From couch potato to A4
Anyone can just buy an A4 license but realistically and to get maximum fun out of racing you need to both practically and metaphorically get up to speed. I use cycling as a way of keeping fit and when this is done in a structured way, the average cyclist can continually improve. The beauty in cycling is if you train smart you get back many positive returns from what you put in. There are numerous training plans on the net and my advice to KCC folk (or anybody) thinking of dipping their toe in the water is to just pick one and stick to it. Personally I joined British Cycling (its typically £20 and new member incentives such as free lights make it practically cost neutral) this is an excellent resource with tailored training plans for all levels and race types.
On Saturday 18/02/17 I did the Annaclone GP which was the first race of the season. I was secretly hoping for a top 10 but with 80 riders I didn’t know how I would fare. Since Christmas I had to abandon much of my training plan because of problems with my knee & hip (a proper bike fit is a must to avoid injury, especially when increasing the intensity or duration of training). The race itself was a huge buzz and naturally releases a cocktail of hormones which make you feel amazingly alert and alive! The circuit was ‘agricultural’ to put it kindly and despite finishing 6th I had a questionable aftertaste for the rest of the day! Tactically there was a lot of caginess and the main group slowed down to 17mph at several stages while folk were reluctant to spend time at the front into the wind. The fact that the eventual winner rode hard and got away from the first gun didn’t seem to bother anyone, I think it was expected he would be caught eventually. My pre-race strategy was to break on the last lap half way up GAA hill and ride above threshold for the 8 or so minutes it would take me to finish, this would be quite difficult as it would require holding a speed in excess of the 23½ mph to stay ahead. The chances of success are therefore much greater if other riders break also and share the burden (hence working as a team would have real benefits but this usually requires preplanning, organisation and trust). On the morning of the race however there was a strong enough head wind in the direction of the finish, this necessitated a different approach but without the wind I do wonder if I would have had the bottle to go it alone! Whether to stay or go is I guess the golden question in amateur cycling and one that is all too easily proven wrong in hindsight. The ~20% less energy expended staying in the group is always at the back of your mind but before long that manic few hundred meters of sprinting has approached and in 30 or 40 seconds it’s all over…..
I finished Annaclone surprised and content with my 6th place but also feeling a bit naive. If the majority of A4 races come down to a cyclists’ ability to maintain power at VO2max (i.e. at max HR) for 30 odd seconds and winning races is your goal, then surely this is something one needs to practice – a Eureka moment for me! Little did I know I would have another shot at A4 in 24hrs. After some Phil magic and a wee promise of dinner in Balloo for my wife I got a pass for the Phoenix GP the next morning. I could hardly sleep I was so excited; it really doesn’t take much. The official story of what happened is I used the parked cars as the marker for my final sprint, with the A race still to come however there were a lot more cars by the time the A4 ended and I went much too early. The result was me fading across the finish line having blown up trying to sprint for 75 seconds, scraping 10th place or thereabouts which was probably as a result of me blocking faster riders from behind. An alternative fact is I know I can’t sprint for toffee and the majority of my training is in endurance so my pre-race plan for Phoenix was to throw the kitchen sink at it in the 2+ miles in a tail wind from the roundabout to the finish line on the last lap. Unfortunately, the pace of the last lap was 24.4 mph and taking the previous days outing into consideration also there was no way I was going to get a jump on the bunch in the final run in. The result was I never thought of a plan B and went off like a headless chicken going for broke in the sprint….
What I take from my first real weekend in A4? Half the fun for me is in looking at the numbers and thinking what you plan to do from knowing what you are able to do. Then there’s the buzz of race day trying to make it a reality with all its hopes and expectations and unpredictability. To help make it happen the only tangible thing I think is to get in a fit enough shape to be there to throw your hat in the ring and take advantage when opportunity knocks with a bit of luck or experience or both.
By Phil Doyle – KCC