March signified the start of my 2016 season and it’s been a solid start. Since coming back from the training camp in Calpe I haven’t really felt strong or remotely close to form. Efforts have been hard work and numbers falling short of where they should be. Despite this I got stuck in at Darley Moor (Nat B crit) with a few of the new team mates. I got involved with an early break that, despite putting some big turns in, didn’t stick. After a bit of pack surfing, I managed to roll off the front with 17km (8 laps) to go. Nobody fancied joining me, which is a surprise, normally I’m marked and being in fluro yellow I’m not exactly inconspicuous. I got my head down and started to build a gap. The watts were down on what I’d expect, only managing to lap at around 360w but staying aero I pulled the gap out to 30 seconds. With 4 laps to go a 4-man group went off the front, made up of Adam Kenway (MetalTek Kuota), Jacob Tipper (Pedal Heaven), Andy Magnier and Joe Elwood (Langsett Cycles). They consistently took time out of me but the gap was still at 10s heading in to the last lap. By this point I was digging everything out, but unfortunately I was overhauled as I went through the final chicane just 100m from the finish line. I rolled in for 5th. A good result but maybe not a true representation of my effort. Regardless, I raced from the front and enjoyed rolling the dice. I look forward to going back to Darley with good form later in the year and having another go. Afterwards I went for an hour spin with Tipper and Rob from my team. My legs felt dreadful, a good sign for the hard riders TT coming up the following day!

Sunday was a nice early start for Banbury Star Hard Riders TT. Having raced this course twice before, and ridden at least part of it every week for the past 6 months, I knew the course well. It also happens to be on the road I got knocked off on back in November; I put this to the back of my mind. Nerves are bad enough without the worry of crashing again. Pre-race it was good to catch up with a few old uni mates who were also racing. Most of the HQ discussion was on the aero cost of putting pretty much every layer available on; it was 0 degC! Being the bad ass I am I went with just my Drag2Zero team skinsuit. I’d lost enough races by tiny margins so I was happy to accept a bit more pain as long as I didn’t lose. I’d been kindly lent an awesome Giant Trinity Advanced SL by my housemate Ed Cooper. I’d made a few changes to get myself fitted on it, plus fitted a D2Z disc wheel and my Enve 8.9 wheel. The start list had a couple of big names on in Dean Robson and Matt Clinton, both will some very big TT results. I’d promised Simon Smart at least a course record, so it was game on. My warm-up was brief as usual due to terrible time keeping, and my legs definitely hadn’t recovered from yesterday. I went out at what I felt was conservative at 360w. 10 minutes in and I was not having a good time. Watts were dropping, HR was dropping, pain was rising. I did my best to keep aero and be as efficient as I could throughout the rolling course. I was still catching riders, but I only had power, heartrate and time on my Garmin so was a bit unsure as to how I was going. The return leg of the hard riders TT has a lovely climb in it. Sunrising Hill is 1.4km @ 8%, with the final 500m at 11%. After 40 minutes of time trialling, it isn’t a welcome sight. I sat up and did my best to find some watts, any watts. I got to the top at 43 minutes and in all honesty thought the course record was well and truly gone, I’d be lucky for a PB. The final 7km is a gradual downhill, and somehow I picked up my watts up a little bit to finish strong. 51:42, 336w and a course record by 17 seconds. A loooooong way off a power PB though, work to be done there.

Backing up two hard races in a weekend was good prep for Holme Valley Wheelers 2-day stage race that was coming up. A 10-mile hilly TT, followed by a 50-mile RR, then a 60-mile RR on the 2nd day. I was a bit unsure going in to the race, I still didn’t feel in good form but it would be a good marker race anyway. The 10-mile TT went averagely okay. Results put me in 8th, but there were a few pretty ridiculous cock ups with the transponders/timing/race management with riders being let to start 30 seconds or a minute early, without their times being updated accordingly. I believe I was 6th in the TT, but either way, not where I wanted to be. With no time bonuses, stage 1 was full of attacks as people fought to make a gap to gain time on GC. It was back together as the final lap started and as a team we all forced some moves. I went off the front, it came back, Ben went off the front, it came back, Charlie went off the front, it stuck. Confident in Charlie’s TT ability the rest of the team kept guard at the front of the pack. Up the climb to the finish the pace increased and I was jumping across wheels as gaps opened. I held on, only losing time to Charlie as he took the stage win. The results were finally released on Sunday morning, with Ben 2nd on GC, myself 6th (although I believe 5th if TT results were corrected). Stage 3 began and at the end of lap 1 Adam Kenway ramped the pace up the finishing climb, splintering the field, but eased up as we went in to the descent. I pushed on through and rode off the front with Kenway in tow. Tom Bustard (MetalTek Kuota) and Peter Barusevicus (Altura Wheelbase) made the move to join us. Unfortunately, with Adam and Tom’s team mate, Ryan Perry, leading GC they were unwilling to ride. Between myself and Peter, we grew the gap throughout the lap and as we hit the finishing climb I spotted my team mate Ben bridging the gap solo. I was surprised the pack had let him go since he was 2nd on GC, but good to have some two of us up there. I eased up and he joined us as the descent started. He quickly got on the front and put some big turns. We built the gap up to 2.5 minutes with 2 laps (20 miles) to go. Ben was leader on the road, and I was 2nd, awesome. I’ve just got to stop Kenway getting more than 10 seconds on me. Ryan Perry had other ideas. Having it recounted from team mates in the pack, he got on the front with 2 laps to go and decided it was time to get us back. He splintered the pack apart and reeled us back in within 1 lap. To say I was surprised when he and around 10 others joined us at the start of the final lap would be an understatement. 2.5 minutes in around 25 minutes, huge, scary. The final lap was quite pedestrian in the pack as we all missed Kenway firing off the front and spent the lap looking at each other. Having sat in on the break throughout the day, he had pretty fresh legs and made good use of them taking 1.5 minutes out of us. This put himself 1st on GC, knocking his team mate Ryan Perry to 2nd and Ben down to 3rd. I ended up 6th on GC (still moaning here, should be 5th but commissaire said TT results are final despite me having evidence to prove the errors). It was an awesome weekend, albeit very tough. I learnt a lot about pack positioning and saving energy, something I’ve normally ignored and just ridden off the front, but at this level it just isn’t doable.

The following weekend wasn’t meant to be a race weekend but my team mate (and 1989 World IP champ) Colin Sturgess managed to sort me a start at the Rainbow Classic. It was the inaugural race, and being an indoor crit on polished concrete, it was going to be fun! I spent the morning chatting with sponsors on their stands and trying to sit down as much as possible. Watching the earlier 234 and women’s race made me realise just how slippery it was. Fortunately, we got a good 20 minute warm up, allowing us to find our lines and limits. I lined up against some big names, including Ian Bibby, the 2015 National Crit champ and the owner of the West Midland’s most prestigious KOM, Jacob Tipper. As usual, the race went out fast and I had a little surprise in the first corner. With switching wheels and therefore pads many times a week, I don’t use my brake pad retaining screws. Stupid me rolled back on the start line with my rear brakes slightly on, bye bye rear brake pads. This made for an interesting first few laps as I found out how hard I could brake without losing the front end. Ian Bibby quickly made his way off the front and the pace eased up a little. I made a few moves off the front which quickly ended as I over shot and nearly ended up in the barriers. Bibby took a lap and started to work for his team mate, Jonny McEvoy. I was caught napping down in the back of the lead 7 as the group split. I made my way to the front and started to pull the 3 of them back but with a quick bit of mental maths; just 5 laps remaining and nobody else willing to work we weren’t going to get them back. I eased up but held the front. I knew the race on the last lap would be for the final corner, whoever lead in to there had the race nearly in the bag. I had a very close encounter with Connor Swift (Envelopemaster-Giant) heading in to this corner, but I held the lead and took 4th overall. A nice little earner and a good race, but lesson learnt to use my pad retaining screws and to not get caught napping in a crit!

The following day my older bro was racing at Marsh Tracks in Rhyl. He’s finally started to focus on his cycling. He’ll be a bloody good rider if he starts to train properly! I went along for the trip and entered the E123 Reg C+ race. I didn’t really warm up much, instead watching my brother race in the 4th only. My running commentary on my brother’s poor positioning to the uninterested crowd probably started to grate a little. Credit where credit is due though, he went in to the last corner well outside of the top 10 and somehow pulled a 5th place out of the bag. Kudos. I decided to make my race a bit of a tough training session. I went from the gun, hard. >1400w off the line is a bit stupid. The pack wasn’t keen to let me go and held the gap at around 15 seconds for the first 10 minutes. Average speed was well above 43kmh, probably a shock to the system to a few of the 3rd cats. They finally eased up and the gap opened. I went through 20 mins at about 370w and felt strong. I was getting time gaps from my bro, it was consistently opening. A 3-man break went off the front of the pack but I was still getting time on them. At 40 minutes in I caught the peloton, grabbed a High5 gel, took half a laps rest and then set about reeling the break back. It took another 15 minutes but I made contact with 5 laps to go, and just half a lap later we caught the pack again. I sat in on the break until the last 2 laps and had another go off the front. I was semi-committed, and one of the break came over the top of me. I rode on his wheel for the final lap and rolled across to take the win. 361w average, 365w normalised for just over an hour. A good workout, and showing my legs are coming back a little.

The next few weeks were planned as a big training block to prepare for Tour of the Reservoir and Rutland CiCle Classic. That all changed mid-week when I got a last minute call up to Chorley GP. Having not raced a Prem before, facing a 400 mile round trip and being somewhat underprepared I was hesitant but decided to go for it anyway. I’m glad I did but what a tough race. The long trip up had taken its toll, but thankfully staying just an hour away the night before meant a relative lie-in of 7am. The Chorley course takes in a lot of the town centre roads before heading out in to the moors, including a lovely climb that just seems to drag on; 5 laps was going to be fun. With exposed crosswinds over the top of the climb, chasing on would be tough. For me, the first couple of laps were actually quite uneventful. I hid well within the pack, moving up efficiently before bottlenecks and the climb, and thankfully missing the first lap crash heading in to the climb. Ben was up the road with a couple of other guys, mopping up KOM and sprint points and behind the field was gradually shrinking, down to around 60 riders as lap 3 began. JLT Condor got on the front and the pace shot up. They drilled it in to the climb and the race split apart. I was somewhere in the middle, wheel sucking for all I had. With some pretty big chasing most of the race came back together throughout the lap. There was a group of 8 up the road as lap 4 began, and my team mate Brad was bridging over. The pack lost all of its drive, I’m guessing because most teams were represented in the break. I somehow rolled off the front and got a gap, with 6 other guys joining me a few minutes later including my team mate Charlie. By this point I was pretty tired and had begun to cramp up. I did my best to put some turns in; we were getting time updates and the lead group was under a minute ahead and we’d put over a minute in to the peloton. We hit the climb and I was cramping hard, I slowly dropped out of the group as another small group rode past including eventual winner Ed Bradbury (NFTO). Down the descent I regrouped with some of the others who had been shelled on the climb. Most of my turns on the front resulted in my hamstrings cramping up, followed by some mega suffering on the back trying to hold wheels with a locked up leg. After about 10k of this my leg cramped up solidly and I knew that was my race over. I don’t like pulling out, in fact I think this is my first ever DNF, but my legs just weren’t having it. I was annoyed at myself. I’d had the same problem before, but normally in hotter races or where my hydration had been less than optimal, I’d drank 4 bottles this time and eaten well. Time to go back to the drawing board. I spent the last lap in the team car, following Brad, Charlie and Ben who all finished with some top results, although just missing out on the elusive top 20. Excluding a few little crits, my next 2 races are Prems (Manx GP and Tour of the Reservoir) then the Rutland CiCle Classic. Exciting stuff!

My month has been fairly hectic with plenty of other things going on too. Last week I moved house down to Reading. I’m now living with Britain’s fastest cyclist, Ken Buckley! There’s only two of us in the house but with both of using riding pretty much full time, and with far too much interest in cycling, it makes for a fun household (if you like cycling….). I’ve also started up my own company called WattShop (https://wattshop.wordpress.com). The idea being to put my own solutions and products out in to the market for other cyclists to benefit from. Currently I am focusing on high performance chains and waxing, but in the near future I will be launching a few other watt saving performance solutions so keep an eye out! Check out my website, have a read of the Watts It Worth page and let me know what you think. Sorry for the long blog post, I got carried away!