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.

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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?

“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”

Time

When I wrote my last post following the Surrey Cyclone Sportive; I felt fit, and our trip to Mont Ventoux still seemed like a long way off. But things have changed… The calendar has given me a sense of foreboding. Even though during April I’ve cycled 150 miles in all weathers, choosing routes not for the scenery, but for the gradient and length of the hills, a busy period at work has: (a) seen my infrequent visits to the gym grind to a complete halt and; (b) my eating out increase.

Last week I was very fortunate to back at the Dean Street Townhouse – but all I was thinking was; “Have they cooked that in butter? I’d much rather be on the Watt Bike in the Gym…” Whilst grinding up a hill in the rain I’ve asked myself (and Hux) a couple of times; “Is this still fun?”  Yes, it definitely is!

But disappointingly I’m back up to 80kg, so I take the opportunity of a gorgeous Friday evening to test myself around Bewl Water. The time trial is one aspect of cycling I’ve never really understood – not sociable, just racing against the clock. When getting fit for last year’s London to Brighton I completed the 12 mile lap in 1 hour and 36 seconds – so it was easy to get motivated to break the hour.

I set off at full tilt, the recent dry conditions meant the track was quick and I didn’t encounter too many dog walkers or anglers. Lungs burning and legs aching I turned myself inside out on the steep climb and was totally empty by the time I finished; in a time of… 54.09! Not only smashed it, I recorded the quickest ever lap on Strava!

Bewl KOM

So I feel a bit better that there are now less than five weeks to go, although I need to get back in the gym and back onto the salads…

Time

Mothers

Ceci & Millie’s inability to boil an egg necessitated that I cook breakfast for Suz on Mothers’ day. As a result, my weekend ride was brought forward to Saturday. For the first time in ages I head out with George, and discover a fantastic new route; 35 miles of pretty much car free scenic cycling to the south and west of Tunbridge Wells.

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Some nice climbs too, including: Windmill Lane up to Argos Hill; Blackdon Hill; and an alternate climb up into Fordcombe.

Having completed Alpe d’Huez and the Col du Galibier last year, George had some good advice / words of warning. The cyclists he’d met on those two mountains spoke of Ventoux in hushed, reverential tones:

  1. If possible, fit a granny ring
  2. No matter how slow you start off, you’re going way too fast
  3. Don’t attempt to keep up with anyone, just find your own rhythm “world of pain”, and grind it out
  4. Don’t be optimistic, there will not be any respite until the summit.

All very concerning.

Mothers

And blow…

The peak of Mont Ventoux sits in the rarefied atmosphere 1912 metres above sea level. To turn the crank all the way to the summit, it’s going to be crucial to get oxygen to my tiring muscles.

As part of work’s healthy lifestyle campaign, a few nurses came into the office today to test the age of our lungs. Just had to blow as hard as possible into what appeared to be a toilet roll tube with a calculator attached.

Following three attempts I was so lightheaded that I didn’t really understand the results. Something at 4.64, and a “FEV1” at 113%…

But anyway the headline was; I’ve got the lungs of a 24 year old! That’s gotta be a good sign, right?

And blow…

Feeling it

Following a lovely meal / carb load for HellsBells’ birthday, I’m delighted to be out on the bike again. An icy morning saw Hux and myself first complete the toughest challenge in world cycling – Yorks Hill. My legs felt that they’d had a week off in Milan. Following a careful decent into Four Elms we then took on Toys Hill.

IMG_2948

Book says 7/10 – hardest hill yet – should take 8 minutes – only took me 14!

It’s 1.7 miles of constant climbing (12% of the distance of Mont Ventoux) with the same average gradient (7ish %). Headed back to TW via Fordcombe Hill, so about 40 miles in total, but not much left in the tank at the end.

Once home I couldn’t feel my feet until I stood in the warm shower, defrosting them with what felt like lava, resulting in chilblains.

Now this clearly flies in the face of all science and sense – but I wonder if constant climbing might actually be easier than small climbs and decents? Legs just get into a rhythm and grind it out, as opposed to going from rest to effort; it’s jogging vs. shuttle runs…

Feeling it

It’s on!

Woke up with a clear head this morning.  So I can lucidly recall that after seeing in the New Year at the Huxley’s by kissing my wife and raising a glass of champagne – I then agreed with Hux that we’d “tear the roof off” Mont Ventoux during 2015.  Sealed with a bear hug – we’re committed.

Aware of how influencial my weight will be in making it up the mountain I hop on the scales and come in at 84.8 kg.  At 5ft 11 inches this puts me well into the overweight category of the NHS BMI calculator.  Work to do…

It’s on!