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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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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

Wildwood CX sportive

As the new year dawned something in my riding roots reared its ugly head. A long-dormant offroad past. Maybe it was collecting the mountain bike of my youth from the garage where it had sat for the past decade. Whatever it was, it made me think that signing up to a cyclocross sportive was a good idea. On my fixie commuter. 80kms of road, firetrack and singletrack. On 25mm slicks. (Let’s see what these Gatorskins are made of!)

As an aside, I’m sure that you, like me, can get a little obsessive with the BBC weather app. (I’m not the first to notice the differences between BBC forecasts and their supposed source, the Met Office.) At this time of year its cheery little weather icons can make or break a day. Hours training in the dark are best kept dry if possible. Hours training indoors best kept to a minimum. But my friend the BBC weather app sometimes has other ideas.

So this week let’s just say I was a little more obsessive. From its first appearance on Monday, this morning’s forecast did not look good. Cold. Heavy rain from 9 am – exactly half an hour after I was due to start. Still, what faith can you have in a forecast? I told myself. Well, come Saturday night, I could have sworn those little icons were a darker shade of grey with larger, more menacing rain drops hanging beneath them. The only time I’ve ever known the five-day forecast to be accurate.

And, come this morning, for the first time ever, the forecast was exactly right. A 6:30 alarm got me to the start line for 8:30 am. Kitted, booted, bike prepped (yes it has a working brake), cup of tea warming my belly from the kind lady behind the teapot. I’m ready. It’s on. And there are quite a few of us on the start line.

But not as many as expected. Those who didn’t turn up missed out on a whole lot of fun. The route wound its way around the Chilterns, mixing up smooth surface with, well, the very bumpy. At least it felt like it to me. When you’re used to riding on the road it takes a little time to get used to the bike sliding around underneath you again. Throw in the torrential rain that begun after 10 minutes of riding and it got pretty tricky in places. After a few minutes I decided the best tactic was to ride through puddles in the hope of finding hard-packed ground in their depths. Better wet legs than a muddy face plant.

And after a while I settled into things. But this was a hard ride. Today my strava suffer score does not tell the whole story. Those chiltern climbs can be pretty steep, making a fixed gear a quad-wrenching choice. This takes early-season work on force (see upcoming posts on my training plans) to a whole new level.

But today every section of the ride was hard. The joy of cresting each climb tempered by knowing that without the option of free-wheeling, each descent was a battle against spinning legs and building up too much speed to control (good for leg speed though!). And the off-road sections demanded total concentration at all times, to thread a line through the mud, puddles and stones.

And so eventually after 40kms the inevitable happened – I punctured. A thorn, it turned out. Through the middle of my Gatorskin. Well, it was a big ask for a road tyre. But fixing it killed me off. I sheltered under a tree in the hope of finding a dry spot. Instead I found myself feeling wetter under the shower of larger drops falling from it. Drenched. And by the time I’d fixed my puncture, very cold. Fingers so numb that I had to pull out the thorn with my teeth. Time to head home, despite my ambition to complete the longer 80km route.

So I finished after 50kms, cold, but feeling OK. Sometimes it’s only later that you realise how cold you were. It took a long time to warm me up. Three cups of tea, an hour driving home with the heater on full blast and half an hour in a hot bath. Only after all of that did I begin to feel warm again. Maybe it was the right decision to call it a day early!

And it’s all left me wanting more! I definitely earned my dinner tonight. And I absolutely loved the riding. Even at my coldest, once I’d turned for home I enjoyed those last 10kms. Earlier on I’d had one of those moments, peering out from underneath my cap, rain blinding me, a gale blowing against me, cadence probably 30. Despite all that, I just thought, I love riding my bike. And sometimes, that’s all there is to it.

CX sportive bike

The Only Way is Essex

Let’s face it, Essex doesn’t have a good reputation. But forget that, let’s talk about the cycling.

Well, first, it is flat. There’s no denying that. Anything called a climb here is really nothing more than a rise. The sort of deceptive low gradient that you barely notice, until you start wondering how so much hurt can deliver so little speed. Bad for the ego. Good for the legs.

Living in the capital isn’t an obviously good choice for cycling. But once you’ve made it to Epping Forest, a labyrinth of tiny country lanes lies beyond. For any cyclist living in north east London, Lea Bridge Road is the gateway to a world that most don’t even know is there. It unfolds beneath your wheels and presents more options than you could wish for. The beauty of this county is not just in being hidden, but that every ride can be a new one if you make the most of all the turnings you’ve never taken.

And more than other counties on London’s fringe, it’s quiet out there. What little traffic there is keeps away from the smaller roads, leaving them for everyone else to enjoy. There is never a good spot to puncture. But if that spot is on a quiet lane in deep in the heart of Essex, you might even get it all to yourself. What a contrast to the city. What a way to escape its clutches.

There’s more to Essex than most know. Let’s hope it stays that way.

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My last Essex ride: http://app.strava.com/activities/96602825

Serre Chevalier à Pra Loup

On paper today was easier and probably was on the bike too. Still, two big cols started the day. And for those of us staying in Briançon, a slightly chaotic start. We joined the moving peloton, with only a km or so to warm up the legs (and everything else) before hitting the Col D’Izoard.

So the first twenty minutes were hard ones. As were the next four hours actually. Stage races seem above all else like a test of knowing when to push, sometimes holding yourself back for the sake of staying power, sometimes going full gas to get on a group in a valley.

Worth a mention on today’s ride was the spectacular Gorges de l’Ubaye, through which we passed on a road barely clinging to the cliffs edge. Not for the first or last time this week an error here could be costly. But this was one of those moments when it stops hurting, the view is that good.

Individual mountain time trial tomorrow up nearly 1600m of the Cime de la Bonette. Let’s enjoy the rest of today’s recovery before we think about that…

See my ride on strava here: http://app.strava.com/activities/76374975

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Inspired by la centième

An inspirational first day amongst the Pyrenean cols. This a day in which Becks tripled her maximum elevation in a single ride, with some hard intervals thrown in to work on my climbing for the Haute Route.

While climbing Col de Mente in the searing 37C heat we come across graffiti left on the road from the still ongoing Grande Boucle that is La Tour de France. 100 in blue, white, red. Vive Le Tour!

See my ride on Strava: http://app.strava.com/activities/68996359

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This blog…

This is my first foray into writing a blog, first set up to keep you up to date with my preparations for and progress on the Haute Route; ‘the highest, toughest cyclosportive in the world’. I will be riding 866kms over the week, which wouldn’t be so hard if it didn’t include 19 infamous Alpine Cols including the legendary Col D’Izoard. Over the week, I’ll be climbing more than 21,000 meters of vertical ascent (or 10 times the height of The Shard each day for seven days in a row). Luckily day 5 is an easy day… a 23km time trial climbing 1560m up the highest pass in the Alps; the 2802m Cime de la Bonnette. You’ll find more details of the route here: http://www.hauteroutealps.org/en/race/course-overview

In a series of posts leading up to the race start on 18 August, I’ll be recalling some of those moments that have gone into my training for this immense Alpine challenge. You’ll also be able to use my blog to keep up to date with my fundraising and any other glimpses of how I’m feeling in the run up to the biggest physical and mental test of my life.