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enthDegree Cycling Blog

Seasons Change

cycle Posted on Mon, January 15, 2018 21:44:01

It’s been three months since I last blogged and the hiatus is largely because I’d totally fallen out of love with cycling and was even considering quitting the sport altogether. Too much negativity and disappointment.

But I’m not very good at quitting. Whilst others have climbed off in races with a volley of excuses (too windy, not at my FTP today, too slow at the turn, couldn’t clip in properly, chain fell off, wrong start position, etc), I never quit. I guess that’s why at this checkpoint in time I have the unique honour of being a Scottish champion at all the standard distances (CTT 10 and 25 miles, SC 50 and 100 miles) along with the middle distance BAR (Best All Rounder – average speed over 25, 50 and 100 miles). All of them have been attritional victories with the exception of 100 miles which contrarily was the easiest race of my my brief career. I also hold the same number of Scottish records – Vet 25 miles, Vet 50 miles, Vet and Senior 100 miles and the fastest ever Scottish BAR (28.297 mph), though oddly Scottish Cycling honour the latter, but not officially the record, so I’ll guess I’ll unofficially make it my own, whilst I can. No, winners don’t quit and don’t make excuses when they don’t perform.

My love affair with cycling was beginning to turn sour for a couple of reasons. The first was the consequence and the accumulative behaviour of various individuals and even groups (I know who they are even if they don’t) whose attitude towards me was becoming increasingly disrespectful and even downright nasty. I just about tolerate being forgotten (though it happens a lot), I seem to have somehow created a habit of being ignored (perhaps it’s because I just let my wheels do the talking), but being subject to devious lies and deceit is simply unacceptable.

I wonder if it’s because I’m short, “nice”, generous and smile a lot, people think I’m a naive little simpleton who’s desperate to please and give away his time and resources for free? Little do they know the real me. You don’t win 27 races and stand on the podium 42 times in 3 years of contiguous racing just by being “nice”. Nope, you need to be a calculating, uncompromising, nocuous, tenacious individual with a core of hardened steel and a diamond centre. Impenetrable, hardened, both mentally and physically. That’s the real me. Being “nice”, takes up a lot of effort and energy. Not any more. No more Mr Nice Guy. Polite will suffice. “The smiling assassin” as my one of my close pals calls me.

My interior is the antithesis of my exterior. Back in late November my partner and I humanely as possible terminated a deer that had been badly damaged and hit by a car. Rather than see it die a slow and painful death in serious sub-zero temperatures, we tried to end its life quickly and with dignity rather than leaving it to be savaged by predators or crunched by more cars (causing more damage and possibly even more accidents on treacherously icy roads). It was a case of lots of fur, blood and lobster gloves and when the poor creature eventually gave up the fight we got back on our bikes and rode home in silence. It wasn’t nice. We tried to make the best of a bad situation. There were no smiles, but it had to be done. Tillydrine bump will never be the same again, nor take 20 minutes to climb.

But I digress. 2017 was also very frustrating season which was centred on a race that got postponed three times and eventually merged with the 100 mile national TT (meaning I had to lose one title or compromise on winning both) before eventually being cancelled. The disappointment took the wind out of my disc wheel. Every race in 2017 had some ridiculous impediment to deal with, the best one being the UCI amateur TT finals where not only wouldn’t the non-English speaking/French listening Commissaire allow (incorrectly) any saddle tilt (thus drastically changing my position that I’d spent all season optimising and adapting), but the race itself on closed roads nearly ended in a DNF when an ambulance passed me, then slowed me down and then tried to run me into a 6 foot trench as I passed (since I still achieved my objective, it’s a reason and not an excuse). So I took my best ever 50/100 miles form out on the Tour of the Trossachs TT (which will be a future post) and whilst the result and the report didn’t tell the true story, I didn’t care. The performance certainly proved that I had found the holy grail of training techniques that will have me competing for podiums in my fifties should I decide to return to racing.

The point I’m trying to make is, appearances can be very deceptive. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. A great example of this was NE Scotland cycling stalwart and commissaire extraordinaire Isobel Smith who sadly passed away at the end of December. I sat this morning in the chapel next to Amanda (we later had a farewell cake each as you can see in the photo) and between the brilliant and touching eulogy and her coffin being taken away to her final resting place we had a moment to reflect. I thought about the day I raced the last 100 mile Scottish TT and the trouble I got into with Isobel for using the disabled toilet. I made my apologies as a walking stick was waved inches from my face. A raging Isobel who in my mind was not so much acerbic, but quite simply a straight talker. She suffered no fools and made no exceptions. A fine role model. She accepted my explanation and contrition (I was desperate and on the verge of a DNS), still telling me off at the same time and then congratulating me later when I signed the piece of paper that details the fastest ever 100 miles in Scotland.

When you first saw Isobel you would immediately think, frail, little old lady who bakes nice cakes and has nothing better to do with her time than volunteer herself for the sake of cycling sport. Quite contrary. We didn’t take Isobel for granted nor did we underestimate her either. She was too sharp for us in more ways than one. Without Isobel a lot of races would have never started. She would turn the tallest, swaggering preening peacock with an ego the size of Dundee into nothing but bubbling rubble if you crossed her or broke the rules (and then hand you a piece of cake). The unsmiling assassin. An incredible lady in more ways than one and the reason why during that moment for reflection at her funeral I fell back in love with cycling. I’ve always lead by example, now it’s time to be lead by example. Isobel Smith your spirit lives on in others.

Time for a change. I have my cycling mojo back. Thank you Isobel!

Slaying The Dragon

cycle Posted on Fri, October 13, 2017 15:52:57

I could hear them collected in the dead ground; I’d been pushing, carrying, dragging my pride and joy up the “hike a bike”.

I’m 6 hrs (20 miles) in to the 43mile route; I’m sick from my dirty camelback, tired from a 2 am finish and 6 am start, hungover from a lovely Dalwhinie, 5 stone over weight from my mis-spent twenties, crestfallen, ashamed, exposed but I am still moving, still trying to make it to mile 43 I wouldn’t give up. I needed to have the decision taken from me, for me.

The coven of trials motor bike and quad mounted marshals called me over.

“You are the last rider on the course”

“you have not made the cut off”

“I’m sorry but for your safety and the safety of my marshals; your race is over.”

It was a relief to hear it.

What followed was my only ride on a quad bike I never enjoyed to the BBQ at the Bothy at Lairig Leacach.

I walked down in to the stream away from the other 5 souls who’d been shamed in to getting the minibus home and stared up through tears at Stob Coire Easain.

The craic on the minibus was great we shared jelly babies and regret at too many days and nights wasted on the couch “preparing” for this failure.

My Orange 5 Mountain Bike was retired to the garage, my shame, my failure hung from the handlebars. My race number pinned to the garage wall upside down as a reminder.

I’m 33, We’re about to have our first child. I thought I was a mountain biker, I thought I would manage TdBN, I thought my weight was not a problem;

“Well you know what thought did……..”

I felt low; As low as I had done when after preparing to do Lands End to John O’Groats and been run over and failed my Army Selection at age 23.

Back then my dad had bought me a turbo trainer which I had tried and hated so never used. It was still there, in the garage, collecting dust and rags and tripping me up when I was trying to find something. I still had my Bianchi road bike which I had done about 50 miles per year (average in 10 years).

I set it up and found Sufferfest. Dropped 20kg through diet and horrible garage workouts in front of the tiny computer screen. Using Recommended Perceived Exertion (no HRM to start with). I sweated and steamed my way through their 12 week plan (and the paint on the garage floor) hitting about 60% of the workouts.

My goal was to lose weight, what came as an aside was a realisation real rides outside had gotten much easier I had a desire and ability to get out of the saddle and climb like my friends. And they noticed!

4 weeks after Anders arrived I was still managing a mix of rides and turbo sessions.

My friends offered me a place on a sportive round a Loch where a monster lived.

I made a phone call the night before, giddy with anticipation which ended with me estimating my finishing time and being told “Ha, you reckon, we’ll see!”

Still fresh in my mind was my failure. The doubt and the shame led me to ride on my own.

“We’ll See!”

3hrs 40 minutes. Quite respectable.

Fast forward 3 years, I’m a roadie with a mountainbike monkey on my back. My biking friend and coach, Jon, had convinced me to stop attributing fault to the equipment used on TdBN 2014. I rode my Five a few times, spent my summer getting (60% effort) miles in on the road bike. Spent 2 months converting road miles in to epic mountain bike training. 4 x 5 hr+ rides with similar elevation to TdBN. Overcoming mechanical foibles of neglected equipment punished by the local terrain. Completed a Mental Training Programme, reducing the likelihood of mental sabotage in training and event day.

We’re in a hotel room, 10 miles from the start line. Alexandra, Anders, Magnus and me.

Alexandra looks guilty, concerned they are sabotaging my start by disturbing my perfect rest before the ride. (Jon says it’s the best endurance training you can do!). Quite the contrary, I need them there. Anders’ first word was bike. Alexandra knows what this means to me. They weren’t here last time. We got as close to a perfect rest as parents of a 4 month and 30 month boys get.

A large bowl of porridge and the usual dining room carryon with a toddler passes and we get in the car with the Steel “Rat Bike” hanging off the back.

I’m a 3 year roadie and sportive veteran, the 0945 start time is laid back and comfortable. My family, Jon and new bike buddy Hels dispel my self-doubt here and nothing left to do but start.

My Goal was 5:30:00 as it had to be a SMART goal so needed a finishing time.

So the initial climb out of Ft Bill was as hard as I remembered but i also remember pushing a lot more of it than i did this year. I needed your restraint regards effort at this point and it worked.

I arrived at the DH ready to make some points! my chain fell off and mech went inside out on itself I thought it was “DONE!”. Then I encountered the casualty in the woods, i think i lost 4 minutes overall but, BUT, for the second time riding it i cleaned it without a puncture which i think says something about fitness and technique!!!!(on a hardtail!).

The next climb after the stop was uneventful, notably I could not hear the quad bike of shame, but when we got alongside the loch I thought I had a nice spinny drag coming but my core ached and my arms got worse as I went along as I was leaning all my weight on the bars, still can’t hear the quad bike of shame. Jon’s up ahead.

I was glad of arriving at the river crossing as I knew I was making progress, no quad bike of shame but a good line of 15 riders tailing me and Jon’s close by, encouraging.

I knew the “hike a bike” was achievable as I have done similar in all my preparation rides leading up to Saturday. Descending off it was even better. Riding away from other riders who could not ride down it was amazing (considering I had no back brake). Quad bike can’t do hike a bike and I still can’t hear it. I’m past the point I was swept up last time.

I thought I might have a moment at the Bothy; it did not come, I shared banter and hydration tablets with other weary riders.

The climb away from the Bothy was tough. The descent from there was hilarious though with no back brake. Quad can’t catch me now.

I had not anticipated such a slog from Lenachan along. It was more than boring. Again, my lack of a core was massively holding me back as my lungs and legs would have taken more of the same!

“I’ve got some bad news………….”

Heart sank

“You’re tired, good news is there is nothing you can do about it and all you can do is finish it now!”

The witches’ trails, once we were descending were more exciting with only a front brake.

We exited the witches trails to the cycle path to Ft. Willian, the distillery, The Finish. Jon, the master of pace making, dug in and span a solid 40kph with me on his wheel we were flying.

“Go on Pedro, you take this.”

A shake of hands and we crossed together, I finished an epic, with a guy capable of winning it outright. With a friend. No quad bike, they never caught me!

My family standing on the line, all happy to see me cross the line.

When I got off the bike at distillery I would never have done it again.

Since then I have become much more reflective.

If I was 20kg lighter, if i had a stronger core, if I had a rear brake. If I had a 29er…..

SO I’m looking for a long travel 29er hardtail now. And will be back next year!

5:30:00……..”We’ll See!”

Three Is THE Magic Number

cycle Posted on Thu, August 31, 2017 09:51:34

3-2-1, GO! I bleated out three little words that I say every day to my rock, my soulmate, my best friend as I descended the start ramp…

And I was finally away in the sweltering oppressive heat of the midi-Pyrenees slowly, but smoothly building up a rhythm as I easily negotiated the racing bends on the Albi race track.

And then out onto the main road, just cones and the odd marshal for company, looking ahead to see where the chilled American chap I got talking to in the holding pen prior to the race was, as he had started 30 seconds ahead of me.

I was in the groove, “on it” as these cyclists tend to say when all is going well. On reflection, starting back in Denmark two years ago, it has indeed been a turbulent couple of years. I wasn’t optimal for this race, but I’d given myself the best shot I could muster for this year given the circumstances having also overcome a recent knee injury that tried its best to derail my season. Anyway, I had my secret weapon and she was back at the finish line willing me on just like she was two months prior on the Isle of Man when we were just long term friends and cycling buddies. I say “just” with comedic flippancy, because that race, despite being the most important race of my life at that point was my ground zero. I was determined to race on the Isle of Man alone – a single man on a mission to find himself and be happy just being on his tod with his daughters to remind him now and again that he’s a good bloke really and not completely alone. But the encouragement and congratulations I got via the text messages I received before and after I got a shooing from Cummings, Dowset, Gullen, et al, when I look back was probably the start of a new and beautiful relationship with an incredibly loving and generous human being.

Anyway, I digress, this is supposed to be a blog post about cycling not a love story!!!

I shouted aggressively another three words of self-encouragement “COME ON JON”. For the first time in my 45.5 years (nearly to the day!) I felt genuinely at peace with myself, almost confident dare I say! I was raging for the right reasons this time. “Be the best you can be”, said my Oracle prior to the race and it was going round and round in my head and I was energised by it. I was picking up speed and I could feel it.

But there’s always a “but”. And this race was no different. Though I didn’t think about it at all until some kind soul posted the incident on the UK Time Trialling Facebook page a day later. I’d completely forgotten about it, but it’s worth telling as it wouldn’t have changed the result, only fortified the bronze medal position, or as I prefer, third place on the podium.

So I’m bombing along, like you do in the world amateur TT final, and I start to catch an ambulance in front of me. WTF was my first reaction. What am I supposed to do now? Ok, I’ll give it a wide berth so as not to be (unfairly) disqualified for drafting (even though I’d be slowing at the same time), speed up and overtake it instead – this is what you did when you entered the 19’ club last year and a combine harvester started 30 seconds ahead of you.

But the “hill” was coming up and this distracted me as my heart rate was creeping way past threshold (which rarely happens as I’m often in a deliberate fatigued state) and I was starting to parboil internally. The brain was racing as well as the legs and I sat up. Then the ambulance thankfully sped away allowing me to get back into position and ready for the “hill” which in reality was a short rise, but must look like Ben Nevis to folk from the north Netherlands.

Sharp left at the junction and hill time! Only to be met around the bend by the same ambulance who had stopped in front of me. Evasive action. Being a mountain biker in disguise allows me to handle the TT bike pretty well and I started to swerve to the right of the ambulance only for it to start moving in the direction I was swerving!

I took a look at three foot drainage trench on the right which was accelerating towards me and decided I didn’t want to end up in the ambulance which was inadvertently doing a great job of trying to place me in the ditch. Oh the irony!

Not to be this time…somehow? Phew! Some choice words shouted angrily (often abbreviated as “FFS” in social media/text messages) seem to do the trick and stop the driver from ramming me off the road and I was away up the “hill” shaking my head in disbelief catching my 30 second American man in the process without realising I had done until I passed him.

At the top of the rise, I instinctively took a calculated risk. My heart rate was racing too, along with the brain and the legs and being the highest and slowest point on the 23km course, it was blow torch hot. No 45 kph wind chill here! I clicked into easier gears, ignored the power data and speed, concentrated on spinning the legs until the heart rate stabilised. And from here on, I hung on watching heart rate like a hawk, controlling my efforts as smoothly as I could, drawing on all my racing experience which eventually took me back into the aerodrome for the last 2 klicks and I gave it one last heave before finishing up crouched over my bike pecking like a dog for the next five minutes. I knew then I’d given it the best I could have done on that day. There will be other days when I’ll be better, fitter, faster.

I found my Oracle and she helped me with my bike. As per usual I had no idea where I was in the standings and as per usual I didn’t care, as I’d given it laldie and Kyle had placed a nice cold beer in my hand. We wandered over to GB pit where Nelly was recovering from his race and we waited on Kelvin and Mike to come in from their own thirty-odd minute date with a nuclear furnace on TT bikes.

Then it started to dawn on me, perhaps I should see where I finished? The target was a Rainbow Jersey after all (you numpty)! But now I didn’t care, as I was genuinely happy, though I got a strange feeling that I’d done something useful, but an even better feeling that this time, because just like on the Isle of Man, there would be no price to pay for this short-arsed 45 year old optimist with a knackered knee. No dressing down, no looks of disgust for finishing tenth or being ignored for smashing a record. Quite the contrary. My inspiration had given up four days of her holiday (which for someone who is also runs her own business is no easy task) at little notice to support me regardless of the outcome. I owed her this even though it didn’t matter to her, because she knew I had delivered on her “Be the best you can be” mantra, like I always do.

I wandered over the results sheet in the baking heat wearing a nice pink sunhat that I stole from my motivator, got some funny looks in the process and for once felt happy and at peace with myself seeing the result. Third. By literally a fraction of a second. For once I didn’t care about the time differences.

Bronze medal. Progress from 11th two years ago in Denmark. Heading in the right direction, and at last now with the right people who I want to work, socialise, ride, have fun and share experiences with. Life is for living. Life is to be enjoyed not endured.

So once again, three is THE magic number, but as a new and exciting life begins, it’s all because of ONE special and amazing individual.

Practice What You Preach

cycle Posted on Mon, August 21, 2017 15:26:18

This year has hardly been optimal in terms of racing, but I’m not complaining. In truth it never was going to be, I knew that from the start of 2017. This year was all about ground zero, back to basics, a benchmarking season. And besides as another big race is about to unfold I count myself lucky to be in the situation I find myself in as the future looks very bright indeed.

Why am I fortunate?

Well no fewer than 4 weeks ago I was nursing the troublesome right knee which had ballooned big time due to a tendon in the back of the leg becoming inflamed. As per usual I tried to ignore it. I even managed a 85km ride on the road bike the day before I was due to take part in a 300km audax, but in my heart of hearts, I knew something wasn’t right. I was in denial, I was injured. Bugger. I hate being injured and it was so long since I last was, I’d forgotten about the ruptures, breaks, tears, chips, dislocations, fractures and surgery I’d experienced over the years, oddly all on my right side.

Ironically, on the Friday night, hours before the 6am audax start, I was making a house call with one of my clients who is himself recovering from multiple fractures of the femur and just happens to be my local GP, when I asked for his opinion. He didn’t seem too concerned, provided I skip the audax and opt for Ibuprofen (no not pills, dammit!), Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation, which I prefixed to BRICE. The photo explains what the “B” stands for.

And so I spent Friday evening, deflated, dejected, disappointed and deluded – convinced I could do 300km the next day without issues and trying to talk myself into ignoring the right knee which was now resembling a small balloon.

That was until I got a message from another client who was also due to ride the audax. He had been in a minor car crash and had suffered whiplash and wanted my advice whether or not to ride. Of course not, I replied, crazy idea, there will always be other opportunities. It’s a long game, no prizes for trying to be a hero.

I could feel myself slowly holding up a mirror to myself…

Practice what you preach, Jon!

Of course, I was never going to do the ride in my injured state, but when you are injured or sub-optimal, you go through a series of iterations in your head trying to convince yourself it’s ok to go with your gut feel. No I wasn’t chickening out, and yes there will be another day when I can catch up with Emily and discuss the merits of doing a 12 hour TT (well done on your 258.2 miles Emily). It just wasn’t meant to be, I had bigger goals on the horizon and sometimes you just have to lick your wounds, or more accurately put a bag of frozen peas on it.

And besides I got to spend Saturday afternoon with Ashley in the Douglas Arm’s Grand Tour Café watching Chris Froome TT his way to his 4th Tour de France title. Our injuries were only temporary. Just need patience and time and before you know it, we’ll be back on the horse, or rather, bike.

And four weeks later we are both just about back on track. Far from perfect, but nothing is. For me I still have flexibility issues, but three races have taken place in that time, all on the podium, 2nd in a 30 mile TT, bronze in the Scottish national TTT and another win (just) in a local (Aberdeen Wheelers) 10 mile TT. Not bad considering. Next year will be (hopefully) substantially more optimal in more ways than one.

I guess there’s a time and place for everything. Can’t win everything – it’s not what it’s about (for me) anyway. But more importantly, it’s about learning to trust yourself and listen to the advice of others who know what they’re talking about.

Thanks Dr. C (a proper Doctor) – our brilliant Torphins GP!

Three Races In A Week

cycle Posted on Fri, July 07, 2017 18:16:31

That was the hardest and most personally rewarding thing I’ve done (out of choice) for a very long time.

I knew it would be hard, that’s why I did it. I just had to push myself to my limits, either spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, or permutations/combinations of all of them.

But why? Self-discovery and exploration is the answer. What are my limits? Can I break myself? Every time I try I just seem to get stronger.

So when I look back three weekends ago to three British National time trial races in the space of seven days with over a thousand miles of travelling, it seems utterly ludicrous now. Would I do it again? Absolutely not. So why do it? Simply out of curiosity. Because I’m fortunate enough to do so. Intrigue. Nothing more.

The first race reunited me with my GTR teammates Chris and Lewis and the old A1 in God’s country. The race – British National Team Time Trial. And boy was I up for this! Perhaps I was too enthusiastic as I kept surging and missing Chris’s calls in a chaotic but extremely enjoyable race. We finished 15th, Lewis looked like a baked potato that had been left in the oven too long at the end which was unsurprising in the 32 degree Yorkshire heat which left quite a few riders slow cooking for the rest of day.

A couple of days with my folks followed catching up with old teammate and Team JMC founder Budge (via the bike of course) and then I was off to the Isle of Man, being a man on a lone mission. Having arrived late on Tuesday evening I arrived just in time to sneak in a cheeky pint at the pub in St. Johns, where the landlady kindly allowed me to park up for the next few days and even offered to open the pub early in the morning so I could get access to the facilities.

That pub, or more accurately the Tynwald Inn would be my base and it was great for people watching, whilst I cracked on with work (all I need is a 3/4G signal and I’m away on my Mac). On Wednesday I watched the various pro teams recce-ing the course, with Dame Sarah Storey and her eponymous team scurrying around next to my van in the morning, then Madison Genesis, British Cycling. Team Sky and six times British National TT winner and current champion Alex Dowsett heading out later in the day. Sandwiched in between all of this commotion there was a lull and so I decided to head out of a couple of laps, one on the road bike, the next on the TT bike.

On my first lap, I came across some steep ramps. Ooft! How would my Fuji with its synonymous 60 tooth single front chain ring fare on these inclines? I also inadvertently got chatting to Fraser Martin on the first lap, probably distracting him from his own preparations for the U23 race, so decided to switch bikes after the first lap in order to ensure the initial climbs would be manageable on the Fuji.

No problem at all. Phew! Happy enough. In the evening I got itchy feet. Parking a van next to a pub the night before a big race isn’t a good idea, so I went for a wander. Granted it was a bit longer than I anticipated and did nothing for my hayfever cold, but it was exciting enough dodging a couple of rumbling and advancing thunderstorms and I just made it into the Inn before it appeared to have been hit by lightning, which kept the cackling locals entertained and I took this as a sign to turn in and get some rest.

Unusual for me, I awoke at 9:30am on Thursday morning and felt pretty tired. I wasn’t too concerned. It was noticeably cooler and the legs felt great but I had created a new Gremlin overnight in my nocturnal thoughts about the long sketchy descent down to Ballacraine. I’d become rubbish and cautious on the road as I should have ended my season back in March when my wheel washed out for no apparent reason but somehow I stayed upright. All the confidence gained from descending high Alpine cols at breakneck speed on last summer’s Haute Route disappeared in one incident! C’est la vie. Rip it up and start again…

So I decided after watching the women and U23 men’s races to head out again and recce the descent for one last time. This killed some time, but as the men’s race started in the evening I had a lot of time to kill. Oddly enough it seemed to pass quick enough, to the point that when it was time to head out to the start ramp I forgot to pump up the tyres and my power meter started to play up. Doh!

On my way over to the race Commissaires to get my bike UCI/BC checked for compliancy, everything was back to normal, unlike my bike which seemed to get the attention of the bike checkers, particularly with the 60 tooth single chainring.

“You’re doing the elite men’s race?”, said one of the Commissaires.

“Uh huh”.

“With that chainring?”.

“Yip”. My unsurprised smiley responses seem to amuse them.

“Ok. Well in the interest of completeness, we have to weigh this.”…“Sure ☺”.

“Woah, it’s heavy, 9.2kg to be exact! Good luck!”, with a look that was one of ‘does he know what he’s doing’ – to which we all know the answer, of course not!

I sat behind the start ramp as I was first into the pen. A photographer took loads of photos as I soaked up the atmosphere and wondered if my power meter was going to talk to my Garmin. Next it was up the steps and a calm excitement came over me. The crowds were right out in front of me and the atmosphere was building but not for number 39, but for the lower order numbers and the household names of Cummings, Dowsett, Gullen and Geoghegan Hart.

In no time I was away, at last. I’m in my environment now, so let’s go and attack that 20 degree ramp! Up, up and over, away, spinning well and in the zone. My tactic was to negative split, using the first lap to find the best lines and settle into my rhythm on a very lumpy and unforgiving course, with a thousand feet of climbing per lap, that did everything to disrupt just that.

At the Kirk Michael turn the crowds were plentiful and cheering away and here I’d decided to up the effort and kill the hill even more than I’d done the day before. I was in my element until my Garmin flew off right and then my universe split into two.

But the terminator in me automatically defaulted to Plan B – Am I dead? No. Then crack on Jon!

At the top of the hill at the brilliantly named Cronk-Y-Voddy my descent into Ballacraine was less cautious than previous, but I knew I had to keep my hands off the brakes. Easier said than done at 70 kph.

As I completed my first lap, the top ten riders were hovering in the pen and I wondered if any of them would catch me as attacked the ramp for a second time, oddly looking out for traffic this time (I really don’t know why I did this) as caught brilliantly by Harry Tweed in the photo.

But none of them passed me and I was now in my groove and pushing my limits. Strangely, I felt liberated having no Garmin and was enjoying the fact I was rolling my sleeves up (in a metaphorical sense of course, otherwise I’d have to shave my arms too) and getting on with it.

The descent on the second was much better and I felt much more confident rounding the corners and making better use of closed roads. Quick sprint into St. Johns; job done and well done! Happy enough, but more importantly, I really enjoyed the race. The course was simply superb and brutal for all the right reasons.

Eventual double-national winner Steve Cummings having gone off earlier in the field was the race leader and everyone was waiting for Dowsett to appear. I wandered to the sign off and to get my race license only to find my Garmin had been found, probably by one of the motorcycle chaperones that all unsupported riders like myself were provided with. Ace.

And within less than a couple of hours, conversations with other riders, presentations were all done and the circus had literally moved out of town. All that was left was my van parked next to the pub and so after a shower I decided to reflect upon the race over a beer and replied to the various messages that were flooding in from well-wishers and get another early night as my ferry back to Liverpool was leaving early Friday morning.

When I eventually arrived back in Manchester my mum seemed a little reticent to ask how it went, as it was clearly a rhetorical question. I explained that 22nd (on the 22nd) was good enough for a first attempt and that I was in mainly professional cyclist company with very few amateurs and even fewer Vets.

Two days later I was driving back up the A1 to spend the night at Chris’s parents and prepare for the final race of the week, the British National 50 mile TT. At this juncture I was already looking forward to getting this race out of the way, which is unusual for me as I’m always the opposite – a dog with a bone, happy to chase his tail.

Fast forward to 8:48am the next day, 3-2-1 go! Here we go A19, 50 miles. Oh really? Let’s get the next 1 hour 45 minutes over with shall we?

This was unchartered territory, my mood was flat, but the legs were producing the required metrics. The Terminator in me had already activated Plan B.

But it was being challenged, as my inner sanctum was uncharacteristically moaning? Do I have to do this? The Terminator wasn’t listening. Get on with it!

On the first 25 mile lap as I approached the finish flag a familiar thud. It took me a couple of seconds to figure it out. Yep, my Garmin’s gone for a wander again. Dammit!

Oddly this didn’t have a negative effect, nor positive, just one that totally and utterly amused me. Gallows humour perhaps? As I approached the flyover to start the second lap I was almost laughing. As the second lap commenced a rider passed me. This is an unusual experience for me and I was fascinated so much by the rider’s pedalling style I was starting to catch him on the rises. Um, how does this work? What’s the etiquette, protocol? Should I pass him? Just as I decided to do so on the third rise, my chain fell off. In an odd way this was a relief and allowed the rider (eventual winner Dan Bigham) to get some distance ahead, so I decided having no way of judging how far to go and riding on feel once again, to keep him in sight and use him as a pacer.

All of a sudden I felt I was going faster and faster and went through the finish line thinking, oh is that it? Aw, I was just getting into this.

Quick reflection – ok, put this race down as experience. Learn from it. That’s the aim of the game after all.

I had resigned myself to a poor time, but actually found I’d managed a PB of 1:44:14 with a bizarre 25 mile splits of 53 and 51 minutes respectively (with the latter having stopped to put back on a dropped chain!).

EH…? Chris’s response was a bit more colourful.

I was so perplexed by this and in such a spooky mood I decided to drive the A19 before an awesome Sunday lunch back at Chris’s Mum and Dad’s (thanks again Carol!) because I was convinced I would find my Garmin. And incredibly half an hour later, there it was on the side, in the gutter, on very fast and busy A19, undamaged, reading elapsed time of over 4 hours…

You can’t make this up!

One things for sure, every day is a learning day and this really is a life less ordinary.

Note to self – just don’t do three British national time trials in a week next year!

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