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Rob Sharland on getting more aero and being a racing ‘all rounder’

Posted on Jul 8, 2015

Kingston Wheelers - Gil Jessop - Sporting 14m TT

Rob on his way to winning the early season Kingston Wheelers Sporting 14

2014 was a great year for Rob on the TT bike and the road: he joined the elite ’18’ club racing to 16th place at the RTTC National 10 Championship and also maintained a 1st cat road racing license. In 2015 he has stepped up a level again, winning but also taking course records at a number of Open events in the South East region. We asked Rob to talk us through how he has improved and what his targets are for the rest of the year.

This year is a product of being more sensible over the winter. During the 2013-14 winter I tried to lose a lot of weight in preparation for the RAS, and while I did lose the weight it meant I also got ill more often than I usually would and I had a fair time off the bike at various points. This winter gone I didn’t bother with that and just carried on training without dieting or whatever. It meant that I got the work done and touch wood I’ve not been ill since November!

I am a bit more powerful this year for this reason, and on top of that I’ve been working with my coach Xavier Disley from RST to get more aerodynamic with it. I have done a session with him at the Velodrome in Newport which so far seems to have worked. I have gone quicker than I would have done previously – the first race following the session was this weekend gone where I picked up the course record by around 30 seconds from Kevin Tye, who I believe is a world champion at a certain discipline.

My goals for this year are to win a race on the road, a crit or otherwise – I’m not too bothered about keeping 1st cat, but it will probably happen if I do some more events. And then in August I am targeting a top 10 at both National 10 and 25 to improve on my placing last year. Depending how the summer goes I may look to head to one of the quicker 25 courses and try for a 47, and I’d like to do a 49 time on the Bentley 25 course, but if I get a good day I think I might well be even faster…

How did you come to start working with Xav, and what’s involved in the new Aerocoach business? I felt I’d hit a wall in terms of improvement and was looking for ways to get past that. I was doing 10-12 hours a week but wasn’t getting stronger. I also changed jobs so had more money to throw at it, so I thought I’d look at getting a coach. I approached RST as I was quite sold on the stuff I had seen of them on some of the forums I use, also I respected the knowledge the likes of Ric Stern, Alex Simmons and of course Xav displayed. I preferred that approach rather than some of the other coaching outfits that were just trading off the names they had (as in ex pro cyclists etc. with no real qualifications).

Ric said it would be good for me to work with Xav based on what I said my goals were. He is very much clued up on the TT side of things and but knows plenty enough to make me stronger all round so I would also be able to improve on the road.

Regarding Aerocoach, I can’t really disclose much about what the session entails, but it involves going to the Velodrome with the idea of coming out of there with a better position. He feels that while the wind tunnel is a known solution to the aero problem, it’s far more ‘real’ to quantify gains based on people actually riding their bikes rather than being static in the tunnel. And certainly many people that have gone to the tunnel and have made big gains while there have struggled to replicate that on the road.

Aerocoach are sponsoring a handful of riders this year, including myself.

That seems pretty significant, the shift toward a more realistic aero-testing environment. Presumably as equipment becomes ever more optimised for ‘marginal gains’, power meters become cheaper and the knowledge of how to train effectively with power more readily available online, specialist coaching knowledge – along with the facilities and equipment – represents the final frontier for the TTer looking to get faster? I guess yes I’d agree with that. You can buy speed, of course. I don’t have the same time as someone like Steve Irwin [former clubmate at Kingston Wheelers] does to test all of this stuff myself. You can likely get the same result by using Aerolab (a feature in Golden Cheetah) if you are patient and wait for calm days to test things and crunch the data. But as I say, I work fairly long hours and with training around that there is not much time for me trying to work things out and endless testing regimes to determine what may or may not be 3 watts slower than something else.

So while it may seem like the final frontier, and some people start by buying all the expensive gear first, I think many people would benefit from trying to make themselves as aero as possible before they shell out thousands and thousands on kit. The bike makes up a small percentage of the drag at 30mph, it’s mostly the lump on it that makes the difference – and that is easily changeable. Something as simple as a different helmet can make the difference between winning and coming somewhere in the top ten!

I was already quite aero for my size, but fingers crossed we have found a bit more and I can push from the top 20 into the top handful nationally.

Rob - Crystal Palace

Rob mixes up TTing with a midweek outing to Crystal Palace. Photo by Christopher Walker

As I understand it you are one of the few TTers at that level who also races regularly in crits and on the road. Others that come to mind are Edmund Bradbury, Ryan Mullen, Russell Hampton and Ashley Cox, riders who are or have been semi- or fully professional road racers. Can you see yourself focusing more specifically on one discipline in the future? I would add Chris McNamara, who beat me into second at the Redhill and East Surrey sporting events, and who has been road racing for years and years at a very good level. There are others of course, but those that are taking the top spots in the nationals are covered by your list and the others at that level, yes, they mostly just TT.

I will possibly focus more on one or the other as time goes on, but at present I enjoy both and don’t seem to be giving too much away at either. It’s been quite difficult to try and decide what to concentrate on as I’m an ‘all rounder’ (bar the pure hills stuff, as I’m naturally relatively heavy) but the time required to be very good on the long road races will likely make the decision for me eventually.

Rob’s 2015 results to date
Time Trials
14 Kingston Wheelers Sporting 14 GS/292A, Sunday 8th Feb 2015 00:30:49, 1st and Course Record
18 Redhill CC Sporting GS/478(altered), Sunday 15th Feb 201500:42:36, 2nd
27 East Surrey RC Hardriders GS/491E, Sunday 8th March 201501:00:48, 2nd
10 Farnham RC 10, Saturday 23rd May 2015 H10/800:19:13, 1st
10 Bec CC 10, 31st May – 00:19:50, 1st
10 EliteCycling 10 mile TT G10/42, 6th June00:20:15, 1st
25 Axiom 25 P885/25, 14th June00:48:43, 1st and Course Record
10.4 London Dynamo Time Trials Richmond Park, 21st June00:22:58, 1st
March Hare Classic (E,1, 2, 3), Sunday 15th March – 14th
Archer RC Spring Criterium (1,2,3), Saturday 25th April – 4th
BC West Thames 6, Hillingdon (E,1, 2), Tuesday 19th May – 2nd
BC West Thames 7, Hillingdon (E,1, 2), Tuesday 25th May – 18th
Crystal Palace Crits 6, (E,1,2), Tuesday 9th June – 4th
Crystal Palace Crits 7, (E,1,2), Tuesday 16th June – 4th
Redhill CC Road Race (E,1,2,3), Saturday 20th June – 12th

Keep abreast of Rob’s racing on his blog and on Twitter.