Challenge Roth – Bike 2019 (Andrew)

Is Challenge Roth hilly?

According to Strava it has 1900 metres of climbing, which is not flat, but…

But…

If you cycle in Scotland, and around Glasgow in particular, then 1900 metres is not particularly hilly over 112 miles. In fact, apart from the two named climbs, I struggled to think of anything else I would consider to be a hill. Some slopes, yes, but hills? Something requiring your lowest gears? No.

Instead, there a long stretch on perfect flat roads or gentle up or down gradients. Plenty of time to try and work out a good position on the tri-bars (something I maybe should have worked out beforehand…) and plenty of time to see the spectacular German…. tarmac. With so many kilometres in the tribars it was hard to look up and see anything but road.

And I was trying to look up because, without a watch, I was riding with no idea what time it was, how far I’d gone, or how fast (or slow) as I was going.

I had to cycle by feel. Never flat out, fast enough to keep moving, and with plenty to eat and drink to keep fuelled.

Luckily, the food stops are regular and often, with plenty to chose from – water, sports drink, gels, fruit, rice cakes and plenty of volunteers so if you missed one chance to take something you had another chance 10 meters up the road.

By this stage, the weather was perfect, warm-ish but with 100% cloud cover to keep the worst of the sun away. There was barely any wind, with it only picking up on the second loop.

With closed roads, people out in every town we passed through, and a strict policy of breaking up anyone drafting – I saw one Marshall shout at a pair of cyclists riding too close – it felt like a true race. You vs the course.

And to make it feel more like a race, there was the Solarberg.

First, you can hear cheering. Then music. Then the drumming of a thousand clapper balloons. Then folk gather at the side of the hill screaming at you to go higher, climb faster, keep going – and then you realise that this is just a slope before the solarberg. There are two climbs. One as you come into town. Then once you pass it, swing right and see the actual climb you can’t hear a thing because of the noice of five thousand Germans screaming just for you.

It felt emotional riding through it. This is what I’d been training for over the last ninth months. This moment. And I wanted to savour it. I rode slower. Sat up. High fived a spectator. And enjoyed it.

After that it was back to the start, another loop and still no idea what time it was or how fast I was going.

But, a thought had started to percolate, maybe losing the watch was a good thing. If I had the watch would I have been checking times and speed and distances and thinking about how far I had to go? Instead, riding on feel I was comfortable, I wasn’t counting down miles and, on the second lap I was able to pick spots from the first lap and count them off instead: a clown dancing in a lay-by; an Isreali flag flying beside a field; the Greding hill climb to signify the bottom of the course; the Solarberg again before the sign returning us to Roth and a last few miles of downhill before transition 2.

I rode into transition 2, happy, elated, and with no idea how long I would have to finish the run…

Solarberg: A Warning

If the Solarberg is Hogmany in a hill climb then the second time you go round it’s New Year’s Day. The party’s over. A few folk remain but most have moved to Roth to get ready for the finish.

Roth T – 8 Days (Andrew)

With a heatwave of 40 degree plus across central Europe I think I may need to revise the following list to include a portable fan, a bucket of ice cubes and lifetime of living in the Sahara desert.

As it may be too late for a pasty Scotsman to suddenly develop a tolerance for hot weather (which, as any Scotsman knows, is any time it’s not raining), I’ve prepared the following list of Roth essentials and will now spend the next week trying to work out the one item I need but have forgotten to include – because there’s always one thing I forget!

Swim

Trunks

Chafe Cream

Goggles

Swim Cap

Transition

Towel?

Energy Bar

Salt?

Bike

Bike – VERY IMPORTANT!!!!

Di2 Charger

Helmet

Shoes

Socks

Shoe cover (rain)

Waterproof shorts + jacket (rain)

Shorts

Arm warmers

Top

Sunglasses

Nutition

Garmin 910 

Garmin 500

Run

Trainers

Socks

Shorts

Tshirt

Belt

Runcap

Garmin 935xt

Nutrition

Bluetooth headphones

End

Socks

Boxer

Tshirt

Jumper

Jeans

Trainers

Clothes

T-shirts

Socks

Boxers

Jumper

Other

Camera + charger

Laptop + charger

Kindle + charger

Etape Caledonia 2019 (Andrew)

Winner to the left, loser to the right

Last week, while walking along a neighbouring street, a man ran out his front door with a woman shouting after him. As he got in his car, she screamed at him: “I don’t know why I stay with you!” before she slammed the front door shut and he drove off.

This week there was a ‘For Sale’ sign on their house…

I tell this story because, despite the sadness of an imploding relationship, it had two bright points. One, I always liked their house, so I finally got to see inside it when the estate agent posted photos on Right Move. Two, it just goes to show that you need to follow through with actions to back up your words. There’s no point shouting about something unless you actually do something about it to.

Just like the Etape.

Every year I say I’ll beat Iain and every year I then beat Iain.

Last year was close though. To be fair, he did wait while I had a mechanical so he could have won, if he’d carried on. But he didn’t, so he didn’t. Who said good guys come last? Accurate words!

Last year was also more of a contest because Iain was training for Norseman. He was riding every day. And yet, he still couldn’t beat me. (He might have the legs, but he still had the good heart to wait).

But when we could only draw when he was at his fastest on a bike, it meant that this year I didn’t need to say anything. The contest was over before we even started. I could see the ‘runners up place’ in his eyes. He had a haunted look on the start line. He looked old. Weighed down by a history of failure.

It was BRILLIANT!

Not that I’m gloating. Much.

Anyway, with the result a foregone conclusion it was only a matter of turning up and paying attention to the course.

Pitlochry

The first 10 miles are fast, if you want them to be. As each wave leaves the high street, groups quickly find their own pace. Some sprint, some take it easier as they warm up. A few tight corners and sharp wee hills cause bunches to form but after 10 miles, the roads clear and while you’re never free from other riders, it’s easy to find some space at your own pace.

Hill

The first hill is not steep but it does have three miles of steady climbing. It’s almost a straight road so there’s no need to think about turning or any hair bends to negotiate. Just sit and grind it out.

Loch Tummell

One of my favourite sections. A 15 mile flat run around Loch Tummell. With nice flat roads, good views across to Schiehallion and across the loch, it’s a great section to find a group and make quick progress to…

Schiehallion

Which is not as bad as it appears on the profile. There’s a few steep slopes. A final drag that some will sprint for that ‘frog dancing on a hot plate cycling legs and arms akimbo climbing out of your seat’ shot from the official photographer, but the real kicker is the next mile, which continues to rise even after you’ve passed the King/Queen of the Mountain checkpoint. After that, it’s five miles downhill and a chance to enjoy some easy curves and quick times.

The other side

Largely flat for the final 20 something miles with a good mix of moorland, trees, villages and wide roads. By this stage, you’ll see less bikes but, if you’re lucky, and want to joint them, you’ll find a few groups to latch onto to get your speed up until…

The second climb

Ballincluish. And a 20 metre ladder that starts as soon as you turn off the main road. If you haven’t changed gear before you turn then you’ll be looking at a slipped chain as your ‘reward’.

After that, there’s a couple of miles of rolling hills before the final descent into Pitlochry and a short climb back to the High Street where you can get…

The Goodie Bag

Or bad. As there’s never any goods in the bag. It’s always empty. Don’t expect a banana or a biscuit or anything at all. One year, all it had in place of a treat, was a single page flyer for a new Sainsbury’s… that was opening later that year. (And, in fact, never opened at all after local protests). But while I always complain about the bag, Iain never does. Well, he is used to coming home from the Etape empty handed…

Bealach Beag (Iain)

Is the winner of a race the person who crosses the finish line first or the person with the fastest time?

You might think that these two statements are mutually consistent but….

At the weekend, Andrew and I headed to the north west of Scotland to take part in the Bealach Beag sportive – a 72km race that includes the UK’s biggest road climb. An ascent of 626m from sea level in just 10km.

I’ve done the race four times. Andrew has done it three times. He has beaten me every time.

Race 1 – I did it on a mountain bike. Not because I am an amazing biker but because I did not know any better. I quit half round because I was knackered.  

Race 2 – The first year Andrew did it too. We both did the long version of the race. I had learnt my lesson from my experience with the mountain bike. I brought a hybrid bike instead. Andrew brought a road bike. He won.

Race 3 – We both used road bikes. The temperature was unseasonably warm. It was nearly 30C during the climb. Andrew was wearing shorts bib shorts and a light cycling top. I was wearing winter gear. I felt I was biking in a vertical sauna. He won.

Year 4 (this year) – I had been training for the last four weeks and I hoped that was enough to beat Andrew’s five months of Challenge Roth training. Just in case it was not enough, I had taken radical weight saving action to eek out the best performance from my bike. I removed the bell

I also had a cunning plan….

At the start of the race we were both given a time dibber. We had to dib in at the start and dib in at the finish to record our time. At the start line, I let Andrew dib in first. I then deliberately waited 10s before I dibbed in.

At the finish, we both raced for the line. Andrew thought he had just pipped me as he dibbed in first. What he didn’t realise was that I had a 10s buffer on him. We received the paper results and it shows quite clearly I’m the winner or am i?

If you look at our Strava times it clearly shows Andrew beat me by 5 minutes because he did the climb 5 minutes faster than me and then paused his Strava at the top until I appeared. He then restarted it and we continued on the course.

So… is the winner of a race the person who crosses the finish line first or the person with the fastest time? All I’ll say is that on paper I’m the fastest Todd.

Number 1!

Watching The Tour De France at Alpe D’Huez (Andrew)

The plan was simple. We’d buy a tent and camp out on the mountain the night before the Tour arrived, only there was two problems. One, we didn’t know how to pitch a tent. The second, I’ll get to in a second.

The first problem was easy to solve. We bought a pop up tent. According to the ‘how to’ video on YouTube it was a simple to pitch as opening the cover and letting it open naturally. It took seconds, with no poles, pegs or skill required. Perfect.

The second problem was harder to solve. The day we arrived in Grenoble, the nearest city to Alpe D’Huez, it started to rain. And then the lightning started. And the thunder rolled in and we chickened out of using a tent and booked a hotel for the night instead with an aim to get up early and drive to Bourg-d Oisans, the town at the base of the climb.

And that’s what I’d recommend. We thought there would be a queue of cars, that would it would be difficult to get parked but, we left at 6am, got there for 7am and had no problem driving there or finding parking in the town. I admit, we then had eight hours before the tour passed through, but we were there, and we could explore the town to find… a bike shop run by a woman from Glasgow?!

We bought water, we bought breakfast, we bought supplies for lunch and filled our backpacks and then started to walk up Alpe D’Huez.

As the sun rose, it was a warm climb but not a difficult one. There was food and drinks for sale as you climbed and every corner was covered in flags, people and RV’s who’d booked there spot a week before and had set up home with barbecues and satellite dishes on their roof feeding live coverage of the day’s race.

As we climbed we got higher, as did the spectators. Corner 7 – Dutch Corner – was loud techno music, orange t-shirts, smoke and booze. The party had started and even the thunder & lightning hadn’t stopped it.

We found a spot overlooking corner 7 and had a cracking view of the spectators including one man who tried to run up to the summit while wearing a Borat mankini. He was last seen, buttocks jiggling, breath heaving on his way to corner 6. I hope he made it. It would have a tale to make his grandchildren proud. As long as he didn’t show them any photos…

As you wait for the tour, the excitement builds. You can see helicopters in the distance, the publicity caravan comes through around an hour before, throwing Bic pens and sweets from cars disguised as chickens or baguettes. Then security comes through. Cars get faster. Helicopters louder. Flares are fired. Smoke drifts. You can hear the cheering roll up the mountain before the road gets mobbed in an orange mass and the first rider breaks through. It’s half war film, half circus performance.

And the best bit is that unlike most days in the tour, it carries on for around 40 minutes as different riders take different times to climb to the summit. The GC contenders are first, the main peloton next and then a steady stream of spent domestiques and burly sprinters just about holding on at the back.

Once done, you can walk back down the mountain using a trail to cut the corners and to walk almost straight down rather than back and forth from corner to corner. You could use it to climb up, but, that would mean missing out on walking the same route as the riders climb.

Watching the Tour at Alpe D’Huez is a fantastic experience. One I would recommend if you’re thinking of going to watch the Tour.

Zwift Racing (Andrew)

It’s the end of January and I’ve already raced three times without leaving my house once. Every Saturday morning I’ve entered the Norseman Race Series on Zwift.

Racing on Zwift is a great way to keep your motivation up when training indoors. Not only do you get all the normal race feelings of “I’ve not prepared for this”, “why is everyone faster than me” and “Dear God, why did I enter this?” but it’s warm, so you don’t mind (as much!).

The Norseman Race Series is 12 week series of races over Zwift’s biggest climbs including, Alpe Du Zwift, the digital version of Alpe Du Huez.

I’ve been to Alpe Du Huez. I saw the Tour De France three years ago and walked from the base of the climb to corner 7 so I think I know exactly what it’s like to go very slowly up a very big climb. 🙂

And, though I’m basing this on memories of a hot French day three years ago, the climb in Zwift seems to be a very faithful version of the real climb, even down to the Scotsman at the side of the road walking up and wondering if he’s brought enough water for five hours on the side of a mountain. (This last bit may not be true).

The climb is not normally open for all Zwift riders. You have to be level 12 and above. Which I didn’t know, because I didn’t know that the experience points you collect had any bearing in game. So, if you want to try the climb then you need to enter a race unless you’ve already reached level 12.

If so, having others racing up the mountain is a great way to get to the top yourself. You can’t help but pedal harder when someone overtakes you, and you can’t help but pedal faster when you get near the finish and see someone just ahead of you and you decide that they are “going down!”.

Some tips for racing on Zwift:

  • Warm your legs up at the start and make sure you’re ready when the flag drops. I started one race 10 seconds before the start and, by the time I’d started spinning my legs, everyone else had blasted off.
  • Don’t use power ups. That’s cheating. Even if it’s allowed in the race, it’s still cheating – it’s digital doping! Don’t do it!
  • Do use real life power ups. If you’d have a gel in the real world and you’re racing for an hour or longer, have a gel with you too. It’s not doping if you can actually eat it and get a power up (unless what you’re eating is on the WADA banned list, then don’t do it either!).
  • Make sure to enter the right race. I’ve also tried some shorter races and these are categorised by power so that people race with others of the same ability. Races are graded A – E with A to D being increasing power and E being everyone. Of course, I entered a D. And got left behind…

Entering races on Zwift is fun and does give a sense of achievement missing from a normal session – unless your normal session finishes with a lap round the house, arms aloft and shouting “Championee!” in which case, well done you! 🙂

Getting Started On Zwift (Andrew)

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A few weeks ago I bought a smart trainer. Until then I had a dumb trainer, it would only do what I told it, and I told it to “woah – take it easy, there’s no need to go too fast!”

What I needed was a trainer with a PHD. That’s a trainer with a Pedal Harder Damnit attitude – and a smart trainer seemed the answer. A smart trainer is one that links to a laptop or tablet and adjusts your workout as you ride. And not just to make it easier, as I would adjust it, but it also makes it harder (damnit!).

With the trainer sorted, I knew I needed a training programme that would help me ride smarter too. I had a look at a few but Training Peaks seemed to require a spreadsheet and Sufferfest had the word Suffer in it’s title and who wants to suffer? Harderfest maybe? PushYouALittleBitMoreFest? But not Sufferbest? You might as well call it Quitfest. ‘Cause that’s what I’d be doing…

Instead, I tried Zwift on an iPad linked to my trainer because it promised I wouldn’t suffer as I’d be using it like a computer game. And, instead of spreadsheets like Training Peaks, I’d see a wee rider cycle round New York’s Central Park and the centre of London. It would be like Mario Kart!

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The first time I used it, I didn’t know what I was doing. My wee man on screen was surrounded by other riders. I tried to ride round New York’s Central Park and keep my speed around 20mph. And I didn’t get it. It was slow. The trainer would increase resistance as I rode up hills and I didn’t understand why because I’d just drop the gears to make it easier and then –

– someone shot past me and I thought “follow them!” and then

– a group formed around me and I was in a peloton and we’re all doing 25mph and I’m thinking “I can’t be dropped”.

– then I’m climbing a hill and a message is telling me that if I keep this pace I’ll be in the top 50.

And I think “Now, I get it!”. Zwift is for folk who need a bit of competition to motivate themselves. It’s a game of jealousy and better my neighbour. Even though you don’t know the people around you, you suddenly want to be better than them just because they’re real people too. You’re no longer training on your own. You’re not just Mario – you’re also racing Luigi!

Since then, I’ve spent around 10 hours on Zwift trying various routes and features. But, despite the ability to customise my wee man on screen, I’ve point blank refused to do so. I know I can change the colour of his socks but why would you?! This is Zwift not Barbiefest.

In a few weeks I’ll report again and see how a month of Zwift compares to a month of trying to cycle in Scotland in December.

Around The World In 80 Days (Andrew)

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Last year, Mark Beaumont smashed the record to cycle round the world by circumnavigating the globe in 79 days. This year, he released a book. I haven’t given any spoilers as he tells us he succeeded in first few pages. Instead, he said he wanted to write a book to show how it was done, rather than could it be done. What did it take to cycle 16 hours every day for 79 days?

The answer was easy – be a dick.

On nearly every page the clear impression he gave was that he had to be a selfish dick who cared for nothing and nobody but riding his bike from before dawn to after dusk.

Shout at support crew? Scream at the camera man for not getting the right shots? Tear apart the team manager for taking the wrong road?

He did it all. And you have to, kind of, respect him for it.

Not the attitude but his honesty in revealing that’s what he became in order to be someone who could focus on cycling every unrelenting waking moment.

As such it’s refreshing to read a book which shows how far an athlete has to go in order to be the best at something. And the cost it has on their relationships and support in order to do that.

Was it worth it? It’s difficult to tell, without actual spoilers about the end of the race, but I would recommend reading the book and finding out.

Interestingly, we went to a talk by Mark a few weeks ago in Glasgow. He revealed at the start that after his previous adventures – cycling the world, the Americas and Africa – he was always approached after every show by people who wanted to emulate him. But this time, he said, not one person had asked him about racing the world. Which perhaps shows, that while many people will dream of a BIG ADVENTURE, very few people dream of becoming dicks in the process.

Kind of a nice thought, actually. Most folk just want to be nice.

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Challenge Roth (Andrew)

Next year’s race is sorted. “Challenge Roth!” I said. Roth as in cloth, as in moth. “‘I’m doing Challenge Roth!”.

And I’ve started to read blogs and race reports of what it’ll be like and I’ve kept thinking:

“Yay, Roth (as in moth) will be fun! Can’t wait to go to Roth (as in cloth)!”

Except this week when Iain told me it was pronounced Rote. As in wrote. As in goat.

Challenge Goat.

That’s what I’m doing.

Challenge Rote.

And my first lesson as part of looking at what training I’ll need to do for next year is a simple one – get the name of the race right.