(Insert lame excuse about having not written much of late).
Too many tumbleweeds have been blowing through this blog of late, so I’m making amends by posting about a ride I did just outside of Melbourne not too long ago.
If you follow along, you’ll remember me describing a climb on the Giro Della Donna up Mt Donna Buang. It’s a beautiful climb, but there is a more direct route to the summit from Warburton and it’s equally stunning, albeit paved the entire way. (A third option also exists, and I’ve ridden it too – I’ll save that for another day).
Every time I’d ridden up this full climb, I’d always been relatively slow, having typically ridden out from Melbourne on 200+km days. On this occasion, I was pretty keen to set a PR, and had the added incentive of getting Donna out on her first extended climb. Wanting fresh legs, we drove out to Warburton, meeting up with Matt Shanks who agreed to ride up the 1084m ascent with Donna whilst I gave it a bit of a dig.
The week prior to this I’d raced at road nationals (albeit for an hour), a bunch ride or two and a criterium at the Teardrop the night before. I wasn’t feeling at my best, but was definitely in for a new best time (I only had to bet 1:08 minutes, and was going to be pretty pissed if I couldn’t crack an hour). It gets a bit boring here, because I was really focused on power numbers. If that’s not your thing, go make yourself a coffee for the next little while and come back later.
With the three of us rolling down towards Reefton and back for a brief warm-up, I was thinking about what sort of power I could average all the way up. The day before – before I had raced that crit – I was thinking I could hold 280W+. That morning, I was thinking more like 240. Or even better, I could ride all the way up with Donna and really enjoy how majestic she is (Donna is majestic as fuck, by the way). A quick chat at the bottom and I decided I’d attempt 260W, and if I felt shit halfway up to Cement Creek (the half-way point), I’d pull the pin and wait up for Donna and Matt.
Into it! That first half averages about 7%, but I reckon it feels steeper than that, probably because of the short ramps of 10% or so that had me out of the saddle for the bulk of it… knocking out almost 300W! Way too hard, too early – but I was feeling great, and I figured as a lighter rider, I could gain most by hitting the steepest parts the hardest.
The road was bone dry, but well shaded and cool, and as I swung around Cement Creek, I was looking good for that sub hour, and was pretty confident I’d still average 260W despite the fast start. And I did – my average power was only very gradually dropping with no signs that I was going to burn out.
There are multiple landmarks on the way up Mt Donna Buang that serve as good reminders of how far you have to go. I don’t really remember where many of them are, and half the time they’ve been shrouded in fog anyway, so I got even more boring and stared at my screen some more, ticking off the distance to go to the summit (one day Froomey will look back on his career, maybe watch a little race footage and say to himself, “fuck, I missed out on some amazing scenery every time I went out to gas everyone).
I’ve covered the upper half of this climb before, but on this occasion I was actually looking forward to that last kilometre. I thought I’d be able to really gun it. So when I went past some of the landmarks that I could actually remember, I got out of the saddle to leach whatever was left in my legs. And quickly proceeded to sit back down one hundred metres later when I realised that wasn’t happening!
Still, I was feeling pretty bloody good. My heart rate had stayed quite steadily around 170bpm the entire way up, I wasn’t feeling any lactic build up and my average power had only dropped to 275W for the entire climb. With a bit of a lame sprint over the car park on the summit, I mashed the lap button on my Garmin at just over 52 minutes. Way faster than I’d expected, but more to the point, I really, really enjoyed it! It’d been too long in between drinks, and I was pleased to see that hard training in the flat tropics could still be beneficial effects.
Better yet, I rode down a ways to catch Donna and Matt on their way up. I was stoked to see Donna pacing herself up very well – still chatting, looking comfortable and really enjoying the road. Her effort was just as controlled as mine, and I’m pretty sure she had just as much fun as I did. That climb has her name all over it! (Trust me when I say we’ve run the gamut of Donna puns with this one).
Some of the numbers:
Elapsed time: 52:07s (Strava time)
Average HR: 168bpm
Average Power: 275W (5W/kg)
Average Speed: 19.5km/h
Average Cadence: 76rpm (yep, looks like I was grinding this one out)
Starting at the back of the pack was a mistake for me. I was not confident enough about really rubbing shoulders, and basically didn’t want to get in anyone’s way. So my vague plan was to hang around the back, and stick with the peloton for a lap or two to get used to the racing. As the count down for the start began, something finally switched inside me. I was ready to have some fun and I think I cracked a smile – the anxiety immediately disappeared. And the start itself were a couple of actual guns – Redcoats with rifles had your ears ringing if you had you hands on your bars rather than around your head.
With about 120 riders taking off in a large bunch, those at the back, myself included, had a couple of extra moments to clip in and get rolling. I was expecting swearing, grunting and near misses, but that take off was smooth and fast. Very fast, in fact. From standing start, and essentially straight uphill, the pace was well over 40km/h whilst everyone was jostling for position. This is where I saw Adam Hansen bolt through from the back, and I decided to stay on his wheel for a while – a move I should have stuck with, as he weaved through any available space to move himself closer to the front. Instead, I hung back when he made a more daring move, and found myself settling into a fast rhythm. Riding in the big chain ring, my heart rate was already 185bpm before the first corner, only a kilometre or so from the start, and also before the gradient picked up.
But I stuck with it, and turning the corner and up towards Mt Buninyong, The peloton looked to still be as one, although somewhat strung out. It didn’t feel as though many were behind me, but I’m pretty sure several riders had been dropped already. I was feeling confident – I had looked down at my Garmin to see my heart rate so high, but it didn’t feel like a concern yet – I’d have time to recover on the descent. Up through the King of the Mountain Section of the course, the fans were really loud, but not so deafening as to not here some mates calling out my name in encouragement – I was most probably the smallest rider in the race, so I was sure to wear something obvious to stand out!
I still felt great, and was buoyed on by knowing I’d been spotted, and that I was hanging in there just fine. Up that climb, I was clearly not struggling as much as some others around me… At least my second mistake already, for when we turned left at the top of the climb and the course flattened out, the power with which those larger riders were required to maintain to get up the climb, they managed to maintain on the flat, and then downhill. And without being in the thick of the peloton, the only way I could keep up was to significantly increase the power I was holding on the up and apply it to the down.
Shelled like bar nuts. Myself and 4-5 other riders looked at each other as we could see the peloton drifting away. There was a big bunch that became single file towards the back, and we weren’t on it. I think we all put in a bit of a dig to catch on, and quickly formed a small group to try and maintain contact, but it was too little, too late. We were dropped. And for me, I think the fun was over.
When the course really started going downhill, us back runners were yoyoing our way to the start finish line, but could no longer see the bunch. I was hoping to get my heart rate back down to the 160s, when really I should have been sprinting with everything at the top of the climb to get up the road with the bunch. I wrongly assumed I’d get back on, or the peloton would slow somewhat for me to catch. And at one point, I felt like I was catching back on. At the end of the first lap, rounding Buninyong and onto the Midlands Highway, I could see the peloton up the hill, and I passed enough riders up the climb to give me the impression I was going to catch back on. But climbing even slower than last lap, I had little chance when the bunch were racing so fast down the other side.
As a quick side note about the early fast pace, I should mention that everyone knew that this was going to happen. There was enough talk from riders and commentators alike, that I was well aware that the pace would be hot from the gun and that no one really wanted a breakaway to form in a hurry. I should have been better prepared for it, and assumed I would be able to recover on that first descent. Certainly a lesson learnt. If there are strong indications of how a race will unfold in the early kilometres of a long race – pay attention. Bickies spent then I almost definitely wouldn’t have gotten back, but I would have gained more experience staying in the bunch, and had a heap more fun.
Second time up the hill, I was still feeling good. But it now seemed more like a solo race, and it would just be a matter of time before I was eliminated. And gosh it was hot out. Well over 30 degrees, and super dry – I don’t know how much sweat I lost in the first laps as it all evaporated so quickly. The support you get from the crowds once you fall off the back is amazing too – everyone wants you to catch back on, but they all know the writings on the wall. I suspect about half the field had been eliminated within about 5 laps, but you can’t help but love a crowd yelling at the sag wagon, “leave him alone!”
Another descent, but this time with more help, my tactic was now to sprint onto any wheel going downhill faster than me, and to some extent, this would work. But the riders around me with the power to make gains on the descent, did not have the power to weight to make gains on the ascent. Essentially, we were naturally uncooperative towards each other. I felt it a shame that I didn’t have a bunch of ten or so to ride it out with. And on lap three, I was really starting to hurt, with a much slower ascent.
On my fourth lap, the feed zone had opened up. Ewan did an awesome job directing me to ditch a bidon, and standing ready with another. Icy, cold water was just what I needed, and it really helped me up the hill. But I was riding at a very average pace now, and giving out some high fives, I had knew I had no hope of catching back on. I grabbed an icy pole of a spectator towards the top of the KOM, and could tell how cooked I was by how much I needed that sugary ice. Ditching the wrapper and feeling like I could stick it out for a few more laps, but I was riding considerably slower.
My last corner was a fast one – getting quite low and then powering out of the saddle to grab a wheel for the last downhill of the lap. The cold water and some blocs had done me well, and I thought I might try accelerating up the next climb. It wasn’t to be – in my most anti-climatic finish to a ride I can ever recall, a course marshall was holding up a red sign with a directional arrow – actually, I’m not sure there was an arrow, but that’s how I remember it. A red sign with a black arrow that first points at you, and then points off the course.
The race would go on, but I was eliminated. My race number, 3 by the way, was now redundant, and my timing chip was removed from my front, right fork. I found myself easing up the back streets, and then onto the course near the KOM to let my friends know I was done, and to spend the next three and a half hours as a spectator of what would be an exceptionally exciting race.
It wasn’t quite the experience I was hoping for. I would have liked to have been in the race for more laps, but would would have preferred 3 full laps with the bunch than the 4 I rode mostly solo. Yet I still gained much out of the travel. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to race at a national level, but if I do, I’ll be better prepared. And regardless, I’m even more determined to ride faster than before.
What next? This time, I’m not actually sure. I’ll find something to enter, and I’ll likely train even harder for it. But there is nothing upcoming that I’m really set on. Perhaps the national mountain bike marathon champs in Townsville in April, and I’m pretty keen to place high in the overall at the Tour de Timor in September, but I don’t have anything that I am as yet fully committed to racing. I’m enjoying a bit of a holiday now, and have managed to crack some great PRs around Melbourne. I’m Adelaide bound in a couple of days to watch the Tour Down Under, and then back to Darwin. More tales soon enough.
To say that I was a little nervous would be a gross understatement. Yet on January 8, I still found myself signing on for the Australian National Road Race. With no expectations, but a lot of hopes, I started a race against the fastest in the country.
It all started out pretty benign, in September, when I undertook a training programme under Matt King, a former U23 National TT champ. At that stage, I was progressing rather quickly, although perhaps not from my strongest base, and Matt made the suggestion of entering road nats. Having very little confidence in myself, but happy with my improvements, I’d decided by early December that I’d give it a go. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. The Giro della Donna was a bit of a feeler event for road nats, and whilst it was no where near the same calibre, I expected the pace on the climbs to give me some indication of my form compared to others racing. Coming into that fondo well underdone, largely due to illness, I still managed to perform well enough to feel I could come good for January 8 with some more training.
I know that my result at nats was not outstanding. And I think I could do better if I raced it again next year. Having raced it once (some of it anyway), I’ve got a better idea of the physical preparation required to be more successful. My training up until nats had been solid – but it was difficult to tell if it would be enough, having little race experience coming into January. However, I think of more concern, something that will now be far easier, is the mental preparation.
I was a nervous wreck throughout most of December. Concentrating on anything else became quite difficult and I felt extremely selfish. And a lot of it was based around the more mundane aspects of the race – like making sure I had help in the feed zone, and being unsure about registering and when and how to warm up.
When I was 5 years old, I remember lining up for my first cross country running race. My older sisters were there and took me to the start against a lot of kids who would probably have been a year older. I don’t remember what I was scared of, exactly, but I was terrified and didn’t start that race. All the other kids ran off having a blast, whilst I watched on petrified. This time around it felt pretty similar, but I can recall going back to cross country running when I was 6, and the fun I had.
On Sunday morning, I got myself up, had a good breakfast and made my way up to the course. Fortunately an easy 5km roll from Kat and Rob’s place – friends who put me up for a couple of nights and came out to support on the day – I probably had it better than anyone else racing! In a side street of Buninyong, with the women’s road race buzzing around the course, I registered early for the elite men’s that afternoon, collecting race numbers and a transponder, with the Cycling Australia official noting that I’d come a long way to race. Whilst a lot of the professional riders may have recently travelled from Europe to contend the title, I would be the only entrant from the Northern Territory. Yes, I am Victorian born, and i’ve only been in the Territory a short time, but my racing has been concentrated in Darwin, and I’m glad to have “NT” listed next to my name.
At 11:30 or so, I’d signed on for the race. Some faces I recognised from Melbourne were signing on too, as well as all the faces you would regularly see in the World Tour races. I didn’t take a chance to talk to any of the pros – they all seemed so focused or were quietly talking to others – clearly out to make an impact on the race. But a few observations – Adam Hansen is larger than I expected, yet he still made that first climb look easy, and proved to be a good wheel to draft… I wished I’d stayed on it. Cam Meyer is exceptionally flexible and very attentive to the care of his bike – I stood in the shade behind him before the start as he carefully inspected his tyres. And many of the top riders were not afraid to start at the back of the pack and bully their way through to the front. Hansen, Meyer, Haas, Von Hoff, Gerrans and Ewan were all riders starting near the back with me.
It’s been almost a month since my last post. I haven’t forgotten about the blog, I’ve just been distracted… by training for the National Road Race!
Okay, it hasn’t been a secret, but I have been very quiet for the last month or so. I’d been so heavily invested in training for what would be my biggest race to date, and anxiety levels so high, that I couldn’t bring myself to writing anything.
Well, that race is now over. We have a new national champion (not me, obviously), and I’ll have to look for something else to keep me occupied on the bike. I’ve been getting a whiff of someone fast popping up in Darwin – this could be the push I need to take it up a level.
Oh, and what about road nationals? Of course I’ll give you a break down of my race soon, and I’ll think it’ll be a short post – I managed just four laps of the course before I had fallen too far behind the peloton and was pulled out. I’m not disappointed, and I did take plenty out of it, but more of that soon.
At the moment I’m still in Melbourne, and soon off to Adelaide to watch the tour down under. And because I got so little riding in during the national’s race, I’m feeling very fresh to push some quick rides.
Recently I gave an account of my ride at this year’s Giro Della Donna, in Warburton, Victoria. Whilst I did very well, I was still pretty disappointed in my performance. I mentioned that I didn’t have any excuses for not quite nailing my goal, but with a solid block of training coming into the event, I feel that a couple of things went wrong. Caution – big whinge coming.
I live in Darwin, it’s a small city, with limited roads to train on, and they are basically all very flat. Sometimes the road tilts up at 2% for a while – and this can certainly be enough to make your legs sting, but the course of the Giro Della Donna included 2700m of climbing. The first climb took me over 40 minutes, and was certainly a fast time… this isn’t easily to simulate in Darwin. I’ve been training to build power, to resist lactate build up, and to push through pain barriers. This was certainly useful up Reefton Spur, but I found that I felt inefficient. Watching the other quick riders in that front bunch, the majority didn’t look laboured in their riding style. It felt as though I was chewing up a bit too much oxygen keeping myself at a decent power level – rather than riding smoothly, I was mashing on the pedals. Frustratingly, whenever the route flattened out, riding at threshold was far less difficult. Climbers train on climbs, and towards the end of my trip in Melbourne, once I had mostly recovered, I started to feel smooth again uphill… Too little, too late.
Whinge two. I was pretty crook in the lead up to the event. Whilst I had basically recovered from a cold/respiratory problems a week or so before the event, I was still hacking up phlegm until a few days afterwards. The colder air in Victoria seemed to irritate it a bit, and I didn’t feel nearly as well as I did going into say the Mitchell St criterium, where I had far less training under the belt. It was genuinely frustrating to basically sit around for a 2-3 week period when I really wanted to be smashing out some good sessions on the bike. Instead, I felt I had a taper week of pushing the legs far too much in an effort to waking them back up. It was outside of my control, but I think I did a good job of staying pretty positive and managing the illness well, by resting up and not trying to push myself. Unfortunately, I also lost a lot of confidence going into the Giro, and rather than feeling ready to let rip, I was keen just to get it over and done with. Much of my excitement had evaporated, and on the morning of the event, I didn’t have the right mindset to stay up the front.
It’d be a bit rich to say that I could have done better, because regardless of the circumstances, I feel there are always things to improve on. Above all else, I’m taking much away from the fondo. I had an opportunity to ride with some exceptionally strong cyclists, and on a course that, I was surely much less prepared for than they. Staying calm and patient is something I need to work on more and I am keen to keep up the training. Matt has still been coaching me, but we’ve both had interruptions that haven’t allowed for either of us to make the most of our potential as coach and athlete (I don’t think I’ve ever called myself an athlete before, by the way). I’ll find something else to enter, and I hope that my focus remains in check until the end of that race.
I left off with the finish up the Reefton Spur timed climb. Although I didn’t remain in contact with the front bunch, and despite cheating myself of a little bit of time by getting on the front early, I still did very well. Not quite the top ten I’d been targeting, but 12th was very close.
Some quick stats from the climb on Strava (the Cycling Tips timed segment has slightly different results):
Distance: 20km @ 3% average gradient (there are some short downhills)
My Time: 43:28s
Average Heart Rate: 176bpm
Average Speed: 27.6km/h
Whilst I am somewhat disappointed to have been spat out the back of the lead group, I definitely didn’t blow up, and managed to best my time from last year by one and a half minutes!
Back to the narrative at hand. Soon after the left turn at Cambarville, I found myself in a nice little group of 3. I warned the other two of the looming steep pinch and technical descent before the proper drop into Marysville. They seemed to be labouring somewhat, but I was feeling pretty comfortable again – something that would change later in the day, as these two really had some legs left for the finish!
That pinch is really something – after sitting at comfortable gradients for 20km, throwing a ten percenter into the mix is a tad rude. And to keep you on your toes, the minor descent that follows has a couple of rather dangerous turns that lead to some riders not finishing the event last year. Fortunately, despite hooking along at a high pace, the three of us came through clean for one last little hill before the fun bit. I’m going to call it “the drop”.
The drop in the course begins at the turn off for Lake Mountain. Rather than turn right and continue climbing towards the summit (a ride I did with James Morton at the start of the year), the Giro Della Donna route takes you straight down to Marysville. And it is ridiculously fun! Last year, I stayed in contact with the front bunch until here, before being dropped like a sack of potatoes as these very skilled riders took away at speed. This year I was feeling much more confident, and despite the lack of descending practice, I felt very sure-footed on my new bike. I stayed with the other two just fine – pedalling for speed whenever the gradient eased off too much. 56km/h was my average speed, maxing out at almost 78km/h (by no means a cracking time down here). I’m pretty sure I could descend much faster again, but was very happy to be a good thirty seconds quicker than last year.
After many, many ripping corners, a couple of tight and sketchy ones spit you out into Marysville, having dropped over 600 vertical metres in just under 9km. And just like last year, I could see the front bunch exiting town. But this time, they were not so far away!
I spoked to the other two and suggested we work turns to catch them up before the Acheron way. With a decent section of flat before some nasty and steep rollers, I was confident of utilising my pace line training from Darwin to bridge the gap. And I felt great! After my first turn, Julian behind me was struggling to move forward. But he did, and the two of us towed the other rider along to catch the front bunch easily. As it turned out, we needn’t have tried so hard! They were all sitting up, having a drink, eating some food and pulling over to pee! Whilst I was pretty happy to get a rest myself, it looked as though the racing was over for the day!
Now cruising along with the front bunch again, a couple of “kick you while you’re down” rollers were much easier ridden than last year. With a peloton of about 15 riders, we turned onto the Acheron Way, perhaps the most beautiful road in Victoria, and moved along at a fairly easy pace. Last year I grouped up with two other riders to absolutely smash this section as a bit of a team TT, and had no chance to appreciate the magnificent scenery. With mountain ash towering overhead, I had a chance to have a chat to those around me, but was under no illusion that this tea party would continue.
Perhaps a couple of kilometres before the Acheron Way hits gravel, some loud calls in the group alerted us to another bunch catching. The pace remained the same, and when I looked over my shoulder I was stoked to see a green NBRCC kit hauling at their front. It was Ben! It felt great to have a mate now up the front with me, but I was starting to get some serious leg cramps. I’m not sure if it was from the nerves or the lack of climbing prior to the event, but my muscles were none to happy and I was now very concerned about hanging on. On top of this, the gears on my bike were not behaving, and I was continuously pulling to the side to prevent myself causing grief for those behind me, with my chain undecided as to which ring it preferred to sit on.
With at least 20 riders now up the front of proceedings, it felt as though things were getting a little tense as we approached the gravel. The Acheron Way has a 13km section of unsealed road, and in this direction, the first 7-8km climbs quite steady, averaging only 3%, but including some rather steep switchbacks. I had myself position in the top 5-6 riders at this point, and it seemed like those of us in the know were quick to react to the sudden increase in speed. Within a few hundred metres, Ed Green, second overall on the KOM, had punctured, and the field was stretching out over this narrow section of road. The Izalco mini felt extremely sure-footed as I picked my way around larger rocks, around corrugations and on occasion over potholes – I was positive it felt smoother than last year, but again, maybe it was just the bike.
That climb kinda felt like a selection process, and it didn’t stop for the remainder of the gravel. The hot pace up the climb brought it back to about 15 or so riders, and I could see Ben having a blast on this terrain that he excels on. With the course going slightly downhill, it was just a matter of keeping enough space between you and the rider in front so as to be able to easily react to obstacles, but not so much as to lose contact. I heard one rider next to me bottom out his rim, but his tyre remained inflated, and others clearing potholes by means of neat bunny hops, but on the whole, it seemed exceptionally controlled, with Canty and Stalder driving out front and calling the nasty corners early and taking them easy. At one point I stole a glance at my Garmin and saw we were doing 47km/h, and on later inspection realised I went even faster than that. On gravel, on a road bike with 25mm tyres. It was fucking rad!
It didn’t stay that fun for very long, however, with a severe acceleration as soon we hit the sealed tarmac at Cement Creek and the remainder of the climb up Mt Donna Buang, a seemingly distant 9km at 6%. Ben and I looked at each other, looked up the road and made a very easy decision not to follow at that pace. So the front runners would escape once again, but I was content to sit with Ben and try and hold decent power. At first 240 watts seemed reasonable and fast, but then 220 was not manageable, and finally I had to tell Ben that I would see him at the top as I dropped back off his wheel to hold just under 200 watts for the last 6-7km.
As Ben pulled away, I could still see riders in front of him, but was not confident that I would “come good” at any point, and basically saved myself for throwing down anything I had if any riders crept up behind. But apart from cars, there were no riders to be seen behind, and soon enough, no more in front. It was a bit of a struggled labour for those remaining kilometres. I was feeling great in terms of food and water, but the muscles in my legs just wouldn’t fire anymore. And it really felt that this was the case because I was riding uphill. Had it flattened out, I’m pretty sure I would have got my power back up. As it turned out, I was nearly 2 minutes slower up the tarmac ascent than I was last year. And last year I felt even more shattered!
Onwards and upwards. With one kilometre to the summit, the gradient tilts up some more, and I found myself searching for one more gear to make things a little more comfortable. But I’d opted to leave the 11-25t cassette on the bike, rather than going for the 28 (how soon you forget about gears!), leaving me to grind a little more out of the saddle. 100m to go and I got a wave and words of encouragement from Stalder and Canty, already making their descent of the mountain. Soon enough I rounded the final left hand bend, heard a trumpet playing and saw a crowd of volunteers there to cheer people on. I don’t think it looked all that impressive at the speed I was going, but I still dropped it into the big ring for the final 30m and under the finish banner. Finished for the day, and finished with a massive block of dedicated training. Not being given a number, I counted everyone I could see that had finished in front of me, and am confident I was the 15th rider over the line. Not a bad day out at all.
And apologies if anyone thought I actually won the event based on the feature photo here and that has been kicking around on Face Book. The guys in that picture are an amazing collection of mates that regularly organise exceptionally challenging rides, continually pushing boundaries, and now that I live away from them all, continually making me jealous. I should have worn that kit!
I’ll soon get around to more of a reflective write-up of the event, and include many of my thoughts on the training leading in, and how it helped on the day. You can look at my stats from the ride on Strava.
Speaking of Strava, if you follow me there, you may have noticed my training has ramped up even more since the Giro. Partly addiction, partly dissatisfaction with my last performance and a desire to ride even faster. I’ll soon have to find another event to enter.
I’m going to get this report rolling by listing off the excuses. I have none. Whilst I’m a little bit disappointed I didn’t crack the top 10 as I’d aimed to, I still did pretty bloody well and am able to take much away from the event. Now that is out of the way, I’ll get into my experiences of this year’s Giro Della Donna.
The event is held out of Warburton, about an hour twenty east Melbourne and just into the Victorian Alps. Consisting of 2700m of climbing over 107km, the course includes some of the state’s most spectacular roads, a 13km section of gravel, and finishes atop Mt Donna Buang, at 1200m. Last year I placed 27th overall, and I was looking to well and truly top that effort.
An early start, 7am, meant an early alarm. I was fortunate enough to have an NBRCC mate pick me up from Hawthorn, but I was still up at 4:30am to ensure I had enough time to check everything was good to go. The drive out in the early morning light was suggestive of a miserable day to come, and getting close to Warburton, the peaks we were to climb were shrouded in cloud. With the car parked and bikes unloaded, we had just enough time to say hello to the rest of the NBR group, but I barely made the warm clothing drop off to be transported to the top of Donna for the later descent.
6:50am and faster riders were being called to the front, as the organisers would send everyone off in waves. Entirely self-seeded, I found myself pushing my way through the throng to settle in about 50 riders from the front. With a 20km neutral roll-out, it wasn’t too much of a concern, and I could see many quality riders starting behind me, but I was nervous of the rubber band affect that can easily find you in a spot of bother before the ride really became testing.
7am and the start was punctual. Leaving from the car park of the footy oval, I was cautious but confident to pick a smooth path out of the start chute to settle in on the road. Too often at races I’ve seen people get overly excited and cause some trouble. With the RACV car leading the way, and a motorbike scout ducking up the road to monitor any surprises on the closed road, the bunch found a good rhythm and I was able to have a chat to some mates whilst remaining careful.
The opening is a 20km stretch of undulating road, with the bunch large enough to really suck you along effortlessly. I managed to have a quick chat to Andrew Stalder, an u23 national road race champion from not too long ago, and someone I expected to give the climbs a serious nudge (he got a mention a few weeks back in Bolton up to Bonds). 15km or so in, he pulled over for a nature break. I considered doing the same and was aware that he may have been using it as a tactic to take out the first and only timed KOM section. Whatever he did, it worked for him.
Last year I found myself caught out too far back before the ascent of Reefton Spur. I didn’t want to be picking my way through the field again this year, so at the 18km mark, I started moving up the right hand side. The course turned left onto the reef ton Spur climb, and whilst everyone seemed to be grabbing a handful of brake on the left, I turned in hard from the right, with speed, and soon found myself at the front of the pack, immediately behind the RACV car. It wasn’t a good strategy for the KOM time, as my timing chip would be first over the sensor, but it felt pretty good to be setting the early pace that would dramatically thin out the bunch.
For perhaps the first kilometre, I stayed on the front holding steady power. My legs were protesting, but I was determined to keep an eye on the front runners. I’d look over my shoulder frequently, and found a small bunch had gathered with a good gap on everyone else, and it wasn’t long before we were riding two abreast and I was able to fall back the line to do my best to hang on.
A few more would eventually bridge across to us, including Ben and Dylan, and the bunch must have been close to 20 strong. I think I found myself most comfortable at this point – the pace had settled for the most part, and my heart rate had settled to low 170s – something I was confident of maintaining. Between 10 and 15km up the climb, the bunch was gradually thinned out to 12 riders. The tempo seemed to suit me, and I was able to hang on during several small, fast descents that stretched it out to single file. At the 15km mark, though, it felt like the screws had really been turned in up the front. The pace was largely dictated by Brendan Canty (now a World Tour rider), and with my heart rate causing me some stress, I made the hard decision to back it off a bit to save something for the rest of the ride.
I was pretty upset for a moment. I mentally made the decision. Perhaps I could have held on for the next five kilometres, but it really felt too stressful. I immediately calmed down when I realised I could still maintain a very good pace, and I had another rider to work with. I could see one more rider in front who had been dropped from the bunch, so I figured they hasn’t surged too hard, and I was hopeful to catch them on the Acheron way, before the final climb of the day.
I am now one week away from the incentive; the reason I started training more intensely – the Giro Della Donna.
Almost three months ago I made the decision to employ a coach and undertake more focused training. And this fondo was my target . Whilst, strictly speaking, it is more of a mass organised ride than it is a race, the Giro Della Donna, last year, was most certainly a race. Places were awarded for the first 100 places, and I was not quite satisfied with 27th. And although this year the organisers have decided not to run the same format, and have opted to instead time the first climb for prizes, I am fairly confident I will again have the opportunity to give it all against some very talented cyclists. I am aiming high for one week’s time – I am determined to finish within the top 10.
The event itself is incredible – about 110km with something like 2500m of climbing, it encompasses some roads that are nothing short of spectacular to ride, especially with a large chunk of it either closed to traffic or managed for the event. The Giro Della Donna is worthy of a stand alone post – I’ll save any more descriptions for another time soon, and will recount more of my experiences from last year.
But what about my form? I’ve spent two weeks on the side line after having a rest week. So three weeks in a fairly sedentary state. Whilst it has been necessary and obviously beneficial to recover fully before spending more time on the bike, I’m definitely a bit disappointed that I couldn’t train until closer to the event, and utilise an effective taper period. All I can do is accept that it is what it is, and the best course is to listen to my coach, recover, and then activate my legs in the coming week. My hope is that I haven’t lost too much fitness.
How do I rate myself? I’m not sure I really can just yet, and that is part of the reason for my desire to go back to ride it again this year. I expect there will be numerous NRS riders, club A-graders and plenty of local hitters. These are cyclists that race frequently at a high level, will be there with a team, and will undoubtedly have ridden considerably more vertical metres than myself in the last three months. In Darwin, the pool of riders is very strong, with several NRS and higher level riders kicking around – but not nearly as many as there are in Melbourne. Not to mention my training has included no real time climbing. Although I am hopeful that the gains in power I have had translate to more uphill speed.
Successful or not, I will at least be satisfied if I manage to rip my own legs off. Couple that with some of the most incredible roads in Victoria, a bunch of awesome mates and finally some time riding uphill, I’m bound to have an excellent day out. And perhaps it will just be another day of training…
Whilst a bunch of mates were racing at one of my favourite events from last year, the Buxton Boot Camp, a 6 hour enduro in Victoria, I spent about an hour and a half sweating it out in the tropics for Darwin Offroad Cyclists’ last event for the year – Monsoon Madness.
Held at Lee Point, a 20 minute ride from my house, the race encompassed as many laps as you could complete of an approximately 5km course in an allocated time of 1:30 minutes. I’m fairly familiar with the trails, and despite the stifling heat up in the top end at the moment, I was super excited about hitting the course.
90 odd club members were lined up to race at 4:30pm, and I was stoked to have Aidan and Kev there to make it hard. Out the front of the bunch from the start, I had Aidan alongside me and was happy to cruise the opening fire trail at 35km/h until Kev blew past about 100m in doing at least 40! He’d pulled off one of my favourite tricks, and it was a real struggle to get ahold of his wheel!
I couldn’t hear anyone behind me, and I barely had sight of the two leaders when I made a blunder. Over the top of a large roller, the trail bends to the left. I took it with too much speed and committed myself to riding off the trail and into the bushes, sending me off the bike, along with my mini pump and a water bottle. The pump I retrieved as I righted myself to watch about 5 riders slip away, the bottle I wouldn’t notice until I’d remounted and taken off. Planted obviously to the side of the trail, on successive laps that bottle proved to be a reminder not only to ride smoothly, but also that I was thirsty.
Not wanting to lose too much ground, I hammered it to get onto the second bunch, and followed better lines through the single track, and blasted it every time the course opened up or started climbing. I’d worked my way back to third position by the last of the single track, and when I emerged onto a long, uphill section of fire trail, I could see Kev most of the way up, and Aidan at the top.
And that is how it stayed for a couple of laps – I’d make up a bit of ground, but then fall a back behind on the technical stuff, before edging closer on the climbs and long stretches of open terrain. I really wish I had a power meter on my mountain bike, because it felt like I was really utilising all of the road training I’ve been doing.
Eventually I made it past Kev, who would stay close to my tail for the most part of a lap, and had to really hook it along the starting fire trail to catch up to Aidan – this time I was doing 40km/h! I was able to take a bit of a breather with Aidan in front on the single track, and me pulling hard turns on the fire trails and climbs.
At one point I stopped to pull some foliage out of my rear mech, with Aidan offering to slow down so I wouldn’t have to work hard to catch back up. But it sure didn’t feel like that – it took me a full lap to catch back up!
By this stage we were nearing the end of the race. I hadn’t checked the time properly, and had forgotten what lap we were up to, but the two of us thought we would get one more lap in. Aidan was looking cooked, and made it vocal, but kept on my wheel so we could take the 1,2. Perhaps 200m from the finish, Aidan tripped up a little – staying upright, but dropping his chain. I slowed up to almost walking pace, looking over my shoulder and wondering what the fuck was taking him so long, as I crossed the line – only to be pulled up by Alice. The race was over.
I did get one more lap in – a warm down and bottle collection were both necessary.
Massive thanks to all the volunteers out for the day – many of them gave up racing themselves to marshall and time the event – more than I’ve ever bothered to do. Congratulations to all the competitors for racing in those conditions too – it was great to hear words of encouragement shouted at me throughout the event, and I hope I was just as encouraging for everyone else (apart form the times I overtook with my head down and my teeth gritted). I’ll try and make as many of these races as I can next year, and I’ll have to give up a number on one of them to volunteer.
Nine weeks in to a dedicated training regime, and my consistency has finally broken. And unplanned. I’m not disappointed, but I am a little frustrated. After I’ve placed much effort into building my ftp, and ensuring I spend enough time recovering, I’ve come to the inevitable, and unenviable position of becoming sick.
But not all is lost – a lot of gains have been had in the past fortnight. After a rest week (apart from a smash fest at crit training), I got up for the win at DORC’s last mountain bike race of the year, and backed it up with a good performance during an FTP test with Matt. I’ve basically taken another rest week, and have been as sedentary as possible, and taken the chance to get extra sleep when I can.
I’ve already written about the mountain bike race and will publish that soon, so I guess I should give a bit of an overview of the most recent test of my functional threshold power.
On Tuesday morning, I arranged to meet Matt at Blue Cycles for another test. It was nine weeks since the last test, and I was keen to thrash my last score. But I was also concerned that I was getting ill, and was far more exhausted after the mtb race than I expected to be. Whilst I did bury myself at that race, and didn’t do my best to stay hydrated, my condition the next day was only fair to middling. We almost canned the test for another day, but I woke up feeling better and rolled down to the shop to give it my all.
I’m not well versed at sitting FTP tests – a 20 minute, all out effort aimed at going as hard as you possibly can in the time limit. But I’ve trained enough recently to have a good understanding of what I can put myself through. As with the last test, I had a good warm up before Matt snatched away my Garmin.
The first 5 minutes felt four times as long – it was as if I went out far too hard in the first 2 minutes, and my power data from minutes 10-15 show a decrease in my effort. Still, I had Matt yelling encouragement, and I pushed through to the half way point.
I think I typically hit a mental high when I get to the half way point of anything relating to time or distance on a bike, and can pick myself up to perform better when I know that it is all “downhill”. Whilst I didn’t pick up the pace at the 10 minute mark, I kept it consistent and felt like I could sustain the effort for another 10 minutes.
With Matt now breaking the test into “chunks”, I had smaller time slots to target, and when 15 minutes had elapsed, I felt as though I had enough left to now go considerably harder. Dropping down a gear, my cadence dropped only slightly for a large gain in power output. Matt was vocally happier with the effort I was now maintaining, and I was confident of holding it out until the end.
With time slots of 1-2 minutes being called out, I was happy giving it my all for one slot, but had to break through some glass to convince myself to maintain it for the next. With one minute to go, Matt started giving estimates of distance left in a race, with other riders baring down on me. I’d visualise Bagot Rd on the end of the regular Hour of Power ride I do, and how I can usually muster something together for a strong finish. With 45 seconds to go, I really had Matt shouting at me. I couldn’t see my Garmin, but he had close eyes on it, and was pushing me to do more and more.
“Come on, I want to see X watts!”
This was the last piece of encouragement I took in from Matt – anything else he said fell on deaf ears, as I was completely focused on finishing on X watts – a number I couldn’t see in any case.
The effort done, I wound it down for 10-20 seconds before Matt let me know the numbers and let me know the improvement.
So, where do I stand? Well, I’m still going to be a little bit cagey… just for a few more weeks. I’d like to re-sit the test in better health, but the improvement for 9 weeks of training was probably pretty huge. With Matt’s structured training, my FTP went up 12%. And I feel I can do better than this in a test, and better again in a race. I’m not quite where I want to be, but I’m not far off – a little more training, and a little less fatigue should see me closer. But I don’t expect I’ll be able to add 12% so easily next time – it’ll take more work than I’ve done in the last 9 weeks. However, the gains in my form have been fantastic. Even though I didn’t perform quite as high as I wanted to (and I was not far off at all), I was in much better shape throughout the test – looking less ragged on the bike, and far more fluid and consistent. I buried myself even more, feeling far worse immediately after the test, but recovered to a very good state very quickly – something I can’t say about last time.