Money can't buy you speed?

Spoiler alert. I started 2022 with a 10-mile PB of 20:16. As of last weekend, I stand to end it (one race remaining) with a PB of 19:23. Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? The truth is anything but.


Given my last blog post was at the end of April, barely a few weeks into the Time Trialling season, there’s a lot to catch up.


As I wrote in that April post, the time spent with Wattshop at Newport Velodrome while expensive, was very productive. A total saving of something like 14 Watts, achieved through various tweaks to saddle, arm rests, skinsuit, overshoes and helmet.

H25/1A


It was clear on the very first outing of the year it had been money well spent (clearly it’s still a silly amount of money to ride around in circles for two hours). After a few local club 10s, the first proper race of the year came on April 18th, on the H25/1A course between Theale and Thatcham.


Despite what was a very disappointing power output, I crossed the line fourth solo in a time of 54:35, comfortably a course PB compared to my 2021 times. I was annoyed about the power, but the aero was there. A point proven a few weeks later on May 2nd when I improved to first solo and a time of 53:31 for only another 10 Watts or so.


For once, I didn’t feel the need to change anything on the bike! Everything looked and felt good.


But of course, once a tester, always a tester.


Rule28 had just brought out their then-new TT skinsuit with the ridged undershirt/base layer. Having seen all the fuss about this approach, I was keen to give it a try. And it worked. I was flying (for the power). In photos, it still looks kinda baggy, but the times suggest it really does work.


I was winning. Well, I got chicked on 18 May on the spocco HCC248 course (24km) by Jennifer George (who went on to be one of Kat Matthew’s bike chain gang for the Sub-8 triathlon project) by a whole one second!


But apart from that, I was winning! Albeit only the local club midweek TTs. Setting more than a couple of course PBs along the way.


R25/7


My first Open of the year came on 15 May on the unfamiliar R25/7 25-mile course in Wales. It started with a mile or so of downhill, which I won’t pretend wasn’t a little scary in heavy rain and then onto the A40 towards Monmouth and back (the road which would later see the tragic death of triathlete Rebecca Comins, killed by a van driver). I always find the first time on a new course to be a bit of a foray into the unknown and little did I realize that I would end up crossing the line just six seconds shy of an overall 25-mile PB. The sort of race you kick yourself for – if only I’d tried harder here or there. But again, given the power was nothing special, the results were good.


P881


The next big Open was on the P881/10 course in Hampshire. One of my favourite courses (although everyone tells me the P881/10R course is faster) I was keen to see what I could do. And what I did was set a new PB of 20:09, seven seconds up on my previous 20:16 (on the same course).


But not everything quite went right.


Even though I'd set a new 10-mile PB on P881, it felt flat. It was a case of success feeling like failure as I’d got so close to the sub-20 barrier, but fallen just short.


Then my plan to set a new 50-mile PB on P881/50 got scuppered by Covid. I’d managed to avoid it for two years, but it hit me hard in early July. I was out of action for three weeks. No 50-miler for me this year (and my three-year best has now expired).


And then I’d heard about this mythical E2/10 course in Cambridge. Supposedly super-fast. Well, it wasn’t for me!


I hitched a ride up with Alan Murchison (Performance Chef), with us both having been abroad for work the week before. I even cut my work trip short to be home the Wednesday before the race, aiming to be clear of jetlag etc. But what neither of us could control was that on Saturday 13th August, the UK was in the midst of a heatwave and we’d be racing in temperatures exceeding 37 degrees C.


Neither of us had a good race, but I was especially disappointed with a pitiful 20:32. Hardly worth the seven-hour drive, even if it was Alan behind the wheel while I luxuriated in his ridiculously expensive camper van conversion.




Thankfully, normal service was resumed at the local 10s, although a young upstart started beating me, how dare he! George Westall made a welcome return to club racing and beat me by three seconds not just once but twice. Git. I just console myself that I must have at least 20 years on him!


F11/10


But it did mean that there was a little extra uncertainty as I entered the Open on F11/10 in Hertfordshire. It’s a course that has been both ecstatic and soul-destroying for me. I set a (then) PB on it in September 2018 (20:34, which I only subsequently bettered on P881 in September 2020 – I clearly have a thing for setting PBs in Septembers two years apart). But since that 2018 ride it’s become a bogey course for me – a DQ (they’re very particular about how you need to approach the finish line) and a 20:50. I was thinking it wasn’t such a great course after all.


But, new year, new attitude. The race on 10th Sept was at least in the afternoon (generally better conditions) and the weather was favourable (light winds, warm but not hot). Following Alan’s advice, I had changed my Garmin screen to show average speed. The idea being that in this kind of race, speed is all that matters. To cross the line safely under 20 minutes for a 10-mile TT (we all know the timing at TTs can vary by as much as five seconds either way!) you need to average 48.5kph or higher. Simple. Forget HR, forget power. Just focus on speed and course knowledge.


Of course, you don’t “forget” power. You still need to be mindful not to go off too quick or hit the inclines too hard. But you know that average speed is what will win the day.

And that was the goal. Find those extra 10 seconds to get below the magic 20 minutes.


I knew I’d done it when I hit the roundabout with two miles left to go. My average speed was just over 48kph and I had Alan’s words ringing in my head: “it’ll be a tailwind for the last two miles, you can pick up your average speed before the finish”.


And so I buried it. And I didn’t go any faster! Well, not as much I expected.


After the final dash for the finish (which in my head I remembered as being downhill, but this time didn’t feel like it!), and being very careful not to get another DQ, I crossed the timing line with a stated average speed of 49.82kph. I had no idea what the time was till I hit stop on the Garmin.


19.23. WTF?!


I hadn’t so much set a new PB as smashed one. I was ecstatic.


Now I could lie and say it was all power. It wasn’t. But I’ll save the many aero tweaks I’ve made to the Giant Trinity through 2022 for my next post…


Needless to say, I’m ending 2022 another year older, but also a little happier as 2021 was really not a great year for me cycling-wise. There’s life in the old dog yet.