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Article posted: 16/07/2014

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Nik Cook’s goal for 2014 is to convert his forty year old ultra endurance physiology to the higher end demands of Individual Pursuit on the track with an end goal of competing at the Masters World Championships in October.

With a solid spring behind me and some early encouraging time trial results, it was time to start the countdown to Masters Track Nationals in Newport at the end of June and my first competitive individual pursuit. Training was going well on the road and the track but, with the clock ticking to Nationals, I really needed to get hold of my pursuit bike, get used to my position on it and work out what gear and schedule I might be capable of riding.

It’s important to remind myself every now and then that cycling is a hobby, not to take it too seriously and, most of all, to enjoy it.

Week 19: May 12th - May 18th

Second Buxton CC time trial of the year and, despite a horrendous sidewind on the A6 and wrestling with a rear disc and 100 mm deep section front wheel, I take another win and knock 5 seconds off my previous week’s time to set a new PB of 20:19. My mid-week appointment with pain is a 3 X 3 minutes session. I manage 464 W, 480 W and 459 W for an average over the three reps of 467 W. I am pretty pleased with these numbers and hope, for a one off effort of 3:30-3:40, something in the region of 450 W should be attainable.

Distance for week: 338.3 km

Week 20: May 19th - May 25th

With torrential rain forecasted, I didn’t fancy battling with lorries on the A6 so I give the time trial a miss and do 2X20 minutes at threshold earlier in the day. It’s equally unpleasant and doesn’t even have the minor motivational plus of beating any other riders. Mid-week is back to the 3 X 3 minutes and, remembering my goal (see previous blog) of overcoming my long distance conservative pacing tendencies, I hammer the first rep. The good news is a PB of 484 W but this rapidly tails off to 467 W for the second rep and a woeful 441 W for the third meaning my average for the three reps is down on last week to 464 W. I did definitely completely empty the tank though. With my wife’s 40th on the Thursday and a romantic weekend away planned, riding opportunities for the rest of the week are limited. I do manage to squeeze in an SQT on Saturday morning but, although fun and a great workout, my overwhelming thought is a month until Nationals and still no sign of my pursuit bike.

Distance for week: 185.4 km

Week 21: May 26th - June 1st

You’ve got to love the British summer, 8C on the start line of the time trial. My warm-up is more of a defrost and I’m not surprised to post my slowest time of the year of 20:34. It’s still enough to tie for the win but that isn’t a huge amount of consolation as I sit there shivering after the finish, waiting for my car seats to warm me up. Wednesday morning on the track I work on some standing starts. They’re okay but I’m still on the small gear of my regular track bike and it looks like my pursuit bike isn’t arriving anytime soon. On Friday morning I do 2X20 minutes at threshold which in hindsight is a mistake. Late that night is an Endurance SQT which is a brilliant session of two 60 lap and a 40 lap simulated points race behind the derny. It’s a great leg speed session, I’m buzzing for hours afterwards but my legs are completely trashed by the end. I’m deeply jealous of the pursuit riders though who are practicing their efforts in between our sets.

Distance for week: 285 km

Week 22: June 2nd - June 8th

A disappointing week when, due to my Mother-in-Law’s and Uncle’s birthdays in London and Broadway respectively, I’m only able to manage two short sessions on the track. It’s probably no bad thing to have an easier week but no pursuit bike anxiety means I end up stressing about doing nothing.

Distance for week: 79.4 km

Week 23: June 9th - 15th

Racking up the track time this week with four sessions. I feel as though I’m going really well but, with the pursuit bike not arriving until late next week, I’m worrying that the change in position, ramp up in gearing and lack of technical practice is going to be a big issue.

Distance for week: 341.2 km

Week 24: June 16th - 22nd

What will be will be and there’s no sense fretting so, I take advantage of a wonderful evening and get out on my mountain bike on Monday. It’s important to remind myself every now and then that cycling is a hobby, not to take it too seriously and, most of all, to enjoy it. Thankfully, despite some final niggles with front tyre clearance, I get my hands on the pursuit bike and am able to have a blast on it on Friday. The UCI legal position feels a bit cramped compared to my normal TT position and, in some 2 km efforts, 18 second laps feel pretty comfortable. Saturday evening is the Buxton Open 10-mile time trial and, on a not flat course with three roundabout turns, I am pleased with 21:30, 4th overall and fastest Vet.

Distance for week: 225.6 km

Week 25: June 23rd - 29th

Tuesday night I’m back on the track, tweaking my position and trying to work out a schedule to ride. Based on Friday’s session, I’d settled on a 3:40 schedule, which equates to 18 second laps after a 22.9 second starting lap. However, on 2.5 and 2 km efforts that pace feels super conservative and I consider shooting for 17.5 second laps. The elephant in the room though is the gate start and opening lap. I’ve done two gate starts in my life, never a full lap from one leading into a pursuit and, with no chance to try tonight, I’ll be taking a complete stab in the dark of how hard I need to go. I get a final tune up on the track on Wednesday morning but again, no chance to practice gate starts or opening lap efforts.

I spend the rest of the week tapering down and, on Saturday, travel down to Newport with a light turbo session just to spin the drive out of my legs.

The atmosphere at the event is amazing, friendly and there are plenty of familiar faces from Manchester. My wife accompanies me and I give her a crash course in calling my schedule. As my start time draws near, I go through my regular warm-up but I’m becoming more and more nervous. I can’t help worrying about the gate and my opening lap and just can’t seem to focus properly. I decide on the 3:40 schedule and, if I’ve got the gas in the last 4 laps, to hopefully build to a faster finish. As I sit waiting to go to the gate, I’m probably the most nervous I’ve ever been before an event and find it hard to control shaking when I get on my bike and wait for the starting beeps.

My exit from the gate is wobbly to say the least but I make it round the first banking, into the back straight and then down onto my tri-bars. Relief at having managed this floods through me and I totally lose focus of what I’m doing. My first lap is way off pace, just shy of 25 seconds, so I push on and predictably overcook it. I put in sub 17 and low 17 second laps, panic about going too fast and then back off too much. I’m well over halfway and realise I haven’t even been thinking about riding a tight line and sticking to the black and have probably been drifting all over the track. Having slowed too much, I can’t seem to get back on top of the gear and finish feeling as though I had so much more to give. I look up at the clock and am gutted by my time of 3:46 but, considering the catalogue of disasters that have just unfolded, am hardly surprised. Seventh and ten seconds behind the winner is not the result I was hoping for, I’d had secret aspirations to podium, so I leave the Newport velodrome feeling deflated and wondering if riding the Worlds in October is even worthwhile.

Distance for week: 124.1 km

As we drive home, over the next fews days and chatting to some of the coaches at British Cycling, I realise what a valuable experience Newport had been. I’d totally underestimated the technical demands of what appears to be such a simple event and had let my nerves get on top of me. Racing over longer distances, even a 10-mile TT, you’ve got time to rectify mistakes and take a bit of time to get going but for 3 km, there’s no margin for error and you have to be 100% switched on from the first to the last pedal stroke. Having raced once now, I’ll know what to expect next time and, with so many mistakes to correct, plenty of easy seconds to gain.

I’ve got three months to get things sorted. I need to spend time on the pursuit bike, ride numerous efforts at race pace, so that it becomes second nature. While doing those efforts, I have to really focus on good technique, riding a tight line and holding a good position, so that too becomes ingrained. I need to work on my pre-ride build up, not just the physical warm-up, but switching on mentally, controlling my nerves and being in the zone from the gun. Finally and most importantly, I have to sort out my start and opening lap. I’ve already booked onto specific track sessions when I’ll be able to practice this and develop a feel for how that opening effort should feel.

A lot to work on but lots of gains to make and I’m genuinely excited about the next few months. Newport was a necessary set back and, as long as I can learn from and correct the mistakes I made, I know I can ride to my potential in October.

 

 

 

 

 

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