For the past few years Cycling Weekly has invited a team of readers to share their journey towards their riding goals. In 2022 we'll be following Julia Barte, Steve Faulkner and Danny Lloyd as they work towards race success, TT time targets and some big sportive finishes. We'll be bringing you regular progress reports for the next six months but first meet our Big Fitness Challengers!
Julia Barte: The natural born sports star
Growing up in Sweden, I was a sporty kid right from the start, playing football from four years of age. I’m not sure why, as no one else in my family was especially sporty, but I just loved trying it all: horse-riding, snowboarding, kite-surfing, Taekwondo, everything! Football was the one that stuck, and I went to a football high school and have always played at a relatively high level.
I work for a big tech company, and in early 2020 I accepted a transfer to London and moved from Sweden two weeks before the first lockdown. It was weird being stuck at home for the first three months. My partner [Del Ward], who’s from Yorkshire, is a very keen cyclist, and he encouraged me to buy a bike, partly as something to do while football was on hold. I was a complete beginner – I couldn’t believe my new bike didn’t come with pedals!
My first few rides were cold and uncomfortable; I never imagined then that I’d come to love this sport. But because there was nothing much to do at that time, I got an indoor trainer too and got into Zwift. I’m a very energetic kind of person, and cycling became a nice way to escape and get my hit of exercise. By the summer of 2020 my body had adjusted, I was feeling comfortable on the bike and did my first 100k ride. I’m still playing football, having signed for Tunbridge Wells Foresters FC, but I’m now combining it with as much cycling as I can squeeze in. Usually that means riding on the trainer Monday to Friday, before work, with a long ride outdoors at the weekend – 17-18 hours of exercise per week. Almost right from the start, I knew I wanted to compete on the bike; that’s just my mindset, I’m naturally competitive.
Hometown: Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Occupation: Operations lead in tech retail
Rides for: 1904RT
Current FTP: 187W | 3.1W/kg
GOALS FOR APRIL: Recover from Covid-19 and return to training; put in a strong performance at 172km Paris-Roubaix Challenge (16 April)
PROJECT GOALS (NOW-OCT): Compete in as many races as possible; move up to Cat 3 licence; lose 6kg without losing power; perform as strongly as possible at Etape Caledonia (15 May), Vätternrundan (18 June) and Etape du Tour (10 July)
Through my bike mechanic, I heard about 1904RT, the women’s race team, and I made it my goal to join and start racing in 2021. That didn’t go quite to plan, as on New Year’s Eve 2020 I fell off my bike on black ice, and only six months and 4,000km later found out I’d broken my collarbone – by which point it had healed itself.
In January this year I joined 1904RT, got my race licence and have done two crit races so far. I won the first one and came second in the next. This early taste of success has given me too much confidence – I now want to win every race! All of this is completely new to me, but I’m hungry to do as many races as possible. Once the football season ends, it’ll be easier to fit it all in. Right now, I have Covid, so the first challenge is getting back to full health.
Steve Faulkner: The scientist
I’m 38 now and have been cycling since my university days – I got into it during the last two years of my sports science degree at the University of Birmingham. Just a few years earlier, aged 16, I’d been diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma, and thankfully made a full recovery – only later finding out it was a cancer with a 5% survival rate. I started cycling because I was the idiot who’d say yes to everything, whether it was rugby, athletics or whatever, and 20 years later here I am still that idiot!
After uni, I started doing triathlons, and in recent years I’ve begun to focus more on time trials. Given my job [senior lecturer in sports engineering at Nottingham Trent University], I’m very much into the techy, geeky side of how to go faster. In a way, I’m my own practical experiment, with the hypothesis that maybe I can break 20 minutes for 10 miles – my main aim for this Fitness Project. I’m hoping that making the goal public will help motivate me by making me accountable to the Project. Breaking 20 minutes would be great, but whatever happens, I’ll discover limits as yet untested.
Hometown: Loughborough, Leicestershire
Occupation: Senior lecturer in sports engineering & physiology
Rides for: Coalville Wheelers
Current FTP: 295W | 4.1W/kg (estimated)
GOALS FOR APRIL: Research equipment choices (wheels, chainrings, bearings, clothing etc); increase training volume Refine TT bike position
PROJECT GOALS (NOW-OCT): Go sub-20min for 10-mile time trial; reclaim my club’s TT titles (Coalville Wheelers); maintain focus on TT-specific training Race more TTs and improve my pacing
My 10-mile PB currently is 22.09, on a lumpy course in the East Midlands, and running the numbers I know that sub-20 on the right course should be within my grasp. My first attempt will be on 6 May on a fairly fast course, so that will give a benchmark. The limiting factor for me up to this point has been that, despite my coaching knowledge, I often just want to ride my bike rather than doing specific sessions. I need to start practising what I preach and doing the training prescribed.
I’m still training for triathlon, doing 10-15 hours in total per week, with six or seven of those hours on the bike. Fitting it all in can be challenging, as I have a two-year-old son, so the 10-mile target suits me, as it means I can focus on shorter, sharper efforts. From now until May I’ll be doing TT-specific sessions, tracking my numbers in the lab. Thanks to my job, I have the support of a pro rider, albeit with the talent of a weekend warrior!
For me, it’s about asking if I can maximise my physiological ability with the time available, and then how much I can use technology to go that bit faster. Too many riders train in an unfocused way, riding in the grey area that’s neither hard nor easy, which won’t work if you have an ambitious goal. I’m now doing two hard sessions on the bike each week, working at the right intensity. Based on my number-crunching, I know that achieving sub-20 is going to take about 320 watts. I did 297 watts for an hour on Zwift recently, so I’m getting closer!
Unfortunately, like Julia, I’ve just tested positive with Covid, so my first challenge is to shake that off so that I can resume training.
Danny Lloyd: The 'baller turned biker
My fitness project is to turn myself from a footballer into a cyclist. From the age of 21 until I hung up my boots last May, I was a professional goalkeeper. In fact, I had two full-time jobs: I managed to balance football around my oil refinery job, working shifts – two 12-hour days, two 12-hour nights, then six days off. I ended up being third-choice ‘keeper for most of my career, but that suited me because I had the full professional lifestyle of a footballer with the back-up of a job. I played for Morecambe in League Two, Crewe in League One, spent some time with a Spanish club, and had a spell on the training staff at Wolves in the Premier League.
My dad has always been a very keen time triallist, and so I was brought up on cycling. During the first lockdown, us footballers had to find a way of keeping fit, as we didn’t know whether the season would resume. An old back injury ruled out running, so I bought a spin bike. That soon got boring, so I bought cadence and speed sensors and got going on Zwift.
Not long after that, I upgraded to a Wattbike Atom. You couldn’t get actual bikes for love nor money, so I made do with an old mountain bike until I managed to get hold of a Ribble cyclocross bike, and eventually got my first road bike too.
Hometown: Runcorn, Cheshire
Occupation: Oil refinery process operator
Rides for: Frodsham Wheelers CC
Current FTP: 288W | 3.6W/kg
GOALS FOR APRIL: Climb as much as possible in preparation for the Fred Whitton Challenge; ride strongly at Manchester Sheffield Manchester sportive (3 April); complete the Yorkshire Classic in 4hr 30min (24 April)
PROJECT GOALS (NOW-OCT): Transform my goalkeeper body into a cyclist body; complete Fred Whitton Challenge in under 8hr (8 May); qualify for the Gran Fondo World Championships by finishing in the top 20% at the Tour of Cambridge (12 June); ride as strongly as possible at the Etape du Tour (10 July); complete my debut crit race; break 24min in my local 10-mile TT on my road bike Increase 20min power to over 4W/kg
Last year I did my first ever race, a cyclo-cross event, and it was brutal – Nick Craig and all the top boys who’d been cooped up over lockdown were back, and the ground was bone-dry. My average heart rate was 188bpm for an hour – it was horrific! Even so, I was hooked and was doing regular Zwift races, as well as rides with my dad on the road – he’s 57 but he’s a diesel engine and would drop me after an hour or two. It was then that I realised I needed some structured training. In a virtual meet-up with the Ribble Weldtite boys on Zwift, I asked for coaching recommendations and the team’s coach Jack Rees offered to help. He’s been setting my training for the past year, which has been really helpful. I’m averaging 12-14 hours per week.
My biggest fear as I came to the end of my football career was finding something else to fill the gap, so cycling has been a godsend. Whereas my ability in football was slowly declining, cycling excites me because I know I can only get better. I recently read Dan Bigham’s book Start at the End, which has taught me to break everything down and study the details.
It’s amazing watching my body change: I’ve already lost 5kg, mostly upper body bulk. On 13 March I did my first 100-mile ride, the Tour of Lancashire, and the week before that I did the Strade Bianche sportive, my first time climbing over 3,000 metres. When you do these events, it makes you appreciate just how good the pros are. I’ve got so many goals this year, and I just can’t wait to find out what I can achieve.
This article was originally published in the March 31 2022 print edition of Cycling Weekly. Subscribe online (opens in new tab)and get the magazine delivered direct to your door every week.
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David Bradford is fitness editor of Cycling Weekly (print edition). He has been writing and editing professionally for more than 15 years, and has published work in national newspapers and magazines including the Independent, the Guardian, the Times, the Irish Times, Vice.com and Runner’s World. Alongside his love of cycling, David is a long-distance runner with a marathon PB of two hours 28 minutes. Having been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) in 2006, he also writes about sight loss, equality and social affairs.
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