Archive for the ‘sportives’ Category

Chalkpit Lane

At last weekend’s Winter Warmer sportive Jonny, Millsy and I were introduced to Chalkpit Lane, a 20% monster climb from Oxted. Here’s the Strava segment:

Unfortunately, despite having ridden it twice now – once at the event last Sunday, and once today (just to see the size of it again) – my Strava GPS signal has evidently not been consistent enough to match my route with the existing segment.

I imagine I must have ridden down it before – it joins on to a route I ride often – but I know I would have remembered riding up it. I was going pretty well last Sunday before this thing blew my legs to pieces. I was literally crawling for several kms afterwards. That is what comes of not doing much in the way of steep road hills since May.

Scott Long Leg

Tough sportive yesterday courtesy of the Scott Long Leg, which I rode with Jonny, Millsy, Andy and Max. The event itself had an easy-going first half – which our group made even easier by spinning along and socialising – followed by a very spiky, hard second half – which Jonny and I made harder by chasing each other up the steepest climbs of the day.

In view of the fact that I’m supposed to be riding the Etape du Dales in a fortnight, and that 85 miles is the farthest I’ve ridden in training so far this year, I figured I needed to extend the Long Leg’s 70 mile distance. Therefore Millsy and I started the day in Epsom, and rode to and from the start line.

We’re into our fourth consecutive week of wet weather here, so it was no surprise to find some of the narrower roads in a really poor state – in fact no better than forest tracks. Millsy and Andy both flatted, and there were further mechanicals: Millsy’s rear mech broke after 30 miles, restricting him to a 3-speed drivetrain, and my front shifter broke after the second feed stop. Unable to shift into the big ring, I was forced to keep the cadence high – but actually I found this beneficial. Since I was never tempted to squeeze out extra revolutions from a big gear on an ascent, my legs felt faster and fresher.

I got impatient with the pace early on and made a break, but I didn’t sustain it, partly thanks to a random rider who latched himself onto my back wheel and then started chatting to me. We re-grouped at the second feed. As the gradient really kicked up for the first time, I paid the price for eating a whole chocolate brownie at the feed stop, and struggled with a ball of butter in my stomach. I fell back from Jonny’s pace on the climb, then I lost him for good without a big ring on the descent. In the end he took 6 minutes from me – but I had us at 10th and 11th fastest on the day.

The day’s heroics culminated in a climb over Box Hill on the way back to Epsom.

It’s been a while since I’ve been as wiped out by a ride as I felt last night.

Puncheur 2012

Evidently we enjoyed ourselves... Intermediate sprint for the cameraman.

Evidently we enjoyed ourselves... Intermediate sprint for the cameraman.

For posterity – and consistency – I’m making a brief record of this, my and Jonny’s fourth Puncheur. In most respects, however, this was a punishing experience that I’d prefer to erase from my memory.

It literally rained all day, beginning as soon as we poked our heads out of the door at 7.30am, and continuing until the late evening. I think the first hour was not too bad, but thereafter the rain got stronger. It was like being sprayed in the face by 10 water pistols – some filled with slurry, others with sandy mud – for 4 hours. Mentally, I lost the will long before the first feed.

Jonny, after his customary light winter training schedule, was much stronger on the day and pulled away from me and Simmo soon after the half way point. I played some cat and mouse with Simmo for about 30 miles until managing to summon some hidden reserves of willpower, leading him by a couple of minutes by the bottom of Box Hill. I summited, red-eyed, sodden, and actually almost brake-less.

My finishing time of 3:59:19 was just inside the Gold time cut-off, but in fact the route was 4 miles shorter this year owing to roadworks, and I don’t think the organisers altered the award times.

Tour of Wessex #2 (after)

All points of the compass: the Tour of Wessex.

All points of the compass: the Tour of Wessex.

Perhaps not quite the hardest thing I’ve ever done on a bike, the Tour of Wessex 3-day sportive was nevertheless a triple helping of very tough riding. As ever, the pain and discomfort fades from the memory, in this case leaving a generous sense of satisfaction. There’s no doubt that I felt under-prepared for the event, but my body rose to the occasion, and in fact by the 3rd day I felt much more robust, both mentally and physically, than I had at the beginning of Stage 1. Overall I came 53rd of the 204 riders to finish all 3 days, in a time of 19hrs 46min 07s.

So, a brief overview of the three stages, written quite quickly so I don’t forget it all.

Day 1 (106 miles)

  • Not much sleep (4-5hrs) after a long drive, never good for body or mind.
  • Missed big groups in fast early stages after unlucky traffic holdups.
  • Climbing through Cheddar Gorge was spectacular.
  • Long solo sections battered my morale.
  • Head winds after the third feed stop almost finished me off, I really deteriorated and was ready to pack it in.

Day 2 (117 miles)

  • Good sleep, legs in surprisingly good knick after a massage yesterday.
  • Resolved with Jonny and Duncan to have a more social day and stay together.
  • Good banter and drafting routine in groups.
  • Great to see Corfe Castle and the Dorset coast.
  • Had the option to bail and return to London. Resolved to continue.

Day 3 (106 miles)

  • Just me and Duncan. In the drizzle.
  • First three hours into light rain, riding on someone else’s wheel basically like standing over a garden sprinkler.
  • Great sense of solidarity in the groups now. Good communication, brisk riding.
  • Couple of big hills, including Dunkery Beacon, which was tough but no real issue.
  • Encountered lots of cars in windy lanes banked by tall hedgerows – pretty stressful.
  • Outrageously punchy pace lines towards the end.

The hardest bits for me were not the hills, which I barely seemed to notice; instead it was the brutally efficient pace lines. I’m not exactly built like Thor Hushovd, so leading on the front into a buffeting wind after 250 miles cumulative riding was fairly strenuous. Worse than the lead out, though, was peeling off and being unable to stay on the back when the next rider in line, rested from sitting in the slipstream, then put in a monster surge.

I would definitely say the Tour of Wessex is an absolute must for any sportive rider. The organisation and support were both excellent. Book it up asap, and book massages every day. At £12 for 30mins you’d be a fool not to. And try and book Cleers View Farm – top choice for accommodation very near to the event centre.

The only comment I would add is that the time categories were unrealistic. If Gold is out of reach for all but a tiny elite of riders then the ranges need adjusting. Sure, it’s a hard event, but 4% Gold on day 1, 1% on day 2, 0 (zero!) on day 3? Error.

Parting shot: a self-portrait in the event center bathrooms after the end of Stage 3.

Tour of Wessex #1 (before)

In a couple of hours I’ll be driving down to Somerton for this weekend’s Tour of Wessex. The weather’s looking OK, I’ve done a decent amount of some training, and I’m looking forward to riding the best roads Somerset has to offer.

Sure, it’s going to be brutal. Check out the routes here. 3 days, 320 miles total – more mileage on successive days than I’ve ever ridden before, and I’m not by any means in tip-top shape. I last rode a sportive in early April. The one consolation is that Jonny has even less form, if last weekend was anything to go by. However, knowing his ability to recover fitness quickly, he’ll no doubt be dropping me around the 85-mile mark, as per usual.

Check my tweets @strangerpixel for news as the event unfolds…

Puncheur 2011

I made 3hrs 57 in the Puncheur sportive yesterday – 1.49 half-way split, 12th place out of 400, and 9 mins faster than my previous PB – and I’m still not sure where I pulled it out from.

So far this year I’ve certainly done less riding than in the early months of 2010, when according to my training diary I put in several hilly 5hr rides, several mid-week 3hr rides, as well as commuting. I’m heavier than last year, by about 4 pounds (11st on the day). I had zero expectations of yesterday’s event, to the extent that I didn’t even bother switching to my race wheels and removing my mudguards.

On the ride itself I felt more controlled than I did last year; Jonny said we started really fast, but it felt normal to me. We had a solid tow from the i-ride boys for about 45 mins, and then worked well with Jonny and one i-rider who, like us, couldn’t keep pace with his teammates – but then pretty much all the second half of the ride was solo, into the wind. When I crossed the line and was handed my ticket at the top of the Beacon I was really surprised – had the organisers revealed they’d shortened the route by 10k it would have made sense.

It would appear that despite riding less, I have at least as much form as this time last year. How so? I’m struggling to find any other explanation than:

  • Weight training – I joined the gym for 4 months between November and February, and even if I didn’t become significantly stronger, I probably didn’t lose as much leg and core strength as I have previously in an off-season.
  • Cumulative performance – there’s an argument that says the more years you ride concurrently, the better you get. It’s hard to measure this.

Either way, it’s encouraging. And a big morale boost. I remember saying to Jonny en route that I’d forgotten how much I enjoy riding sportives. Not since the Maratona have I ridden an event and felt strong. Bring on Girona!

Footnote:

In two respects the event was a repeat of 2010:

  1. After riding with Jonny and another stronger rider for about 90 mins and putting in shorter and shorter turns on the front, they dropped me – but this time even earlier, not long after the middle feed.
  2. A sub-par performance from Millsy. He was flying a fortnight ago in training, but was bothered by a cold and slipped off the pace early on. Still, he got 4hrs 06, another PB and massive improvement on last year.

Tour of Britain – Stoke Tour Ride

Top class goodie bag.

My 2010 Tour of Britain tour ride was not the end-of-season finale I’d hoped for. Struck down by a virus shortly after returning from holiday in early September, I still hadn’t made a full recovery, and opted for the 50-mile ‘Challenge’ circuit instead of the full 161km route.

It was a shame, but a sensible call. I didn’t go too badly for the first 40km, but was off the pace I would have been at. I envisaged a quicker, healthier (possibly semi-transparent) version of myself riding ahead, while the real me lagged behind. It’s kind of crushing, that drop-off of form. Your body cannot produce the strength and speed that your mind (which assumes you still are as fit as you used to be a few weeks ago) wills it to, and there’s no way round that. Your fitter, stronger self seems like a figment of your imagination.

The route began about a mile from my back door, and followed roads that I’ve ridden over for many years. The TOB organisation was impeccable – definitely a must in the sportive calendar for me. After the cut-off with the long route, I was solo all the way back to base. Apart from the chilly headwind, it was a breeze. AND I had some roadside support from the Mucklows, who were anxious to regain face after missing me on the Tour of the Peak District.

As per the photo, the goodie bag was the best haul of free kit from any sportive apart from the Maratona dles Dolomites. It included:

  • A £5 Wiggle voucher
  • A copy of Cycling Weekly
  • Anti-chafing gel (binned it actually)
  • Er – Gillette shave gel
  • 1 x Kelloggs Elevenses
  • Pomegranate juice (needs diluting)
  • A t-shirt (like I need another sportive t-shirt)
  • Highlighted route maps from the Stoke and Devon legs of the 2010 Tour

The maps were the cherry on top.

Woodcote sportive

As anticipated, today’s 135km Woodcote sportive was hard and fast. On a technical, hilly route with lots of gravel, many flatted – but my Conti GP4000s once again proved their worth.

By my reckoning my average speed was 18.6 mph, compared with 18.2 mph on the 100-mile Great Western sportive in June. It was a shorter distance, so this makes sense, considering both events were similarly hilly. However, being in a smaller group today meant doing more pulls on the front – so the speed increase is encouraging. (more…)

Back from the Dolomites

If you like climbing – and I do – then The Maratona of the Dolomites is a tailor-made sportive. The 138km full course offers barely any flat sections, so forget about who is or isn’t doing work at the front, forget about getting in a group; it’s about controlling your effort and staying hydrated in the heat. Neither of which I was very successful at on the day.

For mountain scenery, this is the most spectacular sportive I’ve ridden. At every hairpin you get a new panorama of lush valleys and jagged peaks. Especially early in the morning, when shafts of sunlight poke through the gaps in rock towers and light up patches of road – it’s outrageous.

It was nice to have a chance to appreciate the views; this, together with the fact that I wasn’t able to blow my energy reserves too soon, were the only up-sides to the serious congestion at the start of the ride. In all other respects the sheer number of riders starting together (8,640) was frustrating and dangerous. I spent 3 hours riding in a massive cavalcade of slower cyclists, pointlessly jostling for position, wary of errors on the descents.

Very busy roads - but stunning views.

Jonny, Millsy and I started together, but pretty soon it was just Jonny’s wheel I was trying to follow up the crowded slopes of the Passo Pordoi. That Ironman-wingnut Mills had done a triathlon on the Friday before; this was to be a long training ride for him.

The first 7 passes all felt easy, but somehow Theobald got the early jump on me. Suddenly he was nowhere to be seen amid the mass of jerseys. I caught him exiting the Belvedere feed stop at 83km. With the crowds and the views, the day had felt more like a charity ride than a sportive. But by now my legs were buzzing and my head was full of the Giau.

The event is really all about this one climb. As I remember it, I began the ascent in the lead, Jon on my wheel. We had a good tempo, and passed many. The sun was full-on now, and perhaps 30 degrees. I had a problem with my gears which meant the chain wasn’t sitting on my top 26 ring, and kept slipping down one, so I was fiddling with the barrel adjuster with sweating hands whilst climbing. There was complete silence from the mountainside. The gradient was unrelenting, and brutal.

35 minutes into the climb, the invisible elastic tying me to Jonny’s back wheel stretched one last time, and snapped. He had one bike length, then two, then he was beyond the next hairpin, then out of sight. The ascent and the heat was pushing me into a physical and mental state I’d not experienced since riding the Galibier last summer: pins and needles in the face, and a sick feeling in my stomach rising into my throat.

Summiting the climb, I should have stocked up on more food, but instead I reeled past nauseating piles of jam tarts and banana halves, grabbing bizarre things I never normally consume on a ride – like plastic cups of coke. I had one gel and two enervit squares to last me, and somehow I thought it would be enough.

Possibly descending from the Passo Giau to Pocol.

I descended hard, hit the foot of the Passo Falzarego, then bonked. My morale sank too – riders were passing me, Theobald was way up ahead, and I was annoyed with myself for not eating properly. The Falzarego should have been my climb: 10km long, it’s gentler than the Giau, a more gradual ascent that I would normally have powered up. I pulled over into the shade, pissed, consumed everything I had on me, and started climbing again.

The Passo Falzarego has an evil sister: the Valparola. Just after the drinks stop at what you think is the top of the climb, the gradient kicks up for just over a kilometre. Millsy told me later this little feature nearly finished him off; to be honest I can’t really remember how it was for me. I do remember gunning final the descent, though, and passing the finishing banner 18 mins after JT. Final time: 6hrs 39.

Grimacing in the final km's

I’m planning to ride the Maratona again. It’s a great event, flawlessly organised and well supported by the locals. It’s also excellent value for money. Entry is 50-odd euros, but you’re showered with freebies before, during and after the ride.

Finally, if you’re looking for a place to stay, check out these apartments. Drop Norbert Nagler a line and tell him I sent you…

Bring the Giau

The Passo Giao. 9.9km. 29 corners. Close to 10% all the way.

It’s a tough climb. There’s no hiding.