Saturday, 19 July 2008

Who is Jerome Coppel anyway? Tour d’Enfer Minus 1

One hard climb!

Another incredibly beautiful day dawned on the French-Swiss border again today and after a cheerful breakfast we looked at a possible course to ride in the morning. Will put together a 42 km route that included the brutal Category 1 climb up to Le Saleve that was used in this year’s Dauphiné Liberé race. After working out a route on a mapping website, he downloaded it to my GPS bike computer and showed me how to navigate with it. I have used the GPS for about a year and never used this function before but was impressed with how easy it was to use.

Brett and I headed down the road around 11 am, into the bright morning sunshine and soon found ourselves climbing the famous road, known also as the Col de la Croisette. We passed some lovely villages, well-tended and with elaborate flowers everywhere but the beauty of the scene was soon eclipsed by the extremely hard climb ahead. The GPS showed a series of tight hairpin turns and sure enough we soon were grinding our way along up them. I was glad that I had installed the new 28 tooth cassette since I was really using it today. And my new Look cleats were working well too, so it was just a matter of trying to keep up with Brett, which was no easy feat. At least the cyclist struggling behind me soon disappeared from view as I continued to open up the gap on him. The climb is apparently is the shortest Category 1 due to its extreme steepness.

Getting to the particularly steep sections, we saw that the road was painted over and over again with the name of a pro rider, Jerome Coppel. His family must have been very enthusiastic on that day since it was written everywhere. He turned 21 this year and joined the team Française de Jeux. You can read about him and even join his fan club at his website.

We reached the village at the top of the climb and took a well-deserved break, admiring the views of the massif that included the famous Mont Blanc. It was a gorgeous day and the scenery was breathtaking. We soon turned to the right and rode along the ridge, with views to the left of the snow-capped mountains and to the right the Jura and the broad valley leading to it. The road was in excellent condition and we stopped to watch paragliders, or cows and even chatted with a charming French lady walking her spaniel along the road.

Turning towards the Jura we passed a fantastic four-star hotel that looked like a castle and soon had an enjoyable descent down into the valley, although by not paying quite enough attention to the GPS we missed a turn and had to backtrack a bit. Then we followed the GPS exactly and it led us into a highway construction site and someone drove down to tell us to get out. I still have to find out what a “chantier” is but I will not go into one again!

Without any further detours, we soon found our way back to the start, exactly as indicated by the GPS. It was one of the most spectacular rides imaginable, although less than 50 kms, and we had some excellent climbing practice, adding some 1100 vertical meters to our tally this year.

It was party time as the participants of the Tour d’Enfer assembled for a big barbecue at Will’s and we all had the chance to meet each other for the first time. There are eighteen riders, including two Canadians from Canada, and two from the Geneva area, three Germans, Americans from Washington State and Washington DC and Berlin, and an Australian, also residing in Geneva. Everyone had a great time enjoying Doreen and Will’s hospitality, and after we discussed logistics and admired our new cycling jerseys, I was given, as Chief Disorganizer of the Tour, a book on the Route des Grande Alpes as well as a custom-made model of my Tarmac. This was incredibly thoughtful and I am looking forward to a great ten days riding with everyone.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Cycling Again in Europe: Tour d'Enfer Minus 2

After a brief visit to Berlin, with lots of culture and museums and a bit too much rain, I returned to the sunny Geneva area yesterday and was met again by Will. After an excellent dinner, I unpacked my bicycle case, which had been in his garage for a week, only to discover that a) I had scratched the frame a bit through my amateur packing efforts and b) one of my Speedplay pedals had gone missing, probably when the airport security people would have gone through it in Newark before my flight to Geneva on the 9th. This was alarming; although I figured that I could touch up the scratches on the downtube when I got back to Canada, the loss of the pedal meant that I would not be able to use the bike. There had to be a reasonable solution, and Will put this into train by loaning me a pair of Shimano SPD-SL pedals. However, these are not compatible with my cleats so we considered using his new cleats but it looked to me as if the screws on my cleats were not going to come out anytime soon as they appeared to be worn down.

Barry looking for water

This morning I called the Speedplay distributor for Switzerland and he suggested a shop in Geneva on the Rue du Lyons. My options were to get a new set of pedals (the best solution, although not the cheapest), or to find another pair of shoes and use Will’s SPD cleats. Will also had a set of Look pedals and shoes that happened to fit me pretty well, so I put on the Look pedals and we put the bikes in the car and headed off to the shops. The first two did not have any Speedplay pedals while it was very annoying to discover that the third shop, which Will had tried repeatedly to call, had closed on Friday and Saturday without having the answering machine message changed–clearly any bike shop that closes in summer on no notice doesn’t need any business from us.

Will ended up dropping me off to ride with Barry, a genial Australian who has lived in Geneva for eighteen months, as he headed off to the airport to get Brett, another Tour d’Enfer participant. Barry and I had a very pleasant ride back to Will’s house, with around 300 meters of climbing, and met up with the others. I was pleased that the pedals seemed to work well, athough the shoes were not as comfortable as mine but at least I could ride.

The weather was beautiful as the four of us left for a flattish (for the area) training ride. We rode from France back into Switzerland and enjoyed superb views of the Jura, and the gap where the Rhone River flows through the mountains. Barry left us fairly early to return home and the three of us remaining cruised smoothly through the green landscape. Of course, there was no way that I could resist photographing Brett and Will in front of a field of glorious sunflowers.

We stopped briefly at a local vineyard where a bicycle had been used as an advertising sign. Of course, we had to do the obligatory jokey photo of me pretending to ride the bicycle, which featured a nice flowerbox on the handlebars. The area features a serious number of charming vineyards. We were also highly amused to read a notice on the house next to the winery indicating that the dog living there was “bizarre,” a word that has the same meaning in English as in French. Two dogs did in fact come out to bark at us but they stayed on their property so all was well, albeit noisy.

In front of my first cycling cafe stop of the trip

Cruising through some lovely villages we stopped for a short time to enjoy a “Renversé,” as the locals call their café au lait and then gradually rode up the long climb to Will’s. I had put in 74 kms for the day, and about 800 meters of climbing and my legs felt good. The pedals worked and it looked very positive for the coming days.

Brett’s bicycle was misbehaving so we went back to the local bike shop to get his rear derailleur adjusted, but it turned out that the shifter cable had come loose. I bought a pair of Hutchinson tubeless tires at a very competitive price (they are made in France, after all), as well as a pair of Look cleats with greater play in them than the ones on Will’s shoes. My plan was to install them on a new pair of cheapish shoes that I would use for the trip but in the end I realized that the cleat screws on my own Sidi shoes were just jammed with sand, so I cleaned them out and was able to change the cleats. This means I will be using my own shoes and do not need to buy anything else. As I already am the Imelda Marcos of Unnecessary Cycling Shoes this is a relief.

Will and Brett, putting up with yet another one of my photo stops

After another excellent dinner, we watched the latest stage of the Tour de France and then a rather morose 1972-ish Belgian film, “Le Velo de Ghislain Lambert,” with the saddest actor imaginable playing a not-very-talented pro cyclist. It is perhaps the only comedic film about doping in pro cycling ever made, and probably with good reason. Great atmospheric stuff, though, including scenes filmed on Mt. Ventoux and the Col de Isoard, the latter of which we will be riding next week.

Thanks to Will, who, with his wife Doreen, has been the perfect host, I have an Internet connection. Tomorrow he will load a route for me to ride onto my GPS, which will be my first attempt to use the Garmin for navigation, as I propose to do a 40 km loop, climbing the brutal Cat. 1 Le Saleve, and riding along the ridge about Will’s house before descending. This will be an excellent test for the start of the Tour d’Enfer on Sunday.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Uphill: Everybody's Doing It!

The Globe & Mail ran a nice piece this weekend about the challenges of climbing on a bicycle in the Pyrenees. Coupled with the blog on the New York Times about riding l'Etape du Tour, it seems that suffering on hard mountain roads has become mainstream. Is cycling the new golf? Maybe, but you don't see golfers often collapsing at the end of the game...

As I prepare to depart for Europe and the Tour d'Enfer over some of the hardest climbs in the Alps, there will be whole lot of opportunity ahead to think about exertion and suffering. But fun too, I am sure. The sense of accomplishment when you stand at the top of a col is wonderful, and addictive.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

The Calabogie Boogie

A summer view of Calabogie, Ontario

This is strange: I thought that I was tired after Thursday's 15 km race but decided to do the Almonte Bicycle Club's 40 km tt mainly to look at the course in Calabogie, a ski resort area. It is very pretty and meanders through real Canadian countryside, with lots of lakes and trees. It also goes uphill a lot: the out and back course includes 317 m of climbing, or 1040 feet. There is basically nothing flat over the whole course but nothing so steep as to put you into the small ring.

The course I rode is the profile in the middle

We were lucky today that there was almost no wind at all. Because it is 90 minutes away from Ottawa--I got up at 5:15 am this morning-- the number of participants is smaller but these are the really hardcore guys, the 44 km/h average types. I was the only one who had not ridden the course and to my amazement I had a Top Ten finish: my 1:06:10 was good for 8th place overall. At the 60 minute mark I looked down and saw that I had averaged 36+ km/h up to that point, which was pretty good for such a hilly course. The top three guys were under an hour but I was very satisfied with my effort. (And for Sandra in Australia I will freely admit that the 7th place finisher was a woman in my age category who rolled in a full minute ahead of me!)

Our assembly point: the local Tourism Information office

The course is probably the nicest 40 km one I have ever ridden, and the organization was excellent, with everything running like clockwork. Afterwards a group of us went to the local golf club and had breakfast together since the race finished around 10:30 am. I sat with Les Humphreys, who has been a fixture of the Ottawa and Almonte clubs for many years. More personally, he was the man who sold me my Gitane Gran Sport de Luxe, which I have just sold, in 1973 when he had a bike shop in Oakville. It is a small world indeed. We talked about cycling history and had a great time.

I think I like this time trial thing! The 40 km one is run once a month, with the next one on August 12. I'll be there.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Not Quite Fabian Cancellara But Getting Closer

Well, the weather turned out to be beautiful after I got soaked in the rain on my ride to work. I left the office early and had everything set up quickly at the parking lot for my next 15 km Open Time Trial with the Ottawa Bicycle Club.

The warm-up program, supplied by the Coach of Cruelty, went quite well but I had to truncate it a bit from the suggested 1 hour as there was not as much time as I needed before I had to get out on the course. Every time I start further back in the pack, which is a good thing but I feel the pressure with the really fast guys behind. Hermann, the rider who started ahead of me has the course record for the 70+ plus age group and he is very fast but I figured I could pull him in. A decent start and I started to speed up but I just did not feel the power coming on as much this time The wind was supposed to be behind me but I was definitely not getting any help and it soon was apparent it was a side wind. Just before the turn the road swings right and I had a tailwind finally there and pushed it up to around 44 km/h uphill. The turn went well and I was just behind Hermann.

On the way back the headwind was more noticeable than the sidewind had been and I really had trouble getting much over 38 km/h. I was trying to ride as steadily as possible but I was not able to reel in Hermann. As I was getting near the finish my time actually looked very good and I thought I might make the 40 km/h average but the speed was falling off a bit as I could feel my legs get heavy and I could see as I passed the finish line that the time was around 23:00. I was right on Hermann's tail, so at least I gained time on him! I could really feel the fading towards the end, not to mention the hurtin' o' the legs, so I need to work on the energy management more to get me through that last bit.

I came 19th out of 53 cyclists, which is pretty good. In terms of my age group, I am reaching for the podium as I was 4th out of 11; the average time was 24:03 so my 23:01 was finally better than average! As to the riders ahead of me, the fastest in the group came in at 20:46, which was his personal best, followed by riders at 21:58 and 22:15 (another personal best). So it looks like I need to find another 45 seconds to get on the podium--this will be a challenge for sure. I was third on June 19, but there were only four Vet C riders so I don't count that. I should be in great shape when I get back from Europe and I also notice that the hotter it is the better I go.

And because you can never have too much hurtin', I am planning to do a 40 km time trial on Sunday at Calabogie. It looks like a pretty rural course, with 317 m (ouch) of climbing. I will probably not be very fast as I want to ride the hills in Gatineau Park tomorrow but it will be a nice day out.