Haute Route Alps 2014 – Prologue + Day 1

For a while the Haute Route and a holiday got in the way of writing blog posts. Now I´m back, this is the first of a few posts that will recount both. On reflection, Haute Route week was one defined by a rollercoaster of emotions.

Prologue – Anticipation (Genève)

This year´s Alps edition of the Haute Route began with a prologue. 10kms on closed roads alongside lake Geneva. A great addition to the event for those who who could get there on time.

Not by design, my preparation for this first test was two weeks off the bike due to illness. Yes, I wanted to taper, but not that much. Still, with 900kms to go over the next seven days, this was´t a day to worry about winning or losing time. The adrenaline I felt on the start ramp still exposed my desire to post a respectable time. With legs that felt good off the ramp, I fought the remnants of illness and effects of the time off, but the burning in my lungs was a  wake-up call. After that I new the first days were about damage limitation.

Day 1 – Containment (Genève to Megève. Col de la Colombière, Col de Croix Fry, Col des Aravis)

After a decent night’s sleep in one of Geneva’s surprisingly habitable nuclear bunkers, we hit the start line. The first day is always a shock to the system, a fight to wake yourself in time for a 7am start. Today even more so. The bitter truth was that I could´t push hard. Once riding, a sky-high heart rate told me what I knew already, I needed to hold back.

My experience of riding the Haute Route Alps in 2013 taught me that I had a long week ahead of me. Once I´d accepted the need to ride within myself, I really enjoyed this first day. For the first time in a long time I really did leave something in the tank, hoping that it would pay off later in the week.  Sure enough, the first steep kilometres of the Colombière came as a shock to the system, but that climb passed under a shroud of low cloud. It left behind the persistent sense of awe that for me defines an Haute Route week.

The Croix Fry passed without incident (a good thing in this case) and our descent dropped us off most of the way up the Aravis. By that time I was reeling in riders who had passed me earlier, panting their way up the first two climbs. Winning the battle to stay strong mentally is half the challenge, so I told myself this was a  good sign for my recovery and the days ahead.

As with so many days on the Haute Route, the final ‘flat’ 10kms into Mègeve proved the hardest all day. It was all I could do to hold onto a bunch hammering home on fresh legs. Just a starter for the week ahead. Disappointment at my overall position was tempered by satisfaction at  containing the raw enthusiasm of day 1 and hope that it would deliver form later in the week.

GC after day 1 – 122nd

Prologue – http://www.strava.com/activities/184703024

Day 1 – http://www.strava.com/activities/184742000

Compact vs standard

Moving to a standard chainset seems like a rite of passage for a cyclist. No pro would be seen astride a compact. But hang on a minute… I’m still riding compact.

So, what am I doing? Well, my winter bike is my old bike, bought some 7 years ago when I rode a bit less. Standard wasn’t even a question then. My summer bike is newer, but I wanted to spec it to ride in the mountains. My usual Essex and Regents Park training routes don’t include the sort of climbs that demand fewer teeth than a standard 53/39. That bike is for the mountains too and I didn’t want to be switching chainsets around. So compact is good enough.

Only recently when racing could I really have done with some extra gears at the top end (although perhaps that was me more than the bike). Now I find myself riding a 11-25 cassette to get the most out of my compact chainset.

In two weeks I’ll be in the Alps. Stage three of this year’s Haute Route Alps takes in Col de la Madeleine, Col du Glandon and the ascent to Alpe d’Huez. One thing I know, is I’m not yet ready to take on its 4,600m of elevation gain on a standard.

That’s the difference between me and them.

Proscore: 3/10

For even more on gear ratios – CyclingTips have a great post here: Beyond the big ring

Countdown

Countdown. Three weeks until the Haute Route Alps begins in Geneva. After some time out from training for the wedding, what is the best way to prepare in these last precious weeks?

One of the biggest lessons I learned from last year was not to underestimate the importance of a taper. With two weeks to go, I got ill, probably after training too much in the month or two before that. I don’t want to make the same mistake again this year, but with two weeks of time out on honeymoon, that’s less likely.

What did work well for me last year were a couple of big weeks on the bike, separated with more rest than I thought prudent. We’re talking 3-5 consecutive long days of 4-5 hours in the saddle and plenty of long climbs thrown in. Last year the Basque country and the Pyrenees provided the climbing. This year I’m doing my best to replicate this in Regents Park and Essex. Not quite the Tourmalet is it? Still, I’m in the middle of two weeks focussed on long hard rides, simulating climbs with long threshold intervals, throwing in as many consecutive days as I can. It’s hard to replicate the demands of the mountains, but this is the best I can do, and in that, I am not alone.

As for my taper, two weeks of downtime is vital to arriving at the start line fresh. I have heard a lot about riders’ condition improving as they go deeper into multi-day events. For me that never really happened last year. Now I suspect it was because I was too fatigued going into the Haute Route week. So this time I’m taking a different approach and will be making sure that I arrive on the start line in Geneva fresher, if perhaps a bit less fit. I will need an iron will to stay off the bike. Easier said than done, but nothing compared to what I’ll need in three weeks’ time.

photo-12

Essex ‘climb’ intervals on strava: Essex 45mins x2

R&R

We are officially back from honeymoon. Not until you’ve married do you realise how much physical and mental energy it takes to plan, organise and do. Without question every last bid of effort was worth it and delivered truly the most special weekend of my life.

In our wisdom we chose to spend our first honeymoon days hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc, to recover, you understand. On a last minute whim we included a climb up to the highest point of the whole Tour – the 2,665m Fenêtre de l’Arpette. This long and gruelling day included a daunting boulder field climb, way beyond anything we imagined when we dreamed up this idea. Mentally it was just what we needed, some forced time out, spending hour upon hour focussing on nothing more than where to put our feet. Physically, yes it could have been a little more restful.

Our second week focussed on some R&R in the hills and on the coast of northern Italy. We got off to a good start. ‘Tutti’ for Sunday lunch at a small local restaurant turned into an eight-course extravaganza. Only the stretch of our stomachs ruled out a ninth. Lots of dinners followed, lots of spritz (see pic). That’s more like it, the long-needed week of rest did us both so much good. We did manage a couple of spectacular, lovely, quiet rides in Italy and with the Haute Route clock still ticking I squeezed in a couple of hill efforts too.

Sadly it could last no longer. Next holiday in four weeks. Oh wait, it’s the Haute Route… So a couple of weeks’ hard training needed before I can kick back again and taper for the Alps.

Spritz

Honeymooning on strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/169363747 and http://www.strava.com/activities/170678484

Jenspiration

Just a quick one. To say what an incredible inspiration Jens Voigt is. His solo effort in stage one of this year’s tour was so typical of his attacking style. This is why he’s so popular and I for one was happy to see him in the polka dot jersey. He just loves to ride his bike and loves to attack.

A word too for the crowds. Anyone who has watched the Tour this year can’t fail to have been impressed by the sheer numbers of people out there. Even 60kms from the finish in the middle of the Yorkshire moors, people were everywhere. Where did they all come from?

After a busy weekend (if watching the tour counts) I managed to get a ride in last night. I saw my bro on the way out and he said to me, “if after five minutes you’re not wondering how you’re going to keep going, then you’re not pushing hard enough”. With that ringing in my ears and Jens in the back of my mind, I pushed. Then I came across the route for today’s Stage 3 and rode that back into London. Yellow lined the roads. Even a day ahead the excitement was palpable. What more inspiration could you want?

See my ride on strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/162485512

Tour of Wessex

I’ve been hesitating to write up my Tour of Wessex weekend. Probably out of spite. To begin with, things were going rather well. Unlike last year, we arrived earlier than 12:30am. It wasn’t even dark while we put up our tent. We had the benefit of having put it up before. There was no gale ripping it from our grasp. Lights out early, we slept from 11pm.

I speak too soon. Conditions on day 1 were the wettest I’ve ever known on a bike. Within an hour we were all soaked to the skin. For the next five, that’s the way it stayed. One torrential downpour followed another. It was pretty miserable. A shame, on a good day the route of the Tour of Wessex is one of the best I’ve ridden in England.

I felt strong, especially up the first climb of the day, Cheddar Gorge. It’s one of the few that I’ve climbed in the UK where there’s a real continental feel to the approach. You’re rolling through Cheddar with the gorge looming up in front of you, waiting for it to kick up. OK so it lasts ten minutes, not an hour, but it has a good feel to it.

Come day 2, there were repercussions. I rode the medium route with Becks, but felt weak all day. I ached on the bike. Not unusual after six hours, but this felt different. By day 3 it was clear enough that we were both ill. Reduced to getting our body composition tested at the race village as we watched the brave few roll off on the long road to Exmoor. Definitely a mistake as it turns out.

Day 3 really is a good one too, especially the climb up to Exmoor from the coast. Not one to miss lightly. We’ll be back next year, but hoping desperately for better weather and perhaps not camping either.

Day 1 on strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/145830167

Day 2 on strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/145830146

Back in the game

It’s some time since I last posted. For about three weeks I was battling with a virus that stopped me training. A drenching first day at the Tour of Wessex brought me down with something. Each time I tried to get back on the bike I could tell I wasn’t up to it.

To say the least, it’s been a busy and exciting time off the bike too. Training has taken a back seat lately, with other more important things taking over. In less than two weeks I’ll be married, so we’ve been spending a lot of time on preparations… On top of that I’ve recently got myself a new job, which has also gulped its fair share of time and effort too.

As usual, after some genuine time off training, I felt pretty unfit getting back on the bike. Because time is short I have been focussing on short rides since then, keeping the intensity really high. In fact, as I often find when illness forces some downtime, I feel refreshed and I can work much harder than before. Longer-term rest really is needed sometimes.

It never gets any easier to spot when I need a that rest though. The only sign seems to be feeling really strong, but then I just want to make hay while the sun shines. With the Haute Route to aim for in late August and a busy few weeks before then, the last thing I wanted was an off-plan rest. Now though, I’m confident that I needed it. Without thinking, I just smashed my PR on a short test climb. I’m back in the game just in time to get a couple of weeks of intense training in before the wedding and some more time off for our honeymoon…

… we’re taking the bikes of course (not even my idea)!