We seek each other out, and before you know it theres’s a gang. The composition isn’t always the same, cast members rotate and come and go, but drawn together by similar ability on the bike, schedules that overlap, a shared outlook, we head out on to the road as a tight knit mini-peloton. Throughout the year we take it in turns to lead the charge, do the lions share at the front, to be first cresting each hill.
The Seasons of an Amateur Racing Cyclist: Winter is determination against the elements; pounding out the miles with visions of glory under sunnier skies flashing through the mind; mudguards; opting for the full english at the café stop. Spring is filled with the buzz of enthusiasm for the new found racing season; the lengthening days, racing one week in short sleeves, the next under a deluge of freezing rain; the emergence of peak condition.
Solitude in the city is never quite what it seems. The next person is only a thin concrete wall away, a busy road within earshot, a 24 hour supermarket open for business close by. But on a bike you can escape and leave it behind, close the front door and pedal yourself into the middle of nowhere.
You, an empty road, horses in a field, and the wind filling your ears.
My winter training has differed in one significant way from previous years – it’s been undertaken almost entirely alone. I have a bible (written by Joe Friel) and it decrees that riding alone is the most effective way to train. But as I hope has been made abundantly clear on this blog, effectiveness is not a singular aim I attempt to achieve in training. Yet unlike the core strength exercises and the pedalling drills to hone technique, I’ve actually stuck to this commandment. I’ve clocked up hours and miles alone – yet it’s rarely felt lonely.
Looking back at the year just gone I’ve spent approximately 450 hours riding a bicycle. I’d wager that I’ve spent approximately 450 of those hours with both hands on the handlebars.
Riding hones the pedalling technique, endless fluid circles. The body adapting, the bike an extension of the rider. Endless loops of Richmond Park, I could navigate it with my eyes closed. Or packed into a fast moving peloton, navigating hair pin bends. At times one handed, either hand, looking backwards, sideways, nonchalantly, effortlessly. And yet… as soon as both hands let go I feel like a fish out of water. Or at least a fish about to leap from the water to land face first onto the tarmac.
Martijn Maaskant of Garmin-Cérvelo on the Muur. Photo by Jered Gruber
Riding through winter is very much like riding through summer. Only it tends to be colder. But, as you’ve no doubt read in countless magazine articles and forums and on websites, there’s a whole host of pitfalls to side step, heart rate zones to ride in, perfect rain jackets to purchase, and actual Phd theses on winter tyres to digest. So as if you didn’t need any more advice on how to ride your bike, here are my - characteristically verbose – tips on arriving in spring ready to attack the racing season with gusto…
Lizzie Armistead gets in the winter miles through the stunning forests of Leuven, Belgium. Photo by Jered Gruber
The tan line on the back of my wrist is gradually fading, early morning rides have been replaced by late morning lie ins. Recently sausages and mash has formed the back bone of my diet, and I’ve indulged my slothful impulses. Unfortunately the winter hiatus is coming to end – today is marked as Base 1, Week 1, Day 1 on my Excel spreadsheet.
Getting off the sofa and back into training isn’t going to be as easy as I might have thought; over the past few months, as the season drew to a close and the winter loomed, it feels as though my attitudes towards competitive riding had been shifting. Taking the time out had been an opportunity to rediscover that hankering for racing, the need for competition. Absence making the heart grow fonder, and all of that.
By now I should be salivating at the prospect of a chaingang, chomping at the bit for a competitive training ride through the hills. But I’m not sure it’s worked.
The Sufferfest, A Very Dark Place: ‘Jump!’ is just the warm-up. It’s all downhill from here.
Whatever I did, I’m sorry. We all make mistakes, right? We’ve all done deeds we regret. I’ve done bad things, just like anyone else. But do I deserve this cruel punishment? To be wrung out, shouted at, abused, ridiculed? To be laughed at while I bury myself deeper and deeper? Do I really deserve to suffer so much?
The turbo trainer is a device designed for torture, I know that. But in the past I’ve been lucky, and by avoiding the worst of its cruelties I’ve escaped with experiences merely of boredom and monotony. Sure, I’d occasionally go ‘hard’ but it would only be brief, and I’d never stray too far beyond my comfort zone. But then The Sufferfest videos came along, and suddenly that contraption of pain revealed its true potential for sadism.
I started with Fight Club, disappearing into dark worlds of max heart rate agony. But I started to want more. Downward Spiral made me wince. With Angels I stared at the stars while lying in the gutter. Revolver made me cry. Maybe it was time to see a therapist, or maybe it was just time to visit A Very Dark Place?