Tuesday, October 28, 2008

European Cycling Saturday, June 28th

Juan Les Pins-Nice-British Air-London-British Air-Seattle-Tracy

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.

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