Winter whippets and the question of junk

I am naturally ‘blessed’ with being very lean; I don’t particularly try to be, I’ve just been very long and thin all my life really. This is great when it comes to those 90 minutes climbs, less so during the winter. What follows is a brief contemplation on the joys (or not) winter riding.

You can tell just from their physiology why you don’t get Froome bouncing up the Koppenberg in the depths of a grim Belgian winter, and you don’t see Cancellara putting in huge attacks at the top of hors categorie climbs (although I wouldn’t put it past him at times…). There’s the obvious power-to-weight versus outright megawatts issue, but also the thing about robustness. Spartacus and the Belgian hardmen that come out to play in March and April are stockier and more durable, built to withstand pummelling crosswinds and freezing rain. If you have next to no body fat, you’re just not going to cope as well. End of.

Froome looking very lean on Ventoux

I had my first shock exposure to true winter conditions yesterday; it was a beautiful clear sunny morning, but the temperature was down to about 4degrees first thing, and there was a bloody freezing wind that took it down a fair bit more. ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes’ they say, and I think I was pretty well kitted out for the chill, but it was even colder than I expected. Resultingly, my body had a bit of a shock at its first exposure to a proper wintery ride.

My body has a habit of shutting down a bit when I get very cold or very wet unexpectedly on a training ride; the power goes out of my legs, the motivation goes out of the head, and it turns into a bit of an exercise in ‘just getting it done’*. I just don’t have the build for powering out the miles if I’m not at an optimal temperature – I have some mates who can ride on through it and warm themselves up – I’m too cold blooded for that unfortunately. Once I’m cold, I’m staying that way til shower time.

Fabian looking like, well, a total legend as always, somewhere in Flanders





This lead me to thinking, is ‘junk miles’ a thing or not? Are there times when quantity overcomes quality?

Winter is the time when Strava is full of throwaway comments about ‘base training’ (and putting that word into your ride description always gives people an excuse for when their intended pacey ride turns into an off-form slog). Base training, the concept of getting the miles in through the winter, is quite an old one and although many still advocate it, a lot of ‘experts’ claim it to be a bit of a waste of time.  I do see the benefit of getting some good miles in through the winter, but only if they are focused and of some quality – just going out an half-arsedly turning your legs for the sake of it seems totally pointless. It’s times like this when riders setting milage or time targets for how much riding they do a week is a bit self-destructive.

Whilst I argue against junk miles above, at the moment I kind of feel the need to just be out on the roads. I’ve been spending a huge amount of time on the turbo recently, and aside from it getting a bit dull (and I’m running low on Eurosport recordings to watch! – hurry up 2016 season), the sensation and skills of being out on the tarmac can’t be replicated, even when you have a Kurt Rock-n-roll trainer like mine. When I went out yesterday, I felt a bit alien on the bike, and lacked that natural feeling you have when it’s the height of summer and your outdoors all the time. So, although yesterday did feel a bit junky, it felt good just to get out and about and ride ‘properly’ beyond my short weekday commutes**.

As such, today, with it’s gale force winds and drizzle, lead me to a bit of a conundrum; just get some time in outdoors and get that ride-craft back a bit, or doing something a bit more productive in the cave (following the etiquette of course)? After a huge amount of procrastination, turbo won, and I did some lower cadence strength work at threshold power, which felt quite beneficial, and I’ll be adding these to the repertoire of winter workouts. I did a lot of these in summer but it’s good to keep mixing things up, as I’ve been doing a lot of spinnier riding recently.

* That said, when I know it’s going to be a stinker of a day and I’m well prepared for it, I can go really well; on the 2014 Etape Du Tour, when a huge proportion of the field DNF due to hypothermia (that’s what happens when you go over the Tourmalet in an epic thunderstorm) and the second day of HRA2015, which suffered similarly apocalyptic conditions, I put in strong performances.

** One good thing about forcing yourself out in stinking weather is earning the right for a big bowl of stodge for dinner, which I did last night when I prepared the ultimate comfort food – risotto. Chicken and mushroom in this case. It was bliss.

Apologies for posting a picture of food – I  hate myself a bit for doing it. But at least it doesn’t have a hipster filter on it!


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