After an amazing few months in Australia and San Francisco, I had forgotten what the English weather could be like, and I must admit I think that the lovely Aussie and Californian weather made me turn a bit soft, to say the least. Arriving back in the UK a week before the race, I still had a training schedule and sessions to do but I found it hard to go outside and train in the near freezing and sometimes wet conditions. I know I used to do it but I wasn’t sure how. I spent many of my sessions on the treadmill and turbo, spending the odd 30-minute light jog outside, braving the cold conditions.
I also forced myself to do a couple of sessions outside on the TT bike as I had only been on my road bike the last few months, as I left my TT at home, and for the first time ever, I felt like I had lost my connection with my bike and I could feel the difference to what I had accustomed to, I felt like I was sat on a stick, I mean the Pinarello isn’t exactly wide but I could definitely feel the difference and it felt a lot less stable, to add to that I could feel every little gust of wind that hit the deep rims, and every little bit of power I put down on the pedals. It was a weird feeling and put me off slightly, especially as I’ve never had a problem with it in the past.
Throughout the week prior to the race, there were talks of it snowing, raining and potentially even going below freezing point and to add to that I’d have to be there nice and early which means whatever sun there would be, if any, it wouldn’t have had a chance to get rid of the frost and cold temperatures from the night before. So I had to prepare myself and just accept that it wasn’t going to be the lovely 18-24 degrees like San Francisco, nor 30-42 degrees like Cairns.
Having had a week crash course in weather acclimatisation, race day had now arrived. I had all my kit laid out on the kitchen floor and after making sure I had everything I needed, I did a little run-through of the race. After packing everything and satisfied I had everything I needed, I had breakfast, showered, and left for Rutland Water to go to transition.
You can see how well acclimatised and cold I was, just by looking at the photo below. I know it may look like I gained a few pounds over winter but I’m telling you it’s mainly just the six or so layers I was wearing (my thickest and warmest ones too).
After setting up in transition and warming up, I headed over to the race briefing by the start line. Once they’d been through all the rules and potential weather hazards, we were allowed to warm up again for another few minutes, which I definitely needed.
Feeling happy that I had warmed up again, I headed over to the start line to make sure that I’d have a good start. We lined up and a few minutes later we were off. My first race of the 2016 season was underway and it was time to test all the training I had done. Running up the first little hill to the grassy area I was feeling strong and set out a good rhythm, perhaps slightly fast but just to stay in a good position rather than due to being over excited. The crowed cheered and the photographers made their classic start line photos, seen below with me on the left.
As I headed over the grassy area and back onto the concrete paths by the boats, zigzagging down to the reservoir, the pack started separating out. I was staying up at the front, just behind the first group, keeping in touch but making sure I was able to pace it well, keeping form and thinking about all the points Mark has tried to help me with over the last few months, mainly trying to activate the glutes more rather than using my hamstrings as much, along with being more on my toes, making that first little dip and hill a lot easier than I’ve found in previous years.
Keeping an eye on my watch and making sure that the pace was good, I found myself feeling fairly comfortable, pushing myself but not burning myself out either. It was good. Nice weather, feeling strong, good form, warmed up slightly and towards the front…not bad.
I then came to the second grassy area, just before the dam, and experienced what mud was like for the first time in months. Anyway, I was soon over and onto the dam, the wind was strong but I kept pushing, I could see the leaders in front, and I was trying to minimise the damage they’d do, ready to catch a few of them on the bike.
Coming up to the turnaround point, I was feeling strong, no problems at all, sweating and finding the cold weather a bit tough but pushing through it well. Turning round the cone there was now only 5km to go, half way and time to pick the pace up a bit, telling myself that it wasn’t long till the bike.
Coming back along the paths, I found myself at the front of a small group of 3-4 people with a person next to me and together we set a good pace. Staying roughly side-by-side we came back along the concrete paths, staying close to the reservoir and then down a little hill to start crossing the dam again.
Only a few kilometres to go and running back over the grassy patch before coming back down the main hill to come up the other side, passing the boats and zigzagging back up to the first grassy area, near transition, I heard some of the crowed cheering and made a final effort. With a group of people around me, I was keen to get out of transition quickly so u-turning into transition, I ran along the first rack, got to my bike, shoes off, helmet on, glasses on, picked up the bike and ran to the mount line. Simple, quick and well practiced. A few easy seconds saved and some places gained.
However after jumping onto my bike, my left shoe fell off. Damn, how did that happen? Off I got, went back to pick it up, shoe tightened, jumped back on, slight wobble but I was soon off again, a few places lost and a first ever. Never before had I had a mount that went wrong. I’ve since learnt to make sure that the cleats are tight…if only I had ridden the bike a bit more since coming back home.
Anyway, I soon forgot about it and I was off fighting again to gain the places back. A few places gained before getting onto the main road loop and the 42km bike was now underway.
After a fast downhill section towards Oakham, topping 60kph, I was hit by a side wind, moving me over about a meter and in doing so, shook me up a bit, I thought about sitting back up but decided it was probably more dangerous to do so and therefore decided to stay down, pray, ride it out and pedal faster, whilst watching the speed increase. Thankfully, I made it and the course started to flatten.
Coming up to the roundabout, about the 5km mark, I knew that the course was flat for a while and the wind would be behind me so I started thinking about having my first TORQ gel. After taking another rider, I took the first exit and with the wind now behind as expected, I ripped my gel off the bike, stuck it in my mouth and squeezed, with the gel taken, and a quick drink, it was now just about keeping the power down and focussing on the end result whilst keeping an eye on the rider in front and making sure I was gaining.
Coming up to the first of three big hills, the Rutland ripples; I started gaining and shortened the gap between me and the rider in front, levelling up as we started climbing, I soon overtook him. Yes, another place gained and one-step closer. There were a few more in front which I tried to overtake, however, I’m not sure why but I just wasn’t feeling it. I tend to gain the most on hills, but I was finding it hard to climb, very tiring indeed and just felt like I didn’t have the same connection to my bike as normal, it was hard work. I tried to push harder, like I know I can but nothing was happening, same speed and still finding it hard. It was a bit demoralising really, not that anyone was catching but I wasn’t gaining much either. I know I’m stronger than this and thought that I should’ve spent a bit more time on the TT came back, but there was no point thinking that so I chucked it out my mind and tried my best and pushed as much as I could.
The second hill of the ripple came and again just didn’t feel it, same with the third too but that was it, ripples done, hilly section complete, now the fast 10km back straight before the 10km headwind back into transition. Love it! Time to make some time up and a few places too.
Motoring on down the back straight I set my sights on the rider in front and tried to gain on them, one by one. I seemed to be going in and out of race mode, having to keep pushing myself after relaxing slightly. Really not with it and tired but kept pushing through and refocusing. Having overtaken a few more by the turn just after Ketton, I saw three people struggling to go up the hill, so I took full advantage of the situation and so did the rider behind, passing all three I found myself making sure that I wasn’t overtaken.
Being told to slow down coming out on the main Stamford to Oakham T-junction, allowed him to gain on me slightly but I wasn’t going to allow that so I stood up and accelerated, after coming to a near stop. Last section to go and the final 10km, nearly there, which was a relief, I must admit as the rain had picked up even more and it was really unpleasant.
Coming back over the last few hills whilst fighting the headwind was tough but I kept pushing and tried to gain as much time as I could, especially as I knew that I’d soon be off the bike and onto the run, and the more I gained now, the harder it would be for the person behind to catch up.
Jumping off the bike and into transition was a quick turnaround. No problems this time, slight cramp setting in but thankfully didn’t stay for long. 5km to go, the sun came out and felt good. I was in my element.
As the kilometres clocked up, I increased the pace again and again, but unfortunately got overtaken in the last kilometre or so. I tried to stay with him but unfortunately the distance between us kept increasing and I wasn’t able to respond. I kept pushing though in the hope I’d somehow catch up but with the last corner turned, it unfortunately wasn’t to be.
Unfortunately that meant that I missed out being on the podium by a few seconds but in better news, I had knocked off 61 seconds on the run and 100 seconds on the bike, meaning I was 2 minutes 41 seconds faster than the previous year and that’s having only endured the English weather for a week, along with not having spent much time on the TT, so a good start to the season even if it perhaps didn’t go as I had hoped. I’m very excited to see what I can do in this next season, it should be good and hopefully I’ll get a few new PB’s.
Thank you very much to all my sponsors, Apex and daysout.co.uk, for the bike and gear along with their continued support and backing, Warwick Physio + Rehab for their help in making sure I’m fit and ready to race and to the Stamford Endowed Schools for their financial support, helping me compete at the World Championships and TORQ for their amazing sports nutrition products. I’m very much appreciative to you all. Furthermore a massive thank you to my mum, family, friends and Charlotte, you have all supported me massively throughout my various competitions and have helped me get to where I am now.
Keep training and enjoy it,