This week saw a return to racing on the road after nearly 5 months out of the action. I’ve been to see a lot of winter series racing (plus a bit of the track league) and slowly I’ve got my appetite for racing back by watching the RPR boys get some great results.
The problem for me, however, is that other people are in great shape already in March. I went into this race as something of.. an unknown quantity, with my current abilities really unknown. My expectations were realistic and I was hoping to be able to assist the team tactically or maybe even physically. Obviously I’ve tried to make sure I can exceed the average power requirements for a 2/3 RR in training, with rides like 3h @ 250w and 2h @ 305w, but a race has very different demands to an ergo effort.
One thing that was hard to ignore was the appreciation of risk involved in racing. Breaking a collarbone is uncommon (/unlucky?) in a crash, but the odds of breaking a collarbone in my first race afterwards aren’t diminished just because I’ve recently broken one. Frankly, I don’t want to be in that position again anytime soon so I wanted to stay out of trouble and not take unnecessary risks.
Unfortuntely, the Dunsfold circuit resembled something of a minefield and presented a lot of risk. Conditions were damp and there were a lot of big potholes that could take you off the bike if you didn’t have your eyes on the road ahead. The organisers had helpfully highlighted the potholes with spray paint, the occasional road sign and a request that everyone looks out for each other by calling out the potholes. But, most riders stopped calling out the potholes once the pace got hot in the first 2 laps. Since the race, the roads on my commute now feel as smooth as a snooker table.
The race was run over 9 laps of the Dunsfold circuit with an uphill ~40s finish just off of the main circuit at the end of the 9th and final lap.
The circuit is run anti-clockwise on the loop shown below and starts with a sharp left hander coming off a steep bit of downhill heading straight into a mile long drag with a steep kick right at the base. It’s a bit of a tricky corner as any speed lost means you’re going to be sprinting even harder up the initial ramp. There are two other drags at the SW and SE sections of the course, but nothing steep and nothing particularly sustained. The loop is completed by a 1.5mi descent which doesn’t involve a lot of pedalling when in the wheels.
Strava is great for a bit of course recon beforehand and a quick look at previous races held on this circuit showed there were 3 points on the course where race winning moves were made. Generally, a break got away in the final hour and a small, select group contested the sprint at the end. However, last year’s event saw an early break power away and win the race from 2 hours out.
Today’s RPR team was myself, Dan, Disco and Arlen. After almost missing the roll out from the HQ, all of us started at the very back of the bunch in terrible position. 30s @ 600w out of the very first corner was the punishment for such complacency and the race kicked off pretty hard up the first climb. My heart rate touched 190bpm within a minute of the race start. Welcome back to racing.
The pace let off as some attacks started to go and the bunch sat up. What quickly became obvious was that Casco Southdowns were forcing the action and wanting to be in every breakaway putting their numbers forward. Dynamo and VC Meudon also had big teams as seems usual in the Surrey League and were always around the front. I made my way through the bunch on the first lap and got towards the front the first time down the descent. To me, it seemed the race was on to the first corner of lap 2/9 because the descent was potentially dangerous in the wet, so being at the front was the best place to be.
That turned out to be a great move as lap 2/9 was probably the hardest of the whole race! The first climb went steady but some dangerous breaks started to form up the road with a couple of riders from each of the big teams.
I thought this might happen as people try to reproduce last year’s 10 man break early on – being the only RPR near the front at that point it was my responsibility to represent us in these moves. This lap was spent mostly attacking to get on the back of any sizeable break ahead and then just sitting there to see what would happen (and maybe recover..) while everyone else argued about who should be doing the work in the break.
The pattern of Southdowns attacks and everyone else chasing was repeated on the next lap (3/9). This time, Arlen featured in basically every move up the road while I sat in for a bit of recovery and a chat with the team about what was happening with the other teams. Disco was feeling the pace so I told him to listen to everyone else around him breathing to put his effort in context (i.e. everyone was suffering!) and Dan was simply chilling, saying the average power in the bunch was very low. This was useful information as we could be aggressive up front and follow attacks knowing that we could recover when back in the bunch.
The interesting thing for me here is comparing my 2nd lap of working to mark the moves to my 3rd lap where I sat in (with Arlen up the road):
There’s a 90w difference in average power between the two laps and a hell of a lot less pedalling on the 3rd lap. Great for recovering for what was to come.
Golden Cheetah also shows a good comparison of the average power : normalized power over these two laps. Relaxing for ~15 minutes made a big difference for later in the race.
The race was stopped on lap 4/9 because of dangerous riding on the descent. There had also been two crashes at that point, fortunately nothing serious. The comms gave everyone some wise words and the race restarted *a lot* more chilled out. A Southdowns rider had got away with a Wyndymilla rider and they pushed out a gap upwards of 1 minute. Arlen got away with a group that had another couple of Southdowns riders and I thought I’d bridge across seeing how outnumbered he was. Eventually we caught the break up the road, the bunch caught us shortly after, and it was all together again and calm on lap 5/9.
Lap 6/9 started easily and Arlen got up the road with a pair of Kingston Wheelers (who were much more active in the race than I’ve credited them with so far) and Elliot Lipski from Southdowns. Another chase group of 3 was bridging across to them and being around the front, I decided to jump across too. Damien from Mono was in this little group and hopped on my wheel as I passed. We then bridged up to the lead group a minute or so later (at 500w…) and looked back to see nobody chasing us.
Our move of 6 started rotating and was a little disorganised. Damien was told to drop from the break by the comms shortly after we joined (he’d had a mechanical earlier in the race). People rotate by default in the chaingang or daisy ‘double’ paceline so turns are kept short but it wasn’t working very efficiently as the Southdowns rider didn’t always roll through with the break. At this point he was outnumbered by two teams of two – in the move was me and Arlen from RPR, Andrew Davis and Declan Egan (winner at Dunsfold previously) from Kingston. I wasn’t sure if Southdowns was playing tactics or was cooked, but I understood him not being overly keen on spending energy in that break. Regardless, we built up a lead of about 30s on lap 6/9 before we started to lose time on lap 7/9.
Riding in the breakaway looks completely different on the ride file to the aggressive laps earlier in the race. The variable power switches to much smoother sections and the average power goes up as we try to drive the break away.
The bunch seemed to be in sight behind us on the descent of lap 7/9 (we now know they were about 20s back). RPR seemed to be doing the most work in the break, but it looked like a good group to drive to the finish with. At the start of lap 8/9, Arlen decided it was time to test the legs of our companions up the first drag with a surge (or rather.. an out of the saddle attack). I wasn’t expecting this, so my immediate reaction was to wave the other guys through and let them close the gap. Nobody responded and Arlen pushed on solo with 20km/2 laps to go, gaining 20s almost immediately.
I thought it was an odd move at first as I thought we had 3 laps to go (not 2) and attacking the break that far out would cause it to be caught. I didn’t have the chance to see if Arlen felt strong or confident enough to hold an attack like that but I also didn’t realise we were about to be caught by an escape group of some 6-7 riders. The timing was very fortunate as the flyby below shows.
Arlen (pink) attacked just before 46mi and just before an escape group (red) caught me and the reamins of the break (blue/green). There was a lot of confusion in the group that caught us as they didn’t know whether they were at the front of the race or not. They soon realised Arlen was away and started working together.
Arlen held a 20s gap for about a lap and eventually the break (mainly driven by VC Meudon, KW and Dynamo) got pretty organised and looked to be bringing him back. As soon as I saw the speed picking up I joined the rotation and killed the momentum. I’d be on the front killing the tempo and hear a barrage of shouting errupt behind. I did this a few times, then a car was put in the gap and that was pretty much the win secured.
I was asked by a few riders who Arlen was and what he was like as a time triallist. I laughed. Some guys were convinced he There’s no way you are bringing him back when he has got away on his own with 20 minutes to go. As it turned out, he put at least a minute into the remaining 9 guys in the breakaway over the last 2 laps, taking the win solo. Before you ask – No, he didn’t crash once on each side to get that hood placement – it is apparently intentional.
During one of the discussions about Arlen, we came to the bottom of the descent to see a flag waving to mark the end of the race, off of the circuit. I dropped the ball here, thinking there was another lap to go. Two guys had clipped off the front, one Dynamo and then Declan from Kingston. I was right at the back of the group in terrible position for a short and potentially messy sprint for the minor placings. An experienced hand had told me earlier in the race to stay right to avoid the scrum and potholes – which is exactly what I did.
As soon as I realised it was the finish, I started the sprint, some 37s @ 720w. I thought I’d gone too soon and led it out, but a quick look over confirmed I was clear of the guys behind me and I crossed the line for 4th.
The race was a great result for RPR. Arlen won, I got 4th and Dan won the bunch sprint by quite a lot for 13th. We represented in the right breaks, kept our sprinter fresh and put two riders in the winning move of 5.
I should really have finished 2nd as I spent the last 2 laps doing almost nothing – I have no excuse, I just made a mistake in the final and was caught not paying attention. On the other hand, 4th is way better than expected and I always enjoy the team role of shutting down the race so that one of our guys has the chance to win.
Generally I felt pretty good throughout, I was a bit worried about cornering because of an over indulgence in Zwift rather than outdoors riding recently but I remembered how to do everything soon enough. I haven’t lost anything in relation to moving around the bunch – 3 months of running the Fleet St / Strand gauntlet for the 6 O’clock train kept my skills sharp in that department. I don’t yet have the same power as late last year, but the signs are good so far.
Next up on the road is the March Hare at the Velopark before moving back to Surrey for the Staple Hill RR (no Longcross this year) where the next Surrey League RR awaits.
Thanks for reading.
Finishing Stats and W’bal graph
Average HR 179 for 2h20m, NP 293w. Ouch.
GC users may find this interesting, others maybe not so much. This is the story of the race with some smoothing applied to the power so the chart isn’t quite as noisy. Yellow = power and red = w’bal.
Put simply the race goes:
- Hard start
- Lots of attacking
- Making the winning break and driving it
- Recovery with Arlen away
- Sprint for 4th