My first real live reader…

 

 

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Birthday present: premier outing for my new Garmin 810. It’s really easy to use which is relief after all my ‘network’ problems at home. YouTube will tell me how to get the most out of it

Map reference: Bealesy (Bespoke-Velo.co.uk) kindly diverted his Tuesday group my way as I missed a ride yesterday due to child sickness. He picked me up in Epsom and managed to craft an unhilly route round the local Surrey Hills. Clever stuff. 66k, 660m elevation

Carbs and caffeine: Burgandy & Black, St Martin Walk, Dorking, burgandyandblack.net. We only had coffee, but the cake looked good and I shall be going back for homemade soup and bread at £3.50. Bargain

We’ve moved. I’ve still got to get the printer working, transfer our music between computers and get Sonos synced, but we are in and I am back on the bike. I have been out a couple of times with Bealesy, and managed some other little circuits with pals Jacqui and Jen, but unpacking duty has stopped me recording these.

Our intention today was to go for a long endurance ride but, with a delayed start in the freeze, and a slightly slower pace, we restricted ourselves to a leisurely jaunt through the hills of Surrey, remarkably seeing very few actual hills. Of the five of us, there were two riders I didn’t know. I soon discovered one, Alison, was the wife of a clever cartoonist I used to work with at the Evening Standard (Patrickblower.com). I met him recently on the last outing to our favourite pub near our old home. Alison had sent him out for spuds, but he bumped into my family and me and we led him astray. I’m not sure if I apologised, Alison. Sorry. Anyway, he said then I should meet his wife who had caught the cycling bug badly, and I’m really glad I finally have. You would’t think cycling was such a social sport.

More remarkably, Jen mentioned this blog over coffee and the other rider, Trudy, said she had heard of it. Surely some mistake, I thought. But no, she really had. She had been sitting next to a spinning instructor at our mutual sports club and the coach had complained that I had made her sound like a heavy drinking night owl. I had mentioned that she was mainlining Red Bull during a class and had drawn my own conclusions about why that was, perhaps unfairly. Actually, I had thought she was rather fabulous and other-worldly… Anyway, the instructor (I daren’t mention her name as she apparently regularly searches for herself online and that was how she found my comment) showed Trudy my blog. Trudy told me she really enjoyed it and carried on reading.

Most of my readers are people who know me, and I have a fair few around the world who have just ‘found’ me. This was the first time where the two have crossed over. I don’t know who was more chuffed. She, that she had found a real live blogger, or me, that I had found a real live reader. Correction. I was definitely the most chuffed… and very flattered by her comments.

By another strange coincidence, Trudy’s  husband has signed her up for the Etape Du Tour this year… sound familiar, any of my regular readers out there? She asked me for any tips but I was dumbstruck in the face of my doppelganger… I shall have to give it some thought.

Note To Trudy: stay in touch, you have my number

Glandon wins my heart on first Etape

Map reference: L’Etape, St Jean-de Maurienne to La Toussuire via Col de Chassy, Col Du Glandon (last bit of Croix de Fer), Col du Mollard, La Toussuire. 140k, 4,357m climbing says my Strava

Carbs and caffeine: Torq gels, Nunn cola hydration tabs, soggy peanut butter sandwich, some nuts and a warm coke grabbed at top of Glandon

No dropped introduction here, no suspense, I did it in 8 hours 36 min ‘moving time’, or 9 hours 26 minutes total time. A quick blast of figures; 15,000 people signed up, 12,000 people showed up on the day, 9,877 finished and I came 6,348. So pretty much middle of the field and higher if you count the no-shows. I am pleased as punch. To bore on, I was 191 out of the 406 women that finished (and 850 women signed up to ride originally). Ok, enough, I’ll put the trumpet away now and try to describe the experience.

We had a long drive from our chalet which happened to include descending the Glandon, quite a nervy way to start the day at the best of times, but knowing I would be climbing this later, I have to confess to feeling a little queasy. My vertigo, inherited from my dear mother (luckily I don’t suffer as badly as she did), has been surfacing on these mountain passes.

The queue of cars entering the small town of St Jean de Maurienne was backed up to the main motorway, which we, and obviously thousands of others hadn’t allowed for. We abandoned our car on the side of the road and made our way on the bikes to our start position. We were going off in waves of a thousand, and yes that is every bit as crowded as you imagine. Our thousand were sharing two portaloos, and the last thing you do before a race is go to the loo. I’ll draw a veil over that particular practical hurdle.

Husband had decided to ride with me. It’s not an important event compared to others this year for him, but nonetheless it was a very generous gesture and I was, and still am, very grateful.

There were crowds to see us off and much cheeriness and finally I could feel my spirits rise too. I’m not a pundit, so there really is no point in me giving me a blow by blow account from here on in, but let me offer a few snapshots.

Before we got to the first col there is a small hill. As we crested that, a posh bloke rode by saying, ‘that wasn’t so bad’. I still don’t know whether he was joking or whether he was delusional about what he had signed up for.

The Col de Chassy is a lovely climb at about a thousand metres. Already some people appeared to be struggling in the heat. But the descent caused some real problems. It is very, very narrow and the crowd ground to a halt as an accident blocked the road. Thousands of riders were stuck now and more riders were coming behind, which is quite scary. There were lots of warning shouts as the penned crowd grew, with more riders joining all the time. Luckily Husband and I happened to have made our way over to the left, to the edge of the crowd and off the road, where it was less packed. As I looked around I saw a shirt I had been looking for. One of the thousands of riders was Meghan, who I had met in Italy two weeks before. And there she was, on the other side of the crowd, in the field. She was stretching her back, which confirmed my identification, and I was just about to shout when she suddenly ducked behind a log to pee. The moment to get her attention was lost; we made our way along the side of the crowd and escaped with the first wave that was being let through the barriers. Meghan, I’m sorry we didn’t manage to hook up, but hopefully we can ride together sometime.

The Glandon is the longest, and most beautiful, climb and took me two hours. Two hours and two minutes to be precise. I was 5514 out of the 9,877 finishers on this section, so not too shabby. I’m not flashy on the hills, steady at best, but it was like I was in the middle lane of the motorway. We all know the outside lanes on motorways are supposed to be overtaking lanes, but let’s face it, really you put yourself in the lane that suits your speed. So I was in the middle lane. People were passing me on my left. But equally I was steadily passing people on my right too.

At the top of the Glandon are a series of switchbacks (tight corners) which were up to 14 per cent. I was surprised that at this point, with 2k to the top, some people were starting to walk.

We stopped for food at the top. It was impossibly crowded, although, thinking about it, was set up as efficiently as possible. Water was handed out in bottles which is very fast compared to the barrel and tap arrangements of other sportives in England. The food was spread out on tables. Bars, nuts, bananas, and warm coke. We had our soggy peanut butter sandwiches from our pockets at this stage.

I knew we would be trying not to stop again, except for water, so I decided to pop to the portaloo. Just the two again, but thankfully a small queue. There was a man in front of me, who went in and immediately ran out again retching, disappearing behind the portaloo to throw up. I feared the worse, but it was just the normal level of grimness in there. He was obviously suffering from fatigue. In fact I saw quite a lot of men vomiting as the day progressed. I guess the testosterone gets to them and they push too hard until they literally throw up. The temperature peaked at 35 degrees and it was about 45 per cent humidity and this will not have helped. Thank heavens for my brutal Italian heat training.

There were a number of crashes apart from the big one early on. Of course they were all on the descents. I am a cautious descender. I passed four people all day, in contrast to the climbing. My nerves were not helped by my ‘slip’ the previous week, and the fact that we passed at least one stricken rider on every single descent. We were constantly being passed by ambulances and speeding motorbikes rushing to accidents. and then there’s the vertigo again; I forced myself to stay down on the drops to help my control, but were passing sheer drops, often with no barrier at all… not that a two foot barrier would stop you on a bike. It was scary as hell. My nerves were shot and my fingers numb by the time I got to the bottom of these runs. Also my back wheel in particular was getting worryingly hot under the constant pressure of my braking. This area needs some work for me.

Col de Mollard was much tougher than I thought it would be. It looked like a small climb compared the others on the profile, but by this stage a lot of people were walking. Of the 12,000 people who started, 9877 finished, which means, that the rest either gave up or were swept up by the broom wagon. There are cut off times along the route and if you fail to make a spot by a particular time, you are unceremoniously put in a van with your bike and driven to the finish line. These walkers will have known they were putting themselves at risk of this ignominy.

Finally it was La Toussuire, not a particularly hard climb at about 1,200m and not very pretty. The Glandon is gorgeous, cycling nirvana. I wouldn’t recommend this last climb especially. Nonetheless it had to be done. I briefly lost Husband in a confusion about whether we were stopping or not stopping for water at the bottom. Thank heavens for mobile phones, I needed the moral support by this stage. In fact, more than that, as we came into the resort and still the road climbed he gave me a couple of actual boosts. The crowd ahh-ed, one of the female riders tutted and speeded up. I don’t blame her. I’m sorry, it wasn’t fair. But it seems fitting that it was the Hand of Husband that boosted me over the line. He started all this after all.

Note to Mum: I would like to dedicate this ride to my mother who, I know, would have been so proud of me. Thanks for the legs, Mum. x

My boys climb to new heights in my estimation 

Map reference: Montee D’Oz time trial

Carbs and caffeine: boys tried their first Torq gels

Every Wednesday in summer the local tourist office organises a time trial of our hill. It’s 7k and about 700m climbing, so no small achievement for my sons of 11 and 12 on their heavy hired bikes. There were about eight other cyclists this week, two teenagers, the rest adults and some runners and walkers. 

We intended to start together but quite quickly my eldest son was off. My second son was on a child sized bike, complete with smaller than adult wheels, so he was never going to be able to maintain the same pace. His saddle was on its absolute upper limit and the handles bars were at their lowest so he also struggled with the extreme angle. Despite his obvious discomfort he kept ploughing on. Husband and daughter, 7, waited at our chalet halfway up the climb with water and extra jelly babies, which were gratefully received. Husband was still laughing when we arrived as apparently Big One shot through the ad hoc feed station chucking his empty bottle at him and grabbing a fresh one without stopping. He made it to the top in 40 minutes and would have grabbed third place on the podium if he had known where the finish line was. Local knowledge and an understanding of French instructions would have helped. Second son and I came in at just under 48 minutes which was 10 minutes faster than we had estimated.

All in all it was a good first French time trial for the boys and if we come back next year we will have the advantage of knowing the form. 

Having warmed up my legs, Husband and I decided to go for a quick circuit leaving the kids glued to a DVD. There’s a nice circuit down to Allemont via Villard Reculas. It’s nearly 20k with some descending and 450m climbing, rather putting the equivalent two circuits of Richmond Park in the shade.

Meanwhile Husband – of course – had to go and beat the winning time of this morning’s TT. With 29 minutes being the time to beat, he did it in 27 minutes. I’m so glad I don’t have to take up these challenges, definitely too much like hard work, although he was grinning all over his face when he came in. Chapeau, darling.

Note to self: time to get those race tyres on, so they can be tested on a couple more local circuits

Half Etape leaves me on top of the world

Map reference: Oz en Oisans to Alpe D’Huez loop, 56k, 2,000m climbing

Carbs and caffeine: Magnum (ice cream not Champagne) in Alpe D’Huez

With six days to go this will be my last biggish ride. The climbing  represents roughly half the climbing I’ll be doing on the big day. And I am very, very pleased with the way I felt today. The heat reached the low 30s but with humidity at 25 per cent, I felt fine. The Italy trip did it’s job and pretty much inoculated me from the heat. I was climbing a lot more comfortably and faster than I had been in Rimini, thank heavens. It was a good thing for Husband too, as he has decided to be my ‘domestique’ on Sunday and he would have been driven potty by my heat stroke pace.

We had planned to do the Glandon from our chalet, but with the kids ‘abandoned’ at a climbing centre in Oz Station it seemed sensible to stay on this side of the mountain. It’s a very pretty ride too. Rather than doing the 21 bends of the main drag of Alpe D’Huez, we went down our hill, then traversed (it seems right to adopt some of the skiing lingo with all the winter sport evidence around us) to the next road towards Huez, then up, following the gradient of the more famous climb, then across again, following an absolutely stunning road with vertiginous views of the valley below until we hit the Alpe D’Huez road with six bends to go. 

The traversing bit will have broken up the climb a bit, so making it easier, but we then went beyond Huez to grab as much lift as we could. After a quick stop at the Spar for ice cream we then turned around and did the whole thing in reverse, climbing all the way up to Oz Station (the top of our side of the hill) to get the kids ‘out of hock’. They had had the most amazing day learning to climb in an adventure park built in the trees tops. Being active and learning new skills, they were in their element and madly excited when we turned up. I was pleased to find I had enough energy left to follow them around the park and admire their new talents, while indulging my eyes with more stunning views from the top of the mountain. So we are all feeling pretty ‘spiffing’ in the strange vernacular my seven-year-old has adopted.

Note to self: it’s a good place to be; a little cycling, good eating and hydrating and you should be tee-d up nicely to enjoy Sunday… except Toussuire which I gather just has to endured

Safely guided to the foothills of my Etape challenge

Map reference: Hotel Oxygen, Visabella, three days with Bespoke-Velo and my new cycling chums

Carbs and caffeine: the hotel food is fabulous and of course our guide Bealesy knows the village coffee stops too. 

The weather has now settled to hot, but not too hot; humid but bearable so. I had a short 70k ride on Wednesday to keep the legs moving. Bealesy had me in the small cog the whole way and I tried to keep a steady tempo of about 25k. Even here, I discover I have another deficiency; I can’t ride an even tempo. He suggests I do some training on rollers. My sons have used these but they look hairy as hell. You basically ride your bike on the spot on rollers. The falling off potential seems huge. I’ll put a link at the bottom of this blog so you can see them. They’re crackers… so straight on my wish list then.

For my last two rides in Italy, a couple of other riders are over from London. We had a welcome drink at the bar and got to know each other a bit. You can’t help trying to assess who might be the stronger rider. Luca is a man, a Kingston Wheeler, so he was going to be the strongest. Anyway, to cut to the chase, I was soon to learn that Meghan is also stronger than me up hills. Why am I so slow? I suspect signing myself off lunges due to my back issues has played a part. I’m also recovering from my tough ride on Tuesday. No matter, they’re nice about it and it will be good for their confidence. I forgot to mention, they are also doing the Etape so we are on the same page and we have plenty to talk about.

On our first day’s riding together, Bealesy took us out for 128k, 1,800m ride. He’s good at this stuff. The day was loaded with the big hills at the front and the coffee stop placed about two-thirds of the way through. Pushing off after the caffeine break, I felt that delicious elation of a nicely full stomach, coffee buzz and the knowledge that the rest of the ride was ‘in the bag’. Mostly I rode alongside Meghan and we discussed men, jobs, bibs and lip salve… basically all the important things. There are some lovely things about this riding malarkey and meeting new people is definitely one of them. I am hoping to recruit her to next year’s Dragon Ride, as I really don’t want to do that no my own again.

Today’s ride was supposed to be similar to yesterday’s but a little longer. At breakfast it became apparent that wasn’t going to work. Meghan had a cricked upper back from a slightly long reach on yesterday’s rental bike. She’s like me, long legs, short body and difficult to ‘fit’. Meanwhile Luca looked a little jaded from a bad night’s sleep. So, ever professional, Bealsey changed tack and we headed for a 70k circuit with one longish hill. Best of all for me, this meant Husband could come. The kids are so comfortable at the hotel that we felt happy to leave them with instructions to look after each other… and, of course, cash for ice cream.

All set for the Alps tomorrow. I am going to take a couple of days off to recover – and then go and look at the mountains. Cols de Chassy, Glandon, Croix de Fer, Mollard and Toussuire, here I come.

Note to Bealsey: thanks for a great four days. We’ve had a lovely family holiday and I’ve got to do my thing too. Not easy…

http://www.bikeradar.com/roaad/gear/article/how-to-ride-on-rollers-28631/

One ‘sick’ ride

Map reference: Hotel Oxygen, Rimini, first ride of Bespoke-Velo holiday, 128k, 2,200m, climbing, up to 43 degree heat

Carbs and caffeine: pint of coke and half a sandwich at bar… Who knows where I was. Will try to clarify later

No, I have not adopted my pre-teen son’s language, that would not be coolio at all. This will forever be remembered in my mind as the ride when I felt sick pretty much all the way round. Humidity was 75pc and the temperature peaked at 43 degrees. This is my attempt to slot in the last bit of training before the Etape next Sunday. I’ve done my endurance, I’ve done hill training… now I’ve got to do my heat training. And, frankly it has shaken my confidence. 

I had a spill within 40 minutes. A total school girl error on a gritty descent. Having dissected the moment several times, I think I squeezed the front brake too hard. I should have been on the drops to have more control. Anyway, I fishtailed trying to regain control and did at least get my speed down before the inevitable slide. My right side is pretty road rashed, but there’s only a tiny bit of swelling. Pretty minor stuff although it has made sleeping a bit tricky. Most importantly the bike is ok. And yes, on landing that was the first thing on my mind. The bar tape is torn and there’s a scrape on the pedal. I feel very lucky.

Anyway, as I said, this was the least of my troubles. I am now going to try to describe to you what riding in that kind of heat feels like. The more sensitive among you might want to look away. We had about 15k of flat to get to the hills, and from the first it felt incredibly hot, but from the moment we hit the hills the sickness struck. Incredibly I was actually shivering with heat. Yes, that right, I felt cold. Confusingly, since I was completely wet, on the long descents I was actually cold. So you have to think shivering with cold and shivering with heat until you think you are going to vomit. Truly, I was getting those pre-vomit flushes of cold rising up from my stomach. I held onto my stomach contents, just, but I don’t ever want to feel like that again. This is officially my hardest ride ever. 

My guide, Bealsey, did all he could; chatting, not chatting, asking if I was ok to which I could only reply wretchedly ‘feel sick’. Did I want to stop? ‘No.’ I can only imagine I was a worryingly green colour. We stopped at every single tap along the way. Bless the Italians for having public water available. Bealsey reckons we got through 10 litres each and I worked through a large portion of my holiday stash of hydration tabs. At every water stop we also stopped long enough for me to recover a little. His Strava says we were riding for 6 hours 10 mins of our 7.5 hour ride. We had a proper stop for ‘lunch’. Of course we didn’t feel at all hungry but the coke went down a treat. This is when coke comes into its own. The real thing indeed.

Eventually I staggered back to the hotel room, with bike, road rash… And a great sense of relief.

Note to self: Keep your head straight, you can do it

Letting the hill fitness gel

Map reference: Ripley, Peaslake, Dorking, Woking, scooping some hills on the way. 87k, 1,300m climbing

Carbs and caffeine: The Dorking Deli, 37 West St, Dorking, RH4 1BU http://www.thedorkingdeli.co.uk/, a real treat

It’s three weeks to go now until the Etape Du Tour and I know I can’t really add any fitness. The Dragon Ride has put me in confident mode; that was why I put myself through it after all. But I don’t feel confident about running about with some of my speedy Bike Beans pals, so Keith kindly said he would lead me about the countryside ticking off hills at a less panicky pace. I don’t need to incur an injury trying to pick up Strava bling right now. That said we did pick up a bit of bling and that was pleasing too.

Keith’s plan was for nine hills, and he had a neat list of them as we pre-caffeined our ride at The Nest, Ripley (see my Carbs and Caffeine page for details). The odd number troubled him, but I’m not such a neatnik about these things. As it was, we lost count as we diverted to avoid some traffic works. All I can say is we were certainly going up a lot of the time.

There is a limit to the height of any of these Surrey hills, but the gradient can vary quite a lot, and some climbs introduce cruel twists at the end, just when you think you are finished. Some of the hills were familiar from my 10-hills ride, and in some cases I was going down my normal ups and up my normal downs. Thank you for trying to follow that. It’s been a long week.

After lunch at the Dorking Deli – chicken and homemade pesto baguette for me, marmalade and toast for Keith – I was surprised that my legs didn’t feel nearly as stiff as I would have expected. Is this a sign that I am getting fitter, I wonder? But about an hour into the post-lunch section, I did begin to feel the familiar numbness creaping into my right side. It’s annoying, but I can work with it until after the Etape. There’s no point trying to fiddle too much at this stage.

The one thing I am contemplating fiddling with, is seeing if I can get used to necking gels instead of my beloved fruit cake while on the road. It goes against the grain for someone who likes food, but on the other hand it also makes no sense to add such weight to my pockets. We were riding for 3 hours and 40 minutes – and on the road a bit longer – and I had two gels and four jelly babies to sustain me. It’s not much of a test. I’m guessing, if the fabled gastric issues were to set in, it would be more at the six-hour mark. But I think I will gently ease myself in that direction. Keith is a fan of the Torq brand http://www.torqfitness.co.uk/, so I shall start there. He’s my voice of reason du jour. See how I’m practising my French already for the big day…

Note to Keith: last trip round the Surrey hills before my trip… thank you, it was the confidence booster I needed