Friday, 19 August 2011

Hero to Zero

They say that a week is a long time in politics, they also say it is a long time in sport.  I found this out on Thursday night at an inter-club race hosted by Bann Valley CC in Kilrea.  On Sunday I completed the Inishowen and enjoyed the personal satisfaction.  A mere four days later at the Gortmacrane race, I crashed and burned.  No, I wasn’t involved in a high speed crash, I just flopped.

It was my first full year racing and this was the last race of the season.  I was satisfied enough with my progress and wanted to finish on a high.  Cathal Doyle was joint top of the league on points and it was up to the rest of us to help him win.  However, my race was over before it began.

For those not familiar with club cycling, there is a handicap system in place.

  • 0mins – Group 1 starts
  • 3mins – Group 2 starts
  • 4mins – Group 3 starts
  • 5mins – Group 4 (also known as scratch group) starts.

In the example above the scratch group has a 5 minute handicap to make up, but the number of groups and time intervals varies from race to race.  This mainly depends on the numbers in each group and the length of the race.  I hope I have not confused you too much.

The scratch group are the racers who have the highest average speed, so they have to chase down the main pack in order to win.  Last year, in my first race I won from group 1.  Now I am cycling from group 2.

So back to the Gortmacrane Race, where did it all go wrong?  I had prepared well, four days rest after Inishowen, a session on the foam rollers (to massage the legs) plenty of water and a healthy diet.

On the start line I was chatting to fellow cyclists and the 5 second countdown came on me all of a sudden.  A combination of the wrong gear and not being clipped into pedals properly allowed the group to get a 50m headstart on me. 

In cycling terms this was a disaster.  With the slight incline from the start line into Kilrea and the accumulated speed of the 20 strong group, 50m soon extended to 100m.  The shit had now hit the fan. 

I was now on my own with no shelter from the elements.  I kept chasing, but it was in vain.  I was never going to make up the gap and after lap one I was treading water and was picked up by the combined scratch/group 3 bunch.

I was cycling in a league miles away from the tour, from Evans, Contador and Schleck, but it mattered little as cramp began to set in and my heart rate was starting to go through the roof. 

Champions League of Cycling! I support Everton ;-)
I had three laps (15miles) of the race left in a fast chasing scratch group, going all out for the win.  A group that included Cathal Doyle and Stephen Walsh, but I was ‘in the red’ and was of no benefit to them.  At one stage my computer read 28.5mph.  Welcome to the world of the scratch group.  I was now in the champions league of amateur cycling, but punching above my weight.

On lap four I started to feel strong, I seemed to get my second (probably more like my 6th or 7th) wind.  Doyle was three bike lengths in front of me and the main body of the race about 200m in front of us.  All of a sudden I thought I was back in the race and was going to try and help Cathal to a podium finish. 

I was too ambitious.  When we turned the last corner at Drumagarner Chapel, about ½ mile from the finish the rest of the peleton raised it a notch.  My tank was empty.  If my bike was a car, every light on the dashboard would have been flashing, fuel tank empty, oil light flashing and the temperature gauge going through the roof.

I ploughed on to the line, well down the pecking order.  From the highs of Mamore and Kinnego on Sunday to nearly last going over the Kilrea finish line.  Isn’t sport strange?  Sunday was 103 miles, the race a mere 20 miles but at a totally different intensity level.

At the finish line I checked my bike computer.  It gave me the following stats, race time 50.7mins, average speed 24.1mph, average cadence 95rpm and average heart rate 153bpm.  The other stat was that Cathal’s nearest rival, finished fourth and won the inter-club league by 7 points.  Taking the title won by Stephen Walsh last year.

Even amateur sportsmen analyse their performance.  A few things were going through my mind.  Starting race in wrong gear, not being clicked in and giving the group a 50m start.  Not being able to reach for the water bottle due to the speed of the race, getting caught in wrong gear at the last corner and not having a proper meal two hours before the race.  Also, maybe I was out of my comfort zone.

My first group cycle with Carn Wheelers on Sunday 15th March 2009, a 40mile spin, giving me an average speed of 16.7mph, with a lot of help from Cathal Doyle and Jimmy Lagan literally pushing me along.

Then after the racing started I am now a regular in group 2 at the races and can handle that pace, very often being the one at the front driving it on. 

When I got the bike, I was happy enough just to get an odd spin out on it to try and keep fit.  Now I have become competitive.  After my Kilrea lesson this week, I realise that my next step up is to become an established scratch rider.  However, it will require a lot of training this winter to get my average speed up.

For now, it’s time to relax, recharge the batteries and keep myself ticking over with the Sunday cycles.  Eventually I will get the training started again.  My motivation to try and lose another stone in weight, increase my average speed and try to be more of a hero than a zero.

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