Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Les Bosses de 13" 2010

Sunday 19th September 2010

GPSies - les Bosses de 13 136km 2010

Excellent race – fantastic security and management. A great event and a great day out plus an excuse to visit the Med and go for a swim in the sea. Only two negative points! The split for the 136km and 164km courses was not clear so I took the wrong one – ending up on the 136km when I really wanted to do the 164km. The after race meal was horrible dry-ish raviolis – puke! They might even have been the leftovers from last year.

One big change you notice when your racing is a little bit faster is that the whole dynamics of the race changes. Everything happens and evolves much more rapidly – so that it all becomes a bit of a blur. My overall speed was slightly less than last year on the 94km course – but that was undoubtedly due to high winds that affected everybody.


Today was the day of the Grimpée du Semnoz (Hill climb time trail) at Annecy and I really very much wanted to do this again as I was certain to beat my time from last year by a good margin. The registration form had come in the post some months ago and I signed up and paid by cheque. Later the the same happened for Les Bosses de 13 and not until about a week ago did I realise that this year both races were on the same day. Unfortunately there was no real choice - much better to do a full race at Marseille than a short time trail at Annecy. Still it was disappointing to have to make a choice.

The distance from Aime to Marseilles is almost 500km so like last year I drove there on the Saturday to register and be ready for the race starting at 8 am Sunday. Despite registering and paying over the Internet months in advance the administrative process was still barely comprehensible confusion – typically French. They needed my medical certificate as my racing license had expired – that was the easy part. The Electronic number was collected along with the usual bag of goodies – but no goodies – and no explanation. Later walking though the tents and promo/shop stands I spotted a queue of people with goodie bags so I asked what it was about. Our gift racing shirts had been held up in Spain at production (2000 of them) so we had to register here for the size we needed. Eventually I understood that they had samples we could try on (getting there, eventually…) – the shirts would be sent in the post later. We then had to go to the other end of the stands to get our free water bottles etc. No one was directing here – it’s all made up as you go along – very, very French. At least, when Chris and his family turned up I was able to assist them through the palaver.

Chris went off to find his hotel and I set off to find a restaurant that was open early. Eventually I found a Wok/Pasta place that was open, easy to park beside and empty. The food was delicious and not expensive so I’ll remember where it was for next year – plus it was spotlessly clean, new, friendly and in a nice environment.

I’d been instructed to park for the night next to the line of camper cars in the secured university campus area and there seemed to be considerably more of them than last year. It was very windy and the wind outside blew me to sleep very quickly. It was the earliest and best night’s sleep I’ve ever had at one of these events – dead quiet.

Morning preparations went well and somehow it was possible to eat some high energy “chocolate/protein” mix even after the porridge/banana mix washed down by half a litre of sports drink (4:1 carbs to protein). Normally I can’t swallow anything else after the porridge so that was encouraging. It was hard to decide what to wear for the early race start because the Mistral wind had brought cold temperatures despite a now clear sky. In the end I decided on arm warmers and a very lightweight transparent waterproof windbreaker. The transparency is so that the race number is visible and the waterproofing just makes for a better wind proofing. This was not enough to prevent shivering while waiting at the start for 30 minutes in the wind. I thought of the penguins in the Antarctic and how they huddle together all winter and do a rotation for being in the middle of the group or the outside. I moved to the middle and stayed there – penguin wisdom works very well. I was worried enough about the strong wind to even wonder if it was wise to continue with the race. In other races there had been big pileups of cyclists even without a strong wind contributing. With my bike being so light the front wheel sometimes feels like it gets blown from under me when a strong gust catches the bike - particularly on fast descents. It can be very unnerving.

Apparently Chris was early for a change and was looking for my van in the car park already at 7am. Amazingly he didn’t find it and we were destined not to meet up until after the race was over. That turned out to be a real shame for a number of reasons. With my level being much stronger now we could definitely have worked together for most of the race – and perhaps I’d have avoided ending up on the wrong course. Near the race start free coffees were being handed out. Coffee seems to be extremely popular in the cycling world – probably because it has several positive effects for endurance and pain reduction and it makes you feel good on a cold early morning. The coffee van was also a mobile prize giving van and would later move to the finish area for prize giving. Chris ended up leaving his winbreaker jacket in this van. At the race start I spotted Jacques Matt– the organiser of the Bourg St Maurice cycle club. I went over to say hello. Jacques had led the one and only outing I attended with the club this year. To be honest I prefer training on my own to good music rather than the stress of organised club outings. I’m definitely not a “club” person.

The Race

The race started with the “priority” group going off first. Next year we have to find out how to get into that group. Then there were the rest of the 1500 to 2000 starters all trying to pile in behind them and get out of the narrow departure enclosure. I didn’t get a fantastic start but there were more people behind than in front so it wasn’t a disaster. The start is fast and downhill, but not everyone went out hard. My aim was to go very hard at the start and all the way up the first significant climb – to try to get into a hardworking fast moving group. On that first climb I overtook between 200 and 300 riders and a small fast nucleus had formed together by the top. We went off on a chase to wind in as many of the early starters as possible. By the time we had crossed the long flats we had collected at least 50 others and as the peloton grew it got faster picking up momentum all the time. This is where the late start pays off – because it isn’t really a late start as each person is registered electronically by the microprocessor in the start number pinned on the jersey. The only advantage to an early start is that it often gets you with faster groups straight away – but anyone who catches you up from behind is already technically ahead of you. One of the characters we collected was the guy with no legs. Last year he had complete carbon shafts from the knee down. This year the streamlined carbon was gone and in place were cylindrical aluminium posts clipped into Shimano SPD pedals. Last year my first encounter with him was when he overtook me on the second climb. Today the boot was on the other foot – so to speak - and I was overtaking him. There’s not much room for sentiment in racing! I notice also that I never feel sorry for people with punctures or mechanical problems – it just makes me feel too happy not to be unfortunate victim myself.

When the second climb started (2nd largest climb of the day) I overtook the entire peloton and left it behind. Wow – what a turnaround. Normally the entire peloton would dump me. Vengeance is sweet! Some of the stronger riders caught me again and formed a strong group for a long fast descent and flat section coming up. The climbs on the way out (from the start) had all been sheltered from the wind so it was safe to breakaway on them. The flats now however were in the wind and I was very glad to have a group with me. The advantage of a relatively large group is that you can just hang at the back anonymously and save your strength – which is exactly what I did as we caught up with others and the peloton expanded again. After the flats there was another abrupt but shorter climb. By this time we had formed a large group of about 40 so when we hit the hill I went right from the back to the front and did it again – left them all behind. Later three caught me up and two arrived at the top with me making a good drafting shield for the next descent.

Eventually I ended up working with those guys right up until the fork for the separation of the course into 94km or 136/164km. Most of the group disappeared off to the 94km but some of the stronger ones were still hanging around. Next was the most confusing part of the day! Not long after this fork there was a loud cacophony over a hand held Tannoy. I heard what I thought was “Cent soixante quattre, tourn droit” or “One hundred and Sixty Four - Turn Right. (which is also what was indicated on the route map) In fact it was “Cent soixante quattre , tout droit” – meaning go straight ahead at the next roundabout for the 164km course. I was leading and pulling the small group at this point so full concentration on details was impossible. Ultimately, we turned right and missed the 164km course. Lots of people must have done the same. Chris I found out later had interpreted the Tannoy exactly the same as me but at the last second saw a panel on the roundabout and went the right way.
Final Descent
The 136km course tuned out to have its own special challenges. We had turned off onto a single lane road with a long series of ups and downs of over 20% steepness. On one of the descents I hit an unseen pothole so hard that I thought it might have cracked a bone in my right hand even through a gel padded glove. Next day however there was only swelling and no blood so it’s most likely to be deep bruising. A few yards further on another cyclist was off his bike (but OK) so I assumed he had hit the same hole. Most impressive was how the carbon Canyon bike and carbon spoke wheels didn’t suffer any damage. I suspect that older technology would have blown apart. I was glad however to have aluminium rims and not fragile carbon rims – which I believe are too easily fractured on impact.

After this long and slower section we came to the first control point where the electronic tags registered us passing through. This was the turn off for the start of the longest climb of the day by La Coutronne. The sun was starting to warm up the air and it was by now around 10:30am. I was still wearing all the warm clothing I’d started with so that would soon have to come off. Meanwhile I ate my second almond energy bar. This time I’d promised myself to be proactive with eating. Each hour I’d make myself eat a bar and wash it down with energy drink. It actually seems to get easier with practise. The sugary almond/marzipan type bars melt in your mouth anyway so you don’t even have to swallow them as solids and they give no stomach ache. Quite close to the summit of this climb there was a refreshment stand and this time I stopped and asked someone to fill my bottle and empty a 4:1 powder into it while I removed the windproof jacket. I kept on the arm warmers though. For a few minutes after starting again on a short temporary descent it was cold to have all the accumulated sweat evaporating suddenly – but when the climb recommenced that problem soon vanished. I easily caught up and overtook people who had passed me during the pit stop. Then we came to the big descent. This descent was dangerous! The 164km racers were coming up in the opposite direction as we were bombing downhill. Meanwhile the road was open to cars and they were trying to dodge between us all, understandably impatient. It was only after this descent and later on another control point that I started to recognise the return road from last year. I asked one guy where the fork for the 164 course was and he looked at me incomprehensibly. Until this point I’d still believed that we were on the 164 course. It took about another 15 minutes for me to find out that we were definitely on the 136km course and only 30km from home. A couple of the stronger guys managed to pull away from me on a long climb and for the first time in the day I became properly isolated. Not just isolated but depressed at having failed to get on the course that I was aiming for. Now there was the added issue of the strong Mistral wind in the face on the return journey and it was rapidly turning into a solo time trail with me against the Mistral. Some 10km on and the guy I’d puzzled earlier on by asking about the 164km turn off appeared at my side – just in time for the next climb. Perhaps he had been drafting for a while without me knowing. Whatever, he would later prove to be unwilling to do any work against the Mistral and was determined to draft his way to the finish line. Eventually a small group caught up and that allowed me to accelerate again and gave me a rest from the wind – though I continued to rotate the lead with two of the others.

Eventually we arrived at Cassis and the final hard 10km climb of the day – straight into the wind. We started the climb in a small group of about 7 or 8 and I must have been tiring by now because they all pulled ahead of me. I often find that just plodding along I’ll get into a rhythm and pick up speed and that’s what happened here – so although most of the group were gone there were three that I caught again and passed – including one who had been there on the climb at the refreshment stop a couple of hours earlier. For a while I was isolated against the wind but I made an effort to catch up with a younger guy who was going quite strongly. Drafting him for a while made a real difference and after recovering I took the lead hoping that he would get the message to cooperate and do this together. He understood and that was great – we made good progress. At some point we picked up a third member which shared the work even better. About half way up the climb we came across Jacques - who I’d said hello to at the start. He was flagging a bit but he and the guy with him jumped onto our train. At one point after leading for a while I was almost dropped due to an unexpected acceleration – but responded to a wave from Jacques to hang on. The acceleration was only temporary and things settled down again. One kilometre from the summit I accelerated and didn’t let up. The group was dropped straight away and I kept the pressure on right over the summit and into the descent. Legs hurting and now isolated there was no way to let up now without being swallowed up again by the group behind. I kept up the battle all the way down the descent and into Marseilles and then over the long climb back up to the finish line. The final climb was long but I maintained 30 km/hr practically all the way without looking behind. There is a steep ramp at the actual finish and despite the legs feeling dead I forced even more out of them and in the final second overtook one of the strong guys who had left me behind earlier on the climb from Cassis. I’d also managed to put a 2 minute gap between myself and the following group and knew that I couldn’t have done much more.

Chris actually ended up on the prize giving podium - but unfortunately only to look for the jacket he had left there at the race start. They didn't want to help him and were very officious and French about it all - but Chris had the measure of them and with characteristic doggedness he wore them down and they eventually they gave him free reign of the podium until he successfully found his jacket.


Me - Middle distance course 136km, 2350m climbing
04hr 31’ 58” Ave 30.00 km/hr  (Winner 03hr 42' 43" Ave 36.64 km/hr)
Place 148th overall, 21st in age category (501 participants, 79 in age category)

Chris - Long course - 164km, 2800m climbing
05hr 46' 30" Ave 28.4 km/hr (Winner 04hr 39' 30" Ave 35.21 km/hr)
Place 120th overall, 16th in age category (269 participants, 41 in age category)

After Race

After the race was over and the horrible lunch was consumed, Chris and his family headed straight back to Savoie and I headed back to Cassis - where we had cycled through earlier - to the beach. I knew where to park at a small cove from having visited it last year. The beach was covered in sunbathers and very few were in the water. I'd come really to swim and use the beach showers to get clean and relax after the race. The swimming would be great for the back too. Putting my feet into the water I'd have been forgiven for mistaking it for the North Sea it was so cold. Last year it had been very warm so this was a real surprise. Apparently the problem was that the Mistral wind stirs up the water bringing the cold water up to the surface from deeper down. I was there to swim so determinedly I waded out slowly into the waves, taking time to adapt to the cold and using my hands to spread water over my body. More importantly I made an effort to minimise breathing, almost holding my breath at times - so as to increase CO2 and cause an increase in circulation to my extremities and skin. I'd read about this recently so it was a real opportunity to try it out. Eventually I was in the water and swimming. Within about 30 seconds it felt as if my skin was burning hot - not cold! Perhaps the respiration trick actually was working as it should do? I've only ever felt that before unintentionally as a child when making snowballs with bare hands. Regardless of this I didn't remain in the water for too long because I wasn't sure if it was dangerous. On exiting the sea it was really difficult to keep my coordination and avoid falling over. When I bent down to get a towel and then stood up again I kept on going backwards for about 6 steps - almost falling. It might have been a good move to have gotten out of the water when I did. That's when I met and older man just about to go for a swim. He said that it it often got much colder and that it was OK. He explained the Mistral effect to me. I just stood there enjoying the sun and watched him swim for a while. He was a very good swimmer. When he left the water however I saw him stagger left to right to left etc - exactly the same as me. He bent over to place his shoes for putting them on at the water's edge and then stood up. Mistake! Off he went backwards for about 10 steps and eventually clattered down on the pebbles on his backside. He was OK but had quite a bit of blood seeping from small cuts on his buttocks. Yes, I'd made the right decision to get out when I did!


Ave heart rate 151 bpm and max 171 bpm

Much better food management than ever before. Managing to eat a small sugary bar every hour appeared to prevent any real dives in energy levels and there were no headaches or "foggy thinking" periods. I missed the bar on the 4 hour mark but this did not appear to cause any problems and I was able to pick up the pace and effort for a strong finish on the final climbs. 

Heart Zones by percentage of time:

24.3% Anaerobic Threshold zone.
19.4% Super Lactic Threshold.
25.0% Lactic Threshold .

Breathing: was unable to use nasal breathing once again. Just not ready for it at this new level.

Had tweaked my back earlier in the week and it was worrying me even about whether or not I should race. I had put the saddle up higher during the week and hurt the back during the climb up the Cormet de Roselend - but only felt it on starting the descent. I'm assuming it happened due to the greater solicitation of the psoas muscles attaching to the lower vertebrae - where I have had surgery a few times in the past. I'd not been feeling well that week anyway and that can make the back even more fragile than usual. I'd made sure to stretch out the psoas (leaning backwards over a Swiss-ball) but it was still feeling blocked. I contemplated lowering the saddle a bit but decided to leave it and take a chance on the day. In the event the saddle height posed no problems - I didn't think about it once during the race - and I was able to pull well on the pedals, hence the great improvement on the climbs. Getting off the bike at the end of the race I could hardly walk to begin with - due to the legs being tired - and the back did feel more blocked and sore than before the race. I anticipated problems to come. Unexpectedly I slept better with the back giving no problems and it felt much improved in the morning and has continued to improve since - with regular stretching of the psoas along the way. The race appeared to help not worsen the back and the saddle height does not appear to be the problem - it was just a coincidence or simply not being used to working so hard with the psoas - (legs, abdomen combination for pulling up the femur/knee). During the race I'd become accustomed to the extra saddle height and once again it never felt too high - but facilitated a more effective use of both legs simultaneously.

Wind: The wind had been worrying at the start but amazingly in the heat of the race it was almost completely forgotten about. I was apprehensive about participating in that Mistral but now know that wind is not a thing to worry about. Perhaps in the back of my mind was the image of a pro cyclist this summer being lifted off the ground on his bike by the wind during a time trial?

Timing: The offical course distance appears to be long by about 5km and the official timing short by about 5 minutes. Also the amount of climbing appears to be considerably underestimated by about 400m. What is probably more important though is the result relative to others.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats, sounds like you did great! It was a tough day no matter which course you ended up on I think. I'm not sure how I managed to correctly find the 164 course, especially after reading your post. It also looks like I might have been around your friend Chris... I'll have to check my headcam footage to see if I spot him. I think your post race recovery at the beach was the way to go... I'll have to try that next time!