Once more with feeling?

To finish, here’s a synopsis of our successful trip. (Hux please add / edit as required.)

Up at the crack and meet Hux on the first train of the day to Ashford. We then check in, grab a coffee and pick up the Saturday papers. And settle in to an exceptionally relaxing Eurostar journey down to Avignon. Even the appearance of a child’s head rising above the seat in front doesn’t cause alarm, as he promptly disappears to another carriage for the majority of the journey.

We arrive at the Avignon TGV station and catch sight of the mountain before transferring to the central station. Our hotel is just one block away, and once we’ve sorted tomorrow’s train to get us close to the base, we tick off Avignon’s highlights in a matter of minutes; an unfinished bridge and a square. Our main conversation involves either the wind / weather – or artisan ice cream flavours; lavender anyone? We doze through the rest of the afternoon, catch the Giro on TV and finish off the papers before heading out to carb load. The pasta at the restaurant was fantastic. The service, let’s just say; “French surly”. Back at the hotel, the bar is showing the French version of Soccer Saturday, after a nerve settling nightcap, we head off for an early night.

Up at seven – and an initial check of the weather is very, very, positive; sunny and no apparent wind. Unfortunately my breakfast pasta turns out to be seafood. The last thing I want is a crab flavoured belch half way up the mountain – so I give that a miss and opt for plenty of coffee, and three banana pancakes. On the route up the mountain there are markers highlighting how many kilometres remain to the summit. Before setting off I write “8 – 14” on my arm in permanent marker, to remind me this section contains the steepest kilometres, and help me judge what I’ve got left in the tank. We head out to the station and get the 8am train to Carpentras. Upon arrival there’s a solitary cab in the rank – everything is going perfectly. Until the cab driver informs us we haven’t hired our bikes from Bedoin, our start point at the base of the mountain, but from Malaucene a village a further 12km away… Let’s hope we benefit from this enforced uphill warm up.

It turns out Malaucene is lovely. At the bike shop Hux picks up a De Rosa and I get a LaPierre (without the requested granny ring – but I’m assured the 32 cog on the back will be adequate.) We fill our water bottles from the town spring, and gently head off to Bedoin in the warm morning sunshine, figuring out our electronic gears on the way.

The route 21km (13 mile) route from Bedoin to the summit of Mont Ventoux starts at an underwhelming mini-roundabout. Even though the first few kilometres are mild, we follow all the advice we’ve been given and go slowly. After about 6km we go round a hairpin and the road gets steeper. It doesn’t rear up, but I glance down and have only a couple of cogs left in reserve. Now we’re in the forest we just get on with relentlessly turning the crank, we can still hold a conversation and sing the first few bars of S Express. At one point I stand on the pedals, not to accelerate or due to the gradient, but to let out some expresso generated gas. I didn’t realise that there was a girl right on my rear wheel at the time – this was all the encouragement she needed to dig deep and overtake. Frustratingly we’re also regularly overtaken by people on battery powered mountain bikes. Initially I curse them under my breath, but the further up the mountain we go – I ensure every one of them knows they are cheats!

As we approach the end of forest over to a right a family in a layby gives us a cheer, however this encouragement just lasts seconds, as over to the left catch we catch a glimpse of how far away we still are from the weather station at the summit. I didn’t realise that Hux’s vocabulary extended to those depths. In this thin air, surely he should be conserving his energy.

Once we’re over the steepest section, the 10% gradient reduces to a mere 8%, and there are just 7km to go. Still feeling good I check in with Hux and he’s ok for me to up the pace on my own. I’m soon in the desolate moonscape and fortunately there isn’t much wind. It’s great to get some relief (and momentum) from the bends in the road, but I’m now pretty much on the lowest gear. This is the fun part of climbing, the Zen like state where all you can hear is your own breathing and your focus is solely on is the road immediately ahead of the front wheel. It’s tough. I’ve oft used the cycling phase “turning yourself inside out” and here’s where I genuinely got to feel that. Due to the effort in the last few kilometres I wasn’t sure if I was going to be sick, lose more than expresso gas out of the back, or do both at the same time. Fortunately for me, Hux, the cab driver, the hotel laundry and everyone else on the mountain, I do neither. Approaching the summit there are a few photographers at the side of the road. Initially I found these chaps just as annoying as the battery powered mountain bikers. The last thing I wanted to do was take a hands off the bars to put one of their cards in my pocket – but I’m glad I did.

Solo

The final hairpin is as steep as it looks (on the blog’s banner above), and once round it I was there. After a minute or two to catch my breath I looked down the mountain and saw Hux in his orange top, so cycled down to join him and we rode back up to the top together.

HuxCMMvt

Soaked in sweat and with the temperature just 6 degrees, it wasn’t the weather to hang around and admire the view for too long.

LandScape

So we popped down to the Tom Simpson memorial and then went back up to take the direct road down to the bike shop at Malaucene. Reaching over 45 mph at some points, the decent was just as challenging as the climb.

We returned our bikes and got a cab and then the train back to Avignon where we celebrated with a croque monsieur and a pint before soaking in the ice cold swimming pool. We agreed that the climb wasn’t easy or comfortable, yet never so gruelling that we considered stopping, so perhaps best summed up by “demanding, but never in doubt”. I’ve been more tempted to push up Yorks Hill than Mont Ventoux. That evening we found another great restaurant, took some protein on board with a burger washed down with some house red from the slopes of Mont Ventoux. Absolutely exhausted it was another early night.

With a day to waste until our 4pm Eurostar home we woke up frustratingly early. After breakfast and a midday check out we mooched around every medieval cobble, noting how windy it was, until getting to the station for our connection to the TGV station.

We should have had 30 minutes to spare, but when the Gitane smoking guard announced the connecting train was cancelled we were in trouble. Hux got in the cab queue whilst I found that the information counter was shut – it was a public holiday after all. With about 10 minutes before the TGVs scheduled departure a cab arrived. Although we were in a rush, the driver insisted on getting out and loading our luggage – his Gallic shrug suggested we had no chance of making it. Fortunately most of the lights were green. Whilst I paid the driver and got the luggage Hux ran into the station to hold the train doors. We made it with a minute to spare. As I was showing my ticket to the guard at the door it blew from my hand, fluttered, landed, and unbelievably stuck on one of the train’s wheels – so I was able to reach across and pick it up. If we had missed the train – then next one was three days later!

We celebrated with a couple of 1664s in the buffet car, although the journey home wasn’t as pleasant as the outbound one due to a 75 minute stop in Lille to go through security, we were just delighted to be on board.

Buffet

Once home I immediately uploaded the numbers to Strava (and then woke Suz).

FinalStrava

The assent took me 2 hours 7 minutes. Although I’m delighted to have made it without stopping – my initial goal – those seven minutes are playing on my mind. I now want to do it in less than two hours, 1.59.59 would be fine. So if anyone fancies it and the weather forecast is good – let me know – I’m in…

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Once more with feeling?

Final facts and figures

So with a couple of days to go, here are my stats – hopefully these will be of use in the air ambulance or for the coroner’s report:

Age: 43 (peak Mamil midlife crisis)

Height: 180 cm

Weight: 78.7 kg

Thanks to Suz, so far this year (the last 20 weeks):

I’ve cycled 800 miles

Spending 55 hours in the saddle

Achieving 1 King of the Mountains on Strava!

Gaining 58,000 feet in elevation – the equivalent of 11 assents of Mont Ventoux

I’ve been embarrassed at the work gym on numerous occasions, but can just about hold a plank for a minute.

Apparently I’ve got the lungs of a 24 year old

For the 5 minute all out test on the Watt Bike I now average 345 watts. (To win Olympic gold Bradley Wiggins pushed >450 watts for an hour!)

My watts per Kg is: 4.3

I calculate I substituted 80 perfectly good Coronation Chicken / All Day Breakfast sandwiches with salads. And whilst the wine rack and beer fridge remain pretty full, I’ve emptied the drinks cupboard of slimline tonic and we’re out of gin

And this blog has had 146 visitors from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and The US – Thanks!

It’s now or never. I can’t see myself getting this motivated / prepared / disciplined for a second attempt…

Final facts and figures

We’re Golden!

…Thanks Hux.

I started Sunday by forcing down the breakfast of champions at 06.30, whilst struggling to manoeuvre in my new “aero” cycling top – which can best be described as snug.

BOfC

I arrived at Plumpton Racecourse at 07.30 and the omens were good. Not only was the sun shining – but Plumpton is the scene of my biggest sporting triumph – sticking a tenner on Zizou at 25/1 (chosen purely for the name) and he romped home first!

I set off at 08.00 hoping to average over 15mph, and finish the 60 miles in less than 4 hours. I joined the back of a group of about ten guys who; judging by the definition of their calf muscles and cost of their bikes must know what they’re doing. We seemed to start off quite slowly, but with this my longest ever ride, that was probably a good thing. We caught a few cyclists, and after a while the bunch started to thin out. I still felt good – admittedly I hadn’t done a much of a turn on the front. I cycled alongside one chap who had a GPS to enquire on progress, and was amazed to discover we were 30 miles in and averaging 19mph! More and more riders fell back and eventually it was just me and a guy on a bright red Pinarello. We chatted, a sportive isn’t a race, but could we be the on course leaders? We cycled together until he split off to do the 85 mile Epic route, and then I was on my own. I started to feel tired and every small hill now required the granny. Eventually I was caught by another rider; fortunately his GPS said there were just 7 miles to go – Great news. Both knackered we encouraged each other back to the racecourse, where he destroyed me in the sprint to the line…

I finished in 3 hours 20 minutes – an average speed of 18mph. Checking the stats – I ended up coming sixth out of 280.

Picture1

I’m tempering my confidence because there wasn’t a single climb on the entire route – not the best practise for next weekend – and a real shame as we were in the shadow of the South Downs.

I arrived feeling conspicuous in Lyrca, did I merit wearing it? I left relieved that my time justified the outfit…

We’re Golden!

“Auto Pause”

Spent most of last week in The Hague – not ideal preparation – plenty of bikes, but no hills. I also discovered Thuisbezorgd.nl, and that the local corner shop has started stocking Hertog Jan by the can.

However back in the UK office on Friday I manage to find some time to get to the gym. Suffered on the Watt Bike and was disappointed that my average for the all out 5 minute test was down to 323. Once I’d got my breath back the other gym instructor, Liam (the ying to Lieutenant Dan’s yang) asked me how long to go? It dawns on me FOUR weeks. He then queried when I was going to start to “taper off” my training. Taper off! It doesn’t feel as if I’ve started.

When the Saturday morning showers have cleared I head out to the Ashdown Forest; first up, The Wall. Feeling good, it takes 8.09, and at 1.5km long Mont Ventoux will just be like doing it another 13 times; without the rest of any descents.

Recording my progress via the Endomondo app on my iPhone – I’ve set it to pause should I stop moving. So if I encounter a red light or stationary traffic– it doesn’t affect my stats. I head back via Groombridge Hill and am still feeling ok; so I go out to Yorks Hill and arrive at the base with 35 miles in my legs. As I enter the canopy of trees, and begin the satanic 20% gradient the robotic voice from the phone announces “Auto pause on” – I’m going so slowly it thinks I’ve ground to a halt… Assuming this must be a glitch with the iPhone or the GPS, once over the summit I head down to Sundridge and attempt Toys Hill from the Brasted side. But again, on one of the steeper sections, the phone barks out “Auto pause on”. By the time I get to the top I’m absolutely knackered, the phone is accurate; and I’ve got over 15 miles before I’m home.

I’m on the granny ring for the series of the little “hills” from Wellers Town to The Rock, and I start to lose the mental battle with – the all of a sudden very ominous – Fordcombe Hill. I desperately try to think of alternative, flatter routes home, but can’t find any.  If I feel like this on Mont Ventoux there is no way I’ll make it to the top.  I promise myself a slice of Rocky Road washed down with pint of Belgium beer at the Velo House – if I don’t get off and walk. At least the phone remains silent as I slowly toil up to Fordcombe – I’m still moving. The other motivation to keep going is that it was less than a month ago that I was sIagging off other MAMILs pushing their bikes.

In the end I do get off. But only once I’m on the home stretch and I reach the Texaco garage on the Langton Road. Feeling like I’m going to faint, I half expect the attendant to call an ambulance as I pay for my Mars, Snickers and Coke. That’s just enough fuel to get me to the Velo House. I collapse into the café, they’re out of Rocky Road – but fortunately the beer is on draft – and after 57 miles averaging 15mph it’s well deserved.

AutoPause

“Auto Pause”

Pushing big money uphill

Before we get into Sunday morning’s ride – it would be remise of me if I didn’t highlight the ecological dangers of 3+ hours in the saddle following a pre-ride meal of Thai cuisine washed down with 4 bottles Beer Chang.

The alarm went off at 06.45 – although with the move to British Summer Time – this was actually 05.45. Forced down the usual big ride breakfast of champions; M&S chicken pasta salad. The first raindrops started to land just as I put the bike on the roof of the car – and didn’t really stop.

Headed over to Tonbridge to pick up Hux and Phil – who were having a robust debate as to whether Phil had shaved his legs or just suffered from naturally bare shins. No agreement was reached, but within the hour we had arrived in Dorking; signed in; and crossed the start line in the drizzle.

Once the legs (shaved or not) were warm we tackled Ranmore Hill, felt pretty good – overtaking more than I was overtaken. There is nothing more inspiring to go a bit quicker than a bloke in full Sky kit ahead of you.

Then after 15 miles of rolling countryside we then arrived at Barhatch Lane (9/10).

BarHatch

The first part seemed pretty easy (too easy) but as you turn the corner the road looks like a cliff! Surprisingly there were quite a few MAMILs pushing their carbon fibre bikes. Embarrassing.

The final climb arrived after 35 miles; White Downs (8/10).

WhiteDowns

A couple of great alpine hairpins, and more expensive machines being pushed round them…  Admittedly I didn’t have much left in the tank, and was relieved when the summit came into view.

In spite of the weather, a good challenging ride, through some lovely countryside, on quiet roads. That’s 200 miles cycled in March, but still nothing close that what lies ahead at the end of May…

Pushing big money uphill

Up a gear

This Sunday will be my first comparative test of fitness in the real world. I’ll see and feel how I get on against hundreds of other MAMILs over the 42 miles of the Surrey Cyclone Sportive. (In the virtual world I’ve been obsessively pouring over my Strava stats following each ride.)

During my only previous Sportive (the morning after Galps and Jo’s wedding last year), it felt like – and I think I probably was – overtaken by every other competitor. So in an effort to at least keep up with Hux and Phil, I head out on Saturday morning and take on the “Etape du Lazarus”; 50 miles with three steep hills.

This was my attempt of Yorks Hill on the higher gears of the Cannondale; really pleased that I made it up, and I even still felt “ok” by Fordcombe. However I was really suffering by the time I slowly ground up The Wall, and although it’s short, I buried myself by the Beacon.

IMG_3047

But overall averaged 15mph – which will put me into the silver category on Sunday.

Buoyed by this, I popped into the work gym to measure progress on the Watt Bike. I set it up on a slightly higher gear and for the 5 minute test I average 325 watts / 27.5 mph. Watts per kilo up to 4.12. Although I note on Andrew Critchlow’s comeback blog he’s getting up at 4:45am for twice weekly 90 minutes sessions…

Team Sky’s Ben Swift’s tips echo all the other advice – don’t set off too quickly and find your right pace – but I’m a bit concerned by “relax into the pain”…

Up a gear