Spring Classics

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Climbing the Christchurch-Akaroa Road climb, NZ

My slow winter continued and it felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. We did manage a 180km ride to Maldon and back in February to celebrate the acquisition of my new Bianchi – the replacement for my written off Trek, which was good but hard (cold, sleety and windy return leg!). After that, a trip back home to NZ for two and a half weeks in March with a busy couple of months before that meant not much riding at all, apart from an epic ride over the hills of Christchurch, NZ, to the peninsula on a rented bike. It was one of those times when the whole ride is spent battling either head or severe cross winds, as the wind direction decided to change in the middle of it. I’m sure if we had power meters we would have seen some big numbers but seeing only speed was pretty demoralising. Once we got back to London we decided to ramp up the training a bit, finally doing the London-Brighton Return and Oxford Return rides that have been yearly Spring Classics for me the last couple of years.

I also changed my club as it wasn’t proving very easy to  make it to Surrey by 9am on a Sunday to make club rides in Kingston. Happily, my new club has a large group of like-minded women who are keen and strong cyclists, and I found myself getting a bit swept up in it all and entering a couple of spring races. The first was a crit race at Hog Hill. It was supposed to be the course without the hill included, but weather conditions and a flooded course meant a last minute change and inclusion of the hill. Because of my dire year so far I was not expecting much of myself and decided just to ride for the fun of it. At the start I didn’t get clipped in for a good few metres and ended up at the back of the bunch. For the first few laps I slowly worked my way through the pack, but the front group had got away and I didn’t try to catch them. In hindsight, I should have, as the hill divided the pack greatly and after going round and round and round solo, I eventually ended up in a duo with another girl, behind the leading group of four. It quite a lot of yelling from my club coach to work together with her before I realised that was a fairly good idea and the two of us finished the race together, although I couldn’t resist pulling ahead on the last lap to come in fifth. My other teammates came first and second – a great result! Myself and the 6th place were the only ones that were not lapped by the leading group – that is how much the hill split the race.

I had another race the following week, this time a 70km road race. My recovery was probably not the recommended method in between the two races, doing the Oxford return ride the day following the race, but it was a fun day out and it’s all about riding your bike at the end of the day!

We drove to the race in Essex, and I had a severe attack of the nerves. I also had no warm up as I was too busy faffing. The field was very strong – I recognised a lot of the names of the women racing from last year so it was quite intimidating. I decided to make my aim to stay with the front bunch, but I wasn’t confident enough to try anything special. In the event I did stay with the front pack, wheel sucking all the way, but in the last stretch got into a bad position and couldn’t make up the sprint to get anywhere near a place, because the front peloton had remained so large. I was happy just to have been able to stay with the group though, following all the attacks as they happened. Many of the girls are category 2 and much more experienced than me, so I’m happy with my effort! We managed a fairly respectable 36.6km/h average – but there was a lot of slowing due to narrow roads and oncoming traffic and my average over 75% quartile was 41km/h!

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I made one major mistake that I don’t want to replicate again though… it was incredibly cold during the race and I did not warm down properly or stretch, instead pretty much just getting in the car and driving home. The next morning I incorporated some of the North London hills into my commute, but suddenly as I was heading off from a traffic light pulled my back muscles. Hopefully a couple of days off the bike will be enough to heal, as we’re heading to Cornwall this weekend for the bank holiday weekend/my birthday, and of course we’re taking our bikes….!

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Slowly does it

Another two months has passed since the last post – where does the time go? I guess in my case, starting a new job, moving house, and, inevitably I guess, falling ill a few times. With a change of season, not enough exercise, then too much exercise, and stress, it’s a pretty good bet I’ll end up ill. In this case, a bad flu was followed a week or so later by a week-long tummy bug that was accompanied by muscle aches and extreme fatigue. Fun times!

The only advantage of feeling so poorly for so long is that you are extremely grateful when you are properly healthy again, which for me was only really yesterday. Although I thought I was well enough on Saturday to go for a 116km ride in the drizzle, I did regret my decision on the return leg as we battled into a strong head wind and I was struggling so much I found it hard to keep my cycling mates’ wheels. The ride was an organised one by the cycling clothing manufacturer, Rapha, aimed at getting women out on their bikes year-round. They called it #BraverThanTheElements, so it was fitting at least that our ride had a bit of water, mud and wind to contend with, plus a liberal dose of horseshit.

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Although it has seemed like I’m not getting anywhere, not cycling enough, and keep getting sick, looking back now, it has been a case of two steps forward, one back. I have to look at what I have achieved, rather than what I haven’t – so here goes:

  • I have my commuting route sorted. It is 13km each way, has some inclines that get the pulse up, and I’m doing it with a heavy pannier bag. I’m not doing it every day (I’m working from home a lot), but the aim will be to do at least three days a week. The less you ride, the harder it is psychologically to get out in adverse conditions, so having a regular commute is invaluable.
  • I have my gym routine sorted. Finally I have started strength-training again, and the gym is so close that it makes it much easier to just pop down. When I’m not commuting it’s also easy to a do quick training session on their stationary bikes to get the heart going.
  • When I do ride in the weekends, it’s really hard. Partly it’s hard because I’ve let myself get somewhat unfit, but it’s also hard because I’m riding a heavy(ish) bike, with a heavy rack, and I’m not going to take it off because it’s going to make me stronger. When my new amazing super-bike frame arrives it will be like riding on air (oh I can’t wait)… In the meantime it’s great mental training, because your mindset is almost more important than your physical fitness in some situations.
  • Today I was very happy to see I passed some milestones that I had hoped to pass in September, but am still happy I got there before the end of the year – 10 000km ridden this year and over 100 000 metres climbed, which is over 11 times Mt Everest!

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So it’s been a tough few months, but I’m determined to make 2016 count! I’ve got some Alpine mountains to climb.

Facing Demons

A few days after my last post was published, things were turned upside down somewhat…

It all started off so well… A wonderful trip to the Pyrenees, staying in picturesque Luz Saint Sauveur and riding the mountains that make up the playing fields of the Pros. As the Saturday was taken up with travelling, the first ride was the dead end climb up to the Col de Gavernie on Sunday.

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054I must admit I wasn’t feeling too enamoured with climbing by the time I got to the top – it was hot and although it wasn’t Marmotte hot, it still brought back unpleasant memories! The view was amazing though, and the descent wasn’t too bad either.

The next day was the big one – a crazily ambitious ride taking in 4 Tour de France Cols – two of them HC…. And of course there were thunderstorms forecast…

The plan? Heading over the Tourmalet, then taking on the Aspin, the Peyresourde and finally Port de Bales.

Surprisingly we got over all four cols with the sun remaining  out the whole time, the final climb up to the top of the Port de Bales seemingly never-ending with intense heat.

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Over the other side though, the clouds started to gather, and we were still a long way from home when the rain started. It was utterly miserable, riding in the torrential rain with cars whizzing past, and no towns for miles.

When the lightning started I was not a happy cyclist. We decided to go on until we got to Bagneres de Bigorre then try and get a taxi the rest of the way home. From our original 230km route, we completed 191km – so once we got to the town we were pretty lucky to find a taxi driver willing to take two drenched cyclists and two soggy bikes 40km over the mountains.

The next day was designated a rest day, especially after more thunderstorms were forecast. We went to the nearby spa and relaxed in the deliciously warm water, planning our next day’s ride over the Aubisque.

Wednesday was cloudy again, and we found ourselves riding in a dense foggy cloud as we ascended the Col de Soulor – the preliminary bit to the Aubisque. It seemed like other-worldy experience as we passed ethereal donkeys, dogs, and then the most unusual thing I’d seen in a while, a pig and a huge dog trotting along together. As we got further up, we glimpsed some blue sky, then suddenly we were in a magical land above the clouds, and it was warm again! It was tempting to stay up at the top, but of course we had to face the clouds and come down at some point, so after a coffee and a bit of baguette and cheese we made our way carefully down the mountain through the damp fog.

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The descent was relatively uneventful. Once we got to the flat we settled into a smooth, rapid pace, around 35-40kph, which was when disaster struck… Our arms and bikes were dewy with cloud, and Ali as went to rest his forearms on his handlebar tops to get more comfortable, his arms slipped and the front wheel swung around. He crashed heavily onto his left thigh, snapping his femur, and although I don’t know exactly what I did I presume I braked and went over the handlebars, knocking me out for a few minutes. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, we had help within minutes, with a couple of motor-cyclists stopping and calling an ambulance, and people coming out of nearby houses to help. My clearest memory is asking why everybody was speaking French, then asking why we were in France when the answer came back! I also had the interesting experience of recognising that I was in shock when I started violently shivering. Luckily for us we were in the right place – we were taken to Pau hospital which sees it’s fair share of cycling accidents – professional and amateur! It also gave us the opportunity to practice our limited French….

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Needless to say, this little event disrupted training somewhat and September was a bit of a washout… I had hurt my shoulder quite badly and possibly broken my hand, although I never had it x-rayed in amongst my other injuries. About 7 weeks on, I’ve been for only a few rides and feel very slow. I am having my bike frame replaced in case the carbon has been compromised, so I’m on my heavy commuter bike and that’s not helping now psychologically, although I’m sure it will help with the overall training and the end result come summer!

Disappointingly, I also had to forgo the London Duathlon and the Royal Parks Half Marathon. Although it’s all been somewhat stressful, especially throwing in a job change and having to move out of my flat soon, I guess what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right!?

So, staying positive – bring on 2016!!

Racetime!

20200040993_80001789bf_zAfter all of my non-serious sportives and made-up rides, I had my very first road race on Sunday. I had done the short crit races in Hillingdon for the winter series, but 45 minute cat3/4 races are quite different to a 50 mile road race for which 50 women of high abilities had signed up. Because there was a cancellation of a high profile race that was to be held in Wales, many more had signed up than were expected. I was a bundle of nerves driving from London to Sudbury after an early wake up call, not knowing what to expect. Unfortunately this meant that I couldn’t manage to eat the breakfast I normally would before a ride – lesson number one, just make yourself eat, despite the nerves! The race was all categories, so there was one elite woman, with the majority of the riders 1st and 2nd cat. There were a few 3rd cat like myself and even less of the brave 4th cats! Although not everyone that had signed up actually turned up to race, there was still a strong field of around 35 women. After an attempt at a short warm up (having left less time than I had anticipated), we assembled for the debrief in which we were told we would wait for the men’s race to pass the start before we would be started.

20634157289_c3310656ea_zThe start was an interesting experience. We rode the neutralised section to the start and pulled off to the grass verge. We waited and waited, eventually finding out that the men’s race had been neutralised for 10 minutes due to a tractor on the road. When they eventually went past, we then had to wait for our race cars to pass, but the experienced girls were already trying to lobby for a good position. When the race actually started, I think it caught the less aggressive people at the back (including me…) by surprise, and what followed was a furious fight for survival as the leaders set a cracking pace to try and drop as many as possible. I made my way to the front pack, and managed to stay there for half of the race. At one point, we had an unfortunate delay with an oncoming campervan. The whole peloton had to halt and wait, which elicited calls for the following group to be neutralised. This didn’t happen though, and girls from the following group caught up, to their delight and everyone else’s annoyance.
20794492936_6328a88e01_zIn the second lap, I lost the group and the following car went round me. I decided that was a bad thing so I dug in and caught back up to the peloton- the feeling when I passed that car and caught the group was awesome. However, my inexperience and lack of food caught up with me at the 25 mile halfway mark. I lost the group again and this time there was no getting back on as I had lost the legs and the will. I had an energy gel (too late), and chewed on some energy bar, feeling nauseous and realising that I was in no-man’s land. I had no idea how far behind any other groups were. I did a whole lap on my own, trying to get the will to at least give it a good effort but not doing a good job as I watched my average speed drop steadily from 38kph. A short time after I passed the line for the last lap, the car leading the chasing group told me over the loud speaker that a group of five were coming up and would sweep me up soon, which was a bit of a relief in some ways.
20812325852_b0189a43b3_zOnce they caught me, we formed a working group and I got a second wind. Over the last 10km, I took the front and although I realised they were letting me do the work so they could finish strongly, I knew I didn’t have a place so I didn’t really care, and in the final stretch I let them sprint past me and rolled over the finish line, relieved it was over really.
Although it was a tough experience, a lot of lessons were learnt. Looking at the results, the majority of the women that beat me were Elite, first, and second cat racers, so I don’t think I did too badly. Our group was 8 minutes and 5 seconds behind the lead group. Definitely something I’ll try again, and I’ll be a bit smarter about fuelling next time!

A little jaunt to Wales and circumnavigating London!

Over the last three weeks I have definitely been trying to make the most of what little summer we have left!

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Yummmmm!

The weekend after the Pru100, the other half and I took a little jaunt to North Wales where we planned a ride taking in South Snowdonia this time. We were extremely lucky with the weather (again), getting a sun-drenched day on the Saturday. All the better to take in one of the top 100 climbs in Britain, Bwlch y Groe, with a length of 3.5km, average gradient of 11% and top gradient of 25%, an ice-cream was well deserved.

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Welsh Pride


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Sunday we had a tight deadline to have a family Sunday roast then get back to London for a friend’s BBQ, so we only did a mini ride of 40km, but we still managed to squeeze Penbarra, another of the 100 greatest climbs, in. Funnily enough we happened to coincide with a sportive that was on the same day, and couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty as we passed people uphill who had already been cycling for 90 miles.

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The Cavendish Sportive riders coming up Penbarra

The following weekend was the highly anticipated M25 route, a harebrained idea that we put into action using Strava route-builder. The route was designed to go as close to the M25 as possible, which meant that we had to cross the Thames at the Dartford crossing. Luckily, a little-know rule ensures that cyclists are transported over the bridge by landrover, you just need to put in the call at the crossing and wait for your ride!

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11863381_10153626824891694_6371884123164900144_n “Cycling” over the Dartford Crossing

We started off at 8am from Egham station, but panic over being late and missing trains met that we cycled to the meet point, bringing the overall distance cycled to 276km for me. Our little group of 5 was well-matched, although for some reason I had rubbish legs until we stopped for lunch – possibly because we were running so late there was no time for breakfast (a big no-no in my book!). But as usual, I warmed up and found my legs by the 200km mark….

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Mmmm blackberries! Nature’s energy gels!

We were lucky to have Mr H with us, who was super strong and led the group for the majority of the ride. One issue we did have was not having a very disciplined time schedule – the pub we stopped at for lunch was lovely, but the service was slow to say the least and we ended up being there for two hours. Add on the breakfast stop, the blackberry stop, the emergency chocolate bar stop, the sandwiches at a service station (because it was starting to get dark and we couldn’t risk stopping for dinner) stop and it all meant the roads were pretty dark by the time we were rolling back to our start point. Needless to say, we were all pretty relieved to see Egham station!

m25 route

As a ride, the route was great, lots of lovely little lanes and low traffic roads (because all the cars were on the M25!). We took in five counties, six if you count London. We went under and over the M25 so many times we lost count. One of our group nearly opted out early and got a train, but after some encouragement and food, he finished the ride, and he was so glad he did. It is now the fartherest ride he has done, and we were all massively proud of him. I can’t wait to do the ride again next year, this time when we have lots and lots of daylight…

Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100

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Pru100 route

This is the event that most cyclists want in their sportive diary – the chance to ride on closed roads through London and Surrey, taking in the famous Box Hill that featured in the Olympics and the formidable Leith Hill.

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Soggy, soggy, Pru100 2014

Last year, riders were cheated out of both of these hills by the aftermath of Hurricane Bertha – torrential rain made the organisers fear that there could be accidents and worse, so they reduced the route to 86 miles rather than 100. It was probably a good thing as it was pretty miserable conditions! I rode it for the first time last year and managed to do it in under 4 hours – maybe due to just wanting to get it over with and escape the rain! Because I did it in a pretty good time last year, I was hoping to do this year justice as well, especially with the weather predicted to be perfect for cycling – temperate and still.

Compared to many other sportives, the Pru100 is not a hard ride for the regular cyclist. It does not have particularly challenging hills, and it has some nice flat bits and long swoopy descents. It also involves roads that London cyclists (including me) ride a lot. Because of this, many people aim to do the ride as fast as they can (it’s not a race, but it’s natural to make it onto a pseudo-race when you add up the factors of closed roads, cheering spectators, and massive pelotons sweeping you along). Of course this applies mainly if you manage to get into an earlier start wave and avoid the congestion, which, happily, this year I did – 6.09, the third wave to set off.

After an incredibly early wakeup and ride from Tottenham to Stratford (which was super speedy and got me more QOMs than the actual Pru100), I was lined up with thousands of others ready to start. I ate half of my peanut butter sandwich, and finally we rolled towards the starting arch and over the timing pad and we were off!

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Much nicer conditions! Taking the front

I got off to a nice steady start and encountered two fellow Kingston Wheelers that I stayed with on the dual carriageway leading to the Blackwall tunnel. Having all of that road to ourselves was bliss, and we sped along nicely until one of my mates informed me that he’d seen something coming out of my pocket. I realised with dismay that it was my little wallet containing £30, my driver’s licence, my debit card, my British Racing license and some other cards. I slowed up but made the decision there and then that it wasn’t worth going back for it. I would be riding against the flow of riders, looking for a very small object on a large road. Besides, my drivers license had my address on it so I hoped someone would post it back (side note, that hasn’t happened yet…). It was incredibly annoying that I have used that little card holder on so many rides over the last year and a half and it never showed signs of wanting to escape, until now, when I specifically did not want to stop!

We whizzed through the tunnel, and on through deserted West End roads with only the odd bewildered tourist around at that hour. I was in a good, steady paced group and it seemed like a blink of an eye before we were in Richmond Park, looking out for deer as we raced towards Kingston and into Surrey, with the first climb, Newlands Corner, looming.

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Powering uphill!

I took all the climbs easily, not wanting to blow my legs out. After Newlands corner we had fantastic long segments of super smooth descending and flat stretches that we sped along. By the time we got to Leith Hill I was happy with how the ride was progressing and pleased that I was conserving my water as I wanted to – I was planning on not making any stops so had to make my two water bottles last for the full 100 miles. I was also not needing to eat too much. I had a banana, a Cliff bar that I ate in small pieces, and a handful of jelly babies which was enough for the whole ride. I had obviously carb loaded enough leading up to the ride!

Luckily the route was still not very congested at this time and there was not many cyclists to weave through on Leith Hill – this was a different story later on but for a sad reason, as a rider suffered a fatal heart attack on the hill. With Leith Hill done it was plain sailing until Box Hill, again a hill I took (too?) easily and slowly, but given that I have as many times as I want to tackle Box Hill I wasn’t too worried. After Box Hill it feels like it’s all downhill to home, although this time I was going a little further than home. I settled into another group and it seemed an instant before we were in Kingston again!

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Good old Boxie!
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Sprint Finish

There were more crowds cheering us on here than before, as it was a slightly more civil time of day! As we came under the Kingston tunnel we encountered crowds of riders coming the other way that had had later start times – it was strange to think they still had the whole ride ahead of them when we were on the final stretch. Our group worked together to conserve energy but many were flagging by this stage. Wimbledon Hill was an unwelcome part of the route for many, one being a friendly chap who I had been chatting with that had had leg cramps since Leith Hill. It was too much for his crampy legs, and although I tried to lead him back to the main group he fell away. As we came up Putney High Street, it brought back memories of the 2013 Bikeathon – the first event I had done on a road bike. The wide open road stretching in front of me couldn’t be more different than the choked car park I had had to negotiate on that 52 mile ride!. Alternating on the front with a strong Media Velo rider who I had been with for most of the ride, we crossed the Thames over Putney Bridge and sped along the Embankment. When we reached the Mall I hunkered down and sprinted to the line, noting that the time was 10.48am which meant that I’d cracked the four and a half hour mark!

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Pure concentration

20x30-RLBW0128The Media Velo guy and I congratulated each other and I saw the man that had had the cramps, so I was relieved to see he had come in not long after me anyway. I chatted with him for a bit, then a couple of my fellow Wheelers came in close after. We collected our medals and goodie bags and went and sat in the sun to wait for our friends to roll in…

Stats:

Distance:   160.5km/100 miles
Elevation:   1414m
Time taken (no stops): 4:28
Average Speed: 35.9km/h
Maximum Speed: 76km/h
Place overall (out of 25000): 837
Place (woman): 24

The Marmotte 2015, AKA Marmageddon…

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Alpe d’Huez – some of the famous hairpins!

My big event this year was definitely going to be The Marmotte – billed as one of the toughest sportives in Europe, it takes on several of the Alpine climbs featured in the Tour de France and adds up to a mammoth 5000m climbing over 174km of distance. It ends on an uphill, with the famous Alpe d’Huez the piece de resistance. This year, due to a landslide caving in one of the road tunnels, the route was changed, and instead of climbing the lendary Col de Galibier and the Telegraph, the route included the Lacets de Montvernier, the Col du Mollard, and the Col de la Croix de Fer. This increased the total elevation to 5100m.

I decided to make accommodation and transfers easy and went with a sports tour company, Sports Tours International. The accommodation was at the top of Alpe d’Huez, which meant that once finished it would be a short ride back – A tactic that I would recommend, as going back down Alpe d’Huez with depleted adrenaline reserves and mental fatigue has the potential to be dangerous as well as a hassle.

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View from the top…

Our intrepid group arrived on the Thursday evening after flying into Geneva and having a coach transfer us to Alpe d’Huez. As the coach puffed its way up the Alpe, we counted the famous 21 hairpins and joked about how hard it was going to be in two days time. When we got to the top, we were pleasantly surprised at how warm it was. After a good dinner I put my bike together ready to go. The plan was to go for a warm up ride in the morning, but we had to go to a briefing first, then we registered, had a wander round the registration expo, and by the time we got back it was fairly hot. Three of us went for a little ride further up the Alpe to a couple of pretty lakes, but it was very minor. Enough to let me know I needed to tighten my headset a bit more though!

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“Warm up” ride
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The best way to spend an afternoon before a big ride!

After the ride we went to the public pool and spent the afternoon cooling off, sunbathing, getting too hot, cooling off in the pool again and repeating. A delicious pasta and chicken dinner was just the thing to carb-load, then an early night for a 5.45 breakfast time pre-start. I made a couple of ham and cheese croissants to take with me on the ride, which I was extremely grateful for as they were super-easy to eat compared to the baguette offered on the feed stations.

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My start pen

Unfortunately I had been allocated the latest start time, 7:50am. If I had have known what a difference an hour would make I would have sneaked into an earlier wave, but hindsight is 20:20! The start was fast and fun, with everyone in good spirits. Some of my riding buddies from London were in the same start pen as me so we formed a group to start with. As we climbed up the Glandon groups dispersed, the first sun’s rays hit and I got an idea that the day might not run as smoothly as I would have liked… The descent of the Glandon was neutralised which meant technically everyone could spend time at the feed stop getting ourselves sorted. It was already warm and I made sure I had my bidons both full. Because of the numerous hair pins on the Glandon, the descent was fairly slow with lots of marshall whistling and flag-waving. I didn’t feel like it gave me a great recovery before we were into the next climb. The temperature rose and the next few hours passed in a haze of heat as the sun beat mercilessly down with barely any shade, and the road headed upwards with only a bit of descending similar to the Glandon.

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Rule – see photo sign, smile through the pain!

If it weren’t for villagers en route spraying us with hoses and letting us refill bottles from their taps and hoses, there would have been a lot more casualties. As it was, I saw more and more ambulances, taxis, and worried family bundling cyclists into cars. Cyclists were falling off their bikes, stopping on the grass verges, head on hands, and even throwing up due to heatstroke. I rode slowly and stopped often, pouring water into my hat and down my back, but by the time I got to the top of the Mollard I felt ill and headachey. I bumped into my friends from the Sports Tour who thrust a cold can of coke at me and supplied me with a good strong pain killer for my headache. At this stage the temperature was probably in the late 30s to early 40s.

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The beautiful view from Croix de Fer, plus some hot, tired cyclists…

After setting off, a short descent was followed by the beautiful climb up to the Croix de Fer, the top of which a Sports Tours tent was set up with refreshments. I have never enjoyed a piece of watermelon as much as the piece I had at the top of Croix de Fer! After wasting even more time and taking a couple of photos I set off with the knowledge that the cut off time to get to the bottom of the Alpe was 6pm, and it was almost 5pm already.

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Pretending to be fresh and happy!

Happily, the descent from Croix de Fer was amazing. The road swooped out below, with almost 100% visibility, meaning that I could finally get some good speed up, and I passed almost everyone I could see in front of me. With the breeze in my face I felt almost completely revitalised. Even the couple of kickbacks weren’t enough to dampen my spirits and I kept my speed up as much as I could. Riding along the reservoir would have been a good time to form a good fast chain, but it seemed that people didn’t have much left in them so I ended up riding the last stretch pretty much solo. Despite pushing it, I still wasn’t reaching the cut off timing point and I watched my Garmin tick over to 6pm with dismay.

Nine minutes later I saw the sign for the cut off – 18:30! Either I had it wrong or they extended the cut off due to the extreme heat. I filled my water, wet my head and my back yet again, and set off over the timing line. Unfortunately my hare-brained pelt to the cut-off meant that I was cooked. I crawled up the first little bit of the Alpe and then I lost it. I’d already drunk both water bottles dry and I didn’t know where the next water would be (of course there are streams everywhere but my brain was too fried to think of that at the time!). Cyclists were everywhere sitting and lying on the walls lining the road. I pulled up and joined them, and sat on the wall in the shade looking at the 13% gradient in the baking sun. It took a 10 minute phone call to my boyfriend back in London and a decision to allow myself to walk up the steepest first part to get me moving again.

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Not a normal scene in any other cycling event when you’re less than 10km from a finish line…

I joined the several other cyclists walking their bikes and then 2 bends up there were wonderful villagers with water and hoses! A rider who had already finished and had come back down to cheer on his friends gave me some crisps and told me to rest every 2 bends. “Just take it slow, you’ll get there” he said. The best thing about mucking around so much was that it meant that much of the Alpe was now in shade. It made the most difference, I was then able to ride up the rest of the way with just a few pitstops.

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Yeah, I’m fine!

It was so late in the day that spectators were few and far between, but there was still a big contingent cheering us on from one of the cafes near the top, which helped, and a fellow Wheeler that had finished earlier was helping out by pouring water on tired riders as we ascended. Getting to the finish line almost seemed an anti-climax. None of these sprint finishes that feature in other sportive rides! I parked my bike and lined up to get my pasta, medal and certificate, and was ecstatic to see one of my buddies who had finished earlier. Others trickled in after me and there were some that were ascending Alpe d’Huez after 10:30 that night.

Debriefing over our late dinner, reactions to the ride seemed similar  – everyone had put so much hard work into training for the event, but in the end it wasn’t the riding that took it’s toll, it was the heat. It had hit 44 degrees and with the sun reflecting of mountain surfaces it was like riding our bikes in a giant oven. Everyone felt in a way that they had been cheated out of putting in their best efforts. As one guy said, our legs were fine, it had just been the heat exhaustion that prevented any higher speeds. One of the guys that had been picked up off the Croix de Fer by the broom bus said there were many other people on the bus that were veterans of the Marmotte and hadn’t been able to finish this one. The route was also rated more difficult because there was so much continuous up and down, no nice long flat valley bits like there is in the normal Marmotte route.

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Crazy grimpeurs!

I had been signed up to the the Grimpee the next day up Alpe d’Huez, but I couldn’t face it in the heat so sat at a cafe and cheered the riders in it instead. I know that I will be back and will do that route justice, plus I’m aching to tackle Alpe d’Huez with fresh legs.

I also need to do Galibier and the Telegraph, perhaps even within next year’s Marmotte….

But I’ll be doing some training in a sauna beforehand.