Monday, July 28

Le Tour 2008

What an eventful second half!

The big news was that Ricco' was tested positive for taking performance-enhancing drugs. More about that in a later post but, apart from feeling betrayed by a rider with such potential, I'm glad that the system is working and hope that such idiots are expelled from cycling altogether. The good news was that Mark Cavendish continued his impressive run by adding a further two stage wins on the flat stages that mark the transition to the Alps. He would have won a fifth stage into Digne-les-Bains but a climb inside the final 10km put him out of contention, as he dropped out of the back of the main group. Given his struggle on the foothills of the Alps and the following days' hard graft in the mountains, he sensibly dropped out of the Tour to join the rest of the British team training for the Olympics.

The next day saw the first of the big climbs (Stage 15 - see previous post for profile) and they did not disappoint. The CSC team kept the pace high throughout to thin the yellow jersey group to 10: Evans, Frank and Andy, Sastre, Menchov, Vande Velde, Valverde, Kohl, Samuel Sanchez and Kreuziger. Almost everyone from this group made an attempt to attack, with Menchov looking the most promising until he crashed on the slippery road 8km from the finish (the rest of the group waited for him to rejoin before attacking again). Just 3kms from the summit finish, Sastre and Kohl attacked, followed by revitalised Valverde. Evans struggled to keep with the attacks and Schleck was able to gain the vital few seconds needed to gain the maillot jaune.

After the second rest day, Stage 16 to Jausiers was a rather contained affair, with most of the leaders keeping their powder dry for the crunch stage to L'Alpe d'Huez. Menchov, however, lost a chunk of time on the final descent, reflecting his habit of throwing away time needlessly. The next day must have been looming in the riders' minds ever since the route had been unveiled last October - a decisive stage if ever there was one, especially if a challenger is a mountain goat.

All was again relatively quiet until the Col de la Croix de Fer, when Fabian Cancellara took over from Stuart O’Grady (both CSC) to set a high tempo at the base of the climb. Anyone who doubts the value of teamwork should take a look at these two riders, along with Jens Voigt, who decimated the field through the Pyrenees and Alps, despite them not being very good climbers! By the time they reached the summit, the yellow jersey group was down to 18 riders, with CSC having six of them. At the start of the final ascent to L'Alpe d'Huez, Cancellara peeled off and Carlos Sastre bolted ahead, never to be seen again until he crossed the line - an all-out effort designed to gain as much time as possible over Cadel Evans. The time gap back to Evans increased with every 100m - at first he seemed to be controlling the gap and sticking close to Schleck but he was clearly struggling to maintain a high enough tempo up the steep slopes of the Alpe. Evans could not hope to regain any time lost to Sastre and so focused on minimising his losses, in the knowledge that he could make up that time in the final time trial.

Carlos Sastre was expected to lose his advantage to Cadel Evans during the final time trial - his lead of 1’34” after 19 stages seemed to all commentators to not be enough to retain the jersey in Paris. However, those of us who have experienced many Tours thought differently. I have witnessed incredible feats of endurance by those wearing the yellow jersey, notably Thomas Voekler's retention of the jersey for 10 days, despite Lance Armstrong's best efforts, and rendering himself nearly comatose in the process!

Cadel Evans needed to gain almost two seconds every kilometre and it was clear from the start that he was struggling to gain a quarter of that amount. Fabian Cancellara (time trial world champion) said that, in the final time trial, it was not the best time-triallist that wins but the one who retains enough strength after the mountains to perform at his best. So, despite Evans being a far better time-triallist than Sastre, it looked as if the efforts in the Alps had taken their toll on him. And not only did Evans fail to perform at his best, Sastre was riding the time trial of his life - over 53kms he lost only 29 seconds to Evans, finishing in 12th place... not bad for a climber! Unfortunately, the same could not be said of Frank Schleck, whose performance was sub-par and subsequently dropped out of the top five overall. Look out for his brother, Andy, though - not only is he an excellent climber but he also did relatively well in the time trial... and he still has 10 years of cycling ahead of him.

Well, that's it for another Tour - see you next year in Monaco!

Saturday, July 19

The art of sprinting

If you've been watching the Tour or, especially for readers in the UK, read the sports pages of a newspaper, you will have marvelled at just how good a sprinter Mark Cavendish really is. Four victories in a single Tour are a rarity and, in someone so young (23), truly awesome - he's already proving to have more potential than Mario Cipollini and Alessandro Petacchi. If this, combined with the British cyclists ruling the sport at the moment, don't instigate interest in the media and the population at large, then cycling as a sport is doomed to play second fiddle to other sports at which... well, we suck.

Anyway, back to sprinting. I've been asked a lot lately about it - why I don't do it in my classes, what it really should be like, proper technique and how to improve it. Well, let's start with what sprinting is NOT - it's not about how fast your legs are moving. Many instructors will ask their members to pick up their leg speed to 130+rpm, some even asking them to pedal as quickly as possible, resulting in a flurry of uncontrolled and pointless activity. Many members like these "sprints" as they feel as if they're working really hard. Absolute tosh - they're doing the equivalent of pedalling downhill, as they will have insufficient resistance to apply any power to the pedals. In fact, it's so pointless that the freewheel was invented to allow us to relax while the wheels go ever faster downhill. Work is measured in power output - no resistance, no power... no matter how fast you pedal. Therefore, no resistance, no work. The key elements of a sprint are power, acceleration and a high cadence.

Too many novice riders will put their chain into the highest gear and then try to accelerate - this is a very slow build up, although it'll feel very macho. Instead, they should be using a slightly lower gear to accelerate faster to a high cadence (95-110rpm), then shift to a higher gear and raise the cadence again. With practice comes knowledge of exactly which gear is best suited for a top-level effort - it's not ideal to have to change gears 3-4 times in a sprint! Say you know you can handle 110rpm at a gear that's 9 (out of 10) - your fast pace before your sprint should be in gear 7, shifting to gear 8 once the sprint starts (when you "kick") and then up to 9 once cadence has reached 110rpm. Keeping your feet moving fast is the key to being able to accelerate quickly and the ideal situation is one where you do not reach your maximum cadence until the finish line - gear 9 at 110rpm on the final few seconds. If your legs are moving too quickly or top cadence achieved too soon, you have underestimated your power output and will begin to lose ground (unless you shift up yet again).

As for power output, it's a difficult point to illustrate unless you have power meters on your bike. The maths, however, is rather simple. Imagine what some instructors refer to as "sprints": 130rpm at gear 2. Say this gives 130 watts of power output. To a bystander, looking at the fast cadences, will think it amazing that anyone can work so hard! However, the equivalent in a proper sprint and all-out effort of gear 9 at 110rpm would be around 500 watts. How does that translate? Well, imagine your driving a Fiat Cinquecento at full speed... as you're overtaken by a Ferrari at full speed. Which car will win in a true sprint finish? Which is pushing out more power, more work? Which is using more fuel? Sounds negative for the Ferrari but, in humans, fuel = calories, so wouldn't you rather be using more of that fuel?

In my classes, I've only ever taught surges, accelerations on a hill and short bursts of extra effort - they are sprints of sorts, in that they require the sort of intense effort detailed above. However, the effort required to perform a sprint similar to those of Mark Cavendish, Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, et al, would require a jump from 500W to over 2000W... beyond the realm of indoor bikes, let alone the capabilities of the riders - but that doesn't mean we can't do our best!

PS - if you have Keiser M3 bikes in your gym, fitted with a power meter, and have wondered what it would take to beat Mark Cavendish... imagine a climb at 60rpm at the highest gear (24). Then it's time to begin your sprint: with that same gear you bring your cadence up to 110rpm!

PPS - don't try it at home and certainly not unsupervised. Oh, and don't blame me if you can't walk afterwards....

Wednesday, July 16

Spinning class: Tour de France - Stage 17

The big one and, probably, the deciding stage of this year's Tour - to stand any chance of wearing the maillot jaune in Paris, any contender must put some time into Cadel Evans before the final time trial. So expect attacks even as early as the Col de la Croix de Fer.


After our usual warm-up, the road starts rising imperceptably into a long, hard climb. We'll need to vary between seated and standing but make sure your HR doesn't rise too high, save your powder for the later climbs. Strong and steady rhythm, with smooth pedalling, is the key here. Any tension will be revealed by the time we reach the top of the Galibier. Then we ease downhill but not for long - the road rises briefly up to the Telegraphe before heading downhill again.

Another long climb but, this time, we can start forcing the pace - push a strong tempo, trying to split the field and leave them for dust. Strong, continuous pressure, HR will be around 80-85% the whole way. Then another donwhill section to recover before the road starts rising again ahead of the final climb of the day - L'Alpe d'Huez. This is it - over 2000 miles of riding and this is the moment of truth. Do or die. Your one and only chance to beat your opponents. On this climb, you'll attack twice - a short, 30-second burst at the halfway point, to find out who's got the legs to follow you; then the final minute all-out effort to the finish line. HR may reach 95-98% but it doesn't matter - you're almost home and every second counts!

Warm-up - 4 mins
Gradual incline - 1.5 mins
Hard seated to standing climb - 21.5 mins
Downhill with small climb in the middle - 4 mins
Hard seated to standing climb - 14 mins
Downhill, rising to a shallow incline - 3 mins
Hard climb with sprints - 5.5 mins
Cool down - 6.5 mins


Epona - Enya
Das glockenspiel - Schiller
Walking on fire - Evolution feat. Jayn Hanna
Light a rainbow - Tukan
Nebuchan - Frank T.R.A.X.
Passing storm - Ottmar Liebert
Lawrence of Arabia - Kleopatra
Invisible - Tilt
Hymn - Moby
Smack my bitch up - Prodigy
Third eye - Bhakta

Spinning class: Tour de France - Stage 16

Another stage in the Alps, with more hors categorie climbs, with a rare visit over the highest road in Europe. There is no mountain-top finish, where the best climbers can gain a lot of time by making an all-out attack, so chances are that the favourites won't attack each other except for keeping the pace high and hoping one or two will crack. The showdown is more likely to be during the next day's stage - it's very easy to lose five minutes on a climb like Alpe d'Huez.


As usual, we start off in the neutral zone for our warm-up, before the road goes on a "false flat" - one of those roads that looks flat but requires effort in order to keep going forwards. So we add resistance but keep our cadence high (for a climb), standing out of the saddle for brief periods to keep that cadence as the resistance gets harder. That will take us to the bottom of the first of the long climbs, where we get into the climb by gradually adding resistance until we have to stand to keep our momentum for the final five minutes.

One climb finished and we can enjoy the downhill slope to our second and final climb. Once again, the road rises but not so much of a false flat this time - the effort is clear and should be felt in the legs... so keep that cadence and add resistance to keep the pace high! That was the easy bit, now we climb in earnest - keep adding resistance while maintaining a steady cadence. If necessary, stand up to keep that cadence but the climb is long and you want to spend most of the time in the saddle. A very brief respite as the road dips before it rises even steeper than before - stand up and power your way to the top of the highest road in Europe, where you'll be able to see all the way to the Mediterranean!

It's not over yet - now you've worked so hard to keep the pace high on the final climb, you'll need to keep it high on the downhill into Jausiers. Fast cadence with resistance all the way to the finish line and the cool down. Now rest ahead of tomorrow's stage to Alpe d'Huez!

Warm-up - 4 mins
Running with resistance - 5.5 mins
Seated to standing climb - 6.5 mins
Downhill recovery - 3 mins
Slightly uphill road - 3.5 mins
Strong seated climb - 6.5 mins
Heavy climb, seated to standing - 6.5 mins
Active downhill, no recovery! - 3 mins
Cool down - 6 mins


One wish for me - Miguel Migs
Shake your body - Shy FX & T-Power
Shiva Moon (moon nectar remix) - Prem Joshua
Hymn - Moby
Gypsy Rhapsody - Bond
Tour de France Etape 2 - Kraftwerk
Insomnia (Monster Mix) - Faithless
Una giornata uggiosa - Bandabardo
Prikansa ritual - Ravi Chawla

Spinning class: Tour de France - Stage 15

Today (or this week, as I teach at different gyms and so change my profile once a week), we're heading into the Alps after a rest day and four days of flat stages. I'm expecting this stage to be one where the pace will be kept high by the leading contenders, to separate themselves from the mere mortals. No suicidal attacks, as the stage to Alpe d'Huez will be foremost in their minds...


We start off in the neutral zone, the bit between the depart fictif and the start of the stage... known to our Spinning classes as a warm-up! Quite short but don't worry, we have plenty of time to get into the ride with a steady seated climb, gradually increasing resistance to find our climbing legs. With that same resistance, we continue up the same long climb, varying between seated and standing to make sure we spread the workload and make it more manageable while adding resistance if able to do so. For the final five minutes of the climb, we can afford to keep that strong resistance, knowing that a downhill recovery awaits. Breathing will be heavier and more rapid as we get closer to the summit, as is evident from the heavy breathing of the cyclists on the "Tour de France" track. The air is thin up here but push yourself even harder for the final two minutes.

Phew! Almost 20 minutes of climbing and we're not done yet! Luckily, we can recover during the fast downhill and, if we want to, the flat section too. However, it's not really flat - we keep the tempo high but, for two 30-second periods, we turn up the resistance as the incline rises slightly and push harder to use that momentum to get us over that hill and back to the flat road. Can be challenging if you want it to be - riding along with a tailwind at 110rpm, then the resistance kicks in and you try to maintain a high cadence... HR will rise rapidly but it's over soon enough. That takes care of the Sprint and 3rd Category climb.

Then we begin our second and final climb - again we build that resistance up to our previous high levels until, with four minutes to the summit, we take a turn off the main road and head up a steeper gradient. We can't take anymore in the saddle, so we stand up to use the power of our quads to push through that resistance and keep our momentum. No attacks on this stage but we should be pushing to our very limits (and beyond!) right to the line. HR will likely be 85-90% for the final section. Strong, hard effort - simple profile but by no means easy!

Warm-up - 4 mins
Seated climb - 6 mins
Strong climb, alternating seated and standing - 8 mins
Hard climb, seated to standing - 5 mins
Downhill recovery - 3 mins
Flat road with rolling hills - 3 mins
Hard climb, seated to standing - 9.5 mins
Cool down - 6.5 mins


Life in mono - Mono
Twisted by the pool - FAC15 feat. Cathi Ogden
Love on my mind - Freemasons feat. Amanda Wilson
Tour de France - Kraftwerk
You don't love me - Dawn Penn
Sans papiers - Bandabardo
Future (Evolution mix) - Magic Solutions, Randy Garcia & Rube
Don't cry - Seal

Tuesday, July 15

Tour de France - Rest Day 1

Phew! What an eventful 10 days it's been thus far in the Tour - the organisers had planned the stages in way to make them unpredictable and we certainly saw action from the first day. All stages have been contested right to the wire, a small group of French riders would go on a breakaway every day (most caught but some succeeded), Riccardo Ricco has taken two stage wins while looking like he could overtake the motorbikes on the climbs, our own Mark Cavendish showed he really is the world's fastest sprinter by winning two stages with the promise of more to come. And then the race hit the Pyrenees...

The favourite to win this year's Tour - in the absence of Alberto Contador, who could probably win the whole thing on a single mountain stage - is Cadel Evans. After him, the main contenders were seen to be Alejandro Valverde, Damiano Cunego, Frank Schleck, Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov. At least, that was before yesterday's stage - how would they fare on the first day of the really big climbs of the Tour: the Tourmalet and the Hautacam?

None of the teams were taking it easy and the pace was quick all the way to the bottom of the Tourmalet. As usual, a small group of French riders had gone ahead, along with Fabian Cancellara (not known for his climbing ability!) who is in the same team (CSC) as Schleck and Sastre. Anyway, this small group was a good 15mins ahead on the climb when both Valverde and Cunego start cracking... they just couldn't keep up with the pace. This news was fed through to the group at the front and CSC started pushing even harder to eliminate two of the contenders. Cancellara stopped at the top of the Tourmalet to wait for his colleagues and took up the pacing on the descent and flat section before the final climb. As he is one of the fastest men in the race, Valverde et al had no chance of catching the leading group.

Once at the bottom of the Hautacam, the hard-working Cancellara moved aside, utterly exhausted after putting in an effort that gained over a minute on Valverde's group. Then Jens Voight (also CSC) took up the reins to keep the pace high and soon all the riders in the small breakaway group had been caught. Both Valverde and Cunego were losing time on the Hautacam, so their chances of winning were fading away. So who did we have left, apart from Evans? Schleck was about 1:50 behind Evans, Sastre about 1:30, Menchov about a minute. There were also three riders from Riccardo Ricco's team (Saunier Duval) and Ricco was only about two minutes behind Evans overall, thanks to the time he gained on one of his stage wins. Two from CSC, three from Saunier Duval, plus Menchov and Evans (and a few others). This is were team tactics really came into play.

After Jens Voight had expended all his energy, Schleck was the first to attack but he was soon caught. Then Sastre tried as well, caught again. Obviously, CSC were testing the strength of the riders in the ever-decreasing group. Frank Schleck shot off again but, this time, only Cobo Acebo from Saunier Duval could keep up with him. What does Evans do - use his energy by going after Schleck and tow Sastre up the climb? Or let Schleck go and hope to catch up to him eventually? He did the latter, so Schleck and Cobo Acebo started gaining time over the leading group. Eventually, Piepoli - a veteran and excellent climber - shot off to join the two at the front. They would not be caught, as Piepoli won the stage almost hand-in-hand with his colleague Cobo Acebo. Frank Schleck had gained enough time to be in with a chance of the leader's yellow jersey but Evans had put in a huge effort to keep a one second lead... but not before Ricco sprinted past him to the line, to show off just how good he really is.

This is how they stand after the first test in the Pyrenees:

Evans - leader
Schleck - 6 secs behind
Menchov - 57 secs
Sastre - 1:28
Cobo Acebo - 2:10
Ricco - 2:29

Until the race gets to the Alps, this is not likely to change. But, once it gets there, watch out for more team tactics! Evans and Menchov are isolated, with both CSC and Saunier Duval having two riders as contenders for the overall lead. As Evans is a better time-triallist (one rider, racing against the clock) than most of them, the other contenders need to attack in the mountains. Imagine the various scenarios:

Cobo Acebo attacks. If Evans follows, Ricco goes along for the ride and attacks later.
Ricco attacks. Evans uses his energy to stay with him, then Cobo Acebo attacks.
Sastre attacks. Evans will likely want to stay with him, as he's also a good time-triallist. But then Schleck can attack him.
And what if Schleck attacks? He could gain a few minutes on each of the stages and would see him favourite to win in Paris.

Saunier Duval's team is packed full of climbers, so expect fireworks in the mountains. CSC have the strongest team overall, so I can foresee a lot of attacks similar to the one on the Tourmalet - this time with the aim of dislodging Evans.

Bring on the Alps!

Wednesday, July 9

La Marmotte: event report

Well, what can I say? I'm alive to tell the tale, so that's already something - it lived up to its reputation as the toughest of all cyclosportives and I completed the course, which around 3000 riders failed to do. Mind you, I'm still feeling the effects of the event with a bouts of hypoglycaemia. But let's rewind to the beginning...

I and two friends from my Spinning classes flew out to Geneva on the Thursday, to give us an extra day of preparation before Saturday's big event. One of my friends, Rob, has a chalet in Valmeinier (halfway up the Col du Telegraphe) and we stayed there while we assembled our bikes and tested them out the following morning with a quick climb up the Telegraphe (as one does!). Then we drove out to Alpe d'Huez going over the Telegraphe, through Valloire, over the Col du Galibier, stopping for lunch at the top of the Col du Lautaret - good reconnaisance that would come in handy during the event itself. On our arrival, Richard, who was the only one of us that was an Alpe d'Huez virgin, rode off to find out what all the fuss was about and finished looking like somebody had stuck his head in a microwave. Ha! The Alpe has its mythical reputation for a very valid reason... underestimate it at your peril!

The rest of the Friday was spent preparing the food we'd be taking with us. I estimated I'd burn 7000-8000 calories during the ride, so I'd need to take two days' worth of food if I didn't want to stop at the feed stations (see my post on the Rome marathon as to why I don't rely on them). My shoulder injury had prevented me from riding the bike for the previous three months, so I hadn't tested my energy requirements over a long ride - most of the time, I'd ride for three hours, stop for lunch, and ride back home. So not the ideal preparation for nine hours in the saddle!

On Saturday morning, we woke way too early for a civilised species! Mind you, I couldn't sleep at all, thanks to a humming noise from the nearby ice rink that penetrated even the ear plugs I'd had the foresight to bring. At least the weather had improved to be sunny and dry - so much so that, despite the fresh 7 a.m. air, the ride down to Bourg d'Oisans was rather comfortable. However, by the time we got to the start line, we'd missed our alloted slot and we were waved through by the marshals, past the large group of riders due to start behind us. As our times wouldn't begin until we crossed the start line, this worked in our favour - I'd heard that the mass start would be stressful and prone to accidents. Richard, true to form, shot off out of sight and left Rob and I to ease into the ride towards the first climb of the day.

Col du Glandon

So far, so easy - Rob and I were still riding along at an easy pace with minimal effort. I could keep this up all day! We had agreed to try to stick together most of the way around the course and, if split up, to meet at the feeding station at the top of each climb. When the road started rising upwards, I was still comfortable but soon pulled ahead of Rob without realising it, so I thought I'd keep going and then enjoy the break at the top while waiting for him. On the way to the summit, I managed to get stuck in a cyclists' traffic jam, as after a short downhill stretch the road rose up sharply but nobody had the sense to change gear ahead of time... with the result that everyone slowed to a halt. Grrrrr.... I went "cross-country" at the side of the road and passed the lot of them. Unfortunately, I found another log-jam at the top of the Col, as everyone stopped in the middle of the road for the feeding station. Aaargh! After deciding I'd be better off carrying on and waiting for Rob further on, it still took me 20 minutes just to get through. Bloody cyclists!

Col du Telegraphe

After a technical downhill section from the Glandon - where I was slowed down by an ambulance of all things! - and a long and boring flat section that I got through by drafting in a gruppetto, I reached the bottom of the Telegraphe. Without a friend to ride alongside, I was latching onto one rider on the climb until they started going too slow for me, when I would latch on to another. Eventually I found a rider from the De Ver Cycle Team in London, so we got chatting as we pushed our way past the other riders. Having him as a welcome distraction, I didn't really feel the work my legs were doing and we soon reached the top to find yet more chaos and a 30-man queue for the water refill. At this stage I stopped for various reasons: I had run out of water on the climb as I hadn't refilled on the top of the Glandon; I reckoned I was way ahead of Rob but thought I'd give him a chance to catch up; I was finding it difficult to eat anything, as I was getting stomach cramps. So, after another 30mins, I set off downhill towards the beautiful village of Valloire.


Does anybody else still feel like going "wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" when speeding downhill? I certainly did on the way down to Valloire - a nice long, sweeping road without any need to slow down to negotiate dangerous hairpin bends. I had to slow down through the village though, as it was packed full of supercars and everyone slowed to check them out. I saw a nice charcoal grey Ferrari 599 Floriano that made me forget I was barely halfway through the ride and still had to get past the Galibier and Alpe d'Huez. Gulp! Furthermore, the road out of Valloire is at a shallow incline, one of those roads that your brain says is flat but your legs tell you otherwise. Still, I felt good despite not being able to eat anything for a while and could only drink plain water (no energy drinks). While on this slow ascent, I saw a one-armed, one-legged man going fairly well - with his body braced into the saddle and his missing arm braced onto the handlebar, he was doing better than most people and yet using only one leg to pedal... chapeau, my friend, you're a true inspiration.

Col du Galibier

By the time I reached the bottom of the Galibier, my legs were fine but my stomach was starting to feel queasy and I was getting fed up of staying in the saddle (bear in mind that I was not used to sitting for long periods, especially given the lack of riding in the previous three months). So, when I saw a cafe with dozens of French cyclists sitting in the sun, I jumped at the chance to stop and get off the bike. I also tried to easy my stomach with several bottles of Coke and a sandwich, while soaking up the sun and watching other riders take the steep road up the Galibier. While I was enjoying my post-lunch siesta (I am Italian, after all!) an elderly man decide also to stop for a break. Nothing wrong in seeing an older man cycling - there are plenty of old "beardies" that regularly cycle past me on my training rides. However, this guy looked about a hundred years old and could barely push the bike, let alone cycle it up the Galibier. Again, chapeau monsieur!

Right. Time to get off my backside and conquer the Galibier. Shame to leave my spot but I couldn't risk not making the cut-off time at the bottom of Alpe d'Huez... all that effort for nothing! So, after an hour and a half of soft grass, it was time to sit on that saddle again. Ouch! The Galibier starts with a vicious gradient, so it was hard work from the start. Double ouch! Once I got into my rhythm, though, I was making fairly quick progress and passing everybody on the climb. Maybe it was the bottles of Coke, maybe that I was catching up all the slower riders. Either way, I felt like Marco Pantani speeding up to the summit. I knew from driving over it the previous day that there would be a nasty final Km when the gradient became even steeper, so I didn't want to push my luck. By the time I got there, though, I was going so well that I even managed to change up a gear and attack that final Km to the feeding station at the top. The Great Galibier? Pah! Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

Col du Lautaret

After yet more chaos at the feeding station, I pushed on for the long and technical downhill. The gradient drops as sharply as it rose, so I was on my brakes for a fair bit, especially as other riders weren't respecting the racing line (the quickest line through a corner - if someone cuts you up at the wrong time, you're toast). Soon, though, we arrived at the Col du Lautaret - this is where the downhill stretch continued towards Bourg d'Oisans for 40Kms with hardly a hairpin bend. Cue the large chainring and a top speed of 109Kph - woo-hoo!!! I would have done it quicker if it weren't for slow-moving traffic... not cyclists this time but the local drivers. Get out of my way, you slowcoach! Where's the damn horn on this bike....

Alpe d'Huez

I reached Bourg d'Oisans, at the bottom of Alpe d'Huez in pretty good time. I still had a chance at the silver medal based on actual time (my ride time - not including all the stops - was only 7:20). My legs were feeling good and I still had enough water, so I decided to give the feeding station a miss (it was packed, anyway - no time to waste!) and head straight out of Bourg for the road to the Alpe. With still a chance at a good time, I decided I'd attack the climb - my previous best was 1:10 and I'd only need 1:30 to get a silver medal. So I prepared myself by staying in the large chainring and used the momentum gained to overcome the "wall". Opp oppp opppp... change to lowest chainring oppppp... lowest gear... opppppp oh crap, my legs have gone! Yep, I hit the wall in both senses - the wall of Alpe d'Huez and the dreaded hypoglycaemic wall. My lack of food and energy drinks had finally taken their toll - and at a totally inappropriate time!

I managed to make it to the first bend, where I joined dozens of other riders taking a break. While drinking most of the water I had left and trying to eat something, my intuition told me to check my mobile phone. Rob had sent me a message to say he'd been sick on the way up the Telegraphe and had abandoned the race. I sent a text to Richard to relay the message and to say that I'd be taking it slow up the Alpe. Things were starting to get difficult...

The rest of the climb is a bit of a blur. I was riding purely on my stubborness to not be defeated. So long as I had breath in my lungs, I would continue to pedal... albeit at only 35rpm. I made several stops in the shaded parts and at the unofficial water stop just outside Alpe d'Huez. Thank God for these volunteers, one of whom asked if I wanted water poured on me (Oui oui oui!!! Merci beaucoup, monsieur guardian angel). That cold shock also gave me an idea - Rob had joked the previous day about using the small waterfalls alongside the road to cool off... which is exactly what I and a French rider did. We eventually found a large waterfall and we immersed ourselves completely, lowering our body temp from heat stroke to hypothermia - bliss!

Somehow, I eventually reached the final few Kms when the gradient eased off. Time to ease my way home, right? NO! Time to change to the large chainring and attack! Damned Alpe and damned stomach cramps - I'll show you what I could've done. I passed everyone else, who at this stage where nursing their way home, and pushed hard for the line. As the pro climbers say, when asked why they ride the mountains so hard, the sooner this pain was over, the better. As I crossed the line, one of the marshals tried to direct me to one side but I was almost unconscious at this point. Luckily, Richard and Rob had been waiting for me at the line (thanks, guys!) and grabbed the bike from me before I could fall over. I couldn't really focus that well, so I was glad for their help. Apparently, my face on the line was the worst they'd seen in the time they'd been waiting and they were rather worried about my health - I didn't feel too good either!

That night, after endless drinks and a nice stodgy pizza, they were glad to see that my eyes were looking better - apparently, I had several dark spots in them... not a good sign. On top of that, I was left with heat stroke, saddle rash, a boil, stiff shoulders, a constant thirst that wouldn't go away until a week later... but my legs were fine!

Would I do it again? Well, I've already checked out the website and marked next year's date in my calendar. I wouldn't miss it for the world. I'll get you next time, Alpe d'Huez! Grrrrr....


This is the best video I've found for you to get an idea of the route, scenery, numbers of riders and camaraderie of the event. Despite the hard effort involved, it's worth doing at least once in your life - join me next year!

Not loading? Click here!

Tuesday, July 1

Spinning class: Tour de France - Stage 10

Week Two for my Spinning classes but Day Two in the Pyrenees for the Tour riders. Stage 10 starts back in Pau and heads again towards the mountains and a mountain-top finish at the Hautacam - it's the setting for this year's Etape Du Tour, when riders from all walks of life can attempt to ride a stage of that year's Tour, but I passed on it in favour of the Marmotte.


This one is fairly straightforward, although there is nothing easy about the long climb on the Tourmalet and the final assault on the Hautacam. We start off on a flat road, although we still have to work to keep a decent speed towards the first big climb of the day. Then there are rolling hills, where we add resistance before each one but maintaining our cadence by standing out of the saddle. We tackle the Tourmalet by starting at a fast climbing cadence but then slowing down the rhythm as the incline rises, varying our position on the bike to help break up the effort but without taking the heart rate too high - we can't afford to overdo it on the first climb or we'd lose too much time on the final ascent.

A brief respite as we head downhill, before the road leads up towards our final destination - Hautacam. No sprints on this one, just hard work and even harder work - when Lance Armstrong demonstrated his strength on this climb in 2000, he merely worked harder than others to leave them behind. There was no sudden burst of power, he just kept going until the others could not keep up. We do the same in three stages - there are suitable gaps in the final track when the vocals are a cappella and we increase resistance as the bass rhythm kicks back in, finishing in a show of strength for the final two minutes.

The Pyrenees are now over, the riders will have a well-deserved rest day before making their way to the Alps (which is where I'm going tomorrow for the Marmotte - see you next week!).

Warm up - 6.5 mins
Seated flat road - 7.5 mins
Rolling hills - 10 mins
Fast climb - 5 mins
Brief respite as we arrive at the Tourmalet - 1.5 mins
Fast seated and standing climb - 4 mins
Heavy seated to standing climb - 9.5 mins
Downhill recovery - 1.5 mins
Strong seated and standing climb - 8 mins
Cool down - 6 mins


Voices - Dario G. feat. Vanessa Quinones
Clubbed to death - Rob D.
Children (Paul Oakenfold remix) - Robert Miles
A forest (extended remix) - The Cure
A fast and inspirational climbing track for which I don't have details (sorry!)
Uninvited (full length extended version) - Freemasons
3rd Earth - Solar Stone vs. Scott Bond
Beautiful strange - Bedrock

Spinning class: Tour de France - Stage 9

It's that special time of the year again - the Tour de France is about to begin! The biggest sporting event apart from the Olympics and the football World Cup... and they only come round once every four years.

If you're a newbie to the world of competitive cycling, I recommend checking out the official website of Le Tour, which has tons of info on the history of the Tour, past and current riders, stage by stage profiles, maps, etc. If you're a spinning instructor and wondering how you can bring the Tour into your rides, I can highly recommend Jennifer Sage's series of articles on her blog. I never thought, until I read her posts, that there are people out there who (unlike me) haven't been following Le Tour since before they could walk! I sigh and start to daydream whenever I hear the words Alpe d'Huez, Galibier, Tourmalet, Aubisque, Stelvio, Cima Coppi...

Anyway, back to Spinning. I personally find the mountain stages of the Tour the most exciting, probably because I get a kick out of climbing up the Alps and Pyrenees but also because they contain the most drama. There are five big stages on this year's Tour and this is the first on a series of rides I'll be leading this month - Stage 9 from Toulouse to Bagneres-de-Bigorre in the Pyrenees.


After a week on the flat roads of northern France, this is the first sight of those big bumps in the horizon but our ride begins with only a slight incline. We gradually increase resistance, standing out of the saddle as an option to maintain cadence. We keep the same resistance on another section of flat road with a very slight incline that leads us to the first sign of rolling hills, which we take by increasing resistance and standing out of the saddle to maintain our cadence all the way. Then the fun begins, as we hit the foothills of the Pyrenees - the first one we'll tackle in the saddle at a slower cadence, standing only at the end when the resistance gets too much for us. A quick recovery and then we head uphill again. After another downhill recovery, it's time to hit the two big climbs of the day - the first starts with a very steep incline, where we need to use a lot of strength to overcome the initial gradient, before we settle into a steady climb.

Did I say steady? Well, only if you want it to be! As you can see from the profile, there is a long downhill and flat stretch to the finish line. If we attacked on the second climb, anyone we dropped would be able to catch us up before the end. If we want to gain and keep a time gap, we'll need to attack on this first climb and maintain it up the second. So we'll attack twice with a 30-second surge, accelerating our leg speed as much as we can (with that resistance, it should be very hard to increase it by more than 50%). If you're going for the King of the Mountains (KoM) points (awarded to those who are among the first over the climbs) then keep sprinting for an additional 15 seconds. The longer downhill section should come as a relief after such a hard effort.

Final climb - we've worked hard to create a time gap between us and the chasing group, so we'll need to keep it on this next climb. Time to settle into a long hard climb in the saddle and, as your legs get used to the level of effort, gradually increase resistance to make sure the chasing pack don't gain time on us. Again, as an option, work even harder for the KoM points in the final couple of minutes - standing climb to overcome that extra resistance. Then we head downhill towards the finish line... but we can't afford to take it easy, the pack is working hard to catch up to us. So it's an active downhill - with moderate resistance - for the first 3 mins. A quick breather as the downhill slope is so steep that we can only freewheel and then it's two minutes of hard work straight to the finish line - fast cadence with resistance. Want to go for the stage victory? Turn up that resistance even higher and sprint the last 30 seconds! Now relax, it's over... until tomorrow!

Warm up - 4 mins
Running - 7.5 mins
Seated flat road - 5 mins
Jumps - 5 mins
Seated to standing climb - 4.5 mins
Downhill recovery - 0.5 mins
Seated to standing climb - 2.5 mins
Downhill recovery - 1 min
Seated to heavy standing climb - 1.5 mins
Seated climb with standing sprints - 5.5 mins
Downhill recovery - 2 mins
Seated to standing climb - 8.5 mins
Active downhill (not recovery!) - 6 mins
Cool down - 6.5 mins


Rain - Mantra & Robina
The boy is mine (Club Mix) - Brandy & Monica
My friend - Groove Armada
Imagine (Echo N Stepz remix) - Shola Ama
Synaesthesia (Fly Away) - Thrillseekers feat. Sheryl Deane
Feel the beat - Darude
Acid 8000 - Fatboy Slim
Rapture (Deep Dish remix) - IIO
Clubbed to death - Rob D.
Right Samadhi - Chinmaya Dunster