Part One: Training
My first IRL Race, representing the United Kingdom, in a tunnel in the Nation’s capital, on a “Game” against the World… very much the case of go big or go home, I guess!?
I’ll get to the race shortly, but please forgive the indulgence, as this was a genuine once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and I want to record it so I can look back on this and be inspired to simply say “Yes” more often.
It doesn’t feel that long ago since that fateful call from TeamWBR’s Hugo. In his own inimitable style, he unveiled those fateful words that every inner-child wants to hear: “Would you like to compete in the World Cup?” I stammered a shocked and nervous “Yes,” and the rollercoaster clicked into life…
What followed would be best summed up with a Rocky-Style training montage, but I’m on a shoe-string budget so my journey to the World Cup involved taking to Social Media where I spewed my unique brand of journalism into the interweb; harnessing my inner-twit by dusting off my dormant Twitter account, embracing the gurning selfie, and even attempting to conquer my fear of the camera by creating a mini-video blog.
Those who know me best will tell you that I hate being the center of attention – case in point was my wedding just over 6 years ago – I got married in a 3-sided shed in the middle of a forest in deepest, darkest Devon just to avoid the terror. Now here I was, having to shout “Look at me, look at me” to all that couldn’t block me.
Every comment was dissected. Every cycling faux pas I committed (and there were SO many!) were picked apart and re-twonked, face-planted and insta-grimaced for you all to see. Luckily, I’m nothing if not forgetful, and so I’d reset and come back for more
I mentioned training, but I had no trainer other than the Neo I brutalized in the wee hours each morning. For me, my time on Zwift had to be fun above all else, as I wasn’t suddenly going to become World-class in a few weeks. It was more focused on trying to build confidence in myself so that I could physically finish the race in front of a crowd, without crying or embarrassing myself and all who believed in me. Not a lofty goal for some, but I knew that just competing on the day would be a massive accomplishment for me.
I made only minor changes to my diet and routine; I started drinking goat’s blood (or Beetroot Juice as the packaging incorrectly implied), I switched my focus to racing more and started to think about tactics and strategy more than ever before.
I wasn’t going to beat World Champion Scottie, Tour de France competitor Adrian or Watt-Monster Tim – that’s the stuff of a Hollywood fairytale – but I hopefully could be competitive.
Rolling into the final few weeks, everything intensified. An HRM-failure in the CVR Race-In, followed by a DNF in the ill-advised angry race straight after were a massive body blow to my fragile confidence. It took a fantastic effort by my friends in WBR and my Zwift-widow wife to pull me from despair and push me onwards again.
I think it was only the week before when I raced an evening KISS race and was doing well until a “technical” dumped me out a few miles from a potential high finish. I gorged on the early morning races and got a few podiums, but the Strength of Field (SoF) wasn’t high so I’d talk down any achievement. Mentally, I was finding it really tough.
With the big race a scant 4 days away I set off on my first ever IRL Group Ride. Last Friday I went off to the Peak District with a bunch of strange men and subjected myself to much pain and suffering in the hills and valleys of this spectacular area. I was tired, I struggled and I found it a real challenge but do you know what? I bloody loved it, and my state of mind shifted to a rejuvenated, relaxed and fulfilled plane. My teammates were a real tonic, and forgetting the race to simply enjoy the “now” really helped me put things in perspective.
I came back much more relaxed and felt confident that I’d not only survive the upcoming trauma, but I might even enjoy the whole experience. Only time would tell.
Part 2: The Race
So we pick up the story on the big day, which began with the now standard 3 am wide-awake whirring brainbox.
I logged on and managed to clear some work for my day job before my wife dropped me at the station to begin the final phase. I spent the train time tweeting and Facebooking – generally trying to keep busy so that I didn’t have to think!
The journey into a city recently affected so savagely by recent events seemed remarkably normal with everyone going about their business – which basically meant standing on car horns and generally rushing about the place looking flustered. I floated like a feather on a stream above the swirling torrent and arrived at Kachette in Shoreditch without any drama.
I was hooked inside by the lovely (and supremely capable) CVR Vanessa before I could even text my wife of my safe arrival, and I was processed with German levels of efficiency with a side serving of maternal care
I met with Shane Miller, Kim Little, Jeffrey Kriel, Scottie Weiss and Catrina too almost straight away – big names in the game, and totally welcoming to me, which settled me nicely.
I then treated myself to an unusual display of outgoing and extrovert behavior, first introducing myself to Dr. Chris Haskell (almost destroying his not-so-solid-as-it-looks commentary station), before I then hunted down my Zwift Idol Nathan Guerra, who was unable to escape before I descended on him. When he said “Hi Tweedy” before I’d had a chance to introduce myself, which gave me a little boyish thrill. Even though we all knew where I’d be expected to finish, he still knew who I was … maybe it was my good-natured ribbing online and he’d marked my card forever now
Carey and her partner had just arrived, so we formed an impromptu foraging party and went on a mission for a munch. Byron was our landing place and burger, fries and salted caramel milkshakes slipped down quicker than me down the CVR Rankings. We glad a good chinwag and got to know each other, and it was a filling meal with perfect company – such a lovely couple.
We returned to base and greeted many more of the arriving competitors including the UK big guns of Tim Cartwright and Rachael Elliott. Far from appearing to be forged in the fires of the Watopia volcano, they appeared, well…like normal people! (Although by now you will know that they were superhuman, of course!)
At this point it became a freight train of familiar names and faces, including the Frank “The Brainchild” Garcia, James “The Beard” Gill, Mark “Mac Daddy” McIntosh, and of course K.C. (simply “Chief”). All passionate, articulate and friendly human beans The commonality is that organizers and competitors alike were all so welcoming and equally excited to be at the start of this revolution.
I’d heard that the Beast Gavin Richardson was prowling nearby so, after a quick detour talking to Rachael at a corner cafe, I found possibly the nicest guy in e-Showbiz already 3 teas in to a marathon brew session. Hardcore! Tim, Gavin and I dropped into the Kip Hotel for a quick splash ‘n dash, and I practiced my drafting in the foot traffic on the way back… neither of them dropped me once at this point let it be noted!!
At this point, I just want to broach the subject of technicals, as it’s relevant later. All throughout the day, and in fact, for weeks and months beforehand the CVR Team have worked non-stop to achieve a fantastic event for the 20 competitors and a great show for the audience. Was the end result flawless – no, there were some issues and challenges that required quick thinking and strong focus to resolve but I ask you this: when you are treading new ground and working on innovating on the fringes of what is possible, would you expect a teething issue or two?
We as competitors were left to only really worry about the racing and the great unwashed (a.k.a. the viewing public) got a free show and hopefully a huge buzz. I just wanted to say that, whatever issues occurred, those guys and girls deserve a hell of a lot of credit for what was achieved.
Part 3: The Race
This will be the first race report where I will leave it to the Maestro Nathan Guerra and the event stream to convey the action, but I’ll just add a few snippets from behind the camera…
Having watched an excellent and successful women’s race a few hours before, there was a nervous anticipation in the men’s camp. We were chomping at the bit now.
With time ticking down we changed into race gear and donned our race faces. Bikes were being assembled and adjusted before us and we were getting logged in. I (think) I avoided a minor diva strop when my avatar had morphed into a 70kg, Innovation-jerseyed, bald headed avatars and it took a bit of time to get the “real me” onto Watopia.
The wifi networks then decided that this was a perfect point at which to go AWOL and this caused a flurry of activity. The CVR Team battled like warriors to get things resolved but it did mean you as a viewing public would have seen a few strange things in the race start, and I arrived at the starting line only semi-prepared and jittery. This is a new breed of racing, so I for one think the team did brilliantly in getting us streaming for you all, so that’s all I’ll say on the matter.
We started on 3,2,1 Gogogo and stamped on the pedals… straight away I knew I was in trouble. The pace was scorching hot and I was stiff and awkward in my power delivery. I tried to hold but it was unforgiving and with HR immediately at danger levels I had to concede.
I was surprised to see several riders including Scottie behind me (not through my strength as it later transpired) but I took heart that I wasn’t last and tried to press on. I was struggling though and I felt ready to give up even after only a few KM.
Beast Gavin and Piotr slowly reeled me in and slipped away without me able to match on, and Scottie came on through too, showing the spirit and drive of a true champion. I was where I expected to be – dead last – but it still hurt, as I had expected to stay in contention until later in the race.
I was wounded, perhaps mortally, so you may have noticed that I slipped into survival mode. I dropped my pace my right back and tried to focus on recovering to a maintainable level. It was so heartening to see messages cheering me on at this point, and it really helped me keep my chin up. It seemed to take almost 3 laps I think but I finally felt good, fluid and re-energised.
When I passed Shane I was really confused but equally grateful as I thought there would be a chance for me to compete for 9th. As far as I know, he’d sacrificed himself for his team, which I give him such kudos for as that Team Spirit is something I massively admire. Top man!
With a renewed sense of purpose I started to ramp up and go harder, hoping to earn a better place that I’d predicted for myself, but unfortunately, I suffered the equivalent of a crash or puncture in the final stages and a DNF, putting an end to the dream.
I spent the final minutes cheering on the UK, and also standing behind Piotr egging him on, not realizing straight away that he was about to sprint against Gavin for the line. I felt bad about that but it made for fantastic viewing and I know that this will only cause my INC comrade to come back stronger than ever
After that, we watched the UK take all 3 podium prizes, before the UK and the World reformed into one TEAM BEER and hit the bar! I got in at 1 am, crashed at 2 am and awoke at 4 am to mash out my thoughts for you!
My final thoughts. Am I glad I said yes to Hugo – definitely. I may not be a class act yet, but I’ve come a long way, and feel I can get better too. I certainly feel more confident in getting stuck in, I’ve met loads of great new people, and been part of something really exciting in its infancy.
Consider me one happy (and very tired) man.