Tuesday 19 July 2011

My etape 2011 - Sunday 17th July Issoire to St Flour

The numbers heading into the start pens in the grey dawn of that Sunday morning in Issoire did seem to be down on those at my previous etapes.  Up until now there had only really been a light drizzle and I had even felt slightly overdressed as I set out from my hotel in Parentignat 20 minutes earlier.  The organisers report that there were just 4,000 riders at the start and I can well imagine that with the dire forecast, if I had not come so far, I might well have decided to ride the route another day.  Looking around I was in a minority with covered knees and seemed to be alone in having covered fingers.
As we set off South towards the hills of the Massif Central, the rain became more steady and the roads more slippery.  I recall standing on the pedals close to the start to accelerate and the rear wheel slipping around.  At one point there was a large police presence and a cacophony of whistles at a railway crossing where every few seconds another rider would slide off.

At Massiac we turned right onto the first real climb and into a headwind.  As we got higher the wind blew harder and colder and the rain turned to sleet.  This is where I first saw riders heading back towards Issoire.  Initially I thought maybe they were going back to look for friends but then it dawned to me as this trickle turned to a steady stream that they had had enough and were going back either to Issoire or to find the broom wagon.  At the top of the climb was a long flat but the power of the headwind was sufficient to make it seem a steep uphill.  The short descent when it arrived was no relief as it was bitterly cold (the organisers say 4C) and went down to the first feed station at Allanche.  Here many  were shivering violently and  did not appear to be in a fit state to continue.  The organisers were suggesting direct routes on to the finish at St Flour.

I persevered and started to warm somewhat on the ascent of the Col du Pas de Peyrol.  The rain had finally started to ease though the roads were still very wet.  On the descent of the Peyrol, the pros had come unstuck a week earlier in drier conditions.  The writing on the road ‘Vino Out’ at the point where the controversial Kazak rider had come off the road and broken his hip served as a reminder not to allow the speed to build up.  Every time I applied my brakes it took several seconds for the water to get squeezed out and for any force to appear to counter the acceleration due to gravity.  This was going to be a long slow day.

The road carried on up and down with no significant flat in between.   At some points you could see the riders ahead tacking up the mountain and then disappearing into the cloud.  At the top I was nearly knocked sideways by a massive crosswind before descending in cloud down the other side.  The little I could see of the scenery was breathtaking and on a clear day it must be quite stunning.  We entered a world of ski resorts which had fantastic roads where it was finally possible to pick up speed on descents because the roads were so wide and straight you did not need to think about braking.

The Chateau d’Alleuze guards a deep valley but by the time I reached this point it was again pouring with rain dashing any hope of completing part of the ride, or arriving at the finish, dry.   As I passed the Chateau the sun did come out and cause the wet roads to steam but it was still raining heavily.  We carried on eventually arriving at a flat section where Johnny Hoogerland had been knocked flying into a barbed wire fence by the driver of a TV car.

Finally with just a few kilometres to go, the rain stopped and the sun came out just in time for me to see Saint Flour perched spectacularly on the top of a rock with a smattering of buildings at the bottom that looked as though they may have fallen off the main town.  The sun had brought out spectators and there were hundreds of them cheering enthusiastically as we made the final ascent to the top of the town and the finish.

Apparently just 1982 people finished.  I took 10 hours of which I spent 9.5 hours moving.  The advertised limit was 12 hours and people were still finishing for a couple of hours after I had.  I heard subsequently that the organisers had brought forward the cut off times though I am not sure that it was not more a case of people by necessity taking much longer than would be usual, and the organisers being rigid in their adherence to times that would have given trouble to far fewer in better conditions.
I had had vague plans of riding back to my hotel in Parentignat but it was soon raining again and happily I found a lift with a couple from Kent.

Back at my family run hotel I had a huge plate of the local cheese.  They are very proud of their cheese round here with ample justification.  Sadly it is not available at my local Waitrose.

Sunday 10 July 2011

Please sponsor my Etape 2011

My post yesterday reminds me of the need for an outbreak of peace on the roads. Watching Stage 9 of the Tour this afternoon shocked me. Pile ups in the peloton are one thing but the fact that a cyclist is still not safe from a careless motorist when riding in a break-away in the Tour de France is profoundly depressing.

Looking at today's stage also brought home to me how long and hilly it is. This is the route for next Sunday's etape, the one that I am signed up to do. So I have decided to seek sponsorship in support of Roadpeace, a charity I have mentioned before on these pages.

The Etape

For the past 18 years one of the mountain stages of the Tour de France has been available for amateurs to ride. The popularity of the event is such that the organisers this year have arranged two Etapes. The first, held tomorrow, on the Modane - Alpe d'Huez stage covering 109 km, will be the shortest in history. This is the same stage the pros will ride in stage 19 on July 22. The second Etape for 2011, on July 17, will be the longest in history, covering 209 km, from Issoire to Saint Flour in the Massif Central (south of Clermont Ferrand). The pros have just ridden this stage today in stage 9 of the Tour and this is the stage I am riding. In addition to being long it is very hilly with 8 categorised climbs. It will possibly be the hardest day of cycling I have done.

 Please consider sponsoring me at http://www.justgiving.com/Martin-Porter0

Saturday 9 July 2011

Another assault on a cyclist

There is far too much of this going on and it should be taken seriously by the authorities.  It seems in London the trail initially ran cold when the registered keeper said the car was taken without his consent and subsequently returned, though subsequent publicity has I understand resulted in an arrest.  In Thames Valley any such offender, if unlucky enough to be caught, would be given a simple caution.  In Manchester the police have led the way with a serious investigation followed by passing the evidence to the CPS for prosecution.

There really ought not in any part of the country to be any doubt that this conduct consitutes a serious crime which calls for deterrence.  'Road rage' does not excuse, it exacerbates, the conduct.  Currently the State is encouraging us all to get out of our cars and onto our bikes but providing patchy protection at best for those of us who receive aggression in consequence.

Passing laws about passing bikes

Cycling in France I again noticed the prevalence of signs urging motorists to pass cyclists with at least 1.5 metres and almost without exception they did (the exception was a Belgian driver on an Alpe d'Huez hairpin!).
Now I am back to my familiar commute and nothing has changed.
Hounslow yesterday evening

A couple of weeks ago we had Nova Scotian friends staying with us.  Naturally I asked them about the new law in Nova Scotia requiring (as of 1st June) that motorists leave at least one metre when passing a cyclist.  Both our visitors are drivers but neither had heard of the new law.  One was also a cyclist but it did not mean much to him as he rides on the pavement, reasoning that the roads are not safe for cyclists.  I rather suspect that if such a law were passed here it would be neither observed nor enforced; it will be interesting to see what, if any, real difference it makes to Nova Scotian cyclists.

I have some expereince of cycling in Nova Scotia.  Not only am I required to wear a helmet but by law
"No person shall ride a bicycle on a highway except as near as practicable to the extreme right of the main travelled portion of the highway and no person shall ride a bicycle abreast of or generally parallel to another bicycle in motion on the highway except for the purpose of passing any such other bicycle."  That is a tough one for anybody who has undertaken any cycle training here and must be even tougher for those on club runs.  My strategy was to hold a secondary position about a metre from the edge as that is as near as practicable for me.  In fairness they do have much wider roads than us  and do not design in width restrictions as a means of traffic calming, so a bicycle and a car side by side in the same lane is not quite the adrenalin rush that it is here.

Having a lot of laws is not necessarily a solution.  What we really need is more consistent and determined enforcement of the laws we have against dangerous driving and driving without due care and attention or due consideration to other road users.  A close pass depends somewhat upon the speed and size of the vehicle concerned.  It is more easily recognised than defined and is self-evidently driving without due consideration.  Will the bus driver (see picture) be prosecuted for driving without due consideration?  Not a chance.  Would additional laws make a difference?  Same answer.

Thursday 7 July 2011

La Marmotte and Grimpee de l'Alpe

I pitched up last weekend along with 4 teammates to enjoy La Marmotte, the famous Alpine Cyclosportive that takes in four mountain climbs (Glandon, Telegraphe, Galibier and Alpe d'Huez).  I had never riden in the Alps and this ride seemed more worth the trip than the Alpine Etape which takes in Galibier and Alpe d'Huez (I plan on doing the St Fleur/Issoire one instead now we have a choice!)
The day we arrived (Thursday) I clumsely put the rear derailleur on crooked when rebuilding my bike (rather easily done especially wiht a multitool with too short an allen key).  Do learn from my mistake and exercise extreme care to screw your rear derailleur on straight.  When I got to a slope (never far away in Alpe d'Huez) and selected the largest sprocket, my rear mech flew into my rear wheel causing a mangled wreckage of derailleur, chain and wheel spokes.  Fortunately there was time on Friday for a jouney down the mountain to Bourg d'Oisans to find a new rear hanger and derailleur and then to the amazingly helpful Mavic van in Alpe d'Huez who replaced three spokes, trued the wheel and then fit a new chain all for the price of the chain only.
With all this kerfuffle I only had time for a short ride on Friday evening when I checked the bike out by taking a scenic route to Reculas
The next day it was time for The Marmotte, a little over 100 miles and around 5,000 metres of climbing - my hardest day on the bike since I did the Gran Fondo Sportful two years ago.  I was very unsure of my staying power, which has not been tested a lot recently, and also my standard chainring (39/53 for the technically minded) was a definite departure from my triple (30/42/53) which I have used on all previous mountain adventures, though I did take the precaution of a 29 rear sprocket..  I set off at a steady pace nailing my heartrate at 130 bpm and not worrying about the time.  The strategy worked as, apart from some annoying right foot pain, I had a fairly comfortable ride.  Also I need not have worried about the gearing; all 4 passes averaged under 10% and did not exceed around 14% at any one point so the gearing was fine; although I would on occasion have rather spun a lower gear than grind on. Lots of British riders there, including familiar faces from London Dynamo and Kingston Wheelers and I was even recognised half way up the Galibier as 'the cycling lawyer'.

Snow on the Galibier.  Photo from http://www.photobreton.com/

My certificate shows my times (minus the neutralised descent off the Glandon - an attempt to reduce accidents).  The "Brevet d'Or" cannot be right and conflicts with the "Brevet d'Argent" on the certificate handed to me at the finish.  I would never expect to get a Gold on a route that includes mountain descents as I lack the nerve to hurtle off a mountain at 50 mph.

Fancy a race?
The following day I went back to Bourg for the Grimpee.  This is described in many places as time trial up Alpe d'Huez but it is not.  Thankfully it is a mass start roadrace up Alpe d'Huez which is much more fun.  Full race speed with a multi vehicle escort from the roundabout to the foot of the slope then inevitably the bunch split into a thousand pieces as we hit the slope.  People turned out on a Sunday morning to cheer us on and this time the certificate I got at the finsih was a 'Brevert d'Or' with my time of 1h:04.  I may just have to return and do a sub-hour.
The Grimpee de l'Alpe, the morning after the day before.

LVRC Road Race Chamionship 2011

On 26th June I had the privilege of being one of the 45 riders lining up on the start line of the League of Veteran Racing Cyclists Road Race Championships in Oxfordshire.  This was a superbly organised (by Reading CC) race and divided into 5 year age ranges so, a first for me, I was racing with people a maximum of 4 years youger than I am; a far cry from the British Cycling Road Races where I am, rather hopelessly, competing against many people less than half my age. 
My hope had been to hang on to the bunch for the duration of the race.  The first lap was sedate enough and I even got lulled into a sense of security.  The circuit contained a steep descent from Stoke Row with a sharp bend at the bottom.  Although it was a hot summer's day the descent was wooded and the road still wet.  I find it hard to hold my nerve when descending (it is probably not helped by being a personal injury lawyer who has had clients whose bicycles have fallen apart underneath them at inopportune moments).  My Garmin shows that 37.3 mph was the maximum I mnaged on that descent when the bunch was probably going 45mph.  I had therefore to play catch up on the immediately following climb.  I managed this twice but the second lap was fast (apparently the fastest of the day) and though I held on it was at a price and I just slipped off the back during a long upward drag on the approach to Nettlebed on lap 3.
I always try to finish a race I have started and before long I was doing a two-up with Paul Burgoine, whom I have known a few years now, and who has also blogged about this race.  Initially he was more tired than I was and even suggested I left him (no way - it is no fun doing a road race on your own off the back), then as the remaining laps rolled by I tired and he recovered and then easily dropped me on the last downhill.
We succeeded in our objective in not getting lapped by the field but did not make it onto the list of finishers.
Better reports of the racing can be found elsewhere
I would encourage anyone over 40 to join the LVRC.  It seems to me that as we get to our middle years the need to remain active becomes more important than ever and you can have a good day out even if, like me (at least on my current form and weight), you are pretty hopeless.
It requires a lot of man (and woman) power to put on a road race; there are a lot of volunteers to be very grateful to in our sport.  Also it was very decent of the ambulance to stick behind Paul and me, sheltering us from the traffic until the last lap meant that it really ought to be on hand for the sprint.