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Tuesday, 22 September 2009 09:56

Perfect pacing

Each year, British Time Triallists flock over the English Channel to a small town in Normandy to race in the Duo Normande team time trial. I've been going 3 years now: the first as an athlete, and the second two as cycle coach. There is something very special about the event: the closed roads, the excitement in the town square the day before, the French families that watch along the length of the course, the following cars behind each team - nothing in the UK compares...although the Blenheim Palace event is one that might rival it in years to come. I do hope so, we need more of these big events to inspire generations ahead.

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The riders I coach were definitely inspired this weekend. Lesley rode in the ladies category with ex-SIS team mate Annie - they collected 2nd place (to the same pairing Lesley and I came 2nd to in 2007, drat!); Dani rode with a3crg team mate Jo, and they set about improving on their time from last year - in fact, all the a3crg riders (a team I have worked closely with for 2 seasons now) had good performances. My new athlete Chris also experienced his first Duo and is adamant to return faster in 2010!

The "Pièce de résistance" was the ride given by Paddy and Seb. Both had targeted the Duo since the early stages of the season. Last year, Seb had ridden with another rider, as had Paddy. So, it was one challenge to cement this team and have them operating smoothly together: a shared desire to target this event, and the practise sessions / races together were planned to allow it to come together in time. Our biggest obstacle was the 'gap' in form between the two: Paddy had a late start to the year due to illness, while Seb has been flying since April. Its been exciting watching both riders improving in the latter stage of the season; PB after PB in fact, but also to see the confidence rising too.

I had asked both riders, as I always do before a big event, what they wanted from the Duo. Paddy was very straight in his answer - he wanted a 1:13 ride - that was a full 5 minutes faster than the ride he and his partner did last year. Even Seb looked a little unsure, and he had ridden 1:15 last year! So, I spent some time last week analysing the 2008 race files, working out where time could be won, where their efforts were worth upping. This is a major benefit gained from having power measuring and GPS technology - I can look at power used to go a given speed and work out where they might get better 'return from their investment' over the course. The 3 of us then spent an hour discussing the strategy the day before: I wonder how many riders take time to 'perfect' the detail - Seb and Paddy knew race day what they had to do in order to hit their goal time.

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It helped that I was then in the following car with Team Manager David, calling out their splits over the speaker every 5km or so. I had asked them to go out conservatively early on, given most of the course to 28km was flat or downhill. I wanted them to then put the hammer down over the second, hillier section.It sounds easy, but when they were 30s down on schedule after 16km, concerns started to surface...were they going a little TOO cautiously? At 30km, I called out "Allez, come on guys, its time to put the hammer down" - Seb told me later, that it went through his head "What do you mean, we are!". But, they started to reel time back in as they climbed and descended each hill. But, was it too late?

With each of the climbs and descents, the guys demonstrated the perfect time trialling tactic: aim to minimise the variation in speed by working harder on the climbs, easing off on the descents. Each time there speed reached in excess of 60kph, I reminded them to tuck in small, pushing the aerodynamic gains to the full. They worked well together, but with around 6km to go, I knew they needed to average 60kph to hit target. When Paddy motioned to us to call out to Seb and get him to slow down, I feared the worst: had the performance gap between the two of them been a little too much? Had Paddy burnt out?

At 53km, the following cars have to peel off. The time was 1:12 and 15s on my clock - Paddy had clung on, and the paired had clawed back the deficit of the first half: a deficit that had reached nearly 3 minutes at one point! As we left the course, David and I went from screaming to near silence - all that adrenalin, and no outlet - it was a tough 15 minute drive back to Marigny! Sure enough, they did it: 1 hour 13 minutes and 28 seconds. They broke the course record for their category by 1 min and 24 s (“Chez les troisiemes categories domination de Brennan – Ader” to quote the local newspaper), but had they done enough to win this year and claim that 150 Euro bonus? It was a long wait....filled by copious coffee consumption on my part! Finally, the result came through, they had indeed done it - and not only that, they beat all teams but one in the category above; and would have placed well in the elite field...next year guys ;-)

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I confess, its agonising watching, but I wouldn't miss the chance to be that close to the action. In many ways, the Duo Normande is less stressful as a rider - but I've no plans to swap roles, even if Lesley is convinced we could get the upperhand on the two French pros she has a habit of trailing in this event. For me, it was a hugely satisfying event: not just the weekend itself, but seeing how the rider plans and prep have come together with perfect timing - I would like to say its due to the science, but I for one, know that cycle coaching is just as much an art - and I think we drew a pretty nice picture this time around.

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