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.

Rhys,

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.

Regards,

Alan

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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.

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.

First day in Portugal training. What did I learn?

Got into accommodation at 3am last night due to flight delays. Up at 9am for breakfast and riding by 11.30am. 6 hours sleep not enough but felt good. Took duo’s oil, mamnitech sports products to boost endurance, and multivitamin. Hydrated well as the heat was going to pick up on the ride.

Hired a bike and had my own pedals and handle bar adjuster put on. The seat height was adjusted and we started the ride. I had lots of questions to ask Gary the coach with my main aims to learn how to hill climb and descend safely.

Gary knew we had 4 days of riding so today was a steady 4 hour ride. There were 3 climbs from 45 mins to 1 hour long. I had never ridden this long on hills before so I was looking forward to testing my body.

I have come to realise training is about preparing your body. When you go out to train you can consciously tell your body what to do and it will respond depending on the training it has had. I did not know how my legs would respond to hill climbing so just waited to find out. The goal of today was to get distance in my legs with hill climbing and riding a steady pace.

We took on the first hour climb and I could feel I wad getting sore between the legs on the saddle. Gary looked from behind and could see my saddle was too high and each down stroke of my leg put pressure on my groin. We adjusted the seat and the pain eased. A loo stop also helped. Gary get me in the easiest gearing and high cadence and we chatted all the way up the hill. This was a good sign my VO2 max was good. This was the type of condition I was too sustain through the entire ride.

I could feel the pave I was maintaining up the hill and as we took on more hills my body was reacting well. My legs felt strong and even though my heart rate elevated I was comfortable. On one ride my legs were starting to fatigue and I was looking for the top of the hill but as soon as we hit flatter sections of road I recovered quickly.

Gary taught me to get out of the saddle and pedal to give my back a break and vary the load on my body. It actually felt very comfortable and helped me climb better. I usually dropped the gear two down to make pedalling out of the saddle smoother.  I definitely was eating and drinking more on these rides.

Going downhills has been a great learning curve today. On the first long decent I was leaning the wrong way around each corner and I was finding the line of my turning made me break too much. I was less confident turning corners to my left.

Gary told me to turn and aim for the apex of bend. Break before the apex but not at the apex as the back wheel can skid out and this is a common problem when cyclist break with the rear breaks. He told me to lean with the bike and relax. I followed his lines of biking down the hills and could feel the turns better. It was best to choose safety over speed when descending so I did break if I felt unsure.

By the end of the day I was staying closer to Garys bike when descending and I was beginning to know the lines to take leading into the bends.

I got home and felt strong finishing with no bonking. I had paced myself well and Gary thought my cadence and speed up the hill was good.

I learnt a lot today and finishing the ride with a nice cup of tea and biscuits sitting in the sun was idyllic.I am looking forward to practicing what I have learnt tomorrow. Gary did live in London and is going to introduce me some guys who will show me the big hills in Surrey to ride to maintain my momentum when back in London.

Gary is a great coach and very entertaining. He had me laughing riding up the hills and  he is an uber experienced  professional triathlete, duathlete and cyclist. He has a new purpose built home and cycle workshop for athletes to stay and train. Could not have come across a better place to prepare for the Etape. I will be posting videos on YouTube soon. Garys business name is Delucci and can be found on the net. Until tomorrow it is time to put on the compression leggings, get in the nutrition and recover for tomorrow.