You can push yourself hard on solo rides but to be able to reach the absolute top end sometimes you need to ride within a group. Competition; nobody wants to be dropped and riding with riders who are stronger than you, reaps great rewards.
Nothing is easy in cycling, to get stronger you have to suffer, be left behind, taste defeat…and bounce back – this is a key attribute of any serious rider. Yes talent is important but it is nothing without dedication. So with that in mind I spend my Wednesday nights at an industrial park on the outskirts of Newcastle-upon-Tyne; Newburn.
There’s nothing new, in the burn, I feel it every week in my legs, from about mid November, to March the following year. This winter has been my first foray – I dip my toes in the scoulding bath of suffering each week. Those cyclists who want to race next year group together and ride hard, in a chain-gang fashion, for about an hour – there are other groups for less strong riders.
It’s tough. It’s cold for a start – this week it was 0 degrees. However, you soon forget that your toes are numb. We set off, usually in a group of 10-20 but this week there was only 7 of us. Instantly the hammer is down. We do a circle round the industrial park, each lap equates to about 2 minutes riding. The start is nice and easy, we are going fast but the burning in my legs is yet to build up. That feeling never lasts long, as eventually it becomes an organised free-for-all – the stronger riders dictate the pace, and all you can do is respond. Sometimes the pace is incredibly high (28mph+) and I ride like each second is my last for the night, waiting, praying, that the pace goes down. It does, the pace is uneven – which actually is the real killer. One moment you ride within yourself, at 80% of your max output, then the next you are virtually sprinting at 95% – it’s a cycle of hard, followed by rest, until you can do no more. Bicycle racing is a series of sprints – it’s not a constant effort like a Time Trial.
Mentality is key. If you feel like a small fish, in a big pond – that you can’t survive, you’ll soon be left in the gutter with only your thoughts – will I ever make the grade. It’s happened to me a few times. It’s lonely watching the stronger ones ride off. I gave everything, it felt like my chest might explode, like I couldn’t give my body the oxygen it needed – everything, every last drop of energy was expelled. And I wasn’t capable. You need the right mental approach – next week I might be strong enough, I’m riding with some of the best cyclists in Newcastle, I’ll make the grade.
So for a few statistics of this weeks suffering:Top Speed: 28.8 mph Distance: 20.74 miles Time: 52 mins 37 secs Average Speed: 23.6 mph
I made it round without getting dropped. I was not left in the gutter. I’m getting there.