Updated: Apr 7, 2021
The past week has been a strong build week (to coincide with a week off work, and as such, more time to train and recover). The week has focused on more top end VO2max and anaerobic efforts, and this was in my mind when selecting a race for the weekend. As regular readers will know, I favour the longer races, and the "Matando o Corpo" races generally seem to be on the longer side, and also have a decent start time of 0815 local time.
The course for this weekend's race couldn't be more different from last weeks. Although longer in distance it had half of the elevation gain of last weekend's outing and nothing which would really constitute a meaningful "climb". There were a few little undulations which would have to be taken in, and I assumed that these would be raced hard to try and split the field at these key points. This should therefore mean I get a chance to exercise some of my anaerobic training a bit (this turned out to be very true!).
The race would take in 5 laps of Zwift's "Greatest London Loop". The lap is around 23km, but there is a 7.5km lead in at the start, so this brings the total stats for the race to: 125.5km with 863m of elevation. The lap profile shown below demonstrates how "flat" a profile this race has, with just a few little punches gaining a mere 30m or so!
Given the profile and distance of the course, I estimated around 3 hours completion time. As the race was starting at 0815, I opted for a small bowl of oats at around 0615. I've always been able to eat breakfast fairly close to an event, but generally change up the portion size depending on how long I have to digest it! I completed my usual 30 minute warmup (which concluded just over 5 minutes before the start time). Just enough time to get the stream live and mentally prepare for the start.
As with last week, the Matando o Corpo race was signed up for by a good number of riders. Over 50 in A category, and amongst those 20 riders from the host PETA-Z team! This also seems to be a theme in the PETA-Z races, and certainly had an impact on race as we'll see below.
With all categories starting at the same time, the start was typically rapid. Once the pace settled down after the first minute, the group was well strung out, and there was a significant gap behind the first 40 or so riders (of which thankfully I was one!).
Around 5 minutes in we hit the first bump in the road (around 4% for a minute). This required an effort of around 6W/kg or so to stay in the main pack, although a few riders did accelerate away as we crested. I elected to stay with the bunch as I was confident our combined speed would catch the few seconds or so of advantage they had eked out on the upcoming decent (which was the case).
Although the race was relatively steady in pace after that for the rest of the 7.5km lead in, the PETA-Z riders did try to send riders up the road at every possible opportunity. None of them ever got away (on any of the 5 laps of the race), but this did have the effect of causing surges in the pack to close the gap to these attackers. When the race was quiet, it was very easy (around 3W/kg), but it rarely stayed that way for too long with the little bumps in the road and the attacks being closed down.
There were two main parts of the course which looked like they would be ideal for attacks: -
The beginning of Box Hill through to Richmond Park in The Surrey Hills portion of the lap
The escalator out of the Underground as we re-entered the City of London.
I almost found out to my cost that easing off too quickly after the Box Hill ramp leading into Richmond Park could be disastrous. On lap 2 I was in a reasonable position in the middle of the pack, but a gap appeared as the front riders surged towards the 4% short hill. It took the back end of our group until the underground corner to catch this gap, and it was definitely a match burned!
I was rather more alert to this possibility on the last 3 laps (amazing how the brain remembers pain!). Although there were plenty more attempted attacks off the front in the next few laps, everything was fairly easily countered, and so we found ourselves approaching the escalator on lap 5 having survived a fairly pacey final tour of Richmond Park. The images below tell the story of the final escalator ascent (and ultimately the most significant moment of the race for me). Arriving after 118km and 2hr40mins of racing we punched up the 15% berg at around 10W/kg as per usual (upper left image below). However, after the ascent was "concluded" (at least in my mind) a few riders at the front decided to "press on" and unbeknownst to me at the time (will be more alert to this in the future) proceeded to really string the group out as we exited the underground (upper right image below). At the time, I thought this small gap would be relatively easily closed with a 10s or so effort at threshold, but this was a mistake on my part and within 30s the gap was closer to 5s and myself and one other poor soul were in for a real chase! (Lower left image below). This chase was lead by myself, as my fellow competitor didn't seem to have the desire or capability to assist. After around 3 minutes of threshold -> VO2max efforts the gap was still around 5s (perhaps down to 4s at best), but the group in front had hit the descent, and I knew at that point that the chase was over (Lower right image below).
This left a slightly bitter taste in the mouth (perhaps that was actually just the lactate!) after dealing with all of the other attacks so successfully for 95% of the race, but it's the attacks at the business end that matter the most!
We completed the last 5km together in our group of two and ultimately finished a minute behind the front group (the pace of the blob is strong for sure!). I wondered at the time whether the guy riding with me was sitting on the wheel to save energy to out sprint me for 15th place. I certainly wasn't going to have that after that effort on my own to catch on, so when it came to the last 250m, I sprinted for the line, only to realise that he really didn't have anything left to sprint with me, so perhaps he really was on the limit (checking his average HR for the race afterwards I noticed he was at 176bpm, so he probably was on the rivet!).
So that concluded the race. 127km in just under 3 hours, and quite a bit more interesting than I thought it may be to be honest. Not only were the small climbs on the course raced hard (which gave me the training stimulus I was looking for), but also the persistent attacks from the host team members really kept me on my toes, and all bar the last attack, I was equal to them.
14th in cat A was the final result, a minute down on the group that got away with 5km to go. I certainly would have loved to have contested that sprint at the end, just to see what my legs had left in them compared to everyone else after nearly 3 hours of racing, but it wasn't meant to be.
Another good training session in the bank, another race where I learned the hard way about what to look out for. I'll certainly be looking to improve in the future on these long races, and overall enjoy them (and the tactical opportunities they afford) a lot.
Until next time... Ride On!