jeudi 20 août 2015


I picked up Mike, my brother, at Geneva airport on the Thursday before the race and he welcomed me with the remark : "they've taken the toughest sportif in France and made it more difficult!".

The closure of the Tunnel du Chambon due to an impending landslide meant the descent from the col du galibier was now off the menu. So the organisers had modified the route to include the ascension of the Col du Glandon for starters, the famous Lacets de Montvernier, les cols du Mollard and de Croix de Fer for the main course whilst keeping the Alpe d'Huez for the desert. Wonderful - 176km long and 5100m of climbing. Oh yes, and there was a heatwave on, meaning temperatures would be soaring into the high 30°cs....!


Picking up the numbers at the top of the Alpe d'Huez on Friday, 3 July was hard work with the heat and high-ish altitude. I'd slipped down the stairs on Wednesday evening and had a sore back and a very swollen left elbow, so i had a funny feeling about this race...something wasn't right!
Anyway, I enjoyed a nice swim at the hotel pool and had an early and comfortable night before a 5h30 breakfast. It was warm at 6h15 when we drove the 15km from les Deux Alpes to Bourg d'Oisans, and the start. We were due to set off at 7h30, second group to go, and the sight of thousands of cyclists winding down the narrow streets was impressive.
We flew to the foot of the Glandon and started the climb. Getting to the summit in 2h from the start was the projected target - keeping a steady pace, HR at 140-144. Got to the top in 2h01. It is a tough climb, with a steep downhill break, which only serves to make the following climb harder. The road seems to just creep up the mountain, is relatively straight and ridiculously steep in parts. The 34-28 set-up I have was a wise choice i thought. The sun hadn't popped it's head over the mountain tops yet, so the temperature wasn't too high. At the summit though, i just knew from the view of the deep and clear blue sky that this was going to be a scorching day. I saw Mike at the food stop, stocking up on calories - i did the same.
The descent was neutralized - to protect cyclists from themselves as the first kms of the descent are really steep and dotted with hairpin bends. My first recollection now is that it sounded like a popcorn factory with types exploding all over the road - due to overheating probably. I passed and stopped when i saw Mike on the roadside - his Aero Carbon 60s hadn't withstood the heat and his rear rim had warped and ripped open the tyre. I wished him good luck, hoping he'd sort out a wheel from somewhere, and set off - gutted for him because it looked like "Game Over". The tyre popping carried on all the way down, so i tried to avoid braking as much as i could. My Easton 40s and their aluminium rims held up fine though. It is a great descent - beautiful surface, and clear vision for long stretches. I was singing "oh oh oh , oh, oh ooooh, yes, I'm the great descender" and smiling to myself as i raced down.
Down in the valley the heat had become oppressive, and it was only up, the beautiful Lacets de Montvernier:

Short, sharp, steep, narrow road....around 3.7km at 8%...nothing too difficult, but with the road full it was almost everyone at the same pace...and by now it was slowing down.
The descent back to the valley was fast, but once on the flatter road - a 1% false flat towards St Jean de Maurienne - the heat was intense. A head on wind, not strong, was actually just hot air moving. My throat was constantly dry and i was drinking a lot. By the time we swung round to the foot of the Mollard, the 3rd climb of the day, it was stifling. Crowds of cyclists were pushing up against a fence at the bottom of the climb as a kindly resident had offered to fill bottles from his own hosepipe... i thought he must have been out gardening and saw one or two thirsty cyclists so offered to give them a drink - but then this finished with his fence being swarmed - he was very pleasant and smiled at all the thanks - but people were beginning to push and jostle when i pulled free, so I was happy to be back on my way.
The Mollard winds through a forest, but there was little shade as the sun was directly above by now.
I noted my calories on the Garmin - 4000 - which read 5000 at the top - incredible! I made sure i kept eating - bars, bananas, and it was a relief to find a food zone at the top. I was still feeling fine and felt like i was moving nicely. I checked my phone before setting off for the Croix de fer, and saw Mike had sent a text - 'borrowed a wheel, on the move'.

Croix de Fer seen during the Tour

The descent off the Mollard was great in parts - new road surface - and dodgy in others - gravel. My arms were beginning to ache and my back wasn't feeling its best. The bottom of the Mollard marked the start of the ascent of the Croix de Fer...this meant an easy start and a tough finish as the gradients ramped up. As we hit the hairpins around 7km from the summit a thin veil of cloud floated over the mountain tops - it felt fresh and cool; i thought the temperature would drop, and even a welcome drizzle would cool us down. It lasted about two minutes, because the sun soon evaporated the cloud. It was cooling because we were getting higher, but the drop in oxygen levels was also felt.
Arriving at the summit was a relief.

     it's tough at the top

There were too many cyclists looking for water so i just carried on down. What a descent - fast and spectacular. I remember descending from the top of the Croix de Fer to the Mollard a few years ago and needing to wrap up due to a bitingly fresh wind; but today even with the shirt open i was feeling warm.
I was down on the bars and hitting 65/70km/h - topping at 75km/h further down. I was still being passed by others as well! The descent ends abruptly at one point and there is a steep 12% climb. I knew it was coming and was ready for the heavy leg feeling - it hits you like a brick in the face as you slow down to a near standstill. As i began the ascent i heard a pppppfffff sound, yes, it was my turn - the front wheel was flat. I stopped and began the change - ouch! I handled the rim and burned myself - it was so hot !! I actually doused the wheel with water from my bottle. Mike rolled up and stopped - he'd caught up an hour on me !!! Amazing. He took a gel from me and I slotted the wheel back in - a fast change. I stuck to his wheel for a while - until the next sudden ascent. I caught up again on the descent into Bourg d'Oisans and hung onto his wheel at 37-38km/h, but i knew i couldn't keep it up and as soon as we began a short ascent after passing the lake i was dropped. That feeling when you know you can't do any more saps the morale. There is a long straight road into Bourg d'Oisans and the ascent of the Alpe d'Huez - it was scorching with dense heavy heat, it was like riding in the desert. I joined a small group that grew into a big group as we swallowed up others and others joined us. We were at an easy 30km/h pace - with everyone feeling the effort and quite probably in fear of the final climb : the wonderful Alpe d'Huez.
I stopped off at the foot of the Alpe and filled my battles - energy drink and water. I made my way out and stopped briefly to put my bottles on the bike - a rider was leaning against a van in the shade next to me. "Ready?" I asked. "I've already started but came down - it's 40°c up there!!" He looked drained and fed up. "Ah well, there's only one way to see...",  and i made my way onto the road. "Good luck!" he shouted. 16km of hard effort to come and I was already well and truly cooked.
'Get to the first hairpin and the most difficult is done,'  i told myself. The first few kms are around 10% and are tough at the best of times, but today the heat was dripping from the sky. I drank at the first bend - the water was already warm. The bends were full of resting cyclists. I pushed on - thinking that as long as i kept moving i was getting closer. I wasn't going at any kind of speed but i was advancing. All the bends are numbered, with number 1 being the last at the top, so you always know how many you have to do - i'm not sure if this is a help or a hindrance to the morale - probably a help on a good day, but that wasn't today because I had a burning desire to just stop and sit down. I stopped in the shade and contemplated quitting. It was so hot, my throat was so dry, i was so uncomfortable, and i simply was not enjoying the effort. Why go on? Once the demons start like this it is not good. A lot of cyclists were sitting in the shade. They looked half dead. But as you and i know : "suffering lasts an hour, quitting lasts forever!"

Alpe d'Huez (screenshot of the Tour)

So, I sprayed myself with water, except it was energy drink - warm and sticky...what an idiot, i'd taken the wrong bottle ! I rinsed myself with the now hot water and thought - "get to the next bend and see how you feel". To my relief there was a water zone - an oasis -  and i just stuck my head under the running tap...what a feeling. How brilliant water is !!!! I drank, filled the bottles and set off again, refreshed and positive again. I wasn't enjoying this but i was determined to finish. I chatted with a Brit with 5km to go. He said the heat was just ridiculous - i agreed. A girl was actually lying in the gutter trying to make the water, which cascades down the mountain at certain points, onto her legs. Yes, the heat was ridiculous.  At 3km to go a cyclist in front of me stopped, stood on the road and let out a huge wail of a was comical, but I felt his pain. A few spectators were pouring bottles of water over us if we indicated to receive the shower - i nodded and felt the cold race down my back, shorts, legs and into my shoes...nice ! Many cyclist were walking and every corner was littered with shade seeking competitors.

Final bend in sight, and i could hear music at the top. Nearly done. I stood to push my way round as the % cranked up. My elbow was in a bad way and i had to sit again. The music that greeted me as i arrived at the village was the Human League's "You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar..." but i couldn't find any connection, and just thought to myself that i didn't feel human one little bit!

Final effort for 3km up to the finish line. It wasn't getting easier. I just wanted to stop pedaling. The Semnoz 2013 was in my head. I got over the line somehow, made my way to the food tent, took off my helmet and lay down. Exhausted. One of the organisers ran up, "Ca va?" "Oui, un peu fatigué".

Mike was behind her - he didn't ask how i was, he was too busy taking photos and laughing, "for the record". I was not looking my best, let's say :

Death by Marmotte

To conclude.
A very difficult day. It was the extreme temperature, more than the actual route which was fantastic, which made the event so gruelling. Ascending the Alpe d'Huez in 40°c temps with 160km already in the legs was not my idea of a nice day out.
I have an overwhelming feeling of not enjoying myself - which is the first aim of such an event for me. Pity. Glad to have finished and overcome the demons of Quitsville, because seeing so many cyclists on the way down climbing into cars having given up was something...
Having said that (don't you just hate that expression?), i'll probably be back again - i still haven't done the Galibier!!
Oh yes, the aftermath of my falling down the stairs -  a chipped bone in my left elbow, which explained the swelling, and a displaced vertebra in the back, which explained the pain...!!
Apart from that....the alps is a fantastic place to ride a bike.

samedi 11 juillet 2015

Half the year gone ! Half de Compiègne and La Viking

Half the year gone ! Half de Compiègne and La Viking

I finally got my running into shape by the end of March - a few 5km runs, a few longer and slower jaunts, with the Half in view for May 17. But it wasn't the legs that were a problem in the end.
Thursday 14th May a few club members organized a lake swim and a short ride....2.5km in the lake at Jumièges, 40km on the bike along the Seine - nice and steady, with my aero bars for the first time this year - and back home  i followed up with a 9km run at a good pace. I felt a slight discomfort in the side and thought i'd pulled or overstretched something...nothing serious.
Saturday morning swim session i pulled up with a short sharp stabbing sensation in the side...i really had pulled something. The coach thought i'd had a cardiac arrest - but would this stop my triathlon the next day ? You'd think so, but....
Compiègne is about 2 hours from Rouen by car, meaning a leisurely drive to arrive in time for the 12h30 start. My side was not feeling right so i strapped it up with kiné tape.  I felt better, though the medical benefit was somewhat dubious. Driving along with Guillaume and Arnaud meant we could chat about the race and other things and i could avoid stressing about the swim start. On the website from last years race there was a film of a swimmer not moving as he battled the counter-current of the river....i was not amused!
Transition was a football field, and with the sun shining, the atmosphere suggested a family picnic - everyone was in good humour - and the fact that 13 or so MSA triathlon club members were present made it more familiar and fun.
Swim start - a slow walk along the river to the start line. The current didn't seem strong looking at it, but the water was cold though. The wetsuit held my side together and i felt fine. As I swam back towards the start 'line' the gun went off - i had to turn round and go - so i had no time to think. Yes, the current was strong and i felt like i was flying.  I was constantly kicked, hit and swum into - i gave as good as i got though - but this was due to the relatively small space - the river was about 20m wide, maybe. Passed quite a few - swimming over, around, under, but always forward... i was actually enjoying it...this is how i felt when i first started triathlon... 1400m with the current went quickly - swimming at the same pace as the spectators walking on the banks - a strange experience. Turn round point and the counter-current - everyone seemed to be at the riverside where the current was weaker...this changed when we had to swim round a fallen tree and i found myself in the river centre - i was advancing, so the image of last years stationary swimmer wouldn't be me this time, a relief at least.
Out of the water in 31.32 mins for 2km, i was amazed - it's amazing what a fast current and a wetsuit can do for the morale !
Onto the bike - after a lot of messing with the wetsuit, and trying to get arm warmers on...not easy with wet arms. i say arm warmers, i really mean sun protection. The sun was out and it was quite warm. All i remember about the bike was:
1. passing people.
2. Not seeing a lot with my head down
3. long straight roads through the forests
4. 2 big climbs and equivalent descents
5. my side ached on the descents
6. a water and banana refreshment - that i missed first time because i was going too fast ! and this two times - though i managed to snatch a banana second time round.
7. the volunteers telling you your position.

I enjoyed the cycling - even better with the position updates. I remember hearing 97 - then 88 - then i know i was doing well.
2h38 for the 90km - 2x45km loops. Not bad. Averaging at 34km/h, or thereabouts, and 74th position out of 340. 1st loop in 1h17, the 2nd in 1h21 - and yet i felt i was faster the second loop... . I only saw the occasional drafting - teams working together, which is always annoying - but i was happy to have been alone from start to finish.
Getting to transition i was apprehending the run, not knowing how this would go - despite having done quite a few training run sessions off the bike. Vincent - injured, so here a spectator, shouted me to "alleeeerrrr"- "this is the start of the race" i replied. I felt good, and was soon into a steady, albeit slow, pace. The run was 3 loops of 7km - along the river, through the forest and then into the forest before returning back along the river. This meant MSA triathletes would be able to see each other... suffering, which is always a boost. My sides ached as i turned the corners and the bends, and i wasn't feeling comfortable, but i felt light enough on my feet.Two sips of coke and two sips of water at each feed station and a red tonic gel at 7km and 14km was all i needed to finish the final 3 km in accelerated mode...i still had something in the legs. Finishing with a sprint in 1h37 - my best time yet...and with an overall place of 87 in 4h53:45. Satisfied, tired, and with a pain in the side.

Next day the pain was more persistent and an x-ray revealed two fractured ribs. What? And i just managed a Half Iron Distance PB !?!

Bad news is that i had to pull out of the Geneva to Nice trip...the less i say about that the better i think, as it hurts more than the ribs ever did ! But when the doctor describes the possible complications of physical effort with broken ribs - punctured lung, collapsed lung, both lungs start listening to reason.

After a complete week of no activity other than watching Contador smash the Giro Italia, I climbed onto the Home Trainer and then the road bike after three weeks. And then Sunday, June 21 i took part in my second real cyclosportif - La Viking 76. 153kms along the coast via Dieppe to St Valery (the route for Stage 9 of this years Tour de France) and back to Mesnières en Bray.

As we were waiting for the start towards the back of the 153km race pen, a spectator shouted - "they've gone". I looked up and saw some cyclists riding away. I, and the others around me, began to weave our way through quite a lot of others who were waiting for the shorter race (90km) 9am start!!
Result - i missed the leading peleton. I actually set off thinking that i'd catch them soon enough - but after 3 or 4 km of hard pedaling i realized it simply wasn't going to happen. I could see the large group up the road, speeding away round the bends. I was so disappointed. I could feel the wind against me, and the fatigue in my legs already. I knew that this was therefore going to be not just a long day, but a VERY long day. So, no choice, head down and pedal.
It wasn't until i got to Dieppe - 30km down the road - that i started to catch small groups - all going way too slow for me. Riding up the hill out of Dieppe and reaching then coast plateau the wind was fierce and head on - the windsocks were completely horizontal and pointing directly parallel to the road. I wanted to stop and turn round by now. But i kept on. At one point i turned round to find 6 or 7 cyclists stuck behind me. They weren't offering to take the lead, so i had no choice. I moved over to the left and one went in front. The speed dropped from 29km/h to 24km/h, so i took it up again.

Finally at ST Valery we got to turn out of the wind, after 40 km or so. I was feeling well and truly tired. There is a steep climb out of the town, and the wind was now sideways. My Aero 60 wheels were being blown all over the road.
15 km to Cany Barville with the side wind, but then we hit a left again and the wind is behind.  We had just completed the Tour de France Étape 6 segment...they would head on to Le Havre, into the wind. Now there was one rider behind - n° 22 - blue top. He thanked me for the shelter adding "you are a strong rider into the wind, well done, chapeau!". I smiled and offered him to take the lead. He looked like a hardened rider, around my age, maybe a little younger...or less old i should be saying now!
With the wind in our back, a downhill section we were at 55km/h in no time.
The return leg - 75km - to the finish was a lot like this - me in front, pushing hard, catching more and more stragglers dropped from the lead group, and a lot doing the shorter race...only on the final climb did i wobble and was left behind by n° 22. I had no food left, a bit of water, and a lot of emptiness in the legs. As we got to the line though, i'd caught up again, and  n° 22 turned, thanked me for the help, shook hands and let me pass the line before him -   a true cycling gent. So i finished with a huge smile and a feeling that i had done everything i could but knowing it wasn't my day  - 153km at 32km/h average speed (no power reading unfortunately - i need to invest!).

Next up: La MARMOTTE - the queen of cyclos...

vendredi 27 mars 2015

2015 - spring has sprung...

It seems like yesterday that i was writing the same thing - spring has arrived !! Strange how the year seems to have past by quickly, although i must admit that when i was coming down the Col du Tourmalet in July it felt like a year itself, and the marathon at IM Barcelona felt like an eternity...Einstein has an explanation i'm sure.

But anyway, it's that time of year again - the birds have started waking us up as early as 6 again with their singing...the flowers have begum to bloom, a little later than last year, but the color is as refreshing a sight....the air is slightly  less chilly, and the sun hangs around a bit longer at the end of the day. Yes, it's springtime.

Yesterday i treated the Boardman Air 9.8 to a spin with the Aero 60 wheels for the first  time since October. The whipping wind blew me all over the place at times but gave me a real buzz and a real update on where a i am fitness-wise.
Winter hasn't treated me kindly - niggling injuries every few weeks have halted my running, although cycling and swimming have come along nicely.
With the swim i have spent the winter months working solely on technique, which has led to many hours spent slowly moving from one end of the pool to the other, with one arm, with arms under water, with a float, not moving at all and just repeating the gestures... It is slow and painful but I am finally feeling some progress in position and slide as i now know where my hands and arms need to go and move if i am to advance efficiently and smoothly. I never learned how to swim - i remember going to the pool as a seven year-old with my brother, i was pushed in and i swam. Simple as that. I think i've just been swimming in the same way ever since - as a reaction, so i don't sink and drown. But now i'm learning. One day i am determined to be able to say, "i can swim," rather than, "i know how to swim". Yes, as the Ironman slogan boldly states :anything is possible - or : You can teach an old dog new tricks!

For the bike, well a lot road has passed under the wheels, i was happy to be out on both December 25 and January 1 in the freezing cold, with the ice and the wind wearing my red Rapha rain jacket which allows no cold air or humidity inside. No holidays for me there....So i've managed to maintain a good level of form... I only wish i could say the same for my running !

I have no idea why my calfs constantly plague me. I've tried stretching, massaging - i even bought a foam roller to help recovery and preparation. Nothing doing. I am now trying strengthening the calfs and legs and back by using an elliptical machine - not the most interesting way to spend an hour, but at least i'm moving and hope to be back on the track very soon.
I will need to because coming up very soon - May 17 - Long Distance triathlon in Compiègne, followed by the cycling trip Genève to Nice, put off a few years ago, but now very much a reality, before taking on the toughest of all the cyclosportifs - La Marmotte.

No Ironman this year - i'm saving that for 2016. You have to wait for desert, so they say.