Reflections on 2014

Christmas Day 2014

Christmas Day 2014

Another year over, and a new one just begun … This time last year I was nursing a broken arm, having gotten too personal with a damp Flat Rock Rd. I’d reached a point, at the end of 2013, where I intended to put cycling aside to some extent, to focus on the ‘outside’ world. But the injury gave me an irrepressible determination not to be beaten, and my cycling focus was redoubled. I was straight back on the trainer, and on the road in a week, but I had more energy for the sport than I could expend on the bike with my arm and that’s where this blog came in.

So a year of cycling has passed and a year of writing about cycling too. It’s been a sometimes challenging way to write and I thank everyone who has shown interest.

The passage of time is a curious thing and the events of a year ago can seem both distant and surprisingly recent. At one point in the year I found myself measuring time by the schedule of Grand Tours; at the start of the year it was only X number of weeks to the Giro, and then until the Tour, and then the Vuelta, and then the year was done. That went quick! But my personal journey was a longer run thing.

2013, my first full year of road cycling, was a year of intense immersion and obsession, and physical transformation. 2014 had to be a different year – a year of qualitative, rather than quantitative, improvement. A quick glance at the stats for this year, compared to last year, tells some of the story:

 2014  2013
 Rides (including stationary trainer riders): 339  236
 Distance:  13, 037km    13, 386km
 Elevation:  211, 406m   234, 503m
 Total time:  533h 44m 57s  507h 34m 20s

Perhaps the biggest difference in 2014 was that I thought of my cycling as training for racing and as such I spent a lot more time on the trainer – 92 trainer rides this year compared to only 21 in 2013. By the way, these trainer rides are hidden or not uploaded to Strava so the stats publicly listed there are a bit different. Some silly ‘off-season’ riding, including my 250km ride the other day, evened out the mileage in the end.

Here are my race stats:

 2014  2013
 Races:  25  7
 Wins:  2  2
 Podiums:  3  2
 Top tens:  10  6
 DNFs:  4*  1
 Grades raced: Open D,C, Masters C, Vets C,B,A**. Open D, Vets C

* Includes one protest DNF.

** One race in Vets A. See my thoughts on handicapping below.

I’ve described in my Tour of Bright race report how I fell out of form after the Mt Buller road race and worked back throughout the year. Looking at my race stats since August, when I started to get back into shape, I achieved all my top tens for the year from fourteen finished races, so that looks a little better. But my finishing places weren’t always the best measure of how much a result meant. Sometimes just completing a race was a source of satisfaction: limping across the line at the Sam Miranda Road Race after my worst crash of the year fell into this category. My thirteenth place out of 91 in my grade at the Tour of Bright was easily my most satisfying achievement, and the culmination of my work through the year.

Grading seems to have been a bit of a hot topic this year and I found myself competing in several different grades. An old school approach to handicapping seems to regard the most appropriate grade for a rider as the fastest one he or she can hold on to. This makes me think of one of Tim Krabbé’s observations in The Rider:

Every once in a while someone along the road lets us know how far behind we are. A man shouts: ‘Faster!’ Probably thinks bicycle racing is about going fast.

A better approach to my mind is for a rider to be placed in the fastest grade that he or she can be competitive in. I know handicapping is a difficult task and a great job is often done in the club scene here, but a couple of times this year I think I ran up against the old school approach with detrimental results for me! The very skillful handicapper at Northern Vets had me figured out by the end of the year – putting me up to B for hillier races and down to C in the crits.

On the plus side, I’ve really enjoyed being a part of Coburg CC which I transferred to mid year. Originally I had joined Whittlesea and was excited at the prospect of being involved in the youngest club in Melbourne’s north. But that club’s future became uncertain and when I was sure my energies were unlikely to make a difference I moved across to the oldest club instead. I’ve met some great people there and I’m looking forward to sharing more with them in 2015.

Outside of racing, the beauty of our area never ceases to inspire me. I’ve developed such a strong sense of identification with the roads of Nillumbik and the Kinglake Ranges, and with the area’s fauna too. My last ride for the year offered a typical example: I was riding along Clintons Rd, descending from the Smiths Gully end, when I came across a woman standing with a horse. She was smiling and looking into the distance across the adjacent fields, towards Alma Rd. There, over the fields, were two big Wedge Tailed Eagles circling together, rising and falling.

Before moving to Nillumbik I’d spent most of my adult life in the inner-city, but experiences like this make it difficult to imagine going back. There are moments when you ride through this area, which are just perfect. All your stresses can disappear and when you’re feeling good, and the bike is running well, just purring away underneath you – sometimes it all comes together with an almost transcendental sense of harmony.

Peak hour on Clintons Rd.

Peak hour on Clintons Rd.

A map of my 2014 GPS tracks shows a similar pattern to last year, branching further afield to include all the Northern Combine circuits and the Tour of Bright. I didn’t get around to climbing in the Dandenongs, and I’ve still never been to Beach Rd!

Roads covered in 2014 (click to enlarge).

Roads covered in 2014 (click to enlarge).

Whilst the roads of Nillumbik are pretty well covered here, there is a less travelled network of unsealed roads in the area which remain mostly unexplored for me. I might get on to these more in 2015.

My cheap little video camera, which I reviewed here, also provided a lot of fun this year. Here are a couple of videos some of you will have seen, but which I haven’t shared on the blog before:

I’ve loved watching bike racing all year, right up to the CX season now where Kateřina Nash is looking like a real challenge to to Voss’ long grip on the rainbow jersey. I’m a happy user of cyclingtorrents and if you like to watch bike racing – including historic races – you might find the site to be a great resource too! Seeing the Road Nationals and the TDU in the flesh was special, and I’m looking forward to these events again which are just around the corner now.

The last great positive I’ll mention here is that I did not have a trace of physical illness at any point in the year. Not even a niggle in my throat or a runny nose. I think it might be the first time in my life I’ve gone a calendar year without a hint of sickness. Exercise and good nutrition – who’d have thought!?

Outside of cycling …

Like 2013, 2014 saw more time riding than writing, and my thesis remains unfinished. I actually deferred this year so any writing I did was a bonus, and I did some. 2015 will need to see a better balance struck however.

Whither …

It’s been a satisfying year on the bike, with qualitative improvements and the building of race experience. A different experience to the quantitative leaps made last year when I was starting from zero. But right now I’ve got a lot of options on the table. Two years of exclusive focus on riding has left some other stuff to sort out, and some of that will have to assume greater importance in 2015. At midnight on December 31 I became unlicensed and I’m still saving towards a race licence for 2015 (which is prohibitively expensive IMO) so we’ll have to see what happens! Hopefully I’ll be pushing myself up a mountain again at some point with a number on my back. But whatever happens, I’ll keep turning the pedals over.

Happy new year and good luck to everyone for 2015!

2 thoughts on “Reflections on 2014

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