Monthly Archives: March 2017

More everesting planning

So, what I know (or think I know) is that I’m going to have a go at everesting in July, using the climb between Les Carroz and the Col de Pierre Carree in the Haute Savoie. It’s about 11.5 km with a 725 m ascent at a fairly steady gradient in the order of 6.5%. It will take 12 and a bit reps to climb the necessary 8848 m. The distance to be cycled will be about 280 km (175 miles).

What I don’t know is how long it will take me – assuming I complete the ride – both on the bike and for rest and meals.

When I did the climb last summer (just once) it took about 54 minutes on the way up and 13 on the way back down. With no fall off of performance (which is completely unrealistic), that would indicate around 14 hours on the bike.

In 2015, the Cingle du Mont Ventoux (about 4500 m of climbing and 130 km so almost exactly half of an everesting) took 8 hours on the bike and 10.5 hours total time elapsed. Clearly double the climbing will mean even more extreme tiredness but that might be a bit offset by a friendlier gradient, less wind and no time being spent at the top (there is nothing but a col marker at the top of Pierre Carree although, to be fair, there is little of any merit at the top of Ventoux!).

All that seems to suggest being out for somewhere between 18 to 22 hours in total. Looking at the Hells 500 website, that fits reasonably well with the bulk of the elapsed times achieved by previous ‘everesters’, although the range is huge – between 9 and 40 hours.

Daylight hours in the alps at that time of year should be around 6 am to 21.15. I may be badly out but if 18 to 22 hours is realistic, it might make sense to start in the early hours to do the cycling in the dark while fresh, in the hope of finishing without too much riding in the dark at the end. It may be that starting like that also has a benefit from the normal boost sunrise can give.

Frankly, it’s just guesswork but it’s all I have to go on.

I’m with 5 friends on the trip to France – 3 of us are driving out together, one is driving from Germany where he lives and works and 2 are flying out to join us. I don’t want to mess up their cycling and none of them are mad enough to want to join me other than for a bit of company on a rep here and there.

My current thinking is that if the 3 of us drove out taking a shuttle in the early hours of the Saturday, we would arrive early afternoon. I could then try to catch up on some sleep while they got in an afternoon ride (if they want), eat with everyone in the evening and leave to do my attempt in the early hours on the Sunday.

God alone knows what shape I might be in for the rest of the week but that will have to take care of itself.

Does that sound like a plan?

A training checkpoint

I did my test circuit for the first time this year on 27 February. It’s a circuit of about 45 km through Faringdon, Clanfield, Bampton, Brize Norton, Carterton, Filkins, Lechlade, Buscot and back via Faringdon again.

In February I did it in 1:32:49 at an average speed of 29.2kph. I did the circuit again yesterday in 1:28:20 at an average of 30.7kph. It was very hard but not completely ruinous.

Admittedly, the first attempt was off a pretty low base but yesterday was still encouraging – at least it was for this Old Man In Lycra. It’s an average speed I’ve only once beaten – and that was in the first Velothon Wales which had closed roads and where I managed to hitch onto some really good trains. Yesterday was a solo ride.

Not exactly a scientific test but it looks like the lunges and hill reps I’ve done over the last couple of weeks are working well (even though the hill reps simply made one of my followers on Strava comment ‘bonkers … absolutely bonkers’). Hard to disagree to be honest. I’ll keep going with the hill reps to see if I can improve on the 12 reps I did in one session last week and on my PB of 4.40.

I know it’s beyond bonkers but I’m still intending to have a go at everesting in July.


Back to Dragon Hill this morning. Went for it on the first rep and lowered my PB to 4.40. I think there is a bit more to go as I still had enough left to do another 11 reps, none of which was slower than 7 minutes. That also completed the Strava month’s challenge of 7,500m of climbing. Tempted to go and see if I can lower the PB again next week.

Training working?

Another 6 reps of Dragon Hill yesterday. The wind has shifted and was not as hostile as before and on the first ascent I managed a PB of 5.06 (previous best 5.37). On the 6th ascent I managed my 3rd best time at 5.57 so perhaps the training is working?

With the cycling I’ve stopped the lunges to give the legs a bit more recovery time. Tomorrow I think I’ll give the club ride a miss and go back to the White Horse again. All being well, I may have a go at breaking the 5 minute barrier.

L’Eroica and the Club Des Cingles Du Mont Ventoux


Ten reps of Dragon Hill Road today – into the same headwind that made Sunday tough.

I mentioned the Club Des Cingles Du Mont Ventoux a while ago and said I’d come back to it later. Now is later.

For some time a friend (Philip) had been talking about doing L’Eroica in Tuscany – the ride for pre 1987 bikes. Late in 2014 we decided to apply for places in the ride in October 2015. Another friend (David) agreed to join us and we entered as a team of three and as individuals. Philip got a place as an individual and, although we didn’t get in as a team, shortly after failing in the first round of ballots there must have been a second one to fill places left by drop-outs, and our team got in.

I’d been thinking about trying to ride up Ventoux and decided to drive out to Tuscany to take in the Giant of Provence on the way back. Happily David agreed to join me – and we decided to go for broke by trying to qualify for the Club Des Cingles Du Mont Ventoux which requires riding up it by each of the three ascents in a day. Utter madness for two men who would be over 60 by the time of the ride. Our wives then decided they would join us in L’Eroica – Philip’s wife deciding to come out with us, but not cycle.

Early on Wednesday 30 September David and I loaded 6 bikes into and onto the car and set off for a happily uneventful drive to the Alps.

Despite being an experienced cyclist, David had not previously found himself out in the mountains with a bike. On Thursday morning we unloaded the carbon and David ticked off his first Alpine climbs – Col de la Colombiere, Col de Romme and the Cote du Chatillon. Being a very good cyclist he took to it frighteningly well. Although I had only been cycling ‘properly’ for about 6 years, I had been lucky enough to get out in the Alps each of those summers, relying on bloody mindedness and a strange willingness to suffer pain to make up for a lack of talent.

Another early start on the Friday morning saw us heading to Pisa where we picked up our wives from the airport before driving to Gaiole in Chianti, the home of L’Eroica.

Saturday was spent enjoying the village and its surrounding area. It’s quite a jamboree of cycling and we had a great day out in lovely early October sunshine. We kept the carbon bikes well hidden and, on Sunday, instead took out the four steel steeds (mine a 1946 Dayton frame that I’d built up for the purpose) that had merely been providing ballast in the car for over 1000 miles.

The Eroica ride itself was very tough on some ruined white roads, and conducted largely in very heavy rain. The two ladies did the 35 km route and the three men did the 135km and we all survived. It was a really hard ride but very enjoyable with some great scenery and food stops (red wine and Tuscan stew should be provided by all sportives). If I did it again, I think I’d be properly stupid and go for the longest route. I’d also study the route a bit better as the number of times we saw Sienna on signposts started to play a bit with my mind.

On the Monday, we had little time to reflect on our achievements as we were up early to take our wives back to Pisa to fly home. However, instead of heading back towards Calais, David and I took a more westerly course towards Provence.

You can’t really miss Ventoux standing 1912 meters high, dominating the surrounding area. The bare limestone at the top made it look like it was covered in snow. We’d checked before we left England and there had been no early snow but Ventoux is unpredictable all year round with heat, cold and wind all coming into play at different times so we were by no means out of the woods as far as meteorology was concerned.

We checked into the hotel in St Coulomb, just a few km out of Bedoin. We were very aware that we had only a two-day window to launch our assault on the mountain. We were hoping for decent weather but knew that we would have to try it, come what may.

What did come the following morning was not good. Our hosts advised against trying the ascents because the weather at the top was very poor. Instead, we had a very pleasant cycle tour around some of the villages at the foot of the mountain and, in the evening were treated to a spectacular electrical storm over Ventoux itself.

We were up early the following day, and took some pride in attaching our Club Des Cingles Du Mont Ventoux plates, hoping to have earned them over the course of the next few (or many) hours. We cycled down into Bedoin at about 8am for the start – we had decided to do the rides in the order Bedoin, Malaucene and then Sault. That would tick off the two harder ascents first, leaving, reputedly, the easiest to last. The climb from Sault is the longest and starts higher than the other two.

The first ascent from Bedoin is fairly easy until a left hand bend at St Esteve and then the road ramps up as you go through the forest – the remaining 16kms are at an average 8.9% gradient. That stretch is remorseless. We were very lucky – although David is a better cyclist than I am, we rode together very comfortably (or perhaps David was hanging back to keep pace with me).

It’s a hard climb but it went well despite a certain amount of debris on the road from the previous evening’s storm. Of course, getting to Chalet Reynard and then passing the Simpson Memorial are matters of real significance for someone who has taken such an interest in Le Tour, as was the obligatory gale blowing for the last few, steep, km.

We did the ascent without stopping but not very fast – I think it was about 2 hours 15 minutes. We were cycling well within ourselves what was still to come was such unknown territory.

At the top, we could see nothing as there was a thick low cloud. The top of Ventoux is something of an anti-climax – especially if you don’t have the view to look at. It was also really cold – and it got even colder for the first few miles of the descent – I’ve never shivered so much on a bike as on the first half of the descent into Malaucene, despite a long sleeve compression top, leg warmers, long fingered gloves and a wind-proof jacket.

After a bite to eat (and a hot drink) in the sun in Malaucene we did the second ascent – it was pretty much as hard as the first and the top was still deep in the cloud. There seems to be a split in opinions as to whether the climb from Bedoin or Malaucene is the harder. To me, it’s a bit like asking whether the 2014 or 2015 Miss World is more beautiful – it’s a matter of taste. Again, we did the climb without stopping, and were a little quicker than the first ascent.

The first part of the descent to Sault was also very cold – and the little kick up into the village itself is most unwelcome … but the food and drink at the cafe was a delight. Again, we did the third ascent without stopping – it was much easier and quicker apart from the experience of turning a corner and coming out of the shelter from the wind and going from about 25kph to a virtual standstill in just a couple of metres. The wind was gusting over 125kph – by no means extreme for Ventoux.

As if to reward us for the effort, the top had cleared and we got the classic view of Provence – it is really breathtaking. That just left a roll back down to Bedoin to complete the challenge

A very hard day but it feels like a real achievement. I rode my Rose X Lite CRS3000 – a lightweight bike and I was very grateful for that. I had a compact chainset and an 11-32 cassette (but never had to use the 32, the 28 was fine). I remember the climbs being hard, but not ruinously hard – what I remember more vividly is the bitter cold on the descents!

In all, about 10 hours elapsed time, 6 and a half hours cycling uphill, 130km and 4500m of ascent. A beautiful mountain and 3 climbs that, in my opinion, should be on the to-do list for anyone who likes pointing the front wheel uphill.

Upping the training (literally)

A mixed bag. I went for a run with Mrs Omil doing hill reps but suffered afterwards with Achilles/planter faciitis problems in my right leg/foot. Next time I did laps of the old fort at Badbury Hill while she did the hill reps and that was better for me – but I still suffered a bit with my leg/heel. It feels like a bruised heel and a strained Achilles tendon just above the heel. I guess it’s a tight Achilles that is hurting and causing issues with the planter faciitis. Whatever it is, it hurts and I limp about all day.

As a result, I’ve ditched the running this week and went out on the bike on Thursday and today – both times heading out to Dragon Hill Road. On Thursday I did 9 reps and today (into a 20+mph headwind) 6 more. Today’s ride felt as hard as 50% more reps on Thursday – presumably in part due to a bit of residual fatigue but mainly, I guess, because of the wind. At times I was standing on the pedals and hardly making any forward progress.

This idea of training by tackling hill reps had better be a good one!

Getting on with it

After getting out on Thursday I was the sweep for Saturday’s club red ride. I rarely don’t enjoy a ride – my principle is that I ride for pleasure so won’t go out if I don’t see where the pleasure will come from. That explains why I ride relatively little in the cold months or if it’s raining.

Didn’t enjoy the club red very much. Ended up riding with a very good bunch at the back of the main group – but the mid-way stop was well past mid-way, one of us had a puncture and by the time we were approaching the stop point the main group (other than Mark who did wait for us, thank you Mark) simply left. The aim has been that we regroup at the stop so that was disappointing. We need to stop for a short break anyway so we got entirely cut adrift.

As an antidote to that I went out this morning – back to Dragon Hill Road for 6 reps. I took it fairly easy and strangely managed to make the 6th my fastest rep of the day. I think I’ll try to mix these hill reps with some longer rides and see where that gets me for the WHC.

Training for 2017 starts here?

Out this morning for my first bit of hill climbing this year. Rode to White Horse Hill, Uffington, and did three reps of Dragon Hill Road. It’s about 1km long with 95m of ascent. In all I rode for 27.4km with 507m of climbing in 1 hour 11 mins. It all felt pretty good and I managed a PB on the steep bit out of Fernham to Ringdale Manor on the way back.

Not too bad for early March with very little riding being done to date – but not quite up to the 12 reps I did in 2015 in preparation for the Ventoux three-timer.

Out again tomorrow as I am designated sweep for the club’s red ride. As I say, perhaps this year’s training starts here!


My slowest cycle ever – but in a very good cause!

My younger son is running the Brighton Marathon in early April, raising money for Dementia UK in memory of his grandmother who died last year.

He lives and works in London and was planning to come home (Oxfordshire) for the weekend until he decided to put in a 20 mile training run – so we said he should still come back and I’d plot a route for him locally. In addition, I decided to cycle round with him to keep him company, improve safety and carry food and water.

I missed the club ride this morning but we went out this afternoon and he ended up running a very fine 21 miles in 3hours 14 – very much sub-4hour marathon pace. Excellent running but a bit slow for a cycle ride!

I went out on my 1955 Elswick (rod brakes and 3 speed Sturmey Archer gears) and had a very good time – except for the half hour’s cold rain after about 2 hours, and a continual breeze.

Great job Alex!

More weighty issues

Having already written about weight and cycling – and concluded that it’s relevant but not worth getting obsessed with – I continue to be (a bit) obsessed with it.

After starting the year at about 70kg, I got down to 66.6 last week. I do it by just trying to be sensible with my eating – not by diet. Last year I tried the 5:2 diet and it worked well. For me it was better to have just two days of thinking about what I ate,  calorie-counting all the time  would drive me crazy.

After a while I discovered that I’d absorbed enough information about food and nutrition that I didn’t need to do the diet any more and could control weight simply by being sensible. Generally that means eating little that has been very processed, eating more slowly, eating smaller portions and eating more fruit and vegetables. For a few years I’ve only drunk alcohol on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and I think that helps. I’ll drink during the week if there’s a specific social event – the weekend-only drinking is a guideline, not a religion!

That works pretty well – but I still put weight on at times. Last Friday we had neighbours over for supper and that meant leftovers on Saturday. On Sunday we went to friends for lunch and so Monday morning I was 68.3kg. After 2 days back on sensible eating I was down to 66.2 this morning. I guess that’s a reasonable weight for someone 5′ 10″ (177.8cm) but for cycling up big hills in the summer I try to get closer to 64kg (just over 10 stone in imperial). It is said that specialist climbers on Le Tour weigh about 2 pounds per inch of height, so I just about get to that target and in the last couple of years it’s served me well.

One of the key things is that weight will always be up and down and that weigh-ins every day are a sure way to drive yourself mad. I’ll try to keep reminding myself not to get obsessed!