Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Cyclo

If you train for events, at any level, and set goals and plot and scheme and work towards them you may experience, here and there, what I call “The Magic Day”.

The Magic Day cannot be accounted for, you may be feeling good in the run up to it, but it always takes you by surprise. I think adrenaline is part of the cocktail, because I don’t remember ever having one in training. Put simply, on a Magic Day, you can do no wrong. Pedals turn on any terrain, moves work, you know nothing can touch you.

I have had, in my 18 years of cycling, 4 of them, my last was in 2012. I barely experience them on the day, they just carry me along in a bubble until, after I finish, I find myself thinking ” good God, that felt great!”

And so, the day after the pro race, I find myself at the Kuipeke in Gent (home of the 6 day) looking for my club mate I’d agreed to ride with, not finding him and setting off for my first cyclo in 18 months, after my first good winter of training in 2 years.

I’d decided at the start of winter when I plotted out a schedule involving 4 events longer than 200km that I’d tackle them by riding within myself until there was 100km left and then going hard to the finish, as Omloop’s longest option was 105km I was happy just to blast from start to finish.

The first 15km were along the famed Scheldpad, a wide, flat and traffic free path alongside the river. I’d decided to get in a group here, roll along at 35kph and save a bit for when I’d need later. Sure enough I found myself engaging in the very Flemish activity of shouldering people to keep my place and stay out of the gutter in a brisk headwind, great fun.

On leaving the Schelde, we took a steady climb out of Gavere and some twisty farm roads into Oudenaarde that I hadn’t been on before. Eat, eat eat. Drink, drink drink. Resist urge to pee… Another good group moving pretty quickly and working well together saw me through to the first feed stop and blessed relief.

Again, I wanted a few people around me on the road out of Oudenaarde and into the Vlaams Ardennen where the cyclo course joins the professional route for its last 65km. I was happy to sit at the back of this and take a tow to the bottom of the Taainberg.

I’ve never really got on with this hill, its always just a bit too steep a bit too late in the ride. Today though, as soon as I got on it, my pedals were just rolling over. I’m the saddle, in the storm drain, only going on the stones to get by riders I got in the big ring at the top and pushed my speed over the top and into the sweeping descent into the next little valley. Strava tells me that not only was this my best ride on the hill, but top 100 out of over 8000 riders, the power of the magic day, boys and girls.

The next phase took in the Eikenberg, where the photo was taken, and a fast run along the main road to Horebeke where I first spotted, 200m ahead, a rider on a mountain bike that i could not reel in. Down a little drop towards the next set of cobbles, I caught him. On Haghoek, he passed me again, on the Leberg, I caught him, on the Molenberg he got me again. We must have leapfrogged each other 5 times, he was pulling 35kph on the flat on a mountain bike! Just before Paddestraat, I realised why. He had an old Lazer helmet on with Quick Step livery from back the 2000s and under it the name Kevin Van Impe. It was lucky i saw it when I did, as he waltzed away from me on Paddestraat, into the distance. Klasse, as they say.

After Paddestraat, there’s only 20km to the finish on SintPietersPlein in Gent and I’d resolved to time trial to the finish from that point. I began my “emptying out” on the cobbles of Lippenhovenstraat and caught a couple of guys as we turned back into the wind. 5km of twisting farm roads follow that (I almost missed the turn at one, riding hard on the front!), and then you have the last obstacle; 2km of well set cobbles on Lange Munte. Today, we were right in the teeth of a 30kph headwind. My companions were gone, wanting to ride a little easier. I kept hopping up to little islands of 3 or so riders, only to find they were grovelling along at 15kph and so any shelter they could offer would cost me all my momemtumn. Then I saw Kevin again. He rode for Quick Step so he must know his way around the windwind, i reasoned. Turned out,hauling  the mountain bike around was finally catching up with him, he dropped in behind me as soon as he saw me and then waved me on at the return to tarmac.

The final 10km is a slightly downhill main road drag back into Gent, ridden on my own, as hard as I still could. The wind was behind me again now and I was enjoying the feeling of spinning a big gear on the road I’d watched Standard, Boonen and Terpstra on the day before.

Over the finish line, I stopped the clock. I’d targeted an average speed of 27kph for all 6 of my cyclos for the spring and found that I’d held 28.9 for the 105km, for a top 10 time of 03:39.

Not to go too “coach” on you, but my enjoyment of these events comes from the process, not the end result. All the work I put in from October to February was the bedrock of that performance and the pleasing part was being able to ride exactly as I wanted.


I’m Back, Baby!

… As George Costanza would say.

I thought the last abscence of six months was a bit of a lapse, so what to say about six years?!

Let’s try and bring you, my loyal readership, up to date with the happenings of the last half a decade or so…

Moved to Glasgow

Got married

Moved to Belgium

Still riding

My plan is to update the blog roughly as before (I’ve got enough stuff to go through now!), but try and mix it in with some of the places, people and events that I’ve experienced through cycling since I stopped writing last time.

If You Do The Same Things…

…You’ll get the same results. Is a sporting trueism. It basically means that whilst performing to a certain level, you cannot just expect to improve consistently based on the same inputs.

For example, my best year on the bike was 2006. 3 or 4 good placings in road races and all on hard courses. 5th fastest in the Fred, good rides on Etape Du Dales, Polka Dot Challenge and the Marmotte and some good Hill Climb showings too. Those successes were based on training a 14 hour week minimum, commuting to and from work 3 days a week (thats a 40 mile round trip) and 2 long rides at the weekend. My only interval training came from Road Racing and Time Trialling and I bumbled through the season at a constant level and I was pretty pleased with the results. I can’t do that any more due to not being single and having a job that requires me to move around between sites, so I had to change it.

2007, 2008 and 2009 were not what I hoped and now it’s time to change again. One of the hardest things anyone can do is take themselves out of a comfort zone and risking a new approach. This year I’m planning to take in structured gym work (which seems to have worked miracles for Honister 92’s very own Schleck brothers) and approach my goals in a different fashion.

I’ve always picked out individual events and said “that one” building up to a peak for one day and then beating myself up if I didn’t measure up. I think this year I’m going to pick periods of a few weeks with decent races I can do well in and aim to perform right across them. Hedging my bets, if you will. I’m going to prepare differently too, by breaking my goals down in to physical characteristics required giving me something to hang my hat on while I’m training.

Likewise I need to amend my mental approach. I havbe a tendancy to think myself out of a race before I’ve left the house. I don’t know what it is, but I need to address it all the same.

Anyway, will update this later on following my first gym session and my goalsetting session with Coach Sam!

Here We Go Again!

So the moment had finally arrived. Up early, excited about going out on my bike for the first time in 3 weeks, training for the 2010 season starting today and really up for it. I was like a kid at Christmas, until I looked out of the window.

The tree across the road was at a 45 degree angle, our wheelie bin was at a 90 degree angle and I’m sure I saw a cat fly past. To cap it off there was the kind of rain last seen in a Batman film and a severe weather warning on the telly. Bloody Cumbria, I know i’m going to lose days outside to the weather throughout the winter, but to lose the very first one was just unfair!

The plan had been my 50 mile, 3 hour, Thirlmere loop at an easy pace. This takes you up the A66 to Keswick, out over the Nest (a horrible little climb) into the lakes, you do the loop round Thirlmere and then head back through St Johns in the Vale and round the back of Bassenthwaite (where my friend Rachael works in a really nice cafe, by sheer coincidence). I had planned to put in a Max HR test on the climb out of Keswick too.

Clearly, I now needed to re-jig my plan based on an indoor session. The thought of 3 hours on the Turbo (Even the Kurt Kinetic) is enough to make me sell my bike so I plumped for an hour and a half of easy riding (keeping my HR below about 85% at all times) with the aforementioned Max HR test thrown in. I cribbed the structure from an illicit copy of Pete Read’s Black Book (Thanks to Will from Bikeradar’s forums!) and, essentially, you batter yourself at increasing intensity until you can’t batter yourself no more. My musical companions were Mogwai and my DVD choice was The Quest. The Phil Ligget narrated tale of Gilberto Simoni’s 2003 Giro Win.

So 30 minutes into my session, my long suffering girlfriend stood with a pen and a stopwatch to record the results. I started off in a 53×18 at a cadance of 100 for 2 minutes, then up a gear, then up another… By 3 minutes it was agony. The Polar later told me that i’d passed from my endurance pace to above lactic threshold in just over a minute. By 4 minutes i was wondering if I could last. By 5 and a half my candance had dropped to 85 and my heart rate by about 15 beats, the test was over.

And the result? 196 max HR. Exactly the same as last year. So I needn’t have bothered. The things we do eh?

Where The Magic Happens…

I know you’re all dying to see just where PD Malcolm spends his winter so here it is!

You will note the MP3 player rigged through inappropriately loud speakers… The DVD player also perched perilously atop the Black and Decker work bench.

The connisseur will also notice the motivational Ikurrina on the wall. Just out of shot is a framed print from the Champs Elysees stage of the 1973 Tour de France and a Girls Aloud Calender.

The eagle eyed amongst you will also observe the comedy Reindeer antlers on the floor… hemhem

…And We’re Back!

Sorry for the six month intermission folks… Lot’s of reasons, none very interesting. Another season in the books… no success to report. Not a single goal accomplished!

Anyway, i’m getting ready for another go-round with winter training starting on Saturday and I’ve a couple of new tricks up my sleeve to get me up to a level I’m happy with after 3 weeks off the bike drinking beer and eating crap.

Firstly, the Kurt Kinetic Road Machine. It’s a turbo trainer, sure, but I prefer to think of it as the Turbo Trainer. It’s quieter than any I’ve ever heard and the feel of it is fantastic. The resistance on it is, apparantly, so accurate that they give you a calcualtion (based on a “normal” rider and bike) to enable you to work out your average power. I don’t know how good that is… But I do know I’ve been turning a 53 x 21 at about 90rpm for 30kph, which is real enough for PD Malcolm.

My second change for the year is Sam Ayers, my new coach.

I began working with Sam back in July in preparation for the Whinlatter Hill Climb and she’s been gradually convincing me that 10 years of headbanging and pushing myself hard 5 times a week aren’t whats required. I was making good improvements over the late season from following her advice and reckon I can only improve further by continuing with it.

The way I look at it, if you keep doing the same things, you keep getting the same results and sometimes you have to take yourself out of your comfort zone to move forward. That’s my challenge this year. I haven’t set any specific goals yet but my planning session for the winter is next Monday, so I should know more by then… First marker is a Max HR test on Saturday. Bring it on!

Newlands & Whinlatter. Fast.

AS you know, I’m following my Sportif training block at the mo and Wednesday night is Force Climbs night. The purpose of this is to get my legs used to grinding at aerobic threshold as they inevitably will be in he closing stages of the 3 British rides i’m doing but also to build a bit of endurance for longer climbs, hopefully. Anyway, for this I ride out to the foot of Newlands Pass then ride over it and Whinlatter in the saddle as much as I can and time it. In a vain effort to improve my descending skills, I time the way down too.

Strange day weather-wise in the lakes today. Lots of little pockets of rain gusting about the place and some extremely fresh breezes. The temperatures weren’t bad though. One of these breezes was in my face for the first section of the ride. Although it did have the bonus of being a little nature walk/ride. Two horses did the Tour De France thing of galloping alongside me as I rode past their field, that was pretty cool. Lots of little lambs too, including one balancing on a high wall. How it got up there, I know not. I also saw a sultry buzzard on a tree which, after looking at me with complete disdain, flew off lazily.

Onto Newlands and, as ever, I started my timer at the snow sign (showing all year round!) and pretty much straight away reached for 39×26. You have to take the bottom section out of the saddle, it’s between 15% and 20% for the first 500m, tonight though I was bouncing. A fresh dump of rain meant that my back wheel kept slipping under pressure, so I was looking for the rutted, rough parts of road to keep traction.By half way I had resumed motoring in the saddle and stayed there, spinning, until the 20% sign abuot 150m (and one evil 25% ramp) from the summit. A kick out of the saddle and I was there. 8:48 and 30 seconds taken out of my years best!

I found a mobile phone on the top too. So if anyone has lost a battered old Nokia, been up Newlands Pass in the last 24 hours and has a mother who is constantly on the phone, PD Malcolm can help you out.

The descent was also very wet… Exercising my usual cowardice/caution and taking into account the amoutn of traffic I wasn’t expecting anything from the descent… But a years best 13:22 on that too! When you’re going well, eh? I’m crediting all this by the way to the mysterious power of my Gibo-era Lampre jersey. Just putting on it’s wierd fibre that i’ve never seen anywhere else makes you feel less like a gangly scruff honking up a wet fell and more like the peloton’s prime exponant of the Napoleon Complex taking it to the worlds best climbers on the Zoncolan

A quick tug on the bottle and then onto Whinlatter where, bizarrely the road was completely dry after the observation point half way up. Another years best time of 11:38… 6 seconds slower than my best ever! Descent slightly disappointing, but I was tired by that point and given the amount of grip my back tyre was exhibiting, I was in no mood to push it.

Absolutely thrilled with tonights ride, I must be doing something right!