Category Archives: General

Paris – Roubaix

It’s been a long time since my last blog post and a lot as been happening on the cycling front so time for a series of updates – starting with the first event of the season, Paris – Roubaix.

Paris – Roubaix, the Hell of the North, one of the five monuments of cycling. The words conjure up images in my mind of mud covered cyclists attacking over bone shaking cobbles with crashes and broken bones commonplace. So it was with some trepidation that I began scanning the weather forecast with a week to go, looking for the faintest glimpse of sun and a following wind.

The Paris – Roubaix Challenge takes place the day before the pro race of the same name. Whilst the pros cover a staggering 260km, we were only riding for 173km. However that included all 28 sections of pave, or cobblestones for those from the UK. These sections of cobbled tracks criss cross the countryside in the North East of France. There are 28 sections of cobbles numbered from 28 down to one. They range from 300m to 3.7km and are graded from 1 to 5 stars depending on their quality (read – depth and pain causing qualities).

I was doing this event with Neil from work and my two cousins, Ian and Simon. We left on Friday afternoon and headed down to the tunnel and over to France. So far the weather was good and the forecast equally so. Staying overnight in Douai, we did the obligatory bike fettling and beer then headed out for a feed. I’m trying to go overboard on the carbo-loading pre race but I still managed to eat what can only be described as a Calzone pizza with a steak in the middle!

The morning of the race started with a wake up call at 4:15am. Why can’t these things start late like the pros do? Driving down to the start it was really misty, damp and cold too. Kit choice for the day: arm and leg warmers, Assos shorts, Mavic top with a Gore-tex waterproof to keep the damp out. The start was very low-key. It was a staggered start so there were not thousands of riders all milling around. Timing chips and race numbers were acquired and fastened to the bikes.

After being promised by my cousins that we’d be going at a steady pace between the cobbles we promptly set off at a pretty fast pace. Visibility was around 50m and the mist was dripping of bars and noses. It seemed like a normal ride, just with a bigger group than normal. Half an hour later that all changed.

Nothing can prepare you for the first section of cobbles. You see the sign coming up and everyone gets a bit nervous and the speed increases. Then you hit them. Bang, you put power down that you know can only last 5 minutes and then the rattling causes you to lose vision. Your mind tells you it will be impossible for the bike to take this. It goes on and on and on. Then it ends and you are left looking around wandering WTF just happened. Did I really ride across that without suspension, on a super stiff carbon race bike. Wow!

The next three hours is just a blur of fast roads, rattling across cobbles and a massive grin appearing on my face. An altercation with a muddy puddle followed by a swift over the handlebars into a nettle bush cannot dampen my enjoyment. Even the puncture that follows soon after due to a bit of adrenaline fueled pace is met with a rapid change of inner tube.

After about 3 ½ hours you hit the Arenberg Trench. This is the first five star section of pave. By this time the sun was out and it was a glorious day. Hundreds of camper vans were parked up as we swept down the hill towards the entrance at some speed. Fortunately for us there are some barriers nearly all the way across so your speed is slowed as you enter the section. The pro’s have no such worries and hit the section at upwards of 60 km/h. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

The pain in your legs as you put down as much power as you can is overwhelmed by the pain in your arms as you desperately seek out a smooth line. A futile exercise, there isn’t one. Up ahead I see Ian. I’m surprised as he should be way ahead on this section. Looks like he had an off straight into the wire fence. The damage did not look good.

We regrouped at the end and took pictures in the sunlight whilst someone oiled my chain and told me it needed replacing. It then came to me that this was one of the finest bike events I’d ever done. The atmosphere, the history, the pain of the pave. What a ride. I will never forget that 10 minutes of going across ‘the trench’.

But we were only half way through. It was getting more and more difficult for Neil and I to chase back onto the wheel of Ian and Simon after each section. Then a mechanical meant we were down to three. My original aim was to try and stick with Ian and Simon for four hours then crack as they disappeared into the dusty distance. When we got to 5.5 hours in I realised I was going to be with them to the end. This was a major achievement for me and proof that the hard miles over the winter had paid off.

Before we knew it we were in the outskirts of Roubaix with the speed rising as we all prepared for the sprint finish. Coming out onto the Velodrome was awesome. So many people were there cheering us on. It was a fantastic way to finish. It didn’t matter that we’d been cycling for 6 hours 50 minutes. We all started sprinting like we were Mark Cavendish. All that was left to do was collect our medals, take the obligatory finish line photo and get a beer. Yes a sportive event with a bar at the end. It doesn’t get better than that.

Warm up events

Other Events in 2014

Just the act of entering the Haute Route in 2014 meant that this became a year of focussing on cycling. Events have conspired to make this not just a year of cycling but a year of only cycling (albeit with the odd ski holiday thrown in). Whilst the Haute Route was the first event entered, a number of other entries and ballots have all come good so now it looks like a packed diary of events. In order, the current schedule looks like this:

April 12th: Paris – Roubaix
May 11th: The Fred Whitton
June 1st: Chilterns 100
June 8th: The Dragon Ride
August 10th: Ride London 100
August 24th – 30th: Haute Route

That's a packed schedule! However I think I've got it about right, through luck rather than judgement mind. I've got a number of events fairly early in the year to get some more experience doing long, hard sportives. Then I've got a good period of time with nothing on to recover from the early season and do some hard climbing miles in prep for August. Then a tune up race a couple of weeks before the main event. Let's go into the races in more detail and talk about my goals for them.

Paris – Roubaix. Hell of the North. I'm really excited about this race. This will be my first effort at a sportive linked to one of the five monuments of cycling. One day I'd like to do all of them so this is a good start. My aim is just to get round. I want to enjoy the event, the cobbles, the whole atmosphere of it, but I'm not targetting it as an event I'm training up for and am going to taper off for. It will be just another long training ride, albeit a tough, long and hellish one.

The Fred Whitton. Pain and suffering. Surely this is the most difficult one day sportive in the UK? Anything that has Hardnott and Wrynose pass after 100 miles has to be up there with the really difficult ones, and given the numbers that apply for entry it's a difficult one to get into. This is my major spring target. The training plan is going to involve a lot of steep intervals in the 8 weeks leading up to the Fred. I grew up going on holiday here many easters and bank holidays. It always reminds me of my dad so it will be great to go up there and take this on. My target is sub 8 hours. If I can hit that, or near enough, then I think I'm well on track for later on in the year.

The Chilterns 100. I've been roped into this one by Hal. Should be a fun ride but coming a week before the Dragon Ride I'm using this as a long training ride. It will be a good test of how I've recovered from the Fred.

The Dragon Ride. I've done this before back in 2009. It's a really tough ride. I' doing the 158km ride with my mate, other Neil, and my cousins (although they have opted for the 225km ride). The route has changed since I last did it but I still expect a day of cross winds, narrow welsh lanes and brutal climbs that are almost alpine like (the Bwlch anyone?). Similar to the Chilterns 100, I'm not targetting this as a major event of the year. A good, long, training ride in the Welsh hills.

Ride London/Surrey 100. I'd forgotten I'd entered this. Out of the blue about 3 weeks ago I got a letter through the door saying I was successful at getting in. With 24,000 people riding this in 2014 it is going to be the biggest event of the year for me in terms of participants. It's a fairly flat course with just 3 or 4 short sharp climbs. Simon did this last year and finished 7 minutes behind the winner. If I can finish within an hour of the winner I'll be amazingly happy. However this is just two weeks before the Haute Route, my training should be hitting a peak before tapering off. I've got a lot of recovery time afterwords. So I can aim to hit this full gas. Let's see how close to Simon's time I can get!

Then it is two weeks of tapering and recovering so I can hit Geneva in the form of my life. That's the plan anyway.

The one thing that does occur to me on reading all of this and understanding the amount of cycling I'm doing this year, is what an understanding and supportive wife I have. Let's hope she's still that understanding come August. It will be fantastic to have her there at the finish line to welcome me across.

Finally Some Sun

Finally some sun and a ride with no floods

At long last we seem to being seeing an end to the miserable weather that has been the English winter so far. My ride on Sunday was actually sunny! It made such a pleasant change from the gale force winds an driving rain that was my ride home from work on Saturday.

Mind you, it was still very cold and windy. So cold I had finally had enough of feet like blocks of ice. So I went and bought these:

The weather will, undoubtedly, change for the better now. You can all thank me in advance.

Meanwhile, weekday training is very much focused on the turbo trainer. I'm trying to build up as much base as I can before the first event of the season so I'm focussing on aerobic endurance levels for an hour with one 2×20 tempo session a week. My all out 20 ,impute effort has not shown any improvement, mainly due to the first repeat benign done when I was I'll and the second repeat being done in miserable cold wet weather which was less than motivating. However at endurance and tempo levels I have seen around a 10-20 watt increase for the same perceived effort. Two weeks to go before a holiday so I'll push on through and test again properly when I'm back. Then it's only two weeks to Paris – Roubaix, the aforementioned first event of the season.

Blogging Workflow

How I do my blog postings (or testing out image posting using Editorial.app)

As well as being a part-time amateur cyclist I'm also a bit of a geek (those who know me may say that is an understatement). So from time to time I shall deviate from the cycling topics and post about some nerdery or other. Today I'm going to write about my workflow for creating and posting a blog entry. Mainly so I can try out the image loading workflow.

Let's start with hardware. I'm a mac user. Have been for nine years now. I find I'm more productive on OS X than in windows. For me that's down to the ability to automate all the ways of working a lot easier. I'll talk about that in some depth in a later post. So in terms of writing a blog post its either the MacBook/iMac it it's the iPad. When I sat down and started thinking about this blog I wanted to see how well an iPad couch be used for content creation, FTP uploading etc etc. So I've exclusively used the iPad so far.

My geek research also led me to look into using Markdown as a way of simple text formatting that can easily be converted to HTML without me needing to learn HTML code. It works across platform should I decide to use something other than my iPad and as the actual documents are human readable text files it makes it easy for me to manage.

Now on to the software. This is the key part of the workflow. I'm using an app called Editorial. At first glance this is a nice text editor. A clutter free screen, support for Markdown, preview mode and a built in browser. The magic part is it's automation support. It has a range of built in actions and can run python scripts for more advanced workflows. Go to the website and there is a user library of workflows and scripts available to download and install. I have used a few of these to create a simple yet effective blog posting workflow. Text is written in the editor. Websites I want to link to can be found in the browser then an action auto creates a link in the post. When I'm ready to publish, another action takes care if connecting to my website and posting it to the WordPress engine running there. I've now found an action that should allow me to insert images and links and upload it all to the website. So here's a random picture!

Its a few friends of mine at a recent trip to Coed Y Brenin.

I've barely scratched the surface of what can be done with Editorial. I'll try and uncover some new uses over the coming months and talk about them here.

Next post will see normal service resume with some biking talk.

Goals and Targets

Goals and Targets

In this post I want to talk about the goals I have for the Haute Route and the targets I think I need to hit in order to achieve those goals.

Ususally my goal when taking part in the Etape, or Grand Raid, has been to make it to the finish. That hasn't give me a good target to aim at and as a result my training has been a little haphazard. This time I want to make sure I have some clear goals and to understand what performance levels I think I'll need to achieve those goals.

My first aim is to finish. I want to make sure I get that finishers medal! However I want to do better than just drag myself to the end each day just in front of the broom wagon. So I've set myself the target of finishing inside the top 2/3. If there are 600 people taking part I need to finish 400 or above.

What does that mean? How fast do I need to be in order to achieve that goal? I decided to look at the results from 2012 (as that most closely resembles the route for 2014). From that I looked at a number of the climbs, including ones at the start of a day, at the end of a day and for the ITT. I did some analysis on the times taken for the 2/3 finisher against the total ascent for the climb. From that you can work out the VAM (average rate of ascent/hour). VAM has a direct correlation to w/kg. That gives me a target w/kg and, given where I think my weight will be, a target power output.

The ascent figures and average gradients were taken from www.climbbybike.com so there may well be some innaccuracy on the actual figures but it should be good enough to give me an idea. Where the values look totally wrong I have ignored them. I do realise that this is a very rough approximation and if anyone has any better way of figuring this out then I'm all ears.

Here are the results (using 368th as the 2/3 postion):

Day 3
Col de la Madeleine (first climb of the day)
Time: 2:06:23
VAM: 733
w/kg: 2.78

Alpe D'Huez (last climb of the day)
Time: 1:40:15
VAM: 641
w/kg: 2.28

Day 4 (ITT)
Alpe D'Huez
Time: 1:14:32
VAM: 863
w/kg: 3.07

Day 5
Col D'Izoard (first climb of the day)
Time: 1:40:10
VAM: 684
w/kg: 2.66

Day 6
Col de Vars (first climb of the day)
Time: 1:30:49
VAM: 734
w/kg: 2.86

Cime de la Bonnette (second climb of the day)
Time: 2:12:32
VAM: 720
w/kg: 2.71

I can now start to see some targets. Power output of 2.3 – 2.8 w/kg needs to be done for 3 x 1.5 – 2hr blocks each day. Assuming the ITT is done just sub threshold then my threshold power will need to be about 3.2 – 3.3 w/kg. So I'm setting my targets as follows:
Upper endurance level (repeatable for 3x2hr blocks in a day): 2.5 w/kg
Tempo (1×1.5hr block once a nomal day): 2.9 w/kg
Threshold (just below this in one single effort): 3.2 w/kg

This also fits with a lot of power models which suggest that endurance is 55% – 75% of FTP, Tempo is 85% – 90% of FTP.

My target weight is 65kg. So my target wattage is going to be.
Upper Endurance – 162w
Tempo – 190w
Threshold – 210w

The power meter arrives next week. Time to start measuring and focussing my training.

Haute Route – course confirmed

Haute Route 2014 – route announced

So this was going to be a post about my goals for the Haute Route but I'll have to come back to that. Earlier on today the route for the 2014 edition was announced on their website – HR 2014 Route

Initial thoughts…. blimey. A double ascent of Alpe D'Huez, the Madeleine, and Mont Ventoux. I didn't expect that one to be on there. I don't know whether to be delighted or afraid. I've done Ventoux once before and it was a dark, painful place.

It also looks like an Haute Route of two halves. The first three days feature the bulk of the climbing but no stage longer than the 130's in km. The second half features longer stages with less climbing and the looming spectre of Mont Ventoux. Splitting the course in two is the time trial up Alpe D'Huez. My first reaction was that the first half is the more difficult one but on reflection they both look pretty painful. Day two and three involve a total of 8500m of climbing, nearly the height of Mt Everest. However day five and six involve a total of 347km of cycling, all on the back of the time trial up the Alpe.

This will mean some interesting things for both training and kit choice. I think this years edition was much more about all out climbing. Next year will involve both climbing and distance. Finishing inside the time limits will involve being able to keep the pace up as well as hitting good VAM numbers.

Big question is, do the long days with less climbing in the second half of the course justify a set of carbon aero wheels? Actually that decision might be down to the wife!

The Beginning

This is how it usually starts. A text or an email comes through.

This is the forth, maybe fifth time. The first was back in 2008. 'We've signed up for a mountain bike race. Are you in?' Of course I was. The Grand Raid Cristalp 2008 was a brutal day in the mountains. Nearly as brutal as the training that preceded it.

Over the following years it was like being in a curry house with the boys. Every selection had to be harder longer stronger than before. 2009, the Etape du Tour – Montelimar to Mont Ventoux. 2011, the Etape du Tour – Issoire to St Fleur (yes the wet cold one). 2012, the Maratona Dles Dolomites and a repeat on the Grand Raid Cristalp.

Then the text came through…

Message
Thu 19 Sep 10:59
Signed up for Haute Route last night. You know what you've gotta do…

So here I am 6 weeks later. Three of us have signed up to do the Haute Route Alps. It's going to involve a lot of training, dieting, kit purchasing and general pain and suffering. This blog will chart my journey and hopefully see me arriving on the start line in Geneva on 24th August 2014.