This was my first ever race at the Cyclopark in Gravesend, at Full Gas Cycling‘s March Hare Classic. It’s easily the toughest race I’ve ever done, in part because of the number of Elite riders who showed up, but also because of a generally tough week beforehand, including a crash whilst commuting to work on Thursday morning. The start sheet was stacked with top riders (possibly due to the £1,000 prize for 1st and the Wally Gimber RR the day after making for a good weekend’s racing), Team Wiggins brought a team car and a motorhome, and as a result my expectations were suitably realistic.
The Cyclopark is a very exposed circuit and a consistent NE wind meant there would be a lot of hurt. The course begins with a short uphill to an off-camber hairpin, before a long downhill section that runs into a series of tight 90degree bends, leaving you at the bottom of the drag to the line on the finishing straight.
I’d never raced with this number of quality riders before, so the plan was to see what happens. Rob Clark was also there from RPR sharing his racing experience of last year’s race, but whatever happened, we could share a laugh about it afterwards over a coffee. Mentally, that’s worth a lot. We relaxed in the Cyclocafe beforehand, pinning our numbers on whilst Aoife (5th Floor) solo’d from the first lap to win the women’s E/1/2/3/4.
I knew what would happen tactically in the race, with an early break needing to go with each of the big teams represented. Richardsons-Trek (2), Pedal Heaven (3) , NFTO and Team Wiggins got clear as a group of 7 on the first or second lap and disappeared up the road, working smoothly as a group. I made the mistake of being too far back and being unable to respond – it was very unlikely I could have done anything from the right position anyway. By the time I got to the front, the break had gone and every move was marked and countered.
This left their teammates to destroy the rest of the field, with constant attacks fired off the back of one another. It was quite something to experience – several times every lap there would be a huge dig made off the front, everyone would respond, and then someone went over the top. Again. And again. For 30 minutes. It’s a completely different game to 1/2/3 or 2/3/4. The attacks are stronger, better timed and more frequent. If you do find yourself towards the front, you had nothing left to do anything with.
So you end up with a race file where you are sprinting out of every corner and sprinting a further 4-5 times every lap on the straights. No wonder GC said I burnt 71 matches.
This began the toughest part of the race for me because the race was already to be decided up the road. What was left of the peloton was effectively in self-destruct mode. I looked down after what felt like ages and saw just 40minutes elapsed. My back was in agony. I was questioning why I was doing this to myself, why didn’t I just pull in at the finishing straight and give up? I haven’t experienced this voice in my head for a long time.
You know there is at least another hour of this to go. You realise every corner you are getting gapped and another match needs to be burnt to stay on the back. Every downhill you are still above threshold to hang on. As each fresh attack is launched, you hope your legs will give up for you. You start to realise that voice is making more and more sense.
I was done and ready to give up. It’s stupid, but what was going through my head at the time was I couldn’t make it look like I was dropped from the group – there were still some 15-20 guys in the bunch that were 1s/2s/3s. People would look at Strava. I had the perfect excuse of my crash already, I just needed my heart rate to drop below 190bpm on the finishing straight and I could call it a day, chalk it up to injury, and make it look like I was ending my race on my terms.
However, my heart rate averaged some 190bpm for the majority of the next 30 minutes and was close to 200bpm at the finish line every time. A few laps were in dangle-land, yo-yoing off of the back and chasing back on, but I just couldn’t let the last wheel go. Every time I dug deep and sprinted back into the shelter.
By the time I looked down again, another 45 horrible minutes had passed but I finally had a chance to recover. I had been averaging 290w AP / 320w NP for the 1h25m so far, but then had 2 laps to recover at 235w which was a very welcome relief. Whilst a few more riders had gone off of the front of the bunch, most had fallen out of the back. This left a group of about 8 guys. My heart rate got down to 140bpm and I was back to feeling OK.
A guy from PedalHeaven then attacked, I joined him, and we rode our way back through the field to make up some places for final 15 or so minutes. At 1.5 laps to go, a lapped rider from VCL cut across me in a corner as we overtook and gapped me from the PedalHeaven guy’s wheel – there was no getting back. Just to add further insult, he chose to sit on my wheel saying that he ‘can’t help me‘ (ignoring the fact he was helping himself to my draft…) – so I pointlessly attacked him and finished the last lap solo, unable to chase down the guy I had been working with.
I finished 17th – just outside of the points – and couldn’t get off the bike at the end as my back seized up. The cause of the pain was the constant sprinting shown by the w’bal chart below:
After the race. Rob and I laughed about just how hard the race was. To quantify that, I’ve got my power zones, w’bal zones and HR zones data from the race:
- Largest time in a non-recovery zone is z7 = 15% of the race above 510w
- 2/3rds of the race sent in ‘heavy fatigue’ in terms of w’bal (i.e. my matchbook was almost empty throughout most of the race)
- 74% of the race spent at or around threshold HR, with very little recovery
- 71 matches burnt (1 match = e.g. 5s @ 850w, 10s @ 700w or 20s @ 500w+)
So overall a very brutal race, a humbling experience and pain like I’ve not felt before on a bike. It’s a positive experience though, as I’ve learned a lot about where I need to be to be competitive in fields of this class.