Category Archives: bikes

Back from the alps, back to the running (and the little matter of the cricket World Cup)

The lacets (‘laces’) du Montvernier, Garmin style

The cycling in the alps was as good as ever, even if I was rather off the pace after a few months concentrating on running. Telegraphe and Galibier were the big climb highlights but the lacets du Montvernier were such fun.

Having got back late Sunday, it was up to London on Monday for supper with one son, followed by supper with the other on Tuesday. Tuesday also featured a rather annoying trip back to Oxfordshire once I realised that I had not checked the chickens before we left on Monday – annoying but necessary as I found them with almost no food or water!

Wednesday was my 64th birthday which we celebrated at Nathan Outlaw’s new restaurant venture at a London hotel. I’ve no idea whether he is known outside the UK but his big expertise is fish and the meal was excellent.

Back to Oxfordshire again later on Wednesday and down to Bournemouth Saturday to set up the house for one of my wife’s goddaughters who is using it next week.

Sunday morning I had a gentle run with my wife – my first run since 25th May when I tore my calf muscle. The muscle is fine, of course, but while the Achilles tendons are better, they are still not right. Friends over for supper so it will be into next week with good intentions of doing more running and cycling.

The cricket World Cup has reached its climax. After good performances against New Zealand and India to get into the semi-finals, England handed out a bit of a beating to Australia and went on the meet New Zealand in the final.

New Zealand batted first and scored a decent but beatable 241 from their 50 overs. Their opening bowlers in particular were excellent but England just about stuck in there and needed 2 to win off the final ball (of 300) but scored just one and tied the match. That meant it went to a ‘super over’ – six balls each side to decide the World Cup.

As Oasis might have said, a ‘champagne super over’.

Crazy and rather cruel.

We managed 15 from our six balls. New Zealand also managed 15 runs off theirs. In that case the result is decided, first, on boundaries hit in the match. England hit 26 and New Zealand 17.

So, in perhaps the most dramatic circumstances possible, England defied all of my doubts and actually justified their status as favourites by winning (just)!

That makes England the first country to win the Football, Rugby and Cricket World Cups.

Admittedly, not that many countries compete at the top level in all three sports!

… and perhaps we might add Le Tour de France too?

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Alps cycling 2 – including Telegraphe and Galibier, some shoelaces and (not) a bombshell conclusion

From the top of Galibier with the road winding below and then visible further away, in the centre and then to the far right

We packed up on Wednesday morning and headed for Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. We’ve used the apartment for some years now and have climbed just about everything in close proximity so we were stretching our wings a bit.

That afternoon I climbed the ‘Lacets de Montvernier’ (which translates as ‘the laces’) which featured in last year’s Tour. I rode under 22km (13.6miles) but climbed 460m (over 1500 feet). Not too far, not too steep but the sort of ride that puts a broad smile on your face. The others added a second climb but I decided to give that a miss as the queen stage of the trip was on Thursday and I didn’t want to prejudice that.

The Lacets winding down towards the valley floor

That queen stage was the Cols du Telegraphe and Galibier. It was a ride over to Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne and then it’s straight into Telegraphe – about 12km (7.5miles) at an average of 7.3%. After a descent of around 4km into Valloire, it’s back to the climbing with Galibier being another 1240m over about 18km (4070 feet, over 11 miles). The top of Galibier stands at 2642m (8668 feet) – the sixth highest col in France, I believe.

I loved the climb. I didn’t do it fast but felt good, despite it still being in the mid 30s℃. Standing at the top was about the only time in the whole trip that I felt cool out on the bike – and I was grateful that I’d taken a light jacket to put on for the descent.

In all, the day was a shade under 100km (60 miles) with 2428m of ascent (nearly 8,000 feet). It’s a lovely climb – a lot of it is between 7 and 10% but it also some flatter sections here and there. What a good day on the bike.

After Galibier it was back to the hotel and straight back to Les Carroz for the Plaine Joux on Friday (not to be confused with the Joux Plane – how could it be?). Not what I would call a recovery ride – it was tough at 64km and with 1473m of up (40 miles and 4830 feet) – but rewarded by a decent restaurant and great views of Mont Blanc at the top.

Saturday was back to the Cirque – a recovery ride at last – but with a pretty quick return trip to round off the week in a little bit of style.

The journey back was good until the tunnel which was suffering big delays thanks to the French border people deciding to show the French government how long it could take to process travellers post-Brexit (or, for the cynical) showing how they need more money/resources and taking it out on the Brits.

So, a week with 460km and 9100m of climbing (285 miles and nearly 30,000 feet). I was at the rear of our group but did all the big climbs and enjoyed it enormously.

I’d been wondering whether my plank exercises and gym sessions could cover for my lack of cycling over the last 8 months.

I have the answer – I learned it the hard way. The planks and gym would be a good addition to cycle training but are no replacement for it.

Alpine cycling part 1 – Solaison, Colombiere, the Cirque at Sixt Fer a Cheval

Le Cirque du Fer-à-Cheval

Off to the alps – a highlight of the year. This time no everesting and I was driving, not cycling, out. All positive, apart from almost no cycling this year due to April’s Marathon. How hard could it be … ?

Two friends arrived for supper and to stay over on Friday night to give us an early start on Saturday morning. We got away just after 5.30 am and had a decent run to the tunnel, getting on an earlier train to Calais. The drive down to the alps was another 545 miles and it passed by slowly, without incident, but in temperatures that got above 35℃ (about 95℉), blessedly below the previous week’s record highs of up to 47C).

Arriving in Les Carroz it was straight to one of the bar/restaurants where the other 3 were waiting for us (2 had flown and one had driven from where he lives in Germany).

We were treated to a great thunderstorm that night, fairly typical for the mountains after particularly hot days.

The Sunday ride was relatively short but with a hard climb up to the plateau at Solaison for lunch – altogether 76km with 1658m of ascent (42miles and 5440 feet). The col itself is about 1000m at an average 8% and it was still 35℃ down in the valleys so although the climbing was pretty tough, at least it was a little bit cooler once we got high up in the mountains.

It was obvious early on that my terrible lack of cycling in 2019 was going to be an issue. I’d probably ridden about 300 miles (500km) all year, having been concentrating almost exclusively on running while I trained for the Rotterdam marathon in April. I fell behind on the first climb and adopted the lantern rouge position – and kept it for the week.

Monday’s ride was a gentle trip to the Cirque at Sixt Fer a Cheval – another 71km but with just 960m of ascent (39 miles and 3150 feet) in much the same baking temperatures. That night we were treated to another huge storm. Somewhere about 2 am I was conscious of it getting pitch black and tried the light switch – which did nothing. I got up later to see if it was merely a case of the apartment trip switch being triggered … but it wasn’t.

A quick look outside revealed no lights anywhere so it was back to bed, completely helpless.

Waking on the Tuesday morning the position was unchanged – we breakfasted (without tea or coffee) and after a bit of a recce outside I discovered that an electricity sub-station had been taken out by the lightning and that a large area was blacked-out – including Flaine, Les Carroz, Araches and Magland down in the valley below. It all seemed to be a bit appropriate, given the almost complete lack of power in my legs.

We rejigged the planned ride to avoid having to detach the motor operation on the garage door to get any cars out, instead we cycled down the mountain road where it was clear that a good number of trees had been brought down across it and, at least partially, cleared.

We climbed the Col de la Colombiere on the opposite side of the valley up as far as Le Reposoire – only to find that it too was without electricity thanks to the fallen trees having taken out a number of power lines. With coffee withdrawal symptoms, we returned to Cluses which did have power and we found a very good lunch.

I really like not having to get the cars out to get to the start of a ride – but the downside is that the day gets bigger from a climbing point of view because of the climb (about 500m) back to the apartment. This was a relatively short day even with the climb back – in all 58km but with 1172m of ascent (36 miles and 3850 feet) and when we got back to the apartment just before 4pm we were just a few minutes ahead of the return of the power and the all-important ability to boil a kettle and cool some beers.

To be continued … heading up to over 2600 metres.

Perfectly trained, well prepared, all systems go, all pigs flying

Ready or not, mountains, here I come

No cycling for 10 days, so with the trip to the alps looming I’m tempted to make up for lost time. However, with marathon training, trying to cram in too much too late is likely to be counter-productive. I guess the same is true of cycling?

On Tuesday I did the daily plank exercises and then an hour at the gym. Almost at the desperation stage I was tempted to use the turbo in the evening but, happily, my legs talked me out of it.

Planks again on Wednesday (I’ll stop mentioning them as they are a daily feature) followed by another enjoyable cycle training session at the local junior school. It was back to the gym on Thursday and lunch out with friends, with another hour in the gym on Friday.

No great success with the weight either – currently about 68 kg – more than I’d like and a lot more than I need to have.

I’m going to have to accept that I’m hopelessly under-cooked for the trip and live with that, without doing anything now to make it worse. I suppose someone has to be the red lantern. On the bright side I might find out how useful planks and the gym are by way of cycle training, in the absence of actually getting on a bike.

As the final refuge of the scoundrel, I’ve started to think about excuses.

True, my Achilles are still painful (even after a month without running because of the calf muscle I tore), my left knee protests frequently – and (one reason for not riding this week) I made a real mess of the middle finger on my right hand last week with a sledge hammer and fence post, while working at the cycle park.

Perhaps I won’t be able to hold the handlebars.

Oh yes, the cricket One Day World Cup continues to frustrate if you are an England supporter – defeats by Sri Lanka and Australia (the most painful defeat as it comes from our oldest cricketing foes) have put English qualification for the semi-finals in doubt. Situation normal.

As thick as a plank (or is that as fit as a plank?)

Part of the opening of the cycle park

Sunday was Father’s Day in the UK so I was treated to lunch in London, which was great. We stayed overnight but I still resisted running on the Monday morning. The calf muscle feels much better but the Achilles’ …

One thing I have started is doing a set of plank exercises with my wife each morning.

It’s a minute in front plank with straight arms, 30 seconds on elbows, then 30 seconds with each foot lifted in turn, 30 seconds side plank, each side, and then a minute front plank with straight arms (I think it should actually be 30 seconds but I like to suffer) and a minute on the elbows. A total of 5 and a half minutes in one plank position or another – but the recorded programme takes nearer 10 minutes with the bit of spiel between positions.

I have no idea how useful it is but can’t be doing any harm – and strengthening the core has to be a real benefit for cycling.

I tried to do more exercises on Monday, particularly lunges with weights but couldn’t manage those because they put too much strain on the Achilles’.

Tuesday morning, plank routine again. This time I did it without the recorded programme and it took just 5 minutes 46 seconds, allowing just a few seconds for moving between positions. Just 16 seconds out of the plank position in a total of 5m 46s makes for a surprisingly tough exercise (even though the world record for holding a plank position is said to be just over 8 hours).

It was wet so I canned the planned afternoon ride and went to the gym for an hour instead, fitting it in around four ‘dog duties’ on behalf of two different neighbours.

Wednesday was another cycle training session at the local junior school but I started the day with the plank exercises again, and again on Thursday, before an hour in the gym. Later I was working up at the cycling park my cycling group has built at the nearby sports ground – it’s tied in with our work at the local schools to get children (and adults) on their bikes, and eventually to see them safely and confidently on the roads.

The cycling trip to the Alps is coming up all too quickly. I’m going to have to hope that the marathon training, the gym, the turbo and the planks are going to help as the cycling training itself (or rather the absence of it) out on the roads has been a disaster.

A lesson learnt (and quickly forgotten)

Back to the turbo

I am not a gardener. I lack skill and knowledge and I’m too impatient to get the right tools, or a decent pair of gloves. I go at it like a madman, I’m exhausted in 2 hours, and that’s me finished.

A proper gardener rarely seems to move very quickly but, equally, rarely seems to stop moving. It’s all about pacing I guess – not entirely unlike any other form of exercise – for me, cycling and running in particular.

As I sat on Wednesday afternoon, bathed in sweat and with hands and arms tingling unpleasantly from brambles and stinging nettles, I learned the lesson for the thousandth time (knowing I will also forget it for the thousandth time).

I proved myself correct that evening. With my wife in London for a Dior exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum, I moved the turbo trainer to another room and went for a gentle 30 minute session to ease myself back into it, having not used it since February.

It was very hot but, stupidly, I carried on for 45 minutes in a pool of sweat at an average 29.3kph (18.2mph).

Of course, I paid for it on Thursday at the gym – the 500m rowing was really tough and I was slower by 4 seconds and it was all hard work.

The good weather seemed to break on Friday but we drove down to Bournemouth in the evening to miss potential weekend traffic. We spent the weekend working on the house as friends are using it next week.

Of course, staying down there usually means running – but in a rare outbreak of common sense I resisted as it’s only 2 weeks since I tore my calf muscle and the Achilles tendons are still not playing nicely.

Cycling stocktake (and I find myself rather short of stock)

Enough of this ‘why aren’t I cycling?’ and ‘I’ve got to get the bum on the saddle’ – on Monday I actually did get on the bike and go for a ride.

The Achilles tendons still aren’t great and the torn calf probably isn’t fully healed but they were all good enough for cycling and I’ve been prevaricating for too long.

Foolishly, I did my usual test route – the one I do every now and again to gauge how fit I am and how the cycling is going. I always push fairly hard on this route which is about 28 miles (c.45km) and flattish (280m or 920 feet). The last time I did it was back in September 2017 and I clocked a p.b. of 1 hour 28 minutes at 30.9 kph (19.2mph). This time I managed 1 hour 33 minutes at 29.2kph (18.1mph).

It was an unfair test given how little I’ve cycled this year, and considering that September 2017 was just 2 months after I ‘everested’, but it puts down a marker. It also suggests:

  • the training for the marathon in April has helped,
  • the gym has helped,
  • I haven’t forgotten how to ride a bike,
  • but there’s a lot of hard work to do before the trip to the alps

More importantly, I really enjoyed it.

So, it’s back to the cycling now – it will be kinder on the Achilles tendons and I’ll see a bit more of the countryside than by running my usual routes. I’ll miss the running but it will be interesting to see if a break from it (other than shorter, gentler runs as my wife’s unpaid personal trainer) will sort the ATs out.