March 12, 2015. I have made many friends, real or otherwise, from this blog; I’ve chimed on a lot about how it has single-handedly changed the direction of my life in the past 7 years. Today’s extraordinary exchange with a blog friend proves again that the world is full of really generous people (real or otherwise). Aaron West, aka ‘Steepclimbs‘ (and someone I’ve never met), was supposed to have ridden with us on Haute Route 2013, but he had some problems that year that have evolved into him most likely having to have a hip replacement this year. He still has his registration for Haute Route, carried over for the last two years, and has just offered it to me if I wish to take it. I am in negotiations with myself at the moment, and will decide soon, but I just wanted to say that humanity is alive and well, in South Carolina at least.
March 20, 2015. I’m proceeding with caution, unlike what I usually do when I see a real yellow light. Aaron, the most generous blogger in the Carolinas, has finally gotten hold of the folks over at OC Sport (the organizers of Haute Route) and they have promised to send me a code so I can register without paying. I’m still a bit concerned whether they’ll let me in HR Alps, since it’s officially sold out, but that’s possibly just an excuse for me to keep drinking beer, which I am.The truth is, Haute Route requires more commitment than I’ve been giving my training so far this year and I’m a little apprehensive about it, knowing now what it takes to finish, let alone ‘respectively’ (I would argue that a finish alone is ‘respectable’ for this event). The good news is that I must now have some of those golden ‘miles in the legs’ that seem to be so important for endurance events, and I still have over 5 months to get myself good and mince for the mountains. While I wait for Josie and that magic code, though, I might as well have a refreshment. Bon weekend!
March 26, 2015. I finally got a proper ‘secret code’ to register for Haute Route Alps without paying and woke up this morning a kilogram lighter. Try it, it works.
April 6, 2015. Sorry for the big pause in blogging. We had a death in the family and I had to run back home to Canada for a week. Although it was a sudden death and a shock to everyone, Tom lived a long life (89) and, weirdly, was very healthy till the day he died.
Tom was Rob’s dad, so I got to see ‘coach’ while I was there. A couple other of his athletes showed up to show their respects, which was also a surprise, but a nice one this time.
In other news, you all know that I’m registered for Haute Route Alps this year, I think. I’m rooming with an ex-teammate, Mark, for the week, and we’ve told the organizers we’d like to create team again (Vicious Cycle, of course). Thing is, we only have two for the team and we need a min of three. Anybody out there want to join? We’ll take all comers, but at least one of you should be stronger than me, so we can place well!
Any takers comment on this article or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, how to lose 5 pounds of Canadian fat before next Sunday’s race…
April 16, 2015. Now that I ‘know where I’m at’, after the race in Saint Tropez last weekend, I now need to figure out what I’m going to do to get where I need to be in late August, when Haute Route hits the reality button.
First, though, I need to get through La Marmotte, which was my main objective till I received my surprise entry into Haute Route Alps. Therefore, I give you the beginnings of my ‘3-peak’ cycling season.
You can see where I am right now on my mouse-drawn graph below. I’m hoping that my fitness will track the line as its drawn and I’ll peak for La Marmotte (July 4th) and then again for HRA (Aug 23-29). The sharp descent after August is me getting back into the beer.
I’m starting to do some research into how to train for a stage race, as well as achieving a multi-peak season. I have turned to the Grand daddy of Pain, Joe Friel, with a little Astana training idea thrown in (without all the drugs). This is the ‘crash course’ from the title, which I’ll tell you all about once I understand it myself.
April 20, 2015. The virtual world is really a wonderfully efficient place. One day the Haute Route organizers emailed me to tell me that Mark and I couldn’t make a team with only 2 riders; a couple of days later we have nearly a full contingent. This year there are two Vicious Cycle teams in two different Haute Route events (Pyrenees and Alps), with a total of 14 riders.
- The average age is up from 43 (2013) to 45. I blame myself for ageing.
- We are again a very international team, with 5 nations represented out of 8 riders.
- We have a woman! Sorely missing in ’13, I for one will be pleased to have someone around to bring down the testosterone levels a little.
Place of residence: Mönsterås, Sweden
Palamarès: Craft BIKE Transalp 2012,2013
Why are you riding HRA?: I need a goal with my training and a challenge, last year felt empty without any big race. I´ve been thinking about a road race in the Alps and Haute Route will be
a great challenge and a chance to revisit the Alps.
May 5, 2015. Today I went into the Cévennes (have I mentioned how great this place is?) with Erik for some climbing, trying to end the week on a high note, as it were. The route I had planned out (and forgotten once we hit the road) had 2800 meters of ‘up’, which would have brought me close to 7000 meters for the week – important numbers for Haute Route later on in the season.As it turned out, we ran into a rally race somewhere in the middle of the mountains and got re-routed, changing our plans on the fly. Luckily, the Cévennes (a really great place to ride) has a nearly endless supply of awesome roads, so we just backed out of the village the Gendarmes turned us around in, and headed towards Florac. Here we are at lunch in the middle of town.After this we hit a road that I knew from 44|5’s tour in the area, but had never climbed it. Here is beginning of it.
The sign is pointing down slightly, but the climb (5 km @ av. 8%) ain’t. We were pretty happy to see the Corniche des Cévennes at top, a long, beautiful, ridge road that is fast and fun. At the end of the day we had racked up 115 km and 2150 m, so not as big as we’d have liked, but at least we didn’t get run over by a race car, and that’s always a plus.
May 23, 2015. My calendar told me to buy my train tickets to Nice and back from Geneva today, so I now know that it’s just 3 short months till the beginning of Haute Route Alps (pro tip: if you’re booking trains, do it now. The prices will only rise).
Training is going reasonably well, I guess, but I’m at the end of a recovery week and things always look grim when I’m sitting on my ass, gaining weight. I am busy guiding at the moment, too, so training will be getting trickier and trickier.
Anne has devised a really big ride in the Cevennes for the group tomorrow, so that should make me stronger if it doesn’t kill me. I have a Ventoux Triple on my mind, too, as well as La Marmotte in early July. If I can get down to Contador’s weight (62 kg) I’ll be ready (and in a new pair of jeans).
And how are things with you?
June 26, 2015. Red, definitely not my color, since it blends in with my skin in summer. But it’s not the yellow of two years ago, so I’ll actually look like I haven’t been wearing the same bibs for that long (I have, but I’m about to retire the old ones).
Two slightly different versions of this kit will be present in HR Alps and HR Pyrenees this summer, and even though we all might not be the fastest on the road, the red will help give the illusion that we’re speedier than we are. Oh, and it’s supremely comfortable. Like wearing a second (red) skin.
June 27, 2015. I thought this was a bit of a corny idea when I heard about it (sorry Coach, the story ends well though) but on my ride today I found myself comforted by the reminder (or admonition, as the case may be) of the esteemed Rule 5. I’m sure it’ll come in handy a few times in Haute Route.
July 5, 2015. An assessment of one of my Haute Route teammates has stuck in my head for the last year or so, since I decided to do La Mamotte: ‘It’s a man’s race, Gerry’. Mark was right, except of course for the couple of women who beat me up the Alpe after 8 hours and 46 minutes in the saddle (that’s right, I was ‘chicked’).
This year’s Marmotte was different; it turns out in more than one way. First, the route changed, keeping the basic math (170 km and 5200 m of climbing, more or less), but with other mountains to go up and down. It was a slower parcours because it lacked the long downhill from the top of Galibier to the foot of Alpe d’Huez, where you can make up some serious time on your average speed. But it was the heat that changed the game and made it hell for most of us this year. France has been in the middle of a canicule for a week now and it was 42 degrees when I hit the beginning of the last climb of the day. These are my two excuses for a 17 kph average speed.
But it all started, as these things often do, with a fresh morning of smiles and hopeful faces.
Okay, not very hopeful. That’s 44|5 trying, and failing, to look tough.
After a surprisingly gentle roll-out at 7:50 we passed right by our very cycling-friendly guesthouse in Oz (Le Chateau d’Oz), so our designated photographer and full-time triathlete Sarah was waiting.
This was just before the first climb of the day – the Col du Glandon. It was cool and we all felt good on this one, with John slowly drifting ahead, as is his way. By the top of the climb I was sure that that would be the last I saw of him.
On the descent of the Glandon (neutralized because of its dodginess) both John and I punctured, making me sweat even more than I normally would the rest of the race because I only had one spare tube. The next little climb was that crazy one they’ll be doing in the Tour later this month, the Lacets de Montvernier. Looking up from the bottom of these ‘laces’, you just have to ask yourself ‘why’ (or perhaps ‘how’).
It was crowded up there but it was fun. The route climbed to Montvernier then descended another road back to the same valley (at the left of the photo above) before it did some ‘make-up miles’ on the flat, most likely to reach that magic 170 km everyone was expecting.
Then the merde hit the ventilateur.
By now it was midday and it was hot, and we had to climb back up the massif we’d just descended down, in two acts: Col du Mollard and Col de la Croix de Fer. At the top of the first climb there was a water station where most of us witnessed at the least ‘desperation’, and at the worst ‘full-on aggression’. People were very thirsty and very hot by now and the trough was pretty small. It was not the best poster for humanity, that’s for sure.
This climb wasn’t too bad for me, but it Karsten said he saw two riders throwing up over their handlebars and it is where John began to meet his match as well. the Croix de Fer, for me, put the hurt on. I just really didn’t realize how big it was going to be and was a little depressed when its full girth was presented to me at the last village before the end of the climb. Still, I hadn’t put a foot down to this point (unless I was eating a salami sandwich or an orange slice) and although I had little power in the legs, they still turned around for me.
But before I ever reached this badness, John was suffering through a world of something much worse – bad cramps. I was a little surprised to see him before we reached the top of the Mollard, trying to stretch out his legs on the side of the road. He said he was cooked and wasn’t even sure if he could make it to the top of the next col, let alone Alpe d’Huez. I gave him 3 Salt Sticks and hoped for the best, knowing all too well what a bad case of cramps can do to your day.
From the top of Croix de Fer, the route pretty much descended all the way back to the Oisans Valley, where we were greeted by a furnace to ride through till the beginning of Alpe d’Huez, where an inferno was waiting. I have been as hot on a bike before (in Australia), but I don’t think I’ve suffered as much from it. After 4 or so kilometers up the climb my breathing began to be very labored, deep and just generally ‘weird’. It wasn’t really from effort and I got a little concerned. I found one of the many little waterfalls that crash down the Alpe road and stuck my head under the glacial torrent for a few minutes, instantly feeling better. It helped also that there were many very excellent humans all the way up those 21 turns spraying you with water, squirting you with water, offering you water, and throwing water in your face and down your jersey. Faith in my race, restored.
I made it to the top, as usual thinking there was hardly anyone behind me (I tend to focus on those passing me and not the ones I pass), but in the end I feel pretty okay about the results: Out of a potential 7500 riders (no idea how many started)
- Gerry: 1173, in a time of 8:46
- Karsten: 2541, in a time of 10:07
- John: DNF (after Croix de Fer)
- Pierre: DNF (after Croix de Fer)
I had no real idea what to expect in terms of results, but just finishing seems to be a pretty good for this Marmotte. I’m almost cautiously nearly optimistic for Haute Route now.
July 14, 2015. I’m five and a half weeks away from Haute Route Alps and feeling pretty okay, except for this persistent cough that was given to me after La Marmotte. I’ve got precious few days to train right now because of ‘work’ (again, the irony…), but I have put together a few ‘crash blocks‘ to hopefully put me a few watts stronger and a few kg lighter before the end of August.
- This week: 4 days of ramped-up distance and intensity.
- Next week: Nearly nothing because I’ll be in the Alps doing a tour, then in Paris saying goodbye to my wife.
- July 25-30: This is going to make up for all the slacking in the previous two weeks. I’m going to Cuneo, Italy, to hit some big, big cols, followed by some big, big bowls of pasta.
- August 6-10: A ‘research’ trip to Majorca that will work wonderfully for the climbing legs and getting used to the stinking heat, too, I imagine.
In 2013 I think I did too many miles with too little intensity running up to the event and I felt a little ‘blah’ right from the beginning of Haute Route. I’m hoping to at least feel fresh for the first climb of this year’s; even that’d be an improvement.
In other news, that attack by Froome today was unbelievable, wasn’t it?
Aug 31, 2015. I’m not sure where to start with the inevitable deluge of Haute Route Alps blog articles that you’re about to be inflicted with, so I’ll begin with what I can remember – it’s finished!
After 7 days weaving, climbing, descending, climbing, descending, some winding, and a bit of dodging through the French Alps, I, along with most of the 600 or so souls who began in Nice, finished in Geneva.
Some did better than me (167 of them to be exact), some did worse. Some finished early every day (Peter Pouly was 8.5 hours faster than me over the week) while others only had time for a shower and dinner each day before starting it all over again the following morning (the slowest non-DNF was 15 hours behind me). Some made it through without a scratch, dent or wobble; others crashed out (the worst was a broken femur, I believe), trashed their bikes (I have a whole article to write on this one) or had one of many types of ailments that impeded their progress or halted it altogether.
Many were prepared for this extreme punishment – mostly those who had done it before. Many weren’t and survival became the main goal of the week (if it wasn’t going in).
For me, there’s lots to say, so get ready for an ear full. But while my thoughts digest and compartmentalize, I’ll leave you with the knowledge that I’m back, alive, and after the next pastis on the rocks, very well indeed.
Sept 1, 2015. Being in ‘the business’ I can only admire what OC Sport have accomplished with this event. That being said, I did complain more than a little two years ago when bags didn’t show up on time, not to mention Greg Lemond.
It seems they’ve worked out the kinks and, as far as I was concerned this year, the immense work that surrounds the riding was pretty seamless. Take the day before the race began, for example:
This is what I had to do:
- Check in to my hotel
- Bring my bike to the Village on the Promenade des Anglais to have it safety-checked
- Drop off my bike bag/box at the trucks below for safe keeping during the race
- Register and get my envelope, jersey and bibs, day pack and HR giant bag that had to be used to identify you so that it was taken to the correct hotel each afternoon
If I’d had any bike issues there was Mavic ready to either fix them or tell me I’m screwed and lend one of their yellow steel monsters (more on this in a later post).
The backpack (below) was an essential bit of gear. This was brought to start line each morning, dropped off at the Europcar van, and picked up again at the end of the stage. It was filled with whatever you needed at the end of each stage, like a protein drink, change of clothes, towel, meal card, and in my case, organic German beef jerky.
Each night there was a briefing, which I’m ashamed to say I only attended twice. This is half the room on the first night in Nice. The skinniest conference hall on the Côte d’Azur, I’d bet.
On top of this, negotiations had to be made with hotels to ensure a copious, very early breakfast, all support vehicles needed to navigate the same roads we did and make it to the end before the riders (a major task for at least Claud The Butler), and a hot, waiting lunch had to be waiting for us after arrival. There needed to be showers at the finish line, changing rooms and space for the endless line of massages that occurred each day.
It makes me definitely not want to apply for a job at this company. I’ve got a guided ride with one Aussie tomorrow morning which is stressing me out enough!
Anyway, bravo OC Sport. I’ve still got a few issues with you, but you done me good this time around.
Sept 2, 2015. After a fine Italian dinner on Place Masséna then a reasonably restful sleep, some of the team assembled outside the hotel for our first team photo. From left to right are Henry, Patric, Katarina, moi, and Chas The Destroyer. If you nod your head up and down rapidly we come into focus.
Mark, my old teammate from 2013 and roommate this year, stayed with his wife on the Promenade des Anglais, so we only get to see his crotch and new nationality. Mark, born in Northern Ireland, was by far the fastest Iranian in HRA ’13.
Last time we did Haute Route we had two neutralized descents over the entire 7 days we were on the road. This time around we had at least that many on the first day alone. I am not sure why this mass-neutralization has been implemented, but I can take some guesses. Whatever the reason, this stage, along with most others, ended up being basically a series of uphill time trials. For example, the first climb out of Nice was timed, then you went over a timing mat at top and could take as much time as you wanted on the descent, hitting another timing mat somewhere at the bottom (like the one below). The process began again with another mad rush up the hill. For me it broke up the day uncomfortably, taking away the ‘race’ and replacing it with short (or long) extreme efforts, followed by similar recoveries. I didn’t like it.
A few of us taking a break before a timing mat. I saw people sleeping on the grass in similar places later on in the race.
This first day ended in Auron, scene of one of the hardest days I have ever spent on the bike. This year it was much better, but I still need a rest afterwards.
I think I came in around 155th on the day.
Sept 3, 2015. First off, I have to thank teammate Patric for having the presence of mind to bring along his GoPro and actually use it for photos, otherwise you’d be doing a lot of reading over the next few posts.
Stage 2 was billed as the Queen Stage this year. It was probably the hardest for most of us, but not necessarily because of the distance and climbing. They were bad enough – the stage climbed the Col de la Bonette, Col de Vars and Col d’Izoard, before descending into Briançon and finishing uphill in the ski station of Serre Chevalier. It’s a lot of climbing to cram into the 2nd day on the road.
Everyone knew that bad weather was forecast and everyone was worried about it, I imagine. I went through all the things I had to wear and did a great deal of humming and hawing before finally landing on ‘nearly everything’. So, even though it wasn’t raining at the start line in Auron, I had my usual vest and arm warmers, plus skull cap, long gloves, winter booties and, most essentially, my winter legs. Even then, I nearly froze at the end of the day.
The Bonette was luckily a known quantity to me, having climbed it 3 times from the north and once from the side we did it from last week. The legs felt reasonably spinny and I got up there in a good time for the middleweight that I was (moving up to cruiser this week).
Vars was slower, but still dry, then at Izoard the engine conked out on me and I crawled up those long, torturous 11% gradients, barely noticing the brewing thunderstorm coming in from the west. About 3 km from the top it was raining hard, blowing hard and freezing hard. I think it was 2 at the top, but I can’t be sure because I couldn’t see my Garmin anymore. The descent was neutralized, of course, which meant ‘the race’ was over, but most of us (riders further back got bused back) still had to freewheel down 19 km in the soaking wet cold. This is when I thank my lucky stars for growing up in Quebec, where you sometimes have to shovel yourself out of your house. I handle the cold pretty well. But I was still numb when I hit the bottom and never really warmed up till Patrick The Masseuse worked his magic on me after lunch.
The one saving grace of this awful day was that the weather forecast was calling for beautiful sunny skies the rest of the week. The only one unhappy about that on the team was Henry, from Edinburgh, who enjoyed the Scottish summer we were having on Day Two.
I finished in the 180s today.