Monday, June 28, 2010

La Grand Bornand

GPSies - La Grand Bornand

27 June 2010

La Grand Bornand is an attractive place. It’s a small ski resort in the style of Megève, but with a much more natural charm and interesting mountain environment. No doubt the great weather we had at last played some part if giving this impression. Deciding to sign up for the race in the morning I didn’t arrive until later on Friday evening and had no problem parking right next to the race start area and close to Chris’s hotel – where his family had come to support him – both morally and with massage, bike preparation and general organisation (wishful thinking here – get them trained Chris!). I had stuffed myself with wholemeal spaghetti before leaving home – eating earlier than usual so that the carb loading wouldn’t interfere with sleeping.

Race organisation was excellent with everything easy to access – a dream in comparison to the previous week at Morzine. On the morning of the race we decided that it wouldn’t be necessary to even carry any extra clothing. Summer had arrived.

The Race
We both chose to do the short course of 92km. It was officially said to be 100km but it was only 92 – the organisers making a mistake there – which they then calculated into our average speeds when posting the results at the finish – one of the very few organisational blips of the day. Our reason for choosing the short course was because of the difficulty that we both had recovering during the previous week, plus with the big Marmotte race less than a week away it was time to start tapering and reducing the fatigue levels a bit – which according to the Sporttracks training software has been chronically high for months as we have been focussed on rapidly ramping up our fitness levels. It would make no sense going into the Marmotte over-tired. During the week precedent it had even seemed that I would not have recovered well enough to race this weekend. I had not rested properly when it appeared to be critical in the middle of the week, but today was to prove that fitness has brought much improved powers of recover along with it – much as I had suspected.

There was a good turnout for the race with hundreds already cramming the start as we were warming up. Chris had not managed to eat his carb-cake and I hadn’t managed to swallow any disgusting high carb paste – but my banana porridge (eaten well before the start) and high carb drink seemed to set me up well for the morning anyway. I took one 100g sports gel and an energy “Powerbar” – neither of which I used in the race. I had two bottles of Isostar complex-carb sports drink – for slow absorbtion and I didn’t even manage to drink both of those during the race despite it being warm. The Complex carb drink is easier to swallow than the super sweet sugary standard isostar isotonic energy drink. The only other thing I carried was a spare inner tube and two tyre levers. We couldn’t push our way forward through the crowd for a better start so we were resigned to a bit of a traffic jam after going through the start gate. The start was controlled by a security car for safe transit through the village and the roads were properly closed for the first several kilometres when there would be a mass of cyclists all together. Everyone started together, and I much prefer it this way – it’s more fun than when age categories and different course lengths are started separately.

After the start, while still working our way through town we had a conversation with an American cyclist who had also raced at Morzine the previous week. He said that in 35 years of cycling it was the worst day he had ever experienced – and he only did the short route and took over 4 hours. We had done the long route at 7.5 hours with the toughest climbs – so that made us smile.

On today’s short course the toughest climb would be right at the start, followed by many miles of undulating terrain. It was obvious that if you didn’t perform well on that first climb then you wouldn’t have fast cyclists to work with for the rest of the course – they’d all be gone. I decided to work as hard as possible on the first climb and not worry about the consequences. Chris shot off ahead at the bottom of the climb, but I just settled into a steady but fast pace. The climb wasn’t a really big one, only about 600m vertical, but sustaining that in the anaerobic or anaerobic threshold zones the entire way makes it seem to be a very long climb. The climb was 13km long going through La Clusaz and terminating at the Col de la Croix-Fry. We were photographed on this climb. The pure effort and accompanying grimaces makes everyone look 10 years older. In my case my shoulders are rounded and head tucked in as I try to get as much air as possible into my lungs. My pelvis is rocked down at the front to loosen the hips and keep the back straight, but I need to learn to tighten the lower abdomen to stop my stomach from sticking out – at least until I get rid of it! Hey, if I can stay in front of those guys while transporting that belly up the hill imagine what it will be like when I get rid of it!

Vigorously transporting my belly up the hill I managed to overtake at least 80 riders and was perhaps in turn overtaken by a dozen. It was a good start – red lining the whole way for 40 minutes. There were quite a number of women on that climb – more than usual in the cyclosportives. Some of the women I could see were still in front when we arrived at the Col de la Croix-Fry. Well I can now confirm that women drivers are just the same on bikes – way too timid on the descents! Left the lot of them behind on the 1000m vertical fast descent! I was still determined to make up as much ground as possible during this descent – so as to be well placed when it flattened out. Eventually the numbers filtered out during the descent and I ended up with two other fast descenders – which actually helps with reading the road as you can see if they are having to alter their line mid turn or not when you are behind. If they keep their line then you can avoid braking.
When we arrived at the bottom of the descent a small and very fast group formed and went to work efficiently and effectively – collecting more as we caught up on isolated riders ahead of us. We got into a rapid rotation of the work of pulling in front and this helped keep up a very good pace. The group stayed together for about an hour but eventually exploded on the gradual relentless climbing. It wasn’t the climb itself that did the damage. Ahead of us we could see a large peloton and we were all working hard to bridge the gap. Everyone pulled hard at the front red-lining for a while and then dropping behind. The gap reduced slowly – just enough to oblige us to continue to suffer – but never enough to catch up. Once the group disintegrated completely, a few breaking off ahead and others falling back, I found myself pulling alone with another rider stuck behind me. He was aiming to do the long course, which split off at St Pierre-en-Faucigny, 73 km from the start. Considering that I was going to do the short course he excused himself from pulling in the front and remained sheltered behind and I was happy to oblige, still fighting to try to be in an attacking position for the next descent in the hope of catching that vanishing peloton. Sometimes pelotons slow down – but this one didn’t. I never saw it again.

Splitting off for the short course meant going straight into another climb, but this time without any organised group. I anticipated a much harder climb then actually materialised, but the legs were now starting to complain. Lactic acid accumulation was becoming evident, first through leg pain and next through the upper quads starting to feel strangely heavy. Steadily I started to l lose ground and eventually lose sight of the others who started the climb with me. This entire time I still managed to keep my work output in the Lactate Threshold zone – which would have been unthinkable just a few weeks earlier. This solo effort continued for about 10 km and I thought that there were another 20 km to go. Three riders caught up at that point and as it was a bit flatter there I had no trouble tagging on. Amongst the three was someone I’d been in the initial group with hours ago – so he gave me a good humoured greeting. The lift in speed and motivation with the new group was enormous. Suddenly I forgot about the tired legs and the race was on again. No question of pulling in front now though – that was over having done more than my fair share today. We covered 8 km together and overtook all the riders who I’d earlier lost sight off. It’s this sort of unexpected reversal of fortune that makes road racing interesting. I was rather surprised, just as the two strong guys in front managed to finally dump us on a hill, to see a sign saying 2 km to La Grande Bornand. This certainly lifted my spirits so I didn’t allow myself to slow down any more than was necessary. There was a final descent and then a 1km climb to the finish. Two younger guys, including the one from the 2 groups I’d been in then overtook me on this climb. 500m from the end and I decided to dig deep and use up any last reserves. I accelerated and caught and passed the two of them and another a hundred meters ahead – then continued to accelerate right to the end – sending my heart rate up to its maximum for the day of 176 bpm. Chris was on is bike facing me at the finish line. He had finished only 14 minutes earlier and was looking for his family – but was very surprised to see me instead!

Last week when I closed the gap with Chris to 27 minutes over the very long course I thought it was a bit of an aberration, so if anything this week confirmed that I’m making real progress in performance and fitness.

After Race
After the race we had the customary pasta meal and then headed to the outdoor swimming pool to find Chris’s family. Fortunately I had a spare pair of swimming trunks – real swimming ones – not a fashion statement. They were a bit small for Chris so admittedly he did look a bit gay in them. To add insult to injury the only bird he attracted was the one that shit on him from high above while he was sunbathing. Emily, Chris’s daughter, who is already a very talented pre-teen skier was there on crutches due to a hairline fracture in the foot. She was however determined to demonstrate that she is no less eccentric than her illustrious father as the following video clip shows. The clip is brief, but she has developed her own way of using a waterslide with crutches…


Chris finished 70th in 03:07 hrs.
Ian finished 115th in 03:21 hrs

Nothing much to say here - just a completly ridiculous time spent in the anaerobic zones. I cannot explain that yet - but perhaps my true "zones" have altered in the several weeks since they were last measured. Perhaps the CTS system of mearsurement is not that accurate either.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Day After

Monday 21st June 2010

Recovery Workout.

Keeping heart rate below 132bpm just went for a climb up to Granier on the mountain bike. Climbing to Granier (about 600m) normally takes about 35minutes on a racing bike, but today it took over an hour. My calf muscles were twitching and the left knee felt sore, muscularly, but it had done on waking in the morning. The objective was to see if a “recovery” workout would be useful or not. The sore knee felt better after warming up and the calf muscles settled down so it would seem that at least no damage was done.

Wednesday 22nd June 2010
Recovery Workout.
Another recovery workout on the mountain bike. Still feeling very tired so I resisted the temptation to work above 132bpm. This proved to be a good move because my initial enthusiasm faded into tiredness half way up the climb to the waterfall (820m climbing). Today being the second day of sunshine meant that the off road trails were dry and the opportunity for a real off road descent was available for the first time this year. It was a real pleasure although I was a bit over-cautious on the singletrack hairpin bends sometimes. Off road descending takes a bit of practise.

Thursday 24th June 2010
Excellent Workout with Paul

GPSies - Aime - Macot - Bourg St Maurice - Cormet de Roselend - Les Chapelles - Aime
Paul Evans paid a visit – over from Chamonix - and was very keen to get out and explore the area on a hired racing bike. Paul brought his own shoes and pedals – which is a very practical way to train properly on hired equipment. Unlike me Paul had fresh cycling legs, but was very short on training. The combination proved to be a good match for levels on the day, so we both got the best out of it. I chose the Cormet de Roselend so there would be a good clear objective and sense of achievement without straying too far from home if my still unrecovered body decided to reject me completely. Mentally I was absolutely resistant to working out but the legs didn’t quite agree, they seemed to have a reasonable amount of will of their own. Paul set the pace on the climb with his fresh energy and I just tagged along with my brain and legs in constant dialogue with each other – brain “Stop!”, legs “Go, on, accelerate!” etc.

Without Paul there it would definitely have been a rest day. I was very curious however to see what the result of pushing the body would be – whether it would delay the overall recovery from the weekend, or whether the recovery would proceed regardless the following day. I also didn’t know if the legs would work or not – but they seemed quite happy to do whatever their unwilling master (my brain) asked. Higher fitness means that “normal” rules don’t really apply any more so it would be an interesting test – though it was already taking a long time to recover from Sunday’s unaccustomed efforts. Paul tended to push hardest at the bottom of the climbs, which is normal when you are keen to get into it. It was a bit hard for me to adapt to the slightly uneven pace produced by Paul’s energy, but it was also a good exercise. Most of the climb for me was above Lactate Threshold – from Super Threshold into Anaerobic Threshold. It was mentally a bit hard to sustain this at times, but the body appeared to have plenty in reserve. I was glad that Paul was able to stretch me like this – because it is good practise for other times when the body is tired and the mind unwilling. It’s left me with more questions than answers regarding “recovery” and “over training”. What is really setting the levels? The body or the brain? In this case it clearly felt like the brain and not the body.

At the top of the Cormet at 2000m it was warm enough to sit in the sun in cycling shirts , rest, drink and enjoy the scenery a while before descending back into Bourg St Maurice for a coffee stop (Hey, this wasn’t a race!). With the road being dry and clean it made for a fun and fast descent into Bourg, though a bit less for Paul who was on a strange bike, unfamiliar roads and is not accustomed to Alpine hairpin bends. Paul had a close call – skidding the back wheel and brushing the bank at the side of the road with his arm – but he stayed up. It’s also hard getting used to the continental swapping of the rear brake to the right hand side. I’m only feeling confident to go fast downhill after several months of practise with those parameters on my own new bike – plus I spend all year throwing myself down hills. After Bourg we climbed up through Vulmix towards Les Chappeles and a trip home via the “Versant du Soleil” route. This time the climb was much shorter and surprisingly my legs were quite cooperative again and made the climb enjoyable – but still feeling Sunday’s aches and legacy with the occasional calf muscle twitch (never experienced prior to this week). At the summit of the climb we stopped at a view point so that I could point out the other routes in the area to Paul. Sitting there enjoying the sun we turned around to see Chris arriving – aiming for the same point where he likes to stop and stretch out his quads and back. The coincidence was appreciate by all and as we had all finished our real workouts for the day we could relax for a while in the early evening sun – with a great view of the valley extending before us. Not difficult to see why people in France love cycling!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Morzine - Valley d'Aulps

Sunday 20th June 2010

GPSies - Morzine

Snow, hail, driving rain, high and cold Northerly wind, 3900m of climbing (almost half way up Everest from sea level) and 100 miles with the toughest climb of all – the mythic Joux-Plane towards the end.
The goal was to survive and economise effort but this time the plan didn’t even survive the start.
The following mountain passes were the high altitude points :
Col de Joux Verte 1760m
Col de Corbier (1230 m)
Col du Grand Taillet (1035m)
Col de Jambaz (1027 m)
Col de Joux Plane (1712 m)
Col du Ran Folly (1650 m)

The Build Up
Driving to Morzine was complicated due to roadworks in the Gorge de l’Arly so I tried a different route over the mountains – via the Col de la Columbière (1618m). It poured rain all the 158km to Morzine and cyclists coming the other way climbing through the fog to the top of the Col de la Columbière looked like drowned rats. The scary part was that tomorrow’s race would be 160km on the bike and the weather was effectively worsening with snow level dropping to 1500m and strong Northerly winds forecast.
The event was organised by and they were shockingly useless at communication. The website stated that registration was at the Morzine Tourist Office until 8pm on Saturday night – but the unhelpful staff there just said “100m, right!” and left me to get on with it. Even with 17 years of living in France I couldn’t understand a word of the rest of her message. In fact was necessary to drive to the “”Palais de Sport et Congres”. Once there and 45 minutes before closing of registration I was again greeted by a miserable French woman already trying to pack up for the day. Before registering I called Chris to make sure he wanted to do this – but he was optimistic for the weather so I proceeded and registered both of us. Despite having driven there I was prepared to bail out if necessary. Unfortunately I left my most transparent lensed sunglasses on the table there and next day they denied having found them – miserable sods. I ended up as a result racing with dark sun glasses and hardly being able to see a thing all day.
Parking in Morzine was easy and there were several camper cars there – public toilets were open and also lively bars and restaurants nearby. I had eaten spaghetti for lunch so had lasagne for a main meal. The restaurant had mostly cyclists in it and one I spoke to told me that he had driven up to the first col that we had to climb in the morning and at 1700m it was snowing already! Normally this race has a turnout of over 1000 entrants – but it was looking set for a low turnout this time.
I found a café with WiFi and worked on programming a course for my GPS. It had only been possible to get a proper map from when registering at Morzine, and even then I had to ask for one as it wasn’t offered. Their website had been worse than useless; it had been misleading. There I bumped into a couple of French guys I met at the registration and as one had forgotten his helmet I called Chris and asked him to bring a spare in the morning for him. At around 1am I quit and went to bed having failed to generate the GPS map properly and regretting the lost time and lateness. At least the exercise had made me very familiar with the route plan.
6 am and the alarm sounded. I had been soaked with sweat during the night in my thin down sleeping bag despite the low temperatures outside – so was glad to get up and dressed. Warm full length winter leggings and removable sleeves were obligatory today (despite it being almost the longest day of the year), plus an extra shirt and an effective waterproof windproof jacket. I also had a Goretex under-helmet hat on and warmer full fingered neoprene gloves to carry. Waterproof covers went over the shoes because once they are wet they stay wet so that is best avoided. Breakfast was a rapidly cooked porridge with banana and the heat from the stove was very welcome. The temperature on the cols had apparently dropped to 0°C. Morzine is at about 1000m altitude so it was a bit warmer, about 5°C.
The race was due to start at 08 am and so at about 7 am I started to drive around Morzine to find a bar or café open. Fortunately there was a hotel bar open and they were happy to serve coffee to the public. Inside there were two German competitors having breakfast and looking rather worried. Sitting down to a good warm coffee I telephoned Chris to find his whereabouts on the road and tell him where to find this hotel. Unfortunately Chris was only passing through Megève and the likelihood of him arriving in time was unbelievably slim to say the least. We arranged that I’d leave Chris’s electronic tag and race number on the top of one of my van wheels so he could find it in the car park – if he didn’t make the start of the race. Leaving the hotel warm and fresh I drove to the car park for last minute pre-race preparations. Not wanting to abandon Chris I decided to stay close to the car park as long as possible and warmed up just outside on the road that was about to be closed for the start. At the very last minute Chris miraculously appeared – he must have driven like a lunatic to make it – but the roads are empty early Sunday morning. It was a mad dash into the car park and I prepared Chris’s bike and attached the number while he got ready. During this process we heard the claxon for the race start – we missed it!
The Race
Talk about a stressful start! Chris is normally ultra cool in comparison to most people but this time even he was stretched to the limit. I led Chris out of the parking area on the bikes as I knew where the start was and we managed to get onto the main road just before the pack of cyclists arrived. We then had to descend towards the start, perhaps 300m against the oncoming cyclists – which was a little dodgy to say the least. At the start there was another large group lined up for a departure, so we verified that the group that had left already was the 160km one and not the short course – which was the case. Thoughtfully, Chris went in front of the start line and all the people there and took his bike over the wires on the ground and back again – followed by me – so as to register the electronic tags. Then we had to get going and chase the pack before they got too far away. It was now Chris’s dedicated job to pull me up to the peloton as we were going to have to work extra hard to catch an already fast moving bunch. Before leaving the loop inside Morzine we had overtaken the Voiture Balai (Sweeper up van) which amusingly had a broom attached to the side to make it clear to everyone what why it would be driving slowly. Those poor guys had 160km to drive at about 16 km/hr to stay behind the stragglers. They could have technically disqualified us as we were already behind it. It’s actually the first time I’ve ever seen a voiture balai!
We caught the peloton after about 4km and worked our way towards the front. So much for a relaxed, energy sparing start for the gruelling day ahead. My heart rate had been at 98% max for most of the chase, without a proper warm up – and we were already heading for the first big climb of the day, then the rain had started, if only deceptively lightly at this stage.
At the first climb I told Chris that I would proceed at my pace now that we were in the peloton and so that he was free to climb at his own pace. The attack on the first climb starting at 900m altitude (Col de Joux Verte 1760m) was quite aggressive, perhaps because everyone wanted to get warm. The Col de Joux Vert is a special loop up one valley and up a high ridge to Avoriaz , then descending right back to Morzine and eventually back along the same road that we had used when leaving Morzine at the start. This provided an easy bail out option which I’m sure would have been used by quite a few. Some people appeared to be struggling straight away on the climb and were rapidly dropped behind, but most of the riders around me were attacking quite hard so I decided to let them go and not to overdo it myself at this early stage. 3km from the top of the col it started to snow at around 1500m altitude and we still had to get up to 1760m. Around this point I came across the one legged/one arm cyclist who was in the Time Megève competition a few weeks earlier. He can’t climb that fast so it appears that he must start a little earlier than the rest – but whatever this guy is missing in limbs he certainly compensates for it magnificently elsewhere. The climb took about an hour and I was in the anaerobic threshold zone the entire way until the final 10 minutes when I hit the “red line” anaerobic zone. By the end of the climb I’d caught up with all the guys who overtook me at the start and actually thought I’d been a bit reckless and that they’d soon have me for dinner – but they didn’t! The overtaking continued on the descent back down to Morzine, but with the body becoming chilled and fingers and feet getting very cold. It was still relatively dry in Morzine but the descent was wet and speed had to be controlled. Passing through Morzine at 1000m altitude the descent continued down the Valley d’Aulps to 726m altitude before starting the next climb up to the Col de Corbier (1230m). At this point, one of the riders I’d overtaken on the descent caught me up and started to pass. Talking to him I found out that he was English and he was certainly climbing strongly, but he didn’t seem to want to say much so I said goodbye and shouted (optimistically) that I’d see him on the other side. My excess weight was slowing down the climbing as usual, but I was still relatively confident of making up the lost time on the descents, long flats, more gentle climbs and oddly, the very steep climbs – where less strong cyclists seem to crumble. I noticed he was using a bigger gear and his cadence was slower than mine, so I figured that he might pay for that several hours later as his leg muscles tired. I worked hard at keeping a high cadence and stayed in low gears nearly all the time when climbing – taking the load off the legs and putting it on the cardiovascular system instead. Someone abandoned and was coming back down the other way – but he would still have a fair hike back to Morzine. Further on I found out why he quit. Right at the top of the col there was a blast of cold north wind to greet us, followed by hail and then torrential rain on the descent on narrow winding roads littered with branches and leaves blown off the bordering trees.
At the top of this col – as with most of the others, there was a refreshments stand so I stopped briefly to fill up a bottle with plain water- only to find that in almost 3 hours I hardly drunk any at all – not even half a bottle of sports drink. Having stopped pedalling I was able to quickly swallow most of the contents of one bottle and then had it filled with water while I grabbed a handful of dried papaya from the stand. Less than a minute later I was back on my way and trying to eat the papaya with one had while descending in hail and wind at the same time. The plain water had been collected to drink along with a sports gel later on and in case of a thirst which never came. In total during the 07:44hrs I only managed to drink about half a litre of liquid. This was probably not due to the cold but to the great difficulty in consuming anything when the body is generating lots of lactic acid and you feel constantly close to vomiting as a result. Descending from the Col de Corbier my legs went numb with the wet cold. My feet were already very cold and had been since the descent to Morzine and it seemed like the waterproof shoe covers were only keeping water in and not out, but the feet and body cold were not getting any worse so I accepted it and then forgot about it for the rest of the day.
Descending to 525m altitude after the Corbier certainly helped deal with the cold as it gets about 1°C warmer with each 100m of descent – and you can really feel the difference. From about this point onwards we were also helped by turning out of the strong North wind and getting it more or less behind us after having had it face on for most of the day so far. This was the start of the long way up to the Col de Jambaz (1027m) which began with a hard climb up a steep set of hairpin bends. I skipped the refreshment stand at the top of the tough hairpins and saw quite a few riders hiding there sheltering from the lashing rain, but this just encouraged me to push on harder alone. The English guy was one of the riders sheltering and eating so I had been right about catching him up. In fact the Corbier was the only stop I’d make during the race – there was no point stopping again as I was already carrying an excess of water and food. After the hairpins there were long descents and climbs where eventually I felt my head starting to feel a bit fuzzy – which is the first sign of low blood sugar level. This was about 4hrs since the start so that was pretty much to be expected. Had I been more capable of feeding properly during effort then this would not have been happening. Emergency procedure then took over and I opened a large triple portion 100 gram gel and swallowed the lot, then a little (too little) water to help digest it. It worked because 15 minutes later my head was clear again and energy levels holding up surprisingly well. Timing was good because about then a strong club rider caught me up and we had just started a very long gradual climb up to the Col de Jambaz. I accelerated up to his rhythm and started to work with him. I seemed stronger on the flats and so pulled from the front then and he was stronger on the gradual climbs and he sheltered and pulled me. It was good team work and excellent for the moral on an otherwise soul destroying section. I’d had absolutely no intention of going so fast and hard for so long and was almost dropped a few times on the climb. In fact I was dropped once but caught up again on a slight descent. We eventually reached the col together and then worked the long descent down to 623m together. During the descent and along the flats - which would cover 40kms we worked relentlessly together without a word exchanged. This section would end at 701m altitude and although we caught up with several other riders only one stayed with us and contributed. Eventually though my partner dropped off the back and I ended up with a new partner who did most of the work on the last stretch. The Englishman had already caught me again and passed me early on when I was isolated on a climb, but now with my new partner we caught him up again just in time for the biggest climb of the day. When we arrived at the bottom of the climb up the Col de Joux Plane (1712m altitude = 1000m climb over 12km) I asked my current partner if this was the start of the climb and when he said yes I said well “au revoir” as I fully expected to grind to a standstill. He laughed and said – “yes, but it’s the beginning of the end.” in French. He did progressively pull away in front but I believe that in the end I beat him due to the time difference recorded electronically from having started the race several minutes later than everyone else. The Englishman also pulled away ahead, predictably, at the start of the climb. Fully anticipating drastic failure at this juncture in the race it was no surprise to see the others pulling away. What was a surprise was that at a short plateau (the only one in the climb) I caught up and left the Englishman behind again. Several times already today I’d had similar surprises when I found unexpected power that left other apparently stronger riders behind. The legs were tired now and although not particularly low on energy it was becoming a simple matter of how much strength was left in the legs. At first glance it appeared that the strategy of high cadence and low force on the pedals during all the climbing had paid off – but there was also another unexpected factor, namely, the loss of half a stone in weight (3kg+). Never having cycled anything remotely so hard I hadn’t thought to factor in such a dramatic weight loss – but it undoubtedly made the final climb much more manageable. At times I was in bottom gear just standing up on the pedals to slowly and smoothly use body weight to keep them turning – there was so little strength left in the legs for the really steep sections. At the bottom of the climb the sun had come out for the first time and it felt almost warm. I even had to open the neck of my waterproof slightly – but that didn’t last long as the temperature dropped during the climb. Eventually I started chatting with the Englishman who had remained close behind me and we covered the final 5 km together. It might seem like no one would want to talk under such exertion but the opposite is the case because it takes your mind off the pain, difficulty and distance to go. I think we were both very glad for the distraction. He had driven all the way over from Surrey for the race so he couldn’t really bail out due to bad weather. I was probably the only person he’d spoken to during the race because his French was minimal. We made a final turn towards the summit, hoping for the gradient to flatten out a bit, but it didn’t. In front of us was a long steep climb all the way to the top – utterly relentless. Englishman decided to stop to get some food or something but there was no way I was going to interrupt my rhythm. He was probably only about 150 meters behind at the summit, but that gap eventually grew to several minutes by the end of the race so I made the right choice to go ahead. What a sense of relief and exhausted satisfaction to reach the summit – despite being hit once again by the cold North wind. Satisfaction was short lived however because after an extremely short descent there was another climb to Col du Ran Folly (1650m). It really felt like this day had been conceived by some sadist from hell.
All of this last section of the race, including the Col de Joux-Plane, is the summer route to Morzine. Descending from the final col back into Morzine was quite steep and technical but dry – just as I like it. I think that Alpine skiing skills come into play on such descents because many of the same dynamics are involved. Some people descend more aggressively than me but I’m convinced that they are pushing the envelope a bit too much. Recent deaths and scores of accidents would appear to justify that view. Half way down to Morzine I ran into a herd of cattle being driven up the road, but keeping my nerve I kept up some speed and hoping that the beasts wouldn’t panic and erratically leap around I just thread a line through them. Luckily the animals didn’t pay the slightest attention to me and so no time was lost and I wasn’t gored to death. I knew that Englishman would stop because he was polite and respectful. I’d already seen him stop at a red traffic light – which no Frenchman would dream of doing in a race and neither would I. If the course was being properly managed (which it wasn’t) then there would have been a race traffic control on the light anyway stopping any oncoming cars and letting us through.
At the bottom of the climb Morzine had to be traversed for a third time. Construction work in the centre meant that the finish was 8 km away near the start of the first climb that we did in the morning. There were a few longish gentle climbs to make along this road and for the first time I felt a dull deep pain in my thighs. This is the same pain that I’d felt on my first ever race, the “Pré Alpes” near Chambery the previous year, but then it was after 3:30hrs not 7:30hrs. By the time I’d crossed the flats the leg pain had disappeared and now there was a final 3 km climb to the finish from 900m to 1070m altitude – not a great deal but quite steep in parts and most unwelcome. I managed to get my work rate back up on the climb and to get the heart rate back into the Lactate Threshold zone, which confirmed that the leg pain had not been an overall energy issue but just related to muscle tiredness.
On the climb up to the finish Chris came flying downhill the opposite way but neither of us properly recognised each other in time. I didn’t really want Chris to stop because I wanted to focus on getting this last stretch over and keeping up a reasonable pace – which was now taking a lot of concentration. (Chris said I was grimacing as he passed – which doesn’t surprise me) Crossing the finish line was simply a relief and getting off the bike didn’t feel too great. When the body stops, that’s when the stress of the effort seems to hit you. For a few moments you just need to recover and walk a bit.
The Aftermath
Chris had finished only 27 minutes earlier but had already eaten a pasta meal and cleared out because it was cold and windy. I’d expected to be about 90 minutes or more behind Chris – but must admit I’d really raised my output level a lot in this race. He had to cycle 8km back to Morzine but fortunately found another road which spared the climbing. He telephoned me from the car park (I had my mobile with me all day) and offered to come and collect me after my meal – an offer I couldn’t refuse. I ate my meal alongside a Frenchman who had already changed into dry clothing. Despite this he couldn’t sit still as he was shaking so much from the cold. Guillaume – one of the young French guys I’d met the evening before had finished about 15 minutes before me but ended up in the ambulance because he couldn’t stop shaking uncontrollably with the cold. He hadn’t been wearing quite enough clothing. That morning he had been the one waiting for a helmet from Chris – and fortunately he was given one from the organisers when Chris turned up late. His friend Andre came in about 10 minutes after me and joined me at the meal. He looked quite relaxed and surprisingly happy. When Chris turned up to collect me he asked if we could also give him and Guillaume a lift too, but Chris’s Taliban truck was not suitable. I offered to come back for them in my van. Chris’s Taliban truck would only accommodate my precious bicycle on the outside deck, secured with bungees. Normally I would have vigorously refused this horrendous abuse but I was in no fit state to complain. In the event the bike only lost some surface of the side of the beautiful white saddle – but nothing worse.
At the car park, changing in the van, Chris was amazed at how wet my socks and shoes were when I took the “waterproof” covers off. That system was an abject failure. It later took two days with a ski boot heater to dry the shoes. Chris looked almost unrecognisable from fatigue – the entire day’s events catching up with him. He just wanted to go for a warm coffee, but I had to get back for the French guys still stuck in the cold so we said goodbye and Chris set off, intending to stop at a café on the return trip through Cluses. Andre was ready waiting at my return to the finish area and Guillaume had sensibly remained in the warm ambulance. They were both in good spirits and grateful for the assistance. I was very happy to help out. There’s not much good that I can say about the race organisation though. Even the food was crap.
Driving home after the race was a little bit difficult due simply to tiredness and the narrow mountain roads. I still didn’t have much of an appetite in the evening so didn’t bother with a proper meal. Sleeping wasn’t a problem, but next morning there was a bit of a muscular ache around the left knee – my slightly weaker knee due to accumulated skiing injuries and surgery. From about the waist down everything did feel like it had been through a bit of a wringer though. I’d felt that even during the climb up Joux-Plane, the aches start around about the level of the kidneys and extend downwards through the various muscle systems. Lying there in bed in the morning there is no comfortable position to be found so the only solution is to get up early and get active. Later on in the day I went out for a recovery run on my mountain bike – intending to keep the heart rate below 132 bpm. The knee ached to begin with but after warming up properly the ache almost vanished. The legs however were very weak and the calf muscles were regularly twitching when making an effort. It’s now the third day since the race and my legs have recovered about 50% from the maximum fatigue level – but they still feel relatively weak. Tomorrow they should feel good so today will include another recovery workout and tomorrow a proper harder workout in preparation for next week’s race. The next race has several mythic cols to climb and with 3000m of climbing over 130km it will only be about ¾ of the scale of this previous race – a perfect tapering for the giant “Marmotte” event in two weeks’ time.
One day after the race – Weight 70.4kg, Blood Pressure 104/61, Resting Heart rate 41bpm

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hautecoeur Training Session

Thursday 18th June

Basic training session. Wanted to test out my Garmin 305 unit in a tunnel – to see if (as claimed by Garmin Support) it would switch to the speed sensor on the bike when the GPS signal was lost. It didn’t – so the stupid unit just freezes until leaving the tunnel – completely losing 1.6km of data. Garmin are too crap to update the firmware. I’m now waiting until low power Bluetooth comes on the market – that will be great. It means that Garmin and all the rest can be dumped and an AGPS telephone can be used instead, with detection of Bluetooth Heart Rate and Speed sensors. This will be great because with a smartphone everything can be carried in one compact unit on your bike – the potential is enormous – but the technology is only just starting to emerge.

It’s the first time I’d tackled the climb to Hautecoeur in this direction and from Moutiers. At almost 1000m vertical it’s a considerable climb, but the road surface is quite good and there is very little traffic. I didn’t want to tire myself out too much so decided to work on increasing my cadence, which is usually abysmally slow when climbing. For the first time ever I managed a big climb with an average cadence between 70 and 80 rpm. Physiologically I don’t know how this works really. The legs get tired and eventually tie up just through spinning so fast – just like doing light weight but rapid arm curls causes the blood to pump up your biceps to the point that they can’t move any more. Perhaps that increases your circulation over time and that’s how it works? It’s certainly hard to sustain such a high cadence when climbing but strangely, by the end of the session the legs don’t feel too whacked out.

Arriving at the top of the climb, I was greeted by the heavens opening up with a torrential downpour, making the descent slippery and dangerous as the road near the top is more of a trail than a normal road, with green moss growing on the surface in parts. During a better season the main risk here is slightly different because often the heat of the road surface attracts vipers – protected by law and food for the many eagles and other birds of prey in the area. I always worry if they can still get me while I’m on the bike, but that’s a bit silly. Snakes are pretty common in the mountains here. Despite wearing a rain top on the descent it was pretty chilly due to the cold rain. Worst of all on the bike is that your feet get soaked and cold very quickly. The temperature rise during the descent was very noticeable – each 100m vertical bringing about a 1°C increase on average. It was about 17°C at 700m (Altitude at Aime) so it would have been about 10°C at the top. Not warm for this time of year. Apparently in some parts of the Alps it had been snowing down to 1600m and in the Tour de Suisse stage today they were going over mountain passes at 2400m altitude and at 0°C. Must be global warming again!

SportTracks analysis shows me that a workout of this magnitude (01:40hrs and 1750 calories) each two days is just enough to maintain current fitness level. The weekend races is what is really building fitness now.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Tuesday 15th June

Good training session on the flat between Aguieblanch and Ugine – 65km there and back. Two days off since the last race and I just wanted to sleep this morning. The Cyclo JPP was so tiring that I didn’t do any recovery exercise the following two days and so fell into a sort of total physical stupor. Half an hour on the bike and the legs – and head - were working fine again.
Deliberately avoided slipstreaming Chris on the flats in order to get a more vigorous workout. There was a bit of a headwind on the way to Albertville and that combined with a few incoming telephone calls, lost waterbottles and fountain refills, our pace was a bit slow at just under 30kph. We corrected this on the way back – despite it being a slight overall climb with one short but steep hill and the return pace was over 32kph.

On the way into Albertville we saw the unmistakeable grey and blue shirts of the Sky team coming the other way – with Bradley Wiggins and a couple of others. They were on their way to check out the Col de la Madeline which will be the toughest stage of the Tour de France this year. They were just starting out with the team bus parked about 100m behind them so we went flashing past the other way making them look suitably slow! Thank goodness we hadn’t decided to climb the Col or it would have been very demoralising when they motored past us. We had also been told to expect to encounter Contador and the Astana team doing the same thing that day – but there was no sign of them.

On the way back we had stepped the pace up a little and Chris did his usual little acceleration at the top of each climb – which always makes my legs burn just trying to stay with him. I’ve learned during the long races that a higher cadence permits a much easier adjustment of pace, so by using a higher cadence it is easier to respond to those small accelerations. It seems to take some time to develop the ability to use a high cadence, but also it seems to be something to work towards that really pays off.

Towards the end of the session there is a steep climb and I knew that Chris would want to push it, so I decided to slipstream for a while and recover my legs a bit – whilst hopefully tiring out Chris at the same time. Right on cue at the bottom of the climb Chris challenged me to a race to the top. I stood up and accelerated leaving Chris behind – so he responded by doing the same and quickly caught me and left me well behind – about 30 meters or so. I noticed him slowing as his legs tied up so I went for it again but slightly less hard and surprised him by catching up and overtaking again. Chris thought that he had blown it, but then my legs tied up and he recovered just enough to get back in front to the top. Interestingly my heart rate went up to 181 again – the previous time on this hill it was at 183. In both training and racing, CTS field test, Power Intervals and everything else I cannot get my heart above 173 so have had to settle for 173 as max heart rate reference for establishing training zones. There appears however to be special conditions when the real max is much higher – but whether this is relevant to setting training zones I simply don’t know.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cyclo JPP Les Carroz

Saturday 12 June 2010

GPSies - Cyclo JPP 2010

One very tough course! This is the first time ever for this new event which was very professionally organised and a great success with over 800 participants over two distances, 80 and 120 kilometres.

The race was to start in Cluses which is in Haute Savoie at round 450m altitude, situated between Geneva and Chamonix. The race finish was at Les Carroz at 1140m altitude so it was to be my first ever mountain top finish – not something I was really looking forward to at the end of a 120km race after about 2800m of climbing!

The Build-Up (If not interested in the build-up then scroll down to “The Race”)
There were a few difficulties with the organisation however. Online registration finished on the Thursday and in-situ registration finished on Friday – so you couldn’t just turn up early Saturday morning and get on the race. Chris and I both registered online and I decided to go to Cluses on Friday to find out where everything was and collect our start numbers etc. avoiding problems on the Saturday morning. It was also too far to drive to in the morning from the Tarantaise valley and hope to collect the numbers in time. It was obviously going to be more complicated than usual with the start and finish in different places.

On Thursday I’d managed a very high intensity training session and seemed to have overdone it a little. It was as if I’d temporarily become Homer Simpson. Everything I was doing became muddled, uncoordinated and borderline confusion, feeling cold, tired and in a bad mood. Not ideal preparation. Finding the “village de depart” on Friday was easy as there were arrows throughout Cluses leading to it. This start (and registration) location was however about 3km outside the town in an industrial zone with no cafes, bars or refreshments available (and none on race morning). It’s tradition to have a pre-race caffeine fix and one last go at lightening your intestinal load so this was not ideal. I drove around after registration and realised that the only likely place to find a bar in the morning was right at the entrance to Cluses and 3km from the start. I didn’t want to park up for the night near the industrial zone or in the town because it was a bit sinister. Surrounding the zone was a lot of cheap densely packed council housing with hundreds of big parabolic antennas – which in France means a dense Arab population. They all have parabolas so they can watch Moroccan or other Arab television. I didn’t want my van set on fire while I was sleeping in it so decided to park up at Les Carroz – which was recommend by the course organisers. Prior to going up to Les Carroz I decided to eat and spotted a restaurant called “L’Etape” – which seemed like an “etape” or “stage” of the Tour de France. It also said “buffet à volonté” so it seemed like a great place to eat. In my confusion and tiredness I almost ended up on the motorway instead and went through several junctions totally in the opposite direction from the road direction – with fortunately no-one coming the other way. Still, I got to the restaurant, paid in advance for a “menu” and settled in for an absolutely disgusting meal. It turned out to be a truckers stop and instead of eating high quality carbohydrates – “racing fuel” - in preparation for the race the next day, I ended up eating the equivalent of diesel and feeling even worse.

I drove up to Les Carroz and the parking was almost empty so it seemed like a peaceful place to spend the night. Then I realised I’d forgotten my head torch so couldn’t see anything inside the van. I’d also forgotten my foot pump so couldn’t set my tyre pressure in the morning – so things were steadily degenerating. All through the night there were stupid locals revving their engines, booming car speakers and just abject stupidity everywhere – it didn’t stop all night right into daylight. At 3:30am it started to rain. I felt rotten after stuffing myself with the wrong food and had nightmares when I did manage to sleep a bit. In the morning at 6am I cooked porridge in the van and ate it without pleasure then mixed my high energy paste to eat along with a sports drink during the next hour or so – but it was absolutely vile and impossible to swallow. Perhaps I ate half of it. It was cold and raining at altitude so I put on several layers of clothing and rain proof covers to stop my cycling shoes from getting soaked through on the descent to Cluses. Prior to descending and leaving the van at Les Carroz I borrowed a foot pump from someone but the gauge seemed faulty and later on (borrowed Chris’s pump before the race) found that I’d pumped up to 130psi instead of the maximum 110psi. Anyway, I left a key hidden by the van so that Chris could access it after the race if required and then descended to Cluses in the rain and cot gold and a wet bum. It was a horrible descent and I felt like I’d rather go home than go racing. At the entrance to Cluses I found a friendly bar open as predicted and telephoned Chris to tell him were to aim for on his arrival. He was driving over from Tarantaise that morning so would be on a tight time margin. When Chris arrived I’d already had a coffee and was feeling a bit better. I dumped all my extra clothing in Chris’s Taliban truck and then discovered my GPS/Distance/Heart Rate Montior unit had a totally flat battery – yet another screw up! This was horrific! I’d have absolutely no reference of speed, distance, heart rate or anything during the course and my feeling of dependence on this technology never felt greater than at this moment of utter helplessness. You just feel that you cannot go out on the bike – you feel naked without this gadget. In the end I dumped the GPS along with the extra clothing in Chris’s car keeping only my telephone so that I’d have a clock in my pocket if required. This also meant that Chris could leave with my kit in his car after the race and I’d still have communications – it’s all so complicated!!! What I didn’t know is that the organisers had previsioned this scenario and gave out stick on numbers for rucksacks which would then be left at the start full of gear, to be transported by them to the finish where they would be collected after the race. None of this information was written or easily available. I’d also decided to park at altitude due to the thought of finishing the race exhausted in pouring rain and then having to descend again to Cluses – it seemed much better to descend in the morning etc. – but that was wrong! I gave Chris his electronic number for his bike and his sponsor’s shirt to wear – which I’d collected for him the day before. They had also asked for a 40 euro cash deposit for the electronic tags – another thing they didn’t warn about – and another reason for doing this sort of thing well in advance.

We cycled the 3km to the start with 10 minutes left and most of the 800 contestants already there. Typically we climbed over the barriers with the bikes right at the front, braving any potential criticism, ready to respond with “sorry don’t understand French…”. Prior to the start there was a minute of silence with helmets and sunglasses off in respect of two cyclosportives who had died the week precedent. I know of “Boris” of course from the Time race but didn’t find out who the second one was. (Will add more about Boris at the end.)

The Race

The race started under a grey sky and because the start was a bit complicated it was led out by a security car. This makes it feel like the “real thing”. It’s amazing the buzz of an organised event like this – everyone seems to be pumped up with adrenaline due to the sense of occasion. The security car had to fight to keep everyone behind it. The mass start was interesting because the security and the police had blocked all the lanes on the road so we could practically use all of it, making for quite a fast start. There was very little climbing for the first 20km so that allowed the peloton to remain relatively intact. This one of my favourite parts of the race because I’m not in danger of being dumped just yet. I’m only waiting for the first steep climb to be shot out of the back of the peloton. The organisers had added a small deviation called the Cote d’Ayse which took us uphill for a stretch but it was worth fighting to remain with the peloton as it was obviously not the start of the real climbing. Once you lose the peloton then you lose all the advantage afforded by slipstreaming in a fast group.

The climbing began in earnest at Faucigny, 20km after the start with a frist climb of around 5km, the Cote d’Hyot. Despite not having a heart rate monitor I knew the level I could push myself without burning out too early so I just had to let people overtake. The only ones I overtook looked like they were really not fit and they would definitely be doing the much easier short course. One rider who passed me at this point was No. 40, a till thin man with black top, red shorts, shoe covers and properly shaved and tanned legs. He slowly left me behind on the climb. I was already aware of neglecting to drink my sports drink but I’d probably watered and eaten enough before the start, though I was determined to start sipping small amounts on the first climb at least. Descending the other side of this climb to Viuz-en- Sallaz the course split at the bottom into the 120 and the 80km routes and the climb to the Col de Plaine Joux began for our 120km route. This was the first big climb of the day, but it wasn’t quite as difficult as expected. At the top of this col at the refreshment stand I put on a rain jacket as the dark grey skies and lack of sun made it a bit chilly at altitude. I’d felt a bit chilled even when climbing but put it down to generally not feeling great anyway. The terrain after the descent from Plaine Joux was undulating – either up or down and most people were working at their own pace, with little gained from working with others and slipstreaming. The next climb was the big one of the day – the Col de la Ramaz and it was hard with sections over 16% gradient. Even worse, you could see the road way up above as it filed through a tunnel built into the cliffs and you knew that you were heading up there. One guy overtook me and about 20 minutes later ground to a halt. He was using standard gearing (53/39 teeth chainwheels and probably 12/25 rear) and could hardly push his pedals over. My “compact” (50/34) gearing was perfect (11/28 rear). A couple of people overtook me spinning away with a higher cadence using a triple chainwheel (typically 53/39/30)– but I preferred having the higher gearing with the view that it would build strength in the long run and that by going faster in the future I’d have that faster cadence and better times.

The tunnel was at just about the steepest part of this long climb and sat at the entrance to the tunnel was a fat lady who had been earlier waiting at another part of the course and encouraging everybody. Her “encouragement” here was to shout to everybody (remember most were just about falling off their bikes) that it was OK, there were ONLY 3kms to the top! That was not something we wanted to hear. She could have told us that it flattened out just a little bit ahead and that would have been appreciated. At the top of the Col de la Ramaz I took advantage of the refreshments to drink some sweet drinks, fill up one bottle with water and eat a few sweet things on offer. Prior to the climb I’d already eaten an energy bar followed by some sports drink but had stomach cramps since. The cramps weren’t enough to worry about but they discouraged me from consuming more until now. The descent from the Col de la Ramez was very steep and potentially very fast, but also very dangerous. I took it easy and remained safe with over 10km constantly on the brakes. It’s for this reason that you have to use wheels with aluminium rims. Carbon rims can’t withstand the constant braking and temperatures over 100°C. This race was in the same region as the “Time” Megève race last week and perhaps people had the fatal accident in mind because despite the steep dramatic descents I saw no sign of accident all day long – though something could have happened behind me and I wouldn’t have known.

After the descent from the Col de la Ramez there was a quite a lot of flat terrain with a headwind. I was caught by another rider who seemed stronger, was able to rest in his slipstream and after a few minutes of recovery was able to share the work and keep up a fast pace. In the distance was No. 40 with his red shorts and we rapidly wound him in, but he just latched on to us and wasn’t able to contribute much. Speaking to the other rider it seemed apparent that we were both on the limits of cramping, but Red Shorts clearly couldn’t help out. Just as we entered a small village we reeled in another rider who had been several hundred meters ahead and as this one seemed stronger I was looking forwards to having someone else to share the workload. Just then we hit a short steep incline and I stomped hard on the pedals and kept a high gear to keep speed up. It seems that the others didn’t have the same idea because they literally vanished behind me. I slowed down a bit and kept looking behind when on the next straight but couldn’t see them so there was no point waiting. Shame! The headwind was still significant and the road long. During this period I started to feel not just the pain in the legs but a distinctive fuzzy feeling in my head, so I made a point of consuming my remaining sports drink. There was one more small hill named the Col de Chatillon before the return to Cluses and predictably two of the stronger riders who I’d dumped earlier caught me up on it but there was no sign of Red Shorts. On the descent from the col down to Cluses I realised what I should have realised some considerable time earlier, that I needed to consume more food. I opened a large 100gram energy gel, or slime and swallowed the lot. It actually went down much more easily than expected, perhaps because of descending and not breathing hard. Drinking water helped to wash it down and to be absorbed in the stomach and intestines. The organisers had made a big unexpected loop winding its way through Cluses. Support from the police and security was impressive, manning all the junctions perfectly and stopping all traffic. It’s a great feeling when they stop cars and let you go through the red lights. I went all though this on my own – no one in sight in front and only at the end of the town was I caught up by a few others from behind. There were still a couple of kilometres to the base of the final climb up to Les Carroz so it was good to at least have a few others to hitch a lift from and relax the legs slightly before the final test. At this point I honestly didn’t think I’d make it to the top. Even the idea of climbing 700m steep, vertical metres at the end of a 120km race just didn’t seem realistic to someone who only a few months ago suffered legs that literally would not work after just half that distance and amount of climbing in relatively easy training.

The Finish

With the final climb I slowed down to a subsistence pace and was steadily caught up and overtaken by a few now familiar faces. My goal was just to survive to the top. At about 5.5km from the finish Chris, who had already finished was coming back down the mountain and spotted me, so he stopped and turned around to join me and chat for a few minutes. We had a relaxed chat for a few minutes and at 5km from the finish we parted company. Chris had noticed that I was discussing as if I was out on a Sunday stroll and didn’t seem like someone battling to survive or race to the finish.

He was polite enough not to say anything, but I noticed it too and believe that it was the big gel that I’d consumed finally kicking in. While talking to Chris, Red Shorts managed to catch up and pass me again – after all he had done so on every big climb. Shortly after Chris left I had the mad inspiration to step on the gas and see what would happen. It didn’t take long to catch up and burn off Red Shorts – well he wasn’t that strong on the flats so why should it be different here? From then on, instead of backing off I just got faster and overtook everyone who had passed me on the climb then started to catch up with others. In the last kilometre I reeled in two guys from almost 300m ahead. One of them saw me coming so he stood up and accelerated and managed to stop me from closing the gap. Once he steadied the gap he kept looking back to check and I was a steady 30m behind just as he was arriving at the summit where it flattens out for the finish. He considered me done. I had other intentions so moved up a gear then stood up and started a full blown sprint. The Canyon bike is incredibly responsive and light and I was amazed by the acceleration and that I had no problems finding the strength to do it. I went tearing past him right at the top of the hill and he let out a cry as he hadn’t seen me coming and it was too late to respond – his efforts to accelerate were in vain. The end of the race was very surprising and even more enjoyable than the start.

Results in full at...

Chris placed 129th in 4hr 45min
I placed 276th in 5hr 32min

There were at 363 finishers, 9 disqualified and 12 abandoned.
On the shorter 80km course there were 364 participants.

Boris Revisited.

Returning home to the Tarantaise valley mean’t a trip right down the course we had ridden a week earlier on the bikes – right past the spot where Boris had been killed. I wanted to find out a bit more so made a point of stopping there. There is a ravine with the road descending down one side, crossing a bridge and continuing to descend, although lower, down the other side. Chris and I had stopped there last week for some food after the race because there is a small restaurant there right before the bridge.I went in for a coffee and asked a few questions. The Bridge there is the Pont de Flon and the accident took place just about 150 meters before the restaurant - uphill. Basically after a very fast descent the turn to the right, on the inside lane (right) sharpens abruptly and so Boris had simply not made it – he did a “tout droit” as they say in cycling where you just carry on straight. His bike was stopped by the low wall and the tyre mark was still there along with bumper marks from a lot of vehicles who had more luck than Boris. Boris effectively flew off his bike leaving it behind and on the other side is a horrific 80m cliff with nothing to stop him right to the bottom. It would have been like diving off an 80m high block of flats – just not survivable. It was the only spot where this could have happened – a really freak set of circumstances, but an incredibly dangerous corner all the same. We had been slowed down on the corner by some of the people assisting after the event and I’d seen the ambulance lower down after the bridge because that’s where they had to go to access him. I’d thought that he had crashed there and the road is really bad there – but it wasn’t so bad where he really crashed – though there were cracks and ruts that could have made him lose control. When you look at the road though you can see how it would have happened with simply too much speed.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I don't like pain!

I don’t like the pain. So why do this? Well, it seems that with persistence, whatever you think your limits are turns out to be a sort of illusion. I say “sort” of illusion because pain is as real as anything, but it’s the belief that goes along with it that is an illusion. The belief that pain instils in you is that you are defined by this currently impassable limit. It’s just great how training and correct preparation constantly proves this wrong. So why do this? Perhaps it’s a process of constantly re-defining yourself – of learning and being surprised in a positive reinforcing way. Sounds a bit like art really.

Thursday 10 June 2010, Weight 72.4kg, Blood Pressure 110/60, Resting HR 49

Today’s workout was the last one prior to another monster race on Saturday – this time in Haute Savoie. I kept the session short and high intensity. Very high intensity. After 10 minutes warm up on the climb to Macot I started to push hard when turning onto the climb up to La Plagne – which is steep at the bottom. The aim was to get above Lactate Threshold and stay there. This was achieved for 40 minutes, steadily raising the heart rate all the way into the anaerobic zone for the final 6 minutes. Despite working at close to maximum I was overtaken by a local Macot/La Plagne club member – but he was skinny as a rake.

He seemed surprised that I managed to accelerate and stay quite close but while he was certainly going up to 2000m altitude I was only aiming for about 1500 so he had nothing to worry about. The Macot/La Plagne club has some of the best amateur hill climbers in France so I was not surprised. Regardless of my current desire to lose 10 kilos I hope never to be as skinny as that! The wind was very strong and the lightweight bike felt really unsafe when descending. I can understand now why they impose a 6.8kg minimum weight limit in professional racing.
Using “Body Mass Index” I’m still officially “overweight” at BMI 25.1 and last week was over 74kg. The positive side of this is that it makes great strength training when hill climbing which should be useful when the excess weight has gone.

Wednesday 09 June 2010 Rest Day

Lazy day trip to Annecy.

Tuesday 08 June 2010 Active Recovery

Cycle up to Granier but only at recovery level – keeping heart rate between 102 and 132. This level has become amazingly easy and surprisingly enjoyable. I like recovery workouts. Exercise doesn’t have to be all pain!

Monday 07 June 2010 Active recovery

10km slow run with Christiane. Keeping the heart in the Recovery Zone. Legs are really tired from the race on Sunday, but slow running is a nice feeling allowing the hips to work though their full range of motion ( as opposed to being permanently flexed on a bike).
The SportTracks software (Analysis on previous post) shows the level of fatigue to be extremely high after the race. As days go by fatigue drops rapidly but so does the fitness gained due to inactivity. Slow recovery workouts permit the fatigue (red curve) to continue to drop rapidly while preventing the fitness gained (blue shaded area) from being lost.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Time - Mont Blanc, Megève - Rider Down.

06 June 2010 Time - Mont Blanc, Megève
GPSies - Megève Mont Blanc race

Swiss competitor Boris Chervaz, age 39, when descending in the Gorge d’Arly below Flumet, at 11am, lost control of his bike (probably) due to a hole in the road and went over the roadside barrier falling 80m down into the gorge. He apparently bounced off a rock and landed unconscious upside down with his head in the cold water. It took an ambulance crew about 7 minutes to reach him, where they administered CPR, but in vain. It was the first death in 21 years of this race (7 years sponsored by Time). He was one of the top riders in the field.

The Time race is a big one. There are three courses and you can decide during the race which one you want to take. Considering that the climbs are monstrous it is sensible that you are left with the option of changing course depending on your form on the day. The courses are 85km, 115km and 145km, with 2100m, 2900m, 3980m of climbing respectively. Using maps instead of accumulated GPS data for altitude it would appear that the climbs are possibly even bigger.

Having “hit the wall” in the previous race I prepared for this one with a little more attention and two days of complete rest before the race. The previous weekend I had overtrained slightly, which had the effect of reducing the amount of high quality, or high intensity exercise possible during the rest of the week. I still managed a good, but relatively short workout on the bike on the Thursday, but it was clear that from then on rest and recovery would bring the best result. Saturday evening, the day before the race, Christiane prepared me a very large plate of wholemeal pasta – which I ate only a couple of hours before going to bed early in preparation for getting up at 5am. Megève is only about an hour’s drive from where I live – so there was no need to camp out this time.

It’s strange because I’m generally not at all superstitious, but while waiting for Chris I noticed a jet black cat spread out across the pavement in front of me and had a creepy feeling that something bad was going to happen that day. I’ve not felt that before any other race.

Chris was supposed to pick me up at 5:45am but predictably was almost half an hour late. If there is one thing I really hate it is people not being punctual (and waiting in queues) so I was understandably grumpy when he arrived after waiting outside with my gear for half an hour. The grumpiness washed over as we got underway. Chris owns a dark blue classic Japanese 750 horse power extreme gas guzzler 4x4 pickup that is astonishingly impractical – except perhaps if you mount a rear machine gun on it and give it to the Taliban. Yes we did manage to squeeze my 6.7kg bike in there – just! It’s fast though and the air conditioning was greatly appreciated on the return journey – but the seats are really crap and uncomfortable – designed to specifically herniate your discs. I was much more comfortable sitting on my 135 gram carbon bicycle saddle. Still it was pointless taking two vehicles and it’s better to have company on the drive anyway. Knowing that I wouldn’t have much space for my kit I carefully optimised my affairs the evening before the race.

Bike cleaning and maintenance are crucial aspects of preparation. It’s when you clean the bike carefully that you spot anything that might need attention. Modern bikes don’t need much mechanical intervention with most of the bearings being sealed and modern design being very mechanically efficient in general. My pedals have titanium axels and remain one of the few things that require careful attention. I noticed that one of the pedals was turning too freely, which means that it needs more grease. To get the grease in there is a hole accessible by removing a small screw. I used a big syringe filled with special Dupont Teflon Fluoropolymer grease to inject it into the bearings under pressure. The chain was cleaned with organic degreaser and a dry oil applied (the liquid evaporates leaving a dry film that doesn’t attract dust or dirt). I noticed that the chain is already stretched after only about 1100km so it will have to be replaced soon. The only other parts requiring oil are the front and rear derailleurs. Everything else was checked for looseness but everything was firm and good. I’d pump the tyres up to 110psi pressure in the morning. Water bottles with sports drink mixes were prepared and place in the refrigerator for the morning. I prepared an extra bottle to drink on the way to the race. In addition to this (and a normal porridge breakfast) I had prepared a pre-race high protein/energy mix that looked and smelled disgusting. It looked exactly like something a baby might eat. During the trip to the race I slowly managed to swallow this horrible stuff and wash it down with the sports drink. Chris had prepared a special cake which to my surprise smelled even worse and he appeared close to vomiting when eating it as he was driving. We were not going to start this race with a shortage of carbohydrates in our systems.

On arrival at Megève, parking close to the race start was simple as it was very well organised. As usual (in France) there was a toilet right there in the car park – always the best place to park! We went to sign in and collect our start numbers. This involved finding our names alphabetically to get the number – me 2486 and Chris 2484 and then collecting the electronic number itself to attach to the shirt and the number for the handlebars (mainly for the course photographers benefit). They gave us “Time” (sponsors) shirts to wear and I chose to use one. Chris stuck with his Bourg St Maurice Vélo Club shirt. Predictably, I went straight through this process without a hitch but Chris had not sent in a photocopy of his license so he had to wait in the queue for “incomplete registration”. In addition I had brought 8 safety pins to attach the numbers to the shirts – predicting correctly that Chris wouldn’t have any. (Hope that you re noting all of this Chris!). Being around Chris is a bit like herding cats – but then so much of life is a bit like herding cats.

The morning at home had started miserably, with rain, though near Megève the weather was cloudy but still sunny and warm. Overhead a hot air balloon passed only about 100m from us – the air was still and calm. Before getting the bikes out we found a small bar to sit down and have a coffee – or rather pre-race caffeine fix – and one last decisive bowel movement prior to anything from 5 to 6 hours of intense physical effort. I had dressed in the morning with all of my racing gear, and heart rate monitor already under my normal clothing – so it only took minutes to get ready. We didn’t warm up at all as we both decided that any effort used prior to the start would be seriously regretted on the last big climb of the race. It was thought that to get all 2300 riders through the start line would take about 12 minutes, so we muscled right into the front as usual to assure a good start. Four minutes from the start I left Chris with my bike so that I could take a pee under a tree – a great initiative started by a French rider which sparked a rush to water that giant plant in front of several thousand spectators. Start position wasn’t too important because the real start and finish times would be registered electronically individually for each competitor.

Never having raced over 3000m of climbing before I had decided to pace myself carefully – to ensure getting to the end with some strength left over. The main aim was to keep the heart rate mostly just under Lactate Threshold level. Lactate Threshold is where the body starts to produce lactic acid (and other chemicals) faster than it can eliminate them. At or above Lactate Threshold you are living on borrowed time before your legs get heavy and become useless. Much of training is to raise this threshold higher (to a higher heart rate) and to make the body more efficient at tolerating and eliminating accumulated Lactate. (Current theory disputes this as lactate is a fuel – but lays the blame on other chemicals that accompany lactate) My lactate threshold was 150 to 155 beats per minute heart rate. I intended to remain below that or around 152 as a steady state for greater efforts. Within minutes of the start I was at 170 and the plan was already out of the window – racing is racing. Another bad sign appeared only a few minutes into the race - though less based upon superstition - when there was an almighty clatter just ahead as about half a dozen riders and bikes hit the deck. I was surprised to see them all getting up as it sounded really bad. The first 13km was mainly downhill to Flumet and for this stretch I was close to Chris. It has taken a few months to become comfortable handling such a light bike, especially with the brakes switched over (continental style) with the back brake on the right. Now that I’m comfortable with the lightness and twitchiness (especially in the wind) I feel at home on the bike and enjoy attacking on the descents and flats at higher speeds. From the moment we hit the first big climb – up to the Col d’Aravis I was going backwards and started losing ground among the front runners – so I said goodbye to Chris as he went by. Half way up this long climb we were given a report that we were 8 minutes behind the leaders – that was quite encouraging as it already felt like it should be much more. I found myself eventually however among riders who were at a similar pace and there were a few who had already overcooked it and were dropping back rather rapidly. My heart rate was pretty much inside or above the Lactate Threshold, but I decided it would be an interesting experiment to see if it could be sustained and that I’d eaten so much carbohydrate that it might afford some protection anyway. I really didn’t want to go any slower as it would have felt wrong. The first hour at this intense level of effort I completely failed to drink or consume any form of additional carbohydrates – which is a real mistake. It’s just really hard to make yourself take even a sugar rich sports drink when your stomach has its blood circulation reduced to less than one tenth of normal due to all the blood going straight to the muscles in your legs. I knew I’d pay for that at some point later on. The descent from Aravis was fast and I found a group to work with and to keep up a constant 50kph on the flats. I didn’t realise it at the time but I was reaching 75kph on the descents. (data analysis from Garmin unit)

Climbing up to La Clusaz I felt good enough to appreciate the scenery, the warmth of the sun and just enjoy feeling good. The endorphins must have kicked in. It was getting hot in fact and the full length zip in front of the Time shirt was appreciated because the shirt would be opened wide to let the air in and sweat out. There was basically a lot of climbing and descending – so it’s hard to remember what happened where. There were quite a few crashes with ambulances attending the injured; As usual I don’t know where the ambulances came from – they always seem to be there when needed though. At kilometre 63 I overtook one rider who was totally inspiring. He had only one leg and one arm – both on the right. His left leg was amputated at the hip and left arm at the elbow. The arm stump could rest on a device mounted on the handlebar so he had some stability and control from it – but all the pedalling was with the right leg. Pedalling with one leg is not easy as you have to pull the pedal up and over the top on each cycle – propelling the bike on the upstroke. I passed him on a steep hill climb when I was suffering with two legs and arms. That sort of puts things into perspective a little.

Racing downhill to Flumet to complete the first loop I noticed on my computer that I was on target for a 5 hour pace for the 115km course – which is the one I intended to complete. I felt good and strong, so can only attribute the slowness in the climbs to carrying an excess of fat in in the region of 10kg (22lb). The fat isn’t too visible on me as it isn’t so much around the midsection, but it is spread around the whole body. Imagine carrying 10 bags of sugar up the hill – or 10 litres of water (in addition to the 1.5 litres in the water bottles). This power to weight ratio is really poor and I even notice that I roll faster than most people when going downhill due to the extra weight (but not extra wind resistance). This explains why I make up a lot of ground on the descents and flats where I can use my power effectively.

At Flumet we had to choose the course and I branched off for the 115/145km route – though I was tempted to go for the 85km one. During the following descent into the Gorge d’Arly I noticed, just after a major roadworks deviation (road was closed to normal traffic but not to us) that there was another ambulance and police at the roadside with people signalling again to slow down on the corners. What I didn’t know is that this is where Boris had died only minutes earlier. When the climb up to Les Saisies ski station started it was marked with a “14km to summit” sign that was very demoralising. I was now struggling to keep my effort level in the Lactate threshold zone, but with an effort I managed to keep it close – about 149bpm or around 151bpm which was inside the zone – but it was becoming hard. At that point I decided to use an energy gel which I had in the format of a 100grams – “three doses in one” screw top pack. The gel was a disgusting sticky strawberry flavour and almost made me puke. I washed it down with plain water I’d taken onboard at a refreshments stand at the top of La Clusaz. My speed was now relatively slow and I was being slowly overtaken by people all the way up the climb – but I didn’t mind as I could plod steadily along and wasn’t really bonking as had happened in the previous race. This time though the legs were relatively painful – but that’s still preferable to bonking and I think that is more directly due to lactic acid (lactate) build up. During this climb I was overtaken by a skinny guy in a triathlon suit pedalling away quite rapidly using a triple front chainwheel. I envied his extra gears at that point. He looked a bit weird though as he had a handlebar mounted water bottle with a big straw to drink from and was definitely different. He stopped at a refreshments stand that I skipped and so I overtook him again, but then he passed me again. Eventually the hill became very steep and to my surprise I passed the triathlete here and despite his triple chainwheel he was weaving across the road. It was then that I noticed my heart rate was back up above the Lactate Threshold and this was about 04:30hrs into the course. The last 6kms of the climb were interesting because the gel had worked and my strength had returned in full. Lots of other riders were now cracking, stopping completely exhausted at the side of the road to get a breath or even walking due to cramps. I just went from strength to strength. I noticed near the summit however that although there were perhaps about 100 riders or so behind me I couldn’t see any more in the distance – which appeared a bit odd. At the top of the big climb up to Les Saisies the course divided again into the 115km and the 145km, but it seemed that the 145km had been closed, so everyone was funnelled onto the 115km course. Later I found out that only 15 riders made it onto the 145km course before it was closed – those were the 15 riders (for the 145km course) ahead of Boris when he had his accident. What I also didn’t realise was that shortly after I passed through Flumét where the 85km course split was, they had closed the 115/145km route where Boris had his accident and everyone else was funnelled on to the 85km course. That’s why there weren’t so many people behind me.

It was a long descent from Les Saisies and I was able to catch a quite a few riders in front of me as I had good energy levels despite it now being over 5 hours since the start. We arrived back in the Gorge d’Arly and the bottom of this descent with about 10km left to climb back up to Megève. I could see many riders bunched up ahead and as I felt strong I decided to attack. To my complete amazement I was able to sustain this effort right up until the end, overtaking loads of people who had left me behind on the climb up to Les Saisies. It was a very good feeling to be so strong at the end. Quite honestly I didn’t think it was possible to race over 3000 vertical meters and still feel good at the end – at least I believed that I wasn’t built for that sort of thing. How wrong! My finish time was 05:28hrs and my target had been 05:30. In the event, the race had been cancelled and all classifications and prizes dropped. Chris and I left straight away, stopping for food on the way home. The race was officially abandoned at the request of the local authorities due to the danger of oncomming cyclists during the ambulance recovery and evacuation of Boris. The vast majority of the cyclists were detoured onto the short course at Flumet to allow the evacuation to proceed without risk. Despite all this the race was a breakthrough for me personally and it meant a lot to a lot of people so I think it is much better to remember the fate of someone lost in this positive context. Chris’s time was 04:42hrs, five minutes better than last year, which is good considering he suffered a virus and missed a lot of training very recently. Going by last year’s classifications my time of 05:58 would have placed me in the middle of the field (having lost loads of time on the final big climb to Les Saisies) – which is to be honest much better than I would have expected. My target of 05:30 was “optimistic” and only if nothing went horribly wrong. In the event it was a great surprise to meet that target.

Obviously my fitness level has increased. According to SportTracks its already at the same level now in early June that I reached in early October last year. Probably more importantly I’ve learned the value of nutrition for endurance sports. Compared to my first competition in late August last year when I ate and drank nothing during the course and did not consume anything special in advance, yesterday was a totally different game. I drank about 5 bottles of sport drink (or water and gel) during the race, but should have drunk another 2 during the first hour. From reading on the subject I now know that glucose is the key nutrient for endurance – it even directly controls a genetic trigger – like a hormone would. For the time being though my aim will be to lose weight – and that means exactly the opposite – avoiding refined carbohydrates.

Analysis: 70% of total time was above Lactic Threshold – 3:42:26hrs (Lactate Threshold 151)

Zone 5c Anaerobic Capacity Ave 167 (97% max), 4.23km, 0:08:03hrs, overall 2.5%
Zone 5b Anaerobic Threshold Ave 161 (93% max), 8.45km, 0:24:47hrs, overall 7.6%
Zone 5a Super Threshold Ave 157 (91% max), 18.44km, 1:23:53hrs, overall 25.6%
Zone 4 Lactate Threshold Ave 152 (88% max), 25.14km, 1:45:43hrs, overall 32.2%
Zone 3 Tempo Training Ave 147 (85% max), 12.27km, 0:41:30hrs, overall 12.6%

The remaining, 19.6% would be on downhill sections