This season has been a lot about resilience and making the best of the time and opportunities to ride my bike.
There has been ill health in the family, along with uncertainty and anxiety about opening up and going back into offices and schools across the whole household.
This is still an ongoing situation so the chance to finish work in my bedroom/office and ride out to a club event at the start of April was a real relief.
It didn’t matter so much that we were all still having to distance and not mingle before or after the event. The key thing in those early weeks were the single digit temperatures which made the racing tough and the ride home in the dark chilly at best.
My tradition after riding a club 10 is a midweek pizza and beer to celebrate and this has been respected in 2021 and become a really key part of our life.
It was great to be up and running and despite not really looking like I was going to make inroads into my personal bests the training felt good.
As we moved into the summer the easing of lockdown, if anything decreased the level of certainty I had about stuff and the arrival of coach Darren Kelly in my corner was much needed.
He was able to provide me with direction and structure in my training which added an element of cross fitness with some running sessions. I was already playing rugby as well which we were able to keep in the diary.
Having some goals and long term targets in my mind made the work hard but enjoyable and knowing that someone has taken the time to plan the training session you are doing made it much easier to get out and push myself.
I am still working with heart rate and not power so there will be a limit to how far I can go, but we are not there yet. Not by a long way.
As the summer progressed there were a number of interruptions to my season. I started to travel to Yorkshire from Lincolnshire for work and road closures on our time trial course saw some cancellations.
It made the events that were on more of an occasion including an open 10 mile time trial south of Peterborough on the roads I grew up riding and had ridden and trained on from my teenage years. I always feel special riding over there and this hot and sunny day was no different.
As the season drew to its close a sheared bolt on my tt bars caused me some issues on a tough night on our back up course, but I put that behind me before riding the last event all out.
The time wasn’t quite where I wanted it but as I put my lights on and rode home there was a certain sense of satisfaction at a season well ridden. As with all members of our club it had been about resilience, dedication and adaptability. Mentally it had been a lot tougher than I’d anticipated when going through it all. But now I can look forward to a cycling future and what it holds.
How would I view year 30 against year 1?
Well I won a lot more medals in my first year than this one, but cycling has for a long time been more about what I can put in rather than what I take out, so I am pretty Zen about that.
My original plan had been to knock it all on the head when I turn 50, but let’s see.
I will write a post looking back over the last 3 decades at some point soon. Its all processing and formulating in my mind at the moment.
Until then, enjoy the end of the road season and stay safe across the winter.
Wednesday night was a real landmark occasion for me.
It concluded the season of local club time trials that came 30 years after my first. This season ended with cold weather which was very much in keeping with how the series started back in April.
Back in 1991 I was a teenager on a Dawes with some bright yellow Scott TT bars that my hero Greg LeMond used.
My hair was long and under my Bolle glasses was a young kid trying to find his way in a tough, unforgiving, grown ups sport.
The Bluebell series is a local cycling institution. It has run in this format for decades with a name evoking the early season flowers that add a blanket of colour to the heath which the race both starts and finishes on.
My first time was 30:08. No-where near the first page of the results I seem to remember but it was a start point and benchmark for my 10-mile career. The next week I was 2 minutes faster and with the handicapping system managed to build a healthy series lead across that summer.
I seem to remember the weather being warm and sunny every Wednesday evening of the series and I was comfortably in the 26s before the final round.
It was mentioned in the local paper and I was super nervous.
On that golden August night, I recorded a 27:30, one of my worst of the season but just clung on to take the trophy by the skin of my teeth.
For that reason, the Bluebell is the competition that I love the most and feel most passionate about. It brings people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities together to bomb around a beautiful course before (post covid) a nice chat and a brew on the heath.
Fast forward to 2021 and as I rode home from the event Wednesday with the daylight fading to the extent you could see my lights starting to take effect, I took some time out (ok a train was coming on the crossing, so the gates were down) to ponder my life in cycling.
There have been downs as well as ups, and my geography has meant that despite it being 30 Bluebells since I started riding, its probably only 23 that I have taken part in (winning again in 2004).
But despite everything, this is something that we can cling on to and cherish as a little piece of sporting history of our own and on our own doorsteps.
With so many other factors in my life to come in to play, its too early to say whether there will be a campaign from me to celebrate 31 years after my first. But wherever you are, please support you club local weekly 10-mile time trial.
Forget about the crucial revenue it generates for the club and the competitive racing it provides. Think more about the camaraderie, friendship, and benefits for the soul.
Understanding what was happening in the pandemic and carrying on working whilst some of my friends and colleagues were furloughed around me was harrowing.
I turned the emotion, and need to have thinking time into a challenge of riding every day during that month.
This was a particular challenge with the UK restrictions at the time as it was unclear if you could leave your house and how far you could go.
The majority of the miles were done on the turbo trainer with other riders less than 7km from home on a looping circuit.
As well as relaxing my brain, it challenged my powers of resilience and motivation.
Fast forward to April 2021 and its been a whole different proposition.
The stress of late summer 2020 job hunting followed by being locked down again and having months of the children home from school has left me craving something different this month.
So far I have ridden 2 of the club 10 mile races this season and am about a minute away from where I was last year.
My usual attitude to that would be to throw more miles and more intensity into those efforts. My initial reaction was to start checking the credit card balance to see if funds were sufficient to go back on the merry-go-round of training with a power meter.
But then I stopped to think.
Every time I have started a way off where I wanted to be in a season I have reacted by trying even harder.
Most of those years I have struggled to keep racing past August.
So for me 2021 is about a different approach. More of a gamble and more of a test of patience. But I am hoping for results that show it was worth it.
This week I have barely travelled 20 miles by bicycle as of yet. And all of that has been virtual miles out of the icy cold northerly wind that has chilled us for weeks here. The smile is slowly coming back to my lips through the grimace of the effort.
All of the data charts and graphs show that fitness wise I am starting to dip.
But they all measure three metrics and one of those going down is a positive.
Fitness, form and fatigue are the three, and whilst its great to see that my heart rate and turbo trainer power data shows the final measure, fatigue, is in decline, meaning I am ‘fresher’, its the benefit to my mind I am most interested in.
After all cycling is our hobby, not our profession. So for me to know be back at the stage where I want to get out on my bike and have fun, not be a slave to data and numbers, is the best win of the season.
Can cycling be emotive on a freezing cold Wednesday evening on a stretch of gravelly road between Peterborough and Rutland?
For me it was when I saw a familiar car and face beaming out at me as I suffered to get into a rhythm.
I might be closing in on 50 and celebrating 30 years since I starting bike racing in this same “Bluebell Series”, but seeing my Mum watching still makes me find an extra couple of KM/h.
It’s a long and complicated tale of parental support on cold road sides for decades. My parents love the sport and have enjoyed my journey through it. There have been endless pasta meals at 5am on a weekend before a long time in the car and then huddled up with a flask waiting for me to get to the finish or whatever race it was. There were only minimal complaints from them!
But, there is also the part where my best days and biggest results coincided with a period of serious ill health for my Mum. This meant I rode Flanders and had my best finish in the Tour of Cambridgeshire gran fondo without her being there to join in the celebratory beers and pizza.
And that still hurts even today and 6 years on.
So, still suffering with ill health, when she makes the effort to watch a race (safely socially distanced and in the car) I feel duty bound to make the effort to give my absolute best in return.
Last night was no exception.
I paid for the effort and the near 10 mile head wind ride home after the race in freezing temperatures was a challenge but nothing like the one she has been through to be able to come and show me her support.
I think like most of the planet emerging from lockdown, there was an element of nervousness in me as I threw a Fendrien jacket over my club skinsuit and fixed the lights to my time trial bike before heading off to the start of the race last Wednesday.
I didn’t know how I would feel or what my performance was like. Things that help you understand performance, such as power meters had been sold last summer to keep things ticking over at home so this was a real step into the dark for me.
The first drama was some light drizzle as I crossed the A16 and got on the country lanes, that was followed by the East Coast Mainline stopping me for two trains at the crossing. This was stuff that in previous years would have phased me, it would have affected my concentration and added to the nerves of bike racing.
This year though, it just feels so nice to be out there that I took it all in my stride as part of the experience. It’s like lock down has actually given us more time to do things and think about what’s going on.
I collected my number, socially distanced of course, and fixed it to my new number belt. Yes I know I look like a triathlete, but skin suits aren’t cheap so any avoidance of pin damage is fine by me!
I stashed my jacket and bottle in the undergrowth near the car park and started to get my act together as other riders were arriving.
My start time was nice and early so I was able to do my 10 miles (25:15) and get back to the finish before layering up and riding home.
This reminded me of when my kids were first born and I did little in the way of training. With that in mind I rode the St Ives (Cambs) CC 10s mid week as where I lived meant I could easily ride out to the event and back for extra miles, usually it was a 50km evening. Those tired rides home with my lights twinkling and the fens looking splendid were some of the best I can remember.
The same applied here and as I waited for another 2 trains at the crossing going home I reflected on a successful evening for the club and enjoyed those last 8km home without sprinting for village signs or eyeballing the heart rate numbers on my computer.
And if a weekly stress relieving ride home each Wednesday is as good as my truncated cycling season gets this year, that will do just fine.
I would like to go a bit faster in the race though!
It sounds quite an arrogant or big headed question when you look at it in isolation. And I suppose if you judge it against yellow jersies and number of participation’s in the world championships then no, I am nowhere close to completing cycling.
But if you go back to the 1980s when I was a small boy growing up in the fens spending my summer holidays in the maroon and gold Fenland Clarion jersey riding all day, my dreams of what I wanted from cycling were quite specific.
I dreamt of being a racer, riding up Alp D’Huez (like Steven Rooks was doing in the 1988 Tour de France), hitting the cobbles of Flanders and riding through my home village of Yaxley with a number on.
It has taken me some time but I have met all of those goals.
Racing has been part of my summer schedule since 1991, and apart from a couple of years break at the start of the 2000’s I have regularly competed in summer club 10’s with a smattering of opens.
The course have been based on variants of Helpston (3 of), a run between Weymouth towards Lulworth Cove on the South Dorset coast before a couple of variants for St Ives based on Sawtry pavilion.
Since moving to Lincolnshire I have come full circle and am back to riding around Helpston.
Road racing was always something I struggled with as I was quite little and used to get bumped of wheels and blown away by the wind (believe it or not!). I have latterly got into the less competitive world of sportive’s.
I have been up Alp D’Huez twice now and have scratched the itch of riding mountains in both France and Spain. There is something about watching grainy 1980’s TV pictures of a road and then getting the full clarity and enhanced senses from riding up it.
Those blurred images were crystal clear as the sun beat down and the sights and sounds of the mountain seemed to cover up my rhythmic breathing and struggle to get up. I love the pro spotting element of these sorts of rides and the image on this website of the aG2r hunting me down on the Croix de Fer remains one of my best memories on a bike.
One day races always appealed to me and it felt like the weather would start to warm up and the daffodils bloom as the Northern classics appeared on Eurosport. Flanders in particular felt like “my” race and to ride the sportive in 2015 with my name on the start list next to the union flag was something quite special. Those of you who know me will know that my family was going through a terribly tough period and it was touch and go I would get chance to ride.
But it all came good (apart from the Flemish weather) and despite the pain and suffering of that last 15km or so, my friend James Fordham and I battled through before I had a good cry at the finish.
4 Mr Kipling apple pies post ride remains my record and it was set in Oudenaarde on that day.
Later in 2015 came the first Tour of Cambridgeshire and I rode through Yaxley, my home, in the race part of the Fondo. Again there were tears as I passed my home, my old infant school and the house I grew up in with my Parents and Grandparents. In true cycling tradition the group I was in allowed me to go a few bike lengths ahead to blow a kiss to my wife and kids.
So what next?
That is the question I am currently facing. As I get nearer to 50 than 40 the winters seem colder and the effort required to get on the turbo trainer at six in the morning seems greater. I can’t be the only one thinking the drivers are getting closer to me and the headwinds are getting stronger?
I have had a few accidents and a few concussions and the fear that something like that could happen to me again does play on my mind.
Maybe its just the fact its windy, cold and dark outside that makes me think I have done all I can in cycling for the moment, or maybe reading the Cyclist magazine interview with Phillippe Gilbert where he explains that when he retires he will be gone from cycling so he can spend another portion of his life doing something else is food for thought…