Girona – where cycling belongs

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By John Thomas – 2nd December 2019

Colorful houses in Girona, Catalonia, Spain

Girona is now the home of over 100 pro cyclists and rapidly being discovered by amateur riders from all over the world. So what’s all the fuss about? What makes this place so good?

I first visited Girona in 2014 and was instantly smitten by it’s charming, historic centre. This small city of 100,000 inhabitants is nestled between the Pyrenees and Mediterranean, about 100kms north of Barcelona and 60kms south of the French border. I’d heard that Lance Armstrong and his team mates had made it home for a while and I knew it was becoming increasingly popular as a base for pro cyclists.

‘Just wait until you see how good the roads are!’ enthused  Dave Welsh, owner and operator of the excellent Bike Breaks shop positioned in the heart of the city. He wasn’t wrong, the roads surrounding Girona certainly provide a fantastic variety of riding.

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After having ridden already in many of Europe’s cycling hotspots, I felt that I’d really discovered something special in Girona, not overrun with riders but a wonderful balance of a great, liveable city where cyclists dovetail nicely into the community.

So, let’s have a closer look at why Girona ticks so many important boxes for the perfect cycling city.

 

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The City

Girona brims full of life, history and culture. Perhaps the epicentre of ‘real’ Catalunya. Catalan is very much the first language here and the feeling of passion and pride in all things Catalan is strong. It’s a city that’s extremely easy on the eye, clean, safe and sophisticated.

The vast majority of pro cyclists here choose to live in the centre and this is where the visitor should stay too. The charming network of cobbled lanes in the old town is atmospheric and vibrant. The bridges spanning the Onyar River provide a great vantage point to admire this colourful town. The magnificent Plaça de Independència is the perfect post ride drinks environment and the imposing 11th Century cathedral and city walls wrap the old town beautifully.

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Plaça de Independència

This town has a great vibe to it. The increasing number of pros that live here is evident. When you ride here you’ll see them. The same narrow lanes that once hosted the covert activities of certain pros are now being augmented with classy new bike shops and cafés courtesy of the likes of Rory Sutherland and Christian Meier and their entrepreneurial spirit.

Girona hosts a lot of pro cyclists and so does neighbouring Andorra where favourable residence and taxation laws contribute to having attracted around 70 riders making it their home in recent years. Girona and Andorra between them have turned into the biggest concentration of pros anywhere. When visiting here you feel part of something big in cycling. Girona appears to have become the pro cycling city. The notoriety of some of it’s former cycling residents is undeniable, it arguably actually adds to the excitement and intrigue of the place. Girona’s more recent and ongoing contribution to pro cycling  is a happy story though.

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The riding

Superb road surfaces, eerily quiet roads and a fantastic variety of terrain all await the Girona rider. The city centre itself is cycle friendly and feels safe to ride. 10 minutes or so in any direction takes the rider into a beautiful, rural hinterland. There’s no shortage of flat riding on the plains to the East but it’s the coastal riding and the multitude of climbs that provide the most indelible memories. The coastal stretch from Sant Feliu de Guixols to Tossa de Mar is a world class ride. A rolling, glassy smooth ride with the Mediterranean in your face around every corner.

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coastal riding near Tossa de Mar

Take your pick from a huge range of climbs. The iconic Rocacorba starts in Banyoles, 15km from Girona. This is is a climb made famous through local pros using it as their testing ground. It’s 14km of ascent will lull you in it’s first few kilometres until it ramps up in the middle to throw plenty of double figure percentages at the rider. The view at the top is stunning and it’s certainly a must do climb when in the area.

 

Mare de Deu del Mont is a little further out from Girona and well worth the effort. It  rather aptly translates as ‘Mother of God of the Mountain’ and it’s name will resonate in the heads of any rider as they scale it’s tough final slopes. 19km long and rising about 1000m gives the hopeful prospect of a climb averaging a little over 5% in gradient. With the vast majority of that altitude gain loaded into the second half though, this concave profiled challenge will certain hurt the legs in it’s latter stages. A spectacular summit awaits with the most idyllic spot for lunch on the terrace of the magnificent ‘Sanctuari’ restaurant.

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Mare de Deu del Mont

Right out of Girona you can scale Els Angels, a 10km, 4% power climb that culminates at the pretty Sanctuari dels Angels, famed for being where Salvador Dali was married. Over the other side and down to Madremanya and the superb vaulted village centre of Monells, the perfect coffee spot and one of many wonderful and beautifully maintained medieval villages in the area.

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approaching Madremanya

A week of riding in the Girona area will only scratch the surface of the massive range of rides available from the city. Other favourite rides for me include climbs to Sant Hilari, Santa Pellaia and Coll de Condreu. Head north west and inland to explore the volcanic Garrotxa region, head north east to sample the stunning Cap de Creus peninsular.

 

Access

Girona is easy to get to, from anywhere. Barcelona airport is an easy 75 minutes away with a wide range of long haul routes from all over the world. Girona’s own Costa Brava airport is just 15 minutes from the city centre and provides an excellent gateway to the city for European travellers. By road Girona is easily accessed via the AP7 motorway meaning road travel from nearby France and the rest of Spain is easy. By rail Girona is just 37 minutes from Barcelona on the high speed rail service. This same trainline links into the French TGV network meaning fast access from the rest of Europe.

Climate

Nestled between the foothills of the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean Girona enjoys a very cycle friendly climate. Girona’s cool winters and warm summers make it rideable all year round. The best periods for the visiting cyclist are March – June and September – November when typical daytime maximum temperatures will be in a very agreeable cycling sweetspot range of 16-25°. December – February still provide great low to mid teen days and the 30° averages in July and August remain very manageable.

Eating

Cyclists will refuel in style in this town. Girona is a gastronomic paradise with a fabulous range of dining options with traditional Catalan cuisine beautifully mixed with plenty of internationally influenced options. Fine diners can enjoy the absolute best with the likes of Celler de Can Roca, until recently voted the finest restaurant in the world, now relegated to a lowly second! Every budget is catered for with a huge choice of three course menus including wine in the 15-20 euro range. More information on the best spots to eat can be found here.

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Monells

 

I’m lucky. Every year I get to ride in a wonderful selection of destinations worldwide, courtesy of working with Alpine Cadence. I’m often asked where my favourite place to ride is and the answer is easy and always the same. If I could only ever ride in one place this would be it. Girona and Catalunya tick the boxes so much.

Coming to Girona still feels like a discovery, there are a few more riders here than when I first turned up here but it still retains a special feeling, the cycling hoards have yet to invade! Some will suggest that Scotland is where golf belongs, that Austria is where skiing belongs. Well, perhaps Girona can lay claim to where cycling belongs!

 

Alpine Cadence visits Girona and it’s surrounds in April and May every year with its Training Camps and Volta Catalunya.

 

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Taiwan KOM Challenge 2019 Race day

By John Thomas, 27th October 2019

All images courtesy of Taiwan Cycling Federation

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At last – race day! So much anticipation and preparation, now it’s time to convert the work we’ve done into a result. I got a good 6 hour sleep, woke up as per usual 10 minutes ahead of my 4am alarm. I’m pumped up for this thing as much as my first ever bike event in 2005.

Oliver and I grab a coffee and breakfast in our vast hotel room, plenty to eat the day before and about a 4 hour effort ahead of us, no need for a huge breakfast. Muesli, yoghurt and a banana is enough. We head down to the hotel lobby to meet the rest of the team and ride the flat 4km to the start. It’s raining! This isn’t what we ordered. The forecast had been dry, we didn’t need this. A couple of minutes up the road the rain abates to our relief, a dry road, looks like we’ll be alright. This is a tough enough day without rain. In 2014 riders had to deal with rain for the whole event. Not nice.

We arrived at the start in perfect warm conditions. Dropped our bags off with stuff for the finish and got ourselves in position near the front. We were earlier than we needed to be but that was cool. Looking out over the Pacific Ocean, there are worse places to wait for the sun to come up.

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almost time boys!

The 6am start time approaches. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Fitter and stronger on the bike than I’ve ever been. A great bike to ride that runs sweetly and is lighter than most. I know the course from last year and I know what I’m capable of. Everything points to a good day.

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Team CCC dominate the start

Off we go. 18km of neutralised riding. This event is run well and the commissaire leads us at a decent 35-40km/h pace. Perfect to warm up the legs. Alastair, Ruari, Stephen and I are all near the front. The rest of our team not far back. The Team CCC ladies are in the front row and I stake my claim for territory on the right side and make it hard for anyone to get past me. I’m getting better at this type of riding. You need to be bold and confident, even in a neutralised section. Relax too much or leave a gap available and you find yourself swamped and going backwards. There are 700 riders behind you that want to be where you are. There’s a definite skill in being able to stay at the front.

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6am and we’re off
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Taroko Bridge

Taroko Bridge apporoaches, the iconic gateway to the Taroko Gorge. As we cross the bridge I’m in a good spot, on the right, just a couple of rows back, similar to last year. Good for the hard left hander coming up at the end of the bridge. The commissaire has his head out of the sun roof,  shouts some warning to us that I can’t hear properly. This is cool, just like a stage start in a Grand Tour, kilometre zero is just around the corner.

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Commissaire gets us ready

Round we go and the flag comes down. Game on. 86kms to the top from here. The pace is hot but I can live with it. I’m about 30 riders back as the peloton strings out. I remember this point last year, I was shocked at the pace and struggled to stay with it. This time I’m on top of it. 3km up the road there is a narrowing, a dip and a hard right. It caught riders out last year and riders went down just behind me. This time we all got through smoothly.

I’m happy, the pace settles to a swift but consistent tempo, doesn’t seem like there are any attacks off the front. Alastair is just behind me, Ruari, Stephen and Oliver just ahead. We negotiate the first of the 16 damp and dingy tunnels that make up about 6km of the total race length. Alastair and I exchange a few words, taking stock of what’s happening after a few minutes. The pace has already split the peloton, we are in a group of about 100 riders, 600 have found the early stages too hot to handle.

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lots of tunnels

Km 35, the road starts to ramp up a little, nothing severe but 5/6%, enough to cause problems for some of the 100. At this point it’s crucial not to be too near the back of a group like this. It can easily sever in a matter of seconds and you need to be on the right side of the split. I’ve learned to my cost of the importance of positioning in a group in previous races. I’ve often found myself too far back. Stephen is the most experienced racer in our team, he’s a good marker for me. He gets himself in good positions, if I’m nearer to him I’ll be safer.

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steady pace thanks to CCC

At this point there are Team CCC riders who are dictating the pace. It’s smooth and steady. I’m happy with where I am. Constantly looking ahead to make sure I can react quickly to a change of pace. I’m comfortable but I have no idea how long it that will last. I have a chance to take in the moment. I’m in the thick of a lead group of about 70 riders now, with World Tour pro riders dictating the pace on the front. All happening in one of the most dramatic, deepest gorges in the world. It’s all a bit dreamy, one of the those ‘pinch yourself is it real’ situations. This event is like nothing else. No where else can I get an opportunity to race with these people. And I’m part of it, not just making up the numbers, but I can do more than just hang in there. I feel part of how things might play out today, as I’ll discover soon my team mates are going to be an even bigger part of this fantastic game I’m immersed in.

I can’t win this race outright, I’m too old and not good enough, simple as that. There are 20 or so riders surrounding me now that will ride at a different level to me at the end of this day when it hits it’s tough, steep climax. But I’m in another race within the race. I came narrowly second in the over 50 category in this event last year and I want the win this time.

Our race numbers pinned on our jerseys are sequenced as per our category. All the oldies are numbers 667 through to 775. I’m scanning for those numbers, in my group of 70 I can’t see many. We are ranked on previous KOM performances so I get number 667 as the fastest previous competitor in my category. Juergen Eckman who pipped me by 9 seconds last year is not on the start list. There are loads of riders doing it for the first time though so the numbers don’t tell the whole story. I can see number 668, a Japanese rider, Shingo Nakagome, bit of a legend in this event, has won this category in the past. Looks confident and keeps moving up near the front. 702 is Stephen. I’ve raced with Stephen in the Haute Route Pyrenees earlier in the summer. Very experienced and strong. Very capable of getting on the podium here but I know I’m a shade stronger than him on previous performances when it gets to the business end of the day. The only other old bloke I can see is 752, smooth looking rider, long greying curls spilling down his neck. No idea who he is but he looks handy. Could he be the rider who spoils my party?

The kilometres pass quickly, this does not feel like a chore. I’m in control. Alastair is right with me. In the same way I use Stephen as a marker I think Alastair’s doing something similar with me, that’s cool with me. We see a moto with a board help up with ‘50”’ on it. Unbeknown to me someone has ridden off the front in the last few kms and has 50 seconds on us. No one is chasing though, no one in the pack seems concerned. Our pace remains very steady, almost feeling slow at times. Who could be up the road? I move up through the pack to see if I can see Oliver and Ruari. I get it in my head that maybe they’ve both gone off the front. Oliver loves to breakaway and get a bit of glory, has he done so and towed Ruari with him and maybe set up a chance for Ruari to win this thing? The top riders here don’t know who Ruari is, maybe they’ve let him go not realising how much of a threat he is?

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Oliver bridges the gap to the break

Then I spot Ruari, tapping away near the front. No Oliver though. Looks like he’s away. I’ll discover later that he’s part of a three man break that he bridged across too in spectacular, photogenic style!

I’m excited for Oliver. He, like me, isn’t capable of winning this thing outright but he’s super strong on these moderate slopes and certainly capable of ruffling a few feathers and staying away for a long time. The gap gets bigger, up to nearly 3 minutes at one point. Still no concern from the pack. They are clearly still convinced that whoever’s up the road is not a contender for the win.

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Peter Waldron on the left giving it everything
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Michael Barnes means business

All the time we’re climbing through changing light and conditions. We ride a few kilometres through damp cloud, a wet road and moody light. Soon we will emerge above to stunning views of the sea of cloud below us. The air and road is dry now.

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Alastair Roberts making the pace hard for the likes of Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio
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Marianne Vos on Stephen Blackburn’s wheel

55km in and I’m still comfortable. Sure I’m working hard but it’s sustainable and I’m confident. I move closer to the front of the pack. To hell with it, I’ll go on the front for a while. No one seems bothered and I get a few minutes of being in charge. We’re on gradients of about 6% at this point, cruising at around 20 km/h and it’s nice to be on the front and riding at a pace that suits me. I know that will change soon but at least as riders come past me now I can monitor who they are and be on the look out for any oldies who might have escaped my radar scanning earlier.

We’re approaching the point where I got dropped by the lead group last year, about 64km in. It gets a bit steeper for a couple of kilometres then followed by a stretch of about 8km of much easier gradients. If I can get through this steeper section with the top guys I could get a useful tow from them on that flatter section. I stuck with them, my power numbers are nudging over threshold but I’ll be alright for a while. I’m about 30th wheel in the group of 70 here, unaware that I’m just ahead of a significant split. Stephen and Alastair have been jettisoned and I get to carry on in the lunar landing craft!

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My critical moment, hanging onto the top 30 until km 77

The pace is hot. As we reach Km 68 the gradient eases but the intensity goes the other way. Past winner Jon Ebson and other contenders start attacking and testing each other. It’s ‘pulsey’ and fast. All I can do is hang on. I’m close to losing touch. Big numbers required. Hang on man. If I get get a tow to the end of this section it could be a fantastic launchpad for me. The fun and games at the front is a blessing in disguise for me. That injection in pace means we’re putting a big gap into the other riders behind. I look around when I can. No Stephen, no Nakagome, I think I’m the only old bloke left in the pack. I’ve made a very good decision and I’m getting a fantastic pull from my young playmates at the front. The CCC ladies, including Marianne Vos and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio have gone too. It’s just the men left now. Ruari’s right up there. On a few loops in the road I look back down below to look for chasers. No one in sight. This is really good.
My course knowledge from last year is invaluable. Knowing exactly where things get easier and harder on this mid section of the race is crucial. My Garmin computer confirms the profile ahead for me too. 2 or 3 more fast and easy kms to go and then sustained up for about 7km at 6/7%. I need to stay with this group until the foot of the next pitch and then it’s time to let go. I know my abilities and my limitations. Too long on a harder section with riders of this level and I’m going to burn myself out. Let them go at km 77 and be thankful for the launchpad they’ve provided but don’t bite off any more.
I let them go. The rest of the 30 ride away from me. I’m happy. I’ve dropped myself on purpose. I’m sure it’s the best place to do it. Several of those 30 were looking pretty weary, I was confident that I’d reel them in later. Time now for me to find my own rhythm and get to the finish as efficiently as possible. From this point group riding would not affect things greatly. Steeper gradients now, everyone against the mountain.
At km 79 I came through the feed station at Bilu Sacred Tree on my own. The total pro experience continues as I’m handed a fresh bidon by neutral support and get to throw my used one to the spectators for a souvenir! I wonder who’s got that Alpine Cadence bottle now!

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no need to slow down for a bidon

A timing mat at that feed stations would confirm later that Oliver had just been caught by the pack in front of me and I was about a minute behind. His breakaway and glory had come to an end but not without dozens of fantastic photos showing for posterity how he was a leader in the Taiwan KOM for a long time!I ride on. On my own up though the forest. 7km of steady up until a descent of 4kms. Well over 2000m above our sea side start now. Time for me to review, check, monitor the engine. All the dials in the cockpit are giving the right readings. I’m running well. The tiniest twinges of cramping are there but nothing much. I’m in better condition than the same point last year and in a better position in the race. It’s all about not blowing up now. Manage the engine and respect any changes. Through the forest ahead I can see the weaker members of the group of 30 getting closer. There are some tired legs in there. I get the feeling that I’ll pick off a few of them before the finish. I don’t need to work to catch them though, they’ll come to me. My big mileage on the bike this year has seen me stronger at the end of big rides than ever before. I’ve had a trend this summer of overtaking plenty of riders on final climbs, I’m confident it will happen again.

As I top out on that section I’m close to 3 or 4 riders ahead. The short descent that follows offers respite to some but perhaps an opportunity to others. I push hard over the top. A little too hard into the first hairpin, almost locking up and running out of road. Concentrate! Don’t blow it now with a stupid mistake. Next bend is smoother and then all good, pedalling hard through the rest of the open bends. Later on Strava I’ll see that the descent went well for me, more time into rivals who perhaps cruised it a bit.

Up we go again. 90km done, 15 to go and all up. 1100m of altitude to find. The average gradient of about 7% doesn’t remotely tell the story of what’s to come! Super steep ramps ahead of us approaching 20%, with flatter stretches and a short descent corrupting the average gradient and making it a useless figure. This final stretch is hard and it’s what the Taiwan KOM is all about. About 55 minutes of managed pain remaining!

I start to pick off riders. Still no one in sight behind me but plenty in front as the steep gradients and slow speeds bring the field more into view. I tap away in a small gear. I mix it up in the saddle and out, still no cramp. Brilliant, I was cramping at this point last year and incapable of getting out of the saddle.

Then, Oliver! At the side of the road punctured! ‘oh no, mate!’ I shouted. I was so disappointed for him. He had a neutral support moto helping him so I couldn’t help. He would puncture again before the finish, a hard way for him to finish his day but nothing could take away his glory from the early part of the ride.

I rode on with mixed feelings, really happy with how I was going but disappointed for him. The vicious ramps were just as hard as last year. My 34/29 gearing set up was enough for me, just. Lots of riders there will have been regretting their gear choice I reckon.

5km to the finish, still plenty of work to do but I know I’ve got this in the bag. Still passing riders and not feeling like a rider that was about to blow. I’d nibbled away on 3 energy bas since the start and a couple of gels on top in the final stages, I knew I was on top of my energy needs. One of the race vehicles goes past me and I can hear on the radio ‘race leader 50m from the finish’. That put some context into my humble effort. The winner of the race, a young Anthon Charmig from Denmark,  was just about to cross the line and I was still 5km back. The speed in which those top guys finish is incredible.

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stunning ride from Anthon Charmig winning in 3 hours 26 minutes

3km to go. An open descent of 1.5km ahead of me. I rode it well and carried plenty of speed around the spectator lined right hander at the end that would signal the start of our final 1.5km up to finish. The crowd support from the local people is incredible. So much enthusiasm. I’m not sure what they keep shouting at me in Mandarin but it sounds like ‘JEE OH’, whatever it is it make me ride faster!

The finish is hard. A fairly constant 11% for 1.4km. Put that at well over 3000m when you’ve got 4 hours of hard riding in your legs already and it’s hard. I found myself on my own. I’d overtaken 7 or 8 riders in the last few kilometres but now there was no one in sight, ahead or behind. I was where I was in the race. Nothing was going to change unless I blew up or punctured. I count down the metres, 1100, 1000, 900. It’s so steep and slow. A commissaire’s car follows me up to add to the atmosphere. I’m all over the wide road. Zig-zagging my way up in an effort to create virtual hairpins and the relief that they bring. 600m to go, loads of noise. I can hear the commentator on the PA system at the top and crowds ahead of me. 400m to go, so hard. The crowds are bashing the hell out of the hoardings and shouting their ‘JEE OH’s’. The support is amazing. They have no idea who I am. I suddenly get emotional. A mix of relief, pride and excitement overcomes me. I’m goosepimply all over, my eyes are teary. It’s amazing how those people at 400m made me feel. I finished so strong, the last 200m seems easy with what that crowd gave me. I push all the way to the line with a little hand in the air to celebrate my personal victory.

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I’ll take that ride!

I’m in good condition. I stop, get a medal draped around my neck and take a few moments to think. This time last year I was ‘peeled’ off the bike by marshals as I was in the depth of massive cramp spasms. This time was different. I’d given it my all and the body had delivered everything I asked of it.

Ruari is there, ‘How d’you go?’ He was 4th, Superb result, so pleased for him. Alastair came over the line just 3 minutes and 4 places behind me. He’s had a strong finish too and I was so happy to see how well he’d done. I headed over to where the timing was set up. Leaning over to get a glimpse of the laptop with the results coming in I could see I’d finished 25th overall and confirmed as 1st over 50. I was shocked to see my time, 3 hours 45 minutes, way quicker than I thought I could do.

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Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio wins from Marianne Vos

The leading ladies, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Marianne Vos came in a few minutes later. Again I was surprised. I often joke about how I’m one of the top lady riders as I almost always finish around the same time as the leading lady. To finish a fair margin ahead of these girls was another indicator that I’d gone really well.

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More of our team came over the line. Oliver got there in good spirits despite a difficult finish. Stephen rolled in under 4 hours and would be second to me in the old blokes category. Michael finished strongly followed by Pete who’d also suffered a puncture scuppering his hopes of joining us on the over 50 podium. Duncan finished in his usual, reliable manner and an ever cheerful Fenton meant that we were all safely finished.
The atmosphere at the podium presentation at the top was a lot warmer than the foggy chilly conditions we were greeted to. Our team of riders had well and truly performed. There was a fantastic buzz around what we’d done, no doubt fuelled a little by the dozen beers that Oliver had made sure wthere for us to consume as our recovery drinks!

Between us we collected 6 trophies, Ruari 4th overall and first in M20 category picked up a handy cheque for 50,000 TWD. Stephen and I enjoyed being top of the tree for the M50 division. Alastair podiumed in M30 and Oliver podiumed in M20 despite his calamitous finish.

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So, to reflect. As a team, we have had the most incredible day and indeed the most incredible week. Taipei and Hualien have provided us with amazing memories. A trip that has culminated in a wonderful world class event, but a trip that is much more than just that. An exciting adventure into a new culture. Sights, smells, sounds and flavours that have certainly invaded our senses! Of course we need to let the dust settle from the excitement of all this but I suspect a few of us will be coming back for more.

The event itself is epic. Totally unique. A challenge to complete and an opportunity to share the challenge with top riders that I certainly haven’t found anywhere else in the world of cycling. I can’t recommend this event highly enough. However long your cycling bucket list might be, this has to be on it. Well organised, spectacular and wonderful support from super friendly people. Hard to beat.

For me personally, ah, where do I start?! I’m proud, I’m relieved, I’m satisfied, I’m excited. So many things. This cycling journey that I’m on continues to deliver amazing emotions and experiences. I knew I was going well this year but to convert my fitness and abilities into a result in Taiwan makes me feel on top of the world. I keep surprising myself with what can be achieved and it make me very excited for the future too.

Last year in Taiwan was superb, this year though was even better. To share the experience with a team has been wonderful and I’m proud to be part of the team success.

 

The results for this event are available at

Click to access 19102522217.pdf

If you’d like more info about what Alpine Cadence get’s up to check out

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and

https://www.facebook.com/Alpine-Cadence-Cycling-167868076559955/

Drop me a line at info@alpinecadence.com if you fancy joining us in the future

 

Taiwan KOM Challenge 2019 – 1 day to go

 

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Tomorrow is race day! We’ve been based in Hualien, the host city for the event for the last 2 days. Some chilled out riding enjoying the local roads and relaxing in our very comfortable hotel. Almost time for action. First let me talk more about the event itself and how it’s evolved into a major bucket list bike event in recent years.

The first edition of the Taiwan KOM Challenge took place in 2012. A 105km race, almost entirely uphill, from sea level near Hualien on Taiwan’s east coast up to the Wuling Pass at 3275m. A race open to anyone, pros and amateurs alike. A climb that takes the rider up the length of the Taroko Gorge, Taiwan’s most visited geographical feature. A spectacular, vertiginous gorge lined with sheer limestone cliffs.

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The event has grown in stature and now easily sells out it’s 750 places. The field comprises of current pro cyclists chasing the 500,000 Taiwanese dollars on offer to the leading man and woman. Past winners include Vincenzo Nibali, Emma Pooley and specialist hill climbers like Jon Ebson. This year multiple World Champion Marianne Vos is on the start line with her CCC team as well as male pros from teams Katusha, Astana and EF.

For amateur wannabe’s like myself and the rest of our Alpine Cadence team this is a unique opportunity. No pens or separation at the start. Every one starts together, you stay with the pro riders for as long as you think you are able. That could be a couple of kilometres for some or about 65kms in my case last year when the ‘elastic’ between the top guys and me finally snapped.

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The climb itself is varied. The first 18km is neutralised and flat. 35 minutes of riding north along the coast from Hualien. A chance to warm up and contemplate. At Km 18 the course crosses the Taroko Bridge and shortly after the left turn at the end of it the commissaire’s car signals the start of the race proper.

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End of Taroko Bridge last year, timing just about to start, me peeping out from behind the scooter, Oliver front middle

 

Km 18 – 37 is mainly ‘false flat’, gently up but nothing enough to split stronger riders. From KM 37 to KM 89 the gradients steepen, generally between 4-7%, in this section the peloton will split into it’s different fitness levels. KM 85-90 is a short descent followed by the big finale. The last 15kms is what this race is all about. That final 15kms ascends about 1100m but very unevenly. Plenty of gruesome gradients with lots of ramps in the 15-18% range. The final 1.4km is a sustained 11% and with the thinning air at 3275m will provide a very challenging finish.

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Leaders Benjamin Dyball and John Ebson on one of the ramps in the closing stages in 2018

The men’s race is usually won in a time of about 3hours 25minutes from the Km 18 point, with the leading ladies about 25 minutes later. For my level it’s almost a 4 hour effort. 4 hours of hard work. With the exception of the short descent there’s no let up. This is a hard thing to train for. When else can you go uphill for 4 hours?

Tomorrow we’ll all line up at 6am, at Chisingtan Beach, just north of Hualien. 20 degrees forecast for the morning and dry conditions.

Our team is well prepared. 3 nights in Hualien have given us a chance to ride locally and enjoy the town. 30kms on Tuesday, 75kms yesterday and another 30kms today will be just enough to keep the engine ticking over whilst staying fresh for our exploits tomorrow.

 

This afternoon we’ve just attended the pre race presentation in the hotel in which we’re staying. The top riders like Marianne Vos were called up and interviewed on stage and we were treated to a performance of local dancers. I don’t mind admitting that I’m getting nervous now, just like I always do. I couldn’t really be better prepared but I’m anxious and need to be on the bike, then I’ll be fine.

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My preparation for this year’s event has been pretty simple, lots of mileage over the summer and turn up skinny in Taiwan! This season with all the trips I’ve guided around Europe I’ve been lucky to accumulate around 14000km of varied riding. Lots of climbing, 275,000m to be precise! The riding required for guiding trips is perfect training, lots of mileage, lots of lower intensity riding with occasional big efforts. As I learn more and more about cycling I realise more than ever that the long easy miles are crucial and really show in a rider’s performance.

I’m as light as I need to be, skinny but healthy. Cutting out most of the beers in the last few weeks and being a bit more careful with how much I eat has done the trick. I’ll be pigging out tomorrow night!

So as I put this blog to bed shortly followed by putting myself there, I really hope we have a fantastic experience tomorrow. We are a great team of riders and I desperately hope that after coming all this way each member of the team is able to convert their potential.

Go team and get the job done!

Taiwan 2019 – the build up to the KOM

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As I write this we are on our team bus from Taipei, Taiwan’s capital to Hualien, host city for the Taiwan KOM Challenge. Last year Oliver and I came to participate in the event, this year we have a team of Alpine Cadence riders with us for a week long adventure culminating in the big event.

The event itself is now very much on the global cycling map. A unique race, almost entirely uphill from sea level all the way to Taiwan’s highest road pass, Wuling at 3275m. An epic and challenging 105km event attracting 700 riders ranging from top pros chasing the prize money on offer right down to plucky amateurs just trying to finish within the 6.5 hour cut off time.
Recent winners have included Vincenzo Nibali and Emma Pooley, this year’s start list will include the likes of multiple world champion Mariana Voss. There’s no other event we’ve come across yet where anyone who fancies the challenge can rock up and race against the best. Bring it on!
Oliver and I arrived in Taipei almost week ago to check out local roads and sights to see in the city. I really wanted to create a trip that would give our team of riders the best chance to do well in the KOM event but still sample a good dose of Taiwanese life and culture while we are here. Two days of riding in the Taipei area combined with city sightseeing, then on to Hualien for the 3 nights prior to the event with some gentle ‘tapering’ rides on the cards around that area.

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a spectacular ‘BladeRunneresque’ skyline

Our 2 days in Taipei have been a great balance of superb riding and city sights. The riding North and West of the city is great, taking in the Yangmingshan National Park and over to the spectacular North Coast with it’s numerous beach’s and fishing ports. Each day we road 90/100kms with 1500/2000m climbing. These would be our biggest 2 days on the bike in the lead up to the event. Might as well remind the legs of what they’ll need to do at the end of the week and and exercise like that nicely overrides or at least distracts our bodies from jetlag issues. We quickly adjust!

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Superb bike paths along the Keelung River

Those 2 rides went really well. The riding in the city is surprisingly good. A fantastic network of spacious bike paths along both sides of the Keelung River means hassle free, flat riding for as long as you need. Really quiet too, meaning that unlike some bike paths you can ride safely at a good speed. The city roads themselves are quite an experience. Dedicated lanes for bikes/scooters and a very clear and well organised system. Busy for sure but a real feeling of courtesy and respect from other road users and a safe and enjoyable experience. Once beyond the city perimeter we found ourselves in lush jungle almost immediately. Formosan Macaques would gives us some friendly company and very little traffic. Here and everywhere we would ride in the next few days the road surfaces were superb. Fast, low roll resistance tarmac everywhere, makes you feel good!

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Watch out Duncan!

The North Coast provided fabulous ocean views and perfect friendly coffee stops. Wide roads and almost too good to be true quietness, lovely!

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The selection of climbs we did varied hugely in their gradients, a bit of everything to keep us on our toes. Sometimes constant, sometimes rampy, no real trend to the roads apart from that were all great! The toughest section we dealt with was the 2kms at 11% up to Mount Datun that would give us a good simulation of what to expect in the latter stages of the KOM event.

Off the bike Taipei delivered too. Using the efficient metro system we visited to impressive Taipei 101, once the world’s tallest building. Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall was a highlight too and a reminder of Taiwan’s recent history.

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Eating in Taiwan is a joy! Shilin Night Market provided a fabulous and authentic local eating experience. To contrast that that we even treated ourselves to afternoon tea at the exclusive Taipei Grand Hotel to feel like celebrities for an hour or so!

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Shilin Night Market
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Grand Hotel Taipei

We leave Taipei with great memories, wonderful bike rides, plenty to see and do off the bike and great eating. Now time to head to the event.

Hualien is 180km down the east coast from Taipei. A spectacular 4 hour drive taking in wonderful views of the Pacific as we hug the dramatic, steep coastline in the second half of the trip.

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On arrival in Hualien we’ll be checking into the modern and spacious Parkview Hotel, a very pleasant and comfortable environment for us in the lead up to Friday’s exploits. With a couple of fairly big days in our legs it’s time to take it easy. Any riding we do in the next 3 days will be shorter and not too much climbing. We want to enjoy the area that we are in and keep the legs turning but essential that we go into Friday’s event as fresh as we can.

The hotel is big and will accommodate the pre race presentation on Thursday and the top pro riders who are lining up for the event. Cool to be rubbing shoulders with the those guys as we line up for our extensive breakfast buffet.

Our Alpine Cadence Team is 9 strong. Oliver and I are doing the event for the second time after a very good experience last year. We are joined by 7 other riders all of whom have shared Alpine Cadence adventures with us in the past. Duncan Carrier (GBR), Alastair Roberts (GBR), Stephen Blackburn (AUS), Michael Barnes (USA), Ruari Grant (GBR), Peter Waldron (AUS) and Fenton Curley (IRL) all signing up with various aspirations and goals for the event. We’re a pretty strong bunch although I say it myself. With the generous dishing out of podium trophies for different age categories we stand a good chance of getting a bit of tangible reward in this event. Ruari is our best hope having won the prestigious Haute Route event 5 times including this year’s Haute Route Alps. Stephen is a rider with a huge amount of experience and could do very well in the 50 plus category. Alastair finished 8th in last year’s Haute Route Pyrenees too. All in all a strong bunch with hopefully no one troubled by cut off times at the back of the field.

Next blog will share more information as to the event itself and how we prepare in the last couple of days leading up to it.

See you soon!

 

 

 

Haute Route Ventoux Stage 3 ITT

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Haute Route 3 day events always finish with a time trial and this was a big one! 22km up the Bédoin side of Ventoux. 1600m of climbing in one hit. Lots of wind at the top. The leading riders would be looking at about an hour and 10 minutes of anguish with the bulk of the field looking forward to something closer to a 2 hour experience.

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This would be just my second ever ascent of Ventoux from this classic side, my first in the Etape du Tour of 2009 was a disaster. Ventoux’s summit finish on that 174km stage destroyed me. I ended up having to walk some of the mid section in the forest, bad memories of a hill that needed replacing with good, new ones.

There was no pressure on me really. I was solidly established in 5th place overall. Louis-Paul Niemerich in 4th was 3 minutes up on me and Thomas Berger in 6th was about 5 minutes down. That meant it was unlikely that my position was going to change much. I had a healthy 6 minute lead over Liam in the over 50’s too so today was all about a well paced solid ride and not blowing up.

That pacing would be crucial. On Strava I was able to look at all the statistics and previous performances from my closest rivals on this climb and I knew it was a 75 minute effort for me in perfect conditions. High winds on the top half would stretch that out to 80 minutes. Most riders of my level get to know pretty accurately what they can sustain for 20 minutes and 60 minutes but an 80 minute threshold effort is more unusual. My 60 minute threshold is about 310 watts when I’m fresh and going well. An 80 minute effort with 2 big days in my legs meant I’d need to be very wary of capping my efforts to just under 300 watts for the early stages of the climb.

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As per usual we all started in reverse order of our position in the General Classification. 20 second intervals between each rider with 2 minute intervals reserved for the fastest 5 riders. Paul, James and Adrian were all on their way. I’m used to doing these events with the 20 second intervals and therefore having riders up the road to see and chase. This time though my 5th place overall had ‘earned’ me a 2 minute interval. A much more lonely experience.

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humble gradients to start with our end goal up above

Off I went and into the first 6kms of gentle climb. So tempting here to push too hard. This was where a power meter was really useful, regulating my effort at about 290 watts. I felt like I could go much harder but it would come back to bite me if I did, be disciplined and be patient. I knew I’d be losing time on this section to bigger, more powerful riders. Adrian for example, would take about 30 seconds out of me on this section. No point fighting physics though, lighter riders like me would get our reward on the next section!

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the tough, forested middle section of Ventoux

Around the left hander after about 6km and into the forest. The next 10kms up to Chalet Renard average 9% with no respite. Settle in, find a rhythm and try to occupy the mind with something! This section was the one with bad memories for me. Not a place to be with tired legs. Today was good though. My legs were good and all was functioning as planned. I scaled that section keeping a steady 290 watts. Sitting most of the time with little standing intervals to stretch the muscles a little. 40 minutes or so spent in that forest seemed to pass quickly. My 2 minute interval meant no overtaking or being overtaken, at least at this point.

As I got closer to Chalet Renard the wind began to blow. A chilly northerly that would be in our faces for much of the rest of this ride. Chalet Renard is 6.5km from the top. A change in gradient and environment. From this point on we’re into a desolate, exposed, treeless wasteland. Open to the wind. Slightly easier gradients to the forest section with an average of about 7% left to the top.

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Every time we tacked right following the contour of the mountain the wind was right in our faces, brutally strong. Every time you turned left there was shelter from the wind and even a bit of tailwind. This was a section where my speed would vary between 11 km/h and 26km/h on the same gradient, with the same power output!

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check the spikes in speed in the final 6kms, all down to the wind

There is strictly no drafting in time trials but I could see riders ahead huddling and sheltering like frozen penguins, a bit of drafting was inevitable in conditions like this. I was catching lots of riders now, but mostly ones much further down the GC than myself. It was sometimes tempting to get a few moments of shelter from each of them but I needed to get on. Keep the power on and get past them all. Of my rivals, I only managed to catch Liam with a couple of kms to go. Kevin, 2nd in GC, overtook me a few minutes later, he’d started 6 minutes after me so was on a good ride.

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My power numbers were still good, I’d paced it well. I had enough in the last km to empty the tank and forget my 300 watt ceiling. I finished strong albeit almost blown off the bike in the final ramp by the huge crosswind.

I finished in 1 hour 19 minutes. 7th place on the day and about 7 minutes off the winning time of Pierre Ruffault. Regardless of the result I was very happy with that performance. I’d averaged a steady 288 watts of output for those 79 minutes which gives me great confidence for my Taiwan KOM event coming up later this month. A little later I would discover that I’d taken more than 4 minutes out of Louis-Paul’s time so had managed to sneak up to 4th overall for the three days, a nice bonus. Roedi Weststrate had a return to form today finishing a minute ahead of me and fastest over 50 on the day.

Adrian, James and Paul all finished strongly and finished 19th, 57th and 78th respectively for the event. We got a few pics together at the top before escaping the ‘death zone’ at the top and getting back down to the welcome, warmer climes in Bédoin.

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ventoux team top 2

My Haute Route year is now complete and what an experience it was. Alpe d’Huez, Pyrenees, Alps and Ventoux. A total of 20 days of racing. I’ve been so lucky, 20 great days where a combination of good luck, no mechanical problems and good decisions meant that I could totally fulfil my potential. The friendly battles I’ve had this summer with the likes of Louis-Paul Niemerich, Richard Scales, Roedi Weststrate and many others have been amazing and so much fun. Sharing the experience with so many Alpine Cadence riders has been incredible too, most notably Jon Bray and Adrian Beer who I’ve ridden neck and neck with on some fabulous days. Alpine Cadence really has felt like a team this year and I’ve loved every minute.

Thank you to everyone at Haute Route who has contributed to an amazing season. Haute Route continues to be a wonderful experience both for it’s sporting challenge and the great people it brings together.

Long may it continue!

Now my focus shifts to Taiwan! Lots of blogging to follow as I prepare with 11 other Alpine Cadence riders for that little jaunt!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haute Route Ventoux Stage 2

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Stage 2 was scheduled to be 133km and 3300m of climbing, a summit finish on Ventoux via Malaucène. I woke up feeling good and confident that my cramps from yesterday were due to race rustiness, today would be better and my legs would be happier. That was my plan at least.

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We were greeted to a stunning clear morning, less chilly than Stage 1, perfect conditions. Looking at the profile it didn’t look like there would be too much to split us up prior to Ventoux. Humble gradients most of the day and a potentially very fast course.

Out of Bedoin we were straight into the timed action after just 500m. The first part of the ride was a lot more settled than the previous day. No early attacks, the first few kilometres passed at a very smooth, stress free pace.

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The first ‘climb’ was the 20kms or so up the Gorges de la Nesque. Jaw dropping, beautiful scenery all the way, an absolute pleasure to ride. The early stages of this climb had already reduced the field to a lead group of about 60. James and Paul had just missed the cut. Adrian was comfortable near the front and I was ‘firmly relaxed’ somewhere in the middle. Nesque is what you’d call a power climb or even a false flat. Lots of 2, 3 and 4% gradients and nothing to tax us too much.

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Adrian leads the field up the Gorges de la Nesque

Next we came across the charmingly named Col de l’Homme Mort. The meat of this climb was 5kms long with an average gradient of about 6%. Combined with the strong winds this had the potential to damage the group dynamic and it certainly did.

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In the run in to Homme Mort there was a break off the front from about 8 riders. I was a bit too far back to have seen it in time. The gap got big quickly. This needed to be chased down. Adrian came through to get the job done. He’s immensely strong on the flatter stuff and the ideal engine to get us back. He worked hard and I sat in on his wheel. I didn’t look back at this point but I suspect that this is where our group of 60 would have totally disintegrated.

A flick of the elbow from Adrian, the signal for another rider to help and come through. No one wanted to, or perhaps weren’t able to, Adrian and I were hungrier than the rest. As the road ramped up I took over from Adrian. We powered up the ramp and made good inroads on the break. 2 minutes later we were back. Our lead group was down to about 25 riders.

Off another break went. This time just 4 riders, 4 of the top guys in GC but missing Kevin, the leader who was still back with us. No one chased this time. The break would stick. I was happy where I was, no one in the break was a concern to me whereas a couple of my rivals had been in the prior one.

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Onto the main part of the Homme Mort. Really windy. Kevin needed to work on the front, he had a lot at stake. Nicolas Roux was there to help too, a super strong rider with pedigree. Riding as a Mavic ambassador. He and Kevin did the lion’s share of the work up that climb into a vicious wind. I hid behind them, constantly adjusting my position behind them to best exploit the sheltered enclave behind them.

Over the top and onto a magnificent and spectacular decent. As we’d crested we were down to a group of about 12. To ride with those 12 was a pleasure, the decent was fast and flowing and everybody knew what they were doing. We made good progress.

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Just a few lumps now in the 40km that remained to the foot of Ventoux. I grabbed a crucial bidon from Ben at Alpcycles at the top of Col d’Aires. I’d got enough drink to the finish and a quick pee on the descent with a welcome push from Dan Sims and my primary needs were accounted for! Peeing on the go is a fairly crucial skill if you want to do well in stuff like this. Not too much detail on that one but the main ingredients to do it well are a gentle straight descent and ideally another rider to push you along.

My legs felt good. I felt good. This was a fantastic bike ride. We were all riding well in a fabulous environment. Roedi and Liam my ‘more mature’ rivals were there but no sign of Richard Scales which seemed odd as he’s usually wherever I am!

Getting closer to Ventoux. The pace remains firm, it needs to be, especially for Kevin if he’s going to have a chance of hanging on to his overall lead over the 4 breakaway riders.

We arrive in Malaucène. I can’t wait to get my teeth into this thing. 21kms at 7.5%. Big. Our group of 12 is sure to smash to pieces here. Kevin goes hard straight away. He’s in a different league to me and the rest of us in that group. I’m happy to see him ride away. I’m not so happy to see Roedi chasing him. I put about 5 minutes into Roedi yesterday but really want to finish close to him to preserve that margin. I decide to go for it, I ride across the gap to an encouraging shout from Liam behind.

I got onto Roedi’s wheel and he’s going hard. Kevin is away now but Roedi seems to be on a mission. I’m just about ok on his wheel but the power figures I’m seeing are alarmingly high. I can’t see myself sustaining this to the top, if Roedi can then good luck to him. The pace eases a little. We find ourselves joined by Thomas a young Frenchman who pipped me by a few seconds yesterday.

It’s windy but helping us more often than not. I count down the km markers, 14, 13, 12 to go. Still seems a long way. Then I see a big red sign ahead, 5kms to the finish! We’d been alerted last night that if the wind was too strong at the top there was a contingency plan to finish 6kms shorter, at the little ski station. So my 11kms to the top had instantly turned into 5kms. That suited me down to the ground. I sensed Roedi starting to tire and we were just starting the steepest section of the climb with plenty of double figure percentage gradients to keep us busy.

I put the hammer down and rode away from Roedi, I think he was spent and didn’t follow. I felt good and I knew I could sustain a decent effort over the last 15/20 minutes left. I was out of sight of Roedi really quickly. Up ahead I could see Louis Paul, one of the earlier breakaway riders. He was struggling. His efforts to stay away were taking their toll now. I rode past him and uttered a few encouraging words and asked him if he needed a gel or anything. He was ok, just spent. I rode on and felt stronger and stronger. Maybe there might be another straggler from the break that I’d catch. I didn’t catch anyone else but I rode fast to the finish churning a nice big gear in the final, flatter kilometre.

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Over the line and very content. 5th on the day and plenty of time put into my usual rivals. Up to 5th in the GC and really happy with how my legs had performed on the day. This sort of a ride was a good indicator for Taiwan in three weeks’ time. I’m looking forward to that now more than ever before.

Great results too from Adrian in 19th, James 52nd and Paul 74th. Tomorrow we round of the event with a time trial up the classic Bedoin side of Ventoux. 22kms of pain remaining and hopefully about 80 minutes of effort. We’ll see!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haute Route Ventoux Stage 1

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Here we go again! Another Haute Route adventure in beautiful Provence. Haute Route Ventoux is a 3 day stage race with 2 full length road races followed by a time trial on the final day. Each day would scale Mont Ventoux taking in the three classic ways up this iconic beast.

For me this would be just my second visit to Ventoux. My first experience of it in the Etape du Tour of 2009 was pretty disastrous so I had a big score to settle with this hill. 3 days here was going to be a fantastic experience, shared with Adrian Beer, Paul Martin and James Richens. Regular Alpine Cadence riders and great guys to be with.

This event would also be a perfect training block in my preparation for the Taiwan KOM in 3 weeks. 4/5 hour stages culminating with tough summit finishes would replicate Taiwan’s course really well and the physical demands required.

As I arrived in Bedoin, the host town for this event, I discovered some of the other riders who were registered. Roedi Weststrate, Richard Scales and Liam McCrory were all here. They are all in my over 50 category, my ‘race within the race’. Roedi had well and truly beaten me in the Pyrenees this year, Richard and I had enjoyed numerous neck and neck battles over the summer and although I’d never raced against Liam, I knew he was good! This was going to be fun!

Stage 1 was a 114km ride culminating with the ‘easy’ way up Ventoux from Sault. A couple of climbs would keep us busy prior to Ventoux, most notably La Liguière with its 9.5km at an average gradient of just over 6%.

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A chilly start for us in Bedoin. We assembled at the start with Ventoux and it’s famous tower looming over us and waiting for our arrival 4 hours later. We had 1.5km of neutralised riding before the timing started just out of town. Quite surreal to be just behind the commissaire’s car with Frank Schleck right next to me, Stage winner and on the overall podium in the TDF. He was there to ride with his guests in his cycling enterprise.

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As the flag went down the pace inevitably went up. Straight away there were attacks. I went with the first one but we were all reeled in within a minute. A few minutes later 3 riders get away, I’m too far back and miss it. Maybe they’ll stay away. They get 10 minutes of glory but are reeled in by the rest of us before we head up the first climb.

By the time we start climbing it’s been a busy start to the day, attacks and chases but all together now, or at least 80 or so of us from the original 270 starters. The first climbs of the day are not steep by any means but are ridden briskly enough by the leaders to whittle down the field. Adrian and myself find ourselves in a lead group of about 25 riders as we crest the Trois Termes. There’s no one in sight behind us. The main selection of the day has happened.

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We forge ahead together through some beautiful Provençale country. The pace is firm but I get enough chance to glance at the gorgeous place that we’re are toiling in. I know that 66km into the ride the La Liguière climb will start to shake up our group of 25. If I can just get to that point with this group I’ll be happy, then our different fitness levels can manifest themselves.

There’s a fairly slow speed crash just ahead of me, 4 riders down, I get round it and the pace eases as we let the crash victims get back on board.

50kms in, our 25 splits. I don’t know how I miss it but I find myself in a second, sub group with a dozen riders up the road, including Adrian. I’m annoyed, I haven’t paid attention, I should have been nearer the front. I chase and do most of the work on the front of our second group. I’m angry. I should be sitting in behind the leaders, not hauling these other guys along the road.

We get to the foot of the La Liguière. Maybe a minute behind the leading group. As soon as the road ramps up I drop my chain. I’ve had niggling gear issues all morning but this is a disaster. I haven’t dropped a chain for about 2 years and what a time to do it now! Now I’m really pissed off. I can sometimes get a chain back on on the go but not this time. Off the bike and get it back on. Probably cost me 20 seconds but felt like an eternity. I ride on seeing my people that I’ve towed for the last 10 minutes all up the road. When shit happens the adrenaline flows. My adrenaline spiked and I was back on board with the group very quickly. It was splitting already. Richard and Roedi were away. It took me a bit longer to reel them in but I did.

I carried onto the top with those two and started to feel happier. Roedi is an immensely strong rider. Being near him in a race is a pretty good indicator that things are ok. The lead group was out of sight but as we crested the top and started down the other side we swamped 3 riders including Liam who had been spat out by the leaders so we were now a second group of 6 riders with an estimated 8 riders up ahead.

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As we approached Sault I started to assess how I was. I was happier and in an ok place in the race. I was still frustrated at not being with the lead 8 as I knew a couple of riders there that I was more or less the same level as. Anyway, it is what it is, things are not too bad…..apart from my legs.

Maybe it’s the fairly long lay off from racing, about 5 weeks since the Haute Route Alps. My legs were cramping, not badly, but the signs were there. All my efforts that morning were taking there toll, all the on and offs, my legs were not happy. I needed to show them a bit of respect or I was going to be in deep trouble.

The first few kms out of Sault rise up gently and no one seemed keen to push things too much. This was a perfect environment for my legs to recover. I started to be more and more hopeful that I’d get through the cramp. My ‘race within the race’ old boys were all there. Roedi, Liam, Richard and myself all together and poised for a good battle at the top.

The whole climb of Ventoux from Sault is about 25kms long but the only tough bit was the last 6.5km from Chalet Renard to the top. An average of about 8% and I would need good legs there.

As we approached Chalet Renard I was surprised to see Roedi fall off the back of our group, we were down to 5. Into the last section and Mont Ventoux lived up to it’s name with some strong headwinds every time we swung round to the right. Nobody wanted the front. Everybody wanted to hide. I still had twinges of cramp but otherwise I was feeling pretty strong. As we got closer to the finish I fancied my chances of beating the rest in my group. I’ve got a decent kick on me and it was just a question of when to go.

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I have no idea how the others are feeling, are they tired, are they plotting their own attack? 2 kms out I push ahead, my 275 watts goes up to about 375 watts for about 10 seconds, a bit of a tester, I look back and they are still there. Oh, now I’ve shown my hand! Still feeling good. When I crank up the power I can hide it well, I stay seated and the onlooker doesn’t see much change. Some riders will go into a completely different mode and body language when they attack but I think I hide things well.

700m out (or so I thought) and I go again, this time it’s to the finish. I look back and I’ve gapped my rivals. No one on my wheel. Now I’ve got to sustain it. My maths is wrong and the finish is further than I thought. This will look pretty stupid if I get pulled back in through mistiming this. I hold on better than expected and finished strong up the steep final ramp.

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Very happy to finish that one. 6th on the day and taking a few seconds out of my old man rivals. All in all a good day although it didn’t always look like it would turn out that way.

Adrian finished well in 23rd, James 64th and Paul 105th.

We enjoyed a fast descent back to Bédoin and then a welcome massage and lunch. Even a chance to console Mr Schleck who couldn’t keep up with us today!

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Tomorrow is longer, 133km. Finishing up Ventoux from Malaucène. Time to sleep!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haute Route Alps Stages 7a and 7b plus a sum up of the Pyrenees/Alps experience

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One more day, 2 more stages. For our final day the Haute Route organisers decided to throw in 2 stages for us in an event first. Stage 7a would start in Pra Loup, with it’s main feature the ascent of the Cime de Bonette, the highest paved road in the Alps at 2803m. We’d then enjoy a break in St Etienne de Tinée before taking on Stage 7b. This one would take us all the way to Nice via the Col de St Martin and a few more subsequent lumps. In total, 193km to look forward to today and a fairly significant 3500m of climbing.

stage 7 Profiles
So, my final day of two massive weeks. Up to this point I’d ridden a close to perfect race. No mechanical issues whatsoever, good legs every day and good pacing and decisions made in every stage. I’d never been out of the top 10 in the Pyrenees and always in the top 20 in the Alps. Safely finishing in Nice was the main priority but I was very keen to finish with 2 more top 20 finishes to complete a consistent set. My legs had pleasantly surprised me throughout the event and I was confident they’d give me one more day of good stuff.

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the pre Bonette peloton

Neutralised for the descent from Pra Loup the race started just after Barcelonette. We faced  about an 8km run in to the climb of the Bonette. No dramas there and the whole peloton hit the climb in one piece. Bonette is a big climb, 23kms long and rising nearly 1600m but fairly steady with it’s gradients. That is until the final 700m where it kicks up to average about 12%.
The early slopes split the peloton in a now fairly predictable manner. A leading group formed with around 16 riders, I was happy to let them go. I settled in and found myself part of a second group of around 10 riders. Mitch and Richard Scales were there too.
Progress up the Bonette was good and firm. German Nico and Aussie Peter moved up an away from our group. I stayed steady, no need to go with them. I’d be happy to ride solid and steady until the final kilometre and then dish out anything I’d got left on the nasty finale.

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halfway up Bonette

Mid way up the climb my legs felt good and I pushed things along a bit. It looked at one point like we might reel in Nico and Peter but ultimately they’d be away to the top. 8kms to the top our group starts to split. I’m left with Mitch and Richard. 5kms to the top, Richard pushes ahead, he looks strong. I feel tired, I’m struggling. Richard’s change of pace has hurt me and I’m resigned to letting him and Mitch go. I feel like I’m wilting. Is this my first real crack of the 2 weeks?

If I can just stay near these fellas until 3kms to go. There’s a fast flatter section there. I really don’t want to be on my own there. Either my legs came back or the pace eased. Whichever way I’m back with the boys and comfortable. We hit the flat bit and I sit in and enjoy the ride. Richard will know what the last bit’s like as he lives not far away in Nice. Mitch is in for a shock though. The finish of this climb is much harder than suggested in our briefing or roadbook.

We hit the final ramp with as much speed as possible. A series of smoothly timed clicks and we’re very quickly down to our smallest gears. A tough 4 minute effort ahead of us that goes on a bit longer than you want. I nose ahead of Mitch and Richard. I’m desperate to cross the line before them to secure a top 20 finish. I just need to time it right. Round the left hander with 200m to go. Heavy breathing fills the otherwise silent wilderness. Richard and Mitch are on my wheel. 100m to go and I pull away. I kick really suddenly and a quick glance back sees no one coming. Turns out I cross the line in 17th but great for the confidence to finish like that.

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Jardel and Luiz enjoy a few moments at the top of the Bonette

So, another step complete. Now for a magnificent descent of the Bonette, untimed, and a regroup in St Etienne de Tinée before the next stage.

Now for Alps Stage 7b, stage 15 for me. The first time I’ve ever done 2 separate bike races in the same day, pretty cool idea. Ahead of us we had about 30kms of gently downhill along the Tinée valley before hitting the climb of the Col de St Martin.

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Start of stage 7b, Bruno looking ready!

A wide road and no terrain that would separate us. They set us off in waves of 100. This was good news as the thought of 450 of us together on that road scared me. When you scale a climb and make the ‘selection’ of riders you get to know and trust the riders you are with. An easy, wide road means you’re mixed up with everyone. Lots of erratic and unpredictable riding. More risk.
As we headed down the valley I relaxed for a fraction too long and found myself at the end of the first wave of 100. There was an increase in speed at the front and the peloton got stretched. Gaps started to appear. I was in a bad place. Right at the back and on the brink of getting split from all the riders I wanted to be with who were positioned sensibly in the first third of the group. I chased, I was angry with myself, I’d lost concentration and taken my eye off the ball. My chase was good and I got back in touch. I worked my way up the group and scolded myself for having let things slip.

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2kms to the climb, get forward!

With 5kms until the climb the road narrowed, we headed through the distinctive purple slate gorge after St Saveur. The peloton stretched again. I was again further back than I ought to have been. Now we were strung out almost single file. My legs are good but I’m at the mercy of everyone else in front of me being able to hang onto the wheel they are following. I can see Ruari’s orange leader’s jersey up ahead, we’re nearly at the climb and the stretched peloton means I’ll get there about 20 seconds after him and the leaders. The peloton slows to take the hard left hander to start the climb, I get a good line around the outside on the right and I make up useful seconds.
I still have to push hard up the first few hundred metres of the climb to get to where I need to be, when I see Richard Scales and Bruno I know I’m in the right place.
Col de St Martin is 16kms long and rises just over 1000m. This will be our final major climb of Haute Route Alps. Going over the top with the right people will dictate how the stage result will pan out.
A lead group forms, I’m just behind. I’m almost ready to settle into being one of the stronger riders in a second group. To hell with it, I try to jump to the leaders, let’s see what happens. Michael Latifi from Canada has the same idea. We both struggle to get to the leaders. We get there, just. A couple of kms on the back of the leaders. The pace is more than I want. I look back and the rest of the field is out of sight. The pace is too high. Michael and I are dropped. Staying with them for a while though has given us a decent lead over the rest. Michael and I work together and ride strong. This could still work out well.

9kms to the top, to my disappointment a group is catching us, ‘chill out Michael, there’s a group coming’. We get absorbed by the group and I’m back in my second group. Nothing ventured nothing gained. We had a go and not too many matches burned.
German Nico and Frenchman Nicolas are the powerhouses in the second group. They seem strong and content on the front. I sit in and hide. Nico is tall and gives me plenty of shelter. 1 km to go and Nicolas breaks away. No one follows. As we crest the top I get a bottle from Martin that keeps me going quickly. I go hard over the top. Those behind me are cruising. I know this descent well, a tricky one. Good for gapping people. I give it all I’ve got. Nicolas has gone over the top about 30 seconds ahead of me. On the straights I can see him, I’ll catch him. I look back and the gap gets bigger.
When I catch Nicolas I make it clear I want to work with him. The type of terrain coming up lends itself well to staying way. The rest of the stage now has lots of small ups and down, very turny and narrow roads. We don’t need a group. We can get to the finish we reckon. No such luck. Jeff Mahin catches us, with about 6 more riders in tow. My maths reckons there are about 15 riders ahead of us on the stage. I’m now in a group of 9. I want my top 20 finish.
We climb up towards Duranus and Levens. I love this stretch of road having done it many times before on our Grand Tour du Sud trip with Alpine Cadence. It starts to rain…a lot. Within a couple of minutes we have biblical amounts of water everywhere. We’re drenched and the roads have torrents running down and across them. We have a moto escort that helps. This is getting hard. Some riders are going to really struggle in this. This could be an opportunity. Nicolas is from Nice too, he knows the road. It’s him, me and Jeff. The three of us are careful but efficient. I sense we are gapping the rest of the group. Round a loop in the road and yes, they’re gone. This storm is perfect. We go really hard on the ups. The three of us were already probably the three strongest in that group and now we were away. I loved that stormy episode. Turns out there would be loads of crashes on that section and even people stopping and taking shelter. For me though it was brilliant and a highlight.

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hardship or opportunity, the rain certainly played it’s part!

The weather cleared quickly, as we got to Levens the three of us were riding fast and hard on dry roads. 12kms to the finish. Lots of twists and turns to come. The front group had jettisoned some of it’s riders. We came across Marco, Ewen and Alan at various points, all spent from their efforts. As we flew past them we knew it was another place up the rankings.
5kms to go, almost disaster. Hairpin right, Jeff first, then Nicolas, then me. I brake too late and my rear locks up. Fish tailing down the road and perilously close to clipping Nicolas’ rear wheel. I get back on course and the adrenaline spike helps me push hard to get back with them both. 1700 kms of racing over two weeks and so close to my first crash with just 5kms to go.

Almost in Aspremont, finish of the timing. Jeff, myself and Nicholas cross the line as a group, no last minute battles. We’ve had a fantastic ride and we finish 11th, 12th and 13th respectively on the stage. Haute Route lays on a feed station for us before our ceremonial ride into Nice to finish. There’s a feeling of elation and relief, only contrasted by a frustrated Bruno who has crashed in the final stages and has a few choice words with a rival.

Lots of handshakes and words. An amazing shared experience is done. We cruise gently into Nice and through the ceremonial finish on the Promenade des Anglais. Families and friends are there to greet their heros and heroines. It’s a great atmosphere and a happy place.

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made it!

I finished 13th in the Alps to complement my 6th in the Pyrenees. 1st overall in the combined event. Couldn’t have done any better and totally exceeded my expectations in every way. Happy chappy.

The rest of our Alpine Cadence all finished safely and can feel very proud of their achievements:

Adrian Beer            Pyrenees 38th    Alps 63rd    Combined 13th

Felix Hoddinott     Alps 80th

Mark Fairgrieve   Alps 104th

Duncan Carrier    Pyrenees 109th    Alps 145th  Combined 26th

Mark Roberts       Alps 165th

Paul Martin         Alps 219th

Luiz Capelati      Alps 264th

Jardel Andreis    Alps 286th

Andrea Azevedo  Alps 299th (19th lady)

Riccardo Clerici   Pyrenees 100th

Jon Bray                Pyrenees  9th

Stephen Blackburn  Pyrenees  15th

 

So as the dust starts to settle from 2 incredible weeks here are my thoughts about the whole thing. From a physical point of view I am shocked and delighted with how my performance held up for 2 weeks. I came into the event anticipating a very tough second week, a deterioration in performance, perhaps getting sick, just trying to survive to the end. It was very different from that. I rode strong every day, the fall off in performance didn’t happen. To the contrary, I think I got even stronger as the event went on.

I stayed healthy. Surrounded by riders who were coughing and wheezing I avoided coming down with anything. I got great sleep and we ate really well. Smooth logistics and maximising recovery time went really well and all contributed to me feeling good and doing well.

At the beginning of the event I anticipated having to pace myself during the 2 weeks, maybe having to make compromises and decisions on the road that would consider the days to come. That didn’t happen. Maybe because of fitness, maybe my competitive nature, whichever, I raced every day as if it was a one day event. Nothing held back. Every day felt like a full on race and I honestly can’t see how I could have gone harder or better on any day.

I made lots of good calls. When to let groups go, when to hang on, I think I judged it well. I never cracked, not once. I think my high mileage this year was a big factor in that.

Zero mechanical issues. Nothing at all. Lucky again. A simple bike that worked perfectly, manual gears, rim brakes, clinchers, put together by me, simple, good and reliable, thank you bike.

And the people………Haute Route is all about the people and the memories. Hard to know where to start. So many incredible memories of riding with great riders and great people. Bruno Bongionni, who I rode with first in 2016, he inspired me, and still does. Superb descender and climbs like Pantani on the drops! So enjoyed my riding with him and a chance to lead him through some of my local roads in the early stages of the Alps.

Hervé Gebel, classy rider, not as much time with him this time as previous Haute Routes but when I did it was always good. Richard Scales, so much time on the road with this man! Great rival and always reassuring to find him on the road as my marker of where I should be! Can’t wait to battle with you again Richard!

And the new riders, Krzysztof in the Pyrenees, always attacking! Roedi, at last I get to ride at your level for a bit! Jon Bray, sharing amazing days near the front, James C pulling me up the Aubisque, Jeff Mahin stage 1 of the Alps – fantastic to ride with, Michael L on the Col de la Loze, ouch! Mitch and Jeff in those battles on Pra Loup and Bonette. Nicholas on the last day in the rain. Ian O’Hara for all his encouragement, Stephen Blackburn for his experience and wisdom on the bike. Adrian Beer for being a brilliant bike rider and the ultimate room mate! Louis-Paul, we battled on Stage 1 in the Pyrenees and then we battled to Nice. Top bloke and look forward to riding with you again.

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Louis-Paul – a pleasure to ride with

 

Oh, the list could go on and on. Such amazing memories and friendships made. Haute Route has the perfect blend of a great bike race but such a human experience. So addictive, I so hope we can do it all again together.

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Team Brasil!

Rounding off each day with our Alpine Cadence team has been superb. Andrea, Jardel, Luiz, Mark F, Mark R, Adrian, Duncan, Felix, Paul, Riccardo, Stephen, Jon and trusty support man Martin. Being able to share the experience with you all has been so good.

My blogging for the last 2 weeks has been a very enjoyable chore. 30,000 words written about the 40,000 metres climbed! I hope my insights have been enjoyed by some and have conveyed the passion that I have for this sport and this event.

Keep an eye on www.alpinecadence.com if you want to be more of a part of what we do and facebookers will see our ongoing adventures here

Bye for now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haute Route Alps Stage 6

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Briançon to Pra Loup, 104kms and 2300m climbing. Our penultimate day would see us roll out of Briançon before taking on the viciously steep Mur Pallon, then onto the Col de Vars and a summit finish up to Pra Loup.

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I woke up feeling good. Really pleased and relieved at how I’d performed over the last few days and starting to believe that I could do it again. Every day I’ve almost been expecting to ‘crack’ at some point. Now, with just two days to go, the belief that I might get through without cracking is there.

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A very pleasant, albeit chilly 7kms of neutralised riding out of Briançon was a stark contrast from the 3 hours of action that would follow. As we reached kilometre zero I was right at the front and cruised up the first 2kms of 4% climb with no one too fussed to go hard or break away. As we crested we faced about 7kms of gently downhill. The first small climb did nothing to separate the leading 100 riders or so. Things started to kick off. The pace at the front went through the roof as we topped out. I was uncomfortable. High speed, surrounded by riders much further down the rankings, riders I didn’t know. I lost my nerve. Riders streamed past me as I was sifted to an unconfident rear of the peloton. I can descend pretty well but the swarm of riders just scared me.

I was relieved as the road went up a bit. The peloton compressed and slowed. I came up the side and worked by way back towards the front. Happy now.

25kms into our ride we would hit the Mur Pallon. 1.4 kms at 12%, still climbing gently for a couple of kms after that. Then the timing would stop, effectively creating a hectic and intense mini race as everyone clambered for precious seconds on their rivals.

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I’d done my homework and knew exactly where the Mur started. I’d got myself fairly well forward as we hit it. I was primed for about a 6 minute anaerobic effort. A very painful effort ahead, into the red. Not what a 52 year old body wants or maybe should be doing.

Up we go. Yep, this is hard. Plenty of riders are hungry to go for it, maybe an opportunity for some. That means we all have to go hard, very hard. If there was no timing mat at the top it would be a different story. we’d maybe have cruised over, knowing that things would regroup anyway. Stopping the timing changes everything.

Hurt, hurt, hurt. I make good progress. All the riders I think I should be with are around me or behind, I’m doing well. Some riders excel at these shorter, over threshold efforts, all depends on your physical make up. For the ‘steady state’ aerobic type rider that I am I still do ok on the punchier stuff. It hurts everyone though.

The Mur came to an end but the pain didn’t. Still a 2km push to the timing stop. All of us desperately clinging to wheels that would drag us there. Jeff and Mitch, close to me in GC were in the mix with me. Over the line and time to breath.

Later I would see that I’d pushed about 330 watts for those 6 minutes and beyond. It felt a lot more. Adrian Beer managed 400 watts and came over the timing just behind me.

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A brief respite as we negotiated a fiddly untimed descent. A chance to take a leak, breath and take a drink. Back to the valley floor and game on again. A big group of about 80 headed over the timing mat for race part 2. The next few kms were reasonably chilled for me. A couple of rises but a fairly flat run in to the Col de Vars.

Col de Vars is 19kms long. I know it very well. A sustained first 8kms at an average of nearly 8%, then a flatter 4km section and another 7kms at about 6% to finish the job. As we hit the climb I felt in good shape. The strongest riders in the field formed a front group of about 20. I was content to ride my own pace and let them ride off. That group’s initial pace on the first slopes of Vars was more than I would sustain. I had a collection of riders on my wheel.

As we progressed up the Vars we established a very definite second group. A few of the leading group found the pace up there too hot and came back to us over the course of the next few kms. I didn’t need to push. I could chill and hide. All my ‘race within the race’ people were near me. I felt good though and I enjoyed being on the front. Conditions were calm and climbing at the 15-18 km/h that we were on the first half of the Vars would not provide much sheltering benefit from a group. I was happy leading. I could choose a pace that suited me. I chugged away at about 260 watts. No one seemed to want to crank things up from there. Things were calm and efficient.

We crested the first 8km and onto the middle plateau. Fast through a couple of villages and rapidly onto the final 7km section. At that point we reeled in Alan from the UK who’d got dropped from the leading group, we made him welcome! At this point it became clear there was no point at all in racing to the top. Getting down the other side as a group would be important to make good progress on the subsequent flats. We needed each other. Cycling is fascinating in that one minute you need each other to make communal progress, then you reach a point when you most definitely don’t!

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Our group made good progress and we topped out on the Col de Vars without incident. The descent down the other side is fast, technical and varied. I know it well. As with a few descents in this event, I wanted the front. I knew we’d end up as a group in the valley but for me it’s less stress to get on the front and choose my line. I went well, smooth and efficient. One rider caught me after about 5kms, Louis-Paul, very appropriate. I was glad to see him. He’s a very smooth bike handler and I was pleased he was there. Earlier on the climb I thought I saw him struggling to stay in touch, he was totally back now by virtue of his descending skills. Surprise, surprise Bruno appeared, another very efficient descender.

Things started to flatten, we could relax and let everyone chase to us. We got to a point where we had about 12 riders, I think we might have lost some on the descent. Anyway, 12 was good. We got to work. It took a few minutes to get properly organised but we ended up working pretty well together with everyone contributing to the common cause. We reached Jausiers and then Barcelonnette very swiftly.

They took us on a rough lane around Barelonnette. I was irritated. Bumpy, holes, if I get a puncture now I’ll be totally pissed off. I didn’t, back to the smooth road as we approached the final climb to Pra Loup. 8kms at about 6%. At the upper end of what you’d call a ‘power climb’. One where bigger gears can be pushed and bigger, powerful riders stand a chance against the skinny climber types. I like power climbs. 6% is a good number for me!

In the early stages of the climb I came to the front and pushed ahead. I just felt like it. It must have looked a bit arrogant to those behind. My legs felt strong and I was keen to push. Round the sharp right hander with 6kms to go, flat corner, lots of power. I knew there would be damage behind. If I couldn’t sustain this I’d look pretty stupid, but I could, at least for a while. Our group of 12 was split. Mitch and Jeff on my wheel, the others falling off. Legs are feeling good but too many watts. I need help and I told Jeff and Mitch that. They obliged and in the mid section of that climb I sat in behind them, still a big effort but just enough respite for me to recover and contemplate the finish.

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Now, the order we would come over the line was not really going to change anything. If the three of us all pulled away from everyone behind we’d have done well. But, it’s a bike race, even if we were only racing for what turned out to be 15th position on the day. 1km to go, I know if I can stay with these boys until 300m out I’ll back myself to beat them in an uphill sprint. Mitch winds up the power, it’s too much and Jeff and I drop off. If Mitch keeps that up he’s got us beaten. 500m to go, Mitch is not pulling away and he’s within reach I reckon. Wait, wait, 250m out and I give it all I’ve got. I came past Mitch pretty quickly but he gets on my wheel. Shit, the finish is about 100m further than I thought, I’ve mistimed it. I hang on as if my life depends on it. Just pipping Mitch to the line. What a great race we had! For a few moments I feel like I’m going to have a stroke or something. Probably my biggest effort on a bike this year. 2 minutes later I’m good and we shake hands and big up how well we did up that climb. I don’t mind admitting it feels fantastic to be having superb battles with fellas young enough to be my kids. Cycling’s good for that sort of thing.

So I got 15th and I’m still dumbfounded as to the numbers I’m still generating on stage 13 of this adventure. I managed to chuck out 340 watts for the last 1.5kms and about 280 watts for the final 8kms. I had no idea I’d be capable of that at this point.

The rest of our team are now positioned as follows in the GC, only real hiccup today was a nasty crash for Mark Fairgrieve but he’s ok and was able to continue albeit having lost  a fair bit of time:

John Thomas 13th, Adrian Beer 61st, Felix Hoddinott 79th, Mark Fairgrieve 96th, Duncan Carrier 152nd, Mark Roberts 164th, Paul Martin 223rd, Luiz Capelati 236th, Jardel Andreis 272nd and Andrea Azevedo 294th (17th lady).

Tomorrow is gigantic and not just in terms of how much beer I plan to consume in Nice if I finish safely. We have almost 200kms of riding to do and 3500m of climbing! I think it will be the toughest and biggest final day on an Haute Route ever. Still a lot to do tomorrow. Cimes de Bonette will be our sharpener for the day before a very lumpy dash to Nice.

Can’t wait to finish and wish this dream ride would never end all at the same time!

Please be patient with my final blog at the end of tomorrow, I might have other priorities ahead of writing another 2000 words! It will appear though, eventually, I promise!

See you in Nice!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haute Route Alps Stage 6 ITT

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Time trial day again! One hill against the clock, a later start and much less time on the bike. In many ways a break from our usual full stage routine but still a very intense hour or so to prepare for and deliver.

Col de l’Izoard from Briançon, 19km and with about 1200m of altitude gain. A steady uphill start for the first 4kms, then 6kms of big ring territory, then 9kms to the top at a fairly sustained 8% average. A good road surface to look forward to and perfect sunny conditions.

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I woke up after a good night’s sleep again, after a warm up on the run in to Briançon I was feeling good. It’s like I’m still waiting for the fatigue of the last 12 stages to take effect. My expectations today were pretty conservative. Time trials like this are never likely to create big time differences. There might be a case for riding steady, maybe a minute or two below a threshold effort, it’s not as if I’m desperate for seconds. My main priority now is just to get to Nice on Saturday in decent shape with no disasters.

Although I’d ridden this climb several times before I’d never gone at it in a race situation. I checked my peers’ previous times on Strava and it looked like I was in for an hour of work, maybe a fraction more. My warm up felt good, my legs and body felt quite fresh. My resting heart rate this morning was settling too, a good sign that I was not too exhausted. At the beginning of HR Pyrenees my resting heart rate would have been around 45, nothing silly extreme. Over the course of the last 12 days it’s crept up to 60 as I can feel my body desperately trying to repair itself every day. This morning it was more like 52, that’s good.

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Maybe I’d do ok today. As I prepared at the top of the ramp I was more relaxed than usual and feeling optimistic. Off we go, down the ramp in the atmospheric centre of Briançon, a great place to start an hour of hardship. Over the timing mat, 20 seconds behind Jeff Mahin and 40 behind Richard Scales.

Into a rhythm. 4kms of steady 7% ish. Keep an eye on the power. My ‘fresh’ threshold for a climb like this would be about 310 watts but with all the water under the bridge in recent days 280 watts would be more realistic. I kept things under 300 and it felt surprisingly comfortable. ‘Settle down’ I said to myself, ‘forget the others on the road’ ‘keep it calm and wait until later to push if there’s something left’. Those first few kms went smoothly and I felt great. 290 watts felt easy. My heart rate was rising nicely towards 160 still way lower than my fresh version would but none the less it was going up, another sign that the body is happy to give it some.

After about 6kms Mitch came past me, ‘good ride mate, keep something in the tank for the end’ I said encouragingly. He did, and went on to post a good solid time. I was keeping my gap behind Jeff, he’s a strong man and I was happy holding his pace. I’d already reeled in Richard which gave me confidence too.

10kms to go, this is going well. With the exception of Mitch and the class act that is Nico Roux who eased past me, I was gaining on the majority of riders ahead. I felt very solid. There was sweat dripping off me and I’m sure my face would have been gnarled with effort but inside I was comfortable. The only issue was if I’d gone too hard too soon. I was still waiting for my first ‘blow up’ in the double Haute Route, would it happen now? It didn’t feel like it.

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6kms to go, still good. I feel smooth, the 290 watts feels creamy. That might sound weird but it just felt that way. Granon yesterday was tough, 265 watts there felt harsh and painful. Today the watts came to me. 4kms to go, still reeling riders in, still going well. I made good moves around some of the flatter hairpins and carried good speed out of them.

I’m doing the maths, 300m more climbing to do, that’s 15 minutes left at a VAM of 1200m. This is looking under the hour, that would be cool. 2kms to go, I pass Louis-Paul, Bruno, Brent, Markus and Martin in that area. I go past them pretty quicky. I’m feeling like I’ve got wings. 1km to go, I don’t care about saving myself for tomorrow, I’ve got great legs now so use them!

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That final km didn’t take long. I came over the line in a little over 58 minutes, about 6 minutes behind stage winner Ruari Grant, but for me, that was a fantastic result. 14th on the day and still 13th on Alps GC. No major changes for anyone really today.

TT finish

My ride today was one of my absolute best ever. I was smooth and really enjoyed every moment. I’m shocked at how I can still sustain 285 watts for an hour at this stage of things. It’s way above my expectations. Bruno said to me the other day under a tree at the foot of Alpe d’Huez that when he did the ‘double’ last year he felt like he hit a wall midway through the second week, mentally and physically. Then he came really good at the end. He said that would happen to me. That’s exactly how I feel right now, almost as if the fatigue of this thing is being matched or even overtaken by the training benefit of what we’ve done. Maybe things will change tomorrow but right now I love my legs!

The riders on my team keep going on about heart rate. ‘Why won’t it go up?’. My usual 310w threshold corresponds to a heart rate of about 175. 175 bpm is just not happening now though. The legs feel great but the heart just won’t go up. My effort today was at an average of a little over 150 bpm. The heart rate figures decline at a greater rate than the power figures do. I’ve experienced this on every Haute Route I’ve done. Basically, your heart rate figure become useless. Using it as a reference just doesn’t work. Leave your heart rate strap in your bag and forget it!

2 more days to the finish. A relatively short 104km stage tomorrow and a giant, near 200km jobby on Saturday. I can almost smell the beer in Nice!

See you tomorrow!