Etape du Tour 2011: The real story

This is the official website entry for Act 2 of the Etape du tour 2011.


This 2011 second act will certainly deserves a place on the podium of the most difficult edition.

The roughly 4,000-man amateur peloton set off from the start line at Issoire this morning.

The stage profile already had everything in place to daunt the participants, with constant ups and downs which made it difficult to find one’s pace.

The drenching rain, strong headwinds and cold temperatures (hardly 7°C on the route) did not accompany the riders throughout the entire day, but they did stay with them the whole morning. Typical March weather!

Finally, there were only 1982 finishers in Saint-Flour. Congratulations to all those who completed this freezing adventure!


This hardly describes what really happened…..

I got to Clermont Ferrand on a hot summers day. My bike was in transit from London and I met the lovely Iona from Ronan Pensac Tours who drove me to our starting destination and the Hotel d’Tourisme. I was to rest here for two days, register, and prepare for the race.

In my transit to the hotel Iona picked up three other cyclists. Jono (Australian with a love for Pro cyclist Gilbert..Jono had to add that one in), Mark (very aggressive  English cyclist trying to crack 8.40 hours and get a medal) and Jatin (English scientist who loves putting his bike together with meticulous care and wearing plastic bags on his feet when it rains). We were a hit team and on the way to the hotel we  discussed our training regimes and predictions for bad weather on the race. Our predictions about the weather were not bad enough…

On the first two days I hung out with my new cycling mates. We were all excited about the race and went to the village to register. Mark wanted to spend some money and with a snipers eye for race memorabilia soon found a new race top, arm warmers, and cycle cap to buy. He is as aggressive shopping as he is cycling. We picked up our official “man” bags (small white shoulder bags with blue, purple and pink strips) from the race organisers. Mark and Jatin were great company and as with the camaraderie of cycling we shared many jokes. Jono wasn’t with us on the first day. He had flown in from Miami and had jet lag.  I had lunch with him the next day to find out he Captains a 150 foot  yacht around Miami and the Caribbean. He constantly follows the sun and never experiences winter. No wonder he looked so tanned and  relaxed. I had no sympathy for his jet lag.

My bike finally arrived with my riding buddy, Mungo. He had driven 4.5 hours from his house in France. He was tired but we got on our bikes to test them. I have noticed at other triathlon races the bike can often have problems after transportation. We both heard unusual noises from our bikes and took them to the Mavic bike tent for servicing.

I heard a clicking noise and slipping sensation whenever I pushed down with my left foot on the pedal. The bike mechanic said it was my bottom bracket and he could not do anything about it. I did not believe him and pushed for him to tighten up the left crank. He did it reluctantly and surprise it worked. I also had Garmin issues as it was not picking up cadence as I rode. I went to the Garmin tent and they discovered my Garmin was picking up too many bike sensors in the village and could not identify my own. I left the village and after changing the battery found the Garmin was back to full operation.

Our final dinner before race day served up pizza, stewed chicken and rice. It was not the normal pasta and a nice change. Mungo and I put our numbers on the bike and prepared our race kit before heading to bed. Jono, Mark and Jatin were in great spirits. The biggest decision Mark and Jatin had to make was which racing top they wanted to wear. Was it going to be the Kingston Wheelers or official Etape racing top?

At breakfast, 5am, on the morning of the race Mark and Jatin appeared in their full Kinsgton Wheeler race tops. They looked proud to represent their club and actually looked like quality cyclists. They proved they were quality cyclists by the end of the day.

Jono, Mungo and I put arm warmers, gillets and shower proof jackets on because it was raining. The clouds were covering the sky and it was dark. We felt warm in our gear and as we headed to the start line we absorbed the atmosphere. Mungo and I decided to put plastic bags over our socks to test Jatin’s theory of keeping the feet dry in wet conditions. This year they organised 4000 riders into 11 groups  and started each group with a 3minute interval between them. The three of us started in group 7 and we waited about 60 minutes before crossing the start line. The system worked well and there was plenty of space for everyone to ride safely.

I had brought my Oakley Iridium cycle glasses for a bright summers ride in July. They didn’t work well in the dark, wet and steamy conditions we were encountering as we started the race. In the first 35kms the rain picked up but we were sheltered from the wind and it was getting brighter as the morning progressed. Jono rode at a good steady speed as he knew this was a long race. Mungo and I followed suit and we were always with in touch of each other as we rode. The rain got heavier and Jatin’s plastic bag over the feet theory started to back fire. The bags were actually filling up with water and not draining. I could feel my feet swimming in my shoes. At first it was quite nice as the water got slightly warmer as we rode.

After the first hill climb at 40kms we were  riding along open plains and totally exposed to heavy crosswinds, sheets of rain, and the plummeting temperatures. We were in our easiest gear and riding at the same speed we would climb an 8% gradient. Most cyclists formed small paletons to protect each other from the head wins. My glasses were too dark at this point so I took them off and my face took the wind and hail coming at me straight on.

I remember riding and thinking  I had over 150kms to go and at the speed I was riding and how cold I was getting this was going to be a very long day. I was not the only one thinking like this as Mungo and Jono were exactly the same. We even saw many cyclists who were riding in the opposite direction to return to the start line. They had given up and ambulances were giving space blankets to some cyclists stranded on the side of the road. We saw many cycles abandoned along the way waiting for the truck to pick them up.

We finally got to the top of the first small climb. I could feel my body soaked to the core and my legs were starting to shake. The temperature had dropped to below 2-5 degrees as were riding. We started to descend down the hill to the first aid station. The wind picked up and my hands were freezing. I could not reach behind my back to get food and braking was very unsafe. On the way down the hill the temperature must have dropped to zero if not sub zero. Every cyclist going down the hill was braking all the way. I had never seen so many cyclist descend so slowly. My calf muscles started to shake uncontrollably and to stop them I purposely pushed them down against the pedal. It got colder and colder as we descended and it was painful.

The aid station appeared in front of us and I had never seen so many cyclists stopping for help. The aid station was so full I could not see where to continue riding as the road was blocked. Hundreds and hundreds of bikes were in reserved bays to be taken to the finish line. Cyclists were trying to find places to warm up. A gym nearby was open to cover cyclists from the wind. Mungo and I found a small house opened by its kind owners to help provide  shelter, hot drinks, blankets, and food. They cared for us all and were extremely generous. For 1 hour Mungo and I stood shaking violently and I mean violently.  We couldn’t hold our cups still and we sheltered in the corners of the room. We called our driver to come and pick us up.

40 minutes later Mungo’s car arrived to pick us up. The aid station was now deserted and buses had transported probably over 1000 cyclist back to the start line. The bikes were being packed on trucks. I could not believe this was the middle of summer and we were standing in temperatures reminiscent of the middle of winter in London. We got in the car and drove 30 minutes to the hotel at finish line in Saint Flour. I found out later Jono had also thrown in the towel at the aid station and caught the bus to the hotel.

I had a hot shower for 20 minutes and warmed up then realised I was starving. Being so cold and shaking for so long had burnt up serious calories. In the space of 1 hour I ate the following; banger and mash, apricot cereal bar, apple, cupcake, bag of crisps, soup and bread, coq au vin, fries, coke zero, 2 power bars and several biscuits and hot drinks. I was still hungry even after eating all that but I stopped incase I made myself sick.

We got back to the hotel to find out the Gendarmerie had stopped the race at one of the mountain climbs. The visibility was as low as 2 meters and the cold weather was making descending very dangerous. 2000 cyclists did get through before they closed of the road and I waited to see who from our tour party finished the race.

I knew when I finished the race I could not go on. It was too dangerous not only from a riding perspective but also from catching hypothermia. At the time I did not know how anyone could continue the race. I was in awe of those that did continue and even more in awe of those that finished.

There were 4 of our tour party who finished in times ranging from 9-11 hours. They said it was the hardest Etape they had done because of the weather conditions. Several pushed on only because they did not know how to get home. Mark and Jatin had not finished yet and the cut of time was 12 hours. Their bags were the only two left in the foyer of the hotel. I was intrigued to know had they got through the Gendarmerie blockade and had they missed the cut off time.

Sitting at the finish line Jatin appeared from know where and then Mark followed with a medal around his neck. It was a great sight to see these two battlers had completed the distance. They had both been caught by the broom wagon but both had continued the race. They were chasing the broom wagon at stages and Mark describes a yo-yo relationship with the drivers of the buses. He would overtake the bus and the bus would over take Mark. To beat the bus he rode past the last two aid stations straight onto the finish line. He made the cut by minutes and even though the official did not like the line across his race number indicating he had been caught by the broom wagon gave him a medal. Marks aggressive riding and shear anger at being eliminated from the race too early (race organisers shortened the elimination times) got him to the finish line.

Jatin on the other hand thought his race was over. He decided to finish the race anyway and along his journey stopped to take photos, video and have a pee. He was asked 5 times if he wanted to be picked up and 5 times he refused. He did descend the hills very fast and as he crossed the finish line the last timing mat was being picked up. There was no one giving out medals and even though he crossed the finish line he missed out on getting one. Jatin was in good spirits  because he knew he had completed all the climbs. He is a real champion and I congratulate both Mark and Jatin for pushing on through the cold and completing the distance.

I could see Act 2 was a beautiful course and had the weather been better the race had the potential to be magnificent. I did not finish the race but I had a blast thanks to Jono, Mark and Jatin. I am happy I stopped and I enjoyed the entire experience. I have become an avid fan of the Tour De France, been to some amazing places, and met some incredibly funny characters. Cycling is a fantastic sport and I recommend anyone to try it. I am having a good rest from training and will review my plans in October when the next Etape entries come out.




Ex professional cyclist gives advice on Act 2 Etape de tour 2011

Stage 9: Issoire to Saint-Flour


I’ve written this note about the way I would do it so if I say some obvious things I apologise. The first step we would be put through would be to have ridden a couple of the highest mountains, or ones with a similar ascent and height, prior to the day. This allows you to find the right rhythm, pace and gear for that type of mountain. You probably can’t do that unfortunately but it was a huge advantage for someone like me who wasn’t a mountain climber.

The stage is 208km and has 8 mountain climbs, with 3 being a level 2. The two longest climbs come at 91.7km and 146km. The good news is that the mountains at 116km, 127.5km and 139.5km are tough but short climbs, as you are already up the mountain range somewhat.

Prior to the first climb (at 40.1km) focus your mind on getting the rhythm right, get yourself to be absorbed by the bike – you and the bike are one. You are not on the bike, you and the bike are the same – a machine that can go all day.

There is an initial climb of 3.4km at 40.1km (753m). Stay with the bunch but keep well in the middle. It is unlikely that the bunch will split at this point.  If it does it is likely to be a small breakaway: the peloton will almost certainly stay together. Keep within a bunch so you have riders on both sides, in front and behind.  This gives some protection if there is a wind and also provides a measure as to how you are doing. Use this first ‘hill’ to get your position right for climbing, test your legs and test the gear combinations that seem right. Move in and out of the saddle and let your body and legs get used to the traction. The rhythm for the climb is within your whole body – arms, back head, legs etc. The whole body has a rhythm that keeps the legs turning despite the pain.

Keep within a bunch through to the start of the first nasty one – the Col du Pas de Peyrol (1589 m and a 7.7km climb to 6.2%.) You aren’t out to win this race and you must keep at the back of your mind that the last big climb starts at 146km – a long way away and you must be in shape when you arrive at that one.. The Col du Pas starts at 90.8km: make sure you have got yourself into a mindset of pain acceptance but knowing you will come through it. [I found this invaluable.] You have about 30 kms after the Cote de Massiac to ensure you have a smooth rhythm. Don’t talk unless you really have to, don’t socialise, just focus on the task ahead. Visualise the climb and how you are going to make it up as easy as possible (not easy but easy as possible;) visualise your legs moving in a steady rhythm; embed the feeling that you’re a part of the bike, not riding it but part of one machine, you and the bike.

When the climb starts keep within a bunch for as long as you can. Do not share the lead unless you really have to. Swing in towards the rear but not at the very end of the bunch. Keep adjusting your gears to ensure you have a steady rhythm in the legs. Focus on the rhythm of your movements. Do not look up; focus your eyes on the immediate road ahead (I used around 10 metres); do not think about how far you have come or to go. Get into an almost robotic rhythm – get your mind into a state where it excludes all thoughts of the end of the climb and is fixed on the immediate bit of road you are on (say 10 metres ahead.).  Think of each 10 metres as a success as you move through it. When you turn a corner do not look ahead to the next unless it is within your immediate sight line of 10 metres.

If you can’t stay with the bunch do not give up or cease the rhythm. Try and find a rhythm that still keeps you moving up the mountain. Form your own bunch and work together if possible.

Once at the top (and you will make it) DO NOT use energy in chasing those who might have got ahead. You have 3 smaller climbs over 40 km. and two are at 7.9% so do not under rate them Descend in a way that allows you to reset your legs, get your breathing under control, drink and eat if necessary, Follow the same approach on the shorter climbs. The critical issues are rhythm and mind set – do not allow the thought of giving up even enter your mind. Focus on the immediate road. I used to say to myself “That’s another ten; that’s another ten” all the way up.

You need to prepare for the last big climb. You come off the Cote de la Chevade at 139.5km and start climbing again around 148km so you have only 8.5km to get in shape. This is an 8km climb at 6.1% – nasty. Now start to move your mindset to the finish. When you cross over this one you have a nice long decline with a few bumps and then a couple of hills to climb. Although you still have 54km  to go from the top of Col de Prat de Bouc the worst is over. You can afford to really suffer on this one if you have to. If you are struggling, and the legs are in pain, try and find a rhythm that maintains but doesn’t increase the pain – mindset again is vital. Tell yourself that your legs can make it; they have made it to here. “Another ten behind me; and another ten. And another ten…” Don’t try and keep up with anyone on this mountain if it is draining your energy. Set your pace, your rhythm and focus on the10 metres ahead. Do not look up – 10 metres at a time is all you have to cover at any point. Keep in your mind the worst is over once you cover the top of this mountain – then it is downhill mainly and home.


This might sound a bit ‘new age’ but it is how I did it.  I studied the route of each stage well before the event. The night before a mountain stage I looked at a map of the route, thought about each mountain, thought about the pain I would suffer based on previous mountain climbs that were similar. I visualised what I would seek to do on each based on the length of the climb and the gradient. I also made sure I had a plan in mind if I stayed with a bunch and one if I was dropped. I was a very good descender but did not burn energy doing so (unless it was essential in terms of race position and the team.) You will burn a huge amount of energy on each mountain so conserve all you can off the climb. For the first 20kms or so focus on rhythm, on becoming part of the bike. Avoid distractions and keep your mind focused on those things alone. Do not think about the length of the stage at this point nor how long to go. Get yourself in a state that says “this is how I will ride, can ride, for as long as I need to – even if it is all day,”

Hope that helps.  That’s how I did it and hope there is something there that you can use. See you before the event anyway. Give me a call if you want to chat about anything in this. If it is crap then throw it away – I won’t be upset.



Last 1.5 weeks of training before the Etape de tour 2011

The last week of training was a killer. My coach had me train 4 days in the week and a combination of long rides, time trials and medium distance rides in big gears to make my legs work harder. I then travelled to Switzerland to watch the Ironman and have come back to another 2 hour bike session.

I certainly hit my biggest weeks of training on the last two weeks and with cycling there really isn’t such a thing as an easy week. My coach had me ride 2 hours this week to keep my legs going and the day before the race there will be another 1 hour ride. I was tired at the end of last week and still feeling the affects of travelling to Zurich and getting up at 3am for the race preparation and race day.

It was good to get back on the bike with my riding partner yesterday and push hard. My body seemed to forget what pushing hard on the bike felt like.

I still need rest before the race and I have been crabo loading. My appetite has increased significantly with the amount of training I have been doing. I am eating pasta and rice with simple toppings to keep it easy on my digestive system. There will be a pasta pasty the day before the race and I am looking forward to eating well from here on in.

My racing bike is now in transit to France. My riding partner is taking it on the back of his 4×4 vehicle as he has a house in France. I am packing tonight and then off early to get to the airport on time. I have made a list of everything I need to take. It is vitally important to remember my medical certificate otherwise I would not get my race number to ride. I also arranged travel insurance with Snow Card. There are few companies providing full medical cover for bike races.

In the last three weeks I have been having problems with a loud noise coming from my bike when I ride up hill. I had my bike mechanic come to my house twice to sort it out and to change my gearing to a 34 on the front and 28 on the back. He changed the chain and also gave the bike a new pedal bracket. I tested the bike yesterday morning and it was still making a noise so I took it to Sigma sports where my bike mechanic works to have another look.

The noise was not coming from the pedal bracket it was somewhere around the steering column. He chose to lube the entire headset and we thought it was sorted but then I tested it and again the noise was present. This was getting frustrating and I was worried as I was giving my bike over for transportation to France that day.

I was testing the bike and then another Sigma bike mechanic heard the noise. He said it had to be the front wheel axle. He lubed the entire area around the axle including the connection with the front forks. Magic, the noise was gone. It showed me how difficult it can be to judge where noise is coming from on a bike and to lube the bike if it has been in the rain or not been serviced for a long time.

I am relaxed mentally and I am looking forward to the entire experience. I will be with 5000-6000 other riders and having a riding partner makes all the difference as it will be along day. I am expecting to do it in 9-10 hours. The professionals rode stage 9 on the weekend and there were some serious accidents. The wet road can be dangerous on the hairpin turns so braking carefully and slowing down is important.

This is it I am about to do the Etape de tour 2011. It has been tough training as the rides have been so long and I have worked at the same time. I am glad training is over and now I am ready to race. On my website I am posting the entire Act II guidance booklet from my tour company. It contains everything a rider needs to know. On the following blog I am also putting the analysis of the Etape stage by an ex-pro cyclist. I asked him to break the race down as if he was doing it and his insights have been extremely valuable.

I will read over advice from cycle fit, look at the course and then watch the Tour de France to prepare. It is surreal knowing I am about to take on a stage of the current Tour de France.


The last long ride and an inspirational Ironman

Yesterday I completed my last 6 hour ride. It was a great feeling knowing this was the last time I would ride for so long. The training has been long and hard and with the rigors of work it is good to let my know body rest before the race.

The training during the week was also tough with a ride to Windsor in the big gears (hard work on the leg muscles) and 10 hill repeats in Richmond Park as fast as I could go. I pushed hard and in both training sessions felt my calves spasm because of the shear exertion and amount of time I continued to push hard.

I did not know how I would go in the long ride and often with these rides I tell my strength by how well I climb the hills. I went out on the 6 hour ride with my coach and another ironman athlete. I was tired at the start of ride because I had not had enough sleep all week. I was not sure what my energy levels would do through the ride. I decided to test “Zero” by High5 to replace electrolytes when I ride in hot temperatures. The tablets dissolve in water and have a slight fizz to them.

We had about 6 hills to climb and we had a slow start in the first half of the ride. It was like we were warming up but that soon changed as my coach led us out for the middle section of the ride. He lifted the speed and it was a matter of keep up or fall far behind.

My legs got stronger as the ride went on and I rode hard up the hills. Training in the United Kingdom is very different to the hills in France but I used the fast hill climbs as a way to strengthen my legs. I felt more and more confident as the ride progressed and my body was coping well with the fast sprints and change of pace. I could tell how strong I was when I could accelerate and pull away from the other riders along the straight and hill climbs as we returned back to Richmond Park. My legs actually felt powerful and I had plenty of energy left in the “gas tank”. The Zero tablets were good and apart from making be burp did not upset my stomach.

The Ironman athlete riding with us was a true inspiration. He has kidney disease and has only one kidney working. What is more he has only 20% of that  one kidney functioning. He has been training for an entire year for the Ironman and he is 2 weeks away. His condition was good when he started training however in the last few months his condition has got worse. His production of red blood cells is less than normal which has reduced the transmission of oxygen to his muscles when he exerts himself on the bike. When we climbs hills he has 30 seconds to 1 minute of strength and then he fades badly. He has continued to train and with two weeks to go is determined to succeed. I look at his attitude to training and his self belief and I honour his commitment to completing his Ironman challenge.

When I talk to and follow the journey of first time Ironman athletes it is guys like my friend above who inspires me and are the true stories of this wonderful sport. When I know he has crossed the line I know a man has conquered a massive personal challenge.

I have one last week of serious training. It involves a 2 lap time trial around Richmond  Park, Fast ride to Windsor and a slow ride for 2 hours. I so look forward to the 2 hour slow ride as I will know I have finally completed all my training. Next week will be some easy 30 minute rides in the gym as my bike is heading to France carried on the roof rack of a car. I will use this time to pack, sleep and prepare my body for the onslaught.


3 weeks to go, preview of Etape course

I had an incredibly enjoyable 8 hour bike ride last weekend and felt strong. The training in Portugal set me up well for hill climbing. This week I went to cyclefit and Rapha preview of the Etape course held at the Charlotte Street Hotel in London. They have been out and ridden the course and have come back with tips for all entrants in the race. The evening was filled with mainly first time Etape riders and it was a valuable seminar to attend.

In the evening we learnt that the course is suited to the strongly set rider. It is a long course and is constantly undulating with the section between 90 and 154 kms being relentless up and down climbing. There is another hill at 190km which is 2km long and the first 90km is gradually up hill climbing. We were advised to “bank” sleep, nutrition and hydration the week before and plan for complete rest. On the day it is important to eat and hydrate well as the temperatures could be hot and it is going to be a 9-10 hour riding day. There is valuable information on the cyclefit website for preparation for a race like this. It is sensible advice on riding and nutrition and preparation.

This week I have had a physio course for 4 days and my training plan had to be revised. There were not enough day light hours to do a long ride. I did 2 rides, a 3.5 hour fast ride to boxhill and 10 hill repeats in Richmond Park. I can see this is not ideal but next week I am increasing my training again. I am hitting my biggest weeks of training and now is important to get it right.

My bike is needing maintenance. I am changing my rear cassette to have a 28 or 29 ring and the front small ring to a 34. I noticed the riding in Portugal was much easier than my riding in London so I have decided to  copy the same gearing as the bikes I had ridden in Portugal. I will also get a new chain and new brake pads.

At the moment my bike is making noises when I get out of the saddle and ride. I think the chain is getting longer and now it must be replaced. My plan is to have every thing planned from training kit to bike well before the event to test my gear and have less to think about closer to the race.

I am looking forward to training this week and maintaining my fitness. The cyclefit team said endurance fitness can be maintained for 7 days but strength and power can be lost in 3 days. I know my hill climbing strength is reducing at the moment but there are no long hills for me to climb and simulate the hills of France.  It seems my coach has me on fast training sessions to keep my power going.

Lets see how I feel at the end of this weeks training. The weather is glorious at the moment. I am very grateful.

8 hour bike ride and feeling great

It is 5 days since I got back from Portugal and a cycling training camp. I had an 8 hour bike ride to do and thank goodness I had my coach and an Ironman athlete to train along side. I started just before 7.30am and finished at 15.45.  We rode to Box hill and joined several of the routes we know.

My legs were particularly strong and after riding up the hills in Portugal the hills in the Surrey were much easier to climb. I used all the skills I learnt to pace and ride up the hills. I even put the chain back on the chainset without getting off the bike. I was able to accelerate up the hills and had good energy right to the end of the ride.

My legs do feel tired after the ride and walking downstairs is difficult. I have my compression stockings on and I have eaten well. My recovery from this ride is very important as it will optimise the gains I have got from it.

My coach says this could be my longest ride before the race. He thinks I should do more intense shorter rides.  I have a busy schedule leading up to the race and my midweek rides will be crucial. I am concerned the hill climbing in Surrey is not as intense as in Portugal. I am interested to see how my leg strength is in the race with training now focussed in Surrey.

I will be getting the rest of my training plan from my coach and I will post this in my blog. There is only 4 weeks left and I am looking forward to tapering before the race.

Final day of training at Delucci Retreat and stll learning new skills

It’s my last day at the Delluci Retreat and Gary, my coach, planned a two hour climbing ride. The mountain we climbed twisted and turned and all I could see around each corner was another never-ending incline. I was getting used to this demoralising sight ahead and focussed on my climbing technique. I had to keep my head up so oxygen got into my lungs. I used my pacing and recovery skills when the climb got tough. It was by no means a fast climb but I did it smoothly and still had strength in my legs at the top. This is important to practice because the Etape is 208km long and having the endurance and strength is important.

The descent down the mountain went badly. Gary followed my descent and wanted me to practice the skills he had taught me. I went too fast and braked too late around a corner. The back wheel skidded out and I slid across the opposite side of the road towards the mountain wall and a large ditch. Thank goodness I stayed upright and as I neared the ditch I was able to play with the brakes to tip the bike away from the ditch at the very last minute. I got a stern verbal reminder of what I was doing wrong from Gary.

My confidence was knocked from the skid and I followed Gary down the rest of the mountain. We analysed what happened all the way home. I learnt on sharper descents I can not go as fast and I must break at the right time. I can use 70% on the front brake and stick my bottom backwards over the seat to spread my body weight along the length of the bike when braking. In the Etape I would have taken 100 riders out of the race with a skid like the one I just had. In the Etape other riders could make the same mistakes. In the race I plan to slow down and take corners wide so I don’t get caught in any accidents caused by others.

There was a big learning curve with my skid today and even though I made a mistake I have sharpened my downhill riding skills even more. Back at home Gary looked at my back tire. I had completely stripped the tread down to it’s base lining in two places. I was fortunate not to have blown it.

On leaving the Delluci Retreat Gary showed me how to replace my brake pads. Even more valuable information to take back to London. It has been a very worthwhile experience being with a coach and cycling proper mountains. It has helped me learn faster before the Etape. The Reteat is very relaxing and Gary and Sussie were alot of fun. They catered for all my needs. The rooms were fantastic and so was the food. I will be adding the Delluci Retreat to my recommended places to train for cyclists and triathletes.

Thank you Gary and Sussie for a wonderful time.

Longest day of training yet and still legs stay strong

Yesterday I completed my last full day of training. It was a 6.5 hour ride over 85 miles. I started the day with my usual nutritional supplements. They do make a difference because my legs feel strong everyday.

We climbed for 2-2.5 hours and then descended into the most delightful Portuguese village for lunch. If I was back packing around Europe this is where I would want to come to see beautiful scenery, have sunny days and pay 2 euros for lunch.

The ride went smoothly until one of our cyclist got knee pain. We called for the car to pick him up. Up until this point I had been climbing smoothly at a good pace and feeling strong. When the car came my coach said “Rhys time for some madness”. I hated those words as this meant hard and fast riding as he wanted to beat the car down the mountain and into the next village.

We took off and I glued myself to his back wheel. We were cornering like rally drivers around the twisting downhill descents. In-between the descents were slight inclines which meant climbing 500 to 1000 metres as fast as possible. This was when the pain in my legs kicked in. I pushed as hard as I could and managed the first incline. I rested on the following descent in preparation for the next climb. My coach said “Rhys let’s get on it!” and accelerated again.

The lactic acid built up in my legs with each extra effort I made to push faster. With 200 meters to go to the end of the next climb I broke. The pain in my legs and my high heart rate were too much and I blew. My intensity of riding dropped and the car caught me up. My coach probably would have made it to the village but he waited for me. The moment of madness was over….so I thought.

We relaxed and I followed my coaches slip stream into the village. My legs were fatigued after 80 miles of riding. We still had the climb back to the house to go. I chose to take on the beast of all mountain routes just to finish the day hard. It was stupid but that is cycling for you. It took me 18.30mins with 11-14% gradients. If I stopped pedalling I would fall over. The final push to the top was mighty. Another hard day of climbing finished.

It was encouraging to find my legs still had strength in them and I knew the last ride tomorrow was going to be another good test. I learnt more about pacing myself today and following good lines on the descent. I learnt how to slow my breathing down again and regain composure when I am gasping for air when climbing. Keeping weight on the front handle bars was important to stop speed wobbles down hill.The training has made me stronger over three days.

I put on compression leggings when I finished and relaxed. We headed for dinner and we all ate mountains of food. Our metabolisms were going ballistic. I am enjoying this experience and I can see cycling is very technical when riding in mountains. There is nothing that beats practical experience and that is exactly what I am getting here at the Delucci retreat.

Tips when wearing sunscreen and cycling

Yesterday I went cycling and was sweating in heat and hard climb. The sweat ran down my forehead and mixed with the sunscreen I had applied in the morning. It then ran into my right eye and it stung as the sunscreen lotion irritated my eye. I was climbing a hard hill at that stage and could not take my hands off the handle bars. I  let the eye get painful and by the end of the ride my eye was red from constant irritation.

My coach Gary said do not put sunscreen on your forehead and bring your helmet down to cover the gap between your glasses and your hairline. Is will soak up the sweat on your forehead.

Another useful tip I have learnt training here in Portugal.

Massive day of hill climbing in Portugal

I was wondering how my legs would feel after yesterday’s ride (4hours). My coach Gary said today was going to be real cycling and we would take on big mountains.

I woke up and could feel my calves a little tight. I used his massage machine on my calves and soles of my feet and they  felt much better.  I took my Mannatech sports products, multivit., Udo’s oil and Salt solution. I have to admit the mannatech products make my legs feel strong and I am more alert. In the past if I hill climb a lot and push hard I get hamstring cramping. My quads fatigue and I slow down because they are painful to push on the ride.

We started the ride and took it easy until 50mins in when we started the assents. These were hour long assents where I had to get out of my seat and max my heart rate. Gary pushed me to see when I almost started to hyperventilate and then asked me what my heart rate was. It sat around 172-173. Even though I was gasping for air my legs felt strong. I did not cramp and I recovered very quickly.

There was a time in the ride where I was at breaking point. Gary taught me to get out of the saddle, pedal slowly and quiet my breathing down. I was climbing a steep hill but at the same time reduced my heart rate by 10 beats. This enabled me to recover and still be climbing. This is a skill I will definitely use in the Etape.

On the final hill home, which still required 45 mins of steep climbing with destructive gradients, we went up a new part of the hill. I was the first of his riders to climb it and he has rightly called it Mount Rhysey. I leave my mark after 5 hours of mountain climbing in absolutely stunning scenery and weather.

I learnt a lot on this ride. Garys chain came off while riding and he was able to put it back on without touching the chain and still riding. He gently feathered the gear changer which shifts the chain from the small cog to big cog on the front chainset. He gently pedaled and the chain relocated itself back onto the cogs. I have never seen this before and logged this as a valuable skill to master.

I am getting better on the descents. He taught me to keep weight down on the handle bars and lean with the bike. My line going into the corners is improving and at times I did not have to brake and could feel the bike accelerate out of the bends. I was keeping up with my coach much better than the first day.

I am beginning to know how to pace myself up steep hills. I combine getting out of the seat and seated riding and can push hard or control my heartrate. I could feel my upper body being used in the assents when riding out of the seat.

Gary noticed I wobble on my bike when taking one hand off the handle bars or looking around. I put too much weight on the handle bar with one hand and where I look the handle bars turn. He taught me to always look forward where I am going and don’t look back. Keep even balance on the handle bars. If I wobble in the Etape I could hit other cyclists and I would fall and cause a crash. I would be on the bottom of the pile and the handle bars of other riders would hit me. This is very dangerous. Gary recommended I look out for other dangerous riders and stay wide and away from them in the race. Another great tip is to never ride with my front wheel overlapping the cyclist back wheel ahead. If our wheels touch I am the who will fall as my front wheel will twist.

Gary thinks I have got good strength and good potential to climb well. When I get back to London I must maintain my riding so he is going to introduce me to riders who will show me more hills to climb in Surrey.

In two days I have learnt very valuable skills. I have two days left to condition myself and continue to hone my cycling technique. Tomorrow is a 7 hour hilly ride. I am not looking forward to the final hill climb home as this is really steep but how else do we get home.

I want to further progress my hill climbing and descent skills. I want to pace myself and know the strategies I can pull on for the Etape. Gary explained that in the race my strategy will be determined by how I feel at certain stages in the race and where the hills are placed in the course. The steepest hill is in the middle of the race so he recommended I pace myself slowly up this to conserve enery for the final hill and end of the race.

I sit here after today’s training impressed how strong my legs feel. I have never been able to do this before and not feel pain in my quads. The training and nutrition is working.

Tomorrows riding awaits. Speak to you all then.