Sunday, April 22, 2012

Liege Bastion Liege


Where to start.  The biggie of all the courses so far this year.  I was a bit apprehensive of this one.  I'd read on the offical website that it was 4788 metres of climbing.  Elsewhere they said it was 3317 metres (Strava).  My GPS recorded 3379 metres of climbing (7888 metres with Elevation Corrections turned on !!!). The weather was expected to not be good and it turned out just as predicted.

When the weather was OK.
I went with a friend this time and we aimed to be on the start line for 6:30am.  A hurried breakfast and checking in for our numbers and we didn't roll out till 7:20am.  I had high hopes of a very good day but the weather and head wind out put paid to that.  The route through Liege was tricky and at the official start line we hit the first hill.  For a change they are real.  Whats interesting is I don't think theres a flat piece of road on the whole course.

There's one labeled climb on the way out to Bastogne called Cote de La Roche.  Well it was much the same as 20 other hills from Liege to Bastogne.  The one exception is it was longer.  We had already climbed and descended 1000metres before the first named climb.  The ride to Bastogne was cold and very wet with light rain/heavy rain and even the old bit of hail.  Myself and Patrick made fairly good time and stopped at a refreshment stop for a few minutes to replenish.  After this it got even colder and wetter.  Both of us were struggling to warm up and hit the big chain ring with a tail wind for the route back.  It took as least 30 mins to warm up and after this the temperature even climbed from 6 degrees to maybe 12 and finally the sun came out for a bit.

Someone has to lead the way
The first tester was Cote Saint Roch at 20% steepness over and 1150 metres long.  We both made it fairly easily and Cote De Wanne followed.  A small break before all the hills kept coming.  Cote de Stockeu was long at 21% steepness max and 10% average over it's 2300metre length.  Strait back down to the bottom of the hill (how demoralising) before hitting Cote De Haute Levee.  This is my sort of hill.  Max 10% average 6% and 3500 metres.  I can climb this type fairly well.  I lost Patrick here for a bit and was wondering if I should wait or go.  I was on the back of a few guys moving quickly so kept going.  He came back to me 15 mins later or so with a good bunch in tow. 

Patrick leads the way
For whatever reason I struggled for a bit after this.  The temperature had dropped from 12 back to 6 and I just didn't have much left in the tank. The first 150Km where we had averaged a quite quick 29.something was taking it's toll.   My guts ached a bit and I knew I had to keep eating and try and get my energy back.  For a change Patrick started leading on the hills.  He'd been through an earlier flat spot as well and after gulping down a gel he had recovered.  I tried the same but it didn't seem to help much.

The next few climbs Cote du Rosier, Cote du Maquisard and Mont de Thous passed without to much troubles.  The temperature even climbed back to a pleasent 16 degrees for a bit.  The biggie was next.  Cote de la Redoute.  At 1700 metres and max 20% with an average gradient of 10% this is the hardest.  It's open and exposed and you can see the top.  At 233km into a 270km route it's tough.  both of us made it, Patrick in his 39x25 whilst me in my 30x23.  I swear God invented triples for hills like this.
Proof that you can suffer up Cote de La Redoute and still have time for a smile

The next two hills were much easier but there's not much time between the hills after this.  Cote de la Roche aux Falcons at 249km and Cote de Saint Nicolas at 263km.  Of ourse the torrential rain started 30 minutes before the end.  Once you have climbed the last hill you kind of think wow that's it. I've done it. Then of course theres a ten kilometres drag to the finish in pouring rain over undulating terrian.

This event is not one to under estimate.  Each of the Classics I've done this year was different.  I struggled more with this one than the others.  It's just very sapping and and there really is not much rest anywhere.  After doing this I'd stay the Tour of Flanders was almost easy.  We completed the course in just under 10 hours and averaged only 27.5  This was a lot longer than I'd anticipated.  After seeing my times for the hills I must say not to bad.  Top 10-15% except for Cote da le Redoute.  Have to be happy as the whole course was just so hard.

Well a week or so of light riding and I'll be in Portugal hopefully in nicer weather.  I think I've done all I can to be ready for Portugal.  Especially since I live in the flatest country on earth.  The hills and off road riding will make a nice change and hopefully I'll do OK.

Victory is ours

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Amstel Gold...

Well It was Amstel Gold Weekend.  Another Friday night leaving from work straight to an event.  A quick stop at Math Salden on the way down for a look.  Always amazes me this shop.  Bike frames and wheels everywhere.  I doubt they know what they have but I'm aways sure I could find about 20 different frames to buy off the shelf.

First drama before we got there is that the wife booked the Hotel months ago.  I assured her it started in Masstricht and just to get us near the centre.  Of course the Pro's might start there but us mere rider's have to start in Valkenburg.  After the last race where the Family had to get up at 5:30am it was decided the best way was for me to get a Taxi to the start.

5:30am wake up start and meet the Taxi at 6am.  I meet another rider, Frank in the foyer who was catching the train to Valkenburg and convinced him to come with me.  Much easier.  We got to Valkenburg and set off at 6:36am.  Frank to do the 200Km and me the 250KM.  the first 10-15km were fairly relaxed before Frank realised he'd left his water bottles in the Taxi.  Not the best of starts for him.  I lost him on the first or 2nd "Burg" and didn't see him again.

Big chainringing it up over the top of a hill
It was a fairly lonely first "lap" on my own after this.  I tried to take it easy and felt very good on the hills.  I managed to get several photos all on my own at the top of hills with no one anywhere near me.  I was even in the big chain ring in that one.  It was fairly quiet and not to many people around.  Towards the end of the first lap and back in Valkenburg the signs diverted me into a car park full of cars.  How puzzling was this?  The feed station was tucked away in the corner and near impossible to see.  Grabbed a few gels exited the car park and was off again.

So passing Valkenburg I hit the stream of riders just starting their event.  It was to be the theme of the day.  Each "Burg" it seemed I passed a few hundred and then a few more on the way down.  The riders were fairly well behaved and did stay left on the Bergs which is nice for faster riders.  It seemed to be a random collection of riders and not really any groups working together anywhere.  I must have been with one group for max maybe 20-30 Km before that disintegrated.  A few close misses with cyclists coming the other way was not pleasant.  We passed both the Saxo bank Team and Nissan Trek teams somewhere here as well.

The fast lane
The food stops became increasingly worse.  The Dutch need to look at how the Belgians to this.  The Belgians seem used to use big commercial premises.  The Dutch basically set everything up in a paddock on the side of the road.  Each one was a big mud pit and it took at least 5-10 mins just to get water.  The food selection was not as good either.  The amount of people was insane and hard to just moved about.

I don't really recall much about the "Bergs".  I enjoyed both the "Camerig" and "Drielandenpunt" Climbs the most.  Not to steep and very flowing climbs that suit me.  I still don't understand your average rider that either steamrolls into the bottom in the biggest gear he has and starts sprinting before running out of puff selecting the smallest gear after 50-100 metres.  The other option is before the bottom find the smallest gear you have and hit it at a very low speed.  I prefer to get into the small chain ring keep the pace the same and change gears fractionally to suit. It works much better than putting in to much effort and not able to continue, or giving up before you have even started climbing.

The steep bit and about to hit the manhole cover
The only hill that troubled me was the Keutenberg.  I didn't know it was there.  Came around a corner, wondered why there was a load of people and bang straight into a nasty little steep section.  I managed to hit the only manhole cover in the road which was wet and slipped.  The crowd "ohhed" and "ahhed" and pointed but fortunately I had enough momentum to grind out the 100 or 200 metres of steep bit before it levels off for the rest of the climb.

We hit very wet roads about 40km from the finish but missed most of the rain.  It got very cold and I was told later it had hailed for about 20 mins in Valkenburg.  The run into Valkenburg was not very nice and the Cauberg was just a joke.  To many people to climb properly and once you hit the top they dropped us into a big tent complex.  Had to walk about 1km through this to get back onto the road before doing a loop to join riders who had yet to finish.  Not the best idea and it was so cold!!! Where can I send my invoice for new cleats?

So I finished the ride in 8 hours and 5 mins.  Averaged right on 30km/h and fairly happy with this.  Difficult with all the riders and hills I think to go much faster especially with no one to work with for a lot of the course.  I don't think I'll do this event again as there was just to many people.  The route is nice but I actually think the region is nice so It wouldn't really matter where you rode in Limberg.

Yes it's steep but still time for a smile.
I'm hopefully now in good shape for things to come.  Next week will be the biggie.  Liege-Bastogne-Liege with it's 270Km and near 3317 metres of climbing.

Late Update - Watched the pros do the last 70km and very pleasing to see some struggling just like the rest of us.  I guess I thought they are superhuman and use big gears everywhere but seeing them use there small chain ring and large sprockets on the back show they are just like the rest of us. Human after all.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

One long Weekend...

The Cycling Season has begun !!!  For me anyway and judging by the numbers a load of other riders too.

Saturday was Ronde van Vlaanderen or Tour of Flanders and Sunday was the Paris-Roubaix Challenge.  Both very different and both a load of fun and just under 400KM of quality training and fun all in one weekend.

Ronde van Vlaanderen

So the first thing you do when you get to an event is get the bike out of the car and put it together.  Then you wonder why the wheel won't spin and quickly find the broken spoke.  Oh Shit. !!!  Nothing open at 8pm at night. Thank heavens for the spare wheels !!!

They moved the start this year to a stadium outside the city.  Great for them but near impossible for me.  I'd booked a hotel in the Centre of Brugge because I knew it started in the square.  So riding around at 6:45am in the dark trying to find some Stadium is impossible.  Fortunately the secret is to ride around in circles till you find another biker and ask them where to go.  Thanks to the three Dutch lads who had a map I made the start.

The first 50KM or so was fairly uneventful except for the poor guy that crashed about 3km from the start.  Never a good look.  We hooked up into a fairly large group after the first feed station and cruising at 40-50Km/h.  I skipped the next feed station because it came far to quick for me.  I don't seem to recall any hills till close on 150km. 

I remember having a chat with some anxious brits.  Never ridden on the cobbles.  Said that they were about to hit the best 100KM of cycling in Belgium.  And just around the corner was the Koppenburg. We hit it from the other direction this year.  Rounded the corner and it's a load of cyclists trying to walk up the road.  With lots of yelling from me enough space was created in the middle to let me through.  I must say this was one of the most daunting climbs for me last year.  This year it was a breeze.  Think I climbed it in my 39x21 as well and felt very good

Over the top of the hill I linked up with another chap.  Never got to speak to him but we basically rode the next 100KM together on and off.  The only hill I really recall was challenging was the Paterburg.  Seeing the Pros on TV struggling up on the third lap was good.

I finished in seven hours and 45 mins!!!  Well stoked.  I did nine hours and 30 mins last year so this was a huge improvement.  OK the course was 15 KM shorter but still.  In regards to the new course?  Well I preferred the old.  More cobbles and more hills.  Although the GPS route says the same amount of climbing the old just felt more complete.

A couple of observations.  You really want to make sure your bike is in good working order.  There must have been several hundred people on the side of the road with flat tyres and I lost count of how many chains I saw snap.  Most likely those rubbish shimano ones !!!


So the mad dash to St-Quentin to try and find some 28mm tyres and pick up the registration pack.  How many places does it take to visit to buy 28mm tyres?  A lot and I never found any.  A mad Frenchman trying to sell me 24mm Vittoria tyres because Tom Boonen rides them and they are the best.  I tried to point out they run 27mm Tubs but he wasn't hearing it.  In short I gave up and rode my 25mm Continental GP4 season's.  I got the Mavic service crew to pump them up before the stage. 110psi in the back and 100psi in the front.  More than I ride when training but thought they would know. 

Hotel,  Once again another lesson learnt.  Get one that serves an early breakfast and try and find one closer than a 45 mins drive away.  Saves a lot of problems first thing in the morning.  Eating cereal out of a container on the way to the start line is never good.

It was cold.  1500 people standing on the start line.  Some in shorts and shirts and others in Artic survival gear.  I dumped my overshoes and gillet right at the start and went for long sleeve and leg warmers and a hat.  Two degrees and cold !!!

We were in the 4th group to set off.  Closed roads and cruising in a big bunch at 40km for the next hour.  The police doing a great job.  We must have picked up the the first dropped riders within 10km.  The French were out in the streets cheering and clapping as we went past.  It was a blast.  Every body was having a great time and lots of friendly gestures between riders and chatting when time allowed.  I think our group had swelled to 300 riders by the time the Pave came.

The first Pave section was unreal.  I was way to far back and had to fight my way past the chaos.  Adan who I met at the hotel the night before and been riding with just took off.  The dust the noise the bikers everywhere.  The yellow mavic cars and Mavic motorbikes helping people with tyres and bidons scattered everywhere.  Chaos ensured.  We regrouped after the first Pave and suddenly there was only about 75 of us.  The next Pave and we must have been 25 riders.  I got the hint to ride at the front and choose your line and it's easier.
The Pave, Yes it's rough rocks and lots of dirt.

It must have been the 3rd or 4th Pave Section and I looked down and only had one bidon left.  So much for the steal bottle cages being better.  Of course it was the full one.  We regrouped again at a feed station and topped up remaining bottle and grabbed anything to eat and a coke or two.  I was in such a hurry I even forgot to stop for a wee.  Must have been the next Pave section and felt something hit my leg.  I looked down and my second bottle was gone.  It was going to be a long day.

Then in maybe section seven or eight after several big hits it was a fairly distinctive hiss phat hiss my rear tyre was gone.  Five mins later and I was back on the bike.  I stopped 100 metres on to grab a bidon off the ground that didn't have much in but beggars can't be choosers.  Threw my tube at a local and yelled "Merci" when I exited the Pave.  What I didn't realise was I passed Adan who had punctured about 1km past me.

I don't recall much after this.  A big group came steaming past and I latched onto the back.  I was feeling quite sore in the right quad at this point with 300km in the last 24 hours in my legs.  Couldn't get out of the saddle but fine sitting down.  I stayed with this group for a while and then we hit the Tranchée d'Arenberg section.  I hit the front somewhere here and had a blast. Picking the right line and just going for it was great.  I had a huge smile on my face

We finished Arenberg and the group was gone.  I hooked up with a very small group and we made some good progress.  Rode with two Americans on there very very nice fully sponsored Trek bikes with power meters.  We took turns until the next feed stop.  Some cokes and cakes were grabbed before I set off on my own.  I rode slowly waiting for a group of any sort and not much appeared.  I started to get on with in and 10 mins later a few riders appeared and we made some decent progress again.

About 30-45 mins later the Americans appeared.  Asked them were they'd been as they seemed to be the best to ride with.  Said I'd been waiting for them.  The next Pave section the three of us left the group's we'd formed behind again.  Out the other side we formed a new group of riders before loosing them on the cobbles each time.  On the last pave section one of the Americans punctured and I was on my own again.  The last 20KM was solo.  I picked up several hangers on but none could or wanted to work or help.  We turned onto the tree lined street right near the end and one of them asked me how far to the finish.  I had to laugh and say it was a long way away.  The lap on the Stadium was brief and one of the buggers I'd towed to the finish sprinted past me.

I'd beaten the wife to the finish line and had a catch up with Adan and the Americans.  I'd wondered why they had such low race numbers and had steam rolled past me.  Their bus driver was late to the start and they started behind the last group !!!  Adan said he'd yelled at me as I passed but I guess the speed, excitement and all the noise on the cobbles I just didn't hear or see anything.  He was maybe 30 mins behind me which again was not to bad.

Hint of smile and a hard days work done.

I was well impressed with my time.  5:01:11 Wow !!!  That is 164th out of the approx 1400 who started (900 or so finished).  54th in my age group.  Not bad for a first timer !!!  Maybe next year I'll get to ride with the fast guys at the front !!! Also the winner was in my age group and his time was 4:20 !!!

Brilliant event and hope to do it again.  I loved the closed roads and the french support.  If you ride on the cobbles slowly or on the grass on the side of the cobbles they ignore you.  Charge at the cobbles in the middle of the road and give it some they yell and clap and give encouragement.

Lets hope the rest of the events this year can continue in similar fashion.