Cycling Weekly Big Fitness Project: Julia digs deep, Danny hits his target, and Steve gets back in the groove

It's time to catch up with our Big Fitness Project trio Danny, Julia and Steve on their progress over the past month

Julia Barte on her bike
(Image credit: Steve Flemming)

At the start of April 2022 we introduced you to the Cycling Weekly Big Fitness Project team of amateur riders - Danny Lloyd, Steve Faulkner and Julia Barte - as they embarked on six months of training, racing, time-trialling and gran fondo riding. It's time to find out how much progress they made over the course of May...

Julia Barte: 'Rolling with the highs and lows'

My big goal for May was to ride as strongly as possible at Etape Caledonia (15 May). It was a long drive to get there but totally worth it – an amazing experience. I rode with my partner Del and we achieved our aim of finishing the very hilly 85 miles in under five hours: my official chip time was four hours 46 minutes. The weather was great, and it was fantastic to ride on beautiful closed roads. 

>>> Follow the Big Fitness Project from its March start to October finish here <<<

Although the event went well, the following week was really tough. I did a long ride soon after getting back and ended up in a poor state of mind, asking myself, why am I doing this? – why am I putting all this time and effort in when I’m not getting stronger? Objectively, of course, my results are improving and fitness tests show I’m getting stronger, but I have ADHD so I’m prone to going at 110% until I completely run out of energy. I need to get better at recognising when tiredness is getting the better of me and sapping my motivation. 

My job in retail means I’m often away from home for 12 or 13 hours, leaving at 4am and not getting home until 5pm, then doing my training in the evening – and getting only five or six hours’ sleep before the cycle starts again. It can be hard to recover and get back to feeling fresh and eager to ride. The mental training feature on Wahoo Systm has been helpful, particularly the session called ‘remembering why’. When I remember my longer-term goals such as the Etape du Tour (10 July), I begin to feel better. 

I’ve started working with consultant nutritionist David Starr, who is setting my training for me on Training Peaks while also providing guidelines on what I should eat. He highlighted that, on some days, I wasn’t eating enough, which was probably adding to my tiredness. I’m a pescatarian and I can be quite fussy, so David has helped me realise I need to eat more protein to help my body repair and rebuild – more fish and pulses, and fewer carbs. Now, on easy ride days, I’ll have a lowcarb breakfast, while making sure hard sessions are fully fuelled right through. 

As for my goal of losing six kilos by the end of the Project, David reckoned this was too dramatic a reduction and would risk depleting myself of power and energy. He suggested I focus on reducing body fat percentage rather than dropping a particular number of kilos – to get lean rather than light. With a plan in place, I’m feeling far more confident. 

The volume remains high: last week I did 23 hours of riding – no wonder I was tired! Sometimes it can feel like I don’t have a life outside of work and cycling, but the structure of a schedule really helps me. Now that the football season has ended, I’m on the bike for around 20 hours every week. My main focus for June is the Vätternrundan (18 June), a 315km sportive in Sweden, which will be my longest ride ever. I’ve no idea how my body will react but I’m determined to average at least 25kph – wish me luck!

RIDER PROFILE

Julia Barte 

Age: 30 

Hometown: Tunbridge Wells, Kent 

Occupation: Operations lead in tech retail 

Rides for: 1904RT; Southborough District Wheelers (2nd claim) 

Current FTP: 197W | 3.2W/kg 

Twitter: @BarteJulia 

Instagram: juliabarte 

SCORE SHEET FOR MAY: 1. Complete Etape Caledonia (15 May) in sub-5hr. Achieved? Yes – rode strongly and finished in 4hr 46min; 2. Start following a nutrition plan. Achieved? Yes – working with nutritionist to overhaul my fuelling

PROJECT GOALS (MAR-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)

Danny Lloyd: 'Nailing the Whitton – by a whisker'

Last month was all about the Fred Whitton Challenge [8 May] for me. I’d never ridden as far as 180km nor climbed anywhere near 3,800m in a single ride, but I’m pleased to say it went really well. A big bonus was the fantastic weather, meaning I was able to ride in summer kit – I even got sunburn, which was a shock in the Lake District! Everything went to plan: I picked up fresh bottles from my parents at Whinlatter and my legs felt fine the whole way through, even up Hardknott and Wrynose in the latter stages. My official time was seven hours 59 minutes and 46 seconds – a whisker inside my goal of sub-eight hours! Incredibly the fastest man on the day, Giles Drake, finished in five hours 36 minutes with an average speed of 20mph, which blows my mind. 

The scenes on some of the latter climbs made me grateful I’d treated the event with respect and prepared properly. My gearing – with an 11-34 cassette fitted – was a godsend on the steep slopes, and I took my time on the descents, as I didn’t want to ruin my day with a crash. I rode tactically, conserved energy whenever I could, staying in Zone 2 as much as possible, while refuelling little and often. Maybe I could have pushed a little harder, in hindsight, but I’m content that riding conservatively was the right approach. 

Now my focus shifts to the Tour of Cambridgeshire (12 June), where I’ve opted to take part in the 100-mile road race rather than the Gran Fondo, as I’ve heard the mass start in the latter event can be quite crashy! My dream outcome is to finish in the top 20% and qualify for the Grand Fondo world championship in Italy in September. My training remains the same, 12-14 hours a week, but I am going to be working on my position with the hope of improving my aerodynamics ready for the flat, fast course in Cambridgeshire. In the meantime, I can’t afford to neglect hill efforts, as it’s only just over a month until the Etape du Tour.

RIDER PROFILE

Danny Lloyd 

Age: 32 

Hometown: Runcorn, Cheshire 

Occupation: Oil refinery process operator 

Rides for: Frodsham Wheelers CC 

Current FTP: 288W | 3.6W/kg 

Twitter: @DannyLloyd13 

Instagram: dannylloyd13 

SCORE SHEET FOR MAY: 1. Go sub-8hr at Fred Whitton Challenge (8 May). Achieved? Yes – finished a full 14 second inside my target!; 2. Consult a nutritionist about event fuelling. Achieved? Not yet, but it remains on my to-do list; 3. Continue to build form for Tour of Cambridgeshire (12 June). Achieved? Yes – this is now my number-one focus

PROJECT GOALS (MAR-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

The three new Big Fitness Project participants

L-R: Danny Lloyd, Julia Barte, Steve Faulkner 

(Image credit: Future)

Steve Faulkner: 'Finally back on form'

'Frustrating’ sums up most of the past month – though I’d be tempted to use a stronger term! As I said in last month’s update, I was hoping to get back up to speed after contracting Covid at the end of March. Well, it’s taken much longer than I expected. Testing in early May showed I was 40 watts down on where I was pre- Covid. Worse still, during the first half of the month, every time I attempted a harder effort, I’d feel terrible and know immediately I’d have to stop. Only very recently have I felt able to begin to reintroduce some high-intensity work without feeling exhausted. 

With that backdrop, I resolved to race my club’s 10-mile time trial on 18 May with no expectations of a decent performance – but I was pleasantly surprised, finishing only 20 seconds off my PB. Finally a glimmer of hope. Since then, I’ve started to feel more normal while riding and have begun to get my training back on track. 

My main priority has been just trying to enjoy riding my bike again after such a long spell of trying and failing to regain form. Signs of progress are reappearing. As usual, my top-end sprint power was the first element to come back, and my three-minute power is now over 400 watts again, which is as good as it has been since last summer. 

RIDER PROFILE

Steve Faulkner  

Age: 38 

Hometown: Loughborough, Leicestershire 

Occupation: Senior lecturer in sports engineering & physiology 

Rides for: Coalville Wheelers 

Current FTP: 295W | 4.1W/kg (estimated) 

Twitter: @SHFaulkner 

Instagram: stevefaulkner1984 

SCORE SHEET FOR MAY: 1. Claw back fitness after Covid lay-off. Achieved? Yes – finally! 2. Return to racing. Achieved? Yes – rode my club’s 10-mile champs

PROJECT GOALS (MAR-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

This month, I’m going to attempt the Challenge Wales triathlon, which I’ll treat as a training exercise, and hopefully I’ll also make a full return to TT racing. I’ll definitely take part in my club’s 25-mile championships at the end of June, which ideally I’d like to win, but if I can average around 290 watts, I’ll be happy. As for ‘Project sub-20’, it’s back on course – and my first serious attempt is now finally on the cards. I’ve even bought an ultrasonic chain cleaner to minimise friction and make sure I’m saving every available watt!

This article was originally published in the 2 June 2022 print edition of Cycling WeeklySubscribe 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.