Tuesday, July 3, 2012

JPP Cyclosportive 2012


The previous week I’d only been out twice on the bike – but both were monster efforts with only a couple of days rest in between. Helping Christiane with a concert and various other distractions had stopped me from getting out on the bike again later in the week and this was probably a good thing. Three days off the bike and you begin to worry that you are not training correctly – but rest and nutrition are the real building blocks of fitness.

Driving over the Beaufort Massif to get to Cluses is painfully slow. It seems like political correctness is strongly on the side of utterly useless, chronically slow and pathetic drivers. We pay more and more for fuel so that we can drive slower and slower!  If I could push a button that would eradicate all slow drivers, all solid white lines and all speed cameras I would – including drivers who stop dead at roundabouts when nobody is coming around them. There is now a new rule that we must carry a breathalysing kit in the car or face a fine. I’ll pay the fine if I have to but it’s insulting and stupid to imply that everyone drinks alcohol let alone drinks and drives. Drunk drivers know that they are drunk anyway so nothing will change – they don’t need a device to tell them what they already know. Nobody just on the limit is a significant risk anyway. There should be a limit on the number of rules that governments and local authorities can impose – and each year they should be obliged to remove some. In fact politicians and lawyers should be made to carry a 150lb sack of manure at all times – just to remind them that they are supposed to serve us and not the other way around.

The reception at Cluses for the JPP was basic and dull. Not much imagination there and very little commercial presence. It’s a case of collecting the dossard (number/bib), electronic timing chip and shirt and getting out of there. I didn’t want to leave my car in the neighbourhood close to the race start due to it being in the vicinity of a very dodgy looking council estate.  We drove to the main town to a large floodlit public car park. Rather than waste time in this unattractive town we loaded my gear into Paul’s car and headed straight off to Chamonix 41km away, leaving my car there for the night. Paul’s chalet has great views over Mont Blanc…

Our pre-race evening meal was a very large portion of Paul’s favourite chicken curry and rice – which left me feeling bloated but satisfied. I don’t know how he can eat those portions and yet remain relatively skinny! Up at 6am next morning I had porridge with banana and a coffee. I’d later on stuff my pockets with almond bars for the ride and fill the bidons (water bottles) with the relatively toxic but effective Decathlon Iso+ isotonic sports drink. I thought that we would have plenty of extra time in the morning but we we actually  timed things quite neatly. The cafe I’d expected to be open at Cluses appears to have closed as it wasn’t open at all on the race day – but we found another close to the car park and the town centre. Paul didn’t need a ritual pre-race coffee or bowel movement so while he waited outside I went in to the empty cafe, wearing my Macot La Plagne jersey. I ordered an expresso and asked for the toilet. Surprisingly, considering the cafe was empty, the toilet was occupied and so I waited in the cafe and then out of the loo popped John Thomas also in his Macot La Plagne jersey! I laughed and said that it might confuse Paul when he walks out of the place! John had cycled miles from the race start to find this place because the queue for the toilet there was impossible. Looks like we had made the better choice for our parking. Many people would have parked at the race finish location, Les Carroz ski station at altitude for the finish – but this would mean an early morning descent in the cold. Everything considered it’s probably better to have a cold descent after the race – which is what happened today – not forgetting that this descent consumes another half an hour which is more easily available after the race is over.

At the race start I met John again, his wife Carolyn and Martin Rowe – who just started racing this year and was going on the short course. All are now members of ASC Macot la Plagne. John and Caroline were on the middle course as I was (110km 2160m climbing) and Paul had signed up for the long course (130km 2960m climbing). This is the first race I’ve come across where they have given different coloured bibs/numbers to each of the courses and separated the starts accordingly. I very much approve of this because it’s great to be able to recognise which course people are on so that you can work out tactics better during the race. John explained to me how he was stressed because it had been a busy week and they had arrived later than they were used to. During the week he’d climbed 17,500m leading a group of holiday cyclists – so he had no idea how his race would go – although he’d positioned his bike right in front for a good start. Carolyn had managed over 3000km this season so far but still felt very nervous before the start and her stomach was in knots. My plan was to nasal breathe the entire course and not have my effort load dictated by the race. I felt relaxed and was looking forward to the race and getting rid of the stress of the previous few days – including the idiot drivers and tyrannical driving rules.

The Race

With a few hundred people in front it was a bit slow getting over the start line and I’d started my clock prior to the electronic sensor because of not being sure that there would be one (There wasn’t at La Grande Bo’). When we filed out onto the main road the front peloton seemed to already be disappearing into the distance. In that instant all plans went straight out of the window and I stepped on the gas. The long line of riders would soon begin to break up into groups at different speeds with gaps that would be almost impossible to bridge. The first 20km was a section where a fast peloton would really help so it would be a mistake to just let it go at this point. There were some short climbs but it was important to hang in with the peloton because they were minor climbs. Just when the gaps were starting to appear in front of me one cyclist from the “CC Pringy” club went past at a speed that I could hang on to and still maintain the nasal breathing. CC Pringy was strong and he was on a mission to close the gap completely to the lead peloton. Catching the peloton we just melted into it. The chase was eased by road junctions and sharp bends that slow the peloton down. It’s on long straight sections that the peloton is a real nightmare to catch.


(The route on the official document here is incorrect because after the “Col de Châtillon” we have to go through the town and cross over the route taken at the start.)

Côte d’Hyot

The front of the peloton disappeared definitively from view during the climb up the Côte d’Hyot – which is precisely what was expected. I’m clearly still overweight for holding a high pace on sustained climbs. I can power over hills anaerobically – and pay the price - but can’t shift my bodyweight uphill fast aerobically. Surprisingly I was able to maintain the nasal breathing for 2 hrs 15 minutes – over all the early climbing -  before having to give up on it. It has finally dawned on me that nasal breathing doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” affair. If the first part of the course can use nasal breathing then this will keep lactic acid levels in check for finishing strongly at the end. This might not be ideal for the best post race recovery but it’s better than nothing. Once you stop nasal breathing it’s almost impossible to switch back so it has to be done from the very start of the race. Counter to this there might also be some benefit in building up lactic acid because the body might adapt better over time to using it as fuel and learn to tolerate it better. The main thing however  is to get to the end of the race strongly and able to attack instead of fading away and plodding while suffering. On the Côte d’Hyot I was passed by CC Pringy again not even having realised that I’d edged ahead of him while tucked into the peloton.

Plaine Joux

The Plaine Joux is a proper climb and so I opted to reduce speed and conserve energy. My audio feedback was confirming each kilometre at around 5’15” during the climb so that was still pretty encouraging as this is a good climbing pace for me on a long event. It was important to be able to focus on form and technique rather than be completely distracted by “competition”. It takes an effort to re-centre your focus internally. Nasal/abdominal breathing certainly helps with this – resembling the way it works in meditation. The weather had turned bad and it was raining properly during this climb, but that was more refreshing than anything else. I didn’t bother with a jacket because it would get even wetter and colder from the inside due to sweat. The rain wasn’t so cold at this altitude that it posed a problem. This was the first time during the day that people started to overtake me. At the summit there was no need to stop at the refreshment stand because I had plenty of almond bars and water left. It was clear the descent would be tricky and dangerous with the wet roads. Everyone was descending slowly – just like the drivers at Mégève who were driving me nuts the day before. I decided to use cornering technique that I’d been working on – leaning the body way over into the turn and keeping the bike upright. This allowed me to overtake just about everybody who had previously overtaken me on the climb, but without expending any energy – and without feeling like any risks were being taken. The technique really does appear to work – though it could be a combination of imagination and a bit of luck! (at not falling) At the bottom of the descent I unexpectedly caught up with CC Pringy. The following 10km before the descent into Mieussy would be hilly terrain and small pelotons were forming and splitting up all the time. At one point just after a sharp climb a cheerful character passed me – the only person I spoke to throughout the entire race and he went storming off ahead as we arrived at another descent. Coming around the next bend I found him lying across the road with his bike on top of him. Yes! The road was still soaking wet and very slippery. He replied to my call that he was OK so there was no need to stop. Another strong descent to the plateau before Mieussy and right in front of me was CC Pringy and one other very strong rider. I sprinted to catch up with them before they organised themselves to work together to deal with the headwind. The flats would be about 35km long and it would be a seriously bad place to become isolated. There was always an option to just back off and wait for others to catch up but when there are a couple of guys right in front it’s clear what you have to do.

The Plateau

After catching the others I rested behind them for about 7 minutes to recover from the previous climbing and the chase. Eventually it became impossible to continue to shirk my duty to go to the front and do some work – though I had no desire whatsoever to do so. Going to the front was slightly daunting because we were averaging about 40 km/hr into a wind and with slight gradients. The first thing I had to do was abandon any hope of continued nasal breathing. From this point onwards the race changed and it was no longer possible to either hide anonymously in a large peloton or ride my own race on the hills. It was now a proper road race where the boundaries between cooperation and competition become blurred. While I was worried about the legs getting worn out on the long plateaux there was a great advantage in the time gained through cooperation and perhaps with a bit of luck the legs would still work at the end of it – keeping in mind the final 10km climb up to Les Carroz ski station. To be honest I really didn’t hold much hope that things would work out positively, but I’d have been ashamed not to contribute – especially with ASC Macot La Plagne plastered all over my clothing. This was all really hard work. Not a single word was exchanged between us but the rotation was automatic – as soon as the front man started to slow with any tiredness the next one would take over and maintain the pace. We must have battled on for about 30 minutes like this before collecting some strong riders ahead of us who were willing to muck in (a little) and keep up the pace. At one point we had collected half a dozen others for a short stretch but I still found myself going to the front to help to keep the pace up. The enlarged peloton blew apart at the next refreshment stand and once again I had no need to stop. After about a kilometre on my own out in front I was reunited with my two companions again and just one or two of the others. The small peloton started to slowly grow again  - to about a dozen - as we advanced relentlessly – until arriving at the last climb before Cluses – the Col de Châtillon.

Col de Châtillon

There was a short descent just before the climb to the Col de Châtillon and goodness only knows what was going through my head because I just kept the power on from the bottom and powered up the start of the climb almost sprinting in a big gear leaving the whole peloton behind. While doing this there was a voice in my head saying “What are you dong? You are going to look really stupid in a few minutes time when they all pass you because your legs have dropped off!” Amazingly that never happened and the big chainring was used all the way up the climb with the lowest speed recorded at 17 km/hr.  Some of the guys chased me and it must have torn the peloton apart. This really did feel like racing for a change. On the descent to Cluses three of the group manage to catch up – including CC Pringy - and also the leaders of the long course went tearing past. Actually a couple of the long course front runners  had passed on the Châtillon climb beforehand. It was great to see how fast those guys are and to be able to clearly recognise them from their bib/number colour. All of the routes had come together for the final 35km or so.


There was now a circuit of Cluses to make and a plateau before the climb to the finish at Les Carroz. At the bottom of the descent I got in behind one of the members of the old peloton – wearing red shorts - and we worked together to catch others ahead. All of those guys appeared to be stronger than me and I felt that they were the real cyclists there. It had been strange that I‘d dropped them all on that climb though. CC Pringy had dropped behind again on the descent. Clearing Cluses CC Pringy was back alongside with another guy in black clothing and Red Shorts disappeared behind this time. Our other original companion from the whole long plateau never showed up again after the Châtillon climb. Exiting Cluses we had formed another group but CC Pringy and Black pulled ahead so I went after them and left some younger guys behind that we had recently caught up with. Once again the final plateau was done in a rotating group of three.

Les Carroz

The roundabout at the bottom of the Les Carroz climb was a very welcome sight and I knew it was important to ease off and ride at my own pace on the climb. Someone was standing there holding out small bottles of still water so I grabbed one without slowing down – which was perfect for washing down a recently eaten almond bar and conserving the remains of the contents of a water bottle for the climb. Black and CC Pringy pulled ahead, with Black clearly the strongest. Despite just holding my own pace CC Pringy didn’t manage to pull more than 50m ahead when the gap stabilised. We were overtaking lots of people from both the short and medium courses and the only ones overtaking us were the strongest participants from the long course coming through. We might have been going twice as fast as the ones we were overtaking but the guys overtaking us were twice as fast as us. With about 7km to go and some of the steepest climbing behind us the gaps were about the same: CC Pringy about 50 m ahead and Black about 150m. At this point I had another ridiculous flash of unwanted inspiration and accelerated again. With 7km to go it’s quite scary committing to this level of output but somehow my instinct was correct and I was able to sustain it all the way. With this acceleration I at last connected with my core muscles and could feel the power coming from the glutes and passing through my centre. Watching the others the tiredness and instability in the legs was becoming clearly visible. For me there was a clear switch to using core power instead of smaller leg muscles and that’s how I managed to generate a higher pace and sustain it for the rest of the climb. CC Pringy was quickly swallowed up and within a couple of minutes so was Black. The two younger guys had caught and overtaken us lower down the mountain and before long one of them was reeled in again and left behind. Occasionally there would be a warning spasm from a calf muscle and I’d have to remember to focus on form and keep the ankling working so that the calf muscles would work through a full range of motion with correct coordination. There were loads of people plodding up the hill so it was now a case of reeling in as many as possible before the finish. Even at the finish I saw one guy from the 110 km course about 50m ahead but struggling so I swallowed him up decisively in a sprint for the line. None of this was easy – it was all incredibly hard – but it felt strangely good.

After race

My legs HURT after the race and after drinking and eating a little it was a simple case of waiting for the pain to fade away over the following half an hour. Recovery was all very well but it was getting cold because it was still raining so the best thing was to move on. I put my rain jacket on and headed down the mountain shivering because I didn’t want to wait for the “pasta party” and have an even colder descent later on. The first 5km of descent was unpleasant due to the body having cooled but then the air warmed up progressively with the drop in altitude. It was great to get back to the car in Cluses and changed into dry warm clothing. Any thought of staying there was dismissed as the rain began to pour down heavily and I had no waterproof clothing for walking around town. During the descent I spotted Paul climbing on his way to the finish of the long course. He was recognisable mainly through his high “Lance Armstrong” style cadence and was clearly having a good end to his race. Further up the hill I’d spotted Carolyn on her way to the end – but the rain jacket kept me incognito and I didn’t shout anything so as to avoid disrupting the concentration of the others. I was listening to music during the descent to help distract from the shivering and cold.

Endomondo was behaving strangely with the heart rate monitor signal dropping out prior to the race and I should have paid more attention to that because after half an hour I lost the signal. Everything else was recorded but it’s always very useful to have this data. I felt very tired after the race and could feel the lactic acid “headache” coming on. It wasn’t really a headache but  more like a fuzziness and tiredness. Even driving home was slightly difficult due to the tiredness. Next day the fuzziness was still strong until after midday – but that is acceptable compared to the Time Mégève escapade where it took three days to clear!


My result (110 km) 102nd out of 328 in 4:15:49 25.80 km/hr 20th in category out of 74

Paul        (130 km)    91st out of 245 in 5:04:33 25.61 km/hr 16th in category out of 52

John Thomas (110 km) came an amazing 11th overall and 2nd in his category despite his 17,500m climbing during the week beforehand. That kind of makes a mockery of any training plan I’ve ever heard of. 3:37:53  30.29 km/hr

Carolyn Thomas (110 km) came 4th in her category in 4:48:32

Martin Rowe (90 km) 168th out of 416 in 3:33:32  25.29 km/hr 19th in category out of 83

“CC Pringy” no 575 came in only 1’20” and two places behind me so he must have finished strongly too.


I’m extremely pleased with my result because only two weeks ago I wouldn’t have hoped for anything so positive. The Etape du Tour next week will be a completely different story due to the prolonged steep climbing – which is where my power to weight ratio seems to become a real issue. Lose about 10kg and I’d be laughing – but that’s not going to happen and I’m not sure I ever want to be that skinny. The plan for the Etape will be disciplined nasal breathing until the top of the Col de la Croix de Fer  - no matter how much time that appears to lose me – and then a free-for-all approach until the end – hopefully storming up to La Toussuire overtaking the 1000 or so who overtook me at the start!

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