Sunday 31 March 2024

Operation Etape du Tour: March update

This month's Etape du Tour training was about continuing to get in lots of climbing and miles, but also adding some speed. I have been trying to get to the Herne Hill velodrome regularly, and have renewed my British Cycling racing licence in a hope of doing some races. I have yet to find a race I feel comfortable about doing though.

This month has been about increasing the overall number of miles as well as doing longer rides.

The plan had been to do a few rides of 100km+ and also to do nearer to 700km.

I also hopes to get in some fast paced rides - they could be done in any format - as a criteria race, track cycling, or latching onto a group at Regents Park. 

At a Herne Hill Velodrome training session

I am pleased to have got in a few sessions at Herne Hill Velodrome. The best day for me ability wise is the Thursday morning, which is intermediate training for Vets and women. However, it's not always possible to go on that day so I try another session. 

On one day I went to the Friday morning session, called Intermediate training. In theory I should be okay in that session as it's intermediate. But because it's all ages, I end up riding with young men less than half my age - well I am not really with them, but hanging onto their wake if I am lucky. Usually after a quarter of a lap the become a speck in the distance before the eventually lap me!

Or they don't get to lap me because I am spent up and out of energy so quickly that I have already swung up and am sauntering around the top of the banking trying to get my breath back by the time they come around again.

That process repeats itself a few times before I am eventually able to join a group of guys who have tired themselves out and are riding at a more normal pace. That "normal" pace is more like my race pace, and by then I can then slot in. This way of riding is a little scary as you know it's going to start as a few rounds of being chewed up and spat out by the bunch. But in the spirit of "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger", I hang in there.

On another day I went to the Tuesday morning session, which is Vet's an Women's skills. As this session is very much about skills (as opposed to speed), and is the next level after the initial track induction session, the level is quite light and the exercises are easily manageable. What I noticed was how long the breaks were between the exercises, and at times I found it bothersome as I could feel my body cooling down. Besides, I wanted to get my money's worth, as well as getting in a decent mileage on my bike.

So what I have learned is that it pays to go to the session that properly suits your fitness level. I hope to do more Thursday sessions than other sessions, and if possible, even move up to the Friday session.

This month I had hoped to take part in a criterium race. After all, I had renewed my British Cycling racing licence, so it would be good to see if I could get some points. Interestingly there were a few races going on over Easter that I could have taken part in, but all of them had something about them that put me off.

Firstly, there was a women's race at the Castle Coombe racing circuit, near Bath. The distance to get there didn't put off.  The issue was that there were two races - one for 4th category only, and then the other one was for Elite, 1st,2nd and 3rd category racers.

I am 3rd category, but there was no way I wanted to race against elite riders. Interestingly, multiple Paralympic medallist Dame Sarah Storey was on the start list in the E123 category race. What chance would I have in that field?? In actual fact I had the fitness and skill of a 4th cat racer and the age to be a 3rd category racers, But this would have been my first race in maybe five years - and even then, that race had was the first one in about eight years and I was easily dropped.

To be honest, I think that 3rd category racers should be given the choice of racing with category E12 or category 4 riders. This should especially be the case for we oldies because according to British Cycling rules people over 40 can never drop lower than 3rd category even if they don't score points or race. Whereas riders under 40 drop down to 4th category if they don't race or score points, meaning they have the chance to start from scratch if they make a come-back, where we are somewhat thrown in at the deep end. 

So with all that in mind, and the added complication of strong winds on an exposed racing track, I decided not to race there.

Another race taking place at the Milton Keynes Bowl was one to consider. However, looking at the results sheet from previous rounds of the race series it seemed that the fields were so small - barely into double figures. I just didn't feel minded to spend all that time travelling up the motorway to Bedfordshire to do something not more than a small team time trial.

The final option for racing was a veteran's league. The British Masters Cycling league is a separate entity from British Cycling and operates under separate rules.

The issue with that was that people aren't put into categories based on points earned, but instead based purely on age group. So a 50-year-old would race others of the same age without taking into account that one 50-year-old might be a former national champion or elite racer, while the other may be a new racer. 

In general, hardly any women turn out for these races so we get lumped in with 60-year-old men. But don't underestimate them. There are still some national champions in there. The women I've seen on the start list are people I raced against many years ago and who wiped the floor with me then.

So all that, coupled with windy conditions on the challenging Hog Hill circuit didn't appeal to me.

So in the end, I didn't do any racing. Hopefully I will get to use my cycle racing licence in the near future, but as you can see, finding a race that is right for me is easier said than done!

Westwood Park, one of my local hills in South London

The positive thing is that I managed to get in some good climbing, and found a route which took in lots of hills in my local area at Crystal Palace. I did my regular 8-hill circuit three times, and then ventured further into Upper Norwood and Thornton Heath for more hills. In the end I did more than 30 hills over 40 miles and with 1500m of climbing. That was tiring, but very satisfying.

This is a link to the route that I took.

So I might not be riding so fast these days, but I can say I have found my climbing legs.

Related posts

Operation Etape du Tour: February update

Operation Etape du Tour: January update

Operation Etape du Tour: December update

South London Spin: Fl├Ęche-Chislehurst

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