Haute Route 2013

Like the Etape du Tour years before, I’ll attempt to record, in some coherent way, my journey towards the Next Big Thing – ‘The Toughest and Highest Cyclosportive in the World’. Gulp. To make it more readable, new posts will appear below, so it can be read like a story. Enjoy it…someone has to!

August 20, 2012. Last year I discovered a new sportive / gran fondo-type race called the Haute Route (and wrote about it here) and Coach Rob, relisher of all things physically painful, apparently got stuck on the idea. Over the last year, while I’m sure the thought was germinating in his brain, I would get the odd reference to the Haute Route from him in his emails. Then, as this year’s event got closer, I couldn’t take it anymore and asked him how serious he was about doing it anyway. The answer was ‘99.99999%’, which is (apart from being many, many ‘9’s), quite serious indeed.

To be honest, I wasn’t considering the race quite yet, mainly because I figured that I’m living here anyway and can do it anytime, plus I already had one crazy objective in mind for 2013. In addition, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do such a monster of a race…

2012 Race Statistics Intermission

  • 7 timed Stages (i.e. 7 days), including an ITT up Alpe d’Huez
  • 780km of riding, from Geneva, Switzerland to Nice, France
  • 21,000 meters of climbing, over some of the most famous cols in France

…but then it dawned on me that I’d already done a Ventoux Triple and two Etapes du Tour this year and that, maybe, just maybe, I could participate in this madness. I got back to Rob with my ‘95.55555%’, which quickly mounted as I got more excited about it, and I think I’m around his many, many 9s now, too.

But the clincher for all this is the fact that, as you know, Rob and I are actually family, but have only ever met once (last year in Nice). Because of geography and other inconveniences we won’t have many opportunities to get to know each other. And what better way to bond than a 7-day sufferance (OK, don’t answer that. I can also think of a few better ways..)!?

Incidentally, this year’s event just started on the shores of Lake Geneva yesterday. The Haute Route has a clean and interactive site and you can ‘watch’ the stages as they progress (probably only interesting if you know someone in the race, but it’s there).

Here is a video from last year’s race:

And a short preview of this year’s, complete with dramatic Lord of the Rings-style music score:

So, there you have it. I’ve made it official (till I decide to delete this post!). With a little help from Rob’s 2013 training program and my winter knee injections, this time next year I’ll be grunting over the Alps, probably wondering what evil spirit had possessed me when I made this decision!

November 5, 2012. After much back and forth and name calling (of the team, not each other), we think we have settled on one for our Haute Route team – Team Vicious Cycle. The name, I believe, speaks to you on several levels, if you let it, and has the correct ‘bad-ass/humor’ ratio, making our team serious and not at the same time.

We threw out some pretty good names, too, which I’d like to share with you. Team 53:11 (chucked because we thought people would look it up in the Bible…), Team No Finish Line (much loved by a few of us, but simply crushed when Vicious popped up), Team InterAlpineTeam Virtual WheelalityTeam Slow Twitch, and Team Cyclepath, all showed up on the radar along the way.

Also, since I first introduced Team No Name in August, we’ve had a few changes. Most of the original crew are here, but a few have have fallen by the wayside, bringing in ChrisPaul and Ed.

Some fun facts about Team Vicious Cycle:

  1. Ireland, Canada and The Carolinas are well represented.
  2. Much to my chagrin, so is the male gender.
  3. Average age = 40 (thanks, Mark, for bringing this one down!), age range = 31 years

______________________________________

  • Name: Mark McKillop
  • Age: 29
  • Nationality: Irish
  • Place of Residence: Reading, UK

Why am I riding Haute Route: Because I love climbing and pain – why else 🙂

______________________________________

  • Name: Aaron West
  • Age: 40
  • Nationality: US
  • Place of Residence: Columbia, SC

My website: http://www.steepclimbs.com.

______________________________________
  • Name:  Wes Bruner
  • Age:  50
  • Nationality: American
  • Place of residence:  Columbia, SC

Why are you riding Haute Route?  For me, it will be the challenge of a lifetime.  How could I possibly not accept such a challenge?

______________________________________

  • Name: Ed Hudson
  • Age: 60
  • Nationality: American
  • Place of Residence: Columbia, SC
  • Brief Background: Brief Background: Biking forever, other sports windsurfing and almost anything automobile related, an engineer that went into medicine

Why are you riding the Haute Route?  I had been looking for a way to do the classic climbs and this not only simplifies the logistics but also more importantly gives you a group of enthusiasts to share the experience.

______________________________________

  • Name: Paul Armfield
  • Age: 38
  • Nationality: American
  • Place of Residence: Winston-Salem, NC

Why are you riding the Haute Route? Climbing is my forte and what I enjoy most.  That, and the fact that I consider the Haute Route a “bucket list” experience, are the two main reasons that I want to do it.  The biggest challenge, I think, will be doing so many massive climbs on consecutive days.

______________________________________

  • Name:  Brad Wilfley
  • Age: 41
  • Nationality:  Canadian
  • Place of residence:  Calgary, Canada

Why are you riding Haute Route?  Mostly because it’s been a couple of years since I had a season goal for riding which makes motivation a bit hard.  This will eliminate any issues with motivation…I’m already working on my training plan for next year – hill repeats on Highwood Pass (Canada’s highest paved road) figure a lot in my future, as do a lot of long, boring days on a trainer.

______________________________________

  • Name: Chris McCarthy
  • Age: 43
  • Nationality: American
  • Place of Residence:  Columbia, SC

Why are you riding the Haute Route? I’ve done many mountain centuries and want a larger challenge.  Besides The riding in the Alps looks amazing!

______________________________________

  • NameRobert Armstrong
  • Age: 56
  • Nationality: Canadian
  • Place of residence: Calgary, Alberta

Blog: www.nofinishlineblog.com

______________________________________

  • Name: Gerry Patterson
  • Age: 44
  • Nationality: Canadian
  • Place of residence: Nîmes, France

Why are you riding the Haute Route? My coach told me to!

Again, I am amazed at the speed at which the empty spots were filled up, given our humble cycling network. Aaron takes much of the credit here, since those who stepped up were from his neck of the woods and found by him.

We can all look forward to a winter of indoor trainers and old TdF videos, but at least we’ll have 8 others (who’ll understand) to complain to now.

Coming Soon – Team Kit!

November 6, 2012. Don’t tell my coach, but today was my first real ride in over 3 weeks. Suffice it to say it was an easy ride. Need proof? I was passed by a guy with a handlebar bag – not dropped, mind you, but passed nonetheless.

Today’s ride was a bit of a test as well. I’m going to make a few adjustments to my set-up this winter and continuing to get more aggressive in my seating position is the first up. Therefore, utilizing my newly-found skills as a ‘wrench’ I deftly popped off my stem to take out the last remaining spacer on my steerer tube. The result is this:

The vertical distance between the top of my handlebars and the top of my saddle is now around 8.5 cm, which is, according the Competitive Cyclist…competitive. It is also as low as I can go, so if I want to get more aero I need to get a longer stem. Given that the Haute Route is mostly up or down I don’t think I need to go all ‘wind-tunnel’ crazy anyway. Still, it’s a fun project.

Nearly as soon as I headed out for my ride I felt the new position in my neck and mid-back. Nothing too much, but I’m glad I gave myself the winter to get accustomed to it. Incredible how half a centimeter can affect you..or me at least.

November 13, 2013. As I was struggling up the little mountain behind Nîmes today, I got to thinking about being slow and how that would affect my bragging rights after finishing the Haute Route next summer. Then I remembered – it’s all about The Cut-Off.

You see, each stage of the Haute Route has a cut-off time, just like a professional stage race. The difference is that, with the HR, you don’t get your ass booted out of the race. You DO however get erased from the list of overall finishers, i.e. you won’t be ranked (shudder..). I’ve read a few accounts of riders not making the cut (18% this year) and most seemed to take if philosophically, which is admirable, but something I think I’d rather not have to be philosophical about, if you get me. When I got back from my ride I needed to get to the bottom of this, so did a little research.

For the cut-off it seems as if the organizers are going with 15 kph for most stages and 17 kph for ‘easy’ ones. Now, you really have to know what you can do in very mountainous races for this to mean anything because obviously your average speed in a flat or rolling gran fondo will be much higher than one of the monsters that await us in the Alps.

Good thing I’ve done an Etape du Tour or three. In my first Etape last year, I managed a respectable (if I don’t say so myself) 2037th place out of over 8000, I think. My average speed was 19.28 kph. 

Then, after a year of Coach Rob’s punishment (aka the training program) I finished 585th out of around 4000 in my 2nd Etape of the year – with an average of 23 kph. The stats are to give you an idea of where an average speed MIGHT put a person within the standings of a big international event.

I feel much better now, of course, but there is one small problem with projecting these Etape averages onto the Haute Route – the Etapes were one-offs, meaning I could bury myself completely and not have to worry about the following day (other than driving home, which was painful enough). In the Haute Route – 7 consecutive Etapes, more or less – the trick will be to pace yourself, I suppose, or be in such awesome shape that you can take a week of ‘full on’.

All the nitty gritty is ahead of me and I’m very fortunate to have a roommate like Coach Rob to do much of the thinking for me. For now, I shall rest easy and train hard and hope that I didn’t make any errors in my calculations above. 

November 20, 2012. It hit me today that I work much better if I have a clear idea of what I’m working towards, and that I should probably make myself an objective for this race (‘finishing’ is so 2011…). Therefore, I spent the last hour working on my but (goal, in French).

I remember from my manager days in Tokyo that my buts should be SMART. Although I don’t remember what each letter stands for I am pretty sure the first one is ‘Specific’. Well, if it’s not ‘finishing’ then I need a number, right? Right. So here’s what I did.

I found the Haute Route results from this year and copied names of riders, starting near the top…just in case, and pasted them into the Etape du Tour Act One results search from the month before. Amazingly, I got a bunch of hits, i.e. there were many riders who did both races this year. This isn’t surprising, I think, since the Etape would be perfect training for the HR. Anyway, I went down the list till I hit a few riders from the Etape who had similar rankings as mine and came up with what I think could be called a semi-scientific idea of what my imaginary ranking would have been in this year’s Haute Route:

180th place and 8 hours down on the 1st place finisher (Peter Pouly – 8th in the Etape incidentally).

So, now that I had a place to start, I factored in the following to finalize my but:

  1. I bonked badly on that Etape, so the ‘real’ me would have done better.
  2. I should be stronger next year…theoretically.
  3. This race is breaking the bank. I need some results.

Then I looked at time, instead of ranking, and randomly figured that I should be able to take 2 hours over 7 days off the above imaginary time that never happened. That’s a mere 17 minutes a stage.

This brought me down to 111th place and 6 hours down on the winner.

But of course, if you’re going to set your goal for 111th place you might as well just knock off 11 more and make it an even 100. But then, if it’s 100 I suppose the obvious thing would be to bring it down to double digits, since it looks so much faster.

Therefore, let the interwebs know, my but for next year’s Haute Route is 99th place (or lower, hrumph..)! 

November 29, 2012. I really didn’t have the time to do this, but the other day I found myself looking around the Haute Route site and came across a series of ‘subjects’ on training, written by a couple of different French experts of some sort. I thought, since writing blog articles about sweat puddles under my turbo trainer can only be so interesting, I’d reproduce the subjects and see what can be taken away.

Subject 1: Prepare yourself for the Haute Route
Jean-Baptiste WIROTH – PhD
Fonder of WTS – The Coaching Company®
http://www.wts.fr – contact@wts.fr

“ Everything depends in the objective”

In coaching, “everything depends in the objective”.
The characteristics of the goal will affect the substance of your training.

How to prepare yourself?

As the Haute Route is an alpine cyclosportive, you have to follow a specific training regime physiologically, technically and psychologically to reach the cols and stages in the best possible condition.

You are under unusual stress in mountain. The intensity of effort is sustained and the phases of recovery are minimal when cycling uphill. The way you are pedaling is different. The body cools when cycling downhill, thus contributing to elevated energy expenditure and reduced muscle efficiency.

The sequence of stages does not enable you to recover completely, especially since every finish is at altitude!

What seems important to us:

– Optimize your body weight. This point is fondamental. The steeper the slope is, the more significative the gain from weight loss is.

– Improve your endurance climb. The effort is sustained and intensive during a climb, especially in the mythical cols used by the Haute Route. It is therefore essential to be able to ride well with sustained power without getting in the red.

– Know how to recover effectively when cycling downhill between ascents.

– Train your body to recover quickly to your effort is maintained from one stage to another without problems. This will require mastering the techniques of recovery and avoiding mistakes!

– Adjust yourself to the altitude to avoid being troubled at the summits of cols which are at an altitude higher than 2000m and to recover efficiently from one stage to another.

Nice and concise. Here are a few notes/questions. Comments/answers much appreciated:

1. Why do you expend more energy as the body cools down on descents? I don’t quite understand that one, although I think I should.

2. It goes without saying, but the ‘weight optimizing’ point is well taken! This, I’ve noticed, is absolutely crucial when doing long, steep climbs, and every 100 grams counts.

3. The comment about ‘sustained power’ is also a great one and, from the little experience I have with these things, something many don’t realize till they do a 15 km climb that has no respite at all. There’s really nothing like it.

4. How can we ‘recover effectively when cycling downhill’? Eat? Pedal? I usually can’t do either!

5. He has more on this later, but the ‘recovery between stages’ thing is going to be huge. Coach Rob is already putting lots of brain power into this one, but truthfully, I can’t imagine myself not having one or two bad days with so much constant climbing.

6. Altitude is never a problem with me, at least in the Alps, but I’ve seen people affected at not much over 2000 meters before. It’s a valid point.

December 4, 2012. Coach Rob and I have been talking ‘shoes’ recently, after he bought a new pair for the Haute Route next summer.

sworks-shoes

If you think these are red, wait till you see his bike! Anyway, these shoes are only 221 grams each, a ‘full’ 79 grams lighter than mine. It got me thinking of implementing yet another fun and expensive weight-loss program for my Bianchi and me.

So, to start with, it’s obvious I’ve got around 150 grams to gain in footwear. I can probably get these shoes (or something similar) for €300, so €2/gram.

The shoes I’ll think more about, but the saddle is changing, no question. I’m still riding the stock seat that came with the Infinito, which is unacceptable and far too cushy for an elite event like the Haute Route. I haven’t decided on the saddle yet, but here’s one I’ve got my eye on: the Fi’zi:k Antares 00, in the future to be known as ‘the thing that makes my ass hurt all the time’. Damage = €235. Savings = 124 grams, or €1.90/gram.

02

The most obvious ways to lose weight on a bike are:

  1. Change the frame itself (I can’t do this yet without risking marital harmony significantly).
  2. Upgrade the wheel set (done this year)
  3. Ditto for the transmission (accomplished with the wheels)

So I need to look more closely for those extra grams I’m carrying around.

keoblade-ti_f_1

This pedal (Look KEO Blade Ti) would save a whopping 80 grams, but more importantly, I think, give me a much large surface area for more efficient transfer of power (notice the justifications starting to come out already…), not to mention more stiffness than my Look Classics have. €245. €3/gram.

I’d be curious to hear what anyone else has to say on the matter (as long as you keep the ‘lose weight, fatty’ comments to yourselves). Weight weenies, shower us with your knowledge!

December 7, 2013

sitelogo2To continue my in-depth study of Haute Route’s advice on race preparation, I have carefully copied and pasted most of the words you see below. The tips come from a former pro who rode for AG2R (ahh jzey due air) -a guy who probably knows what he’s talking about – something novel for this blog.

Subject 2: How to prepare your bike for the Haute Route?
Christophe ORIOL
Former professional cyclist – Team AG2R
http://www.wts.fr – contact@wts.fr

As the Haute Route start approaches, you might wish to make some changes to the set up of your bike in order to switch it into “mountain mode”. You shouldn’t need to change your riding position specifically because the geometry of your frame should be set up for your body. If you want to refine your position for the Haute Route, choose a compromise between comfort and performance.

You should also consider the choice of your gear ratios: depending on your level and on your preference, you could choose a compact gear (50/34 or 36) or triple (52/39/30). The classic gear (53/39) is generally restricted to top performers.  This choice has implications on the choice of your cassette. It is necessary to have regular gears and to always be able to find the right gear for the slope.

If you want to improve the weight of your bike, a good place to start is to consider changing your wheels. Good wheels could significantly improve the performance of your bike.  For mountain riding, go for light wheels, with a low inertia: these will give you the best performance up the cols.
You can also improve your bike by reducing the weight of your accessories (crankset, stem, handlebar, seatpost…). Weight is the biggest enemy of your ascent!

Choose tyres or tubes for your wheels according to your preference! If you opt for the tubes, pay particular attention to the bonding process because your downhill safety depends on it. Make sure your brake pads are in exceptional condition (and make sure you have special pads for carbon rims).

It is also important to choose a saddle that feels comfortable for riding all day long, and  for riding for several consecutive days without causing problems. Try several saddles to find the one that suits you best.

We also advise that you have your bike checked by a professional mechanic before the start. He will look over all the safety points and refine your settings, giving you extra peace of mind that your bike is in good condition and up to the task.
Don’t forget to bring your repair kit (tire levers, tubes, pump, chain drift…).

You should make any changes to your bike a while before the Haute Route starts, in order to give yourself plenty of time to test, run in and adapt to the new settings and modify further if necessary. Avoid getting to the Haute Route start line with new equipment, shoes or bib-shorts for example which may be uncomfortable or injure you.

Comments/Questions

  1. I’m new to thinking about gearing, but I do know it’s important. I’ve got a 50/34, which I think will be just enough for the climbing. I’ve got one friend here who rides a 53/39 (he, of course, kicked my ass in this year’s Etape), which I can’t imagine trying to use on even one long, steep climb, let alone 20 or so of them.My teammates on Team Vicious Cycle have various combinations of the compact, with ranges from 11 to 32 for the cassette. Then (there’s always one in every crowd) there’s one guy who will go with a normal set-up, but possibly look for a hybrid, like a 52/36.
  2. I’m glad M. Oriol concurs with the rest of the world on the issue of weight and climbing. It makes me feel better…but a small part of me wants to believe otherwise (it’s the same part of me that likes beer, I think).
  3. The saddle comment is good, too. Maybe I should think about sacrificing weight for comfort a little. There aren’t many things worse than a bruised bum, especially when you know you have to use it for a week straight.
  4. Another good (but obvious) point about wearing in any new gear/kit you buy before the event. I think I just found one more justification to upgrade now!

If anyone has any comments that our pro has left out, let us know. Thanks.

December 14, 2012. Coach Wiroth is back with us to explain (in a somewhat confusing way, in my opinion) what he calls ‘training overload’. Comments and questions below the article.

sitelogo2Article #3 – How to plan a training overload

Jean-Baptiste WIROTH – PhD
Founder of WTS – The Coaching Company®
http://www.wts.fr – contact@wts.fr

If you want to improve your performance on the bike, it is absolutely necessary to increase your amount of training in a significant way. Overload is of primary importance in order to have perfect fitness during Haute Route!
What is overload?
To create physiological adaptations, you have to stimulate your body with unusual training amounts. This is called overload. If you are accustomed to train 10 hours per week, you will do a significant overload if you train for 12 to 15 hours.

Keep in mind that overload is one of 5 main principles of training. The others are progressiveness, training/recovery, specificity and individualization.

Overload and super-compensation
To be efficient, a training session should stimulate the body and create fatigue. During the rest period that follows training, the body adapts and develops new capabilities. This period of super-compensation is always transitory. If someone makes an intense training session (3 hours) on Sunday morning, the period of super-compensation will begin on Wednesday and will finish 24 to 48 hours later.

When overload should be planned?
Before answering this question, it is important to remind that a season is cut in 5 periods that succeed in a logical and progressive way.
1- Global preparation
2- Base period who is an optimal period to try to improve its weak points
3- Build period (PPS) which includes the first races
4- Peak period where the best fitness should be achieved
5- Recovery period

For an athlete who trains for Haute Route, it is recommended to plan one overload week during each training period. During the last period before the race, it is recommended to stop overloads around 2 to 3 weeks before the race.

July is the most important month for someone who trains for Haute Route!
Example of periodization

Notes/Comments

  1. Firstly, I’m not sure why this periodization chart starts at Week 9 (this is both a comment and a question..).
  2. As I understand the principle, the last week in a 4-week training period will be harder than the rest. Does this assume that the previous weeks were the same number of hours on the bike then? My program last season was cut into one-month chunks, with each week progressively higher in hours than the previous, then, after a week of recovery, resetting (but at a higher number than the previous period) for ‘week one’ of the next period. In this scenario I wonder where the ‘overload’ is. Still the last week, or just spread out over the month?
  3. This idea of ‘super-compensation’ is, in my mind, crucial for getting stronger. A week of recovery (but continue riding every day) after 4 progressively harder weeks allowed me not only to remain sane and have something to look forward to every 5 weeks, but I’m sure it was invaluable in repairing the damage I did to my body during those 28 days.
  4. The Haute Route must be approached differently than the Etape du Tour, I’m assuming, since it is, essentially, several Etapes strung together over consecutive days. I wonder what others think about the ‘2 to 3 weeks’ comment above. I’m guessing that means that your last peak week of training will be 14 to 21 days before the Haute Route begins, meaning recovery of that long as well. This is 2 to 3 times as long as I did for the two Etapes this year. It seems extreme, but is it because the Haute Route is that much more extreme? Comments very welcome on this one!

Lastly, for your viewing pleasure, I present you a video that has just come out – Haute Route, The Movie! Warning: watch at your own risk. The author shall not be liable for any marital issues resulting from spontaneous Haute Route registrations. 

December 19, 2012. Like cycling’s Grand Tours, Haute Route seems to be trying to mix it up where they can each year, varying the route as much as is practicable. Considering that they need to start and finish in the same towns (Geneva – Nice), plus find accommodation each night for 600 riders, it’s an admirable fact that this year’s route is, according to them, 85% new. Here is the full route map.

general10-01

The week-long race will have:

  • 7 timed stages
  • 866 km of riding
  • 21,000 meters of climbing over 19 ‘legendary’ cols
  • An Individual Time Trial up the highest paved through-road in Europe
  • 3 countries (Switzerland, Italy and France)
  • 2 flat bits – Lake Geneva and the Mediterranean!

GeneralProfilev7-01The 7 Haute Route 2013 stages are:

Stage 1. Sunday 18th August: Geneva to Megeve (149km, 3300m+)
Stage 2. Monday 19th August: Megeve to Val d’Isere (108km, 3400m+)
Stage 3. Tuesday 20th August: Val d’Isere to Serre Chevalier (164km, 3400m+)
Stage 4. Wednesday 21st August: Serre Chevalier to Pra Loup (118km, 3000m+)
Stage 5. Thursday 22nd August: Time trial – Cime de La Bonette (23km, 1560m+)
Stage 6. Friday 23rd August: Pra Loup to Auron (142km, 3800m+)
Stage 7. Saturday 24th August: Auron to Nice (162km, 2900m+)

The organizers have tried (or maybe it just ended up this way) to make each stage more or less really, really, hard, as opposed to this year where some were just really hard, while a few were stupid hard. The result is, as you can see for yourself, 5 stages with over 3000 meters of climbing and one more that might as well be. The only stage with less than 2900 meters of ascent is the time trial up Cime de la Bonette (1560m), which is, in my mind, every bit as hard as Mont Ventoux.

And speaking of famous cols. Here’s the full list:

Col de Joux Plane
• Distance : 13 km
• Elevation : 691 m
• Altitude at the summit : 1691 m
• Average gradient : 6,5 %
• Maximum gradient : 11,1 %

Col du Cormet de Roselend
• Distance : 20 km
• Elevation : 1167 m
• Altitude at the summit : 1967 m
• Average gradient : 6 %
• Maximum gradient : 10 %

Col de l’Iseran
• Distance : 16 km
• Elevation : 930 m
• Altitude at the summit : 2770 m
• Average gradient : 6 %
• Maximum gradient : 8,3 %

Col d’Izoard
• Distance : 19 km
• Elevation : 1156 m
• Altitude at the summit : 2361 m
• Average gradient : 5,7 %
• Maximum gradient : 9,4 %

Col de Vars
• Distance : 20,5 km
• Elevation : 1109 m
• Altitude at the summit : 2109 m
• Average gradient : 5,7 %
• Maximum gradient : 8,7 %

Cime de la Bonette
• Distance : 23,5 km
• Elevation : 1560 m
• Altitude at the summit : 2802 m
• Average gradient : 6,6 %
• Maximum gradient : 9 %

Col de la Cayolle
• Distance : 25,5 km
• Elevation : 1143 m
• Altitude at the summit : 2326 m
• Average gradient : 4,5 %
• Maximum gradient : 8,2 %

Col de St Martin
• Distance : 16,5 km
• Elevation : 1100 m
• Altitude at the summit : 1500 m
• Average gradient : 6,6 %
• Maximum gradient : 7,7 %

Col de l’Encrenaz
• Distance : 15,5 km
• Elevation : 790 m
• Altitude at the summit : 1433 m
• Average gradient :  5 %
• Maximum gradient : 9,8 %

Ascent to Megève
• Distance : 13,5 km
• Elevation : 553 m
• Altitude at the summit : 1104 m
• Average gradient : 4 %
• Maximum gradient : 7,5 %

Col des Saisies
• Distance : 13,5 km
• Elevation : 650 m
• Altitude at the summit : 1650 m
• Average gradient : 4,9 %
• Maximum gradient : 11,1 %

Ascent to Val d’Isère
• Distance : 19 km
• Elevation : 969 m
• Altitude at the summit : 1840 m
• Average gradient : 5,1 %
• Maximum gradient : 8,9 %

Col du Mont Cenis
• Distance : 10,5 km
• Elevation : 663 m
• Altitude at the summit : 2083 m
• Average gradient : 6,5 %
• Maximum gradient : 10,6 %

Col de L’Echelle
• Distance : 13 km
• Elevation : 566 m
• Altitude at the summit : 1762 m
• Average gradient : 4,3 %
• Maximum gradient : 7,9 %

Ascent to Pra Loup
• Distance : 7,5 km
• Elevation : 378 m
• Altitude at the summit : 1598 m
• Average gradient : 5 %
• Maximum gradient : 9,6 %

Col de Valberg
• Distance : 12,5 km
• Elevation : 874 m
• Altitude at the summit : 1672 m
• Average gradient : 6,9 %
• Maximum gradient : 10,2 %

Ascent to Auron
• Distance : 31,5 km
• Elevation : 1103 m
• Altitude at the summit : 1598 m
• Average gradient : 3,5 %
• Maximum gradient : 9,4 %

Col de la Couillole
• Distance : 7,5 km
• Elevation : 239 m
• Altitude at the summit : 1678 m
• Average gradient : 3,2 %
• Maximum gradient : 11,2 %

Col de Vence
• Distance : 16 km
• Elevation : 462 m
• Altitude at the summit : 962 m
• Average gradient : 2,8 %
• Maximum gradient : 6,7 %

I’d be curious to know how others are feeling about this early Christmas present. This route has me shaking a little, but I don’t think it’s anything to do with the route itself – more like the reality of it being finalized. Then again, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We all signed up for ‘The Highest and Toughest Cyclosportive in the World’ (and will pay a relatively small fortune for it to boot), so here’s one masochist who’s happy they’re still delivering.

January 6, 2013. One of the side effects of being a racing cyclist (no that sounds better than it really is…a ‘cyclist who does some races’) is that we don’t talk about ‘years’ anymore, but ‘seasons’. Happily, the ‘season’ has coincided with the ‘year’ so far, at least at one end.

Well, the season has begun and I am nearly fully recovered from my tumble a few days ago. I have done my AT Test and Rob is probably working the numbers with his abacus as I write this.

And now that I am in the season I have naturally begun to look and see how I should be filling it up. Here is what I have come up with so far. I apologize, it’s a bit long. But then again, so is the season.

January: nothing, really, except getting through the first month of my new training program and acquiring as many cycling videos as I can for the indoor sessions.

And speaking of indoor training, I won’t even have to watch reruns this month because the Tour Down Under starts in just 2 weeks.

downloadFebruary: much of the same, with a race thrown in. John and I are looking at doing the Sur les Route de l’Etoile, the first cyclosportive of the year in France, which runs on the same day as Stage 3 of the first pro race in France – Etoile de Besseges. This was the first race I ever did way back in 2011. I’m hoping for a better result.

download (1)March: no race plans, although this month should see more long, outdoor rides on the weekends if the weather behaves. Also if the temperature stays up, we might take a birthday trip over to Nice and see the finals of the Paris-Nice race.

profil4April: this month I’ll head down the road for the GranFondo Gulfe de St. Tropez to try my luck at qualifying for the UCI World Cycling Tour Finals in September. To accomplish this feat I’ll have to first finish the relentlessly hilly 179 km course (scary profile at right), then be in the top 20% of my age group – something I’ve done in the past, but harbour no illusions about doing this time, given the probable higher level of the field at this one, the only qualifying race in France.

Photo: VeloNews

Photo: VeloNews

I also have a no-longer-secret dream of taking a train up to Belgium this month and watching Liege-Bastogne-Liege with Shoko. I loved seeing Paris-Roubaix at the Arenberg Trench 2 years ago and that was a good taste, I think, of what it’d be like to see a Classics race in Belgium, the only country in the world that likes cycling as much as beer – and that’s saying something, if you’ve had Belgian beer.

May: probably no races this month, but I think I’ll busy enough with the increased mileage I’m sure the training program will have in it.

I will also be glued to the computer for 3 weeks this month to watch a Canadian try and defend his Giro d’Italia title.

profil121June: I’m not sure, but I probably should look to do a big race with lots of climbing this month. I’m sure I’ll be up and down Mont Ventoux, as seems to be usual now, and I could add one more ascent at the GranFondo Mont Ventoux – with 3000 meters of climbing it should do the trick. Is it just me or are people getting crazy with super-hard endurance tests these days? New to the June sportive calendar is La Canibale, with nearly 5500 meters of ‘up’. My excuse for not signing up for this one is that I don’t read Flemish.

download (3)

Another kind of marmotte

July: this month, along with June, will be crucial in my training for the Haute Route, and I’ll need to find some big, long climbs to go up and down..and up. Coach has suggested a ‘training camp’ that would involve consecutive days of Ventoux Triples, which sounds fun. Another idea that I have a feeling is infesting my brain, is La Marmotte, the oldest and most famous sportive race there is, and with 5000 meters of climbing over 174 km, it should meet my ‘big’ and ‘long’ criteria.

big logo mixOtherwise, John and I will be busy for a week in the Alps with 14 Colombians, unfortunately driving up most of the cols instead of riding (click on the image at right if you have no idea what I’m talking about) them. There are places left in our June and August tours, by the way, if anyone is interested.

July is also Tour de France month, of course, and if it’s at all possible, we’ll get out and see a stage or two. If not, it’s nearly as good on TV.

sitelogoAugust: the first two weeks of this month will most likely be ‘taper weeks’, in which I sit back and wait for my body to work its magic after all the punishment it will have taken over the previous 7 months. We might have a High Road tour at this time too, which would work out very well indeed, since ‘sitting’ is what I will be doing a lot on these tours.

Then it’s Haute Route, from the 18th to the 24th, which will be very, very hard, but that seems to be what I want, since I’m signed up. Afterwards I’ll enjoy a few days with my Mom, step-father and Rob and his family in Nice, then back here in Languedoc/Provence. After that I will start wondering what to do with my time, having finished my main objective for the year, the ‘season’ being essentially finished…

download (2)September: …unless of course I do qualify for the World Championships. Whether I do or not, Shoko informs me that there is an art biennal that we must go to in Venice. Venice is conveniently less than 300 km from Trento, where the race is going to be held (Sept 19-22). Venice is also less than 300 km from Florence, where the ‘real’ UCI Cycling World Championships are taking place (on the toughest course in 30 years, they say) and which is a week after the race I probably won’t qualify for.  Italy is a good place to carb up for the following season, too.

Yes, Pinocchio is the official mascot of this year’s Worlds. I’m sure they didn’t mean it, but he ends up being a fitting symbol, given certain revelations in the cycling world recently.

After September the ‘season’ is really finished and the weight gain begins in earnest.

January 20, 2013. sitelogo2Our old friend Dr. Wiroth is back with us to explain this crucial, and probably often neglected, aspect of stage racing – Recovery.

Article #4 – How to improve recovery between stages ?

Jean-Baptiste WIROTH – PhD
Founder of WTS – The Coaching Company®
http://www.wts.fr – contact@wts.fr

During a stage race like Haute Route, the recovery process is of most importance.
During each stage, cyclists are exposed to maximal stress, both physically and mentally. This stress causes disturbances of the physiological functions and stage after stage it is often difficult to recover correctly…After exercise, the body sets up number of processes to compensate for the disturbances and to restore normal physiological functions. Even if complete recovery is hard to achieve after a mountain stage, several methods will help to accelerate recovery process.

Sleep, Hydration and Nutrition are the main factors to accelerate recovery. In addition to these main factors, there are other ways to accelerate recovery, in particular by draining the toxin produced by the muscles during exertion, and by lowering activation of the neuro-muscular system. Among the most effective techniques for this are:

• Massage: this technique has the favor of professional cyclists. The massage will be more effective before dinner and digestion.
• Stretching: we shall attempt to stretch, in a passive way, all the muscular groups requested during the ride (quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, back and arms).
• Active recovery: few hours after the end of the stage, a 10 to 15 minutes very light intensity exercise (50-60 % of the maximal cardiac frequency) will help a lot for draining toxins produced during exercise. A light walk or run after dinner is perfect for this.
• Hot and cold shower : alternating hot and cold water on the legs is perfect to stimulate blood return. For each leg you should do 5 cycles : 20 seconds hot water / 20 seconds cold water.

We suggest you should try a combination of these techniques. Although taking an individual approach to recovery is essential, we suggest to stretch one hour after the end of each stage, then to have hot and cold shower before massage, finishing with dinner and a light walk after.

Notes:

I’ve got little to say on the subject of recovery, other than that I’m pretty pathetic at it. Then again, I’ve never done what will essentially be 7 Etapes du Tour in a row. I need to learn this recovery business fast. Therefore, I humbly step back from the blog bully pulpit and let those who know better tell you what we should be doing.

For those of you who don’t read the comments section of this blog (shame on you!), there have already been some excellent and very helpful hints from guys who know a thing or two about recovery.

First, Coach Rob:

Knowing how to recover after each stage will be critical to our overall performance. If we do the right training, and understand how to maximize our recovery time, we shouldn’t have any bad days, just some might be better than others. After weeks of searching, I just ordered a recovery drink product that I will be testing over the next few months. I have my own concoction I make as a recovery drink today, but I won’t have access to the natural ingredients, or my VitaMix blender. In addition to what we eat and drink after each day of racing, we have to be mindful of how we treat our bodies. I found leg elevation while lying down and wearing compression socks for at least 3 hours, while staying out of the in a cool environment definitely accelerates the recovery process. So bring a good book or iPad and catch up on some reading while relaxing and letting the body heal itself from the day’s exertion.

Next, Bryan Hill, who rode Haute Route in 2012:

Recovery was a well rehearsed routine – which is a tip in itself. As well as training the cycling side, train the fuelling and recovery. For me this meant:

– I took my own energy products out. Powder for on bike drinking, recovery drinks, gels and bars. I used their feed stations for the “real food” aspects. I know that I can tolerate these products over a week of riding (from a few training camps I’ve done). I also knew the rate of consumption I could handle in terms of grammes of carbs per hour.

– For recovery: You get a “day bag” which is available at the end of the stage. I had a portion of recovery drink powder in this. On finishing (and after the initial 5 minute collapse) I’d pick this up and mix up the recovery drink and consume – so that’s in the first 10 minutes after finishing. Then I’d have a stretch – to a set routine – and then have the post-stage meal that’s provided. Lots of water to rehydrate. Then it was back to the hotel, shower and on with the compression tights. Most people used compression socks/tights for the afternoon/evening/night. I had one pair for the afternoon evening and one pair for sleeping in. Again, this is something I’d do at home after a hard ride. Snacking while lazing around – energy bars, Haribo, dried fruit, whatever. Ice cream towards the end of the week. Lots more water. An easy walk before the evening meal – which was generally quite carby but not too heavy – then in bed by about 10pm for the 6am wake-up!

I didn’t have any massages but lots of people did. The challenge was having to wait a while – they gave out tickets with estimated times on them, and often that was a few hours after you’d finished. Out of our team of 5 people, one got massages most day, two had them a couple of times and two of us just stretched. It’s very personal though!

I can’t stress enough how important pacing over the week is. If you want to really attack something, do it on the time trial (though lots of people took it easier) or wait til the last day. It’s the fatigue that builds up over the week that gets you.

So, my fuelling was well rehearsed, and I did the same for recovery as I do after my hard rides at home.

Finally Rich Velo, Haute Route participant, and 5th overall in 2012.

Like Bryan, my recovery was also a daily routine. I would first immediately pick up my day pack, and park my bike in the bike park. Inside the day pack I would store an water bottle with whey protein and a home made sports drink mix with sugars and electrolytes – then I’d fill the bottle up with fresh water and shake to mix… After this, I’d pick up a massage ticket, grab a shower, then either massage or eat, depending on the estimated massage time. After the shower, I’d put compression socks on for the remainder of the afternoon. Once in the hotel room, I’d usually lie on the bed with my feet up against the wall for a while as well. I also own a compex which I would use each evening before the rider briefing.

For me, the massages were definitely helpful. You could also pick your favorite therapist after trying a few the first stages. It is true though that middle to back of the pack finishers had quite a wait, but you definitely don’t have to sit in line, you just return at your estimated time.

Eating dinner is a key point often overlooked by people initially. Make a plan to get to a restaurant early (ahead of the other 600 riders) – even scope them out during the afternoon and reserve a table if possible. Most of the finishing towns are limited in the number of restaurants and servers, so if you are not careful, you may end up eating a 10pm – not good for the 6am wakeup the next day… Even ordering quickly once you are there can mean 30 mins to an hours earlier receiving your food. The problem is simply that everyone arrives at the same time, and the kitchen only has a certain throughput if you know what I mean. The rider’s briefing is important but often dragged on too long, so we would sometimes leave a bit early to get to the restaurant when it opened (usually 7 or 7:30pm).

I don’t know about you, but this kind of first-hand knowledge is gold for me. It goes without saying, but if anyone else out there has something to add, we, the few who read my comments section, will be very appreciative.

January 25, 2013. Team Vicious Cycle is not just a team of over-aged under-achievers (well, one of us anyway), we are also now, thanks to our Kit Crew of Rob, Chris and Brad, quite smart looking. After several months of behind-the-scenes work, we have come up with something I am sure we’ll all be proud to parade up and down the Alps in.

We chose Pactimo to make our kit – a company that produces first-rate clothing and has a design team as well. Our kit crew did a lot of up-front work, but the final product is obviously done by professional designers, as you can see pretty quickly below. First, the Summit Pro Jersey.

MensSummitProJersey_Front

Notice the intimidating skull that will surely strike fear into our competitors. The flag/crankring configuration of course represents our countries of origins, plus France, where we’ll do all our suffering. Next is the Summit Speed Jersey.

MensSummitSpeedJersey_Front

This jersey is a tighter ‘Euro cut’ with a shorter front, much like the trend in the pro peloton you see these days. If by some miracle we still have traces of fat left before Haute Route, this is NOT the jersey to be wearing. Being the eternal optimist, I’m ordering one. Here are our shorts – the Summit Bib Shorts.

MensSummitBibShorts_Front

Again, strategically-placed skulls for maximum fear factor (I think there’s one on the ass, too, for those behind), and the same yellow-orange-grey-black color combo that is really growing on me. Finally, because we’ll be going way way up – arm warmers.

ArmWarmers

Thanks again, guys. If there is a prize for best kit in the race, it could be our only shot at a podium!

By the way, if anyone out there likes this kit as much as we do, you are welcome to put in an order when we do ours. Just let me know.

Feb 7, 2013. I feel I’ve been neglecting you, blog friends. I’m sorry, I have no good excuses, but as usually happens when I am in the wrong, I will try and make some.

polar

Not a perfect beginning.

I’ve been riding: Exactly 1072.4 km’s worth, if you must know. I had a bit of a stomach flu or something for a few days this month, but other than that I’ve been on the bike 6 days a week, just like old times. Last January I had 952 km, which means 2013 is only 10% better so far – I’m pretty sure that the Haute Route is more than 10% harder than two Etapes du Tour, so I will try and stick to the program and up the percentages in February.

I’ve been working: Apart from an ever-growing Alps tour that John and I have been madly working on in the background (20 riders so far!), the new business has been experiencing all sorts of growing pains, from bank choice to payment methods to the right advertising channels. No answers to any of these issues (and more) yet, but I’m sure they’ll present themselves before it’s too late!

2013-02-05 10.39.10

Sally and Elle

I’ve also got my first self-guided tour of 2013 happening right now, which has taken up a little time in meeting and greeting my Australian clients, arranging baggage transfers and making sure my one vegetarian is well provided for.

I’ve been buying stuff: OK, this isn’t a good excuse for not blogging – in fact it’s probably the opposite, given what I’ve been shopping for. I finally settled on a saddle, after giving one a test run for a couple of weeks. Yes, it’s Italian again, and comes with its own air vent!

This is the Selle Italia SLR Kit Carbonio Flow, which is a version of a pretty ‘classic’ pro saddle, it appears. It comes with carbon rails that I’m sure I’ll be crushing any day now, but till then I can be happy with a pretty astonishing 115 grams of saddle. And, believe it or not, it’s just as comfortable as my old padded-up Fizik.

ccb802a955d54f7d80af91da1c8f2da1-29092011-103319So what do you say, am I forgiven? My wife says I’m good at making excuses, so if you aren’t satisfied I can come up with some better ones.

Feb 25, 2013. My first race of 2013 is under my belt and I can see now that the road to the Haute Route will not be as effortless as I was secretly hoping. This year I thought it prudent to enter the ‘long race’ in all the ones I’m doing this year, since I really need the miles under my wheels for the HR. See, in France at least, each cyclosportive usually has at least two distances, and possibly even a 3rd randonnée for the more touristic among us. For the last two years I was doing the shorter versions for the most part, and especially in the early season, like now. Oh, where have those halcyon days gone?

Herr Kaa Comes to the Le Sud

Endurance readers may recall this very race (albeit under a different name) back in 2011. My racing buddy of that year, Karsten, came down from Paris and, after one wrong turn for both of us, ended up painting the gravel shoulder of one particularly fast corner with his ass. You will also remember that we finished that race as guests of the broom wagon brothers. Well, Karsten has a long memory and he wanted to come back and set things straight, so he hopped on the TGV and came down to the warm south for the weekend.

Unseasonably Cool

Only thing is that it wasn’t really warm. The temperature at the start of our race was 2C and it didn’t really rise much past there by the time we finished. We should count ourselves lucky though, because I think that nearly every pro race in France was snowed out this weekend except for La Classic Sud Ardèche – the pro version of our race held the following day.

It was warm inside the new Ruoms community hall, though.

It was warm inside the new Ruoms community hall, though.

Forget About It

Following tradition, I forgot some essential equipment at home for this race (although not quite as essential as my wallet, which I left on the car roof a couple years ago), but fortunately for me, those around me come better prepared. Therefore, I ended up with woolen socks from Karsten and some fabulous booties and toe covers from John. Given the temperatures on the day, these were life-saving (or toe-saving) loans. Thanks guys.

Race Review

The Roll Out

This was my 3rd time starting this race and I think the first time we had a real neutralized roll-out from the start. It certainly wasn’t slow because many were left behind right from the beginning (Like Karsten, unfortunately), but I could see the front of the bunch and it was being controlled by a car until we turned right onto our first climb, the Côte de la Fontaine du Cade, an ‘easy’ 3.5 km climb of an average 3.3%. But, as Greg LeMond correctly stated many years back, ‘it never gets easier, just faster’.

Possibly because of the elongated neutral zone, or more likely because of the tougher field I found myself in today (more on that later), I was red-lining it after just a few hundred meters. I wrote in my article last year how gratifying it had been to demand the legs to work and they obeyed willingly. This climb proved the opposite can be true, as I helplessly tried to force myself to go fast up this damn false flat. There I was, heart rate well over 170 (a range I know I can’t hold long), and guys are flying past me like I was still on the indoor trainer. Demoralizing. It was at once an extremely anxious moment (like when you find yourself dreaming you’re running away from somebody, but you realize you are just spinning your legs) and a wake-up call like a slap upside the head – “you have much to learn, young Jedi”.

But I got to the top and even managed to pass a few riders in the process, and warmed up on the bumpy plateau that followed.

Climb #2: Coming to Grips

By the 2nd climb – the 7 km, 4.6% Côte du Razal, I had long ago said good riddance to the fast guys I’d never see again and found my level of riding partners. When you ride with those of equal or less strength suddenly the world looks brighter, and this climb was not as horrendously sad, since I could hold the pace of those around me.

The Gorge and The Wall of Wind

After the top of the Razal we had a long, wind-aided roll along another bumpy plateau before diving down – and up – and down – the very impressive Ardèche River Gorge. More importantly though, we turned around and started riding back towards the west, the direction the wind decided to rocket down the gorge. 4C and 50 kph headwinds (I’m guessing. They could very well have been stronger) make you thank the God of Rouleurs if you have enough luck to be able to tuck in behind one, like I did…a lot. I took my turn on the front, I’ll have you know, but I was never out in the wind alone, unlike Karsten, who ended up doing the whole race that way, pretty much.

2013-02-23 12.42.57

Windy, but pretty.

Killer Sampzon

Just a few kilometers before the end of my 100 km is the menacing Côte du Rocher de Sampzon, a 2 km climb of 7.8%. I won’t complain about this climb because the pros had to do it 4 times the following day, but it’s a tough little bugger after 94 km or so. I had dreams of ‘attacking’ Sampzon and taking it all out of the saddle, but reality took hold on the first ramp and I spent all the climb, outside the hairpins, on the back of the saddle, surviving, rather than attacking. Still, it’s short and over relatively quickly.

After this it’s a straight shot north (right into the wind) back to the finish line.

Analyze This!

I finished this year’s race 170th out of 319 finishers, and 48th out of 92 in my age category – or solidly ‘average’.

I didn’t have good vibes from any part of this race, I have to admit. But I am the type who needs to feel good about himself, so I have sat down and worked out a few justifications, some of which might even hold water.

  1. This was a step up in terms of competition, I noticed. I don’t know if this is the case with all races, but with this one the stronger riders (overall) were doing the 100 km race. I used to do martial arts long ago and I remember well going from, say, green belt up to blue belt, where each level up I went I had to be beaten back to reality. I had the same distinct feeling with this race. I’m a green belt racing against blue belts. 
  2. Climb Times. Thanks to Polar I have my times from the last two years of this race and after analyzing the climb times I don’t feel too bad. I was 10% faster this year over last on the 1st two climbs, then slower on the Sampzon climb. I’ll chalk that up to the longer distance and wind fatigue because I’m an optimist, okay!
  3. My kind coach also pointed out that last week we had a tough few days of intervals before the race and I didn’t do much in the way of tapering beforehand, since these ‘unimportant’ races are supposed to be built into the training program for the Haute Route. I have discovered something about my personality, though, that I of course knew already: any race is important for me once I’m in it. Don’t tell Rob, but I’ll be taking two days off before the next one!

Overall, this was a sobering experience and one that I am glad I had. I now have far lower expectations for my hair-brained idea of qualifying for the UCI World Cycling Tour Finals, for instance. I’m still doing that race in April, but finishing top 20% seems like a pipe dream, if the field is as tough as it was yesterday. There’s always next year.

My Comrades

Karsten finished this year’s race, which was his goal. He didn’t have a good start, unfortunately, and found himself out in the wind and cold nearly the whole race, finishing a ways down. Good effort for a hard-working Parisien who has little time to train.

John and Erik decided to do the kids race (did I say that?) of 73 km; one crushing it to end up 9th in his category and the other 21st. Excellent results, you two! Now read Rule #5.

Next

In 3 weeks we are heading over to Provence for a replay of the Raid des Alpilles, where I had a good result last year. I’ll be doing the longer version this time around, however, so…well, you know.

Feb 28, 2013. Coach Rob and I have been talking about gearing lately, in particular what would be the best for Haute Route. My initial thought was that I had no initial thoughts, just assuming that my Compact set-up (50/34 – 12/27) would be just right. However, there could possibly be an advantage to getting more top-end speed on the descents (I max out at around 55 kph while pedaling right now).

big-chain-ringTo be honest, I don’t think this is going to be a real issue for me because I’ll probably be happy to rest the legs on most descents and not worry about pedaling if I’m traveling faster than that. I’ve never been in a group on the flat that has rolled at 55 kph for any length of time either, so I still think the compact is the way to go for me.

But all this got me wondering what others might be considering. I already know that one of my teammates on Team Vicious Cycle was looking for a chainring in between Standard and Compact, so I’m sure he’s not the only one. Will the best (Rich, maybe you could enlighten us on this?) be riding standard gearing? I shudder to think about how strong you’d need to be to accomplish this.

Here’s a poll, but you are free to leave a longer answer in the Comments section.

March 1, 2013. Since I started reporting my progress towards Haute Route I feel obliged to continue, no matter how ugly the results.

This month (the shortest in the year, remember!) I’ve accomplished the following:

  • 23 Training Sessions
  • 42:20 hours on the bike
  • 1113 km 

Even though the numbers above are not as high as I was thinking they’d be, the good news is the legs are finally coming around to the realization that this training thing is here to stay, and they are cooperating by getting stronger. This is a very recent phenomenon (really just in the past week) and a very welcome one at that.

I am also ‘down’ to 68 kg (150 lbs), which is still above my fighting weight of last summer, but it’s going in the right direction, so I’m hopeful.

strava_cyclingIn addition to the numbers above, I’ve also gotten myself a Strava account (yes, I know..about time) and have logged up exactly one ride so far – my hill repeats from yesterday afternoon. If you can, check out the segment I created for the climb. I’m number 10, but look at 1-9. They are all pros from a stage of the Etoile de Besseges race that started here in January. Check out the speed gap…yikes. Here’s my ‘athlete detail’ page, if you’d like to follow my trials and tribulations: http://app.strava.com/athletes/1776386

March means spring and warm temperatures here and the days are getting nice and long, so hopefully I’ll be seeing the kms going up and the kgs going in the other direction. Shaving the legs should help. That’s this afternoon’s task.

March 8, 2013. Most of my training is indoors right now. This is more a function of the type of workouts Coach Rob has inflicted on me at the moment than a weather factor, since I can ride all year round here.

cycleops_fluid2_12_zThe last two days’ rides – called ‘Killer Hard’ and ‘World of Hell’, respectively – lived up to their names and I have, in turn, re-learned something from last season: the indoor trainer does a number on my osteo-arthritic knee when I push too much.

The same thing can happen on the road, but because of the overall lighter (and far less consistent) rolling resistance on the open road, my knee can take a good, hard ride without much complaint usually.

This is a little unfortunate because these types of workouts are the ones that get me close to ‘the red’ and should, in theory, be pushing up my anaerobic threshold, thereby giving me a higher ‘top end’ and allowing me to work more in those upper zones of suffering.

It’s not a big worry, to be honest. I’m just happy I can ride hard, thanks to the miracle of modern medicine (and fish oil!). But I’m curious: are there any others out there who find that the constant sorrow of the trainer gives you any grief?

March 22, 2013. In this day and age we really don’t need to think at all about what we need to do in life. It’s all there in the ‘self help’ section of the….do we still have bookstores? There’s the 1001 One Places to See Before you Die, then the originally titled 101 Things to Do Before you Die. I’m sure I could go on, but really, if you’ve got those two books I think your life is good and covered.

Where was I going with this? Oh yes, Haute Route just posted a video on their Facebook page with someone’s (Global Cycling Network) Top Ten Best Sportive and Gran Fondos to Cycle in the World video. I really don’t know how I’m going to fit them in, with the 1102 things and places I need to do and see already, but this Top Ten list at least sounds fun.

On the list is a 235 km sportive in Australia; Levi Leipheimer’s Gran Fondo in California; something called the Dragon Ride in Wales, with ‘famously poor weather and poor road surfaces’ (why the hard sell fellas?); a cobbled sportive in Belgium the day before the pro Tour of Flanders; a 312 km(!) race on the island of Mallorca; Paris-Roubaix (ouch); the Gran Fondo Santini, in the Dolomites of italy; La Marmotte, in the French Alps; La Haute Route (surprise!); and l’Etape du Tour, which all of my devoted readers know well already.

Yes, completely random, I suppose, but tell me this video doesn’t make you want to sign up for something right now. I have a few others I’d add to this list, like Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Belgium, and the Maratona , in Italy.

If you have any you think must be on the list, let me know. If we get 101 we can write a book.

March 24, 2013. When I lived in Singapore I did a lot of dragon boating. After every practice, in humid, 32 degree conditions (it’s always 32C in Singapore), the beer cooler would be rolled out and the following story would unfold:

  • I would drink a sports drink.
  • I would drink some beers (occasionally more than ‘some’).
  • I would eat a banana-leaf Indian meal (okay, this is not important to the story, but I wanted to relive that delicious bit).
  • I would go to bed and then I would wake up with a pounding headache.
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Before the beer.

The last event could occur even without the beer and it quickly became evident that I was becoming dehydrated and, more importantly, not re-hydrating properly. To be honest, I downloadnever really solved this problem, mainly because I like beer so much, but I did try and get more fluids into me before diving into the Moosehead.

I’m still prone to these dehydration headaches, especially after 190 minutes on the indoor trainer, like yesterday. I drank enough on the bike, most likely, but it was only water. Afterwards I probably didn’t drink enough to replenish what I lost, or, more correctly, I didn’t drink the right stuff (only water again).

Haute Route could be a very hot affair (like it was last year) and we’ll be spending 4, 5, 6, or 7 hours in the saddle each day, pushing hard for much of the time. It’s probably a good idea to get this hydration thing solved before I hit the Alps.

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Hot day in the Haute Route (photo: lovethybike.wordpress.com)

The thing is, I don’t like the thought of ‘sports drinks’ all that much. Most aren’t made with natural ingredients and they cost too much anyway (I have the same philosophy when it comes to gels and bars now). So, I’ve started to do a little research on what it is I might need to stave off these headaches and have come up with this:

  1. Sugar
  2. Salt
  3. Water

Sugar: this is supposed to prevent a drop in performance due to less blood sugar. My feeling is that I can get this from the stuff I’m eating on the bike (dried fruits, cake, etc) though, so perhaps the real reason for sugar is to make your drink palatable.

Salt: helps the fluid you take in absorb into your body. Salt also has (some? all?) the electrolytes you lose through sweating.

Water: simply the liquid you have lost on the bike.

It’s probably a lot more complicated than this, but I’m going to start simple and make myself the following cocktail for today’s workout:

  • I liter water
  • 50 grams sugar
  • half tsp salt

When I get out to the store I will try this next one:

  • 500 ml fruit juice
  • 500 ml water
  • half tsp salt

I really don’t like to drink anything other than water on the bike, so I’ll start by alternating water-‘sports drink’-water, etc. and see how that goes.

In the meantime, I’d welcome any and all comments on those with more experience than me, especially if you make your own concoctions and would care to share your secrets.

April 1, 2013 – Monthly Report. Just finished watching Fabian Cancellara pull, stretch, then snap the rest of the field on the cobbled climbs of the Tour of Flanders and I got motivated to do something ‘cycling’. I’m too bagged after my morning ride with John in the mountains, so I’ll sit, with my compressed legs up, and whip off my monthly report.

Finally, the kilometers are starting to climb up to what I had imaged they should be this year, and I’ve found myself riding actually outdoors (it’s that place you can see through the window on your trainer, Canadians…if there’s no snowdrift to obstruct the view). First some numbers:

This month I’ve accomplished the following:

  • 27 Training Sessions
  • 56:17 hours on the bike
  • 1485 km 

More good news (and probably directly related to the increased km) is that I am down to 66.5 kg now, which I think brings me even under my weight last year when I did the two Etapes. Shoko has started commenting on my ‘skinny arms’ – this can only be a positive sign.

It hasn’t all been champagne wishes and caviar dreams though this month. You remember my Sidis? Well, I’ve been trying everything to make them stop cutting into my ankle and I’ve finally given up. I Bought some new shoes (Mavic Zxelliums) a couple of days ago and am experiencing the same problem (but less so). It’s an evolving story, so I won’t bore you with the details…till I decide to write a blog article about it, of course.

Finalement, sorely lacking from this post for many months has been photos that I haven’t extracted from the Internet, so here are a few that I’ve snapped from my phone in the last few weeks around home.

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As I sit here, still reeling from a night of vomiting and diarrhea that rivaled the biggest and baddest of my many epic hangovers (something I ate. I’m not even drinking this season…what’s the point?!), I find myself secretly glad to have a good excuse to take a day off the bike. I have just enough energy to type, so I can be somewhat productive.

Monthly Report: April. April was an odd month. In some ways it was a breakthrough for me, with my still-unbelievable Ventoux climb a few days ago, along with my new-found penchant for climbing, which I guess have their roots stuck in the same place. The climbing improvement is due to my training this year, no question, but owes most to this data:

  • Last weigh-in: 64.5 kg (142 lbs)
  • Body fat: 12.3% (down from 16% in Feb)

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Random Pic #1: where I had my accident on Jan 2. I still have bruises.

I think I might be nearing my target weight now, but I’ll keep an eye on things and if I start getting blown around too much in the Mistral I’ll add some back on. And now for the ‘odd’ part. These numbers are pretty low compared to March.

  • Kilometers ridden: 1164
  • Hours in the saddle: 43
  • Training sessions: 23
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Random pic #2: What does the Chinese clothing factory have against Canada and the US?

I’ll try and pick up those stats in May, but work is getting in the way a bit now that the season is upon us. However, once the weather starts cooperating in a consistent manner, I know the miles will start to climb.

Two races this month gave me an idea of where I’m at and how far I (always) have to go, and I’ll have one more in May most likely, to keep me honest.

And now I’ll go back to my suffering.

May 31, 2013. While convalescing and getting fat I’ve been buying things to make me feel better. And what does one buy when one wants to cheer oneself up? A new rear cassette, of course.

My new ‘pacha’ (Colombian Spanish for ‘cassette’, according to one of my cycling clients) is in the mail:

downloadI know what you’re saying. “Gerry, this new pacha looks just like your old pacha.” Well, count your dientes, amigo – this one has 11 on the small ring and 25 on the biggest (the one I have now is 12-27).  As I said back in March, I’d try out this new combination of gears and see how things went. Well, I have been doing this without actually buying the cluster (e.g. on Ventoux last month) and I’m finding that I don’t need the 27 unless things get stupidly steep (like Mt. Bouquet). None of the climbs in the Alps will be 20%, so I have growing confidence that I can survive with 25.

The question that hasn’t been answered yet is if I have enough power to make use of the 11 on a flats. But I don’t care. I’ve made my buy, my pacha is in the mail, and I feel good. It might go without saying, but Mt. Bouquet may not be on many of my training rides again this season!

June 12, 2013. Suffice it to say, this is not the blog article I had in mind tonight. We just found out that Ed Hudson, a member of the Vicious Cycle Haute Route Team, has died in a terrible cycling accident.

Most of us on the team never knew Ed, since we haven’t done the race yet, but it is a sad day when anyone in our community dies so tragically. As Rob said, ‘it is the opposite of the intent of riding’. The team will be riding in his honor come August. In the meantime, it’s a sobering reminder of the vulnerability that is inherent in the activity we love so much. R.I.P, Ed.

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June 16, 2013. I am not the only one of my cycling buddies training for a big race. Erik and Anne are both doing this year’s Etape du Tour in Annecy, and therefore are eager to get out and get some elevation in their legs. Fortunately, we all live near one of the best places to climb in France – Les Cévennes.

Sure, The Alps have bigger climbs and famous cols, but our local mountains have roads that will test the most world weary climber, and descents that will either sharpen your game or make you never want to go down a mountain again. And, of course, there’s the sheep.

photoThis is what held Erik and Anne up on our first climb today, a herd of 800 sheep making its way to the village of L’Esperou for the annual Fête de la Transhumance (the Cévennes is one of the last places in Europe where this is still practiced).

We got some good climbing in the legs today – 2450 meters, so Polar says. We climbed up the ‘Little Ventoux’, which we did on this very day last year. Then, to the top of Mont Aigoual, where I managed to remember to take a photo or two.

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John and Erik, before realizing that we might need to go 300 meters further to finish the Strava Segment.

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Two Austrians, generously pulled up the hill by Erik and John.

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The border of Gard and Lozère, the red-headed stepchild of Languedoc, but a place of magical riding.

There were two more climbs after Aigoual, but mercifully no more sheep. Stay tuned – silly season continues with another proposed Ventoux Triple this coming Wednesday. Anybody interested, you know the drill: ‘toilet parking lot’, Bédoin, 8:30. 

Here’s the Strava link to the ride, if anyone would like a great route while you’re down here: http://app.strava.com/activities/60690698

June 18, 2013. sitelogo2It hit me today that it is the 18th. The very same day I will be rolling out of Geneva with my Vicious teammates (and seeing the way they have been training, it may be the last I see of them for the remainder of the day).

Two months is not a lot of time, but it’s also plenty of time, depending on your perspective on these things. My normal way through life is to forget about the inevitable till it is too late, but I have learned a thing or two from cycling.

  1. That attitude doesn’t work. Weakness will be exposed on the 1st rise in the road. 
  2. Quality miles in the legs is everything. 

It is with this spirit that I play hooky once again tomorrow and go forth in search of that elusive ‘Ventoux Triple 2013’. The meteo is calling for thunder storms, so keep your expectations in check. With a little luck I’ll be reporting back soon.

June 20, 2013. As I sit here cramming on Provençal history for a tour tomorrow, I realized that I haven’t written about our little adventure yesterday. I’d like to make this a long ranting article – and I may still – but I really need to get past the Romans on my history lesson.

After many months of negotiations, Carsten-with-a-C, from Hamburg, finally got down to Le Sud for his pre-Haute Route Ventoux Triple. Erik was there, too, incidentally, but only made it behind the camera on this ride.

7278_474989765917657_35114570_nWe all did our Triples, I’ll have you know, and at least two of the three of us think we are ready for our respective races this summer (I remain the skeptic). But I don’t want to talk about another Ventoux Triple (yawn).

I want to talk about Dutch people. These Dutch people.
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Okay, not all of them, I guess. Just these ones:

The Weavers and Zigzaggers: these are riders who have not properly considered what it means to ride up a mountain of mainly 10% gradients. Because they don’t like 10%, they reduce the grade by cutting up the road in erratic saw-tooth movements. Weavers and zigzaggers, you are dangerous. Ventoux descenders reach speeds of 80 kph. Zigging and zagging into the left lane is asking for a whole lot of trouble. It also makes those coming up behind you a little uncertain as to where you actually are on the road.

The Pushers and the Pushed: Erik and I saw several instances of this heinous crime being perpetrated yesterday. This is where a rider (read below for this type) is being pushed by two others on either side of him/her. This means that you are riding on a public road 3 abreast, Pushers and Pushed. Even in France this is very uncool. You are sharing this mountain road with others cyclists, walkers, runners, motorcycles, cars, campervans, every type of automobile rally you could possibly imagine, and people who just want to get their Triple over with. Please, have some respect.

The Self-absorbed Summit Hoggers: When we got to the top for the 2nd time yesterday we were greeted by a wall of low-landers. A literal wall. I couldn’t ride my bike past the line that marks the top of the mountain because there were lots and lots of Dutch riders, not riding at all anymore, but still taking up all available space. This, to me, is pure and simple ‘group mentality’ at work, and nobody seemed interested that there might be others coming up the mountain to finish their hard-earned climb at the very top. Clients of ‘Gastenhof – Equipe Mont Ventoux‘, you really pissed off one blogger with that move.

The Under-prepared Over-estimaters: In general, most of the riders above fit into this last category, too. This is just my personal opinion and I am not exactly ‘bothered’ by it, but I would just like to advise those considering an extreme challenge like climbing Mont Ventoux to think about what it means and assess your abilities realistically before you start. For example, if you are overly overweight or obese (yes, I see obese people on the mountain every time I go) it might not be the healthiest option for a physical challenge. But again, take this one as friendly advice. I don’t want to get preachy.

Back to the ride.

Here is my favorite terrifying view of Mont Ventoux, taken a couple of km below the summit on the Malaucène side. Erik, man of brilliant ideas, decided it might be fun to leave this side (the worst, in my opinion) for last. We all struggled up it with not too much trauma, except for the hurricane-force winds up there by the tower (people were walking their bikes off the summit it was so strong).

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And, lastly, certain proof that I made it up 3 times.

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I have 3 more dates with Ventoux planned this season, so big Dutch cycling groups, beware. I won’t hesitate to shame you again to the 10 people who read this blog!

June 30, 2013. I had big hopes for June, since so much of May was a write-off due to being sick. I think I could have done more, but I’m not disappointed. Here are my numbers.

  • Total Distance: 1887 kilometers
  • Total Time: 79 hours
  • Total Ascent: 25,615 meters, including 5 Ventouxs (84,039 feet, to impress my American friends!)
  • Total Butt Blisters: 2, but I’ve got some magic Japanese cream that takes care of these babies! Not a problem.

I was gunning for 2000 km this month, but it didn’t work out. However, I think the next two numbers are more important…I hope. Nearly 80 hours in the saddle is double last month and 10 more than last June. Also – and possibly even more crucial for Haute Route – I’ve climbed 7000 meters more this June than last (my biggest month in ’12). Considering HR is basically a race of climbs, I’d like to think I’m looking at the right numbers here.

(and a ride)

To celebrate my last day on the bike this June, new cycling buddy Stephen and I went into the Cévennes once again for one of the best 85 km loops in the area. Most of it is a long, pretty approach, coupled with a long, pretty return. In the middle is the 15km ascent of the Col du Pré de la Dame – one of the climbs up Mont Lozère.

Here’s one of 12 numbered and named switchbacks.

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And the view from that turn. You can’t see it, but Mont Ventoux is way over there. Our route started in Bessèges, somewhere straight ahead, in them thar hills.

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In honor of the Tour de France, Stephen found a yellow Citroen.

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More impressive stats (a bonus for the hardy ones who read to the end):

  • Weight: 65 kg (142 lb). I think I’m near to where I need to be. Maybe one more kg.
  • Fat Percentage: 11% (the old skin is starting to sag – a good sign)

July will see me take over a week completely off the bike most likely, due to a tour I’m guiding with ‘Gringo John’ (the Colombians swear this is a term of affection..). That doesn’t leave a lot of time, so I think there’ll be more visits to the mountains I’m lucky enough to have on my doorstep.
July 25, 2013. tapering_white_longsleeve-235454179349627510-product-210So here I am, 3 weeks before the biggest, scariest 7 days I am pretty sure I will ever spend on a bike. I have trained pretty well since late last year, I think, but I have one more crucial hurdle to get over – the dreaded ‘peak week / taper’ combo.

I won’t insult you by explaining these two concepts in much detail (not because I can’t of course…no, definitely not because I can’t), but my guess is that the following might not be too far from the truth:

Peak Week (or month, or whatever): Where you increase your normal workload by an unknown percentage (I am reading ‘up to 20%’ at the moment) and hold that for the pre-determined period of time, e.g. a week. This puts a lot of stress on the body, ‘loads’ you with training and your body, the ever-amazing machine that it is, should do the following once you are done punishing it.

Taper: During the week (or whatever) that you have now between the end of your peak week and your event, your body will recover and then some. This is called ‘super-compensation’. PezCycling just told me that I could reduce my volume by up 60% this week (so let’s say 10 hours instead of 16) but keep the same amount of intensity (i.e. cut out the base-mile fluff and keep the same number of hours of hard riding as before). Assuming this is what I end up doing, the trick here is to time it all correctly so that the following magically occurs:

1. You train hard enough (but not too much) that the body does actually recover in that week and doesn’t just give up the ghost because you have ‘over-trained’ it (which could take months to get back to normal).

2. Your body pulls that super-compensation just before your event starts and not 5 days before (or worse – 5 days into it!).

Right now I’ve got a stretch of 7 days of over-loading planned, with another 7 days of ‘taper’ (less riding, but not nothing). I am now trying to determine:

a) Is this correct?

b) How big should my ‘big’ days be within the peak week.

c) What the heck should I do during the taper.

Luckily I’ve got the internet and Coach Rob to help, but I thought I’d throw out the question to those who might have done stage races (sorry, one-day races don’t count this time) and how you prepared your last couple of weeks for them. Ex-Haute Route participants are most welcome!

August 1, 2013. It’s finally here, the week I have been waiting to get over with. This will be the final push before tapering for 9 or 10 days for Haute Route. I haven’t determined exactly what each day will look like – I like surprises, even when I spring them on myself – but they should entail at least 4 hours on the bike and either a) some substantial miles, or b) some substantial climbing.

So, channeling my inner Jensie, I went out into the 40C afternoon, prepared for anything.

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Alright, maybe not ‘anything’, but a long ride in the heat (or so I thought). This is a 3rd bidon in one of my jersey pouches, something I’d only ever seen on TV and Mont Ventoux before. You can tell I’m serious, I hope.

My goal today was a partial double ascent of Mt. Bouquet (below), but I was foiled by roadworks up the back side that did a good job of chewing up my back tire before I figured out it was a good idea to turn around.

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Other than this little hiccup, there was little drama on the ride. Knowing my neighborhood well now, I didn’t expect any water on my ride (it’s really amazing how many villages there are in this area and equally incredible the near total lack of drinking fountains or shops that are ever open), but I kept a keen eye out just in case and, after 3 hours in the oven that is Languedoc in summer, I found this.

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This bakery, in the village of Garrigues, is open all day (nearly a sin in these parts) and they have all sorts of cold drinks to satisfy a thirsty cyclist. I opted for an Orangina and a bottle of water, then a head-dunk here.

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I might not be able to update each day of Peak Week as it happens because I’m heading into The Land That Man Forgot (as Erik affectionately calls the Cévennes) for the weekend and might not have any electricity, let alone internet.

August 2, 2013. A few days ago I put out a call on Cycling Languedoc’s Facebook Page, asking (Erik says ‘fishing’) if anyone in the area would like to join me on some hot, hard rides and keep me company for Peak Week. Within minutes Erik contacted me and within not much more time he and Anne were planning a weekend trip to a house Anne’s folks have in the Cévennes.

On Friday, at the the hottest time of the day, Erik and I left Nîmes train station and headed north in 40 degree heat. We made Alès, an old mining town and one of many ‘gateways’ to the mountains, in a couple of hours, then started into the hills (did I mention it was 40 degrees?). Here is Erik, questioning his sanity on top of the first climb out of the city.

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It was a long, hot 121 km ride of sort of consistent climbing (2000 meters in the end), but happily all that effort paid off. Well, not yet. First we had to cross this little bridge at Altier and head up a couple hundred meters of more vertical gain.

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A washed-out look at the road we came in on.

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But we made it, and Anne, along with her mom and dad, were waiting for us with cold beer in the fridge and dinner nearly ready. The support team did well today.

The little hamlet their house inhabits has this building…

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With this iron cross protecting it.

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Turns out it is a communal oven – at one time seen in every village in France, I imagine, but really very rare today (then again, there was no ‘boulanger’ sign on it, so maybe I’ve been riding right by them for the past 5 years).

Back at the homestead, our bikes were lined up for action the next morning, and the Queen Stage of this portion of Peak Week.

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My hosts – Anne and Erik

August 3, 2013.

It’s hard to blog, work and do a peak week at the same time, but I guess it’s good practice for Haute Route, when I’m determined to put at least something up at the end of each day. So, apologies for the lack of wit and thoughtfulness here – I’m at wit’s end and too tired to think.

For Day Three I actually planned the route (Anne is usually trusted with this important job). What I wanted was a double ascent of Mont Lozère. I got that and even a couple more cols thrown in for fun.

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The countryside on the northern side of the mountain changes pretty dramatically, as you might be able to tell if you’ve been looking at my photos carefully. Anne’s dad explained that it is a lot wetter up here, so no more garrigue and much more green. Far fewer sheep (although I have no idea what this hast to do with precipitation) and many more cows. It was a nice change anyway.

The photo below is on the descent of the southern side of the Col de Finiels (Lozère). I’d climbed this the other way a couple of years ago and it was a lot more pleasant going down.

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At our toilet stop we saw two of these going up the way we came down. Some sort of assisted pedaling for mom, and the kid even had some work to do in the back.

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After Finiels we hit one more col before the last ascent of the day. I casually suggested a photo with Erik and Anne at the sign and they immediately lined up like this. I think they’ve done this before…

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The last climb – the 15 km Col du Prè de la Dame – was pretty warm, but we all got up it in fine form. On the way home the discussion began as to whether we would take the little farmers’ road back to home (like Erik and I did yesterday) or attack The Wall, a bad little stretch of road somewhere past this house that includes a few meters of 19%. It was decided that it would be better to get this out of the way (“we have to do it at least once”).

Below is the old guard house for the castle that is hidden behind it. Sorry, you’ll need to wait till tomorrow for the chateau shot.

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Anne, already in attack mode. Erik, saying his last words before the climb.

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And a final photo of the communal oven (in the background) and one of about 10 houses that make up the hamlet we called base camp.

Here’s our day on Strava. The distance (114 km) is correct, but the elevation is way off as usual. We climbed about 2500 meters: http://app.strava.com/activities/72145165

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August 4, 2013.

How am I feeling? Thanks for asking.

The first two days of Peak Week were fine and I had no real problems with anything. Then, yesterday’s big day made me hurt, like ‘pain’ hurt, if you follow. If you don’t follow, what I mean is my legs hurt like your muscles hurt after going to the gym after a year off. What I want to say is that this sort of pain is rare for me now and it concerned me a little that I was getting it after only the 3rd day. Still, it didn’t slow me down too, too much (but it did), so while I wasn’t fresh, I wasn’t overly fatigued either.

The other issue was the heart rate, which dipped down 10 or so beats again. I chalked this up to either fatigue or the fact that I just couldn’t get the legs to work hard enough to get the heart beating faster. Again, minor concern about what this would translate into over the next few days.

Then the morning broke on our last day in the montagnes. Here is the promised Chateau du Champs, which nestles at the bottom of the hill our hamlet is on. Nice, isn’t it?
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Today’s ride, carefully designed by Anne, took us into the Ardèche department, but still in the Cévennes, so we were told later by her dad. Below is our first climb out of Villefort. The man-made lake is a dam, as you can see, and is stocked with trout (the big thing you see in the lake is a hatchery, I think). See that building that looks like a big stone on the nearest hill? That’s a chapel. I’d need to be really god-fearing to trudge up to that place every Sunday.

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While looking for a side road we found this, which was a nice replacement.

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After at least one more climb up to the high plateaus of this region, we hung a right and entered into a new departement.

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After a little climb that Erik and I somehow decided to sprint up we had a long descent into the village of Saint-Laurent-les-Bains, a spa village with its very own hot-spring fountain in the main square. The water comes from 2500 meters underground and is a disappointing (on such a hot day) 53 degrees Celsius.

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We descended some more then spring-boarded into our next climb – a brutal 10% demon of a thing, especially since we had no idea what what waiting for us. Here’s Anne, giving me climbing lessons (I in turn gave them to Erik ;-).

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But somehow Erik was waiting for us at the hairpin below, so the lessons must have commenced later. Anyway, here’s a steep, tight hairpin for you.

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And me, still chasing Anne up the hill.

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There was much more riding, but no more photos. We had a dreamy ‘corniche’ ride that was the highlight of the weekend for me – freewheeling along a high ridge at 35 kph with open views all around – can’t beat the feeling you get when you’re up high, especially when you’ve worked hard to get there.

The day ended with a long ascent back home (check the elevation graph on Strava) that made the beer taste all that much better. Then, it was lunch, a shower, and I was chauffeured back home by the ever-generous Anne and Erik.

Stay tuned for Day Five. It’s in the bag, but so is your blogger…must sleep.

Strava: http://app.strava.com/activities/72144355

August 5, 2013.

I woke up this morning wondering what to do (much like I am right now actually) for the next day up in Peak Week. Erik and Anne weren’t around to tell me where to go and I really didn’t want to drive back up to the Cévennes again. Not wanting to put much thought into it, I set myself on auto-pilot and ended up here.

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For the keen sighted, that’s Mont Ventoux in the distance. I had to park outside the village for the first time because it was market day. Other than there being no toilets, this parking lot was great, and I could strip down à la française with not much of an audience.

I intended to do either 1.3 (one climb and a Chalet Reynard-Summit hill repeat) ascents or 2. The 37 degree heat in the forest dimmed my motivation a tad and I ended up doing ‘just’ the former.

At the top the first time I snapped these three photos in literally a minute. There is a steady stream of people wanting their own souvenir of Mont Ventoux all day long. You need to be quick and assertive to get yourself in there before hypothermia sets in (not a problem today, mind you).

2013-08-05 15.52.21 2013-08-05 15.52.38 2013-08-05 15.53.20 And I found something new on top of Ol’ Baldy. The summit is now one way for cars (they need to take the road on the right then loop around, which I think is a good idea. They have also added this lane for cyclists (middle of the photo), which I think is a good idea in theory. The trouble was, when I came up the first time there were a bunch of pedestrians walking up and down, 3, 4, 5 abreast, completely unaware that there might be someone cranking around the hairpin, and who certainly wouldn’t want to put a foot down a few meters from the top, having spent the last 1.5, 2, 3 hours suffering up the mountain. I did a lot of yelling ‘Attention!’ and got through the crowd unscathed. Still, I can see some issues with this new arrangement.

I think a better idea would be to make two equally sized lanes. One for Belgians and Dutch, the other for the rest of the world. That would even it out nicely.

2013-08-05 16.44.07

How am I feeling? You’re so kind to inquire again.

My time up from Bédoin was 1:37 and the heat in the forest slowed me down a little I think. I’m taking this time as a good sign for Haute Route, which will be a lot tougher of course, but the legs are still working after 5 days of hard-ish effort. I am sure that the key to success in Haute Route (where ‘success’ = ‘finishing’) is miles in the legs. You can fake it through one or two days if you’ve done some training, but my impression of this event is that reality hits on the 3rd day, then keeps sticking it to you for 4 more after that. I feel about as good as I can with my legs at the moment. My knee doesn’t even hurt too much, which is also a great sign.

On my final descent I stopped for a fill-up at the Fontaine de la Grave (great water!) and ran into this friendly Dutch couple. They were hiking, but the conversation took a quick turn towards cycling. Turns out the guy is ‘Diable Ruud‘, a mad Ventoux climber who has done it something like 127 times (correct me, Diable, if I’m wrong). He is called ‘Diable’ because he has done 5 climbs in one day. Yes, you read right. That equates to 231 km and 7,663 m in elevation gain. Diabolic indeed. His wife, whose name I didn’t catch, has also climbed Ventoux many times, including multiple Triples. Just when you thought you were something pretty special, you meet people like this!

Strava: http://app.strava.com/activities/72386172

2013-08-05 16.57.14

August 6, 2013.

Lacking imagination, but possessing a car and a free afternoon, I went back to Mont Ventoux for my final day of Peak Week. I sound like I’m apologizing, don’t I? I shouldn’t. I was thinking yesterday and today, as I trudged up that giant, how efficient it is for my training. Where else could you get 1600 meters of climbing in just 21 km? It’s probably the best hill repeat there is, especially since it’s so accessible.

Anyhow, I decided to do an abridged version of a race I did up there a couple of years ago, which started and finished in the pretty village of Beaumes de Venise. The route has an added advantage of climbing two short cols before and after the big one, and it goes through the indescribably pretty Dentelles de Montmirail. Do not miss riding here if you ever visit the area (Rob, are you listening?). Below is an unusual view of Mont Ventoux, taken from my first col – Col de la Chaine.

2013-08-06 14.30.43

The climb (from Malaucène today) went well, but the legs were definitely fatigued. I think my time up was over 1:40. The legs were turning, just slower than usual. I’m still encouraged by this since there was a day not too many months ago that the ‘turning’ part would have been the problem.

Here is my 2nd col – Madeleine (no, not that one).

2013-08-06 17.24.50

And so ends Peak Week 2013. Here are the numbers, for those who like such things:

  • Days: 6
  • Distance: 600 km
  • Time in the saddle: 26:12 hours
  • Elevation gained: 11,600 m

My feeling is that the last two numbers, with an edge to the last one, are the most important here. The climbing, as well, was of a type similar to what Haute Route is going to be like, i.e. long, consistent, steep. I’m hoping this is important, anyway, since I’ve been building the whole 2nd part of my season around this type of terrain. Time will tell.

And now to the taper, which I really have no clue how to do. But have no fear; when I figure it out, you’ll be the first to know!

August 13, 2013. hr-alps-logoHaute Route is bearing down upon us like the freight train it’ll surely feel like being hit by more than a few times next week (if that sentence made any sense to you, I congratulate you). My Facebook timeline is awash with my teammates’ grand farewells to their friends and family, their apologies to those same people for ignoring them all this season (not to mention the neglected lawns), and their stats. Of course, their stats. All this activity, apart from making me shake uncontrollably with fear, makes me think I should say something, too.

You’ve been around this blog long enough to know that this whole last year has been devoted to getting myself ready for this week. You know that the Haute Route is billed as the Highest and Toughest Cyclosportive in the World. You probably are aware that we’ll be riding over 800 km in 7 days, crossing a whole lot of really big cols that will total 21,400 meters of climbing by the time we hit Nice. And how, you may reasonably ask, do I suppose I can do this? It’s a good question and one I can only answer with stats. Of course, stats.

This year so far I’ve:

  • Ridden 9600 km
  • Spent 378 hours on the bike

These numbers will be larger than some of my fellow Haute Route riders, and far less than many others (Rob is a good example, but I have yet to confirm that he is actually human). Within those numbers, hide the subtle change in training this year. Coach has had me focus more on endurance (cue the 4-hour indoor trainer session nightmares!) and I have taken it upon myself to find as many climbs as I have been able to. I don’t even know how many times I’ve climbed Mont Ventoux this season, but it must be over 10. I’m hoping that means something.

I have my own thank yous and apologies to make (e.g. to my wife, who had every weekend this year occupied by my sometimes-day-long-rides) and you are high on the list, readers – both visible and invisible. This blog keeps me honest, but more importantly, gives me more motivation through your many great, engaging and encouraging comments. You can take some credit, if I arrive alive in Nice!

Although I don’t see it anywhere on the site, I know that you will be able to watch me (or anyone, or everyone) ‘live’ each stage of the race. They’ll put something up soon, I’m sure, so just check the site and search for my bib number: 570 and scream at the page to tell me not to be such a slacker, if you like.

http://www.hauteroutealps.org/

August 15, 2013. Confirmed: The Haute Route website, once the race begins on Sunday, will be switched into ‘event mode’, with daily stage updates, live tracking, social feeds, photos and more – all happening in real time.

If you see me not living up to your expectations, call me on the road and remind me to find my Inner Jensie.

Gotta catch a train…Bye!

Postscript: I just realized that I didn’t even include the actual event itself here! Follow this link then just click forward through the many blog articles I wrote during that fantastic week in the Alps last August:

http://viciouscycleblog.com/2013/08/16/haute-route-first-ride-with-the-viciouses/

23 thoughts on “Haute Route 2013

  1. Gerry

    Well done on getting your team onto HR ’13.
    I did it this year and loved loved loved the experience
    http://www.etapes.co.uk/blog.html

    I am sponsoring a team next year with my clothing company Pente14.
    We supplied a dozen of the teams in HR ’12 with their clothing.

    I wondered if you had prganised your team gear?
    We are about to launch our new range and website soon for the next HR.
    http://www.pente14.com

    Our range includes fabrics and features that are better than Rapha and Castelli but at a fraction of the price … our team jersey starts at £25 including design and no minimum quantities. We cover fantastic shorts, gilets, gloves .. even socks and shoe covers that will cover your team designs.

    If you are interested then please contact me on steve@pente14.com

    Good luck and stay safe

    Steve

    • Hi Steve,

      I’ve forwarded your note onto the team members who will be dealing with kit (basically anybody but me!) and will get back to you if anything develops. I’ll definitely be checking your blog out this weekend, too. Thanks for that.

      Will you be doing the HR again this year?

      Have a good weekend.

      Gerry

  2. Hi Gerry,
    Thanks for the Periodization chart. I think it will be very helpful in structuring a plan. I’ve downloaded an app to assist me in laying a good base for the 9 weeks leading up to the chart. I haven’t spent much time on the Haute Route site and don’t know where to look for the advice that should be there so your site has been helpful and informative. Do you have any idea of what they recommend to do in the Global training, Base, Build, etc other than just the hours in the saddle. My app has some good suggestions but was wondering if the had actually recommended something more specific.
    Cheers

    • Hi Luc,

      I haven’t seen anything, other than what HR has up on their site. I would say getting yourself a coach (or maybe finding a good program online) would be best for filling in the blanks of a program. I might be able to help with the coaching (not me), if you’re interested. Contact me at cyclinglanguedoc@gmail.com to follow up, if you’d like.

      I’ve got no idea about your background as a rider, and I’m far from an expert (to put it mildly…), but what i can say from two consecutive years of Etapes du Tour is that a consistent, well-designed program is crucial for success. Multiple that by 7 for Haute Route!

  3. Nice Blog. Been shut out of training for HR Alps ’13 here in Colorado, foot of snow yesterday and -1F this morning doesn’t help. …trainer…trainer…trainer. Thanks for the ‘recovery’ parts – something I need to work on myself. Less weight & recovery will be key for me.

    • Thanks, Doug, and good luck with the trainer. Even though I live in the south of France my training program is keeping me indoors, too (for the most part), if that makes you feel and better.

  4. 6 or so weeks to go. hope I run into you (not literally of course) along the way during HR Alps.
    So, can you spill the name of the magic Japanese cream?
    Working furiously to quell a nasty saddle sore myself.

  5. Thanks for the pointer. Probably kind of hard to hunt down though. Although I do work with someone from Hong Kong, Hmmm.
    They put me on a team of mixed nationalities, which is what I kind of wanted. Sounds like fun to me, I can always ride with Americans here. Road bike is down until Tues…. I replaced my chain yesterday & quickly realized I took way too long to do it, skipping 15 tooth and 17 tooth under pedal pressure. Ordered new cassette. After thinking about it, I put about 5K miles on former chain/current cassette. Way too many miles huh? May still get out for a flat ride tomorrow, just need to bypass those two sprockets.

    Are any of you getting into Geneva early? I will be in Wed. Would like to get in a nice little ride before HR Alps.

  6. Rob and I will be there Thursday. Not sure about the rest of the team. We’ll be doing a ride, but not sure when/where at this point.

    5000 miles is probably what I put on my chain before changing it, too. I have to get one of those little gauges that check for stretch. Very cheap and very useful, I think. I keep my chain pretty clean, so I tell myself I get more miles out of it.

  7. I enjoyed your blog and the training tips. I. have ridden with Aaron West in SC. How did he do?
    Another guy I have ridden with, John Cash, did the HR this August. I wonder if you ran into him.
    How did you do?

    Bill Reichert

    • Thanks for commenting, William. The Haute Route reports are all in my main blog, so you can probably get some answers there. But I finished 124th overall, which is about what I was hoping for. Aaron never made it because of an injury (he will try again in 2014). I do know OF John Cash because a teammate was near him in the rankings. I don’t think I ever met him, though.

  8. Way faster than me, I finished 371st. Amazing 7 days… although I could have done without the lousy Gymnasium the last night though. Guess that is what you get for going cheapo accommodations. Day 3 was most memorable for me, frozen down the Iseran only to cook in Susa, Italy! (The road in Italy down to Susa was incredible, wasn’t it? Finest piece of pavement I’ve been on) I wrote a little article for Oct. issue of Team Evergreen Bike Beat Newsletter of experience: http://www.teamevergreen.org.
    Next year, Dolomites?

    • I was wearing embrocation stuff on Day 3 and almost fried to death in Italy! And yes, I haven’t had that much fun on a descent in a long time. Beautiful road.

      Not sure about next year yet, but I’m sure the topic will pop up pretty soon. I’m trying not to think about it yet because I know as soon as I do I’ll need to start training…I can’t stomach the thought of 6-day weeks right now!

      How about you? Any thoughts for 2014?

      Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out toute de suite.

  9. someone you interviewed, i. think it was the winner, Peter Pouly?, was quoted as saying to train
    at 70 to. 80. %. of VO2 max and do most of your training. climbing. You seemed to do a lot of real intensity. Did you try to train at a certain intensity on your climbs? Or just go by feel?
    also, someone gave the advice to increase the volume from say. ten to twelve hours. week.as. an eample.
    but during the end of. your prep time you incresed you volume a lot with one week doing
    26 hours of riding. that must have been a miserable week especilly after the fourth day.
    How did. you feel and how did. your. power hold up at the end of that week?
    if you do the HR next year will you change. your prep in any way?

    Bill Reichert

    • Bill, I remember that quote very well because it made me wonder about interval training altogether! I think I’d need to quiz him more and find out what he means, though.

      As for me, on climbs I usually start out easy and ramp it up naturally. It really depends on the day and the climb, though. I have not set way of approaching them.

      I felt alright after that hard week, but if I did it again I might do higher intensity and lower volume. I’m not sure though. I just recently read that this sort of ‘peak week’ is more efficient, so that article could be influencing me.

      I’d change plenty in my prep next time around, but that’ll be my winter project, if I decide to do another one!

  10. Hi Gerry, I have to agree that day 3 was my favourite day too. It had everything from the freezing ascent and the even more freezing descent with a few stops to thaw the hands, to the heat of Italy and the beautiful designer clad policewomen.
    I’ve had a little lack of enthusiasm getting back on the bike since HR so really need to get refocused on another goal and since I’ve laid a nice base down, it would be a shame to let it all go. Didn’t they mention that they may include the Dolomites in next year’s HR?

    • I feel the same way about the ‘base’, Luc, although you wouldn’t guess it by my cycling activities recently! Yes, a Dolomites is coming next year, but I don’t think they have the route laid out yet. I would expect to hear about soon, though. October/November is the time to get these things out.

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