The adventures of a typical MAMIL, who late in life forgoes normality to take up bike racing .....


Race 1:  Alphutte Classic Handicap, The Range, 9th April 2011


Held by the Norwood Cycling Club, the Alphutte Classic is an annual event with an illustrious history. The course centers around The Range / Willunga / McLaren Flat and Pennys Hill Rd - great cycling country in this fine state of SA.


The course is shown here :

Alphutte - MapMyRide


As with all MapMyRide routes, the elevation profile is averaged out, so it really doesnt show how nasty the final climb is.


Preparation and Training :


Leading up to the 9th April, prep has been really poor. Couple of weeks off the bike with a severe flu, and then 1 1/2 weeks of base training in the week leading up to the race.


31 Mar :  Light spin up to Norton Summit, rest, then attack the slope with some ferocity. Absolutely flying up Norton, but overcooked it by a wide margin, and ended up stopping the ride by Valley Reserve. Head pounding. Limped the rest of the way after that. Coming back was good fun - raced a P plater in a skyline from the top of Magill Rd as far as the parklands in town ... that was probably a pretty silly thing to do, but was a great blast.


4-7 April:  Around 8 hours on the bike, concentrating on holding a steady fast pace in the drops with high cadence. Really good disciplined workout. Happy with that.  Holding an avg of 140W at 100rpm cadence and breathing easy. Best I can do with the limited time.  Only one day off the bike for a rest.


So coming in to 'race day', not exactly race fit, but with clear lungs and a bit of confidence.


Pre Race :


Oh God !  Talk about nerves !!  Its a 1pm start, so the alarm is set for 10am.  Wake up at 6am in a panic - nothing is ready.


I have no idea where my favorite socks are, and cant for the life of me find my favorite arm warmers. Not good.  Cant find a clean razor without rust on it (I know they are there somewhere - just bought a new pack on Thur night) ... so not going to risk too close a shave this morning.


The night before, my roomy's son had a slight car accident (dinged up his Auntie's car and made a mess in someone's front uard) ... so it was a little challenging to get into race mode. Forget to eat supper, and forget to eat breakfast.


By 10:30am Im finally organised and on the road. 


By 10:45am I do a U-turn and head home because I forgot to grab my transponder :(  Wake up lad !  Back on the road, dying for a cigarette. Scratch around in the center console for an old forgotten packet - NOTHING there, and think all sorts of things to justify buying a new packet on the way. Nah ... not today laddie. Bad idea.


12:15pm :  Arrive at the The Range Memorial Hall and get a park. The place is packed with cars and people and bikes. Excellent vibe - glad Im here at last.  I fuss around for an obscene amount of time getting my bike put together and sorting out water and back pocket contents. Left glove will not fit on right hand! Someone has put the clocks on fast forward, time is ticking away much faster than it has any right to.


Check in with the race organisers, pin number on back, and head up Range Road for a warmup. Hardly any time left now. Lucky for me, Ive never raced before so I pull a 33minute time handicap for this race. If I am ever going to win a race, its TODAY !  Next time around, Ill be in the scratch group for sure, or they will force me up into B grade for the rest of the season.


Little block of foam that is used to secure my super dooper watch / interval timer to my handlebars comes loose and blows away in the wind. WTF ? That hasnt moved in all the years Ive been riding, and now the watch is banging all over the handlebars upside down. FFS - watch off, and strap to wrist where I can barely see it. Call me murphy. I look down at my computer / powermeter thing - the slope is reading -9.3%, and Im on an uphill slope. Thats not right at all - the mount must have been knocked off by a few degrees in transit. Need to recalibrate.


The Start :


Ding Ding Ding - the race organiser is calling the 33 minute group to the start line already. F$@k!  Time is on fast forward still.


A small group of about 5-6 guys head to the start line. Thats ME too !  They look - experienced. "You can join us" they call .. "But only if you are over 50 !" they add. These guys look cool calm and collected - and well organised and warmed up.


So Im on the start line listening to the briefing, whilst I do this silly little tilt calibration dance on my computer.


Really simple to do - when you are not standing on the start line of your first ever road race, listening to an important briefing whilst trying to at least look remotely Euro Pro.


Anyway, a few moments to get head into gear and think about all the right things. I remember Daniel's words of advice about the race start from this board, and think calm and purposeful things. All good.


The Race :


I should really conclude this blog post here, as the biggest lesson I learned in my first race is that a bike race is just extension of the preparation.  Once the pedals are turning, you are no longer in the world of mere mortals - you are in a different place entirely.


Tim Krabbe nailed it perfectly in his book 'The Rider'. Ive read it twice before this day, and now I am privileged to read it again and understand far better what he was saying between the lines of prose.


Off the line, not quite a drag race .. just a gradual pull to get up to speed and form the first unspoken bonds between the riders. That happens very quickly. All senses are turned up to 11, and you can almost feel where everyone's head is at. Its hard to describe - its like a saturday morning group ride on steroids. There is an overwhelming sense of non-verbal communication between the riders in the bunch. Its like sitting next to an old friend you have known all your life, and enjoying a beer and a good sunset together. Why havent I tried this before ?


I dont know how far we have gone - maybe 4km, and the road is tilting upwards ever so slightly. Ive been sitting in tight, taking my turn at the front, and holding a good line. But why do I feel so stuffed ? Feeling around with my ears, you can sense that the group has already started breaking apart here. The big lad at the front is taking enormous strides and you can hear a distinct whoosh-whoosh as he powers up the slight incline.


A wheel edges forward on my left, and I lift my cadence a little to hold my position in the group. But something doesnt feel right at all. My legs are not smooth, I feel like Im pedalling in squares, and I am starting to get the first flush of lactic in my legs. I know this feeling - its the first little push you make on the start of every ride, where whatever you do, it just hurts a little as the engine starts to warm up to operating temperature. After that first half an hour to an hour, everything smooths out and only then can you get into it properly.


Whats the computer saying ?  A quick glance down.  168 watts, 112 rpm. Ah - that makes sense now. Im revving out like a 2 stroke engine, and Im still cold. Right knee is groaning in displeasure and lungs are not happy Jan. Up a couple of gears - ouch - knee doesnt like that. Get head back together !!  168 watts is fine, but its well out of my comfort zone. I know I can hold 260 watts like this for 20 minutes, but be dead at the end of it. Anything over 150W sustained and Im running a deficit.


2+ more hours of this ? You gotta be joking. Evil Steve who wears the devil's costume and sits on my left shoulder is getting heavier by the second. He is whispering all sorts of very logical sensible suggestions in my left ear, and all of it is making more sense that Id care to admit. Angel Steve on my right shoulder is nowhere to be found.


Up on the hoods, I sit back and  look for my own pace now. I drop back to the concierge car and make some vague gestures towards my knee and give him a thumbs down. Poor excuse :(  Its a testing run now, not a race.


On my own, at my own pace, having fun zooming down the descent on Meadows Road. There is a shocking, howling side wind blowing the bike towards the center of the road here. A lot of debris on the side of the road too. Glad Im wearing my SL's today and not the deep dishes. Most of the debris on the road is light bark that the wheels glide through - but some of it is as hard as rock. I get airborne a couple of times running over twigs and doing 68km/h. This is fun ? Yes. Madness ? Probably.


Sit up some more and wait for the next group to come through. Feeling much more relaxed now, yoga my way into a more sleek position on the saddle and get some speed happening. There is nothing at stake anymore. Sit on with the next (faster) group, and somehow the pace is so much easier. Cruising along, breathing a little hard, 280 Watts - feels good.


Pottery Road happens in no time at all. Sudden left hand turn, road is wet and covered in pine nettles and potholes. Thank god for DuraAce brakes. OK, I am committed to DNF'ing now, so lets see what we can do to Pottery Road.


Takes a short while to find a comfortable rhythm,  but once you are there you are in heaven. Here we go - I can bring up the engines to 320 watts and hold it there, floating up the hill in comfort. Dont need to hold anything in reserve for the next 2 hours, so why not ? Now that feels good at last - legs are burning, lungs are burning even more, but the smile is burning bright too. Thats as it should be.


So I ease up back at the start line and have a quick chat to the race marshalls. Mark me down as DNF, Im off to have a spin down ride off the course for a bit. Great little ride after that - a good way to have a think about what just happened.  Annoyingly, the knee feels perfect during this ride.


The Other Race :


In great contrast to my own experience this morning, I spend some time with some of the elite juniors who are getting ready for their race.


If you have ever sat in on the start of a TDU stage and watched the pros up close - well, this is almost exactly the same. Its quite surreal watching some of these guys warm up on their rollers. There is very little difference between a Pro Team support vehicle and coaching staff, and some of the Moms and Dads support vehicles - with their own small scale pro teams. The difference is only one of scale.


I remember a long time ago in the forces, being involved in training infantry units for combat readiness in dinosaur country in Qld. The finished product - not exactly men yet, but certainly not boys anymore. They look like finely tuned doberman dogs, greyhounds, and the odd hyena in the gun group. I remember thinking "heaven help us all if they ever get let loose on the world these young ... products of ours".


Cant help but feel the same way about the future of Australian cycling looking at some of these juniors. It wont be too many years now, and some of these cyclists will survive the coming years intact to take on the big races in Europe. Heaven help the world when these guys land over there. At least when we are too old to ride anymore, there will be plenty to cheer about on SBS.


Lessons Learned :


On the surface (and indeed in my ride diary entry for this race), I would describe it as a disaster. However, there are a lot of good lessons that I took from the day.


Obviously, preparation is a big part. I cant just rock up with half an hour to go and expect to race. To race properly, need to get there significantly early and go through a decent warm up cycle. Need to be at the start line with the muscles warm, hydration under control, and heart rate right in the zone before the first pedal is turned.


Goes without saying that having your kit sorted out is something that needs to be done days before a race, not on the morning of race day. Nothing worse than having your computer (or any other part of your kit that you rely on) playing silly buggers moments before a race.


Pacing is critical too, but there will be moments (probably quite early in the race), where you are out of your comfort zone and need to hold it there for a while. Trust in your ability to recover and suck it up.


Even out of my comfort zone, I may well have been OK for another 10km if I stuck in there. What did my head in was thinking about the whole of the next 2 hours instead of the just the current moment. Must make an effort in training and racing to only focus on the present. The next few Km is everything - the other Km after that will look after themselves.  Race with your head, not your legs.


Training - patience is key. I cant expect to race harder than I can train, and I cant expect to train at a level beyond my fitness. Fitness will come - in time - with slow incremental steps in training. Anyway, by the numbers I am not too far off the pace at the back end of the race. Only need to lift my sustainable power output by 10% and Im good enough to hang in there with E-grade and be competitive. Thats actually quite encouraging.


So, there you go, everything I gathered from a first time out.

Views: 82

Comment by Mick Adams on April 12, 2011 at 19:51
I hope you weren't watching the video while listening to the marshalls. Too much to take in at the same time.  Nice blog
Comment by Simon Lownsborough on April 12, 2011 at 20:06

Wow! That's a great race report. Never raced, and probably won't (too old/too slow/too, well nervous I suppose), but thankyou for a wonderful insight.

I get the feeling you'll do well.

Comment by Baron Von Thierry on April 12, 2011 at 23:52
Nailed it well Steve, I can echo the sentiments I felt when starting off on the Cape Argus tours in South Aftica. The boys in the B group do'nt hang about at the start!
Comment by RD6 on April 13, 2011 at 10:33
great blog ! you have inspired me and determined to do this Masters road race  in October :)
Comment by RD6 on April 13, 2011 at 10:38
Arnt Pennys Hill road a bitch of a climb especially when you are in race mode
Comment by Adam Brown on April 13, 2011 at 11:29

Thanks for such a refreshingly honest and insightful account of what goes on behind the scenes in racing, Steve! I'm really looking forward to reading more of your adventures!!!


All the best with your future racing endeavours - hope to see you out there one day!

Comment by Steve OConnor on April 14, 2011 at 17:14

Thanks for all the comments ...  I want to try and get the point across that the seemingly ridiculous long term goal of racing bikes is something that is actually accessible to pretty much all riders out there of all abilities.


Its just a time, patience, and attention to detail thing that separates where ever you are now from where you can be. Those are all qualities that us older guys and gals have no shortage of, so its not surprising to find so many masters riders out there racing bikes.


I forgot to mention with Alphutte - there was a big sign at the start line that said "Happy 50th (Jim ?)" (cant recall the exact name).. made me smile. Happy birthday mate indeed. What a great way to celebrate your half century. Respect.


My path leading up to this is nothing special .... I had some rough patches over the last few years, and that has given me an interesting opportunity to be a little crazy and pursue some seemingly crazy interests. Its actually a slippery slope, but a fun one to be on :)  Its simply not possible that the me of a few years back should be racing bikes today - but here I am !


So for those of you who are thinking about it .... you are already more than half way there. The first vague daydreams of racing are more than enough to say that you will probably be racing before long whatever your current circumstances. Once you start thinking about it, and enjoying the idea - thats it - racing has got you already !   heheheh.

Comment by Steve OConnor on April 14, 2011 at 18:24


Now, a little boring interlude :




I am not going to turn this into a training blog, so I wont be posting tedious details about training here. However a few little notes at this stage wont go astray, as they are related to the next race.


I finally bit the bullet this season and committed to buying, reading, and following the Joe Friel book on training plans for a change of scenery. Its a big book, but the message is simple. In amongst all the fine details, it just boils down to having a layered approach, where race fitness is built up in stages.  Base - Build - Peak - Race.  Around that basic plan you can get as complex or as simple as you like.


I am in Base still at the moment, so that involves sticking to doing some very disciplined riding to sit yourself in a particular zone, and hold it consistently for a set period of time. You do this for a couple of hours.


Its a bit like Goldilocks and the 3 bears - not too soft, not too hard, but just right gets the job done.


Rides like this are best done alone, with no rabbits to chase, and minimal traffic to contend with. Thank your lucky stars that we live in Adelaide - the coastal roads are just made for base training :)


So anyway, a few tedious details at this point, and Ill leave the training blather for another day.


My previous block of training before the Alphutte race didnt give me much time for base work, I only really got in 1 solid week sitting on 140 Watts. After a few days off the bike to rest up completely, the training plan now calls for lifting the intensity just a little, and going out nailing consistent runs at a very slightly higher wattage.  So I have set my chase target this week to 150 Watts.  Thats pretty close to race pace to hang in there with the guys at the very longest handicap from my last race.  (I think I mentioned I needed to put out around 160 Watts to hang in there with them).


After a break next week, Ill start the next block of boring old base training at 160 Watts.


Please note at this stage - Im using a powermeter, but thats nothing more than a wonderful toy to makes life a lot easier. I was just lucky to find one at a bargain price some time ago and took the opportunity to get into it.  You can do all this without a powermeter, as long as you get good at listening to your own body and using other measurements such as heartrate, or road speed.


In fact road speed is a perfect measurement of power if you are training on the flat with minimal wind interference. It can be done without over analysing the whole thing.


Anyway, here is a snap of one of my intervals today .. hovering around 155 Watts for an extended period of time along the beachfront. It felt a little inconsistent in the saddle (with roundabouts, little old ladies crossing the road, and a few odd incidents here and there) .. but the figures came out perfect.


Gotta be happy with that !  There are some inconsistent patches with navigating around various obstacles through to Grange, and getting onto Military Rd along West Lakes.  After that - clear sailing again.


Smack it in a decent gear, keep the cadence high (Im sitting close to 100rpm for most of this), and cruise along relatively fast and consistent. It should hurt a little, but just right to hold this for big blocks of time and get an hour or 2 of 'flat lines'.


This is what a training ride should look more like.  If I look back at other rides over the last year, particular those where I go out and just have a random blast on the bike - the graphs are up and down all over the place and look like a psychadelic bowl of spaghetti. Good fun - but if I ever handed one of those up to a coach and said "Heres what I did for training" ... he / she would probably slap me into next Tuesday.


Training = discipline. Another advantage to the older riders perhaps ;)


Here is another detailed look at whats happening within that ride - this is an overall analysis of the frequency of pedal speed vs pedal pressure over that whole 20 minute period  :

Nice !


This tells me that for most of the ride, I am keeping the cadence spot on, and applying even pedal pressure all the way through. Goldilocks and the 3 bears again - not too hard, not too soft, but just right ... at least for base training.


For race pace, I want to aim for keeping that cadence consistent, but having slightly harder pedal pressure.  A perfect race on an ideal day should (in theory), see this same graph with the pedal speed vs pressure all clustered close together, but located higher up the graph. A perfect pacing would keep these measures consistent regardless of the changing slope of the course.


In addition to that - a real race means that there will be several bursts of very high pedal pressure for breaks and sprints, so there should be some smaller separate clusters up the top of the graph.


From a training perspective :


- I want to see flat lines for the overall ride.

- I want close groupings on the pedal speed vs pressure graph.

- I want to see that pedal speed vs pressure graph move upwards from one block of training to the next.


From a racing perspective :


The whole point of doing this detailed work in training is to give you a huge advantage or 2 on race day. 


If you KNOW for a fact from your training what output your engine can sustain for certain periods of time, then you have 3 big advantages over the next guy who maybe hasnt done the same level of homework.


1) If you are cruising just below your known good pace, then you also know that you can turn the screws up a little and start hurting other riders for the next 10 mins, 20 mins or whatever. An extra 20 watts maintained over the next 20 minutes may completely destroy the bunch you are in.


2) When the pace is hurting, and you are pushing it to hold your place, you can know for certain that you can hold this level of pain for the next 10mins, 20 mins, or whatever. You know you can do it, so you can tell your legs to shut up with some confidence.

3) If you have overcooked it, then from your training you can know exactly how much to back off by, and how many minutes of lighter spinning you need to do before you can try and get back into the bunch.


Note that all of these racing benefits are in the head. From my last race experience, Id much rather go into the next one with better knowledge, certainty and confidence than a better bike, or better legs. Im convinced now that it makes all the difference.


Final little bit of technical waffle before I close this post up. I want to dive in on one of those sections of nice consistent output and blow it up a little to show something interesting that is happening on a smaller scale :


In that graph above, there is some finer detail on a short 1.5km section of that consistent patch.


Forgive the psycho colour scheme, but whats its saying is roughly this :

- Deep Blue line at the top is wind speed relative to the bike. The shaded section shows whether this represents a slight headwind or tailwind.

- Light Blue is cadence, yellow is speed. You can see from the way they track each other that we are sitting in a constant gear all the way through.

- Red is computed power output. Power output is quite up and down compared to road speed. So Im going a little harder or a little lighter on the pedals to keep the road speed constant.


OK, what can we make of all this ?  Very subtle changes happening here over that short distance.


A tiny increase in headwind sees the speed drop back, which is causing me to (unconsciously ?) increase the power to compensate. After a bit more power, the speed picks up .. wind dies off .. and I start over-revving. This causes the power to drop off as I drop the cadence back, and it starts all over again.


Nasty little micro-cycle there.


Racing Perspective :


If this starts happening in a race, it could be disastrous if your mind is not on the ball.


I reckon this is what it might look like in a race :

- You are pedalling away, keeping tight with the bunch, and feeling good about the race.

- After a bit, you notice the wheels around you inching forward as you fall back an inch at a time.

- You are pushing it as hard as you were before, but you are loosing ground. Damn !  confidence takes a dent.  Are the legs losing the plot ?

- You overcompensate and start inching into the wheel in front. Double Damn ! You dont want to end up touching wheels.

- Not sure what the 'right' amount of pressure on the pedals is needed any more, you start to concertina back and forth and annoy the living crapola out of the other riders. Confidence takes a beating.


Dont know, I am yet to experience that in detail in a real race. Got to remember this one for next race then - if the wind is playing silly buggers, then consider it normal, give everyone a little room and just work with it. Its not your legs packing up on you at all - its just the wind. Deal with it and get back to the race.




Comment by Daniel S on April 15, 2011 at 19:24

Hi Steve, Good post and well done for getting out there and giving it a go.


Can I offer a couple more bits of advice, for what its worth?


First -- don't get psyched out by your powermeter during a race. Remember you are racing with power, not by power. Often the only way to really find your limit is in a race, and you'll never find it if you are letting the numbers hold you back. I say this as someone who has been using a Powertap for a little while and has raced quite a bit with one.


Second -- I take it your base rides are somewhere around Z2 (i.e. "Endurance") zone? If you can do those at 150W then you should have no trouble at all holding 160W for 2.5 hrs in a race. In fact, with a 20-min power of 260W, your FTP should be around 245-250W shouldn't it? That would mean that for 2-2.5 hrs you should be able to sit in the 200s no worries. It may hurt, but its meant to! Again, don't let the numbers psych you out.


Just get out there and give it another go. Don't give up until you are slobbering on the top tube and crying for mercy! (even then don't give up).


Good luck and hopefully will see you out at a race soon!

Comment by Steve OConnor on April 16, 2011 at 13:43

Thanks Daniel, excellent advice all round. I know what you mean by letting the gadget dictate your limits sometimes. I was even worse when I was using just a HRM.  A powermeter is certainly great for training, but racing is a different kettle of fish. I will look forward to slobbering on the top tube next time around.


I have another solid month of base ahead, and Im looking for a mini peak at the end of May for the Tour of the Riverland. 2 proper days of racing there should be a brilliant learning experience. I wont hold anything back for those 2 days. I will bring the laptop along, but Ill leave the analysis till after the race.


You are correct with the numbers above. Base in Z2 for me. I am working off of a best case FTP of 260W, which is realistic I think. I can certainly feel something nasty happen when I try and sit in at over 280W, so I guess thats what VO2Max feels like.  Those numbers fit in exactly with what the good book(s) suggest. Its all a very fine line though, because 800-900W is easy to do for very short efforts. Pulling a short steep climb at 500W - meh, too easy ;)  Holding 200+ Watts on an endless road that disappears towards the horizon = pure murder and a deep pit of despair.


For the rest of base training, I plan on capping the intensity at 160W and just working on the volume. Ill be more than happy if I can TT at 160W sustained for a 2x2Hr block. Its straight into Build for me after Tour of the Riverland + a week holiday off the bike.


I think Im pretty well hooked now, so Ill definitely see you out racing soon and often :)


Actually - on that point, it is kind of weird being in a cycling club compared to other sports clubs. Unlike other team sports, you can turn up on the day in the club uniform, race, go home, and not actually meet another soul. You can probably even get away with doing that for many seasons if you are that way inclined. Ill make an effort to get involved in the social side of the club as time permits, get involved in CX as a bystander, and maybe even try and organise some get togethers myself too. Racing with teammates you know well has to be a benefit.

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