Sunday, December 2, 2012

First sportive

"By the end of January, a good target is to complete a 45 mile ride," so reads Ron's Etape Website regarding training for last year's Etape du Tour.

I'd set myself harsher targets. Worried that I wouldn't put enough training in later on, I wanted to start harder.

To do this I set out a list of Sportives that I planned to ride to keep me motivated and asses my progress.

Gerry - a personal Etape hero - seems to approve. "I found sportives to be the best practice, since it's full on and 'twitchy'," he wrote responding to my experiences of club riding.

And so to Sunday, my first Sportive - and the last of the 2012 season -  the Dorking RideIt.

This was available in Fun (13 miles), short (30 miles), medium (50 miles) and long (70 miles) varieties. I planned for the medium - more than equalling my end of January target two months ahead of schedule.

The panic set in early.

First - the weather. It was cold. Really cold.  “Below 0°, you shouldn’t go, even if you dress correctly," advises Jean-Claude Bagot, former professional cyclist as part of the official Etape organisers winter training guide. It was -1

The weather in Dorking - we left at 07:30am
But I'd already signed on the line, paid my money, and despite frequent checks for the latest updates to see if it would be cancelled, it wasn't.

Clothes and equipment for the sportive,
I forgot a recovery shake
I decided to get as much clothing on as possible. Socks, second socks, shoe covers (a new addition - the idea is to keep your feet warm and dry in the cold and wet), bib tights, base layer, jersey, arm warmers, gillet, thick outer layer, windproof gloves, windproof headband. Basically, most of my cycling gear at once.

I was still cold.

The 2.5 mile ride to Clapham Junction with fellow Etaper Pez to meet a third member of Team Underprepared Paul saw my hands almost seize up. I was riding and blowing on them whenever possible. This was stupid, as it frequently only resulted in my sun glasses fogging up.

Which brings me to another climate issue. The sky was as clear as only a midwinter sky can be - the sun was as low as that implies.

The choice was between being blind or [even] colder. The frost was still on the ground.

The weather as we prepared for the start
I was also worried about my gears. I'd fixed my rattling cassette - by putting the spacer I'd forgotten last time back in. But that messed quite badly with the alignment of the derailleur.

I had an hour long fight with it, eventually fixed the alignment, and in the process lost at least half my gears. The climbing ones. I had another fight with the gears. Lost. Went off and watched rugby. Came back and - in a flash of inspiration - worked out what I needed to do.

They seemed [mostly] fixed, but I was a bit worried as I stood in a starting pen in the cold, waiting to be given the all-clear to ride past the timing point and listening to a man tell me to follow arrows and be careful of ice.

Slightly colder than before, we set off. Early on there were problems for Pez. Despite my tender ministrations - informed by my struggles with my own gears and sort of fixing them after I broke them - his gears were still slipping. His chain also came off on one of the early climbs.

Not a good sign on a route heavy with hills.

There was magic too. About 10 miles in, at the head of our band of three, I found myself in a magical cyclist moment. A clear day, my hands warmed up, my legs fresh, on a country lane and miles of rolling farmland to see either side of me. I wasn't pushing my pedals, they just moved with me. At one with the bike and out in the air.

More, there was the usual joy of England's countryside - inappropriately named villages. I missed snapping the main sign to this village, but saw another and almost lost the bike hitting ice/slush while braking and turning so I could get a picture of another one. Totally worth it.

But trouble was coming. It was soon clear there was more wrong with Pez than just his bike. He was breathing hard and pace-setting he was clearly 4-5 miles an hour slower than normal. At the first food break (22 miles in), he tried to cough his lungs out to get in enough air. That was more or less it. He decided to peel off and head down the 30-mile route.

Paul and I continued on the 50-miler.

Now, a quick look at the route profile will show you that at this point we hadn't been tested. The Dorking RideIt sees you climb over a kilometre, more than I'd ever done on a single ride, and most of it was at the end.

I found a few things out over the next 20 miles. First, Paul can climb better than me. A fair bit better. But not enough that I can't catch him [and pass him] on the descents.

I also learnt I can descend better than I thought. Looking ahead, braking progressively, and letting the bike run - giving me confidence even over a rather treacherous, icy surface. Of course, this might just be early stages of Rule 64.

Free food at the drink stop
The day proved the value of my giant gear thoroughly. Despite fuelling more than adequately (ie stuffing my face with free flapjacks and energy bars at the drink stop), I still didn't have the legs.

I made it up the first big climb, I got most of the way up the second, but then stopped.  And walked.

I met Paul at the top.

The third climb hurt more. I wasn't going to walk again, I definitely wasn't going to walk again. Even if the gradient hit 25% again (the second climb was hard - although to be fair it was only in the 20%s for a short while - stretch leading up to that was a mere 14%), I wasn't going to walk again. Paul got off and walked ahead of me. I rode up to him and dismounted.

I made it up the 4th main climb mainly thanks to my big gear - it let me sit and spin at no speed up 5%-7% climbs, taking almost nothing out of my spent legs.

I didn't walk again. There were some nasty little inclines to come but I knew they couldn't last. I gutted it out, counting pedal stroke by painful pedal stroke, until they were crested. Most of the time I even remembered to shift into my big chainring at the top.

Dorking RideIt profile
My back started to hurt by about mile 35. It might be that my set-up needs tweaking, but as Paul and I both experienced it, I'm thinking it's more the amount of time (4-hours-odd, all told) in the saddle with almost no break that was the cause. That should improve as I become more used to it.

By the time we finished (the downhill finish saw me 'beat' Paul by a meter or three), my legs were gone. But I'd done it. Almost without walking and at an average speed of 13.4mph.

A rubbish time, a rubbish speed, but one fast enough to keep me ahead of almost any Etape broom wagon of recent years.

I might never be a climber, but I'd gone up more than I ever have in a day. Now all I need to do is learn to be able to climb three-and-a-half times as much, without walking, by July - when at least the weather should be warmer...

The scores are on the doors and the photos on the web.

I finished officially one second ahead of Paul in 163rd place (he's in 164). It wasn't a race* - as we were repeatedly told, and requiring me to spend far too much time manually working out my place - but that puts me towards the back, 15 minutes from the top half (I was just about outside the bottom third, but the time was in the middle - a minute either way would have moved c10 places up or down). Pez came in 26th of the 75 people who completed the shout course.

You can see me, Paul and Pez on the official photographer's site via the links below:

Me - knackered, but about to shift into the big ring by the looks of it
Paul - not knackered - confused by something I'm doing (perhaps shifing to the big ring while knackered)
Me again almost looking like a cyclist
Pez - one of only two confirmed people who attempted the sub-zero ride in shorts

Pez - shorn of his fellow Etapers, rides the last miles alone (great shot of the ride conditions/beauty)
Pez - so lonely

*and we didn't treat it as one - poven by our faffing at the drink stop, repeatedly waiting for each other to catch up and easy pace on the flat early on, but then as it wasn't a race this probably equalises out with other people doing this sort of thing too so the overall score is as fair a measure as I can come to

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