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SlowRower

Weekend Warrioring in the Pyrenees

The usual disclaimers apply…

Back home – via 10 days at the beach – from a week or so of “Weekend Warrioring” in the Pyrenees. We were based in Luz St Sauveur, and as luck would have it, Tim (he of Alpe D’Huez Challenge and Ronde infamy) and family were also in town for the week (by the arrangement of our DSs, it must be emphasised) with some serious Weekend Warrioring to be done.

The Tourmalet
The main event was a simple “mano-a-mamo” challenge to the top of the Tourmalet. Even allowing for the fact that Tim’s form in the Ronde hinted strongly that he is simply better than me, he wasn’t taking any chances on the psychological warfare front.

He struck a major blow before I’d even packed my holiday suitcase with a text message from the top of Alpe D’Huez reporting a sub 69 minute ascent, complete with 2 minute detour after taking a wrong turning in town, a full 8 minutes faster than I’d managed the previous year.

When we met up on the campsite in Luz, he soon added accounts of some serious climbing near Annecy, a speedy ascent to the Col de Croix de Fer from Bourg D’Oisans, and a 66 minute conquest of the Hautacam. In the same period of time, I’d spent a week running round like a headless chicken sorting out at work and then three days in the car listening to the Younger Little Rower doing her Shrek and Donkey impersonations.

Then his DS delivered the killer blow – Tim’s “passes” for cycling during the week might be limited due to a breached curfew the previous week in Bourg. Thus, his only guaranteed “pass” for the Tourmalet was at first light the next day. Distinctly sub-optimal for me, but you can only play the cards you’re dealt!

I had a few shots in my own locker, though, principally having pared myself down to under 78kg and some fairly tasty performances in my final training sessions. My DS dictated tactics – stick to his wheel come what may initially and either sprint to victory close to the top or enjoy the scenery and think of the calories consumed when dropped.

Tim did allow me time for a warm-up and stretch, but we were soon heading up the road to downtown Luz St Sauveur. There was some confusion as to where the actual start of the climb is, and Tim had the hammer down a minute or so before we passed the official start, the 18.6k to go marker. I was already blowing like a wounded buffalo at this point, but after a kilometre or two of which Chris Hoy would not have been ashamed, Tim settled down into a pace that could best be described as “manageable for a while, but still far too fast for comfort”.

I resigned myself to my fate, and with heart rate already in excess of my anaerobic threshold, I disabled the heart rate display on my Garmin to save my sanity. I was going to do this by “feel” alone! I could read Tim’s heart rate clearly enough when I nudged alongside, though, and it was around 15bpm lower than mine had been. Given that we have very similar min and max heart rates, I could only conclude he was feeling comfortable, whilst my rivets were already getting ready to pop.

I reduced the challenge to getting to each successive km marker post without getting dropped, and we were soon in Bareges. How time flies when you’re enjoying yourself! I admired such visually pleasing elements that Bareges has to offer – not many – observed that it is pretty steep through the town and then somewhat unexpectedly, found myself in front.

I knew this was a good thing, as Bartali had advised me to attack at this point. I’d like to claim that the “inner racer” in me had instinctively attacked at the correct point, but Tim had simply slowed down. I squeezed the pace up as high as I dared, although it’s fair to say that this wasn’t much higher. Even so, over the next 5km or so, I gradually edged further ahead, and after surviving an incursion by some feisty cows, started writing my victory speech and anticipating snogging the podium girls, assuming that the DSs could be persuaded to perform such demeaning bimboish activities, of course, which was highly doubtful.

Sadly, I never got to find out, as with 4k to go, Tim shot past with the proverbial rocket up his backside, and try as I might, I could not get back onto his wheel. All my rivets had popped, and I found out the hard way that the final 3 km of this climb are very tough indeed. The final km at 10% was gruesome, and after rounding the last hairpin, the top of the climb seemed to head almost infinitely into the distance and the clock ticked past 90 minutes. Bugger! In the absence of a win, a sub-90 minute ascent would have been nice.

But then two strokes of luck. Firstly, the top of the climb was lower than I’d deduced from lower down, and as I looked up from the watch, there were the statues, the finish post and of course, a bus load of tourists. Yee har! The suffering was over. Secondly, due to the timing mix-up on the start, I already had 1:15 on the clock when I started the climb, and the 90:30 on the clock was worth 89:15 for the climb. Yee har again!

Tim was 90 seconds faster, and after the obligatory photos of bikes at the summit marker, he was overcome with emotion, and mounted the “Geant du Tourmalet” for a “croggy”. Sacrilege! I would have done the same, but after a valiant attempt, the combination of limited lumbar flexibility and a slippery set of cleats resulted in me failing to get my leg over.

On this note we left for what was my first proper mountain descent. It was great fun, particularly the bit where we undertook some sort of flash Audi sportscar on a tight hairpin. The front wheel blow-out at 65kph just below Bareges wasn’t so much fun, though!

I’ll spare you the statistical analysis, except to highlight that my average heart rate for the journey was 167, a whopping 89% of my heart rate reserve, and I spent all bar the first two km over my anaerobic threshold. Measured in such crude terms, this is the hardest physical challenge I have ever undertaken. Tim, by contrast, averaged 152 for the trip, and between a brisk start and a blast up the final km, was doing nothing more than cruising. If he ever really pushes it, I’ll be in serious trouble!

Luz Ardiden
Tim got a 2-hour pass the next day, so we set off for an assault on Luz Ardiden. My legs were shredded from the efforts on the Tourmalet, and I left Tim to his own devices early on as he rocketed off the start again. I soon found my rhythm, and despite feeling heavy legged, made good progress and clocked 63:50 (2 minutes in arrears) for the 995m of ascent.

Climbing in isolation gave me plenty of chance to look out for the UNESCO World Heritage site that I assumed would mark The Spot where Lance hit the deck in 2003. Outrageously, no such site exists, although there is a patch of particularly lush vegetation by the side of the road at The Spot, with growth fuelled, no doubt, by the traces of His blood that leached into the tarmac at the time.

Being so close to Lourdes, there is also a small shrine, where busloads of nuns wearing US Postal habits come to pay homage to Him, and buy lumps of official Lance tarmac, each one officially authenticated by Pope Johan the First as being the piece on which His a*se actually landed.

The climb itself was very enjoyable, being the duration (~1 hour) and gradients (max 9%) that appear to best suit me.

Luz Ardiden – again
After a day of enforced rest to undertake some tourism, we were back on the road, albeit with another short pass. We had aimed for a further assault on the Tourmalet, but after Tim declared his tyres to be “dead” and changed them, we had just enough time for another trip up Armstrong Avenue.

Although I’d basically given up on beating Tim, I still gave the old “Why not use my very heavy spare tyres?” gag a go. Tim smiled with the air of a man who had all angles covered and whipped out a pair of what looked to me like condoms with valves. “I’ll give these a go” he announced excitedly, before explaining that they were lightweight tubes that would go very nicely with his new Continental GP 4000 handmade tyres. He did indeed have all angles covered!

Despite this psychological blow, I was in top form for this ride, benefitting from a couple of hard rides and a day of recovery. I clocked an annoying 1 second over the hour and could only admire Tim’s sub-58 minute effort. His condom lined tyres certainly hadn’t slowed him down!

Passes for the Marmotte
Racing up hills is one thing. Getting “passes” from our DSs for the Marmotte next year was proving rather more difficult, but eventually, they yielded. I don’t know how Tim pulled it off, but his DS did report he’d been fast, quiet and hadn’t really disrupted her bedtime book reading. No such luck for me, and I had to resort to threatening a return to rowing (and permanently mangling my back) to get the nod.

Once she’d acquiesced, my DS took her responsibilities seriously. She is a most formidable woman, with a deep knowledge of physiology, psychology and nutrition. Not only this, she can hurl a wallowing estate car round the bends of a mountain descent at such a rate as to make even Fabian Cancellara squint to read the number plate. All in all, an ideal DS!

The Hautacam
The aim of this was to climb at a Marmotte-like cruising heart rate and see what resulted in terms of VAM and power. Unfortunately, I forgot my heart rate monitor and was compelled to do another flat out effort.

The Hautacam is a nasty climb at 8% over 13k, with a bit of downhill and a lot of flat-spots. There are a couple of km stretches at over 10%, and I over-cooked things a little in my enthusiasm in the middle. Nothing too serious though, and the clock stopped at 65:05 without too much trouble.

We then sampled the mountain luge “en famille”, and what a fine construction it is, being basically a rollercoaster track down which you hurtle in a cross between a Darlek and a dodgem.

A sort of Mini-Marmotte
As I mentioned, the DS was taking her responsibilities seriously and virtually ordered me to undertake a dual-climb ride involving the Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden.

After a mad morning of luging and a hurried lunch I was off, and after a warm-up from the campsite to the official start of the Tourmalet scent, was into steady tempo mode. A gentle tailwind got me to the top in under 100 minutes, for an average heart rate of 150 and I was feeling good, although the final three km was still harder than I would have liked. The first third of the Luz Ardiden ascent was fine, but then my back started hurting – maybe the luging wasn’t such a good idea – and eventually my back and legs seized up.

I stretched myself into some sort of functioning form again, and resumed the challenge, getting to the penultimate hairpin before my back was hurting so much that I was going to stop and head down. Unfortunately, my back had gone into spasm and I couldn’t actually unclip! I had to keep going or keel over and accept my fate of being run over by a Campervan, eaten by a flock of sheep or dragged off to be temple eunuch by a pack of militant nuns, angry at having been sold fake “genuine” Lance tarmac.

I kept going – just – and eventually got to the top, clocking 74:15, for an average heart rate well under 150. It looks like CV capacity is going to be a sideline issue for me in the Marmotte. If I can’t sort my back out (or acquire a granny-ring!) I’ll not make it past the Col de Telegraph.

I nearly wiped out on the descent, as I encountered a sheep on the apex of a tight hairpin, and experienced the delights of locking up and having the back wheel try and overtake the front end of the bike to get over the edge first. Quite scary if truth be told, but avoidable if you just aim straight for the sheep and only brake once the bike is straight!

I got back to the campsite in a minute over 4 hours, having clocked up 69.5k and 2650m of climbing and not really being too tired. Not a bad day’s work, but the back issues were very sobering given the magnitude of the Marmotte.

Col des Tentes
I was ready for a day off after the Mini-Marmotte, but the DS had other ideas. She ordered me out of the campsite early the next day with instructions to meet at the top of the Col Des Tentes. This turned out to involve 1750m of climbing over 31.5k (2 hours 8 minutes), with the final 850m of ascent packed into the last 10k.

It took a while to warm up, and I suffered the indignity of being overtaken for the first time during the trip in this phase. I had more important issues to consider, though. My kit had been laundered the previous night, and the rinse function on the campsite washing machine was clearly deficient. As I warmed up, the aroma of Aerial Actilift was all too apparent, and once I started sweating, there was a hint of frothing as well! It wasn’t too unpleasant though, but it must have presented quite a sight to the two guys who’d overtaken me as I re-took them to regain my honour. Whether their double-take was as a result of seeing the man on the sit-up-and-beg bike re-taking them or due to the frothing apparition which I had become by this point remains a mystery, but it was a great note on which to end my Pyrenean adventure!
MAILLOT JAUNE

Fantastic report SR!!!! Thanks for sharing. Have you ever thought of taking up writing???

I particularily like the bit "but his DS did report he’d been fast, quiet and hadn’t really disrupted her bedtime book reading. No such luck for me...."  - I just hope that you both were referring to cycling  Laughing  Laughing  Laughing
SlowRower

MAILLOT JAUNE wrote:
Fantastic report SR!!!! Thanks for sharing. Have you ever thought of taking up writing???


Thanks!

I reckon writing, like cycling, is best kept as a leisure pursuit. Number crunching for a living is where it's at. Smile
maffy

stop being distracting with all this fun sounding cycling gubbins. supposed to be fearlessly predicting some unlucky bugger. nice new avatar pic.

Laughing nemesistim is outspending you in the war of bikebit acquisition. have you made any new changes to the sit up and beg btw? still wearing tribars? how did disc brakes go on the long descents?
SlowRower

maffy wrote:
have you made any new changes to the sit up and beg btw? still wearing tribars? how did disc brakes go on the long descents?


Other than adjustments for position and a set of skinny tyres, "Stan" is as he was on the day I got him. I'm a mechanical duffer of the highest order, so any changes involve a trip to the bike shop, which is too much faffing for me unless it's really serious.

Upgrading the gears would fall into this category, though. Mechanical dufferdom extends to not knowing whether a Granny ring can be added or whether a whole chainset will be needed, so not sure if it is very serious or just serious yet!

Tribars only come out to play on TTs - their design is such that it's a 2 minute job to attach them once the mounting brackets are in place. The brackets stay on at all times, as they were a bit fiddly to get in the right place.

Disc brakes were very good, with significantly shorter braking distances than on traditional bikes, which is very good for confidence! I didn't have any sore wrists or hands that some of the drop-handle brigade on our campsite reported. If only I could get the leaning thing sorted. It was only on my last descent that I sussed that looking round a hairpin rather than at the wall or drop-off that I wanted to avoid was a major help...
MAILLOT JAUNE

SlowRower wrote:
It was only on my last descent that I sussed that looking round a hairpin rather than at the wall or drop-off that I wanted to avoid was a major help...


That's one of the things you get taught in motorcycle training - look where you want the bike to go - a very useful tip! It's easy to forget!
berck

Thanks for the story SR. I quite enjoyed reading, along with your other adventures.

Is it time to concede that Tim is the stronger rider? Wink
Bartali

Oooo .... don't say that berck.  Time gaps aren't that big and SR hasn't yet truly embraced the pie diet!!
SlowRower

He certainly was faster than me, but that's ancient history now. Weekend Warriors live for the future, and next year I will beat him!

Seeing someone ride away from you off the start (as I did last year) is bad, but watching someone come past - albeit through blurred vision because you're already fecked - when you've already written the victory speech is something altogether more unpleasant. My turbo trainer does not know what's going to hit it this winter Smile
berck

Bartali wrote:
Oooo .... don't say that berck.


Very Happy Too late, I already did. Wink

I wish SR the best in beating Tim one of these days. It just hasn't happened yet.
SlowRower

berck wrote:
I wish SR the best in beating Tim one of these days. It just hasn't happened yet.


I wasn't going to mention this, but I am as yet unbeaten in our annual "Trophee des Ralentisseurs et Ponts de Chemin de Fer".

Unfortunately, Mother Nature endowed me with attributes best suited to short, fast rides on the flat, wheel-sucking and a short sprint every so often that aren't worth writing about. Tim got lucky with Mother Nature by being good at the more glamorous end of Weekend Warrioring.

I am far better looking, though, so I'm not that bothered. Honestly...Smile
Guiness

Nice one, SR. Maybe Kathy should collect all your stories and put them together in a book! Quite special all of these.
berck

SlowRower wrote:

I wasn't going to mention this, but I am as yet unbeaten in our annual "Trophee des Ralentisseurs et Ponts de Chemin de Fer".

Unfortunately, Mother Nature endowed me with attributes best suited to short, fast rides on the flat, wheel-sucking and a short sprint every so often that aren't worth writing about. Tim got lucky with Mother Nature by being good at the more glamorous end of Weekend Warrioring.

I am far better looking, though, so I'm not that bothered. Honestly...Smile


Sounds like your Cav and he's Contador. Wink
Bartali

Ha ha .... berck just called SR a hobbit! Smile Smile
maffy

Bartali wrote:
Ha ha .... berck just called SR a hobbit! Smile Smile


Laughing and an unusually feisty hobbit at that Laughing
berck

Bartali wrote:
Ha ha .... berck just called SR a hobbit! Smile Smile


Well, I could have sworn that SR said he heard Tim say the following as he passed him by...

Come on Hobbit. Long ways to go yet. Tim will show the way.

Wink Very Happy
maffy

SlowRower wrote:

Upgrading the gears would fall into this category, though. Mechanical dufferdom extends to not knowing whether a Granny ring can be added or whether a whole chainset will be needed, so not sure if it is very serious or just serious yet!


distracted look, whilst wondering about talking about vintage pedals or yesterday's renault-gitane headband wearing episode instead...

stans seem to be 50-36 front 9spd 11-32 back. which is reasonably sensible for many of the short sharp hills of engerland. i should tell you about my old fights with northern engerland's steepest famous hills and my current arguments with my local secret mur de huy replicant at some point. suffice to say, it mostly wins.

granny ring can almost certainly probably 98 percent not be added to the existing chainset. changing to a triple will almost certainly require new (different length and/or type) bottom bracket and prolly front shifting-controller aswell.

however existing system components could probably go down to 34 inner front and back could probably change the bottomsprockets to bigger sprockets (smaller gear)

you and your lovely heart-rate monitor and your theoretical bart-pie-diet need to look at a gear table to decide if a lower bail-out gear or a lower range of useful gears is what you want.

ta for the real-world disc info. any sign of overheating? now back to the regularly-scheduled shirefolk-insultation. oh yeah, *all* my miles are garbage-miles. chow.
SlowRower

Maffy,

Thanks for the info on the gears. My back must be in a sorry state if a 36*32 isn't enough, but I'll look into the 34 option - preferably at both ends!

No sign of over-heating on the disc brakes.

But most important of all, here are "Roy Rogers and Trigger"...


Fontfroide

Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to write a nice little piece.  It was a pleasure to read it.
SlowRower

Guiness / FF - Thanks for the positive comments. It's helping the grieving process following defeat!
Spoo

Just got through this and the Ronde piece both very good reads and much more preferable than doing any real work.

Sounds like you've had some titanic battles with minor intermediate victories but with Tim "Contador" always ending victorious to your Schleck/Evans.

Sounds like a lot of fun mind. keep em coming.
thunderthighs

iam a sprinter.. hates hills...ciao

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