Saturday, 14 June 2014

Les VĂȘtements

Mountains are tricky things. Oddly enough, I learned this from a canyon. Well I say, a canyon. In fact it was the mother of all canyons, the Grand Canyon.

Canyons, like mountains, offer very different climactic conditions at their upper and lower extremities. The top of a mountain can be many degrees cooler than its base. They can also, of course, be swathed in cloud. Likewise, when the rim of the Grand Canyon is often quite cool first thing in the morning, lower down it resembles a desert. It's very dry and dusty.

For a cyclist, the difference in climate and difference in effort between climbing and descending demand different clothing at the foot and the top of a climb.The trick is to have just the right clothing available while avoiding carrying more than is absolutely necessary. Once again, modern materials come to the rescue.

My kit for the Alpine trip consists of:

  • Wicking base layer, which in my case is a kind of string vest. Very Rab C. Nesbitt!
  • Short sleeved jersy, in bright yellow so people can see me coming
  • Bib shorts
  • Separate arms that can be added to the jersy, yet fold up and fit easily in one of its pockets
  • Separate legs that can be added to the shorts. These also fold up and fit easily into a jersey pocket
  • Short sleeved gilet which is wind proof and shower proof and also folds up to fit into a jersey pocket
Needless to say, I've been riding with this kit for a few weeks now, and it really works.

Le Materiel Electronique

These days, it's amazing how much electronic equipment you can carry, even on a racing bike. A full satellite navigation system, mapping system and data collection system are all contained within my Garmin Edge 705. It clips to the handlebar stem, is about the size of a typical laptop mouse, and yet tells me where to go, shows me where I am and records how well I'm doing.

My mobile phone, a Sony Xperia Z1, also has detailed mapping loaded, and can also show me where I am, but this time on high resolution maps on a large, colour screen.

Finally, my camera, a Canon EOS-M, combines high resolution image wizardry and great optics in a tiny package that fits easily within the storage capacity I have on the bike.

So there's absolutely no excuse for getting lost, for failing to record my tracks and data or for duff photos. Apart from operator error, that is.

Le Training

One of the odd things about Alpine climbs is that while they are undoubtedly hard, they are not particularly long. Alpe d'Huez, for example, is only 14 km in length. That's only about one third of the distance of the shortest lunch time ride I normally do. However, with an average gradient of over 8%, I wouldn't be surprised to find it taking me two hours of hard riding to get up it. The combination of the Col du Telegraph and the Col du Galibier involves around 30 km of climbing which could easily take 3 hours or more.

Since we have nothing that comes close to these sorts of climbs in Hampshire, the question is how best to train for this trip. One component of my training has been regular rides of  30-60 km, on the rolling, heavy back roads, so typical of this part of Southern England. I've been doing these several times a week for the last few months, often first thing in the morning or at lunch time. Ridden hard, these courses take from a little over an hour to rather more than two hours. While they cannot simulate the relentless climbing of an Alpine col, they do provide an opportunity to work hard for the length of time that a single climb should take.

The only real way to make things harder is to go further. So amongst these shorter rides, I've sprinkled in some longer trips to build endurance. Back in April, I rode from Winchester to Bristol, a trip of about 135 km. I managed to average a speed of around 25kph, at least in part due to some long stretches of pretty flat road, and the Bath to Bristol cycle path, which mainly follows a disused railway. I also spent a day cycling 135 km from Winchester to the New Forest and back.

In the final build-up to the trip, I'm taking part in a charity ride around the Isle of Wight. It's in aid of the Forest Holme Hospice Charity. We'll be following the round the island cycle route used by the annual Randonnee. We'll be taking the ferry from Lymington, and riding anticlockwise around the island from Yarmouth. At just on 100 km, it's a decent distance. And the roads on the island tend to rise and drop quite sharply, making it hard to maintain pace and rhythm. For the build-up to this charity ride, I recently rode two laps of one of my 50 km routes, non-stop. And tomorrow, I'll  be riding from Winchester to Poole, also a distance of around 100 km. This ride crosses the New Forest, and includes some decent climbs as well as some stretches of flat road to test 'time trial' mode. I'm giving myself around 5 hours for the trip. Why is that important? I have an appointment with a Barbecue at the end of it, that's why!