Archive for the ‘sportives’ Category

King of the Downs

Unfortunately, this is not the triumphal write-up I was mentally preparing the week before the event: my first DNF in a sportive, thanks to a broken spoke on my Campag Neutron Ultra rear wheel at exactly 4 hours into the race. (more…)

Peaks toured

My strong performance in last Saturday’s Tour of the Peak District confirmed two important outcomes from my training so far this year:

  1. To ride strongly in a sportive, do a ‘warm-up’ sportive of the same distance 2 weeks before.
  2. Lower back pain can be successfully eradicated through core training over a period of months.

It’s good to crack these things.

On the day my time was 6hrs 08, position 13th out of 148. The final 20 miles were hard, but on the whole I felt easy, strong on the hills, and quicker on the flat. This will be an event to do again in future years, since it’s close to home in Stoke and features the long draggy ascent to the top of Snake Pass from Glossop, which particularly suits me. (more…)

To the Dolomites

Profile of the course.

As intended, the Maratona dles Dolomites is now firmly on the horizon, so I’m taking a closer look at the route profile. Some facts:

  • 138km / 85 miles
  • 4190m height gain (La Marmotte is 4500-5000m, depending on where you get your figures)
  • Hardly any flat sections
  • Temperatures in the mid-upper 20s C
  • In the first 22km you climb from 1436m to 2239m (top of the Passo Pordoi).
  • The Passo Pordoi has an average gradient that matches the Col du Glandon (6.9%) – in fact, the start of the Maratona will be like climbing the Glandon, except with a short 4km descent after 10km.
  • The Pordoi is followed by 3 shorter climbs (and descents) of around 5-6km: the Passo Sella, the Passo Gardena, and the Passo Campolongo – of which the Sella is the steepest.
  • The big one is the Passo Giau, situated at 97km. It’s 10km long, ave. gradient 9.3% – comparable to L’Alpe d’Huez, but slightly shorter and slightly less steep on average, very similar to Ditchling Beacon, but 5 times as long.
  • After the Giau, you descend all the way down to Pocol at 1535m, before ascending to the Passo Valparola, an 11.5km ascent at 5.8% ave. gradient (Box Hill’s steepest sections are 6%, but that is only 2.8km)
  • Following a massive 15km descent, the final 5kms of the ride are gentle uphill.

Evidently, this a climber’s sportive, quite different from most UK sportive routes, which favour the stronger, Classics-style rider. Now that I’ve got a couple of 100 mile sportives under my belt I’m going to have to get back to serious hill reps.

As a footnote here’s a transcript of a Skype chat I had with Millsy, during which we discussed the Maratona and other nonsense:

Downland Cycles Spring Sportive

Seriously, I’ve got to do something about my power output. On 3 occasions during the Downland Cycles Spring Sportive on Sunday I was dropped by stronger riders on flat sections of the ride. (more…)

Tour du Mont Blanc cyclo

Just at home enjoying a couple of days’ Easter R&R following 2 days in the saddle on Friday and Saturday. I received an email from Sport Communication – those friendly but tech-challenged purveyors of tough French cyclosportives – and have been browsing their newest event:

The Tour du Mont Blanc Cyclo - one epic I won't be riding.

The Tour du Mont Blanc Cyclo is:

a new challenge for cyclists in search of high passes. To complete this trial, you will have to ride 330 km, cross 7 passes with summits from 1 400 to 2 469 meters and 8 000 unlevel meters. Le Tour Du Mont Blanc® Cyclo, in one stage, allow cyclists to ride the Mythical Géant des Alpes and the most reputed European summits, by crossing 3 different countries (France, Suisse, Italie), and 3 major regions of the Mont Blanc mountains (Savoie, Valais, Val d’Aoste).

SC have listed the following as requirements for entry:

  • To be awe (sic) the difficulty of the race.
  • To be a confirmed cyclist with a fine experience of long distances.
  • To know how manage the difficulties induced by this kind of race such as climatic conditions, altitude as well as the physical or mental problems emanating from prolonged and intense efforts in altitude.

La Marmotte, by comparison with this epic enduro, is 174km, with 5000m of climbing. That, emphatically, was enough. I am in awe of the difficulty of this kind of race; I do know the mental and physical problems of riding them; and for those reasons, I’m out.

There is a limit to sportives, beyond which (for me) their appeal diminishes. I want a challenge, I want some fast, competitive riding, and I want a scenic route. What I’m not so interested in is getting up at 3am to carbo-load, riding for more than 8 hours, vomiting, painful cramps, and the possibility of riding off the edge of a mountain in the dark. Call me a lightweight – but La Marmotte was my personal limit. I’ve no wish to ride it again, and I’ve no wish to out-do that achievement in the future.

Tour of the Peak District

Just checking out the route for the Tour of the Peak District in 4 weeks’ time. Stoke-on-Trent is my home town, but I’ve never ridden a road bike out towards the Peaks. I’ve ridden off-road around Edale, Bakewell and Glossop, but when I go home I tend to ride south towards Eccleshall and Telford, partly because of the distances involved, and partly because I just don’t have the right maps. So now’s my chance to do some riding out that way. I think it’s going to be tough – with one long section of A-road in particular that I’m not looking forward to.

As a taster, and on a budget of 50p, the organisers have cobbled together this ludicrous promo video, which surely has no bearing at all on the event itself:

Puncheur 2010

The first sportive of 2010 is in the bag. Eagerly anticipated by 6 of us – me, Jonny, Millsy, Simmo, Duncan and Paul – as a key test of early-season form, the Puncheur lived up to its reputation from last year: a fast, mostly flat route around the South Downs with excellent food and organisation.

It was freezing cold on the start line at 7.45am on Sunday, and it didn’t get much warmer, despite some bright sunshine as the day wore on. It was a ragged start; I got a lot of cold air into my lungs straight away, my heart rate pounding up in the 170s – it felt like my body was under a lot of stress. This feeling of stress never quite left me the whole 70 miles of the course. We were all taking short pulls at the front to begin with but everything felt a bit giddy. Then we hit ice, several big patches. Duncan went down, later joined by Jonny.

The first half of the ride, I just felt strain, so I tucked in behind Jonny and a strong-looking rider in a Cannondale top. After the feed-stop, I felt stronger, and made up for my poor contributions to the pace early on by taking a long stint into the wind. I could feel it coming back, the feeling of lightness, of floating on the effort.

At about the 3-hour mark I started to tie up. We’d hit a modest hill at around 2hrs 30, which had separated myself, Theobald and Cannondale from the others. I knew if I lost those two, I was most likely on my own to the finish, so I did everything I could to cling on, but closing the gaps became too much. Swearing at the wind, I roped myself in to the bottom of Ditchling Beacon, then climbed it without further incident. Final time: 4hrs 06 – 7 mins faster than last year, this time without going wrong.

I’ve done more riding (in pure hours on the bike) than I had this time last year, but notably less high-quality training such as intervals. This is potentially the reason for my lack of any kind of explosive pace. I remember feeling really full of beans last year; this time around, I felt easy on the hills, with reasonable stamina, but not that much power. My leg injury could have played a part. I’m half a stone lighter than last year (10st 10 vs 11st 6) – so that’s maybe a factor. I guess since my goal this season is the Maratona in July, building a base with plenty of hills, without hitting the intervals too early, will hopefully pay off in the end.

A short footnote for Millsy – he had a shocker. Training to within an inch of his life, he had to do a long run and a ride the day before, then flatted at the start of the sportive. His grim-faced expression in the photos tell the full story.

Sportives – advice for the novice

My mate Matt Simmonds, aka Simmo, has just emailed me in search of advice about riding his first sportive (we’re doing the Puncheur together on March 7th). Here are his questions:

  1. Can you draft?
  2. Can you use aero bars?
  3. How much fluid am I likely need for 4-5 hours on the bike? Will 2 waterbottles be enough?
  4. Can I carry my bike up Ditchling Beacon? I cycled up it once in the granny ring of my mountain bike and that was tough enough.
  5. I think I need some new tyres, any advice? Mainly for triathlons and some sportives….

Last time we rode together – October time I think – Simmo actually beat me on 3 laps around Richmond Park, so clearly he’s acting the novice here to lull me into a false sense of security before kicking my ass on race day. However, I’ll humour him.

I don’t claim to have written the book on sportives but I have ridden a dozen or so. Here are my responses:

  1. Yes, you can draft. Furthermore, you have to draft to ride a good sportive. Tactics and timing definitely play a part, it’s important to time your effort whilst preserving your strength for the full distance – not to mention doing your share of the work unless you want to earn dirty looks.
  2. On some sportives aero bars are banned, and rightly so – they are a liability when riding in a bunch. Many’s the time you’re riding in a tight pack and someone drops a bottle or slows suddenly, if you can’t react you’ll wipe out bad.
  3. 2 waterbottles is enough, since you can refill at all feed stations. Make sure you keep drinking though, and try to avoid the mistake I made at last year’s Burgess Hill Classic, of refilling on water instead of energy drink.
  4. Ditchling Beacon is a hard climb after 65 miles – but really, on the scale of things, it’s not that hard. Do some hill training now.
  5. Tyres? Buy these, they’re awesome.

Any further qu’s comment below!

2010 Sportives

Here’s a list of 2010 sportives as I stumble upon them. Please comment any I’ve missed.

Here’s the list.

No Etape du Dales – yet.

Maratona dles Dolomites


Photograph copyright PatitucciPhoto.

Now this looks like a promising option for 2010: a well-run continental sportive that will be quick without being grotesquely hard – and which can be extended into a sweet summer Euro-trip. And the Maratona website actually looks pretty good, unlike some big cycling-event organisations I could mention.

It’s on.

Read the London Phoenix ride report from this year.

(The above image is displayed courtesy of PatitucciPhoto, who specialise in outdoor and adventure sports photography. You can view a full gallery of their images from this year’s Maratona on Dolomite Sport.)