Ok so I’m super late posting this. Yes, it’s September, and the 2018 season is not far from over, but I realised I hadn’t done this post and can’t skip a year, so here we go. Let’s see how much I remember.
I helpfully documented my 2017 goals in the 2016 review, and they were:
- 10s. A short 20:xx. Stretch goal, 19:xx.
- 25s. Finally, finally go sub 55:xx.
- 50s. 1:55:xx.
- Maratona. Top 7% of finishers, stretch goal of top 5%.
- 100s. I may give one of these a go this year.
I started as is traditional with the Kingston Wheelers Sporting 14, going 1 second slower than in 2016, but placing better at 13th vs 20th. I always find this a tough opener (and 2018 has proven no different). Perhaps it’s the cold, meaning I can’t get warm, or perhaps it’s the crappy road surface on the course meaning I never get comfortable. Whatever it is, I don’t go well on this course.
Following a disappointing start, I went to the Redhill 18, which I’d previously done in 2015, and took just over 4 minutes off my previous time. It’s always nice to have a good race following a poor one to boost the spirits.
When April rolled around I did a couple of 10s, the second giving me my best TT placing of 7th (out of a decent field in the 70s). It wasn’t the PB I wanted – that would have to wait until P881 at the beginning of May, where I clocked a 20:31 in what would be my last 10 of the season. This Hampshire Roads event was the first TT I ever did back in 2013, and I look forward to it every year. The course is great, if perhaps not as fast as the lesser-used P881r.
Later in the season I got PBs at both 25 & 50 miles, clocking 55:15 (so not quite hitting my goal) and 1:55:23 (hitting my goal, yay!). I seem to be mostly devoid of photographs from this season, but here’s one from the Charlottesville 50.
My main ride of the year was planned to be the Maratona, which me and my mates had agreed on in late 2016. I wasn’t planning anything else, but fate had other ideas…
Around May, I entered a competition in Cyclist magazine to win entry to a new Marmotte event in Austria. I thought it might be fun, and rarely win these things, so put my name down. Of course, I won my entry (though not flights, transfers, accommodation, etc., which I hadn’t taken into consideration), and headed to a rainy Salzburg with my Aeroad for 107 miles & 3,400m of climbing.
First off: those climbs are steep. I was cursing not putting a 34 on the bike when I got to the final climb. Although, I had gotten there in the company of the lead group which contained one Laurent Jalabert (who at one point gave an unforgettable demonstration of on-the-bike urinating), which could also explain why I was utterly buggered. Still, after a rainy start, the sun eventually came out, and the scenery was absolutely stunning. I was disappointed to see it didn’t get onto the calendar this year as I would have loved an excuse to go back.
In July, we headed to Italy for the Maratona, an event so highly regarded amongst previous participants it’s a wonder it isn’t a compulsory MAMIL ride. First things first: the Dolomites are incredible. Seriously, pant-wettingly beautiful rock formations the likes of which I’d never seen before. The Maratona is worth it for those alone.
The event itself, if I’m honest, I can’t make my mind up about. Perhaps my expectations of it, and of myself, were too high; perhaps I had a bad day. The first four climbs were a procession of Lycra, with everyone travelling at the speed of the lowest common denominator, and only a few picking their way through the crowd. I squeezed into a number of gaps but was still frustrated by the pace, being over a whole W/kg down on my target for those opening short climbs. I was 552nd, which just about amounted to top 10% of long-course finishers.
Would I do it again? Definitely. But only because return visitors get a start time closer to the front. Otherwise, I’d be travelling to the Dolomites out of season for a mix of cycling and walking with my camera.
Fate had more in store for me, though. The Marmotte Austria, it transpires, was a qualification event for the UCI Granfondo World Championships, and I qualified. I couldn’t turn this down.
Allow me to address some of the controversy around this event. In order to race, you need to wear country-specific kit, meaning my compatriots and I would be in GB kit. There was kit available specifically for this event, but you could of course buy replica Team GB kit and wear that. For some people this amounted to being a member of Team GB, an honour which can only be bestowed upon those selected as Olympic or World hopefuls and coached by British Cycling staff. Certainly I was excited that I would be flying the GB flag in a peloton riding through the French countryside, but ultimately I had been lucky enough to finish to 20% of my age category in an event with a fairly small start list. This was no validation of my quality as a cyclist.
Almost 200 people started in my age category (and almost a quarter of us were Brits), and the first 30km or so reflected everyone’s nervousness. 200 mixed-ability amateurs speeding along open French highways was both terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure. I count myself firmly in the lower end of the ability range, being as I was, up until this point, primarily a time-triallist. This showed on the first climb, something which should have given me no trouble at all, where I was poorly placed and found myself the wrong side of a split. Chasing back on along the flat took a lot out of me, and I couldn’t hold the leader’s pace on the second climb.
Still, I finished the 98 mile course (with 2000m of climbing, no less) in 4:24, in the company of a nice Canadian guy and a couple of other Brits who were stingy on the front. I was decidedly mid-pack in the overall result, but 11th out of the 50-odd Brits in my age group, which can’t be too bad.
This gave me a serious appetite to finally make use of the BC license I’ve been renewing each year, so on the drive home I booked up a crit at Cyclopark in Kent for the next weekend. Fate had one to get back, and I punctured on the first lap.
I always wonder, as I await the timekeeper’s 5-second countdown, why I enter hill climbs. A feeling of dread fills me, and I tell myself that I never go as well as I think I should in these races. I wonder what would happen if, for the first time since my first foray into the hills some years prior, I would need to put a foot down on the climb. Perhaps because of this, I don’t go as well as I’d hope. The cycle repeats itself.
This year I entered four events: Denbies Duels, Catford, Bec, and the Sussex Nomads event on Ditchling Beacon. At Denbies, I succeeded in making the second round for the first time, at my third attempt. I was thoroughly out-sprinted by a junior in our head-to-head, of course, but I was pleased to be there after many years being on the cusp.
At Catford and Bec I was decidedly average, clocking 2:30 and 2:25 respectively. Nothing much to write home about, except of course the ever fantastic crowds these events attract, which make them worthwhile.
For Ditchling Beacon I decided to do something different and rode with my Garmin tucked away. I wondered whether the numbers were validating my inner gremlins, so I decided to take them out of the equation. As well, the climb was one I was reasonably unfamiliar with, having done it only once before. I caught my minute man and took 9th, a result I was incredibly pleased with. Not quite enough data to prove the numbers are bad for me, but it’s showing promise.
By December I’d had enough of the turbo and decided to enter some of the Cyclopark Winter series, to see if I could develop my taste for bunch racing. I managed two races before the year was out, placing 9th and 4th respectively. In the second race I surprised myself by coming 2nd in the bunch sprint (behind two leaders who were way ahead). I’d never considered myself a sprinter, but there I was overtaking guys almost twice my size. More crits were solidly on the plan for 2018.
Looking Ahead to… Now
Overall 2017 was a really interesting season for me. With 9 TTs, 4 Hill Climbs, 3 Crits, and 3 Gran Fondos, I did more than I’d intended; both from a quantity of races and from a variety of riding styles. It helped me realise that bunch racing is really good fun, and that perhaps next year I need to focus a bit more on the mental side of riding.
Writing about my goals for a season which is almost over is risky. There’s too much confirmation bias in the numbers entered neatly on my race results spreadsheet for me to confidently say what my goals at the beginning of the season actually were, but I can tell you this: it’s been a mixed bag. Thankfully it won’t be long before that season review can be written.