Friday, June 28, 2013

Dare I? Wheel choices for the 2013 Etape du Tour

So pretty. But dare I risk it?
So, the nice people at Airstreeem offered to lend me some wheels for the Etape*. As about the only thing you can swap in, not change your set up and will improve your bike I said "why not".

But there's a problem, they sent me tubular tyres. Dare I use them?

*What can I say, I have friends who are journalists who I talk to about cycling too much

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Almost dying on descents - feeling alive while training for the Etape

Mmmmmm. Descendy....
Out on a ride with Pez, Paul and David this weekend I almost died. Well, maybe not died, but come off at a really fast speed (50+kmph).

Pez was ahead of me coming into a tight turn on a wet road. He hit the brakes earlier than I would have.  I wasn't expecting it and hit mine too hard. Both wheels locked and I lost grip - each of them going sideways at different speeds and directions (the back moving faster and further sideways).

I stayed up. I loved it.

It's not the first time I've almost come off at speed, but I've never changed my descending style. I adapt to wet roads, of course. You'd be an idiot not to. A wider, steadier, slower line.

But the same philosophy: Don't ride faster than you can see. Look as far ahead as you can. As fast as you can go and still brake in time to stop if you see something you don't expect the next second. So the further you can see round a bend, the faster you can go.

Brake in a straight line until you can see it's clear - ie see corner, start braking, getting progressively harder until you see the exit, then the brakes come off and the power comes on until the next corner.

Get on the drops - it means you can have your hands on the brakes the whole time and get more power through them - I like to brake progressively (start early, start light) which means I sometimes need to brake really rather hard at the end as I realise the corner is a fair bit sharper than I thought. Also, you look cooler. Especially if you nail your chin to the handlebars on the straight bits.

I also ride the racing line. The one Grand Prix cars ride. Really wide on the approach, clip the apex, use all the road on the way out (adapt this for roads that aren't closed so the 'apex' becomes the half-way line on the road). Call it the result of a mis-spent youth spent watching Senna, Schumacher and Hakkinen.

On a hairpin that means almost stopping, on a small curve on a wide road you don't brake at all if you can see the road ahead. Oh, and outside foot down with weight through it while cornering*.

Why do I ride like this? Because letting the bike run under you with your hands off the brakes as the speed builds is thrilling. But only as long as you know you can stop. And I'm terrible at climbing. Awful.

I am easily the worst at climbing (rest of Team Underprepared ahead of me).
It's incredibly depressing - I can ride on the flat at 30kph more or less indefinitely without sweating. In fact, I've dropped far better climbers than me on the flat. Several times.

But as the road goes up I just can't seem to do it - despite the hours, miles, metres, kilos lost and intervals on the turbo. So being able to go fast when it heads back down again really helps.

Also, I really love the speed.

For proper tips, watch this:

Best video I've seen on how to descend

[I'd love to embed this clip, but ITV Player is too canny for me, so you'll have to follow the link instead]

*People say doing this gives you more grip, but that's a logical impossibility - it can't change the total weight or the amount of rubber on the road. I mean, it might move your centre of mass further to the outside, which would reduce the horizontal force going through the contact point between the tyre and the tarmac and effectively mean that - all else being equal - you could maintain a greate....Ok, fine, it means you have more "grip".

Sunday, June 23, 2013

2103 Etape du Tour race numbers and starting pens are out

Info here - fill your boots:

Numbers here:

Starting times here:

(I'm pen 11 with Pez and Paul. Bobby and Andy are in pen 10)

Last chance saloon for Etape du Tour training - taper time

We're almost there*. Two weeks to Annecy. Two weeks to Semnoz. It's not a lot.

In theory we're meant to be tapering now. Not slacking off, merely making sure we get the full effect of all our training.

According to my seldom-followed training schedule this involves taking intense sessions and replacing them with more relaxed ones with short bursts of intensity (two or three 20-sec sprints on the flat/hills, a couple of short intervals in a 90 min zone 2 ride and minute-long "how high can my cadence go" efforts downhill in a lowish gear so speed stays safe) mid-week and shorter rides at the weekend of 100-120km.

Of course there are other considerations this close to the event. What to pack, medical certificate, bike service, what food to bring (Matt from Mash the Pedals advises a few of the porridge pots you can buy in supermarkets so all you need to do is pour on hot water and find a spoon on the day), equipment check etc.

There is also the thinking about what to do once you've arrived in Annecy.

The main advice seems to be get the bike built and out on the road asap (for an hour or so). That firstly gets the lungs and legs freed up after the time spent on a plane/car/bus and also lets you find out if your set up/bike has any problems (ride around the lake maybe?).

The day before most people seem to think is a good idea to try the first few kms of the course if possible - just to see the lie of the land and get a feel for the first climb. But, again, not more than an hour or so on the bike.

Oh, and it's probably a good idea to get registered too - remembering to bring your medical certificate/race licence. Which reminds me. I need to get a medical certificate. How do you do that again?

*Water water everywhere
You might notice something different about that course map at the top.

Yup, the nice people at ASO have updated it to include - firstly - all the climb categories (one cat 1 and one HC) and they've also included all the drink and food stops.

Eight of them!

King of the Downs was longer and only had three!

Now I'm bad at drinking, I only got through one and a half bottles of drink on my last ride (a 117km ride along much of the Olympic road race route when being taken out for a ride with blog reader David - and lovely to meet him) so that's an awful lot of places to stop.

I'm thinking ignore the first one (20km in, there's no way I'll need water unless I lose both bidons somehow). Possibly the second one too (34km in). Check water supplies at the fourth (65km in and at the bottom of Revard - it would be good to have enough water for that and eat something that I've brought with me) then grab some more food and re-fill the water at the top 77km in.

There's another food stop at 109km, just before Semnoz starts, and a water stop a third of the way up it. I get the feeling I might need both of those.

The next watering hole will likely be Captain's pub in Annecy after I've got back to the hotel (hopefully un-broomed) changed and grabbed some food - although the "Captain's Burger" is meant to be quite good there - everyone's welcome to join me to tell tales of the road and make bad super-hero related "Captain" puns.