Category Archives: Haute Route

Haute Route Alps 2014 – Day 2

A two-week holiday without the bike turned into my off season. A break from the bike and a less-intentional break from blogging. Today my 2015 season begins with a zone 3 session, aimed at clawing back aerobic capacity lost in the last couple of weeks. With it my blog returns, to catch up on the end of last season and begin a new.

Day 2 – Expectancy (Megève to Courchevel 1850. Col des Saisies, Col du Cormet de Roselend, Courchevel)

I woke in Courchevel happy not to have suffered any bad reaction to the first major test of this Haute Route. I knew then that I was on an upward trajectory and would be able to step up from  day 1, but as the stage unfolded I realised it wasn’t all going to happen overnight.

The Col des Saisies passed almost without incident. On the Haute Route that can be a good thing. Some climbs are unimaginably tough and this wasn’t one of them. Next up, the Col du Cormet de Roselend, which remains up there among my favourite climbs. Its lower reaches twist through deep forest in a remote, far-away valley. So very different from the open vistas that reward any rider reaching the Lac du Roselend on its upper slopes. It’s a beautiful view towards the twisting switch backs of the climb’s final section, one that lulls you into a false sense of security. The last kilometers are tough, but the descent to Bourg-Saint-Maurice makes for an intoxicating mix of super-fast straights and twisty switchbacks. This is a mountainside that rewards focus like few others, whose curves conceal an enveloping rhythm that leaves nothing left but you and the road.

Courchevel was a slog. A long neutralised section leading to the bottom of the climb deadened the legs. Mid-stage recovery is all well and good, but doubles the effort needed to spin up for another effort. I begun the climb with my team mates, but as I dropped my chain, they dropped me. Some I would see again later in the climb, others not.

Two kilometers from the line I encountered Emma Pooley running down the mountain, shouting words of encouragement, having already finished the stage. What an awe-inspiring athlete she is.

Comparing last year’s times to this year, I knew I wasn’t yet on form, but did go into day 3 with a new confidence. Little did I know what it held in store.

GC after day 2 – 107th

Day 2 – http://www.strava.com/activities/185179385/overview

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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

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

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)!

Haute Route Ambassador

After being blown away by the experience of riding last year’s Haute Route Alps, I applied to be an Haute Route ambassador for the UK… and thought nothing of it for a while. Then I came home one evening to find an email congratulating me on being one of the first Haute Route ambassadors!

My first thought was of the scale of the challenge I’ll be taking in again! Next it rekindled the images of Alpine cols that burned into my brain last summer. One particular shot of the start line at lake Geneva reignited the feeling of rolling over the line with six hundred other riders, all about to experience a week-long adventure through pain, strength and awe.

I’ll be blogging my preparation for the event and on being one if its ambassadors. One look at the iconic cols in this year’s route is enough to get anyone excited. One stage takes in Col de la Madeleine, Col du Glandon and finishes up L’Alpe d’Huez! Bring it on!

Reflections…

One week on from riding the Haute Route, these three reflections have lodged themselves firmly in my mind.

1) You with me. I wasn’t the only one putting a lot into this ride. Nine months of training and preparation for me meant nine months of support from those closest to me, of tolerating my time spent on the bike and my frustrations when I couldn’t. Plenty of others backed me in their own way, particularly once I decided to support UK Youth. Those from whom I expected support went beyond my hopes, while many unexpected others surprised me with heartfelt wishes and generous donations.

Until I was out there I didn’t realise quite what this meant to me, but I truly carried your support with me throughout all seven days. It pushed me through some of the toughest climbing moments and hit me during quiet moments on those calm, spectacular neutralised descents towards the end of the week. No more so than on stage six, sweeping down the Col de la Couyolle – clock stopped, only one major climb remaining in the day. In short, that was the moment I knew I would make it round and achieve everything I had set out to. For a short moment the emotion of that realisation hit me hard. In that moment, each of your thoughts was with me.

And with a hard lean into the next hairpin, I switched on again, my focus back to the ongoing race.

2) Rule #5. Riding the Haute Route Alps concentrates into one week emotions and experiences that it could take a lifetime to feel without cycling. Suffering is perhaps the first and foremost. Anyone considering themselves a cyclist is well acquainted with Velominati’s Rule #5: Harden The Fuck Up. It’s as simple as that. Somehow putting yourself through this kind of hurt is life affirming. It gives you the mental strength of knowing your physical limits lie somewhere beyond where you previously imagined. So where do they end? I’ve always admired adventurers who push the boundaries of human exploration and achievement, now I realise why. While I’m hardly doing that, this has been a journey to find my own limits.

The people I most admire are always challenging themselves to go beyond conventional wisdom on what achievement in life looks like. This sort of test teaches you something about going beyond limits that previously held you back.

3) There is always somebody faster.  At once both a necessary curse and unrelenting motivation. I mentioned before the competitive mindset needed to take on the Haute Route. One displayed so evidently on our final stage last week. Surrounded by such a strong field of others equally and more dedicated, it’s natural to feel that any goal met is one lessened. But, the same effect is our reason to keep striving for more, the very essence of what drives us on to greater things.

reflections

Nice

Made it to Nice. It turns out that neutralising most of the stage makes the remaining timed section a hammer fest! So not quite the easy roll back into Nice that we all had in mind. As soon as the clock started ticking it was full gas to the finish line.

This to me says everything about the mentality you need to do the Haute Route. Give it everything until the last. And I did give everything I had. That was good enough for 67th place overall. Well above my top 100 target and enough to earn plenty of extra cash for UK Youth.

To all those who promised extra, thank you. It made the pain easier and the team at UK Youth will really appreciate it too.

Enjoying my first beer in a month, with Becks, overlooking the plage in Nice. This one I’ve earned. More reflections and fundraising updates to come…