Some things are meant to be
Having focused recent training on short high intensity efforts to replicate a town centre crit, I ended up using a different energy system on Sunday 10th June.
Up until two weeks ago, I was down to race my home town crit in Winchester but was rejected due to not meeting enough criteria.
This was pretty frustrating as I’d love to have raced around the cobbled streets that I know so well, plus my racing and training was building up to that race. By all accounts, the Winchester crit looked fantastic and it was good to see local team Morvelo Basso take the win whilst I was plodding up a staircase reserved for devils…
Moments after getting the REJECTED application notification from Winchester, one of the very few email lists I must remain on after some heavy GDPR unsubscribing in recent weeks, produced a perfectly timed invitation.
Despite my focus in recent years turning from endurance to pace, part of me still gets drawn to ultra distances and the Dragon ride certainly ticks that box.
Instead of riding full gas for 45 minutes, I was now preparing the ride 11 hours or so at 70%.
I could only sign up online for the Gran Fondo (230km) but there was no way I was turning up and not doing the full distance so upgraded on the day.
Preparation couldn’t have been better thanks to the John family, putting me up in luxurious digs and topping up my energy stores with a amazing dinner cooked by Tish.
The sun was already dazzling as I drove the short journey to the start, mentally preparing for the longest day in the saddle for a few years. 305km with 14,500 ft of climbing was a 10 hour+ job all day long unless I got in a perfectly balanced chaingang – which would be missing the point of the ride.
The single key objective was to simply not bonk and get across the line with a smile on my face and pedal turns still in the tank. Balancing my pace and fuelling was the priority and the only way I was going to ensure I’d enjoy it to the maximum.
The second key objective was to appreciate the surroundings. The route was absolutely stunning and with the participants being strung out pretty quickly, it was just me and the Breacons in all their glory at times. Especially on the Devil segment of the route.
Consuming a small amount of food regularly was the plan and that worked a treat. Long gone are the days of pitching up at a feed station and shoving everything in sight down. I only really needed to stop at one feed station out of the 6 for food (I had a stash of cashews, dates and dried cranberries that I’d dip into every 15 minutes or so), the other stops were just to top up my two bottles which were dry each time I rolled in.
Backing off the watts was the key, saving them for the times when things got steep; Devil’s Elbow and Devil’s Staircase were punchy and hauling my fully loaded training bike felt like I was towing a caravan. I got in chainy with some guys from a club in Derby and whilst the pace was sustainable, I doubted how cohesive it would be for the remaining 120 miles so backed off and reminded myself that it wasn’t a race. I later passed them at a local shop about 40 miles from the finish, smashing cans of coke down…
My pacing married me up with a great guy from Bristol. Matthew and I rode together socially most of the way, sometimes taking each others wheel to provide opportunities to recover. It was a pleasure to see this etiquette so well observed considering I’d heard a few stories on the contrary about Sportives.
Knowing when to shoot the breeze and when to leave people to their own thoughts can be difficult, especially when that person is a stranger but I think Matthew and I pretty much nailed it.
Sadly, with about 15 miles to go, we descended into the valleys at a good pace and upon looking round for my homey as it levelled out, Matthew had got a puncture quite early in the descent (I later learned). It would have been apt for us to bat on to the line together but these things happen.
I don’t feel like I often need to be reminded to go and enjoy cycling without using my competitive brain as I get out into the local forests on my mountain bike, sometimes with Seb on my back, and ride completely carefree at least once or twice per week.
However, the L’Etape Wales showed me that Sportives can be good for the soul whilst providing a training benefit too. The Dragon gave me opportunities to develop several things that I can take into races; pacing, fuelling, mental strength, bike handling (those descents… wow) to name but a few.
I’m looking forward to getting back into race mode in both the road and XC scenes. I’ve been without my R60 race bike for a few weeks now and I’m gagging to get back in the saddle and smash out a few handicap and road races in the coming weeks.
The National XC Mountain Bike Championships isn’t too far away which actually requires the same type of training as road racing so I should be in good form going into that come the end of July.