Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Totals for trip 686 miles 96,134’ climbing
When I woke up on Saturday morning, I was in the exact same position as I remember being in before I fell asleep. I had not moved an inch!
I normally don’t wear a heart rate band when I am touring, as I find the number increasingly irrelevant as the days wear on. When I did wear the band on a tour, it was obvious to me that my heart rate progressively decreased from day to day, and I attributed this to fatigue.
For the first time on a multi-day trip, I used a power meter. By the end of the trip, I was having trouble generating the power numbers on climbs that I use as a ceiling for “recovery rides” on flat roads at home. Certainly age is a factor, as I definitely need more recovery time than when I was younger, but on this particular trip I think cumulative sleep debt induced fatigue was also involved.
More so than in the Pyrenees last year, out hotel rooms this year were consistently hot. By and large, we stayed in great hotels, but very few hotels in Europe are air conditioned. You pay for that when you are cycling day after day in temperatures close to 90 degrees, with evening temperatures commensurately warm.
This year’s cycling itinerary was also much more demanding than my 2007 trip in the Pyrenees, and last year we had cooler temperatures overall.
My point with all of this discussion is that it would be great to cycle these fantastic roads if you were in a little better control of your environment. The point to point approach Tim and I used was perfect for achieving our goal of riding as many HC rated cols as possible, but the stress of packing and unpacking, and changing hotels every day, really does take it out of you.
Perhaps my next cycling trip to Europe will involve a “base camp” approach. It would be great to rent a villa with friends, and cycle out of the house for 5-7 days. If possible, it might work to do this in two different areas as part of the same trip. You could eat when and what you wanted to “at home”, and hopefully find a place with AC.
As far as trip preparation, if I had it to do over again, I would have spent less time in “specialization” (steep hills at low rpm over multiple days in a row), and more time doing intensity like we get in the Hills of the West Coast weekly group ride that I lead. I worked really hard at building an endurance base, and at day to day repeatability, and I feel like I should have felt better late in the trip.
If I had to look at the trip and work out a cost/benefit spreadsheet, I think it would go something like this. First off, the financial cost was less than I expected, despite the lousy value of the dollar relative to the Euro. Most of the towns we stayed in were little villages, and the hotels and food were a lot less expensive than in the cities. Also, while we were on the road, our food on the bike came from grocery stores, not restaurants.
The real “cost” was the hassle of international air travel, and being away from home for almost three weeks.
The major “benefit” was the opportunity to participate in a cycling trip of a lifetime. I traveled with good friends, rode with only one other rider, and Laura provided us with incredible support.
After I returned to Seattle, I was to learn that Tim and Laura are expecting their first baby, due sometime in January. I remember one day Tim and I were riding along and I asked him if he and Laura were planning to start a family, and if so, when? He mumbled something like, “Well, I guess any time would be okay.” He wasn’t kidding, and I guess this was one secret they had decided to keep for a bit longer.
Given how dang tired I was, and how solidly I slept when I got back to Seattle, I wasn’t sure what to expect fitness-wise. After a week of very low mileage, much to my pleasant surprise I enjoyed a period of cycling with the best fitness of my life. I time myself on a number of Seattle area climbs, and I wasn’t just going faster, I was going much faster than I ever had before. Maybe it was some kind of funky super compensation thing. I guess the old dog still has some legs left after all, just like that veteran sheep herding machine I saw in Jausiers.
It was at the Nice Airport where I discovered that Juan les Pins was actually pronounced “Zwan lay Paw”. While standing in the wrong British Airways line for almost an hour, I was approached by a very attractive young woman who was taking a survey, I assume for the local tourism board. As cordial and articulate as she was, it was no problem at all to answer her questions, and she answered that pronunciation question of mine. At least I got that one correct…on the way out of town.
BA lost my bike in both directions, but they got it to me when it counted--the same night upon arrival in Munich, and three days later when I got home, about the time I wanted to look at the bike and put it back together.
The bike could wait. It was time to be home with Tracy.
Once again, we got off to an early start, and after an initial descent, Tim and I wound up on a 2300’ climb of the Col de la Porte. If yesterday’s terrain resembled Colorado, today it looked like we were in the Pyrenees. Later in the morning, we climbed a “mystery col” (Tim, can you help me out here?).
For most of the day, we rode up and down from village to village, on quiet and tiny roads. Tim really did a great job plotting the day’s route out, and his onboard GPS guided us without worry.
The Col de la Madone is a climb made famous by Lance Armstrong. He used to do the 3000’ climb up from his home in Nice as a regular way to test his fitness level. Of course, Trek had to go and spoil it by naming a bike after it:) Tim and I would be doing the Madone in the opposite direction, from the north.
Neither Tim not I are really sure as to what happened, but I wound up in Monaco after missing a turn leading to the top of the Madone. After we had finished the lower part of the climb, Tim took the same wrong turn, and said he yelled out to me as we crossed in opposite directions. I didn’t hear him, and he assumed I turned around and was behind him.
By the time I figured things out, I was a long way down the hill, and by the time he figured it out, he was on top of the Madone! Tim dropped down to Menton, and I traversed over there from above Monaco. Getting off on the wrong route wasn’t ideal, but I did have some pretty incredible views looking down over Monaco and the Mediterranean Sea. On one side of me were misty clouds swirling around the high peaks to the north of Monaco, and down below were the fabulous yachts and high-rises that make up the epicenter of European wealth.
I settled on a beach bench in Menton and watched the early afternoon action. Tim rolled right by me and the two of us rode down to where the car was waiting for us. Just like that, the bikes were loaded, and our riding was done.
After the drive down the Cote d' Azur (during which I slept much of the time), we checked into the Helios Hotel, a four star hotel one block from the beach in Juan les Pins. Just as when I finished the Pyrenees trip last year in Biarritz, it was really nice to have the best hotel of the trip to recuperate in.
Juan les Pins was crowded in the afternoon, and as the evening wore on, it just got more and more busy. We had a nice “celebratory” dinner at a fairly high profile restaurant, and strolled around town before and after the meal.
It seems like just yesterday that Tim and I were discussing the feasibility of a super hard trip across the Dolomites, Italian and French Alps, and the Maritime Alps.
Now we were done with the trip, and I was not only pleased with the riding, but I was really happy that neither Tim nor I had experienced any kind of injury. While I was looking forward to coming home to Tracy in Seattle, I was sad that the adventure was drawing to a close.
If it were physically and financially feasible, I contemplated whether one could just endlessly ride their bike, moving from one stunning part of the world to the next, chasing great weather and incredible roads.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Jeff led the ride, and took us counter clockwise along what we consider the classic north route, inner loop version. We did the climb by Chism Park in Enatai, and combined Juanita with Holmes Point. We used Perkins to reach 185th in Shoreline, and did the short Dayton climb just before a stop at Bitter Lake. There were six of us, including two newbie’s.
After crossing the Ballard Bridge with the big tailwind, we did a loop around Magnolia, culminating with a rapid transit stretch along the bluff, again with that wind shoving us along. We wound up with 53 miles and around 4000' of climbing. While the ride didn't go off at the frenzied pace typical in summer, Jeff did his best to make sure we all rode pretty hard, especially for the end of October.
While this is the last scheduled ride of 2008, Jeff and/or I may decide to post a web only ride if the weather looks promising for a Saturday or Sunday. Check Cascade.org for info, as well as the Team HPC message Board.
Look for the regularly scheduled ride to start back up in January.
I hope to see you on the road.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
72.1 miles 9197’ climbing
The Col de la Bonette was the scene of a fierce battleground in this year’s tour, and it was here that several riders lost their chance at the GC victory. After countless attacks on the incredibly long southern ascent of the col, Christian Van de Velde was dropped just before the top. Trying to make up the 30 seconds he lost, he crashed on the descent.
The top of the Bonnette is also where during Stage 16 of the 2008 Tour; John-Lee Augustyn crested the Col de la Bonette in first place before shortly and spectacularly overshooting the first hairpin bend on the descent. Both he and his bicycle flew over the embankment, and he slid over the loose shale, and plummeted quite a ways down the slope. His bicycle kept going until it was out of the camera’s view.
In this year’s tour, Dennis Menchov also took himself out of contention for the yellow jersey on the long descent to the stage finish at the village of Jausiers. For whatever reason, he was unable to follow the pace of the leaders on the technical descent, and lost not only 45 seconds, but any chance he had of winning the 2008 Tour.
Tim and I actually rode the Bonnette in the opposite direction (from the north). Television never does it justice, but I can personally verify that the grade is over 14% at the point the rider catapulted off the road, and it was a hump for us at 9200’ elevation.
This little section of road did not even exist until a few years ago when the local politicos decided that they were sick of the Bonette being just a few meters short of the Iseran, the highest col in France. The Col de la Bonette used to be 2715 meters high, or 49m lower than the Col de Iseran (see 6-20 blog). A new, higher road was constructed from the actual col to around the Bonette, topping out at 2802m (9193’), a scant 60m from the Bonette summit itself. The road then loops down to rejoin the original road at the col. The locals call this steep, exposed road the “Cime de la Bonette”.
One now has the option of looping around this precariously perched ribbon of road. In the middle of the curve at the very point of the mountain is a monument. It’s in French, of course, so I couldn’t read the full story that I am certain is engraved into the stone.
This new section of road makes the Bonnette the highest col in France, just a few meters higher than the Iseran. Maybe, depending on how you interpret it.
According to Wikipedia:
“The two kilometer long teardrop shaped loop around the Cime de la Bonette peak (2860m) from either side of the pass is the highest paved through route in the Alps.
A signpost at the foot of the climb makes the claim "Col de la Bonette - Restefond, 2802 m above sea level, highest road in Europe". This claim is incorrect for various reasons. The actual Col de la Bonette rises to 2715 m, but there are three Alpine road passes whose altitudes are higher: Col de Iseran (2770 m), Stelvio Pass (2757 m) and Col Angel (2744 m). The road around the Cime de la bonette reaches an altitude of 2802 m, but this is not a "pass", but merely a scenic loop. It is, however, the highest asphalted road in France and is the highest through road in Europe”.
I guess one should just decide what to believe for themselves—I know the French do.
From the south, the climb starts at Saint-Etienne-de Tinee, and is 16 miles long. Over this distance, the vertical rise is 1652m or 5420’ (an average percentage grade of 6.4%).
From the north the climb starts at Jausiers and is 15 miles long. Over this distance, the elevation gain is 1589m or 5213’ (an average percentage grade of 6.6%). No matter from which direction you approach, the Bonette is simply a “beast of a climb”.
Just like the Galibier and so many other climbs we did on this trip, one wished that the climb of the Bonette would just go on forever (well, maybe until that final 14% section). Of all the incredible cols we climbed, this is the one that both Tim and I picked as our singular favorite.
Since we left Barcelonnette at 6:45am, the lower slopes of the climb were shaded, and the sun was shining on the peaks above us. The lighting was spectacular.
It was still very early in the morning as we headed south from Jausiers. Shortly outside of town, we had a 10 minute wait as a local rancher drove his sheep alongside the road. I say rancher, but it was really a dog that did the work. Tim and I watched with amazement as this dog ran from the front of the herd, to the back, and then kept control of the sheep by continuously moving back and forth.
Not only was it wonderful to see an animal working at the task he was born to accomplish; this dog was the most incredibly muscled dog I have ever seen. His breath hung thick in the cool morning air, and his coat had a wet sheen. He nearly ran right into me as he whipped around the corner of the herd at full speed. He was a spectacularly gifted athlete, kind of the Lance Armstrong of French dogs.
Once we were way above tree line, the resemblance to the Rocky Mountain west was uncanny. The road we were on reminded me of Trail Ridge Road, which traverses Rocky Mountain National Park northwest of Denver.
Just like yesterday, we had no support today. Laura and Katie got a late start, and then they were delayed by construction. It was just Tim and I out in the middle of nowhere, and also like yesterday, the route was almost devoid of cars. We stopped for croissants, we stopped for spring water, and we spent a little more time smelling the roses, perhaps because we both subconsciously sensed that the trip was drawing to a close. I decided that the prettiest smile of the trip belonged to our croissant salesperson, and she was friendly too, even though she spoke not a word of English.
Towards the top of the col, high above the tree line, there was some type of army maneuver taking place. I was passed by a truck, and then I spotted another way up above me on the road. It looked like a tiny toy truck, and I was reminded at how difficult depth perception becomes when there are no trees to serve as yardsticks.
By the time we reached the Col St. Martin, our leisurely itinerary caught up with us, as we were now in the throes of a serious afternoon heat. It was a blissful descent from the top of the col into town, but the climb was very hard.
As with almost everywhere else we had been, late June in St. Martin Vesubie is a very slow time of the year. In addition to having to wait at curbside for over an hour until our hotel front desk manager emerged from Siesta, we had difficulty in finding a restaurant.
Monday, October 20, 2008
We awoke to a sky containing a few high clouds, the first break in the constant solid blue skies for a long time.
We were staying at a very nice three star hotel in Barcelonnette. The temperature was close to 90 degrees in the afternoon, and the hotel did not have air conditioning, so even with a comfortable room it was tough to “chill”. And then there was the noise and cigarette smoke coming through the open window…enough of the complaining, it was still a great town. Of course, back home even a Motel 6 has AC. Now I sound like one of those baseball cap wearing American tourists who always seem to be asking “Where is the MacDonald’s?”
To make matters worse, I was sleeping in an upstairs loft. So much for quality sleep. This deep into the trip I could tell that day to day fatigue was taking its toll on me, but I was really powerless to do anything about it.
I could have used one of these:
Some of the Tour de France teams have adopted the use of a surgical cooling helmet, which the riders wear while sleeping. One coach has noted that it’s especially helpful in Europe, where many of the hotels are without air conditioning. It’s a product that’s gone “from the operating room to the Tour de France”.
Tim rode incredibly well during the entire trip. He’s always been a super strong rider but I was amazed at how he seemed to get stronger every day. As opposed to my sleeping difficulties, he and Laura were getting good rest every night in their room, and he claimed to be starting each day feeling “fresh”. Maybe if Tracy were with me I would have slept better, but I think she would have just made me hotter! I’ve always been a temperamental sleeper anyway.
Before you jump to conclusions, I’m not whining! This was the cycling trip of a lifetime, and I loved every minute of it. I could sleep when I got home (and sleep I did).
Wednesday, June 25th
Barcelonnette-Col d’ Allos-Col des Champs-Col de la Cayolle
87.1 miles 11,553’ of climbing
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Maritime Alps. More than a few people had told me that this was an incredible area from a cycling perspective. I guess I tended to subconsciously pooh-pooh that, thinking how could the Maritime Alps be anything like the Dolomites, or the Italian and Haute French Alps?
With this prejudicial viewpoint, I certainly did not expect today’s 87 mile loop to be not only the single most enjoyable day of cycling of the entire trip, but to be perhaps the single finest day of my entire cycling life.
Seeking a jump on the afternoon heat, we left Barcelonnette at 6:50am with literally not a car in sight. We were in the more arid Maritime Alps, but there were mountain streams cascading down from every direction.
Tim gave Laura the "day off", so unfortunately I do not have any photos to do this description justice.
A total of eight cars passed us in over four hours of climbing. From a traffic standpoint, it was even better than the remote areas of the Pyrenees.
In many ways, this section of France looked more like Colorado than Colorado. I can see how travelers could easily spend a week in Barcelonnette, alternately cycling and hiking. There is a system of Refuge Huts and seemingly no people to use them.
Out first climb, the Col d’ Allos was fairly long and steep, but it really paled in comparison to the monsters we had been riding up and down this entire trip. Devoid of traffic and almost totally encased in silence, the climb of this col was just amazing.
The second climb of the Col des Champs was a little shorter, but no less attractive.
The final big climb of the day was the Col de la Cayolle at 20.5km in length that gained over 4000’ of altitude. This was a monster climb, especially in the afternoon heat.
On our return to Barcelonnette from the top of the Col de la Cayolle, we descended for mile after mile alongside a powerful river with rapids. This was one of the prettiest rivers I have ever seen.
That evening we returned for another good meal at the Mexican restaurant, and Laura helped me pick out a handmade French apron for Tracy.
Cold and foggy, and then cold and partly sunny, is how the HOWC started and concluded. Jeff led the group of six out to Cougar Mountain for some late season climbing. We did Newcastle Golf Club (starting from Coal Creek), Lakemont, Somerset the “easy” way, and then Horizon View (no easy way possible).
The cast was comprised of Reg, Jeff, Tom M, Tom N, Don M, and me. All were HOWC veterans, and all seemed to be pretty fit for late in the cycling season.
All in all it was yet another great HOWC, with some hard riding interrupted by plenty of time for on the bike socializing.
I left the ride a little early (but not early enough) to help set up the snacks and media room for our first annual Team HPC Powered by Cycle U End of Season Party. Tracy wound up doing most of the work, leaving me to greet people as they arrived.
Team HPC End of Season Party
We had a total of between 35-40 people at the gathering, and almost all of them were there from beginning to end. An open forum was held to discuss the 08 season, and what we could do to make the 09 season even more productive and fun.
David, Craig, and I all outlined various different scenarios for how next year could play out, and the group took it from there. It was encouraging to see different team members suggest some new ideas, and I hope these members follow through.
Perhaps the team message board can be used as a forum to seek out “sub-committees” of people interested in one particular thing or another? It will take someone to spearhead a new idea, and I am sure others will want to join in.
We had two very interesting guest speakers. Craig Undem from Cycle U, and Chris Ragsdale of ultra racing fame presented bi-polar approaches to the same end result—going faster on a bike.
Chris is a true “seat of the pants” rider, preferring to race and train totally by feel without the use of any training device. Chris lives and rides in the moment, and deals with obstacles as they appear. Chris just goes as hard as it feels right to go, and if he starts a climb at too high a pace, well “I just deal with the top of the climb when I get to the top of the climb”.
Not only does he not fear “The Bonk”, he anticipates the bonk, and seems to view it as a necessary thing to get through as part of any ultra event.
He shared some great stories about the recent Furnace Creek 508 race in California. This is perhaps the grand daddy of all of the ultra races, and here was Chris with three years of racing experience lining up with some of the greatest professional endurance cyclists in the world.
Not only lining up, but going off the front during the first hour with two of the stars, testing each other at 28-30mph, and ultimately finishing second in the race. So much for not burning all of your matches early on! In other words, Mano a Mano, if you can’t hang with me now, you won’t be with me 500 miles down the road, will you?
Craig talked about maximizing your potential, competing with yourself, and not setting unrealistic goals.
There are probably less than five people living on this earth who have the potential to ever play the game of golf like Tiger Woods does. It took almost two generations for Tiger to come along after Jack Nicklaus, who most people consider the last super dominant golfer.
There are likely less than 10 people alive at this moment that have the potential to dominate the Tour de France like Lance Armstrong has done.
Craig talked about aspiring to improve upon our own personal best, and not dwelling on climbing like Lance Armstrong, or riding over 500 miles in 24 hours like…Chris Ragsdale.
Craig discussed how professional coaching and a structured training plan can help you improve your fitness, and “beat your former self” up that climb.
Chris talked about the lack of structure in his approach, from his diet to his training mileage, to even his equipment, as in “Man, I was dying for that 11 cog”. Chris is truly a gifted athlete, and I suspect we would be watching him race on television if his potential would have been discovered as a teenager.
Craig discussed how the rest of us can benefit from using a combined approach of structure and riding by feel.
We had some discussion about the team rides, and afterwards I had a perspective I’d like to share.
We could start the summer clinics at 7:30am for the development riders, and any expert riders wishing to attend. The expert group would show at 8, and we would roll as one group. We would either then split the groups into two different routes, or do the same thing we did on Cougar Mountain this year (variations upon the same route).
If possible, we’d have a re-group and ride back as one group.
This would be a lot easier to manage than separate dates for the respective groups, and riding all as one would also instill more of a “team” feeling.
There was a lot of enthusiasm for the team and the potential of what we can accomplish together. Look for postings on the team message board, as well as articles in the Courier, as to what lies ahead in 2009.
I hope to see you on the road.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
The quick version of the story is, Emde, Mcnulty and I took off hard into the first canyon and put a gap on the rest of the field. I continued to chase but the two of them slowly pulled away. By mile 200 with 10,000 plus feet of climbing I came in at 8 and a half hours. With the two just a few minutes up the road. We climbed Townes pass and descended into Death Valley in daylight, something that has only been done once before by Baloh. I hit the Furnace creek time station at the 252 mile mark in under 12 hours. By that point an ugly storm had descended into Death Valley and I was fighting to keep the bike upright due to strong side winds. Soon thunder and lightning was making this whole thing pretty surreal.
Things started to go downhill a bit. Energy started to run a bit low. I got a flat, had a few minor issues like adjusting lights on helmets and breaking a pair of glasses. Mainly I was just getting plain tired. By the time I hit Shoshone time station, I said I needed to rest a while. So I lay down like 15 min. And then went back at it. Not feeling any better from the rest. I ended up taking another just an hour or more later. This time I was passed by a team and a solo I think. Even after this stop I battled to stay awake. When I hit the Baker Time station, I needed to go down for another rest and I really felt wasted. This time when I got up they said another solo had passed me and I really needed to get up and go for it. I quickly caught one rider but I think at this time I was in 4th. However I continued to lose the fight to stay awake. This time weaving quite a bit and even going off the road once. Right about the time the crew was going to make me lay down again I was passed by Cat Berge, one of the strongest female riders alive. She offered a kind word and a couple no doze. So I took them, dropped back, and did my best to chase her vehicle up the hill. Before long I was feeling quite a bit better and was strategizing when I would make my move. I could see her and Joel Sothern, the 3rd place rider just ahead. I was currently fifth but was plotting to make it 3rd again. I took off up the hill and quickly passed Cat and was tracking down Joel. I just happened to plan it perfectly. I over took him just before summiting the climb and went over the top quickly. Now feeling very energized as the sun began to rise again. It was as if I were starting a new day all fresh again. The legs felt like they could answer any request and the mind was now fully engaged again. I rode hard to the next time station and upon asking for the time splits and placement, they told me that I was in second, and that Mcnulty had DNF'd, and Emde was the only one ahead. This was incredible fuel for the fire, and I rode as hard as possible for the next 6-7 hours, constantly obsessed with being caught by Cat or Joel. Finally I reached the finish in 29:10 for 2nd place. Cat would finish 3rd, like 20 or so minutes later.
I was super pleased with the result, and the amazing crew of Bob Brudvik and Mark Thomas. They were constantly stimulating me with more numbers and goals than I could process and did a great job of keeping my tank full. Thanks to everyone who has supported me this season and for all of your encouragement."
Here is a link to the Pics that Mark took Slideshow - http://www.flickr.com/photos/26649888@N00/sets/72157607822587330/show/Normal view -http://www.flickr.com/photos/26649888@N00/sets/72157607822587330/detail/
Chris "RAM" Ragsdale
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
I have just bought my sixth bike from Dave (three frames, and three complete bikes), and his service is far above and beyond any other shop that I have dealt with.
More on my new bike later, but if anybody out there is looking for a class act in the bike shop business, you should check out Center Cycle.
Tell Dave that Tom from Cascade Bicycle Club sent you, and he will take good care of you, including a very competitive price.