I’m in Seix, Pyrenees, for a while to train, ride a sportive (the Ariegeoise XXL) and help Matt out where necessary with the business
Today is day four and a rest / taper day prior to taking on the beast of the Beille tomorrow as part of the sportive. So it will be a day of ‘obligatory training camp coffee ride’, cooking a BIG dinner, and obsessively checking the weather for tomorrow, which is looking somewhat iffy.
The week has gone pretty well so far, but perhaps not quite as I’d have liked. This is briefly it –
Day one (Tuesday)
Intended as a bit of a warm up ride, but as always, turned into a bit of a sh-tfest (pro term) as I always get excited when I’m back in the mountains.
The legs felt good and ‘springy’ it so was a good opportunity to try to confirm where my numbers are at the moment, with a few 20-30 minute digs, and an hour (ish) long effort over the Port de Lers; a long, shallow-ish climb that I tend not to like too much.
It’s beautiful with a long drag through wooded valleys alongside a stream at the start. So why would I not like this? Seems perfect eh?! Shaded, cool, shallow? I think it’s that you can never see how far you’re progressing – I love looking down on a big open climb and seeing the start town all those hundreds of meters below you – always feels quite inspiring. Also, a lack of bends make it a little torturous; it sort of meanders along with few switchbacks to allow you to mix things up and get out of the saddle and change cadence etc. Anyway, I digress….
This ride did confirm something I’d always suspected – that my power over 20 minutes and my power over an hour is quite different. A graph of my watts over an hour long push looks slightly embarrassingly like a kid’s slide, or quarter pipe – i.e., starts high, exponentially decreases. Poor pacing? Shit legs? Probably both.
Oh, also, I had to navigate through a herd of cows strolling across the summit of Col D’Agnes. I was terrified to be frank. The Pyrenees makes cows like the make their mountains and their sausages – built like brick shithouses. I made sure i was a fair distance away before stopping to get the shot!
Day two (Wednesday)
The weather on Tuesday had been nigh on perfect, with clear sun all day and topping out at around 26 degrees. Today was HOT though. Searingly hot.
I’ve been down to the Ariege in July 2015 and it was scorching then, and the middle of the week at Haute Route Alps was similar, but I think this exceeded both – at 8 am it was around 24 degrees, and by 11 it was over 30 degrees. I finished my ride at around 1.30 and it was 34 degrees. That’s quite something.
I’d planned a longer ride of 120km with two big climbs (to Guzet – a ski station, and over col de la core) plenty of shaded valley riding, and a smaller mountain in the middle.
I got up Guzet pretty well, feeling not far off where I was on day one. However, it all seemed to go downhill from there, both literally and metaphorically. Following a super fast dash down the valley to the narrow, undulating, rough and following Col de Portech, I started to wane. I started the climb feeling ok, but a touch lacklustre already.
I realised last time I came to Ariege that these smaller narrow climbs over back roads through little dwellings etc really get to my legs. They go up, down, up, down, left, right, left, right, down a bit more, up a bit. It’s basically impossible to keep a rhythm and you have no idea when you’re at the top. I rode pretty well over the col nonetheless, but I think it was the final nail in the coffin.
Another short blast in the valley after the Portech and I was at the base of Col de la Core – 14 km at around 6.5% average. However, as is typical of the Pyrenees, the average gradient is deceptive – the first half probably averages around 5%, and the top steepens up to maybe 7 or 8%.
Cometh the Core, cometh the fear.
I rolled up to the base of the col feeling considerably out of steam. I’d been fuelling well, eating the carbs / hour that typically work well for me. I’d also been drinking well, or so I thought. However, on reflection, this can’t have been enough. Before I started climbing, I’d probably drunk around 2.5 litres over about 3 and a half hours. A nervous piss before setting off up the mountain proved this was certainly not the case. Excuse the details, but it was the colour of water coming from a rusty tap.
The following hour was terrible. The bonk hit hard within about 10 minutes of climbing. The mountain is totally open and exposed; I could feel the sun smashing down on my head and reflecting off the tarmac into my face, I could hardly get my pathetic ass out of the saddle to change my cadence and rhythm. It was fucking tragic to be honest.
Well, I learnt well that day that you need to be SO SO careful about hydration. I’d always read about it and been well aware of it, but hadn’t really experienced dehydration before. In the UK you can sort of get away without drinking enough on a 4-5 hour ride, as it doesn’t tend to get too hot.
I’m pretty sure this bonk was a hydration rather than eating issue. I finished the ride having drunk about 3.5 litres of electrolyte and energy drink over the 5 hours. Sounds like plenty, but thinking back to rides like Haute Route, where you’d reach the summit of a col and automatically drink about 4 cups of coke without even thinking about it, then re-fill your bidons, it was woefully inadequate.
Ah well, something to remember from a ride to forget.
Day three (Thursday)
It was still bloody hot. I was tired and not feeling overly enthusiastic. With Ariegeoise terrifyingly close, I wanted to ride, but I certainly didn’t want to rack up too much stress. Cue a bit of an interval session over the col de la core, from the other side to the horrors of the mega bonk of Wenesday. 3 x 20 at threshold was planned, and I (sort of) did it, but it was shite.
I’ve never done intervals up a climb before, and the recovery period between rep one and two was across a few km of horrible draggy road at about 4-5% gradient. So, not exactly good for recovery, meaning that you have to keep turning the legs at around zone three just to keep moving forward. The second interval was shit as a result. The third, following the descent of the col and starting again from the bottom, was ok but far from spectacular.
I decided that was more than enough for the day, and so home it was for some exciting things like a bike cleanup, laundry, a stroll about (and a naughty pression – which actually served to remind me that whilst I occasionally crave beer, it makes me feel a bit shitty… wine is the one for me), and some cooking.
Which takes me back to the top – the rest day and coffee ride.
Tomorrow brings the Ariegeoise XXL (look, it’s in the paper!).
I hadn’t been too nervous about this, but am getting a touch of the squeaky bum time now that’s for sure. When doing my rolling and stretching yesterday, I watched some youtube clips of the col de Pailheres, one of the two HC climbs in store for tomorrow. I’d previously focussed my fears for tomorrow on the brutish Plateau de Beille and totally overlooked the 2000m Pailheres, which I believe is the second highest col in the Pyrenees, and has been awarded a fearsome 9/10 by the yoda of climbs, Simon Warren.
I found this video of little Nairo taking the KoM on the Pailheres, the highest col in TdF 2013. Whilst it looks like a true beauty of a mountain, it looks pretty unpleasant too.
Did I mention squeaky bum time?
Wish me luck for tomorrow, and pray for clement weather. Thank you very much. A debrief will follow.