Haute Route Pyrenees + Alps

By John Thomas, 15th August 2019

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The long chain of the Pyrenees is just coming into sight as we head towards Pau, the start town for a massive 2 weeks of bike racing for me and a few other nervous souls.

I’ve done the Haute Route 7 day events several times now, they are always a tough challenge in themselves but this will be my first experience of doing 2 of them back to back. On Saturday we’ll start the Haute Route Pyrenees, immediately followed by Haute Route Alps. 14 stages, 1600kms and a fairly significant 39000m of climbing that will take us through the best of the French Pyrenees followed by an Alpine jaunt from Megève to Nice. With one rest day in between to travel between the two, this will be unknown territory for me and many others racing with me. Two weeks of riding is no big deal but racing  in big mountains each day will put a stress on body and mind that will be beyond what I’ve experience before. I can’t wait!

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I’ll be joined on the journey by several Alpine Cadence riders who will enjoy our support in helping them achieve their Haute Route goals, most notably, Duncan Carrier and Adrian Beer who will join me in taking on the ‘double’.

Haute Route is always a fantastic experience. A very professionally run organisation that gives amateur road cyclists of all levels a chance to sample stage races in a way that is as close to the ‘pro’ experience as you’ll find. For some it’s a race, for many it’s simply the challenge of finishing, for everyone it’s big!

My preparation for the event has been good. 10,000kms in my legs since the start of the year, most of which have come from guiding riders on our Alpine Cadence trips throughout the spring and summer. Those trips are so varied in the riding required to guide them; fast, slow and everything in between. Very enjoyable and very productive kilometres, every one of them. Not many race efforts for me so far this summer but when I have put a number on my back I’ve been going well. 6th Overall in the 3 day Haute Route Alpe d’Huez was a great confidence builder and a solid top hundred finish in the Etape du Tour confirms that the form is there. The last few weeks have involved less riding, family holidays and a few hard efforts here and there to remind the body to stay awake. All good and I’m feeling ready!

Today, the whole field for Haute Route Pyrenees will assemble and register in Pau. Probably around 500 riders, the biggest field for the event ever. Duncan, Adrian and myself will be among around 75 riders who have committed to the Alps too for 2 weeks of punishment. Riccardo Clerici will be having his second crack at HR Pyrenees after a great ride last year and Jon Bray and Stephen Blackburn will join us too in the Pyrenees for their first Haute Route experience.

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Adrian Beer, Duncan Carrier, your’s truly, Stephen Blackburn and Jon Bray

 

The first stage tomorrow is relatively short at 96km. We start in Pau and culminate close to the Spanish border at La Pierre de St Martin. It’s a backloaded stage with the main climbs coming in the last 25kms. It’s so easy to go too hard on day one of an Haute Route with fresh legs and masses of adrenaline from all the anticipation. Discipling and patience will be key tomorrow in conserving energy for the final climbs and the huge task ahead of us in the days to come. Goals wise it’s hard to know what the target is. I’ve had results I’m really proud of in the 7 day events, most notably finishing 5th overall in the 2017 HR Pyrenees. With a big field of unknown quality and it being a two week affair it’s hard to know what to aim for. It will all be clearer tomorrow night as the riders levels manifest themselves in Stage 1 and we all get a better idea of where we belong in the peloton.

Over the next two weeks I’ll try to write a report every day, it’s a big part of my warm down and relax process! I’m anticipating lots of ups and downs both geographically and emotionally. I’ll try my best to describe the experience and all it’s twist and turns. I honestly don’t know what to expect for these two weeks but one way or another you’ll hear about it here!

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Etape du Tour 2019

By John Thomas   22nd July 2019

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Albertville to Val Thorens – 135kms – 4500m climbing

 

This was to be my 14th consecutive Etape du Tour having first discovered this event in 2006. Like every year that I’ve participated in this amazing event I was nervous, excited and so looking forward to getting my teeth into this unique event. Every year the venue is different, borrowing a classic mountain stage from the Tour de France and giving all keen amateurs a chance to ride the course, on closed roads, just like the pros. Every year’s course is different with it’s own character and memories but the one thing that’s always ever present is that it’s tough. A proper challenge for every level of cyclist.

This year’s course was a moderate length at 135kms but with nearly 4500m of climbing included it was destined to be one of the toughest Etapes in recent years. Starting in Albertville we would first scale the beautiful Cormet de Roselend, then the Cote de Longefoy followed by the huge final climb from Moutiers to the finish in Val Thorens at an altitude of 2360m.

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I arrived in Albertville at 5.45am with other riders enjoying our Alpine Cadence support. The race would start at 7.00am. An early arrival was important to get a decent, forward placing in your start pen. The usual nervous toilet visit done it was time to enter the pen or sas as the French call it. Sas 0 was reserved for the faster riders, those that had proved themselves in previous editions of the event. Entry to each sas was strictly controlled this year to ensure that no one sneaked into a different one to that which they were assigned. Sas 0 was like Fort Knox! High fences making it impossible to escape or enter from anywhere but the controlled front and back.

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I was frustrated at having not arrived quite early enough to be at the very front. I was about 300 riders back from the front meaning I’d probably need to put some big early efforts in to get where I wanted to be. Much of the first 20kms of the race was going to be pretty flat and I wanted every opportunity to be towed along that section by the strongest riders.

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Didi the Devil gets us in the mood at the start

The atmosphere was fantastic as is always the case in this event. Bernard Hinault, the ‘Badger’ was chatting away with riders at the front and Didi the Devil was certainly getting everyone revved up

6.45am, I just want to get on with it. Nervously looking for things to do to fill the time, I must have untied and retied my shoe laces half a dozen times. 4 energy bars and 3 gels in my back pockets, I’ll munch on one bar now and the rest would get me through the ride. Two 500ml bottles of energy drink on the bike with my friend Nick ready to dispense 2 fresh ones to me mid course.

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7.00am and we are all go, ACDC’s Thunderstruck is blasting out out as we cross the start line, what an atmosphere, I’m so happy to be getting on with it after all the anticipation. The first 2kms is flat and very fast. I need to be nearer the front. Plenty of other riders have the same idea though so those first 2kms are more frantic than I would like. In a ideal world I’d be ‘sitting in’ from the start and conserving energy, or at least trying not to go over my power ‘threshold’ too much. The necessity to get to the front meant a few big efforts as I glanced at the alarmingly high numbers on my power meter. After 2kms we hit a 3kms uphill section to the village of Venthon. It was crucial to be in a good position at the top of that where the leading riders might form a group and start to ride away from the rest of the field. I hit that section with at least 200 riders still up ahead creating the spectacular sight of a peloton, a swarm of riders rising up the road in front of me. The road was wide enough for me to keep passing riders and move up the road. That 3km section was fast. 7 minutes of effort at around 330 watts output. Early on in a race those numbers feel easy for me but it’s over my sustainable threshold of nearer 300 watts so those 7 minutes had already put a dent in my resources for the day that could come back to bite me later.

We crested after Venthon and then the road was fast and flatter all the way to Beaufort. I found myself in a big group. I looked ahead anxiously to try to spot the red commissaire’s car ahead to indicate that I was in the lead group. I glimpsed it ahead through the forest of riders. That was good news. My efforts had got me where I needed to be. I’d earned my easy ride for while. So much of cycling is like that, big efforts at the right time so that you are rewarded with rest and speedy transportation.

Then there are shouts, there’s a rider down. We safely negotiate him and his bike. Turns out it’s Richard Scales, who I was battling with in Alpe d’Huez last week. He’s ok and he would re join the group again, a little battered but intact. We arrive in Beaufort as a big group of about 300. We’re ahead of my estimated schedule, we’ve averaged about 33km/h from the start and climbed about 500m. It’s going fast. I’m slightly annoyed at the size of the group I’m in. Slower riders on that 3km climb out of Albertville have managed to catch me and the others. Maybe I needn’t have put those early efforts in after all? Anyway, what’s done is done, I’m in a good place right now.

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Beaufort was the start of the first ‘proper’ climb of the day. Cormet de Roselend is more or less 20kms long, all up apart from a flat 3 km section that starts about 9kms from the summit. Our 300 strong group disintegrates on the lower slopes as the top contenders push the pace on and slower climbers fall back. This suits me fine, I find myself somewhere in the middle of things. I’m on a climb I know intimately and I can dictate my pace on my terms. I ride up keeping an eye on my power meter to ‘cap’ my efforts and ensure I don’t go too far into the red.

At this point I was finding myself surrounded by familiar faces. Hervé Gebel tapped me on the shoulder to let me know he was there. Hervé and I have had lots of friendly battles on the roads of France in the last couple of years. I eased past the slight figure of Gilles Lacrampe, another local friend and rider. Cormet de Roselend went totally to plan for me. A good firm effort all the way, just under threshold power all the time. I found a strong, broad shouldered rider to hide behind on the flat bit too which was a bonus.

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4.5kms to go on the Cormet – go Alpine Cadence!

In readiness for the Tour coming through I’d daubed the road with giant ‘Alpine Cadence’ slogans on the Cormet a few days before so that felt pretty cool riding over those. I topped out at the top of the Cormet in good shape and really looking forward to the descent.

The descent of Cormet de Roselend down to Bourg St Maurice is one of my absolute favourites. 19kms that incorporates everything you want from a great descent. Open and fast at the top, tight and technical in the middle. In the final metres of climbing the Cormet I’d surged a few metres ahead of my sub group. I wanted this descent to myself, I knew it so well and didn’t want the complication of unpredictable riders taking dodgy lines in front of me.

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Cormet de Roselend – one of the bests descents in the Alps

It was fantastic, so good to be able to ride a road like that knowing it’s closed just for you. Every inch of the road available for the best lines ever. That’s a fantastic feature of the Etape, properly closed roads, it feels wonderful. The technical hairpin section half way down slowed down riders ahead of me who were probably doing it for the first time. Passing them needed care and a bit of shouting to let them know you were there but all went well. Coming into Bourg St Maurice was fabulous, great crowd support and so weird to be able to fly through my home town without waiting for traffic lights to change, brilliant.

The next 10 kms or so was undulating but enough flat to lend itself to getting into a group and working together. Before long there were about 15 of us making really good progress through a chain of villages. Past my little village of Bellentre seeing familiar faces cheering us on was great. Doing a race on home turf is pretty special. So many people recognised me during the day and cheered me on. No idea who you were sometimes while I was concentrating in the ‘zone’ but thank you anyway!

Next climb on the agenda was Cote de Longefoy. 10kms long with the first 6kms the most challenging followed by a fast an undulating 4kms to the top. My friend Nick along with my daughter Matilda were stationed near the bottom of the climb to provide new bottles for me and other friends and family in the race. Nick efficiently got me sorted with full bottles and I was on my way without having to stop. I got into a good rhythm on the first half of that climb. I was relatively comfortable and my power numbers were all ok. A few minutes before this climb I’d felt the first twinges of cramp. I was worried that I’d maybe gone too hard early in the ride and was starting to pay. But no, legs were back on track and Cote de Longefoy passed quickly and uneventfully.

 

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The descent down the other side was a tricky one, very technical, very rough in some places and one to reward the rider with local knowledge. As per the Cormet de Roselend I accelerated near the top so that I had no traffic immediately in front of me. The first couple of kilometres down the other side is tight and rough. Even knowing the road was closed I couldn’t help the odd safety dab on the brakes through the village at the top. Cats and dogs don’t always know the road is closed. You still need to be ready and alert.

Further down the descent the road is good, many of the corners recently resurfaced. I was happy on there. I heard some noisy brakes from a rider behind me who was clearly a very confident descender. I made it easy for him to pass me, I was happy with my speed and I didn’t want pressure from behind. Les Plaines, the village at the bottom was full of atmosphere and support. Perfect new tarmac and a feeling of threading a needle through the narrow gaps between the houses. Closed roads really are the best!

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up through the vineyards after the descent from Longefoy

That 10km descent was rudely followed by an uphill dig of about 600m. A nasty reminder that the legs would have to work again. Richard Scales was at the side of the road. He’d overtaken me at some point after his crash but now he was cramping as well as nursing a broken handlebar from the crash meaning he could only ride on the ‘hoods’ and not on his ‘drops’. He was having a hard day. I chased down 2 other riders to ride the next 3 or 4kms with which were downhill and flat. We were about to begin the main event.

To this point we’d ridden 100kms with 2400m of climbing under a belts. Only 33km remained, but 2000m of climbing all the way up to Val Thorens. For my level I had 2 hours of managed pain remaining. Many of the later riders would spend upwards of 4 hours enduring this single climb.

The first 11kms of the climb are fairly sustained, averaging about 7% with a few steep ramps thrown in to keep you awake. This forested road would provide some welcome shade as the day warmed up to it’s forecast maximum of 33°. That 11kms went well for me. Another rider held my wheel for a while without ever taking his turn in front and started to irritate me. I wasn’t in the mood for giving someone a free ride and on one of the steeper ramps I squeezed up the power a little so as to detach him. He was like a fly that I needed to swat and I was happier without him.

All the time up those early kilometres of the final climb I was reminding myself of how far there was to go. This day was all about not ‘blowing up’. Staying disciplined and saving yourself for what’s to come. I was ‘chugging’ my way up at around 250 watts and everything seemed under control.

A short descent followed before the climb resumed on the approach up to the village of St Martin. We were now 20kms from the finish with about 1300m of altitude gain still to look forward to. The next stretch was exposed and straight. No hairpin bends to look forward to just a straightish drag that appeared to have no ending. Hard on the mind and the body.

I’m good a dealing with heat, I never at any point on the ride felt too hot or uncomfortable in any way. Saying that I was getting low on water. A ride of this length would usually only need one bottle change for me so about 2 litres for the whole thing. As I approached St Martin I had to make a big decision. There was a feed station there where I could get water or whatever I needed but it would cost me time. Could I maybe get to the finish with the dribble of water I had left and just deal with it? I did the maths. Still 17.5kms to go, about an hour on the road. I need to stop a get water.

I loosened the tops of my bottles before I got to the feed station to make it easier for filling. I pulled up at the table and the people there were incredibly helpful and efficient with getting me replenished. Fresh water in one bottle, coke in the other. Perfect, on my way again. Probably only about 30-45 seconds spent getting sorted but then a frustrating forced detour to rejoin the course meant the whole process of stopping probably cost me the better part of 2 minutes. In retrospect though, a good decision, that coke was good! Nothing better in my world for getting me to the finish line of an event than coke.

I trudged on. I was annoyed at the lost time and losing touch with the riders I’d been with but knew I’d made the right decision. The next few kilometres up to Les Menuires ae not particularly steep but they are, quite frankly, boring. It’s a drag. More straightish roads that just go up. Give me hairpins any time to break up the journey. I soldiered on. Sure, I was getting tired but I was overtaking a lot more people than were getting me. I was getting the feeling that I’d paced things well and that I would gain places in the final few kilometres.

Les Menuires was great. So many people out to cheer. I loved cresting there and flying down the short descent afterwards in front of all the crowds. After Les Menuires it was all up. 10 kms left and 700m of altitude to find. I saw flags blowing and in the right direction. We were getting blown all the way up the final valley. When you get a tailwind you don’t notice it until you look at the trees and flags to see which way they bend and fly. If that wind had been the other way around we would all have been out on that final hill for a lot longer. Most riders’ anecdotes of this day will talk of terrible heat with little appreciation of how helpful that wind was. I noticed it anyway!

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at last some hairpins as we approach Val Thorens

6 kms to go and I’m ok. My power is going right down, struggling to maintain more than about 230 watts but, I’m still passing people and clearly there are plenty of folks in more trouble than me. Reaching 2000m now so power outputs start to get affected by that too so all in all nothing to worry about with the numbers. 4kms to go and I know I’m not going to blow up. This thing is in the bag. I can start thinking about emptying the tank a bit. I can see Hervé Gebel just ahead and I’m gaining on him fast. I head past him and invite him to follow but I think he’s spent. Someone at the side of the road shouts ‘quatre vingts neuf!’ confirming to me that I’m safely in the top 100 riders. A good feeling as a top 100 ride in this event is always a good target for me. 3kms to go, at last hairpins! A few stretches back into the wind to let us know that it’s there. Through the tunnel and into Val Thorens itself.

Almost at the ‘Flamme Rouge’. The final kilometre banner. The finish was 1km out of town and up an unsealed road with a steep final 500m to do it’s best to finish us off. Through the Flamme Rouge and then a short descent before the gravel finish. The finish line is in sight and so are more riders who I can potentially pick off and beat to the end.

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a tough final 500m

That last 500m was hard but I reeled in a couple of more riders to finish happy and strong. I didn’t get a chance to fully appreciate it but I think putting the finish where they did was a great decision. A proper, tough characterful finale to an otherwise bland and monotonous climb. I can’t wait to see all the official photos so I can enjoy the memories.

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Cedrick Dubois winning the event in 4 hours and 47 minutes

I crossed the line and was pushed away from the finish just like the pros on a steep finish and got a medal looped around my neck. I was very content and relieved. A well paced effort, well finished and most importantly I was safe and well. I had a few moments to myself to ponder over what I’d done and then I spotted another friend and rival, Robert Alpen. We often finished these sorts of things in very similar times and had joked at the start about seeing each other somewhere on the final climb. He’d had a fantastic ride and finished 6 minutes ahead of me. We had a cold beer together at the finish (superb that there was a bar with free beer at the finish) and I was really pleased for him that he’d done so well. Neither of us at that point knew our result for sure but Robert reckoned he was close to top 50 which would be incredible.

After grabbing our post race meal I had a chance to check the results on my phone. All I could see was the first 10 riders scratch plus a list of the age category winners and I was one of them! That was a big surprise, I’ve been in to the top 5 a few times in the Etape for my age group but this was my first time winning it. Very proud to be on a list of category winners with the likes of Nicolas Ougier and Cedrick Dubois. I finished 87th overall in a time of 5 hours 26 minutes.

So a very content John Thomas started heading back down to Moutiers to start the process of organising vehicles for the other riders in our party to get back home. I was able to ride down the same road we’d raced up and able to witness the procession of riders still on the course. Not too far down the road I spotted my other half Carolyn making good progress. She was looking comfortable and relatively happy and I could see that she was on a good ride and would have no problem completing her 10th Etape du Tour. She was was one of the few cheerful faces that I saw on that descent. The level of suffering and distress from all the riders I saw grew greater as I descended further. The look on people’s faces as I rode past was a common anguish. I felt guilty riding past them only having had to do 5 hours and 26 minutes of work when all these people I was seeing were destined for lots more time in the heat of the day. It’s a brutal sport and event in many ways. Those of us who finish nearer the front finish before the worst heat, we are better trained and accustomed to the whole thing and although it’s a tough day for me I can only begin to empathise with how hard it must be to be out there for up to 12 hours in an environment that is so alien and beyond what those poor bodies and minds have probably ever experienced. Hats off to every single person who even attempted this or any other Etape du Tour. Cedrick Dubois was the official winner of this race but the real winners are the vast majority of the field who have achieved their personal goals by simply finishing.

That ride down really was an eye opener to see what thousands of human beings are prepared to put themselves through for the sake of a bike race.

I’m lucky to have completed my 14 Etapes and many other cycling events in recent years. The Etape du Tour retains something really special. It’s totally unique. A very exciting experience in so many ways. Like each one I’ve done, the crowd support is incredible and so uplifting. The organisation of the event is fantastic and seems to get better still every year. Well done Etape du Tour and I can’t wait to do you again!

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If you fancy a crack at this incredible event in the future and any advice on doing so than please contact me on info@alpinecadence.com.

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Haute Route Alpe d’Huez stage 3

By John Thomas July 14th 2019

Individual Time Trial   15kms    Bourg d’Oisans – Alpe d’Huez

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The final stage of this 3 day event was the tough but uncomplicated task of climbing against the clock up the famous hairpins of the Alpe d’Huez climb. After a 1km run in to the climb we would embark on the 14km of climb at an average gradient of just under 8%.

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The whole field of about 270 riders would set off individually in 20 second intervals in reverse order of where they ranked in the General Classification from the previous 2 days. So, slowest first with the top riders starting last.

After 2 challenging mountain stages with multiple climbs, it would be easy to think of the prospect of just doing one climb as almost a relief. Time trials are tough though. No hiding behind other riders, no respite, just an hour or so of sustained and carefully managed pain! Some riders would maybe relax a little and cruise up not overly concerned as to their result. For many though, including me, it was a last chance to make up time on rivals and give the mountain everything we had.

Pacing a time trial is a skill. An experienced rider, especially when armed with a power meter, will know exactly what output they can sustain for an hour. Riders refer to it as their Functional Threshold Power. The perfectly paced one hour time trial will be bang on that FTP figure all the way through with an ’emptying’ of effort at the very end with anything that’s left. FTP figures are corrupted by fatigue so the sustained effort possible after 2 big days might well be less than that with fresh, rested legs. My FTP is around the 310 watts mark so I decided to use a 300 watt benchmark to regulate my ride.

I was sitting 8th overall so one of the last riders to start. Chasing over 200 riders up the Alpe and about to be chased by 7 very strong riders behind me.

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I headed down the ramp feeling fairly relaxed and fairly confident that my legs would perform after a really good previous day. I’d got a 2.5 minute advantage over Richard Scales in the rankings who was 9th overall and knew that I ought to be able to hold that position. My best previous time up the climb was 51 minutes and I anticipated something closer to 53 minutes today.

The first kilometre of the climb is the steepest at about an 11% gradient. Easy to push too hard too early. No matter how good I might feel, too many 350 watt efforts early on would be paid for dearly later in the climb. I capped my effort on those early slopes to 300-320 watts even though I felt that I could go harder. That discipline to not go too hard at the beginning is absolutely key. I was happy, Richard, who had started 20 seconds ahead of me was in my sights. I moved past him after a couple of kilometres, catching your next man is always a big confidence boost and vice versa, a big blow to the catchee.

5kms up the climb I was going well, every time I glanced at my power it was in the 300/310w range, perfect. Cornering is an art in itself on something like the Alpe. The hairpins are generally quite flat followed by a sudden ramp into the next straight section. As you approach the corner you need to change up a gear or two and lay the power down to get some momentum into the next ramp. If you want a good time you cannot afford to relax on the flat bits, quite the contrary, you need to consciously work more on them to keep your power figures up. Good hairpin technique going up can easily save a second or two on every bend. This climb had 23 hairpins so worth getting them right.

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I had a middle section of consolidating. I felt like I was going well, overtaking people and none of the 7 chasers having caught me. The only thing that could really go wrong would be for me to ‘blow up’ having over estimated my abilities in the early part of the climb. I deliberately eased a fraction to around the 290 watt mark to play things safe. Still going hard, still the expected hurt, but knowing that a slightly lower figure would almost guarantee I go well to the top.

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With 4kms to go I was still feeling comfortable. I started to press harder. Into the 300’s again and feeling good. I love the last 1.5km of this climb. I knew if I could get to the 1.5km point I would get the rest done at a good speed whatever happened. The last part of the climb rewards the rider that knows the road and gets in the right gear and keeps the momentum going.

2kms out and still good. Doing the maths I knew I was on a decent time. I was approaching the entry into Alpe d’Huez, the ‘old Alpe’ finish and as I passed that point in about 46 minutes I knew a 51minute time was on the cards.

For the last 1.5kms I changed into the big ring on the front as a way of forcing me into pushing hard all the way to the finish. I stayed strong to the end and carried plenty of speed up through the finish. All I had left was ’emptied’ on the final ramp with a 600/700 watt effort to get me over the line.

In many ways it was a positively uneventful way to finish off the event, an efficient execution of a job. After the excitement of the previous 2 days of road racing and in the thick of lots of action this was a very different and personal experience. I paced it well and wouldn’t change a thing about how I did it. 51 minutes and 5 seconds was just a few seconds behind my best time set 4 years ago but with the 2 previous days in my legs I was super happy with that time. I’d joked with friends a few times in recent years as to whether it was do-able to get up Alpe d’Huez in under your age. At 51 years and 10 months I think I can say I’ve done it now! To put that into some perpective though, consider Ralph Sigg, also in this event. I think he’s 64 years old and he clocked a time of just over 53 minutes today! Impressive.

The best time today was posted predictably by Ruari Grant in 44 mins and 45 seconds. Brilliant effort and very much mixing it with the times that the pros record on that climb. Well done Ruari who won the overall event in style. Also big thanks to Ruari and Hannah for their encouragement this week. So good when riders of that calibre take time to encourage lesser mortals like me.

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The finish area was full of atmosphere and emotion. So much relief, pride and satisfaction from all the riders achieving their different goals in the event, for so many it’s just about finishing.

My effort this morning was the 7th best of the day and got me a couple of places up the overall ranking to finish 6th for the whole event. I ended up a clear 4 minutes ahead in my over 50’s duel with Richard Scales so very happy indeed with my 3 days of effort. So looking forward to resuming that battle with Richard in a few weeks time in the Pyrenees!

As is always the case with Haute Route it’s all about the people, the experiences on the road I had with the likes of Richard Scales, Dan Moignard, Peter Rowley and Hervé Gebel were brilliant. So good to share these experiences with like minded riders who are passionate about the sport of cycling.

So, my first 3 day Haute Route event is done. A very good experience indeed and certainly one I’d recommend highly. Exactly the same support and back up that you experience in the 7 day events but extremely easy logistics due to staying in the same place for 3 nights. This year also saw the inclusion of a ‘compact’ course each day. A shorter, easier route to make it even easier for more less experienced cyclists to enjoy the Haute Route experience and support without the pressure of the bigger course and it’s time cut off times.

For me it’s still the 7 day events that make Haute Route the thing to do, an incredible challenge and pro cyclist type experience. The 3 day events though, provide a fantastic starting point for anyone contemplating a 7 day version.

Alpine Cadence and I  will be at Haute Route Pyrenees and Alps in a few weeks time with some of our riders taking on both weeks consecutively for a mammoth challenge. We’ll also be at the 3 day event at Ventoux in early October. Full details are available at www.alpinecadence.com, drop me a line if you fancy joining the action!

Haute Route Alpe d’Huez stage 2

By John Thomas July 13th 2019

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Bourg d’Oisans – l’Alpe d’Huez

 

Stage 2 was to be a relatively short affair, just 70kms but squeezing in 2800m worth of climbing over three main climbs. We would ascend the first few bends of Alpe d’Huez to la Garde and then continuing upwards along the spectacular Balcon d’Auris to complete a 10km first climb. The next climb was another 10km effort up to Les Deux Alpes via the steep forest road via Le Ponteil. Col de Sarenne would be our biggest climb of the day climbing nearly 1000m over it’s 13km and the day was to be rounded off with the final 3kms of the classic Alpe d’Huez climb.

I woke up feeling good. I slept really well and my legs felt hugely better than the day before when they’d been sore and cramping after the event. Adrian Beer and I descended from ADH down to the start in Bourg d’Oisans. That descent was a great start to the day, tuning body and mind into the bike handling that would be so important at times on today’s stage. A lap or two of Bourg d’Oisans completed our warm up and we headed to the start.
I was really happy with what I’d achieved the day before and to be honest if I got get another top 10 finish or there abouts I would be happy. My big decision for the day was whether to get embroiled in a battle for my over 50’s category. The previous day, Richard Scales had taken 22 seconds out of me and I knew from racing with him in the Pyrenees last year that he was super strong. He’d beaten me there over the week and I was very respectful of his level. Aiming to beat or stay with a particular rider in the field can sometimes work or can equally be disastrous if you set your sights too high. Sometimes it’s better to ride your own race and just let your own fitness level manifest itself.
As this was a short 3 day event and not my main target for the year I decided to go for it. I’d ride with Richard for as long as I could, get a feel for his strengths and weaknesses and then make a decision as to what to do later in the stage. Although I’d ridden in the same events as Richard before I’d never really riddenalongside him on the road so I was keen to see what he was made of as it’s was pretty nailed on that we’d be having more battles in the future so knowledge was needed!
From the centre of Bourg d’Oisans we headed out for a neutralised 1.5km to the foot of the Alpe. The top riders from the previous day were all ‘seeded’ at the front so it was easy for me to be just behind the commissaire’s car as we hit the climb and the start of the timing. As we crossed the start line I found myself right at the front, quite a cool feeling! For the next few hundred metres I headed up on the front with a close eye on my power meter to keep the numbers where I wanted them to be. After a couple of minutes the very top guys like leader Ruari Grant came past me. I let three of them go, riders of a different class, nothing to be gained by chasing them. I forged ahead waiting to see the likes of Richard Scales in the corner of my eye. Richard appeared along with Dan Moignard and I got on Richard’s wheel. I was in unknown territory, Richard and Dan generally finish ahead of me in races and going with them felt like a gamble. I stuck with it, yes, it was a firm pace but my legs were good and the power numbers were not too alarmingly high. As we passed la Garde we turned left and the road flattened. Richard pulled us along that flat and windy section and I could see that he was a good bike handler choosing some good lines.

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We headed up the spectacular Balcon d’Auris which is carved into the cliffs with stunning views and vertical drops to our left. All was good. I’d left my ‘groupies’ from yesterday well behind and I was coping well with my new ride partners. We crested the top and then descended for a couple of kilometres. Richard was quick, I followed his wheel as best I could. His descending ability was strong and I’d have my work cut out to stay with him. I did though. A short lump and another 4 km descent and things were going really well. Richard had pulled us to within a few seconds of Ruari and the leaders.
We started the second climb together. It started with a steep 3kms through the forest averaging around 10%. I settled in behind Richard, Dan and a couple of other characters. I glanced at my power numbers, all good, I felt totally comfortable and the numbers were sustainable. I was enjoying my new place in the race. Richard made a few moves up the road, not attacks, but enough effort to see that he was keen to push things on. I certainly couldn’t see any glitch in his armour. After some respite on the spectacular and vertiginous balcony road near Le Ponteil we turned right onto the main Les Deux Alpes climb, about 5 kms left at an average of about 7%.

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All was still going well. With about 2kms to go on the climb Peter Rowley, who had impressively steamed past me yesterday, laid down the gauntlet and pushed ahead. He established a gap on our little group fairly quickly and I knew from what I’d seen yesterday that he was very strong, especially on the 6%/7% gradients. Richard decided to chase him, I did not. Richard worked hard to bridge the gap but couldn’t quite get on Peter’s wheel. I was pleased with my patience!
The timing would stop at the top of Les Deux Alpes to be followed by a neutralised descent. That meant that there was an opportunity for seconds to be gained by racing to the top. I was feeling strong and with about 500m remaining I rode away from the group and bridged to Richard. I went past Richard and I could hear his bike straining under the effort he was putting in to get on my wheel. I was learning all day about what made Richard tick and he certainly made it clear that he cared about me riding past him. Richard stayed on my wheel to the top, we both put a very big minute’s effort in there and swamped Peter in the process.
Richard and I had both flexed our muscles and this was turning into a great battle. Could I stay strong enough on the Sarenne to take time out of him and overhaul his 22 second lead on me? I had no idea but my legs were still feeling good. I love the Sarenne, it’s my type of climb. Wild and spectacular, a narrow rough road and plenty of steep sections near the top. It’s funny how your experiences on a climb dictate your opinion and attitude towards it. I’d only ever ridden well on the Sarenne and my memories of it were really positive, I was looking forward to it 13km of challenge. I’d overheard Richard earlier in the day talking of his not so positive experiences on the same climb. I had the edge in that respect.

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There’s almost a gentlemen’s agreement in these event that after a neutralised section you resume the timed section of the race with the same group that you finished the last section with. That didn’t happen this time though. I got to the timing mat at the foot of the Sarenne having lost touch with who was ahead or behind me. In that neutralised section riders eat, pee and do what they have to do in different places and then generally meet up just before the mat. It looked today though that a few riders just wanted to do their own thing and ‘time trial’ up the climb. My head to head battle with Richard was not going to happen, we’d both be destined to ride to the finish separately and then wait to see who was fastest. I headed over the mat on my own. The first kilometre of that climb is tough at about 11%, legs were good though. As I climbed higher I felt good. I was enjoying being on my own in such a fantastic place. I was going well. The kilometres to go markers came at me frequently, much quicker than they’d come at me in the latter stages of the previous day. I had no idea where Richard or any of the other riders in the field were. All I knew was that I was strong and there would be others who weren’t. A good feeling.

 

As I got closer to the summit I started to think about the descent on the other side. A rough, narrow road to Alpe d’Huez that I knew really well. I topped out on the col in strong form and pedalled my heart out down the other side. The first part of the descent is 1.5km of nearly straight but very lumpy road, descending at about 9%. I knew that with the right amount of tension on the handlebars those bumps could be ridden fast and no braking required before the first corner. Certainly a massive advantage to know that road in advance. There’s no way I’d stay off the brakes down there if it was my first time, which I knew it would be for some of my rivals. The next 8 kms or so had ups and downs, where again, local knowledge was key. As I approached ADH I was feeling inspired. So happy with how I’d ridden and a real feeling of eating time into some of my rivals. We weren’t finished yet though, we would descend underneath the village so as to climb the final 3km of the classic climb into the village. That same climb yesterday had wrecked me as I’d ‘survived’ to the finish. Today was very different. I was still chucking out good power numbers and feeling great. I rode strongly all the way to the finish, a real feeling of making the most of good legs and trying to make every second count. All the time in those closing stages I knew that people behind me would be suffering, I wasn’t, it was time to stick the dagger in and give it a twist and exploit my good legs for every second they could give me.
As I crossed the line, Fergus Grant, the official announcer had surprise in his voice. He knows me and my level but I think he was genuinely surprised to see where I was in the race. ‘Here comes………JT…………I think………………….3rd rider in the stage!’

Wow, that felt amazing. I was third over the line but needed to wait for all the calculations at the end to see how my final result would pan out. Third on the line was pretty cool though in an Haute Route! The rest of my rivals finished in following minutes and a few minutes later I discovered that I was officially 4th on the day. So happy. One of the best executed bike rides I’ve ever done. Lots of good decisions made and a body and legs that totally did what I asked of them! I ended up taking 3 minutes out of Richard on the Sarenne meaning I’d grabbed the lead in the over 50 category. Up to 8th overall in the GC and a very satisfied bike rider indeed. Race days are not always as good as this, I needed to savour it and work out what had contributed to it.

One more day to go in this fantastic event. A 15.5km time trial tomorrow morning up the ‘proper’ Alpe d’Huez climb. Time trials are as hard as you make them, let’s wait and see what happens!

Haute Route Alpe d’Huez

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by John Thomas – July 12th 2019

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Stage 1

Haute Route Alpe d’Huez

I’ve been lucky enough to compete in 4 previous Haute Route events but this is my first venture into a 3 day event having done the 7 day versions previously. 3 days based in the cyclist’s version of Mecca with 2 big mountain stages followed by a time trial up the Alpe to finish on Sunday.
I really didn’t know what to expect from my performance, I’ve guided and ridden lots of Alpine Cadence trips so far this year so plenty of miles in the legs but no competition riding to this point so this would be a test of fitness. Stage one looked pretty daunting for my first race day of the year. 123km with 3700m of climbing. Col de la Croix de Fer from both sides followed by a summit finish in Alpe d’Huez via the Villard Reculas road.

I get so wound up and nervous before events and this one was no exception. It was such a relief to get the thing started and ride. We rolled out of Alpe d’Huez at 7.00am, a chilly, neutralised 18kms down to the foot of the first climb where the timing would begin. Those neutralised starts are painfully slow and controlled but a necessary part of making the day safe. I think I got more use out of my brakes in those 18kms than in all my riding put together in the previous months!
The timed section approached, I’d got myself where I wanted to be, near enough to the front. Over the timing mat and it’s game on. So good to be pressing on the pedals in competition at last. The big challenge for me would be to cap my efforts in the early stages and not get carried away with feeling too good. My power meter would prove invaluable in those early stages, helping me to limit my efforts and save energy for later. In the early stages of an event, especially with fresh legs, it’s so easy to go ‘into the red’ without realising. Big power efforts that are over your sustainable threshold seem easy in an exciting and adrenaline fuelled environment. My power meter made me behave.
Two or three of the stronger riders attacked off the front but I stayed in my little world of control and stuck to my numbers and discipline.
The first 6kms of the climb are fairly unrelenting at about 8% most of the way. My legs felt good and I crested that first 6kms feeling happy with how things were going. Another indicator for me was that I found myself in the same group as Hervé Gebel who I’ve ridden with in previous Haute Routes before. He and I have had some good battles and we ride to a similar level. I knew he’d been training hard this year from seeing all his amazing rides on Strava so I was happy to be at his level.

A short descent followed and then the climb reinstated itself with some tough double figure percentage sections. My speed and line on the short descent had given me the jump on the group behind and I found myself about 100m ahead of them. I forged ahead, still feeling good and the gap behind me grew to the best part of a minute. The problem was that I had no one to ride to. Up ahead was lots of road but no sign of any other groups to bridge to. As we climbed higher I felt the wind in my face, not good on your own. It’s far easier to ‘break away’ or stay away with a tailwind. A headwind plays into the hands of the chasing group. I was resigned to realising that I’d be better off back in that group, saving energy. I didn’t like the idea of ‘sitting up’ though and letting them absorb me, luckily one of the group started to work hard and he pulled the group towards me without me having to ease too much. For the final 6kms of the climb I was back where I belonged in the group. My 7 or 8kms off the front of them would have cost me a bit of energy but in a way it also gave me the confidence that my legs were there.
We crested the Col de la Croix de Fer after 24km of climbing. Two more climbs to come, would my legs last?

After descending 15km down the other side we took a hard left to ascend back up from the other side. I was with Hervé and a few of the group I’d been with on the first climb and I sat in and ‘enjoyed’ the ride. That second climb was perfect for me, a firm effort but I was always relatively comfortable. As we approached the top of the Croix de Fer for the second time I started to think about the long descent down the other side. We’d be racing down the same 24kms that we’d climbed earlier. A very fast descent that I knew well. I knew Hervé was a very good descender but I was unsure about the others. Just before we crested the col I came to the front so I could dictate the descent on my terms. A slight tail wind made it super fast. I saw so many bewildered faces on the slower riders in the same event who were still going in the other direction.
I can descend pretty well but it scares the hell out of me. The implications of what can go wrong are horrible. I’m always so relieved to get a descent safely done. It’s also an opportunity though. If you’re fairly competent at it you need to exploit it and in some cases drop riders who are less skilled. That’s basically how cycling works, when you know you are strong at something you need to make the most of it and exploit the weakness of the others. They will do the same to you when they get their chance!
Hervé and I got to the bottom of that 24km very swiftly. He’s great to ride with, picks a good line and I can trust him 100% at the 80km/h + speeds that I’d guess we were moving at.

One climb to go. Alpe d’Huez via Villard Reculas. About 18kms and 1100m of climbing left. Again I was really happy to be with Hervé. If I could get to the finish near him I’d be happy. I got on Hervé’s wheel and he seemed strong. I would have liked to have taken a turn on the front but his pace was just a fraction too heavy for me. I felt bad that I couldn’t help him. After climbing for about 5 kms I was close to letting him go. I’d convinced myself that he was stronger than me and for a few minutes I just felt like I’d had enough. The mental and physical effort of staying on someone’s wheel when they are going a fraction harder than you want to is tough. I was so, so close to going for the easy option, let the elastic snap, let him go, then I can cruise to the finish, albeit slowly and settle for wherever I come in the race.
Those thoughts changed though, another voice in my head was saying how well things were going. The power numbers were looking good, legs felt strong, maybe it was just a brief drop in motivation. I decided to take my turn on the front, I moved past Hervé more comfortably than expected and let him draught me. I looked back frequently and it looked like Hervé was losing touch. He was having his own battles and struggling more than I’d realised. I eased off a few times to give him a chance to get back on my wheel. Especially after I’d used his wheel so much in the previous kilometres I really wanted to return the favour and get to the finish together. He was spent though and I was still feeling reasonably ok. The gap widened and we were separate riders on the road.
After Villard Reculas the road flattened for a couple of kilometres along the spectacular balcony road that links with the classic Alpe d’Huez climb. I hit that classic climb with 4km to the top and 4 of the famous bends to negotiate. Now it was me that was spent. My power dropped off and I was starting to crack. This would be a tough 4kms. Peter Rowley, a young British rider that had been in my group earlier was steaming up the road behind me. Impressive. He’d paced himself well and was overtaking his way to a very strong finish. As he passed me I slapped him on the back and told him to finish the job off in style.
I was on my last legs, counting down the metres. Those behind me were struggling too though so I was still holding my position in the field. The last kilometre was easier and flatter, I mustered enough energy for a strong finish and I crossed the line about a minute ahead of Hervé.

I came 9th on the day which if you’d offered me beforehand I’d have bitten your hand off. Very happy to ride to a decent level after having not raced for so long. Just ahead of me in 8th was Richard Scales, another oldie like me and a very strong rider, I was delighted to be within a minute of the likes of him. Overall a great first day. Legs are sore now though! Really hope I can recover for tomorrow. A shorter but very spiky stage awaits us tomorrow culminating with the climb of the Col de Sarenne. Tough but a very beautiful place to have pain inflicted on you. Bring it on!

Etape du Tour 2019

Haute Route

Things I wish I knew when I did my first Etape du Tour

By John Thomas, March 2019

 

3 months after buying my first ever road bike in 2005 I entered my first Etape du Tour. Looking back, I really knew so little. I dived in there and managed to survive and even enjoyed it! I wish someone had told me all this though. In no particular order here is a selection of key points that will help a rider give themselves the absolute best chance of success in the Etape or similar big events. Much of this information is specific to riders living in the French Alps but there’s plenty of relevant stuff wherever you may live and ride.

 

Start early in the year

With many of us involved in the ski industry it’s can be tough to get into riding until the winter season is done and dusted. The problem is that starting a bike regime in late April or May is just too late if you want to ride to a decent level in July.
Indoor training on a bike has never been so good with modern smart trainers making it far more entertaining than ever before. Ski touring is great too but nothing beats riding itself. Even in the depths of winter it’s perfectly feasible to ride outside if you pick your days and routes carefully and as we get towards the end of March and the clocks change the riding opportunities are fantastic.

 

Ride long(er) when you have the chance too

Cycling can be a faff, getting all your stuff ready to go for a ride needs a bit of time. By the time you get out on the road and you’ve escaped everything else in your life for a while, make the most of it and ride for as long as you can. In retrospect so many of my rides in my first few seasons were too short. An extra 15 mins on every ride you ever do will reap dividends both physically and mentally.

 

Learn the course inside out

Spend time learning the course of the Etape, learn the profile, how long the climbs are and where the feed stations are. For those of you living in the French Alps you can ride the whole course, in perhaps 2 or 3 sections, so that you’ll know exactly what to expect. 99% of the 14000 or so riders in the Etape would dearly love to live where you do, make the most of it! It’s a massive advantage.

 
Get your bike set up right with the right gearing

You do not need a flash, expensive bike to do very well in an event like the Etape. My first events including the Etape were done on a 500 euro aluminium framed bike that was perfectly adequate for the job. What’s important is that it fits and that the gearing is right. Bike fitting is a potentially complex and very personal thing, I won’t attempt to generalise any advice on it here but please contact me if you have specific questions on it. Gearing is easier to get right. Your ‘chainset’ , the cogs your pedals are fixed to, should be a 50 – 34 teeth (compact) or even a triple (usually 53 – 39 – 30 teeth). On your rear wheel you have your cassette, most likely 10 or 11 sprockets with the smallest sprocket usually having 11 teeth and the biggest one having anything between 25 and 34 teeth. Your crucial gears are your small ones, the ‘twiddly’ ones. A novice rider should be looking to have something close to a 1-1 ratio on their lowest gear, so, for example if you have a 34 ring on the front with an 11-34 cassette gives you that ratio. 1-1 means each rotation of the pedal cranks is one rotation of the rear wheel. Most ‘off the shelf’ bikes right now will come with 50-34 on the front and 11-28 on the back, therefore giving a lowest gear of 34-28. Such a bike would be better for climbing if armed with a bigger sprocket on the back giving closer to that 1-1 ratio.

 

Miles, plenty of them

I’ll go metric now! In the Etape, I would estimate that the average annual distance covered by riders finishing in the top 100 would be in excess of 15,000km. At the other end of the field those riders struggling to finish within the cut off times are probably averaging closer to 2,000km or even less. It’s a sport that brutally but fairly rewards you for what you put in. If you ranked the 12,000 or so finishers in an Etape by how many kilometres they ride in a year I think you’d find a pretty close correlation with the order in which people cross the finish line. The more you ride the better you get, to a point. This certainly applies to anyone relatively new to road cycling. Your result in an event like the Etape is simply a manifestation of what you’ve done in the lead up to it. Ride more if you want to do well.

 

Not just hills, mix it up

For those of us living in the mountains if we ride in those mountains all the time we’ll get used to riding and pedalling slowly. It’s really important, and very enjoyable to mix up your riding. Drive somewhere down the valley, ride flatter rides, get legs and bike moving fast and rack up more kilometres. Riding flatter and rolling terrain will also be far better if you are riding with others and getting used to the dynamics of riding in a group.

 

Nutrition, find what works, don’t over eat

Your riding needs to be fuelled, ultimately by sugar. Whether it’s your porridge and pasta slowly turning into sugar or whether it’s taking the ‘short cut’ of a sugary sports drink or gel, it’s up to you to find what works. Before I got into cycling I really didn’t have any idea about the energy available from different foods and the time it takes for that energy to become useful and available. I do now! With practise and experimenting you’ll get to know what works and how long it takes for the benefit of consuming that thing to kick in. There’s plenty of info out there that will give you the Glycaemic Index of various foods but broadly speaking it’s about understanding that your porridge will take hours to work, but will work for longer. A can of coke will provide almost an instant boost but it’s effects ain’t gonna last! Experiment with your eating and discover what works for you.
When I look back to my first cycling years I certainly ate too much in the lead up to big events. I kept hearing ‘carbo load!’ and felt like I needed to eat a lot in readiness for an event. Your body and it’s muscles can only store so much though, again, experimenting you’ll realise you don’t need quite as much as you thought.

 

Don’t try new things just before the event

For the day of the event you want everything to feel as normal as possible. Don’t be tempted to try some amazing new energy drink that someone’s told you about the day before. Avoid any changes to your bike or your clothing. It can be tempting to treat yourself to new stuff just before an event like the Etape but any changes or modifications to your clothing, equipment and nutrition need to be done well before the event.

 

Taper! Be fresh on the day

The main principal in the one/two week lead up to an event like the Etape is to reduce volume and maintain intensity. In other words, reduce the time on the bike drastically but when you do ride it’s still ok to ride hard. Your biggest training rides need to be completed with at least 10 days to the big day. In the 10 days or so before the event you are not going to get fitter but you can make yourself fatigued if you ride too much. In the few days before the event there is very little to be gained by riding but a awful lot to lose if you do too much.

 

Get used to riding with others (Time Megève is an opportunity)

On the day of the Etape you’ll be surrounded by about 14,000 riders. You’ll be set off in waves of a 1,000. For those that are not used to riding in groups it can be a daunting and scary experience. Being comfortable in a group on the other had means you can take advantage of those around you and the slip streaming effect. Those of us living in the Alps are generally pretty poor at group riding as a result of lack of practice. Even riding in small groups of 3 or 4 will help, trusting other riders and getting comfortable being close to them is a very useful skill. The best solution of all? …..enter an event like the Time Megève on June 8th. It’s like a mini Etape with around 1000 people at the start. There’s a choice of 3 courses and the ‘middle’ one that usually incorporates about 3000m of climbing in 110kms is perfect for Etape preparation.

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Measure your progress…..but not too often

Record your rides, the best way to do so is by using Strava. As you ride more its very motivating to see your performance improving. There might be a particular climb that you ride often or a circuit. Good to register a reference time on it and then occasionally revisit to test your progress. Avoid too many ‘test’ rides, let the test rides be a culmination of all the work you’ve done in between. Make sure any testing is done in identical conditions, no wind in particular.

 
Feed stations, don’t waste time!

It’s astonishing how long some riders spend at feed stations in the Etape, more often than not it’s the slower riders too that can least afford that time in their efforts to beat the cut off. In your training rides get used to riding as long as you can without stopping. A habit of stopping will manifest itself on race day with lots of wasted time. Plan your stops, you do not need to stop at every feed station! How often you do stop should be dictated by water needs, you shouldn’t need to stop for food, there’s plenty of space in your pockets for enough food for the event. Practise eating and drinking on the move, partially opening energy bars can make life easier.

 

Bike handling, learn the descents!!

If you live in the Alps you are lucky, you can practise the descents as often as you like. Your technique will improve with practise as will your confidence when you know the road ahead. For this year’s Etape there are 2 major descents. Off Cormet de Roselend you have a fantastic 19kms down to Bourg. Very open and fast at the top, 10 tight hairpins in the middle, ride them and learn them. The second descent of about 9kms off the Col de Tra is tight and technical. Essential to ride and learn this one to give yourself a massive advantage over those riding it for the first time in the Etape. At the point of writing this in late March that descent is pretty rough but I’d expect a lot of it to be resurfaced prior to July.

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Pacing, you have to be disciplined!

Learning to pace yourself is crucial, it’s all about doing everything you can to give yourself a decent chance of being strong on the final climb. It’s very easy to be influenced by all the excitement of the event and it’s atmosphere in the first part of the event. It’s so easy to end up putting too much effort it early on without realising that you’ve done so until it’s too late. The price paid for too much effort in the early stages can be huge, especially when the final climb is as long as it is this year. The first climb in particular needs a disciplined and patient approach. Take it easy and reap the benefits later in the day when you’ll need them.

 

Enjoy the training/journey, the event is the icing on a fantastic cake!

Training and preparing for an event like the Etape is a fantastic experience in it’s own right. It’s hard to find another sport that gives such a beautiful environment to practice and improve. For those of us living in the Alps we are so lucky where we live. Explore new roads and really get to know and enjoy the region that you live in. There is so much variety and choice to ride especially if you head down the valley and start rides nearer to Albertville and beyond. It’s a lot easier to get good at something if you are enjoying the process. Avoid getting bogged down in a prescriptive training plan, just get out there and ride where and how you want. The changes in terrain will put different demands on you anyway. The Etape du Tour just ends up being another ride on the journey, albeit one of the bigger ones!

 

The mental side of things, psychological barriers.

Cycling, like most sports put physical and psychological demands on us. The mind is a powerful thing that can work both for and against you. The classic example is the rider who talks of how far they can ride…..’oh I can ride 70kms ok but I’m not sure about doing a 100’. So many riders put their own limits on their progress when their bodies are often capable of more. Riding a very long way on a bike is not particularly difficult if you employ good pacing, keep eating and drinking and most importantly, believe you can do it! If that belief isn’t there you’ve failed before even starting. If you are that ‘70km’ rider then go and ride a few kms more to convince your mind that you actually don’t suddenly hit a wall and collapse. The confidence gained from riding longer is huge. If the 134kms of this year’s Etape sounds daunting then address that head on by doing a longer ride than that between now and the event.

 

Work on your weaknesses!

We can’t all be fantastic at every aspect of cycling but we can certainly try! Whether you are a nervous descender, not comfortable riding in a group, slow climber or struggle on the flat then don’t avoid those things! Address your weak areas and expose yourself to those types of cycling. An Etape du Tour involves different types of riding with the majority of your time spend climbing. Don’t neglect the flats and descents though and ride with people who can help you improve in those environments.

 

Don’t complain about the heat!

Pretty much every year a huge portion of the Etape field will complain of the heat they experience in the event and struggling riders will certainly use it as one of their excuses. July is usually pretty warm and the bulk of riders in the Etape this year will be climbing the long road up to Val Thorens in the warmest part of the day. So many British riders in particular are shocked by the heat and wonder whether it was an ‘extreme’ day with ‘record’ temperatures. Those ‘extreme’ conditions are pretty normal! Get used to it. If you live in the Alps then get out on hot days when you can. Expose yourself to it. Hot days do not significantly affect the performance of stronger riders, the only real change is more fluid intake. Drink enough and hot temperature should not affect your chance of success in the Etape. If you know it’s a problem for you though, deal with it and ride in the heat of the day when you can.

 

Don’t panic about the weight of your bike, lose it off you!

It can be tempting to spend money on light components and even a new, lighter bike. Before you go down that potentially expensive route though just check whether you could be lighter! Losing a kilo off a bike is a potentially very expensive task. A kilo off your body weight is perhaps a better option. The riders who will benefit most from making their bike super light are higher level riders who are perhaps already at their optimum riding weight and losing a few grams off the bike would help produce the marginal gains that help make a difference at a high level of racing. The vast majority of riders are far better off getting their own bodies into the best condition possible before worrying about bike weight too much.

 

Do a training camp

Related to the light bike issue above, if you’ve got money to spare on your bike spend it on a training camp instead. A block of training with like minded people is a fantastic way of boosting your fitness and learning so much on the way. Anyone doing the Etape du Tour in July should be looking for opportunities to do a big block of riding on a training camp or Tour during May or June. Of course I’m biased on this running my own camps and tours but it’s totally what I believe. Spend money on riding more rather than on you bike, you’ll be a better rider for it.

 

Understand some numbers

Cycling is full of numbers and data. You might not like it or realise it but you all have VAM, and FTP and W/kg. So what’s all that then? VAM (Velocita Ascensionale Médias) is your rate of climbing, the number of vertical metres climbed in one hour. It’s a figure that is calculated and shown on your Strava rides. The leaders of the Etape are capable of climbing for long periods at around 1400m/hour. Those struggling with making the cut off times at the rear of the field will most likely have a VAM of something near 500-600m/hour.

Very closely related to VAM is Watts per kilo. Watts are a measure of your energy output, the pressure you put on the pedals multiplied by the rate you pedal at. Your maximum output over a period of one hour is referred to as your FTP (Functional Threshold Power). That figure divided by your bodyweight gives you your W/kg figure. The leading riders of the Etape will have W/kg figures in excess of 5.0. Riders at the tail of the field will have a figure of closer to 2.0.

Like it or not you produce these numbers, it’s easy to find out how you rank as a rider….if you want to. For anyone thriving on numbers, statistics and measuring their progress this stuff can be very good to know, understand and use.

 

Work hard……….rest hard!

Supercompensation! That’s when our bodies become stronger as a result of training and then resting. After stressing the body with training the body adjusts and repairs while you rest, it anticipates it’s next effort by supercompensating, becoming stronger after a training session than before. Weightlifters lifting until failure is a good example of this in another sport. Their muscles recover and mend stronger than before.

You’ll only get better though if you’ve got both crucial components…..enough stress from a workout and enough rest to allow the body to mend strong. That stress might come from the length of a ride or the intensity of a ride but one way or another you’ve got to make it hard, at least some of the time.

The rest is vital and the balance between riding and resting needs to be carefully monitored, especially for those new to the sport. Knowing when to rest and delaying that next ride if feeling tired is an important part of enjoying getting better but remaining healthy.

 

And finally

Cycling is the both the easiest sport and hardest sport all at the same time. You can take things very easy on a bike if you want to, it call be brutally tough as well….if you want it to be.  Cycling can be pottering down the Loire Valley with cheese and wine every 10 kilometres. Cycling can also be the Etape du Tour. Different ends of a very broad spectrum. You need to work to get better. And one last thing, as you get fitter and stronger it will still be just as tough, you’ll just go faster. The top riders suffer just as much as you, more I would say, but they learn to manage, predict and even enjoy the hurt. Hopefully you will too!

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Taiwan KOM Challenge – race day

By John Thomas, 13th November 2018                      

www.alpinecadence.com

logo-taiwan-challengeThe alarm clock was set for 4am but as always before a big event I woke before that. I’d managed more than 5 hours of deep sleep, for me that’s fantastic before something like this. My sleeping in the days leading up to the big day had been quite sporadic and I woke relieved to have banked a few decent hours.

I had never been so prepared for an event, I was at my fittest and lightest that I’d ever been. My rides in previous days had briefly tested the engine and all was good.
Oliver and I indulged in coffee, cereal and a banana in our spacious room whilst doing my ritual fidgeting and faffing with my stuff. I get so nervous and worked up before events and this one was no exception. I’d prepared and looked forward to this day for months and finally it was here.
We rode the 4kms to the start next to the beach and joined more than 700 other riders all lining up to take on the challenge of riding from sea level up to 3275m. The weather was perfect, 22 degrees and clear. After a series of cloudy days we could now see the mountains that would keep us busy for the next 4 or 5 hours. This event has had some tough conditions in some years and Taiwan is certainly vulnerable to some dramatic weather at times. We were lucky. Dry, low humidity, perfect temperature, brilliant.

start from back

The start line was a free for all. No pens or reserved places, just start from where you think you belong. Elite riders were already huddling at the front and enjoying being able to rub shoulders with the big names like Laurens ten Dam. The bulk of the field seemed content to arrange themselves behind in an obedient ranking of anticipated performances.

start from front

As soon as I arrived at the start area I placed my bike in the second row next to top lady riders Emma Pooley and Hayley Simmonds. Once the bike is there your place is booked. I was where I needed to be and I could relax a little.
I was there to do well, I needed to be near the front when the timing started at the 18km point. I’ve learned from experience that neutralised sections can be messy, riders coming up the sides and trying to get to the front. The best and most stress free place to be is right at the front just behind the commissaire’s car. The first 2 or 3 rows of riders there seem to earn an immunity and respect from the riders in the hustle and bustle behind.

At 6am we were off, after months of anticipation it was so good to be pedalling. As expected the neutralised section was fairly stress free. I chatted away with Jessica Evans who was destined to come 7th in the ladies event. I looked down at my Garmin bike computer and saw no read out from my power meter. This was annoying but not disastrous. I’d been plagued with issues with it in the days leading up to the event and now it had failed completely. Heart rate would now be my measure for the day as to how things were going.

The timing would start just after passing the Taroko Bridge, I knew that things would kick off there and the pace would ramp right up. I needed to be well positioned at the front before this happened. I knew that the road would narrow in places an the field would string out. I couldn’t afford to be chasing at this point, being at the front here would ultimately give me the best chance of hanging with the strong guys for as long as possible and exploiting their strength.

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

As we crossed the Taroko Bridge I was precisely where I wanted and planned to be at that point, front right of the peloton, the best position for the upcoming left hand bend and the start of the timing that would follow a few hundred metres later. Oliver had already made up his mind that he wanted to attack early in the race and get a bit of fun and glory at the front of the race. He knew he wasn’t a contender to win the event but he’s certainly a strong enough rider to lead the race for a while and he loves that kind of stuff. Oliver went to the front as soon as we’d turned left after the Taroko Bridge, he passed the Commissaires car and he was off. The race hadn’t started though! He’d misjudged where the timing started by about 500m and shouts from the Commissaire car window made it very clear that he needed to get back behind the car. Tail between his legs, Oliver held back and got ready to repeat the attacking process a minute or so later up the road.

I could hear the familiar whistle being blown by the start man, then his waving flag came into sight. Over the timing mat and game on! All my planning and training for 9 months was about this moment and the next 4 hours. As expected the pace was firm, I felt good, it was almost a relief to be riding hard after tempering my efforts over the previous warm up days. My body and mind were chomping at the bit to get on with this thing.

The road was flat and narrow with an ugly looking drainage ditch on the right. I was on the wheel of Sergio Tu, a young Taiwanese rider on the Sunweb pro team. This was crazy but fantastic. Proper racing with top flight riders….and me! It felt quite surreal, like a schoolboy dream. The pace was high and wheels were close, I lost my nerve for a moment and let Sergio Tu’s wheel go. I was uncomfortable with how close everyone was at what was probably around 50km/h. More confident riders streamed past me sensing my vulnerability. When a rider in front of you starts to drop back you get round them as soon as you can so that you don’t drop back with them. I glanced to my left, another black and white Sunweb jersey, Laurens Ten Dam. He’s a legend in the pro cycling world, he looked relaxed and chilled. What if I touched his wheel and was the one that bought Laurens Ten Dam down I thought. Bad thoughts, concentrate, you can do this and you deserve to be here I told myself.

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A surreal experience to be riding with the likes of Laurens ten Dam and Jan Bakelants…..for a while at least

We hit a hard right turn in a potentially awkward dip. I’m through safely. A few metres behind me I hear that horrible and unique sound of a bike crash. A hip, an elbow, a shoulder, a pedal, a rear mech. A combination of horrible sounds, followed by the usual shouts of pain, blame and frustration from those involved. I cringe and grimace at what might be happening behind me. No chance to look back, just relieved to have been near enough to the front to have avoided it. It would turn out that Hayley Simmonds went down. 2 time British Time Trial champion, not seriously injured but her race was over.

The peloton continued up the Taroko Gorge with its immense vertical limestone cliffs creating an incredible confine for our efforts in the slot in between. Dark tunnels, drips from the ceiling, glassy ‘cat’s eyes’ in the middle of the road all requiring 100% concentration. At this point I was hanging in there, the pace was fast, I was still in touch with the leading group but the fast flattish early kilometres were quicker that I would like. With my failed power meter, heart rate was my alarm mechanism . I was seeing plenty of 170 beats per minute on my little screen. I wasn’t going to sustain that for 4 hours. Relief for me came as the road started to ramp up more. Some of the bigger riders that might have forced the pace a little on the flats all started to calm down. For me at least it was more comfortable to stay with the leading group as the road went up more. I was more at home, slower speeds, more space to ride in, at last a hill where I can start to relax!

I looked behind me, no one. In front, maybe 80 riders. The first major selection of the day had happened. The early pace had been overwhelming for over 600 riders in the field and the game of attrition was already down to 80.

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The first selection of around 80 riders, Oliver near the front, me hiding back in the crowd

 

I was aware of a lot of heavy breathing around me. I was feeling comfortable but plenty of riders around me were struggling having been right on their limits to make this initial selection. I was in a dodgy place being surrounded by so many strugglers who were destined to be victims of the next and inevitable selection further up the road. I moved up through the pack to a safer place.
All the subsequent surges of the leading group gradually whittled down the numbers. I looked around and made a rough head count, 40 maybe 50 riders left. I was pleased to be one of them, so far so good. I would see Laurens Ten Dam and Jan Bakelants both drop back for ‘comfort’ breaks before riding back to the front. I couldn’t afford that luxury, a comfort break for me would mean the end of the ride with the all important group. I carried on uncomfortable.
I didn’t have a rigid plan for where I would get drink on board if I needed it. I was self sufficient for food with my 3 energy bars and 3 gels in my back pocket but I knew I’d need to stop for drink at some point. I started the race with two 500ml bottles and I cruised past the first feed station at 46kms without having made much of a dent in them. Prior to the event I’d heard a few stories of high humidity and needing to drink plenty but I was running fine on my usual, fairly low fluid intake. I knew there were 3 more feed stations at 64, 79 and 90kms so I planned to grab a bottle at one of those.

60kms into the race and all is still going well, almost 1500m climbed, I’m in the leading group of around 45 and I’m chugging away at a just about sustainable 165 heart rate. I’ve stayed in touch with the leaders for longer than I’d anticipated and without burning too many matches. I look around me to see who’s there in the group. The big names are all at the sharp end with the exception of Oscar Pujol who seems very chilled and riding near me at the rear of the lead group. I think his new duties working with GCN were a bigger priority today than his race performance. Oliver is there too, after his early exploits at the front he’s now settled in the second half of the group.
I’m looking for old blokes. I’m scanning all the riders ahead of me and looking for any numbers between 661 and 750, the 90 or so riders in my 50 years and over category. I’m hopeful, I’m going well and every number I can see is low, I’m surrounded by ‘Elite’ riders and younger riders it seems. I can’t see any old blokes. If I could win my category in this event it would be a massive thing for me, it looked on the cards.

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The road pitched up a little and I’m starting to get concerned about the pace. I was determined before the event that I must be disciplined and know when to let the elastic break, when to let the strong boys (and girls) go. It was reaching that time. The pace was still firm, maybe another couple of minutes and then I would drop back deliberately. I wasn’t on my limit but I knew I was just eating into reserves a little too much and I would pay later if I didn’t make the right decision. I stayed with it, another few hundred metres, I still feel just about OK. Then, it splits. To my relief the decision is made for me, gaps appear in front and I find myself in a group of 9/10 riders who get dropped from the leaders. That suits me fine. I couldn’t have really ordered it any better. 60 odd kms with the big names and now I’ve still got some company to ride with to the finish. I’ll take that.

My team mate Oliver is there in the group of 10 with me. Seeing him there is another marker for me that I’m in the right place. We are very different types of riders but nethertheless get from A to B at about the same rate, certainly on climbs. Seeing him there was another boost for me.

The gradient eased and I made perhaps my only error of judgement in the whole day. I was riding about 8th wheel and I saw Oliver on the front of our group and apparently riding hard. I was looking for a few ‘cosolidating’ kilometres and wasn’t looking to chase hard. Oliver and 4 other riders rode away without any resistance from me or the three young Taiwanese riders I was left with. I was determined to be disciplined and wanted to do everything I could to make sure I had a strong finish. I let Oliver go, playing my own pacing game.

The three riders I was left with were not strong enough for me. They were smaller than me and as the gradients became more humble they struggled to push a bigger gear and really get things moving. By the time I realised that they were too slow for me on this part of the course Oliver and his small group were out of sight. This was good terrain for Oliver, he’s bigger than me and he would be relishing the chance to get into a big gear and push ahead while he could. In retrospect I maybe should have gone with his group.

I lead my Taiwanese trio for a few kms before it became clear that they would be no use to me. I gently squeezed up the effort and they were gone. I was on my own in a section of the course where I would certainly have benefitted from some company. I was ok though, legs still feeling good. The road meandered through the forest, for a while I was totally on my own, no one else in sight. Quite weird in an event of 750 riders but quite nice too. Plenty of time to think, to reflect and to plan. I was in about 40th place and I’d climbed well over 2000m, I was feeling strong. If offered that scenario at the beginning of the event I’d have taken it all day long. I was getting low on water but I knew that I had a feed station coming up soon at 79kms. I could see on my digital profile that the gradients stayed steady for the next few kms. I knew the road topped out at 84kms followed by a 4km descent whose twists and turns I’d researched well. Straight after that descent the ‘real’ race would begin.

I wandered up through the forest with little but my 165 heart beats per minute to keep me company. I looked back on the straighter sections to see a familiar figure in the distance. It was Edwige Pitel. For the last 4 years she’s won the Etape du Tour by a big margin and usually overtaking me on the last climb in the process! She won the French National road race in 2016 too. I knew she was a very experienced athlete and a very good judger of pace. She was a fair way back from me and not gaining significantly. This was another good indicator that I was in a good place.

The feed station at 79km gave me another first ‘pro experience’. I loosened the top of my drink bottle in readiness to decant water into it. I’m used to being handed bottles of Evian or even having to stop at a table and wait for volunteers to fill bottle for me. This time my grunts of thirstiness were met by a smart, brand new bidon with fresh water. For the first time ever I had that ‘pro moment’ of throwing my old bottle away. I really hope someone in Taiwan is enjoying my smart Alpine Cadence drinks bottle!

The road topped out at 84km and into the only descent of the day. 4kms, a couple of hairpins but then open and fast. No real respite though. Descending on 5% gradients meant still needed to forge ahead and pedal hard so as not to lose time.

Through the dip and into the last 14kms of the race. About 1000 m to climb in that distance. That equates to an average of about 7% but that average could not be more misleading from the reality of what was ahead.  I crossed the intermediate timing point at Guanyuan Gas Station. Nibali had got to the finish from this point in 33 minutes when he won in 2017. I was expecting a pain filled 50.

This was now a very different bike ride. The early part of the climb was all ‘big ring’ territory and even on the steeper ramps there had been plenty of very redundant gears that we’d hauled up to 2500m for later use. Now those previously unused gears were busy. Whatever a rider had as their smallest gear is what they would be in. Most of the field were armed with compact, 50-34 chainsets with plenty of riders employing 32’s and 34’s on the back. I’d contemplated changing my trusty 29 on the back for something bigger. Glad I didn’t though, for me at 34 – 29 combination was the perfect compromise between getting up the very steep ramps that followed but enough resistance to force me to work and not contemplate getting too comfortable! I’m totally convinced that with more teeth on the back I’d have been slower in those last few kms. Gear choice is crucial, not too big or too small…if you want to do well.

The pitifully slow speeds of all the riders on the steep ramps were having a concertina effect on the field. The strung out field on the more gentle gradients was now much more compact in the final, brutal kilometres. One minute behind a rider in the middle forest section was a rider out of sight. A minute’s gap on these horrible ramps and you could easily hear the groans and anguish of the rider in front.

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

I still felt good. I had riders in my ‘cross hairs’, strung out on the road taking every conceivable line up the road to try to reduce the gradients. I was the same, taking advantage of different lines, especially keeping to the outside on some very steep hairpins.

I looked back briefly, no one in sight, I’d put time into Edwige Pitel on the descent and she was no where to be seen. Lots of riders ahead though. Lots of riders to catch. This was still working out the way I wanted it to. After passing a few more riders I saw Oliver ahead. My conservative riding earlier on when I’d let him go had cost me more that 2 minutes as he’d powered up though the forest. That 2 minutes was shrivelling now though. I caught Oliver with around 7kms to the finish. For a moment I had this nice idea that we might ride to the finish more or less together. I asked him how he was going, a fairy enthusiastic ‘OK’ came back. It wasn’t going to work together though. I was going really well and I think he was paying a little for his antics in the early part of the race. I said something about this having been one of the best paced rides I’ve ever done and that I just needed to convert it over the last few kms. With nothing else said I rode ahead.

As I rode ahead I felt something on my right leg. I knew what it was. I hoped it was something else. I hoped it was the cool wind on my skin, yeah that might be it. We’re getting high now and things are cooler, maybe what I just felt was just the wind. The feeling spread though, both hamstrings, I was starting to cramp. Fuck it! I’ve come all this way around the world and ridden what I thought was an almost perfect race and now cramp could end it all. I’ve got plenty of experience of cramp, what causes it for me and how to deal with it. Forget dehydration, electrolytes etc, I’m on top of that sort of stuff. Cramp for me is simply through over exertion. Although I’d ridden sensibly, 3.5 hours of constant climbing at close to threshold was taking it’s toll. I can usually ride through cramp and get to the ‘other side’. It’s only beaten me once in 12 years of riding in races. On easier terrain one solution would be to ‘spin it out’, ease off for a bit and let it subside. It was too steep though. I stood up to stretch the hamstrings as much as possible. No worries, all ok, I’m on top of this I thought.

I passed the 5 km to the finish marker and all was going well. Someone, not sure if it was a rider or spectator shouted to me on a bend. ‘How old are you?’ They must have seen my number 738 or maybe just my old face! I was mixed up with riders with much lower numbers and younger faces. ’51’ I proudly spluttered. ‘Brilliant ride, keep it going’ the voice came back. That made me feel so good. More often than not in events that finish uphill I’m counting down the kilometres to the finish, I want it to be over, 4.9, 4.8, 4.7……This was different though. I was overtaking people and never getting overtaken. I was revelling in the moment and for a while I had a weird feeling of wanting everything to last for as long as possible. If this kept going on for long enough I would pass everyone and win! At this point the winners had already crossed the finish line but I think you’ll get my sentiment.

With 3kms to go I could afford myself moments of taking in the view and contemplating what I was achieving. All still feeling good albeit with the constant reminder that cramp was just around the corner all the time. The profile for the event indicated that there was a flat section for about 1.5kms followed by a fairly steep 1km up to the finish. With 2.5kms to go I’m going fast down hill, it’s not flat. I can see the final stretch going up to the finish. It looks brutally steep. The descent is fairly straightforward but I’m irritated by the lack of accuracy in the information we were given. I ride hard and low in an effort to carry as much speed into the final climb as I can find. The final 1.4km was uphill at an average gradient of 12%, the hardest kilometre of the race, compounded by the fact that it was at the end too. No ramps, just a painful 12% all the way.

I was still overtaking riders but now it was a desperate struggle for all, including me. The road was wide enough to give lots of line choice. I’ve never used up so much road on a bike ride. My cramp started to affect my quads and calves. Standing properly and sitting were both impossible without some muscle going into it’s contracted spasm.

I haven’t seen any footage of me on that stretch but I must have looked so weird seeking a kind of ‘mid position’ on my bike, neither standing nor sitting in an effort to survive to the finish. My usual power source was gone, the bigger muscles were useless, all that was left was ‘ankling’. Toes up and down, it was the only way I could pedal. I was struggling big time, definitely counting down the metres. Still overtaking people though, they were in a worse state than me.

With about 500m to go I heard an encouraging ‘good ride John’ from another rider. I’m not 100% sure but I think it was Dan Evans who had blown up badly in the final stages after staying with the leaders for much longer than myself. With 300m to go my ankling technique was still working. I knew I was going to finish, I can hear all the noise at the finish and the commentator on the microphone. There are spectators shouting in Chinese and I think they sound like they want me to do well! I’m feeling quite emotional as I realise that the job is nearly done, so many months of riding and planning and I’m seconds away from my goal. One more potential victim in my sights, 200m to go and he’s about 40m ahead of me. It’s really steep but I’m hungry for that extra position in the rankings. I totally empty myself over the last few metres and pip this poor bloke on the line. I’m not sure if he saw me coming until it was too late for him.

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10 metres to the finish and I’m more hungry than Liu Shu Ming for that 31st place!

My legs did not like that late effort I put in at the finish. As I crossed the line, my legs went into uncontrollable spasms and I was crying out in a combination of pain and needing help. I couldn’t get my feet out of the pedals so I was cruising around at the finish with straight legs and unable to stop and get off! Eventually I was rescued by a couple of marshalls who grabbed me, unclipped my feet and hauled me off my bike. My embarrassment and pain was short lived though and soon overwhelmed by the euphoria of what I’d managed to achieve.

Oliver came over the line and I remember Emma Pooley, he and I chatting at the finish but I’ve got no idea what was said! I remember wondering why their jerseys were caked in salt when mine wasn’t. I remember having a quick look at my watch and working out that I must have gone under 4 hours, I hadn’t expected that. I was buzzing. There were very few riders around up there, the one’s that were there were really good! The podium guys were having their drug tests and the Edwige Pitel came over the line as 3rd lady on the day, first time I’d beaten her in 5 attempts so I must have gone ok.

Oliver and I got certificates printed off with our times but no other information on our placing at that point. I’d managed 3 hours 56 minutes. Far better than I believed I was capable of.

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Finished! Both under 4 hours

Oliver and I then headed down the other side of the mountain for a couple of kilometres to where we’d get fed and have the podium ceremonies. The clouds rolled in and we were glad of the change of clothes that we’d had sent up there. I got a sneak look at the results just before the podium ceremonies. I was second in the over 50’s, pipped by just 12 seconds by American Juergen Eckmann. I’d convinced myself that I’d won the oldies’ category so I was initially a bit disappointed that my old bloke radar had not picked up Juergen. He’d stayed with the leaders for longer than myself and had established a lead of a couple of minutes on me, I’d been catching him in the final stages without realising there was someone to catch. A 12 second gap doesn’t sound much but I’d given it my all and even if I knew he was up the road I’m not sure it would have changed anything. I proudly stood on the podium with him. On reflection I’m almost happier to have come second to Juergen with both of us posting really good times than perhaps winning with a lesser performance. Juergen’s 3.55.55 and my 3.56.07 were the fastest times ever for over 50’s in the 7 year history of the event, and by some margin. We’d both finished ahead of any of the over 40 riders too. Very proud, no regrets at all.

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Performance wise, it’s hard to see how I could have done much better. I maintained a heart rate of around 165 bpm for the first 3.5 hours, building to deep into the 170’s in the final few kms. I completed the final tough section in 43 minutes, well ahead of my anticipated 50. I would love to have had power figures to look at and reflect on but I can guess fairly accurately what they would have been. VAM figures (a measure of climbing speed) told a good story too. In the last 7 minutes of finishing up that 1.4km ramp I was still climbing at nearly 1200m VAM, at the end of an event like this and at well over 3000m altitude that’s a very healthy number for me. I had come into this thing well prepared, well trained and I’d executed the job.

 

Oliver had managed a brilliant 3rd place in his over 20 category too, so Team Alpine Cadence had the wonderful problem of dealing with how to get a couple of weighty trophies back to Europe with our baggage allowances.

As I reflect on the whole experience of the Taiwan KOM I can’t stop smiling. Every aspect of the experience has been incredible. The kindness and helpfulness of the Taiwanese people has been overwhelming. The country is spectacular in so many ways and the event itself is really special. To be able to properly race with top calibre riders in such a dramatic and unique venue was incredible. Without any doubt at all it’s been the highlight of my 12 years of cycling.

The full and official result list wasn’t available on the day but when it came out the next day I was thrilled. To be on the first page of an event like this, with my name among such quality riders makes me immensely proud.

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Thankyou Taiwan KOM, you were fabulous in every way!

 

If you missed any of our other blogs in the lead up to Taiwan KOM here they are:

Taiwan KOM Challenge – Overview

Taiwan KOM Challenge – Training and Preparation

Taiwan KOM Challenge – Final Preparations

Taiwan KOM Challenge – Arriving in Taiwan and countdown to the big day

For more information about what we get up to when we’re not doing the Taiwan KOM:

www.alpinecadence.com

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