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To remind me that I am not Andy Shlek, Contador or even a half good roadie SO that when I attack one of the steeper climbs in and around the Alps I should do it in the manner to which I can successfully complete and not suffer, drool and nearly implode.

First time up Mt Saleve outside Geneva and I requested the steep way. Turns out that the steep way is steeper and longer than I imagined. I thought it might be 20 mins ish even though Jerry had said 40 mins. Not entirely sure why I blocked that figure out. I think it was my ego ear muffs.

I started off feeling pretty good. PRETTY DARN GOOD actually. Round the first corner I spotted my first victim. The power increased. Victim eaten. And repeat with the steady stream of evening cyclists. With this came the ramping of the gradient. The 10plus is a nice gradient I find. Really rewarding.

Then the switchbacks started. Steep as and then steeper after. 12/13%. Up, up and up. Was flying and liking it but knew I was over doing it. A few more switchbacks, victims and eventually I had become the victim.

Well into the red zone and starting to really suffer. Mixing standing up with trying to turn those pedals faster to keep on top of the gear but I was failing. I was slowing and no wonder as I had been climbing at a silly pace (1200m an hr I am guessing). I also noticed a softening of my front tyre through my haze.

I looked for more gears more than a couple of times. Passing another rider I realized the previous cocky rider that took the corners at their steepest was now a disgusting, non classy rider drooling, and pedalling like a bobbing baboon.

I consider stopping as my heart was trying to rip itself from my chest, my windpipe was on fire and I felt terrible but that Ego thing kept me going. The gradient eventually eased and I struggled on and eventually got to the col.

I’ll learn to check the profile AND the height next time but it was ace in a very sick, pain locker/cave/dungeon. ¬†I’ll break it next time ūüôā

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Still resting my little fingers (well, thats my excuse) I took 2 windows of freetime this weekend to crack out a couple of rides on the road bike. I had been secretly hankering after this for ages and it just was perfect with 3 hrs to spare each day.

Saturday: Verbier – Mauvoisan Dam. A stunning valley stretches east. 20km ish and 1100m of climbing with 2 climbs, a lovely wide valley and simple peace and quiet. The weather was A grade and it really couldn’t have been any better. Popping into see Vanessa and Thibaut he left me with “if you can do it in an hour you’re fit”.

Swine.

Now…I still had to get back upto Verbier AND try and break the Verbier Peleton record of 36:45 (Neil) so I couldn’t do myself in too much but I pretty much went at a fair old pace. Its a great climb and JUST incredible to look around. A diversion up a hill water stop put me behind but still going well. The final part kicks up but ALL the time its difficult to really suffer as its just so beautiful.

Made it around 1hr 15min, ate stuff and high tailed it back so not to be late. Descent was rapid!

Hit round about at Chable and gunned it. I knew I didn’t have much and probably went too hard. Hot and hard work. Sweating in my eyes trying to keep composure. Just beneath Mediere I started coming apart. Little lightweight guy zipped past me, held his wheel for a few mins..struggling. Hurtsville. Just trying to¬†maintain¬†speed.

Enter lower slopes of verbier and another lightweight rider comes past. Looking fresh and Euro compared to my¬†disheveled, sweating, gasping, pathetic corpse. Do my very best to go after Verbier Village…not much in there. Make it to Place Centrale in 37:30 and I am done…1700m up on all in the red. Youch.

Big night Sat

Sunday:

After ‘recovering’ I head off for a more chilled ride. Well same distance/elevation but not on the rivet like Saturday. I decide to do the La Valletes – Champex Lac climb which is pretty steep but pretty.

This one starts steepish and keeps going and stays steep and then steepens up a bit more. Hairpins stacked on top of each other at times. Just stunning. Climbing at 900m/h, in smallest gear and making a big effort to not go into red. Slip higher and higher into great forest. Nice little singletrack crosses road.

Higher up I get an incredible view up into Aiguille de Genepi. The NE couloir is a huge ski tick I want. Pretty excited to see it and also how to get into it.

On and on I ride. Gradient eases off, spanking new tarmac and constantly craning neck at the views. I eventually crest the col and roll into Champex after 58 mins for 830m climbed and a big smile. LOADS of people here. Have a sit down next to lake, eat a bar, refill water and off.

Its amazing how fast you can go on a bike down a road. Great views into other valleys and other trips. Head back to Chable and climb back to Verbier at same pace as rest of day. Not too fast, not too much pain, loads of sweat but no grimacing today. 43 mins and ok.

Get back to see Neil and Gareth just finished flogging themselves in Mano o Mano. Gareth learnt a few things about a Turbo Trainer!!

Gone are the days of just¬†mountain¬†biking for me….so much more to it all.

August rolls in and that equals the end. The end of racing for 2010 BUT what a finish. The scene for the final round of the Enduro Series was Valloire, France. Named ‘The High Race’ it did not¬†disappoint. For some reason I was under the impression it was going to be an ‘easy’ race. I don’t know why. It wasn’t. It was probably the hardest of them all.

Same format as the others. Three tracks, 3 x 1 saturday morning, 1 x 2 in the afternoon and 4 x number 3 on sunday. One x number 2 Sat afternoon? What? You getting soft or what? Ahhh. Well. We’ll get to that.

Friday night I met up with the WTB boys who had been scoping the area for a couple of days. Immediately I was informed about the word gnarly. Sorry, Gnarly. They showed me some pics, vids and instilled a sense of respect. Tyre change for the morning as it was a fresh track. A fresh track means a taped track through the high alpine with virtually no singletrack in situ.

Saturday morning dawned perfect weather and up we went. The scenery round these parts is something else. Got to top, walked a small part of track and got nervous. I was pretty intimidated by the unknown and also standard race nerves. Off I went and a standard sub optimal first run. Not warmed up, WILD track and tentative = off the pace. 105th, its ok. i am used to it. Bit rattled BUT experience now helps me and I know I get stronger and stronger both in riding and physical output.

2nd Run. Bang. Thats what I’m talking about. Loving it more and a bit more¬†dynamic but still not fluid. The bottom bike park stuff is beating my already beaten up hands. Have a little tumble trying to pass someone, quite amusing.

Run 3: Better but had some bouchon and had to force my way through. Glad to see the end of this track as the bike park part is just not my cup of tea but I knock of almost 2 mins from 17:02 on run 1 down to 15:09 on run 3.

The afternoon and only one run. This ‘only’ one run is from top to valley floor. A total of 1800m of descending and some solid pedaling to be done. I am feeling strong and warmed up now. A gel in and I’m off. First beginnings of track 1 but then a good pedal to hit the ridge. I’d put fast tyres for this and the difference is incredible. I take 10 riders on the first pedal..

Onto the ridge and skip past another group of 8 and I have an open section of some of the finest alpine singletrack. Supremly fast, open, a few rocks and constant small changes…into the trees for loamy, steep fun. Riders are clearly feeling the attrition from the morning and I skip past easily. People talk about ‘The Flow’ and I had it, incredible experience.

Into second traverse pedal, on the gas. I know I am only a 3rd into the stage but also know that I can afford to put everything I have into it. This is the time to attack. Traverse turns into nasty steep up, heart nearly comes out of mouth and then into tech traverse, flop along this for a minute and regain some coordination from my body. Down onto road and then THE TESTER. A gradual road climb that then goes onto a flat track alongside a water pipe. This is probably about 5-6 mins in total but is all about getting head down and ignoring the sirens screaming ‘STOP’! Its like a graveyard…people walking, broken bikes, broken people. I take strength from this and look to every single training session from Dec to now. I’m dribbling, spitting into full face helmet…Writing this I try to imagine the pain but I can’t…its been replaced in my memory as something not as bad as it was. My heart rate monitor tells a story of 7 minutes with my heart rate sitting above 193bpm and topping out at 197bpm. Thats painful.

Eventually I hit the final plunge into the valley. This plunge is 800m of vertical and semi paved, roman style. Its horrendously steep and never ending. Its so fast and so on the edge. My hands and forearms have gone through so much. At one point I couldn’t stop braking eve if I wanted too. They were locked on. I simply had to grit my teeth and get on with it. I let all the marshals know my pain by grunting and they responded with encouragement..I needed that.

Eventually it comes to an end. 36 minutes and 2 seconds of pain, suffering but ultimately an incredible sense of accomplishment. Its a scene of sorts at the bottom. I quickly roll down the road and get a lift back up with team WTB.

Jason had a puncture half way down scuppering his run but Mark Weir put in a stormer. Just 3 secs off Remy Absalon’s time of 30:29…3 secs over that distance is incredible! Pushing the boundaries. Without a huge off he would have won..A lot of respect from all the¬†French¬†riders ¬†was¬†duly¬†given. Having been a bit downhearted about my position I was properly over the moon with making 58th on Saturday!

Sunday. Another perfect day in the mountains.  Format is simple. Four times 1 special stage. Tis is no ordinary stage though and is a true Alpine Enduro beast. Over 1000m of tough descending and some super solid pedaling meant it would be a hard day. 18-20 min runs on this beast.

Run1 was going really well and as normal I ride about 100 times better on day 2 of riding. Got a puncture but it sealed enough to get down. Gave it all I had to limit the damage to my time but probably lost a minute. Not the end of the world, quick tyre change and back up.

Run 2: Fantastic. Loving the course and loving the pedal. 2 mins up on first run as expected.

Run 3: Feeling good but rear brake goes so have less than optimal set up for what is a fast course. Little junior guy pops by me and I stick to his tail. Amazing rider for 14 (although gets time penalty for cheat lines!!). Power by him on pedal and finish strong (thankfully brake has returned for mental steep end).

Run 4. The final run. I’d bled my brakes but think the rear was still a bit funny. Thankfully front was super good. Tired. Really tired. Conserving energy on push up to the start.

A quiet place. Everyone is exhausted. Not much chat or banter. Sheltering from the sun we sit in silence summing up courage for the final run. I go.

I can feel I have no sprint left in me so I go for solid,¬†consistent¬†output. I won’t be able to hit max but I can still sit high up in the revs. Rear brake goes almost straight away but I¬†know¬†the course now and can take lines with more commitment. My hands are in tatters. My right wrist is in pain, my 2 little fingers have tendon injuries but what can I do…just go.

I have a complete, almost free run down. Really good, lacking the raw power, but fluid. I give it all through the last pedal, style it up over the last jump, jump into spectators corner and get caught behind a rider who is kickingup so much dust. Just hold on, stay on target.

And Finish. A mixture of relief and sadness fill me. Thats it. Done and I am well and truly done. Hands won’t grip much anymore.

The Enduro Series is over. All my focus, training and sacrifice has come to an end. A great feeling of success, the results don’t really matter as its more about personal challenge BUT I hit my target of top 50. That weekend I came 50th.

A true progression:

Metabief: 75th

Allos: 68th

Vars: 67th

Valloire: 50th

It was way, way harder and more competitive than I thought it would be, there are some amazing riders out there and fit to match. I have so many things to work on to improve and get better as a racer. Bring it on.

Thats what I like about racing. Its a chance to throw off the shackles of training, daily life, bills, whatever and dig so deep it hurts. This past weekend I took part in round 2 of the Enduro Series in Val D’Allos. Its said to be the best and hardest of the series. From some of the headcam stuff I had seen it certainly looked good.¬†Big mountains with bigger mountains in the background in one of my favorite parts of the world combined with three of my bestest buddies meant the cards were stacked.

Friday gave us a little easy, effort shuttling and riding. We found a great trail which warmed us up to the pace that was gonna hit tomorrow. Some thunder and rain kept the ground more than a little damp but the heat was drying things up. Tyre choice would be an interesting challenge (for some)

We went and signed up and took a walk of a tiny bit of the course. We were 4 VERY excited individuals after seeing the track. Looked so much fun. Mats and Chris spotted people on Mud tyres and went into a frenzy of doubt..Mats cut a spike down and set his rig up. Chris, after a lot of umming and ahhing, did the same. Steve had to ban all talk of Duometer, tread pattern and give stern looks to them both later. Steve and I, being sensible went with All round tyres.

6am came round and The Swede was up, had his back protector on and was keen as mustard. KEEN! Loaded up, Superstar Cowboy coffee and on the road.

It took us about a minute on the lift to see it was bone dry. Oh how we giggled at the Spike boys! All the way to the top of the mountain with glimpses of race tape. We watched the fast boys go off. This was BIG mountain and fast as hell singletrack. Nothing really tech but just great, great singletrack.

Special 1 went well, some bouchon but nipped past most quickly enough. Gave plenty of juice where needed and finished HOT, HOT, HOT. Such a good track. 12 27 for me. Mats came down and then Steve, no sign of Headley. Eventually Brum’s Stylish rider turns up with tales of gapping rocks into mountainside crash. Lost a whole bunch of time but he was ok. Mats had an off as did Steve. Many offs from the Enduro Series rookies…

Special 1 again. Armed with knowledge we attacked the trail again. More perceived memory of the track gave rise to some close moments indeed. On the edge is where its at but not over the edge. 40 secs knocked off that time so good show but you immediately feel the effort on the second run. The Attrition starts.

New stage starts. Off the other direction and down a fast as hell ridge. 40mph I reckon. Then into the best trail. Check the headcam to see Headley chasing me.

http://www.vimeo.com/13000168

Loved this trail so much. Some extensive bouchon occured which got me a bit pissed off but over taking is great fun. Some riders are not so lucky. Its HIGH pace and a rider in front of me goes down hard. Youch. Blood waggon will pick him up. Just¬†seemingly¬†endless singletrack at high speed, railing the corners and putting everything I have into it. Reserves are deep so sprinting at every possibility. I feel and hear Chris’s presence after one particular delay..just goes to show how much time you can loose. Back on the gas and I leave him in the tighter corners. Great finish through the arch that makes you feel a bit special. And repeat…

The clouds darken and a HUGE¬†storm¬†rolls in and rain comes DOWN. Luckily we aren’t stuck up the mountain like the others. Unluckily we don’t get to race anymore on the day. I am gutted. Displeased with my 85th place this is where I want to start reeling in the time…what can you do? A beer, some food and sleep and bring it the next day.

Chris and Sweden both have some big offs which hold them back, Steve has some offs and is held up a bit but everyone is in one piece (although Mats has hand bruising)

Sunday

Rain fell late but its bluebird in the morning. Less keen Sweden and the rest of the team are tired. Strength will be needed for today.

Upto the top and we see the first part of the course. It looks bad. a 2-3min climb up a ridge at altitude. Ouch. We rush off to get a good warm up.

I go off and I go quick. Get to the climb and I beast myself up it. I don’t have much choice as I am pushing a 36 single ring but I go hard. I reach the top and am in agony, come round the corner to some very difficult, off camber singletrack into the Scree slope. Tripoding at speed on a leg full of lactic was not fun but got down it, avoided most people walking it and onwards.

Brutal specials stage. 2 quite big pedals in it and singletrack that took effort to ride. The last section flew by…One last sting in the tail and finished. 25mins ish

We had to do this another 2 more times! 2nd run was much, much better physically but rode it bit badly and the 3rd was well executed all round. Took the term ‘Exhausting’ to another level.

We got down for the final time and every single person was riding a wave of euphoria. Steve said ‘I have never gone so fast on a bike AND never ridden so hard for so long. I am so doing it again next year’

Mats: ‘The essence of Mountain Biking’

Chris ‘Je Passe’ and ‘SuperEnduro in October anyone?’

Yes!

Full video of Sundays stage here:

http://www.vimeo.com/12968847

Also a great video of the weekend from 26in.fr here

http://www.26in.fr/news/2444-tribe-10-000-emtn-val-dallos.html

Love it. Not sure how to explain it but its simply fanatastic.

Nice big training ride after work, plan was to pick up a ride I hadn’t done since summer last year. Cruise to Morges then upto Bierre and onwards upto Marchieruz via the long, long forest road. During this I was doing some 6 min intervals with 12 min less intensity…That added speed, sweat and opened up the Endorphin Tab with my dealer.

Hitting the base of the major, extended climb I had just finished a interval through flattish roads on the plateau. Amazing place to ride a road bike. Must have been zooming along at 40-45km hr…anyhow…up the climb and keeping steady and reading myself for the final interval. Sweat dripping down, temp dropping to comfortable level with altitude. Sip of drink, snippet of¬†banana¬†and I’m off. Breathing deeply and trying to take it to the mountain whilst staying within said zone.

While I’d be lying if I said it was easy, it wasn’t, but I had the edge. What that edge might be I don’t know…Its the difference between getting on and suffering and getting on, taking the suffering and enjoying the fact I have 3mins left instead of dreading the next 3 minutes. Its a sickness I know…

Nearing the end I spotted another roadie. Finished up interval and eased off. I was gaining on him and new I’d catch him. No racing, no desire but still enjoying the climb. Drew up with him and passed. A hearty ‘Salut’ a brief chat and he took up the challenge. He sat on my wheel while I cruised up…well, it felt like cruising compared to the last interval. My heart rate was still sitting firmly in the 160bpm mark.

It was funny, I felt acutely aware that this guy was using me to get it over with, he was suffering, really laboured breathing and he wouldn’t last long. I felt no desire to break him and was happy that I could help him up the hill a little. A few more minutes and a ‘Bon route’ from him and a thumbs up and ‘Ciao’ from me. On and on the climb goes…Lovely stuff. I can’t say how much I enjoy climbing quiet forest roads…Eventually I hit the turn and cruised the 25km downhill and via a new descent to home. Full of happiness and enjoyment.

Although this training lark is aimed towards something and being something better it really is a means to something in itself. I enjoy, no, love getting out there and applying myself to the discipline of turning pedals.

And that is written 15 hrs after the endorphin high! Here is the road ride if you are bothered, bored or broken

Or that is what I have called it..I reckon that suffering in groups is good BUT you can’t come to that party with out preparation. This is the secret, dark¬†preparation¬†that I reckon the KGB would enforce upon their units to enable maximum pain infliction. Its a dark place.

Hill intervals, 6 x 2 mins almost max, 4 x 1 min almost max (both seated) and then 2 x 30 secs full on max (out of saddle). All with 2 mins rest between…Its incredible how quickly 2 mins can pass.

I was wondering if I’d be able to make 6×2 mins after the first one but I did as I realised I might have been going a bit hard. The 4×1’s were hard…acid burning and then the 30 secs max. The first was okish (that is relative) but the final one had me screaming, grunting and generally baring¬†resemblance¬†to something not of this earth. Pretty happy to have those finished I have to say….

Now, where is this party?

Tapering, in the context of¬†sports, refers to the practice of reducing, or¬†tapering off, exercise in the days just before an important competition”

Thats what I’m doing and to be honest its driving me a bit mental. I am so used to/addicted to having my daily fix of sport supplied endorphines I am getting a bit craggy. Luckily my dear girlfriend is away so doesn’t have to put up with my moods.

Its so bad I loved every minute of a 25 minute turbo session this morning. Wacko. I don’t think it is being helped by having another partner in Endorphin fuelled crime encouraging the obsession. Jerry is doing the La Marmotte sportive cyclo race and has hit full term training. Sharing his pain/joy with me at any point. Today I would normally be undertaking a good, solid road ride but NOOO. Tapering.

I am jealous that he’ll be sweating away into the horrendous bise (northery wind), feeling the attritional acidic burn up into the Jura, getting a bit giddy, getting cold….I miss the B&W romantic image of it all.

And then there is Graeme..

My time will come this weekend.

However, another sickness is growing. I’m not sure where its come from but I have a desire to get a proper XC hardtail and race it. How? Where? When? Who knows.

So Paul Errington has completed the first of his Coldest, Hottest and Highest races. This was the cold one and its the Arrowhead 135 miler!!! Read all about it here

I can only imagine what it must have been like to have got the puncture, push for hours, nearly get hypothermia but turn around and get it done! Incredible!

He is one sick puppy!

No, not me
Paul Errington. To ride, push and wade through snow is ok for the thrill of the descent but for nothing other than pushing it back down. I like the cut of your jib sir!

Sicko

Big, Bad Sicko

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