Posts Tagged ‘sportive’

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.

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.

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…)

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…)

Downland Cycles Spring Sportive

Seriously, I’ve got to do something about my power output. On 3 occasions during the Downland Cycles Spring Sportive on Sunday I was dropped by stronger riders on flat sections of the ride. (more…)

Tour du Mont Blanc cyclo

Just at home enjoying a couple of days’ Easter R&R following 2 days in the saddle on Friday and Saturday. I received an email from Sport Communication – those friendly but tech-challenged purveyors of tough French cyclosportives – and have been browsing their newest event:

The Tour du Mont Blanc Cyclo - one epic I won't be riding.

The Tour du Mont Blanc Cyclo is:

a new challenge for cyclists in search of high passes. To complete this trial, you will have to ride 330 km, cross 7 passes with summits from 1 400 to 2 469 meters and 8 000 unlevel meters. Le Tour Du Mont Blanc® Cyclo, in one stage, allow cyclists to ride the Mythical Géant des Alpes and the most reputed European summits, by crossing 3 different countries (France, Suisse, Italie), and 3 major regions of the Mont Blanc mountains (Savoie, Valais, Val d’Aoste).

SC have listed the following as requirements for entry:

  • To be awe (sic) the difficulty of the race.
  • To be a confirmed cyclist with a fine experience of long distances.
  • To know how manage the difficulties induced by this kind of race such as climatic conditions, altitude as well as the physical or mental problems emanating from prolonged and intense efforts in altitude.

La Marmotte, by comparison with this epic enduro, is 174km, with 5000m of climbing. That, emphatically, was enough. I am in awe of the difficulty of this kind of race; I do know the mental and physical problems of riding them; and for those reasons, I’m out.

There is a limit to sportives, beyond which (for me) their appeal diminishes. I want a challenge, I want some fast, competitive riding, and I want a scenic route. What I’m not so interested in is getting up at 3am to carbo-load, riding for more than 8 hours, vomiting, painful cramps, and the possibility of riding off the edge of a mountain in the dark. Call me a lightweight – but La Marmotte was my personal limit. I’ve no wish to ride it again, and I’ve no wish to out-do that achievement in the future.

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.

Sportives – advice for the novice

My mate Matt Simmonds, aka Simmo, has just emailed me in search of advice about riding his first sportive (we’re doing the Puncheur together on March 7th). Here are his questions:

  1. Can you draft?
  2. Can you use aero bars?
  3. How much fluid am I likely need for 4-5 hours on the bike? Will 2 waterbottles be enough?
  4. Can I carry my bike up Ditchling Beacon? I cycled up it once in the granny ring of my mountain bike and that was tough enough.
  5. I think I need some new tyres, any advice? Mainly for triathlons and some sportives….

Last time we rode together – October time I think – Simmo actually beat me on 3 laps around Richmond Park, so clearly he’s acting the novice here to lull me into a false sense of security before kicking my ass on race day. However, I’ll humour him.

I don’t claim to have written the book on sportives but I have ridden a dozen or so. Here are my responses:

  1. Yes, you can draft. Furthermore, you have to draft to ride a good sportive. Tactics and timing definitely play a part, it’s important to time your effort whilst preserving your strength for the full distance – not to mention doing your share of the work unless you want to earn dirty looks.
  2. On some sportives aero bars are banned, and rightly so – they are a liability when riding in a bunch. Many’s the time you’re riding in a tight pack and someone drops a bottle or slows suddenly, if you can’t react you’ll wipe out bad.
  3. 2 waterbottles is enough, since you can refill at all feed stations. Make sure you keep drinking though, and try to avoid the mistake I made at last year’s Burgess Hill Classic, of refilling on water instead of energy drink.
  4. Ditchling Beacon is a hard climb after 65 miles – but really, on the scale of things, it’s not that hard. Do some hill training now.
  5. Tyres? Buy these, they’re awesome.

Any further qu’s comment below!