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

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

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

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the pre Bonette peloton

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

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halfway up Bonette

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stage 7 b start with Bruno
Start of stage 7b, Bruno looking ready!

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

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2kms to the climb, get forward!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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made it!

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

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

Adrian Beer            Pyrenees 38th    Alps 63rd    Combined 13th

Felix Hoddinott     Alps 80th

Mark Fairgrieve   Alps 104th

Duncan Carrier    Pyrenees 109th    Alps 145th  Combined 26th

Mark Roberts       Alps 165th

Paul Martin         Alps 219th

Luiz Capelati      Alps 264th

Jardel Andreis    Alps 286th

Andrea Azevedo  Alps 299th (19th lady)

Riccardo Clerici   Pyrenees 100th

Jon Bray                Pyrenees  9th

Stephen Blackburn  Pyrenees  15th

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Louis-Paul – a pleasure to ride with

 

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

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Team Brasil!

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

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

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

Bye for now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haute Route Alps Stage 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you in Nice!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haute Route Alps Stage 6 ITT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

 

Haute Route Alps Stage 4

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

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

stage 4 PROFILE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stage 4 late granon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Fairgrieve  88th (76th)

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

Felix Hoddinott 83rd (86th)

Mark Roberts 169th (152nd)

Paul Martin  206th (242nd)

Jardel Andreis   246th (270th)

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

Luiz Capelati  308th (220th)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you all at the time trial!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haute Route Alps Stage 3

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A shorter blog today compared to my usual 2000 words! Need some time to recover from an epic ride!

144km and a daunting 4600m of climbing ahead of us today, gulp. Col de la Madeleine, Col du Glandon and then the ascension of Alpe d’Huez.

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For those of us having done the Pyrenees last week this was like doing a Marmotte preceded by 9 Etape du Tours in the previous 10 days! This is getting crazy!

So, the key points of my day. Woke up after a great sleep, thank goodness, really needed it. Madeleine went really well for me. A 26km climb going up nearly 1600m! Today was all about pacing, I needed to ride with a view to not cracking or blowing up on ADH. This was a huge day where if things went wrong then there could be huge time losses. I wanted to ride my own climb.

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I let the frisky leaders head up the lower slopes and tapped away at a pace that suited me. Got joined by Nick from Canada, Richard Scales and another guy I don’t know. We ended up riding a fraction quicker than I would have liked. I hid all the way, no need for me to pull.

stage 3 top of mad

Nearer the top Richard and I pulled away and we both summited feeling we’d had a fantastic ride. We got up in about 1 hour 22 minutes, the leading group had disintegrated and we were only just behind them.

The clock stopped at the top of Madeleine, a chance to feed and drink. Richard and I were surprised at how long it took for the next riders to arrive. We’d put a lot of time into our main rivals including Louis-Paul who chases me in the Pyrenees/Alps GC.

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On to Glandon. Another beast of a climb, 20kms and rising about 1450m with a very steep final 3kms. For various reasons we’d all arrived at the foot of the climb at different times to begin the timing again. This meant a fairly solitary experience on the climb and not really knowing where you stood in the race. I rode solidly but a fair bit slower than Madeleine. I was getting tired and was already concerned as to whether I’d used too many of my daily beans.

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I topped out feeling I’d not blown up but just so tired. Was I starting to hit the wall? Maybe this would be my first bad day.

I descended well. I know the road and it was nice to be on my own. Maybe not as fast as if I’d been with the likes of Hervé or Bruno but still ok and very stress free. It’s a descent where if you know the road you can really let things go, so many corners where you can ride through without braking…..if you know the road. Having that descent timed was good for me as I knew I’d be putting time into many of the riders new to the Alps.

The timing stopped again shortly after the descent. We then had a 15km neutralised drag along the main road to Bourg d’Oisans. I felt spent. It was hot. I was worried. I wanted to be in my hotel in ADH, not on that road. As I pulled up at the foot of ADH climb we had a feed station and then we could head over the timing mat for the final leg when it suited us.

The atmosphere was tired. Riders were hanging out there, sitting under trees, taking their shoes off, even sleeping. Everyone there seemed to be delaying the inevitable. No one had a positive word to say. We were all tired and the thought of another 1100m climb was unanimously miserable.

Alpe d’Huez is an iconic climb but not one of my favourites. A busy, engineered road to a fairly unattractive ski resort. Thoughts of ‘why are we doing this’ were rife among the riders.

‘Come on Bruno, let’s do this’. It needed someone to get on with it. Bruno got himself up from his shady spot and we got prepared for 14kms of misery……..or so I thought.

stage 3 ADH botom

We were joined by Louis-Paul as we crossed the timing mat. I couldn’t have chosen 2 better riders to start that climb with. We rode up the first couple of kms at about 240/250 watts on my power meter. Humble numbers but ok. If we kept this up we might get up in about an hour. I’d take that. I can do do this climb fresh in 50 minutes but an hour after what I’ve done in the last 10 days would be fine. I just wanted to not blow up and bleed time to my rivals. It felt like an exercise in damage control. A carefully executed climb, always trying to respect a tiring and potentially failing body.

3kms up and I’m happy. I can do this. I’m not going to blow up. Louis and I pushed the pace a fraction, Bruno fell back. Halfway up, still ok, starting to actually enjoy it and enjoying riding with Louis-Paul side by side with a few words exchanged now and again.

5kms to go. I’m on it. My legs are feeling strong. I like the idea of finishing with Louis-Paul but I like the idea of exploiting how I feel more. I smoothly push the pace up a notch, more like 270 watts, I can’t hear him anymore, I know he’s gone.

Those last 5kms were great. Sure, I wanted to get to the finish but I was firing. I was buzzing. A survival ride up ADH had turned into a really strong one, so different to what I anticipated. The final km is flatter and I know ever twist and turn of it. Big ring, get that bike moving and get it done. For the first time ever I raised my arms in victory over the line. A personal victory. Not beating anyone in particular but just the achievement of what I’d done and how my body and mind hadn’t let me down started to overwhelm me. I was ecstatic. I think I was massively relieved. This was a day with huge potential to spoil my amazing cycling party…..and it didn’t.

The emotions that cycling bring out of you are as up and down as the terrain we ride. At the foot of Alpe d’Huez I was in the doldrums, over it, wondering what the point of it all was. 57 minutes later at the top I was on cloud 9 and loving every pedal stroke. What a sport!

I came 12th on the day and I’m now 12th in GC for this Alps week. Still 1st in the combined GC.

Fabulous results today from all our team, I won’t do all the detail but big improvements for many of the team, star of the day probably was probably Paul Martin finishing in the top 200 and lifting himself miles up the GC.

Tomorrow a much shorter day and a later start. Brilliant. Shorter stages mean faster and more intense racing though so still lots of work to be done!

See you tomorrow!

 

Haute Route Alps stage 2

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Stage 2 started in Megève with a summit finish atop the Col de la Loze, 122kms later. 3300m of climbing with  the Col de Saisies and Cote de Montagny providing the substantial warm up climbs before the Loze.

I slept badly and felt tired this morning. Maybe this would be the day when 8 previous days of intense racing would catch up with me, maybe.

We started with a relaxed 9kms of neutralised riding towards Flumet. The rest of the peloton seemed to respect the top 25 riders who were jammed up behind the Commissaire’s car and it made for a stress free start. The flag went down on at the foot of the Saisies, a 13km climb without too many steep pitches. As we climbed the leaders pushed ahead and I found myself in a ‘best of the rest’ second group. I could have made the first group if I had too but for the first time really in 9 days of racing I went for a more defensive approach.

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I didn’t need to be in that first group. The key people in the race for me were not in that group, most notably Louis-Paul who is 2nd behind me in the Pyrenees/Alps GC. As it happened, riders started to get spat out of the front group and got absorbed by us. All confirming that I’d made the right call. One of those spit outs was Bruno who I’d spend lots of time with today.

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yours truly happy and comfortable in group 2 on the Saisies

 

Saisies went well. Totally to plan. Legs and body felt fine. My power meter was working again and the numbers were good. I cruised up Saisies at about 275 watts and it felt very manageable. Today was all about pacing and saving something for what would be a very tough finishing climb.

As we crested Saisies in a group of about 15 I came to the front and rode ahead. I knew all the roads today intimately with them all being on my doorstep and within  day ride distance of where I live. I wanted to be first down the descent, partly to get clear from other people and their unpredictable lines. Partly to take some responsibility in showing people the way. You always want a local rider on the front in a descent if possible.

I loved it. In my element. Nailed the lines and felt proud of how I was riding. Then, big shout from behind. I looked back to see a purple jersey and it’s wearer crashing off the side. It looked bad. I reckoned it was Richard Scales, having yet more bad luck after all sorts of issues in the Pyrenees. Turned out later that he was ok and able to continue but it made me think.

The margins of what we do are so fine. We go fast, you have to if you want to compete. Things can go wrong in a fraction of a second. We’re so reliant on our wheels and tyres performing. Bike crashes are horrible things to witness. Let’s move on.

As we continued I was overtaken by Bruno. Probably the only man in that group I was happy to have overtake me. He descends beautifully, even on roads that are new to him. I followed him to the bottom giving me a chance to relax a fraction.

Onwards to Albertville. Mainly down, a fast 20km stretch where we tended to single out as a line of 15 and threaded ourselves through the gentle bends duplicating the course of the river alongside us.

We smashed our way through Albertville and onto a flattish 25kms to Moutiers where the next climb would start. Our group was up to about 18 with a few chasers that had bridged across to us. Again, more roads that I knew well. I started to boss the group a bit. They had no idea as to exactly how the road would unfold. I knew exactly the stretches where a ‘through and off’ rotation would work and where it wouldn’t.

I loved my job. I was able to be super specific with distances and hazards. ‘Thanks John, how come you know all this?’ ‘I live here’. Every one listened. On sections where line was crucial such as roundabouts and narrow sections in villages I came to the front and guided everyone through, once onto wider sections we’d resume the rotating.

At 73km we hit my key feed station, Martin got me quickly sorted with 2 bottles. Hydration was crucial in the hot conditions we were enjoying. As we came through the feed station we caught the leading group who’d stopped briefly there. A good indication that we’d made really good progress on the flats.

So now we had one big lead group of maybe 25 riders. We approached Moutiers together and hit the foot of the next climb all together. Cote de Montagny is an 8km climb rising up about 500m. It starts with a very steep 300m which immediately fragmented our 25. The likes of Ruari Grant and the other big hitters rode away from me, thats fine. I was dropping riders behind and found myself in a small group including Bruno.

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I climbed all that climb with him. A steady pace. Perfect. Louis-Paul my second in GC man was somewhere behind on the road. Again, I had no interest with riders ahead. I was in a good place. That climb was perfect. A firm effort but not burning too many matches that I’d need later.

I led Bruno and another American rider down the other side to Bozel. Again local knowledge helping me to save them a few seconds. One more job to do for the day. The big one, Col de La Loze. 22.5kms long and rising up a whopping 1500m. The most notable section was to be the newly paved last 6kms, a totally new road, only for cyclists! That final 6kms rose up just under 400m but in the most irregular way imaginable. A series of flats and descents followed by a succession of ramps of 16%-18%. Vicious.

As we started our 22.5km trudge we were joined by Louis-Paul, ‘I’m back guys’. He’d chased back onto us with a couple of other riders. I was pleased to see him. He’s a really nice young bloke and having him there seemed right so that we could properly resume our GC battle.

The first few kms up to La Praz went smoothly. Just like a yellow jersey wearer in the Tour I had no reason to push hard. I left it to Louis-Paul to lead our small group up. At that point I’d be happy to ride to the finish with him and preserve my lead of about 20 minutes. Louis Paul is young, not sure how old but in the 18-29 category. Another generation to me. He’s a good looking rider. Stylish, tidy. He looked fresh and capable. I thought he might force the pace and see what he could do to me.

6kms up the climb and all was well. I’m happy and comfortable. My power meter shows me chugging away at about 250 watts. At this point of the day that’s plenty. 8kms up and LP’s pace is easing. My power numbers are sneaking to 240 and even lower. It looked like he was starting to fade a fraction. I felt good. I didn’t feel like fading. I moved gently past him and smoothly cranked up my effort to about 280 watts. Not an attack as such, just a tester. I felt good and I just wanted to see what would happen. He and the other rider who was with us at that point dropped off quickly. I rode away. I settled into about 265 watts and moved further away from them. I was feeling good, really good. I could see Michael, a Canadian just ahead, I bridged to him gradually and ended up riding all the way to the finish with him.

Riding through Courchevel 1650 and 1850 the gradients eased and I rode hard. Michael was strong and hung onto my wheel. I encouraged him to make the most of me feeling good. He talked a lot! I didn’t want to! I was in my zone and the chatting could come later! We rode well together. We hit the fearsome last 6km point and things were going really well.

As we hit the first of the steep ramps I could see he was shocked at how tough it was. We reeled in another rider and dealt with the ramps as best we could. 22 minutes of really tough bike riding to get that last section done. My 34 – 29 gearing was fine for me on there but I was worried for lesser riders coming up later that would be really struggling on these slopes. I suspect there would have been a fair bit of walking going on later in the day.

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Michael and I emptied ourselves to the finish to wring out everything we’d got. I crossed the line a couple of second ahead of him. After a few moments of recovery he came over to shake my hand. That wasn’t enough, I put my arms around him and I’d made another  friend and rival. The people you suffer with in this event and the friendships you make are just brilliant. Such a huge part of why you should do Haute Route.

I was really happy with my ride. For yet another day I’d made good decisions and thelegs had continued to obediently deliver. Getting through today is another major hurdle dealt with and I’m feeling optimistic.

Onto all our results, today’s position then Alps GC in brackets:

John 13th (12th), Adrian 53rd (76th, Mark F  56th (62nd), Felix 67th (80th), Mark R 171st (161st), Duncan 131st (152nd), Paul 306th (299th), Luiz 234th (212th), Jardel 280th (293rd) and Andrea 279th (298th) (20th lady)

Tomorrow we face the ‘queen stage’, Courchevel to l’Alpe d’Huez, 144km and and an eye watering 4600m of climbing. I really don’t know what to expect from tomorrow but there’s certainly going to be some stuff to write about!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haute Route Alps Stage 1

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And so it begins again! For myself, Duncan Carrier, Adrian Beer and about 60 other riders we begin the second of our massive race weeks. Carefully designed travel and logistics have gone well from the Pyrenees meaning we managed a decent rest day in between these whopping weeks.

For the Alps our Alpine Cadence Team swells as we welcome Mark Fairgrieve (UK), Paul Martin (UK), Felix Hoddinott (UK), Mark Roberts (USA), Luiz Capelati (Brazil), Jardel Andreis (Brazil) and Andrea Azevedo (Brazil) who join our ranks for the second week.

Stage 1 would start in Megève and finish 96kms later on the Altiport above Megève. A lumpy anti clockwise loop that was to take us up to Le Bettex, Plateau d’Assy, Cote de la Provence and La Cry. All of which would conspire to give us 2600m of vertical challenge

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Today’s course would be a contrast from what we experienced in the Pyrenees. A series of ‘punchy’ 4-6km climbs today. Long enough to reward the skinny climbers but short enough to give some ‘puncheurs’ a chance to get up and over the hills and stay in touch. A course designed by Nicolas Roux to both challenge us and to take in the maximum views of th stunning Mont Blanc massif.

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We rolled out of Megève for a 7.5km neutralised convoy. I really had no idea what to expect from this week. I was dipping my toes into unknown territory with my mind and body. A second consecutive week of bike racing in the mountains. Bring it on, let see what happens!

The neutralised section was somewhat chaotic as expected with 500 riders wanting to get themselves well placed for the flag going down at the foot of the first climb. I got myself where I wanted to be with kilometre zero approaching, way out on the left as we took the tricky right hander and into the climb. We were off. I was happy with where I was. 5kms of climb ahead of us that would rapidly filter and separate the peloton into it’s fitness related parts.

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I was with the lead group of about 25. Ruari Grant, a potential winner of the event came past me and said hello in his usual relaxed way. ‘OK’ I gasped, a little more on the limit of the ability to speak than he was! The elite guys like Ruari pushed on up the road and the group started to split. That was fine by me. I needed a sustainable ride. I needed the right people with me and I found them. That climb went well and my legs felt good. My power meter had failed and I had no readings from it but I didn’t need them. My numbers were good.

As we crested we’d fragmented into small groups and I was in around 17th spot. The following descent was fast, narrow and no opportunity to relax. I made good time down there accompanied by the likes of Mitch from Australia and Jeff from the US who I’d see plenty more off during the day.

A minor navigation issue took me down the wrong road for 20 metres but a short, angry chase got me back with my new found descending friends. Through the flats of Passy and we could see other riders ahead that we rapidly absorbed to form a group of about 8 to hit the lower slopes of the second climb, Plateau d’Assy.

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6kms ahead of us and still the legs were good. The group split though, 3 riders ahead a little to hot for me. I settled in with the others. A couple of kms of consolidating and reviewing. The 3 ahead got about 20 seconds on us. I was feeling strong and I moved away from my sub group who I felt were holding me back. Off I went across the void. With 2kms to go I knew I probably wouldn’t get back to them on the climb but if I could go over the top within 10 seconds I knew I could get back on the descent.

A skilfully passed bottle from Martin at the crest didn’t slow me at all. I caught the 3 others about 2kms down the other side. This was going well. Onto more flats. Up ahead were more riders who we absorbed to create a group of about 9. They included Bruno Bongioanni from Nice who I’ve had some great battles with before. I like riding with Bruno. He knows what he’s doing.

Being in that group was perfect. A bit of ‘through and off’ rotating meant we transported each other swiftly and efficiently to the foot of the next climb. Things couldn’t be much better at this point. Cote de la Provence was another 5km affair and not too steep. A ‘power climb’ where riders could elect to churn a bigger gear and really get the bike moving. 3 riders went off the front. I was happy left with the others at that point. ‘Bye bye young boys’ I quipped to Bruno as the three headed up the road. The rest of our group had fallen back. I rode with Bruno for a km or so and was feeling strong. I’m used to be being very closely matched to his level. Today felt different though. The legs were great and I moved up the road ahead of him. I could hear a comment from behind, something about being ‘en forme’. He hadn’t seen me ride like this before.

I moved up the road and although not catching the other 3 I was always in touch, just a few seconds behind them. At the top of the Cote de la Provence the timing stopped as the following tricky descent into Sallanches would be neutralised. I powered over the line and had moved up to around 12th pace on the day.

Next we would head up to La Cry. A 10km climb but broken in the middle with a long flatter section, effectively meaning 2 climbs of about 3/4km with a gap in the middle. People had talked about how tough the first section was. I was past caring about gradients and numbers. When the legs are good it doesn’t figure. I was happy whatever the hill threw at me. I’d started over the timing mat at the back of a group of about 15 including Bruno, Mitch, Jeff and a few of the bigger hitters.

cordon climb

I worked my way through the field. As I passed Jeff he got on my wheel and we’d be destined to be together to the finish. He and I worked really well together on the flatter sections and we made good inroads on riders ahead. He could ride a bike. I’d never met him before but I could see I’d got a reliable partner to help us both progress.

As we got closer to the top of La Cry we could see the fastest of the initial 15 riders just ahead. A well timed push and we were back with them. Perfect timing, just before the final climb from Megève to the Altiport. Another ‘power climb’ with humble gradients and one where you need to be with other riders to get the drafting effect that’s so crucial on a climb where the speeds would always be between 20 and 30kph.

I was in cycling heaven. This was going so well. I found myself on the final climb with 6 other class riders. I knew of most of them. I felt like I’d just been promoted to the Premier League and I was loving it. Names that always appeared above me on race results and now I was getting a ride with them. With a couple of kms to go there were a couple of attacks which were reeled in. With 1 km to go the pace slowed. Whatever happened now I was happy. Even if they all battered me in the sprint we’d all get similar times and for me it was more about creating time differences on all the riders we’d left behind including my rivals for the over 50 category and the Pyrenees/Alps GC.

I finished strong, I think 4th of the 7. Super happy, thank you legs and body you’ve done me proud. Really chuffed with my ride today. Made good decisions at the right moments. Couldn’t have done better.

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So, I came 10th on the day, 10th in what I think is a pretty strong field. Ruari managed to take the win more than 10 minutes ahead of me. Another world of a level. A relatively short stage today so now loads of opportunity for rest and recuperation. 8 amazing days done, 6 to go. Light at the end of what is actually a very bright tunnel….at the moment

And so to the rest of the team. Positions were as follows: Mark F 73rd, Felix 122nd (very sore from a nasty crash but he’ll be ok), Mark R 147th, Adrian 156th (puncture cost 15mins), Duncan 186th, Luiz Capelati 201st, Paul Martin 305th, Jardel Andreis 315th and Andrea 328th (19th lady)

There is now a GC ranking for Pyrenees plus the Alps for those doing both. I’m winning! Pretty happy about that, just lucky for me that Carlo Fino who won in the Pyrenees has decided to retire, not feeling well apparently. Adrian sits 16th in that GC and Duncan 27th. Full results can be found here

Tomorrow for stage 7 we leave the sophisticated comfort of Megève and head towards what will be a much talked about, brutal finish above Courchevel on the newly paved Col de la Loze. More uphill battles to be won.

See you tomorow!