Summer of cycling done and dusted
With the curtains closing on the 2013 tour down under, it also brought the summer of cycling in aus to an end. It turned out to a largely lackluster performance period for me and with adding injuries to insult following the crash on stage 2 at tdu and happy it's behind me and I can recover and look ahead to the rest of the season. Although luck was far from on my side in this past week, it is important to take stock now and see where I went wrong and realistically assess where I am at.
I won't lie, I was aiming very high this summer. Finishing my season at the end of august meant that I could begin my pre season a month earlier and be in great shape for January. Also with moving back to the world tour, you always feel an element of pride racing a this level and I was keen to show that it was where I want to be. I have loved training these past months. Truth be told that since October I have been going to bed every night just so excited that when I wake up the next morning I can go training. I have simply wanted to be exercising for every waking hr of every day. I decided if I was going to adopt this approach then I had to make some restrictions somewhere to ensure I don't burn out. This meant I could ride as long and as hard a terrain as I could find but under no circumstances was m heart rate to exceed 150 beats per min. This is about 70% of my maximum so I knew I could not hurt myself in any negative way at this level, I'm reality I was training at a cyclo tourist intensity!
For the first time since I began my cycling adventure I was simply riding for the sake of riding. Doing roads I would normally explore and also enjoying the opportunity to cruise along with mates that I had neglected to train with so often due to the endless intervals I bury myself in during the season. There were no power meters, simply the heart rate and speed to keep entertained and my AM/FM radio to keep me distracted when required. I was loving this period and felt it had me building up for 2013 in the perfect way. The only glitch in my little plan was to come in December when I was to travel to our training camp in Italy. The camp I knew was not focused on training. It is an important camp for all teams where riders can meet with staff to discuss the upcoming season, photos need to be taken, medical checks completed, and of course the opportunity for sponsors to need riders and discuss products that would be used in battle during the season. All these things are only possible when all riders and staff are together in one place at one time. So attendance was definitely not negotiable, besides in my eyes my personal ambitions are always secondary to the needs of the team, I pride myself on being a team man and that will never change. I was excited about the camp aswell, a great chance to see all my old team mates and meet some new fresh faces. I also saw it as a little challenge to myself, how can I use this to my advantage with regards to preparing for the summer of cycling and 2013 season??
After thinking long and hard I came up with a plan. Pretty simple really. Train as much as I possibly could on the Rd in the weeks leading into my departure and in turn use the first few days in camp while most of the team events were happening as some deserved recovery. After this initial few days I would be back on the Rd in Varese for a week before heading down to Tuscany for the 2 weeks training camp with the team. I knew this training camp from past experience would not involve the hrs or intensity my competitors for the nationals and tdu would be doing so I gave it another good nudge as far as volume goes for that week. From memory I knocked out 40hrs on the Rd which I was very satisfied with considering it was the middle of winter in Italy! I also had the company of my trusty training partner Ivan basso for a large majority of these hrs and while he was just restarting his pre season training he was a great sport in spending more time out on the Rd than he would have probably liked! Signs of a great team mate. He also treated me to a daily stop at the best cafes in the areas we were training to show me how good cappa's and Italian cakes can be! Man talk about mouth watering every time. He never let me down once in the quality of this quick little fuel stops, just another example of what a great team leader he is.
So following a great week in Varese it was back with the team in Tuscan for the riding camp. This was when most of my team mates were just resuming there pre season so was always expected to be a pretty cruisy week for me. It's a big advantage for us Aussies having our of season in the middle of summer. It does not matter how motivated you are you will simply not get the quality of training done in the depth of winter in Europe compared to summer in aus. For the international season this works fine as most of the guys objectives don't come until later in the year but for Aussies gunning for January you need the nice climate to get the quality of work done. Therefore I had a plan in this camp to at least mentally convince myself I was working toward the nationals as planned whilst in the mean time being fully apart of the training sessions with the team out on the Rd. The team organized a room for me to put my bike ergo where I set up my TT bike. The idea was. Ride as normal with the other guys then in the afternoon do the specific TT work I needed to do to prepare for the nationals. This seemed perfect and for the first week it was going perfectly, my legs felt great, power was higher than expected and all looked on track. Then 2nd week all of a sudden we had some juggling of the team schedule and requirements for me to do some promo videos for the team and it's sponsors and this free time disappeared. I was not at all concerned about this as the team stuff I love and that's why we do it December, because can and it does not effect the important objectives of the team for the season. It was however effecting my national pride and at this point I should have just done what I knew I wanted to do deep down and not race the TT. I knew I was not as prepared as I would like and not only that but the travel and events of the past month finally caught up with me when I arrived home in aus and I caught a flu which wiped me out for a few days. Bounced back quick and again was smashing out the intensity on the TT bike on the ergo and I started to think maby i Can pull it off after all. While it all seemed to be back on track at least as far as the ergo work went I completely neglected going out on the rode to test my power outside. Normally if you can do it on the ergo yo can do it on the Rd but more so with the Rd bike than TT bike. This turned out to be my biggest blunder of the whole preparation!
Race day for TT rolled around and at this point I was as confident as could be. I had sharpened up, the ergo numbers were spot on and I felt great, even looked great on my flash new cannondale TT bike!! (it is actually a hand me down as the team have given me Vincenso nibali's bike from 2012 as m home TT bike and I will have new one in Europe to race on) the history of this bike also meant I was super excited to be aboard a vessel with such a story and could not wait to turn the pedals in anger!
The warmup came and went and again I felt sensational. The numbers where spot on, I felt better than expected and was finally on the start line. I had the perfect starting position and behind jack bobridge and with Porte, Dennis, and the eventual winner durbridge chasing me. I was right in the thick of the action. About 5km down the Rd I realized something was wrong. I could barely feel my legs and simply did not feel the power and connection I had felt on the trainer. What i had not done was test my position on the rd and make sure the power was there in a range of conditions. It was a windy day and maby just a slight movement on the seat blocked me up and I could not get an air in, not good signs so early on! i dont know what it was specifically but i do know it is the weakest I have ever felt in a bike race. After only 10km of the 40km race all Could was role my legs around, I simply had no forse in them what so ever. It was demoralizing for me and I just wanted to pull over and cry, infact I almos did cry at one point in felt such embarrassment out there. I did not quick and can proudl sa despite the negative thoughts I fought through as best I could giving whatever I had but at the end of the day it was a demoralizing experience. I was smashed and did not have to look to far to see the reason thanks to the power meter on my handle bars. A pitterfull 370 watts was all I could manage on this day for the 50min, In the past I have done 415 for this period of time and with the training I had done I expected to be well north of that on this occasion. Alas I was not, I was way below it but atleast I had one explanation why I went so slow. On the flip side had I done 420 watts and been beaten by almost 4 minutes I would have really had to scratch my head!
Anyways what it has taught me is that at this level you don't just going a race hoping or assuming all will be ok. In the past I have prided myself on only going for it when I know I am ready. This time I convinced myself I was without all the correct evidence to back it up. On the flip side I had definitely done enough work to put in a strong performance. Sure I would have still have probably been dusted by the fastest guys but I would have been up there none the less. Anyway I know now that unless I am certain of doing best 100% I want be racing the nationals TT. I will leave December and January as a relaxed period if I am unable to commit to it like the aussies who spend the whole summer at home are able to do.
Next stop was the Rd race and with the disappointment of the TT behind me I had returned to tas for a few days and smashed myself in the surrounding hills. Infect the day after the TT I put in probably my best ever training session on m home rds. I knocked out over 3000m of climbing over 160km in 5 hrs. I felt awesome and needed this t remind myself those months of building a base had not eluded me. I was still on track for a strong season in Europe. I attended a wedding on the Saturday evening in Hobart with my partner jess, a commitment we had made long before the decision to partake i the rd race was made, before flying out and did not arrive in ballarat until midnight such was my relaxed approach to the event. A few hrs sleep and again. Was in the startle but this time relaxed and without pressure and knowing if was to do anything I would be late in the race when m endurance would kick in and the intensity was replaced by fatigue in the peleton. I hung in there all day and no surprise got stronger as the day went on and had no dramas following the late attacks and comfortably finished in the main field, 11th infect which was my best ever finish the nationals Rd race, that trailed the locomotive Luke durbridge who took out Rd race title to go along with his TT title a few days before. The funny thing was it was not until perhaps the last hundred meters or so I realized we were sprinting for 2nd. I had been largly uninterested in the race all day and was merely there to remind myself that my base fitness was good and get some valuable racing km's before the tour down under started the following week which was a major objective for me. Anyway I still notched up my best nationals performance and showed myself and team I was ready for tdu so it was job done but in retrospect I should have tested out my sprinting legs!
So while after the TT it seemed months of work was down the toilet but in reality I had to merely appreciate where I was truly at. The problem occurred when I tried to sugar coat things for the TT and I was in turn smashed back into my rightfull place at the bottom of the results sheet. I and not done the intensity required or time on the Rd as I had purposely focused solely on endurance. Testing at the team camp had shown I was the strongest I had ever been in this area so that part of my plan had gone perfectly. It should have been a warning sign to do one thing and do it properly! It was also backed up by m ride in the Rd race even considering it was m first Rd race of any kind for over 4 months so all really from that perspective was really satisfying. The thing about racing a push bike is you are so often, well I am at least, pushed beyond what you want to do, you are more often than not following a tempo that someone sets which is invariably slightl harder than you want to be riding at. Therefore race condition is crucial as in training you dont get that, more so if you train alone which I always do. Anyways the good news was all was not lost, just a little kick in the pants and a lesson in the scrapbook to learn from for next time. In the future I will be following a realistic plan considering the circumstances!
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