Monday, June 24, 2013

1 Jour / 1 Col

Savoie is doing its bit to promote cycling by taking advantage of all the mountain passes now being open. Each day they are closing one col and only allowing cyclists to use it  “1Jour 1Col” - supplying drinks and food for free. Sunday was their day for the Cormet de Roselend with most people starting at Bourg St Maurice (830m) at 9:30am and climbing the col (2000m) from there. Chris, myself and two French cyclists, Richard and Marcel were planning to continue from the col down into Beaufort and the full 115k loop. All of those guys has just completed a massive training week in the Ardeche with 9000m climbing in three days so they were definitely not going to be ambling along at my usual pace.

I set off deciding to just climb the col at an easy pace so as to save the legs for completing the loop. Attacking the col would definitely mean running out of steam before the end of the loop - with empty legs and a headache. Clouds covered most of the lower part of the valley so I'd put on a base layer and arm warmers with a strong waterproof in a back pocket. I'd two bottles of sports drink and two packs of powdered refills plus two gels that could either be eaten or added to water. The climb up the col began very slowly as it wasn't a race and people were just warming up. This felt great to be just pottering along for a change. Within a few minutes accelerations began and separate groups started to form. At this point I was still in touch with the lead group but I knew that when they got properly up to speed I wouldn't want to stay with them. Richard actually arrived at this point because he'd started from his home about 20k from Bourg so that he could also cut off there early towards the end of the loop.

(Being “supermoon” week – with the moon the closest to us that it will be for some time I decided to take some hand held photos in the bright moonlight…)

The real climbing begins around Bonneval with about 15k to go to the summit. There is a 6k steep section there starting off straight and following the river for 2k but then ascending a cliff with hairpins for the next 4k. The straight section is deceptive because it doesn't look hard. When you are not fit this part hurts a lot. I got into a good rhythm and stuck to my plan not to overdo it. There was a guy following me who clearly also didn't aim to stick with the lead group but didn't want to go too slowly either. When we arrived at the hairpins another guy in a fancy white (red logo) Val d'Isère jersey and shorts went past the two of us and the guy following me jumped ship and went with him. I have an intense dislike of the logo and eagle symbol of Val d'Isère because the place has developed into a vile money grabbing hole with the worst of humanity behind it all. Skiing is not important to them - only money grabbing. I just continued my own pace and they slowly pulled ahead to perhaps about 150m. This would have been fine except the Val idiot kept looking back at each hairpin to check my position and that started to annoy me. The skinny guy who had gone with him just minded his own business and never looked back once. I decided to have some fun with Val d'Isère and psyche him out. Each time he checked me out I'd wait until he had finished that then accelerate and closed the gap a bit. Steadily the gap reduced but each time he turned I was just pedalling in a relaxed manner. This continued until on the last hairpin I passed him and accelerated off ahead on the flat.

All the way up this 6k of hairpins we were confronted with wave after wave of morons in sports cars or motorbikes. At least 50 Porsches bore down on us, usually in waves of 6 or 8. Between each wave of Porsches there would be a train of bikes. Noisy, stupid bikes! This was topped off by a couple of convoys of Ferraris. I guess this is what you have to do if you waste your time and money on that crap. Fortunately the road was closed by the time we got to the top section of the climb.

Well, my plan to conserve energy was shot but at least I was having fun. It was now hard work and the next 3k was a "faux plat" where I had to work hard to keep up speed. I could hear gear changing behind me so knew that someone was drafting but I had no intention of looking behind. If they were stronger they would overtake and pull me for a while and if not I'd just keep at it myself as long as possible. The final climb is 6k ( now counting down to the summit) with the steepest parts being from km 5.5 to km 3.5 where the gradient moderates somewhat. I know the route well so exactly at km 5 the gradient ramps up to a demoralizing degree and that's where it will get you if you are not up to it. I was on good form so powered on with no issues and my invisible companion remained behind until km 3.5 and then took over the front. It was "skinny" who already showed that he had a good pace on the gentler gradients and he sensed me easing off after the steeps. This was good because it pulled me along for the next 2k. Val d'Isère had cracked and was now out of sight behind. Yes! That really pleased me and there was no question of easing up now. At km 1.5 it gets a bit steeper again so I took over and pulled skinny along. 100m from the top we both eased off and exchanged comments for the fist time. It had been a good climb and I'd done exactly the opposite of what I'd intended with a heart rate well over the red line at 171 bmp at times. Oh well!

There was hot tea and food at the summit. I didn't eat but had some sweet tea and enjoyed the break. The sun was out and I'd pulled down the arm warmers during the second phase of the climb, but the air was still fresh at 2000m. At this point I was still deluding myself that we would all stop after the descent to Beaufort and I could have a hot Beaufort cheese tart and drink in the sunshine on the terrace. I'd clearly forgotten I was with a bunch of manic hardcore cyclist who only live for pain. Without a word the French guys were off. I saw Chris heading off as I was putting on my windbreaker for the long descent but he wobbled between waiting and catching up the others. It was clearly a "no prisoners" event from here on in. To my surprise they actually stopped and regrouped at the Roselend lake where there is a plateau in the descent. This did make it appear that there was some sort of "group" awareness. It was a fast descent from there to Beaufort with a lot of cyclists now climbing the other way. Arriving at Beaufort I could only look longingly at my favourite boulangerie as we floated on by. There was not going to be a tourist pause today. I still hadn't really met Marcel, it was such a friendly bunch (sarcasm), but I'd have preferred lunch.

From Beaufort the pace was ramped up on the flat. I was just hanging in behind Chris but realised I'd be expected to pull my weight in the front. There was going to be no way of sparing my legs for the home stretch. Sitting at the back and wheelsucking when you are not exhausted will only send you to Hell in the eyes of the group. This worked out pretty well because we formed a proper rotation and kept the train motoring along. About 10k further on we overtook a solo cyclist who jumped on the train and pulled his weight all the way to Albertville - giving is a 5 strong peloton and making it better for everyone. It's this spontaneous side of road cycling that's interesting and entertaining. Nobody knew this guy but he just joined our team and everyone benefited – especially him. There was one climb before Albertville and I attacked it from the front. It wasn't steep so I stayed in the big chain wheel and was still strong at the top. The descent into Albertville was slowed a bit by traffic and Richard, who likes to lead the descent was reluctant to overtake. I really enjoy the sport of overtaking cars so I went to the front and launched myself past the vehicles. All the time I knew that my legs would eventually die and my head would go, but I'd resigned to making the most of it while it lasted.

There is a very gradual climb of about 125m altitude from Albertville to Moutiers, with a lot of additional humps along the way, so it's always hard work. The drafting and rotation continued but we were now back down to four. I was enjoying it and got a bit too enthusiastic at times and managed to drop the others without realising it. I was using the Chi technique to maximise power and it was working. Each time I dropped those behind I'd slow down until it was sorted out. Cevins is a watering hole for filling bottles and so Chris and I stopped there but the other two continued at a reduced pace. I'm not keen on this sort of disorganisation personally but I'm even less keen on wasting effort dealing with preventing it. I used my sports drink powder and so Chris started off again before me - once again torn between catching the others or waiting. That's when the inevitable happened - flat tyre! The others were all ahead and so unaware there was a problem. I'd been carrying around a canister of foam for a year now and so was glad for the first ever opportunity to use this high speed and efficient repair solution. I'd have just as well carried a canister of shaving foam because it was completely bloody useless. The foam went in the valve and pumped up the tyre but then spurted out between the valve and the rim! Foam was everywhere except inside the tube apparently. Giving up in disgust I removed the tyre with bare hands and could find no problems with either the tube or the tyre and no explanation for anything that happened. Chris telephoned to ask where I was and as Richard was the only one with a spare tube and CO2 inflation kit so he was sent back about 10k to deal with it. See! Disorganized! The day before I’d had a gear cable snap inside the gear shifter mechanism and spent the evening repairing it – so after going well into the 4th year with not a single mechanical issue ever it’s weird that two happen on consecutive days!

The remaining humps before Moutiers were fine but when I felt in my pocket for another gel I realised there were none left. I'd counted on my Beaufort tart that we had bypassed. In addition those silly gels had been only 67 calories each! So on a 4500 calorie workout I’d managed to only bring 134 calories of fuel in addition to my sports drinks! Short on sugar my legs started to go and suddenly dropped off the pace just before the Tunnel du Saix. It was annoying because I knew that by holding on just a bit longer I'd be able to draft the next 2k including the tunnel and then have the fast descent around Centron. Richard cut out after the climb following the descent around Centron to return home and the others waited there for me. It was hard maintaining the pace now even without the hills so at Aime, knowing there was a climb to Macot I suggest to the others to go at their own pace. I didn't want to hold them back. Marcel however was happy to slow down a bit so with another water refill at Macot we kept together and I started to recover enough to stay at a good pace. I had forced myself to drink more knowing the bottles had sugar and minerals still there and this seemed to help (much more sugar than my actual gels – as I now know). My head was really gone though. Back at Bourg we must have sat at the Tonneau bar for about 2 hours. The circuit had taken 4:32hrs and normally it takes me 5hrs when going as hard as possible. By this time the ability to eat was crushed and only Chris could manage to swallow a sandwich – which he always manages to do.

Sleeping at night was destined to be a non-starter. When the body has been pushed to this level it rebels and the aches seem to reach deep down into the bones. Predictably the night was short, going to bed about 1am and rising restlessly at 7:30am after waking at 6:30am. The recovery workout later in the afternoon was however very surprising. Normally my energy levels are like a completely flattened car battery after a day like that - but astonishingly I felt quite good and was able to reach 150 bpm heart rate when climbing. Normally about 138 would be the limit. Clearly there was an underlying tiredness though and a slightly sore throat. On going to bed this following night, I'd entered the room in the dark and gone straight under the covers. Meanwhile Christiane was sitting upright on the end of the bed doubled over with a stomach pain and I'd walked past her an inch away without seeing her. She became angry with me and so jumped up on the bed as I went under the covers, spreading her arms and growling like a mad bear. I was already instantly blissfully asleep though and didn't hear any of it! She gave up.

I notice that as well as my fitness level improving in terms of performance and recovery there is also a metabolic shift. After several months of constant weight gain suddenly the weight is falling off – two kilos disappearing in two weeks (after re-hydration). Looks like I need this level of aerobic activity to have an efficient metabolism or else I just grow fat. Encouragingly, Marcel who was fitter and stronger than me is aged 65 – so it shows that age is not the critical factor in this game!

The mobile ant colony was last seen hanging on to the roof of the car. It seems they were feeding on sticky stuff falling from the trees onto the roof and then using this to help hang on when I was driving. Either they now go into hiding when I approach the car or they have abandoned the car completely realising that the world is perhaps not ready for mobile ant colonies.

Friday, June 21, 2013


Folded up the back seat of my car to make space and found a new ant’s nest just starting up. They were building quite a colony. Would have been a surprise for any back seat passengers I might have taken. Just cleaned it out with a brush but might have to put some chemicals down or something. No idea where the entry point is but I’d only been parked there a short while and they must climb the wheels to get in. Very odd!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Recovery Workout


Just did a little test with the chi cycling on a recovery ride. There’s a section of hill climb that I can’t make all the way at high power output. Usually about 50m from the top my legs give out. I brought in the chi cycling as developed on the last big workout – and easily made it to the top. This was then repeated on a sprint to the top of the climb which I also can never finish. There is a definite massive increase in efficiency using this modification to technique – so I’m logging it here for the record.

Even wilder water today due to violent storms.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cormet de Roselend


Due to the complete absence of a Springtime the mountain snow is now being subject to a sudden Summer heat wave and this is flooding the gorges with dark sediment laden water in spectacular fashion.

The water photos taken here were at Bonneval on the climb up to the Cormet de Roselend. Somewhere outside of the Alps there is going to be a massive build up of silt this year when it all settles down  to the river bed. I didn’t get close to the water because although the ambient air was in the 30°C range the water would probably be close to freezing.

The actual workout up the mountain was yesterday in 35°C and having made another big climbing trip two days earlier I took it relatively easy – staying aerobic, drinking and eating at the top of the climb. It’s nice to be out in the sun and for it to be hot even at 2000m altitude. My quad instert on both knees was painful (since Time Mégève) at the start of the ride but the pain gradually vanished and never returned – even after the 115k trip.

The workout started with nasal breathing but with the heat and relative tiredness that was soon abandoned. (I’d done another 75k workout two days earlier). Focus went on to simply managing drink and food issues and also on good technique. Altogether on the 5hr 13m trip I drank 2 litres of sports drink plus a Coke and ate cheese quiche tart in Beaufort (evening meal!) This allowed me to feel strong for the entire workout – instead of arriving back home at Aime exhausted as usual with my head and body totally wrecked. It was a nice feeling. I think it was the combination of staying sub lactic acid threshold and managing the food and drink correctly. I was tired to start off so in theory the workout should not have gone so well (according to past experience).

Chi Cycling

I focused a lot on technique – specifically chi technique during the climbing. I’d noticed that top climbers actually move around quite a lot and get their head above the foot pushing down on the pedal.This allows the other leg to remove weight from the upwards pedal very easily. The “push” and pulling back of the hip on the same side helps the body move over that pedal while the pulling of the of the other hip forward (as that leg flexes and pulls up) also helps to get the weight shifted over the weighted pedal. 

Later, when back in the saddle I suddenly felt that the same amount of internal motion felt like releasing a brake! When this action is used strongly in skiing it’s actually invisible to any observer when is not fully aware of the outcome – so it surprised me when the penny suddenly dropped that it was the same here and that much more internal body movement was required than I might have considered. It felt like the engine had now shifted to the spine instead of the legs. I can see now why a rigid motionless position with the legs just pumping against this – is isolating the leg muscles unnaturally and overloading them. This is probably what causes leg cramps and pain.


On the later “photo” expedition we saw the sheep being led to their Alpine pastures for the summer – three weeks later than usual!

At 2000m the snow was just clearing so the special “vernal” flowers were popping out. Those flowers are always the first to appear when the snow clears…





Once the grass grows back the pastures take on an extremely rich allure…

Silty water powering through the Bourg St Maurice kayak slalom course…

Monday, June 10, 2013

Time Mégève 2013

The Time Mégève is the first real all-out hill climbing fest of the season – which makes it one of the toughest too if you are not well prepared. We had to get up pretty early to get there on time – Chris about 4:30 am and Me 5:00 am – which is hard for me due to being a night owl type. At least the temperature was reasonable and rain wasn’t forecast until later.

On the way to Mégève, while in the Gorge d’Arly we spotted an extremely large rodent which had just become another road-kill statistic. Stopping to investigate we discovered that it was a beaver. We were both extremely surprised to find a beaver at altitude in the Alps – especially Chris because he didn’t know they existed at all in Europe.  Hopefully it would be the only road-kill today!

Today’s race had a famous sponsor – three times Tour de France winner Greg Lemond (Age 51) who would also be participating – on the short course. He’s gained an awful lot of weight and had done no training so hopefully this kick-starts him towards getting back in shape. It’s a shame how people who reach the competitive summit of a sport when they are young seem to just give up afterwards – as if there’s nowhere else for for them to go. Perhaps it’s better to never be too successful – or perhaps competition should never be the goal – just something to motivate you towards a healthy and active lifestyle in general. Anyway it was very brave of him to participate and shows that he is a much bigger than his ego.

I’m struggling with weight myself at the moment – being about 20 kg above racing weight – so it’s like throwing out an anchor at the beginning of every climb. My fitness hadn’t been too good either with such poor Spring weather I’d only ridden about 500km in May. However I’d recently adapted and started doing short and more tolerable workouts focusing on hill intervals and maxing out. This approach raised my max heart rate by 5 bpm in only  a week – up to 177 bpm – and with almost two weeks of this daily the fitness difference was quite surprising – even if there was no weight change.


The descent at the start of the race was neutralised due to dangerous road conditions so it was much calmer than the usual start.  Starting the climb up to the Col des Saises ski station I felt fine and managed a reasonable pace. It’s still horrible having a lot of people overtake you – especially in a competition with about 1300 people overall. There was one route with two early cut offs for shorter versions. I was going for the shortest one – at 80km with 2100m climbing – because I’d not climbed even close to this amount in training with having to heave my gut uphill and none of the cols actually having been open until now anyway. Chris was going for the medium course – but being in good shape he would do well there. I had no idea how I’d cope with the climbs. The first climb should in theory be fine but I was expecting trouble on the second. On the way up I kept on passing a guy in the Greg Lemond Team and somehow he kept on passing me again – unseen. It was always a surprise for me when I’d overtake him again. There wasn’t much to see due to clouds (fog), which is a shame because there is spectacular scenery normally. At the top of the col I made myself eat a gel and drink. For once at least this vital aspect wasn’t going to be completely neglected. My new phone app – Runtastic Bike Pro – had screwed up 2 minutes before the start of the race so I had no feedback about heart-rate. The recent interval training however had taught me how to gauge my heart-rate level with my breathing level – so I knew when I was around the lactic acid threshold of 168 bpm – which was most of the time. At that pace breathing is hard work but sustainable.

Fond - TMMB 2013_14

The descent all the way down to Beaufort was fast but not enjoyable with too many cyclists being present. It’s not really the numbers but the lack of road sense that some of them seem to have – especially during fast technical descents where people can get killed. There are simply places to overtake and places not to. Likewise if you are slow there are lines you can take to safely let others past. After a short stretch of level ground on the valley floor it was straight back into the second climb to the Cold des Saises – from the other, steeper side. We were attacking that at about 24 km/hr and my legs almost went into cramp as the sometimes do when firing up again. This was a tough climb as expected. One girl from the Macot la Plagne club overtook me near the start and said hello on the way past. Otherwise I was overtaking more numbers than there were overtaking me. The steepness was getting to some now. Around about 5 km from the top was when bottom gear started to not feel low enough. It’s always horrible when you go for another gear to find out there isn’t one. The gradient was up to 16% in places. It’s hard to see that so I had thought that I was just getting tired – but was surprised to see others struggling worse than me. When the gradient eased off a little I seemed to be holding up a pace of around 13 km/hr even in bottom gear – which is almost double the speed I’d expected to be on by this stage. Astonishingly the interval training seemed to have done the trick and to my surprise things were still going strong after 2000m of climbing. In fact I was almost wishing that they weren’t because it would have been nice to be able to just give up and cruise. It’s almost like extra fitness is a curse in a way. I just kept on reminding myself that if I felt bad then so did everyone else – so just get on with it.

At the summit there was the obligatory gel and drink – starting the second water bottle. The only refreshment stand came and went but I didn’t stop because I had enough fluid with me. The lower temperatures are an advantage regarding fluids!  There is very long descent down back to Flumet (where the first climb had started) but it also has a couple of short climbs and a long section where drafting is very useful. As luck would have it I managed to find a wheel to draft on that long stretch – a stronger guy who I just let go near the end where there was a los a short climb. There was a fast and manic descent – with a few vehicles in the road – down the side of the Gorge ‘d Arly into Flumet and then for me it was time to peel off to head back to Mégève. This is the point where the course had it’s first split – continuing on for the others up the other side and the Col d’Aravis. Once at the col there would be another split for the long course. My legs were just holding out and the regular feeding meant that despite a high heart rate I had no headache for a change. In fact strangely enough I’d not had any aches other than expected from tiredness. On the long stretch back to Mégève I was quite strong and only one person, with perfect timing, overtook me – giving me a tow at a critical point against the wind just as I was starting to flag a bit and slow down.  The last bit into Mégève allowed me to overtake again and keep up a good speed all the way to the finish line. Trying to switch off that stupid phone app at then end almost made me run straight into a metal barrier – which was only avoided in the nick of time. It was strange to finish this race feeling positive – no leg pains and no breathing problems. The breathing problems only seem to happen on big hill top finished though.


The chi-cycling coordination has become completely automatic now so perhaps that explains why there is no pain anywhere. I can’t guarantee that this is the “best” way to move – but it’s clearly not holding things back and if there is no back, shoulder, knee or foot pain then something must be right.

I noticed the day after this race that my resting heart rate has dropped to 42 bpm. Last year I never saw it below 48 so this is interesting. No doubt it’s due to the interval training. I’ve also completely eliminated fluoride – that is in drinking water, toothpaste and mouthwash. Turns out it’s a very nasty toxin affecting everything from the brain to the thyroid. Within a week of total elimination I felt significant changes – but it’s a bit hard to tell if that’s imagination (placebo) or not. The feeling of well-being however has been consistent for several weeks now.


176 overall (out of 501) and Category 36 (out of 129) –  Time of 03:08:04 (overall without the neutralised portion  03:30:18)  (Top of second col 02:39:21 195th)

Interesting to see that I gained 21 places on the descents and other sections – compensating a little for the weight disadvantage on the climbs. Altogether this was a much better result than expected.

For those who were still out there there was unfortunately a torrential downpour to go through. Some were out for over 7 hours on the long course – so not so much fun! We were home safe and dry – thankfully – because the descents were already terrible with potholes all over the place. There were a lot of victims of punctures. One surprise hole that I hit and survived had several people repairing punctures at the side of the road.

Chris came a superb 67th on the middle course. John Thomas (Macot La Plagne) came 3rd on the short one.


Next day – a rainbow in the valley following another rain shower. Just an hour’s recovery ride. It’s actually quite hard to do anything other tan this because the body won’t let you work at a level that lets the heart rate climb – even when you try.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Valmorel Froome Special

Unfortunately we missed this actual finish by ten minutes – but arrived just in time to see Chris Froome receiving his yellow jersey on the podium for the 5th stage of the Critérium Dauphiné. That’s Alberto Contador in second place behind him. I think our own battle getting to the this location was definitely more difficult than his!


6 kilometers from the finish line – with about an hour in hand before the arrival of the racers – we were stopped by a brutish looking policeman who insisted that we couldn’t cycle but could only walk the rest of the way. When one disgruntled French cyclist asked why the policeman responded “Because I say so"!” in typical celebration of the abuse of public authority.

Chris, and the others walked a bit and then tried to proceed on their bikes – but getting to the end was never going to happen. Lesley decided to follow my suggestion of crossing the valley and finishing the climb on the other side of the valley using my GPS. The only snag was that it was a deep valley and there was only a dirt path on the map for the crossing. When Lesley stopped to debate the point about walking with another policeman she ended up having to let him lift her bike to feel the weight and to discus her own weight. I was shouting for her to get a move on, knowing that time was limited. We had to cut through a field to find the path and go through an electric fence. I’d thought that was our main obstacle but instead the occupants of the field turned out to be a rather belligerent herd of cattle who stampeded over to us and gave us a rather nasty eyeballing. Lesley pretended to be an even noisier cow (literally – mooing etc) and psyching out the main aggressor, while I hid motionless behind my 6.3kg bike. Eventually it was clear that we could move on and through the fence again – but this time I managed to get zapped while squeezing beneath it. Then is was a disconcertingly long hike down into the valley through mud and gravel in our cycling shoes and cleats! Perhaps this is a good introduction to the sport of cyclo-cross? The hike back up the other side was tiring as it was steep and long again. In all it took 25 minutes from the time we were stopped by the police to completing the crossing so that wasn’t too bad. Chris was frantically calling on the phone to find out what was happening with us but we were past the point of return. They had abandoned their efforts and settled down at a roadside bar to wait for the racers to appear.

We resumed the climb on the bike and had some challenging climbs to negotiate – reaching 35% gradient at one point. It was more of a climb than we had bargained for really. Eventually Lesley noticed the sound of the helicopter approaching so we knew we weren’t going to make it to the top in time though we pushed on. Suddenly the road evaporated into a dirt trail again and got steeper so we stopped to look across the valley and watch the leaders of the race passing in the distance. Having come this far we really had to continue so we walked about another three or four hundred meters uphill and eventually could get back on the bikes again – dismounting only to walk over a muddy construction site in Valmorel itself – it was endless! A brief descent and then walk with the bikes on the main road alongside some racers arriving and then up a few staircases through the village and we made it to the finish line – just a minute before Chris Froome stepped up to the podium to collect his famous yellow jersey for taking the overall lead in the competition having just won the stage from Alberto Contador in second. I was amazed how skinny his legs are! The vast bulk of the racers were still to arrive and did so in three or four large pelotons well behind the winners.

After a rest and a Coke on a suitable terrace we raced the team busses back down the main road and it was probably the only time ever that we will have had the opportunity to overtake all the top cycling teams in the world on our bikes. The sun stayed out all afternoon and it was boiling when climbing – a sharp contrast to the consistently cold Spring that we have suffered this year.