My first foray back into road biking events in a long time
Yesterday was a rather nice day. First reason is that it was father’s day and my lovely 11 year old daughter got up at 5.45 to make me a delicious breakfast to set me up for the second reason – it was also the Cycle Law Scotland Skinny Tweed sportive, and myself and the missus were taking part. Third reason is that this event was the first one I’ve done in 26 years on a standard road bike, due to the crippling back pain I’ve had over that time. One of my goals for this year was to complete an event on the road bike, and today marked a major milestone in what for me has been one long uphill struggle to overcome long term back problems and neck pain.
So a slight change of platform for this post. My trusty M5 CHR was left looking a little forlorn in the garage and I braved the perils of a sore bahookie and cricked neck for a morning’s superb riding through some beautiful landscape on the Specialized Tarmac.
And how did I get on in this self inflicted act of madness, you ask? Not too bad, as it turned out! I placed 9th overall and 3rd in the 40-49 age category. Very pleased with that given my lack of training on the road bike. It’s not a massive event but I’m definitely getting faster and stronger, finishing 8:34 behind the fastest rider of the day.
At just 76 KM it’s a pretty short event, starting in Peebles and taking in some of my regular roads up through Innerleithen and over the Granites, before turning west to Temple and then back down to Peebles.
My experiences earlier this year in the Tour de Lauder – getting stuck in relentless traffic on the M5 – meant that this time, I made sure I started near the front of the first wave. It’s more or less a ‘turn up and join a wave’ event with no formal start times. You beep your chip on the machine and off you go. I was out about a minute behind the first riders and I spent the first couple of miles at a fairly high intensity to get to the front of the group. This I managed, although my Vector 3 pedals weren’t working for the first 5 minutes and when they did come online I was way into the red. Classic sportive starting tactics then! 🙂
I cleared all the riders I could see, although there were a couple more further up the road. I’ve been feeling pretty strong the last few weeks so I was pushing pretty hard. The first 6 miles along the valley are very nice and sheltered, and it wasn’t long before I reached Innerleithen. For the first time ever, I got a green light at the traffic lights over the bridge into the town and didn’t have to stop – I’ve been doing that for 3 years and it’s red every time!
Along Innerleithen high street and then a left turn up the long climb to the Granites. The first 7 miles I was targeting 250W and spinning a fairly high cadence. A tailwind helped here and I got a PR up the climb. Down the other side at high speed and then there’s another pitch up to the summit and highest point of the day. I noticed another rider ahead on this climb and managed to pass him half way up. He was a big lad, maybe about 10 years younger than me with legs like Conan – he looked really strong but I was able to spin away from him. Pilot error cresting over the top meant I took a sharp right at way too high a speed and spent 10 yards skiffling through the grass and gravel, luckily no harm done. Then a really nice descent down to Middleton , where the road once again turns north towards Temple.
At this point the tailwind started to become more of a side wind from the left, but I made good time up to Temple. The guy behind me kept almost catching me on the flats as he clearly had more power available than I do, but I would manage to hold him off and spin away on the climbs. For almost the rest of the ride, I could see him just a few hundred yards behind me.
After Temple the road turns south and this is where it started to get a lot harder. A BRUTAL headwind to fight into – that same one that had blown us up the Granites at record speed was now right in our face. I spent the rest of the ride in the drops trying to minimise my aero drag and thinking how much faster the M5 would be on this section with it’s ability to slice through the wind! I had looked at the route before the day, and concluded that most of the climbing was in the first half and was therefore putting in more effort on the outward leg of the loop. The wind scuppered my plan though, and it was a long fight through a constant blasting wind all the way down to Peebles. It could have been a nice fast section but was pretty slow on the day.
I had probably put out a little too hard an effort for the first 90 minutes and could feel the power dropping off a little in the last hour. I kept it together as best I could and continued to remain about 30 seconds ahead of the guy behind me. A quick section along the main road to Peebles wasn’t so pleasant (but had me hoping for a bit of a draft off passing traffic!), and then we turned off again onto the deserted back roads and the last climb of the day, which was harder given the relentless headwind that was still blasting us full in the face. My companion behind started to make time back on me – I was trying to keep my power up on the climb which was becoming more difficult as the legs began to complain more loudly.
I eventually got over the summit and down the other side – still slightly ahead of the other guy and I hunched down over the bars as much as I could for the last 5 miles back to Peebles. I was holding him off well, until we got to a red light just on the outskirts of Peebles. Dang! He caught me as I waited at the lights and I knew I had no chance of finishing ahead of him – he was a big lad and very strong. Not quite so advantageous on the climbs in terms of power to weight but clearly he was going to out-sprint me, given that my sprint is somewhere south of puny. I tried to put down as much power as I could for the last mile, but he sat on my wheel and with about 400 yards to go he put the hammer down and left me struggling to keep up. A task in which I was doomed to failure 🙂 He finished about 6 seconds ahead of me, but it turns out that I left a fair few seconds after him so I still got a faster time overall, even if he easily trounced me in the sprint. I’ll take any victory I can get!
I finished the ride with my strongest power profile to date on a ride of that length – average power 228W, normalized power 238W which was right on target for what I had set out to do. Only the slightest twinge of tightness in the chest towards the end signalling that the breathing problems I was getting earlier in the year are still there, but appear to be lessening again which is a relief.
My official time – 2:25:49.