Well, everyone else is doing it and I know that you’re desperate to read another self-indulgent piece about some random, very average amateur’s ‘season’, so I thought I’d better keep the baying crowds happy.
I managed to grab 20 minutes for a coffee and chat with, umm, me, to find out my thoughts on the year just gone, and here’s what I learnt about the mutton’s 2016.
Best day(s) on the bike?
Day two or three of Haute Route Pyrenees. My form had peaked perfectly and my confidence was high. The sun was out and I was in a team with good mates.
On stage two, over the Marie-Blanque, Aubsique / Soulor, and Spandelles, the legs felt magnificent. Springy, powerful, natural. I made my way over the gruesomely steep Marie-Blanque like it was Box Hill (in my mind at least).
The form continued into stage three, the TT up the Couraduque; a beautiful, tranquil, and teasing climb, truly Pyrenean. I think that was the best power output over a single climb I’ve ever achieved (I know there’s more to riding than goonish data nerding, but a lot of satisfaction comes from seeing good form in numerical form…yes, it’s tragic). The view post-TT is captured in it’s splendour below, as is my good mate and occasional training buddy Nick Cooper (Trooper).
I’ve written some stuff about the whole Haute Route Pyrenees here
Hardest day(s) on the bike?
Easily La Marmotte or the Dragon Ride.
The legs were good for the monster day of La Marmotte, but I foolishly went out a bit too hard, buoyed with adrenaline from a perfectly timed snack in the holding pen of chocolate coated coffee beans and a peanut butter-jam-banana sarnie, and the inspiring awesomeness of the epic Maurienne area. Needless to say, getting up Alpe D’Huez after 6 or so hours of hard climbing, technical descending, and desperately trying to hold wheels down the lautaret racetrack was brutal. Read about the ride in all its humongous glory here.
The legs were not good for the Dragon Ride however. Eugh. I found out I was able to get an entry and a lift to Wales the day before the event, and so was unprepared and unrested. I spent the night before sleeping on a hard van floor, and had a tragic breakfast that I’d had to ‘pack’ from home: bircher muesli and (obviously) one of those peanut butter-jam-banana sarnies that I love so much. The attritional 230km of rough roads and grinding climbs claimed my strength very quickly. I spent about four of the eight hour ride feeling bonky and generally terrible. There’s a full write up of this mind-mashing session here
Favourite training territory?
This is real tough, but for a UK location, probably the Ashdown Forest. It’s not hugely special, but I have many fond memories of the array of climbs and blissfully remote feel of this Area of Natural Beauty on the Kent / Sussex border.
The best times I’ve had this year have undoubtedly been in the Pyrenees however. From the weeks of training I put in whilst out in the Ariege region helping a mate set up a training camp, to the soaring peak in form and experience of Haute Route, I have many fond memories.
The Pyrenees are literally and metaphorically overshadowed by the Alps as ‘the place’ to go to ride in France; they’re smaller, they don’t have the rock and roll names like Alpe D’Huez etc, but I’d probably choose the Pyrenees every time. I miss it already. Beautifuly green and tranquil, lacking the bustle and ugly ski towns of the Alps, scattered with an awesome array of climbs; typically steeper and less consistent than their Alpine big brothers, and probably trumping them for character.
Most loved road?
The road skirting around the Etang de Lers – a small lake nestled at about 1,500m high in the Ariege region of the Pyrenees. The lake falls in a basin between the summits of the Port de Lers, Col D’Agnes and another climb that seems to get called all sorts of different names. I climbed all three of these a lot in early summer this year, and the feeling of reaching the summit, dodging some cows the size of a black cab, grabbing my wind0breaker and some snacks then descending a few hundred meters to the bowl housing the lake blew my mind every time.
The basin is filled with the greenest greenery I’ve ever seen, and on a sunny day, the lake looks the bluest of blues imaginable. Even though it’s a popular area for hikers and fishers, the whole area is always beautifully tranquil, and perfectly embodies everything I love about the Pyrenees. To be honest, words can’t describe how amazing it is and my crap phone photos don’t do it justice.
Most loathed road?
Easily Anerley Road: This fearsome stretch lies in South East London; a horrible arterial road drag from Cadence Performance cycling centre to the massive Tesco at Elmer’s End. A hideous 3km combustion of narrow roads, lots of busses, loads of traffic lights, and lots of little lumps and bumps that break you if you’re already mashed on the way back from a hard ride.It was the most direct way in and out of my old training ground (the North Downs), and one that I traversed more times than I care to think of.
I loved riding in Kent, but certainly won’t miss this little f-cker.
Favourite Ride Food?
My home made bars are pretty ace. You can see how I make them here but essentially it’s a case of finding all the stuff you like to eat (but predominantly oats, peanut butter, and bananas), mashing them together and baking them for a bit.
For bars from a shop shelf, it’s gotta be Max’s Protein Bars. Yeh, ok, so they’re ‘protein’ rather than ‘energy’ bars, but they contain c.20g carb in them too, so they tick both of the key fuelling boxes really. And on long rides in particular, it’s really important to make sure that amino acids, and their muscle-building goodness, is kept topped up. All the flavours are ace, but the chocolate and cranberry ones in particular bring a smile to my face every time and brought little rays of light to some pretty dark times on the Haute Route. I like them so much I even gone dun a review of them here.
However, if i could find a better way of transporting them so they can be eaten more easily on the bike, I’d eat peanut butter, jam (or marmalade or honey) and banana on toast or in a sandwich all day long. How do you make such things? I hear you ask…
- Lightly toast bread
- Use the biggest spoon you can find to apply a copious layer of CRUCNHY nut butter to bottom layer of bread
- Use a fork to mash half a banana on top
- Re-use spoon from step (2) to liberally apply either a jam made of dark fruits (NOT strawberry though – worst jam ever), marmalade, or honey.
- Top with second layer of toast, if desired.
- Mush down a bit. The more mess and ooze the better.
It may come across as the food of an American child (which it is), but it’s rocket fuel. Trust me. Protein, carb, and fats in wonderful harmony.
Key lessons to take into 2017?
- Embrace the suffering / Less can be more
I’m fortunately very capable of dieseling along at about 95% of my threshold power for a long time. However, make me surge, sprint, bridge gaps and attack and I blow very quickly. I’d massively improved this ability by the end of summer, but back in spring, I was like a mini-metro, chugging away but totally incapable of an acceleration. Inevitably, this top end has vanished again with the natural winter decline.
To hone that top end, and put a little ‘turbo’ into my diesel, suffering is essential: I’ve started using Sufferfest videos in my training, and much suffering is had. Let’s hope they work. Sure, I’ll need to keep up the long rides as much of the stuff I want excel in during 2017 involves over five hours in the saddle. But a bit more pain and misery would do me a lot of good too. I will probably be seeing a lot of this screen in future: the post-Sufferfest review screen:
On a similar note, less really can be more. I need to rest more. With rest and recovery come WATTZZZ.
2) Ride with others more
Club and social rides with mates can be a bit junky, but they are also vital for enjoying your riding and reminding yourself how much of a brilliant social tool riding can be. And the skills and gains to be developed from holding wheels in a surging group, racing for that signpost, and manoeuvring around in a tight group, are absolutely essential.
3) Keep yo’chin up
I refer to my mojo a lot in considering my training, and I wrote about it here. Like most ‘athletes’ (I use the word with caution), I can be pretty hard on myself and I get incredibly down when training goes to shit. This is purely counterproductive and self-destructive, typically leading to a downward spiral effect.
Gotta keep that chin up, stay focussed, and if things aren’t going my way, re-adjust accordingly.
And finally – the cold hard facts.
It would be foolish not to include this great graphic from Veloviewer. Admittedly, it’s not captured every single mile as I never recorded my London commutes, and there’s some little bits and bobs before or after big rides I didn’t capture, but it’s close enough.
So long 2016.
Here’s to 2017.