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!

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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!

The Sportif Season Starts

Now I know a lot of road racers give sportifs a bad press… They paint them as being full of unfit wannabes without the balls to race properly and without the wherewithal to ride in a straight line. I, on the other hand love them. The mistake those guys are making is judging the events by the same standard. To me, a cyclosportif is as competetive as you want to make it, it allows you to ride with other people over always spectacular courses and it serves, for the guys at the front, as a race on roads they’d never be allowed to race on. I’ve ridden La Marmotte four times now, staying in the same hotel as Bert Dekker (who “won” it twice), you tell him it’s not competitive.

This year i’m taking a break from La Marmotte and so my main aim for this section of my season is La Pyreneenne, which is run in the Pyrenees (duh!) taking in the Aspin and the Tourmalet with a hill climb to Hautacam the next day (oooh leg breaking!). Bitter experience has taught me that you need to prepare for such events properly so I’m putting racing on the back burner for a couple of months and training specifically, as well as riding 3 uk Sportifs to get ready in the shape of my local ride, The Fred Whitton challenge, the Etape du Dales and the Polka Dot Challenge.

Now I’ve usually just gone about Sportif training as part of the “just ride yer bike” school of thought. Racking up monster miles with no more thought behind them than proving to myself I could ride the distances without dying. The structured winter I’ve had and the benefits it wrought have convinced my however, that it’s worth preparing a little more specifically. Below is the plan I’ll be following for the next 3 weeks with some brief notes on WHY i’m riding it.

Monday– Rest Day
Tuesday– Power Workout
This will either be the Hour of Power described here or it will be the ride described here or else it will be the local Time Trials run by Velo Club Cumbria. This both keeps my arm in for racing intensity and develops that high end you need for either grinding up a steep hill or seting a hard tempo up the Tourmalet!)
Wednesday– Force Climbs
This takes the form of riding out to Newlands Pass (Buttermere Side) and going over it in the saddle, then onto Whinlatter and doing the same. I use a 25 sprocket as my lowest gear so, Newlands especially, provides quite a challenge. This is designed so that Honister, Hardknott etc are within my abilities on that kind of gearing and I don’t have to splatter myself to get over them.
Thursday– Free Ride for 90 minutes.
Theres no point doing it if you can’t enjoy the benefits. I can work on anything i feel i’m lacking and I can also, hopefully assess how I’m coming along.
Friday Rest Day
Saturday-Five hours at tempo, all major climbs at aerobic threshold.
Essentially a simulated Sportif effort
Sunday As Saturday.

Any questions comments, feel free to E-Mail or put them in the replies, i’ve removed the pre-moderation now, so they should be a bit easier and smoother to use!

A view back down the Buttermere side of Newlands Pass

A view back down the Buttermere side of Newlands Pass

Fangs Brow Ride

As part of my Transition week, all the literature said I was permitted to exercise but not train. I took this to mean that pootling was acceptable and set out to do something last night that I never do anymore, ride just for the sake of it. No thoughts of it being preparation or training for anything, just an hours easy spin after work.

I picked a nice route, out from Cockermouth to Lorton, through the vale, over Fangs Brow and home on the A-Road. The outward leg was excellent, spinning really easily for 30kph over some gently rolling roads I thought to myself that my two races must have kicked me right on, the trees practically bent double dismissed this notion however, giving the lie to the massive tailwind I was enjoying.

It was good to pay some attention to my surroundings for a change too… There were plenty of that old Newsround staple Lambs-In-Coats on show, and the daffodils going up to Loweswater School were most pleasant too. Climbing in this mindset is a breeze as you simply have to get up the incline, speed and intensity are just not an issue.

Sadly, Fangs is a different beast. Those who have ridden the Fred Whitton will know that it’s not the advertised climbs that kill you, it’s the little hills between them and for me this is the worst of them. It’s a mile long, starts with a 1 in 8 ramp that is about 2/3s of its length and then levels off a bit. After a couple of hundred metres of flat you’re kicked up the gradient again until it ends on a 17% hairpin past a farm. There used to be a dog that lived there that, I swear, waited for cyclists. It got so bad that every time I planned to ride there I took a biscuit with me to distract him.

While I think on, this is something I’d like to do more of… using my local knowledge to help out people riding the Fred, let me know what you’d like to see as always.

After that, a pretty simple run back home, nice descent into Mockerkin, nice ride back along the lumpy A-Road. Could get used to this not training lark. I did, bizarrely, have the theme tune from long sicne dead kid’s show The Family Ness in my head all the way round… Answers on a postcard please.

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