Wednesday 29 June 2022

Back doing cycle races and cyclosportives - kind of!

After years of no cyclosportives, this year I have decided to make a comeback to organised bike events. Interestingly, the coronavirus pandemic has played a part in that. After a couple of years of limited opportunities to do races and other mass participation events I now want to make the most of the chance to take part, at least while I've got my strength and faculties. 

Finish line at the Fred Whitton Challenge
When the pandemic hit us in March 2020 and sports events were cancelled, many of we sporty types felt a massive hole in our sporting programme of activities. 

Sure we still had the freedom (unlike some other European countries) to go outdoors and train, but not having a challenge to aim for meant that something was missing. It's not as though I was a prolific racer like I had been about 15 years ago, but pre-pandemic bike racing was something I had had in the back of my mind as something I was going to restart at some point in the future. 

However, as the old adage goes "you only appreciate something when you no longer have it", and this situation spoke exactly to that scenario when all racing was put on hold. All I could do at that point was to look whimsically at the list of races that I could have done here or there, and if only I could get up to the Lake District, Wales or Surrey Hills to do a cyclosportive here, a fell race there, or even a triathlon. 

So when the big, high-profile events opened entries I decided to apply - for (in order of difficulty) Ride London, Fred Whitton, and the Etape du Tour. However, the one snag about doing cyclosportives is that you have to do them - you have to put in the miles, do the training, feel confident in your ability and get yourself to the start line. So far, I have had a better year than most in recent times in terms of getting out on my bike and doing rides. I've got up to the Lake District a couple of times, the Peak District, and of course my local hills in Surrey and Kent. Plus, 

I have also been abroad for cycling, with trips to Italy and France. What I have found though now, in my veteran years is that it's quite difficult to get out and ride when I have to juggle that with life. When trying to run a house and keep the cheques coming in, that has to take priority over going out on your bike for six hours - even at the weekend. It's quite different from when I was in my 20s and 30s and felt relatively care-free. Also, back then you could turn up at a race and "wing it". 

These days one has to pre-enter races and I generally end up racing against young'uns who are 20 or 25 years my junior, who work on their power/FTP on all kinds of new-fangled gadgets and Zwift. They get themselves coaches, and quite a few race for a semi-professional team. 

So to turn up for a race now for me, has to be a properly considered decision with various questions to ask myself. Will I be competitive? How does this balance against the pile of admin, gardening, and DIY that I have to do at home - particularly if I have to allow four or five hours to do the event, and in these economic times can I justify paying this entry fee, particularly if there's a real possibility that I will finish in last place in the race! So despite all the best intentions these are the questions that run through my mind when it comes to bike events. 

Note, that I also like doing other events - running races, swimming events, triathlons and SwimRun, which I started doing last year. So that complicates the mix further. Consequently, my bike racing hasn't gotten into a full flow. I did the Fred Whitton Cyclosportive in May this year. Not feeling fully confident in my ability, I chose their cop-out option of doing the Lamb and Lion route - after Newlands Pass you can divert back to Keswick and take the main A591 road back to the HQ at Grasmere. Easy option, my a*se! I still did 73 miles and around 2,000m of climbing, including Honister Pass at the end of the day! 

I did another cyclosportive, Ride London-Essex cyclosportive. It was considered easier than the Surrey Hills version of the event. In fact, I would say it was different but equally challenging, as the course undulated constantly instead of the previous editions which had three distinct climbs through the Surrey Hills - Newlands Corner, Leith Hill and Box Hill - interspersed on a mainly flat route. The Etape du Tour (Briançon to Alpe d'Huez) is still to come, and we'll see how that goes.

In terms of more competitive events, I did a criterium race last Friday evening at Herne Hill Velodrome. As expected I was dropped from the group of women who turned out. To be fair, it was a fairly technical course with a number of tight corners. I was happy to ride slightly slower and get around the corners in one piece, albeit in last place, rather than to stack it in front of a large captive audience! There will be some summer cyclocross events taking place on Friday nights at Herne Hill too. Hopefully, I will get across to do one of those. The journey continues, even through my advancing years!

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