Category Archives: Everesting

The effect of going up big hills?

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Me, climbing on the ‘Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux’ ride in October 2015. My all-time favourite mountain

With apologies for ‘nerdiness’ …

OK – I know the short answers to this question, largely based around ‘slower’, ‘tougher’, ‘exhaustion’ ‘pain’ etc – but what I’m talking about is how much time big hills add to a ride, recognising that the loss of time going up is never fully compensated for by the additional speed going down the other side.

Of course, I also recognise that this is very subjective – it entirely depends on the type of rider, the nature of the slope, bravery on the descent, fitness levels, the weight of the rider and the bike and a dozen more factors but, in general, can it be said what effect going up hill has on a ride?

I’ve wondered if there is a formula for it – ‘x metres of climbing adds y minutes to a ride, compared to a flat ride of the same distance’.

I have a friend who goes by an extra hour for 1,000 metres (3300 feet) of climbing – but I can’t really validate that from my experience. Also, it seems a bit simplistic as it depends greatly on whether it’s a mountain top finish (like my Etape d’Tour back in 2013 which finished at the top of Mont Semnoz overlooking Annecy) or if the climb comes with a good descent.

Looking at my stats from riding up Mont Ventoux, ‘everesting’ last summer, my Etape, various hilly sportives, and a lot of climbs in the alps, I think the following seems to apply – to me, at least.

If I ride up a mountain, but don’t include coming back down it, I think something like 1,300 metres (about 4,300 feet) of climbing adds an hour to the time it would have taken me to do the same distance on the flat.

If I climb and have a good descent, I think it’s around 1,600 metres (c.5,300 feet) of climbing that adds an hour to my time to cover that distance on the flat. This seems to make some sense as the fast descent balances out the extra climbing.

Does any of this make sense to anyone else?

The purpose of this? It’s linked with route planning for the ride to the alps in the summer:

  • first it helps answer the question ‘how much shorter does a hillier route have to be to justify the extra climbing’? It seems to suggest that 1000m (3300 feet) of climbing should be compensated by about 20 km (12.5 miles) of saved distance.
  • secondly it helps work out how long it might take me to do each of the first two days which are about 280km (175 miles) with 700m (2300 feet) of climbing – about 11.5 hours in good conditions and on good roads?

Not surprisingly, this might not apply to every 1000 metres of climbing. I think this probably works for ‘sensible’ gradients in the range 3% to 10% (?) but accumulating fatigue on a very long and mountainous ride like the etape is likely to mean that the first 1000 metres of climbing is quicker than the third, or fourth …!

 

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Two skis good, two wheels better?

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From the top of Les Carroz looking down on the cloud-filled valley

So, after the drive back from skiing in Meribel between Christmas and New Year re-aggravated my sciatica, the walking in the Lake District went remarkably well.

Having survived that, the sensible thing would have been to rested the creaking body for a while but the day after the Lakes was my aunt’s funeral – and the day after that we left to drive back to the alps for a second skiing holiday. Ridiculously decadent, I know, but this one had been planned before we received the kind invitation to Meribel.

The drive out was good – I remembered to sit as far back into the seat as possible to keep my back supported and no damage was done on the 712 mile journey.

We were out for over two weeks – joined by some friends for 4 days over the first weekend and by our older son and his girlfriend for 4 days over the second.

Initially we had a huge amount of new snow and dodgy visibility but then the sun came out to play and the new snow was a real treat. I was pathetically pleased to record over 60 mph on skis for the first time – only to see that my son had hit 82.3 mph. They are a great reality check, children.

A great holiday all round – it was our son’s girlfriend’s first time out on the slopes and she took to it really well, so another recruit to the happy world of skiing.

Here’s a photo I took on my ‘everesting’ last summer (Everesting, summer 2017) and a photo taken from the ski lift looking back to the point where the first was taken.

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The only blot on it all was putting the snow chains on and off – most notably on the decent leaving the resort. It had snowed in the night and the rear wheel drive and ordinary tyres produced almost no grip at all – lord how I wished I’d put them on in the warm, dry garage before leaving. (Reinforced note to self: 4 wheel drive and winter tyres next year).

The drive back went well too – it looks like the seating position is key to helping both the back and the sciatica. Less happily, this morning I weighed in at just over 70kg – the specialities of the Savoie (particularly cheese, bread and potatoes) have taken their toll.

I’m sure the skiing is a relatively poor exercise – the Garmin typically records me as burning off 3500-5000 calories in a day out on the slopes …. but that’s recorded without the knowledge that I’m on a ski lift for the uphill bits!

So, enough of the skiing and back to the cycling – something I’ve not done on the road since early November (during which time I’ve only done 2 hours on the trainer). It’s going to come as a bit of a shock to the system – but a necessary shock, I fear.

Why cycle … because we can and we want to

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I have done quite a lot of climbing on the bike this year – Strava says 56,788 m (186,321 feet). Although the wisdom of deciding to do an ‘everest’ in July is open to question, once the decision was made, hill training seemed perfectly sensible (or, indeed, essential).

However, having read an excellent blog post by Tempocyclist, I realise that since then I’ve developed a case of average-kph-itis. This is an obsession with producing rides with the highest possible average kph figures, almost to the exclusion of everything else.

The symptoms are clear: setting routes looking for flat roads and tailwinds; an irrational annoyance at hills, junctions, traffic and everything that slows you down; not stopping for photos or anything else; and a constant looking down at the average speed window on the Garmin.

Now, I’m all in favour of cycling fast, training hard and getting better on the bike – but an improving average kph should be a result of those, not the main aim of the ride.

I’m 62, I don’t race and no one pays me to cycle – so sometimes I need to remind myself that I ride for pleasure and personal satisfaction, not to try to impress or beat anyone else.

Today I went out with this in mind. I deliberately turned down some flat fast roads that would have offered some ‘vanity kph’ and headed over to Lambourn for a few hills and a generally ‘nice’ ride. The result – 56 km with 601 m of climbing at 25.1 kph (35 miles, 1971 feet at 15.6 mph) … and a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours.

What do cyclists do in the winter?

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New and old – the Rose and the Giant

There are definite signs of the approach of winter in Oxfordshire. The copper beech trees are starting to turn  and the horse chestnut is covering one of the paved areas in the garden with leaves.

That is the end of “Out of Town’ with Jack Hargreaves (sadly, the fact I can remember that dates me).

While appreciating that hardier cyclists just keep cycling throughout the year, and richer cyclists simply head south, my thoughts now turn to the end of the regular cycling season in an effort to remember what normal people do with their time.

Although normality does intrude occasionally, I prefer to focus on four key things at this time of year: thinking back on the cycling year just gone, planning next year’s cycling, tinkering with bikes and working out how to stay reasonably fit so that getting back into the swing of it in the Spring isn’t too awful (important as the White horse Challenge is in April).

The cycling year just gone: 2017 has been a pretty good one – I missed my 5 hour target for the 90 mile (145km) White horse Challenge by 5 minutes, but set a PB, and rode strongly in the sportive on 1 October, even if we did take the wrong route. Better was coming home first in the club’s 70 mile (112km) sportive (even though it’s not a race) but best of all was completing my ‘everest’ in July. Considering that I so very nearly talked myself out of the attempt that morning, and went into it sure it would fail, I’m delighted to have done it.

Planning for 2018: The White Horse Challenge remains unfinished business – so I will have to do that again, still trying to beat the 5 hours. The week’s cycling in the alps is (almost) a given, but the big difference this year is the aim of cycling out there, unsupported. It will probably be about 750 miles (1200km) and I’d thought about doing it alone but one of the friends I ride with might be able to come with me – and I’d certainly not try to stop him as he would be excellent company.

One other thought I’m toying with is that doing the bicinglette (Ventoux 6 times in a day, twice by each of the routes) and then adding on one more ascent from Sault would gain access to two fairly exclusive clubs – the bicinglette has currently been achieved by only 217 people and the ‘high rouleurs’ society (for 10,000 meters of climbing) currently has only 300 members. Sounds crazy but less than 1100 metres of climbing more that the everesting. The big problem with the bicinglette is that it can only be done on Ventoux!

Tinkering with bikes: If I cycle out to the alps, I’d probably take my old 2006 Giant TCR2 and leave it out there – that would help solve the potential issue of getting it back to the UK and would mean I’ll always have a bike there in case we decide to fly out in the future. I’ve found some pedals and I’m trying to pick up a replacement right hand brifter, but the main job has been solving the issue of the stuck seat post. It has been wedged in very firmly for a few years and has defied everything, including a can of WD40 and putting the post in a vice and using the leverage of the whole frame to try to twist it, without success.

In the end, on Monday, I decided to cut it out as it was not in perfectly straight and was not at quite the right height. I cut off the post (metal, strangely, considering that it’s a composite frame) and with a hand held hacksaw blade cut the down length of the post from the inside. It was a hell of a job which involved much bleeding and swearing but eventually I did it, without cutting much of a groove in the inside of the frame itself. I did my cut at the back of the post so it has strengthening from the rear stay assembly and from the seat post clamp itself – I’ll keep a watchful eye on it to make sure it’s still safe. I’ve ordered a carbon replacement post so I might have taken some weight off the bike, as a by-product.

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Many miles on it like this and you’d appreciate standing on the pedals

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Better out than in

An odd thing that has occurred to me is that when I bought the Giant I was terrified of hills and looked for a bike with a triple. With its 28 on the back, its bottom gear is actually a tiny bit higher than my Rose with its compact and a 32 on the back! How times change.

Then there are my 20 or so other bikes to have a look at …

Staying fit: as I get older, I tend to feel the cold more so it’s back to the turbo when it’s not possible to get out in sensible weather. Beyond that, I’ll keep running with Mrs Omil twice a week and will start the squats, lunges, planks and sit ups to keep the legs moving and the core strong.

It’s not yet too cold – with luck plenty more cycling on the roads to come yet.

Roll up, roll up – free kph?

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My bike, complete with tri bars, looking out at the garden

I bought a set of tri bars a few months ago but didn’t fit them at the time as I was mainly cycling up hills in preparation for my trip to the alps and the ‘everesting’. With the prospect of a long ride out to the alps next summer it seemed sensible to dust them off so this week I fitted them and decided to take them for a test ride today.

I wasn’t expecting great things as I’ve not done too much cycling since July. This week I’ve been out running a couple of times with Mrs Omil and had spent a hard day of manual labour in the garden yesterday – so pretty well everything ached this morning. I wasn’t sure it was going to be a good day to test the tri bars as it seemed entirely possible that I wouldn’t even be able to bend low enough to get down to them.

I opted to do my usual test route (45.1km with around 300m or so of climbing) – to my surprise I felt better on the bike than I had walking round the house so I decided to push on reasonably hard.

To be honest, I was a bit of a wimp coming back up to the hoods whenever the road surface got bad (which was frequent) or when there was a bit of traffic.

I felt a bit of pressure in the forearm and my neck took a bit more strain than normal (Shermer’s neck, here I come?) so the bars certainly aren’t set up right yet. I think they need to be set longer, tilted down a bit and the saddle might need to be moved forward and tilted down a little.

Despite all that, I matched my pb for the circuit at an average of 30.9kph. The previous pb ride was in back in early July when I certainly felt fitter.

So, not exactly proof that the tri bars made me quicker – but on the basis that I was expecting to be slower, there’s is certainly some cause for optimism. As I build up a bit more fitness, it will be interesting to see if I can improve on that pb.

 

Bears, wolves and saddlebags

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I might have to rethink that top tube pack

I’m not saying that long-distance, multi-day cycling is the dark side of the sport – but there are certainly some black arts involved.

I’ve found a very good website (https://ridefar.info) written by a 3 time Transcontinental participant and although I’ve promised myself that I won’t obsess (yet) about my plan to ride to the alps next summer, I have done some preliminary research. It reveals that the problems posed by matters like:

  • assembling the right kit
  • carrying it on the bike
  • route planning
  • navigation
  • bike tools
  • device charging
  • refuelling strategies
  • sleeping plans and
  • required fitness

are on a scale well beyond my current understanding.

Will my reasonably aggressive geometry racing bike (with its maximum 25cm tyres) be suitable for French cycle paths? Can I tell which ‘D’ roads are OK and which will bring certain death under the wheels of a 2CV? Will I be able to find places to charge the phone and Garmin on the way? Can I survive the wild boar, wolves, bears and vampires if I sleep rough? Will I be able to live on a diet of McDonald’s, Haribo, ice cream and Coca Cola, as many in the Transcontinental Race appear to? Will I really need to take that second velvet smoking jacket?

They all seem to be fair questions, apart from the fact that there are, as far as I know, no bears in France, other than the Pyrenees.

It’s expensive too: a front wheel with the right dynamo is probably bespoke and a few hundred pounds, the charger device is another hundred, the various kit bags behind the saddle, under and over the crossbar and on the handlebars could easily be yet another hundred (each), as can quality light weight sleeping bags, tents etc.

The best thing is that I now have an excuse to put the tri-bars that I bought a few weeks ago onto the bike. They might be a good idea on the long straight roads in France, assuming my old body can adapt to the position.

Of course, getting it right is very important, not least because a problem could occur a few hundred miles from home and many miles from anywhere – so I’ve got to take it seriously. When everesting I was never more than 8 miles from the apartment and long sportives tend to have some support – even if it’s only a broom wagon. What’s more, I don’t speak any significant amount of French.

However, this will be my first – and possibly only – foray into this cycling genre, so I plan on being cautious and will try to adopt an approach with modest expenditure. I will dress this meanness up as merely being an innovative extra dimension to the challenge I have set myself.

Plan for 2018 – ride to the alps

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Perhaps I’d better find a way around some of these on the journey out to the alps

Forgive me for wittering on about challenges for 2018. It’s a long way away but if I hadn’t committed publicly to my everesting attempt I know for certain that I would not have left the apartment to do it last month.

Thinking about it, I am still very happy with the idea of cycling out to the alps next July for my annual week’s climbing with friends.

The Transcontinental Race has a lot to answer for – I don’t think I’d be contemplating this without the inspiration of a race that started on 28 July and which has seen only 146 of the 285 starters finish, with one competitor still racing as I type. Come on David Coulon, only 13.7km to go after nearly 4000km of racing – and RIP Frank Simons who died in a collision with a car on the first night.

Without researching the route in any detail, it looks like nearly 1000km of cycling which I would like to do in 4 days, unsupported – and probably alone. I’m lucky that I can take a credit card and book into a hotel when I like but I’d prefer to see if I could sleep rough for at least some of the time. To be honest, I’m don’t think 62 year old retired solicitors do that sort of thing. I’m not sure if I have the guts for it – perhaps next year is the year I find out.

So, loads of logistics to think about: tent?, basha?, tarpaulin?, bivvy bag?, sleeping bag? (pretty well all unknown to me but I’ve started reading up on them). Bags to put on the bike: handlebar?, seat post?, under or over the top tube?. What about route design and navigation, food plan?

I was planning to take my old Giant TCR2 out to the apartment and leave it there so perhaps I could cycle out there on that – but it’s been 2 years since I last rode it and that means sorting the old and slightly unreliable shifters and perhaps making it a compact rather than a triple.

Part of the problem is that it’s all too far away – I will need interim checkpoints. Skiing in January hardly fits the bill but the White Horse Challenge in April is an obvious one: c.150km with 1400m of climbing and still my elusive sub 5 hour target. What else though – obviously some long rides building up distance and then putting them together, back to back. Perhaps 2018 is the year for a spring training camp out in a Spanish island? Perhaps I need to get out on the bike again – post-everesting time off officially over!

I need a plan.