Newlands & Whinlatter. Fast.

AS you know, I’m following my Sportif training block at the mo and Wednesday night is Force Climbs night. The purpose of this is to get my legs used to grinding at aerobic threshold as they inevitably will be in he closing stages of the 3 British rides i’m doing but also to build a bit of endurance for longer climbs, hopefully. Anyway, for this I ride out to the foot of Newlands Pass then ride over it and Whinlatter in the saddle as much as I can and time it. In a vain effort to improve my descending skills, I time the way down too.

Strange day weather-wise in the lakes today. Lots of little pockets of rain gusting about the place and some extremely fresh breezes. The temperatures weren’t bad though. One of these breezes was in my face for the first section of the ride. Although it did have the bonus of being a little nature walk/ride. Two horses did the Tour De France thing of galloping alongside me as I rode past their field, that was pretty cool. Lots of little lambs too, including one balancing on a high wall. How it got up there, I know not. I also saw a sultry buzzard on a tree which, after looking at me with complete disdain, flew off lazily.

Onto Newlands and, as ever, I started my timer at the snow sign (showing all year round!) and pretty much straight away reached for 39×26. You have to take the bottom section out of the saddle, it’s between 15% and 20% for the first 500m, tonight though I was bouncing. A fresh dump of rain meant that my back wheel kept slipping under pressure, so I was looking for the rutted, rough parts of road to keep traction.By half way I had resumed motoring in the saddle and stayed there, spinning, until the 20% sign abuot 150m (and one evil 25% ramp) from the summit. A kick out of the saddle and I was there. 8:48 and 30 seconds taken out of my years best!

I found a mobile phone on the top too. So if anyone has lost a battered old Nokia, been up Newlands Pass in the last 24 hours and has a mother who is constantly on the phone, PD Malcolm can help you out.

The descent was also very wet… Exercising my usual cowardice/caution and taking into account the amoutn of traffic I wasn’t expecting anything from the descent… But a years best 13:22 on that too! When you’re going well, eh? I’m crediting all this by the way to the mysterious power of my Gibo-era Lampre jersey. Just putting on it’s wierd fibre that i’ve never seen anywhere else makes you feel less like a gangly scruff honking up a wet fell and more like the peloton’s prime exponant of the Napoleon Complex taking it to the worlds best climbers on the Zoncolan

A quick tug on the bottle and then onto Whinlatter where, bizarrely the road was completely dry after the observation point half way up. Another years best time of 11:38… 6 seconds slower than my best ever! Descent slightly disappointing, but I was tired by that point and given the amount of grip my back tyre was exhibiting, I was in no mood to push it.

Absolutely thrilled with tonights ride, I must be doing something right!

Power and Climbing Intervals

Tonight, a work-out I described on the Whinlatter post (the very second post on the blog!) a couple of weeks ago. Out from Cockermouth, along the A66 to keswick and back home over said Pass. The structure of the work out is 10 minutes warm up 4×4 minute power intervals at 90%+ of Max HR with 4 minutes recovery inbetween and then, on the climb, 1:30 of Aerobic Threshold Riding (170-180 BPM on my HR) and throw in 5x 30 second all out attacks with a minute of Threshold riding inbetween.

The A66 section was strange tonight. A really wierd, swirling wind that was at points (my first interval) pushing me along at 50kph, at times trying to throw me into the gutter and at times (last interval) trying to blow me back home. I finished the 4 intervals with an average of 32.2 KPH, which is about 0.7 kph lower than the last time I did it. So overall the effect of the wind pretty much evened out, was simply a bit wild. The purpose of these intervals is to keep going to that intensity you need in a race whilst training, mainly, for more steadily paced Sportif efforts. I keep feeling better and better on the power stuff at the moment, so I guess reducing the overall intensity, after a prolonged period of training at very high intensity has given me some benefit, maybe the first Race block of the year came a little early for me…

Onto the climb and again, the aim here is that racing intensity. The threshold riding is also useful for quick climbing on the sportifs, but I’m thinking at the moment of the Westmorland Tankard CDNW race in 3 weeks. There’s a big climb on that and the ability to attack repeatedly will be a bonus. First 3 attacks felt great tonight. In fact the second one took my breath away. Faded a bit for the last two, but this is a very intense workout, and it’s to be expected. The threshold riding inbetween the attacks is one of those situations I can see a Power Meter being useful. Your heart rate just isn’t going to recover from those kinds of efforts within 60 seconds, so you’re pretty much riding on feel in those “recovery” sections. I didn’t time the climb tonight, as I feel having done 3 timed ascents in the last 7 days, I’m in danger of over-analysing every performance on it. I’m riding it again tomorrow as well…

Descent, however, was timed. With a following wind for the top section that, sadly, degenerated into a headwind for the flat bit in the middle. Even worse, a cross wind on the flat, sweeping bend that leads you to the steep, tight corners half way down. I was, again, overly cautious down those but the time at the bottom was 9 seconds better than my previous best of the year, so can’t really complain. In fact, the average speed for the rid of 30.1kph was pretty pleasing considering the conditions and 1.5 kph quicker than the last time around that ride, which is really encouraging.

Honister, Newlands & Whinlatter

Another of my simulated Sportif efforts yesterday. Slightly curtailed by my hangover from Saturday night’s festivities. Sadly, it also took in 3 of the tougher climbs in the lakes all strung together in 20km sufferfest.

Anybody who’s ridden the Whitton will know that the ride really starts once you hit Honister and never settles down afterwards. I hadn’t been over it since last years Fred either, when I was reduced to walking, so with some trepidation I approached via the A66 and, Cumbria’s answer to Pave, the Borrowdale road. 29.8 kph average to the foot of the climb, wind assisted, and feeling pretty good.

Turning onto Honister, I was immediately hit by a stiff headwind. However, the gradient on the first ramp wasn’t as harsh as I recalled and I was still tapping a 39 x 25 at quite a good tempo as it levelled out. After this “easy” section at a mere 13%, you round the corner onto what looks like a wall. You’re immediately hunched over your bars, levering the bike and grinding. Then, as you come up to the bridge, it gets worse. The trick at this point is to stay out of the trench that runs across the bend and to remember that the cattle grid marks the end of the worst of it. After that you have a few hundred meters to spin it out and recover for the final assault on the summit. The headwind definitely wasn’t helping at this juncture, but I made it in 12 minutes. Always feels longer though and the pain in my legs, arms, abs and back tell me that the climb of Honister pass is the all-body workout of champions!

The descent, however, is just stupid. It’s very, very steep, covered in holes, ruts and ridges and has two sharp corners at the end of straight steep sections. In short it’s bloody dangerous and I crept down it.

Climb of Newlands passed fairly easily, only 13 seconds down on my years best time and my legs were feeling pretty tired by then (glad of a rest and a massage today). Descent was curiously slow considering how fast it felt! Was leaning into corners, intentionally breaking later, all that good stuff. Must have been a headwind.

Whinlatter was really tough, given how tired I was feeling. My head and stomach were complaining too. Still, I gave it all I had and made it hurt. I could feel cramp setting in as I pushed for the top. The time was nothing to write home about but the effort was there. Again, I felt I’d improved on the descent so some positives to take out.

The only other incident of note was my failure to empty my jersey pockets at the end of the ride. This led to my racing license, cash card and a £20 note going through the wash. Balls.

Der Ronde

As I have a bit of a thick head this morning, I’m going to live blog Flanders for a while. I shall probably go out for a bit but will come back for the finale. I’m using the feed here which the guys over on the bikeradar.com forums set me up with. So thanks!

Just keep hitting refresh for updates…

1131- Seems to be a nice club run type atmosphere at the moment! No breaks, Skil’s brilliantly named Bert De Backer tried it a few minutes ago but was reeled in. Climbs start in 30km or so.

1141- Garmin Directeur Johnny Weltz says in an understatement-of-the-century kind of a way that Svein Tuft is a “Tough boy”.

1148- Mainstay of PD Malcolm’s Pro Cycling Manager team Mirko Lorenzetto has unfortunately left hte race in an ambulance. Get well soon!

1202- Vincente Garcia Acosta hits the deck on the first of the climbs. One of the real drawbacks of the Pro Tour setup was that Spanish teams with no interest in racing end up the northern classics. Can anyone imagine, for example, there being much of a clamour within Euskaltel- Euskadi for riding cold, windswept, cobbled races?

1210- A whole load of riders having to dab a foot on one of the narrower cobbled sections just now. I love these moments! Hopefully there’ll be some of those ace shots of riders valiently running up the Kemmelberg later!

1221- Two riders out front now, building a nice gap. The big boys have clearly decided that these lads pose no threat and can be picked off later on. One of them is from Vacansoleil, teams like that live for these moments. Hours of TV coverage in the most important race on the Flemish calender. Chapeau!

1239- Looks like the chase has started as the lumbering beast of Quick Step begins to stir. Russian team and middle-eastern terrorists favourite Katusha also look to have a hand.

1246- The peloton still looks very cagey with 100km to go. Maybe this is the reult of a very open race this year. Despite the absence of Ballan and hte seeming lack of form from the mighty chin there are a number of top favourites in Boonen, Pozatto and Mr. Second Place Lief Hoste and some good outsiders like Hincapie, Gilbert, Flecha and Bennati. Also some good youngsters to watch too in Langeveld, Maaskant and Boassen-Hagen. Astana have sent an absolute dogs breakfast of a team though. Remember the one that “Supported” Contador at Paris-Nice? This one is even more anonymous.

1256- PD Malcolm curses a rider again! Flecha punctures before the 2km cobbled climb of Varentsraat. Seriously folks, whenever I tip, put money on or otherwise endorse a rider something bad happens.

1304- Eurosport showing a preprepared montage of winter sports stars falling over instead of their scheduled coverage. I know we all gripe about their scheduling but seriously can there ever be any excuse for not showing live sport that you advertise and replacing it instead with a montage? Grrr.

1312- Over the Kwaremont… And the splits are starting!

1319- Break caught, but the old 1-2 holds firm and Dan Lloyd has a go in a group of four. Can’t remember the last time a brit did anything in Flanders!

1320- Sylvain Chavenel is marking lloyds move, so wouldn’t expect it to get that far.

1323- That break is going nowhere… Lief Hoste in it as well going over the Koppenberg. Boonen, chasing hard, powers to the front of the pack. Either this is THE break or it’s doomed.

1328- Cancellara aka The Mighty Chin snaps a chain (powerrrrrrrr!) and flings his bike in a hedge. His day is done! Another great falls victim to the curse of PD Malcolm

1336- Boonen and Pozatto absolutely murdering the Peloton over the Taaienberg. Trying to force a selection. Wise man as PD Malcolm’s Daffodil Road Race write up proves, this is the tactic of true champions, ahem.

1346- Hoste making life difficult up front. But who’s glued to his wheel? Dan Lloyd. Back in the main bunch Haussler takes over setting the pace.

1354- Just looking at Hoste in the group… That man likes a Duvel doesn’t he? 50km to go!

1402- Roger Hammond marking Bernard Eisel as he looks to chase here. Cervelo playing the role you would expect to see Quick Step or Rabo fill here.

1406- Quinzato and Chavenel up the pace in the breakaway group. Hoste the only one to respond…

1408- Boonen, Devolder and Pozatto break over the same climb. Heating up!

1415- Boonen et al catch and pass the remnants of teh 6 man group, and are bearing down on Hoste and co. Meanwhile Nuyens, Gilbert and Martijn Maaskant are chasing hard. This race has, as they say, blown to pieces.

1423- Old man Guesdon of FDjeux and Mr. A. Nomynous of Astana attack. The bigger group looks like it’s pulled in the little favourites break, due to nobody accepting the responsibility of doing any work. Could leave the door open for a Gilbert or a Flecha.

1430- And, David Duffiled-esque here, the fact that Chavenel and Quinzato are still plugging away up front had completely escaped my notice. Still a large group behind them too.

1434- Devolder goes with Van Den Hoek of Topsport. marking everything, Quickstep. They’ve ridden this perfectly.

1440- The four have come together and are riding well as a group. Simon Spilak of PD Malcolms Pro-Cycling Manager squad Leads the chase. If Katusha want anything out of today they have to start pulling the bunch now.

1446- Devolder breaks them over the Murr! Chavanel regains Quinzato’s wheel over the top… Boonen chasing hard with Hoste for company behind.

1454- Over the Bosberg and Devolder looks to have this one sewn up! Boonen must know you can’t win every year and Pozzato’s insanely negative tactic of just doing whatever Tom does gets it’s just reward.

1508- Devolder wins! Hushovd takes a big knock in a crash in the finishing straight. Devolder climbs on the podium flanked by Patrick Lefevre, looking ever so dapper… Thanks guys, hope you enjoyed it.

Kirkstone Pass

First of my “Simulated Sportif Efforts” today. The route was as below

See what I did with the terrain map there? Looks good!

Anyway… I have never had such a soaking. 4 hours and 20 minutes of 116 kilometres of misery. The first hour from cockermouth was pretty good, chilly (but then it was 0830) but managable, indeed I took the windproof off round the back of Thirlmere. Up the easy side of Dunmail Raise at a decent clip (in the saddle 39X16 all the way) and then the rain started on the top. With nothing under my helmet and no glasses, descending at 65kph was both painful and dangerous. The rain felt like needles on my skin and I was literally glancing at where I was going. I was mighty relieved to get down get into a layby and put my jacket back on. After that a nice spin onto Ambleside where I again removed it (figuring that the rain had abated for the day). 50km at 29.6kph. So far so good.

On then, to Kirkstone Pass. The first big climb on the Fred Whitton and one of the most difficult. It’s long, the gradient is constantly changing, there are even some downhill sections in the first part of the climb. The surface is also atrocious. When you turn off at Troutbeck you are immediately pitched onto a ramp at above 10% which goes up to nearer 20 on a series of hairpins (some seriously nice houses up there too!), and then when the road opens out a bit you drop down a way through the village, and then go up through the twisty little road that takes you onto the main climb, before a final steep plunge which gives you some brilliant momentum for the next section.

The middle third of the Kirkstone cllimb seems to have been resurfaced since last summer and the really steep bits of the climb are now a joy to ride with smooth, fresh tarmac. At this point it was really starting to come down and I was cursing the way the climb undulates as it kept on killing my rhythm. Again, I felt pretty good. I can feel the last few days in my legs but even riding at a brisk tempo my heart rate was rarely above 170 and I felt i could have gone deeper, I seemed to be switching between 39×21 and 23 for most of the way, with the occasional foray into the 25 (oh the indignity!).

I stopped at the top to put my jacket on and have a bite to eat. The view back towards Windemere is fantastic from up there, and I could see a few walkers ascending into the mist to tackle Hellvellyn. The descent from Kirkstone down to Ullswater is one of my least favourite bits of road. It twists, the corners are off camber, it’s full of holes and there are, inevitably, loads of cars coming the other way. What I’m getting around to saying is I bottled it. On the brakes all the way down (to the extent my rims started to hiss), every time i looked at taking a corner properly there were two cars waiting around it. I didn’t even get on the drops. The rain can’t have helped, but i know I’ve never ridden that descent well in any weather.

The Descent that broke PD Malcolm

The Descent that broke PD Malcolm

The ride along Ullswater saw the rain get heavier and the wind pick up until I was just so fed up all the way over Matterdale end that even my favourable average speed and low average HR couldn’t cheer me up. The ride back to Keswick on the A66 was every bit as enjoyable, with the spray from about 6 caravans hitting me full in the face as I chewed on into the wind.

I was almost relieved to climb Whinlatter to finish the day. 12:38 today, which was, to be honest, expected given the 100km already in my legs and the awful conditions. I descended better than I did on Wednesday in perfect conditions however, go figure.

All in, I’m glad I’m doing rides like that and that they don’t detroy me. But today just wasn’t fun. I’ve got a housewarming tonight so the perfect excuse to skive off tomorrow… And if the weather doesn’t improve I’ll be doing just that.

Otherwise, join me for 3 hours and 3 climbs. Honister, Newlands and Whinlatter!

Fangs Brow Again!

Part of the purpose of the “Free Ride” sessions in my Sportif preparation block is not to “huck” my way off some “knarly” drop-offs but to work on areas where I feel my other sessions have identified a weakness.

Last night I chose, as I think I will be doing a lot, descending. Me and going downhill fast have never really got on. My first bad experience was hitting some ice on a fast straight section of Whinlatter and pulling the brakes… My second, watching a guy kill himself on the Glandon. My various broken bones and seeing other people crash have instilled a sense of fear in me down the years and is something, believe it or not, that I work on. The problem is that every time I commit to a line a car seems to come the other way meaning I won’t do it the rest of the ride.

Descending is, however, the only part of cycling you get for free. Whilst I’ll probably never be a dare-devil, I recognise that being able to get downhill fast and safely is important not just in sportif riding, but possibly even more so in racing.

So I selected a route that, from Cockermouth, took in Paddle and Thornthwaite, then passed Loweswater, up and over Fangs Brow and returned via the main road. This gave me a few short, twisty downhills, a longer fast downhill with a few technical corners in the middle and some sharp big ring climbs to stomp up.

On the flat and uphills, my performance surprised me. My heartrate was lower than normal, and I felt like I was breezing along, the uphills felt good too. My races and reliabilities must have brought me on a bit now I’ve recovered.

As for the descents, a mixed bag. The shorter stuff I was pleased with, staying off the brakes and committing to lines, confident I could get out of the way of anything coming the other way. Fangs, I got onto the drops, avoided the dog-walker and picked up my speed. I found myself involuntarily feathering the brakes about 100m before the fast chicane-like corners but got off them braking into it at about 40m to go, still too far away… off the brakes and into the corners, picking up speed on the exit of the second about to lean into the gravel strewn final bend and… car. Kill all my speed, creep through, balls.

Ride back kept up all my signs of good performance with my legs just starting to feel tired after my weeks efforts. 28.2 kph av for a hilly 29km, and home for a bath.

I’m trying to figure out My Tracks on the G1 at the moment and am doing about 2/3s of the Fred Whitton route over the weekend, so I will try to post maps and profiles, as ever your comments are welcomed!

Force Climbs Ride

Lots of good things to report tonight. The workout was a nce ride out for the 15km or so to the foot of Newlands Pass, on the Buttermere Side, then up the pass in my Aerobic Threshold Zone 170-175bpm with as much work being done in the saddle as possible. Then a timed descent into Braithwaite before repeating the exercise on Whinlatter, another timed descent and then home.

The ride out was excellent fun, no wind whatsoever, 35 minutes of nice easy tempo/ endurance riding with one semi-serious hill in the middle. Completed at an avetage of 28.1 kph. Onto the Newlands climb and I was almost immediately into my bottom gear of 39×26. I started my timer at the Snow sign at the bottom and stopped it at the grit bin on the laybay on top. Whilst every attempt was made to stay in the saddle, i’m only human. The gradient defeated me on the second steep kick up (after a short flat/downhill section) and I got my arse up. Felt good throughout though, getting up in 9:19, although my Polar tells me that that equates to a pretty grim average speed of 11.7 kph for 1.8km at an average gradient of 11%.

The descent of Newlands is a strange one. It tests everything about you. Your bikehandling on the rough 25% slope at the top, your bravery in not braking for sheep (Whitton riders be warned!), your ability to jump on top of a big gear on some of the sudden rises. It has some brilliant hairpins and terrifyingly bad surfaces but I love it. I just need to get off the brakes a bit more! My useless descending has always costed me and introducing the competitive element in timing it is my way of getting to grips with this. 13:36 for 7.7km at an average of 33.3kph.

I’ve talked about Whinlatter on this blog before, but tonight I stormed up it. My best ever time on it is a half-remembered 11:32 from about 6 years ago. Tonight was 11:44, a massive improvement on the years best of 12:06 for the 3.2km going up to the forest park at the top. At one point I looked down and was 2 gears higher than I thought I was, and still spinning smoothly. Perhaps the Schleck’s ripping me apart on Sunday was worth it afterall!

Descent was, again, disappointing. 8:57 for a 5km descent. Again, Whitton fans, there’s holes and gravel all over the S-Bends half way down the descent.

All in, a really pleasing ride in great weather and the fells looked stunning in the sunset. A really good reminder of why riding a bike round here is such good fun!