…Hang on a minute…

“No,  it’s not a race as such, I mean,  yes you are in a race,  but it’s not against the people around you,  that’s the beauty of it,  you’re only really racing  against yourself you see, trying to improve against your own standard…”

Well hang on a minute.  We’ve been here before. More than once.  And it always seems to play out the same way: what starts off as ‘just trying it out’, ‘ a bit of fun’, ‘ nothing serious’, gives way to a creeping investment in the toys and gadgets, a ‘ training schedule’  to back up grandiose plans  for a ‘season’  of competition and overblown hyperbole about the relative station of my achievements in the broader sporting pantheon

In fact, we may already be on that path already. The arrival of an excessively high-tech answer to the question: “How unfit am I?” arrived a few weeks ago – a spur of the moment purchase that i’ve only been considering for the last five years is a fair indicator…

But anyway, wherever this might end up doesn’t matter at this stage, providing some detail of the (re)start is the purpose of this post.

The record will show: Colchester Castle Park run – 16/11/13 – 5km – 25:21. Not too shabby by my own reckoning, considering that three months ago I was having to combine bursts of ‘running’ (heavy on the inverted commas – trudging may be more accurate a word) with regular periods of walking simply to cover the same distance…. 62nd of over 120 starters shows the result could not be more squarely positioned as ‘middle of the pack’, but at least it sets a standard to work from.

And the plan is to revisit the Parkrun every few weeks, not least because it is the most remarkable concept: free to enter, just log your details a few days before on the interweb and print a barcode, no need to sign in – or wear a race number, results emailled direct to you within a couple of days, event photos on the relevant Facebook page within a few hours, and endless encouragement from the kindly volunteers who direct you round the course. I still can’t get my head round it, but I am certainly not going to question it!

The Comeback. Version… oh, there’s been so many, I loose count…

So, 10 days to go until the Ronde Picard 2013. And rather than putting the finishing touches to my physical preparation I am at the very beginning of a road back to fitness. Turns out that having a baby is rather more disruptive than I anticipated. And it wasn’t even me that had it, it was the Directeur Sportif…

Expectations of working in regular 50 mile commutes into the first few weeks of newborn inhabiting the home were optimistic at best. I’m no stranger to fatigue, the photo evidence from the annual sojourn to the Peak District in 2012 demonstrates the cumulative effect 3 days hard riding can have on me, but sleeping in two hour bursts for weeks on end is a whole different ball game…

The one on the left catching flies is not me…

And, somewhat regretfully, as a result of the long and steady deterioation in my fitness I have become somewhat disconnected from my club, preferring to ride solo rather than hold up my peers on their regular rides or, worse still, suffer the ignominy of being dropped by the bunch on routes I used to be able to ride round with ease…

So – at a rather low ebb – I decided to do something that I haven’t really dallied with since May 2011 when I was stupid enough to do 26.2 miles of it. I’ve been running. Which is probably a rather exuberant description for the slow shuffle that has transported me around the local footpaths and roads. However, thanks to a sudden fascination with GPS and an extremely late adoption of ‘Strava’, I can confidently say that I am (no pun intended) on the road to improvement. OK – the improvement is that I no longer have to adopt a run-walk strategy to cover any distance over 1 miles – but at least it is progress…

And, because it wouldn’t really be my ‘blog without some sort of ridiculously highfaluting goal, I’ve already started to dream of tackling another epic challenge. The word ‘Ironman’ is getting mentioned, if only by the voices in my head at the moment… The last time I took to running in a (semi) serious way the monster triathlon was the ultimate goal, but after completing the marathon which was intended to be a stepping stone I swore blind I would never run a marathon (or run at all in fact) again, and there was no way i’d be taking on an Ironman. I really can’t say what has changed since, but I do keep coming back to the idea…

And so, with sleep increasingly becoming a feature of the time I have between days at work, it looks like i’ll be gradually building up a base of fitness again – and probably leafing through the event schedules for 2014 to find some races to target. On foot, and perhaps on bike too. Maybe i’ll even have another stab at the Mountain.

Ronde and Ronde…

…it’s been a long day, over 100 miles in the legs now, the heat has been phenomenal as the sun has beaten down with horrific intensity and my arms, legs and face are crusted in sweat. Worse, my feet have swollen so much from the heat that they are cramping, crushed within my shoes. At the last feed zone I was reduced to stopping and soaking my feet in cold water to try and persuade the throbbing flesh to contract…

No longer part of the vast peloton that rolled out from the start at 8am, we’re in small group now, sharing the work as best we can, protecting those who are suffering them most, determined to get round together. But the cracks are starting to show. There are less than 10 kilometres to go now and, as the road winds gently round to the right amd we leave another quaint French village behind, the road ramps upwards. In an instant the harmony of our gruppetto is shattered and cameraderie is cast aside. Gaps begin to open up, riders who were grimly clinging to the wheel in front can only watch as it drifts out of reach. Ahead we pick up the shards of another group, riders zig-zagging on the tarmac ahead of us, one stands vomitting at the roadside, clinging to his bike as he leaves the vestige of his strength in the grass verge.

The climb itself is hugely insignificant, a pimple of an incline on a parcours that could at best be described as gentle. But the cumulative effect of the miles, the heat and the nagging winds has magnified the damage inflicted. As we head upwards the gaps solidify, a pair of riders from our group make the gap stick and dive down the other side ahead of us. As we reach the crest I link up with another rider and we too plummet down the ribbon of tarmc and cobbles. The wheel I am following is a good one, a club rider who lived the dream for a brutal season in a French semi-pro team in his late teens. This is a man who can ride a bike quickly and, as we weave through the next village, we distance the chasing few. Down a narrow street, tightly lined with houses, we drift to the left hand gutter as we approach a sharp right hand turn, the road bending back on itself. The roads are closed for the event, so we shouldn’t encounter any traffic, but the head of the race passed through hours ago… Hunch down on the bike, grip the drops of the handlebars, push your weight back, left pedal down and dive into the right hand bend. Clip the apex, from left gutter to right in an instant, the high stone kerb menacing the spokes of your wheel as you lean over, desperately looking ahead and willing the corner to open up. We’ve carried plenty of speed into the bend. Too much, if I were to make a judgement, and inertia pushes us out to the left again, wheels skittering across the loose gravel at the roads edge but we are already out of the saddle – Phil powering out of the junction, me grimly hanging onto his rear wheel. The chase is on, we have clubmates to catch… With a brief flick of the elbow I am called forward to take a turn on the flat road, the proximity of the finish line injecting life into my otherwise useless limbs. The road is shaded by trees now, the leafy canopy offering brief respite from the battering rays of the sun. The two ahead hadn’t gained that much time, or perhaps our fearless descent had clawed it back, within a couple of minutes we have linked up with them and forge ahead as a quartet.

For me the hard work is done and I am content to roll through the next few kilometres to the finish. As we approach a junction to join the main road from our meandering country lane a marshall steps out to stop the traffic and we sail through – with Gallic yelps of encouragement ringing in our ears. But for my companions it just isn’t enough. They greet the smooth tarmac as an excuse to turn up the gas, forcing the pace as we mop up the rememnants of yet another group of riders. For a few hundred metres I raise some energy, my tortured legs hang on as long as possible but, with less than 2 kilometres left to ride, I slowly loose contact. Ahead I see them make the left turn into the narrow, pot-holed track, which leads to the finish. A few moments later I do the same, the bike surging ahead as the road dips. I glance over my shoulder, are my clubmates in sight, no, better not relax now though: I didn’t dig deep on the final climb, risk my skin on the hair-raising descent, or summon up my last ounce of energy to stick with the group as long as possible, just to sit up at this point. Knowing that there are only a few hundred metres to go I grip the handlebars and weave through the riders ahead. Into an innocuous 90 degree left hander but one that hides a crucial difference. A few barriers at the side of the road, a smattering of applause from onlookers and I blast under the finishing flag. It’s over. 187km. Done. Which way to the beer tent?

The glorious comeback to my cycling career has, to date, not really erupted with the vigour I would have liked. Social media updates and email circulars have begun to highlight the start of the season for other riders, but for me the huge layoff has left me with a gaping chasm to cross before I can possibly look to compete again. But, in a misplaced moment of determination, I have once again committed to riding the Ronde Picarde. 4 months to go, and only the minor distraction of my first-born arriving slap bang in the middle of that timespan. What could possibly go wrong?

A lumbering beast…

Shaking off the dust and the cobwebs, like a long slumbering monster, the ‘blog slowly creaks back into life… Shaking off the dust and the cobwebs, like a forgotten plaything, the bike slowly creaks back into life…

A harsh reality faces my legs. In 15 days I need to ride the cols of the Peak District, a reprise of the trip from 2012. Best intentions of fitting some bike riding in amongst a manic work schedule and the new hobby of building my own car has all been sideswiped by an impending house move and what appears to be the most protracted winter in living memory. Never one to do things by halves all this has co-incided with the ever looming appearance of a new addition to the household. All I can promise is that, boy or girl, it’ll have to bear the middle-name “Merckx-Coppi”… Whilst the directeur sportif and I sit and wait for chaos to be unleashed on our lives the overwhelming fatigue of daily life has simply swiped cycling off the table until, with a shock, I suddenly realised I can probably count bike rides in 2013 on the fingers of both my hands.

Outside of events in my own life a massive amount has changed since July 2012 and my decision to pack in cycle racing. Three short days after the major news agencies failed to cover my retirement from competition in any detail their desks were overrun with news of the first British winner of the Tour de France in history. Cycling as a sport suddenly became front-page news rather than a snippet in the margins. The ‘Olympic Effect‘ led to a flood of new riders on the roads and in local clubs. Much of this passed me by as I knuckled down at work and my waistline gradually expanded. The changing face of my local clubrides was a good barometer of the changes though, on the occassions when I did venture out to turn the wheels the people I recognised were in the minority…

A few weeks of consistent riding were crammed in during August and September as a semblence of preparation for an autumn trip to the Peak District with a select group. The company was good and the riding fantastic, ticking off ascents of the Beeley Moor hillclimb course and the epic Cat and Fiddle underlined my love of mountaineering, but my legs were sorely lacking. It was the lack of real preparation that meant the support and assistance of companions proved invaluable when I developed cramp at the end of our long ride – from who else would I have been able to access a multi-angle photo record of my suffering?

Cramp1

Cramp2So the experience was enjoyable but underlined my lack of fitness and rather than being spurred into action I cleaned my bike before hanging it up to fester untouched for weeks on end. As New Year loomed I made an effort to kickstart my riding, but after a few weekends grovelling on the wheel of riders I would have previously left behind, snow and ice and an impending relocation provided a welcome excuse for skipping rides.

January 2013 also saw a monumental demonstration of cycling iconoclasm. Although long tainted by the gathering storm, seeing Lance Armstrong confess outright to doping throughout his Tour de France victories was still a phenomenal event. The roots of my understanding of cycling as a sport came from avidly reading It’s Not About The Bike and Every Second Counts in the summer of 2003, my first bike was a Trek, my first ‘proper’ cycling attire a pair of Nike US Postal shorts… Any vague romantic attachment that might have existed between the courageous comeback from cancer and my own efforts to ride a bike were permanently severed…

In addition to this a couple of efforts at getting back into weekend club riding have left me somewhat disillusioned about the cameraderie that I had felt existed in my current club. Perhaps it’s the turnover of members as cycling popularity has boomed, perhaps it’s an inevitable byproduct of skipping far too many training rides, but being dropped on social club runs by riders who are new to the sport has been rather a frustrating pill to have to swallow, especially given the number of times i’ve waited for new riders myself. Perhaps it is time to develop an interest in fresh colours, even if that feels like a treacherous move…

But underneath it all there is still a glimmer of excitement about the forthcoming trip to the hills of Derbyshire and Yorkshire. Hot on the heels of the announcement that Lance Armstrong was not the hero we had once thought an unbelieveable piece of news broke. Yorkshire to host the start of the 2014 Tour de France. Stage two to feature a climb of Holme Moss and a finish in my hometown of Sheffield. Roads I pedalled on as a teenager will play host to the greatest cycle race on earth.

And, as the race calendar slowly starts to grind into motion and despite the best efforts of the last throes of winter to undermine the early season events, images of the local riders start to populate Twitter and Facebook as they take up the challenge of competition and fight the elements in search of glory.

The 'official' reports of the 31st Jock Wadley Road Race told the story of the riders from the semi-pro teams. For the locals the real story was the efforts of 18 year old Jame Jobber who mixed it with the Elites and finished 13th overall...

The ‘official’ reports of the 31st Jock Wadley Road Race told the story of the riders from the semi-pro teams. For the locals the real story was the efforts of 18 year old James Jobber who mixed it with the Elites and finished 13th overall…

Against all rational logic pictures like the one above spark a masochistic attraction to the agony of racing. It’s too late to do anything to allay the pain of ‘The Peaks 2013′, but a candle of intention is begining to flicker. Once the house move is over, and the spring of 2013 decides to emerge, commuting by bike will be back on the cards and i’ll start my own comeback v2.0. Just without the drugs…

Put me back on my bike…

Leaden skies.

A grim buffeting wind.

The sun – already low to the horizon in late December – shielded by brooding clouds.

Perhaps it’s my imagination but my surroundings appear almost a dull monochrome, like an old sepia photograph, the light and life of summer washed out by months of rain, the rich vibrant colours of autumn crushed by the heavy winter sky. The fields are a coarse dark brown, the surface corrugated by the farmers plough. The roads are broken and potholed, a perfunctory covering of gravel laid by well meaning roadmenders now gathering in the gutters, creating treacherous patches of loose stone ready to roll the wheels out from under a rider.

I’ve barely ridden my bike for months. Despite my intention to carry on riding after July I actually found it very easy to fill my time with something else during what it seems will go down on record as the wettest summer since records began. After realising that I’d actually reached the bike-racing goal I’d be striving for years ago I decided it was time to tick off a few more things on my to-do list. Another hobby beckoned and began to eke into my weekends. As rides became less frequent a lack of motivation was compounded by a new job, a decision to move house and the inevitable rush to do all those household beautifications which seemed hitherto unimportant and the inexorable rain of 2012…. Excuses weren’t hard to find.

Sitting on the sofa at 10:30am having missed another Saturday morning clubrun it seemed unlikely that I’d be bucking the trend today. Then, flicking aimlessly through the channels, I came across a rare treat on ITV4 “Tour de France 2012: Wiggos Tour”. 60 minutes of watching scrawny men in lurid lycra dancing their way through sun-kissed French vistas was all the motivation I needed to head out into the ominous Essex weather.

It’s always a shock how much fitness can be lost in a short space of time. I genuinely can’t remember how long it has been since I last rode my bike, it’s got to be at least 6 weeks though. I certainly can’t remember how long it has been since I did anything that approximated the sort of ‘training’ I did when I knew I’d be pining a number of my back – 5 months at least…

Rolling out of the village the bike felt alien under my body, feet not quite pedalling in circles, posterior shifting on the saddle trying to find the right place to sit, hands shuffling about the handlebars searching for a comfortable position. Dicing with traffic and dodging the new crevases which have opened up in the tarmac since I last rode these roads I wondered whether I’d made the wrong decision and should have stayed ensconsed in my warm living-room.

Onto a quieter road and the brutal headwind attacked me, buffeting me across the road. Forward progress was blunted, the pace slackened. Down over a bridge and the road rises onto a local road-race circuit. For those who are capable it’s considered a flat course and I’ve watched a peloton blast up the incline in one long line a single rider wide before now. For me, today, it seemed a hard slog to say the least. Turning again at the cross-roads at the top I headed into the wind again, across a wide open section of road, skirting a reservoir and plodding desperately into the full-on headwind. The landscape was bleak and unforgiving, the conditions uncomprimising.

After 10 long minutes I finally made a turn back towards home, I’d only intended to ride for an hour, the route I’d chosen typically took me that long, but I was already 8 minutes behind that mark. But finally the benefit of riding out into the wind was realised, a mighty shove against my back from the south-westerly allowing my legs to unwind smoothly rather than claw the pedals around with each stroke. My ragged breathing subsided, the sound of blood pumping in my ears replaced by the gentle woosh of tyres and drivetrain gliding across tarmac. The effort and struggle was being repaid.

The road ascended in front of me as I passed through another village and, rather than sit back and let it slow my progress, I rose from the saddle and punched my way up the few yards of incline, legs working in harmony with pedals to drive me forward. An insignificant piece of road by any standards, but in the context of weeks off the bike, it felt like a little victory.

A couple more miles and I was home, beating the incoming rain back to my front door. The stress of everyday life had faded, if only for a few brief miles, and I felt refreshed and happy.

Cycling lore recites the tale of Tommy Simpson, until the most recent crop of homegrown talent, quite probably the greatest of British cyclists. Simpson died tragically on Mont Ventoux during a Tour de France stage, a likely victim of overindulgence in banned substances, as was the way of cycling in the 1960′s. Legend tells us that Simpson collapsed and fell from his bike but implored his soigneur to help him up so he could continue: “Put me back on my bike”…

It doesn’t make much sense to anyone that isn’t a cyclist. But there’s plenty to be said for that approach. When things get tough: put me back on my bike.

That moment when you know you’ve won…

I don’t tend to take myself too seriously so when I was once asked by a friend of the directeur sportif: “have you won lots of bike races then?” I wasn’t too upset that my answer had to be: “no, none, in fact i haven’t ever won anything”. Which was a bit of a lie actually, as I’d once won a prime in a crit. But I wasn’t going to go through the tedious process of explaining what a prime was….

After I’d got over the temporary enjoyment of seeing someone try to extract their foot from their mouth I began to think about how people looking in at the sport must view us amateur cyclists. It’s fairly clear that sport is about winning, what else would be the point. And for the most popular of amateur sports there is always some margin for victory – hence the national infamy when a sunday league football or village cricket team manages to develop a season long winless streak.

But in cycling ‘winning’ in the strictest sense is something that is usually reserved for a fairly elite few. A prime example is available in my own club: one of the most active riders, having raced for around 20 years, moved up through the categories to ride in some of the most prestigious amateur races in the area, and posted time-trial results I could only dream of has a palmares that reads:

1 win.

Two decades of hard training, endless expenditure on bikes, nutrition, kit, entry fees, rising earlier on Sundays than any other day just to get to the start on time for an event in some far-flung corner of East Anglia, punishing training sessions over and over. And all for one solitary victory. For sure, there are a lot of other placings – several 2nds, more 3rds and so on down to endless top-tens. But, in layman’s terms, he won one race in 20 years.

By design this is more expected in the field of road racing where those finishing in the top few places usually earns licence points and, sooner or later, are required to compete in races against better and better riders. And in the mad sprint that usually ensues at the end of an amateur road race there is often little to divide the first few riders, apart from a few metres (at best) and quite possibly a fair share of luck.

But contre-la-montre, where the outcome is far more likely to be determined by the individual, the same scenario occurs: a handful of familiar names inevitably top the results and for the majority of the field each event becomes a personal challenge, either towards recording a Personal Best, or beating another middle-order rider. Of course this attitude makes sense to friends or family in other, more familiar, scenarios: the vast majority of  marathon runners in any given event are easily understood to be doing the best that they can in the circumstances. But from the outside, looking in, the strange creature which is the club cyclist with inexplicably expensive equipment and skin-tight racing suit littered with sponsors names cannot be viewed in the same light as a ‘fun runner’. Of course, any marathoner will tell you that 26.2 miles on foot can in no way qualify as ‘fun’ and often by the end, if not before, there may well be miles that are not strictly covered at a ‘run’. But nevertheless, it begs the question: why take it all so seriously if you won’t win. After all, it’s not the taking part. Not once you’ve left school and you don’t have to do it…

For me, the urge to race has stemmed from the vague notion that first prompted me to start cycling back in 2003. To race a bike was to be the ultimate cyclist. Just being on a start line, primed to compete, showed that the rider in question was undoubtedly at the peak of physical fitness. For me the personal challenge was simply to be on the start line, at which point I naively thought I would be competing for victory.

To get to the start line took me some time, and certainly wiped out any illusion that I would become an elite athlete. I’ve managed to reach the very bottom rung of the ladder, but have climbed no further. I’ve become competent and capable, but am under no illusion that I’ve become strong or successful. By the benchmarks of the sport I’ve achieved very little: two handicap awards in ‘middle-marker’ time trial events (where the fastest riders are prohibited from entering), a prime in a criterium for 4th cat riders, a second place in a race where my main competitors were veterans and youth riders…

For the last few weeks I’ve been agonising about my decision to set some more goals for 2012. To summon up the determination to train hard and, even moreso, summon up the nerve to risk serious injury or worse in the melee that is lower category racing. I realised that what a former clubmate once said to me might accurately describe just how I felt: “I like the fact that I race. But I don’t actually like doing it…” Yesterday evening underlined the decision for me. Sitting at work, waiting for 5 o’clock to tick by so I could head off to the last of the Trinity Park Criteriums, the heavens opened. My only thoughts were whether it would turn the innocuous entry-level Go-Race event I’d be riding into 30 minutes I’d just be trying to get through in once piece… Hardly the mindset of a winner.

So, I didn’t go to my race. I went home. The roads were wet and Le Tour was on the TV. I hung my bike back up where it nestles against the fridge at the bottom of the kitchen and went and did something cycle related that I actually enjoyed: watching Bradley dish out the pain and Cadel haemorrhage time….

The decision is made: no more road racing. Quite possibly no more time trials either. I don’t want to put in 20 years and look back at my prime and my 2nd place as the pinnacle of my career. But I know that I’m not going to be able to summon up the enthusiasm to train as hard as would be necessary to take myself any further, and that even if I could I wouldn’t be enjoying myself…

Thankfully, along the way I’ve had an enormous breadth of options and activities opened up to me: club runs, continental cyclo-sportives, sports science testing, mountain bike racing, weekends away with the bike, epic long distance rides, commuting under my own steam, building and rebuilding bikes, club Christmas dinners (complete with raucous hot-towel flinging sessions), race organisation, the list is endless… So I certainly won’t stop riding a bike – there’s too much fun to be had. And I will look back on my racing career with pride: considering where I started out, 16 stone and getting off to push on the hills, barely able to ride 20 miles in one go, I’ve come a long way. I feel like I’ve won, even if I never made it to the top step of a podium…

Yakety Yak…

So, it seems that despite a couple of largely positive experiences two weeks ago, the old adage is true: form is temporary, class is permanent. And as such form seems to have deserted me like a rat leaving a sinking ship…

Another Wednesday, another go at the Trinity Park criteriums. I’d skipped last weeks race for a number of reasons, not least being somewhat discouraged by the nasty crash at the Ford CC Circuit races the week before, but mainly because I have finally hopped on the scales to see how bad the situation is, post-honeymoon, and the awful truth has been confirmed. Realising i’m carting around the best part of 5 kilos more than I want to be has taken the wind out of my sails somewhat… However, I was also aware that I seemed to have hit a purple patch despite my relative lack of training and that, perhaps I’d still turn out a reasonable performance whilst getting some much needed hard work under my belt.

The Go-Race event was further handicapped again this week, the organisers generously taking the time to note the riders who have been lapped in previous weeks and pulling them out of the line up for an added handicap start. It would transpire that a couple of riders benefitted significantly from this, and rode as a duo for the entire race to take 1st and 2nd place, but once again that was the last of my concerns. The youth riders, previously gifted a large advantage, were less well rewarded this week and only given a headstart of a few hundred yards.

I found myself somewhat nervously lining up with the ‘scratch’ race, a twenty minute warm up had failed to get my legs moving so I felt far from confident. The first couple of laps unfolded in typical style, a frantic rush to get moving but no real collaboration between the riders. I made a couple of efforts to get the group of ten or so riders organised and then threw caution to the wind. Two weeks ago the ‘youth’ group of riders had stayed clear of the scratch group to take the win. If I could bridge across to that group I might have a chance…

The third lap was an uncomfortable few minutes. Exiting one of the corners I sprinted hard to get a gap, and then settled down into a time trial effort to cross the gap to the bunch ahead. Although only two or three hundred yards it was not easy to make up ground. About halfway across the gap I realised I was going too deep ‘into the red’ and, worse still, I was going to have to ride down at least half of the back straight of the course solo. Straight into a headwind. By the time I made contact with the group the remainder of the scratch riders had closed down to a few seconds behind me and, as soon as they made the catch the pace went up. From bravely riding across a gap solo I was suddenly jammed at the back of a long line of riders struggling to make up places and to cope with the sudden accelerations out of corners. Worse still, I desperately needed to recover from the effort I’d made and my body was starting to send out signals that it wasn’t happy about what I’d just put it through.

Until yesterday I’d only made myself physically sick twice when riding a bike: once in a ten-mile time trial when I set a personal best of 24 minutes 10 seconds and won a medal, once when I lined up for a 2/3/4 category road race and spent 20 minutes sprinting harder than I could imagine to stay in contact with the bunch. On Wednesday 11th July 2012 I ticked off ‘bike-puke’ number 3…

With just over 20 minutes of racing elapsed and two laps to go I let the wheel in front of me go, drifted off the circuit onto the verge and spent several minutes coughing, heaving and spitting. Sometimes the effort is just too much, I had known it was coming but had pushed on regardless, optimistic that the chequered flag might come before I sucumbed to what is sometimes euphemistically referred to as ‘sprinters cough’…

I rejoined a lap down, just to cruise round the course and unwind my legs, but the truth is fairly clear to see: good bike handling and confidence in the bunch is great, but without some serious weight loss and a decent block of training I can forget about the goals I’d set myself for the second half of the season. ‘The win’ is certainly going to have to wait, my best bet is probably going to be to focus on time-trials I’ve pencilled in, and see how close to ‘the hour’ I might be able to get…