Cycling Weekly Big Fitness Project: Steve chases club TT glory, Danny gets carb-schooled, and Julia goes long in Sweden

It's been a busy month for our trio of ambitious amateurs, Steve, Danny and Julia – TT racing, an epic sportive and a fuelling masterclass

Steve Faulkner in his club TT
(Image credit: Roy Fellows)

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 June...

Steve Faulkner: 'Science is taking up the slack'

My secondary aim for this Project – on top of my primary goal of riding 10 miles in less than 20 minutes – was to reclaim some of my club’s TT championship titles. Both aspirations took a serious knock after I caught Covid in March and lost about six weeks of training. As mentioned last month, in the club’s 10-mile champs on 18 May, I hadn’t regained quite enough fitness and had to settle for second behind club-mate Mick Smith. This left me determined to level up the scores in our 25-mile champs on 22 June. A couple of low-key sporting 10s in early June had confirmed that my power was still down on pre-Covid levels, but it was moving in the right direction – judged on 60-minute power, I’d clawed back about 30 watts. 

Progress was slowed by a busy work schedule, meaning I’d been unable to make up for lost time – longer rides few and far between, with my weekly volume topping out at around 10 hours. Trying to compensate by adding in more high-intensity sessions has amounted to papering over the cracks, rather than rebuilding from the ground up. On the plus side, the relatively low volume means no need to taper for races! 

Ten days before our club 25-mile champs, I did a ‘practice race’ on the A25/16, and though I sustained my target power most of the way, I felt unable to press on during the crucial final stages. I knew then that to win the club title, I’d have to pull out all the stops. Come the big event, on a very warm mid-summer evening, I deployed all the geeky science – pre-loading with beetroot, drenching my skinsuit in cold water, rinsing my mouth with menthol – and stuck with the same pacing strategy hoping I’d regained some endurance since my last outing. Thankfully it worked out: I stayed cool and had a bit more in the tank when the going got tough. And yes, I won, claiming the club title with 59.37, a course PB, and beating Mick Smith by 28 seconds. 

Looking at the data, I averaged 265 watts, which is still around 25 watts short of my pre-Covid best. The aero and efficiency gains I’ve made through equipment and position optimisation definitely made up for some of the shortfall. That’s the great thing about time trialling: it’s not solely about power and training – R&D plays a big part too. Now my focus returns to the main goal: breaking 20 minutes for 10 miles, and I’m being realistic about it – I know it’s going to be really hard. Though I’m now fully recovered from Covid, my volume of training hasn’t been as high as it probably needs to be. All I can do is give it my best shot. I’ve entered three races on fast 10- mile courses, the first taking place on 23 July. With summer already past its halfway point, I’ve only three or four decent opportunities left, and everything will need to be in my favour, so I’m praying for good conditions!

Sub-20 specialist: Alan Murchison

When he’s not preparing meals for pro cyclists, ‘performance chef’ Alan Murchison can be found attending to his own time trialling ambitions. In his past three 10-mile races, the 51-year-old has recorded a hat-trick of sub- 20min times 

What’s your top advice for Steve on how to go sub-20 as a time-crunched amateur? 

Like Steve, I’ve had major illness interruptions: I had sepsis in December, then Covid in April, and I’m often away for work for three to four weeks at a time. My numberone piece of advice would be to train in race position, minimising ‘vanity hours’. Any riding above Zone 2, including intervals, I do on my TT bike in race position. It doesn’t matter how much you spend on tech, if you’re not training in position, it’s worth s**t. 

How hard do you train? 

I’m time-limited, so all I can do is make sure everything I do counts. Over the past eight weeks, I’ve done seven or eight hours, including two or three sessions at or above race pace, per week. As for the precise details and timing of each session, it’s like the colour of toilet roll – doesn’t matter! I only have three or four different sessions that I do, provided by Rohan Dennis – being accountable to a multi world TT champion helps too. 

How hard do you work on your aero set-up? 

My best time recently, 19.29, I did off 310 watts – so yes, that means my position is good. I’m finding that my power can vary by 10% depending on my energy levels and other stresses – as a middle-aged guy with a busy job, that’s unavoidable – but my position is a constant. I know that when my power comes back after a decent block of training, I’ll be capable of a sub-19. Improving your position doesn’t need to be expensive: get a mirror and film yourself on the turbo from the front and side, looking at your profile while riding at race power.

Rider profile: Steve Faulkner

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 JUNE: 1. Get back to regular TT racing. Achieved? Yes – including winning my club’s 25-mile champs. 2. Return to full training volume. Achieved? No – life got in the way, but I’m working on it. 3. Attempt sub-20min 10-mile TT. Achieved? No – but I’ve entered three races on feasibly fast courses.

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

Danny Lloyd: 'Throwing more fuel on the fire!'

t the beginning of June, I started working with nutritionist Charlie Mitten (qualifiednutrition.com), and his advice has been a massive eye-opener. Tracking my energy intake against my expenditure has revealed big calorie deficits. When I started cycling, I carried on eating just as I had as a professional footballer, and it wasn’t enough, which explains the inconsistency I’ve been experiencing: flying on certain days, lifeless on others. 

I now fill in a spreadsheet for Charlie every day, allowing him to track my weight, my eating and my sleep. We’ve set a base target of calories, and we have certain protein, carb, fat and fibre goals that I have to hit – using MyFitnessPal app to help keep track. Each Monday, Charlie looks at my schedule on TrainingPeaks and gives me a fuelling strategy for every session. Having 20g carbs before a session makes a big difference, and it’s reassured me that eating huge breakfasts before long rides won’t make me gain weight. 

My main goal for June was the 100- mile Tour of Cambridgeshire road race (12 June) and, following Charlie’s advice, I tried carb-loading for the first time. I had to eat 800g carbs per day for two days prior to the race, which seemed loads but was made easier by adding liquids like smoothies and honey. On the morning of the event, I felt relaxed about breakfast, knowing I had carbs in reserve, plus gels for the race. I managed to stay with the group for 70km until I was forced wide on a corner and lost contact. After that I rode solo for 95km, recording my best ever 90-minute power of 253 watts, and my fastest average speed on a long ride, 36kph (22.4mph). I didn’t finish in the top 20% so haven’t qualified for the Gran Fondo World Champs, but I felt really strong right to the end and finished in 4hr 27min – with enough energy left to sprint hard for the line. It was a great learning experience, and it has revolutionised my pre-event fuelling. Cheers, Charlie!

Rider profile: Danny Lloyd

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 JUNE: 1. Optimise aerodynamics. Achieved? Yes – I’ve been making an effort to improve my CdA via trial and error guided by the Mywindsock app. 2. Consult a nutritionist about event fuelling. Achieved? Yes – Charlie Mitten’s input has already proved invaluable. 3. Finish in top 20% at Tour of Cambridgeshire road race. Achieved? No – but happy with my performance

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)

Julia Barte: 'My longest day by far!'

At the time of writing, I’m just back from my mother country, Sweden, having taken part in Vätternrundan, a 315km (196-mile) sportive around Lake Vättern. It went really well, despite being greeted by wind and rain when we arrived at the start at 5am. I rode with my partner Del and for the first 100km we tagged on to a group that was riding at 35kph – faster than we had planned but it was better than taking on the headwind alone! 

Once the sun came up, the rain stopped and we turned north, it got a little easier and we decided to ride at our own pace. We finished in 11 hours, having averaged 28kph (17.4mph), and I felt surprisingly fine at the end – maybe I could have gone a little faster. Even so, it was nice to have the reassurance that my endurance is in good shape. We stayed a few days in Sweden after the event to celebrate midsummer, which is a Swedish tradition, and it was wonderful to be able to cycle around my home region for the first time (I only started riding in 2020 after moving to the UK). 

My new bike is almost assembled – more on that next month – and will be ready to ride for the Etape du Tour (10 July). It’s going to be a tough challenge, taking place on the same route as stage 12 of the Tour de France – 167km with 4,700m of climbing, and quite likely in 30ºC heat. I’ll be happy just to make it through! 

After the event, we’re going to drive down to Ventoux and ride the three different ascents over three days. I had hoped to race the Women’s Tour of Sussex before heading to France, but it’s been cancelled due to a lack of entries. I’m eager to score BC points but it’s hard to find races close enough to my home to make them practical. In terms of training, I have pared back the volume to 12-15 hours per week, and I don’t mind admitting that cramming in 20 hours plus on top of work was just too much. Hopefully I’m now on a more sustainable footing.

Rider profile: Julia Barte

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 JUNE: 1. Perform as strongly as possible at 315km Vätternrundan sportive (18 June). Achieved? Yes – finished in 11hr and felt strong all the way through. 2. Get set up on a new bike. Achieved? Nearly – just need to fit tyres and bolt the wheels in. Exciting! 3. Score some more BC points. Achieved? No – logistical issues and race cancellations scuppered my plans.

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)

This article was originally published in the 7 July 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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