Category Archives: tour de france

Targets – on and off the bike, and no-Sky thinking

Blue Sky No Sky thinking

Well, no Sky sponsorship for the all-conquering cycle team after next year. Perhaps not a huge surprise after Sky was taken over and recent questions raised over the team’s integrity – but all that seemed to have calmed down in recent months, with the overall image being boosted by Geraint Thomas’ Tour win, a man who appears to be really popular both in and outside the peloton.

In the current economic climate it’s hard to see anyone wanting to dig quite so deep into their pockets as Sky did so it will be interesting to see how the team cuts its cloth in rather less affluent times.

It looks like the British domination is more under threat now than it has been for years – I just hope that road cycling has gained a sufficiently strong support base here in the UK to withstand a possible period of lower success in the pro ranks. Surely we are not that shallow?

No doubt, Sky will be rushing to pass on the saving to subscribers (an academic point for me as we only have ‘proper’ television).

My own cycling for next year looks to be built around the White Horse Challenge on 28 April, and my usual week’s cycling out in the alps in July.

White Horse Challenge

I’ve entered the WHC again but with some apprehension as it’s only three weeks after the Rotterdam Marathon. I have no idea whether that’s enough time to recover from the run and then get back on the bike properly, but I guess I’ll find out. The WHC is about 90 miles with anywhere between 1400 and 1750m of climbing, depending whose Garmin you use. 

This will be my 8th attempt and I’m still wanting to break the 5 hour mark – pb so far 5:05. I guess 2019 will not be the year to go under 5 hours, unless marathon training has some miraculous benefit to my cycling.

Haute Savoie, 2019

The alps trip is nearly finalised with all 6 of us being present and accounted for in 2019. I have no plans to ride out there like I did this year so I’m hoping I might perform better on the mountains than was the case with knackered legs this summer.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been out there – it’s becoming a challenge for the routemeister, although I doubt I’ll ever get tired of the Col de la Colombière, the Plaine Joux, the Joux Plane and the Col de la Pierre Carrée (‘my’ Col having being the first, and still only, person to ‘everest’ it!).

Rotterdam Marathon

Although it’s early in the training I was thinking about target setting for April’s marathon in Rotterdam.

Initially, my main aim was to break 4 hours, as I did (just) when I ran my two previous marathons in 1998 and 1999. However, the first four weeks of training are making me reassess that. 

The current London Marathon ‘good for age’ for a 44 year old male is 3:05. I don’t suppose that’s changed much since I ran in 1999 as a 44 year old, but I was probably 50 minutes outside it then. Although I’ve kept reasonably fit through cycling over the last 8 years, what on earth makes me think that I might now be within 15 minutes of the ‘good for age’ time for me as a 63 year old?

I’ve never been particularly hung up on the age thing – but that doesn’t feel like a sound basis for ignoring it completely. I seem to have been assuming that I will run the same time as if the intervening 20 years just haven’t happened!

They might change but, for now, the targets are:

  • Minimum target is to run all the way and finish without injury or undue trauma
  • Beyond that, sub 4:15 is a realistic(?) target
  • After that, sub 4:00 would be great
  • Next, it would be setting a personal best – but that’s a tricky one because I cannot remember what time I did in my second marathon in 1999. My official finish time was 3:56:42 but I can’t remember whether that was an individual time or whether that was from the gun. In 1998 I got an individual finish time, but not start time, and I know that it had taken me nearly 9 minutes to get over the start line – but I can’t remember if that changed for 1999. Let’s say 3:56 will be a pb as I have no evidence for anything better than 3:56:42.
  • The extreme wishful thinking would be 3:45 – my London Marathon ‘good for age’ time (though to me it feels way beyond just ‘good’).

The biggest factor will be staying fit, healthy and injury free (including the Achilles tendons) – but, even with all that working in my favour, 4:00 looks like much more of a stretch target than I’d assumed.

Damn.

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Psycho and the Pacific in Piccadilly

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‘PsychoBarn’ by Cornelia Parker – a rather nice contrast to the Neoclassical surroundings of the Royal Academy, London

We stayed in London for the rest of the week. The plan was to run on Sunday morning with Mrs O – but it was cold and raining. Happily, I’m not yet at the point of having to train in bad weather …. so we didn’t.

Friday was full of domestic duties but on Saturday we went to the Royal Academy. It was pot luck as to what exhibition they might have on but we were lucky a they had one called ‘Oceania’ – showcasing art from the South Pacific islands, including New Zealand. Although we might not have put this one down as a ‘must visit’ we were very pleased to have stumbled across it and it was excellent.

There was also a small gallery with English watercolours which was lovely too. Mrs O can trace her family tree back to the sister of Thomas Gainsborough, the famous 18th C English artist and there was a watercolour by Gainsborough in the exhibition. We were tempted to take it with us on the basis that, surely, it was ours but decided the Academy might not understand.

We carried on into Piccadilly, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square where we came across ‘Africa on the square’ – a festival of music and arts with pop-up food stalls and a African market – very good entertainment.

I think it’s those sorts of thing that show the benefits of city life – and we are particularly lucky to be able to enjoy both London and Bournemouth – but I was still happy to get back to rural Oxfordshire on Sunday afternoon.

If we are going to spend more time in Bournemouth and London I’ll have to think about leaving bikes there. With space at a premium in London, perhaps there’s an excuse for the purchase of a Brompton?

So, a decent week returning from 3 week’s rest for the Achilles tendons – about 19.5km (12 miles) of running and a very rare week without any time on a bike. I’ll put that right in the next few days.

To be honest, I can’t wait for the start of my 20 weeks training programme leading up to the Rotterdam Marathon.

The route for the 2019 Tour de France was released last week. It doesn’t come very close to Les Carroz so it may be a year that we give a miss to viewing a stage. I love the tour but have seen enough stages over the years (about 15, I think) that I’m happy to give it a miss if it takes too much time from my own cycling in the alps.

Without any mad ideas like cycling out there next year I’m going to see if I can take on my friends Phil and Philip for our own king of the mountains title. This year the ride out to the alps had rather taken the edge off my legs’ performance by the time I arrived!

Yet again, it looks like the Tour’s organisers are trying to set an ‘anti-Sky domination’ route. What’s the chance that Sky will again thwart their attempts?

 

Tanks, bladders, lawns, running and the bike

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The bike is an ‘Eastman’ – Indian, I think. Goodness knows why anyone would have brought it back to the UK. Next year the plan is to attach a rack and a basket and fill them with flowers.

The Achilles’ have continued to niggle but, foolishly I’m sure, I’ve ignored them and kept on with some reasonably light exercise. Mrs O and I ran for 5km (3miles) on Thursday and I did my now regular run to the gym and back with a friend on Friday – with 30 minutes of weights in between.

I avoided the calf raises which I think caused the problem with the Achilles tendons last week and have been keeping up the stretches, the sit-ups, press-ups and crunches. I suppose I should have stopped the running until they were properly better, but they are improving in spite of it so I guess it’s doing no serious harm. I’m rarely accused of being sensible these days but at least I’m avoiding any longer runs until the tendons settle down again.

Friday evening I got back on the turbo for 42km (26miles) in a reasonably gentle hour (without much ankle flexing).

So, that was four runs and two cycles and a gym session in six days – nothing too extreme but enough to keep it all ticking over.

It’s turned a bit autumnal here, colder and with heavy morning dews – but I managed to get the lawns mowed. It’s a bit of a gauntlet at the moment as the willow has decided that it’s main aim in life is to sweep the ear defenders off my head as I drive the mower beneath it and I had to pick up a wheelbarrow load of fallen apples to stop them blocking the grass pick-up system. First world problems, eh?

However, it’s a relief to get it done. I know it’s strange but a newly mown lawn, an empty bladder and a full tank of fuel on a long journey are all disproportionately satisfying.

_ _ __ _ _ _ _

Bravo, Simon Yates for winning the Vuelta (subject only to some disaster on the final, largely ceremonial, stage tomorrow). Another astonishing performance by a British cyclist – and the three Grand Tours won by three different Brits in 2018!

We hadn’t won a single Grand Tour before 2012 and we have won 9 out of the 20 since – and the last five in a row. Wow!

Also, bravo Vicky Holland for winning the triathlon world title and James Cooke for winning the individual world modern pentathlon title (in what must have been one of the great finishes of recent years).

We might be going to hell in a handcart generally – but at least the sport is pretty good.

Le Tour – wonderful. Transcontinental Race – more phenomenal cycling

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More from stage 10 of Le Tour

I have never been mistaken for Mick Jagger – nor do we apparently have anything in common. However, having finished my ride to the alps, I can at least get some small sense of what it must be to try to come down from the high of a big performance.

The point is that the ride was quite all-consuming and, I’ve already said, that was one of the great things about it – the glorious simplification of life down to ‘eat, sleep, ride’.

Once I got to the alps I was occupied by the cycling with my friends and following Le Tour but having returned to what passes for normal life, it’s difficult not to think about the next challenges.

My promise to Mrs O that I won’t go for a solo challenge next year means I’ve got to recruit a fellow idiot or accept that I’ve got quite a while to ponder the issue – the main thing that might come off in the meantime being a marathon with our younger son in April 2019.

Happily, I can get the challenge experience second hand by following the Transcontinental Race that started on Sunday. I know it’s well beyond me but I can dream ….

As I write, the leader has ridden for 1 day 18 hours and 30 minutes and been stopped for only 4 hours 18 minutes. His average moving speed is 28.4kph (17.65mph). Quite phenomenal.

Of course, if I can’t exactly plan the next trip, I can think about cycling kit. Sometimes even that can be oddly entertaining. On the Chain Reaction Cycles website there is a Kask Rapido Road Helmet for sale. Apparently, they think one of its great attractions is the ‘Expanded polystyrene shell that optimises crash impacts’

Not sure about you but I’d go for a helmet than minimises crash impacts.

Tour de France 2018

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A rare picture – Geraint Thomas was more often ahead of Chris Froome. This is stage 10, just above Le Reposior on the Col de la Colombière – the last before Thomas took (and kept) the yellow jersey. 

No doubt, much of the cycling world would have wanted anyone but a Sky rider to win Le Tour. There is a strong argument that any domination of a sport becomes unhealthy over time and six wins in seven years certainly amounts to domination in my book.

However, I guess that if a Sky rider had to win, Geraint Thomas was a pretty good choice – a man who:

  • seems to be very popular in the peleton,
  • served his apprenticeship with good grace and humour (in 2007 he finished 140th out of 141),
  • handled the pressure commendably (rather in contrast with David Brailsford at times),
  • passes the ‘would you be happy to have a drink with him in the pub’ test, and
  • above all, is not Chris Froome.

Cards on the table, I am a big fan of Chris Froome and believe him to be a great champion – but I fear that the reception he’d have got when standing on the top step of the podium would have been ‘mixed’ at best (!) and, in some eyes, the victory would have been potentially tainted.

Of course, being a member of Sky since its creation, Geraint may be tarred with the same brush in the eyes of the sceptics but I believe that he’s never applied for any TUEs.

He doesn’t even have mild asthma – how many self-respecting pro cyclists can say that.

Chapeau Geraint.

Ride to the alps: day 4 (of three) ‘Climb every mountain’ (well, actually only the ones on the route)

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Well above Neuville-sur-Ain – a good way to warm up the legs first thing

In keeping with previous mornings I woke with a variety of minor aches (which eased very quickly) and an extremely sore backside (which didn’t). I left Neuville-sur-Ain at about 8.30 after a very good breakfast, in kit that had dried better overnight than previously.

Having already cycled for about 730km (453miles) out of an expected 820km (510 miles), I reckoned that I still had about 135km (84 miles) to go.

Almost immediately I was climbing into the Jura mountains, heading towards Ceignes. It was a very decent climb – there is a clue that you are on a reasonable climb when you pass a bar/restaurant called ‘Le Panoramique’ well before you reach the summit.

The climb was around 380m (1250 feet) but had a fairly gentle gradient. That was a good thing as my fall at the end of the second day had bent the rear mech hanger. For a day I’d been able to move the chain into the gap between the largest cog and the wheel, had suffered a rather ‘clackety’ drive train and couldn’t use the lowest gear as the bent hanger meant that the lower jockey wheel cage brushed the spokes.

I believe that mech hangers are designed to snap in the event of a big impact, to protect the frame. I’d decided that I wouldn’t need any very low gears for the rest of the journey and that I preferred it as it was, compared to being completely snapped – so I simply carried on.

Happily most of the roads followed the valleys or went over the shoulders of the hills. An early highlight was the lake at Nantua which I’ve often looked down on from the elevated roadway but had never visited before. It’s now on the list for a visit in the future.

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The lake at Nantua

All was going really well until I saw a rock late, missed it with the front wheel, but clipped it with the rear – which immediately decided that it no longer wanted to hold any air.

I’d brought one spare tube and a repair kit so I removed the tyre with my bare hands to avoid damaging the tube further – but needn’t have bothered as I discovered a long slit in it from the rock. The need for the new tube wasn’t a great disaster but of more concern was the gash in the tyre itself. Not surprisingly, I’d not brought a spare tyre so I was left with no choice but a temporary bodge.

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Oops

I had some small wipes in individual ‘metallized’ sachets so I took one of those (keeping the wipe for my hands afterwards … waste not, want not) and put it under the gash, between the inner tube and the tyre. I left the tube a little under-inflated and rode on rather apprehensively, particularly on the descents.

The next few villages had no bike shops but as the miles clicked by I got a bit more confident in my bodge, crossed the Rhone and rolled into Switzerland – through an entirely unmanned border post. Welcome to the Schengen area!

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What would Pres. Trump say?

Switzerland looks like a really bike-friendly country with lots of very good paths alongside the roads and with bike lanes apparently well respected by motorists in Geneva itself. I got through Geneva (eventually) and headed out on the home run – only to be held up by the font wheel coming out in sympathy with the rear and picking up a puncture.

I repaired that and pressed on, only to pick up another in the rear wheel (unrelated to the first and the gash in the tyre) within another 5 miles. By the time I patched that, I was really annoyed and my hands had absolutely no strength left (having fixed all three without using tyre levers).

The other enduring disadvantage from the punctures was the square wheel syndrome of having patched inner tubes. I now remember why I just replace them once they are punctured.

That was probably the low point of the whole trip but it was compounded by being met with another ‘Route barrée’ somewhere between Geneva and Annemasse. It included ‘no cycling’ and ‘no pedestrians’ signs, just to show they really meant it.

I probably spent the next 15 miles (24km) off course, the other side of the River Arve, guessing it was a suitable alternative route – but it worked.

It was very hot and almost everything was shut (it was Bastille Day so I guess it was something of a national holiday) but I eventually found a supermarket in Bonneville that was open and gratefully bought some mini croissants, a can of coke and some water. I stopped again at a McDonald’s soon after for more coke and an ice cream – the only stop at the golden arches for the whole trip – but very gratefully received.

By now I was on roads that I’ve cycled before when getting to or from nearby climbs and I was getting confident of finishing. I’m sure I didn’t take the shortest way but soon I was on the route de Châtillon, through St Sigismond, Araches and into Les Carroz. I probably did my all-time slowest ascent for that final climb to the apartment.

I arrived just before 8 pm – under 84 hours since I set out from Caen. I had clocked up almost exactly 880km (c.550miles) and over 5600m of ascent (18372 feet). So, probably 40+ miles (64km) more than I’d expected – I guess that was due to detours, getting lost and otherwise going off course to find hotels.

Of the 135km I assumed I had to do on the last day, I did at least another 150km and climbed over 1800m (93 miles and 5900 feet) – presumably due to yet more detours.

Three of the others had already arrived and there was a cold beer (or three) waiting for me … and beer has rarely tasted as good. Sadly, we were one short on the trip as David’s wife had fractured her wrist and ankle playing tennis … and Mrs O says cycling is dangerous!

After a fine supper, I slept well and woke with no ill effects other than a very sore backside. I love my carbon saddle but it has its comfort limit, and 84 hours is well beyond it.

The following day (Sunday) I went out with the others on the bikes but on Monday I just rode down into the valley and back to get new inner tubes (a tube is charmingly called ‘chambre à air’ in French) and a new tyre as the original was bulging by now after more than 100 miles on the temporary repair.

The 5 of us rode together on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I took another easy day on the Friday but still did the Joux Plane (which nearly broke Armstrong in one tour and is described in my “Tour climbs” book as ‘hard as nails’).

Over the week we also did the Cols de Romme and Colombière, the Cote des Amerands, Bettex, Mont Saxonnex and the Sommet d’Andey – possibly the hardest road I’ve ever ridden. Watching a stage of Le Tour on the 17th at Le Reposoire, half way up Colombière was, as always, a great experience.

Altogether, the week out in the alps accounted for a further 340km and 7400m of climbing (210 miles, 24,300 feet) – my legs were still severely fatigued but it’s got to be done.

Saturday saw us return to the UK – with delays at the Channel Tunnel, just to make it a perfect trip.

I’ll try to reflect on the whole experience in a few days but the sense of relief and achievement is huge.

Ride to the alps: day 2. ‘Loire to the left of me, sunflowers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with(out) you’

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Sunflowers by the Loire

The cycling kit I’d washed the previous night was still damp in the morning but I used the hotel hairdryer to make it at least wearable – and it dried fairly quickly once I got moving. I had two pairs of shorts but only one jersey, one pair of gloves and one pair of cycling socks. The non cycling clothing had only been worn for a couple of hours so that was OK for the next evening (however crumpled it might be by then).

I was continually refining my packing. I had the big sausage shaped bag pointing out backwards from the saddle (which had a tendency to wobble and needed regular re-tightening), a frame bag (I should have got a bigger one) and a top tube bag. The saddlebag also tended to droop – I solved this by strapping my trainers on the outside of it with a bungee cord and they acted rather like ‘splints’ and kept it fairly rigid.

I’m sure there was a more logical way of distribution of my meagre luggage (something like 5kg – 11 lbs – of it) but beyond making sure my passport and wallet were accessible and safe and the bike lock, spares and tools could be reached quickly, I had no real clue what I was doing.

As it was, I was hardly ever parted from the bike during the day (only once was it out of sight for more than a moment) and I used the lock only three times (twice over night) during the whole trip.

I’d woken feeling really stiff, although that eased as I got moving. Leaving the hotel after breakfast at about 7.30 I feared a rush hour into Orleans – but it didn’t materialise and I rolled into the city without drama. Getting through it was another matter as there were road changes and closures. I guessed my way through the city, crossing the Loire for the first time and headed for Sully-sur-Loire, nearly 30 miles (48km) away, where I joined the Loire again.

Initially the bike path along the river was magnificent – smooth tarmac and great views with the river on one side and fields of sunflowers on the other (all the better as the song is by Stealer’s Wheel). I soon had confidence that the ride would be fairly easy and that doing it in 3 days was well within my grasp.

Sadly that didn’t last.

I’d used ‘Ride with GPS’ for my route but I soon realised that opting for ‘cycling’ as the routing option is taken to mean:

‘I love cycle paths so much that I really want to struggle along virtually impassible tracks in preference to riding along smooth and traffic-free roads that are just 50 metres away and heading in the same direction.’

I spent hours being directed off perfectly good roads onto terrible or sometimes non-existent tracks. I assume that they think that anyone opting for a cycle route is riding a hybrid (at least) or preferably a mountain bike. I rode on grass verges, farm tracks (and the occasional decent path) for the whole day. I wasted time and energy and found it all really frustrating. Credit to the bike for holding up to the abuse it suffered, and to the tyres for not puncturing.

At one point I was told by a lock keeper that the path was impassible between there and the next lock. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’d just cycled along exactly the same sort of path for several miles – and had come to exactly the same conclusion.

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Another ‘track’ I was directed to. OK for a hybrid, perhaps, but not for a road bike. Let’s be grateful for small mercies – it least it had been mown

I got to the point of zooming out the Garmin and trying to guess if a nearby road was a sensible alternative to the path I was being directed onto. The big problem was that, while some tracks were fine, there was no predicting what the next section of track would be like.

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By no means the worst track I cycled on

On the plus side, one of the highlights of the whole trip was sitting in the sun at a cafe on the bank of the Loire canal, drinking fruit juice and eating a bag of Haribo and a white chocolate Magnum ice cream. Simple but great pleasures!

I crossed the river to find a quick lunch of a cheese and ham baguette, with more coke (I rarely drink the stuff at home but drank two or three a day during the trip) and a refill of the bidon. It was very hot and shade was at a premium – I remembered to use the sun cream I’d taken but still got the best tan lines ever on my arms and legs.

The feeling of freedom from being on the road with nobody but myself to please or be responsible for was terrific. Life becomes very simple – eat, sleep, ride, repeat.

The struggles on bad tracks meant that I had worked disproportionately hard in clocking up about 240km (150miles) during the day. At least it was fairly flat with about 700m (2300 feet) of climbing.

I found a place that was advertising rooms in Gannay-sur-Loire – a small village which was otherwise entirely shut – and went for that. After 500km (310miles) without mishap I turned into the driveway for the last 20 metres and immediately hit deep gravel and fell off.

Of course, my immediate reactions were, in order:

  • swear
  • embarrassment – did anyone see me looking so stupid?
  • pain, with grazes to my shoulder, elbow and knee and a bang to my right hip.

The bed and breakfast rooms were all taken but I was offered a bed in a room with four bunks, in an out building. I was the room’s only occupant, other than a plague of flying ants that, happily, seemed to go home for the night. I got the room, bed linen, a shower (I could have really done with a soak in a bath), a can of coke and a bottle of fruit juice with change from 20 Euros (about $23).

The French couple in the next room were charming and the owner was great too. He explained that he would frequently leave his car and his house unlocked but still perfectly safe – I put a chain on the bike in the cycle rack but it came to no harm. No supper to be found and I’d had nothing but two oat bars since lunch so I went to bed fairly early, listening for the rustle of flying ants, but slept like a log.