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!

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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.

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

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