Category Archives: cycling

Fitter, faster, further – the improvement dilemma

Most regular cyclists want to improve, whether it’s fitter, faster or further – or any combination of those. I completely understand that and I want to improve on all three – but there’s a but ..

The issue is that such improvements are unlikely to be even across members of a cycling group, and that can cause problems.

Let me explain.

I joined the group I ride with about 6 or 7 years ago. We were a slightly motley crew with carbon, aluminium and steel, racing, hybrid and touring bikes. The group was very sociable, we waited to regroup regularly and had a ‘banana break’ at halfway which was also a major regrouping and the opportunity for a chat. We’d do about 45 miles (c. 72km) on a Saturday morning at just over 14mph (c. 23kph). There were those who could cycle faster but they sacrificed some speed for sociability.

It’s all moved on over the years. Bikes have been upgraded and so have the riders’ abilities. More now cycle on the continent in the summer and more have climbed a few Alps – this year 3 more did Ventoux. Last year a group rode the length of the Pyrenees and this year a group rode in Corsica. The 100m Ride London, long sportives like the Dragon Gran Fondo, the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux, everesting and even Paris Brest Paris have now been tackled by group members.

Saturday rides are still a similar length but are now more likely to be ridden at 17-19 mph (c. 27-30kph).

A second ‘blue’ group was introduced successfully which does shorter and slower rides with an emphasis on the social side – some of us take turns to lead that and it’s always enjoyable but will not provide good training for the more committed cyclist. The issues are really with the faster, longer ‘red’ group.

Don’t get me wrong, I think all progress this is brilliant – but it comes with a price. Not everyone has improved at the same rate and some now struggle to keep up. With a focus on speed, the group does not often stop to regroup. It also makes it hard if not impossible for inexperienced riders to join the group – and introducing newcomers to the joys of cycling was always a key purpose of the group. It’s a group of good people (and me) – we set up a charitable company to raise funds for local cycling initiatives and we are quite prominent in the town, with our own annual sportive being part of the town’s festival.

Last Saturday I rode with a very nice chap who was riding with the group for the first time. We rode at a very respectable 15.5mph (c. 25kph) but were left behind by the main group. I was telling him about the social side of the group and the chance to meet a few people at the banana break – but we never had a break as the group(s) in front didn’t stop long enough for us to catch up.

There was a lady riding behind us and a ‘sweep’ but we didn’t see them either as we kept going, waiting for the break which never came – but by the time we realised that it was a bit late to stop. Apparently, another very good cyclist was dropped by the main group on Saturday and had what he called an ‘improvised limp home’ – that wouldn’t have happened in the past.

What’s the answer?

Multiple groups? A return to ‘collegiate’ cycling rather than the more self-centred ‘push myself at my optimum speed’? A more rigorous regrouping regime? None is perfect or, perhaps, possible.

Of course, I am no saint in all of this. I probably felt worse about Saturday because I’d have liked to have joined a fast group after the half-way break. I have cycled with the group less this year because of my specific training for my ‘everest’ last month – so I’m as selfish as anyone else.

My options? I could stay and simply join the fast groups – or I could effectively leave the group and do my own thing.

But there’s the irony – I’d be leaving and being anti-social in protest at the anti-social nature of the group; and I’d be putting my own cycling first in protest at the way others do the very same thing.

It makes my head hurt. Come to think of it, it used to be my legs hurting – at least that’s another beneficial feature of cycling improvement!

What’s next on the sprocket list?

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When your three main goals for the year fall in April and July, by August you are left wondering what to do next. I fear that the rest of this year is going to feel like an anticlimax so thoughts turn to the inevitable bucket list (or for me as it’s likely to be cycling-related, the sprocket list).

For 2017, the key goals were:
– White Horse Challenge in April: the target was sub 5 hours which I missed by 5 minutes although I did post a PB
– Everesting: a tick for that
– Farcycles Sportive: although I traded down to the 70 mile route, I was first home and, even though it’s not a race, I’m still pleased with that.

It looks like I’ve got to go for the WHC again, still chasing the elusive sub-5 hour time, but what else?

Over the last week I’ve been an avid follower of the Transcontinental Race. Massive respect to James Hayden for winning it and to everyone who is taking part (10 days in and only 2 of the 285 entrants have finished). That has to go on the list – even though it’s a universe of insanity beyond even the everesting. It feels like that might be a stretch too far for 2018 but it’s on the list.

One thing I’ve wanted to do for a while is to cycle out to the alps for my annual trip to Les Carroz. It’s about 700 miles door to door by car – I don’t know what avoiding main roads does to that but in my books it qualifies as a long way. It would be a good test to see if I could contemplate the Transcontinental Race.

LEJOG or JOGLE must be a possibility – unsupported and done as quickly as possible.

The bicinglette (two times each of the 3 roads up Ventoux, within a day) is the other possible target for 2018 – currently, there are only 205 people shown as completing the bicinglette. To do that and then add the extra 1200m to become a ‘high rouleur’ would be great.

It’s all subject to domestic negotiation and possible outbreaks of sanity – but it’s fun to plan and plot.

Is everesting good sportive training?

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From the 2016 sportive, I think

Yesterday was my first sportive – my club’s excellent Farcycles Follyfest Sportive, now in its 5th year – after the everest. I wasn’t sure if having that in my legs would be good or bad – but it turned out to be pretty good.

I traded down from the 100 miler to the 70 mile ride on the basis that I could justify giving myself the treat of a 30 mile saving after the cycling in the alps. My aim is always to have an enjoyable ride and that fits very well with the thinking behind the sportive – great route through lovely Oxfordshire/Gloucestershire countryside with really friendly marshalling and admin and certainly the best food of any sportive I’ve ever done.

However, as usual, competitive juices got the better of me and I found myself in (at the back of) the front group. At the first feed station everyone else stopped. I was a bit surprised as the others were clearly better cyclists than me – but I guess they’d heard about the quality of the food on offer.

So I ploughed on alone. Eventually, on and off, I caught up with a few of riders from the 100 mile route and was enormously grateful for the conversations and a few essential tows. For 40-odd miles I played hare waiting to be caught by the following pack who were certainly gaining on me – but they never appeared (perhaps they stopped at the second feed station too – I didn’t).

So, first home from the 70 mile ride which is nice – but tempered by the fact that I know there were very many riders better than me out there. As with all sportives, it’s a ride, not a race.

Terrific food at the end and a really great bunch of riders to chat to. Chapeau to all who took part on the 35, 70 and 100 mile rides – and to all involved in the organisation and admin. Another great day out on the bike.

Perhaps the lesson – in true ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’ style – is that everesting is good training for a sportive. If that’s the case, I’ll look forward to many sub-optimal sportives in the future.

So, apart from the pain, exhaustion and mental anguish, how was the everesting?

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The top of the Col – not exactly a tourist attraction

Everesting is a simple concept: choose a hill and ride up and down it until you climb the height of Mount Everest (8848m). No time limit but no sleeping.

I first heard about everesting back in 2015 and have been blogging about my 8 weeks of training for it, but at 4.51am on Sunday July 16th 2017, alone in the French Alps, I couldn’t remember what on earth had made me think attempting it would be a good idea.

So, how did it go? Read on …

I very nearly failed even before I began. The journey to the Alps started on the Friday night but involved delays at the tunnel and on the autoroute so I’d had a maximum of 8 hours sleep over the two previous nights. When I woke at 4.25am, going out to attempt an ‘everest’ was the last thing I wanted to do. I was too tired; perhaps Monday would be better then Sunday; perhaps later in the week was more sensible; why was I risking spoiling my week in the Alps for something I was going to fail at. I had to lecture myself sternly that at least I had to start, even if I wouldn’t finish, and I had left the apartment very reluctantly.

It’s often said that choosing the right hill is a vital part of a successful everest. I hoped that I’d chosen well. Most of my hill training had been done on a 1km hill in Oxfordshire with a 90m climb. It had taught me that everesting a 9% gradient was perhaps steeper than I wanted – and that I’d struggle with the prospect of needing to do 100 reps of anything.

Accordingly, I’d adopted the ‘goldilocks’ approach to hill selection: not too steep, not too shallow; not too long, not too short; not too busy, not too remote. My chosen hill was from Les Carroz d’Araches to the Col de Pierre Carrée in the Haute Savoie – 11.3km with over 700m of height gained per lap. ‘Only’ 12 laps needed: surely even Goldilocks would agree that was just right?

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The first climb started well, accompanied by the dawn chorus and cowbells. Unfortunately my left knee started to hurt before the half way point of that first lap – the Iliotibial Band Syndrome again. Over the next few hours it would be joined by pain in my feet, hands, right knee, thighs, shoulders, neck and back. Happily each pain came and, eventually, went of its own accord. Interestingly, no sign of cramp throughout the day.

It was a bit cold on the first ascent and bitterly cold on the descent despite a long sleeve compression top and a wind stopper jacket. I’d set up base camp by parking a car in the centre of the village and at the end of that first rep I had to sit in the car for 20 minutes, engine running and heater on full to thaw out – a great start!

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Base camp in the gloriously named Place de l’Ambiance

I put on leg warmers and set off on lap 2. On the ascent I was overcome with tiredness and found myself cycling with my eyes closed for a few seconds at one point. That convinced me that there was no way I was going to finish the attempt but, miraculously, within 15 minutes the feeling passed and didn’t return.

On this lap, in the absence of long fingered gloves, I descended using my patented hand warmer – the anti-fog mitt from the car. My bib shorts also split at the seam needing another longer stop to change and warm up at the end of the rep.

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A good thing about a longer lap is that each makes a material contribution to the whole thing – two laps in and already over 16% of the way – even if a bit slow because of the enforced stops.

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An Old Man in Lycra at the top of the Col de Pierre Carrée with the Flaine skiing bowl behind. 

The plan had been to do each climb and descent without stopping (which I managed with all the climbs and all but one descent when I had to fix a dropped chain) and to have a short refuelling stop (water, gels, oat bars, peanuts etc) at base camp every rep – with longer breaks once that became necessary. That worked to the end of the sixth rep when I stopped for a few extra minutes to enjoy a coke and a double espresso at the bar in the square.

At this stage I was doing a full rep, comfortably, in under 1h 30min – not climbing very fast and descending carefully as I’d invested too much in the climbing to want to throw it away on a foolish crash.

I’d decided that my choice of hill had been very good. The route markers showed a decently steady gradient with 6 kms at 6%, 2 at 7% and 3 at 8%. The traffic was a little heavier than I’d guessed as there must have been a sports and classic car event in Flaine. Despite that, in the busiest hour I don’t suppose I saw more than 30 cars – and generally they were driven very courteously. Happily, there was virtually no wind and it wasn’t even too hot, which was good as there was little cover or shade. Add to that the fact that it was quite an interesting route with some great views.

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A ski lift, avalanche protection and a road going up – could a man want more?

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Early in lap 7 I was in entirely new territory. Celebrating my 60th birthday by joining the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux in 2015 had been a day with 4500m of climbing but now I’d left that behind.

Being beyond half way was a real boost and at the end of rep 7 I was feeling as well as a man of 62 who had been out for over 11 hours and climbed 5000m could reasonably expect to feel. My bike, a Rose X-Lite CRS 3000, was terrific: very light and really comfortable, given its relatively aggressive race geometry.

Sadly, that general feeling of well-being didn’t extend to my backside. My carbon fibre saddle had been tested and found to be comfortable up to about 6 hours and 111 miles but, having had to change my preferred shorts after the second lap, I had discovered the limits of the saddle’s comfort and I was now spending time cycling out of the saddle merely to relieve the pressure and pain.

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The friends I was out in France with had been out for a day’s cycling of their own but now rallied round magnificently. David rode with me for rep 8 and then Philip proved how good it is to have a doctor in the ranks. I was suggesting doing rep 9 and then stopping to eat proper food. He recommended eating straight away, as I was probably under-fuelled which was great advice as, by the time we had sat down, I was shivering from mild hypoglycemia.

Happily, the prescribed croque monsieur (French cheese on toast with ham) and coke worked a treat. After Philip rode with me for rep 9, Rosario took over for 10 in the twilight.

I was pretty knackered by now, the light had completely gone so the ascents were slowing and the descents were particularly slow and potentially dangerous. At this stage, having the second rider with good lights was a real bonus and, being so close, I was determined to finish.

I was accompanied by Phil for rep 11, in complete darkness by now. It was getting colder again on the descents so it was back to the car between reps to warm up. Dave then came out for rep 12, starting just before 1am, which was well above and beyond the call of duty!

The everesting calculator said I would need to do 11.9 reps but after the 12th the Garmin was showing ‘only’ 8765m of climbing so Dave kept me company for another part-rep to take it to 8912m, just to be safe. In all, 282km – finishing just after 3am.

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Just before the end. I guess the lap counter was counting double because I was doing ‘up and down’ rather than proper ‘circuit’ laps

A terrific show of support from them all, and one that made a huge difference towards the end of over 22 hours for the whole attempt, with 18 hours of cycling.

So, success! Delighted, astonished, shattered.

It was an epic and, let’s be honest, ridiculous day in the saddle – but with a real sense of achievement at the end of it. I consumed about 5 litres of water, 7 oat and honey/maple syrup bars, 5 banana bars, 5 peanut and salted caramel bars, 2 gels, 150g of dry roasted peanuts, a croque monsieur, two cokes and a double espresso – inadequate by all calculations but it worked.

I expect all everesting attempts are different and my experience is limited to one, but some of the key things I learnt include:

  • Don’t underestimate it – it is hard, both physically and mentally
  • Don’t overestimate it and psyche yourself out before you start – if I can do it ….
  • Lightness and sheer bloody-mindedness are your friends
  • Keep eating and drinking – Strava suggests I expended over 8,000 calories
  • Some mates can make a real difference, especially late in the day
  • Don’t leave it until you are 62.

Epilogue:

I celebrated with a beer and a peach in fromage frais at about 3.30am – neither has ever tasted as good.

Waking at 8am on the Monday, after about 4 hours sleep, I felt surprisingly well but for mild aches in the thighs and shoulders – and the very major tenderness in my backside.

I took the day off the bike but rode on the following 4 days (wearing two pairs of cycle shorts), clocking up about 5,000m of climbing, including the excellent HC climb to the Plateau de Solaison. The legs felt a bit empty but performed well enough.

A week after the everesting I’m back home, included in the Hell’s 500 Hall of Fame, feeling really well, able to sit comfortably and wondering what to do next ….

Thank you for reading. Best of luck with your own challenges – if my experience can help in any way, I’m delighted.

Everesting training week 8 – the small finish

Last week was a bit of a taper! Just one ride and a bit of a bike service – new brake blocks, cables and chain.

Week Single session hill reps Longest ride (km) Total km Total meters climbed

 

1 10 64 139 2178
2 12 79 162 2504
3 15 52 143 3038
4 20 62 138 3045
5* 15 53 105 2212
6 25 103 164 2823
7 50 133 1450
8 60 60 666

* +2 hours turbo trainer

The attempt has taken place – next week’s update will be the denouement, for good or ill.

The Old Man in Lycra vs the Col de Pierre Carrée.

Everesting week 7 – stuck in the foothills?

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What could be inappropriate about this during the TdF?

I used to be in the ‘stretching (along with lunch) is for wimps’ camp but I’m re-thinking that one as a fairly gentle run on Monday brought back the pain in my left knee and introduced a new one in my right heel.

The knee is the Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) again – stupidly I didn’t keep up last week’s stretches of the left quads. The foot – I think – is Plantar Fasciitis from a tight calf/achilles and should be sorted (spot the theme developing here) by stretching the right calf.

At least I can comfort myself that I must be working some muscles with the current training – but if it’s only those two muscles, I’m in trouble.

That meant no cycling until Wednesday. To avoid aggravating the injuries with anything too long, I did my ‘standard’ training circuit – 45.1km with 319m of climbing. I managed a PB with a 30.9kph average. I was stopped 5 times for lights and once for traffic calming so I guess that would have been over 31kph without slowing down and accelerating 6 times. I’m happy enough with that (but it would be good to get the 31 recorded properly).

Friday was 48km with 575m of climbing at a steady 25.8kph but felt pretty good. Saturday was another 49.5km with 556m of climbing, at 26.6kph.

Week Single session hill reps Longest ride (km) Total km Total meters climbed

 

1 10 64 139 2178
2 12 79 162 2504
3 15 52 143 3038
4 20 62 138 3045
5* 15 53 105 2212
6 25 103 164 2823
7   50 133 1450

 

* +2 hours turbo trainer

I’ve been wearing my vintage Festina shirt recently the hope that it might encourage people to offer me performance-enhancing drugs – but it’s not working.

If you’re new to the sport and wondering about that, see here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1998/07/98/tour_de_france/134842.stm.

I had broken through the 65kg barrier (before my birthday weekend), my resting pulse is down in the mid 40s and my BMI about 20. I guess (hope) I’ll soon get to the point where there’s not too much more training that I can do usefully but I’ll carry on for a while and then try to keep it ticking over for a couple of weeks of tapering ….. with continued stretching.

Week 6 of everesting training – am I having fun yet?

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Poor man’s bike porn

I’m (sort of) enjoying my training. I don’t suppose I’m doing enough but am very pleased that I didn’t set out on a 12 week schedule.

I am missing a bit of cycling variety. It’s hard not to keep with the bike I’ll use for the attempt, but I thought I’d remind myself that there is more to life than carbon fibre, so fitted in a quick play with some other bikes. I’m ashamed to say I have over 20, including some sexy, classic Italian steel, but I especially like these four.

Left to right: a 1955 Elswick (rod brakes and 3 speed Sturmey Archer – used for a couple of 35 mile sportives and one that attracts more attention than bikes worth many, many times as much); a Dayton Hawk that I built up from a bare 1946 frame and used for L’Eroica in 2015; a late 1980s Daccordi Griffe (build almost completed); and an early 1980s bike badged Jean Stablinski (World Road Champion 1962) but possibly a Dangre Starnord (the first bike I stripped and rebuilt).

Anyway, back to carbon and everesting training ….

I’ve not done a 100k ride for some time but managed a fairly flat, windy 103km on Thursday at 28.6kph. I left just before noon, having had nothing except coffee all morning – it’s supposed to help train the body to burn fat more efficiently but probably doesn’t help with that particular ride.

Until now, no aches or pains worth mentioning, but this time I had left knee pain. Probably ‘Iliotibial Band Syndrome’ (he says as if he hadn’t just looked it up) so I’ll stretch and hope for the best.

After resting (and stretching) on Friday I went back to reps of Dragon Hill Road this morning. The target was 22 and it started as badly as usual – but then settled down and I ploughed out 25 reps (and had enough left to make the last the fastest again). So, a quarter of an everest in 3hr 38min, with no real repeat of the knee pain. Is that good; is that enough? I have no idea. I could have done more reps … but 74 more?

So far:

Week Single session hill reps Longest ride (km) Total km Total meters climbed

 

1 10 64 139 2178
2 12 79 162 2504
3 15 52 143 3038
4 20 62 138 3045
5* 15 53 105 2212
6 25 103 164 2823

* +2 hours turbo trainer

There is a danger that I’m getting bored with the hill reps (I’ve climbed Dragon Hill 172 times in 2017) so I’m not sure what to do next week. Perhaps time in the saddle – two 100km rides with some hills and at least one other ride if I can’t face the reps again?

Friday morning I was under 65kg. At nearly 177cm (5’10”) I’m not too far from the 2lb per inch of height for specialist mountain climbers. After today’s ride (so rather artificial circumstances, even after some rehydration) I weighed 63.4kg. That’s a spit under 10 stone in real money, so just about at the 2lb per inch.

Sadly, the specialist climbers are rarely over 60 years old.

As an aside, five friends climbed Mont Ventoux this week (all using the route from Bédoin but none daft enough to follow my lead and do the Cinglés). Chapeau Philip, Steve, Gav, Pat and Mick. It’s been great to relive climbing Ventoux again (vicariously) – it’s a very special mountain. Whisper it, but if the everesting works out ok I’ll be tempted by the Bicinglette. More madness.