Tag 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.

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

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)!

Cross training: update

As autumn hits winter you can barely turn the page of a cycling magazine or click a cycling website without reference to some sort of cross training. Every pro interview talks up their core regime. A team mate from last year’s Haute Route Alps ran every day for a month last winter – 17th place is evidence enough that it didn’t hold him back. Andre Greipel is even tweeting about his runs!

You’ll remember my post on run club. Well a few more weeks in, what more have I learnt? Cross training still feels like a dirty word. I’m a cyclist not a runner. Surely time I take out of the day to train should be spent on the bike.

The first few weeks of running felt hard. And left me nursing sore legs, making hard efforts on the bike almost impossible for two or three days afterwards. Not good. So what did I do? Added more cross training! Thanks to a rower friend’s recommendation I’ve thrown in some high rep (& speed) leg weights too. It might not quite be the perfect core-bashing off-bike work out, but it’s some of the way there.

What’s more, I’ve even signed up to run a 10k race, spurred on by some healthy competition with work colleagues (and a burrito riding on the result). How bad can it be? Well it is a Saturday – so it probably means a Saturday without cycling (and I’ll definitely miss the club ride).

But, dare I say it, cross-training is working. For one thing, it’s a change. After 9 months of solid training for the Haute Route, it’s good to have a refreshing new target. It might even make it easier to persuade myself that a couple of weeks off the bike will make me stronger next year. Not something I’ve yet managed, but easier if I can keep running (does that still count as rest)?

And as the weather closes in and a busy new project surfaces at work, it’s difficult to get enough hours on the bike. Running and weights seem a time-efficient way to keep building strength and to maintain that top-end aerobic fitness. We’ll only really see in the spring how it’s gone.

The downside is, the running isn’t getting any easier just yet.

Pro score: 4/10

runningshoes