The Hard Road
Part 5 2010 Rock Bottom
Starting my 5th season I had barely had more than a few weeks off the bike in five years. My season was very specific, split into two peaks in May and Oct. I now had my target races locked in well in advance and every session, every ride had a purpose or design. They weren’t all super-specific but I didn’t ride a single session that wasn’t part of a greater plan. Equipment wise the Cervelo remained the steed of choice with the SRM power meter still on board. I upgraded my wheelset this year to a set of Fast Forwards – 90mm on the rear and 60mm on the front.
With the P3 time-trial bike back in Bruce’s hands, I had to rethink the TT dilemma. The alloy bike was fast but uncomfortable. I needed carbon. Once again, price was the driving factor and thanks to local bike shop owner Mark Emerton, and a snappy loan from my brother, a Fuji D6 was now the weapon of choice. It was a heavy bike but looked the part and it was a better fit for my size. I also took the plunge on a Token disc wheel, realising from last year there would be no more gifts for the competition because I didn’t have the equipment. I also upgraded the Limar helmet to a LG Vorticewith visor.
To have power on both bikes required some surgery. I fitted an Octalink bottom bracket to both bikes, fitted a spare wiring harness, and bought a 2nd left hand crank. That way I could swap the SRM from bike to bike and have the same power on both bikes. Around this time I also started messing with Rotor Q rings, looking for anything that could give me an edge.
Mark and I started looking deeper into our positions. We looked at photos from last year and realised we were not set up to be as fast as we could be. We worked on the theory that reduction of frontal area was paramount and the easiest way to do this was to drop the front end. I think I ended up with a 17cm drop at one point. It was only later we would learn the cost this had on power.
My weekly kilometres were hovering around 300-400kms. Time just didn’t allow more, and the way we trained it wouldn’t have helped anyway. We worked on quality sessions not quantity. Our races typically were 100-120km. We only raced over that 2 or 3 times a year and never in a tour, so rather than waste time on volume we worked on quality efforts and specificity to get the improvements we wanted. The mountain by this stage was my best friend and never a week went by without some kind of time trial session. It wasn’t always hard or specific, but consistent use of the bike and muscle memory meant that when I hit a race phase I was already adapted. Time in the position became crucial to finding every last watt.
Locally, Mark, myself, and Matt were the scratch bunch race after race. Often we just team time trialled for 40 or 50kms chasing the front bunches. Sometimes we caught them, sometimes not. The handicaps seemed to get longer and longer lol! I raced every local race on the limit; I never finished with anything left in the tank. They were my test bed, my form finder. If the timing was wrong I didn’t race.If it suited, I raced in accordance with my training need at the time. From threshold efforts, to attacks out of the bunch, my priorities always drove how I’d ride these races. To say I was obsessed with the numbers by this stage is an understatement. My failures at the road races were starting to bite. I knew TT success was within reach and to say I was driven… Well, maybe a little.
I started that year well with a good 2nd place in Masters A at the Southern Division 90km race at Goulburn. My reputation was slowly building. I also raced that year’s Canberra tour. I think I was in men’s B and it was some of the hardest racing I had ever done. I had hit 74 kg but dropping weight for me was torture, so it fluctuated through the year. It was here I detected a weakness in my condition. Hard, fast, steep climbs were not my forte. Once the gradient got above 10% I was in trouble, something I would address the following year. But given my priorities centred on the TT, I left it alone for now.
Stateroad championships were back at Moruya again and I gave it a miss for reasons I can’t remember. But the TT was back at Calga and with Mark now racing MMAS 3, and this being my last year MMAS 2, it was an opportunity. This year’s course had been changed due to a bridge that had been deemed unfit for use. The new course was fast, mainly downhill, and full of traffic.
This was the first TT I entered with real expectations. We trained for it, prepared well, and I felt I just had to deliver. I went a little too hard at the start, something I would learn from as I caught my minute man then failed to pull away from him. But we stuck to it, avoided the cars and chaos, and I was able to set the best time by 9secs. Mark won MMAS 3 by a country mile and also beat me by 30 secs. I will never forget when they announced me as the winner, it was a case of “Who???” The looks on their faces were priceless. In 3rd place was a certain Michael Tolhurst from last year’s Nationals. I can’t explain the feeling. I am humble enough to accept this was just Masters racing so by no means world class, but at that moment the work, the sessions, the pain,and the crashes all went away as I stood on the top step for a brief moment, higher than anyone else….
Coming out of the clouds and back to earth, I had the 3rd quickest time overall. Mark and I would go on to feature in the top 3 until my last race in 2013. Back in good old Nowra, my focus shifted to Nationals where, armed with a good ride at States, I was confident I could back it up again…
After 4 programs and 2 years training with Mark, he booted me off the client list. Said it was time I programmed for myself. I thought this was a bit weird, but I embraced the challenge to train myself. I had a good understanding of the mechanics and the numbers but the test would be how objective could I be writing my own plan. Not having that 2nd pair of eyes to confirm progression and performance was daunting at first.
Nationals that year was the first in Ballarat. A city I would visit many times in the future but not one I would come to love. The 10-hour drive to get there topped the list of reasons to not go. But for the first trip, I made it into a family affair thinking if I had to spend a week away from home surely taking the family along was a good option. Right? OK, maybe not. Actually it could have been much worse. But note to self: it’s really, really, boring to watch if you don’t like cycling.
The TT was up first, as always, but it was not going to be a sure thing. It was here that I realised my back angle was too severe. It had hurt at states,but I didn’t put the dots together at the time. I came in 20 watts below the target wattage and 45 sec down on the winner. Good enough for third again, but I felt it was a missed opportunity. Maybe not for the win, but I knew I had left time out on the course. It also highlighted the difficulty of working out the effect of too much aero, how much power it cost, and how that related to overall speed… Mark won MMAS3 to add to his state win.
The criterium was on a flattish circuit around a park in Ballarat. Again, feeling in good form, I consistently used my fitness and power at the wrong times. I missed the winning break of two, choosing to chase too late and coming up short by about 50mI relied on the bunch to work again only to be disappointed, I went too early in the race for 3rd like 500 m too early, off the back yet again.Not the thing to do with Family cheering you on. But at least I didn’t crash…
The road race two days later would be my low point in 5 years of racing. The day was horrendous – 9 degrees, raining and windy. Basically shit!! Lining up in the rain wet, cold, pissed off, and with no warm-up, I wanted to be elsewhere. It was a 5-lap course with no notable climbs but side winds on two legs of the course.
A break of about 5 riders went early. I rode at the back for 4 laps wishing I were somewhere else. With 1 lap to go, and no one apparently inclined to do anything, anger took me to the front and I just drove it with just 1 or 2 guys to help me. We took the bunch to within touching distance with about 6km to go, but just as we turned left into the crosswind, Milostik attacked then put it in the gutter. I was toast on the back within seconds, clinging onto the last wheel but getting hammered by the right hand crosswind. Ultimately I popped and watched them ride away. Milostik won it in a canter, attacking again with 1km to go.
Now utterly dejected, pissed off, and clueless, I rode in with Matt who had crashed on lap 1 or 2, been chasing the whole time, and came up behind me. We chatted about what had happened and he just said ” But what did you think would happen?”. I didn’t really have an answer. Even if I had managed to catch the break without being dropped, I had just burnt every match available to close the gap and was never going to win anyway.
“So what should I have done,” I asked. “Let them ride away?
“If that what it takes to win then yes, but what if no one chases? Then you lose along with the rest of them. I can’t be happy with leaving it to chance.”
“Well then,” he said. “You need to be the one in the break!”
I can’t remember what he said next exactly, but it was words to this effect: “You have to be prepared to lose in order to win”
I will be honest and say that as much as this was the perfect sun through the clouds moment with angels singing etc, it didn’t feel like that. I was cold, wet, angry and pissed off. It would take months for that conversation to take hold. Mark and I chatted about it later and discussed my best options for success. It meant chancing my legs early and backing my fitness to deliver. It meant dumping my “bunch is best” mindset and replacing it with, “Screw the bunch. I’m out of here,”
It took some refinement, but here was the foundation of all of my future races. Attack the bunch at all cost, force the break or profit from it, drive them into submission or die trying, or words to that effect.
My obsession was to solve this riddle of success. I wasn’t gifted with a Carmellotti finish, nor would I ever be happy to sit and wait for that perfect moment. I had create my own opportunities and back myself to pull it off. All good in theory, but I didn’t know how to do that and my TT-focused training was clearly inadequate.
Locally I backed up for a 2nd straight win in the hill climb, going quicker again, and yet another 2nd place in the time trial, Mark had set another course record earlier in the year of 18.97 which still stands. I broke into the 19s a few times this year with my best time of 19.38 coming in the club championships. Mark won with a 19.12. The road race was a 6 man bunch finish and, yep, I was 6th.
It had been another long season with some success but also plenty to contemplate. I knew I was strong enough but just couldn’t crack the code. Maybe 2011 would bring the answers…
Weekly Hours 10-14
Weekly kms 300-350
Typical weeks training Alternate peak phase:
Tuesday 2 hours Drive for the line
Wednesday 2 hours endurance 70-75%ftp
Thursday 90 mins Anaerobic capacity 10 x 1 min @160%FTP
Friday Recovery ride 30km
Saturday 3 hours endurance Mix up @65-120% FTP
Sunday Race day + 2 hours easy endurance
Time Trial 3rd
Road race who cares…
Hill climb 1st16.19
Time trial 2nd19.38
Road race 6th
Next up – Part 6: 2011 The Golden Age