Team Tor Hill Climb 2017

If marginal gains are the accumulation of small improvements into something significant, then my race today was an exhibition in marginal losses. It seems I’ve made decent improvements this season with the important stuff like training, nutrition and recovery. But today I got a few little things wrong that accumulated into a significant loss. These were:

  1. Not allowing enough time. The race HQ was moved 2 miles from the start line. I misjudged this and ended up having to race a personal time trial there and back to sign on and collect my number. The result was that I was a bit stressed and tired by the time I reached the start line with just a minute to spare.
  2. Equipment errors. I forgot to remove a few bits from my bike like lights. I also forgot to open out my brake callipers before I started which tend to rub the rims when I put down the power on a climb.
  3. Not knowing the climb. I thought the climb ended earlier than it did so I really struggled from that point on.
  4. Going too hard too early. This hill was about twice as long as the previous few that I’ve raced. I ended up overcooking it on the first half of the climb, going massively into debt and suffocated my way to the top.
  5. Not training for this length of hill. Most of my training has been for shorter climbs so had I got the other stuff right I may still have run out of juice.
  6. Not prioritising this race. The final race of the series is on Burrington Coombe tomorrow and it’s one I’d like to do well on. It’s a long and fairly shallow gradient so in advance of this I put deep section wheels on my bike. Unfortunately the added weight of the wheels were a hindrance on today’s steep climb.

In terms of finding positives, at least I didn’t die. Although I heard someone say “if you ain’t dying, you ain’t trying” so perhaps I should add “not trying hard enough” to the list above!

 

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Peak suffocation – photos by PJ 

Team Tor Hill Climb 2017

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Last few days of pinning on a number this season

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The hunter and the hunted – I was caught by my minute man just before the line

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Arriving broken at the line

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Catching breath

It’s too early for the results to be published yet, but 3 or 4 riders got up the climb in under 6 minutes. I finished about 20th which isn’t too shabby. I’ll put this one down to experience and try to iron out the errors in the future. Last race tomorrow.

 

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Bath CC Hill Climb 2017

This weekend’s hill climb served as a lesson in not making a stupid mistake and ruining all of the training, planning and preparation that goes into a short race. Hinton Hill in Wellow is 15 miles from home so I rode to the HQ as a warm up. After signing on I headed to the start to check on progress. From looking at the numbers waiting I gauged that I had about 20 minutes left and headed off to complete my warm up. At some point I stopped for a wee (no point carrying any excess baggage up a hill) and lost track of time. Then as I was heading towards the start I stopped to chat to a friend. He asked my start time, checked his watch and then looked quite alarmed and said “you’re starting now!”

I raced to the start to be greeted by many riders’ faces all peering over their shoulders and looking for a missing rider – me! The starter was fortunately still calling my number. I got to the line to be told I had 30 seconds. Apparently this is what some of the pro’s do to make sure they start fully warmed up. However the pro’s almost certainly don’t do it still wearing a gilet, gloves and arm-warmers. Inevitably I had a bit of trouble with the zip of my gilet and almost ended up racing in it! The starter was counting down from 5 by the time I’d thrown all of my clothing into the hedge. It was far too close for comfort.

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The point where I attempted to unleash a sprint (picture courtesy of Lukasz Marcinkowski)

Like the previous week, this was another 0.5 mile long, 16-ish% climb that flattens out near the top. I decided to attack and then hang on, the logic being that I would cover the steepest sections as fast as possible and could live in hope that I might still have enough juice to accelerate at the top. Whatever the outcome, it was certain to make it a nasty experience.

There was good support from the side of the road. I find it difficult to see much during that level of intensity, but I can hear most of the shouts of encouragement quite clearly. They seem to help, especially when your name is shouted. Near the top a friend from a rival club actually started running alongside me, shouting encouragement in my face. It was pretty mad but it really spurred me on for the last hundred metres.

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The point where I realised there would be no sprint (picture courtesy of Lukasz Marcinkowski)

I rolled on past the finish line, immediately commencing the hill-climber’s cough that continued into the evening. Added to the taste of blood in the back of the throat it’s all a fairly unpleasant physical experience. Fortunately this was counter-balanced by the slightly euphoric feeling of having accomplished something to the absolute best of my ability. It’s a nice feeling to be able to think “I did as well as I could have done”.

I rode back down the hill to thank my supporter and to watch the final few riders battling it out. The high speed of the top riders is really noticeable in comparison to everyone else. I’m sure they’re suffering just as hard as the rest of us, but their speed seems other-worldly.

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Winner Jacob Pilkington smashing the competition – me in the background, sat on the fence coughing my guts up (picture courtesy of FauxPro)

My time was 2:43.5 which put me in 24th place. I managed to average 480 watts, for me a big number compared to just a few weeks ago. It’s difficult to know whether I can push this number higher with the right training next year, but hey, this is a journey of discovery so I may as well hope so.

Full results:
1 Jacob Pilkington Velo Club Montpellier 02:15.0
2 charles coleman DRK Racing 02:16.9
3 Andrew Kirby University of Bristol Cycling Club (UOBCC) 02:18.5
4 Glyndwr Griffiths 73Degrees CC 02:19.9
5 Daniel Alford Bristol South Cycling Club 02:22.8
6 Tom Simmonds Velo Club Walcot 02:23.9
7 Joe Hawksworth Bristol South Cycling Club 02:24.6
8 Russell Peace Dursley Road Club 02:25.0
9 Fred Cook University of Bristol Cycling Club (UOBCC) 02:27.4
10 Adam whitehead Bristol South Cycling Club 02:27.9
11 George Jones Velo Club St Raphael 02:28.5
12 Oliver Adams Devizes Town Cycling Club 02:29.0
13 Callum Hunter University of Bristol Cycling Club (UOBCC) 02:30.0
14 Hugh Brashaw University of Bristol Cycling Club (UOBCC) 02:31.6
15 Tom Radburn Dursley Road Club 02:36.0
16 Matt Griffin Cycology Bikes 02:36.7
17 Oliver Walker-Hayes University of Bristol Cycling Club (UOBCC) 02:39.0
18 Gordon Markus Severn Road Club 02:39.2
19 Jack Phillips Salt and Sham Cycle Club 02:39.3
20 Khem SATTAUR University of Bath Cycling Club 02:39.7
21 Harry Tucker Trowbridge Cycling Club 02:40.7
22 Ned Jackson Islington Cycling Club 02:41.1
23 Robert Grover Velo Club Walcot 02:41.4
24 Mark Jerzak Chew Valley Cycling Club 02:43.5
25 Lewis Henry DRK Racing 02:45.1
26 ben wainwright Team Tor 2000 (Kalas) 02:45.7
27 David Cullen Bristol South Cycling Club 02:46.3
28 Michael Hoare Frome and District Wheelers 02:48.3
29 Adam Whittaker Salt and Sham Cycle Club 02:48.8
30 Jim Beales Dursley Road Club 02:49.5
30 Andrew Turner Bristol South Cycling Club 02:49.5
32 Jacques Coates Performance Cycles CC 02:55.5
33 Andrew Diffey Somer Valley Cycling Club 02:58.5
34 Roy Slide Velo Club Walcot 02:58.9
35 Andy Stuart Velo Club St Raphael 02:59.2
36 Hannah Slade Chippenham & District Wheelers 03:02.8
37 John Benjamin Velo Club Walcot 03:03.0
38 jonathan corp Bath Cycling Club 03:05.0
39 Chris Crowther Army Cycling Union 03:07.9
40 Callum Barnes Bath Cycling Club 03:09.6
40 John Grenfell Bath Cycling Club 03:09.6
42 Tom Price Chippenham & District Wheelers 03:11.1
43 Lisa Greenfield Radeon-Bike Science RT 03:16.2
44 Benjamin Nickolls Bath Cycling Club 03:16.4
45 Chris Laurie Bath Cycling Club 03:20.6
46 martin wiltshire Somer Valley Cycling Club 03:34.8
47 Aimee Parsons Velo Club Walcot 03:41.3
48 Louise Hargreaves Salt and Sham Cycle Club 03:46.3
49 Heidi Blunden Sodbury Cycle Sport 03:49.9
50 Alice Earle VeloVitesse/ALLCAP/James Barry/Johnson Controls – Hitachi 03:50.5
51 Steve Wiltshire Somer Valley Cycling Club 04:03.2
52 Richard Jewitt Bath Cycling Club 04:03.4
53 Helen Parkin Woking Cycle Club 04:04.3
54 Jon Wiggins Frome and District Wheelers 04:05.2
55 Gillian Clark Road Club Cumbernauld & Kilsyth 04:07.7
56 Elizabeth Wheeler Bath Cycling Club 04:17.0
57 Aileen Brown Bath Cycling Club 04:17.5
58 Fiona Vallis Bath Cycling Club 04:44.9
59 Simon Hodgson Bath Cycling Club 04:45.3
60 Laura Lawson Romford Cycle Club 04:58.7
61 simon ker Bath Cycling Club 06:03.3
DNF Erreka Gil Bath Cycling Club 00:00.0
DNS kay drury Bath Cycling Club 00:00.0
DNS Frances Bromley Buxton CC/Sett Valley Cycles 00:00.0
DNS Kate Derrick Chippenham & District Wheelers 00:00.0
DNS Justin Gage Velo Club Walcot 00:00.0
DNS Callum Middleton Lewes Wanderers CC 00:00.0

Severn RC Hill Climb 2017

This weekend was my second race in an intensive month of hill climbing. It is my first season of racing hill climbs in a quest to gain the experience to hopefully become somewhat competitive next season. Fortunately, with a lack of experience comes a lack of pressure and I arrived at the HQ to this weekend’s race feeling free of any real targets or aims other than to try and improve on the stuff I didn’t get right the previous week.

The Severn Road Club Hill Climb is fairly similar in length and gradient to the previous weekend’s VC Walcott race. Both half a mile, with the Severn climb being a slightly lesser average gradient of 9%. This difference is mostly due to the Severn climb flattening out near the top, some useful knowledge I could have done with prior to the race. I had only ridden this hill once before while touring on my steel frame with rack and panniers, so I had no real sense of how to approach it.

Rather than ride to the race as a warm up, I drove there and warmed up in the car park on my turbo trainer. Very un-BikeVCar! After a 20 minute steady warm up, I did a few intensive efforts and then packed up the turbo and headed to the start line. I was aiming to arrive at the start five minutes early but was more like 10 minutes ahead of time. Fortunately it was quite a mild day so I didn’t cool down too much but this is definitely something to work on.

My start was a complete hash. The timekeeper was distracted chatting to someone and the guy holding me was leaning me over at such an angle that I ended up sticking out a knee and elbow to try and counter-balance my skew. Just to add to the drama I started having an existential crisis about whether I should lead with my left or right foot. It was a mess and felt like it resulted in a slow first few metres.

The first minute of the ride is a bendy ascent through a shaded woodland, the gradient ranging from 8 – 15%. Unlike the previous weekend’s race, I stood up on the pedals for the steeper sections to try and generate a bit more power and speed before sitting back in the saddle once the gradient reduced to try and spread the pain around my legs. It was a fairly instinctive approach but I felt like I was riding at 100% without going too far into the red.

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Fully focussed

The race ended earlier than I was expecting. The road flattened out near the top and by the time I’d changed into a more suitable gear I was across the finishing line feeling like I’d missed an opportunity to attack. I think the proper tactics are to empty the tank in the final 30 seconds so I may have lost a little time at the finish as well as at the start. Nonetheless, I still felt the overall satisfaction of having ridden the main body of the race at full gas.

73511431-severn-hc-uh90-20171007-0023I finished a more respectable 19th position this week with a time of 2:19.5, and was 22 seconds behind the winner so definitely some tactical improvements on last week. On to the next one…

Severn Road Club 2017 Results (Top 3):

  1. Charles Coleman (DRK Racing ) – 1:57.5
  2. Andrew Kirby (University of Bristol CC) – 1:57.7
  3. Russell Peace (Dursley RC) / Glyn Griffiths (73 Degrees CC) – both 2:01.1

 

VC Walcot Hill Climb 2017

This weekend marked the start of four consecutive weekends of hill climbing events in my calendar. The races are part of a series run by the Western Time Trial Association, with each one being hosted by a different local cycling club. For me, this has been a step into the unknown with no real idea how I would fare against the local talent.

The VC Walcot Hill Climb up Claverton Hill in Bath is probably one of the most popular and hotly contested events in the series, so to choose this as my inaugural race was properly chucking myself in at the deep end. The fact that it’s a brutally short and steep 11% average gradient for 0.5 miles only added to the fun and foolhardiness.

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Welcome to the pain cave (picture courtesy of lifeinthebuslane.com)

I spent the evening before the race fastidiously removing any excess weight from my bike. I even scribbled a few notes of the weight savings in my cycling diary, guiltily knowing that this type of behaviour was only indulging my OCD. It’s always difficult to know where you sit on the spectrum of ‘Obsessive Cycling Disorder’, but there can’t be many traits more concerning that weighing individual components on the kitchen scales.

Fortunately there are plenty of other cyclists getting up to these kind of antics and worse. In many respects I’m a complete amateur compared to some of the bike-butchering that I witnessed at the weekend. I saw a couple of bikes with the handlebars chopped down, bar tape replaced with electrical tape, saddle fabric removed and running only a single chainring in the search for marginal gains.

For the record these were my weight saving “easy wins”:

  • Bottle cages removed (40g each) – 80g
  • 25mm wide tyres switched to 23mm (20g each) – 40g
  • Butyl inner tubes switched to latex (55g each) – 110g
  • Lightweight skewers taken from TT bike wheels – 60g
  • Lighter saddle – 100g

This totalled 390g. What effect this would have was unclear but it felt like I was at least honouring the hill climbing tradition. This brought the total weight of my bike to 6.8kg. Clearly the biggest weight savings come from the rider’s body rather than bike. Unfortunately those type of savings take a bit more dedication than an hour spent messing around with a few allen keys.

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Hill killer

 

There was a fantastic crowd lining the road about 3/4 of the way up the hill with an assortment of noise-making instruments. Saucepans, cow-bells, a trombone and an ingenious bike-frame-triangle were all being used to create a great atmosphere. I rode through the noise and down to the eery quietness at the start line.

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Last moments of calm

It’s difficult to know how best to describe the event, other than the incredible toughness was slightly compensated by the shortness of the race. 2 minutes and 46 seconds of going as hard as I felt I could handle. I rode the entire hill in the saddle, too afraid that my legs would feel dead and hollow if I tried standing up on the pedals.

I remember thinking halfway up that I couldn’t go on and that I wouldn’t be able to face the spectators. But then before I knew it I was going through the wall of noise without really being able to see anything and then across the line where the suffocation slowly eased off. It took me a good ten minutes before I felt like I was breathing normally again.

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Finish … Line … In … Sight … (picture courtesy of Anthony Grimley)

I ended up finishing 42nd out of 70 competitors, which seems a bit disappointing on paper. However, I managed to average 440 watts for 2:46, was at my maximum heart rate for most of the climb and finished 8 seconds behind a friend who was 3rd placed veteran – a classification that I’m only a few years away from. That feels like a more positive spin on it. I feel like I did well enough to look forward to the next one, but also that with a bit more knowledge and experience of hill climbing I could probably beat my time on this climb next year.

 

On to the next one.

VC Walcot HC 2017 (Top 3 Results):

  1. Charles Coleman (DRK Racing) – 2:08.0
  2. Joe Norledge (Bristol South CC) – 2:08.5
  3. Jacob Pilkington (Velo Club Montpellier) – 2:08.9

Hill Climb Racing

With Autumn around the corner, and the time trial season coming to an end I have turned my attention to racing hill climbs. These are traditionally held in September and October as a last chance to make the most of that hard-earned summer form before winter arrives.

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Probably the only time I ride without a helmet is racing up a hill – in reality I’m not travelling much quicker than running pace on a quiet road

Last week I raced my first ever competitive hill climb, finishing 9th out of field of around 30 riders. This was on Dundry Hill on the outskirts of Bristol, a 1.4 mile climb at an average gradient of 6%. It has some steep sections in the middle which ramp up to 15% before it flattens out near the top. It’s not a climb I’m particularly familiar with, my biggest mistake occurring when I put it in the big ring a bit prematurely and ended up grinding up an unexpected 10% section before it flattened out. But overall I was pleased with my time.

I’ve been putting in a fair bit of specific training for hill climbs recently. It’s a nasty  business, often as much a mental as physical challenge. Generally my training consists of a warm up of around 20 – 30 minutes followed by riding as hard as possible up 4 or 5 hills with about 5 minutes rest between each effort. I usually aim for 5 hills, but normally can only manage about 3 or 4 before the legs and brain refuse to participate in the torture any longer. Last time I went out I seriously considered going home after the first effort, such was the vile burning sensation in my throat.

Sometimes it feels like anti-cycling. Everything I love about cycling – the escapism, the freeing of the mind, the ability to come home and pig out on food and beer are all at odds with hill climb training. Presently it’s all numbers and statistics: times, power outputs, heart rate data, gradients and elevations. Due to the mental and physical challenge I can only really train a maximum of two or three times a week, and need one or two days rest between hard sessions. I’m looking forward to November where I can just go out and cycle at a leisurely pace and feast like a king!

Fortunately the data feedback can be quite rewarding. I’ve been setting personal records up all of my local climbs over the last few months. The specific training combined with a little bit of weight loss are working wonders on my performance.

As with the TT training, I’ve pursued this for a couple of reasons. Primarily it made sense to find a shorter form of cycling that could squeeze in to the gaps between work and family life. But also I was interested in testing the extent of my sporting ability, a sometimes painful voyage of discovery that I’ll be continuing to follow for the next few weeks.

Chew Valley Cycling Club

Despite being an area of outstanding natural beauty, with a large population living in historic villages dating back to the Domesday Book and basically being a bit of a mecca for almost every weekend cyclist who lives in Bristol, Keynsham, Somerset and Bath, the one thing that the Chew Valley lacked was a cycling club.

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The Chew Valley – home of dairy cows and now, a welcoming cycling club

I’ve been a member of Bristol South Cycling Club for years, enjoying their events and races in the Chew Valley. However I rarely attend their weekend club rides or social nights as these are all held in the distant lands of “the big city over the hill”. As a result I always felt that I missed out on a lot of the social aspect and camaraderie of being a club member. After meeting a few other Chew Valley cyclists who were struggling with the same problem we decided to start our own club.

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The Hunters Lodge – home of myths and legends

The club’s formation meeting was held at The Hunters Lodge, a lonely and slightly derelict-looking pub out in the middle of the Mendip Hills. The inside is magical: it’s like stepping into a time machine to a 1950’s pub. The place must have drifted through decades with the decor becoming increasingly dated and unfashionable. Fortunately the long-standing owners were clearly playing the long-game, knowing that one day it would just ooze vintage style! Either that or they just didn’t care. Anyway, not only does it work but there are several amusing myths surrounding the place. I’ve heard that the Kray Twins used it as a hideout, that tunnels beneath the pub lead to secret government bunkers and that if the owner catches you using a mobile phone he will either confiscate it or throw you out. Hence the lack of photos to verify the myth. I hope one day there will be a plaque outside stating “Chew Valley Cycling Club was formed here in 2016”.

By the start of 2017 we’d formed a nucleus of new members, were holding regular club rides and had ordered kit. We played around with a few kit designs with everything looking like it had been designed by an idiot using ClipArt … basically because it had. So in the end we called in the experts and asked cycling kit supplier Milltag to design and make our kit. Probably one of our best decisions.

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For posterity this needs to be recorded – the cow peering out the rear pocket is class

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Milltag nailed it

The club has continued to grow which has been really enjoyable for everyone involved. We are affiliated with both British Cycling and Cycling Time Trials which has allowed several of our members to compete in road races, criteriums and time trials this year. However, the majority of our members currently just participate in the weekend club rides for the social and sporting aspect of riding in a group.

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Club rides leave from The Crown, West Harptree at 8am every Sunday morning

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Supporting a local race

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CVCC TT flight mode

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Bath Sportive

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Beer & bikes – killer combo

We recently held our first AGM (at The Hunters obviously) which was a great way to get feedback from our members and find out what everyone wanted from the club. Fortunately people mostly wanted more of the same, with the addition of beginner / introductory weekend rides for slower or new riders. So this is something we’re hoping to roll out soon. Oh yeah, and they wanted cycling caps, presumably for de rigeur cycling cafe stops!

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Give the people what they want – caps coming soon …

 

A weekend in the Alps

I’ve recently returned from a long weekend of cycling with friends in the Alps. This holiday was long in the planning to give adequate time to negotiate with partners and bosses, and to organise the accommodation, flights, hire car and bikes. Between all of these logistical challenges there was also the slightly more important task of training for such a weekend.

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OCD packing 

The chat in the lead up to the weekend was full of bravado as we discussed the epic proportions of our upcoming Col conquering. In reality, it’s extremely difficult to train for high mountains when you live among low hills, so none of us really knew how we’d fare. I had been to the Alps a few times previously, in particular riding up Alpe d’Huez a couple of times.  Both times narrowly missing out on a sub-hour time (the narrowest being an 11 second margin) so I had some unfinished business.

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Col de la Morte

We took it steady on day 1 with a 70 mile ride over the Col de la Morte and Col d’Ornan, the latter part being the same route that the Tour de France had taken the previous day. Despite roughly translating as the ‘Pass of the Dead’, the Col de la Morte is a fairly comfortable ascent that traverses steadily up the mountain at a consistent 7% gradient for just over 7 miles. With a mixture of cockiness and nerdiness, Will and I instigated a game of “Heart Rate Top Trumps” to try and gauge who was finding the pace easiest.  What do they say about pride coming before a fall?

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Cycle nerds 

After lunch at the top of la Morte we headed down into the beautiful valley for some exhilarating riding, the highlight being a long sweeping bend onto a narrow bridge over a deep gorge. Magical roads. The Col d’Ornan still stood between us and our chambre d’hôte and I decided to test myself a little harder up the final climb. The Ornan is a peculiar climb consisting of a long, straight 6 mile approach with a varying gradient of between 2 – 5% before a series of switchbacks over 3 miles of increasing gradient up to around 8%. It actually ought to be a fairly easy climb, however the difficulty comes in the way that the road is always much steeper than it appears due to the vast and open landscape removing any points of reference.

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Day 2 was to be the litmus test of our pre-trip bravado as we attempted to take on the route of the infamous Marmotte sportive, albeit minus the unnecessary ascent up Alpe d’Huez at the end. 100 miles and over 12,000ft of climbing is surely enough of a challenge for any sane person.

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Early morning ahead of a long day

After an early breakfast we headed up the Glandon, a staggeringly beautiful and long climb. Heading over the Glandon was the point of no return as we dropped into a deep valley on the other side of the highest Alpine mountains. We all rode on. Before attempting the double-whammy of the Telegraphe and Galibier we stopped for lunch. For me this is where it all started to go a bit wrong. I had no appetite and had to force my way through half a bowl of pasta. We made it up the Telegraphe as a peloton but my stomach was beginning to cramp up. At the foot of the Galibier, the “Giant of the Alps” I had to stop and tell the guys to meet me at the top. Ahead of me was 11 miles at 7% average on an empty and cramping stomach.

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I suffered. I forced myself to keep going, only allowing myself breaks at every other kilometre stone. Two thirds of the way up I stopped at a cafe for a Coke and to steel myself for the final few miles of pain. At one point I got off my bike and actually tried to walk, but after about 20 metres I realised the absurdity of trying to push a bike up a mountain in cycling shoes and climbed back on. Several times I contemplated asking a passing car for a lift. But slowly I kept ticking off the kilometre stones until I met Mike at the top who’d also had a bit of a tough time on the way up. Our greeting was an emotional hug. I thought I was going to cry. It was cold and windy so we got a quick photo and then made our way down to the meeting point with frozen faces and fingers. Fortunately all that lay ahead of us was 30 miles of unbroken descent back home. Halfway down I’d recovered enough to start enjoying myself again.

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These stones were my friends 

 

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Emotional

I still haven’t quite decided whether I should remember suffering this hard and ultimately conquering a huge mountain as a sign of my doggedness and determination. Or whether I just rode my bike pathetically slowly for a couple of hours. And walked up a hill, oh the shame! Maybe there’s a bit of everything in there.

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For the final day we all planned to ride up Alpe d’Huez in our quickest times. I felt somewhat better at breakfast and managed to eat a decent amount which gave me enough confidence to try. However, my stomach started to give a few angry reactions during the first few hundred metres of Alpe d’Huez so I reduced my effort and just took it steady all the way to the top. I rode at a conservative average heart rate of 150bpm, getting to the top in 1 hour and 3 minutes. Despite being tinged with a bit of disappointment I was mostly pleased to make it all the way up without stopping.

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Alpe d’Huez – gritting it

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End of a great weekend

Alpe d’Huez – still unfinished business!