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.
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.
Immediately afterwards I felt dizzy. Soon after that I was still shaking and my legs were sore. By lunch time my legs were shot. All after beginning a new training programme this morning with Matt, commencing with an FTP test.
I’ve done an FTP test a couple of times before, on the home trainer and in front of Zwift. The first couple of times were mere attempts, with the connection between my power meter and laptop dropping out, or simply popping before 20 minutes had elapsed. This morning’s was different – I had a coach, the equipment was there, and I had a better understanding of what I’d be getting myself into. Briefly, FTP (Functional Threshold Power) is the highest average power a cyclist can maintain over an hour. Typically, a 20 minute test is used, and 95% of your average power over the 20 minutes is taken as your FTP. This will serve as the base line for my training over the coming months.
I met Matt at the shop at 5:30am, and he proceeded to set my bike up into a stationary trainer (this one). An excellent set-up, as I would be using my own bike and power meter – so everything can be transferred onto the road. After a 20 minute warm up, consisting of some easy pedalling and a few harder efforts, Matt then worded me up for what he wanted out of the 20 minute test.
And he threw a curve ball at me – no data! I would have no monitor to look at, nor would I be able to utilise my Garmin for reference. No heart rate, no timer, no power! And it was brilliant. I don’t know if it made the effort easier or harder, but having no numbers to look at, I was forced to feel it out and judge my riding. Matt would occasionally act the clock, letting me know either how much time had been covered, or how much time was left (are you a glass half full, or half empty kind of person?).
“Thirteen minutes in”
“Only one quarter left”
“Thirty seconds to go”
And this interspersed with,
“You’re doing well!”
“Give it all you’ve got now!”
He also made a poignant comment just before the test. It’s something I had worked out through endurance rides, but will now start to apply it more to the riding I want to get better at. The brain will want to give up when the muscles are capable of giving more. I need to break through the glass walls.
With the 20 minutes covered, I found myself breathing heavily. Head dizzy. Hands shaking. Heart pounding. I was left to spin out my legs with sweat streaming all over me, and a few moments to compose myself before getting off the bike. Only after that did Matt approach me with congratulations and some numbers. Numbers I’m not going to publish just yet – I’m not going to be a total Froomey about my data, just a little bit. I plan on doing another test at the end of the 3 months, and will have a comparison to share at that point. Until then, I will reveal that I don’t think I could have gone any harder during today’s test. My FTP was considerably higher than when I measured it myself using Zwift, but it is perhaps lower than what some of you may expect. And most importantly, I have been reassured by Matt that I will improve.
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.
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!
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.
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…
Yesterday was somehow the first actual XCO race I’ve ever competed in. Crits, enduros, marathons and stage races have come and gone, but I’ve never raced the traditional cross country format. Weird when I think about it, but not surprising when the level I’ve ridden at has always tended towards different events (more mass participation events).
Anyway, on Sunday afternoon, the Darwin Offroad Cycling club (DORC), ran an XCO at Charles Darwin National Park. Supported by Blue Cycles, it involved 4 laps of a rather demanding, 8km course (4 for elite, 3 for sport). With recent bush fires clearing much of the dense vegetation and scorching the earth to dust, it would be fairly easy to keep sight on anyone in a close position.
The race started Le Mans style. With a Go Pro mounted on my handlebar, you can see me picking up my bike first, and get an early lead into the single track. Not knowing the course and terrain all that well, I opted to let someone pass after about 1km or so. This gave me a wheel to follow and hopefully learn the trail.
I found the pace not quite where I wanted it on one of the long, flat, open straights, so I decided to up the tempo and gas it back into first place. A good move really – I was able to hold the lead for a while longer with a bit of climbing coming up and more long drags to push power levels. But just before the track turned to more single track, Chris Hanson romped on past me. He wasn’t going all that much quicker at this point, but with my heart rate up high, and legs feeling a bit leaden, I could see the calibre of rider that Chris is. And this was the wheel to follow.
For maybe a couple of kilometres of single track, I stuck pretty well to his wheel. He was clearly more powerful on the more open single track, pulling away slightly, but with ease, and was exceptionally better on the more technical sections and the downs. However, I’m confident I had him well and truly covered anytime the track pinched upwards, and I’d gain back time. This pattern wasn’t to last too long, however, and he eventually pulled away out of sight after a longer section of down.
This left me all alone for basically the remainder of the race. 3rd place was not to be seen with a look back, and I was assuming Chris was now putting minutes into me. But the track was so much fun, I didn’t mind too much. I don’t spend enough time on the mountain bike, and found the race a great skills tester. Rather than kill myself trying to get back onto Chris’ wheel, I opted to do my best to ride smoothly and efficiently, and focused on keeping a constant effort (yup, this shit again… but it works!).
Heading into lap 2, I still had no sign of anyone. But I was still up for riding quickly and I’d settled into a rhythm. A thought struck me – I could easily become complacent now. I could back off the pace and probably still hold 2nd. If anything, I’d be well rested to fight for it if necessary. Perhaps Chris is thinking the same? Maybe he’s sitting up right now and cruising around the course? So i started riding faster, and put in my quickest lap time. Still focused on riding smoothly, but hammering the downs, putting more power out on the less technical single track, leaning around the uphill switch backs to keep the momentum up, and above all else, climbing flat stick.
It worked! I’d taken the nifty, but slightly sketchy A-line towards the end of the Wirraway trail, making up some more time, and was confident of going fast for the entire race. Really smacking the pedals about on the straights on lap 3, I could see Chris up ahead. And the best part was that he couldn’t see me! Over about 3 minutes of racing, I’d gone from about 100m behind him on first sight, to within striking distance after putting in a near max effort on the longest climb of the course. Another long straight after that climb, and he was only 20m or so ahead. But then I witnessed the quality of rider that I was chasing. After that straight, there was a technical 150 degree turn. It wasn’t actually all that technical, but it was very awkward and you had to slow right down for it. Just when I thought I was being all ninja like (not really, I’m sure me heart beat was audible), Chris shot me what I felt was a devastating look-back, and took the fuck off outta there, leaving me to negotiate that corner whilst he was accelerating. All-over red-rover.
By the time I made it around the corner and onto another short straight, there was no sign of Chris bar a plume of dust – a sure sign that he was proceeding rapidly. The next bit of single track gave him a sure lead, and I was no longer able to see him. If he was being complacent on lap 2 and the start of lap 3, it didn’t matter. He still had the energy to kick my arse all over Sunday afternoon. No matter, I’ll have to work out another way to beat him (if that is at all possible).
The remainder of the race was an exercise in the same. Put in some energy on the climbs. Take the quicker A-lines when I was comfortable. Gas the straights and turn bike on the corners. And at race pace, riding at Charles Darwin is so much fun. I held onto 2nd place, with Chris having put in 3:35s by race end. Kevin Wells placed 3rd, 2:20s behind me. Thank you to DORC and Blue Cycles for putting on a brilliant club event.