Posts Tagged ‘jonny’

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.

Cycling around Lake Garda


View Around Lake Garda in a larger map>

On the Wednesday after the Maratona, Jonny and I rode around the whole of Lake Garda, where we were supposed to be having some R&R with our respective girlfriends (and Millsy).

Despite being told by a local rider at the hotel that the route was 90km, it was in fact 138km, i.e. as long as the Maratona. ‘We’ll see for you lunch’ became ‘See you for dinner’ as the planned 3-hour spin became a tough 4hr45 loop (albeit mostly flat) with 2hrs of time trial thrown in. Diving into the lake in full lycra back in Desenzano, after hammering it in the midday sun, was possibly the highlight of the trip.

Tunnels

I would warn anyone considering riding this loop to beware of the tunnels at the north end of the lake. At best, these are quite narrow but short, but others are much longer, and the worst has no lighting at all. Seriously, it was like riding into a black hole for 20 seconds, and that’s longer than it sounds when you literally can’t see anything. Take lights.

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…

King of the Downs

Unfortunately, this is not the triumphal write-up I was mentally preparing the week before the event: my first DNF in a sportive, thanks to a broken spoke on my Campag Neutron Ultra rear wheel at exactly 4 hours into the race. (more…)

Puncheur 2010

The first sportive of 2010 is in the bag. Eagerly anticipated by 6 of us – me, Jonny, Millsy, Simmo, Duncan and Paul – as a key test of early-season form, the Puncheur lived up to its reputation from last year: a fast, mostly flat route around the South Downs with excellent food and organisation.

It was freezing cold on the start line at 7.45am on Sunday, and it didn’t get much warmer, despite some bright sunshine as the day wore on. It was a ragged start; I got a lot of cold air into my lungs straight away, my heart rate pounding up in the 170s – it felt like my body was under a lot of stress. This feeling of stress never quite left me the whole 70 miles of the course. We were all taking short pulls at the front to begin with but everything felt a bit giddy. Then we hit ice, several big patches. Duncan went down, later joined by Jonny.

The first half of the ride, I just felt strain, so I tucked in behind Jonny and a strong-looking rider in a Cannondale top. After the feed-stop, I felt stronger, and made up for my poor contributions to the pace early on by taking a long stint into the wind. I could feel it coming back, the feeling of lightness, of floating on the effort.

At about the 3-hour mark I started to tie up. We’d hit a modest hill at around 2hrs 30, which had separated myself, Theobald and Cannondale from the others. I knew if I lost those two, I was most likely on my own to the finish, so I did everything I could to cling on, but closing the gaps became too much. Swearing at the wind, I roped myself in to the bottom of Ditchling Beacon, then climbed it without further incident. Final time: 4hrs 06 – 7 mins faster than last year, this time without going wrong.

I’ve done more riding (in pure hours on the bike) than I had this time last year, but notably less high-quality training such as intervals. This is potentially the reason for my lack of any kind of explosive pace. I remember feeling really full of beans last year; this time around, I felt easy on the hills, with reasonable stamina, but not that much power. My leg injury could have played a part. I’m half a stone lighter than last year (10st 10 vs 11st 6) – so that’s maybe a factor. I guess since my goal this season is the Maratona in July, building a base with plenty of hills, without hitting the intervals too early, will hopefully pay off in the end.

A short footnote for Millsy – he had a shocker. Training to within an inch of his life, he had to do a long run and a ride the day before, then flatted at the start of the sportive. His grim-faced expression in the photos tell the full story.

Mont Ventoux cyclo

A view from the valley

A view from the valley

On Saturday Jonny and I tamed the Giant of Provence, Mont Ventoux. And actually, it wasn’t that bad. 

I admit I’d been dreading it – I’d lost a bit of focus since the Fred Whitton – but on the day we had a tough, fast ride, amid some fantastic scenery, and in the end we placed respectably in the top 200 (out of 483 finishers). My finishing time was 5hrs 20 – a ‘gold’ medal, according to the organisers, although this was meaningless because the time barrier was set so low (7hrs 21 for gold) that all but a handful of the finishers achieved this. (NOTE: the organisers have since amended the gold time to 6hrs 15 for the Master category).

Every 2 years the Ventoux ‘cyclo’ switches its route between the two options for climbing the mountain: a longer 170km route that climbs via Bedoin and Chateau Reynard; and a shorter 144km route that goes up the steeper side via Malaucene. We did the latter. Here’s the Ventoux profile, which I climbed in 1hr 35.

Mont Ventoux profile (via Malaucene)

Mont Ventoux profile (via Malaucene)

Yes, it was long, but compared to the Whitton’s climbs it was very gentle, and there were plenty of sections where you could back off the top sprocket. I’m sure I rode it quicker in an effort to stay on Jonny’s back wheel, but I didn’t over-cook it, unlike the guy I passed vomiting at about 6km from the summit. 

The descent was eye-wateringly fast. There was no time to even spot Tom Simpson’s memorial. Once we made it down to forest level we formed a small 5-man grupetto for some fast-paced through-and-off. Before long we were joined by others, and became a larger group that pelted along the smooth, hot roads to the second feed station. 

Following the second feed the big group fragmented, and after a quick toilet break we latched onto the back of the tail end. There were two modest climbs to go: on the first one I felt strong and rode off the front; on the second I started to fade, and ended up losing Jonny, who finished in a small bunch a couple of minutes before me. 

All in all a fine ride that I would definitely repeat. We lucked out with the weather too: earlier in the week I heard the head-winds had been brutal, while the day after we had rain, a sure recipe for freezing temperatures on the mountain.