Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pop goes the inner tube - final Etape/Tour de Yorkshire preparation gone wrong

All dead
 My cleats are almost worn out - making clipping into my left pedal almost impossible.

I've been riding the same set of tyres since before the Etape last year. And turboing on them too. They're covered in ominous looking cuts and worn paper-thin.

My bottom bracket is clicking under stress (when I climb or sprint).

Changing from the big to small ring frequently involves so much stress that my fingers sometimes hurt.

My chain is almost 5,000km old. As is my cassette.

And I'm riding the first two stages of the Tour de France this weekend...

On the plus side, my brake pads are in decent nick.

It was time for the final equipment check/replacement.

First things first

The cleats were pretty east to swap. I'm a bit paranoid about their positioning after my bike fit (ie I don't want to undo the good work done then), but they've been outlined in permanent marker so I checked carefully and fitted new ones.

There's an outside chance they'll need to be replaced again before the Etape proper in July, but the idea of riding more than 300km in two days struggling to clip in means if I have to replace them again, I'll gladly do it.

Tyres came next. I'm more than comfortable changing tyres and fixing punctures - and had relatively recently swapped my old tyres and tubes onto my new wheels, then added old tyres and tubes to the old wheels so they could act as spares - so this shouldn't have been a problem.

It was.

I'd bought identical tyres to the ones I used last year - Schwalbe Ultremo ZXs. They've been good servants.  The reviews say "very, very fast" ; they're light, have some puncture protection and - most importantly - I can buy ones that match my bike's colour scheme.

In the year I've been riding them I've only had one puncture - and that was a pinch after I smashed into a pot hole during a sportive, so I didn't see a reason not to buy them again.

With relative confidence I stripped my old tyre from my front wheel and tried to fit the new one. It was hard. A lot harder than I remember. I slipped and cut my hand. Then did that again.

Eventually, with the aid of three tyre levers, swearing, grunting and the like I got the new tyre on. I then inflated it whereupon it instantly exploded with an ear-splitting "BANG!".

I tried again. This time I was careful to avoid a pinch, it took seemingly forever again and was just as truculent. I part inflated the tyre and checked for a pinch again and then inflated all the way. "BANG!"

My ears were ringing a bit at this point.

Third time lucky. I was incredibly careful this time, and questioning my policy of a 120psi inflation straight away to check for pinches (although I'd rather find out in the corridor by the stairs than on the road). It held.

Worried now (I was running out of spare tubes) I gingerly approached my rear tyre. It couldn't have been simpler, tyre swapped and re-inflated and wheel back on in five minutes - without even needing levers to fit.

I went upstairs to watch Belgium-Russia. 30 minutes later "Bang!".

The front tyre had exploded again - this time it looked like a dodgy tube, it had split along the seam. Three tubes had gone on the same wheel, all bursting in different places.

This was turning into a very expensive process.

I'm now scared I've got a dodgy tyre - given how hard it was to fit compared with my memories, the rear tyre and also the last version of the same tyre. But with only a few days until my mini Tour de Yorkshire, there's not a lot I can do. The new tubes are in the post and I'm just going to have to be super careful fitting one.

Servicing and the rest

The full service (where bottom bracket, cassette, chain etc were to be checked) I had planned has also fallen by the wayside, as there are now no slots left before the weekend, and with the bike out of action thanks to tube fears I can't even do base training until the new tubes arrive.

On the plus side, the bike held up well on Saturday - getting me up the 1.5km, 9% of Ditchling Beacon pretty stress freely - so with luck it can wait until Monday when it's booked in for a full check-up.

Hopefully you can all learn from my mistakes and get everything checked out and in order now - with a month to go before the big event, not a few days.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The King's yardstick - How's my Etape training compares to last year

Training this year has mostly been about finding nice cafes, and buying things
This year has been far more relaxed than last in my preparations for the Etape.

By this time last year I was dieting hard and lost a good 5-6kgs, had gone on two training camps, one in Majorca one in Wales, had turboed a lot and ridden a lot more than I'd turboed.

I made a plan of progressively harder sportives to ride along the way too, and was following a training plan devised by actual sports training people to get you through the Etape.

This year, I'm 3kg over my Etape weight and haven't really dieted at all, have been on no training camps, turboed not enough and weekend riding has been sporadic lately.

The list of sportives has been replaced with social rides with a few cycling buddies - some of whom are riding the Etape themselves, some of whom aren't.

On the plus side, I lost an entire month last year (May), which I haven't this year, and have a bunch of new kit (new wheels, shoes and pedals, had a bike fit and a new Garmin meaning I can manage my performance while riding better) as well as a year's more riding in my legs overall.

I also had an excellent March's training, where I was miles ahead of where I was 12 months previously, even if I've slipped since.

But where am I compared to last year? I decided to let the King decide.

Straight after Wales last year I rode the King of the Downs, one of the hardest sportives in the UK.

You can read about the pain, and when I met some of this blog's readers in real life for the first time, etc here:

I was riding it again this year - I'd prepared the day before as well as I could throwing so much pasta, rocket etc into me I felt a bit ill, headed to bed early, had a good breakfast and loaded my [new, aero] jersey with food.

I weighed in at 72.4kg ahead of carb loading, I didn't record my weight before last year's ride, but it might well be close.

But would I beat last year's time? Turns out we'll never know.

Why? Well, I may have got lost...

King of the Downs, as well as being 117 miles long, basically points you at 10 of the hardest hills in Surrey and Kent it can.

Yorks, Crocknorth, Ranmore, Coombe, Leith, Kidd's Hill [aka The Wall] and, well, Box (again, always Box).

None of them are nice, most have sections above 15% (above 20% too). Apart from Box, obviously.
The rest stop where the year before we met the readers - this year meeting no one
So what did I do? I missed a left turn sign and added an extra hill to the ride. And not any extra hill, Barhatch.

The full climb is 3km long at an average of 5%, but that average includes a brief downhill and the final section ramps to 21%.

It hurt. It hurt more because I shouldn't have to have been riding it. And because I'd smugly smiled at the people I'd seen coming up it as I whizzed down. And because, well, 21%. With gravel under the tyres making them slip.

There was another problem with this too - because if a late-ish start I had four hours to cover the first half of the course to make the cut off. I'd just added 6/7km to the course and half of that was a rather nasty climb.

I'd gone from needing to cover 90km in 4 hours to having to cover 96. So a 24kmh average needed - including break stops - having added 200+ metres of climbing to the course.

I'd also effectively lost everyone I was riding with (I was a bit ahead of them, they went by me while I was Barhatching, they would have hit the break stop first and assumed I'd not waited for them and ridden off).

I sent a text to Pez and we met at the top of Box Hill - 60km into the ride - after laughing at me, we set off to try and hit that cut off time.

The best I can say is that we were close. I averaged 23.9km/h - faster than last year, although not the full course - but with 12mins of stopping time at breaks+finding Pez I missed the cut off by 10 mins and were stopped half way.
The finish was a welcome sight - just 90km too soon
Could I learn anything from this?

Well, I'd climbed more than half last year's course (thanks to extra hill) in about half the distance at a higher average speed. But then, I also only rode 95km rather than 180+.

Comparing the first half numbers, things look more encouraging.

I was 1.6km/h faster up the first hill on the course. A tiny bit faster up the second, 0.8km/h faster up the third, a tiny bit quicker up the fourth and miles away on Box Hill (but, well, Box Hill).

So of the five climbs, I was quicker on four of them and the fifth is Box, bloody, Hill. Which I've set new PBs on this year and went up almost aggressively slowly due to my ongoing anger with being made to ride it.

Two of the hills I beat last year's time on were close, really close, with me only "winning" this year on the longest segment while the sub-segments hopped between this year and last year being quicker. But there were comfortable wins on the other two. So it's hard to say I've declined.

So, in theory, I'm a bit better than last year. Of course, it might just be the wheels...

But there's one other small advantage I have this year, the Etape is two weeks later so I've got a bit more time to train.