3 Down Audax

This weekend saw another impromptu TCR London meetup, this time at the 3 Down audax. I’d arranged to ride out with Paul Buckley (a TCR vet and 2016 entrant) and it turned out at least 3 other riders have previously ridden TCR… Darren also put in an appearance, bombing around the first half of the course to catch us on the return leg.

3am starts aren’t my favourite, but are certainly good practice for TCR. On the plus side, the roads are gloriously quiet and skirting London to reach Datchet for my meeting with Paul was quick and peaceful. Paul took us on a quick diversionary lap of the outskirts of Slough, but it gave us a chance to chat about his experiences racing last year and confirm that a lot of my thinking about the race is on track with the reality.

My plan for the day was to ride at a ‘sustainable’ pace and test my theories around the power I can comfortably sustain without damaging my performance on subsequent days. Few TCR riders ride with power meters, but there’s some data out there and it’s handy to have a number to aim for… I struggle with reigning myself in and I’d forgotten my heart rate monitor, so I settled on aiming for a pace that felt easy and expecting this to fall around 210-250 watts normalised over the day.

The plan somewhat went out the window when a fast train of riders caught me early on and put out a ferocious pace. I sat in the wheels, but stubbornly refused to ease off and then chased a fast solo rider to the first stop, arriving before it was officially open. Fortunately Paul caught me at the stop while I was still enjoying my coffee and we both pushed on at a more sensible pace, having let the whippets race off down the road.

Paul’s a relentless metronome, but his average pace is marginally slower than mine, so I found myself alone on the road and finally settled into riding at what I’d dubbed ‘TCR pace’. The miles flew by with some beautiful scenery and a very welcome pause atop a steep hill while an endless flow of horses crossed the road.

2016-04-02 09.01.37

Shortly after, I was caught by a pair of riders and spent much of the ride in Ciaran’s company, chatting about audaxes, TCR, the Wild Atlantic Way and cycling in general. He was a good sport, leaving me to get on with it on the long straight stretches, dropping into the extensions and pulling away and regrouping further down the twisty lanes where the aerobars felt like more of a liability than an aid.

After a fairly long stop at a bakery (Ciaran’s top tip for audax stops), we bumped into Darren and Paul and eventually the pace eased while Darren and I chatted about our progress toward TCR. It sounds like we’ve both largely figured out what we’re doing and the ‘big picture’, although I’m very jealous of his planned test excursion to Bilbao! There are a few minor differences in our planning – mostly around me being a bit gung ho and planning for overly optimistic best case scenarios. Hopefully he’s twigged that I’m being overly optimistic to trick my body and brain into performing better and is taking my advice/thoughts with a very large pinch of salt.

When we finally got back to the start, it was raining and I decided to forgo riding home to save my health (and because I’m a massive wimp) and ended up chatting to the various TCR vets in the room about their experiences and how they would approach the race this year. Fortunately almost everything lined up with my current thinking and plans (apart from the nutter that took no sleeping kit!) and I came away pretty enthused.

More importantly, I’d spent the day testing my kit and pacing over the type of distance I expect to be averaging for the TCR and everything performed perfectly. The tubeless (Schwalbe Pro One) tyres, despite only being 23mm, were obscenely comfortable, my position on the aerobars was low and fast and I averaged 229 watts NP without damaging my ability to ride the next day. I still need to do some longer rides with my frame bag attached, but everything’s aligning perfectly so far.

For the actual race I’ll be using 25mm tyres, but they’ll definitely be Pro Ones. I was sceptical of the benefits of tubeless, but they were easy to fit, roll beautifully (I honestly didn’t expect the upgrade in comfort considering the quality of the tyres I was riding previously) and simply don’t puncture… or rather, if they do, you probably won’t know about it until you get home and find sealant on your frame.

I’m also going to need to expand my gearing. I don’t doubt I can get up anything the race will throw at me with my current 28 sprocket, but over such a long duration and with the extra weight on the bike, I think a 32 would be wise. I don’t like fitting a granny ring as once it’s there, you inevitably use it too much, but I also don’t want to risk blowing out my knees by Italy and ending my race. This sentiment was echoed by many of the veterans, so I think I really have to follow the wisdom of the crowd.

This week will need to be sensible mileage as I have a target 25 mile TT on Saturday, but I’ve got Sunday, Monday and Wednesday to make up for lost time (I have time off work to join my Dad scattering my Mum’s ashes on her birthday, so I think I’ll need the time on the bike to clear my head and escape the world a little bit for a few days). I’d love to enter the ValleyCat later this month, but just can’t make it fit around work, so my next long event won’t be until the 30th for the Severn Across audax.

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