Monday, August 13, 2012

Beaufort Training Loop

Having failed miserably to get my mileage up high enough to give a decent performance in early July it now seems that things are coming together. Beaufort has always been a tough workout due to the distance, headwinds and 2000+ metres of climbing, but fitting it in twice a week is a sure way to build stamina. Part of the problem is that routes like this are not open until late May or early June due to their altitude. Even when they do open it’s not until July and August that the weather is likely to be ideal. I find that with very little cycling over the winter and a late start to the season it’s not possible to get properly conditioned by early July when the main competitions are. They should save the races for September and October.


Beaufort – café stop

In the space of 10 days I’ve managed to reduce the time from 5hrs 6min to 4hrs 44min – but although the body is allowing this to happen it was tough afterwards. It’s like the body gives you permission to hurt it even more than previously so you feel wrecked. Sleeping afterwards at night is not easy because there is a deep aching in the legs and restlessness in the body. What surprised me the most was that the day before I'd done a 90 minute circuit with a good climb and still had sore calves from the three runs also done during the week – so I’d expected to be very slow and low on energy but that wasn’t the case. I felt stronger than on any previous ride this year. That’s something I find hard to understand – unless it’s just a question of mileage.


Looking back down from the climb – Beaufort is at the bottom of the V

I was late starting as usual – being a naturally “morning averse” person. The afternoons are warmer and I like the heat but not the accompanying strong valley winds that build up in the afternoons on hot days with the air rising. Arriving at the 1.6km Saix tunnel I was 15 seconds ahead of schedule and because the wind wasn’t quite as strong as the previously time that wasn’t a surprise, but on exiting the tunnel I was 30 seconds down on the time! Where did that come from? Through Moutiers and la Léchere time continued to slip until by Cevins and the exposed flats leading to Albertville I was now down by 1min 27seconds. There are two things that can happen here when the feedback is like this – you either give up and let it go – or you fight back. Surprisingly my body decided to fight back. I didn’t decide – my body did. Going into a low position, elbows bent to 90° and ankles bending at the top of the pedal stroke to prevent the knees from hitting the ribs – I increased the feeling of pressure on the pedals – the streamlining giving a sporting chance against the headwind. Each kilometer where there was sustained pressure on the pedals there would be a 20 second reduction in time so in only 4km all the previously lost time had been recovered and the attack of the first climb out of Albertville to Beaufort was made with at least a minute ahead on the clock. Again, to my surprise, this climb was made using one sprocket larger than the previous times and so the time advantage slowly accumulated. It’s about an hour from Albertville to Beaufort with various ups and downs along the way, but on arriving at the Beaufort café stop I was 4 minutes up on time – after 2hrs 15mins work. The constant audio feedback every kilometre keeps you aware of your performance – otherwise you start to dream and follow your imagination instead of focusing. It makes a good substitute for group training or racing where the other participants provide that motivation.


The Cormet de Roselend comes down from the top left into Bourg (Mont Blanc in the distance)

The big climb starts immediately after Beaufort village. If you have been battling winds and working hard up to this point then there is a strong question mark over whether or not your legs will function properly for the upcoming climb. Once again to my surprise there was a small improvement on most of the kilometers of the 19km climb – reaching 6 minutes advantage by the summit. I’d fully expected to lose all of the gains on the climb so this was a surprise. Taking more time on the descent wasn’t easy because it’s a very technical and fast descent – probably my favourite descent in the Alps due to the tight hairpin bends and the good condition of the roads (no gravel). It was only on the flatter section near the bottom after Bonneval that I could attack and gained about 30 seconds, maintaining that until Bourg St Maurice.


Final watering hole at Laundry – used 4 bottles today – in 4hrs 44mins

There is a small amount of traffic dodging at the busy roundabouts in Bourg and the great thing about a bike that beats cars every time is that there is no female passenger telling you to slow down and infecting you with her neurosis. Over the next 18km back to Aime about another 2 minutes advantage was gained – losing a little on the final climb to Macot due to tired legs. All in all an improvement of over 8 minutes – and that required concentration for almost 5 hours!


Macot La Plagne is the final short climb before home. Always a welcome sign.



In the morning before getting out of bed I’d been unable to breathe through the nose – which is unusual. Unfortunately that was also the case on the bike. this happens from time to time and is inexplicable. Breathing through the mouth caused a noticeable increase in dehydration – but there was also more sweating than on previous efforts due to simply pushing harder on the pedals. I tried “spinning” with a higher cadence and maintaining pressure on the pedals but found that it lost time – so I reverted to the cadence/power band that seems to work best for me. All of the way I used chi-cycling mechanics and avoided any back pain in spite of the increased workload. The lower and flatter upperbody  position causes more flexing at the hips but this, as well as giving more power, creates more relaxation and lets you absorb speed bumps more easily without coming off the saddle. Perhaps this is revealing unnecessary tension in the lower back and core area that leads to back trouble on other occasions. At times, when fighting to maintain speed in a bigger gear I’d use the full  range of the midsection – rotating at the spine and “reverse pedalling” at the hip joints. This maintains the chi-cycling mechanics and alignment but accesses the core power directly – letting you keep up speed but taking some of the strain off the leg muscles. It requires concentration to do it – not being an instinctive habit.

At night I was wrecked and useless. The 22 minute improvement (over 10 days) doesn’t come without a price to pay! Using technology I can place myself in the UK as an internet user and so watch BBC TV live – and the whole evening was spent watching the Olympic closing ceremony. I can’t abide ritual (and likewise utterly despise any form of religion) so a lot of the formalities were a bit tough to get through – but the show itself was first rate. The Olympics have been phenomenal this year. It was pure poetry that Bradley Wiggins opened the games by ringing the largest harmonically tuned bell in the world and his “Mod” idols “The Who” closed the games. It has been the greatest month in history  – since early July – for British sport. It’s stunning the difference made through financial investment through lottery funding. 16 years ago Britain won only 1 gold medal – now it’s 29 and ahead of Russia! Long may it continue!

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