what – cycling downs a lot of oxygen, so improving this breathing caper is bound to be good for me! Yoga gets a tick.
Capping off the week of relaxation, I went and saw Matt after the Saturday morning bunch ride (on which, by and large, I sat in and did very little work). We discussed strengths and weaknesses and basically did a bit of a rider profile, and then got onto the important stuff – setting out a regime. I won’t bore you with too much detail, and am excited that Matt has managed to plan out a schedule that includes all the regular riding that I already love to do. So I’ll continue to do the regular bunch rides I enjoy, and will also include some low cadence strength efforts on the stationary trainer and some intervals. If you keep an eye on Strava, you’ll get a fair idea. Oh, and I have two hard weeks, followed by an easy week. Massive focus on recovery with the training, and I know that it’ll get results.
It all feels too easy so far – but I know what is laid out to work through, and that I’ll be smashing myself soon enough. I’m looking forward to giving you another run down in about a week.
Do you live in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne and commute to the city by bike? If so, you may have found yourself grinding up Studley Park Hill at some point. Rising at an average of 4% over 1km, this segment starts just before you cross over the Yarra River, and finishes just before Nolan Avenue. With a strong tailwind, it is possible to ride up the hill with ease, but a stiff headwind will leave a rider labouring all the way. And if you are aiming for a top time, you’ll want that strong tailwind, and your legs feeling good – it’s a tough one!
My last RFWYA in Melbourne was a ripper – the crew had tee’d up a parting gift for me – a massive lead-out train was organised to help me try and take away a few targeted KOMs. A parting gift. Only I’d come off a massive few weeks – dead legs from the Pioneer Stage race, dead legs from the BAMF ride from Melbourne to Adelaide, dead legs from the Big Lap (300km long, 5000vm). And I was sick to boot. Regardless, I wanted to make the most of the lead-outs, and I loved the idea of the ride.
But I failed. Sickness and fatigue meant I just couldn’t push at 100%. Maybe not even 80%. It didn’t matter – I had a blast anyway. Watching everyone trying to organise a good lead-out and smashing themselves in the process was awesome. I didn’t manage to pinch a single segment, but I couldn’t have asked for a better send-off – I’ll remember that morning for a very long time.
Left a little disappointed that I couldn’t crack any top times that Tuesday – and couldn’t nail Studley Park Hill in particular – I decided to have one more go on the Wednesday night, one day before I would be leaving for Darwin. The winds were favourable.
With barely a warm up, I left home in the late afternoon and went directly to the bottom of the hill. Turning around with a break in the traffic, I immediately started to wind it up, getting the bike over 40km/h before hitting the bridge. The warm temperature helped make up for the lack of a lead-out train, and as the road pitched upwards, I found myself out of the saddle and throwing down the pedals as efficiently as I could without burning too many matches.
Through the steepest part of the climb, I was still feeling okay, and looking at the screen, I had a slight lead over the top time. Still unsure if I could maintain this kind of effort, and knowing I’d blown up too early before, I kept it consistent, but glancing down at the screen once more, I saw a malfunction that I definitely didn’t want to see. “Off Segment”. Crap. Garmin drop-out!
Not wanting to put my last effort to waste, I flicked the screen to show my speed and power. I wouldn’t know how I went until I finished the ride and uploaded, but I knew if I could maintain a high power output, I was still in with a chance.
Not long to go, perhaps a few hundred metres, but I could see the finish and was screaming at my legs to hold 300 watts. I was dwindling now, and shifted into an easier gear to keep my cadence up. I’d dropped down to well under 300 watts, but with the hill tapering off, I utilised the gear shift and higher cadence to finish off the segment at over 40km/h. 1:40s of pain and I’d just pinched another KOM! I wasn’t in my best form by a long shot, but I was stoked to get that one before the move.
It wouldn’t be one I’d hold for long, however, an email a few months later notified me that Damien Eagle had re-acquired the segment. Kudos. And well-deserved.