Apologies in advance, this is quite a long read and I was never very good at English at school. So forgive me if some of this doesn’t make sense, I’ve been writing this over multiple days. Enjoy!
Coming into this year I had big expectations of myself. A successful first year of racing in 2019 saw me briefly hold the club 10 mile record (20:10), finish top 10 in my age category in the national hill climb championship and come within touching distance of my 2nd category British cycling race license with a 2nd place finish at the Ride 24/7 Cricklade Kermesse.
The first I heard about Billy from FTP was back in 2019 when I rode 100 miles to do a 20 minute crit at Maindy and promptly got dropped from the bunch. Billy was first to comment how most people wouldn’t have considered racing after the miles I’d done. In all honesty I didn’t take much notice of his comment, just seeing him as a random man commenting on my Strava rides and proceeded to do a 2 hour “recovery ride” the following day before tackling a hill climb after that. I was doing my own training plan all year and it consisted of over 15 hours a week, every week with limited structure. Those of you who follow me on Insatrgam will know that I had a 62 day streak and 340 active days in 2019. My training consisted of constantly chasing the CTL on TrainingPeaks.
2020 got off to a slow start, my first race was a 10mile TT at Castle Coombe. I finished 2nd in a time of 22:04, over a minute down on times I'd recorded the year before and a long way behind people I was usually within a few seconds of. My power output matched my time, having done more power in 25mile TT's and I wasn't feeling great about this performance. Billy had messaged me earlier that week about joining his new team ‘FTP Racing’, I wasn’t all that convinced and left him hanging, saying I wanted to have a chat with my club mates before I signed up. After the TT he messaged me again, asking me about how that TT went before I had even left the car park - he had already looked at my Strava ride to analyse my pacing, despite not really knowing me. His desire to help people really stood out to me here as no one had really done this for me before. After that I decided to go meet up and discuss the new team. We sat in the freezing cold Warmley waiting room tea shop for 2 and a half hours chatting all things bike racing and coaching. I explained my goals for the year and Billy outlined his plans for the team. He had grand ambitions about tackling national records and team prizes and I wanted to be a part of that. We then got onto the topic of coaching, he could see from my Strava that I could benefit from some more structured training (and rest!). I decided to take the leap and get Billy on board as my coach and join his new team, FTP Racing.
The first session he gave me was a day off, which I promptly ignored for one of my trademark recovery rides at 200w, old habits die hard. One thing that sticks out to me more than anything from that day was Billy saying that there would be days where I can’t complete the session and how that was normal and okay, and so we got to work. The first race we targeted was the Severn RC 25mile TT on the U17. I had finished 5th here last year and wanted to better that performance. The course profile suits a smaller rider like me and I had just got a new(ish) bike and Nopinz Skinsuit so we were both keen to get a good result. The lead up to the race was a constant learning experience for me. Not only was I getting race specific training sessions but I was also getting taught skills and how to properly pace TT’s. I would previously sit at a constant power for the entire race, maybe surging for the last mile or so if I had anything left. I quickly learnt that this was far from optimal and that massive gains in time could be made properly riding the course and using my power where it was needed most. The night before I had my first pre-race session, it was raining and I’d had a long day at work so I decided to do it on the turbo. I didn’t feel great but Billy assured me that this was fine, especially after a day on my feet, and that the whole point of the session was to wake the legs up and he was right. We had an ambitious power and pacing plan for the race, a higher power than the 10 at the start of the year and some very long periods of time at significantly over my 20min power. Everything came together on the day, we executed the plan perfectly, and Billy had got my legs where they needed to be and turned around my training in a matter of weeks. On the day I finished my ride with a 54:34, a massive time and power PB for me. I knew that this was a good time for the course but the field was stacked with great riders so I was beyond surprised to take the win from team mate and pre-race favourite Felix. It was the team’s first win of the season and the first team win for FTP Racing with Felix, Mike and myself.
The next few weeks I was excited to go on my first cycling holiday with a few friends, this meant that I would unfortunately miss a few early season road races and a chance to meet some more of the new team and start chasing some BC points, but I guess I can’t complain too much! For the three weeks that I was away I wasn’t given any intervals to do, All I was told was to go and enjoy myself on the bike. I hugely appreciate this, I’m sure in the back of his mind Billy knew that I would go back to some of my old training habits and really ramp up my training duration and put myself in a hole spending hours on the bike. But this meant that I was able to race my mates up the climbs, go for Strava segments and just explore the area instead of focusing on hill reps and meeting power targets. So when the holiday came to an abrupt Covid-19 shaped end it meant that I was eager for some structured training and to get racing. In the weeks after I got back I was put on a recovery week, something that was also new to me, and we decided to use the time to work on my TT position and get it dialled in ahead of the Bristol South 25mile TT.
This was on the same course as the Severn RC at the start of the year so we were both keen to try and better my performance at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately by this point the whole of the UK was placed into lockdown and all events across the UK were cancelled or postponed, this was a huge blow to motivation as we’d worked hard in the previous month to get in top shape for the upcoming races and it now seemed like that fitness would go to waste. We had to re-plan the rest of the season and with British Cycling cancelling all road races until at least September we decided to focus all attention on time trials.
We had a look at the calendar and decided that the National 100 mile championship was one of the more likely events to go ahead. I was unsure about racing this distance having only done 25mile TT’s in the past but we were confident that with the huge amount of base I’d accumulated from previous years that it would really suit me and with Arthur and Tim both taking on the event we could be in for a team title! I was sold and we decided to dedicate my training for peaking for the 100.
For the next couple of months all of my training would be on the TT bike. The months that followed were some of the most structured training I’d ever done. Each workout was tailored to the race and course, this was to ensure that my body knew exactly what to expect come race day and of course all of it was done on the TT bike. Billy had emphasised the importance of training on the TT bike to get my body adapted to putting out power in the position so I was keen to make the most of the training by doing exactly that. In total I think I spent at least two months training exclusively on the TT bike to make sure that I was fully adapted to the position. Towards the end of the build, in what Billy called an “Overload week” on training peaks, I found myself unable to finish some of the planned workouts. Tempo felt like threshold and I found myself pushing bigger gears just to keep on top of the power. No one likes failing workouts, especially when it’s only tempo, so I was feeling pretty down and like my legs weren’t where they needed to be. I was assured that this was the whole point of the workouts in an overload week and I found myself thinking back to our first meeting and him saying that it was normal to fail some of the workouts and that come race day I would be ready. And after a recovery week I was ready to tackle my first test event in the run up to the 100. It was a 12.5mile TT on the U102 course, one that I know well, and I was keen to bring all the training and pacing/position optimisations together.
On the start line there was a strong headwind on the outward section so pacing was vital. I set out conservatively and rode at 100% of FTP pushing hard over the bumps to maintain my speed. On the way back I gave it everything and pushed hard for the final 15min of the race and finished in a time of 25:18, taking the win and taking the long standing course record set by TT legend Andy Jackson by 13 seconds. In a season so disrupted by COVID finishing a race feeling like I had completely nailed it and feeling super confident that my legs were exactly where they needed to be ahead of the nationals was a great morale boost. Billy had worked wonders with the training plan and I was feeling super confident.
The day of the race came and we had everything planned out, bike, pacing, nutrition and timings. My warm up went smoothly and the efforts and openers felt almost effortless. The weather wasn’t great on the day so I was keen to keep moving and not stand at the start line for too long. I had the usual 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 countdown and we were off. I nailed my COVID secure clipping in, one of a few worries about the day, and I settled into a rhythm, keen not to go off too hard which would have made for a horrible 4 hours. What followed was some of the best time trialling I had ever done, for the first 2 and a half hours it felt effortless, comfortably punching over the bumps and recovering on the faster section. Having Billy, Jo, Steve and many of the team sponsors out on course helping with food hand ups and cheering on made a really huge difference. Even in the last hour of the race when the legs were getting tired, passing Greg and Billy on the run into Malmesbury with them shouting motivation gave me what I needed to dig that little bit deeper and raise my power slightly for a final charge for the finish line. I crossed the line in a time of 3:44:19, 15 mins faster than what I had expected. I finished 11th overall and 2nd U23 in my first ever attempt at the distance. I was only 5mins off 1st U23. Together with Arthur and Tim we finished 2nd team overall only 9 minutes behind the winning team. The seed was set and the three of us wanted to take on the competition record at the BDCA 100mile TT the following week...
It was on the Etwall course which consisted of 4 laps of the A25 dual carriage way, making for a very fast course. Billy was keen for us to take on the record and really cement the team name and coaching at the top end of UK TTing. He made sure my legs would be ready for the next 100 and altered the training plan to the demands of the race and riding on a dual carriageway. On the day the wind was really blowing and would make for a very hard outward leg and a very fast return leg. We were aiming for a power higher than we did at the nationals, banking on having plenty of recovery on the run into the finish line. The first 3 laps went really well, I was sticking to the pacing plan and recovering well on the return leg. However on the final outward leg I felt like “the lights were going out” and that the next 40mins would be a real slog. I dug deep and pushed all the way out to the turn, knowing that the final run into the finish would be fast and I would be able to recover a bit. I crossed the line with a 3:29:10, super happy to have gone under 3:30 and secure another power PB! Both Tim and Arthur went comfortably under 3:30 too and we provisionally broke the team record! However the glory was short lived and GS Metro and Adam Wild stormed to victory knocking us off top spot. We were still super happy to have all given it our best shot and really made a name for the team in its first year of racing!
In the weeks that followed we quickly tried to transition from months of tempo and base to high intensity rides, to get me ready for some hill climbs. I’d also started a new job so Billy was planning my coaching around my commuting to and from work. He really understood the demands of the commute, knowing that the duration and training twice a day would quickly accumulate fatigue. In the limited time that we had between races he really made the most of the time that I had available and in the run into my only hill climb of the year I set a 5min power pb for the year so I was feeling pretty confident. During the TT training Billy was always talking about the importance of cadence and staying seated to make sure I was more efficient and aero when riding, I was now able to do more power than I could this time last year and do it completely seated, one of the goals that we had discussed at the beginning of the year.
The hill climb was the Bristol South CC up Burrington Combe and I was keen to put the (limited) training into action. My ride didn’t get off to a great start, I lost a lot of time not being able to get clipped in on the start line so once I got going I was already down on time. I decided to stay in the 53t all the way up the climb, which in hindsight was a mistake and on the kickers my cadence really dropped which wore out my legs much quicker than a higher cadence would have. Coming into the finish I had given it everything but my power was fading and I crossed the line a fair way down on what I had done last year. At the time I was really quite disappointed but looking back the power was still a PB for the year and my technique and pacing was a massive improvement on last year, so still an improvement in some aspects.
The next two weeks I was straight into the off season. Billy was keen for me to have a week completely off the bike to completely reset and recover but because I still needed the bike to get to and from work I still had to ride. He altered my off season to accommodate for this, it would be two weeks of easy riding in and out of work instead and assured me that this would be enough time at a low enough effort to have the same effect.
So to summarise, this year has been a challenging one both mentally and physically. From struggling with motivation and failing workouts at the beginning of the year to being one of the top time trial teams in the UK and smashing my power PB in all distances! Working with Billy this year has been great and he has always got me to where I need to be, giving great support both on and off the bike. I really couldn’t have done this year without him and his extensive knowledge of training, time trialling and everything in-between and I’m super happy to be working with him next year and seeing what we can achieve now that he can plan out my winter build and make sure every second on the bike counts. We have some big goals for the team and for myself and we hope that a return to somewhat normal racing calendar can prove to be a successful one for everyone!
Thanks for reading.