Adventures of the Cotic - A Quick Release holidays mountain bike race team

Friday, 26 July 2013

Transalp 2013 - part due

Part two - stages 5 to 8 - the Italian bit

Four stages down, four to go...
(linky if you missed part one, or Rachel's review of her expectations)

Stage 5: Alleghe to San Martino di Castrozza
73km, 3150m climbing
In all honesty we hadn't really looked into the profile of the latter stages of the race before we'd headed out so it wasn't until they were upon us that it dawned on us quite how big these days were to be.  The day started pretty well with an undulating profile rather than one or two big climbs until the final mammoth climb which passed through an incredibly picturesque valley.  To our surprise we were also making time up on the teams in front of us in the overall ranking as well as putting time into those behind, maybe everyone else was feeling even more tired than us.

Going up...
Stage 6: San Martino di Castrozza to Crespano del Grappa
104km, 2800m climbing
On paper this stage didn't look too bad, there was considerably more downhill than up and a long road section in the middle to eat up the kms.  Or so we thought.
We reached the bottom of the main climb of the day at 3hrs in with temperatures in the mid 30s.  We then preceded to climb a 10% average gravel trail for 10km before another 10km of more undulating trails in which we gained another 400m elevation.  I'd run out of drink about half-way up the climb, although Ant had manage to conserve a few mouth-fulls for nearer the top.  The lack of fluid alone was a killer but it also impacted on how much we were able to eat.  Over two hours later we finally reached the feed station. We were absolutely exhausted struggling from the heat and lack of fluid and food and limped slowly back on a gravel descent which included over 100 switch backs.  Amazingly we finished within a few seconds of our closest rivals, we weren't the only ones who'd had a hard day.  A delayed transfer to our hotel and lost driver just about finished us off, the toughest day by far. 

Stage 7: Crespano del Grappa to Roverto
120km, 3000m
I was still suffering from the heat and dehydration of the day before when we were on the start line of stage 7.  The fact that it was over 30 degrees and not even 8am wasn't helping and the 3000m in 120km ahead was seeming insurmountable.  I had to have a very big chat with myself that morning.  Luckily for me Ant is nothing if he isn't a team player and after we got started decided to make me feel better by having an even worse day on the bike than me.  We were very glad to see the end of the stage.  With just one short stage to go we were pretty much there.


Stage 8: Roverto to Riva del Garda
39km, 1300m climbing
Today was more about the finish than the stage itself with less than 40km of riding to do, just one up and then one down.  If you'd made it this far - and over 25% of starters hadn't - then you were as good as done.  The route headed out through town for a few km until it kicked up the road for the climb, a natural point for a quick change down through the gears.  Or, if you prefer, to snap your rear mech, break a spoke and puncture.  We couldn't believe it, we'd made it this far and with just over 20 miles to go we were risking not making it.  We set about bodging a fix the best we could whilst the rest of the field rode on by.  Then the marshals collecting in the direction signs rode on by.  And then, after stopping for a bit of a chat, the sweeper bus went on by.  The final insult.  Eventually we got rolling again, or, in Ant's case, wobbling on a very wonky rear wheel on a newly built singlespeed.  The sweeper bus team, who had stopped ahead to point us in the right direction given the removal of the direction signs, applauded as we went by.  We gradually began to pick off the back markers and eventually made it up to somewhere reasonably respectable in the field.
Singlespeed pain
Singlespeed-pain face
By better luck than judgement the fix held on the rough descent which meant we could at least enjoy the way down.  Ant's singlespeeding had gained him the respect of several riders and he was rewarded by a tow through the olive groves on the final 8km stretch to the finish by an Italian with thighs the size of the Dolomites themselves.

Dolomitey Thighs
Italian saviour
We finished well down in the pecking order and lost a couple of places in the overall standings but quite frankly at this point we didn't care as despite our best efforts to sabotage our whole race on the last day, we'd made it to the finish.

After 680km and over 20,000m of climbing we finished 29th out of an original 58 in the mixed pairs.  Not bad but lots and lots of room for improvement, if only we had some hills to train on....

It was a pairs race but we're indebted to the help of many for getting us there and helping us through:
A Quick Release coaching - we can only dream about emulating Kate Potter's win
Cotic - if only our legs were as strong as the bikes
Torq - our bags were a lot lighter on the way home after we consumed all those gels, bars and drink to keep us going
And a special thanks to Sally and Dave at Topeak-Ergon who looked after our recovery drinks each day so we could grab at the finish - it's things like this that make all the difference.


Transalp 2013 - part eins

Part 1 - stages 1 to 4 
(part 2 is here or here for Rachel's review of her expectations)

After Ant took on last year's Trans Pyrennes and Ruth and I raced the Andalucia Bike Race earlier this year we both fancied trying our hand at a bit more stage racing so decided to team up for this year's Transalp.


As we are both endurance racers so hoped we would work well together and approach it with a similar attitude which would help us in motivating each other.  It would however leave us with the same weaknesses, most likely in terms of speed, aggression and power.  Having both raced in a same-sex pair in our only previous experiences we were both a little apprehensive how we'd get on with the potential for a big gulf in strength and fitness within our pair.  There was going to be plenty of time and distance to see how things would pan out.

Stage 1: Mittenwald to Mayrhofen 
111km, 2100m climbing
As expected stage one kicked off at a ferocious pace on predominately tarmac and double-gravel track climbs.  By the time we'd reached the top of the first big climb at 30km things had settled down a little although the descent was rather sketchy; it wasn't so much the loose, rocky trail littered with switchbacks but the inability of the majority of riders to hold a line, be aware of others around them, listen to or make calls or generally ride safely - this was going to become a common theme throughout the week and added a certain level of excitement for us throughout.
We were able to make better headway on the second descent and formed part of a strong group for the 40km race on the flat tarmac to the finish.  And that's when things started to go wrong.  My freehub locked up and it took us a while to get going again in which time we'd been passed by many a racer.  We worked hard to get back into a reasonable group but were riding a good 5km/hr slower than before and the effort to work our way back into the pack began to tell and we struggled for the final few km.

Stage 2:Mayrhofen to Brixen 
100km, 2500m climbing
We were pretty frustrated with our performance on stage one and as we kicked off the day with 25km and 1200m on tarmac and gravel and things felt much the same.  Then the trail changed to a rocky, technical singletrack through a glacial valley and we started to make our way through the field of riders ahead who were struggling on the more technical trail. Feeling somewhat happier than we started the day, I pootled along at the top waiting for Ant to catch up when I rode over a fist-sized rock at walking speed.  Despite the innocuous nature of the incident I managed to put a 2 inch rip in the sidewall of my rear tyre which we set about fixing feeling massively demoralised as all the riders we had past on the climb rode on past.  The size of the hole and nature of the trails left us anxious as to whether the fix would hold for the remaining 70km and so I had to really reign my speed in on the descents.  It took a couple of further fixes later in the stage for the tyre to finally hold.  More mechanicals, more time lost, more frustration.


Stage 3: Brixen to St Vigil
57km, 2800m climbing
From the day we entered we knew this stage was going to be a beast - short it might be but with 1800m climb in 18km it was going to be brutal and it hurt every bit as much as we thought it would.  We were also both starting to struggle with colds at this point, a lesson in looking after yourself during stage racing. Despite our concerns before the race of being mismatched in terms of strength and fitness this hadn't been the case over the first few days, something that probably had a large amount to do with the fact that Ant was just a few weeks post a 24hr solo at Mayhem.  Until now I'd seen this as a positive thing, we were a well-matched team and I wouldn't have been happy about being helped up these hills.  But the sight of the majority of other female riders in mixed pairs getting a tow off her male counterpart was starting to look pretty attractive.  More objectively, it meant that my climbing weakness was losing us time against the other mixed pairs around us.  A short-sharp climb near the end of the stage with temperatures in the high 30s just about finished us both off, I take full responsibility for the pain it caused by uttering the fateful words "It doesn't look that bad".  It was a brilliant technical descent though so I forgave myself for my pain miscalculation.  

Stage 4: St Vigil to Alleghe
74km, 2600m
Despite being nearly written off by the previous day's riding this was our best and most enjoyable day in the saddle.  Of course we had yet more long, grinding climbs and a hike-a-bike section in the blazing sun but this time were rewarded with more technical and fun descents where we were able to ride past big numbers and put time into our closest competitors - there's nothing like the pain of lung-busting climbs to put the bit between your teeth to make up the rewards on the downs.  The steel frames of our Cotic Solarii which were getting plenty of comments both on and off the trail, were doing a brilliant job at smoothing the ride on the way down and we reached the day's finish line exhausted but happy with our day's work, the first time we'd both felt we'd given the stage the performance we could.

Transalp 2013
We were half-way through, sitting 30th out of an original 58 mixed pairs so were pretty close to our 'top-half' target.  We'd had more downs than ups but had managed a couple of days without any mechanicals so perhaps things were looking up.  Bring on part two....

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

An >X< in Italy & the Stelvio

Katie C reports from her last few weeks out of the UK...

Embarking on some volunteer work in Italy for 5 weeks was the initial idea - to learn new skills, gain insights into a different culture, and get some guaranteed sun.*  Obviously a bike had to come too.  Working for four Italian hosts in central/northern Italy & lots of road riding was the plan. Travelling with a bike box and 5 weeks luggage on public transport was a challenge in itself (not sure why many Italians thought it was a bed)?  And when said luggage weighs almost as much as you...  But the challenge was certainly worth it with some glorious road riding (on which I thoroughly enjoyed even the most intense training drills from AQR coach Kate - amazing what some green trees can do)!  And the pinnacle of it all, the Stelvio pass near Bormio in the Dolomites.

One of our hosts in a far-flung village on the Adriatic coast mentioned the Stelvio over dinner one night (6-cheese pizza and gorgonzola-flavoured gelato).  Having only ever done road climbs in the French Pyrenees/Alps, I'd never heard of the Stelvio.  But the look on my host's face as to it's sheer challenge was enough for me to know that I wanted to ride it.  

So once work was over, I hauled my increasingly heavy bike box (now with dirty gardening clothes in) to the Dolomites.  When I ran out of gears just getting to the hotel, I began to wonder if I was a bit out of my depth in this roadie heaven on my cross bike and muddy spd shoes.  After all, the last alpine climb I did was 7 years ago.  Being a small build, I rely on a high cadence rather than purely high power.  My double ring was mostly okay for the undulating hills and ridge riding I'd been doing in Italy while following Kate's programme.  However, on a mountain pass with an average gradient of over 7% for 24 km, my double ring did not seem to be so okay.  The warm-up rides I did the next few days did nothing to calm my mind, with lungs heaving and legs hurting under such hard gears.  And I had to admit to myself that I may not get to the top on this bike.  Oh well, I'd just have to come back!  

Off I set on a sunny Bormio morning.  It was amazing how many riders (and motorbikes) were testing themselves on this breath-takingly beautiful mountain.  There were sky-high waterfalls tumbling down to our left, and the magnificant hairpins rising up to our right.  I got into a steady rhythm and focused on not blowing the gasket too early. I'd heard the first bit is the easy gradient.  But with the rpm sitting at 60-70 (for the easy bit!), it wasn't ideal for these spinning legs.  Well, I thought, I'm just going to see how long these little legs last!  But once I hit the tunnels and had one-third of the 1600m altitude gain behind me, I felt better (I think my legs take a good hour to warm up these days).  And I just kept going.  Breathing was *quite* deep at times.  But the tight hairpins were great markers, not only for the views (simply stunning) but because they were the only flat bit on the 24km route, so you got a few easy spins before the next kick upwards.  

And boy did the last few kilometres really kick upwards.  Cadence was slow-i-n-g  d-o-w-n.  Started to see stars at one point, so I had a Torq gel, shook my legs, practised breathing into my diaphragm (rather than my chest) to get more air in (thanks coach Kate), and off I went.  Just keep turning the pedals, I told myself.  And then there I was.  I had made it :)

Somehow, me and my grindingly slow cadence held a strange bond for just over 2 hours to climb almost a mile into the sky.    Exhilarated.  I can't explain how I did it, as I'll never forget how my legs felt on the warm-up days.  But sometimes your body will co-operate in the strangest of ways.  It is the mind we have to learn to quieten down!  All good training, and I'm looking forward to racing the National Champs and SXC back in the UK.  And Luchon in the Pyrenees with AQR in late July.  I love summer!

*  4 weeks of rain.  Will never moan about UK weather again :)