Long time no hear eh? In fairness I’ve had little to report. I still ride my bike a lot but not competitively – not even organised rides. I’m still kicking my own arse a bit as you can see from the graph below. For the uninitiated pink above blue means working hard and building fitness. The lower the yellow line the more knackered I feel; linked with low carb dieting to try and lose weight it’s been a tiring couple of months.
Anyway, enough wittering on about my junk mile obsession. I’m here to report that I have a new bike.
Despite taking innumerable pictures I’ve really struggled to do it justice; anyway it’s a Pretorius Kranspoort. It’s got a beautiful satin finish, Enve forks and Ultegra group.
Never heard of the brand? It’s the brainchild of ex-pro rider Jean-Claude Pretorius. He has designed his own frame and put his name on it. He has a fabulous shop/workshop in Shoreditch and, in a similar experience to buying the Parlee from Bespoke, provides a first class level of service. Included in the price was a good quality bike-fit too.
I’ve struggled to decide how to replace the old Focus – the loyal workhorse that I’ve run up tens of thousands of miles on. I didn’t really want a so-so carbon bike. I wanted some comfort. And I wanted something a little unusual – but discrete. And I wanted to part with my cash gratefully and willingly.
I decided to visit JC and with the hope that I’d find all of these things – and I did. Buying a bike of a genuine cycling enthusiast and more so an enthusiast for his product is really how things should be done. I did a quick ride on a test bike and was delighted with the feel of the bike. I wanted to fall in the love – and I did.
With a two-week lead time it was a no brainer.
The initial feel of the bike is great – I lack both the experience and vocabulary to relate the riding experience; and time will tell how it performs on longer rides. But I feel instantly at home on it – even battling as I did down the busy A23 through London to get home.
Do you buy a bike because it’s designed and sold by an ex-pro? Or because he’s a great guy? Or because you want to support an entrepreneur? Or because a bike is beautiful? Or because it rides wonderfully? Or because you want something a little different? Actually for all of these reasons – the case is compelling.
With the season drawing to a close (even though it is only mid-September!) the opportunities to get the A bike out are fast diminishing. Therefore a chance to do another SERRL road race was not to be missed. With both ReubenE and SteveS calling time and hanging up their racing wheels for the year it was left to PaulS, DavidM, KevM and I to uphold the reputation of the club.
At risk of repeating the same mantra every race – the SERRL races are simply brilliant. Hats off to the organisers. A special treat this weekend too as we had the use of the Rolvenden Village Hall; which is a 5* facility. Support cars, motorbike outriders, timing chips and free refreshments. For a 2hr40 race. For £15. Not theoretically possible.
Not good. I went to bed with a sore throat – bad timing; I very rarely do ill. I woke up feeling not at my best and this was confirmed with the slightly painful swallowing of my eggs and rice in the car on the way down. "Your farts are going to smell nice", PaulS said. I’m not sure what he thinks my farts normally smell like but never the right side of indifferent I’d imagine.
Off we set. 60 strong or thereabouts. Nice rolling course; 6 laps of a 17km circuit. I actually prefer the shorter circuits I think. I can learn them more quickly and there is definitely a psychological advantage of counting down the laps; visible progress.
The first lap was at a pretty strong pace. I felt very ordinary. So-so on the climbs and generally fatigued and weary. In darker moments my thoughts turned from the optimistic “I might be able to get something out of this race” to “I wonder how long I’m going to last today”. Luckily longer than DaveM – riding with confidence after a great performance and 2nd place at Hog Hill last week – he didn’t manage the first lap; getting dropped on the long, testing climb back up to Rolvenden and unable to get back on.
I felt very much outclassed today. There were a good handful of guys that looked, as Hugh Porter would say, “full of riding”. I watched lots of attacks go off the front and actually benefitted from the circumspection required by my indifferent legs. Knowing there was no way I could hack a long breakaway, or even chase down others, I had an uncommon serenity.
I tried to stay towards the front of the peloton but this is harder than it sounds. It’s easy to get boxed in and the other riders are always jostling for position. However, tough as it is, PaulS made it look very easy. Looking incredibly comfortable for the whole race and always in the right place.
Every so often I’d wonder how KevM was getting on. Not being an out-and-out road racer (his speciality is the triathlon) I thought the pace might have been a bit fruity for him. Not at all as it turned out – he did a great ride finishing safely in the bunch.
Odd, in a word. The pace was hotting up for the last lap and there was a bit of motivation from the more vocal members of the peloton to chase down the breakaway. My legs didn’t agree but I still ended up with the front few riders. I was not expecting anything other than a big chunk of riders to go blasting past and I would be able to do nothing but watch it happen. I was happy and resigned to the prospect of finishing the race in the bunch and pleased that it was soon going to be over.
The reality was slightly different. We were attempting some “bit and bit” as only Hugh Porter would say – though with the usual end that it would be disorganised and I’d end up pulling the bunch along. Which is precisely what happened.
With about 8km to go I pulled out a gap. I’d love to remember what happened so I’d know what to do next time and do it again. But I simply rode away. No big attack. No small attack. I just rode quite hard. The guys in the peloton probably thought that an old bloke, all over his machine, looking knackered was not much of a risk. But I kept pushing and the gap kept growing.
8km is a long way, riding on your own, trying to hold off 40 riders that are better than you. But I pretty much did it. I was caught and passed by one chap but held off the bunch for a solid 5th place.
A good result. I’m more bemused than pleased. It’s a little hard not to feel that the good results I’ve had in the road races aren’t a bit lucky but I think I must have enough of them now to prove otherwise.
Well, after a bit of a result the previous week it was time for me to test myself out against the ‘big boys’ – or rather first and second category riders. I’d already had SteveS and AndyC whittling on about this race and this had rubbed off on me a little and I was actually a little nervous.
My goal really was to just finish. And, to cut a long story short, that’s what I did. Unfortunately, however, only two thirds of the way through the race. Naturally this was pretty disappointing but there were two really big positives to come out of the race
- I think I finally ‘get’ racing. Despite the less than mediocre result something in my head finally clicked. The last couple of seasons have ended with me being a bit unsure about my ambitions for the following year. As a consequence I’ve ended up having half-hearted attempts at racing and 90% efforts at the Marmotte. Next year will be different. Racing really is the pinnacle of cycling and, nice though it is to rock up to Sportives and kick a little ass, this is rather easier and less satisfying than doing the same at a race.
- In addition to, and partly as a consequence of I suspect, my epiphany was the brilliant performance of my team-mates who all did the jersey rather more justice than I did. ReubenE did a sterling job supporting the team, AndyC rode to a frankly amazing 5th, SteveS a brilliant 8th and PaulS a sterling 15th. Martin Brundell would have said that this was a ‘stellar performance’.
The Actual Race
In a slight break with convention I was partnered by PaulS for the journey down. Naturally I couldn’t get the phrase ‘twice your age’ in every 10 minutes or so but the experience was only slightly diminished by this fact. One thing I definitely got right was my new trainer purchase; bright yellow with blue trim Onituska Tigers.
The weather looked pretty shit but I was reluctant to make any judgements; the previous couple of week’s I’d moaned like hell and it had turned out OK. We were nice and early and the arrived at the 3* village hall in Godmersham. In another slight departure from the norm there were actually team vans; not least the Orbea ForGoodness Shakes team. This new level of professionalism should have made me think about a nice, conservative ride.
That’s pretty much as it started. I expected to be on the rivet from the off but actually the ride was pretty comfortable. In contrast to the other SERRL races I’ve done this year I actually disliked the course. Firstly the roads were a bit busier than usual and more, well, ‘major’. Second there was a long, steep descent which, in the dry would have been fine, but in the wet pushed me well outside of my comfort zone. Third the lap was relatively long at about 20km or so.
I was comfortable going up the climbs and only struggled on the downhill having to really push when it evened out to recapture the places I’d lost as I gingerly (no offence) made my way down. I suspect I had too much pressure in my back tyre as, even when the road levelled out a little, I could still feel my back wheel dancing and skidding beneath me. Terrifying.
This went on for an hour or so I guess before my pecker started to go up. I was still feeling very good and comfortable with the pace and decided that perhaps life in the peloton was not for me. I enjoyed periodically checking that SteveS still wasn’t enjoying himself which was the main thing and made my way to the front of the bunch.
All I can now remember (time has passed) is that I seemed to be involved in break after break. Or chasing another break. Killing myself. Wondering what happened to the simple formula of peloton and breakaway. And riding this race like I do the third and fourth cat races. For nothing.
Like a little puppy in attitude. But, alas, my body is still that of a mediocre 39 year old cyclist. And, an analogy I’ll borrow from PaulC, riding is like eating a cake. Each time you dig deep you have another bit of the cake. And eventually that cake runs out. And if it runs out before the end of the race well that’s just tough titty.
The onset of fatigue was swift. I looked down at my computer and realised that 2 hours was up and I had only managed 1 gel for the whole of the ride. Not enough I think. The energy slowly ebbed from my body and I decided to call it a day on the big climb and the bunch drifted away. Luckily it was only about 15km back to the start! Still, it was nice to have some time to think about my failure and to heartily thank the marshalls with a big smile.
I did finally get back, met up with ReubenE, got changed and had a Diet Coke and some banter. Unfortunately my t-shirt of choice was the ‘shut up legs’ one. Oh, the irony. More like ‘oooh, my legs hurt, I’m going to stop, ooh, it hurts’.
On the plus side I got a ringside seat for the last lap or so. Seeing AndyC kicking arse at the front of the breakaway on the last lap was an inspiration and as the peloton came through both SteveS and PaulS were looking great.
Rubes and I drove up to the finish line. One of the Orbea Shakes guys came over first with a huge gap (insert own jokes here) followed by a couple more riders. Then delight; AndyC in 5th. Then more delight SteveS in 8th. And again as PaulS came in in 15th. Any small amount of envy I might have had vastly overshadowed by the respect for such great rides.
That’s it. Should have eaten more and should not have ridden beyond my ability. I think I could have stuck it out in the bunch. It’s so hard to resist chasing away when you feel good. Inspirational ride by the others and oddly a dubious result for me has left me more motivated than ever.
My third road race of the year – and third ever for that matter. The other two went really well and I scored 5th and 2nd places overall. After an indifferent – at best – run in circuit races there was a little bit of pressure to a) score a couple of points and b) prove the other outings weren’t flukes.
No doubt about it; the SERRL races are fantastically well organised and run. Support vehicles, motorbike outriders, rolling road closure – the cycling peasants can briefly ride like kings.
So I line up with 59 or so other riders who are variously better trained, in better shape, have better genetics and physiology, aren’t pushing 40 and have more time to train. You get the idea. Getting a result is somewhat against the odds.
I promised myself I would not repeat the mistakes of yesterweek and respond to and try and get in to every break. If I was going to do something it would be in the last 10km – the last thing I wanted was a repeat of last week which was a severe arse-kicking at the start of the race with nothing to show for it at the end.
Four other Bigfoot riders were also at the race; DaveM, ReubenE, PaulS and recently crowned 2nd Cat veteran SteveS. Steve got in an early break whilst I was quite content to stick in the peloton and generally chill, barely getting a workout. One of the cruel travesties of cycling is that riding in the bunch is largely un-taxing at this level, but getting and staying away is very hard work indeed. There are no prizes for doing something in-between these two extremes.
I was finding time for regular doses of “humour” directed at my teammates. Average HR for the first half 155bpm. Tempo at best.
This all stopped abruptly when I ended up off the front of the bunch. I can’t remember what precipitated this madness – it was only half-way through the race and the very last thing I wanted to do was spend the last hour killing myself. I did my oddly normal trick. Have half a go off the front. Realise I’m not going to make enough gap. Back off. Realise that the peloton hasn’t made an impression and think ‘fuck it’ and have a proper go. Weird.
I spent about 25 minutes in no-mans land. Between a breakaway of two riders and the bunch. At one point the game was nearly up as a furtive check behind revealed a looming shark of riders. However I pressed on and caught the two-man breakaway.
I got my breath back and we started working. One of the guys was shot and couldn’t contribute to the pace-setting so it was down to me and a guy from San Fairy Ann CC rider to stay away. We took good turns and at one point I thought I might be able to take the win feeling pretty decent on the small climbs on the circuit.
We had about 40 seconds gap for the last lap; not enough to relax and enjoy the moment that’s for sure. I had one last push on the last climb to see if I could put a gap into the other rider. No chance. And no chance of me producing a sprint at the end either.
So second place over the line. I get the nasty feeling that, in my confusion, my celebration crossing the line might have been a lame thumbs up – I hope there’s no photographic evidence!
Average HR for the second half – 174bpm. Threshold.
SERRL road races are great. It was terrific to get another decent placing. It would have been nice to have got the win of course and it did cross my mind. But much better to guarantee 2nd place than take big risks and end up 25th. First of the losers again!
Great to ride with the other Bigfooters who finished in the bunch. SteveS did a job for me apparently marshalling the bunch but alas out of my sight.
It’s been kind of quiet round here for a while. I had a couple of chilled weeks after the Marmotte – eating a lot of what I fancied and generally recuperating whilst I considered my strategy for the rest of the season.
I’ve had very little joy going round in relatively small circles (ie crits and circuit races) and after a fractious but productive meeting with my some time coach Jo McRae I confirmed my plan to have a proper go at this type of riding.
I have a pet theory that I need to dispel; or at least confirm either way. I have a seemingly limitless capacity for endurance riding which makes me believe that I’m blessed in the Type I fibre department. Which would mean that I’m less well blessed in the Type II fibre department which is precisely what I need for shorter races. However, I have not trained at intensities much beyond threshold – ever – so who knows? Maybe I’m a brilliant all-rounder that just needs to adjust his training slightly.
So my plan is to do a bag load of HIT (high intensity training) specifically targeting my MAP (max aerobic power). So I did an arse-kicking test and confirmed this to be about 420W or so. Ever since then my training looks a little like this.
If I’m racing then so be it, if I’m not then I do blocks of HIT followed by rest.
Anyway, the race…
Fowlmead’s a nice little circuit. Not much in the way of altitude changes but a good, long, well surfaced, fast lap. And windy. And you can see the sea. After a bit of a tedious pre-amble; the race was delayed by about 30 minutes without warning, we were off. My first ever 3rd cat only race.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect so I set off without too much hope although anything resembling a Cancellara-style solo break would have sufficed. DaveC was also doing the race which was a bonus – “stay off the front was his advice”. Two minutes later, who was engaged in a heroic solo effort off the front? DaveC.
When Dave was caught another break went. For some reason I went with it. The pack bought us back in. Then another, stronger break went immediately. Still out of breath from the first effort I doggedly got involved in this one too. And so we stayed; 3 of us for 30 minutes. It seriously hurt – post-ride analysis showed that my heart rate averaged 180bpm for the duration of the break. My max is meant to be 185bpm although after this race this has been revised to 189bpm. But still. Hard work.
And… all this was before Rach, Annabelle and an old (and wonderful) family friend turned up to spectate. Eventually we were caught and absorbed back into the peloton. Great. Half an hour killing myself for nothing and surely having compromised any hope I had of a decent finish. And still 40 minutes of racing to go!
Still, best put on a show.
I then switched to my standard strategy of endlessly working on the front of the bunch. Unwittingly chasing down breaks and generally exhausting myself.
Naturally after all of this nonsense I didn’t place very well. A successful break went at some point and I trailed in probably around about 15th or so – comfortably out of the points.
Consolations. A very good workout. And it was great to see DaveC – who had a good energetic race but with a similar result to me.
In the end, as I routinely find in these races, I was strong but unable to translate this into a meaningful result. But what I do know is that it’s easy to convince yourself you are strong when you’re pissing around for the first 95% of the race – strong people actually do well in the last 5%!
Well, all the results are in, the photos have been bought, forums read, the memory of the pain subsides and the plans start to form for improving my time for next year. At some point you have to realise it’s over. Glorious but over.
The biggest problem with the Marmotte; stopping it overshadowing the whole year – cycling-wise at least.
I posted my report before the results were available
||9 hours 12 minutes 26.5 seconds
|Fastest time (Michel Snel)
||5 hours 46 minutes 6.4 seconds
|Slowest time (John MacDonald)
||13 hours 43 minutes 20.0 seconds
||6 hours 54 minutes 34.4 seconds
|Percentage riders faster
|Percentage riders slower
|Position (UK entries only)
|Seconds behind AndyC
|Percentage faster req to beat AndyC
|Entrants by country
Will I qualify for an elite start next year? That would be amazing. I’m not sure what the rules are.
If anyone wants to read some great reports and different perspectives from the event check out the Bigfoot Marmotte page including a story or two of proper heroism!
A bit of a change of plan this year; rather than the usual sausage-fest at the Pelvoux we decided to hire a chalet and turn the event into a bit of a family holiday and all-round cycling jolly.
We arrived on Sunday afternoon in time to catch the humiliation of our national football team – we even had (or rather only had) German commentary! DaveM and entourage turned up a little later on Sunday and AndyC’s lot on Thursday morning.
DaveM and I did a couple of rides; both sides of the Col de la Madeleine on Monday and the Glandon to the Croix de Fer followed by the Alpe on Wednesday. I was hoping that these rides would have felt reasonably easy; they did not. Still – that will teach me a lesson that I can’t just rock up and do Hors Categorie (beyond classification) climbs as if they are mere hillocks.
Alpe D’Huez proved a slightly sub-optimal base for a family break. It was like a ghost town when we arrived, being between the end of the ski season and before the school summer holidays and it was a bit of a faff getting anywhere as we, quite literally, had a mountain to climb (or descend) every time we set out. We had a nice time in Annecy (which was delightful) and Briancon (which was fine).
Anyway, enough of all this chutney, what about the Marmotte. After three years it’s dawned on me that I’m not ideally suited to mountain riding. Even with a pretty disciplined few months I’m still nothing like the weight I’d like to be – partly a lack of discipline, partly that I’m just the wrong build. I’m giving away 13 or so kilo’s to someone like DaveM – that’s 6 or 7 2 litre bottles of coke! I’m also knocking on 40. With this nagging at me, and that my back that has been giving me quite a bit of grief, confidence was not that great before the ride. I also managed a pretty respectable time last year which, great though that is, rather raised the bar for this year.
Up early, eggs and rice knocked back and pockets full down we went to Bourg for the start. I’m getting to be a better descender with practise and cruised down which was a great pleasure. AndyC went off for his elite group start hobnobbing with the rich and famous (including the 1997 Tour De Suisse winner apparently!). DaveM and I had to make do with some of the remaining 7,000 or so riders; surely the best collection of Europe’s amateur riders that assembles each year.
All packed in to the narrow streets we stand around feeling nervous and becoming increasingly sure that the early morning clear-out wasn’t 100% effective. Playing the ‘who’s got the lowest heart rate’ game helps and as does checking out some of the kit on display. The start is always delayed a bit, or so it seems, and we finally got going at 7:15 or so.
Whatever happens later the first 10km of the ride are a joy. Bombing along at 50kmph or thereabouts down the valley road. Big peloton, lots of adrenalin. Half wanting not to overdo it, half wanting to get stuck in. Wonderful.
The first climb; the Col du Glandon – 24km. Not my favourite – it’s too irregular for a big diesel like me. The foot of the climb was rammed with riders which was probably a good thing as it calmed down my pace a little. The first few kilometres are actually quite tough, largely tipping the gradient-o-meter above 8 or 9%. Then there’s a small village, a tricky little descent before it kicks up again. Pressing on I felt OK. Maintaining a good pace but never feeling that great; I think paying the penalty for not riding many hills again this year. The climb levels off a bit and I got stuck in. It dawned on me that I was surrounded by riders with green numbers; ie chaps that started in the elite group and double-ie ergo better than me. My heart rate was steadily, and comfortably, above 170 bpm (no power meter dagnabbit – too heavy ) which should have also been a troubling sign but still I kept going.
After about 1hr35 I made the top. I’d decided to do the ride without support so I was using the regular feeds for water and whatever nuggets I could find in my back pockets.
The descent was effectively neutralised this year as it was not timed. It’s a bit of a tricky descent and people have died though not for a couple of years. This was the organisers attempt to try and slow things down a bit. I was having none of it. Official time or nay, I still had a time to beat. I passed quite a few riders on the way down, but it’s such a narrow descent that there’s really not that much space to pass. I tried an arsehole move into a hairpin that was a little misjudged and I could have taken myself and another rider out so I backed off and enjoyed the view.
The French have beautiful mountains but they could have moved them a little closer together. A flat(ish) drag for 30km’s or so breaks up the climbs and descents and it’s neither that scenic or enjoyable. One advantage of catching up the elite guys was that the group I was in was brilliant. Slowing a bit at the bottom of the descent so we could eat then really upping the pace hastening our arrival at the foot of the Col du Telegraphe.
Col du Telegraphe
I sort of like the Telegraphe. It’s regular at least – staying largely at my psychologically acceptable gradient of 8% for most of the climb. Like the previous years it’s pretty hot so I guess it must be facing the right way to catch the sun. I started strongly and stayed with the best riders in the group as lots of guys got dropped. However as the climb wore on I had to back off a fraction to a pace that I was more comfortable with. With a kilometre or two to go I could feel my legs cramping up. I didn’t need a power meter or even a heart rate monitor to gauge my effort – instead I could work just below my cramp threshold. It was here that I also realised that I was going to lose my ability to get out of the saddle to break up the climbs which was a bit disheartening.
Col du Galibier
A quick descent of the Telegraph done it was on with the Galibier. No doubt about it, the Galibier is a tough climb; if you’re feeling any less than 100% it’s going to beat up on you good and proper. There’s a horrible steep straight climb out of the town at the foot followed by a morale sapping 10km or so that looks pretty flat but is a steady 8% or so. That’s all before you hit Plan Lachet and it turns nasty. A long, steep, straight ramp looms above you and it doesn’t let up all the way to the top. With 3km to go you can look up and see the top of the climb towering seemingly vertically above you; miles up in the sky. I made it but it was not a pleasure. At all. It’s hard to describe the suffering – the long, painful slow grind. Praying for it to be over. To stop hurting. Playing every mental trick; counting breaths, converting kilometres to miles to make them sound more palatable. Trying to take small sips of drink when the hairpins flatten the gradient a fraction.
On the plus side I’d made 5 hours or thereabouts which is about the benchmark time for me to hit last year’s time.
This gives me about an hour or so to get to the foot of the Alpe and just over an hour to get to the top. If I’m feeling fit. Re-fill of the water-bottles and off. Crazy descent time. I don’t even know how far it is from the top of the Galibier to Bourg D’Oisans; maybe 40km. Mostly downhill. Mostly fast. Some badly lit tunnels. And, luckily, much less traffic this year than last which meant that I could take fewer risks and still make a reasonable fist of it.
I was not feeling bullish about the Alpe. In previous years the estimable Paul Martin has partly justified staying in Alpe D’Huez on the basis that you have to finish the ride; that it would simply be too tempting to quit if staying in Bourg for example. This year, for the first time I understand. I’d made a hash of the Galibier and was not feeling remotely fresh. I’d found the brief ascents on the way to the foot of the Alpe energy sapping and was unable to get out of the saddle which was going to make the climb of 14km very hard work. It was also baking hot.
So my calculation was that if I endured 1h15 of total suffering I might just make last year’s time. Hardly a great payback. The ninety degree left kicks off the climb and you are faced with a long 11% section up to the first of the 21 hairpins. Starting as it means to go on. Oddly I left behind all but one of the group that I was in which was a real surprise as I slowly plugged away. On bend 18 Justin, doing support this year, very generously offered to take my helmet without requiring me to stop which was nice.
I don’t know if the counting down of the hairpins helps or hinders. Likewise the kilometre counters. 21 doesn’t factor well; 24 would have been much better. It was desperately hot – I swerved to the wrong side of the road to find a brief moment of shade and poured water over my head and was tremendously grateful for the overhead spray half way up. I was passing other riders more than I was being passed. And I was genuinely suffering. Without recourse to be able to stand every time the gradient pitched above 9% my cadence dropped with my morale.
But you have to finish so I ground on. Slowly the kilometres ticked by. Alpe D’Huez is not a long climb at 14km and it’s not even massively steep. But it barely lets up the whole way.
I did not feel the usual euphoria as I got into the town. Checking my computer suggested that I could finish in about 7hr20 which was good if not great. Over the line I went and was neither happy nor sad. Just relieved it was over. I was, however, very pleased to find Rachel, Annabelle and the recently finished AndyC waiting for me. I was very pleased also that Rachel had an iced Diet Coke for me. And I was pleased that AndyC had had a good, hard ride and had finished not much more than a minute or so before me.
Our chalet was located on the entrance to the town and we had a third floor vantage point of the course. It was great to see the other riders coming in. What is nice about the Marmotte is that, irrespective of fitness, everyone has an epic day and I have a lot of respect for those still limping up the Alpe five or more hours after I finished. The patrons of the bar opposite were generous in their support of the riders especially if they were female. My favourite moment of the day – the standing ovation, cheers and applause for the one-legged rider that completed the entire ride. It’s impossible to imagine how he did it. If ever there was a chapeau due…
After weeks and months of relative abstinence it was great to have a beer or two, some champagne and enjoy a bit of the TdF Prologue and a delicious celebration tea.
I’d not had the Steve Redgrave moment the last two times I’ve done this ride. For sure it’s hurt but I had the joy of finishing at all the first time and, as a bonus, with a reasonable time, the second time I rode well and knocked 50 minutes off my time. This year I didn’t ride that well and managed to knock 7 minutes off my time; but this was only achieved with a considerable amount of pain.
I had a diluted Steve Redgrave moment this year – immediately after I’d finished I said "I’m not sure I want to do that again – I don’t want to suffer like that again". One day later this has subsided and I’m already plotting for a better time for next year. But, as I’ve found with most events this year, it’s getting harder and harder to improve.
My first year was just about the pleasure of riding my bike. The second year was about actually training and getting some reasonable results. My third year has been about trying to make the very best use of a limited amount of time and trying to find ways of making gains on the previous year. I have done it but it has come with a cost – my training has been much harder and, to be honest, not as enjoyable and the upside has been, and could only be, relatively small.
It’s not, of course, that I thought I wouldn’t be subject to the law of diminishing returns – but maybe that I’d thought that I would not take myself so seriously that it would matter!
DaveM completed a really great ride and came in at 7hr40 which was a terrific job after a meltdown last year; 7hr30 next stop I think.
That’s two years in a row that AndyC and I have ridden separately over 174km and 5,000 metres of climb and finished a minute and +/- 20 seconds of each other. 40 seconds this year. Ridiculous. It suddenly dawned on me today that I was very close to beating him but actually I’m just as happy as I am. Though maybe next year…
Another weekend, another sportive. This time the Magnificat sponsored by Verenti. Probably a bit too long at 205km but a good long ride in preparation for the Marmotte in a couple of weeks time.
Having been a little disparaging of the UK sportive scene earlier in the year I’ve had a change of heart. Some of these events are terrifically well organised and give riders of all abilities something to have a go at. Yes, there are lots of hairy legs around, and entry level bikes and people of all shapes, sizes and abilities – heck, some people even have the cheek to look as though they’ve turned up to enjoy themselves!
The whole event was very well organised; great facilities at the start/finish, quick sign-on, well signed and supported with decent feed stations. I was also very grateful for the Mavic support who mended my gears so I had a very smooth ride. Also the results were on the website by 20:00 the same day. Amazing.
My goal for this event was quite simple. I wanted to “win” it. It takes a special kind of arrogance to look at a start sheet with 700 riders and believe that someone of my mediocre ability can get the fastest time but after the disappointment at the Dragon Ride I wanted a bit of payback.
I spent the first 90km kicking my own arse trying to catch the lead group. We were set off in batches and PaulC and I were about 10 or 15 minutes down on the earliest starters. I rode hard from the outset passing decreasing numbers of riders as the ride progressed. I finally caught the lead group on the road and spent a couple of kilometres deciding what to do.
We hit a feed station after which there was a small climb. Without really trying I put a bit of a gap between me and the other riders. Trying to solo until the end of the ride from this far out seemed like utter madness so I backed off. Still the group didn’t catch me so I thought ‘fuck it’ and just went. I figured ‘out of sight, out of mind’ so I put a decent effort in for about 10km before ‘relaxing’ into a steady, hard pace.
So the question – could I hold off the group for 3 hours on my own? I had the pleasure of my own motorbike outrider who was staying at the front of the ride which was pretty cool.
And that was it really. I rode my balls off for 3 hours haunted by the fear of being chased down.
By the last 10kms I was pretty tired. I was starting to get annoyed with the kilometres not counting down quickly enough and I was having to manage my legs a little as they were starting to cramp up.
With 2kms to go I got caught. Not by the bunch, but by a team of three Torq (the nutritional sponsors of the event) Pro and Semi-Pro mountain bike riders that had set off 20 minutes or so after me. I jumped on their wheels and rode with them until the end.
This meant that I didn’t win after all. I came 4th which was still pretty respectable. 1st of the amateurs or 3rd of losers as a colleague of mine would say.
Here’s a wee chart showing the first 30 finishers – in the end there were just over 400 finishers of the 127 mile ride. Quite a few must have switched to the shorter route.
PaulC had a great day also; despite some mechanical woe still managing 12th place.
The UK’s favourite sportive apparently. Last year I had a good run in this event which meant that I felt a bit more pressure going into this one which is only faintly ridiculous. A top 10 was the target with about 1,800 starters.
In total 117 miles which is probably a bit too long and has a tendency to drag on a bit if you know what I mean. Reasonably hilly but I still maintain it doesn’t make the best of the Brecon Beacons. There’s a much better ride of this length on offer given the terrain. It has a reputation as a hilly ride but I only recorded 2,500 meters which is hardly a great deal spread across a ride of this length.
The weather forecast wasn’t that great but actually it turned out rather well. A decent Bigfoot contingent turned up at the start and we set off. DavidM, PaulS, AndyC and I set a good early pace. DavidM deciding that the pace on the first climb was a bit much and dropped off. I settled for shouting “Colvin you cock, my heart rate’s already at 180”. I had my first sign of things to come when my chain came off when shifting to the small ring on the front. Fortunately I managed to wrestle it back on with the shifter.
I was feeling a bit dodgy. I thought I’d try out a new nutritional strategy – never to be repeated – with a breakfast consisting of white rice, eggs and lightly smoked salmon. It felt like it was trapped in my chest and every few minutes I’d burp foul salmon. Gross.
On the next climb my chain came off again. This time it didn’t shift back on so I was off the bike. Being my usual cackhanded self meant it took a while to get the chain back on and I was in the business of chasing back on; just what I fancied doing up a steep hill with Colvin setting the pace.
This happened twice more on the next hills; each time I needed to get off the bike. To say I was a little fucked off would be an understatement. This problem was then compounded when I couldn’t find a gear on the back of the bike that would stick. I managed to sort of correct this using the barrel adjuster but this meant I lost my bottom gear for the rest of the ride.
Bit of Progress
Attempting to chase back on for the third time I puked up some revolting salmon in my mouth.
I was considering packing at this point. This was my fourth ride (out of 4) on the Parlee that had been compromised by mechanical gremlins; loose handlebars, dodgy chain and now front and rear mech problems.
I managed to catch up with PaulS in the end and I decided that I would carry on the ride; I was tempted to ditch out and do the shorter ride and head home early.
We were in a good little group with a terrific rider in Giant kit and a wicked looking new Giant bike. We all worked well together (within reason!) and made it to the middle feed station.
Despite still feeling ropey I was cycling OK. On a long 6% drag I put about 200 metres into the group, not intentionally as such, but just setting a good steady pace. I considered riding off but thought better of it.
Soon after we were faced with a Range Rover driving on the wrong side of the road heading directly for us. “He will turn, he will turn, he will turn”. Jesus fucking Christ. He didn’t. I was second wheel, PaulS third. The chap at the front of the group braked and headed for the gutter, I followed suit. PaulS braked but to avoid an overlap of wheels pulled out a fraction to be whacked on the shoulder by the wing mirror of the Range Rover. We were in a state of disbelief.
PaulS managed to stay on the bike somehow and pulled over. His shoulder in a right mess. The idiot stopped about 100m down the road and made several contradictory statements about why he nearly killed us. I can only guess at what happened. He must have seen us. I think he was trying to shake us up a little and misjudged it. That’s about as innocent an explanation I can find. Either way it was fucking ridiculous.
PaulS was amazing actually. How he managed to handle the situation so calmly and stoically I’ll never know. This even extended to some well-judged comedy pointing at that it could have been so much worse; the Parlee could have been damaged! A first aider, then an ambulance and the police turned up. PaulS ended up going to hospital to be checked out and fortunately (and incredibly) nothing was broken.
Better finish the ride…
With little motivation I decided to carry on – I had no choice anyway. All hopes of a top 10 were gone but in fairness the mechanicals had probably done for me anyhow. I slowly got back into the ride and actually finished quite strongly. Working with the chap from Giant was fine until another climb came along and my chain came off again. I had to manage a bit of cramp but nothing too serious. I motored up the Bwlych and then bombed back into Pencoed.
The teething problems aside the Parlee with the Zipps was simply awesome on the run-in to the finish.
Shitty, frustrating day in summary. I managed 6hr08 but taking off my stationary time and adjusting for mechanicals I would have scraped a top 10, or 11. On a better day without misfortune I probably could have made another place or two. My time was also 10 minutes quicker than last year but minor consolation frankly.
AndyC did really well placing 7th which is awesome. DaveM rolled in at 6hr17 – a good hard ride.
The route was well-signed and the support and marshalling seemed pretty decent. The food stations always draw criticism but I thought there were OK this year. The timing chip in the number was genius.
Pictures to follow perhaps. Though pictures of me covered in oil don’t really appeal!
Finally got my bike all sorted. Should have gone for a decent set of wheels in the first place.
The brilliant mechanic at Bespoke also sorted out my “noisy gears” problem; it turned out to be neither the rear mech or the hub, but the SRAM chain. Replacing it with a KMC number fixed the problem.
It might have been psychological but I think this might have improved the downshifting problem I was moaning on about last week too.