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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

Haute Route Alps Stage 4

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This blog will have two parts, my usual detailed race resumé followed by what I hope might be the start of a constructive discussion regarding how high performance can be obtained to do well in an event like this and….I want to bring up the subject of doping! Make sure you read the last bit for that.

Anyway, on to the stage. Today was a short one. 80kms with 3 very different mountains to climb. From our start in l’Alpe d’Huez we’d climb the Sarenne…..neutralised. A first for me to go up a mountain in a race and not be timed! The necessary neutralisation would continue all the way down the other side, a wild, rough and narrow road certainly not suitable to race on. Timing would start at the foot of the Col du Lauteret, a drag of 24kms at about 4%. A fast descent and then the main event and deciding feature of the day, the Col du Granon providing a  spectacular summit finish after it’s gruelling 11kms at a painful average gradient of 9%.

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We woke to a dry but cooler day, rain forecast later in the day but looking ok for the duration of our efforts. The neutralised section passed uneventfully, at least for those of us at the front. The Commissaire took us up Sarenne at nearly 4 watts/kilo, a nice sharpener for the leading riders but an impossible pace I would guess for 80% of the field behind us. I didn’t get a chance to look back but the 450 riders in that section must have been spread over a huge distance. The Sarenne is known for its griffon vultures. They must have been licking their beaks in anticipation looking at some of the struggling bodies on bikes at the back. And the timing had not even started yet!

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top of Sarenne, the neutralised 4w/kg seems to have lost a few riders!

Once off the Sarenne descent we were able to have a bike race. The flag went down and we were faced with the Lauteret. I would describe the Lauteret as a group ride that goes up. Not exactly a stiff climb and a col that would seldom cause big separations in a peloton….you would think. Almost instantly there were attacks, they were all chased down creating an uneven albeit pretty fast beginning to the race. The pace settled and the attacks subsided. We were riding into a headwind too, which makes life very difficult for an attacker to make his effort stick. The drafting benefits of a peloton into a headwind create an even bigger differential for the lone rider to defeat. To break away into a headwind you need to be confident and very good.

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At last there was an attack or at least a change in pace that caused a split. The strongest riders in the race were away, Ruari, Guillaume and Fortunato. One more hopeful rider went with them but was back to the rest of us very soon. It was a relief to see those three go up the road. They are all a totally different level to the rest of the peloton and without them would mean a more settled ride for us. One that I would feel more in control of.

Racing with Stephen Blackburn in the Pyrenees last week I learned a lot. I learned from him and my own experiences in the first 2 stages there that I’m often too far back in a group. Too exposed to all the changes in pace and the risk of splits in the group. Since then I’ve made a conscious effort to be further up the group. It’s easier, less stressful and you feel that you can contribute to how the group behaves rather than being a victim at the back. For the mid section of Lauteret I was right at the front of the group, maybe 50 riders at that point. The pace became almost too comfortable, no one wanted to push on. The front rider would pull off in the hope that the group would come through but it started to get tediously slow. I felt good and led the group, not fast but fast enough to at least keep thing moving at a steady pace. I rode at a pace that suited me and 50 riders behind me conformed for a while!

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As we got nearer the top the pace increased. Nicholas Roux, a legend in cyclosportive racing started to show his strength. He’s won countless big things including the Etape du Tour. When he comes to the front you take notice, this was a changing of the guard at the front from a middle aged wannabe like me to a top calibre rider with history.

We went over the top going hard. Straight into a fast and open descent. No hairpins to worry about, just 20kms or so of wide, smooth road where the brakes could have some time off. Into a headwind our speeds were kept to about 70kph, that same descent when the wind turns around gets closer to 100kph. The headwind kept us together too. All good, a straightforward and unstressful ride, we like that!

On the flats near the bottom Nick and Rashid pushed ahead. No one really cared or gave chase. Those two would hit the final climb about a minute ahead of the big group. 1km to the climb, still gently descending, a roundabout and hard left turn to negotiate. This would thin the group out. I wanted to be first there, I know the road and nailed the line. At least I’d start the climb in front and be able to decide what to do as I saw riders come past me. Hit the climb at the back and your options are much less already.

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Into my rhythm, I wanted to ride this tough climb on my terms. Riders sailed past me. I ignored them, or at least until Richard Scales came past. He’s a great marker for me. Riding well now after a difficult and incident filled 11 days. He was going well. I went with him. I’ve got a decent lead over him in the over 50 category GC for the Alps and if I could ride and finish near him it would be no bad thing.

Aussie Mitch was there, Ewen, Chris, Sergio, Nicholas C I think. We made good progress, faster that my mind and body wanted but nether the less good progress. Gaps appeared. That whole group of 50 of us that hit the climb were now massively spread. I kept my eyes on Richard as he started to gap me. I didn’t need to go with him but I did want to stay in touch. I took time gaps in my head and at one point he stretched the gap to about 25 seconds. This climb is tough. Unrelenting. No flat bits. Just up. It’s a stunning place…..when you’re not burying yourself in a bike race. Today it was just hard.

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4kms to go and I felt in control. On my limit but confident that I could stay there. The young bodies of Mitch, Chris, Sergio had all got well up the road. I was still happy though, in touch with Richard, Following Australian Ewen’s wheel to shelter from the wind.

2kms to go. Getting closer to Richard, maybe 10 seconds. He responded and put some big efforts in. I never got closer that 10 seconds. Maybe if this was a one day event I’d have had the motivation and the legs to try to take him before the line. I’d be happy to finish just behind him though. My overall GC battle with Louis-Paul was under control, he was somewhere back down the road. I was ok where I was. Those last 2 kms were hard. Every one battling for positions, a rider in blue challenging me from behind. We all pushed very hard at the end, very painful.

I crossed the line in 20th place, 14 seconds after Richard who got 18th. Time gaps from positions 8-22 were pretty small so I was very happy there. The position you come in on the day doesn’t really tell the story. That 20th was just as good a ride for me as previous days where I’ve come 10th-13th. The time differences are the important thing and we’re good there.

Job 11, done 3 to go. Another massive step closer to the end. I really enjoyed today, especially the lead up to the final climb. I’m really enjoying being a player in the peloton, not just a hanger on at the back. My good form and knowledge of the roads is helping me to contribute something and I love it. This is my 6th Haute Route and I really feel comfortable now at the sharp end of things, more than ever before. I hadn’t raced much this year before HR Pyrenees and the first couple of days there scared me as I got used to group riding again. My confidence is growing now though and it’s a lot less stressful.

Onto the results from the rest of our team, position on the day followed by Alps GC:

John Thomas   20th (13th) (1st in combined GC)

Adrian Beer   59th (64th) (14th in combined GC)

Mark Fairgrieve  88th (76th)

Duncan Carrier 139th (149th) (28th in combined GC)

Felix Hoddinott 83rd (86th)

Mark Roberts 169th (152nd)

Paul Martin  206th (242nd)

Jardel Andreis   246th (270th)

Andrea Azevedo  268th (284th) (18th lady)

Luiz Capelati  308th (220th)

 

So onto the next part of this blog. I find myself riding this double Haute Route at a level above anything I’ve done before. At the age of 52 my pure speed up a hill is the best it’s ever been (lots of PR’s on Strava this year) and my endurance and ability to finish days off without blowing up is at an all time best. Sure, it could still fall off a cliff in the next few days, but even if it does I’m immensely proud….and fascinated with what I’ve achieved so far. The 2 week event is a totally new experience for me. 11 days of racing done and I’m in far better shape, body and mind than I expected at this point. I’ve raced hard every day. Especially in the Pyrenees I made no allowances for having to do the Alps next. I’ve raced every day as if it was a one day event. I’ve loved each day and I’ve surprised myself.

Plenty of people have commented to me, lots who have raced with me before. ‘How have you got better?’ has been the theme. This bit of the blog is not intended as a egotistical big myself up exercise, more so to bring up a couple of key subjects. So why am I better now than previous years? What’s changed?

Firstly, miles, lots of them. I’m lucky to be a cycling guide as my summer job. I don’t really ‘train’ much, I ride a lot with clients of different levels. This year I’ve done nearly 12000km since March compared to perhaps 9000 in the previous few years on the same dates. Also I ride a lot of mountains. I live in them and this year I’ve already done about 250,000 metres of climbing. Curiously too, I ride a lot of slow miles, sure I put regular efforts in but the vast majority of my mileage is at low intensities.

I started cycling in 2006. To that point I was not a ‘fit’ person. Drinker, smoker, ‘normal’ life. Since then I’ve ridden more and more kilometres year on year. I think I’m still benefitting from the improvement gains of any new cyclist as they put miles into their legs. I think this accumulated mileage, starting relatively late in life is offsetting the inevitable decline of age. If I’d started at age 20 I’d have maybe peaked in performance at 30 or 35. Starting at 38 means my peak is…..realistically….perhaps now, or quite soon. The graph line of my accumulated miles improvement has yet to cross the graph line of age decline. Of course it will, but I’ve held it off. Maybe my annual mileage would need to continue to increase for me to delay my peak. Clearly there’s a limit and I suspect not too far away.

So many of my middle aged rivals in things like HR have been great bike riders when they were young, they are slowly but surely on their way down in performance. Year on year I’m still getting better. I know that will end soon, hopefully not just yet!

So, I’m late to this game, I think that has helped me, giving me room to improve. Also I’m incredibly passionate about the sport, I’m not sure I would be as much so if I’d ridden all my life. I’m still getting better…..and I’m still learning all the time.

If I was on the other side looking at me as a rider I’d be raising eyebrows, maybe wondering if doping was involved. No one like talking about that stuff, I do though!

I’ve achieved what I’ve done in cycling from passion and hard work, I love every moment I spend on the bike and I feel that I’ve absolutely exploited my body and mind to get the very best performances I can. I’m really proud of that. I’m also really frustrated.

I’m pretty sure that doping is widespread in amateur cycling, much more so than pro cycling. It’s easy to get hold of stuff and testing is rare.

I would love to know where I stand in the clean race. Wouldn’t you? I’m not picking on any individuals here whatsoever and I’m not sure this is an issue with the leading riders, maybe more further down the rankings, maybe in age group categories? I have no idea and no particular suspects in mind but the law of averages tells me that an event like we are in at the moment must have some doping offenders in it.

Documentaries like Icarus make suggestions that the top 20 guys in Haute Route are superhuman and implies doping. Being in that top 20 category myself I’m not sure that it’s as rife as suggested but I do think there is a significant problem. People will do almost anything to reach their cycling goals. Age group categories or simply trying to improve on a previous performance are very, very important to a lot of riders.

Haute Route is fabulous, I love it. It talks about us having to be prepared for drug tests but when does it happen? I would love to be considered good enough to warrant a drugs test! It almost one of my ambitions!

I’m sure drug tests are expensive. I get that. For want of a figure let’s suppose it costs 5000 euros for one session of tests where perhaps 10 riders are tested, scratch winners, age group winners and a couple of random ones. Spread that cost over the whole field and absorb it into the price of the event. Wouldn’t you be happy to pay about 10 euros more to know that testing would actually happen? To know that you are in an event that polices the problem and potentially scares a few riders away would be a fantastic thing and ultimately would draw in more people I believe. Haute Route would become even more attractive to, let’s hope, the non doping majority.

Rant over, my point is made. Come on Haute Route, get on top of this doping thing pro actively. We need and want testing to complete what is otherwise a fantastic contest and event.

Please, please comment on this below or somewhere! Maybe I’m in the minority with how I feel, but if I’m not lets get some words said and get some momentum going to change things for the better.

See you all at the time trial!