How to cycle to the alps (I hope): No7, cross your fingers and hope for the best

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Letting the loaded bike see the English Channel – it’s not been on a ferry before.

After 9 weeks of training in which I’ve ridden over 2000 miles or nearly 3300 km (admittedly, too much of it on the turbo trainer), I’m into the bit of training that I’m most comfortable with – the taper.

In fact it’s a bit more of a grind to a halt – the only recent exercise was a run in London on Friday morning (8km – 5 miles) as Mrs O and our younger son went to watch the tennis at Wimbledon.

It’s now possible to check weather reports for the ride – but I’m not sure they are very helpful yet. I can find several, but some of them show wind directions differing by 180° for the same place, at the same time, on the same day. On balance, they still show the winds as crosswinds at worst for most of the ride and temperatures in the mid to high 20s℃ (around 77-83℉).

Perhaps the biggest problem coming from the challenging (unrealistic?) schedule of 510 miles in 3 days is that I’ve not booked any accommodation. I don’t really know how far I can get each day so booking something 170 miles in advance might just mean I’m 50 miles short of a welcoming bed by the time I can go no further.

Mrs O is not at all keen on me rough camping. I have agreed to look for a hotel each night but I am left with the dilemma of whether I should be taking a tent or a bivvy or sleeping bag on the off chance that I might need one.

It would be easier to take longer and book hotels with more confidence that I will be there, or alternatively decide that I won’t use hotels and take appropriate kit. I’m a bit stuck between the two options and in the end I’m planning to be travelling with just an emergency blanket to cover a lack of hotel.

Two unhappy events:

  • a friend (the chap I rode L’Eroica and Ventoux with in 2015) has just broken his hip in a fall on the first day of an organised trip to the pyrenees; and
  • our older son has a cracked sternum, rib and a broken finger from a car crash in France last weekend (as a rear seat passenger) – I got to see him on Friday and he’s recovering well but is sore from the seat belt pressure (thank goodness he was wearing one).

For Mrs O they are big concerns – if you believe bad news comes in threes …

Just to put a shine on it, a friend’s son has been cycling in France this week and has been drenched with torrential rain and hailstones.

So, I guess it’s now too late to do any more significant or helpful training so I’m putting my efforts into preparation of kit, and prayer.

The practice packing is looking OK and I’ve now tried riding the bike fully loaded. I’m getting a bit ‘weight weenie’ and am having to control that and accept that I have to take stuff with me. At the moment, the additional weight is just around 5kg (11 pounds) including tools, spares, clothes and necessary electronics. It is certainly noticeable, but by no means impossible.

On the plus side, my body weight is well under control at under 65kg (143 pounds). That helps as I am not overloading the bike and I can go with it despite it’s (relatively) race orientated geometry – I just hope it’s comfortable enough.

Unfortunately, it’s a small plus overall as it means that I don’t have too much by way of reserves – and it is going to be fairly flat for a couple of days so weight won’t be too much of an immediate issue anyway.

With the prospect of more tapering to come, this may be it until after I try the ride. One thing that falls by the wayside for weight saving is the laptop – and blogging goes with it!

 

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How to cycle to the alps (I hope): No6, get back to some training

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A parched lawn – why doesn’t clover suffer from the heat as much as the grass does?

It’s got hot here in the UK – this week has been close to 30℃ – mid 80s℉. After months of complaining about the cold I wonder what is a reasonable period to wait before I start complaining about the heat.

To finish off a couple of weeks for training, on Friday it was up to London with a Saturday morning run and supper with friends in the evening, so it didn’t get any better.

On Monday a group of us (4 retirees and one who doesn’t work on Mondays) got out for a really good and sociable ride. It was 87km with 973m of climbing @25.1kph (54miles and 3192 feet @15.6mph).

It was a good example of yet another benefit of riding with others – it was a route I’d not have thought of … there is a danger of getting into a rut and just riding the same routes if you only ride by yourself.

I always reckon that if the climbing metres are expressed as a % of the distance in metres, anything around 1% is a hilly ride, anything around 2% is a seriously hilly ride and anything around 3% is mountainous. So, it was hilly by my ratings (my everest being over 3% and the Cinglé du Mont-Ventoux being about 3.5%).

Tuesday morning I ran with Mrs O and then I spent the day in London. After a run and nearly 6 hours of driving I did not feel like getting on the bike in the evening but managed to persuade myself to do 50km on the turbo in 1hour 03mins @ 47.3kph (31 miles @29.4mph).

Despite starting at 8pm is was very hot. I’m not sure if this is a personal best but my first drip of sweat appeared within 4 minutes.

Back on the turbo again on Friday to complete the 3 day block after a day waiting in for a couple of deliveries and having a fence erected and a hedge trimmed. A hard and hot 50km in 1hr 05 minutes @46kph.

Friday was back to the turbo (65km in 1h 22m @47.5kph – 40.4miles @29.5mph) and Saturday was very sociable, leading the club blue ride. It was a good attendance for the blue ride – 13 bikes, and a fairly leisurely 54km (33.5miles).

I did it on the Giant having found the Rose with a flat in the shed – at least it had the decency to go down after I finished Monday’s ride – but it confirmed that the Rose is the one to take to the alps.

I took the opportunity to do my 9th 3 day training block by getting on the turbo Sunday evening too – yet another hot and sweaty session for 42.9km (26.6m) in an hour.

It was horrible: one of the hardest sessions I have done for a long time …. much too soon after Sunday supper and a couple of glasses of wine. If I needed reminding, it’s got to be easy on the big heavy meals and alcohol during the day when I’m cycling.

All in all, a much better week for distance with 6 rides, a run and some serious sweating for England.

 

3 day training block Distance Week Distance
1 150km (93m) 1 271km (168m)
2 246km (153m) 2 407km (252m)
3 160km (100m) 3 319km (198m)
4 249km (155m) 4 Run 21+ m swim & gym
5 205.1km (127m) 5 205.1km (127m)
6 225km (140m) 6 280.5km (174m)
7 123.4km (76.7m) 7 55.5km (34.5m)
8 187km (116m) 8 123.4km (76.7m)
9 163km (101 m) 9 369km (229m)

How to cycle to the alps (I hope): No5, stay flexible

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When changing the latest (of many) puncture on the turbo I noticed that I’ve actually worn ridges in the metal roller that makes contact with the rear tyre

I planned that Tuesday’s 76 miles would be the first of the next 3 day training block so I climbed on the turbo on Wednesday evening to watch the World Cup and clock up another 50km.

It seemed easier than usual – could I have made real progress with the cycling? … No, it was just yet another rear wheel puncture. That, coupled with a total inability on the part of the TV to tune in to the football (another of the delights of rural Oxfordshire) made my mind up pretty quickly – the cycling gods were telling me not to cycle that night.

Interestingly, I managed to change the puncture without tyre levers – I usually manage to get the tyre back on without them but this was the first time I’d removed it with bare hands too. Do I dare attempt the ride to the alps without taking any?

With Thursday being Mrs O’s birthday, there was no cycling then either – apparently, it seems that me celebrating her birthday on the turbo or out on the roads for a few hours was not deemed to be appropriate so it was a really enjoyable day down in sunny Bournemouth.

Happily, I’ve developed an aversion to formal training plans (mainly because of the disappointment when I, inevitably, fail to keep to them) so I just went with the flow and hung up the cycling shoes for a couple of days.

The training hasn’t quite kicked up as I’d planned …

3 day training block Distance Week Distance
1 150km (93m) 1 271km (168m)
2 246km (153m) 2 407km (252m)
3 160km (100 m) 3 319km (198m)
4 249km (155m) 4 Run 21+ m swim & gym
5 205.1km (127m) 5 205.1km (127m)
6 225km (140m) 6 280.5km (174m)
7 123.4km (76.7m) 7 55.5km (34.5m)
8 123.4km (76.7m)

How to cycle to the alps (I hope): No4, train consistently …. oh

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I thought that last week was going to be terrible for training – being proved right is no consolation.

After the quick 55km on Monday 11th June, the week turned into visiting and being visited and a trip to London for Father’s Day – all really great fun but not making much of a contribution to getting ready for a ride of just over 500 miles (800+km) from Caen on the north French coast to the alps in the Haute Savoie region, east of Geneva.

We did manage a 6.8km run up in London on Sunday, which was really good.

The positives at least were a very enjoyable week, and keeping control over my weight – still under 66kg (146lb).

So, I got out just after midday today – the 7th three day block in my eighth week. The idea was to clock up some miles without any particular target speed in mind – rather, I tried to set a comfortable and sustainable pace and see what speed that translated to.

It didn’t go too badly – 123.4km in 4hr 24min @28kph (76.7miles @17.4mph).

I did it non-stop and it was a good deal quicker than the 25kph I have in mind for an average through France, but think I need to develop my fuelling strategy. I doubt that the textbook recommendation, for over 75 miles, is to leave home after nothing but coffee and a pitta bread with cheese – and then eating two small bananas on the move (with less than one bottle of water).

What is clear is the importance of the wind. It was blustery today and without anyone to hide behind, I made good speed with it but had to work quite hard into it. If I have any significant headwind on my way to the alps, my 25kph average isn’t going to happen. If the wind’s a bit helpful, I might be a bit more hopeful.

So, all I have to do is to cycle for the distance I did today and then a bit more in the morning … then do all that again in the afternoon … and repeat for both the following two days. How hard can that be ……..

 

3 day training block Distance   Week Distance
1 150km (93m)   1 271km (168m)
2 246km (153m)   2 407km (252m)
3 160km (100 m)   3 319km (198m)
4 249km (155m)   4 Run 21+ m swim & gym
5 205.1km (127m)   5 205.1km (127m)
6 225km (140m)   6 280.5km (174m)
7 123.4km (76.7m) …   7 55.5km (34.5m)
      8 123.4km (76.7m) …

 

How to cycle to the alps (I hope): No3, distance above speed …. oh

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Rats, I may live to regret this.

After a day in London on Monday (including about 4 hours in the car) I decided get on the turbo for a quick session as I didn’t think I could make it the first of the next 3 day block.

Back in the second week of May I did 40km at 49.2kph – also on the turbo, of course, I cannot get anywhere near this speed on the road – and have been wondering about whether I could do a 50kph average.

It appears that I can (plus a bit).

I thought I’d just do 25km but still felt good at that stage so I carried on for the full hour and managed a grand total of 55.5km (34.5miles). The second half hour was done at 60kph (37mph).

I’m pleased, of course. Even though the turbo reads very kindly, that’s still 25% faster than I normally record on it and more than 10% better than my previous best.

The bad news is that I’m now wondering:

  • first, can I maintain anything like that in the future
  • secondly, have I been kidding myself that I’ve been doing hard sessions up to now?

 

That second point could be an issue. I remember a while ago riding up a long hill, thinking I was working hard, when three cyclists went past me. With that extra incentive I latched on the back and eventually overtook them all … clearly I had been kidding myself that I was working hard before they turned up.

It may just be a sign that too much turbo is not good for my mind. Unfortunately, circumstances mean it’s the turbo or nothing for a few days, so I assume that yet more confusion is on its way.

How to cycle to the alps (I hope): No2, do some training

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Just reminding myself what a bike looks like when it’s not on a turbo

After a turbo session on Tuesday, we ran on Wednesday morning before I went down to Bournemouth for domestic chores.

Thursday it was back on the turbo for 65km in 1:26:14 @ 45.2kph (40.4 miles @ 26.8mph) before friends came for supper. I’m still working on the garage clearance so Friday was also on the turbo – this time for 75km in 1:41:19 @ 44.4kph (46.6miles @ 27.6mph). The bonfire I lit on Monday finally went out on Friday – happily the wind had not changed direction so the village was not smoked out.

We ran again on Saturday morning – our fastest 4 miles for nearly two years, so perhaps my cycle training is rubbing off on Mrs O.

Turbo again in the evening to complete the 3 day block. It was a tough 85km in 1:56 @ 44kph (53miles @ 27.3mph). Not too surprising with two turbo sessions and two runs in my legs over the previous three days – but perhaps the best thing is that I stuck at it. That might be one of the real benefits of the turbo – it’s easy to stop and get off but it could be character-forming when you really want to, but don’t.

Still short of miles …. because most of the training is on the turbo. However, it’s at a pretty decent intensity (for me) …. because most of the training is on the turbo.

Even though the turbo speeds are not very real world, I work hard, drip my way through every session and finish completely drenched. It’s not a pretty sight. I’m also keeping to the 3 day training block approach.

If I can start to do some longer rides outside in the coming weeks I think it will prove to be a very good base that I’ve laid down.

What’s that noise I can hear … I hope it’s not me whistling in the dark.

3 day training block Distance Week Distance
1 150km (93m) 1 271km (168m)
2 246km (153m) 2 407km (252m)
3 160km (100 m) 3 319km (198m)
4 249km (155m) 4 Run 21+ m swim & gym
5 205.1km (127m) 5 205.1km (127m)
6 225km (140m) 6 280.5km (174m)

How to cycle to the alps: No1, make sure you know the way

Suddenly, my ride out to the alps is no longer just ‘in the summer’ but actually ‘next month’, which sounds extremely close and rather focuses the mind. While there is still much training to do, I thought I’d also better get down to boring stuff like deciding on a route.

So, the basic roadmap is now (provisionally) sorted. Broadly, it goes: Caen, Sées, Frazé, Orléans, Sully sur-Loire, Sancerre, Nevers, Digoin, Mâcon, Bourg-en-Bresse, Les Neyrolles, Geneva, and so to Les Carroz d’Araches.

Written like that it doesn’t seem so bad.

According to Google maps/Ride with GPS, however, it is about 820km (510 miles) and takes 46 hours of riding. It’s not the shortest possible route but (I hope) avoids the bigger roads and unnecessary hills. It climbs 5665 m and descends 4567 m (18589 ft and 14984ft) but most of the hills are towards the end of the ride – the climb to Les Carroz itself is about 600 metres. Oddly, those Ride with GPS figures for the climbing are about 25% more than Google Maps says – I know which I hope is right.

Based on a rough guess (and with boundless optimism), I might be:

  • near Orléans first night (subject, especially, to disembarkment from the ferry),
  • near Digoin second night (subject, especially, to my legs) and
  • close to the finish line on the third (subject, especially, to everything).

Of course, I might still be near Caen on the first night and abandoned on the second.

What remains to be done is to track along the whole route with street view to check where any cycle paths might not be easily passable on a road bike – and work out a suitable alternative. Worryingly, although I have plotted the route using Google’s bike option, it says ‘use caution–bicycling directions may not always reflect real-world conditions’. How helpful is that?

I had a look at long range weather forecasts, although with little confidence as they rarely seem to be reliable for more than a fews days ahead. As it is, I’m happy to believe the forecast because it’s quite encouraging.

It suggests that the daytime temperature will be mid-to-upper 60s℉ (just under 20℃) and probably dry. Equally important, the breezes should be fairly light – at worst they could be cross winds, but they might even be a bit little helpful.

If the weather turns out to be anything like that in practice, I won’t have much to complain about ….. apart from the fact that I will have to look for other excuses if (when) it all goes belly up.

What on earth made me think I could cycle at 25kph (15.5mph) for 11 hours on three consecutive days? I can’t see it happening.

———–

Interestingly, after wondering about bike sizes last week, the friend who did L’Eroica and the Cinglé du Mont-Ventoux with me in 2015 just bought himself a Specialized Roubaix Expert Di2 which came with a professional bike fit. He’s probably an inch (2.5cm) or so shorter than me and the distance between the nose of his saddle and the handlebars was set up as 49.5cm. That compares to the 51cm with my Rose so I may have stumbled on the right sort of dimensions after all.

———–

After recovering from Saturday’s wedding, I gardened and lit a massive bonfire on Monday but it was back to the turbo on Tuesday evening for 55.5km in 1:15 @ 44.2kph (34.5miles @ 27.5mph).

3 day training block Distance Week Distance
1 150km (93m) 1 271km (168m)
2 246km (153m) 2 407km (252m)
3 160km (100 m) 3 319km (198m)
4 249km (155m) 4 Run 21+ m swim & gym
5 205.1km (127m) 5 205.1km (127m)
6 6 55.5km (34.5miles)