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).

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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…

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

Tapering

With just 2 weeks to go Paul and I have finally found a training regime that works for us.

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A late 10am start from Tonbridge, followed by a leisurely 20 mile ride in warm sunshine to the Deerstalker in the Ashdown Forest. This is what it should be about, Sunday lunch with our families, and driven home.

This also meant we could tackle The Wall without having to leave anything in the tank for the ride back – It’s just a glorious 2 mile downhill all the way from the summit to the pub. On the climb Hux put so many watts through the pedals that his chain broke!  Fortunately some good Samaritans had the parts and the knowhow to fix it.  Unaware, I was turning myself inside out, and reached the summit in just under 7 minutes!

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The motivation might have come from the waiting pint of Harveys – or perhaps because this was the ride that I finally bit the bullet and donned a pair of lycra shorts.  Although tight – a strange sense of freedom, it didn’t feel as if I was wearing anything.  But I dread to think how they looked from the rear – so apologies to all passing motorists – and those diners attempting not to gag on their Sunday lunch at the pub.

Tapering

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

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.

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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

WWW.

Strava has managed to connect me with Jonny Whiting in Brisbane!  Can it really be 23 years since we followed Le Tour around Europe in a 2CV?  Sleeping on a mattress deemed too lumpy for the Tonbridge Police Station cells; surviving on baguettes, brie and chateau Hypermarche red served from a plastic barrel.

Rather than encouraging Robert Millar on Mont Saleve we painted our own names on the climb so that everyone viewing from home would be able to spot us.

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I love that the nonplussed Gendarmes in the background turned up in a Renault 4!

Fantastic memories and inspirational to catch up, although I don’t I deserve the legendary moniker (yet):

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In other online news; I’ve also created my first Strava segment.  Various titles came to mind for the aforementioned, very short, slightly uphill section from The Spa to the Travel Lodge that I struggle with every week, but I settled on “Denouement”.

Finally, amazingly, this blog is being read – thanks. Site stats showed that someone googled “Toys Hill average gradient” we were the 9th link and they clicked!

WWW.

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Spring truly arrived across the Weald of Kent and North Downs on Sunday – gorgeous, perfect. Seems like the first ride of the year where I’ve not been concerned about ice. Between Penshurst and Leigh; I first disturb three deer also on the road enjoying the sunshine, then I overtake a chap on a road bike who just drafts behind me. Don’t know why, but I find his reduced effort tucked into my slipstream really annoying. On the short climb up to Leigh I give everything I’ve got to drop him. Suddenly I’m riding for the polka dot jersey. I cross the line alone, and the traditional shout of “Bollocks!” under the railway bridge has never been more satisfying. He was probably 65 years old with loads of miles in his legs already – but it felt good.

Following that early success and feeling competitive (thanks Strava) I really push myself. Gnawing at the back of my mind is that there are just 12 weeks to go before we attempt Mont Ventoux. Delighted to find when I get home, a five minute improvement on last week’s time, with personal bests up both Yorks and Toys Hill. However I’m still defeated by Fordcombe Hill and my legs are jelly by the time I reach the short shallow incline from the roundabout by the Spa to the pelican crossing by the Travel Lodge. That “hill” is one of my many nemeses.

Unfortunately I immediately put back on the 2688 calories I’ve burnt off with three excellent courses and a pint of Harveys at the Kentish Hare in Bidborough.

However, inspired by yesterday’s ride, I pop into the gym at work to measure progress. For the five minute flat out test on the Watt Bike my average is up to 299! I might have been able to scrape over 300, but I became very conscious that my huffing and puffing was so loud, it was drowning out the techno coming from gym’s sound system. I collapse off the bike and fall onto the scales, weigh in at 81.3kg – although most of the loss appears to be perspiration left on the saddle of the Watt Bike.

You know what – this might just be doable. Amazing what a bit of sunshine can do…

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