Weekend Warrior race report - A bit of light reliefDisclaimers
Don’t read this if you think cycling should be serious.
Don’t read this if you think cycling writing should be serious or based mainly (or even partially) on facts.
Don’t read this if you’re short of time.
Conventional wisdom has it that the major cycling event of the last weekend in June is the round of National Championships. Impressive though these are as events, they fail to measure up to the little known and sadly under-rated “Ronde de Wolds”. Initially planned as a warm-up for the Summer Holiday Pyrenees Challenge, it is now challenging hard for premier status in the Weekend Warrior race programme.
A one day race, held over the savage hills of the Yorkshire Wolds – but only whenever a field worthy of this event can be mustered - it got a big break this year with the Yorkshire edition of Eurosports televising it live. Large brown envelopes changed hands, and Harmon and Kelly were brought on board to commentate.
This must be the first time for a major road race that the size of the commentary team equalled the number of riders in the field, but it can’t be emphasised enough just how tough this race is. Merckx, of course, competed regularly in his prime, as did Hinault, but here’s some cycling trivia for you – due to having declared war on Switzerland many years ago, Yorkshire is not recognised as a country by the UCI. Hence, to avoid sanctions, Merkcx and Hinault raced under the “noms de bicyclette” of Albert Arkwright and Roy Ramsbottom and their multiple victories in the Ronde are not officially recognised.
Needless to say, the course was too tough for modern-day upstarts and the closest Armstrong ever got to the “Ronde” was in the mid 90s when he was dragooned to Leeds for its much missed “Classic”. He took one look at the modest gradients of the A64 heading east and headed home for Mum. Like I said, this is a tough race.
Berto did take the A64 east a year or two back, but was diverted by the signs to the numerous east coach seaside resorts and instead spent the weekend on the beach at Scarborough. Riis got as far as riding the course in training, but declared it to be “at least a 70%er” and didn’t even sign on.
Pantani did allegedly compete once, but the only journalistic record of his visit is an account in the Bridlington Gazette of wild partying after the Ronde by a small eccentrically clad man sporting a “Kiss me quick” bandana. As such, it’s reasonable to assume that he, at least, was more than man enough for the gruelling gradients.
But what of this year’s field?
Harmon was ecstatic. The entire field – yours truly and my nemesis from Alpe D’Huez last year (Tim) - was old, English speaking, and possessed of a riding style that only a Mother or a devoted daughter could find aesthetically pleasing. As the build-up on YorkieSports progressed, Harmon was unsurprisingly soon describing the Ronde as the “6th Monument”.
Kelly was more circumspect, and when pressed, opined that this year’s event was more like an outbreak of a midlife crisis for the peleton than a serious race. I have the utmost respect for Kelly’s pedalling prowess, but he is another rider without the Ronde on his CV. All those MVs, PRs and PNs count for nowt in the Peoples Republic if you’ve gibbed at the Ronde.
There is, however, some mileage in his accusation, although it would be fair to say that whilst we thought the mileage equivalent to the distance of a Team Sprint, our respective spouses thought it equivalent to riding all the GTs in the same season. In our defence, we asserted that male mid life crises are inevitable, and so expending one’s last traces of youth on bike riding must surely be better than getting into fast cars, faster women and – heaven forbid – spending money trying to dress trendily!
Kelly also failed to take into account the realities of being a Weekend Warrior. At the end of his day in the saddle, he would be met by soigneur, masseur and mechanic, whereas we would be met by excited children, G&T’d up spouses and a long list of domestic tasks to attend to. In addition, whereas any time limit breached by a GT contender simply results in more time at home and the opportunity to exercise a few conjugal rights, if we missed our spousally imposed time limit then far from conjugal rights, it would be the order of the “cold shoulder” or even the spare room for a non-trivial period of time.
The pressure was undoubtedly on.
As the Ronde is held on open roads with no marshalls and I had never cycled the route before, this year’s version was run as a King of the Mountains competition. For the statistically minded, here are the categorised climbs and their statistics:
Le Col du Flixton 11.4 % for 800m - Hors Categorie
Le Col du Fordon 8.8% for 650m - 1er categorie
Le Col du Ganton 9.6% for 1,140m - Hors Categorie
Le Col du Sherburn 5.1% for 2,070m - 1er Categorie
Le Col du Helperthorpe 4.7% for 1,940m - 1er Categorie
Le Cormet du West Heslerton 9.6% for 1,120m - Hors Categorie
Le Mont Settrington 5.5% for 2,640m - Hors Categorie
La Belle Vue 5.6% for 952m – 2eme category
HC climbs yield a 10 point margin, 1er climbs a 7 point margin, with the 2eme climb yielding an anomalous 8 point margin. Win the 4 HCs and overall victory would be in the bag, as it would be with any combination of 5 wins. Tactical permutations abounded, but getting to the top first more often than not seemed to cover as much as was needed at the outset.
As always, the average gradients disguised a few double digit horrors, but as a Ronde virgin, I would find out about these only when my handlebars suddenly got a lot higher. Tim had rated and scored the climbs, so I got to name them.
Local roadies refer to the Col Du Flixton as the “Widowmaker”, so I decided that a Hollywood film name was also appropriate for the remaining HC climbs. Thus it was that we set off to tackle “The Widowmaker”, “Deliverance”, “Armageddon” and finally, “Terminator 2 – Judgement Day”
As Sarah Connor in T2 observed: “We have no fate but that which we make for ourselves”, so I had given serious efforts in training.
I’d trained as much as my dodgy back would permit, and had even fitted in some solo rides of around 100k including one adventure taking in Old Pool Bank and its 1k @ 11% (including a maximum gradient of 20%) a sanity sapping 7 times. More than once would have been better, but at least I felt confident I could actually complete the climbs on the Ronde and avoid the ultimate humiliation of “DNF” in a two-horse race!
I’d also learnt that I could climb such a gradient only 5 minutes after eating a large banana – quite possibly the most useful piece of info from a whole off-season of training!
Notwithstanding Mrs SR’s views on the sanity of the Ronde concept, she had taken my defeat on Alpe D’Huez last summer hard – much harder than me, in fact – and was keen for revenge. Whilst she couldn’t help turn the pedals, she gave my bike a thorough clean and polish on the eve of Race Day, to the extent that you could shave in the reflection off the rear derailleur!
Tactics were simple – ride as slowly as I could get away with on the flat, wheelsucking where possible and go no faster than necessary up the early climbs. Fireworks reserved for the second half. If Tim was much faster, then so be it. The scenario I was not looking forward to was that we were similar speeds up the first climb, thus necessitating an early sprinting duel. That bore all the hallmarks of promoting a long, lactic hell in the second half of the race.
Clutching at straws
I’d acquired a new, lighter bike, aiming to eliminate the technology advantage that Tim had enjoyed last year, but the sneaky sod had done the same, and trumped my “Stan Boardman” with his own “Sir Walter Raleigh”. Tim had sold out in a big way. I’d lost count of the number of times he dissed the “Roadies in the carbon armada” last year yet here he was, on a bike consisting of minimal metal. The man has less shame than a house-flipping politician and Sir Walter was, indeed, a full carbon beast with drop handlebars. Even his bottle cages were carbon. Principles are one thing. A weight advantage of around 2kg is clearly another.
It’s worth acknowledging here that half my bike belonged to the British people, courtesy of the Cycle To Work Scheme, if only to support a somewhat spurious claim that I would be representing the Mother Country. I can thus truthfully be referred to as a GB International along with Sir Chris, Wiggo and VP etc.
At Weightwatchers, losing weight is, apparently, beyond a mere monetary value. In cycling, though, losing weight off the bike has a definite value or cost (depending on which side of the counter you are) and for some modest additional expenditure, I’d saved the following:
• 400g by spraying enough GT85 on the rusted up Trailgater bracket on my seat-post to allow it to be removed
• 350g by cleaning up my old road shoes for use instead of my MTB shoes
• 350g by shelling out on new tyres and tubes
• 100g by switching to ankle rather than shin-length socks, with the promise that these small socks would accumulated less sweat than bigger ones, thus enhancing the weight saving
• 50g by dispensing with un-needed loose change from the depths of my Camelbak
• 5g by cutting all the straps on my Camelbak to the minimum size compatible with functionality
My secret weapons, though, were that I was 2kg lighter myself than last year (money saving in its own right, but at the heavy spiritual cost of ignoring Bartali’s advice that the “diet of champions” consists largely of pies) and that I hadn’t told Tim about my endeavours on Old Pool Bank, hopefully giving me at least some surprises in my tactical armoury. Because I train mostly on the turbo and expressed a dislike for the steeper gradients last year, he has the idea in mind that I am a one-paced flat-track bully with no power in my legs, with the result that I would keel over on the slopes of Deliverance and concede defeat.
Whilst this scenario was not entirely outside the bounds of probability, it was a classic example of pinning the rival team’s quote on the dressing room door prior to a big match, and I was determined to show him a thing or two – preferably my back wheel disappearing up the hill and some fancy dancing on the pedals. I would trade the fancy dancing for b*lls out grinding if it still afforded him a view of my back wheel, though.
Tim has one inherent advantage over me – whilst I may resemble a camel facially, he appears to have evolved from one and needs much less fluid per mile than me. Under the rules of the Ronde, all riders must be fully self-sufficient, so I was loaded with approximately 1 litre more water and its associated extra weight as we completed the final equipment check. Despite this extra weight, I did appear to at least have a fully functional back for the day, so I was in good spirits.
Most of all, though, I was relieved so see Sir Walter shod in “skinnies”as it ruled out the possibility that Tim had slipped a few km of pave into the route of the Ronde.
The Grand Depart
Although the emphasis on the Ronde is climbing, the horizontal distance of nearly 80 miles was distinctly non-trivial for this particular Weekend Warrior. I had planned on wheel-sucking to the bottom of The Widowmaker, but this seemed out of keeping with having great weather and largely empty country roads to play with, so we cycled side by side, talking a lot of b*llocks, as men are inclined to do in such circumstances.
From Tim’s description, this sounded like Old Pool Bank, with a shallow start and a very steep finish. So it proved. But as the saying goes, training is training, but racing is racing. As we hit the steep section, I glanced down at my monitor. Heart rate at 161! Surely some mistake, as to be in the “red zone” already did not bode well. I felt good, though, and followed Tim’s wheel, confident that I’d take him at the end.
Then matters departed from the script. Tim upped the pace. I followed easily enough, but my heart rate was already into the high 170s. Tim launched an attack, and in my vain pursuit, my heart rate went up to 180. As my max cycling heart rate was 186 taken in 1997, this seemed quite hard enough, given the amount of climbing left. I eased off, giving Tim an untroubled victory on the first climb, and a 10 point margin in the KoM competition. In truth, I could have pedalled until my heart exploded and I wouldn’t have matched his pace. Somewhat troubling, as it meant that I couldn’t rely on a sprint finish.
Overall, The Widowmaker wasn’t actually that bad, despite its name – more of a “Husband Harmer” – but I just couldn’t match Tim’s speed.
At this point, I’d pretty much written off chances of overall victory. Tim seemed much faster where it counted, so I thought I’d try something on the next climb, the 1st cat Col de Fordon. I went for a higher gear than normal and started “dancing” at the foot of the climb. Tim followed, but I tried a series of small attacks until a gap appeared, at which point I put my head down and wellied it, expecting Tim to ease alongside, give me “The Look” and then zoom off into the distance. He didn’t, and I bagged the points without much bother, to close to within 3 points.
To avoid complacency, I told myself that Tim was simply coasting, and saving himself for the HC climbs, which would secure overall victory. But before tactical considerations could play out, we had matters of mere survival to address.
And so to Deliverance. The “self-reliance” rule, the name of this climb and Jan Ullrich’s absence from the roster of former Ronde riders all dovetail neatly at this point of the narrative, with the origins of Eddy Merckx’ nickname thrown in for good measure.
The lower slopes of Deliverance are to be found in Ganton, one of the wilder corners of an already wild and remote part of the country. Ancient customs such as bestiality, cannibalism, Laurent Brochard haircuts and committed support of Lance Armstrong are still practiced with religious fervour – sometimes even simultaneously. Family trees are rare. At best, there is the odd shoot off an otherwise long, straight branch. When people talk of a family atmosphere at the village fete, that’s exactly what they mean. Shockingly, some early competitors recorded a “DNF” after stopping to enquire if supplies were available, only to find that they received an invitation to a barbeque that could not be refused.
Now here’s some more cycling trivia for you. When riding The Ronde in the early 60s as a promising junior, Albert Arkwright (aka Eddy Merckx) was attacked by locals in this area, brandishing not tacks or pepper spray, but barbeque skewers. The event is not documented in the archives of the Ganton Gazette, but eye-witness accounts are of a typically robust Merckx counter-attack. After a brief but gory encounter, the Cannibal’s nickname was assured, scuppering the notion that Merckx was named after his insatiable appetite for race victories, as is popularly believed.
(You can probably guess by now the true story of LeMond’s hunting “accident” as well.)
The locals soon learnt, however, that the optimum build of a Ronde rider, namely skin and bone, was not the optimum for a mid-race barbie, but they were nothing if not optimistic. It had become an annual tradition to put up the “Ganton welcomes Jan Ullrich” signs in the hope that this mountain of prime Bavarian beefcake would indeed eventually pass through. Even though it is some years since Big Jan’s retirement, the signs – albeit somewhat faded and dusty – were still out in force.
Now, both Tim and I had pared ourselves down as much as possible for the race, but even so, at nearly 160kg between us, there was always the risk that the locals would think we were sufficiently meaty for it to be worth setting the man-traps and garrotting wires. All was quiet and deserted as we passed through, though, but even so, there was an urgency to our pedalling that was not fully explainable by the tactical considerations of the race at that point. I even went to the front, gambling that if we were to get an invitation to a barbie, then the locals would pick on the weaker rider first and go for Tim at the back!
Being in front actually fitted my tactical plan. I wanted to take this one out from the front, and if Tim wanted to do his crazy sprint up 16% gradient thing again, then he was going to do it from behind, and off a fast pace.
The first 300m were relatively leisurely (which means heart rate below 170 in Ronde-speak), but then Tim pulled alongside and started dancing. I countered with some fancy footwork of my own, and we duelled side by side for the next 300m, with heart rate limits thrown out of the window. Unfortunately, with 300m left, nature took its course and when Tim kicked again, I couldn’t follow. He didn’t get very far ahead this time, though, but I couldn’t pull anything back. Another victory for Tim, another 10 points, and a lead of 13 nearing the half way point.
I wasn’t too disheartened by this as if I could win all the minor climbs and sneak the final HC (which at 5.5% over 2.5k seemed more like my kind of terrain than the other HCs) then I could still claim overall victory.
Next up was the 1st cat Col de Sherburn. I took it out at a strong pace, and decided to re-enact my tactics from the Fordon with a series of small attacks to see if I go get a gap. But just as I was about to start this, I saw Tim stand up. I felt sure he was about to attack, so threw the kitchen sink into my own attack and kept my head down until I got to the finish. 7 points to me, and the margin was down to 6 points.
Tim arrived, light-heartedly complaining that it was a bit out of order to attack the jersey holder when he was only standing up to break wind! Given his defection to the Carbon Armada, sympathy was less than forthcoming. Surely, but surely, he could have practiced breaking wind without breaking his pedalling action.
We were soon onto the 1st Cat Col de Helperthorpe, and things were getting serious. If I took this one, I’d take the jersey, so I attacked hard right from the bottom. I got a good gap immediately and held on. I probably pushed harder than I needed to, but I didn’t want to give Tim any chance to unleash another sprint on me.
7 points to me, and a 1 point lead overall. Everything to play for. Our 8 hill challenge had boiled down to best of 3. It’s fair to say that I had not bargained on this. I had expected that either one of us – most likely Tim – would have it in the bag by now.
And so to Armageddon. I don’t think either of us will ever forget this particular piece of tarmac.
We cycled down the climb first, and it was pretty much identical in terms of distance and profile to Deliverance. I decided that the same tactics were the best bet, but with the added variant of going too fast for Tim this time.
There was no dithering at the bottom. It was straight into my highest climbing gear and my best dancing. Again, Tim made a move around a third of the way up. This time, I counter-attacked whilst he was still behind me, and the mother and father of all battles ensued. It was basically sprint, get your vision back, sprint again, repeat and hope the other guy cracked first.
In the commentary box, Harmon was going mad.
“There’s been more attacks on this climb alone than in the entire Tour De France last year. These Warriors of the Road are serving us up a real treat, aren’t they Sean?”
“Oh yes. To be sure” was the less than enthusiastic response.
Mr Kelly might not have been impressed, but things were getting very serious indeed. Tim had edged in front, and I was wheel-sucking for all I was worth. Then Tim got a gap, but I closed him down. My confidence grew, as this was the first of his serious attacks that I’d been able to respond to. Needless to say, he attacked again, but I pulled that back as well. A quick glance at the heart rate monitor showed a somewhat alarming reading of 185. I put aside thoughts of pushing so hard that I got to visit the Great Turbo Trainer In The Sky, knocked it up a gear and with 50m to go, attacked again. I got my front wheel over-lapping his back one, but Tim launched his own attack, and edged clear to win by a couple of bike lengths.
As we both hung over our handlebars trying to work out what had happened to our legs, lungs and vision, Harmon was in full flow.
“Wouldn’t you say, Sean, that both these guys have left a piece of themselves on the road today?”
“I’m not so sure, Dave” was the response. “But that SlowRower fella certainly looks like he left one of his lungs at home before setting off.”
If I’d had any higher thought processes functioning at the time, I’d probably have agreed, but all I could think of was that I was 9 points behind and there were still 18 to play for.
Now when I named the final HC climb “Judgement Day”, it was just a joke, because it sounded like the sort of name a potentially decisive climb should have. But now it really was Judgement Day. I was climbing in the Last Chance Saloon. One more defeat, and I would be toast.
Tim let slip news that despite this having a 5.5% average gradient, it was, and I quote “a bit steep at the bottom”. Steep indeed it was – another sustained effort of 16%. Not happy, so I wheel-sucked for all I was worth, with the plan that when the gradient slackened, I’d be off, just like I’d been on the 1st cat climbs. I was practically writing my victory speech as I responded to all of Tim’s attacks on the steep section.
As the gradient slackened, I was poised, waiting for my moment when suddenly Tim was 3 lengths in front. HTF had he done that? It was almost instantaneous and I sat up, resigned to defeat. It should have been a hard blow to take, but with over 90k in my legs and my heart rate way in excess of that sensible for a man of my age, it wasn’t actually that hard. I’d done my best, attacked hard and often, varied my tactics as the race unfolded and ultimately lost to the better man. I’d also had a lot of masochistic fun.
There was the final 2nd cat climb on the way home, and I was a lot more desperate to win it than Tim was – not surprisingly, as he was being interviewed on his mobile by Harmon at the time – simply to salvage some pride.
And then the ride got really tough! My back seized up at the top of the last climb, which meant that I couldn’t pedal hard sitting down, which was a real problem as we were returning into a stiff headwind. I fessed up to Tim that I was a broken man, and he paced me home for the final 20k, with me grovelling on his back wheel. I was delighted to get back, particularly as we’d beaten the time limit, and rather than spousal reprisals, we got a cold beer as we staggered in through the back door. Life doesn’t get much better than this.
122km – my longest ever ride in terms of distance
5hrs 28 – likewise for time
1540m total ascent – likewise for ascent
2712 calories consumed – don’t know if this is a best, but it meant I didn’t feel guilty as I ate half my bodyweight at the evening family barbie!
Life had come full circle. In the early hours of New Years Day 2009, I was p*ssed out of my brain in Tim’s lounge. At that point, I was a recently “retired” rower who was now into road-running with the odd diversion in the form of dabbling in swimming and cycling. Then Tim uttered his fateful words: “If Sheryl Crowe can climb Alpe D’Huez in under 75 minutes then so can we.” I became a committed cyclist and we both did, even if she never had.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, once again somewhat p*ssed (it took far fewer Kir Royales to achieve this than last time, though, due to the carnage wrought on my body by the Ronde), as we reflected on the day’s events, Tim uttered yet more fateful words: “There’s no reason why we can’t do The Marmotte next year”.
I can think of a few and our respective spouses can think of a lot more. The Weekend Warrior spirit burns brightly, though, and truth is often stranger than fiction, so you never know. In reality, what I really fancy is to run up ADH, ride down and then ride back up. Weaving this into a family holiday could be a challenge indeed!
Nice one SR well done!!
We'll start to look forward to La Marmotte report
|Slapshot 3 wrote: |
|Nice one SR well done!!
We'll start to look forward to La Marmotte report
Thanks - I don't think my back will take that many hours in the saddle. I was in a sorry condition when I finished. Nothing that half an hour of stretches and a load of beer couldn't fix, but pretty terminal for cycling.
I doubt La Marmotte can really match The Ronde for real cycling anyway. It seems a bit limited in its scope to me, being little more than an extended time-trial. Mano-a-Mano duels up vertical inclines witnessed by nothing more than sheep is the future of cycling. I'd be surprised if The Ronde isn't incorporated in the Olympic programme in 2012.
So, it sounds like...
Great job SR. Way to go. Keep it up, you'll beat him one day.
|berck wrote: |
|Keep it up, you'll beat him one day. |
Our spouses are resigned to the fact that we will ultimately be racing each other on our Zimmer Frames and when even that is too much, we will end up racing to see who can get their false teeth in first.
I did beat Tim comprehensively earlier this year, but that was all short, shallow climbs which appear to be my forte. I challenged him to a time trial as well, which he declined, so I make that 2 each...
sounds like fun, sr. nice not-a-race coverage.
dunno about it being monumental weekend warrioring, mind. my grandparents lived in flixton (relax - not ganton) 'til i were 15, and the parcours sounds like a load of heading towards ahh-raht-leeds on the a64 climbing the same old climb whilst pointedly avoiding going up staxton. if this slightly older not-a-race is deronde or ladoyenne of the people's republic, mebbes yous can be flesh-woldone.
well done though. i wanna hear tim's scoring. and which flag-carrier space hardware beams me yorkiesports?
I'll suggest Staxton for the Ronde next year. Its omission this year must surely have been an oversight given my riding partner's fetish for steep tarmac.
The 160k "Big G" sounds like a good target to aim for next year. I quite fancy doing something like that with lots of wheels to suck and no obvious requirement to sprint up 1 in 6 hills. If I could do that, then the Marmotte starts looking feasible.
To access YorkieSports, you need to spend a whole afternoon cycling in the sun and drink a lot of Stella in a short space of time. (I guess 1664 would have the same impact - must try that next year to confirm.) It's amazing what you can imagine Harmon and Kelly saying in such circumstances...
Ha ha ... good write up SR.
Now here's my tip. Ditch the heart rate monitor. Fine for training if you must, but ride with your heart ... not your computer!!
See you in alpe d'huez next year for what will be my fifth marmotte! Forth one on Saturday!!
Good luck, Bart. Have a pie for me on Saturday evening.
After the first climb, the HRM was used for its intended purpose only - namely seeing just how high you can get your heart rate. I was shocked to be honest - my all time max is 193 whilst rowing and that was nearly 10 years ago. Hitting 185 on Saturday for cycling hints at a decade of slacking rather than a declining heart rate as I've got older. It just goes to show what mano-a-mano duelling does for your motivation as opposed to simply pushing for a particular time.
Ah yes .... pies!
How do you expect to be a champion without eating copious amounts of pie.
Was ill at the w/e - sort of 48 hour flu type symptoms - so I predict 'pain' and 'hardship' come Saturday!
|Bartali wrote: |
|How do you expect to be a champion without eating copious amounts of pie. |
A profound point. I don't eat pies in the racing season and never win anything.
Mind you, I did eat them last year and still didn't win anything. I did beat Tim in a chocolate cake eating competition during winter training, though. A classice example of "Train your weaknesses and race your strengths."
Started reading the first post on Sunday . . . just finished the thread now . . . what day is it . . . Did England win?
Well done SR
|Biosphere wrote: |
|Started reading the first post on Sunday . . . just finished the thread now . . . |
Some of the longer climbs felt like that as well.