Sunday 26th September 2010
The last race of the season already! Summer is WAY TOO SHORT.
Bike racing, contrary to what the uninitiated might imagine - is a bit like a trip down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Consider it as a temporary suspension of reality and a world of the unexpected stretching your senses beyond whatever you thought their limits might be. Each race is a new adventure and inevitably unfolds in a completely unpredictable manner. What happens when 1300 riders together are all sent in the wrong direction near the start? The wind gets up to gale force on the mountain tops? The roads on the mountain descents are freshly covered with gravel? There are unlimited variables and management issues involved plus quite a bit of luck - and hopefully not any bad luck. Not all choices are made with the narrow aim of getting a good result - much of the time you do things just for the pure hell of it - but honestly - I didn't force Chris off the road into a ditch deliberately today. The best part always though is getting off the bike at the end and switching off the strain and the pain! That makes "normal" feel very, very good.
After Thursday's Granier climb I sent a text to Chris with my time of 31'44". Friday morning I was just setting off in my van with big clouds of diesel smoke belching out across the road as usual from starting it up from cold, (similar to how your body reacts when cold starting a race on a bike), when Chris came tearing by on his bike heading up to Granier. It took a moment to recognise him as he was wearing his "Tour de l'Ain" shirt for the first time and it looks very professional. When he didn't stop I knew he was time trialing his way up the hill to compare his level with mine. Later he called to say that to his amazement at the top he clocked exactly the same time to the second. Based upon this result and my previous two races I suggested that we cooperate like a team on this one - rather than just do the course individually as we usually do. It would certainly be a new experience and perhaps quite difficult to adapt to. I think Chris might have still been a bit sceptical because until then I'd always been considerably slower - especially on hills. A 30 minute time trial is one thing but a 5 hour race is perhaps something else.
After that Granier climb I had concluded that the bike saddle was perhaps too high and so lowered it by 3mm while preparing the bike for the race. To my surprise the 3mm made an enormous difference and corrected all the problems I had started to identify with position on the bike. It was perfectly comfortable throughout the race and I didn't think about it once. The rear training tyre was also replaced with the newer racing one. Part of the reason for changing the tyre is for practice at doing so - without tools. The tyre can come off and go on with bare hands only but there is a bit of a knack to it. Being confident of doing this means that no tools need to be carried on the race - just a spare inner tube. The training tyres have covered almost 5000km this summer without a puncture. In fact I've never had a puncture on a modern racing bike, but you always have to anticipate one.
For once I wouldn't be roughing it in my beloved VW van. Chris was also going on his own and as it was quite a hike again (as for the previous two races) - about 4hrs driving South - it made more sense to save on fuel and go together in his Taliban truck. (Overpowered Mitsubishi 4x4 pickup). As usual I spent untold hours getting all my gear sorted out and the bike in race condition. It's amazing how many things have to be attended to and how one tiny thing wrong can mess up the entire event. It becomes like a religion that has to be carried out to the letter. Porridge in a small container, banana(x2), apples, sports drinks, gels or bars etc. That's a tiny fraction just to do with nutrition. I'll not bother to recount the entire bible here. I like the idea of having cycling as my religion. Perhaps if I'm ever unlucky enough to return to the Middle East and asked again by officials what my religion is I'll reply "Cycling". OK, cycling doesn't confer an immortal soul - which is what really defines "religion" - but it goes a long way toward developing longevity and so can bring you closer to immortality than any true religion will ever get you.
When Chris arrived it was a bit of a Rubik's Cube type of problem getting both the bikes and my bags into the back of the pickup. The pickup has a metal cover which closes down over open back. The problem is that carbon bike frames are fragile and easily damaged if mistreated so great care is required to avoid any inappropriate pressure or rubbing. Our wheels also have carbon spokes so nothing can be taken for granted. You don't want to weaken a carbon spoke and for it to shatter when you are on the bike. Carbon is incredibly strong when used correctly - but very fragile if misused. It's definitely more enjoyable travelling in company so it was a good decision to go together. Chris had a Garmin GPS unit that is meant for topographic navigation (off-road) with detailed contour maps. He was convinced that it could also be used as a road navigation system - giving directions, but he had never managed to get that to work. Well, I succeeded but we were almost at our destination before I'd worked it out, which kind of defeats the purpose. On our journey we went across the Col de Rousset and it offered a truly stunning view of the valley below, perhaps because we more or less found ourselves driving across a cliff face a few thousand feet high. The rock formations in the Drôme are spectacular and could only have been formed by geological faults as the sedement layers were being pushed up from the sea floor by tectonic plates. Valleys produced by rivers are generally V shaped and by Glaciers they are U shaped. Here all the cliffs are vertical or overhanging.
Our destination was Die - a small village in La Drôme region of France. I'd been here last year and tackled the short course, but this year the aim was to do the long course and try to do relatively well in it - not just survive. We both had to register for the race on site and quickly found the race organisation tents. Our race licences were out of date at the end of August and our medical certificates too - but Chris was certain that nobody would notice. I handed over my license and watched - he was correct. We left with our race numbers, electronic ankle tags, a bottle of claret, new racing shirts and "after race" meal tickets. From there we exited Die on the main road West to find our lodgings at a small village 8km away. The hotel was borderline - but acceptable for an overnight stop. Basically there was no accommodation left in the region anyway so there was no choice. The 1500 or so cyclists here for the event had pretty much brought a small end of season boost to the tourist business. We declined the offer of a table for the evening meal and went in search of a pasta restaurant back in Die. The influx of hundreds of pasta munching cyclists however posed a slight problem in that the only pasta restaurant in town was booked up solid and the ultra negative "French" attitude of the staff meant that they were not going to squeeze in a single table or client more. We walked through the village and discovered that it is exceptionally weird - with lots of people with "dogs on a string" as Chris would put it. Basically dirtyish looking hippies, druggies, artists and weirdos of all sorts - all with a dog on a string. We could only find Asian, Tunisian or Bio Veggie restaurants and all with their dog on a string. I think that the overall weirdness is best captured in the following church bell tower photo that I took there...
This to me looks like something straight out of the cult 1973 Christopher Lee movie "The Wickerman". We wandered through town and eventually gave up. On our way into town Chris had spotted a van belonging to Jacques Mat from Bourg cycle club beside a hotel - so we headed there to find him sitting at table with friends and not yet served. He was astonished to see us and welcomed us to his table. Needless to say an enjoyable evening ensued and the meal was pretty good too - guinea fowl with PASTA! Service was a bit slow though and we did eat too late for my liking.
All day it had been pouring rain and blowing a gale so we were a bit concerned about how conditions would turn out. The snow level had dropped to around 1500m and there was a big temperature drop to around 6°C forecast and 12°C during the day - even at our low 400m altitude on the valley floor. We would be climbing to around 1100m several times during the race. Overnight we both found ourselves on the edge of coldness, but it was quiet in the hotel. The late meal guaranteed that we were both up at around 4am to take a pee. I hardly slept after that - probably due to pre-race nerves - which is generally a good thing. The race start wasn't until 9am so there was no real rush in the morning. Looking out we could see that although the ground still hadn't dried at least it wasn't raining, but the wind was still strong. It's hard to look forward to a day in those conditions, but that's mostly psychological - you just have to get out there. By the time I'd eaten my porridge/banana mix, 1/2 a litre of sports drink, had some whole grain bread and butter, a couple of coffees and tried to eat some high concentration chocolate carb/protein pre-race gunge I was feeling pretty sick. Stuffing myself like that gives me a headache too - it's not nice, but it's a bit like putting on long range fuel tanks. We drove into town, got the bikes out, numbers attached and off into town to find a cafe for one last coffee, one last dump and then off to the start about 30 minutes before the start gun to get a good position. The trouble with doing this is that you don't warm up your muscles and you get cold waiting in the wind. Still, waiting is preferable to starting behind 1000 or so other racers. We met Jacques there and Daniel from the Bourg club and then sneaked along the side of everyone right up to the front. Only the professionals with priority numbers would get off well in front of us. Prior to moving forward I needed my usual last minute pee - stimulated by the last coffee - but we were perched on a bridge with no adjacent tree cover to dive into. With a bit of strategic positioning by Chris in front of me I managed to wet the pavement to the side of us without attracting too much attention. Peeing discreetly in front of 1338 people is not as easy as it might seem to be. Perhaps I'm just not exhibitionist enough. Normally there are a least a dozen people forced to pee just before the start but not today. For clothing I'd put on a thin short sleaved microfibre layer below the racing shirt and put on my wind/waterproof transparent layer on top. It was just the right choice and no adjustments were needed during the race. The mountain passes in the wind, with cloud cover, were predictably cold but the windproof layer kept the chill out.
The race did not start with a gun. It started with an opera singer. I hate opera. It's not music. I don't care what anyone says it's just ultra stressful shouting and a vain attempt to turn the human body into an acoustic amplification system. For god's sake, just go and buy a Yamaha amplifier and some speakers and learn to sing sensibly. Anyway, when the singer eventually stopped that (again very weirdly) was the signal for the start of the race. I don't know how anyone knew when he was exactly finished but I wasn't listening anyway. Off we went and in the mad rush that a start always is I tried to keep tabs on the position of Chris and Jacques. Jacques was tearing off ahead but I figured that Chris was just behind me so I didn't go after Jacques. It's best to stay a little bit cool at the start because that's when there is the biggest chance of a real pileup. We were off to a fairly good fast start and after one kilometer the gigantic peloton swerved off to the right at a roundabout and off towards a village. Arriving at this village the peloton came to a grinding halt and I of course suspected that there was a typical pileup ahead - but no - it wasn't that. There had been a signalling error at the roundabout where we turned off and we had all been sent in the wrong direction. This meant that everyone had to stop and turn their bike around and start heading in the opposite direction. I really wished that I'd had my headcam on to film that. We went from being near the front to being right at the back in one foul swoop. We would have been much better off staying in the cafe for an extra coffee in the morning and joining the start last. When we got back to the roundabout the cyclotourists who started after the racers had already arrived - several hundred of them, all pottering along in front of us now. Thank goodness the roads were extremely well controlled and many were actually closed otherwise it would have been total chaos. Chris and I had managed to stay together and we just went slowly to start with because people battling to get back to the front rapidly were putting everyone at risk of a real pileup. Eventually things settled down a bit and we started to step on the gas. We had let hundreds of people file past us after getting back on course, losing 5 full minutes just easing our way along, but now it was time to get back up to speed and start to reel them back in again. The race was at last underway.
I'm not in this group - the photographers thankfully missed us - saving us money!
The start of this race is effectively a 50km climb. A long gradual climb like this is called a "faux plat" or "false flat" in French and it's a good name for it. The roads were wide and in good condition so this permits relatively high speeds and means that being in a peloton is essential. Isolated you are finished. Climbing at high speed, even gradual climbing, is very demanding. This climb gets progressively steeper culminating in a real mountain climb at the end - the Col de Rossas (1115m). I was under no illusion here - we had to chase any group ahead of us because we were behind from the start so I set to work overtaking and teaming up with anyone who would do rotations with me on the front for drafting. We collected a large peloton early on and when it slowed up a little at the start of a steep climbing section I just went straight past it leaving everyone behind except Chris who stuck on my wheel. Near the top of the climb on a bend we went past a tandem and when Chris went past it behind me I heard them swearing loudly at him - which is very French anyway so you just ignore it. I realised that Chris must have cut in front of them too shaprly after overtaking and then later noticed he had a tendency to do that but so did many others.
I could see that my heart rate was well within the Anaerobic Capacity zone for long periods. Normally in training it is very difficult to get up to this zone, but it felt good so I just continued like that. (The race took just over 5 hours and I spent 31.7% of the time in that zone - nearly all of that on climbs). On two occasions during this period I looked back and to my surprise Chris had been dropped. One of those was a bit disappointing because I'd managed to catch up another peloton and then had to lose it again to drop back. Further on when I was rotating regularly at the front with a couple of other riders I realised that Chris hadn't been there for a while so turned my head around to look back and was shocked to see that I was pulling a peloton of about 50 riders along. When I saw that I just backed off the accelerator and slipped back to join Chris. Chris said he couldn't understand what I was doing up there and that we had only done 40km and there was still a long way to go. He was undoubtedly right - but no one else was taking up the chase for the groups ahead and I found that frustrating. A couple of times Chris suggested that we slow down because the guys with us simply couldn't keep up. Well, it's much better to feel like you have too much energy than too little. I wasn't sure that I could keep this up and knew that there was some serious climbing to come. Normally you can only sustain anaerobic activity for a very short period but strangely I was doing fine with my heart rate right up there. Three or four hours from now I'd certainly know if it was a mistake or not.
Kilometre 43, Valdrôme, was the first pit stop area. Hardly anyone stopped there but I'd made the error or staying sheltered near the back of our large peloton. The road abruptly narrowed here right beside the pit stop area and then went into a short 30% climb that slowed people down even more. Inevitably those at the front pulled away and it only took a few weaker riders to block the way for everyone else. Chris was gone with the front of the pack and I was stuck behind. I had to ramp myself right back up into the anaerobic capacity zone to bridge the gap on my own and catch up. That was just the first time of several to come where I'd have to close a gap on my own. The next 7 kilometres would be steep climbing and I'd remain anaerobic the whole way to the top of the Col de Rossas. Once again I was soon pulling at the front. The large peloton that had been ahead and I'd been frustrated about no-one helping me to chase down, was now exploded and so we were rapidly reeling in the debris - and did so right to the top of the climb. At the top there we overtook a mountainbiker who was participating in the race. I was impressed that he was doing so well on such a machine. The descent was fast but a bit windy and not super safe so we didn't go too hard. The mountain biker stayed with us and benefited from the weight and extra stability of his bike on the windy descent. When we hit the next flats the mountainbiker was ahead drafting with a small group he had caught up with on the descent. I decided to go after this group to be able to cover the windy flats more efficiently together but once again dropped Chris and had to pull back after catching them. Eventually we wound in the other group together and started to form a small peloton. The mountainbiker was now dropped definitively. He just couldn't keep up on the flats even with drafting. When we passed La Motte Chalancon at the end of the flats we were at the half way stage, around 72km and I had performed strongly up until now - always looking out for Chris and sticking to our plan.
We had actually formed a small but strong peloton of 7 that was to stay (almost) together for the next 60km over the two toughest climbs of the day. Going into the second half of the race Chris came into his own and took the lead on the climbs pulling at the front. He kept up a strong pace often between 20 and 25km/hr on the long - less steep portions. One other rider was pulling the group along and he had red shorts with Cyclo St Foy written across them. Chris also lives near St Foy but as there are 11 St Foy's in France it all gets a bit confusing and very French (which are the same thing really). I did have a sneaky suspicion that Chris would have been happy to lose me here and probably expected to. There really was not an impression of "Oh I wonder if Ian is still there? If not then I'd better stop pulling this group faster up the hill and go back and get him." No there was definitely not that impression. Each time that I had any doubts about sticking with the pace I just asked myself what my legs actually felt like and they were fine - so I just stuck with the group. In fact is was the first time ever that I'd managed to climb in a peloton. Normally the more serious climbs were solo because I'd get dumped right at the start by any group I could stay with on the flats. It was a new experience holding position within a group and with there being wind in the face on certain parts of the climb it was a welcome situation to be in. There were a couple of older riders in the group and they were distinguished by the fact that they absolutely never did any work to pull the group - they always sheltered behind even on the flats. This definitely pushed them up the results standings at the end but there is something a bit lame about profiting from others doing all the work and not contributing. I'd rather finish lower down in the results and know that I'd done my fair share and had a great workout.
This second climb was called the Col de Roustans (1038m). Actually there had been a third col called the col de Fay's (1051m) just after the first col, but it wasn't a long climb. At the top of the col there was a crowd of people and a lot of noise. I noticed Chris and Red from St Foy speeding up and thought it might be the "Sprint" which was marked on the map. I stayed with them and waited until their spurt was over and launched past them to go over the summit first but discovered it was only a bunch of people dressed up as cows. Yes, the rabbit hole! Relaxing, I slowed down a bit as I was pulling over to the side of the road. Chris didn't spot those two things happening together probably because it all happened in 4D which is when you add time to 3 dimensions of space. The result was a loud cry behind me when Chris was forced to leave the road and couldn't get back on because of the edge of the tarmac. He carried on for a bit and almost ended up in a ditch but was able to remain cool and get everything under control. I slowed down to wait and see if he was OK. Now my plan to tell him off for cutting in front of people was in tatters. Passing the Col de Roustans the descent was long and the roads covered with fresh gravel. Chris was directly in front of me and he was descending quite cautiously which was sensible. It's hard descending with people in front because you can't clearly see the turns ahead and everyone brakes at slightly different times. Three times, due to difficulty with seeing and thus setting up the turns correctly I lost the back wheel, skidding out to the side - once quite violently. We all got to the bottom safely but it had been a stressful descent. The bottom of this descent was Pradelle, at kilometre 104 and from there it was straight into the next big climb, the Col de Pennes (1040m). The pace seemed even higher going into this 13.5km climb but right at the start I was hit by cramps in both legs - near the upper insertion of the quads towards the inside of both legs. When I felt the legs tying up I just eased off a little but kept pedalling and not letting on that there was a problem. Fortunately this happened right at the start of the climb so the group wasn't really organised and into a fast pace and this gave the cramps just enough time to clear up.
I was getting to know our small group by now and that meant getting to know their quirks. One guy endlessly fiddled with food, drinks, zips or anything that would take his attention off cycling in a straight line. He had to be avoided at all costs. Another was busy drafting all the time and always changing line to get the best protection - oblivious of anyone beside him. He also couldn't ride in a straight line and had to be avoided. The rest were pretty good. With Chris ahead and me at the back for the moment there wasn't much risk of us cutting each other up. It was at this point that I realised we were engaged in "flock" behaviour - like a flock of birds. We were a swarm of cyclists. Flock behaviour is studied in "complexity" science where complex behaviour follows from simple rules. If he moves - you move the same way - but keep the same distance. If you move to avoid an object then the move will instantly propagate. It's like one of those gigantic flocks of starlings that seems to move as one single intelligent object. If you move too far, to quickly or too slowly, brake or accelerate out of sync then you cause an accident. You are rapidly upside down in a ditch, lying on the road with cyclists piling into you or most often just spat out the back of the peloton due to a momentary loss of concentration.
The first part of the Col de Pennes was very fast and hard. We were climbing on a narrow road and still over 20 km/hr. Several times I felt myself starting to slip back but pulled it together and rejoined the group ahead. We had started to collect a few others as well, but most people we passed had already burned out and were only able to plod up the rest of the way. I did a mental check of my legs to see if they were OK and they seemed fine. I was however hoping for a steeper section to slow the madness down just a little. Chris was setting the pace again and when he tired Red would take over. I then realised that unconsciously I was playing a song in my head to distract myself mentally. It was a dumb song and not one I'd ever care about - but somehow my brain had decided that it was appropriate. Earlier I'd told Chris that this doesn't happen to me and that probably my years of musical practice gave me good control over such matters. Well, obviously I was wrong - at least under the current extreme conditions. I did manage to stop it very quickly though and it didn't get the opportunity to take over and torment me. Perhaps I didn't actually stop it because while I was distracted by it the peloton suddenly slowed down on arriving at a steep section and I almost ran into the back of an almost stationary cyclist. It was the classic traffic jam concertina effect which a lactic acid saturated brain seems to have a bit of trouble dealing with if taken by surprise. The steeps were good for me as I was definitely more comfortable than with the higher speeds and eventually we encountered a sign saying "Ravitaillement 500m" or "pit stop 500m". I quickly went up to the front and reminded Chris that it was the last pit stop and last chance to refill our water bottles. We had been going for about 4 hours now on a litre of water each so it was clear we had to re-supply. Knowing there would be problems with this I sprinted ahead of the group for 500m to gain time for refuelling. The women working on the refuelling stand did not seem able to open my screw top water bottles and get my sport drink powder in without going on a week's training course. Chris stopped for a few seconds and meantime the peloton just went straight past and I was left with a bunch of cackling hens trying their hardest to put me out of the race. I'm sure they meant well but it was hellishly frustrating and I regretted having even allowed them to get involved. Admittedly my brain was getting pretty fuzzy from lactic acid overdose and I'm sure it was totally my fault. There had been no option but to make that sprint though. This one and only pit stop was at Aucelon, 111 kilometres from the start and only half way up the climb. There were still 7km to go and all steep. Just after the pit stop there was a short descent and I saw Chris about 150m ahead - looking back in my direction at least once to see if I was there. From then on it was another sprint to try to catch up with everyone. All this uphill sprinting was taking it's toll and for the first time I started to feel the nausea that comes with lactic acid build up. Until now it had only been a mild head symptom but now the whole body was reacting. Regardless of that I still felt OK and had rejoined the group quite shortly after the descent and right at the start of the continuation of the climb. I'd sprinted the last bit uphill to close the gap and then settled into a rhythm. Over time the lactic acid levels dropped and I felt better again during the climb. The strategy had worked and I had managed to replace the sports drinks and remain with the group. I did notice that Chris was not prepared to wait for me though! Either he was worried about being dumped by the group himself, just wanted to ride his own race, didn't believe that I could sustain the effort and so would wreck his race or he thought that I was strong enough to make it back on my own. Which was it? (Leave your comments at the bottom please...) Either way we were all back together for the final push to the top of the last mountain pass. About 3km from the top everything began to change and the peloton started to explode. Chris and Red were burning out and the lazy sods who had done no pulling all day just went off ahead with not a word of thanks, encouragement or an attempt to help the guys who had been pulling them for 50km. I stayed with Chris and a third rider but didn't have the desire to even try to pull us up and close the gap. At the summit the lazy mob were only about 20m ahead but Red was dead in the woods. Chris had spoken to him when going past him but he appeared to have bonked so there was nothing could be done to help. He would certainly not enjoy the remainder of the ride home against gale force winds.
Once over the Col de Pennes it was straight into a steep narrow descent which was supposed to be the most dangerous of the day. In fact it was the best and most enjoyable of the day because the roads were clear of gravel. It was more like a slalom than a downhill and that's what I prefer both in skiing and cycling. At the bottom of the 11km descent I was with Chris again and we were hit square in the face with a powerful wind and another faux plat of 6km to climb. The rest of our small peloton - four of them were about 200m ahead now as they had been taking more risks on the descent and pushing hard. I decided to try to reel them in before the wind had a chance to wear us down and set off to bridge the gap. Four or five strong pedal strokes and I was once again engulfed in sharp debilitating cramps above the quads. I couldn't attack until this had been dealt with - but at least I knew that it would be OK once the legs had been working properly for a few minutes under load again. Eventually Chris and I were sorted out and we went on the chase. On my last attack we got within 5m of the group and then the wind hit me really hard slowing me down strongly just at the point where I was reaching exhaustion already. Chris apparently didn't spot what was happening so he didn't take over - in his mind we had already succeeded - but we hadn't. The group slipped away from our grasp. Over the final 10km even though it was on a slight descent we lost about 4 minutes to our lost peloton due to the powerful wind and our lack of numbers to give adequate drafting. I found myself wishing for once that I had put on weight instead of lost it during the summer - that way the wind wouldn't be able to stop me in my tracks so easily. Chris and I continued rotating all the way up until the end but the last 5km were very difficult and tiring. Somehow it's not so satisfying fighting against a wind as it is climbing a mountain. It's a different resistance. Crossing the line neither of us wanted to beat the other - we were beyond that. Just as we had completed our separate time trials the week previously in identical times to the exact second, we crossed the line together in exactly the same second after 5 hours 3 minutes 57 seconds of racing.
Passing through the finish line we headed straight back to the Taliban truck to get off the bikes and change clothes. Our only comments were on how good it felt to finish. We were pretty well wasted. The organisation at the food tents was good this year - no endless queue like the year before. The raviolis were inedible for me however so I didn't eat very much. The levels of lactic acid washing around my system were still so high that I had no appetite and it would take a couple of days to return fully. At lunch we met Daniel Deflin from the Bourg cycle club. He had in fact finished less that 5 minutes ahead of us and about 1 minute ahead of our lost peloton and we never saw him all day after the mass start. Perhaps the Bourg cycle club members should start cooperating more as a team in those events - it could be interesting.
It's pretty easy to see where the lactic acid nausea was coming from looking at this chart above. Nearly all the climbs were spent completely anaerobic. What amazes me is that I simply cannot do this in training and even in most races - but from time to time when conditions converge it happens.
Average heart rate 157 (91% max) over 05:03:57 hours
Maximum Capacity (Ave heart rate 174, 100%) 1.2km 00:03:02hrs 1.0% (of total time)
Anaerobic Capacity 168, 97% 33.72km 01:36:42hrs 31.7%
Anaerobic Threshold 162, 94% 28.09km 01:06:48hrs 28.09%
Super Lactate Threshold 157, 91% 15.74km 00:32:41hrs 10.7%
Lactate Threshold 152, 88% 20.20km 00:37:09hrs 12.2%
It was in July just over a year ago that Chris persuaded me to get on a racing bike - with comical consequences - on the day of the passage of the Tour de France on the Queen stage starting at Bourg St Maurice and heading over the Cormet de Roselend. Chris had been involved in racing already for a few years, beginning with mountain bike races - but the only competition I had ever done in my life was an obligatory forced passage through ski racing to obtain professional qualifications. The thought of taking a real endurance sport up to a good competitive level seemed so far divorced from reality that it could not be seriously entertained. Starting the "cyclosportive" competitions was quite daunting, even on the short and relatively easy courses. My old steel road bike could even have been considered slightly embarassing. The transition since then has been enormous. Chris's level, which although he is the first to describe it as "average" is well respected and for me it was an obvious reference to guage progress against - and a target to aim for. With Chris's own constant progress this target did appear to be somewhat unobtainable. My approach was to enter the most difficult and longest races around even if it meant risking coming in last. Each long hard race would give the body another opportunity to adapt. Ultimately the key to achieving the goal of getting to Chris's level lay hidden more in technique than in fitness - exactly as it does in skiing. The most important factor of all however, right from the start, was the motivation and encouragement provided by Chris. Chris's view of the last race was that I hadn't just moved up a level - but two levels.
So for next year the target is a podium place. Sunday brought 10th place in age category on the long course - so if I can get from nowhere to 10th in a year then going the rest of the way seems like a possibility now. The challenge to Chris will be to see who can get there first. (I still have another 5 kilos of fat to lose!)