Category Archives: Rides

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

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

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

Race Day

I have only dabbled with racing before. If you can call racing one crit a dabble. Prospects of crash carnage had always put me off. And the one Hillingdon cat 4 crit I have done only stoked my nerves. Riders careering all over the place and crashes everywhere; it was all I could do to stay out of trouble.

But some riding buddies talked me into it and a few of the guys from the shop are seasoned racers. So I thought I should give it a go. The East London Velo summer series at Hog Hill seemed like a good one to go for. Still, I was nervous. The words of José Been, commentating on the recent Women’s Tour of Britain, stuck in my head: it’s going to be gruesome! (I’m thinking blood and guts everywhere.)

The format was simple. One race for cat 3/4s, with a 30-second handicap for the 3s. Starting pace was pretty high, leaving me wondering for the first few laps how I was going to survive an hour and fifteen minutes of it. Especially up the ‘Hoggenberg’… a decent climb for a crit circuit, positioned just before the line. The group would bunch up at the bottom, holding a reasonable pace until the steepest part of the climb, where the mash fest began as others sprinted up to get a good position for the tricky sweeping left-hander that followed. It seemed like wasted energy to me, as each lap it came back together again a couple of corners later. I had good advice ringing in my ears… “don’t be a hero, spin up the climb early on”.

After a few laps the 3s and 4s came together; one bunch. And a break of four went away – but I can’t really recall how or quite when! The pace up the Hoggenberg eased off a bit too. A couple of guys went down after grounding pedals on one hairpin, but luckily didn’t take anyone with them. I think there was a crash in the bunch too, but I didn’t risk looking back. And in the final I pushed from the bottom of the last climb to take something like 5th or 6th place, first of the bunch to cross the line.

There’s nothing like a race to push you hard. This was a pretty hard effort, which is no doubt good training. Having said that, coming into the race my priorities were to 1) not crash and 2) finish (in that order). So I was really happy to get points and left excited about the next week… when I’m sure the pre-race nerves and images of blood baths will make another unwelcome appearance!

Pro score: 3/10 (racing it is, some way to go for a contract)

See my ride on strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/141575959

Hog Hill view back to London

Surrey Hills

After a three-year hiatus, I was riding in Surrey again over the weekend, meeting some friends who I’ll be riding this year’s Haute Route Alps with. We’re all going back for more after riding the event last summer. A few years ago these were my local roads. And they’ve changed somewhat since.

Not least in the number of cyclists. It’s hard to believe unless you experience it yourself. I thought my usual Essex routes were busy, but if there’s an explosion in UK cycling it’s happening right there on the Surrey tarmac! I was blown away by the number of riders out there. Once or twice jams of cycling traffic meant some careful descending, avoiding oncoming weaving riders on their last climbing legs.

But being shown around other people’s well-worn routes usually means seeing the best of local roads. This ride was no exception. I thought I knew this area and sure enough we climbed Box Hill. A smooth-surfaced delight of a climb with a steady gradient and a couple of lovely hairpins – but way too busy for any uninterrupted segments attacks! But we also sampled smaller, less-known roads. Some through verdant forest with stunning views fleetingly revealed through the trees. Quite a ride and quite a contrast to the 25km from north to south London (and back!).

It got a bit racey once or twice too. Another one of the joys of spring, as everyone looks to test their legs before the summer’s events kick in. I’ve said it before, riding with your mates is just more fun! And gives you an excuse for a coffee too…

 See my ride on strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/137724389

Llamas

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!