I've never fully understood why time trial cyclists are referred to as testers. Supposedly each race is a 'test'. I actually think it's maybe because we are always testing new things - kit, position, cadences - or maybe it's because we test people's nerves with our constant talk about kit, position, cadences...
Nevertheless, testing is perhaps the best word to describe my 2021 time trial season so far. And not in a good way.
While I tried to write off my poor performances in the first couple of races (it was bloody cold and windy for most of them!), eventually there comes a time when you have to say enough is enough, take stock and decide if you're going to do something about the current situation.
For me, that point came on Sunday May 16, as I sat in my car after an abysmal showing on the normally super-fast F11/10 10-mile time trial course near Tring. It's the course where, in 2019 I set an overall PB that stood until I finally bettered it late last year on P881.
But this time I was 45 seconds off my PB. A massive margin. Things are not right.
Granted, for some unknown reason I had a terrible night's sleep before the super-early start (I was off at 7.20am!). It was also still perishingly cold for us early riders. With a wind that would ease as the morning went on. Without making excuses, the early riders had tougher conditions than those riding later, as was witnessed by very few significant course PBs in the early riders.
But that aside, my ride really wasn't good. The stopwatch doesn't lie.
A watt is a watt, right?
Part of my problem this year - and confusion - is that my power seems 'okay'. Not spectacular, but not as low as my times would suggest. On F11, my indicated power was actually the same as the PB ride in 2019, but we know the difference in time already.
If you've been reading my blogs for a while, you'll know that my Garmin Vectors died (again) during my warm up for the race on P881 last September, which meant I rode the course blind (still got a PB though!). Following that, I invested in a 4iii single-side crank power meter. And it was that I that I used for the first 5-6 races of 2021. And the power looked about right. But the speed did not.
So that left me wondering if the 4iii is significantly over-reading. Or if the Vectors had been seriously under-reading for all those years. The kind of stuff that messes with your brain mid-race.
So I was loaned a set of dual-sided Assioma Faveros. And I've been using them since the end of April. And it's the same. The power looks about right, but I'm slow. And I don't think it's my position. Nor do I think I've had consistently bad weather.
But it is what it is and now I think I just need to focus on (insert Jeremy Clarkson voice) "more power".
Right now, it seems the power isn't there. And that's been the story of 2021.
I also feel like I'm the classic 'tired all the time'.
It's in the blood. Or is it?
Long story short (it's not going to be short, really), I decided my fatigue levels had got to the point where I needed to get some blood tests done, to see if they threw any light on the situation. Initially I went with a test from Thriva, that arrived with a finger prick kit. I followed all the instructions and stabbed my fingers but little or no blood would come out! It took an age to get enough blood to fill the tiny vials, which I duly posted off without delay.
A day or so later the results were available online. Of the 15 markers tested, six had failed (no results, either due to insufficient blood volume or 'burst blood cells'). Of those that did yield a result, the interesting indications were very low testosterone (both total and Free Androgen Index) and low vitamin B12.
Not exactly overjoyed (with either the failed tests or the indications), I was recommended to get a second kit from Forth Edge (what's another £99 between friends?). This time I opted to receive a phlebotomy kit and enrolled my surgeon wife to take the bloods.
These results came back as testosterone within normal limits, but vitamin D showing as super low and Prolactin showing as high. There's nothing like a little consistency...
So now I have a medicine cabinet's worth of supplements for this and that. I'll be rattling soon, but hopefully not illegal (I've checked carefully that I'm not taking anything WADA would be concerned about!).
I'm also going to invest in one of these Whoop things. Maybe that will give me better insight into my recovery and general readiness to train.
My last two races on local midweek time trial courses have gone a little better, if still well short of my expectations. I deliberately chose to ride one course that I haven't ridden for years (a 14.7 mile 'sporting' course) and another I've never ridden in anger before (10.2 miles, gently rolling). I chose them because I had no real expectations of time. In theory, my idea was that I could just focus on power, position and cadence.
On the 14.7 mile sporting course I held the same power as I had for the 10 miles on F11/10, so a positive sign. And I scored a decent course PB (about 45 seconds or so, but I hadn't raced it for five years!). And I got second place.
This week's 10.2 miler was a similar story. Not quite the power I wanted, but within two percent of target. And an ok time (my position really does seem ok). And another second place (albeit to a rider I've beaten for the last six years...).
I'll do another blood test in a month. I need to send my prolactin results to the GP to see if he'll do anything. And I need to take my supplements like a good boy while at the same time improving my diet (already in hand) and getting more sleep (also a work in progress). The Whoop may help whip that into shape if it shows I am ridiculously under-recovered each morning.
Then we'll take stock. If no improvement in the time trial racing, I might just take a month off and then have an attempt at a comeback for the August and September racing. Or I might just go and cry quietly in a corner.
It's incredibly frustrating to have gone from the cycling form of my life in September last year to the worst condition since 2016 in just seven months (and it's not like I wasn't training!). I hope I can get some answers and I hope I can start getting some of my form back soon.