Monday, April 26, 2010

Col de Tamie

Sunday 25th April

Chris called this morning suggesting a long workout on the bike. Impossible to say no, my immediate response was to make a pot of filter coffee to try to wake up properly. It was actually about 10:30, but the tiredness was due to still recovering from the last monster workout on Thursday. My bike is white. I had wanted to order a mat black carbon one due to it being even lighter but they were out of stock so I ended up with white. Disappointment soon vanished because the white looks great and of course now I could upgrade to wearing loads of white gear to look really professional on the bike. This did not slip past Chris unnoticed and provoked a suitable and well deserved commentary when he arrived. All through this I was doing my best to hide my belly which hopefully will not be an issue several weeks from now.
Today’s objective was the Col de Tamie circuit, Chris starting in Bourg St Maurice and connecting with me at Aime. The route is here:
From the outset my legs felt tired but OK for a moderate pace. We started out pretty easily and it was just a steady pace on to Aigueblanche until we noticed that a mountainbiker had tagged along with us. This of course is an emergency situation. Every mountain-biker out there wants to think that he can beat the road rats and they will often go all out to prove it (put me on a mountain bike and I’d do the same). Conversation dropped to a minimum and Chris started to pull a bit harder. I’m of course being towed myself due to not feeling too great and the mountain bike is drafting behind me. The mountain-biker was a young lad and the bike was set up for the road with skinny tyres, so it isn’t that much different from a road bike in performance on the flat. When Chris started showing signs of tiredness by slowing slightly against the strong headwind I decided to do my part and take over in front. To my surprise it wasn’t too bad and I could keep up quite a strong pace for a while, giving Chris time to recover. The mountain biker was still hanging on but panting strongly by now. This process continued for a while until Chris decided to really put the pressure on up a long incline. It was hard work holding on to his wheel even though he was taking the headwind full on, but the mountainbiker was still there, panting harder than ever now. He was getting his free tow into Albertville but at least we were making him work for it. I turned round to wave to him as we parted company after 20km in Albertville and as he returned the wave he looked pretty whacked out – but for us it was still only the beginning of our self imposed torture.
A brief passage through the town saw us ready to climb the Col de Tamie which is about a 500m climb but on a wide and not too steep road. At about 4km from the top I just let Chris disappear ahead. I don’t know if I was capable of a higher pace or if it was just an unconscious decision to preserve some energy for the long day still ahead, but my pace was much lower than I would normally climb. Chris probably had two or three minutes to wait for me at the top, but as there is a fountain for drinking water it was a good place for a pit stop anyway prior to the descent to Faverge on the other side of the col towards Annecy.
At Faverge we stopped for a sandwich and drinks at a small bar. This is the best part of the long outings – getting to stop for lunch. It’s amazing how the legs recover when you have a break. The weather was holding up and it was getting warm. I’d just descended the col in a tee shirt and didn’t feel cold even though it is a north facing descent. It’s this climate that makes cycling around the Alpine countryside so pleasant. It’s still only April but it’s hot. My new Nakamura white shorts were performing really well. The layered gel pads were protecting the bones of my bottom very well so I felt much less discomfort than usual. The shorts were not expensive – only 49 euros, but Nakamura seem to be breaking new ground with technology all the time and give great value. My helmet is also Nakamura – very lightweight and instead of the usual polystyrene it is made of deformable polyurethane, making it more compact and durable as well as lighter and inexpensive. My carbon racing shoes from Decathlon weigh in at only 290 grams each and have proved to be great value also. It’s pretty clear that the big stores are now making products of their own that can match expensive brand names very closely.
The return from Faverge began on the impressive cycle path which goes from Ugine to Annecy. At Ugine we took the empty road alongside the dual carriageway and eventually crossed a bridge and soon found the continuation of the cycle path into Albertville. I was a little worried about whether or not my legs would hold out as there were some signs of deep pain starting to develop. The return up the valley from Albertville is a progressive climb from 350m altitude up to 500m at Moutiers, but this doesn’t count a few steep climbs and descents along the way. There is a vicious climb just before Aigueblanche and I was resigned to letting Chris go and finding him waiting at the top as usual. This time though when the climb kicked off I just looked down at the ground and kept my eye on his back wheel. The effect was weird, it’s like the climb seemed to disappear. I was managing to hold on to Chris on the climb, but then at one point I looked up and saw it was getting even steeper. This sent a wave of anxiety through me with inner voices all chorusing “slow down” together. Immediately I looked down again and felt comfortable again. I knew when the top was approaching because Chris started his usual mountain top acceleration but by this time I knew I could last out the distance. Right at the top I glanced and my heart rate monitor and saw 183 registered. This pretty much confirmed for me that 183 is my max heart rate on a bike – a figure I’ve been trying to ascertain for some time now. I’m pretty sure that Chris was slowing down due to tiredness from doing the vast majority of the pulling in front, and that I was spared a lot on the return journey by drafting, even though wind was not so much of an issue this time. Still, I had absolutely not anticipated being able to work the legs hard towards the end of this trip, so it was a very good feeling. The effect from looking at the ground was pretty clearly a case of being “in the present moment” and not thinking ahead. This state allows you to just concentrate on your effort and not to be overwhelmed by the size of the task ahead. There were several more climbs up to 700m at Aime and Chris dragged every last drop of performance out of me. When we approached Aime I had an attack of the “channels” and basically had to call a stop there. The “channels” is a naval term for a condition experienced by seamen who have been sailing the world’s oceans and happen to be passing through the English Channel. They experience an overwhelming desire to get off the boat and return home. By law the ship’s captain must permit the seaman to leave. By law Chris had to let me leave this ship and return home in Aime. Chris still had to climb up to Maçot and then on to Bourg, about another 30 minutes altogether, but I was well and truly done. Total distance was 128km with 1425m climbing and 5100 calories burned.
There was a moment shortly after stopping when I was drinking water that I found difficulty breathing in. This isn’t like asthma which causes trouble breathing out – but it’s an unpleasant feeling which I only had once last year after a hill climb race. It passed over quite quickly but I need to look into what the cause is.

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