Tuesday, 10 July 2012

ACT I - Mission Accomplished

Preamble (Hurt minus one)
Pulling on a waterproof cape in the Alpine town of Albertville stands a once 16+ stone man. The drizzle from the clouds dancing round the peaks of the surrounding mountains started to become more persistent. Having clashed the peddle of the hire bike against my knee just outside the hotel and fallen off on the way to Pen 6 - an hors category bump had started to swell on my leg - and the specially purchased Muvi Atom camcorder had been smashed. The day had not started well. It would get worse.
The previous day had been 37 degrees - and an ill-advised trip to acquaint myself with the hire bike ended up in a 29 mile ride and a 700 metre climb. Ouch - silly move. This could be blamed on my making friends with two pals Dave and Jez whose ride I managed to tag along with.
This spirit of friendship was entirely in keeping with the whole of the experience, an espirit de corps and an undercurrent of gallows humour prevailed. This was an easy place to make friends among the cycling community and swap stories of sportives and listen intently to the veterans of past Etapes, such as Mike – a 68 year old scotsman who had completed the infamous Tourmalet last year.
In the evening, Albertville was not the sort of place for hungry cyclists to find a plate of pasta, as thousands of participants sought to stoke up the carb levels last minute. The Italian restaurants couldnt believe their luck and profits.
Before bed a last check over the kit – pack the pockets with gels, make up a last minute peanut butter sandwhich for the ride, charge the Garmin and squueze the tyres, sleep would be nervous and flitfull. I packed my travel bag for Monday morning so that I could fall out of bed and leave first thing.

The Day (Hurt)
And so back to the beginning. Looking at the cloud topped mountains in a plastic rain cape. Gauging Leith Hill against these megaliths and shuddering. One by one the pens were released and at around 07:30 – so was pen number 6, our pen.
The plan was to hit the first flattish 11 miles at pace to try and get a bit of time on the broom wagon, whose aggressive timescales had been a constant source of conversation over the previous days.
Then came Madeleine. I am not the first Englishman to go to France and fall for the charms and beauty of a French temptress. Her wonderful shaded woodlands, her gently melting glaciers, this French seductress had everything including cowbells. And just when you thought you had her conquered – she would turn sulkily and throw a 10% gradient in for a few KM – to test you – to prove yourself to her, to let her know of your true intensions.
Then she will tease you further – even encourage you with a downhill section to rest the legs. Madeleine was beautiful and at the summit the tough chase was made all worthwhile the reward being stunning views and the chance to top up the water bottle before she gently guided me downhill on the spectacular descent.
If Madeleine was the belle of the ball – then the Glandon was her watchful, plainer, aggresive chaperone. Undertaken as the sun was rising higher, the harsh tarmac reflecting the heat. This climb was painful, punchy and sharp of tongue and gradient. Quick with a put down there was to be no subtle chase here, this was a war of attrition on the legs. The scenes may have been spectacular at the top – but the effort had been too great. Lots of climbing – kilometer after kilometer of 10% above the tree-line in the harsh sun
The Glandon left nothing to the imagination laying the spectacle of what was to come crudely out in front of me, bearing witness to a train of pain laden cyclists on the roads and ramps ahead and overhead as the imminent torture was exhibited. The only way to tackle this was not to look too far ahead – or up.
Ironically – I climbed the Glandon at good pace – and put forty minutes on the broom wagon. This came at a cost. And in the few kilometres between the Glandon and the Croix de Fer, I was struck with cramp.
At 2000 metres in the sky, lying on the tarmac, in the sun, I was slain. The pain was unbearable. I tried to remount the bike – but the pain kicked again as I started to peddle. Shouting and writhing in agony, a few gels and bars were thrown at my prone body by sympathetic cyclists. Thirty minutes, two salt tablets, a gel and an encouraging word from Dave who approached – and I tentatively restarted. The damage though had been done – the fear of the cramps returning would stay in my mind for some time – it never did.
The descent was not worthwhile as half way down it was rudely interrupted by the Mollard. Like an annoying little brother at 400 metres of climbing the only redeeming feature a bagpiper at the crest, a fuel station, some helpful onlookers and a very tricky descent to follow. From the crest of the Mollard onwards – people started to break.
There then followed the longest 20 KM I have ever done. The climb to La Toussuire may be the last climb of the day – but it was ugly. Not even the pompom girls dancing at the foot or the thought of the end could aneasthetise the body from the pain and the sheer hurt. All vegetation stripped back from the road – ugly ski resort flats on the crest of the hills, this was no Madeleine. This was an ogre. Looking at my Garmin the gradient always seemed to read 10–12%. It felt it too. Each pedal stroke hurting. The road along the way was littered with broken spirits – hiding from the sun clinging to the cliff – some sitting staring in to the distance – some walking barefoot – others just waiting for the broom wagon.
The last five kilometres were the hardest. In to a headwind – this effort required the same kind of effort as the last two miles of commute on a friday in November, or taking on Barhatch Lane at 90 miles. Uphill – and in to the headwind the legs as tortured as the soul, eyes fixed on the town in the distance, ears listening for the tell tale sign of the broom wagon that never came. The Flambe Rouge was in sight but was too far. Still no broom wagon – it dawned on me at last that I may just finish. Through the flambe rouge and up the High Street – the sound of the end and at last – the medal.

Hurt +1
I have been asked two questions since returning yesterday. How does one train for the Etape? Would I do it again ?
Firstly - I built up a level of fitness by commuting then topped this off with the skills learnt in sportives.
The poor – rain drenched commuter builds up stamina and spirit. Unlike the sportive rider - not for him the choice to return to bed if the weather is nasty – or cold – or torrential.
Yet - unlike the commuter - sportives teach the skills of nuitrition, of riding in large groups, planning a ride, climbing hills, riding in unknown territory and riding at pace. After a few sportives - as I was trying to get Gold times – I learnt to pace my rides – pick the fast sections – when to rest and leave enough in the tank to complete the last – often hardest – climb of the day.
When the flambe rouge was 5KM away – and I had nothing left, it was much the same as tackling White Down or Barhatch Lane after 90 miles.
I must mention the cameraderie and friendship. I have already planned the next sportive with Dave and Jez – looking forward to climbing up the Col de BoxHill – and this time enjoy the views without the pressure of feeling I need a Gold time or avoid the Broom Wagon.
As for would I do it again next year ???? Never. Never ever. Only 363 days to train and I am desperate for a shot at the Alpe d'huez, or the famed Tourmalet ! ! ! !

Garmin details below:

Gav's Etape Du Tour - ACT I by gh74761 at Garmin Connect - Details

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Long One Silver

Wiggle - The Long One - or as my friends have been taunting me with "Long One Silver" - given the three disappointing Silver times I have posted in the previous Wiggle Sportives. Another efficient event - slick registration, well-signed course, good fuel stations and a tough route with a sting in the tail or three.
Touted as one of the Longest Sportives, at 126 miles and with a Wiggle rating of five out of five I simply HAD to target this event as part of my Etape training. Not ony that - the Pieces of Eight had to be gold and not silver.
The Open Air Museum at Singleton provided a glorious setting for the start - and the sun was shining. The pre-ride brief warned us sun-kissed happy riders of a headwind in the last third. Correction - a "Brutal" headwind in the last third of the event. Forty miles of "brutal" headwind - ouch ! ! Goodwood may have been within a rear wheel of the start/finish line - but I might not be in any condition to display a Festival of Speed performance.The route took in nine climbs and some beautiful scenery - including the villages of the Meon's, Hambledon and surrounding countryside. The views were spectacular and for a townie - it was lovely to enjoy the sights and smells of the alien countryside ! ! ! 

I started the sportive with my pal Dave - but things went sour for us as I lost my chain climbing Butser Hill. In a replication of Contador and Schleck on the Port de Bales 2010, Dave attacked - and his chances of getting a lift home suddenly disappeared with him across the horizon.
Despite ongoing mechanical issues - I made up time - and Duncton Hill at 116 miles followed by Goodwood Hill at 120 miles tested the spirit and body. True to the pre-ride briefing, the headwind was Brutal - and there was little hope of catching a friendly wheel for a tow, in fact, at 102 miles I heard a tell-tale click of something behind me. A quick rearwards glance revealed a train of three riders, the front of which looking at me sheepishly - almost apologetically, but head bobbing and shoulders rolling and clearly - like me - in need of a friendly tow.
Tearing down the Hill with my ensuing entourage and in to the grounds of the Museum - my Garmin warned me to prepare for disappointment - but when the results were published - I made a Gold time - by four minutes.
I was elated and allowed myself an excellent home-made cookie at the finish line. As this was a Saturday sportive - I had a Sunday to recover, and an evening to remove the Long One's parrot from my shoulder. The calling of the Alpes is getting louder.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Cycle to Work Scheme

The other day I noticed I had a lot of clothes, nearly as much as my wife ! How is it I have a wardrobe that rivals Naomi Campbell's (hot-weather clobber, wet-weather clobber, cold-weather clobber, wet hot-weather clobber, wet cold-weather clobber, be-safe-be-seen-clobber, spd shoes, road bike shoes, wet-weather shoe covers need I go on?). What has led me to this state where my cycling clobber dwarfs my normal civilian clothing (one tee shirt, two pairs of jeans) and rivals my wife's lifelong obsession !

Four years ago - the company I was working for enrolled on the cycle to work scheme. I happened across a marquee with demo bikes in the car park and was persuaded to try out a road bike. I fell for a Giant FCR 6. Initially circumspect about the thin tyres and the uncomfortable seat , the shiny bike and cost savings convinced me to commit to the Cycle To Work Scheme.

I did cycle that bike to work - I cycled it to work lots. Initially I cycled it one day a week (14 mile round trip) - then three days a week, eventually seven days a week. Then I moved jobs and the 14 mile round trip became a 30 mile round trip. Within two years the Giant had done over 7K miles and I had dropped a few belt notches.

Other changes also occurred - my doctor had noticed that I was paying two visits to the Dr Surgery every year - for coughs. These visits have stopped, my respiratory system has improved, my cholesterol has lowered and my sleeping patterns - understandably - improved. I wont say I wasn't exhausted, at times I got home and showered and just fell asleep on the bed.

The Cycle to Work Scheme is quite possibly my life saver. My weight was spiraling, my health was deteriorating and without this incentive - I would be inching toward an all too familiar statistic. I am quite evangelistic about the scheme and urge anybody to take this up and give the bike a try. I quite understand that cycling is not for everyone, but there must be a huge untapped group out there for whom - there can be nothing more fun than breaking up a rail journey with a Brompton, or swapping the SAAB for a Single Speed or the Fiat for a Fixie.

And here I am with this wardrobe - and something that started as a one day a week habit - has become a lifestyle (I am even looking at cycling holidays, reading cycling books and entering events at week-end). The irony here being that I started cycling to work as a way of saving money (which is does - believe me)- and am now not cycling on Friday's so that I can be fresh for week-end ride outs ! Get the bug and beat a track to HR - you'll make friends get healthy and feel great. 

Just say YES.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Pains, Trains and Stubborn back wheels

Sussex/Surrey Scramble - the official end to my holiday.  Nine days off a bike and boy did that tell.
I gave this sportive no respect - and paid a hefty price.  On the back of recent Golds and Silvers in the May Epics - I thought I would ease myself back in to the saddle and enter the Standard (60 miles).
Piece of cake and flapjack for a bloke like me ! ! !  Also - whats a mere 1K of elevation - I have done that on my fixie.  Sixty miles - pah - I'll be back for lunch and maybe pop round Leith Hill as a warm down.
In fact - so confident was I that this would be a doddle - I opted to put a further 15 miles each way on the days mileage - by cycling to Redhill railway station from Epsom.  I could do with the climbing practice - and this sportive has nothing like the hills I need.  I'll polish off the North Downs either end of the day just for god measure.
Here I sit typing - which is about the only movement I can do without wincing in pain.  Each ache a reflection of my crass arrogance and misjudgement.
I missed the Gold - by two minutes - and am struggling - this time for excuses.  Weather, a week off, putting on a few pounds quaffing Leffe and scoffing french cheese - but being honest - I was a little bit too cocky.
I was spat out the back of more than one group of riders including a bunch of paper lads delivering hefty Sunday supplements.  I just didn't have the legs.  The route was flattish - but even on the climbs - I had nothing and was left gasping for air.  From the start the pace was frantic - and I probably started far to quickly.  The first climb was the highest - and the toughest - and the day was doomed from that point on for me.
Some of the ride is encapsulated on this clip here . . .  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ip8yNdi-REs
Next time - I will ask the wife - for a lift to the station to save the legs.  There is my blame tree, I am hiding behind the ride to Redhill, the train was late - and the wrong leaves were on the roads.  If all that fails - like the bad workman - I am blaming the bike ! ! ! ! !
As an aside - I came home via Pebble Hill at the back of Box Hill.  I know this route well - as I had an old VW that died more than once on that steep elevation.  Now I know how it felt.  I lost my vision when the Garmin was reading 18% elevation - and I am certain it was getting steeper.  It's a good climb - but can be busy with cars - so try and do it early in the day.  I am not sure if it is included in the Olympic route or not - lack of new tarmac would suggest it is not, though it was on the "Ride The Route" sportive last year.
I am going to give the commute a rest tomorrow - but will be back on the fixie for the rest of the week as I have on eye on The Long One (styled by wiggle as One of the Longest Sportives) and 3K of elevation.
For now though somewhere in the Great ScrapYard in the sky - there is a VW Golf Karman looking down and enjoying the pain of it's one time owner.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Home Sweet Home

Great Holiday - and a great area.  Just back from Nice - (well more St Tropez).  Please don't fret - it was a caravan (mobile home) and just overlapping the school term time to be affordable.
I now have a tan - so can look quite like a pro cyclist - unfortunately - a week or so of lounging around - quaffing french beer and croissants and coffee has taken it's toll.
And the mountains casting a shadow over Nice from the Franco Italian border - wow ! ! ! !   Not sure I can handle that - and the etape is less than a month away.
With all this in mind - it is time to return to a semblance of a training plan.
Wiggle Sussex/Surrey scramble on Sunday - only the 60 mile route - as I reckon I can squeeze a few more miles on the return journey from Redhill back home.  I also have a choice of returning via:
  1. Reigate Hill (busy two lane traffic)
  2. Pebble Hill (nearly killed me last year on the Ride the Route Sportive, did kill my old VW about 7 years ago)
  3. Box Hill (yawn) - it so busy on a Sunday I wouldn't be suprised to see towels draped over it.  
  4. There is also the possibility of coming back via Pebble Hill - back down in to Dorking and up over the traffic jam that is Box Hill on a Sunday - the M25 for cyclists (are you getting the impression I think  it is a little busy on that stretch of road)?  that would give me two climbs for the price of one - and hopefuilly the Gold Medal from the 60 mile event wont be weighing me down too much ;)

Over the Hills

from my British Cycling blog - they didn't appear to want to publish it :(

Wow - the month of May has come and gone - and with it the appalling weather that saw the Wiggle Ups and Downs Sportive get rescheduled.
Going in to the Ups and Downs I was feeling very strong, it was my third Epic in as many weeks and I had targeted May and June to be big months for my Etape training. The course packed in the Hills from the very beginning and about at ten miles when the sign for the "fun route" came in to site, I gave it some serious thought.
My legs were heavy - my cranks felt like they were stiff and if it wasn't for the welcoming site of a feed station I may have "accidently" followed the signs for the standard route and been home in time for Sunday roast and an afternoon in front of the Giro. I listened to my stomach turned right towards the fig rolls and flap jacks and prepared for a day of hard work.
Unlike previous weeks - where I could drop in behind a welcome wheel or two - this sportive was a lonely, solitary affair. Like previous weeks though - there were some old adversaries to face late on in the ride. Leith Hill at 80 miles and White Down - with it's welcoming 18% gradient - at 89 miles waiting. Waiting to greet the tired legs. Waiting - like an unwanted school bully at the school gates and the end of day, looming large to threaten and tease. Even the third feed station near the top of Leith Hill could not distract riders from the fact that whilst the larger of the demons had been slain - a shorter nastier vicious bully still lay in wait. Like all bullies though - they were seen off - and while I had to settle for a silver, I looked for excuses, the long queue at the second feed station, the temporary traffic lights, the heavy legs in the first twenty miles.
I now have a short family holiday - where I can re-acquaint myself with my understanding wife (who casts herself as a cycling widow), son and daughter then cast a mind to the upcoming events in June, which itself will lead in to July - and the most testing of school bullies of all - the Alpes.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Lactic Law of Gravity

Having had three sportives in as many weeks, it's now time to summarise, and turn my attention to the last phase of training before the Etape.
I have had one reasonable time - given a crash and bad weather, one excellent time, and one good time.
I feel strong and have had testing hills at the end of all three Sportives, all hills were climbed in good time.  None of them can be said to take me to the rarified atmosphere that I will b e expecting to visit at least twice on a Sunday in July
I have got used to eating and drinking - and feel I should probably be drinking more water given some of the headaches.  I also feel I am taking too many gels round with me as I always have loads left over.
I am confident in so far as I have trained over the distance of the Etape, but less confident in the fact that the sportives have barely touched the long, steep, elongated, Alpine sides in terms of elavation.
I feel that I can only train and do what is available and the local sportives and tough Surrey Hills, combines with hard fixed wheel commutes working on pace and speed is all I can manage.  
The quandry now is - do I continue with the sportives, or do I try and do hill repeats (Leith Hill repeats, Box Hill on the way home).
There are three June Sportives, Cranleigh (10 June), Goodwood (24 June and at 129 miles billed as the longest in the UK) and Reigate (July 1st - one week before the Etape).
I have a week long holiday (no bike) to ponder the next steps - but to be honest - it's probably too late.
If I am honest - I think I can finish it, but secretly - the voice inside me is telling me that to climb as far as the Col of the Iron cross will be a good effort, but a failure nonetheless.  I have printed out the map and the times and tried breaking it down, its a hell of a task to complete.
On a lighter note - when Hugo and I were over the park playing out a Newcastle United victory ina penalty shoot-out over Manchester United, we saw his pal from school - riding a bike.  This spurred Hugs on to have a go on Hollys old bike, so we are now making progress with Hugo, a great step forward given that under 16's can ride free in sportives ;).  We managed to the park and back - just another 99.9 miles left.
Lastly - the Allez needs a little care and attention, and the Langster is in an awful state - the chain covered in a thick paste of oil and grime.