King of the Downs Result

On the plus side from the ride on Sunday, the results have come through

kotd

I came second out of 561 riders, though with the 10 minutes or so that it took to fix my puncture and 15 minutes of sulking and riding slowly afterwards I reckon I can claim a moral victory.

PS Miss Jo Munden looks very much like a man in the photos if you were wondering :-)

Club Des Cingles du Mont-Ventoux

It’s official I’m in!

clubdescingles

Though, alas, the website has not been updated yet.

Cingles de Mont Ventoux

Thursday

The alarm was set for 04:45 and I couldn’t decide if being awoken by cramp at precisely 04:44 was a good omen or not.  It did mean I could cancel the alarm before it woke up Rach, though my attempts to stretch had much the same effect.  Racing at Crystal Palace seems to be having a bit of a ruinous effect on my body.

Up and about I was already packed.  AndyC arrived a little early disrupting my carefully planned ‘just in time’ scheduling.  I chucked my bag in the back of the motor that we’d hired and set off to pick up AndyI and then off to DaveC’s popping the bikes on the back of the trailer thingy for our journey.

We swiftly made our way down to Folkestone and managed to sneak onto a slightly earlier train.  The Eurotunnel was on typically great form.  No hassle.  No queues.  No security.  No removing random items of clothing and other insults to my intelligence and dignity that I find impossible to bear at airports. And you can get a decent coffee.  What more can you ask?

The Garmin was up to it’s usual tricks.  Recommending innovative, alternative routes that, when rightly ignored, retrospectively calculating that the more conventional and straightforward options were indeed more efficient.  Is it possible for an English driver to travel any distance on French roads without passing favourable comment and speculating on the reasons for such stately progress?  Not in my experience.

Apart from an HGV driver learning the ropes on narrow, twisty rural roads the journey was without serious incident.  It was with just a little guilt that I somehow ended up the only one of the four of us that was not insured to drive.  Instead I was able to work away on a new website for a couple of hours on the laptop that will, almost definitely, be added to the growing pile of unfinished projects that form an unseemly pile in my past.

We found VeloVentoux with ease and got acquainted with Craig and Vicky who are like, er, famous in the cycling world.  The accommodation is beautiful and our welcome was very much according to the high expectations established from the books and articles they have appeared in.

We popped our bikes in the garage and unpacked.  We had two twin rooms separated by a shared bathroom which was an interesting arrangement.  Two unspoken rules seemed to establish themselves immediately – whistle while you work and any serious business should be done in the communal toilet on the floor below.

The view from the room was simply stunning.

We half listened to Craig’s advice on where to eat and we set off in search of a meal.  Whilst not our intended destination, we found a small restaurant and likely ‘made their week’ as we tucked in to a three course meal – not amazing by any means but decent enough and necessary fuel for the day ahead.

The original plan was to chill on Friday, maybe do a brief ‘loosener’ on the bike and generally prepare for the main assault on Saturday.  However, the consensus was that we would be better served to do the ‘bigun’ on Friday, leaving us free to see how we felt to ride on Saturday.  The weather was fantastic and it was a relief that we wouldn’t need any of the winter gear that we had packed.  We caught up with a couple of guys that had done the Bedoin climb that day and they confirmed that the conditions were fine.

Friday

Exciting.  Up at 7:00.  Look out of window – it’s a beautiful day.  The top of Ventoux in clear view from our room. Decent breakfast – yoghurt, muesli, crunchy, banana, coffee and cheeky croissant – one of the benefits of being in a cycling accommodation for cyclists run by cyclists.  Then pack – phone, brevet card, cash, camera, energy bars, gels, water bottles.

First stop Bedoin.  We had thought about driving out to Bedoin as it was a 25km ride, however the hassle of loading up the bikes in the motor was too much.  And it was a fantastic morning.  I haven’t been to Provence before, but if the bit around Ventoux is representative it is a beautiful place.  It was nice to stretch the legs on a ‘rolling’ course, through Malaucene (another of the starting points for the three ascents).  Every so often it was a privilege to be caught by a scene of such staggering beauty that the only response was involuntary laughter.

To qualify for the ‘cingles club’ it is required that all 3 climbs (Bedoin, Malaucene and Sault) are completed in one day.  This is ‘proved’, in a gentlemanly way, by getting the ‘brevet card’ stamped 4 times, at each of the start towns and once at the summit.  We dutifully got our cards stamped at the Bedoin tourist office and, after spending a few minutes getting the tourist shots done we set about the first climb.  Three of us (AndyC, DaveC and I) would be attempting to complete the challenge and AndyI content with carrying out a single ascent as part of his recce of the Etape route which he is completing in July.

Bedoin is the most famous of the ascents and is the one that is used in the Tour de France.  It roughly splits into three sections; the first few kilometres that are relatively flat, the forest section and the final 6km of barren moonscape.  The first bit is easy, varying a little between three and five percent and, for my money, shouldn’t really be considered part of the overall ascent.  It’s too flat and doesn’t feel like part of the mountain.  It also serves to flatten out the average gradient of the climb which is to do it a bit of a disservice.

However, you soon know about it when you hit the forest section.  Suddenly you are in the trees and the summit with the characteristic weather station is out of view.  And the climb ramps up, rarely dropping below 10% and long sections of 11, 12 and 13%.  Our legs were still fresh as this was our first ascent and set a good even pace.  Bravado prevents a lot of riders going for the ‘soft option’ of a 34×27 gear setup but I challenge anyone to find themselves ‘spinning’ at the sort of speeds that this type of climb necessitate!  Give me a higher cadence option any day.

Bedoin is at about 350 metres, and the next waypoint is at 1400 metres; Chalet Reynard.  After nearly an hour in the twisting forest section it’s a relief to make it.  The climb seems to play funny tricks on your mind.  The Garmin (the good bike gadget, not the bad car one) gives an accurate guide to the current gradient of the climb; unlike it would seem my senses.  Often the slope looks no more than a few percent, but is nearly 15% and vice versa.  Seeing is not believing in this case.

Once out in the open after the forest section the challenge, aside for the climbing, is the elements; particularly the wind.  Mont Ventoux stands proud in Provence and, whilst not being the only hill in the area, does rather dominate and I presume this is the reason for the famed conditions.  We worked our way up the famous ‘moonscape’ towards the weather station which has a kind of beauty I suppose, not least as it symbolises the end of the suffering – unless you’re planning a couple more ascents of course.

The top of Ventoux was a bit grim really.  It was very windy and chilly.  There’s a gift shop and that’s about it apart from a few windswept tourists.  There is also a complete absence of anywhere to shelter from the conditions which meant that, rather than being able to relax and celebrate the first ascent, we were quickly on our way – not before my first Twitter of the day of course!

Brevet card stamped we were on our way.  Not after an initial false start; the Malaucene descent was technically closed, to cars at least.  Up until last week the road was completely covered in snow.  Fortunately the road was pretty much clear for us, apart from a lot of surface water and debris.  We had to negotiate a couple of barriers on the way down but the descent, overall, was glorious.  Wide sweeping roads with a good road surface and visibility even tempted me up to a record top speed of 80km/h (50mph).  And it goes on for ever!  Naturally it doesn’t escape your attention that every metre of wonderful descent will be matched by a subsequent ascent, but that was for later.  Live for now!

Our second visit to Malaucene and a quick stamp of the brevet in the bike shop.  All of the business owners seemed very gracious about being disturbed for a clearly unprofitable transaction.  A quick bite to eat, another Diet Coke – why was I craving Diet Coke so much! – and away.

The Malaucene climb is much the same difficulty as the Bedoin being both similar in length and total ascent.  However, it kicked up harder and sooner.  So another 90+ minutes of climbing began.  We bumped into AndyI on his way down and we had a welcome breather and a quick debrief before we ploughed on.

A slight difference in pace saw DaveC slightly drop off as we made steady progress up the hill.  The Malaucene climb is more forgiving in a way as there are a couple of places where the gradient relents allowing a little recovery.  Ducking the barriers at the top we made it without too much aggravation and still felt OK – though my Twitter looks otherwise.

So that was the two hard climbs out of the way, and just the easiest one left to do; from Sault.  The Sault ascent shares the same last 6km from Chalet Reynard and it was this we descended before taking the older road towards Sault.  In contrast to the other climbs, the Sault descent was a bit hairy.  The road surface was rough in places and in others freshly tarmacked but no less scary for looking a bit molten. However, no complaints; it’s always good to be going downhill!  Which was why the little kick up to the town of Sault to get a last stamp was a bit of a blow.  The tourist office was closed, but the guys in the cafe were more than happy to stamp our cards for the last time and we were on our way.

The Sault ascent is much longer, and therefore easier than the other two.  However, that somewhat depends on the pace.  AndyC had been itching to push on all day, with me just about hanging on.  We pushed each other the whole way up to Chalet Reynard, doing 25km/h or more on the 3% sections and motoring past other riders.  I was right on my limit, or rather, the limit that I wanted to go to.

As soon as we reached Chalet Reynard I knew the game was up and AndyC’s superior fitness was to win the day.  I backed off a little and composed myself for the last 6km with the gap to AndyC rather depressingly growing.  I actually felt that I was going OK and made my own stately way up the climb – though I doubt it looked very stately frankly.  The gap stabilised at about 150m as both of us tired.  150m doesn’t sound very much on a 26km climb but it is.  When we reached the top we were both shattered.  The weather had turned a little and it was cold, very windy and raining.  On top of a little exhaustion that was a bit much.  Anyway, we congratulated each other on a job well done and took shelter in the gift shop.  For all AndyC’s superior fitness and climbing ability I think I did better in the dignity stakes and managed at least not to sit down in the shop.  DaveC joined us and none of us were in any mood to hang around.  I was shivering at this point and the first bit of the descent was pretty grim – exhaustion, cold, high speeds and uncertain handling in the wind not combining to make a pleasant experience.

Our final descent was to Bedoin which, having suffered up through the forest, was an absolute joy on the way down.  AndyC decided that it was insufficient to kick my arse on the way up, and showed my the way to go down too.  Bombing past a convey of vehicles I tried to keep up as we swept down through the trees.  By this time I had warmed up and it was truly exhilarating making our way down.

Having arrived and regrouped in Bedoin we merely had to get back to our accommodation in Faucon.  Which was not quite as simple as it might sound.  Our map-meister, AndyI, was already showered and safely ensconced in the comfort of VeloVentoux and, having set off with a little more confidence than we could afford, quickly realised that we didn’t know the way back.  However, in a mixed trip for Garmin inc, the Edge 705 came up trumps and navigated us safely back.  To describe the ride back as purgatory would be to do it a slight disservice, but having completed the challenge another hour or so on the bike in rolling countryside was not at all what any of us wanted.

DaveC iced his own personal cake by winning the day; albeit by rules that only became apparent after his fine victory.  Apparently CTC rules dictate that a sprint to the last town sign is the official manner of determining the winner – and who am I, or anyone else for that matter, to argue.

It was with tremendous relief that we arrived back at the accommodation and whilst not quite having a Steve Redgrave moment (if you see my on a bike again…) it was not far off.  AndyI gave us a cheery greeting and had been happily planning our following day’s recovery session.

Has a shower ever felt so good?  Probably not, especially when the first flood of salt from my hair was washed from my eyes.  That was a tough day.  183km (113.5 miles) of riding and 5113m (16775 feet) of climb.  That’s more than the Marmotte albeit at a less spectacular pace.  But we had done it.  As I was to repeat over dinner the following day, it’s like winning the speedboat in Bullseye – nobody could take it away.

We regrouped out in the courtyard basked in evening sunshine and AndyI announced that he had planned a 150km Etape preview ride for the following day.  I assumed he was joking.

If there’s one thing that cycling’s good for it’s making you hungry.  AndyI kindly drove us to a nearby town and we enjoyed a top notch meal. Amazing surroundings, a nice glass of wine and a ‘local speciality’ pepper steak which was like a normal pepper steak but with much, much more pepper than usual.

We had a relatively early night and got too bed trying to recover for the next day.

Saturday

It turned out that the Etape recce was not actually a joke and that AndyI was seriously suggesting that we ride nearly 100 miles after the exertions of the previous day.  This seemed totally nuts.  Anyway, same breakfast, pack up stuff and off.  I got to wear my glorious new Cervelo Test Team jersey which gave me a little boost.  The legs were feeling pretty tired but not unbearable as we made our way through the Provencal countryside.

The plan was to ride part of the Etape route enabling AndyI to get more of a feel for what he was up against come July.  For DaveC, AndyI and I it was an opportunity to see more of the countryside and have a social, relaxing ride.

The route took us a north of Faucon and would enable us to cycle a wide circle around Mont Ventoux.  It included a couple of minor climbs that would soften up the Etape riders before the major ascent of Ventoux.

We arrived at Sault after 4 or 5 hours of relatively relaxed riding and sat down for lunch.

It was our original plan to finish a tour round the mountain and head back to the accommodation.  However, it was hard to resist the lure of one last ascent.  In the end, DaveC decided to do the Sault climb and AndyC and I to complete more of the tour through a gorge and then tackle the Bedoin climb.  AndyI stuck to his original plan and sensibly completed his appraisal of the Etape route.

We set off going our separate ways.  I think that AndyC and I had the best views as the gorge was a delight – it struck us both as odd that this wasn’t the route that would be used for the Tour.

A bit of climbing was followed by a long, sweeping descent of about 1 or 2% which seemed to go on forever.

Climbing from Bedoin again was ridiculous.  Our legs were already tired and we were suffering a bit in the afternoon heat.  And we had already covered about 140km and done 3 categorised climbs.

We got off to a great start when a Belgian rider came sailing passed us with consummate ease.  Terrific!  We ploughed on, not quite grovelling but dignity was in short supply.  ‘Where is Chalet Reynard?’ was the unspoken question silently repeated over and again as we alternated sitting, standing, hands on levers,  hands on top of bars -  anything to ease the suffering a little.  Aggravatingly the forest section doesn’t even look that steep, but the Garmin confirmed the suffering constantly showing 10% or more.

Chalet Reynard was greeted with a silent cheer – ‘Straight on?’ AndyC asked.  Stopping was tempting but not a good idea.  Much better to press on.  Only 6km to go.  We knew at least that the toughest part of the climb was behind us and we slowly ground our way to the top.

I couldn’t decide whether constantly looking at the altimeter was a good idea but I couldn’t resist.  1,600, 1,650, 1,700 metres – I’d been reduced to counting integer multiples of the Toys Hill ascent remaining.

I’m sure if either of us had anything left we’d have attempted to push a little to ‘win’ the last climb.  But it was better in the end that both of us were shot and we both finished the climb at the same time with a quick shake of the hand.

All that was left was to enjoy the descent down to Malaucene and the final 12km back to Faucon.  It was a nutty ride but felt like a great achievement.  We’d covered another 174km (109 miles) and climbed 3224m and 10557 feet.

It was terrific to catch up with AndyI and DaveC back at VeloVentoux and I think all of us feeling rather pleased with ourselves.

We didn’t have far to go in the evening as we ate at the accommodation.  We had a great three course meal with a couple of beers and glasses of wine.

Sunday

Oh well.  The party had to end sometime.  We packed up and set off for Calais.  The guys did a terrific job of getting us to the Eurotunnel a good deal ahead of schedule and we were all safely home by 7:30.

What a great trip.  Granted we’d had some good luck with the weather.  One week earlier and some of the climbs would have been covered in snow.

VeloVentoux was everything that we had expected from their amazing reputation and was a perfect base for our trip.

Hog Hill 25th April

Another first for me; a 3rd/4th category race at the Redbridge Cycling Centre AKA Hogs Hill.

This is the circuit that was in the press recently that replaces a circuit called Eastway that was demolished to make way for the Olympic developments.  It’s a custom-built, 2km or so track which is twisty and has a nice climb at the end of each lap.  In addition to a great track surface there also changing rooms, a cafe and timing chips and… well, everything really.  Brilliant.  Well worth the £4.5million spend!

I was a bit iffy about the race having pulled a muscle in my calf this week. It doesn’t hurt that much but I was worried about making it worse and hampering my training – Mont Ventoux looms (literally) in a couple of weeks time.

Anyway, I thought I’d go along all the same.  I took my big camera so that, at least if I had to bail, I’d be able to use my time effectively by getting some decent pictures of the race in general, and two club mates – Steve and PaulS – in particular.

PaulS picked me up and we headed up to the track.  It was a bit of a trek but there’s always plenty to talk about cycling-wise so it we had a good catch-up. 
We arrived at the track in good time and found Steve in the car park.  We cast admiringly glances at each other’s equipment, then checked out each others bikes.

A quick swap of race license for race numbers later and change into kit and we were off for a quick couple of warm up laps of the track.  Fantastic.  Windy.  But fantastic.

I had an endless stream of piss coming out, probably due to the ‘mental powder’ High5 Extreme energy drink.

We lined up for the race; probably about 40 of us I guess and we were off.  The early pace was reasonably relaxed, at least compared to the madness of Crystal Palace during the week.  I felt a bit more confident amongst the other riders as we made steady progress around the circuit.  The race would be run for one hour and then 5 further laps.

My plan was simple; tuck in, stay out of trouble and get a nice high intensity ride in.  However noble or otherwise my intentions I was not able to stick to them.  I found that, as the pace was just below my ‘all out’ pace I was constantly tempted to ride on and off the front.  This meant riding at or beyond my threshold pace for large parts of the ride.

I managed to push myself pretty hard, increasing my recorded maximum heart rate to a whole new level – 193bpm or 3.75% higher than my previous ‘best’.

I kept expecting to hit the wall, but when really fatigued I tucked back into the bunch to recover which happened reassuringly quickly.  Meantime Steve was spending a good deal of time at the front end of the bunch and PaulS riding a good conservative race staying out of trouble.

A few breakaways were attempted by none successful – not least my own ridiculous hubristic efforts.

With an hour done the 5 lap marker was displayed which was something of a relief.  The big hill before the start/finish line was starting to hurt.  PaulS was starting to make regular appearances towards the front of the bunch as was looking pretty fresh. 

I found myself at the front again, unintentionally, and again tired.  On a straight bit of the circuit I thought I’d treat myself to a little drink before re-composing myself for the hill.  At which point Steve screams ‘put that down’ and zoomed off into the distance – the implication clearly that I was somehow meant to follow!  Duly chastened I calmly replaced my water bottle and set about trying to chase him down.  Already knackered this was no mean feat and it didn’t really happen.  Either way we were quickly caught by the bunch.

With one lap to go I was convinced that the whole bunch was going to come zooming past me.  Instead I found myself pretty much at the front all the way to the last climb of the day.  At this point I got my arse roundly whipped and ended up finishing, well, just about nowhere which was rather amusing.  Steve also, probably fatigued from our ill-advised attack, didn’t have much left for the last climb.

I parked up and chatted to Steve who I think was a bit disappointed in the end – an hour and twenty minutes of pretty solid effort to be outgunned in the last 30 seconds can do that I guess.  PaulS rocked up a couple of minutes later saying ‘what happened to you boys?’.  He’d only gone a finished 4th!  Brilliant effort at the end of the race.

All in all a good ride.  Great training for me.  Racing is very much a secondary goal this year – not least as having lower expectations leads to much less disappointment when the inevitably indifferent results start rolling in.

Having said that, 2 races in one week, and I’m starting to get a bit hooked.  Suddenly pottering around doing 100 mile sportives seems a bit unambitious.  Maybe it’s the endorphins…

Stats here.

First Race at Crystal Palace

Phew.  Just back from my first proper race.

My plan for racing is not to take it too seriously but to add a bit of edge to my fitness, replace a turbo session or two and to have fun.

Doubtless the first two criteria were met and, now I’ve recovered, I think the third was too.

Anyway, I left work 13 minutes early (the specificity can be explained by my work colleagues who, when the boot was on the other foot, were very keen on precise timekeeping), quickly cycled home, got changed, jumped in the car and headed off to Crystal Palace.  I wanted to leave plenty of time to make sure that I can find out where I was meant to park,  sign in, leave my stuff, etc.  For some reason I was a little nervous about the whole endeavour so I wanted to leave little to chance and to minimise unnecessary stress.

Arriving in plenty of time I queued for eternity to swap my newly minted racing license for my numbers which would be pinned to my jersey.  The organisation was a complete shambles; I’m afraid no matter how generously people give their time it does not grant them blanket immunity from criticism of the embarrassing levels of incompetence on display.

It was a beautiful spring evening and I got a chance to chill for a few minutes before DaveC turned up.  It was great to see a familiar face and we had a chat and Dave straightened out my crudely pinned race numbers.  It was very kind of Dave to come along and provide some moral support and also to take pictures!

We waited for the kids race to finish (which was brilliant – reminiscent of seeing kids skiing in a way) before getting a chance to do a couple of warm-up laps.

Soon enough it was time to line up for the race.  There were a good few riders!

And off we went.  Clip, clip – cleats engaged and we were away. 

The course consists of a long straight, a hairpin then a couple of sharp-ish bends, a hill then back to the start.

Despite being warned, I wasn’t quite prepared for the pace.  My heart rate rarely dropped below 170bpm and peaked at 184bpm – my max is 186bpm.  And I’m an old man!

It was hard work for sure, but I wasn’t getting dropped which was good news.  Though I did find it a bit tricky to get used to the rhythm of the race which seemed distinctly uneven.  There appeared to be a good deal of extra effort put in after every tight bend.  I’m not sure why as I can’t see that this is an efficient method of maximising the use of the scarce resource of available energy.

Furthermore I was continually being passed when I thought I was following the rider in front at a sensible distance and speed.  Anyway, more experience for next time.

The laps wore on and I started to feel a bit fatigued.  Fortunately the pace backed off a little.  I was showing good form I felt and on the climb usually managing to make up a couple of places without too much trouble.  I even managed to sneak up into the top 5 for a bit.

At some point the race got split.  I’m not sure entirely what happened but when we were caught by the 1st/2nd cats (who started a minute before us) there was a bit of confusion and the group got split up and I’m pretty sure I lost out and missed a bunch of riders that ‘got away’.

However, I must have been up towards the front of the pack overall and was in pretty good shape compared to those around me; generally losing out on the technical sections of the course and making up ground on the climb.

Interestingly I had no idea how long the race was going to go on for.  At 30 minutes I thought that if I was only half-way there I was going to be in trouble.  At 39 minutes the race was stopped which was part-disappointing and part-relief. 

For the last 3 or 4 laps I started to suffer with a bit of cramp which was frustrating but I was able to ride through it.

Dave managed one last snap of me looking  composed :-)

And that was that really.  I’ve no idea where I finished or how well I did.  When getting my license back I was again to experience unbearable administrative uselessness.

Overall though  I felt surprisingly confident in the bunch and, I think, with a couple more rides like this to boost my ‘top end fitness’, I should be able to put in some reasonable showings.  We’ll see.  I’m hoping to make a regular thing of the ride.

A massive thanks to Dave again, for coming along and providing support and for taking some great pictures.

Click for more pictures and ride stats.

Tour of Flanders

Wow.  It’s the Tour of Flanders next week.  How did that come around so soon!?

It should be a great fun ride.  The ride is only 140km or so and has a total climb of about 1,300m.  So modest by sportive standards I think.  But… it’s the cobbles that worry me.

Anyway, here’s a Rapha guide on preparing for the big day.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cfKuGacLpU]

Unhappy Anniversary

Boo the weather.

Today I should have been celebrating my first cycling anniversary by riding the Old Porlians CC Reliability Ride which was my debut into the world of organised bike rides last year.  Instead it was yet another casualty of the bloody weather.

It nearly killed me but I loved it at the same time.  My preparation was far from ideal; the previous day we’d had a wonderful meal at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck following by a gig at Shepherd Bush with The Hours and The Twang.  Nevertheless I turned up bristling with enthusiasm, wearing baggy moutain bike shorts (a sartorial faux pas of considerable magnitude!) and had only a water bottle with squash and a couple of bananas to keep me going.

Despite my woefully inadequate nutritional strategy, attire, fitness and cycling nous I managed to stay with the ‘top men’ of my new club for 90% of the ride.  The infamous south side of Toys Hill got the better of me though.  Despite being exhausted I managed the first brutally steep section of the climb, only to round the corner and realise I was less than half way to the top. The psychological blow was too much and with shame I dismounted and walked for a couple of hundred metres before re-mounting like a whipped dog and limped to the finish in Halstead.

It was at once a humbling but also fantastic experience.