Saturday, February 22, 2014

Good wheels do not make up for poor condition

Since my last sportive a couple of weeks back I've barely ridden. It turns out that I wasn't just running on empty in that ride, I was sick.

I tried to play football the next day, and only succeeded in walking about in defence trying to read the game and play like a late-career Cannavaro (unsuccessfully) rather than - well - running. Towards the end I struggled to even remain conscious. I was sent home from work early the next day for being sick.

I spent the rest of that day and the one following it asleep, only leaving bed to cram food into my face. Went to work the next day, then got sent home again. I managed a full day on Friday.

But that meant I missed last week's sportive entirely (so did Pez and Paul, both also ill). The weather mocked us all by being absolutely perfect. A couple of commutes later and  I was back on my bike this weekend, not a lot could have stopped me. You see, I had new wheels.

The incompetence of Her Majesty's Customs and Revenue meant I had a smallish windfall of a few hundred pounds - naturally I spent it on wheels.

Now I've eulogised about the impact new wheels can have, Pez had already upgraded his and I was jealous. I've been itching to buy some new ones for months.

Rebate banked I took the plunge, ordered some Fulcrum Racing Zeros from Germany (way cheaper than anywhere in the UK) and got so excited when they arrived that I didn't wait to change out of my commuting gear to rip open the box, fit tyres, tubes (light-weight latex, of course), new brake pads (Swissstop), swap the cassette from my old wheels (Shimano RS20s, since you ask) check the indexing and brake cable length, set my old wheels up with a spare cassette, tyres and tubes for winter training, then strongly considered lycra-ing up and taking the bike straight out there and then (at about 9pm).

I mean - triple milling, carbon hub, ceramic bearings, an oversize rear flange (stop giggling at the back), aero spokes, aluminium nipples (I said no giggling) with differential rim height (Stop It!)). Pros use them!*
I just stared at them for a while instead, then spun them to see how long they'd keep going (AGES!). I might have done this more than once.

Counting down the days to Saturday when I could ride them, I was eagerly anticipating 2kph added to my times, a string of new PBs and crushing Pez and Paul under my lightweight, aero, ceramic-hubbed wheels (reviewers said using them was like riding with a permanent tailwind!).

Eventually Saturday morning arrived and I rode out.

But there was a problem, I was feeling rubbish. My legs were feeling the strain early, really early. Just 30 kilometres in I was feeling like I did 80k into the last sportive. My illness and inactivity were telling and people with far worse wheels were cruising by me.

I downed a gel, it had almost no effect. 20 minutes later I reached into my back pocket for another - it was new brand to me (I had grabbed three at random in my eagerness to head out). It tasted like Soda Stream concentrate with what felt like fizz in it. Checking later I found it was well past its use by date and might well have started to ferment. This didn't help.

Another gel (not off) to get me home and I finished up 66k ridden, no PBs and no wiser as to whether the wheels made any difference at all.

In the grand scheme of things, a 3-hour ride will do me good. As will lighter, better wheels. But I need to get back on the turbo this week and step up my riding time. At the moment I'm miles behind where I need to be to even complete the medium Liege-Bastogne-Liege route come April.

*almost entirely for training, although they make an occasional appearance in the peleton


  1. Hi there, I'm riding the Etape for the first time this year so have been reading your blog with some interest. Saw this latest post and just wanted to wish you a speedy recovery. Nothing worse than being ill and not being able to get out on the bike. I was laid low over Christmas but it made getting back out on the road all that much more enjoyable. Any advice you have on surviving the Etape I'm all ears. Have written a few blog posts myself ( Tim

  2. Hi Tim, Nice blog!

    If you can get to some real mountains to ride up between now and the Etape, that's about the most useful thing you can do. There's nothing in the UK like the Tourmalet to experience.

    After that, I'll tell you what I was told: "Ride up hills, lots of hills". Turbos help too. But as it's still February, don't stress out too much yet.

  3. Hi Tim the best advice I can give you it to try and get to france and have a go. I managed to complete the first 50miles yesterday and would say that its going to be a fast course upto the tourmalet. I got a surprise as there is a rather steep 1.6mile climb after about 3 miles that doesnt show on any of the profiles and if anything I found that harder going that the 2 listed climbs that are easy to spin your feet up just dont burn your energy trying to race up them the descents of both are fast and will allow you to make the time up.

  4. Is everything OK James? Why are you so quiet?