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.

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