Motivation: La Marmotte 2009

Col du Glandon, 1924m. Col du Telegraphe, 1556m. Col du Galibier, 2646m. Col du Lautaret, 2058m. 21 hairpins of Alpe d’Huez to finish. This is arguably the toughest sportive out there. Congratulations to Al and Joe on completing this year’s race in amazing times.

Motivation for next year? 

Chasing the dragon ride

Dragon Ride logo

The Dragon is the UK’s leading sportive, and it’s easy to see why. The Ride combines stunning scenery, long alpine-esque winding climbs, rolling roads and fast technical descents. The administration is impeccable, and the scale of the event – relative to other British rides – is something else.

Car parking congestion meant we were late starting. Matt and I teamed up with Mike – Jonny’s mate – letting Jonny and Will shoot off on a pretty hot pace. The route from Pencoed took us straight into the hills, and on to Bwlch mountain within the first 40k. Early on, finding groups to work with was tricky: not that – with over 3000 riders – we were short of people, but we found we caught and overtook each small bunch. As a result – and despite all three of us climbing really well – I was disappointed with the time at the first rest station at the top of Rhigos.

Matt dropped back on the descent from Rhigos, so Mike and I pressed on. I found the longer steadier climbing suited me far more than the severe 15% ers in the Chilterns, and we kept passing people with exhilerating frequency. By mid-race we also managed to get into some handy groups and picked up the pace on the long flat to rolling sections. Arguably the length of the ride could be shortened – something discussed during post-race debriefing – but personally I enjoyed getting more experience working with some good riders, and inparticular the Fred Baker Cycles team. If the route were shorter it would be fun to have a good go at the climbs; but on the other hand the overall challenge is in the testing length and thus it brings tactics to the fore.

We wound our way through beautiful valleys until Bwlch mountain reared up again for the return pass. Mike dropped me, but nobody else passed me as I settled into a rhythm until 100 miles ticked on my bike computer and I crossed the summit. Once over the top we soon realised that – with under 17 miles remaining – a sub-7h30 was on. The descent was very fast, and – bar one short climb – it was mostly flat to the finish. In the last 10 miles we really put the hammer down and this was probably the hardest part of the race.

If you keep up with my posts you’ll know my time! Here’s the route. And here are the photos.

Would I do this again? Yes, although I’d want to ride with a team to avoid spending more time looking for groups than actually working with them. There aren’t many rides in Britain that have long climbs like this, so it’s an ideal step on the road to an overseas sportive. It’s definitely one to get on your palmares!

Dragon Ride

Jonny, Matt and I will be tackling 120 miles in the Brecon Beacons this Sunday. Not sure I like the look of Bwlch2 at 160km in. At least the ‘heavy showers’ forecast from earlier in the week appears to have changed to ‘sunny intervals’.

Brecon Beacons 

Dragon Ride Route Profile

Reigate Sunday Sportive

Michael Fish

British weather is almost as odd as our choice of TV weather presenters (I mean, why not more Ulrika Jonssons?). Last Sunday in the Chilterns the concern was dehydration as the sun beat down; mistaking lightning flashes for speed cameras on the drive in torrential rain to Reigate, the concern was whether this event would even start! But sportive cyclists – I’m learning – are a hardy bunch.

The biggest challenge early on was avoiding a sock soaking from pools of standing water, or from car drivers ‘getting’ riders with pools on their side of the carriageway (to the b%$£*&! in the black Mondeo: I saw you grinning as you gave me an early bath!). Redhill CC were unsurprisingly out in force and – after Al took off with a handy-looking group – they did most of the work, hammering out a 20mph average pace for the main bunch. Through a rolling section a few riders broke away and – after initially missing the break – I fought my way across to the join them. This group contained the yellow jersey – well, a guy in a yellow jersey – and we really worked well together, sharing the work at the front.

Al experiments with a new aero position in the Reigate rain

Experimenting with a new 'aero' position in the Reigate rain

We hit the feed station at 40 miles in 2 hours. Why – though – do people waste so much time at rest stops? Is it just me, or does everybody seem to pull out recliners, put on smoking jackets and light cigars? So I set out solo, and was surprised to see Al’s group behind me: “wrong turn!” I heard over my shoulder. I held on for a while, but lacking power on a short incline I dropped off the back with two others.

Toys Hill – from the easier side – came and went, as did a short sharp shower, and the three of us pressed on to the climb at Chartwell. Three became two once over the top, and all was well until we realised we’d missed a right turn! 10 mins or so wasted, which turned out to be crucial. The run in was fairly pleasant with little to trouble tired limbs, but without a group to work with maintaining a high tempo was tough. Reigate college finally emerged, and my time was 5h18 – 14 mins outside Gold – and 62nd (of approx 142). It would’ve been close without the wrong turn! Al finished in a fine 4h38.

Here’s the route. It’s also worth mentioning how friendly Redhill Cycling Club riders are. Like many, I’m yet to join a cycling club; if more riders were as welcoming as these guys cycling would be a bigger sport in the UK. Great stuff.

Chiltern 100: review

Chiltern 100

As the Giro was finishing in Rome, I was spinning my pedals for 7 hours and six minutes around the Chiltern hills. Starting early at 8am from Great Missenden, I joined the first group of 20 and quickly leapt out with two other guys – also on Madone’s – keen on setting a good early pace. The first hill hit us almost immediately to warm up the legs, and Team Trek’s gap on the group increased! My bad sportive luck hit again though after 10 miles: my water bottle inexplicably jumped from the holder, causing me to turn back and retrieve it. Catching the other two on my own wasn’t going to happen so I pressed on solo.

By Berkhamsted the real country riding started. If you haven’t ridden in this area I’d strongly recommend it: rolling hills, some sharp climbs and beautiful scenery typify the area. Memories of killer 1/2 marathon hills from last spring came flooding back! I was caught by a big group of 20+ riders around Dunstable and we soon swept up my early breakaway colleagues. Unlike in the BH Springtime Classic, a lot of teams in club kit were working together. I found myself forging unspoken partnerships with riders not in teams, and we cracked on through to Tring. I passed Checkpoint 1 at Ivinghoe Beacon in 1h42.

However, when the real hills kicked in this tactic became tougher and tougher as groups were blown apart on each climb. The relentless 15 percent hills in the middle section were really testing with limited downhill recovery time, before the next corner presented yet another climb. The Chiltern hills seem consistently steep; the even gradient makes finding a rhythm easier but the steepness takes it out of you more than the North Downs.

Relentless climbing hit in after Tring, testing the legs to the max

Relentless climbing hit in after Tring, testing the legs to the max

I’ve grown in confidence in decending so I was able to pick off riders and regain back wheels fairly easily once over the top. However, by the second feed station my lower back was aching and spasming, so I spent a few minutes stretching out. The 27-degree heat was also taking it’s toll and my quads felt slight cramping. 40 miles to go.

Fast decents helped make up time after the tough hills

Fast decents helped make up time after the tough hills

The final section seemed to drag on and on and I spent long sections solo as the field was very spread out. Over the longer distance – 107 miles – solo on the flat also drained energy reserves and concerns of the dreaded bonk reared up frequently. It’s amazing where the mind wanders in such circumstances – I even started muttering to myself at one point, which is rather worrying! PowerBar Ride bars and Go energy gels did the trick.

Finally the ’10 miles to go’ sign appeared, just as I latched on to a group of 5 to roll our way back into Great Missenden. One guy I spoke to claimed this is a tougher ride than the Dragon, despite it’s shorter distance – I’ll reserve judgment for two weeks’ time! I would recommend this Sportive: it’s well organised, a fantastic route, and attracts many of the teams from the south of England. I should have broken the 7-hour mark really – officially front derailleur problems and my achey back are to blame, but unofficially I need to work on my climbing that’s for sure! Still, a great day and a great work out – very happy.

More photos in my Flickr Photostream.

Burgess Hill Springtime Classic 09

114K and 1509m of climbing in the Sussex countryside.

The Burgess Hill Springtime Classic 2009 proved to be a great early season sharpener as I begin my preparation for 365 days to Ironman 2010. Coming from Sussex, I was fairly aware of what to expect from this challenging and scenic route. Bright warm spring sunshine greeted us as the starter released our group and we headed out east from Burgess Hill towards Chailey before turning north to the Ashdown Forest. Appropriately, I had entered the event with my springtime training buddy Al and we quickly found ourselves in a group of riders keen on tapping out a brisk early pace. After 10 miles or so the route took us through narrow lanes; Al had darted ahead with another couple forming a mini-breakaway whilst I chose to settle into a group now 20 or so strong, weaving past potholes and through tree-lined corners.

The first decent climb warmed us up nicely for the more challenging Kidds Hill up ahead. The large group fragmented somewhat as we rolled up Pillow Mounds Hill and – feeling good – I got speedily down onto the drops once over the crest. 5k later and Kidds Hill – aka The Wall – reared up in front of us, near Chuck Hatch on the way up into the Forest. Despite having doubts about my lack of riding (one day a week since Christmas) something about the sunshine and the fact it was my first sportive in over a year and a half was spurring me on. I found myself turning the pedals comfortably and passing several riders to boot.

Once over the top of Kidds Hill the route then ducked down through the wooded lanes to the east of the B2026 through Friar’s Gate before hitting another steady climb at Groombridge Hill. By this point I’d leapt onto a back wheel and had been joined by another guy also keen to step on the pace; the three of us stayed together until the first feed station at Hever (63k). A banana, some cake, top up of fluids and I was on my way. Sadly my two recent cohorts were content to stretch out tired limbs and soak in the feed station hospitality – whereas I was keen to resume riding and chase Al through Sussex! – so I pressed on solo.

The next climb came and went – and so did the second feed station, to which I was oblivious – and I was aware I was making good time. The field was pretty thin by now, but this dramatically changed at the bottom of Balcombe Reservoir near Ardingly. All of a sudden a narrow winding (genuine) wall of tarmac towered upward in my path, with numerous cyclists weaving left and right, desperately mustering all reserves of energy to turn the pedals over. Grimacing and gritting my teeth I stood up, gripped the hoods, and pressed down left right left right. Pure adrenalin carried me to the top, and pure relief washed over me as I rolled into the time check at feed station 3. Feeling great; 15 miles to go.

But disaster was to unfold. Half a mile past the checkpoint and my rear tyre made a loud bang before flapping against the rim of my wheel. Simple tube change? If only. The bang had been the puncture tearing through the tyre wall, leaving a two-inch shredded hole; the cruelest of luck. Sadly the mechanic car was at the back of the field some 50mins behind. Race over. Little did I know, but I was in 56th of around 240 riders and on for a 4h40 silver category time. Al – meanwhile – was on his way to 26th and 4h18m. His own write up can be found here.

Next time…